Days Like This

I need to talk about today. Because today has been, well, awful.

Everyone’s sick.

That’s not true.

James and Sophie went to school today.

But everyone has been sick, at some point, since Thanksgiving.

For all of us it’s been a feverish cold but then today Owen threw up his toast. And now he’s hungry and yelling at me and I can’t do anything about it.

Our furnace sounds like it’s some strange being from a horror movie and the warmest it’s been in our house all day is 66°.

James fell asleep 10 minutes before we had to leave to pick up Sophie. When I woke him up he, still half asleep, punched me in the arm, over and over, he was so angry with me.

Owen refused to walk to the van and refused to let me carry him. When I finally picked him up he kicked off his rain boots and screamed about the injustice of it all as I took off his thick winter coat, leaving him to freeze in his pajamas as I buckled him in his car seat, barf bucket next to him.

I picked up Sophie in the infuriating car line (not wanting to make Owen walk to school today) and she said she presented her gingerbread person today and I was so excited to hear all about it because she was so excited to decorate it—her first big, at-home school project.

She was so-so throughout the whole conversation and then said everyone else in her class had their parents help them with their gingerbread people and the directions said parents were supposed to help and she asked me to help but she said I said I was too busy to help and apparently all the other kids’ gingerbread people were much more fancy.

I remember saying I was too busy at.that.exact.moment but I also remember asking her if I could help later and I remember her saying no, that she wanted to do it herself and I thought her gingerbread person was beautiful. Yes, the outfit was simply colored with crayon but it was so lovingly detailed and I thought the hair was so clever—twisted pipe cleaners, totally her idea. But in the end, this wasn’t nearly as fancy as all the other gingerbread people.

I’m close to tears and she’s close to tears and I think we’re all exhausted. Exhausted from travel (Baltimore, TN, and Lewisburg, Ohio the last three weekends). Exhausted from Christmas, already. Exhausted from school, freelance work, laundry, homework, life.

We have sore throats and sniffles and beautiful gingerbread people that we feel are lacking (even though they aren’t) and looming deadlines and 20 minutes of reading every night and agents who are finally answering their 2014 queries (which means seemingly every-other day rejections coming my way) and neighbors who have the most amazing Christmas lights all over their house (ours are not yet up), lights that include a countdown to Christmas, which is not at all helpful in terms of my level of stress.

Here’s a picture from this weekend. It’s the best one I have of all three kids while cutting down our Christmas tree. Owen is crying because he insisted the tree we chose was too small, despite our many conversations about the limitations of our home’s ceilings.

Fa la la la la.

(This, for all you mamas and papas who feel as if December should be magical 100 percent of time. Today our holiday season is -27 percent magical. Check back in a week when I write a sappy/happy-tearful piece about decorating our tree. But today, for now, if you’re in the negatives—or not breaking 50 percent—know you’re not alone.)

“Mama said there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this mama said
(Mama said, mama said).” —Luther Dixon, Willie Denson

Your Sixth Birthday

Dear Sophie,

This year your birthday started with a visit from Grandma and Grandpa in Baltimore. And, on the way to the airport, Owen threw up all over himself and the van. As I was trying to get him cleaned up with the few wipes and plastic bags I had, changing him into one of Daddy’s shirts slated for Goodwill I found in the back of the van, you ever-so-helpful said from the back, “Mommy, you are not prepared for this.”

And I loved that, the humor you gave to an otherwise awful situation. And I loved that, because it showed you are still young enough to always speak your mind. And I loved that because, when it counts, you really are generous and kind. You care, about everything, so much.

Which is why, in part, I felt so badly that your birthday was a bit of a bust.

It started out wonderfully, with a present from Great Aunt Susie—a handmade Elsa dress.

Still, on the day of your birthday party at the YMCA, Owen and James had been sick less than 48 hours prior, so both boys had to stay home with Grandpa. (But don’t worry about the boys—Grandpa came through with a small birthday celebration they threw for you, on their own, in the backyard.)

And you, I believe, had fun.

