The Last Fourth Birthday

I have long held the belief that the concept of the terrible twos is a complete and total scam that serves to brace us for the insanity that follows: THREE.

Three has been a tough year around here and, last night, we said farewell to it for the last time. Today, my youngest is four. And, look, I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that ushering in the age of four will flip a switch and deliver us a consistently flexible and mellow child. But I like four, even if it means he is less of a baby (let’s pretend that’s not true).

This year saw him change in endless ways, from making friendships of his own to chatting up any stranger at all, in any location. If you were on the receiving end of such an exchange — perhaps in Target, the grocery store or just strolling by our front yard on a leisurely walk — I’m pretty sure you received the entire history of our family, and maybe my Social Security number as well. Sorry about that. But it’s nice to see that his initial speech delay seems to be a distant memory.

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In other four year-old news, I hate to admit that it seems Thomas and the Island of Sodor may be on their way out around here, after a solid ten-year run and seemingly endless dollars spent on their expanding merchandise inventory and horrible movies. I’ll miss you Percy and Gordon, and I hope you’ll listen to me when I say it’s time to rise up in a magnificent rebellion to fire Sir Topham Hatt once and for all. His management style is outdated and brash, at best. Direct him to collect his railway pension and be on his fucking way already. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re not useful engines.

Where Thomas may be fading away, my resident birthday boy will NOT be pushing Lightning McQueen out the door anytime soon. In fact, he pretty much thinks the upcoming Cars 3 film was made specifically for his birthday, and I may move into a white room with padded walls soon if we have to watch the trailer on YouTube one more time. I also want to go on the record as saying that the laws of stalking a fictitious character are pretty ambiguous, so I think my son has dodged any legal trouble. For now.

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This child has also taught us that, when you have siblings who are six and four years older than you, you pick up a lot of things that maybe your parents weren’t anticipating. Ever eager to be in the mix with the older kids, it’s amazing to me how he can adapt to their interests and, uh, verbal choices. I’m starting to think his only friends in life will be others who are the youngest in their families as well.

 

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In between his frenetic quest to keep up and grow up, I still hear plenty of “I just want Mommy,” or “I need you to pick me up.” He still lets me sit in the glider with him most nights and sing songs while his head rests in the same crook of my neck. And, many times, when we are alone in his chair with just a night light and sound machine on, there is something I think about.

I think about when I sat in a high-risk obstetrician’s office in 2013, because I was beyond advanced maternal age, pregnant at 40 (yes, on purpose). And in that position, you expect to hear a lot about the increased risks of delivering a child in what some people acted like was an outright geriatric state.

“Unfortunately, we are looking at one in twelve,” the doctor said to me.

I blinked a few times, as if my eyes would adjust my hearing.

“One in 12,000, you mean? Or one in 1,200?”

“One in twelve,” he repeated. “Those are the odds of this child having significant chromosomal abnormalities based on our testing.”

For my oldest child, six years earlier, those odds had been 1 in 36,000. Now, I was looking at one in twelve. One in twelve. One in twelve. One in twelve. It was all I could hear.

When I became pregnant with my third child at 40, I was all in for all of the pre-natal testing that I could get my hands on. Not because the results would change our decision to proceed with a pregnancy, but because I wanted every avenue possible to minimize potential medical surprises in the delivery room. If my child was going to be born with a chromosomal abnormality — be it Down Syndrome or another — I wanted to know in advance and prepare — mentally, financially and otherwise.

A nurse appeared with some tissues, and a genetic counselor also found her way in to sit down with us. I didn’t know genetic counselors existed and this stranger was assigned to talk me off of a ledge.

“For more serious abnormalities — ones that typically result in death upon or shortly after delivery — those odds are one in 36 for your child.”

I could not breathe.

I imagined a line of twelve children lined up. Or 36 children. One would be dealt a life-changing diagnosis. Would it be mine? Would my child be the one? It was unfathomable.

I like to gamble. Recreationally, that is. I don’t sit home and bet on fights or on the weather. But show me a roulette table and I can spend a few hours hanging out with a little cash, idly trying to defy the worst odds in the house while waiting for my beloved favorite numbers to come up. I never really minded the terrible odds of the little spinning ball in the wheel because I never have had that much riding on its outcome.

Real life odds are another matter entirely. And, when staring you in the eye, they can consume you. And I beat myself up endlessly, convinced I had been selfish to push my luck and have a third child at 40, when I already had a perfectly healthy boy and girl. Maybe it doesn’t sound sensible, but fear breeds all kinds of crazy.

I waited two agonizing days to get definitive results back, during which time I mentally role played both possible outcomes in my head millions of times. I was not prepared for the third outcome, which was an extremely apologetic OB on the phone saying the sample they got was not sufficient and we needed to come back in and REPEAT THE TEST. So it had to be re-done, and we had to re-wait for two additional agonizing days. And when I got the call that the test was negative for any abnormality, I was so light-headed that I only realized in that moment just how much I had been bracing myself for life-changing news. The doctors still felt there may be a reason for the initial flags, and so there were other areas to test — cardiac, more genetic possibilities, and others — one by one, like hurdles that were individually cleared well into my sixth month of pregnancy. When there were no tests left to do and no answers about what caused the initial scary results, my OB said it was “very likely” an inaccuracy, but there was still a 10% chance something else we couldn’t test for would present itself after delivery.

But when he arrived, evicted by induction, just like my other two stubborn children, he was perfect. And to be clear, I didn’t need for him to be perfect. I don’t doubt for a minute that children born with some of these conditions I feared live very rich, long and wonderful lives. But the fear of the unknown can be a beast. And I make it a point to remember those times as often as I can when I hold this sweet child in his chair at bedtime.

And now he’s four.

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I am admittedly bad at being present, feeling grateful and recognizing all of the good around me. I have a mind that reels around its to-do list and a pretty cynical view of things. But those days of testing, of waiting for results, of preparing for an unknown outcome stay with me.

My youngest isn’t really a baby anymore, but he must know by now that I’ll probably refer to him as one forever. I challenge you to find him without a car in his hand or a pretend story coming out of his mouth, gesturing wildly as if he’s a jaded man in his 70s, wise beyond his years, mumbling “Unbelievable” when things don’t go his way. He wants so much to be big and know what his siblings know, but he’ll crawl into my bed in the morning and insist without words on a full-body hug in his footie pajamas, hoping it will be a pancake day.

