Complements and Waiting

It seems to me that a more adequate metaphor for children is not cute little naked cherubim, nor wide eyed bundles of innocence; but rather an empty bowl. Yes, a child is a large empty bowl. An empty bowl placed down stream, filling up with whatever refuse might be floating by. While a parent’s appointment, is to forcibly stuff those bowls with good things. Fill them to over flowing at a breakneck speed in order to fill them first, and push out the garbage that always seems to settle at the bottom.

And at times, Wife and I find ourselves able to stop our mad rush for just a moment to listen to a total stranger complement their good behavior. We were at a restaurant, when a lady commented, “You wouldn’t even know that there were eight children in here.”

At this point, if you do not wish to read of my children’s good behavior, I urge you to calmly, but sincerely, turn off you internet now.

To start, we had suffered a long drive to the graveyard. Be assured, everyone is alive and kicking; and kick they do. The burial was for an old family friend. Wife, I, and the children piled out of the van into the heat of an early summer. Our girls were in their Sunday’s best, complete with hair done up and little sweaters, which as it turned out were too hot to wear. The boys’ attire was topped off with vests and ties, and they could have fit in at a mafia reunion.

The service was delayed by an inept funeral home. The children had a slight panic when they thought we had run out of bottles of water. #7 and #8 had just gotten over the flu, and were getting fussier and fussier as the day got hotter and hotter. We had to wait for the gravedigger to widen the hole so the ashes could be buried. And finally, I got lost on the drive to the wake.

And the day got hotter and hotter.

And the day got hotter and hotter.

A lunch that should have started at about two-o-clock was instead started at a little after four-o-clock. And the savages were hungry. When the spaghetti hit the table, the children set to it with a passion.  The complement stated above was given some time after that.

What’s our secret for well behaved children? I could give a litany of how to raise, discipline, and nurture children. However in this case, I assert that they were just starved down.Food at Last

Weapons of Mass Distraction

The art of paying attention in Mass with all the children is like balancing a bolder on a toothpick. It’s not impossible, however it does seem to take a minor miracle.

I sat in the pew with one or two children to my right, while Wife sat with the same on her left, and the rest were firmly placed between us. All in arms reach of either Wife or myself. So we went through Mass as child-bookends, and a nearly constant string of correcting and scolding fills our Sunday celebration. I believe it has been about five years since Wife and I have sat next to each other, with the children for an entire service.

Don't they look sweet?

Don’t they look sweet?

#8 has gotten to the age when he gets passed from Wife, to myself, to #1, and back again with #2 pitch hitting, all in an attempt to quiet him down. While at the same time as the baby is passed over, #7 is sent in the opposite direction to which ever parent does not have the baby. #7 is still a handful, and needs mom or dad’s direction during the entire Mass, he just won’t let up.

The rest of the crew should be old enough to stand still… they should be. #5 and #6 were starting to grapple with each other again and had to be stopped. Snap my fingers at #3 to stop daydreaming and pay attention. There was Wife shooshing #4 who was making squeaking noises at #8, and then gesturing for #2 to keep her eye forward. Then I had to separate the boys because their wrestling match started up again. And there were #1 and #2 holding quiet negotiations over who would be able to take the fussy baby outside.

I really wish I could say that sort of thing only happened in one Sunday out of ten… I really do. The fact is, as much as I wish my children were perfect little angels at church, they seem more to be weapons of Mass distraction.

So, for our anniversary, Wife and I went to daily Mass all by ourselves. I was going to able to listen to the Gospel Readings and pay perfect attention to Father’s homily. But as Mass progressed, I instead found myself looking at the stained glass windows and glancing around to see who might be in church on a Friday night.

Well, maybe the children aren’t why I’m distracted in Mass, they’re just my excuse.

Blunt Observations

I’ve had quiet children; however they have yet to remain quiet. The girls virtually came out talking, and they have not neglected their sibling duties of instructing their younger brothers in the finer points of eliminating silence. Believe me, there is no such thing as an “awkward silence” in my house.

