Bully Fish

darla_finding_nemo_by_digitalwideresource-d5ce49kWho knew pet fish could be bullies. And that those bullies could bring several members of our family to tears.

Dang fish.

After a couple of petless years, I caved and decided my boys could get some fish and aquatic frogs. Our last fish tragically died (you can read about that here) but it has been a couple of years so I thought maybe we could handle some new ones.

I promised my boys that once we moved we’d go pick out some pets.

Every morning they practically woke me up before dawn screaming, “Can we go to the pet store?”

It took a few days to find our fish tank and its equipment; meanwhile my boys thought they were going to die waiting. Last Friday we finally got to pick out their new pets.

Each of them picked out an African Dwarf Frog and then my two oldest boys picked out two fish each.

It took forever to choose! And of course we got the most unhelpful employee in the entire pet store. We asked him what fish would be compatible with the frogs. He told us pretty much any of them. But every time they chose one he’d shake his head and tell us that it wouldn’t work with the frogs.

Say what? After being shut down four or five times I was just about ready to whack that worker with a fish net.

They ended up with the most random fish — A black molly, a red swordtail, a zebra-striped tetra and a yellow-finned guppy.

We set all the animals up in the tank and they seemed to be doing great — until the next morning. The small guppy was barely swimming. He looked weak and tired and he wouldn’t eat anything.

By Sunday night he was dead. And it was tragic. My poor five-year-old sobbed and sobbed. Then my oldest cried too as he tried to comfort his devastated brother. The poor fish was floating belly up and gruesomely his tail had been torn off. That cute yellow tail!

Monday after school we headed straight to the pet store with the dead fish in a baggie. Luckily there is a 2-week guarantee and thankfully my son found an even “cooler” guppy to replace the poor first one.

I admit. The new fish was cool. It was yellow and black and had leopard spots on its tail and fins.

But sadly it didn’t make it either. Tuesday morning we found him sucked to the bottom of the filter. My oldest “saved” him by scraping him aside with our fish net but a minute later he was sucked back to it. He saved it from the filter once more but to no avail.

It was horrible. Once again my five-year-old was crying, begging me to save his fish.

I don’t know how to save a fish!? But I saw him kneeling by his bed praying for his fish. What was I supposed to do?

I got an old jar out and put the fish in it alone with some food. I hoped and prayed it would make a rebound but it swam slow circles around the jar while scraping his side across the glass. It didn’t look good.

By the afternoon it too was belly up. And we were pet store bound again for the third time in five days.

Thankfully, this time a different employee helped us. We told her about our two poor guppies and she said it sounded like one of the other fish was picking on the tiny guys – a bully in our tank!

We left the store with a different, larger fish this time. We loved the guppies but they couldn’t fend for themselves against our aggressor. Hopefully our new one can.

Now that the pet store employee mentioned it, I can totally see a bully in our midst. The flat-faced zebra-striped tetra! Shame on him.

He’s the biggest fish in the tank and he thinks that gives him the right to snap at all the others and push them around. He hogs the food and rules the roost. I’m sure he’s the one that ate the yellow guppy’s cute little yellow tail.

I’ve never wanted to slap something more in my entire life. I have to stop myself each time I go near the tank from whipping my hand into the water and smacking his flat finned face. Sometimes I’ll flick the glass where he’s swimming and send him scrambling.

I’m half tempted to set up a picture of Darla, the fish-killing niece on Finding Nemo, as the tank’s background. Maybe she could scare some mean out of him. He’s a bully and he’s got to stop.

I’ve never been more stressed about some silly fish in my entire life. It’s freaking me out. I worry that each day I’ll walk in to find another one dead. Then we’ll have more sorrow followed by another trip to the pet store.

Have you ever taken your kids to the pet store? For us it’s not a quick, easy trip.

Now I’ve just got to figure out how to get our three frogs to start eating before we lose one of them. We’ve tried pellets, flakes and now bloodworms. Hopefully they’ll start snatching up something. Because I don’t want to lose another pet and I definitely don’t want to make another trip to the pet store.

Herding Cats at the OBGYN

Word to the wise: don’t ever take your three boys to an OBGYN appointment. Ever.