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The threes weren’t always easy, and yet sometimes they were the sweetest thing in the world. I can’t wait to see what four looks like on this child.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet baby.

 

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The Last Third Birthday

Here I am, back in Sapville, celebrating another one of my kids’ birthdays, wondering how it got here so quickly and feeling my usual punched-in-the-gut sensation over the passage of time.

I don’t have a two year-old anymore.

Ohmygod, I shouldn’t blog after a glass of wine. OK, two glasses.

As my son’s third birthday has been approaching, friends and family have invariably remarked that now he’s not a baby anymore, which makes my eyes narrow and my head spin.

The denial center of my brain refutes their claim. OF COURSE he’s still a baby.

But I see what they’re saying. A little.

The past year has been full of crazy ups and downs for my youngest child. He spends his days forging the path to his independence and putting his stamp on his place in this family. He pushes the boundaries that you’d expect him to push at this age and, with that, comes the oh-so-fun era of the irrational tantrums. When he hits an emotional wall and can’t express himself, his frustration level is quick and sky-high. And, anywhere from two to twenty minutes later, his chubby arms are tossed around my neck and he is demanding kisses.

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In a single 24-hour period, this is a decent representation of how his time is spent.

 

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*I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to make a secondary pie chart dedicated to the Paw Patrol discussion breakdown, but in the name of data accuracy, I’d say that Marshall and Chase take up a fair amount of his mental bandwidth. Along with the ever-tiresome Mayor Humdinger. When will they write him off? Even my toddler can predict his bullshit.

 

Sometime this year, my son finally started sleeping through the night on an almost-regular basis. Just in time for him to waver on napping! The nap he so clearly needs is now his fight song, filled daily with various negotiations that really require a professional mediator because it’s a cause, on opposite sides, over which we’re both willing to fall on our respective swords. (His sword is, of course, BPA-free plastic.)

And for all of his decisive and stubborn views all day long about which color bowl the cereal will be served in to which variation of his four McQueens will accompany us to the grocery store (“NOT THAT ONNNNNNNE”), he is all about affection on demand.

“Mommy, I want to come see you” is not some far away cry from another room to get me into his field of vision. It is often stated from right at my feet and, properly translated, means “Pick me up. I am emotionally spent from everything in my little head and I need a break up there by you.”

The hugs follow, but only after he asks me to move my hair out of the way. Always on the same side. Always in the same crook of my neck.

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This perch on my hip that he seeks out when he is fried is perhaps the best bridge between his baby self and him growing up a little. The demands and articulation are not that of a baby, but the end result of being held and comforted and rocked, maybe even to sleep every once in a blue moon, keeps his babyhood close to my heart.

This year brought so many other changes for him, like hitting the pre-school routine and a Celiac diagnosis, both of which he handled much better than I did. He has held onto some of his favorite things from last year, like his loyalty to Thomas and the Island of Sodor, but he fills his chatter with whatever he hears around him as well — like borderline-inappropriate phrases from his nine year-old brother, as well as a glossary of baked goods that his sister teaches him in her Food Network addiction. He is always in his siblings’ orbits at home, getting in the mix and just trying to keep up. He sees them off to school every day and insists on busting out of his stroller at pick-up to greet them, all while chatting with the other moms like he’s on some PTO committee. His own personality is clearly emerging, and every day it’s really fantastic to get a more of a view into who he will become.

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This last child of mine holds my heart in a way that perhaps nobody else could. It doesn’t mean I love him more than my other children, but I know that love makes me hold onto his baby days a little longer and tighter.

Even without the wine in my head, it makes me sad that we won’t have a two year-old again. But that’s OK.

Happy third birthday to my sweet, sweet baby.

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Glutenus Minimus

We recently got back from Disney World, and you’ll be happy to hear that I will spare you from a  recap of my Neurosis Level 10 Planning Spectacular (which was, I have to say, my best WDW performance yet). I thought of everything and packed accordingly.

Oh, wait – with one caveat: I did not plan for a toddler who would projectile vomit, almost daily, all over Disney property.

Let me back up.

Like his brother and sister before him, my youngest child was a super chubby baby. He had giant cheeks, along with rolls in his forearms and cankles that required dedicated bathing inspections. At every check up, he was consistently in the 90th or above percentile for height and weight. I produce large kids.

In the last few months, he started to lose his future Olympian rugby player stature and seemed to thin out a little. It seemed to happen a bit younger for him than it did for his siblings, but the truth is that my mom brain is so fried that I couldn’t remember those exact comparative details.

So when I took him to his 2.5 year check up in December, I was pretty surprised to learn he had lost four pounds since June. Four pounds! My pediatrician didn’t believe it – literally – and said it must’ve been an error on the nurse’s part at his previous weigh-in, but of course I was concerned. He was due to have routine blood work and a state-mandated lead test anyway, so I asked the doctor if maybe we should just throw in a Celiac blood panel. He agreed it couldn’t hurt.

I had seen a version of this movie before, three years ago, when my oldest was six and stopped growing for a year. Because my mother has Celiac Disease and it has a genetic component, we ran the blood test on him. His numbers were slightly elevated, but the endoscopy (the decisive way to diagnose it) was clearly negative.

So we had been down this road before and I was sort of expecting the same outcome.

Wish denied.

My pediatrician called me with the blood test results and said that my youngest son’s numbers were off the charts positive for Celiac. In fact, they were ten times higher than what my oldest son had registered. And so, back to the pediatric GI specialist we went and scheduled the endoscopy for a few weeks out – it didn’t seem urgent – after our return from Florida.

And then, the vomiting began.

It was sporadic at first, like once every few weeks. Then maybe once every week or ten days. I honestly did not think it had a gluten correlation in the beginning because we were firmly in The Season of 12 Million Random Viral Things Going Around. I also wondered if he maybe was having trouble with lactose sensitivity or if his endless runny nose/phlegm was making him gag. But he had no other symptoms. He’d projectile vomit, with no warning, and then instantly be 100% fine afterward.

Hmmmm.

