The Never Ending Story, Part 2

[Quick aside to say that Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Day After Christmas were all great days. If I don’t get to recap them anymore than that, I just wanted you to know. This may have been the Best Christmas Ever (so far).]

Christmas Eve, we went to my SIL and BIL-IL’s house. The kids, not surprisingly, were hopped up. We managed to get everyone to eat a decent amount of dinner (Feast of the Seven Fishes — everything was delicious; my MIL and SIL outdid themselves again), but the children still had energy to burn. The plan was to go to service, come back, have cookies, and open presents. My SIL decided to put on some dance music so the kids could get their wiggles out.

Now, in case you are not aware, SIL’s son, Nephew, was born about 6 months after we lost Gabriel. He is one of many children born in 2003 who reflect our son back at us. The majority of the time, it’s nothing notable, just a fact.

Nephew *adores* Michael. I think he was more excited than Dan when he found out we were having a boy. Nephew has been, literally, odd man out, with a younger sister and two girl cousins. One of the sweetest things he ever said to me was, “I can’t wait to teach him (Michael) how to play catch.” I’m not sure M was even born yet. That’s how excited Nephew was.

M, of course, pays back the adoration in kind.

So, fast forward to Christmas Eve Living Room Dance Party of 2012. The girls are skipping around, Nephew is grooving, M is jumping and waving his arms up and down. Nephew and M start holding hands and jumping together; Nephew even picks M up and twirls around with him for awhile. M is throwing his head back and laughing, laughing.

And, for me, it’s funny and bittersweet all at once, and grief, that devil, that old friend, is a wave that rushes over me. I forget about it, you see, so when it comes, it engulfs.

I blink back some tears, and smile a little, and then I look across the room and into the kitchen where my husband is standing, his face to the wall, his hands gripping the counter, his shoulders slumped in a position that I recognize as late-stage grief — the wave is over him, too. And I go to him, wrap my arms around his torso, and press my face into his back.

“I know,” I say. We cry together.

I don’t know who notices our moment. I don’t know how long it lasts. It doesn’t matter; it’s our moment; it’s our grief. The wave recedes enough for us to gather ourselves together and go through the rest of the evening.

We attended service at my SIL’s Presbyterian church. As we were pulling in, Dan observed, “This is where we came for Compassionate Friends.” He was right. “I just wonder sometimes,” he went on, sitting in the parking lot, our live son in the back of the car chatting to himself (the girls had traveled in another car with Niece), “what kind of big brother he would have been. If he’d have been a good cousin. If he and [Nephew] would be good friends.” More unanswered questions.

Rather than deepening our grief to attend service at this building, for me, it brought it full circle, closed the loop for this year. We went in to pray with our children, our family, our Nephew and Niece, to hear the music, the Word (John 1:1–5 was one of the readings), and to light our candles against the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

“…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16

In the wake of grief, again, is peace, is life, is light.


If you’re curious, here’s The Never Ending Story (Part 1), from April 2011

‘Twas the Day Before Christmas

And I was at work, trying to figure out what to write.

I’m tapped out this year for some reason. I didn’t even speculate about Santa!

I think Christmas happening on a Tuesday, and the basement sewage problem, and the national mood vis-a-vis guns and violence have all contributed to me being a little off.

And that’s okay.

Here’s one of my favorite things I ever wrote about Christmas; it’s from 2009.

“Somewhere, a baby was born. Somewhere, there was a star.”

(We’ve discovered some new Christmas albums this year — thanks, Spotify! Here’s “O Holy Night” as sung by the Glee cast. Still my favorite Christmas hymn ever.)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

This Is My (Almost) 6-Year-Old

Kate hands me a picture she has drawn. It is of a building. At the top, a sign says, “Toes.”

Kate: I’m not done with Santa’s workshop yet.

Me: Okay. You can finish it after school today.

Kate: What does it say? (She points to the sign.)

Me: It says, “Toes”.

Kate’s little shoulders slump: Oh.

Me: What’s it supposed to say?

Kate: Toys!

An Open Letter to Status Quo

I am not a gun person, I freely admit that. Gun control — stricter gun control — makes a lot of sense to me.

Not a ban on guns. Bans don’t work. (Nor do “wars” on things, i.e. the War on Drugs.)

More guns is not the answer. Arming teachers or principals, letting civilians carry concealed, NO. Not the way to go. I will reject that argument out of hand. Not sorry.

Here are some things I read in the wake of the mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut that make a lot of sense to me. If I have to argue about this, these are my go-tos.

