Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memorial Day

Every day, on our walk to and from Charles’s school, we pass the local cemetery.  And we keep passing it, because it is by far the longest block on our walk.  Since the weather turned nice a couple of months ago, we have taken a detour through the cemetery to look at some of the seemingly ancient headstones (late 1800s, oh my!) and talk about death.


Cemeteries are excellent to walk, by the way – they can be right in the middle of a city and yet be nicely insulated from city noise, they’re well-groomed and unpopulated (except by the dead), and for my kids, it’s a good opportunity for them to talk with me about something different (not sports or magic or Transformers or Star Wars or any of the other little boy stuff they’re always yammering about) while simultaneously learning about respecting a place and not just trying to climb everything in site.  Often I challenge my kids with situations in which they MUST behave or else.  A friend of mine has said that she frequently does the grocery shopping without her kids because, well, you know how it is.  It’s like a goddamn vacation to go grocery shopping alone these days.  But then her kids don’t learn how to behave in a grocery store, so when they have to go with her, they act like wild animals.  In a cemetery, even if no one is looking, a person should be respectful, so we walk slowly, we look at the gravestones, we stick to the path, and we talk about what Mount Vernon might have been like when the people buried there were alive.


After our first jaunt through the gravestones, Jamie told everyone he could that cemeteries were “where people go to die.”  So obviously I had to correct that for him.


“No, honey, people don’t go to the cemetery to die.  Sometimes, after people die, we bury them in the cemetery.  Then we can visit their grave to talk to them and remember them.  Sometimes, instead of burying someone after they die, we cremate them, which means that we burn up their body.  Then we put the ashes in an urn, which is like a vase, and we can put that in a cemetery or on a shelf in our homes so that their remains can always be with us.  Or, if you’re like Grandpa Roger, you can put the remains of your parents in the garage.  Would you like to visit your Grandpa DeWiley and Grandma Lorna next time we go to the beach?  They’re in the garage.”


I think that might have confused him more.


I don’t want to shelter my children from death.  I mean, I certainly don’t wish for anyone to die, and it is my fervent hope that before they are adults, the only death they’ll have to deal with is that of our dog, but still.  They need to understand, right?  Death is plenty sad, it shouldn’t also be a scary unmentionable.


This morning, as we were walking by the cemetery, I told the kids that we would be attending a Memorial Day service there, like we do every year, on Monday.  There would be live music, prayers, speeches, and we could bring our little American flags.


“What’s Memorial Day, mom?” asked Charles.


“It’s our opportunity and our duty as Americans to honor and celebrate the soldiers who have died in battle.”


“Oh!  I remember!  I’m not going.”


“Yes, you are.”


“No.  I don’t want to.  It’s boring.”


When you’re six, EVERYTHING is all of a sudden booooring.


“Sweetheart, we’re all going.  It’s the least we can do to show respect for people who gave their lives so that we can live as free Americans today.”


“When I grow up, I’m never going to go.”


Sometimes, as parents, we force our children to do things they don’t want to do, like brush their teeth or go to bed at a reasonable hour.  We turn things like bathing into habits so that when they are adults, they don’t have to analyze why having good hygiene is a benefit and then decide to start a healthy habit.  In this case, I make my children attend a Memorial Day service every year because it’s good for them and I hope that by the time they are adults, they will view the annual tradition as an imperative, in addition to understanding the reasons behind it.  Sometimes teaching respect and honor is more about building the habit and modeling the way than it is about talking.  Someday, those insufferable children of mine will be touched by the sacrifices made by so many for others, for ideas, for a place.  But it starts now, when they think it is boring.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

They Had to Close the Pool

Freddie is a barfer.  He’s ten months old and still eating pureed food because if he has anything chunky or dry, his gag reflex kicks in and he chokes.  And if he chokes?  He vomits up EVERYTHING in his stomach.


