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.

Vacation Recap

The weekend of the wedding began our fall break. I did a mini-vacation with the boys.

  1. Highways make the drive so much smaller. But you get to see interesting things.
  2. The Salton Sea is creepy, isolated, stinky, and creepy. I’ve got to do more research on it. Tornado E said it was something out of his nightmares.
  3. My body reminded me that I’m no longer 21 and can’t eat fast food several days in a row. Next time I’ll save more money for real restaurants.
  4. Tornado S left his toys, books, and DVD choices in Tucson. We discovered this 45 mins out of town. I decided to buy all the boys a toy and Tornado S a DVD at Walmart in California.
  5. It’s so awesome to see, hang out, and catch up with old friends. It was so sad not to have more time to hang out longer.
  6. Everyone reads every day. Those are the rules.
  7. Tornado A was thrilled to share a bed with me.
  8. I think I can do this single parent thing on vacation. I just need more money. Like a lot more. I’m not greedy, just really, really poor.
  9. When we got home, we still had several days together. So we did the zoo, worked on Cub Scout stuff, and worked on school work.
  10. Tornado S likes being dragged across the finish line of school work. He fails to realize how much he’s missing. Like movies and crafts. And ice cream.
  11. Tornado E built a fire and grilled hot dogs and bratwurst for dinner one night. For Cub Scouts. With Papi’s supervision.
  12. Tornado A has a new baby. A baby narwhale. Because it was the closet thing he could find to a unicorn at Walmart. It joins the baby unicorn, the tiny baby unicorn, the mountain lion cub, and the leopard cub. So cute.
  13. We have decided on Halloween costumes.
  14. I filled everyone’s tummy with fruits and vegetables to make up for the 5 days of fast food.
  15. After 9 days with the boys, it was hard to let their dad take them.

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.

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.

I will not surrender

My boys don’t want to go camping. Are you kidding me? They don’t like bugs. They’re afraid of snakes. Leave it to Tornado E to figure out which snakes are native to the area and how poisonous they are. For Christ’s sakes, they’re in Cub Scouts. I had been camping for years by Tornado E’s age. Really? No camping?

Fine. So I came up with a plan. Picnics. Hikes. In the mountains. I will start slow. I will convince them.

Only it took a couple months to put my plan into action. Monday. Hell or high water, I was going to take the kids picnicking and hiking on the nearest mountain.

Life is ironic.

As par for the course, we headed out later than I planned. I wasn’t really thinking the night before, so my prep was off. I didn’t research the hiking trails. Hell, I spent summers running wild on that mountain. I didn’t pack the night before. Pssht, piece of cake; I’ve done this before. I’ll wing it.

Never wing it.

I forgot a few things, so after a stop at the Cub Scout council for books and wonderment, we returned home, which was on the way. Everyone had to pee first, and then off we went.

Hold up. I forgot caffeine. Just a quick stop at a drug store to grab some soda.

Off we went.

Just as we hit the mountain base, I saw a sign, flashing, “NO CAMPFIRES! NO CHAR-COAL! NO CAMPFIRES!”

Oh for the love of God, if I had known, I would’ve picked up fried chicken or sandwiches instead of bring hot dogs and marshmallows. And char-coal and lighter fluid. Maybe it isn’t meant for grills. Maybe the sign is old. I mean, it’s rained a couple of days in a row up there.

Then we passed the fire danger sign. “EXTREMELY HIGH!” Oh sonofabitch! So much for earning cooking-outdoor patches. Also will the boys eat cold hot dogs? They barely swallow hot hot dogs.

A few more turns up the mountain went by before I remembered FEES. Oh crap. Did I have enough for fees? I turned into an observation site and scrounged through the emergency coinage and the ash tray and my wallet. 5 bucks was secured.

It was about this time that Tornado S started complaining about heights and fear. He wanted to turn back. Another few curves and Tornado A was joined him in his whining.

Since the fees were self-pay, I debated paying. What were the odds I would be caught if we were there only for a couple of hours? Then I remembered I was poor and a ticket would ruin my month as in electricity or ticket. So I paid the five backs, jamming the envelop filled with change into the slot.

Tornado S asked what took me so long.

A mile later, it was lightly raining.

A mile later, it was raining.

A mile later, it was pouring with visibility cut dramatically.

Have I mentioned this was my first time driving up the mountain? Usually I go with my parents, and my dad drives because he more or less grew up on that mountain. The other times I was with the Ex who grew up on a mountain and complained that I couldn’t mountain drive for anything. Dude, I grew up in a valley. So, yeah, I had something to prove.

The boys were a little freaked out and excited. I uncovered the sun roof, so they could watch the rain. Tornado E was worried about the day’s activities. I assured him that if it was raining in one part of the mountain, it didn’t mean it was raining in another part.

