Monday, December 28, 2009

Four Christmases

I know there is a movie that came out recently with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn titled Four Christmases. I have yet to see that movie. I have, however, lived it.

Our Christmas was a wonderful whirlwind, with the boys anxiously looking forward to their first Christmas (Jeff City at John's parents'), second Christmas (St. Louis at my mom's), third Christmas (St. Louis at our house) and fourth Christmas (Courtois at my dad's). And these four Christmases did not disappoint.

Santa delivered exactly what they asked for, and even managed to produce a picture of Rudolph as requested by Jack. I love the mystery and excitement that comes with believing in Santa and will miss it when they stop believing, but the whole hunt for presents and setting up for Christmas morning will sure be easier once Santa is no longer in the picture.

One of Luke's favorite gifts was a gift I received that he somehow declared both of ours. It is a cooler stool, and I don't think I'll ever get to use it. It is in his room, filled with WebKinz.

He also got a camera, and has been working on taking that one perfect shot that will gain him notoriety as a photographer. This one he believes is the winning shot.

We always see the most interesting things at gas stations on the way to my dad's house.

Jack got a DSi, and I haven't seen his face since.

For the next five days, we plan to play our games, laze about, stay up late, and sleep in. But first, I have to figure out Jack's new alarm clock as it went off this morning at 6:00 am.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!

You helped me get through high school.

You helped me get through college.

You helped me find a job when I desperately needed one.

You helped me get married.

You helped me give birth to Jack.

You helped me give birth to Luke.

You helped me grow up.

Every milestone in my life you've been there, guiding me and moving me along a path that I could be proud of.

But more importantly than the big events, you've been there for me always. All day, every day.

I love you. Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To Spend or Not to Spend

Jack surprised me.

After Christmas Jack often has a case of the Christmas blues. He is sad and doesn't know why or how to put it into words. I try to explain to him how it is normal to feel blue after Christmas, after spending all of your hours surrounded by family and laughter only to have to start thinking about going back to school, after getting to stay up late almost every night and have every day bring something special, after waiting for weeks to open your presents and suddenly it's over.

So the other day he came to me and said, "Sometimes I feel bad after Christmas." I started to delve into my Christmas blues talk but he stopped me. He said, "I know that, but I feel bad because I think you spend too much money on me and in these hard times we should be saving money. Maybe you shouldn't get me so much this year."

I was glad to hear that Jack correctly relates the presents he gets under the tree to the status of our bank account. I'm glad that he has a feeling of financial responsibility, but I don't ever want him to feel responsible for our finances (at least not until he is a top-paid major league baseball player).

I thanked him for his concern and assured him that we were doing fine and that there was no need for him to worry about money.

Then he added two things to his Christmas list.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What'd I Say?

My blog has captured someone's attention. I don't know why, but my post Beyond the Dead has become the target of repeated junk comments. Every day, a few times a day, I have to reject a comment such as this:


Do these symbols actually mean something? Please, someone tell me if I'm being cursed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sleep Symphonies

John has only once told me no in regards to topics for this blog. I asked him if I could record him sleeping and put it on the blog. Not video, just audio. He said absolutely not.

John is a melodious sleeper. He's got his standard snoring, but he also has a symphony of other sounds that he makes while sleeping. I can't describe them. That is what the recording was going to be for.

I am a good sleeper. I can fall asleep just about anywhere, and it takes me only about 3 minutes once my head hits whatever pillow I am using. But, it has to be dark and it has to be quiet. And I'm cranky if it is not dark and it is not quiet and I am in my own bed. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Candy where she's trying to sleep and he's trying to watch t.v. and he ends up with his face nearly pressed against the screen and a blanket over him and the t.v. so the light doesn't disturb her.

So sometimes I wonder if it is just me and my need for silence that makes it hard to sleep through John's snoring.

The other night Jack and Luke had a sleepover in our room while I was out of town. John had fallen asleep with them, which is next to impossible as they are both active sleepers with legs and limbs flying about all night and smacking whoever happens to be next to them in the stomach and head. And Luke can sleep through just about anything. But that night he woke up, woke John up and said, "Daddy wake up. You're snoring three different ways."

See? Symphony.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No Hablo Inglés

Some say English is one of the hardest languages to learn for non-English speaking people. But why should it be?

Each letter in the alphabet has one distinct sound and use.

OK, never mind that, but there is only one letter or combination of letters for each distinct sound.

Ummm, well, there aren't words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

How about each word only has one meaning?

It seems that every rule has an exception. No wonder it takes twelve years of school to get it right.

Right now in school, Jack is learning about verbs, nouns, plurals and possessives. If you were a teacher, how would you explain plurals?

To make a word plural, you always add an "s", like one snake, two snakes.

Unless the word ends in an "s" already, then you add an "es", like one bus, two buses.

Unless the word wants to be Greek or Latin, then you remove the ending sound and add an "i", like one cactus, two cacti.

Unless the word ends in a "y", then you take away the "y" and add an "ies", like one baby, two babies.

