Some Days

I have no more eloquent way to start this post than to confess that I have been struggling. The ever-vigilant toddler who rebuffs the company of a horde of playful children to stand alongside my significantly less entertaining pant leg; the endless requests to play with Skylanders and Grossery Gang figures in an eternal and lawless game; the irritatingly loud squeaks and whines that emanate from the boys as they wash their hands or eat breakfast; the untouched stacks of half-colored pictures, scraps of construction paper, and questionable piles of clothes; all of these things have contributed to my recent madness. When 3:00 p.m. rolls around, the thought of picking up my sweet, wild, exhausting boys is enough to send me to the kitchen or the Keurig, frantic to fill my cup with that sweet sweet caffeine jolt that I crave more as a part of ritual than I do for its long-faded ability to keep me awake and energized.

Boys in Glasses

Once loaded in the car, I struggle with the decision to head to a playground where they can run around while calling to me to squeeze into the tight tube of the yellow slide or drive them home where the previously-mentioned games of Skylanders and Grossery Gang figures will inevitably begin. Zach reminds me of my free will to say “no,” to tell them that I won’t or can’t play with them right now. But even that feels like a betrayal because I can play with them, it’s just that some days I don’t want to. So I tell them Sure, I’ll play with you, while secretly checking my watch because once 10 minutes is up I’ll reassess whether I can bear to continue crawling on my hands and knees down the hallway with Lightning McQueen and Mac while they try to avoid the attacks of a rabid stuffed Mickey Mouse. Some days we play outside and my exit to the kitchen to start dinner is natural and relatively unnoticed. Other days I use dinner as an excuse to remove myself from the world of toddler and 6-year-old play. That world often follows me, though, and before I get the pots out and my ingredients gathered, there is a solid line of figurines guarding my access to the bread and the cutting board. Even with a knife in my hand, I am constantly offered gifts of surprises in an old Easter egg dubbed the “Surprise Egg” or Grosseries in a mock plastic candy bar container.

I serve dinner in a falsely excited tone, hoping that the flecks of oregano in the pasta sauce don’t violate Connor’s strict rule against all foods green. His abstention would undoubtedly roll downhill to Ike, who would follow suit if he hadn’t already on the grounds that he has a strict rule against all foods on his plate. We describe these flecks as seasoning and happily avoid a plate of wasted food. That line of talking is replaced by repeated requests to sit down, stop spinning in circles, and sporadic yet constantly interrupted snippets of conversation between Zach and me. Even when prompted, I often don’t recall anything that we’ve discussed while sitting at the dining room table.

All announcements that signify movement toward bedtime are delivered with the same falsely excited tone used during dinner. Regardless of our enthusiasm, though, the boys inevitably drop their shoulders and drag their feet as they head toward the bedroom for pajamas and the bathroom to brush teeth. In times of great despair, they drop on all fours and crawl or, in Ike’s case, drop on all fives, his head converted to an awkward extra limb that successfully prolongs the already painfully slow traverse down the hall. It is at this point that my blood either begins to boil or starts to feel like sludge in my veins, and I too find myself dragging down the hallway. At times I try to sneak away while the boys are brushing their teeth, just to grab a few moments where I can steal a glance at my phone or lean against the hallway wall unaccompanied and silent. Ike has caught on, though, and refuses to brush his teeth without me present. I then trade teeth time for story time, and if Connor is nestled between my crossed legs on the floor taking over reading duties for me, I take that time to stare blankly at the opposite wall. At this point of the night, my drive to fill my day and mind with “useful” things has given way to the need and desire to completely clear out the cluttered corners of my brain, and story time quickly becomes a race to 8:15 p.m. when we will finally get to tuck the boys in and (hopefully) slip out the door with little more than a quiet “Good night, I love you.”

