Suggested topic #7: Finding Love... how you keep each week from being your last with a husband and older kids
OK, these Facebook blog topic suggestions are getting tougher. Truth is, I don't how how to find or keep love. I just got lucky. 16-year-old Jess met 17-year-old [Beforehebecame]Senior back in high school. I barely remember those two kids. She was the do-gooder in a family of cynical liberals and he was the rebel in a family of faith-centric conservatives. But the same traits that made us the square pegs in our own family dynamics meshed beautifully when we met. I read something recently that said that it was easy to fall in love; the hard part was learning to like the person you were left with after the initial attraction wore off. Fortunately for me, I like Senior. We balance each other, although somewhere along the way we traded personalities. I think a lot of people who meet so young can grow apart, but we grew up together. He taught me to be spontaneous and positive, and I taught him to appreciate the little things. We had common goals, a strong sense of humor, and the blessing of good fortune. And I think pulling up our roots and moving a few times helped our little family grow stronger because we learned to rely on each other in every new situation.
As for keeping love alive with older kids? I guess that depends on what age you are talking about. If you have teenagers all you can do is hunker down and hang on for the ride. My kids, now in their 20's, are actually pretty fun to be around. A couple things that worked really well for Senior and I over the years was to make sure we took vacations together without the kids, even if it was just a weekend trip. It helped us focus on being a team, working towards a common future. And when we were home and the kids got in trouble, regardless of what age they were, Senior and I would take the time to talk out the crime and the punishment together before we disciplined them. We were a united front. Luckily we didn't have to practice this too often. Oh believe me, the kids got into all kinds of trouble, but basically they were pretty respectful of our rules. In fact, the only time I can remember wanting to trade both our kids in for a pair of goats happened when they were pre-schoolers. It started with a trip to the grocery store. It ended with a cop.
It was always a challenge taking the kids along when I went grocery shopping at the local Tops Market, especially before the invention of cool race-car grocery carts and digital media distractions. Before the advent of 24-hour mega marts, stay-at-home moms like me didn't have a lot of options. Once in a while a neighbor invited one of the kids over for a play date, or maybe Grandma would drop in and babysit. But typically I hauled them along and hoped for the best. I liked to go in the morning before they got too cranky, but one day I got sidetracked by other tasks. Before I knew it, it was early afternoon and there was no food in the house. I had planned to try a new recipe for dinner and needed to get the ingredients, so I made a list (organized by aisle to minimize the time spent in the store) and loaded the kids into my little pickup truck. Unfortunately I didn't realize that they had spent the morning watching Barney videos backwards, and now were brainwashed into misbehavior.
I spent the first half of the shopping trip using one hand to keep The Boy stuffed into the little seat at the top of the cart while he tried to thread his huge fat feet back out through the leg openings, and using the other hand to corral The Girl so she didn't pull all the coupons out of the electronic coupon dispensers and stuff them in her pocket. When they weren't whining about the confinement, they were singing their version of the store's jingle "Tops never mops, look at their floors!" at the top of their lungs. My patience was wearing thin when The Girl said she had to go potty. I gave her the standard mom grilling: "Now? Are you sure? Can it wait?" Noticing the insane glint in my eyes, she told me she was okay and could wait until she got home.
I turned back to the cart and found that The Boy had removed the lid from a carton of yogurt and was eating it with his hands. What didn't go in his mouth was in his hair or on the cart handle. In hindsight, I should have let him finish it, but at that time the acceptable response seemed to be to yell at him and take the carton away. I rummaged through my purse for wet wipes (a mom staple) and cleaned him up. That's when I realized that The Girl was no longer anywhere in sight. I called her name twice and she appeared, popping around the corner from the paper product aisle. I warned her to keep one hand on the cart for the rest of the trip if she wanted to make it out of the store alive. That's when I noticed her shoes were damp. This couldn't be good. I asked her to explain and with tears in her eyes she said she couldn't hold it anymore. I whipped the cart into the paper product aisle and found… nothing. The Girl calmly showed me where she had crawled up on the bottom shelf behind the bulk rolls of paper towels to do her business in private.
I seriously considered just quietly rearranging the paper towels and walking away, but I figured karma would hunt me down. I called a stock boy over and pointed out the puddle. He looked at us, speechless, and called for a cleanup. (I guess Tops does mop their shelves). We slunk away towards the dairy aisle, where I paused to explain to The Girl why she could never, ever, ever do something like that again. As this was going on, The Boy decided he was being ignored so he might as well look for another snack. He turned around in his seat and rummaged through the items within reach. A carton of eggs was in his way, so he grabbed it and flipped it out of the cart. It opened and landed upside down, breaking all dozen eggs on the floor. Time stood still.
One of the other shoppers took pity on me and offered to find someone to clean it up so I could get out of the store. I thanked her profusely and started toward the checkout. Before we got more than a couple steps away, The Girl handed me a big hunk of expensive cheese and asked if we could buy it because she liked it. I told her she had never had that kind and we weren't getting it. She turned the hunk over and showed me where she had bit into it and found it delicious. I put the cheese back on the shelf.
I made it through the long line at the checkout lanes without sobbing and headed out to the truck. I buckled the kids into their car seats, stacked the grocery bags in the truck bed, and got behind the wheel. Suddenly it struck me that with all the drama, I forgot to buy Parmesan cheese in the dairy aisle. At that moment, having Parmesan cheese seemed like the most important thing in the world. I needed Parmesan cheese. I was not going to be able to make it through another day without Parmesan cheese. It was a key component in the recipe I planned to make for dinner, and something was going to go as planned that day, even if it meant that I had to go back into the store. I looked at my children and realized that it would be a Very Big Mistake to take them back in with me. They were safely strapped into their seats, so I locked the truck and dashed back into the store solo. I was gone less than two minutes. They were both crying when I got back. Nothing had happened, they were just tired and cranky and under the influence of the anti-Barney. So we headed home, which was only a few blocks away.
I turned off the main street, passing the middle school just as the kids were being dismissed. That's when I noticed the patrol car behind me with his lights flashing. I pulled over, much to the delight of the pre-teens leaving the school. As the officer walked up to my window, I laid my head on the steering wheel and closed my eyes. When he got to me, I rolled down the window. He looked at us quietly for a moment. Then in a compassionate voice he said, "I have kids too."
It turned out that one of the other shoppers was passing by my truck during the two minutes I was in the store alone. She noticed the two crying children (but apparently did not notice the eight paper bags stuffed with groceries in the back of the truck) and assumed I had abandoned them while I did my weekly shopping. So she called the cops. We lived in a small town with a local police force. It only took a few moments for the officer on patrol to get to the store, but by then I was already in the truck and headed out of the lot.
I told him my story - that I realized after loading up the truck that I had left my purse at the checkout, so I ran back in to get it. That sounded better than admitting that I had a Parmesan cheese meltdown. He said that was okay, he could see the kids were fine, and that he knew I was probably annoyed but I should appreciate that I lived in a town where people looked out for each other. "Appreciation" wasn't the emotion I was feeling, but I smiled wanly and thanked him for not arresting me, then pulled away and headed home to naps and probably a big glass of wine.
Postscript: I did ask The Girl if it was okay that I tell this story to the world before publishing this. In spite of her mother, The Girl turned out to be an amazing young woman with a great sense of humor. She said it was fine, and that she would be staging a re-enactment on Tuesday at the local Kroger.