Thursday, September 25, 2014

Honest Birthday Wishes

After I posted photos on Tuesday detailing my efforts to descend into madness make Graham's cake, I noticed at least five other posts on my Facebook news feed from parents with sweet, tender messages to their children on their birthdays.

Nine years ago today my wonderful daughter was born.  Not a day has gone by that I haven't loved you more than the last.  Your hair is spun gold and your eyes like deep pools of chlorinated water.  I am so proud of you, my angel.  Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Graham!  I like your one missing shoe in this photo.  It's okay that I asked you six times to put it on- you must have know what a good photo op it would make.  My mistake!
That's lovely.  It really is.  But despite telling my kids how much I love them everyday, I'm not the saccharine, overly emotional type on social media.  And truth be told, not every day feels like a miracle when you're a mother.  Sometimes you just want to buy something for yourself but can't because you need diapers, and sometimes you feel like exploding because your five year old locks the door to use the bathroom but you get an audience.  Sometimes you hit your limit and need a break, but can't get one.

And sometimes you feel like being honest on Facebook.

So yesterday I refrained from commenting about how Adler turned four months old, and how amazed by him I am everyday (which I am).  I didn't share how the kisses he rewarded me with were among the sweetest I'd ever had (which they were) or how I can't possibly imagine our family being complete without him (which I can't).

Instead, I'll just say this:

Happy 4 months, Adler!  You have taught me so much in such a short time.  I had no idea your tiny body could produce so many fluids, or that you could shoot them out with such force!  Congratulations for that.  I was also unaware that by having three boys I now present myself as certifiably insane in the minds of some of my peers.  How cool!  I was due for a makeover. 

I have so many dreams for your future.  One day, I imagine that you will let me cook dinner without crying.  Maybe I could even feed you something that you didn't acquire by sucking on my appendages until they were raw.  Fingers crossed!  Wouldn't it be great if you grew to be super successful and decided to return the favor to ol' Mom and Dad?  Put me down for a trip to Barbados.

So here's to the next four months, and the many laughs we'll share together.  I love you!
Love, Mom

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Confectionary Insomnia

365 days.  Twelve months.  One year.
That's how long it took for me to catch up on my sleep after Cael and Graham's birthdays last year, and the time is upon me yet again.  Sure, I could just buy them a few gifts and get a store bought cake, but what fun are memorable milestones if at least one family member isn't nearly delirious and incoherent?  So again this year, I set out to make a cake that would make my boy's eyes grow wide and his stomach growl.

And I did... okay.  This was certainly not my greatest achievement although I think it was my best effort, and I'm alright with that.  For the first time I decided to make my own rolled fondant, or for those unfamiliar with the cake making lingo, I decided I hadn't seen enough late night mop infomercials and needed to adjust my schedule accordingly.

I used this rolled fondant recipe and dedicated Thursday night to repetitive kneading.  Fold in, fold out.  Try to stay standing.  Hope sore arm muscles turn into Michelle Obama biceps.  Eat half the dough and know they won't.
It wasn't until Friday at dinner time (with only a base layer of fondant down) that I realized I was seriously behind schedule and, with a new(ish) baby that seemed to have little regard for my predicament, probably wouldn't even be able to start decorating until all three boys were in bed. 

I was right.  

Graham had requested an "emergency" cake with police, firefighters and ambulances, and by 9pm I'd only managed to supply a gold badge.

By 10:30pm, I had a good start on the cityscape that would eventually be on fire.

At 12:30am, I realized how I'd built everything in completely different scales and ripped off the fire hydrant, only to rebuild it the exact same size and give up.

Around 1:15am, I was pretty sure I'd seen a camel walking down my street, but it just turned out to be a mailbox.  After that, I made some handcuffs.

At 2:00am, I was frustrated with myself that I hadn't spaced the cake's features better in order to avoid a few large empty spaces that I stared at blankly for a while.

3:05am, still staring.

At 3:45am my brain gave up completely, and no miracle mop product could bring it back.  I strongly believe that I could accomplish these decorations in MUCH less time if I could work on them during the hours when humans are supposed to be awake, but instead I plug away slowly, alternating between productivity and wandering around the kitchen in a Walter White-esque "fugue state".

