Decembers Are for Getting Sick (And Other Lessons I Learned in 2016)

Hello there! It’s been a while. I hope that you and yours enjoyed a lovely Christmas and that 2017 is seeming all bright-and-shiny new to you, exciting and full of hope.

I guess I’m there? Maybe? I’ve spent the past several weeks feeling alternately over-stressed and exasperated with myself – and cleaning up so! much! vomit! So I think I’m just ready enough to move on that I’m getting excited about the possibilities this new year holds.

Or I’m getting excited about having a crisp, fresh, new planner to fill out. One of the two.

Either way, it feels good to turn the page. And in turning it (so to speak), I thought I’d give you fine people a little dose of my end-of-year processing and beginning-of-year planning: lessons I learned in 2016. Plus some general catch-up stuff and cute kid pics.

I went way overboard writing it, though (length!), so I’m splitting the whole thing into more than one post. First, I give you:

(1) Decembers are for getting sick.

This lesson just about slapped me in the face the other day. At the beginning of December I was all hopeful and dreamy. “We had such a rough December last year,” I kept thinking to myself, “It will be great to actually enjoy this one!” I figured we’d, you know, be able to take care of our preparations on time, maybe bake a few cookies and invite some friends over, enjoy a few cheerful days with our extended family . . .

I don’t know what I was thinking.

Was I thinking that December owed us something? That last year’s bad December gave us immunity for any ailments that might try to strike us this time? That surely, surely we wouldn’t have two sick Christmases in a row?

It took until early January – weeks into a string of stomach bugs and the umpteen-million loads of vomity laundry that accompanied it – for me to remember: “Oh – that’s right. We’ve been here before.”

And in a flash I realized that we almost certainly will be again.

This year (er – 2016) we were mostly out of commission for weeks on end thanks to a long-lingering, family-wide stomach bug.

Last year we started the month with a series of weird pregnancy symptoms for me and ended the month with what was likely a mild case of Guillain-Barré syndrome for my husband. (So scary! So many hospital visits!)

Five years ago I began the month with a sinus infection, had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was given for it, and consequently suffered such a terrible, harsh cough that I damaged my vocal chords and was unable to speak above a whisper until mid-January. (So emotional! But I avoided surgery!)

In two of the intervening Decembers I was pregnant, all tired and unambitious-like.

So again – what was I thinking? For this small-kids season of life, at least, I think we should just expect that we’ll need to reserve Decembers for getting sick.

Which means that this year (2017), I want to get most of my Christmas prep work done before December even starts. I want to finish my Christmas shopping by Halloween. (Even the wrapping? Wouldn’t that be amazing?) I want to do a good “fall cleaning” of the house before Thanksgiving. I want to be ready to order my Christmas cards during the Black Friday sales. I want to decorate the house (and return the bins to the attic – somehow this step keeps getting left off) the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Come December, I want to have nothing left to do but decorate the tree and address those Christmas cards. By a roaring fire, preferably. And if we’re somehow able to escape whatever plague 2017 has in store for our neck of the woods, then gosh darn it I want us to be the kind of people who bake Christmas cookies and decorate gingerbread houses. Like those beautiful people on Instagram.

That’s my plan, and I’m totally writing it down in my crisp, fresh, new planner. Because …

(2) Planning is vital.

This one should be obvious – I know it should. But I am sometimes really slow on the uptake and so it is just now, at age 37, that is has clicked for me that life would be simpler if I sat down with my planner and planned things out. What a revolutionary idea.

I’ve only ever used my planner to record upcoming appointments. Never before have I thought to use it to mark out time to prepare for said appointments. Or due dates. Or holidays.

Generally what I do is know vaguely that I need to be preparing for x,y,z but spend my time wrapped up in the more pressing a,b,c items instead, so that when x,y,z comes due I’m startled and yes – unprepared.

But per the above, I’ve already framed out time for next year’s (this year’s? whatever) Christmas preparations in my planner. I need to sit down soon to do the same for other holidays and events. And I’d really like to reserve a weekly time for sifting through my papers and my planner and figuring out what I’ve got to tackle next.

I’m not under the delusion that I’ll ever be perfectly organized and prepared. But I tell you, the realization that I don’t have to go through life feeling startled every time I turn my planner’s page – it feels pretty darned great.

Okay. More lessons next time! ‘Till then, take a look at the front of this year’s Christmas card. (Isn’t he such a beautifully grumpy elf?)

These Walls - Decembers Are For Getting Sick - 2

See you back here soon (I promise! It’s already written!) for the next installment of Lessons That Julie Just Now Learned But Everyone Else Already Knew.

These Walls - Decembers Are For Getting Sick

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Touch My Baby (An Update on Our Girl)

Last you heard from me I was writing to you from the hospital, where Baby Girl was being treated for pneumonia and some unknown stomach-something, which was suspected to be a bacterial infection. Three days into her hospital stay (she ended up being there for four days) we had our answer: salmonella poisoning.

Yes. Seriously. Our four-month-old infant who eats no food somehow got food poisoning.

We don’t know how it happened. It’s possible she picked it up from her brothers, who had played with some turtles in a nearby pond a couple of weeks earlier. (Apparently turtles are a common carrier of salmonella – who knew?) It’s also possible (probably more possible than not) that I gave it to her, that I contracted it by handling raw food or – ahem – eating raw brownie batter or something, and then touched her bottle or pacifier and passed it on to her. (You have no idea how guilty this possibility makes me feel.)

