Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30, 2011 ~ Day 356
Famous Last Words

I don't want to speak too soon but... lately, parenting has been pretty darn fun.

I'm not sure if my kids are actually getting easier or I'm just finally getting the hang of having three. Maybe we're meeting somewhere in the middle?

Of course, having the boys both in school five days a week makes a huge difference. Three weeks from now over the lengthy Christmas vacation with all 3 kids at home, I may be singing the blues and begging for babysitting.

For now though, I'm really soaking up my time with my favorite wee people.

(And when I say wee people, I literally mean people who go wee. Not whee! But wee. In the past two weeks I've discovered my children peeing on the carpet, peeing on their own shoes, and today... bless her heart, my daughter cheerily exclaimed "Mama! I make a poopoo in the baftub!")

Here are some of my favorite things about my children right now, in no particular order:

I love the half-hour before I put my sons to bed these days, when we read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" together side by side.

It means so much to me that my eldest son would now rather read with me than watch "Man Vs. Wild" (his favorite show) with daddy. (Since birth he has ~always~ preferred his daddy, so this is really significant!)

Tonight he held my hand for twenty minutes while I read aloud a chapter about Hagrid taking Harry Potter to Gringotts and then wand shopping. My son listened with such seriousness, soaking in every word. Adorable!

* * *

For the past several weeks our daughter has been extremely huggy. Everywhere we go, she wants to sit on our laps and hug us. Sometimes this can get really annoying, like when I'm trying to say - use the bathroom by myself.

Most of the time though, I don't mind kneeling down at her level and giving her a big hug. When I can make the time, I do try to sit down for a second and let her sit on my lap. We read a story or just talk for a few minutes before she scampers away.

I know she won't be saying "Mama, I want a LAP!" for much longer. So I've resolved just to treasure it.

* * *

Tonight our younger boy brought home a worksheet covered in careful, painstaking kid scrawl. He had written all of the numbers from 1 to 100 on it. "Mommy!" he called as soon as he jumped out of the car. "I mastered my 100s board! I know my numbers now!!!"

Even though he was really tired after a long day he still gave me a glowing smile when he came through the front door. I love seeing how proud he is of his hard work, and how excited he is that he can actually recognize a few words now.

About three weeks ago when I took he and his brother to see a children's movie called "Puss In Boots," the little guy looked up and said:

"Mommy - what is "B", "B", "Q"? What does that mean?"

I was blown away by him reading his very first word (at least, the first one he's read in my presence). Last night on his own he sounded out the word "of" at the top of one of the Harry Potter pages. I couldn't have been more proud.

* * *

Lately I notice all of the time how tall my children are getting.

It would be fair to say that my eldest son is almost what one might call "lanky". He is sprouting up and thinning out, and he's at last grown into his head. We used to call him Charlie Brown as a little boy (although he looks a lot more like Linus) because his head was so disproportionate to his body. These days, it fits perfectly... and I think he's turning into a pretty handsome kiddo. (I'm not biased at all... heeheehee.)

* * *

Tonight my daughter was having a hard time falling to sleep and crying a lot. I came in to sit with her and calm her down, and hung out for a little while in the darkness of her room. Illuminated only by the glow of red starlight projected from her Target-brand lady bug nightlight toy, the bedroom seemed so peaceful and warm.

I inhaled her freshly bathed shampoo scent and held her tiny hand as she drifted off to dreamland. All I could think during those minutes was, "I can't remember life before having children. I cannot even imagine not having this little girl by my side."

I then briefly wondered whether my children had already been with me, spiritually or non-physically, throughout all of my 28 single, childless years. Hovering near me, waiting to join me in this plane of existence. It's nice to think that they were there.

* * *

Suddenly and unexpectedly, we've outgrown strollers as a family. I cannot even express how cool this is usually... except in the moments where the two year old decides she doesn't feel like walking a step further (and then lays down right in the middle of the sidewalk and refuses to budge).

We're also getting amazingly close to becoming a diaper-free family! As evidenced by today's 'poop-in-the-tub' incident and many other diaper free adventures, my daughter is very motivated to stop wearing diapers and I believe she will potty train herself long before she turns three.

No strollers? No diapers! Wow. I don't even recognize us.

Who is this family of five walking hand in hand? (I love it.)

I know it makes me sound like a cold and heartless witch, but I honestly never loved the baby stage of parenting. I was one step away from a heart attack every day during the first year or two of each of my children's lives.

This is pretty much the first time in about seven years that I haven't been constantly stressed out or terrified that we were going to lose one of our precious little people.

Maybe our son's accident last summer and the long, drawn-out aftermath of infection and drug reaction helped me to shake free of the bonds of fear. In the end, I realized two things.

(A) My children are going to be ok. Good odds on this.
(B) I just have to make peace with the unpredictability of life. Can't live in a constant state of worry. It isn't good for any of us.

I guess we've all changed in the last few years, and happily our individual changes are summing up to a really functional whole. We're starting to become something greater than its parts... not a perfect family, but... a tight-knit family.

I 100% love being a mom these days. Wouldn't have it any other way.

These may be 'famous last words' but you never know. I've got a good feeling that somewhere when we weren't looking, we turned a corner as a family ~ and it's just going to get better from here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011 ~ Day 354
M.I.A. and Hard at Work

It's been a full week since I updated this blog, the longest span of time that has ever passed between entries since I began keeping it nearly a year ago.

"Did she get senioritis?" you may wonder... "Does she have Spring Fever?"

"Has she given up on the project right before the finish?"

