Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's It Like to Have Four Kids?

"So, what's it like having four kids?" I get asked this reasonably often, especially by people with three kids who are considering another, or by people with one who can't imagine having more than that.

Comic Jim Gaffigan (now a father of five) has a great response. He says, "If you want to know what it's like to have a fourth, just imagine you're drowning...and then someone hands you a baby." (See his hilarious take on having 4 kids and home birth here:

Now that my fourth is almost a year old, I find having four is not that much more difficult than having three. You're already used to being "outnumbered," you're already used to mentally counting kids and locating them and your eyes darting around looking for the little one and calling out to the biggest one to help you with something and storing and retrieving hand-me-downs and buckling multiple car seats and feeding many, many mouths.

So what's it like to have four kids? It's like today:

G-d-knows-when-o'clock-A.M.: I, my husband, and the 11-month-old are sleeping in bed. 3-year-old climbs in, too, proceeds to sleep on baby's arm. Baby tries to roll over and can't, wakes up, and I nurse him back to sleep. Only one of numerous awakenings by said baby.

7:00 A.M.: Everyone is getting up for the day when the 5-year-old throws up. Supposed to be a short day at school followed by parent-teacher conferences. 5-year-old will stay home, but 8-year-old will go, because he's feeling fine.

8:00 A.M.: Dad takes 8-year-old to school. 5-year-old throws up again.

9:00 A.M.: 3-year-old has annual well visit at doctor's and 11-month-old has appointment for flu shot. Must drag sick 5-year-old along. He throws up in the car (fortunately into a barf bag which I so wisely brought with us). 3-year-old does great at doctor, flu shot administered to baby without drama.

9:30 A.M.: School calls to double check that 5-year-old is caught up on vaccinations (he is, we establish).

10:00 A.M: Back home from doctor. 5-year-old lies down to take a nap. 3-year-old wants a snack. Snack provided. I try to get some work done.

11:00 A.M.: Baby nurses to sleep. 3-year-old wants another snack. I tell him to wait for lunch. I try to get some work done.

11:30 A.M.: 5-year-old wants toast. 3-year-old decides he also wants toast. I want last night's dinner leftovers. Baby wakes but nurses back to sleep. 3-year-old wants the rest of my lunch. I give it to him and get myself some crackers.

12:00: 5-year-old feels better. Everyone has eaten. I get a little work done.

1:00 P.M.: Time to pick up 8-year-old from school and then stay for book fair and teacher conferences. Older three play on the school playground while the baby roams the classrooms during the conferences and attempts to choke on small objects.

2:10 P.M.: Round everyone up and come home. Everyone wants a snack. Oldest has homework. Middle two watch TV. I get a little more work done.

4:15 P.M.: Round everyone up again to go to the bank, have dinner, then drop the oldest two off at Hebrew school.

6:30 P.M.: Arrive home with 3-year-old and baby, nurse baby, who has fallen asleep in the car seat and is now cranky but shouldn't really be napping, while 3-year-old watches TV and demands my assistance with selecting a show.

7:15 P.M.: Start giving warning that it will be time to get ready for bed soon. Await return of two older boys and Daddy from Hebrew school.

7:30 P.M.: Baby is crying hysterically while I try to get work done, so I take him to nurse him some more and hope he goes to sleep. He does not.

8:00 P.M.: Daddy and older two get home. Toddler goes running to say hi. Bedtime chaos ensues and resolves in the next 25 minutes. 3-year-old tells me to go away, so I take the baby to try once again to get him to sleep for the night.

9:00 P.M.: Baby is finally asleep for now. 3-year-old wants more attention but is told in no uncertain terms to go to sleep. Older two are drifting off. I go back to my computer to maybe get some work done.

9:45 P.M.: I've decided to practice guitar a little. I hear footsteps and find that the 8-year-old has emerged to get himself some water. Then the baby wakes up. I nurse him back to sleep, then return to my computer to finally (?) get some work done!

10:45 P.M.: Working steadily. Now the nightly question: Go to bed now and leave work unfinished in the hope I can finish it tomorrow, or stay up and finish it so I can move on to something else tomorrow? Also, I should get to the dishes at some point.