We’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for a healthy person to carry salmonella without experiencing symptoms of it. Which normally isn’t a big deal – not unless that person is in close contact with someone with an immature or compromised immune system. Like an infant.

Ugh.

Hence the title of this post. Not that I (at all!) blame Baby Girl’s illness on contact with random strangers, but I’ve always been something of a germophobe and those tendencies have been amplified by this experience. With any contact our baby has with another person, I worry that a new bacteria will get her sick.

I’ve been reverting to new-momma protective, squirming when strangers approach us in public and barking “DON’T TOUCH THE BABY” at her brothers. I’m sure we’ll mellow at some point, but right now it’s just all so fresh.

These Walls - Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Touch My Baby - 3

But seriously – do you know how often people walk up to babies and grab their tiny hands? All the time.  (Don’t they know that babies stick their hands in their mouths?) When it’s a child, I usually feel comfortable enough to chirp, “You can touch her feet, but please don’t touch her hands!” But I’ll admit I have a harder time correcting an adult. Adults should know better.

Mamas, don’t let your babies touch my baby. (Or at least not her face and hands.) And don’t you do it either.

Sigh.

Babies are so vulnerable and fragile. And this whole thing has been such a tremendous bother.

These Walls - Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Touch My Baby - 1

Baby Girl is mostly recovered now, but she was in pretty rough shape for her first couple of days at the hospital. She felt horrible, she wouldn’t eat, she was poked with needles again and again. She fussed with her IV. She slept or cried or just looked thoroughly pathetic.

Once home we had follow-up appointments and phone calls to manage, prescriptions to fill, more and more diarrhea to deal with (it can take two weeks to clear up), and (I hate to even write this) stool samples to collect from her big brothers.

Did I mention that this whole thing has been a bother? What a pain.

And we’re not done. Though (thankfully!) the first round of stool samples came back negative, we’ve got to do another round to be sure. And after a couple of days of normality, Baby Girl’s diarrhea returned, so now she’s been put on another round of antibiotics.

These Walls - Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Touch My Baby - 2

Gosh, she’s just the sweetest little thing.

She’s so sweet and she’s been such a champ through all of this. I sure hope we’re about done with it.

These Walls -- Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Touch My Baby

Wait. Was That Supposed to be Father’s Day?

Meet my husband, Brennan — the man who is completely, totally fine with our Father’s Day weekend not being being focused on him in the slightest.

image

I guess it started last week, actually, when he took a day off work and was therefore standing in the driveway for a midday delivery from the UPS guy. I saw him collect the package with its contents advertised in a big! clear! photo! and stare at it in a confused sort of way. “Happy Father’s Day,” I yelled dully through the window.

Then Saturday we hosted a 6th birthday party for our oldest son. A Star Wars party. The kids wore little Jedi costumes, they played some poorly-thought-out games, we ate some carryout fried chicken and a cake that I didn’t have time to finish decorating.

But the little Jedis-in-training got to attack Darth Vader with silly string, so it was allllll good.

image

You know this is what treadmills are for, right?

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Success on that front.

However, just as the party was beginning, our little peanut started to become sick. She spiked a fever, she had some diarrhea, and she was really, really not her usual smiley self.

We pushed through the party, Baby Girl was happy to be held by her grandma and great-grandmom, and we thought it was just a little passing thing due to her shots earlier in the week. But as the evening wore on, her diapers increased in frequency. By the morning, we knew we needed to take her to the ER.

image

image

Her bloodwork came back a little worrisome and her chest x-ray showed some pneumonia, so they decided to admit her. Good thing, too: her fever was creeping up and she’d stopped eating.

So Brennan’s Father’s Day consisted mostly of wrangling our boys while he worried about our girl. But he did stop by the hospital for a visit in the evening. And Sweetie Pie rewarded him with her first smile of the day.

image

We (she and I) are here still. (So forgive this smartphone-published blog post for any editing errors.) They’re keeping her another night, which is both sad and a relief. They think the diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, so she’ll get her second round of IV antibiotics sometime today.

image

Hopefully tomorrow she’ll be feeling a great deal better, and they’ll have all her test results back, and she’ll be eating enough to stay hydrated. Hopefully.

Because we need to get this girl home to her Daddy and brothers. I’d like us to finally get a chance to celebrate Brennan, even if just a little bit. And I want to see this happy face again.

image

Sunday Coffee

A few weeks ago I resolved to mark my third year of blogging (the anniversary of which is this coming week, I think?) by taking 30 minutes each day to write and by posting on the blog at least three times per week. I’ve mostly succeeded. I think I’ve written almost every day, though a couple were such blurs of activity that I’m pretty sure they were left off. I did the thrice-weekly posting for the first two weeks, but this week I’m likely only fitting in two.

Oh well! On we march. The whole point of that little promise I made to myself was to exercise my writing muscle, so to speak, and I’m doing that.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 1

Being the weekend and all, I have my mind on lazy mornings and delicious coffee, and I’m thinking about what I would say to you if we were sitting down together for coffee.

First

I think I would mention this post and how some people seem to have gotten the impression that I had lost my cool with my son and was therefore writing from a place of regret.

(Now imagine me laughing while looking a little embarrassed.)

Um… if you think that was me losing my cool, you are far too generous. I promise that I am capable of some truly outrageous meltdowns. Like, spittle and popping veins outrageous. Once I was so mad I even had to go outside to run laps across the backyard.