Nini and Pop Pop came to your party at the YMCA, and then followed us home where you opened your presents from them on our front porch. They were on their way to see your Aunt Katy, Uncle Tom and cousin Colleen, who, as you know, has a birthday the day after yours. They stayed on the porch in what we hoped was a germ-free zone, so as not to get pregnant Aunt Katy sick.

After Nini and Pop Pop left, you said your stomach hurt. I tried to convince myself it was the sweets, but then you, too, got sick. After emailing my sincerest apologies to all the other parents of your friends who were at your party, I sat next to you on the couch, holding your hair and scratching your back—not a great way to spend your birthday, any birthday, but especially a birthday when you’re 6.

Still, you said you wanted to open presents. It was clear you loved them, but you were quiet and reserved, and you hardly played with your gifts after, which included some much-anticipated Frozen merchandise.

Several days later you were ready for your meal-of-choice: scrambled eggs, fruit salad, bacon and cinnamon rolls “from the can.”

Still after, you had a stomachache.

So it wasn’t until you were 6 years and 1 week old that you finally had your Frozen ice cream birthday cake, which your dad, who has many varied talents, made for you.

We even threw in a couple extra presents, for good measure. And then, we had cake!

And now is when I normally write a personal letter to you. And I will, but privately. For you’re 6 now, my sweet child. You’re in kindergarten. You’re learning to read. Your friends are learning to read. My thoughts and reminiscences about the year past are no longer primarily focused on physical milestones and parenting mishaps, but more personal milestones—your emotional and intellectual milestones—your growth as a human being, into an adult. And they are yours. And for the ones we share, also mine. And they belong to everyone you choose to share them with, both in the present, and in the future, if that’s what you wish.

This was the first year I didn’t know what you wished for—you have secrets, experiences, thoughts and frustrations tucked away in your brain that I’m not privy to—as it should be. Still, I love when you share. And I hope you continue to share. And in return, I promise to respect your privacy, as well as a mother (who also is a writer) can.

Happy, happy birthday my generous, passionate, funny Sophie.

I love you, always.

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” —Emily Dickinson

March Snow

This winter has not been kind to us in terms of sickness. Early December all five of us had a stomach virus (a nightmare). Early February, despite flu shots, we were all sick with something viral, which my doctor suspected was a mild case of the flu. And which, a week later, turned into pinkeye. Last week, something viral invaded our family again.

Late Tuesday night Sophie’s temperature peaked at 106.5°. We called the doctor on call. Gave her Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Woke her up every hour to check her temperature and make sure she was lucid (which was difficult to determine as she was groggy with sleep). Her temperature dropped and steadied (although it was still high) so we avoided the ER but took her in to see the pediatrician first thing the next morning. Aside from a cough, everything checked out—including a flu test. But later that afternoon, she started complaining about abdominal pain and her fever peaked at 104.5°. Back to the pediatrician again (same day). She was tested for a UTI—nothing. So we continued monitoring her, giving her Tylenol, Ibuprofen and Delsym.

Of course Owen and James also had colds and fevers, with Owen’s temperature peaking at 105° one night. And then I caught it. And then Andy. James started complaining about his ear, so back to the doctor we went—double ear infection and the start of bronchitis.

With sickness comes fussiness. Thursday morning, before I knew James had an ear infection, I tried to pick him up while he was throwing a terrible tantrum on the kitchen floor. He flung his head up and his skull caught my chin. It hurt, the kind of hurt that instantly brings tears to your eyes. I put him down. Walked to the bathroom. Shut the door and cried as a bruise formed on the underside of my chin and blood formed on my lip, where my teeth caught the skin. At that point I had a fever too. I was exhausted from overnight temperature checks. I wanted to rip out my lungs from coughing. I had three screaming children outside my door and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed. My phone rang. It was my mom calling me on her cell. She was on her way. With lunch. I did that awful cry-talk back to her, thanking her.

How do moms do that? She called at the exact moment I needed to hear her. I can only hope I’m able to do the same for my children when they’re grown.

