All I Want for Christmas is My Four Front Teeth

My daughter lost two teeth this summer.  The first she knocked clean out when she fell from her bike.  The second she loosened in the fall so much so that the dentist had to pull it.  The week before Christmas she lost two more teeth the natural way.  The teeth became lose, they fell out of their own free will.  One came out in bed and the other came out while we were at Go Roma having dinner.  She said, "MOM! My tooth just came out!"  I went over to inspect the chicken nugget covered tooth and she said, "I cannot believe this happened AT A RESTAURANT!"  In one week she was visited by the Tooth Fairy twice and Santa.  Talk about a stellar week for a four year old.  Unfortunately, her smile resembles that of hockey defenceman, Duncan Keith.  Holiday photos aren't exactly what I'd hoped.

When, a few days before Christmas, I heard her singing, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, I mean my four front teeth..." I couldn't help but giggle.  If Santa and the Tooth Fairy could only pull some strings with Mother Nature that wish could have come true. 

I'm reminded, though, that parenting is best approached with the fewest expectations.  While I can keep them clean, fed, and having fun and learning whenever possible, I can't control much else.  I could not have predicted or planned for my third child's early labor, my first child's arthritis diagnosis, or my second child falling down an entire flight of stairs.  I think its only natural to have a mental map of what we hope for our children.  We should be wary of creating too big a mental map, though, if we want to have any hope of keeping our own heart in tact.  Creating a baby, raising a child, and watching that human grow into an adult is wrought with heartache.  If we, as parents, set our sights or expectations too often or too high we're sure to be disappointed.  If we keep our own plans in check our children will likely exceed our greatest dreams for them.  I'll never be able to make a deal with Mother Nature, but I will be able to raise a strong, brave and self-confident girl by letting go of my expectations of the experience of Parenthood and helping her create and navigate her own path. 



The New Normal

In July our daughter became very ill.  She ran a fever, had a positive strep test, broke out in a rash, and then complained of pain in her foot.  I spent a week running her back and forth to our pediatrician, sitting up with her at night trying to keep her fever under control, prevent the itchy rash from keeping her awake, and just sick with worry.  We ended up spending a full week at Children's Memorial hospital in a quarantined room on the infectious disease floor.  After several days of testing, the infectious disease team declared her free of any infection; however, the symptoms had not subsided and we discovered that while there was no infection there was totally out of control inflammation.  It was then we learned kids get arthritis, too: systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Coping with her disease has been life changing.  I had a very hard time managing the loss of the child she was before she got sick.  It was maddening to consider that the child I had spent the past five years watching shine might lose some of her sparkle.  I was furious and incredibly frightened by the possibility of her losing her capacity to do.  Once we returned home from the hospital I watched her so closely, we drew pictures of where her body hurt every morning, we took warm morning baths to loosen her joints, we investigated medications, and we agonized.  I cried myself to sleep, forced myself out of bed, and then into early labor with my third baby.

When we were at Children's her rheumatologist kept telling us her condition would be manageable with the right course of treatment.  It sounds horrible.  While I sat at her bedside and considered just the concept of managing sickness for her life I became acutely aware of one fact: normal had ended.

I can imagine what normal was to me before July 9, 2011 - the day she presented with a fever.  But, I can also close my eyes and hear her crying in pain, confused about why she wasn't getting better, questioning if she would have to use crutches, wondering if she would make it to the potty in time, crying because she didn't.  My mind begins to swirl.  I can think back to mornings when the first thing I thought about wasn't what my daughter's feet would look and feel like when she got out of bed. 

I am trying to embrace our new normal.  At the hospital she started Naproxen and Prednisone.  In August she began treatment on Methotrexate and we immediately saw improvement in her quality of life.  Now, November, her days are mostly good.  Often at night she is sore from a busy day of running around like normal.  She rashes occasionally, but isn't bothered by it much.  She only uses Naproxen when she "needs" it; though, I think she is just growing used to life with pain because she often behaves as if she is uncomfortable but just doesn't want to take more medicine.  She runs, does yoga, dances, races her brother outside, and talks about something and everything all day long.  So to that end she is normal.

The new normal unfortunately includes a sizable portion of panic and anxiety.  Six months ago when she would wake in the middle of the night to go the bathroom and cry it didn't send me into a panic attack.  Two weeks ago, though, she woke to pee and had pain in her feet.  She came into my room crying and frightened.  I think I was shaking when I woke up.  I worry that one night we'll wake up and she will be regressing into disease instead of improving. 

