Don't worry - I am acutely aware of what a hypocrite I am when I sigh, shake my head, and say, "well, shoot, Chicken, I'd like to watch a movie right now too, but you know what babe? It's time to brush your teeth and then grab some shut-eye before we saddle up for this manic pony show again tomorrow. I know, man. It's rough. But that's the way it goes. Sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to do."

I know that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do.

Cooking breakfast for three people, two of whom believe they have developed a mortal allergy to waffles at some point in the night? I don't want to do that.

Forcing little feet into little shoes? I would rather lube up my hands with chicken fat and attempt to force live salmon into little shoes. Because at least then I'd have a good story. As it stands now, people are like, "how are you today?" And I'm like, "HOLY SHIT. You want to know how I am? You want to KNOW? How I AM? OH I WILL TELL YOU HOW I AM ... ... ... Chicken kicked a lot when I put his sneaks on."

I'm not a slacker. I pretty much get my shit done. Most of the time you could call me Madonna Getitdonna. No, wait, please don't call me that. You could call me Chickity Checklist. Fuck, no, that's worse... The only reason I'm scraping the bottom of my pun barrel (not a real body part, just weird writing) is because I have all this clean laundry to fold, and I would rather write a thousand horrible "efficient lady superhero aliases" than even breathe on that hamper of baby chinos.

"Sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to do," I say. And it's true for most necessary acts of parenting, adulting, marriageing, insuranceing, and other people's dental hygieneing. But there is a crucial exception.

Sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to do EXCEPT IF THE THING YOU DON'T WANT TO DO IS FOLD AND PUT AWAY CLEAN LAUNDRY in which case you can do anything - ANYTHING - else.

I will do literally anything to avoid folding and putting away clean laundry.


EXAMPLE:

I have one load of clean laundry right now. Two, if you count the cold one in the dryer from yesterday but come one - nobody counts the one you can't see, right?

So like I said, I have one load of clean laundry.

It would take me no more than three minutes to fold it, and no more than five to put away.

seriously
it's not even a big one
there's like
18 things in here

But instead, I did this:

the best part of waking up

is not folding or putting away laundry

Yep. I would rather mix batter, melt butter, and spend an hour flipping banana pancakes for Jon and Kate Plus 8 (cough cough 2009 called it would like its large family reference back) than spend 5 minutes folding and putting away clean laundry.

No but that's a really important job, Katie. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And now, thanks to your selfless sacrifice, your children will have a home-cooked breakfast every morning this week until 2019 (that was a lot of fucking pancakes, brah.)

You're right, Katie. I will now add "make a fuckton of pancakes" to my to-do list right underneath "fold laundry." Now I will immediately cross it off. It feels good to create things that you can get done, doesn't it?

It so does. You are super awesome.

Thanks! I feel awesome! You know, I should probably go into the bedroom and just knock out that laundry... it won't take more than a minute or two...

Yeah sure sure sure you could do that. ORRRRRR...

I'm listening.

If you wanted, you could capture the magic of Christmas and instill a lifelong love of learning in your two children.

... go on.

I was on Pinterest the other day and I saw this thing where you wrap 25 books in coordinating gift wrap and then you number them and it is, like, the cutest, most photogenic (and therefore, best) advent calendar EVER.

Wow... that sounds like a lot of work.

Oh yeah.

I mean, I'd have to leave the house right now--

Goodness, no, this couldn't possibly wait until tomorrow.

And go to a bookstore to browse around for like, a couple of hours--

At least. You want to make sure that you pick 25 books that speak to your values. You have to actually read the books for gosh sakes.

And then I'd have to go pick the gift wrap--

Don't forget the ribbon

And ribbons

Don't forget the cute tags and numbers

AND CUTE TAGS AND NUMBERS

And then, of course, there's the wrapping process.

I'd probably have to watch at least four episodes of the Man in the High Castle while wrapping. (Sigh.) If I were going to do this... it would be, like, a good 7 hours of work.

Yep.

But I am willing to put in those hours. I am just that good a person.

Grab your keys. And let's stop for an americano. You can't browse a bookstore without an artisinal coffee.

You read my mind.

I am your mind.

AM I IN THE MATRIX?

No. You are in the PROCRASTINATRIX.


hello?
it's me
i was wondering
if after all these years
you'd like to meet
i'm sitting
on your bed
cold and wrinkled
and honestly
not that big a deal to take care of
like
before this song is over
it could be done

Wrinkled laundry says what?

What?

HAHAHAHAHAHA
DID YOU GUYS HEAR THAT?
WE TOTALLY GOT THAT LAUNDRY.

What? I don't get it.

Nah, man.
You'd have to be
an Advent Calendar Children's Book to get it.


Yessirree. I would rather shop for, purchase, individually wrap, then number 25 children's books for an advent calendar, than fold and put away clean laundry.

