Monday, July 25, 2016

Belated Birthday Celebration

It only took an extra month, but we finally got Jacob's birthday party scheduled.  Between family schedule conflicts, other events, and one random miscommunication, we were finally able to settle on a day (only a week ahead!) and run with it.  We really wanted to be able to have as many of Jacob's cousins there as possible because he likes playing with them, particularly on his turf, so it was a priority to work around their family's hectic sports schedule to make that happen.  And thankfully, it did!

One of the big developments this week was that our central air died.  On Wednesday night I noticed that the house felt a little warmer than normal, and sure enough, it was two degrees warmer than the thermostat was set at.  Normally when that's the case the air is running, and it wasn't.  A couple minutes later, as I was getting ready for bed in the bathroom, I heard this buzzing sound.  I realized it was coming through the vent from the basement, but when I got down there I didn't hear anything.  But a couple minutes later I heard it again, and when I went back down and waited, I confirmed that it was something in the furnace or A/C unit.  It was like it was trying to turn on but couldn't.  Ugh.  The timing was extra terrible because of the party and because we're in a weather pattern of high 80s/low 90s for a solid couple weeks and our house is really tough to cool down naturally.  We have a few ceiling fans, but even with open windows it's very challenging.  The house has been getting up into the mid-to-upper 80s each day, then cooling down to the upper 70s/low 80s by morning.  It's not pleasant.  Craig and Jacob have been sleeping in the basement, and even Carter did last night.  However, I like my bed, and once I'm laying down the heat doesn't bother me too much, so I've stayed upstairs.  But the days have been pretty brutal.

Honestly, part of the problem is that the heat just makes everyone so cranky!  It makes me so much more impatient (you know, like when you're trying to get a child to change into their PJs and you're sweating just sitting there convincing them to put down the toys), and it's exhausting to exert any effort on household tasks.  Dusting and vacuuming the house before the party was awful!  Add in the prospect of paying more than $6,000 to replace everything, and you've got a recipe for disaster mood-wise.  Oh, I guess I didn't mention that our current system is more than 25 years old, so a simple repair probably isn't worth it as we could find ourselves in the same position soon enough down the road with another part.  And since everything is so outdated and super inefficient, it really makes the most sense to just replace it all...as even if we sold the house without updating we'd probably have to make concessions for it anyway.  But the price tag is painful, to say the least, and we're still debating how we want to go about this.  But for the weekend the party had to be our focus.  With all of this stuff going on in our house, the party seemed a bit daunting, but we got it done!  I took care of the inside stuff and the food, and Craig did a fantastic job of cleaning up outside so our patio, pool, and yard all looked presentable.

As usual, my main focus was the cake.  I don't know if I'm just getting better at this or if I'm just lucky, but while I had thought about the cake thing a lot leading up to it, I wasn't really that concerned as the day approached.  Even though we had planned two--yes, TWO--cakes.  I don't know why I thought that was a good idea, but I guess the bright side is that if something gets messed up, there's a backup.  A few months ago Jacob and I had talked themes, and he decided that he wanted to use his army guys to make a battlefield cake.  Right around the same time we were lamenting his inability to eat store-bought ice cream cakes, so I guess I figured I could try my hand at making one.  And then I came up with the brilliant idea that the army guys could be battling each other.  And so the dueling cake idea was born.  For a brief time he talked about changing to a lacrosse cake (no idea how to pull that one off), but fortunately I reminded him of the original idea and he hopped back on board.

Of course, it turned out I should have planned ahead better on the cakes because as I shopped for everything the day before, I found that Wegmans no longer carries my beloved green Funfetti frosting that's been a staple on many of my recent cakes (Jacob's baseball field, Carter's road and Paw Patrol cakes), and my late evening trip to Target proved unfruitful as well (they still carry it, but were out).  So I faced having to overload on food coloring to get a useful green, and crossed my fingers that everything else would go smoothly.  I baked later than I wanted to on Saturday and managed to get them layered before bed.  I didn't bother with a crumb coat because my storage options were limited and the heat of the house had me nervous.  In between baking I thawed and froze one layer of ice cream, then fumbled my way through an in-between layer of fudge and crushed gluten-free K-Toos (like Oreos but gluten-free and nut-safe for our nephew).  It was a bit sloppy and awkward, but even if it didn't look pretty, it had to taste good, right?

Sunday morning I frosted the regular cake and added the last layer of ice cream to the other one.  Later I whipped up the ice cream cake frosting, a pudding and Cool Whip concoction that would freeze well and give me the dirt-colored covering that we needed.  That was a mess, but somehow it worked!  I may never do an ice cream cake without A/C again, though, as it was harrowing getting each new part done before the existing part melted! 

As the party drew closer I brought Jacob over to decorate the regular cake.  It was a bit nerve-wracking as he just wanted to place guys willy-nilly and didn't want to listen to my possible "enhancements".  But eventually I got him to slow down enough to explain some ideas, like a dirt path of crumbs and piped-on rocks and tufts of grass.  Once he saw what I was doing, he was loving it.  I reined him in on placing guys so they didn't totally overwhelm the cake, and this was the end result...
 

After the ice cream cake had a chance to refreeze after the last step, we repeated the decorating process (quickly!) with that one.  Jacob deemed this the "beach" cake (Normandy, perhaps?), and the green was seaweed.


And here they are "doing battle"...

The funniest part of this, as cute as they turned out, is that there is a mix of Revolutionary War guys and traditional guys (WWII?) on both cakes.  There are cannons on both, and even a dying guy on one.  Oh, and I nixed Jacob's idea of blood on the cakes, although I suppose the red on the bottom of the one could be construed that way.  Either way, I was very happy with them, all things considered.  I liked being able to involve Jacob, and he was really excited about them, calling them the best ones ever.  It's rare to get any compliments from that kid, so I will take it.  Maybe that's why I put myself through this every year...