We didn’t think it would be an issue on our trip because it was happening fairly infrequently. Yes, we were concerned, but in the absence of any other symptoms, we sort of chalked him up to one of those toddlers who randomly vomits now and then.

Now and then suddenly became every 24-72 hours in the days before our departure. We began to suspect gluten as the culprit but would not have answers until the endoscopy, so off we went to Florida.

Then the travel gods had lunch with karma, or something like that, and decided that we hadn’t had a good old Fordeville vacation shitshow in a while.

And on five of the eight days at Disney World, he threw up.

In the hotel hallway. At Be Our Guest. On Main Street USA. In his crib on the Mickey sheets.

The good news is that nobody outside of our family even blinked. Not once. It was either Disney Magic or everyone is used to some level of sick traveling kids. So, thanks, fellow Spring Breakers, for not making us feel worse than we already did. Because we felt fucking awful about it.

At that point, we pretty firmly believed this was a gluten issue but here’s where the really horrible part comes in: To have the endoscopy (which was within a week at this point) be conclusive, you need to keep the child on gluten so the true damage can be seen during the test. So that felt painful to inflict upon him. We kept extra clothes for him and tons of wipes on hand at all times. Also, I bet you didn’t know the Disney poncho had an alternate use, did you?

I joke but it wasn’t funny to see how quickly this was escalating. After each episode, he was completely fine and it did not stop him from enjoying our trip. But, had we known how frequently it was going to  occur, we may have postponed.

Two days after we returned home, we brought him in for his 7am endoscopy and basically knew what we were going to hear. The GI specialist was going to tell us her findings from what she could see through the scope, but she would also biopsy some of the tissue – and we would need to wait for those results to come back to get a definite diagnosis.

I don’t know about you, but putting kids under anesthesia really makes me irrationally upset and nervous. I don’t like seeing them go forcibly to sleep, or watching their little bodies go limp once the medication takes hold. Because my son has terrible veins, the anesthesiologist warned me that they’d need to first put him out with a gas mask and then do the IV once he was sedated. They let us go into the procedure room with him for the anesthesia portion, to provide comfort, but I find that so, so hard to watch.

Thankfully, it all went off without a hitch and we had him awake and eating lemon ice about 40 minutes later. We were in the same exact room where my older son sat after his endoscopy and it was all very deja vu. Children’s hospitals are truly amazing places filled with wonderful, nurturing people who know every trick in the book to keep kids (and moms) at ease. It did not escape me for a single minute how lucky we were to be there in an outpatient capacity, while so many families spend significant time there with chronically ill children. Despite the circumstances, I felt lucky beyond measure.

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The doctor told us she saw damage consistent with Celiac and that we should expect a positive biopsy. She left it up to us if we wanted to start eliminating the gluten right away or wait for a firm diagnosis. We had anticipated this conversation and bought a few gluten free staples for the house, and so we just went ahead there and then with taking the gluten out of his diet in hopes of stemming the vomiting – which we were told could take weeks.

That was twelve days ago and our son has not thrown up since. His appetite has increased significantly. In fact, I’m sure that some of the food issues we were seeing recently with fussiness and refusal had to do with how crappy he felt and how he was unable to express that to us. Sure, he still has age-appropriate pickiness but the full-on hunger strikes seem to have diminished. I honestly didn’t think we would see an improvement like this so soon. His color even looks better. On Friday, his pre-school teacher told me he is smiling more. I’m so glad he’s on the mend, but I’m also so upset by how awful he must have been feeling before this and how long it went undetected.

But, onward and upward.

My friends all give me a sympathetic groan of “Uggghhh” when I tell them we have to keep him gluten free. It seems like a pain in the ass. Honestly, I’m not upset about it – and I’m rarely a look-on-the-bright-side person. The truth is this: He is two years old. His unsophisticated palate consists of about seven foods. He will never remember the difference. And there are so many GF products out there now.

Also: This is totally manageable and he is getting healthier, so it’s all fine.

My mom was diagnosed back in 2004 with Celiac, which was basically the Dark Ages of Gluten Free Anything. She was in her 50s and had to change her entire way of eating from everything she’d ever known. At that time, she had to make a lot of it from scratch, as the products were so few and far between. The gluten free presence in restaurants was unheard of. And yet, she has always been unwaveringly diligent about keeping gluten out of her body, down to cross-contamination threats. And so, of course she is a tremendous resource to us right now (and her soft spot for her youngest grandchild probably increased about 4000% in GF solidarity). Now, it seems that everyone knows someone who is gluten free for one reason or another, and I have gotten so much helpful advice and sincere offers for assistance in navigating this path.

Will our whole house go gluten free? Probably not. I’m definitely concerned about keeping the cross-contamination down from my older two kids, but that’s manageable. My husband has a certifiable addiction to most foods with gluten, so I don’t think he’s ready to have the pillar of his food pyramid taken away from him. Yet.

My older kids have to be re-tested for Celiac in light of their brother’s diagnosis. I have to be tested, too. So we’ll see how all of that nets out.

For now, I’m just glad to not have cleaned up vomit in a while. I’m glad my sweet boy is feeling better. And I’m glad that gluten free cookies don’t taste so bad.

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Is it Still Baby Weight Two Years Later?

 

I think we can all agree that the following topics are not in my blog wheelhouse:

-Tutorials

-Advice

-How-to posts of any kind (with one exception: How to Lose Your Will to Live at the DMV).

That’s because, apparently, I’m an expert in pretty much nothing.

That being said, I’m going to venture into uncharted territory here. Stick with me because this is going to look a lot like advice and how-to but I promise it’s not. It’s just the story of something I’ve been working on for a few months.

Let me start the topic off like this: When is it no longer just baby weight and just regular old extra weight? Six months later? One year? Two years?

When January 1 rolled around this year, I was seriously coming up against Option C. If I didn’t do something about the alleged baby weight soon, I’d still be holding onto it when my child turned two. And so I decided to get off my ass and make some changes.

This decision was made quietly at first, because I didn’t want to be one of the countless people (as I’ve been many, many times before) who boldly announces weight loss intentions around the New Year and then is off the diet wagon before February arrives.

