Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Live In This World

I'm dedicating today's post to Share's Walk of Remembrance, which I'll be attending with my family on Saturday, and to the Wave of Light, which I'll also be participating in Saturday as part of the effort to shatter the stigma of infertility and pregnancy loss.

This post is part of a blog tour to mark October as the month of pregnancy and infant loss awareness. You can read more about it and view all the bloggers who are participating by clicking here.


When Eliza died, I stopped moving. I left the hospital and somehow I walked in my house, but then I kept still. I sat, stunned, in a frozen stupor for a long time. I did that thing where you stare and stare and you don't have to blink because your eyes are full of tears. I did that thing where you can't get off the couch and you can't change your clothes and you can't eat because when life is unbearable everything makes you want to vomit, and you especially can't eat one more godforsaken pan of sympathy-laden lasagna, or choke down one more piece of pineapple from an arrangement of condolence fruit (mostly because pineapple tastes like happiness and happiness tastes like ashes in your mouth). I resented gentle suggestions that I should take a walk, open the blinds, allow the blood to circulate in my veins. I was in shock, perhaps, but I think I was also convinced that if I just held completely still, I could stop time from going on without my baby.

I recently reread a Mary Oliver poem that made me think a lot about those early grief days, when all I wanted was to turn back time and get everything back to the way it was before. I was still clinging to Plan A with everything I had. Plan B was a dark hellhole and I wanted no part of it. I tried not to move, tried not to live Plan B. Instead, I would sit still and read poetry and avoid thinking about seasons changing without Eliza here.

Oliver ends her poem "In Blackwater Woods" like this:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the times comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The first time I read this poem, I wanted to shred it. Or spit on it. Or slash it out with a black marker. My baby was dead and I'd held her in my arms and I'd touched her cold, tiny fingers with their tiny purple fingernails and I would have traded my life for hers and this fucking poem is telling me to let it go?

It wasn't just impossible. It was completely offensive.

This poem knew nothing of my grief, of the particular brand of grief that spins into existence when the timing of a loss is completely wrong and backwards and the only explanation is that we've entered an alternate reality and we have to stop moving forward so that we can go back and fix it. I shouldn't have let her go. I should have held her tighter and slipped through a wormhole with her into an alternate dimension--back into the real world, my world--where everything was working out the way it was supposed to.

In other words: You say let it go, I say go fuck yourself.

And now... It's been six years. And yes, I see the poem differently. Mostly because I'm looking forward again, and six years ago I couldn't imagine anything but trying to undo the timeline of my life.

Now I think, this poem isn't offering advice. It is simply presenting the rules for survival. I hated the poem for being right about what I needed to do, because I was nowhere near ready to do it.

I've got the loving-what-is-mortal part down. And I know--perhaps better than most--what it is to hold that tiny, mortal being against my bones.

I struggle with the letting go.

How can I possibly let go of my dream, my plan, my life, my baby?

The answer is that we don't have to let go of the important stuff. Not the love and not the grief. But we do have to let go that desperate, breath-holding, fist-clenching hope that we are about to get a do-over. That unspeakable belief that somewhere, someone will realize this terrible, horrifying mistake and make it right. Eventually, we have to stop digging in our heels and turning our faces away from the sun. Eventually, we start walking down a new path, and we start opening our eyes not just to an unfamiliar landscape that holds both terror and beauty, but also to the community of people who join us there.

I don't like the word "acceptance" with all its implications that we can just sort of shrug and "c'est la vie" our way forward when the world has crumbled to ruins around us.

But I am starting--slowly and begrudgingly (and, mercy, it's already been almost six years so maybe I'm slower than most)--to come around to the idea of letting go of Plan A and all the preconceived notions and confident expectations that went along with it. I can't change Eliza's death. I can't turn back time and right the wrong and become the person I was before. And although I'll never stop missing her and wanting her here, I have to let go of what I thought my life would be with her here.

To do otherwise would be to freeze myself in the most devastating moment of my life, and to do that, supposing I could stand it, would fail to acknowledge all the good that has come into my life alongside the grief--including Eliza's sisters.

None of this justifies Eliza's death or makes it acceptable. But six years has allowed gratitude to interweave itself with grief in a way that I could never have predicted or imagined. I know now--though it still makes my heart itch to think about it--that I have had to let go of my old life (the life without babyloss) to make the space for this one.

This is the price we pay for being human and existing in this world: we will have our hearts broken. Life will be impossibly unfair and disappointing. Where there is love, there will be grief. Some of us will experience it more often, more harshly, more unexpectedly than others. Some of us will feel so broken that we think with absolute certainty we'll never recover. And I'm not saying that we should stop trying to right the wrongs. But grief is its own form of love.

And to love what is mortal, to hold it against our bones knowing that we may have to give it up without warning, is to live the biggest life possible.

We must--eventually--let go of old expectations to make room for a new version of happiness. It happens slowly (painfully slowly). And it's not perfect. It's not abundant recompense. It's not even a consolation prize. It's just the truth of this world. We only get this one life. It's fragile and it's full of uncertainty. Just when we think we know the next step, we're exposed as fools (and I really hate feeling foolish). The best we can do is let go of the fear, open ourselves up to love, and do it again.

None of us will get through this life unscathed, and yet still we love what is mortal as though our lives depended on it.

Because, of course, they do.


Thank you for reading about babyloss and not just pretending that life is awesome and that bad things don't happen all the time.

Special thanks to those friends and kindred spirits who showed up in person or emerged from the ether of the internet to help nudge me out of that frozen stupor in the very early days of grief--Abby, Keya, Cailin, Monica, Kate, Jill, Sarah, Brandy, Laura, and Angie.

I hope you'll all take a moment to read what Christine wrote earlier this week about grief and rainbows and highs and lows of grieving one son while parenting another. Also, please check Justine's blog tomorrow--she organized this whole blog tour and I'm grateful that she let me be a part of it.

If you participate in the Share walk this weekend, look for me there (!) and post your photos using #ShareWalk2016.

If you have a candle, a lighter/match/piece of flint, and a social media account, it would mean so much to me if you would be part of the Wave of Light at 7:00pm by posting a photo with #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness (hashtags for terrible things are, by definition, kind of terrible).

And, finally, if you're missing your baby, or having trouble letting go of the life that you expected, I hope you feel the love and light coming your way.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Conversations with Zuzu

Bilingual Baby

Scene: Girls talking in the dining room.

Zuzu: Coco, do you want to play Elsa and Anna?

Coco: (unintelligible)

Zuzu: Coco, do you want to play Elsa and Anna?

Coco: (unintelligible)

Zuzu: (getting irritated) Coco! Do you want to play Elsa and Anna?

Coco: (unintelligible)

Zuzu: Coco, are you speaking Spanish?

Storytelling Game in the Car Leaves Parent Speechless

Zuzu: Once upon a time there was a baby boy, and he was so shy he stayed in his mom's tummy and the next day he was born, but when the doctor saw him he was so shy he wanted to go back in his mom's privates, but the doctor wouldn't let him... And then what happened?

New Bra, Thank You Very Much

Scene: In our kitchen, getting ready for work. I'm wearing a somewhat fitted striped, knit, crewneck shirt and a button-up jean skirt.

Zuzu: Mommy, your boobies are sticking out a little.

Me: What?

Zuzu: They must be full of food!

Lyrical Genius

Zuzu: I'm going to sing you a song that will be your favorite things. It's about superheroes and mermaids and Christmas and holiday little kitty cats.

Tattling, Reporting, or Inventing?