11:25 P.M.: I give up. I'm going to bed now. Dishes are not done and neither is work, but at least all four kids are asleep...for now.

So what's it like to have four kids? There's always something to do, always something going on. Someone is always pulling you in a direction you weren't planning to go, while another needs you to go in yet a third direction. Constant interruptions, constant noise, constant LIFE. It's lively. It's exciting. It's schlepping and cleaning up and serving and assisting. It's carving out moments to do what needs doing and finding minutes to do what you want to do.

And when you climb into bed at the end of a long day and snuggle up to your precious young one, you breathe deeply, sigh with relief, and mentally prepare for what surprises tomorrow may bring.

It's's like you're drowning...and someone hands you a baby. And you snuggle that baby allll night.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Zombies, Run! Exercising after Four Kids!

I have often thought it would be nice to find some kind of exercise or activity I could do to get and stay fit and improve my overall physical health, but I always found that having my kids around made that too difficult, either financially or logistically or both. I also had trouble finding something that held my interest. Simply walking was too boring. I hated running. I didn't have convenient access to a swimming pool, and I don't like swimming anyway. Besides, no matter what activity I chose, I'd have to either find childcare or somehow cart my kids along.

Recently, I committed to trying a "couch to 5K" training program. These types of programs are aimed at sedentary people who would like to work up to running regularly. It sounded perfect to me. I have a double jogging stroller, my older two kids are at school during the day, and I could plop the 3-year-old and the baby in the stroller and go out for regular runs.

The beauty of the couch to 5K program is it's a very clear regimen. There are some variations, but they all use interval training and drills to take you from basically a couch potato to being able to run for 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in about eight to nine weeks.

I chose to use the Zombies, Run! 5K app for my phone to help guide me through the drills. The app has a back story in which you are the sole survivor of a crash into zombie-infested territory, and you make your way to a safe base. The people there train you to become a runner for them. Being part of a little story makes it more fun, but the training itself is solid.

For this particular program, you do three workouts a week for eight weeks. I've completed the first four episodes so far. The first episode is the introduction, where you learn about your character and do kind of a free walk/run for about 35 minutes. The next three workouts then were training oriented, using this pattern: You walk for 10 minutes to warm up. You then alternate walking for one minute and running for 15 seconds, 10 times. Finally, you take 10 minutes of a free walk/run, where you walk or run as you're able and cool off. Each workout is about 35 minutes. The app can play music from your internal device playlists, but I don't have any, so I set up a Pandora channel of 80's pop music, which is super fun to run to.

The app claims to also track your distance, but I couldn't get that to work on my phone for some reason, so I also downloaded Map My Run, which uses the GPS in your device to track your distance and draws a map of the route you took. It chimes in at each mile to tell you your distance and time, and at the end of a run, it tells you approximately how many calories you burned, how far you went, your mile times, etc. You can share this information to Facebook and other social media if you want.

The combination of the two apps is really motivating. I want to hear the next part of the story, and I want to work up to the next, more difficult, drills. My next training run will have me running for 30 seconds at a time and adds other exercises to the mix. That, combined with seeing my distances increase on Map My Run will be really neat. I'm excited for the first time I break that 3-mile point. So far, my workouts have taken me a little over 2 miles, mostly walking.

Exercise falls under the category of "self care," doing things for yourself that improve your overall feeling of well-being. I think parents often find it difficult to take time for self care because they're so busy filling the needs of the small people they live with, contributing to the family, and taking care of others. Thirty-five minutes a day isn't so much, really (I'm sure I spend far more than that roaming Facebook, for example), and the benefits I reap are great. I especially treasure the times I get to go out without the kids along (when my husband is available to be with the kids, or when we happen to have a babysitter at the house), because then it's truly "me time."

So far, my walk/runs have left me feeling good, energized, and pleasantly tired. I'm more focused when I sit down at my desk to work. I'm happier. I'm more patient with the kids. This is the first time I've actually enjoyed and looked forward to exercising, and especially running!

If you want to follow my Couch to 5K progress, I post a selfie with the results of the day's workout on my instagram feed. Here's today's selfie:

#c25k today was 2.28 miles in 36 minutes, same workout as the two previous. Next workout will increase run time and add a new exercise. Also, my first#zombiesrun mission completed! (Good news, I escaped the zombie. In case you were worried.)

