Chapter 1: Zoo Lights
Zoo lights kinda sucked most of the time and it was mostly my fault for not thinking it through well enough. The kids (and by kids I mean Aaron) broke my white cane, so I've been using another telescoping sorta sucky one. On the train, I threw it in my bag. After a half-hour train ride, I got off and somehow no longer had it.
Okay. Well, I'm meeting another mom so that makes it easier, and there are supposed to be a lot of lights, right? So maybe I will be able to see better than I usually can in the dark. But I waited and waited and waited at the designated spot, and she didn't show. I waited for about 40 minutes and walked around a bit to see if I missed her, but the kids were getting antsy and I had a decision to make. Should I go it alone or get back on the train and go back home? I decided to go over to where the entrance of the zoo was and see how I did. I didn't do well. I couldn't even tell where the line was or where to go to get in. It was one of those things that was going to be dangerous and miserable to get through, so I turned to go back home.
Right when I was turning back to head to the train, she appeared. It seemed that I had said to meet at the elevators closest to the zoo and she had only thought that there was one set of elevators coming up from the train station and was waiting at the other one. I did walk up to the other one once, but we must have missed each other. (BTW, in case the person in question ever reads this, I hope you know that I'm totally not mad at you about this. I was just frustrated by the whole situation I sort of found myself in. Mistakes/misunderstandings happen and its all good. Not like I haven't made a bajillion mistakes based on a misunderstanding.)
However, at that point my kids had sat through a 1/2 hour train ride and another over a half an hour wait. Then about a 15 minute wait in line. Then, we decided to head for the train ride. You have to buy tickets at the front, which is dumb, because then if you change your mind you've already paid. So, I wouldn't have waited in this train line if I were on my own. (Not that I said anything, so again, no blame except on myself here). Anyway, since I couldn't see, I had NO FREAKING IDEA how ungodly awful long this line was. I kept thinking we were at the end of it and just steps away from the train and then we would turn onto a whole 'nother subsection of line. It just went on and on. So, in addition to the kids' already hour and a half long wait to do something fun, We must have waited for the train for at least another hour. My kids were miserable at this point and it was just the point of no return for them. I was letting them in and out of the stroller and then they would want to be carried and my arms were aching and then Naim would throw a shit fit every time the line went away from the train and it was just a pain and not fun.
Then, after the train ride, I got lost. We had parked our strollers in this designated space and when we got off, she went that way and I must have missed the turn and just followed the crowd out. So, with two kids in tow, I had to find my way back IN the train area. This is where I knew I had seriously fucked up and the situation was out of my control. I had NO CLUE where I was or where I needed to be. All I could see was a mess of disorienting lights. I couldn't even see people to ask for help. I asked a few passersby if they knew how I could get back to the stroller area and they didn't know short of going through the entire train line again. Thankfully, the kids were being good and dutifully holding on to each of my hands, but I kept thinking, "Kids? As you trustingly follow your mother, you have no idea how much she is fucking up on the job right now." I was actually using them as my 'guide dogs' to watch out for steps and stuff.
I knew I needed to find someone who worked there who could get me through, but it was too dark to see who worked there. So, I asked 'The Next Person Who Walked By' to help me find someone who worked there. She had trouble as well, but finally we found someone who was holding those lights that airport people use to direct the plane with, you know? And he basically cut me through the entire train line and finally found my friend and the strollers.
An aside: I can't believe sometimes how nice some people are compared to how snotty others are. The person who helped me find the employee, she had her own kids in tow and was totally wonderful about stopping everything to run around and figure this out with me, a total stranger. Then, when I walked with my two little kids through the line with an employee, people were snotting at me not to cut in line. Even when I told them I was just passing through the line, not getting in line, someone said, "Why does she get special treatment?".
After that, things got a bit better. We walked around the zoo and it was kind of a neat atmosphere with all the lights. We spent some time watching a brass band that was playing Christmas Carols. Naim really liked that. I was fascinated watching my friend and her daughter together. Her daughter is just a month or two older than mine, and she would so dutifully follow right behind her mother while her mother walked anywhere from two to six or eight feet in front of her. She just followed along like a little puppy dog. I think Naim could do that, but still I would be afraid in a crowd like that that people would get in between us and we'd get separated and I would never be able to find him. I need contact. And Aaron? Aaron would be gone forever if I let him go like that. He is a wanderer. If he gets more than four to six feet away from me in the dark like that with such loud noises, I'm done for.
