Saturday, December 15, 2012


Two nights ago, I wrote a pithy blog post about the 50 shades of frazzled that the kids make me. It was peppered with humor and anecdotes and just needed a few finishing touches to be ready for publishing. I was going to have it up this weekend.

And then Friday dawned. And, with it, a new variety of horror was unleashed on our nation. Two days have passed, and I have passed two days in a zombie-like stupor. Nothing feels right and I have a nagging feeling that things might not seem right again, in a September 11 kind-of-way. Something in our collective psyche was shattered on Friday; and the pieces, once glued back together, will never be what they were before.

This particular school shooting was a different kind of horror, though I am certainly not downplaying any of the too-many horrific school shootings. But this one was different. Most painfully, there’s the quantity and ages of the victims. To think of my daughter’s kindergarten classroom and those bright-eyed, rambunctious little kids…and to think of the kind of depravity necessary to do such a horrendous thing…it’s unfathomable. Then there’s the time of year. Every holiday season forever will recreate this event for the families of those smallest victims. On a personal note, it happened in my small state, where all towns feel like your neighbor. I feel like my home has been violated. It sounds crazy, but that’s just how it feels. What I am perhaps having the hardest time with is the apparent complete and total disconnect between the perpetrator and the many, many victims. This wasn’t a case of a spurned lover taking revenge, or the bullied retaliating against the bullies. When news reports were identifying the perpetrator’s mother as a kindergarten teacher, it almost “made sense,” that some kids got caught in the crossfire between the crazy guy and his mother. But that wasn’t the case, and those poor little kids didn’t get caught in the crossfire. It seems completely intentional that he did what he did, with sheer savagery. This is a new kind of terrorism. For so many reasons, this crime has violated so much.

I was itching to go pick the kids up from school early on Friday and to just feel their warm bodies next to mine as I hugged them and told them I loved them. I waited until school was over and then picked them up, which I don’t usually do. I asked Nadia if I could have a hug and, in her sweet-hearted manor, she eagerly agreed, wrapping her scrawny arms around me so tightly. I was so grateful. Grace, in her typical manor, tolerated my hug but didn’t return it, but I didn’t care too much that she didn’t return it. It’s more my job to demonstrably love her than the other way around. And then we went to Sonic, got some slushies and came home. Liam picked the absolute right day to dump his slushie on the living room carpet. Though I was grateful it was lemon and, therefore, clear in color, I wouldn’t have had the heart to be mad if it was grape purple.

It has been a quiet weekend, with much less yelling than usual. If Nadia had asked me today for the pony she’s mentioned so many times, there’s a good chance we’d have one in the backyard (or in her bedroom) right now. The girls did crafts and painted and stayed up late…all their favorite things. I tried to give them cookies after having pizza (and candy for the pre-dinner snack). It was a day of indulgences, simply because today we have breath and we never know how short life will be. I can’t think of all the tears being shed for the indulgences 20 beautiful little kids will never get to experience again. 

I was watching my kids horsing around tonight. Grace was lying with her back on the floor, knees pointing up to the ceiling. Declan was sitting on top of her, hopping in the way babies do as they push off their legs. They were both giggling and laughing. Nadia and Liam were racing around the house, playing chase. Grace put Declan with his back on the floor and blew raspberries on his stomach. Liam was quick to join in, as he is a raspberry-blower extraordinaire. It was a handful of moments without fighting, with only love for each other. And all I could think of was how heartbroken any of my kids would be without any of the others, and the changed family dynamics of those 20 households. Not just parents without children, but sisters without brothers and brothers without sisters, brothers without brothers and sisters without sisters.

I usually can muster some sympathy for the perpetrator, too. A person so filled with anger and hate that they can do something so horrible seems like someone who should be pitied for their intense misery. It’s harder this time, but I have to believe he was a tormented soul. Anyone “normal” couldn’t do what he did. I am sorry for his dad and his brother, as it’s likely they will be scrutinized, vilified and tormented by the deeds their son and brother did. I can’t even imagine how it would feel to know that your child – the person you love more than your own life, the innocent baby you held in your arms – could unleash such horror on the world. The guilt, the sorrow, the questions, the end of your life as you know it.