Have you done a Couch to 5K program, or something similar? Tell us about it!

*I downloaded these apps for my personal use and was not asked by either company to endorse or review their products.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And On To Another School Year...

I'm ambivalent about the end of summer and the start of the school year. If all of my kids were in school, I would probably look forward to the start of school more, as a chance to have some quiet in the house. But since I will now have two at home and two at school, it's kind of a toss-up whether I prefer school vacations or regular school days.

The advantage, for me, of non-school days is not having to deal with drop-off and pick-up. If I don't have to worry about being back in time to pick up one or another of my kids from school, then we can take longer afternoon outings, plan errands, pop out for lunch or dinner, or just hang around the house all day, and no one has to be tossed into his car seat in the middle of a nap or playtime.

On the other hand, when my kids are in school, the house is quieter. There are fewer personalities to deal with, less arguing. It's generally more peaceful. (Although, I expect this to change as the baby moves into toddlerhood and buts heads more often with his brother.) Plus, when the kids are in school, I feel like at least for some hours of the day they're not simply staring at a screen all day, they're not sitting like lumps on the couch, and their brains are engaged. They're socializing and playing and learning. So when they come home and want to veg out, I don't feel as bad about it.

I generally despise "schlepping." Going from one place to another, strapping all four kids into the car, getting all four out of the car, into the car, out of the car, entertaining three while the other is at an activity, going to pick up one or two while the others are just along for the ride. I don't like being bound to strict schedules and having to disrupt everyone else's routines for the sake of one. This is family life, and no one is more important than anyone else, but I feel bad that the babies tend to get slighted and spend so much time in the car. I also dislike feeling torn between supervising homework and supervising toddlers, neglecting one child because the other needs more support, and leaving the older ones mostly to their own devices because the younger ones still need me so much. I think it all balances out in the end, but in the moment it is hard for everyone.

I am excited for my 5-year-old to finally start kindergarten, though! For the first time, two of my kids will be at the same school, together, every day. I won't get into the insane kindergarten schedule this school has that I am not as excited about. He's counting down the days until he starts. He's so excited. He really craves friends and learning and I'm sure this will be a great year for him.

My biggest is starting third grade, which blows my mind. I know kids get bigger and older and move forward through life at what is apparently a staggering rate, but third grade feels so big. I'm mostly excited for him. I hope he'll be challenged and rewarded for rising to that challenge. I hope he'll solidify friendships, learn all sorts of new information he can pepper his conversation with, and start really diving into what school is all about.

We'll settle into a routine and work out the kinks as the year goes on, and before I know it, it'll be summer again, with it's relaxation and stir-craziness. I have the feeling I'll really appreciate summer break by the time it rolls around next June!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Can't Face Telling My Son About Robin Williams' Death

I am very, very shaken by the news of Robin Williams' death. I read about it on Facebook yesterday while my oldest son was sitting behind me in the office, using his computer. I couldn't help but verbalize my shock. "Oh my God," I said. "Oh my God. I can't believe it. Oh my God."

"What, Mommy?" my son asked. "What happened?"

"Oh, um, an actor died. I'm just really surprised. He was only 63."

"How did he die?"

I stopped. It was only just being reported. Suspected suicide...struggle with addiction and depression...suicide by asphyxiation...died after a battle with depression and addiction... I couldn't. I didn't want to explain. I didn't want it to be true. Why couldn't it have been an aneurysm, or cancer, or a heart attack, or a car accident? Something tangible that I could easily explain as an external force, a tragedy.

And yet, depression so severe that a person cannot live with it anymore is a tragedy. A horrible, silent, gut-wrenching tragedy. But it's so much more hidden and so much more unrecognized, and it should be treatable. It should. It just feels so unfair.

I didn't know how to say this to my tender seven-year-old. How could I explain that some people get so sad that they kill themselves?

"Oh, um, they don't know yet. They just found out about it," I lied. I couldn't face the conversation.

"But why are you so surprised?" he asked. As if to say, he was 63, and sometimes people die, and it's not like you knew the guy.

