Fat Fridays: Week 7 Crying Babies, Stress, No Autopilot Eating

Today my kids had an unexpected day off from school. We decided that the best thing to do on a wonderfully warm February day with nothing scheduled, was to go visit Grandma and Grandpa, about an hour away. I took the six youngest with me and we had a wonderful day playing outside, helping Grandpa with projects, doing crafts with Grandma, just relaxing. Finally, the kids started getting tired and fussy. I checked the time, almost 7 pm. Time to load everyone up and head home. My plan was to leave at seven and that would get us home at bedtime so the kids could just go straight to bed. It was dark and I was driving on poorly lit, country roads. I hate night driving. I can see, but I feel tense the entire time, sitting up straight in my seat, gripping the steering wheel. I put on a Disney Music Station and had it blasting in the car, trying to drown out any whining and fussing and also make it clear to the kids that we were going to sit and listen to music instead of trying to talk to mom or get into fights with siblings or start a loud obnoxious game. I turned down the volume just long enough to remind the kids that Mom didn’t like driving at night and she needed to concentrate on driving and please don’t try to talk to mom.

Well, the two year old was sitting in his car seat right behind my seat. He got into the car crying and then proceeded to cry for the entire trip. All seventy-five minutes of it. I asked my older kids to try and figure out what he wanted/needed. All they were able to establish was what he didn’t want. He didn’t want a bottle of juice. He didn’t want a water bottle. He didn’t want his toy fire truck. He didn’t want his brother’s pillow. And he didn’t want anyone to talk to him. In desperation I finally bent my arm behind my chair and offered him my hand to hold. He held my hand for a couple minutes, taming his crying down to a whimper, and then he would suddenly push my hand away and start kicking at my seat and start up crying even more. Meanwhile, I am trying to drive carefully at the speed limit, straining to see the road in the dark, trying to not get blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars. Music is blasting and the other kids are singing along gustily. And the baby keeps crying. I put my hand back again and he holds it for a couple minutes and then pushes it away. We then proceeded to repeat this process for thirty minutes. To say that I was stressed would be a bit of an understatement.

As we were getting closer to home I started thinking about what I was going to do when I got home. The first step would of course be to hand the crying baby to my husband. Tag, you’re it. And then I thought. Toast. Some nice hot toast with melted butter and maybe a bit of jam. That sounds really good. That sounds really soothing. That sounds heavenly. And then I stopped. I realized what I was doing. I was majorly stressed and so I was now fantasizing about what yummy food would help me feel better. This was not good. I wasn’t hungry. It was past supper time, heading towards bedtime, I didn’t need any food. Really, a much better way to handle this stress would be to get home and immediately step on my elliptical machine and walk off the stress instead. Of course, I am a mom of many children and it was coming up on bedtime. Fitting in a workout right away was not going to happen. So what could I do?

We finally got home whereupon the baby instantly stopped crying. Of course. I handed him over to my husband and went about the business of emptying the car and getting everyone headed off to bed. Then my little girls wanted me to sit with them while they went to sleep, they were afraid of the dark. Then after they finally went to sleep the nine year old needed a bit of one-on-one time and then finally everyone was where they were supposed to be and I could finally check out. It was almost 10 pm. Too late to make toast. And I thought about what had just happened. I had been stressed and reacted in my normal, habitual way: think of what food will help me feel better, make plans to eat it as soon as possible. And then I had stepped back from the habitual thought process and recognized what I was doing. Instead of it being a non-thought-out process, it became something that I was thinking about and analyzing. And when I recognized what I was doing, I was able to put off the food until I finally didn’t want it anymore. Because really, my old me would have told my kids to go to bed, made toast, quickly ate it, and then run upstairs to sit with the girls.

This is my takeaway. I need to continue to make Thinking about Why I am Eating, a priority. When I realize that I am eating for reasons other than hunger, I am able to take steps to stop. If I go about in a haze and just eat on autopilot I’m never going to get anywhere. So, that’s my goal for this week, no autopilot eating. Think about what I’m doing. And then hope I can make good decisions.