I spoke with another mother of a newly diagnosed JIA patient the other day and it was oddly wonderful.  It's awful to be having this conversation about our children being sick and managing a disease.  It was good though to understand her perspective, to follow her train of thought, and to have someone really get it.  It was unpleasantly comforting.  She was still looking for answers and in a mental space of severe sadness mixed with total confusion.  I get it.  I am in a more accepting mental space of knowing there aren't always answers but there is a manageable course of treatment in a new normal. 

Trouble is my mental space can acknowledge that a "manageable course of treatment in a new normal" sucks. 


Peace and Quiet

You know the saying, "Elvis has left the building?" I can imagine it - thousands of screaming women, devastated at the end of a show because the man they never knew they loved so much is officially gone. Of course they liked Elvis. But then they saw him in concert - and they loved him. His voice, his hips, his hair, for Pete's sake his hips! I can imagine the sheer joy, and the sheer disappointment when his departure was announced.
In my house every morning between 7 and 9 a.m. I think there should be a loud speaker announcement much like Elvis'. My loud speaker would announce, "Peace and quiet have left the building!" I would scream and protest when I heard it everyday, I would faint in a whirlwind of tears. I would, I swear I would. If only I had time for such shenanigans.
People ask me how its going with three children. I can really only confirm this: Silence is gone. Its as if one more body shot it right the hell out the front door. When I had two children, there was down time, some quiet. Now down time is like a not-so-distant memory.
I always imagined my life with three + children, though. I never would have quit procreating with anything less. I would have pestered the hell out of my husband had he denied me a third bambino. So to that end - the missing silence is my own fault. The constant talking, screaming, singing, humming, crying, whining, and moaning comes with constant activity. I feel like I have something to do at all times of the day; but, at the end of the day I sit down to nurse the infant, and I can't exactly recall what I got done. I've changed my "to-do" list into a "rolling list of hopeful accomplishments." I think I'm gaining more acceptance of getting less done and being content with having happy, sort of clean kids. The thing is, even though they've taken silence from me, they've given me much more in return.
The noise from each of them is different. My eldest, the Chicken, talks constantly either to me, to herself, to her dolls and toys, or to her imaginary friend, Annie. When she isn't having a conversation with someone, she is performing a new action or dance. She is finding new ways of flipping off the couch, hopping on one foot then the other, dancing like Angelina Ballerina, or telling her brother what to do. Quite often throughout the day she can be heard (over and over and over again) saying, "Mom, look at me!" Her latest trick is sure to follow. She is occupied at all times of the day with her own imagination and will certainly include anyone around. She creates a world of her own, but lights up reality with her every move. She is always looking to learn something new: how to spell Annie, where a truck will tow a car, why a semi-truck is called a semi. She prefers coloring on white paper to coloring books and writes me letters several times a week. At night, she never wants to go to bed without a snack, even though she rarely eats her whole dinner. She can't wait for her dad to come home from work every single day and she still tries to hide from him when he returns. Every morning she asks me, "what is today?" She is thrilled about school, play dates, and the dentist. She prefers peas to green beans, and will ingest an entire can of pears in thirty seconds.
The middle child, the brute we call Mister, can be heard making a variety of noises; yet, he only says a few actual words at 20 months old. He says "Ma! Ma! Ma!" nearly 1800 times a day and at increasing levels until I give him my attention. He communicates through sounds that I have come to understand to be one of the following: hi, dog, dad, come on, hot, book, bowl, baby. He is also a fan of a high pitched scream and grunting sounds that mean something to him but very little to the general population. He laughs and giggles constantly. When he poops he must leave wherever he is or whatever he is doing to find an alone space. Then he sits and grunts and groans all the while making a very stern, concerned expression. He can get very angry, and expresses anger with the high pitched scream, head butting, or loud crying. He is not one for having his diaper changed without a fight and if he's pooped he wants to see it every time. I can't blame him, though, who doesn't look at their poop? He is a truck obsessed book worm who occasionally likes to wear princess shoes and sunglasses. He is in love with his father, but mimics his sister. He snuggles me every morning and gives me wet, sloppy kisses every night. He licks his breakfast plate so as not to leave a drop of syrup behind, each time covering his forehead in stick. If his sister coughs, he coughs. If his sister cries, he cries. When she sits, he sits. When she walks in a circle, he walks in a circle; but, when he plays he plays independently and with focus. He walks with a heavy footed, determined strut. He pants like a puppy and dances with his fists.
The youngest, and generally most quiet, I have yet to give an official blog nickname.  He is either going to be Popeye or Ace. Popeye because he often looks at me with only one eye. Ace because his unruly, full head of hair often resembles Ace Ventura Pet Detective's oddly pointy style. Though the smallest, his contribution to the noise factor in my home is not to be overlooked. He is a third baby in a house of noise and he is seemingly aware of that. He makes himself heard by crying very, very loudly - at times shrieking. I think part of the issue here is that because he has older siblings I can't always meet his needs immediately as I'm knee deep in someone else's mess. So he is forced to cry loudly to make himself heard. The flip side of that awfully loud, ear piercing cry is a very happy, smiley boy who coo's and gurgles with the best of 'em. His smile, undoubtedly, cancels out any frustrations from crying. He gazes at the two older kids and is easy going. He likes to be part of the action and has quickly grown accustomed to having his sister's face 2 inches from his own face. He seems less enthused, though, when his brother, the brute, tries to smother him like a human blanket. He needs a swaddle to fall asleep, a pacifier to drown out noise, and he likes to have his face buried in a blanket or my armpit. He has learned his hands are his and he can get them into his mouth if he wants to; but, keeping them there is another story. He can handle a diaper change on a full stomach, but he won't go easily if he's hungry. He can pass twenty minutes easily looking at the window or playing on the activity mat. He's quiet in the bath and loves a massage.
I catch glimpses of silence at night just after the older kids are in bed and the infant is fading to sleep. I relish it for a few minutes until I, too, drift to sleep. In the morning, I wake to "Ma! Ma! Ma!" from Mister, I stumble around my dark room looking for my slippers and then I excitedly peek-a-boo into his bedroom to pull him out of his crib, and into my arms for our morning snuggle. Peace and quiet have certainly left me, but I wouldn't trade what I got in return for anything - PURE JOY.