Back outside, the party was going well.  We got a good turnout and the weather moderated a bit so it was actually pleasant outside.  It's amazing what a little less sun will do!  We had a wonderful dinner of burgers and dogs with a lot of yummy sides (including these great little roasted potatoes I found on Pinterest the day before), and then it was time to open gifts. 
Two things: 1) He refused a chair because he just wanted to open them immediately; and 2) That's our nephew Grant with the Captain America mask.  Carter was harassing people most of the afternoon to wear it, because he wanted to be Spider-man and chase bad guys.  Most of us took a turn at some point.
It turned out to be a major Lego birthday, as that's pretty much all he got!  He did get money, which we will certainly be encouraging him to save and NOT spend on Legos!

Scooby-Doo!
After that it was time for cake!  The battling cakes were officially brought out, and they survived the trip! 


Getting sung to!

Blowing out the candles!  He jumped the gun after we sang the traditional song and blew out a couple candles...since apparently he forgot that we always sing "Sto Lat", a traditional Polish song!
All in all, it was a great party.  I was able to relax and enjoy the end in particular, before a sink full of dishes in a hot kitchen awaited me.  Even still, I did one round of dishes, put Carter to bed, dried and put away the first dishes, then did another round and went out to the pool to chill out for a bit.  It seems to be a bit of a post-party tradition for me.  I think I just need a few minutes of peace and quiet and weightlessness after a busy day on my feet. 

So another successful party and cake(s) are in the books!  Now onward to big decisions and final vacation planning!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Weekend Update

Last weekend was my 20th high school reunion.  That blows my mind a bit since I don't feel old enough for that to have been 20 years ago.  Yes, high school is finally starting to seem like a very long time ago.  But 20 years?  Eeesh.  Even weirder is it means that it's been nearly 20 years since I went to college and met Mary.  For the longest time she was my best friend that I'd only known for a short time, and now I've known her more than half my life and can definitely consider her an "old" friend.  It doesn't seem possible!  Time really does fly.

Well, before we took all off for Buffalo (separately), we wanted to get in some fun play time on Saturday morning.  But first...I finally remembered to take a picture of our van!

We headed out to a park near our house because Jacob wanted to play basketball.  That's his new thing thanks to a lot of time in the gym at camp this summer.  He wants to challenge one of the counselors to a game, and he's been pretty serious about playing it.  It's part of the reason for his issues at the grocery store last week, because he was very focused on that goal that night, and one of his major distractions was a bin of balls that he was shooting into.  So he wanted to play basketball, and conveniently there's a playground there that we pass by often that Carter points out.  So the big boys went to play basketball, and Carter and I went off to the playground...

He ran around like a maniac, and we had a lot of fun!  Sometimes you forget how much fun it can be to run around a playground!  This one was made for slightly bigger kids so I had to keep a closer eye on him, but he did great.
Always moving!  And running from me!

Top of the big twisty slide!


We played for quite a while, but lunch time was coming quickly and we still needed to pack up for our respective trips to Buffalo, so we headed back over to the basketball court for Jacob's last few shots. 

Meanwhile, Carter was still running around like crazy, down the basketball courts and across to the tennis courts.  This boy loves to run!

Craig and the boys headed off to see his family, and I got some bonus time alone with my parents.  The boys kept him busy for a couple days, but it sounds like they had fun, too.  And apparently Carter took a little too long to eat his Dilly Bar, because his utensil of choice is a straw!

My reunion was interesting.  I knew there was only going to be a limited group of people I wanted to talk to, but I figured it was worth going just for that.  I obsessed over my outfit and told myself the entire time how stupid that was, since I had no one to impress.  My friends wouldn't care and the non-friends aren't worth my time...so why was I worrying about it?  I'd like to hold my own, at least, but beyond that, does it matter?  Anyway, when I pulled into the parking lot of the bar, I panicked a bit when the first group I saw was all popular kids.  I second guessed things for a bit, but finally I went in and found the crew that I was hoping to find, and we settled right back in.  We were pretty cynical, rolling our eyes when the popular girls started taking selfies, and looking around only to find no other group we felt compelled to join.  So we talked to each other and had a blast.  Two of the girls went to another Lutheran school like I did, so we've known of each other even longer than high school, and the third went to my church when we were kids so we went to Sunday School together and were part of the same Confirmation class.  So yeah, there was some history there which probably made it easier to settle back in.  We eventually tried to be social and chat with some other groups.  It was very surfacy, but honestly, it was fine. 

I had said earlier in the night that part of the reason I could shrug this one off a bit was because I didn't really have any guys to impress.  I mean, two of my biggest crushes in high school weren't even in my class, and one of the ones that was is gay.  I saw that one at the last reunion.  Beyond that, there was really only one I knew would never come and another that possibly could, but hadn't RSVPed.  Even still, that last one I sort of made peace with, as shortly after Craig and I had started dating, he randomly contacted me and admitted he probably should have asked me out in high school but let social crap get in the way.  He was pretty popular (an athlete) and I...was not.  We were friends, but it would have been social suicide for him to ask me out, no doubt.  But it was nice to know.  And obviously a couple years later I married Craig, and six years ago he got married (to another Amy....ha!).  I also knew from his very limited Facebook posts that he was a lawyer and had moved back to Western New York, so I guess I figured there was a chance he could be there.  At one point I caught someone walking up out of the corner of my eye, and it was him!  I was pretty shocked, but it was nice to talk with him, and I got to meet his wife, too.  She was super sweet.  Like, so much more down-to-earth than I ever pictured him ending up with.  That's not really a knock on him, but I don't know...sometimes I feel like people with certain jobs or whatever feel pressure to find a certain type of partner.  Maybe that comes from being around athletes with their girlfriends who have "the look".  But anyway, she was great.  And pregnant.  Girl #2 is due in a couple months, so we had fun chatting about pregnancy and delivery and all that.  Seriously, if I lived in Buffalo I could totally see myself being friends with her...aside from the fact that I had a pretty big crush on her husband 22 years ago!  Hehe.

Anyway, my original group of girls made the rounds and talked to a variety of people.  Most were people that were just fringe friends back in school, but it was fine.  Again, I think most of us have moved on so it's just being polite adults at this point.  One of the funniest things was near the end of the night, as a guy came up to three of us and said, "I don't know your names and we didn't hang out in high school, but I'm here to make up for that now!"  He was clearly drunk, but we ended up having a very interesting and entertaining conversation with him.  It cracked us up and is honestly what reunions are all about! 

