Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Daze

I wanted to take a minute to write about what a "typical" day looks like this summer. We've had our moments, but I'm already starting to view this summer with dewy-eyed nostalgia when I think about the school year starting. So here's just a quick record of how we've been spending our time...

The girls demand breakfast upon waking. We've been eating a lot of frozen waffles, but they aren't crazy about syrup (and I don't usually offer it) so they like topping waffles with yogurt. They get fruit on the side and they drink milk. These kids are going through so much milk--I told David we might as well start buying two gallons a week. I'm still giving them organic Vitamin D whole milk instead of 2%. Nobody else drinks milk in our family and they seem to burn through the extra calories, so I've just kept buying it. Is there any reason I should switch?

If they don't have waffles, they're big fans of silver dollar pancakes (I buy the premade frozen ones because I can only do so much kitchen clean up every day until I start feeling resentful) (also topped with yogurt) and sometimes a bagel with cream cheese or apple cinnamon oatmeal. Always banana or berries on the side.

I generally try to plan some kind of outing for the morning. The girls are most suitable for public consumption between 9am and 11am, so if I need to run errands, that's when it happens. Mornings might take us to the library, Goodwill, the grocery store, or, like yesterday, to the chiropractor (yay for kid-friendly!) and then a quick stop at a friend's house to drop off baby girl clothes.

If I don't have a plan for the morning, the girls are usually good about entertaining themselves and playing together--some version of "family" or superheroes or some other game that involves Zuzu urgently shouting, "Coco, quickly!" and Coco repeatedly informing her that her baby is "coooold" until she can be wrapped in a cloth dinner napkin.

Lunch comes early for us, no matter what time they eat breakfast. They want lunch by 11:30 am most days. I usually keep it simple--leftovers from the night before, frozen meatballs, pasta, hummus and naan, and then fruit on the side and (on a good day) veggies. Steamed broccoli is their favorite, though they will nibble on raw baby carrots.

We've gotten in a routine of letting them watch a show together after lunch. Coco loudly requests "Pig!" and Peppa Pig is the first show (aside from Sesame Street) in which she's ever shown any interest. Peppa's episodes are 10 minutes long, so they watch one (or maybe two) of those while I'm picking up the kitchen and finishing my own lunch, and maybe sitting down to check e-mail on my phone.

Then it's time for Coco's nap. I remember Zuzu at this age, and how she fought me at nap time and I had to read book after book and then physically hold her on my lap, rocking her until she finally gave in to exhaustion and slept for a bit. Coco is not nearly that difficult. We read three books (right now she's obsessed with Green Hat, Red Hat which she calls "Haht! Haht!" and Moo, Baa, Lalala, and Baby Listens. She also loves Busy Chickens, but it migrated downstairs, so out of sight out of mind, at least for the moment. After we read, I ask her if she wants to rock or go to bed. She usually says "Rock" and then snuggles up against me and closes her eyes. I wonder if I should keep rocking her to sleep with school getting ready to start, but she dozes off so quickly and it's such a sweet part of my day that I'm reluctant to stop! Sometimes she'll be restless and then I lay her in her crib and rub her back for a few minutes and she goes to sleep that way.

While I'm putting Coco down, I let Zuzu watch a show. She has graduated out of Mickey Mouse's [Godforsaken] Clubhouse, you guys! I never thought it would happen, but I feel a little sad that Mickey and his inane foibles are no longer on regular viewing around here! She's moved on to this Nick Jr. show called PJ Masks which, from what I can tell, is about three kids who put on pajamas with masks that then turn them into kid super heroes so they can fight kid bad guys. Zuzu pronounces the show "PJ Masquez," which I initially found very confusing, but the theme song does sound a little bit like that when they sing, "PJ Masks! PJ Masks!" The girl character is Owlette, and Zuzu is a big fan so now when she's acting out the show, she's usually Owlette and Coco is Cat Boy.

The only problem with PJ Masks is that Zuzu's interest in it is so INTENSE that when it's time to turn off the show after 30 minutes, she can't even handle life. We've had screaming fits that are so bad it's made me consider not allowing any TV at all whatsoever. I know it's because she's also tired and resisting nap, but the battle is problematic. I found a bit of a workaround by setting the sleep timer on the TV. No negotiations--I may even be downstairs folding laundry or something and the TV shuts off so that it can "recharge."

She'll ask me periodically through the afternoon if she can watch a show, but I am pretty firm on limiting her (David is much more lax about TV, and I could write a whole post about this and how I resented my parents for limiting my TV so much and also not getting the Disney channel when ALL OF MY FRIENDS got to watch Avonlea in middle school, but now I don't want my kids watching much TV whereas David got a lot of unlimited access to TV and seems to think it's fine for Zuzu to watch more than I what I would allow...).

After PJ Masks we sit down at the dining room table to do some "work." She has a preschool workbook with the alphabet, so we do a few pages each day and then I have her practice writing her name. I'd really like her to be writing it independently when she goes back to school, but I'm not sure that will happen... I also taught her to do all lower case letters except for the E, and I have no idea why. Anyway, as much as I love her Montessori curriculum, I've just felt compelled to have her work on some traditional alphabet stuff, and I need to pick up a math workbook so I can morph into a hardcore Tiger Mother.

After working, we color or play a game or read books or do puzzles. Sometimes she'll play independently, but never if I actually wish that she would!

Coco usually wakes up around 2:30 or 3:00, and wants a snack immediately. If I don't have a clear plan for the afternoon, I almost always regret it. They are pretty good about running errands at this time if we didn't make it out earlier, so we've done some afternoon grocery runs and yesterday went to Home Depot for spray paint. Every afternoon finds us eating popsicles (their favorites are frozen yogurt tubes) on the front porch so that Zuzu can stalk the neighbor kid and see if he's home.

We have gone to the swimming pool more often than I expected this summer. It's so kid-friendly that I've felt okay about taking both girls by myself since Zuzu can touch in almost all of the pool and Coco is not as bold as her sister. It's even better if we meet up with my neighbor and her two kids because two moms with four kids is much easier than one mom with two kids.

If we don't go to the pool, they play together at home and trash either the living room or the backroom or the basement. I try to keep the chaos confined to one room for my sanity. They also get pretty fighty in the afternoon, mostly because Zuzu would benefit from a nap herself.

My big parenting tip is to keep a bag of popcorn in the car. I buy the sea salt kind (already popped) in whatever brand is on sale and keep the bag and two little plastic bowls in the console of my car. It's the perfect snack when they are whiney at any point during the day. They always want popcorn at the pool, but when they start asking for it, I know that it's time to head out, so I get them out to the car with the promise of popcorn (and I've been known to grab a handful or two from time to time).

We usually can't hold off on dinner until David gets home, so I fix something simple for the girls. I keep thinking we need to be better about family dinner but right now it just feels too hard, so I'm just accepting this phase of life for what it is.

And what it is is usually scrambled eggs at five o'clock.

Then it's a countdown until David gets home! If it's not so hot and swampy, we try to take a walk or play outside when he gets home, but a lot of times he's not home until after 6:00 now, and the last couple of nights they've already been in the tub.

After bath is often an energy kick, which makes me crazy sometimes and makes me laugh all the time. They run around (naked) and goof around and chase each other and have dance parties and finally we settle them down to read books and brush teeth and give good night kisses.

