Carbs and Calories

All day Tornado E had been saying “carbs and calories” to anything that was bad. Often with a shake of the head.

We sat at dinner at Panda Express eating Americanized- fast food Chinese. The boys eating their favorite offerings but mentioning they wished I would cook more at home. As we were in California for a wedding, it really wasn’t an option that night.

Tornado E: Mommy, why are grown ups afraid of carbs and calories?

For years, my boys have been exposed to their father’s dieting habits and my mother’s comments (to me, to my dad, about herself). Long ago I resolved that I would never “diet” in front of them. I would model healthy eating habits. I would not do fade diets, yo-yo diets, weird dieting concoctions, or deprive myself. I promised to be careful what I said about my body and my weight, to monitor what I said about their bodies and other people’s bodies. I would not fat shame or thin shame within my boys’ hearing. They heard enough negative body comments from others.

I don’t want my boys growing up with body or food issues. I don’t want them to stay away from food for their body images. I don’t want them to look in the mirror and have demons criticize their bodies. I want them to be happy and healthy.

Me: Well, baby, many adults don’t run around and have fun like children, so they have to worry about what they eat instead. Many adults are not happy about their bodies. Sometimes they have to worry because of their health. Sometimes they just don’t like their bodies. And that’s sad.

Tornado E: Yes, that’s sad.

Pause.

Tornado E: But not you, Mommy. You like your body. You’re not afraid of carbs and calories.

I smiled and bit into a piece of orange chicken. The demons that lurk behind my mirrors were safely locked away from my boys. Maybe one day I won’t meet them in dressing room mirrors or when I take a closer look at my outfits.

Fake it until you make it.

The Fourth Child

No, I’m not pregnant. Though the boys are lobbying hard for a fourth child. A girl, please, Mommy. A baby sister, please, Mommy.

Um, it doesn’t work that way.

Take the other night.

Tornado E: When are you going to have another baby?

Maybe, never. You kind of need a willing male partner for that. Or a sperm bank. But that’s a little complicated to go into with a 5yr old, a 8yr old, and a 10yr old.

Tornado E: I would like a baby sister.

Tornado S and Tornado A: Yeah.

Me: You have two little sisters.

One half and one step but sisters nonetheless.

Tornado S: But we want you to have a girl.

He gave me that adorable smile.

Me: Maybe one day. I’m very happy to have my three boys.

Tornado S: Did you know you were going to have three boys?

Me: It doesn’t work like that. But each one of you was wanted and planned.

Tornado S: So did you know you would have three kids?

I rubbed his nearly shaved head.

Me: Not at first. I did want four kids though.

Tornado A: That means a little girl!

Um, not yet. Your grandparents would kill me if I had a baby now, living at their house.

Tornado E: So when will you have another baby?

Me: I don’t know. I always seemed to get pregnant when everything is perfect in my life.

Tornado E: What if I’m 15?

God, I hope it doesn’t take until Tornado E‘s 15 to be settled and married and have a perfect little life to ruin with a baby.

Me: Then I guess you would be babysitting.

I rubbed his nearly shaved head.

Tornado S: I won’t be!

If Tornado E is 15 and two years older, then Tornado S would be 13. Legal babysitting age is 12.

Me: You would be too.

Pause.

Tornado S: Hmmm. I would be good at babysitting. I helped calmed down Tornado A today.

Me: You’re a good big brother.

I kissed his head.

I fear that once they figure out the mechanics of the whole thing, they’ll put me on Match.com or start a GoFundMe page to raise money for sperm. Lord help me.

Empty

The house feels empty. No screaming; no yelling. No whining; no fighting. No video games; no cartoons. No toys- scratch that. There are toys scattered through the house. I let them swim to the last possible second, instead of making them pick up toys.

But without my boys running amok, the house feels empty.

In theory, I could go out and see a movie right now. I can go out with friends, grab dinner or drinks and dessert. (You know, if I wasn’t poor and unemployed.) In theory, I could sleep in tomorrow. I can read in bed. I can have ice cream for lunch.

But I would give it all up for more time with my boys.

The hardest part is when I don’t get to talk to them. Every night they are at their dad’s house, I call them at 7pm to ask them about their day and to tell them I love them and to wish them goodnight. Even if I’m out with friends. Even if I’m out of town. 5 minutes to know my boys are fine and to let them know I love them.

