Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas it was half-assed at best,
The big kids were fighting, Charlotte was biting my breast.

The stockings were hung, all seven trees dressed,
but this year the gifts lacking bows looked distressed.

In lieu of gift tags I'd Sharpied the names,
in the upper right corners I'd attempt some new game.

No sleep I had had not one darn silent night,
worse yet my pre-pregnancy pants were still way too tight.

We went to church anyhow to celebrate the main event,
I sat there wondering if Mary had ever felt this spent.

We departed in peace to a cold winter night,
to fix Santa his treats, then have a bite.

It would be Chick-Fil-A or maybe some Kraft,
thought I knew Dear Husband would prefer a cold draft.

When what to our wondering eyes did appear
but snow in the South flakes big, cold and clear.

Our twins went wild, they skidded and shrieked,
their interest in Santa was gone, in getting wet it peaked.

Elizabeth made angels, William went down the slide,
the babe went to bed while I got the Tide.

The moon rose up high, they claimed to be tired,
we knew in our hearts, however, that they'd be long wired.

We gave baths and read stories of magic this night,
it took much work before we had them in bed snuggled tight.

Then the effort began for Dad and myself
as we'd not yet done everything we should as good elves.

We ran out of tape and paper so cute,
I had to hide one Santa gift in an old cowboy boot.

At last we retired, though we knew it'd be brief,
for our newborn holds the position as Commander-in-Chief.

But as my eyes closed that cold Christmas Eve,
I thought to myself, I am so pleased.

For I am a woman rich with family safe and warm,
who care not how my clothes fit or how my hair is shorn.

Perfection has its virtues here in the 'burbs,
but not at my house this year, no, it sure won't be served.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Favorite Things

The hunky guy outside the toy store was definately checking me out.
He smiled, for crying out loud and--get this--lifted an eyebrow appreciatively.
I looked down at my Fourth Trimester self: Nasty black leggings, spit-up covered T-shirt, spare tire sizeable enough for people to wonder when I'm due.
Did I mention that I recently got a pin-head haircut that had the effect of making me look like the "before" picture in a Jenny Craig weight-loss advertisement?
Hot Guy sauntered over.
"Hello," he said in a throaty growl. "Tell me about your buggy. It's really something."
Girls, this is what happens when you're 35 years old and you live in the surburbs: Men pick you up for your stroller.
I must say, my buggy is something to be admired.
It is an aubergine Bugaboo Frog, as seen rambling down Rodeo Drive being pushed by celebrities. It sports a comfy, full-sized bassinet, rugged oversized rubber wheels that can traverse either sand or sidewalk and a souped-up suspension system the Princess and the Pea would admire.
My girlfriend Donna sold it to me used for $350. Lord knows she probably had to take out a home equity line to purchase it new.
I have been fantasizing about something similar since I was in Scandanavia five years ago and developed a bad case of Pram Envy. At the time, I was pushing a Graco Duo Glider, a horrible 70-pound lug that made the worst grocery cart like a Mazarati.
As it turns out, baby gear in general and the vendors who provide such stuff have come a long way since 2004 when my twins were born. Not only has Bugaboo brought the pram back to America, but I've been pleased as punch to find half a dozen new inventions and people who make toting/cuddling/entertaining Lovey much more convienent.
Consider, for instance, the Sleepy Wrap.
I had half a dozen slings for my twins that promised to do everything for me but pay for their college tuitions. Unfortunately, I have no sense of geometry and could never master the art of hanging said togas securely enough to ensure I wouldn't drop my children.
Somehow, the people who make the Sleepy Wrap took the challenge out and produced a stretchy piece of fabric and directions for using it that actually make sense. You can swaddle Junior in a number of positions and be reassured he won't end up falling through a trap door onto the black top. The positions deliver: Charlotte takes one look at her wrap and promptly passes out cold. Furthermore, the wrap works on all body types, even that of my strapping husband who is broader than a double door. It comes in several stirring colors, too, so you can add a little hootzpah to your Fourth Trimester black separates.
My next favorite item is the Brest Friend nursing pillow with terry cloth tarp.
Mind you, I was prejudiced against this find due to its ridicious pun-y name. Yet, after I trying it at the behest of my lactation consultants, I ran down to the closest Babies R Us and bought one.
The tall foam pillow boosts Teensy up to your boobs so that she can properly latch on. A seat belt wraps around Momma's waist so the pillow won't slide or sag, as others do. Moreover, the broad platform is so dense you can carry Baby from your rocker to her bed allowing you to transfer her easily without waking her.
The terry cloth slipcover is washable and includes a thoughtful pocket for stray pacifiers.
Once you've spent enough time with the Brest Friend, you'll want to get yourself some Soothies.
My gal pal Jeannette rushed me these breast pads in the maternity ward when she learned Charlotte was chomper.
Made of some type of miraculous space-age cooling gel, these little gems slip inside your nursing bra and heal the damage done by overzealous suckers. Better yet, they are reuseable and smell sort of herb-ly which cancels out the scent of fear you'll likely emit, especially if you're a first-time mom.
After you get your mammaries under control, you'll realize you are starving. And when the neighborhood casseroles run out, you might want to check out Subway.
I have long overlooked the fast-food giant (again, I have a problem with ridicuous advertising campagains, which in my opinion, includes the ever-cheesy Jared.) However, I shouldn't have been so snotty: It turns out the chain just started offering substantial breakfasts along with a variety of healthy luncheon sandwiches. My favorite condiment is the sweet onion sauce which adds an element of fancy to any cold cut. Believe me when I tell you you won't want to be cooking anytime soon and that Subway five times in three days is no sin.
After her lunch and yours, you might want choose to memorialize Cherub.
For a fresh take on baby pictures, I met with Toni Elmer of Urban Photo.
The Dallas-area photographer and mother of four is an endlessly patient baby whisperer and hugely creative. Her artwork has appeared in glossy magazines and celebrates the unique traits of your little one. For instance, she pointed out that Charlotte's cavemanlike black arm hair is dainty and sweet rather than cause to a visit to the estetician.
Moreover, Toni does home visits which means she can catch your child on her best behavior. In my case, she waited for nearly an hour as Charlotte enjoyed a meal atop the Brest Friend.
It turns out that Toni isn't the only one who will come to you.
A breastfeeding crisis at 5 p.m. on a Saturday night gave me cause to ring the women at the Nesting Place, a Southlake breastfeeding support center and boutique. For a $100 fee, a veteran lactation consultant hustled through traffic to diagnose Charlotte's case of tongue-tie. She gave me now-and-later strategies as well as written instructions so that I wouldn't have to rely on my sleep-deprived brain to recall them.
Once all that was taken care of, Charlotte could relax in her Fisher-Price Hoppy Bouncer. Of all the baby seats I've owned--and at one time I had one chair per room--this new option offers up the best angle for a remarkable $34. It supports Little Bit's floppy neck yet is reclined just enough so that she can nap comfortably. The seat also offers optional battery-powered, soothing vibrations and a removeable playtime bar with small toys to spy. While the froggie motiff might be too cutesie for those with modern sensibilties, note that you'll soon be too tired to care.
Now, if only the baby engineers would dream up a solution for eliminating the effects of sleep deprivation. That would be one product I'd definately buy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I crave sleep like an alcoholic craves booze.
I'll take it anywhere, anytime. Standing up. Sitting down. In the shower with water streaming down my face.
I came to last night around 7:30 p.m. under Elizabeth's pink coverlet. She was patting both my cheeks with her chubby hands.
"Mom! Mom!" she whispered, "Wake up! Wake up! You stopped singing!"
Apparently, I had been lying comatose for some time, having ceased my alphabet lullaby somewhere around "L-M-N-O."
Frankly, I'm surprised I made it past the letter "D."
To my chagrin, staying up all night with my eight-week-old baby is making my tired.
This is hard for me to admit because I was all huff and bluster prior to giving birth.
"Oh, how bad can it be," I yodeled to my girlfriends, "I had twins the first time around!"
It's true that with the twins I averaged about three hours of sleep per night for about six months. It was miserable. It was insane. It was, in fact, the paramount reason we waited five years to even consider having another child.
But with "only" one baby--a singelton in the nomenclature in the world of mothers of multiples--I figured it would be better.
And it is.
I'm getting four and a half hours of sleep each night.
While the pediatrician promises me Charlotte's nights will get longer, I know from past experience there's no real promise in that.
After all, I was just last year asking Elizabeth's preschool teacher how to get her to stop the night wakings.
"Once you have children, you'll never sleep well again."
That gem came from my godmother who, I clearly recall, was once so exhausted in the early 1980s that she spread out her mink coat on my grandmother's living room floor and commenced to snore her way through an otherwise roaring Christmas party.
"Oh," she said sometime around midnight, "I just needed a little nap."
Well, I need a little nap, too.
I don't even need the mink: Just let me lie down on the brick kitchen floor and drape a napkin over me and I'll be thankful.
Oh, no.
It that crying I hear?
I may not be able to sleep but at least I can dream, right?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It is essential that every kindergarten student draw pictures of their family.
And at Week 6, we've done just that.
William brought home his version yesterday.
It included Mommy (in clothing thank God vs. nearly naked...see previous post), Daddy, Sister and Baby.
There was a further unidentifiable person.
It didn't look like Papa.
Or Mema.
Or Dana, our loyal and beloved housekeeper.
The black stick figure had short black hair so I assumed it wasn't Grandma Nan who is, most of the time, a redhead.
The hair sort of fit Aunt Jamie, but given the lacking presence of Uncle Sean and Cousin Malachi, I figured it wasn't her.
Puzzled, I referenced William's tagline.
It read "Werkmon."
I guess that's how you know your new home is a lemon: Your five-year-old son includes your plumber in his family drawing.

