Worthy family tradition …

… or unnecessary bedlam???

The family made our 3rd annual post-Thanksgiving trek to Sugar Plum Farm to get a Christmas tree. If you don’t recall the previous years, the outings were not as fun-filled as Stephen and I had hoped, namely due to a belligerent Zeke and unfriendly weather. With balmy temps and kids who are a year older, we were hopeful that this time would be a more successful jaunt.

Visiting Santa while waiting in line, the hayride up the mountain and the choose-and-cut portion of the day went smashingly well, but went downhill after that with spazzes and spills over not-so-hot chocolate; Houston’s “my legs are broken” complaints and subsequent dramatic collapses (this is what he sometimes does when he’s exhausted); and Gabriel hurling a handful of pebbles at an unsuspecting man.

To top it off, we had driven both the van and Grumps’ Jeep in an effort to have an escape car, so that if one kid got too cranky, we could remove him from the situation, salvaging the good times for those who remained. Even though Zeke (surprise, surprise!) was an extremely good boy, we opted to bolt as a unit, since patience and energy levels were running low pretty early on.

Houston & Miss Jessie work on penmanship & writing his name.

Daddy, a sleeping Zeke and Gabe waited in the vehicle line for tree pick-up, while Houston and I drove the Jeep and parked near the exit. Infuriated by the fact that he was in the van and not Grumps’ cool car, Gabriel decided to let loose the heavy-metal screams for which he is infamous. Everyone could hear his blood-curdling screeches, making Daddy’s front-row seat to the performance all the more pleasant.

So yes, we payed top dollar for a Carolina-grown Frasier Fir, but we missed out on all the extra fun that the farm has to offer, like paddle boating, feeding the ducks, roasting marshmallows, etc. And since we have yet to really take advantage of those perks, Stephen and I are at a crossroads: continue the purposeful tradition, cherishing the magic moments that come out of the chaos, or give up on what feels like such a daunting and unappreciated undertaking. What say you?

Behavior battles 

Zeke’s tantrums have subsided, from the frenetic one-hour fits mentioned in the last blog, to the shorter-lived, but still excited meltdowns that followed, to the current pretty-easy-to-ignore bouts of agitation. Basically, his acting out is about on par as anything Houston and Gabe will throw at us on occasion … a pain in the butt, for sure, but totally tolerable and to be expected.

Gabe asks, “Wouldn’t I make an adorable fireman?”

Then there’s what I call equal-opportunity naughtiness: when the kids all let that devil on their shoulder smooth-talk and outmaneuver the angel on the other side, wearing out Mommy in the process. And since this takes place mostly during the bath time/bedtime regimen — of course, when I’m at my most pooped point of the day — Daddy and I have come up with a few new rules.

  1. I’m going to avoid the frequent chaos that is a two- or three-boy bath and instead bathe only one kid a night. Sure, not the best hygienic practices in the world, but a much better utilization of my energy and sanity.
  2. Once the 3 Amigos are in bed, we’re going to let them have about 30 minutes of free time, so that they can talk, sing, giggle, read books together, have stuffed-animal fights or action-figure wars, and do whatever else (within reason) it is they find so necessary to do on a nightly basis.
  3. When the allotted time is up, it’s lights out and door closed. And if anyone breaks the rules of “lie down, be quiet and go to sleep,” they ALL get punished. Hey, it works in the military, so why not put on my drill sergeant hat and give it a whirl here at the zoo?! After all, I am a mother who does where a whistle, so I’m confident I can pull it off.

“Whoa, this is one powerful hose,” says Zeke.

Some recent wins 

All this is certainly not to say that the dudes don’t have countless well-behaved moments, don’t exhibit consideration for others, don’t commit random acts of kindness or sharing, don’t use their manners or aren’t truly phenomenal on some excursions.

Here are some examples of the 3 Amigos’ goodness:

  • Daddy and the kids road-tripped to the mountains for Cousin Kelly’s wedding on 11/5. Daddy, typically a harsher critic than am I, happily reported that the boys were sweet and polite.
  • When meeting up with Granny and Grumps at our Chick-fil-A half-way spot on 11/10, all boys went potty without complaint, were very calm and mannerly while eating, and then played nicely with the other kids in the play area.
  • Granny says the dudes were also mannerly during an ice-cream outing she treated them to while in the mountains.
  • We went to Jump-n-Fun with MOPS on 11/14. The boys were such brave bouncers, sliders and climbers, giving me some much-needed adult time with the other moms. Smiles, sharing and good behavior abounded.
  • On 11/18, we attended a Moms Club Thanksgiving brunch/playgroup at a member’s home. Again, the kids were excellent, ate great, had a blast with their buds and did a fair job at helping clean up the wrecked house.
  • Couple these instances with glowing reports at church, the Y and in MOPS class, and I’d say my boys are slowly, sometimes painstakingly, but surely growing into fine little men.