More often than not, the ex doesn’t answer his phone. Some times he lets them call me back. Most of the time, he doesn’t. When I had more money, I bought them a cheap little flip phone with monthly prepaid minutes, but they often did not answer.

After two years, it still sucks so very much not to talk to the boys. After two years, the ex still doesn’t think it’s important, even though we agreed upon the phone calls in mediation and it’s in our divorce agreement. At least, I got to be with them after school for a few hours.

It’s harder after having the boys for a long stretch. I had them for nine full days because the ex had a business trip. I’m grateful to have them so long. It reminds me of the first three years of the separation when the boys were always with me.

Tomorrow I’ll bug my friends with texts and calls, asking to go out. I’ll wash the sheets and pick up the toys. I’ll scout the bathroom and go through the piles of weekly school paperwork. I’ll get the last few things for our trip next week. I’ll figure out a bridesmaid hairstyle I can do. I’ll take the Cub Scout volunteer classes and tests. I’ll brush up on 7th grade math and prep some cool activities. I’ll write poetry and edit the novel.

Tonight I feel like eating chocolate and staring at the TV.

Or eat chocolate as I do laundry and clean my room.

Because I just realized I have a lot to do.

We all want ice cream

Me: Where are you going?

Tornado E stood at the door, holding the door open.

Tornado E: We should get ice cream. You owe me ice cream.

Me: For what?

Tornado E: I got a 96% on my reading test.

Tornado S struggles with spelling test. A B gets him a candy bar. An A gets him ice cream. A 100% gets him any dessert at the French bakery. Half Tornado S’s problem is writing fast and neat.

Tornado E has no such problems. He has a laziness problem.

Me: Uh-huh.

Tornado E: And a while back I got 100% on my spell pre-test. So let’s get ice cream.

At this point, Tornado A was next to him smiling.

Me: And who’s paying?

Tornado A ran out of the room and ran back with his wallet.

Tornado A: I WILL!!!

He ran out the door. I ran after him.

Me: Wait! We have to eat dinner first! It’s ready in 5 minutes!

Thank goodness I had the keys. I think he would’ve left us all.

Sleepless Nights

My boys, mainly Tornado E, have a hard time sleeping through the night. One, two, or three boy(s) end up in my bed sometime in the night. Before in the last house, it was just annoying. Now it’s difficult because I sleep in a double. Three kids and an adult don’t fit. When this happens, I slip out of bed and crawl into a twin bed in the boys’ room. If I’m lucky, I sleep through the night and wake to my alarm in the next room. I’m rarely that lucky. Usually a boy or two slides into bed with me. The third child is told to sleep in one of the other beds.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a good night-parent. I get grumpy when woken up in the middle of the night.  With a good reason, I become less grumpy. Trying to crawl into my bed is not a good reason to wake me up.

Last night Tornado E was already in my bed, when Tornado A started crying out to me because of a nightmare. When I cuddled with him to make sure he was fine, he asked me to stay. I slid into bed for just a minute when Tornado E entered the room.

Aha! A scheme! I would let Tornado E fall to sleep in his bed; then I would creep back into my own bed to sleep alone. What could go wrong?

An hour of whining, arguing, pleading, Tornado E begged me to return to my bed. Somewhere in the middle of this barrage of craziness at 2:30am, he threatened not to go back to sleep.

Right. That’s it. This was the hill I was dying on tonight. I will not negotiate with terrorists.

He fell asleep. Finally.

Only to wake up 30 minutes later to resume his whining, arguing, pleading, begging-0h-my-god-stop-it! He went on for an hour as I dozed off and on.

Finally Tornado S asked me if he could play video games.

Me: What time is it?

Tornado S: 5.4.5

5-4-5? Right. 5:45.

Me: No. Not until 6:00.

A moment passed.

Tornado S: Can I play video games now?

Me: No. What time is it?

Tornado S: 6.

Me: Yes.

Tornado S and E jumped out of bed.

Me: Except Tornado E. He has to stay in bed until 6:30 because he was up all night.

I left the room before he could start whining.

I really could use a nap.

I’m a Comedian

The ex dropped off the boys after their bedtime. Tornado E was wearing a white shirt. It was an emergency shirt. I never buy white shirts. Because they attract dirt. Tornado E was splattered with chocolate all down his shirt. He still had chocolate stains on the corner of his mouth, dribbling down to his chin.

Tornado E: Mommy, you were right.