Around midnight, one of our little group went home, and another one and I followed the crowd to another bar.  It marked the first time I have had a beverage at one of NT's two main drinking strips (Oliver St. is one, Webster St. is the other).  The second bar was crazy busy but we checked it out, had a couple drinks on the patio, and called it a night.

All things considered, it was a great night.  It was good to reconnect with a few people, and it was good to know that not being acknowledged by the popular kids bothers me a heck of a lot less than it did 20 years ago.  Progress is always a good thing.  Will I go back for the 30th?  Probably, but we'll see.  Ironically, my dad went to his 50th reunion (same school, same night, with a few parents of my classmates, no less!), so it was interesting to hear how his experience differed.  Obviously a lot of people look much older than him (the young genes are strong!), and the memories have faded a bit more.  I found it interesting that a lot of my friends claimed to not remember much about high school, whereas I have a ton of vivid, random memories...and apparently that comes from my dad, who seems to have observed and overanalyzed high school just as much as I did! 

Anyway, Sunday was a pretty quiet day since the kids were with Craig.  I went to church with my parents, then we went down to the river to have lunch and walk.  We hung out at home until it was finally time for me to go back to normal life.  We are in the midst of a busy week, if only because Jacob's birthday party is this weekend (finally!), and we have a ton of work to do around the house.  Today I had my office's summer outing at the Red Wings game, and since we got out early, I managed to buy five plants, plant them along my back patio, clear out some weeds from the patio cracks, and vacuum the pool.  I had a blissful 20 minutes floating around the pool in perfect weather before I had to go pick up Carter.  Still so much more to do, but it was nice to get some things done and still have time for myself!  Still more on the agenda, but the quicker it goes, the sooner vacation gets here!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Broken

Today I was supposed to write a lighthearted post about my high school reunion weekend.  Instead, this morning I opened my email and my heart shattered instantly as I read a Facebook notification email.  It was from a page that I follow, a page that has documented the cancer battle of the son of a friend from college.  Jonah was diagnosed very early on in life, and I think I found out a few months later, almost by accident.  Her ex-husband, a Facebook friend of mine, responded to a post of hers, and for some reason that blip in my feed caught my eye.  From there I put together the pieces, as I was not a Facebook friend of hers at the time.  She was a couple years younger than me, and while I know we interacted in college as we were both involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, we were never particularly close.  But obviously when you see that someone is in need of prayer, all of that goes out the window and you just pray.

Jonah has battled all along, and for a while the tumors stabilized.  From what I can tell, with this type of tumor they just needed to keep them stable until he reached adulthood, at which point they would naturally stop growing and his brain would have already learned how to work around them.  So stabilization appeared to be the achievable goal at hand.  I could be wrong on that, but that is what I gathered over the last year or so.  His biggest problem for a while seemed to be putting on weight, as he was very, very small and painfully skinny.  They ended up having to get him a g-tube, and that changed everything.  He started gaining weight and became this thriving, chubby toddler.  He had the best facial expressions--wide eyes and the sweetest smile--and you couldn't help but smile back.

But amidst all of the progress, a couple months ago, he went for a routine scan and the tumors had grown.  At that point it appeared that they had exhausted anything that could help him here--even at a very capable hospital like we have--and for a short time, hope was nearly lost.  But then there was a specialist out of Boston that knew these kinds of tumors and was running a study.  They found a medication that they thought would work.  And by all accounts, it did.  He had to have an emergency scan last week when he came down with what appeared to be stomach bug, just to make sure the nausea wasn't related to his head.  Everything came back fine and the tumors were stable enough for what they expected.

But then this weekend, another issue he'd been dealing with, diabetes insipidus, quickly started causing problems.  As of yesterday he was in the PICU and things were serious.  But I never truly expected to see the post this morning that that sweet little boy had gone up to heaven.  He was only 21 months old and spent most of that time battling, and now his fight is over.  I'm thankful he's at peace, but my heart is beyond broken for his mom.

She was by his side through it all.  She was a single mom with two older kids from her marriage to her college sweetheart, but she put her life on hold as much as she could to care for Jonah.  Her strength was amazing.  I can't even fathom the loss she is feeling today.  Her little bright light is gone, and after spending countless hours caring for him, countless hours worrying about him and planning next steps, suddenly there is a massive void.  All of that is over and the only plans left to make involve a funeral.  It is beyond tragic to lose him, let alone like this in such a sudden and unexpected manner.  It's like, if the tumors would have eventually taken his life, it would have been tragic, but we all would have known he fought an extraordinary fight.  But like this...well, he definitely fought an extraordinary fight regardless, but this just seems unfair as it was so sudden that he never had a chance to show this part of his illness what he was capable of.  It's like being in a fist fight with one person and having someone else shoot you from afar.  I know this probably isn't the best timing for an analogy like that, given what's been happening in society lately, but I think it this case it's the best example I can come up with.  There was no defending against this.  It's just so sad and unfair.

Part of me feels bad for even feeling this bad, as I had never met him and haven't even seen his mom in person in more than 15 years.  But again, when someone needs prayer and you follow their story and identify with them as a parent, your heart gets pulled in.  Since my cousin passed away in April, I've struggled with the fact that I've basically been able to move on with my life because I live 12 hours away, while my aunt and uncle and all others closer to the situation are still deep in mourning.  It's not that my heart isn't with them--it is--but "out of sight, out of mind" tends to reign when life takes over.  And likewise, while I know my heart is so sad right now--I literally feel gutted--I know that I will eventually move on with my life while her entire life is changed forever.  The guilt over that is horrible.  I am so blessed to have my boys--no matter how crazy they make me--and I will certainly hug them tighter (assuming Jacob lets me near him).  And I know that's probably what Jonah's mama would want all of us other parents to do--appreciate every moment with our kids.  So I will try.  God help me, I will try.

But the idea that Jonah is no longer among us still hurts so profoundly.  I keep finding myself wanting to turn back time so this can be "fixed", and clearly that's not possible.  But that is instinctively what keeps running through my head.  With the announcement, she posted pictures of her cuddling him, in what I am guessing were their last moments either as he passed or just after.  You can see the sorrow on her face.  That image keeps running through my head...the agony of holding your baby for the last time while there is still warmth in their body, knowing they will never again open their eyes or speak your name.  It is any parent's nightmare, no doubt.

