Sam's Turn to Shine

Sunday afternoon. Labor Day Weekend. Which meant it was Sam’s day to shine. 

 

The Orioles were in town, so of course we had to make it out to Kauffman Stadium to pay homage to Baltimore. Courtesy of one of Tighe’s friends we also got passes to go onto the field before the game and meet some of the Royals players. So we were at the stadium by 10:30. For a 1:15 start. 

 

When we were done with the players on the field, we made our way to the Outfield Experience, which consists of a playground, batting cages, carousel, mini-golf, and more. Between that and lunch for Nate, Sam, and Tess, we spent about three months worth of car payments for the new car that Tighe’s been dreaming about.

 

We made it to our seats just after the national anthem. But our kids were already exhausted.

 

“If we’re lucky,” Tighe had said that morning, “we’ll make it to the third inning.”

 

But I was optimistic. I thought maybe the fifth or sixth. We were both wrong. 

 

Almost immediately, Sam set aim on the seat of the woman in front of us and he started kicking. Before the O’s had scored their first run, he had kicked her seat more times than he kicks the soccer ball in an entire soccer season. And that includes practice. 

 

I leaned over, gripped his arm, and whispered, “Stop kicking her seat!”

 

“Okay, I won’t kick her seat,” he replied with deceptive compliance. 

 

He immediately started kicking at the cup holders that flanked her seat.

 

“See? I’m not kicking her seat.” He smiled back at me.

 

And so we battled for a full inning. 

 

Me: Stop kicking her seat. And Sam: Okay. And then he would continue to kick her seat, under her seat, or the cup holders. 

 

Finally, after the first out in the top of the second inning, the woman got up and went to the bathroom. Or probably to get a strong drink. At which point, the man she was sitting with turned around. And he was very nice.

 

“Hey little buddy, can you please stop kicking the seat?”

 

“Okayyy…” Sam replied to him.

 

“I’m so sorry!” I said, my face beet red.

 

“That’s okay,” he said, “I know you’re trying.”

 

“Ugh, I am!” At least someone listens to me.

 

“Yeah, it’s a lot of work,” he said. Then, turning to Sam, “You’re just going to have to stop kicking the seat, mmmkay?”

 

He sounded like Mr. Garrison from South Park.

 

He turned back around and I leaned across Sam and Nate to Tighe. 

 

“Can we go now?” I mouthed. He had been ready to go at lunchtime, before we had dropped an entire car payment on a couple soft pretzels and a bag of chips.

 

He nodded, “Wait until the inning’s over.”

 

I looked up at the scoreboard. Still two more outs. I’d never cheered againstthe O’s before.

 

Finally, the Royals defense put me out of my misery. I gathered our belongings from under the seat and started climbing the steps to the main concourse. We had made it one and a half innings. 

 

We made it to the car and within a few minutes all three kids were asleep. 

 

“Should we just keep driving? Do we need to stop at the store or anything?” Tighe asked as we approached our street, anxious to extend the silence.

 

“Um… we need potatoes?” I was grasping at straws.

 

“We could drop off those clothes!” Tighe said triumphantly, using his thumb to gesture toward the back of the Suburban where we had been storing two bags of clothes to donate for about two months.

 

“Great idea! And do we need anything at the hardware store?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll run in and get a flapper for the toilet.” Our downstairs toilet had been leaking recently. All the pieces for a perfect afternoon were suddenly falling into place. 

 

We pulled into the parking lot of the hardware store that hosted a few of those donation bins and as we did, Sam stirred in the very back of the Suburban. 

 

Tighe shoved the bags into the bins and I watched him cross the parking lot into the hardware store. (Since we’re so close to Baby #4’s due date, I have to keep really close tabs on Tighe in case he tries to bolt. I mean, could you blame him?)

 

“I peed my pants!” Sam whined from the back. 

 

“Are you sure?” I hoped his pants were just still wet from playing in the fountains at the game.

 

“Yeah, I just did. See? They’re all wet.”

 

“Oh, good Lord. Okay, take off your underwear and shorts and sit on this towel.” Thank goodness we still had a beach towel in there, leftover from pool season—I don’t want the car seats to smell like urine. More than they already do, anyway.

 

I rolled my eyes as I watched him struggle to tug his soggy underwear down over his shoes.

 

“And I still have to pee!”

 

I looked back toward the store to see if Tighe was coming back yet. He was not. Nate had woken up, but Tess was still sleeping soundly in her car seat.

 

“Well you’re going to have to wait until we get home.”

 

“I can’t!”

 

I looked around the parking lot. It was pretty crowded and there weren’t really any accessible trees, not that Sam’s modest or anything. 


“Just wait, Sam.”

 

“Would you rather me pee in the car?”

 

I twisted in my seat and my foot kicked an empty Coke bottle on the floor. 

 

“Here, can you pee in this bottle?”

 

Somehow, despite all our road trips, we had never pulled the “pee in a bottle” trick, and Sam was intrigued. 

 

“Yeah,” he said excitedly, “I can pee in there!”

 

I tossed the bottle back and while he and Nate giggled, Sam stood up and filled about a fourth of the bottle.

 

“It looks like juice!”

 

“Yeah, it does!” Nate shouted, laughing, “I’m so thirsty, I hope I don’t drink it!”

 

“Nate, if you knowingly drink Sam’s pee, I’m really going to worry about you. Now screw the lid on tightly and pass it back to me.” I shoved the bottle into an empty plastic bag and glanced toward the store’s entrance again.

 

They continued giggling in that way that boys giggle about the dumbest of things and by the time Tighe returned to the car, Sam was sitting on the towel in the way back, shamelessly playing with himself and laughing hysterically at something Nate had said.

 

Tighe glanced back, then did a double take at Sam, and turned to me for an explanation. 

 

“Yeah, there’s a backstory there,” I said, but I was too tired to explain.

 

As we pulled into our driveway a few minutes later, Sam called out, “I still have to pee!”

 

“Well, we have five bathrooms inside and several trees in the backyard. I’m not picky at this point.”

 

I gathered all the junk that families with kids somehow accumulate even on the simplest of outings, including the bottle of Sam’s urine, and crossed the driveway to the house. I tucked the pee bottle into an empty flowerpot so I could toss it into the trashcan in the garage later and walked into the kitchen, where I deposited everything else.

 

Sam had dumped his wet underwear and shorts on the back porch and was returning to the car to get the beach towel as well, per my nagging requests. He was still only wearing his Royals t-shirt and socks and shoes. I can’t imagine what our neighbors think of us. The wealthy, seemingly sophisticated empty nesters who live next door? Their kitchen windows look directly into our driveway.

 

Suddenly he paused a few yards from the car and seemed to be glancing down at his penis, but his back was to me, so it was hard to tell.

 

What is he doing?I thought to myself. 

 

And then I realized. I glanced to the flowerpot to confirm. The pee bottle was gone. Sam was peeing into the bottle again!

 

Soon the bottle was almost half-full. 

 

A few minutes later, he returned to the house with the towel and the pee bottle.

 

“Give me the bottle.” I hate that I’m such a buzzkill.

 

“Oh,” he protested. “Why?”

 

“Because I don’t want that in our house. I’m going to throw it away in the garage.” 

 

“Why can’t we keep it?”

 

“What are you going to do with a bottle of your own pee?”

 

“Can we at least keep it until April Fool’s Day?” 

 

Ah, his plan was becoming clear. I laughed and continued my march to the garage trashcan, where I put the bottle. I’m assuming it’s still there, but if Nate and/or Sam offer you a Coke bottle that’s half-filled with an apple juice-like substance on or around April first, I would decline. And you don’t have to be polite about it. 

 

Potty Training Like No Other

“What are you doing this week?” It was Monday morning and Tighe was getting ready for work as I was struggling to drag my pregnant body out from underneath my covers.

 

“Well, I’d liketo spend the entire week at the pool…” Summer is nearing an end, so our days at the pool are numbered. Plus, I’m fat, hot, and sweaty, so I just want to soak in that urine-infested baby pool while my kids shoot water guns at my face. 

 

“What you should do…” Tighe interrupted my pool fantasy in the same way this pregnancy had interrupted my writing ambition. 

 

“…is potty-train Tess. You’ve got to do it sometime.”

 

And then he was off, pulling out of the driveway before I’d even put my feet on the ground. 

 

So, let me get this straight,I thought to myself. While you’relaughing it up at board meetings all day and feasting on beers and barbecue with guys in business suits, I’m going to confine myself to our house for four days while our toddler pees repeatedly and without shame all over our hardwood floors?!

 

Uh, hell no. So I put it off for a week or two.

 

The truth about Tess’s potty training is that I was in denial about it. I’ve been telling people for months, feigning a confused grimace, that she’s just not interested, that she’s refusing. But really, it’s on me. I forced it on the other two when they were even younger and it worked out well. 

 

Tess is a girl, it’s supposed to be easier. I always envisioned that she’d come to me one day and declare in her very confident and articulate voice that she’d already done it herself. That she had been practicing and she now had complete control over her bowels and bladder. 

 

But no such day had come. Instead, a new day was looming on the calendar: the day she’ll start preschool. At a school where potty training is a requirement.

 

So we’re racing against the clock. But pregnancy is making me tired. And I just want to go to the pool. Where my kids can order themselves lunch without me having to lift a finger. 

 

Plus, on a more practical note, we still had a massive supply of size 6 diapers. We might as well use them up.

 

So, a few weeks later, when the supply was dwindling down, I told her so.

 

“This is your last diaper. When you’re through with this one, it’s on to underwear.”

 

I’d bought her underwear months ago—somehow Elsa and Anna and Minnie Mouse on her butt was supposed to be an incentive. 

 

On a Tuesday morning in August when her last diaper was sufficiently saturated, I pulled it off and helped her slide on some Elsa underwear. 

 

“Do you want to sit on your potty chair for a few minutes to see if you can pee?”

 

“Umm…” she rolled her eyes toward the ceiling as though she was actually considering my question. “Nope. I play now.”

 

And she ran off to talk to her babies, who were waiting patiently in their high chairs, and feed them tea and rearrange her My Little Ponies, as though their positions mattered.

 

Day One was relatively easy. Probably because I ignored her most of the day. All three kids played and I worked. Tess peed in her underwear pretty early on, but it didn’t seem to bother her. I had read somewhere not to change them, to let them spend time in their wet underwear, because the discomfort of the saturation will be a deterrent and an incentive to use the toilet in the future. 