As big as he is, Houston still might need a smaller size.

Health & happiness

Houston started complaining about his ears the night of 11/21. The pain persisted into the next day, so I took him to a trusted doc (not their pediatrician), who said he indeed had an ear infection. Instead of the regular prescription of immediate antibiotics, she wanted to try him out Mucinex for 48 hours first, since she said that some of these yucky ear problems are caused by viruses.

After some crazy sleepless nights — including one evening with Daddy on the couch, the 3 Amigos in our bed, and me curled up on the floor of the kids’ room on two of their mattresses — and putting off our Thanksgiving trip up to the mountains by a day, both boys are finally feeling better. Fortunately, the Mucinex kicked Zeke’s illness by that Saturday, and Houston, who ended up needing the antibiotics after all, is now on the road to recovery.

Our Thanksgiving with Granny and Grumps was low-key … that is, until Houston had his first-ever nosebleed that night. Stephen and I were definitely freaked out, but luckily for us, Granny was a “free bleeder” as a kid and knew exactly what to do to get it stopped.

Then on Saturday night, Houston had another one, which was much more intense, gory and traumatic than the first. Again, Granny worked her magic, teaching both Houston and I a thing or two about how to handle and stop nosebleeds.

Already the pro, Gabriel works the gauges on the firetruck.

In fact, Houston has already put his new expertise to use, successfully stopping two little nosebleeds all on his own. “I can handle it,” he says reassuringly in a nasally voice while pinching his nose with a tissue.

We figure (and hope) that these are a fluke caused by a perfect storm: the massive swings in mountain temperatures (from low 20s at night to high 60s in the day), the gas-log heating of the mountain house, all the congestion that comes with an ear infection and perhaps even the higher altitude at Granny’s. Fingers crossed!

Going potty & rewards

The twins’ potty training is progressing, but we still have a way to go. They’ll be doing great, staying dry, peeing standing up “like brother,” loving their big-boy undies. And then, as if back to square one, they’ll flood their britches, poop their pants or even doo-doo on the bathroom floor, and all this after swearing up and down that they didn’t have to go. Huh?

So, instead of always being the one to prompt them to go, I updated the diamond-in-the-jar reward system. Now, Gabe and Zeke can earn a “diamond” only if he is the one to initiate the potty break and then successfully get the pee or poop into the toilet. Interestingly, Zeke (who was lagging behind in his potty training for a long while) already has seven diamonds and Gabriel only has one.

Zeke, being the huge fan of hats that he is, feels right at home.

Houston’s reward system has also been tweaked: he now has to dress himself fully without any assistance to earn a diamond. We are cutting him a little slack on his socks, though, since all of his current stash are either too snug or too big. As of today, Houston  trails behind Zeke by only two diamonds.

On 11/20, Daddy finally took Gabriel on a one-on-one hike for his first diamond win. We tallied their full jars the following day and G-man retained the title, beating out Houston by only four stones. As both bros are in stiff competition for the next championship, Gabe looks forward to his second prize: swimming at the Y with Daddy.

Miss Jessie rocks

On 11/23, Miss Jessie put on a Thanksgiving mini-reenactment. The boys donned their pilgrim hats as they departed the Mayflower (the back deck), and found corn in the garden, nuts near the shed and maple syrup in a tree. While playing in the makeshift teepee (the outdoor fort covered with a sheet), we discussed how God’s divine hand made the pilgrim’s feast possible, before the kids pretended to cook the stuffed-animal turkey and fish over a campfire.

Some randoms

At the doc, Houston weighed 46.6 pounds and is 45″ tall.

Triple trouble in the bathtub is now a thing of the past.

I am taking an amazing 10-week night class at church. My awesome hubby is feeding the kids dinner and getting them to bed so that I can take part in this wonderful learning opportunity.

Since we didn’t do much on our actual 11th anniversary, Stephen and I celebrated the occasion on 11/11/11. We fine-dined at one of our fave restaurants, while Granny had the kids for the weekend.

The 3 Amigos, who are constantly discussing the merits of spicy food at mealtime, like both horseradish sauce and steak sauce. Thank goodness they have pretty adventurous palettes as far as kids go.

Our 15-year-old cat, Bob, has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She is presently on meds and doing okay, but old Bobby might be on her last lap. A weird one, for sure, she has been a good and loyal cat. I just pray Bob’s final days are peaceful.

Click Zeke in the helmet to see all the firehouse fun had on 9/30 and the above photo to view the September gallery.