I think part of the depth of my mourning has to do with the knowledge that from this moment forward her life will never be the same.  It will always have that profound element of sadness, and as a human being it's so hard to know someone else will forever carry a burden like that.  She will figure out how to find a new normal, though it may take a long time, but nothing will ever feel the same again.  And as a mother it makes me so terribly sad for her, as a part of her heart is forever missing.  As I've said, watching my extended family go through the grieving process (even from afar via Facebook, their grief is VERY clear), it is horrible to think of someone else having to go through that process.  I guess the only (tiny) saving grace here is that so much of Jonah's life was a struggle--I think his moments of feeling great were probably few and far between, despite his many smiles--so it must do a little piece of her heart good that he is at peace and fully healed.  But that won't stop the rest of her heartbreak, and I'm sure she would still give anything to have him back so he had a chance to live a life free of pain someday down the road.  The hope of that is probably what kept her going each day, and now that is gone so suddenly.  She has been going full-blast for nearly two years and I pray she finds rest and peace to heal without feeling extreme emptiness.  How do you fill those too-quiet moments?  I feel like that has to be nearly impossible, but we serve a God who triumphs over impossibility.  All we can do is pray.

The tears welled up all day today, every time I thought about her loss and that the sweet pictures she used to post will be no more.  His battle was so inspiring, and to lose it this way when he was finally winning another part is so tragic and senseless.  He fought so hard and overcame so many odds, and I'm so sad that he won't get a chance to emerge victorious in the way we all hoped.  But he is victorious, up in heaven healed and whole.  But he leaves a hole down here that reaches far beyond his little world.  I do hope to channel my grief into trying harder for my kids, but the sadness and fear can be so paralyzing.  You can only squeeze your kids so tight or do so much to protect them, and when you get a reminder like this, it is so hard to process.  So my heart just breaks. 

Visit the Prayers for Jonah page and see that sweet boy's smile.  Keep this family (his mom, brother, and sister, especially) in your prayers.  Hug your loved ones and support research for childhood cancer.  I don't want to have to write about any more kids who suffer from this terrible disease.  There have been too many already.  Cures are needed and childhood cancers are underfunded.  I feel so helpless, but if this post gets a few more prayers out there and a little more awareness, that's something. God bless you, sweet Jonah.  Be healed and fly high.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

News and Notes, TGIF Edition

It's been a rough week.  Jacob's behavior has been nearly intolerable, and yesterday I started to realize that this felt even more like when he was five and melting down regularly.  Though we don't have meltdowns right now, he jumps all over you for any little issue and I just see this complete lack of responsiveness and this mania that crosses his face during his episodes.  It seemed to be a bit cyclical in the past, and I can't help but wonder if we're getting it again now.  I have no idea why, of course.  It might be a gluten thing, where he was unknowingly glutened and it makes him lose it.  His symptoms have never been obvious but his behavior was at its worst right before he got diagnosed, so it's not that much of a stretch.  Maybe something else triggered it and he just can't shake it.  I think I mentioned that sometimes I feel like it's a PTSD thing related to Carter's birth, and perhaps there are triggers that make it come out worse.  Maybe there is an imbalance somewhere in his brain that's making everything harder right now.  I just don't know.

But yesterday we had another episode.  I took him with me to Wegmans after I picked him up from camp, and while I knew he'd probably be a bit distracted, I never imagined I'd be calling Craig to come get him (I knew he was probably on his way home from getting Carter) because I could not shop with him acting the way he was.  He was constantly distracted--grabbing things, not listening, pulling the cart as I was trying to steer--and refused to listen to anything I was saying.  We literally could not progress through the store because he was such a distraction.  I was quickly grabbing two greeting cards and he ran to the next aisle, the toy aisle.  He repeatedly picked up a can of tennis balls, then ping pong balls, then a magazine, then started playing basketball with a bin of small rubber balls.  He also grabbed a roll of wrapping paper and was using it as a weapon.  At each item I was telling him to put it down and then grabbing it out of his hands when he didn't.  I was grabbing his wrist and literally dragging him away, which of course was only making him madder.  But I was practically in tears because I just wanted to be done and get home and we could not get out of that aisle.  It was awful.

The rest of the store didn't get much better, and eventually Craig and Carter arrived.  I didn't want to "reward" him by sending him with Craig, but I was about to lose it so I really had no choice.  How is it that I cannot take my eight-year-old to the grocery store and yet no one can seem to find anything wrong with him?  Not that I'm looking for a diagnosis--I'd much rather have solutions.  But until someone finds something concrete, it seems like we're just going to get a suggestion of general therapy, which has not worked in the past.  And honestly, until he's willing to admit something is wrong, I feel like no amount of therapy is going to help.  We cannot live like this.

To make matters worse, he says he does this because I "hurt him".  Some of this goes back to the worst of it, when sometimes as I grabbed him my nails would dig in.  I'd by lying if I said it was never on purpose, but when NOTHING else was getting his attention, that did.  And when he's about to run into the middle of the road or is trying to punch me, sometimes you need an immediate response.  It wasn't hard enough to break the skin (a couple times may have gotten close, though), so it seemed harmless enough at the time (like a spanking, the pain was momentary), but would I go back and change that method if I could?  Of course.  But with what?  I'm still at a loss.  Nothing worked with him.  Stubborn is not a strong enough word for him.