Wife’s grandmother from out of state had come into town for a visit; and my boys set to work at entertaining her. She was accosted with drawing after drawing, all the while #5 kept up a running commentary with #6 parroting him. #5 drew her attention to either his paper or that of his brother’s, illuminating the hidden figures that seemed to be somewhere behind the dark storm cloud of scribbles.

At one point they where waiting for #6 to finish his drawing and there was nearly an awkward silence, but then #5 piped in an observation to his great grandmother, “Yo’r arms are squooshy.”

He could have stopped there. I would have been happy if he had. My pride would have been happy. But it was like the start of a flashflood, there was no stopping him at that point.

He continued, “Yah, and yo’r skin is soft too. And yo’r skinny. But you don’t have any money ‘causes yo’r weel old.” And he nodded his head at her with all the authority of a knowledgeable four year old. He was quite undisputable.

Further observation was halted by the arrival of #6 and his latest thunderhead.

I actually had to admire the little boy. If I had said anything like that, Wife’s grandmother would have been offended, and I would have received and ear full from Wife well into the next week. #5 insults her age and financial security, and he gets chuckles and a kiss.

While the children can’t get away with all the noises they make, grandmothers certainly have a weakness for their blunt observations.Little boys on grandmother's lap

“There’s a Snake in My Boot”

There are two phrases I hope to never again hear. The first is, “The dog pooped on the carpet.” The second is, “There is a snake in the house!”

In the early hours of the morning, about two thirty, I was wakened out of a dead sleep by the shrill cry of #1 proclaiming the second phrase. I don’t remember sitting up. I think rather that I jumped from a laying position straight up in the air, landed on my feet, and made it all the way to the door before my eyes caught up with me and opened. Once the bedroom door was open, I could see down the hall to where a scared little girl’s eyes were fixed.

I quickly scanned the hall for the rattler in the dim light, but instead of the familiar dark diamond pattern, I saw white stripes? At first my mind was unwilling to believe it, so I just stood there, drowsy in the hallway. Wife shouted from behind me, inquiring where the snake was, and all I thought to answer was, “Let my eyes adjust!”

After another minute, I was able to declare, to everyone’s relief, that it was not a rattlesnake. To which Wife quickly demanded, “Then what is it?”

“I think it’s a Kingsnake.” After turning on the lights I could properly see the black and white ringed reptile hugging the wall. Sure enough, it was a Kingsnake. Now what?

A rattlesnake I would have killed, no matter what, no matter the mess. But a Kingsnake, well that’s just a horse of a different color. A person just doesn’t kill a Kingsnake. Kingsnakes are nice snakes. They’re good luck to have around your house. And on top of everything, they eat rattlesnakes! That meant I had only one choice, I needed to catch it. And like any man with only half a nights sleep under his belt, I just dove right in.

Be aware, at that point Wife shut the bedroom door, just in case it got away from me and continued to slither in the direction it was pointed in. It was kinda giving her the evil eye.

Kingsnake caught!Looking back, I think I did pretty good. I only got bit once, and the snake was safely let loose in the trees outside. Good luck for my house.

So now I have one problem, how did it get into the house? Wife wore boots indoors for the next day, certain the Kingsnake was just the forerunner of a snake invasion. While I reject that assertion; I am never the less baffled as to how it made its entry.

One thing is for sure; when visiting the bathroom in our house at night, step lightly and carry a big stick.Snake in a Bucket

 

 

Little Fears

The fears of little children can be quite comical from where we stand with our many years. But to the small child, they are as real and terrifying as falling out of bed. In the little one’s eye, the prospect of travel down a dark hallway is alike to following a rattlesnake down a gopher hole. So to add to the many hats of parenthood, add Trauma Counselor.

In the early hours of the night, two pair of feet padded down to the bathroom. My younger children seem to visit the bathroom in pairs as the dark in our house is just as dangerous as everywhere else. But what woke me out of the peace of dreamless sleep was #5 screaming, “Mom!” or “Dad!” alternating until one of his parents arrived.

