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.

AAFjedi4.24.16

 

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The Hunger Games, Toddler Edition

Political freedom.

Religious persecution.

— Probably not the reasons why my son is on a hunger strike.

 

Protesting the Paw Patrol plot line.

Hates all food.

Control.

— Could be the reasons.

 

 

Determining my breaking point.

Testing boundaries.

Being two.

— Most likely the reasons.

 

Kids are picky, I get it. Toddlers can be a huge pain in the ass, I know. Palates evolve. Things change.

WHATEVER. WHY WON’T THIS KID EAT?

This is my third child. I’ve been to the bullshit meal rodeo before. I’ve seen my older two kids refuse food for bizarre and wildly inconsistent reasons. But I’ve never had a kid who just refused to eat on a semi-regular basis.

It’s got to be a phase, right?

It would be easier if the demands and aversions were predictable or followed some kind of pattern. I now know that would be too easy. That would not flex my parenting muscles to their maximum potential. That would not take me to the brink of insanity enough times in a day. That would not test just how far my wine stash will go.

Consider these two scenarios:

A) “Mommy, noooooooo! I don’t want pasta! No pastaaaa!”

or

B) “Mommy, pasta please! I want pasta! Pasta, pasta, pasta! Pasta with butter and cheese! Now please the pasta Mommmmy! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO MOMMMMMMY I DON’T WANT THISSSSSS PASTAAAAAA!”

My child specializes in Scenario B.

I could work with A. No pasta? OK, cool. We’ll move on. But this “Gimme, gimme, gimme this now don’t you fucking dare put that in front of me” approach has me off of my game.

I hear it in my head, all of the parenting advice:

  • Don’t be a short order cook.
  • Provide options.
  • Don’t make food a battle.
  • Just go with it.
  • He’ll eat when he’s hungry.
  • This too shall pass.

It’s like a simultaneous cacophony of bad clichés that contradict each other in the moment when you just want your kid to eat something. And when you don’t want to feel like your day is controlled by preparing food that repeatedly ends up in the trash.

Today my son took his “I want pasta/go to hell pasta” game to new heights by opening the pantry, pulling out a box of Kraft mac & cheese, insisting this was his “green pasta” (that veggie pasta) and yelling that he wants it. Not cooked. Not warm. Out of the box. Hard macaroni noodles.

“Donnnnn’t cook ittttttt. Noooooo.”

Seriously, kid? No. Just no.

I would’ve had more energy and patience to handle this scenario at 10:33am if I had not just recovered from the breakfast battlefield a mere hour ago. The one where he refused, like his life depended on it, the very same waffle he had requested a third helping of just a day prior.

Fine. No waffle.

But hard macaroni out of the box? Come on. I don’t need a dental reconstruction bill on top of this. It’s like a bad GEICO commercial.

This is the child who used to eat almost everything. Eggs. Veggies. Fish. Chicken. Cereal.

Now? This is the current comprehensive list of what he MAY ingest without a fight if the moon is full and the planets align and the garbage truck is driving by at precisely 7:04am.

  • Yogurt drinks
  • Cheerios (Multigrain, 3-9 pieces, total, but not the dark ones)
  • Waffle (edges trimmed, NO TOPPINGS OF ANY KIND)
  • Pancake (chocolate chip only – because, duh, that’s like having a cookie, which of course makes the cut)
  • Strawberries (unless there are too many bumps on them)
  • Banana (but not this week, no way in hell)
  • Grilled cheese (only if prepared by my husband)
  • Pasta (see above, kill me)
  • Bagel (cut into small pieces, with butter, heated but not toasted)
  • Chicken parm from the Italian place up the street (note: not plain chicken nuggets, not plain breaded cutlets made at home, but only the chicken parm from this one place, and only after the cheese has been removed and most of the sauce has been scraped off – thereby rendering it to be uncannily similar to said breaded cutlets I prepared at home for 1/17th of the cost)

In its entirety, it’s not a terrible list. But it’s important to understand what I’ve come to see as a few ground rules in his toddler mind.

  • Only 1-2 items on this list will be tolerated in a 24 hour period. Max.
  • Just because I ate it yesterday does not mean I will put up with it today. It’s a whole new game every day, lady. Can you bring it?
  • Don’t you know that reverse psychology doesn’t work on the youngest child? I see what you’re doing and you sound like a jackass, Mom. I called your bluff like 15 minutes ago.
  • I’ve been watching my older siblings and I know how to stand my ground. I can hold out way longer than you bargained for. Sooooo, if you want to get me down for a post-lunch nap before we pick the other two up from school, you’re running out of time. Your move.
  • If you’re going to write about this on your blog, at least mention that I’m good with puzzles and am probably the best hugger in the history of toddlers.
  • Can you move to the left a bit? I can’t see the TV.

