“Table for one.”

When I was in college, I remember having a conversation with my roommates about how going to a restaurant and asking for a table for one was about as pathetic and mortifying as it gets.  I love restaurants.  Love them.  But I also love the company of friends and conversation, and I’ve always felt sorry for people who are dining alone.

But then.

I had children.

And a busy husband who left town for 5 days.

And said children were possessed by demons and became hollow shells of the obedient moral beings I had trained them to be.

As evidence, these are ALL things that happened in the 5 days Matt was out of town:

  • Grant and Clark shut Natalie in the dryer.
  • Grant sneaked food again (even after our mini-lesson at FHE about: if we catch anybody sneaking food out of the food storage again, you’ll have to eat giant bowls of vegetables for dinner).
  • Grant waited for mom to leave the room during dinner and dumped the vegetables down the drain.
  • Clark somehow managed to make his bedroom look like a tornado actually touched down right near his bed.  I told him he had to clean it all up.  He didn’t.
  • Long after bedtime, he still didn’t, so I told him I’d wake him up early so he could pick up his room before school.
  • I called Matt that night and told him I had to get up at 6 a.m. the next morning to make Clark clean his room and make Grant a bowl of vegetables for breakfast.
  • I did get up.  I woke up Clark.  He still did not clean his room.
  • I told him no breakfast until his room was picked up.
  • I gave up and took Clark to school at 10 a.m (90 minutes late)., admitting strategic defeat.
  • I forgot to mention that somehow during that early morning battle, he managed to make a 2-inch hole in his bedroom wall.  Somehow a piece of the vacuum cleaner attachment flew off while he was using it to play baseball with his Webkinz.  Don’t worry, it didn’t make any sense to me either.
  • I lost my temper and even spanked him once.  He was mildly amused.
  • I took all three children with me to visit a man who used to be my boss and mentor at BYU.  (We had made a date on the calendar several weeks ago.) He is a wonderful man whom I admire very much.  On the way to his house, I rehearsed with my children all of the “do” and “do not” rules they needed to remember at his home.  I was there about 5 minutes when I knew that, despite their polite smiles and nods in the van, they had totally disregarded that entire conversation.
  • Since we couldn’t really talk (my mentor, his wife, and I), they invited the children to go downstairs and play with some toys that they kept for their grandchildren.  That almost worked, except for the five or so times I had to excuse myself, go downstairs and ask them to please stop yelling, throwing toys, and acting like animals.  Please.
  • Finally I sent them outside, and we were able to talk for a few minutes before we heard a loud bang.  I closed my eyes and breathed deep before I excused myself and went outside.
  • Grant had decided to lift up the window-well iron grate covering, and oops, it crashed down into the window well and up against the basement window.  But for the grace of guardian angels, the window did not break.  With clenched teeth, I sent them all to the van.
  • I helped my friend fix the window well cover, muttered my most polite apologies and farewells, got into my van, and tried to make fire come out of my eyeballs when I looked at my children.  (That man used to like me, respect me even.  He served on the general Sunday School board for a while and had even recommended my name as a possible board member once.  At this point, I’m not sure if he’ll ever want to speak to me again. . . . at least not in his house or without the presence of a social worker.)
  • Try to imagine a maniacal woman delivering an dramatic heart-wrenching lecture that ought to bring any child to tears, repeated at least 4 times on the way home.
  • They should have wept for their great sorrow and remorse, but they just stared back at me in the rear-view mirror obviously worried only for my mental health.
  • The rest of the afternoon was known as “jail.”  No one could leave their room for the rest of the day.  I was done.
  • I called Matt and vented.  I told him how mortified I was about what had just happened at my friend’s house.  He talked to them on the phone and supposedly convinced them to live a life of respect and rectitude.
  • With all children now in their own rooms, I stood in the kitchen breathing deep breaths and trying to regroup.  I decided I probably had to feed them dinner, so I decided I would heat them up a frozen burrito, take it to their rooms, call it dinner, and be done with it.
  • I went downstairs to get burritos out of the freezer, and what did I find?  Grant.  Sitting up on the top shelf of my food storage, up by the ceiling sneaking food.  He froze like a trapped animal.  I stared into his eyes for what seemed like a full minute and then said calmly.  “Get down.  Go. to. your. room. NOW.”
  • I avoided them the rest of the night, took them their burritos, told them to get ready for bed, and then quoted to them from Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse:  “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better,” and then I made them promise that it would be.
  • The next day is honestly a blur.  I remember very little except that it was raining for about the 76th day in a row (I exaggerate when I’m a little worked up.) and that I showered way later in the day than I should have.  Oh, and since Matt was staying longer than he originally planned, I had to scramble and get a babysitter so I could go to a cousin’s bridal shower.  That took about a dozen phone calls. And in a story that is too long to explain, I somehow managed to steal my aunt’s wallet and put it in my purse without even knowing I had done it.  I only discovered it late in the evening, after she had returned to her home several hours away.  So embarrassing.
  • Sometime during that blur, Clark finally cleaned his room.  This required an ongoing battle on my part.
  • On Saturday, I played the role of jovial slave driver all morning long trying to get all three of them to do their chores.  They only accumulated a grand total of 11 time outs between them (Clark earned 8).  Then the afternoon was relatively pleasant, mostly because the sun finally came out.
  • There was more.  Trust me.  This is just the stuff I remember.