 

So I left her in her wet underwear. She smelled like a urinal and Rocket kept following her around, sniffing, probably confused about why she’s allowed to pee wherever she wants and he’s not.

 

And every time I asked her if she had to pee or asked her to sit on her Elmo potty chair, she declined.

 

“I’ll give you some Skittles!” I called after her each time.

 

“No, M&M’s!” she called back, turning her head and running away in that dangerous way toddlers do right before they run into a door frame.

 

Fortunately, we have more candy than the floor of a movie theater. We have whatever her heart could possibly desire when it comes to sweets—it’s a Greenhalgh trait. We even have vegan gummy bears from Romania, courtesy of my world traveling, do-gooder brother. (Side note: I’ve been praying every night that my other brother brings me some Swiss chocolate when he gets back from his honeymoon in Switzerland next week. I wonder if he actually reads this blog and can take a hint…) 

 

But back to the potty-training, no amount of sugar incentive seemed to entice her to sit on the toilet. And wet underwear didn’t bother her.

 

“Tess,” I said as I was putting on a show for her so I could make dinner, “you smell like urine. I don’t want you to get pee on the couch. Let’s get new underwear before you sit down.”

 

“Um, no,” she replied as casually as she had just declined dessert after a heavy meal. “I just sit like this.” And she configured body so she was sitting on the backs of her calves and heels. 

 

And since I was too lazy to drag my massive body up to her room to fish some clean underwear from her drawer, I shrugged my shoulders and sank back to the kitchen. 

 

After two and a half days, we’d only had two successful pees in the toilet. And lots of wet underwear. But “just a little bit wet” Tess would remind us, squinting her eyes and pinching her thumb and forefinger together like she was measuring the size of Cinderella’s stepmother’s heart. She loves that movie and, like any Disney purist, hates all stepmothers. 

 

On Day Two, a friend took Nate and Sam for a play date, which was good because it can’t be good for all of usto be confined to the house for four days. Later in the afternoon, she texted me, “I’ll bring them back in ten.”

 

Good, I thought, I could use Nate here. He can condescendingly lecture Tess on the virtues of potty training. It worked for Sam. So did jelly beans. 

 

And he did. As if reading my mind, he charged through the front door, ignored both Tess and me, and sat down at the dining room table to commence construction on a new Lego set he had gotten that morning. #priorities

 

But as he worked, he preached about how great it is to wear underwear, how wonderful it is to poop in a toilet, and how tasty M&M’s are. He paused periodically to “ask” Sam not to touch his Legos, and from her spot on her Elmo potty chair in the living room, Tess rolled her eyes at Nate’s sermon.

 

But it must have worked because a few minutes later, she peed! And she was so proud of herself! I helped her flush it down the toilet and as we high-fived and hugged, Nate decreed that she should have five M&M’s, which was fine with me. I was so thrilled, I would have dropped everything and baked a whole Bundt cake right then and there. Five M&M’s seemed like a small price to pay compared to the joy in my heart.

 

This was it—the turning point, I thought to myself. When I potty trained the other two, things were really ugly at the beginning. Like, urine everywhere, all over the floors, on the rug, and we were going through every pair of Lightning McQueen underwear in their drawers. But then there would be a success. And another one. And another. And they’d finally get it. Jelly beans and Skittles would flow like champagne in a Super Bowl locker room. 

 

So I was feeling pretty good when Tighe got home from work that night. 

 

“She’s getting it, Tighe!”

 

He picked her up to hug her and celebrate. And then he froze. 

 

“Did you just pee on me?”

 

She cocked her head to one side and smirked, as if to say, “You think I’m potty trained already? Get real.”

 

The truth is that she’s stubborn. A different kind of stubborn than Nate and Sam. Anyone who’s been around her recently knows her shriek. And her eye daggers. When Nate or Sam would start screaming or throwing a tantrum at the same age, I could simply kneel down in front of them, lower my voice, and say something like, “I can’t understand you when you scream. Can you please ask again nicely and calmly?” And they would.

 

With Tess, I try the same techniques and she screams louder. Not even words, just a high-pitched yodel, like she can’t decide whether she’s auditioning as a mezzo soprano or a head-banging KISS super fan. And her blue eyes stare at me, through to my soul, like she wants to make sure I get the message: she’s in charge and I’ve lost all control in my life.

 

The next morning she stayed dry—maybe dehydrated—even through our outing to the toy store to pick up gifts for our round of birthday parties that weekend. When we got home, I fixed lunch and asked her if she needed to pee. 

 

“Nope,” she said, shaking her head and smiling as she ran away.

 

“Let’s just try real quick before lunch.”

 

“Noo-oo!” she sang back. 

 

“Yes,” I said, pulling her into the kitchen and reaching to help her pull down her underwear and sit on Elmo’s face. But she squirmed out of my grip and ran away.

 

She returned a few minutes later to check on the status of her grilled cheese. 

 

I grabbed her again, managed to pull down her underwear this time, and tried to force her down onto the seat.

 

“Noooooo! I not want to pee! I not like peeing!” And then began shrieking. Loud, piercing, but I was determined. 

 

She arched herself backward, hitting the back of her head on the refrigerator, dodging to one side like a running back, and running—no, waddling—away with her underwear around her ankles.

 

She came back a minute or two later and asked me POLITELY, wiping tears from her cheeks, to help her pull up her underwear. 

 

I handed her the grilled cheese on a paper plate and she walked away from me, shaking her head like I’m the crazy one. Which is possible, but I don’t have time to explore that possibility right now. I need to get her potty trained before the end of August. 

 

The boys didn’t fight potty training this way. They failed at the beginning, spraying urine all over the house for the first day and a half, but they were at least cooperative. They were trying. 

 

I’m forcing it,I admitted to myself. She’s not ready, but I can’t go back now.

 

Our neighbor, a doctor, had told me that the night before. Once you start, you have to commit. 

 

Plus, we’re out of diapers. I have no choice. 

 

I returned to my laptop at the dining room table, when she suddenly skipped in with her hands behind her back.

 

“Mom, I need to pee!” Her smile was big, she was proud.

 

“Great!” My gloomy, self-deprecating, “failure as a mom” thoughts vanished immediately and I jumped up to pull the Elmo potty over. 

 

And then I noticed the wet spot on her cotton sundress. 

 

“Wait, did you alreadypee?”

 

She nodded at me, still smiling, almost taunting me, reminding me again that she was in charge and I was a failure. 

 

As I type this, she’s binging Strawberry Shortcake on Netflix, and I’m trying to get her to drink more fluids. She’s refusing because she knows that fluids will make her pee. She’s playing hardball. I’m in over my head. I dread her teenage years. 

Easy Like Monday Morning

It was 11:08pm as I put my head on my pillow on Sunday night. Later than I would have liked to go to bed, but it was July.  We’d had friends over for dinner who stayed too late, and for the first time in several weeks, we had nowhere to be the next morning. No camps, no lessons, no sweaty play dates, nothing. I mean, Tighe has to go to work on Mondays so we can afford to buy Lego’s, but he leaves early so he can play golf in the evenings, so I don’t feel too badly.

 

Anyway, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was grateful for what would surely be a peaceful morning. I wouldn’t need to rush them through breakfast or pester them to get dressed and in the car. I could sip tea on the patio while admiring the tomato plants and brainstorm what we’d do that day. 

 

And that’s what I dreamt about. Until 3:08am when there was a very polite, but firm, knock at our door. 

 

“My ear hurts really bad.” It was Nate. 

 

Tighe gave him some homeopathic drops that some hippy nurse pawned off on us at an Urgent Care in Central Park a few years back and sent him back to bed.

 

“There’s nothing more we can do tonight. If it still hurts in the morning, Erin can take you to the doctor.”

 

“Got it,” he replied, marching back to his room. Nate’s been pretty sensitive to my hormonal rages lately, which has made him super-agreeable and obedient. Now he’s grown into that classic oldest child shouldering the burdens of the world, trying to shush his younger siblings so the Nazis don’t find them hidden in the closet. Or so their mom doesn’t suddenly scream about why there are so many cups scattered throughout the house. That one seems more likely.

 

“It’s gotta be swimmer’s ear,” I whispered to Tighe as he climbed back in bed. 

 

“Probably,” he whispered back. “We’ll figure it out in the morning.”

 

And his ear did still hurt in the morning. Remembering that our pediatrician has walk-in hours from 8 to 9am, I rolled out of bed at 8:08 and called up the steps to Nate, who was surely in the third floor playroom. 

 

“It still hurts,” he nodded apologetically, like he knew what an inconvenience it would be for me to have to drag everyone to the pediatrician. But I had nothing on my schedule—let’s do this!

 

“Wait, yourear hurts?” Sam checks in and out of the real world pretty routinely, and something about ear pain made him pause his Lego construction and perk up. 

 

“Sam, do yourears hurt?” I said, turning to him.

 

“Yes, this one does…actually they both do,” he replied, tugging alternately on both ears.

 

The next thirty minutes were a blur. 

 

Nate and Sam were already dressed so that was a step in the right direction, but when I told them we needed to leave ASAP for the doctor, they went back up to the playroom and lost all sense of time. Which is what they always do when I tell them we’re leaving to go somewhere with a firm start time. Church, school, karate, soccer practice, the dentist… And anywhere with no start time for that matter. Target, Trader Joe’s, the pool, the playground… 

 

I glanced down at Tess. She was still in her pajamas, sporting a heavy, low-hanging diaper and bits of chocolate from her ice cream sandwich the night before. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Tess in her two years, five months, and sixteen days of life, it’s that she needsto eat breakfast. If she doesn’t, EVERYONE PAYS THE PRICE. It will result in shrieking and whining and eye daggers (aimed at everyone) and she’ll demand that I carry her everywhere we go.  

 

And though the shelf on my belly is growing rapidly, it’s extremely uncomfortable to carry Tess’s 32 pounds on top of the baby inside. These two are forming quite the rivalry for the real estate on my abdomen and hip and it’s not going to end well. 

