Monthly Archives: November 2013

Wild Geese that Fly With the Moon on Their Wings

These are a few of my favorite things:

A) Children, mine and others’.

They are weird and funny, sweet and opinionated small people.

I like that I get to watch them grow and help shepherd them along the path to adulthood.

I like seeing my toddler pick up my phone and say to me, “No sir. I call China.”

I like being privy to sights like Jack fleeing when Grandpa fires up a chainsaw to trim the bottom of the fresh Christmas tree, and then turning around and running back with a smile plastered to his face to watch the excitement.

I like tucking them into flannel owl blankets.

I like baking them bran applesauce muffins and brownies.

I like watching from the kitchen window as they bounce like popcorn kernels on the trampoline and pump their legs higher on the swings and let the tetherball fly in wild arcs.

I like combing their thick damp hair after a bath, and putting them in their jammies.

I like when we are all in the same room together, or in the car together. All together.

B) Friends, close by and far away.

One of the beauties of being a grownup is being a central player in an ever-growing circle of people you love. Friends aren’t limited to school chums and neighbor kids and cousins. Proximity is no longer the main requirement for friendship, as it might have been in childhood.

I love my dear, dear friends from all the phases of my life: my youth, college, graduate school, the neighborhood where we bought our first home, our time in Early Intervention, our current neighborhood. They are people who knew me when I was young and stupid, and those who met me when I was older and still kinda dumb.

True friends are a gift, and I have been given so many. On a related note, I’m also grateful for Instagram. And blogs. And FB. And the invention of the text message.

C) The Hubs

Because we are a team, like Katniss and Peeta, but without the conflicted parts to the love story. And also, I am not taller than Dutch. And we are not good at archery and cake decorating, respectively.

I’m grateful for someone who gets me.


This afternoon was memorable with my eldest son’s priesthood ordination, and then a celebratory lunch afterward.

Here are a few snippets of the day prior to and during the events:

1. Jack threw my large glass vase filled with water and the flowers I bought for the big day across the vestibule. Ten million shards of glass covered a surprisingly large swath of the house. Also, sticky flower water was everywhere, along with glass shards.

2. Jack flushed a ball down the toilet. Jeff had to remove said toilet from it’s fittings to extract it (slightly bigger than a tennis ball). Jeff had to go out for a new wax ring and caulk so he could reseat the toilet before our guests came.

3. Jeff found that Jack had also packed the drain of the bathroom sink with a) string, b) Kleenex, and c) paper, and d) a straw. Unclogging that was a separate project.

4. Jack tipped over the Christmas tree.

5. While in time-out for toppling the tree, Jack tipped his bed on its side and removed the mattress.

6. Jack removed his church clothes after getting dressed and threw them at me. I’ll admit—an effective way to communicate “church ain’t happening for me today.”

7. Jack pooped in the corner of the living room, behind the armchair because, well why not?

8. Jack shredded various important forms and papers and then stuffed them in the grill on the deck.

9. Charlie and I had a showdown over pants. He only will wear one pair of his pants. None of the others will do. He also likes to change clothes 6-8 times per day. You can see how this could be a problem. But it’s my problem. He hounds me about pants until I’m ready to throw a chair through a window and scream, “Do what you want, pant-wise, but leave me out of it!”

10. I had a meltdown.

The Boy Who Is So Much Fun

Twelve years ago tomorrow, I felt like someone had attached a vice to my lower back and was crushing my will to live. Apparently, they call this “back labor.”

My firstborn was prepping to make his debut. Jeff took the day off work. He listened to me moan and groan. He rented me seven videos from Blockbuster (ha!), none of which we watched. My sister stopped by to visit and remembers me barking at her for leaving a glass in the sink after getting a drink. Laboring women are such a drag.

After infinite hours of the back vice, we left for the hospital and found that all the pregnant women everywhere had also decided to show up at that very moment to deliver their babies.

Dutch’s famous quote of that evening (he turned and said this to me in a stressed-out huff as we walked into labor and delivery; I was walking slowly and breathing deeply through a contraction): “Hurry up! You can do that when we get inside.”

A few dicey hours later our strawberry-blonde boy arrived.

Here are a few things I did not know about Henry on that Eve of Thanksgiving when he was first born, and swaddled in the shape of a kidney bean:

* that he would spend his preschool years with the preferred name of “Mr. Horse.”

* that he would coin much of our family’s lexicon with his exuberant sayings. (“When I say ‘Grandma’s house,’ you say ‘yay!’). When it’s cold we wear glubs. For breakfast we eat mawffles. When our arms are full, we have “too many hands,” and when something ends “it’s ozer.”

* that he would be a source of So Much Fun in our family. He’s the little-brother-magnet, the instigator of hide & seek, the organizer of walks to the ice cream shop. 