So, I had the double umbrella stroller, and I always kept one in the stroller while the other had to "help me push." And even this was tough. The stroller is wide and keeps running over people's feet and can't fit anywhere narrow. The whole night was an effort of intense concentration and alertness on my part. Exhausting. I was a bore, I had to work so hard on just keeping our shit together. This was a new friend and she was a rookie at being with me. I'm sure she'll never want to go anywhere with us again.
And the whole night I kept saying to myself, "I should listen to Emmie. She's SO right about the harnesses. This would be so much easier with harnesses. I should listen to Emmie." Emmie has used those cute little animal backpack harnesses with her twin boys. And has made really insightful comments about how kid harnesses have such a stigma and are looked down upon, yet everyone shoves their kids in a stroller for the same purpose, to keep easy control of their kids. And yet, aren't strollers (at toddler age, I'm not talking infants here) so much more confining than harnesses? At least with harnesses they could walk around some and explore and get some exercise. The other thing is, they don't have to use them. You can have the kids wearing the backpacks and walking with you, and just take out the 'leash' part of the harness if needed. Whereas if you choose a stroller, you're pretty much stuck with it and at least one hand occupied all the time. In the end, to not do something that makes perfectly good sense and will work for you and keep your kids safer while still allowing them some freedom just because you are worried about what other people will think is just stupid. (As if, with all the other reasons we'll get stared at, harness stares will be such a big deal.)
And lo and behold, a Christmas Miracle! I get home and waiting for me is an email from Emmie offering to send me their harnesses that they aren't using anymore. Yea! Emmie!
Chapter 2: The Weekend
For the past several weeks/months, I have had significant trouble sleeping, even though I am exhausted all. the. time. I actually can fall asleep really easily, but then I wake up anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours later and then I am up, anxiety ridden, till 5 am or even just never go back to bed. Then I'm so tired the next day that I can't get anything except the essentials done. I've tried limiting my caffeine, not watching TV before bed, thought it might be my 30 year old mattress I am using now and am looking in to replacing it. Then, on days when I go over to D's to work, I've been doing the bare necessities over there and then collapsing on the couch in a deep sleep while he watches the kids.
Finally, on a terrible Saturday night with no sleep at 7 in the morning on one of those days when I probably have had 5 or 6 hours of sleep in the last 72 hours, it occurred to me. This all started when the kids got to big boy beds and Aaron started destroying everything. (A condition which still comes and goes, it improved some before we had another setback). They haven't been really taking naps, either. The problem is that I don't feel like I am EVER off duty. Naim doesn't like me to go to sleep and turn off all the lights until he is asleep at night, or he starts throwing things around. Then Aaron starts throwing things around in the morning if he gets up before me. They never sleep for naps anymore. The place is pretty childproof but then I always fear those little things like what if they knock over a bookcase and kill themselves. They have already destroyed a lamp in their room. They knocked off the light bulb and it shattered to pieces. What if they electrocute themselves? What if they just simply pull all of the toilet paper out and TP my house with it? Its not the end of the world, no. But it kind of is when there are messes to clean up all the time. I spend my life cleaning these messes instead of being able to do anything fun with them. One more big mess can send me over the edge.
It is a cyclical problem where I know that their schedule needs adjusting, we need some new routines, they need some more outings and stimulation. Aaron especially needs more stimulation right now than it seems I can give him. I've been looking into preschools but many are too expensive or have a "3 by September" rule so I have to wait until next fall. I need a break. I can't get one. I don't sleep and am tired all the time, which makes me less able to find stimulating things for them to do and then they get bored and start destroying things again. And I'm never off duty. When I wake up at night, I usually think I awoke because something has happened or they need me. Or did I remember to put the locks on the closet doors? I better check. Or I need to go check and see if they both ended up asleep in their beds instead of (really!) Aaron falling asleep on top of the bookcase. I'm never done, I can never relax. Naim is a dream child mostly. If it was just him, or even two of him, I think I'd be okay. But Aaron, as it turns out, is a--shall we say--"spirited child." He is a challenge and I am not meeting his needs lately.
So over the weekend, my body just collapsed into flu and exhaustion and depression. I have not had a break from the kids (for more than 3 or 4 hours, which is rare in itself) for over three years. They have not ever had even one day apart from me or I from them. Its not right. I'm not sure what to do about it. You can say "get a babysitter" but it isn't so easy. All my affordable babysitting attempts have fallen through for various reasons. Right now, I am looking at possibly hiring a young man from my church who works in the nursery with the boys and they like him. The only issue is that he has (high functioning) autism. I don't think I could leave the house with him there. He still may be a great help if I can get some other work done or rest. Or if he can perhaps help with some of the housework kind of stuff (which I'm not sure about yet.) He also doesn't drive, so we'd have to work out transportation. I'm very interested in giving him a go, but I'm not sure how well it will work, or if it will work at all. But he's a nice kid and I'm thinking I can hire him for minimum, so we'll see.
