“Mommy, mommy, my tooth fell out!”

These were the words I heard from my hysterical six-and-a-half-year-old as she was running up the stairs one morning several weeks ago. My niece and nephew had slept over the night before, and when the kids had all woken up way too early, we sent them downstairs to watch some TV while we tried to continue sleeping in.

Liam and I woke with a start from the screams.

“What happened?” we asked, sitting up in bed, confused and alarmed, thinking Nora must have fallen down and had some kind of horrific accident. She just held out her tooth to us and continued screaming and crying, “My tooth fell out! My tooth fell out!”

Our much calmer niece explained that Nora had been biting down on a blanket when she—my niece—had then pulled on the blanket, resulting in the removal of the tooth.

As my head cleared a bit and I realized she hadn’t been whacked in the face with a bat, I reasoned that she was of the age when teeth begin to fall out, and must’ve just had a loose tooth that none of us knew about, including Nora. Either that, or the blanket had been wrapped especially tight around that one tooth and the yanking that took place had been ridiculously hard, and did—in fact—end up ripping the tooth up from its root. In any case, that tooth was not going back in.

I tried to explain what had happened and attempted to put a positive spin on the whole thing.

“Honey! You lost your first tooth! This is exciting! It’s OK. This is what happens when you’re six-and-a-half,” I said. “Was your tooth loose? Was it wiggly?” I asked, still trying to get to the bottom of this unexpected event.

“I don’t know,” Nora answered, clueless, but slightly more calm since the hysteria that had overtaken her moments before was beginning to dissipate.

I walked with her into the bathroom and held her tooth so she could rinse out her bloody mouth. She was nervous that she had swallowed some blood and I assured her it all was OK. As talk turned to the impending arrival of the Tooth Fairy, she seemed to turn a corner. She looked at me wth the slightest hint of a smile and confessed with a big sigh, “I just can’t stop shaking.” I bent down and gave her a reassuring squeeze.

“It’s OK. You were scared and you weren’t expecting your tooth to fall out. Sometimes we get shaky when things like that happen,” I said. “Just relax and take some deep breaths.”

So, not quite the celebratory first-lost-tooth experience I recall having from my childhood, but an experience nonetheless.

As bedtime approached, we had a hard time getting our girl to calm down and settle in, what with all the Tooth Fairy excitement that had been building throughout the day. Our niece confessed earlier in the morning that she had gotten $20.00 for her first tooth. We reasoned aloud that our Tooth Fairy was likely not going to be so generous. I mean, what does our child know about the value of money at this point? Very little. We like to keep expectations small around here. We hope our Fairy’s $2.00 contribution won’t be remembered as stingy.

Liam asked me later that night, “What are you going to do with the tooth?”

“Keep it, of course,” I replied. Maybe not in my jewelry box, which is where my mother kept all of our baby teeth. And where I discovered them one day while admiring her sparkly things, confirming the fact that the Tooth Fairy was indeed not a real thing.

Nora now delights in smiling with her tongue sticking out through the hole where her tooth once was, as well as cracking jokes every time she flosses when she runs the flosser through the giant gap between her other two teeth. Haha. Very funny, little one.

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That time when Frances broke her arm and had to be ambulanced to Yale for emergency surgery.

Liam and I were remarking earlier this summer how we both had made it through most of our childhood without serious injury. I was in high school when I got my first and only stitches and one and only broken bone. Liam had stitches as a kid and broke his hand after college playing basketball.

And yet, both of our girls have had injuries that have required stitching, or in Frances’s case—gluing. And both have broken their arms! All before they turned five!

A couple of months ago Liam had the kids at the park playing on the playground and riding scooters. As they were getting ready to leave—due to Frances needing to poop—she had a fall when her scooter stopped abruptly as she rolled from the basketball court onto the grass. According to Liam, she ‘gently’ fell forward over the scooter—hardly a fall that would induce traumatic injury. According to Frances, the handlebars of the scooter ‘bumped her hard in the elbow.’

At the time, I had been picking up some take-out down the road. Liam called me to tell me he thought Frances might have broken her arm. We met at the restaurant and I confirmed I thought something about her right elbow looked off. So I took Frances to the ER while he went home with the other kids.