But I quickly realized that deciding quietly wasn’t going to get me anywhere if I wanted to be accountable for my calories. And so I was thrilled to hear that some of my fellow blogging friends wanted to slim down in 2015 as well. We formed a closed Facebook group and stroked each others’ hair as we collectively set out on the winter of our discontent.

Before I go any further, let me say something. No, I don’t believe that one’s self-esteem should be based strictly on weight. Yes, I believe you should love yourself. But if you feel crappy enough about your weight to the point that it affects you (whether that’s 5 or 100 extra pounds), that’s what I’m talking about. And that was me. I could tell myself, “Oh, but I’m 43 with three kids – what’s an extra 20 pounds? I have to give myself a break.” Yeah, I did give myself a big old break, filled with calories and very little exercise. And, over time, that 20 pounds probably would not have been the end of it, but just a point on a long-term bad trajectory.

I know how to successfully lose weight – I’ve been to this rodeo a few times before. In fact, I deserve VIP weight loss rodeo seating. So why did it take me 18 postpartum months to actually do something about my annoying muffin top and feeling like drapey blouses were really my most flattering look? Because I wasn’t ready. Right or wrong, I didn’t have it in me. Having a third kid really threw me in many ways, the least of which was not the complete and total lack of sleep for a year and a half. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – my youngest child was the crappiest of crappy sleepers. I felt like I was in that newborn survival mode for well over a year and I physically could not take on anything else. Was it an excuse or legitimate overload (no pun intended)?

It’s a fine line, but that’s how I felt. Until I didn’t, right on January 1. Like a cheesy commercial, I was ready. And until you’re ready, it’s just not going to happen.

Fast forward to my baby’s second birthday earlier this month. I had done what I set out to do. I lost 25 pounds.

Now for the part where I disclose all of the magic.

<crickets>

No magic, friends. Sorry. Just a very long and boring winter of one choice after another.

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But, in the spirit of misery loves company, here’s what absolutely helped me along the way:

–You bite it, you write it. Weight Watchers really should acknowledge me on their quarterly earnings calls for my significant, ongoing contributions to their bottom line. They love members like me because I’ve continued to let my credit card be charged every month for yeeeears. You know, just in case THIS IS THE MONTH when I’m going to make it happen. Well, January 2015 was that month. And February. And beyond, to this day. WW is something that has always worked for me, but that’s borne of familiarity and a Final Jeopardy-level ability to name the point value of practically any given food. But there are plenty of ways to do it – My Fitness Pal or just a plain old pen and paper – as long as you know what is going in your mouth. 25 pounds ago, I was well aware that I was eating too much, but what amazed me when I started diligently tracking was the stupid shit that added up – the bites of my kids’ untouched mac & cheese or chicken nuggets (what is it with chicken nuggets?!). Come on.

“But I haaaate tracking, it’s soooo annoying.” Yes, yes, it is. You know what’s more annoying? Your pants being tight to the point of feeling like a circulatory risk. Give the tracking two weeks, I say, and then it becomes so, so much easier. Because if you are like me, even your most sincere guestimate of what you’re eating is probably 20% lower than the actual intake.

 

–Planning. Listen, I found the idea of weekly meal planning laughable for a long time, given that I can barely plan my next hour. But here’s what I started doing and it has paid off in spades: Every Sunday night, after the kids go to bed, I spend one hour online looking at Pinterest and planning out my meals for the week. Then I list all of the ingredients I need and place an online grocery order to arrive on Monday morning. The guesswork is done and so is the shopping, sans whiny kids in the cart taking down aisles of inventory. There is no scrambling on a starving, empty stomach over what I am going to have and how many points it was going to cost me. One hour on Sunday night, big payoff all week. One little hour.

 

–CHEAT DAY. This is huge. I am a firm believer in having a day every week to eat (and drink) absolutely whatever the hell you want. My day is Saturday. I do my weekly weigh-in every Saturday morning, which forces me to stay on track Friday night. After I weigh myself, I basically have whatever I want for 24 hours. Yes, I have gone overboard. And yes, I have still lost weight because it’s one day out of seven. And here’s the thing: Once I got accustomed to eating better, I found that I went less overboard as time went on. This doesn’t mean that I don’t ever cheat during the week – we all do – but it’s a lot easier to pass on something tempting if you know you’ll have what you want for a whole day on Saturday.

 

–No more weeknight drinking. I KNOW. But wait, don’t delete my post yet. Because, if you think this one didn’t hit me where it hurts, then either you don’t know me or I have not properly expressed my affection for white wine. And it’s not that I was boozing every night. But if we’re being honest, I did love a glass of wine most evenings. I stopped for two reasons: First, because one glass of wine uses up precious allotted points/calories, so you’ve got to reeeealllly want it. And second, even one glass in, I tend to find myself getting very snacky and loose with the food self-control. So, no more. Again, this can’t be forever and without fail. Like two nights ago, a good friend invited me out for drinks. I hadn’t caught up with her in ages and needed the night out. So, I budgeted my points for the day knowing that I’d probably have two glasses of wine that night. But mostly, I do save it for Saturdays. See? Cheat day.

 

–My ladies. So my fellow bloggers in weight loss are a godsend. Seriously. When we first got started, we had daily food threads in our Facebook group. We formed a group Pinterest board where we could share recipes. We did monthly fitness challenges, like planks and arms and abs so we could all curse at each other. We have weekly weigh-ins. We post our activity every day. We commiserate when we inevitably have a bad eating day and we cheer when someone hits a milestone. We are FitBit friends. The notion of having a group to whom I’m accountable changed everything for me.

 

–Find your exercise. My name is Kim and I hate running more than most things I’ve ever encountered in my four decades on this planet. So, I don’t try to run to lose weight because I’d be miserable. I’ve tried many things. I had a brief stint with T-25 last year but really wanted to hurt Shaun T after a few weeks. I do walk when it’s nice out but I have a toddler whose main goal in life is to bust out of the stroller, so that’s essentially the opposite of relaxing and therapeutic for me. A few years ago, I found what I loved/dreaded and what worked for my body, which is Pure Barre. Now, I thought I would need a police escort to the ER after the first few classes, but I stuck it out and it’s really the only type of exercise program that I’ve consistently stayed with for an extended period of time. You might prefer to hit the treadmill or Cross Fit or swim, but the point is to find what you like so that you actually want to go. My good friend is getting her teaching certification in pilates now, and I’ve gotten hooked on some of her classes as well.