I jokingly tell friends that once that bedroom door is shut, I clock out of my Mommy duties and have very little patience for the foreboding sound of a pocket door being slid open and the pitter-patter of little feet stopping just behind me, followed by a little voice asking for a band aid or help dreaming of things that aren’t scary. But we never completely clock out of our parental duties, nor would we ever want to. I know I often turn to my children with a hardened expression, especially when I’m tired or frustrated or it’s any day of the week, and I feel terrible about it every time. I read books and listen to meditations and do what I can to stay present and stay in the moment. But even writing those phrases makes me laugh because I’ve read them and said them to myself so many times that they are starting to sound nonsensical. At times like this, I just struggle to be myself, in this moment, the next, in any moment I find myself caught in. There is so much pressure placed on each moment that it feels like I am a sponge being wrung out, and what is left for my family is the murky, dirty water that comes draining out of my pores. Instead, I want to be the half-full and not the half-empty sponge, the one that soaks up the sweet hand kisses from Ike, Connor’s astute observations, and who can appreciate Zach’s in-depth and passionate explanations of each and every football play.

I realize how privileged I am to be able to take use mindspace over these daily struggles and not worry about where my family is going to live, if we’re safe, and what we’re going to eat. Even while I bemoan these battles, I am honored to be endowed with their luxury.

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Sleep? Sleep. SLEEP.

Sleep has become a cruel joke in our house. Those sweet moments of early morning little kid cuddling have turned into silent wrestling matches as four of us fight for a spot on a queen bed meant for two. But that in and of itself is an accomplishment, an indication that bedtime was successful to begin with, that those two little whirling bodies found stillness till morning or at least until Z and I lost the will to put them back into their beds. However, bedtime is no longer the end of the boys’ day; it’s the start of a battle that I have become increasingly impatient with.

When Connor was around Ike’s age, we tried to get him to sleep in a fort made from a rocking chair and a bed sheet. When that didn’t work we resorted to moving his mattress all over the room searching for a magical sleep spot that didn’t exist. It was months before he suddenly found sleep and thankfully we did, too. Ike also had his weeks of not liking his mattress, his bed, or his room. But he found sleep with the help of a big-eyed stuffed frog named Lovey. Up until recently.

Tonight I lost count of how many times I heard the pocket door in the hallway slide open and little feet shuffle or stampede to the kitchen, asking for water, reaching for my hand to lead them back to bed, or holding their arms wide for “one more hug.” These seemingly sweet little requests have been hitting my heart like arrows bouncing off a brick wall tonight. I don’t aim to steel myself against my little loves, but at 9 p.m. – with exhaustion and frustration fighting for the top rank – it feels like there is nothing left to give. So, a raised voice and threats are what I end up doling out because sure, little kids have a lot of energy they need to release so they can deal with their emotions and the stresses of the day, but I have a lot of emotions and stresses that I need to release so I can deal with my lack of energy.

What I really hate, though, is how a hard bedtime can erase all of the good that coursed throughout the day before all this evening nonsense commenced. We had dinner with no one complaining about what was on their plate. We pretended to be ninja turtles. We danced in the playroom to the SING soundtrack while in said turtle garb. We took polaroid pictures of each other. We had a good day. But what will be remembered of today? How we spent our day or how we ended it?

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Ugh. The first week back to school is hard.

And the Holiday Goes On…

I never knew the pain of elementary school Christmas vacation until today. To all of those who have known this pain and to those of you who are currently suffering through it, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not understanding how strong you were to not show the annoyance and frustration you felt with children who have spent far too much time touching you, crawling on you, or saying your name in tandem or in turns but always ad nauseam. I’m sorry I didn’t take notice of the edge in your voice or the snarl in your smile as you were trying to talk to adults while little hands tugged on you, lifted your shirt up like a bed sheet to hide close to your holiday bloated stomach, or begged for you to sleep with them when all you wanted were a few minutes or hours with the lights on and the kids off. I’m sorry I didn’t understand the guilt these feelings caused you because you knew, once school started again, that you would be plagued by feeling that you aren’t spending enough time with them but are struggling to make it through to bedtime without anyone breaking down anyway.

I may act disgusted when I see you at the convenience store, wild bunch in tow, as you slowly meander the cosmetics aisle as your kids knock over and sort through all 67 colors of nail polish. But I understand that sometimes those moments are easier than being stuck at home again, forced to find some new form of entertainment once playing in the sink and dumping all of the toys on the floor have lost their luster. We can sometimes take our own moments of peace as monumental achievements when all they really are are moments of good fortune or few and far between. You may take solace in the fact that if you see me leisurely strolling through the grocery store with two well-behaved boys by my side, our silent but tenuous agreement to behave for that 45 minutes may be quickly broken by the need for a new Hot Wheels car or the sight of a star-shaped donut with sprinkles on it. We only ever see part of each other’s stories.

