Thursday, November 5, 2015

Head-on Collision

I was crabby from carrying my heavy crockpot and Halloween decorations from the office to my parking ramp (we had a chili cookoff at work and no one else from marketing was able/willing to make the chili, so I took one for the team – and while it was delicious and we won first place — I was feeling bitter about having to make the chili, do the dishes, and carry the crockpot back to my car), and then, when I was feeling sweaty and my arms were quivering like I had just done 50 push-ups, there was an  accident/traffic back-up getting onto 94, causing me to be 45 minutes late to preschool—on a night when the boys had a school dance, no less, and I had promised I’d pick them up absolutely no later than 5 p.m. and I knew Adam would be watching that clock with the vigilance of an armed soldier outside Buckingham Palace. (And of course no one picked up the phone the first two times I called because they were most likely outside, but I needed to let them know I was stuck in traffic, which added to my irritation because I knew Adam was going to be worrying his little heart out.) After what felt like an eternity, I finally arrived at preschool, hurried to get the boys, hurried to get their backpacks from upstairs, and hurried back to the car, then hurried to meet Aaron at a fast food joint, where the boys scarfed down burgers in record time and I tried not to let my negative attitude affect everyone else (because it wasn't their fault I was in a bad mood). We didn’t want to be late to the dance—this was an annual event, and it only lasted two hours, and they could be missing out on something great (like hearing the “Whip Nae Nae” song for the fifth time?!), so we hurried, hurried, hurried. They were so excited! A Halloween dance! At school! 
This whole time I was picturing that one bottle of Alaskan Amber I have left in the fridge, patiently waiting for me on the top shelf, between a jar of almond butter and a container of Greek yogurt. It was taunting me: I’m right here. I’m cold and refreshing. I’ll make your bad day better.
It was going to be a long two hours. 

When we walked into the gym, it looked like a traditional dance with one of those plastic disco globes flashing green, red, and blue circles of light on the wall—and it sounded like a traditional dance with the DJ playing “Uptown Funk”—but the bored parents sitting in chairs along the perimeter of the dance floor and the kids playing tag rather than actually dancing quickly proved it was not going to be a traditional dance. The kids wanted money to buy ring pops and glow bracelets, and then they wanted some of those nasty nachos (that really only taste good as an adult when you are starving, watching a ball game on a hot summer day, or really, really drunk), and every now and then they’d check in with us for some bottled water. We were very clear about the most important main rule: Do not leave this gymnasium. Ever. Under any circumstances. With anyone or anything. If you have to go to the bathroom, get one of us first. I totally admit that I was paranoid following the recent news of Jacob Wetterling’s possible abductor being found … it brought all of those scary, can-never-feel-too-safe feelings back to the forefront. It would be so easy for a person “posing” as a parent to snatch one of the kids when they least expected it. I mean, I would hope they’d scream or protest and someone would notice, but you can’t rely on other people to pay attention to what’s going on with your kids when they have their own kids to keep track of, ya know? And it was hard to keep track of the kids, with all the running. For some reason, though, it never occurred to me to tell them to stop running, that’s not safe. They were all playing tag. I even saw a teacher good-naturedly join in the fun.
After bringing Ben to the bathroom, I struck up a conversation with one of the moms while Aaron talked with one of the dads. I was on door patrol, while Aaron was keeping his eye on the kids inside the gym. I remember asking the mom what time it was, and feeling surprised when she said it was 7:45. My stress/anxiety from earlier in the day had somewhat subsided; but I still wanted a beer.  
Five minutes later—10 minutes before the dance ended—Adam’s friend Michael’s dad came frantically running up to me. “Your son just got hurt really bad!”
Before I had a chance to process what that meant, Aaron and a hysterical Adam came rushing past me—Adam holding his hands over his bloody mouth while Aaron steered them through the crowd to the bathroom. I can’t remember ever seeing Adam so hysterical. Or seeing so much blood. I followed them into the boy’s bathroom and shut the door. Adam was still screaming/crying/hysterical. “What happened?” I asked Aaron, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
“He collided with another kid,” Aaron said while trying to rinse the blood from Adam’s mouth. The running water in the sink mixed with Adam’s blood and splattered red droplets on the mirror, on the wall, on the back of the white sink. So much blood. It looked like a scene from CSI.  
“Do you think he cut his mouth open, like he might need stitches? We might have to take him to urgent care,” I said, trying to mop up some of the blood with a paper towel.
“I don’t wanna go there!” Adam shrieked, still spitting out blood. “MY TOOTH!” he screamed and pointed in the sink. Sure enough, there was a little white tooth in the sink, here one second, washed down the drain the next. “I LOST TWO TEETH TONIGHT!” he screamed. “TWO OF MY TEETH ARE GONE!!!”
Two teeth?! Like, two adult teeth or two baby teeth?
“TWO BABY TEETH!” he cried. “It hurts!!”
(Can you imagine colliding into another person’s face so hard that you lose two teeth?! OMG. They must have both been running fast.)
My next thought was: I hope the other little guy is ok. (Aaron had seen him on the ground, screaming, before he realized that he had collided face-first into Adam and well, he couldn’t dwell on the other little guy because he had his own little guy to worry about).
My thought after that was “I should find ice for Adam.” Genius that Aaron is (the voice of reason) remembered that the PTA moms had ice in a cooler, where they were selling pop. (I’m not sure where I would have looked for ice otherwise.)
My thought after that was OMG, I LEFT BEN AT THE DANCE UNATTENDED!!!!!!!
After a moment of panic followed by a wave of relief when I quickly found Ben (who wasn’t too far away, with Michael and his parents, totally unfazed that his mom, dad, and brother had suddenly disappeared), I found the PTA mom by the cooler and breathlessly asked if I “couldgetsomeiceformysonwhohadanaccidentandheknockedouttwoteeth.” (“Yes, of course you can! That’s awful!” She was very, very concerned, and I promise I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, I was just giving her all the facts—like I was taught as a reporter). Ben and I took a plastic glove filled with ice back to the bathroom and shut the door, where Aaron had wadded up a fresh paper towel and stuck it in Adam’s still bleeding mouth. A very annoying little boy kept knocking on the door, and I had to open the door a crack and firmly tell him, “My son had an accident. Can’t you use a different bathroom?!” Thankfully the dance was almost over, and there weren’t many other boys waiting in line. (Seriously, go find a different bathroom!!! This is a school! There’s more than one!) At this point, a small crowd of concerned/nosey/”glad-that-shit-didn’t-happen-to-my-kid” parents had formed outside the bathroom. It seemed like the ice was helping to numb the pain, although we still couldn’t get a good look in Adam’s mouth to assess the damage (his mouth was mangled, but didn’t appear to be cut), and the bleeding had slowed considerably. Adam calmed down enough to wipe away his tears and leave the bathroom with us. (He had a reputation to uphold, after all. He was in second grade.)
“Is he ok?” one of the parents asked.
No, he is NOT ok, you dumbass! Teeth were just forcefully knocked out of his face! 
“He’ll be alright. We’re going to call the dentist now,” I replied.
When we got to the car, Aaron called the after-hours number for our family dentist and explained the situation to whoever answers the after-hours line. That person had to page the on-call dentist, but reassuringly told us, “You’ll get a call back soon.”  We didn’t want to leave the school and go home (even though Ben kept whining that he was SO TIRED and wanted to go to bed) because we thought we might have to bring Adam in to the clinic, and we weren't too far from the clinic, so we all sat in the car and waited, and waited, and waited. Adam looked sad; Ben fell asleep. 