But what this has to do with the weekend is that three times, D has come over and spent the day with the kids so I could rest. It was the only way I was not going to lose my ever-loving mind and even attempt to have some kind of Christmas for the kids. He has been a bit sick with a post-operative infection from his pump surgery. And his incision is a bit open now so the infection can drain out and he has to be careful. So it was with much guilt that I had him come over, but if he hadn't...I swear I was headed for hospitalization or something. I was getting so sick and tired that I couldn't think straight and nothing made sense that came out of my mouth. Just the very thought of my dad coming in January and bringing that dog that I will have to manage as well and clean up after was sending me right over the edge into middle of the night terrors.
Things are better, I have been catching up on sleep. But the problems remain. At least now I have a clearer head and can start to figure stuff out. I need to look at schedule. I need to look for regular outings that occur pretty frequently and will stimulate and wear Aaron out. I need to look at some more baby proofing (at this point, it is kid proofing and involves heavy duty locks, rather than those pansy-ass baby proofing products that he laughs in the face of) so that I can sleep and feel like he is at least safe somewhere. I need to pursue a regular babysitter, if not this kid then something else.
Sometimes it takes you going nuts to realize that there is a serious problem that needs serious action to be dealt with. So that was what this weekend was all about. I'll get there, but it is going to take some serious strategy.
Chapter 3: Christmas Eve
The only thing on the agenda for Christmas Eve was the church service, which I always found relaxing in previous years. The kids have done well the last few years, and I tried to set up the day so this year they would do well, too. I tried to make sure they were well rested but also a bit worn out, well fed but not needing to go to the bathroom for an hour, etc.
But! It was not to be. They seemed fine all day but when we got there, they wouldn't shut up so we went back to the 'cry room.' Our cry room actually is a little play room with windows and a speaker with the service piped in. Naim was fine after a while and I sent him out to sit with his dad. Aaron, on the other hand, won the contest for the Most Obnoxious Kid in the Room.
There were 3 or 4 other kids who ended up back there. Every time a kid would come in, Aaron would say,"I don't like him! I don't want to play with him! Go Away!"
Big fat roll eyes slam head into brick wall emoticon here.
Now, here is where again, I will never judge another mom again and I'm ashamed that I used to do this. One experience with a kid does not a bad kid make. Aaron is usually a pretty social kid who likes to play with other kids and can be very polite about sharing and trading and taking turns. But on this night, he was a brat. And he got a time out. And we struggled through the service and had a struggle to clean up all of our toys afterwords. We were going to go downstairs for their little social thing and they had the accessible door locked again (happens less and less these days, but still occasionally happens.) At this point, I was worn out and the thought of dragging my kids in the cold around the building and through two sets of staircases to go around and unlock the door for D was more than I could take, so I just wanted to go home. Which made Aaron scream bloody murder, because he wanted to go downstairs and socialize now, of course. Now he wanted to play with the other kids. So that was relaxing Christmas Eve at the church.
I put the kids to bed so D and I could have our steak dinner in peace, and that was nice. And then I sent him home so I could finish up all the present wrapping and stuff I still hadn't gotten done.
Chapter 4: Christmas
Despite all the crabbiness and all the--well--Aaron, Christmas actually turned out pretty good. I kept the kids upstairs and fed them breakfast up there until D and his dad got here at around ten. I had the train set sitting out in the living room and I carried Aaron to the bathroom and he caught a peak of it. But it was funny. He was all, "Gasp! A surprise! (sign for surprise) I saw a surprise! (sign)" I told him to whisper so Naim wouldn't hear about the surprise, so then he started signing everything while whispering. "Gasp! A train surprise? A present? For ME?"
When I took them downstairs, they made a beeline for the train set. They were pretty excited and crashed the track and bridges almost immediately, which I knew was going to happen. That track assembly is going to take a bit of practice for them, but they'll get it. Luckily, we had other presents at the ready to distract them from track frustrations. We spent the morning happily opening presents. It went quicker this year than last year. Because this year they wanted "more presents!" while last year they would play with something a while until we nudged them along to open the next one. They are starting to get this whole present thing. Yea! Consumerism!