Zuzu: I saw Coco push Olivia at school today!

Me: Oh, my. Coco, did you push Olivia?

Coco: (grinning cheerfully) Yas!

Me: (unconvinced) And what did you do when you saw this, Zuzu?

Zuzu: I didn't do anything but stand still like a statue. Because I was taking a break from running. And I saw Coco push Olivia and I stood so still like a statue and I didn't move my body. But I was freakin' out!

Call It Like You See It

Zuzu: Can I watch a show when we get home?

Me: No.

Zuzu: Why not?

Me: Why do you think?

Zuzu: Because you're mean?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Henoch-Schonlein Purpura: It's Just As Cute As It Sounds

It started three weeks ago when Zuzu ran away from soccer practice and ended up with a bunch of chigger bites on her legs and bottom.

She had a bath right away when she got home that night, but the next night she had a baby sitter and David and I went to parents' night at the girls' school. So it was Friday before I really looked at her legs/bottom again, and I was shocked at how red and angry the bites looked. I treated them with Benadryl gel and some Neosporin over the weekend.

On Monday she had a doctor's appointment to get her four-year-old vaccinations, plus a flu shot. I pointed out the bug bites on her legs to the doctor and he didn't seem concerned. He said I could keep using Benadryl or Neosporin.

On Wednesday we got a call from her school around lunch time that she had a fever. I picked her up and she slept all day. I figured it could be related to the vaccinations or it could just be a back-to-school virus. David stayed home with her on Thursday. She didn't run a fever again, even without tylenol, and she didn't complain about her bites. She wasn't scratching or messing with them at all, which surprised me, because they didn't seem to be getting better.

On Friday, our friends Julie and Cate flew in from Minnesota for a weekend visit. The girls played together on Friday, and I showed Julie how bad Zuzu's bug bites looked. Some were getting better, but others almost looked like they had bruises around them. But I reminded myself that the doctor had just seen her on Monday and hadn't been concerned. Plus, I was taking extra care to keep them clean and medicate them, and I was sending her to school in leggings even though it was warm enough for bare legs, just because I wanted to protect them from being exposed to more dirt.

On Saturday, all the girls played hard at the Magic House in the morning. That afternoon, I put on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood so Julie and I could have some uninterrupted conversation. Zuzu fell asleep, which was unusual. She wasn't really herself for the rest of the day, either. She occasionally complained that her tummy hurt, and didn't have much of an appetite. We went to Forest Park that afternoon and all the girls ran around and played, but Zuzu complained that her legs hurt. I figured she was just tired because they'd been up  late on Friday.

On Sunday, we said good-bye to Julie and Cate and Zuzu seemed okay, just kind of droopy. But she complained about her ankle, and I realized that it looked bruised and swollen. I made David look at it, and we wondered out loud if kids could sprain their ankles? It seems like their ligaments are so stretchy that it's pretty rare for a preschooler to have a sprain, right? I put ice on it and propped her foot up on a pillow while reading to her in bed that night.

She seemed to be feeling better on Monday, but I was getting worried that the bug bites didn't seem to be healing properly. Some of them seemed to be getting worse, and instead of looking like bug bites, they were definitely morphing into some kind of rash.

By Wednesday, we were back at the doctor. He took one look at her, said that it was an allergic reaction plus a mild staph infection. He prescribed an antibiotic ointment to be put on three times a day.

We ran through the little tube in about two days because the bites/rash were all over her legs, the backs of her arms/elbows, and her bottom. On Friday, I called the pharmacy to get a refill, but my insurance didn't want to pay for a refill so soon, so I had to call the doctor's office, and then the pharmacist ended up having to call my insurance, and it was Saturday afternoon before we could pick up another tube of it. Over the weekend, I continued to smear it on her every morning and every night, plus once after school, and the rash was not improving. In fact, there were red lines where the elastic of her undies seemed to have irritated her skin (something that had never happened before). I was having her sleep in loose-fitting pajama pants and no undies, but it still hadn't improved.

On Sunday she got stung by a bee while outside eating a popsicle. She'd been stung last year, too, so I fussed over her while she cried and got her an ice pack and put some lavender oil on it and let her watch PJ Masks. I wasn't too concerned about her having an allergic reaction or anything because we'd already been through this once. But this time she got an angry red rash in almost a square shape a few inches across, all around the bee sting. Plus she took off her shoes that evening and told me her feet hurt and she had red spots on one toe and the arch of the other foot. I started wondering if she could have gotten something else, or if I had assumed they were chigger bites when maybe they were some other kind of terrible insect (watching Stranger Things around this time was probably not great for my imagination). I also started googling symptoms of all the things that really scare me: lymphoma, leukemia, MRSA, meningitis...

The only thing that kept me from losing my mind with fear/worry is that she never ran another fever, and she never complained about the rash--never said it hurt or itched or tickled. She was completely unfazed even though I wanted to cry when I looked at her legs and bottom. It was the weirdest thing.

Monday morning, I called and spoke with a nurse. She thought maybe it could be HFM if I was seeing red spots on her feet, even though I explained that they didn't look like HFM when my other daughter had it. These spots weren't like blisters or scabs--they were more like bruises. She told me to give her Zyrtec for the bee sting and keep using the Mupirocin ointment and to call back Wednesday if things didn't improve.

Monday night when she took of her pants before the bath, I gasped. In addition to the bee sting area still being red and angry, she had red lines around her legs where the elastic of her socks or bottom of her leggings had been. This was NOT normal. We were coming up on three weeks from her last soccer practice, and while some bites seemed to have healed and faded, others were looking worse, and I just knew something else was going on.

Tuesday we were back at the doctor. This time David came with us because I was kind of freaking out. The doctor assured me that she wasn't contagious, it wasn't a flesh-eating bacteria, MRSA, or leprosy. But he said it was "very unusual." He referred us to a pediatric dermatologist and he didn't let us leave his office until his receptionist had called and set up an appointment for us on Thursday afternoon.

After leaving the doctor, I sent a photo of Zuzu's legs to my friend Erin, telling her I was freaking out and that we'd been referred to a specialist at Children's.

"That looks like a rash my sister had when she was little," Erin replied. "Allergic purpura."

I started googling.

It turns out that Allergic Purpura is now called Henoch-Schonlein Purpura. It's named after the two German doctors who discovered it, but "purpura" means small blood vessels are leaking into the skin. I read WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and the Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center website and just KNEW that's exactly what we were dealing with. All the pieces fit. She had every single symptom, though I realized that I had probably neglected to report her tummy ache or complaints about her legs hurting to our doctor. When he asked if she was complaining, I'd been so focused on the rash that I had kind of blown off her mild appetite loss and occasional whining about her legs hurting--poor little punkin!

Thursday afternoon, I took Zuzu to Children's Hospital and the dermatologist, three residents, a med student, and a nurse all gathered in the room to see her "classic presentation" of Henoch-Schonlein Purpura. The dermatologist also told me (unprompted) that our pediatrician "knows what HSP is" and "is an excellent physician" but that the bands around her ankles had thrown him off (which is also what freaked me out) so he wanted a second opinion.

It was a little funny when the first resident came in because I'd prepped Zuzu by telling her that the doctor was a woman; however, the resident who talked with us first was a tall Indian guy with a five-o'clock shadow. Zuzu did a quick double-take and then said to me loudly, "Mommy, is that a boy?" so I had to explain her confusion.

She was an awesome patient, letting them examine her and sitting quietly during my conversation with the doctors. I was really proud of her and how well behaved she was all afternoon.