My Life: The Reality Show

It has been a trying few weeks, to say the least. It all began on our first outing with MOPS on 10/18 when the boys and I met up with some moms and kiddies at Homeland Creamery.

We were ready to spend this crisp fall morning on a Piedmont dairy farm. But once we piled onto the tractor for the hayride, Zeke decided that he didn’t like hayrides: too slow, too full of hay, too many stops and too many rules (read: the one rule of “don’t stand while the tractor is moving”), yet definitely not enough close encounters with cows, blah blah blah.

Zeke (left) & Gabriel place flowers on a Houston family grave.

Unfortunately, Zeke’s complaints had on effect on his otherwise happy bros — such is the challenge of being a mom of multiple kids. Here and there, Gabriel and Houston would be disrespectful or blatantly contrary, but overall, they were pretty content and mannerly. And with Zeke having intermittent respites from the insanity, we survived the playdate fairly unscathed. However, this junket was just a harbinger of the familial struggles to come.

Zeke’s boisterous rebellions continued on into 10/19. Couple that with Houston and Gabe’s fair share of sporadic pre-K mischief, and I was worn out by the time we headed up to Virginia for my sister’s wedding, and a bit frantic for the Thursday-night wedding rehearsal.

Luckily, Lisa and Albert are such a natural, relaxed and loving couple that by the time the Friday-night wedding took place, I had gained some perspective and composure. It was a simple and beautiful ceremony, and I was honored to do the chosen New Testament readings and intercessions. Thanks, y’all, for allowing me to be a part of your awesome wedding!

Big brother shores up the flower decoration efforts.

That’s not to say that Zeke had abandoned challenging parental authority. In fact, he was so insubordinate during his pre-wedding bath that we almost kept him home from the marital festivities. But luckily, the rebellions were infrequent and short-lived.

The Saturday party at my parents’ house served as a catharsis for my ailing mommy soul. Things kicked off when Stephen was awakened at 4 a.m. to help Albert cook the whole pig and decapitated lamb over a charcoal rotisserie set up in the back driveway, got rocking with a bluegrass band and continued on until the wee hours. Families grew stronger and friendships were made.

That glorious Saturday, we rarely saw a perpetually gleeful Houston, who was trekking all over Gramsey and Papa’s property with an always-adventurous Cousin Kara. Gabriel and Zeke had a blast dutifully following the big kids around, and were certainly lavished with tons of attention in between exploits.

By 10/28, Zeke decided it was time to take a bold stand over what he saw as an inequity of toy trains during a playdate at Miss Lorrie’s, as well as vehemently voicing his concerns over the lack of track maintenance. And then this dramatic misbehavior reared its ugly head again en route to the NC Transportation Museum on 10/29, when Zeke decided to have a spaz over a fallen shoe.

The forearm tattoo of Ethan Houston of Johnson City, Tenn.

See, we were taking the whole family to ride the Halloween Train and meet up with some Charlotte friends as part of Gabriel and Zeke’s belated birthday present. So, we thought it would be a proper punishment to let all the kids (less Zeke) ride the train. This didn’t seem to have much effect on him, since he got to participate in all the other choo-choo-centric fun around the museum. Interestingly, he was actually quite well-behaved post-shoe-meltdown.

Then Zeke decided that Halloween was a good day to test boundaries, but on an amplified level. In the midst of ensuing chaos, I figured that I may as well seize the moment and start breaking Zeke of his thumb-sucking habit. After all, he was already being belligerent, so why not go ahead and paint Mavala Stop (the yucky-tasting stuff I had already bought) on his thumb nail?!

Despite our efforts to cut Zeke some slack, he made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want to be a team player or follow by the rules. Let’s just sum it up by saying that we didn’t let Zeke go trick-or-treating on Halloween. Can you imagine how drastic it was that we felt it necessary to have him miss out on the memorable holiday?!

Houston and Gabriel were concerned about Zeke at first, but trick-or-treating with neighborhood friends helped them get over that pretty quickly. They also had no qualms about devouring candy — which Zeke was prohibited to do that night — right in front of their treatless-bro when they returned home from their spooky escapades.

Granny gathers her boys @ the family cemetery entrance.

November has seen a drastically better-behaved Zeke and much happier family unit as a result. However, he has had full-fledge tantrums three out of the first four days of this month. These hysterical fits, which last up to an hour, have all taken place right when Zeke awakes from his nap. And just as quickly as they begin, they end and he is back to being himself … like the flick of switch.

From all the research I’ve done, I’m convinced that the cause of this behavior (which is considered normal in kids his age) is three-fold.

