Monday, September 28, 2009


I know that despite my boys' less than ideal entrance into this world, we have been lucky with them. They have had minimal health problems, even fewer injuries. I am well aware that there are children fighting for their lives this very moment and that there are parents whose every waking moment is spent focused on seeing their child's next birthday, next Christmas, next day, and I am grateful - so very grateful - not to have to carry that weight.

Still, all of this luxurious perspective seemed somewhat irrelevant when I found myself speeding down the freeway on Sunday at 4 a.m., pleading my little Owen to keep talking to me so that I would know he still that I would know he was still conscious.

Whatever assuredness I might have been feeling about being able to handle the situation had evaporated minutes earlier when the nurse, after listening to his labored, raspy breathing over the phone, calmly instructed me to "get him to the ER."

I thought I was holding it together until I tried to call my husband. When I opened my mouth to leave a message, I began sobbing, which elicited a small, "Mommy, are you okay?" from Owen. Not my best moment.

Even in my panic, I managed to consider the coincidence of having only just reconnected with my NICU memories at that reading last week...of having just contemplated how very lucky we were to have escaped relatively unscathed. And here we were going back to the hospital where my little boys had spent the first three months of their lives.

Somehow my kids managed to go through their entire infancies and toddlerhoods and preschool years without getting croup. I had heard of it, of course. Several of my friends' kids had gotten it. Yet, I still associated it with a bad cough. I didn't know that it made your vocal cords swell up. I didn't realize it actually constricted the airway in the tiny throats of children.

I'm not sure whether this knowledge would have helped us avoid the trip to the ER, so in retrospect I think it's probably better that I didn't know such a sudden and terrible illness existed. Who knows how many nights I would have spent worrying had I known that there are often no signs, that a child can just wake up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe?

We got to Children's Hospital and were brought back to a room right away. They knew it was croup almost immediately, and even though he'd never had it, I felt relieved because it sounded familiar. I was even more relieved to know that once he began breathing in the epinephrine mist, he would feel better.

And feel better he did. Two hours and a zillion episodes of Tom & Jerry later, we were heading home, thus maintaining our "zero re-admissions" status that preemies so rarely seem to get.

And even though I was shaken, I felt lucky again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Words of Wisdom

A friend who I hadn't seen in awhile - but one to whom I am inextricably linked through our shared experience in the NICU - invited me to a reading the other night. All I knew about the event was that my friend's friend, Kate Hopper, was one of the readers and that she had written about her own experience with her daughter being born early and staying in the NICU.

It's funny because I don't regularly think of myself as the mother of preemies - especially not now that my preemies are gigantic six-year-olds - but when the opportunity arises to identify myself as part of that group, I am enthusiastic in the way survivors of anything are enthusiastic to share their knowledge and learn from others who can empathize. Not to mention that I am always intrigued by women who have managed to turn such a heart-wrenching experience into a book. (Let's face it, I'm intrigued by everyone who has had the determination required to complete a book.)

As expected, the reading was wonderful. All three women are fantastic writers. What was not expected, was that one of the authors was someone whose work I had already read. I didn't even recognize her name (though my fellow mamas might), but Vicki Forman had touched my heart more than a year ago.

Through the other autism mama blogs I read, I had learned of her son's sudden passing in July of 2008. Back then, I had found her on Literary Mama, where she was the Special Needs Mama, and I had been moved by her post "The Mother at the Swings."

That piece so eloquently summarizes what a parent of a special needs child is faced with when meeting new people - and I say that knowing that I have only the most peripheral of understanding on the subject given the relatively mild symptoms that Owen demonstrates.

I think I was most moved, perhaps, by her ability to paint the picture in such a positive light. The way she sees the best in the mother asking questions at the playground when it can be so easy to view such inquiries in a more sinister, judgmental light. I was struck by the way she seemed so at ease, where I often found myself fearing what that other mother might say, how she might fail to see the beauty in my child. This is something I believe I will struggle with even more as Owen gets older, now that the "little kid" behavior, like tantrums, is falling away from his peers, creating greater contrast between them.

