Category Archives: I Love Those Darn Kids

Two Siblings and the Bond They Made

When I became pregnant with my second child, nearly overriding the joy and excitement was a spark of fear that sat in the pit of my gut: How would my son react? I knew it would tear me apart to know my son was jealous, to know he felt unloved or unwanted when his sister was born. I wanted them to be close.

I told him what an important job a big brother had. Even at age 2, he understood. He could read to his sister, sing to her, hold her, kiss her, hug her, love her.

He took those words to heart. From those early days, I could trust him alone while his newborn sister lay on the floor beside him. I’d stand outside his room and watch through the cracked door as he talked to her, read to her, stroked her foot. She gripped his finger. Their eyes met. She searched his face. I could nearly see the strength of their bond forming. I knew then it was something separate from me, an understanding between the two of them that would always be loving, hard, easy, complicated, like a delicate web constantly weaving itself back and forth every time they play, fight, laugh, and cry.

They have always been close and connected. He induced her first laugh. My husband was goofing off and then my son imitated him. My daughter kept a stone cold face as my husband leaped around the room, but when her brother did it, she let out a giant belly laugh. To this day, he can still bring forth that same laugh from her in a way no one else can.

Through the years, he has helped her get dressed, read her books, wiped her rear, and played countless hours with her. They snuggle together to watch TV when an entire couch extends to either side. They await Santa’s arrival under the same warm cover and whisper about the bounty they’ll find the next day.

As we walk through a park, they hold each other’s hands. At ages nine and seven, their days flow with routine and their seasons hold traditions. They have a system.

When one child doesn’t want to play, the other ends up in tears. The rejection stings like a scraped knee. She woke up ready to face the day with him. Most days they play, taking time to set up plastic figures just right and hours to play. Then they move on to the next thing. She’ll play Star Wars and he’ll play house.

They have taught each other to compromise and share, about self-control, and that sometimes the people you love hurt you. And they have taught each other about forgiveness.

They have learned to sympathize and empathize. They are still learning to stand up for themselves and pick their battles. They teach each other about the human spirit and kindness and giving up and giving in for someone you love. It’s the little things, like throwing a game so your sibling won’t cry, learning to admit you’re wrong without being told, and never staying angry for long.

They don’t like to admit it aloud, but they love each other. When one goes away for the night, they hug each other, unprompted. That’s what families do.

One day, they will learn that they are best friends too.

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Ghosts of Valentine’s Past

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. There have been years when I awaited with starry anticipation, only to have two sticky toddlers put a crimp in the romance. My husband and I have never bothered with sitters, learning long ago that the area restaurants jack up their prices and fancy up their menus and all we really want is something fresh and fun and jeans-appropriate.

When the kids were young, I tried cooking a nice meal after the kids went to bed. Those turned out to be the nights the kids would not go to sleep at 7:30, and they’d come out of their rooms a dozen times. Curly Bear fell on the floor. Water needed refilling. Someone suddenly needed a tissue instead of a sleeve. Plans for dinner went out the window with the screams of “Mom” from my daughter’s bedroom, and we’d end up scarfing down food in a manic hunger.

This candy didn't end up on the floor or in any drinks.

We’ve tried including the kids in a special dinner at home only to find our daughter had a trick napkin that just wouldn’t stay in her lap. Oh, it’s on the floor again. Better climb down to get it. She burned all the calories from her meal while she constantly retrieved that flyaway napkin. Meanwhile, the ploop! of each pea my son plunked in his milk attracted the other half of our attention. Boy, we couldn’t have asked for a more romantic evening.

I get a bit weepy about the kids growing up sometimes, but it has plenty of advantages. Like dates and Valentine’s Day. Last night, I made a meal we could all enjoy and everyone sat around the table like civilized people and ate it. No one crawled on the floor or stuck food in their milk, though I caught my son red-handed earlier in the week. We enjoyed our evening together. I gave the kids homemade candy that took more time than I care to admit to make. But including my children in Valentine’s Day is what having a family is about. I love them too, every cute, painful, annoying, sweet thing about them. And they put up with me.

And the husband and I can finally have our dates. We met for lunch while the kids were at school, and neither of us put peas in our drinks.