The triage nurse took one look at Frances’s elbow and advised me not to give her anything to eat or drink until after the doctor saw her. Hmmm…from my limited experience I knew this meant they were thinking ahead that she could possibly require surgery. Not a good sign. This was bad news to Frances who was a hot, sweaty mess from the park and very thirsty.

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Waiting on X-rays

The ER doctor came in quickly to examine Frances and applied pressure around her elbow. Frances didn’t wince too badly at her touch, so the doctor didn’t think she was going to require surgery. She gave her the go-ahead to have some water and ibuprofen.

Next, we went to have the X-rays done. Although she was clearly in pain, Frances handled the movement and placement of her arm for the photos like a champ. At one point, one of the techs called over to the other techs to have a look—another bad sign. They both agreed that they thought the ER doctor was going to be surprised at how badly the bone was broken. They said that Frances was not behaving like a child with a significant break in her arm. Most children they said, would be screaming and inconsolable. My kid was just a pale, sweaty, sad and pathetic little thing, cradling her tiny arm close to her body.

Then, we headed back to the room to wait for the ER doc. When she came in, she told us the food and water restriction was back in place and that the break was (surprisingly) severe enough that Frances would require immediate surgery. AND, that we would have to travel by ambulance that evening to Yale to meet with the pediatric surgeons there.

At this point, my adrenaline started to kick in. What I thought was going to be a simple splint until we could get a cast from an orthopedic doc—like what happened with Nora when she broke her arm—was turning out to be much more serious. And scary. Surgery?!

I called Liam and had him arrange to have my sister-in-law come get the kids while he grabbed some things from home and met us at the hospital. I remember the doctor told us they were going to give Frances some fentanyl while they splinted her arm for the ride to Yale. “You mean like the stuff that addicts are overdosing from?!” I asked, feeling helpless.

“Yes, but at the appropriate dosing for a four-year-old,” she replied, like I was some kind of idiot thinking they were going to harm my child. What can I say? I hate giving my kids over-the-counter pain meds as it is and avoid it at all costs. So, a drug that heroin users use was bound to freak me out a bit.

It was pretty scary seeing two nurses hold up two syringes to her little nose, but she continued to take it all in stride. The ride to the hospital was without issue, except that I keep thinking it was such a surreal experience. I talked to Frances every few minutes at first, and reached over a time or two to rub her head. I was buckled in behind her, so she couldn’t see me. At first I was concerned this would be unsettling for her, but I think she was totally out of it from the meds. I had a lovely conversation with the medic almost the whole way there. The rest of the time I focused on deep breathing to try and calm my overanxious state. Frances refused to nap for all but ten minutes of the nearly hour ride, though she rested easily. At this point, it was after 8:00 p.m., and she hadn’t had her normal nap. I sensed it was going to be a long night and had no idea what to expect.

The team at Yale was phenomenal. They showered Frances with stuffed animals when we got there and continued to come in and check on us while we waited to see if they were going to do surgery yet that night, or first thing in the morning. We got admitted around midnight after watching some movies in a patient room in the pediatric ER. The surgery was scheduled for the morning.

The worst and most traumatic event of the day was the insertion of the IV. Our kid, who had handled everything up to that point like a rockstar, flipped out when she saw the needle. Like screaming on repeat and nearly hyperventilating. It didn’t help that the nurse tried twice and failed to get a vein.  They had to call a super-super IV getter-inner from downstairs who took her time and eventually nailed it. We celebrated with a rainbow ice pop for Frances at 1:00 a.m. Her first food since lunch earlier that day.

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The team of doctors had explained to us, that during surgery, they would use an X-ray machine to place two long pins in Frances’s elbow bones to hold her bone/joint in place. The break she had was called a supracondylar fracture of the humerus. The pins would get pushed in to her skin—there would be no need to cut her open. The pins would stick out of her skin and be covered with a cast. When the cast came off, the pins would be pulled out and all would be well. At least, that was the plan. We slept as best we could, Liam in a folding chair, and me on a couch.

