Friday, September 30, 2011

when the bad outweighs the good

As a geologist, working in the petrochemical industry, I know that it doesn't take very much of a singular constituent to contaminate an entire drinking water supply. Take for example the organic and carcinogenic chemical, benzene.

When referring to benzene in groundwater, it is typically measured in milligrams per liter, or parts per million. The best way to explain that, is to imagine one drop of benzene in a million drops of water. That ratio would be represented as 1 mg/l or 1 ppm.

Now, in California the maximum contaminant level for benzene in groundwater is 0.001 mg/l. What that means is that a single drop of benzene in a million drops of water is above the MCL. In fact, one drop of benzene in a billion drops of water is above the MCL.

So, if a tanker truck were to spill gasoline on the ground, and that gasoline contains benzene, and that benzene migrates to the soil and then, groundwater ... and that groundwater flows to a river or reservoir ... any living organism in contact with that water will be exposed to a known carcinogen. When that happens, an elevated potential exists that the organism will either perish or grow more or less body parts.

People have long known that a single bad apple can spoil an entire bushel. But they might not know that some chemicals are so carcinogenic, even in very small, teeny tiny quantities, they can easily contaminate billions of gallons of water.


Five and a half years ago, in my first blog post, I wrote,
[This] blog is like an empty house. There's lots of decorating and filling of this space that I need to do ... and I'm excited to do it. Charlie told me that this [blog] is really art, because the stuff that I'm posting on this blog are my creations (in the form of thoughts and pictures). I like that description, Jen the artist. Since I'll be opening this up for people to explore ... I can imagine what an artist must feel like when sharing their art with the world. A dose of hesitation - a pinch of excitement - and a big scoop of hope that those that see your "work" will enjoy it as much as you do.
Five and a half years later, and after much soul searching, I've come to the decision that it's time to put up some drapes and a lock on the door to my blog house. Because over the years, while I have tried to painstakingly decorate this space, I've been "visited" by some carcinogens that have totally contaminated the reservoir that is my soul.

Yes, I've had a glass of wine. Actually, it's been two.

Why do you ask?

Today, I walked around with that sick feeling in my stomach because I thought about this blog and how it's become such a part of me. I've shared, on this space, intimate stories about myself and my family. I've written about my joys and my concerns pertaining to wifehood, motherhood and careerhood. I've written about my philosophies pertaining to life.

I've written about incredibly happy times and incredibly sad times. I've captured some wonderful memories and put photographs to stories that I would otherwise soon forget. But I've preserved them, here, so that I might always remember and hopefully, share with my children one day. Along the way, I've met so many wonderful people that I'll most likely never meet in person. They've shared with me, as I've tried to share with others, gentle advice and touching - often times hilarious - stories from their own lives.

Of course, I've been lucky enough to meet a few of these wonderful people in person. They've approached me in book stores and clothing stores and at the zoo and at 3-Day breast cancer walks and on airplanes. These absolute strangers who hesitantly introduce themselves and then whisper that they read my blog every single day. And when I don't write, they feel like something's missing. This little blog, that started out as a platform for my family living 3,000-miles cross-country, has expanded in to a repository of my inner-most thoughts that for the past five and a half years, has drawn an average of a million visitors per year.

The fact is, this past year has nearly killed me and my doctor believes that I'm in the midst of a 15-month nervous breakdown. At this point in my life, what seems like an onslaught of negative and sarcastic comments are far too much for me to handle. Sure, I could turn the comments off, but then I receive them in the form of e-mails. And I could delete the comments (and e-mails), but once they seep in to my mind, they pull whatever energy I have remaining for REAL LIFE in to what feels like a constant battle of defending my choices and parenting style.

