Just Another Fun Day at the Park

This past Friday night I took my four youngest kids to the park. We had to take my teenage daughter to work for her evening shift, so we dropped her off and then picked up some McDonalds and went over to Fountain City Park.

We hadn’t been to this park in quite a while as it’s in a different part of town and I rarely venture that way. As we walked into the park and I was looking for a table where we could eat, there didn’t seem to be too many people around. We walked down a little path and suddenly there were people. Two couples and a guy by himself, they were all standing within fifteen feet of each other. Just standing there, every single one of them staring at their smart phones intently and pressing the screens frantically as if they were playing some exciting action game. It kind of took me by surprise. Like, am I interrupting some kind of group therapy where everyone stands around and texts each other? None of them seemed to have any children with them (which is my primary reason for visiting parks). They had just come to the park (For exercise? Fresh air? A change of scenery?) so they could stand in the great outdoors and stare intently at their phone.

Ok. That’s weird.

I edged around the group of phone zombies and we settled at a picnic table right next to a little man-made wading creek. The kids were torn by two opposing treats. Eating McDonalds or playing in the creek. The creek finally won out and they left half their meal behind as they ran for the water. Everything was good. Cute kids frolicking in the water. Then, about two minutes later, the six year old runs up to me. I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM!

Let me just tell you, this park has public restrooms, but they are on the opposite side of the park. It is too far away to leave children alone playing while you accompany someone to the bathroom, and they are too far away to just let a child go there by themselves.

Uh..No.. We can’t go to the bathroom. It’s too far away. (I cringed as I said this, I’m pretty sure it breaks some international treaty laws to deny a child access to the bathroom). She looked at me, thought about it for a minute, and then said, Ok, I can hold it for a while.

Alrighty then.

Five minutes later, the four year old ran up to me. I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM! Ok. Fine. I give up. I grabbed my purse, yelled for all my kids to come cause we were going to the bathroom. I pointed in the direction we were heading and the eight and six year old took off at a full run. The four year old was about 20 feet behind them and then came me and about twenty feet behind me was the two year old. He had decided that he wanted to climb over a rock, a stump, say hi to a butterfly, inspect the grass, and all the other things two year olds do when you are in a hurry. I was stuck in the middle, yelling for the girls to not get too far ahead, trying to encourage the two year old to hurry up.

Too late, the three kids ahead of me disappeared into an opening that lead to the bathrooms. WAIT! Don’t go so far ahead!…They were obviously out of ear shot. I urged the two year old on and started walking faster. The two year old and I finally got to the doorway where they had disappeared. There was a Men’s Restroom Door propped open and I heard child voices inside. Oh no. Did my girls accidentally go into the Men’s Room?? I stood at the doorway, not wanting to cross that sacred threshold unless I absolutely had to. I scanned the room. No men in sight. Good. ARE YOU GUYS IN HERE?? My little boy piped up from the one stall in the bathroom, the stall door swinging wide open. Yeah, I’m here! Ok. My son is in the Mens’ Restroom. Not the girls. All is well, though I would have preferred he had gone to the Women’s Room as he is still little. I stood at the doorway waiting for him to finish, then his little voice piped up. Where’s the toilet paper? …There isn’t any toilet paper! I yanked open my purse and started looking for tissues. Wait! I’ve got some, I’ll bring it to you. Just a minute! I finally found the tissue and headed into the bathroom. Again, too late. Sound of flushing. He had skipped the toilet paper part of the routine. I peaked into the stall. Yep. I now had a mess to clean up.

Fortunately Mom is always prepared (except when she isn’t, and then it’s bad). Out came the wipes from the bottomless handbag. Clean up the mess. Wash hands. Quickly exit the Mens’ Room and go hunt down my girls. I could hear them before I even entered the Women’s Room. They were chattering away to each other as they washed their hands. The entire building is made of concrete block. That, combined with a vaulted ceiling and a concrete floor, made the whole room an echo chamber. My two little boys followed me into the restroom and instantly noticed the noise level was about one hundred percent MORE in this room. They started shrieking just so they could hear the sound bounce off the walls a million times. I told them to be quiet and stand by the wall while I used the bathroom. More shrieking. BE QUIET! Lots of muffled sounds, then more shrieking. Almost like yodelling. Of course, I usually ignore this kind of behavior. Making noise at the park isn’t going to hurt anything. But, a glimpse under the stalls showed that some other poor woman was having to share this restroom with my noisy brood. QUIET!! The older girls decided to be helpful and started shushing their brothers. Then they discovered that the shushing sound also echoed off the walls, and if they shushed to a rhymic beat it also had a fun feel to it. The two year old decided to practice his hooting skills. I was rendered helpless, stuck in a toilet stall, unable to back up my hissed commands of BE QUIET with any action.

Fortunately, I saw the shoes of the unknown woman leave her stall, and shortly after, heard the outer door close. We were alone. I came out. Glared at my children who were still making their own version of music. I washed my hands and then shooed them back towards the playground and the creek. Several minutes later we were all settled in, me at the picnic table, the kids splashing in the water again. The eight year old walks up to me. Uh Mom, when we were in the bathroom, I didn’t have to go, so I didn’t go. But, Now I gotta go to the bathroom.

Right.

