‘2017 was a tough year in the KoeFoe house. My husband’s uncle passed away from terminal cancer. My husband’s grandma passed away from complications from surgery. And then my Nana….just…..passed away. Wave after wave hit us, but seemed to miss our children, who weren’t close to these family members. Until Nana.
Every Tuesday night, since before our son was born, we had Taco Tuesday’s at Nana’s. We ate, watched Jeopardy, the kids did somersaults, sang into microphones, performed and were given chocolate and ice cream and cookies, oh my! At 93 years old, Nana even “babysat” Evie (with the help of her home health nurse) every Friday for a couple hours. She was a constant fixture in our lives, until one day, she wasn’t.
We knew we had to talk to the kids, but didn’t know quite how. Izzie, at 8 months was too young to know anything was going on. Evie, at 2 years, knew something was up, but certainly couldn’t comprehend. But Cole? Cole, we found, was a wise – albeit brand new – 4 year old. He had questions, and we didn’t always know the answers.
When the end was eminent, I remember sitting with Nana. Tears in my eyes, she told me that crying was okay, that she was going to be fine, that this was God’s plan. I told her, “I know it is….I just don’t know what I’m supposed to tell Cole and Evie.” My pain was so profoundly compacted by the idea that I would also have to manage their loss, that at times it felt suffocating.
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It’s the end of a long day, and you are one story away from watching Real Housewives in your PJs with a glass can of wine. You anxiously await your kids’ book decision. Will it be the borderline unbearable “5 Minute Stories” book with the stories that just don’t make sense and are dry as a bone? Will it be the longest children’s book ever written? Or will it be a book you actually LIKE?
My kids have thousands of dollars worth of games and toys and arts and crafts and I even am not above allowing some indulgent screen time. But the fact is, at the end of the day, they love dirt and sticks and rocks. Yeah, rocks. Which – don’t get me wrong – I love. I love SO much, I want to pass that love of rocks on to you! So here are nine fun ways for your little ones to play with rocks.
Paint them. Rock painting is so in right now. Seriously. It seems that it’s the hot kid craft on Pinterest. And it’s hot for a reason. Because kids love to paint rocks. Whether your kids want to paint ladybugs or pumpkins or just go nuts free form, kids will love it. Plus, you can do it outside, which is extra awesome because you aren’t going to ruin your dining room table. We even have some friends whose kids love to paint rocks with WATER. I mean, you literally can’t get a cleaner craft than that! It’s. Just. WATER. And rocks. World’s easiest cleanup ever.
Tic-Tac-Toe. My 4 year old is obsessed with Tic-Tac-Toe right now. Which means there are sheets of paper all over my house like confetti with scribbles all over them. So you know what’s boss? A reusable tic-tac-toe board. Even better? One that’s in my yard, that I only have to draw once, and then can use rocks for our “X’s” and “O’s.”
Stacking. All three of my kids love to stack things – anything! They also love to compete with each other. Who can make the highest stack of rocks? Who can keep the tower balanced? Who will knock it over? There are so many variations even in different ways to just stack the rocks. And endless entertainment!
Carrying them back and forth. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this list just jumped the shark. These chicks think my kids will be entertained by carrying rocks back and forth across my yard.” And maybe you’re right. Maybe your kid won’t do it. But we’re here to tell you that we literally sat in Jaymi’s backyard and watched our kids carry rocks from a bucket to a pile AND BACK AGAIN for like 45 minutes last week. I think they made some sort of a secret game out of it, but they didn’t clue the adults in on the rules. All I know is those rocks were on the move in the hot little hands of our kids. Kids that got wiped out from all that rock carrying. So, SOLD.
Rock Hunt. This one’s pretty simple: Do just what it sounds like. Hide those rocks and let the kids find them. As one of our kids’ friends announced the other day, “You don’t have to wait for Easter to do an Easter egg hunt!” True that, Muriel! Egg hunts are great one day a year, but rock hunts – those are a classic the other 364.
