MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE

I imagined it like a mini vacation- a blissful dose of much needed freedom. I planned to do several, long delayed projects and enjoy some desperately needed solitude. This newfound time wasn’t a special trip. It wasn’t a fabulous, new job either. My triplets were starting Kindergarten and I was the single, dry-eyed mama exiting the school.

Since our boys were identical, we chose to separate them into different classrooms, affording them personal attention and a chance to be their own person. Never in a million years would I have anticipated the opening of Pandora’s box. Unbeknownst to me, my boys’ schooling would become “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

It began with notes home, then extra practice work, then on to the dreaded phone calls from teachers. I decided I held what would be the record in Guinness’ Book of World Records for teacher conferences. By second grade, I had 9 in one school year. This so called “break” became my new job: speech therapy, psychometry testing, additional homework, dealing with school discipline for talking, and inadvertently, my feeling like some kind of parental failure.

Embarrassed by all the attention they got for being talkers and highly energetic, I seemed to begin each year apologizing to the teacher before anything happened. I became so engrossed with “fixing” them to match (even perceived) expectations that I lost being their advocate. To this day I regret it. However, they weathered it much better than I would have in their shoes.

Finally, by 6th grade, we had a group of teachers that decided the Turner Triplets weren’t going to have a bad year as their last at the school. This special group of teachers banded together to create a supportive team approach to managing the entire grade’s testosterone and energetic demands. I thanked God profusely for that year of support, love and good-hearted teaching they received. I’m forever grateful for that last year in elementary school because middle school proved to be a beast of its own (but that’s another story).

IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

Recently I was in the middle of chaos- literally.  I looked around and my house was overrun by 5 indoor, rescue animals and 4, college-aged children (including extra friends) on holiday break. I couldn’t decide what drove me more crazy, the animals or the people. I finally decided it was the people because the animals didn’t argue and could be put outside.

Around the same time, our family attended our daughter’s college graduation out of town, completed an 11 hour family road trip in a van (mostly peaceful) and had Christmas (also mostly peaceful). Unfortunately, I also got really sick. This contributed to my bleak outlook.

I felt everything going awry and prayed, “Lord, this is too much. I just can’t do anymore.” Then I found out a friend’s child had a complicated surgery and a close, older friend fell and dislocated her shoulder. It seemed things were going from bad to worse. I kept doing my devotionals, however, and felt a message forming. It said to quit looking AROUND at circumstances and instead to LOOK UP to HIM for peace. I was accustomed to circumstances dictating my emotional state. I knew emotions were a terrible barometer, but was nonetheless bombarded by them. I kept telling myself, “It’s only a holiday break, I can do it.” But when week 3 of the holidays became week 5, I started begging God for relief.  Instead, a son decided to have oral surgery and another son invited guests over for a football party but wasn’t even home. That’s when my hinges came unglued.

The saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  Some sage was spot on with that statement. That night, I cried to my husband that being in my home made me miserable. I couldn’t clean up, pick up, or put up with one more minute of disrespect. It didn’t help that on New Year’s my sons and friends decided to light fireworks on our deck leaving scorched marks and burned holes into cushion seats. It was time for this holiday to end!

Clinging to fragile hope and force disciplining myself to read the Bible kept me from storming off.  I felt like God was saying, “Stop looking around at circumstances.  You know they will change.  You have to have HOPE in ME and not in how things appear.” The reason I felt the message so clearly was because it came at me from multiple sources. (When repetitious messages come, I have learned to listen.)

Our sons are all back to their respective schools and we got our daughter off to her first post college job. We are down one animal and I can keep the cat out. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s more tidy. I feel more sane. In this quiet moment I am still reminding myself to look up and not around.

TRIPLE THREAT

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The cordless phone lies in pieces on the floor. Another broken item, I thought silently. One more example of a lack of self control, an immature temper tantrum. I couldn’t get on to the perpetrator or lecture anyone, however. I couldn’t punish them either.  Why? Because it was me, the mom.