Matt called at about 3 p.m. to say he had just left St. George and would be home in about 4 hours.  I told him that when he got home, I was leaving.  He paused.  “Like leaving, leaving?  Are you going to abandon us?”  “No,” I said, “but I need some peace.”  Just before 7 p.m., I made dinner, set the table, and put all the food out just as Matt got home.  We all hugged and kissed at our great relief that dad had finally arrived.  I wished them a happy dinner, and I left.  I took my purse, my keys, and my Kindle.

“Table for one please.”

And, boy oh boy, did it feel right.

“Standing in holy places is all about being in good company, whether you are alone or with others.”  — Sharon G. Larsen


43 thoughts on ““Table for one.”

  1. I’m laughing WITH you simply because I’ve been there. It’s so hard. I’m glad you (and the children!) survived, and I’m sorry it was such a hard week.

  2. Days and weeks like that are rough, aren’t they? I have two effective ways to get a child to clean their room if you’re a brave mom. (Or mean, as my children call me when this happens)

    1. No food until they clean it. Period. Missing a meal will not kill them. Missing two meals will not kill them. I promise.

    2. Say very nicely, ” Okay, I’ll clean your room for you sweetheart.” Then grab trash bags or boxes and pick up everything. It all goes in a bag and is no longer theirs. Lock it up in a closet, attic, or basement. Problem solved. Choose your own way for them to earn back an item, but these must be hard physical labor (scrub walls, weed flower beds, shovel dirt, wash the car with plain water and a sponge, etc. The next time it happens those bags go directly to Goodwill(be strong mom, you can do this!), while another bag is filled with the new offending items and locked away. The idea behind picking up for them and taking the items is that they do not care about the items enough to take care of them so they can’t have them.

  3. I’m laughing so hard I’m nearly crying . . . only because I know EXACTLY where you’re coming from. These last few weeks of rain have brought me to my breaking point on several occasions.

  4. oh.my.goodness. I feel your pain, but I am also laughing REALLY hard. I am so sorry. I would have punched Matt when he walked in the door. But that’s just me.

  5. Oh, crud. Isn’t it something that your difficult week is so hilarious to us all? I especially love this line: “He froze like a trapped animal.” How well I know that “you caught me” look from my kids!

    Having an evening of peace to regroup (with yourself!) was just what the doctor ordered. Hope it worked!

  6. Oh my, I felt my heart rate rise just reading this post. What a slew of events. I’m glad he is home and I am glad you got a table for one.

    I wrote a post yesterday that is somewhat fitting if you want to jump over and take a peek. 🙂

    I hope your next little bit can slightly resemble peace. 🙂

  7. Oh wow. Only you can put such a week on a blog in such charming detail. Wow. Really. Good for you that you got out of there; I bet it healed your traumatized soul.

  8. Oh, Stephanie. What a week. How frustrating. Sometimes we feel like great moms and other times…..{sigh}. The Hulk has had a really rough week and has had several “accidents.” I am at my wit’s end with him, so I very much relate to this post.