Unless there is a vowel before the letter "y", then you just add an "s", like one toy, two toys.

Unless the word is "deer", then the plural is "deer".

Unless the word is one of those words that follows no rule at all, like mouse/mice, child/children, or man/men.

Jack is doing pretty well with learning his plurals, but tends to follow the basic rules for those irregular words he hasn't memorized yet.

He brought home a worksheet the other day in which he lost a point for not correctly providing the plural form of "woman." His answer? "Ladies." I think he should have got bonus points for that answer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Breaking News

I wake up daily this week to a newspaper riddled with world changing news.

President Obama is intensifying the war in Afghanistan.

A serial killer is indicted.

Mr. and Mrs. Reality TV fool security and meet the President.

Health insurance coverage is expiring.

With all that is going on, the news Jack shares when he gets home from school is, "Did you know Tiger Woods crashed his car after cheating on his wife?"

So we talk about rumors, and spreading gossip, and how exactly he knows about Tiger Woods and his reported cheating. I never got a clear answer on that one.

He did ask, "What's a tabloid?"

And I said, "Exactly."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Simple. Innocent. Loving. Real.

My son Jack is a caring, sensitive child with overflowing empathy. He often will give answers such as "World Peace" or "To End Hunger" when asked what his wishes are. And I'm sure he does want these things, but is he giving the answer he thinks he should give, the answer that he thinks adults want to hear?

Jack's school Thanksgiving assignment gave a glimpse into the real Jack, and I liked what I read. It reminded me that there is a child inside that head of his.

What I am Most Thankful For

I am most thankful for my family. One reason I am thankful for my family is because they love me. I am also thankful for them because they buy me food. I also love them because they buy me stuff. They are a great family because they let me watch t.v. Those are some reasons I am thankful for my family.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fun With Gloves

My dad and step mom live in an idyllic country setting about two hours south of St. Louis. It has a pond fed by a natural spring. It is surrounded by National Forest. It is quiet and private. It is picturesque. It is nowhere near emergency services.

So, 10 days ago when my dad thought he was having a heart attack, my step mom had to drive him to the nearest hospital, which then helicoptered him to St. Louis.

He arrived at the hospital on Saturday. All day Saturday, Sunday and Monday, they alternated between getting tests performed, hearing that the tests showed nothing wrong with his heart, and sitting for hours without any information at all. On Monday night my dad was ready to check himself out. The doctors and frantic tears from Linda convinced him to stay for one more test.

On Tuesday they performed a cardiac cath. On Wednesday they performed triple bypass surgery to repair three of the five blockages. He woke up during the surgery, something they said would never happen. He also put up quite a fight with the nurses after the surgery, trying to get out of bed and pull out his tubes and wires. It took four of them to hold him down and finally get him sedated. The phrase, "Strong as an ox" comes to mind.

On Thursday morning they removed the breathing tube and moved him out of ICU one day ahead of schedule because he was doing so well.

On Friday they diagnosed him with MRSA, the antibiotic resistant superbug.

On Saturday, I brought the boys up to surprise him. They weren't allowed in the room because of the MRSA, but they could stand in the hall and talk to him, which they did.

And what do you do if you are a young boy at the hospital? You play with medical gloves. They make great balloons. Luke discovered while wandering the halls of the hospital that if you squeeze them just right while wearing them they make a fun squeak. Luke was happy to demonstrate this fun trick.

Yesterday my dad got to go home. He will have months of recovery, but I think he'll surprise everyone with how quickly he gets there. As long as his five large dogs take it easy on him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And You Can Feel It Swaying

We finally got to take the boys to Chicago. This is something we've been wanting to do for a long time, and it was worth the wait. The weather was great. The hotel was free. The fear factor was unparalleled in St. Louis.

Take for example this:

Nice view, eh?

How about this view?

Or this one, which was a little hard for me to enjoy with Jack's death grip and the feel of the building swaying ever so slightly.

If you need some perspective, this should provide it for you:

Or this view from the ground, showing the boxes in which we were standing:

So if you are in Chicago and need an adrenaline rush, head to the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.

And be sure to take the City Pass with you. Our wait went from 2 hours to 2 minutes with our special tickets.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ominous Feelings

Have you ever had the feeling that something bad was going to happen to someone you love? I've had that feeling lately. There's no reason behind it, no explaining it or pinpointing it, but the feeling is there nonetheless.

Like when I'm driving with the boys in the car, I am worried about being in an accident. I've never been in an accident before so think maybe I'm due.

Or when the phone rings, I hesitate before answering expecting bad news on the other end.

So when I'm feeling like this, I am slightly high strung. I am craving quiet, safe activities that don't involve running with scissors.

What I am not craving is the boys on the roof, staring over the peak from the flat spot, yelling down and waving. And when I anxiously yell up, "Sit on your butts! Don't move! This was a bad idea! Come down now!" the response I get is "Oh Mom. Don't worry." That's like telling me not to breath.