If you think you are going to have to drag them along, call me. I’d be happy to come and babysit for you.

I took my boys to the doctor with me on Monday.

Never again.

It wasn’t like it was an invasive appointment. It was supposed to be a simple in-and-out-I-may-have-a UTI check-up.

But some things can never be simple when you bring three little boys along.

After banning my two oldest to different couches on opposite walls of the waiting room because they wouldn’t stop fighting, we were finally taken back by one of the nurses.

It took at least six tries to get an accurate reading on my weight. Every time I stepped onto the scale, I had a little hand, foot, knee — you name it — weighing along with me.

Then we went to the exam room. It was pure chaos the moment we stepped inside. My 6-year-old headed straight for the plastic colorful female anatomy sculpture and stuck his hand inside.

When he asked me what it was, I lied and said I didn’t know. Luckily he decided it looked like an ear.

I had to fight my one-year-old off of the mini red biohazard trashcans that he kept trying to open and reach inside of.

My four-year-old thought the swirly doctor’s stool was his personal merry-go-round.

They scrambled through the room wreaking havoc within seconds. Then they noticed the blood pressure cuff and boxes of blue plastic exam gloves hanging on the walls.

It was all I could do to keep them away from pretty much everything.

I was worn out long before I ever made it to the restroom to give a urine sample.

That was another challenge.

I tried to sit my baby on the bathroom floor sandwiched between his two brothers to keep him from crawling all over the place. I positioned the three of them just outside my stall.

Bad idea.

My boys both tried to “help” hold their brother in place by squeezing and smashing him. I bet everyone in the entire clinic heard him screaming.

On the way back to the exam room I told my boys that they could quietly look around the halls of the office where the doctor has posted pictures of babies he has delivered.

That’s when they sprung into a mad-dash-“Where’s Waldo?” search, looking for the picture we sent the doctor of my youngest after he was born.

Again, mass chaos. I found the picture, pointed it out to them and dashed them back inside the exam room.

That’s where the PA asked me to hop onto the exam table. I sat up there and watched my four-year-old nearly strangle my one-year-old in a tight-thigh-death grip while she pushed on my stomach. Meanwhile my oldest kept begging to take home one of the blue plastic exam gloves.

It was exhausting.

The best part? I went through all of this only to find out that I am fine. My test results came back normal.

I’m not one bit sick.

Talk about a let down — all of that hard work for nothing. Especially after I had to pay a co-pay. We all know how much I love paying those.

Bargains

Surviving a trip to the dollar store with my two oldest boys and walking out empty handed is like surviving three hours of church with my baby and walking out without him pooping all over his Sunday best.

Neither happens very often.

For some reason my boys LOVE the local bargain store. They could spend all their time – and money – shopping around its shelves. I don’t know what they see in that place. I don’t know what they see in the toys they find there.

Me? I’d rather steer clear. Because if I get anywhere near that place I know I’m probably going to end up with a new cheap toy that will get broken, or worse, lost.

It doesn’t matter what I go to the discount store to find, the second we step foot inside my boys make a beeline to the back wall. They know that’s where they’ll find all kinds of realistically fake and desperately discounted treasures – knives, swords, guns, ammo, helicopters, dinosaurs – you name it. And all of them priced $6 or less!

I hate how I have to hustle down the aisle hot on their heels because I’m scared to death that they’re going to wreak havoc on the cheap made-in-China-plastic-99-cent bargain toys. Let’s be honest, most of the toys sold in dollar stores aren’t made to last. Well, they don’t last at our house anyway. But I would like to be able to have the chance to take them home before busting them. I can’t tell you how many of our swords split in half or our gun triggers crack.

But my children are more than willing to take the toy-breaking risk. They’ll pay good money for the stuff.

When it comes to shopping at our local bargain outlet, they never seem to run out of spare cash. I know they get money from their grandparents for birthdays and Christmas, but that only happens twice a year. I know that my oldest son sold a ladybug to the neighbor girl but he only took in $0.79 cents for that. Where are these extra $1 bills coming from?

Because the second I announce we are heading to the store I turn around to find my two oldest boys stuffing their pockets with cash.

Every once in a while it’s me who chooses to go to the dollar store. I like to go there to get little gifts for neighbors and friends.