"I guess I just wasn't expecting it. He's a really well known and loved actor, and 63 is still pretty young," I said. How could I tell him that this was a man so full of life and light? How could I explain that it was unbearably sad to see someone so admired and successful struggle through such a dark tunnel that he couldn't find his way out? How could I convey the depth of grief I feel for someone I've never met and yet could make such an impact on me and on so very many others?

He's probably already forgotten about the whole thing. After all, Robin Williams isn't a household name for him the way it is for me. One day we'll watch Mrs. Doubtfire together, or Jumanji, or Hook, and he'll ask if the actor is still alive, and I'll tell him he's not, and he'll ask how he died (because he's that kind of kid) and maybe then I'll be far enough removed from the shock and grief to find the words. But right now, I just want to protect him from that kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge that sometimes the world is unfair and diseases take people from us who had so much more to give.

If you're hurting, please seek help. And if you think someone around you is hurting, please reach out. Depression is a disease just as much as cancer or diabetes, and no one should suffer alone.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Solo Road-Tripping with Four Kids

I just spent two weeks with my mom and four kids. I drove from the Bay Area to San Diego by myself with the kids. The drive down wasn't bad, but took much longer than it would have (a) without kids; or (b) with more than one adult. The drive back, we encountered some very bad traffic and it took even longer than the drive down.

I did learn a few things.

New ideas that worked well:

1) Change up the seating arrangements partway through.
Since we have four kids, we have two in the middle row of our van and two in the back. Partway through the drive, I swapped the baby and the oldest, so the oldest and toddler were in the middle row and the 5year-old and baby were in the back. (Make sure you're comfortable removing and reinstalling car seats if you choose to do this!) Since the two oldest were prone to fight after spending too much time in the back together, this broke up that issue. It also enabled each of the older two to help out the younger two.

2) Individual lunch boxes full of snacks.
We went to Target the day before the trip and picked out different sorts of snacks. We then packed each kid his own lunch box with the same set of snacks. They could keep their food with them and eat what they wanted whenever they felt like it, and I didn't have to be handing around food while driving or policing what anyone was eating. This was an especially good idea since I was driving alone and didn't have an extra set of hands to help with the passing out of food.

3) Gallons of water and refillable bottles.
Each kid had a close-able, refillable water bottle, and we kept two one-gallon bottles of water in the car. We refilled water bottles at stops. This created far less waste than disposable bottles would have and was more fun. I also found the water tasted less plasticky and was more enjoyable from a reusable bottle.

4) Crayola Color Wonder markers.
My toddler is prone to color on anything within reach, so I bought a travel set of Color Wonder markers for them to use. It was novel, because we haven't used them much at home, and it was neat and clean.

5) Barf bags, emergency clothes, and hand wipes.
I bought a package of emesis bags from Amazon to keep in the car, just in case. I also had each kid pack a full outfit outside the suitcase that we kept in the car just in case a change of clothes was needed quickly. This way, we wouldn't have to dig through suitcases in the trunk to find a change. Fortunately, no one threw up in the car (I attribute this to the fact that we had barf bags available). However, at one of the rest stops on the way home, the toddler fell into a mud puddle and required a change of clothes. Emergency change to the rescue! I also bought a 4-pack of hand sanitizing wipes for the kids to keep near them. These were great for cleaning hands after a snack or after using a gas station or rest stop bathroom with questionable hand-washing facilities.

6) Plan to take much longer than the GPS claims.
Accept that an eight-hour drive may take 10 or 11 hours (it did for us, anyway). Stop when you need to. Use the restroom every time you stop. Eating will take twice as long as you expect. Don't push yourself or the kids. Make everyone (even the babies) get out and run around or move around every time you stop. They're confined in their car seats and need to stretch, too.

And some thoughts for next time:

1) Pack whole outfits in individual bags.
I've heard this suggested and had planned to do it this time but got lazy. Pack individual full outfits in separate bags so that each day the kid can pull out a whole outfit without having to root through the suitcase for what he needs.

2) Bring a collapsible hamper.
If going somewhere where you'll be able to wash clothes, bring a cheap hamper to put dirty clothes in so they don't get all mixed up with the clean ones.

