Saturday, February 22, 2020

News & Notes, Winter Break Edition

Well, all this build-up and we're down to one day left in February break.  I took three days off and Craig took a couple half days, just going into work for partial days when Jacob was at basketball camp and he was alone with Carter.  It was a pretty uneventful break in general.  Jacob did three days of camp, which he seemed to enjoy (but probably most enjoyed the good feedback from the camp director).  Carter got to eat out a couple days at lunch to try out places he never gets to go.  He very much enjoyed his KFC chicken strips and Domino's pizza and parmesan bites.  Other than that, it was a lot of hanging out around the house, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  As much as it's easy to get jealous of friends who are traveling this week (I've seen Mexico, New Orleans, skiing, Disney, the Adirondacks, Philly, and probably a bunch more I'm blocking out), I know we'd get back exhausted and right now the rest feels more important.  And anyway, Craig is on the road in Connecticut with the Knighthawks and we had basketball.

Of course, it's not entirely restful when the kids are up to their usual battles.  They've been manageable with only a handful of extreme spikes (which is actually decent), but it still boggles my mind how frustrating they can be.  They know full-well that Craig and I have had it with their constant battles, yet no matter how matter-of-factly we call them out on it, they keep doing it.  We've been constantly encouraging them to avoid confrontation and think twice before they react, but it hasn't really been helping.  They're still in each other's space and looking for random ways to set the other off.  It's like the worst bad habit ever.

As I mentioned, we went to a new therapist this week.  We were recommended there by our old one, who essentially ran her course.  We needed something that was more focused on our family unit (Carter included, even if Jacob is still the "official" patient), so we started with a new one, our first male therapist ever, on Thursday.  It was mostly a get-to-know-you session.  We all shared a bit about ourselves (him included) and then talked about our struggles briefly.  He wanted to start by focusing on what we're currently doing well, which was hard.  I think we came up with good one-on-one time (or really any time we have with the kids separately), suffering no major injuries despite the fights, starting well (like when the boys play a video game or basketball game together--before it goes downhill when Carter loses his temper or Jacob finds a way to make him mad), and traveling relatively well despite our challenges.  Then we went through a full family timeline, starting from when Craig and I met to Jacob starting a new school last year.  I think he was looking for any red flags, which was pretty much all of 2013 when Carter was born, Jacob started melting down, went to school, and got diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and then when we went to Disney.  Clearly that was a pivotal period.  The therapist was overly pleasant, almost cheesy, which elicited some eye rolls from Jacob, but I know it's all a part of the process to endear himself to the kids and start building trust.  Due to very limited scheduling it'll be a few weeks before we meet with him again, but eventually it will be every other week.  Let's hope it helps.

Carter had his well visit this week.  The doctor isn't concerned about the night wetting just yet but gave us the suggestion of waking him up to pee when we go to bed.  He also said he could prescribe medication if we wanted to go that route.  I'd hate to do medication, but we'll see.  Even though we don't make a big deal of it, Jacob isn't particularly understanding and I know it's going to start affecting Carter's confidence after a while, so we'll definitely need to weigh that.  After getting Carter's height and weight stats, I dug into Jacob's medical folder (what a throwback that was!) and found his physical form from his seven-year well visit.  I was curious how the boys compared in size.  Turns out Jacob was about two inches taller and seven pounds heavier.  Despite Carter starting to fit into clothes Jacob wore in second grade, it's about what I expected but still a bummer because I'd hoped that maybe he'd gained a little more ground.  Clearly Carter got my height genes--poor kid.  Even still, he's around the 50th percentile, so we'll take that (and just ignore that really low percentile for weight!  The kid eats, but he's just skinny!).  But otherwise, the doctor was happy with his progress.

This weekend marked Jacob's last games with his current town team.  It's been a long, challenging season--mostly due to issues with uncommitted and disrespectful players--so it's a bit of a relief that it's over.  He had a four-game tournament, and they lost all four.  Their best player missed the last two weekends of the season due to bad grades, and they only won one game out of six.   Jacob played great on Friday night, scoring six points in one game and 10 in another, and collecting a bunch of steals and blocks.  Sunday was a different story.  He got shut out in the first game (and they lost pretty badly to a team they beat earlier in the season), but he rebounded with four points in a tough, close loss in the second game.  I won't miss having to schedule our weekends at the last minute, but we will miss watching some of the kids play.  The coach wants him back next year, but it remains to be seen if he'll even play in this league with the option of modified sports at school.  We'll also have to see how his upcoming travel season goes.  One of his current teammates will be on that team, and he'll play with a couple other kids he played with last summer in the pickup league he played in.  We have yet to get the full schedule but it will be interesting to see where we have to go.  I'd say we get a break for a bit, but Carter is still playing for four more weeks and Jacob will probably be going to training twice this week before team practice starts next week.  I guess we're just a full-time basketball family now!

As for me, I'm still not feeling 100%.  Every time it seems like I'm getting better, I'm sneezing and sniffling all over again.  This latest round (let's say the fourth spike in a little over a month) started last night.  It's not as bad as a full-blown cold, but it's annoying.  It worries me a bit that I can't seem to get better.  Craig is pretty similar but mine seems to be impacting my energy more than his.  He's kept up with his workouts, whereas I've only worked out a handful of times in the last few months.  The one period I was healthy was during the holidays and I was just too busy for staying in shape.  My nose is cracked where it always drips and I'm just tired of sniffling and blowing it.  At least I can breathe most of the time, but still.  I just need to feel better.  I'm gaining weight and running season will be painful if I can't get myself back into some sort of maintenance mode soon.  If it lasts much longer I'll probably be back at the doctor's office demanding blood work (or maybe requesting it electronically to avoid whatever else is going around), but for now I'll just wait for spring.  At least it's not the flu...yet...knock on wood. 

