Ode to Sleep

Ode to Sleep

Oh sweet repose, at last I see
the hope of rest’s tranquility.

The lights are spent, so too am I.
The day’s bright sun has left the sky.

The doors are latched, the shades all drawn.
Life’s pressing matters left till dawn.

And now as I begin to drift,
my heart’s desires my mind does lift.

That I may pass a peaceful night,
wherein no child nor pet will fight.

Wherein no kids nor beasts invade
this mattress that for two was made.

The smoke alarms have all been changed.
The radar shows no storms in range.

The kids well run, the pets all fed
are knackered each in their own bed.

A full night’s sleep my one request:
one night of calm untroubled rest.

And then, perhaps, I’d like another,
so as to be a better mother.

And once awake, if I do sleep,
my sanity I may just keep.

A cup of coffee from the pot
and I am set to face the lot.

The Birth of a Colorful…if Unorthodox…Expression

Words matter. Presumably, this notion first took root in my mind when I was very young and discovered that there were simple words (please, thank you…etc.) that could forward my agenda, much more effectively than throwing myself on the floor and rolling around kicking and screaming, which failed pretty much 100% of the time. (Here, I could go down a completely different path and explain why I think the younger generations feel so damn entitled…but I am in a flippant introspective mood today and will save that sour little tidbit for when I am feeling a bit more older-generation-get-off-my-damn-lawn-ish.) Any-hoo… my personal exploration on the subject of words mattering continued into my teenage years, first with the discovery of the power of swear words and then as a part of my on the job training as a babysitter.

Allow me to explain. I have conceded to my children that everyone who knows at least one swear word will use it at some point in their life. At best, they tend to slip out. They are designed that way. The trick, I told them, is to try their very best to be in control of said words and not to let the words control them (oh…and not to say them anywhere near where I can hear them…because that sh!t will have consequences). Words are powerful. But, If I swear all the time, besides gaining a solid reputation as a potty mouth and thus limiting my invitations to certain places, I will have worn the power of these words down to a dull nub. If, on the other hand, I do my very best not to use these words, when the time comes and I may really need one of them in order to call attention to something…you can bet that the room will go silent when one of those words leaves my delicate lips.

This brings me to the power of words in babysitting. I babysat a lot. I loved doing it! I got paid for playing with children! However, we are talking about children here…  and I found out pretty quickly that, like me, they were not always in the best of moods, and did not always wish to comply with the rules or procedures that I was required, by their parents, to inflict upon them. So…what to do when one is in a position of parental power…but lacks the actual authority of a parent. Kids are smart: they knew that, though I was considered in control while watching them, I had nowhere near the punishment arsenal of their parents. It’s not like I could ground them, after all! Yelling would get me nowhere. They could yell just as loud (and sometimes a heck of a lot louder…you know who you are). So, I learned to rely on words and innovation when times got tough. Cleaning up toys became a game of closing my eyes and guessing which toy had been removed from the floor and put away. The infamous silent statue game was played many a time. Infractions were written on toilet paper, which could then be flushed with considerable pomp and circumstance if remedied. This was great practice for what was to come.

Four days ago, a new colorful expression was born into our family. It entered the world to help me deal with what has become Little Man’s inevitable reaction to the first day of new spelling words. With each new adventure I find myself accumulating more and more tinder for the fire pit. Those parenting articles with advice that seemed to work in one instance or with one child turn out to be utterly useless with the next. I have, therefore, decided to embrace the fact that I am flying by the seat of my pants as a mother and to fully employ the tools I built up as a babysitter. Screaming might feel like a release at times, and…if used sparingly like the swear words…it can sometimes be effective (she’s screaming and totally losing her sh!t…Mamma must truly mean business this time BRUSH YOUR FREAKING TEETH AND LET’S GET THE HELL INTO BED!). However, it always leaves that feeling of shame over losing control and seldom allows for any sentiment of satisfaction…as well as often scaring the bejeezus out of one’s significant other….

Words matter…and so does the delivery and the context of those words. Creativity also matters…and I would propose that it may matter more now with children than ever in the past. Parents, we need to up our game! Take a look at the competition! Have you seen the crap they are watching on YouTube??? “My children don’t watch the YouTube,” you say? Well, maybe not when you can see them…. It has gotten to the point where I feel that I could live in the middle of a primeval forest kilometers away from civilization and some bear…who previously invaded a camp site…would walk up to my cabin and hack up an iPad that my children would then find, and they would then proceed to coincidentally click on that seemingly innocent, but actually devious, little white triangle bathing in its little red square…. Anyway…I have had to up my game to get…and hold their attention.

With my Moon…it was a note she found on her ever open drawer…supposedly penned by said drawer…begging her to please keep it shut and explaining its suffering at hanging there open. With my Sun it was the reset button that resided in her hair on the back of her head. One little tap while simultaneously commanding “reset!” would usually snap her back to attention. (And, before you call Child Protective Services, as I had to explain when she gleefully told one of her teachers that if she got out of line…no problem! She had a reset button on the back of her head, …the key word is tap.) Little Man is a bit of a conundrum. He is a challenging mix of my Moon and my Sun. I find that when he is being completely unreasonable, I am most likely to get his attention with a ridiculous, but sensible (tough balance to strike, I admit) statement that gets him thinking and allows me my window to instruct.

The boy loses it the first time he sees his new spelling words…EVERY first time he sees his new spelling words…which is insane, because he almost always gets 100% on his tests by the end of the week. So, Monday, when he pulled the new list out of his pack, I knew darned well that we were in for a bumpy ride. Sure enough, the tears began and the eye-rubbing, and the head down on top of the paper, as I asked him to look them over.

Lightbulb!