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The Lost Note

For three years a note hung on the mirror in my room, bringing a smile to my face every time I saw it. My son wrote the words “I lave you! Mommy,” cut it into the shape of a heart, folded it, and tucked it into my hand one day when I came into his kindergarten class. Now it’s lost. My kids have given me a lot of little notes, but only a few hold special places in my heart. This was the first one I remember getting from my son that choked me up a little. Simple words. But a mom notices the effort put forth to cut it out. At school no less. In kindergarten. When I missed him achingly every single day.

I volunteered in his classroom every week, and when I came in, looking forward to seeing my little boy, he gave me not so much as a nod, a glance, any sort of acknowledgement. It’s a far cry from the tactics I use to remove my daughter from my leg every week in her class and the twenty kisses I must give her before I shuffle out the door. So when he tucked that tiny folded note in my hand that day and I opened it, not only did the words mean a lot, the action spoke volumes.

A small act that meant a lot to this mom.

I came home and promptly displayed the note, where it has been until recently, when I decided to write a blog post about my kids’ writing. I took it down to take a picture. That picture is all I have left. I can’t find the note anywhere. I’ve searched in every stack of papers all over the house—and there are many. I’m afraid it’s gone for good.

I have other notes. My kids’ first writings and first thoughts mean a lot to me. I keep notes and schoolwork from my children tucked away because I love the primitive spelling and the crooked writing and the things they felt important enough to put to paper.

Nothing so perfectly captures the innocence or the way a child speaks than the way she first spells her own thoughts. When I read my daughter’s words, I can hear her talking in that same sweet way.

“My brudr likes pink.” I laugh because my daughter must have felt feisty to write that on her schoolwork, knowing how her brother despises the color. While cleaning my kids’ rooms one day, I came across this neatly spelled note that my son wrote to my daughter: “Would you like to watch Star Wars with me? Love, Han Solo.” I loved that he wouldn’t sign his own name.

A sign on my daughter’s door reads “Club Howse.” An old list of months on her walls says, “Januwiwy, Febuwiwy…” I can’t help but chuckle when I read it.

There will come a time when my children outgrow that cuteness, and as much as I appreciate it now, I look forward to reading what comes from the heart when they’re older. I won’t want it riddled with misspellings then.

But for now, I keep a drawer stuffed with scraps of paper that say “I love you” (a mom can never have enough) and schoolwork containing funny sentences, things they write that mark this moment and this time. And I’m going to keep looking for that heart, even though my son offered to make a new one for me.

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A Birthday, a Boy, and a Mom Who Looked Back

My son turns nine today. It’s not double digits. He doesn’t get keys to a car, don cap and gown, or pack his belongings into boxes. But as many other moms before me have figured out, it marks the halfway point in the 18 years of time I’ll hopefully have to raise my son. While he anticipates ripping open packages and shoveling some sugary treat into his mouth, I wrestle with the fact that the next nine years will be much different from the first.

While I first struggled with the challenges of a helpless life that needed constant food, sleep, changing, nurturing, teaching, and love—and every bit of it relied on me—at some point along the way, something happened to me. I came to rely on this child and need him just as much, if not more. So when this life that I have been readying starts to pull away and become a little more independent with each birthday, well, it’s pretty hard on a momma.

While I nurtured and cuddled my son as much as possible, the first nine years have been nothing to laugh at. My son is the kid I’ve had to learn every parenting skill on. I had to learn whether to let him cry it out and for how long even when I wanted to grab him and hold him forever. I’ve been inconsistent and indecisive and I’ve blubbered right along with him. I’ve spanked him in anger and felt hateful for doing it, only to conclude that spanking isn’t right for us. I don’t think I’ve ever spanked my daughter. I’ve had to decide the correct punishment for screaming at your mother and calling her an idiot and bite my tongue in the process. Sometimes I have yelled mean things, and I’ve had to look in his blue-green eyes, put my tail between my legs, and apologize when I really wanted to admit I often have no clue what I’m doing.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for my son being the firstborn, the guinea pig for all of my parenting experiments gone bad. With my daughter, I’ve been through it so I’m more relaxed, even, and firm. My son gets a whirlwind of emotion and a ball of stress. Part of me breaks each time it has to be hard for him. Sometimes he deserves for me to know the answers in advance.