Waiting for the dentist to call back. We were parked. Adam had to ask Ben to buckle his belt for him before we left.
After waiting for 30 minutes, we decided to drive home. We put some gauze pads in Adam’s mouth to soak up the blood and gave him a new ice pack while he half-heartedly watched TV. After another 45 minutes or so, the dentist finally called. (So much for “hearing back soon.”) Besides the pain he was in, we were mostly worried that Adam’s two front teeth had been knocked out of alignment—they definitely didn’t look right. The on-call dentist listened to the situation, then told Aaron that at eight-years-old, a child’s mouth is still pliable. Teeth can shift back with a little manual manipulation. He asked Aaron if he was comfortable gently forcing them back into place. “You’re saying I should pull on one and push on the other one for a few seconds?” Aaron repeated the instructions. OUCH. He did what the dentist advised, Adam only protested a little, and then we gave him some Tylenol and let him pass out on the couch. (The dentist wanted us to wait until Adam’s mouth had healed before we brought him in.)
Once Adam was sleeping, I looked over at Aaron and announced, “I’m gonna have a beer.”
And let me tell you, that beer was heavenly.

On Halloween (the next morning), Adam woke up with a very swollen, very sore, very tender mouth. He did not look like Adam. He didnt act like Adam. We cancelled plans to see the Anoka Halloween parade with Aaron’s dad, but Adam was feeling well enough to go trick-or-treating in Forest Lake that night. His best friend Michael was so concerned about Adam that he wrote him a heartfelt note after the dance/accident, and sent $2 from his piggybank.  It was possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen one little friend do for another.  

Adam wanted me to take this photo so Michael wouldn't worry about him.
It was the first time he tried to smile after the accident (more facial pain). Poor kid.

Ben wouldn't wear his mustache, so I had to quickly scribble one on.