Oh! Before I forget. On cue during the present unwrapping, as if in a oversentimentalized Hallmark Channel Christmas Special, another Christmas Miracle! It started to snow! Supposedly, it hasn't snowed here on Christmas in over 56 years! (Didn't stay on the ground, though. but was pretty to watch.)
Then we went to the Christmas Dinner thing at my church. And this time the door was unlocked. It was really nice. There were more people there than I thought would be, and they had all the tables set up with candles and china and there was wine and lots and lots of food. They set up a little kid area with a kid table and chairs and some toys and markers and paper. The kids got a gift bag with candy and a small toy vehicle in it. There was another boy about their age and this time Aaron played nicely with him almost the whole time. Aaron was pretty good except that he went to the dessert table and took just one bite out of four different pieces of fudge and then put them back. Luckily, people just laughed about it. Naim stuck with his dad mostly. Usually during potluck kind of things all I do is work because I have to get food, drinks, silverware,etc. for four people by myself while watching the rugrats at the same time. By the time I'm started eating, everyone else is done. There was some of that here, too, of course, but people actually ran and fetched things for me, like a drink for Naim or a fork or dessert for the kids. When you NEVER get waited on, I mean like EVER. And you are always the one who has to get up during a meal and fetch the juice, the butter, the seconds, the whatever, then you have to clean up afterwords as well--it is so nice when someone does something simple like just gets the kids some juice that it practically makes me want to cry. I almost don't know what to do with myself. Its silly.
When I go to social functions with kids now, time warps into something I call "Toddler Time." Even if I've had a nice time and the kids were relatively well-behaved, I think I have spent hours and hours somewhere and when I leave and look at the clock, its only been like two hours and I am shocked. This is what happened here. We were the first to leave, and I had the "get the kids to bed" excuse to use. But I thought we had been there at least 3 or 4 hours. Turns out it was only two. Well, that was enough. I'd go again next year. I figure each year these things are going to get easier and easier.
Appendix: The Loot
For both kids:
- Train set (mom)
- Set of a bunch of space shuttles and rockets (dad)
- (btw, remember the plastic hunk of kitchen junk? After dragging all the peices out twice to put it together and failing. I gave up. It is pissing me off and it is going to Freecycle.)
- small stuffed kitty cat that meows and moves and blinks (grampa b.)
- Knit hat (grampa B.)
- matchbox airplane
- creepy feeling rubber dragon and dinosaur
- Melissa and Doug farm jigsaw puzzle
- Animal planet safari animal playset
- Max and Ruby book (Julie)
- School house puzzle (Julie)
- Fisher Price turtle game
- 2 finger puppets
- Little school bus (from church)
- Train Christmas Ornament
- Gift certificates (the SILs)
- little stuffed dog that barks, etc. (grampa b.)
- knit hat (grampa b.)
- matchbox airplane
- Creepy dinosaur and dragon
- Little people helicopter
- Melissa and Doug train puzzle
- Roger the Snake book (Julie)
- Barney Puzzle (Julie)
- Fisher Price Oreo game
- 2 finger puppets
- little ambulance car (from church)
- Volkswagen bug Christmas ornament
- gift certificates (the SILs)
- sweater (parents)
- wheelchair reflector light (parents)
- security video camera (his B/SIL) We were kind of dumbfounded by this one. We both said, Oooh! a good gift! We have been thinking for a long time about how to give D access to the kids room upstairs, because they are starting to want him to go up there to show him things. We thought about hooking up video somehow. So this is (I think) what that is in mind for. Although I think he is going to exchange it for one that can work on his computer instead of the TV, it is still a thoughtful gift.
- RAM (me) Isn't this romantic? Isn't it special? Over the weekend I finally confessed to him that I suck. I didn't get him anything. I said to pick out something he wants and I will get it for him...and he picked RAM for his computer. I said email me the exact thing you want and where to get it and I will order it, so that's what I did.
- His favorite oatmeal choc chip cookies (me and the kids.)
- Kitchen timer (D) This is a joke. I've somehow managed to break, like, 4 of them. I use them for turn taking for the kids or getting them to pick up their mess in a certain amount of time or occasionally for time outs.
- Chocolate (D)
- iPod Shuffle (D) This is a good little iPod for me. I needed one that works without a screen which I can't see.
*If you are wondering about gifts from my family, I have asked them to contribute to my "trip back to the Midwest" fund. My fake grandmother is 85 years old, and I am determined to try to make it back with the kids this spring/summer. It is expensive to fly for the three of us!