Sometimes I forget that at any given moment, life can take a sharp, unexpected turn. And as a parent, there’s probably a higher statistical chance that that will happen. Yet, we sail along with the usual small bumps in the road, and it’s easy to start cruising. This morning at 6 a.m., we encountered one of those sharp turns.
Keana woke me up a little after 7 a.m., she had already been sick, and now the pain was too much to lie down or get comfortable. Sharp pain in the gut, lower right. She was light-headed, dizzy, and on the verge of passing out. Sarah took one look at her and said we gotta take her in right away.
It was just me for five days. Well, me and the girls…and the cats…but in the adult category, just me. Sarah was off in Florida for a conference and got back late last night. I took a few days off work and took the role of solo parent while she was gone. And it was, in a word, awesome.
I loved having extra time with the girls, but I think what I loved most about it was the freedom. Since two of the three kids are homeschooled, there’s a lot of flexibility. Also, I’m usually juggling work and some aspects of the kids’ schedule and meals—which can be crazy-making—but this gave me the opportunity to focus solely on the kids and keeping the house in order.
I always want to take more trips in the summer. I have grand ideas of what an “ideal” vacation is. I miss the beach and I want the girls to have adventures in new places. There’s an endless list but time and money usually do not allow. So I take mental snapshots of what is, try to make time to appreciate, and here are a few of those…
We’re driving down (or is it up?) Highway 99, north, towards Sacramento. Yes, we’ll stop over for a night at Grandma Linda’s house, but our final destination is Medford, Oregon, for our friend Adam’s wedding. It’s been about twenty minutes since we left the house and Keana asks for a snack. “Me too!” pipes in Aliya, followed by a, “Me too!” from Maia. Three more hours until Grandma Linda’s and another 5 to Merced tomorrow.
It was actually pretty smooth sailing to both Grandma Linda’s and to the Holiday Inn Express we stayed at in Medford. As they get older, the kids handle longer stretches in the car, taking naps and entertaining themselves with games—Aliya often says out of nowhere, “I spy…with my own little eye…”—and I admit, we’re not a family above a little digital entertainment. My favorite is when they complain about not being able to hear the movie they have playing in the back seat, and we attach it to the car stereo (via one of those old-ass tape converter thingies) and our traveling soundtrack for 95 minutes is Gru sharing funny and heartwarming scenes with three little girls and those silly minions (the soundtrack by Pharrell is actually pretty good).
What makes these long car rides easier is also how far Sarah and I have come in accepting them. It’s going to take us at least two hours to get the house wrapped up, car packed, and out the door—even after packing the night before. The kids are going to be hungry along the way. They are going to bicker with each other. They may also cruise through it just fine. It is what it is. We also try and allow a lot of time so we’re not rushing, pack snacks, and pipe a movie’s sound through the car stereo if need be. Sure, each of us still struggles on the long car ride from time to time, but it is getting easier.
It’s 106 degrees outside. Keana and Sarah are at the store, and Aliya, Maia, and I are left to our own devices. Literally. It’s too hot to be outside so we turn on the Xbox for some Adventure Games. I’m always impressed by the technology of the Kinect sensor, the robot-like camera that reads our movement and makes the characters on the screen flap their arms to float up to pop bubbles, or jump to move a river raft over a bump in the river, or kick a leg out to plug a hole in our underwater chamber. We take turns playing and when Aliya is taking a break, she falls back on the couch in a moment of whimsy, inadvertently squashing an unsuspecting cat. Fluffy jumps up and runs away and Aliya jumps up too, hiding herself in Maia’s chest. Maia sweetly puts her arms around her and gently talks her down. Aliya’s crying and as we try to figure out if she’s scared or worried she’s in trouble, Maia notices a couple scratches on her arm. Maia has her sit down on the couch and tells her about the time she got scratched and how Mama fixed it up. I go and get the hydrogen peroxide, bandaids, and Neosporin. Maia’s got her calmed down now and says, “Hold my hand Babe-in and you can scream as loud as you want if it stings.” Aliya squeezes Maia’s hand, breathes deep, and gets through the process calmly, supported by her big sister. I’m humbled by how caring and gentle Maia is and thankful for everything the afternoon has brought.
Much of the summer has been spent with the three girls sleeping in (to varying degrees), watching some of their favorite shows in the morning, and eating toast with honey on it, sometimes followed by some form of yogurt. Then it’s play time. Sometimes all together, sometimes in pairs, sometimes each separately getting lost in their imaginative play around the house. My days working from home are punctuated throughout by squeals, songs, and even menacing tones of an evil villain coming to thwart the happiness that’s been established.
