“I just want you to comfort me”

Sometimes Isabella is four-and-a-half going on fourteen and sometimes she acts exactly her age. Tonight we had a little of both. Isabella is my oldest child, my daughter, and probably the one I worry about the least. We had a rough start with a difficult delivery, lots of trouble nursing, and three to four months of colic, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing. She is sweet, smart, generous, imaginative, playful, and sometimes sassy. She hit all of her developmental milestones early or right on schedule and has blossomed over the past two years in Montessori school. She is starting to read already and has wonderful critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Isabella is polite and a fairly good listener. Although she looks just like my husband, she inherited quite a few of my personality traits including being a good negotiator and debater. She can be very convincing in arguing her side and trying to get what she wants. Les is in trouble when the two of us team up and try to get what we want (new shoes, a vacation, a pool or new car one day????). She can also be sensitive and emotional. This could be inherited, since I can be emotional and overly sensitive at times, or it could just be a girl thing.

With two mischievous, and very needy, young boys constantly demanding my attention, Isabella, unfortunately. is the one that often has to fend for herself. I count on her, as the oldest and as my most responsible child, to make safe and smart choices. I rely on her to speak up if something is amiss or if she needs something. Isabella is very good about playing on her own or with friends, requiring the least amount of my hands-on time between my three children. She is so outgoing and eager to make a friend wherever we go. We were at the park the other day and she did not hesitate to run over to a young girl that was swinging on the swing set and ask her to play. She is young and innocent enough to not know the sting of rejection or the arbitrary social constraints that prevent so many older kids and adults from going up to a stranger and inviting them to join us in play or engage in conversation. We are lucky to have some great kids in the neighborhood with whom Isabella loves to play, especially two of her best friends that live next door. The three of them enjoy playing outside, dressing up, doing arts and crafts, and playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls. They get along very well, with only the occasional hurt feeling or disagreement thrown in for good measure.

After a busy four-day family trip to Philadelphia, Isabella could not wait to play with her friends. She got to go to Gymnastics camp with a school friend this morning and got to play with her neighbor friends all afternoon. By the time I got home from work today, dinner needed to be made and I had to go next door to pick her up from her playdate fun. After little sleep the night before (due to our long drive home from Philly) and a very busy day of activity, Isabella was tearful and exhausted. She started crying about a seemingly trivial issue of whether she had missed her American Girl doll’s birthday. I am not sure if she thought of this or if the birthday question came up while she was playing dolls with her friends, but she was inconsolable.

I tried the rational approach, telling her that she could choose any date for her American Girl doll’s birthday. I tried to reassure her that we had not missed her doll’s birthday. I even got out the computer and tried to look up the actual birthday of her doll. I tried to ask questions to see if she had been in a disagreement with her friends and attempted to coach her on standing up for herself if she did not like what her friends were telling her. The more I talked and tried to reason with her, the more she cried. I did not know what else to say. Frankly, I could not believe I was even going to these lengths over such a silly issue. As I tried another approach of reasoning with my very unreasonable and overtired 4-year-old, Isabella threw her hands up and said, “Mommy, I just want you to comfort me. You keep talking and making me more sad.” Wow! She was right. I was so busy trying to make dinner and give advice and offer solutions, I had not stopped to simply wrap my little girl in my arms and smother her with hugs and kisses. I stopped what I was doing and sat her on my lap and just held her. I rubbed her head, held her like the child that she still is, and just let her cry for a few minutes. I waited until the tears stopped and she was feeling better – maybe five or ten minutes. Bedtime followed shortly thereafter.

Tonight reminded me of a couple of important lessons. Four-year-old girls are not that different from thirty-four year-old women. I know when I am tired, sad, and frustrated and just need a good cry, I don’t want my husband to offer advice or solutions. I usually am just looking for an understanding shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear to listen to my woes. Once I finish my good cry, I am usually fine. Although I have never said the words “I just want you to comfort me”, that is exactly what I have thought on numerous occasions. Isabella is growing up, sometimes faster than I would like. As she gets older, the problems and disagreements she will encounter will only multiply and become more complex. I have so many things I want to teach her, and my initial instinct is always going to be to try to help her navigate the world and find solutions to the challenges she faces. I need to remember that she is still my little girl, and I always need to give hugs and just listen before I start doling out advice. Parental guidance and problem-solving usually goes down better with a healthy dose of comfort and empathy mixed in.

Apologies

This is the start of what may become a regular series on the blog entitled Apologies.  I feel the need to apologize a lot lately – to the kids, my husband, my friends, my boss, my coworkers, and complete strangers.  I am usually either failing to live up to expectations, doing too much of something (usually yelling), or not doing enough (work, time with my husband, attention to the kids).  Sometimes I am apologizing for my own shortcomings and other times for the shortcomings of my children.  Today I have to apologize for both.

I apologize to Moe’s for the awful tantrum my 17-month old threw in your dining establishment today.  We were just coming in to pick-up a big to-go order and this 5-minute trip turned into a 15-minute nightmare.  I know I tried to say that he never acts like that, as if that would excuse  the scene he was making, but that was not a total lie.  He has never acted that way in a restaurant.  He usually only throws those tantrums at home.  What was I supposed to say – “Sorry, my kid is acting like an out-of-control little monster, and I am a terrible parent for not knowing how to get him under control”?  I guess that would have been more accurate at that moment.

I apologize to the hard-working employees, especially those that helped clean up the messes we made along the way.  Sorry about the entire snack container of pretzels Noah threw all over the floor.  I did my best to clean up, but I am sure that we left some pretzels under tables.  I am sorry about all the napkins my 3-year old pulled out and left all over a table as I ignored him, while trying to gain control over my flailing 17-month old.  I apologize for leaving a very messy, stinky diaper in the bathroom trash can.  I usually try to take those outside in a special bag, but it was all I could do to just escape the bathroom with my tearful, poop stained baby and very restless toddler.