The kids are dreading going back to school (and work is busy as well), but everyone is eager for Craig to come back home tomorrow.  Only a few more roadtrips left this season (though one is a two-game doozy and the other is pretty far).  Two more months.  And spring is just around the corner...on the calendar, anyway.  More daylight is helpful this time of year, but it looks like we have another wacky weather week ahead in this oddly warm but snowy winter.  But even with a leap year, March is in sight!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

How We Got Here (a.k.a. Getting my Brain in Order for a New Therapist)

It's been a long, strange journey.  Our path through pediatric mental health treatment has not been an easy one.  For the past six-and-half years, we've been trying to find the key to Jacob's peace.  We haven't found it yet, so tomorrow we'll be trying something new--family counseling.  We actually really liked his last counselor.  She was friendly and funky and very patient (maybe too patient?) with Jacob's tangents.  I never felt like we had major breakthroughs, but we did finish up a bit more sane than when we started.  Whether that was more due to her help or just the passage of time, it's hard to tell.  But if nothing else, she was a solid sounding board for us to make sure we weren't nuts.  But it became clear we weren't really making much progress and the problems were now bigger than just Jacob.  We needed to get Carter in the mix, too, to have them work together (and us with them) to conquer the barriers to peace in our house.  I'm not even sure this iteration is going to be what we're expecting, but it's a next step we have to take.  So, on the eve of that, and knowing we'll have a lot of family history to recount, I'm trying to get my thoughts in order.  So in case you needed a recap, here goes...

The first 18 months of Jacob's life were relatively uneventful.  I mean, it didn't feel like it at the time, but I know I loved motherhood back then even with the challenges, so the good definitely outweighed the bad.  Yes, he was in the hospital for a week after birth receiving antibiotics, and he had bronchiolitis twice early on and ended up diagnosed with acid reflux and slow stomach emptying after a nine-month-long cough, but for the most part I think he was generally a sweet, happy baby.

At 18 months he changed daycares and had his first stomach bug, all in the same week.  The daycare transition was a bit rough, but I don't think anything seemed too traumatizing, at least not beyond crying at dropoff for the first week or so.  Then a couple months later we moved into a new house.  That, too, seemed fine aside from a mysterious mid-move meltdown.  But somewhere in that mix, things got harder.  Maybe it was just because he was just getting more mobile shortly before all of that, and once things settled down into a new normal, it became more apparent that he was getting into more and making things just a bit harder with his strong will.  It's hard to tell, but that's when I remember things shifting a bit.  It only got harder from there, and no type of discipline seemed to keep him in line.

By the time Jacob was three, it was apparent we had a handful of a child.  I still remember sitting at his pre-K open house, completely embarrassed because he would not properly participate in the activities that showed us what their daily circle time was like.  He was disruptive and rude and eventually had to be taken out, in contrast to the rest of the kids who dutifully did everything they were supposed to do.  I think it was probably one of those key moments where I realized things might be different for us.  There were other moments, like when I watched him organize his toys or heard him spout endless information about a certain topic (generally something about sports), where I worried he might be on the spectrum.  We watched the TV show "Parenthood" and the character with Asperger's had some odd behaviors that felt rather familiar to us.  But for the longest time everyone just insisted it was normal, every kid is hard, boys are just energetic, and he just needed a little extra discipline.  I feel like we tried everything, and it never really got easier.  It got so bad that we put off having another baby for an extra year because we couldn't imagine dealing with him and a newborn.

When we finally did have a second baby, it set the stage for the hardest phase yet.  It didn't start right away, oddly.  At least, I didn't notice a cosmic shift when the baby came home.  I still insist I saw something change in Jacob's face when he walked into my hospital room and saw me holding his brother, but the behavior shift wasn't immediate.  He did spend a lot of time with Craig once Carter came home, since I was often nursing, and if he was missing me, he really didn't let on.  But six months in, everything went downhill.  He was having massive meltdowns, acting out physically, and being incredibly stubborn about random stuff, like which clothes he wanted to wear, which led to lengthy stand-offs.  It was exhausting and deeply concerning, which led us to get him tested for anything and everything right around the time he started Kindergarten.  Those tests randomly turned up Celiac Disease, which explained the stomach aches he'd been complaining about for months.  So, between a new brother, school starting, and chronic pain, it's no wonder he was upset, but even with some of those things managed, even therapy didn't seem to be making much of a difference.  Even still, we did therapy on and off for a few years, never quite finding the right fit.  He wasn't very participatory and the schedules didn't jive with school a lot of the time, so we earned a nasty note about his tardies and early releases.  We even tried a school district-sponsored family therapy program when he was seven, but despite the full family participation, it just didn't seem to be enough to cut through our issues.

His school behavior was challenging--at its worst in Kindergarten with an unhelpful teacher.  We had him evaluated, per the school's request, but the doctor did not believe he had ADHD or any sign of being on the spectrum at that time.  Things were still challenging but more tolerable with subsequent understanding teachers who were willing to work with him and could see his positives.  However, a turning point came in third grade when he was clearly struggling with the academic demands, which had never been an issue before.  His math grade went down, which was odd given his strong math skills, and his teacher reported to us that she frequently had to repeat instructions and redirect him--far more than the other kids.  At that time we chose to have him re-evaluated, and we began both ADHD medication and his most recent counseling stint.  The medication seemed to lead to an almost immediate turn-around at school.  His academic performance improved and he even started to like school!

But home remained extremely difficult.  He went through a lengthy phase of generally ignoring Carter, which wasn't ideal but in retrospect kept things far more peaceful.  He still did his fair share of talking back and arguing with us, but at least he left his brother alone.  A few years ago, that changed and their relationship became more challenging.  It may have coincided with Carter getting into his stuff (which rarely happened but was probably perceived as more frequent), or it may have been that Jacob tried to do brotherly things but ended up disappointed with not having an equally capable playmate.  It became apparent that he harbored anger and jealousy toward Carter and seemed to do everything in his power to put him down.  Over the years things became increasingly more physical, to the point that they have hands-on run-ins nearly every day currently.  Fortunately none have been serious, but we've had a few bruises and scratches over the years.

