Herding Cats

The other night, I had my three kids post in mind.

I asked the children if they would like to eat dinner outdoors. I partly did this because the evening weather was beautiful. I mostly did this because it seemed way too hard to convince the three of them to come indoors and clean up and sit at the table.

As I tried to cook dinner (gluten-free spaghetti) I was receiving texts and then my mom called while I was feeling weepy and then nearly-two-year-old Noah came in and started crying because he wanted milk and he had already drank his milk, and became enraged that I would not give him more milk. Over his shrieks, I yelled something to my mom about calling her back. I gave up on preparing a vegetable accompaniment for the meal, based upon the fact that Congress says mere molecules of tomato sauce count as a vegetable. OK, it was really because it was completely beyond me at that point and the kids should have eaten at least an hour earlier than when I was finally serving them.

I took the bowls of spaghetti outside, and then tried to convince Noah to leave the kitchen and the empty milk cup and come outside to eat spaghetti. He wanted none of it, declaring, “No wikeit!” and I ended up carrying him by the armpits, sagging-doll style, out of the house with my own bowl of pasta. I managed to keep a grasp on it, thankfully, despite his thrashing. I finally convinced him he was happy by setting him up with a children’s camp chair.

“Can we go ride our scooters in the circle?” Asher asked, as I put the first bite of pasta into my mouth. There’s a court across the street that the kids like to ride bikes and scooters in.

“Sure, when dinner’s over.” Noah got out of his chair and went to hunt for snails.

“Mama, can I be done?” Asher asked sweetly, mere seconds later. Sure he couldn’t have eaten a thing, I looked down and realized that he had. Selah had already cleaned her plate and run off to search for her scooter. “Yeah, I guess so,” I said, and ate my second bite.*

Then I realized Asher had his helmet on and was about to head into the road. “Wait!” I was appalled until I realized I had told him they could cross the street when they were done, but hadn’t specified anything about my own timeline. As Noah prepared to follow him, I made a quick decision. “OK, just wait until Selah finds her scooter.” Selah couldn’t find her scooter. I tried to help look for it while putting her in charge of making sure Noah didn’t rush headlong into the street. The scooter was gone. She wanted to argue about having to ride her bike while Asher asked me if he could cross the street now at a rate of one ask per fifteen seconds. “Wait!” I barked, thrusting Selah’s bike into her hands. I held Noah in my arms and pushed his little red car across the street while he squirmed and said, “Down? Down??”

Little Red Car
Little Red Car

Once we crossed the street and the kids started happily riding in circles, I sat on the grass and tried to call my mom back.

Happy Kids on Wheels
Happy Kids on Wheels

Basically the moment she answered, Noah started to scream. He had managed to sort of get run over by his car. He was lying on his butt on the ground, with his head on the seat and his chubby legs sticking out the front like the Wicked Witch of the East’s.

Poor Noah
Poor Noah

Mom held on while I struggled with Noah, eventually basically just running him all the way over with the car so he could stand up. As I started to try to talk again, I noticed that Asher was about to head out of the court and cross the street again. I rushed over to him, and he announced that he had to pee. “OK, just wait until I can get Noah.” Needless to say, I couldn’t leave the baby alone in the road. I ran back to try to bring Noah, but when I tried pushing the car, he resisted and screamed, and when I tried to pry him out of the car, he screamed bloody murder. Here he had just finally gotten back in and I was trying to spoil his fun. It turns out that, by some odd principle of physics, when it’s Mama vs. a 35-pound toddler in a plastic vehicle, the toddler actually exerts more force. I could not get him out and I was afraid Asher would pee his pants. This was the point when I noticed the neighbors standing in their yard and smiling. I flung my hands up in the air with frustration, and they laughed instead of offering to help, which would have been more…helpful.

“OK, here, just go pee in our yard,” I told Asher. I helped him make sure no cars were coming and headed back toward Noah.

“Do you need me to let you go?” my mom asked.

“No, it’s fine. I’m fine.”

“We can talk at a better time.”

“There is no better time,” I complained.

“Asher, what are you doing??” Selah shrieked.

“He’s doing what I told him to do,” I snapped.

“But he’s peeing in the neighbor’s yard!” I turned around. This was indeed the case. His little naked butt was turned to the street as he peed on the neighbor’s grass. I gave up and just decided to ignore it and hope the other neighbors weren’t noticing, despite all the screaming.

I helped Asher come back and he immediately crashed his scooter while Noah tried to head out of the court into the road. I managed to shove the resistant toddler and his car back toward the court and then helped Asher, all while trying to talk to my mom and reassure her that I am actually doing fine.

We managed to talk a little bit before a truck turned into the court and I had to try to chase all three kids in different directions to get them out of the way. We talked a few moments more before the truck’s driver wanted to leave again and I had to repeat the exercise.

Selah and Asher crashed into each other, and a fight about who was the victim and who was the aggressor ensued. I ignored it and focused on following Noah, who had left his car and was wandering around people’s yards and out of sight. He did not want to be redirected. I finally gave up on the phone call.**

This, of course, was when I realized that it was getting dark and it was approaching bedtime. I looked at Selah on her bike, Asher, who was digging up someone’s lawn, and Noah, who was toddling away behind some garbage cans–and went through the same feeling I described in the above-mentioned post. It was completely beyond me to get these children back across the street to my house. It felt like that riddle with the farmer who must boat a bag of grain, a chicken, and a fox across the river one at a time but without leaving the fox alone with the chicken or the chicken alone with the grain. If I hauled Noah across first, he would return to the road. If I left him to bring Asher across, Asher might do the same amid a tantrum at being the only one brought home. I couldn’t leave the little boys across the street and bring Selah home.