Ben wouldn't wear the mustache, but Auntie Trish would!
No fangs for this vampire, his mouth was too sore.
I love this.
They did NOT like Uncle Nick's scary clown mask, but everyone thought Ashley made a perfect "crazy cat lady."
We threw together our costumes at the last minute.
My 87-year-old grandma Kate came over Halloween night. She liked seeing everyone, but I think it was a little loud and overwhelming for her. (We can get rowdy when we're all together.)

It turns out that the other kid in the “head-on collision” (get it?! Ha ha) suffered a cut above his eye. I’m so glad it wasn’t much, much worse for either one. Also?

 It rained while trick-or-treating, which really deflated our spirits. (Get it? Spirits?) Halloween was on a Saturday, so I was expecting more of a rowdy neighborhood vibe, but the rain really put a damper on that. The rain didn’t deter the kids, though. They understood that more houses = more candy. Funny thing is, they haven’t asked for their Halloween candy more than maybe twice all week. We’ll either donate it to my dad for hunting "fuel" or wind up throwing it away. On the bright side, less cavities, right?! The last thing we need in this family is another tooth crisis! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happiness and sadness can coexist

Pam posted this on Facebook three days before she died.

Aaron’s aunt Pam died recently, just two days after her oldest son got married in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She was very sick (lupus and lymphoma cancer), although I don’t think anyone ever thought she wouldn’t make it home after the wedding. She was surrounded by her parents, her five children, her husband of 30 years, and even a beloved priest who had flown out to officiate the wedding (at the funeral, he said she told the family right before she died to ‘get out of the room now and let me sleep. It’s time for me to go to Heaven.’) ((But not until after she gave everyone instructions about what attractions to visit in South Carolina, and what to remember about the flight home.)) She was a mom until the very end.  
She was as Catholic as they come, she was very outspoken, she was fun and loud and outgoing and kind. She always knew the “right” thing to say to lighten a mood. She had a great laugh. 
Hers was the most well-attended funeral I have ever been to, speaking volumes about her involvement with the church—choir member, liturgist, church organist (“Pam chose these songs,” the new organist announced to the congregation. “Sing loud so she can hear you”); her role as her kids’ No. 1 Fan/proud community booster (she rarely missed a game, and that is a lot of games for five athletic kids); her impact as a piano teacher, a mentor, a friend. 
I knew Pam as well as you can know someone you see on holidays and special celebrations, and while I enjoyed our conversations over the years (it’s hard not to have a lively conversation when you get two naturally inquisitive women together), I didn’t know her the way so many others did. I got choked up watching her kids and husband during the funeral service. The oldest son (who was just celebrating his wedding not even a week ago, hard to wrap my head around that rollercoaster of emotions), would occasionally put his arm around the youngest son, or tenderly rub his back, just like a mom would. Her husband looked straight ahead, even when his wife’s casket was rolled into the aisle beside him. He doesn’t like to be the center of attention—that was where Pam shone brightest—and while you could tell he was gracious for the outpouring of love and support, it was clear that he was uncomfortable in the spotlight.
They stood in solidarity, all six of them, ranging in age from 19 to 54. This was their “new normal,” and the reality probably hasn’t even hit them yet. I imagine the grief will come in waves when they least expect it. I kept thinking their mom is gone; his wife is gone, leaving behind a void only a mom or wife could fill. She won’t be sleeping in the bed beside her husband, she won’t be there for holidays or birthdays, she won’t be there when her other kids get married, she won’t be there when her grandkids are born. She won't be there when something good happens and they want to call her, or when something bad happens and they want to call her. She won’t be there.  
The finality of a person who was once so alive, suddenly no longer being of and in this world … I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.  
Aaron and I spent a lot of time explaining the weekend events to the boys. First there would be a visitation, and we’d see Pam one last time. It would look like she's sleeping, but “her body is just a shell now,” Aaron explained. “She's not in it. She doesn’t need it anymore.”
Because the boys don’t grasp the concept of a soul, we told them all of her happy thoughts are in Heaven. “The life is out of her,” Ben said. “The life went up to the sky.” (Yes.)
“If all of my happy thoughts are in Heaven, then you and Dad will be there, because you’re two of my happy thoughts,” Adam announced.
After a minute, Ben said, “In Heaven, I want my blankies and my milk.”
(He’s not quite as sensitive as Adam.) 
We waited in line for an hour to share our condolences. Adam and Ben hugged every family member, but Aaron took it up a notch by saying in his sweet voice, “I’m sorry for your loss.” (He can be an old soul, that one.)