So here's the thing: HSP is the inflammation of blood vessels that leak into the skin, causing what looks like a rash with yucky raised bumps, but they are actually under the skin rather than on the surface. The rash doesn't itch or hurt, but it can cause pain in joints and the gut as vessels leak there and cause swelling and lack of appetite. In some cases, it can cause kidney damage. There is no known cause for HSP. It's sometimes associated with upper-respiratory infections, but it has also been associated with vaccinations (specifically measles and chicken pox, both of which she had) AND insects bites. There's no recommended treatment, either. It usually lasts 4-6 weeks, but she could experience flare ups (including rash, achy legs, and loss of appetite) that may come and go for up to 6 months.

There are no known genetic causes (so Coco isn't more or less likely to get this) and no significant health issues to be concerned about in the future, except for this potential kidney damage. The dermatologist told me it was "quite rare" and then quoted "something like 10% of cases" which felt like a HUGE number to me, since I now face with the world with the understanding that the odds of anything bad happening to me or my family that are 1/160 or greater are basically guaranteed to occur.

My skewed logic aside, the doctors didn't seem too concerned about it since her appetite has improved and she hasn't had any sign of blood in her urine or anything like that. Still, we headed down to the lab to have blood work and a urinalysis.

I'd been to this lab at Children's hospital once before, when Coco was a teeny baby, and I felt the same way when I was there with her--terrified and also grateful. You see these parents there with kids who are visibly ill and although I haven't walked in those shoes, I can imagine the fear and the hope and the desire to learn everything you can but also to maybe protect yourself from knowing too much and being able to control so little.

Zuzu was a champ about her blood draw and made a really good effort to pee in a "hat" to collect her urine sample, but we ended up having to do it at home. My parents dropped off the specimen at the lab the next day.

Her blood tests have come back with everything in the normal range, and we see the pediatrician once more next week, at which time I hope we'll get the results of her urinalysis. The "rash" is already looking better, although her ankle was a bit swollen again Thursday night after she had a tumbling class.

I feel mostly relieved to have a clear diagnosis and thankful that it's not anything more serious. Of course, I've already run through the worst-case in my head (dialysis and kidney transplant), but it's been pretty easy not to dwell on that stuff because she feels/acts so normal 98% of the time. I'm now hyper aware of her complaints of a "stummy-ache," and she's catching on to that because she told me the other night that she had a "stumm-ache" and the only thing that would fix it was to eat chips for dinner.

Anyway, this HSP thing is also funny because most people have never heard of it, but I've also met three people who have known someone who had it (it mostly occurs in kids, but supposedly is more common in boys than girls). So I thought I'd put it out there (if you've made it all the way through this looooong post)--anyone know someone who has had HSP? My friend Erin's sister made a full recovery and had no further issues with it her whole life, so I hope that Zuzu is heading in that same direction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts at 7:47 pm on a Monday Night

Zu has a rash that's worrying me.

Coco is eager to pee on the potty and quick to help me clean up any mess (two qualities that her sister certainly did not share at age two), but she's just as quick to have a bone melting breakdown over something that is inexplicable to the rest of us.

I am home alone Monday nights while David is in class. We miss him. I tire of a dinner hour that sometimes feels like the girls bark orders disguised by a "pease, Mommy" tacked on the end, and I run circles in the kitchen, scrambling eggs, refilling milk, shooing the dog outside, reminding them to sit down, use a napkin, don't shout, ask nicely. Then I clean up the kitchen while they wreck another room of the house. Tonight it was the basement bathroom--they turned on the shower and soaked the floor (and themselves) trying to bathe some dolls. It's hard to be the only one here, but I also love it.

"Girls night!" Zu will say, as though we are going to do something different from any other weeknight. And there is something festive, somehow, in the rush of dinner and play and bath and brush and bed.

My favorite, though, (like so many parents) is bedtime. Both girls with me in the rocking chair. Reading books. Rocking. Singing. Both asleep on my lap. I breathe in the smell of their hair, the baby lotion that I love so much, the fruity toothpaste breath.

There's still laundry to fold, appointments to schedule, a guest bed to make up, towels to pick up off the bathroom floor. I should run the vacuum downstairs. But in this quiet moment, a fan whirring, Cooper snoring gently on the rug, the girls' warm bodies leaning on me, I just want to savor it. The quietness. The trust. Despite all my doubts and worries and fears, for this short sliver of time, I'm enough. I'm their comfort and their safe place as they drift off to sleep. It's such a gift and responsibility and it awes me still that I'm The Mom. That somehow all of this is mine.

And still the fear that if I hold it too tight, it just might slip away.

I spent a lot of hours with my therapist talking about how not to live a life in fear. Discussions of mindfulness and being in the moment. Controlling the fear. Believing that my paranoia won't protect me (or them), nor will it be a catalyst for tragedy. Even when things are troubling (this rash!), I am usually able to let logic beat terror.

As I worry about this rash, I try not to spin out into excessive anxiety. But I'm always aware that we are not exceptions to the rule of chance. It's a challenge every day to take that awareness of the great fragile gift of this life and treat it with joy instead of fear.

Being home alone forces me to be totally present, and it's exhausting but also exhilarating. 

I've always borrowed the line that I love my kids SO MUCH, but I love them 10% more when they are sleeping. And it's never truer than the nights I'm home alone, when our snuggles are extra long, their hugs and kisses extra sweet, the long list of chores pushed off a few more minutes. It won't be long until the three of us don't fit on one chair, until Zu is reading books to herself, until pajamas don't feature footies and zippers and Disney characters, until the smell of baby lotion isn't part of our evening ritual.

So I'm taking the mess, the water on the bathroom floor, the potty talk, the temper tantrums, and I'm doing my best NOT to live and appreciate every moment of the madness (impossible!), but to hold on to the pockets of quiet as the crucial reminders of how fleeting this is, and how incredibly, unbelievable precious and sweet these girls are--at least when they are sleeping.

Monday, September 26, 2016

So, This Is Us...

Have you watched this show on NBC? This Is Us? Warning: I'm about to PLOT SPOIL the hell out of the pilot, so you may not want to read further...

My friend Monica told me that it was really good, but that there was baby loss in the first episode, so I approached the show with caution. It's not that the story line scares me--at least, since I knew what was coming. But I was scared of how they would handle it. Would it be smoothed over? Would it be a story about silver linings? Would there be some saccharine moment that suggested "everything happened for a reason"? Alternatively, would the mother be portrayed as a grief monster? The oversimplification of any story line is pretty necessary for TV, so I just wondered how they would present this one.

Anyway, I'll tell you that I think they did it pretty well. I fast forwarded through a lot of hospital scenes, because the truth is that I don't like watching fake pregnant women have fake birth scenes in fake hospitals. It's just something I would prefer not to see.

The first time I watched it, I also fast forwarded through the scene where the doctor tells the dad that they lost a baby (I say "a baby" because you find out early on she's expecting triplets). But then Monica said that was the "best part" and after I got over my shock that she would describe the conversation that way, I realized that I was probably reading her tone wrong over text and she actually meant that the conversation was really important in terms of how the show was dealing with the issue of losing a baby during labor. So I went back and watched it.

Here's the clip:

(You can also watch the whole episode on

There are a lot of good things here. I love the doctor's compassion. The dad's bewilderment is heartbreaking.