And I am not craving a brush burning party, with fire lapping the lower branches of our tree and our dog circling the burn area barking like a mad man while the boys wait near the edges for the snakes to slither out of the fire's way. And when I start screaming, "The tree! The tree!" what I am not craving is John's leisurely stroll with the hose because he wants a few more leaves to burn up before he puts the fire out.

I am now convinced that the ominous feeling I've had hasn't been for a loved one but for my own well being, and the bad thing I have been running from is my own heart attack, which I narrowly escaped this weekend. Maybe I'll feel safe tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dog Ate My Homework

Halloween is our thing. We love dressing up. We love carving pumpkins. We love making our house spooky. We love burying ourselves in a big hole in the yard and jumping out at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters as they approach our door.

Each year we try to come up with cool and unique pumpkin carving ideas. We spend hours looking for the perfect pumpkins to complete our plan. We carve pumpkins like this:

This year, I carved an evil snowman made from three white pumpkins. It took forever to clean out the slimy, stringy white pumpkins. It looked great. Here is what is left of it:

Yes - my dog ate my pumpkin. When I saw him sniffing around the carved pumpkins, I covered them with a tarp. And put folding chairs on the edges. And put a cooler on top. He still managed to get under the tarp and drag out the pumpkins. He even ate the candle.

At least he didn't get these, which have been moved to the safety of the garage and will only get one night of glory:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beyond The Dead

Every month or so, our school opens up a glass front case in front of the cafeteria and calls it the "School Store." They sell pencils, erasers, notebooks, key chains, and other little trinkets for $0.25 to $1.00. My boys look forward to these school store days so they can buy 100 tiny erasers for 50 cents.

My entrepreneur Luke has figured out a new use for the school store. He buys highlighters for a quarter and then resells them to people visiting our house for $1.00.

He has made his room a store. His desk is the display case. He has bags full of change. He has made signs of all of his inventory and what the cost is. If you are looking for a glow-in-the dark bat that cost a dollar but is being resold for three, now you know where to go.

He even has a name for his store. He wanted a Halloween name because he only wants his store to be open around holidays and Halloween was the next upcoming holiday. I suggested Ghoulish Goodies. He said, "Too lame." I suggested Dracula's Castle. He said, "Too old school." I don't even know what that means. I said, "Well what about something like 'The Other Side'?" And he said, "I know! Beyond the Dead!" I don't know if I'd shop at a store with that name, but I obviously had no acceptable options so he went with it.

He even gave me a job. He told me that I could be in charge of making the change. But, I got fired less than an hour later because I wouldn't let him have candy before dinner.

A compelling name, a varied inventory, seasonal hours, low overhead, a no-nonsense approach to managing, a 500% markup. I think I have a successful business owner in the making.

So, if you stop by for a visit be prepared to leave with something from the store. Luke is a very persuasive salesman. And he has thirteen dollars in profits to prove it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

And It Was John Who Showed Them This To Begin With

I don't know what is more annoying - this:

Or your kids watching this video over and over and then spending the rest of the week saying, "Hey, hey mom. KNIFE."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The House Where John Lives

This is the house where John lives.

This is the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is the new fire pit that John built on the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is the trash can where John put his ash after having a fire in the new fire pit on the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is the garden hose that John used to put out the fire in the trash can where John put his ash after having a fire in the new fire pit on the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is what is left of the trash can after using the garden hose to put out the fire in the trash can where John put his ash after having a fire in the new fire pit on the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

This is proof that, even after the fire in the fire pit has been out for 24 hours, it is not safe to put ash in the trash can after having a fire in the new fire pit on the patio in the backyard of the house where John lives.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Get Rich Quick

I wouldn't describe Jack as materialistic. Although he likes to have stuff and gets excited when he thinks about the next thing he can buy, he doesn't judge people by what they do and do not have and he is just as happy with a piece of paper and a pencil than he is with his Nintendo DS.

That said, he is very interested in money, and having money, and how much things cost, and how he can get rich. Being only eight years old, his concept of "rich" is a little askew. He thinks if he had $10,000 he would be considered rich. And I guess he would be rich, for an eight year old.

Because of his desire to be rich, he is often planning and scheming. He doesn't expect the money just to fall in his lap. He knows he will have to work for it. So he spends time thinking about jobs and asking questions regarding careers and how much people get paid. He puts thought into his future career, trying to take what he loves and determine if he could get rich doing it.

A recent conversation began with him asking what was the best college in the country. When I started explaining about how many colleges there were out there and how colleges were known for being the top for different areas of study, he could see that graduating from the best college in order to get rich wouldn't be as simple as he thought.

That moved on to, "How much do you get paid to own a newspaper? Are people that own newspapers rich?"

I answered that some may be, but some may not be. It depends on how many people buy your newspaper. I guess that sounded too complicated for him, so he asked, "What is the best baseball college?"

I explained to him that there really isn't a baseball college, that you choose your college based on what you want to study and then can play baseball at that college if you make the team.

Also too complicated so he asked, "How much money does a butler make?"

