Sweet Baby James

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You are only one, but there is so much to say about you.

We contemplated whether or not to have a third baby. Did we have room for one more? Did we have the patience, the stamina, and the mental reserve to have three kids under five-years-old? We didn’t know if we did, but when I looked at family photographs, a part of me knew that someone was missing.

You were missing.

 ****

In April 2013, my dad died and one month later I discovered I was pregnant with you. It was a hard pregnancy. There was my grief. Then your dad tore his achilles tendon and could not drive or walk for two months. That fall, your dad lost his cousin and a childhood friend.  The doctor told me that each subsequent pregnancy feels harder on a woman’s body. My body hurt. Pregnant with two preschoolers and an injured husband, I was exhausted.

People often said, “Don’t worry third babies just go with the flow.” Pregnant with my third, I clung to this adage wholeheartedly.

In my head, I thought you would just roll with the punches. Your dad hoped you would be a garden gnome baby who would sit and sleep in your baby carrier and be toted to all of your sisters’ activities. We did not think to contemplate the alternative, which was the ultimate jinx.

Colic.

You screamed. You cried like a screeching car alarm, hardly breathing. You turned purple screaming. The color vanished from your lips.

The definition of colic is constant and inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least three months. The definition sounds nice compared to your screaming. You screamed all day every day for months. I dreamed of only three hours of crying.

You screamed at home. You screamed in the car. You screamed in the stroller when I walked your sisters into preschool. You screamed at the supermarket.

“Is he tired?”

”Is he hungry?”

“Does he need to be changed?”

“Is he cold?”

A chorus of suggestions from well meaning strangers followed me wherever I went.

When my four-year-old daughter’s teachers asked about her baby brother, she responded, “He cries a lot,” which may have been the understatement of the year.

Initially, I marveled at the patience of your two big sisters since your scream became the soundtrack of our lives.  We couldn’t hear ourselves think. I marveled at my husband’s patience. He would never have maintained his cool so well with our first baby.

We were all so patient, but then …

Your two-year-old sister lost her cool. As you screamed in your car seat, she put her hands over her ears and started crying and yelling at the top of her lungs, “BABY, STOP SCREAMING,” repeatedly on every drive.

The sheer noise level of our drives was mind altering.  This may have been the point where the rest of us lost our minds.  My hearing permanently diminished.

Was it reflux? We tried gripe water, Zantac, Prevacid, and Chamomile tea. I eliminated everything from my diet.

You cried. You screamed. You didn’t sleep. You were up every hour for months on end.

I worried that you would never smile. I prayed there was nothing wrong with you. Were you in physical pain? Was there something wrong with your brain or your nervous system?  Your screams pierced our psyches.

My spirit wilted. Were we going to be okay? Denial, I kept smiling.

At this point, there were a handful of people that were my saviors, your grandmothers, who were the only people I trusted to watch you as you screamed inconsolably, a couple of friends who listened empathetically, but most of all there was my twin sister.  She maintained my sanity.  I have never been so grateful for our relationship. She had a newborn as well, a daughter two months older than you. Every day I dropped my big girl at preschool and endured the stares as you shrieked in the stroller. I drove around in my minivan, talking to my sister on Bluetooth, as you endlessly shrieked in the back seat. She spent countless morning hours on the phone with me as I drove my screaming baby. She never told me she couldn’t hear me. She never complained. She never told me to call her back. She talked to me about life as you screeched inconsolably in our ears. This is love.

One conversation stands out.

“Having a third baby is not so bad.” I commented as I pulled out of my alley. “You should definitely have a third baby.”

“Justine, are you crazy?” she said. “I talk to you every day.  You may be the reason I never have a third child.  You can’t tell me what your doing is easy. I can’t stand it when my baby screams like that for five minutes. What you’re experiencing is so hard!” She acknowledged what I couldn’t say out loud.  Silly, but her words meant everything.

At two months, you smiled and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. You laughed. Milestones came and time passed. The colic vanished with the size 2 baby diapers.  Colic became a distant memory.

****

Your beginning makes me think of an Edward Abbey quotation, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

You are the most amazing view.

You are joy, love, and enthusiasm. You stretch your arms and reach for everyone in the family – an equal opportunity spreader of love.

When I cradle you, you wrap your arms around my neck, pulling my face close to your soft cheek.

You give giant open mouth kisses to everyone in the family, sucking on our noses, cheeks, and mouths.

“This is hilarious,” your big sister giggles as you dive mouth first for her nose. (These kisses may have something to do with this being the worst cold season we have ever experienced).

Adored. We swoon in your presence.

You love your big sisters, but they may love you more. This Thanksgiving, the curmudgeony three-year-old proudly told her teachers that she was thankful for her baby brother.