 

It’s like any battle for land between an indigenous people and the Europeans who’ve come to colonialize them. Tess is greedy, malicious, and full of foreign diseases while this baby in utero is innocent and naïve, simply going about its business, forming and growing and using me for food and nutrients, not knowing Tess’s wrath that’s about to be imposed on him/her. 

 

Anyway, that’s a really long and twisted explanation for why I needed to prioritize Tess’s breakfast in that moment. 

I poured each of us a bowl of cereal and wolfed mine down while Tess swirled hers around in her bowl, observing aloud that our bowls were different colors and that I’m a fast eater. Her musings were amusing, but we were now down to 31 minutes until walk-in hours ended.

 

As I finished my last bites, I texted a friend who’s a doctor about swimmer’s ear. “Is it worth going in? Or can I just treat it on my own?”

 

She advised we go in, just to rule out an inner ear infection and get prescription drops. 

 

I shifted my gear into “OMG, WE’RE SO LATE! EVERYONE PANIC! Mom Mode” and immediately started screaming. 

 

“Get your shoes! Grab a granola bar for the car! Do you want water bottles? You should probably grab your water bottle! Did you pee yet? Pee! Come on, we gotta go!”

 

It was one of those moments when you’re really glad you spent so much money on your college degree and subsequent education and professional development. I’ve worked my whole life to make sure that, in this one instance, we make it to the pediatrician’s walk-in hours on time—a definite life-or-death situation.

 

We pulled out of our driveway at exactly 8:45, which should have left just enough time to get to the parking garage , usher everyone into the parking garage elevator, shoe everyone into the lobby, and drag all three kids up one flight of stairs and into the waiting room. You really can’t beat the location of our house. 

 

But I didn’t account for the rush hour traffic. Or all the pedestrians leaving Loose Park after their early morning jogs/walks. Or all the cars turning left onto the Plaza—why did I choose this lane??

 

And so we pulled into a parking spot at 8:59.

 

“WE CAN STILL DO THIS!” I shouted. “LET’S GO!”

 

Nate was the first one out of the car. Again, he’s a people pleaser now. He even brought a magazine to read in the waiting room. 

 

I unbuckled Tess, who was still in her pajamas and low-hanging diaper, and tried to shove flip-flops on her feet. 

 

“No, I not like shoes!”

 

Fine, there was no time to argue, we had to go. I tossed the flip-flops back into the car and turned to Sam. 

 

“Sam, let’s go! Unbuckle! Come on!”

 

He was shoving the last remnants of a chocolate chip granola bar into his mouth. He tries to hurry when he senses my impending wrath, but it’s just not his nature. 

 

“I can’t find my other flip-flop,” he said in his monotone, John Wayne voice, carefully over-annunciating the “L’s” in flip-flop. 

 

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?!They were both in here before! You better find them!”

 

His face was alarmed, he knew I was ready to blow. Or maybe I already had. 

 

He leaned over the seat and began to dig through a bag of shoes I had put in there the day before, all ready to be tossed into one of those donation bins in a gas station parking lot. 

 

But nothing in there would fit him. Poor guy, he knew we had failed our mission and he felt responsible. 

 

I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the time. I didn’t want to know. Defeated, I dialed the pediatrician’s office and helped Tess climb back into her car seat. Within a few moments, I was speaking to a nurse and securing an appointment for both boys at 1pm.

 

“Sam,” I said as I climbed into the back to strap Tess into her seat, “if I find that flip-flop back there, I’m going to be really annoyed.

 

We pulled out of the parking garage and into the nearest gas station. As the fuel pumped into our massive tank, I sat reflecting on our blurry, fast-paced morning.

 

“Oh, here it is!” Sam said triumphantly, pulling his other flip-flop out from under Tess’s seat. 

 

“I can’t believe we got all the way down there and didn’t make it in…” I muttered to myself.

 

“I know, that was pretty bad,” Nate might like to people-please now, but he’s still self-righteous. 

The Pit Bull Problem

Most of you know that I had a miscarriage this past summer. It was long and drawn out, full of very pointless morning sickness. Some minor bleeding at seven weeks led to a doubtful ultrasound which led to two more ultrasounds and some blood work to confirm: miscarriage.

 

And as part of my grieving process, I cut my hair, bought some new pants, and…wait for it…got a puppy.

 

The hair looked cute, the pants fit really well, and the puppy…was a mistake.

 

They told me at the shelter where I adopted him that he was a lab-boxer mix.

 

“Well, that sounds like a good family dog!” I thought to myself. “High energy, sure, but fun and loving.”

 

But it turns out he’s a pit bull. Which I should have known. All dogs at shelters are pit bulls. And I know that pit bulls can be great dogs. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.

 

Which means we are terrible owners.

 

I expected to lose a few toys from his chewing. Maybe a pillow or a few pairs of socks. I did not expect to lose an entire couch.

 

“Mom, Rocket’s in the couch!” Nate called to me one morning.

 

“You mean he’s on the couch. Well, tell him to get down.”

 

“No, I mean he’s in the couch!”

 

“Stupid Catholic schools and their inability to teach prepositions…” I muttered to myself, as I meandered into the sunroom, “When I was a kid, we had to memorize all the prepositions and all the irregular adverbs in a song—HOLY SHIT! He’s in the couch!”

 

Rocket had crawled behind the sofa and used his nail or teeth to make a vertical slit through the upholstery in the back of the sofa and used the opening to crawl inside.

 

From there, he was working to climb through the back of the couch to the front, tearing out the insides in the process.

 

There was couch stuffing and scraps of shredded tan upholstery everywhere.

 

And to be honest, I didn’t love the couch. We inherited it for free from a relative when we first moved to Kansas City five years ago, and since we had left a lot of our furniture in Baltimore, we were happy to take it.

 

And I made the mistake of letting Nate and Sam eat on it, sit on it, and touch it. Which means it was already pretty much destroyed. There were yogurt stains and marker stains that I couldn’t get out. Every time my mom would come to visit, she would say, “I think you need to get rid of this couch.”

 

But it was functional, so we figured we might as well keep it until our kids are older and can be trusted to use furniture properly.

 

And then Rocket happened.

 

When he put a pretty sizable hole in one of the three cushions was about the time that Tighe and I officially gave up: This is just his sofa now. As long as it’s keeping him busy, he can have it. When he gets older and less destructive, we’ll replace it.

 

Soon he started in on the sides of the couch, pulling at the upholstery until staples were flying in the air and the wood frame was exposed.

 

All three cushions are now gone, their foam filling has been shredded, mutilated until it looked like an ugly snowfall in the sunroom. Before we have guests, we clean it up, loading up the stuffing into trash bags, which we’ve taken down to the basement for temporary storage.

 

He’s clawed through the fabric where the cushions used to rest and is removing the springs. It’s actually kind of impressive.

No, seriously—this couch is in our house.

No, seriously—this couch is in our house.

 

Our cleaning lady finally said something when she was here last. “Erin, I can get you a used sofa from one of my other clients who just bought something new and is looking to get rid of the old one.”

 

“Erin, you know you’re in rough shape when your cleaning lady is offering you assistance,” another friend said to me later.

 

But she’s just offering me a sofa, not food stamps or beauty tips or anything. Okay, she has offered me beauty tips before, but that’s only because her husband cheated on her with her next-door neighbor, and she wants to make sure that doesn’t happen to me. Our next-door neighbors are two middle-aged gay men, so I think I’m safe.

 

Anyway, back to the pit bull. Long walks only seem to energize Rocket and the kids’ energy makes him more hyper. We’ve met and continue to meet with a dog trainer. Her best suggestion was food puzzles.

 

And since he’s hungry ALL THE TIME, those work. Basically, we make mealtime a challenge. Instead of just pouring some food into a bowl, we hide it. Or disguise it. Or put up some sort of obstacle that he has to overcome in order to enjoy his meal. When the weather was nicer, I took a scoop of food and tossed it into the backyard, and he would spend over an hour making sure he had found every last morsel. Anything to soak up a little more of his time and energy.

 

Since warm weather is right around the corner—please, dear God in Heaven, tell me that warm weather is right around the corner—I have grand plans to spend many hours outside, honing his discipline to within that of Mark Wahlberg in an ice cream shop. He will sit on command, come on command (that’s what she said), heel on command, and not aggressively attack small children on command.

 

But if there’s one thing that eight years of teaching math and seven years of parenting have taught me, it’s that it’s impossible to teach anyone anything. But I can dream.

See? It’s still kind of functional.

See? It’s still kind of functional.

The Terrible Two's

They’re here—the terrible two’s.

 

For Nate and Sam, the terrible two’s started at about 18 months. For Tess, having two older brothers seems to repress a lot of her toddler impulses. Instead of throwing her little body to the ground in a dramatic display of rage and frustration, she mostly rolls her eyes at her brothers, looking to Tighe and me, like, “Can you believe these idiots?”

 

Then she’ll turn and yell at Sam, reminding him to finish his breakfast or put his shoes and socks on.

 

At least somebody knows what’s going on around here.

 

But she has slipped into Two-dom on a few occasions. And I’m sure it’ll get worse before it gets better.

 

I first noticed the onset of the Terrible Two’s one morning when we were leaving open gym at Sylvester Powell. She had just finished playing with two of her friends for two solid hours in the big open space designed for toddlers and preschoolers. There are balls, giant foam blocks, a bounce house, indoor playground equipment, and lots of cars and tricycles and wagons.

 

She was exhausted. And she was hungry. And it was cold outside.

 

“Okay, Tess, let’s get your coat on!”

 

“No,” she said pushing it away. She stared straight ahead, like a boxer in the corner of the ring psyching herself up for the next round.

 

“Okaaay, but it’s cold outside,” I warned, in one of those know-it-all mom voices.

 

She’ll change her mind, I thought. I’ve had this same argument with Sam and Nate a million times and they always change their minds as soon as they step outside.

 

Holding hands, we stepped through the doors, and I waited for the cold air to take her breath away. But like a stone-cold killer, she didn’t even flinch.

 

“Want your coat?” I prepared to kneel down and slide it around her shoulders.

 

“No,” she growled, still staring straight ahead.

 

“Okay. Well, hold my hand, please, while we’re in the parking lot.”

 

“No.” Her lack of any affect told me that she was hungry and tired—a dangerous combination for anyone, but especially a toddler.

 

The parking lot curves a bit, making it difficult for cars to see us where we were standing in the crosswalk. And since everyone was leaving open gym at the same time, preparing to head home for lunch and naps, there was quite a bit of traffic.