When we’re feeling rushed for time, we stick to yogurt and refried beans and fruit/veggie purees because the last thing we need when we’re all trying to get out the door to work and school is an immediate hose-down of the baby, high chair, table, floor, and sometimes the dog.  We’re a bit more “adventurous” at dinner, always trying to give him Cheerios or teeny, tiny bits of pancake or strawberry or whatever we’re eating.  The result is that Freddie forcibly ejects his stomach contents (usually plenty of breastmilk along with whatever we were feeding him) nearly every night. 


That’s what the high chair tray is designed for, right?  A puke-catcher?


We have huge bibs made out of tea towels to hopefully save most of Freddie’s clothing and we’re pretty quick on the draw with nearby napkins.  The dog, disgustingly, makes it a point to be on hand for vomit patrol.


We’ve learned this: the grossest-smelling vomit is plain Greek yogurt vomit.  The best is blueberry-banana oatmeal vomit.  We like to think of ourselves as “lifelong learners.”


Jamie was the same way, vomiting every night at dinner after choking (he wasn’t allowed to have tortilla chips until he was at least two years old for this reason), so I don’t worry about Freddie and his overall development – it will fix itself in time.  However, I am haunted by a time when Jamie’s barfing was more dramatic than usual.


He was young, a bit over one year old maybe, and we decided to go to family swim at the YMCA on Friday evening, after dinner.  We ate, loaded up our swim stuff and headed over.  Jamie had been going to Baby Swim for several months, so he was totally used to the water.  I carried him in and we played and splashed and moved around while Charles and Tony swam nearby. 


And then Jamie got some water in his mouth.  He started to sputter.  I turned him toward me as he started to cough and choke.  You can see what’s coming here, can’t you?


He vomited all over me, right down my front, into the chest of my swimsuit (I was still nursing, so there was some significant cleavage to fill with barf).  It just kept coming and coming and coming.  So much vomit.  All the tiny chunks of food from dinner.  I just held him, a stunned look on my face as the slick of puke spread out over the water around us.  I looked up at the teenage lifeguards, eyes wide, and said, “Oh. My. God.  I am so sorry.”  We got out of the pool and the lifeguards began their “hazardous waste” cleanup protocol.


As we were showering off in the family locker room, Tony helping me to pick the chunks of partially-digested food out of my swimsuit, we had to humbly inform the family that just got there that they wouldn’t be able to swim; the pool was closed for the night.


Since that day, my goal with any swimming outing is “no one barfs.”  We aim high, you know?  We’re going swimming tonight, so cross your fingers for us – we don’t really want Freddie to follow in Jamie’s footsteps on this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Trade-Off


I can’t pretend to understand the mysteries of the human heart.  How is it possible that the most grueling, demanding, thankless job in the world has been undertaken some 7 billion times, many of them (most? I hope?) gratefully, as if it were a favor to gain an uncomfortable amount of weight and carry a child for nine months, then push him or her out of an excruciatingly small opening with what can only be called extreme relief? And then you start worrying.  And cleaning up messes.  Disgusting, disgusting messes.





Parenting is unbelievably difficult, and being the primary parent (Do you have your children’s weekly schedules memorized, know what each of them is going to eat for each meal and snack every day, have the doctor’s number on speed-dial, and recall exactly what each of them wore to school this morning?  Then you’re the primary parent.) is a Sisyphean task that takes over your whole life.  Laundry, dishes, meals, school work, daycare bags, brushing teeth, tying shoes, reading… on and on, day in and day out.


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It’s exhausting and it’s soul-depleting.  So many of the things I used to love, I no longer am able to do.  So much of my sense of self has turned into mommy that I’m no longer sure what else there is, what else is just “Amelia.”


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It’s tough to know if I’m doing a good job.  If I take the time to think about it, I worry that I’m doing a terrible job.  There’s never enough, you know?  Never enough time spent reading or practicing letters and numbers.  Never enough imaginary play on my part.  Never enough activities, trips, vegetables, teachable moments, or unfettered fun.  And then sometimes, there’s too much.  Too much anger, too much yelling, too much frustration, too much unvoiced relief when they’re all finally asleep and I can eat the chocolate I’ve been hiding from them while I fold all of their laundry.


