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

This Week

Last Sunday I spent much of the day in bed, writing. I had a 2,000-word article due first thing Monday morning. I also had a sore throat, runny nose and a terrible headache. Everything ached. I was exhausted.

Monday morning, I rallied. I felt (a little) better. Andy went to work. I cleaned less than normal and kept the TV on longer than normal. But, as colds are prone to do, I felt worse as the day dragged on and when Andy came home, I went to bed.

At around 2am I looked up to see him standing next to me. “Bee, Are you awake?” I was. Sore throats and headaches are difficult to sleep through. “There’s a bat in the house,” he said.

And, there was.

(It eventually found the door.)

Tuesday, I tried. I really did. But in the end Andy picked up Sophie from preschool and stayed home the rest of the afternoon, trying to work from the couch and amuse the kids all at the same time. I took NyQuil, at noon, and slept and slept and slept, not hearing and not caring about the chaos that was happening outside my door.

Andy went back to work Wednesday. My mom offered to come over and help but I felt better. I cleaned. Played Candy Land. Put train tracks together. Convinced Sophie to play on her LeapPad next to me in bed while the boys took their nap. But again, by evening, I was miserable (and this didn’t help). Andy came home and I took my shot of NyQuil and went to bed.

Thursday, Sophie woke up with a terrible cough and a 101.6° temperature. I kept her home from school. I bribed the kids with milk and a TV show so I could shower. After my shower I came downstairs and discovered Owen’s entire Thermos of milk had spilled all over the couch, soaking through three down-filled cushions and the frame.

It took more than an hour to soak up the milk and strip all the cushions so that I could wash (ignoring the spot-clean only instructions) and line-dry them.

That afternoon I (finally) had a doctor’s appointment. Despite my flu shot, turns out I had had a mild case of the flu. I was on the upswing, though. No temperature. No all-over achey feeling. Just a lingering cough and a sometimes-headache.

I felt better about having had to ask Andy for help on Tuesday. And I felt worse about not allowing myself to accept help the other days I was truly feeling bad. Even a mild case of the flu deserves time in bed.

That night I ran to Target to pick up some medicine for the kids. They were all feverish now. And coughing. And constantly demanding tissues for their runny noses. Or, as James screams, “MY NOSIES, MOMMY! MY NOSIES!”

This week had been bad. No one felt good, a fact that tinged everything. Owen whined and cried, constantly. James refused to listen, ever, and was put in time-out multiple times each day for hitting. Sophie, more than once would yell “YOU’RE NOT BEING FAIR!” to me when I would ask, quietly, for her to, say, pick up her puzzle before watching a show.

All of this was swirling around my head when I saw the gold stars on one of the $1 shelves at Target. I realized, then, that I had spent much of the week drowning in negativity. From the beginning of this whole motherhood business I’ve put a lot of stock into the idea of a well-timed compliment. And, for the most part, it’s worked well for me. Daily I remind myself to praise my children for their good deeds as much as I (if not more than) scold them for their bad ones. But this week, there was little positive and a lot negative. Coupled with being sick. And it snowballed. The angrier and more frustrated I got with them, the angrier and more frustrated they got with me. The kids needed some gold stars.

Except I got mailboxes instead. Little tin mailboxes for a $1 each. And temporary tattoos and Tootsie Pops and kazoos and lollipops and Silly Putty and bubbles. Nothing expensive. That night I poured all the treats into a bag and hid the bag in the pantry. I put the mailboxes on the stairs. Sophie noticed them immediately the next morning.

I apologized for the rough week. I acknowledged that we were all sick. I reminded them of the things they had done/were doing that turned me into oh-my-god-what-were-we-thinking-having-all-these-kids Mom and how I very much wanted to go back to this-life-I-have-is-pretty-damn-great Mom. I said if they worked on not whining/not hitting/not fighting/not screaming/etc./etc./etc., I would work on taking notice of the times they were being kind, the times they were being good, and acknowledging that.

Cue the mailboxes.

If the flag’s up, that means someone is doing a great job and a treat’s inside. I don’t want to bribe my children (although I fail at that, daily). And I realize this is a form of bribery. But these mailboxes saved me. I never put a treat in the mailbox as a direct result of them doing something good (like not hitting when upset, cleaning up, staying in bed at nap time, etc.). Rather, it’s simply an unexpected middle-of-the-day surprise, after a couple hours without (for the most part) screaming, hitting, whining, talking back.

They loved it. Attitudes changed instantly. Bonus: It was a new plaything. They ran up to the playroom and spent a great deal of time “writing letters” to each other and putting them in each other’s mailboxes.

I was thankful.