Monday, October 12, 2009


It was long understood that Baby Charlotte would change the mix in our house, but none of us really knew exactly what that would mean.
So when she arrived on September 18 at 8:01 a.m. at a hefty 8 pounds 1 ounce, we all waited with baited breath.
"Mom," whispered five-year-old Elizabeth, "Do you really think you can handle all three of us?"
I quickly dodged the question because, no, I'm not really sure I can handle this.
"Oh, Honey," I told her in a reassuring voice pilfered from an old episode of "Leave It to Beaver," "I have more than enough love to go around."
It is questionable, however, whether or not I have enough patience, time and/or cash.
Really, Elizabeth, all I know for sure is that I have a party-of-five Halloween trick-or-treat theme and that credential seems hardly the skill necessary to usher three fragile spirits from childhood to adulthood without any of us ending up in psychotherapy.
So, I'm going minute-by-minute here, from one poopy diaper to snack time to tempter tantrums to searching for a beloved lost teddy. Then suddenly it is 2 a.m. and someone is chomping on my boobs with the force of an automatic staple gun.
When you live this way, funny things happen.
For instance:
One five-year-old spends an entire weekend wearing a bike helmet. Mind you, her getup was enjoyed at playtime as well as at family meals.
Those family meals consisted of varying brands of cold cereal.
After one dinner, another child washes his Wii video games, literally submerging them and scrubbing them with soap.
The baby, meanwhile, meets the three-week mark without an actual bath.
I do shower--so I don't offend said newborn--and realize I literally have nothing to wear but a variety of nursing bras. I dodge around the house in them shirtless accompanied by ratty pajamas bottoms for several days.
My mother loans me a black T-shirt covered in rhinestone dinosaurs. I actually try it on.
Inspired by the shirt, I read the kids "Danny the Dinosaur" at bedtime while standing up nearly naked and nursing a fussy baby.
William decides he should be the one reading the stories instead. He insists upon a fourth-grade chapter book about the adventures of a mischievous wolf pup. It is two hours past bedtime.
Forty minutes later, he has successfully read said book (!!) and in doing so settled the baby down.
"Look Mom," he said triumphantly, "I read Charlotte her first book and put her to sleep! It's magic!"
As messy as it is, he just might be right.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I am 48 hours away from delivering #3 and, in an attempt to scratch one last thing off the list before becoming a shut-in, I waddled into the local Tom Thumb to receive a flu shot.
Despite my timing -- 2 p.m. on a Wednesday -- there was a line for the shots.
"Twenty-five minutes," the pharmacist said. "Come back then."
I dutifully filled out the legal forms then padded to the fruit aisle. I picked up strawberries, swerved to the dairy case for some milk then stood in the protein bar section for half a century while contemplating the benefit of adding fig paste to my diet.
But being in the last stages of gestation and tragically forgetful, I completely forgot about the one thing I'd come to get: the flu shot.
Checking the time, I rolled my now-full cart into the check-out line, chatted with one of my favorite clerks and asked for carry-out service.
Then, I happily conversed with the customer behind me. She noted that her own bulging stomach was post due. The shopper was looking forward to a home birth.
She was buying one lone carton of Ben & Jerry's -- double brownie supreme -- which I supposed would pass as pain management for women stronger than I.
Still, it was a lovely pint, so delicate there on the rotating belt. It spun like a ballerina again and again, its chocolate-y goodness floating towards the infra-red scanner to a soulful ballad only a pregnant girl could possibly hear.
Suddenly, there was a crackle as the all-store intercom went on. A loud voice boomed forth:
Four aisles of customers began hooting and pointing at me.
I blinked.
I am, you see, so "heavily pregnant" that my ears are now apparently affected.
"That's you, Honey," said a nearby clerk, giving me a nudge.
I waved heartily to the throngs, parked my cart near the lottery vending machine and lurched toward the pharmacy.
Clearly, I should have worn another outfit.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


My five-year-old twins won't view President Obama's education address in their kindergarten classroom on September 8 because school administrators in our Texas district have deemed that it would "interrupt instructional time."
Instead, the district will stream the video online. Families can then opt in--or out--of the national dialogue.
This safe compromise was likely made to soothe conservative voices here who worry the President's short speech would aim to indoctrinate their youngsters into the Democratic party--or worse--a "socialist way" of thinking.
And while I haven't yet seen the speech as I write this, I can tell you from my professional experience covering local, state and national education issues as a newspaper reproter for more than 10 years that few presidential addresses of this type given in the classroom release bombshells. My prediction is that Obama's speech will be fairly neutral in tone and offer nice photo ops for the press corps.
As a parent of three, however, it is greatly refreshing to see the public's interest in the content our children are exposed to in our nation's public schools--I only wish we as a group would pay more attention to the subtle types of indoctrination that happens every day.
For example, last week--on the second day of kindergarten--my twins bopped home from our tony community's premier elementary school with camoflague-colored dog tags hanging around their necks from metal chains.
While my kids thought nothing of this, I brought context to such symbols.
Dog tags, after all, are an indellible symbol of warfare. In fact, such dog tags are manufactured to be thin and small so they can be sewen into the mouths of dead soilders and thus help those in field mortuaries identify the fallen.
By sending home such a symbol, my public school is sending a subtle message that they not only approve of warfare--but wholeheartedly endorse it. Moreover, they're telling my young children to be proud foot soldiers.
On the fourth day of kindergarten, my children returned home with fliers listing half a dozen fast-food restaurants that will return a portion of our bill to our public school in an effort to raise funds for educational endeavors.
"Mom," said my daughter Elizabeth, "we have to go eat pizza tonight to help our school!"
As it turns out, we can spend every night this week--and every night for the remaining school year according to these fliers--at fast-food joints raising money for our school.
Of course, nutritionists--many who work for the state's department of health--would tell us that to take the advice of our premier elementary school would be to risk the health of my family. My children would become obese, contract diabetes and ruin their hearts.
Yet, the subtle message from the public school is 'Due your duty and help out your school.'
On the sixth day of school, instructional time in our kindergarten was handed over to two uniform-clad high school football players who signed autographs in promotion of their first big home game. They also read two books to the children, but this last detail was forgotten by my kids who reported only the shimmering uniforms and the deep, impressive voices of the handsome players.
It is likely, too, that they subconsciously picked up on the school's subtle message that sports are of the utmost importance here in Texas, that male athletes should be revered above others, that strength of body trumps strength of spirit or mind.
This is why, even as a longtime card-carrying member of the Democratic party and big Obama supporter, I'm thrilled to have passionate conversations about indoctrination. But let's not limit the discussion to the President's 10-minute speech. As parents, we need to be aware of and address the subtle everyday messages our public schools are giving our kids.
I only wish our school district would give us the option of streaming some of these other messages via video.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Tonsillectomy