The final scene (for now). It’s 108 and we venture outside for some pool time before making dinner. The pool’s not very big, just big enough for all five of us, and just deep enough to submerge in. I like to use the opportunity of the agitated water to clean out any particles and bits of bugs that have settled on the bottom. The girls pretend I’m a “net monster,” coming to capture them. We make whirlpools and they float along the perimeter while I steady myself in the middle, slightly nauseous from going around and around and around. Sarah’s inside making a chimichurri to go with our flat iron steaks, having already put a peach pie in the oven. We trade places so I can start the steaks and set the potatoes boiling. At some point, Aliya decides to get out, and she and Sarah pick tomatoes from our planters. They sit by the pool where Keana and Maia are still shouting, laughing, and splashing, and Aliya pulls the green stem thingies off and puts them in a special spot on the cutting board for Sarah to chop up. They are making a salad with tomatoes and basil from our little garden, and fresh, mini mozzarella balls.
Tonight I asked Keana what I should write about, and she replied (as if she was waiting for just that question), “Why don’t you just write about taking us to ballet and picking up dinner?” I thought for a moment and replied, “Huh. That’s a good idea. I think I will.” She was onto something.
Sarah was sick today so I did a little more with the kids than I usually do. I picked Maia up at 1 p.m. from school with Aliya in tow. Aliya was ready to get out, and as I got her dressed to go, I gave her the option of a purple dress with black pants, or a black t-shirt so she could be “all black.” She was pretty excited at the “all black” option and even sought out her black boots to complete the ensemble.
We arrived at school and parked down the street, and as we started down the sidewalk, she said in a tired tone, “I hate walking here.” “Really?” I said, “Why’s that?” “Ugh, I just hate walking this way.” My first reaction was to discount her seemingly strong feelings, but I just kept my mouth shut and said, “Huh.”
Sometimes our life is so full of those moments when you say, “Man, I really want to remember this,” or “I have to write down what she said when we get home.” Of course, many of those moments never get recorded, being put off until they slowly fade from memory. And I think that’s okay because I certainly don’t want to miss those moments by worrying about how I’m going to remember them. I like to record things but I don’t want to be the dad that sees his kids growing up through the screen of the iPhone.
But I did want to take some time tonight to remember today. The afternoon was more hectic than usual (if that’s possible) because Sarah had to be somewhere and it was “open studio” night for Keana’s ballet class. This meant I had to take all three kids and keep two of them somewhat tame for an hour around dinner time. It turned out better than expected because both Maia and Aliya are in ballet too, so they enjoyed watching the older girls and practicing some of the moves they knew along with them. Not only that, but it was such a joy to see Keana practice. I don’t usually get to go and watch her, and she was amazing. Poised, confident, struggling, succeeding…it was such a gift to be able to take the time to really see what she does every Tuesday night in ballet class.
There’s nothing like the beginning of school to push some of your parenting buttons and pull many of your heartstrings. We started school here in Fresno yesterday with mixed results.
Yesterday, the first day, was actually pretty magical. Keana started third grade without a hitch—which we kind of expected—and Maia had a great first day in kindergarten. She had no problem separating from Sarah and we waved goodbye and blew kisses as she marched off. As she entered her classroom, I think both Sarah and I exhaled with relief. And when she came home, she was beaming: she loved her teacher, made new friends, and at one point in the evening exclaimed, “I can’t wait to go back tomorrow!” She also started a new ballet class last night and loved that too.
There’s nothing like sitting down to capture life in writing and being completely overwhelmed by what’s transpired in the 46 days since I last did this little song and dance. I struggle with deciding if I should write something heartfelt about mind-blowing transformations and lessons learned, or simply stick to the facts and events since those often tell a story within their own story.
One thing that struck me the other day too, was that now that Keana’s eight and heading into third grade, her story isn’t exactly mine to tell anymore. She already writes many of her own transcripts of events—like what we did on vacation—but I also worry about putting things about her life here that will embarrass her later or be used against her somehow in the cruel throws of growing up in a “Googleable” world. Or maybe she’ll just be annoyed if I beat her to the punch line with life events. What’s more annoying than your parents answering for you when your voice is plenty strong, right? So there’s that.
And then there’s many of my friends having first babies—which really has nothing to do with me—but on the one hand I’m thrilled that they are beginning to enter a realm where they get to hold something greater than themselves in their arms, and spend countless hours admiring and being astonished by someone that hardly does anything at first. I think about all the “firsts” they have yet to experience and a pretty ridiculous grin fills my face.