We are all thankful for you.

You have zero personal space. Your two big sisters smother you with hugs whether you want them or not. They grab you, and you either laugh or you scream.

You don’t talk yet, but your desires are known. You watch me fix a snack for your sisters and you shriek loudly until the same snack is placed on your tray. I fill a glass of water and you scream because you are thirsty too.

You scream until your needs are met.

Meals are loud.

Life is loud.

You already know you must fight for what you want. Your three-year-old sister steals your toy and a guttural howl escapes your mouth. Your arm stretches to grab it back. This may be her favorite game, anything you like she takes instantly.

At six-months-old, you saw soccer balls in the grass and kicked your feet wildly with excitement. You chase balls around the house, pushing and throwing them and then crawling after them at rocket speed.

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Much to your dad’s joy, you sit in front of the basketball hoop outside and reach up with your arms to try to place the ball in the hoop.

You and Deets (our dog) are equally obsessed with tennis balls.

You started crawling at 7.5 months.

You are a lover of all things dangerous – stairs, toilets, sockets, and electrical chords.

You don’t know how to walk but you climb step stools and stand on your tippy toes to grab anything elicit from the counter.

You stand on your tiptoes and pull colored pencils off the girls’ art table.

You bump your head on the coffee table at least a thousand times a day. You don’t go around tables or chairs instead you go through them and are constantly stuck in chair legs, rungs, and sandwiched in between end tables and couches.

You see an open baby gate and throw your crawl into high gear in hopes that you make it to the stairs before me. We have started constructing giant barriers of beanbag chairs and toy baskets to block you off from dangerous areas of the house. You summit our manmade obstacles and we make them higher. Cru, our old Basset Hound, barks constantly at the barricades . Again, we are so loud.

The girls screamed angrily in their highchairs when the dogs ate crumbs from their laps. You giggle with delight when the dogs lick your feet.

“Hi,” you wave, so pleased with your ability to communicate. Your wave is an exaggerated opening and closing of the fingers. I say hi, and your fingers immediately respond. I tell you to say goodnight to your dad and sisters, and your fingers open and close dramatically.

You laugh hysterically at my jokes and funny sounds.

You have the hazel eyes of your namesake.

You have a one-year-old mullet of thin old man hair that makes us smile.

You are beautiful.

We survived your first year.  My last baby, every moment is nostalgic. Every milestone is as wonderful as those accomplished by your two big sisters. As I felt with them, you truly are the smartest, most coordinated, most loving, and most beautiful baby in the world.

How did we get so lucky three times?

You put giant smiles on all of our faces. Our hearts soar for you.

“My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” (Tom Robbins)

Three-Year-Old Wild Thing

“Santa is watching,” I tell my daughter who appears to be dangerously close to putting a large pot over her baby brother’s head.

“Oh no,” she cries, collapsing in a heap on the hardwood floors. She cries inconsolably, gasping for breath. “I am so naughty,” she wails. I sit down on the floor and wrap my arms around her body and give her a tight squeeze.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “It’s not yet Christmas, you have time to be better,” I rub her back with my hand. My words are the opposite of soothing.

She bolts upright. “I CAN’T,” she screams. “I want to stop being naughty, but I can’t.” She is distraught and realizes that behaving is not a possible. “SANTA WILL NEVER BRING ME ANY PRESENTS,” real tears stream down her cheeks.

This is the seasonal variation of her wailing, “I want to be good, but I just CAN’T,” or “I want to stop crying, but my tears just won’t stop.”

*****

I walk into my daughter’s preschool classroom. I love picking my three-year-old up from school. Typically, she runs at me with open arms, yells “Mama” and grabs hold of my legs. I never get greetings like that. Today I walk into her classroom. My daughter is huddled in the corner behind a table. She looks up, sees me, and screams, “GO AWAY,” at the top of her lungs. These public greetings can be embarrassing. I approach her and her shrieks grow louder. She opens her mouth wide and ROARS.

“What are you doing? We’ve got to go.” I snap, kneeling down beside her. She holds a Ziploc baggy that contains a chocolate in her hands and like a wild animal she tears at it with her teeth.

“What are you doing?” I repeat, slightly horrified by her animalistic behavior.

“I want my treat,” she growls. The teacher told her she could not have a treat until she finished her healthy food. My daughter’s lunchbox sits full on the table.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put treats in her lunchbox,” her teacher suggests as we exit the classroom.

 ****

“MOM,” my baby howls. I glance at the clock, 2:30am, jump out of bed, and run to her room. “There are spiders,” she murmurs still half asleep. “Mommy snuggle,” she implores. I lie down in her bed, placing my head on a stuffed animal. I try to fall back to sleep. Moments later, she barks, “MOM SIT IN THE CHAIR!” She doesn’t want me to share her bed, the bratty child wants me to sit in the chair by her bed.

