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Providing material support for terrorists, aka raising a family

Some Kind of Monsters

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My kids are insane, brilliant manipulators. And the more I teach them, the better they are at destroying my household and my sanity. Now that my oldest son can read, he's like a tiny blond dictator, issuing orders to his subordinates and leaving cryptic notes around the house like, "The spoon is in the bathroom." WTF?

Sometimes I feel that by keeping a roof over their heads and supper in their bellies, I might be providing material support to a terrorist training camp: full-day hand-to-hand combat training, advanced improvised food devices and intense war-cry practice. Oh, and they hate my freedom.

In the living room, two boys are fighting with every sinew in their bodies. Fists fly, legs tangle in an impossible flesh-and-bone knot, and handfuls of hair twist between fingers.

In the kitchen, a girl is dropping eggs from her perch atop the center island, shouting, "Uh-oh!" with gleeful sarcasm.

That'll teach me to go to the bathroom.

Raising a family — especially one with three kids under 6 years old — sometimes feels like a mission more suited to Seal Team 6 than an untrained civilian such as myself. They're naturally passionate (read: easily whipped into a frenzy), and finding the patient, kind, loving child inside my little monsters at moments when it's hard to see the kid beneath the mess he's made can feel like extraordinary rendition.

I'm a writer, so I work from home most of the time. On occasion, I have the luxury of leaving my little soldiers of fortune with a sitter so I can barricade myself inside the petite patisserie next door and indulge in café au lait and pain au chocolat while I write.

Now is not one of those times.

At this moment, all three children are engaged in what will eventually become a full-fledged assault on one another. The youngest discovered the eldest hiding under his bed with the Wii U game pad. The eldest had turned the volume off in the hopes that he could keep his covert mission under the radar, but the youngest's superior espionage skills located his position, and she sounded the alert. The middle child — my true hand-to-hand combat expert — immediately initiated a ground battle for possession of the device, and their war cries will soon rise to fevered pitches of, "You're playing the wrong avatar!" and "I'm hiding under my bed for a REASON," and "AAAH, BA-BA!" (Admittedly, the youngest still needs work on her anger articulation).

Mission: Locate targets in hostile environment; plan an improbable capture; detain them in the naughty corner until tempers subside; and attempt rehabilitation from extremist brainwashing.

This is the moment where a call from the president would really help to motivate my parenting mission. Sometimes I fantasize that POTUS rings me and furtively says, "Operation Screaming Eagles will be perilous. But you're our only hope, Kristen House. Get in there and break up that cell. The safety of our homeland depends on your swift justice."

When I was a college student learning all about Piaget's stages of child development in a cozy classroom on the campus of Tufts University, I believed that my advanced study on the inner workings of the young mind would naturally lead to rearing calm, brilliant, balanced children. Like many educated women who have families, I look back on those collegiate attempts to understand children and wonder why on earth thousands of women are led to believe that any amount of study would allow her to completely bypass the sibling conflict dynamic or the terrible 2s and 3s and 4s and 5s. Lord help me when they're teenagers.

Pinterest and Pottery Barn Kids don't help, either. The curated images of clean, art-directed children nailing adorable holiday-appropriate crafts or playing with a single shiny train in a perfectly designed bedroom only fuel the self-loathing I feel when it comes to my mothering skills.

Our Halloween decorations, meant to look like the woodland wonderland on the cover of the Paper Source catalogue, are covered with happy birthday stickers and purple marker streaks and curious mice whose heads have been ripped off and pasted somewhere down the hall. What if I'd tried enlisting my children's help with the Christmas decorations? Baby Jesus might end up hanging from mangled mistletoe.

Ah, but bless them, they're precious when they're not fighting. After the anger has subsided, they're hugging it out in the playroom. Over the clicks of my keyboard, I can hear the middle one say, "Brother, I'm sorry I hit you in the mouth. Your bloody lip looks really ouchy."

"That's OK," the eldest responds. "I'm sorry I kicked you in the back. Want me to read you a book?"

Babygirl says, "Yeah!" and sings a happy little song.

Mission complete. Somehow, I've managed to restore peace in the valley once again, and no one was killed or seriously injured in the process. We may not be destined to grace the cover of Family Circle anytime soon, but I'm pretty sure my little terrorists will eventually make a smooth transition into being contributing members of society.

But I doubt they'll ever stop hating my freedom.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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