I frequently explain to him that I would never have to grab his arm (or whatever it takes to force him to do what I need him to do) if he just listened in the first place.  But that just doesn't seem to connect in his brain, so I am completely in the wrong and he's justified in being a jerk to me.  Trust me, under normal circumstances I have no desire to hurt him or even get into a shouting match with him, but he makes it impossible to avoid because he simply WILL NOT do the things he is told to do.  To some degree I understand his anger and mistrust of me because it has been a rocky road since he was five, but I have apologized repeatedly and pleaded with him to try out proper listening and obeying so he can see that I don't have to be "mean".  It doesn't have to be this way, but I swear it's like some self-fulfilling prophecy now, where he incites things just to "prove" that I'm as mean as he thinks I am.  He needs to be right so he puts me in a position to prove it.  Why do I take the bait, then?  Because there are times I need him to do something--walk through the store normally, for example--and he will refuse.  What then?  At that point we can't even leave immediately because undoubtedly he would refuse to do that, too.  I can't walk away, because he won't care.  He gets completely impossible and no traditional parenting method works.  I wrote an entire post about his aversion to usual parenting advice three years ago, at the early stages of the worst behavior.  So much of it still holds true today.  We can only hope that by Monday's third intake appointment they will have some solid suggestions for next steps for us.  I feel like they need to observe us or something, because I don't think anyone who doesn't see it for themselves would believe what's happening.  I still can't believe this is my life, and I live it every day.  I hate that this is our existence and I mourn for the relationship we had when he was a baby, when I was always greeted with a smile and I was his first choice for comforting and a hug.  My heart is broken.

As for Carter, he had his speech evaluation this week.  I gave them some social background last week, and they visited him alone at daycare for two different evaluations this week--one speech and one psych.  I had zero concerns with the psych one because that was just a necessary part of the general speech evaluation, but after months of stuttering and some garbled speech I was interested to see what they'd have to say on the speech side.  Well, he passed with flying colors!  The worst of the stutter--where he would get really stuck on parts of a word--seems to have faded just in the last few weeks.  I don't know if it's completely gone, but I certainly haven't noticed it.  He does repeat some words, but overall it's only 5% of his speech so it is not enough to warrant services.  Lately I feel like I've had a harder time understanding some things he says, but it seems that he talks fast and with the level of some of the words he uses (she was very impressed by his command of the language!), it wouldn't be surprising if he was grossly mispronouncing them anyway.  With kids like him, sometimes they have so much to say that their mouths simply can't get it out, and I think that's what's happening here.  If we notice anything else we can have him evaluated again in three months, but the early results are that he's perfect!  He charmed everyone, of course!  We just need to encourage him to slow down.  Slow our speech, let him see there is time to get it all out, and even read more slowly to him.  Easy enough!  So we'll just keep monitoring the minor stutter he has left and it should fade even more over time.  Nice to know we don't have to worry about him for now!

Tomorrow is my 20th high school reunion.  It seems like it's going to be a pretty low-key event, and with the rise of social media within the last ten years, reunions just don't seem as important.  I've connected with those who I want to stay in touch with, and those that aren't online probably won't know about the event anyway.  It'll be nice to talk to a handful of people in person for the first time in at least 10 years, but aside from that my expectations are low.  I can feel pretty good that my weight has stayed in check, I have no gray hair, and my wrinkles are minimal, but obviously my personal life is a bit iffy and my opportunity to impress old crushes has pretty much passed.  But I will go and try to be social.  I'm sure the cliques will still be there, but hopefully we can all get past that and just enjoy our time.  After 20 years, I feel like we've earned that, at least.  Craig will be hanging out with the kids, and while I will miss them, I probably do need a break from their antics.  Next up is one for him!  Oh, and we planned Jacob's birthday party (finally) for next weekend, so now I have to figure out how to clean my house by then.  Never a dull moment in summer!




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Day We Almost Went

So...Sunday.  Not a good morning.  Sundays at home are usually a pretty big challenge anyway, as it's hard to get everyone up and running and off to church on time.

To make matters worse lately, Jacob is lacking church clothes.  His stand-by khakis are getting too short, and he hates them anyway.  He's insisting upon dress pants, as they apparently feel better to him, but it is hard to find them in his size right now.  I just got a tip on somewhere else to try, but long story short, on Sunday he officially decided the khakis were too short.  Despite his pleas, I refuse to let him wear the same sport shorts he wears every day, as I think church demands a bit more respect than that.  But a while back we got him a pair of khaki shorts (very cheap, thankfully).  He was resistant at the time, but after he tried them on he promised me he would give them a try.  Well, surprise, surprise--he hasn't.  He's refused them ever since.  They look nice on him, but he has every excuse in the book about why he hates them.

But this week, since they've been doing outside things at Sunday School lately, we really encouraged him to wear them.  He repeatedly refused to put anything on.  At this point we were already going to be late, so in the end we practically forced him to wear them.  At this point you're probably wondering why we didn't just give in, but he is a different kind of kid and if we give in like that, we will never win that battle again.  And I truly believe that there is value in dressing reasonably well for church.  It doesn't have to be dressy, just a step up from athletic attire.

Anyway, he freaked out about it most of the way there, then refused to get out of the car.  We tried to convince him for a good 10 minutes before I took Carter into his class, hoping Craig would convince him while I was gone.  But no, they were still standing near the car when I came back out.  Jacob was convinced he looked terrible, and would not go in.  In the end, this went on for about 45 minutes.  We'd get him close to going in, and he'd chicken out.  He insisted he wanted to go back in the car or go home, but that was not an option.

At some point we realized he was mentally pretty out of control--it's not something we see often now, but I remember that feeling years ago when the meltdowns hit with full force--and while I wanted to be sympathetic and let it go, I just didn't like the implications of that.  Out of control or not, I knew that he would internalize that and we'd have to deal with the same behavior in the future.  My hope in some of these cases is that if we hold strong, he will see that the world doesn't stop turning if he has to do something he doesn't want to, and realize he can grow and move forward.  But that was not the case Sunday.  Like I said, at one point we realized this was a different level of anxiety, and finally we said that if he did not go into church, we'd be loading everyone back into the car and driving him to the hospital.  And honestly, I felt like that might actually be a valid option given how awful the situation was.  Quite frankly, we can't live like this.  It's not healthy for any of us, and if checking him in gets him help, so be it.  We need to get him more help than we can offer, clearly.  In the back of my mind I was hoping that we'd drive all the way there and reality would hit him before we'd actually go in, but I felt like we needed an extreme other choice to make him realize he needed to stop and take a step back.  But no.