Since I returned to work full-time last month, I've been back to working 60+ hours a week. The rest of my waking hours are spent caring for four children, my husband and our home. That which was plaguing me turned out not to be lupus, but rather, a rare and debilitating auto-immune disease. Between all of that, there is very little left for me. So to sit down at night during what is supposed to be my peaceful time and receive feedback from the peanut gallery that I'm raising ignorant wimps who are bully targets, and we're encouraging obesity, and I'm tampering with my children's self image and privacy by writing about them at all, and so on and so forth, after a while ... the egomaniac that I purportedly portray myself as being, takes pause.

Why the hell am I doing this again?

Why am I opening myself up and allowing this kind of poison in to my life? But perhaps, more importantly, why am I sharing such private details about my family on the INTERNET without any restriction? If I had more hours in the day, or perhaps more stamina, maybe things would be different. But these days, it's a challenge to put one foot in front of the other. And all the while, random people are walking in the open door and taking a huge shit smack dab in the middle of our living room. Quite frankly, I just don't have the energy to clean it up anymore.

So with that: be happy, be safe.

And everyday, try your best to be kind.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

in defense of boys who wear tutus

One of the things that I've learned in parenthood is that any time you make a decision regarding your children, someone is there to tell you one of two things:

1) You're doing it right!

Or ...

2) You're doing it wrong!

Sometimes, it's fun to give advice. And sometimes it's fun to receive advice. But it isn't much fun when you feel certain that you already know what you're doing.

I was recently stopped at a light and the car next to me had an infant carrier in the backseat, with an infant strapped in, and the carrying handle was up with dangling toys hanging down for the baby to see. Chances are, I wouldn't have said anything to the person in the car next to me if the carrier was devoid of markings, but there were very clear arrows illustrating that the handle needed to be moved to the down position when the carrier was installed. Clearly these people had no idea.

So what did I do?

I took it upon myself that this child's safety and ultimate survival depended upon me so I rolled down my window, got the driver's attention, and in my most unpatronizing tone possible, told them that they need to perhaps revisit the instruction manual on their child's car seat because it really looked like the handle should be moved down to ensure optimum safety of their baby. Then the light turned green and I smiled, waved and sped away before I felt like too much of a Meddling Mildred.

After having gone through a couple car seat safety seminars, one of the things that I learned (years and years ago) is that many/most infant carriers are equipped with carrying handles that should be moved in to the DOWN position, flush against the headrest, when the carrier is placed in to the car. The reason being: if there is an accident, the baby will fly up and HIT the carrying bar. So yes, many years have passed since I've had a car seat "professionally" installed, and undoubtedly safety advancements have been made in the field of carseat design and engineering, but it's still in my head that a car accident + handle up in a carrier that is designed to be in the DOWN position = fractured skull of baby in carrier.

(Here's a great link that covers the topic in more detail.)

Not long ago, I was walking with a friend who was lamenting that their child had to have four teeth extracted because they were so badly decayed. Instead of saying, "Newsflash! If you want to give your child a fruit serving, consider an apple instead of a Fruit Roll-Up everyday!" I just nodded and agreed that yes, perhaps it was genetics and they just had VERY soft teeth.

If I said something about the way I care for MY children's teeth, it would have undoubtedly put her on the defensive and why do that? Because really, what good would come from me telling this person, who has suggested that I'm overly hypersensitive to oral care considering I took my kids to a pediatric dentist when they were less than two and to this day, take them to the dentist every four months and I still floss and brush their teeth with a headlamp every single night and use a two-minute timer and have them rinse with fluoride ... that perhaps if she were a bit more hypersensitive to their child's oral care and brushed their child's teeth until such an age that their child was proficiently able to tie their own shoes, she wouldn't be forking over the equivalent of a mortgage payment in dental care for their eight-year-old.

My opinion might not go over too swell.

So, instead ... I Say Nothing.

(I picked that one up from my mother who notoriously "SAYS NOTHING. Except...".)

Because I know that the vast majority of parents are trying to do the best job that they can for their children, the opinions of others ~ particularly if they are in stark contrast to their own ~ can cause delirium. With that in mind, I'd like to offer the following information in response to a few comments (and e-mails) asking why I'd take my BOYS out in PUBLIC dressed like FAIRIES.