In the next nine years, I know what he’ll face. I know the horrors of middle and high school: pimples, the embarrassment of your parents, wearing the right clothes, growing into suddenly disproportionate body parts. I’ll see more of his bedroom door than his messy room. I know I’ll lose him to a flock of smelly teens with patchy facial hair who grunt instead of speak and stare at my daughter in alarming ways, girlfriends who call and giggle and are suddenly the light in his life.

And between all of that, I still have a job to do. Somehow, I still have to turn this kid into a respectable man who cooks, cleans, smells nice, and has good manners. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But despite our setbacks, I have learned a few things. My son has taught me to be calm, even when he can’t be. He has taught me to forgive and move on because love is more important than any argument over homework or bad language. He’s taught me patience on a level that I never thought existed in me. Times when I thought I would crawl out of my skin waiting for him to do something, I have learned instead to let him do it in his own time. And he does. He’s taught me that no matter how old he gets, he sometimes still needs his mom.

I’m pretty sure by the time I get a handle on this parenting thing, he’ll be grown. Then he’ll have children, and parenting and all the struggles that come along with it will be something he and his partner have to muddle through.

But today, he’s nine. And we’ll have cake, open presents, read our bedtime story, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get a hug out of him. And tonight, I still get to tuck him in, peek at his sleeping face, and love that I still have years of boyhood bliss.

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Bedtime Stories

Whether we’re tired, it’s late, or someone has stomped up the stairs and slammed the door in a very bad mood, every night I read to each of my kids. Even when my daughter melts down because she can’t get the toothpaste on or my son gets a second wind and bounces on his bed like a super ball on a linoleum floor, it’s just our ritual.

Often it is the part of our busy day I look forward to most, one on one. For ten to twenty minutes, it’s just the two of us, curled up and lost in a story. Sometimes I read longer, wanting to see what happens next just as much as my child does.

This has always been our bedtime routine, and I plan to do it as long as they will let me. Many years ago I read that it’s important to read to your children long after they know how to read themselves. High school I think. It sounds crazy, but even at that age, hearing someone read with passion benefits them.

If I read to them, they want me to go on and on. If they read to me, I fall right to sleep.

I’ve read to my kids since they were babies. My son read to his sister the day she came home from the hospital because I told him that was a big brother’s important role. Now he listens as she reads to him and helps her with words she can’t pronounce.

When my son was less than two years old, he made us read the same book to him like a CD stuck on repeat. I would beg him to pick another book. As soon as the last word was read, he’d say, “Again,” and I wanted to cry. But when he was able to speak well, he squeezed between the couch and end table and “read” those books to himself. He memorized every word of every book. I had no idea that’s what he was doing.

When my kids learned their letters and letter sounds, I taught them to read. Seeing my kids read their very first sentence was cooler than the first goal, the first pop fly, the first bike ride without training wheels. Reading is the foundation for their whole lifetime of learning, and there we sat, cheering at each word formed, shock that it had happened. No teacher could take that glory from us. It was our moment.

Many times the kids writhed in agony and yanked at their hair as words became harder, and I clenched my fists to keep myself from doing it. But we pulled through and they read to themselves often.

And now, every night, I am theirs and they are mine. We laughed till we cried when Greg’s dog licked itself, then slathered kisses on his dad’s face in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. We ponder the mystery of the intruder in Nathaniel Fludd. I itch to tell my son whether Snape is friend or foe in the Harry Potter books. And we learn about life through the decades thanks to the American Girl series. Afterward, my kids talk to me about their day, spill their problems, or give me an extra-long hug.

I have taken our reading away as punishment in times of desperation, knowing they still have their father’s turn to look forward to, but the kids are so fond of this time together and it breaks my heart too. I’ve learned to find other consequences.

I know there will come a day when my kids will end their nights with phone calls, studying, or more important things. But I hope it will still include me, even if our stories don’t come from a book.

I’ve been reading The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma about a daughter and father who promised to read every night for 100 nights, then 1,000, and then kept going until she left for college. They began in fourth grade. If I read to my son every night until he leaves for college, by my count, we’ll have read more than 3,000 nights. My daughter, more than 4,000. We do skip when someone is sick or if the grandparents are in town. To me, it’s not about the contest; it’s the bond that matters. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, I’m still there. That’s the moral I hope my kids take away from our story.

