Friday, October 22, 2010

And now a word about my "other children"

Someone told me while I was pregnant with my daughter, that once I had kids I would hate my pets.  I emphatically denied that this could ever happen.  "They're my babies!"  Fast forward 4 years and I threaten to drop them off at the farm on an hourly basis.

We started off with a cat.  Tom and I both had long commutes and we knew a dog was out of the question.   So, shortly after we moved in our house we adopted Tuna.  As far as I'm concerned she is my favorite pet because while she can be a little needy, she still requires the least maintenance.  Plus, she's the cheapest.   No $150 trips to the groomer every 3-4 months for her.  And despite the fact she has been displaced at total of 4 times by two dogs and two kids, she still rules the roost.

And then there's Taz, a German Shepherd/Norwegian Elkhound mix. Shortly after Tom and I got married, I took a job close to the house, which allowed us to get a dog.  Taz was a farm dog and his former owner passed away.  He was five when we got him and a big ball of fur.  He was gentle and sweet, but seemed a little sad.  We figured he was just upset about the loss of his owner, especially since he immediately took to me.  From then on he became "my boy."

As time went by, his depression never really subsided, so we decided he needed a friend.  After all, what's one more pet, right?  I went to visit my brother in Arizona and got a call from Tom that his sister was bringing over a Husky named Kira, that had belonged to someone in my brother-in-law's family.  They couldn't keep her and was temporarily staying with another family member who kept her outside despite torrential downpours and horrible storms over the last several weeks.  Needless to say by the time I got home from my trip, we had another dog.

B.C. (Before Children) I walked the dogs twice a matter what.  I was like the U.S. Postal Service, come rain, snow, sleet, sub-zero temps at 5 a.m. We would leave parties early to let the dogs out.  We had a hard time leaving them over night and when we had a family member stay with them while we were gone for the weekend, we left a 2-page (both sides) list of instructions.  I ordered special cat treats off of the Internet for Tuna and even went so far as to pay for overnight shipping if standard shipping meant we'd go a day without our precious dehydrated salmon treats.

And then came kids.  With Maddie, we were genuinely concerned about how the animals would adjust to having a baby around.  Tom brought a receiving blanket home from the hospital before she and I got home in order to "prep them."  They didn't seem to care.  When I did get home, Taz was my protector.  He sat next to me while I nursed.  He got up with me in the middle of the night and kept me company while I fed Maddie.  Once I was able to walk the dogs again I did whatever I had to do to walk them twice a day.  I even had my in laws or my neighbors watch Maddie while I took them.  I was committed to making sure the dogs were still taken care of.  Come hell or high water, I was walking the dogs.  Secretly, it was 20 minutes I was guaranteed some alone time and if I was lucky I would catch the sprinkler system at the corner so I could squeeze in a shower at the same time.

Years later and another kid in the mix and all that is out the window. They are lucky if they get walked once a day. I do my best even going so far as putting the kids in the double jogger and take them.  People must think I'm nuts when I am trying to maneuver a giant yellow stroller stocked with two kids and two big dogs that are foaming at the mouth every time they see another dog.  I am surprised no one has sent the Dog Whisperer to my house to save me.

I can only imagine how much cleaner my house would be if it weren't a zoo.  Because the constant presence of toys strewn about and crumbs in my house isn't enough, these animals track in dirt, leaves, grass, mulch and the dog hair!!!  Word to the wise...don't EVER GET A HUSKY!!!  No matter how much I vacuum, there is always hair.  Nothing like trying to feed your baby and find dog hair on their bottle. And it is pretty inconvenient for a person who's wardrobe is 90% black to constantly have fur floating around them. Fortunately, the dogs do offer some assistance in keeping the floor clean at mealtime by eating whatever the kids drop, but I don't know how comforting it is to know the scraps are replaced by their dog spit on my kitchen floor. 

A few weeks ago Taz came inside with a particularly foul odor to him and it occurred to me that somewhere there was a dead animal in our yard or a maimed animal limping around the neighborhood.  He reeked of flesh and blood and looked like whatever animal he got gave him a run for his money.  I immediately put him outside and tried to chase him around the yard with a hose.  He spent the rest of the day either in the garage or in the yard where he barked incessantly.  I was sure the neighbors were going to call the cops on me.  Luckily I was able to put him on his leash and shampoo him in the front yard.  It was a definite improvement, but he still smelled like a combination of cucumber melon and dead bunny.  At least he didn't still have remains on him.

