Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Guilt

The baseline amount of mommy guilt I suffer from takes a huge upswing during the summer. 

Summer as a child was magic for me. Hot days stretching on forever, endless possibilities, lazy afternoons, the very real possibility of boredom.

After stressful school years and busy schedules, I want to be able to give my children the same summer experience.

But having two busy working parents doesn't allow for such things. The boys are off to day camps and other activities. We wake them up at the same early hour we woke them at during the school year. We hurry them through breakfast, dressing, and tooth brushing. We pack backpacks and lunch boxes. We rush from one activities to another, one appointment to another, always busy.

Summer just feels like any other time of the year, but with less spelling homework.

I love summer so much. I just hate that it has to be like this.

So I'm doing my best (probably in my typical overcompensating way) to make summer as summery as possible.

I let them eat inordinate amounts of popcicles and watermelon. I let them use water balloons every day. I try not to fuss when they leave the hose running after chasing each other with it. I let them wear their swim suits all weekend. I let them stay up way passed bedtime, either watching movies together or chasing fireflies or riding bikes.

Times like this, when I know that stay-at-home parents are able to spend limitless time with their children, makes me feel heart heavy.  I'm not about to quit my job, especially because I'm the only income and I actually really like my job. I just value my time with my children so much that I'm always eager to have more.

I like to think that we are still having a great summer. My boys are tanned, their blonde hair sun-bleached even lighter. They smile and rough house and stay up way too late. They smell every day of fruit juice and cut grass and sunscreen. 

Even seeing that the boys are having a good summer doesn't completely ease my guilt. I'm always thinking about how much better I maybe could have made it. Which is ridiculous. It should not be about having the perfect summer, or perfectly recreating what I had as a child. It should just be about enjoying what we are able to have.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Road Trip Reminiscing

We just got home from a summer road trip that covered 10 states, 3500+ miles, and 11 days.


(We missed a few welcome signs - naps happen.)

It sounds like it could have been exhausting. But on arriving home, I didn't feel the usual harried exhaustion from travel. I felt that I wanted that time to last longer. The five of us had logged 70 hours of drive time, and I kept wishing for more.

Months ago, when Hubster and I were able to have two weeks off at the same time over the summer, we knew that we had to do a great vacation. We threw around a lot of ideas: a week at a lakeside cabin, staying home and doing projects around the house, or a road trip to see parts of the country we hadn't. It didn't take long to decide that the road trip was the way to go.

When we told people our plans to spend all that time in our van with three children, the looks questioning our sanity were anticipated. However, all our boys are great travelers. Last year, Hubster taken the boys on a 3000 mile round trip to visit his family in Montana. We learned a lot about road tripping from that, and we were well prepared for this.

At some later point, I'll share my ideas for surviving days in the car with children.

But what I really what to share is all the wonderful memories we made on this trip.  Images and feels that are currently so sharp in my mind that I must write them down to keep them that way.

From our home in Iowa, we drove east, stopping at Indianapolis, then driving down through Lexington to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We stayed for a day at the Great Smoky Mountains. From there, we drove down through South Carolina, through Georgia, to Orlando. Two days at Disney World, and then we were on to two days in Sarasota. From there, we went north, through Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, and back home.

We saw so much of our country we'd never seen before.  We made amazing memories.

Stopping at the Indianapolis Speedway - after it closed.

Standing outside Churchill Downs, being so tempted to take a tour so we could see the race track, but being detoured by a small meltdown from Duck and the promise of putt putt golf in Tennessee.

Playing putt putt golf down a hillside.

Coming around a bend in the road and seeing such breath taking views of the Great Smoky Mountains that I almost cried.

Hiking to waterfalls through forests thick with blooming rhododendrons.

Catching salamanders in streams with Monkey.

Stopping at a cemetery in Savannah, the trees covered with Spanish moss.

Walking over powder soft sand and seeing my boys faces as they saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

Bug and Monkey running out into the waves of the ocean, fully dressed, in their excitement to get in the water.

Arriving at Disney World and all the excitement associated with it.

 Riding Space Mountain with Monkey and discovering his fearless side.

Our day at Magic Kingdom cut short by a torrential rain storm. That evening, going back to the park at 9 pm in our pajamas and staying almost until closing.

Watching Disney movies outside by the pool at our Disney hotel with Bug, while Monkey went down the water slide 61 times (yes, he was counting.)

The water, clear water at Siesta Key Beach by Sarasota, along with the amazing white quartz sand that stayed cool under our feet.

Bug attempting to snorkel to see all the fish swimming by us, while Monkey ran in sheer panic away from any fish that came close to him.

Seeing alligators in a muggy Florida swamp.

Warm dinners under palm trees.

Arriving in Atlanta with initial plans to keep heading north in the morning, but deciding that taking our time and spending a day at the Georgia Aquarium was worth extending our trip. 

Not regretting that decision one bit.

Road side stand peaches in Georgia.

BBQ at a lovely park in Nashville.

Picnicking and skipping rocks at Land Between The Lakes in Kentucky.

 Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis.

Stopping at all the state Capitol Buildings.



Honking as we drove over state lines.

Handing the boys Skittles for memorizing state capitols and nicknames.

As we hit the Iowa state line and approached home, we were both grateful to at the thought of arriving home and sleeping in our own bed.  But Hubster and I already had the road atlas out, dreaming up future trips and adventures.  Looking over the maps, we realize that there is no way we can see all of it - and that just our own country. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Dear Bug,

I've spent a long time being scared of you reaching adolescence. I just finally got the whole baby/toddler/little boy thing down - well, not down, but at least to a point where I didn't feel each day handed me a total blindside. So I get that part down and start to feel comfortable, and then you seem insistent on leaving it behind and dragging us into brand new territory.

