Friday, February 29, 2008

Sharing Friends

So, my dear friend Lauren linked our breakfast bar posts to her food choices discussion board over at Babycenter, and let's just say the fireworks flew. If you want to see how it went down, click here.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the ladies of Babycenter for joining our discussion, and especially for taking me to task for pumping my kids full of unsavory additives, such as shellac. I'd just like to know how else I'm supposed to keep them so nice and shiny?

What I actually found most interesting about the whole Babycenter episode is the twinge I felt when I read Lauren's intro, in which she mentioned how she and I were friends, and then Keri moved in, and although Lauren had been concerned that my sister would turn out to be some kook she couldn't stand, "fortunately, her sister was a totally bearable nutjob, and now I hardly care which sister answers the phone when I call."

Really, Lauren? You really don't care AT ALL?

Not that I'm not happy that Keri and Lauren have become friends. And it's totally natural that Keri's first friends were people she met through me - because, realistically, how else was she supposed to meet people? Now that she's been here almost two years, she has made other friends through work and through preschool. But I would say much of her socializing is still done with friends that were my friends first.

This happened to me once before, when I introduced Katrina, a friend from childbirth class, to Jodi, my tennis partner at the time. The three of us all had one kid back then, and we took Gymboree together and music classes, and hung out at each other's houses several times a week. Katrina, sadly, moved to Columbus, but before she did, she and Jodi became close also. And I was always a little jealous when the two of them did things without me. That feeling was complicated by the pangs I felt watching Andrew and Carlin (their oldest kids) playing and developing together, while Jonah's delays marked him as more and more different.

I used to joke to Katrina that I have an abandonment complex, and maybe that's true. But really, I don't think it's that unusual to want to be included in everything interesting that's going on, is it? Who doesn't enjoy that feeling of being the center of the universe, that comfort in knowing that everyone in the room is closest to you than they are to anyone else there?

What counteracts my deep-seated fear that my friends will like Keri more is my certainty that Keri will always like ME more. That's what it comes down to, really, and why this is different than the dynamic between me, Katrina and Jodi: Keri and I are best friends (spouses excluded). And there's no friend I could ever lose who's more important to me than she is. So I do want her to make a lot of friends, because that means she'll be happy, and that makes it more likely she will stay.

Besides, something I realized yesterday, when Keri had a bunch of people over for a tuna tasting she was doing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Keri is making a few cool friends herself. And there's nothing stopping me from honing in on them!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Breakfast Bar Wars Redux

Okay, you've read Amy's position on the breakfast bar wars... And here's where I stand on them: I hate them. If you haven't already, you can read about where she stands on them here.

I know Amy thinks I'm a bit hypocritical on this, because I've bought the kids chocolate breakfast cereals (organic, but still loaded with sugar)--though, to be perfectly clear, this is an occasional indulgence and most mornings we serve eggs and turkey bacon, or homemade pancakes or waffles, or oatmeal. As for the frozen waffles, these are something I would not buy, but when they are in the freezer and Amy is making them for her kids, I will give them to my kids as well (I can't fight on everything). And the fact is, I wouldn't blink at giving the kids a (homemade) muffin that had as much sugar as one of Amy's bars.

But my issue with breakfast bars is not, as Amy thinks, about the nutrition, though I do refute her claim that breakfast bars are nutritious. I would always choose a breakfast food that contained just organic brown rice flour, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cocoa, natural chocolate flavor, sea salt, organic molasses and organic rice bran extract (which is what Koala Krisp, an organic cocoa cereal I have purchased, contains) over one that contains, among many other items, high fructose corn syrup, "shellac," and ethanol. Lots of fiber does not automatically make a food nutritious. As for protein, both a Fiber One bar and a bowl of Koala Krisp contain 2 grams.

The bars do contain lots and lots of fiber. But as long as the kids' diet is relatively balanced, they don't need a candy bar to deliver 9 grams of fiber in one shot.

And that's part one of my issue with these bars: coated in chocolate, they're essentially candy bars. I don't think Amy would let her kids eat a Snickers bar for breakfast, even if it contained all the fiber, protein, and vitamin C a growing kid needs; it's still a candy bar. And candy bars should not be eaten for breakfast. Amy points out that the bars contain lots of vitamins B6, B12, and niacin, but you know what else contains loads of those vitamins?