At one point after having the kids, and I was home all day, it occurred to me that 99% of what I did entailed dealing with piss, shit and puke.  The days went something like this: wake up change each kid's diaper.  Let the dogs out.  Feed Colin, clean up his spit up. Introduce a new solid food; clean up the puke from him gagging on it.  Change more diapers.  Scoop the litter box.  Maddie has a cold and coughs so hard at naptime she pukes.  Clean chunks off her bedspread, wash sheets.  Taz eats the fat drippings from the grill comes inside and pukes on the carpet.  Get out the carpet cleaner in an effort to get stain out.  3 days and 4 stain removal products later the carpet is actually cleaner in that one spot than the rest of the carpet. Change diapers. Forget to lock Kira up while we are gone all day and find a pee stain on the carpet.  Get out carpet cleaner and Natures Miracle.  Work on potty training Maddie.  Clean up pee because she didn't get to the potty on time.  Walk dogs.  Pick up poop. Both dogs simultaneously lift pee on the same tree and Taz whizzes on Kira. Come home wipe pee off Kira head up and give kids a bath.  Clean up after Colin poops in the tub. 
At one point when Colin was only about 2 months old, the vet wanted me to collect a fecal sample from the dogs.  Supposedly, it wasn't supposed to touch the ground and the sample had to be less than 12 hours old for them to test.  There were all sorts of issues with this request. First of all, I could barely keep up with the volume of diapers that my human children were producing at the time let alone monitor when the two dogs went and then hold a plastic bag under their ass to catch their poops.  If I happened to be just sitting around the back yard while the dogs were out there, I was likely nursing Colin while Maddie played in her water table.  If I wasn't out there, I'd have to try to see who went when and hope that they both had a B.M. around the same time so I could get it to the vet. Add the fact that I could barely get myself and the kids together to get out of the house to go to the grocery store between feedings and naps, they wanted me to run the fresh crap over to the vet in a timely fashion between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.?  Whatever.  I returned the receptacles that I prepaid for and got my money back hoping for the best.

And the barking, oh, the barking!  Taz will lay around all morning and the moment the kids wake up and I am trying get Maddie to go potty and get Colin's diaper changed he starts barking at me to let him out.  Then as soon as I crack the first egg in the frying pan, he is at the back door again barking to let him in so he doesn't miss a single morsel of dropped food.  They are used to being walked after dinner, so when the last bite of food enters my mouth, as if on cue, they start the barking.  When they don't get walked they get really rambunctious and hump each other.  I thought I was going to have to give my Maddie her first Birds and the Bees talk at age 2, but luckily she just thinks they're dancing.  Taz also barks at us at the same time every night, conveniently right when the kids go to sleep, over nothing. He will also bark at 3 a.m. to go out. Just when I thought my sleepless nights with babies waking up were over, he starts in.

I will say Taz is still my protector.  I recently had a garage sale and since he has worse separation anxiety than my 17 month old, I had to keep him outside with me for two days.  Clearly the idea of strangers coming up to his mommy stressed him out.  I actually took comfort in having him there even though I couldn't even go inside to go to the bathroom without him following me. He loves his mommy and once he even jumped out a screen window in the front of our house when the kids and I were playing outside with the neighbors. We are fairly convinced he is going nuts because he digs giant holes in the backyard and just lays in them and recently started eating the fence in an effort to get out.
In between all that is Colin playing it the dog bowl and eating their dog food.  Followed by the begging, the constant need for attention, the sleeping either on my feet or on my pillow if there happens to be a thunderstorm.  When I go to the bathroom there is a good chance there is either a child, an animal or any combination thereof in there to keep me company.  When we try to all hang out in the evening, the dogs and cat are ever present leaving little room for anyone to get around, especially Colin who we have to constantly monitor to ensure he doesn't fall on one of the dogs and get eaten.  Once the kids are in bed, that is Tuna's time to cuddle on my lap while Kira is next to of the rare times the two girls get along.

Ultimately at the end of the day, I have had so much love and affection from my children and furry friends, it leaves me with little patience for my husband wanting to be near me. Poor Tom. Lucky for him he doesn't shed, bring dead animals in from the yard and above all, I usually don't have to clean up his poop.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I've Become "That Mom"

Recently my daughter started soccer.  The whole experience is pretty entertaining considering the Soccer for Tots class is two grown men trying to teach a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds trying to learn the basics of soccer.  These two guys don't stand a chance.

The class starts with stretching and a general overview of a few things to remember.
1) No pushing, shoving or biting.
2) Listen carefully to what the coaches tell you.
3) No hands unless you are the goalie.