And then today. Sophie’s temperature came back (low grade, 100.5°) and she was still complaining about abdominal pain. So back to the doctor we went. Next thing I know all four of us are downtown at Children’s Hospital so Sophie can have an x-ray done—poor kid has pneumonia, in her lower right lung.

This winter has been filled with over-the-counter medicine distributed in plastic alligator spoons, around-the-clock temperature checks, inhaler treatments, nebulizer treatments (we own our own machine now), bedroom humidifiers, middle-of-the-night-bundled-up-because-of-the-freezing-temperature porch sits for croup, fussiness, wiping noses constantly, reminding to cover coughs constantly, so many missed days at school. And all I will say about the stomach virus is the laundry. My God. The laundry.

Is this normal? Sophie’s in preschool. Even her teacher was noting how another parent, rightfully so, called the classroom a big petri dish. (And they have a strict sick policy, as well as strict hand-washing policies—every child washes their hands first thing when entering the room.) One morning when I called her in sick I discovered I was the sixth parent to do so that day, in a class of 20-something. I take the boys to Child Watch at the Y—when healthy. We go to the museum—when healthy. We go to the library—when healthy. But then, I can’t help but think doing these things leads to more germs and more sickness. They’re building up their immunity, yes, but it’s exhausting.

And now it’s March. Yesterday we got one last big beautiful snowfall. (And please know that if I had known Sophie had pneumonia, I certainly wouldn’t have let her play outside—for what it’s worth, we were only outside for about 20 minutes … despite the good half hour it took to get geared up to romp around in the snow.)

I love snow, I do. Even today my heart did a little flip flop when I saw our cardinals flit about the snow-covered branches. It was beautiful. They were beautiful. The boys squealed with delight, calling them friends. But I felt less giddy than usual as the big flakes fell this time. I sighed heavier as I dressed the kids in layers. I’m ready for Sunday’s time change. I’m ready to play outside daily. I’m ready to open up all our windows and air out our stuffy, germ-filled house. Even the kids ask daily, “When can we go to the big park?” I want to go to the big park. I want to go to the park sans coats. Sans runny noses. Sans cringe-worthy coughs.

I just hope Punxsutawney Phil was right.

“Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger. She calls her family together within her inmost home to prepare them for being scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.” —Hugh Macmillan

A Win?

I don’t often write about the details of potty training because, no one, honestly, wants to read about the details of potty training. But I do want to share this short story today.

James followed Sophie into the bathroom this afternoon, as he often does. While Sophie did her thing on the adult toilet he took off his pants and diaper and sat on the training potty chair. Usually, nothing happens. (We haven’t really started the training process yet.) So I was surprised when Sophie started screaming “James went in the potty! James went in the potty!”

I looked.

He did.

So I joined in with Sophie, clapping my hands, giving James kisses on the cheeks, telling him what a good job he did. Owen joined in, too. James was beyond excited. I wrangled him just long enough to get a new diaper and pants on and then all four of us were being silly, running around the first floor of the house, clapping, yelling and cheering for James. He was loving it.

So much so that he threw up.

All over himself and the entry floor rug.

Apparently we all got a little too excited about this milestone.

A bath, change of clothes and carpet cleaning followed.

I know messes are to be anticipated when potty training. I just didn’t expect that kind of mess.

“I know how sobering and exhausting parenthood is. But the reality is that our children’s future depends on us as parents. Because we know that the first years truly last forever.” —Rob Reiner

She’s Fine

I try very hard not to overreact to medical issues with my children. In fact, I usually under-react. Twice now, during well-child exams, the pediatrician has discovered ear infections. Cue the oh-so-that’s-why-he-has-been-so-cranky-and-tugging-his-ear-and-this-cold-never-seems-to-go-away-I’m-a-terrible-mom response. I will never be one of those mothers insisting on antibiotics unless absolutely necessary (largely because I’ve now had c-diff for a year and a half thanks to antibiotics I was given for a cough). I often take the “let’s give it one more day” approach before asking the nurse on the phone “do you think we really need to come in?”. And my last post, the one in which I talk about taking Owen in because he was having trouble breathing? The pediatrician said it was “probably” OK I didn’t take him to the ER the night before leaving me to believe I “probably” should have.