This too shall pass.

AAFmeal1

This too shall pass.

AAFmeal2

This too shall pass.

AAFmeal3

Right?

(When?)

 

 

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The Stranger

In the spirit of not being misleading, let me first tell you that the title of today’s post does not, unfortunately, refer to the very fine 1977 Billy Joel album of the same name. Nor is it a recap of the Camus novel that tortured so many of us in high school English class as we wondered why we had to study existentialism.

Nope. Today we will instead be discussing the psychological horror story that is unfolding in my house, courtesy of my two year-old.

Just for context, I’m a complete and total wimp when it comes to scary movies/stories and anything involving the supernatural. I don’t want to hear your ghost stories and I’m always the one covering my eyes during film scenes that most 10 year-olds can handle. I regularly change the channel just to avoid movie previews that I deem too terrifying. Because I like my sleep when I can get it.

I am spooked beyond easily, to say the absolute least.

And so, when my toddler recently started talking about the stranger in his bedroom, the series of strokes that I had can best be described as consecutive and chilling.

It started about a month or two ago, when he clearly told me that there is a stranger in his room. He said it very matter-of-factly, as he gestured toward the window. My first guess was maybe we had been confusing him by using the baby monitor’s “voice of God” feature when we talk through its speaker to tell him to go to sleep. The monitor is perched right above his window, and so I was able to stave off any cardiac event on my part while convincing my husband that must be what he’s talking about.

No.

“The stranger is in my window.”

Whaaaaaat?

I’d point to the monitor above the window, desperately insisting to him that must be what he means. And each time, he’d distinctly tell me that, no, it wasn’t there. It was outside the window. He’d walk over to the glass and point.

OhsweetJesuswhat?

First of all, this child does not know or use the word “stranger” in any context at the age of two. It has zero usefulness in his vocabulary right now and it’s not something I’d ever heard him say before. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just say he knew the word. How in the world would he know to use it that way?

Or, this way: When, soon afterwards, on certain nights as we’d head up the stairs to his room at bedtime, he’d say, “I’m scared to go in my room. The Stranger is in there.”

Smelling salts, please.

Without fail, he would say these things when my husband was away or arriving home late from work, and so I had to play the role of the calm and rational adult who would reassure this baby that everything was fine and there was no stranger in his room. While I died four million internal deaths and drank giant glasses of wine to calm my nerves. I absolutely deserve complete recognition from the Academy for my performance as an un-terrified person capable of parenting under duress in a leading role.

My husband, ever the engineer, king of due diligence and keeper of rational thinking, decided that hysteria wasn’t the answer and clearly there had to be a reasonable explanation. After his analysis, he decided that the peak above our front door created a shadow in our son’s room at night that could resemble the shape of a head. He was convinced this must be the root of The Stranger’s existence.

That’s all you got? Really? A fucking window peak that looks nothing like a head or a person or anything?

I was skeptical, to say the least. But with a clear lack of alternative explanations and a dwindling white wine supply, I was willing to buy into it to save my sanity.

Until last week.

“Mommy, The Stranger was talking to me in my room.”

OK, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? LET’S JUST BURN THE FUCKING HOUSE DOWN BECAUSE I CAN’T GO ON LIVING HERE AND ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME WITH THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW?

External reply: “What, now, honey? Who was talking to you? And where?”

Him: “The Stranger was talking to me.” {gestures to window as I try not to pass out}

Look, my house was built in 1909. Don’t think that, in my ongoing and perpetual terror of all things otherworldly, it never crossed my mind that a house with some age under its beams could have some ghostly factor to it. And trust me when I tell you, if it existed, I would have heard/seen/felt/fallen prey to it by now. Because I am that afraid and paranoid of this shit. Yes, it creaks and makes weird noises at inopportune hours, but I can honestly say that I never got a creepy vibe in the six years we’ve lived here. My daughter had this room as her own for a few years before her brother arrived and there was none of this nonsense. But now, my adorable and innocent little ghost whisperer is freaking me the hell out.

My husband did another in-room analysis and concluded that The Stranger talking was really the hissing radiator in the night. Ummm, OK? Maybe? I’ll go with that for now, because I don’t really want to start taking blood pressure meds in my 40s. But do you think I’m sold? Do you think a little hissing heater really makes sense when my boy’s sweet face looks me dead in the eye and just tells me like it’s a textbook fact that someone is fucking talking to him in the night? I don’t know, guys.

