“What happened to the grout?”
“The grout on the kitchen floor, between the tiles; why is it that color?”
I stood there staring at my landlord, baffled.
There are pros to renting a house and not being a homeowner; namely, when something breaks, it actually gets fixed! A downside, though, is when the owner wants to do an annual inspection and see how the house is doing.
I know he’s not coming to judge my housekeeping abilities per se, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that my capabilities are being scrutinized. As many times as I tell myself he wants to make sure we didn’t knock down any walls or paint the kitchen without permission, I still can’t help but feel it’s the dreaded housekeeping police, the type every mom has nightmares about, that walk in unannounced when the house is an absolute war zone.
But I was ready and I was pretty pleased last week when the landlord arrived; the floors were clean and the toys were put away. Even the sinks were empty of dishes!
And the kids – they were all dressed. In matching clothes. No, not matching to each other, that stopped when baby #3 was born. But they were wearing pants and shirts that matched each other, respectively! And some even had socks on. They had all brushed their teeth the night before, their faces were clean. I was proud.
All the more reason why I was standing there speechless when he started asking about the grout.
At first, he gave a quick scan of the living room. All was in its proper place, we hadn’t taken down any walls, or build any new ones either. But it was during his quick look at the kitchen that he stopped to frown.
My first thought was -there are no dishes in the sink! Not a trace of last night’s dinner! Why are you frowning??
And then came the grout question.
You’ve got to be kidding! This house is still in one piece, the place is clean, the beds are made, kids are dressed, and you are worried about the grout?!
But of course, I didn’t say that.
I smiled sweetly and shrugged, “The floor is washed a couple times a week. I guess it’s the sign of life.”
He nodded slightly, not totally convinced.
And I silently counted my blessings. The many blessings that consume my life so that things like tile grout isn’t something that made it to my stress list. To me, that was the sign of a full life.
And later that evening, during bedtime, when I was doing a quick scan of each bedroom before checking off the kids’ charts; to see if clothes were in the hamper and things were put away, I caught sight of some little toy/thingie hiding in the corner of one of the rooms. I caught myself as I was about to point it out to the kids.
I thought of the grout. Of how I felt when all my hard work on maintaining this house, (ok, with the help of my housecleaner!) was unnoticed, and all that was mentioned was the measly kitchen grout that refused to stay its original color.
The kids had cleaned their room. Their clothing was in the hamper. Their things were properly stowed. And one measly toy, cast aside, was forgotten and unnoticed…well I wouldn’t notice it either. I wanted to motivate them; and mentioning the one didn’t-do instead of the many did-dos would not help them want to do it all again tomorrow.
And later that night, when all was quiet, I did a quick google search just to clear my conscience. And guess what. There is no long term solution for keeping grout clean! Unless you get on your hands and knees and scrub it each night. I’d rather keep it the color it is. As a constant reminder that my life is full of more important things.
The downside of always planning out my day is that when things don’t go according to schedule, I don’t have much wiggle room to replan.
Last week I had it worked out to the minute; each week I have one slot of 2 hours during the day that it’s just baby and me and I can do whatever errands I need in a more efficient manner (than with the whole gang!).
So after a shopping trip to Smart & Final, figuring out precisely which containers/lids/trays/covers i needed for various upcoming events and making sure I got the right size for each container (not an easy feat!!) and stopping my not-such-a-baby baby from climbing out of the shopping cart a couple times, I was ready to pay and leave, and I was perfectly on schedule.
Until I reached into my handbag and discovered my wallet was not in there.
MY WALLET WAS NOT IN THERE!
I panicked, I froze, I worried, I rambled, I wracked my brains; did someone take it or did I leave it somewhere?
Of course my mind was blank, with my earliest memory being unloading the contents of my cart on to the belt.
I did the first thing all frazzled moms/wives do in a fix; I called my husband. Just as I expected, he did not know the whereabouts of my wallet. Why would he?
The kind guy at the register smiled sympathetically (don’t want to know what he was thinking of this poor mom) and promised me he’d hold the cart till I get back with my wallet. The items were packed, rung up and all.