For a month, Sophie has had small bruises running up and down her spine. Her shins are always bruised. She’s active. She wrestles with her brothers. She falls and bumps into things and apparently has no sense of spatial relationships when doing somersaults in our crowded living room. But the bruises on her spine did give me pause. I would wonder how they got there and then I would explain them away in my head, thinking about the time she slid down the steps or the side of the bed.

And then last night I found myself up with her from about 3am on. She had a fever. She couldn’t sleep. I gave her Children’s Advil. We watched the Sprout channel. I noted the dark circles under her eyes and thought about how tired she always seemed. I made her oatmeal at 5am.

At 8:30am I called the school to say that Sophie couldn’t come—she had a fever. The kids and I watched our morning show. We played Set Junior. We had a hat party, cleaned the playroom, did chalk drawings, dressed up stuffed animals, had lunch. Sophie seemed fine.

She was curled up on the couch, eating popcorn and watching a movie, her dress bunched up around her when I noticed the bruises again on her bare back.

I don’t know why I did it, but I did.

I Googled “child bruising spine fever.”

Two seconds later I found myself on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s home page.

I messaged Andy. “Just call,” he wrote. “Better now while they’re actually open.” (When I do finally cave and call the doctor, it’s usually nights/weekends, which I’m sure our pediatrician loves.)

So I called. And they asked if I could come in at 4:30pm. It was 3:45pm. Now, looking back, I’m sure they gave me that time because that was the last appointment time before they closed for the day but after spending five seconds on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s home page I was sure they gave me that time because they needed to see her right away and that I was going down in the record books as the worst mom ever for not taking her in a month earlier when I first noticed the bruising.

Andy must have sensed my underlying panic, because he met me there.

We waited a long time.

The pediatrician looked at her spine. He noticed two very, very small bruises near the bottom but said the other discoloration was the result of some big vein that runs along the spinal cord and a shadow. He noted the dark circles under eyes and asked her if she was tired. She gave a very dramatic yawn and fell back on the examining table, as if going to sleep (yes, we’ve entered that stage now). He felt her belly and checked her lymph nodes and listened to her lungs and noted her temperature and looked for other bruising (there was none besides the usual shin bruises) and noted her excellent weight gain. And then he checked her ears.

She had a g** d*** ear infection.

Of course. I mean, she did tell us last night her ear was “hiccuping.”


Not only am I the mom who consistently doesn’t take her children to the doctor when she should for ailments that require antibiotics to cure, I’m also the mom who when she does take her children to the doctor is convinced her children have cancer.

I can only imagine what’s being written about me in my children’s charts.

“If you treat a sick child like an adult and a sick adult like a child, everything usually works out pretty well.” —Ruth Carlisle

Catching Rain Drops & Other Happy Things

My best guess is that now that it’s near the end of spring and it’s supposed to be in the 90s this weekend, the universe realized we weren’t sick enough this past winter (and really, we luckily, were not) and so it’s making up for that now.

Owen got pinkeye, too. This, however, transformed Sophie. We told her she needed to show Owen how to do the eye drops and she totally stepped up to the plate and does them with just a small “ouch” each time a drop goes in. Seriously, it’s incredible. Owen, on the other hand, needs pinned down.

Andy has worked from home all week. He can’t talk, can’t eat and can’t sleep because of the coughing. He finally went to the doctor today, and was prescribed antibiotics. Hopefully they begin working soon.

I’m fine. Sore throat, annoying cough, achey, but no fever or pinkeye so, fine.

James has, miraculously, avoided all of this.

But talk of sickness is boring, I know. So instead I thought I’d share photos from a happier a day. It was rainy, but Nini (as grandmas often do) made up for it with stories and porch time—a reminder that even seemingly bad days can, in the long run, be good.

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow