Jun 7, 2012

Pinch-hitting: My sister's tale of keeping the kids for a week

Pinch-hitting is, I suppose, my term for "guest posting." This will be the first time anyone other than I has written a post here, other than the few times I've been unable to update for some reason and Patrice has posted an explanation for me. But this is the first true "guest post." And since she's so much like I am in many ways, it's probably more like just a half-guest post. People who know her in real life: No worries! As she said in her email to me: "I'm so proud of myself that I didn't cuss!"

From the time Nathaniel, Nick and Jake were born, I was obsessed with them. All of them. They were so wonderful and different in a million ways I could never describe in words, and I loved seeing them grow from babies to toddlers, to little short people with very, very defined ideas and personalities. When the boys were young, I visited from Atlanta as often as I could (which was a lot, and regular), and I was a strong presence in their lives until 2008. In 2008, I moved back to Jackson, Wyoming, where I had spent several years after college. 

When I made the proverbial “pros and cons” list of moving back to Jackson, living far away from them (and Kat and my parents) was the most prominent item on the “Reasons NOT to Move Back to Jackson.” (It was also the only reason.) When I moved back here, Jake was barely 8 months old. I was terrified that he wouldn’t know me the way Nathaniel and Nick did, and also that my close relationship with Nathaniel and Nick would greatly suffer.

I can’t say those fears were completely unfounded—I definitely see them a LOT less—usually two to three times a year, as opposed to 10 times a year, which necessarily means we “know” each other less. But, I had enough of a foundation with the boys before I left that it seems like no time has passed when we see each other.

I miss them terribly, but Katherine’s blog, email, Skype, the telephone and airplanes have helped ensure that they are still a huge part of my life, and that I have a substantial presence in theirs. They own a huge part of my heart, and it’s so wonderful to watch them grow up and be a part of their lives.  
I was so excited to spend the week with them during my visit in late May, and they stayed home with me Monday through Friday while Kat and Gray were at work (my parents also came over for the second half of the week). I can’t tell you how fantastic of a job Kat and Gray do—Nathaniel, Nick and Jake are all bright, kind, wonderful kids. Amelia’s just a light—the boys couldn’t be more in love with her, and neither could I. Her little smile just overtakes her face every time she sees someone or something she loves, and it’s impossible not to smile right back.

Again, I can’t express how much I love my nephews and niece. They’re awesome. That being said, like all kids, they can also be turds on wheels, and taking care of the four of them for a week is often a mixed bag of fun and exasperation. Here’s a taste:

7:30 a.m.—I wake up, after Nathaniel and I have tossed and turned all night, stealing the quilt to and fro. Nathaniel has been, in all seriousness, extremely generous and sweet to let me sleep in his bed while I’m here, especially because we’re both toss-and-turners. Since I’m awake, I go downstairs. My first order of business: lie down on the couch and try to sleep some more.

7:45 a.m.—Wishful thinking on the extra sleep. Nick awakes, comes down to the couch and turns on some cartoon. I tell him it’s the first day of summer, he can sleep as late as he wants (hint, hint). He says he wants to be up. The latest cartoon they’re into is a Disney program called Kick Buttowski. 

If the picture above doesn’t indicate how obnoxious it is, here’s Wikipedia’s description: “The main character, an amateur, thrill-seeking often reckless daredevil. He is 13 years old. His main goal out of life is to embrace each day as if it were his own personal 'action movie.' Some of his more notable catchphrases are 'Show time,' 'Aw, biscuits,' 'Biscuits,' and 'Chimi-chunga.'" So, yeah, it’s not that awesome to wake up to this little devil child of a cartoon character.

Also, in 99% of the cartoons these days (especially the ones that seem intended for boys), all of the characters yell all of the time. Like, they don’t speak in normal voices, EVER. But the boys love it, natch, and it is the first day of their summer vacation, so Kick it is.

Nick requests Fruity Pebbles for breakfast, which I fix for him in the kitchen. I tell him that was my favorite cereal as a kid, because it’s good even when it gets soggy. He replies, “That’s why I’m gonna finish this cartoon before I eat it.”

8:35 a.m.—Nathaniel and Jake come downstairs. They immediately turn on Johnny Test, another high-octane cartoon that, again, features a lot of yell-speaking. Nathaniel asks where Mommy and Daddy are, and I remind him it’s Friday, and they’re at work. It’s the first full day of summer!