Steal the Bacon. Remember sweating on the blacktop waiting for your number to be called so you could race to grab a blackboard eraser? Well, we’re fresh out of blackboard erasers at our house. But we got rocks! And whether it’s a group of kids at a playdate or just two of mine facing off head to head, a race for the rock is a big hit. More bonus points for this one being another tiring activity. With basically no setup, no cleanup and the only parental involvement being to yell, “GO!”
town that is tricked into sharing their soup. It’s also a culinary classic in our backyard. Stones, leaves, dirt all create a “delicious” base to be stirred with sticks. This one takes some more parental involvement (I admit I’m wayyyyyy over pretending to slurp soup and report how delicious it is) and can be significantly messier than some of the other options, but my kids are all about getting messy, so bring it on!
Story Garden. A story garden is the perfect way to bring your kids’ imaginative play outside. This one’s a two parter, but worth it! First, see #1 and paint those bad boys. You can paint anything you want on the stones – houses, animals, boats, foods, cars, bugs, rainbows, shapes, people – you name it! Then, make stories! The possibilities are ENDLESS with what you can create! Here’s a few ways to play with them compiled by The Artful Parent and we’re partial to this cute Hungry Caterpillar set which is perfect for retelling.
Rock Toss. Only to be played if you trust your kids won’t chuck the rocks straight at your head, their siblings heads, their friends heads, etc. Once that’s established, my kids dig this one. We use a hula hoop as the place to toss rocks and we start a foot or two away from the hoop. Each kid gets to toss a rock into the hoop. After they make that shot, they step back. And back. And back. And back. Until they miss at which point we start over. My competitive little kids love the challenge of this. Once the hula hoop has been mastered, you can always make smaller targets with anything you have around the house!
Okay, maybe not literally. Maybe not totally seriously. But I’ve probably given it too much actual thought than I should have.
Lots of times, I love motherhood, I do. When all three of my kids are in a sweet spot, I think I could have three more. When two of them are delightful and one is going through a more challenging phase, I power through. When one is nice and two are little hot mess machines, I hunker down and know we’ll get through it. But when all three are hellions? I start making a list of possible talents I could contribute to the circus.
Right now? I’m in full on circus mode.
In the past few weeks all three of my children have thrown up on me. I’ve had many midnight discussions about diarrhea and why my son is “peeing out of his butt.” We had a solid week where at least one child was wide awake from 3am on, which leads for a very early wake up for Mommy and Daddy. We’ve had night terrors. A four year old that just. doesn’t. listen. A two year old that is in active transition from the terrible twos to being a threenager whose greatest joy in life is her abundant ability to tease her brother. A breast feeder that’s found out her big ol’ teeth make excellent weapons. And I ran out of coffee creamer.
It’s weeks like these that make me spend considerable amounts of time researching the standard working contract for cruise staff. Not that I’d actually drive down to the cruise terminal and go to the employment booth and fill out the application to work a 6 month tour on the Carnival Inspiration or anything. Of course I wouldn’t actually go and do that. I don’t think. But I’ve definitely gotten closer than my husband should find out about.
And yes, there have been good times, but right now? Right now I’m overwhelmed with yet another night of changing sheets filled with last night’s dinner, a 2 year old that comes tumbling out of her crib before the sun rises and a baby that has found she’s sure to get my attention by biting anything she can sink those chompers into.
I love them, I do, but just think how much more I could love and appreciate them if I took, say, a six month break. If I went off on an adventure and came back with arms full of treats and souvenirs and a heart full of missing them. I won’t do it, but I’m definitely still gonna dream about it.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for nearly a year, Cole and Evie have had an emotional goodbye through a chain link fence. It’s like a scene out of some prison movie. They tell each other how much they love each other and are going to miss each other and then I tear Evie away from the gate telling her we’ll see Cole in four hours. Often, I have to carry her writhing body in one arm, while balancing a baby in the other, and haul these girls out to the car. After dealing with this week after week, month after month, Chad and I had to have a serious conversation: Is it time to start Evie in preschool?
We had made bold proclamations and decisions on our plan for Evie’s schooling. I’m a stay at home Mom and she’s just fine here with me. She can wait until she’s 3 like Cole did. We can see if they have a spot open in January and if they don’t she can start the next fall. Two years of preschool will be plenty for her.
But it seemed she was disagreeing with us.