First up, fictional President of the United States, Josiah Bartlett, via Facebook:

Here are some very practical things he suggests (I’m paraphrasing): increasing psychological screening and weapons training; increase penalties for illegal firearm possession; better mental health programs for all Americans; increased enforcement of existing gun control laws; increased funding and power to the ATF.

A couple of Slate articles:
Things Can Change. To my point, the status quo doesn’t have to stay the status quo.

Australia’s Strict Gun Laws.

From The American Prospect site: 10 Arguments Gun Advocates Make and Why They Are Wrong.

Finally, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s upcoming bill in the Senate to ban certain types of weapons.

If these things don’t make sense to you, why? In the wake of shootings in Tucson; Aurora, Colorado; outside of Oregon; in Newtown, Connecticut, I do not do not do not understand how the status quo is still okay with you. I just do not.

In Tucson, a 9-year-old girl died.
In Aurora, a 6-year-old died.
In Connecticut, 20 children — twenty 6- and 7-year-olds — died.

This is what the status quo has reaped for us in America.

Updated to add: I’ve been reflecting on mass shootings, but what about homicide rates in black and minority communities? African Americans are dispropotionally affected by gun violence. Tighter restrictions and increased enforcement will go toward keeping children in those communities safe, too.

I am fine with responsible gun ownership. That makes sense to me too. The problem is irresponsible gun ownership, weapons that can kill TWENTY-SIX PEOPLE IN 10 MINUTES, shoddy background checks, and a mental health system where people slip through cracks and under radars.

I don’t want to take away all the guns. Don’t go there.

On Friday, 20 families were robbed of the opportunity to ever tuck their children in again at night, or give them another hug or kiss. Or even yell at them, or laugh at them. They get to bury them this week.

If you find that acceptable, or think that nothing can be done about that, or that nothing SHOULD be done about that, I think something is wrong with you.

Not sorry. The status quo has to change.

Little Earthquakes

Last Thursday evening Dan made me put on shoes and come down the basement.

We’d been having an issue with some ghastly smell in our house. We’d rooted out at least three different things that it could have been (you don’t want to know), but still, it lingered.

We don’t use our basement. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff down there — well, there WAS a lot of stuff down there — but for the most part, we don’t go down there unless we’re bringing up seasonal decorations. Which we had been putting off (the smell was in the office or basement).

The basement sewer line had backed up.

It’s about as gross as you can imagine.

Dan, who was ill last week with the flu, literally waded in (he got some assistance from some friends), and started pulling stuff out. He rented a dumpster, and basically filled it with things that had been sitting on the floor. In about 2 inches of water and shit. A plumber friend of his came over on Friday evening, snaked the line, found the problem, and finished cleaning up the shit.

In the meantime, of course, there was a not-little earthquake in Newtown, Connecticut.

These two things (oh, and some parent-teacher meetings I have to schedule before Christmas break, another well-child visit for Michael because I was *super* late for the last one, living at my in-laws for three days — somehow *cleaning* the shit made the house smell even worse for awhile — and the seemingly endless #bathroomredo) not to mention the budget-busting expense of cleaning up and out the basement ten fricking days before Christmas, found me Saturday in quite a funk.

I spent the day in my pajamas, neglected to shower, avoided television and other news, choosing to unthinkingly read (a novel or People Magazine). I spent the day with my children, touched and hugged them a lot, I even managed not to yell at them too much — because, come on.

At first, I thought I was just being lazy, but when I was listening to A Very Special Christmas album (the first one) and toting up the dead artists, I realized I might be a little depressed. (Clarence Clemons, Jam Master Jay, Whitney Houston, June Pointer, in case you’re wondering.)

So I decided to go ahead and be depressed (and a little lazy).

Three days after the Newtown tragedy, and I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. Nor have I really had a good cry about that or about the destruction of my basement. Dan and I don’t know what can be salvaged, if anything. We did have cleaners come in Sunday to work on eliminating the smell and sanitizing the area. We’re meeting with a claims adjuster tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I found comfort in this (h/t to Carpetbagger for reminding me):

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
— John 1:1–5

I still feel the need to cry for the families who lost children and family members on Friday. I still feel the need to cry for an America where this shit can go down and no one does anything. I still feel the need to cry for my losses too, even though they are trivial in comparison.

But I will not let the darkness overcome.