Reaching a boiling point was an ongoing issue for me rearing my brood. Somehow, it seemed the extreme would occur and I’d be past my limit and explode.  My triplet sons seemed to make a sport of it too.  The only proof I have is that a large smile would erupt on their faces when I’d charge like a mad bull or start “raging” as they like to call it. Because then I became the problem, not them.  It was an interesting tactic on their part and it took me years to adapt.

When the boys were 3 year old preschoolers, I was barely done feeding and dressing them and their sister when it happened. Three sopping wet, muddy bodies appeared when it was time to load up. I burst into tears, undressed them, and began the laborious process all over again.  I also called their dad to come get them because mommy was losing it (again).  Why did I not send them wet and muddy to preschool? Because I believed it would reflect poorly on my parenting.

Occasionally I’d take all 4 children shopping.  BIG mistake! I somehow repeatedly forgot they couldn’t be captive that long.  Wanting so desperately to lead a “normal” life, I’d set myself up for failure. Thinking I could handle it, I’d get two grocery carts and put two children in one and two in the other.  I’d push one while pulling the other.  I’d also restrain the child from standing in the lower part of the cart by using a belt from a life preserver or by adding piles of groceries on top of him. (One goes to extreme measures when determined.)  This tactic did not stop Houdini-like escapes or hair pulling, however.

Once a sitter had them during nap time.  I use the term “nap time” loosely because it was more for me.  However, we knew they needed a break from each other, so we had them go in their rooms to play or read quietly. Inevitably, they were like magnets being pulled towards one another. Their doors would open slowly and they’d creep towards another’s rooms. One afternoon, a sitter was unaware and found all three boys in one room with a mattress barricaded against the door.  The boys were 4 years old and incredulous at times.

I prayed for patience a lot back then which I found out was one of my biggest problems. I was gaining patience alright but it was because of the inevitable, “can’t make this stuff up” incidents which occurred on a daily basis. So maybe it’s true you have to be careful of what you pray for. They are adult children now (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and I pray for their safety instead since I don’t want anymore patience.

George Bailey & Me

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“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”

BAH- HUMBUG!

Christmas Eve was always action packed with high expectations. Somehow, I’d blissfully forget each prior year and repeat the same, self defeating cycle. This ritual was like going to war but forgetting you’re going to lose. It involved dressing four children in holiday finery and attending Christmas Eve church services. It was our family tradition, mandatory, and we’d do it…NO MATTER WHAT.

Early in the afternoon I’d begin the bathing and dressing process with the beautiful, clean clothes, nice shoes and all. Of course, the boys didn’t care and proceeded with their obligatory wrestling (albeit inside the house). By 5:30pm I’d be ready for a nap but still had to forge ahead to get kids in car seats and unintentionally get my Scrooge on. I had no idea I was increasing my own blood pressure, stressing out my poor husband and forcing energetic children to do the near impossible.

Ever since I could remember I promised myself my family would be together, have traditions and celebrate Jesus. It was very important to me that my family be what I wanted so desperately for myself but didn’t have since childhood- a loving, stable, Christian home. That idealized dream met my rambunctious family and we’d be deadlocked year after year.

Nonetheless, one particular year, before the Fire Marshall determined we were cramming our church way over capacity, my family sardined in like everyone else. We stood in the back near the entry of our sanctuary and tried to hear the message and participate. I really wanted to feel peace and engaged in the worship, but HELLO!?! four youngsters standing through a long service isn’t conducive to meditation. Recognizing my young sons weren’t able to take much more, I decided we’d go into the adjacent alter servers’ room so they could move a bit but I could make out what was going on. Well, that idea was met with….”let’s try swinging these long candle snuffers around!” So, I exasperatedly said, “No matter what I do, I’m not going to be able to enjoy this service am I?” One son stopped, glanced my way and said, “Well, you put us in a losing environment.”

THANKFUL? No Way!

Reflecting on our recent holiday of Thanksgiving, I felt challenged to thank God for things I wish I didn’t have to. The saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes me cringe because I know for a fact He will give me whatever it takes to draw me to Him. He will do the same to you.

The reason He gives those He loves more than we can handle is because He knows we need almost brokenness to get past our human selves to seek Him.