The answer to all of these is no.

I've actually been really hard at work all of this time. I'm just working on a different project close to my heart.

It's so important to me, in fact, that I'm going to reprint a post here that I just wrote for one of my other blogs "Healing Autoimmunity".

I really want to get the word out about the serotonin research project I've been putting together.

I read last week that we are all connected to everyone else in the world by 4.5 people on Facebook.

If that is true, then it stands to reason that by sharing the research I've aggregated with my 200+ Facebook friends, *someone* may have a personal connection or friendship with a "real" scientist or researcher who might know what to do with all of this information. I've got 57 studies here (culled from hundreds and hundreds I've read) that show what I believe to be a really important trend.

If you are a scientist or doctor or work for a pharmaceutical company; if you KNOW a scientist or doctor or pharmaceutical rep; if your *best friend* knows a scientist or doctor or pharmaceutical rep... maybe together we could get this aggregated research into the hands of that special person who might actually be able to change the world for millions of folks.

So here it is ~ my big theory, and the hope that someone with a mind for innovation and the resources to make concrete change will know what to do with it!

A Brief Explanation of my Serotonin-Autoimmunity Research

Thanks with all my heart for checking it out.

This 365 blog is a gift I plan to leave my children some day... but I'd SO much rather be here with them in person!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011 ~ Day 346
'til death do us part

Tonight my husband and I went to see a movie called "The Descendants" playing at our local art-house theater.

We'd been enjoying date night on a rainy evening, dinner in a warm and reasonably priced restaurant with good conversation and laughter.

Dodging raindrops to get to the theater before the previews started, we arrived a little wet but no worse for wear. Settling into our seats, we held hands and comfortably waited for the movie to begin.

The movie turned out to be well told ~ funny, poignant and very realistic. Without giving away too much of the plot, it turned out to share the story of a family grappling with a tragic injury to one of the parents.

Thanks to really pitch-perfect, honest acting by George Clooney and the girls playing his daughters (whose names I don't yet know) I found myself more and more drawn into the storyline.

By the end of the film, I was openly weeping. Hot tears were streaming down my cheeks unchecked, a torrent of emotion welling up from the deeper part of me that remembers all too well what it was like to experience the protracted illness and loss of my father two years ago.

I believe that anyone who has lost a person close to them (parent, spouse, lover, child, sibling) would experience what I did while watching the film... namely, recognition.

I recognized the situation and emotions the actors were portraying, because I have been there. I have felt those things. I have gone through all of it up close.

The rest of what I plan to write includes information relating to the ending of the film, so if you are a person that likes to be surprised by the ending of movies, I want to be clear that there are serious spoilers ahead. SPOILER ALERT. I don't want to ruin your enjoyment of this film, so if you don't want to know what happens please stop reading now.

For those folks still reading, we're back to that moment at the end of the film when my husband and I sat in the dark - still holding hands - but rather than feeling loving or romantic, I was involved in some shoulder-shaking sobbing... trying not to disturb the people around us.

On the big screen, George Clooney's character and his daughters were sitting on a boat in the open water with an urn. In the urn: the ashes of the woman they had all loved (and hated, and admired, and yearned for, and despaired over). Under a bright, sunny sky they then took turns casting her ashes into the clear turquoise water. Her ashes rippled under the surface of the water, cascading gently downward.

I was completely caught off-guard by the scene.

I have been there, in the open water on a sunny day. Casting ashes into the ocean with my family. Watching them spread like angels under the waves.

Suddenly the intensity of that moment in my real life returned, overwhelmed my senses. I cried for my father and for the pain of all children who have lost a parent, all husbands and wives who have lost a spouse. All parents who have lost a child.

My husband, such a good man, held my hand.

He sat with me for a moment, as I wept. But though we were side by side holding hands in the dark, we were also miles and miles apart.

He, who has not yet experienced such an incredibly personal loss, really enjoyed the film - but it didn't affect him emotionally. It was just a movie to him - a great, well-done movie.

He could not relate to the characters. He has never clasped the ashes of a loved one in his hand and discovered for himself that ashes are not fine and powdery but rather grainy and gritty. He has never held the cremated flesh and bones of a parent, once vital but now lost, in his palm and then cast them into the sea.

My husband has a true and beautiful heart. He is not an emotional guy but he feels things strongly just like the rest of us and he has vast, deep love for his family. He adores his parents, siblings, children, me; his close friends. He may not wear his heart on his sleeve, but he would do anything for the people he loves and he shows love in the way he lives his life daily.

He is so genuine that I half-thought he would understand; that he'd cry with me.

He didn't.

Two years ago when Dad died I expected my husband to know exactly what to say, what to do... how I felt. What I needed. What I didn't need... somehow by osmosis - just because he lived with me and saw me every day. Naively and unrealistically, I assumed that he could feel what it was like to live in my skin, sense the weight of my grief.

When it turned out that he wasn't in the same emotional place that I was in... when my father's death was more like a movie to him than a personal devastation... I responded with anger, frustration, disbelief.

It took a while for me to work through my own loss and realize that no matter how close we are to others - they can't bear our pains or wounds for us. They can't walk through our valleys of shadow.

What I've learned during the two years since the death of my father is this:

You can't be angry with someone or feel let down by them for not sharing the twisting, searing pain of your private grief. For not matching your pain... tear for tear, or empathizing with your tragedy.

Even when we are in love, even when we are best friends, even when we are a family - there are still many roads that must be walked down alone.