Typically, David reads to Zuzu and I read to Coco and on a good night they go down easy and early and then we go downstairs and hang out. On a rough night, Coco fusses, I rock her to sleep while reading blogs on my phone, and David falls asleep listening to an audio book with Zuzu.

Right now it feels like this has been our routine forever and like it would go on and on, but in a few short weeks everything will be different! And I know I'll be both sad and ready for the change.

Any tips for getting through that witching hour of 4-5pm with a four-year-old and two-year-old? Anyone else keep popcorn in their car? It's basically my greatest parenting discovery ever.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Free Consultant

I got a text from my friend Carol last week.

"We are going to paint Noah's room this weekend. What color?"

At first I thought this was maybe a little weird. Why would she text me to ask me what color to paint her son's room?

Then I realized... I know the answer to this question!

Because sometimes I daydream about how I would decorate a boy's room. I went quickly to Pinterest and put in a few search terms, then sent Carol a couple of ideas. She loved the neutral horizontal stripes (yes!) but her husband vetoed them, so they went with the other color suggestion I'd sent.

A couple of days before this, my friend Angie had texted me a photo of her kitchen and asked if I'd add cabinet pulls or not. When I saw it, I knew immediately the hardware I would want to put on the cabinets and sent her the link from Home Depot's website.

Then my friend Katie wanted to know what kind of window treatments I'd do on a big bay window on a budget. My answer (supported by Pinterest) was dark curtain rod, breezy white panels from Ikea with clips, and inexpensive bamboo shades from Home Depot or Lowes on the windows for contrast.

I'm constantly second-guessing all my own decorating choices (including the paint color I just put up in the half bath...) and it takes me FOREVER to decide on something for my house (like a light fixture or new curtains or kitchen hardware), but for some reason it's really easy for me to tell other people what they should do!

But seriously. You want nursery themes that aren't too themey? I've got them in my brain file.  Wondering if you should wallpaper your laundry room? You should! Thinking about what sofa would look best in your mid-century ranch? For some inexplicable reason, I've been thinking about that, too! What would I do if I moved into a new build and wanted to give it some personality? I've been considering this. You know, just in case?

I am actually super glad that people are asking me for ideas because it makes me feel like it's a good use of my time to read home decor blogs and magazines and browse Pinterest for ideas that are completely unrelated to my house. Kristin's bathroom reveal has me wanting to totally gut my bathroom and just carbon copy everything she did, but since that's not realistic at the moment, I'll just wait until someone asks me what color they should paint their bathroom.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Pain in the A$$

I threw out my back on Wednesday.

I'd taken the girls to Lowes, where I bought spray paint for my new office chair and got a bunch of paint swatches for the half bath and as we were getting ready to leave the store, I needed Coco to get back in the stroller. The parking lot was fairly busy and since Zuzu was being an Authentic Mermaid at that point (meaning she couldn't walk due to having a mermaid tail instead of feet), I'd put the girls in the double stroller. Of course, Coco didn't want to get back in and decided to fight me, so as we created a small scene near the check outs, I bent over the stroller to buckle her in, lifting her slightly to adjust her in the seat as she flailed around, and suddenly I felt a pop and hot pain rushing through my low back.

It hurt so much it took my breath away. I felt like I couldn't stand up and I couldn't bend over. I was just stuck in this awkward half-bend-squat and I couldn't breathe. But I was partially blocking the exit doors, so I forced myself back around and, holding on to the stroller for support, hobbled out into the parking lot toward my car. Once I got there, I didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure I could lift Coco up into her car seat. Zuzu climbed up on her own, and I did manage to get Coco into her seat somehow, though my back hurt so much that I was crying by that point.

Then I called David because I couldn't bend over to fold up the stroller. And I was in so much pain I just needed someone to feel sorry for me.

Of course, he was in the middle of something at work and couldn't talk. And it was a million degrees outside, and I was standing in a blacktop parking lot.

I finally forced myself to squat down and yank on the stroller releases to get it to fold, and somehow I got it into the back of my car.

Then I sat in the front seat, sniffling a little bit because my back hurt so much.

I drove home with my jaw clenched, self-medicated with ibuprofen and a heating pad, and really just laid around until David got home. My back hurt from my tailbone to my sacrum. It especially hurt to go from sitting to standing, it was excruciatingly painful to bend forward, and I could only lift Coco if she stood up on a chair first. Even lying down very still was uncomfortable, though that was the most tolerable. I had trouble sleeping, and once I sneezed and the shooting pain through my spine was so intense it brought tears to my eyes.

I decided that the pain was serious enough that I should see a chiropractor. I'd never been to a chiropractor before, so I texted a few people to see if I could get recommendations, and the next morning I called to see who could get me in first. I ended up driving to one that is pretty far out in the county, but it was a good experience.

She had me show her my range of movement without pain (VERY limited) and then she pushed gently on my back in a few places. Then she showed me on a plastic skeleton spine which of my vertebrae were twisted in two different directions, and how the nerves were getting pinched. This was obviously the source of a lot of the pain, but then my surrounding muscles spasmed and tensed up, which was also a contributing factor.

She had me lay down in another room and put little pads on my back to do electric stim massage, which felt weird, and she put a big ice pack on my back while that was happening, which felt awesome.

After fifteen minutes of that, she had me turn on my side and was like, "Okay, I'm going to adjust you now!" Then she put one hand on my knee and one hand on my shoulder and pushed and POPPOPPOPPOPPOP all these cracks and pops went in my spine at once. It was INSANE. And awesome. She did the other (less painful) side and there were fewer pops and I felt some instant relief.

I still have a lot of muscle soreness, though, so she instructed me to go home and do gentle yoga stretches and keep icing and taking ibuprofen as needed.

My back feels best when I'm standing or lying down, and the most painful thing is actually standing up from a sitting position--especially if I'm holding a sleeping toddler when trying to do so! I go back next week for a follow-up visit.

I'm really glad I went, and I feel sort of vindicated that it was a legit real injury. I was bummed in particular because I've been doing crunches and flutter kicks and planks on a really regular basis this summer and here I was, hurting my low back in spite of my core workouts! It's making me feel kind of dismayed about turning another year older, but I hope it was just a freak accident and I can continue to do preventative exercises. Mostly I'll be relieved to be pain-free again--soon, I hope! In the meantime, I'll just be hobbling around here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Thoughts on Turning 36

I'm struggling with this birthday.

I looked back at last year's blog posts to see if I was freaked out about turning 35, but there's nothing. I don't remember being particularly freaked out about it. In fact, I think I expected to feel freaked out about 35, but then I just... didn't. Of course, my birthday happened to fall at the tail-end of our trip to West Virginia and Pittsburgh for my brother's wedding, so I believe I "celebrated" it in a minivan driving from Cleveland to St. Louis, and we didn't make a big deal out of it, but I just don't remember having a bunch of internal angst about it, either.

This year feels different. And it's not just about wrinkles around my eyes or the fact that my mid-section is still pretty melty looking, no matter how many crunches/flutter kicks/planks I do.