Diet Coke Plus, the new vitamin-enriched Diet Coke. And I'm pretty sure Amy wouldn't let her kids drink that for breakfast.

If it's just vitamins Amy's after, she can always give her kids the handy daily vitamins prescribed by their pediatrician, which happen to contain all the vitamins the kids need. Granted, they don't contain protein or fiber, but the kids' fiber needs can easily be met with the bananas, oranges, and whole wheat bread they eat. As for protein, the milk, cheese sticks, peanut butter, and yogurt they eat every day, not to mention the meat they eat for dinner, more than cover the kids' daily needs.

But, I digress… I said earlier that my main problem with these bars is not nutrition. It's that these bars are fast food. Let's face it, sometimes you need fast food, and I've been known to buy the kids Happy Meals to eat in the car—but only rarely. And that's how I think bars should be dispensed. I know there are times when kids are rushed in the morning or need an afternoon snack on the way to drama class, and I'm fine with bars for this purpose. But when there's plenty of time in the morning for a sit-down breakfast, and Matty's already made pancakes and turkey bacon and Amy's making scrambled eggs, why on earth would you allow your child to choose the quick fix, the fiber-filled candy bar?

We have both posted about our love of the family dinner, which we try to enjoy as often as possible. But what about the family breakfast? Numerous studies show that family dinners do everything from keeping kids slim to keeping them off drugs. They also teach kids that mealtime is important, that eating in and of itself is important, that's it not just about getting the calories we need to function—if that were all we wanted, why stop at breakfast bars? We could chow down on lunch bars and dinner bars and never have to sit down to eat.

As adults, we often find ourselves complaining that our lives are so rushed. Too often we're forced to grab meals on the go, from a microwaved burrito at 7-Eleven to drive-thru McDonald's. Why would we force this on our children at such a young age? Because that's the appeal of these bars (which are certainly marketed toward adults): They're individually wrapped and ready to go! Perfect for the busy parent! Eat one in the car on your way to work!

The fact is that in our house, we have plenty of time in the morning for a sit-down breakfast as a family. This morning everyone slept a little late, but we still had 15 minutes to sit down and eat. And we did sit down and eat, together, as a family. Sure, it's hectic, but we manage. There's no need to stick a candy bar in the kids' hands and let them wander around the house while they eat. They'll have plenty of time for that when they're older.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Breakfast Bar Wars

I’ve posted before about how little the adults disagree in our house – how we avoid unnecessary confrontation and try to maintain consistent rules for all the kids. And we definitely have different philosophies, especially where food is concerned. Before we combined households, Keri and Matty were Whole-Foods shopping, organic-grocery consuming professional chefs who made everything from scratch. We . . . weren’t. But I think everybody is happy with the compromises we’ve reached: we buy some organic foods, but when it comes to preparing meals for 13 people, we all agree Costco strip steak at $5.49 a pound is a reasonable alternative to Laura’s hormone-free, grass-fed, Mozart-exposed cuts at whatever mortgage-necessitating price Whole Foods is charging these days. And Andy and I were happy to give up our regular take-out meals in front of the TiVo for the family dinners that began once the Fisher-Murphys moved in (except for American Idol night, when we all eat take-out in front of the TiVo). So you can imagine how surprising it is to find ourselves at an impasse that threatens to rupture the peaceful community that has co-existed for almost two years – especially over something so trivial as . . . breakfast bars.

You know, breakfast bars. Our two favorite brands are Fiber One and Nugo. They’re quick, nutritious, and the kids love them. Given that I’m often waking Erika and Hilary up less than forty-five minutes before they have to leave for school, bars have always seemed to me like a way to make crazy mornings a little less crazy.

Problem: Keri and Matty don’t want their boys to have breakfast bars. Which would be fine, except that if Declan and Ronan see the girls eating bars, then they want them too, because they’re so very tasty. So I’ve stopped offering them as an option, and when it happens that the girls come down early and help themselves – as happened this morning – I usher them and their bars out of the kitchen and make them eat somewhere upstairs where their cousins won’t find them. Which always makes me feel like a hypocrite, since that’s what I usually have for breakfast myself.