This is an incredible gift that people are going to love on Facebook.

They totally will. I'm glad I, like, set them all out for a pic.

Such a good pic. 

Thanks, Katie. I really appreciate your support.

You know I've always got your back.

I know. But seriously, I have to fold that laundry. I think Buster's gray fleece is in there and it's supposed to be cold tomorrow.

Cold? How cold?

Like, high 30's.

Oh wow, really?

Yeah... wait, why do you sound so worried?

Oh, I don't know. I'm sure your cupboards are stocked in case you get snowed in and can't leave the house for ten days.

Um... I mean, we have some soup and stuff. Plus it's not looking like it'll be cold enough to snow.

Hm.

What?

No, nothing.

WHAT.

It's just...

Oh my God, spill it.

It's just if something were to happen and you didn't have a fully-outfitted first aid kit and stocked pantry and emergency water supply and heat source, I was just wondering if you would ever be able to forgive yourself, is all I was wondering. 

Oh shit.

THE PROCRASTINATRIX HAS YOU.

What?

Hm? What? Nothing. I didn't say anything.


um hi
not that it matters
but
the gray fleece
is not
in fact
in me
i think i saw it in the car
so
no reason to fold here


quick question
did you have any thoughts
as to how one might prepare
20 boxes of macaroni and cheese
without butter
or milk
#apocalypsequestions
#shouldhavegonewithstew

Holler back if you would rather clear out the water and pasta aisles at the grocery store than fold and put away clean laundry.

Holler!

What?

You said to holler back! I hollered. You know, back.

Oh! I never thought about what I was actually saying when I said holler back. It's like, "raise your hand if."

Yeah. Exactly. Raise your hand if your family's security in the event of a natural disaster trumps some Puritanical patriarchical construct of "folded" laundry.

(raises hand)

Can I get a hell yeah, my sister!

Hell yeah! Oh shit, I just checked the weather again and it's actually going to be like high 40's tomorrow.

That was a close one.

Was it? I kinda feel like I overreacted.

What's done is done. The mac WILL get eaten, girl. That much I know is true.

You're right. But seriously, I really have to fold the laundry now, or I'll wake up tomorrow and feel like shit that I didn't take care of it. Please, clock out, take 5, don't try to distract me or produce another voluntary project. If you pull me away from my boring, craptastic laundry, I'll totally be excited for a minute that I'm doing something more fun, but then I'll just feel guilty and lame that I couldn't suck it up for 5 minutes and fold the damn clothes.

You're right. 

I know.

When you're right you're right. And you're right.

Thank you.

I really respect your work ethic.

Aw. Thanks.

And your ability to perceive complex feelings. 

I'm sorry?

You feel things very deeply, don't you?

Oh. I guess I do.

That takes a lot of strength, to feel things the way you do. I only ask because... it's just, I am always so impressed by your emotional fluency. Your feelings are complex and beautiful... and to take the time to try to understand them, and then verbalize them... I'm just, I'm in awe of you.

Wow. I don't know what to say. Thank you. I'm just trying to live my life, you know, like everybody else.

So many people would connect with what you're feeling right now - those complex, beautiful feelings.

Do you think?

You could really shine a light, Katie. You could really make a difference to someone out there, struggling with the same feelings of isolation and shame. Clean laundry happens to everyone. Even people you don't expect.

That could be really important.

SO important.

Do you think I should write a post about it?

Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, it's your call. Totally, your call. But I think... yeah, I think it could be a good one.

Okay. Okay. Okay, I'll just fold the laundry, and then I'll start a blog post.

Wow. Really? You think you can hold onto this idea for as long as it's going to take you to fold the laundry?

Wait, do you think I can't?

I mean, if anyone can it's you. OF COURSE. But John Donne said the difference between being able to write and not being able to write is... something... I can't quite remember, but the idea was definitely, like, don't fold laundry just write your thing.

John Donne said that?

YES. Maybe.

Maybe you're right. I feel the juices flowing.

Ew.

You know what I mean.

I do know what you mean.

Don't say it.

Because I AM YOU.

Oh for fuck's sake

Because YOU ARE IN THE PROCRASTINATRIX.


do not try to fold the laundry
that is impossible
instead, try to realize the truth
there is no laundry
then you'll see
that it is not the laundry that folds
it is only yourself

1. This is not a post about the facts of the safety or economic ramifications of admitting refugees into the US.

2. This is not a post critiquing the process by which refugees might gain legal entry.

3. This is not a post about politics. There are no heartless Republicans or naive Democrats in this post.

4. This is not a post about tugging on your heartstrings to get you to donate money to refugee aid.

What is this post, then? I'm still not sure. I'm not an expert in anything except navel-gazing. I'm not a politician or a doctor or an aid worker. 