So, what’s a terrified mom to do?

Our house isn’t covered for arson, so Plan A is out. I would move him, but we don’t have any spare bedrooms, so that’s not working either.

He’s not crying or distressed by this. Apart from a few passing references to being scared of The Stranger, it really seems like a very minor thing to him. As opposed to, say, the supernatural cloud of doom/potential future Lifetime movie that it is to me.

And, to be clear, I do not want your “my toddler-also-sees/hears-a-ghost” stories in the comments here, unless it’s all happy and your ghost is now helping with the laundry and groceries. I’m not looking for evidence that some fucked up shit is happening here. I don’t want supernatural solidarity. If you are my friends, like I hope you are, you will comment only with an alternate and plausible explanation of my son’s claims that is rooted in this world. You will not reference Poltergeist or The Sixth Sense, or any other film with children and spirits. Consider yourselves part of Team Denial. Please and thank you.

In the meantime, I’ll be here with my giant wine glass, combing the Internet for a new house or an exorcist.

 

 

stranger_window

 

 

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I’m 82 in Ski Years

Skiing is one of those sports that seems like a great idea as a family pursuit in the long run, but requires a good amount of gear, expense, organization and whining management skills upfront.

This past weekend, we packed up the kids, 5.6 million metric tons of stuff, and off we went. We had originally planned this trip for the long Presidents’ Day weekend but the temperatures in the Northeast at that time were in the I-don’t-fucking-think-so range (around -25, give or take a frostbitten, amputated extremity). So we held out for early March and hoped for more survivable conditions.

I had a plan for this trip. And, like most of the scant plans in my life, whether or not it was going to work or fail was an utter crapshoot.

The mission was two-fold:

1) Get my older two kids skiing. Legitimately skiing. They have taken periodic lessons here and there, but never with enough frequency or intensity to make any real progress past the magic carpet or carving out the largest pizza pie that their little legs could handle without snapping off. The mountain we were visiting this past weekend was billed as extremely family-friendly, with a big focus on the kids. And so, I signed them up for two straight days of ski school, at six hours per day. For those of you keeping track at home and using Common Core Math, that is the equivalent of 39.2447 daily complaints about boot discomfort, a layer of clothing being bothersome or general discontent. Per kid.

2) Get my ski legs back under me. I grew up skiing and continued into my mid-20s. I was never an expert but could hold my own on most trails. I stopped after a crazy mishap with a tight rental boot landed me a blood clot back in 2003, and then I eventually had kids and just never picked it back up. Thirteen years went by until January of this year, when I finally got back to it, with a clear goal: just survive (aiming high, as always). Now I wanted to see if I could actually get some decent form back. In addition to my body cooperating with this mission, it was also contingent on the two year-old agreeing to hang out in the mountain’s day care center for a few hours.

Let’s just say that the odds were stacked against me on both fronts.

Then, for reasons I can’t explain and that probably fall in the supernatural realm, the tide started to turn in my favor. The late winter weather was gorgeous – nobody was going to perish from exposure. We got the older two kids layered up and into their ski boots with minimal complaints. The toddler offered only a minor protest at the notion of the day care, easily solved by a “Paw Patrol” episode.

And so, it was 9:36am on Friday and we had managed to get all three kids settled into their respective settings that did not involve us supervising them in any capacity. We looked around as if incredulous or clearly the victims of a reality show prank, and then sealed the deal with a high five, as only the over-40 dork set does.

If I’m being honest, the first thing that crossed my mind after this miraculous drop-off trifecta was to just go back to the room and take a nap. Simply because I could. Quickly reminded by both my husband and my unflattering ski pants of the real reason we were there, I soldiered on and made my way over to the chair lift.

When we reached the top and approached the trail map, my eyes went directly to any and all green on the map. I wanted the easiest way down. In fact, I followed signage that actually said “Easiest way down the mountain.”

No matter, I thought. It was our first run.

But, no. The green trails and I were as thick as thieves. Could I do the blue ones? Yes. Did I? Some. But I quickly realized that I am now the spry old age of 82 in Ski Years. My style can best be described as tentative and generally paranoid. My mission? Do not get hurt, do not get hurt, do not get hurt, which I chanted in my head at regular intervals down the hill.

I wanted the least amount of ice, the gentlest slope and as few tween snowboarding daredevils as possible within a 12 mile radius. I had become the skiing equivalent of “Get off my lawn,” as I scowled at any whippersnappers under the age of 20 who flew by and put my life and limb in danger.