I am at all of these stages: over-touched, tired, fat (and phat, what what!) from the holiday. I am out of ideas and full of anxiety over the thought of how to entertain my boys for the remaining week of vacation. And yet, I decided to keep them home from daycare this week because I knew that once school started up again I would regret not spending this unhindered time with them while I can. I am terrified at how my guilt fuels me to do things others would deem as a parental death wish. While my boys push my buttons, I push my own limits of sanity, patience, ability, and exhaustion. There is a whole lotta pushin’ going on, and not the kind of cooperative pushing that gets a cart up a hill. I’m talking about the kind of pushing that leaves everyone exhausted and covered in bruises.

Holiday vacation is a cursed pleasure, granting us the ability to spend the time with our kids that, during the school week, is reserved for classmates and reading groups and recess. I love to stand outside the boys’ bedroom door, listening to them chat at night or play with action figures and thumb through books during the day. I feel privileged to be able to spend slow mornings with them and take them out for a soft pretzel and toy browsing in the afternoons. I try to hang on to these moments of their small innocence tightly, because who knows when one of them is going to ask me where babies come from or when I’ll have to really flesh-out our conversations about what death are dying are. On the other hand, I don’t know how to or really want to play with anymore Skylanders characters. And why are there endless numbers of ghosts who are secretly controlling all of the Monster Machines or Grosseries, causing them to bash into or throw each other on the floor? I don’t get boy play, but they aren’t always swayed by my enticing offers to read them books, one of the few things I do understand.

Maybe I’ve lost my creativity and imagination. I wouldn’t doubt it, being firmly grounded in the world of reality with little time for mental escapes. I don’t want to make excuses, though. I am tired, full of guilt, busting with love, worried, anxious, and ready for a new day.

Life Full-Time

I’ve had a problem with severely underestimating my abilities lately. When I was still working full time, I felt that I could do anything because it felt like I was doing everything anyway – going to work, taking classes, making dinner, taking care of the boys, taking care of the dog, taking care of the laundry (which reminds me of the load that’s been sitting in the dryer for the past 3 days…). But once I left the working world and focused on studying, it felt like a huge chunk of my self-worth and identity got packed away with my stethoscope and scrubs and threw the other facets of my life and personality completely out of whack.

I left my full-time job over a year ago and am still mourning the temporary departure of my master multi-tasker self. Although my days are still filled, there was something about being a 9-to-5er that mentally enabled me to cram more into my day or feel like what I did mattered more. I felt more focused, with less time for bullshit and more time for getting ‘er done. Maybe it was because the boys were younger, but I also felt more confident in my parenting decisions and didn’t waste so much time wondering if I should have handled each situation differently. However, I was unquestionably miserable at work and brought those beefs home with me, making for distasteful dinner conversation.

These days I find myself more easily overwhelmed and exhausted by the conflicts of living in such a confusing world. There is so much I plan to do each day but I either forget about it or crash into bed before I can get to it. My mind is consumed with common parenting quagmires, and as I scroll through my Facebook feed of “thoughful parenting solutions” or step-by-step articles to “hug away aggression,” my kinder, gentler intentions are crashed and smashed monster-truck style by not enough sleep and this ridiculous mission to reduce my caffeine consumption with the school year about to start.

With Connor’s first day of kindergarten less than a week away I worry about what he’ll see at school, the unsavory behaviors he may pick up, and the peer pressures that he may succumb to. Have we given him the tools to make the right decisions? Does he know what it means to do the right thing? Does he even know what the “right thing” is? We’re not sending the kid off to college, but given my current state of anxiety we may as well be.

Griffin Weekend - Cupcake

I fear for my goofy, big-hearted, precocious bossypants who, like me, just wants to make people happy. I want him to wear his Iron Man t-shirt because he thinks it’s cool, not because he thinks his best buddy will like it. I want him to like a song because it makes him move, not because the other kids are singing it. You may be yelling, “For god’s sake, woman, the child is 5!” and I get that. Humans survive in packs, and those packs begin to form as soon as there are enough bodies around to create them. However, like any American parent, I am struggling with the idea of raising an independent thinker in a world where what is most needed is community. I am also struggling to keep up with a kid who probably understands the world better than I do.