 

I walked ahead of her—at five foot-two, drivers can see my frame more easily than they can her tiny one—but I also didn’t want to be too far away from her. Toddlers are unpredictable. You never know when they’re suddenly going to zigzag and dart out into traffic. Like a gecko. All kinds of weird, irregular lateral movements and then they suddenly go motionless, distracted by a spec of dust or a shiny object. The other day she suddenly sprawled on her back in the cereal aisle at Whole Foods, windshield-wiping her stylish little boots back and forth and contemplating a box of Kashi.

 

Back in the parking lot, she was making me nervous. I was regretting that I hadn’t found a closer parking space. Parking is crucial.

 

But five steps into the crosswalk, she froze. Not from the cold. But from stubbornness. Cold-hearted stubbornness.

 

“Tess, come on! Let’s go get lunch!”

 

A car was approaching the crosswalk. The driver, another mom, saw us and was slowing to let us pass.

 

“No,” Tess said, flatly.

 

Her face was still staring straight ahead, aiming for the other side of the crosswalk, but her eyes moved sideways. First, up at me and then, to the driver of the approaching car, almost daring her to hit us. She was like Katniss Everdeen, staring down President Snow, only Tess usually carries around a plastic Ninja Turtle Sword, not a bow and arrow.

 

The woman smiled and nodded, motioning with her fingers for us to pass.

 

“Come on, Tess!” I was starting to get impatient. It’s one thing to waste my time—that’s what being a mom is all about—but it’s another to waste the time of this poor woman, who’s also probably anxious about getting her kid fed to avoid a similar meltdown.

 

I moved toward her, but she saw me out of the corner of her eye and sprinted back the other direction, back onto the curb and down the sidewalk.

 

I glanced back to the woman in the car and waved her on. I pursed my lips in solemn gratitude and we had a moment of unspoken solidarity. “Fight the good fight,” I imagined her half-wave was telling me.

 

Encouraged, I turned, sprinted after Tess, and carried her, kicking and screaming, to the car. I restrained her in the car seat, dug into my pocket and found the other half of a cookie she had gotten at the grocery store that morning. Angry, frustrated, and defeated, she promptly threw it on the floor of the car.

 

Then immediately asked for it back. Still sulking, she munched on it quietly the whole car ride home.

 

A few weeks later we had a similar incident leaving Children’s Mercy Hospital with Sam and Jimmy. You know, for Sam’s second round of stitches.

 

All three kids were hungry this time. But Sam and Jimmy, older and wiser with age, knew what to do about it: cooperate with Erin and she’ll make sure you get nourished.

 

They hurried across the parking lot to our very mediocre parking spot—the ER was crowded that morning—and climbed up into the car.

 

Which is what Tess wanted to do. But she also needed to assert her independence first. Instead of using sidewalks and crosswalks like civilized people, she veered away from me so she could gallop across the grass, stumbling up and down the curb, and into the crosswalk.

 

She didn’t freeze this time. She kept moving forward, like an experienced pedestrian, only much, much slower, shifting her eyes left and right and left again, as if to note with pride how the cars, one of them a very large F-350 pickup truck, stopped for her.

 

She smirked, nodding to herself, like, “Yeah, this is how people walk.”

 

Perhaps the most embarrassing display of the pending Terrible Two’s was one evening at karate.

 

Nate’s karate class starts at 5pm, which is Witching Hour for small children, and it’s 45 minutes long. And on this particular Monday, Tess didn’t take a nap—very rare for her.

 

When she was showing signs of irritability earlier that afternoon, I actually thought to myself, “Maybe we should skip karate tonight.”

 

But we went anyway.

 

And the last fifteen minutes or so were a real treat.

 

The set up in Nate’s dojo is this: one big open space with a large mat in the middle and perimeter seating for parents, grandparents, siblings, whomever. And the mat is no joke. The students have to bow when they step onto it and bow every time they step back off. No shoes are allowed on the mat, so if I step on as a parent to help with something, I have to remove my shoes. They’re encouraging a sense of respect and reverence, and even I get intimidated by it.

 

Tess held it together for the first two-thirds of class. She and Sam were busy with consuming every last snack and stick of gum I had in my bag. Then they searched my pockets to see if there were any crumbs, rogue sticks of gum, or other snack remnants.

 

At the end of class, the students started sparring. Which is funny to watch. In pairs, they jive and jab and duck and kick the air without ever making actual contact. It looks like a very awkward and poorly choreographed dance.

 

Tess was starting to lose it. She was trying to tiptoe along the narrow black strip of wood that surrounds the karate mat, staring me down as she did so.

 

I raised my eyebrows at her, nodding my head and mouthing the words, “Good job, Tess!”

 

Which is apparently not the reaction she was going for.

 

Still staring at me, she raised one side of her mouth into a smile and lifted her eyebrows as if to say, “Watch…this…”

 

And she stretched one of her feet onto the mat, still in its bright pink Puma high top.

 

“Oh, no!” I said, grabbing her and hugging her to my lap.

 

“No, Mom, no!” she wrestled herself free and went right back onto the mat, with both feet this time.

 

I snatched her again and pinned her to the ground, trying to distract her with tickles. She giggled, but managed to pull herself away and stand up.

 

Composing herself, she walked slowly away from me on the wood floor where spectator traffic is allowed.

 

I relaxed, assuming she was just walking down to the other side of the room where Sam was positioned on the bench, watching the sparring matches.

 

But once she got a few yards away from me, she turned back to make eye contact, to make sure I was watching. Then she made a hard left onto the mat, weaving in and out of the sparring pairs! She was about to get kicked in the head, or punched, or stepped on.

 

I shot up out of my seat and took off after her, ducking and weaving to avoid getting hurt myself. It was very much like a slow-motion fight scene in The Matrix.

 

She had been giggling hysterically, proud of her mischievous actions, but when I dragged her off the mat and back to the big wooden bench, she started crying. And then screaming.

 

Tears were streaming down her face, snot pouring from her nostrils, and her face was blotchy and red with despair. As she realized our battle was over and that I was winning, her screams got louder.

 

I grabbed her with one arm and snatched up my bag with the other, marching towards the door before she could disrupt the class any further.

 

Nate and his partner had stopped their match to watch in silence as I dragged the screaming, flailing toddler from the building, and other pairs had also paused to see who would win our match. Hint: I would.

 

Since it was too cold to wait outside, we stopped in front of the door where Tess stopped crying.  She rubbed her eyes, licked the pool of snot from her top lip, and jammed her face into my shoulder, exhausted.  

 

And so begins our journey into the two’s. In just a few short weeks, our sweet, compliant baby turned into a rambunctious, loud two year-old. Her chatter rivals that of Nate. She likes to color on her potty chair with gel pens. She won’t touch a fruit or vegetable. She loves Judy Blume books. She wants to watch Moana, Frozen, and The Nutcracker. She carries her precious Blue Baby everywhere she goes. And best of all, she calls Tighe “Tighe.” She’s a real treat. Just don’t look her in the eye.

Sam Takes One On the Chin, Part 2

You’ll recall that when we last left our hero (me), I was leaving the ER with Sam and his newly stitched chin, and I foreshadowed that we’d soon be back in the hospital. And we were.

 

It was a Thursday and Sam’s birthday. Courtesy of our nurse-neighbor—it takes a village—Sam had gotten his stitches out the day before. So he woke up on Thursday feeling fresh and five, and with no school that day, ready to carpe the diem! His best friend Jimmy was hanging out with us all day because his mom had to work.

 

My plan was to stop by their preschool for a quick parent-teacher conference and then take them to Lego Land or Chuck E. Cheese or Sky Zone or some other very nightmarishly loud germ-fest swarming with little kids. I’d treat them to lunch and we’d all be home by 1 o’clock for Tess’s nap. It would be glorious!

 

But as we were leaving preschool, our plans for the day changed. I had paused for a moment in the lobby to say hi to a friend and one of Nate’s former teachers. Tess held back with me, but Sam and Jimmy darted out the doors.

 

A moment later, I pushed through the door with Tess, smiling and ready to carpe my own diem, but Jimmy was already sprinting back toward me. Sam was a few yards behind him, his head thrown back in agony. His eyes were squeezed shut and his mouth was wide, wailing. From where I was standing, I could see the blood on his chin starting to pool and bubble, forming into a large bulb about to drop down onto the “Birthday star” sticker on his shirt.

 

Are you serious?! I thought to myself. I’m not the quickest processor in the world, but I could already see that he had ripped open his scar less than 24 hours after the stitches were taken out. This is a problem.

 

“I hate you, Jimmy! Jimmy, you’re the worst!”

 

I don’t think Jimmy caused the fall, but Sam’s the type to blame the sofa when he falls off it. Or the bike when he crashes it.  Or the yearbook editor when he’s attributed to an offensive quote or insensitive photo. He’ll make a great politician one day.

 

I wrangled him by the sleeve of his trademark Captain America sweatshirt and dragged him back toward the entrance of the building.

 

“Um, um, we were trying to ice skate!” Jimmy was explaining over Sam’s wails. He and Tess were skipping trying to keep up.

 

“What happened?” the teacher said, holding the door open for us.

 

“He busted his chin open—again! He got his stitches out yesterday and it looks like he hit the same spot when he slipped on the ice just now.” I would repeat some variation of those words about forty more times that day.

 

I rushed into the bathroom, squatted down to the knee-high counter, and grabbed some paper towels. If our last experience taught us anything, it’s that wads of paper towels solve most problems. But there was definitely more blood this time.

 

The teacher ran to grab an ice pack while my friend fumbled trying to figure out how to help.

 

“I don’t know what to do,” I muttered to myself, “I guess we have to go back to Children’s Mercy…but I thought they said they wouldn’t be able to stitch it up again…”

 

I glanced down at Sam and I could see the blood coming out in spurts. He was still screaming preschool obscenities at Jimmy and pushing the ice pack away like it was kryptonite. The hospital seemed to be our only option.

 

“Jimmy, do you want me to drop you off at your Aunt Brooke’s house?” I asked as I piled everyone into the car.

 

“No, I want to go to the hospital!” Jimmy is a true friend. Very forgiving.

 

My friend knocked on the car window as I turned the key in the ignition.

