Category Archives: Family

Remember the Christmas…

I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in third grade. Or for most Christmases for that matter. Sure, I remember the big stuff. The Cabbage Patch Doll that I hoped I got because I knew they were flying off the shelves. The black-and-white TV set that got me through the grogginess of many migraines with the help of “Dallas” and “Love Boat.”

But year after year as we pull out the box of ornaments for our tree, Christmases past come sweeping back. The green beaded ornament that my kids don’t really like has always been one of my favorites. My grandmother bought us grandkids a special ornament every year for our packages. She picked them out at craft shows and we all got something different. That ornament reminds me of Christmas Eve at her house—a velvet Christmas dress and itchy tights with a crotch that hung near my knees. I remember looking for the lighted Santa on someone’s porch before we crossed the bridge, and coming home and climbing into bed with my sister, the only night of the year I was ever allowed.favorite ornament

Many ornaments on our tree tell a story. There’s the fancy beaded ball my mom made that used to hang on my childhood tree. She used beaded pins to hold sequins and beads in place. Our tree stood in the living room then and I remember a Christmas long ago when my sister picked out a snowman soap for me. I loved snowmen. I loved that soap and it sat on my dresser for years, unused and gathering dust. I think I finally threw it out as a teenager. More than anything, I loved that my sister bought me something she thought I would like.fancy ornament

There’s a golden wreath with a picture of my sister and me dangling from the center. We’re teenagers and I remember that my hair looked decent that day, a true accomplishment. There’s a wooden Revolutionary soldier on a red horse and that’s the first ornament I ever remember being mine. My sister and I fought every Christmas over who had the red one and who had the white one and, more importantly, who would hang which on our quickly dying tree. My parents finally got smart and taped our names to the backs.

When I married, I brought my box of ornaments with me. My husband did the same. And his ornaments tell stories too. His grandmother gave him a new ornament every year, and those were always from some kind of craft venue too. The lid of his box lists each ornament and the year she gave it to him. There’s the little football player sporting a green uniform (no doubt an Eagles player), birds made from pinecones, and a simple Matchbox car with a yarn hanger.footballornament

Every year our kids hang those ornaments on our tree along with the ornaments their grandparents have given them. And while they sometimes make fun of our old, crusty ones and root through the bin in search of “better” things to hang, I know one day the kids will look back at all of those ornaments and have stories of their own.

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Some Big, Tail-Wagging Changes

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am a planner to the nth degree. I am not a spontaneous person, but lately I did something a little spontaneous.

We got a dog. And I say a little spontaneous because we’ve been thinking of getting one for a few months. But the spontaneous part comes in because I didn’t do much as far as reading about training or caring for this creature we have just adopted. We have just taken a huge step and I’m in fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode.

As a parent, I’ve never been into parenting books. I’ve never once finished one from beginning to end. And what I’m realizing is that this dog ownership thing is a lot like having a baby or a toddler in the house again. I can’t tell you how many times my husband or I have already said to the dog, “Ugh, just tell me! What do you WANT?”

And that first night home? (And the nights after that?) The dog is already sleeping in our bed. Tsk. Tsk. Everyone knows he’ll never get out of it. Sometimes he cries and whines and paces, and we just want some sleep. He settles down a lot quicker than the kids did though.

The dog we got was a rescue dog. He’s under 2 but no one is certain just how old. He’s housetrained. He’s sweet. He loves to play and cuddle. But this is a new home and it requires some new training. He’s had some accidents. I feel like I’m following a toddler in training pants around again, wielding carpet cleaner and Febreeze. I have to make sure he doesn’t put things in his mouth, even though he looks adorable running around with an oversized stuffed animal that is too nice to be torn apart. And I certainly don’t want to hurt his feelings by being too tough. This guy needs lots of love.

He doesn’t like his crate. He doesn’t want to be alone. I have places to go. It’s brought back lots of separation anxiety flashbacks. Thank goodness he can’t hug my legs and beg and never let go. And now I have three creatures following me around throughout the day, at least once school is out.