 Seriously? I think. Are you kidding me? Last time I climb in her bed.

****

The baby screams and instantaneously, she screams, “I didn’t do it.”

“What do you mean you didn’t do it?” I say. The three-year-old and the crying baby sit beside each other next to the steps.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Oh, I just bumped his chin against the stairs.” She answers innocently. “Is that bad?” Her grin is devilish.

This kid thinks she can get away with anything, and she probably can.  In the future, I just hope she uses her charm for good and not evil.

****

A professional family photo shoot at Wash Park, my wild child pops a squat in the middle of the very public field. There is no shame in her game.

****

We are at the playground, waiting for her big sister to get out of school. I push my wild child on the swing.

“Try pumping,” I say, she knows how to pump her legs, but she has no desire to do it on her own.

“DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY,” she croaks in her best Yoda voice.

Okay, Yoda, you win. You may have the force on your side, but you are dangerously close to sliding to the Dark Side.
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Photo credit: Julie Harris Photography

The Princesses in Their Cages

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“Guess what?” I say as I approach my daughters, sitting at the dining room table coloring. Their markers strewn across the table are mostly faded and dried out. The new colored pencils, our family’s solution to the dried out markers, lay scattered around them in a mini tornado of coloring utensils. I sit down beside my daughters.

“We are going to Disney Land for my birthday. Mom is going to celebrate her birthday with her twin sister and we are going to Disney Land!” I am thrilled about my plan. When I discovered my birthday fell on my daughter’s fall break, I never booked a trip so quickly. I have never been to Disney Land and have received a giant amount of grief for this for my entire life. I will finally experience this American rite of passage on my 35th birthday with my twin sister. But then I start thinking about the details of our “vacation”. For three nights my husband and I will share a hotel room with our three tiny children, one of whom is up several times a night. We will spend our days at an overcrowded theme park. I don’t like crowds. I don’t even like street fairs. This may be my own personal hell, perhaps not a vacation at all, but rather a very expensive and rare form of torture?

“Mommy hasn’t celebrated her birthday with her twin sister in 20 years,” I tell my daughters who by this time have completely checked out of the conversation and are dreaming about Anna, Elsa, and their cousin who they adore. “Mommy has never been to Disney Land.” I say animatedly and slightly irritated by the way I am talking about myself in the third person.

My four-year-old jumps from her seat and shouts, “ I can’t wait to go to Disney Land and see the princesses in their cages!”

“I can’t wait to see the princesses in their cages too,” the three-year-old screams, mimicking her sister.

I smile.   My girls think that Disney Land is a zoo for princesses. A modern day feminist’s dream, the dangerous Disney Princesses with their svelte bodies and flowing tresses, all locked behind bars. These princesses who brainwash our preschoolers to think that being skinny and pretty is everything. The insidious belief that if a young girl is thin, pretty, and waits patiently, her prince charming will come, kiss her, and carry her to a glorious happily ever after. Some feminists blame princess culture for everything. Disney Princesses, the slippery slope that set our daughters on the path to body insecurities and eating disorders.

It would be nice if life were that simple? If banning princesses from our homes would guarantee that our daughters would grow-up with high self-esteem and aspirations to be whoever they want to be. It would be lovely if banning princesses would prevent my future adolescent daughters from obsessing over whether society/ adolescent boys find them pretty or not.

From my experience raising two daughters, three-year-olds gravitate to gender stereotypes. My daughter insists on wearing pink and purple twirley princess dresses every day. She scoffs at pants and shorts. My oldest did the same thing, but now she is five, she only wears pants, and her favorite color is green.

Princess culture is fleeting. The stereotypes in the princess books are pathetic, but this too shall pass. If my daughter develops body insecurities as a tween, it won’t be because of Ariel’s shell bikini. It will more likely stem from pop culture where the media photo-shops images of already dangerously thin supermodels.

As a child I did not own a single Disney Princess. I spent most of my time coloring my barbies and chopping off their hair. My barbies were skinny and pretty, but they were dolls. At 11-years-old, I obsessed over whether I was pretty or not. I spent hours thinking if only I was skinnier, had longer legs, or a different nose. Embarrassingly, I believed that being “pretty” was everything. The pretty girls were the popular girls and I wished I could be one. As an adolescent I wasted so much time worrying about how I looked.

I wish it were that easy. I wish I could lock the princesses in their cages and save my daughters from the masochistic adolescent activity of dissecting their looks. I wish I could save them from the monstrous teenage time suck, that is spending endless hours worrying about whether they are pretty or whether a certain boy will like them. I wish I could save them the heartache of feeling ugly, different, or less than. But alas, annihilating the princesses is not the answer. Society’s fixation with beauty is pervasive.  It sucks.