Nothing seems right. A nation has been brought to its knees with broken hearts. Nothing seems right, except to hug our kids and remind them we love them. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Calling Home

[Mike sent this to me and asked me to post. It's a soldier's story (his), from Afghanistan.]

Yes! I can finally call home…

There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to call home when I can afford the time. Phones and Internet access, for those who don’t know, get turned off in a way that is unpredictable. It always seems to be at the time I either have the time to call or am in dire need of hearing my wife’s voice, or, oftentimes, a combination of the two. The brief moment I can call is what gets me through the day sometimes, and it is crushing when a perfectly fine phone and computer are just sitting there and I can’t use them.

I work hard throughout the day, the night, and the wee-morning hours. It never stops. There’s never a lack of problems, whether my own or somebody else’s, and the problems never stop coming.  There’s no procrastinating…problems have to be addressed and solved regardless of the time of day or day of week. This is a nine-month-long workweek and it is a workweek where you get the joy of working all shifts. And when all I want is to hear my wife’s voice and the voices’ of my children, is it too much to ask for the damn phone or Internet to work?

Of course, I would prefer to rest my head on my wife’s shoulder as she sleeps, like I ordinarily do before I depart for the day. At 515 in the morning, the house is silent. I can hear her breathing and feel the gentle rise and lowering of her shoulder as she takes in and expels air. In those few seconds, I feel secure and absolutely sure that everything is right in the world. I can’t do that now and I have to rely on those too brief phone calls to be reassured that, despite all the craziness of life and all the frustrations I am faced with throughout the day, all will be right in the world.

Thankfully, the outages can’t last forever. They turn the phones and the Internet back on and I will make the time to call and hear her voice. I can hear about the craziness of her day and the funny things my kids said or the trouble they got into. I will finally get that sense that everything is right in the world again.

Life is filled with little doses of reality that seem to strike you at the most unexpected moments. Like when the phone and the Internet come back on. They are turned on because somebody back home completed another ‘successful’ notification of a family member that their loved one will never call home again, they’ll never IM over Facebook, they’ll never see them again on Skype.

As I dial the phone I am struck with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I will get to talk with my family tonight and even hear from my kids about the crazy things each of them are doing. But some family somewhere, some kids maybe, will never get to do that again. I wonder what their Thanksgiving will be like. What will they find in their lives that they can be thankful for?

I can’t be home on Thanksgiving with my family. I accept that. It is a sacrifice I knew I might have to make ever since I left home as an 18-year-old for a career in the military. But in all likelihood I will be able to call or maybe Skype or, at the very least, send a nice note that my wife can read when they sit down to eat. But what about that other family who’ll have an empty seat at the table for Thanksgiving that will never be filled again?

I am calling home. I will hear my wife’s voice and in a moment I will get that sense that all is right in the world. But below the surface, and imperceptible in my voice, will be that oppressing feeling of guilt that all might be right in my world even though someone else’s world has been shattered.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dubious Gifts

Many hands make light work, or so the saying goes. The maxim was demonstrated recently as I was in my weed-consumed patch of dirt, trying to un-root all of the garden hoboes cohabitating with my actual plants. Four neighborhood kids happened to be over at the time and, as soon as my hands were in the dirt, I had an inquiry as to what I was doing. One of the neighborhood kids was eager to help, which I allowed and, once her hands were in the dirt, more help quickly arrived.  And soon, Tom Sawyer had passed off the brush and the entire fence got whitewashed while he sat back and watched!  Seven kids with free rein in the dirt quickly results in weeds purged, dirt wallowed in and a disgusting collection of grubs, slugs and roly-polys.  All in a day’s work.

