Happy Birthday, Baby!

Ah, but he’s not a baby any more. My littlest guy turns 2 today. I can’t post pictures, because my CPU is on a truck somewhere between Virginia and the Mississippi River. I can’t bake a cake, because all my baking supplies are in that truck too. I don’t even have a birthday present for him, but I do plan to head to the store this morning to get something car-friendly. This will be a pretty low-key celebration, but I’m sure he’ll feel special anyway.

Happy birthday, Petey. You make us laugh. You give the sweetest hugs and kisses. I love you with all my heart.

No snoozing

Somewhere in my bedroom…

…in a buried box…

…taped shut…

…is my alarm clock.

This alarm clock has a feature that you can turn it “off” for the day, but it will still be set for the next day. It apparently also has another handy feature that the backup battery will power the alarm even in a power failure, or, in my case, even if unplugged and packed in a taped box buried somewhere in your bedroom.

I don’t mind getting up this early. I usually get up after one snooze cycle anyway. But what is truly amusing: not only did I have to nudge my husband and wake him to advise him that the annoying sound he was hearing was not going to stop any time soon, but his response was to mutter something about hoping it didn’t keep on for too long as he snuggled deeper into his pillow and successfully managed to ignore the noise.

And he’s still there, sleeping away. And the alarm has an Energizer battery, I’m sure of it.

This is THE Week

Back from our jaunt to PA and NJ to meet new friends, visit old friends, and see family. My kids really wanted to stop by SFO Mom’s house on the way back to play some more. Maybe next time.

The movers come to pack up our stuff on Wednesday and Thursday, and they’ll haul it away on Friday. We’re not ready, but at some point, they’ll get here and we’ll just stop what we’re doing and let them have at it. The important papers are in one spot, the main documents from the computer are saved to a CD, I’ve got plans for child care for the kids for those days, and most of the laundry is done. We’re ahead of the game considering previous moving disasters.

I checked Bloglines and quickly became overwhelmed, so I apologize now: anything my dear blogging friends pen in the next, oh, six weeks or so, will have to go unread. My own blogging will be sporatic at best. I’m sure you all understand.

Have a great month, everyone!

Three Hail Marys

I was a resident of New Jersey from 1995 until 2005, and for the last two years I’ve been living in the DC metro area. I have vague memories of being 18 years old and finding myself on the New Jersey Turnpike in morning rush hour traffic heading toward the Big Apple. I’m pretty sure “terrified” is the best description of how I felt at the time. But my time served in the Garden State turned me into a pretty confident driver, and heavy traffic on city streets or “under-construction” highways just doesn’t phase me any more.

Catholic Mom and SFO Mom have each written posts about driving, road rage, and surviving the highways. My approach to driving is fairly similar to Barb’s:

I don’t carry a gun in my car and chase down some other driver who cut me off. I don’t change my destination so I can tailgate them for miles, and I absolutely don’t roll down my window at the next traffic light so I can give them the “one-finger salute.” But I do yell at other drivers from the privacy of my own driver’s seat. And I do that often.

Yeah, me too. Yesterday, I was in Arlington, and the road I needed to follow was being re-paved – one lane was closed. I dutifully moved into the open lane in a safe and early fashion. Dozens and dozens of cars flew past me in the fifteen or twenty minutes that it took for my lane to travel the half mile or so and get through the traffic light at the end of the construction zone. I really wasn’t bothered by these obnoxious people because I knew that the half-mile backup would have stretched out to two miles on city streets if everyone moved over right away. But as we got closer to the merge zone, my irritation grew at the sluggishness of the truck and passenger car right in front of me who seemed to be letting everyone else go first. Polite merging requires that each lane take turns – one car at a time. My NJ driving instincts came out in force, and I sat on the bumper of the car in front of me refusing to allow any additional cars to move over. But I did break a cardinal rule in NJ – if you look, you yield (remember that, Denise, the next time you head on up north! The merest glance at another car indicates that you will allow them the right of way, and this applies to passengers in your car, too!). The woman who was trying to cut in was gesturing madly at me and clearly yelling that she felt she ought to be permitted to merge. Since she hadn’t been sitting in line for as long as I had, I thought her anger at me was completely unjustified, and I let her know it – of course, the only people who heard me were my kids.

