Tuesday, January 27, 2009

That Mom

Today, I was That Mom.

You know: That Mom. The one who lets her two-year-old twins run laps through Starbucks, shrieking with laughter and chasing each other down the stairs and up the handicap-access ramp, just because it gives her a few minutes to enjoy her coffee.

(My friend was there, too, with her two-year-old son, who also joined the chase, so I guess it's more accurate to say we were Those Moms.)

After Starbucks, we proceeded to the library, where I was That Mom who let her twins tackle her during story time, then That Mom that had to bum wipes off her friend because she forgot to stock her diaper bag, then That Mom that had to wipe her son's runny nose with the sleeve of her sweatshirt because she didn't have any tissues either.

Pretty impressive, how many failures I accumulated in one morning, isn't it?

My friend - who only had three wipes herself, so I'm not sure why she was feeling so superior - pointed out that you'd think, after five kids, I'd have the routine down by now: diapers? check; wipes? check; spare clothes? check; baggies of healthy snacks to distract moody toddlers while on line at the grocery store? check, check, check.

But the truth is, I could have a dozen more kids, and I'd still never be that organized.

Still, that doesn't really excuse the Starbucks rampage, and I apologize to any denizens of Chestnut Hill whose quiet morning was disrupted by the stampede.

But I'm not going to beat myself up too much about it. I suspect, deep in my heart, that most moms become That Mom, every once in a while.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fashion Sense and Sensibility

When Declan first started getting particular about what he wore last year, I pretended that I minded having to buy him a whole new wardrobe of plain long-sleeved shirts and button downs, but secretly I was thrilled that my son was so fashion forward. Shirts with giant pandas on them are for babies, I thought to myself, and smiled proudly when Declan went off to school each morning, hipster that he was.

Note that I said "was."

Declan is still as fashion conscious as ever, but now he insists on wearing all his shirts tucked in, his pants hiked up to his nipples. The button down shirts on which we conscientiously taught him to roll up the sleeves are now buttoned tight at neck and wrist. He wants to wear a tie.

Who is this kid? Where does this come from? I didn't really care where he got his fashion know-how before, since I found it so gosh darn cute, but now I'm getting worried. Who is teaching my son to dress this way and why won't he stop?

As a measure of precaution, I've moved his clothes into my room and keep them under lock and key, doling out the necessities each morning. When Declan objects to the outfit I have painstakingly put together, Matty holds him down while I force him into it. (It's kind of like dressing a Build-a-Bear.) He'll get used to it.

Okay, I don't do that. But don't think I'm not tempted. I try to gently encourage him to dress in the manner that I prefer (Declan, rugby shirts aren't really supposed to be tucked in so tight), but he always makes the final call. And every day after he gets dressed, he poses for himself in the mirror, does a little dance, and asks me, "Do I look handsome?"

No, I think to myself. You look like Urkel.

"Yes," I say to him. "You always look handsome to me."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

TB or not TB? That is the Question

When our mother quit smoking around Thanksgiving, just a few weeks after her yearly chest x-ray, we suspected the worst (though of course Mom denied it). And when I got back from Ireland a couple of weeks ago, those fears were confirmed: a small malignancy was found on her lung. After 53 years of smoking, this was hardly a surprise. But it was a surprise when doctors removed the upper left lobe of her lung and discovered that she didn't have cancer after all, but rather a "smoldering infection."

Since her surgery just over a week ago, my mother's condition has changed on a daily basis. Last Wednesday they thought it might be tuberculosis. So we all panicked and thought about the TB epidemic that Mom had brought to our neighborhood. Friday they were pretty certain she didn't have TB. So we stopped worrying about Aaron's nagging cough. Saturday she had it again. And now? Probably not.

Mom's still in the hospital, so I'm here in Florida trying to keep her occupied. She should be home later today or tomorrow, and Amy will come down tomorrow so we can both help her out at home. Whether or not Mom has tuberculosis, she did have her chest cracked open and still needs time to recover.

When I first saw Mom in the hospital, I couldn't help but picture myself in her place, my own kids coming to see me. "Did it seem like just yesterday that I was 4?" I asked her, and she smiled and nodded. Everyone always tells me it goes by so fast, one minute they're toddlers and the next they're getting married. Soon, it will seem, instead of getting the call that Molly won't take a bottle, I'll be getting the call that Molly's going into labor.

That scares me a bit, thinking that before I know it, my kids will be helping to care for me rather than the other way around. That Declan and Ronan and Molly will have to carefully coordinate their schedules as Amy and I have done, to come care for me as I recuperate from something. And that in the blink of an eye, I may not be able to care for my kids as I have for so long.