This if followed by sprints up and down the gymnasium.  Maddie has this one down.  She is used to running mindlessly back and forth, which is one of the reasons we thought soccer might be the sport for her.

Once they get this down, they move on to dribbling the ball up and down the gym.  Maddie is psyched because she gets a ball with pink hearts and princess crowns.  She is remarkably coordinated at running while kicking a ball despite she is my offspring.  Trapping the ball with her foot without using her hands?  Not so much.  She uses her hands to place the ball under her foot but at least she is can balance on one foot with the other on the ball without falling over...also a small miracle based on the fact she's my kid.

Then things get a little hairy.  The kids are asked to split up in to two teams and form a line.  Each one takes turns shooting a goal while another is goalie.  The coaches tell the kids to sit and wait their turn, but instead a game of Duck, Duck Goose ensues.  In a later drill, I catch Maddie flirting with 3 boys while waiting in line.  Now, that is my daughter.

Finally, the two teams face off in a scrimmage and that is where the coaches really lose all control of the situation.  The kids have to transition from having their own ball to all having to go after one single ball.  Most kids immediately gravitate towards the big bag of balls on the sidelines to get their own.  The kids who are really into it end up practically killing each other to get the ball. I now understand why the first rule the coach mentions is no pushing, shoving or biting. Kids start dropping like flies and run off crying towards their moms waiting on the sideline.

And then there is my daughter.  She runs up and down the gym waving at me like a beauty queen in a parade as she goes by.  Then she finds a friend on the other team and instead of focusing on the ball, she wants to hold her new friend's hand as they run.  Finally, she completely loses interest and starts doing pirouettes in the middle of the game as she sings to herself. 

I find myself calling out to her "Get in the game!" or "Go get the ball!"  "Come on Maddie! FOCUS!"  As if she is playing in front of a scout who wants to offer her a full ride.  And that is when I realize; I've become "That Mom." Yes, I drive a minivan, so the Soccer Mom jokes are a given.  I haven't given in and gotten the sticker to put on my back window, but the fact that I am stressing out about my 3 year old daughter’s lack of focus (an oxymoron in and of itself) proves I have issues.

Eventually she gets tired and comes over and sits on my lap.  "Mom, let's go home."  I explain that her team is depending on her to play with them and she needs to get out there or she won't get a sticker at the end of class.  Her response? "Yes I will." And she's right, because no matter what she will get one and the hilarity of the whole thing sets in. 

In the car on the way home she says she tells me doesn't want to go back next week.  I explain that she can't quit.  "We are Stien's and Stien's don't quit." (Did I really say that?  You bet) I ask if after soccer is over if she would rather take dance class and she perks up.  I realize I have only just begun a long journey in parenting.  When they say "pregnancy is the easy part, wait until they are born"...they aren't kidding.  Cooking her for 9 months was a cakewalk.  That was creating a life, now I am responsible for creating a person.

I don't want to force her to do things she doesn't want to, but I also want to teach her discipline.  Soccer could very well be her thing because despite the fact that she is a "baby kitty cat," and prances around in princess shoes 99% of the time, she is very athletic. Her lack of interest and focus as a 3 year old may ruin her chances of winning MVP of Soccer for Tots, but that doesn't mean we should avoid having her start now.  Or are we pushing her?  If we give up now, she may miss out on an opportunity down the line?  And then there is the issue of sticking to something and not giving up. Are these all things she is just too young for us to worry about?  I think it is never too soon to instill good values. I also want her to know that being active is important, but don't want to give her a complex.

And the sport thing is only the tip of the iceberg.  It has occurred to me that things I never really gave much thought to could permanently damage my kid if I approach them incorrectly.  Going to church, yelling at the driver in front of me, stressing out and yelling at my husband and even making fun of people.  They hear it ALL (seems to be a theme in my blogs?) and now I realize more than ever my actions end up becoming a carbon copy on my little creation. 

And same goes for my competitive edge.   It is truly a part of who I am, but I have to remember that I was never an All Star in any sport, even in high school, let alone preschool.  I found my niche in theatre and speech in high school and it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I started running.  All I can do is set an example by my actions and LEAD the kids rather than push them and know that no matter what, they are watching and listening to the examples I set.

As for Soccer for Tots, we'll close this chapter in 2 weeks when the class ends.  We'll sign her up for dance and see what happens.  My bet is she will enjoy staring at herself in the mirror,  just like her mom.