I apologize to the other patrons that were witnessing the screaming, flailing, crying, and hitting debacle in front of them with a mix of disgust and pity.  Noah threw himself on the floor kicking and crying for no good reason at least 3 times.  To keep him from hurting himself and to get him off the dirty floor, I thought it would be slightly better to let him lose it in my arms and hurt me instead.  Of course, I tried to soothe him, distract him, and calm him down to no avail.  I was well aware that all eyes were on me, wondering why I could not gain control over this tiny, emotional person.  I especially apologize to the little boy who put his hands over his ears and did not take them away until we left the restaurant.  I know that we were interrupting your nice, peaceful lunch out on a Sunday.  Sorry!

I apologize to the two nice ladies who approached me asking if I needed any help.  I know it is hard to watch a miserable little baby and be so helpless to quiet him down.  Unfortunately, there was not much you could really do to help, other than putting the lids on my salsa cups and helping me out to the car with my bags so I could contain my miserable child.  I especially apologize to the second kind woman who saw me burst in to tears as she was helping me at the salsa bar.  I hope you don’t think I am crazy.  Your innocent question was just the final straw that sent me over the edge.  My tears were a result of a long, frustrating morning with a grumpy baby and an even more frustrating and embarrassing 15 minutes at the restaurant.  I know you were judging me, at least a little, but just know that we were simply having a bad moment – both of us.  I am usually much more calm, composed, and in control.  Noah is usually not such a terror, at least not to that degree.

Lastly, I apologize to Noah.  I know you are still a baby – barely able to handle your emotions, especially on command.  You are usually a sweet, happy guy and love to run errands like this with me.  Maybe you’re not feeling well today (hence the awful diapers) or maybe you just did not want to be on this particular errand.  Either way, tantrums are never acceptable, especially in public.  At home I can employ my usual defusing strategies like ignoring, time-out, or redirecting you with a toy or food.  Those strategies are much more difficult when waiting in line to pay at a crowded restaurant.  I am sorry for losing my patience with you and for putting you in that situation in the first place.  That still does not excuse the tantrum, especially the hitting (we are working hard to discourage this particular behavior).  Even when I don’t like your behavior, I still love you and always will.

Enough apologizing for now.  Noah calmed down once we were in the car driving home from Moe’s.  He went down for nap and slept for three hours.  Despite the public humiliation earlier in the day, I braved another outing to the mall with all three kids after nap.  I am proud to say that everyone behaved.  I maintained control of myself and them, and we had a good time playing at the mall playground and shopping at Gymboree.  I know this won’t be the last time I feel the need to apologize for a bad tantrum or less-than-ideal behavior from one of my kids, but hopefully this won’t be a regular occurrence.

Hang My Art

What do I do with all the art and the crafts that my kids make?  This is a question that I have often asked myself.  I had piles of stuff throughout my house that the kids would make at school or at home.  You hate to throw that stuff away, even though I do throw lots of it away.  I try to save the good stuff, the cute stuff that only a 3 or 4 year-old could come up with, and the stuff that makes me laugh or reminds me of something.  The rest of it goes in the garbage, and I pray that it does not get discovered there.  I have a storage bin for each child that I keep in the attic and some of their stuff goes there.  After 2 years in pre-school for Bella and 1 year for Jacob, their bins were filling up fast and I knew I needed another solution.

We are fortunate to have a playroom in our house – a 1st floor room filled with toys, books, a train table, and even a television.  The playroom is painted bright green and has white cube shelving with wicker baskets for storage.  The planets of the solar system are hanging from the ceiling (in inflatable form), reminding us of Isabella’s obsession with all things space from the age of two and a half to just after her third birthday.  The kids love playing in this room, and I love having a place to throw all the toys and kid related stuff that we have.  The playroom features a large wall, perfect for this idea I saw  on Pinterest.

                            

The only problem is that I am not especially handy.  I also did not want to spend a lot of money on wires and I could not get Ikea to ship me the cool looking metal and wire hanging system in the picture on the left.  I went to the garage and gathered some heavy-duty string, nails, and thumb tacks.  I hung the string horizontally using nails to secure the ends and thumb tacks evenly spaced across.  The goal was to make sure the string stayed secure and taut, but to also leave space for clothes pin hooks to hold the actual art.  I could fit three strings of hanging art on the wall.  I have since added a fourth string and I plan to alternate the art on this fourth string the most frequently.  This solution worked for us.  It was cheap, easy to put up, did not take very long, and works.  I love the bright colors and variety of pictures featured along this wall, and my kids love seeing their own art work on display for friends and relatives.  I have another friend who takes pictures of the preschool art work and projects and saves them that way, saving memories and storage space.  This picture below shows a creative and adorable way to display these photos of artwork in a way that does not take up very much room on a wall.

There are a lot of great ways to achieve the same end result – preserving and showing off your child’s masterpieces.  I am thankful to Pinterest for exposing me to a few of these awesome ideas.  I am proud of my makeshift version of  a gallery and look forward to hanging many more new creations from summer camp and school in the future.

This post may make you itch

 I am suffering from PTSD.  We are finally done with the four letter word parents dread – LICE.  There, I have admitted this simple, yet ugly reality that we were facing almost two weeks ago.  I know – Yuck!  I was almost too disgusted and embarrassed to write about it, but there really is nothing to be embarrassed about.  Head lice can strike anyone, regardless of how “clean” you are, regardless of socioeconomic status, and no matter how careful you are to avoid getting lice.  We suffered through lice several times as kids.  When one of us would get lice, the rest of us would get it.  My mom would line us up for the hours long process of shampoo and combing out the hair.  Unbeknownst to me, she was also suffering through the endless laundry and bagging up stuff as well, usually on her own while my dad was away at sea.  I had also watched my sister-in-law, a working single mom of three beautiful girls with long flowing hair, go through the awful lice drill.  My sister-in-law is one of the cleanest, most protective, and vigilant moms I know and seeing her girls get it really showed me that anyone can become a victim of these nasty little bugs.  When she was going through the first, or even the second bout of head lice, I remember thinking that she was overreacting or going to extremes to get rid of it.  As with many things you think or say before kids – I get it now.  She knew exactly what she was doing and had every right in the world to be upset and a little traumatized, in addition to being extremely cautious to make certain that they never have to deal with lice again.