Usually on these occasions I try to prep my boys and get them in the giving spirit. But it doesn’t matter how many times I tell them we are there to buy something for someone else, they don’t understand. Or they don’t listen.

I took them to the store last week to help pick out a little something for our friend. On the way to the store I told them at least six times that we weren’t going shopping for them.

Sure enough, less than 10 minutes later we all ended up in the far corner of the toy section butting heads about buying another cheap toy.

I stood my ground and we checked out buying only our friend’s gift. But we went back the next day to buy what they “had to have.” And according to my 4-year-old, “that was the best day of his life.”

I want to be able to take my children to the store to help pick out gifts for others, but I don’t want to fight them every time.

I guess it’s only natural for them to want to get something when they see that someone else is, but I’ve got to figure out how to teach them that it’s OK to give – even when they are walking out of the store empty-handed. Otherwise I’m going to go crazy with all these cheap, crappy toys.

Now if I can teach them that, and manage to make it through church one of these weeks without my baby’s diaper exploding, I’ll have it made.

Road Trip

 

On Tuesday night I vowed to never step foot in my 2008 Honda Odyssey again. After riding all day for our family road trip, I didn’t ever want to sit in that minivan again.

And neither did my 3-month old.

We left last week for California, a trip that would take us 750 miles across the country and at least 11 hours each way.

Before we left, I spent $20 in the Target dollar section hoping to give my older boys something to do while riding. We didn’t make it 30 minutes before those cheap activities failed me.

Apparently you have to be able to open them for them to be fun, and my 6-year-old has yet to learn how to tear through plastic packaging. I got to listen to him whine from the back seat as he couldn’t open, only noisily crinkle the crap out of the wrapper.

At our first stop I opened everything I could see that he might have trouble with. Then I gave him a brief overview on how to operate our traveling DVD players.

The ride was much smoother after that.

My husband and I decided to break up the trip by stopping in St. George for the night and driving the rest of the way the next day. With how well the first day’s travels went I was optimistic about our second day. I was naive.

We left St. George bright and early, but didn’t even make it to Mesquite — about 40 miles — before my 3-month old was screaming. I hopped in the back to calm him down, but to no avail. He was MAD.

We pulled off at a barren exit while I fed him. When we all climbed back in the van, my 6-year-old announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. Luckily there was a potty 5 miles away, but then we all had to endure a can’t-you-go-when-it’s-more-convenient speech from my husband.

At that point I was so nervous about having to go before it was “convenient” again, I thought I better try while we were stopped. When I saw the line of four biker chicks waiting outside the Chevron lady’s room, I changed my mind and decided to hold it.

Bad idea. Our next stop was Barstow where we ate a pizza at a park. You can only imagine what the facilities were like there. I ended up squatting over a chrome commode because the nasty metal seat nearly frostbit my backside. It. Was. Gross.

Aside from a couple of smartphone Google-maps mishaps, one of which nearly led us up a rocky cliff in order to find Pizza Hut, we made it to our final destination without any more incident.

Note that I said without any more incident. That doesn’t mean we were free from any more outbursts from the youngest member of our party.

Poor little baby. I think a combination of things drove him to tears — strapped facing backwards, stranded by himself in the middle of the van, restricted to sitting in a tiny chair with a poopy backside, to mention a few.

But the trip back to Utah would be worse.

On the way home, we didn’t stop in St. George. We drove straight through each inch of those 750 miles. It was the longest drive of my life.

Before we even left California my husband made a dangerous suggestion.

“We could slide the middle seats in the van together,” he said. “That way when our baby gets hungry we wouldn’t even have to stop. You could just kind of lean over his car seat to feed him.”

Say what? I didn’t know if I should yell at him for thinking that was a good idea, or laugh at the absurdity of his proposition.

Luckily — for him — I laughed. Then he backed off of the idea like it was a joke. Sadly, I swear he was serious. To his utter disappointment, I sat up front with him and didn’t hunch over the car seat every three hours to nurse.

The drive from California to Las Vegas was actually pretty good. The baby fell asleep and we drove in peace. I finally got to dive into the new novel I bought for the trip.

But after Vegas I think we all had had enough. The two oldest kept punching and pinching in the back while yelling loud enough to keep their brother awake.