Here's what I know.

When Chicken was born, we were told to prepare to transfer to the NICU because he probably had an infection - pneumonia, sepsis, Group B strep - the chest x-rays both came back clear but he'd popped a fever at 2 days old and now all we could do was wait for the lab to process the bloodwork.

In the meantime, we were educated on what to look for. A well-meaning nurse slid a pen across my hospital bed tray. "You'll want to write this down." Blue lips, sucking in his belly under his ribs in a desperate attempt to breathe, bloody phlegm? Hit the call button until someone comes.

So let me get this straight... you're saying I SHOULD hit the call button when my 2-day-old son turns blue and coughs up bloody mucus? Thanks. Good tip. No, you're right, I DID need to write that down. Y'all should probably get some laminated signs made. Just, you know, a suggestion. "Baby blue? Call extension 2!" Or whatever. They're your signs. 

The specter of danger loomed over Chicken's round, pink, wiggling body until we could see nothing but the absence of symptoms. We felt his real, warm weight in our arms, watched his lips working on the bottle as he gulped, audibly, lustily, the supplemental formula that "might save his life," and thought, "he isn't sick... yet," when we should have been thinking, "he is working that bottle like a boss." 

wait!
is he blue?
no?
okay.
i'll keep waiting.
The tests all came back negative. The nurse who'd spoken to us about bloody phlegm slipped her pen into her chest pocket, shrugged, and said, "I guess he's fine! Congratulations! Look at that big, beautiful, healthy boy."

We took him home (where he never turned blue) and I expected to blow the tight bands of fear from my chest with my first deep breath of home. 

that is not what happened
as you might be able to tell
from my level of freshness
in this picture
lookin strong katie
lookin real strong

Of course, the threat remained. I've accepted that as long as I have a living child, the specter of danger will endure. Like a shadow, it changes shape and size. Sometimes it is enormous, darkening the room. On bright days it hides beneath my feet, patient. It's got time. And it's got me wrapped around its black little finger. To this day, when Chicken plays house with Buster, and Chicken plays Mommy, the first thing he always says to the baby is "Be careful! That's dangerous!"

When I first read about the Syrian refugees sailing inflatable boats to Greece to seek safety for themselves and their families, I felt the shadows grow long. 

The news coverage has been both rending and ugly - we don't spend a lot of time talking about regular citizen Syrians on the news, and we seem to be unsure of how to speak about people who are Muslim, foreign, and moving in large numbers into other countries. People have said some stupid shit. People seem to have forgotten that under all the window dressing the Syrian refugees are just guys, just plumbers and teachers, just a lady who prefers coffee to tea, just a kid who doesn't actually like soccer and spends his time climbing trees instead, just a mom with a baby who's teething. Yep, Syrian kids teethe. That story, plus holiday travel tips and tricks, coming up at 11!

But seriously, I can't write about how it feels to see pictures of people in life jackets, or regular moms and dads, not action heroes, some paunchy, some scrawny, running with their children in their arms - heavy children, children too old to be carried, really. The closest I can come is this: You know when you get hurt, really hurt? When you look down at a broken wrist or an angry scrape, and the hurt is too new to even feel? Fluid rushes to the wound and you watch, numbly, as your hurt swells, and if your eyes were closed you wouldn't even be able to point to the place where you're bleeding. I feel like that, badly hurt all the way into silence.  

It's devastating, the scale of displacement, the depth of fear and chaos, the sudden weight of every day's necessary labor for people who have done nothing to deserve this lot, for the kids who are quiet, confused, and heartbreakingly, not surprised.

Of course, like everything that breaks my heart, it comes back to my children.

Of course it does.

I would carry them anywhere to keep them safe and I would push dirt over their bodies to keep them warm while they slept. I'm nothing special. I'm not about to pin a Mockingjay on my sweatshirt. I'm just a mom whose baby is teething.

I suppose I'm exactly the person that such coverage is trying to activate. Women, children, crying, sleeping, empty water buckets, reaching hands. I've had to turn it off so I can sleep.

I continue to refuse the urge to warm myself from the gentle glow of an entire nation burning. It's easy to come away from these stories with a satisying sense of gratitude.

"Wow, I'm so lucky to have a floor in my house." 
"Thank God we have water."
"Our problems are nothing, really - sure, we have car payments. But we don't have to wade into a mosh pit and compete to catch the day's dinner, donated bread, tossed to us from gloved hands."

It's terribly insulting, horribly cold, to turn these people into the ultimate symbol of "there but for the grace of God go I." I can't stand the idea of using them to feel better about where I am. I can't imagine having that conversation: "Wow, Ahmed. Thank you for sharing your story. You are a remarkable man, and your family is lucky to have you. Also, just being here, with you, it makes me feel, like, so much better about the outstanding balance on my Macy's card. Wow. Like... weight? Lifted! So, good luck man. Take care." Nobody would say that. But that's how it feels, to just watch from a distance, shudder, and retire to your quarters, sinking extra-deeply into the sofa, proud of yourself for remembering to be grateful.