Experiencing the death and loss of a close friend or family member turns out to be a lot like so many pivotal life experiences (falling in love, having sex, becoming a parent, being hospitalized, facing a serious illness or undergoing surgery)...

You just can't explain in words to someone who has never been through those things what they actually feel like. Loss is one more thing a person can only really understand if they have experienced it.

* * *

I wept tonight at the end of the movie, spontaneously and from the heart. It was a lonely, broken feeling ~ and for a short time those emotions from two years ago swept back over me.

My husband patted me awkwardly and kindly, and then shepherded me back to our car. We drove home in total silence, just the sound of rain pouring down on our windshield. For twenty minutes we did not exchange a word.

Two years ago, I would probably have responded with disappointment to his silence. I might have felt hurt or frustrated that he didn't want to wade with me into the depths of mourning. That he had nothing to say.

Tonight, I reflected quietly on the fact that there was no possible way he could understand what I was feeling at that moment - because (thankfully) he has not ever had to hold the cremated remains of a loved one in his hand and feel that last connection to their once-warm body ebbing away from him.

I realized that my pain is something I don't want him to have to share, to feel. I would never wish it upon him (or anyone). I'm so truly glad he still has both of his parents, all of our children, me. I hope he never learns that kind of aching.

As we drove home to our beautiful, sleeping, breathing family - I thanked him in my heart for holding space for me. For giving me the mental and emotional room in which to grieve and cry, without trying to interject his own ideas about my loss. Without pretending that he knew what it felt like.

I thanked him for being alive. For being here. For loving me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16, 2011 ~ Day 342
Happy Ending

We have a six year old son.

Remember him?

He's gotten a lot of 'page time' in this 365 blog over the past eleven months.

I've tried to be honest along the way, even during the episodes when we weren't at our finest as a family.

This post, for example, chronicled my despair during one of the darker moments we shared earlier in the year.

All the while, I have told him the truth:

That I am keeping a blog about our lives. That I am writing it for him, and his siblings. That it tells everything ~ both the good and the bad. "It will be a candid snapshot of our family," I've said, "Warts and all."

I will admit though that I always hoped, even during our very hardest times, that eventually this year would come to stand as a turning point in our family dynamic. A transition, slow and steady, during which our son really came into his own.

Dyed-in-the-wool optimist that I am, I have been hoping all along for a genuinely happy ending.

"I know he can do it," I confided in my husband last Spring. "I just wish I could make the process of growth less painful for him. I wish I could make the whole thing more comfortable - for all of us."

"He'll make it," my husband assured me. "He's going to be fine."

* * *

As the year progressed, little by little, it became clear that many good things WERE quietly happening with our eldest son.

We moved to a new community and a new school.

Our son, who had been described by his first kindergarten teacher as a 'loner' who was 'hard to get to know' began to come out of his shell at school. His new kindergarten teacher, a jewel of a woman, brought out the best in him right away.

"I love school," he told me one day.

That was a great moment.

As the year progressed, he made a handful of good friends... and kept in touch with the best friend who had moved home to Australia. He began to feel more comfortable in his skin; appreciated; contented.

During the summertime, our son grappled with the intensity of watching his younger brother seriously injured - and the feelings of frustration and even jealousy that arose when watching that same brother lavished with attention during the healing process.

"I just wish it was over," our six year old confided. "I wish we could go back to the way things used to be."

Still, watching his little brother go through a serious medical crisis changed the way our son treated his siblings. He learned to restrain his temper. He'd developed a deeper understanding of the potential consequences of using sudden violent force (even simply to slam a door).

I believe (although I don't have actual evidence to back it up... it's just a feeling...) that my son also realized during those eight precarious weeks when his brother fought injury and infection, that he actually loves his little brother. Sure he may find him pretty annoying a lot of the time; but deep down, he doesn't want to lose him.

By the start of September we'd entered a new chapter, a new school year.

The six year old returned to school invigorated. He was ready to learn, excited to spend time with friends, joyous to get some freedom and independence from the family.

Happily, the past two months have been pretty awesome. He lucked out and got a great teacher... someone experienced and kind, who sees the best in him.

He played a third season of soccer and wowed his new coach and teammates by his initially-unexpected precision and ferocity on the soccer field.

His dancing has continued to bring him joy, and at the weekly classes his teacher tells me that he is improving and putting his heart into learning.

He's even made a few more good friends, despite his essentially shy nature. "Your son walks around with the biggest smile on his face at school," another mother has confided in me.

I myself watch him skip to class and can't help grinning. He gets the skipping gene from me.

Essentially, our son is enjoying a great Fall.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I received a short email from our son's first grade teacher.

"Your son will be honored at an award ceremony on November 16th," it read. "I hope you will be able to join us at the assembly."

"I am?" our son responded when we told him the good news. "I'm getting an award?"

"You sure are, buddy."

"Well I'm not going to tell the other kids in class," he replied. "It isn't nice to brag about that kind of thing."

"That's fine," I responded. "But is it okay if mommy feels proud and brags a little? I want to tell Grandma."

"Okay," he nodded thoughtfully. "Grandma is fine."

* * *

Obviously though, I'm sharing our son's good news with more people than grandma.

I know this is only one experience... one day in the course of a year. I know that many other days have contained many other kinds of episodes... and our 365 days aren't even up yet.

But you know what? I'm claiming it!

I'm claiming his happy ending.

I love our six year old son so much, and he deserves to be known for the best of who he is - and not just the weaker moments. He deserves to know how much good his father and I see in him.

Our boy is growing and maturing so much. He shows such kindness and maturity when helping to care for his little sister. Despite their lifelong rivalry, these days I find him more often than not teaching his little brother how to play games on the computer, or showing him how to do math. There has been more sharing than fighting.

My husband and I have not visited our family's play therapist much lately, because we haven't needed her. Our children are actually getting along for the most part. We seem to have weathered the worst part of this year's storm.

Everyone deserves the chance for a new beginning, and I feel that our son has really made the most of his fresh start.

It makes sense that as he has grown more successful and fulfilled in life, he has become a kinder and gentler person. Loud and rambunctious yes, full of life ~ just like his siblings, but kind and gentle too.

I thought it would be fitting then to include here the words written by my son's teacher to commemorate the award he received on stage today in front of the entire school. Her paragraph - included on the back side of his award certificate - shows our son at his best... as he is seen by those who know him for who he is NOW, rather than who he was a few months or years ago.

So here it is... that happy ending I dreamt of back in February:


"He is full of talent, intelligence, kindness and fun. He works magic in math, is an insightful reader and just excels in every area. He also has a warm smile to share with his friends!!!"

What a lovely sentiment. How could any parent not burst with pride and joy to hear their kid appreciated so warmly!

For our son though, I have this to add...

Your Dad and I are so proud of you, and not simply because you were honored with an award today by your teacher. The award is very nice, but what your Dad and I are really proud of is how hard you've worked in every part of your life to be the best of who you are... rising to meet every challenge.

Your dedication and commitment show these days in everything you do - from bike riding to reading books to your sister. We are just thrilled to watch you grow into the fine young man, true friend and loving brother you are becoming with every passing day.

You are a once-in-a-lifetime son and an amazing human being. Daddy and I feel really, truly lucky to be your parents. We love you very much, sweetheart.

The (Happy) End.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011 ~ Day 341
Dividing The Pie

Think of life like a pie.

A whole, unsliced, beautiful and tasty homemade pie.
Just waiting to be served with ice cream.

When you're as young as my children - say, six years old - life is (thankfully) simple. Your pie usually gets sliced into three sections:


Even though there can be real, true struggles for a kid at the age of six in any of those arenas - wishing for a best friend, for example... or losing a parent... or struggling to learn - there are still only three big pieces of pie in your pan.

So, if you can get even two of your three categories working fairly well (say, Family and School; or Friends and Family; or School and Friends) then essentially, at least 2/3 of your pie is savory and delicious.

Overall your life may feel like it's going pretty well.
You may come to a point where you seem to have divined the recipe for success.

* * *

Ten years later at the age of 16, your pie of life may have grown a bit more complex. There are certainly more slices to which you need to devote your time and attention.

Now it may look like this:

Family... parents still together? grandparents still around to lavish you with love?
Friends... mean kids or online bullying? social scene becomes more intense
School... AP classes? SAT? College prep? Pressure!
Athletics... team games? long practices!
Clubs... you need a lot of outside interests if you want to go to college
Boyfriend/Girlfriend... this slice of the pie usually takes up a lot of time and thought
Afterschool job... finally you're making money, starting to take care of yourself
College applications... should you go to college? if so, where? how much should you spend?

...there's also that nagging question everyone you meet starts to ask you:

At the age of 16 or so, most kids feel like their pie is being sliced up by too many authority figures telling them what to do. If you're one of those kids... you may dream of the day when *finally* you will be able to slice up your own pie however you want to. You may fondly recall the early days when your pie had only three slices and a full 1/3 of it was devoted to friendships.

* * *

Now skip ahead another decade. You're 26.

If everything has gone well, you're in a pretty good place. Your pie is making sense. Yes, it's sliced more carefully these days but there's still plenty of you left to dream about helping yourself to seconds and thirds.

Your pie may look something like this:

Family... are your parents still around? Independent?
Friends... you've finally settled into some lifelong friendships that you can count on
Work... you're learning a lot, growing your career and thinking about future prospects
Travel... whether for work or fun, there are many more opportunities to see the world now
Home... whether in a rented apartment or your own 'first house' you finally have your own place
Relationship... if you have one, it may be getting serious. if you don't, you're probably finally serious about looking for one
Health/Exercise... you're having fun with this... taking care of yourself, staying in shape. it feels good.

The pie at 26 has more pressure and stress than it did at 16, but also more freedom and fun. At last you DO get to cut the slices however you want to... serve yourself a cup of freshly brewed coffee that you pay for with your own income. You can eat as much whipped topping as you like, and nobody but you can decide whether to lavish your life with chocolate sauce.

* * *

Pie at 36. That's essentially where we are today.

My childhood best friend and I talked at length this morning about what our pies are like at 36. She just had a birthday two months ago. My birthday will be here in a handful of weeks. It's pie time and apparently, we're in season.

But what has happened to our pies over the last ten years?
What do they look like now?

Speaking only for myself, my pie is sliced so thinly these days there are essentially just slivers of me to go around.


Friends... making time to see your friends becomes a complex negotiation involving bargaining and sacrifices ("I'll watch the kids for you while you go for a ride, if you can watch them for me while I get together with Debbie for coffee.")
Family... this now includes your family of origin, your in-laws and the family you've created
Work... if you're a working parent you feel torn between what you need to do for your job and the instinctual yearning to nurture your children. If you're a stay-at-home parent, you're often overwhelmed with the monotony of day-to-day life managing little beings who schizophrenically cry one minute, laugh uproariously the next, and love to shout "NO!" at you in the most difficult situations. You long for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction.
Children... the Suns around which your planet now rotates. your new bosses ~ who will never be perfectly satisfied with your job performance. get used to it. the workload now includes:
- Chauffeuring
- Nursing
- Cooking
- Helping with homework
- Sports
- Activities
- Playdates
- Positive discipline
- Mediation between siblings
Marriage... the commitment of two people to look at each other squarely in the eye every morning and every evening, see the best and worst in each other, and keep loving each other no matter what. Even when home life is dictated by the whims of small children. Even when you see each other (alone) for about 2 hours each week.
Faith... becomes so much more vital at the age of 36. Friends and family members have died. Real life has brought real crisis and loss. It becomes important to believe in something.
Pediatrician Visits... increase exponentially with every additional child. I have three children. Yesterday I joked to the nurse that we should be paying rent at their office, we come so often.
Household Work... never ends. Dishes, gardening, organizing, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, painting, re-covering furniture, making beds, scrubbing bathtubs... on and on and on.
Saving and Budgeting... trying to get ahead. So hard with additional, "surprise" expenses. Surprise! The sewer's backed up! That will be $240! Surprise! Your 6 year old likes to take long showers... That will be $280! Surprise! Your daughter decided to scrape all the paint off of her wall with a lead toy car! That will be $2000, your entire security deposit.
Laundry... you would not BELIEVE how big how many slices of your life's pie can be devoted to laundry.
Health/Exercise... gets squeezed in here and there wherever it can fit. Often sacrificed to fulfill the needs of the family.
Sleep... suddenly becomes a crucial piece of the pie. Whole years of sleep can be lost when you have small children. If you don't carve a decent slice for sleep, nobody else will be handing it to you on a plate.

This is just my own 36 year old pie, of course,

My best friend has a different pie, with lots of different flavors and sizes. Hers is filled right now with academic pursuits, travel, conferences, proposals and pregnancy. Our slices have different titles - but here is what they have in common:

We're both sliced so thinly right now, we're never satisfied by the small amount of ourselves we can devote to any individual pursuit.

* * *

"Why is it like this?" we wonder.

"Life used to be so uncomplicated. We used to accomplish so much."

We remember the days when we sat around reading, playing Nintendo and throwing around the basketball together (she taught me to play H-O-R-S-E... back in the day when we had time to spend an entire afternoon doing stuff like that).

How did all of that change? It feels like yesterday.

Here is the answer we've come to... and maybe it applies to you too:

At the age of six our pie featured three big, tasty pieces.
Today we are using the same exact pan to serve up 20 slices.

Anyone who has ever cut a single pie into 20 slices can tell you ~ no matter how carefully you cut, it still gets messy. You'll never be fully satisfied...

...and that's ok.

Even a tiny little slice of pumpkin or apple pie can be delicious and worthwhile when you're devoting it to something important. Life is more complex nowadays but that doesn't make it worse.

There may be less of us to go around, but hey ~ a little still goes a long way.

After all, even a tiny slice of long-distance conversation with my best friend can still sweeten my entire day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12, 2011 ~ Day 338
Rainy Saturday

I've started several posts this week, only to abandon them.

It's hard to think of quality, coherent ideas when you've got a head cold.

Even my brain is dripping...

Yesterday was 11-11-11 though and it felt like such a wonderful moment to hit the re-set button on life and look for things to be grateful for.

Today happens to be a Saturday and rain is pouring in one steady, thick torrent on our cosy little house.

My sons are out in this mess, at their respective soccer games with their dad. Saturday is typically my day with the kiddos and I am so grateful to my husband for giving me a respite from sitting in the rain as I tackle this head cold with Vitamin C and garlic.

Playing soccer in the pouring rain is probably not the best thing for boys that have been pretty sick recently... but since I'm not there with jackets or umbrellas, this feels like a good moment to let go.

Can't control it, might as well not worry about it. I'm sure their dad has things covered. Who knows, they might come home soaked to the bone and feeling completely energized!

I really love the rain. Especially when I don't have to be out in it. Rain is so cleansing and we get very little of it in Southern California. It's a rare treat that my husband and I appreciate.

In fact, we get such little 'real' weather around here that we're really excited to plan a trip to the snow this year! Others who live in the snow may find this sort of adventure to be mundane or silly-sounding ~ but my children have actually never seen snow before, not in person.

They are out-of-their-heads excited about a first trip to the snow.

My own first experience with snow didn't occur until I was 12 or 13 because my father hated snow and avoided it at all costs.

My parents and I took a road trip through a national park during the month of July. There along the roadside we found a few hard, dirty, frozen hillside remnants of snowfall.

"There." My dad gestured toward the crusty old bank.

"Snow. Now you've seen it."

I made my first snowball - more like an ice ball - and threw it at my dad. Who ducked, and got back into the car.

Then we drove on.

I want a better first experience with snow for my own kiddos!
(Mine won't be hard to top.)

* * *

Whenever my sons complain about the frustration they feel in their current life situation (young and at the mercy of our grown-up plans), I actually understand.

I love being an adult because FINALLY I get to do all of the fun stuff I always wanted to do as a kid.

Like go to the snow whenever I feel like it... or decorate our house for the holidays!

That is a big one for me!

My father never let us put up Christmas lights outdoors when I was growing up because he thought they would burn the house down. I don't know what the statistics are on that sort of thing... although I can guarantee you that Dad did. I'm sure he based his decision on something factual and fear-based.

As I rapidly approach the wonderful age of 36, I'm FINALLY going to fulfill my cherished Christmas dream since the age of 6 - putting holiday lights and decorations outside of our house!

Last week I purchased white icicle lights for the outside of our sloping roof and I am really jazzed to get them up. Our street is famous for its holiday displays and I can't wait to be a part of that.

My kids and I also found a large set of new cookie-cutters in fun shapes: stars, trees, snowmen, stockings, hearts... and I can't wait to bust them out and start baking! I (heart) the holiday season!

* * *

My husband and he is now on his way home now with two soaked, extremely muddy boys... one of whom apparently refused to wear his jacket and feels very cold.

Time for me to swing into gear with thick towels, hot showers, lunch and cocoa. I hope someday my three children love the cosy indoor part of rainy days just as much as I do!

I foresee an afternoon of naps, building forts with blankets, playing cards, drawing, cooking and reading stories with my darling partners-in-crime... my kids.

I love rainy Saturdays!

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011 ~ Day 333
A House?

My husband surprised me yesterday by mentioning that we might want to begin thinking more seriously about getting back into the market and buying a house.

Not that this is news to me... for as long as I've known the man he has dreamt of owning his own property and shaping it into something fantastic.

We once owned a house, in fact.

A house with 'potential' in an economically-depressed area that we thought might gentrify pretty nicely over the course of ten years.

When we moved there in 2004 we had a life plan; and our house had its own niche in that plan.

We would live there for five years. Fix it up. Get married and travel the world a bit. And then, when we were ready - we'd start our family and look for a new home. We'd keep this first house as a rental property.

In our plan, the house would someday pay for itself thanks to renters... while we invested our increased joint income into a second home located somewhere more suitable for raising a family.

Seven months after moving into our house, however, my favorite guy and I discovered that sometimes when you're busy making plans... you actually make babies.

Surprise! We were pregnant!
Just not in the right location.

We spent seven more months in that house while my pregnancy progressed. With every passing day I grew larger and more unwieldy. Things about the house and the neighborhood that I had barely noticed before began to drive me up the wall.

For example?

Mold. We had a lot of black and pink mold in that house... in the walls, in the bathroom. My allergies went nuts while I was pregnant. I could barely breathe half of the time. I sneezed all the time and felt miserable.

Neighbors. A man lived across the street who was literally schizophrenic. When he took his meds he was docile and quiet, always waiting across the street from our front door for the special bus to come and take him to his facility. When he forgot the meds, he was full of rage and threatening comments. Many of them were sexual, and directed at me - a large, pregnant blimp. More on this later.

Crime. Suddenly I became more aware of the drug and gang-related activity in our immediate area. I began to take note of who hung out in front of the federally subsidized housing near our house. I began to cringe when the 'ghetto-bird' (AKA police helicopter) would hover over our neighborhood nightly. I found it a lot more stressful to park down the street in the dark late at night, too pregnant to walk or run swiftly.

Schools. There were no good schools anywhere near us. Not anywhere. The schools in our neighborhood were undesirable for any child. Including ours.

~ And Then One Day ~

When I was seven months pregnant and enormous - looking something like a giant panda (as a dear friend of mine likes to say) - we had an event.

I had grown to dread walking out of my front door in the morning, hoping that the schizophrenic neighbor would not be standing there staring at me. I used to peek out through the side of the window just to make sure he wasn't there. Sometimes I walked all the way around the block from the alley side, just to avoid him.

On this day though, my truck was parked directly in front of my house... so there was no escaping it - I would need to leave through the front door.

Opening it gingerly, I looked across the street and cringed. The middle-aged man - who was at least six foot two inches, very muscular and strong - was sitting on the sidewalk right across from my front door with a bottle of liquor in a brown paper bag in his hand.

He began to call out to me. I fumbled my keys.

"I SEE YOU!!!!!!!!!!" he called.

Ignoring him, I shut the door and grasped my satchel.


Poker-faced I walked down the stairs toward my car.


(If I hadn't already known the man was actually insane, I would have definitely known it at that moment. At 7 months pregnant in a long maternity dress and flat sensible shoes, I looked anything but attractive.)


He smashed his bottle in the bag against the side of the curb. Glass tinkled to the ground.

"F*^$ YOU, YOU F^$%ing BITCH!"

Grasping my keys harder, I jumped into my car as fast as I could, locked the door and started the motor.

I pulled the car away from the curb and drove as fast as I could. Only when I got to the stoplight four blocks away did I finally exhale and then realized how hard I was trembling.

I drove and drove until all I could feel was my unborn son kicking in my belly and all I could think about was protecting him at all costs.

When at last I stopped driving, I looked up to see that I had driven home to the house where I grew up. I had driven to my parents' house, 30 minutes away.

"I'm never going back there," I shuddered as I told my mom and dad what had happened. "I will not bring a little child into that home."

True to my word (and much to my husband's chagrin) I didn't.

* * *

In the end, everything worked out better than we could have hoped though.

Our home sold at a small profit, despite the fact that we'd lived there for less than 18 months. We banked the profit and became renters.

Not long after, the real estate bubble burst and that house plummeted in value.
My husband began to thank me for prompting us to sell when we did. He thanked me a lot.

Renting was great!

As renters, we gained flexibility... spontaneity. We saved money. We moved around to suit our needs. We moved a lot!

Since we sold our first house, we've moved approximately every two years. Mainly these moves have met the growing needs of our rapidly expanding family - as we added not one but two more children to our brood in a short span of time. We needed more space - more bedrooms!

