The 5 Stages of Christmas Eve Toy Assembly

Twas the Night Before Christmas
The kids finally asleep
And the hour when all parents have to dig really deep. 

It is the night where you'll make memories you later will tell
For moms and dads worldwide have entered Little Tikes hell

While you're wishing for mistletoe to get in the mood
Instead you are realizing you're totally screwed

The toys to assemble
The bike and that truck
The hoop and the dollhouse
A grill? What the F@*k! 

Come Dasher and Dancer and instructions in German
On Donner and Cupid keep those wrenches a 'turnin

Late into the night, and then the wee hours of mornin'
Miniature screw drivers you will be a scornin'

But before the kids see all the magic you've done
before the smiles and shrieks full of laughter and fun

Parents who've just pulled an all nighter for the ages
Will have journeyed through the joy that is toy assembly's five stages

1. Denial- 11 p.m. 

When you are still trying to tell yourself the following; Those seven Amazon boxes are really just full of stuffed animals. Is it  already 11 p.m.? Thank God this won't take long.  I see us asleep by midnight. Maybe most of them come assembled. I got this- 15 years ago I was German club president and breezed through shop class. Nothing needs batteries. I bought all the batteries we will need. I bought all the right size batteries. Of course I know where the drill is. The cordless drill is fully charged. Yes, I remember where the eyeglass sized screwdriver is. Yes, it comes with an allen wrench.  All the pre-drilled holes are actually pre-drilled. This year we won't need the 9 inch Santoku knife,  needle nose pliers, jaws of life, and a blow torch. I promise. We got this. 

2. Blame- 1 a.m.

Here come the smart ass comments from the parent that did absolutely NONE of the toy shopping, and was asked to start putting the toys together three weeks ago. Here also come the smart ass comments from the 'so over Christmas' parent,  who has been toy bargain hunting since Halloween, making sure to snag the hottest and most desired toy for that kid who has only asked for that one thing. (And you finally found it!) "It's your fault, the kids don't need all of this!" "Uh, NO.... it's your fault, you could have done this weeks ago!"  "Oh yea? Well it's your mother's fault, for going over board on her grandsons and sending all these toys HERE for US to put together."  "Seriously?  Go ahead and take that two foot long Hot Wheels track and shove it up your arse- I'm going to bed."  Nowhere in my wedding vows did the priest say, "Do you promise to love, honor, and hold your tongue on Christmas Eve when you haven't slept for 3 years and your spouse just lost the allen wrench?"

3. Reminiscing- 2 a.m.

*SIGH. Ohhhh the peace of Christmas Eve before children, just the two of you, a roaring fire, and dinner that did not contain a nugget shaped anything. And then sleeping in on Christmas morning, like until 11, followed by lingering over coffee and good conversation,  then the  exchanging of thoughtful and intimate gifts. There will be recalling of your first Christmas as a married couple together, expecting your first baby, and eager to have a little bundle the following year. Remember when we couldn't wait to have a kid old enough to sit, unafraid, on Santa's lap? One that would write adorable letters to the jolly guy, and believed with all his heart the magic that is Christmas? Memories, like the corners of this coffee table we haven't seen in years because it's baby proofed.  So here's to us, being awoken by said baby tomorrow at 5 a.m., admiring the thoughtful new hot water heater we bought each other for Christmas. Hey, what are you doing New Year's Eve? Make sure to set the alarm for midnight so we can wake up to smooch.

4. We're Done Having Kids- 3 a.m.

This usually happens two or three kids in, with bleary eyes and impatiently angry voices. When a hungry baby has woken up to eat,  the toddler simultaneously begins crying because of a bad dream, and you have three hours more of clicking and snapping your way to the perfect little boy's workbench. You both start saying it. Her, "Don't ever touch me again."  Him, "Let's have another baby you said! It will be fun you said!" Her, "Oh don't worry, because I'm never having sex with you again."  Him, "How could we? They are all in our bed!"  Her, "NO. MORE. KIDS." Him, "Agreed."  You have two more kids anyway. 

5. Acceptance- 4 a.m.

Conversations cease, you hunker down, and things get serious.  You work like little elves, in perfect unison, grasping at any last bit of alertness you can muster, and pump out toy after toy in your garage turned Santa's Workshop.  You laugh at the arguments you just had an hour ago, and instead you pause for a few minutes to be a kid again. You go outside in the cold night air and ride the shiny new red scooter, pedal the Schwinn, and play catch with some new pigskin. You write out "From Santa" on the now completed workbench, test push some trains along the track, and stuff the stockings. You grab some asleep, even if it is only for a few minutes, grateful for children that will squeal through the house with the sunrise. You've  accepted the fact you are in fact actually grown ups (and parents), and you've rocked another Christmas Eve as a mom and dad. 

This year, I have very few toys that will need assembling.   As little boys grow into young men, chaotic Christmas Eve toy assembly marathons are getting rarer. Train tables and skateboards have been replaced by cologne and cash. This year, it will be a quiet night before Christmas, and I will look back on those insane early years with great fondness, and zero regret. Had we been duly prepared and put all the toys together early, we would have missed some of the most memorable and hilarious nights of our marriage.  Nights like those are parenting rites of passage, when you find yourself ponderously asking, "How did OUR parents do this?" 

This year, with all the peace and quiet I will have on the  24th, I will start compiling a list of presents for my future grandchildren. You can bet your little hex key I will be sending my sons and their wives an unassembled six story dollhouse, a bicycle in 85 parts, a three foot wide 300 piece lead free wooden puppet theatre (made in Germany), and a make your own glitter machine. Oh, and a case of moon sand. I soooo plan on being THAT grandma. Merry Christmas kids! 

3 Ways to Fail (But Win) At Christmas

Moms, we are heading into the heart of the  holiday season, and you know what that means: it is all up to you. YOU. Yep, you! You are the shopper, the baker, the tree decorator. The cookie swapper, the secret Santa giver, the garland swagger. The family picture taker, package delivery maker, and holiday party planner.

Exhausted much? Me too. There are neither enough hours nor espresso jolted chestnut lattes for this mom to be able to do all that  I am supposed to (expected to? assumed to?) get done before the fat jolly guy in the red suit comes. But that's ok, because I have a few  ways you can totally drop the glass ornament ball on some of your holiday to do list, without looking like a grinch. Moms of the world, how about we take off just a touch of the Pinterest perfect Christmas pressure? I'm calling for a collective round of caroling out "Let it go!" holiday style- where we  spread the joy of not giving a crap about the to do list, and instead, we actually allow ourselves to feel joyful, instead of burdened by the season. Then after Christmas, we may actually have some joy left to spread throughout 2015.

 I've got a few ideas.

Embrace the Imperfect Tree

Put down that copy of Southern Living with the 20 ft. impeccably decorated Christmas tree on the cover, because it's never gonna happen.  Don't even eyeball the department store trees. Nope. Also not gonna happen. And you know what? It shouldn't. If you have little ones in your house, let go the idea of having a perfectly trimmed tree. Heck, when I had infants crawling all over the place, and climbing on everything,  I actually put the tree up inside a pack 'n play.  A few years later, after spending hours trimming it to perfection, a four year old ran into it head on in the cozy coupe and knocked it over. From that year on, my boys have trimmed the tree. All of it. I just let it go.  Sure, for a while it only had ornaments on the bottom half, but they have grown taller, and now it gets trimmed all the way to the top.  It is not magazine cover worthy, and  sometimes I find things hanging on it that aren't actually ornaments (a little league trophy?) but they love it. It's their Christmas tree. And it's perfect. Win.