I do feel blessed, but I feel unworthy of the blessing. Just as people born into a land soaked in blood have done nothing to earn that sentence, so I have done nothing in to earn my life's total absence of hunger, its near-absence of violence. I didn't earn the luxury of knowing death only through novels and the quiet, comfortable administration of hospice care. 

They told me my son could be sick; I waited up to watch him breathe. I felt terror. He was fine.

They took a picture of a young boy in gray and orange sneakers, asleep, waiting in line for water; it isn't fair, I thought, watching Chicken wash his hands. I snapped the tap off while he lathered. He whined, "but I waaaaanted it oooooon." I started to say, "I saw a picture of a boy today..."

I'm not sure it's my job to acclimate him to the unfairness of life. When I see the sleeping boy, waiting for water, it's Chicken's innocent expectation for eternal water as much as the boy's thirst that breaks my heart.

I'm keenly aware of my state- this personal grief is not a healthy and sustainable awareness of the world. There is a stage after this one in which I will decide that my guilt serves no one, and is just as selfish and misguided as the faux-humble self-congratulation that I find so ugly.

I don't have a wrap-up. I have no idea what else to say. I'm just going to revisit something that Chicken said when my mom sent him a postcard of the Statue of Liberty.




Chicken: Who's that lady?

Me: That's the Statue of Liberty.

Chicken: Why does she have a light?

Me: So people who are looking for a place to live know they are welcome.

Chicken: Why are they looking for a place to live?

Me: They had to leave their old homes because it wasn't safe for them, or because they were having a really hard time, and they came here to try to have a better life. And when they get here, after sailing for a long time, they see that light and know that they're home.

Chicken: Like when friends come over to our house? When they're havin a hard time? And we leave the door open for them? And when they knock? We say hi, come on in, we're so glad you're here? And do you want a snack?

Me: Yes baby. Just like that. 
CHICKEN-STYLE TOAST

Prep Time: 10 Seconds
Cook Time: As Long As Your Mom Lets You


Ingredients:

1. Bread
2. Cheddar Bunnies

Preparation:

1. Remove two slices of bread from the bread bag.

2. Insert each slice into its own slot in the toaster.
*** Note! You can try to put both slices in the same slot! Try it! Seriously, I want to see what happens. My mom wouldn't let me.***

3. Push down the toast lever until it clicks to begin toasting.

4. Push "Cancel" and pop the toast back up.

cancel is the bottom button
make a note

5. Push down the toast lever again.

6. "Cancel." Pop it up.

7. Push it down.

8. Pop it up.

9. Yep, this time it's real.

10. Nope, pop it up.

11. Seriously, you can toast now. Push it down.

12. Wait wait wait, realize you forgot something, pop it up.

13. What was the thing you forgot? Oh, right. Push it down.

14. Change the darkness setting to 1. Pop it up. Push it down.

15. Change the darkness setting to 10. Pop it up. Push it down.

16. Open the bag of cheddar bunnies and eat them while you watch your toast blacken.


you know your toast is done
when you blow on it
and it disintegrates

or perhaps
when you drop it on the floor
and it breaks


17. When the toast pops up, it will be hot.

18. Touch it immediately.

19. Scream. Insist on an ice pack, a grape juice, and an entire box of band-aids.



yep
whole box
right there
add $3.49 to the cost of today's toast

20. Do not eat the toast.
UUUUUUUGGGGHHHH who invented afternoons with toddlers?!?!

I used to love afternoons. 

I'd go for a run, then come home to a hot lunch and a hot shower. Then I'd put on soft stretchy pants and watch one of the thousands of outstanding 1990's American action films. The Eraser, The Saint... True Lies for crying out loud! 

I'd go shopping, see a movie, meet up with some girlfriends for a pitcher of sangria and chips and guac while we talked about who was getting married, who was getting promoted, and where we could find harem pants that weren't thin and clingy.

Even working afternoons held the promise of productivity and accomplishment. After lunch, I'd return to my desk with a fresh cup of coffee and the knowledge that my day was more than half over. "Here we go," I'd think, and even though my work was tedious, I'd still leave for the day knowing something had been done.

But afternoons with toddlers... they're just the worst. They start with a question mark and end in the suck pocket, and nothing ever gets done.

When will the children wake up from their naps? Will they even nap? Make plans for 2:30 and you bet your ass they'll nap. Leave the afternoon open because they're looking dazed and exhausted and they will spend their nap time throwing binkies and climbing the bookshelves. 