So that post? That was just me recognizing the opposing tugs a parent feels while administering a punishment. And being decently comfortable that (in that one particular situation) I’d dealt with it the right way.

Next

I’d remember that I never updated anyone on how my children behaved at Mass last Sunday. The verdict? I mostly got off easy. My second son turned out to still be too ill to be taken to church, so he stayed home with Daddy. As did the toddler, because… toddler. So I was left with the five-year-old and the baby. And it all went fine except for the two minutes in which the baby spat up all down her front and the boy exclaimed, “She exploded!”

Then

I’d probably complain about being really, really tired of having somebody in the house sick for, like, two months straight. Currently we’ve got two boys (hopefully!) wrapping up their colds. I’m praying that we enjoy at least a small period of good health before somebody else goes down.

I’m sure I’d complain about all this cool, rainy weather we’ve been having. (Seriously – where did May go? Haven’t we been having March for like three months now?)

I’d tell you that I’d failed, once again, to find lamps to replace the ones my boys destroyed ages ago. It turns out it’s not so easy to find lighting that is (1) sturdy enough to withstand being knocked off tables by little boys and (2) not so sturdy that it will seriously injure little boys while falling off tables.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 2

Finally

If you and I had time to discuss all the ideas we have for our homes and gardens, a la this post, I would report that I exercised some restraint by only planting tomatoes and herbs when I really wanted to go whole-hog and establish The Most Amazing Kitchen Garden Ever.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 3

I’d tell you that we really need some fresh paint around here. And that I’m itching to hang more things on the walls. (Any idea as to how to get your husband to take up a task without nagging him to do it?)

I might admit to making myself yet another schedule to try to get a handle on my life.

I’d say how we really just need to decide whether to get a playset and patio furniture, already.

And that Brennan and I are leaning toward putting on that kitchen addition one of these days, but that we also daydream about having This Old House do an entire home renovation for us. (Oh, the dreams that boring 30-somethings can come up with…)

By this point I’d have bored you to tears – and we’re caught up by now anyway, so I’ll sign off. Time to see what kind of Mass behavior my boys give us this time.

Enjoy your Sunday!

These Walls - Sunday Coffee

Softness in the Slog: Mother’s Day in the Season of Early Motherhood

Well, happy Mother’s Day to you! We haven’t had the smoothest build-up to the day, so I thought rather than posting anything overly sappy about my mom/me as a mom/motherhood in general, I’d keep it real.

Here’s what the past couple of days have looked like for me:

Friday. Rise early to yet another sore throat/ear ache combo. Wake the sick five-year-old so I can get both of us off to our doctors’ appointments. The poor kid has a high fever; he’s so upset about feeling sick and thirsty that he throws up all over the kitchen floor. Miraculously, he doesn’t get any of it on his clothes, so I hand him a bowl and hurry him into the car while my husband tackles the clean-up. I drive him and the baby first to my appointment (sinus infection), then to his (virus that could possibly be triggering his fifth ear infection of 2016).

My doctor sympathizes with my son, admires my baby, and tells me what a good mother I am.

The pediatrician engages my son before she does me. He accurately describes all his symptoms to her, answers all her questions, reads a sign off the wall (“You’re growing like a weed”) and tells her that he is indeed growing like a weed. She is delighted with him. I am delighted too.

We stop at the grocery store on the way home. I nurse the baby in the car; we pick up my prescription and a few groceries. We arrive home to find my mom watching the other two boys. The kitchen bears the marks of general neglect, husband having made pancakes, and an ant infestation in the cereal cabinet.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog - 1

Mom bottle-feeds the baby while I start to deal with the groceries/counters/ants/lunches/diapers/sick child/screaming children mess. After she leaves, I continue to deal with it. For hours. When there finally seems to be enough of a lull for me to nurse the baby again, I steal her away upstairs so the boys can’t find us. A few minutes later my little sickie yells for me from the bathroom. I reluctantly get up, fearing the viral worst. But no, it’s just “Mommy! There’s a string hanging off my sock!”

His fever reaches 104.7; my throat and ears hurt so badly I talk as if I’ve had my jaw numbed in a dental procedure. We. are. pathetic. Brennan arrives home from work; he takes care of most of the bedtime routine so I can be more thoroughly pathetic. He has brought me Mother’s Day flowers.

I fall asleep nursing the baby. A short while later, I (barely) wake to hear Brennan cleaning up one of the boys, who has vomited all over his bed. I wake again to find him lifting the baby out of my arms. He gives her a bottle so I can go to bed.

Saturday. I wake early to the tell-tale sounds of more vomit clean up. This time it’s the other boy. I go in to help but end up messing everything up by getting the toddler up and ready for the day. Brennan says it’s too early to get up. He puts the boys back to bed and I head back to our room to nurse the crying baby. Hours later I wake again. She and I have slept gloriously late; Brennan is making French toast downstairs.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog - 2

My throat and ears are feeling much better. My son’s fever is 103.9 but another round of Ibuprofen works its magic. The boys develop an elaborate scheme for attacking their father with Hot Wheels, toy airplanes, and a model aircraft carrier. The toddler naps while the bigger boys play outside and Brennan pulls weeds. I tackle the never-ending dishes and counter mess. My baby smiles at me. She coos. Sun shines in through the window, onto my flowers.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog - 3

These Walls - Softness in the Slog - 4

One of my sons sings a little song to himself, “I wuv my own Mama! My Mama, my Mama! I wuv my Mama!”