Sadly, I didn't put the pieces together while I was at the reading, with this amazing mother and writer standing before me. The lightbulb was just beginning to spark in my brain and it wasn't until I got home and Googled her that I realized our paths had crossed before (or rather, that I had strolled along hers briefly). Not that it really matters - her reading was powerful regardless of whether I knew who she was. Her strength under more hardship than any person should bear, is mind-boggling. Her ability to channel that strength and pain and grief into words that comfort others is truly extraordinary.

Her book was swiftly placed on my must-read list. Inspiration is such a happy thing to stumble upon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mile One

In honor of it being Biggest Loser night, I have a confession that I've been meaning to make: I can't run a mile.

In fact, I almost put "Run a mile" on my 40 by 40 list, but then quickly changed it to "Run a 5k" because that seemed less pathetic. Yes, it seems that my years of disinterest in fitness have, in fact, caught up with me.

Now, I am happy to report that if I was forced to race a mile the way that the Biggest Loser contestants were last week, it is highly unlikely that I would need to be taken to the hospital (as two of the contestants were). However, the fact remains that I, like them (they?), cannot run a mile.

I got back on the treadmill wagon last month and it's been going that I haven't quit. However, even my moderate walking interspersed with my sad attempts at jogging have me averaging an 18-minute mile, which is about 4 minutes slower than the time in which Daniel (the winner) finished his mile last week. There's something about this that disturbs me...

On the bright side, I can now run 1/4 of a mile without dying. My next goal is to walk 1/4, run 1/4, walk 1/4 and run the last 1/4 (also without dying). Given that I don't have a trainer to yell at me during my workout, I think it's a reasonable goal. And someday, in the distant future, I hope to run 5,280 whole feet in a row.

Do you think I could get my own reality show that follows me training to run a mile? That would make for some suspenseful television.

Monday, September 21, 2009


My boys came home from school with a very exciting letter from the principal today. The key excerpt:

We want our students to have the opportunity to learn more about each other. Through an education foundation grant and financial support from our Student Services Department, a brief seven lesson curriculum was developed to help all students better understand the unique challenges and learning characteristics of students on the Autism Spectrum. Throughout the next several months your child will participate in these lessons as part of their classroom curriculum.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm so happy that I could cry. There is so much we all still have to learn about autism, but giving kids a basic understanding of the disorder from an early age could go such a long way in creating a culture of support and acceptance. It could make my little Owen's life so much better both in school and in the long-run.

This is important. It's the right thing to do. And it came from the public school system that I deeply mistrust. I am happily surprised and look forward to being proven wrong again and again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rose-colored Glass(es)

Do you remember when we were kids and there would be contests in which game pieces were given out and then you had to hold the game piece behind the special "decoder" (which was a red film) to see what your game piece said? (I tried Googling that to see what it was actually called, but alas, I wasn't able to find my answer.)

Anyway, I remember that seeming like magic as a kid. That a squiggly image could suddenly say something, like, "You win!" (Or, more often, "You are not a winner. Try again.")

Well, this same technology is being used on one of the toys Burger King is giving out in its "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatlballs" Kids' Meals. (A movie a highly recommend for ages 5 and up, btw.)

On this toy, the red magic is being used to show different foods that Flint's machine made. You press a button, it flips to a different image and then you close the "door" (the red film) and suddenly the food item appears. (I realize these photos aren't great, but it's a banana - trust me.)

Owen is fascinated. Aidan and I agree that it's a pretty neat toy (especially for something that came in a kids' meal ), but Owen just can't believe his eyes.

After playing with it for a good 10 minutes or so, he turned to me and said, "Guess what food this is," showing me the squiggly image. "I don't know," I said, not wanting to ruin his magic. Shutting the door to reveal a banana, he turned back to explain, "Use the green parts to organize it." Sure enough, the banana is a subtle green beneath the red squiggles.

