Being a mom is slightly exhausting on a daily basis, but in case you are a sucker for punishment, there are a few things that really wear a mom down in a hurry. Chances are, if you’ve had a kid or two, you are thinking of a few examples already. A toddler cutting canines, for instance. The chaos and insanity of school breaks. And the mother of all nighttime-candy-binge triggers, potty training. Oh, I’m sorry. Potty training a boy.

So, with which of these nerve-wracking situations might I be dealing, you ask? Try all of them.

Yes, in my infinite wisdom, I decided it would be easiest to potty train my middle child during spring break, when our days would be lazier and more suited to hasty trips to the toilet. I realized, of course, that Maddux would be out of school and, unaccustomed to so much unstructured time in the middle of the day, she would probably invent new ways to amuse herself. Ways that involved dressing Thomas in doll clothes and taunting James by putting his favorite toys where he couldn’t reach them. What I didn’t realize was that my 18-month-old would be cutting four enormous, daggerlike eyeteeth while I was busy battling sibling rivalry and a mad carpet assassin.

Every day of this spring break has been a little bit like battling a horde of relentless robotic Kewpie dolls.

Here’s a little picture of yesterday, by the numbers:
50 — Gummi bears dispensed to pottyers and siblings of pottyers
12 — Time-outs given
8-10 — Toilet overshoots mopped up
8 — Lectures given
3 — Quarts of green snot wiped from Thomas’ face
3 — Doses of Infant Tylenol administered
2 — Applications of Orajel administered
2 — Near-removals of my fingers by brand-new teeth
2 — Sets of pants and underwear changed
0 — Naps taken by any child
1 — Bag of ketchup chips eaten by me
1 — Package of Reese’s cups eaten by me
1 — Episodes of “Real Orange Housewives” consumed while eating chips

Wait, you might be asking, Zero naps? Why? Why would you do that to yourself, you crazy woman?

Well, the answer is quite simple. I wouldn’t.

I put all three kids to bed after lunch. Thomas, who finds new teeth very tiring indeed, was delighted to jump into his crib. I’m pretty sure he was asleep before the other kids’ heads hit their pillows. James was tucked in with tractors, diggers, trains and trucks all lined up in the appropriate places on his bed, shadows and monsters shooed from his room, and the requisite number of “You Are My Sunshine” encores and kisses. And Maddux, who had woken up at an unholy hour that morning and antagonized her brothers all day, clambered up into her bed for a story about a skeleton princess’ spooky surprise party and an admonition to take her nap or there would be no playground afterward.

Confident that I would be enjoying two full hours of NOT being smeared with snot and drool, NOT being sprayed with urine and NOT having to lecture anyone about tormenting siblings, I settled down with some Halls Centers and the previous night’s episode of “Project Runway.” (Did I mention I have a cold and that my throat feels as though I swallowed a set of Chinese throwing stars? I didn’t? Hmm, guess that’s because that was the least painful part of my week.)

But alas, Tim Gunn and friends would have to wait. The kids had been down for barely 40 minutes — not asleep, mind you, just down — when I heard Thomas fretting over the monitor. Now, having been slathered with a heaping dose of Orajel before his nap, I knew he wasn’t waking up on his own. So I turned up the volume on the monitor. Sure enough, I could hear the faint sounds of banging. And shrieking. I raced upstairs to tell James to pipe down.

But it wasn’t James. Oh no. James was happily playing with diggers at his regular naptime volume (which is loud, but not loud enough to wake a tired baby). The banging was coming from Maddux’ room, where she was doing goodness-only-knows what. And despite my having shut her door and told her to keep it shut so that the baby could sleep, my darling princess had flung her door wide and was singing at the very top of her lungs.

When she saw me coming, she clambered (noisily) into the far corner of her bunk bed and pretended to be fast asleep while sitting upright. I was not convinced.

The thing about the kids’ naps is this: If Thomas gets less than two hours, he will cling to my head like a drowning swimmer all night long. If James gets less than two hours, he will not pee on the potty. (And if I sit him on the potty, he won’t tuck. Which means I will reek of urine by the end of the day) If Maddux starts her day on the wrong foot and misses a nap, the mischief is compounded by a factor of approximately 3,000. Maybe more. If all three kids miss naps, well, we’re talking flying toys and a portal to hell in the closet.

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING IN HERE WITH YOUR DOOR WIDE OPEN??!!!” I yelled, channeling Joan Crawford. Shaking with the psychological devastation of an epic nap fail on the day when everyone (not least, Mommy) most needed it, I rushed a thrashing, screeching Maddux down the stairs, away from her brothers and their potential sleep. Of course, screaming at one kid is generally a pretty good way of waking the others up. So there we were, in the middle of what should have been naptime, back in the playroom. Thomas clinging to me like a hybrid koala-piranha, wiping snot in my hair. James refusing to sit on the potty or share trains. Maddux coloring in Daddy’s office so I wouldn’t accidentally strangle her.

There would be no restorative sleep for the cranky, teething baby. There would be no pee making it into (as opposed to in the general vicinity of) the training potty. There would be no acts of kindness from a well-rested oldest child. And there would be no break for Mom until after 8.

Don’t get me wrong. Potty training is still WAY easier during a break, when we’re not racing around to the gym and school. However, I cannot be held responsible for any junk food and terrible television I may consume after my adorable little mayhem machines are plugged into their recharging stations.

Whiz Kid

I have spent the last four years of my life potty-training people. Potty-training girls, potty-training boys, night-training, re-training, you name it. Few breaks. No vacations (unless you count childbirth, which I can tell you is a terrible way to get a reprieve from the drudgery of potty training). Constantly reminding, asking, changing Pull-Ups, shuttling a probably-too-late child at warp speed to the nearest toilet.

Potty training boys, it seems, is particularly hard for most moms. First, there’s the fact that we don’t have the necessary equipment to demonstrate proper peeing form. And, more importantly, they’re BOYS. Why take the time out of our days, they reason, to use a toilet when we can play trains in the comfort and convenience of warm, wet Pull-Ups? And James, who wails, brokenhearted, for more train time when I suggest a lunch break after hours and hours of train time, might be the toughest potty-training case yet.