8:45 a.m.—Jake looks at me a little funny when he sees me. I soon figure out why when he says, “Why did you put stuff on your eyes today?” He means my eye makeup, which I usually don’t wear when I’m with them. Apparently, I don’t look the same with it, which is kind of the point, I guess. I tell him we may leave the house later, so I wanted to look nice. He no longer seems interested.

9 a.m.—While fixing Jake's and Nathaniel’s breakfast, I ask Jake if he had a good night’s sleep. He says, “No.”  I say, “You didn’t? Why not?”  He says, “I do not want to do it anymore.” I say, “What, sleep?” He solemnly nods yes.

9:05 a.m.—Amelia’s still sleeping, so I wake her up for her 9 a.m. bottle. She’s such a sweet, happy baby, and the smile she gives you when you get her out of the crib would melt your heart. I feed her while the boys are playing Minecraft, some computer game with which they are obsessed. 


9-10 a.m.—I update the boys’ games on their iPods, and I go fold laundry. Like you’d expect of a house with two adults, three boys and a baby, laundry is a monolithic task that is never, ever “finished.” Ever.

10:30 a.m.—It’s actually been a pretty quiet morning, although there’s the not-so-infrequent conflict between the boys. For the most part, the boys are nicely playing games, and Amelia’s gurgling on her play mat. They’re excited to go to Jump Zone later this afternoon. I see the Toy Story Woody doll I gave Jake for his birthday recently, and I ask him where Jessie and Buzz are. He says he doesn’t know. I say, “They’re probably playing together.” He says, “At Sunnyside Daycare?”

10:45-11 a.m.—Amelia folds more laundry with me. Scout joins us, as he always does.

11 a.m.—The boys go outside to pillow fight on the trampoline. I’m expecting someone to come in crying anytime. The boys “playing” on the trampoline almost always involves kicking and hitting, then a flurry of blaming each other for any misbehavior. In the last year, Jake has become as much of a fight-instigator as the older boys. Now, they’re all equal-opportunity offenders (and defenders).  

As an aside, I talk to the boys like they’re young adults, probably more so than I should (not content-wise, but attitude-wise). Like, if one of them is in the kitchen yelling at those of us within 10 feet of him, for a statement which does not need vocal emphasis, I don’t say sweetly, “Please use your inside voice, honey.” I’m much more likely to look at him and say in a direct and normal tone, “Please stop yelling when you speak to us, we are right here. Also, it is annoying.” No one has offered me a book deal on how to talk to children yet, which is shocking.

11:30 a.m.—The boys come in from the tramp with no tears, but with Nathaniel announcing, “Nothing’s fun if it doesn’t have the word ‘fight’ in it.” Boys.

Noonish—I feed Amelia her noon bottle, and load everyone (including Mop and Pop, my parents) into the minivan to go to Jump Zone.

12:30 p.m.—We stop at Chick-fil-A to get some lunch, and it is crazytown banana pants busy. There are probably 20 cars in the drive-through lane, and 50 cars in the parking lot. Pop gets everyone’s order and goes inside while we wait in the car. After about 15 minutes, he comes back out with food and drinks for everyone. As Pop hands out the drinks, Nathaniel makes the comment, “No straws?  Really?” I crack up and Pop goes back inside for straws.

12:45 p.m.—Jake asks to watch a DVD in the van on the way. I load a DVD, and I pull down the DVD screen thingie, but nothing comes on the screen. I push a few more buttons that seem like logical precursors to the DVD playing, but nothing’s happening. I can tell from Jake’s face and attitude that he is barely tolerating this, and is so frustrated with me that I don’t know how to work the car DVD. I say, “Jakey, I’m trying, but I don’t know how the DVD player works!” In total frustration, Jakey makes a noise I have only ever heard an elephant make. Finally, it loads and some Mickey Mouse video starts playing. Jake tells me that it’s on the Menu screen and I should press “play.” I press “play” (which I assume is the arrow pointing right). Jake tells me I’m not doing it right “until the orange light comes on.” The orange light has not come on. But I can hear the audio of the DVD, so I turn it up. The video has appeared on the screen above. The orange light is on! Victory! Jake yells, “It’s too loud!” I turn it down, and all is well.