Andy and I just don’t understand why Keri and Matty are so opposed to bars. Keri claims they’re just candy bars. But no candy bar I ever ate had nine grams of fiber (like Fiber One bars) or eleven grams of protein (like NuGo bars). Is it the chocolate in the bars that makes them too much like candy? Hard to imagine, since chocolate cereal is okay – although it’s nutritionally inferior. One half-cup of Koala Crisp, the organic chocolate rice cereal the kids love, has ten grams of sugar, exactly the same amount in the Fiber One bar (the NuGo bar, which is a little bigger, has 13g). But it only has 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Adding milk helps with the protein, but the girls usually have milk with their breakfast bars too, so both sides get that benefit.

What about pancakes or waffles, another popular – and acceptable – choice? Well, we’re spoiled in that Matty makes homemade pancakes a couple of times a week and I have no idea what the nutritional info. on those are, but here’s what you get in an Eggo waffle: 2.5g protein, 0g fiber and an appalling lack of vitamins. NuGo bars have more than four times the amount of vitamins A, B6 and B12, thiamin and niacin than waffles do, as well as eight times the calcium and folic acid. While it’s true that each waffle only has 1g sugar straight out of the freezer, once you add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup you also add 24g sugar and over 100 calories – which, speaking of candy, yields a breakfast with a nutritional profile alarmingly similar to that of a serving of Twizzlers. And all that sugar and refined flour wreak havoc on your glycemic index, causing a rapid rise, then fall in blood sugar levels. Fortunately, the kids are still young enough to be funneled more empty calories by their teachers in the form of goldfish, graham crackers and the like, which is probably all that’s keeping them from crashing by circle time.

It’s been said that your rights stop once they infringe on mine, and –as much as I love Keri and Matty, and as much as it pains me to hurl such tyrannical accusations at them – their right to keep their kids from eating bars for breakfast infringes on our kids’ right to eat their breakfast bars. Which brings to mind another saying Andy taught me years ago about mutually exclusive states of being: when one person wants to box, and the other person wants to wrestle, they wrestle. So, in a last ditch attempt to resolve this seemingly irresolvable debate, I’m prepared to offer Keri and Matty their choice of boxing or wrestling. Either way, I like our chances.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Snow Day

Last Friday we got what every kid dreams about from November to March: a snow day. We spent about 20 minutes getting all 6 kids bundled up tight in boots, hats, mittens, scarves...

And once outside, Hilary grew about 2 feet. Seriously, I don't know why she looks like such a giantess.

After about 20 minutes outside, we got lots of this:

It seems that the 2-and-under set don't really like wearing mittens. But guess what else they don't like? That's right, cold, snowy hands. So, all the kids trudged back inside, peeled off their cold, wet clothes, and had some of this:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Aaron at Sunset


I had a real Horatio Alger moment this week, watching from the gallery while Erika took her tennis lesson (she usually takes with Hilary, but my hypochondriac was diagnosed with strep on Monday, and was home sleeping). I couldn't hear anything, but I could see Erika bouncing around, a huge smile on her face as she learned the six-year-old version of the "overhead smash." When it was over, she ran up the stairs and breathlessly asked, "Did you see me?" She was so proud of herself.

And I was so happy - to be able to give her tennis lessons, and drama classes, and so many things we didn't have when we were kids. Our parents divorced when I was seven and Keri was five, and our dad was sick most of the rest of his life, so it was just our mother, raising us on a secretary's salary. We did recreational basketball and softball through the township, but we certainly didn't have the options our kids have. I've explained this to Erika many times, trying to impart some perspective, and she asks the oddest questions: "Could you afford to get your car washed when you were a kid?" she asked the other day as we drove down to the bus stop in my toxic minivan, as if an early lack of exposure to car washes might explain the crud covering every surface.

Still, I worry about the choices I've made for the kids, and the ones I'll have to make later. There are so many opportunities, so many activities to choose from. And there's this feeling that kids' brains are so open and impressionable at this age, that the decisions you make now will have lasting consequences. If I sign her up for lacrosse, will she be popular? Would skiing or diving make her a less fearful person than I am?

