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The Non Spy-Speak Explanation

The other night when John and I were discussing one of the six dozen items on the Major Conversations We Can't Go Another Day Without Having list, both of us came to the conclusion that for the ever-loving love of wine and dark chocolate, something has to give. We just can't take it anymore. As soon as we think we have even a slight handle on one of the issues around here, something else pops up on the radar screen, and it is ALWAYS something we can't ignore. Lately the newest issue is John's older daughter, Hannah's school performance, or lack thereof. We went through the same problem last year, and the year before, and the year before. Last year it led us to the fiasco of the counselor from hell, and so we're a little gunshy about how to handle things anymore. Besides, to be honest, we're both only about half-way focused on this. She's almost 17. The behaviors we're dealing with now are the exact same behaviors that she's exhibited for the entire seven years we've been married, despite the dozens of different approaches we've taken, despite the all-out effort we've put forth with each. new. try. We're kind of thinking, gee, nothing WE do seems to change anything, so... uh... what's the point, again? But because her mother is completely out of the picture and her brother has self-extricated from the family, this kid doesn't have anyone else in her life even to act like they care about what happens to her; John and I, while we might feel like we're going through the motions, keep doing what we're "supposed" to do: doling out consequences, discussing ways she can improve her situation, asking what she needs from us, making suggestions, reminding her that the consequence for failure is her own, not ours - you know, all things modern-day "natural consequence" parents are supposed to do and say.

These conversations are, in addition to being frustrating (because of the blank stare and silence that comprise Hannah's "interaction") and draining (because of our knowledge that they are, in essence, pointless), very time- and attention-consuming. And I don't know if you've noticed, but we don't have a lot of free time or attention around here. What ends up happening is that John tries to have conversations with her before she leaves for school in the morning, but he never gets anywhere because the kids stand on the breakfast table and scream and knock milk cups over the second his attention is turned elsewhere. She slinks out of the house during the chaos to face another day of effortless sloth and academic facade. We try to pick up with the conversations at the dinner table or during clean-up, but again, because we can't process both "sets" of kids simultaneously, I have to leave the conversation to deal with Bryce and Quinn. John is left to muddle through the situation alone, and since said situation is much like talking to a wall, after his days of deep-breathing and banging his head against the steering wheel while the boys have spit fights in the car to and from school, he usually loses track of the "natural consequence" rules and the conversation goes unintentionally awry, down unproductive paths with phrases like "always do this" and "don't listen" and "every single time" and "get it together." It's an ongoing problem, a never-ending, resolution-less conversation.

The day after the latest round of these conversations, John called me at work and said "I completely. lost it. today. And I'll tell you the details when you get home." I wondered which set of kids had brought him to the brink of his sanity, the same brink on which I'd so recently been teetering myself, and I took a stab: "The boys?" When I got home he told me that after picking the kids up from school, he'd stopped at a convenience store for afternoon snacks. While he was paying, Quinn found a nearby rotating shelf of sunglasses and started spinning it as fast as he could, causing every single pair of sunglasses, and the open bag of chips he was holding, to go flying in all directions. Bryce thought it was hilarious and joined him, but he added his famous maniacal laughter to the mix, which caused John's complete and utter fall from the precipice of reality. "If there had been cameras rolling, it would be one of those scenes the media would play OVER AND OVER, inciting public outcry over my horrible parenting," he told me. I reminded him that mere days before, I had locked our three-year-old son out of our house, and then I said, "I think we just need to recognize that we don't have kids who we can just 'take to the store' like it's no big deal. Everything with them requires major preparation and heightened control."

And then, as we sat across the dining table from each other at 10:45 p.m., the dishwasher only just loaded, the mail still unsorted, the floors still unswept, the absurdity of the situation really hit home. We can't take our kids into a convenience store for five minutes without scheduling a meeting to discuss our strategy. We can't send our 17-year-old to school with expectations that she'll do anything beyond shuffle from classroom to classroom unless we spend hours each evening mentally rehearsing with her and checking her assignments as if she's in third grade, and even THEN, it's a toss-up. We can't focus on anything but one or all of these kids during our every waking hour without some major fiasco. What the hell?! Do you know about piles? We have piles everywhere - piles of bills, piles of laundry, piles of dirty wash cloths, piles of dishes, piles of dust and grime in all the corners. We can't GET to the piles. Any of them. That's not quite right, actually: we CAN get to the piles, but it takes robotic levels of stamina and the willingness to become more like board members of a failing corporation, constantly scheduling strategy meetings and foregoing sleep to address just ONE MORE THING. It's absurd.

My mom, in the midst of building a new house and adjusting to a new job and fighting off a cold and starting a new diet and taking care of my epileptic dog, agreed to take the kids all day Saturday. John was at a wedding for six hours, and in that time, all I managed to get done in all of my scrambling (and believe me, I was scrambling) were trips to the regular grocery store, the "healthy" grocery store, and the gym. Six hours. That's all I got done. And I was running. the whole. time. Without kids. If I'd had the kids with me, I would have accomplished ONE of those three things, and I would have needed a valium halfway through it.

So as it stands, we have groceries, and I worked out. Thanks to my mom, though, John and I got to take a break from strategizing - a long enough break to drink margaritas and see The Departed. The bills are all still sitting on the counter, the laundry continues to multiply like rabbits, we have something disturbing growing in the corner of our bathroom, but for now, I guess, we'll have to forego the pile maintenance, because would you look at the time? We have another meeting to attend. Today's agenda items include Why Our Life Resembles Hell and How To Outrun The Asylum Officials. Check your inbox for the summary.

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