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…

A Saturday Morning

I rolled over in bed, still half dreaming as the sounds of my children penetrated through the solid bedroom door. They were at play it seemed, though I was not awake enough to tell. Their happy sounds gave life to the still house, waking the walls to greet the sun that was just then rising. I could hear the puppy dash around somewhere, no doubt tormenting #7. I closed my eyes.morning rush

The screen door slammed, which sent vibrations through the house. Actually, it slammed several times as all the children rushed outside to see the pink sky that #1 told them about. The house again became quiet, and the early morning doze returned. If I had opened the window I am sure I would have heard them playing on the swing set, chasing one another in a game of improvised tag, or listening to their eldest sister tell stories on the trampoline.

#1 took this picture

#1 took this picture

As the house steadily drifted back into the deep morning sleep of Saturday, so did I. As I waited for sleep to again find me, a smile stretched the corners of my mouth. I was in one of those moods when I felt proud of my children just on account that they were playing nicely. I had all the confidence that the older ones would take care of the younger ones. I was sure that they would be fair to each other. And moderately certain that nothing was happening that would require my immediate interference or moderation. Somewhere between dreams and reality, I thought to myself that they were good kids.

With a jolt, as if some malicious little goblin had attached a pair of electric wires to my feet and flipped the switch, I was awake. It took me a moment to realize why. #4 was steadily tapping at the door and asking if they could watch TV. Wife was waking up, but more importantly the baby was starting to stir. “Be quiet!” I hissed as quietly as possible.

“What?” came the little girl’s small voice through the door.

“I said be quiet and go back outside and play.”

Wife had rolled over with thin slits for eyes.

“What?” the little girl repeated. “Can we watch TV?”

“NO” Wife and I shout at the same time. “Go play outside!”

Now the baby was awake. And as #8 began to fuss, all the nice feelings I was having toward my children vanished.The baby's awake

The Dinner Scurry

Have you ever kicked over an anthill and watched the results? Did you see ants dash out of the hole with valuables? Did you take note how they run in all directions, bumping into one another, all in a mad scurry? Well, setting my dinner table can make a comparable sight, on occasion.

While Wife prepared the evening meal, #8 giggled to himself in his swing, for he knows full well that he, and he alone could stop anyone’s chance for dinner. The children were not allowed in the kitchen while momma’s at work, so #7 and #6 whine at the carpet line; #6 because he is hungry and is going to die, #7 because he’s not allowed in the kitchen. The rest of the children seem to be in either one of two places; out of the way, or directly under Wife’s feet. That is why no children are allowed in the kitchen.

And they rush to the kitchen

And they rush to the kitchen

When dinner is ready, Wife called for help to set the table. That was when my household resembled an anthill as there was a mad rush to the kitchen. #1 climbed up on the counter to hand down plates to #3. #2 was looking in a bottom cupboard because she was sure she had seen some plastic plates somewhere down there. #4 and #5 were fighting over who will gather the forks. But when #3 started grabbing forks, #4 and #5 made a wild dash to grab as many forks as possible before elf faced #3 had a chance to react. Now that the kitchen restrictions were lifted, #6 and #7 ran into it, and generally made a nuisance of themselves. Observing the commotion, the five month old made his presence known, and made all of us who could hear, regret the ability.at the table

In the din of #8, the children slid onto their benches. As the plates were passed around, we realized that we had too many forks and not enough plates. A correction had to be made. #1 and #2 trotted to the kitchen for the missing plates. #4 headed back with the excess forks along with #6. Once everyone was back, I noticed #6 has traded in his fork for a spoon. Oh well, please pass the plates.

When the plates were full, and the commotion had died down, the meal could start. Then, #5 shouted out, “Oh no, dad you fowgot!”

“Forgot what?” I asked with potatos half way to my mouth.

“You fowgot pwayers!” he exclaimed.

And so I had. Leave it to the four year old to remind me of what is really important.

In Loving Memory

How do you explain to the children not to say “Trick or Treat” at a funeral? The house where the wake was at, was where they had Trick-or-Treated for all but one year of their lives. Luckily for Wife and I, they all had a good understanding that we were there for the reception after the funeral. However, #5 was very excited when he recognized the house and announced to us with all the pride due to a great discovery, “Hey mom, hey dad, this is the place we go for Halloween!”

The children were all dressed in their Sunday best to morn the loss and celebrate the life of Art, a very long lived family friend. My children have known Art and his wife Pat their whole lives, but beyond that so did I. But before I knew Art and Pat, my father grew up with them as close as an uncle and aunt. The affections of Art and Pat spanned multiple generations.

My parents with Art and Pat

My parents with Art and Pat 2006

Somehow, and I was too young to know how it happened, Halloween became Art and Pat’s holiday. While Halloween for many is a night about candy or alcohol, for us ever since I can remember, it was about Art and Pat; and the same could be said about my children.

Art would meet us at the door in some goofy orange tee shirt that read “This Is My Costume” and would immediately begin to offer his famous chili. You could not turn down his chili. Not only was it that good, but by the time he was done talking to you about it, you weren’t quite sure whether it was the same recipe Lewis and Clark used on their journey across the continent, or if it was carried down father to son from before the fall of Rome. And as you chewed you wondered just how old those beans were. Art’s tall tales were endless.

I tried to look like Art.