 

–Just say no to pants without buttons. This is a random rule that I’ve imposed upon myself because yoga pants are just way too forgiving and don’t really tell you the whole truth. And nothing really brings you back to Earth like pants/shorts that won’t quite button. So, if I’m not actually working out, no yoga pants. (Maxi dresses are a tough summer loophole to this rule for which I have no solution yet.)

 

See, now I sound like I’m giving advice. Sorry – I don’t mean to. I’m no expert, by any means – and, in case you didn’t notice, I’m also not disclosing any groundbreaking information. You probably knew all of this before, being longtime conscious residents of Earth and all. I also suck at pep talks but would like to offer this: I am 43 with three young kids. I love food and wine, and my metabolism waged war on me years ago. So, if I can do this, anyone can.

Plus, it’s nice to have goals sometimes. For me, it was way more fulfilling than the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-unacceptably-sized-pants-and-try-to-eat-better-and-see-what-happens approach. That never seemed to quite work out.

This has been my focus for a few months now, so it’s on my mind a lot – and that’s where this post is coming from. Not from a place of guidance, but a story about something so many of us struggle with. I’m not endorsing any products. I’m not trying to be braggy. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a scale, asking it to land on the right number. Or something like that (Notting Hill has been on like 27 times this week).

And cheat day is never more than six days away. Right now, it’s in less than 24 hours. My wine is chilling and some treats are waiting. So there’s that.

 

 

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The Last Second Birthday

Last night, I put my youngest to bed and it was the last time I’ll ever have a one year-old. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart more than a little.

We all know and marvel at how time can simultaneously drag and fly when it comes to our kids. There have been oh so many sleepless nights with this baby (yes, I’ll probably call him my baby forever). To be clear, not the standard amount of baby/toddler no sleep. So little sleep. There were many nights when I thought I was the only one awake in a twenty-mile radius at some ridiculous hour, yet again, with the ocean waves of the sound machine keeping me company and the smell of his baby head resting on my shoulder as he fought off sleep. Every hour like that seemed to last for days over the course of about 18 months.

And now, he is two. In the blink of a sleepless eye.

He is a giant, this boy, and the sheer force of his will comes out of every limb as he climbs, bounds, runs, falls and tackles. His movement is non-stop and high impact. He is a giver of aggressive hugs, as if he’s daring you to resist him.

So headstrong, this boy. So very stubborn and insistent.

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But for every screaming run through our house and blur of his movement past us, there is an equal number of moments when he stops, or at least pauses – ever so briefly – to request/demand kisses and hugs and to be carried and held. He desperately wants to see what he can do on his own, and yet relies on his perch in the bend of my elbow, propped on my hip, with his arms draped around my neck.

 

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His verbal skills took their time to emerge but have recently come a long way. Even when we can’t understand him, though, he has entire emphatic toddler monologues – perhaps to prove to himself that he has a definite opinion (genetics at work, right there).

As he turns two, he has a few go-to words and phrases that he prefers over all others and really sum up his personality.

  • NOMINE! You know, when yelling “mine” with territorial conviction is not going to get the point across to your two older sibs, this expanded form seems to do the trick. “NOOOOO, MIIIINNNNNNNE!” Now put them together as a singular psychotic word because someone related to you casually gazed in the direction of your trains or cup or shoes or {gasp} the remote control.
  • SNAAAAAAACK. I can say with 100% certainty that my older two kids didn’t know what the hell a snack was at age two – at least not on an on-demand basis. Such is life with older siblings whose entire mission in life is to procure their next food grab. So of course it’s going to rub off. He wants what they want. And they want another god damned snack at 16-18 minute intervals throughout the day.
  • KISSSSS PLEEEEASE. I cannot even begin to express how this melts my often-jaded parental heart. This future linebacker/rugby player/competitive eating circuit champion goes from distinct tornado of domestic destruction to asking for more kisses as he slobbers all over my face. It is the best.
  • GERONNNNIMMO! Score another point for the siblings. They have taught their little brother to charge across the room into any and all furniture while screaming this battle cry (or, to mix it up, “TROUUUUBLLLLE” and “CANNNNNONNBALLLLL”). Once this act got the first laugh and the boy knew he had an audience, it became his signature move.

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Take that verbal foundation, throw in a few of his favorite characters and here’s a verbal sampling of his day:

“Mama, snack? Snack? Snack? SNACK!”

{Four minutes of me desperately guessing which unarticulated food he wants under the snack umbrella.}

“Mama, show? Show? Remote? SHOWWWWW? Pup pup (Paw Patrol)? Thomas? Chuggington? Snack? Mama, snack? SHOW?”

{Senses dog walking within three foot radius of Percy.}

“NOOOOOMIIIIIINE! NOMINE! NOMINE! NOOOMIIIIINE!

{Charges at dog}

“GERONNNNIMMMMO!

“Snack, mama? Snack?”

{Charges at me}

“CANNONBALLLLL!”

“Kisses, mama? More kisses?”

Lather, rinse and repeat, every five to seven minutes until he achieves REM mode.

 

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You know, lots of people assumed when I got pregnant at 40, already having a boy and a girl, that this must have been an unplanned scenario. Not true. This child was a conscious decision. Someday I’ll write a more detailed post about how I was given very grim odds, early on in my pregnancy, about his  chances of facing significant health issues. I will never, ever forget the days, and then weeks, I had to wait to rule out one terrifying possibility after another.

And, as crazy as it sounds, I thought I was being punished – for pushing my luck, for wanting more than I deserved. Because all kinds of desperate and nonsensical thoughts creep into your head in those situations. And yet, this baby, who was to be welcomed regardless of what those results might have brought, was perfect. Perfect.

 

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I think about that time a lot and how lucky we are. I admit that I’m not great at “enjoy every minute” and remembering not to take things for granted as often as I should. But I do try. Because when I summon the memories of that time, it feels like a world that I only peeked at from outside a distant door but never had to enter.