Seeing your child hurt or truly afraid will bring any parent to his knees in a matter of seconds, which is how my husband Jim happened to promise our five-year-old son he'd build a Haagen Daaz factory in our backyard following this morning's tonsilectomy.
William huddled beneath his dad's big arm shaking and whimpering as two impatient nurses in blue scrubs and mushroom-like hairnets pushed a vial of purple liquid towards the shrinking child.
"You can choose to drink the Silly Juice or we'll have to squirt it up your nose," said the one wearing too much makeup.
"No! No! No!" wailed William, his giant hazel eyes terrified and wet with tears. "I don't want to do either!"
William looked imploringly at me then at Jim.
Jim hated these droids as much--maybe more so--than William did, yet his parental duty to ultimately ensure our child could breath normally required he endorse this Silly Juice plan as well as a surgery that would cause significant pain and suffering for upwards of 12 days.
Crusted with guilt, Jim was teetering on edge of his own dark delirium.
"Listen, Will, I hear there is a Tonsil Fairy," Jim whispered hoarsely into William's hair. "I bet he'll bring you a Wii game if you drink this up."
The little brown head swiveled upwards to meet his father's gaze.
William was intimately framiliar with the supurb power of fairies. Just five days ago, he bared witness to the work of the Tooth Fairy. She had liberally dusted his twin sister's bedroom carpet with gold glitter before leaving a crisp dollar bill beneath her pillow.
"I'll take the nose spray," Will bravely said.
The nurses advanced quickly and sprayed the serum up one nostril.
Thirty minutes later, our baby lay sobbing and shivering atop a cot in the recovery room.
Jim scooped William up and sat heavily in a nearby rocking chair. Someone tucked a warmed blanket around them as I scoured the room for a box of Kleenex to sop up my own rivullets of hot tears.
"It's all over now," Jim cooed over and over as he kissed William's head.
"Can I see my tonsills?" Will barked through chattering lips.
I scanned the recovery room looking for a jam jar or any type of container that might suffice to hold such bounty.
Luckily, Jim's cooler head prevailed.
"You know, the Tonsil Fairy has already been here to pick them up," Jim said. "He said he'd swing by our house tonight to leave you a present in exchange. And actually, I was mistaken: There is no Tonsil Fairy--he's an elf."
The Tonsil Elf, it turned out, only has availability to do present deliveries at night as he was preoccupied for the rest of the afternoon picking up various prescriptions from Kroger, fast-forwarding the scary scenes in Scooby-Doo videos and sopping up vomited purple Capri Sun from new and as of yet unpaid-for cream wall-to-wall carpet.
But I knew in my heart the Tonsil Elf would be back and make good on his promise.
After all, he knows where he's needed most.

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Death and Dying

Our five-year-old twins handled the death with more poise and strength than we grown-ups did.
My father-in-law--their Papa Jim--passed away somewhat unexpectedly on August 12 at age 63. It was an untimely, unfair and painful ending for an individual who had a big personaliaty in life and, as an investigative television reporter, an even bigger one on the small screen.
My husband caught a flight up to Michigan as soon as he heard things were souring.
Then, suddenly, there were plans to be made. Paperwork needed to be done. An apartment needed to be cleaned.
Meanwhile, I was left in Texas 35 weeks pregnant. My role was to hold the fort, which included explaining things.
I've tried my best over the past two years to decode the circle of life--to make it normal when it doesn't seem so understandable to me despite an upbringing in the Episcopal church.
We'll drive by a graveyard, for example, and the kids will want to know whey there are fresh dirt mounds.
"Well," I say, "When your body becomes a problem, you leave it behind you when you go to Heaven. Sort of like when spring comes and you get rid of your heavy clothes. You wouldn't want to wear a winter coat during a Texas summer would you?"
William and Elizabeth seem to get that one.
"But I'm really going to miss Papa Jim," my daughter said.
I told her it is okay to feel such emotions--we all do--but we're happy he's an angel now.
"Mom, only God picks the angels," Elizabeth said in an attempt to clarify.
I told her that Papa Jim was probably one of the lucky ones. If not, he was likely interviewing them which might be more to his liking anyhow.
"Well," she wanted to know, "Does he part the clouds and look down on us?"
Most likely, I said.
"How old are you when you become an angel?" she continued. "Like, are you a kid again?"
I told her as much as I could.
"I've never been to Heaven to see what's it's like, Babe," I said, "and few people report back when they get there so we don't really know much."
By the time Jim got back from Michigan five days later, Elizabeth was still processing things.
"Dad," she said at bedtime last night, "it would really stink to die on your birthday."
Her face then lit up.
"But you know, the good thing would be that if you were an angel, you could eat angel food cake to celebrate."
That's the thing about being five years old: You see a bright side to everything.
I know her Papa Jim would be pleased.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Tooth Fairy

Elizabeth's bottom front tooth had been nearly horizontal in her mouth for more than two weeks so I had had plenty of time to prepare for any and all questions regarding the mysterious workings of the Tooth Fairy.
In fact, I readied much like I would if I were working for a client who needed to face the national press corp.
I began by listing typical questions that might be asked. Then, I put together talking points.
These included but were not limited to:
Q: What does the Tooth Fairy do with the teeth she collects?
A: She plants them in her garden where they grow into flowers.
Q: Does the Tooth Fairy know Santa and the Easter Bunny?
A: They went to college together in New Mexico.
Q: Why do some kids get more money than others?
A: The Tooth Fairy delivers treats based on each participant's tooth size and geographic region.
Q: Is the Tooth Fairy tax exempt?
A: The Tooth Fairy runs a 501C3.
But leave it to a creative child to think of the one question I did not.
"Mom," said Elizabeth after she carefully positioned her tooth beneath her pillow, "I have a question for you, you know, because you're a mom and all."
I braced myself.
"How does the Tooth Fairy get into pirates' bedrooms?" she asked. "They sleep with an eye patch over one eye but keep the other open at all times. They would totally notice the Tooth Fairy."
I suggested that perhaps the Tooth Fairy had high-speed wings that made her travel at the speed of light similar to wireless Internet service. After all, we never see the computer actually hooking up to anything.
"No, no, no," said Elizabeth. "I'm so smart, I even see mosquitoes coming to bite me."
I tried again.
Maybe she disguises herself as a housekeeper coming to clean up the cabin?
"No, Mom, there are no really very tiny maids," Elizabeth said.
I began to grasp at straws.
Possibly the Tooth Fairy camoflagues herself and darts between hiding places such as overturned spyglasses or pirate pants left on the floor?
Elizabeth sighed.
"That's not it either, Mom," she said.
Well, I asked her, what do you think? How does the Tooth Fairy give one-eyed pirates the slip?
"I guess," said Elizabeth, "it's all just magic."
I suppose it is. For all of us.

Friday, July 3, 2009

O, Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree was meant to last only so long.
In our family, a family who loves all things Christmas, this means our holiday decorations linger until Valentine's Day when we gently swap out green ribbons for pink.
Sure, there was the year that Memaw left up the tree in the family room until Easter, but that was done by request to humor my 96-year-old grandmother who suffers from dementia.
Never, to my knowledge anyway, has a tree lasted until the Fourth of July.
But if you walk down my suburban street tomorrow night in the 100-degree Texas heat as the fireworks boom you can peer into the upstairs window and see the glow of hundreds of tiny lights frosting a lone 6-foot-tall pine.
The tree belongs to my five-year-old son William.
You see, as an overzealous holiday decorator, I prop up full-sized themed trees in every bedroom in the house. I traditionally do a leopard tree in the dining room, a kitchen tree covered in rustic snowmen, a travel tree with ornaments collected on trips. Elizabeth's fir features pink feathers and gingham ribbon.
Will's tanenbaum, however, is everyone's favorite.
His alphabet tree is covered in construction paper letters the twins and I made when they were two. The branches are further layered with old toys and momentos of their toddlerhood: There's the yellow stuffed giraffe that once dangled from their baby Gymnai, paper Wiggles figures cut out from an old musical program, teeny finger puppets given to us by Aunt Michelle long outgrown.
During the holidays, Will would request the tree be left glowing until he fell asleep and, of course, I complied.
By the time St. Patrick's Day had come and gone, turning on the tree had become a nighttime tradition.
"I need a hug and a kiss," Will would say, "then you need to turn on my tree."
So I would.
By Memorial Day, I had convinced Will to at least let me put away the decorations.
"It won't be special come Christmas if we keep it up all year," I coaxed.
"Oh yes," he said, "it will."
So the naked tree took up permanent residence in the corner of William's room next to the train table.
Occasionally, he would put a sock or two on its branches for old time's sake. Sometimes, a wet wash cloth would migrate from the bathroom to the tree and get crusty drying there.
Our housekeeper, who strips her home of all holiday decor at 12:01 a.m. on December 26, rolled her eyes and continued to dust the tree.
Then, sometime in June, several strands of the lights gave up in protest.
"How about taking the tree down now?" I asked Will.
"No, Mama, we can't do that," he said. "I need my tree."
Yesterday, however, Elizabeth changed my perspective altogether.
"Mama," she said, rubbing her brother's back, "Will isn't behind. He's just rushing the season. He'll be all ready when Christmas comes."
Of course he will.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Ballet Moms

It wasn’t, most of us acknowledged, the best time of day to take a dance class.
The seven four-year-olds were often sluggish at 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, their toddler siblings in tow downright cranky from being awakened during deep slumbers. Natalie, the oldest of the tiny ballerinas by only a few months, was often carted asleep sack-o-potatoes style over her mother’s shoulder into the studio following the end of her kindergarten day.
Of course, by the time the slippers were on and Miss Tera cranked up the princess theme songs, the girls were happily re-energized and we, the Ballet Moms, took our places atop zebra-striped chairs facing the glass.
Granola bars were opened. Coloring books were appropriated. Toy cars were freed from deep purses.
Ryan, the oldest of the toddlers, found the stash of lollipops on the front desk. This began, in the mind of the Ballet Moms, the Great Lollipop Management Issue of 2009-10.
Despite this, it was a no-brainer of an afternoon for us. As busy stay-at-home mothers, we were forced to stay in one place for a whole hour with few interruptions. The luckiest of us even got to sit down for most of it.
At first, we mostly paid attention to our dancing daughters. We watched, acutely interested, to see how well they listened in a group then to how well they appeared to execute moves requested from the teacher.
Then, we witnessed buds of friendship form. Elizabeth poked Maddie. Addison smiled at Natalie’s twirl. Sydney reached for Katie’s hand.
So the Ballet Moms relaxed.
And, like birds on a telephone wire, we began to twitter.
Who knew how to score tickets to the Princess character dinner at Disney World?
Who was holding their kid back from kindergarten?
Who had read the vampire thriller “Twilight?”
By Christmastime, the zebra seats became a front porch of sorts and no one was more thrilled to hear of my third pregnancy than the Ballet Moms. I learned about their c-sections and their long labors and their milk production.
“Well,” I told my obstetrican as he recorded the pace of my unborn baby’s heartbeat, “the Ballet Moms say that if the heat beat is fast, the child is a girl.”
He looked at me like I was crazy, but ultimately the Ballet Moms were right.
Of course they were.
By Valentine’s Day, I was looking more forward to lessons than my child.
Baby Grayson began walking. Two-and-a-half-year-old Rachel, so chubby with a thumb in her mouth, started preschool mid-term. There was discussion about Maddie’s family’s possible move with her military family and a crisis over another child’s presumed hearing loss.
Next, sweet Koral and little Lillian joined the class. Their mothers quickly found seats in the lineup.
Spring sprung and Miss Tera measured the girls for their recital dresses for a routine to be performed to “Babyface,” a Mowtown hit from the 1960s.
The Ballet Moms wondered if any of the girls would actually remember the steps.
On May 30, they at least looked the part wearing green and pink polka dot ruffled skirts, huge pink bows looped into their shiny black tap shoes.
Lillian’s mom sprayed clouds of glitter in their hair and on their shoulders; Sydney’s mom swiped lipstick on them; Maddie’s mom ushered them behind the red velvet curtain in a line like paper doll cutouts holding hands.
They remembered some steps but not all, of course.
It was good enough for the Ballet Moms, though, who rewarded the girls with hugs and kisses and overpriced flowers which were definitely worth the cost.
Afterwards, I deployed our family to the lobby to wait while I retrieved Elizabeth from the backstage holding tank. As we descended down the steps with a tide, I saw Addison’s mother bobbing along up the stairs, part of another.
She reached out as she inched forward and patted my belly.
“Good luck,” she said, “with the rest of your pregnancy.”
She was moving North, probably towards soccer practice and gymnastics and a summer vacation while I was going South to art lessons and preschool camp and long nights with a newborn.
Children, it seems, are great ambassadors. But their circumstances and thus ours force untimely endings to new beginnings.
We will, however, hold onto the snapshots of four-year-olds in polka dot dresses for the rest of our lives. It is my guess, too, that we’ll all remember the zebra-striped chairs each time we hear the song “Babyface.”

Julie Blair is a Dallas-area freelance journalist who loves hot pink and glittery hairspray. She once donned pink tights and a black leotard to fulfill a college liberal arts requirement.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thirteen Hours a Day

It is Day #9 of Quarantine and I'm completely, utterly depleted.
My feet look like sausages and my energy could be trumped by a corpse.
Still, I'm proud of myself for not relying on television or the computer to fill our 13-hour-long days. I have, after all, killed myself to put down big boundaries around screen time and I'll be darned if a little swine flu is going to wreck five years worth of work.
In fact, I'm proud to say that my five-year-old twins and I have invented all kinds of new activities which we just might return to after we've been sprung from captivity.
Then again, some ideas were born of comoplete desparation.
Remember, now, I have thirteen hours to fill each day, so be kind in your criticism.

Laundry Train:
Each child loads a small plastic wagon with folded laundry then makes "stops" to drop off their "packages" at various "stations." When the "train" is empty, it must return to the depot for a refill. Making train noises is mandatory; those who ram a sibling on the tracks with their trains must go to the round house for repairs.

Funeral Director: Lots of critters fall into our pool and endure an untimely death, but lucky for them we have caring professionals on hand during their time of need. Using a net, the child scoops said party out of the skimmer, notes time of earthly departure, chooses a backyard burial plot and digs a grave. Nondenomiational prayers are said. Weeds are planted.

Boutique Owner: Using various scraps of gift wrap, the children choose a "gift" from our playroom "store" and swaddle it. The more sticky tape employed in the endeavor, the better. Each present is then delivered to a deserving stuffed animal.

Bus Boy: Making meals is a lot of fun at our house, but noone ever wants to clean up the 45 spatulas used in cooking. Hence the birth of "Bus Boy" in which "waiters" earn big tips (Tootsie Rolls left over from Easter). The booty is dealt out based on the amount of items each child takes to the sink and scrubs. Waiters at "five star" restaurants not only scrub, but classify their dishes by type, material and color in the dishwasher.

Historian: In this game, I ask the kids to give me an object and I detail how it came about. This has lead us to discussions about the ancient Roman Empire (coins and aqueducts), an explanation of clogged arteries (why french fries are a "sometimes" food), the origins of rubber and protection of the Brazillian rain forest (car tires). (Note: This game has been curtailed due to the limitations of my liberal arts degree.)

Scatologist: Children go forth in the backyard wearing rain boots to identify animal poop and make educated guesses as to what the animals recently consumed. Close examination of poop in home bathroom potties is not encouraged but, alas, often discussed.

Dancing with the Stars: Children dress up and perform "routines" to various mixed CDs. (Possible parent bonus: You get to listen to your own music! Downside: You might have an obsessive child like my son who is currently jonesing on Lisa Loeb's compilation of kiddie camp hits. You will also have to explain why everyone on the T.V. show is nearly naked all the time.)

Furniture Movers: Children push, pull, flip over, de-cushion all major pieces of furniture in the house, including antiques bequethed to you by your late grandmother. The aim is to "re-arrange" things and "make them new-ish."

Name the Baby: There is much debate over what we'll call Baby #3 (a girl). Competition over who can come up with the most ridiculous name affords hours of fairly quiet contemplation. Options now include "Hen," "Wren," "Sven," "Violet," "Pillow" and "Shoe." (Potential downside: You have to get pregnant again.)

"I went to the store...": Lay out this starter phrase and let the children add on details. The point here is to be silly. We've purchased pink elephants, 497 bottles of nailpolish, wigs for dogs, beavers.

Swiss Family Robinson: The children unearth rope from the garage and tie it around all remaining Easter baskets. Next, they climb to the top of the swing set and loop the rope around the roof. Snacks and/or dinner can be pulled to the top of swing set. (Parent bonus: No dishes!)

Santa's Sleigh: When it begins to rain--and invariably it will do so for days at a time during your next quarantine--bring the rope inside. Loop the rope around folding chairs allowing lots of lead rope to dangle in front. Have one child play Santa and the others the reindeer. (Do not attempt this on hard wood floors.)

Drive Mom Crazy: Try laying down for a well-deserved 32-second nap on the couch and children will immediately find ways to interrupt your slumber. They will find forgotten feathers to tickle your nose, alternately pull at your toes, sing song about poop and drag chairs to the pantry to plow through bags of baking chips.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Doctor's Office

It was reckless, this visit to the city medical center. I knew that.
Regardless, I snapped the latex gloves over the cuffs of my sleeve, pulled a rumpled Kleenex over my mouth and nose then handed my husband his own costume. We hoped these small protections would keep out the swine flu germs as we entered the busy emergency facility, a center that would likely be receiving patients with the full-blown virus. They were our only options, however: Both our neighborhood drugstores were sold out of surgical masks and didn't expect to refill their shelves for a week.
As we bolted across the parking lot, I again questioned my decision to come.
A routine obstetrics exam seemed at first glance a ridiculous reason to break my two-week quarantine. This timeframe had, after all, been suggested by a veteran physician who said contracting the virus might bring harm to my unborn baby. We had happily complied, going so far as to pull our five-year-old twins out of preschool and creating a homemade hazmat zone for my husband to decontaiminate himself after work.
Still, I had to weigh the odds of catching swine flu against the need for baseline numbers. See, I had been on bedrest for two months with my first pregnancy then struck suddenly with pre-eclampsia at 34 weeks, forcing me into an emergency C-section and two weeks of NICU time. Thus, I wanted to make sure my OB knew what my body looked like healthy so that he could detect if it ever began to sour.
Jim gave a little moan.
"My God, there are no obvious stairs," he muttered.
Having worked in hospitals as a college pre-med major, my husband knew firsthand how dirty they were. Our strategy had thus been to run like rabbits through the enterance then dash up the staircase to the OB's office on the third floor to avoid as many people as possible. Now were were faced with riding a huge elevator with other patients and--gasp--touching elevator buttons.
There seemed to be no choice.
The doors slid open and, lucky for us, we were alone all the way to the third floor.
That's when we encountered the crowd.
The office--home to a lucrative practice that included maybe nine OBs--was packed with at least a dozen hacking, sneezing pregnant women, their spouses and several snot-nosed kids depite the early hour. (Our own children, whom we planned to bring with us to learn the baby's gender, were carefully squirreled away with a friend who had quarantined her own offspring then shellacked her home in Lysol.)
"This place sounds like a tuburculosis ward," Jim said, taking a chair and eyeing another near the door.
I signed in with the front desk using a gloved hand and my own ballpoint.
Then, we waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Time seemed to drip by.
Jim reached for a magazine but stopped short.
"That's covered in swine flu!" I screeched using marital ESP.
He stuffed his latexed hands in his pockets.
The door of the office suddenly flew open and in strode a gigantic man carrying a battered briefcase.
He marched directly to the nurse's window and pushed open the glass.
"I'm here about the virus," he snapped.
"Oh, yes, yes!" said the nurse. "We'll prioritze you. Just a moment."
The man coughed roughly into his shirtsleeve.
My God, I though, I've walked into the heart of darkness!
I have just sealed the fate of an innocent!
I am going to get swine flu!
My baby will be born with a snout or at the very least reject innoculating breast milk in lieu of pork byproducts!
Sweat began to pool on my forehead.
"Do you want to leave?" Jim whispered.
Just then, the door swung open and three nurses with concerned faces peered out.
"Oh, Mr. Johnson, thank Heaven you're here!" the tall one said. "That virus is back! Our computers are down!"
It has now been 24 hours since our visit to the OB's office.
Neither I nor my laptop have come down with any type of virus--swiney or otherwise.
And our baby girl is, so far as anyone can tell, perfectly healthy at 20 weeks.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cinco Day Swine-o

It is officially Cinco de Mayo, but we've renamed it Cinco de Swine-o here in Quarantine.
Jim had long planned to take off Friday to cover the kids while I was OOT, so we had plenty of Daddy fun to ease us into our new duck-and-cover lifestyle.
The children took to the new holiday with abandon.
There was, for example, a Wii tournament in which five "lands" were opened on our new amusement park game, a Monopoly marathon (yes, they now make a version for those under age 8) and at least four hours of rigorous tent play (my favorite upholstered chair was employed, but I figured this is no time for tsking).
Having grown stir-crazy by 2 p.m. on Saturday, we figured it was safe to find an abandoned neighborhood park. We first coated the monkey bars with Purell, of course. Upon our return, we all stripped and threw our clothes into bleach before doing a pre-surgery-style scrub.
I managed to get in not one but two extended naps and thus am feeling well-rested as I go into Day Four of Quaranatine.
I mean, could it really be worse than two full months of bedrest?