Toilet FearsI stumbled in to find the little boy trapped on the toilet while #4 was supposed to be keeping guard. With the out burst of #5 I immediately learned what she had been doing. “She says the Toilet Monster comes up the toilet and it will… it licks my butt!” At that point he was so worked up, he was almost in tears.

#4 was not slow to spin around and defend herself. “Well Uncle ah… Uncle… he said…”

I cut her off. “The Toilet Monster is not real. Your uncles were just telling stories. Nothing is going to lick your bottom. They’re not real. Now finish up and go back to bed.” That bit of disappointingly brief comfort was about all I was capable of at that hour.

As I turn to take my own advice I heard #5, “See, I told you they’re not weal! You were juss trying to scare me.”

#4’s retort was lost to me by my bedroom door.

As I crawled back under my blankets I knew exactly where the Toilet Monster had come from, my younger brothers. In order to have a little fun, they introduce that imaginary fiend to my little ones, with the desired result. I know it happed exactly that way, because I did the same to them when they were about my children’s age, so many years ago, when I made up the Toilet Monster.

Never thought that one would come around to bite me in the butt.

 

When the Peacekeepers Are Away, the Screamers Come Out to Play

Dawn broke, or more precisely, it was shattered, stomped on, and run over several times by little feet. The cause of this unkindness was #6 screaming like a fiend of hell while #7 screamed back in utter terror. Judging by how the screams progressed, I am assuming #6 was in his little brother’s face.

I was preoccupied getting sick in the bathroom, which took me out of play. Wife was tied down with a sleeping baby. All four of our girls, yes #1, #2, #3, and #4 were gone at two different sleepovers. In other words, the Executioner was sick, the Judge was indisposed, and all the Peacekeepers were on vacation. The chaos was unchecked.

It’s easy to take some one for granted until they’re gone. I thought I had insurance against “Loss of elder child.” I had three others right underneath her. It never occurred to me that I might loose all four at once. This will take some careful scheduling to avoid it in the future.

From within my self imposed sickroom, I heard Wife sacrifice the sleep of #8 by screaming louder than both boys for #6 to stop whatever he was doing. The next thing I heard was Wife walking down the hall to make sure the mischief had ceased. On a normal day, #1 would have taken care of the screaming with her mother’s efficiency, and only called on Wife if her authority waned.

The eye of the storm

The eye of the storm

 

As I crawled back into bed in a relative silence, the baby had started to fuss, I missed my little Peacekeepers. The girls take on a responsibility premature for their ages. In our large family maturity is highly prized, and our eldest are quick to develop it. When I step back and look at the entire picture, I think it’s a natural survival technique. If older children did not learn to help with their younger siblings, well someone’s bound to get hurt. I think if my girls had not become so helpful, I might have become a sailor.

Easter Fun?

Church was followed by donuts, candy, and boiled eggs. Easter had finally arrived. After forty days of sacrifice and fasting, baskets of sweets were a welcome sight. Of course the children had to find them first.

This year the Easter Bunny threw a curve by hiding the Easter Baskets at my parents’ house.  But he was so unkind as to not tell any of us before hand. So the children rushed into our home to change out of their church clothes, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for the hidden baskets. At last I made the announcement that I had received word that the Easter Baskets were at their Grandparents’ house. So we tramped over and they commenced the search.

All eight of my siblings cheered on my children as they scrambled over and around the furniture in the large room. To my left side was one of my brothers hoisting up #4 to get her Easter Basket off a hook on the wall, to my right a sister was attempting to lift up #6 for his basket on a similar hook, while #5 yanked on my pant leg and pointed up at the basket on the ceiling fan. The rest of the Easter Baskets were in more down-to-earth locations, not nearly as memorable.

Last to find her basket was #1. She meandered around, holding #7 by the hand as well as his basket of candy. She was hoping to avoid notice and locate her basket surreptitiously. Unfortunately for her, once it was realized that she was the only one to be basketless, all attention was turned her way, and she was forcibly cheered into finding hers.