The Vatican is getting a lot of ribbing for its recent Ten Commandments for drivers. They are a bit…ethereal (Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness??) I’ve come up with my own list of practical rules:

I. Do not attempt to drive if you are not physically, mentally, or intellectual up to the task. This covers everything from being too drunk or too sleepy to drive to being ignorant of the state or local statutes governing driving.

II. When traveling in moderate to heavy traffic, the posted speed limit is not to be observed. Maintain the speed set by the majority of cars in your lane. Traveling faster or slower than the cars around you creates an unsafe situation. If driving 20 mph over the speed limit in heavy traffic on metropolitan highways frightens you, use a different roadway.

III. Keep to the right as much as possible and allow others to pass. If you decide you want to pass the car in front of you, be sure you can do so quickly and without disrupting the traffic in the other lane.

IV. Know where you are going. If you are lost or confused, safely pull over and figure out what you want to do. Carry a map or have the phone number of your destination handy so you can get directions.

V. Follow the traffic pattern. If you are in a right turn lane, turn right. If you are in a straight lane, go straight. If you do not want to turn, but you are in a turn lane, too bad. Safely figure out a way to turn around after you turn and without creating chaos.

VI. Be considerate of other drivers. Do not make u-turns when other cars are present. Do not attempt to make a left turn out of a gas station onto a busy road. Do not block the progress of traffic in your lane in heavy traffic by waiting for a break to make an illegal left turn. Do not allow private conversations or distractions from the cell phone, other passengers or the radio to affect your driving. Do not block other cars so you can have a conversation with your best friend who just happened to pull up at the light in the lane next to you.

VII. Be aware of the current traffic situation. Look farther up the road. Perhaps the lane is stopped because a tractor-trailer is making a turn up ahead. Don’t block an intersection and prevent left-turners from getting through. If the highway sign says your lane ends in a half-mile and you are driving 60 mph, realize that you will hit the merge point in about 30 seconds and begin looking now for a spot to move over.

VIII. Do not pull into traffic without sufficient room. The smaller the gap, the bigger your engine and the faster your reflexes ought to be. Making other cars slow down to give you time to get up to speed is rude, and often dangerous. Do not pull out in front of a car with no cars behind it.

IX. Do not be Santa Claus in July. Stopping briefly to allow a car to make a left hand turn is nice. Stopping for a minute or two to allow a half dozen cars to make a left hand turn is rude to those behind you who would like to get to their destination sometime today. Stopping traffic to allow someone to make an illegal or extremely inconvenient turn only encourages them to do it again.

X. Do not assume that the big, white 12 passenger van filled with kids is the reason your lane is moving slowly. You can tailgate, flash your lights, and yell obscenities, but I can’t make the little, rusting Dodge Neon in front of me go any faster. And if you find a break in the right lane and try to dart ahead, don’t think I’ll have forgotten your rudeness and will feel disposed to let you get in front of me, even if I do think perhaps that the little, rusting Dodge Neon needs to be run off the road.

I hope everyone has safe travels this summer. I, myself, am heading up to PA and NJ tomorrow for the weekend, and will be traveling half-way across the country a week after that. A girlfriend of mine has a little motto that she (and her kids) say when traveling by car: “Three Hail Marys for a safe and happy trip.” We’ll be praying!

Is it lying if nobody really believes you?

“Are you stinky?” I rhetorically asked my very stinky toddler.

“No,” he replied.


“Daddy stinky,” he suggested.

Daddy’s stinky?” Daddy was out running errands. “I think Petey’s stinky.”