Now, the problem with my newfound geriatric approach is that I had skied with my husband back when I was in my 20s and we were dating. At that time, I was probably trying to impress him, or just generally didn’t give a shit about my well being or how a body cast would impede me from driving a minivan. He remembers these days fondly and suggested a few “easy” black diamond trails that he felt I could still handle. It didn’t help that, in the ongoing and great injustice of being married to him, he is able to pick up any activity he hasn’t done in years and just excel at it. Sonofabitch. So he was all swish, swish, swish and I was talking to myself as I tried to maintain both general control and all of my limbs.

I did get my ski legs back over the course of the weekend and managed to do a pretty good job for a 40-something mom who was way out of practice. But my approach is just different now. I’m all senior citizen, all the time. If AARP is looking for a sponsorship opportunity on my helmet, they should totally call me. I don’t want the stress or the speed or the jumps. I want to cruise down the pretty little slopes and not worry about bodily harm. And I want a spot on the Olympic Apres Ski Team.

apres ski

Oh, and I want ski pants that make my ass look better. Even if I’m 82.

{And how has nobody improved the ski boot experience? We can put a man on the moon and cure horrible diseases, and yet we still require footwear for this sport that distinctly resembles a medieval torture device. Can someone get on this, please?}

Back at the day care, the toddler hung tight and probably binge-watched all three seasons of “Paw Patrol” in our absence. But that’s OK. His vision is slowly coming back into focus now that we’ve been home for a few days.

And finally, circling back to the first part of my mission, here’s how it went at the kids’ lessons while we seriously upped our apres ski game (because it’s important to condition and build endurance over time): They had graduated from the magic carpet to the chair lift, which seemed unfathomable to me. And the next day, from the novice lift to the big one that goes to the summit. Basically, by the end of the weekend, they were skiing the same runs as their 82 year-old mother.

ski kids

Now that I’m back home – operating the minivan without any detectable fractures and wearing sensible shoes that don’t make me want to cry – I’m glad we went. I’m excited that 4/5 of us can enjoy skiing together. And I’m 100% sure that I’ll be the slowest one in the group from now on.

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Speaking of mountains and general outdoorsy-ness, just a quick footnote to follow up on my last post about the NJ vs Colorado Pressure Cooker Decision Weekend. Even though we loved Colorado and we live in a state that has birthed a million punch lines, we’re staying put. 

 

 

 

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To Leap or Not to Leap?

Today is Leap Day and so it’s fitting that I tell you about the events of the last five days.

Do you do well with making important decisions? I mean really big ones — beyond how many times to nuke that cup of coffee before giving up and realizing it’s a symbol for how your day will unfold.

Big, important decisions are hard. I am fortunate that I haven’t had to make too many of them in my life. You know who hates decision-making a lot? My husband. Not everyday decisions or business decisions – those are easy for him. But the ones with huge ranges of gray? Yes. He is a man of science who embraces the pragmatics of a solid pro/con list. When a decision transcends these logical parameters, he would really rather take the wait-it-out approach. I would offer you an example, but you probably don’t want to hear about the infamous dating-for-five-years-but-still-not-engaged period of our lives right now.

And so, when he was extended an offer for a new job this past Wednesday, our regular old week  got interesting very quickly. Wow, a new job for him. One that he would love. Wow, it’s all the way in Colorado. That’s sort of far. WOW, he was given five days to make a decision. Whaaaat?

Then he was asked if we wanted to get on a plane and check it out over the weekend.

Uh, yes.

I’ve been to Colorado before, but only for skiing and not in a very long time. If I was going to move my family, we needed to go and spend some time there to make an informed decision.

And so, I assembled a true patchwork of child care from various family members (all of whom are owed huge gestures of thanks spun in gold), rearranged all of our weekend commitments and got on a plane Friday afternoon. This happened to be our wedding anniversary, and so what appeared on Facebook to be a photo of a last-minute romantic getaway was actually us taxiing to a pressure cooker situation and whirlwind tour of our potential future home base.

CO-bound

All weekend long, I felt a lot like I was on a reality show but one where the cameras must have been hidden. The premise of the show was “Hey, spend a weekend only with your spouse, in a city you’ve never visited. Now, find your way around a new area, locate the housing and school possibilities and discuss the entire future of your family before coming home with a decision in 48 hours. Go!” It was somewhere between House Hunters and The Amazing Race. It needs a more concise title and I have a few draft ideas I’m working through before I pitch the whole concept to the cable networks.