I’ve found myself outside at 10 p.m. in my bathrobe, long johns, and big winter coat. And I really don’t care who sees me. I just want him to poop already.

My kids take turns walking him, or running, whichever the dog prefers. And seeing them like that, it makes me smile.

He’s quiet. He’s smart. He listens. And he’s doggone good. In time, we won’t know what we had ever done without him.

Meet Rowan

Meet Rowan

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Adjusting: Peanut Allergy Diagnosis at Age 10

Sometimes the body just knows. It turns out my son’s did. For nine years. When he was a toddler I gave him peanut butter and he smeared it on his face. He got a rash and I waited another year to try again. He wasn’t so interested in peanut butter after that. In fact, for the next nine years, he thought it was stinky and waved his hand in front of his nose and pretended to gag when he smelled it.

He didn’t care for granola bars, the kind with dried fruit and nuts, but he tried them and nothing ever happened. He didn’t like peanut M&Ms, but he ate the chocolate and left the peanut. He ate everything he wanted. Some things touched a peanut, like those M&Ms. Some things included nuts, like pesto. Some things were nuts, like pistachios.

But one day recently, he wanted Pad Thai, a dish that traditionally includes peanuts. I was hesitant. All those years of not wanting peanuts I knew probably meant something. I had thought about getting him tested, but he had eaten so many things in his lifetime. Was I being overanxious as usual? Was I ready for this moment?

“It has peanuts in it, you know,” I warned him.

He looked at the dish and deemed it satisfactory. I put a little on his plate. I almost told him no, to eat something else, but I didn’t. Remember all he’s eaten? I kept an eye on him as he ate it. One bite, two.

“How is it?”

“It’s good!”

Instead of relief, I felt jumpier. I couldn’t eat. I kept watching him. It didn’t feel right. There. He was doing something funny with his mouth, like he had taffy over every tooth and he couldn’t get it off.

“What are you doing with your mouth? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My mouth feels numb,” he said.

I felt weak. “Stop eating,” I said. I grabbed his plate and began a string of questions. Can you breathe OK? Let me see your tongue. Can you breathe OK? Does anything else feel weird? Can you breathe OK?

He coughed a little. He got the hiccups. I stood there, choked, wondering, “Do I call 9-1-1 now? Is this just the start of a severe reaction?” But I kept it together on the outside. I kept asking questions and watching him. He drank water. I did what I always do and referred to Google. He appeared to be having a mild reaction and Benadryl would help.

He seemed to be getting better, except for the hiccups. He had heartburn. The numbness was wearing off. I called the doctor’s office, which was closed because it was a Saturday. The nurse told me the same thing I had read online. By then my son was outside, running in the yard. I could breathe. He could breathe. I knew we were lucky.

At an appointment last week, my son’s peanut and tree nut allergy was confirmed. After nine years of avoiding peanuts, he suddenly also has to avoid things he has always comfortably eaten: almond extract, pesto, Honey Nut Cheerios, pistachios, and many other things.

Why he chose to eat that dish on that day, I’ll never know. But I’m thankful it played out like it did, in our home with a quick and happy ending. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. If he ever has another reaction, it could be.

Pieces of a puzzle have begun to fall into place. I checked our pantry, scanned ingredients lists. Granola bars and cookies he’s never liked revealed the words: contains peanut ingredients, peanut flour, may contain peanuts. I could never understand why he didn’t like these treats. In fact, he’d often tell me they tasted like peanuts when I couldn’t see or taste anything.

All this time, he knew. peanut butter

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If This Summer Is Any Indication of My Future…

A few years ago, when I’d sit outside to watch my kids ride their bikes after school, I’d see the mom down the street from me drive by. She’d drive by again. Ten minutes later, she’d drive by again. In the course of an hour or two, I’d see her car go by many times. In summer months, her car never seemed to stop coming around the corner. I’d look up from my reading. She’d always smile and wave.

I think I know what she was smiling about. Not a neighborly smile, but a knowing smile. An “enjoy that chair and carefree afternoon” smile because your time is coming. With four kids, she was always picking them up from different schools, then taking someone to soccer or who-knows-what.

Now things have changed. Some of her kids are driving themselves to school and practices. Now I don’t need to sit and watch as my kids play outside after school. But I’ve moved on to something else.

All summer I’ve been dropping off my kids and picking them up. Basketball, gymnastics, Harry Potter, and horseback riding camps. Friends’ houses. Sewing classes. Their social schedules are wearing me out. Between these times, I manage to find an hour or two here and there to meet deadlines and make phone calls for work I actually have. I try in vain to get some writing in because my creative juices can only be bottled up for so long before they expire. Reading blogs and keeping up has gone to the wayside. When I’m on the computer, even for real work, my family says, “Mommy’s on her blog again,” but they use an annoying nasally tone and roll their eyes like being creative, having a hobby, and staying connected aren’t productive. Pshht.

I’m tired of my van. I’m tired of going back and forth. I’m tired of jerks riding my tail and others not moving over when I’m trying to merge. I’m damn near ready to cuss someone out for that. I’m not cut out for speeding around town trying to make it to the next activity or timing one kid’s play dates with another’s camp times. There’s always some lag time for me and I end up sitting (in my van) or going to the store for the third time in a week.

My kids have had an awesome summer. They’ve experienced some great new things and kept in touch with friends. I’m worn out. And I’m scared to look down the street and see what’s ahead.

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Road Trips: Arriving at Our Destination

Twenty-eight hours. Seven days. Those numbers may not amount to anything big, but to me they equal progress. After ten years of trips with kids, my husband and I finally have progress. No shushing whining kids, doing acrobatic maneuvers from the front seat to reach a dropped toy. No hearing, “My shoe come off! Ha, ha, ho, ho!” Silence and then an ear-piercing scream. No more potty breaks on the side of the road (fingers crossed). Can I say it out loud now? We have arrived. We are finally at the point with our kids where we can take cool trips. We can venture further away from home. We can start to show our kids the world.

I know. People out there, they do this. They pack up their tiny tots and pack and plays. They tour and do naps on the road. That has never been us. That was always hell. And I’ll admit that I don’t think being cooped up in a hotel room for a week with my kids is ever going to be easy. A five-year-old boy thing is to jump on the hotel bed. Did you know ten-year-old boys still jump on the bed? Back and forth over both of them, at least mine does. I fear in ten years I’ll still be telling him to stop jumping on the bed.

I forget easily my own shenanigans as a kid: Fighting with my sister in the car. Not being able to sleep in a room and bed that weren’t my own. My sister not wanting to sleep with me because I always draped a leg over her in the middle of the night, which got a bit awkward when we were teenagers.

But even those are the memory makers, getting from point A to point B. The nights when you slept in luxury and the nights when you prayed bed bugs wouldn’t come out of their hidey-holes.

On our recent Maine trip, we made the best of these moments. We enjoyed beautiful scenery, a bit of history, and good food, though my daughter does prefer the plain pasta I make at home. We could leave our hotel in the morning and stay out all day.

There were the occasional head scratchers. “That restaurant was goo-ood!” heard after my child ate overpriced boxed mac and cheese. And, “Dad? Is that rain?” as a downpour brought cars on I-81 to a crawl.

But my family just spent 28 hours together in the car. No screaming, no scratches, no tears. We spent seven days in four hotels up and down the east coast. Aside from someone still jumping on the bed, we’ve come a long way.

It was worth it.

It was worth it.

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Mother’s Day: The Everyday Moments Are the Greatest Gift

Mother’s Day—underneath it all, it’s just an ordinary day. This one, though, is wrapped up with a pretty bow. Get up, ooh and ahh over the effort of pancakes for breakfast that I know husband really put forth; ten minutes in, tell someone to stop saying stupid; decide that going to a park for the day would be the greatest way to spend a beautiful day because that’s what we normally do. Hugs from my kids, now those are the moments I really cherish.