Taking kids to the park is so relaxing.

 

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!

Can You See Me?

It’s a beautiful February day here in Tennessee. Temperatures are in the 60s, a stark contrast to last week where we had snow, ice and temperatures in the teens. (To all my non-fahrenheit readers, not sure how to help you since Celsius is a mystery to me. 32 degrees F is when ice freezes, a super hot day in summer would be in the 90s.) I returned from taking my kids to school and then collapsed on the couch, not fully awake. My four year old immediately launched into a plea for me to take him to the park. Right away. Let’s get our shoes on right now Mom! Uggh. I managed to put him off until 9am when I finally gave in and got the boys ready to go out. We walked out onto the front porch and I looked around for my double stroller which has been parked on my porch for the past six months. Not there. I called my husband, thinking maybe he had put it in the shed? He said no, it should be on the porch. Still not there. I finally had to come to the conclusion that someone had walked off with it. We haven’t had stuff stolen in a while, especially since our dog does a pretty good job of scaring strangers away. Double uggh.

Ok, fine. We’ll just walk without a stroller. The park is only two and half blocks away, surely the two year old can make it. Well, about half way he decided that, No, he couldn’t make it. We had a showdown in the middle of the sidewalk for about five minutes. I insisted he could walk. He insisted I should carry him. I told him I would hold him, but I wasn’t walking with him, he had to walk to the park. So, he would refuse to walk then hold his hands up for me to pick him up. I would pick him up and then refuse to walk. He would urge me forward and I would tell him that if he wanted to go the playground he had to walk there. He finally figured out I wasn’t moving on this and so he wiggled back down to the sidewalk and proceeded to run the entire rest of the way to the park, which solidified my theory that he wasn’t tired, just lazy. I also knew that by the time he was done playing on the playground he was going to be truly exhausted and then I was going to have to carry him all the way home. I needed to conserve my energy for the return trip.

The entire time on the playground the kids kept turning to me, “Mommy look!” “Mommy come help me with this!” “Mommy! See!” “Mommy!” As I trailed around behind them on the playground I thought about how important it was that I see them. They had an insatiable need to be seen. In fact, all my kids have this need. A big chunk of my parenting is simply giving my kids attention. Listening to their stories. Looking at the things they make. Watching the new tricks they’ve learned. Finding out about their day. When my kids get home from school I sit in my chair or on the couch and I just listen. For a couple hours. It doesn’t look like I’m doing a whole lot. Just sitting there. But, for this introvert, it’s actually the most exhausting time of my day. The time when I see my kids. See who they are. See what interests them. See their hopes and dreams.

I just started rereading a book called Taken by Dee Henderson. It’s about a woman who was kidnapped when she was sixteen. Eleven years later she finally manages to escape. This fictional book is about her return to freedom. It’s about the people who gather around her and help her make the transition, help her get justice, help her start the path of healing. I’ve read the book a couple times and I started wondering what it is about the book that keeps drawing me back. I finally figured it out this morning, while I was watching my boys play on the playground. The book is all about being Seen. It’s about a woman who has undergone trauma and pain and the people who see her and her need and who gather around her to provide her community and friendship and a strong hand to hold on to.

No wonder I keep coming back to this book. The desire to be seen doesn’t seem to go away after we leave childhood. I still have it. I still want to be noticed. I still want someone to have an interest in me and what I like and don’t like. I still want someone to come alongside me and just do life with me. I am happily married and my husband does truly see me. He cares about me and my interests and our life has completely entwined into one single life instead of two separate ones. You would think that was enough “being seen” for anyone. Somehow though, it isn’t. We long, as a couple, as a family, to be seen by others. We long to be part of a larger community. For whatever reason we find it really difficult. I know a lot of it has to do with our culture that is very self-sufficient and private. Everyone has moved off their front porch and now sits in their climate-controlled home being entertained by TV and the internet. While I have a wonderful church family, we go to a commuter church and all the people that I would love to spend more time with all live about a twenty minute drive  or more on the interstate away from me. Honestly, I could sit here and write a giant list of all the reasons it’s difficult to be in community. I’m not going to do that though, because really, I don’t think that’s the root of the problem. I think that I am the root of the problem.

We have had community before. Right here in Tennessee, despite all the obstacles that exist. We have had community. Looking back, I can tell you that the reason we had community was because we opened our home and invited people over. Regularly. Every week. We invited old friends over, and new friends over. We had big birthday parties and invited all our kids’ friends and their families. We reached out to everyone we saw and said, Hey, come on over. We’d love to have you. Come spend time with us. I would call people on the phone and just talk. Catch up.

I’m not sure what happened. Somewhere along the way I got worn out. I got tired. I got depressed. Overwhelmed. And I retreated.  Into my immediate family. Into myself. For a while there I had a hard time even interacting with my immediate family. I am a lot better now. I am embracing being with my husband and children again, but I find myself longing. Longing to be seen, to be known by a wider circle. And I’ve just figured out that in order to do that, I’ve got to start seeing other people. I’ve got to start noticing them. I’ve got to start reaching out again. It’s hard. I’m a little afraid of being burned. Rejection. But I need it. My family needs it. We need community. We need to see others and be seen by others. So, I will pray for the courage to try again. Put myself out there again. Go look for people that I can see.