So I asked the Director at Cole’s eternally waitlisted preschool if they happened to have a spot. No rush, anytime really, we’re fine keeping her home as long as we need – oh, what’s that? You already had her on a list because I mentioned it to you once in passing? She can start next month? Yeah, okay, that works too…Suddenly we were launched into preschool prep mode! I bought Evie a lunch bag, did some “Back to School” shopping, grabbed her a water bottle and talked about the impending start of her career as a student. She proudly told everyone, “I go to school with Cole soon!” She was excited. Like really, REALLY, excited. Drop-offs were suddenly much easier, because as they hugged and kissed each other each morning, they’d exchange excited words about how soon Evie would be joining her big brother.
She was excited. I was all the feelings. Normally made of stone, the idea of having two kids in school proved too much for my solid core to handle. I just wasn’t sure I liked this. At all.
Then it was the big day. We got dressed in one of our new outfits. I busted out the chalkboard easel for important stats and pictures and a giant display of “Evie’s first day of preschool!” I took a thousand pictures of the three kids in every possible arrangement – sitting, standing, two sitting – Evie standing prominently, all three sitting together – Cole in the middle, Evie in the middle, Izzie in the middle – you name it, I probably have a picture of it. Evie looked happy and proud – probably a combination of first day excitement and the promise of a lollipop in exchange for endless smiles.
We loaded into the car, drove down to school, hopped out of the car and proudly marched down the hall. Which is about when all hell broke loose. To our complete and utter surprise, our cool, confident, happy-go-lucky, independent daughter freaked the F out. We thought we’d done everything “right” to prepare her! She knows this school, knows the teachers, knows lots of Cole’s friends! Plus the school happens to be on our church’s campus (though not affiliated) so she literally has been in the classrooms since the week she was born! We talked, oh how we talked, about what the first day would entail. And she was sooooo on board. Lest she forgets, this was HER IDEA!
But, as is a woman’s prerogative, she reserves the right to change her mind. And oh did she change it. My husband and I looked back and forth for a minute, telepathically running through our options.
Me: Evie, it’ll be fine. Cole’s right here with you. *Jump in here dude! Tell her it’s fine!!*
Chad: That’s right, Cole’s going to go do circle time, you can sit with him. *She’s screaming! Why is she screaming??*
Me: Honey, honey, honey, calm down, baby. *I don’t KNOW!! We gotta get out of here!*
Chad: *We can’t just LEAVE her like this!*
Me: *Like hell we can’t! She’ll be FINE! Band-Aid! RIP IT!*
Chad: Okay Evie, Mommy and Daddy have to go, you’ll be okay. *You’re a heartless monster*
Me: I’ll be back sooooo soon, you’ll have lots of fun, okay? We love you! *Oh, grow a pair*
Us: Bye sweetie!! We love you!!
I may have been the one to force us to leave, but I thought of my sweet little baby all day, hoping she’d calmed down and found some fun. I picked her up a few short hours later. Before she saw me, I saw her eating and laughing and I knew we had made the right call. She looked up, saw me, ran and jumped in my arms.
When we settled in the car I asked, “What did you do today Evie?” She said, with a big smile on her face, “I did art and crying.” I laughed at her and hugged the heck out of that kid. I said, “Maybe next time we’ll try for just art, huh?” She replied, “Yeah, I liked the art.”
So yes, in the grand tradition of first days of school, there were tears. Lots of tears. Mostly from Evie. But, as terrible as it is to say, the tears were a nice reminder that even though she’s a sassy, independent, stubborn, “I can do it myself” kind of 2 year old, she’s still my two year old baby, that just needs her Mama once in a while.
Apparently I was feeling brave. Apparently I was feeling confident. Apparently I was a fool.
Because for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to load up my kids and go to the grocery store. But not just any grocery store, Trader Joes. Now, let me be clear. I LOVE Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have on near you it’s a wonderful neighborhood grocery store with amazing food and drink from around the globe and around the corner. When my kids were little – wait, they’re still little, but like, really little, cart bound “little” – TJ’s was the best. We’d walk into the store and there was always a beautiful buffet of bananas welcoming us. We’d toss a half dozen or so in the cart and then I’d hand each of my kids one. I mean, I always paid for the bananas later, but I think the produce lady at Ralph’s doesn’t trust that I’m actually going to pay….No such problem at Trader Joe’s. No one there threw us shade for sampling the product as we strolled through the produce section.