I guess he's hoping to get rich through proximity.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Goooooo, Tigers!

John has been coaching Jack's baseball team for several seasons now. When he first started and I went to watch the games, the boys looked so cute and tiny, runny willy-nilly around the field with no idea where the ball was headed. Half the time, the boys would be distracted by a bug or the dirt on the field and forget that they were in the middle of a game. Sometimes, they sat right down on their butts in the middle of the field, needing a break.

It's been quite an adventure watching this team, gauging the progression of their skills, seeing their love of the game grow and their discipline for playing grow along with that love. They are still boys, however, and do sometimes still get distracted by something other than the game. At one game, a boy decided he needed to go to the bathroom and started running off the field. It wouldn't have been that big of deal if he hadn't been the batter at the time. Poor guy. I think he struck out just so he could go pee.

The boys love to practice, love to play, and have been gracious, although disappointed, when they've lost. They slowly started winning games here and there, and then this fall baseball season their play came together in succinct harmony:

Even if they never win another game, they've got this first place trophy to admire. But, given the size of that trophy, I think the desire to win will overshadow the distractions on the field.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons From the Dog Park

Luke confessed that he hasn't been playing with anyone at recess. I asked him why and he said all of his friends play kickball. I asked why he doesn't play with them. He said he used to but he doesn't anymore.

With Luke, there is almost always more to the story but he won't share it if you push him. He has to tell it in his own time.

Finally, he divulged that one of the boys, nicknamed Bubba at the boy's own request, called Luke the "Worst Kickball Player in the World" when Luke didn't make a play. So Luke quit playing on the spot and won't play anymore. He chooses to do his own thing at recess, alone, rather than face more embarrassment and berating. This makes me want to go to every recess with him and play with him, but I know I can't.

I talked to him about this kid and how he plays kickball. He's not perfect, of course, so we talked about how he may name call to take the attention off of himself. We talked about insecurities and doing what you want in spite of name calling and not letting someone bully you out of having fun. We talked about practicing kickball in the backyard to build his confidence.

There is another boy that plays kickball at recess that Luke has been in a friendly competition with since Kindergarten. He refers to him as a "friend who is my archenemy." This kid is smart and athletic and popular. Luke never showed much interest in him outside of their competition. Luke invited him to our house to play yesterday, and I wonder if he thinks moving from competition to friendship with this boy will ease his recess woes. Kind of like Smalls and Benny in the Sandlot.

I was terribly shy in school, and had someone not spoken with me I probably would have spent most of my days alone. I was not one to make the first move. I painfully remember how hard it was to make friends and how honest and mean kids can be to each other.

At the dog park the other day, I watched how the dogs interacted. Each time a new dog came in the fenced area to play, all of the other dogs would run up to it. They would do a little greeting and tail wagging, and then they'd all run off as a group to play. Whenever one dog saw or smelled something interesting, all of the other dogs would run over to check it out. There was no ganging up, no hurt feelings, no one left out of the play. Too bad it can't be this simple for kids.

Maybe I should suggest a field trip to the dog park to observe the social interactions of an animal who knows nothing more at that moment than wanting to play and have fun with everyone. I think there are good lessons to learn there, sans the butt sniffing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Christmas Conundrum

With Christmas just a few short months away, evidenced by the Christmas displays at Target right next to the Halloween candy, my boys have turned their attention to Santa.

Jack mentioned, with a slight sense of trepidation, that none of his friends believes in Santa. And, as kids do, these friends have offered him much evidence as to why Santa isn't real and are pressuring him to embrace the dark side. He dropped this on me in the car the other day, when my defenses were weak and I had in no way practiced a Santa speech or explanation. And Luke was in the car, so I didn't want to come clean for that and many other reasons.

"My friends say Santa isn't real. Is he real, Mom? Or is it you and dad that got that t.v. for me and get us our presents every year?"

"Some people believe in Santa and some don't. I think he's real."

"So it wasn't you that brought the t.v. to my room?"

"It was Santa."

"Do you swear?"

And there it is. The Question. It is an unwritten rule with my boys that if someone asks, "Do you swear?" that the response can only be the truth. How do I get out of this one without lying to The Question but also not giving up on the magic of Santa? Especially with Luke in the car?

Because truthfully, I am not ready for Jack or Luke to stop believing in Santa. Because if Jack stops, Luke will stop because Jack would not be able to keep that secret. Because it is so much fun to keep that belief alive and to have Santa's presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Because, for one to two months out of the year, I can use the "Santa's watching," method of discipline that never fails to work.

So I said, "I believe in the magic of Santa, and we can talk about it more later if you want."

And Jack, who is smart and could have easily seen through that if he was ready to stop believing, said, "I think I'll believe you instead of my friends. You always tell the truth."

So he has two disappointments waiting when the truth is revealed.

And Luke, who was listening intently to this entire conversation, said, "Why does Santa only bring one expensive present every year? He should bring more."

And that successfully changed the subject from whether or not Santa is real to how the boys can get more presents this year. I better start saving for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who Needs a Radio?