Later our older boy throws up again. Brennan bathes him, then the other two. Shortly after they’ve been put to bed, the toddler’s diaper situation requires yet another bath. I do more dishes. Always, more dishes.

Is that tedious enough for you?

I don’t mean to bore you to tears, I only mean to show you how perfectly appropriate these couple of days leading up to Mother’s Day have actually been.

When I first became a mother, I hoped for Mother’s Days full of gifts or brunch or flower arrangements or time at the spa. (Or at the very least diapers, dinner, and dishes, done by someone other than myself.) In other words, I hoped for one day’s worth of a life that was not my own.

Maybe in the future, when my mothering responsibilities are less constant than they are now, I’ll have Mother’s Days more like those I originally envisioned. But for now, my Mother’s Days (and the days that lead up to them) are much like my everyday life as a mother: a constant slog of hard work, exhaustion, frustration – punctuated by the most beautiful moments of softness.

A compliment, a kind word, a game, a song, a smile, a flower. Hugs and kisses. Bad moods that can be dispensed with tickles and raspberries. The weight of a small child cuddled on my lap.

I did not wake this morning to breakfast in bed, or even choruses of “Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy!” I woke to find my four-year-old playing peek-a-boo with the baby. Soon he was singing and dancing for her from the top of the bed.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog - 5

Today, I’m sure, we’ll continue the slog. I’ll go to church with whichever of my children seem unlikely to infect the masses. Brennan will stay home with the sickies. We’ll get through, and we’ll keep collecting those sweet, soft moments. They’ll help me remember – like nothing else could – how lucky I am to be a mother.

A beautiful Mother’s Day to you and yours.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog

Ready, Not Ready

This past weekend I hit the magical 37-week mark of pregnancy (full term!) and my husband and I cleaned out our minivan. He vacuumed and rearranged the car seats; I cleaned the van’s interior with – what else? – baby wipes.

I also laundered various baby gear, cleaned out my boys’ closet, and starting shifting the toddler’s belongings from his room to his big brothers’. (Kiddo’s getting promoted – a.k.a. demoted – to the rank of “roommate” here in the next week or so. Poor thing.)

I haven’t yet started washing baby clothes, but I am very proud of myself for having pulled out an overflowing bin’s worth of gender neutral-ish clothing from my (much too large) stash of boy stuff.

These Walls - Ready, Not Ready - 1

All that is to say, between the 37 weeks and the weekend’s accomplishments and the fact that (according to last week’s sono) baby girl likely weighs about 8-and-a-half pounds already, by the end of the weekend I was officially Ready For This Child To Be Born.

But then Monday happened.

Monday happened, and though it contained nothing but normal, low-level mishaps, it left me wondering (not for the first time) how I could possibly think I’m fit to handle four children under the age of six. Here’s a sampling of that evening’s Facebook activity:

It’s 5:27 on a Monday evening. At this hour, responsible stay-at-home mommies up and down the east coast are diligently preparing healthy dinners for their families. But me? I’m upstairs hiding from my boys, eating a chocolate doughnut.

My second chocolate doughnut.

However, today was the day of pink eye, pacifiers dropped on exam room floors, toddlers sucking on public chairs and sticking their hands in public (urine-filled) toilets, little napping, excessive screaming, and cackles from the child to whom I’d just said, “You gave Mommy a hard time today, didn’t you?”

So hide I shall.

These Walls - Ready, Not Ready - 2

Update: I returned from hiding just in time to catch Today’s Offending Party removing his poopy diaper. And then putting on a fireman’s helmet to (happily) dance around stark naked.

Today is begging to be mommy-blogged.

These Walls - Ready, Not Ready - 3

My beloved tormentor.

Last week, I was all set to update you fine folks on the health situations I mentioned on New Year’s Eve.

“Though I sit here with a raw nose, watery eyes, and a throat dry from open-mouthed breathing,” I was going to say, “I didn’t want to wait too long to tell you kind souls that things are looking up for our family, health-wise. (Mostly. Because in a household of six people, what would cold and flu season be if somebody weren’t sick at any given moment?)”

But then last week happened, and this one too. And I’m no longer feeling perkily overconfident that we’ll all soon be healthy. Our stupid, nasty cold is hanging on for dear life. Child #1 now has an ear infection; child #2 has an eye infection (and has developed an allergy to the antibiotic prescribed to address it). Child #3 and myself are still congested, sneezing, snotty messes. Brennan has somehow (thank goodness!) escaped the so-called “cold,” but his mother has just succumbed to it.

As much as my sore body wants (Not So) Little Miss Baby Girl to arrive as soon as possible, my good sense really, really wants us to be healthy when she makes her appearance. So I’m feeling a little more down now than I was when I drafted my “things are looking up for our family, health-wise” post.

Still, on one very important count, things are indeed looking up: Brennan seems to be firmly on the upswing. Though he’s still somewhat fatigued, his numbness and weakness are fading. (What a relief!) He’s still experiencing some of the negative effects of the spinal tap – occasional headaches, feeling like his brain is bruised – but he’s not bogged down by them like he was that first week. Every day seems to be getting better, slowly but surely.

Honestly, it’s been like I’m looking at a different (happier, much more comfortable) person from the end of December. The boys and I are so glad to have Brennan “back.”

These Walls - Ready, Not Ready - 4

Somebody was very sad when Daddy had to go back to work after Christmas vacation.