* that every night he craves popcorn, and he has a major affinity for Dunford chocolate doughnuts.

* that he would be sporty and athletic, even though his parents are not. 

* that he would be kind and empathetic to his younger brothers with disabilities; that he would treat people who are different with kindness.

* that he would be at my side through great difficulty. Many times when Jeff has been at work and I’ve been in the swampy hinterlands of raising children with behavioral problems, communication problems, and potty-training problems, Henry has stood by me. 

* that he would be wise beyond his years in understanding what it means to care for someone who can’t care for themselves.

* that he would be a special helper in our family.

* that he would go before his brothers, being an example of “what boys should do.” 

It’s a milestone birthday for my eldest son. I felt grateful that Thanksgiving Eve of his birth; but I am more grateful now.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Horse.

Open Letter to a New Mom of a Special-Needs Newborn

Dear New Mom of a Newborn with a Syndrome,

I don’t know you personally, but because your sister is a friend of my sister, I saw on social media that you gave birth to a special little baby this week.

Congratulations, momma. Your son is beautiful. He is perfect. He is strong and valiant.

I’m writing this not because I think you need to hear it, but because seeing snatches of you and your baby have washed a wave of memories over me. I’m writing because my own experience delivering a special baby has all bubbled to the surface and I need to put it down.

Looking at your beautiful, weary face reminded me of the stress and uncertainty that ate at me when my own son was born with a rare syndrome nearly ten years ago. The anxiety of not knowing what the future held for my cherished baby was like a thief, stealing away much of the joy accompanying his birth. If I could, I would tell ten-years-ago me to hold onto the joy anyway—to be less afraid and more ardently, tenaciously hopeful.

Seeing you gaze at your tiny baby in your arms was a spiritual experience for me. It was a visual portrayal of something very sacred: a special little soul has joined your family, and you will never be the same again. Your special baby will make your whole family special.

Thinking back on the springtime birth of my second son, I remember feeling guilty–like I was to blame because I was his mother and had clearly done something wrong. I also felt the need to explain to anyone who called or visited that something was up with my baby. He was different. I realize now that I was unwittingly progressing through the stages of grief. I was grieving the “perfect” infant I thought I would deliver.

The clarity of hindsight afforded me by the last ten years helps me see clearly now what was murky back then. Your baby’s condition, whatever it entails, doesn’t have to be tragic. He is beginning his own story, apart from you physically, yet intrinsically connected to you in other ways.

His journey may not look like yours, or his siblings’ or cousins’. My advice is to resist the urge to be heartbroken by this. His path may look different, but it is his.

My own trek through the wilderness of raising special children has distilled in me something I wouldn’t have believed ten years ago, but which I now know to be completely true: things will be okay. 

Life as you know it may change; you will change. But with faith and a great deal of effort, it’s going to work out.

Here’s why:

I believe that God sent you your valiant, special son. His birth in your family was not accidental, but a gift.

I know this is true of my family, with my two special sons. They aren’t a mistake. They are evidence of God’s goodness. Their spirits are perfect, though their bodies and minds are not.

I can’t tell the old me this, because she is long gone, but I can say it to you, beautiful, tired new mom: your little gift, your little boy, is going to make you strong and wise and happy because he is yours.

You can do it.

God will help.

Back in the Kirkland Signature Saddle

A few months ago, I packed up my two little boys and went to Costco for milk, etc. As we walked through the parking lot, Charlie was like a pinball slamming this way and that at high speeds. He asked, shouting, if we could buy chocolate raisins. I assured him that if he could be a) quiet, and b) good that we would indeed buy the large container of chocolate raisins.

But I should’ve realized that Charlie had already launched through the stratosphere and was now orbiting the earth. When we walked through those big open doors and he caught a panoramic view of the entire warehouse, Charlie wigged, hard core. Shrieking and writhing, he was desperate to leave.

So we left.

No biggie. I’m accustomed to Costco patrons staring when one of us loses control. Once when I was extremely pregnant with Littlest, Charlie flipped out in the shopping cart and stepped on my slice of combo pizza. Large, frustrated, pregnant, and perpetually hungry me looked at Charlie and my smashed, ruined pizza. Then I swore. Audibly. A swath of patrons in the food court line looked at me in slack-jawed shock. Apparently, nobody swears at Costco. Except for the giant woman with a giant belly and swollen ankles, pushing a giant cart piled with groceries and a screaming preschooler.

I’m down with people at Costco thinking we are nuts.

Anyhoo, I recount this story because today I packed up my two little boys and decided the time had come to put Charlie back on the Costco pony, figuratively speaking. We needed to return a sweater. Easy, fast, simple.

As we walked through the parking lot, Charlie asked me repeatedly if Costco has doors. He was fretting, but functional. We went inside, waited in line, and made our return. Charlie asked if we could get pizza.