And then there's the other question: how much is too much? Right now, Erika takes tennis and drama, plus she has Hebrew school three hours every Sunday (three hours!), and an art class on Saturdays I signed her up for because one of her best friends from school was going. Erika enjoys everything, but not only am I plagued by every parenting article I ever read claiming kids today are completely overscheduled by their demanding parents, but I just can't imagine how I will be able to maintain this pace for the other kids. Instead of a nanny, I'm going to need a fleet of chauffeur-driven vehicles.

So at this point, we're encouraging the kids to take the same activities: drama, for confidence in public speaking, and tennis - well, because Andy and I love it and we want the kids to love it. I think we've even sold Keri and Matty on the advantages of consolidation: Declan is going to take his first drama class this session, with Hilary. It may not be a long-term solution, as the kids grow up and discover ice skating and gymnastics and fencing and all the other fascinating alternatives out there, but it works for now. And in a household of 8 kids, I think "works for now" is about as good as it's ever going to get.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Because It's My House, That's Why

Note that the title above isn't in quotes. That's because neither Amy nor Andy has ever said it. And I don't think they ever will, not even in the heat of an argument (not that we have any). Frankly, this surprises me. Because it is their house.

Amy has posted before of her dismay that Matty and I will never think of this as our house. Walk through the house and you'll see why: All the framed photos on the table on the upstairs landing are of the Lutz kids. The framed posters in the basement are of the Eagles, not the Patriots. The black leather couches in the basement are a relic of Andy's bachelor days, and you can tell when you try to climb out of one. If I had my druthers, those would have been buried in the dumpster years ago. As we speak, Matty is renovating the billiards room, and guess who's deciding on the colors, the tiles, the pictures that will go on the walls?

But this is how it should be. The simple truth is, it's not our house. They bought it long before we moved in, and will own it long after we move out (whenever that may be). They have certainly gone out of their way to make us feel at home--Andy bought us a Red Sox blanket that is draped over the aforementioned couches in the basement; he also began the process of hanging poster-sized prints of all 7 of the kids over the stairs (unfortunately, the plan stalled after just Hilary, Ronan, and Gretchen were hung). But Amy and Andy paid a lot of money for this house, and continue to do so to maintain it. So it will never be our house.

It is, however, our home.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thanks for the Memories

It's been almost 2 years since we left Boston, and 1 1/2 since we last visited. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, then, to find that Declan didn't really remember anyone from the first 21 months of his life. When I told him we were going to Boston and asked him who he thought we'd see there, he paused and looked thoughtful.

"Uncle Cake?"

That was a gimme. "Uncle Cake," aka Greg, my co-author and buddy, had spent 4 fun-filled days with us in Disney World last October. What kid wouldn't remember that? But Declan couldn't remember anyone else. I rattled off the names of the folks around whom he'd spent most of his time at the restaurant we owned in Ashland, Mass., but they didn't seem to ring a bell. Except for one.

"Do you remember Tony, the fireman?" Declan's eyes lit up. He nodded solemnly, though I knew he was lying. Tony was a fireman, but he didn't exactly walk around in his fireman get-up, and as far as I knew, Declan had never seen Tony anywhere near a fire truck. But Declan was hooked.

When we arrived at the restaurant for lunch, Declan was waking up from a short nap. But immediately he asked groggily, "Where's the fireman?"

When we entered the front door, he asked, "Is the fireman inside?"

When we sat down at a table after greeting the staff, he asked, "Is the fireman coming?"

Of course, when the fireman showed up, in jeans and a sweatshirt, looking very un-fireman-like, Declan lost interest. But his interest in the rest of his past grew.

He quickly remembered his rapport with Kim, the former manager (who he used to call "Mimi" thanks to limited verbal skills). And he lost no time with Jenn, the former server (and artist) who drew pirate and sea pictures to his heart's desire. Erika, who was working, soon had trouble keeping Declan away from her so she could actually work.

But it was the fireman who won his heart in the end, after bringing us next door to the firehouse and taking us all for a ride on the fire truck. Declan even got to try on Tony's boots and helmet.

Ronan, who was just 3 months old when we left Boston, certainly didn't remember anyone. But he made some new memories, and I know that next time we go back (which hopefully will be sooner than 1 1/2 years) he'll make some more. And though Declan might not have many memories of the long days he spent with his dad at the pub, the people with whom he spent those days will become part of the fabric of his past, and will always be carried with him.

