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Take a deep breath. Blow it out. Good. Now take another.
That’s what I’ve been doing since returning from trick or treating: reminding myself to live in the moment and breathe. It’s remarkably hard to make myself do this – I tend to get caught up in the details when I ought to be focusing on the big picture.
Last night, instead of enjoying what is likely to be my last trick or treating adventure with Large (he’ll be choosing friends over family all too soon), I was obsessed with Small.
“Did you say, ‘Thank you’?”
“Slow down. Wait for the rest of our group!”
“Freeze means don’t move a muscle. It does not mean walk slower!”
“Stay on the sidewalk!”
“You don’t always have to be first.”
“Wait for your cousins!”
“Have we lost your sister?”
“I didn’t hear a ‘Thank you.’”
I was already teetering on the brink of sanity by the time Large tattled on Small: “Mom, Henry got a granola bar at that house and he said, ‘What the heck is this?’ instead of, you know, ‘Thanks.’”
When the kindling is dry, it doesn’t take much.
I pulled Small aside and scolded him. He was sullen, as most people are in the face of direct criticism and a strongly worded reprimand. I kept him back from two houses and under the pressure of my scowl, he promised to do better.
He’s excited, I told myself as he ran off. Don’t ruin his Halloween.
He bounced back, remembering to thank a whopping 60% of the candy distributors at the rest of the houses we hit and refraining from running over his younger cousins. But I didn’t. My grump cloaked me as thoroughly as Medium’s vampire cape. I couldn’t wait to get home.
My heart hurts at my own idiocy. Why do I let the little things bother me so much? Why can’t I enjoy the moment more?
I’ve got a year to redeem myself. You’ll remind me, won’t you?
There’s a reason that Victorian-era parents made their children eat in the kitchen with the governess instead of in the dining room with the rest of the family. Maybe it was because children are loud and interruptive. Or maybe those parents didn’t want half-chewed bits of food smooshed into their carpets. There might even have been a few families who wanted to complete a conversation with their spouses rather than have half a dozen failed starts: “You’ll never guess who I ran into today…yes, I heard you say you wanted ketchup.” “The funniest thing happened at work…be careful with that knife! You’re going to cut yourself.” “Did you read that article in the Times this morning? People are saying…will you please stop bothering your sister? And would you like to explain why you’re out of your seat?”
“Experts” tell us that Family Dinner is the most important ritual we can establish for our kids. Indeed. Well. They do not live in my house.
Dinner-time for our clan is chaotic. Adding to the ebb and flow of our non-starting adult conversations are the kid interjections and announcements: “You forgot to pack a snack for me today.” “My pants are wet.” “I don’t like this.” “Stop talking, I’m talking!” And the attempts at family conversation: “How was school today?” “I had a great day!” “Yes, we’ll talk about your day in a moment, but I was talking to your sister.” “Why don’t you like this?” “I just don’t. Can I have dessert?”
I prepare mostly healthful meals; the kids eat mainly bread and butter. I can guarantee they’ll eat only if I serve chicken nuggets, spaghetti with meatballs on the side (no sauce), pizza, or hot dogs (no buns) with french fries. If they discover that I am making something to expand their pea-sized palates such as Caribbean lentil stew or even vegetarian lasagna, they’ll load up on afternoon snacks and whine through our meal. I tend to wine through these meals, too. Red works better than white.
The other night, Small wandered into the kitchen while I was chopping onions and mushrooms for chicken marsala. “Ugh,” he exclaimed. “Can’t we have chicken nuggets?”
I decided then and there that I was done with the clamor for compressed poultry products. “No! You will eat what is put in front of you. I am not a short-order cook and this is not a democracy.”
Large took up the fallen standard for his brother. “Actually, it is.”
“Not in this family, it isn’t.” I chopped fungus with vigor.
“Well, then that’s communism and you’re a dictator. Revolution, guys!”
“Rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion…” The three of them crowded around me, chanting.
Victorian-era parents managed to eat a hot dinner in peace. If only I had a time machine.
I’d put the kids in it.
At the end of December, the fates conspired against us and our furnace and our washing machine broke close to simultaneously. We live in Vermont, where it gets so cold (it is currently -25 degrees Fahrenheit) that some schools will close upon hearing the weather forecast (not ours, thank goodness!). Accordingly, our first priority was to ensure that our house had heat and hot water. I contrived to make the washer limp along until I reached the end of my patience with it. I was sure I’d make it a few months. The new one arrived today, in all its energy-efficient, front-loading glory.
Next to the coffee maker, the washing machine is the most important appliance in our house. If I had to, I would hand-wash our dishes. But there’s no way in hell I’d hand-wash our clothes. After my husband came home, I encouraged the five of us to crowd around it like the proverbial golden calf. They oohed and ahhed for about five seconds before the boys lost interest and drifted away.
“You may not EVER get inside this machine,” I said to Medium, who had stayed behind to watch me fold laundry.
“Why not?” asked Medium.
“Because if the door closed, you wouldn’t have enough air and you would die.”
“Oh,” she said.
“And your brothers shouldn’t ever get inside it, either.” I added, thinking I was emphasizing my point.
“Why?” she asked.
Sometimes I wonder just how much my children care for one another.
After concluding my business at the bank, I gave the kids 2 months worth of back allowance. They looked and felt flush. The chorus started almost immediately. “Where are we going next? I’m hungry! Let’s go to Dunkin’ Donuts!” Evil mother that I am, I refused to take them out to lunch unless they each paid their own way.
And so they did.
The cashier at the Bagel Mart was less than pleased when I informed her that our group would be paying separately. Her disgruntled attitude was tempered as each child proudly handed over what Medium and the boys believed to be hard-earned cash.
After we sat down together at a grimy little table, Small announced that he was thirsty. The kids looked at each other. No one had remembered to buy a beverage. I busied myself with my turkey and cheddar on pumpernickel and held my tongue.
“I’ll buy us drinks,” said Large, rising from his seat.
While he was gone, I prompted his siblings to express their appreciation. Accepting their tuneless thanks, he responded, “Yeah. Don’t expect me to be so generous next time.”
He had purchased one bottle of chocolate milk to share.