The hardest part of the whole experience for me, apart from the initial shock of it all, was getting Frances ready to leave for surgery in the morning. We walked with her as she rolled along in her big bed to the pre-op room. As soon as the anesthesiologist and surgeon came to talk to us, Frances started to cry. She looked so brave, as though she were trying to fight back the tears, but she understood for the first time we wouldn’t be going along with her on this part of the journey. My heart ached for her as I tried to reassure her, without adding my own tears to the situation. Gratefully, the anesthesiologist offered us the choice to give her something in her IV to calm her down. Within thirty seconds, she went from tears at the thought of being torn from us, to giggling. He told us she was a poster child for why they like to do that kind of thing. “You’re going to remember her leaving like this and not screaming. And she won’t remember it at all,” he said.

We waited patiently while the doctors had her, and felt overjoyed when the surgeon came after only an hour to tell us that things went perfectly. They encountered no problems and all had gone well.

We waited with our girl until she woke up. We expected she might be groggy and irritable. Both my sister and the doctors had prepared us for the worst. Instead, she was sleepy, but pleasant, asking only for another rainbow ice pop. She had chosen a sparkly pink cast which she admired against the contrast of her pale yellow hospital gown. She also asked if we could go play in the toy room she’d eyed on the walk down to the OR earlier that morning.

The rest of our stay was peaceful. I finally watched Moana for the first time, after having memorized the soundtrack earlier in the summer. We made it back home in our own car in time for dinner with the other two kids. Although the week ahead would prove to be one of the most difficult for me coming off the emotional and stressful experience of the broken arm, and with little sleep (I slept with Frances for a few nights afterwards to make sure she was elevating her arm and taking pain meds), we had weathered the broken arm surgery just fine.

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Leaving the hospital with one of the many furry friends we acquired.

I tried not to hear her when she asked the next day if she could ride her scooter. And I tried not to lose it all when she banged her elbow against the wall accidentally two days later, and then fell on it running a time or two shortly thereafter. And then, when Nora accidentally pulled Rowan down from the heavy dining room chair and both his feet got pinned underneath and he limped around for a few weeks, I almost did lose it all. But we made it through.

We made it through four weeks of end-of-summer no swimming for Frances. We made it through hair washing sessions in the kitchen sink and garbage-bags-on-the-arm baths. We made it through many re-X-ray checks and many more bumps and falls in the cast. We made it through the appointment when the cast came off and the pins came out and things still looked good. We made it through the first two weeks of school in a sling to help Frances—as well as little friends—remember that the unprotected bone still needed a little more time to heal. And we made it through the final check-up where the surgeon told us all restrictions were off!

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This morning, as we were hiking, Frances asked if we could do “Whee”—that thing when a child holds both her parents’ hands and then counts “one-two-three whee,” and then gets swung high in the air by her parents. Um, yeah. We said no. We’re going to give that arm just a little more time to heal before we go there.

Here’s hoping Rowan isn’t on track to break his arm at age four just like both our girls did. Fingers crossed!

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Heard around the house.

When your youngest child has difficulty pronouncing family names, yet no one can keep from poking fun at him.

Nora: “Rowan, say ‘Nora.'”

Rowan: “Nor-nor.”

Nora and Frances: (giggling)

Nora: “No, Rowan. Not Nor-nor. Nor-UH. Now, say ‘Nor.'”

Rowan: “Nor.”

Nora: “Say ‘Uh'”

Rowan: “Uh.”

Nora: “Good, now put them together: Nor-UH.”

Rowan: “Nor-nor!”

Nora and Frances (cracking up): “Nooo!”

This went on like this for about five rounds, each time with Rowan saying the parts correctly, but resorting to ‘Nor-nor’ when prompted to string the syllables together, much to the girls’ frustration and delight. Finally, he countered with Nor-NUH, which we all deemed was progress.

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And, while he can’t say his name correctly, he can certainly HEAR when his name is being said back to him incorrectly.

Nora: “Rowan, what’s your name?”

Rowan: “Oh-nin”

Nora (giggling): “Oh-nin?”

Rowan (also giggling): “No! ‘Ooooh-nin.'”

As if elongating the long /o/ sound somehow makes the silent /r/ more audible.

Nora (mockingly): “Oh, so your name is Oh-nin.”

Rowan: “No! ‘Ooooooh-nin.'”

Hahaha. We have a lot of fun around here. Poor guy. 🙂

The origin of the dingle pepper. 