I tried to look like Art. 2006

Pat is just one of the sweetest ladies a person could meet. Art on the other hand, well, I always felt that my children just didn’t know what to do with him. If jokes are a sign of a well formed personality, then Art’s was formed by the most talented sculptor. I remember once, many years ago, when Art introduced a man to me as his long lost twin brother separated at birth and newly discovered yesterday over a scotch on the rocks. I believe I just stood there in stunned silence not quite sure if my silence was rude, or if he was telling one of his tall tales. I have since seen my children react the same when he put the same kind of proposals before them.

My father always loved the two like a second set of parents. To tell the truth, it was years before I realized that Art and Pat were in no way related. Of course it was some time in my childhood before I knew which was Art and which Pat, after all they were both boy names as far as I could tell. My children would have had the same trouble had not Wife made sure they knew who was who.

At the wake, family and friends shared Art stories like those above; and like everyone else, I reminisced too. I think his favorite phrase, or at least the one he seemed to repeat the most was, “Life, no matter how long, is too short to be taken seriously.” As I watched the children play in the yard, I thought that they would help take away a serious mood before it started. They were making plenty of noise running around, and I saw more than a few smiles directed their way. At one point I saw #5 and #6 had a new friend by the hand and were leading her through the yard and into the house, showing her around like they owned the place. Pat was happy with the children, and I know Art would have been too.

It was dark before we left Art and Pat’s house. I don’t think I will ever be able to just call it just Pat’s house, for Art’s memory will always be there for me. And it is a loving memory.

2009

2009

Bad Dweams

I had a nightmare the other night to rival any modern horror film, complete with psychopaths, remote cabin, and no cell service. For once I was pleased to be wakened at three thirty in the morning by the shrieking of a cheap alarm clock. I shook my head, relieved to be out of that one.

In the predawn I prepared for work, stomping through the house in my heavy boots. While I was brewing a pot of coffee I heard the soft sound of bare feet and muffled whimpers. #3 wandered into the kitchen with her face buried in her hands.

When I inquired what was wrong, she responded in her quiet way, “I had a bad dweam.”

Oh dear, it seemed that my nightmare had not finished its course and had jumped to another unsuspecting victim.  I scooped up the poor girl knowing full well just how bad the dream had been. I asked her to tell it to me; for I understood that my children faced their fears easily when a parent is able to share it with them.

She stammered into my shoulder, “I was being eaten by a…” there her words faded off into inaudible sounds.

“You were being eaten by what?” I asked.

“By a…” and again I was unable to make out her words despite the closeness of her mouth to my ear, for her head was resting on my shoulder.

I pushed again. “What was that?”

“I was being eaten by a snake,” she moaned.

“It’s ok little one,” I said, and it was too. Snakes are much easier to handle than psychopaths. Given the choice, I would always choose the former. So I sat down with #3 and counseled her. After a little time I asked if she wanted to go back to bed. She shook her head. Well, I had to leave, so I pulled out my weapon of last resort, the one that always calmed the children down no matter how worried or scared they might get. “Do you want to sleep with Momma?” To that she nodded.

I laid her down on my side of the bed, a sanctuary for the children. After all, bad dreams are more scared of Momma, than she is of snakes.Bad Dweams

Christmas Concert

It just can’t be helped. No matter how hard you try. No matter how much you cry. You could reason. You could bargain. But in the end, the real cost of piano lessons for the children, is going to their Christmas concert at the end of the year. Like most of the other parents present, I listened to twenty-five songs, of varying quality, just so I could watch my two oldest perform. To be fair, of which I am nothing but, most of the kids were quite good. There were few mess ups, and only one off-stage melt down, who I felt very sorry for. My little ones did very well. #1 and #2 played “We Three Kings” on the piano together. They plunked along in harmony until #1’s solo at the end. In a slight pause #2 leaned into her sister and asked if they should start over. #1 gave a brief shake of her head as to say, “We did fine, now I got this.” And finished the piece as good as any eight year old could. Like most parents there, I thought my children made the concert worth it. I suppose there was some kind of congratulations given out afterwards as both girls were sporting bouquets at the reception. However, that was the point #7 decided to overfill his diaper into Wife’s lap. That put #8 in my arms while Wife rushed out to the van. I had the key in my pocket and so I had to follow her out to let her in. Luckily the mess was contained and we were able to join the reception. We parents congratulated one another on the performance of each other’s children. We exchanged complements, and generally visited with friends. All the while small children rushed in between legs from one side of the room to the other in a mad game of cat and mouse, or cheetah and gazelle; however, in that game the mouse was just as likely to chase the cat. And the final destination was always the table full of treats. Wife has always been a big proponent of green foods. While I would rather dine on potatoes and steak, Wife pushed salad; and the children listened. Right before we left, #5 rushed up to me asking for something I could neither hear nor discern. I saw he was pointing at the food table and figured whatever it was it couldn’t hurt. After I gave him the green light, he rushed off to the tray that had until lately been filled with sandwich rolls. He looked over the empty platter and grabbed the only food that was left on it, the lettuce that the sandwiches had been setting on. With relish he ate two leafs before he was satisfied.lettuce before cookies I marveled at the sight, as I always did when one of my children turned down sweets for greens. Between the salads and piano, it appears that I will have quite a group of aristocrats for children.