Things are still iffy. Today, there was only one mailbox treat (and even Andy said, “Are you sure they deserve one today?”). And I haven’t been able to bring myself to give one child a treat and not the others—rather I wait until everyone has been reasonably well-behaved for a period of time. (Although I imagine singling out positive behavior would make a deep impression.) I’m still on prescription cough medicine. Two of the kids still have low-grade temperatures. And now Andy doesn’t feel well.

But the week is done. We made it, if barely. We made it despite the sickness, potty training mishaps, flying bats, milk-soaked couches and the bead that got stuck up Sophie’s nose. (Saturday Sophie suddenly was in hysterics, going on and on about a bead that she “just put close to her nose, to smell it” but was actually stuck up her nose. Thankfully we were able to get it out our own, although it took a good half hour, several sets of tweezers, a detailed description of the differences between “exhale” and “inhale,” and a lot of tears. She’s promised not to do that again.)

Here’s hoping for a better week this week. Considering I leave for San Francisco to visit my brother, alone, early Friday morning, I’m sure it will be.

And I’m sure, when I return late, late Monday night, I will be more than eager, well, let’s just say eager, for the chaos to resume on Tuesday.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” —Bill Cosby

The Nutcracker

I was 6 years old, the first time I saw The Nutcracker. I still have the program from the Cincinnati Ballet Company—I pull it out every Christmas. And I can I still remember the wonderment I felt when Mother Ginger lifted her enormous skirt and a dozen children danced out of it. So I don’t know who was more excited—Sophie or I—when my mom wondered if we would like to see The Nutcracker with her this year.

We saw a different version, de la Dance Company’s The Nutcracker Jazzed Up! My mom knew the mom of Clara—subsequently, Sophie got to meet Clara after the performance, which she was shy about but I think she loved.

Our entire family got hit with a stomach bug a couple days before this event. At one point I was in the bathroom getting sick, Andy was holding a towel up for James who was getting sick and Owen started getting sick. The whole idea of throwing up terrified Owen so much that he started running, while getting sick, around our living room and entry. When we finally got him to stop running he finished, all over Tucker. I.t w.a.s h.o.r.r.i.b.l.e. We pulled a crib mattress down into the living room so the kids could try to sleep in between getting sick episodes. All night long it was laundry, baths, tears, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’ve since learned many friends have gone through something similar—some over the holidays. I’m so sorry.

I was worried we were going to have to cancel The Nutcracker. But Sophie was 100 percent better in less than 24 hours. I took longer to feel better, but rallied, knowing the importance of the event, and went.

I’m so glad I did. I spent as much time watching her as I watched the performance. Re-experiencing things for the first time, through your children, is one of the better aspects of mothering.

Since The Nutcracker Sophie has flipped through my childhood program from the ballet almost every day. She hums music from it often and whenever she hears it on the radio she says, “The Nutcracker!”

I’m pretty sure Andy was only humoring me the few times we’ve been to the ballet. Perhaps, now, I’ve found a new ballet partner.

Thanks, Mom, for a great gift.

“We should consider every day lost in which we don’t dance.” —Nietzsche


I don’t know what’s worse. Using my legs and arms to pin Owen against myself, a nebulizer mask over his mouth and nose while he thrashes and screams, feeling him soften every few moments only to say, muffled and between sobs, “all done, Mommy, all done.”

Or looking at the look James gives me at the doctor’s office while I’m doing this to Owen—watching James cry and scream from across the room, not understanding that what I’m doing to Owen doesn’t hurt and is, in the long run, going to make him feel much, much better.

Our entire family got hit with a cold this past weekend. Colds always land in James’s chest and he had already done the doctor’s visit with the nebulizer treatment and the every-four-hours at-home albuterol treatment. He’s on day three of steroids. This has become the norm for James. He’s calm with masks over his face now. He inhales the medicine, knowing it’s helping him breathe, feel better.

But Owen. This is all new to Owen. Andy and I averaged about two hours of sleep each last night, staying up with him, watching the retraction in his chest, listening to the wheezing, calling the doctor on call, sharing James’s albuterol with him, debating the ER.

So tired. Everyone is so tired.

Owen had to have two 10-minute nebulizer treatments at the pediatrician’s office today. Ten minutes is a long time when you’re pinning a 2-year-old down and when the 2-year-old’s brother, full of steroids and lacking sleep, is beside himself with worry for his twin brother.

When it was all over, I asked James if he wanted to hug Owen. James said, between tears, “yes.”

Oh my heart.

Of course Owen, furious at the world, refused to accept James’s hug and pushed him away.


Even on the bad days, the really bad days, there are moments—these small and beautiful moments.

Slow inhale.

Slow exhale.


We’re all breathing.

