Ariel worked harder than I knew was possible for her to do as she and Jeff put up the new pool. It's much bigger than the old one, though, so they had to clear and level the ground first, and it was a procedure that took all day and went well into the night.
Unfortunately, Jeff has to work today, so it's not going to be ready for swimming until later today, if at all. Ari clearly missed that message last night at 10:30 pm when we ate dinner (pizza from Domino's ... I love gift cards!).
I woke this morning to Ari gently shaking me. She was holding her sister, who was dressed, which should have been a clue (I vaguely remembered Jeff waking up at just past seven, lamenting that he didn't have time to take a shower or he'd be late for work, and I quickly realized that he would not have had time to dress the baby).
"I wanted to let you sleep in," Ari said apologetically, "but Gabby's hungry."
Indeed she was, and while I fed her, Ari sat next to me, strumming like a tensed wire. I finally asked, "So, what are you up to?"
"Do you think we can start putting water in the pool?"
Hmm. No big surprise. "It's not that easy, honey. We have to put in an inch to start and make sure there are no leaks, then we have to actually fill it, then the whole shock and chemical thing."
"So can we go do that?"
"We have to wait until Jeffie get home from work He mentioned doing the leak-checking if he comes home at lunchtime, but we'll have to wait and see."
With a patented teenage eye roll, she said, "That makes no sense at all. We can put an inch of water into pool and check for leaks."
"And what do we do if there's a leak?"
That stymied her. "Patch it?"
"Do you know how to do that? I sure don't."
At about that moment, Gabrielle decided that she wanted to express her displeasure with life. She started screaming like crazy.
Gabrielle is generally an extremely happy baby.
When she screams like that, it generally means she is either hungry, tired, or needs a diaper change. When she is upset, she shrieks and cries these huge tears. If you don't know Gab, it's pretty disconcerting; fortunately, it's pretty easy to figure out what she wants.
Since I knew she wasn't hungry (she'd just finished nursing) or tired (she hadn't been awake for long after over twelve hours of sleep), I figured I'd change her diaper. I asked Ari if she would bring a diaper in for me.
"Would you bring a diaper in, please?"
When she came into my room, she had a diaper with her, so I knew she'd heard me all the time. I thanked her and started changing Gabby, who really didn't need to be changed but was screaming nonetheless.
"Can I go outside and ride my bike, please?"
Gabby's screams get, if anything, louder, and huge tears were rolling down her cheeks.
"No, honey, not right now."
I tried to convince Gabby to take her pacifier, and in the brief moment of silence, Ari asked, "Why not?"
"Because I need your help with other things today."
"But I have soooooooooooooo much energy I have to get out."
Gabby started wailing again as I said, "So does Howard. Why don't you take him outside and play ball with him?"
She groaned. "Do I have to?"
"He's your puppy, Ari. It's your responsibility to make sure he gets enough exercise."
"I'll do it after I ride my bike."
"You'll do it now, please."
"Come on, Howard," she grumbled, leading the excited dog through the house and then slamming the door on their way out. It got Gabby shrieking even more, which I hadn't thought possible.
I carried Gabrielle, still screaming, into the bathroom. I happened to look out the window and watched Howard bringing his ball over to Ari, dropping it at her feet, and looking at her expectantly. I also watched her walk away from him each time and sit in one of the patio chairs.
I called her inside, and we had words. Gabby screamed the whole time, and I started getting a pretty terrible headache.
I finally told Ariel that she had lost the pool for today. She started crying, realized that any further words from her in addition to Gabrielle yelling into my ear and flinging herself all around, and gave herself a time-out downstairs in her playroom, where she read a chapter of her book.
Gabby was still going hot and heavy when Ari came up twenty minutes later and apologized.
I said that was fine and I appreciated her apology. "Can I take Howard out?" she asked.
"Of course, thank you," I replied. She took Howard outside and played actively with him.
I still couldn't figure out what was wrong with Gabby, so I tried feeding her again (not interested) and changing her diaper, which there was no need of.
Ari and Howard came back in around this time. "Why is she screaming?" Ari asked.
I told her I wasn't sure and explained that it was probably time to give her some Tylenol and a full body look-over because the obvious answers weren't panning out.