What followed was an Easter Egg Hunt in my mother’s garden. My children were again cheered on with woops and shouts and good natured pointing out the eggs that were hard to find. Again #1 wanted to linger in the back hoping to gain the mystical power of invisibility. And again she found herself forcibly cheered into the hunt like a fox chased by barking hounds. Whether she wanted to or not, my siblings were determined to make her have fun.

And #1 was nowhere to be seen.

And #1 was nowhere to be seen.

After all the eggs were found and we retired to the house, the candy feast began. As I sipped my coffee in the midst of chocolate-eggs and jelly-beans, I noticed #1 wanting to mope. I called her over and inquired what the matter was.

#1 closely examined her toes as she answered, “Everyone was yelling at me.”

“Oh, they were just having fun, and trying to get you to have fun.”

She looked up at me and said sharply, “It wasn’t fun!”

Poor little girl. I gave her a hug and offered the reassurance she needed to know that her uncles and aunts loved her. A little attention from Dad and she was no longer overwhelmed. And so, for one child, Easter was saved.

A Shattered Snow Globe

It was a pleasant Sunday morning. Early Mass followed by donuts at the church’s patio, and a quiet drive home. I should have known something would happen.

The children were quiet once we were in the house, well as quiet as eight children are able. The girls were helping to change their brothers. The boys were cooperating. They all seemed to be doing precisely what was expected. Wife and I were fooled into a false sense of security. We went into our bedroom to change our clothes in the calm before the storm.

At some point when my slacks were in between my knees and ankles we got a knock on the door. “Umm,” came #1’s small voice. “My snow globe got broke.”

So much trouble over such a little thing.

So much trouble over such a little thing.

I pulled up my pants and Wife and I went out to see what happened. The facts were undisputed by all present. #1 was teasing #4 by holding her snow globe hostage. In turn, #2 took #1’s snow globe. (Perhaps I should have mentioned before, I recently gave all four girls each a small snow globe.) While #2 was holding the two snow globes, she started tapping the two against one another. Predictably, one gave way, and it so happened to be her older sister’s.

Unfortunately, that meant Wife and I than had to discipline #2. No parent likes that part of the job. We both wish that the children could simply be sorry and learn their lesson, but children require consequences. Otherwise they never quite get what knowledge we are imparting on them.

And the punishment for today, #2 was to give her snow globe to #1. Immediately after that, both girls were upset. I understood #2, she was more upset about hurting her sister than loosing her snow globe. But #1, she was upset because she didn’t want to take #2’s snow globe away from her sister. What is a parent to do? It was never intended to punish the entire household by punishing one.

Forgiving Sisters

Forgiving Sisters

Well, Wife and I deliberated and talked to our eldest. She was very upset about receiving #2’s snow globe. So in that case we came to a compromise; #1 was allowed to give #2 back her snow globe if she liked. And the final result was the two decided to share it, though I kind of think the last compromise was more to keep Wife and I happy. I’ll need to watch out for those two.

Improvement of Patience

At times, God seeks to improve one’s virtues; and apparently I need to improve the virtue of patience. I think of God like a blacksmith. He gathers materials, mixes the ratios, heats it to an unbearable temperature, and then strikes it repeatedly with a very large hammer until it either bends or breaks. #7 is my hammer.

The little year and a half old boy had a bottle, warm pajamas, and was sleeping with his eldest sister who would cradle him in her arms all night, provided he would stop spinning. Apparently that only meets his standards for half of the night. Usually sometime after midnight he wakes up and begins to cry. His banshee like wailing rings through the house like a lost soul. #1 tried to comfort him, but he was as soothed as a cat in a cold shower.

The midnight fury of a one and a half year old.

The midnight fury of a one and a half year old.

When Wife stumbles down the hall to attend him, she most often rocks him back to sleep or lies down with him; at the same time putting herself to sleep. A mother’s instincts I suppose. But she always puts #7 back to sleep and silences to house.