He looked around as if to find inspiration and espied the dog.

“Greta stinky,” he suggested.

“Greta’s stinky? Hmmm…”

Normally, of course, I jump up right away to change my child’s offensive diaper, but I was in the middle of something and was enjoying this interesting conversation.

“Boys stinky,” was his next idea.

“The boys?” They were playing upstairs. “No, I really think you’re stinky.”

Mommy stinky,” he insisted with a devilish grin. And then, noticing that I had found a pause in my work and wanting to evade the dreaded diaper change, he ran away.

Stay or go?

Barb has written a book review over at G.I. June (Cleaver) on a story set during WWII. The main character is unhappy about the sacrifices being forced upon her on behalf of the deployed soldiers – rationing, I assume, which was a very real part of life in the 40s. Back in September 2001, after the blood donor lines had petered out and the abandoned cars had been towed from the train stations, Americans wanted to know what they could do to help. Many stood around wringing their hands, wanting to take action, any action, but something. It’s like when people make meals for the family who lost a loved one tragically or donate household goods for the neighbor whose daughter-in-law burned down their house. We have a desire to reach out and help. We want to make a small sacrifice to meagerly ease a tiny bit of the pain felt by others.

And the best advice our President could offer? Act as though nothing had happened. Spend money, stimulate the economy, carry on, don’t let the terrorists get you down. Perhaps he was right, in an economic sense, about what our country needed. But it was lousy advice from a heart and soul perspective. And six years later, I think the act-as-though-nothing-had-happened mentality, which comes naturally to us anyway the farther in distance and time from we get from any event, is fueling the inclination among many people in this country to just turn and walk away from the mess we’re in overseas.

It is so easy to turn away from someone else’s problem. Those strangers we read about in the paper, whoever they are, we can’t take every story to heart. We can’t make a meal for the family three states away. We can’t donate used clothing for every family whose house burns down. We can’t give money to every worthy charity. And we can’t even cry for every tragic story – it would kill us. So we pick and choose which stories we read, which ones we take to heart, and which ones we try to do something about. The more involved we get, the more involved we stay, and the more we desire “success,” however that may be defined. If you donate money to the little girl who needs a heart transplant, you naturally desire her health a tiny bit more than any other little girl who needs a heart transplant (much in the same way that you desire your own child’s health and well-being naturally more than another child’s – not that you wish ill-health on another child, but you hold your own child’s health more precious). If you donate that old couch in your basement to a neighbor, you hope that it speeds that nice family’s return to normal. If they end up in financial ruin, divorce or suicide as a direct or indirect result of that tragedy, you would feel worse than if you had never been involved.

So most of the nation went back to life as usual after our initial desire to help out. We made no sacrifice and had nothing at stake in this effort. Two years later, for right or for wrong, we got involved in Iraq, and sent care packages and prayed for the troops, but, really, most of us had nothing to lose in this venture.

Most of us.

But step into my world – the military world. Here, almost exclusively, is where the sacrifices are being made. And here you will find just as active a debate about “what to do” in Iraq and Monday morning quarterbacking about whether or not we should have gone in and whether or not it is a just war or not. But here you will find very few people who want to get out right now. Despite the risks, the costs, the hardships, very few people think quitting is a good idea.

This war has been compared from the beginning to Vietnam. And we’ve done everything we could to turn it into one. We look at the number of soldiers killed in Iraq in four years (over 3500), and we know we can’t cry enough tears for all of them, so we just want to walk away. It’s so much easier.

But in the military world, you can’t walk away. No, I didn’t know any of those 3500 personally (my husband did). But the cost of this war goes way beyond those killed in Iraq. It goes beyond the wounded (at least 25,000 soldiers). It goes beyond the obvious mental or emotional problems exhibited by any soldier who has seen the horrors of war.