Throughout this time, Jacob's relationship with us has remained challenging, but doesn't necessarily go to the extremes it once did.  We definitely still have stand-offs and frustrations, but the in-between moments have gotten much better, particularly when his brother is not around.  The problem, however, is that he is a terrible judge of other people's perspectives, and he's constantly making misguided attempts at humor that fall flat.  He tries to make jokes when the last thing we need is humor.  He wants to play music that no one else enjoys.  He makes comments about his brother that he thinks are jokes but are actually hurtful.  Those actions seem to be an attempt at capturing attention, but they usually just end up being annoying.  That's not how you want to perceive your interactions with your child, but with the frequency they occur, it can be truly exhausting at times.  Another challenge for us is that we've become so sensitized to their constant battles that we inadvertently freak out the second we hear the familiar shrieks, giggles, and yelling that inevitably turn into an all-out battle.  They think we're overreacting, but a) our response is essentially involuntary now, like Pavlov's dog; and b) if we don't intervene early, it will undoubtedly get worse.  We've tried periods of not interfering, but it usually ends up in an injury or an extremely angry outburst from one kid or another caused by some perceived injustice.  Right now neither of them has the ability to avoid the conflict or step back and diffuse it, so it has to be us.

These days we seem to keep running into the same vicious cycle.  One kid annoys the other, which leads to a fight, but neither kid admits to being the cause.  Sometimes I don't think they understand the cause, because whatever action they contributed seemed harmless in their opinion.  For example, it could be that Carter kicked Jacob's bag on the floor of the back seat of the car, or brushed by him on the couch at home (accidentally or not), and Jacob takes major offense.  Or maybe Jacob makes a disparaging comment to Carter, which sets Carter off.  In general, the bullying-type comments are nearly constant from Jacob, which seems to have left Carter permanently poised to overreact.  Carter generally relies on physical retaliation, which as the smaller kid doesn't usually go well.  But sometimes he will try to get the first shot in when he sees the situation going downhill, which then sets Jacob off.  It's almost never clear how it started because the smallest insignificant action could have done it.  They are like oil and water, and yet inevitably they will still find their way to mix it up one another even if they've been previously separated into separate areas or rooms.  We can leave the room for a mere moment and suddenly they're fighting again.  It is nearly constant.

My best guess as to what is happening is that Jacob still harbors anger and jealousy about Carter entering our family and "taking his place".  He then feels compelled to put Carter down incessantly and "prove" that he's the better kid.  In the process, Carter has become a bullied kid and takes offense to everything, making him feel like he has to fight back or even get the first shot in for the inevitable barrage that coming at him whenever Jacob is around.  Both feel justified in their actions as proper revenge, and neither will back off and let the other "win".   They're in the ultimate competition to be better, and it's made for an impossibly exhausting parenting task that has us both on edge all the time.  At this point it's hard to know what they can control and what is essentially hard-wired into their brains, so punishments are hard to gauge and solutions seem few and far between.  We love our kids, but we just need some relief from the constant battles.  Let's hope this is the beginning of figuring out how to teach these boys to genuinely care for each other and realize there's enough love in this house for both of them.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Big Day for a Big Boy!

It's pretty rare that our kids have their birthday party on their actual birthday.  Jacob's first birthday was like that--on a cold, rainy June day--but I don't think we've had one since.  And you know what?  I sort of feel like it's for the better, for so many reasons.  First, it's a lot to cram into one day.  Second, parties are a lot of work for me and even though I love creating something special for my kids, it's a lot of time away from them on their big day.  Third, it's so much more fun spreading out the celebrations and making it more than just one day.

But this year, Craig had Carter's birthday weekend off, so it seemed like a good fit to have it this weekend--meaning, either on his birthday or the day after.  I feel like Saturday parties are easier for family coming in from out of town, but harder for me because an extra weekend day to prepare is always helpful.  Complicating matters was that we don't get Jacob's basketball schedule until the Thursday or Friday before, so we had to plan a party ahead of time and hope Jacob's games weren't at the same time.  They had rarely been later on a Saturday afternoon, so we hoped that was a safer option.  Good thing, too, because we ended up having Jacob's basketball games almost all of Sunday afternoon!  We knew we had Carter's game on Saturday morning, so we already had to work around that.  On the bright side, my parents were able to come in for the game and get a two-for-one deal on the day!  I had such a busy work week that I couldn't take a day off to prepare, so in the end it was a mad scramble to get ready.  I was up rather late on Friday and used every available minute (and then half of the party) getting everything prepared.  I'm not sure I'd recommend cramming everything into one day, but it was a pretty good one!

We did start the birthday celebration a little early by letting Carter pick our Valentine's night dinner, which ended up being Red Robin.  The next morning, we had to be up at a reasonable time to do last-minute party prep (mostly cleaning), open presents, and be sure we were out of the house on time to get to Carter's game.  It wasn't easy, but we (mostly) pulled it off.

Carter was excited to open presents!

He got two new figures for his Treasure X King's Gold Tomb that he got for Christmas... a Call of Duty Lego-type set (he got a different set for Christmas) and two new Beyblades.  I made a last minute decision to order a new box of magnetic tiles for him.  He enjoys building with them, but he either likes to go big and runs out of tiles, or two or more of us try to build at the same time and run out.  One of our favorite brands had new style tiles--these have less plastic but have a cool jewel-cut pattern on the plastic face--and the price was more reasonable than in the past, so I took advantage and bought a new set.  Anything to encourage use of stuff we already have, I guess!

He seemed pretty excited!
His last gift was a total crapshoot by me, and only ended up being a birthday gift because it sold out at Christmas.  I saw it on a best toy list and thought it might be a lot of fun, especially since he likes gumballs.  It's a gumball machine maker that uses STEM principles to build all sorts of stunts and obstacles to retrieve your gumball.  Once we showed him what it did, he thought it sounded pretty cool!