By the time I cleaned up my mess and got to bed, it was 4:11am.  Adler woke up at 4:17.

But somehow, I managed to finish in time.  
I learned a lot this time, too, like how I really need to make the buttercream frosting smooth under the fondant if I want to avoid lumps, and that the extra work involved in making homemade fondant is well worth it for the payoff later.  
I also learned that orange gel food coloring doesn't wash out of 800 thread count sheets.  At least not when it's smeared across your forearm in a spot you can't see yourself.

Incidentally, it doesn't wash off your forehead well, either.

Graham liked the cake, though, and after opening gifts I had just enough energy left over to eat a few bites of the dessert I'd worked so hard to make.
"Do you like your cake, Graham?"
"Yep, I love it.  Thanks, Mom!"
That's good enough for me.  Happy Birthday, Graham!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rosetta, What?

Parenting is undeniably hard.  It is a tiring, thankless task, and many mothers lose sleep worrying about keeping their kids healthy, helping them do well in school, or how to afford college.  But for me, the most difficult part is figuring out what the heck my kids are talking about.

Cael usually manages to make sense, but all of his interests are foreign to me.  He's into dragons and monsters, occasionally dinosaurs, and all things Pokemon.  Despite repeated efforts to explain the rules of a Pokemon battle to me, my understanding is still limited to the following:

1) Choose a card.  I'll take this one, he's on fire and wearing a green three-piece suit.
2) Attempt to read the name of the character.  What is his name?  Miconazole?  Isn't that yeast infection cream?
3) Lose the battle.  Wait.. what happened here?

But as confusing as interacting with Cael can be, this post is about Graham.  My sweet boy has so much to tell me each day, and while his swapped-letter speech problems make his words a little hard to decipher, I find that the subject matter is just as elusive.

"Mom, you know the world?"

"What about it?"

"Well, you know all of the stuff in the world?"


"I think it's cool that there's this stuff-- all the stuff in the world with chairs and plates and stuff, and we don't even know about some of the other things because there are so much.  And that's what God thinks about all of us if we want to go to heaven.  Because that's how things are.  You know?"

I really, really don't.

Incidentally, Graham might be competing in the Miss Teen USA pageant.  He'd kill the interview segment.

The first few times he spewed this kind of nonsense,  I was a little concerned, but now I think his brain is just moving a mile a minute and his mouth can't keep up.  And if his biggest problem is an occasional monologue of what, huh?, that's not so bad.  Maybe someday there will even be a Rosetta Stone for communicating with kids.

Because in this world, there are things that just happen.  And those things, like with talking and thinking, are just how they are for you and me.  Both of us have things, like secrets and carpet and sandwiches that are just like that, and that's okay.  We all know how that feels for all people.  We just can't let people change how things are, because that's not how the world is for children.  You know?

Now who wants to battle...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Froggy Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a toad with a sense of adventure.  He hopped along, skipping over leaves and twigs and the large expanse of grass until he saw a huge castle of wood and molded green plastic.  It looked to be a magical place, full of bugs and dreams, so he hopped as fast as his little legs could move until he found himself in the path of a huge, dangerous, gas-guzzling lawn chariot.

This toad was lucky, however, because the mower was being driven by the King of this land who, knowing the fondness his two princes had for toads, summoned the Queen to rescue the toad from certain death.

This Queen, wise beyond her years but whose sentimentality outweighed her intelligence, called the princes to see the toad.  Immediately they were awestruck with the tiny amphibian, and, despite their love for all things animal, immediately enslaved him in a Sterilite bin from the kingdom of Walmart.

In it they put grass clippings, sticks, leaves, and a saucer of water using the one platter from which neither prince would ever eat.

"I don't want the orange plate, it stinks!"
"You take it, it's a baby plate!"

The burden of royalty is great.