As for me (insofar as the pregnancy is concerned), Baby Girl and I are coming along fine. I’m still experiencing occasional episodes in which I feel faint and I’m contracting (what feels like) pretty much all the time – but I’m fine. Everything is checking out as it should. And unless I go into labor by myself before then (ha! unlikely!), it looks like we’ll be scheduling an induction for sometime around the 24th.

Which is about ten days away.

So… I suppose Brennan and I ought to wrap up some loose ends so we can plant ourselves firmly in the “ready” camp, hm? (That, and we need to get our family healthy.)

Last but not least: Thank you so much to all who have been praying for us and otherwise offering support. I find your kindnesses at once uplifting and humbling. Thank you, thank you.

GoodBYE December, Hello January

Knock, knock.

Anybody there? Remember me – your unreliable blogger? The one with the three little boys and the political opinions and the big ol’ belly?

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 1

This is the kind of shot you get when the 4-year-old mans the camera.

Yes, I managed to fall off the face of the internet again. At first it was, “Okay Julie, you really need to set aside the computer for a bit – you’ve got Thanksgiving coming up and Christmas to begin prepping for and all those jumbles of dishes, laundry, and toys you’ve been neglecting. Mom up.”

But after a few days of happy productivity (Thanksgiving dishes made! Christmas decorations up! House decently neat! Christmas shopping well underway!), we began our decline.

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 2

I have to show off my Thanksgiving tart. Isn’t she lovely?

I didn’t so much notice it as we went along, but as Advent gave way to Christmas and events in our household took a step up in intensity, it really hit me: This month has been hard. I am worn down. And we’re not done.

Allow me to pause here to say to the few of you who noticed my absence for the past (more than a) month: I’m sorry. I do believe it’s been my biggest lapse yet. Until a few days ago, I felt this nagging guilt about it, especially regarding the things I’d left hanging (like my Home to Me blog hop). But now I feel no guilt. Now I realize that we’ve been in survival mode for most of this time. And as far as I’m concerned, things related to blogging simply don’t matter when one’s in survival mode. This is what matters:

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 3

(Well, them and dishes, because if dishes paralyze the kitchen, then the kitchen paralyzes the household.)

So, what’s the deal? It goes something like this: sob story, sob story, icing on the cake, admitting how overwhelmed and worried I’ve felt, then a dose of pull-yourself-together reality.

Sob Story One

In the first week of December, I started to feel faint – like all the time faint, like “Gee, might something actually be really wrong?” faint. So I went to the hospital, where they found my blood pressure to be a bit high, but otherwise gave me a clean bill of health. (I had no markers for preeclampsia, for those of you who know about that sort of thing.) Another kinda-high blood pressure reading the following week won me another round of bloodwork, but that too, thankfully, came back normal. Since then I’ve continued to experience episodes of faintness (not fainting, thank goodness). At first they came every day, but now it’s down to every two or three.

In sum, I started the month by experiencing yet another round of “Julie develops weird symptoms that doctors get worried about until they realize she’s perfectly healthy.” The frequency with which this happens is, frankly, pretty embarrassing, and gives me very little confidence in my own assessment of my health.

Sob Story Two

As my daily episodes of feeling faint tapered off in the middle of the month, my husband began to experience some strange symptoms of his own: His hands went numb. Soon enough his feet did too. And his lower legs. And his lower arms. And he began to experience weakness in those areas. Last week, when the numbness reached his elbows, Brennan took himself to the ER.

The poor guy underwent a barrage of tests, one of which (spinal tap!) he’s been suffering the effects of for a full week. Thankfully, the tests quickly ruled out the scariest possibilities: stroke, brain tumor, multiple sclerosis. But we’re still waiting for the rest of the results. The doctor’s best guess at this point is that Brennan has a mild case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. (Guillain-Barre is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks his nerves. It causes numbness, weakness, even paralysis – sometimes of a person’s entire body, and can take months to recover from.)

Scary and stressful enough, right?

But then there’s the context: It’s Christmas. (Brennan came home from the hospital the evening of Christmas Eve and felt too unwell to attend Mass with us the next morning, or indeed to make it to any of our family gatherings over the weekend.) We have three small boys. (Daddy was able to read “The Night Before Christmas” to them at bedtime, but barely had the energy to open gifts on Christmas morning.) And of course, we’re expecting a baby at the end of January.

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 4

This pic will always make me a little sad because it shows that Brennan wasn’t with us.

Icing on the Cake

A few days before Brennan’s symptoms worsened, our toddler cut his eye on a decorative metal bucket, the other two boys had keep-you-up-in-the-night-coughing colds, and I started having “real” contractions. When my obstetrician confirmed their “real” work, she told me to take it easy. I laughed. “So… what about me taking three small boys into Baltimore this evening for a visit to a pediatric ophthalmologist? For the toddler? Who cut his eye?”

“After that,” she replied.

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 5

Stupid decorative culprit.

In retrospect, my laugh should have been louder and crazier. It certainly has been in the days since. I’ve been telling my girlfriends that I don’t want to hear the words “You’d better take it easy!” unless they’re accompanied by a live-in nanny and/or housekeeper.

Overwhelmed and Worried

Ever since he came home, Brennan has been weaker than usual, exhausted, suffering headaches, and (in an effort to control the headaches, which come from a lack of spinal fluid) limited from carrying anything heavy or moving in certain ways.