Only hitch; home was 27 MINUTES AWAY!
And home I did go; hopped in the car, got to the house, jumped out, quick scan of the closet I keep my bag in and what do you know, no menacing guy had been following me and grabbed my wallet at an unnoticed moment; it was right there on the floor.
Hop back in the car, quick plan of action. Pickup rest of the kids. Go to Smart & Final. Park at the door. Put on my hazards while I run in, pay, load the car. Should take 2.5 minutes, especially if there’s no line. And hopefully I wouldn’t get a ticket. Well, I wasn’t really parking in the no park zone. My kids would be in the car, I would be right there, seeing them the whole time. Perfect plan.
Picked up everyone, got to the store, parked the car. So far so good. Run into the store; different guy at cashier.
“Sir, where’s my cart?”
“Yes, my cart full of stuff, it was right here and I told the guy I’d be back by 5 to pay.”
“Oh sorry Ma’am, we just put it all back.”
“We put it all back on the shelves.”
“Please tell me you’re joking, because that is not funny.”
“Sorry, ma’am, we put it all back.”
“You. Put. It. All. Back. ?!?!? Why???”
My head is splitting, I see the kids in the car shifting around, the guy is looking at me un-helpfully and I realized this was not gonna work.
Back to car, collapse in my seat, and 6 pairs of eyes on me, asking at the same time, “Where’s the stuff, what happened, why didn’t you get everything??”
Deep breath, Deep breath.
I turn to see all the little faces; adorable little faces I didn’t feel like leading into the store.
“They put it all back.”
“OK, so let’s go in and get it all, we’ll help you!”
“Yeah, we’ll help!”
“Me too, I’ll be a helper!”
“I’m being-hayve-ing,” chimed in my three year old.
Quick mental calculation; take them all in with me and get it all done, or try to find another time that doesn’t exist in the next few days to redo this trip.
“Ok guys, we can do it, but this is the plan.”
Bribe time. Any trick that works. Everyone gets a partner. Everyone would get a squeezy bottle of Orange Juice. No running. No touching. No screaming. Yes helping. And an extra special treat after for the helpers. And chips. And of course, everyone in the store will be so proud. And a quick lesson on everything happens for a reason and who knows why this happened; probably because someone needs to see these kids behaving so nicely.
“Yes, Yes, Yes!!” was the enthusiastic reply.
Park the car. Load the cart with as many kids as possible.
Pause, deep breath. Quick mental calculation; I needed to have realistic expectations.
They will not be perfect. They can’t be perfect. I know what it’s like in a big store. They will get distracted. They will touch things. They will ask me to buy things that I’m not planning to get. I will not lose it. I will stay calm. I will remind them what we’re shopping for. I can do it. It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. IT’LL BE OK!
And as we walked in, the whole troop together, I caught site of the security video over the door. The kids all stopped to jump and make silly faces and watch themselves on the big screen.
I stopped too. Not to make silly faces; although it was tempting. But to see what we looked like. I don’t get to be the observer very often. As moms, we always get to be watched – stared at! (whether we like it or not!) but how often do we get to see what we really look like, what all the people are really seeing?
And I stood and watched. And made sure to smile. And smile until the stress signs weren’t visible; no, this did not have to be stressful. I looked at the cooky-cheerful kids in the video. What a happy crew! This was an adventure. I was not going to ruin it for them!
And we zipped through the store, me calling out directions, kids getting what we needed, me directing, them following (most of the time). Me replaying in my mind the scene on the big screen at the entrance, and them replaying the silly faces and cheerful hellos to all passerby-ers – only they were doing it live, replaying it for whoever missed seeing it on the screen.
They were being kids. And they were being-hayve-ing.
There are some moments of Mommyhood that I call defining moments.
They are moments when everything you stand for and believe in, moments when everything you put your energies into, are suddenly on the edge.
When all you live for is about to tumble down on your head.
If you’ve had any of these type of heart pulling and nerve wracking moments, you’ll know what I’m reffering to.