Then, as I deal with the madness of trying to get all three of my own kids to actually sit down and eat until they’re full, followed by the circus-frenzy that is bedtime, I can’t help but wish I could somehow have the answers myself and pass them on to save them from this insanity we call child rearing. Sorry friends. You’re in for wonder and amazement…and plenty of nights of the type of wonder along the lines of, “What the eff were we thinking?!”
Now they’re peacefully sleeping though, plenty tired from a busy weekend and a sleepover at Grandma’s. After eight years I’m still taken aback by how they can be so gorgeous and sweet awake and asleep. The frenzy and frustrations from the day are all but echoes and there’s so much to look forward to tomorrow. Maia and Keana will find out who their teachers will be this year. Maia’s not happy about her finger that got stepped on yesterday, but she’s a little excited about a special trip to the doctor just for her (yes, it could be broken). Back to school is Wednesday night and we still have one week until school starts, but the first-day-of-school excitement and jitters are beginning to build. It’s life and it’s happening. And the whole thing starts over in a few hours so I guess our latest trip and that more detailed update on what’s been happening will just have to wait for another night.
One thing we’ve struggled with on the weekends since having kids (especially multiple kids) is finding balance. The balance between resting, relaxing, doing fun stuff as a family, and getting stuff done around the house to keep this crazy ship afloat. Add anything else to the mix, like dance rehearsals or birthday parties, and it all becomes that much harder.
This past weekend was the first weekend without anything extra in a while and we were not prepared. (That’s another thing: after all these years I would think we would be better at this weekend thing.) Anyway, Saturday rolled along and Aliya’s crib had to be switched out for the mini bed we had in the garage, then the flower beds had to be watered since the heat is creeping up now, then the garage had to be reassembled because of course, that bed frame was at the bottom of a delicately layered mountain of camping gear, Christmas decorations, bikes, and old clothes. Then the kids were hungry for lunch (hadn’t we just had breakfast!) and on and on until it was time to make dinner and get them ready for bed. At the end of it I felt, I admit, pretty annoyed that it was Saturday and I was just as worn down as if it had been a Monday, and even questioned the quality of time we spent together as a family.
That night Sarah suggested we make a plan for Sunday so we didn’t have another day that just sailed by without doing what we really wanted. This was another conversation we were quite familiar with, and it was a good idea, but I was feeling a little hopeless. I get this way, especially when the temperature around here starts climbing up into the 90s. I feel like I’m racing nature to get everything done that I want to do outside before the blistering heat and shitty air closes in. That, coupled with an already intense competition for needs and time, is a recipe for an unproductive conversation. Here I was already tired from a “day off” and I couldn’t get past the existing list of house cleaning and grocery shopping that still needed to get done. Plan something fun? Forget about it.
Luckily we were able to persevere through the initial turbulence of this conversation and finish the talk, emerging with a decent plan for a trip to the zoo in the morning, followed by an afternoon (inside away from the heat) doing house cleaning.
And it worked! By God, we had fun and got a lot of shit done! It wasn’t easy of course, and the kids still had a little meltdown (literally) before lunch, but once we cooled off and ate something, the afternoon was fine. I even squeezed in a game of chess with Keana, Maia, and Aliya.
I’m a grown-ass man with three kids and yet I still just want to sleep in and play on the weekends. Maybe some day I’ll accept the fact that that life has packed and sailed (for now), but this one, now, can be navigated well if Sarah and I just chart a course together…before we embark on the journey.
When you’re married with small kids it’s easy to forget about each other. Maybe “forget” isn’t quite the right word—it’s more like postpone. It’s not usually intentional…like an outdoor concert that gets rained out. The kids are so adorable or needy or upset, or there’s a school thing or this appointment then practice then work. Before you know it, the whole day has gone by and you’ve barely made eye contact or given a hug to the person you started this whole thing with. The years pass and you have more kids and more life happens, those days turn into weeks and months and that concert that got rained out never gets rescheduled.
For us it had been almost eight years. Before you start freaking out, don’t worry, it hadn’t been eight years since I hugged my wife Sarah. We’ve had two other kids since our first, so do the math. And the last several years in particular, we’ve made an effort to squeeze in date nights when we could or get away during the day for a few hours while the kids were at grandma’s, but we haven’t been away from the kids for a night—and certainly not two or more—for a very long time. We kept saying we should or wouldn’t that be awesome if, and that started to turn into maybe for our tenth anniversary. It had nothing to do with not loving each other or wanting, but we just didn’t take the time to make the effort that was necessary.
