Fumes, Frothing - Just Can't Laugh Yet

I put the boys to bed at 6:45 tonight because I am done for the day. They were tired - haven't heard a peep out of them, but wow, what a day. So here I am again. Therapy. We've gone back to that purpose for blogging.

My husband loves to watch, "The Office." He says he likes it mostly because there is no "laugh track" - no audience cue to laugh at a punch line or funny situation. The writers just leave you to think for a minute, until you go, "Ha! That was ridiculously funny!" then bust up laughing of your own accord. Life doesn't have a laugh track, either, and sometimes I wish it did, because I have the hardest time thinking for a minute about some things that arise, then being able to laugh at them like I probably should.

On Wednesday, I came upstairs to use the bathroom. When I came out, the phone rang and it was David letting me know he was on the way home, then as I hung up the phone, I HAD to check on the WFMW comment situation. These three items of business took seven minutes, tops, away from the hooligans known as my children. When I came downstairs again, there was DESITIN all over Henry’s face, all over Calvin’s belly and the back side of his underwear (he had apparently disrobed while I was “away” as well), all over the side table, up the wall, in handprints all over some photos on the wall, on the arms of my Amish rocking chair, all over the box of diaper wipes, and a couple spots on a blanket and an armchair. Oh, and in between all twenty little boy fingers and under their fingernails.

I will say that I lost it. I did. What were they thinking? I never leave diaper cream within reach, but Calvin for sure knows it’s a “no-no,” even if it was Henry who first discovered it on the edge of the counter. White, water proof gunk turned body paint EVERYWHERE, and I was seeing red. I am not a yeller, but I yelled. At Calvin, mostly. Sent him up to his room while I snatched paper towels off the roll, trying to get the biggest chunks of gunk off of everything. He started up the stairs doing his wind-up to a wounded cow wail as I yelled, “You know this is not something to play with. It’s medicine! For sore bums! Not a toy! What made you think it was OK to smear bum cream all over the table? All over the wall? All over yourself? All over my rocking chair…?” And just then he stopped his crying and said with a little too much sarcasm for a three-year-old, "It's on the TeeeVeeee, too, Mom." At which point I whirled from my cleaning fury to find the picture on the TV screen indiscernible because of the white blur literally COVERING it. Girls, I came unglued. Mostly inside, I was just seething, frothing, wrestling with a head-popping Pandora's box of parenting frustration.

I am not an anti-mess clean freak, really. I have learned that life with boys constitutes some level of messiness. But this was different than the kind of mess you expect when you give them play-doh or finger paints or a bowl of spaghetti or let them play in the sandbox. This was nonsense, and semi-destructive, time-consuming to clean up, and annoying.

I was almost over it, I thought, and then today I naively believed I could take a shower, only to come out to find the house smelling like the cheap anti-bacterial soap I bought a while back on sale - hate it, hardly use it because the smell nauseates me, Henry found it under the sink in the other bathroom. Once again, I walked downstairs with the smell getting stronger and stronger, and found Calvin hiding his face in the corner of the couch, refusing to answer any questions. He finally indicated the HUGE puddle of stinking, head-aching soap pumped out on the TV cabinet and said, "Henry brought it down here." And the Pandora's box burst open with a plethora of thus far unanswerable questions...

1. Do pre-2-year-olds think, all day long, "As soon as she heads for the bathroom or upstairs, I'm going for the bum cream/soap pump. Gotta keep my eye out. Gotta move fast..."?! I think so. I really do. They plot and scheme. They KNOW the no-no's and do them anyway, just when Mom thinks it's OK to clean herself up for the day.

2. Are my kids going to be damaged forever because I yelled? I really. Yelled. And it's getting more frequent. Some people don't consider yelling to be that bad, I hope it's not that bad, but I despise yelling - not just doing it, but being around it, or on the receiving end of it. It's ineffective, unhelpful and not how I want my kids to remember me. So I'm feeling a little guilty and anxious. On top of being out of Desitin and nauseated by the fumes of nasty soap.

3. Am I expecting too much of Calvin? Even though Henry is the one who got the stuff out both times, Cal knows what is up, he knows more or less what "we" don't mess with. So I got after him a lot more for the senseless messes than I did Henry, even though he wasn't the one who "started it." This is the trickiest part of having boys so close in age, I think. I excuse a lot that Henry does because he is not two yet, and I figure that he is still in the "you-have-to-tell-me-NO-four-hundred-times-before-it-registers" phase, but I am pretty sure that Cal considers him equal in expectations, since they are about the same size and they talk amongst themselves just fine. It's tricky to explain to a 3-year-old why he is in more trouble for knowing better when in his mind Henry also knows better.

4. Can I really not ever leave them alone for five minutes until they are ten or something? Or even then? Will I ever arrive at a perfect state of child-proofedness? Or do I just have to resign myself to finding some kind of sheisty mess every time I "leave" to go pee?

5. But how many times do I need to learn that one-on-one interaction prevents the mischief? I looked back over both situations and realized that it wasn't just the five minutes of bathroom time that opened the opportunity to make a mess - it was being busy and occupied all morning long with chores and stuff and not directing their activity meaningfully. Not that every minute has to be programmed out, but I really believe kids need direction and when they feel like they haven't had it, they try new "tricks." Which may, in part, answer question #1. But sheesh. I can't be that purposeful 24/7. And I'm busy. Why isn't being "present" enough to prevent aggravating messes for the five minutes I am not present?

6. And why is there not an OSHA manual for cleaning up messes like these? Directions for getting bum cream out of upholstery? Cleaning thick gooey puddles and eradicating fumes of antibacterial soap? I really believe there should be a yellow-suited army like on Monsters, Inc. that you call to come clean these things up. We mothers need an evac plan like that and trained professionals who will come rectify preschooler disasters, experiments and just plain naughty messes. Oh, and to isolate the forgotten sippy cups that once contained chocolate milk and now contain a mutant form of cottage cheese: Seal them in a dome and blow the crap out of them so that we don't have to wash them or even feel slightly guilty for tossing them in the garbage because we don't want to wash them.