 *****

“The princesses actually walk around Disney Land,” I say to my eldest daughter. “It is not a zoo. You can even shake their hands.” I laugh out loud and kiss her soft face.

Her cheeks flush. She is embarrassed. “I know that,” she says, “Princesses live in castles.”

“Of course they do,” I say, “and we are going to visit them on my birthday.”

Five-Years-Old, Kindergarten, and Ripping My Heart From My Chest

For me five-years-old is kindergarten. Today she is five tomorrow she starts kindergarten.  She will be in school all day. For the first time I will drop her off at the curb instead of holding her hand and guiding her to her class. She will be in a room with 26 five-year-olds. For all the new moms out there, this milestone is hard. It seems like it will never happen, but then it happens, and it happens fast.

My shining star, beating heart, quiet, sweet, and innocent baby is going to kindergarten.

Yesterday she spent twenty minutes being assessed by her teacher and maybe said three words – painful, gut-wrenching, grab my heart with your bare hands and rip it from my chest – all words to describe being a mother of a painfully shy child starting a new school year.

“I spelled one word perfectly,” she told me as we left her school assessment.

“Which word?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “N-O-A.”

In other words, (1) her teacher did not learn much in the assessment, (2) I maybe should have spent more time practicing letters with her this summer, and (3) I wanted to grab her (teacher) and shake her and tell her how sensitive, brilliant, and special my baby is. My heart literally breaks sending her into a giant classroom.  I feel as if I am releasing her into a pack of  Wild Dogs.

I fear that since she is quiet her teachers and classmates might miss her sparkle.

I want everyone to see her SPARKLE. She is spectacular.

She is my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, a dark night with no electricity for hundreds of miles. I tilt my head back and look up into the night sky. There is a magnificent carpet of stars and as my eyes skim the horizon, I see the Southern Cross.

She is the cold sand between my toes, quiet, and peaceful with a glowing moon overhead. I tentatively stick my foot into the saltwater and – POW – glowing phosphorescence swirl around my feet. I swipe my toes across the water and a glowing trail follows it.

This is my daughter.

She walks on her toes – a quirk – some say a problem. When she was three-years-old, I asked her P.E. teacher about it. Her reply, “Some of the fastest runners in elementary school are the kids who walked on their toes.”

My five-year-old is fast. She is confident about her speed. “I am the fastest,” she says, challenging anyone to a race. Long legs and endless endurance, she loves to run.

She is an observer. She learns visually. She may be the most observant person I have ever met. I too like to observe. She hasn’t yet learned it’s impolite to stare, but she is watching the way the world works, soaking it all in, and remembering the details.

My girl has been to three new schools in three years. We had bad luck with preschools. She is nervous, introducing herself into each new situation. It is scary going to new schools. She gets anxious. Each year on the first day she does not cry. She walks right in. She says goodbye and lets me leave. She tells me to leave. My daughter is the essence of BRAVE.

She is learning to make friends, learning to ask others to play, and to join a crowd of her peers. She watches. She learns. At the beginning of her pre-kindergarten year, I asked her what she did during free play at school.

“I play puzzles.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can do it on my own.” At first I considered this a sad response, but then realized this is a SMART response. She knows how to handle new situations on her own. She knows what games she can play by herself and be happy.

First she circled the girls she wanted to play with like a humming bird she gracefully hovered nearby. She circled them until they asked her to play. She was with a group of kids many of whom had been at the same school for three years and she gradually learned to play with them.

 *****

She is generosity. Her heart is gold.

“Wow,” her teacher whispered. My daughter received a chocolate covered strawberry at her end of the year party. When her sister and I picked her up it was untouched. She smiled and offered her sister the first taste. “Most kids don’t do that,” her teacher confided.

She is kindness.

This summer I told the girls they would receive a treat if they participated in their swim class. Her little sister screamed by the pool, refusing to participate. She stayed dry loudly. My oldest swam. She kicked and suddenly her freestyle looked like freestyle. “You get a treat,” I told my big girl proudly as her sister screamed in the car seat beside her.

I gave my oldest a gummy peach. As I put the car in reverse, I peered into the rear view mirror. My daughter bit the gummy in half and handed half to her sister.

She is patience

*****

“She sings like a bird,” a schoolmate whispered to his mother.

First day of school and her pre-k teacher asked her name. I gently elbowed her, pushing her to respond. Silence. Sometimes she hides within herself like a rollie pollie bug, folding into itself at the slightest touch. This year she feared asking for a pencil. She feared asking to go to the bathroom. She had an accident. We (her teachers and parents) were concerned.