Connor's 5th-Ikey Candy

I often think that life might be less stressful if I lived it like Ike. Ike rolls through each day like a bowling ball, running headlong into crotches (I would refrain from that) and blasting through the word “No” like he’s knocking over 10 fresh pins. He doesn’t people please, he doesn’t give in, he doesn’t eat more than 3 bites of every meal – I admire the simplicity with which he lives his life. What he does do is make play his day-long objective, ask for granola bars at 3:30 a.m., and gives great hugs if he’s in the mood to hug at all.

I know I’m not alone in any of this, but I underestimate my abilities because everyone else seems to have it all together. And if that isn’t the truth, I need to stop thinking that I have so little under control. It’s been weeks since someone had to flip their underwear inside out because I was behind on laundry, the only bugs in our house are the crickets that make their way in through the back door, and I know where every member of my family is. That’s a Wednesday night slam dunk.

A while ago a post went around on Facebook about the need to redefine success. While it would be amazeballs to redefine that word within our culture, we first need to redefine it for ourselves. “Success” used to be financial or material – something you could take a picture of and boast about online. But what “success” means as a 30-something may be completely different from what it means 10 years from now, and how you define it one day may be different from how you define it the next. I’m still working on my new definition but I think that may be the key to this whole thing “not feeling like enough” thing.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

When I feel myself getting too caught up in the minutiae of parenthood, I harken back to the words I have often repeated to Z: Promise you’ll tell me if I stop being me and get too caught up in the parenting thing. I don’t know if those words are foolish or genius.

When I was pregnant with Connor I was petrified of losing the tenuous identity that I had worked so hard and long to cultivate. I was also terrified that something as seemingly soul-sucking as parenting – something I deliberately and willingly walked into the mouth of – would chew me up and spit me out, leaving a weakened, schmurp-covered, unbathed wreck on the other side. And there have been and are and will be times that I get so suffocated by kid routines and toddler diets that when I come out gasping for air it sounds like I’m arguing with Z about (insert topic here). In those moments I am an overworked parenting robot – the data keeps piling up on me and I just can’t process it all so I react automatically and thoughtlessly, spitting out a register tape of responses or performing a similar list of tasks because I don’t have the time or energy to think any of it through. This always leads to overheating, though, and in general is not the way I’d prefer to function.

It’s that exact this type of scenario that I was afraid would strip me of my individuality. Parenthood is a collection of familiar stories that are met with knowing head nods and “you just wait” admonitions and I imagined myself becoming part of a nameless collective of sleep-deprived zombies who would not be caught dead without at least two packets of fruit snacks in their pockets/purse/car/tucked into the cup of their bra upon penalty of death. And this seemed like a bad thing.

The thing is, aren’t we all trying to live a meaningful life? The way we make our journeys unique is to find that meaning in our own way. And for me, that meaning can be found by connecting with and helping others. Many times my gestures are small, but I’m working up to something big all the time, just as we all are. That next big thing could be your child’s next birthday party, looking for a better job, trying to eat more vegetables, changing careers, or gearing up to clean out the inside of a neglected car. With a mystery smell that refuses to be found. That’s been there for over a month. Not that know anything about that first hand…Parenthood at its finest is exactly that; it allows us to find others who understand the struggle while appreciating their personal approach to it. It is also a constant gearing up for the next big thing, which can be both exciting and dreadful. As parents we are tasked with caring for each other by forming deep connections with a tiny being. I can’t imagine a greater source of meaning for myself, and to think it was given to me (luckily) so easily and without years of schooling or work seniority.

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Parenting has christened me into the church of early morning trucks in the face and the sweetest little voices to run through the house. That isn’t such a bad group to join. And its not a personality-less cult. If anything, I find I have become a stronger, occasionally more patient, more creative individual with a striking fashion sense (snot-smeared jeans with a yogurt-coated sweater, anyone?). So I will allow myself to get caught up in this parenting thing and grow in more ways than I could have imagined and I’ll try to do it while maintaining my mature sense of self. And I’ll still rely on Z to call me out when necessary.

P.S. This isn’t to say that people without kids can’t don’t mature and grow and become equally as awesome as those with children. I’m just not one of those people anymore so I can’t speak to how their lives further develop. I love you all, though!