The other night, as I was prepping for dinner, Frances offered to help, as she often does these days. I asked her to get me some onions and garlic, which she did. We then had a lengthy and very deep conversation about why garlic skin was white and onion skin brown. I was essentially making things up for which I had no answer, or like my friend Bridget claims about her own mother, faking my way through parenting.

Following that, I took a red bell pepper from the fridge. I asked Frances if she knew what kind of vegetable it was.

“A pepper!” she exclaimed proudly. (This from a kid, who when I asked her last week what her favorite vegetable was, replied—chocolate cake.)

I then asked her if she knew what kind of pepper it was. Her triumphant smile faded into a look of true puzzlement. 

“Dingle?” she replied, not nearly as certain as before.

“Huh?” I said, trying to conceal the laughter that was threatening to erupt (our girls are very sensitive to any kind of perceived mockery).

“A dingle pepper?” she repeated again, sounding slightly more confident.

It should be noted here that dingle is a word I have used, and Liam has adopted simply because of my overuse of it, to describe one of the kids doing or saying something foolish. Kind of like the way in which one would use the word doofus

As in: “That shoe is on the wrong foot, ya dingle.” 

Yes, I know. It sounds dangerously short for dingleberry. And I admit, that might have been my intention in using the moniker in the first place. However, at no time has that word ever been used to refer to a species of pepper we use to cook with weekly.

“Hmmm. I’ve never heard of that kind of pepper before,” I said, still dying inside, waiting for any adult to come through the door so I could relay the then-present conversation taking place.

“You know,” she continued, trying to substantiate her claim. “The kind we grew in the garden this summer. The dingle peppers?” she said.

What was this girl talking about?! 

“Ummm, no. We grew jalapeño peppers in the garden, but no dingle peppers that I can recall. This one is called a bell pepper,” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Now I remember,” Frances said, with a bashful little chuckle.

For the life of me, I cannot make the connection to explain her misunderstanding. And I’m usually pretty good at following those little kiddo lines of thought. Maybe bell pepper—which she couldn’t quite recall—made her think of Jingle Bells, and jingle rhymes with dingle?  That’s all I got.

In any case, it’s definitely sticking. Dingle pepper it is, from now on, folks. We just might even try to grow some in the garden this coming season.

Bedtime play.

The girls were so tickled by my retelling of the events that led to their brother charging into their bedroom the other night, that I thought it best to capture the moment here before it’s soon forgotten. 

Typically, Rowan falls asleep nursing. Calmly and dependably usually. However, the past few days he’s been like a wild animal at bedtime. It could be due to the fact he’s overtired since we’ve been on vacation time. Or maybe it’s the opposite—he’s getting older and just doesn’t require as much sleep. Or maybe I can just blame it on my usual culprit—teething. Who really knows. 

Anyway, the other night, after Rowan had performed several acrobatic feats while somehow miraculously staying latched, he’d decided he was going to be finished with the nursing business, yet remain quite wide awake. 

We played a little game of turn-taking, with me asking him to put his head down and him saying a whiny ‘no.’ Then, he’d proceed to roll around on the bed. Following that, he crawled way down under the covers until he disappeared, popped his head out, and then crawled back in again. He also spun around in circles, breakdance style, stopping with his head at the opposite end of the bed and doing a few—nicely executed I might say—rounds of downward dog. 

Across the hall, he heard Liam begin reading bedtime stories to the girls and he stilled to listen. Then, he crawled backwards down off the bed and headed for the door, not wanting to miss out on any fun they might be having without him. 

“No,” I warned firmly. He disregarded me and walked to the door leading to the connecting bathroom. He jiggled the knob this way and that, unable to maneuver his small wrist the quarter turn necessary to pop open the door.

Not one to give up quickly, he tried the other bedroom door, which led to the hallway. Jiggle jiggle. Jiggle jiggle. No luck.

So, he climbed back into bed, which is generally a real struggle and fun to watch, with the joint effort of hands gripping the sheets and feet kick-climbing up the mattress.

Then, we began again:

“Rowan, put your head down.”

“No.”

“It’s time for bed. You need to close your eyes.”

“No.”