I felt for the family, having to hug everyone for three hours straight, a seemingly never-ending line of well-wishers, having to nod after every “I’m sorry” and “This is so sad” over and over and over. I know it’s closure for the survivors, I know it's a testament to how much she meant to this community, but it still feels so inconsequential. “I’m sorry” doesn’t really cover it, ya know? I mean, you say “I’m sorry” when you bump into someone while getting off the bus, how can it have the same meaning when someone dies?
After the visitation there was a one-hour prayer service, and I didn't expect the kids to sit still through that, so Pete (Jay's fiance) and I brought Adam, Max, and Ben back to the hotel to swim. We met up with Josh’s girlfriend Becky, who had just arrived, and talked about wedding plans and religion and Pam and school and work. There may have been a few drinks consumed later that night.
We went to the funeral service at the church the next morning. I wasn't sure how the boys would do during a long Catholic Mass (sing, stand up, sit down, kneel and pray, repeat), but as it turns out, they did great. I was so proud of them. They only started complaining towards the very end "When is this done?!?" ... and I gotta be honest, I was starting to wonder the same thing. Adam only embarrassed me once, when the priest was waving the ceremonial incense over the casket, and he loud-whispered, "Mom! That STINKS!" (I personally thought it smelled good.)
Aaron, Josh, and Max were pallbearers, so they sat in a separate area of the church, and took their roles very seriously. Max, who is only eight, doesn’t exactly have the strength of a grown man, so Aaron carried the weight for both of them, using both hands. (Aaron later said that he didn’t realize what an honor it was to be asked to carry Pam’s physical body to its final resting place until he was in the process of doing just that.) 
We were part of a funeral procession that drove out to the cemetery, blowing through stop signs and everything. A group of family and friends stood beside her grave and listened as the priest said a few final words. The family tenderly, gently, carefully removed single roses from the elaborate "Husband, Mother" bouquet atop her casket  ... such a simple gesture that meant so much. There were a lot of tears. 
We agreed that the family needed their privacy, their last goodbye, so we returned to the church basement, where the "church basement ladies" had prepared a luncheon. The kids shocked both Aaron and I by asking for seconds of the goulash. Goulash? Really? (I should probably try to find a recipe, even though I’m sure Adam wouldn’t eat my version, because we're talking about Adam here. If the recipe isn't EXACTLY the same, forget it. He won't touch it.) 
We never really had a chance to visit with Aaron’s uncle and cousins, there was just so much going on, so Aaron and Josh decided to extend their stay at the hotel one more night. We were all invited to the house, and you could tell Aaron's uncle so appreciated having his family there. It was 100 percent the right decision to stay. 
 [*Sidenote: There was a freakin’ Saint Bernard staying in the hotel room next door to us (why would you bring a Saint Bernard to a hotel?!), so I was glad to be leaving the hotel for a few hours ... every time that ginormous beast of a dog heard Adam or Ben’s voices, she barked her deep, loud, wall-shaking bark. I hope the people in that room tipped the housekeepers generously. Can you imagine the slobber and fur everywhere?]
When we got to his uncle's house, the boys played football and baseball in the backyard for hours—even after the sun went down—and I honestly think the family was grateful for the distraction. (Our kids were the only kids there, and Josh, Aaron, and all four of Pam's boys took turns playing with them.) Adam and Ben loved it.
In some ways it felt like any other celebratory event—people around the kitchen table talking and joking and sharing stories, people in the family room watching TV, people talking quietly in the living room—but there was always an undertone of sadness, of absence, of loss. Friends from Pam's faith group dropped off two big pans of lasagna and told everyone to “Eat, please, eat.” It was obvious that people had been dropping off food for awhile—there was a meat and cheese tray, a bowl of fresh fruit, plates of brownies and bars, a bag of chex mix, a batch of puppy chow (Ben couldn’t get enough. He first asked for more of “that white cereal,” and then for a plate of “dog food”). 
I'm guessing Pam was the hostess in the relationship, because Aaron's uncle seemed a little lost when trying to direct people to the food and beverages. 
“If you want, there's beer in the fridge,” he said. “And there's a lot of food here. Just … help yourself.” 
Everyone ate. A lot of people drank. People laughed. The ambiance was dramatically different from the cloak of sadness at the church and in the cemetery. 

In some weird way, it was reassuring to know that even when saying goodbye … maybe especially when saying goodbye … happiness and sadness can coexist.  
This weekend was also a powerful testament to the love of family and friends, of community. The way people rally together to take care of one another … wow. That is selfless love.   
It was a shift in perspective—no one is promised tomorrow, so we better appreciate today. (If you really want to do something, DO IT. Don’t put it off. It sounds so cliche, until you're at a funeral, wondering what that person wished they would have done when they could have done it.)    
And THAT is why I decided to do my own version of my friend A’s 40 x 40 list, only—you know—my own version since I can’t go back in time (“obvi” – as my friend Alex would say). 10 in the next 10 (or five if I’m really ambitious).     