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I had planned to get on a flight to Cleveland, Ohio, this afternoon at 2 p.m. to throw a big bridal bash for our beloved Aunt Cindy.
Instead, I'm fretting for the safety of my unborn baby as I sit in quarentine for the next two weeks in my own home under doctor's orders.
Let me be clear: I do not knowingly have swine flu. Nor are my kids, husband or parents ill, so far as I know.
Furthermore, it is my understanding that swine flu--when caught early--can be headed off with powerful medications. Even pregnant women like myself who are in the fifth month of gestation can take an antiviral prescription to ward off sickness.
That said, three separate doctors told me today to stay off airplanes; one told me there is a chance that this robust virus, if contracted, could adversley impact my unborn fetus creating lifelong problems for my child. He added it would be a good idea to pull my kids out of the public mix including their preschool so that I would not contract swine flu from them.
This doctor said he is conservative. That I should make my own decisions.
I told him I appreciated his candor and hung up the phone.
Two hours later, I was still shaking.
I have now regained some of my composure, but I can't help but think of the preschool open house we attended last night...or the ballet class I trucked my daughter to earlier in the week...or of the man who made my lunch on Wednesday at a local deli.
I am trying to do what I can to "REMAIN CALM" as the governor of Texas has told us.
I am doing what I can to prevent contamination, to make myself feel in control.
My husband came home tonight to a self-styled hazmat zone. He's to change his suit in the garage and stash it in his car before running to our guest bathroom and showering before greeting anyone else. He underclothes go into bleach.
This ruthless virus, the doctor told me, strikes those with apparently healthy immune systems--especially between the ages of 25 and 45--then attacks the lungs.
We can take no chances: Another generation is at hand.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

ISO Research

Like many parents, I find answering questions about death totally unnerving.
So when we passed by the graveyard on our way home from a grocery store run today, I gritted my teeth for more four-year-old questions.
I didn't have to wait long.
"Mom," said Elizabeth, "After you die, your body goes into the ground and your body goes to Heaven?"
"Yes," I replied. "It's like wearing your heavy winter coat on a beautiful spring day like today. You'd be really hot, right? You'd want to take it off. When your spirit goes to Heaven, you leave your body behind like that old winter coat."
Silence from the backseat.
"But mom," said E., "are you old or young when you get to Heaven?"
I pondered that moment, picturing myself in my 1989 hairdo, a white robe and angel wings.
"I didn't know the answer to that one," I said. "Few people report back once they get to Heaven," I said.
"Well," said Elizabeth with a giggle in her voice, "I guess you can't find that information on the Internet!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Man v. Food

Adam Richman eats crazy foods in crazy amounts for a living on the Travel Channel's televised series, "Man v. Food."
My husband, a culinary daredevil, watched entranced earlier this month as the cable host attempted to eat a seven-pound burrio without throwing up. Mr. Richman has also been known to suck down a dozen milkshakes, several piles of pancakes, layers of crabs peppered in insanely hot spices, etc. In addition to enjoying severe indigetion, the chief reward appears to be earning his name atop a hand-scrawled list at the local joint in which served the meal. (Not to mention a handsome paycheck from the Travel Channel.)
But I have task that will make those meals look like kiddie lunchbox fare: Adam Richman, I challenge you to try--just try--to swallow two prenal vitamin pills without vomiting.
To the unindoctrinated, this might sound easy.
However, as someone who has endured--and uncermoneiously "rerouted"--several versions of prenatal pills, I assure it is an assignment not to be taken lightly.
Before we begin, we must treat Mr. Richman to some local color--and that color in the first several months of pregnancy is, of course, green.
We'll serve him eight to ten vodka shots per day for four weeks prior to the challenge so as to simulate the nausea that afflicts those who consume prenatal pills on a regular basis.
Just before downing the pills, he'll then spin himself in circles for upwards of 15 minutes and/or ride a Tilt-a-Whirl to level the playing field further.
Next, our fair host will eat some bad shellfish topped with overly sweet Rocky Road ice cream.
Finally, we'll ask him to swallow the pills.
Despite advances in modern medicine, I regret to inform our contestant that the majority of prenatal pills are the size of Mini Cooper cars.
It must also be noted they smell like poop and are the consistency of chalk.
If our host doesn't choke on the mere size or smell of the pill, he'll find it will lodge at the back of his throat like an errant chicken bone.
No amount of water of milk will be able to wash away its presence.
Then, it is time for the DHA supplement, which apparently aids brain development in fetusus but causes most pregnant women to pray for an out-of-body experience.
Unfortunately, the pill is packaged in a floating, round disc and is oily.
This, is combination with the gigantic first pill, causes problems for those with even legendary iron stomachs.
We are not unkind, however. We will promise to stage the challenge in a bathroom laid with cool tile flooring, which we are sure Mr. Richman will enjoy pressing his forhead against following his consumption of said pills.
Of course, we will open keep the toilet lid open at all times.
Should Mr. Richman perform admirably--and we do hope he'll master this mission--we will treat him to plastic surgery that will include implanting an eight-pound bowling ball into his gut.
Mr. Richman, let me know when you're ready for the challenge--I'll be happy to share my supply of prenatal pills with you.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Good Enough Parent

When Mrs. C., one of our favorite preschool teachers, learned we were adding a third child to our family, she congratulated my husband and I with hugs. Then, she made an observation that made me do a double take.
“Three children is the perfect number of children,“ she said, you won’t have any room for perfection.”
As a highly regarded 16-year veteran of our school’s staff and the mother of five successful children, Mrs. C. seems to perceive the notion as highly problematic for everyone. Striving to be the best you can be is the right path, she argues, but perfection does not allow the natural failings that builds our negotiating and coping skills--keys to true lifelong success and happiness.
How I wish I’d had this sage wisdom when my twins were born.
At the time, I approached parenting with the philosophy that the harder you tried, the better things would turn out. Such an outlook served me well professionally but I learned quickly it was downright silly when it came to rearing babies and managing what evolved into a busy family life.
No matter how perfect I tried to be, I could not force my charges to conform. Oh, I tried--I even called in reinforcements--but in the end, I ended up exhausted and defeated--with unhappy babies.
Five years into my parenting experience, I know better. Thanks to trial-and-error, I’ve learned that being a Good Enough Parent is much more fulfilling--and much more fun--than being a Perfect Parent.
Here’s what I’ve learned in brief.

1. Sleep when the babies (and toddlers) sleep. If you’re exhausted, you’re no good to anyone.

2. Try breastfeeding, ask for help from a lactation consultant if you struggle, but don’t feel ashamed or even bummed out if it doesn’t work out with twins. Plenty of formula-fed people grow up to do amazing things.

3. Keep everyone on the same schedule. To do otherwise is to sacrifice your own sleep and, thus, your well-being. Again, you can’t help others if you are a mess.

4. Find a sleep book you like to offer strategies and stick to it for three months. Without a routine, your wakeful nights could continue for years.

5. Call all those people who offered to help you before the babies were born and give them specific tasks you’d like them to help you with, ie. “ironing,” or “cleaning out the fridge.” Don’t worry, in a few years you’ll be in the position to give back.

6. If you run out of people to call and still need aid, raid the savings to hire good help. Low-interest college loans are readily available in the future but you’ll never forgive yourself if you fail to enjoy your babies and young children due to complete exhaustion.