Earlier this month, I was seriously considering whether I want to have another baby. I've now concluded that this longing was actually a combination of nostalgia since Coco has stopped breastfeeding and I'm overwhelmed by how fast time is going and how quickly my babies are growing up, general freak-out about getting older myself, and misplaced grief. I don't think we are missing baby number four. I think we are missing baby number one. And I'm sad to be done having babies.

And while 36 may not be as monumentous as 35 (or 40) in terms of our general culture, my birthday comes toward the end of summer. Birthdays obviously invite reflection on the past as well as looking ahead to the future, and and July 28, all "future" thoughts turn to August and the start of school.

In a family where the dad is a principal and the mom is a professor, back-to-school is obviously a pretty big deal. Everything changes and life is a little stressful and exciting and requires much more planning and organizing and coordinating than summer days. This year, Zuzu will stay at her Montessori Special Snowflake School, as a PK4, and Coco will start at the same school in the Toddler House. All of this is fine, and I love that they'll be at the same place again.

But I'm turning 36 and I should have a five-year-old starting kindergarten.

And I cannot help but believe that turning 36 would feel easier if I had a kindergartener. I would feel like I'm where I am supposed to be in life, if that makes sense. After all, that was the plan.

Maybe that sounds weird, but I really think it's true. I didn't mind turning 30 because I'd accomplished what I'd hoped to by 30: I had my graduate degree and I was pregnant. BOOM. I was OWNING 30. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

(Side note: I realize that 30, 35, 36, whatever looks different for everyone and I don't think people in general who are 36 or 40 without a kid or a kid ok kindergarten are not where they are supposed to be--this is just my own expectation for myself, and I know it's arbitrary but I still feel the loss.)

So I was 30 and life was meeting my expectations, then my baby died and I didn't give a crap about my degree and I still can't believe I actually managed to land a job that year when I was basically a lump of professional apathy and personal devastation.

My friend Christine is a BLM whose first baby, a little boy named Matthew, was stillborn last July. Her birthday is in December. She's five years younger than I am, so this whole thing is unfolding for her along the exact same age/timeline as it did for me (except that she got pregnant with her rainbow sooner than I did and is expecting Matthew's little brother very soon). As I watch her walking this path at the same age and in relatively the same place in life/marriage/career, I try to reassure her that things get easier. That a rainbow baby really does bring color back to the world. That right now being a BLM feels like an entire identity, but in five years it will feel like an important part of a bigger identity.

But I also have to tell her that the milestones are still really hard, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Summer is generally the happiest time for me--the season of Zuzu and Coco's births, David's birthday, my anniversary, time off of school/work, vacations, and I'm a fan of warm weather. But there are still occasional grief slumps, and I guess I'm in one.

I can't help but recall my 31st birthday, which was undoubtedly one of the most miserable days of my life. I painted a console table on my deck in the sweltering heat and humidity and missed my baby so much I thought (hoped?) that I would literally just fall over and die. By the time I turned 32, Zuzu was here, and the distraction helped, but I definitely don't feel like celebrating my birthday the way I used to.

This year I'm definitely in a better place, but alongside this grief is a lot of anger this year. I'm furious that Eliza isn't here. I'm angry that I lost whole years of my early thirties to grief. I'm mad that the cohort of kids and parents I should know with Eliza as a kindergarten is forever lost to me. I'm already pissed off that I'm going to have to brace myself for first day of kindergarten photos on IG (still not on FB for mental health reasons) and that as much as I'm excited to celebrate the start of this academic year for Zuzu and Coco, some of that joy is overshadowed by how very much I want there to be three little girls lined up on my porch steps. I'm so angry about her not being here and it's like I'm suddenly recognizing all over again what I thought I'd known all along: She's always going to be gone. I'm always going to miss her. I'm never going to catch up to where I thought I would be. No matter how many babies I have, none of them is going to start kindergarten this year.

I know it's not true that everyone my age has a child entering kindergarten this year. I know it's not really any easier to lose a baby at 25 or 28 than it is at 30. I know that there are many people whose families have not been created according to plan. I know that there are many people who lose years of their lives to illness, to cancer, to depression, other kinds of grief. I know I'm not alone this struggle, even when it feels that way.

But it's MY birthday, so I guess I'll cry if I want to. And when I think about turning 36 right now, that's kind of all I want to do. Maybe I can get it out of my system now and actually enjoy the day when it rolls around next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Last week I told David I was ready to quit my job, stay home full time, and maybe even have another baby.

Today has returned me back to reality. Coco is a reminder of how much the age of 22-26 months challenges my sanity, and why I was literally afraid to leave the hospital with her when she was an infant because I had to return home to balance the needs of a newborn with the 25 month old cyclone of toddler irrationality and stubborn willfulness that was her sister.

They were both up too late last night. It's easy to indulge them when they are being sweet and cute, but they are like gremlins. Keep them up late and [the next day] their fangs come out. (By "fangs," of course, I mean incessant whining, and by "incessant," I mean SERIOUSLY INCESSANT.)

Today I thought we'd do something fun for all three of us that also includes air conditioning: a trip to the Goodwill store!

Coco tried on several pairs of heels that must have been donated by a charity-minded drag queen, which some shoppers found hilarious, but I mostly found annoying (at least the shoes were big enough she could keep her sandals on while wearing them). Zuzu cried when I refused to purchase the following items she requested:

(1) Hello Kitty bikini bottoms, size 3T
(2) pink and gold metallic tankini halter top, size 14
(3) worn out Speedo one-piece, size 7/8
(4) green straw fedora that still had the tags on from Target's bullseye spot circa St. Patrick's Day
(5) a random sundress, size 9 months

I did score a Hanna Andersson dress and a cute Gymboree shirt with a unicorn on it that pleased her very much. They didn't have much in Coco's size that I liked, and also they really need no clothes, so I reined it in.

In the few seconds she managed to escape my line of vision, Coco scaled a smal kids bookshelf, then jumped from couch to couch, then climbed on a ten speed bicycle (that was fortunately very securely attached to a stand). She and Zuzu each got to select a book (Zuzu chose The Little Mermaid because there's nothing like teaching little girls to silence their voices in order to get a man!Coco chose something random with a cat on the cover, though she fought me for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer just because I assumed she wouldn't be interested (and we already have a copy) but when I placed it back on the shelf, she sure was mad about it.

We finally checked out and I impulse bought a green chair for my office. (How much would you pay for this chair? And should I paint it white?)

It fit nicely in the back of my CRV, except it required me to remove the double City Mini stroller that lives in the back of my car. So then I shoved the folded up stroller into the front passenger seat and drove home with it partially resting on my lap. Zuzu told me she was buckled in, and I made the mistake of trusting her (view blocked by the aforementioned anti-feminist diatribe and the maxi dress she would wear every day if I didn't hide it in the laundry). So she was only partially buckled on the way home.

Coco was exhausted but took forever to settle down and required rocking to fall asleep. Zuzu whined and whined to watch a show. Cooper freaked out when there was a sudden storm. 

The highlight of their day was receiving mermaid outfits from my aunt Terri for belated/early birthday presents, 

but the whole time they played in the kiddie pool outside, they whined for snacks, then ate all the snacks I fixed, then when I FINALLY sat down to watch them play and eat my own bowl of frozen grapes while reading a book and drinking iced tea, they swarmed me, ate all my food, fought, screamed about the chickens, fought some more, and made me so frustrated and sweaty I said we all had to go inside for baths.

