Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a typical year, we have about 6 weeks of houseguests. This year, we have had about 10 weeks of houseguests.

Given that we have so many houseguests, it is a little odd that we find ourselves without any guests at all over Thanksgiving this year. But that is okay! The kids are out of school all week. Without anyone else to entertain and nowhere we have to be, we are wearing pajamas, reading books and eating in front of the television. Just a bit. A simple PB&J for Thanksgiving? Maybe...


May your Thanksgiving week be everything that you need as well.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Becoming a Family of Five

I've wanted to post on this topic for a while. After Mattias was born, I did a similar post, about becoming a family of four. Somehow, the jump to five people (3 kids) has been a lot more difficult than the jump to four (2 kids). I've needed more time to truly process the change and not simply spew out my frustration.

Trixie reached 18 months earlier this month. I still believe Mean Jean's Theory of 18 months has validity; that is, it take 18 months to really adapt to major life changes. So, instead of writing a post at twelve months, I waited. It is tempting to constantly write posts under the topic of How I Overcame Something Difficult For Me. Maybe 18 months will be magic, I thought. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that if I kept waiting for that kind of closure, I might never post this.

SO. Without further ado, here are the changes I've noticed in our new, larger family:

There's no hiding for either parent. Funny, how Fritz used to go out to the garage to change a flat tire on his bike and emerge 4 hours later, having swept the garage and rearranged the scrap wood and labeled the tool drawers, all while I took care of the kids. Nope, doesn't happen like that anymore. If you are on our property, it is pretty much impossible not to be with the children/a child at all times. If Fritz disappears into the garage, it only takes about 10 minutes before the boys head out to see what he's doing. Before you know it, they're scootering in circles around the dust piles.  I think a portion of this intense togetherness is their ages, but a portion of it is the fact that they outnumber us, and they're mobile, so it feels like they're everywhere.

The burden falls more often at Fritz's feet than ever before (when he's home). I've nursed all three kids. In the first six month, all that nursing can really start to feel like a ball and chain. Fritz has never experienced this, and many times, I've felt envious of his freedom from nursing. But this is less the case with each successive child. There were times with Trixie when I was happy to disappear quietly into the bedroom, while leaving Fritz to referee the boys' disagreement over – I don't know – a straw wrapper. Nighttime parenting has seen a similar trend. Fritz tends to the boys (who need him less often) while I tend to Trixie. Trixie still wakes up more often but still shares a room with us; The boys wake up less often, but there are two of them and tending to them requires walking down the hallway. And if the two boys are sick, well, it definitely feels like I have the better deal.

BUT I still carry most of the unpleasant parts of parenting. Like triage. Oh, so much triage. Some people like to refer to three-plus-child-parenting as running a zonal defense versus a one-on-one defense. Maybe I'm too harsh, but I think of it as doing triage. When all three kids are crying at once, over different things (happens!), you have to decide which child to leave behind on the Battlefield of Childhood Woes. You have only two hands and some of them take up so much physical space. It's just not possible to comfort all of them at once. So you pick. This sucks. It sucks hard. In the early days of three kids, I was exhausted from constantly making the decision of which-kid-to-ignore and handling the consequences of my choice. Eventually I toughened up and making the choice cost me less. I even learned to have conversations with myself over screaming from the backseat while driving. But you know what? I don't think the toughness has made me a better parent. I think it's made me a worse parent. More insensitive. Less attentive. More sarcastic. Less charmed. More impatient. Less kind.

On practical level, with two hands occupied, I find myself telling the kids what to do more than ever. That would be the diplomatic way of saying barking orders at them or yelling or snapping. No matter how you phrase it, I rely on my voice more than I did before. I used to be much more action/modeling/showing as a parenting technique. But it just isn't as effective when you've got three kids. Sad. I liked the action/modeling/showing approach better.

Family-ness. Our family gained a certain gravitas when the second child was born. With the third child, I feel like our family is spinning even faster. Before we had a spin that created gravity, now we're more like a spinning tornado. Watch out for the centripetal force! Our chaos spin off us and slams into those around us! Words and phrases that come to mind to describe our interactions with others: Tentative. At arms length. Under conditions. Limited. Not that I blame anyone for keeping their distance from us. Do the kids run the show around here? Um, yes. This morning we went for a walk and we had to stop three times in the first block to address somebody's breakdown.