When we broached the subject of potty training last year, James was more than happy to wear the colorful Diego Pull-Ups we bought for him. (Diego, as it happens, is only slightly less awesome than trains.) But as much as he loved his “big boy pants,” James did not love the idea of sitting on a toilet with his bare bottom. Once he was bribed and praised into some semblance of acquiescence, it seemed like we were almost in business. Now, if we could only get him to pee in the potty.

Here’s how that went:

Me (in a super-excited imitation of those manic people on children’s shows): “James, let’s put some PEE in your POTTY!”


Me (doing best impression of pee going into a toilet): “Sssssssssssssssssss”

James: “Pssssssssssst! Go ‘way, kitty!!”

Me (pulling up James’ Diego pants): “OK, James, we’ll try again later.”

James: “Mommmmmyyy! I SO SOAKED!”

And then, of course, there was the total evacuation strike. James was totally against waste elimination of either kind, but he was especially determined never to poop. And indeed, he went days and days without pooping. But inevitably, I’d be doing the dinner dishes after the kids were supposedly asleep, only to hear what sounded like a calf being slaughtered upstairs.

“I so pooped, Mommy!” James would lament, all sweaty and bug-eyed, thrusting faintly stinky hands in my face for (totally unneeded) emphasis. On legs as stiff as a new fawn’s, he’d totter into the bathroom for a change and a totally-beside-the-point half-hour on the potty.

But over the past six months, James’ Pull-Ups have been drier and drier, and many of his poops have made it into the toilet. With his big sister’s preschool graduation approaching, and James eager to join her in school while they’re still in the same class, I decided that spring break would be the week it would all happen.

A personalized cup was bought. A backpack was ordered online. We talked about classroom rules and school clothes and who he’d see on the playground. And on Friday afternoon, we pulled on a pair of tractor-themed underwear James purchased himself.

The poor tractor undies were thoroughly irrigated about 20 minutes later. Their package-mates hastily met a similar fate. James said adios to the green Diego undies. And the orange ones. And the blue ones.

There was much washing of undies and baking-powdering of wet spots on the floors. Potty-using did occur, but just as often, we could expect to hear Maddux wail, “Mommeeee, there’s pee all over the floor near the traiiiiiin taaaaable!”

Every 20 minutes, we’d have this discussion.

Me: “James, it’s time to go potty!”

James: “NOOOOO, Mommy! I playing (diggers/trains/dump trucks)!”

Me: “Let’s pee in the potty and then you can play some more.”

James: “NO MOMMEEE!! I stay DRY! (Slight pause) Mommy, I so peed!”

But finally, on Sunday afternoon, something clicked. Following his afternoon nap, James spent the entire evening dry. I was giddy with joy. On Monday, he stayed dry all morning. I fairly vibrated with pride as I put him down for his nap. After naptime, he ran to the potty himself and exclusively used the toilet — somebody pinch me! — until bedtime. Could it be that he was finally potty trained?

Alas, that was not to be. He had four slips the next day and one today. However, not one of those has been No. 2 and for that I am profoundly grateful. Because, frankly, cleaning a lump of doody the size and shape of a softball out of my darling child’s cloth underwear is not my idea of a fun time.

And this evening, James topped all his previous accomplishments by finally working up the courage (and coordination) to take a whiz standing up. And not a drop missed the toilet! (Grown men everywhere, take heed. IT CAN BE DONE!)

With another week and a bit left in our spring break, I think I can safely say James will actually make it to preschool this school year. It is the dawn of a glorious new era! James has already picked out all the toys he plans on using and what he plans to eat at snack time. Maddux, in turn, has taken it upon herself to tell James that he will not be wearing a tunic like hers, but pants. (I suppose, given that he thinks he will be in her ballet club as well, her specificity may be justified.)

Most importantly, though, I now have only one kid in diapers. And he’s an almost-18-month-old who yells at me while he’s pooping. There is a very real possibility that Thomas will be ready to potty train this summer. Which means one thing: After what will be five solid (and liquid) years of diapers as of May 6, Mama is getting a break!

Double Doody

The first thing you’ll read in any book or article on potty training is this: Kids potty-train on their own time. Let them pick the pace. Of course, another pellet of wisdom from the potty experts is that children need to be physically capable of removing their pants, which is why Thomas — to his undying chagrin — is not being potty trained yet.

You see, Thomas is very pro-potty. Anytime James happens to be sitting on his little blue Baby Bjorn potty chair, Thomas squeals with glee and places the training seat on the big potty and shrieks at me until I deposit him atop his throne, to a chorus of triumphant cackling. In the event that he is not placed on the potty while James is trying for No. 2, Thomas will angrily drop a deuce in his diaper right then and there.

While Thomas’ goal is to use the toilet like a big kid, James’ goal is to transcend the excretory system altogether. Oh, sure, he is happy to put something in the potty if there’s a treat on the line. But James has far greater ambitions.

“I stay dry all day,” he tells anyone who will listen. “I never EVER EVER go pee! I NEVER go poop!”

And with that goal in mind, he stayed dry all last night, for the first time ever.

“Would you like to pee in the potty, James?” I asked after retrieving him from his room.

“No, Mommy!” James shouted. “I stay DRY!”

“James,” I explained gently, “The way people stay dry is by using the potty so they don’t have pee accidents.”


“OK, James,” I said. “We’ll try after breakfast.”

After a two-juice breakfast, I asked him to sit on the potty again.

“No, Mommy, I stay dry ALL NIGHT. I never EVER need to go to de potty. I STAY DRY!”

All right, then. Of course, it’s no easy task steeling oneself against bowel and bladder evacuation when one’s attention is divided between holding in a night’s worth of pee and playing with toy excavators.

Ten minutes in, James stood stock-still in the middle of the room and hailed me with a familiar refrain: “I so soaked, Mommy! I so pooped!”