Many of my baby-loss friends were like me in that their husbands were with them in the same room when they were told that their baby had died. I know a few people who found out at a routine appointment and had to call their husbands. But this scene makes me think of my friend Mark, and how he was the one who knew that his son Matthew had died before his wife (my friend Christine) woke from her emergency c-section.He, then, was the one who told her. (It probably goes without saying that I was bawling my eyes out while watching this, but I'm not calling it a grief-trigger because it didn't come out of no where. It's intended to be full of pathos, and I think it does what it sets out to do, which is not to dismiss the loss of a baby during pregnancy or labor.)

And, of course, I was especially appreciative that the doctor says that he thinks about his first child every single day (even though he's now an old man).

I will say that I'm not crazy about the lemonade analogy--it's tired and kind of trite, and I think they could have done better. But whatever. A lot of people say stuff like that, and at least he didn't act like things were "better" this way. And I can see how the analogy works, as most of us do go on to do the best we can to have lives that include plenty of sweet to accompany the bitter.

One of my friends mentioned that she thought it was all pretty well done, although the scene with the parents home from the hospital show them beaming with smiles over their living children instead of still wracked with sobs and crying their faces off. But it also shows the mom back to having a waist after presumably delivering triplets just a few days earlier, so true-to-life obviously isn't really happening here.

What does happen is a pretty good conversation about the way losing a baby changes your life, and about the way you try to make meaning out of that tragedy. My friend Caroline says that she thinks about how having her son Cale turned her life in a new direction and she has the family she has now because of him. I think that's true for many of us, and while that doesn't make their deaths any less devastating, it does speak to the impact of their brief lives and, hopefully, to the hugeness of that love.

Anyway, if you've seen the show, I'd love to know what you thought of it.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Right now...

Reading: I just posted about the books I'm currently reading here. This weekend I hope to get mostly through Dept. of Speculation.

Watching:  Stranger Things. I know everyone else has already seen it, but we are slow on the TV watching around here. It's so good! We are about halfway through and I want to watch all of it! I also want to watch this season of Survivor (Gen X vs. Millennials!) but haven't started it yet. Zuzu and Coco have been watching the occasional episode of old-school Mr. Rogers since I saw this TED Talk about kids and TV. It doesn't hold Coco's interest for long, which is totally fine with me.

Listening: I went to Minneapolis a couple of weekends ago and had the BEST time. I visited my friend Natalie, her husband Rob, and their adorable baby, Pete. Looking back, I realize that I should have done more to be helpful to Natalie (new mom and all of that), but she really seemed to have it together, and Pete is an easygoing baby, and so they just took me out to great restaurants and we did a bit of shopping and I learned how to play Settlers of Catan and I showered with Aveda hair products and didn't have to take care of anyone but myself, and it was basically a spa weekend. Except I held Pete a lot and missed Coco a lot and that literally made my boobs ache, which was kinda weird since I stopped breastfeeding Coco two months ago. ANYWAY, all this to say that Natalie and Rob took me to a fabulous bookstore in Minneapolis and I made an impulse purchase of a Roald Dahl audio book on CD: Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Animal Stories. So we have been listening to this in the car on the way to school and it. is. fabulous. The narrator is so great and obviously Roald Dahl is great. Some of it feels like it might be a bit beyond what the girls can follow (at least Coco) but they are both pretty riveted, and even I enjoy it.

Drinking: Hot tea today. I've come down with a cold--all the sinus drippiness and a sore throat. So unpleasant. I've been popping Cold Calm and drinking tea, but I'm so bummed because I'll have to miss book club tonight as my friend who is hosting it has a new baby and I am not about to be the one who introduces Baby's First Cold Germs at the start of Cold & Flu Season. So I'll be sitting at home with a hot towel on my face.

Eating: Just had a granola bar. Having a cold wipes out my appetite since I can't taste anything. Maybe I'll make a grilled cheese when I get home. Comfort food.

Wearing:  Jeans. It's Friday. But a sleeveless top because it's still 90 degrees here every day.

Loving:  My Ello travel mug from Target. I bought one with a cork bottom and I wish I would have grabbed another one when they went on sale. This one looks cute too. I'm really picky about travel coffee mugs. They must have a screw top (otherwise they leak) and they need to be stainless steel inside (plastic holds flavor and ceramic is for tea. That's just my rule, but I'm strict about following it.)

Anticipating: My brother and his wife, JoAnna, visiting us next week. They are driving back from Seattle to Pittsburgh and stopping in St. Louis for a few days. I'm really looking forward to seeing them.

Hoping: That Zuzu's bug bites clear up. So TWO and a half weeks ago when Zuzu retired from soccer, you may recall that she did so by running off the practice field through an unmowed field of grass and weeds at the park. I gave her a bath that night when she got home and noticed a couple bug bites on her legs. The next night a babysitter put her in pjs while we were at parents night at her preschool. Friday I gave her another bath and HOLY HELL her legs and bottom were covered in angry red bug bites, and there was a smattering on the back/elbow of both arms. I treated with Benadryl itch gel (though they didn't seem to bother her) and then when they got kind of scabby, I put Neosporin on them. The next Monday I pointed them out to the pediatrician at her check up and he agreed with the Neosporin treatment. But they didn't seem to be getting better. She started to look diseased. Some of the bites were getting bigger instead of smaller, and appeared to have bruises spreading from them. I was sending her to school in leggings to cover them up but her teachers were asking me about them, so I kept having to tell people, "I just took her to the doctor; he didn't seem to be concerned." But after a few more days of not getting any better, I called and spoke to a nurse. She suggested Zyrtec(oral allergy medicine) and a hydro-cortisone cream, so I tried that. It made no difference. So on Wednesday (at the two-week mark), I took her back to the doctor. He said it looked like a combination of an allergic reaction and a mild staph infection (cue freak out). He insisted (twice) that she does not have MRSA. He gave me a prescription for an antibiotic ointment, which (thankfully) seems to be taking care of the situation. If it weren't looking better, he was going to call in an oral antibiotic, but I think it's doing the trick, though I already had to call in for a refill because I've used up the entire tube in two days of spreading it all over her arms, legs, and bottom three times a day.

Following: Election numbers with a sick feeling in my stomach. (For the record: I'm with Her. And I have the car magnet to prove it.)

Wondering:  If I can get my kids to sleep by 7:30 and binge watch Stranger Things all night long.

Trying: New hair and make up products because Natalie convinced me to subscribe to Birch Box. She had all these awesome sample size products at her house! And she sent me home with some! And I wanted the excitement of a pretty package arriving in the mail each month! It's definitely an indulgence, but it's pretty fun.

Planning: Weekends for the next couple of months. I'm amazed at how quickly they are filling up, but with fun stuff to do (NOT preschool soccer games!). BBQs and out of town visitors and a trip to my parents' house and shows at the Fox. It feels busy but not too busy, which is pretty perfect.

Contemplating: When to give Zuzu the Halloween costume she's been asking for. She wants to be the Owlette character from the PJ Masks TV show. (So basically no one will have any idea who she is.) I ordered her wings and a mask from Etsy, and I have them hidden downstairs, but I know she will love playing with them so I plan to give them to her early. I just don't want her to lose interest weeks in advance. Coco is going to be Minnie Mouse for Halloween, although Zuzu keeps asking Coco if she wants to be Catboy (from PJ Masks) or a Rainbow Butterfly. I picked up her costume at a consignment shop. It's going to be adorable.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reading Lately

Even though it's sort of my job to read for a living, I confess that I can get bogged down with the day-to-day assignments (my students probably know the feeling!) and not spend nearly as much time as I would like reading for pleasure, or thinking about what I'm reading in relation to my own writing, or taking my own writing seriously, thinking about it as a craft instead of mere record-keeping.

I'm still not finding time to do as much reading as I would like, but I am making my way through a few different books at the moment that are fascinating in totally different ways.

One of them is Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. I checked this out from the library first and couldn't get all the way through it before someone else requested it. So I bought it used from because I didn't want to rush through it and it's the kind of book you can read in pieces because the chapters can stand alone. It's a book about parents and children that's particularly concerned with identity in the face of disability or disease or some kind of "otherness" that shapes the way the child and family function in our society. It's fascinating (and really long) and there are chapters on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, transgender, among other things. I like it because it's well researched (oodles of endnotes) and well written. Completely fascinating. I've just finished the chapter on dwarfs and I was especially struck by the idea that parents often take their child's diagnosis much harder than their children do--the children don't know any different, but it's the parents who set expectations for their child before that child is even born, and then have to adjust to a different kind of life.

Back in April when I flew to Colorado for my friend Monica's birthday, I actually talked to the person next to me on the airplane (basically the first time this has ever happened to me). He turned out to be a writer and journalist about my age, and he just came out with a new book: Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Believe me when I say that this is not a subject in which I expected to be very interested, and also believe me when I say that I did not want to put the book down last night to go to bed. Ben gave a reading last night at Left Bank Books, so I bought that book and Teddy Wayne's new novel, Loner. He's giving a reading at Left Bank on Monday, but David has class so I'll be at home with the girls and won't be able to attend the reading.

A friend of mine gave me an unexpected birthday gift of $20 to Amazon and I used it to buy Krista Tippett's book Becoming Wise. I like her podcast On Being (her voice is so soothing!) and I'm excited to get further into this book.

I'm realizing that most of these are nonfiction, which is kind of weird for me. I guess I go in spurts. I just recently finished listening to the novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff which was fantastic (I listen to library books through the Overdrive app on my phone). I wasn't sure I wanted to read it (the synopsis I heard was like "story of a marriage, a husband and wife who don't know each other as well as they think" or something like that, which made it sound meh), but even better than the plot was the writing--the word choices and descriptions were just fantastic, so original and unexpected and exactly precise. It had me looking forward to my commute for over two weeks.

As far as what the girls are reading, Zuzu has started getting really into writing letters. She writes random letters (and sometimes just squiggles) and then wants to know what it says. (Um, oooeeeiioo?" and one of her favorite books to "help" me read is Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom. Coco likes it, too, and is adorable about singing the alphabet at the end. We're also still reading a lot of Baby Listens (I love the illustrations). Zuzu has recently gotten into Mo Willems--she finds that naughty pigeon so appealing and cracks up laughing when we read The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!. I remember reading her Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus from a library book when she was about Coco's age and thinking that it did not live up to the hype, but maybe she was just too young for it. Now she gets so much pleasure from reading these books that I guess I see why Mo Willems is so popular with the preschool set.

Another book we've been reading lately is Hajime in the North Woods, which I bought used at a thrift shop and can't find on Amazon (I don't know why the cover shot looks like that--it has lovely pictures in real life, though our thrift store copy is missing the dust jacket). It's about a baby who understands the animals and visits them in the woods but then wants to go home to his mommy and daddy. The baby cries until the animals take him back home, and Coco is so interested in the pictures of the crying baby. It's beautifully illustrated, and she read it by herself last night, basically just acting out the crying parts "wah! wah!" while turning the pages.

So, that's what I'm reading now. My book club is discussing The Girl on the Train tomorrow night, which I read a while back, and my next novel up is Dept. of Speculation.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

This Week

I have been finding it difficult to get posts written. Insert all the usual excuses... I'm tired. I'm working a lot. I'm trying to be present with my kids except when they are just whining incessantly and then I hide from them using the excuse of folding or putting away laundry and read other people's blogs on my phone. Just being honest. At any rate, I'm going to write something and then go to bed.

Highlights of this week... (And by highlights, I also mean memorable low points).

Zu got chiggers the day she stomped off the soccer field and ran through unmowed grass in the park. We went home and I put her in a bath right away, but she basically got eaten alive. She still has bites all over her legs and bottom. It looks like measles or something. She hasn't been especially itchy (considering how bad they look) and doesn't complain about it. Still, it looks horrifying. I've been putting neosporin on it after bath (our pediatrician approved when I asked him about it) to try to get the bite/sores to heal faster.

Mornings have been rough. I've accepted that I need to shower at night to save my sanity, but it's still hard to get the three of us out the door with the dog still inside. Just when I think we are ready, I turn around and find Coco has removed her shoes and socks (which she insists on putting on herself, as it's a current focus in the Toddler House) and is wearing Zuzu's flip flops, so we have to start the sock/shoe process all over. Or I lock the door only to realize Coco let Cooper out and he's smiling at me from the yard. The other day Coco spilled a cup of milk as I was trying to clean up breakfast dishes and then pooped her pants as we were walking out to leave. Monday morning she fell down on the way to the car and scraped her knee so it was bleeding and required clean up and a bandaid and lots of TLC. I try to build some cushion into our mornings because I don't want to spend the whole time saying, "Hurry up, girls! We're going to be late!" but some days just go smoother than others, and we had a week full of "others" this week.

I'm still making Zu choose outfits the night before--right now I'm making her wear leggings to cover the horror of her bug bites--and her choices still drive me batshit crazy sometimes (it's not that I don't like the dresses she chooses to wear, it's that I love so many she won't wear, and I've resorted to putting some of her favorites up out of sight so she'll wear a more even rotation).

In other news, I called my mom one evening this week, and as we were talking, I remarked, "I think my couch smells like pee." Then I turned over a pillow and discovered a huge pee stain on it. WTF. I'm blaming Cooper only because I think Coco would have cheerfully announced it to me.

Coco has peed on the potty at home a couple of times this week. When I suggest she pee on the potty at school, she says, "NO! Mommy!" which I guess means she only likes to pee on the potty when I am there to observe. She continues to delight in her self-appointed role as Pee-Pee Concierge, for which she accompanies us to the bathroom, stares intently as we do our business, hands us a handful of toilet paper, congratulated us on a job completed, and then insists on flushing the toilet for us. I can barely remember how to use the bathroom without an assistant.

Zuzu has memorized Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and I love reading it out loud with her reciting along with me. We always sing the alphabet song at the end, and last night she suggested that instead of saying, "Next time won't you sing with me" we sing, "I'll beat you to the top of the coconut tree!" So we did. "Wasn't that a good idea?" she said. So proud of herself. Coco is a creature of habit and right now wants the same three books each night: Chicka Chicka Boom BoomThe Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Baby Listens. Zuzu corrects me when I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar because she insists the plums that he eats on Wednesday are actually blueberries. The picture does kind of look like blueberries, but the book says plums. It's an ongoing dispute.

Coco, according to teachers and her own report at the end of each day, LOVES school. She grins so big when I name her friends and ask if she played with them. She says, "YESSSSSTH" when I ask if she loves her teachers. She tells me every morning she wants to go to school and she affirms that she's going to have a good day. She walks cheerfully to the toddler house, holding my hand. And then suddenly, right on the threshold, she realizes I'm going to say goodbye and she starts clinging to my leg and saying, "Uppa, Mommy! Uppa!" Then when I kneel down to hug her, she starts sobbing into my shoulder. It is the WORST. I believe her teachers when they tell me that it's just that transitional moment and that it's probably harder on me than her, but holy moly. We're in the fourth week here, and I need to be able to walk to the car without my heart bleeding.