    Solitude sounds wonderful. Hope things are better this week.

  9. Like others have said, sorry, I am that family as well. I think it definitely has to do with the ratio of boys to girls. I have tried the no food until you are done, mine would rather not eat than give in. I have also thrown all their stuff away, only to have them relieved someone else took care of the mess. I can tell you my adult boys are polite generous and serving well in the military now. They said basic was easy because they were so used to getting yelled at and being denied privileges, haha! The 3 still at home are going perfectly content to live in filth and starve….until their friends call. It’s my only arsenal with teens!

    Good luck and much love to you, thanks for your honesty!

  10. I’m so sorry, but I totally laughed out loud when I read, “Grant and Clark shut Natalie in the dryer.” But then I read the rest of your crazy week, and I really am SO sorry!! I hate it when kids are crazy. It just makes mom crazy! I’m glad you got to get out by yourself!!

  11. I think Matt’s reaction was priceless. “Leaving, leaving?” You still got supper on the table instead of letting Matt take care of it. What a great wife! Best with your stripling warriors! Each and everyone one of them.

  12. Oh Stephanie, you are a brave woman. I am sure I would have killed my kids after the incident at your friend’s house. I don’t do well when my husband is gone either.

    I’m so glad you got a little peace and quiet! Well-deserved!!!

  13. Oh, and will you give me a link for the Kindle case/stand thing you have there? That looks extremely handy. I’ve just been trying to find one since I read your post and haven’t had any luck.

  14. Someday you’ll have wonderful funny stories to tell your kids when they grow up and deny they ever did anything horrible. They’ll love it. My kids LOVE to hear stories about how horrible they were when they were little.

  15. Oh, Steph! I felt everything you said, and I totally get it! I think we all have weeks like that, and it’s nice to know we’re all in it together. 🙂

    Now I know what to do the next time I’m overwhelmed. Table for one!

  16. Oh my goodness! I am crying (from laughing so hard!!!) Infact I think I have just done the equivalent of 100 stomach crunches:) SORRY! I know it is not funny, but Stephanie- that was a horrific week. I am next door and didn’t hear a thing. Now your face book message in regards to “the end of the world” last week makes sense! I sure hope you enjoyed that dinner, & hopefully there was some kind of chocolate dessert at the end, middle or beginning of that meal (or beginning, middle & end!!!). Regardless, You are an amazing person!
    p.s. Thanks for the stomach exercises;)

  17. I love that idea!! I think it is wonderful that you not only took care of everybody else, but also took care of yourself. So, I have a Nook that the older kids just got me. Do you know if there are free books out there???

  18. Wow, what a week! I am so sorry about that. What a relief that you were able to get out as soon as Matt got home! Wow. Table for one? Relaxing. I once had an awful day and decided to go to the movies by myself. I loved it so much, I am absolutely going to do it again.

  19. Let’s talk about how much I love you for this post, just for a second. I love you for this post. I love your honest. I love that both you, and your children, survived. The End.

  20. Am I a horrible person if I admit that reading this made me feel just a little bit better about my week? The whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, “Man, my week was tough, but it wasn’t THIS bad.”

  21. Wow. You EARNED that dinner. (Looks really good, by the way. Where did you go?) I’m so sorry about your week! Kids always seem to know the absolute WORST times to let their inner demon sides take over.

  22. I know it doesn’t make you feel any better to know that this makes me feel better, but boy, does it. There’s something in the water right now that is making boys named Grant act really, really naught.

  23. My stomach was in knots from stress reading that. I’m glad other readers could laugh over it. I hope you can too, or at least that you will one day. My goodness. I felt like I was in heaven too, imagining you in a restaurant ALONE. And now I totally understand your fb status update. Sometimes it really is a miracle our kids are alive.

  24. Kindles make everything better. Glad you and your children survived the week. I love that your husband had to wonder what you meant when you said you were leaving. 🙂

  25. I loved reading your blog entry and to read the comments that others made. It is nice to know that there are a lot of mothers out there going through the exact same things. This last week I was scared that I might be the only one who lost patience with children and wanted to run screaming out of the house. It is good to know that I would have company! Thank you so much for your post.

