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Six Kids, No TV and An Opossum

Dawn Meehan, mom of 6, talks about finding success and happiness cooped up at home during spring break.

Six Kids, No TV and An Opossum

It was the third day of spring break. A break for my kids, not me.

I am a stay-at-home mom of six kids (seven, if you count my husband, Joe) and they wanted to let me know what a good time they were having—as early in the morning and as loudly as possible. Who needs an alarm clock when you have 14-year-old Austin and 10-year-old Jackson tearing through the house yelling at the top of their lungs (the only volume at which a kid can yell inside the house) and whipping pillows at each other first thing in the A.M.? Good morning!

Our television had been broken for three weeks. The part we needed to fix it was apparently being delivered by water buffalo. Joe’s car was in the shop. “You don’t mind if I take the van, do you?” he’d said the night before. No, of course not. Being cooped up in the house with six kids and no TV to occupy them has always been my idea of fun.

I got out of bed, dreading what the day might bring. At least the weather was warm—46 degrees, which almost qualified as tropical here in Chicago in April. I’d been praying for days for the snow to melt so I could send the kids outside to play and burn off some energy.

I walked into the kitchen, spilled cereal crunching underfoot, and made myself a cup of coffee. “Can we go outside and play?” my three youngest asked.

“Sure,” I said, opening the kitchen door and releasing them. Well, even if the sky said Antarctica, the calendar said it was spring. Another cup of coffee and I might be brave enough to help Savannah, 12, my oldest daughter, tackle the mess in her bedroom.

Savannah likes her room nice and neat. She shares a room with Lexi, 7, who prefers disarray.

“Don’t worry, Savannah,” I said. “I’ll help you shovel a path to your bed.” We unearthed Barbie dolls, Barbie dresses, Barbie’s car and washing machine, a headless Barbie (Clayton’s handiwork?), Community Chest cards from Monopoly (oh, that’s where those went), wrapping paper from a birthday party two months before and a hard brown object that looked suspiciously like a petrified hot dog.

It was an archaeological dig with the oldest stuff at the bottom. Savannah burrowed under a crumpled Snow White costume and emerged triumphant. “My hair brush!”

Then Jackson walked into the room carrying a snow shovel. “Look what I found,” he said. Lying there motionless at the end of the shovel was an opossum. It looked dead or maybe it was just playing possum…how could you tell the difference? I wasn’t about to find out.

“Jackson,” I said in a calm and collected voice, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Why would you scoop up a wild animal and bring it into the house? Use your brain, boy!”

He turned and the shovel tipped precariously. Great, the possibly deceased opossum was going to fall on the floor. “Take that back outside this minute,” I ordered. “And leave it outside.” Just in case he got any different ideas. (What is it with boys and critters, anyway?)

I finished up in the girls’ room and headed back to the kitchen with a big bag of garbage. I stopped in my tracks. The floor was covered in muddy footprints. I’d prayed for the snow to melt. Here was my answer.

Where were the paper towels? I looked at the counter. There were breadcrumbs, open jars of peanut butter and jelly, and bowls, spoons, whisks and measuring cups where Savannah had mixed up a pan of extra-gooey brownies.

I think it’s great that my kids can cook. Someday they will learn to clean up too.

All I could find were the diaper wipes. I used those to scrub the mud off the floor. Brooklyn, my three-year-old, wandered in from the yard.

“Where’s your coat?” I asked her.

“Outside,” she answered. “I don’t need it. It’s hot.”

“And your shoes?”

“Outside.”

“It’s forty-six degrees. Practically swimming weather.”

“I go swimming!” Brooklyn said excitedly. Not until she got her diaper changed. And I had the wipe right in my hand. I went out to throw the dirty diaper away—only to discover the kids had taken their food outside for a picnic. In the mud.

ZZZZZZZZZZ, the dryer made the pleasant noise it does when a load is finished. I dashed in to take the clothes out. Shirts, pants, socks, sweats (somewhere between baby number three and baby number four I stopped sorting laundry).

There was a new color on everything. Dabs of brilliant purple. I scratched at it and it stuck to my hand. Ah, gum. Gum on socks and pants and sweatshirts. “Who left gum in their pocket?” I shouted, even though I knew who the culprits were: I Dunno and Not Me.

Brooklyn came trotting out in her bathing suit. Let’s see. Muddy footprints crisscrossing the kitchen floor. Check. Gum stuck to a dozen articles of just-laundered clothing. Check. Dishes piled up to the ceiling. Check. Baby wearing a bathing suit in 46-degree weather. Check. Opossum on a shovel. Check. A typical day at our house, never mind the added bedlam of spring break.

Lexi darted past wailing, “Mom, Jackson hit me.” Jackson, hot on her trail, retorted, “Yeah, well, she shot a Nerf dart at my ear.”

“It was an accident.” “Was not!” “Was too!” “Was not!” “Was too!”

I looked at the clock. Only four days, 18 hours and 23 minutes until they went back to school. And more important, only one more hour until my husband would get home from work, at which point I would tender my resignation and board a plane for Bora Bora.

I don’t know where Bora Bora is, but I bet they don’t have opossums there.

An hour later Joe got home and asked, “So what did you do all day?”

I locked myself in our bedroom to pray for serenity. I mean, fold some laundry.

I didn’t want to be a mother anymore. What was I doing this for? I was tired of settling arguments, cleaning floors, chasing down orphan socks, coaxing a three-year-old out of her bathing suit into warmer clothes.

God would have to find some other profession for me. Lion tamer would be fine. In fact, lion tamer wasn’t so far from what I was doing already.

I heard a small scratching sound in the hallway. I looked over at the door and saw a folded piece of paper being slipped under it. What now? I went over and picked the paper up. I unfolded it. There was a crayon drawing of the eight of us holding hands and smiling. “I love you, Mommy,” was written on the bottom. “You’re the best Mommy in the world. Love, Lexi.”

A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth and the stress of the day began to melt away. I gazed at the drawing and thought about the kids’ impromptu picnic in the mud.

Okay, even I’d said 46 degrees was balmy for April in Chicago.

I recalled the brownies Savannah made. I’ve taught my kids to cook and they like it—I must be doing something right.

Then I pictured the opossum on the shovel and that just cracked me up. What did I need TV for? I was part of the most amazing reality show on earth!

All at once I heard giggling coming from the other side of the door. Little fingers poked under it. I was about to go over and tickle those little fingers.

But there was something I needed to do first. I thanked God for giving me these moments to remind me why I do this. For the joy. For the love. For each and every one of my six children.

Now if he could only get them to stop bringing me opossums on a shovel.

Read an excerpt from Dawn Meehan’s new book, Because I Said So.

Plus, you can find all of Dawn’s GUIDEPOSTS video blogs here and read more about her family in her personal blog, becauseisaidso.com!

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