And so, my husband and I drove around like it was our job. We met with realtors and with friends of friends who live in the area to give us some perspective and advice. We stared at stunning mountains and bike trails and soaked in 70 degree weather in February. We thought about what it would be like to move our family from its Northeast roots to an area where we have not a single family member.

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And we wavered. We took turns saying whether the right thing was to stay or to go.

  • Do we want a new adventure?
  • Could we take the kids so far from their grandparents? 
  • How often would we be able to fly home to visit?
  • Are we happy where we live now?

{In short: yes, ouch, unclear and mostly but not entirely.}

I happen to love the Northeast but I’m also acutely aware of the fact that it’s the only part of the country I’ve ever lived in. I’ve traveled all over the world but my home base and center of gravity have always been in this area. The town where we live now is quaint and lovely and has so much of what I could ever ask for. Sure, I get fed up with some of the social dynamics and of course there are women in my mom orbit who make me crazy, but that would happen anywhere. But, sometimes, there is some appeal to just picking up and starting over somewhere else.

Plenty of people are lifelong movers, maybe for job purposes or perhaps just as wanderers of the world. Lots of folks live far from their extended families. And many stick close to their roots and to those in their tightest circle. Neither way is wrong – but what was right for us? It was truly the first time it had ever come up in a real-life, concrete scenario.

And that scenario drove the course of our weekend. In between getting lost and figuring out maps and school districts and counting how many Whole Foods one can actually put in a ten-mile radius, we sat down to great meals and cocktails and, funnily enough, had a fabulously unexpected getaway weekend. It wasn’t vacation by any stretch, but it was uninterrupted time on a mutual mission. And the question that loomed over us forced us to have some very real conversations about expectations and hopes and challenges for our family.

I was left wondering about leaps of faith and how they differ for people.

Many would go. The adventure, the newness, the sheer opportunity and of course the job.

Many would stay. The proximity to family, eliminating the uncertainty, the comfort what is already known.

Of course, there’s a lot more to all of this, and I won’t bore you with the 6.3 million dynamics and nuances at play. And my intention is not really to have the decision made by committee anyway, but more to bring my cortisol levels down to human levels by writing about it now that we’re back home.

After dissecting and re-dissecting all of the back-and-forth all weekend, I realized that the question was broader than I thought: Was the leap of faith to go or to stay? To face a new place or to pass it up and see what the future brings here at home?

Some people are excellent decision-makers under duress. And some feel like they just survived a reality show as they cross the finish line and hope they did everything they could to make the right choice.

Stay tuned for the outcome.

 

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Pimp My Ride (2.0)

As parents, we make many important decisions that impact our families.

  • Which foods should we buy organic?
  • How much screen time should our kids get?
  • How many days in a row is too many to wear my favorite yoga pants?
  • Is the Pottery Barn Kids toy kitchen worth the price of a mortgage payment?
  • And which car should I drive?

The car decision is not one to take lightly. Given the amount of time I spend in my vehicle with my kids, it’s practically like buying a second home. One where everyone is forced to share a room while tethered into position.

And so, as my lease is about to expire, I find myself giving some very serious thought to this decision. I’m pretty sure I want to stay in a minivan situation. It feels right, like my formal identification card for living in the suburbs with three kids. I know, it’s not very cool, is it? That’s ok, neither am I. I’ve never been a trendsetter, and I have the mid-80s New Jersey yearbook photos to prove it.  Plus, if I let my cars define me, then what we should really be discussing is that my first vehicle was a 1986 Monte Carlo.

And I like the minivan, truthfully. It’s like my little kingdom on wheels. With three kids under nine, it serves a certain cargo-meets-I-give-up-on-style vibe that really speaks to me. All that’s really missing is one of those stickers with the family stick figures. That, or a bumper sticker that aligns Common Core Math with Satan.

But the question at hand is: Can I find the upgrades I really need?

And that’s where the search gets challenging.  What do you fellow parents think of some of these features I’m hoping for?

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The Extending Limb Feature.  Mom, I dropped my {book, shoe, cup, etc}.  Mom, can you hand me my {book, shoe, cup, etc.}?  Mom, I need to put my mittens on. Mom, do you have any snacks? Mom, what kind of snacks? Mommmmmm?  Since my kids think of me as a mobile concierge and grand buffet server, I need to make this easier, and I honestly can’t believe that what has been done with pneumatic tubing in the drive-through banking world can’t be replicated in the domestic driving environment.  In the meantime, I need an extending robotic arm that can retrieve and distribute said items with precision and safety.  Also, when the Crisis Mode button is activated, the Extended Limb Feature can gently swat a misbehaving kid on the head who is seated in the third row — all without me taking my eyes off the road.