“You are acting like a butt,” I said. (Notice how I used that word that so annoys me when it comes out of his mouth: the one that makes him giggle uncontrollably even when it isn’t even the one with two “t”s.) Now, I had his attention.

“It isn’t nice to call someone a butt,” he informed me.

“I didn’t call you a butt,” I explained. “I said that you are acting like a butt.”

I could see that the fact that I had now said the word multiple times was amusing, confusing, and concerning him all at the same time. I jumped at the opening. “In fact,” I asserted, “you seem to be in butt mode right now. Please shift out of butt mode so that we can go over your words and help you do well on your test. You do want to do well on your test, don’t you?”

He nodded…because he really did want to do well on his test…and because he was maybe a little thrown by the fact that, instead of losing it… I had rallied,… and said butt, and he looked at the list.

“Have you shifted out of butt mode?” I inquired. “Are you ready to try to spell your words?”

Though there were a few moans and grunts as he spelled his words out for the first time, he had most definitely shifted out of butt mode and was much more pleasant to teach…and a new and colorful…and ever so slightly unorthodox…expression had been born into our household…its presence solidified the moment he used it on one of The Sisters later that same day…when she had slipped into butt mode….

Garbage Fish

As I write this my Moon is sobbing a little while she tries to get some homework done. She is sobbing not because of the homework (ok…maybe a little because of the homework), but mostly because of a painful social situation with which she is currently dealing and a little because her braces hurt. I will confess in all honesty…that it is breaking my heart and that it is taking every single bit of self control that I possess NOT to intervene (Mamma Bear is not warranted at the time and is under lock and key). We talked about it a bit; I tried to soften things; I gave her some ibuprofen for her physical pain; and she let me know that she wanted to be alone…. So, I am writing to keep myself involved in some other activity and to deal with my situation in my own way and to let her deal with hers in her way, while silently monitoring and preparing to offer advice when/if needed…and preferably requested, as this is the best way for her to truly hear it.

A while back when I was at the pet store picking up food for the furrier members of the family, I ended up wandering into the aquarium section. It was probably the first time as a mom that I had wandered back there just to look and not to try to find Little Man to tell him a million times “no” to the million times he asks if he can have a fish. I was alone, and I guess I was simply trying to extend my me time out of the house…which at times simply involves wandering the supermarket aisles…or the pet store, in this case. Anyhow, I stopped in front of one of the aquariums and watched for a while as the bright showy tropical fish swam back and forth, oblivious to my existence. As they flitted about in a formidable show of color, one fish caught my eye: a very plain colored fish in the back that I had not immediately noticed. It was one of those sucker fish that I used to call “garbage fish” when I was a kid. There he was, attached to the back of the aquarium, slowly moving across the glass, clearing it of algae and helping to improve the water quality in the tank to the benefit of the other fish.

Isn’t it funny how we can sometimes try to stimulate our thoughts with targeted books, articles, or films…and then something as banal as watching a little brown fish suck on glass at the pet store kicks our brain into deep contemplation? That is what this little guy did for me…and in a moment of rapture (or maybe it was Little Man mind control) I almost brought him home with me…almost until I remembered that I would most certainly become his sole caretaker, despite every little person’s best intentions…. So, I quietly thanked him (quietly as to avoid any local “desperate local housewife resorts to talking with fish” headlines) and went on my way, leaving with only my new line of thought and a couple bags of kibble.

I am a garbage fish. Or, at least that is what I am currently aspiring to be…perhaps against the odds. In my family tank, I am constantly trying to clean the environment of enough toxins so that my bright, shiny, even if sometimes extremely moody, little tropical fish offspring can thrive. I am not talking about house clutter here, though there is plenty of that to go around, and I do often find my gills clogged with the unpaired single socks that seem to be spontaneously generating in our home…. In this case I am referring to the psychological toxins that surround us on a daily basis and which have increased exponentially with the internet and the possibility of constant social contact that comes with personal computers, iPads, iPods, Kindles, cellphones, etc. I wander the tank and try to limit the negative effects, by sucking as much of the toxins into my own gills as possible, and filtering them out in smaller more tolerable doses: doses that my three little fishes can tolerate to a degree that allows them to flourish, while strengthening them so that they will one day be able to deal with them in my absence.

I am aware…painfully aware…of my limitations in this area, but, like the garbage fish, I try to keep on swimming and cleaning, cleaning and swimming. It is my job. It is my nature. I wish I could build them an impenetrable shelter, but shelters can be dangerous. It may be beautiful and peaceful within the shelter, but the day that shelter falls…or they are forced to wander outside the shelter, they would be completely unprepared. So, I suck in toxins, confiscate electronics at times, slightly skew some stark realities to make them a little less scary, swallow some of my own adult fears, comfort and move forward when I, myself, am paralyzed with sadness.

In one grand way, however, I know that I am much luckier than the garbage fish. Unless he gets purchased, he will be stuck in that same tank for life. I have the benefit of having access to multiple tanks in which I can clear my gills while my three little fishes are out in the world, off at school, camp, outside playing, or even sleeping safely in their beds…and prepare myself to start again when they return to me. I have a tank at the tennis club where I can transform from garbage fish to a fighting beta fish for a bit; there’s a tank at the elementary school where I can hang with other parent fish and we can trade advice and clear our gills…etc. The important thing is to remember to take advantage of these other tanks.

Also, as I realized the other evening while watching a movie with my Moon, my Sun, and Little Man and a scary scene came on causing Little Man to whimper, my little fish are growing up and the older two are stepping in to help “clean the tank” for each other and for the family. As they coaxed him back out from behind the sofa and explained that it was just a movie and that they were there to protect him, my gills felt a little lighter. Now…if they would just start in on those dang socks….