We've also moved for better schools, and to find our 'perfect fit' in the neighborhoods where we could see ourselves staying for the long haul.

At last ~ nine months ago ~ my honey and I found it. Everything we'd been looking for...

The right neighborhood. The right schools. The right place to raise our three children. It's been downright dreamy.

We've been here for close to a year now and my husband and I agree that we've found the spot where we want to stay for the next 30+ years. We've found the community we hope to grow old in, together.

* * *

The unwanted attention from that schizophrenic man feels like lifetimes ago... and I've come to a place where I now feel gratitude (rather than fear) when I think of him. His provocation got us out of that house a year before the bottom fell out of the housing market.

And get this ~ that house is now worth (according to Zillow.Com) $143,400.00 LESS than we paid for it seven years ago. It has depreciated in value by almost 31%.

That schizophrenic man turned out to be an angel in disguise who saved my husband and me from tremendous financial hardship. We would've been stuck in that house forever... instead we got free and actually gained from the experience!

* * *

Seven years and three children later.

We've looped back and arrived again at the real estate crossroads.

We're older now and smarter. We've got more Real Life under our belts.

The economy has been lousy and the market is full of people trying to unload their houses before they lose their shirts.

For a couple thinking about buying, the time may be ripe.

Do we buy? Do we keep renting?
If we buy, when is the moment? Is NOW that moment? Interest rates are at a historical low. Do we gamble that they aren't going to get any lower?

I keep asking myself if home ownership is the right place to invest our money. Owning your own home used to symbolize fulfilling the American Dream... but could it be that the American Dream is changing?

- Is the new dream to have a safe retirement and pension plan, secure from Ponzi schemes?
- Is the new dream to rent a reasonably priced home and save the rest of any 'mortgage' nest egg for retirement?
- Is the new dream to save your finances for health care costs and long-term care insurance?
- Is the new dream simply to have a stable job?

Is the new dream just to survive?

Pew Research Center just published an analysis stating that Americans aged 35 and younger are 47 times less wealthy than our counterparts in their mid-60s. Have I mentioned that I'm 35?

Also, according to their article, this huge wealth disparity can be traced directly to housing:

"Housing has been the main driver of these divergent wealth trends. Rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984. Declining home equity has been one factor in the lower wealth held by young households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984."

As of tonight Zillow.Com is reporting that "U.S. ‘Underwater’ Homeowners Increase to 28.6%"

So, there you have it - our dilemma.

Are we going to be part of the group that buys low and gains tremendous equity over the next 30 years? When we are 65, will we be 47x wealthier than our youthful peers?

Or do we risk joining the vast number of young households who purchased at the wrong time and have now lost everything as their homes are worth far less than they paid for them? If we buy now, are we diving headfirst into a swimming pool with no water?

Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them."

It's a lot to think about.

Friday, November 4, 2011

November 4, 2011 ~ Day 330
Chicken Soup Mother

I started a post earlier this afternoon.

It turned into about three pages of whining about our crappy day.

Blah blah, blabbity-blah.

I get tired of hearing my own voice when I whine.

By nightfall things actually turned out ok.

All of the earlier inconveniences and mistakes of the earlier part of our day were thankfully washed away by this steady cold rain that has been pouring intermittently on our little house since morning.

My son did eventually stop screaming at the top of his lungs about the scab he accidentally pulled off his own knee while putting on pants. It may have taken an hour and a telephone call to his father at work to get him to calm down, but ultimately he did get dressed and we left the house before 11.

My husband did ultimately drink his morning coffee AND get the shipment of the router for his office he's been waiting for, improving his mood immensely.

My younger children and I did (after 2 hours of driving in circles in the pouring rain) eventually find an imaging center that was open and willing to take their chest x-rays.

Their pediatrician's office did, finally, fax over the correct paperwork to aforementioned imaging center... and we did AT LAST get two chest x-rays taken to rule out pneumonia.

Despite making a lot of crazy sounds and clunking around, our brakes did (happily) work as we drove home on the freeway in the rain.

We did manage to pick up their big brother from school and get back to our house before it started to really downpour in our neighborhood.

The doctor DID call us back with GOOD NEWS! We learned after a full week of fevers and deep thick coughing that our children not only DON'T have pneumonia (yay!!!) but also that our daughter's former pneumonia from the summertime has been confirmed by x-ray to have fully resolved.


Lastly, even though it took until 8:30pm I did manage (FINALLY!!!!!!!) to experience ten full minutes where I actually felt like a good mother. You see, after days of promising my four year old that I would cook him chicken noodle soup from scratch, I actually did it!

This is what a successful homemade chicken soup contains:

A whole organic chicken, boiled and simmered.
A lot of carrots and celery.
Fresh cloves of garlic, whole chopped onions.
Zucchini (thanks to the advice of our great friend).
Salt, fresh-ground pepper, Bay leaves.
A little chicken bouillon.
A TON of patience, especially when working on the broth.
Genuine love for the people you're cooking for.

(Fresh noodles for your bowl are optional, but delicious.)

I've got to say that I went into the cooking process this evening really dreading making the soup. I felt grumpy and forlorn, reflecting on the overall lameness of our day, my own twinges of bitterness, and general exhaustion.

Yet by the time I'd boiled, skimmed, chopped, strained and simmered for a few hours -

I felt better.

I felt so good in fact that I cheerfully read Star Wars stories to my kids for an hour, bathed and tucked them into bed and found myself smiling as I listened to my daughter talk to me through her door about the sound of the rain beating on her window.

(Little Missus, you are supposed to be sleeping!)