Private Parts

When I had my son I worried about the penis conversation with my daughter. I knew, at 3 years old, she would ask. I knew she would be interested. I dreaded the thought of her little brain churning over and over the male sex-organ so early. I asked my sister how I should handle it. She said, "You just address it plain and simple call it by its name, don't make up some foo-foo word for it." That has been my rule of thumb. Then, not ten minutes later, my daughter went to the bathroom with her son and came back saying, "Mom, I saw his penis!" Once my son was born we had a quick run through: you have a vagina, he has a penis. I, naively, considered the topic addressed.

Shortly after St. Patrick's day, however, my husband and daughter had stopped for gas at a gas station right next to a McDonald's. The goose said, "I had a Shamrock Shake the other day." My husband said, "Oh yeah? Did you like it." She relied, "Yes, I did. Dad, you have a big penis and my brother has a small penis." Shakes. Penis. Wait what? My husband, dumbfounded, replied, "Well, yes, its because I'm a big guy and he's a little guy." He looked in his rear view mirror to see her churning on the new information then quickly continued, "When did you say you had that Shamrock Shake?"

At my latest ultrasound the tech sent me home with two photographs. One picture of my in-utero son's profile, the other of his penis. I showed the pictures to my daughter, she said "Oh! So that's his penis." Yup. A few days later I caught her playing the fiddle with her brother's schlong in the bathtub. I said, "Oh! That's his penis. You shouldn't touch his private parts." She stopped and said, "Ok."

Then on Mother's Day we sat around the kitchen table chatting about donuts and current weekend happenings. I had mentioned a few days prior that I still had her ultrasound pictures and she wanted to see them. We ate our donuts and looked at the baby's ultrasound, her brother's ultrasounds, and then her ultrasound pictures. She looked at each of them carefully. I'd say, "That's your mouth." She'd reply, "Yes, I see it." When we were done she said, "Wait, but Mom, where is my vagina?" My husband nearly choked on his coffee and I sat speechless. Of course she'd want to see a picture of her vagina. She had just seen two pictures of two penis' and she didn't have one of those...so where was the ever mysterious vagina? Finally I said, "Well, that's tricky because its inside your body so you can't see it on a picture." She seemed pacified.

My head swirled with the what if's of a preschoolers thought process. Where is she heading with this? I geared up for further dialogue about the vagina. Thankfully, my husband switched gears quickly with, "We should get our teeth brushed everybody!" As we left the kitchen he said, "How did we get there so quickly?" The penis/vagina dialogue rages on in my house and I get the feeling it has become a staple.


Put down the spitter, Cletus.

My son is a boy, through and through. He apparently likes things more if I say "yuck" about them. The kitchen garbage can is a constant battle; the recycling container under the sink another fighting ground. Taking his dirty diaper to the garbage can, saying, "yuck yuck" the whole way there, is a good time. Within fifteen minutes of being at the park he could care less about the play structures and will go in search of the nearest pile of dirt or mud and play with it.