After that, it was off to his game!  We met my parents there.  His team had another rough one despite finally having all their players for the first time in a few weeks.  Carter had a couple good shots (including his second in two weeks that bounced on the rim a couple times and then bounced off), but it looked like he was going to get shut out again when he went off the floor after his last second half shift.  But then one of his teammates got hurt, and I think his coach sent him back out since it was his birthday.  And then he got a prime opportunity, shot it, and boom--his first basket!  It was so exciting!  For a kid who claims to not like basketball much these days, he looked pretty pleased with himself!  After the game, his coaches brought in cupcakes (complete with a candle) for each of the three (!) birthday boys this weekend, and Carter passed out his own snack, birthday cake Rice Krispies treats, which we figured would be easy to take home since we knew there would be the normal snack handout.  But who knew there would be cupcakes, too?!

After the game it was back home for a quick lunch (well, I never ended up eating) and a lot of last minute prep.  I had an entire cake to decorate, which would have been enough.  Thank goodness my mom was there to cut cheese, wash fruit, and mix up my broccoli rice casserole.  It ended up a little hectic with ordering food and getting out snacks and Craig forgetting his wallet, but in the end we had a nice little party.

And, of course, there was cake...

Clockwise from top left - Pig, Steve, TNT block, Creeper

Carter wanted a Minecraft cake, and Pinterest only had a few ideas to offer.  Most of them used a ton of fondant or a bunch of Minecraft figures, and a lot of them looked like a combination of Carter's Spider-man cake from a few years ago and his dinosaur cake last year--squared off, stacked cake with green grass and brown sides--along with rice krispie treats (which are hard to replicate gluten-free) and blue jello to create a full landscape.  We only had Lego Minecraft figures, too, so probably not the best plan.  I wanted to do something different and found a fondant version of this cake.  I liked that it had a bunch of different elements of the game, and the squared off images seemed easy to recreate.  In the end there's a lot I would have done differently (better measuring more than anything) but in the end I think it turned out cute.

I later added Carter's name on the pan and a "7" on the unbalanced bottom of the TNT block (ugh), just so I could easily remember what year this was from.  After a very tasty meal and a quick gift opening (a bunch of cards (including a rather large bill from my parents that he waved around) and one gift (a bunch of Playmobil police stuff from Craig's parents), it was on to actually eating that cake!

He had a pretty great day as a whole, despite all the busyness, though I think it was a lot to take in since he did escape into his room with the tablet after a while.  He did spend part of the party going back through his gifts from us, testing out his Beyblades and digging out the Treasure X figures from the "magic rock" they're buried in (sort of like kinetic sand but messier and with bigger pieces).  After some serious cleanup I pretty much collapsed on the couch in exhaustion from a very long week, and while I was there he set to building his giant robot with magnetic tiles!

Almost as tall as him!
It was definitely a busy day, but it was a good one.  I do sort of prefer filling their actual birthday with activities with our immediate family (presents, dinner, and maybe something fun) and having a whole other day to celebrate more with our extended family, but I think it made for one extra fun day for the birthday boy!  Luckily, he still has a couple gifts coming (one from Uncle John in Oregon, and another from Craig's brother's family, since they couldn't make it due to an out-of-town hockey tournament for two kids and play practice for the other two).  So at least he'll get a little bit of an extension.  This week is also winter break, so we'll have a whole week to play with his new toys and recharge a little.  That should go better than last year, when he had his tonsil surgery at the beginning of break.  We have plenty to fill our time, though, from Carter's annual well visit to three days of basketball camp for Jacob.  Craig goes on the road on Friday and Jacob has a tournament starting sometime near the end of the week.  Thank goodness a few other things are taking a week off, but it'll go quickly, I have no doubt.

But all in all, it was a successful birthday for Carter and I'm now adjusting to having a seven-year-old!  Crazy...but good.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Dear Carter,

Lucky number 7!  I simply can't believe you're seven years old!  In some ways it seems like you've been here forever and I can barely remember what it was like to have one kid.  But in other ways it seems like just yesterday that I was giantly pregnant and super uncomfortable for those last few weeks.  The snow we had last weekend brought back memories because we had another snowstorm around that same time the year you were born.  We had a lot of snow and Dad was on the road (and Jacob had a stomach bug), so I was hoping like crazy that you'd just stay in there for a bit longer.  You didn't wait too much longer, mind you, but it was long enough!

That was an 8-foot tall tree, completely bent over!

To think that was all seven years ago is amazing, and that tiny little baby we brought home a week or so later is now a legit big kid.  I do miss those days.  You were the sweetest baby, the happiest little kid, and such a sweet little buddy for so long.  It breaks my heart to know those happy-go-lucky little kid days are over for us, but I know having big kids has benefits, too.  Just keep the hugs going and I think we'll be fine, okay?

I feel like Jacob seemed a lot older at seven, but you two are so different and I'm sure him being the oldest and you being the youngest probably impacted the amount of "babying" you each received.  I think part of the difference is that he's always been very driven about the things that he was interested in, whereas you just sort of take life as it comes.  At seven he was actively playing sports every chance he got and creating elaborate toy setups, so he probably seemed a lot more independent.  But you're content to watch a show, play an electronic game, or casually play with some toys when the other two aren't an option, and you prefer to do all of it with company (usually Dad).  You were usually an easy-going baby and toddler, so I guess this is the big kid version--content to play whatever with whoever is around.  The extra dependence probably makes you seem younger than your brother did, but I guess we should just be grateful you still like having us around!

I've felt more than ever in this last year that you're becoming more of a puzzle.  I'm totally not sure where you're headed in life or what kind of person you will become.  With your brother there was no question that sports would be a part of his life, but you are definitely a wild card.  My sweet little boy has definitely evolved into a more challenging kid who likes to test and sneak a bit more than I'd like, but I can't figure out if it has to do with an evolving personality, challenges with your brother, too much electronics, or something else.  Your friendships seem a bit odd--hot and cold at times, though often I think the "cold" is your perspective, since one friend you insist isn't one anymore keeps begging for a playdate (sorry, one of these days Jacob's basketball schedule will let us plan more than a day in advance), and another seems perfectly friendly in passing.  You still don't like school, but you seem to like reading more when you're there, so I'll take it.  You've improved so much with that, by the way, which is a bit of a relief.  Still hoping to get you to be a real reader, but with how energetic and antsy you are, getting you to sit might be even more of a challenge than it was for your brother!  His overactivity was mostly in his brain, but yours seems to be all-around--body *and* mind most of the time.  It can be a lot to manage, especially at this time of year when outside isn't the easiest place to play.  You love to run, and I think right now you're just tolerating basketball so you have a place to do it twice a week.

Despite your need to move, electronics are the one thing that gets you to sit still.  They were an issue at this time last year and are still a problem, but I can say I've gotten less shy about flat-out banning them at times, which forces you to work that imagination.  The other day I even found you reading books!  I'm doing everything I can to maximize your toy time while you're still young enough, but keeping up the energy to hold you to it isn't always easy because you're always gravitating toward the screens!  You like to talk about your games, shows, and Minecraft builds a lot, which isn't always easy for my attention span, but I'm trying!  I can tell there's a lot of creativity in your brain, and it's so much better used away from electronics, but I keep hoping maybe someday all this screen time will lead you to your passion--and hopefully it's lucrative!

The good news about the screen time is that it keeps you away from your brother, as your battling has possibly gotten even worse this last year.  There is a magnetic force that keeps you both going after each other.  One second you're in different rooms, and the next you're all over each other for no apparent reason.  It's hard to determine who starts it, because usually you're the first to lash out physically, but it's not unlikely that Jacob said something that set you off.  Sometimes the littlest brush of an arm or a seemingly innocent comment gets one of you going, then then it's all out war.  As a result, both of you will always blame the other, so trying to get to the bottom of your battles is impossible.  To make matters worse, neither of you seems able to make decisions to avoid getting into these messes in the first place, nor is anyone willing to step aside until someone's hurt or miserable.  It's exhausting and it hasn't made for the best home life lately.  I know that's probably not enhancing your personality development in any sort of good way--it only seems to make you more defensive and frustrated when we're upset or you feel like Jacob is getting away with something.

I worry a bit because you're not the super happy kid you once were, and I'm not sure how to manage your moods.  I suppose it's inevitable, but I sort of figured we'd be able to wait for the tween years before the real moodiness set in.  You have good moments, for sure, but it's a lot harder to find pure joy in you these days.  You're very evasive with grownups and try to keep a poker face at all times when other adults are around.  Not sure how to ease you out of that or find the kid whose smile used to charm strangers at Disney and Wegmans, but hopefully he's still in there somewhere.  Sometimes as a parent it's hard to know what's just growing up and exerting independence vs. something more, and most days I'm still not sure with you.  Regardless, I'm just sorry that I wasn't able to protect you from all the things that created this hardened shell you seem to carry with you now.

The last two weeks I've been putting hearts on your door leading up to Valentine's Day with all the things we love about you or want you to remember about yourself.  You got so mad at me last weekend that you not only threatened to rip them down but also insisted they weren't true because your punishment proved I didn't love you.  Ugh.  I seriously thought we'd have a few more years before you tried to use my own words against me, so clearly we're going to have our work cut out for us when the tween years really hit!  I hope you know that I love you so much, no matter the punishment I just laid down or the injustice you think you're experiencing.  In the end I'm trying to do it all for your own good, but I know sometimes I'll make mistakes, too.  We're both learning, I guess.

But no matter how frustrated I get, most nights I'm still content to lay down next to you at bedtime and get in a good snuggle.  I think that's sort of the definition of unconditional love, right?  To have someone make you crazy all day but to still be drawn to be near to them at the end of the day anyway because they still hold your heart.  I can't imagine my life without you, and I hope this year is your best yet!  I love you so much!


Friday, February 14, 2020

The Evolution of Valentine's Day

I'll be honest.  I'm not really a fan of this holiday.  It's fine, I guess, and it's good for making sure you take a day to honor the ones you love.  BUT...that should actually be happening every day, so I guess maybe it's allowing a massive cop-out to get the lovey stuff out of the way today?  I don't know.  It's never really been a big thing for us.  We've tried, but I think most of it felt forced, like it was what we were supposed to be doing on this one day of the year.  Pre-kids it was fine, but post-kids it got hard, and honestly, who needs to make life any harder, especially on a day where we're supposed to just appreciate each other.  And then Carter was born the day after, so everything got even more complicated.  So, now I just do what I can and leave it at that.

When I was a kid, I was fine with the classroom Valentine exchange, but I'll be honest--even then I was probably more in it for the class party and snacks.  Any sort of break from learning was appreciated, especially with treats.  When I got a little older, let's say around Jacob's age, the stakes got a little bigger and decidedly more awkward.  At that point I wanted a real Valentine, and probably made myself crazy reading into how my current crush wrote his Valentine to me.  Was it like everyone else's Valentines, or was it special?  Of course, my success in the love department during my middle school years was not great, so I think I just had to lean back on the class party and snacks for any sort of enjoyment.

In high school I entered an entirely new level of hell, because our high school did a carnation sale.  Everyone bought carnations for their friends (white) and their love/crush (red).  I'm pretty sure watching the homeroom deliveries go down freshman year probably changed my brain chemistry and made me desperate for one the next year, and oh man, what a mess that was.  I actually just told Jacob this story the other day, presumably to make a point about love gone wrong or something like that.  Or maybe I just asked if his school seemed to be doing anything, and then explained why it sucked that mine did.