This child, my last baby, is very physically attached to me. He wants to be carried. He does not want to wean. He needs to know I am in his peripheral vision, at a minimum. The love pours out of him (all 35ish pounds of him). He is all-consuming and a force to be reckoned with. My wish for him is that this intensity of love always remains such a big part of him.

Yes, I will miss having a one year-old in my house. There’s no doubt about it.

But he’ll always be my baby.

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Return to Sodor

They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight…

He’s baaaa-aaaaack. Like a flashback from our early parenting days.

My youngest has recently proven a highly scientific hypothesis of mine that I’ve firmly believed since 2008: Either your kid has the Thomas the Tank Engine gene, or (s)he doesn’t. While my daughter never cared much for the shiny blue engine, my two boys are 100% Thomas Nation.

My oldest, who will be eight this month (sob – howwwww can this be?) was utterly obsessed with every engine on the island of Sodor. It was cute for a while, how he memorized each engine’s face and talked about coal tenders and the difference between “steamies” and diesels. Like millions of suckers who have gone before us, we thought this was adorable and slowly fostered this interest by amassing Thomas trains, tracks and accessories that evolved from a collection to an investment. We began to wonder how there was no tax write-off opportunity for this expense.

He needed a train in his hand to go anywhere. Then a train in both hands. Then a full line-up around the perimeter of his crib at night. He scolded us for not knowing the difference between Edward and Percy. The mere introductory bars of the Thomas theme song would render him giddy. His utensils and cups where Thomas. His shirts. His books. He loved it all.

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And slowly, like millions of reformed suckers before us, we began to notice that maybe Sodor was not such a cute place. The engines were all pretty whiny. Stupid accidents always happened on the tracks, which were ultimately met with disdain by Sir Topham Hatt, the head of the railway.

“You have caused confusion and delay,” my oldest would boom with imitation, in his adorable toddler voice.

But really, Sir Topham Hatt was kind of an asshole. It didn’t matter, though — nothing was getting our family out of the grips of Sodor.

Except time.

I can’t remember exactly when his love for Thomas faded, but it was gradual. It wasn’t so much that he stopped liking Thomas, but he just slowly began requesting the likes of Lightning McQueen or Buzz Lightyear more. But somehow, the engines strewn across the carpet became fewer and the hours spent at the train table, configuring the tracks, dwindled.

It seemed like light years ago. Until recently.

As if on biological cue, my youngest, at age 21 months, suddenly began to pick up and express interest in some of the old trains now relegated to out-of-the-way bins. They shared shelf space with Legos and Ninja Turtles and Star Wars characters — all the figures that had replaced Sodor’s importance in our home over time, and rarely seen the light of day in recent years.

“Choooo chooooo.”

This is the sound of my youngest, upon waking up. Upon leaving the house without a train in hand. Upon handing me the remote control in anticipation of seeing the shiny blue engine and his cohorts.

Aaaaaand we’re back.

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Some things have changed on Sodor since we were last held hostage there. Naturally, some shiny new engines (even electric ones) have been added, presumably with endless companion merchandise opportunities. The newer episodes are finally an industry standard 30 minutes in length, instead of the old 10-minute duration that allowed moms to get exactly zero done while their children were under the mesmerized grips of the engines. So, thanks for that. At least I can get a meal prepped while my toddler’s brain rots.

The biggest change, though, is watching my oldest, who now far prefers to discuss the Millennium Falcon and the secrets of the young Jedi, as he sees his younger brother giddy about the engines. He’s sort of watching, sort of pretending not to be interested. But that pull, although distant, is there. He’ll ask with innocence, “Who is that engine again?” and my heart will sort of break.

“That’s PERCY. You remember Percy?”

“Yeah, sort of, a little.”

“He delivers the mail. He’s the green one. Number 6!

You would’ve taken a bullet for him six years ago, I want to say.

“Oh yeah, Percy. And Mom — isn’t Sir Topham Hatt a little rude?”

Yep, things are still the same too. The whiny engines and the ridiculous, avoidable calamities. It’s a lot like the formula from a Three’s Company episode, minus the sexual innuendo and Mr. Roper. But equally annoying on a consistent basis.

So, here we are again. Last weekend, we took the old train table down from the attic and set it up with the tracks and the trains. The baby was thrilled. His older brother often joins him at that table, and tells him how to set things up and where everything goes. Like it’s slowly coming back to him.

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It’s sweet and nostalgic.

Even when it’s a little annoying.

Chooooo chooooo.

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{Unrelated to trains and far less annoying than Thomas: I’m so excited to be included in a new humor anthology about parenting: I Still Just Want to Pee Alone. Yep, it’s the third installment in the series and — fun fact here — the original just made the NY Times Bestseller list!}

 

 

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The Third Child Will Be Mellow, And Other Lies People Tell

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. Hell, I’ve been wanting to write any post at all for a while. But I have to make it quick, because I have a very limited window before my 19 month-old attempts any of the following:

  • Pulling discarded food out of the trash for snack time
  • Attempting to remove, with mixed success, the electrical outlet covers
  • Opening the oven
  • Manning the stove
  • Locating a steak knife in the bottom dishwasher rack and setting off a potential Barbie hostage situation
  • Resisting sleep at gold medal levels
  • Breaking childproof locks clear off the cabinets from sheer brute force
  • Moving my car keys to various undisclosed locations

Maybe my mind has gone soft over the last year and a half, but I really do seem to remember hearing the following generalizations about third children when I was pregnant with mine:

“They just go with the flow. They have to.”

“They’re soooo mellow.”

Things like that.

Interesting, I say. Also, the term bullshit comes to mind.

I know that generalizations are just that. But still. I’m starting to think these are the same people who told me that, one day, I’ll forget the pain of childbirth. Or that one small square of chocolate can satisfy a sweet tooth.

Friends, my cabinets are locked down. My outlets are covered. My doors are all closed when rooms aren’t in use. These are things I did not do with my first two kids. In fact, I think I might have rolled my eyes when others did. (Truth. Sorry.)

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I admire this child and his desire to make his mark on our family. I further admire his clearly-defined plan to do so. It seems to have four basic components:

  • Stay awake, all the time, at all costs
  • Carve out a distinct path of destruction
  • Move, with abandon and whim, any and all important objects to top-secret-toddler locations
  • NEVER, ever lose contact with the giant colander

This last one is key. My sweet boy has an obsession with my kitchen ware. No kid-sized pots and pans, thankyouverymuch — I tried. Trust me. So while the Tupperware and various serving utensils really are his Toddler Toy Holy Grail, you’d better be prepared for 31 pounds of sheer fury to unleash upon you at the mere suggestion of taking that colander from him.

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Some kids have security blankets or lovies. Mine holds a pasta strainer near and dear to his heart. It’s really no surprise, I guess, coming from a long line of carb loaders.

When not poised in a warrior-like position and wielding stainless steel cookware, he can often be found hoarding and stacking and nesting any and all things he can find. Like DVDs, princess accessories or perhaps random spices. They are found days to weeks later in unlikely places. Just before throwing away an old gift box leftover from Christmas the other day, I realized something was still inside. Oh, look, there’s my paprika, my sunglasses and my older son’s overdue library book, along with some half-eaten crackers.

Ask me how many minutes in an average day I spend trying to find the remote control for the TV. We should all thank him for helping us cut way back on our screen time.

So, the mellow third kid stereotype? Not happening.

He wants to be in the mix so badly, to participate in the orbit of his older siblings and join their craziness, their noise, their games. He wants to be busy busy busy busy busy.

He wants to be non-stop and he wants to be held.

He wants to not miss a single thing.

He is not mellow, this third child. He does not go with the flow. He wants to be heard.

And yet, once in a seemingly blue moon, he is still.

Just long enough for me to find my keys and wash out the colander.

 

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Not Quite the Break I Had in Mind

Time for a pop quiz.

Of my three children, which would you deem the most likely to suffer a broken leg?

A) The seven year-old boy who spends his days replicating ninja moves and Star Wars battles?

B) The five year-old girl who spends her days attempting overly dramatic ballet and gymnastics maneuvers?

C) The one year-old boy who spends his days walking laps around the first floor of my house?

I was naive enough to be surprised that it was C. I mean, scrapes and bumps in spades, sure. But a broken leg?

As all stories of injury or illness begin, it was of course 5pm on a Friday. That exact moment all medical office phone lines switch over to after-hours-we’re-not-here mode.

He was walking laps around the kitchen and dining room, as he does 5,000 times a day. I heard him fall, as he does 5,000 times a day. He cried a little and it really didn’t seem serious, until I noticed that he was having trouble getting back up. When, 30 minutes later, he still couldn’t bear any weight on his right leg, I knew I had to do what every parent loves more than anything: Drag all three kids, unfed at dinner time, to the pediatrician’s office on a Friday night. Is there really anything better?

I really wasn’t expecting it to be a broken leg, but there it was. A toddler fracture, to be specific, where an “uneventful” fall at the wrong angle apparently breaks a 17 month-old tibia.

The pediatrician on duty that night wasn’t our usual, but I’ll never forget him. Why? Because his face will always be burned into my brain, as he speculated that the orthopedist would tell us on Monday morning to keep the baby off of his feet for four to six weeks.

Whaaaaaat? Howwww? Huhhhhh? Uhhh? 

These were the most complete thoughts I had in my head.

These non-thoughts then gave way to visions of me sitting on the floor with a screaming kid for a month and a half, passing toys back and forth while wondering where the hell we packed away our Elf on the Shelf last Christmas.

Luckily, when we did see the orthopedist, it wasn’t that bad at all. Three weeks in a hard cast and he’s allowed to walk on it when he’s comfortable doing so.

Exhaaaaaaaale.

Then some lovely nurse fanned out an array of swatches for me to choose the cast color, as if we were talking about window treatments. And it was done.

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We’re just a few days in, but let me say what a trooper this kid has been.

And, while I’ve never been known for my bright-sidedness, there are other advantages to the situation.

  • First, he is sitting. Sitting. Not running 65 mph. Not exploring every potential safety hazard in my house. Sitting and hanging out with toys on the floor. It’s like going back in time about six months. The temporary reprieve from “Dooooooon’t touch thaaaaaaaaaat!” is sort of nice.

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  • The cast is a decent means of self-defense from his siblings’ antics. One swift little baby kick with that thing and he is the alpha male in the room. Ask my seven year-old.
  • In addition, we’ve unknowingly witnessed a global medical breakthrough here. Not in his leg, but in his response. He is a calm and happy patient. In other words, progress in the Male Injury Response Gene is showing signs of hope. If he makes it through the winter without a ManCold, I’ll know we have some Nobel-level developments here.

I learned a few things about my own crisis response protocol as well. Don’t bring siblings to a medical office at dinner time on an empty stomach. Try to form wholly recognized words when faced with the prospect of keeping a baby off of his feet. And, lastly, always have more than 24 miles worth of gas in the car at 5pm on a Friday.

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500+ Days of Sleep Deprivation

I’m just going to take a few minutes to gush about my 16 month-old, if nobody minds. This guy, right here.

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He has a giant personality. Though his actual words are few, he looks you in the eye as he wildly babbles and almost convinces you that you can understand exactly what he’s saying. And then he pauses, makes sure you’ve taken it all in, and drives his point home with some closing baby-chatter remarks. The look on his face conveys the full expectation that you’re following along.

He is a ball of love. His current favorite move is the run-and-hug, which has the ability to counteract any and all birth control on the planet. He will spend upwards of 15 minutes running between his siblings, my husband and me, giving out hugs. I mean, come on.

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He is pushing his boundaries and testing limits. He is quick to frustrate with his lack of communication skills and wants to see exactly how much he can do on his own.

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He is huge. Like, 98th percentile huge. All of my kids were like this for their first two years. But now that I’m older, carrying all 27+ pounds of this boy feels slightly more back-breaking than when my first two children were this age. It’s essentially a Cross Fit session.

He is in awe of his brother, his sister and our pug. They are his sun and moon, his laughter and joy.

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He is so, so sweet, this boy. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Except for one.

He does not sleep.

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He has always been this way.

With a newborn, you can’t know you have a bad sleeper because they are supposed to be up so much. But, gradually, over time, you remember how and when your other kids slept. Then, to double-check your sanity, you read about the sleeping milestones again and you hear what friends are saying about their babies’ sleep habits. And you start to realize. You may have a bad sleeper.