7. Fast food is no longer a sin and downright imperative if you want to eat more than PB&J during your first two (or three) years of twin parenthood. Try the Dinner Station which assembles homemade frozen entrees for you, the prepared aisle of the grocery store, or chains like Baja Fresh which go beyond burgers and fries.

8. Give up the spotless house--your kids won’t remember it anyhow. Instead, give yourself two twenty-minute windows of “house homework” per day. Work on hygiene--the bathrooms, the kitchen, the laundry. (If your mother-in-law is coming, spray some Lysol in the air just prior for that just-cleaned scent.)

9. Take the children out of the house once per day, even if you’re just going around the block in the buggy.

10. Call one girlfriend from your previous life every couple of days even if you can only talk for eight minutes. If you neglect them, you won’t have anyone to go to coffee with when the kids start preschool.

11. Make new momma friends at the public library, the park and the swimming pool. These women know exactly where you are in life and can offer strategies on how to make more of your mothering experience.

12. Invite your husband to join you in the bedroom for more than “Jeopardy.” He won’t mind your new cooking and housekeeping techniques if “dessert” is served regularly.

13. Find a reliable grown-up babysitter and teach her to put your kids to bed. This will free up your evenings throughout elementary school while ensuring your children get the rest they need.

14. Find three inexpensive tween babysitters who live nearby and can jog over at a moment’s notice to keep your kids busy while you take down the Christmas decorations, clean out the garage, bake a truffle. These girls will soon move on to boyfriends and play practice, so invest in several people.

15. Find a discipline strategy that is reasonable for both you and your spouse. Aim for consistency.

16. Remember that even if you have a bad afternoon--or day--you can start over the following day. Remind yourself that kids don’t remember much before the age of five.

17. Don’t stress over potty training. Few teenagers go to college in Pampers.

18. Don’t stress over pacifiers. Your twins might end up with horizontal teeth, but they’ll fall out eventually.

19. Do check out what appear to be developmental delays. Your pediatrician, day care provider and schoolteachers will be able to guide you to service providers who can offer more detailed assessments. Tackle any issues with super-human strength.

20. Take lots of photographs and keep a journal or calendar to load up with memories. The days--and years--blur together quickly.

21. Carve out family time and family rituals--even small things like lunchbox notes build lifelong relationships.

22. Make birthdays a huge deal. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this and your kids will long remember being cherished above all else.

23. Trust your instincts. You’re usually right.

24. Take your birth control pills unless you’re absolutely, positively ready to add another family member to your clan.

25. Savor the good times, learn from the bad and know that life only happens once.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fries vs. Baked Potato

If Opal the Nurse were not working for my obstetrican in the suburbs of Dallas, she could easily be cast as a waitress in some tiny, deep-fried diner in Alabama.
“Oh, Honey!” she chortels, shaking a pencil from her blonde cotton candy hairdo, “You want a C-section or a VBAC, hmm?”
The tone is that of an expert who has served up a thousands of really tasty sliders with an array of potato sides that are always considered worthy. Whichever meal you choose will be just fine, don’t you know, but you go ahead and look over the menu just to make yourself feel like you’ve sat atop things for awhile.
I shuffled my paper gown and Opal pats my hand comfortingly without looking up from my chart.
The thing is, I really don’t know what to do about this whole birthing deal.
Last time around, I just wanted the babies out by any means necessary before I exploded. And in the end, my twins were still upside down and backwards at 34 weeks when, low and behold, my body decided it could take no more and went toxic. The resident OB took one look at my elephant-sized ankles, booked an surgery suite then scooped out William and Elizabeth in no time flat.
(My only actual birthing memory is limited to my telling “Sharon”--I couldn’t remember the doctor’s last name who was in the process of unzipping me--that I needed another hit of anesthesia. She must have complied, as I do recall the cold swoosh of a certain numbing medicine as it flowed into my veins.)
Anyhow, the birth sufficed. The babies were out and I was, thankfully, no longer pregnant.
But according to many of my gal pals, it really is a whole lot better to do it the way nature intended. Sure, there is some pain involved, they tell me, but in the end it is pretty quick to dissipate, the mother’s body heals in no time and you’re off to the breastfeeding races.
My girlfriend Anna makes it seem nearly romantic.
“And there I was,” she told me as I listened enraptured, “Emma just slide out as the elevator doors opened!”
Michelle talks about giving birth standing up then cleaning her closets two days later.
Dana reports feeling like a “lioness.”
Most importantly, they all add that their babies were born alert, peaceful.
So, I’ve gone ahead and found a “natural birthing center” that assures pregnant women that they’ll be taught to manage their own pain while in the company of caring professionals--and 22 relatives (or pets,) if they so please.
I don’t tell Opal any of this. My thought is that she’d probably endorse any of the pies in her store, but she’d think I was downright funny if I asked her about the sugar-free, vegan Jell-o.
Opal rounds out our time together with a dozen more questions then shoos me down to the lab for a blood draw.
I confidently sit down, roll up my sleeves and let the technician do her thing.
Only she can’t seem to quite close the deal.
There is much moaning on her part about my teensy veins and their tendancy to “roll.”
She pokes my right arm once.
Then twice.
Then three times.
She sighs and starts over on my left hand.
Suddenly, my vision goes blurry and I start sweating so profusely that I feel rivulets of salt racing down from my neck, my back, my knees. I am nauseated beyond belief.
I realize that I am not about to pass out--I am about to die!
Moreover, none of the five medial professionals in the room are getting out their paddles or oxygen masks.
Why, these uncaring droids! I think. I am having a medical emergency and noone is even paying attention to my plight!
“Huh,” says the nurse who is working my hand. “You’re looking a little pale…”
No, I think, I am walking towards the white light… This is it: The End.
I promptly begin the Lord’s Prayer.
Someone props and orange juice up in my free hand.
“Now, now, Dear, you’re going to be fine,” Nurse Can’t Finda Vein says.
I use every last ounce of strength to crack open one eyeball.
“Call,” I puff, “Opal. Decided on C-section.”
I’m sure she’d even bring me a side of coleslaw if I asked nicely.