  26. Oh how I feel your pain!! But I must admit, it makes me feel better to know how much other people struggle with parenting, too.

    I am so glad you were able to regroup by getting your “table for one.” Here’s to a better week!

  27. Isn’t it crazy when you ACTUALLY write down everything that happened (and often reliving the horror again! ha! joy!)

    Oh yes, I’m sure we have all had days when we wish the earth would open up and swallow us whole (or our kids! haha)

    Love, that you went to dinner solo. I challenged myself to go to dinner by myself once…so good!! (I don’t know…but I think the food just tasted so much better when you can concentrate on it…hehehe)

    Now, I am looking forward to going to the movies by myself. Probably one of the first things I do when my youngest goes to school.

    **hugs from NZ!!**

  28. I hope this doesn’t sound like I am not sympathetic but you’re post made me laugh – a laugh of relief that someone else struggles with parenting too:) I love it for the most part but there are times when I just want to run away (being married can also elicit my that reaction too!)

    I’d be happy to take your children off your hands for a couple of hours if you want – I’m sure some extra practice wouldn’t hurt me:)

    Hope you enjoyed your “table for one”!!

  29. I thought I posted on this… I’ve been thinking about you. Steph, I KNOW how you feel… and table for one with a good book sounds like an absolute dream 🙂

    I think there will be a special place in heaven for mother’s whose husband’s travel for work. I hope I’m good enough to go there, but I know there will be blessings. I am counting on it! You just pamper yourself as much as you can because you deserve it 🙂

  30. Recently I got to travel *with* Dean (believe me, this is a very rare occurrence) when he went to a work conference, and since I had to entertain myself during the day, I learned that sitting alone and reading while I eat lunch at a restaurant can be very pleasant indeed.

    I have also lived weeks very much like the one you just barely survived. It is so very, very, hard.

    I do have a couple of suggestions and hope you won’t be offended–sometimes it’s just easier to have ideas for someone else’s unsolvable problems than my own.

    I heard, years ago, that when you are locked in a power struggle with someone, you can only change your own behavior, and that when you do something unexpected it can throw off their planned retaliation, and get you out of the rut of the power struggle.

    In this case, I’m wondering what food Grant’s getting into, and wondering whether you could get him a box (or two) of his own of whatever it is, put it somewhere in his reach, and tell him to eat it whenever he wants to, but to please not get into the food storage.

    Maybe there is some better way to break out of that particular power struggle, though. I do think that kids can feel like they have very little autonomy in their lives and that could be part of what’s motivating his thievery. He might also be subconsciously motivated even by negative attention, so maybe you could find some way to discipline without showing any emotional response. (Easier said than done, I know.) Maybe try telling yourself, in the moment, that the cost of his likely improved behavior (in the long run) from your non-responding is worth any lost food storage.

    Getting my kids to do chores is a constant struggle, and I’m constantly trying to find their “currency” and persist without getting into big fights. I fail as often as I succeed, but I do believe (even when I can’t figure out how to avoid it) that fighting negates most or all of the benefits of whatever I’m trying to get them to do. One of my daughters isn’t motivated by any negative consequence I can think of, UNTIL a friend wants to play–and then she’ll move heaven and earth to get her chores done. But, oddly, sometimes she also does better work when I’m not watching and she’s left to her own devices than if I’m breathing down her neck. It’s that autonomy thing again. Sometimes I have left her in charge (she’s old enough to babysit for short stretches) only because I really had to be somewhere, but thinking it would be a disaster to leave–and instead I’ve come home to find things were done better than if I’d been there. (Yes, this is a little demoralizing to me, but it’s also encouraging to discover that she can sometimes work without complaining.)

    Honestly these are HARD, daily challenges for me, so I’m not claiming any easy obvious answers–but I hope the suggestions of trying to find ways to give kids more autonomy, as well as finding unexpected ways to end power struggles, will be helpful.

  31. Yep. I knew I liked you. It’s so nice to hear that I’m not alone when I’m feeling at the end of my rope. And now we have more war stories to bond over. I’ll even show you some of my battle scars. 🙂

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