We had just returned from a wonderful vacation in the Outer Banks complete with great friends, lots of cute kids (9 kids under the age of 7), an abundance of beach and pool time, terrific food and drinks, and plenty of relaxation and fun.  When we finally arrived home from our trip and put the boys to bed, I was tired and felt like I needed a good shower.  As I combed my hair before the shower, I saw it – a tiny, disgusting, live white bug on the teeth of my comb.  The panic set in and I began to furiously comb my hair searching for others.  I found three little suckers in all, but it was more than enough to make me itch from head to toe and imagine nothing but hundreds of these gross things crawling all over my head.  I interrupted story time with Les and Isabella to inspect her head, thinking that she must have it too.  I did not find anything on her head that night so I let her go to sleep.  Les was clean too.  It appeared that I was the only one with a bug problem, for now.

The next six hours involved an expensive trip to Walgreens for lice killing supplies, lots of laundry and bagging of anything that could not be laundered, cleaning. vacuuming, and hair washing and combing for me.  Les was going back to work at 6:00 AM the next day so he was somewhat limited in his ability to help.  I called my mom and asked her to come over the next day.  She thoroughly inspected my head and found no more live bugs.  I treated my head a second time and let her comb through my hair.  We decided to check Isabella’s head again and lo and behold, we found several eggs and a few live bugs.  We spent all of the boys nap time shampooing and combing out her hair – trying to remain calm and not totally freak out (which is what we were really doing).  I had completed 5 loads of laundry (on hot cycle that takes 1.5 hours and hot dryer setting) and had another 8 loads on deck.  I sprayed and cleaned furniture, carpets, and cars.  I stripped everyone’s beds and bagged up all pillows and stuffed animals.  My mom was a lifesaver that day in helping me go through hair, clean, and most importantly trying to help me not lose my mind.

I was close to losing it.  You become paranoid about getting all the eggs out and making sure that they are all dead.  I followed my sister-in-law’s advice and treated Isabella and myself with something every day for a week.  The harsh chemical shampoos are too strong to use daily, but I tried tea tree oil, LiceMD (non-pesticide shampoo), Cetaphil, and olive oil.  We used over-the-counter pesticide shampoo and one of the very expensive new prescription shampoos.  Even though we did not find anything on the boys, we treated them with Cetaphil and with LiceMD for a few days in a row.  Jacob, my hyper-sensitive kid, is now probably forever afraid of combs and won’t let me near him for even the nightly brushing after bath.  I slept apart from Les for the past week to make sure that he did not get anything.  I have never done so much laundry in my life – every day washing all clothes, towels, and sheets. We had no pillows on the couch, no stuffed toys, no Barbies or American Girl dolls.  I threw out all brushes, combs, and probably $100 worth of bows, headbands, and hair ties for Isabella and myself.  That hurt.  I could have probably bagged them up for a few weeks or washed what I could, but I was taking no chances.

I think we are finally through the worst of it.  I am sleeping in the same bed as my husband again.  We now only have to do laundry every few days, the typical amount for a family of 5.  We aren’t boiling the brushes and combs for now.  We will begin taking stuff out of bags soon and again have pillows, stuffed animals, and Barbies to play with.  The PTSD may linger for a little while.  We are still not doing story time in the kid’s beds with them, doing it on the floor instead.  We still put Isabella’s hair in two braids for camp and on weekends.  We continue to look through everyone’s hair at the end of the day during bath or shower time.  Right now, I am debating on whether to Let Isabella go on the camp field trip to a bounce house on Friday.  One of the kids in the neighborhood thinks they got lice from the bounce house last year, and that is stuck in my head, feeding the paranoia and fear about going through this again.  I hate to make her miss her first field trip, but I just don’t think I can handle that right now.  I might just have to take her somewhere better, maybe Busch Gardens or Water Country instead to make up for not being able to go on the field trip.

I know I’ll have to get over this and eventually return to normalcy.  I mean, I was a pretty careful mom because of my history with lice as a kid and my sister-in-law’s experience.  I never let Isabella share brushes, hair things, crowns, hats, or anything.  She knew these rules from a very young age and even independently told a little friend at a dress-up birthday party that she could not put anything on her head that was not hers.  What a good, responsible kid.  It doesn’t matter though.  I still don’t know how Isabella and I got lice.  No one else staying in the beach house, 16 other people, had any lice or even any sign of eggs.  The only thing we did that was different is that Isabella and I went to a movie theater the day before we left the Outer Banks.  It is completely possible that someone who sat in those movie theater seats before us, even days before us, had lice and an egg or a bug transferred from the seat to my head and then to Isabella’s as we snuggled.  I know that movie theaters were one of the popular ways that bedbugs spread throughout major cities and maybe lice can be the same way.  Who knows?  We will never know, and that is part of what can drive you insane with lice.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last time we have to confront this dreaded pest.  The kids will go to school with other kids, sleepovers and birthday parties will happen, a bounce house or gym will happen again (maybe just not this Friday), and we will go to a movie theater again.  We might just have to bring a towel to put on the seat at the movie theater, and I’ll know to have plenty of wine on hand to get me through if there is a next time.