And it was still an hour before David would be home from work.

I yelled a lot and made loud irritated noises with my throat, which Zuzu now does in my direction, which is the MOST irritating thing ever, but I have no one to blame but myself. 

I also caught Coco shoving some slippers down the defunct laundry chute in our hallway and further investigation revealed the chute was stuffed full of dress up clothes, Minnie and Mickey figurines, a while bunch of loose and dried out baby wipes, a pacifier, and a swim suit. The swim suit was a recent addition. No telling how long the rest of it had been down there. 

Dinner was a cluster of whining alternated with crying and also Coco's charming new party trick: she plugs her ears with her figures and just shouts to make noise.

I'm hiding in my bedroom right now with a glass of wine, and guessing from the silence downstairs that David caved and let them watch a show. It's nearly bedtime, so wish me luck.

Oh, and in case there was any doubt: We're definitely sticking with the original plan of me going back to work next month!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Around Here Lately


Bloodline on Netflix. OMG. I guess I'm just echoing the masses here, because it's Netflix's most popular original show, but wowzers. We just finished up the second season and I was completely riveted by the Rayburns and all their effed up issues. I actually screamed out loud during one episode at a particularly shocking moment. I am INVESTED in John's campaign for sheriff. What can I say? #ilycoachtaylor #cleareeyesfullheartscantlose


I just can't quit with Young House Love, and now they have a podcast. So I've been tuning in. They recently interviewed Tiffani Theissen (of Saved By the Bell and 90210 fame) so now I'm watching Dinner at Tiffani's on the cooking channel. Even though I am not much of a cook, I think having a cooking show would be fun. The podcast is mostly about decorating, and they do a little phone interview with a different decorator or celebrity each episode. John and Sherry are also the cutest.


Just finished two fantastic books in a row. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield (St. Louis resident! We don't know each other but otherwise would undoubtedly be good friends) is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It's not easy to do Jane Austen justice, but this interpretation of an Austen classic is the best thing since the movie Clueless retold Emma. I loved it and knowing how the story would end took absolutely none of the enjoyment out of it. If anything, I was even more curious to see how Sittenfield would (or wouldn't) mix things up. I think she hit just the right combination of true-to-the-original and unexpected twists. My book club is discussing tomorrow night, so I'm interested to see if other people liked it too, or if I'm just a super dorky nineteenth-century-Brit-Lit crazy person.

You'd think that book would be a difficult act to follow (and it was!), but the aptly-named The After Party by Anton Disclifani (former St. Louis resident! We were in grad school in the same English department at the same time! I actually know her in real life and she is so cool she's intimidating except she's also funny and kind) was perfect. In some ways it's interested in social expectations and, like Austen, walks that line of critiquing social conventions while also recognizing their value in offering people a sense of purpose and stability. The real story, though, is in the secrets people keep even from their closest friends. I appreciated that while the book had me certain that something was going on with Joan, the revelation was surprising and retroactively changed the way I felt about some of the characters. I liked Anton's first book The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls but I liked this one even better.


After reading The After Party, I want my summer drink of choice to be a gin & tonic, and I want to drink it while wearing a 1950s-era dress with my hair in a high ponytail. But because this is my real life and I've been staying at a condo in Branson where I have neither gin nor tonic on hand, I'm drinking lime beer. David is a beer snob who cringes at my choice, but what can I say? It's light! And refreshing! And delicious with tacos or burgers!


Garlic. Actually, the smell has (finally) dissipated. Or I've become so accustomed to it and it has settled into my pores and now I just can't smell it anymore. A long time ago, David bought a huge jar of minced garlic and put the jar in the fridge downstairs but put some of the garlic in a plastic container upstairs (pro tip: don't store minced garlic in plastic!). Anyway, just recently the plastic container was nearly empty and REEKED, so (unbeknownst to me) David took it out of the fridge and put it in the dishwasher. When he ran the dishwasher, instead of cleaning the garlic smell out of the plastic container, it transferred the smell of garlic to everything plastic that was in the dishwasher (so basically a few glasses and the girls' plates). The whole kitchen smelled like it. I texted David (who conveniently got to go to work the next day) and told me we might have to move. Then I consulted Google and ended up running the dishwasher a couple more times with Borax and vinegar in it. I also burned an almond chai candle and opened windows and turned on the ceiling fan. Seems to have worked. Bonus: no vampires in the vicinity.


I've been wearing the heck out of a swim suit I bought on a whim last summer--a retro-looking one-piece I ordered from Mod Cloth. It's so vintage looking that a friend asked me if it was actually vintage (Can you imagine how gross that would be? It's not like swimsuit materials holds it shape and elastic deteriorates over the years.). Anyway, this looks-old-but-is-actually-new suit covers everything so I can chase my kids around the pool without reflecting on how my belly button looks like someone knifed an old balloon, but I still feel like it's cute without trying too hard. And mostly it's super comfortable, which has somehow become my number one concern in clothing and shoes. This probably explains why I'm also wearing Birkenstock sandals and a pair of khaki cut off shorts that are literally a pair of khakis that I cut off. Perhaps I am in no position to be giving fashion recommendations.

Zuzu is wearing a new favorite dress--a sweet little white dress with blue embroidery from Crew Cuts that she got for her birthday from our neighbor kid whose mom works at J. Crew.

Coco has been wearing a lot of rompers, though her legs are looking shockingly long.

Done. Like totally and completely done-zo. A month ahead of schedule. 23 months of Mama Milk, and Coco just sort of up and decided at the beginning of July that she was over the Mama Milk. It kind of came out of no where, as I thought she'd continued to be pretty enthusiastic. We were nursing every night before bed and first thing every morning. But then on vacation we had some mornings where she woke up eager to go play or bedtimes when she was asleep in the car and transferred without waking up. Still, once we got home we were right back in our routine. And then, she just sort of seemed to lose interest. One night she nursed for such a short period of time, I asked her if the mama-milk was all gone. "Uh-huh," she said, but she didn't seem upset about it.

After a full day (morning and night) without her asking for mama-milk, I texted a friend telling her that Coco seemed to be finished nursing, but then the next morning she wanted to nurse when she woke up, so I thought maybe I was crazy... But that was the last time she wanted to. She hasn't asked or even acted remotely interested since then. I'd planned to nurse her until she turned two and then I figured I'd be ready to wean (and hopefully she would, too), but of course she had plans of her own.

I'm glad that she made up her own mind, but it's also kind of bittersweet that my baby is getting so big. 23 months of nursing made for such sweet times with her. It just feels like the End of an Era, and although I'm excited about what the next stage of life will hold, I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving the baby phase behind. And of course I know a lot of that is natural, but I can't help but wonder if my extra-intense-emotions are more about losing a child than raising two of them. (Hashtag story of my life.)

Still thinking about a rug for the upstairs landing, though I've moved a little red bench up there that looks pretty cute and fits the space well, so now I've at least narrowed my rug choices to "rugs that have red in them." I tend toward a more traditional rug (the modern one I got for my living room I ended up selling to my good friend Carol, where it looks adorable in her more modern house). I need to decide if I want it to be 3x5 or 4x6, but it's also not a super high priority. I just mostly like to look at rugs online, I guess.