“There’s no other love like the love for a brother. There’s no other love like the love from a brother.” —Terri Guillemets


Somehow Sophie went from runny nose and cough to runny nose, cough, high fever and (a lot of) yellow gunk coming out of her eye. (This in addition to other runny noses, fevers and maybe-pinkeyes in the house right now.) Cue the Saturday evening call to the doctor and antibiotics prescribed over the phone. We made the call close to her bedtime, so by the time the prescription was actually called in, filled and picked up, it was close to 10pm. Sophie was miserable at this point, not feeling well and exhausted.

I tore off the stapled instructions from the paper prescription bag.

And read this:

(Note, Sophie hates water in her eyes, hates it. I’m talking, screams-in-the-shower-won’t-dunk-her-head-in-a-pool-can’t-stand-to-be-splashed hates it.)

TO USE THIS MEDICINE, first wash your hands. Tilt your head back and, with your index finger, pull the lower eyelid away from the eye to form a pouch. Drop the prescribed number of drops of medicine into the pouch and gently close your eyes. Do not blink and keep your eyes closed for 1 or 2 minutes. Do not rub the eye. Place one finger at the corner of the eye near the nose and apply gently pressure … This will prevent the medicine around your eye from draining away from the eye. Remove excess medicine around your eye with a clean tissue, being careful not to touch your eye. Wash your hands to remove any medicine that may be on them.

Except that we weren’t doing this to ourselves. Rather we were doing this to our 4-year-old—our exhausted, sick 4-year-old who hates anything in or close to her eyes.

I looked in the prescription bag to see if there was another medicine that would knock Sophie unconscious just long enough for us to do this to her.

The bag was empty.

We decided to be straight up with her, tell her exactly what we were going to do, what was going to happen and ask her if she had any questions.

She looked at us like we were the worst parents on this planet and buried her head (and self, really) into my pillow.

We got the drops in. It involved (not necessarily in this order) explanation, pleading, bribing, begging, pinning down, pinning open, screaming, crying, gummy worm eating.

Oh, and we get to do this three times a day.

For seven days.

“A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way.” —Mary Poppins

The Middle-of-the-Night Cold

Sophie is:

wide awake at 10:53pm

watching the all-hours Sprouts channel (so this is why they play children’s shows so late at night)

in our bed

sweaty but cold

rubbing her always-watering eyes endlessly

making awful sounds when she breathes.

She calms, for a few moments, then sits up, a sobbing mess.

She says:

“My eyes! They just keep watering every time I try to settle down!”

“This medicine [children’s Claritin, we thought it was allergies due to the fact that we were outside all day and her eyes were so watery] isn’t doing anything!”

“I can’t stop crying!”

“My nose! I need a tissue! My nose!”

“Mommy, I just don’t want to be sick!”

I scratch her back. Revisit her favorite lullaby. Listen to her snore softly, during the few minutes she’s asleep, before the next coughing fit starts. Wonder what it would be like to have all three kids like this, in the middle of the night, at once. Knock on wood (literally) after thinking such thoughts. Wonder where Andy is going to sleep tonight. Wonder how parents do this with children who are sick often or sick always. Wonder what tomorrow will bring. Wonder what the next hour will bring. Wonder if I will get sick. Wonder why we, as a species, get sick period. Wonder who wrote “The Nightly Clean-up Song,” which is on Sprout right now. Wonder why I’m watching Sprout and not something else given that Sophie is, thankfully, sleeping, clutching her tissue as she would a doll.

If the last hour has taught me anything, though, she’ll be up again soon. With a raspy cough. Or tear-soaked cheeks. Or the basic discomfort that comes with every common cold and the realization, now that she’s older, that there’s little to be done. It happens to everyone. That it’s not fun.

I try to remember everything my mom did, and my dad did, when I was little and sick. There was Sprite. And Saltines. Rare one-on-one time with the parent who stayed home from work. Board games. A thermometer that beeped. Medicine in a plastic alligator spoon. All-day PJs. All-day TV. A fitted sheet on the couch. A brass bell. Back scratches. Lots of back scratches.

I won’t tell her it changes. That childhood sickness, while much dramatized (she’s 4), is way better than adult sickness—if only because you’re the child, not the adult. I imagine I’m not alone when I admit to wishing I was 7, when it’s the middle of the night and I’m in the throes of a terrible—yet minor—cold. Because no matter how helpful a spouse is during sickness, it’s not the same as a parent. It’s just not.

I may no longer receive, in the same way I did as a child, but I can give, in the same way I was given as a child.

And so I will.

I didn’t know it would be like this, before children—the up all night listening to the soft, little moans that make my chest hurt. My dad often said, whenever I was sick, that he wished he could take it for me.

At the time, I thought he was crazy.

I understand that now.

“From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health.” —Catalan Proverb