But what encourages me, what keeps me going, is that when I cannot rush to Ronan's side when he breaks his leg in a skiing accident, or when Molly has her appendix out, or when the TB Declan contracted when he was 4 becomes active, when I cannot be there, someone else can. With our combined 8 kids spread across the nation as adults and parents, there will always be someone there to help you when you're down.

And isn't that why we're doing this? To give our kids the support we all so desperately need, to insure that they never, ever have to be alone if they don't want to?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


(Spoiler alert: if you don't know how Marley and Me ends, and don't want to know, then read no further!)

I couldn't tell you the first time any of my kids smiled, rolled over, or took their first steps. But today is a day I will always remember. I came into Erika's room to kiss her goodnight, and she showed me that she had finished reading her edited-for-young-people version of Marley and Me. I told her that yes, we could go see the movie, as I had promised her, and I tucked her in and turned off the light. Then she broke into tears: "It was so sad when Marley died at the end," she sobbed.

It was the first time a book made Erika cry.

That's a big step, when you learn that not all books have happy endings. Most of them do, when you're in second grade. They're happy stories about girls and their horses, and girls and their puppies, and girls lucky enough to have puppies AND horses (at least, these are the books Erika tends to bring home from the library).

I was just excited for Erika to discover the intense emotional relationships you can form with certain books. I've been a passionate reader my whole life, so for some reason I just assumed my kids would also be big readers. And although Hilary does recluse herself in her room with a book on a fairly regular basis, Erika's reading has mostly been at my urging. She's a good reader, and she likes books well enough, but she'd usually rather hook Gretchen and Declan up to a cardboard box and play dog sled team. Because, let's face it, one disadvantage (if you want to call it that) of living in such a big, chaotic household is that there are so many kids around to play with, the environment isn't that conducive to more introspective, solitary activities like reading.

I hope this is just the beginning for Erika. Because, although I can't even remember most of the books I read last year, I remember in great detail those books that moved me as a child: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The Shoes series by Noel Streatfeild. Judy Blume. The Black Cauldron. Maybe, when she's grown, Erika will feel the same way about Marley and Me - that it was the start of a lifelong love affair with reading.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

Whew!!! We made it! Christmas vacation is now officially over.

When I was a kid, I had no idea how much most parents dreaded Christmas vacation. Now, I know. It's one thing, I suppose, if you have two well behaved children who are in elementary school or older, and you can all get on a plane and fly to Vail - or even better, someplace warm, like Turks and Caicos (both places where families I know traveled over the break), but when you have an autistic child and two-year-old twins, there's very little incentive to take the show on the road. Which means entertaining the gang at home for two weeks. Two cold, rainy, icy weeks - so icy, in fact, that Andy had to deliberately crash our minivan into a post to keep us from careening down the ice slide that was our driveway on Christmas Eve Day.

Just spoke to the body shop, by the way. Apparently, the car requires 40 hours of labor to fix, and will be out of commission for a good two weeks. 40 hours! I feel like I could build a car from scratch in that amount of time.

Well, maybe I couldn't. But I feel confident that other, more capable people could.

That was a definite low point in the break. But there were many good parts also. Andy was off for almost the entire vacation, which was a huge help and enabled us to take some fun trips, like our outing to Hershey Park's Winter Wonderland, which we make every year. We usually try to pick a day with warmish temperatures, in the 40-50 degree range, but this year we had to go on a cold, drizzly night. Although I wasn't thrilled at the prospect, it worked out great, because there were no lines for the rides. We also took Jonah, Erika and Hilary to the Poconos to go dog sledding. I was so excited to give Erika a chance to do that, because she's been obsessed with sled dogs for years now. I thought Jonah would love it also, because he typically likes speed and cold, but he was having a difficult time that day, and was agitated and upset most of the tour. Which was too bad, because it really was a thrill. Arctic Paws is the only dog sledding tour (so they claim) that lets you be the musher, so Erika, Hilary, Andy and I all got to stand on the back of the sled and control the brake.

Then there was our annual New Year's Eve party, which expanded from four families last year to nine this year. Our theme this year was balls - get it, a New Year's Eve "Ball"? Everyone brought food shaped like a ball - which might not sound that appetizing at first, but which actually yielded awesome falafel, lamb balls, shrimp balls, cheese balls, rum balls and peanut butter balls. It's always a happy way to start off the year, with the kids bouncing around, absolutely inflamed with sugar, camraderie, and the excitement of staying up past midnight - which Ronan did no problem, although Jonah and the twins conked out.

I know most people go into the new year with high hopes, but last year really was a tough one for us - with Jonah in the hospital for the bulk of it, and Andy so unhappy at work as the finance industry was just crushed - so we definitely could use some good news. Here's hoping that 2009 is a great year for everyone!!!