So for me, “taking it easy” has looked like lugging around and wrestling into submission the 32-pound toddler. Through my contractions. It’s looked like three hours of sleep after a late, late Christmas Eve spent wrapping presents. It’s looked like ushering various combinations of three little boys to two Masses and three family gatherings by myself. In and out, in and out of the car, contracting and hobbling and feeling faint, loading and unloading ad infinitum.

Or at least that’s how it’s felt in my woe-to-me worry-fests. (What if Brennan’s symptoms continue to worsen? What if he’s out of commission when I have the baby and I have to manage all three boys, a newborn, and my own recovery without his help? What if he too ends up needing my care?)

Pull! Yourself! Together!

Calm down, Julie.

Honestly, I know the reality is much brighter than my worries would have me believe. Brennan’s health problems seem to be temporary. (Indeed, as of this morning, he was feeling better than he has in some time.) My wonderful dad came to help me with the boys while B was in the hospital so I could focus on him and on our remaining Christmas preparations. We’ve had lots of offers of help in the days since then. (Though, mundane as our needs are, I don’t know how to make use of them!)

And while, at eight months pregnant with my fourth child, I’m contracting all the time, occasionally feeling faint, and suddenly feeling very uncomfortable – I’m healthy. And so is the baby. Even if she comes early (and I doubt she will), she should be fine. Full term is just over a week away, and that’s a great place to be.

Our boys are dealing with nothing more daunting than colds and silly childhood injuries. (The toddler’s eye is healing nicely.) They don’t seem to have noticed our concern over Brennan’s health. (Me: “Daddy’s been feeling a little funny lately. He’s at the hospital to have it all checked out, so Grandpa’s coming to help take care of you.” Them: “GRANDPA’S COMING!”) Our mess of a floor is a testament to the many treasures they acquired over the past week, and they’ll probably remember this Christmas as the one when they sat on the sofa with Daddy to watch their first-ever Star Wars movies.

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January - 6

Right now I don’t have it in me to write a grand “Year in Review” post. I can’t sit and reflect on the sum of 2015 or come up with resolutions for 2016. But I can tell you that December was hard and I’m hoping January will be better.

I pray yours will be too. I pray that your hurts will heal, your hopes will be realized, and your joys will be amplified. Thank you for reading along in 2015 (except… yeah… for December); I hope to meet you back here more frequently in 2016.

These Walls - Goodbye December Hello January

Catching Up: In Our Home And On My Mind

My posts have lately been too few and far between, so I thought I’d do some catching up on what we’ve been up to in our home. And on what I’ve been thinking on a slew of random, recent current events. Maybe that way I can settle my mind well enough to tackle properly focused, one-subject posts here soon!

That Blasted Knee

As far as home and family go, my mother-in-law (who lives with us) had her knee replaced in mid-February. Thankfully, the surgery went well and she suffered no complications. My husband’s brother flew in from Minnesota the very day Hilde came home from the hospital to help her kick off (no pun intended) her recovery. It was quite the busy week and I honestly have no idea how I could have managed it by myself. THANK GOODNESS my brother-in-law was here to help.

Besides being relieved for Hilde’s sake that her blasted knee has finally been fixed, we’re all so glad that the surgery no longer looms before us. I feel like I spent half the winter worried that we’d pass on our illness-of-the-moment to Hilde and the other half worried that we’d get some illness that we’d then pass on to her. The surgery could have been postponed! We could have been left without any help during her recovery! It was a nail-biter to the bitter end: Hilde beat a cold just in time and we had a snowstorm the night before the surgery, prompting my husband to hit the driveway with his snow-blower at 4:00 am so he could get her to the hospital in time.

Not the same storm -- but close.

Not the same storm — but close.

But! Now we’re past it and I want to CELEBRATE! Cue the margaritas and the music! Let down your hair! And LET’S BRING ON THE PLAYDATES! GERMS NO LONGER SCARE ME! Your child has a runny nose and a hacking cough? I don’t care! Get us sick! As long as we get some social interaction and views beyond these here walls before we’re felled by the sickness du jour, it will have been worth it!

[Would you believe that within two hours of typing these words, my son started throwing up? Perhaps I should have been more specific: Cold germs no longer scare me. Stomach bug germs most definitely do!]

But… My Back

So we get past the surgery and my brother-in-law’s visit and we get (mostly) back to our usual habits and routines. Then, less than a week later (during which we’d suffered through something like three snow/ice storms), I was just the kind of stupid, out-of-shape idiot to swing my ginormous baby (in his heavy, carrier car seat) into the middle seat of our minivan and WHAM. I injured my back badly enough that three days later I was pretty much immobile, unable to think of anything other than the pain, even while taking painkillers and muscle relaxers.

20150227_125444

Mr. Massive

But the meds and the heating pad and time ultimately did their jobs (and my saintly mother came to help me so I could put off carrying Massive Baby for as long as possible), so by last Tuesday, I was pretty much back to normal. On Wednesday, I felt good.

Until some lady drove her car into ours.

We were parked in a grocery store parking lot – me crouched in the rear of our van, about to unbuckle the boys from their car seats – when a woman drove into us, head-on. She’d been trying to park, so the collision wasn’t that fast or that serious, but I was knocked over and my muscles knew it.

Blah, blah, blah… enough with my sob stories. The bottom line is that I was stiff and sore for a few days AND I’M REALLY READY FOR THIS SEASON TO BE OVER.