Don't Wrap Every Single Present

I am not a present wrapper. Nope. Hate it. I realized years ago I could not wrap presents and leave them under the tree with a house full of boys. Five seconds after I walked out the door they were unwrapping to see the contents, then attempting to re-wrap. From then on, all presents stay well hidden, until they magically appear under the tree Christmas morning. Seriously, there are no presents under my tree until the 25th. My idea of wrapping is sticking on a bow with a "From Santa" label, or a recycled gift bag if I am feeling nutty. If my older boys want to help wrap gifts for the little ones, they are more than welcome, and no style points given or expected.  Often it becomes a competition of who can wrap the worst. I let it go. Bonus, there is a lot less garbage Christmas morning, and I've saved a few trees. Earth Day should totally be in December. Win.

A Real Family Christmas Card Picture

The best, easiest, most successful holiday family photo I took for our card was the one with all my boys ASLEEP. It is not physically  or mentally possible to get four boys (and one grown man) to dress formally, smile joyfully, and stand still for any length of time beyond two seconds. Trust me on this. It CANNOT happen. So I let go of the notion of the perfect holiday portrait. One night, in a eureka! moment that may have been clouded by a few too many rum balls, I took a picture of all of them sleeping.

That became our family Christmas picture.

The card read, "Finally, a Silent Night!" Never before did I have friends personally call me to tell me how awesome our Christmas card was until that year. Win.

We will spend the next few weeks most likely feeling way more stressed than blessed. The season sends many moms (and dads) into a frenzy trying to just get it all done. And why? Because it is a 'season,' and we feel like we fail if we don't do it all and do it all perfectly.  It is all the great things we do as people, but forced and shoved into about 25 days. We save it all for Christmas; the charitable gift giving, the delicious food, drinking hot chocolate and snuggling with our kids, the parties where we come together with friends, the bringing of home baked goodies over to a neighbor, the telling our loved ones near and far what they mean to us. We save it all for one month. And then we stress out about how it has to be perfect and done, all before the 25th.  Well it doesn't. There are 12 months in a year, and lo and behold, they all have a 25th. Be the season all year. In the middle of June, bring food to the food bank. Throw a party in April, just because you haven't seen your girlfriends in a while. Road trip to your aunt and uncle's house for Sunday dinner, in August. Bring fudge to your neighbor in July. Send coffee to your kid's teacher in February.  We have the capacity to love and give in abundance, more than just in December. In 2015, try to be a little bit of the season every month, because that is how you really WIN Christmas.

Morning Routines of Regular Moms

First of all, thank you to 4boysmother Facebook fan Jennifer Hoen Dotson for making sure I saw this Forbes article,  knowing I would have some sarcastic lovely words to put together in response to, well, the pure insanity.  Now onto the "The Morning Routines of 12 Women Leaders." What in the actual EFF is this?  Has being just an average regular mom for the last 16 years  left me somewhere underneath the rock of success and womanly leadership? Nope. That’s not it. Because I believe the average (and let’s just make sure to highlight average) SAHM or working mom can in no way honestly and genuinely relate to some of these morning routines. And really, why should they? What is the big deal about a successful person’s morning routine anyway? We are all doing the best we can. Can we just stop giving props to unattainable and unrealistic expectations?  Chances are we already feel inadequate enough about what and who we feel we are failing, so please don’t make another deposit into the guilt bank. Forbes, what is real female success? Well, I consider myself pretty darn successful (at least in my family’s eyes, and truly, who else matters) but my mornings look nothing like this. Nada. No way, no how. Now don’t get me wrong, because some mornings I totally kill it mom wise. There are hot balanced and healthy breakfasts, perfectly packed lunches, no lost shoes, keys, or homework. There are calm voices and peace and harmony in the pre-dawn hours. But in reality, that is not our normal morning routine. That is an anomaly.  As a matter of fact, when the morning routine is actually going smoothly, I get a sense of, “Why is everyone quiet? When is the morning meltdown bomb going to go off?”  And then I sit and wait for it. Tick. Tick. Tick. BOOM goes the chaos. Anyway,  thank you Forbes, for teaching me that to be an ‘extraordinary woman”  I should “adhere to a strict routine.” Hey, nothing against these women. Clearly, they are a success in their own right.  They have big careers and they strive to be the best, including the best in the morning. Me? Yep. I am sooo on that right now because really, I’m just like them. Aren’t you?

Let’s compare….

Superfood Stacey 
She rises at 4:45 butt crack o’clock, then eats hot quinoa and does  an hour “or so” of ashtanga yoga. What. In. Sam. Hell. is ashtanga yoga? Even on those mornings I can’t friggin sleep anyway choose to get up early and run before the kids get up, it is ugly. Ugly, as in, I am swearing while I am lacing up my shoes, I swear while tripping over legos on my way to kitchen, I swear while preparing my hot quinoa coffee, I swear all the way down the damn road. Peaceful yoga? I wish. Stacey then serves her kiddos green milk (don’t ask, but it involves steamed baby spinach and coconuts) while she gets dressed. My kids wolf down breakfast in 47 seconds, hence forcing me to get dressed in the same amount of time- so really, I just don’t.  Good thing black yoga pants double as pajamas, day wear, afternoon wear, and easily transition back into evening wear pajamas again. Forget the 24 hour bra, let’s thank the 24 hour pant that will never, ever, actually see a yoga mat. 

Meet Leslie, the “CFO.” 
God bless Leslie, who wakes up and immediately expresses in prayer how thankful she is to have woken up that day. Ok, I can’t fault her for that. And shame on me for not having the same exact thoughtful feeling every morning, but I just don’t. Mostly, my eyes pop open and my first thought is, “NO WAY it is morning. I felt like I slept five minutes,” followed with “Holy crap they are up. And they are hungry.” During her morning routine, Leslie writes two "networking notes, a follow up note, and a new connection note."  Hey me too! I write a note to the high school begging them to please give my kids lunch today, even though I am $50 in the hole with their lunch accounts (note to self, add $) then I network and make connections with, you guessed it, the meat manager at the grocery store, my UPS man, and friends on Facebook who I have not seen in person for 20 years. I am a networking ninja. 

Nell, the name dropper. 
Our next super successful morning ass kicker is a TV writer, currently working on the film adaptation of the book “Lean In.”  You heard that right, now let it marinate.  So Nell rolls out of bed and slides on some “John Eshaya" sweatpants. I had to Google those, to see why someone would refer to sweatpants by their designer name, and got a quick fashionista education in all things fleece. Turns out, when you pay $116 for sweats, I guess you feel you gotta let everyone know. Nell then makes herself some “fair trade” coffee and eats a “Zen Bakery” muffin. It’s vegan, just in case you were wondering. On Thursday mornings,  she makes homemade crepes and customizes them for each family member, with fresh toasted pecans. Fresh. Toasted. Pecans. Then it is on to the exercise machine, which is the "only place" she watches TV. (Oh hell no Nell, not the treadmill TV! Can't you just lay down for three days straight and binge watch Pretty Little Liars with me, please?) After maybe 80 minutes of cardio TV, it's off to a coffee shop to write. How lovely. (I am currently hiding in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat writing this.) 