“James,” I asked as I escorted him to the bathroom, “Do you think maybe you should have gone in the potty when I asked you to?”

“NO! I stay DRY!” he insisted, Pull-Ups drooping heavily with evidence to the contrary.

As I cleaned him up, I could hear Thomas banging on the door and squealing with anger at my failure to include him in the festivities. Once James was ensconced on his wee throne, I opened the door to an overwhelming statement by Thomas, in olfactory form, that one can indeed attain yogi-like control over one’s bodily functions.

In a world in which Thomas was not one of three spirited children, I might consider toilet-training a baby who was neither able to remove his pants nor climb onto his potty of preference (yes, the Baby Bjorn is great for putting toys in and all, but nothing beats a giant, flushable potty into which you can fit your entire body if you so desire). But there are other kids in this family. Ones who are likely to start jumping off tables or get into the glitter glue if I disappear into the bathroom to keep the baby from drowning himself in the loo. So until the summer, when Thomas has reached the 18-month mark and isn’t swathed in heavy winter clothing, we’re just going to have to put up with on-demand pooping synchrony.

In happier news, James has stayed dry all afternoon. Now, if only we can convince him that his big-boy underpants are, indeed, NOT made of stinging nettle …

It’s Sockey Night in Canada

When I pulled the hockey sticks out of storage and wrapped them, Chris told me it was a bad idea. We’d bought them on sale at Costco when Maddux was about 18 months old and James wasn’t even holding up his own head, let alone a hockey stick.

Before the kids were big enough to interact with each other, we had visions of our adorable tots playing backyard games of ball hockey. When the kids finally did interact with each other, we revised that vision. The new vision looked more like a cross between Jai-Alai and a gladiator deathmatch, so into storage the toddler-size hockey sticks went.

But a few years had passed, and the older kids were big enough to know that high-sticking gets you a lot of time in the “time-out” box. Plus, what we’d managed to scrape together on our recession-era Christmas budget was looking pretty sad when we laid it all out to wrap.

“I’ll probably regret this,” I admitted as I surveyed the assortment of weaponry I was about to bestow on our band of tiny hooligans. But Maddi had already spied the sticks in the furnace room, so I was committed to the process.

When the paper came off the ball-hockey set on Christmas morning, the boys’ eyes lit up. “Sockey ball!” James giggled. No matter how many times I tell him that we play “hockey” with a “puck,” James will always insist that Canada’s national winter sport is sockey ball.

Ever since they were tiny, the boys have enjoyed watching sockey ball. James enjoys sockey and baseball in equal measures, but Thomas has a particular love for the ice. Before he was sitting up on his own, he’d watch hockey games with his daddy, his little eyes tracking the players and the puck. He’d squeal at the action and pump his little fists until the commercial break, at which time he went back to being a normal infant.

When Thomas was about five months old, we took all three kids to see the local WHL team play. Guess who started jumping up and down and squealing when the players skated onto the ice? As his siblings sat in their near-rinkside seats, somewhat bored, our not-yet-crawling baby tracked the action, waved his arms and jabbered gibberish in an urgent voice to the players. When we left at the end of the first period because Maddux and James were getting tired, Thomas howled his disapproval.

So now that Thomas was walking, I figured it was time to break out the hockey sticks. Insane, I know. Chris and I fully expected those sticks to be in permanent time-out by noon Christmas Day. But the kids proved us wrong. To be sure, there have been a few checking and high-sticking violations (for those who aren’t hockey fans, that means the boys have used their sticks to whack bodies and heads instead of the puck a few times).

However, this is what usually goes on: Thomas picks up a stick and holds it exactly like an NHL player. James does the same. If the puck (a blue ball in their case) is available, James will move it around with his stick while Thomas roars with laughter and swings his stick wildly (it’s as big as he is, and he’s new at this whole walking thing).

In the very likely event that the puck has gotten lost behind the couch, the boys will simply run around the playroom with knees slightly bent, sticks out, and their super-intense pro-hockey “game faces” on. James’ “game face” is concentrated scowl, with a slight flare of the nostrils, his eyes a few feet ahead of his stick on the “ice.” Thomas’ “game face” is a little different — his eyes wide, alert, a little crazy, and he’s usually jabbering some baby trash talk in James’ direction.

And on Saturday nights, we can always count on one thing. After dinner (usually pizza) and before bedtime (usually a bit late), the kids jump on the bed and watch “Hockey Night in Canada” with Daddy. Maddux, who’s going through her (realllly long) princess phase, doesn’t usually watch long, but if it’s Hockey Night, the boys happily watch the game until they’re dragged off to bed wailing “I watch sockeeeeeyyyy!”

Tonight, because the Canucks are losing*, the boys are celebrating Sockey Night downstairs with their own sticks. They’re good little boys and have watched enough hockey to know how the sport is played, so my refereeing skills are needed much more rarely than we thought when I pulled those sticks out of storage.

On the rare occasions when a boy raises a stick over his head and begins chasing the “other team” with wicked glee, all it takes is the question, “How do good little hockey players hold their sticks?” Down go the sticks. On go the “game faces.” It’s Sockey Night in Canada.

Watching the home team win the midget sockey championship

* The Canucks did not, in fact, lose and the kids got to watch the recorded version of their win after dinner. There was cheering and arm-pumping and the usually-coordinated Thomas was so excited that he took a header off the end of bed for the very first time. (Don’t worry, he was fine and went right back to jumping on the bed and cheering on the Canucks!)

No Holds Barred

Thomas hugged me yesterday. Now at this point in parenting, you’d think I wouldn’t care where my hugs are coming from. A hug is a hug is a hug, right?

Um, big “No” on that one. When you have a baby who is capable of slapping high fives with peers and offering his hand for adults to shake, I don’t think it’s too much to expect him to be able to give a proper hug to his own mommy. Especially when he is more than happy to bestow affectionate squeezes on the very brother who, just moments before, high-sticked him (a generous euphemism, as the hockey puck is nowhere to be found).