I can not describe the sacrifices made on a daily basis by soldiers and their families whether they are deployed or stateside. I can not describe the emotional toll it takes on one soldier to shake the hands of hundreds of fellow soldiers flying off to war and knowing that somebody whose hand she just shaked won’t be coming home. I can not describe the weariness that comes from “holding down the fort” as a single parent without complaint so your husband can go off and do his job without even more stress and anxiety. I can not describe the latent fear deep within a military spouse’s heart that something awful will happen and all their family’s dreams will be shattered in an instant. I can not describe the disappointment felt by a child whose dad can’t be the soccer coach or come to the school play or even give him a birthday hug because he’s working. I can not describe the wistful hopes that next year will be better or the utter delight in the right now because next year won’t be.

Military families are in it deep. When I hear about running away from Iraq, I don’t think, gosh, that’ll make it all better; that’ll take away my fears; that’ll keep my husband home safe and sound. All I think about is that all this sacrifice will be for nothing. I will have donated gray hairs and facial wrinkles, tears and time and money and love, and all I will have to show for it is a broken country (or two) embroiled in civil war and hating America for walking away and leaving them a mess. And what happens in ten or twenty years? They turn that anger towards us and either thousands of civilians die in one day or thousands of soldiers die over the years – and once again, I’m making these same sacrifices either as an Army wife or as a military mom while the rest of the country complains that it’s our own fault for not doing it right the first time and then goes blithely back to their forty-hour work weeks and family dinners and beds warmed by two bodies.

A few days ago, Kathryn Judson linked to this opinion piece by Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. He has some scathing criticism of America’s attitude toward Iraq:

Today when I hear the continuous American debate about the struggle raging in Iraq, I can only recall with great sorrow the silence which attended the former dictator’s wars.

We can’t fight every fight, free every slave. We can’t even help out every neighbor who has a house fire. But, for right or wrong, we got involved in Iraq. We were silent, and now we’re not.

The recent deaths in Iraq of Father Ragheed Ganni and three deacons has highlighted the plight of Christians in that country who are now persecuted where once they freely worshipped under Saddam’s regime. It is implied that life was better for Father Ragheed when he lived under the oppression of a dictator. Yes, I suppose that Christians were left alone – as long as they didn’t cross strict political boundaries. As long as they kept their religion to themselves. But being Catholic doesn’t generally involve going to mass on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and then heading off to your government job as a mass grave digger. You can’t live under an oppressive regime and not fear for your own life.

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Too many in this country are willing to purchase peace at whatever price. They hope, I think, that the price can be paid for on credit and the bill will come due later on to be paid by someone else. Too few are like Patrick Henry (quoted above) and are willing to take death or liberty, but never oppression.

Once again, I quote the Prime Minister of Iraq:

War being what it is, the images of Iraq that come America’s way are of car bombs and daily explosions. Missing from the coverage are the great, subtle changes our country is undergoing, the birth of new national ideas and values which will in the end impose themselves despite the death and destruction that the terrorists have been hell-bent on inflicting on us. Those who endured the brutality of the former regime, those who saw the outside world avert its gaze from their troubles, know the magnitude of the change that has come to Iraq. A fundamental struggle is being fought on Iraqi soil between those who believe that Iraqis, after a long nightmare, can retrieve their dignity and freedom, and others who think that oppression is the order of things and that Iraqis are doomed to a political culture of terror, prisons and mass graves.

It is pure bigotry to think that democracy can only be managed by some people. Our country would never have won Independence without the assistance of foreign countries. I will not second guess our motives for going into Iraq or debate just war theory on a decision made four years ago. It is a moot point, and I don’t have the energy for such philosophical debates right now. Right now, the issue is continuing on or running away. And I think, if we run away, we’ll only get shot in the back.

And now, I’ll leave you with The Clash:

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble…
And if I stay it will be double…

This song will be in my head all day.

Diapers only work when they are being worn

Pete slept late this morning and woke up in a great mood.

The first thing he did was take off his pajama pants, which he has never done before.

Then he took off his nearly dry diaper.