My sophomore year, I had a massive crush on the guy who sat next to me in English.  He was adorably geeky and super smart.  He took multiple foreign languages (just like me), and I found his intelligence very attractive.  This guy ended up being our valedictorian (no surprise to anyone) and is to this day incredibly successful.  He actually just stepped down as CEO of a very successful company just because he had the right person to hand over the reins to (though he's still involved), and is taking a break by traveling until his next steps become clear.  He's pretty incredible--though I'd venture a significantly different type of person than he was back then.  But anyway...I had a massive crush on him.  About a week or so out from Valentine's Day, two of my best friends let me know that someone was going to be sending me a red carnation.  This was a BIG deal to a girl who really, really, really wanted a boyfriend, and I immediately guessed it had to be him because there wasn't really anyone else floating out there at the time.  Well, ultimately I was right, but my friends spent the next week trying to convince me (read: lying to me) about who was sending it, which turned into this awful thing because it really wasn't fun anymore when the two options were a) your friends are lying to your face (even if it's for a good cause), or b) there's some mystery guy out there that you're totally not into and you'll probably look like a jerk if you don't respond appropriately.  Neither was a good option, so suffice it to say that it was awkward and annoying.  Well, on the day the flowers got delivered, that guy (and my friends) were actually out of school for an all-county band event.  I got a bunch of carnations that day--one silly decoy, one apology from my friends, and one incredibly adorable sweet note from the guy.  I think I still have it, in fact.  The plan was that we'd meet up at the school dance that night, but that was horrifying to me because I'd never really gone to one and didn't know what to wear, nor did I know how to dance.  So the whole thing again ended up really awkward and our one slow dance (which took a lot of convincing) looked like the super-stereotypical, awkward, leave-room-for-the-Holy-Spirit first dance.  Ugh.  Still, I think it ended okay, only over the weekend I got tipped off to the fact that while everyone was at all-county band all weekend, that it came out that maybe he wasn't so interested in moving beyond friendship.  So, on Monday (actual Valentine's Day) when he was back in school, it was (again) super awkward and I was crushed.  That crushing lasted a long time, too.  Even though we managed to be friends again, I'll estimate it took a solid 18 months for the hurt and the crush to totally go away, and even then I had weak moments when he'd be exceptionally sweet (just because that's how he was--not because he was leading me on or anything).  I never really understood what happened, though in college it turned out he was actually gay, so maybe that was part of it.  I didn't get drunk enough at my 10th high school reunion to ask the question, so perhaps now I'll never know.  But suffice it to say, it set the stage for being rather guarded about this holiday for years to come.

Valentine's Day actually changed everything in college, as it was the first night Mary and I attended an InterVarsity large group meeting, which redirected the rest of our college careers.  It was a little weird to go to an all-girls party off-campus afterward, and even weirder when a bunch of the single boys shaved their heads in a comedic protest of the holiday and dropped off the hair on the front porch of the house we were at.  Despite the immense weirdness of that, we stuck around, and those friendships were the core of our entire college experience.  One of those shaved head guys even ended up being a very dear college boyfriend, as well!  But even with those great friendships, most Valentine's Days spent with the girls left me feeling a bit empty, particularly once a lot of the girls our age were coupled off and spent that evening with their guys.  I did get flowers from a guy one year, but even those were awkward because I wasn't that into him!

Onward into adulthood and my early years with Craig, we did the usual dinner thing and struggled through finding appropriate gifts that didn't seem too cliched.  But it was fine.  Heck, some years we even had to work that evening, so we didn't really have a choice.  And celebrating Valentine's Day on another day just seems weird...though I'm sure I insisted on it at some point.

Then, like I said, kids made it even harder.  Seven years ago, Valentine's Day officially became synonymous with my worst pregnant day ever, as I was exhausted and completely uncomfortable with baby pressure.  I slept terribly, worked through sciatica and pressure, then sat on a hard metal bleacher watching Jacob finish his six-week soccer stint.  By the time we went to dinner at Friendly's, I could barely eat or sit comfortably at the booth.  I also noticed some blood when I went to the bathroom, and got a little excited that this might be it--though I definitely did not want a Valentine's Day baby so I was hoping things held off.  Even still, I could barely finish dinner and even ended up taking my Happy Ending sundae to go, just so I could get home and lay down.  And I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good, so imagine my surprise when my water broke at my desk and I had a baby in my arms less than 12 hours later!  But I will never forget that day...or how mind-blowing it felt to eat my leftover Friendly's sundae three days later when I got home from the hospital, realizing everything had changed since the night I ordered it.

Since then, Valentine's Day has been merely a speed bump to get to Carter's birthday.  It's just one more thing I have to do amidst birthday prep, busy weeks at work, the 100th day of school, and whatever else falls during this time.  And you know what, I think things have come full circle, because I think I'm just back to hoping for a little food and a mental break from work to celebrate the day.  Our office actually had our thing yesterday (and I had to miss it for an event I was working), but you can bet that the leftovers and a goodie bag from my boss were all I needed to give the day a boost.

As for us, the kids each got a little bag of fun candy, and I stocked up Craig with a couple treats, too. They gave me roses and a DVD movie.  We went out to dinner, mostly for Carter's birthday since his party takes over dinner tomorrow.  I did manage to do one of those Pinterest-y things for the last two weeks--I wrote up hearts with things that are special about each kid and added one to their bedroom door each day.  Both boys got compliments on their basketball skills.  A lot of Carter's are about being silly, creative, cuddly, and a good runner, and Jacob's are about his passion, abilities, and how I appreciate the little things he does for me.  The last few days were reminders of their place in our family and how much they are loved by God and us.  I'm not sure they appreciated it as much as I'd hoped (I was hoping for Advent calendar enthusiasm, but not quite), but hopefully they're just internalizing it all and know how much they are loved.