Come on, spring! Come on, activity! Come on, season of not being invalids!

(Alright, I think I’m done using ALL CAPS for the rest of this post.)

On Maybe / Kind of / Almost Being Considered A Smart Blog

Back in January, I told you that I’d been nominated for a Sheenazing Award in the “Smartest Blog” category. And then I never fessed up to the fact that I did not end up winning said award. I’m sorry for that. I should have updated the kind souls who voted for me.

But I’m not sorry that I didn’t win. Because I shouldn’t have! Mama Needs Coffee won, and I’m glad for it, because Jenny is one of the smartest things out there. She’s witty, she’s funny, and she writes about tough issues like the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage with great bravery and clarity.

I’m so proud that These Walls was listed alongside blogs like hers and like I Have to Sit Down, Unequally Yoked, Through A Glass Brightly, etc. It’s a great list to be on.

On Current Events

Maryland is one of several states currently considering legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. I think it’s a terribly scary idea. Such legislation is problematic on many counts, but the one that gets to me most is a “what if?” related to the idea of becoming burdensome. None of us want to become a burden to our loved ones in our illness or old age, but what if we really had a choice about it? What if physician-assisted suicide were to be legalized? What if it became normalized, even to the point of being routinely undertaken? What if people started to choose it, not because they don’t want to suffer, but because they don’t want to become a burden to the people they love? What if we started to expect our loved ones to choose physician-assisted suicide so they don’t become burdens to us?

Learn more about the legislation at Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide. And if you’re a Maryland Catholic who hasn’t done so already, contact your legislators via the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Catholic Advocacy Network.

My husband and I had a big argument the other day over the 47 Republican Senators’ letter to the government of Iran. I thought the letter was shameful and inappropriate; he thought it was a proper response to President Obama’s negotiations with that country. I like Michael Gerson’s take on the thing. (Just as I like his take on most subjects.) Brennan and I ended our political debate on the subject with a huffy sort of agreement: though we’re both Republican, neither of us will even consider donating to the party right now. He refuses to support one wing of it; I refuse to support the other.

The Diane Rehm Show’s treatment of the above-mentioned letter provided me with one of my favorite quotes ever, I think: “If your first reaction to hearing of problems of partisanship is to blame the other party, you’re not helping the situation.” (David Rothkopf) This has sort of been my thing, politically, for the past few years. I think people are right to call Washington broken, I just wish they’d recognize their own role in making it so.

And Hilary Clinton totally should have used a State Department email address for official business. Totally. Not only does choosing a personal account over a government one show disregard for the spirit of the rules (and maybe the letter), but it shows a serious lack of foresight. How in the world could she not have expected this to become an issue?

Oh, and this isn’t related to the political kind of current events, but it is current: I saw The Drop Box. The movie was beautiful and powerful and gave me so much to think about. However, I didn’t like that it was immediately followed (and preceded, actually) by a Focus on the Family-driven presentation on the film. That approach may work for audiences sitting in (evangelical) churches, but it felt odd for a public movie theater. As a Catholic, I found the tone of the presentation unfamiliar and (though I know it probably wasn’t, really) artificial. To a truly secular viewer, I imagine it would have been off-putting. The film would have been more powerful if it were presented on its own.

Well, that’s it for now! See you back here soon!

Twenty Minutes (But Not Really)

It’s a blue-skyed, balmy 57 degrees this afternoon, so the boys are outside playing, enjoying the beautiful weather.

P1210436

Let me re-phrase that: I’m enjoying the boys playing outside in the beautiful weather. They’d rather be inside watching a movie, but I told them their choices were outside play or naps in their beds. Surprise, surprise: they chose the former.

I have a million things on my to-do list, but thought I’d take a quick twenty minutes* to post a little update on the blog, because: Quiet! Ohmygosh it is never quiet around here! Boys outside, baby napping, and this the first quiet, awake, non-committed moment I’ve had in a week!

I’ve got to sit here and savor it a bit.

P1210415

P1210419

P1210430

P1210432

We’ve been very busy lately – the typical Christmas stuff, plus commitments and medical appointments and then, for the baby, a hospital stay. The poor, pathetic little thing has pneumonia. He came home on Saturday after two nights in the hospital and fortunately, he’s already most of the way back to his usual happy, peppy self. Brennan and I are slowly (slowly) recovering from all the sleep we lost during the ordeal.

wpid-20141212_171056.jpg

wpid-20141212_141342.jpg

wpid-20141212_193219.jpg

But anyway, I’ve been meaning to note my relative absence from the blog over the past couple of months. And here I am, so here we go!

The thing is, I am an easily-distracted, easily-overwhelmed, easily-overstimulated kind of gal. And I’ve come to realize that I need to get a handle on the things in my life that distract and overwhelm and overstimulate me. Like, really need to – actually need to – not just acknowledge that I need to and promptly move on to something more interesting.

When I try to live my daily life (namely, when I try to mother) in the midst of those distracting, overwhelming, overstimulating things, I fail. At so much. I have too little patience, I enjoy too little time with my children, and I have far, far too many meltdowns.

A few weeks ago I told my boys that I’d be back in a minute: I just needed to take the baby upstairs to put him down for his nap. After I changed his diaper, I set the baby down on the rug with a few toys so I could wash my hands. But then I noticed some bins of clothing that I hadn’t put back in their place, so I went to move them. Then I noticed how dusty that corner of the room was, so I decided to sweep it before I put the bins away. Then I went into the laundry room for the Swiffer, where I remembered that I hadn’t yet switched over the laundry. Then I had to retrieve a laundry basket so I could get the already-dry clothes out of the dryer. Then, just as I started emptying the dryer, I heard (1) the boys erupt in a massive fight downstairs and (2) the baby screaming, tired, ready for his nap.

I ran downstairs, yelled at the boys, and ran back up, flustered. I still needed to wash my hands. I still needed to take care of the baby and the bins and the sweeping and the laundry. I’d wasted all that time, gotten nothing accomplished, and worked myself into a tizzy. This is completely typical behavior for me.

I know there has to be a better way.

So I’m trying to deal with the background noise – the unfinished chores lingering in each room, the fluid schedule, the tasks I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to for far too long, the disorganized ways in which I deal with the information and the responsibilities that come my way.

I’m nowhere near through, but I’m making progress. It’s come at the expense of blogging, spending time on social media, communicating and getting together with my friends, and pretty much any other fun thing I can think of.

For the past couple of months, I’ve tried to find something constructive to do with just about every spare moment I come across. Goodness knows that I could be in this mode for a year and not quite end up where I need to be, but my plan is to push through as well as I can ‘till the end of December. Come the New Year, I’ll try to stretch my legs a bit, to occupy this less-cluttered space (both physical and mental), and see how it works for me. I certainly can’t keep up my current pace forever.

So while you’ll hear from me a few times before then, I probably won’t get into a regular blogging routine until January. I’m hoping that by then I’ll have dealt with enough of my issues to operate on a more organized, more peaceful level.

Hoping.

Wish me luck! And in the meantime, I wish you a blessed Advent, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

P1210391

* Ha! Did I really think I could get away with that? It took an interrupted two hours, full of potty breaks and crying babies, smashed fingers and late naps chosen over outdoor toy clean-up. C’est la vie!

Honesty From A Fed-Up Mommy {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 15)

Welcome to another installment of “My kids are driving me crazy, so let’s focus on the {pretty, happy, funny} and – okay fine – {real} of my little ol’ life this week.”

pretty happy funny real[1]

{pretty}

wpid-20141021_111248.jpg

wpid-20141021_103126.jpg

Baby pictures, but of course. Because he’s undeniably, unequivocally beautiful. But also because he’s too little to be too annoying just yet.

Sure, a cold has transformed the poor child into a fussy, needy, restless little thing with a spigot for a nose, but… those cheeks. Those fat little hands. Those blue (if red-brimmed) eyes. He’s so {pretty}. And so sweet (for now). We’re so, so lucky to have him.

{happy}

wpid-20141016_215611.jpg

Three words: Gin And Tonic

Wait! Two more: Sleeping Children

wpid-20141022_152627.jpg

wpid-20141019_161846.jpg

wpid-20141019_161855.jpg

I know – I’m a horrible mother to be classifying pictures of hard liquor and sleeping children (the two are completely, totally unrelated to each other – promise) as my {happy}. But I’m all about honesty, and those pics? At this moment, they’re honestly what my happy looks like.

It’s just been one of those days. Besides the baby being sick and the weather being miserable, this has been The Day Of Meltdowns. My middle son completely lost it this morning when he woke (very late) to find that his brother had already left for school. He’d wanted to say goodbye. Sweet, hm? (Hint: It would’ve been sweet if the meltdown hadn’t lasted nearly an HOUR!) Then when we picked up big brother from school, BOTH boys lost it over an umbrella – a stupid, yellow, bumblebee umbrella. We ended up walking through the rain in a huddle, me holding the umbrella aloft, them screaming and jumping and grasping and (I think) hitting.

Meltdowns continued in the car and at home, over the above and over who-knows-how-many other things. Just before dinner, I actually illustrated to the boys just how fed up I was by holding a glass under the tap and letting it fill to the brim, then spill over before their eyes: “See this, boys? This glass is like Mommy. At the beginning of the day, Mommy’s got plenty of space. But then lots and lots of noise fills Mommy up through the day and when she gets to the end of it, she doesn’t have any space left, so all the noise spills over and Mommy loses it.” (So please let’s just have a quiet dinner!)

{funny}

If all that’s not {funny} enough for you, how about a bandit/cowboy? Gosh, he’s cute, isn’t he?

wpid-20141017_155802.jpg

And then there’s the game “cowboys having a big cowboy fight.” Apparently it involves ropes (that’s what that toy measuring tape is supposed to be) and swords (sticks, of course).

wpid-20141021_164842.jpg

{real}

We came unprepared (but of course) to the scarecrow-building activity at my son’s school last weekend, so this is as far as we got: scarecrow legs and torso. Nothing to connect them, no head save a precariously (and temporarily) perched pumpkin.

wpid-20141017_164503.jpg

Thus it sits on our porch. It’s cheerful enough, if rather too {real} to be really well done: The thing is headless, propped up next to the two little pumpkins my boys decorated that scarecrow-building evening. It sits below the tacky, cheapy Wal-mart scarecrow I only purchased because my son tore off one of its legs. We are talented seasonal decorators, we are!

 

There! There’s some cheer for your Thursday! Even if it’s only the kind that comes at someone else’s expense. Ah, well… stop by Like Mother, Like Daughter to locate some nicer, kinder cheer – the kind that comes from lovely people reflecting on the {pretty, happy, funny, real} contentment in their own (probably less grumpy) lives. Enjoy!