When in a boy's life does everything become a competition? I can't pinpoint the defining age or event that turns brothers into competitors, making every daily chore or monotonous task a fight to the finish. There must be some reason, other than chromosomal tendencies.

What used to just be walking to the car is now a race to get to the car first, usually with one person calling for the race and beginning the race in the same split second and winning due to the head start with the loser crying foul and claiming they won because they touched the right rear taillight first and that was the finish line.

What used to just be getting dressed, taking a bath, eating and any number of daily activities now has a built in element of who can finish first, fastest, best.

Sometimes I can use this to my advantage. When we are in the car and the boys are screaming and my head is pulsing with each increasing decibel, I can pull out the "One, two, three - Hush Puppy!" and the boys immediately become silent in their quest to win the game of who can be quiet the longest.

Their newest competition is over our dog Indy. Who gets to pet him first, who gets to hug him longest, who Indy gets to lay with, who he puts his head on in the car and who gets the butt region are all common points of contention. It makes Indy's head spin.

But can you blame them, when he is so cute and cuddly when he's tired?

When coming home from the park the other day, Indy should have gotten in the car and immediately fallen to sleep. But both the boys wanted his head. Jack began singing quietly and soothingly to Indy. To my pleasure, this went on for several minutes until Luke figured out what was going on. He chimed in with his own song, trying to get Indy to come to his side. What we ended up with was a muddled battle of the bands in the back seat of the car, and one very confused, wide awake dog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A New Age of Gross-ness

When I was a kid, there wasn't much that wouldn't gross me out. In elementary school, I was always the follow-up puker. You know the one - the one that would get sick simply because they saw or heard or smelled the vomit of someone else. I also gagged at the sight of boogers, snot, poop, and almost anything else you can think of that is the crux of being a parent.

This gross-out reflex didn't stop at adulthood. One summer when I was home from college, I spent a week babysitting my cousin Clayton, who, unfortunately for him, had to wait patiently whenever he had a poopy diaper while I left the room three or four times to gag and gain composure before I could finish the job. Each time I stepped out of the room, I'd say, "Just a minute Clayton. It's o.k. I'll be right back." And when I stepped back into the room, he had of course moved just enough on the diaper to smush the poop around causing me to gag even more.

Once I had my own kids, I outgrew my gag condition fairly quickly. What choice did I have? Everyone said I would but I didn't believe them. They were right, though, and I have managed to gain control over the gag reflex. Not that my boys don't try to gross me out. I have been assaulted with burping, farting, booger wiping, snot stains, chewed up food spitting, dirty underwear, urine in odd places, poop up the back, and projectile vomiting.

But with all of the training, all of the building up of defenses, nothing quite prepared me for this:

or this

I now have to deal with this spitty mouth guard that oozes drool that gets placed on surfaces only known by Luke and then put back in his mouth and has to be sterilized and I find it all over the house covered in gunk and it is just disgusting.

I also have to deal with this *ahem* cup that Jack loves dancing around in with his sliding pants on like a baseball stripper down to his last garment but that I find sitting on things like the kitchen table and who wants to see a cup sitting on the eating surface whether or not it actually has come into contact with his goods and pieces?

I knew sports would be dangerous and competitive, but I had no idea they would add this new level of gross-ness to our house.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Luke found the lid to a plastic storage tub, the storage piece of which has long since disappeared.

When he saw the image stuck on the lid, he said to John, "I found the thing you changed my diapers in when I was baby."

Luke equating this symbol:

to something that is an acceptable activity, or blocking out that symbol from his vision completely, explains so much about his behavior and personality. It also reaffirms my belief that I am in for a wild ride with him.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Trust Me: The Light is Not Taunting You

It was a beautiful morning.

The birds were chirping.

The flowers were blooming.

The typical August heat and humidity were missing and the air was pleasantly breathable.

The sun was shining through the windows.

Radiance was reflecting off of every surface.

And my nut-job of a dog decided to try to eat the light out of the wall.

I rue the day we bought that laser toy. We created a light-obsessed monster.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prayers Answered

Since Jack's confusing, unexpected and scary diagnosis, we've been talking quite a bit about prayers. Jack was surprised to hear that I pray every night. He was even more surprised to hear that I pray for him and Luke every night. I don't know why this would come as a shock to him. I guess we don't talk about it much. We talk about his prayers but not about mine. So I told him a little about it. I told him that I pray for him always, and not just when he is sick. I also told him that I am not just asking God to keep him safe or make him well, but that I am always thanking God for the gifts of Jack and Luke.

We had the appointment with the Pediatric Neurosurgeon on Saturday at 8:00 am. That is waaaayyyy too early in the morning to have to think about spinal cord surgery. We were the only family in the office so got an abundance of attention. First, a PA came in and asked Jack several questions and put him through a battery of strength and motor skills tests while the neurosurgeon reviewed his MRI. Then, the neurosurgeon and another doctor came into the room and called John and me into another room to discuss the films. I was hoping we would pass by a toilet on the way so I could puke.