Claudia, has no kids. And this would explain why her morning routine includes deep meditation, and writing down in detail all that she will accomplish that day, as well as “miracles to expect,” and the “attitude I will lead with.” Oh sweetie pie, my dear Claudia, brace yourself for babies hunny, when the only miracle you will expect for the day is not having poop shoot out the back of a diaper, and the attitude you will lead with will be the '360 degree head turning screaming mama, veins popping out of her unwashed head, shoving everyone out the door in the morning' mama.  No worries, you won't need a life coach to get you to that head spinning point.  I promise, like crap up and out the back of a diaper, it will all come out naturally. 

In all seriousness, cheers to these working women kicking ass at the start of their day. I mean honestly, kudos to you if you can embrace your morning like this. Women who work full time and have children are insanely strong, there is no denying that. But for me, the problem with the Forbes article is all in its tone. It glamorizes and sanitizes the day to day morning routines we all struggle with. If I worked full time and read this article, I would be beyond annoyed and disappointed with myself. But working or staying home,  this is not how things go everyday. This may be how some days are, but honestly, this is not how I would want all my mornings to be. Maybe it’s just my family,  but we thrive in the chaos. Sure, it gets me down, it is mind numbingly exhausting, but I am doing the best I can with the day that God lays before me. Our family morning routine may include moments with plenty of bickering, nothing in the pantry to eat for breakfast, no amazing workouts, meditative reflections, or spiritual journal writing and task listing.  But we try to laugh a lot, and amidst the hectic minutes, I try to breath and process that this too shall pass. I may not get to drink hot coffee today, but dammit, according to every Grandma I have ever met, when the kids all leave the nest, I will be drinking all the hot coffee I want, then crying that I am alone. (Still don’t believe this, but I’m trying.) So when you see me in the morning, in my 24 hour yoga pants, and I see you wearing the same, I am gonna give you the “My morning sucked too” head nod, and then we are gonna go our separate ways, hoping we do it better tomorrow morning. And if not, whatever,  the pants can do 48 hours. Trust me. I’ve done it.

5 Ways to Support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital This Holiday Season

In the heart of Memphis, TN, in a seemingly industrial pocket of town, rises a beacon of hope for thousand of families and their children fighting the battle of their life. Standing tall and ready to help win this battle, is the campus of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital®. It is here, where families from around the globe arrive in the darkest days of their parenting, are met with the promise of hope. St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.  Consistent with the vision of its Founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion, or a family's ability to pay. All of a family's medical treatment, travel, housing, and food are all covered.  In simple terms, they never see a bill. Ever.  This holiday season, as you gather around your healthy children amidst the hustle and bustle of celebrations and traditions, consider supporting the mission to help ensure a beacon of hope remains for families fighting catastrophic illnesses in their children.  Make that mission St. Jude. 

Here are five ways to support St. Jude this holiday season.

 1. Walk (or run) for St. Jude

On Saturday, November 22, supporters in more than 65 communities across the country will participate in the St. Jude Give thanks. Walk. This exciting, family-friendly event helps raise funds to support the lifesaving mission of St. Jude. You can join an existing team, or start your own and set up a personalized fundraising website. Running events include next month's 13th annual St. Jude Memphis Half and Full Marathon held on December 6, and the The St. Jude Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon to be held April 2015.  Raise money, lace up your shoes, and become a family's hero. 

2. Eat Out

The season lends itself to rushed days and jam packed calendars, making home cooked meals often hard to come by. By choosing to support  restaurants that partner with St. Jude, like Dominoes, Chili's and the Melting Pot, you can eat out and know that your purchase directly supports the mission. These restaurants, as well as many others,  are also partners in the Thanks and Giving® campaign, where monetary donations that go directly to St. Jude are easily added onto your dining bill. Look for the bright green Thanks and Giving® signs. And while I am talking about Thanks and Giving®...

3. Go Out Shopping


You have to holiday shop, so do it with a much deeper and possibly life saving purpose. On November 24, St. Jude will kick off their annual Thanks and Giving® Campaign. In 2004, Marlo, Terre and Tony Thomas created Thanks and Giving®, a national campaign that encourages holiday shoppers to "Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life, and give to those who are not."  During the St. Jude Thanks and Giving® campaign, many of America's most respected companies partner with St. Jude, and  want to make it easy for their customers to give thanks this holiday season, by making donations quickly and easily right at the register.  Then head over to Thanks and Giving® to print out your St. Jude Give Thanks sign, tell the world what you are thankful for this holiday season, then share on social media. Use the hashtag #StJudeGiveThanks. Together, let's get gratitude to go viral. 

4. Stay Home and Shop

It's cold out. You're already in your pajamas. The mall is crazy. Enter the Home Shopping Network This is the 10th year HSN has supported St. Jude, and with your help, they hope to reach $10 million in donations this season. Bedazzle your Christmas tree this year with the HSN Cares heART Designer Ornament Collection.  100% of the profits, no less than 30% of the purchase price of each ornament,  will be donated to St. Jude. The special sale runs through January 31, 2015. Shop on Amazon? No problem. Through Amazon's Smile program, choose St. Jude as your charity of choice at Amazon, and a portion of your purchase goes directly to St. Jude. Several other participating online retailers will offer a St. Jude donation link on their check out pages. 

5. Trim the virtual St. Jude tree and purchase a St. Jude ornament

Grab your kids and head over to the St. Jude Holiday Cheer Tree where they can design and personalize an ornament to be hung on the St. Jude virtual tree. Choose design, color, and then add your family's personal message to be shared with the children of St. Jude. There are also a variety of Christmas gifts, ornaments,  and holiday greeting cards featuring patient inspired art at the St. Jude Gift Shop. 100% of sales go directly to St. Jude.

This holiday season, commit yourself to giving to the moms, dads, and children at St. Jude. Whether you choose to shop with your heart, dine out with your heart, walk with your heart, or simply give with your heart, just GIVE. St. Jude doctors, researchers, parents, and the most precious of all, its patients, all thank you.

What the Blog Am I Doing? The Map to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

I met a dear friend of mine for lunch a few weeks ago. Friends for over a decade, she is one of those mom friends that I can easily and honestly unload onto all the real crap going on in my life. Nothing sugar coated between us two.  We were covering all the basics of conversations- “How are the kids? Seen any good movies lately? How is your husband?” But when the question “How are YOU doing?” came at me, I knew exactly how to answer. I blurted out, “I just don’t know WHAT I am doing.” And by "I don’t know what I am doing," I mean, I really, reaaalllly, don’t know what I’m doing. There has been a lingering sense of completely ‘roaming lost through motherhood’ feeling going in my life for a while, and I have been thirsting for a map. 