The banana usually lasted through produce and fresh meat, and then we rounded the corner and it was time to start looking for the Bixby Beagle. Now, I won’t tell you how long it took me to realize that the Bixby Beagle isn’t a fixture at all locations, despite it being named after my neighborhood, so I don’t know what the dog is called where you live – or if it even IS a dog – because I just learned it could be any animal, but I love that dog. Because it gives my kids something to DO for the next little bit. As I meander through the frozen foods, my kids have their eyes peeled for that beagle. Because when we find it? They get a lollipop! A nice fresh, not-covered-in-lint-because-I-found-it-at-the-bottom-of-my-purse-while-hunting-for-something-to-calm-the-storm-brewing-in-my-cart lollipop.
We can usually make the lolly last until checkout at which point my kids get to try to entertain the checker, who then HANDS THEM A MILLION STICKERS. It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory over here when they start unraveling the giant roll of seasonal stickers. Sometimes, they’re even scratch ‘n’ sniff. My kids think every day is Christmas at Trader Joe’s.
But then my kids got older. And they got wise to the fact that there are ADORABLE tiny little carts that are just their size! First the bananas, then the lollipops, then stickers – clearly Trader Joe’s was catering to their VERY specific needs. So it should have come as no surprise to me when Cole told me that “Uncle Robert” got him his very own cart too! This will teach me to pretend that the manager of the grocery store is related to us.
For a while, things were okay. Cole was the biggest and somehow Evie just accepted that she still had to ride in the cart and Cole was allowed to push his own. And he did surprisingly well. He took his new responsibility seriously and I think he could smell the fear on me and knew he was one bruised shin away from having his rights revoked.
Then I started getting wise. I started getting organized. And for the love of God I started going to the store while Cole was in preschool. Going to a store with a 2 year old and a baby only feels easy when you’re used to having a 4 year old there too. I had gotten so used to the chaos of all three that two felt like a breeze! It was like old times! And that’s when you start to make mistakes. You get sloppy. You decide to let the two year old give this whole tiny cart thing a try. You think this is your new normal, not remembering that there will come a time when you will have to go to the store again with all three kids, but by then, it’s too late. By then, you’ve created monsters.
Which is how I ended up as the caboose in a crazy choo choo train of tiny cart insanity. To those we ran down, I apologize. To those that looked at me like I’m crazy, yeah, you’re probably right. To those that muttered something under your breath like I couldn’t hear you, I could. I’m not even saying I disagree with what you said, but I heard you bitches, okay? To those that seemed entertained by us, thank you. And to those that gave me a look of, “Hell yeah, mama, you got this!,” a huge, huge, thank you. It was because of you that we made it. Because of you that I didn’t give up in the pasta aisle, just lay down on the floor and cry, and just GIVE. UP.
Instead we pushed on. Ate a banana. Found the beagle. Got our lollipops. Grabbed some stickers for the road. And got the F OUT OF TRADER JOES.
As I sit here in our staycation suite, thanking the little baby Jesus that I somehow – finally – MIRACULOUSLY got all three of my spawn to nap at the same time I can’t help but reflect on the past couple of days…and how freaking good they went. Sorry, this is going to be a straight up BRAGFEST up in here. Because my husband and I just spend three days at “The Happiest Place on Earth” and it was actually the Happiest Place on Earth. At least most of the time. Which got me thinking – why???