But can I say that so far, I adore 12. I've had so many favorite ages: you as a cooing 6 month old. You as a chatty, inquisitive 4 year old, you as a voraciously learning 6 year old.

I'm going to add 12 to my list of favorites.


At 12, you are thoughtful.

You are always asking me if you can do anything to help. You come up and give me hugs when you can tell I've had a stressful day. You unload the dishwasher and play with Duck without (almost) a complaint.

At 12, you are humble.

You never brag.  At the end of the school year, you competed in a running club race. I couldn't be there to watch. When I picked you up that afternoon and asked how the race went, you replied, "Fine. I ran it in 7 minutes 40 seconds." That was it. No amount of prompting could elicit more details. I found out from one of the other moms that you had won the race. When I congratuled you, you just shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile. I found out you had been awarded a student excellence award from the school newsletter. You never said a thing.

You never ask for anything. When I tried to push you for what kind of birthday cake you wanted or what gifts you wanted, you just said you liked to be surprised and that you've always loved the things I've made for you.

At 12, you are more interesting than ever.

We are starting to share the same interests. We talk about Hunger Game and Harry Potter books. We watch Doctor Who together. We listen to the same music. I'm always worried that you'll see me sharing the same interests that you do as some lame attempt to be the "cool mom." But you don't seem to mind and maybe, just maybe, actually enjoy the time we get to spend together.

At 12, you are sarcastic and funny.

I have no idea where your snark comes from (*cough*). But it's definitely well developed.

At 12, you are handsome, and smart, and responsible...

Well, you've always been those things. I'm just so glad that you continue to be those things.

Yep, 12 is definitely one of my favorite ages.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Questions, Answers, and Gluten

My children have always been small. We always joke about the boys hanging onto the last rung of the growth curve. My boys are twig limbed and bony backed things. Bug jokes himself about always competing for shortest kid in his class.

So when Duck started off measure small, I didn't worry about it. After all, he was cuddly and cute and meeting all his milestones, even crawling and walking much earlier than his two older brothers.

But around nine months of age, the baby boy who started small started to get smaller. He started eating poorly, taking less in at meals and then refusing more and more foods. His weight gain slowed, then his length started slowing.  This spring, he started loosing weight, falling completely off the growth chart.

We tried everything. We tried butter on everything, as many high calorie food as we could think of, having food available at all times. We went through multiple blood tests and urine tests and referrals to specialists. Nothing gave us any answers to why our sweet boy continued to get smaller and thinner. All his blood work was completely normal; no metabolic problems, no anemia, no signs of infection or inflammation. The specialists reassured as that, other than being thin, Duck looked wonderful.

They say when kids are hungry, they will eat. Duck proved to us that wasn't true. There were times we could tell he was hungry, but he wouldn't eat. He'd be fussy and sleep poorly, but would only take half a bottle, or a few sips of juice, or a single cracker.

Meal times became increasingly stressful, often ending with someone crying, usually me. We couldn't allow the older boys to have juice or milk or water at the table, because Duck would refuse any solid food the moment he saw something to drink.

During this time, I felt like a failure as a parent. Friends would post pictures of their babies, children with gorgeous round faces, big cheeks and dimpled legs and arms. My baby was scrawny and not a dimple to be seen.

Doctor after doctor would say, "Well, have you tried...?" Fill in the blank with anything you can think of.  Had I tried not giving him juice, making him eat, not giving him snacks, only offering this food or that food, actually feeding him?  I felt discouraged, judged, and angry.

During all this time, Duck continued to reach milestones, running, kicking and throwing balls, reading to himself, using more words and signs, dancing, making animal noises. Over all, the boy seems oblivious to the amount of anxiety caused by his disinterest in food.

Several weeks ago, we saw a gastroenterologist who recommended that Duck undergo an endoscopy. Knowing that Duck's blood work has been normal, I didn't think the endoscopy was likely to show anything. But I was desperate for answers.

A week later, I helped hold my baby down for an IV placement, and watched him placed under sedation for his procedure. 15 minutes later, the GI doc came and showed me endoscopy images that showed perfectly normal esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. He told me he had taken some biopsy samples; we would have the results in a week. But everything looked perfectly normal.

We resigned ourselves that his poor eating was probably behavioral. We met with a feeding psychologist who gave us some great advice.

Late last week, I got a phone call from the GI doctor that Duck's biopsy results had come back, showing the stereotypical changes of celiac disease.

So now we are a (mostly) gluten free family with a completely gluten free baby.

Hubster and I decided it would be easier if we made the change as a family so that meal preparations would be easier and Duck wouldn't feel left out. Due to the amount of tears by the older boys at the idea of losing some of their favorite foods, I agreed that their birthday cakes wouldn't be gluten free and they could still occasional have "normal" foods.

We have already noticed Duck eating much better. We're hoping sleeping better isn't too far behind.

Everyone around has been wonderful. Duck's daycare went through their entire menu, checking ingredients on everything and highlighting everything with gluten so that we know when to bring in substitutions. Friends with celiac disease have given us recommendations about which brands of gluten free pasta and breads to use and which restaurants have good gluten free options.

Gluten free is something of a fad these days. While I had been rolling my eyes at this, as I do most diet fads, now I'm extremely grateful, because there are so many options available. Our grocery store has an entire gluten free aisle.

Initially, this felt overwhelming. However, with all the support, all the information, all the options, this answer has been manageable. It's wonderful to have answers, instead of questioning my parenting ability.

And turns out, the entire family likes gluten free pancakes.

If any of you have had experience with celiac disease and living gluten free, I'm still desperate for more advice, more ideas, and any good recipes.