I can begin to pinpoint the beginning of the roaming at about the same time my writing started to be noticed by people other than my Facebook friends. I had a blog.  Now what? What the heck do I do with a writing voice? Do I treat writing like a real paying job? Do I now commit to sitting down and pumping out essays on a daily basis? There are an endless amount of opportunities for bloggers, and even women blogging conferences.  In the last few months I have realized that women writers have a vary large and a very in demand voice.  I could become a ‘brand,’ or I could dedicate myself to writing about one specialized thing, or I could solicit my writing and spend time reviewing all types of consumer products. I could add disclosure links and media contacts, and ‘where’ I’ve been published links on my blog. I could spend many hours a day on social media liking, following, sharing, linking, and promoting myself and my writing. I could work the phones and make editorial contacts and submit, submit, submit my writing all over the internet. There’s only one problem with all of the above- I kinda don’t wanna. I just don’t feel like that is what I am supposed to be doing.  Maybe it’s the fact I have a household of young men needing their mom, and a husband who works out of town and needs me to keep things together at home. Or maybe it’s because by age 42, I feel more like I really know the things I DON’T want to do, more than knowing what it is I actually do WANT to do. I know I like to write, but I also know I don’t want a ton of pressure with it. But then again, I also know I have a following.  All of this nonsense had been swirling around in my head when the “How are YOU?” question was asked. And then, out of nowhere, I got a map.

A few weeks ago I was contact by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. They are inviting several women bloggers to their campus for three days, during which time they will be introduced to doctors, researchers, patients, families, and executive leadership of the hospital. They will tour the entire campus, including the Target House, meet with the culinary team at the hospital, as well as brainstorm with the brand marketing staff and editorial and social media teams on ways to promote the hospital’s mission . They invited me to be one of the bloggers. Ummm, what? You want me? A regular mom who writes funny stuff about her crazy family to come to St. Jude and be a blogging partner?  And there it was. The map I was looking for. 

I leave on Wednesday morning for St. Jude. I have no idea what to expect. (Oh, and I have no real professional clothes to wear either.) I am nervous and excited, but most of all I am relieved, as I feel I finally have some sort of direction with my writing. Sure, I am still going to write satirical essays on the insanity of mothering, and anything else that makes me chuckle about life, but I am also going to be voluntarily giving of my writing time to share and promote the mission of St. Jude.  I feel it's part of what I am supposed to do with this blog. And I will start now. 

If you are reading this and you are not familiar with the hospital, here is all you need to know. Families never see a bill. Never. Ever. EVER. Children at St. Jude are fighting some of most catastrophic childhood diseases, including all forms of pediatric cancer. Catastrophic. Let that sink in. Cat-a-stroph-ic. When one of my kids wakes up with a cough and runny nose, I  practically think that’s catastrophic. When I am awoken during the middle of the night by a kid with a tummy ache, my interruption in sleep seems catastrophic. Schlepping four kids to their well-child check ups, sitting in a waiting room for 45 minutes, where a doctor will tell me they are perfectly healthy, well, that often seems like a pain in my day. Something tells me after this visit to St. Jude, there will be a lot less ‘pains’ and minor 'catastrophes' in my day. A. Lot. Less. 

I think my map says I am about to have a total life and perspective changing baptism of epic proportions. I’m ready. Won’t you join me? I hear the water is divine. 

Wanna Be A Mother Runner? 3 Must Haves to Get Moving

You may have noticed on your Facebook feed that fall racing season is upon us, as the crisp days make for cool running, and turkey trots and jingle bell runs beckon.  I may be that your news feed has become an endless stream of photos of all your mom friends beaming at finish lines, status updates filled with tales of couch to 5K miracles, and half and full marathon stories of monumental accomplishments. And all of this is happening because no other endurance sport has witnessed an all out female takeover as much as running has these last few years. According to Running In The, among all running event finishers in 2013, women made up 57%, while men made up 43%. No longer an exclusive ‘men only’ sport, female runners, especially weary and frazzled mothers, are soaring in numbers.  You may be considering taking up running, eager to see what all the hype is, and looking for that runner’s high all your mother runner friends boast about.  And then reality hits; you have kids to nurture, a spouse to love, a home to manage, a full or part-time job, and an endless list of mothering daily duties. So exactly how do you get started running? And where will it fit into your life?

Like most new physical endurance based challenges, running is going to be something you will most likely fail at miserably on the first try. You will lace up your shoes, head out the door, and three minutes in, lungs burning and heart pounding, your mind will begin tossing out questions- “Isn’t this supposed to be fun? When does it get easy? Where’s the runner’s high? When will I be able to talk? What it so darn great about running? I just want to stop and lay down!”

Beginner runners need to be aware that all of us seasoned runners started out the same way. Left foot, right foot, slowly and diligently we perserverd, and took it one run at a time. Some awful, some less than awful, some surprisingly not so bad, until that magical day happens- we are out on a run and for the first time it actually FEELS GOOD.  Suddenly our breathing becomes manageable,  side stitches disappear, our lungs are relaxed. And after? Hello runner’s high endorphins! But how do busy, do-it-all, aspiring runner moms get to this point? Here are three key tips for moms ready to get their run on;

1. Shoes

 You probably wouldn't think  twice about spending an hour in a department store trying on ankle straps, platforms, and wedges. Now put that much effort and then some into buying your first pair of running shoes. Avoid the big box stores and opt for a local running specialty store. There you can have your foot and stride analyzed, and your particular body needs addressed by someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Often these stores allow for a trial period running in the shoe, to ensure you have the proper type, style, and fit.  You may pay more than you anticipated, but a proper shoe can keep you injury and pain free, so don’t skimp.

2. Local support

Don’t go it alone. There is a very good chance a quick Facebook search for running groups in your area will yield many results. Typically these local running groups are free to join, host regular weekly training meet ups, and cater to every type of runner, including the beginner and the run/walker. You will be amazed at what a difference training with other people will do to your running success. In addition to providing encouragement, local groups often offer race discount codes, can share their running equipment reviews, and often train for particular large races together. When you are off and running successfully, think about starting your own local or neighborhood running group and meet ups for moms. Spread the run love!

3. There’s an app (and a podcast) for that

Speaking of spreading the running love, there is a world of running support beyond your neighborhood, and it can easily be found all over the internet. In addition to the thousands of running websites, and personal running blogs, there are an abundance of running apps and running support podcasts. To save you from scrolling from now until next year, here are three of my favorite running support websites and apps for women and mother runners.

Available free in the App Store and Google Play Store, Strava is an app that tracks your runs (also cycling) and records your progress and activity data, and syncs it to the website. You can also join activity challenges for free, and run virtual races against other Strava users, as well as participate in endurance challenges. Premium Strava members have access to even more performance tracking features and support.

A new streaming music service aimed specifically for running, walking, and working out, Rock My Run deems itself “music that moves you” and they aren’t kidding. These seamless mixes arranged by professional DJs come in a variety of genres and lengths. Using MyBeat technology, ’It adjusts the tempo of the music you're listening to in order to match your pace or motivate you to push just a little harder.” Brilliant. 