You betcha.

Two quiet boys chowed on pizza and drinks and suckers from the bank all the way home.

It’s Curtains for Us: A Little Household Purgatory

Some people have described hell as a state of being acutely disappointed in oneself. Aron Ralston described hell as being trapped for days in the bottom of a cold dark canyon, alone.

But I discovered today that hell is actually ironing a bunch of enormous curtains.

If I do not live well, when I die, I believe I will be made to forever launder giant applesauce and Dorito-stained drapery panels and then spend an eternity trying with heat and starch to make them look crisp (it’s impossible, btw).

I loathe ironing, which didn’t help this cause.

So much effort, so much time devoted to a fruitless task. My boys don’t give a Fig Newton that I have spent the better part of two days undoing the damage they have done to the window treatments. I have a feeling that unless I turn into an anthropomorphic female Great Wall blocking their access, they will be right back at wrapping themselves in the curtains, while wiping their hands and faces thereon.

It’s such a first-world problem, it’s ridiculous. As I cursed to myself while wielding the hot iron, I deep-down thanked heaven that I had a house free from typhoon damage in which to hang some curtains.

Cursing while giving thanks is one of those delectable ironies which is not lost on me.

I’m tremendously grateful for the boys who live in this house, and for the house that is taking a beating from the boys. There’s a destructive symbiotic relationship happening with our abode and it’s hard-livin’ occupants. The guys are wrecking the floors, the walls, the mouldings, the toilets, the sinks, the light fixtures, and the window coverings (obvs).

Jeff and I are trying sooooooo hard to keep pace with the boy-caused destruction. We clean things. We repair things. We replace things. But it’s difficult to keep up. Just this week, Jeff pulled with his pipe snake an action-figure, a fist-sized beanbag, and three toothbrushes from the toilets of this house. We are a sewer-system catastrophe in waiting.

Also ironic: that we are being undone by things put in toilets which don’t belong there, while the poops are landing daily anywhere but toilets. As I bathed the five- and two-year-olds tonight, Jack tagged four areas of the house with his BM.

Maybe Alanis Morrisette should write a song about us.

Holiday Planning Notebook

I’m dying to put up my Christmas tree. I can’t do it yet because it’s a fresh tree and it has yet to be cut and tied to the top of our car for special delivery at home. But I did fire up the Pandora holiday hits and had a little dance party in the kitchen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Strangely, this is a holiday classic since it’s been around since like 1992.

Okay, so it’s 1994. I just looked it up. But it’s been around long enough that Michael Buble has covered it. Successfully. Jack liked my dancing. He laughed the whole time. Baby stared at me with mild interest. Charlie said, “Stop dancing.”

Anyway, I can’t put up my tree for another week, but I can start wrapping the few gifts I’ve picked up. And I can listen to Christmas music nonstop.

The really terrific holiday news, however, is that we have made definitive Thanksgiving plans. At last! We are doing something this year which may not please all the folks, but it will keep us sane. We are staying home and cooking our own dinner.

This is one of those special-needs-driven moments in holiday planning. Our special need for Thanksgiving is to eat it casually, at home, with the illusion for a couple of boys that it’s just a regular day. With turkey and pie and football in the background.

The boys really struggle with big groups of people, even when they are relatives. The more we do holidays in a Jack-proof house, the better. I feel pretty elated about this decision. It’s the only alternative that offers any possibility of quiet, restful moments for the mom and the dad.

We’ve also decided that we are preordering pies from Kneaders, so pat me on the back for being a total genius.

Let’s Visit the Shrink

This morning I climbed out of my warm bed before my children woke, to the chirping of a smoke detector in need of a new battery. It was too early to get up, but there would be no buses coming to collect my boys for school today. The behavioral health clinic and my boys’ psychiatrist were waiting.

The look of that squat, blocky building on the university campus with it’s warrens of harshly-lighted hallways and windowless offices, embodies the way I used to feel about going there. It always felt soul-crushing, particularly when our insurance didn’t cover it and we were “self-pay.” They should’ve handed me back my debit card with a receipt which read at the bottom, “You are now officially a family who drops a wad for psychiatric appointments, even though you have insurance, which doesn’t choose to cover this type of thing.”

I’d look around that bland, dated waiting area and think, “No one wants to be here.”

I felt differently today. I wasn’t depressed walking through those colorless hallways. I watched my two boys, age nine and five, trundle along, happily racing each other to the familiar clinic. We know this place. It has no more destructive power over us, after the initial sledgehammer impact of the diagnoses. It dropped the bomb, and now it’s here to help us put the pieces back together and move on.

We adjusted some meds. We talked about positive reinforcement. We discussed how to convince Jack to stop shredding things and then cramming them down the heat vents. As we talked about the shredding and the cramming, Jack casually picked up a puzzle piece from the floor, walked to the vent unit on the wall and stuffed the puzzle piece down.