If everything were manageable why would we need God? I also believe He wants us to thank Him for the things that break us because it’s then that we are able to grow into His likeness. He has to stretch us beyond comfort. It’s a dichotomy, but it’s very real.

I had been very self sufficient and a hard worker since my youth because I believed that if I put forth 100% effort and gave my everything, good would come my way. I relied on that mentality and it served me well through high school and college. Sure, I had many positive accolades and awards, but it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

Once, when my husband and I were early married, we served as ministry staff at a retreat. We were prayed over and the lady praying was taken aback. I didn’t understand at the time but now I get it. She stood up and said, “Oh my, you have a powerful path in your future.” We had no clue what she meant and just went about the normal business of living. Little did we know, she was foreshadowing our future.

After praying for years that I would be able to have children, low and behold, I got WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. I had a beautiful, little girl and a year later came identical, natural triplet males. Sure, our cup runneth over and yes, we had a quiver full, but the pathway there was a frightening trial.

I found out I was having triplets while having an ultrasound at the local hospital. My husband was home on his lunch hour while our one year old daughter was napping. Another family was also in the waiting room but had many family present for their baby’s first, grainy photos. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t be there nor could my in laws who both were working. I sat all alone waiting my turn for the cold metal strobe to tell me all was well with my baby.

I was slightly afraid because I had experienced a complication. However, that wasn’t near the complications I would be having shortly! As I lie there having the ultrasound, my technician abruptly stopped and said, “Oh my! I see two- you are having twins! You can cry now.” I lay there thinking, “What? Twins?” And then she became startled and said, “Wait! I see another. Wait. Let me go get the radiologist. I’ll be right back.” I lay there dumbfounded. How in the world could this be happening? I’m barely a mother. My mother is dying of Alzheimer’s disease down the street and I don’t know enough on how to mother that many children. I began selling my too small car and home when she came back to the ultrasound room. My first comments were, “Are there any more?” Once she said no, I began the task of realigning the Earth on its axis.

After arriving home, I tried to tell my husband the news but no words came. Instead, I handed him three stuffed animals. In true, pied piper sense his response was only, “Cool!”

I haven’t been as cool. This journey has broken me many times over the past two decades. Remember, I’m a believer in hard work and effort overcomes all. But guess what? Nope, it doesn’t. You can’t work good to occur. You can’t hope people will change. You can’t pretend good is happening when it’s not. You also can’t ignore difficulty and pretend it doesn’t exist. All of it is very real. We all struggle. We all have something or someone that brings us to our breaking point.

I recently read the book “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers that says we need to thank God for the very painful, difficult situations we have. He says it’s then that God can unleash His power to make change. Usually, it seems, that powerful change is in our attitude and therefore, our behaviors. I’m no Pollyanna and I am real in that I struggle mightily. I wrestle against circumstances and their perceived unfairness like anyone. However, I’ve grown weary trying to make things like I think “they should be.”

Letting go of results and expectations seem to be my struggle. I’ve wanted things to be just so and people to do this or that but have only met frustration over and over. I suppose God wants me to let Him be God and me be Katie? Maybe I’m supposed to leave results to Him and enjoy the process of raising children the good and the bad?

I’ve found the self restraint required to let things be almost impossible. I’ve wanted so much to “fix” things to how in my mind seem appropriate. But where has it gotten me? No where I’d like. So, in an effort to do the unthinkable, I am going to try thanking Him for things I don’t like and for those I want to change. I am going to ask Him to do His bidding rather than my all too faulty, presumptuous ideas. Maybe then, I can finally relax? Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter because I’m not in charge anyway. That much I DO know.

Pants, Wings and a Nudist Beach

 

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Young children are blissfully unencumbered by awkward things we adults have to navigate.  They tend to take things head on and react exactly how they feel or, ignore them altogether. There are three such instances that make me smile every time.

The first occurred when we took our children on a cruise.  Aside from lots of swimming and games, we also took them to an evening show in the ship’s theatre.  It was a show featuring lavishly dressed dancers and music.  One son, being approximately 6 years old had never seen sparkly, dancer’s costumes before.  When the velvet curtains parted, his eyes got wide, he turned around and blurted out, “Daddy, those women forgot their pants!”