Gush over the cards the kids made, the ones husband gently urged, then nagged, and then threatened them about for weeks. Daughter made hers with plenty of time to spare. Someone else slapped six words to paper and called it done. After a week of battles, who can blame him? I forced him to practice the dreaded recorder. I made him go to bed at a decent hour. I told him to please for the tenth time put his dirty underwear in the laundry room. He called me lazy and that didn’t go well, followed by a very long reminder of who washes his underwear and makes his dinner every night.

A dozen questions this week started with, “I know you’re going to say no, but…” And then I did.

The kids still give me presents, ones that teachers made them do at school but they are proud of nonetheless. Things my kids took care to hide from me, to surprise me with. I love every drawing, every bit of glue and string and paper. After, their part done, my kids run off to play Legos or get ready for the park.

Mother’s Day is just a day. For me, it’s more about the moments that aren’t forced. The times when one of the kids buries a head in my soft gut and reminds me he isn’t too old for me just yet. When I sing “You Are My Sunshine” to my daughter and her eyes fill with tears every single time. When I walk into my room and find a note that says, “Mommy you’re the best!” When the child who would never hold my hand now grabs it and doesn’t let go. When in the quiet of a new day, a sleepy boy snuggles up to me and doesn’t need to say a word.Mother's Day

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The Playground the Way It Was Meant to Be

Three days earlier, sleet and giant snowflakes fell, disrupting our way to warm weather. Now that it had arrived, the kids begged to spend the afternoon at their favorite playground. My husband and I plopped onto a metal bench, absorbing the heat we yearned for all winter.

“Remember when they were little and we always had to get up and help them?” I said. It required physical work for us to be at the park. Lifting the kids in and out of the swings. A shoe would fall off multiple times and need to be refastened. Or maybe my daughter would get stuck in those stupid toddler swings because I just couldn’t lift her up another inch to get her out. We had to push them “higher, Momma, faster.”

We had to hold their hands up the steps or help them climb the rock wall, plead with them not to stand too close to the open space at the tippy-top, or stuff our fannies into the tunnel and pretend it was a cave. We went down the slide with a kid in our lap or stood at the bottom to catch our precious cargo. We had to run at lightning speed to save our oblivious children from high-flying swings. Our arms became limp from holding our children up to the monkey bars so they could cross “one more time.”

I used to look with envy at the moms sitting on the benches, reading with not a care in the world while their children ran off and played. I’d glare at them when their kids ran up the slide and taught my toddler such dangerous maneuvers. I’d silently curse those parents for not keeping a watchful eye on their kids when they said words like stupid around my parrot-like angels.

Now I have finally graduated to the playground sidelines. No more chasing my kids. They run free and climb, the way play at a playground was meant to be. I watch as they cross the monkey bars with their own two hands. The only ache in my back now comes from the metal bench I’ve been sitting on. They explore the nearby creek and woods, sometimes out of sight for long stretches of time. I catch a glimpse of a pink shirt or hear my son’s loud voice, confirming all is well.

They follow each other like ants up and down ladders and fireman’s poles. They climb up the slide while other mothers tell their toddlers not to do the same. They say “stupid” and I tell them not to, but it falls on deaf ears.

Younger moms chase their tots, grabbing them before my kids’ high-flying swings mow them down. They help their kids up and down steps and catch them at the end of the slide. The newer moms make friends and play dates, while I just yearn for some quiet time and peace on a bench.

I watch the younger moms with their chubby-handed kids, giggling and running. I don’t miss it. I watch my kids run off, graze hands, giggling and making plans. I’ve started a new chapter. I open my book.playground

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I Never Said I Was Good at Math

Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to face as a parent, I never thought homework would be the one to trip me up the most, causing so many tears and leaving some of us flat-faced on the floor. When will this nightmare be over?

When I was a kid, I came home from school and did my homework. It wasn’t until high school that I remember writhing in pain as my dad tried to teach me formulas and pre-calculus while my eyes rolled back in my head and I bit my tongue hard to keep bad words from spilling out.