1.    MOVE!!
2.    See Wicked, Lion King, or Phantom of the Opera
3.    Visit San Francisco
4.    Take the kids to Disney!
5.    Visit T’s new house in Idaho
6.    Get a dog
7.    Go cc skiing (stole this one from my friend Em)
8.    Volunteer
9.    Try paddleboarding (yoga?!)
10. Create something beautiful

Monday, September 21, 2015

Growing up in hindsight

On any given night, I’m asleep as soon as I close my book or shut off my phone, turn off the light, and my head hits the pillow. Very rarely does Aaron fall asleep before me. (He’s usually watching sports downstairs.) Last night, though, even though I felt exhausted, even though it was past midnight even though I could hear Aaron breathing beside me, I could not fall asleep. Rather than my usual list of worries: work and everything that still needs to be done by deadline, or thinking about where I am in my career, or the list of things I’d love to buy for our house (or future house), or some random conversation I had earlier in the day, I started thinking about how fast the boys are growing up. That thought hit me like a punch in the gut. I don’t usually get sentimental about the passing of time, but man, last night I felt it hard. I had one of those pangs of sadness and heartbreak you feel after a serious break-up; that ache you experience when a loved one dies. It was a sense of LOSS and the realization that your landscape is changing and you can’t do a goddamn thing about it. I didn’t like that feeling (who does, really?), and yet—at the same time—it’s a reminder of what’s important in life.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the pang was brought on by an incident earlier in the day, when Aaron and I were cleaning out our porch. To paint a visual: When you live in a small house, you tend to pile random things wherever they fit, and for us—that junk spot became the porch. The pros of having a porch filled with crap? No robber is gonna break into a house with a porch like that! Those people must be HOARDERS!  
The cons? As my dad pointed out in a totally dad-like way, “What if there was a fire? You can’t even get to the front door, and that’s one of only a few exits in this house.”  
Besides that, it was embarrassingly cluttered, our dirty little secret. So—we devoted a beautiful fall afternoon to purging. We created piles, one for “donate,” one for “throw away,” and one for “Once Upon A Child.” We were rockin’ and rollin’ (to an awesome playlist, might I add) while the kids played together really well, with minimum fighting involved. All was going splendidly. We had no plans that day or night to stress us out/keep us on a timeline, a RARE occurrence in our house, and we were getting shit accomplished. It felt good to be so productive. As I was sweeping up dirt and random Lego pieces and bottle caps and paper and those little pieces of white styrofoam that go inside beanbag chairs and spiders (sorry, Charlotte!), Aaron held up a pair of worn brown Robeez baby shoes and asked, “Should we donate these?”
Without hesitation, I responded with “No, I want them” and took them out of his hands.  
“Why? For what?” he asked.
“Those were Adam’s first shoes,” I said. “I just want to keep them.”
I didn’t want to keep them back when I had put them in the bag, but suddenly I had to hold onto them. Look how tiny his feet were! I mean, he wears a size 1 now and can tie his own shoes. When he wore these, he was crawling around, showing off his diaper butt in a pair of miniscule grey sweatpants with a puppy dog’s face on the rear.    
When he wore those shoes, the thought of him being in second grade was so hard to imagine, I didn’t spend a whole lot of energy thinking about it (I reserved my energy for just getting through the day). I mean, that was so far in the future ... I would be 40! Practically ancient! And now he’s eight. EIGHT. I can remember being eight—I remember the mean teacher who told me I was “holding my pencil all wrong” (I still hold it that way so F-YOU Miss. K!), I remember the Michael Jackson songs on the radio, I remember the games we played at my second grade birthday party, I remember my beloved white canopy bed (and the stuffed animals I threw on top of it until my parents took it down), I can remember my favorite pink and white striped leg warmers. What will Adam remember from this year? 
And then there's my baby ... he's not such a baby anymore. Ben is in kindergarten.
We have two full-time school-agers now. I remember thinking how much money we would save when we had two kids in school full-time (naively not thinking about before and after-school care costs, or summer rates, or the 7.1 bazillion fundraising events the public school asks you to support for the kids, or sports fees and lunch fees and presents for birthday parties), and wondering what it would feel like to have two kids who can tell me when something is wrong, and buckle their own carseat, wipe their own butts, and sleep through the night (all is great except for that last one, I'm still dealing with interrupted sleep, but that's another story for another time).
I felt the pang when I started worrying that maybe I’m not appreciating this stage enough, and maybe I didn’t appreciate their baby stages enough—because, those tiny little shoes!—and it’s all flying by at Mach 10 speeds, and pretty soon they won’t need me or want me the way they need and want their mama now, and I should be more present and less impatient and more understanding and less yell-y. Instead of doing the dishes, I should have gone out in the yard and sucked it up and played football with the boys, but at the same time, I kind of liked the quiet in the house, for a little while, and I kind of liked having a clean kitchen, for a little while, and they didn’t ask me to play, and it’s all such a delicate balance (says every single parent ever since the dawn of time).
They will only be 5 and 8 for a little while, I need to appreciate these ages—these beautiful, innocent, sweet, funny, smart, thoughtful, anxious, defiant, and sometimes frustrating kids—before I’m holding up stinky size 12 (Ben) or ratty size 1 (Adam) tennis shoes and wishing I could rewind time, back to the kindergartener and second graders they once were.  