Another surprising moment occurred when my husband took one of our 10 year old sons out for wings on a football Saturday.  We were out of town and he took him (here it comes) to Hooters.  When they returned, he said where they had gone. I was very curious how our impressionable, sheltered son would react to the scantily clad servers.  So, I hesitantly asked while fearing the worst but he said he DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE!

Last, but not least, one occurred when our 10 year old went snorkeling with his grandfather in the Caribbean.  When rinsing off in outdoor showers, his grandfather told him not react but a nudist couple was walking nearby on the beach. Not only did his face more than give away his feelings on the matter, but he was reportedly more appalled due to their being old……

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ANIMAL PLANET

 

I used to say the only mother I could relate to was on Animal Planet. My litter, like theirs, would tussle, prod, and generally aggravate one another until an indecipherable mass formed.  It seemed as innate in them as it was in the wild.  I tried everything to eradicate that instinct but failed.  I suppose it’s natural when three or more come from one crammed womb.  I finally just gave up and pushed furniture back or yelled at them to take it outside (mostly).

My boys seemed to always end up in a pile. This pile could be inside our house, in the yard, on a patch of grass at church (I hated it when they were all dressed up), on a playground, or even in the water.  They looked like a three-headed triclops with numerous, flailing appendages. I’d ignore it (outside the water) as long as the noises emitted from said “pile” didn’t indicate pain.  That sound was my cue to intervene with the water hose, pitcher of water or any other mechanism possible.

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Dumbfounded at how to handle the situation as they grew in size and strength, I finally asked one of the boys what he would do if he were a parent and had three sons constantly wrestling and bothering each other.  Being approximately 11 years old, he replied, “What do I look like…a social worker?” I asked him how he knew what a social worker was.  Dead serious, he said, “I saw it on Sponge Bob.”

 

No Words

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Sometimes silence is more powerful than saying anything. There are circumstances in life that not a single word or combination of them could affect any outcome. We offer words to pacify, heal, anger, inform, encourage, inspire, direct and so on. They seem harmless and necessary but aren’t always.

This week I attended a funeral. When approaching the family, I realized there was not one word of comfort I could offer. Nothing seemed right. It felt intrusive to even look them in the eye. Why did we force them to stand in a line and listen to our babble? They were suffering enough without all of our word pollution.

I am and have always been a talker. (Stop smirking, family). I got an award from my college professors for asking the questions everyone else was afraid to ask. It seemed good to speak up then, but now, I realize it might be time to conserve that resource in certain circumstances.

People know when you care. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. If actions speak louder than words why do we talk so much? The alternative band, Coin’s song “Talk Too Much” says it’s due to human nature.  I suppose we are doomed without self discipline. The Bible says if we control our tongue, we can control the whole body. Maybe I’m in the gym exercising the wrong muscles.

Next time the right opportunity comes, I think I will try to be quiet. Maybe then, I can do something that matters more.

Brother Bonding

If you think I am about to share a sappy, bromance story you are highly mistaken.  I am not referring to some mommy moment of actualized, parental expectations either. Instead, I am outlining how bonding became a criminal misdemeanor in the Turner household.

This is how the incident came to pass.

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My husband and I planned a short outing nearby.  We lived 90 seconds from a nearby restaurant. (We actually timed it.) We thought, “We need adult time and the boys are older now.  We can steal away for a half hour.  It will be fine.”  I always fretted leaving them but our daughter was about 13, could call us and we were 90 SECONDS away. What could possibly happen in that short of time?

One brother, being easily bored, was in the art cabinet when he found a small tube of super glue.  He may or may not have known its efficacy of attaching items together- one will never know.  Apparently, he went to each of his brothers and said, “It’s okay.  It’s okay. Just stick your finger out…”  Being interested and not realizing what they were doing, they stuck two fingers out and pressed two together. And just like that, four little fingers were super glued together.  This “sticky situation” is our family’s definition of brother bonding.  I’ve hidden the super glue ever since.