I despise math. I could not sit in a chair long enough to listen to anyone explain it because I did not care about it. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive it. I thought with the repeat of my college algebra course that was the end of it. No more. Hallelujah! The only math I’d see was for simple household measuring, grocery shopping. My word, someone has put a curse on me and given me children who sometimes need help with math. And I have to be the calm one.

Occasionally I check my son’s homework. Not always. I look at those long division problems and three-digit multiplication and know it would take me all night to work it out in my head. I don’t have time for that. My son does well in math. I glance and figure it’s OK.

Yesterday I got out the calculator to check up on him, just to make sure he wasn’t struggling. He got four of those big multiplication problems wrong. He redid the first one—992 x 91—and got the same answer. He did it again, same answer.

“Well this is the answer the calculator says. You’re not doing it right,” I told him.

Mind you, I didn’t take away his dinner or tell him he couldn’t have candy for a year, but the rolling on the floor and fussing that ensued would have made you think so.

He did the problem again and he got the same answer. His mechanical pencil mysteriously “fell apart.” I worked the problem on the calculator again. It had the same different answer I got before. Then I worked the problem on paper and got an entirely different answer from any of them, but it was closer to his.

“Hmmm.”

Quiet.

This was not looking good. Are calculators sometimes wrong? I use this calculator for work, for important things. I’ve used this calculator since college. This calculator gave us an answer that was nearly 60,000 off. I thought the answer seemed strange but who am I to question a calculator?

We went to the computer and got the same answer I got on paper. The calculator was wrong. My son was wrong. I was right. What is wrong with this world when you can’t rely on a calculator to check your math?

My son had only missed two problems and not four. Our calculator could not be trusted. And I guess that meant that I could not be trusted in my son’s eyes. I guess it also meant I’m going to have to start working all those problems out the long way. Or maybe he has this multiplication thing down good enough.

calculators make quick work

Am I smarter than a calculator?

 

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Home Movies Reveal Second Child Woes

After a full day of watching home movies of a decade of my children’s lives, I’ve come away with more than I expected. For one, my husband needs some new clothes. He kept saying, “I still have that shirt” or even, “Look, I’m wearing that one.” I’ve gone through a dozen wardrobes in a decade. For another, I began to see that no matter my efforts, second children simply don’t get all the fuss that first kids do.

After three videos of her brother, my patient daughter wondered when she would make an appearance. Only one more videotape and then the next two were of her, my husband informed her. “What? There are FOUR of him and only TWO of me?” she cried.

My heart sank. It was true. There had been a lot of video of my son. Too many minutes of us anxious new parents hovering and waiting for a smile, a laugh, any sign of fun in our upside-down world. We used that video camera for proof that we weren’t just seeing things in the bleary-eyed haze of sleeplessness. Our new tiny sweetheart by day, insomniac-bloodcurdling-screamer by night did in fact smile, coo, show some sign that he liked us. We needed to record it in case he never did it again.

And so for every new skill, we readied our camera and waited. Ten minutes of video of a staring baby, five minutes of him teetering on wambly legs—not good drama. We realized this as time went on. We got better. But still every other day our son did something cute, like “reading” a book. How could we forget we had recorded that three times before?

When my daughter came along, scenes of her nearly always include big brother. We didn’t hover over her crib waiting for a coo or a gassy smirk. As the parents of two small children, we were quick and to the point.

We created second child syndrome without even realizing it. To our daughter’s eyes, it may look as if our son steals the show in every scene. He’s always there. But the truth is, we never had to wait as long for her smiles or giggles. We didn’t have to choreograph a show with baby talk and rattles to get a second of cute out of her like we did for him. Her brother did all the work for us. We just hit record and watched the action unfold. He could throw a ball in the air and she acted like Elmo had just eaten a banana while standing on his head. She laughed so hard she got hiccups, every single time. At five months old, this was their daily routine.

Our videos revealed that my son had my daughter’s white wicker furniture first, the shelf that hangs in her room, and the plastic Kewpie dolls that were mine as a child. “Why does he have my dresser?”

kewpie dolls

A hand-me-down from Mom to son to sister. She doesn’t know it yet, but Mom is sentimental.