Me: Say that again. Hold on; let me get my phone so I can record that.

Tornado E: Mommy, you’re funny. (No, I’m dead serious. I need the proof.) You were right. A brownie fudge sundae is too much to eat.

Me: You look like you’re an undead thing covered in blood.

Tornado E laughed.

Tornado E: I look like I ate chocolate.

Me: Let me take a picture. Don’t wash yet.

I snapped a picture.

Tornado E: Mommy, when you put it online, write, “I didn’t eat your chocolate cake.”

So I typed it into the post. Then I typed, as Tornado E read over my shoulder out loud to his brothers, “Me: Seriously, he looks like the undead covered in gore. But a zombie or a vampire?”

The boys broke into fits of laughter.

Tornado E: Mommy, you’re so funny.

Tornado S: You’re hilarious. (pause) But not as funny as Daddy.

Me: WHAT?! I’m like so much funnier than your Daddy. Like by tons.

The boys laughed more.

Tornado E: No, Daddy is funnier.

Me: Oh my god. Obviously I have been laxed in your comedic education. I’ll have to fix that. Movies. Music. Videos. Because seriously, I am so much funnier than your dad.

The boys: No.

By this time, I was gently pushing them up the stairs.

Me: Yes! And smarter. And prettier. Most definitely taller. And so much younger. So, so much younger.

They kept laughing.

Tornado E: Mommy, you’re hilarious.

Damn straight.

 

Just a Few Skills Needed

The school wants to hold Tornado S back in first grade. Because he’s at all types of at-risk in reading. Because they are all freaked out by this stupid reading test at the end of 3rd grade. Because he’s so immature. Because he’s in the middle of the pack. Because he’s just so non-enthused by school. Because, well, it would do wonders for him.

Except.

He got all A’s and B’s. He was on honor roll all 4 quarters. He is immature, but the kid is still going through a divorce, which included (Surprise!) a new baby sister, another caregiver, a new house, and a custody arrangement changed 3 times in less than a school year. Christ; that’s a lot for a kid to deal with. Besides holding him back won’t mature him; he will be as mature as the kids a year younger than him. He will never be the top of the pack; he’s content to be in the middle. If I held him back, he would just be in the middle of the pack next year. The kid has just a little motivation; he’s content to just be. So really the problem is reading.

And the reading! He had to be with a special tutor. But in the last quarter he started progressing leaps and bounds. Funny how that was when I demanded everyone to make him read 20 minutes a day, not 10. And my mom started working with him because I was working and she started doing his homework with him. She learned he covered up the next word he was about to read. She learned he read better and faster when he sat up and read loud. She learned he started reading a page and noticed the picture several words in and became distracted. Oh, and why didn’t the reading teacher notice these things?

So I’ve been arguing with the teacher and the principal. Next stop is the superintendent. I want to know what their big plan is for an honor student they want to hold back. How will they challenge him? He won’t challenge himself. He’s proven that he, not only knows the curriculum, but exceeds expectations on mastering it. So what’s their plan?

To win this fight, I put Tornado S in private tutoring for reading. I giggled when they told me their tutoring service was geared to get kids to comprehend their reading at top levels. Tornado S’s reading comprehension is amazing, even his teacher admitted that. The private tutoring also focuses on handwriting, which Tornado S needs serious help on because of his poor fine motor skills. I will do whatever it takes to my kids across the finish line. Even if I have to push them across myself.

On his first day, his tutor came out of the workroom to discuss his progress and how well he did. We agreed I didn’t have to grade his homework so tough on the handwriting because of his (for lack of a better word) disability. She laughed at his stubbornness, trying to get out of doing the last worksheet. She then told me he would be right along as soon as he as he picked out his stickers for the day. I assured her it might be a while, and she moved on to speak to another parent in the church-quiet waiting room.

Then Tornado S stormed out of the workroom, banging the door open and into the wall.

The tutor jumped up and ran to him. She showed him how to gently open the door and had him repeat the instruction.

She smiled at me. “Just another skill we offer.”

“HEY! MOMMY! Guess what! I got stickers!”

He slammed the door to the workroom shut.

The tutor’s face took on a look quite close to horror.

I smiled and shrugged. “I’m raising him in a loud family. We were meant to be Vikings. Come on, little dude. Let’s go home.”

I opened the door and ushered him out. Then I gently closed the door behind us.