I’ve given my children, for better or worse, the gift of siblings. I grew up as an “only” child (a very late-in-life addition to a family with several nearly-grown siblings)…and I was a lonely child. Mike’s situation was similar in that he was the youngest of three, making him odd-man-out. While my kids will (hopefully) never be lonely, it is quite possible they will never get any personal space. I’m not sure which is worse. For many years to come, our house will be a zoo, full of the kids who live here, plus their friends. Everything will be divvied and parceled… one house with six people and two cats equals very few square feet per beating heart. Personal space will be at a minimum as occupancy limits are compromised, and noise and chaos rule. And, most days, I think this is a good thing.

While Mike and I didn’t explicitly plan such a large family, that is what we have, at least by today’s standards. And while, on some days, the bickering seems to be in limitless supply, the hope is always there that we’ve given our children true friends in each other – of the blood variety, which is hopefully the most enduring type of friendship. Grace and Nadia are less than two years apart, as are Liam and Declan, and there are moments when Mike and I think that we couldn’t have planned it better, if we had any control over any of it.

So, when the bickering is at bay, there are occasional, yet wonderful, moments when I see how strong the bonds can be. One night, Nadia kept coming downstairs because she was “sick” (she is also a semi-pro bedtime-procrastinator, so complaints of illness do not always get my immediate attention). I kept sending her back upstairs to bed. I followed her, unnoticed, to see what she was doing, trying to assess the veracity of the sickly claims. I overheard Nadia crying to Grace about not feeling well and how I wouldn’t believe her. Grace got completely indignant and told Nadia in a heated voice that she was going downstairs to get me and described her plan for convincing me that Nadia was sick. It was intense language for Grace, which spoke volumes.  Grace’s defense of her sister was heartwarming and reminded me that, despite Grace’s frequent resentment of Nadia for banishing her from the kingdom during various princess playtimes, she worries about Nadia and will defend her when she has been wronged.

Nadia and Liam are very alike in their personalities. They are both of the slap-now, ask-questions-later mentality. They can go at it like nobody’s business. Yet there was a day at gymnastics class once when some boy was complaining about Liam. Nadia literally jumped between Liam and the boy (who was bigger than Nadia) and snapped at the boy, “You leave my brother alone! He’s just a cutie pie!” Now, I’ve heard Nadia call Liam a lot of things and “cutie pie” isn’t high on the list. Yet she came to his defense in a flash, even against a larger foe. The love is there, even when it’s not obvious, like when they are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

My childhood best friend, who grew up with two brothers, has only one child. I’ve suggested, over the years, that she seriously consider having more kids, for the most selfless of reasons…to give her daughter someone (other than a future therapist) with whom to share her childhood memories - both the good and the crummy. I’ve joked with my friend that you have to have to have more than one kid, otherwise the only child will never have someone who can relate to and truly understand the pressures of growing up in their respective loony bin. Parents (I throw no stones…I include myself here at the top of the list) influence their kids – hopefully for the better, and sometimes most certainly for the worse – and no one can appreciate it like someone else who grew up in the same house. Another maxim proved: Misery loves company. I firmly believe that many strong sibling relationships are built on shared, parent-inflicted misery, humiliation, and general nuttiness.

So, I’ve given my kids all kinds of dubious “gifts” in giving them so many siblings. As a result of waiting their turn, shouting to be heard, making do with a small piece of the pie, and all the various sacrifices that come from growing up in a big family, they will hopefully learn the arts of compromise, patience, and adaptability. You’re welcome, kids! Both for giving you each other to share your childhoods with, and for providing lots of maternal nuttiness from which to cultivate your relationships and to build your strong bonds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Danger of Quiet Moments

Sometimes I forget that I miss my husband. We’re almost three months into a nine-month deployment and life is so busy and the demands are so many that, by the time I have a moment to sit down and think of something other than which annoying toy needs new batteries, when the next dose of antibiotic needs to occur, or what the next micro-meal is going to be, I am asleep before I have time to dwell on the empty side of the bed next to me. Now, this is not to say that I don’t carry a low-level hostility (alright, sometimes it’s a near-lethal level of hostility) at all times regarding how abnormal military life is and how unfair it can be for the kids.  But my general frustrations with military living don’t often reveal themselves at their root cause, which is that I miss Mike.

