30 seconds on monday morning

Chicken had a truck. Oh no! There's been a terrible accident! Hurry, we have to get to the fire department!

Buster had a truck. Beep! Beep! Beep! Truck! Grrrrrrrrrr....

I had a cup of coffee.

and pungent
like i like my men

or or or

ground to dust
and in hot water
like i like my men

or or or or or or

leaves a stain
and an aftertaste
like i like my men

this is fun

I looked at the clock. It was 9:20 am.

I thought, "shit seems under control in here. I'm going to pop into the bedroom and throw on some deodorant and some going-to-Costco clothes - yoga pants, tank, sweatshirt. It'll take me 2 minutes."

I stood up, said, "I'm going to get dressed. I'll be right back, guys! Call me if you need me!"

Pro tip: "Call me if you need me," should be filed under the heading of "shit that never fucking works but I always try anyway because it SEEMS like it should work," along with, "Hey Chicken, I need your help! Can you show your little brother how big boys brush their teeth?" and "Counting to 3 as if something will happen at 3."

Should I ever be called to the stand to account for the next thirty seconds, this is exactly what I will say I heard as soon as I left the room.

thuddy thud thuddy thud thuddy thud



thuddy thud thuddy thud thuddy thud thuddy thud

thuddy thud thuddy thud thuddy thud thuddy thud



By the time I ran out of the bedroom wearing only one armpit's worth of deodorant, the whole line of dominos had already fallen.

I looked at the clock. It was 9:20 am.

Using sophisticated interrogation techniques...

 ("Chicken? I'm not mad.
Just tell me what happened.
Tell me now.
ONE... Tell me what happened.
TWOOOO... Last chance...
Okay, seriously, I need you to tell me what happened.
Hey babe?
I really need your help!
Can you show your little brother how big boys tell their mommies what happened?

... I have reconstructed the series of events that occurred between the hours of  9:20:00 am and 9:20:30 am:

1. Buster ran over to Chicken, reared back, and slapped him in the face.

2. Chicken bit Buster on the arm (Witness would like to clarify that he was not trying to bite his brother's arm OFF.)

3. Buster ran screaming down the hallway to my bedroom.

4. Chicken ran into the kitchen, filled a glass of water to the brim, and dumped the entire thing on the floor (Witness notes that the floor was dirty and needed a good scrub. Witness's report is consistent with the facts of the kitchen floor.)

exhibit a
it was a lot of water guys

5. Buster ran screaming back down the hallway to the play room.

6. Chicken pulled all the cushions off the couch and burrowed into them (Witness would like the record to show that he is a tiger who lives under the ground like a worm.)

7. Buster found a marker.

8. Chicken pulled off his socks and stuffed them inside the unzipped pillow cover of a couch cushion.

9. Buster colored the house.

exhibit b
we could just leave it
and call it
japanese street art
or something

that's not racist btw
he has a fluency of stroke
that both honors and evolves
the ancient art
of japanese calligraphy

when he's
the fucking house

So I ran back into the room naked and furious, and it was one of those moments when I was like, "damn, I should be on Real Housewives."

But here's the $10,000 question: WHAT DO I DO NOW?

I can't address every unacceptable transgression that just happened. I simply do not have the time. The acts themselves took 30 seconds. Maybe less! The talking it out, cleaning it up, and hugging it out? Sweet monkey butts, that would take at least an hour.

1. Buster hit Chicken. I have a speech for that. The verbiage is positive, acknowledges the extreme feelings that lead to hitting, does not shame those feelings, and I can say it in fourteen languages at this point. It takes about 2 minutes and it ends with a hug.

2. Chicken bit Buster. Okay, I have a speech for that. The verbiage is positive, acknowledges the extreme feelings that lead to biting, does not shame those feelings, but definitely emphasizes how absolutely not okay that behavior is, and that Chicken is a big boy who can use words and that only little babies without words use their teeth to communicate anger or frustration. It also takes about 2 minutes and ends with a hug.

3. Chicken dumped water on the floor. Right, I have a speech for that. The verbiage is positive, you already fucking know everything I'm about to say here, and definitely emphasizes that wasting water is not something we do in this family. It takes about 2 minutes and ends with us cleaning up the water spill together and taking the towels to the laundry hamper. And a hug.