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A New Year for Mom

My husband and I watched some home movies recently. My daughter was 2 and my son 4. Thirty seconds in, tears spilled from my eyes at the sound of my daughter’s voice. I hadn’t heard that baby voice in four years. I say I don’t miss all that, life when the kids were younger, but I realize now it’s just a coping mechanism.

What did I learn from watching those old movies? My kids haven’t changed much. Minus the baby fat, they look exactly the same. Between bursts of laughter, my husband and I agreed they still act the same too. They still do the same jerky roll-and-dance routine with ferocious concentration. The neighborhood dogs still howl when my daughter sings. My son still has a smart mouth.

“What did you do in kindergarten today?” I cooed into the video camera, waiting for a precious response I’m sure.

My son stared at me and sweetly grinned. “Sat on the pot all day.”

“Let’s be nice. What did you do?”

“Sat on the pot all day,” he said, erupting in giggles. This conversation could have happened yesterday. Even now I still haven’t learned when to quit.

As I sat watching through blurry eyes, I thought of how busy our life has become. Our days are governed by a schedule filled with school, homework, and shuttling to and from sports or Scouts or some Lego activity. And it’s up to me to make sure we fit everything in. Add in family time, meltdowns, confiding, and playing outside, and there isn’t much room to just be. The structured days make for a mom who needs to let loose more often and craves downtime with her kids.

I simply need to step back and enjoy my kids more. They may look the same, but life has gotten complicated. The kids’ problems go far beyond cookies and milk.

When my son revealed one day he’d been pushed around and punched in the gut at school, it was tough to be the adult, but I found myself having a very adult conversation with him about bullies, surprised at the parental mumbo jumbo spewing from my mouth. And then I had to sit back and let him take charge. Sometimes this parenting stuff is for the birds, all this letting go and letting them run their own lives.

When my daughter gets teased for sounding like a baby, I can’t promise her it will never happen again. I can only pretend I’m good at this mom thing and help her see that she’s a beautiful person and words hurt and she should never do the same.

Parenting is always about rules, guidance, and right and wrong. It wears a mom down. Some days now, there’s hardly ever room for the good stuff. I get enough of the aches. Why should I wait for grandchildren to have all my fun? I’m making room for it now.

I don’t usually set resolutions for the new year, but this year because the timing is right, I resolve to take a breath each afternoon and enjoy my kids more.

Some things never change, and some things should.

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Thanks a Lot

This is the time of year when we’re supposed to stop and count our blessings. As parents, we know better. Most of us pause several times daily, thankful for every little thing we have.

In honor of this holiday, I’ll tell you some of the many things I am thankful for.

I'm grateful for seeing the beauty of the world through my kids' eyes.

My husband. My partner in the perils of parenthood. I can’t count how many times he has walked in on the tail end of a flaming tantrum after work, and instead of walking out the door, he takes it like a man, often the hero of the hour. “Daddy!” All is often suddenly good with the world. He does the dishes, then plays with the kids for an hour before bed. No computer, no cell phone. Real quality time with his family, whatever the night may bring us. I am grateful for this man.

I am thankful for the two spirited, smiling beings who have stolen an incalculable amount of sleep from my life and nearly every inch of freedom with their demands and the insane amount of thought I feel compelled to give them. My kids, who from day one have been harder to figure out than any math class I have squirmed through, have upended my life so incredibly that if I really knew what having kids was about, I may have never wanted to have children in the first place. The rewards: Just hearing the word Mom is good for me.

As a mom, I’ve wished away many fevers, cuddled sick babies, and worked myself into a frenzy over the countless horrible diagnoses I’ve given my children from the Internet. I’m thankful that my children are healthy.

I’m secretly grateful for hurts only cured by Mommy’s hugs, books that are better read by Mom, and unexpected hugs. When my kids give me their worst, it’s these little things that get me through. I am grateful for every one of them.

I am so incredibly thankful for friends who can relate, who can laugh at our misery, and who don’t even flinch when I tell them we’ve just infected them all with strep.