Happy Birthday to me and Happy Independence Day to you

Happy Birthday to me.  Happy Independence Day to America.  I just turned 34 and had an awesome birthday celebrating with family and friends in the Outer Banks.  Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with my 4th of July birthday.  My parents always made sure I had a party, even if it was not on my actual birthday.  I received generous presents and my mom always made sure I had a delicious cake.  I always got to see fireworks on my birthday, and I even believed that the fireworks really were just for me for a long time.  My birthday usually meant a day spent with family at a park, a lake, the beach, or a backyard BBQ – all fun things, but not the number one way that a 12 or 14 year-old wants to spend their birthday.  All my friends were usually doing their own family thing, so my friend party usually needed to be on a different day.  I used to complain about not getting to celebrate my birthday at school (cupcakes brought to class, decorated locker, etc.), a plight shared by many kids with summer birthdays.  My birthday was never just my birthday, it was everyone’s special day – a day off from work and a day to do something other than celebrate my birthday.  I imagine that any kid with a birthday on a holiday has felt this way at one time or another.

The things that used to bum me out about my birthday seem pretty silly and self-centered now, but hey, I was a kid and those feelings are not totally abnormal.  As I got older, I started to appreciate my unique birthday.  I love that everybody is in a festive mood and ready to party on my birthday.  Since meeting Les, he has always made a genuine effort to make my birthday extra special and make sure that it doesn’t get lumped into a generic 4th of July party.  I always feel like the day is both a celebration of America and a celebration of my birthday.  We can always count on our friends and/or our family to be there to help us celebrate.   Last year and this year we enjoyed the holiday week with our neighbors at their beach house in the Outer Banks (thank you again T&K).  This year, my husband’s family came to the Outer Banks to soak up the sun and mark the holiday and my birthday with us.  We had an outstanding 4th of July , complete with a morning run, the beach and pool time, paddle boarding, a BBQ, cake and chocolate covered strawberries, and fireworks with my daughter.  Upon our return, my mom came over with a yummy strawberry cake to celebrate my birthday since she was not with us on the 4th.

Prior to the past two years in the Outer Banks, we had hosted a big 4th of July/birthday party at our house for 5 years in a row.  I liked having the party at our house because we could be around all the people we cared about, but it was a lot of work for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to plan a good party, but that got a lot harder with one, two, and now three kids.  The idea of planning and preparing for a big Independence Day bash (aka: my own birthday party) became stressful and overwhelming as I had to also juggle several children.  My last two birthdays in the Outer Banks have been relaxing and fun – the ideal way to spend a birthday.  I definitely miss being able to have all of my family and friends around, but I do not miss the planning and preparation for a party at our house on my birthday.  Rather than cleaning up and worrying about everyone getting to fireworks, I was able to simply take a lovely evening walk down to the beach to watch fireworks with Isabella, my nieces, and some family and friends that were in the Outer Banks with us.  It was pretty perfect, especially listening to Isabella ooh and aah over every firework as it exploded over the serene ocean.

I don’t feel thirty-four.  I probably never will feel as old as I keep turning, at least I hope I don’t.  I still feel young – in mind, body, and spirit – at least on most days.  I have grown-up.  I don’t mind growing up, as life experience and child rearing will do to you, as long as I don’t grow old before my time.  I no longer mind sharing my birthday with America.  I am honored to share such a historic and special date in the history of our great country.  This is going to be another great year, and I look forward to another great birthday and 4th of July next year.  We already have an amazing vacation planned to Turks and Caicos next year over the 4th of July week.  Sounds like a pretty incredible way to celebrate my 35th birthday!

Happy Father’s Day Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there, especially my dad!  I am so incredibly proud of my dad this year because of his remarkable physical transformation. He is a new man. I was worried about my dad for a long time. He has spent much of his adult life battling his weight and other health issues including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes.  He never had the healthiest diet, and I only really remember him exercising when he had to for the military.  About 69% of adults in America are either overweight or obese, so he was not in the minority with his weight or poor lifestyle and health history.  My dad’s weight and medical concerns only increased since retiring from the Navy, until he was forced to make some serious changes or risk loss of his career or even his life.  My dad’s side of the family has a pretty bad track record with a number of deaths from heart attack or stroke, things that probably could have been prevented with lifestyle changes.  I think he probably knew that he would face a similar fate if he did not take control of his weight and health.

My dad also had a lot to lose if he did not make the necessary changes.  He is a husband and a father to four grown daughters.  Perhaps most importantly, he is Grandpa to my three kids and now to my sister’s newborn son.  With a 20+ year career in the military, my dad was gone a lot, too much with young kids at home.  He missed plenty of big and small events in our lives, and I still really don’t know how my mom managed so much on her own while my dad was deployed.  I also know, although he has never said this, that it must have been hard on my dad to miss all those precious moments with us.  I know that this is the fate of so many military families right now while our country is at war, and it breaks my heart because I know firsthand how hard it can be on the members of those families.  Since retiring from the military, I have seen so much more of my dad and been able to get to know him so much better as an adult.  All of my sisters are probably closer to my dad now as grown-ups than we ever were as children.

I have also been able to watch my dad become a Grandpa, perhaps one of my greatest joys over the past few years.  I know my father loves each one of his daughters, but I also know that my parents always wanted a boy.  They had a name picked out and everything.  My dad is naturally the strong and silent type, but having five women in the house (all fighting to get a word in) left him without much to say.  I don’t think he quite knew what to do with Barbies, dolls, make-up, boy trouble, and the hormonal teenage angst that was ever-present in our house for years.  Now there are three grandsons in our family, some sort of poetic justice in my opinion.  My boys, especially Jacob, adore their Grandpa.  Jacob loves all of his grandparents, but there is an amazing connection between Jacob and my dad.  He loves to take Grandpa on walks in the woods, play choo-choos or cars, and go to the park.  My dad enjoys following Jacob around wherever he leads, making him #1 in Jacob’s mind.  Jacob even resembles my side of the family, especially my dad.  Before my dad lost all of the weight, he had a hard time getting down on the ground to play with the kids and struggled to keep up with my active toddlers.  He could not physically be the Grandpa he wanted to be – active, engaged, and playful.  I am so appreciative of my parents and the role they play in my children’s lives.  Yeah, the babysitting is nice, but mostly I just love to see the way my kids get so excited to see them.  My dad needed to get healthy so he could be around a lot longer, especially for Isabella, Jacob, and Noah.