On the other hand, when Wife is busy with the #8 I get up to put #7 back down, I have to battle with my own disposition of looking for a short-cut. When I lay the boy in bed, I tend to do it in a hurry. Slap a bottle in his mouth and tuck him under the blankets. At that point I find myself of listening to his cry between sucks sounding like an old-fashioned air-raid siren.

You see, he would cry in between sucks on his bottle, just to make certain that we all understand his discontent. His siblings, and I do mean all six, that sleep in the same room, have learned to tune him out.  He has quite literally cried wolf too many times. While he cries and kicks and rolls, the rest of our brood roll over and ignore him.

In defense of my quick and ill conceived actions, it all happens at about one thirty in the morning; and unlike the child, I have to go to work before the sun shines. I am not only frustrated at an apparently unsatisfied little boy, but also at the clock which had no concern for how fast it was spinning while I can’t sleep because of the wailing.

I watched the minutes turn into hours, and every time I thought I had #7 asleep, I was wrong. At last, I gave in and held him until he was certainly sound asleep. And after he was in bed and I could crawl into my own, I saw I had only one hour before my alarm clock went off.

I could have been angry. I could have despaired. I have simply been frustrated. But I was too tired. So I patiently waited for the coffee pot to fill.

An Emergency Room Visit

There we were, seven o’clock at night, Wife, #3, #8 and myself waiting in the Emergency Room. The purpose for our speedy entry to the hospital was #3, who had bitten through the corner of her lip on a nasty tumble. I probably should have felt a little guilty about the situation, because she had tripped while running to the table to get the parmesan cheese for me. After her face had a disagreement with the leg of the table, we found ourselves in the car, while luckily my mother was close by to watch the rest of our brood. I shiver to think of all those children waiting in the Emergency Room with us.

So we waited, #3 struggling to keep her mouth closed, while butterfly bandages held her lip together. I guiltily mourned in silence over my plate of uneaten spaghetti which would certainly be stale by the time we got out of the hospital. Wife’s head seemed to be on a swivel, looking from one sick person to another and back to her baby. You know hospitals, they’re just full of sick people.

While we waited Wife did her best to distract #3 with games on her cell phone. We took turned walking the baby around as the Emergency Room gradually filled and emptied again. Some one had fallen off a horse. Some one else looked like she had an extreme fever. There were a couple of runny noses and one individual with hepatitis. While I didn’t notice it at the time, Wife kept reseating us as far as possible from the sickest people, just in case they had something catchy.

It must have been about an hour and a half when we were finally taken back to a bed. A very nice little nurse looked at #3 and cleaned the blood off her face. She kept up a friendly conversation with my little girl about which princess she liked best. However, #3 kept as still as could be while her cut was cleaned and gave absolutely no response to the nurse as to her favorite princess. So in the end, after the little girl did not cry or whimper under the nurse’s hand, the nurse declared that she was, “Princess Brave.”

It was a very long wait in the Emergency Room.

It was a very long wait in the Emergency Room.

And then we waited. I began to eye the bed #3 was on with envy. For a moment I almost made her share it with me, but I also thought the nurses would disagree. That would embarrass Wife which would then mean I was in trouble. So I settle on the floor with my back against the wall. Wife, who I had to insist to sit in the only chair, started to complain about the germs that must be on the floor. I tried my best to assure her that the floors were clean, something I highly doubted, but in any case I didn’t care at that point. If the floors were laced with Spanish Influenza, I was going to sleep there anyway. It was past my bedtime.

It was sometime after eleven when we finally left the hospital. The poor little girl was properly sore after first splitting her lip, then having it sewn back together. No matter how gentle the doctor was, stitches always hurt. Though she was excited about the ice cream Wife had promised her. I was tiredly looking forward to a hamburger. And Wife was itching to make everyone of us bathe to wash off whatever germs we might have picked up in the Emergency Room.

Three stitches later...

Three stitches later…