What did we do to deserve this? Was karma just on our side? Had we had enough shit shows at Disneyland that we were simply due? I felt like I HAD to pin down the reason – hopefully to replicate it! As I reflected on our day, it came down to three things:
Attitude. Yesterday we were in line to meet Mickey and behind us was the grumpiest person in Disneyland. Yes, Grumpier than Grumpy himself. She grumbled all through the line to see the Mouse about how terrible the day had been. Someone asked her if it was the people? The crowds? No, it was EVERYTHING. Well listen, we go to Disneyland a lot. And yes, it was hot as hell and it was crowded and I’ll give you that it ain’t cheap. But it surely couldn’t be that everything is terrible. Take a minute to enjoy something. That place is CLEAN. Like, a first time Mom that’s a germaphobe could probably let a baby eat a cracker off the floor kind of clean. And there is such a meticulous attention to detail there’s lots for your eyes to enjoy everywhere you go. Chad could spend hours just checking out the plantlife – but he’s a nerd like that, so I cede that isn’t everyone’s jam. I just don’t know how someone could HATE absolutely EVERYTHING about Disneyland. So I’ve got to assume this chick needed an attitude adjustment. If you’re grumpy and miserable, nothing’s going to make you happy – not even a corn dog or a pineapple Dole whip!
Parenting. Okay, this may be controversial. But YES, parenting CAN have an influence on how your kids behave. It would be lovely to think that it was all a crapshoot and we were never responsible for our kids bad behavior, but tragically, it’s not true.
Side story: My husband does storytime with the Bigs before bed while I’m dressing/diapering/feeding the baby for her bedtime. Recently, I’ve overheard him reading “The Berenstein Bears Get the Gimmies” and talking to them about the Gimmies (“gimme this toy” and “gimme that candy” type of stuff). I was always like, “Hell yeah! Teach the kids to knock it off with the Gimmies!” Then one day my kids asked me to read the book. And, spoiler alert, it’s totally the parents fault that Brother and Sister Bear have the Gimmies in the first place! SO, moral of the story: Parenting. Dang it.
Back to Disneyland…The most commonly used four words to end a sentence at Disneyland? “….Or we’re going home!” As in, “knock it of or….” and “stay in the stroller or…” and “stop licking your sister or…..” And guess what? The kids know that it’s all BS! Cause you’re not gonna do it. So your threats mean nothing. Find a threat you can stick to. There with multiple adults? How about “….or you can’t go on X ride.” Yep, cause let me tell you, you only need to make Evie sit aside and NOT ride The Little Mermaid about once before she realizes you’re not playing. My kids will never remember where they left their shoes, but they will never forget that time their siblings got to ride without them.
Luck. Look, it may have seemed like I talk a big game back there in the ol’ “Parenting” section. But let’s be clear. I don’t actually know what the F I’m doing. I also know that you can be a black belt ninja in parenting and still have the world go against you. Good parenting cannot make sure you get the exact color Teacup your son will die without getting. Good parenting does not prevent your daughter from spilling her brand new popcorn all over the place. Good parenting does not help when your 2 year old is to small to go on all the “good rides” her 4 year old brother is going on and the ONLY thing in the world that will make it better is riding on The Little Mermaid ride – again – and it breaks right before she gets on. In that case? You’re just screwed.
Use all your tricks, bribes, food, distractions and pray you can turn that juju around, because luck is definitely the most critical component for success.
But, if you have a great attitude and you find your inner parenting blackbelt and karma is on your side, maybe just maybe you can get a great day at Disneyland.
Yesterday you got to meet Jaymi’s little ones, and I know what you’re thinking: mic drop stuff. Trust me, I know. I love that little sassafras and my meatball like they were my own. It’s one of the many benefits of knowing someone’s kids basically since they were covered in vernix. (Too far? Sorry. But true). But ladies and gentledads, don’t write off the rest of the Salties just yet. Mine are kinda badass too.
So, without further adieu, I’d like you to meet my three: Cole, Evie and Izzie.
Cole. Holy moly, where to start with Cole? Honestly, I’m not even sure.
Here’s the thing…I was actually supposed to be the one to post yesterday, but for the life of me I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT HOW TO DESCRIBE COLE. So you know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Here’s a picture that might help:
This wasn’t something special. This was just like a Tuesday. He’s a performer that just wants to entertain and make people laugh. And damned if he doesn’t succeed every time. He loves to play in the dirt with toy dinosaurs and touches ALL the bugs, building them habitats and taking care of them like beloved pets. He also likes to wear costumes, sing, dance and get his nails painted. When you think you have him figured out, he will throw you a fastball. Oh yeah, he’s also like REALLY good at ball sports despite my great desire to never attend a little league baseball game. He’s also a really, REALLY good big brother, which is probably one of my favorite things about him. Also, dimples.