The toad found himself in a great hall with gray walls and wilting leaves.  A large vine stretched nearly to the top, and he climbed as far as he could reach and saw that one of the princes was using a large tablet to capture his likeness.  "How strange," he thought, "that boy looks ridiculous with such a large device pointed at me.  Surely a smaller apparatus like an iPhone5S would be more appropriate."

But the boy would not relent.  For hours he stood vigil at the edge of the bin, watching the toad as he discovered his new home, and occasionally holding the creature in his small hand.  The toad could tell that the prince meant him no harm, but while there was water and lush green lawn waste to explore, there were no juicy bugs to eat.  Only a piece of wheat bread crust that was "like, so not good" The toad felt the same way.

As the sun began to set, the Queen called the princes into the castle to rest for the night, and the toad was left on the front porch out of the way of the incoming rain.

While the princes took their lessons the following day, the toad tried to entertain himself by singing songs from Frozen, whose lyrics he had memorized from the previous afternoon when the prince repeated them nonstop.  The toad wasn't sure if the songs were intended to be a serenade or a torture method, as he witnessed the Queen sing along at times and beg for the music to stop at others. 

As evening approached and the toad feared he might never see his family again, the Queen lifted him from his gray cell and carried him outside to the castle grounds.  He soon found himself placed in the very spot where he was found by these strange people just one day before.  He was free.

"But I don't want him to go," he heard one prince shout.  "I want to keep him forever!"

"We need to set him free," the Queen explained.  "The King will soon want to mow again, now that he has a zero turning-radius mowing chariot, and we need to give the toad time to find his home safely."

"He's mowing again?!?"  

"Yes, again."

"Can I at least say goodbye to the toad?"

"Of course," said the Queen.

"Bye, Hopper!  We love you!"

And the princes lived happily ever after, more toads just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Little Head Case

I was thinking about Cael's birth recently.  Thanks to an effective epidural, I was able to rest (even at 10 cm) and let Cael work his own way out of the birth canal as we waited for my doctor to finish delivering another baby at a hospital across town.  An unexpected side effect of that delay, however, was that he was born with the biggest conehead of any baby I'd ever seen.

That's no problem, because babies' heads are malleable, right?

That's a fact I had always taken for granted, I suppose.  With both Cael and Graham I only considered the soft spots on their heads at their scheduled check-ups, but with Adler it only took a few weeks before I became aware of his soft spot-- or lack thereof.

Where his brothers had a noticeable dip at the fontanelles, Adler has only a very tiny (completely undetectable to most) dip where there should be a larger open space.  At his two month check up, I brought this up to our doctor who checked him over, determined that his soft spot was open but admittedly much smaller than it should be, and tried to assure me that we would measure Adler's head circumference again at four months and seek out additional help if it was needed.

In the meantime, however, I did some reading which, yes, I know you're not supposed to do, but I stayed away from blogs and read several articles published by the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics that suggested treatment for prematurely fused skulls could prevent developmental delays and be done with a much less invasive surgery if performed by three months of age.

Adler was nearly 15 weeks old.

I tried not to let my worry get the best of me, but still visited our doctor again and requested a referral to the U of I to get a specialist's opinion. 

Now when both Cael and Graham were born, our family insurance policy was adjusted automatically by the birth of another child.  We took the kid home, fed him and loved him, payed a small fortune to keep him, and went on with life.

We didn't realize that things had changed.  Don't get me wrong-- we still payed a small fortune (a large fortune, actually) but instead of our policy accommodating Adler automatically, it waited for us to do something.  No one called to let us know that, and the insurance company was happy to bill us in his name, but all the while they were likely wringing their hands and cackling ominously.

So as I called to pre-register Adler for his pediatric neurosurgical consult, I heard words I wasn't expecting:

"You may want to reschedule, your son doesn't have health insurance."

Excuse me?  As it turns out, Adler has not been covered these last three months.  His well-child checks were not free, and that large fortune his birth was costing was about to grow a few more zeroes.  We made frantic calls to Blue Cross/Blue Shield only to learn that, since more than 30 days had passed, he could not be added until a qualifying event took place like a birth or death (neither scenario I'm even willing to consider) or our policy renewed in 2015.