Which brings me to adorable little boy #3, my 4.5 year old. He’s a charmer. Big puppy eyes, always happy, always having fun. He’s had a total of 3 tantrums in all his toddler years. He’s the life of the party. Ok, he’s also mischievous, rambunctious and at times a downright troublemaker.
It was because of this charming little boy that I installed a chain lock high up on my front door; he was a runner. In simple English that means, if the door opened, he was down the block. Laughing and squealing, of course. He was the only one of my kids (so far!) that pushed me to strongly consider buying one of those kiddy leashes. Truth be told, even a dog leash. But as I said, a charmer indeed. And he has helped me reach many a defining moment, with the most recent taking place last week.
I came to pick up my little guys from an after school activity. All the kids were having fun. Moms were hanging around talking.
And then it happened.
Right in front of everyone’s eyes.
Sweet little two year old girl was standing minding her own business. And rambunctious 4.5 year old squealed by swinging his lunch bag. And I saw the glint in his eye. It’s a .01 second spark that those in tune with it (like me) can pick up on, but can’t sop in time.
And then he did it.
He. Hit. Little. Girly. On. The. Head. With. His. Lunchbag.
In. Front. Of. All. The. Moms.
I saw it. So did the other moms. I couldn’t defend him. I couldn’t deny it. And I couldn’t disappear, either.
If it was someone else’s kid, sure I’d know how to react. I’d laugh it off to the mom and tell her not to sweat it, kids are kids. I’d swoop up my little girl and sympathize that her head got a bit of a bang. And I’d reassure her that no, lunch bags are not for hitting. The little boy made a wrong choice.
But that wasn’t the side of the coin I was on at the moment. I was on the wrong side.
There I stood, in my defining moment. As a mom, As an adult. As a friend. As a person.
All the pages of the mommy books swam before my eyes, all my life experience as a mommy rushed through my head, and there I stood; little girly screaming, mischievous boy waiting for mommy to react and all the moms very un-casually half watching.
What now? Look the other moms in the eye and smile? Frown and admit failure?
Quite the humbling moment, watching your own kid starting the trouble.
And then I got myself together. It was a defining moment. A moment that defined my love for my adorable and rambunctious 4.5 year old.
A moment that allowed me to take him by the hand and lead him away calmly, but not to be angry at him.
A moment to understand him, love him, admonish him, discipline him and hug him, all at the same time.
Certainly a defining moment of the paradoxical relationships that comes along with the wonders and joys of Mommyhood.
They keep staring at me.
But I can feel their eyes on me. All of them. Big and small alike.
C’mon, I worked so hard today, can’t you cut me some slack?! Do you know what I DID today?
Served a total of 20 something meals
cleaned the counters 12 times
handed out 9 band aids
refereed 6 fights
crawled around on my hands and knees looking for some miniscule and precious red Lego diamond
swept the floor 4 ½ times (got called away in middle of the fifth round due to some urgent business)
almost did 5 loads of laundry (I kept heading that way but never got there)
and that’s just to name a few!!
Apparently they don’t care, They’re still staring. I can swear they’re talking about me.
Just go mind your own business!
Nope, looks like they like my business better.
Can’t you guys just work things out between yourselves? Pick on someone your own size!
They’re still staring; mocking me. They’re not giving in.
The dirty dishes in the sink just won’t go away. They’re on my case. and they won’t let up.
I turn my back, a trick I learned from my kids.
But just like with my kids, it’s not working!! They still see me!
I march over to the sink and assert my authority. I rearrange the dishes so that none are sticking over the top.
There, much better. Now leave me alone.
Nope, they won’t go away.
I can hear them continuing to scornfully talk about me.
Your phone is more important than us? Can’t you put that thing down?
Yes, my phone is more important than you!
And I leave the room. This is my house; I will decide when to do my dishes.
The caller ID said North Carolina. Hmm, I don’t know anyone from there. I picked up the phone with a cautious hello.
“Can I speak to M—— or L—— ?” said the professional voice.
I nearly dropped the phone. Who wants to speak to my 9 year old and 6 year old?
“Is this 9**-***-***2? Do I have the right number?”