Only it was. It rained all the way to the top. It rained as we drove through the town. It rained when we got to the picnic and hiking spot. By rain, it poured. I could barely see a car length in front of me.

Tornado E: Mommy, why are we here?

I parked the car. Soaked hikers scrambled into cars. We made it.

Me: I was determined to get us here.

I opened the car door and stepped out into the downpour. I made it. And Christ, that was cold.

I jumped back into the car.

Tornado S: Now what? I’m hungry.

Tornado A: I’m hungry too!

Tornado E: Mommy, what are we going to do?

The sky flashed. Thunder rolled. The boys screamed.

Seriously, people, thunder too? I’m sure I was promised certain things when I had boys. Like I would never have to kill a bug again. Not so much. And I, girl who used to sit on top of her Bronco to watch storm come in and overhead, had boys afraid of thunder.

Me: Give me a second.

I couldn’t afford to take them to the restaurants. But I could take them to the general store. Perhaps I could buy sandwiches or cheese or something.

I started the car and turned back on the tiny mountain road. Then it started hailing. It stopped short of blanketing the ground.

We made it to the general store. The boys asked for an umbrella. I found one, and I climbed out. The sky flashed with thunder on its heals. Ok, no one is holding a lightning rod on my watch. I ushered the boys out of the car and across the parking lot in freezing rain.

The store was filled with touristy souvenirs and touristy-priced necessities. It was crowded with breakable objects. My boys were tired and hungry, spring-loaded with energy. Not a good combination. They whined and begged, and I was patient, listening to their demands and deflecting as quickly as I could. I couldn’t bring myself to buy $2.50 Lunchables, so I committed to the plan of cold hot dogs. I bought the boys rock candy and homemade fudge. I ushered them out to the porch to debate my options.

I had to feed the boys soon. I couldn’t waste this day. I couldn’t let this trip go bust. The storm was letting up. I looked over at my SUV with its way way back. I had an idea.

After the boys had a little fudge, I loaded everyone back into the car. I drove out of town and down the mountain just a mile to a picnic spot that I had planned on stopping at on our way out. It had amazing bunch of rocks to climb and scramble over. I parked the car overlooking the hills and trees.

Me: All right, boys. We’re going to eat lunch in the car. Who wants to go in the back? Who wants to sit in their seats?

They all wanted to sit in their seats, so I unbuckled Tornado A. I got out of the car and opened the back hatch. I moved things around. I moved supplies into the front seat. I started making lunch with the hatch protecting me from the sprinkling.

Me: Who wants what on their hot dogs?

Tornado E: Mustard.

Tornado S: I don’t want any.

Me: That’s all we have, so you’ll have to go hungry.

Tornado S: Fine. Ketchup and mustard.

Tornado E: Me too. But, Mommy, how are we going to cook them?

Me: They’re cooked. Just cold. Nana used to make your uncles and me cold hot dog sandwiches all the time. In fact, the Friendly Giant loves hot dog sandwiches.

Tornado A: Me too. Ketchup on mine!

Me: (as I began fixing hot dogs) You know, it would be easier to share the box of cheese crackers if you were all back here.

They all scrambled over. I opened the box of crackers, and they dove in as I fixed hot dogs. I passed out lemonade. I handed out hot dogs as I made them. We ate happily listening to the rain and the thunder.

Me: When everyone is done, we still have more fudge. We have marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers.

Tornado E: Cold s’mores!

I passed out the fudge and marshmallows.

Tornado E: We should ask Grandma to make rocky road fudge.

Me: We should! Ok, everyone, we need to hit the bathrooms before we leave.

So I marched them in the sprinkling rain to the outhouses. The boys were horrified by the smell and the concept of peeing in a whole.

Then I decided a little walk to the rocks wouldn’t hurt. We were already there. We picked up pretty rocks. We scrambled up the boulders to get a good view. I took pictures. They splashed in puddles. We walked back to the car.

Tornado E: Can we come again? When it’s not raining?

Me: Yes.

Tornado S: Can we bring fried chicken next time?

Me: Yes.

Tornado A: I want to cook hot dogs!

Me: We can do that too.

Tornado E: Next time we come during monsoon season, I’m bringing a jacket and pants.

Me: Well, I thought the storm would hit in the afternoon as they usually do. I figured we would beat it home.

Tornado E: (noticing the rain was nearly stopped) Too bad we didn’t come earlier.

I loaded everyone back in the car, and we headed down the mountain.

Things Proven:

  1. The boys can like being in the mountain.
  2. They like picnics and are willing to try hiking.
  3. I can drive up and down a mountain without killing anyone.
  4. With a little determination, I can turn a potentially bad situation around.

Luckily, I’m a pretty determined girl.