Then he called for his family.

After his audience dutifully assembled, he urinated a night’s worth of liquid all over his crib.

I missed it all, since I was in the shower. When I got out, having been informed of his actions, I asked him where he was supposed to go potty. He smiled and pointed to the bathroom. And then returned his attention to his “coffee” that he and his brothers were sharing in their “Army camp.”


Skinny Minny

God has blessed me with healthy kids. Sure, we’ve had our medical adventures, and naturally the usual bumps and bruises, but even colds and stomach upsets pass through our house with only a temporary disruption and not everyone being affected.

God has also blessed me with skinny kids. I, like most moms I know, expend vast amounts of mental energy trying to think of ways to sneak more fruits and vegetables into my kids’ daily diet. Like most moms I know, I spend a generous amount of time thinking about and preparing snacks and meals that are balanced and more nutritious than the standard fare offered via kids’ meals or school cafeterias or the snack aisles at the grocery stores. A homemade muffin, even one from a package, has to be better than a store-bought muffin. Cookies are after-dinner desserts, not mid-afternoon snacks. My pumpkin bread may be loaded with sugar, but at least it’s not loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Candy is eaten at Easter, Christmas and Halloween fairly exclusively, although long trips may warrant lollipops and M&Ms. After years, I finally cracked and do buy frozen chicken nuggets which I reserve for quickie meals or ones where the grownups get steak. I occasionally make Kraft Mac N Cheese and my spaghetti sauce comes from a jar, but this is balanced by homemade pizza dough and rolls. There is almost always more than one vegetable served for dinner. Dessert is only for those who eat a sufficient amount of the food served. Popcorn is for movie nights. Chips and soda are for parties only.

I think I have a moderate approach to food. My goal has been to instill in my kids a healthy attitude toward food wherein they recognize certain foods as treats and other foods as necessary for good nutrition and select an appropriate quantity from each category. Over the years, I’ve read tons of articles on childhood obesity and what parents can do to avoid it. I’ve modified the ways I used to cook and types of food I make: I’ve withheld butter on vegetables I serve, used chicken breasts and shunned dark meat, baked instead of fried, broiled instead of sauteed, limited potatoes and rice and pasta, tried to encourage fish even if it was just fish sticks. I’ve allowed my children to indicate when they were full. I’ve simply not purchased certain foods (chips, candy, sugary drinks) and avoided fighting with my children over their consumption by not having them as an option most of the time.

I’ve done lots of things “right.”

But I’ve been wrong.

Because my skinny kids, and in the spotlight for the past month has been my son, Billy, are too skinny. This is not a problem that I have ever personally had to deal with. Once, maybe, I’d like to be too skinny. For a day, perhaps. I would much rather have to work at keeping some meat on my bones than work at keeping it off. And I’d much rather have too skinny kids, than ones who sneak into closets with fistfuls of candy. But still, I have the worry and concern that comes when doctors look at your kid with a critical eye and ponder what could be wrong with him.

Last month I took three of the kids for physicals, and although all are skinny, Billy is off the charts in height and weight – off the lower end, not the upper end. This led to a referral to an endocrinologist who ordered blood work, a urinalysis, and an x-ray of his hand to look at bone growth.

In between the pediatrician and the endocrinologist, I had thought long and hard about my son and his height and weight and the possible causes. My motherly analysis decided he just did not eat enough food. I recorded his caloric intake for a day, and it was under 800. But he was “full.” After the endocrinologist listed for me the tests she thought ought to be run, I asked her if seeing a pediatric nutritionist might not be a good idea, since I was pretty sure that he wasn’t eating enough food, and I desired guidance in what kinds of foods I should have him eat. She lauded me for being a pro-active mother, which I thought was bizarre, and put me in for a consult.