1-2:30 p.m.—Everyone has tons of fun at Jump Zone, a warehouse near the house that has a ton of inflatable moonwalks, slides and obstacle courses. The boys expend a ton of energy, me and Mop hang out on the sidelines with Amelia, and Pop spends the entire hour and a half trying to recruit the high school senior who works there to enlist in the Navy (this is typical and hilarious). 

3-5 p.m.—We go back home and relax. This usually means a nap for Amelia after her 3 p.m. bottle, computer games or TV for the boys, and internet or books for me, Mop and Pop. It’s a hot late May afternoon in Alabama, and we’re all happy to chill out in each others’ company in the living room.

5:30 p.m.—Katherine and Grayson get home, and we’re all saying hello and discussing what we’ll be doing for dinner. Nathaniel is sitting at the kitchen table playing Minecraft again, and is showing Nick something about pigs on his farm (in the game). Then he says, “Wanna see them [in a low, gravelly voice] make looooooooooovvvve?” Both Katherine and I are like, “What? What is going on in that game?!” Nathaniel explains that the pigs make piggy babies, and I walk over to check to make sure he’s not watching pig sex on his computer game. Looks pretty tame to me, and we’re curious as to how he knows that in order to have piglets, the pigs have to “make loooooove.”

6-7:30 pm—We all kind of putter around the house, having conversations, fixing dinner, eating dinner. Lots of nighttime type activity. Usually it’s pretty loud. But it’s always pretty loud. At one point, Katherine and I are standing by the stove, and there is a huge BANG upstairs, as if someone, or something, has fallen. If this had happened in my house, I’d freak out, because noises like this don’t happen in my house. But we know if we don’t hear screaming or crying, it was probably just one of the boys jumping off the bed as high as he could and landing hard. I look at her and say, with all sincerity, “Our lives are so different.” 

8 p.m.—I’ve known Katherine for all of my 35 years, but I really didn’t know until this trip that she is the most focused toothbrusher ever. No exaggeration. She was getting ready for bed, and I walked up to her in her bathroom with Amelia in my arms. She’s at her sink, both elbows on the counter, head bowed, scrubbing ferociously at the right side of her mouth. I’m within a foot of her, to her left, with her baby, and she is scrubbing so furiously on her upper right teeth that I can’t describe it. She’s not looking in the mirror, which is why she didn’t see us. That, and she’s apparently a psycho toothbrusher. I was astonished. I brought Amelia up because I just thought she’d want to say "hi" to us, but now that we’ve been standing within a foot of her for two minutes and she hasn’t noticed, I’m enthralled. I’m literally standing right next to her, with her baby, in front of a full mirror. Nothing. She switches sides, but still doesn’t see us (because she doesn’t look up at the mirror). THIS IS INSANE! Amelia makes a noise, and Kat finally notices us. I tell her that she is a toothbrushing freak.

8:30 p.m.—The boys begrudgingly go to bed. Bathing, brushing teeth, and getting them into bed every night is an epic battle, but once they’re in their actual beds, they’re content to play their PSPs, read books, or just chitchat until they fall asleep. Nathaniel, like his mom, has turned into quite a night owl, and he often reads until at least 10 p.m. 

8:30-10 p.m.—Katherine, Grayson and I hang out and talk about the boys and Amelia, talk about the day, about stuff in general. Grayson heads up to bed before me and Katherine. She and I hang out, talk, laugh, feed Amelia, snuggle with Amelia, and watch some TV together. Amelia falls asleep on my chest while being burped from her last bottle, and there is absolutely no sweeter sensation in the world than having a sleeping baby inhaling and exhaling while laying on you. The little noises, the sweet smells, the precious sighs—it’s sometimes enough to make me want kids of my own. (But then there are the other 23.5 hours of the day that usually aren’t quite as resplendent.)

11 p.m.—I head upstairs, put Amelia in her crib, and say goodnight to Katherine. I crawl in bed with Nathaniel, who’s conked out, and I’m soon right there with him. 

I don’t know how parents do it, but I have more respect and awe for parents than any other people on Earth. It’s really, really hard and exhausting. But, as most parents know, the laughter and love of the kids makes it worth it. Nathaniel, Nick, Jake and Amelia are no exception.

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