 

“Here,” she said, handing me a sleeve of Lifesavers. “Candy makes everything better!”

 

I thanked her and we pulled away in the direction of Children’s Mercy.

 

“Patient’s name and birthday?” the admitting nurse asked when we arrived at the ER ten minutes later.

 

“Um, Sam Greenhalgh. And his birthday is… TODAY!”

 

Today’s your birthday??! And you’re HERE?”

 

Sam smiled, jutting his chin out with pride, and still clutching his paper towels, trotted over to play with the waiting room puzzles that Jimmy and Tess had already found.

 

I’ll leave out most of the details from our visit so it doesn’t start to feel like Groundhog’s Day. Because that’s how it felt to me. There was another round of numbing gel and once again, Sam lay perfectly still when the stitching started, watching the latest season of Ninjago on his iPad loaner.

 

The Child Life Specialist brought bins of toys for Tess and Jimmy to play with, and they alternated between those, whatever cartoons happened to be on TV, and sidling up to Sam to see what he was doing on the iPad they had brought him.

 

When the doctor and nurses got to work, Jimmy positioned himself so he could get a better view of the operation. Standing on a large blue chair at the foot of the stretcher, he propped his elbows at Sam’s feet and rested his chin on his palms while Tess scooted the hospital-issued toy cars and trucks around at the nurses’ feet. They’re true professionals, those Children’s Mercy nurses.

 

By the time we left, Sam walked out with a birthday balloon, a Hot Wheels toy, more stickers, and the promise of lunch.

 

Had Sam stumbled upon a new birthday present market? In addition to gifts from grandparents, aunts, and uncles, now he gets gifts from the hospital staff? Is Sam a genius?

 

Six stiches this time, one more than last time, and the recommendation that since he’s “accident prone” we avoid too much physical activity for the next few weeks.

 

But, as I type this sentence, I can hear Nate asking Sam if he can push him down the steps. At least he asked.

Sam Takes One On the Chin, Part 1

“Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

 

**BANG! … Immediate crying**

 

It was a Sunday afternoon, the day of the AFC Championship game. Tighe and Tess and I had been sitting on the living room couch finishing lunch and watching…the NBA maybe? Tighe had just answered a phone call—I could tell from the tone it was business related—and Tess was climbing on his head, trying to take the phone, “I wanna talk!”

 

But at the sound of the crying, I jumped up and ran to the front foyer, to it’s source, Sam.

 

He was sprawled on his belly on the hardwood floor, screaming and holding his chin. Nate and the neighbor twins, boys aged 8, were all surrounding him uselessly to a chorus of “I didn’t do it!”

 

I scooped Sam up and saw blood flowing from his chin. I ran him to the kitchen and grabbed a handful of paper towels. “Lemme see, Sam!”

 

I don’t know a lot about medical emergencies and I tend to get slightly queasy at the sight of split skin, so I grimaced as we pulled away the wad of paper towels.

 

“Boys, are your mom and dad home?”

 

“Yeah, they’re home!” the twins said in unison. They live across the street—mom is a physician and dad is an anesthesiologist. In the year and a half we’ve lived in this house, we’ve called on their expertise several times, probably more than our fair share. We also have another doctor—internal medicine, I think—diagonally across from us, a nurse two doors down, and a dentist next door. We picked the right neighborhood.

 

Tighe was still wrestling with Tess over the phone, so I cradled Sam like a baby to my chest and carried him down our front steps, across the street, and up their front steps. He had totally collapsed his full weight against my chest, but given that he’s so tall and I’m so short, his toes were practically scraping the sidewalk as we made our trek to the neighbor’s house.

 

“It’s pretty deep,” she said, pulling the paper towel away, still bouncing her six-month old daughter on her lap. “And pretty wide. Yeah, I think he’s going to need stitches, and it takes a lot for me to recommend stitches.”

 

Which I knew to be true from another one of Sam’s injuries that she said didn’t need stitches, and she was right—it healed on its own with only the slightest of scars.

 

“I’d do it myself, but I have no way to numb it and I don’t think he’d sit still for it,” she went on, “See how the fat layer is oozing out?”

 

She leaned back so I could take a peek, but I averted my eyes to the baby instead.

 

“Did he get new shoes or something? Because he fell twice while he was playing over here this morning.”

 

Her husband was pacing back and forth, putting in calls to all the local emergency rooms, inquiring about wait times and whether or not they take kids.

 

“Um, his shoes are kind of new,” I replied, thinking back. “Maybe three or four months? I think he’s just…Sam.”

 

Her husband put down the phone. “I think Children’s Mercy in Overland Park is your best bet. It doesn’t sound like they’re too busy.”

 

I thanked them for their help and Sam and I walked back across the street, my arms around his shoulders and his palm firmly holding our paper towel wad against his chin.

 

“Well! We’re going to the hospital, Sam!”

 

Tighe carried him to the car while I grabbed his insurance card and a pack of fruit snacks. He hadn’t even eaten lunch!

 

As I drove to the hospital, I glanced back at Sam in the rear view mirror. He was calm, his forehead leaning against the window, his palm still committed to holding down the paper towels.

 

“Sam, would you rather listen to music or talk radio?”

 

Personally I wanted to listen to sports talk. The Chiefs were playing the Patriots that night and I knew a little Tom Brady-bashing would cheer me up. But Sam requested music, so reluctantly I switched stations.

 

In reality, I was the one who needed to calm down. Sam looked like he was about to fall into a peaceful sleep, but I was almost shaking with adrenaline and panic. I’d only been to the ER twice in my life—once when I miscarried right after we were married and once, a few weeks before our wedding, when my dumbass brother—love him so!—had drunkenly walked off a stone wall the night before and torn all kinds of ligaments. My parents were out of town, so I got to sit with him while the doctors adhered a large grey boot that he would wear for months, including in all our wedding photos.

 

So, when we pulled into the ER, Sam was as calm as can be, and I was nervously fumbling for my ID, fixated on the great parking spot I got.

 

“But seriously, Sam, that’s really gonna pay off when we walk out of here later and we only have to walk about 20 yards to the car,” I was saying as we were called back into triage. They had taken his bloodied wad of paper towels and replaced it with a neon pink band-aid. His blood pressure was 104 over 72. I wondered what mine was while the nurse explained to me how common chin lacerations are in kids.

 

Meanwhile, Sam was about to begin the best day of life.

 

It started with stickers and nurses who knew just how to interact with kids who might be a little bit scared. And with parents who might definitely be a little bit scared—especially at the prospect of watching nylon stitches being dragged in and out of Sam’s raw skin.

 

“Mom, if you feel faint, there’s a chair right behind you.”

 

Before they got started, a Child Life specialist came in the room to talk to Sam. She brought in a doll and all the medical equipment that the doctor would need and using the doll, showed him exactly what they were about to do to him.

 

Not that Sam was bothered at all. By any of it. He was busy playing with the wooden puzzle that was fastened to the wall. And then by the fancy remote that could either change the TV station, raise and lower the bed, or call the nurse. By the time the numbing gel took effect, he didn’t have a care in the world.

 

Eventually, two nurses, a doctor, and a Child Life specialist came into the room. One nurse held his head still, one nurse was responsible for his legs—anticipating flailing limbs, I guess—the doctor would be doing the stitching, and the Child Life Specialist held the iPad, which had a special showing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just for Sam.

 

It turns out the nurses weren’t really necessary. The screen so enraptured his attention that we all probably could have tickled him and he wouldn’t have even flinched.

 

“He’s being so good,” the doctor kept musing.

 

Finally he tied the fifth and final stitch and remarked, “Sam, you’re so good, can we do anything else for you while you’re this still? Appendectomy? Tonsils?”

 

“How about a nose job and liposuction?” I said.

 

Sam’s finger immediately shot up to the iPad and hit “pause.”

 

“Yes, I’ll take a Lego section,” he said as if he was asking the waitress to add some bacon to his sandwich.

 

“No, not Lego section—LIPOSUCTION!” I clarified, ”It’s when they suck excess fat from your—you know what, never mind.”

 

A short time later, we were ready to go. After they had billed our insurance, of course. I was gifted a packet of discharge instructions and some extra packets of antibiotic ointment, and Sam was gifted an Incredibles 2 puzzle, more stickers, the syringe they used to clean the wound, lots of praise and hugs from the nurses, and a chocolate milkshake. Okay, the milkshake was courtesy of the McDonald’s drive-thru and my credit card, and that was only because his jaw was too sore to eat the fruit snacks I had in my pocket. The point is that Sam was making out pretty well.

 

“This was fun, but we will NOT be back!” I quipped to the nurses as we headed out the double wide automatic doors.

 

Eleven days later—on Sam’s birthday—we were back.

To be continued…

Mad Tess: Fury Library

Anyone who knows Tess knows that she has two passions: babies and puppies, probably in that order. 

 

Oh, and pizza. She’s been known to shake in anticipation when the Minsky’s deliveryman rings the doorbell. She’s done the same thing when meeting a new baby.

 

Some people enjoy scrapbooking, stamp-collecting, or knitting, but Tess enjoys stalking babies and dogs around KC. If you find someone who looks at you the way Tess looks at a baby or a puppy… file a restraining order.

 

So on a recent Thursday morning, her head nearly exploded with joy when she saw not only other babies who were there for story time, but a dog puppet in the theater of the children’s section.

 

She reacted like she had found an actual gem.

 

“Mom! Mom! Puppy! Puppy!” she shrieked, bringing me the dingy, brown dog. It was about half her size, with a hole large enough for a puppeteer’s hand to poke through, moving the snout and making canine noises. It’s probably never been washed in its entire existence and has been fingered by more toddlers than a half-eaten lollipop on the ground at the playground.

 

Regardless, Tess was thrilled with her treasure and hugged the germ-soaked pile of rags tightly to her chest. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I held mom conversations nearby. She carried it under her arm, petting it gently and murmuring tender words. Every once in a while, she’d set it down on the ground and instruct it to walk.

 

“Walk! Walk, puppy!”

 

Then she’d suddenly scoop it up and take it over to the bookshelf to read it a book.  Eventually, though, she got distracted by the digital checkout scanner, and left the stuffed dog on a nearby table.

 

Suddenly, I heard her shriek. But it was the panicked shriek this time.

 

“No! No! Puppy! My puppy! Puppeeeee!”