The rest of tonight has been a mad rush to prepare for Carter's birthday and party tomorrow.  There's still a lot to do, but we're getting there.  I can't wait to celebrate our newly-minted seven-year-old...and then maybe relax a little after a very busy week!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Weekend Weigh-Down

Thanks to a snowy, icy storm yesterday we ended up with a last-minute three-day weekend.  You'd think that would have taken the edge off and helped me have a more productive, lower-stress weekend, but the jury's still out.  I'm going through another drive on the struggle bus right now.  These phases seem to crop up every month or two, where I'm just completely overwhelmed by typical everyday stuff.  Dumb things like picking dinners, cleaning the house, keeping the kids apart and occupied, or even just getting off the couch some nights to get Carter in bed, can be overwhelming.  Usually the feeling just lasts a day or three, at least at its worst.  Sometimes I wonder if there's more to it than just being a little extra tired or anxious, but I honestly don't know.  Not sure I'm ready to face that down just yet.

Yesterday should have been a nice bonus day, but after a brisk morning shoveling stint, I did a little work and then got sleepy.  I tried to rest on the couch but of course the boys had to be crazy, so that really didn't work and only left me agitated.  I tried to perk myself up after lunch with limited success, but all I managed was a little more work and finishing off the day with a marathon bag-folding session for a work mailing (I worked a half day, essentially).  Then I couldn't figure out what to do for dinner.  I felt like the day was a failure because I was exhausted and didn't really make the most of the time with the boys.  We didn't even go outside to explore the slightly-iced-over (then buried by snow) landscape.  Long story short, it wasn't a great day.

Today was a bit better, mostly because I had enough energy to push through and tackle a task that I was struggling with having it standing between me and next weekend's birthday party--cleaning the kitchen floor.  I vacuum it reasonably often (though not enough) and Wet Swiffer it when there are visible stains, but really scrubbing it is a pain and I don't do it often.  I knew it had to be done before the party (the Wet Swiffer didn't cut it), but the thought of it was overwhelming--almost to the point that even without specifically pinpointing that as a to-do task yesterday, it was paralyzing me anyway.  I had to do it and didn't want it hanging there as an evening task, so it had to happen this weekend.  But of course, then I decided that the build-up of dust and crap on the floor behind and next to the fridge were making me crazy.  Isn't that always how it happens, though?  One task leads to another that leads to another, and so on.  It's like the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" books.  I saw a similar meme yesterday that essentially explains how it usually works for a mom with having one task morph into another over and over, including the end result being that you never actually did the task you originally set out to do.  Luckily this one didn't sidetrack me since it was part of the bigger task, but 10 years' worth (or more?) of dust and spilled candy, nuts, and pasta made for quite the cleanup and it probably did tire me out more than I would have liked.

Getting that done was a relief, but I still have a lot to accomplish over the next week--more cleaning, decluttering, last minute vacuuming, food planning, and gift buying.  Not to mention that we haven't figured out the cake yet and I also have some Valentine's matters to take care of.  I'm going to have to be productive, so hopefully I don't have another mental or physical obstacle to contend with.  My latest cold seems to be subsiding.  I'm down to a few noseblowings a day, and my cough is much better.  Carter seems to have had the same sort of cold and his cough is hanging in there, but he seems mostly better, as well.  Everything is going around, though--including this stupid Coronavirus--so nothing ever feels comfortable this time of year.  When I see all of the "sick" references in my daily Facebook memories, I know it's common enough this time of year to make things difficult without warning.

Speaking of health, it's hard to believe we're coming up on the anniversary of Carter's tonsil surgery.  In case you're wondering, the apnea seems better but I don't think he's sleeping much more soundly--I think he still thrashes a lot and we are still having a night wetting issue, which will be an important thing to bring up with his doctor.  It still seems weird to me that it wasn't an issue for at least a year until last fall.  Since the surgery didn't fix it, I'm concerned with what's causing it.  It didn't seem to be a diabetic issue based on testing done last year, so I guess that's comforting, but it still seems odd to me.  At one point it seemed like the strep antibiotics fixed it, but it restarted after the surgery, somewhere around the time the antibiotics finished up, but possibly just before if I recall correctly.  It's causing some teasing/confidence issues now so if there's a way to fix it, that would be helpful.

I still have all of the house fixing issues to figure out, and we're having an impossible time picking a time of year to try to go to Disney, so I have all of that stuff still hanging in there, too.  You'd think that just getting it all done would ease that part of the stress, but I guess when you're already overwhelmed, it's harder than it seems.  This week has enough for itself, as do most.  So much to think wish me luck for Sunday.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

News & Notes, Big Game Edition

I'm writing this during the Super Bowl, since it's been one of the few times this week that it's been perfectly acceptable to sit and do nothing, where I have actually felt like doing anything.  I've been sick most of the week, this time with another cold.  Carter and I both have had it, and it's basically the second cold in a few weeks for us, although since we've both followed the same path, perhaps it's some sort of twisted virus that came, never entirely went away, and then rebloomed into something even worse.  The first one seemed short and was generally minimally annoying--only a few cruddy days followed by feeling fine despite a handful of productive nose blowings per day.  This has been worse.  It seemed manageable initially, but then Carter had a fever on Wednesday and stayed home from school, and by the time I came home for a shift with him that afternoon, I was relieved to be home since mine was getting worse.  When I woke up on Thursday, I could tell I was extra tired despite sleeping okay, and when Carter still had a 99 fever, I figured I'd just stay home and keep him with me.  Thank goodness I did, because I napped on the couch (in between Carter interruptions) all morning and only woke up at 12:30 realizing I had to make lunch.  I almost had a low blood sugar moment at that point, but luckily righted myself soon enough.  Even still, I was pretty beat and having chills and sweats without a fever.  The rest seemed to do me good, however, because I definitely perked up a bit by later in the day.  And good thing, since Craig was going on the road for 24 hours.