I always admired my dad’s work ethic, tenacity, and pride.  These are traits that I hope I have inherited and learned from him.  He relied on these character traits to totally transform his weight and his health.  My dad underwent gastric bypass surgery a year and a half ago and has lost over 100 pounds since that time.  Some people feel that this is “the easy way out” or somehow not as impressive as losing the weight without surgical assistance.  I understand where some of those people with that opinion are coming from because there are plenty of examples where surgical weight loss does not work as a long-term solution.  I do not feel that my dad will be one of those people.  He committed himself to long-term success.  He is doing it for the right reasons.  He did the mental work to prepare for the lifestyle changes and has followed through on those changes even after the weight loss.  My dad is a runner now – a real runner who belongs to a running group and does 10K and half-marathon races on weekends.  He does not take any medicine to treat health problems anymore.  He actually managed to get off all his blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes medicines before the surgery, as a result of the significant dietary changes leading up to the surgery.  He makes better choices about the foods he eats, liquids he drinks, and portion sizes.  He looks awesome and I know he feels great too.  He has a new lease on life and is making the most of it.  He has always worked hard for his family and for his job, but I am so proud to see my dad working so hard to take care of himself.  I admire my dad for many things, but I am inspired and moved by the complete transformation he has made over the past 18 months.

Congratulations on your remarkable accomplishments Dad!  Thank you for taking charge of your health so that you can be around for many more years.  Keep up the good work with your diet and running.  We are all so proud of you!  Lots of love to you on Father’s Day and every day!

My Plates are Crashing

Wow, it has been over a week since returning home from our anniversary vacation, and I am swamped!  I feel like I am literally trying to juggle 20 different spinning plates right now and any minute they are all going to come crashing down.  I probably should not even be typing this message right now because my real job (the one that pays me to work 3 days/week) has several pressing deadlines staring me in the face.  Oh well, I loaded up on caffeine in preparation for a late night and early morning.  I need to vent for 20 minutes on this blog and then I will be able to tackle those work projects.

Coming home from vacation was bittersweet.  We were actually ready to leave Florida because we were dying to see the kids.  They made us a “welcome home” sign and showered us with hugs and kisses upon our return.  Noah, my baby, was especially clingy and maybe just a little traumatized from our absence, but he is coping (and I am coping with my mommy guilt about leaving him).  While we were thrilled to be back with our  children, we were not ready to leave the relaxation and stress-free days of vacation.  I was doing pretty well sticking to a diet (I still need to lose 10 pounds or so that I have kept on since my 3 pregnancies and kids) and surviving on 6-7 hours of sleep a night.  However, my body got spoiled on vacation and got used to at least 2 delicious meals a day (in addition to dessert) and 9-10 hours of sleep.  Needless to say, my body and mind have been fighting to get readjusted to a more deprived state and are not happy about it.  Coming home also meant coming home to our insane schedule.  Here is a little taste of our last week since returning home:

Wednesday:  Back to work for me, kids at home with Les for part of day and Nanny part of the day.  Jacob had 1/2 day at school.  No school for Bella.

Thursday:  I worked ALL day – left at  7 AM and did not get home until after 10 PM.  This sucked even more since I usually don’t work on Thursdays.  I switched my days around since I had a few presentations I was responsible for on this day.  Jacob had his last day of school.  Les did the speech drive with Jacob and brought Isabella along for the drive.  Nanny stayed with Noah during speech.  Les (super dad) did dinner, bath, and bed routine.

Friday:  I was off, but Les had to work all day.  Packed tons of kid gear for a big day in Virginia Beach.  Took kids to VB for 11 AM speech.  After speech, we picked up my dad, got smoothies for lunch, and took Noah for his first haircut.  Dropped my dad off,  went to my in-laws house for naps for boys and to celebrate father-in-law’s retirement (Les met us in VB after work).  Late night for kids.

Saturday:  Needed household supplies – groceries, home depot stuff, craft supplies, and Father’s Day gifts.  Schlepped kids to multiple stores, went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and playtime.  Les went to work at 2 PM, and I did afternoon and evening routine with kids on my own.

Sunday:  Big Day – Father’s Day!  Gave Les father’s day presents and we took a family trip to Super Wal-Mart for MORE groceries and supplies that we did not get Saturday.  Had all of husband’s family over and made Father’s Day brunch.  Cleaned up and helped Isabella and cousins organize a lemonade stand.  Prepared food for my family to come over for Father’s Day BBQ.  After the BBQ, Les and I left to go to a Dave Matthews concert (self-imposed craziness, I know, but totally worth it).  My parents did bath and bedtime with kids.

Monday:  Les worked.  I was off because I am working Thursday again this week.  Took Isabella to camp at Virginia Living Museum.  Took boys to museum and for a walk.  Had one of Isabella’s friends from camp over for a playdate and helped them with some craft projects while boys napped.  Packed up stuff for a late afternoon outing to Busch Gardens (we have season passes and love being able to go for just a few hours).  When Les got home from work, we went to the amusement park for 4 hours and put the kids to bed a little later than usual.  Les and I stayed up late pre-cleaning the house because we were having a cleaning person come the next day.

Tuesday:  Work day for me.  Les has to sleep during day because he starts working the overnight shift tonight = the beginning of a crazy few days ahead where we won’t see each other much.  My to-do list is a mile long – work to do for my job in preparation for my meeting, Jacob b-day invitations to mail, more grocery shopping, bills to pay, birthday gifts to buy, and another trip to get ready for over the 4th of July.