A Little Make Believe

My struggles with self-esteem and confidence are no secret, especially since I’m the first one to rat myself out when it comes to feelings of inadequacy. I’ve tried to tackle these issues from the inside out by reading inspiring tales of women who have transformed their lives, subscribing to motivational Instagram feeds, and talking it out with those close to me. I have definitely made strides, but here I am again tonight, writing about the same issue that remains an issue of mine still.

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The other day I bundled the boys up and we took Blue outside. It was a sunny weekend day and my body had been urging me to get some fresh air, no matter how cold. As the boys pretended to forge their way through an unknown land in stiff boots, I played fetch with Blue. Now, I don’t have what people call “good aim”. Oftentimes when I throw a stick or the frisbee for Blue it ends up hitting the power lines that cross our backyard or it lands on the roof with no meteorological assistance. As I was throwing the stick that day I noticed myself expecting each throw to be a bad one. I kept waiting for it to hit the power lines or at least the gutter.

But it didn’t happen. It kept not happening and so I kept anticipating it. After several successful throws my anticipation waned and I began to wonder what it would really feel like if I threw confidently – if I just was confident and that came through in how I did something as simple as throw the stick for Blue. So I did a bit of my own pretending and started to imagine what it would be like if I just was confident. In those moments the air didn’t feel cold and biting on my face as much as it felt refreshing and invigorating. The stick felt lighter and I found myself throwing it more purposefully without being intercepted by the roof or the power lines.

I started to think about how people who truly are confident feel when they’re doing the laundry or loading the dishwasher. Unlike me, they probably don’t worry about choosing the correct wash cycle or second guess themselves about needing to pre-rinse that dirty casserole dish (The malignancy of self-driven second guessing cannot be overstated). I may be exaggerating here, but you get the idea. If all confident people felt the way I felt in those few cold moments of visualization in the back yard, they must feel ’round-the-clock awesome. I’m alive and breathing ’round-the-clock, so feeling awesome during that time would be great!

As an over-thinker, I believe I may have been approaching this issue from a completely wrong angle. Could it be that confidence isn’t a cerebral issue but one of feelings and intuition? Instead of forcing myself to think even more about an issue that has weighed on my mind for years, my best bet may be to fake it till I make it – to stop thinking and to just do. To soften and just be. Yeah, that may be the ticket. Groovy.

You Get a 10

I’ve been thinking a lot about ratings, about how I rate myself as a mother, wife, and full-time human being. These ratings aren’t usually written down or assigned a number – they are acknowledge by how I’m feeling about myself … Continue reading

Some Q & A

A picture of the boys just because. Got your attention!

A picture of the boys just because. Got your attention!

At the end of June I quit my job to focus on studying for the MCAT full time. I cleared the old mail and neatly stacked piles of junk from the desk in the office, plugged in the dusty, unused lamp, and proceeded to cram as much knowledge into my brain as possible for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week. The judgmental part of me has been berating myself for not gaining more ground last month in spite of the holiday and family gatherings, and the frantic part of me has whipped herself into a froth of anxiety over how much there is left to learn, how little I’ve retained, and how unprepared as a student and a human being I am to take such an important exam. I have less than a month left until test day and I’ve barely scratched the surface of physics and am starting to believe that all of this studying is actually making me forget more than I remember.

At times of intense pressure, I find myself cycling through different coping mechanisms to find the right combination that allows me to feel stressed, feel important for feeling stressed, feel self-righteous about how other people just can’t understand the pressure I’m under, and feel holier-than-thou for (outwardly) handling it so well without getting to the heart of the issue. It’s a very difficult balancing act, suited only for those with advanced “Look at me, I’m important!” skills. But these “coping mechanisms” are akin to plucking a few spots of mold off an entire loaf of bread while proceeding to choke down said loaf with a smile; they are superficial ways to deal with real problems and ultimately lead to a gut-full of bad feelings.

This past month I have tried to choke down my feelings of inadequate self-worth while attempting to learn the intricacies of oxidative phosphorylation and the Lympatic System, but they continue to constitute a lump in my throat that has grown to undeniable proportions. It’s no longer a question of if I can learn the material well enough with my remaining study time, if I am smart enough, studious and disciplined enough, if I am capable of doing well. It has metamorphosed into a question of if I am worthy of doing well and succeeding.