Maddux was never a hugger. Still isn’t. She’s more of a wrap-your-arms-around-a-neck-and-then-dangle-limply-with-your-full-body-weight-while-emitting-a-strange-high-pitched-giggler. But she abuses hugging technique with equal abandon upon all her victims, so that’s OK by me.

James, on the other hand, was born hugging. His arms just naturally curl into a hug position anytime he’s near anything remotely huggable. A mom, a pillow, a truck. If you’re on his VIP list, James will drape himself across your chest and ask you, with that huge smile that showcases all 20 of his teeth, “Sing sunshine song!”

Of course, if you are a baby, James finds that it’s easier to subdue you by giving your head a big squeeze. You can’t see. You can’t move. It’s perfect. So the key to getting a really good hug out of my middle son is to avoid being below the age of 14 months. (Luckily for you, you’re reading this, which means either that you’re older than 14 months, or that you’re a very bright baby indeed. In which case, you’ve been warned about the hugging.)

So anyway, James and Thomas have been hugging each other for a few weeks. At first I thought it was just a new grappling technique in their Fight Club.

“Stop that fighting at once!” I barked at my two smiling boys. Then I thought to myself, “Why are both of them smiling? Shouldn’t one of them be screaming for mercy?” And I realized that instead of a mutual stranglehold, I was witness to the most amazing thing ever: Two boys hugging each other nicely instead of face-checking each other. And I had just yelled at them to stop. Oops.

Luckily, my children are incredibly disobedient, so telling them not to hug was perhaps my parenting coup d’ etat. They embrace each other in between head-butts at home, and give each other big bear-hugs at the gym. Go, me.

But was I on the receiving end of any of these full-contact hugs? No, I was not. Although Thomas was happy to slap me fives or shake my hand or descend into my knee whenever a spot happened to be available (he will plop himself on any open lap, a fact which delights his siblings to no end), his mommy-hugs consisted of a hand on each shoulder, his head laid sweetly just below my chin. Nothing to sneeze at — but then he’d go give his brother a hearty squeeze around the neck. Where’s my squeeze, kid? You wanna talk squeezes? You don’t even want to know how long I spent trying to squeeze your giant full-term head out, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to face the right direction! Don’t you think I could use a hug after all of that?

But after a few weeks of practice, Thomas decided his hugs were ready for prime time, without me ever having to unleash my “Where’s Mommy’s hug?” rant on his unsuspecting ears. (Besides, I’m saving the agony-of-labor card for something really important, like sleep.)

Yesterday, as the boys and I were dropping Maddux off in her classroom, we all hugged each other good-bye as usual. Then James gave me a hug good-bye as well, hoping that this was the day I’d let him stay in Maddi’s class and play with all the fun blocks and beads. (He keeps forgetting this is contingent on being potty trained.)

“Aww, James, what a nice hug!” I exclaimed.

Then Thomas flung his chubby arms around my neck and crushed his cheek against mine. I just about fell over. (And not just because I was squatting and the giant baby-hug threw off my equilibrium!)

I’m a pretty tough cookie. I can ice a bloody lip or nose without breaking a sweat. I can scour dried poop clumps from a windowsill with the calm of someone sweeping away a few dust bunnies. And on Sept. 11, 2001, when my radio alarm clock woke me with news of planes flying into American landmarks, I went to work on what should have been the first day of my weekend (24-year-olds don’t get real weekends off in news) and edited stories of death and horror for another week. The only things that can dissolve me into a quivering puddle of goo are that impossibly sweet “Silent Night” Pampers commercial and hugs from babies whose little limbs can barely encircle your neck.

And I finally got my big, soft, heart-melting baby hug from Thomas at the moment when I least expected it. If it hadn’t been for the swarm of 3- and 4-year-olds watching and judging, I would have wept for joy right there. There’s just something about a toddler’s glorious abandon of affection that can turn a mom to jelly in an instant. A hug is not just a hug when it’s my baby’s first, no matter how many kids I have. (Although, given my feelings about the third stage of labor, I think it’s safe to say we’re done.)

Fun and Games

For more than a century, athletes from all over have converged every couple years for the Olympic Games. Sometimes, the games are held in scary locales with creepy, oppressive cultures and corrupt officials — Hitler’s Germany, Soviet-era Russia, Salt Lake City. But this year, the Winter Olympics are but a few hours away in beautiful and friendly Vancouver, B.C.

One of the perks of living a few hours away from the Olympics’ host city is that the torch relay passes through our town. Since it’s not a terribly big city and we weren’t sure when we’d be on the relay route again, we decided to take our kids out past their bedtimes. Just this once.

Since this blog is basically birth control in written form, you are probably expecting this to end badly. As much as I would love to give you a satisfying tale of terrible kiddie chaos and frenzied coffee-swilling madness, I must regretfully announce that there was a minimum of insanity.

OK, fine, James and Maddux both licked the railing on the park bench and Thomas managed to create for himself, in a matter of 2.5 seconds, a handsome cookie beard. There was also the small issue of the single light-up Coke bottle someone handed the kids, so that instead of having some boring conversation with my husband on the ride home, I could spend my time refereeing a heated toy-custody battle. (Luckily, these bottles do not have a very good battery life.)

However, things could have been much worse. Let’s face it; they usually are much worse. Since nobody pooped an entire outfit or split their face open or had a tantrum that attracted stares from a block away, I shall consider our outing a smashing success. The kids bounced around excitedly, Maddux proclaiming early, often, and loudly, in her best Rose-Bowl-parade-announcer voice, “The Olympic TORCH!” (Bystanders stopped looking around for it after about the fifth time.) James also enjoyed playing Official Announcer, baffling those around us with his triumphant shouts of “Da whipping porch!”

While James and Thomas enjoyed the torch relay, they are newcomers to the Olympic scene. Not so Maddux. Our little preschooler has been hosting pretend Olympic games in the playroom since July, often being the only contestant, which lends credibility to her amazing gold-medal streak of some 800-bazillion and counting. She never tires of skipping across the room, giggling in pageant-perfect faux humility as she receives her prize from the invisible panel of judges, and racing back to me proclaiming “I won another GOLD MEDAL!!!!” in a voice so excited it might surprise you to learn it was her 400th GOLD MEDAL!!!! of the afternoon. (Just wait until she learns about Academy Award speeches. She’ll be unstoppable.)