First. Consider: Our children have been exposed to several cancer fundraising events over the span of their lifetime and this is the third consecutive year that they have participated, in some capacity, with the 3Day walk. Because breast cancer is predominantly a disease that impacts women, the color of support is PINK in any and all shades. So for those not in the know, the 3Day is one huge pink party. All the participants, men - women - traffic control police officers - people lining the route - are typically wearing PINK. And it's not uncommon to see men wearing tutus and pink wigs as their show of support and good humor.

What is the less of two socially unacceptable evils?

Four and six-year-old boys in tutus, or pre-teen boys in bras?


Or, what about a police officer in a pink thong with crotchless leather chaps?


Dressing up for the 3Day event was most definitely our boys choice, because at least for William, he remembered years past and wanted to get in to "the spirit" of the occasion. This isn't a get-up he wears everyday, nor would he want to.

It gets cold in Virginia!


Second. I'd never ask (or force) any of my children to do something that they didn't want to do. But when I took the children shopping last week, William asked for me to buy him a pair of wings when I bought the girls' because he wanted to match his sisters and I actually had to stop by the store (again) on the way to the walk on Sunday in order to buy ANOTHER pair of wings for Henry because he felt left out and the crying, crying, crying.

Maybe that was wrong?

I've had "static" about this issue for a loooooong time now so maybe I should have taken the advice of more conventional parents and discouraged my boys by saying, "You can't wear that! This is real life and not some FREAK SHOW. It's fundamentally wrong for a boy to dress like a girl and I don't want to contribute to your gender confusion!" Moreover, why should I spend MY HARD EARNED MONEY on items that are totally inappropriate for a BOY and will do nothing more than cause embarrassment and the potential for harassment and humiliation?


I spend my hard earned money on things like this because: 1) all four of my children love dressing up and 2) in my opinion, any time kids start to worry at such a young age about being "too girly" or "too boyish" or what others might think of them, it's largely a result of outside influences. Thankfully, at this point in their young lives, our boys have a tremendous amount of self confidence and aren't influenced by what others think of them.

Isn't that how trend setters are created?

The boys enjoy dressing up, because it feeds in to some "imaginative" scenario that they have created. This past weekend, they were interested in dressing up specifically because of the event. But once they were there, with their pink fairy wings, they were running around in circles and pretending that they were winged pterantadons. So for anyone who may have expressed an ELEVATED concern that we are tampering with our boys' masculinity (gasp!) please allow me to reassure you that my boys play with pirates and dragons and other boyish-type things a lot more than they play with dolls and dress up in pink tutus.

But if they wanted to play with dolls and dress up in pink tutus, I'd support them in that decision. AND if my boys decided tomorrow that they were never going to play with dolls again and Henry suddenly realized that his pink "Super Suit" is actually his sister's ballet leotard and the antithesis of something Superman would ever wear ... I would support his decision to stash it away forever.


They're not running around with knives or re-enacting violent scenes.

They are zooming around the yard pretending they can fly.

In pink ballet slippers and leotards.

As Charlie said to me, "If William and Henry grow up to be men who wear women's undergarments, then I'll worry." Then he hesitated and added, "Then again, if they grow up to be positively contributing members of society - what does it really matter WHAT THEY WEAR so long as they are comfortable in their own skin?"

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

the cheering section

One day, I will get back out there and complete another 3-Day walk ... but until that day comes, I've taken a spot along the sidelines cheering the walkers on. Today was the final 20 miles of the 3-Day, 60-mile walk through Washington, D.C. and we were there in full force.


We arrived at the 12-mile marker just as the first walkers were powering past and we remained there for the next four hours while people limped through. The children handed out more than 2,000 pieces of chocolate candy and received an equal number of high-fives, fist-pumps and smiles.


We saw walkers laughing.


We saw walkers crying.