To organize it. It's these little windows into his brain that I love so much. The way he looks for a clue to help him make sense of the rest of what's happening.

I'm sure we all do this without thinking about it, but it's his awareness and the fact that I know he has to work so much harder at it that gives me pause.

If only everything in life came with a special decoder...a little red film that took out the squiggles and helped us see the important stuff. That helped us organize things.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Everything's shaping up fish

It's Friday again! First, I must thank everyone who responded to my food challenge. Hummus and crackers was the star meal this week.

Plus there was a bizarre midweek appearance by "fish shapes." Yes, my choosy eater son chose to eat "fish shapes" rather than chicken tenders on the one day this week he ate school lunch. They were apparently fish sticks shaped like (what else?) fish. Curious.

I must also note that the most creative food suggestion I received was to mix something he likes with mascarpone cheese (protein!). So we mixed Hershey's syrup and cinnamon with it and served it on graham crackers. Success! Well, success at home, anyway. When I sent this creation to school, he only nibbled and then ate his grapes. I'm planning to try again next week by mixing jam with mascarpone and serving it on bread like a sandwich. Fingers crossed.

Hard as it is to believe, I've been doing other things this week besides obsessing over my children's lunches...I've also been obsessing about my job.

It's going well. This working five days thing doesn't seem so bad. (Do you like how I say that as if working Monday through Friday is some newfangled concept?) In fact, it makes my work life a little easier because I'm there every day. Also, leaving at 2 p.m. is heavenly. I'm not suggesting that it's as good as not having to go to work at all, mind you, but it makes it a lot easer to get up the next day and do it again.

And, naturally, because I have an inability to just let good things just be good, the fact that things are going so well has me questioning whether or not I could actually return to this corporate life...which goes against my previous decision that I would never go back to a corporate life.

Now, to an untrained eye, it may look as if I've already gone back to the corporate life (hello, it's been almost six months!), but I guess the difference for me is that I was viewing it as a temporary thing. Like it could end or I could end it at any time.

See, this corporate job and I have just been dating. Only now it's getting more serious. It feels like it could become exclusive. I'm afraid the corporation might pop the question...might ask me to be an employee...and I don't know if I'm ready. I still have so many freelance oats to sew!

Or do I? If my fab former (current) boss hadn't given me this opportunity, wouldn't I have continued to hunt for a job at another company? Quite possibly a big one that could pay me a living wage? Yes, yes I would have, because (if you recall), I was working for minimum wage at an ethically-questionable pseudo bakery when I got this job.

So really, I could be working 40 hours per week at another company right now, still mourning the loss of my freedom, but not being able to meet my boys' bus every afternoon. Which is to say that I have it good. And I should enjoy it. And nothing is forever, so I should really stop obsessing...

Sure thing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ultimate School Lunch Challenge Showdown

We all survived the first week of 1st grade (yay!) and now the boys have got me fixated on lunch, too, only for different reasons. I somehow forgot that there was a high likelihood that their classrooms would be peanut-free, due to the severe allergies of several of their classmates. Actually, I think that I remembered at one point this summer and then promptly forgot again...

Really the only sandwich Owen eats is PB&J. He has expanded his hot food options beyond macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers (even being so bold as to eat spinach quesadillas and salmon!), but when it comes to sandwiches, the only thing he'll eat without someone standing over him saying, "Three more bites! C'mon, just three!" is PB&J.

Well, wouldn't you know that Owen got the peanut-free class, while Aidan, who has a wide ranging palate, can bring whatever he wants to eat. Great.

Compounding the problem is the fact that they apparently get 10 seconds to eat lunch. Okay, I think they get at least 20 minutes - maybe even half an hour - but my kids are slow eaters. Owen, in particular, is a slow eater, as he tends to drift off to space every few minutes - this has always made mealtime a challenge. Add in a table full of kids to distract him and I'm sure he completely forgets he's even hungry.

