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Until I had my kids, I believed that I was a competent and hard-working enough individual that I could handle whatever challenges may come my way. Parenting, as one of those things to come my way, has bitch slapped me back to the reality that there are some things I'll never feel that I've mastered. I flip back and forth between believing my kids are truly unique and I've been put on Earth to make sure they only terrorize really deserving people (these are the times my blood pressure goes up to the level where I become conscious of it coursing violently through my veins), and believing these kids were born "normal" to me, inhabitor of Bizarro World, where every parenting tip I implement is the exact opposite of the one I should have, and the poor, confused creatures are a prankster's experiment gone wrong, not manipulative or controlling tyrants (appearances - so very deceiving). Either way, I am clearly ill-equipped.

After last year's Memorial Day trip to the woods, John played dumb and "accidentally" booked two weddings this year. With sinus surgery looming next week, I decided to keep it simple and take the kids for one night. My brother called at one point during my drive, and asked if the kids were with me. "Oh yeah," I said. Before long, you'll hear Bryce complaining about wanting to get out of the car." (Stupid. I knew it before I was even done speaking.) Bryce, aka Super Sonic Hearing Boy, piped up in his most fingernail-on-chalkboard, everything-within-a-mile-wants-to-keel-over-to-end-the-agony whine: "MOOOOMMMMM, I'M TIRED OF SITTING! AAAEEEAOOOHHWWAAAA!" Suddenly my brother wanted to get off the phone. I don't get it.

When we got to the cabin, my mom had games, toys, bubbles, and the kids' favorite snacks ready and waiting. The kids waited five or ten minutes before they started fighting and complaining about whatever petty thing they could come up with. I can't stand it when they do this. I want to pick them up by their shirt collars and scream into their faces, "WHAT? IS ALL THIS CIVILIZED GIVING AND SHARING AND PROVIDING JUST TOO MUCH OF AN INCONVENIENCE FOR YOU?" but I don't. I drink wine instead, and when they've pushed my buttons for long enough, I engage in stupid conversations and ultimatums like, "That's it! If I have to give one more ultimatum, I'm getting rid of all your books and vegetables." (I learned that one in my Bizarro parenting class.)

I end up saying things I regret, or using a tone of voice I shouldn't, or threatening something I won't follow through on. I'm smart enough to know all of this compounds my never-ending problem, but not smart enough, or focused enough, to effectively change it. The result is frustration, guilt, a constant sense of failure.

At the cabin area park when Quinn walked up to an older, overweight, shirtless boy and said, factually, "you have a fat tummy," I saw the boy's younger cousin / brother laugh and repeat Quinn's statement, and I called Quinn over to ask what he said. "I was talking about his fat tummy," he said. "Quinn, we don't say that to people. You could have hurt his feelings. You need to go apologize to him." He did, and the next day we passed the same boy on the path the park again. Quinn looked at him and I stiffened, expecting the worst, but he only said, "That boy is playing basketball. I wish I was big enough so I could play basketball." When we got to the sand box, he sat next to Bryce and built a big sand pile, Bryce's "ant world, with an emergency exit," and after a few minutes Quinn looked at me and said, "am I playing nicely today? Not like yesterday when I was throwing sand at everyone?" I thought for a second that I should have handled something differently, that his emphasis was on his bad behavior, and that I'd been the one to create that, and my brain started to shut down in its self-criticism and over-computing, but I just said, "Yes, Quinn - you're playing nicely. Thank you, good job." and immediately felt ridiculous for praising him for doing the bare minimum of what I expect him to do.

To make things worse, I feel a general sense of dread and pressure anymore - not just about parenting. People talk about juggling work, home, kids, parenting, blended family madness, marriage, money, and self, but the idea of juggling seems a more in control action than whatever it is I'm doing. I feel like I'm trying to walk across a chasm of unknown proportions using rapidly moving, invisible, multi-dimensional steps. I don't know where they are, when they'll appear and disappear, and if I stop before I reach the other side (the location of which I'm clueless), I'm not sure what will happen, but whatever it is will be really, really bad. I'm pretty sure it involves falling. In whatever way possible while stepping without sight through unknown space, I go through the motions I think I'm supposed to: wake up, go to work, work frantically and attempt to come home in time for dinner, get home late (again), attempt to be engaged, focused, and patient with the kids through bedtime, fail within 20 minutes, blame failure on sheer fatigue and stress, put Quinn back in bed multiple times, end up yelling at the kids to stay in their beds, sit on the couch and feel like a scumbag parent, go to bed planning a different tomorrow, wake up and re-live it all again.

Next week I'm having surgery on my sinuses. "Don't bend over or your head will pound excruciatingly," they've said. "Rest for a few days," they've said. "Take your pain meds," they've said. All I've heard is, "good luck getting through this with your kids on summer vacation." I'll have to come up with some new ultimatums. How about water removal? "You guys come scream into my aching face one more time, that's it. Dehydration punishment."

Tonight after the 25th meaningless ultimatum, Quinn came downstairs after I'd put him to bed, and I told him to go back on his own. He said, "but I just want YOU to put me in bed, I forgot to get a hug and kiss." I said, "well, come here and get one, then go back to bed." He repeated himself (typical), and I sighed with frustration and said, absurdly, "this is the LAST time." All the way up, I wondered what would compel this kid to even want to be near me after so much strife. When will he start wondering that same thing?