Another Mother Runner website (AMR) and the AMR Podcast

Join the enthusiast tribe of mother runners at the AMR website, where you will find support and laughter in abundance, as well as equipment recommendations, inspiring personal stories form other mother runners, a large variety of training plans, running playlists, and even mother runner merchandise. Site developers and mother runners, Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell, have authored two best selling running books, with a third due out next spring. Dubbed a virtual aid station for moms on the run, this comprehensive website should be your first stop on the internet for all things lady running. And don’t miss their weekly podcast available in iTunes. The witty duo have recorded over 100 episodes, each about an hour long, and perfect to listen to on your run. Podcasts include interviews with experts in the running, health, and nutrition fields, as well as answering all types of running questions from their community on Facebook. But the best part may be the few minutes of chatting between Shea and McDowell- like listening to your two best friends, as they chat about all things motherhood and running, including balancing career, husbands, children, homes, and achieving running greatness somewhere in the middle of it all.  And really, isn’t that what we all are trying to do? 

The Lost Art of the Anonymous Sale- 10 Questions You Get Asked At Checkout

Recently, my husband needed a new pair of simple khaki chino shorts. Usually, I buy things like that online, but this time he needed them ASAP, so I had to schlep it to Old Navy, errr….that store famous for flag shirts.  Let me preface this by saying I am not a shopper. I dread it. I am blessed in the fact I can pretty much wardrobe  the entire family all from the same online store, and I embrace that wholeheartedly. So when I have to hit a brick and mortar, a little anxiety kicks in. I am way too accustomed to simply clicking add to cart, proceed to check out, then calling it a day. It’s also no surprise this may be why I possess such a great relationship with my UPS man. (You are soooo getting some killer Christmas cookies from me this year ‘Brown.’) And speaking of Christmas, ’tis almost the season for big time shopping, which (GASP!) may actually require me to leave my snuggly checkout line - otherwise known as my couch. 

Meanwhile, back at that big box store with the creepy yet super realistic mannequins, my chino shorts in hand, I head to the checkout. And then it begins- the retail transaction 20 questions. Here are the answers I truly gave, followed by the answers I honestly wanted to give. (Alright, it’s only 10, but it feels like 20).

1.    “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
       “Yes, thank you”

No, not really. And can I please say stop making the tissue paper weight itty bitty shirts? Just stop. I don’t want to layer. I live in Florida. Paired with everything low-rise, you would need a size XXXL shirt, and you would need four of them to cover up your tummy.  And enough with the bazillion toys lining the entire check out counter. Stick to jeans. You hear that kid behind me crying for a motorized lollipop? Yep. Me too. Jeans. Just. Jeans.

2.  “Your zip code?”
     “No thank you.”

Can’t we just assume I live close by? I mean, I didn’t wake up today in Miami and decide it would be super fun and economical to road trip 400 miles for khaki shorts.

3. “Email address?”
    “No thank you”
    “But we send you great coupons!”
    “No thank you.”
   “Are you sure? You could save 10% on your next purchase!”

Yes, I could save 10% on my next purchase, but after I drive here, the 10% is lost in gas. And have I mentioned I have four email accounts? And by golly, I was just thinking I honestly do NOT have ENOUGH unsolicited email in my life. Yes, by all means, please add all four of my email addresses.  I cannot wait to fish through all the 10% coupons you plan on sending me three tat an average of three times a day. Yay- email!

4. “Would you like to apply for a store credit card? You could save 10% on your purchase today”
    “No thank you”
    “It only takes a minute, and if you are approved you could save $3 on those shorts, and you                   get exclusive coupons in the mail.”

Ok, can we talk for a sec? Do you watch the news? Are you aware of the economy we live in? Do you want me to explain interest and revolving credit lines? Because these $20 pair of shorts have the potential of costing $900 to someone who you will  sucker into getting a store card. And seriously, more freakin’ coupons?

5. “There is a shirt that matches those shorts you are buying. Did you see it?”
    “Yes, thank you. Just the shorts please.”

Ahhhh the up sell. I was waiting for it. Hey, why don’t I go over and find that shirt. Then, while I’m gone, you can enter my four email addresses and do the paperwork for my new store credit card, and then add up all my coupons. I’m sure the five people in line behind me (especially the mom of the kid having a tantrum over a motorized lollipop) won’t mind a bit. Go for it.

6. “Would you like to donate $1 to (insert any charity here)?
    “No thank you.” 
     “But it’s for kids!”
     “No thank you.” 

I’m not heartless. I swear. And I love kids. I have four.  But I have many charities that I currently support that are close to my heart, and directly impact my immediate family. I am also a PR blogging partner for St Jude Children’s Hospital. Why I feel the need to explain all this to you I have no idea, but you shot me that ‘you cheap ungiving lady’ look when you asked me to donate and I replied "No." I promise, I'm not a cheap ungiving lady.

7. “Will that be all for you today?”
     “Yes, that’s all.”

OH. MY. GAAAWD. For the love of all things denim, I swear on your 145 pairs of yoga pants that I didn’t just get up here and then realize I wanted three more things. I can promise you, amidst the sea of ridiculous questions, my mind did not drift back to that little black dress, and the desire to suddenly realize that yes, I do in fact want it, and can I go get it and then head to the back of the line, only to start back at question #1! 

8. “Will this be credit or debit?”
    “Ok, you can swipe now. Then it will ask you for your email, if you want cash back, and if the            amount is correct.”

Dear technology nerds- please, please, please somebody develop a uniform one swipe, one click, or one fingerprint way to pay for anything and everything. I’m ready to be Jane Jetson. So. Damn. Ready. 

9. “Would you like your receipt emailed to you?”
    “See #3. I mean, uh, no thank you.”

I'm almost done, I'm almost done, I'm almost done.....

10. “Receipt in bag ok?”
       “Yes, thank you.”

If I could, I would like it folded in thirds, wrapped in pink tulle, spritzed with Armani cologne, and sent overnight to my house, all by 10 a.m. My friend ‘Brown’ can deliver it. Or wear it. Whichever.

“Have a nice day and thank you for shopping today. Please take the quick survey on the bottom of this receipt, for a coupon to save 10% on your next visit.”
“Thank you."

Yup. Then the survey. And people wonder how Amazon got so successful. Back to my couch.....

Why College Football Is Like Raising Kids

I am a college football loving mama living in the deep south, and if there one thing you need to know about my ‘type,’ it’s that during the months of September, October, and November, we could care less about pumpkin spice flavored everything, cardigan sweater trends, and autumn foliage covered tablescapes.  What we do care passionately about, and spend every Saturday in the fall obsessing over, is all things pigskin. You won’t find any of us having a mani/pedi, or attending a garden club luncheon on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And southern girls know better than to throw any type of girlie shower on a Saturday in the fall. You will, however, spot us at our alma mater’s tailgate, transforming your average parking lot into the center of spirited fandom, where your trunk opens up and out spills a dazzling cocktail party. Oozing southern hospitality, and a football I.Q. that could rival an ESPN commentator, you’ll find us southern women happily dishing out pimento cheese dip, fried chicken, and smoked pulled pork. And most likely, at the tailgate party, there will mini versions of us, clad in their spirit wear, tossing footballs, tossing back the grub, and later that day tossing UP the mayonnaise laden dip that sat out in the sun all afternoon. (It’s ok, it was worth it.)  Anyway, it was after a particularly nail biting, fist clenching, hoarse voice inducing, battle on the gridiron last weekend that it hit me. It hit me as hard as a division one linebacker whizzing past the left offensive tackle,  and easily taking out the QB on the blind side. Turns out, raising kids is a helluva lot like college football- in its plays, its penalties, its screaming audibles (Clean. Your. Room. NOW), its highest of high wins, and its lowest of lows agony of defeats. Similarities? I have a few…..