I gave her the Tylenol then put her back down on the floor. Ari sat next to me, and I explained to her (because she likes kids and is probably going to be doing a lot of babysitting in a couple of years) how if you go through every single body part and area systematically, you can sometimes find things you might miss.
"Like what?" she asked.
I told her about the time when she was a baby and she was just inconsolable. Like Gabby, she was a pretty mellow baby, so I knew something was wrong. I finally took her feet out of the outfit, and a string was wrapped around one of her toes, cutting off the circulation.
"Was I okay?" she asked, very concerned
"Do you have all ten of your toes?" I replied.
"So what's wrong with Gabby?"
I had finished my examination and could find nothing wrong with The Gabs. I did, however, notice that Howard was chewing on something in that way he does where you know he's trying to be stealthy. It was the dispenser for Gabby's Tylenol, so I asked Ari if she would hold her sister so I could grab it.
Howard gave it up happily--he knew damn well he wasn't supposed to be chewing on it--and I washed it quickly and went back to Gabby, who was now lurching herself in strange directions while Ari tried to hold her.
I took her from Ari, put her pacifier in her mouth, and started rocking her. I was pretty sure that she was crying because she is teething and shared that information with Ari.
"You know what I was just thinking about?" Ari said. This is a common--and dangerous--preface for an Ariel dissertation. "You know how, in The Grinch song, it says he has termites in his smile? He doesn't HAVE a smile ... I mean, he's the Grinch, right? I mean, come on!"
She kept prattling on about the Grinch and Gab kept fussing, so I decided it would be a good time to go to Walgreens to get formula and toilet paper. I figured Gabby would fall asleep in the car (she often does) and Ari might actually stop talking for a minute if I put music on.
The trip was moderately successful. Gabrielle enjoys shopping, so she was chilled out even though she was awake. Ari kept talking, but I pretty much half-listened and she didn't seem to mind and/or notice. When we got home, she helped me unload our purchases then took Howard out. Gabby had--miracle of miracles--fallen asleep in the car, so I had a couple of moments of blessed silence
Because I wanted to be sure not to wake Gabby up at any cost, I pretty much sat at the kitchen table with her asleep in her seat in front of me and read my Facebook newsfeed.
And I was disturbed as hell.
I try not to judge, I really do, but sometimes I am appalled. I hesitate to write this because I don't want to "out" anyone specific that might be reading this, so I'm keeping it general.
* "Thank God my parents took the kids for Fathers Day. John and I really needed some time alone. It's not like we couldn't have done this some other weekend, one that wasn't set away for fathers and their kids."
* "My kid is refusing to walk at graduation. This hurts me so much. I really wish I'd stood up to her when she was 6 months old and refused to sleep in a crib; since I didn't, she has known that she can push me around."
* "I am going to move in with a guy I've been dating for a month. He lives in a tiny trailer, but I don't have custody of my kids anyway, so it's not like they'll be over a lot. I'll definitely see them less, though, because I spend all my free time with my new boyfriend."
* "Can someone watch my kid next Friday night? There's this amazing party planned, and I haven't gotten to go out in over a week because of the kid. Pleeeeeeeeease help me out. I'm only 19, and I deserve to have fun once in awhile."
* "My baby won't stop screaming. I am seriously going to go put her out in the car because it's the only way she'll fall asleep. I'll just take a little nap so I can rest up, and I'll run the AC, so it's not like she won't be safe."
* "I can't believe Susy's science teacher gave her a D in Science. I mean, what is wrong with that teacher? She's going to lose her athletic eligibility because of that stupid teacher. And when I went in to complain, he had the audacity to tell me that Susy is in high school now and should be increasingly responsible for herself. I think HE's an irresponsible schmuck. Also, he told me that I should take time out of my busy life to look at her grades posted online. What the hell is it with teachers these days? He wants ME to keep track of her grades? Isn't that HIS job?"
So I went back through my morning in my mind, how I'd taken Ari's pool privileges away, how I'd taken the kids on a car ride to keep the one with diarrhea of the mouth quiet for five minutes and the one too tired to sleep to drift into a nap, how I'd never really figured out what was wrong with Gabby and how Ari was very clearly trying to get back into my good graces so maybe her punishment would be rescinded.
And that's when I realized that I am not a perfect parent ... but my kids are always, always, my top priority. I even texted Emily to say hi since I hadn't talked to her for a couple of days and I missed her. Having Gabby asleep on the table in front of me was boring; I craved her sweet toothless smile.