Especially the fireman.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"I Want MY Mommy!!!!"

It occurs to me that both Keri and I have noted more than once how close the kids are, how they play and fight and love each other like siblings. And it's true, they do think of each other that way. Last year, when Keri and Matty were away for a long weekend and I was spending some Q-time with Declan, he asked me to draw a picture of him with his two sisters, Erika and Hilary.

However, I want to make it perfectly clear that the kids have no confusion where their parents are concerned. Our setup is not at all like a kibbutz I read about when I was in high school, where all the adults were parents to all the kids, and there were no nuclear family units. In fact, it amazes me sometimes how little cred I hold with Declan (Ronan likes me a lot) given that I bet he can't remember a time we didn't live in the same house. And it's not just Declan: every morning, Erika, Hilary and Declan jockey to see whose mom is driving to the bus stop, then preschool. The kids have all been known to refuse help from an aunt or uncle with the hopes that their own mother will tie the shoelace, get the juice, zipper the coat, buckle the carseat.

Hilary has even hurled those four defiant words at Keri, the ones that make you want to stop the car and put the kid out on the curb: "YOU'RE NOT MY MOTHER!"

And I'm sure she won't be the last one to say it.

It amazes me sometimes, how tightly attached the kids are to their own parents, despite the constant presence of so many relatives and caregivers. There certainly have been many days when the twins spent more time with Marina and Oat than they did with me. And I don't think I'm the first mom who has feared off and on, since we hired Marina seven years ago, that the kids would love the nanny more than they do me. But after going through this five times, I can say with absolute certainty that it doesn't happen. Sure, sometimes Gretchen will ask for "Mina," but when I come home after being out all afternoon both babies toddle over to me and throw their arms around my legs and cry, "Mommy!" And the older kids would clearly rather me play with them, read them stories and give them baths than anyone else.

Maybe it shouldn't amaze me. Maybe it's all about who gets up with the kids during the night. From the time they were babies, it was me who nursed them when they were hungry, rocked them when they were restless, and lay down beside them when they were sick or scared.

In other words, I've put in the time.

It doesn't really explain, however, why my kids are so attached to Andy - who is the adult in the house they clearly see the least, especially during the week. When he comes home from work, they all are transported into fits of hysterical devotion. I mean, he does spin them around so high their sneakers practically scrape the ceiling, but is that really enough?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the logical workings of parental attachment remain a mystery to me. But I can say for certain that it does work - no matter how many wrenches you throw into the system, no matter how many other perfectly nice, perfectly caring adults are around to lure a child's affections. They may be momentarily intrigued, but in the end, they never fall for it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How The Other Half Lives

Keri and Matty and the boys are up in Boston for the long weekend, visiting their old stomping grounds.

And boy, is it quiet around here.

Keri posted about this phenomenon after Thanksgiving, when our house emptied of all the extra kids who were visiting for the holiday: how easy it is to get used to one level of chaos, and how peaceful it feels when that chaos is lowered substantially, even if the new level is way above what most people experience on a daily basis. This has led me to remark to Marina, truthfully and unironically, during those weeks that Keri and Matty take the boys to Ireland every year, "It sure is quiet with only five kids around."

And now, with Jonah also gone, and just four neurotypical kids in the house, I think I'm experiencing, for the first time since Jonah was diagnosed, what life is like for most people. Not that many of my friends have four kids, but a lot have three, and that's close enough.

How is it different? Less fighting, for one thing. I'm not sure why, but Hilary hardly every fights with Erika, although she and Declan go at it several times a day - probably because they're so close in age, neither one is willing to grant the other the clearly defined leadership role that Erika enjoys with all the kids. Also, from a purely mathematical perspective, with Ronan gone, that reduces the insane amount of baby snatching, hitting, crying, etc. that typically goes on around here by a third.