Honestly, the details are a little fuzzy at this point. I know I had a squalling, overtired toddler under one arm, a complaining-preschooler’s arm in one hand, and a bowl of uneaten pasta wrapped in my elbow, and I was barking lots of orders and leaving lots of wheeled vehicles in the road. We did somehow make it back, because we all still live here. I sort of thrust all of the children into the house and went back for all the scooters and cars eventually. Nobody had run them over, thankfully. Children were bathed, clad in pajamas, and eventually shoveled into bed. I looked at the messy kitchen, thought about crying but decided I was too tired, and went to watch Big Bang Theory. Just a day in the life, I guess. But maybe I’ll eventually learn that I ought to just park them in front of the TV instead of allowing them to play outside.



*I never did finish that dinner.

**I have never been much of a phone person, but the list of people whom I actually speak to on the telephone is growing shorter, unsurprisingly. If you are not dying or a blood relative, please just text me. Or even if you are those things. Because I won’t be able to hear you.



21 responses to “Herding Cats”

  1. I tried teaching our then 5 year old to ride a bike without training wheels one day when I was home alone with his then 2 year old little brother, who was on a big wheel. It was an exercise in futility. And this was before I had the third. Biggest brother is now 6 1/2, and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike without training wheels.

    1. Yes, I almost died trying to teach Selah how to ride at some point in her mid to upper sixes. I swear I am not bothering to teach anyone else. Or teach them to swim either. Same reason.

  2. Juliana Avatar

    Based on the “mere molecules of tomato” definition, I’d say Noah had vegetables as part of his lunch.

    1. Great! Take that, prostate cancer!

  3. Oh my. Sounds like you handled it as a true multi-talking mother!

    1. You do get better at juggling, don’t you! Or else you find out at what point you are unable to keep juggling. One or the other.

      1. But isn’t that the beauty…or tragedy…of being a mother. You would never stop. You’re their mother. And on those days maybe eat a big bowl of ice cream after the kids are in bed.

  4. You know- everything can be going so great one moment and then completly out of contol the next. Either with one kid being difficult or all of them competing for the most difficult all while fighting. This is why I fold laundry after Mitch gets home- in my room- with the door shut- T.V turned on and volume up. Anxiety is putting it mildly… LOL-right?

    1. Oh man! Between fighting and people repeating my name over and over–ack!

  5. Oh man. Sometimes tales of children overwhelming us is funny. Other times, like this one I wish we could be friends so I can say, oh friend, that sounds awful and overwhelming. You’re doing a great job. Hang in there

    1. Thanks, that is nice. It was kind of awful. I can never tell when it’s going to be like that, but I can say that too much physical space usually is not a good thing. I may start carrying around a pen to put them in.

  6. ms_smartiepants Avatar

    So driving the kids home from school yesterday, Carys is her usual exuberantly chatty self, while Micah is behaving as though he has been mainlining espresso. Through the mayhem, I mutter, “Man, this is like when you guys were littler and I needed earplugs in the car.” Micah pipes up, “Mom, did you just say that when we were littler you needed mental care?”

    Um. Yeah.

    1. You probably did need mental care then.

  7. Allison Avatar

    Laura, in the midst of this tornado of activity, know that you are a good parent. Taking care of three children at the ages they are now is physically and mentally exhausting but they do know they are loved and cherished. Believe it or not, you will look back on these crazy days with appreciation and laughter. When we are in the middle of it, we keep thinking – “just wait till they are older” and then “poof!” – they are grown and you will now laugh with them instead of screaming at them about the crazy games and adventures you’d shared together. much love to you and give yourself a hug!

    1. Thanks, Allison. I appreciate my veteran moms of three, especially you! 🙂

  8. And I was panicked about trying to bring a 6, 2, and nearly 1 year old to a toddler/parent tumbling class. (Dad was otherwise engaged in an activity we both had agreed on). Fortunately, we were in public, so all three were fairly well behaved. It was touch and go for a minute with the 6 year old, but not being above bribing my kids, I promised two books (instead of one at bedtime) if she sat and behaved/watched.

    I then proceeded to drive the very long way home and look around town rather than go straight home as I was reluctant to deal with the three of them when it was too early for bedtime and too late to get into any real activities.

    1. Yes, while bedtime has always been something I feel serious about and look forward to, I swear I’ve been putting it off because it’s just so hard! And it would be impossible to bring three kids to something you’re supposed to participate in!

  9. oh, thank you! you made me laugh with this post! I have so been in the same place – herding cats – many times. Unfortunately I don’t think I have the technique of herding all 5 of them with any degree of dignity or grace yet, or ever really will. Good job on getting them all in the house, clean and into bed that night. Sometimes the simplest things are really the best accomplishments in a day. Keep up the good parenting with your sense of humour.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, and yes, you have to take the small victories!

  10. I too have 3 kids but mine are spread out more which has it’s advantages and disadvantages. I think all new parents should be told “just let them pee outside”. It really is the most useful advice that a new parent could receive and one that they will use over and over. 🙂

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