So they wake up from their naps (or you finally accept that there will be no sleep, not in this house, not on this day) and it's either 2:00 or 4:00, depending. That's your question mark.

And then comes the big problem... WHAT DO YOU DO UNTIL DINNER?

Like I already said, it's tough to make play date plans unless your friends live next door.

It's November, and we live in Seattle, not Southern California. It's not like there's a daily option to get them outside to run until they no longer have the energy to swat full cups of milk out of each other's hands. 

When you can't meet up, and you can't get out, you have to hang on. 

Seal yourselves in the messy, shrinking box of a play room, and daydream that today will be the day that Ryan (surprise!) comes home at 3. Then you wrap yourself in a warm blanket of rage and resentment when he comes home at 5:30 like always. It's something.

There's only so long I can handle the aimless misery of a toddler in the afternoon. 

Chicken legit walks around the room pulling shit off shelves. Impassively. Almost unconsciously. He doesn't even wince at the sound of plastic trucks clattering to the ground. It's like he's sleepwalking, only with a scowl on his face. 

Buster walks around the kitchen pointing at shit on counters and whining. I would seriously give him anything on any of our kitchen counters, including the computer AND the knives, to make that sound stop. But he doesn't actually want anything. I hand him a cup of milk; he swats it away. I hand him the whisk; he sits down on the ground and sobs.

They both have a void inside them, the kind of empty hole that adults fill with QVC purchases and entire deep-dish pizzas. 

They need a project. They need structure. They need the thrill of newness. And let's be honest, I need to feel like I planned and executed something that actually fucking worked. 

And thus, last week, on a rainy, gloomy Tuesday afternoon, Stations were born. 

Chicken and I sat on the couch with a notebook and a pen, and we picked 5 stations. We set the timer for 10 minutes, and when the timer beeped, we moved to the next Station. 

These were our first Stations:


1. Coloring Station


we do colored pencils
because
it takes buster longer to bite off a piece of colored pencil
so i can usually get there
in time
unlike crayons


2. Tupperware Station

sure
yeah
take it all out
i don't even care
whatever you want

3. Balloon Football Station (the clear winner)

pro tip:
move the furniture
and put on some fast-paced music

pro tip:
don't blow up the balloons all the way
because
there will be gnawing



4. Reading and Snack Station

make sure
for the love of god
that they get the exact same snack

5. Play Doh Station

chicken created
this snake museum

buster created
this stabbing extravaganza

Whether or not you choose to use Stations, let me lay out the reasons I think they have been working:

1. You can do anything for 10 minutes. For example, block station. Block station was an unmitigated disaster. What was I thinking, giving two toddlers blocks, and then expecting them to play harmoniously? No, you know what Block station was? Mutually Assured Destruction Followed By Double Meltdown And Assault With Blunt Objects Station. But you can do anything for 10 minutes.

2. When the timer goes off, it's time to change. Chicken is already conditioned to respond to the timer. Of course, if something is a gangbusters hit you can go longer than 10 minutes- we did "Double Decker Balloon Football" the other day for 20 minutes instead of 10. But by setting a time limit, the kids don't have enough time to get bored with their toys and wonder what would happen if they threw/swallowed them.

3. Clean as you go. When you plan the stations, you have to make sure that your space is suitable for them, which means you have to kind of clean up after yourself each time, which means that you haven't totally thrashed the house with pointless tub-dumping and block scattering.

4. You have a sense of purpose and order. You know what comes next. You're not just watching the kids play with dinosaurs and then wondering, in the voice of Sean Bean, what dreadful churning torrent lies beyond this placid calm? By my troth I know not... That sense of calm confidence is infectious, or at least it is with my kids. When I'm calm, they are more likely to find calm. Or whatever passes for calm in an 18-month-old and 3-year-old.


If you're feeling insane like us, try Stations this afternoon.

Here are a few more that have worked well for us:

- Zoo Train Station (animal toys + trains)
- Cutting Yarn Station (Chicken only)
- Racetrack Station (the kids got to pick trucks and race them around a designated track)
- Landing Pad Station (take all the cushions off the couch and create a landing pad)
- Pots & Pans Station (your mom's favorite parenting hack - give them bowls, spoons, whisks, spatulas, whatever. Cheer as they make a wonderful, terrible racket. If you're strong enough that day.)
- Chase Station (put on some music and run around the house chasing each other.)


Here are a few that have been total disasters for us:

- Block Station (see above)
- Scooping oatmeal/rice station (there's just no fucking way to clean that shit up between stations)
- Paint Station (it was a pipe dream. It was folly.)
- Stack Boxes of Organic Soup Station (worked great for 2 or 3 minutes, but then they were like "so we stacked the soup," and I was like "let's do it again!" and they were like "wait, is that it?" and I was like "uh yeah..." and they're like "nope, we out," and then I was like "where are you going? What are you doing in the bathroom? What did you put in the toilet? THERE ARE THIRSTY PEOPLE IN JORDAN STOP RUNNING THE SINK.")