Once again I tried to calm the little one down by climbing into the middle and acting like a fool to entertain him, but it was all in vain. I finally climbed back to the front and tried not to let my heart break as he continued to cry. It was horrible staring at his screaming pinkish purple face knowing there literally was nothing I could do for him.

Despite his cries, we drove on.

To top the trip all off, as we were buckling up at our last pit stop, my husband spotted two baby mice frolicking by the entrance to the fast-food joint where we had just eaten. They were inches away from the door to the place where my meal was prepared – Where all of our meals were prepared. Yuck!

Our baby fell asleep while nursing during dinner, giving me a sense of hope. But I guess he has gotten really good at sensing his car-seat confinement. He was screaming mere minutes from our final take off.

Having already hopped in the back seat twice on the trip I figured it would do me no good. I waited an hour or so before I could take it no longer.

By the time we rounded the point of the mountain, I was dreaming of having a taxi-like partition between the front and rear seats of the van. I thought I was going to go crazy with the screaming.

I jumped into the middle of the van hoping that the third time would be the charm and that I could somehow make him stop. We rode the rest of the way with the interior light on as I jingled rattles and babbled like a bubbling idiot trying to entertain him on the last leg of our journey.

Miraculously it worked.

We were able to drive the last hour and a half of our trip in peace listening to the presidential debate while our two oldest boys watched probably their twelfth movie of the trip.

But an hour and a half of peace isn’t enough to forget the other hours of close-spaced stress.

We rolled into our driveway at 9 p.m. At least 12 hours from when we left. And that’s when I promised myself I would never get back into our silver van.

Unfortunately, that promise was short-lived. I had to climb into the driver’s seat less than 12 hours later to take my oldest to school.

So I may not be able to avoid driving around town, but you can be sure it will be a long time before I am ready for another all-day mini-van confinement.

Cartless Shopping

Now that my two oldest are getting too big to fit together in a shopping cart, I am going to invest in two of those leash-your-child-to-you contraptions. It’s the only way I figure I can keep them from rampaging through a store like a couple of rabies-infested wild dogs.

It’s spring break this week, which means I’ve had my 5-year-old home all week. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that we got to play with him this week. Yet how unthrilled I was to run a few short errands with him Monday afternoon.

Running a quick errand with one child is difficult. Running one with two children is disastrous. At least for me.

Now my definition of a short errand is one where I can be in and out of a store within 15 minutes – 10 if my children cooperate. I’m not talking about an 1.5 hour trip to the grocery store. It’s not like I am torturing my little ones.

But they end up torturing me.

Our first trip Monday was to a rather large party-supply store. I needed to grab a few bags to wrap easter gifts. No big deal, right? Wrong.

Word of the wise, don’t ever take your children into a party-supply store. Their cute chubby fingers can’t resist the bins filled with favors. They’ll end up knocking half of the stuff into the aisles as you frantically try to put it back in the bin it belongs.

Not. Worth. It.

The worst part? When we got to the checkstand my 3-year-old spotted a piece of candy on the floor. He popped it into his mouth before I could yell “NO!” Then he smiled and laughed at how good it tasted. How can I tell him it’s not good for him when it tastes delicious?

After the party store we ran to a thrift department store to make a simple return. This store had carts. They were small, plastic ones but I didn’t care. I plopped both of my boys in the same cart and told them to sit down and be quiet. Big mistake.

They wrestled and climbed on top of each other and then decided to lick each other’s faces all over while I waited in line to make my return. Disgusting. No matter what I did, they wouldn’t stop.

And the check-out lady? She seemed oblivious. There’s something about my children going wild that must calm employees at the register. Because they never seem to move very quickly to ring me up even though I think I am going to lose it.

I think she said something to me like, “Your kids are having fun.” To which I replied, “Yep, but they are driving me nuts.” What I really wanted to say was, “Can you move any slower? Because I feel like smacking you right now.”

We’d been to two stores, shopping for less than 30 minutes, and I had had enough.

It wasn’t as if Monday’s behavior was a fluke. This comes on the cusp of me losing control of them at a religious store two weeks ago when we went to buy a small present for their cousin.