Maddux’ skipping always represents the sport of figure skating, that pinnacle of winter sports for girlie girls. She used to call it “girl hockey” because in a local ice arena where we watched an exhibition hockey game, there was a mural on the wall portraying a female figure skater. After leaving the game, she told me “I want to be a hockey ghoul (this is how she pronounces girl), because I just LOVE their outfits!”

“Really?” I asked, rather skeptically.

“Yes, they are just like PRINCESSES!” my daughter exclaimed rapturously.


“That’s not hockey, that’s figure skating. Hockey girls wear the same thing as hockey boys. Figure skaters wear little skirts, and the boy figure skaters wear pants and fancy shirts. They don’t play hockey, they do the same things you do in ballet class, except on ice skates.”

Maddux’ eyes went from her regular-cartoon size to full-on anime-heroine size.

“I’m gonna be a figger satyr!” she exclaimed with a squeal.

So a figure skater she is, winning thousands of gold medals weekly. (Take that, Michael Phelps!)

But now that we’ve watched the Olympic torch come through town, James is ready, too. The whole ride home, during his turn to hold the coveted glowing Coke, he held the bottle aloft as if it were the torch itself, yelling as it changed color: “RED!!!! GREEN!!!! BLUUUUEEE!!!! YEYYOW!!!!RED!!!!!!!” (This is always a delightful thing in the car, as James has only the one volume: Super loud.)

So for the boys, we’ll have hockey — or as they call it, sockey ball. (Yes, they realize that sockey ball players use a “puck,” but that doesn’t change the fact that its name is “sockey ball.”) And for Maddux, we will record figure skating. Although we really need to work on pronouncing those ‘K’s and ‘G’s, since nimbly sliding across the tile in the mall in slippery shoes while you’re yelling loudly, “Look, I’m Satan!” tends to draw stares.

Happily, no such stares were drawn last night and we all survived the torch relay — the only casualty being a healthy dinner (unless you believe Kraft’s claims). The next Olympian feat: tomorrow night’s family hockey night with Maddux’ school, in which we will attend a Rockets game right around bedtime. Stay tuned for the exciting sporting action!

Waiting for the torch

What’s In A Name?

“They” say our identities are fully formed by the age of 3. And funnily enough, 3-year-olds — at least the ones I’ve known — are often inclined to rename themselves. One child will take on the moniker of his favorite cartoon hero. Another may borrow the name of a favorite food. Sometimes the meaning behind a preschooler’s alter ego is a complete mystery.

I, for instance, happened to have an evil twin named Heathera, upon whom all my misdeeds were blamed. This Heathera ran about besmirching my good name — playing with things she wasn’t supposed to, making terrible messes and torturing my brothers. (I’m reasonably sure she opens packets of instant oatmeal over the freshly-cleaned cooktop every morning, too, so get off my back, Chris.) Yes, the standard set for my progeny was pretty high to begin with.

Then, the inimitable Maddux was born. Our fearless daughter is not one to concoct imaginary evil twins. Oh no. She had darn well better get credit for her dramatic and inventive misdeeds! And thus, at the tender age of 2, our mild-mannered toddler became the supervillain known as “Chaos.”

That’s right. As she jumped from couch to couch, strewing a wake of broken “babyproofing” gadgets in her path, she would recoil at the very mention of this Maddux person she’d once been.

“I not Maddux!” she would snap. “I CHAOS!”

And you know what? We really couldn’t argue with that.

While we’re not really sure where our darling daughter came up with her intimidating (yet completely appropriate) nickname, I have to take partial responsibility for what my son calls himself. Our eldest boy, who plays all the livelong day with giant-wheeled vehicles and hockey sticks, has given himself a nickname that will strike fear into the hearts of … well, anyone that really hates kittens and lollipops and rainbows.

Get ready for it …

My almost-preschool-age son has chosen for himself the rather long title of “The Little Baby Jamesycakes.”

Not Spider-Man. Not Monster Truck. Not even just Jamesycakes, which I could handle. Little. Baby. Jamesycakes. And he says it in THE cutest voice. EVER.

Yeah, he is not going near a playground until we clear that one up.

I called him Jamesycakes a couple times while smothering him with kisses at tuck-in time, as I think moms are entitled to do on occasion — failing to realize that he would associate the nickname with cake, which happens to be his favorite thing ever in the whole entire world. OF COURSE he wants people to think of James and immediately think of cake. What could be better, right?

Well, if you’re James, apparently babies. Little babies. And I have to admit he certainly is a cute little baby Jamesycakes when he hunches his shoulders up to his ears, cocks his head to one side, squints his eyes into adorable little LOLcat slits and says “I the cute little baby Jamesycakes!” in his very sweetest voice. However, I have it on pretty good authority that cute little baby boys who name themselves after pastry get a lot of swirlies and atomic wedgies. So we need to find a nickname that’s slightly less “LOLcat” and more “surviving to adulthood.”

James train? Rescue Pack? “I haz cheezburger”?

At least you can’t fault the kids on originality. Which is why I’m eagerly awaiting the day Thomas decides that his name just isn’t “him.” What will our youngest boy be rechristened? Will it be something based on his behavior, like Headbutt or Crush? Or will he, too, find inspiration in a favorite food? Perhaps in a few years, our playroom will be ruled by Sushi or Cheddar Bunny. If he’s anything like his siblings, Thomas will choose an alter ego that suits his personality.

So, Headbutt it is.

Chaos, microwaver of innocent puppy dogs

Lucky Three

If things had gone according to plan, James would have turned three during the first week or two of January. As it happens, James has always done things on his own timetable, and he turned three in the last week of November, five weeks ahead of schedule.