Wednesday:  Les sleeps and goes right to work when he wakes up because he has a meeting before his shift.  I will be gone all day and evening because I have a big work meeting.  The nanny will be with the kids all day and my parents will do dinner/bath/bed.  I will come home at 10 so my parents can go home.  I should be staying at the hotel where my meeting is, but I have no one to be home with the kids since Les is working overnight so my boss said I could stay the night at home as long as I am back bright and early.

Thursday:  Out the door as soon as nanny arrives and at my meeting all day.  Finally home Thursday evening, but Les still working two more nights so we won’t see him until Saturday.

Friday:  A nice long day spending time with my kids – finally!  Lots of stuff to do, but probably won’t do anything except play and snuggle my kiddos.

So….. this is my life.  I know it is not much different from anyone else’s crazy life, but it mine and most days it feels like I am just trying to survive.  I have many moments during weeks like this where I really question whether I am making the right choice to work outside the home, away from my kids.  These busy work weeks make the balance seem very off and make me feel like my priorities are not quite aligned.  I also don’t have any time for the things I really do enjoy, like blogging!  I have started 5 different posts – my Fifty Shades of Grey review, Cancer Recap, Father’s Day post, my take on the attachment parenting debate, and my synopsis of the Lance Armstrong investigation and the sham that it is.  This is the good stuff I really want to be working on, along with planning Jacob’s birthday, catching up on scrapbooks, organizing my office, finally getting my finances and bills in some sort of order, and just spending more quality and consistent time with my children.  I know it will settle down and the balance will shift back soon.  It usually does, at least long enough for me to decide to keep up this balancing act of working in and outside the home a little while longer.  I just need to get through this week.  I need to look forward to a great 4th of July vacation with family and friends.  I need to stop writing and get to my work so I can maybe get 5 hours of sleep tonight.  I need to take a few deep breaths and   move forward with the tasks at hand.

Hang in there with me as I get through this week.  I will finish those posts I mentioned soon and probably start several more that take me too long to finish.  I would like to promise that I will be a consistent blogger, but I am just trying to do the best that I can managing the other very important plates that are spinning out of control at the moment.  Once I get those under control, my fun side project of blogging can resume.

Goodbye Florida

  Goodbye Florida.  It has been fun, but it is time to go back home.  It turns out that 2-3 days is enough time for a vacation without the kids- at least for the first one.  We miss our little ones and our crazy life.  We feel rested, reconnected, refreshed, and ready to tackle a busy, fun-filled summer.  It was so nice to have this little time-out together.  We confirmed what we already knew on some level – we are still Les and Jess.  Sure, we are mom and dad to our three kids, but first and foremost we are individuals, and husband and wife.  We have taken time away individually over the past five years for work trips, vacations with “the guys”, or my recent trip to see my sister in Germany.  I know those trips were very therapeutic and re-energizing for each of us, but those trips also put the burden of parenting and running the house on the other partner.  We have tried to allow and encourage each other to take time away over the past five years.  Parenting can be hard work, and everyone deserves a little break to remember who they are as an individual.  It also reminds the person at home how much they value and rely on the other person.  Parenting is definitely easier and more fun together.  I admire single parents, because I know it can be very challenging and sometimes quite lonely to do that job alone.  Of course marriage and co-parenting has its share of challenges too, but I know Les and I appreciate each other and the role we each play in parenting.

I don’t think either of us doubted that we still had it as a couple, but it was just nice to confirm that we are still crazy about each other after 16 years together, 10 years of marriage, and three kids.  We still have plenty to talk about (other than the kids), we still love each other’s company, and we still have that spark.  This vacation not only made us excited for our next trip away together, but also made us more excited for our next family vacation.  There were so many times on this trip when some of the experiences we had felt a little bit empty without the kids.  We would comment how much the kids would love to see this or play with that.  For instance, “the kids would love all the shells on this beach” or “they would have so much fun playing in this pool.”  We are in a new phase of existence as a couple, one where we can’t necessarily separate the “us” of our marriage, from the “us” of our family.  We love this phase and are immensely grateful for the family we created.  We just have to remember that without the “us” of each other, we would never have the beautiful family that we do.  I guess we’ll just have to get the babysitters on reserve and pick a date in 2013 for our next trip together.  We wouldn’t want to forget what made it all possible, right?

Vacation Rocks!

20120610-171819.jpg

20120610-171847.jpg

Les and I are on our first vacation as a couple in almost 5 years, celebrating a big milestone – our 10 year wedding anniversary. We are having an AWESOME time! The past few days have been pretty fabulous actually. Before leaving for vacation we enjoyed 2 date nights in a row with friends and a terrific visit with our best friends from northern Virginia. We took the kids to a fun birthday party on Saturday, complete with pony rides and a petting zoo.

We left Virginia on Saturday afternoon and flew into Tampa, FL. Les surprised me with a very thoughtful and romantic gift. He took me to the Tiffany store and presented me with a gorgeous pearl necklace, the only jewelry I have ever wanted other than my diamond ring. It was perfect because he had surprised me 10 years earlier, at our rehearsal dinner, with my first blue Tiffany box containing a simple silver open heart necklace. The pearl necklace was a wonderful surprise, but the whole Tiffany thing was icing on the cake. Major points to my amazing husband. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Roy’s and spent the night in Tampa.

We slept in – no alarm, no work, no dishes or chores, and no children to wake us. I actually thought my body had forgotten how to sleep in, but no, it remembered. We ate at our favorite Florida breakfast place, First Watch, before heading down to Sarasota, FL for the remainder of our vacation. We checked in to the Ritz-Carlton and have just spent the past 3 hours lounging pool and beachside, sipping frozen drinks and just relaxing. I am in heaven. This is my idea of a perfect vacation.

I love our life at home with our kids. It is not that we lead this really burdensome, stressful life and never get time to relax or see each other. It is just that we are in the throes of young parenthood, balancing 3 adorable kids, jobs, activities, a house, and plenty of responsibilities. We are finally in a stage of parenting where even the baby sleeps through the night and we have a few hours at the end of the night to be by ourselves or with each other, but usually there are dishes to clean, laundry to do, bills to pay, or work to do. The day-to-day basic responsibilities end up occupying those few precious hours at the end of the day.