Godspeed my comrades. May your afternoon not suck today.
So Chicken and I were drawing together. He said, "we should draw a picture of our family!" 

Like most three-year-olds, when he said "we" should draw a picture, what he meant was, "I will give you sometimes contradictory instructions of what to draw. And when your execution falls miserably short, I will flip the fuck out."

But since I'm a masochist, drawing with Chicken is still one of my favorite things. I said, "okay. Who should we draw first?"

"Me!" Chicken replied.
I started drawing him - oval head, two oval eyes, a scribbled cap of straight brown hair...

"Wait! Don't forget the veins!" Chicken interrupted.

"Veins?"

"In my eyes. I need veins in my eyes," he said, holding out the red marker.

"Veins, right."

I tried to draw them in delicately. But it was a fat-tip red Crayola marker. There was no way he wasn't going to look smacked.*

*I totes googled "slang terms for high." Runners-up included: cabbaged, slizzard, gorked, and yippered up.


chicken
lives hard

either that or
there's cat dander about

He barked, "Now do Buster!"

Oval head, two oval eyes...

"Don't forget his mad eyebrows!"

"Why is he mad?" I asked.

"I don't know," Chicken said. "Maybe I just bit him. Yeah, yeah that's probly it. He needs a yelling mouth too."

buster
slash
some kind of
aboriginal
rage god

but dude seriously
i'd be pissed too
if my eyeliner ran like that
that's absurd
you should take that back dude
take it BACK
like would you pay 18 bucks
to look like you just stood in the rain
outside your ex-boyfriend's house
and watched him propose
to your cousin
no
no you would not

"Now do you, Mommy. You're mad, too."

"Why am I mad?"

"Because... uh... just because. You're cranky."

"Mm hmm. Do I have a yelling mouth?"

"Sometimes. Yeah, yeah, definitely a yelling mouth."

"What am I yelling?"

"Just, you know, like AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Like that."

"don't forget
you need veins
in your eyes
lots of red veins.
oh
oh oh oh
can you draw a stomping foot?"

fun fact
i originally drew my hair down
but chicken was like
where's your ponytail,
the messy one?
he knows me so well

"OK, now Daddy."

"Is he mad too?"

"Yep. Everybody's mad."

daddy
looks kind of like
a liza impersonator
right?
you see it
right?
I had my concerns as Chicken gave me increasingly specific instructions on how to best draw each member of our family in a screaming rage. 

Is this how he sees us?
Is this how we are?
Is this how he feels?
WHAT IS HE TRYING TO TELL ME?

Yeah, I freaked out a little. But then I was like, you know what? If my kid were for real scarred by the demonstration of healthy albeit intense emotions, I don't think we'd be sitting here together talking openly about them. I'm glad he knows that people get mad. I'm glad he's curious about it.

If anything, I was proud of his understanding of the safe, physical evidence of temper. He asked me to draw a stomping foot, but not a smacking hand. He asked me to draw the eyes not blackened, but veined.

I have no doubt that someday he'll ask me to draw a picture of the whole family smiling, crying, pooping, eating poop, whatever. And when he does, don't you worry, I'll post pictures of that masterpiece too. But until then:

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present...

The Von Trapp Family Screamers. 

ok but
let's not tell the doctor
about this one though
because he will have
questions
"I'm Trying"
The Story of The Second* Time I Cried This Year

(*I'm Not Counting the Time I Listened to an Irish Folk Singer Perform A Cappella 
The Celtic Lamentation of the Mother Who Has Lost Her Child 
Because That Was Some Low Blow Bullshit. 
But If You Count That Time, Then This is the Third Time I Cried This Year. 
Full Disclosure.)

Starring:
Me
Chicken
Buster
Access-A-Ride Driver
(Not Pictured: Lady in a Wheelchair)

I pick Chicken up from school.

I park in the fire lane because the parking lot is full (I'm not writing badly; this will be important later). I go inside, pick up Chicken from his classroom, and walk back out to the car. The sun shines. A crisp breeze sends golden leaves skipping across the parking lot. Buster, strapped to my chest, swings his legs and coos. Chicken's hand curls around mine as he asks, "so what did you do while I was at school?"

I open Chicken's car door. He climbs in. He actually sits in his seat. Wow, this is going pretty well! I think, like so many pretty girls in slasher movies. But then he slouches. Just enough that I can't dig the crotch buckle out from under his body.

Me: Sit up, please.

Him: (slouches down more)

Me: Chicken? I can't clip you in unless you sit up.

Him: (smiles at me. Slouches down more.)