 

The Time Suspension Feature.  So, this may be out of our price range but it’s a worthwhile investment. I don’t know about you, but by the time I get my kids and their stuff to school each the morning, I fully expect the entire crew of The Amazing Race to be there greeting me.  And on the rare occasion when we are early for something, my kids immediately suspect that the activity has been canceled – because there is no other plausible explanation in their minds as to why we would be there first. So, on any of the 361 days a year I am running late, I would simply enable the Time Suspension feature, which would set all clocks back to a desired interval in order for me to appear to be on time. It’s like the Flux Capacitor, but without the pesky plutonium component and the Huey Lewis background music.

 

The Music Ban Feature.  Speaking of music, it’s a cruel reality but certain overplayed artists make me want to hit a tree and are, therefore, unsafe for my driving experience.  With this feature, my car will pre-emptively detect and block any and all Kidz Bop music for starters, followed by Adele. (YES, ADELE. I know, you all lovvvvve her but it’s just not safe to weep and drive. If you must listen, at least Uber.) I will add to this list of songs and artists over time as safety dictates. It’s sort reminiscent of the greatest scam I’ve pulled on my kids to date, when I had them believing for a full year that our minivan’s TV screen was actually only for GPS navigation. This was followed by my Best Actress in a Leading Domestic Role nomination, feigning utter shock and delight as they discovered we can watch DVDs on this thing. I’d like to thank the Academy for considering me.

 

The Snack Mold Disintegration Feature.  I noticed that one of the newer minivans now offers a central vacuum system, which is a good start. But still, there’s something about how the kids’ food just finds its way into the car’s nether regions and dies a slow death. You know how you find remnants of old snacks and — ohmygoodgod — sippy cups of milk tucked under the seats, maybe weeks later?  Don’t lie. You know you do. No worries.  My new car will swiftly locate such items and prevent mold from forming. Yes, it seems kind of science-y and, no, I did not technically pass high school Chemistry, but I’m going to leave the details to the experts. Why I’m not working in Vehicular Research & Development is a mystery to me.

 

And finally:

 The Husband Navigation Lock Feature.  It’s true that many cars have navigation systems, but do husbands ever use them?  Notsomuch. Their DNA forces them to resist.  So, what if the navigation was automatically locked in the ON position when the car detects your husband in the driver’s seat?  And, what if that navigation was programmed to a voice he would listen to?  I mean, he will tune out the annoying standard navigation voice – or, mine – but if, say, Bob Costas was giving him directions — he might actually stay on course. I know you want to carpool with me now, don’t you?

 

So that’s what I’m looking for in my next car. Just a few extra conveniences. I’m not sure why every dealership says I’m so picky.

I think, next time, I will take a car salesman out on a little two-hour test drive with my three kids during car pool — and then we’ll see if I’m still being unrealistic in my needs.

—–

 

 

{This is an updated version of an earlier post. The original Pimp My Ride ran the last time I was car shopping. I’ve learned more in the last three years about what I really need.}

 

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Summer Goal Failures

Well, hey there! I think we can kick this post right off with the obvious failure of keeping tumbleweeds off of my blog. It appears that I haven’t posted in about two months, which is a new low for me. And it’s not that I haven’t had anything to say – trust me. But apparently I was busy failing on multiple levels, so it was an equal opportunity summer.

My kids go back to school tomorrow and so now seems like a great time to list the many things I set to do over the last 11 weeks and failed.

Organization on any and all levels. This included sub-goals like clearing out junk drawers, donating old clothes and toys, and general removal of the ever-growing pile of clutter that seems to spread overnight like Gremlins that get wet. But since I’m only now clearing out the crap that was sent home on the last day of school in June, I think we can all agree that this didn’t quite work out. I have been toying with the idea of reading The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up but I think it would depress me. And, frankly, it seems a lot easier to just use the kerosene-meets-match approach on the playroom at this point.

Kids’ outings. Oh, the places we’ll go! Or not. The kids and I had made a list of fun outings we should take this summer, like the zoo, a pirate cruise, mini golf and the aquarium. 0 for 4, friends, 0 for 4. Shit. But we did hit the library once and even returned all seven items on time-ish.

Growing food of some kind. If I’m being honest with myself, this was never going to fucking happen, mostly because people as ignorant as I am about gardening didn’t think to begin this process before, say, July. Score one for the farmer’s market.