But then …

At preschool graduation my daughter stood in front of her entire class and ALL their parents and sang. She sang beautifully. She sang loudly.

“Are you nervous,” I asked.

“No mom,” she rolled her eyes as if I was crazy.

My four-year-old sang. “Peace like a river, I know peace like a river, I know peace like a river in my soul.” The words poured from her mouth and tears spilled from my eyes. She is meant to sing.

Since she was two-years-old she sang in tune.

She is a performer.

The night before preschool graduation, she danced in a recital in front of literally hundreds of people. I was nervous. “Are you nervous?” I asked, dropping her off with over a hundred dancers from classes across the city hours before the show.

“No Mom.” Again, huge eye roll, (I’ve been getting a lot of those lately).

She performed beautifully. Grace personified. She moved across the stage. I underestimated her ability.

“She is a ballerina,” my ex-ballerina sister gushed over the phone after watching the video. “I tease you guys about your dancing, but Justine, she is good.” I let the words sink in.

Acting camp. She knew no one. At the end of the week performance her words rang loud and clear.

My daughter is a star.

Her Elsa rendition – out of this world.

The Hans and Anna duet with her dad – show stopping.

Annie songs – impeccable.

Daring, this summer my daughter jumped on a horse bareback, grabbed its mane, and eagerly kicked it to trot.

A photographic memory, she beats me at memory cards. (I am sleep deprived but her mind is mystifying).

She draws hyenas, foxes, elephants, and portraits of her family in amazing detail.

She is still passionate about hyenas. Foxes are a close second.

This year we read books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume. Fudge is our favorite.

She is not scared of spiders or snakes.

She is gorgeous with big brown eyes, curly hair, eyelashes that will never need mascara, dark skin, and long legs. Her looks are a beautiful mixture of her Dad and me.

She is strong. She repeatedly swings herself across the monkey bars.

She will be the youngest in her class. As her mother, I worry whether we made the right decision or whether we should have kept her in preschool for one more year.

But then …

“It’s my turn,” she snapped loudly, pushing herself in front of a group of girls at a birthday party. Her newly found confidence is music to my ears.

We go to the park and she gets on the swing. All of a sudden, her legs stretch out and her body leans slightly back. Her knees bend and she leans forward the slightest bit. The swing gets higher and higher. My daughter soars. Her legs stretch into the trees. A sign.

“Look at me,” she shouts. She’s got it. The monkey bars, the swings, the rock wall, my five-year-old dominates the playground. Back and forth she goes, higher and higher, my baby bird soars free. She is brilliant. She is beauty. She is strength.

Five years ago, she pulled the heart from my chest and this girl holds it there.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I ask.

“Stuffed hyenas, balls to play all different sports, and a bike without training wheels.”

The best answer ever. After this birthday, she will own every hyena ever manufactured.

Wow, she is the coolest.

*****

Dear Teacher,

Please work hard to discover that my daughter is so much more than her assessment.  You will love what you see. Please help her make a friend.

Sincerely,

A mother who loves her daughter fiercely and completely.

P.S.

I know this may be a little helicoptery, but the toilet flush in the girls bathroom at school is really confusing.  I hope you explain it to the kids. (It’s one of those big 1970s circular flushes you kick with your feet).  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take her into the bathroom and show her how it works. I know I am already borderline being labeled “Crazy Mom”, so I am refraining from emailing you about this before the first day of school.

(Instead I am posting a pretend email on my blog – CRAZY).

I Know a Dog

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I know a dog that thinks he is a person.

I know a dog that wouldn’t think of sleeping on a dog bed.

I know a dog that forced his humans to buy a king sized mattress.

I know a dog that can’t be bothered sharing a room with a newborn. Night waking is not his thing.

I know a dog that left his parents’ bed a few days after baby #1 was born but returned to their bed when she moved into her crib.

I know a dog that left the bed again when baby #2 arrived, but again returned when she moved to her own room.

I know a dog that left his human parents’ bed the minute baby#3 was conceived. His human mom didn’t even know she was pregnant. The dog knew. He thought they were insane. He still has not come back.

I know a dog that sometimes pretends the kids do not exist.

I know a dog that at night snuck into the girls’ bedroom, jumped in their beds and stole their favorite stuffed animals to carry around the house.

I know a dog that was bred to tree bears, but is scared of people with strange haircuts and hats.

I know a dog that acted out when baby #3 came home – no more kids – enough is enough.

I know a dog that in 2014 destroyed a princess lunch box, a cat lunch box, a dinosaur lunch box, two fox lunch boxes, a panda bear lunchbox and three fox backpacks.