 

Another toddler, whom I’ll call Molly to protect her from possible retaliation by Tess’s allies who might read this blog, had picked up the puppy and tucked it under her arm, lovingly and possessively. When she realized she had stolen Tess’s treasure, she squeezed it even tighter.

 

Meanwhile, Tess was moving towards her. And moving fast. Tears—angry tears—had welled in her eyes and her face was reddening. She was mad.

 

And Molly knew it. As Tess moved toward her, Molly turned and made a break for it.

 

If you’ve ever been to the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, then you know the layout. The Kid’s Corner is impressively large, and it’s set way in the back of the building, far away from the reference section, the contemporary fiction section, the classic fiction section, the non-fiction section, the research computers, the study cubicles, and the meeting rooms. A genius layout, really—unlikely that the noise from the children’s section will carry to quieter parts of the library. It’s also quite a hike for little legs to make it all the way back to the entrance, so it’s pretty difficult for a child to escape without a parent or caregiver noticing. Somebody was thinking when they drew up those blueprints.

 

So as Molly started to elude Tess that fateful morning, her mom and I laughed as we casually moved to break up the pending altercation. We’re both veteran moms—we understand that toddlers are irrational and melodramatic and even more so when snack time is looming in the near future.

 

But as we took our steps, almost in tandem, Tess suddenly picked up her pace, lowering her shoulder like a running back and eluding my tackle. Her quick stutter step made Molly turn on her jets and before we knew it, we were in a full-blown cops-and-robbers-style chase. Through the public library.

 

With Tess shrieking at the top of her lungs.

 

“Puppy! Puppy! Puppy! Puppeeeeee!” Again and again and again. Tears were pouring down her face, which had gone from pink to purple with rage. The injustice of it all!

 

Molly, a few paces ahead, had a very clear look of distress on her face and was hustling as fast as she could go. She kept peering over her shoulder, and upon seeing Tess in hot pursuit, turned forward and accelerated her pace just a bit more.

 

Both of their legs were moving in rapid motion, almost as if they were animated roadrunners. Fortunately their legs are so short, Molly’s mom and I could hold steady at a quick stride.

 

Meanwhile all the shrieking was attracting attention.

 

They had already passed the library buffer zone, the Young Adult section, and were now passing the meeting rooms, all of which were occupied. A few heads poked out of cracked doors to see what all the commotion was about as other doors were pulled shut in passive-aggressive condemnation.

 

We had just passed the Shakespeare section and the travel section and were nearing the study cubicles and research computers. And these toddlers were only picking up speed, showing no signs of stopping.

 

Heads were turning, looking in their direction. Some looked annoyed, some curious, and some even concerned. It’s not typical to see one toddler running for her life followed close behind by another toddler screaming a rage-filled fit of tears. Especially in the library.


After they passed the shelves for reserved books, Molly made a hard left at the help desk, bee-lining for the main entrance, some 30 yards away. She turned her head to see where Tess was, incredulous that she was still right on her tail.

 

Suddenly alarmed that they’d actually make it into the circle driveway out front, I ceased my friendly banter with Molly’s mom and broke into a trot. Nothing too speedy—I don’t need to show off here—but it was enough to make me glad I had put on a sports bra that morning. I’d never describe myself as chesty, but after three kids, I can use all the help I can get.

 

Finally, just in front of the electronic censors that flank the main entrance, I caught up to Tess. I picked her up, but she was still flailing in Molly’s direction, trying to lunge out of my arms.

 

“Tess, no, it’s okay—we can share the puppy!” I didn’t even really know what to say, she was such a wreck—tears, snot, still screaming, “Puppeeeeeee!”

 

Molly’s mom caught up to her, took her by the hand, and led her back in the direction of the children’s section. She was still clutching the puppy and peering at Tess in fear, apparently not fully trusting that her mom could protect her from the fury.

 

I followed them, and we took turns doling out generic parental advice about sharing. Particularly communal objects which may or may not contain lice and are owned by the public library.

 

Our retreat to the children’s section was shameful. Remember my blog about Tess’s first airplane ride? Yeah, it was like that. Loud.

 

Like Lord Cornwallis, Tess’s ego was bruised. She had watched the French fleet block the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and was now cornered by the Continental Army on land. She continued to wail and whimper, refusing to fully surrender the puppy to Molly.  Eventually, Molly’s mom feigned that they needed to leave and together, we all returned the dog to the puppet theater. The treaty was signed, but Cornwallis—ahem, Tess—wasn’t happy about it.

 

I wiped the snot off her face and started to button her coat. We’ve never been kicked out of the public library and we’re not about to start now.

From Limbo to Closure

Well, it’s been a weird couple of weeks, and since I’m a narcissist, I’ll fill you all in. First, know that I’m pretty okay. I think I truly grieved after the first ultrasound appointment, when they told me they couldn’t find a heartbeat, just an empty gestational sac. I went home and researched and researched and discovered that, given the size of my gestational sac, I had likely suffered a blighted ovum and would soon start bleeding and cramping.

 

Which never happened.

 

Meanwhile, many of YOU were sharing your stories of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, D&C’s, and almost miscarriages that somehow became babies. Those were all really helpful—truly. Some gave me hope, like maybe there’s a baby in my belly after all. And some just made me feel solidarity. Like, yeah, it sucks and it’s painful, but life goes on.

 

My emotions and my imagination were all over the place—not sure whether I needed to be re-collecting maternity clothes I had lent out or preparing for heavy bleeding. I’ve carried pads in my bag for the past three weeks, just in case.

 

And still feeling nauseous and first-trimester tired the entire time. Every night before bed, sitting down to brush my teeth—standing was too exhausting—I would pester Tighe with what-ifs and over-analysis of what I thought was going on with my body. He was patient. I like to think he actually cared. His skin was in this too!

 

There were about ten days when I couldn’t even open the fridge. Ugh, all that food just sitting in there! I wanted to drop kick every little bit, every last condiment and slice of cheese from the roof of our house. Except I also didn’t want to look at it or touch it.

 

We were eating the blandest of dinners. Unseasoned chicken breasts and tortellini without sauce. And Nate and Sam went a solid week without eating a fruit or vegetable because ew. Finally, something we could all agree on.

 

Then there was a stretch when Sam had to wear long pants. In July.  I just couldn’t drag my heavy legs, butt, and rounding belly—in retrospect, the rounding belly may have been more a result of chocolate cheesecake consumption. Or my sister-in-law’s cherry tart. Or the muffins I kept making—up the stairs to fold clothes. Nate was resourceful enough to bound into the laundry room every morning and rummage around in the dryer until he found some shorts that fit him. Sam’s not quite at that level of problem-solving yet, so he just dug around in his pants drawer and added sweatpants to his summer wardrobe.

 

Fast forward to the second ultrasound appointment.

 

“Are you as nervous as I am?” I asked Kelly, the ultrasound tech.

 

“Actually, yes,” she said, “I hate giving bad news.”

 

But the second ultrasound immediately showed no baby, no heartbeat, and no growth in the gestational sac. I tried to soften the blow for Kelly.

 

“It’s okay, Kelly, this is kind of what we expected.”

 

We went back to meet with the doctor and agreed to schedule a D & C. For those of you unfamiliar with the shorthand lingo of obstetrics, D & C stands for dilation and curettage. It’s a surgical procedure involving dilation of the cervix and using suction to remove the “products of conception.”

 

Which is how I want to start referring to all our kids. “These are our products of conception, Nate, Sam, and Tess.”

 

Anyway, the doctor proceeded to go over surgical risks and the recovery process.

 

“…bleeding, some moderate cramping…and then of course, two weeks of pelvic rest—“

 

At which point Tighe cut her off.

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, uh, pelvic rest?” It was like when the Bobs asked Peter Gibbons to elaborate on the term “zone out.”

 

“No sexual intercourse for two weeks,” she clarified.

 

“Like, with each other or other people too?” Desperate times call for desperate jokes.

 

The next day, a nurse from pre-op gave me a call to go over protocol for the morning of surgery, which was scheduled for the following day.

 

“…you’ll want to shower the morning of with antibacterial soap, no lotions or moisturizers. And don’t shave your legs the morning of, do it the night before…”

 

Do I have to shave my legs? I wondered. I’ll be on pelvic rest, why would I even bother shaving my legs?

 

When we arrived at the hospital on Thursday morning, I did my best to banter with the nurses as they poked me, undressed me, and wiped me down with antibacterial wipes. But I hadn’t eaten in fourteen hours, nor had I had any caffeine, so it was a bit of a struggle.

 

Plus, my only other experiences with surgery had been my three C-sections, when I’m all hyped up on euphoric anticipation, about to meet my baby for the first time. This D&C was not to have such a happy ending, so although I was smiling and excited to have some pampering from the surgical nurses, I was still pretty ambivalent. Nursing is the noblest of professions.

 

“See, Tighe? This is why I wanted to get pregnant again! A C-section means four nights in a hospital and 24/7 attention from a nursing staff!”

 

Tighe rolled his eyes from a chair next to my bed.

 

“You know what would be a lot cheaper? You stay in a hotel for four nights and we pay some of your friends to bring you food and drugs and laugh at your jokes.”

 

The idea is growing on me.

 

Soon my doctor came to visit to let me know we were still waiting for an operating room and surgery would be delayed. Perfect since we’re paying a babysitter by the hour.

 

“There were a lot of shootings in the city yesterday,” she explained, “so we’ve got some organ transplant patients in there as a result.”

 

A lot of shootings—am I back in Baltimore?

 

Tighe had taken my phone with him in an effort to keep my valuables safe, so I passed the time staring at the ceiling and wondering what the area was of the space enclosed by the metal track that IVs and other hanging hospital equipment slides around on. I couldn’t wait for a nurse to wander in so I could ask her what her estimate was and find out if we could get a ladder and measure.

 

The boredom was hitting me hard.

 

When the anesthesiologist came in, I got excited. General anesthesia meant a midday nap.

 

“This first drug might make you a chatty-Cathy,” she said, flicking her needle, “or it might knock you out—“

 

I don’t remember anything after she said that, until I fluttered my eyes awake in the recovery room, about an hour and a half later.

 

Tighe drove me home, paid the babysitter, and strapped Tess into the car seat to go fill my pain prescriptions. Nate and Sam were riding bikes with the neighbor kids, so I was left alone to catch up on some daytime television.