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hold on, darlin'

For some reason, when I go to the grocery store without Aaron, the kids become wild. Like, calm and well-behaved one second, then complete crazed monkeys the next. It is very, very, very frustrating, not only because they KNOW that we don't act like that in the grocery store (or anywhere, really), but because it happens when I'm alone with them and it feels a little (ok, a lot) like I'm being manipulated.
It always starts out fine. We order food from the deli case, we pay for it, we bring it to the vacant area with all the tables, eat our carb-heavy meals (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and chicken strips for Adam; chicken strips and potato wedges for Ben; quinoa salad for me), then we pick up our mess and start shopping. I can get down one, maybe two aisles before they start goading one another. Pretty soon I'm repeatedly telling them to "STOP THAT!" or "Knock it off!" or "DO NOT (put that box of cereal in the cart, poke your brother's eye, roll a hedge apple down the aisle like a bowling ball, run away from me, etc.)"
Good times.
Last week, during one of my I've-seriously-had-it-up-to-here-how-can-I-fast-forward-through-this-stressful-shopping-trip?!?!?! moments, when I was feeling like a bad mom, when I wished I had decided to skip this trip altogether, a middle-aged woman approached me. Uh-oh, I thought. Here it comes. She's gonna lecture me. I could feel my face start to get hot before she even opened her mouth.
"I told the manager about your family," she said.
"You did?" I asked, taking an orange out of Ben's hands and placing it back in the bin.
"I told him that your family should be the soundtrack of this store," she said, cracking a smile.
"A soundtrack for birth control?" I joked.
"Oh no, a soundtrack for what HAPPY KIDS sound like. I've been following behind you for awhile and your boys are really, really happy," she said. "They're so animated and colorful and they just keep laughing. It's such a beautiful sound."
I was speechless. So NOT what I was expecting her to say. (Maybe she had heard Ben ask if I was going to buy the "white broccoli," then listen as I explained that no, Ben, that's CAULIFLOWER, who knows.)
What I do know is that woman brought me back from the edge of insanity. I wish I could thank her for her impeccable timing. No, it's not ideal when your kids misbehave or fight (what siblings don't fight when they're old enough to understand how to push the other ones' buttons?!), they can drive you crazy, but hey! At least they're loved, they're safe, and they're happy. That's gotta count for something, right? ;)

Friday, July 10, 2015

We always find our way back home

Adam announced that Andy Grammer's "Back Home" song is his favorite, and I agree.

I'm gonna need you to raise your glass
I don't care what you put in it
Here's to nights that you can't take back
We live hard but we love to laugh ...

And no matter where we go, we always find our way back home.

Here's a few of the things we did in June and July:

Visiting Katie and Baby Sawyer (and Tony, Sam, and Teagan, too!
They're moving to Nebraska this fall, so gotta spend time with 'em while we're in the same state.)
I chaperoned Adam's field trip to the zoo. Fun day.

When Aaron was looking for photos to go on a photo board for my 40th, he realized there weren't any
photos of us with his mom, so we had this one taken at Ben's party. Isn't she cute!?

We walked down to the lake at the end of his birthday party.
Last bday party in Forest Lake - we'll just have friend parties from here on out.

Oh, what a sweet family. (Wait, what?!?)
Taste of the Nation
Adam was my helper while working the Luxury Home Tour
Aaron is SUCH a good coach. (I might be biased, but other parents seem to agree.)
Family vacation this year at The Gathering Place in Birchwood, Wis.

The "out-laws"

Annual vacation to Crivitz, Wis. - Kayaking down the Peshtigo River

When the motor konks out, you swim/push the boat across the lake (gotta EARN those beers!)

Good times with good people (I even forgive them for being from Green Bay)

The golf cart -- a welcome addition at Holly & Kev's cottage

The kids!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash, and purple bumps

In my entire K-12 career, I remember going to the nurse's office once and only once. I was in fourth grade. I was in gym class. We had a linoleum gym floor in the basement of the elementary school (GREAT IDEA, because THAT won't result in ANY INJURIES!) and we were playing a friendly game of dodge ball or pin guard or whatever we played when we rolled around on those little wooden scooters ...