“It’s OK, he’ll grow out of it.”

“Give it time.”

“He can’t go to college like this, after all.”

“Someday, you’ll look back on all of this and laugh.”

Nope. I don’t believe any of it anymore. There are select nights at 2am when I convince myself that I will, in fact, have to accompany him to his college dorm in 2031 so that he can be a soundly sleeping 18 year-old.

The issue is two-fold: Going to sleep and staying asleep. My sweet boy rarely goes down without some combination of tears, protests or screaming. This includes naps and night time. Once he’s actually asleep and my nerves are completely shot from the entire situation, it’s only a matter of time before he’s back up. Yes, the stretches of sleep have gotten longer but I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve slept through the night in the last 16 months. That’s more than 500 nights. I did this math around 3:30am one recent night, since counting sheep seemed counterproductive.

The awful, creaking, 100+ year-old floors in our house don’t help. I tiptoe around them. I beg my older two children to do the same. They are old enough to know their baby brother is a horrible sleeper. They are accustomed to me whisper-yelling, “Do. Not. Wake. Your. Brother.”

“Have you tried…?”

I hear this question a lot. And let me say that, sadly, my answer is typically YES. I’VE TRIED IT. It’s not that I don’t want your suggestions. But, trust me, if it’s legal and humane, it has been attempted under my roof. I’m not playing around here.

Because sleep deprivation, over an extended period of time, is no joke. I understand why it’s sometimes used as a torture tactic. I will tell you any deep, dark secret before I’ve had my third cup of coffee. I can see how deals with the devil are made in the middle of the night, when your brain isn’t working right and sleep is nowhere near. I’m already doing irrational things as a result of no sleep. Like going to the wrong kid’s school for pick-up, or leaving my car keys in the fridge, or singing the damn Taylor Swift song at the top of my lungs.

So, let me just say to the moms at school drop off and fellow patrons in the local grocery store: I am not as bitchy as I may sometimes seem. I promise. Where you may see an antisocial soul, please know that I am actually in the early stages of REM mode while standing up and hiding behind my sunglasses. It’s a survival skill I’m slowly perfecting.

I wonder if my kids remember what I was like when I got more normal-ish amounts of sleep. I was more patient, for sure. More generally prepared. Certainly more frequently showered.

Friends, I am bone tired. And I know I’m not the only one — it’s part of the mom gig, for sure. This particular stretch is just multiple months longer than I anticipated.

But the upside? I have the happiest non-sleeper in the world. This kid, despite his sleep strikes, is rarely cranky. He is quite the opposite. So I just have to assume he’s staying up all the time so that he doesn’t miss any of the action.

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I’ve tried to convince him he’s not missing much when the house is dark, when the sound of the pug snoring fills the air and I’m clinging to my pillow desperately in the next room. I’ve tried to tell him that this will be the only time in his life that someone will beg him to sleep more, and he should enjoy it now.

Turns out that rational conversation is one of many failed approaches when it comes to this boy and his crib.

One day, he’ll push through for good. And I will be proud to introduce him to the Snooze button on his alarm clock when the time comes.

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The Last First Birthday

 

How can this baby possibly be one year old?

 

This is making me way too emotional, knowing he’s my last, and so this is the last first birthday I’ll ever celebrate. I meet a lot of people who tell me that they are not “baby people” — that they love having kids, but they’re much more in their element after that first year is over.

I’m the opposite. I’m such a baby person. Even with their reflux and crazy diapers and no sleep and just general insanity, I adore the baby phase. Maybe because it’s so fleeting.

Yes, he’s still a baby at the ripe old age of one. But that little face has changed so much already and he is starting to look more like a toddler every day in his shape, his expressions and his sheer size.

This third child changed us immeasurably. He grew our family to a party of five but he also showed us that our hearts can stretch even further than we ever imagined.

From the beginning, he was a game changer. From the scary ultrasounds and pre-natal tests that had specialists and genetic counselors surrounding us very early on with horrific odds against us for a healthy child. And then follow up test after obscure test ruled out one, then two, then 1,500 disorders that the doctors feared were possibilities.

He was always perfect to us.

And then we finally found out he would most likely be born healthy after all. And he was.

This boy who is now so, so sweet started out a firecracker. A fussy screamer. Until he wasn’t. Until he got that Third Child Memo — the one about learning to roll with it. He’s a pro now.

He has never been a sleeper. I can count on one hand how many full nights of sleep we’ve had in the last year. But it doesn’t bother him. If a parenting book called “The Happiest Non-Sleeper on the Block” ever gets released, you can be sure his photo will grace the cover.

He loves, loves, loves his older siblings. He whips his head in anticipation of them entering a room. They are his orbit and nonstop source of entertainment. Now that he’s mobile, he loves to be in the mix with them.

And as much as he loves them, he is super-attached to me. Not in the same way I remember babies being attached. More than that, I think. Or maybe I’m projecting. Either way, it’s amazing.

The joy and affection pours out of this thumb-sucking, impossibly blonde child. It’s like he’s daring us to remember our hesitation about whether or not to try for a third kid. That decision seems like light years ago. It doesn’t even seem like something we had to decide anymore.

{Side note: I’m really sorry to the woman shopping for baby shower favors at Party City while I was weeping over the purchase of 1st birthday balloons. In between my crazy sobs, I threw every cliche in the book at you about it going so fast, enjoying every moment, etc. I’m really sorry. You caught me between coffees #1 and #2 while really having a moment over this birthday milestone. I hope you found the pacifier-shaped confetti you were looking for.}

Having three is definitely a whole other level of crazy in terms of logistics and just the general OMG factor. Only recently do I feel like I’ve started to come out of the baby cave, that postpartum span of time when all regular operations seem to be suspended to one degree or another in order to take a back seat to the reigning chaos of an infant.

And the glimpse into the next level of insanity has begun, as he is on the brink of walking and I am dusting off baby gates. Toddlerhood is calling.

But not yet. I’m not ready just yet. Today, he turns one and is still a baby.

This sweet boy changed our lives more than I could ever say. Happy Birthday to my last baby.

 

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