Friday morning I had to get the boys up early since I was solo, and we had a very tight timeline for getting Jacob to school and driving back to Greece so I could get Carter on the bus.  Otherwise we'd have a long wait before I could drop him off at school.  Five minutes after we left home, Jacob freaked out because he forgot his phone.  He had a few reasons to want it, including one class where it would come in handy, a house competition he wanted to record, and the usual long bus ride home.  He had a pretty nasty meltdown, right down to blaming me because I suggested he change out of his Nike hoodie into his school one because it technically wasn't a dress-down day.  He dropped his phone to do that and never picked it back up, apparently.  I really did not want to get it for him--I couldn't go back immediately because it would destroy my schedule, and the thought of driving back to Irondequoit after the bus did not appeal to me at all.  Jacob refused to even get out of the car for a few minutes, until I threatened to take the phone away for an extended period of time.  It was not great, especially considering I still wasn't feeling great.

But I had to go home to get Carter on the bus anyway, and I debated in my head the whole drive home.  On one hand, you're not supposed to coddle your kid and bring them stuff they forget.  I've always said I have no choice but to do his lunch because he has no other option at school, and homework is situation-specific (i.e., how lazy/careless was he, and how important is the assignment?).  But for a phone?  Ugh.  On the other hand, it wasn't convenient but it was doable.  There's something to be said for being kind and teaching your child compassion.  I could have been a jerk and treated him with the same jerkiness that he treated me with, but in a household where we're trying to teach that you shouldn't do that, and that constantly getting revenge is counterproductive, perhaps I should do better.  I knew how badly he wanted it, and I know he didn't have full control over himself.  He was nervous about participating in the house competition (he thought he was going to part of a three-point contest, though he ended up in a relay instead), and I just had a feeling it was mostly anxiety and he needed compassion this time.  So I grabbed his phone, got Carter on the bus, and drove back to school.  I luckily got there quicker than usual, and there was zero traffic on the rest of my way to work, so I felt like that validated my decision.  And when Jacob apologized profusely by text later that morning, I knew it was the right choice.  Ah, parenting.

We were solo Friday night so we went out to have frozen yogurt for dinner since we had an expiring coupon.  We ended up running into the boys' old daycare teacher.  I think she left daycare shortly before the massive exodus there, and we hated to see her go at the time even though it was for good reasons.  We've followed each other on Instagram for a couple years so she's seen pictures of the boys and I've seen pictures of her sweet daughter, but I guess nearly five years was a bit too much because not even Jacob remembered her.  Ugh.  But she was thrilled to see them, and it was great seeing her, too.

Saturday was basically all-day basketball.  Carter played well in the morning--still no points, but he got honored for his defense postgame.  They lost pretty solidly, but the other team had one dominant player, and it didn't help that Carter's team was down three players.  Then we moved on to Jacob's games, which were craziness.  His coach got kicked out five minutes into the first game, for no reason.  The ref misheard one thing he said, and then when the coach complained about a non-call on a double dribble (despite it being very tame), he kicked him out.  I've never seen anything quite like that so early in the game.  Oh, and for each of those incidents the other team got an automatic two points as they don't shoot for technicals at this age.  It was brutal.  Luckily, after a bit the boys rallied and they won by a bunch.  Game two was odd because it featured two girls--both quite tall and one particularly talented.  I can't imagine having my daughter playing against boys at that age, but I do give the girls credit.  The one was a bit of a whiner on fouls, however, and Jacob took great joy in aiding her in fouling out when he took a charge from her late in the game.  The other probably had half of her team's points.  We ended up down by 14 at the half, but made a great comeback and only lost by four.  Jacob ended up with six points on the day, with a bunch of steals and solid defense.  He was a bit annoyed, though, because the other two coaches were giving him a hard time about shooting.  He definitely was off on his outside shots, but he kept trying.  In the second game almost everyone had to shoot outside because the opponent had the middle covered, so it was a no-win situation for him.  The head coach's wife had been Facetiming him in all game, and after the game he texted us specifically to tell Jacob to keep shooting.  I think that gave him some validation, but it's tough to get mixed messages.  Always nice when a coach has your back, though.  It was a tough loss, but with the way the day went, it felt a lot better than most.

Today has mostly been a lazy day.  I haven't felt that great all day again (just tired), and since we didn't get a Super Bowl invite this year, we've just been chilling out.  Not a bad thing, honestly.  I probably would have forced myself to be up to a party, but I'm glad I didn't have to.  I have a busy week or so ahead at work, so I need every bit of healing and energy that I can get.

Otherwise, we're still struggling a bit with the Kobe Bryant accident.  As a parent, I'm trying to be grateful for the little things in life, and I know Jacob is still coming to terms with the loss from a basketball perspective.  It's such a terrible, senseless loss.  Stupid fog.

Carter's birthday is now less than two weeks away.  I'm pretty much in shock that he's going to be seven.  He doesn't usually seem that old, but it's getting harder to insist he's my baby when I see that number getting higher.  I'm currently debating on gifts--he's such a weird kid to buy for because he gravitates to screens so much--and we're planning on having his party on his birthday, but we'll have to wait and see until the day before to see if Jacob's basketball schedule will complicate matters.  I guess I should get planning on the cake, eh?

This winter marks the five-year anniversary of my layoff from my last job, and I've been thinking about that a lot lately now that my five-year anniversary at my new job is only a couple months away.  It's so hard to believe that much time has passed--from when Carter turned two, from Rochester's coldest February ever, from that huge transition in my life.  It's also been four years since Jacob's leg surgery.  Time is flying.  All of this basketball seems to keep things moving, and I have no doubt this month will be more of the same.  Getting through January is always a big step mentally, though.

Well, the Super Bowl is over and while I'm happy with the winner, KC's last minute touchdown cost me $50 in my office's squares.  Boo.  One of these years, right?

Onward to a new week.  Wish us good health, if you could.  We will need it!