P.S. Clean Jeans Test this morning told me that my jeans are definitely getting a bit looser!

Car Trips, Broken Ice, and Laughter

Today we drove about an hour north to go visit my parents. My youngest daughter had a birthday and we were going to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa. We had seven kids in the car, our oldest three off living their own lives. We were traveling on a small country highway and I was looking outside enjoying the view: farmland, creeks and rivers, pretty little towns. We were driving along and I noticed a pasture covered in puddles which had then frozen over. I suddenly had a memory of living on my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky, maybe ten years old, stomping around on a cold winter day. I was wearing my old light blue tennis shoes, full of holes but wonderfully comfortable, my old worn out blue jeans, hand-me-downs from my older brother, my pink puffy jacket with decorative flaps on the front and secret inside pockets, an old knit hat and a worn out pair of gloves. I remember stomping through my aunt’s pasture where her ponies lived. The ground was covered in muddy indentations from the ponies’ hooves and each indentation had filled with water from the earlier rains and now had frozen over. I remember the sensation of the thin ice cracking under my feet, my foot bending with the frozen ridges in the ground. Stumbling along as I tried to find more ice to break under my feet. I remembered all this and then felt a pang. My children would not have those country-living memories. They were city kids. And I felt this overwhelming longing to just uproot my family and move to a farm so my kids could know the joy of running through fields in winter, breaking ice under their feet.

We spent the day with my parents and then loaded up the van to drive home again. I love car trips. I love just looking out the window and thinking about whatever random topics pop into my head. I love looking at the houses that we pass, wondering about the people who live there. Watching the sky turn colors until it’s just the stars making tiny dots of light. Seeing the dark hulk of hills looming in the distance. As we drove tonight I thought about all the roads I had traveled on in my life. I remembered driving home from Cap Haitien, Haiti to our little house on the mountainside. Laying on a bench in the back of our truck, watching the moon chase us down the road, marveling that we could never outrun the moonlight. I remember driving on sandy gravelly roads in the bush town of Bethel, Alaska, looking out from the road into pure darkness, no lights to interrupt the horizon, only our little island of a town, floating on the tundra. I remembered driving the Alaska Highway, the vast forests of never-ending trees. And all the other roads, highways in Chile, cross-country road trips out West. I felt melancholy. I couldn’t share these things with my children. I couldn’t give them these experiences.

As we drove along I started tuning in to what was happening in the car. In the very back seat my eleven and nine year old boys had made up their own little game. The eleven year old was singing favorite Disney songs, but he would stop at key words, MadLib style, and then the nine year old would fill in a random word. In the next row up were my two little girls, seven and six. They were giggling and laughing their heads off at the antics of their brothers, sometimes offering a suggestion of a word here and there. Lots of singing. Lots of laughing. In the next row up my four year old and two year old were strapped into their carseats, the thirteen year old sitting next to them, trying to ignore them. The four year old was holding up different shells from a little container of shells that his grandma had given him. He was explaining that if you held up the shell to your ear,  you could hear the ocean. Then he held up a different shell and said, “In this shell you can hear a crab playing rock and roll on his guitar.” He studied the shell thoughtfully for a minute and then pulled out another shell. “In this shell you can hear a turtle biting a fish.” And on it went, each shell with it’s own story. The two year old was fussing and wanted to hold my hand, but his carseat was a bit too far back and so in order to hold his hand I had to bend my body backwards, stretching as far as I could. It was a position I could only maintain for a couple minutes. I would finally feel something snapping in my back and I would pull my hand back and he would instantly start fussing again. My husband started making up a lullaby with silly words for him in an attempt to distract him. And it occurred to me. My kids have these memories. These are good memories. They are worth having. Memories of outings with the family. Memories of singing and laughter. Memories of talking to Mom and Dad about your shells. Memories of being loved.

I am so happy that I don’t have to replicate my own childhood for my children in order for them to have happy, fulfilling memories. They’re writing their own stories, and those stories are good.