At multiple points he actually said he wanted to go to the hospital (though of course then refused to get into the car), but we kept saying to him, "You don't know what you're asking for.  It's not going to be fun like it was when you had your surgery.  There are very sick kids there and you might see some scary things.  You'll have blood taken and tests done.  It is very serious."  We emphasized that we want to help him, but that this was just a pair of shorts and they look perfectly fine and there was no reason why he couldn't just walk into church.  He couldn't tell us what he thought would happen if he did that, though.  But eventually, after 45 minutes of back-and-forth, Craig convinced him to go in for the last few minutes of church.  By that point I had grabbed Carter from his class (that wasn't at all awkward...ugh) and we just sat in the car until they came back after it was over.  And that was that.  Jacob snapped back into "normal" behavior and we went home.

As you can imagine, I was very upset at this point.  The rest of the morning was miserable and I spent the rest of the day masking tender eyes and a completely deflated mood.  I ran some errands and spotted a college friend as I was leaving a store, and I seriously turned my head and avoided her because I just didn't want to be seen.  Most of the time this all just feels so impossible to fix.  We've been trying everything for so long, and nothing has worked.  If anything it has gotten worse.  Maybe it's not like the daily meltdowns we had three years ago, but the depth of Jacob's defiance and dislike of me is getting very serious.  All that runs through my head most of the time is, "You're doing it wrong!"  But with a kid like Jacob I seriously don't know how to do it right without letting him walk all over us and turn into an obnoxious adult.  I told Craig last night that I've obviously screwed up very badly somewhere in my relationship with Jacob, and it absolutely kills me.  But the thing is, if I had to do it all again, I question if there's anything I'd really be able to do differently because so much of this has just been survival.  It's been finding a way to get through the moment and prepare for the next one.  None of this has been easy and I question why God thought I was capable of this.  I sure don't feel like it, and I have yet to understand what God has wanted me to learn from all of this.  I know that I have gained a greater tolerance, understanding, and appreciation for all sorts of parents.  Not that I don't have judgy moments, but usually I snap out of them pretty quickly and remember that we all have our battles and things are not always as they appear.  So, there's that.  But I feel like there are so many less soul-crushing ways to learn that lesson.  Did I really have to have a child that hates me and misbehaves at every turn to learn that?

As a result of the behavior, Jacob lost electronics for the week.  However, as a concession, since it's hard to tell what he can and what he can't control, he is able to read to earn an equal amount of electronic time.  So if he reads for ten minutes, he can earn ten minutes on Craig's phone, which he wants to use lately to film short lacrosse videos.  Even with that, it's still a struggle as he is very unhappy about the reading.  But whether or not he can control himself, he still needs some motivation to improve himself and avoid these types of situations.  I figure if he goes without for a while, perhaps he will realize he needs to work on himself to avoid losing things in the future.  Right now I feel like that motivation is lacking and I worry if any sort of therapy will work if he's not convinced he needs help.  He doesn't think anything he does is wrong.

Monday is our third intake appointment with the behavioral specialist, and we'll definitely be bringing this up.  I'm hoping she'll have some suggestions to help us find a new route to help him and help us.  God knows we need something new to try.  On the bright side, he's actually been engaging Carter a bit to play outside, and while it doesn't usually last long, at least he seems to be trying.  He'll still insist he hates him, but there's a tiny glimmer of hope.  And right now we need to cling to that.  Some days it's all we have.  Prayers accepted...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why Bother?

This weekend had a lot of potential--not a ton planned, but just enough to make it both restful and fun.  But alas, it was a bit of a rough one. 

It started Friday afternoon with a call from camp, saying that Jacob had participated in the three-legged race and was complaining that his (surgically-repaired) leg was hurting him.  I talked to him on the phone, and while I don't doubt that the race could have irritated the scar or felt a little odd, he was SO insistent that someone come pick him up early that I think it was just a convenient excuse to get picked up early.  No offer of Tylenol or rest was good enough for him--he HAD to be picked up.  He knows that Craig gets out early on Fridays and the four straight days at camp were his longest span there yet.  So I think he was just over it.  He got in a similar rut with the afterschool program for the last couple months, where he was annoyed with some of the kids and a couple teachers for various reasons, and he simply didn't want to be there.  It's not something we can indulge, as we don't always have that sort of availability, but Craig did do his best to help him out.  In this case, Craig made him wait until later in the afternoon, which I think set a solid precedent.  I don't want to get those calls every week.

Our plan for the evening was to go to the drive-in and see The Secret Life of Pets.  I'd have rather seen Finding Dory, but Jacob has been excited about this one since he saw the preview months ago.  We opted to go to the closer one to us, rather than the super fun one that's over an hour away that we went to last year.  The good news about this one is that it's literally five minutes from our favorite gluten-free pizza place (which itself is a half hour from home).  So we ordered pizza, picked it up, and went to get our spot.  Going to the drive-in with a minivan is such a different experience than the car.  Pillows, blankets, and lawn chairs were packed, and when we got there we had to park in a designated area and were given a piece of twine that is used to tie the hatchback down to roof level.  I never knew people had to do that!  We struggled a bit because our van door had nothing to tie on to, but eventually a license plate tie was rigged up.

We ate our pizza, and of course Jacob was the first one to christen the van, luckily only with flavored sparkling water (no sugar or dyes, thankfully).  He also inadvertently dumped a nearly full box of Milk Duds into every nook and cranny under his seat.  Ugh.  No damage done in the end, but geez.  As we finished up dinner and an SUV took its place next to us, Jacob realized it was one of his best friends from school!  Mind you, we were a half hour from home and they ended up next to us at a multi-screen drive-in!  Small world.  That worked out pretty well, actually, as Jacob sat in the lawn chair next to his friend and Carter and I had more room to spread out in the back of the van.  Our angle was a little off so the one side wasn't the best view, meaning two people were pretty much the max.

Aside from Carter saying he had to pee 3/4 of the way through the movie and then saying he was "joking" once Craig took him up, it went pretty well.  Jacob freaked out a little bit about Carter being near his pillow and blanket, but as a whole it wasn't bad.  The movie was cute.  Hopefully next time we can take the time to play mini-golf.  Both kids fell asleep on the way home, which was a relief.  Here are pics of our setup...

Sitting nicely!