3) Unpack into drawers.
I didn't bother to unpack the suitcases at our destination, but I think it would have been nice to do so. We were there for two weeks, and it got pretty annoying to root through the suitcases looking for clothes. Another option might be for each person to have his or her own suitcase instead of mixing up the clothes.

Do you have tips for accomplishing a solo road trip with kids? Have you tried any of the above tips? How did they work for you?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adventures with the Toddler in Walmart, or Just Buy the Damn Froot Loops

We went to Walmart on Sunday. I hadn't been to Walmart in about a year, because there isn't one near me where I live now. But we went on a trip to visit my mom, and there are several Walmarts near her. I wanted to get things we'd need during the trip, and I didn't want to spend a lot of extra money doing so.

I realize a trip to Walmart is fraught with ethical, political, and social justice questions for those of us privileged enough to care about such things, but that's not what this post is about.

This post is about toddler meltdowns and the management thereof.

We needed groceries for the two weeks we're here. We had just arrived on Saturday evening, and the kids were tired, excited, overwhelmed, and a little discombobulated. We didn't change time zones. We didn't leave the state. But it was still different and fun and new and unusual and so they were, understandably, not quite themselves.

Anyway, whenever I take all the kids to almost any store, they get a little nuts.

It was about 11:00 in the morning. The kids usually have a snack around 10:30, but we were going from one errand to the next after having a later-than-usual and bigger-than-usual breakfast, so the snack didn't happen. This matters. A lot.

We got to the peanut butter section. We needed a small jar of peanut butter. My almost-three-year-old, G, picked up a jar - at random! - from the shelf and announced we should get that one. It wasn't the brand I wanted or the type I wanted. It looked like it wouldn't taste good. I showed him the jar I wanted to buy and told him to put away the one he'd picked up.

You know what happened, don't you, if you've ever had an almost-3-year-old who is sleep deprived, hungry, and excited, right?

Yes. He melted down. Screaming, tears running down his face, collapsing to the floor, the works. Could. Not. Handle. It. We had to get this peanut butter. He wanted this peanut butter.

I did not want the peanut butter he had offered. I took it from him and put it back on the shelf, showed him the jar I wanted, and put that one in the cart. We moved on. He followed, still crying piteously. I don't think he even knew what he was crying about anymore.

Then, just as he was calming down from the Peanut Butter Incident, G tripped over his brother's foot, fell, and hit his head on the wheel of the cart. Resume meltdown status! I comforted him as best I could, rubbed the sore spot, tried to settle him back down. I spotted the Parmesan cheese. We needed Parmesan. I didn't particularly care which container of Parmesan we ended up with. G loves his "papajon cheese." I said, "Look! G! Look! What's that up there?" Tears continue. "G! Look! Parmesan cheese! Do you want to pick out the Parmesan?" I was talking in the exaggerated, desperate, high-pitched, overly sweet voice most moms know well, the one that says, "Please, oh please be distracted by what I'm doing so you'll stop crying. Please, please, please!"

No dice. The "papajon" cheese wasn't enough to enable him to get over the Peanut Butter Incident and the Bumping Head On Cart Fiasco.

I chose the obvious Parmesan option and tossed it into the cart and we attempted to move on.

Next came the cereal aisle. I wasn't intending to buy cereal at all, but the kids like it, and when G saw where we were, he finally - finally! - gathered himself and returned to Normal Operating State. Mostly.

He picked up a Family Size box of Froot Loops. Of all the cereals in the aisle, of all the options there, he picked up a Family Size Box Of Froot Loops.

"Mommy, can we get cereal? I want this cereal!" he said, in his impossibly cute little voice.

"No," I started to say. "Let's get - "

He looked up at me with those big brown eyes. Those big brown eyes that said, "You don't want me to melt down again, do you? DO YOU?" Those big, adorable, tired, overwhelmed, excited, hungry, brown eyes, attached to that adorable, tear-streaked face, with that adorable, curly, disheveled, bright orange hair. He looked up at me, clutching the big red box of Froot Loops, the Family Size box of disgusting, sweet, colorful, horrible cereal, and said, "Mommy, I want this cereal!"