On the positive side, as a family unit we can be more efficient than ever before. Certainly our Costco receipts would lead you to believe the Wyses are running a mini-compound. It's kind of cool: we really do eat ALL of the bulk produce we buy before it goes bad. Ten pounds of carrots? NO PROBLEM. We also have the eating power to constantly have a more diverse amount of food in the fridge. For example, we never used to have all the ingredients for my favorite Brasil Club on hand at one time, unless I made a special shopping trip. Now, we almost always have all the ingredients.

Oh, and you know that thing where the older kids take care of the younger kids and it's SO DAMN CUTE? Yup, we got it. Book reading, carrying, giggling, handholding all over the place. Nonstop cuteness.

Friends. By choice or by necessity, some of my friendships have faded since Trixie was born. I think it's a special frame of mind that you live in when you have a baby. Once out of it, I think we forget what it's like. It's been more difficult than ever to relate to people who are not carrying a kid on their hip. I think of parenting three children like this: I'm treading water as fast as I can. I'm not even swimming. My eyes are just BARELY over the water. I can see a distance of three feet, at most. Can you talk to me about what's within my three foot range? No? Okay, sorry, can't talk, got to focus on my treading.

Additionally, the number of people who can understand the stresses of three kids are a smaller group. I find myself seeking out new friends with three or more children for commiseration. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from grabbing their hand and asking them how they're doing it.

You know: for years I was lonely because we were always moving to a new place. When we settled in here, it was such a relief to know that we were staying; and then to be thrust back into the isolation of having a baby and finding some new friends.... I guess it doesn't take a move to be lonely. SIGH. It's working out, but it's slow-going.

Diversity. I loved how two kids brought diversity and balance to our home. Three kids is even more diversity! That's nice. Sometimes, though, it feel like a little too much. Mostly, it's a challenge to address all the different needs of kids who span 6 years in age. Some of the young (childless) nannies I see at preschool drop off love to talk with me about age spacing of children. They all seem to think it's best to push kids out as fast as possible. They're planning it for their own futures. I'm not sure I agree, but the last 18 months has left me feeling that I'm not giving any of my three kids what they need in an age-appropriate way. Maybe it would be easier if they were closer together in age? Or maybe it would just be more chaotic.... With two children, I felt like there was more time to cultivate an individual relationship with both of them. I'm still not able to do that very well with three children, although I maintain hope.

All this said, holy shit, three kids has stretched us THIN. Frtiz and I are more grouchy, more argumentative and more stressed than we have ever been in our marriage. I really feel like all our various types of resources are scarcer than ever before. And there's not much we can do about it.

For what it's worth, the process of being stretched thin by children hasn't been linear: we were generally happier after Mattias (the 2nd) was born. But both Noah (the 1st) and Trixie (the 3rd) have been had steep learning curves associated with their arrival. I live on the hope that's getting easier – it will be easier – it is already easier – it IS A Learning Curve, so it's not permanent. I hope. After all, I did have the time to type this up, right?

Things that help (What? didn't I mention that it's hard for me not to write self-help posts???): Wine. Occasionally letting the television babysit. iPad Apps. Not mentioning that we've become a cliche. Reminding Fritz that he thought 2 children was spießig (translated form German: anal, middle-class in a derogatory way) and three kids was preferable when he complains about the endless chaos.

Also, if you are considering three kids, I think it's best to be really sure you want another child. Walking into the third child as a surprise or half-decision was an additional layer of difficulty.

Oomph. That was all fun to confess.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Breathing Space

My brother-in-law and his fiancé arrive on Wednesday. We've not yet met the fiancé, but the wedding is this spring. We are very excited, as this will be the first of our siblings to get married! I'm trying to summon the energy to clean the house before their arrival. Seems like it might be important to make a good first impression, right?

But it's not happening.

The energy is not being summoned. I think I just need a little more recovery time...

This past summer, when I was so houseguest-ed out, I thought I could put a moratorium on houseguests. But it doesn't really work that way. To cope, I've developed an indifference: don't like sticky door knobs? Hmm, let me call you a taxi to the nearest hotel.

I jest.

What's really happened is that we've started to plan some major renovations around the house, to make future houseguests more comfortable (for us). We're going to convert a portion of the loft into a fourth bedroom and finish the basement with a guest room.  It's going to be some pretty major construction on two out of our three floors. It will take about 3 months to complete. A lot of people move to a new house when they reach this point of familial expansion; a lot of people really don't like to live in a construction zone. I like our house; moreover, I like the location; I'm excited to have an opportunity to improve it a bit. And the fourth bedroom renovation will actually fix some of the house's shortcomings. I hope I find that I like to live in a construction zone. I grew up in a home where my parents were always renovating something, so I like to think I can live with some dust and noise. Also, I'm an architect; this will be FUN!