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And it matters so much.  To screw up at this job means unbearable consequences, lending a certain (large) amount of guilt to every. single. action I take as a parent.




But something amazing happened when I became a mother: my heart and soul took that baby boy in my arms and felt that anything, anything, would be worth the strange payment I could get from him. 




Yes, I am paid to be a mother.  Paid in sticky kisses, sweaty snuggles, milky baby breath, baby giggles, and small-child belly laughs.  I’m paid when my son stops me mid-stride on our walk home from school to take my face in his hands, bend me down toward him, and kiss me all over because he’s just so happy that I’m making raspberry cobbler for dessert (this happened yesterday, for real).  I’m paid when the first thing my almost-four-year-old wants to do every morning is be cuddled in my arms.  I’m paid when the baby settles into sleep on my shoulder.  I’m paid by the light in their eyes and the joy in their smiles.  I’m paid in endless fart noises and wrestling grunts.




Somehow, despite how hard I work for these boys, how much I suffer and worry, how many sleepless nights I endure, it is all worth it for their love and the love I feel for them.  That is the truest and most unfathomable part of motherhood.  I thank God every day for those little boys and the ability of my heart to expand and feel that they are giving even when they are taking, taking, taking.




I know their love for me will change as they grow.  Someday, they might not want to hold my hands when we walk or kiss me on the nose before they go to sleep.  But as I still love my parents with a heart-breaking intensity, so, too, will they love me as we all age.




Mother’s Day is only once a year, and that’s enough.  The boys shower me with affection and gifts and words of love and appreciation, thanks in no small part to Tony (whom I have trained well).  It has always been a joy to me to thank my mom for her love and give her gifts to show her how much I love her on Mother’s Day – my boys are discovering that joy now, which in turn brings me more joy. 


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What a wonderful (dirty, stressful, infuriating, fatiguing, ridiculous) life I lead.  How blessed I am.



Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Still Don’t Know What I’m Doing

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Freddie just wouldn’t settle down last night.  It was 10 PM, I’d nursed until I had nothing left, we were lying in bed, Tony and I knew he was tired, Freddie knew he was tired, and he just… wouldn’t sleep. 

Tony: “I will never understand why children fight sleep.”

Seriously, babe, I won’t either.  They’re not even reading a good book or binge-watching Parks and Recreation.

But then Tony said something more profound, more life-changing, at least at that particular time (and for the sake of everyone who has to work with me today, “life-changing” is apt): “Maybe he’s hungry.  Like, for real food.”

Two or three weeks ago, I noted that we should probably try feeding him baby food before bed.  After all, it’s a long time between dinner and bed, Freddie’s stomach is pretty small, and the big boys eat a bedtime snack (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, too).  Makes sense, right?  Freddie took to it right away.  He ate some more pureed food right before a final nursing session and then passed out, full and happy.  We were winners!  Parents making the right decision to help our baby sleep better and be happier!

And then we just sort of… forgot, I guess.  Freddie had a couple of teeth come in (the two bottom front teeth, cute as can be – now that they’re in, of course) and he didn’t want put anything except my sore, bitten fingers into his mouth for awhile.  We got out of the habit of feeding him at night, and frankly, my brainpower is severely depleted by 8 PM, so anything I do or say after that is a crapshoot for efficacy or even sense.

And then we pulled our hair out for several straight nights over the baby not settling down to sleep at a decent hour, only to realize, much much much much much later than we should have, that he was hungry. 


It just goes to show that the third kid does not necessarily benefit from our experience.

After administering about three ounces of a fruit/cereal puree last night, Freddie fell almost instantly asleep in my arms.  The stupid thing is, as tired as I was, as much as I'd been trying to get him to sleep for the previous hour or more, I wanted to keep holding his sleeping form for just a little longer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Does NOT Spuds Great

My phone autocorrects “sounds great” to “spuds great” and I usually don’t figure out that it has happened until much later.  So now I’m thinking I’ll just try to make it a thing.  “Hey Amelia, want to meet for lunch?”  “Spuds great!”  It’ll probably catch on.