After the kids were in bed tonight (a night that ended in utter devastation, with Grace telling me I’d broken their hearts because I got fed up and “threw away” all the toys left all over their bedroom floor), I headed out on the deck to call a friend who would hopefully tell me that I did the right thing, despite the “broken hearts,” tears and Oscar-worthy drama.  She was a good friend, indeed, and didn’t even suggest that I remove the wire coat hangers for good measure.  

As I was confessing, er, conversing, I noticed a rabbit in the grass. It was certainly the mama bunny to the nest of baby bunnies we have in our yard. This nest is at least the fourth nest of babies to be born in our yard this year (I now know how rabbits have gotten their reproduction reputation…they multiply like I do) and I am thinking word has gotten out in the rabbit community that I am a sucker for things four-legged, and that our fenced, dogless yard is a delightful place to double as a labor and delivery ward for the preyed-upon. 

For those less knowledgeable about rabbits, an overview: Mama rabbits scratch a hole in the ground that’s large and deep enough to hold two small apples. They have their babies in the hole and then pack and cover them with their own fur and grass and leaves. They camouflage their nest so excellently that you can easily walk right past one and never even know it’s there. Rabbits hide their young in plain sight and only visit at dusk and dawn to feed, so as to not attract predators to their babies.

My rabbit knowledge developed this spring, when I mowed over a nest. I didn’t even know what I’d stumbled upon. We had some badly neglected, lengthy grass, thanks to a lawnmower that’s more temperamental than two-year-old Liam. I mowed and saw a nerve-wracking amount of fur, not knowing what I would discover. After much nervous poking, there were the baby bunnies (unharmed). I panicked, fearful that I’d scented them with human and lawnmower stink and that the mother would abandon them. I packed the nest back up and was convinced I’d compromised the nest and ruined the natural plan. I placed grass in a certain pattern over the nest to ensure that the mother was indeed coming back. The patterned grass didn’t seem to move. I worried the bunnies were starving. I kept peeking in on them to make sure they were still breathing. It was early spring with cold nights. I worried that they were going to freeze, being so small in their earthy nest. One night yielded a torrential downpour that caused me to go outside at 1 AM and fashion a “tent” over the rabbit nest so that the mother could still get to them, but so that they wouldn’t drown in their hole. I did internet searches, called animal shelters, and was prepared for a rescue mission. I didn’t sleep normally for a lot of days.

And all the while Mike, ever the voice of reason, talked me off my ledge and out of my crazy, reiterating what the animal shelter people said…that nature is pretty efficient and animals know what they’re doing, without any human intervention or makeshift lawn-chair tents. I find his patience and passivity maddening, and even moreso when he’s right. And, after a week or so, the babies emerged from the nest and eventually moved on to live their rabbit lives.

Though I was a nervous, first-time bunny “mother” just a few months ago, when I saw the mama rabbit in the yard tonight, I knew she was there to feed. I watched her closely as she straddled the nest. Though it looked like she was just a rabbit hanging out in the yard, I knew she was directly over the nest and I could see little rabbit heads poking up from the nest, suckling at their mother. She was statue-like and only because I was aware of what was happening could I discern the little, bobbing ears in the very small space between her underside and the ground. She fed for a couple of minutes, then sat on her haunches and gave herself a meticulous bath, carefully packed the nest up and went on with her rabbit business, hopping gingerly under my fence and away.

And it was in these rare, quiet minutes that I was doing nothing except watching this mundane, yet fascinating, bit of nature, that I had the quick stab of melancholy that Mike isn’t here to share this with me. Of course, there’s always sadness that he’s not here to share the craziness of our kids, which, oddly, somehow makes it less noticeable (like a chronic ache or pain that you barely notice simply because it’s always there and you’ve learned how to carry on in spite of).  And it’s quietly devastating that in these strange, random, unexpected moments – like finding a rabbit nursing babies in your yard – love demonstrates itself, and I am reminded of how much I miss him.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Irish Heritage

In case any reader is blessed only with good luck, allow me to explain Murphy’s Law. The force that sometimes drives my life is called Murphy’s Law, which states: if something CAN go wrong, it will.  And probably at the most inopportune time.