From very early on it seemed evident to me that he was a man's man. When we would go shopping or to a party he would stare at men. He would bat his heavily eyelashed blue eyes at women, of course, but seemed fascinated by men. Even more taken by men in hats. He is also quite in love with his father and at 14 months tries to mimic his every move. Last night while my husband took a few work calls he circled the house, walking. He is a walking talker. Every time he came through the kitchen the little Mister was right on his heels, Tonka cell phone to his ear.

It is no wonder then that when we are in the garage he seems even more fascinated by his father's tools than his plastic toys. Who wouldn't be? I was a little disappointed yesterday when I was unloading groceries to find him combining two of his favorite hobbies in the garage: adoration of his father and playing with things I call yucky. I was putting Diet Coke in the refrigerator and when I turned around I found the boy leaning against the recycling container, chugging what looked like an empty beer can. There he was mimicking his father and getting into the yucky stuff. It wasn't, however, an empty beer can...my husband dips. I said, "Oh come on buddy, drinking a spitter is frowned upon," took the can and wiped him down. He cried outrageously in protest and smelled of Skoal for a bit.

If this is what I'm in for I might as well pack it all up, move even farther into the sticks, and rename him Cletus.


What's in a word?

My daughter is experimenting with the "F" word. She has heard it, knows its bad, but wants me to acknowledge its infamous nature. First experiment, while driving in the car we play a rhyming game. She loves to play the game, but is not the best at creating rhymes; often she just adds the letter f to the word, for instance - mouse rhymes with flouse. She starts it up last Tuesday with, "Mom, what rhymes with f*#k?" I thought, "nah...that's not what I heard." So I ask, "I'm sorry hunny, I didn't hear you?" I readjusted my rearview mirror so as to clearly see her as she spoke. "What rhymes with F*#K?" Yes. That is what I heard. I giggled and said, "That's not even a word. You can't just keep adding f to the beginning of words to make a rhyme." Phew. Cleared that one with ease. Not likely. Four year olds are mastermind manipulators. Experiment two: my mother is a singing grandmother. She sings a million songs and I can remember about fifty of them. One that I do remember goes like this: I love you a bushel and a peck A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck... Thursday of last week while driving home my daughter belted out her version of the song: I love you a bushel and a f*#k A bushel and a f*#k and hug around the neck... I said, "Hunny, those aren't the words. Its peck - a bushel and a peck." She yells at me, "What are you even saying? A bushel and a what?" "PECK!" I scream, "PEEECCCKKK!" I was losing the battle to keep the "F" word out of our vocabulary. This morning, four short days later, I pulled into the garage and exited the car. I walked around to open the door to take my son out of his seat and as I open the door I hear it again, "F*#k!" I said, "What did you say?" She repeated it. I said, "OK - you are not allowed to say that word. It is a bad word. If you say that word again I am going to wash your mouth out with soap." She said, "What word? Puck?" I said, "Oh no - don't try that. You know the word I am talking about. Do not say it again." As she hopped out of the car, she surreptitiously glanced at me and grinned. She won the battle.


Advice: how to talk to the preggos

When I was younger I worked with a woman who was a bit overweight. We were at the front desk of a very popular, busy restaurant in Chicago. One night while she was walking a group to their table a man congratulated her and asked, "When is your due date?" She was devastated. I tried to console her with positive thoughts, "He's just a jerk..." and "Please, you look great!! I love that dress!" Regardless of my efforts to cheer her, she was devastated. Suggesting that a woman is pregnant when in fact she isn't is quite possibly the meanest thing you could say to a woman..

The truth is, asking a woman if she is pregnant EVEN IF SHE IS PREGNANT is frowned upon, too. My rule of thumb is never, never, never, ever, even if she's clearly about to have a baby ask the question. Don't comment at all about her physical appearance. For instance, does she have a gigantic belly, gorgeous glowing face, shiny perfect hair and look as if she is bursting with joy? You then say, "You a hockey fan?" Do NOT say, "Oh, you must be pregnant you're looking so full of life..." Because you can bet your sweet patoot she will lose her glow, her hair will instantly dull, and she'll give you the "what an awful human" glare you rightly deserve.