This has resulted in not a lot of lunch getting eaten. Today, Owen reported that he ate his tiny cup of applesauce and drank his chocolate milk and that's it. Results were only slightly better on the one day he took hot lunch (french toast sticks!), but hot lunch is only an option when they are serving something he is likely to eat without prompting, which pretty much limits us to macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, pizza, and anything in the breakfast carb family (pancakes/waffles/french toast).

So my challenge is to find a nut-free lunch that he likes enough to want to eat it (quickly) and that provides enough protein to give him a fighting chance of making it through the rest of the school day without a meltdown. No lunch meat. No cheese slices. Nothing weirdly textured ("It has texture!" he will say). And he already vetoed sun butter on a trial run.

Please allow me to make my challenge yours...ideas? Winning ideas get a napkin autographed by Owen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day One (Lunchables are Evil)

Apparently first grade is all about lunch. When my boys got off the bus today, that is all that I heard...I guess eating lunch at school is far more fascinating than I remember.

Oh, but it's exciting stuff. The Lunchables that I let myself be talked into buying as a special first day treat, turned out to be just as complicated as I had predicted and one of Owen's precious pizza crusts fell on the floor. And then pizza crust number two was "an absolute disaster," according to him. It is unclear how the one he ate was more of a disaster than the one that fell on the floor, but I think it had something to do with his idea that the first pizza would be the one with the pizza sauce and the second would be the "treatza" (essentially chocolate frosting with rainbow sprinkles). I don't know, those things should have an age warning on them.

Aidan had some trouble with his Lunchable as well, but he was just as happy to chime in about Owen's lunch meltdown, which he witnessed from the neighboring table because they are in separate classes this year(!).

However, my favorite synopsis of the day came from Owen, when I asked if he paid attention in class today. "Yeah," he said. "I was 78% focused." Well, okay then.

Here's to doing it all again tomorrow! Minus the Lunchables.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bracing for the Punch

I am staring down an exhausting week during which my babies will start first grade and I will start my new 5-day work schedule - and my husband will be in Texas for all of it. I'm anticipating a lot of frozen pizza eating and Food Network watching...

I'm not panicking, I'm just dreading it a little.

And btw, how did my babies become first graders? It's weird enough that they are actual people with opinions about things, but it's almost like they have jobs now with starting school full-time. I don't think I'm ready. Luckily, they are.

At dinner tonight, I mentioned that tomorrow is the last day of summer break. This was met with cheers of, "On Tuesday we start first grade!!" Let's hope that enthusiasm lasts.

So far, they are most excited about eating lunch at school and having gym. I have refrained from telling them that those are likely to become the things they hate most in a year or two. Who knows? Maybe school lunch has become super great...and maybe they will excel in athletics...and maybe there are flying pigs living in my attic.

And, as a side note, the teenager wreaked some havoc this weekend by choosing to stay out all weekend partying rather than show up for his senior pictures...the senior pictures that I've been planning for months and that were probably way too important to me, but still...I've been obsessing all weekend about whether he will ever grow up and whether I'll ever be able to have a decent relationship with him, and then I read this heartbreaking piece and it gave me the perspective my mind needed to quiet the "what ifs," at least momentarily.

I'm trying to reclaim the feeling of gratitude for him being here to argue with at all. It doesn't excuse bad behavior, but it softens the blow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Of Age

The teenager turns 18 today. As if that isn’t enough to make me feel old in itself, I was 18 when I started dating his father. Commence panic attack.

What do I do with this information? How do I make sense of it? How can I have a stepson who is an adult? Where did the time go?

Of course, I am happy for him because this is an exciting time for a young adult. I am also scared for him because I think we become adults sooner than most of us are ready.

We didn’t make it to this point unscathed, but we did make it and I’d like to think that all of us are stronger and smarter for what we’ve been through. More than anything, I am grateful that his life still holds unlimited possibility.