I know a dog that when baby #3 was just a couple weeks old devoured a giant Costco size container of Jelly Belly jellybeans (64oz). The bloated dog wandered the house, whimpering for hours while his human parents worried. That night the minute the human mom sat on the couch to relax after getting three babies to bed, the dog jumped on her lap and spewed rainbow color vomit all over her and the sofa.

I know a dog that has had his tail pulled, face grabbed, been climbed on and bitten by barbaric small people but has never snapped back.

I know a dog that didn’t acknowledge the existence of baby #3 until he started eating solids.  Now he licks baby feet daily.

I know a dog that runs to the door when his mom puts on yoga pants and running shoes in hopes that he will get walk.

I know a dog that was born to run unleashed in the mountains.

I know a dog that more often than not walks sandwiched between two strollers around the park in the city.

I know a dog that could choose to hide in the closet and avoid the chaos of three children under five like his Basset Hound sister.

I know a dog that always chooses to be part of the action, lying in the center of stuffed animal picnics, hiding in blanket forts and always cuddling up for story time.

I know a dog that is depressed when his family goes on vacations without him.

I know a dog that didn’t like the children but now lies with them on the couch.

I know a dog that has the loudest howl in the neighborhood.

I know a dog that is lightning fast.

I know a dog whose cerebral cortex shuts down when tennis balls are around.

I know a dog that like his human dad became exponentially grayer with each additional child.

I know a dog that is indispensable at mealtime, cleaning all the crumbs and licking messy hands.

I know a dog that after four years has grown picky as to what food he eats off the floor at meal times.

I know a dog that got me walking even when it was 90 degrees outside and I was 41 weeks pregnant.

I know a dog that has gracefully been through the ups and downs of eight years of marriage and the birth of three children.

I know a dog that was at the top of the totem pole and is still pretty high up there.

I know a dog that now sleeps covered in stuffed animals on a certain four-year-olds bed.

I know a dog that will be magically woven into three children’s childhood memories.

I know a dog that pretends he doesn’t like the kids but accepts them in his family.

I know a dog that sometimes acts as the scapegoat for his human mommy’s wrath.

I know a dog that is fine with that.

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I Know a Guy …

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I know a guy with deep-set dark eyes that sparkle when he smiles.

 

I know a guy that for years never washed his hair because the dirt kept it tame. “I hope the kids have your hair,” he laughed.

 

I know a guy who moved to Colorado and was asked to be a hair model.

 

I know a guy who is extremely handsome, but doesn’t know it. Or maybe he does.

 

I know a guy that listens to endless amounts of sports radio.

 

I know a guy that when it comes to sports (among other things), he is BRILLIANT. Sports trivia, he should be everyone’s ‘phone a friend’.

 

I know a guy who uses aerosol deodorant. Ugh. Years ago when he and his girlfriend backpacked through Europe he “sprayed” his clothes with Right Guard to clean them. His girlfriend experienced chemical asphyxiation each time she hugged him.

 

I know a guy who 13 years later still uses the same noxious substance.

 

I know a guy who does laundry nearly every day and becomes exasperated by the way his wife and daughters shed their clothes with their underwear still in the pants and socks in each pant leg.

 

I know a guy who sings Frozen duets with his daughter in the shower.

 

I know a guy that grew up with no sisters and hardly any friends of the opposite sex, but was happy to grow old surrounded women.

 

I know a guy who didn’t wish for a son, and grew irritated by everyone who presumed he wanted anything other than his daughters.

 

I know a guy who didn’t need a boy, but got a boy.

 

I know a guy that kisses that boy and his girls every day.

 

I know a guy who can’t wait to play sports with his son and daughters.

 

I know a guy who works hard all day supporting his family and comes home to help with dinner, dishes, and bedtime.

 

I know a guy who works extremely hard and tells his wife that she works harder.

 

I know a guy who chooses to spend time with his wife.

 

I know a guy who went camping for the first time in his late twenties and now wants to camp every summer.

 

I know a guy who is truly his wife’s best friend.

 

I know a guy who hates bugs and is scared of snakes.

 

I know a guy who sometimes loses his temper, but knows how to say sorry.

 

I know a guy who loves air conditioning and his wife negotiated a deal that he could control the thermostat if she never had to look at the electric bill when they first co-habitated.

 

I know a guy who is slowly losing control of the thermostat.

 

I know a guy who fills the bath with bubbles and hides princess figures in the tub, so his girls get clean searching for them.

 

I know a guy who gets swept away coloring with his kids, meticulously drawing their favorite cartoon characters out of sidewalk chalk on the fence. Sometimes his wife rolls her eyes, “The kids aren’t coloring anymore … You are supposed to be playing with them!”

 

I know a guy who two years ago got upset when his toddler crushed his beautiful sand castles.

 

I know a guy who now sometimes laughs when his toddler knocks over his block, sand or lego creations.

