Earlier this week, I was finishing up a walk with my kids and my 2 big dogs. I have a double jogging stroller (with which I have never embarrassed myself by picking up the pace beyond a break-a-sweat walking pace.)

We looked like a picture walking down the street. Wally, at four years old but big enough to be mistaken for a first grader, jammed into one side of the almost-to-small-for-my-giant-dutch-boy stroller. Vivvi, beside him, making silly faces and sounds with her high munchkin voice that he laughed at. Buttercup, our golden retriever, and Ellie, our chocolate lab, leashed and walking proudly on either side of the stroller, like Cinderella’s mice-turned horses, pulling our chariot along. I waved and smiled at the good people of Spring Avenue passing by. I knew what we looked like—this family has their stuff together. A picture of this belongs on Facebook, for comments like a joshing, “You’ve got your hands full!” and “Brought the whole family out for your walk today!” or “Cute!” or a followup “Cute cute!” A “Liz Binder, Frances May, and 48 other people like your photo” for sure! A gorgeous parenting moment. Now let’s balance this moment with a dose of reality, shall we?

We’ll rewind. We don’t have to go far. Not back two hours, to when Vivvi woke up with the sun (angry, as we have come to expect of this grumpy waker) at 6am, cried for her robe to be put on, cried for me to get her giraffe out of her crib, cried because I got the giraffe out and she wanted it back in, cried because I hadn’t yet gotten her milk for her because I was dealing with the giraffe debacle. Her giraffe is loved enough that its head flops forward because it is missing stuffing in part of the neck where she holds it (or maybe from where I squeeze it this tight because we go through this fight each morning and it is the nearest, safest thing for me to take out some anger on as I start my day like a race horse, momming from the moment her first shriek of anger that she has woken up signals me to jump out of bed. It is nice, sometimes, to strangle a lifeless thing.) No we don’t have to go that far.

Perhaps 1 hour ago, when Wally Ben got a time out for blowing bubbles in his milk. Not a horrible offense on its own, but as soon as I said, “Take a time out,” he threw his typical time-outs-are-tragic, Academy Award earnable fit, complete with a loud, ongoing wail and a full body boneless collapse to the ground, some head pounding, some screaming, some crying. It’s as if I told him Vivvi’s giraffe had actually been alive before I strangled it this morning in anger. As he rolled dramatically to his timeout, Vivvi followed him, alternately turning to me to say, “Wally crying like a baby” and turning to him to say, “It’s okay, Wally, it’s okay.” It would be sweet, except that she did this once long ago and it annoyed and angered him so much that she decided to do this every time he pitches this epic fit (which is every time he gets a time out), because she is his sister and knows how to and loves to make him mad. Sometimes she even pulls out a “shh shh shh”, like she is comforting a colicky newborn, which really fires him up. The last time she did that, when I said he could come out of his timeout, he ran out past me like a slingshot straight to Vivvi and pinched her face. To him, it was worth another time out. To Vivvi, apparently, jabbing him with comfort again today was worth another pinch in the face.

But no, we don’t even have to go back that far. Rewind to 5 minutes ago, before we found ourselves pleasantly strolling on Spring Ave, around the block to Smith Street. We were not making anyone’s heart warm over there a short while ago, when Vivvi threw her shoe into a yard, and Ellie chose that moment to relieve herself, and Buttercup started pulling toward and barking at a dog across the street, and while I was trying to tame and untangle and shoe retrieve, Wally and Vivvi started to feel crammed in their seats and so they illogically started pressing full force against eachother, using their hips and shoulders and backs and finally an all out head ram to move the other over for more space. When I got the the dogs resituated, they were forehead to forehead, eye to eye, guttural screams and grimacing faces, with a foot of space on the edges and no space between, like angry, disproportioned siamese twins. After screaming from all parties, mine finally were loud enough to surgically separate the unfortunate pair, and we went on our way.

This post is written in response to a photo my husband took, where he came home from work to find me and the kids pleasantly relaxing with a pile of books in bed. Man were we cute, the kids paging through their stack, me with my novel, Wally Ben leaning to me saying, “Mom, why aren’t you reading?” and me, “I am,” and him, “But I can’t hear you…” The concept of reading silently lost on him, another seemingly simple idea that is impossible to put into words acceptable to a four year old’s logic. A Spring Avenue moment. But three minutes before that, we had a few Smith Streets that involved book tug of war, and claims of boredom, and some screaming and poking. And thus goes my day, circling the block, highs and lows, from 6 am until glorious, glorious bedtime. With all that walking, it’s no wonder I’m so exhausted at the end of the day.

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