I’m a second child. I know the feeling. Everything looks different when you are always second in line, always waiting your turn, waiting to be old enough. You want videos featuring just you with the same ten minutes of parental torture. You want everything to be the exact same. You keep score even if your parents don’t.

As a survivor of second childhood, I know now things aren’t always what they seem. When I got older, I knew my parents loved me and my sister just like I knew it was possible for me to love both of my parents. That was all I needed to know. Now that I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to feel so full of love in every way possible for two completely different beings. No amount of video or photos can quantify that. But I still make sure her firsts are just as important. I still completed her baby book and wrote down every date.

I don’t want second child syndrome to be part of my daughter’s life, but I know no matter what I do, it will. For now, I hope she’ll be happy with the discovery of two more videotapes…of her. Whew.

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What Do I Have to Show for a Year as a Mom?

My husband decided to begin the New Year by watching a slideshow of the past year so the kids could see what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve been, how they’ve grown.

The year’s opportunities, adventures, and stories did not disappoint: beach trips, a 40th birthday, the Atlanta aquarium, zoos, camping, Hershey Park, the Amish countryside, horseback riding.

stingray

The Atlanta Aquarium

The scariest moment? On a bike trip, I watched my speeding son fly over his handlebars. Motherly instinct set in, the one that told me not to panic, to not gag when I saw a bloody mess under his shirt, to be strong when the bandage later became one with his scab.

Our year was filled with many small moments and firsts that added up to big things for our young kids: a better basketball season, an overnight trip without us parents, new glasses, lost teeth, spelling bee success, slumber parties, acing spelling tests.

As I watched a year of their young lives flicker by—baby faces transform even more into those of kids masking bigger problems, deeper emotions—I saw glimpses into unknown futures that I dreamed of when my children were nothing more than strange movements in my round belly.

But for all of the joys, victories, and triumphs of the year, I also saw something missing. Me. As my kids get older and do things on their own merit, how does a mother measure up? Most days, I’m the cheerleader, the coach, the teacher, the pusher, but my kids do all the work. From year to year, what is there to show for what I’ve done? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, the loads of laundry, clean toilets, nightly meals, and clean sheets don’t make the cut into the year’s highlights. After-school meltdowns, sex talks, and the truth about Santa don’t quite have heartwarming memories to fill slideshows.

Sure, pictures of the birthday table show off my confetti sandwich cookies. The Lord of the Rings Halloween costume my husband and I made for my son—that I swore he wouldn’t wear at the last minute—did meet his expectations. Of course, I had to make Gimli’s beard twice.

But as a person, I don’t have much to show from 2012. Some pay stubs from freelance work. A house where the cleanliness ebbs and flows like the tide on any given day. Stacks of magazines still wait to be riffled through, just like last January when I swore I’d get to them. I’ve added new recipes to our repertoire, but they haven’t made mealtimes any smoother or the family any more agreeable.magstack

It’s hard as a parent sometimes to not have a team to make or a test grade to show your worth. I get no job performance reviews each year, and the feedback I do get often comes in shouts of anger followed by a slammed door. When my kids hurt and come to me, they still hurt when the crying is over but maybe a little less. I can’t solve my kids’ problems the way I could solve a client’s. If I make a suggestion, it’s the sure route not taken. The fine line between manipulation and real pain is hard for me to gauge sometimes, so I dangerously let myself get pulled across it. Many days, I don’t know where I stand in my parenting job but I know at the end of the day, I just want a drink or a chocolate or to climb into bed and hide hoping I’ll get it right tomorrow.

I guess as a parent you trudge along from year to year and never really know how you’re doing, but you do it anyway. As a mom, I never quite know where mothering ends and I begin. In time, I guess we’ve become the same person.

The only thing I am certain of is that mothering is somehow the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s not measured in time. One hug or smile, one simple moment makes being the mom behind it all worth it.

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