Starting a conversation with a woman you suspect to be pregnant you should never indicate your suspicion. Talk about something else entirely. Talk about yourself until she brings it up - and trust me, if she IS PREGNANT - she will bring it up. I'm pregnant and its all I can do not to talk about it. The reason for this is simple: pregnancy consumes you. Your body lives for a ten month period in a state of constant change; every day the hormones shift and you never know what that will bring. Good mood, bad mood, shiny hair, zits, tears, smiles, constipation, diarrhea, vomit, bloating. I mean, you really do not know what the day will bring. Nausea ends during week eleven, but then boom - week 16 and there it is again. Besides those physical indicators everyone asks about, a pregnant woman's brain is not like a non-pregnant woman's brain. My point is simply: if she is pregnant she will talk about being pregnant. Somehow, someway - it will come up. So you needn't worry yourself with bringing it up at all.

You certainly shouldn't feel compelled to bring it up just to "congratulate" her. If for some odd reason she doesn't bring it up and you don't get the chance to congratulate her - she isn't losing any sleep over that, so again - don't fret. If you did bring it up and she isn't pregnant, she will lose sleep over the insult. If she is pregnant and you brought it up in an improper way again, she's not sleeping tonight.

What should be your utmost concern is not hurting a woman's feelings for any reason at all. If you say nothing and she brings it up and you have the opportunity to congratulate her let that be it. If you MUST say something else - the only thing you should ever say to a woman who is pregnant no matter how close you are to her is this: "How are you feeling?" and/or "You look great!" Never say anything like:
1. "I thought you were pregnant, you normally take such good care of yourself."
2. "I can't believe how big you are!"
3. "Maybe you're carrying twins."
4. "Well, you weren't that big with your other children, were you?"
5. "When I was pregnant I didn't start to show until I was (fill in the blank) months along."
6. "I guess you've had some cravings for junk food, huh?"
7. "Hitting the ice cream shop, are we?"

Chances are if you have said anything like that to a pregnant woman she cursed you out behind your back for a day or two - minimum. You may think that seems an excessive amount of time - but each of the comments a pregnant woman hears is registered in a location in her brain that she will not forget. Oddly she'll forget to buckle her eldest with a seat belt, but she will not forget the nasty comment her neighbor said.

I will review. It is really just this simple. First, never ask the question. Let her tell you of her own free will. Two, if it comes up you have three things to say, "Congratulations! How are you feeling? Well... you just look great!" If you follow these simple rules you will be certain to stay in the good graces of pregnant women everywhere and certain not to offend any non-pregnant women along the way.


First Time Isn't a Charm

My husband is a snow plower.  He goes out alone, a solitary man and his truck.  With our most recent storm he was out for 36 hours...or something insane like that.  He seems to like it quite a bit.  I liken it to his hobbies: hunting, fishing.  A man, alone with his gun or fishing pole - silence.  I am well aware that he leaves here on a daily basis to escape the constant sound, even if he has to go to work to do it.  Three year olds and wives talk constantly; the one year old boy exists only with a steady stream of grunts and growns.  We are a loud bunch.  I can tune the kids out pretty well, when needed.  Dinnertime, for instance, I have to shut down my mommy-entertainer mode so as to prepare a meal.  In this mode, however, I can still register anything happening in my kitchen that requires my attention.  A child climbing upstairs or playing in an off limits cabinet.  A child moaning for more peas.  Whatever the case may be I can hear what needs to be heard. 

Sunday was the Superbowl.  We were heading to a small gathering for the event and on the way my husband thought he would check on a couple driveways.  Turned out we did need to plow two driveways.  It was the first time we had a family plowing excursion.  It was less than ideal for the solitary snow plow hubby of mine in that a three year old fields a lot of questions during her first experience with anything. 

This day was also special because it was the first day our youngest, newly one year old just last week, got to face forward while in the car.  Initially he seemed quite pleased to be able to see us and more of the world around him.  The first driveway was quite short.  The baby started moaning a little bit - my dinnertime mommy ears were listening as I watched, fascinated by the movement of snow from one location to the next.  When my husband got out of the truck to shovel the walk I turned and chatted with the kids a bit.  The chicken just wanted to get to the party but my little man seemed downright pissed.  I tried to cheer him up and then we were moving on.

At the next (very long) driveway we pulled up, dropped the plow, and pulled the snow away from the garage door.  Forward and then reverse. We did that three more times.  Then I noticed the moaning again.  Then I noticed my own stomach was starting to turn a bit.  Then the truck lurched forward again and we had our next first experience: the little man puked up his lunch all over himself - twice.  He and I made a not so quick exit from the truck and watched from the sideline.  Needless to say, it was unpleasant and we both felt badly for the Mister.

Evidentally, I need to tune my mommy ear's a bit for the sound of "child about to puke".  My husband will certainly stick to solitary man plowing snow from now on... but who could of have seen that coming?