Cue the demonstration of the “behaviors.” Doh!

Dr. M assured me that the only people who would miss that puzzle piece would be her OCD patients, who would be forced to practice flexibility when putting it together.

We left on a buoyant note (yay for insurance which now covers the psychiatrist at the behavioral health clinic!) and had cheeseburgers and chicken strips at Aunt Kate’s house, where Littlest spent the morning playing with his cousin.

It’s progress.

Give Me Five

I wrote an essay in graduate school about how my four sisters and I resembled the five fingers on a hand. We came from the same place—the same family, but we were stretching into different directions and different lives. We were connected, yet we were going our own way.

The tone of the essay reflected the need the five of us girls had to differentiate ourselves from each other in subtle yet distinct ways. We didn’t want to be lumped together. I didn’t, anyway. No lumping, people. We needed separate identities, unique life experiences. Our pursuit to be identified as independent people was key as we grew and left home.

As the middle child, apparently I was a self-appointed analyst of the five sister dynamic. I guess I felt uniquely qualified to observe and dissect our sisterly behavior. Middle children have identity issues, amirite?

That was a dozen years ago, before any of us had children. Now we all have children. Between the five of us, we have 13.75 children. We’ve moved from twenty-somethings with a penchant for self-actualization to thirty- and forty-something’s with families and uber-busy lives.

My sisters and I recently spent an entire evening trying to identify a date when we are all available for an overnight girls’ getaway downtown during the upcoming holiday season. This task proved essentially impossible because we are all busy as sin, with completely irreconcilable schedules. I daresay that our encroaching responsibilities stand in the way of our connection to each other more than anything else does.

Is it too much to ask to spend a day and a night downtown with my mom and my sisters, eating non-kid food and shopping and not cleaning up after people?! The answer to that question is “probably.”

Several days and multiple email conversations later, we are still laboriously figuring out a date that sort of works for everyone. We are soldiering onward, determined to do this thing. I think we can make it work. We want everyone there. My youngest sis said it well: “No sister left behind.”

Give us our night away! The five fingers need to stop the jazz hand position and draw close, like a fist.

But not an angry fist. More of a back-off-while-we-hang-out-and-reconnect kind of a fist. Maybe a fist bump kind of a fist.

Or a victory fist raised high.

Baby Turns Two

Tonight at the family dinner, we remembered why winter is the unpopular step-sibling of the other, more gregarious seasons.

Winter family dinners move us from the spacious kid-friendly backyard into the not-as-spacious house where suddenly everybody is shouting to be heard over the din of everybody else shouting to be heard. All twenty-five of us. We love each other, but seriously. We are totally pirates.

My two-year-old ate his mashed potatoes and gravy using only his fingers. My five-year-old put on a dress he found in grandma’s basement. Jack accidentally knocked over a can of orange soda and doused his pants in the process, which meant that he decided he needed to go pantless while his sweats were tumble drying.

Basically, just your average Sunday evening.

In other news, my littlest boy turned two today, which makes me glad.

I’m glad that he can walk and talk and be sassy and fun. I’m glad he is not currently riding in an ambulance transport to a bigger hospital with a better NICU. I’m glad he isn’t on a ventilator. I’m glad he doesn’t have a tube running from his nose to his stomach for gavage feeds. I’m glad I don’t have to drive forty-five minutes each direction to visit him. I’m glad he can run and clap and sing songs and be happy.

Basically I’m really glad that he and I (and the other guys) made it through the last two years. When Littlest came along and lived his first month of life in an isolette in the newborn intensive care unit, we began a journey from three children to four. Some people appear to do this effortlessly. I’ve heard from more than one seasoned parent that once you have three kids, it’s all chaos, so adding another is no biggie.


Maybe for them. Maybe they are gifted in the parenting arts. Maybe they have easy offspring. Maybe they like to tell falsehoods.

Adding our fourth son to our already unique family felt rather like adding thirteen additional people into the family dynamic. Jack and Charlie both went berserk what with the hospital stay and then the baby coming home. Jack reacted to his newest sibling by painting the house with poo. Charlie began the downward behavior spiral that prompted us to seek evaluation and diagnosis.

Two years later, I’m really glad it’s two years later.

We have come a long way from the baby who couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink two ounces of milk, and the big brother who took Code Browns to a dastardly new level. The brother who went off the rails when the baby came home from his sojourn in the NICU? He tantrums less and asks questions more. He says please and thank you, and he flourishes with routines.

I wish I could say that I’ve forgotten the meaning of the term Code Brown, but today we discovered a petrified poop beneath the TV armoire downstairs.

There is always room for improvement. But there is also reason for thanksgiving.