What he told us was that this:

was likely something that Jack was born with, is not all that uncommon, and would likely close itself up as Jack grew. He said he saw nothing obvious that would be the cause of it, no blockage of spinal cord fluid flow, and would recommend another MRI in one year to confirm his diagnosis. Basically, what we had was wonderful news and answered prayers.

As we left the doctor's office and explained to Jack what the doctor said, Jack said, "I knew I would be fine because I have been praying. Will you come to my next MRI, Mom, and rub my feet when they get tingly like you did last time?" So now I need to make an appointment with a cardiologist to repair my melted heart.

But, I do have to say that what really scares me is this:

I wonder if we could turn this image into Jack's next Halloween costume.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our New Old Life

Our new life has started. It is eerily similar to our old life. Our old life before John started his own business. Our old life before he was home all the time. Our old life before we lived on one income.

So our choice was for John to go back to work or to give up our house. We decided to keep our house. I'm wondering if we made the right decision.

This week has been a might bit stressful. Not that the last year and a half wasn't stressful with John trying to get his business off the ground and watching our savings dwindle from a nest egg to Oh My Gosh We Have No Money. But we're back to our old ways with John going to work every morning, now even before the kids wake up, and me running the school routines while working my 40. Not that we won't make it work. It will just take awhile to get used to again. And maybe we'll decide it's not worth it. Maybe we'll give up our house after all. Or maybe we'll win PowerBall.

I do enjoy driving the boys to school again. They are very talkative and hilarious in the mornings. We spend the drive jamming out to Spongebob's greatest hits. It is oddly exhilarating. And the boys are adjusting to the new schedule too. They miss their time with their daddy, and even notice on most days that they haven't seen him in the morning. They want to stay up late with him into the night talking. That means I have to nag them from their beds in the morning, but I have figured out that waking them up at 7:15 am to allow for 15 minutes of Wii is the difference between them jumping out of bed and me dragging them out of bed.

They graciously let me walk them to their rooms on the first day of school. I needed that. I did not get a kiss from Luke, though, and he informed me, "This will NOT be happening when I go into second grade next year."

We'll see about that.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Does Love Weigh?

With school not beginning until Tuesday and my husband traveling for a new job, last week stood to be a stressful one. I was attempting to take over 100 pages of notes from a recent project and mold them into a functional and understandable product for my client. I had been attempting this for several days and time had run out.

Luckily my sister came to the rescue and, instead of me juggling the boys on one hand and typing with the other, she entertained them in that special way only aunts can do. Thanks, Nanny (which is her nickname, not her job description).

I had to share something she sent to me in the mail. She does this often. I'll open the mailbox and out of the blue there will be a thought or a sentiment from her just because. This one in a little red envelope nearly escaped my attention because it's the size of a gift card.

It reads, "Thank you for sharing life with me. I love you, Shannon."

Luckily, it was attached to this:

This envelope is from the Postal Service and requires $0.22 postage due on my sister's little envelope. That is such my sister's luck. She would have been devastated to know that her note arrived attached to a bill. Just thinking about the expression on her face when I would tell her had me cracking up. So I didn't tell her. But I posted it here so she could read about it and be surprised, knowing that the note brought me love and laughter all in one.

I don't know why it came with a postage due envelope, because the envelope had a $0.42 stamp attached and it was a teeny, tiny envelope. Maybe it was overweight because of all the love stuffed inside.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Pain of the Dentist

The nervous energy that accompanies a trip to the dentist manifests itself in my boys the way most things do - they wrestle.

And I think our dentist and all the people that work there know this. They seem to be finely attuned to the moods of children. And they have decked their office, lobby and tooth torture areas out with myriad ways to distract the kids from the impending chair treatment.

Just check out the pictures on their website and you'll see what I mean.

There is a large fish tank with colorful fish aka Finding Nemo. There is a bird aviary. There is a play room with things to climb on, things to stack, things to read, and a computer loaded with games. There are televisions playing kid-friendly programming. The furniture is soft and oddly shaped and fun to crawl on. The walls are painted with murals of big fish and sharks and octopi. The hygienists and office workers wear St. Louis Cardinal shirts.

With all of this stuff, you think my kids would be entertained for the fifteen minutes that they wait for their names to be called. But they've seen it all before - every 6 months to be exact. So they resorted to the one activity that never grows boring and that activity is driving their mother insane.

I managed to distract them a bit by letting them take pictures of the fish tank with my phone. But then they started fighting over who took more pictures and I had to take the phone away and they started wrestling again.

The (imagined?) looks of disapproval from the other parents with perfect children began when I couldn't control my boys, so I did what any mom on the fifth day of a low-grade fever with snot dripping and her nose skin peeling from incessant wiping whose husband was on the second day of a four day business trip would do. I bribed them with new Nintendo DS games.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Calming Activity

We've come down with a nasty little summer bug at our house. First Luke, then Jack, then John, then me.