PSA: Children in Public

I can’t believe I’m writing something like this, but after what I witnessed Wednesday night, it’s clear that some parents have no clue what constitutes “public” and “behavior”.

I was at my daughters’ school Christmas concert. I only took Flora because she was the only participant (she played her violin with the beginning violin class — mostly just exercises. Very cute.)

I was appalled by the lack of parental oversight and by the fact that people left when their kids were done. I felt for the teachers who had worked hard to put the concert together, and I really felt bad for the kids in the last group to perform. They were looking at a lot of empty chairs.

I know that a school gymnasium isn’t Heinz Hall. But I still think parents should have told their children to sit with them and to be quiet. When Flora was not on stage, I made her sit with me. She was squirmy and impatient — she has attention deficit issues — but she listened to me (mostly — she folded the program into a paper airplane when I wasn’t looking). I really don’t understand why parents treated the event as a free-for-all for the non-performing children or younger siblings.

The other thing that I found unbelievably, unacceptably rude was parents leaving with their children after their performances. There were four mini-programs: violins, chorus, beginning band, and advanced band. I was stunned to see parents packing off their kids as soon as they came off stage.

The “concert” was an hour. An hour. It was finished shortly after 8 p.m.

The teachers bring a lot of passion to events like this. The children, while they may not bring a lot of skill, certainly bring a lot of enthusiasm, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. By letting kids wander around (if not run outright), whisper with their friends, and leave early parents are communicating the message that other people aren’t important. All that matters is what *you* want to do. That’s not a good message for kids.

For the record, I am an advocate for children in public. If you are a parent, I believe that not only do you have a right to bring your offspring out in public, but, frankly, you have a duty to do so. Children believe they are the center of the world (and frankly some parents do too much to foster this belief, IMHO). Teaching them they are not serves them well. Manners, common courtesy, boundaries, patience, learning to entertain oneself — all of these are benefits of learning to behave appropriately in public.

I just have a few minor guidelines.

1. Know your audience. It seems to me that there are enough child-friendly, child-centric places to bring a child that parents don’t need to bring their kids places that are (explictly or implicitly NOT child friendly). For example, let’s take restaurants. There are lots of restaurants where kids are kind of expected if not explicitly welcomed: Chuck E. Cheese, obviously; here in Pittsburgh, Eat ‘n’ Park seems to have been opened especially to cater to children and senior citizens; other chains like The Olive Garden. Busy places with brisk turnover and fast service are parents’ best bets. In my opinion, children’s menus are optional.

The small, exclusively French restaurant where a meal takes three hours? Not a good bet.

And then there are places that aren’t optimal for children, but it’s unavoidable sometimes. Airplanes. Church. Try to have a plan to minimize others’ pain. Don’t just give your kids free reign because you have to go visit grandma and grandpa, and they live across the country. I dislike when parents throw up their hands in public, like, “Kids will be kids!” No, kids will be adults some day. You can teach them that self-control is a realistic goal.

2. Know your kid. My children are slaves, to a certain extent, to their schedules. I made them that way, kind of on purpose. Especially when it comes to naps and bedtimes — I wanted my children to get naps and have firm bedtimes, so when it came to running errands or being out in public in general, I avoided the nap and bedtime hours. This goes double for meal time. If going to a restaurant is part of your errand running, good on you. Otherwise, make sure junior (and, possibly, you) has something to snack on. A kid with low blood sugar is sure to make everyone unhappy.

3. Don’t push it. Young children have limits. Don’t push them. We can’t always predict when or why our child will meltdown or have a tantrum. Be flexible, be prepared to drop what you are doing, be prepared to pay the check and leave. The days of coffee and dessert are over for awhile. The wonderful thing about kids is that, eventually, they will be able to sit long enough for you (and probably them) to have your cake and eat it too.

Random Thoughts: The Laundry List Edition

Confession: I wanted to call this “Random Thoughts: The Penis Hurts Edition”. Just to see if my clicks from Twitter would spike.

1. Monday was not a good day. Michael woke up in a pool of his own vomit, Kate was *actually* sick (fever of 100.5).

2. I got home at 2 p.m. Michael was sleeping at my ILs; Kate was hanging out there. My ILs had errands to run, so Kate and I were pretty well stranded until M woke up.

3. M woke up at 2:30, crying. I went to get him. As soon as he saw me, he placed his hands over his (clothed, diapered) groin and sobbed, “Penis hurts.”

Now, no one wants to hear that.