These opportunities to disconnect from our “normal” life are rare. Opportunities to reconnect as a couple, just the two of us are few and far between. After this great trip, we are committed to trying to do more disconnecting from daily stressors and more reconnecting with each other. Maybe we can even pull off a yearly trip for the two of us. We are thankful to supportive and incredible grandparents,and the best nanny in the world, to help us with the kids and make this vacation possible. We are so appreciative of the help and the love these people show to our kids in our absence.

Well, I am going to go order another daiquiri and go for a walk on the beach with my man.

Jacob – A Special Kid From the Beginning (Part 2)

Looking at these two pictures reminds me just how far Jacob has come.  I wish I could have seen this picture of him running with a football when he was 11 months old and I was a frightened that he would never sit properly, crawl, or even walk.  So many people encouraged me that it would come in time, and I believed them for the most part, but I still worried.  Jacob’s gross motor skills have improved exponentially over the past year and a half.  He walks and runs everywhere.  He still falls quite often when on uneven surfaces, but we have been lucky in escaping any real injuries or trips to the Emergency Room.  He is still in physical therapy through the school and privately, working on navigating surface changes, stairs (alternating feet up and going down safely), jumping, and overall core strength and flexibility.  From initial appearances, Jacob looks like a pretty typical 2 and a half-year old, which is such a tremendous blessing and a relief.  I feel like he will eventually be able to do everything his peers can do physically, even if it takes a lot more time and effort.

Our biggest challenge over the past year has been Jacob’s speech delay.  At the age of two, Jacob really was not talking at all.  He said mama, dada, and Bella and that is about it.  All of his therapists told us that children usually master gross motor skills before mastering fine motor skills, including speech.  Since his gross motor development was so delayed, this somewhat explained his speech delay.  He also needed to imitate sounds before he would be able to imitate words.  At two, Jacob was delayed in a lot of his fine motor skills and really was not imitating much at all.  He still was not clapping, not signing much (despite lots of effort on this), and not doing much fine motor play (block stacking, pop beads, etc.).  He would gesture, point, grunt, and cry if he wanted something.  Two-year olds can be challenging, moody, and difficult to understand anyway, but most two-year olds have a basic supply of words and/or signs to communicate their basic needs and wants.  Jacob did not have this, which was leading to a tremendous amount of frustration on his part and ours.

One of the great things about the Early Intervention program is that they are a direct link to the IEP and developmental preschool programs offered through public schools.  A child can stay in the Early Intervention program until they are three, but it seems like they encourage you to get them in school for a more stimulating, therapy-rich environment than the few hours of at-home therapy you get through early intervention.  Our daughter Isabella was in a Montessori school and we were very happy with the environment and the development we had seen there with her.  I am a big proponent of Montessori education, but I also feel like different kids need different things at various points.  This is a lesson, not just of education, but of parenting multiple children.  Montessori would not have been the right fit for Jacob, and I am not sure if it ever will be.  The developmental preschool through the public school system was a good fit for Jacob.  We went through the IEP process and he started the 2011-2012 school year with 2 days/week.  Jacob’s amazing, patient, smart, and caring preschool teacher helped advocate for him to go to school 3 days/week in the middle of the year.  Jacob enjoyed going to school.  He was fine getting on the school bus (so scary to send a 2-year-old on a bus, but he loved it).  He came home from the half-day exhausted, but happy.  The classroom is a language-rich environment, with therapy built-in to the entire program, in addition to more individualized speech, occupational, and physical therapy.  Because many of the other kids in the class were also delayed in one or multiple ways, we decided to also put him in a regular preschool class at the JCC for the other 2 days/week.  This way he would have some sort of school or activity every morning of the week (much easier for creating a routine), and he would be exposed to many different types of kids and learning environments.

We did see Jacob make progress at school, but the progress was not as fast as we would have liked.  By the time Jacob had his second IEP meeting at the end of 2011 (where we were requesting 3 days/week), we felt like his progress was stagnant.  This was a familiar feeling with Jacob’s development.  When he learned to crawl, it took him another 8 months to learn to walk, and it seemed to take forever.  With his speech, we kept expecting a “language explosion”, but he spoke less than 10 words from his second birthday to two and a half.  Progress just seemed so slow, which was so very frustrating and defeating at times.  In addition to increasing his days at school from 2 to 3 days and adding the 2 days at the JCC, we changed his private speech therapy as well.

We had been seeing a nice speech therapist at our home once a week from August 2011 to January 2012.  I had suspected that Jacob may have Apraxia, in addition to some dysarthria and hypotonia.  He fit the profile in a lot of ways and this speech therapist confirmed that he probably did have Apraxia.  She really focused on building his mouth strength through focused exercises in chewing, blowing, and whistles.  Just as Jacob had low tone in his body, his mouth was very weak as well.  These exercises were like PT for the mouth.  Jacob’s mouth did seem to get stronger, but this did not necessarily translate to improved speech.  Jacob also  did not always cooperate for these hour-long therapy sessions.  Overall, we just felt like we needed to try something else.  We had Jacob evaluated by a speech therapist in Virginia Beach (a 45-minute drive away) who was an Apraxia expert when he was 18 months old.  She said he was too young to diagnose with Apraxia at that point.  In January of 2012 I decided to attend an Apraxia support group meeting in Virginia Beach and I ran into this speech therapist again.  She suggested I bring him back in for another evaluation.  We did  the evaluation and have been schlepping Jacob to Virginia Beach twice a week for speech therapy and physical therapy since February of 2012.  Although this therapist does not think Jacob officially has Apraxia, she does agree that he has dysarthria and that the low tone affects his speech – it is just a lot more difficult for Jacob to talk than for other children.  She is good – what all speech therapists should be!  The drive is a pain, but worth it for good therapy that I finally feel is helping him.