4. Buster colored all over the fucking house. Of course I have a speech for that. The verbiage is... (sigh) (gazes longingly at the wine)... and definitely emphasizes that "markers are for PAPER ONLY. Markers? PAPER ONLY. Not carpet. Not walls. PAPER ONLY. Would you like some paper? No? Okay, let's get some wipes and clean this up together." And a hug.

Before I had Buster, I used to keep track, a sequential running list of every issue that needed to be addressed. My son deserved comprehensive parenting.

But when you double your offspring, that list gets long in a hurry. And as I already said, in the time it takes you to fully diagram the feelings that led up to the last thing, and to reinforce that you love him no matter what that last thing was,  and then to brainstorm future alternatives to the last thing, your child has already done four new things that aren't fucking okay.

Unless you're Magneto and you can pin your children to the refrigerator with humming pot lids and clothes hangers that you flew with your mutant mind powers, your kids never stop moving, even when you're talking. ESPECIALLY when you're talking. And if you try to address every single "thing,"  well... that's how you find yourself explaining what does and does not go in the potty, even as your three-year-old pours Salt Mountain on the kitchen table.

He's justifiably confused. "But I'm done putting your makeup in the potty. That was hours ago. I'm doing salt now." And then you have to be like, "Don't you worry, son. Salt Mountain is on the list. We will get to Salt Mountain. But we're going in order, which means we're up to... let's see... oh yes, 'hand lotion is not for squirting on the floor so you can go ice skating.' Remember? From this morning? Right. Okay, so. What do we use lotion for? Chicken. CHICKEN. Okay, kicking under the table is now on the list. Please stop kicking me, and tell me what we do with lotion."

I'm a writer, so it's no surprise that I lean on words to communicate with my kids. But truth bomb: just because children can talk, hear, and comprehend, doesn't mean words are tools. Like a measuring tape or a whisk, words are tools to us and toys to them.

Words are terribly inefficient tools to build boundaries with young children. I mean, words work... kinda. Like when you use your shoe as a hammer. You'll get there... mostly. But it takes a lot longer and you'll probably fuck up your shoe. Sometimes you just need a fucking hammer.

In the case of boundaries for kiddos 3 and under, "the hammer" is... me. My hands, my presence, my eyes in the sky. There is simply no substitute for Mommy's Looming Shadow when it comes to maintaining some goddamned order and kindness in this family. But damn it, you guys! I'm not trying to crank out the Great American Humorous Essay Collection, or even condition my hair. Can't you kep your shit together for 30 seconds while I put on pants?

Back to the $10,000 question... what do I do now?

Here's what I did.

I interrogated Chicken while Buster thrashed in my lap and yowled. Then I snapped. I screamed, "okay, everybody stop! Everybody stop everything! Chicken, stop biting and dumping water! Buster, stop hitting and screaming and drawing on the house! Everyone! Stop! STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP! AAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

Wow. Okay. I've got a speech for that.

Hey, Katie, you seem really upset. It must be frustrating to feel like you can't leave the room without the children flying at each other like rival alpha squirrels during mating season. And then you come back into the playroom and find a huge mess, two boys who have acquired a taste for human flesh, and you still have no pants on. Plus, you're probably feeling like "oooh nooo, I'm out of control! I'm spoiling my children! I'm doing a terrible job as a mother! I wanted today to be fun but now it's already awful!" Gosh, that sounds hard. I totally understand why it would feel good to scream and yell.

But sometimes after you scream and yell, you feel worse, don't you? Yeah. I know. That's because you love your kids, and yelling at them feels bad. You know that yelling won't fix anything. In fact, it will just make the kids bounce off the walls even harder. You don't want to be a yelling Mommy. You'd rather be a happy Mommy. But when the kids make big messes and hurt each other you can't be happy. You're mad at your kids for not being happy and quiet, and you're sad because you resent your children for not being easy. You're ashamed to wish they were tame. Especially because you love their wildness. Oh yes, you love those wild boys with your whole fierce heart.

Well, what do you think we should do? Sometimes when I feel frustrated and mad and sad, I like to put the children in separate rooms for a little quiet time, and then stand in the kitchen and drink a cold glass of water and write a story. Would you like to do that? You would? Oh, that's great. That's a really great choice. I'm so proud of you. Let's have quiet time, water, and a story.

Oh, and a hug.


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