I have a friend who always says, whenever something goes wrong, “Well, you know Murphy. He’s my cousin.” I’ve echoed the sentiment many times and have even one-upped her by claiming to be part of the direct bloodline of Murphy. Unscripted, I can always regurgitate a running list of reasons that support my descendancy from the Murphy clan. Though I will go on the record stating that I don’t believe in luck, I have often claimed, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” I know we all have our moments, but I have often felt over the years that I am truly exceptional, and often not in an enviable kind of way.

The other day in the car, I was listening to Jeff Foxworthy and his “You Might Be a Redneck” bit (favorites from the clip I heard that day: “…if you mow your grass and find a car;” “…if you’ve ever financed a tattoo;” and “…if you’ve ever made change in the offering plate.”) With a thanks to Mr. Foxworthy for the blog inspiration, here’s my list of “You Might Be a Descendant of Murphy if…”

…your child barfs in her bed on the first night of sleeping in new, clean sheets (and changing sheets on a bunk bed is your least favorite household chore).

…you get pregnant days after you sell off ALL your old baby gear. And despite your IUD.

…you get a black eye (from a car door of all things) the day before you meet a bunch of your husband’s co-workers for the first time and have to wonder if they’ll now think he is abusive.

…you’re staying in a hotel and, while trying to find the door for the bathroom in the middle of the night, you wander groggily and mistakenly into the hallway, wearing only your underwear, and don’t realize your mistake until the door clicks shut, locked, behind you.

…it’s YOUR kid who throws up in the garden at a birthday party, and the mom of the kid who’s throwing the birthday party is an ardent germaphobe. (Thankfully, she’s also you good friend, even after the vomiting episode.)

…when typing an e-mail to a co-worker, complaining about your boss (who you identify as “loony”), you accidentally address the e-mail to the “loony” boss in question. And don’t realize it until the e-mail has been sent.

…you’re allergic to benadryl, the medicine given to treat an allergic reaction, and realize it only after you’ve been given benadryl to combat an allergic reaction.

…you get into poison ivy a couple days before embarking on a belated honeymoon Caribbean cruise and are one giant, oozy, itchy scab for your entire beach vacation.

…your daughter barfs ALL OVER the sand-colored living room carpet, after having eaten a peanut butter and jelly (grape, of course) sandwich for lunch. And once you get the steam cleaner comes out, it is, naturally, not working.

…you’re in an enclosed space with a bunch of people and you demand that everyone check their shoes because someone reeks of dog crap, only to discover that it’s YOUR shoes (flip-flop sandals, at that) that are caked with dog crap. Corollary: If there’s dog crap anywhere around, you WILL step in it.

…your husband always accuses you of shoddy workmanship, and the shelf you put up over the bed falls on him in the middle of the night (and the picture frame that was on the shelf leaves a gash on his forehead the night before he has to have a government photo taken).

…you have been pulled over three times in the same month. In a mini-van.

…it’s YOUR kid who has an “accident” in the pool at the hotel at Disney and then, on the walk back to the hotel room, the “accident” falls out of her bathing suit, unnoticed, onto the sidewalk. You know what they always say….What happens at Disney stays at Disney. (As a disclaimer, this happened to a friend who was with my daughter, but I still claim it for Murphy descendancy purposes, as it was my kid who caused all this mortification. This episode also likely proves my friend’s Murphy bloodline and, therefore, our sisterhood.)

…you’ve ever rested on a farm fence, only to discover it’s of the electric variety. For those who are curious, it takes about two days for the tingling to go away.