Composting. My husband totally thinks I’m joking about this, but how hard could it be? I feel like this slop/trough situation was kind of made for us. Still, it needs to be done correctly and I never followed through and OMG do you see a pattern here? Next year, I’m on it. Probably.

Writing more. See above. Total failure. I could not have written less. I can’t even use consistent verb tenses in this post. The most typing I did all summer was my marathon texting session last week on The Day of the Teacher and Classroom Assignments.

Read a new book. I have one sitting on my night stand called The Fringe Hours, which is all about making time for yourself. I haven’t opened it. Do you want to call the Irony Police, or should I?

And there you have it. My summer failures seem to be abundant. But, really, why did I expect to get shit done when my kids were home way more than they weren’t? That was naive on my part.

But do allow me to point out what I did accomplish, because it’s not insignificant.

  • I expanded my summer wine roster by at least four new favorite bottles.
  • I went to the brand new Whole Foods alone on a Friday night.
  • I rediscovered, thanks to the miracle of Parental Amnesia, what it’s like to drag a headstrong (and gigantic) two year-old on all of my errands. Public tantrums: 20-40. And that was just me. He is a cross between an F5 tornado and a miniature rugby player. But at least I also built up my shoulders and arms in the process without hitting the gym.
  • I got the hell out of Dodge. Seriously. After two years of having a baby physically attached to me, he finally weaned and I decided to take a few long overdue trips. A dear friend, a sister overseas, a blog conference and perhaps more than your average evenings at U2’s latest tour. I took each of my two older kids on individual outings to spend time alone with them, sans Rugby Toddler. As a family, we spent time at the ocean and time in hotel rooms during hurricane-like conditions, and lots of time in the car getting to and from our various destinations. I spent time packing and unpacking and repacking, and I’m not going to complain one single bit about that because I’m grateful for all we got to see and do.

Oh wait, maybe I didn’t fail after all. Maybe it’s ok that I didn’t get the house organized or the vegetables home-grown or the books read or the blog maintained. Maybe the zoo and the pirate cruise and all of those things don’t matter because we had way too much sand in our toes and far too many hot dogs and ice cream cones. Maybe summer isn’t about all of that pesky productivity, even if my mental and physical house feel like a mess right now on the eve of school starting.

I have all year to get everything together.

Surrrrrrely, that will happen.

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She’s Six

Last night, I put my daughter to bed and reminded her that it was her final night to be a five year-old. Of course, she already knew this, as her birthday countdown has been going on seemingly for months (that’s genetics at work, right there). She was, like most nights, engaged in a long internal debate about what outfit to choose for the next morning. As she considered the extensive pros and cons of one pink dress versus another for her big day, I asked her what she thought would be exciting about turning six.

“I’m not really sure. But at least I already know what I want to be when I grow up.”

“Oh really? Tell me.”

“I don’t want to work at Trader Joe’s anymore, like I did when I was five. But I still want to work in a bakery and a flower shop during the day and also watch my kids. I will visit my older brother at his job at the toy store on Fridays. And at night I will be a rock star.”

Welcome to the world of my newly-minted six year-old. It is a place of firm decisions, fantasy, curiosity and in-the-know. I would love to live there myself, but I’m not nearly cool enough.

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This child knows what she wants. She watches the world around her and takes in everything. There is no speaking in adult code around her. There is no “maybe she didn’t hear us” or “she won’t remember that.” Oh, no. She hears you (often from a sneaky perch at an unlikely distance), she gets it and then it is duly noted – filed away for her future use when you least expect it. Remember that time you made a wrong turn to get to gymnastics in 2013? No? Well, she does. It should come as no surprise that we sometimes call her Eyewitness News.

I wrote last year on her birthday about my concern that the innocence of her beloved princess phase might end soon. No worries – it turns out that Disney marketing runs deep and devotion dies hard, as she has insisted on sitting beside me to browse Pinterest all week for yet another unrealized interpretation of the princess birthday cake. That’s OK. I will take the princesses and fairy dust over whatever comes next, because it can’t possibly be as sweet and harmless. I’m happy we’ve been granted an extension for her to play in this world.

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The princess phase began at age 3.

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…and is still going strong this year.

Back in reality, she is my resident sous chef and Cooking Channel viewing companion. She has also positioned herself as a second mother to her two year-old brother. In fact, she pretty much thinks she plays the same role to her eight year-old brother. She is the rule enforcer, the resident cop and my extra set of eyes. Basically, she wants to be in the middle of everything.