Oh attachment parenting how I loved thee. Until I didn’t love thee. Until one day, four kids in, I decided I wanted everyone on the proverbial OTHER side of the line. I needed those ten years I lived without any shred of personal space BACK, and I needed them now. Sure, I can still hug and cuddle my little ones, but the big boys who I am now forced to look UP to? They scare me. I am the undersized offensive lineman looking deep into the face of a much larger D-back. Please teenage boy who just inhaled two rotisserie chickens, don’t jump over here and startle me. 

Hands to the Face

I cherished those times feeding a baby in my lap, with their big, round glossy eyes staring up at me, and those soft padded little fingertips reaching up to touch my face, squeeze my nose, or stroke my cheek. But in no way, shape, or form do I want any of my boys touching me in the face now. It’s just not precious anymore. Please, no poking, flicking, jabbing, nose grabbing, or cheek stroking with your perpetually sticky hands ever again.  (Unless one of you boys become a makeup artist, then yes, you have full access to my face. Bring your airbrush.) 

Unnecessary Roughness

Seriously?  I have four sons. My life is one big roughness penalty after the next.  Everything in my house is broken, and we have a frequent punch card for the local hospital’s emergency room, and also one for our town’s window glass replacement business. We live in a constant state of who has the purple egg on their forehead today? Need to do some concussion research? Come on over. 


Parenting. Just when you think it’s over, it’s SOOOO NOT over. Ever. Finally got newborn to sleep after three hours of pacing the floor? He wakes up two seconds after you put him down. Overtime.  All the kiddos tucked in for the night? 3 a.m. violent stomach virus. Overtime. Just found out science project is due tomorrow? Worst. Overtime. Ever. Hope you are hydrated mama, because life is parenting in overtime.  And this game is really never over.

The Upset

You are rockin’ the mom thing hard, your kitchen floor is clean, the laundry is done, and the  family is running like a boss on all cylinders. Reports cards are full of A’s, the kids are actually being nice to each other, and you went on a date night with your husband and agreed on both the restaurant AND the movie. Hoorah! Enjoy it while it lasts, because you are just one burnt dinner away from a cataclysmic series of false starts, personal fouls, and a pick six which will lead to #1 being knocked off their pedestal, and the entire family spiraling down into meltdown-dom. Man up mom, you got next week’s dinner…err….game to redeem yourself. 

Cover Two, Man On Man, Zone Defenses

There you are, just you and your husband and your first baby. It is a cover two defense in reverse, your sweet baby covered with two sets of eyes at all times.  It is the easiest you will ever have it, and the irony is you won’t realize it until your cover two becomes man to man when baby #2 arrives, and then full blown zone defense when baby #3 and 4 join the team. By that point,  you and your husband have  become masters of the hand off, the bootleg, the scramble, and the quarterback sneak. Four kids deep and I have settled into a prevent defense (just feed them and keep them alive), and now I’m just trying to run out the clock by bench sitting comatose, waiting for the second string to show up to relieve me.

Hail Mary

You’ve got one in you moms. We all do. So when all of the above yellow flags are tossed at you, and you are backed up on your own 30, and down by three late in the fourth quarter, go ahead and wing it. Just say a prayer, call your girlfriends, and schedule the mom version of the zero time on the clock touchdown- a girl’s night out. Because sometimes the best call in the huddle is

“GNO, 7 p.m., ASAP….hut, hut, hut…..”

Target And Too Sexy Clothes For Girls- A Boy Mom Perspective

Girl's Activewear Shorts At Target
(Silver? One inch inseam?) 

A recent article on Huffington Post about Target Store's response to growing complaints about the types of clothes they are selling in the young girl's department has received an overwhelming and passionate response from mothers of young girls nationwide.  As a mom of four sons,  I have never really looked at the girl's clothes in depth, but I do catch a glimpse of the itty bitty shorts and teensy weensy tops now and then. (I am also lucky to never having had to deal with clothing battles. Low maintenance boys have their privileges)  Ironically enough, the same day I read the Target response, I found myself in a back and forth commenting battle with mothers complaining that they are tired of school dress codes. Evidently  they are tired of their daughters being humiliated and shamed by being singled out and called out of class to the office,  and having to  await a change of clothes. I reminded them if they do not agree with the school's dress code, they should seek other schooling options. But no, that was not enough. They demanded that girl's bodies stop being shamed, that in no way is dressing in revealing clothes disrespectful, and why do we need a code governing what we can wear.  At that point, I had realized common sense had left the building. When a discussion about how there is a certain level of decorum and expectations in what you wear in schools and the workplace had now turned into how someone's 'feelings' are hurt because they cannot wear whatever they want, and girl's bodies are not shameful (never said they were) well, I knew is was time to power off. Then seeing and reading the overwhelming response and agreement with the Target dissent, I knew clothing common sense was indeed on my side. The over-sexualization of young girls has finally hit middle America's clothing racks,  and clearly, moms have had enough.  Even boy moms.

Recently something happened in my house and it got me thinking about how our children's clothing tastes, and maybe their perceptions of bodies and modesty are really formed.  I dress very modestly/conservatively (no plunging necklines, no short shorts, nothing flashy, I don't even like prints-think librarian).  I personally just feel comfortable that way, and I also dislike clothes shopping.  When I find a nicely fitting top, I just buy the same one in every color. My closet is basically a rainbow of polo style collared shirts, a few pairs of khaki pants, and jeans. A few months ago after working out, I came in the house profusely sweating and yanked off my t-shirt. Underneath, I had a dark colored and generously covering my bust type of sports bra on (like a half tank top) and running shorts. As I walked through the house, both of my teen boys said, "Geez mom go put some clothes on. That doesn't look right."

Now I am not a behavioral or adolescent psychologist, but I am thinking young men and boys who constantly see female peers in ill-fitting, tight, and too much skin revealing clothes will begin to think that's normal.  Subsequently, that 'look' will develop into what they find attractive. From that standard,  the clothes then slide down the slippery slope, and to be more appealing and attractive, pieces get smaller, shorter, and tighter. On the other hand, when they see modest dress, that becomes normal and attractive to them. Now of course my boys have seen girls in what we now call regular (small) clothes, and they have seen plenty of sexy and too revealing clothes worn by tween and teen girls in pop culture media outlets,  but I think (I hope?) that they see that as neither normal, nor attractive. And maybe it actually makes them uncomfortable. Now, is it the girl's fault that they feel uncomfortable?  No, it's nobody's fault.  It is simply their preference. And if parents continue to accept the new, or rather, less than standards of clothing and continue to buy it,  that is their preference.  But I have a message to mothers of girls who are fed up with clothing choices- your dollar is what clothing manufactures follow. If it stays in your wallet until you see a change, then trust me, change will come.