And hey, if nothing else, he hasn’t gotten anybody pregnant, which is more than we could have said for his father at this age and he still turned out pretty damn well. (love you, honey)

So bring on the cigarette buying, gambling, strip clubs, voting, and legal papers in need of signing (what else can you really do at 18?). Today is the day we celebrate getting here. The end of something and the beginning of everything.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I ♥ NY

"They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it!"

I've been back from New York for three days and I've still got "9 to 5" running on a loop through my head. But I don't mind because it brings back my fond memories (from Saturday) of seeing Allison Janney on Broadway!

I want to tell all of you to run and see "9 to 5" because it's so much fun, but it's only running through Sept. 6, so unless you're in the New York area right at this moment, I'm afraid you will miss out on Miss Janney's Broadway brilliance. (It's not just her, either, the entire cast is great.)

So yeah, I went to New York. It was my expat BFF's last hurrah before returning to India. Or, more accurately, it was our last hurrah with him (that would be Gretchen and me), as he was actually fairly ready to return to his new home after spending nearly a month here with nonstop work and social engagements.

Aside from the Broadway musical (man, I love musicals), another highlight of our NYC adventures included seeing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex and the John Lennon: The New York City Years exhibit. It opened the day after I left New York the last time, so I was delighted to find that it was still open when we wandered down Mercer to shop.

It's total coincidence (or fate?) that I was just at the real Rock and Roll Hall of Museum, but I have to say that the way they've conceptualized the museum experience at the annex – with headphones that play the appropriate soundtrack as you walk from exhibit to exhibit – is actually superior to the way they are doing things in Cleveland.

Btw, they have pieces of CBGB on display in the annex. Now, while I think it's a nice tribute to the venue, I was just a little weirded out by seeing a place I've actually been, reassembled in a museum. It makes a girl feel old.

As for the Lennon exhibit, it was both heart-warming and sad. He could have done so much more...a fact that you are solemnly reminded of as the exhibit ends with the actual brown paper bag the coroner sent back to Yoko with the clothes in which John was murdered. It's intended to make a statement against gun violence. It just reminded me of how people can be taken from you in an instant.

Ok, so that was depressing, but in a culturally-relevant way. Onto lighter things...

Saturday night we had dinner at Perilla, the restaurant that belongs to Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle! The place is adorable and the food is amazing (hello, goat cheese tortellini), but the best part was when Harold himself emerged from the kitchen in his chef coat, suggesting that he actually might have cooked our food.

And just as we were recovering from that star struck moment, Neil Patrick Harris waltzes into the restaurant (possibly on a date) and is whisked away to a table in the back. I pondered meandering back there to strike up a conversation about how Aidan often reminds me of Doogie Howser, but then I remembered that he probably prefers to think that people don't only remember him for that particular role.

Anyway, Perilla is amazing. It would be amazing even if Harold wasn't a reality TV winner, but let's be honest: Knowing that I've further intertwined my life with Top Chef brings me a special kind of happiness. Could be worse.

And this is not a highlight exactly, but later that night, in a cloud of sleepiness and cocktails, Gretchen and I had the brilliant idea to wander around Times Square in search of cream cheese wontons. I mean, we figured they must be on every street corner, right? Wrong. But we did have a lovely stroll through Times Square until it began to rain, at which point we ran into a bar. Upon exiting, I tripped and tore off nearly half of the nail on my big toe. Oops. And then we ate hot dogs and called it a night.

Anyway, our final day in New York included one last highlight, which was a lovely trip to the gigantic Whole Foods Market in Columbus Circle, where we acquired lunch and then went and ate it in Central Park. Ah, Central Park. It was a lovely end to a lovely weekend...which is to say that I'm making an effort to block out the ensuing debacle with missing our return flight being stuck in the airport for four hours while all the promise of Manhattan loomed just over the horizon.

No, I'll just let Central Park on a perfect, sunny day with the BFF trifecta, be my last memory of the trip.