And with the Fisher-Murphys out of town, the ages of the remaining kids fall into a more typical distribution. Most parents don't have 3 - soon to be 4 - kids under the age of 2, who need to be closely supervised. Generally, in large families, the neediness of the younger kids is balanced by the independence of the older kids. This weekend, at least, I can see that even large families can enjoy long, peaceful stretches of time. Erika and Hilary - like most school-aged children, I assume - disappear into the bowels of the house and do their own thing, either separately or together, for hours. The twins are asleep before eight each night and take afternoon naps - which is what they're doing right this second. Since I don't have to keep a constant eye on Jonah, to make sure he doesn't decide to throw his sneakers off our balcony or try to make a soft pretzel in the microwave and spill an entire pound box of kosher salt on the kitchen floor, I can relax and catch up with my blogging.

Is this where I'm supposed to stop and say that, despite the calm, I miss Keri, Matty, Declan and Ronan like crazy and can't wait for them to come back?

I don't really miss them that much, honestly. They haven't been gone long enough. And changes in routine are always nice, especially when they allow you to take a deep breath and relax a little. But I have to say, I was never very good at relaxing. As much as I enjoy a good vacation, I'm always even more excited to come home. Because when it comes right down to it, I love the crazy vitality of our day-to-day life. I love the intellectual and creative energy of four smart, thoughtful and interesting adults constantly bouncing ideas off one another. And I especially love watching seven children grow into people, with their own, very different identities, knowing that the sparks of love and conflict and imagination and yes, empathy, that fly with every encounter are and will continue to be instrumental in shaping them into the fascinating personalities they are all well on their way to becoming.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Brother? What brother? Oh, Right, That Brother!

It never ceases to amaze me, the way kids live in the absolute present. Of course, they ask about their birthdays, and Hannukkah, and Disney World, but for the most part, all that matters is what's happening RIGHT NOW.

So, it doesn't bother me too much that none of the kids has asked very much for Jonah - even Erika and Hilary, who, as close to 7 and 5 as they are, are old enough to understand these kinds of things. I did find Jonah's TV on most mornings after the older kids left for school (until it was unplugged for the recent room reshuffle), although I was never sure how to interpret that recurring event. Did Erika or Hilary or Declan or even Ronan come into Jonah's room looking for him, and finding him gone, decide that they would settle for one of his Sesame Street videos? Or was it more calculated - i.e., Jonah's not here, so let's watch his videos! Either way, the guilty party/ies were consistently unable to figure out how to turn on the DVD player, and what met me every day was 32 inches of faintly buzzing static. There was something so heartbreaking about that snowy screen, so symbolic of Jonah's absence.

This is what we've told the kids: Jonah is staying at a hospital for a while, where he's learning how to be a good boy. He'll come home once the doctors have taught him not to hit so much and throw so many temper tantrums.

We took all the kids down to Baltimore last weekend for the first time - including Keri and Matty's kids, and Keri and Matty, and my mom, and Marina and Oat. Jonah was happy to see everyone - even Erika and Mom (his more typical greetings to them at home have been, "No Erika! No Grandma!"). And the kids seemed happy to see him. Erika especially was hugging him all afternoon.

We went to the Baltimore aquarium, which is supposed to be one of the best in the world - a fact I can neither confirm nor refute, since all I really got a good look at were the backs of people's heads. We couldn't believe how crowded it was after 5:00 on a Saturday evening. I guess when there's only one great thing to do in a city, you should count on it being packed at all times.

Afterwards, we walked a bit along the waterfront and ended up at Five Guys for burgers. Jonah and Aaron bonded silently but importantly over their mutual love of ketchup. Once we cleaned them both up, we headed over to another food court for dessert. And then it was over. We took Jonah back to the unit, and the kids played in the lobby while the adults took turns going up to check out the accommodations. None of the kids expressed any interest in seeing Jonah's room. No one asked whether Jonah's excellent behavior throughout the afternoon meant he would be coming home soon. Not one of the kids asked to come back and visit him again.

But that's okay. Because I know that, once Jonah gets back, the other kids will act as if he never left. And that's just fine by me.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I am the worst mother in the world: my kid told me she didn't want her dinner, I threatened to withhold the ice cream ALL THE OTHER KIDS WHO WERE EATING THEIR DINNERS WERE DEFINITELY GETTING, she ate some of her dinner, and then half an hour later she threw up all over the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

To be fair, the kid involved was Hilary, who is notorious at home and at preschool for her hypochondriac tendencies. I swear, at least once a day, she tells me or she tells her teacher that her tummy hurts, she's sick, she needs to go to the doctor.