As far as my sons are concerned, soon enough they will end up at *college, where for the first time in their life they will not be surrounded by girls in modest, generic, plaid, religious school skorts and jumpers. Rather, they will have a whole lot of T & A up in their faces. Sigh. I dread that.

So Target (and the many others) hurry up and get your clothing act together. It's not just girl moms that are counting on you.

*Currently Googling all male only colleges

The Blender Girl by Tess Masters - A Cookbook Review and Giveaway

In her debut cookbook, Tess Masters, creator of the popular epicurean blog Healthy Blend Recipes and also known as 'The Blender Girl,"  delivers a delicious array of 100 plant based, whole food dishes. But don't let the title fool you, as the vegan and gluten free recipes are not limited to blender only creations. Chapters include nutrient dense and power packed smoothies and shakes, rich and creamy non-dairy appetizers, creative salads with easy dressings,  inventive soups, meatless mains, sweet desserts, juices, and from scratch condiments. Introduction includes informative directions for soaking and sprouting raw nuts, seeds, and whole grains, as well as lists of power foods and ways to incorporate and ‘blend’ them into your diet. A how-to milking guide for making non-dairy alternatives, a build your own smoothie chart, as well as information on probiotics, alkalines, and how to test your own pH also make this cookbook a handy reference guide for healthful recipe creating. An exhaustive food resource list and further reading recommendations round out this diverse and healthful combination of recipes for the health conscious and adventurous cook. A few of the innovative must try recipes include an artichoke and white bean dip (a healthy alternative to the fat and dairy laden original,)  a raw chocolate torte, a meatless veggie filled chili, and a gluten free pizza topped with arugula and Yukon potatoes.  For the vegan and those desiring recipes filled with live enzymes and alkaline boosters, The Blender Girl delivers an innovative array of options, beautiful photographs, and plenty of inspiration. 

Comment below with your favorite blender ingredient for a chance to win this cookbook! 

Thank you to Blogging For Books for providing this cookbook to me, and the chance for me to offer it as a giveaway to my readers.

Lost Faith In Humanity? Spend A Day In High School

Five minutes of watching the news and you will wonder how the world, how mankind, and all of humanity is going to survive. We are told our young people are all into crime, gang violence, are depressed,  or addicted to prescription drugs or the internet.  They are spoiled, coddled, and have no work ethic. They are information natives, having been raised always connected to a device, rather than to each other, and as such are allegedly socially inept, yielding  repercussions we have yet to discover.  I have two teenage sons, and often find myself looking at our society and wondering, "Have I done enough? Are they going to make it out there?" I also have days when I look at them, and attempt to process hormonal mood swings, piles of messes, groans and griping. Or I stand in shock at their sometimes disrespect and ungratefulness, and simply think "How does anyone survive the teenage years?"

Thankfully, my hope in the future, mine and theirs, and in what our nation's teenagers are capable of, is renewed at a place where you may think it would be falling apart; a typical American high school. There, in the library where I volunteer, teenagers in this small Catholic school roam in and out, doing teenager-ish things; hanging out, sporting earbuds and bopping their heads listening to rap music, tapping hard on computers, staring deeply into tablet screens and calculus books.  But if you look deeper, if you really observe their behavior, and you take a second and ask them some tough questions, and then listen intently, giving no unsolicited advice, only listening and encouraging, you get a glimpse of hope. Hope that these teens can and will rise up to the challenge of adulthood.

Here they come in all shapes and sizes, navigating changing bodies, and having to do so under media pressure which mandates attractive girls must weigh 100 pounds and young males be sculpted like Adonis. There are kids here for whom the yearly tuition is grossly unaffordable, sitting next to kids who could easily pay three times the amount. They treat each other as equals, for they both know the value of their education has no price. They sit in groups together, mixed sexes, mixed shades of skin color, jocks next to artists, next to math geeks, next to class clowns, next to introverts.  We have not forced them to sit like this, in "It's A Small World After All" fashion. They have yet to buy into the media telling them they are racists, bigots, or bullies. For they do not see a white race, a black race, a hispanic race, an asian race.  In their innocence they only see the human race.  At age 15 there is no need to practice or define tolerance, when you have been taught and are still practicing the most basic of lessons, to live to love your fellow man. The Golden Rule is alive and kicking.

I sometimes strike up "What do you want to be when you grow up?" conversations with them. I am not a threat to their honesty, I am not neither their parent pouring pressure over them, nor their teacher ready to grade and evaluate their answer. They harbor no fear of being honest with me. Their answers cover the spectrum of being insightful, ambitious, inspiring, nonplussed, often vague. To the type A kids, whose answers sound scripted and rehearsed, and who appear to know exactly what their field of study is going to be, how long it is going to take, what their job title will be, and what it pays, I reply, "Have at it! Set those goals. Keep your eye on your passion, your prize. Some people live their whole life and never figure out what their purpose is."  To the type B kids, who stare off into space while they tell me they have no idea what they want to do, they have too many varied interests, do they really have to decide now? I reply, "Have at it! Keep looking for your passion. Stay open to the possibilities. Some people live their whole life doing what they were never meant to do because they never left their options open." Both the questions and the replies yield the same reaction from myself and the students....big smiles. Possibility. Promise. Hope.

The face and future of humanity, if we continue to look for it in the wrong places, is ugly. It is a warped reflection of mankind, of only one horrific news story after another. The face and future of humanity, when we look for it in our youth, is beautiful. It is a perfect reflection of mankind, in all its purity, honesty, and goodness. It is spunky teenagers who will grow into poised adults, and vow to do 'life' better than their parents, and probably will. It is aplomb with hope. These kids. Our futures. I think we are going to be just fine.

Starbucks Gift Card and Hand Knit Cup Cozy GIVEAWAY!

Yes, folks....the Pumpkin Spice Latte is BAAAACCCCK! And you REALLY need this little gift, so you can look cutie patootie whilst drinking your 500 calorie, $5 cup of coffee!  All you have to do is comment below, or on the Facebook page to this question.....

What is your favorite coffee drink?

That's it! One comment will be randomly chosen and will be the winner!

5 Things You Should Have Done In Pre-Marital Counseling

I am a Catholic, I married a Catholic, and as such we were required to undergo something called pre-cana class, or pre-marital counseling class, which is typically given by a priest. A PRIEST.   Uuuhhhhh, yea. But NO. I did not want someone who is not actually married giving me advice and counseling on how to be married. Sure,  he is married to Christ, but Jesus doesn't leave the toilet seat up, fart in bed, and forget to buy milk. Luckily, our pre-cana was administered to us by our church’s deacon and his wife, an amazing couple who had a wonderful 30+ year marriage. We sat together, the four of us over coffee, and chatted about (almost) all the things married life entailed. We were over the moon in love.  It would always be this easy, right?  Nine and a half months after I got married, I had a son. Then 17 months later I had another, then another, and then another. After boy #4, on a particularly not so hunky-dory I am happily married kind of day, I dug deep into my pre-cana class brain bank looking for answers. What do I remember learning about marriage back then that can now get me though the tough times?  How did the deacon and his wife make it look so easy? Then it hit me, they never had children. Sure, they took care of scads of nieces and nephews and kids of all ages spread across their extended family and neighborhood,  but never did they have their own. That explains it.