We were all lazing about the house with me on the couch and Jack deciding to entertain himself right before bedtime with a non-energetic activity. He thought he would build a fort because, "building a fort is a calm activity and mom likes calm." Although the sentiment touched me and made me chuckle, most ideas that my boys come up with either begin or end on the other end of the spectrum from calm.

Here is the fort he built:

From the top of the stairs

And from the bottom.

The strategically placed tube gave the boys a great slide to climb up or down, to hide from Indy while he tried to eat their toes, or to try to teach Indy how to climb. It also gave them the perfect avenue to crack their heads on the concrete and brick wall.

The fort itself became a study of our household members' flexibility, as it had to be traversed to make it up the steps to the bedrooms. A stall tactic by the boys perhaps to avoid going to bed? I was tempted to march them through the back door and up the driveway, but I was too tired. So I climbed the menagerie of blankets, pillows, cushions, foot rests, and death traps.

For sick boys, the energy bubbled over. The fort soon became an undersea ghost world where Indy was a ghost shark trying to eat them. We warned them time and again to settle down or someone was going to get hurt. Luke said, "I'll get hurt," with the excitement of a child volunteering to go to the carnival. "I'll hit my head right on that thing." To an outsider, this statement from Luke may be perceived as sarcasm or sass. But Luke is always the one to get hurt and he was simply stating a known fact. He didn't want to stop playing over something that was inevitable.

Before too long, I was pulled from the couch by a crying Luke. Jack had gotten too rough, had not thought things through, and had hit Luke in the eye with a piece of flying fort. Game over. Time for bed. "But I'm sick and too tired to go upstairs," proclaimed Jack. It's easy to pull the sick card at the end of the day when there is no chance of missing anything fun.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

When A Bump Is, But Isn't, Just A Bump

I was pushing Jack on the swing. He asked me to push him on his butt because his back was hurting. I didn't pay much attention.

Later we noticed a bump there. We took him to have it looked at. The doctor scheduled an MRI.

I got to be in the room with him. It was an open-sided MRI machine. It looked like a giant UFO. We talked about being an astronaut and pretending to be a Pokemon.

I reminded him he had to be very still. I remembered my own MRI and how I was enclosed and cried through the whole thing. I would tell him that story when he was finished with his own. He laughed. He was braver than I was. I told him I was claustrophobic. He told everyone I had a disease.

The technician taped a vitamin to his back so the radiologist would be able to focus on the spot we were concerned with when reading the films. I couldn't stop thinking of the story of the Princess and the Pea, worrying that he wouldn't be comfortable laying on that vitamin.

After 35 minutes, they conveyored Jack out and we waitied for the doctor to read the films to see if he needed the contrast injection. It took 20 minutes for that decision, with Jack still strapped down and me rubbing and rotating his legs, which had begun to go numb and tingly. The doctor was consulting with a patient with sad news after a mammogram. I wondered if that would be us soon.

Jack needed the contrast. His eyes got big, he started breathing heavy, but was fine after he heard everything that was going to happen and she showed him all of her tools. Jack has to have an explanation and see all the implements before moving forward. His doctors and dentists know this about him. Seven more minutes and he was done.

We couldn't wait for our results. We had to go pick up Luke. We would have to distract ourselves for 48 hours and try not to think the worst. The radiologist called 15 minutes later with a preliminary report. I ran home and jumped on the Internet. Probably a mistake given the oodles of information with no specific explanation behind it.

We kept the weekend full. We went to see Harry Potter. Jack and John went to a Cardinal game. Jack played in his All-Star game. Jack and Luke had a sleepover at meemaw's. John and I went to a Cardinal game. I tried to ignore Jack's unopened box of school supplies on the dining room table. I can be too grim.

The doctor called. Syringohydromyelia. A rare disorder. Jack has always been unique and continues to be so, even in illness. Jack hasn't been experiencing symptoms from the disorder so may just need monitoring and not surgery. We have an appointment with a pediatric neurosurgeon to figure out our next steps.

The bump the vitamin was taped to? Didn't even show on the MRI. Without the bump, we wouldn't have discovered the syrinx in his spinal cord. And maybe we didn't need to. Maybe Jack would have gone his whole life never experiencing symptoms. Or maybe not. I have to think that bump showed up for a reason.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weapons of Mass Destruction

I really admire those new mothers to sons who say they are going to try to discourage violent play in their households by not buying toy guns and knives and the like for their boys. I also would like to say good luck with that. Because they are soon to find out, as most mothers that I've spoken with that have tried to go down this path eventually find out, somehow, someway, boys will have toy weapons. They will take something and make it into a gun or a knife, no matter how benign that object may appear to anyone loaded with x chromosomes and over the age of 12.

Take paper airplanes. My kids discovered a page on how to make paper airplanes in The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden. Dangerous indeed. Paper on its own is relatively safe. It's lightweight, it can't be thrown very far, it doesn't hurt when you hit someone with it unless crumpled into a tight little ball. Barring a rogue papercut or two, I wouldn't consider paper itself very dangerous.