I had no option at this store – no carts. They zig-zagged through aisles behind me as a tried to quietly, yet sternly, whisper “get over here” in a respectful way. All heck broke loose when we entered the store’s small clothing section. While I was checking a size on something they decided to run from mannequin to mannequin rubbing their grungy cheeks on each white dress that was hung. I wanted to kill them.

Then I drug them to the cash register. While I was waiting to buy one, small thing, they snuck behind me and put plastic rings on each of their fingers. They were going to “keep” them. After I told them that was stealing, they reluctantly put them back and stood right next to me.

That’s when they knocked over an entire DVD display sending new releases flying across the floor. I helped a worker pick them up and put the display back up only to turn around and see them knock it down again. I was so mad.

I took them on one simple errand that day and I ended up exhausted.

But I’m too stubborn to run all of my errands alone. I have more time during the day when they are with me and even though it stresses me out, I feel like I need to keep taking them so they will learn to behave. Wishful thinking? Probably.

Luckily for a couple more months I’ll just have one little boy to take with me when my oldest goes back to school. Who knows what I’ll do this summer when I add a third one to the mix. I’ll definitely have to order my leash things by then.

My Hate of Grocery Shopping

If I didn’t have to eat to live, I would never go grocery shopping.

The grocery store and I do not mix. Add children to the equation and the combination is lethal. Normally I come home and want to cry, take a nap or start ordering all of my food from Schwans.

No matter how much I plan and how many coupons I clip, our trip always takes twice as long as I want it to and I spend twice as much as I planned.

I don’t know what it is about buying food for our family, but it brings out the worst in my boys and me.

Heaven help me if I have to go to a store with car carts. It never fails that the seatbelts have been broken off so my kids can climb out of the car’s doors freely. Usually they try to make a break for it while I’m rolling them quickly and I nearly run over one of their arms.

Then there’s shopping with the extended double-seated carts.  I have a serious love-hate relationship with those things.

One week I drove around the entire parking lot looking for an extended double-seated grocery cart.  I normally start our grocery trips hunting up and down the aisles looking for them. Because when we don’t have them, half of my food ends up smashed or broken as the boys fight while riding in the back of the cart. And I refuse to let them walk beside me.

Our favorite grocery store parks the giant haulers outside, which I think is totally stupid. Year round it causes a problem.

In the winter the door greeters have to help me push inches of snow off of the cart’s seats, then they get upset that the snow dripped inside the store. In the summer the seats are roasting hot and my boys don’t want to go anywhere near them.

Can’t they just park them inside?

This summer after hunting down a cart then draping it with my reusable shopping bags to keep it from burning my little boys’ bums, I pushed it on inside. Only to be totally floored when the door greeter cautioned me to not let my kids fall off of it.  Seriously?

I’m sorry that I improvised making a buffer between my boys’ bottoms and the blistering-hot plastic. Oh, and I didn’t want to strap scalding-hot seat belts across their poor little tummies in order to secure them in tightly. Rest assured door greeter man, their safety is my prime concern.

Maybe if you didn’t park the carts outside they wouldn’t be so hot and I wouldn’t worry about their under thighs blistering on contact.

All of this before we even buy a thing.

Sometimes while shopping my boys get what I call “grabby hands.” They stick their hands straight out from the cart grabbing and hitting everything they come in contact with on the shelves. That’s especially fun while rolling down the canned-food aisle.

Other times it’s a constant, “he hit me”/ “he pinched me” whine-a-thon. Yet another reason why I both love and hate the giant double-seated carts. I guess the urge to pinch, hit or bite your brother amplifies tremendously when you are in close proximity. Riding side-by-side, they just can’t help it.

I started buying a $2 cup of popcorn chicken for them to share while we shopped so they could keep their minds and fingers off of each other. That worked out well for a while. Until it got to the point where they started fighting over that too.

Every once and a while, my children surprise me by actually behaving when we stroll through the store. Then all heck breaks loose as we hit the checkout line. They must sense that freedom is near and all of their pent-up energy bursts through.

I have a particularly fond memory of my oldest kicking, hitting and biting me while we were checking out one day. I wouldn’t let him have a toy at the end of our trip and so he was taking his wrath out on me. I’ll never forget the older lady in line behind me. She helped me strap his tantrum-throwing body back in the cart so he couldn’t get to me to hurt me.