“Yes, you do. What’s this concerning?”
“We’re calling from Blackboard Collaborate. They downloaded the 30 day free trial and we want to see if they are happy with the service.”
I nearly laughed out loud. No, I would not share their age!
“Thank you for the call… Yes its working fine… They will call you if they need help… Thank you for your concern.”
And I hung up. And finally laughed out loud.
You see, my children attend a unique school – it’s all online! The Shluchim Online School is a religious school that affords them the ability to access high-level Jewish education even when it’s not locally available.
It’s quite different than attending a “regular” school, its all online. Yes, in a classroom; with rules and permissions and a whiteboard and friends, just that they’re on webcams and across the globe. It’s truly a marvelous use of technology. And the kids learn and love it too.
Now, the platform the school uses to run this program is Blackboard Collaborate, which I now know is based in North Carolina.
And so when the kids “hang out” with their friends across the country and play “School”, they cleverly figured out how to make their own online classroom. It is the “in” thing with their friends; download a free 30 day trial of the platform and you get to run the show! Once you have your own classroom, you can invite friends and rule the room! Oh the joy the kids get from being able to control the classroom, turning off each other’s mics and webcams.
And to think this poor company in North Carolina imagines that they have dozens of potential customers downloading their trial software when in truth, its a bunch of third graders!! I kinda felt bad for them; perhaps business wasn’t quite as good as they thought!
But hey, maybe they did know they were dealing with kids. Maybe they were just efficiently serving these little guys with great customer service. The way they treat everyone else, they were treating them like real people!
That got me thinking: They may be little people now, but people indeed. Adults of the future. They have ambitions and concerns. Sure they’re mischievous and limits-pushing too! And precisely at those challenging moments, I take a deep breath, zoom out and remember the bigger picture; these little guys will be successful adults one day.
And that helps me navigate the chaos that comes along with getting them there.
This leaves me wondering; what type of customer service do I offer my children?
When my 9 year old excitedly reports he wants to be an engineer for Lego because he knows the ins and outs so well, do I follow up with him, motivate him, like the Blackboard Collaborate reps did?
When my 6 year old thinks he’ll be a world class juggler because he can throw (but not catch!) juggling balls; do I even offer him a trial period?
When my 4 year old wants to vacuum the house (which really is NOT a help!) do I give him a chance or brush him aside?
Yes, I do think the Blackboard Collaborate guys have it right; our kids deserve the best customer service.
Whose kids are they anyway?
I catch my husband’s eye and sigh in annoyance; can’t someone control these guys?
My husband gives me a knowing look and nods, sharing my frustration. Where are the parents?
But I look around at the crowd and see that it’s pretty obvious; the secret is out, and I can’t pretend much longer. After all, they kinda do look like their father.
It’s our monthly community dinner and it’s apparent that everyone, my kids included, are enjoying themselves. One is lounging under the table, one is eating chummus with his fingers, oblivious to the guy sitting near him. Hmm, I notice his seatmate leaning as far away from him as possible…I don’t blame him, looks like his suit is dry clean only. Brothers 3&4 are in middle of a game of who-can-finish-all-the-soda-in-this-room-first. Thankfully the two little ones are home with the babysitter!
Yes, they’re mine, and I’ll take care of it.
Can I control them?
Actually, no, I can’t control them. More accurately, I don’t want to control them.
I want to teach them.
Be a good role model for them.
Listen to them.
Talk to them.
But I won’t control them. I won’t control my kids.
There are many things in my life I do control; like my laptop. When it’s acting impudent or pushing my patience, I control it. With a click of
the lid, I snap it shut and I win. I control it.
When my oven starts overdoing my food, I just hit cancel and ta da, its off. I’m in full control.
When my phone rings and I’m not talkable, I swipe the decline icon and just like that, I control my phone.
I have higher expectations for my kids; I want them to be successful, passionate adults. I don’t want them to grow up and be little gadgets or robots; ones you can control by switching them on and off.
I want them to thrive. I want them to be people.
And so I won’t control them.
But I will continue to teach them to eat chummus with a spoon.