 All I can think is PINCHED FINGERS!
and I wiped out and smacked my head against the floor. My gym teacher didn't notice. My friends didn't say anything. I stayed in phy ed because I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I went to my next class like nothing had happened. I should have told that teacher—a substitute—when I started feeling dizzy, then started seeing stars (just like the cartoons!), but I waited until the teacher noticed me looking weird and sent me to the nurse's office. I felt lightheaded and nauseous, and just as the nurse was dialing my parents' number to pick me up—I threw up in her lap. She was not happy. I didn't tell her that I had hit my head, and I'm sure she thought my parents had sent me to school with the flu. When my mom came to pick me up, the nurse gave her attitude. I still didn't mention hitting my head. I didn't mention it until we were home. When my mom heard that I had hurt my head in gym class, she called the crabby nurse back and told her that I had thrown up because I had a concussion. (You know, like a mild brain injury.) She said the nurse was MUCH nicer to her after that. That was my one and only trip to the nurse's office. 

Adam is in first grade and I can't count the number of calls I've received from the nurse (mostly for head pain/vomiting, twice for a concussion that wasn't really a concussion, one alarming voicemail message about a "gash" on his eyebrow that occurred when Adam took an elbow to the face playing basketball during recess, a message that scared me half to death, only to have the nurse call back and say it was more like a "bad cut" and she put a band-aid on it and he was fine). At the end of his kindergarten year, I was getting calls twice a month—he wasn't eating his lunch, then he would feel lightheaded, then he would feel nauseous. At preschool, they call this "the Mondays" when it happens (there is a definite pattern, always following the weekend) and the preschool/summer school teachers just go with it. If Adam feels sick, he'll tell them his head hurts, make it to a bathroom, most likely throw up, rest/sleep for a bit, then feel ok.
The rules are different at school, though, especially if vomit is involved.  A few weeks ago the nurse called me at noon, left a voicemail saying that Adam was in her office, he didn't eat his lunch, said his head hurt, didn't have a fever, and he had thrown up—could I could pick him up as soon as possible? I was stuck. My first bus wouldn't leave downtown until 2:45, and Aaron was interviewing candidates for an open job position all day. Thankfully my parents were free. Same thing happened a week and a half later and once again my parents picked him up. Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to have helpful, generous retired parents who live 30 minutes away from his elementary school?! They have rescued us more than once.

If only he was ALWAYS this happy around food.

I hate that he struggles so much with eating his lunch and I hate that the migraines seem to be triggered by lack of food. How do you make a kid eat?! You can't. We've been trying. (And trying and trying.) Last year, the nurse had Adam eat in her office. She would count his bites and record it for us. It worked ok, but wasn't really ideal. I mean, she's a busy lady and her office isn't that big. Plus Adam was missing out on social time with his friends. There had to be a better way.

Early this year, Aaron, genius dad that he is, came up with a "courage chart" to address Adam's eating issues/food battles. On the days that he likes the hot lunch (pizza! brunch for lunch! burgers!), he doesn't get any courage points because he likes the lunch, and it doesn't take courage to eat something you already like. On days that he doesn't like the lunch and brings a cold lunch, he gets courage points for bringing a cold lunch. If he tries a hot lunch that he has never tried before, he gets the most courage points because it takes the most courage to try something new (he has to eat a certain number of bites in order to cash in the points). Adam is awarded prizes based on his point accumulation: Chipotle, a movie, a trip to SkyZone trampoline park. Because of this invention, Adam will finally bring a cold lunch to school this year—something he refused to do last year. (A few bites of a sandwich is better than dumping a tray of untouched hot lunch into the garbage.)

We know part of the equation is getting him to eat, but we also worried that there was more to it than that. The first time we brought him to the doctor for this "pattern" was last year. I thought maybe he was allergic to something he was eating (after all, he was allergic to cow's milk protein and eggs when he was a baby, so not outside the realm of possibility). His pediatrician ruled out allergies without testing him, explaining that allergies don't "present" as vomiting. If he was allergic, he'd get a rash or a stomachache or start wheezing, but wouldn't feel like throwing up. Instead, she prescribed medication for acid reflux (acid reflux?! The kid rarely ever even spit up as a baby). I never had the prescription filled. 

We saw a different pediatrician at the same clinic. This time, we moved away from the food connection and focused on the anxiety. I tried explaining Adam's anxiety in detail, but must not have done a very good job because that doctor (who was seriously rushed) basically told me that all kids worry to some degree. I'm not sure what I expected from that visit, maybe a referral to a psychologist? I left feeling frustrated. (And by the way, I know doctors aren't always miracle workers, but man oh man do I appreciate a good doctor who takes the time to really listen, even if she or he is taking a shot in the dark with the diagnosis.)