Sometimes, it is just more than I can process. I don't really know what I am doing, and more and more it seems that everything boils down to picking your battles (after calming down) and remembering the four hated words of my parenting experience thus far: "It's just a phase." GRRR.

I know that because it is a phase that someday I'll get over it and be able to laugh about this. "The Office" doesn't have a laugh track, but I think I'll borrow a parenting philosophy from the manager on the show:

"Do I want them to love me, or fear me? Both. I want them to be afraid of how much they love me."

That line cracks me up almost as often as "Shake me up, Judy!" Which, incidentally, may just be what I need to say every time I come downstairs to discover another "no-no" squished, poured or smeared around my living room.


the lizness said...

The only thing they have to fear is fear itself. Or something like that.

Just step back. breathe. you can either laugh about it or cry about it, is my motto when things go wrong. But then I don't have kids, so maybe I'm wrong?

Just remember how bloggable it is and take a picture next time, forgoodnesssake Traci.

Anonymous said...

Antibacterial hand soap, eh?!? Well I never did like that soap, so I guess he did us a favor in the long run. Just think how clean the TV cabinet is now. Not a bacterium is sight!

Code Yellow Mom said...

I can't believe the camera didn't even come to mind. That's how irritated I was. But you are right, Tess - taking a picture and posting it would have made things better - I would be laughing right now. See, blogging is therapy! I will remember to take a photo today when something like it happens, as it undoubtedly will.

Husband, did you see the paper chain?

I also forgot to add the part of my story where I was worried Henry had EATEN Desitin (what happens when your child's throat and tummy are zince-oxided?), and that the soap was only milliseconds away from being in eyes. They could have been hurt. I did think of that, in the midst of my seething. I think it made me even more mad, but I did think of it!

Nettie said...

That brought back lots of memories: the gallon of vegetable oil on the rug, the black permanent marker all over the homemade easter dress, the chocolate syrup all over the house, the tv painted entirely white with latex paint. The typical lore of family legend. Of course, this may be a blessing in disguise for you. Now you have blackmail material on them. Whenever they complain about having a chore that requires them to clean up after someone else, you will only have to raise your eyebrows and say, "Desitin." (Hope you are having a better day!)

utmommy said...

I'm sorry to hear you had such a bad day. However, I also laughed a little. Not at you, but at the situation. I have been in several of those and am sure there will be several more to come. Lipstick, literally covering the bathroom. Paint poured all over the garage, and then played in. Vaseline everywhere. Gum in the hair (which my son was so afraid that he would be "busted", so he pulled it out, which resulted in a bald spot on the back of the head - still there). And, I know exactly how you feel about the yelling thing. I hate it!! I hate doing it. I'm really trying not to, but in situations like this I really really have to try. This to shall pass!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

I'm convinced they lie in wait so as to blindside the unsuspecting mom and to see just how far her jugulars will pop out!

My kids have done almost every conceivable misdeed in those few moments when we thought it was safe. Most memorable: calling 9-1-1 while I took a nap, and "keying" the car with a dart while I was doing yardwork (Don't ask me why we had real, sharp darts?).

Oh, to have had a digital camera for those moments where the bottom lip was hanging out about two feet when they realized the error of their ways. Or to have taken a picture of the police officer that showed up at our door! Whoops.

Take heart. I have totally "lost it" with my kids more times than I care to admit. Seems like when Daddy's gone it's the one-two punch (They miss him and so they act up; I miss him and that makes me more tired and distracted). My kids know now that I'll soon be coming in to apologize, once the jugulars return to their normal size in my neck (My daughter tells me my nose turns red when I'm upset - how humiliating is that?).

Kids are such marvelous forgivers. Some of the sweetest times we've had together have been when I've come to them and said, "I blew it. Please forgive me." It's very humbling, but maybe that's a side of me they need to see more often.


Gina Conroy said...

I totally feel your frustration and understand what you're going through. With four kids you'd think I'd learn a thing or two, but it seems to have gotten worse with the last one. To keep her busy while I take a shower I usually pop in a video in my bedroom so I can keep her close and check on her when I'm getting ready.

Oh and the Desitin thing, my daughter got into that as well, but the worse by far was when my son got into his dirty diaper and finger painted himself in his crib right before we were headed out on vacation.:0

Angela said...

I really wanted to comment on this, but I wrote a big long comment and went to publish and noticed it was about to publish under my friend's name, as I am at her house, using her computer. That will just not do. But I think you got some great advice/tips/support here. I'd just like to second some. "Take a picture forgoodnesssakes" is particularly funny to me. I also agree that it's the "1-2 punch" with Dad being gone. Plus, it was the day of, particularly emotional/stressful. And it's okay you yelled---it's fortunate for your children you aren't a yeller, but you also aren't showing them an unrealistic view of the world---people sometimes yell. :) In addition to my own, very rare yelling, I just "let" my children hear the other drivers on the road yelling when I cut them---I mean, pass.
Oh yeah, my last comment mentioned my amusement with David's comment "traveling edition" and your comment, addressing him as Husband. You both are nutty and hilarious.
He sure is a silver-lining kind of guy. Now I know why you'll miss him. :)

The Amazing Trips said...

How did I miss this, originally?? It is a brilliant post from beginning to desitin covered end!!

Oh, but I wish you could come spend a day at my house sometime. You would see that you are not alone.

I've given up on showering unless I KNOW children are sleeping. And for any bathroom trip that will be longer than 2 minutes >> they come with me. Even now!!