We shall see. Remind me in a few months that I thought construction was a good idea, okay?

(Just between you and me, every now and then I calculate just how many nights in a hotel could be purchased for the amount we are about to spend on renovations. GULP!)

In the meantime, I think I better clean the house, so that my future sister-in-law doesn't have to turn sticky doorknobs.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

General Activity of the Last Week

My parents and brothers were in town this past week. While we had all the extra hands around, I scheduled a project. Sometimes I find that giving houseguests a project is a successful strategy for relieving a portion of the pressure on me to entertain.

Sometimes.

I wanted to finish the mudroom with cabinets, a bench, and a counter. This project has been waiting patiently since we moved in 4 years ago. My father also had a project in mind: painting our stairwell. I'm happy to report that both projects were finished in less than a week. But boy, has it has felt CRAZY around here. I think the projects might deserve their own posts. (Well, at least the mudroom.)

This weekend we are decompressing and prepping for a new round of houseguests on Wednesday. In the meantime, here are a few photos of the activity. It looks strangely calm in these photos. Not really how I experienced it, but, anyway:

My brother, mustached mugging mopper extraordinaire!
The boys use Ikea boxes as sleds. Let us not talk about what they did with the styrofoam.
Toddler helps grandma measure.
Trixie and I test out the bench.
The mudroom construction crew, midway to completion, minus Fritz and yours truly.
Toddler watching grandpa pour paint. 
Repainting the stairwell. Still white, but a cleaner, brighter white.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bulb Trials

After we finished planting the African Dogtooth Grass in our street lawn, my aunt, who had the idea to plant dogtooth grass in the first place, decided we should fill the same area with, "bulbs that will naturalize and bloom in the early spring."


One of the drawbacks of the dogtooth grass is that it stays brown until the ground reaches a temperature of about 55 degree Fahrenheit. That means that everyone else's lawn will turn green and lush in April or so, and we'll still be waiting for another month. My aunt's strategy to combat brown grass? Crocus, hyacinth, naturalizing tulips, and any other low-growing spring bulbs she could dig out of her own garden and send my way. The idea is that the grass will still be brown, but under a sea of spring flowers.

Oops. That would be a fall crocus, in the planting beds. Double wrong.
It's totally cool to have an aunt who can dig up some vegetation and share. I've started to think of gardening, in general, as an indulgence: buying plants is costly, planting can be time-consuming and the results aren't always alive as vibrant as I would like. No, actually I really have killed several lots of too many plants. There's always wild cards: bad weather, wandering toddlers who like to live head as opposed to dead head, hungry rabbits. Results are slower than I wish. Before I ever tried to establish a yard myself, I took all that stuff for granted. I mean: I've always loved trees, and I've always appreciated a colorful garden, but I never saw the work behind it. Beyond the financial outlay, I never really recognized the devotion or the patience or love that nurtured it through the years.


My aunt has been generously giving hundreds of bulbs to me. I don't know exactly how she has the time or the energy to dig them out of her garden, shift them from the dirt and rocks and put them in bags for me. About two months ago, my uncle, her husband, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer relapse. It is less than 2 years since he went through the first round of chemo and a stem cell transplant. Mantle cell lymphoma. There's not a cancer anyone wants to get; this one is particularly unkind. My uncle has chosen to do a Phase I Drug Trial instead of returning to chemo. Here is how the NIH defines Phase I Drug Trials: "Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects." Later, in Phase II, researchers determine whether or not the drug is effective.


So, those bulbs. Bags and bags and bags of bulbs. At first, my aunt tried to sort them and identify them by type. She bought a book about bulb flowers at Goodwill and thumbed through the pages gesturing at different pictures and different bulbs while I restrained Trixie from sampling them as snacks. We tried to employ the boys in sorting them by type. Then we gave up and simply sorted them by size. The smallest bulbs go in the lawn she told me, the bigger bulbs in the planting areas. And after my aunt gave me hundreds of bulbs, I bought MORE. Just in case. I'm determined to get them in the ground. Determined that they won't sit in my garage and decay. Determined that I give them the best possible soil and phosphate and whatever else they need to bloom in the spring. I can't be the limiting factor in this project. Bulb flowers over brown grass may not be everyone's idea of the ideal lawn. But when and if they bloom, they could still be beautiful.