So the beginning of February we made a pact to make it happen, no rain delays. We picked a date, cleared it with grandma a month in advance, and booked the place. I secretly prayed that the kids wouldn’t get sick or that grandma wouldn’t have something come up, and low and behold, Friday, March 1, 2:00 p.m., we were on the road. Just the two of us, headed for Costanoa.
For about the first hour of the car ride we were nervous and worried about how the kids would do. But that gradually faded as reality set in and then…we were free. We talked and laughed, played the music loud and stopped when we had to pee. We reveled in the lack of needs beyond our own and arrived along the coast just after sunset.
The weekend was perfect. We loved our tent bungalow that looked out onto a beautiful coastal valley. The nights were cold but we enjoyed the hot tub and friendly conversation with other guests, bragging about how this was our first weekend away since having three kids (and trying not to be offended when people looked surprised).
We lounged. The thing you miss the most once you have kids is sleeping in and having a peaceful meal, and we got both in abundance. A hike up to a lookout then down to a private beach was the perfect way to spend the first full day, followed by more lounging in our cozy bungalow. At sunset we grabbed some coffee and headed up the coast, admiring the light house along the way, parking at a beach to watch the fog roll in over the massive waves breaking on the rocks beyond the shore. When night fell we headed up the road to Pescadero for dinner at Duarte’s and visited with old friends who just happend to be there. Pescadero’s like that, an almost timeless bubble where you’re as likely to run into Neil Young as you are a friend from 8 years ago.
As the hour got later and we soaked in the hot tub for the second night, Sarah and I talked about how we were both fighting off thoughts beyond the moment, to the next day when we would pack it up and return to our “real life.” We were both happy and content with just a hint of anxiety. We missed our beautiful, shining girls and it was good.
Our return trek on Sunday was delayed slightly by a quick meeting with another friend at Whale City in Davenport, but once we got rolling, the ride was quiet. I thought about how relaxing our trip was, all the beautiful scenery and nature we enjoyed, and most of all how much I still loved this lady next to me in the car. After 8 years with kids and more than 10 years together, we still knew how to have fun and enjoy the things that brought us together.
There will always be the joys and frustrations of having three kids. Random hugs and kind words throughout the day are great and date nights are crucial. But having that weekend away with Sarah taught me how important it was for us to get away from the day-to-day for an extended amount of time and just enjoy each other. Sarah always reminds me it’s what got us here, and I’m convinced it’s what’s going to not only keep it all together, but make our life as full as it can be.
In my last post (a little less than a week ago) Keana was just coming down with a fever and it turned out to be a bad one. She missed the entire week of school with fever, cough, runny nose, and bloodshot eyes. Then, on Thursday, Maia came down with it, adding some good ol’ vomiting in the wee hours of the morning. Luckily it wasn’t chronic throw-up, but still, when things come back up the wrong way, it really puts many aspects of your character to test. And still today, Maia slept half the day, not able to eat anything until now (1:30 p.m.). She seems to be feeling much better now, so I’m hopeful the end is in sight. Somehow Aliya, Sarah, and I have stayed healthy this week and I hope it stays that way.
The thing about sick kids—especially when it just keeps rotating and rotating around over weeks and weeks—is that it just plain wears you out. After night after night of very little sleep and cleaning up nasty thing after nasty thing, I find myself DONE. Yesterday especially, there was really no other word for it. I just wanted it all to go away. I growled, I threatened to eat the children, I squirmed in my skin looking for any way around having to take care of one more thing related to sick kids. And this is where I pay tribute to Sarah for being an amazing mom and partner who, after dealing with exactly the same stuff yesterday, stepped up and even cleaned the litter boxes for her struggling husband at the end of the day.
After a week like the last one, it’s important for me to remember a few things:
Whatever it is, it will pass. Some day, the kids will all be healthy again and the faucets of snot will dry up, I’ll get back to sleeping at least 4 hours at night, and I won’t have to jump at every cough or groan, running frantically with a plastic bucket to catch the impending doom.
However I feel, Sarah is probably feeling it too. We’re both tired. We’re both doing our best and we’re both grossed out. I’ve tried to make it a point to thank her at least once a day for everything she’s done, and remembering it’s okay to ask for what I need too. She can say no, which is fine, but it’s okay for me to ask for help.
Related to that last one, it’s okay for me to say no. Of course I have to do whatever’s necessary for the kids, but there are a lot of things that are optional. Especially this winter, sickness has really been a marathon and trying to be super-parent 24/7 is not possible. It makes me grumpy and mean and it’s just no good for anyone.
There’s nothing like week after week of at least one person being sick to make you appreciate good health and push you to take care of yourself!
(Couldn’t find a pic that fit this post so thought I’d brighten it up with some Aliya cuteness.)