The next time we saw Adam's regular pediatrician, we brought up the anxiety factor to see how she would interpret it. She was very helpful, suggesting ways to help him "take control" of scary new situations. We put a dry erase calendar on the refrigerator so he can see what's coming up. We talk about new situations and experiences just enough but hopefully not too much.

And yet, the pattern continues. The calls from NURSE'S OFFICE were practically non-existent the first half of the school year (mainly because Adam would somehow keep it together until I picked him up from school and then complain that he didn't feel good), but just recently the afternoon calls returned. We saw another doctor. We came prepared with a list of symptoms and possible triggers and questions. After some discussion and a few tense moments when we didn't really think the doctor was "getting" what we were saying, Dr. "K" had a theory: Adam feels a migraine coming on, gets anxious about it, and his anxiety causes him to lose his appetite. Adam was in the room with us, shaking his head "yes, yes, yes" to everything the doctor said. Aaron argued that the migraine is a RESULT of Adam's food strike, not the other way around. Wasn't there anything we could do to help him? No, not really. Blame it on genetics. But, but, but ...

The last time I got a call from NURSE'S OFFICE I hung up with the nurse and called Adam's pediatrician again. This time, I want a referral to a food psychologist. I want to understand why he's not eating lunch. I want to know what it is about a mozzarella cheese stick that disgusts him to the point that—if his friends are eating that for lunch that day—he can't touch his own food. The thought of it revolts him. He can't even look at a photo of a mozzarella cheese stick without feeling like he's going to gag. This, to me, warrants food therapy. I was able to get an appointment with his pediatrician in five weeks (seriously, that was her FIRST AVAILABLE appointment!!) and at that appointment, I'm going to insist that she refer us. We can't keep going on like this. Fingers crossed that, by the end of summer, he'll be going into second grade equipped to EAT HIS DANG LUNCH!!


I helped my dad celebrate his birthday at Stout's Pub, had dinner with my parents and my sister's family at Louis in St. Paul (Cossetta's high-end and, in my opinion, somewhat overrated restaurant), worked another Food & Wine, co-hosted a baby shower for my sweet coworker Jeanne, read the book "The Life We Bury" for book club, helped my MIL celebrate her 60th birthday at a surprise dinner at Grumpy's, went to the annual family sleepover at Patti's, helped Lane celebrate his 10th birthday, went with Kelly & Alex to visit Anna & adorable Baby Inga, had drinks (and a good conversation) with Kelly on the patio at Barrio, signed the kids up for another swimming session at my old junior high, celebrated my niece April's 22nd birthday at Hell's Kitchen (Alex & Jeremy babysat), celebrated Easter with both families, toured 13 "luxurious" homes, stayed at East Bay Suites in Grand Marais, went to various Design Week events, celebrated our 10th anniversary with dinner at Manny's (we had $175 in gift cards and our bill came to $176!!) and drinks at Surly, helped my dear friend Karla celebrate her 40th birthday at a lovely little bonfire party at her house, had dinner with two of my CAKE girls, A & Em, went to Adam's first musical, went to his school carnival (and volunteered in the room with the penny drop ... not a single kid came in the last 20 minutes I was in there, next year I wanna do the cake walk!), had brunch with my mom at the Lake Elmo Inn, went to a Women in Leadership Conference and left feeling empowered and inspired, helped my dear friend Amy celebrate her 40th at a girls' night out in Stillwater (dinner at the Green Room, drinks at Charlie's, Smalley's, dancing at Rafters), enjoyed a laidback Mother's Day bbq in Forest Lake, and poured my favorite beer, Alaskan Amber, at GrillFest (and got completely drenched while doing so, but still had a blast). Aaron's been in Michigan with three of his best guy friends for the past few days, and I can't wait to have him home again. Even though the boys and I stayed with my parents Saturday and Sunday night, I am exhausted. Mad props to all the single parents out there.

Little sib, big sib - so much love and respect
Hurry up and take the photo so I can move off this pink couch.
This girl is one of the reasons I don't mind coming to work every morning.
April celebrating birthday #22 at Hell's Kitchen

We made it to Grand Marais!

So many rocks, so little time.

Pigeon Falls (still partially frozen), Grand Portage State Park, right next to the Canadian border.

Sadly, the donut shop was still closed for the season. (And it was RIGHT ACROSS THE PARKING LOT!)

Do you want to buy a rock at my Rock Shop? My name is Austin.

Rocks for sale!

Shadow family

This anniversary felt like a big deal. 10 years!!
This is what happens when you leave your lip gloss within reach of a toddler.

We stayed out until bar close!! Old but not DEAD!

First backyard bonfire of the year.

They both passed to the next level. Adam can even SWIM now! I so look forward to the day when I can trust them both to "hold their own" in water over their head, so I can relax a little bit around lakes and pools. TG for lifejackets!