My sentence did not end with "Cheerios." It instead switched direction mid-word and became, "Okay. Yes. Let's get that cereal!" And into the cart it went.

That wasn't the end of our shopping trip by a long shot, but it was the end of the meltdowns. There was a minor setback when the question of which chips to buy came up, but we were able to prevent that one from escalating by allowing him to take his sweet time choosing exactly which flavor of Pringles to buy.

(I realize it sounds like we bought a cartful of junk food, but I promise we also bought lots of other stuff. Really.)

Anyone who witnessed only the Cereal Selection Episode and the Pringles Question might think we were indulging our toddler, that we were giving in to his demands, that we were spoiling him. But I hope that most parents would realize that sometimes you give in just to get your shopping done. Sometimes, you want to spare your overwhelmed toddler (and your exhausted self) the stress of yet another tantrum. And sometimes you simply can't reason with, or win against, a toddler on the edge, and it's easier just to buy the damn Froot Loops.

At least he's eaten them for breakfast every morning since.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm So Happy My Kids Love Summer Camp

When I was a kid, I had to go to summer camp. Not being a very outdoorsy or athletic child, I generally hated camp. I didn't like swimming, particularly. I didn't like being outside all day. I didn't like a lot of the group activities we did. I have some good memories, like archery and acting electives, some of the art projects, things like that. But, generally, traditional summer camps and I were not a good match.

There was one year when I attended a youth theater camp. I loved that. I really enjoyed learning about acting and directing a play. I couldn't be in the play because we were leaving camp the day before the performance, but they assigned me the role of Assistant Director. I had a blast. It was indoors and interesting for me, and I was so relieved not to be forced to spend the day in the scorching sun running around and doing crazy team activities I didn't like.

So when my son got old enough to attend summer camp, I had to make a decision. "Make" him go to camp to get the experience, or "save" him from the hell that is summer camp (to me)?

My rabbi and his wife had a small but energetic summer camp that they ran through the synagogue. My son already had quite a few friends in that camp, I was close with the rabbi's wife and trusted her, and they made the camp sound very exciting. They took trips twice a week, went swimming, did lots of different types of activities, and kept the kids very, very busy all day. It sounded like something I would exactly hate, but when I told my son about it, he was excited. He wanted to go. So I signed him up.

He had a blast, and is now attending for a third summer. His younger brother is attending fort he first time this year, and was equally excited. I'm only sending them for a week this summer, and in past years he went for two weeks, but it's a great way to break up the school vacation and give them a new experience.

A bonus to all of it is that it's a Jewish camp, so they are spending the day with Jewish friends, and there is a Jewish element to everything they do. They say a blessing over the food they eat, they learn about Shabbat, they sing Jewish songs, and they foster a love of Judaism. This extra bit is what really sold me, because my kids go to a regular public school, so this is a great boost to their Jewish lives and sense of self.

My kids came back from their first and second days of camp bubbling over with excitement, both for the activities they'd done that day and for those planned for later in the week. The five-year-old was anxious to share his bunk cheer, and the seven-year-old had a whole narrative about what had happened at the pool. They can't wait to go in the morning and are happily exhausted on the drive home.

If my kids ever came to me and said they hated camp, I wouldn't make them go, or I would try to find some other activity or camp that would speak more to their interests. I don't need childcare, although it's nice for them to be able to get out of the house and be with other people besides boring Mommy all day, and I don't want them to grow up resenting those weeks spent in the hot sun. But, conversely, since they do love it, I will make the effort to have them attend every year, so they can grow up with this fond memory and a healthy family tradition.

It's important for us to remember, as parents, that our kids are not us. They will like some things we don't, and they will dislike some things we like. We want to share our positive experiences with them and protect them from negative ones. But my negative experience may not be so for them. And something I loved as a kid may not interest them.

My kids are like me in a lot of ways, but they are also unlike me in many. They are exuberant, friendly, outgoing, and engaging little boys, compared to the shy, introverted, slow-to-warm, timid little girl I was. They like to be in the thick of things, and I liked to be a wallflower. They like new experiences, and I liked the familiar and routine. I want to honor the people they are and help them continue to extend those boundaries and enrich their world.