His term in utero was not the easiest — I was on partial bedrest for the first 10 weeks and on full bedrest for almost all of the final two-and-a-half. After a partial placental abruption at 32.5 weeks, I spent several harrowing hours wondering whether he had survived at all. I’m not sure I dared even to breathe until 7:15 a.m., Nov. 28, 2006, when he was ushered into the world at exactly 35 weeks’ gestation, pink and healthy and beautiful and squalling. (James garnered a near-perfect APGAR and weighed an impressive 5 lbs. 12 oz. at birth!) He had a few small holes in his heart — which were unrelated to his prematurity and were well on their way to closing up when last he was checked — but he fed well and by the age of six months, he was as roly-poly a baby as you could imagine.

The thing about preterm babies, of course, is that you can’t fixate on developmental milestones. Some infants catch up right away; some catch up after a year or two. James’ development has always been a little baffling. He sat early (before 5 months’ gestational age) but walked so late we were just about to dial the pediatrician when he finally began toddling around at 19 months. He figured out how to roll a car before he could sit, but up until recently did not engage in any kind of cooperative or pretend play. And this summer, at 2 1/2, James was still not saying much, unless you count babbling, parroting, and yelling “Digger! Digger! Digger!” We knew he would be hitting some milestones later, but when his 22-moths-younger brother was slapping high-fives before James — and rapidly catching up in vocabulary — we were pretty certain it was more than just an issue of being born 5 weeks ahead of schedule.

Because of these things (and other things, such as his many and outrageous meltdowns, his reluctance to socialize outside his family, and his habit of sorting and lining up all his vehicles rather than actually playing with them) he’s been referred for an evaluation for a high-functioning form of autism.

However, as with his gestation and his early milestones, James does things at his own pace. Not long before his third birthday, his speech went from 90 pecent gibberish to 50 percent gibberish, and he began using an amazing amount of new words. It’s as if that language explosion “they” say to expect at 18 months simply waited an additional 18 months to happen. Instead of screaming like a pig at slaughter and flinging himself on the floor of Maddux’ school — based solely on the fact that the first time we visited, he was in a stroller, and that is how it forevermore should be — he now trots cheerfully down the hall. Instead of lurking in the door and staring (and shrieking and pushing the teacher when invited in), James will now scurry into the room, sit on his favorite couch, sort some blocks, and insist on hugging that same teacher ‘goodbye’ as we leave.

Before November, James had said “I love you” to me exactly twice. Now he says it at least once a week (fishing for it still doesn’t work, alas!). Before Christmas, he played exclusively with wheeled toys, and never pretended they were doing anything other than driving across a room or around a track. Now, he plays with pretend food and hockey sticks and even — if you catch him in the right mood — his animals (although they don’t interact with each other — they’re kind of like vehicles with legs). Today, I caught him pretending to fuel his magnetic trains.

In the past few months, he’s begun potty training, learned to count to three, and mastered most of his colors and a fair amount of animals. He made a friend of sorts at Maddux’ preschool (one who attacks him with kisses, actually, but at this point I’m not going to be choosy!). And yesterday, he finally agreed to go to a daycare at a new gym — a biggie, since we’ve been driving 40 minutes round-trip to our old one to provide him with continuity after our move seven months ago.

There are a few sticking points, to be sure — such as his refusal to wear a jacket even at -15, a slight vocal tic (which diminishes a bit more each week), and his unparalleled fear of unfamiliar footwear. But we’ve made great strides since the day early last year when I brought him to swimming class and he a) insisted on bringing his favorite toy bus IN THE WATER and b) screamed himself snotty until we left the pool because, being in the water as we were, he was unable to roll said bus.

Of course, whatever his developmental timetable turns out to be, every time I hold my little son my thoughts are drawn back to that gut-wrenching 10-minute ambulance ride in 2006, during which I was sure the near-term baby I felt sloshing against the roof of my belly every time we hit a bump had surely died. At least several times a day, as his small arms wrap around me and he asks me to sing the “sunshine song” exactly three times (no more, no less), I am profoundly grateful to have this little boy at all.

Perhaps he will “outgrow” his developmental delays and grow up to be the next Einstein or Edison or Gates (three oft-cited examples of probable Asperger Syndrome). Or perhaps he’ll be living in our in-law suite at age 45 and still subsisting entirely on waffles, steak and cheddar bunnies. Either way, we are lucky to have this happy, healthy kid — and his siblings — and we’re proud of all their milestones, whether on the experts’ schedules or on Jamesy Time.

The Odyssey (And Other Things Borrowed From Those Masters of Tragedy, The Greeks)

In Greek mythology, a boy named Icarus puts on a pair of wings made of wax and feathers and, ignoring the warnings of his father, flies too close to the sun. Since wax doesn’t hold up terribly well to heat (Daedalus apparently didn’t think his invention through too well), poor Icarus falls into the sea when his wings melt away.

I recently undertook an Icarian journey of my own, but substitute a plane for the sun and my kids for wings. The plane hadn’t even pulled out of the hangar before the meltdowns began.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was very excited when Chris booked a trip for all five of us to attend my brother’s wedding in Tennessee. But I also threw up a little in my mouth, because none of us (even the most patient and perfect, which I am not!) really looks forward with delight to an international trip spanning four travel days and 6,000 miles round-trip.

My mom suggested that we make a few weeks of it, but I looked into it, and they don’t offer a Round-Trip-With-Padded-Cell-On-Return-Flight special, so I politely declined the offer to spend an extra week being smothered by insane toddlers on a bouncy air mattress.

Our odyssey begins the Wednesday before the wedding weekend. We were supposed to be packed and ready to go by the time Maddux got out of school, but of course we weren’t. When one has three kids, packing up all the “last-minute” things such as toothbrushes and suckies and special toys takes a lot more than your “last minute” between the end of naptime and time to get out the door. Try “last five hours with many interruptions from small children who are hanging, slothlike, from your limbs.” So we got out of the house three hours behind schedule, at 7.