And I admit it, I'm generally pretty dismissive. If she complains while she's getting ready for bed, I might say, "I think what you need is a good night's sleep." If it's morning, and she's getting ready for school, I might suggest, "Maybe your stomach hurts because you're hungry. Let's go have breakfast!" Most of the time, this distraction technique seems to do the trick. But of course I don't really know what Hilary is experiencing. I don't know if she really is in pain, or if she just wants attention. One of my biggest fears is that it will turn out that Hilary has a chronic but treatable condition like reflux or irritable bowel syndrome - or even worse, some kind of tumor - and I didn't get her help because, when it came right down to it, I didn't believe her.

But I'm not really sure what else to do. In this particular case, last night, we were all out for Ronan's birthday. We had gone to Bertucci's, with subsequent plans to ride the mall carousel and finish the celebration at Dairy Queen. Maybe I was a little too emphatic in my warnings about the ice cream, because initially Hilary didn't seem to care very much about it, but I was afraid she would change her mind when the five other kids were chowing down at DQ and inform me, as she is wont to do when the dinner she passed up on is long gone, "I want my dinner now." And I didn't want tears or fits to spoil Ronan's party.

I needn't have worried. Ronan's party wasn't spoiled - not by Hilary's vomiting, or by Aaron's hysteria once his surprisingly strong little fingers were pried from the handles of his carousel horse, or by Gretchen's hysteria because, although she said she was "all done" with the merry-go-round, we allowed the other kids to go on again without her. I guess when you grow up among so many kids, it seems perfectly natural that at any given time one of them is puking, and another one is crying, and a third is dashing across the food court at top speed, trying to get back to the carousel before his mom can catch him. Amid such constant chaos, as long as you get your ice cream, it's all good.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Ronan!

Ronan Jay Murphy, February 7, 2006

Ronan Jay Murphy, August 2007

It seems like just yesterday that Ronan was a screaming, needy baby. Oh wait, that was yesterday. But not tomorrow.

Tomorrow Ronan turns 2, and I have big expectations. Gone will be the dramatic tantrums, the unprovoked attacks on his brother and cousins. Instead there will be an inquisitive yet docile toddler who listens to his parents and plays nicely with his brother and cousins. He'll start speaking in full sentences. He'll sit quietly and watch a TV show when I need him to, like when I just can't get out of bed at 6am again, but he won't cry and demand TV all the time like his big brother.

Hmm... a Stepford toddler?

The truth is, as much as I may moan on these pages about Ronan's, er, difficult nature, I really can't imagine my life without him. And I think it's his very toughness that tugs at my heartstrings the most. When he's bad, he's very, very bad, but when he's good, he's... just delicious.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I'm so glad Ronan's around, so I can blame all the twins' less charming behaviors on him. After all, they imitate everything these days, and they clearly didn't learn to chuck their forks across the table, dump their plates on the floor, or pull each other to the ground by the hair by watching ME do it.

Case in point: we live at the top of a hill, and our driveway is fairly steep and curvy. On the mornings I make the run to preschool, I can count on Ronan to shout, "Whoa" as we drive down, followed by at least ten minutes of "Whoas" as we follow the predictably flat, uninteresting course to school, which is a straight shot right down the same road we live on.

Now, naturally, Aaron and Gretchen shout "Whoa" as well - which, let me tell you, is quite a chorus.

This morning, I had Hilary, Ronan, Aaron and Gretchen in the car, since I was taking the twins to Gymboree straight from dropoff. This is how it went down:
H: Where's Erika? [asking, as is her way, a question to which she already knows the answer, since E. has been going to the local elementary school since September]
A & G: E-ka! E-ka!

On Saturday, since my mom is going to be in from Florida for Ronan's birthday, we decided to take everyone, and I mean everyone, down to Baltimore to visit Jonah. We have a 15-person passenger van, and it's going to be pretty full: me, Andy, Erika, Hilary, Aaron, Gretchen, Keri, Matty, Declan, Ronan, Mom, Marina, and Oat (our Thai au pair), if she wants to go. The whole plan hinges on the three babies falling asleep immediately after our 1:00 departure, which we chose because that's when they usually nap.