Counting down...
Days until school starts. I read somewhere recently that the end of July is like one long Sunday evening for people who work in academia. I'm feeling that. I know there's still time to relax, but I keep thinking about syllabi and meetings and to-do lists. I'm actually went into my office yesterday because I'd rather do some work now so I can quit thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Post-Vacation Stupor

We are driving home right now from spending a few days in the vacation Mecca of the Midwest: Branson!

Tacky t-shirt shops and family-friendly variety shows aside (we actually skipped both of those attractions this time), we enjoyed our stay. We had a condo that adjoined my parents' condo, and the girls always have so much fun with Grammy and Bops. We spent a day hanging out at the condo resort and its two pools, David and I made a quick trip to the outlet mall where he bought way more than I did, we spent a day in Silver Dollar City, where Zuzu enjoyed her ride-with-an-adult status of 39" tall and went on every ride that allowed her, including a kiddie roller coaster and Fire In the Hole (twice!), and Coco bemoaned her 32" stature but did rock out on the kiddie rides. (Actually, I'm not convinced she enjoyed them as much as she was determined not to be left out.) 

Serious adrenaline junky.

Coco started out holding the handle but once the ride started, she wanted to hold my hands.

The girls are a perfect pizza pair--Zuzu likes the crust and Coco likes the cheese.

Zuzu was very uncertain about the train robbers in SDC, but Coco was unfazed (also: look at all her teeth!). Zuzu was pretty stoked to dip a butterfly candle. Rainbow butterflies are her thing right now.

Grammy treated them to lollipops at the end of the day.

Our last full day in Branson was a rainy morning, nice and lazy, followed by an afternoon at Moonshine Beach, where Zuzu perfected her underwater flips and dives, and Coco got a little too adventurous for my comfort in the water.

It was bittersweet to be at Table Rock Lake, as this was our first trip back to the area since David's grandma passed away in December. I kept thinking we should be heading over to her house to tell her all about the day's adventures. She would have loved seeing how much fun the girls had in the water.

Zuzu was so proud of the rainbow butterfly sand art that she made with Grammy at an art night for kids at the resort. I was a butterfly princess for Halloween when I was five. Maybe we will resurrect that costume this year. Coco could be an entomologist!

Now, both girls are snoozing in the car (Cooper had his own "vacation" at Pepaw and Memaw's house with their dogs, Xena and Xanders, and was overjoyed to see us today, poor guy). Their pink cheeks and sun-streaked hair is evidence of a good vacation, and we are heading home to make the most of the last four weeks of summer.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

But She Was Always On My Mind...

We went to a BBQ on the fourth of July. There was a family there whose oldest daughter is the age Eliza would have been--five and a half. Their younger daughter is two and a half. And the mom is pregnant again (expecting a boy this time).

I was able to be "normal" and talk a little bit about pregnancy (feeling good? boy names?), and although my heart definitely felt a twinge watching their oldest daughter run around as the "boss" of the younger kids, it was manageable. I could be there and miss Eliza and still enjoy the BBQ and our friends and all the kids. Eliza was constantly on my mind, but I never mentioned her.

The kind of weird thing is that part of me wanted to talk about Eliza, to say that she would be the same age as their daughter, to note that I've had three pregnancies and three babies, too... but I didn't. I just didn't find a way to work her into conversation. It wasn't my party or my guests, and I didn't want to take the conversation in a direction that felt a little bit selfish, somehow. But I also felt guilty for not talking about her. It feels almost dishonest to omit her from a conversation about my family, even though I didn't dodge any direct questions, and I definitely would have mentioned her if they conversation had moved in the right direction--I think I was hoping that it would without me having to force it. But I suppose that Fourth of July BBQ conversations with a group of friendly-but-casual acquaintances don't typically generate honest discussions about grief or loss, and so nobody asked me if I had a dead baby and I didn't talk about her.

Sometimes people ask if we're going to have another baby (though no one at this BBQ did), and I usually just laugh or say, "I don't think so!" Sometimes, though, it's an opportunity to talk about Eliza, to try to briefly explain that the incompleteness of my family is something that another baby wouldn't fix. But somehow it almost feels a little bit harder to talk about Eliza now that it's been more than five years. Unless the conversation is specifically about pregnancy, it's almost always about my living kids, and I just don't know how to talk about a baby whom I never got to know alive.

At the same time, talking about Eliza is easier in the sense that it's only in the last year or two that I've been able to talk about her without crying (although the tears are still surprisingly close to the surface sometimes).

My feelings about all of this are complicated. I want to be able to talk about her, but I also still want to protect my heart from that awkward situation where I either have to acknowledge how immensely shitty and heartbreaking it is to lose a baby, or I find myself downplaying it in order to not make the conversation all about my grief, "Oh, well, you know, we're doing okay now..." which is maybe sort of true but also oversimplifying things enormously. It's something I have to have a lot of energy to tackle, or I need to be in a smaller group of people so I don't feel like I'm putting my grief on display.

I was talking about this with a friend whose loss was more recent--she's approaching the one-year anniversary of her son's death--and she said she couldn't imagine not telling everyone about her first baby. I understand that need for acknowledgement, and I still feel desperate for Eliza to be acknowledged. (My cousin mentioned to me that when she was working as a camp counselor, she had a student in her group named Eliza and she thought of my Eliza every time, and it was like a balm to my heart to hear that.) And yet even so, I still find myself talking about her with caution if I meet people who don't already know, or if I'm not sure if friends-of-friends know (or remember). I don't know if this is normal, or if it's something that I wish were different. I don't even know for sure if I'm trying to protect them or me from my heartache.

A lot of things about grief have changed in five and a half years, and I am not sure I will ever be satisfied with any of it. What hasn't changed is how much I miss her, and how much I wish I knew the girl she would have been.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Various Thoughts on Summer

Fourth of July has come and gone and this summer is going so fast I can hardly believe it.

On the other hand, I was sort of expecting it, as we were doing so much traveling for the first half of summer. Next week we go on a short trip with my parents to Branson. This will be a little bittersweet, as it will be the first time we'll go back to the Branson area since David's grandma's memorial service. I know David has been missing her, especially her enthusiasm for the Cardinals and for his baseball team.

(Side note: My parents were visiting a couple weekends ago so we had the big coffee maker out on the counter, which was a gift from David's grandma to him years and years ago. I commented that seeing the coffee maker made me miss his grandma and he agreed. Then Zuzu piped up, "Well, she died and she can't ever come back alive!")

Once we're back from Branson, we don't have any more big travel plans, though I think we'll go to my parents' to celebrate Coco's second birthday with family. We do have lots of little plans--we want to do something for my birthday, catch August's Food Truck Friday, and Zuzu has been invited to THREE birthday parties, so I guess we'll be facilitating her social circuit.

My big plans for this week include improving the organization of toys in our living room, hanging out with a local BLM friend of mine who is pregnant and having all of the freak out feelings you have in the last few weeks of pregnancy after loss, doing laundry, and packing for Branson.