Roll around. Under the covers and out again. Spin, spin. Crawl backwards down from the bed. Walk to bathroom door. Jiggle jiggle. Doesn’t budge. Walk to hallway door. Jiggle jiggle. No luck. Climb and scurry back into bed. Repeat, repeat.

After about five rounds of in and out of bed, he finally managed to jiggle jiggle one of the doors open. He took two seconds to look back at me as if asking permission. I gave him a stern look, although how I wasn’t cracking up, I don’t know. He took my lack of words as a go-ahead, and wasted no more time. He headed off in the direction of the girls’ room.

I heard them all squeal when they saw him: “Rowan?! What are you doing in here?”

He was pleased as punch to be there, and did not appreciate at all being removed a minute later. As I had had quite enough of his bedtime shenanigans, I let Liam take over. Of course, he had Rowan to bed in under ten minutes then. “It’s because you don’t walk him around,” he explained when I gave him a disdainful look.

No, I don’t. It’s not the mother’s job to walk the kid around. It’s the mother’s job to nurse if she chooses. And if that doesn’t work, well hell if I’m going to do anything extra. 

Anyway, I climbed into bed with the girls and told them all about how Rowan jiggle-jiggled the doors about a hundred times, climbing back into bed between rounds, before opening one and making his great escape. Their giggles were proof they were so genuinely delighted by the imagined actions of their little brother. I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.

Heard Around the House

Nora: (runs upstairs) “Mommy? Can we have a cookie?”

Me: “No.”

Nora: “How about some apples?”

Me: “Sure.”

Nora: (runs back downstairs, shouting as she does) “We were right, Daddy. She said no we can’t have any cookies. But yes, we can have apples.”

I love that I’m so predictable.

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While out hiking on a trail in the woods.

Frances: “Mommy? Look at my walking stick. It has a tail. I’m petting it. See?”

Me: (chuckles; notices the bunch of green pine needles to which she’s referring) “Yep. I see.”

Frances: (leans in close to whisper) “For real life Mommy, it’s just a branch, not a tail.”

No one will ever say my kids lack imagination.

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Getting ready for bed.

Nora: (in tearful hysterics) “I want footie pajamas, Mommy!”

Me: “Well I’m sorry, but they’re in the washing machine.”

Nora: “I’m as mad as mad can be at you! As mad as can be! And it’s not fair!”

Me: “Well, life is not fair.”

Nora: “I want footie pajamas!”

Me: “I understand you’re disappointed. And tired. What else would you like to wear instead?”

Nora: (throws herself on bed) “I’m not disappointed! And I’m not tired! And I don’t want to wear anything else!”

Me: (runs downstairs to retrieve clean, but wet pajamas from the laundry machine to add insult to injury) “Fine. Here. Wear them then.” (hands over pajamas)

Nora: (suddenly stops fitful rage, inspects garment, proceeds to put on) “Hmmmm. They’re not as bad as I thought they’d be.”

Me: (shocked she’s actually going through with it) “That’s because they’re made of fleece.”

Nora: (pauses, realizes she’s a tad bit uncomfortable) “Well, maybe they’ll be dry tomorrow and tonight I’ll just wear something else.”

Me: Finally. The voice of reason.

She ended up insisting on wearing socks, and tucking them into her pants, as well as tucking her shirt into her pants so that she could mimic as best she could the appearance and feeling of being in a one-piece.

Drama, drama, footie pajama. Bedtime now for this mama!

Must I write?

A few weeks ago, as I was walking down the hallway at the community college where I’m currently teaching two nights a week, I was distracted by some bold words I noticed hanging on the wall. The words were part of a quote that had been taped to the office door of an English professor.

I stopped to read the quote because I was compelled to answer the question I saw posted there:

“Ask yourself in the most silent hours of your night: Must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple I must, then build your life in accordance with this necessity.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

It seemed to me that the sign had been posted there for my eyes and my eyes alone. Yes, I must write, I answered confidently. Urgently.

Yet—it’s been many, many months since I’ve enjoyed a regular writing routine. Busy life has made it so most days I feel mentally unable to give anything to my creative endeavors, yet totally capable of binge watching hours and hours of Netflix series. I can see now my priorities have been misplaced.

So, in an effort to restore some balance, this post is a baby step in building my life in accordance with the necessity that I must write.