Let's call this rock bottom.  $18K in the red from flooded basement, baby with potentially fusing skull, neurosurgery appointment, no health insurance.

We went to the appointment anyway.  It couldn't get much worse, right?  We hung onto hope that Joel's school insurance contact person could work some magic and get him added with retroactive coverage, and headed off to the hospital.

Adler was great.  He slept, he snuggled, he ate, and Joel and I nervously checked Facebook for a distraction.  We finally met with the doctor who couldn't assess anything without a skull x-ray, so we headed upstairs to strap our three month-old onto a padded table.

Maybe this is rock bottom.

The doctor returned and reviewed the xray, determining that his skull is not fused (although is essentially closed) but should still provide enough expansion to accommodate his growing head and ample double chin. 

Things were finally looking up.

She noted that with the condition we were investigating (Craniosynostosis) 80% of cases begin in utero, and we knew that Adler's head was normally constructed at that time.  There is a small percentage of children whose heads do fuse to soon after birth, so if it becomes apparent that he is in that minority, we will cross that bridge, but thankfully even that bridge does not usually lead to cranial surgery.

The next day we got a phone call that our insurance would accept Adler, but would only cover back to July 1st, so we will be responsible for his entire birth and hospital stay out of pocket-- a small price to pay for the news that my sweet boy is healthy.  And expensive.

But damn, is he worth it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ism of the Week

"Mom, how come you keep taking pictures of Adler in things?"

"What do you mean, Cael?"

"The other day you took a picture of him in that blue box, and in the laundry basket.  And now you're taking one of him in that rope basket.  Why?"

"Hmm, I don't know.  Maybe because he is little and he won't fit into those things for long."

"I'm cute, too, but you don't do that with me."

"Yep, you are cute, but I don't think you'd fit in that basket, dude."
"I guess not."

 "Hey Mom, guess who can fit in the garage trash can...!"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sugar, Sugar

Every family has a legacy.  Some are enterprising people that break barriers and create new things.  Some are remembered for being caring and nurturing, or funny, bringing laughter to those around them.

If you ask my dentist, he'd likely tell you that my family's legacy is a waist-high dental bill and a record number of cavities.

You see, I have a terrible sweet tooth, Joel has a terrible sweet tooth, and on the DNA roadmap where our genes intersect, there is a pie stand.  With real whipped cream.

I think it is a constant battle for most parents to get their kids to eat healthy foods.  But because because of my kids proclivity to eat nothing but cane sugar in all its forms, words like "asparagus" and "cauliflower" are whispered like profanity.  Sometimes with profanity.

In all honesty, I think we've done really well with teaching them to do was we say and not as we do about how to eat healthy, and they love fresh fruit and often make healthy choices.  But like all kids (and adults) they would take a cookie over an apple any day.  Ahem, every day.

With Cael, it started early. 

So we backed off of the doughnuts.  It's not like they were a healthy choice anyway.  Instead, we focused on other desserts, like cake and ice cream, because calcium is really important for growing bones.  But it didn't take long for Graham to catch on to the family legacy.

So much for cake.

As Adler's birth approached, we made a conscious effort to try to adopt the Paleo diet as much as possible without going crazy enough to bite the wall.  It was an easy transition for me, because the gestational diabetes diet of nothing good nothing but vegetables and meat didn't allow room for sweets, but the switch made Cael and Graham even more sugar-crazed than usual.  

They sneaked candy that I didn't know we had into their room and didn't even try to hide the wrapper evidence.  They begged me to cover everything in caramel sauce.  Even the dog.  Cael promised me he wasn't only drinking chocolate milk with his lunch, and I know he was telling me the truth.   

He was drinking chocolate milk with his lunch AND with his snack.

And just when they had begun to accept that sugar was no longer on the menu, an overabundance of cookies from an event we attended last week started the ball rolling again.  Jello replaced apples, gum replaced raisins, and I considered replacing the children with life-sized versions made from marshmallow cream and high fructose corn syrup.

The cookies are headed to the trash, and I know that we will be a healthier family for it.  And when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren remember Adler, I know that they will say--

--Oh, crap.