Weather has been hot and sticky here. Our neighbor-friends have a pool membership in a nearby neighborhood, so we can attend the pool as their guests. It's the same pool where Zuzu has been taking private swimming lessons with a lifeguard, and on the days that she has lessons, we can also all swim. I was really nervous about taking both girls to the pool by myself, but this pool is great because it has a huge section where even Coco can touch most of the way (it goes from 6" deep to 3' deep). When our neighbor is there, it's even easier--somehow two moms keeping an eye on four kids is easier than one mom keeping an eye on two, especially because her kids are 9 and 4. I think that we will get a membership next summer.

I can remember going to pool every single day of summer when I was a kid (or at least it felt that way!). This pool has comfy chairs and allows you to bring in floaties and pool toys (when I was a kid, the pool had concrete benches and everybody just put their towels on the ground--no toys or floaties allowed. But it did have a high dive!). The only downside to this pool is that we can't bring in our own food and the snack bar is pretty limited (and overpriced, of course). The girls want popcorn every time we go, though I managed to hold them off for popcorn in the car yesterday (we are popcorn crazy around here--favorite snack by far). I can remember occasionally getting a treat at the pool snack bar, and I usually opted for a Snickers bar. But all the candy bars were kept in the freezer, so it seemed to take a long time before the sun warmed the chocolate enough to bite all the way through it without it hurting my teeth or taking forever to chew.

Last week when I was at the pool with the girls, I'd caved to the persistent demands/requests for popcorn. Coco dropped some popcorn. I didn't think anything of it as I was gathering our towels to head back to the chairs, but when we got back in the pool I noticed that she had an ant crawling on her cheek. Then she opened her mouth and I saw that she had a mouth FULL OF ANTS because she'd picked up popcorn that was covered in them. Gag gag gag. I was rinsing out her mouth with pool water and trying not to show her how disgusted I was because I didn't want her to freak out. She was already saying, "Bugs? Bugs?" in a kind of alarmed tone. So gross!

There is a little part of me that is already kind of doing a countdown to school starting, and I'm not sure if I'm dreading it or looking forward to it. A little of both, I guess. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I LOVE being home with the girls. We have our moments, of course--like yesterday, when we had to leave a bookstore long before I was finished browsing because they kept destroying displays and trying to rearrange furniture in the children's section and Coco wouldn't listen to the Curious George books at storytime. But overall, we're having fun.

The downside is that I feel kind of scattered and like my brain is lazy--I don't have long stretches of uninterrupted time unless I stay up late when everyone else is in bed, and I really crave that time to write or read or even watch a TV show that interests me. Last night I was so excited to put the swim-sleepy girls to bed early and then get a bunch of stuff done. Joke was on me, as I was evidently just as worn out as they were from the sun and swimming. I lay down with Zuzu to read books and we BOTH were asleep by 8:30pm. I woke up when David got home from his baseball game around 11:00pm, and then had to get up to wash my face and brush my teeth, and of course I couldn't fall asleep after that. I ended up watching TV in the middle of the night when I wanted to be sleeping, which was not ideal. But I didn't have to get up and go to work today, so summer is still the best!

As much as we're spending lots of time outside playing in the water, I'm a big fan of summer storms, and I really like a rainy summer day when we have a good excuse to light candles and stay inside and read books all day. Today has been dedicated to cleaning/organizing toys and laundry and I've got the girls to "help" me dust the living room.

Thankfully, Coco is still a reliable napper and Zuzu has come around to the idea of "quiet time" after lunch, though she won't stay upstairs in her room by herself, she will lie quietly on the sofa downstairs while I read or do stuff around the house. We just finished up lunch, so we're off to enjoy some of that Quiet Time now!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Star Power! Lighting Up the Entry Way.

You may remember back when we replaced the dining room light that the entryway was next on the agenda. The light fixture that greeted you when you walked in the front door or went up the stairs was a saggy boob light.

I knew I wanted something else, but making decisions about "permanent" fixtures is obviously something I struggle with. And then there's the blindness of familiarity--I just sort of stopped seeing the saggy boob light.

Finally, I decided to pull the trigger. I ordered a simple schoolhouse light. Loved the shape and the simplicity (and the price--it was less than $100 on Overstock.com). Womp-womp. It was way too small and looked ridiculous.

I texted Crafty Cousin Amanda to bemoan my fate, and she sympathized with me and agreed the new light was too little. Old light went back up (David grumbled), schoolhouse light got returned, and I went back to my Pinterest board (I also pin stuff on this board that I'm considering for the landing at the top of the stairs--where the big sister to the old light still resides). I went back to the light I had actually had in mind from the day we moved into the house THREE years ago. I wanted a Moravian star light, and I found several budget-friendly options coming in at less than $200.

I ended up going with the Olivia star pendant from Pottery Barn (which I also like because the name makes me think of my friend Angie's daughter Olivia who is the reason I met Angie through my blog and then a local grief support group).

I scoped it out on ebay, and I could have saved a few bucks by ordering it through there, but the savings wasn't significant, and since I already had to return one light fixture, I decided to go ahead and purchase through the store, just in case. I was a little uncertain about the size. The dimensions were listed online, but it was harder for me to visualize the size when trying to picture the light in a totally different shape. But here is where we ended up!

Measurement-wise, it's really not much bigger than the schoolhouse light, but obviously the dark edges and the fact that it's a pendant and not a semi-flush mount mean that it takes up more space visually.

Anyway, I'm obviously pretty happy with the end result. My brother suggested it looks a little like a medieval weapon, and I kind of like the idea of a little bit of a sharp edge next to my floral stained glass window and rounded front door. But really the traditional symbol of the Moravian star as an advent decoration in the Christmas season is also appealing to me.

And when I look back on the saggy boob light, it's not too hard to feel that we've improved on what was there before.

I don't think I ever did a post on the new carpets we got, so just in case you want a look at the runner for the stairs (back in January), here it is:

I figure the pattern may not be for everyone, but I personally love it. I wanted something interesting on the stairs and I think it adds some interest without being too overwhelming. I couldn't find a great before picture of the exact same angle, but this is pretty close (Zuzu was almost two in this photo!).

I remember the carpet being a little more blue than green, which is how it looks on my computer screen, but you can see that it was well-worn. The teal color was not (quite) as heinous as it looks in the photo, but not my favorite. I think the change has been good! Although I do miss Zuzu being that little snug-but whose hair was just starting to grow.

One more shot, that includes the new light:

Now I can move on to the upstairs landing! I'd like a new light (my heart is set on gold and I'm really drawn to the sputnik lights even though I don't have much midcentury stuff in my house). a new rug (maybe something with fringe!?), and a little console table. Better start pinning!

P.S. In case you're interested...

Friday, July 1, 2016


Zuzu completed her first year of Montessori preschool this year. We feel that it was an excellent experience for her overall, but we also had some challenges. After the holidays, things seemed to be going smoothly, but when the weather got nice this spring, her teachers struggled with getting her to come inside after playtime and also at other transition times. She was getting along fine with her peers, but she would occasionally (frequently) resist the teacher's authority and refuse to do what was asked of her. Eventually, the director of the preschool reached out to me because they were finding that when Zuzu wanted to do something that was counter to what the teachers were requiring all of the children to do (like come inside from outdoor play to take a rest, or stop individual activities to join circle time), she would refuse to cooperate and have a meltdown--screaming, kicking--if she wasn't allowed to continue to do what she wanted.