Took the girls to the pediatrician on Monday for their well-visits for turning four and turning two (a few months late for Zuzu, but I wanted to take them at the same time, and then when I called at the end of JULY to schedule these for what I assumed would be mid-August, they couldn't get me in until mid-September, so I made appointments for a Friday afternoon at 3:30 and then got rescheduled for a Monday afternoon at 2:30, which meant smack dab in the middle of nap time--much to Zuzu's delight). Coco did better than usual (she typically cries the moment she lays eyes on the poor nurse), but it was the first time I'd taken both girls in at the same time and I found it very difficult because neither of them wanted to stop talking while I was trying to talk to the doctor.

They went ahead and gave them their flu shots, so Coco had to get two vaccinations and Zuzu had to get FOUR! Poor little noodle. She's my brave one with the high pain tolerance, and she only cried a little bit, but she seemed so shocked, "She's poking me!" They were delighted with the smattering of bandaids they received, and when I asked if Zuzu wanted an ice cream treat, she just wanted stickers and to go home and play with the little boy across the street. So that's what we did.

Tuesday seemed to go fine, though she was exhausted after school and later complained her stomach hurt. I thought she was constipated and that seemed to resolve itself Wednesday morning, so off we went to school (that was the spilled milk + poopy diaper morning) but then David called me at lunch to ask me if I'd gotten the voice mail from the girls' school (I'd missed it because I was teaching and then went immediately to a meeting). Zuzu had a fever. I was finished with class for the day, so I canceled my office hours and picked up the girls. Zu was indeed a sad little droopy version of herself, so I spent the afternoon babying her and feeding her popsicles and letting her sleep on my lap on the couch.

Of course I was wondering if this was a virus or if it was a reaction to the vaccinations, and then there was a tiny part of me that was suddenly seized with the fear that she could somehow have contracted polio from the polio vaccination like it was 1950. Fortunately, once I got some Motrin in her and her fever broke, she felt so much better, and since she'd literally napped for about five hours over the course of the day, she was up until 10:00pm. David stayed home with her today, and she was not quite herself in terms of energy levels, but certainly doing much better.

Since Zuzu has been sick and droopy, Coco has been eager for attention, and kept yelling at me tonight to watch her sit on the arm of the sofa and then tip over onto the cushion. Over and over again. "Is dat funny?" she would ask each time. She's also super jealous of a bug bite on Zuzu's inner elbow crease that is gross and requires a bandaid, and so Coco demands a bandaid for the mostly healed scab on her knee.

So that's what's happening around here this week. Thanks for the nice comments on the soccer post. The coach e-mailed me back and was very nice about Zuzu's retirement and said it's better to wait and not force her to play, so we shall see how things go. She's going to start a tumbling class in a couple of weeks, and I'm going to start working out with a student personal trainer again! Should be awkward.

P.S. Looks like a busy September is par for the course around here. Here's what was happening last year around this time.
And this was just two years ago--home on maternity leave with squishy baby Coco and Zuzu the two-year-old--yikes!
Three years ago, I was contemplating a return to Facebook. Still haven't done it!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Soccer Season

Well, friends. Soccer season has officially ended at our house. Three practices, zero games, and Zuzu has declared herself absolutely finished.

David took her to the first practice and (according to him) she basically half-assed all of it. I gave her lots of pep talks before week two, and took her to practice, and it seemed to go much better (thanks in large part to the mom/coach who held her hand and gave her lots of special attention). She had told me she wasn't sure she wanted to go back because she felt "shy of everybody" but she ended up having fun. Coach was intense, but at least she participated and seemed like she was having a good time.

This last practice was rough, though. David didn't give her a snack on the way there (I still maintain that was the fatal flaw) and she was put in the group with the dad coach first instead of the mom coach and he didn't know her name and she would only whisper it so he couldn't hear her and she wouldn't listen and she didn't want to kick the ball and kept wandering off the field and saying, "Mom, I need to tell you something" but actually had nothing to tell me except vague whining or complaints.

Exasperated, I told her (through clenched teeth) to get back on the field and listen to Coach.

She stomped her foot, but turned around and headed for the soccer field. I felt the quiet satisfaction of a parent whose child listens to her. And then she kept going. And going. Off the field on the other side. All the way across the park. Toward the racquetball courts and playground.

We watched her for a moment, and I could feel the other parents behind us shifting, watching, wondering how long we would wait before going after her. I was silently pleading for her to turn around and come back, but I knew that this was Zuzu and this girl gave zero f*cks about whether we were following behind her or not.

I also knew, deep in my gut, that this was the last soccer practice we would be attending this year.

David and I kept looking at each other and looking at her little braided pig tails getting farther and farther away. Finally I said to David, "I think you'd better go after her."

He told me to meet him at home and then took off, walking quickly through the park. Zu was already a hundred yards away. I gathered up our blanket and water bottles and Coco and her toys and then grabbed the snack sign-up sheet and hastily scratched out our name. Pretty confident that the Duckworths will not be bringing snacks to the game in mid-October.

Not embarrassing AT ALL, right?

She got home and we talked about how you can't just freaking take off and run away from everyone when you are upset. And then she asked for an ice cream cone and I said, very calmly but firmly, "Absolutely not. When you don't listen to your coach and you run away from your parents, you don't get special treats."

To my mind, I sounded like a reasonable, though mildly frustrated parent.

To Zuzu, I might as well have obliterated all the hopes and dreams she had in life. Because she COMPLETELY lost her shit. Screaming, crying, and then running into the living room and deliberately throwing three bins of toys off the living room shelves in her fury.

That earned her a trip upstairs to her room so she could think about the consequences of her actions, which resulted in similar destruction upstairs--books flung off shelves, blankets ripped off the bed, dirty clothes strewn everywhere. And SCREAMING. SO. MUCH. SCREAMING.

David and I tried to stay calm and kept trading off and taking turns with her as we tried (unsuccessfully) to calm her without giving in to her demands. She just kept SCREAMING and demanding things (raspberries, ice cream cones, and milk) and instead I would offer the rest of her dinner and water (she'd already finished her milk), but that only made her angrier.

We got home at six o'clock and she raged until after 8pm. I am not exaggerating. I thought for sure she would wear herself out and be asleep by seven. But that was not the case.

And as much as she was driving me crazy and making me angry, she was also breaking my heart. She was SO upset and I didn't know how much of it was maybe from feeling nervous or uncomfortable or out of place at soccer practice, or exhausted from school, and I felt like a bad parent for putting her in soccer to begin with.

I mean, it's four-year-old soccer. I don't care if she plays or not. I thought she might enjoy running around and kicking the ball, but really I just hoped that she'd make some more friends in the neighborhood and have fun being outside. Well... obviously that didn't pan out.

I just want her to be okay. I want her to be happy and have fun, but I also want her to not be afraid to try hard things or new things. I don't need her to be extremely outgoing or popular, but I do want her to feel safe and secure and confident. I want her to make friends easily and to be assertive. But she didn't seem to feel confident at soccer practice, and that worried me.

Unless maybe she was just hot and tired and bored, which... who could blame her? I mean, I was hot and tired and bored and I was just watching.

So in the aftermath of her temper tantrum, as she's finally dozing off and whispers, "I love you, Mommy," I just started crying. Why didn't she have fun? Did we not prepare her enough? Should we have introduced soccer earlier at home? Am I not doing enough to facilitate neighborhood friendships? What am I doing wrong that is preventing her from enjoying soccer? How am I failing her as a parent now that will have a devastating impact on her future?