These are just a few of the many pieces of evidence I’ve collected over the years supporting my claim of being a Murphy. As to why my maiden name isn’t Murphy? I must’ve been mixed up at the hospital at birth, which is exactly what you’d expect for a Murphy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Words to Live By

There are a few mottos I live by. This, too, shall pass is possibly my all-time favorite, with One day at a time (which I have occasionally downgraded to One hour…, One minute…, or One second at a time, until I find a time-unit I feel capable of managing) running a close second. One of Mike’s favorites is It is what it is, which, for a long time, I disliked and found annoying because it’s so passive and defeatist. Years later, I have come to embrace it as I have learned there are plenty of things that you just can’t change no matter how badly you want to or how hard you try. Then there’s Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.  Life, lately, seems to fall most often into this category. A recent “vacation”/stay at a hotel caused me to modify this one to Some days you tell the joke, some days you laugh at the joke, and some days you ARE the joke. As I “waltz” through life (what I am doing on a daily basis is nothing so graceful as a waltz, though I can’t think of an official name for a clumsy, awkward, stuttering dance) with my posse of kids, I am finding that perhaps I AM the joke with much more frequency that I tell or laugh at the joke.

I recently called a hotel to book a room. The receptionist asked all the questions, including “How many people?” When I said, “Six,” I had to count on my fingers to see if that was really correct. Though I am aware I have four children, and I know that Mike and I are an additional two, it seems impossible that I am part of a family that has become so large. And it seems impossible that we should want to go places and stay overnight in a hotel with them. I can’t decide if we are fearless or just plain senseless.

While standing at the bar at the hotel, a husband made a joke to his wife about all the drinks being for him. I wondered aloud why Mike and I weren’t also jockeying for all the drinks. The husband pointed out his three boys and said something like, “You should try spending the night in a hotel with those three.” I pointed out my own crew and said, “Oh yeah, we have four!” He let me go in front of him. With my two pairs, it’s like I’ve got the best hand and will win in any “woe-is-me” parental competition.

On another occasion at the hotel, someone approached Mike and asked, “What’s it like staying in a hotel with four kids?” In the retelling, Mike quipped, “It’s a lot like being home with four kids. Nuts.”

Speaking of nuts…we were lucky enough to stumble upon a Five Guys Burgers and Fries while we were away. Because kids are weirdos and can’t appreciate the sumptuousness of a fat-laden, double patty smothered in cheese and grilled onions, they only eat the peanuts at this delectable burger joint. Nadia, upon cracking open a classic, figure-eight-shaped peanut shell exclaimed, “Three nuts in a two-holder!!!!! Can you believe it?!?!?” with all the excitement her five-year-old brain could convey (if you’re having trouble keeping up with me here, she expected to find two nuts inside the shell, but there were actually three). A moment or two later, she followed this amazing discovery with the random question, “Can we have a yard sale this weekend?”

And this sums up our life quite well. Our daily adventures are characterized by the same disarray of a five-year-old brain processing a wealth of thoughts and information and emotion. Like Nadia’s thoughts, we move fast and the motion is perpetual. Topics are broad and varied and it is hard to keep up and sometimes impossible to make sense of. A lot of the time, we laugh…some of the laughter from the sheer hilarity of living a life in a big family full of unique personalities (I showed Grace a picture of Queen Elizabeth and asked her if she knew who it was. She thought it was Angela Lansbury), and some of it borders on manic, mingled with a twitch. Like I said…a lot of the time I can’t decide if we are telling the joke, laughing at the joke, or if we just are the joke.

Adapting to life with four kids has been…seamless, I guess. Because there’s no time to “adapt.” There’s no evolution when a family is so large. Nothing is slow or gradual. To sit back and reflect needs to be a multi-tasking event, combined with some kind of chore or errand, or three or four of them. Like Nadia’s random thoughts, it’s almost impossible to keep up with anything that’s going on, much less everything that’s going on.

And that’s where the mottos come in handy. Because I know that this is what it is, and all this craziness will pass, and that it will pass one day a time. And during those days, sometime’s we’ll conquer that bear, but some days we don’t. And some days we will laugh at the great fun we’re having, and some days we will have to laugh simply because it beats crying.