Evie. My little Grumpy Cat. This girl was born with a scowl on her face and a naughty twinkle in her eye. Sometimes I feel like I’m in physical pain because of how cute she is and the rest of the time she is driving me nuts. I’m pretty sure she’s the former out of necessity of the latter. She’s very particular and knows what she wants. I have high hopes that this will serve her well as a young woman, despite being utter hell for her Mama during the toddler years. She loves to play in the dirt while wearing a dress and “farkle jelly shoes.” (See picture above). She’s lightened up considerably in her short two years, and now spends most of her time striving to be as silly as her brother. And she’s giving him a run for his money.
Izzie. My little Love Nugget. She is leaps and bounds more snuggly than any of my other kids. I had high hopes that she was also going to be my most well-behaved child, but then she stared at me in the eyes and took two steps. The week she turned 9 months. So I’m pretty sure she’s decided to defect and join the Bigs in their attempts at mutiny. At least after playing she always wants to come back to snuggle with Mama. She pretends to be shy, but loves anyone and everyone. She has stinky little feet, an ear piercing squeal, and thinks sleeping more than two hours at a time is for losers. But we love her anyway.
The morning started out in our usual way. Mommy makes coffee for herself, breakfast for all the kids, makes Cole’s lunch while the kids eat, and then once the kids are done/too restless to eat without making a bigger mess than I’m prepared to handle we move to the living room for a dance party led by DJ Alexa.
Alexa Dance Party is usually a complete and total highlight of the day. It’s fun Mom shit. My kids think I’m cool and not all rigid and full of rules. I lipsync to Trolls and Moana and put on a performance reminiscent of Britney in her heyday. I’m a pretty big deal for a few minutes each morning. The kids giggle and clap and dance and sing along and we all just have FUN.
Sometimes, when the party is really rockin’ and rollin’ I sneak out to go to the bathroom in peace. Inevitably this is when the party gets REAL real fast. Usually it’s something I know how to handle: “Evie ate my banana.” “Cole knocked me over because he was dancing too much.” “Evie won’t dance with me.” “Cole is singing too loud.”
Here’s another banana, say you’re sorry, try dancing with Izzie, sing louder too.
I can field those all day long. I was not prepared for this mornings fight. I ran out of the bathroom to INCONSOLABLE SCREAMS from 2/3 of the children. I breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing at least the baby was happy. One point for Mommy. The other two were simultaneously screaming something about Trolls.
Mommy: Kids, kids, kids, what’s the problem?
Evie: Cole wants to listen to Trolls!
Cole: But EVIE wants to listen to Trolls!
Mommy: Okay, I don’t understand, you both want to listen to Trolls?
Evie: YES! But it’s MY TURN to pick!
Mommy: Okay, so pick Trolls.
Evie: But COLE wants to listen to Trolls.
Mommy: Okay, Alexa, play music from Trolls soundrack.
Cole: NOOOOO I want to listen to Trolls!
Evie: NO! It’s MY turn, I want to listen to Trolls!
Mommy: I’m so lost. You both want to listen to Trolls, but you won’t listen to Trolls because the other one ALSO wants to listen to Trolls?
Both kids (wailing): YEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS
What. The. Hell?
I, of course, sent my Salty Mama Jaymi a play by play of this insanity that was my morning to which she calmly and rationally responded: “Kids literally just want to make us crazy.”
And somehow, that made it better. My stubborn side came out, I dug in my heels, and played freaking Trolls. They screamed louder because they HATED that the other one was happy, even when it was really what they wanted. They threw themselves on the ground and then they decided to – yes, I’m going to go there – get back up again.
They just couldn’t help themselves. As quickly as it all went to hell, it went back again. In a few minutes, we were back to normal: I was painting my sons nails while breastfeeding Izzie…but that, my friends, is a post for another day.
Probably a day where the kids fight over who gets to tell Alexa they want to listen to Shiny from Moana. Because Lord knows they’ll both want to.