 

I know a guy who told his wife she was beautiful every day throughout three pregnancies.

 

I know a guy who tells his wife she is beautiful even when she hasn’t showered, brushed her hair or put on makeup.

 

I know a guy who feels pain when his wife cries.

 

I know a guy who loves all things that start with the letter P. Pittsburgh. Pickles. Penguins. Platypus. Perogies. Plott Hounds. This guy loves P so much that when he found out that his daughter’s preschool class had parent volunteers to teach each letter of the alphabet, he knew he must have P week.

 

I know a guy who was crestfallen when another parent signed up for P week.

 

I know a guy whose wife negotiated a letter week trade with an unknown parent because her husband LOVES the letter “P”.

 

I know a guy who is now known as “Mr. Pickle” because he hosted a pickle tasting in his daughter’s classroom for P week.

 

I know a guy who loves fashion and often predicts the upcoming trends.

 

I know a guy who likes to spend a lot of money on obscure designer clothing.

 

I know a guy who buys beautiful clothes for his wife – just because.

 

I know a guy who loves to give gifts and wraps them beautifully.

 

I know a guy who is athletic. He runs fast, throws a ball further than anyone I know and has an amazing free throw.

 

I know a guy who shoots hoops so well that he wins prizes for his children at amusement parks.

 

I know a guy who seems normal, but may be the weirdest guy I’ve ever met.

 

I know a guy addicted to gummies – especially peachy penguins.

 

I know a guy who gets along with octogenarians better than any other group of people.

 

I know a guy who is loyal to no end.

 

I know a guy who loves the Lord of the Rings.

 

I know a guy who must watch the Steelers in real time – no recordings – much to the exasperation of his wife.

 

I know a guy who drinks sweet coffee – Creamer. Sweet and Low. The works.

 

I know a guy who is not afraid to order fruity drinks at a restaurant.

 

I know a guy who can be misunderstood.

 

I know a guy who hates fajitas, the sizzling spotlight.

 

I know a guy who deserves to be in the spotlight.

 

I know a guy who met a girl at a bar.

 

I know a guy who spilled a beer on that girl at the bar … or maybe the girl spilled the beer on him?

 

I know a guy who drove that girl to New York City to meet her father.

 

I know a guy who introduced her to all his grandparents along the way.

 

I know a guy that sat at a diner with her father and told him he wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon and discussed his ‘philosophy of love’.

 

I know a guy who decided to be a family practice doctor, so he could spend time with his family.

 

I know a guy who never ate fish – an alleged allergy.

 

I know a guy whose girlfriend convinced him to try fish.

 

I know a guy who now likes sushi.

 

I know a guy who married that girl.

 

I know a guy who is a role model for my son.

 

I know a guy and I hope my daughters find men like him.

 

I know a guy who will be embarrassed by this essay.

 

I know a guy and he knows me.

 

My love – Happy 8th Anniversary – I hope we last forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Three

Solot summer 2014-0262

You are three!!!! How can it be that my baby is three? You are my firecracker, thunderously loud and blazing in color. You make my eyes twinkle. You are magic and you make me and everyone that you touch feel special. Charming to the nth degree like no one I have ever met.

Your monstrous tantrums and disobedient spirit erased by warm snuggles and kisses with physical force behind them.  Kisses that literally leave marks on my arms and cheeks. Your kisses are 1/3 kiss, 1/3 suction, and 1/3 bite. Your emotions are bold and looming, they march into a room and swallow us whole, coming as quickly as a storm on a hot Colorado summer afternoon. When you are scared, your body physically trembles. When you are mad, you roar. When you are happy, you shout with glee, “this is the best day ever.”  Love, fear, sadness, and anger explode out of you like a physical force.

This year you went to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The highlight of those mornings (other than my walks and workouts) was picking you up from school, the energy and excitement that rushed my way as you screamed my name and leapt into my arms. Pure joy, you made me feel special, literally brightened my days. But then there were the icy days – you’d see me and scream at the top of your lungs as if pained, “Mama, I don’t want YOU to pick me up! Where is Nana?” My face reddened as I felt the sting of your words. Do other children say these things? What are her teachers thinking? The ability to make me swoon, or to pierce me like a balloon, quickly and silently deflated.

“Be Nice!” I’d say as I packed your things and carried you from your classroom. “Be Nice,” a refrain echoed often in your presence.