4. When I changed his diaper, I could see why he peep would hurt. His scrotum looked very red and irritated, there was a red line on the underside of his penis. He had been having diarrhea on and off all day, so clearly, things were getting dire.

I called the pediatrician.

5. Upshot of ped visit: Ear infection (he’s had a cold for a little over a week now) (no fever), for which he would get oral antibiotics AND ear drops. The skin around his penis was irritated to the point of infection, so he gets a special cream for his special business too.

To review: M woke up in his own vomit, and his penis hurt. He’s living the life of a rock and roll musician. #precocious

7. M ***HATES*** medicine of any and all types. I have to burrito him for ear (or eye) drops, and it takes two of us for oral meds. Solutions (thank you, Twitter!): Applesauce, pudding, Sprite. ON IT!

8. Tuesday Flora woke up with a fever. Kate was better (temperature-wise), but cranky as all get out.

Flora had gotten up at some ungodly hour (are there really ungodly hours?), and, once she heard she’d be spending the day at Daddy’s office, was dressed and ready by 7:30 a.m. Bookbag, shoes and coat, lunch. Ready to walk out the door. I coulda killed her.

9. Today finds all the kids “healthy” if cranky (mostly Flora). It finds me needing to go a hundred different directions, and not one of them is to my bed with a book and a mug of hot chocolate, which I find massively unfair.

10. Rest of week: a violin concert at Flora’s school; the midnight showing of The Hobbit (oh, how I love my husband, clearly); M’s 2-year-old well child visit; my work Christmas luncheon. All before Saturday. This weekend, Dan and I are hoping to get the tree up, and I need to start wrapping gifts. Someone, come steal my children for a few hours? I’ll take them back, I promise!

What’s on your laundry list?

Meatless Monday: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I have been experimenting with this soup, and I am very satisfied with this final recipe.

1 stick salted butter
1/2 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 carrot, sliced
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 cups butternut squash, roasted, peeled, and diced (or, the way I do it, scooped out of skin and put directly into soup)
2 cups vegetarian stock
Salt and pepper to taste

I bet you can guess how to cook this soup, just from the ingredients. Squash soup is incredibly simple.

I’m a little embarrassed to be sharing this with you, actually. But, the ‘blog must go on.


1. Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add onions, and saute for 20 minutes (30 if you’d like them sweeter).

2. Add garlic and carrots to butter, saute for 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add apples, squash and stock, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and, if you want cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or chili pepper flakes.

4. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you really should get one, but barring that, let the soup cool and run it through a food processor.


I tried another experiment this weekend: cooking with parsnips. I’m going to have to figure out some other options for this root vegetable because I think I’m going to be getting bags of them from my CSA.

Sunday, I peeled and diced five parsnips, and put them in a slow cooker with 1/2 cup of vegetable stock. I let them cook on high for about 40 minutes, then added 5-6 peeled and diced potatoes. I let this all cook for another 2 hours, then added a stick of butter, rosemary, salt and pepper, and (again) pureed them with the immersion blender.

They were very tasty, but not fluffy, the way whipped potatoes can be. More runny. Maybe that’s a function of the parsnips, but maybe I should’ve only used a 1/4 cup of stock and/or not cooked them for so long. Experiments will continue. Another thing I thought would be tasty would be to add sour cream (maybe a 1/2 cup). Dan was skeptical but liked them, and as with anything potato related, my children didn’t like them at all. (Seriously, children, you are almost half-Irish. You are going to come around to potatoes.)

What do you like to make with root veggies?

My Little Carnivore

Kate eats meat.

No two ways about it, she is a carnivore — okay, an omnivore — in her little almost 6-year-old heart, and you know what? I’m not going to fight it.

It all started with shrimp, either at a Christmas Eve celebration (we do the Feast of the Seven Fishes) or a wedding reception of some kind, and it’s gone on from there.

When she buys lunch at school (about once or twice a month), she gets the meat option (unless lunch is cheese pizza). “Hey, mom, I had popcorn for lunch today!” “You mean you had popcorn chicken today.” “Yeah, and I liked it!” She recently had a hamburger, too, which made me cringe a little bit because I’m not crazy about the idea of her eating cafeteria meat. Sorry, school. (I’m not really sorry. School lunches aren’t that healthy, we all know this.)

She asked for a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving, and I gave it to her. She ate Flora’s piece too. And had a turkey sandwich the next day.

(Flora is a vegetarian at heart. She’s equal parts appalled by Kate’s interest in meat and slightly envious of her chutzpah to ask for it.)