I am thankful for the food we eat, the meals I slave over that the kids sometimes stick up their noses at and squirm in their chairs over and make an otherwise lovely meal unbearable.

Our home, though often cluttered and never glamorous, keeps us warm, comfortable, and safe. It is filled with love and silliness and often more dirt than I can keep up with. But I am ever so grateful.

I’m thankful for laughter. We make time together as a family. We play together. We eat together. We do so much together that we drive one another crazy, but we can always make each other laugh. It’s the unexpected that keeps us going, like when my husband tries to lick the cinnamon roll icing off his plate without being caught or jumps in the car and locks it during a rollicking game of tag. (Well played.) Or the many moments when the kids say something so out of the blue, there is no other choice but to laugh, no matter how inappropriate.

I’m grateful for family. We don’t have any family nearby, but emails and phone calls keep us connected until we can meet in person and remind each other of why we’re all so crazy. Darn those blood lines.

Being a mom has been so much more challenging and sometimes more painful than I ever imagined. I honestly thought it would be a breeze. Then I realized you can’t mold people. They’re already who they are and you have to learn to deal with their idiosyncrasies from the start. But I’m grateful that every day is new, my kids don’t hold grudges, we forgive, and we love.

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Little Hands

Each morning I stand at the door clad in flannel pajamas, with raccoon eyes, hair still worn down from my pillow the night before. I catch a glimpse of eyes peeking over the door and two little hands waving at me from the back seat of my husband’s car as they leave for school.

Sometimes they wave for a long time. Sometimes it’s a quick wave thrown at me to make me happy. Sometimes they don’t wave because they are already busy talking or it’s been a bad morning and they left the house mad at me. And sometimes I can see my daughter waving frantically, mouth open and set in a smile like she has just seen me for the first time in 20 years.

Little hands love to help me cook.

This is a part of my day I don’t want to miss. If I’m in the bathroom, I tell my husband to wait. He doesn’t understand this, why I must see these little hands waving every day.

Those little hands, once so tiny, would reach out for me in their sleep to make sure I was still there. They once spent so much time practicing motor skills, picking up Cheerios and trying to pick up droplets of water with a serious amount of concentration.

Those little hands once smeared you-know-what on my bathroom door. Now they slam doors. They became so frustrated with the pain of holding pencils and crayons and threw them down in anger. Now those little hands write all the time and type and hold books open to read.

They learn to cook alongside me, measuring, pouring, chopping, stirring, and tasting. They string beads and cut tiny bits of paper that I find all over my floor. They learn to sew with plastic needles and felt.

Little hands used to poke me in the face in the middle of the night. Now they gently shake my arm. They play with my hair and style it with dozens of clips and then hold the mirror so I can admire my new look.

They put together Lego sets with skill and can finally dribble a basketball and catch a pop fly. They draw amazing pictures of animals and take pictures of even more.

Those little hands fit perfectly in mine and I hold them tight whenever the kids give me a chance. Those days are numbered.

I hope one day those little hands will grow up to do amazing things and they’ll have little hands of their own to hold. It won’t be long before those little hands are driving themselves to school, and then I’ll want them both to stay on the wheel. But I’ll still be standing at the door, watching them go.

 

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Slow Down, Birthday Girl

My daughter, my baby, barely needs a stool to help in the kitchen anymore. She stands at my side rolling out dough, perfectly placing cookie cutters like puzzle pieces to cut as many cookies as she can. She does this without prompting. “Mommy, I can do it,” she says. I stand back, reminded all too often these days of how much my kids can do alone and how much less they rely on me. They yearn to be older and independent and capable at times when I just want to hold their hands and show them how and want them to need me.

My little girl is turning 6 this week. It’s not a monumental birthday. It’s not a special age when anything big happens. Turning 5 was huge because kindergarten is a milestone, a turning point from that preschool life of naps and cuddles and sippy cups to homework and adjustment and real problems, to independence. To life away from mom.

But 6? What’s so hard about 6? We survived kindergarten. We did great. Now it’s on to first grade. That’s the problem. From here on, it zips by. The baby fat slowly melts away. By the end of this year, it will be gone. Already taller and thinner, she hardly looks like my baby anymore. I stare at her in amazement and wonder which night it was that she sprang up. When did I miss this?