  1. Zeke’s horrible nighttime cough had been keeping him from getting much restful sleep beginning in late October, so I’m sure the fatigue built up to an intolerable level. (Luckily, his asthma meds are finally doing their job and his cough and sleep have improved in the past couple of days.)
  2. Zeke’s normal post-nap ritual of quietly chilling in his crib with fleece blankie and dependable thumb is no longer an option. This is obviously causing him immense grief and frustration.
  3. And breaking the thumb-sucking habit presents both a struggle with gaining independence and learning a new skill: he needs to be a big boy and not use his thumb as a pacifier.

In addition, we’re going to try giving both Zeke and Gabriel an increased feeling of autonomy with upping our potty-training efforts, having the twins use regular (not sippy) cups a lot more often, finally assembling one of our conversion cribs into a toddler bed, and moving bunk beds way up to the top of our to-buy list.

Gabriel & Zeke attend their first Grasshoppers game in August 2011.

Now if we could just break Zeke of his new favorite habit of putting objects in the potty; Gabriel of his penchant for ear-piercing whining; and Houston of his (thankfully) scarce vexation-induced outbursts of “I hate all things and want to die and don’t want to go to heaven,” we’d be all set. Ah, kids.

Believe it or not, before, during and after all this craziness, a lot of cool and memorable stuff has been taking place.

On 10/13, Stephen and I made our mortgage refinance official, locking in 15-year rate of 3.25%, down almost three points from our original contract. We had to take the 3 Amigos to the law office for the paperwork signing and they behaved brilliantly, coloring at one end of the huge, fancy legal table while we tended to our business at the other end.

Stephen and I celebrated our wedding anniversary on 10/14. Eleven years and we haven’t killed each other yet!

Houston chugs lemonade from our 3rd baseline seats.

Gabriel and Zeke’s birthday party took place on 10/15. We had a few Moms Club pals, our neighborhood posse, Granny and Grumps, Miss Jessie and some other friends over for an old-school fall bash, featuring bobbing for apples, a scavenger hunt, pin the tail on the donkey and a pinata. Our double trouble (who actually turned 3 on 10/16) had a blast, as did everyone else.

We wrote messages on the twins’ birthday balloons and released them into the sky on 10/24. The boys beamed with wonder as they watched the balloons ascend to the heavens. It was a creative way to get rid of the balloons, which so often cause fights between my boys.

Gabriel spit toothpaste into the sink for the first time on 10/25. He still hasn’t mastered the technique, but he’s getting there.

We attended Houston’s final t-ball game as a family on 10/26. What a nice way to end such a great season!

We attended the Moms Club Halloween party on 10/27.  The dudes looked so adorable in their homemade costumes (thanks, Miss Jessie). So, yes, there will be a few pics of Zeke dressed up as a pumpkin from this outing, as well as plenty of Houston as ghost and Gabriel as Vader from this party and from Halloween.

Zeke waits patiently to hug the Chick-fil-A cow.

I implemented the new 30-minute mealtime rule on 11/1. That’s how long the kids get to eat and not a second longer. This has made mealtime — which had become a dreadfully arduous task — a much more pleasant and efficient experience for me, and a more mannerly effort for the kids.

We went on our second MOPS outing on 11/2 to Backyard Paradise. The 3 Amigos (namely Zeke) made a much better impression than was made at the dairy farm. The kids loved climbing the huge play systems and bouncing on trampolines; Houston enjoyed spending time with his new buddy, Asher; and I actually got some time to talk with Miss Christie about homeschooling.

The vaccines Gabriel and Zeke got on 11/3 puts them one step closer to being caught up on their schedule. Only two more shots to go before they’re AAP-approved and we can start shopping around for a new pediatrician. Yay!

Gabriel thinks, “Who says you actually have to watch the game?”

What could have been an all-out crazy errand yesterday turned out to be a little less crazy and fun to boot due to my awesome friends. After a playgroup, I dropped the boys off for burgers at Wendy’s with Miss Lorrie, Miss Amy and their kids; took the van across the busy street to get an oil change; battled traffic, the wind and rain during my run back to the restaurant; ate my grub while the boys devoured their desserts; kept the kids occupied with balled-up napkin games and bubblegum-wrapper airplanes till the hour-plus car service was completed.

And going the extra mile, Miss Lorrie gave us a back-of-the-van ride to retrieve our vehicle, breaking the law in an effort to keep us safe and dry. Upon opening up the door to let us unload from the rear of her van, I joked that my life should be a reality show. Perhaps it could be called “It Doesn’t Take a Village, It Takes a Straightjacket” … for the kids, of course, not me. Well, I suppose that’s negotiable.

Click the above shot to check out photos of the family’s baseball outing and the tattoo to see pics from the Houston Family Reunion, both of which took place in August.