Not sure why it looks like it's snowing here...either bugs or something on the camera?

I swear, he was happy to be there!

Waiting for the show to start!
Saturday was a pretty quiet day.  We had some rain come through, so mostly we just hung out around the house.  I meant to go out and run some errands, but it never happened.  Still, I was happy with the things that I did do, so I guess it was fine.  But my big plan for the evening was to do a family s'mores night!  Years ago my mom gifted us a secondhand (but like new) s'mores kit--complete with a wooden turntable, skewers, and a metal cylinder that holds a can of sterno to create the flame.  We've used it a handful of times, and honestly, it's fun.  Microwave s'mores are good, but nothing is quite like real fire-roasted marshmallows.  So, on Saturday night I hauled everything outside--the graham crackers (gluten-free and regular), marshmallows, Hershey bars, new cans of sterno, paper towels, and my camera--and when I went back in to grab the s'mores kit, which was right by the back door, I came out to everything being wet.  Carter was holding the hose, and Jacob was standing by grinning.  I quickly surmised that Jacob turned on the hose and Carter sprayed it.  The stuff on the table was wet, the chairs were wet, the tree was dripping on the table further, and I was very lucky my camera was in the case and facing the direction it was facing because that would have been bad.  Obviously I was furious and s'mores night got canceled.  Jacob blamed it on Carter, but he was the one that turned on the hose and encouraged him to pick it up.  Clearly three-year-olds don't have much concept of direction, so while he should know better about spraying it (as he knows he's not supposed to unless we give him permission), I couldn't specifically be mad about where he sprayed it.  But I was definitely mad at Jacob for turning it on in the first place.  But of course he refused to take responsibility and blamed it on Carter since he was the one that sprayed.

Of course, when I posted on Facebook about the big fail, there were moms that were like, "Cherish these moments," and "I would have laughed and sprayed them back."  As much as I would love to be that mom, I am not.  Maybe it's my personality, or maybe it's just years of Jacob's misbehavior and bad judgment.  He's old enough to be more responsible than that, and when you deal with these kind of moments daily, they lose their humor quickly.  I don't have the luxury of letting it slide because it's another symptom of the bigger problem.  Another mom who's more on the traditional side asked if punishment was handed down.  Aside from no s'mores, I honestly didn't do anything more.  I explained that disciplining Jacob walks a fine line between punishment when he should know better and a "teachable moment" when he gets himself going and can't help himself, so discipline is a bit more complicated.  Not much phases him anyway, and the punishment to us when something gets taken away (i.e., constant complaining) makes me very careful in how I use that technique.  It was yet another reminder that our lives are so much more complex than what most people could ever imagine.  We seem normal enough...until something like that reminds me that we don't have the luxury of just going with the flow unless we want chaos to reign.  And if that wasn't enough of a reminder, Sunday it got taken to a whole new level.  But that's another story for another post.

Despite the rough start to Sunday in the story-to-be-shared-later, we managed to sneak in s'mores night last night.  Of course, I had to scream at Jacob just prior because I walked out into the yard to him wielding a Super Soaker.  Seriously?  After everything we went through the previous night?  A squirt gun?  UGH.  Thankfully he controlled himself after brief but urgent convincing, and we had a nice little s'mores party.

Carter getting ready for his first one

Thumb lickin' good :)
Perfection.

The aftermath

A moment of peace and harmony, courtesy of chocolate and marshmallows
Of course Jacob had more fun burning them than eating them, but we did discover that you could squeeze a less-melted middle out of a burned shell!  At least we finally had our fun!

Over the weekend I booked part of our summer vacation, and of course in the midst of all the misbehavior, it makes me wonder why I even bother planning fun things when one or both kids manage to ruin it.  Even these couple fun and relatively successful activities had their share of moments where I wondered why we bothered.  The kids bicker back and forth, Jacob is ungrateful and uses terrible judgment, and everything just ends up way harder than it should be.  The effort just doesn't seem worth it sometimes.  So why do we do it?

It seems logical to just withhold rewards and fun from kids who ruin those things at every opportunity.  But ultimately, I just can't do that.  We only have a limited amount of time with our kids and God forbid they grow up and feel like they don't have any good memories of our times together.  Maybe they'll remember doing things at home, but I think they need some of these special times together as a family doing something different than the everyday stuff.  So we try. 

In a few weeks we'll be going on the latest in our series of short, semi-local summer vacations.  I have booked the hotel and need to set up a couple more things before we go.  Part of me is really looking forward to it, and the other part of me is dreading it because I know how things usually go.  On one hand, why spend the money to travel when we could just be equally miserable at home?  But on the other, isn't it just a tiny bit better to put up with their crap while you get to do new, fun things?  Despite the frustration I do love looking back at pictures from our past vacations, so I think ultimately it's worth the stress.  But I just wish it was easier.  Just like every other day...I just wish it was easier.

Tonight I wanted to celebrate free Slurpee day, because I've never done it before, but Jacob was apparently tired from camp so I just took Carter with me. 

He was such a great little partner, and I had that little glimpse of how easy I wish it was with Jacob.  I desperately wish my relationship with Jacob was as simple and effortless as it is with Carter.  It breaks my heart when I see pictures of Jacob and me from years ago, knowing I can't even get near him now.  Something is so wrong and we have to fix it...and I hope that happens before this phase of life has passed us by.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hazy, Lazy Days of Summer

It appear to be that point of the summer where the quality of our parenting tends to wane at times.  I don't know if it's the heat, Craig's sore knees, my overloaded mind, or an extra dose of difficulty from the kids, but I feel like lately we've just been on cruise control lately.  Cleaning the house seems like too much.  Anything more than just sitting with the kids qualifies for quality time.  Going outside seems like a Herculean effort.  We're just...tired.

Lately it's been 90 degrees pretty frequently, and pretty humid.  That doesn't make it any easier.  Sometimes the heat just makes you want to hole up in the house.  We do have a pool, and Jacob and Craig have been in it quite a bit.  But Carter won't go near it and usually right around the time I'm going to get in, he splashes himself at his water table and demands a wardrobe change.  So, I've only been in a couple times.  Evenings after dinner, particularly with late sunset times, used to mean playing outside until bedtime.  But lately it's meant a lot of snuggling on the couch watching a show.  That is a terrible habit.  But if Craig's knee is sore, or I have been cooking dinner and washing dishes for an hour or more, it's hard to motivate ourselves to force the kids outside.