Otherwise, it's a hundred miles of "WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" And I don't think any of us will be able to take that.

Monday, February 4, 2008


It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that with 11 people in this house, we are maxed out on rooms. (That's including the storage room recently converted into Erika's room of her own.) So with the impending arrival of resident #12, we had to do some creative thinking to find her a bed.

The solution was a collaborative effort, and though resettling everyone will require 7 people to relocate, I think everyone will be happier in the end. My room, which was originally two rooms (for the servants, natch), is being restored to two "cozy," "adorable" bedrooms; one for Molly, and one for Declan and Ronan. (Unlike Amy, I am a big fan of room sharing. That, and we don't have enough rooms for Declan and Ronan to each have his own.)

Jonah will move into Declan and Ronan's old room when he returns from Baltimore; he'll have a bit more privacy and less convenient access to a toilet, into which he likes to flush his toys (their very own water park, perhaps?). Gretchen and Aaron will move into Jonah's old room, which is conveniently across the hall from Mom and Dad. Matty and I will move into the twins old room, which is the second largest bedroom in the house and has not one, but two closets (our current room has zero).

Needless to say, I am very excited.

Not just about the closets, though an actual doored vestibule for our clothing far surpasses a rolling rack hanging behind a curtain. In honor of both our new room and our impending arrival, we decided to buy an actual bedroom set with a king-sized bed (anticipating many mornings of all three kids piled into bed with us).

We've never had a real bed before, a real headboard and frame, or a real bedroom set of any kind. Right now one of our nightstands is from Ikea and one is from the unfinished furniture store we used to frequent. Our bed is on a metal frame. Until recently, our dresser was from the same unfinished furniture store, but we upgraded that to an actual finished dresser from an actual furniture store a couple of years ago.

Buying a bedroom set was a big step for us, and more significant than you might think. First of all, I now feel like a real grown-up, since real grown-ups have real grown-up furniture. But what's more significant is that we're taking roots, we're settling in, after 2 years. We're making that room our own.

Of course, bedroom sets can be moved...

...but moving is such a pain in the ass.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"No Kiss Goodbye"

Yesterday, Andy and I drove down to Baltimore to visit Jonah. We've been going every week, sometimes twice, since he was admitted in the middle of January. And he appears to have settled in. His behavior specialist, who we pester by phone almost every day, told us recently that Jonah only says, "Go home," a couple of times a day, instead of the constant barrage she faced when he first arrived. And, for the first time, he didn't pitch a fit when we left - although he did repeat over and over, as it got later, "No kiss goodbye."

We're allowed to take Jonah out for four-hour stretches, but I have to say, we're struggling to find interesting places to go. Baltimore - with the exception of the inner harbor - is quite a pit. Block after block of boarded up rowhomes, abandoned shops, and liquor stores. At least, that's been our experience, although we welcome any suggestions from anyone who knows the area. A social worker at the hospital had recommended a Chuckie Cheese-style establishment called Jeepers, which she told us had a little indoor roller coaster, so we made the twenty-minute drive and found when we got there . . . another empty storefront. Jeepers, a sign on the door announced, was closed effective June 17. It seemed to me that the social worker should have been on top of this, seeing as there aren't an abundance of fun places in the vicinity of the hospital for parents to take their kids. It made me sad to think that maybe she didn't know because the parents of the kids on the unit don't visit very often - or if they do, maybe they don't take their kids out. I have seen parents of three of the other kids, and although I don't know for sure they haven't left the hospital, I never saw them go.

We ended up having a nice evening, even if it did involve making the trek across town, back to the inner harbor. We ate dinner at the ESPN Sports Zone, and Jonah attacked the childrens' menu with the complimentary crayons like any other kid (although most other kids probably wouldn't have used their crayons to write out the titles of Sesame Street videos). When he got tired of the crayons, I showed him the book I made for him on IPhoto - 40 pages of pictures of all his favorite people, doing all the things he loves to do. He especially loved the pages of pictures from "the water park and the roller coaster park." We left the book at the hospital so Jonah can look at it whenever he feels homesick and, hopefully, begin to understand that he won't be in the hospital forever, and that his life at home will be waiting for him when he gets back.