I thought about all the mind numbing, mind blowing, and life altering things having children does to your marriage.  All the crap-tastic crap, literally and figuratively, and kid ‘situations’  that test your marriage harder and more brutally than a graduate statistics exam with a tequila shot hangover.  You know what I am talking about; those wonderful mom and dad moments that you two lovebirds get to endure, those lucky precious times where you are just grateful to come out at the other end alive, without having gouged your spouse’s eyeballs out with a hot fireplace poker.  And then I  realized something. My husband and I need to teach pre-cana class, because if your marriage can survive and thrive after four sons and the kind of mayhem we have survived for 17 years, all while laughing and still actually liking each other, than we must know what we are doing.  We are happily married people, living amongst the chaos, and we have wisdom to share. But our class would be a little different. It would not entail us sitting around a table drinking coffee and talking about “yes dears” and “no dears” and holding date nights sacred.  Nope. Instead it would be sort of a set of challenges, or situations, that you and/or your future spouse have to endure, and come out with your eyeballs still intact, sans fireplace poker. If you can do these and walk away still giddy in love, then by all means, tie the knot. Here would be a few;

1. Install an infant and toddler car sear  No biggie right? Now do it in a late model car before the latch system was invented. And rear facing, in a backseat that 25 circus clowns would call tiny. Now do this at a truck stop, in late July, in central Florida. Then drive to the next truck stop, remove car seat (to clean off vomit from car sick infant and wipe down car upholstery) then re-install seat. Don’t wake up baby, who just conked out after repeatedly up-chucking sweet potatoes and Gerber puffs all over the back of your head. Repeat this process for 300 miles, or six truck stops, whichever comes first. Oh, and you also have a two year old with you. He’s potty training, and you are out of Pull-Ups.  Godspeed.  

2. Husbands, tend to the needs of your pregnant wife’s morning all day sickness. This will look nothing like that cute time in college when she drank too much stale keg beer, and you brought her a trash can and shut the door.  You will be taking care of a full-blown vomit machine from  anywhere between one and nine months. You will spend weeks overwhelmed, standing slouched in the beverage aisle of the grocery store, carefully selecting 57 different flavors of hydration in the hopes you buy one she can actually tolerate. Sadly,  none of them you bought will ever touch her lips, only the wall she eventually throws them at.  Duck fast. Try to remain sexually attracted to her, even when the time comes when her belly, too swollen to make leaning over the toilet feasible, she frantically decides it’s just easier to throw up in the bathtub. While you are in it. And- bonus! At the same time she is heaving her breakfast, pelvic pressure from YOUR sweet unborn baby makes her pee right there on the bathroom floor.  Yea, when that precious moment happens, you are gonna have to not say ONE. DAMN. WORD. (Hint: this is where you don’t speak, but just leave her alone, then clean it up.)  Be ready to eat powdered mashed potatoes for nine months, because that great cook you married can no longer smell any type of food, or YOU for that matter. So go ahead and throw out all your colognes, hair products, and deodorants. As a matter of fact, just go ahead and move the hell out, then call her mother to take your place. Come back when baby is six months old.

3. Husbands, spend Christmas Eve up all night assembling toys. Don’t start until about 1 a.m., when it finally hits you that have two little boys sound asleep, who are dreaming of waking up to a cozy coupe, dump truck, train table, red tricycle, Little Tikes wonderland. Sure, your wife has been telling you for weeks to put the toys together but really, how hard can it be? Well, everything needs a flat head screwdriver. You haven't seen yours since you put that crib together four years ago. You bought AAA batteries. Everything needs AA. Your wife, up and awake to feed your third baby, whose diaper just exploded up his back and down her front, is crying with exhaustion and resentment. You had ONE. FREAKING. JOB. Finally, with baby strapped to you in carrier, and your wife long gone (she went back to bed, wishing you a Merry EFFING Christmas on her way there) you have two short hours to remember high school geometry, translate German (had to have the German made lead free toys didn’t you?) and somehow MacGyver the kid’s Blue’s Clue’s flatware  into a Sears Craftsman tool set, aaaaand then find a store open that sells batteries.  All before sunrise. Did I mention you’ve been drinking?

4. Wives, spend eight consecutive years either pregnant or nursing, and maintain a sex drive. Try to have some sort of affectionate touchy feel-y type feelings for you husband, other than wanting your fist to hit his face. Pay no attention to the fact he has remained the same weight since the day you were married, while you have had to gain and lose anywhere between 25-50  pounds four times. Forget the fact that all your parts, both those up there and down there, have undergone a metamorphosis of epic portions, (and I do mean EPIC-dammit if those engorged boobs weren’t awesome while they lasted) and his have all stayed the same. Try not to be upset when his loud snoring is all you can hear while you pace the living room floor at 4 a.m. with a colicky baby, while singing the entire score to Annie because you can’t remember any other song, having lovingly and unselfishly given all your brain cells to HIS babies. Have enough energy to actually give a crap about his needs, after having met the needs of every other human in the house for an average of 22 hours per day.  Try not to look too giddy when last baby weans, and you start daydreaming about how far across the world you can get before your husband comes looking. Recall a time when all you wanted to do was hit the hay with him. This may require wine. It’s ok. Husbands, take it in any way, shape, or form you can get it. Don't complain.

5. Wives, try to be grateful and content in the fact you just found an old chicken nugget on the floor, to go along with that half a bag of goldfish crackers and an overripe banana that made up your dinner. Never mind that your husband just phoned and told you he was  “so bummed” he wouldn't make it home for dinner and gives you the  “…dang it, I have to take a customer to Ruth’s Chris Steak House tonight but I would rather be home with you and the kids,” line of total bull crap. Embrace the nugget. Be grateful and content when his job, which allows you to stay home and mop floors and wipe pee off the back of the toilet all day, also forces him to travel to places like Belgium, and Spain, but “business travel is so rough.” Sure it is. Embrace your exotic travels to the Super Wal-Mart at 9 p.m., with three little kids in tow, because it’s kind of like a foreign country in there anyway. Be grateful and content that you will never earn one single penny for doing all the mothering dirty work, day in and day out, sun up to sun down, but when DAD walks in the door you are immediately chopped liver. Dad=party. You=nagging. Embrace the party. 

5. Teenagers. Just have teenagers. I am there now, and I believe the hype. Believe it people. Nothing, and I mean no crying baby, no terrible twos, no toddler tantrums, no annoying eight year old can hold a candle to dealing with small adult-ish versions of yourself. Mini, smart talking, smart ass, sarcastic little people who you have raised to find humor in all things, are actually NOT FUNNY now. If you and your spouse can get out of the teen years still married,  and make it to that blissful place called the curbside of his freshman college dorm, than you have finished the ultimate in marriage challenges. I think my husband and I are gonna finish this challenge, and possibly still like each other in the end. But we have two more boys coming down the pipe.  Never in a million years did I think saying “I do” would mean having to make it out alive after raising four boys. But I think we just may make it. No hot fireplace poker needed.