Me: Okay, I'm going to help your body sit up.

I lean into the car and assume the standard underarm grip so I can pull him back up. I'm so bent over that Buster, in the Ergo, is lying in Chicken's lap. Buster looks up at me, smiles, and I have just enough time to smile back...

like this

... BEFORE HE ATTACKS.

evidently he saw this

Buster has apparently been fine-tuning his Eagle Claw Kung Fu technique. He sinks his fingers into the soft skin of my neck, just under my jaw on either side of my face. Then he twists.


dramatic reenactment

Me: OW! OW! OW! OW!

Buster: Ow! HAHA!

Chicken: What's wrong, Mommy? (slides further down in his seat.)

Me: SIT UP PLEASE.

Chicken: What's Buster doin?

Me: He's hurting Mommy. 

Buster: Hahahaha!

Chicken: Why? 

I finally pry Buster's fingers away from my skin. I can feel the cold breeze on the newly-exposed pink skin where he's scratched me.

Chicken: Why? 

I lean over again to clip Chicken in. He wiggles in the seat so he's slouched even lower, and swats at my hands.

Chicken: Why? 

Buster pounces again; this time his wiry fingers get two tiny screaming fistfuls of my cheeks.

Chicken: Why? Why, Mommy? Why?

Me: I DON'T KNOW WHY PLEASE SIT UP PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE.

Chicken: (pokes Buster in the eye) Hahahahahaha!

Buster: Hahahahahaha! 

Buster clenches his fists and shakes his hands in delight. It would be super cute if he didn't still have my face in them. He giggles madly as the fine hairs on my neck wind through his fingers and pull taut.

So, quick recap, here's what's happening:
- Buster clawing my face
- Chicken poking him in the eye
- both of them laughing
- me bent over Chicken's seat, gritting my teeth as I try to loosen Chicken's seat straps so I can get the seat clipped.

That's what the Access-A-Ride driver sees when he walks up and says...

Him: Um, excuse me?

Me: Yes?

Him: I've been waiting for you... (he gestures to the community center that Chicken's school shares.) I'm supposed to pick someone up, but... (he gestures to my car, parked in the fire lane.)

Me: OK. OK. I understand. I'm trying.

Him: Yeah, but... I've been waiting for awhile now, and--

Me: I understand. Believe me. I understand. I am trying.

Him: Okay, but she's waiting inside, and she's in a wheelchair so I have to get over to the ramp side, and--

Me: I'm trying! I'm trying! I'm trying! 

My hands start to shake. The straps won't loosen. I realize I've been pushing the wrong button and tugging, pointlessly, on the locked straps. I can hear my own voice. I'm trying. I'm trying.

Chicken slaps Buster's throat. Buster screams and arches his back. He pulls his hand away from my ears and there's a small but audible meaty ripping sound when a dozen or so of my hairs come away with it.

I gasp, stand up, cover his hand with my hand, and close my eyes, tight, like I'm trying to remember something that's just out of reach.

The first tear drops onto my cheek.
___


There's a place where you can decide, "I could cry right now... but I'm not going to. I'll just take a deep breath and be fine." That place was about ten minutes behind me.

Looking back, the turning point was The Driver.

Buster always hurts me - I've been trying to write a post about how we're in an abusive relationship for a long time now (no luck yet - all my attempts are in hideously bad taste.) It's never not humiliating. It never doesn't hurt. But I know how to take a deep breath and calmly stroke his pinching fingers from my skin, or how to slip my flat palm between Buster's open jaws and my shoulder, and quietly say, "in this family, we don't hurt each other."

Chicken always fights the car seat  - perhaps he's seen The Man in the Iron Mask one too many times. (I'm joking, of course... he's seen it the EXACT RIGHT NUMBER OF TIMES. He knows what happens when he gets mouthy.) It's never not annoying. It never doesn't elevate my heart rate. But I know how to take a deep breath and wait for him to finish thrashing, and then calmly say, "it's time to get you clipped in so you can stay safe."

These are standard daily procedures, appointments that we always keep.  I could write down, "wrestle Chicken into car seat," and "teach Buster how to touch gently," on my to-do list every day, and I would check those things off. Every single day.

But I don't always have a witness to the struggle. Or if I do, that witness is silent and invisible, behind a window, sitting on a bench, not moving, just watching. A polite spectator.

The Driver had been watching our shit show of three. He'd been watching, and then he entered the scene.

I'm trying. I'm trying. I'm trying. 

He was a living reminder that some people can get into a car without employing deep breathing exercises, or reasserting firm reminders that their bodies are not there to be wounded for fun.

He reminded me that people can see my son's fingers rake my skin. People can see me ask Chicken to sit up. They can see his sly smile as he scoots lower instead.