*****

This year you made it clear that you love BOYS. “Mama, I love boys,” words every father fears hearing, we hear on a daily basis. Every day we picked your sister up from her Pre-K class and you confidently marched into her classroom. You greeted your sister who you love, and then flirted endlessly with the boys, “Hi John … Hi Carsten,” you said with a magnetic smile. The boys you greeted were the biggest boys in your sister’s class, the five-year olds in a class of four-year olds. Big John, as we called him, would start hitting himself in the head with his lunch box or any object he had within his clutches, chanting “Ow, ow, ow,” to try to make you laugh. You belly laughed in response, pleased with yourself and your admirers. Each day you chased these boys around your big sister’s classroom and as we walked to the car, you’d hash out what had occurred, “Mom, Carsten didn’t say hi to me today,” you stated seriously, “but John said ‘ow, ow, ow …” you grinned mischievously.

My constant narrator, you always give me the detailed narration of the day. Your sister doesn’t indulge me in this way, but you recite all the details, including who talked to you, who didn’t, if you got in trouble, etc.

“She LOVES the boys in my class,” your sister giggled, amused by your obsession with boys and not yet jealous of the attention you seek amidst her peers.

At the beginning of this year you wanted to be one of the boys. You were in an alliance with Dad (because he is a boy). You insisted on wearing “Prince pajamas” to bed (blue and green pajamas). You always sided with the boys. You and your sister acted out scenes, you adorned in your prince pajamas and your sister in her nightgown. “I want to marry a girl with long hair,” you declared as you paced your bedroom. “Will you marry me?” you asked your sister, kissing her on the cheek. As the year progressed, you decided you wanted to wear princess nightgowns too, but you still prefer the princes and boys.

*****

As an aside, I love two-year olds, not yet influenced by their peers or those around them. They live with abandon, completely unselfconscious. They scream, shout, shriek, laugh, and do not consider how they’re perceived. Pure freedom.

*****

This year came with big changes. At the beginning of the year you moved from your crib to a twin size bed in a shared room with your sister. If given the opportunity you girls will stay up late giggling, talking and playing with your animals. Dad or I must plant ourselves in the chair in your bedroom until you quiet down. Sharing a room kept you girls up later and got the day started earlier than we would have liked. It has not been great for overall sleep in our household, but the bond you have with your sister is incredible.  Best friends. On more than one occasion I have come to your room to find you curled up in your sister’s bed. 

You became a big sister this year! At two and a half years old, you became a big sister to your baby brother Jamie. I remember you holding him for the first time on the couch. You sat seriously on the couch, arms wrapped around your brother. You looked a little worried, “Are you done?” I asked.

“Yes,” you answered immediately, relieved to escape the duty of holding him so carefully.

Sharing your mom with a baby has been difficult, but it is getting easier as each month flies by. This winter whenever you got upset, you cried, “I want my mommy back.” You repeated these words daily and your dad looked at me knowing that as always you found my Achilles heal. You know how to do that, how to find the one thing that will hurt the most, whether it is me, your dad, or your sister, you know how to make us hurt. Incredibly manipulative for a two-year old, “I don’t want to be your sister anymore,” you shouted in the back of the minivan, eliciting immediate tears from your big sister’s eyes. I don’t know where you learned it, but for good or bad, you know that your words have power.

The love you have for your brother grew with each passing day. Now I see the sparkle in your eye as you give him your suction kisses and tell him that soon he will be chasing after you. You scream his name in glee after naps, bring him toys, and sing him songs. You are my big helper. I ask for a burp cloth, “Sure,” you say in your low toned smoker’s voice and you run across the room to retrieve it. God forbid your sister attempts to get the burp cloth first you scream or roar with violent force.

You learned how to use the potty. Wherever you are when you need to go, you pull your pants down and start walking to the bathroom. You walk with your pants around your ankles to the nearest bathroom. Your big sister has told me that this has happened at the playground at school, it happens at the mall, and the supermarket. If you are outside you pull down your pants and squat. I know it is important to break you of this habit, but it is pretty funny.

*****

Your terrible twos were characterized by declarations of “I don’t like you”, deafening roars, spitting, name calling, and temper tantrums. This infuriating and barbaric behavior was easily erased by the passionate hugs, kisses, and declarations of love you tossed wildly to those around you. I hate to admit it, but you can get away with murder. You have more than one of us charmed and wrapped around your finger. You are brilliant, independent, and fun. I was amazed this year by the stories you told to your animals, your ability to focus and put together giant floor puzzles for hours, and the elaborate games you orchestrated with animal and princess figures. Riding your scooter or strider bike around the park, the wind blowing through your wild blonde hair, shouting at the top of your lungs, “THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!” Your enthusiasm sweeps me away in a wave of pure bliss.

You are a glorious independent spirit. Love oozes out of you to all of those around you. A charmer, my fierce firecracker – explosive, bright, brilliant, breathtaking, beautiful, and loud.

I love you so much. I can’t believe you came from me. I can’t believe you are three.

 Solot summer 2014-9874