Do you know what doesn’t spuds great to anyone, ever?  A stomach bug during a vacation weekend.  Which is exactly what happened to me.  And then Tony, but with more dramatic results.  “Dramatic” and “stomach bug” are two things that should never go together, yet often do. 

First, we drove to Ilwaco.  It’s like Tony’s an escaped convict or something – he hasn’t seen the sun in months, he hasn’t driven farther than Bellingham in months, and the world outside is strange and new to him.  He hasn’t had to put up with all three children and the dog in a car since the last road trip in October (that’s not so much the exhilarating feeling of escaping from prison as it is begging to go back to prison because the real world is just too horrible for words), and the extremity of annoyance on a road trip with three kids and a dog is astounding to those unused to it.

This guy is happiest when we’re not moving.

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He’s especially happy if we’re not moving AND he’s driving the not-moving car.

I feel comfortable in saying that I am a veteran road-tripper-with-children.  They have to pee at inopportune times (middle of rush-hour traffic in Seattle, for instance, when you’re totally gridlocked and even if you weren’t, getting off the freeway is no guarantee of an easy gas-station bathroom).  They are always hungry for some sort of snack that is not in the car and that you probably wouldn’t have purchased/brought for the ride anyway (candy! watermelon! scrambled eggs!).  They are too hot, too cold, too loud, or bored.  In short, they are terrible traveling companions.  And when they do get out of the car, they go bonkers.  Tony, who is bewildered by sunlight and people doing things other than taxes during daylight hours, just sort of blinks wonderingly at the world when we stop.  Charles and Jamie start to wrestle because, hey, we made it all the way to Tacoma, we’d been on the road for two hours, and they were afraid they were never going to be able to use their legs again ever.

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Booth shenanigans

The cure for this craziness is chocolate milk, administered, if not intravenously, then with a straw.  Unless you are me and you outlaw straws in chocolate milk because of the mess.  Then, the only cure is a Happy Meal Toy (Transformers right now, total win).

Also, the family rule: everyone goes to the bathroom every time we stop.  Everyone.  Every time.

The first weekend in May is always Loyalty Days on the Long Beach Peninsula, and the boys start things off with a kiddie parade.  When Charles was four years old, he won a trophy for his bike entry.  This year, Jamie won the trophy.  (Please excuse the lack of bike helmets – it was a special occasion and they were going about two miles per hour.)

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Jamie won because he was cute.  Charles nearly gave me a heart attack because he is a daredevil.  I didn’t get a photo of him standing on the crossbar of his bike, but he rode it around that way throughout the parade.

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Getting ready to stand like an idiot acrobat

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Freddie thinks hats are bullshit

The next day, the big boys got to ride in a fire truck, and Charles got to work the horn.  I can’t stress what how big of a deal this was.


By then, however, I was snuggled into the the couch, fighting fever and chills, and never straying far from the bathroom.  Tony and my parents took the kids to the big parade, but afterward I still didn’t feel well enough to endure a long car ride with three kids and a dog, so Tony decided to borrow my parents’ car and drive home with Charles.  I would follow with the smaller children and a parent the next day – my mom or dad would retrieve their car and drive back home.  Not ideal, but I was too sick to argue at all. 

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He should have opted for snuggle time, too

I was also too sick to question Tony about how he felt, which was apparently something along the lines of “not too great.”  After he vomited in a Taco Time in Olympia, he chose to turn back to Ilwaco.  We all came home yesterday, having each missed a day of work and school.

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Cruisin’ kid doesn’t care about school

Now we’re all messed up.  There were no leftovers for me to take for lunch today.  It was sunny all weekend and now it is rainy.  Up is down, down is up.  Cats and dogs living together.  It’s crazy.  And no one knows what day it is, seriously.  Charles asked me this morning if it was Friday, which, dude, you haven’t been to school yet this week, how could it be Friday?  And having felt like shit (far too literally, if you ask me) this weekend, I’m wishing it were Friday already, too.  Friday spuds great, man.