We had the blood work done, and while waiting for the results I managed to get to the pediatric nutritionist. I told her about my food philosophy described above, and she said that it was well and good for lots of families. But not mine. My kids don’t sit still at a desk all day long (I often wish they did). My kids don’t fend for themselves in the kitchen for snacks and even frequent meals. My kids don’t sit alone in front of the TV with a snack or their dinner. My kids don’t associate people and food – they play with little regard for eating (they eat with quite a bit of regard for playing instead). They don’t live from meal to meal, but from game to game. I must add that, quite to my complete embarrassment and annoyance, all five of my kids were in the exam room for this discussion and did everything they could do demonstrate just exactly how active and non-food focused they were.

The bottom line is that my kids now no longer get to decide that they are full. They get ice cream for dessert. They get chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast heaped into their whole milk multiple times a day. They get Flintstones Complete vitamins which vaguely resemble candy, and I am very thankful that they have child-proof caps. They have to stop playing and sit down and eat their breakfast or lunch or snack until I say they can get up. We’re now eating chicken thighs instead of breasts, buttered vegetables and rice, and more pasta.

After the lab results came back, the endocrinologist called and said they indicated that Billy was healthy in every way, except for one: he was anemic. Possibly this was a result of diet, but possibly it meant something else. She put in a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist. We went to see this GI doctor yesterday. Fortunately for Billy, he had gained a whole pound in two weeks, which comforted the doctor and added credence to my assertions that the child is simply underfed. Had he not gained any weight, she would have been completely baffled. The kid has all the outward appearance of being healthy, but his consistent drop from the 50th percentile in height and weight at age 2 to his less than 3rd percentile at age 7 is so “remarkable” that the experts seem strongly inclined to study his “case.” I have this strange feeling that Billy is the trick question on the final medical exam – only the “trick” is that he really is healthy and really just needs to eat more food, but the experts think there must be something more…the other answer is just too easy.

But since he has gained weight, mom’s tactic seems to be working, and maybe, just maybe, a wait and see approach would be best in this case. So, we’ll continue to stuff him up like Hansel at the witch’s house, and in four months or so, have his anemia and weight checked. That’s around the time the baby is due. Maybe we’ll all be able to back off on the ice cream by then. I know I’ll need to.

Billy asked me yesterday if this was the last time we’d be going to Walter Reed. I responded, “Just don’t do anything crazy, Billy. No dramatic events in the next two weeks, ok? And then, yes, hopefully, this will be our last time at Walter Reed.” God willing.

Quiet time – not

It’s not yet 6 am, and Jenny is awake. Of course, she wants attention, too, but this time is my time. I get up early so I can have coffee, pray, exercise (well, probably not this morning on that one), check email, and maybe blog…all without an incessant dialogue between me and one or more little person(s) or the drone of background noise. In four months, this time will vanish, and I’ll either be blogging with a baby at my breast or sleeping later to make up for nighttime interuptions. Between now and then, I guard this quiet time sternly. Jen’s been banished to the couch.

It’s not surprising that she’s up early today, or that she was up early yesterday. We’ve been in the car around 6 pm both evenings prior, and she’s fallen fast asleep. Out cold. We just put her to bed for the night. Frequently, if there aren’t sufficient distractions, she falls asleep around that time anyway, generally while in the middle of a meltdown. It’s a messy situation, and it’s obvious she needs more sleep. I could point fingers at a certain older sister who likes to stay up late (and sleep late) and likes to have company in so doing, but instead, I’ll simply state that something is going to change. I’ll go to bed myself and ignore the giggles and chatter still bubbling with an unnatural energy at 10 pm, but I won’t give up my morning’s peace and quiet. And I really won’t accept a cycle that consists of three nights of yelling at asking little girls to stop talking followed by three mornings of having a someone lying on the floor at my feet complaining about everything from her tummy hurting to how boring it is at 6 am with nobody else awake and how cruel I am for ignoring her (repeat cycle).

This calls for a classic technique: divide and conquer. Somebody is going to be spending their bedtime on mom and dad’s bed.