All she could say was, “I promise you it gets better.”

What am I supposed to do when they throw fits like that at the finish line? I’m not about to abandon a chuck-full cart by the side of the cash register and go home empty-handed.

I am sure it would be less stressful to shop alone. But I don’t always have the luxury or energy to go in the evenings or on the weekend.

Ironically, sometimes I think that it will be faster if I go shopping alone. Not true. I have been able to go alone a few times and it has taken me much longer. I guess something about pushing two little boys who are beating the crap out of each other makes you bust a move through the store and grab only the necessities. When I go by myself I pause to window shop. I get distracted. And I take twice as long.

But I can’t blame them for all of my grocery store blunders. I have problems when I am by myself too.

One night before their birthdays I went shopping by myself to get groceries and one of their presents – spin-brush toothbrushes.  Early on in my trip I dropped one of the stupid brushes on the ground and it started spinning. It spun and vibrated in my cart for more than an hour while I did my shopping. I’m sure the other customers walking around the store at 10 p.m. wondered what on earth the humming sound was coming from underneath my purse.

It seems as if I can’t win. And yet I can’t very well let me and my family starve because of a little chaotic grocery shopping.

Every once and a while shopping, I run into a mother just like me. She’s rushing through the store pushing a cart that is bursting at the seams and chastising her fighting, unruly children as her coupons and list fall to the floor. I have to fight the urge to give her a hug or a piece of candy. She has done something for me I can never repay. She has made me feel normal.

Luckily I only go shopping every two weeks. That way I have 14 days to forget about the pain. I am hoping that lady at the checkout stand is right. That it really does get better. But for now, I’m not holding my breath.

Wash That Car

If any of you ever get the urge to take your kids with to help you at the self-service car wash, call me. I’ll talk some sense into you.  

A couple of weeks ago my van was filthy after I took it camping. I thought it would be fun to take the boys with to help me wash it off and vacuum it out. Boy was I wrong.

First of all, we prepped the van for vacuuming. I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time on the vacuum limit so we took the car seats, blankets and all of the extra stuff out of the van and sat them on the ground. Then my boys each grabbed a section of the thick hose and braced themselves for the roar of the vacuum as they stood near the passenger side sliding door. I put a dollar’s worth of quarters in the vacuum and watched the machine flash 4:00.

Four minutes?! That’s all the time they give me to cover my entire van?  I knew time was going to be short, but I thought it would be a little longer than that.  I was feeling stressed before it all began.

Four minutes is barely enough time for me to skim the interior myself while racing from side to side. Trying to make it under four minutes with tiny arms stretching the cord as far as they physically can in an effort to “help” was going to be nearly impossible.

I was torn. I wanted to let them help, but I knew we weren’t going to make it. I tried to shout out orders to them over the roar of the machine as all three of us held the hose and brushed it across the carpet, but it was no use. We ended up popping two extra quarters into the machine after we ran out of time twice.

At that point I was sweating.

I glanced up at the pricing sign for the automatic garage-style car wash and decided that I didn’t want to pay that much. So we pulled into the nearest empty bay and hopped out. I should have known we were in trouble the minute I saw my oldest grab the hose/wand and raise it to his shoulder as if it were a giant squirt gun.

Because to a 5-year-old that’s exactly what it is. He doesn’t care about my van’s muddy exterior. All he wants to do is pull the trigger.

But at this point I still thought it might be “fun” to have his help.

I should have realized there was no way my scrawny arms had a chance in scraping off all of the hundreds of bugs that peppered the hood.

Not to mention I thoroughly pre-washed my left foot.

It took over 12 minutes to work through three wash cycles. I spent $7.25 to spray me, my boys and my van when it would have cost me only $5.50 to have the automatic machine do it for me.

Why didn’t I fork out that money?

Once again I find myself at a crossroads. Do I do things by myself in order to get them done quickly and right? Or do I continue to allow them to help?

I know I need to teach them work ethic, but next time my van is caked with mud and bugs I’ll wait until my husband can stay home with the boys and I’ll wash it alone.

What chores do your kids help you with? How do you keep calm while they help?

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