Why would anybody spend time and energy on Facebook bitching about their kids on a regular basis, or making it very clear through Facebook statuses that you are putting a guy that's pretty much a stranger to you before your kids, or showing over and over in so many ways that your kids are not a priority to you?
I'm not going to lie. My kids drive me apeshit sometimes. That is not something I would generally publicize, though, and I certainly wouldn't consistently complain about them on Facebook (or anywhere else) or make very clear that my thoughts are on this guy I just started dating instead of on my kids.
Sometimes I think I must be very unusual. I would rather spend time with my kids than anyone else.
One of these days, Ari is going to stop talking to me. She is going to think I'm lame, or she'll be at a point where she doesn't want to confide what she's doing to me. And Emily will sometimes go a day or more without texting, and it hurts my heart (I know she's busy and that's a stupid thing to be sad about, but I can't help it). And I feel terrible guilt if I go out before putting Gabby to bed because we have a routine; she is saying "Mama", after all, and that confirms to me that my place is being there for my children.
Why is it so unusual for me to prefer the company of my kids to anyone, including private and alone time with my husband, my friends, and my family as well?
I know intellectually that I'm not the only one that feels this way, that a lot of people reading my Facebook this morning would have been equally disgusted.
I guess it just saddens me that people are so willing to publicly state their apathy, their disinterest, their preference for others, when it comes to their kids.
One of Emily's friends once said to her, "Your mother is so nice. Does she every get mad?"
Emily started laughing and said, "Oh my God, you should see her when nobody else is around. She just believes in keeping personal business personal."
How you feel about your kids is personal. It's one of those things that, if remotely negative, should be talked about to a therapist or a close friend but never, never trumpeted on Facebook. After all, if a mother is talking about her new boyfriend on Facebook all the time and never mentioning her kids, the truth of the matter is probably even deeper and those kids are feeling a huge void, whether their mother realizes it her not, because she is now absent from their hearts as well as much of their lives.
I decided to write this post at about this point and asked for feedback on my Facebook wall.
I got some interesting responses ...
"It's sad...and happens so often. My HS kids crave adult attention!"
" Um yeah talk to my ex Sister in Law who completely 100% told her kids have a nice life and then got married. Hasn't even seen her 1st grandkid who will be 1 next month....."
"it is something that breaks my heart. These same parents are usually the most harsh to judge our homeschooling, kid-centered family. Which is interesting because I just feel bad for them - that they have beautiful kids who they don't enjoy - what part of them is broken and needs healing? I've seen this a lot w/respect to addictions. I really just pray that their hearts and spirits will be healed and they will be able to step into engaged parenthood fully for everyone's sake."
"I totally respect people who make the decision to not have children. Whatever the reason - it's very important to go into having children w/ clear intention if at all possible. (Not discounting many parents I know who are awesome who were...surprised... and have risen to the occasion.) And when society puts on a lot of pressure to have kids - it takes a lot to withstand it."
"Find the balance...question your motives...ask a true friend for honest perspective...get quiet and listen to your gut! I could go on and on...I was told that I was a good mother because I wondered if I was a good mother...I still wonder if I was/am..."
"I knew I could never handle children especially is this day and age. So many rules of what u can and can't do so many opinions. My feeling is u walk into schools in this time and u see how the kids behave. And u walk into a school 20 or 30 years ago and see how things have changed. You tell me if physical discipline is wrong. I got physically disciplined and there's nothing wrong with me."
While I was reading through some of these, Ari and Howard came bounding back into the house, slamming the door behind them. Naturally, Gabby woke up. Screaming.
Ari was in a great mood, though, and Howard had obviously been well-exercised. I took Gab out of her seat and brought her over to the blanket on the floor where we change her. She stopped screaming and smiled a bit at me.
Then she made a weird grunting, animalistic noise.
"Gabby, you sound like a constipated horse!" Ari yelled, and we both started giggling madly because that's exactly what she sounded like.
My kids--all three of them--make me laugh harder than anybody, smile more widely than anyone, and enjoy life so much more than another person every could.
Based on what I saw on Facebook today, this is not the norm.
Am I nuts ... or are those other parents, the ones that openly attack or blatantly ignore their kids?
I'd love to get your thoughts on this. As a teacher, it's an area that haunts me.