It isn't that I'm ashamed of my kids, or how I parent. I'm not embarrassed of their natural impulses to push buttons. It's just... I read Mommy blog posts about how hard it is to parent. I write them, too. That conversation is on repeat in my head all day long.

But I so rarely hear myself say, out loud, how hard it is to do necessary things that should be simple. How an exchange that occupies 1% of my time can devour 60% of my patience, and obliterate 100% of my confidence. How the difficulty of those tasks feels like a fair punishment for not being a good enough mom. How, tonight when I tell Ryan about my day, I'll just shake my head and say, "pickup was really hard today." I won't say, "but it was so much harder than hard. I had to try, to work, for every single inch of ground. Nothing was easy."

I don't say out loud very often that I am trying.

All day long, I am trying. When I burn the toast, it's because I'm trying to make breakfast. When I stub my toe, it's because I'm trying to play tag. I'm trying to be a person. I'm trying to feed my family. I'm trying to play. And when I have to say I'm trying, you know that all I've gotten is black toast and hurt.

Standing on that curb, I realized how foreign it was to hear my voice pronounce it, even as the thought was so familiar I hadn't even been aware of its presence. I'm trying. How many times a day is that two-word mantra my consolation prize, the one I get for failing.

I'm trying. 

And now I'm crying in front of the Access-A-Ride guy. He's wearing one of those puffy, papery starter jackets and puffy, dirty white sneakers, and I'm going to cry in front of him because I'm trying. I don't know why that makes me so sad.

___

The first tear drops onto my cheek.

The driver backs away. He's got priors and doesn't want this kind of trouble.

Him: I'm sorry, I just... she's in a wheelchair and...

Me: (eyes closed, whispering) I know. I'm sorry. I'm... trying.

Every time I have to say it again, I feel like another floorboard is getting pulled up to expose the churning water that nobody knew was the reason the house shook.

But I'm trying because this matters, that my children be safely buckled in. It matters that I stay gentle, no matter how roughly they handle me.

I am trying, so hard, because every day THIS lies between me and my short afternoon break, THIS physical assault, THIS battle of wits, every day. And today someone is watching me, and the clock, and I have to say, out loud, pathetically, that THIS is who I am.

I'm just this person, trying, crying on the sidewalk with claw marks on her face, a car full of mistmatched socks and Starbucks cups, and two children who will not be restrained.

This is what trying looks like.

___


I finally get the kids clipped in. The Driver stands in the open door of his shuttle bus, his elbow on the window. He chews a toothpick and shrugs at the community center volunteer who's come out to see what's going on.

At a red light, I flip down my visor to look in the mirror. Red rake marks spread across my neck and cheeks. My hair flies wildly in all directions, as if someone has just rubbed my head with a balloon. My lips tremble. My sunglasses don't hide the tears dripping from my chin.

Chicken and Buster sit in the backseat. They giggle and babble and point out the window when we pass a garbage truck.

mommy?
mommy?
mommy can we get a donut?
mommy
buster says
he thinks we should get a donut


They aren't aware of what surrounds them - not the highway offramp where exiting cars shoot by with such cavalier speed that it makes our Outback quiver. Not their mom in the front seat, crying though she can't quite explain why.

Not the prayer for safe passage that she sends up, unconsciously, a reflex, every time she gets behind the wheel with her most precious cargo. They have no idea why Mommy keeps volunteering for this beating, every day.

They're not even really aware of the webbed straps of their car seat harnesses, snug and smooth against their chests, the clips fastened, the buckles clicked. They're accustomed to safety. To the tight grip of ribs around their beating hearts,  gentle hands on their shoulders, and a calm voice that says, "in this family, we don't hurt each other." Someday that will not be a lie.


In the meantime, I have to keep trying.
Hey.


You were so right.

Chicken has ADHD. Just look... look at this. He spent an hour "packing for a trip to the airport."

He sealed items in individual ziploc bags and then packed those bagged items in a cardboard box that he called his trunk.



(future crime scene analyst)
WHAT HAPPENED HERE
well
we have to wait for the labs to come back but
it looks like
this child needs help focusing
perhaps you should consider medication

this is the frenzied work
of a child whose brain
cannot possibly rest on a single task
for more than a few seconds

aaaaaah
the maaaaadness
the chaaaaoooooos

i think john nash
might be available to mentor
this
profoundly disturbed
young man
seriously
even though john nash has passed away
this profoundly
irreversibly
disturbed
child
could probably still benefit
from a mentor-mentee relationship
with a dead crazy math genius
that's how
whacked
this wackadoo child is

one prescription for ritalin,
please
yes, that's right
estelle sent me

PS: I was joking, Estelle. You're still silly.

PPS:

also
he remembered to pack the stroller
and a flashlight
in the trunk
because
it just makes good sense
and his mama didn't raise no fool