I'm THAT parent, overextending my child in extracurriculars, even though I know kids need down time and playtime and time to just be kids. And maybe she's not getting enough sleep at night because I have to get her up early for school. And if I were a stay at home mom, then she wouldn't be exhausted from a day at school, and she'd want to go to soccer practice... So basically all my life choices are terrible.

And of course once I started spinning into hypotheticals, I couldn't help but start thinking about how different her life would be if she were the little/middle sister instead of the big sister. If she'd watched Eliza play soccer last year, she'd be so excited to play herself this year. And she wouldn't feel shy around the other kids, because her big sister would help her out. And she'd know more kids because I wouldn't feel a brick in my stomach every time I met someone whose daughter started kindergarten this year, or who has three living daughters. (Oh, hello Anxiety, meet your close friend, Grief.)

I kept coming back to worrying about her confidence, and I was trying to figure out why she is perfectly comfortable chatting with strangers at a party of all adults from my work, and yet she won't talk to other four-year-olds playing soccer with her. Is it because we don't do enough play dates with other families? Most of my close friends with kids live way out in the county and I feel like we're busy enough as it is, but maybe I should be doing more to socialize her besides sending her to preschool?

And somehow I got from preschool to freaking out about where she'll go to grade school (we still haven't made a final decision on that), and then suddenly I was SOBBING and telling David that I'm so scared she'll have an eating disorder and cut herself and we won't be able to prevent it or to help her.

David was not quite sure how I got from Zuzu quitting soccer to Zuzu becoming an anorexic cutter, but I swear it didn't feel like that big of a leap.

Anyway, I'm trying to have a better perspective on it now. Yes, we're out the fee to play and the cost of a pair of cleats and a pair of shin guards and cute soccer socks. But our Saturdays are free again!

(Okay, fine. If I'm being really honest, there's a little part of me that is still embarrassed about the way it all went down in front of the other parents--especially having to grab the Sharpie and scratch her name of the snack list before doing the walk of shame up to my car. Coco wouldn't even hold my hand: "No! I wok!" But since we never do neighborhood playdates anyway, I guess I won't have to face them again any time soon...)

Zuzu is asking us when she can start gymnastics again, so maybe she's just not going to be into team sports. She loves swimming and gymnastics, and she's obviously more comfortable with a smaller kid-to-coach ratio, so maybe soccer just isn't her thing. I had zero interest in playing team sports when I was a kid, and I'm a somewhat well-adjusted adult (emphasis on somewhat).

ALSO she's only four. Maybe she'll want to try soccer again when she's six or seven.

And if this is our only soccer season? It's not a straight shot from dropping out of preschool soccer to dropping out of school and buying drugs on the street, right?

I know it's not a direct correlation, but when she has a fit like she did this week and I can't figure out how to fix it, it's hard to imagine how I'll be better able to cope with bigger problems than not having an ice cream cone after dinner. I want her to maintain her independent streak; I really do. But I also want her to know that, no matter what, I am always, always on her team.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coco's Picnic Party

We had a birthday party for Coco in my hometown, a week belated. We wanted to celebrate with family, and this location allowed for the most people to attend, plus it's already a birthday treat to get to go to Grammy and Bops's house, right?

Of course, we celebrated Coco on her actual birthday as well. Although Zuzu and her friends were blown away by the extra-posh and professional Frozen cake she had at her party, Coco seemed equally impressed by the "Mermaid cake" that Zuzu and David made and decorated together.

Instructions for a mermaid cake:
Ingredients: yellow cake mix, white frosting, blue glitter sprinkles
Directions: follow directions on box of cake mix. Top with frosting. Accept that there's not really enough frosting and pretend the "naked cake" look is deliberate. Allow preschooler to liberally sprinkle blue glitter sprinkles over cake. Top with two plastic mermaid dolls, taken straight out of the swimming pool bag (extra points if you rinse the chlorine off first, but I can tell you from experience it's not required).
Add candles dipped at Silver Dollar City.

Coco opened gifts from us--mermaid dolls and back pack that was immediately purloined by her sister, who insisted that Coco actually wanted to trade her new butterfly backpack for Zuzu's hand-me-down owl backpack. Coco seemed fine with it, and also with sharing the mermaids, so I just let it roll.

And then we headed to my parents' and celebrated with a picnic at the park--the same park was Coco was baptized, but a different pavilion. This one was up on the hill close to the playground (and away from the alarming amount of goose poop down by the lake).

We put together a basic picnic spread--ham and cheese sandwiches, baked beans, chips, potato salad, watermelon, coleslaw, and my Aunt Dottie (pictured below talking to her brother, my Papa) brought her amazing pistachio salad. I thought I was super organized (I even had made sticker food labels!), but I managed to get to the park without silverware. Fortunately, our friend Johnny saved the day with a quick run to the store and we ate the finger foods course and then the silverware course because our picnic was super fancy like that.

We completely lucked out on the weather--for some reason, that weekend in August turned out to be a respite from the heat and we had cool breezes and low humidity. The breezes were actually so intense that I couldn't put up some of the decorations I'd brought because they just got blown around, and I had to tape the cute food labels to the plastic table cloths to keep them from blowing away, but it was still preferable to muggy stillness and it kept the bugs away.

The girls had so much fun with their cousins and friends, and I realized how independent they are becoming--Coco was the youngest of the bunch, and everyone else could play and climb with minimal adult supervision.

I borrowed a cake pan that a friend of mine had bought for her niece's second birthday, and whipped up a super adorable #2 cake (with a mix and store bought frosting). It was too windy to light the candles, but Coco didn't seem to mind and was happy to pantomime blowing them out while we sang "Happy Birthday."

It was a sweet celebration for a sweet little girl, and while I do feel a pang of not having a baby-baby anymore, it's been delightful to see her vocabulary explode and her personality assert itself more and more. She says "I love you, Mommy" now, which just slays me every time. (Particularly if she is saying it through tears as I drop her off at school and then I have to walk to my car with my heart bleeding, waiting for her teacher to text me a photo of Coco five minutes later having a great time with her friends).

The day after the party we hit the pool and Coco proved that she can keep up with her big sis when it comes to be tossed in the air.

All the cliches about days and years and blinks of eyes are so true, and I'm planning to rock this baby before bed every single night from now until forever.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I've used cornstarch for two important and bizarre projects in recent weeks.

The first was preparation for Zuzu's birthday party. I made "Magic Snow." This calls for two 16 oz packages of cornstarch plus one can of shaving cream and a generous helping of glitter. (I quadrupled the recipe for tons of Frozen fun, but mixed it up one section at a time).

I found that it worked best when I layered it in a big plastic mixing bowl or bucket. Put in cornstarch, add a layer of shaving cream, repeat. Then mix it all up with your hands in a big bowl--it feels cold and powdery at the same time. I'm not someone who loves sticky stuff on my hands, but I didn't have any trouble mixing this stuff. You'll want to store in a gallon ziplock in the freezer (mine sat for over a week while we were on vacation), and presto! Fill your water table (or a plastic bin) with magic snow and Frozen figurines!

It is messy, though, so I'd definitely recommend doing it outside. If you had just one or two kids playing (and they weren't prone to snowball fights), you could do it inside on tile or linoleum, or on some kind of tarp or cover. I put the water table on top of a plastic tablecloth because I'm not sure that cornstarch and shaving cream is good for grass (or vacuums?).