I can’t buy her those cute Mary Jane shoes anymore. They only make them in toddler sizes and she’s just outgrown that. Everything looks too grown-up for a first-grader, too teen.

She barely fits in my lap now. Her limbs dangle off to the sides like a rag doll. Her head no longer fits neatly under my chin, and we nearly have to sit side-by-side for comfort. I can barely lift her without a lot of grunting and bending my knees first in preparation for her weight. It’s such a workout, and it never used to be.

I’ll admit, this is the age I’ve waited for. When my kids were babies, I was drunk on love and that warm baby smell. But I spent a lot of time dreaming about the wonderful things we’d get to do together when they were this age. Camping, crafting, reading together. I love, LOVE, doing those things with them. I love talking to them and teaching them. Oh, it’s challenging and I want to pull my hair out sometimes, but I never quite adored the baby stage. I had enough of the wiping and the crying and sleep deprivation. I’ve waited for this. Making cookies with them. Choking on my breakfast when they announce my husband’s super long stray ear hair to half a restaurant. Babies’ surprises usually only involve bodily fluids.

Now that we’re here, in this wonderful long-awaited era, I’m pretty damn scared. I feel like a houseful of unexpected guests just arrived and I’m running around in a panic because I’m not ready. I don’t want to miss it. And I want it to slow down. When I secretly wished the whole baby part would speed up just a smidge, I openly beg for this time not to. Because I know this is the best time of my life. Greedy, I know. But they’ll get to have their fun. Before long, my kids will be older and have wonderful lives and experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They deserve that and I look forward to seeing who they become. But, no hurry.

For now, hearing my kids say, “Hey, let’s pretend…” is music to my ears and there are still a lot of firsts to be part of. That first soccer goal. That first sleepover. That first trip whale watching that I can’t wait to take them on. We still have lots to look forward to. I still catch a glimpse of that baby in there somewhere, in a coy smile or a sideways glance. It lasts only a second, but it fills my heart.

So happy birthday to my baby girl who is turning bigger this week.

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Hang On to Summer

The end of summer is around the corner and I have mixed feelings. Usually around the first week of August, I’m pulling my hair out. My kids are driving each other mad and me with all the “Stoo-op! Don’t touch me! Get off me” business. But this summer, as my time with them starts to dwindle, I dig my heels into the ground because I’m just not ready for our summer to end. The summers when the kids actually want me around are numbered, and I feel guilty for any missed opportunities. I fill our days with a whirlwind of games, activities, crafts, and cuddles, a party of sorts for a mom who knows she has one last hurrah before her freedom is gone and that union between student and school takes over. Soon it will be homework and soccer and not a lot of time for being carefree. Two-plus weeks and counting here until school begins, and I’m squeezing it in: creek time, detective adventures, a birthday party, more crafts, a sleepover…OK, so maybe I’m going a teeny bit overboard.

I’ll admit there’s some good and bad to school starting again, and here’s the way I see it:

Pros
1. I don’t have to sneak handfuls of chocolate chips, slivers of brownies, or other assorted treats. It is all mine for the taking and I can overindulge as much as I want. No one will be around to judge or beg.
2. I don’t have to bring my kids to the doctor with me, sit in a tiny room, and resist the urge to pull my eyeballs out while they ask for the millionth time when the doctor is coming because, God help me, I’m about to find him and yank him down the hall by his tie and ask him the same question.
3. I don’t have to hear another person talk, scream, wail, whine, or fuss for seven and a half hours of my day if I don’t want to.
4. I don’t have to wipe anything on anybody but myself, at least until 3:00.
5. The only questions I have to answer are “Where do you want to meet for lunch today, Dear?” and “Is your credit card company offering you the best rate…?”

Cons
1. There are suddenly a lot of places to be, a lot of things to do, and a lot of PTA people looking for me.
2. Homework…and the accompanying fussing for 30 minutes (or more on a very bad day) until they finally give in and do it and realize it takes more time to fuss than to actually do their homework.
3. I have to get up when it’s still dark.
4. Did I say homework?
5. I will miss my kids like crazy.

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