Here are the reasons I’m cool with this:

1. She’s eating, and she eats well. She continues to eat a variety of foods: grains, carbs, fruits, vegetables. Girl will eat two helpings of salad when I serve it. She says she eats the vegetables (or fruit) in the cafeteria, and drinks milk.

2. She continues to eat vegetarian at home. I seldom cook meat at home anyway. Dan only gets to eat with us twice a week, so it’s four mostly vegetarians for dinner each night. She doesn’t complain.

3. Eating meat doesn’t seem to bother her, and don’t think she does it to be defiant. I think she does it because she’s curious. I don’t make a big deal of it with her, and I’ve made that clear, that I’m not mad she wants to eat meat, and I’m not mad she does. Nothing constructive is going to come of that!

The only not-cool thing is when I pack her a lunch (only almost every day!), and she says she “forgot” and buys lunch instead. We’re still working on this issue. I spend time making lunches, for one, and for two: school lunches cost money. Once in awhile is fine, but I’m not putting out nearly $15 for lunch in a week. No.

When Kate is older (for that matter, when all my kids are older), I’m sure we’ll talk more in depth about vegetarianism. I am vegetarian for a variety of reasons, among them the fact that I don’t like the taste of meat. Kate does. Maybe when she understands some other issues (environmentalism, meat additives like hormones and antibiotics, the differences in local meat versus trucked in grocery store meat), she change things up.

But until then? Kate eats meat.


Kate did not go to school on Friday.

She got up complaining of a stomach ache and a headache. While she felt somewhat warm to the touch, the ear thermometer showed her temperature was normal.

She broke down. “No! That just shows that my ears are normal! Maybe it needs new batteries!”

Now, mornings are already trying times in my household. We don’t do them well. With the #bathroomredo it’s a touch more chaotic, what with me running across the yard and all.

So: Friday. Kate is physically refusing to move. She is buried under her blanket, curled in a ball. She will not get dressed, and we lack the strength and the fortitude and *time* to pry her apart and get her out the door. We suspect we are being played (no temperature), but can’t be sure (she really does look bad, bags under eyes and all) and WE HAVE TO GO.

Fine. She’s off to Bella and Tadone’s. I’m off with Flora; Dan is off with Michael. I check in a couple of times throughout the day. She’s fine. She’s eating fine (and she PIGGED OUT at dinner), she isn’t warm, etc. etc.

I’m somewhat preoccupied with this situation on Friday. This is the second time of note that Kate has pleaded sick in the morning without actually being sick. The first time was because her class had a Thanksgiving program the day before Thanksgiving (that I didn’t even know about), and she was nervous.

So I suspect that something is happening at school.

And then I remember what she told me when I picked her up on Thursday. In short, a classmate of hers (whom she has complained about before) was all up in her face all day AND said classmate had pulled Kate’s jumper over her head. When I asked if she had told the teacher, she said she hadn’t because when she said she was going to CLASSMATE CRIED. And she felt bad Classmate was crying. So she didn’t tell the teacher.

I told Kate that the reason Classmate cried was because she knew that she was going to suffer the consequences of her actions. She knew she was doing something wrong, and that she was going to get in trouble if Kate told on her, and so she cried.

And Kate fell for it. (Empathy can suck it.)

Ironically, of course, Classmate harasses Kate the way Kate harasses other people (especially, let’s see, FLORA). Classmate wants to play all the time, Classmate gets too close to Kate, Classmate touches Kate A LOT, Classmate won’t accept it when Kate asks to be left alone, or play with someone else, Classmate gets very upset. The jumper incident is kind of an escalation.

I would prefer it not escalate further. Obviously.

I talked to Dan about it, and Dan and I talked to Kate about it, and I nailed it (Kate was “sick” because she doesn’t want to deal with Classmate), and we basically said she can’t pretend to be sick when she doesn’t want to go to school.

Here’s my pickle: Even though I am a bad helicopter, and part of me thinks that Kate and Classmate are going to have to work this out (and Kate is going to have to tell the teacher about Classmate if/when she is giving Kate problems, which happens a couple of times a week), let’s face it:


Should I go talk to the teacher? What should I say? Should I maybe call Classmate’s mom? We have chatted at school events. I also happen to know that Classmate’s parents are engaged in custody warfare over Classmate, so I’m guessing some of her issues come from her home lives. (It’s messy, people. MESSY.)

Or do I give Kate the tools she needs to deal with Classmate on almost-6-year-old terms?

What are those tools?