The actual process of building paper airplanes also went well. The boys sat down with John and very patiently folded their pieces of paper into the correct shapes to make the appropriate planes. No fighting, little arguing, just the anticipation of whether or not their airplanes would fly.

Then the testing came. And boy did they fly! The airplanes went from one side of the room to the other. They did spirals and flips, probably accidentally but the tricks were still magnificent. And this is where it began to deteriorate.

Jack's plane accidentally hit his dad in the forehead. John made a funny noise, keeled over and said, "You got me!" The game was on. No more peaceful gliding. No more loop-di-loos. No more seeing which plane would travel the greatest distance or who could catch their plane in mid air. The gauntlet had been thrown down. And John's head made a fantastic target.

It is amazing how quickly, in the hands of a boy, a toy can go from nice and quiet to destructive and hazardous. The paper airplanes became bombers with passengers crashing to fiery deaths as they pummeled John over and over in his face, head, belly, and backside. I considered asking him to put on safety glasses for fear he would lose an eye, and at one point when an airplane hit his throat thought he had been given an unscheduled and unneeded tracheotomy. Luckily, the sharp airplane points don't hold up to much abuse and they were dulled by his body in no time.

So to those moms out there who hope to stave off violent play in their homes, I wish you good luck. And remind you to keep a close eye on your husband. In my home he is often the instigator.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Simplest of Things

Luke will be playing flag football in the fall. He played baseball this summer and proclaimed it, "not his sport." He feels that football will be his sport because it will be full of action with "no stupid waiting around for something to happen." We'll see. He may play one game of football and wish for some of the sweet downtime of baseball.

In preparation for his football season, we bought him the pee-wee sized football that will be used in his league. He played with it a little, and then proclaimed it the best thing he has ever gotten. Ever. And over the course of a few days, he has not let it out of his sight. He sleeps with it. And every hour or so he restates that it is the best present that he has gotten in years. In his life even.

This from the kid that begged for the Robo-Quad for Christmas. And from the kid who couldn't live without the DRex Pet. And from the kid whose life would be ruined if he did not get the 3D Video Spy Car.

So come December when he is making out his list to Santa, I am going to remind him of his past technology overload and how he played a total of 7 minutes with all of these toys and how the simplest of gifts earned his top honors. And I hope he'll remember still how much he loved his football. Because Santa is not made of money. But, Luke will remind me that Santa doesn't need money. His elves make all the toys that kids ask for.

And I'll have to remind him that Santa has to buy all the materials, and microchips are very expensive.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Keeping Secrets

At their young ages, my boys still feel that they can come to me with secrets. They still trust me to keep their secrets, and when they have a secret burning inside of them that someone told them that they just have to get out, they know that they can share it with me. In a nutshell, they aren't teenagers yet.

I have to be careful with this, though. I have to clarify before hearing the secret my rules of nondisclosure. When the boys, usually Jack, come to me with, "If I tell you a secret do you promise you won't tell?" I have to say to them first, "Is someone in danger? Is someone going to get hurt? Is someone going to hurt someone else? Is someone doing something bad?"

If the answer to each of these questions is "No," then I agree to keep the secret. They know that if they answer "Yes" to any of the questions, that once I hear the secret I might have to tell someone else to protect the bearer of the secret. The boys have been fine with this arrangement so far because I've never had to tell the secrets they've shared with me. As I said before, they're not teenagers yet.

Jack came to me recently with a secret regarding a girl that he is close to and I won't share her name so as not to reveal his and her secret. When he told me that she told him a secret but it was too good to keep and he had to tell someone, I agreed to hear it and asked him my questions. He answered "No" to each of them (whew!) and I promised I wouldn't tell anyone.

"She met Joe Jonas and he asked her to marry him and her mom signed a contract saying she could marry him now even though she's not old enough."

The "she" he is talking about is ten years old.

I guess I need to have a talk with Jack about my questions and what it means for someone to be in danger or whether or not someone is going to get hurt. Because I think marrying Joe Jonas would qualify as imminent danger. Have you seen those pants he wears?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Caribbean Can Wait

Fourth of July was our 11th wedding anniversary. We didn't spend the weekend in St. Thomas, USVI where we got married,

but we did spend it in Marshall, MO and Shawnee, KS. That's just as good, right?

The boys think so, who spent Thursday night playing with farm kittens, riding the go-kart, and doing fireworks.

The boys think so, who spent Friday playing XBox with their good friends Gavin and Grant.

The boys think so, who spent Saturday morning at a Fourth of July parade collecting candy, even though there were occasional lulls in the booty.

The boys think so, who spent Saturday afternoon at Power Play, playing video games and Laser Tag and cashing in tickets for cheap junk that required super glue 30 minutes out of the building.

Indy thinks so, who spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday playing non-stop with his new friend, Ziggy, at the home of our hosts and the world's greatest dog park.

And John and I think so, who spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday watching our kids have a blast, being cooked great food, and hanging out with our friends and each other.