I attended 4 different colleges before earning my bachelor’s degree, started and stopped taking classes towards a dietetics degree twice, and have been plodding through pre-med prereqs at a rate of 1 class a semester or less for the past 3 years. To give myself some credit, I have been busy with other life events during that time like getting married; having kids; moving states 3 times; and taking care of houseful of boys, some who ask me if I’ve done laundry after they used their last pair of underwear. However, there’s part of me who feels like she’s given up her chance for further academic success. If I had quit quitting years ago my professional life could be on an entirely different level.

But I stopped and started and stopped and now I’m starting again. I tell people almost nervously that I am on the pre-med track because I feel their judgement come down on me maybe even before they have time to assess the situation. All of that schooling will be hard on the kids, on your marriage, on your entire life, they say. A good mother wouldn’t willingly volunteer for so much time away from her young children, the voices in my head confirm. These are hardships that I haven’t ignored and that make me question what I’m doing every day even though I have no doubt in my path. However, studying for the MCAT has been slowly teaching me to embrace the questions – scientific and otherwise –  and ask them of myself before anyone beats me to the punch. The questions are the easy part. It’s giving, understanding, and sometimes believing the answers that can take time. I’m working on some of those answers.

The Week of Ugh

As far as weeks go, this one suuuuucked. Not only did it last for forever, the damn thing isn’t even over yet. It is the week that refuses to die. I’m not sure what brought it to this distinguished level of baditude, but what makes me feel so horrible about it is my inability to control my frustrations around the boys. They have seen me clench my fists while forcing deliberate and dense groans from the back of my throat. They have seen and heard me slam doors (in the very unsatisfying way that pocket doors “slam”), berate the dog at high volumes, yell, and walk away in several forms of huff. I have been set off by the dog eating granola bars and crackers right out of Ike’s hand as he raises them to his mouth for a bite. I have had absolutely enough of Connor’s aggressive obsession with everything that is Ike’s head. I’ve been worn thin by requests of “Just one more” and “Mommommommom” and “Not yet” from a 3-year old who may only be a quarter of my weight but who’s incessant pleas to be held are just as taxing on my patience as they are on my biceps.

But, probably more than any of that, I am worm out by the fact that this week the boys have probably seen more anger and frustration come from me than love. I remember being praised for holding my emotions in check when I was younger, and while I don’t glorify shutting emotions into a closet to fester and mold, I don’t often let my “more unseemly” feelings reach out and affect others. This week they did and the unfortunate victims were Connor and Blue Boy. Those emotions reached right out and lectured Connor up and down about practically everything. They shot down many of his requests to play, to be held, to be read one more story, to sit in my lap. They caused me to scold Blue about barking and eating Ike’s food and scratching at the door to be let out just so he could be the neighborhood pest – the dog barking into the silent night as people were turning off their lights and locking their doors for bedtime. They left me with no patience, no insight, not a moment of pause to think about what I was doing in that moment until it was over and I immediately felt bad about it.

And all week I’ve been collecting that guilt, packing it into a ball that I held in my pocket until it filled up that space and I needed to put it on a leash so we could keep track of each other. Tonight that ball of guilt is sitting in my lap, waiting to jump up and follow me to the kitchen for a snack or roll onto my pillow in preparation for bed so it will be the first thing I see in the morning. The thing about guilt though, especially when it’s on a leash, is that am the one who put it there. No one else tethered that guilt to me.  I did it all by myself, and keeping it there means that I’ve chosen each day to carrying it alongside me, to let that guilt grow and keep doing the jerky thing that guilt does best: make me feel guilty and bad about things that have already happened that I also need to unleash and set free.

So right now I am choosing to unleash the guilt – to stop walking it with me down the hall or to the kitchen or into bed. When I wake up tomorrow and open my eyes it may still be there because I’ve fed it and made it such a cozy home. But if I stop feeding it, it will realize that I’m not a good owner. Guilt isn’t meant to be owned but acts as a reminder, and once it’s done it’s job it should feel free walk out the door and get swept away with the breeze. This week I got caught up thinking that the guilt and I kept each other company and I built a cocoon around us that was nice and warm and full of self-disgust and frustration. But no butterflies came of it. And since I’ve gone as far as I care to with this metaphor, bye bye guilt. I already have a pet, haven’t you heard me yelling at him all week?