The second use of cornstarch was for an unexpected dilemma. I'd been home with the girls all day and was relieved when David got home from work. He was downstairs (presumably keeping an eye on the kids) and I was on the phone with my mom upstairs. I'd already gotten the girls bathed and in their pajamas, and I was  irritated when I heard Coco crying as she walked in the door to our bedroom because I am sometimes a heartless monster who just wants David to deal with her issues. Anyway, she walked into my room crying and saying, "Eyes! Eyes!" and that's when I looked at her and realized that she had vaseline smeared all over her face (including her eyes) and all over her hair.

So then I did what any not-really-heartless mother would do--I quickly wiped it out of her eyes and then took a photo.

She had NOT been downstairs being supervised by her father. Instead, she had been unsupervised in her nursery, where she climbed up on the changing table, grabbed a tub of vaseline, and proceeded to smear it all over her head and face.

(Sidebar: We used to have a shelf above the changing table on which we stored lotion, diaper cream, nail clippers, and various other baby accessories, including a rarely-used tub of vaseline. That shelf has since been removed, as nothing up there was safe and it seemed to only encourage climbing.)

(Sidebar #2: I have NO EARTHLY IDEA why she would decide to smear vaseline all over her head and face. I mean WHO DOES THAT?)

She did not appreciate my photo documentation.

Anyway, this vaseline issue was a huge conundrum. I mean, you can't just rinse this out! After I wiped her face a little more thoroughly, I gave the sad baby a binky and googled "How to get vaseline out of hair." (Also? I'm grateful that she is still a little sparse in the hair department because a full head of hair coated in vaseline would have been even messier.)

Given the title of this post, you probably saw this coming, but the solution to vaseline in the hair? Cornstarch. I ran down to the kitchen, grabbed our can from the cupboard, ran back upstairs, stripped Coco down and put her in the tub, and then applied a liberal sprinkling of cornstarch.

It had the added benefit of making her look like she was in a stage production playing an old person--brought back fond memories of my sixth grade production of A Christmas Carol.

let the cornstarch sit for a minute, then I shampooed as usual. Her hair still felt a little gunky/greasy , so I did it again.

Then I used shampoo one more time. (The water was still beading up on her face and arms where she had rubbed the vaseline, but her hair seemed mostly clean.)

The next day, her hair was a little bit greasy, but after we went swimming, the chlorine water seemed to take care of any residual vaseline.

So, there you have it! Two excellent reasons to stock up on cornstarch.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Back to School Brain Dump

Well, last week happened. Faculty meetings for me started on Monday. School for the girls (4 year old preschool for Zuzers, Toddler House for Coco) started on Wednesday.

You may notice there is a problematic two-day gap between Monday and Wednesday in regard to child supervision, especially as David's school started a week earlier. Fortunately, my parents saved us by having my dad come to St. Louis with us on Sunday and then my mom drove up on Monday to meet him. This meant that my dad was Home Alone with both girls all day Monday, which was a long day for everyone (except Coco, who took a two and a half hour nap).

When I walked in the door and greeted Zuzu and asked if she'd been a good listener for Bops, she said, "A little. Not really."

SO. There you have it. My dad was really glad to see my mom when she arrived Monday afternoon, and relieved to have some back-up on Tuesday, I'm sure.

Coco's first day of school was hard on my heart.

It started when there was another set of parents tearing themselves away from a little boy who was crying. I'm kind of a contagious crier, so seeing him cry made me want to cry. And then Coco started crying and calling "Mommy! Mommy!" and I started crying as I walked out the door. And then I couldn't stop.

I cried walking to my car, I cried the entire way to work, I cried on the phone with David. I texted me coworker to warn her that I was a mess and I tried to pull myself together as I walked into the building, but she gave me a hug when she saw me and I cried again. I'd go to a meeting and keep it together, but then I would get a picture from Coco's teachers of her playing happily), though the first one I could see her wet eyelashes and pouty lip, which made me sob hysterically in my office) or of her napping peacefully, and I'd lose it and cry again. It was brutal. I was ready to quit my job and home school them forever except that actually I was really excited to be back at work. So conflicted.

Anyway, I think a lot of it was complicated by that quiet nagging grief of starting preschool and toddler house and nobody starting kindergarten. This has been a slow, creeping feeling. There was no major trigger. I didn't love seeing back to school kindergarten pics on Instagram, but they didn't feel like a knife to the heart, either. There wasn't One Day when everything felt terrible. Except, I guess, for last Wednesday, when I cried all morning. It felt like I was crying about Coco, but I think it was more than that. By lunch time I had managed to stop sniffling, but I had to take ibuprofen for my crying-hangover headache in the afternoon because my essential oils were not cutting it.

Coco is still not thrilled to be dropped off at school, but she likes her teachers and they promise me that her tears dry very quickly. In pictures, she's always looking happy or focused, raking the yard or coloring or playing in the sandbox or washing her hands. When I ask her at home if she had fun at school, she always responds very enthusiastically, "Uh-huh!" so it's just that initial moment of separation that SHREDS MY HEART on a daily basis.

Zuzu, on the other hand, has had a seamless transition in terms of drop-off. A hug, a kiss, a see-ya-later, got-stuff-to-do. When we went to an ice cream social for parents at the school on Friday afternoon, Zuzu didn't even hang out with us. She was super excited to see us, but then went off to hang out with her friends who were also too cool for their parents. But it warmed my heart on Friday morning to see her run over to the toddler house playground (with her bestie) to comfort Coco when I was leaving. Coco quit crying when she saw Zuzu, so I'm really happy they are at the same place.

Both girls have been pretty worn out and tired from the new transition (David and me, too!) so Coco goes to bed easily and Zuzu gets tantrumy in the evenings (charming). The other night she demanded something and said, "If you don't do this, I'm going to BREAK ALL YOUR THINGS!"

(She talks to her dolls A LOT about "consequences," which is pretty reflective of how often we're having those conversations at home.)

We also have hit the wall on what Zuzu wears.

Now, here's the thing. I LOVE dressing my kids. I love picking out their clothes. I love seeing them in cute outfits. I think that part of it is just that I happen to enjoy clothes, but part of it also is that since I'm not with my kids all day, I want the people who are with them to see that they are loved and well cared for and the only way I know how to do that is by dressing them in matching outfits and brushing their hair. They may be stained and ratty and tangled by the end of the day, but they at least they start the day looking like someone cares about them.

(Sidenote: I totally realize that no one is actually judging me if my kids are dressed like ragamuffins because people understand stubborn toddlers and preschoolers, and I certainly am not judging people whose kids clearly are picking out their own clothes, but it still makes me feel better when they are wearing cute outfits.)

I am willing to work with what Zuzu wants (mostly dresses, the softer and twirlier the better). But I like to give her two options and have her choose. This worked pretty well last year. This year, though, she'll say, "No, I'll show you what I am going to wear." And she'll go to the closet and pull out something else. This results in me hiding a lot of clothes, but I can only do so much. She has adorable shorts outfits that I'm begging/bribing/manipulating her to wear, but she's not having it. Today she insisted on wearing a ratty pair of leggings with her new favorite t-shirt (a rainbow shirt from Target) even though it's going to be 85 degrees today and I tried to convince her to wear shorts. So I guess she dresses herself now and I just learn how to roll with it and be flexible. Insert gritted-teeth emoji.

Also? Yesterday I asked if she wanted an orange with lunch. "I'm not really into oranges anymore, Mommy."

Transitions are always rough, so I'm reminding myself that we'll find our footing next week. Or at least by midsemester. In the meantime, lots of after-school snuggles and early bedtimes for everyone.