Speaking of dinner, I feel like weeks of weeknight sports got me into a rut where I can't even remember what we used to eat for dinner.  Ice cream or concession stand crap sounded really good for a while, and now that I have to make dinner every night again, I can tell that I'm struggling.  What, I have to cook dinner again tonight?  Sigh.  The boys also always complain that there are no snacks in the house (there are), but any time I try to get anyone to tell me what they really want, it's either something super crappy or I'm just met with an "I don't know."  And apparently I'm lacking the energy to think more deeply about it.

I also mentioned to Craig that we need to get Jacob reading at bedtime again.  We stopped after school ended and Jacob's bedtime routine has been pretty laissez-faire since.  While I don't think we need to do 20 minutes five times a week like we do during school, I'd love to see him do 10-15 minutes three times a week, at least to keep himself fresh.  I don't even care what he reads at this point, but if I'm not going to push him to do math or anything else (note to self: find some fun math apps), the least he can do is this.  We don't get school-provided summer assignments at this point aside from an informal "reading challenge" that he can redeem for a prize in the fall, so it's really up to us to keep going.  I think we can do a chart or something to track and motivate him, but it'll still be a battle.  One worth fighting, but still.

Ironically, I started writing this post last night, and this morning I heard Jacob accuse Craig of being "lazy" and "sleeping all the time".  Obviously he was out of line, and we definitely called him out on that.  But clearly I'm not the only one noticing that our pace has been a bit slower.  Saturday mornings since sports ended have been a battle to see how late we can stay in bed before the kids' complaining forces us out.  Fighting off the urge to nap on weekend afternoons is a major task.  We're just extra tired and the list feels too long, so there we rest.

I honestly think part of the problem is that we're just burned out from constantly dealing with Jacob's sh*t.  Sorry, but it's the only way I can describe it at this point.  We're spent.  If we're not working hard at our jobs, we're home battling him about everything--his clothes, how he's spending his time, sitting nicely at the table, using his utensils properly, leaving his brother alone, and trying to quiet the constant stream of random noise and bossy demands that come out of his mouth.  And honestly, when we're not doing those things, I think part of our brains is always strategizing for the next round or reliving the last one.  I constantly obsess about how to parent him, and it's exhausting.  When both kids are around, we usually can't get a word in edgewise, or at least can't express a coherent thought before someone interrupts for something generally unimportant.  Jacob riles up Carter and encourages him to misbehave.  Carter is definitely acquiring his own skills in the misbehavior department, as well, but they're still manageable and nothing like what we've dealt with in the past.  It doesn't help matters, of course, but rest assured it's only a small fraction of where the exhaustion comes from.

I expressed that this was part of the problem when we went to our second behavioral specialist appointment the other day.  I mentioned that we're both burned out a lot of the time, and while you want to be consistent and firm, it's not always easy when you've been fighting so many other battles.  Sometimes you just can't fight another one, and things go off the rails a bit.  I asked what we do in a case where we absolutely need him to do something and he flat-out refuses.  No amount of convincing or logic or threatening to take things away or simply stating parental authority works for him.  Physically forcing him is not ideal (though it happens, at which point he gets even more defensive and angry), so what do we do?  This is what happened with the car dealership situation, and it happened again when we went to pick up Carter at daycare.  With 90 degree temps and a few people around, I was not comfortable leaving Jacob in the car like we did in the winter when he had a cast on his leg.  But again, he refused and it became an issue.  Eventually I got him there...but not without embarrassment, anger, and frustration.  I try to pick battles wisely, but I wonder if that lets him think he can pick his, as well.  UGH.  We definitely need to find a way to make him understand that he HAS to give in once in a while.  He'll find out that the world will keep on turning and all will be fine.  I also keep reminding him that just because he wants something doesn't mean he gets it, and dealing with that disappointment now will make him a better grown-up.  Falling on deaf ears, for sure, but I'll keep trying.

But yeah, the lazy parent thing has crossed my mind a lot lately.  We're both guilty of it, and yet I know we both feel overloaded so the laziness often seems justified.  Or heck, it seems impossible to be lazy when you're busy, so perhaps we should just say that we need to do better at being intentional parents.  But still, I hate that sometimes we're just too darn tired to make the effort we should.  I'm not sure what the antidote to that is.  Earlier bedtimes for everyone?  More exercise to up our metabolisms and promote healthy tiredness that will naturally lead to earlier bedtimes?  Kids that just-freaking-listen?  I don't know.  I think that's part of why we try to do vacations and other fun stuff in the summer, even though they end up being more stressful than daily life at home.  We need the change of scenery and we need to pull ourselves out of routines and spend more intentional time with our kids.  We need to make memories and show them new things, so at least we'll have some good stuff to talk about that might distract them from that annoying poop joke...again.  That time is coming for us in a few weeks (I think)...more soon.

Finally, this has nothing to do with this post, but the events in Dallas last night, where five police officers were shot dead at a rally in response to a couple recent shootings by police of innocent people, are breaking my heart yet again.  No one is right here--not the cops that shot innocent people a few days ago, not the people that shot cops in retaliation last night--and returning violence for violence will get us nowhere.  Shootings like last night only lead to the same fear and stereotyping that played into the split-second terrible decisions that led to the original shootings.  It all has to stop.  I hate to think what society will be like as my kids grow up.  So much has changed in the last 10-15 years, and I worry about what realities they will live among as they grow to adulthood.  It's horrifying and sad and worrisome for any parent.  Guns will probably never go away, so we all just need to teach kids that everyone matters, everyone deserves to live, and to do so without fear and hate.  Don't assume anything, and always keep in mind that someone has family and friends that love them.  And so do you.  Don't do anything to jeopardize any of that.  Instead, focus on making them proud by doing the right thing.  And if we could all teach our kids that, instead of growing up in a culture that blames, separates, and hates, it could form the building blocks for a better society.  None of this makes sense, and it's so entirely wrong.