 

At four o’clock, I pressed pause on “The Office” and lifted myself up off the couch and readjusted the hospital-issued underwear around my waist. My energy had returned, I wasn’t the slightest bit nauseous, and I had only the faintest of cramps. Glancing out the front window, I saw Nate and Sam and the twins across the street. They had a table set up on the sidewalk and were flashing a sign at passing cars.

 

“Cool,” I thought, “they’re selling lemonade.”

 

Having sat in a hospital all day, I was thirsty! Plus, my throat was a little sore from the intubation tube. Lemonade would taste really good.

 

The hospital bracelet still tight on my wrist, I slid a dollar into my pocket and strolled across the street. Turns out there was no lemonade for sale and instead, I walked back a dollar poorer and the proud owner of a painted rock.

 

But I felt happy. I hugged my pebble-peddling boys and my pizza-grubbing toddler. Had this been my first pregnancy, I think it would have been a lot more traumatic. But I’ve got three C-sections under my belt and three healthy kids who are all sleeping soundly in their beds while I type this. We feel content. And relieved to be moving past this “failed pregnancy.” After several weeks of limbo, now we have closure. To be determined whether or not we try again or whether we just settle on a puppy.  Life goes on, stay tuned!

Baby Limbo

“Mmm, I love gin and tonics! They’re a great summer drink, so refreshing!"

 

Tighe and I were sitting at happy hour with a couple we had just met. They have a son going into kindergarten and we were matched as their buddy family. We were supposed to show them the ropes as kindergarten parents. We were debating whether to order food, and I had paused to comment on Liz’s **names changed** drink that had just arrived to the table. And I do love gin and tonics. They’re so light and snappy.

 

“But you’re drinking water.” So Alex had noticed. And it sounded like a question.

 

It’s true, I was. But I wasn’t sure how much information to tell them. I mean, I was supposed to be telling them about school supplies, carpool procedures, and playground rules, not about my reproductive…situation.

 

A few days before we were supposed to leave for our annual 4th of July trip back East, I took a pregnancy test.

 

“It’s positive!” I said, emerging from the bathroom after a few minutes of anxious puttering in the kitchen.

 

“Can we just agree,” Tighe was sprawled on an armchair watching golf, his hands were scratching his forehead, then forcefully digging his fingers through his hair, “that this is the last one?”

 

“Yes, of course. Four is plenty! I’ll have my tubes tied after this one.”

 

Easy peasy.

 

And of course, doing the math, it looked like the due date would be in… February.

 

Duh.

 

It was perfect. Too perfect.

 

I’m not good with secrets, and this was one I was not going to try hard to keep. Soon, more people found out than I was able to keep track of. Nate told his swim teacher. He announced it to his karate class. He told a stranger at the airport. Why not?

 

Yes, it’s customary to wait until 12 weeks, until everything has been confirmed healthy by healthcare professionals, and having had a miscarriage once before, perhaps I should have known better.

 

That miscarriage, ten years ago now, felt like an obligatory right of passage into childbearing.  It was an unplanned pregnancy—Tighe and I were married at the time, but not ready to become parents yet. We still had so much growing up and bonding to do, so many mistakes to make, so much fun to have. So it was almost a relief when I started bleeding a few days after finding out I was pregnant. Still painful and bloody and scary, but the prospect of having a baby when we were so young and so broke was scarier. We hadn’t told anyone yet, so after two ER visits and a follow-up with my obstetrician, it was all over.

 

Fast-forward more than ten years and the news of my latest pregnancy just continued to spread. When we arrived in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Saylorsburg, we charged Nate and Sam with announcing it to our parents and siblings.

 

“Tess is going to be a big sister!” they shouted again and again, in unison, so many times that they almost started to lose their enthusiasm.

 

We hugged and high-fived and celebrated and told everyone to mark their calendars for mid-February. I happily passed by the beer cooler and munched on smoked ribs and cherry tart instead.

 

I repeated the same story with a joyful smirk again and again, “Tighe was about to get a vasectomy, but I said, ‘give it one more month’ and now I’m pregnant. I win!”

 

I was triumphant. Too triumphant.

 

And then, Monday morning, after we arrived back in Kansas City, I started to bleed. Not a lot of blood, but just enough to plummet my mood from exhausted euphoria to dreading trepidation.

 

Immediately my mind went elsewhere, I was no longer present. I went through the motions of getting everyone breakfast, forcing pleasantries with our cleaning lady as I scrambled to escape.

 

I called the doctor and she asked me to come in the next day. The bleeding had stopped, but they wanted to be careful.

 

Tighe met me at the doctor and together we sat in the darkened ultrasound room. The ultrasound tech was quiet. Too quiet.  There was no friendly banter, no cheerful “There’s baby!”

 

I was uncomfortable. And nervous. I had been nervous all morning, but I wasn’t sure why.

 

After a few minutes of silence, she spoke. She explained that she was seeing a gestational sac, but it didn’t seem to contain a baby.

 

“I’m going to have to have you go pee so I can see a little bit better, and then we’ll try again.”

 

Every time. Every time, they tell me to make sure I come with a full bladder so that they can see my uterus better, and every time I overdo it to the point that all they can see is my very full bladder.

 

When I came back into the room, she told me she’d try a transvaginal ultrasound, which is just what it sounds like.

“It’ll feel like a tampon,” she explained.

 

It didn’t feel like a tampon. It felt like a cold, angry probe full of bad news.

 

“Still nothing.” The ultrasound tech was quickly becoming my new worst enemy.

 

A few minutes later, we were sitting with the doctor. Tighe never stays for the doctor part. Usually, he’s content to see the baby and hear the heartbeat and he darts back to work so we can pay for all the heartbeats. And the health insurance. But today he stayed. He wanted answers, too.

 

The doctor explained that a gestational sac usually results from a chromosomal abnormality. For some reason, the sac forms but doesn’t follow through with a baby. It’s considered a “failed pregnancy.”

 

“There’s a chance,” she went on, “that you’re just earlier in the baby’s gestation than we thought. Your cycle shows you should be about 7 weeks, but the sac is measuring smaller than that. Still, though, at 19 millimeters, we can usually see a baby and find a heartbeat. Do you have any questions?”

 

Well, of course I did. But I was having trouble articulating them. Originally my only question was whether it’d be safe to visit my parents in Florida around Christmastime or whether Zika is projected to be a threat again.

 

Suddenly, I had all kinds of questions, but the words weren’t rising to my brain, let alone my lips.

 

She told me to come back in a few weeks and we can look again. By that time, it should be impossible not to see a baby. If there is one.

 

“In the meantime, act like you’re pregnant. Keep taking your prenatal vitamins and don’t go binge drinking. If you start bleeding and cramping, odds are you’re miscarrying…”

 

She went on about how to keep track of blood loss and symptoms related to excessive blood loss.

 

Our limbo began. I went home and watched Wimbledon. At least, I think I was watching Wimbledon. I definitely remember a ball of some sort moving across the screen. Could have been the World Cup. My brain was racing to other places, I was not present.

 

I was Googling “empty gestational sac” and hopping down every internet rabbit hole I came across.

 

For three days, I poured over message boards and Web MD and all kinds of other reputable and not so reputable sites. I concluded that, based on the science, the numbers, the statistics, I am likely having a miscarriage.

 

My heart sank.

 

But then, I found just enough anecdotal evidence to give me hope—women who went back for a second ultrasound and discovered a healthy baby and a strong heartbeat. Not a lot, but a few.

 

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

 

For about ten days, I experienced the worst first trimester nausea I’ve ever had. Every food was repulsive to me. Tighe’s brother, Patrick, ate a nectarine too close to me one morning, and I had to restrain my left arm so I wouldn’t punch him in the face.

 

And I love Patrick. Aside from this one terrible produce decision, I’d never want to hurt him. Unless maybe we were playing golf. I suspect he’s better than I am.

 

I had bought all the ingredients for a paleo-friendly, gluten-free potato salad, and then suddenly just the sight of those raw potatoes made me want to hurl.

 

Someone mentioned ordering pizza one night and I had to leave the room.

 

I have four zucchinis sitting on the kitchen counter next to the bananas that are somehow going to have to magically morph themselves into chocolate chip zucchini bread because I’m not doing it. The thought of chopping that zucchini is…ugh. Feel free to come grab them if you find yourself in our neighborhood.

 

Instead I’ve been eating scrambled eggs and cold mango slices and watermelon and Greek salads from Panera and very bland pork chops. Tighe keeps requesting wings, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

 

In recent days, the nausea has eased, though I still feel it in the morning and evening. We went for ice cream last night and every bite was torture.

 

I know that a miscarriage isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it sure seems like it at the time. It’s not cancer. It’s not a sudden fatal car crash. I’m not losing a newborn or an older child that I’ve bonded with.

 

With my other three full-term pregnancies, there were issues, too. With Nate, I failed my first glucose test. So I had to re-test. Which felt like the worst thing in the world.

 

With Sam, I had a UTI at 24 weeks, which I interpreted as pre-term labor. Terrifying!

 

With Tess, her 20-week ultrasound showed big feet and a marker that sometimes corresponds with Down’s Syndrome, but they ruled that out in a few agonizing days. Then, at about 36 weeks, I had low amniotic fluids. Which meant I had to chug Gatorade all day long.

 

Meanwhile, I still have twelve days until I go back to the doctor. So our limbo continues. I keep trying to plan and prepare, but we’re still left with so many questions.

 

Will I start bleeding and cramping tomorrow when I’m helping with Vacation Bible School?

Or will it happen at the party we’re supposed to go to Saturday night?

 

Or at tennis lessons on Monday morning?

 

Will the pain be worse this time?

 

Will I need to call Tighe to come home from work?

 

Each passing day that I don’t bleed gives me hope that yes, maybe this is a healthy pregnancy and there’s a little Miracle Baby in there.

 

Which means that I’ll head to my ultrasound on the 31st full of anxious nerves.

