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I always forego those extended warranties. I'm re-thinking that.

The more I say about the kids, the more obvious it becomes that we are doing something drastically wrong. If the kids were store-bought appliances, I would have taken them back to Sears today, righteously waving my receipt in the air and demanding an immediate refund. I might return in a couple of days to pick out a replacement, but I'm not sure about that yet. I mean, considering the fact that I purchased TWO, and that both of them are severely malfunctioning, it would be a pretty risky proposition, even if the store guaranteed the results.

Besides, my kids aren't microwaves, and I'm pretty sure their malfunctions are a direct result of my own stupidity over time - a classic case of "operator error" - so even if they were, the haughty Sears clerk would undoubtedly quote to me the part of the manufacturer's warranty that explains if you do something really stupid, like try to dry off a small pet in the microwave despite all the warnings in great big letters all over the appliance, the merchant is not responsible for any resulting damage.

DAMN. So, all those times we took the lazy way out and gave Quinn whatever he wanted despite the fact that he originally said "no" to what he was being offered just to avoid the screams - this was our version of putting the wet poodle into the microwave like it was one of those beauty shop heat dryers. All those times we lost our patience and engaged in a negotation with Bryce rather than sticking to whatever consequence we originally stated - our version of sticking leftover casserole in and pushing "1000 minutes on high" just to see what would happen. And now what are we left with? Poodle remnants and black, crusty former noodles plastered chaotically on the smooth painted metal like a Jackson Pollack painting on canvas, fried circuitry and flashing Zs where the digital clock used to be.

John and I have ongoing disagreements about various aspects of the kids' upbringing. We try to communicate and compromise, to agree to disagree about the less important things, and to respect the other one's wishes on the more important things, but always to appear consistent in front of the kids. The thing is, our "united front" means nothing to them. We may have a united front, but we're LOSING, so it really doesn't matter. They are so far ahead of us that they don't even have to worry about dividing and conquering; they can conquer our united front in their sleep. But, how is this possible? THIS is what I consider to be the real malfunction here, and this is the part that I would cling to in my warranty fight with the haughty Sears clerk. In our minds, we always thought we'd made the same basic mistakes that all parents make - we thought our mistakes were minor and wouldn't cause any significant damage (to us or to them) - like leaving popcorn in the microwave for so long that it burns and leaves a small smoke smear for a few weeks, or like letting a bowl of soup boil over and stain part of the rotating glass component. We read the owner's manual; in fact, I read lots and lots and lots of such literature, and I still do. I know all the tips and tricks, even for dealing with quirky kids like Bryce, and siblings of quirky kids like Quinn. I don't understand how we've ended up in the situation we're in, but something has gone haywire.

John was working today and won't return until late tonight. The kids and I were cooped up all day, so I decided after getting groceries, I'd take them to a local Italian place they like for dinner. I used all the good parenting tips - calmly telling them what the evening would consist of, presenting it as a treat, telling them I hoped they chose to cooperate in the grocery store so we'd all be able to enjoy a nice dinner together at one of their favorite places, blah blah blah freaking blah. Quinn loudly demanded macaroni and cheese, so that's what I ordered for him. Bryce ordered the usual chicken strips and waffle fries, and I even double checked with Quinn about his order: "Do you want macaroni? You don't want chicken and french fries?" When the food came, Quinn acted like somebody took his hand and shoved it into a vat of boiling water, he was THAT shocked and offended by the macaroni and cheese. He actually PUSHED IT BACK AT THE WAITER. WHILE. SCREAMING. AT. HIM: "That's NOT my lackaloney cheese! IT'S NOOOOOOTTTTT!!!!!" Bryce was contentedly munching on his food and I felt like I couldn't get up and leave the establishment since we'd actually ordered and received everything, so I asked if they would bring another plate of chicken. Quinn cried and yelled until it got there. Then, after Quinn took one bite, Bryce had to go to the bathroom. He's four. I couldn't send him by himself, I couldn't leave Quinn at the table. I saw busboys waiting like vultures and descending on tables within milliseconds of patrons barely scooting back their chairs, so I had to ask someone to make sure no one took our food away while we were in the bathroom. When we got back, Quinn, who had taken one bite, said he was done and proceeded to stand in his chair for the ten minutes it took me to get the check and bag up his uneaten food.

When we got home, they wanted to play in their rooms and we had a little time before they needed a bath, so I attempted to leave them alone for 10 minutes while I put the rest of the groceries away. Crashing. Banging. Screaming. Lots of "HEY! Don't do that! I'm telling mom! You're mean!" They were fighting over blocks. There are only five MILLION of them. And they were fighting over the surface space they each wanted to use for whatever blocks they'd commandeered. There are only SIX distinct eye-level surfaces they could have used, not to mention the 500 SQUARE FEET of FLOOR. But they have to fight. They have to yell. They have to push. my. buttons.

During their bath, Quinn started splashing. I asked him not to and said that I didn't want my clothes to get wet. Bryce acted like he dropped a toy, conveniently causing a big enough splash that it soaked my legs. They started squealing with delight, both of them splashing and kicking and swooshing from side to side. Brotherly love, I should be glad they're not fighting. I got Bryce out to dry him off and he tried to dive back in, while Quinn was still making tidal waves. I did my best to dry him off without screaming over his maniacal laughter (I am actually not exaggerating. He was laughing like a mad scientist, with the deep "a ha ha ha HA" and standing on his tiptoes for full exertion). By the time I got Quinn out, it looked like the bathroom had been flooded. After it was clean, I asked Bryce to get the blocks he'd left downstairs and bring them up, and then I accompanied him to make sure he didn't get sidetracked, since it was getting late. There was a start to a castle or robot made out of blocks, and rather than just putting the stacked legos directly into the big block bucket in one move, he insisted on taking them apart ONE BY ONE before he could place them into the bucket and go back upstairs. He might as well have been plucking my eyelashes out one by one. I told him to just get the blocks upstairs or I would do it for him and he would lose his chance. He tried to get them all apart faster, completely ignoring my request. I counted to three, then calmly took the bucket upstairs, which caused him to shriek and cry about the injustice I was doling out to him. The thing is, I don't even think he was trying to be manipulative - he truly believes that he is justified in taking apart those damned blocks JUST BECAUSE his logic rules over that of anyone else. It doesn't matter what I told him to do; he "just wanted to take those blocks apart!" He will argue this for hours if you let him. H-O-U-R-S.

Just a few minutes ago, after they had been asleep for about an hour, I heard Quinn start to cry over his monitor. It's actually pretty rare for that to happen, so I went up to check on him. He was saying, "No, not this one! I don't want THIS one! NOOOO!!" He was half asleep and kept pointing to one of the two life-size fluffy dogs he uses for pillows. One was under his head, one was right next to his body. I said, "you don't want what one? This dog?" He said, "Yeah." and then plopped back down and went to sleep (I think he thought I'd switched the dogs). Good LORD! Even in their sleep. Come up here so I can whine at you and you can do something to make my life more comfortable than a king's. And you better LIKE it, wench. Now, off with you.

Macaroni, chicken strips, restaurant outings, life size dogs, millions of blocks, hundreds of square feet of play space, a mom who rushes in after one minute of nit-picky whining - maybe that Sears clerk is right after all. Operator error. Big, huge operator error.

How do you repair the damage caused by the operator? I need technical support. Is this situation even salvageable? Or should I just go back to using the toaster oven to heat up my food?