Men get to plan engagements but it’s we women that get to tell the greatest news of all.
And knowing this was likely the Last Gigantic Secret I’d ever tell, I decided at 4:21 a.m. on January 12 to carefully keep the news to myself until my husband came home from a prolonged business trip overseas. Like a hen tending her egg (pun intended), I would position myself carefully over my secret, hiding it beneath my feathers no matter if the rooster was gone for two months.
Of course, it was like sitting on a volcano.
Be proud of me, dear reader: In the end, I told my husband first…if you don’t count the many other friends and strangers that sort of knew ahead of time.
You see, I had to call my BFF but I didn’t so much as tell her as ask her to talk me down from the edge of a tall, scary bridge. In a matter of 30 minutes, she managed to find a forklift and eased me back into the river of life unharmed. If it hadn’t have been for Michelle, my twins would have been left with the responsibility of calling 911.
Then, my beloved sister-in-law called to wish me a happy birthday. And since she shares my husband’s DNA, this really means there are no secrets with her.
Next, I went on my morning power walk with my gal pal Anna--who clearly had to know my circumstance just in case I passed out at a crosswalk. (I do think I made it out of the parking lot, knowledge encased.)
That afternoon, I started panicking again and touched based with Dana in Wisconsin, my uber-wise granola-momma mentor who has three children and could explain to me the precise benefits of a larger family. Really, she’s more of a psychologist and we all that doctor-patient relationships are confidential.
Of course, I had to tell Aunt Cindy I had violated #20 on the Bridesmaid Checklist--the very one I had authored the previous week. I never even mentioned the “P” word but she knew darn well that #20 was “Thou shall not get pregnant and ruin the bridesmaid-to-groomsmen ratio.” (See previous blog post: “Cindy’s Wedding.”)
My former sorority sister Angie is a Sherlock-Holmes type who happened to be in the car with Aunt Cindy as they drove through a raging blizzard when I rang with news of the violation. Angie put two and two together on her own but I didn’t actually have a conversation with her, so she can’t be considered in the mix.
Of course, I had to e-mail Laura, another former sorority sister, when she e-mailed me the news of her own twin pregnancy. We all know that e-mail isn’t a real conversation.
I admit I might have let on to Stacey, my college roommate, but information shared with a girlfriend you’ve lived with for more than three years is like telling a sister and thus the rules of DNA apply.
Mind you, all of this non-telling happened over the course of eight day, which is really a pretty good secret-to-day ratio especially when you consider all the people I completely avoided telling when I heard from them.
This list includes:
My own parents, who I see nearly every day.
My lovely mother-in-law, who spent 45 minutes praising my parenting skills about 10 hours after I found out about The Secret.
Three of my fabulous preschool momma friends who chaperoned a roller skating play date, one of whom nearly got the news when we had a conversation about how “happy we are that we no longer have to carry all our baby gear around.”
W. & E.’s godmother Jessica, who is privy to every last one of my other secrets and called from Washington D.C. to catch up.
At least I didn’t have to worry about keeping mum around the passengers of Flight 1345 on Saturday, January 17.
The news was obvious to them: I stood at Terminal D24 at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport clutching in my hand a 3-foot-tall balloon in the shape of a cartoon baby. Dozens of complete strangers walked by me and congratulated me.
Still, it took my own husband and entire escalator ride to get the picture.
He started at the balloon in a fugue of jetlag.
“What the?” he said. “Were they out of ‘Welcome Home’ balloons?”
Only then did I crack the secret of the egg.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One For the Road

I took the test at 4:17 a.m., 14 hours and seventeen minutes after I’d turned 35, 21 hours after my husband had left for Korea on a business trip that did not include a determined return date.
I took it knowing my four-year-old twins would be up in 90 minutes looking for someone stable to make them breakfast.
I took it following my first foray back into a complicated reporting project that demanded my every attention to detail.
I took it believing that my reproductive system was eternally jinxed, as discussed by various highly paid medical practitioners working at nationally known clinics.
I took it after assuring my parents only the previous night that “We are done…we can not handle any more.”
There I sat on the potty listening to the January wind roar, my polka-dot jammies pooled around my ankles squinting with my now-middle-aged eyes at two lines on a white plastic stick.
I fished around inside the trash can and pulled out the instructions.
Clearly, I should have paid better attention to my professor in my college Spanish course.
I turned over the directions and looked at the diagram.
There was a glorious, blue streak of pure joy—after all, we had figured that if nature ever cooperated, we would gladly accommodate.
Then, a prayer of thanks to the Lord above and a request for good health all around.
I might have cried.
I can’t remember.
Next, came this tumble of thoughts:
• Oh, shit!
• Shitshitshitshitshitshit!
• I’m going to start puking any minute and I still have the Christmas decorations up. I wonder if I could strap a bucket around my neck to keep the carpet clean while I strip the living room tree of ornaments?
• I’m going to have to explain to the twins how the egg actually meets the spe rm. Elizabeth is going to ask questions. She’s going to demand diagrams.
• Let’s see, if I conceived in December, this baby won’t be due until the fall, which means I won’t have to worry about academic red-shirting come, what, 2012?
• I am going to be really, really old by 2012.
• Did Brenda already sell those really cute designer maternity jeans of hers at the last twin club consignment sale?
• Maybe I can wait to tell Jim after the next Mastercard flips. Would that be unethical?
• Speaking of ethics, would it be unethical of me to call my BFF first for moral support, especially given that my husband is several time zones (and one day) ahead of me? Technically, Jim and Michelle would be hearing the news on the same day…
• When did I take all that Mucinex for my allergies?
• When did I drink all that wine with my girlfriends?
• Just how much Diet Coke did I consume in the past four weeks?
• We’re going to have to put up a fence around the pool.
• I like the name Charlotte. And Caroline. And Henry.
• I will seriously die if triplets are involved.
• Does one save a urine-soaked pregnancy test as a memento?
I pitched the test, pulled up my jammies, turned off the light and slipped back into my now-cold bed.
A new life had begun—it was going to require I rest up.

Friday, January 2, 2009


My daughter Elizabeth has many delightful attributes, but to date “helpful” has not been one of them.
Unlike her brother William (I raise a glass to the mother who doesn’t secretly compare siblings), she negotiates her way out of nearly every undesireable situation and makes tangible excuses for the rest. Moreover, she does it in a most impressive way, with creative thinking, an impressive vocabulary and a beguiling grin that would convince Cupid to hand over his wings.
“Oh, I can’t possibly stop to pick up that wet towel,” she’ll say tossing that glossy blonde head of hers. “I’m on my way to build a castle. Brother is available though. And if he’s busy, you could try Daddy.”
Mind you, she’s four years old.
(Her father, however, is an attorney—and a very good one at that—so I’m blaming his DNA.)
Thus, I have to tell you about a lovely turn of events in our house: Elizabeth is on a cleaning spree.
In fact, she’s doing such a good job, she’s threatening to replace my marvelous housekeeper, Dana, who is very nearly a part of the family.
“Well, Momma, we have a sippy cup here,” she said tonight in her best sing-songy schoolteacher voice. “I’ll put it on the bench so you can take it downstairs after you tuck us in.”
The report did not come from Elizabeth’s bedroom—which she had already spent 30 minutes tidying—but from her brother’s.
You see, while Will was in the bathtub floating on his back and singing “Ralph” hits, she eschewed water play to line up his massive car collection by color and tip the toes of all of his shoes Northward. Then she had carefully arranged his stuffed animals sizewise on his bed and reshelved his books according to the Dewey Decimal System.
“Momma, do you want me to do the sink?” she asked eyeballing the Crest-encrusted basin.
That was honestly all I could say. I was, after all, in a state of shock.
Next, she puttered on to the playroom moaning about the disarray of things.
“Oh, Momma,” she said, “who wants a child that doesn’t clean up? Not me, ohhh nooo.”
I had to sit down—and quick—before I passed out.
I could understand this behavior kicking in for a kid who is being raised by neat freaks. But neither Jim nor I fit that bill—we’re sort of happily mussy: I have piles of dirty clothes jammed in the laundry room, unsent Christmas cards stacked carefully atop my desk, five or so junk drawers, though the stuff is organized into sectioned plasticware. We have systems, see, but I still leave dishes in the sink for the higher purpose of playing with my children in piles of leaves.
And yet, here is this preschooler who could interview to work for Merry Maid.
Perhaps I can thank her Montessori teachers.
“Momma,” she said, snapping me out of my fugue, “Let’s take the trash out.”
Down the stairs and out the door we went to the behemoth blue trash bin.
“Now open the top and let me dump this in,” she said.
I cracked open the 5-pound lid and she gasped.
There, nestled amongst the egg whites and greasy paper towels were two crumpled drawings she had made me. They were not two of her best, which is why they were not hanging in our playroom art gallery.
So, I did what all good mothers do: I threw our beloved housekeeper under the bus.
“Um, I bet Dana didn’t know how valuable those are,” I said, extracting them from the bin carefully. “Thanks for having such good eyes.”
Sometimes, a kid can be downright too helpful.