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This year she went to full-day Kindergarten and was also thrilled to have her own after-school activities that didn’t involve her brothers. It seemed to me that she slowly realized she is her own person and not just a sibling to two boys. But that didn’t stop her from assuming every female role in her older brother’s Star Wars games.

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I don’t mean to make it sound like she’s all rainbows and sugar and no sass. There are battles of will multiple times each day – over shades of pink and purple and hair clips and which carbohydrate she would like to consume for her next meal. The same decisiveness that makes her a true go-getter also means there is a take-no-prisoners approach to daily Q&A sessions on everything from my parking job to how babies come out.

She is the only daughter I will ever have, and sometimes that reality really tugs at my heart, mostly because I know how much she would love a sister (but, no, sorry – see “ships that have sailed”). I think of how close I am with my mom and how that mother/daughter bond is so special and so complicated and tumultuous at times. It’s delicate and different to parent a daughter and sometimes all I can hope for is that I don’t completely screw it up.

Like every mother, I want her to have every shred of confidence in the world that she needs. I want her never to be the mean girl. I want her to not shy away from sports like I did. I want her to know that boys come and go, but good girlfriends are forever. I want her not to inherit my hang-ups. I want her to know that maybe you do need math in the real world, after all. And I want her to know that I will be here for the million other lessons she will need in her lifetime.

I want her to know that she can do anything. Although I suspect she is already on her way.

Happy 6th birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.

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June, You’re Killing Me a Little

Oh, June. Juuuuuune.

You are so full of promise, with your (mostly) warm temps, extended daylight hours and quickly approaching end of the school year.

But we have a few issues to sort out first, if we’re going to hang out together in the future.

Ceremonies: Whether it’s an actual graduation or a dance recital or just a gymnastics trophy ceremony, I’m running around town with the hope of a spare tissue in my bag. As much as I have wished and waited for these scheduled activities to wind down, the finality of each one shows just how big my kids have grown over the course of the year. I somehow made it through Kindergarten graduation’s “Pomp & Circumstance” without making a total slobbering spectacle of myself but only in the just-barely category. But do me a favor and just look away when we attend my son’s Author Day presentation later this week and the teacher fires up the year-end slideshow. Especially if she sets it to the inevitably sentimental piece of music. I’m a goner. Look. Away. Because that’s not me bawling at 8:30am under the fluorescent lights of a second grade classroom.

The Emptying of the Desks: Hey, I get it – the teachers can’t keep all of the kids’ stuff stored in their classrooms and they want to give us a chance to see as much of their work as possible. But they really should warn us to clear out some space first. Because my kids have been bringing home enough paper items to fashion a school year wallpaper mosaic for our playroom/hallway/first floor/tri-state area. On a standard, non-June day, I barely keep my head above water in the Mom vs School Papers battleground. Now, forget it. I hereby raise my white flag in total defeat as I attempt many a clandestine, under-the-cover-of-darkness move to dispose of these treasures while my kids aren’t looking. I would just like to take a moment to be thankful for paying a flat rate for recycling every month. #blessed

Change: Yes, plain old change. June is fulllll of it. As in, my kids were smaller when we started the school year nine months ago and now they’re noticeably bigger and they hate the very themed backpacks they begged for last August and OMG what is happening with time and space. I’m not good with change. When things wrap up, it means the status quo is about to shift and my head is about to explode.

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Fall Registration: Let me clarify that last point above. The status quo would shift if I didn’t meet every early bird registration email with utter disdain and denial. And June is throwing a lot of that bullshit my way. Summer camps, fine – their time is now. But can we not, for just few weeks, start pushing the fall schedules and sign ups with the subtitled pressure of are-there-or-aren’t-there-enough-spots-if-I-wait? I haven’t even signed the thank you cards for this year’s teachers yet. I’m still on the lookout for an impossibly flattering bathing suit. I refuse to do anything fall-ish when my summer hasn’t even begun. Got it, June?

 

What a roller coaster. We’re ending, we’re beginning, we’re still in school and we’re begging for summer vacation. The schedules morph in the span of a few weeks from frenetic with homework and activities and schedules to wide open spaces on the calendar. It’s a shifty time. And if you love transitions and change, then allow me to recommend June as your month. Surely you’ll savor every one of its 2,000+ transitional moments.

Me, not so much. I’ll be much more at home when I’m sitting squarely in July, firmly in the summer and in the grasp of nothing in particular.

June, we’ll ride this out – but you’re killing me a little.

 

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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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