If you've been reading this blog a while, you know that Zuzu is not a pleaser. She does not care about adult or peer approval. She wants to do what she wants to do, and she gives zero f**ks how you feel about it. The idea that I might be disappointed or upset is of no consequence to her. She has a fierce determination and she thinks that her ideas are the best ideas. If every other kid on the playground goes inside for rest and she is the only one outside and the teachers are telling her to come in but she doesn't want to? She would run away from the teachers. And when (if!) they caught her and made her come inside, she would physically kick and hit them. (This happened. More than once.)

This was obviously embarrassing for David and me, and also kind of baffling. I asked the director what we could do to support them, but we weren't having the same kind of issues with Zuzu at home. Sure, she was challenging or difficult on occasion, but since we don't have twenty-four other three to six year olds to deal with, we could either have a discussion with her to resolve the problem (yes, I admit that sometimes this included bribery in the form of a promised package of fruit snacks), or--if things really went off the rails--we'd just take remove her from whatever was causing the issue until she calmed down.

I felt that the director of the school seemed frustrated by Zuzu's behavior, and she actually suggested that maybe Zuzu was having trouble processing her emotions. Frankly, I thought she was expressing her emotions quite clearly. They just happened to run counter to what the school's expectations of behavior were. It didn't seem to be a issue of processing as much a conflict of wills. She was certainly capable of doing the things they were asking, but if she didn't want to do it, she was not about to cooperate just for the sake of being cooperative, and she'd physically resist. The director thought we might want to discuss Zuzu's behavior with a therapist, but I kind of thought Zuzu was just being a total brat, and I wasn't sure how therapy would fix it. (I also wasn't sure how atypical this was... I mean, I don't think that behavior is okay, but she was a strong-willed three-year-old, so I figured she'd just outgrow it?). And I found it hard to believe that she was the first kid in the history of the school to have these particular issues, but it was clear they felt that the situation was serious enough that we needed to do something.

Since the director of the preschool was obviously concerned, I became concerned that these incidents would have a cumulatively negative affect on Zuzu's experience at school--which in SO MANY ways has been nothing short of wonderful. Part of me wanted to do everything I could to make sure Zuzu had the resources she needs to behave appropriately, and part of me wanted someone to tell me that the director of the school was overreacting.

Since David works in elementary education, I've tended to come down on the side of the teacher/administrator when it comes to dealing with "unreasonable" parents, but I can tell you that no matter how nicely the director or teachers would talk to me about Zuzu's behavior by leading with the positives, and no matter how often they reminded me that they adore her, I ALWAYS felt defensive.

I mean, I KNOW she can be a pill. Logically, my brain understands that she probably is one of the more challenging children because of her particularly personality quirks. But my gut reaction when we'd have these conversations was more along the lines of THIS IS MY PRESHUS PERFECT BAYBEE we're talking about and so MAYBE YOUR SCHOOL IS THE PROBLEM AND ALSO YOUR FACE.

At any rate, I decided that a second opinion would be a good place to start. After making a few phone calls trying to figure out who that opinion should be (hint: not a child psychologist--they are busy helping preschoolers who have real problems, like severe trauma or medical issues, not preschoolers who occasionally lash out physically when recess time is over), I hit the jackpot when I found a retired early childhood specialist from a local school district who now works as a sort of consultant or coach for parents whose kids are having behavior issues.

I was a little skeptical, to be honest. I mean, I can read the internet and I'd checked out a bunch of books from the library. Was she really going to tell me something I didn't already know? And was she going to be able to figure out my complicated (PRESHUS) kid in one evening?

And yet, we bought the three package deal, which felt pricy (spoiler: WORTH EVERY PENNY) because not only would she come to our house for the initial visit, she'd also go to Zuzu's school to observe her there, and then meet with us again later for a follow-up. I really wanted her to see what was happening at school, since that was our main concern, but I also wanted to discuss some of the behavior challenges we were having at home (which, now that I thought about it, were plentiful, and I was curious about how "normal" it was).

The evening she came to our house was pretty normal in terms of Zuzu's behavior. We sat in the living room and chatted with her and Zuzu played with some toys and talked with her a little bit. She then said that it would be better if just the grown-ups talked, so I put on a show for Zuzu and the consultant (her name is MJ) turned to us and said, "She's intense!"

I was like, "Yeah, she can really be excited about things," but as we talked more, I realized that Intense is a more specific term than I had thought (you can google it and find all kinds of stuff about Intense Kids), and the more she talked about it, the more it really seemed to describe our Zuzu. What seem like extreme reactions to us--particularly when she was hitting and kicking at school--was, according to MJ, an expression of her intense emotions.

At one point in the conversation, Coco came wandering back in the living room, so I pulled out a basket of blocks to stack with her on the floor to keep her entertained. Of course, Zuzu came in to see what was going on, so she started stacking blocks as well. The adults continued chatting--in pretty vague terms--and then Coco started crying. I wasn't sure what had happened, so I said, "Zuzu, it sounds like Coco is upset. Can you tell me what happened?"

Zuzu said, "She fell down and bonked her head on the floor!"

Well, I KNEW this had not happened. This was a big fat lie. And of course I'm suddenly on the spot, thinking, How do I handle this Important Parenting Moment in front of this early childhood expert?Fortunately, MJ didn't wait for me to come up with something, and instead she just said, "Hmmm. That's not what I saw with my eyes. Can I say what I saw happen?"

Zuzu said yes.

MJ said, "I saw that Coco was going to knock down your tower, so you pushed her away to stop her."

Zuzu didn't deny this, but she recovered quickly. "Well, I just put out my hand like this to block her. I didn't shoot it out really fast LIKE THIS." (You can imagine the accompanying hand motions.)

MJ nodded and said, "Well, can you think of a better way to handle it next time?"

Zuzu thought for a moment and then said, "We could built a wall so Coco couldn't reach my blocks!"

MJ managed to hide her smile and said, "Mm-hmm. Can you think of another idea?"

Zuzu said, "We could put my blocks in a tent so that Coco couldn't see them inside the tent!"

Their back and forth continued, and Zuzu suggested that we could carry the blocks downstairs and not let Coco go downstairs, or we could bring up her Frozen castle and not let Coco inside it. It was clear that Zuzu was FULL of ideas, and none of them included her practicing restraint and not shoving her sister.

When I convinced her to go watch the end of her show so we could finish talking, MJ pointed to this conversation as an example of her imagination, but to my surprise, she saw this as a positive thing (as opposed to evidence of being a sociopath). She said that Zuzu's creativity means that her engagement with the world is complicated because what we see on the outside may not reflect everything that's going on. So we want her to leave the park because it's time to go, but she's in the middle of a dramatic, imaginary scenario, and leaving the park means that it's all over and, to her, that's a BIG DEAL.

MJ observed at Zuzu's school the next day, and I was so glad she did, because based on her report, I felt like she advocated for Zuzu a little bit. The director and teachers were totally open and welcoming for her visit, and she said that they were very receptive and appreciative of her advice, which was great to her.