I had suspicions that Jacob had some food allergies or sensitivities for a long time.  Even as a baby, with the severe reflux and eczema issues, I knew that dairy was a bit of an issue.  I tried to alter my diet while nursing him for 7 months, but I could never pin point what exactly bothered him.  When I stopped nursing, we tried him on regular formula, which he did not tolerate.  He seemed to do better on soy formula, and eventually soy milk.  We still gave him regular yogurt and cheese occasionally, which he LOVED, but it did not love him.  If I noticed the eczema flaring up, I would try to cut back the dairy, but sometimes he would still have skin issues or crying fits at night even when the dairy was cut out.  The other problem was that he seemed to crave dairy and would cry and throw tantrums at the fridge begging for yogurt or cheese.  I understand that my job as a parent is to set limits and control the nutrition, but it is hard to constantly fight over food, especially when you can’t figure out exactly what it is that is causing the problems.  He was also starting to refuse certain foods that he used to like – pizza, pasta, and some bread.  We took him to an allergist for skin testing at 18 months, but egg was the only thing he showed a slight allergy to.

Needless to say, I really started to suspect some food sensitivities or allergies that may not have shown up on the skin test (not the best test for certain sensitivities or allergies anyway).  I have always had an open mind to alternative sorts of treatment.  I already had Jacob on a special fish oil that is supposed to help with myelination in the brain and speech, not to mention being healthy for you as well.  Even though Les is a physician and I wholeheartedly believe in the benefit of Western medicine, I also don’t believe that the medical community (especially not any one particular doctor) knows all the answers.  We had been to pediatricians, neurologists, developmental pediatricians, allergists, dermatologists, ENT, and several other therapists and nobody really had a clear idea of exactly what was wrong, what was causing the problems, and what exactly we should do to help Jacob.

Although I do not currently think that Jacob is on the Autism spectrum, some of his issues share certain characteristics with Autism – speech delay, sensory integration/processing issues, and some of his GI problems.  I had heard about parents that had “cured” (or at least significantly helped) their children on the Autism spectrum with the Gluten-free, Caesin-free diet (GFCF diet).  I ordered six books on Autism and the GFCF diet and read them in one week.  Why not try this special diet, since it may help his stomach and skin problems that I suspected may have something to do with dairy and/or gluten?  There was plenty of information in the books and on the internet suggesting that speech and behavior improved on this diet as well.  The new speech therapist in Virginia Beach was supportive and said she had personally seen significant improvements in kids on this diet, in addition to being helped by the diet herself.  She also recommended more allergy testing by a different lab (Enterolab) to confirm food allergies or sensitivities.  We tested Jacob with this lab and, as suspected, the results showed that he was allergic to Gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy.  We eliminated the soy, since we had already eliminated everything else.  I cringe when I think about how much soy Jacob has consumed (soy formula, soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy sauce, etc.) over the past 2 years.  After gluten, soy was the next highest score on his allergy tests.  I am trying hard to minimize the mommy guilt over missing this and possibly contributing to any of his problems with the soy.

We have really seen significant changes in Jacob since January.  We have seen the most dramatic improvements in his speech.  He probably has 50 words – maybe not easily understood by all – but 50 words and often tries to imitate other words and sounds.  Jacob is also playing more like a typical little boy.  I still remember the first time I saw Jacob playing with cars in a way you would expect a 2-year-old to play with them (about 6 months ago).  I was so excited and proud that it brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Now he regularly plays with cars, trains, and other toys the way I would expect him to.  This is something you take for granted with neurotypical children, but such a big deal for kids like Jacob. It is almost impossible to say if any one particular thing has resulted in these improvements.  I think the diet is probably the biggest thing that has led to the improvements.  He does not wake up crying during the night (confirming my suspicion that his stomach was hurting), and his mood is so much better.  He can still be a moody, grumpy and whiney toddler, but not nearly as unbearable as before.   In addition to the diet, Jacob is certainly benefiting from 5 days of school/week, more frequent speech therapy with an excellent therapist, and time.  He will be three years old next month.  What a difference a year makes!

There is still a great deal of work ahead of us.  Jacob will be starting a new year of preschool in an integrated class at the local public school in the fall.  We finished his IEP, and he will continue his speech, PT, and OT therapies while attending school 4 days/week.  We will continue to go to Virginia Beach for private speech therapy and physical therapy.  We have to work with Jacob every day on his speech.  I would love for him to be putting 2 or more words together regularly and expand his vocabulary.  I can’t wait to hear him sing songs and have a conversation with his brother and sister while playing.  He still has some strange skin rashes that appear on his legs.  We went to a dermatologist a year ago about this and did not get any answers.  We need to go to a different dermatologist and push for a better answer.  I continue to look for new things to cook and serve to Jacob to accommodate his food limitations.  This diet does involve a lot more grocery shopping and advance planning on my part, but it forces me to make fresher and healthier meals for the whole family.  In the next year I would love to see Jacob learn how to walk down stairs, pedal a tricycle, jump, and sit up in a chair for longer periods without slumping down.  We have lots of goals and look forward to celebrating all these accomplishments and more.  I am so thankful for the progress we have made and more hopeful than ever that my precious little boy is starting to shine through.

Jacob is a sweet, resilient, funny, and smart little boy.  He is such a special kid!  Of course, I still worry about him every day and probably always will.  I worry about all three of my kids, but my fear and concern for him is just different.  I just want what all parents want for their kids – good health, happiness, and the opportunity to be independent and live a full life.  Despite the stress and struggles along the way, I am so honored and proud to be Jacob’s mother.  I would do anything for him.  He has given us so much joy and taught us so much already in his first 3 years of life.  I can’t wait to see what he’ll learn next and look forward to the journey ahead!