Before my kids went to bed, the six year old got out of the shower and pronounced:

"Mom, something smells GOOD in here."

"I guess it's the soup," I nodded.

"It smells YUMMY!" his little brother squeaked happily.

For that whole moment, looking around our bright kitchen at the faces of my little children so eager about a pot of soup that I made myself from scratch - I actually felt like the mother that I yearn so badly to be.

I want to be the mom who makes homemade broth from chicken bones (using all parts of the animal, for which I always give thanks and say prayers of gratitude).

I want to be the mom whose kitchen smells inviting and warm, a place you'd always want to stop by for a cup of tea and a chat.

I want to be the kind of mom whose children are proud of her... and well-fed!

I want to be the kind of mom who has it all under control. Keeping the peace, making the kids happy. Taking care of business.

I'm not normally that mom - not really any part of her. I would say that from 95% to 99% of the time, I am not that mom.

I certainly wasn't her today as I cursed on the freeway and gripped the steering wheel tightly in the rain, praying to get the kids home without crashing.

I wasn't that nice mom when I seriously told off the pediatrician's lunchtime answering service for insisting that I had to wait an hour with my two small sick kids in the lobby of the busy imaging center because the nurse had not faxed over the doctor's x-ray order correctly.

I wasn't very dreamy when I snapped at my sick child for whining all afternoon in the car, knowing that he wasn't feeling well.

But for ten whole minutes tonight (until one son head-butted the other and we began the inexorable march toward bedtime) I was a good mother.

Good Housekeeping magazine could actually have come to my home during those ten minutes and I would have been their covergirl.

A model of composure. An aspiring chef. Adored (hahaha) by my children.

* * *

In the end, I think it's those little moments of perfection that keep me trying so hard to do this job. I mess up so often it isn't even funny. I get so frustrated with myself a million times a day.

But every now and then, just for a few minutes, I catch a glimpse of myself as the mother I have always wished to be.

Tonight I was actually the mom who makes homemade soup on a rainy night.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November 3, 2011 ~ Day 329

Our poor little princess has been under the weather this week.

No spunk. No spirit. No sass.

She's just a sweet little cling-a-roo.

Everywhere I go in the house, she trails after me pathetically crying -

"Mama. I want lap. Mama. I want Mama lap."

My lap has apparently become a mecca of healing and comfort.

(As any worthy lap should be...)

I actually take her incessant desire to sit on my lap as a huge compliment, despite the fact that it is really inconvenient when I need to say - use the bathroom, or wash the dishes. There have been a lot of meltdowns to manage this week.

The whole thing is just sad. Anyone that knows our two year old in person (and even most of those who have been reading this blog during the last year!) knows that she is typically a little ball of fire and fun.

I hate seeing her so peaked and wan. She's lost a lot of weight this week and you can really see it in her face.

Tomorrow morning I'm due to take her in for another chest x-ray.

If it turns out that she does have yet another pneumonia, that will mean treatment - and hopefully a fast turnaround.

Either way, I'm pulling for her to feel better asap.

* * *

What I've noticed this week, with not one but two of my children feverish and feeling ill, is how much calmer I seem to be about all of this than I would have been a year ago.

I remember this post I wrote last December, when I was literally sitting next to my daughter's bedside with tears in my eyes writing about her first bout of pneumonia. Almost out of my head with worry about her.

Yet one year later we're staring down the third time she's dealt with pneumonia... and somehow I've learned to take it all in stride.

The urge to freak out isn't really there right now.

I believe that my kid is going to be fine.

I'm not worried about taking her to the local Children's hospital... I've had to rush a child there three times this year (my son) and at this point the drive just seems par for the course. Not a big deal.

In fact, the more we've dealt with health issues over the past few years, the less importance they've had in my mind.

I guess I have always feared the things I did not understand.

The Unknown.

I have feared the unknown and harbored tremendous anxiety about situations over which I had no control.

Maybe this is because I grew up pretty white-bread and didn't really have any significant challenges as a kid.

Real life lay a little bit outside of the boundaries of my personal knowledge then. My brushes with it as a youngster - like when a close 15 year old friend died of leukemia - made everything I didn't understand seem so mythical, intense, dark and surreal.

Two decades later though, I guess I've finally wrapped my brain around the reality of some of the situations that I've dreaded the most:

- Death of a close friend
- Rejection by a lover
- Death of a parent
- Undergoing surgery
- Dealing with the injuries and illnesses befalling my children
- Grappling with serious challenges to my own health
- Facing an uncertain future

...and somehow, in every situation, the band plays on.

Not to say that everything has always worked out in the end.
That would be a big fat lie.

A lot of bad things have happened. A lot of endings were sad, not happy.

Yet, here I am... and things are okay.

Better than okay, in fact ~

I'm actually so grateful, so blessed by all of the hardships that have come my way in 35 years.

Each one of them served to make me a better person. A more devoted partner. A more patient mother. A more genuine friend. A better listener, and a woman of deeper faith.

Is it cheesy to admit that I needed this growth?

I would never have wished to learn so many hard lessons in such a short span of time... but I can guarantee that I really needed to go through every single challenge.

When my children are older and read through this blog, I hope they will not only feel that they've gotten to know me better - understanding my particular set of beliefs, idiosyncrasies and quirks - but that they can actually track my growth as a mother and woman throughout an entire calendar year.

We've all grown this year, as individuals and as a family.

Tonight, maybe because we've simply experienced more of life, the unknown seems less bleak and severe... more hopeful and friendly.