She pointed out that the core of the Montessori program is child-directed, and the only moments in which Zuzu had conflicts or behavior issues were the times when she wasn't being allowed to make a choice about her activity. Now, I'm not saying that she should get to make all the choices--I definitely don't think so!--but MJ suggested that her intense personality responds so well to the autonomy of self-directed work and play that she doesn't want to let go of that independence (basically ever).

Her solution for the transitions that Zuzu seemed to struggle with at school was to put her in charge of them--when it's time for the kids to come in for nap, she needs to be the one who rings the bell and makes sure that everyone lines up. She needs to feel like she's at least partly in control of what's happening, or she will resist it.

Without realizing it, we had been doing a lot of that at home anyway. If I wanted to get her in the car, I'd ask her to help me get Coco in the car (or the bath, or whatever). She normally wouldn't necessarily resist those activities anyway, but she was especially excited to be a helper.

The other thing that we and her teachers had been doing was trying to prepare her for transitions by giving her a countdown (we're going to leave the park or go in for rest time in five minutes, two minutes, etc.). Rather than smoothing the way for the transition, though, it often seemed to backfire. I'd give her the warning, but when it was time to go, she'd either bolt away from me or (if I was quick enough to grab her) she'd have a total meltdown.

MJ's suggestion was to NOT do the countdown. She said that intense kids sometimes get more worked up and anxious when they are given a countdown toward the end of a desired activity. Instead, we need to make a firm statement about what she needs to do, but also redirect her intensity. So, we leave the park now, but on our way home we're going to have a butterfly hunt! Hurry and let's run to the stroller together so we can see all the butterflies!

This is such a small, easy thing, and it has been a total game changer. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but I don't know if I ever would have thought of it. Two days after MJ's visit, we went to swimming lessons and a birthday party, and we had zero problems when it was time to go.

It is sometimes annoying to make leaving the swimming pool into some sort of exciting adventure?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Is it preferable to carrying a screaming, kicking preschooler out of the swimming pool?

Yes. Yes, it is.

We also discussed the way Zuzu would turn on me (occasionally David, but mostly me) in anger and say things like, "You're not my mommy anymore!" or "You're not the grown up! I'm the grown up!" or "I'm not your child!" or (my favorite) "I don't love you anymore!" or "I hate you!"

I had always managed to stay calm, and I'd just say things like, "That hurts Mommy's feelings and it's not nice to say those things. We don't talk like that in this family. We don't say words that will make other people sad."

But MJ explained that when preschoolers act out, they are usually trying to get one of four things: attention, avoidance, power, or revenge. She felt that Zuzu's behavior wasn't attention-seeking, and it certainly wasn't avoidance (that's when kids pretend they can't do something themselves and whine until someone else does it for them). Zuzu gets into power struggles, and then when she loses, she gets revenge by saying she hates me.

Just knowing that this fit into a formula of behavior made it easier for me not to take it personally. But MJ also suggested that we handle it differently by NOT talking about hurt feelings. She pointed out that this was a concept that four-year-old doesn't really understand, and even if she did get it, in that moment, she's trying to get revenge, so knowing she hurts my feelings is making her point for her.

Instead, we handle those outbursts by simply saying, "It's not okay to say that." Period. No explanation of WHY it's not okay, just that it's not. It asserts that we (the parents) make the rules and that the rules are that talking that way is not okay. We don't need to follow up on it later, we just establish it as an absolute.

Zuzu and I had several of these clashes in the first week after MJ's visit, but in the three weeks since then, I can only think of one (and that was on vacation when she was tired and hungry and wanted a princess cup that her cousin was drinking out of).

The other tip that MJ gave me is that when Zuzu gets fixated on something that she wants but that we don't want her to have (like a popsicle before dinner, for example), is to avoid a direct conflict (because Zuzu wants the power struggle) and instead just say, "I'll let you know when you can have one."

This doesn't always diffuse the issue, but it works far more often than I would have expected. It's like she knows how to fight against "No!" but she's not quite sure how to respond to "I'll let you know." More often than not, she gets distracted by something else and never asks about it again.

We've also hit the point where we offer two choices, and she doesn't want either choice. Instead of picking one, she yells, "I want none of those!" or keeps insisting on whatever it is that she wants (like juice instead of milk or water). Instead of engaging in a never ending battle, we just say, "Let me know when you decide." It's such a simple thing, but it ends the stand-off AND it puts her back in charge--she gets to let me know when she's made up her mind (but she still has to decide between my two choices).

This is also not perfect, but I'd say we have about a 95% success rate in diffusing a meltdown by just saying, "Let me know when you decide" and walking away from the argument.

Honestly, the hardest part for me has been NOT overtalking. I'm inclined to want to explain things like, "You had a popsicle for snack this afternoon and I'm getting ready to fix dinner, and popsicles have a lot of sugar in them, so they are not a healthy choice, and that's why we're not going to eat another one today, but instead we're going to have broccoli and meatball and pasta for dinner, etc., etc." I want her to understand that I have GOOD REASONS for not letting her have the freaking popsicle!

But I've trusted MJ's opinion that it can be an overload for an intense kid who's getting emotional about a popsicle, and the best thing I can do to chill her out is to offer her alternatives that work for me ("Apple or carrot sticks?") and then say, "Let me know when you decide."

I don't know if I should attribute some of the shift in behavior to ME being more relaxed because it's summer, or to her being a month older and more mature, or if MJ is just a true miracle worker, but Zuzu has really been so much more easy-going since we've implemented some of these little changes, and I have my little script of go-to phrases that I just repeat calmly when she gets worked up.

(Sort of funny side note: We usually try to acknowledge Zuzu's feelings by saying something like, "I can see that you're upset now. You don't want to do X, Y or Z." When David wasn't feeling well after we went to the beach, I told Zuzu that Daddy's tummy was upset and she said, "Is it angry?" which made me laugh, but also made perfect sense from her perspective, because whenever I point out that she is upset, she's actually super pissed off!)

And it's not as easy as you'd think for me to follow these guidelines. Leaving the pool today did not go really well--she got back in the water after I'd told her it was time to go. But I also sort of broke down and I was giving her warnings like, "We're going to eat and then swim for a little longer before we have to go home" and then I said something like, "We're going to have to go pretty soon" when I knew we'd be leaving in about ten minutes. I personally would want to be prepared, so I WANT to give her these warnings, but she really does so much better if I just tell her the moment we're leaving, and then focus on getting her excited about what comes next--"We're going home for bubble bath and dinner! And then we're going to read FOUR books before bedtime!" It feels counterintuitive, but it works for her.

So now that I've written a novel on this, I just wanted to say that I didn't know if I was going to post about it all because I guess I was embarrassed by some of her behavior at school and maybe I didn't really want it immortalized in writing that my kid was so difficult at school that her teachers weren't sure how to deal with it and we as her parents couldn't figure out how to handle things on our own? But really, she's a creative and funny and INTENSE kiddo, and talking with an expert helped us all understand what we could do to help her, and I don't feel ashamed about that.

As a side-note, Coco is well on her way to turning two and for the first time ever, SHE is taking the role of my more challenging child. She's also stealthy. Poor David had to fish an entire role of unspooled toilet paper out of the half bath toilet this evening, and I'm positive she's the culprit, but I'm not sure WHEN she had the time to do that...