A joyful heart is good medicine,
But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
As the mother of a large family, people will sometimes comment that I must have great patience. These are always people who might not know me well, because my children will be quick to tell you that one thing I do not possess is a great deal of patience. At least, no more than the average mom.
And while my children do give me great joy, they can also exasperate me sometimes. Sometimes more than a little bit.
In fact, sometimes, they can exasperate me a LOT!
I do try hard to be a good mom, so when these exasperations come, I spend a lot of time trying to think of a way to fix it.
And sometimes, I have brainstorms that work pretty well.
I had four sons in my 30's, to be exact, I had four sons in eight years. Growing up in a family of girls, these sons were a great mystery to me for a long time, and now that I have added two more sons to my brood, I still have trouble figuring out the male mind. Female minds ( I also claim six of those) I have no trouble figuring out. The only problem there is I have the same mind they do, so sometimes I'm a lot of help, and sometimes, I am part of the problem. But that's another story.
So while in the midst of raising these aforementioned four older sons, who eventually all became teenagers at the same time, I had to do a lot of exasperation solving thinking. And that brings me to a couple of my brainstorms.
My boys had a terrible time calling each other "nicknames" that would drive the nicknamed child up a wall, some of them more than others. Gage didn't mind too much, his nickname came from an older sister who nicknamed EVERYONE (she's got a son who knows no other name but Beatle) and she nicknamed Gage Dude. Max was next, and he was Fryguy to this big sister, and that didn't matter much, either. But then Gage nicknamed Max "Toad" and it really stuck. And Gage had fun with that once we got a computer, transforming pictures of a big ugly toad to have Max's head on it's shoulders. I still have one of those today. They were hilarious to everyone but Max.
Daddy (Bill) was responsible for Spencer's nickname of "Dancing Man" which came from a really cute picture he drew of himself "dancing in the dark" when he was about four years old. Then, for some unfathomable reason, Max began to call Spencer, "Daniel". All.The.Time. And as you guessed, that one did not go over well. Again, for some unfathomable reason I have never understood. Why would one male want to come to blows with another one just because he was called Daniel? It's a mystery - one of those boy ones.
Beau was called "Beaubeau the orangutang". Don't ask me why about that one either, but one of the boys would probably remember. Thankfully, Beau is the calmest, gentlest of my sons, and he answered to anything. Now that he's bigger than some of his brothers, that might change, but he lives in Colorado so they are safe.
Poor Mary Susannah was called "America" by her oldest big brother. Always. And it made her cry. One of those female mysteries. I think it had to do with lack of power to do anything about it. But it's hard to seriously get after a big brother when the tattle is "Mommy, he called me America again!!'
So I spent some time thinking, because this was becoming quite a problem and disturbing the peace of our house. And then I had a brainstorm!
They were welcome to call their sibling names, but if they did, they had to pay them a dollar for the privilege. It didn't matter if they "forgot" the rule. If you call your brother (or sister) a name, you had to give him a dollar.
If you can imagine, this really took the sting out of being called a name. One or two of the kids were getting rich, while others were running out of money and having to pay their debts by doing the offended siblings chores.
Max says Gage never did pay the money he owed him for calling him Toad all the time. Gage, you owe Max quite a bit. Now that you are a rich restauranteur and lawyer out there in Viet Nam, it's time to pay up. I imagine what you owe him will pay for his honeymoon in June!!
My second brainstorm came about because these same boys had a terrible habit of calling each other liars. Yes, these are my perfect children who did this. Now this could not go on, because I felt like this bordered on sin. So I sat them down one day and told them that as Christians, they had no choice but to give their sibling the benefit of a doubt. That from that moment on, they were not allowed to call each other liars, but instead, they had to say this sentence, and they had to say it exactly: "I am sorry, but I do believe you have made a mistake in saying that." I said if they did not say the exact sentence, or something very close, they would be punished. The wonderful thing about this is they usually could not get the whole sentence out before they were laughing.
To this day, a couple of them still do this. Recently, I made a very large - ummm - exaggeration while I was telling Max something. "Mom, that's the biggest mistake you've ever told!" He exclaimed.
Well, maybe it was...
So this brings us to today, and a whole new crop of kids. Once again, I have accumulated four kids in the space of just less than eight years. I have a girl 10, a boy 9, a girl 7 and a boy 6. No, that doesn't add up to eight years, and they didn't join our family in that age order, but that's how long it was from Luke's adoption to Selah's. And they can exasperate me and try my patience very well. But the main thing that is driving me crazy these days is the sentence: "What (name your item)?"
As in, in the space of about two minutes this morning - and yes, it was Selah, which will surprise no one who knows her, but they are all masters at this - as we tried to get ready for a homeschool meeting:
Me: "Selah, I put your clothes on the table. Go get dressed."
Selah: "What clothes?"
Me: "Selah, I saw your shoes in your room this morning. Go put them on."
Selah: "What shoes?"
Now if you don't have children, this may seem awfully minor. But it you do have children, you will understand what I mean. Multiply this by 50 times a day...
Me: "Tommy, go pick up your coat from in front of the door."
Tommy: "What coat?"
Me: "Luke, go get your shoes out from under the table."
Luke: "What shoes?"
Me: "Angel-Leah, pick your books up off the couch."
Angel-Leah: "What books?"
What shoes/books/clothes/coat do you think I mean??? I told you specifically what it was and where it was. YOUR coat, by the door. YOUR clothes, on the table. YOUR shoes, under the table. How can you ask me, what coat, what clothes, what shoes???
Literally, it is about to make me a raging maniac!
Oh, wait, I already am. You know how people always say, "I'd go crazy if I had 12 kids?" Well, I did go crazy, and most of the time, life is a lot more fun that way.
Except when they say, "What clothes...."
So as I gritted my teeth this morning, and willed myself to be calm, I had a brainstorm. I called them all together and told them exactly what they had been doing, and how and why it was making mommy insane. Because I had already explained to them exactly what to get, and exactly where it was. And to say "What (item)" was being lazy and procrastinating.
So from this moment on, I said, they were not allowed to ask me that question. I told them I realize sometimes I make mistakes, and maybe what I asked them to pick up WASN'T where I said it was. Or maybe it was Tommy's instead of Luke's, or Angel-Leah's instead of Selah's. In that case, they may question, but they have to say these whole two sentences: "I am sorry, mommy. I looked for my clothes where you told me to look, but they are not there."
I told them if they didn't and resorted back to "What clothes/shoes/coat/books," they must pay me a quarter to tell them again: the clothes/shoes/coat/books on the table/couch/by the door/ under the table. And that when I got enough quarters, I might buy myself a big bar of chocolate and eat it all myself as a reward for not losing my patience. Kind of like having to pay your brother a dollar for the privilege of calling him a name. It takes the sting out.
So next time you see me at the dollar store, counting out handfuls of quarters for that big bag of peanut M&M's, smile with me, because you know I deserve it!!