It actually worked out well, because the kids slept on the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Spokane instead of what they usually do in the car, which is fight and whine. Or, maybe not. Once we got to the motel, they were bouncing off the walls. If there is one thing worse than sleeping on a lumpy motel mattress, it’s trying to sleep on a motel mattress while listening to a wide-awake toddler chatter until 1:30 a.m. about diggers and trains and who poops in their pants or doesn’t (turns out, everyone does).

Eventually, I fell asleep wedged — uncomfortable and completely immobile — between a toddler and a hotel-crib-hating baby, while listening to the steady snores of my preschooler (but only until 5:30, when she woke up and decided to gallop around the room. Joy.)

After that refreshing 4-hour repose (and let’s not forget that the previous night was spent packing) it was time to spend nine hours in various planes and airports. Let me just say that while we saved thousands of dollars by driving to the states and taking a flight with a layover, THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS. Seriously. Can’t emphasize that enough. Quite honestly, any travel time greater than two hours pretty much requires a heaping dose of Valium for everyone involved. It’s impossible for me to adequately describe the horror of a full day of flying after a half-day of car travel. I will try anyway, but much like the battlefield, nothing is quite the same as actually being in the trenches.

So, the day began promisingly enough. After drinking enough coffee to kill Juan Valdez himself, we headed to the airport with kids and bags in tow. Check-in and security were surprisingly uneventful, except for a teensy meltdown when James was asked to remove his shoes. The kids were all very well behaved in the airport. You know, like the calm before the storm.

That all changed once the captain turned on the “fasten seatbelt” light. I leaned over to fasten James’ for him, but apparently I had neglected to inform him that children need to be properly restrained during flight.

“NNNOOOO SEATBELT!!” he shrieked, to the warm smiles dismay of everyone around us. “I DON’T WANNITTTTT!!! NOOOOO, MOMMMMEEE, NOOOOO!”

And to my immense delight, my little treasure of a boy threw himself on the floor in front of his seat and proceeded to have the most adorable screaming fit ever. Everyone applauded. Oh, I mean glared. I threw up a little in my mouth.

Luckily, after we determined that James was now fulfilling the dual role of ticketed passenger AND lap baby, that flight was uneventful.

That flight.

Fast-forward through a disgusting and slimy lunch at the Las Vegas airport’s Sbarro, which was abundant with whining, crying and pizza-throwing by our non-napped baby, and we were on our second flight of the evening, which basically started not long before bedtime (you know about foreshadowing, right? So remember the phrases “non-napped baby” and “not long before bedtime”.)

So, as we are holding our now TWO lap babies pre-flight, we foolishly tell our fellow passengers, “They haven’t had a nap today and it’s bedtime, so with any luck, they will sleep the whole time.”

This is the point in our story where, were it sci-fi, current-day Heather builds a time machine and goes back to strangle two-weeks ago Heather, screaming, “WHY? WHY DID YOU SAY THAT??!”

Naturally, Thomas whined and cried the entire time and did not, in fact, fall asleep until he had entertained the entire plane with his imitation of an angry bald eagle for a good half-hour. We were happy to deplane long after everyone else, so that they would have time to decide NOT to rush us en masse.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was 2:30 a.m. Tennessee time and way past bedtime any way you cut it. The kids, thank goodness, all passed out the instant their heads hit their pillows and slept until a ridiculous hour (which, combined with Thomas eating the longest breakfast in the history of breakfast, probably owing to his hatred of Sbarro pizza, resulted in our being late to the rehearsal). Oh, I forgot to mention — the rehearsal and wedding? A four-hour drive from Nashville, where we landed. The money we saved on airfare might just be spent on psychotherapy.

The three-ish days we spent in Memphis are a blur of wedding awesomeness and kids-in-the-same-bed-as-me awfulness. I will skip over the late-night chatter of James, the early-morning waking of Maddux, and the joys of entertaining a baby in a series of unbabyproofed venues.

Fast-forward to the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I was dreading this night, because no matter how much he may deny it, Dad does wake up at 5 a.m. and make inhuman amounts of maybe-inadvertent-but-maybe-not noise. Every. Living. Day. (Do we know any 4-year-old girls like this? Why yes. We surely do. Wonder where she got that …) So after securing his promise that he would be as quiet as the proverbial mouse (although, having grown up with pet rodents, I can assure you that they are actually very audible), we agreed to crash in the guest room. Thomas had dibs on the Pack ‘N’ Play, Maddux called the little couch, and James and I shared the air mattress.

Ahh, James. He of the never-ending nighttime chatter. On this particular night, I can verify that he was awake and talking until 1:30 a.m. Tennessee time. The rest of the night I spent completely awake, as his weight and my weight rolled us into the middle of the air mattress in a sweaty, kicking, drooly heap.

Sunrise in Tennessee comes around 6 a.m. I can tell you this because my watch said 4-something when I first heard Maddux chattering away to her stuffed animals and realized with horror that there were no blackout curtains. WHY DIDN’T I REMEMBER TO WARN THEM ABOUT BLACKOUT CURTAINS? All of the kids would really benefit from falconers’ hoods, but Maddux more so than her brothers. As soon as there’s a glimmer of light coming into her room, her eyes spring open and she’s ready to go, as if she were a walking, talking solar panel (who, unfortunately, keeps a charge long after the sun has set). Naturally, her morning adventures became louder and louder until I sent her downstairs — the resulting tantrum, of course, being what woke the boys at 6 our time. The saddest part in all of this is that I didn’t hear a single bang or crash from my dad the whole morning. Nope. Just from the kids.

This was going to be the most awesome day of travelling yet. I could tell.

We’ll just fast-forward here through the first flight, which was pretty much the same story as the second flight of the previous trip. James seatbelt tantrum, Thomas wants to nap but instead cries, Mom bounces everyone on knees and sings “Thomas the Tank Engine” theme song until boys fall asleep just as captain announces descent. Deplane in shame after angry business passengers, having ordered record amounts of in-flight adult drinks, rush off plane to consume Juan-Valdez-killing amounts of coffee and schedule vasectomies. Spend an hour on the tram because a) the kids think it’s a Thomas train and b) an hour of riding between two buildings numbly listening to your kids yell “All aboard!” exactly every two minutes beats sitting in chairs having people direct homicidal glares your way.