 

If they find Miracle Baby, I’ll hug the ultrasound tech! And kiss her! On the lips! And then I’ll dance down the hall to meet with my doctor, pausing at the scale, of course, for the required weigh-in—a number I won’t even care about! I’ll probably name the baby after my doctor and she’ll end up being a doctor, too! Or some sort of altruistic miracle worker who also happens to make boatloads of money and she’ll build us an in-law suite above her garage. And Tighe and I will grow old in that in-law suite, holding hands and sipping coffee—we don’t even drink coffee—in our rocking chairs on the balcony. A balcony that overlooks the garden where we’ll watch our grandchildren grow up!

 

Or maybe… maybe they won’t find that Miracle Baby on that next ultrasound. Because she never existed. Which means what? That we’re grieving the idea of a baby? I’m confused.

 

But I need to prepare for that too. I’ll have to come home and explain it all to Nate and Sam, who may or may not look up from their cartoons when I speak. And then Tighe and I will have to decide all over again whether we’re done having kids or should we try for one more? Should we just be grateful for the three very healthy children we have and get a puppy? Or do we push our luck?

 

Feel free to weigh in. And grab those zucchini if you want them. Until then, we’re in limbo. Prayers, please!

Self-Righteous and Condescending

My Pompous Little Son

 

(Nate. I’m referring to Nate here.)

 

 

“Nate, you helped teach Sam his colors when he was Tess’s age, so now we need to teach Tess her colors. We can do that while we play with Lego’s…when we’re reading books…when we’re in the car and we’re driving by other cars, we can say ‘look, a red car’—“

 

“Wait! I taught Sam his colors?”

 

“Well, you helped…”

 

“Hmm,” Nate crossed his arms and looked down at Sam who was drawing stick figures in the dirt. “What do you say to me, Sam?”

 

Sam looked up, using his hand to shield the bright sun from his eyes. “Thank you?”

 

“You’re welcome,” he nodded as a smug smile spread across his face.

 

Tighe and I made eye contact across the driveway and rolled our eyes.

 

On Friday, we were meeting friends for a play date. We arrived to the playground first, and Nate immediately made a beeline for the sandbox, shoving off his flip-flops in the process.

 

“Nate, be careful in the sandbox,” I warned, “Sometimes, sharp objects are buried in the sand and if you’re not watching for them, they might poke you.”

 

“Mom! I really like the way you used the word ‘objects’ instead of ‘things.’ Good job, Mom!”

 

I stared at him for a moment to see if he was messing with me. He was smiling and nodding at me, sincerely.

 

“Thanks, Nate.”

 

He was sincerely commending me for my vocabulary choices. Does he believe his vocabulary is superior to mine?

 

A few nights ago, I was saying good night to Nate and Sam before I took Tess to her room to read her stories and put her to bed.

 

“Good night, Nate,” I kissed his forehead. “I love you always and forever, no matter what. I’m so proud of you always and forever, no matter what.”

 

It’s my same old shtick I say every night to all three of them.

 

“Mom, I love you always and forever, no matter what.” He had squatted down next to me and was caressing my jawline, under my chin. “I’m so proud of you, Mom.”

 

He cocked his head and pursed his lips in a tight smile as his eyebrows arched together in a perfectly symmetrical peak. It was the way an arrogant college professor condescendingly looks at a freshman he knows will barely pass his class. Like, “I know you were only granted a remedial education at your provincial high school and you’re just doing the best you can with what you’ve got—which isn’t much.”

 

I held his gaze for a few moments longer than I normally would, cocking my head at the same angle and mimicking his smile. I had to know if he was messing with me or if he was genuinely proud of me.

 

Nope, he maintained eye contact and his smile never wavered. I guess he really believes I’ll reach my true potential some day.

 

A few Sundays ago, Tighe had walked over to fetch Nate from a friend’s house. Nate rode his bike home and Tess and I were there to greet him in the driveway when he got home.

 

“Hey, Nate! How was George’s house?”

 

“Great!” he said, pushing his bike into the garage. “And, Mom, the weirdest thing happened.”

 

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small Lego figure.

 

“Early this morning, before Sam woke up, I went up to the third floor and found this Lego guy that I forgot we had. And he’s been in my pocket all day! I totally forgot about it. Isn’t that weird? Don’t ask Sam about it.”

 

A couple alarm bells were going off in my head here. First, “before Sam woke up?” No one in our house—and I mean NO ONE—wakes up before Sam. Ever.

 

Second, “don’t ask Sam about it?” In other words, ‘don’t ask a potential witness to corroborate my story because it’s not true?’ I’m no detective, but I immediately smelled a rat.

 

“Nate,” I said, lowering my voice and looking him directly in the eye, “did you take that Lego from George’s house?”

 

“What?! No!” He avoided my eyes and started to make his way into the house. “Why would you even think that?” he called back, darting inside.

 

Handing Tess off to Tighe, I walked into the kitchen and finished putting dinner on the table. Tighe slid Tess into her high chair, and I leaned in close.

 

“Tighe,” I whispered. “Nate stole a Lego from George’s house.”

 

I filled him in on what I knew and we agreed all signs pointed to “thief!” Time to interrogate.

 

As we settled into our seats, Tighe started his very subtle guilt trip.

 

“You know, the problem with the world today is that people have to work so hard to earn what they have. I mean, they work and they work and they save and then they finally buy something that they deserve. But then some people who don’t work and who don’t deserve something special, just take it from those people! And that’s dishonest.”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Nate nodded in agreement, “That is a problem. I can’t believe people would do that.”

 

This went on for a few minutes: Tighe attempting to make Nate feel remorse, to empathize with his victim, the friend he consistently refers to as his “bestie.” And Nate continued to agree, either not seeing the connection between Tighe’s world problems and his actions, or deciding that he was so deep into his lie, it was too late to turn back.

 

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.

 

“Nate, did you take a Lego from George’s house?” I tried again.

 

“No, that would be terrible.”

 

“Nate, don’t cover up your dishonesty with more dishonesty.”

 

“Okay, okay! I didn’t mean to!”

 

“Nate!”

 

We both said it at the same time. Me, frustrated and disappointed, and Tighe, omniscient and self-righteous.

 

“Okay, okay, I did.”

 

He lowered his eyes and changed the subject.

 

“Mom, what kind of cheese is this?”

 

“Nate, you need to give that Lego back.”

 

“Okay, okay.”

 

But Tighe wanted to teach more of a lesson.

 

“Nate, you need to write George a letter of apology. And pay him,” he was making this up as he went along, “…Pay him $1. For renting the Lego for the night. And you give it back tomorrow.”

 

So, after dinner, Nate fetched a note pad and envelope and began his letter.

 

“Dear George, thanks so much for having me over today. Here’s some money for being my friend.”

 

I read over his shoulder as I wiped down the table.

 

“Nate! That’s a $20 bill!”

 

“I know! He’s a really good friend.”

 

I immediately wondered what else Nate has done to this poor kid to warrant feeling so indebted to him.

 

“And you didn’t even apologize to him!”

 

“Fine,” he rolled his eyes, crumbled the piece of paper, and started a new draft.

 

Sam had wandered over. Licking sprinkles off his sugar cookie, he leaned over and watched Nate write.

 

He picked up the Lego and looked it over curiously.

 

“Sam!” Nate gasped. “How could you steal that Lego from me? That’s George’s Lego! And he’s my best friend!”

 

Sam dropped the Lego and scampered away with his cookie, expertly dodging the swat of Nate’s hand. But Nate continued his lecture from the dining room table.

 

“Sam, stealing is wrong! George’s parents worked really hard to buy him that Lego and you shouldn’t take that away from them!”

 

George’s mom and dad are a doctor and an industrial engineer respectively, so I think they’re okay.

 

In the end, Nate wrote a letter, basically to the effect of, “Dear George, Sorry. Thank you for having me over. Here’s a dollar. Nate.” He tucked the Lego and a $1 bill into an envelope and gave it to George the next day at school. They remain best friends to this very day.

Wally and the Storms

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was sitting at the dining room table with Tess doling out her snack and texting with a friend about our plans that night. We were debating whether to carpool down to Westport or Uber together.

 

“My plan is to be home by midnight,” her text read.

 

“Same!” I typed back. “We were up all night with the dog.”

 

“Hahaha [some jovial laughter emojis]!” She thought I was kidding.

 

No, but really. We were up all night with Wally.

 

It’s spring. Which means thunderstorms. Which means Wally has to employ his most neurotic habits all night long. Hyperventilating. Whimpering. Pacing, Digging. Panting.  

 

And the severity of the storms doesn’t matter.


It can be those gentle storms with low rumbling thunder in the distance and minimal rain.  Or it can be the more violent kind. When the thunder claps and bangs feel like they’re inside your house, and the lightning tears jagged lines across the sky. Like God put His ceiling fan on the highest setting to see how many trees he can churn down, and everyone’s on edge waiting for the tornado sirens to summon them to the basements. And the rain’s coming down in buckets and flash flood warnings are interrupting our programs.

 

Or it could be drizzling.

 

Doesn’t matter. Wally will FREAK OUT. And in the middle of the day, who cares? He gets some extra pets and follows us around, his hot breath on the backs of our calves. We tell him to calm down and try not to make a big deal about the weather.

 

But in the middle of the niiiiiight…different story.

 

Once we found him frantically clawing up the rug on the landing to the second floor—that rug is destroyed. For a few months last fall, we ‘d find him in Tess’s room, scratching and clawing the foam play mat in the middle of the hardwood floor. If one of us heard him open her door, we’d hurry in, throwing on a bathrobe as we fished him out of there, careful not to wake her up.  And since her door doesn’t properly latch, he’d do it again and again.

 

Other nights, he would wake her up. In fact, he’s pretty smart guy. I actually think he’s learned to shove the door open quietly, as though he doesn’t want Tighe or me to wake up. Scratching at that foam is the only thing that makes him feel better and he’s desperate to get in there. We’d find him clawing away like a meth addict, with Tess standing in her crib, half mad at being awake and half confused at why her beloved dog is in there.

 

Should she file a police report? Alert the neighborhood watch? [Of which she’s the president, by the way. See picture below.] Or take him to therapy?

Trust no one... #CitizensOnPatrol...

Trust no one... #CitizensOnPatrol...

 

And lately, he’s been seeking shelter with Nate and Sam. They don’t have a rug to shred, so he’s been climbing into the bottom bunk with Sam. But Wally’s a monstrous dog! As a babysitter recently proclaimed, “He’s just a big muppet!” He dwarfs Sam’s bed, making it look like a school for ants.