This brings us to the second flight.

Note to self: Never again schedule a flight after the kids’ normal bedtime. Especially after five days on the road. Especially when it’s your second flight of the day and you have made your Sbarro-hating baby eat (or rather, throw and complain about) Sbarro again because it is the only restaurant in your stupid terminal.

Imagine the previous plane scenarios I’ve described, except with Thomas literally climbing on Chris’ and my heads and James having even more floor tantrums. Imagine Maddux, for whatever reason, pretending she’s at a Jewish wedding — except substitute the glass with some in-flight Chips Ahoy wafer thingies. Imagine me singing the stupid Thomas train song for more than an hour (oh, lucky, LUCKY people in front of me!). Imagine it not really working. Imagine the most high-pitched eagle screech a baby could possibly make, but imagine it being done into a megaphone — seriously, that boy has some pipes. And for a good 30 minutes nonstop, at least. What I imagined was Samuel L. Jackson coming at us with a gun, beads of sweat rolling down his face as he commanded “Get these emm-effing kids off this emm-effing plane!”

I’m pretty sure that even the laid-back coastal mom whose two preschoolish-age kids led the rear of the plane in a rousing rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” was wishing she hadn’t sat in front of the crazy family with a preschooler, a toddler and an almost-toddler. And at the end of the Flight of Horror, instead of heaving a huge sigh of relief, I ended up carrying not one but TWO sleepy boys along with a diaper bag THROUGH THE AIRPORT because, even though you can get one immediately if you are flying OUT, apparently they do not rent out little baggage carts right at the gate. (The baggage cart wouldn’t have been for the boys, but rather the baggage that Chris was lugging instead of a boy. Although I’m sure they would have enjoyed that.)

We went to the hotel, James chattered and suffocated me in sweaty, drooly toddler snuggles (how DO they simultaneously snuggle and kick?), baby wailed, Maddux rose early with bells on, blah blah blah. I’m sure you know the drill.

AHHHH, Chris and I thought, Five hours and it’s over. (Oh, you poor fools.)

You know how you always forget something on a trip? Well, I remembered everything. Just not enough of everything. Namely, diapers. Also, after four days in a roomy minivan, I forgot how, in the Highlander, our three young and feisty children are all but inches away from each other.

So, with Thomas in a pair of size 5 Diego Easy-Ups, we headed onto the open road to a round of, “Jamesy’s touchin’ me!” “Maggots poops her pants, HAHAHA!” “CAWW! CA-CAWWWW!” “Thomas scratcheded me!” “DON’T DO DAT, MAGGOTS!!” “CAWWWWWWWWW!!!!”

But it was all OK, because hey, there’s the border! Hey, there’s that cute little town we passed in the Kootenays. Hey … what’s that smell?

That smell, my friends, is the smell of despair. Changing a diaper in the front seat of a fully-packed car is no easy task. Changing an oversize pair of Easy-Ups on a baby who has eaten too much Sonic and still thinks of diaper changes as a contact sport, in near-freezing temperatures at a mountain gas station? Worse than all the aforementioned plane trips combined.

Eventually we made it home, although we think our sanity may have been lost in transit. Guess that shows us for aiming too high! I’m pretty certain that if Icarus had been travelling with kids, he would have been pretty happy to plunge into the sea and end it all.

Next time: Why we will never fly Southwest again.

Hello, My Name Is:

Heaven help us if my children are ever lost (an unlikely event given that the boys are always in their stroller, and Maddux is required to have one hand on said stroller at all times — but we mommies do worry!).

I do my best to teach them their vital info and the numbers “9-1-1,” but it’s definitely a work in progress.

Maddux still identifies the number 9 as a seven. When I ask her what number she should dial if there is a fire, she usually says — with an air of absolute authority — “one-three-six” or some other random series of numbers. But at least she knows all of our names and where she lives.

Today, since James is finally talking fairly competently, I decided to quiz him on his personal info.

Me: “What’s your name?”

James: “GROCCOLI!” (big smile on his face, no broccoli anywhere to be seen)

Me: “OK, Broccoli, what’s your mommy’s name?”

James: “BACON!” (Wait, what? We’re pronouncing that correctly now? Or only when we’re telling the police we were raised by a slab of cured meat?)

Me: “What’s your last name, little guy?”

James: “MADDUX!” (laughing uproariously, because being a lost little boy is super fun)

Me: “Where do you live?”

James: “Poppa’s truck! AAAHAHAHAHAAA!”

Me: “OK, let’s try this again. Your name is James.”

James: “GROCCOLI!”

Me: “What is your last name?”

James: “I go downstairs, play diggers and trucks?”

Me: “Not right now. Your last name is Phillips. You live in (name of our town).”

James: “Phillips! I play trains!”

Me: “Yes, your name is James Phillips. Where do you live?”

James: “Nana’s house! In da bathroom!”

Me: “You had better hope you never get lost and picked up by the police, kiddo.”

Meanwhile, his sister has no trouble telling people her parents’ first names. From time to time, if the rude “Mommy-mommy-mommy” chorus isn’t doing the trick when she’s trying to interrupt adult conversation, Maddux will make herself known by uttering a very polite (but also very forbidden) “Heather.” And I’m not entirely sure that her preschool teacher is convinced Chris is her actual father, because Maddux introduced us as “Mommy and Chris.” So now her teacher calls us “Mommy and Chris,” too, even though I thought I was fairly clear about the fact that Chris is, indeed, my daughter’s dad and not a random boyfriend.

As annoying as it is that our sweet-faced preschooler occasionally abuses our names, I like to think she’ll remember this information if she ever finds herself lost at the mall. Let’s hope if Groccoli ever gets lost, he will have our handy Walking Encyclopedia of Grown-Ups’ Real Names along with him for easy reference. Otherwise, we’ll see this on the news:

Boy named Broccoli claims he’s been living in his
grandfather’s truck and his grandmother’s bathroom
and working illegally as a digger operator.