We saw a lot of walkers pull out their cameras and take pictures. And one of the walkers greeted us like a long-lost friend when she said, "These are the triplets that I remember from last year!!" Then she pointed to her wrist and added, "LOOK, I'm still wearing the bracelet you gave me!!"


An NBC news van screeched on their brakes and a camera crew jumped out to film the kids (see the cameraman behind the hydrant?)


The newscaster interviewed me why we were out there and I told him, "We've got a family history of this disease and this is our way of supporting the walkers - supporting the cause - supporting the survivors - and remembering those loved ones that we've lost."


One of the young mothers in my girls' Girl Scout troop was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Just this week, I learned that our mailman's wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer three months ago, two days after her 50th birthday. And then there's my own sister and my neighbor's sister and my co-worker and the woman standing behind me in the grocery store with the pink shirt that read, "I'm A Cancer Survivor!" We're out there for them and for countless others, most of whom we'll never meet.


We're out there because there's a healing energy that flows through the crowd that is contagious. We're out there because I want for our children to know how their active participation in a cause greater than themselves, can so positively impact and inspire others.


We're out there because I know how challenging those last few miles are and we want to support the walkers, the heroes who raised over $7 million dollars, get to the finish line. Bite-sized Snickers and pink clad tutu wearing, sparkly hat sporting, fairy wing donning cheering children definitely help.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

things i'm thinking about today

Seven years ago, I was completely couch-bound and my biggest fear was that my babies would be born so prematurely they wouldn't survive. A close second worry was that as I continued to grow larger, my body would split open.

Quasi Moto

I worried about how I'd care for three newborns at once. How would I nurse them and hold them or take care of them at night? What if they were all sick at the same time? Would I ever sleep again? How would I be able to chase three toddlers, simultaneously? How could I spend quality time with each to ensure that they all felt like valued members of this family?


While I certainly imagined our triplet children joyously celebrating their birthdays, never once did I contemplate the logistics surrounding those birthday celebrations.


On October 14, the triplets will turn seven. SEVEN! Three weeks from today is the day after October 14. Or, the Saturday that we are planning to host a party for the children's seventh birthday.

These are a few of the things to consider...

Who to invite?

Their first grade glass?

Scout troops?

Neighborhood kids?

A hand full of close friends, no more than two or three children each?

Where's the party venue?

At a local pumpkin patch where the average ticket price is $15.00/person not including food?

Side Note 1: The cost of celebrating at a local pumpkin patch in San Diego was $5.00/person not including food. Northern Virginia is a very expensive place to live. But the cost still might be worth it since set-up and clean-up is completely handled.


At our house with games and activities scattered around the yard?

Side Note 2: We looked in to renting a pony for a few hours and almost choked when we learned the price to rent a pony for two hours approached the cost of PURCHASING a pony.

The weather has been so volatile and rainy, it's important to have a contingency plan of what to do if all of the festivities have to come "indoors"?

If we have the party at our house, and the weather is nice prompting us to stay outside, the chances are excellent that neighborhood children will KNOW that we are having a party and will either 1) crash it and/or 2) feel very sad that they were not included.

Side Note 3: We've been invited to countless birthday parties over the past year and there's a sensation that we need to reciprocate. Sometimes just the girls are invited to a "girls only" party; or William will be invited to a "boys only" party. But there have been several other times when party host will invite our entire clan - including Henry - because they don't want anyone to feel left out.


Side Note 4: I'm glad that I don't buy in to the hype (much) that surrounds birthday parties. We've been invited to some parties where the attention to detail was greater than what I put in to my wedding. Someone recently told me about a birthday party where the child invited five of her friends and they flew to Disney World for a three-day weekend. Even if we had the money to do something like that ... I can't imagine that we ever would. The mind, it boggles.

Side Note 5: We had parties for the children on their first, second, third and fourth birthdays. On their fifth birthday we took them to Disneyland. On their sixth birthday, they helped us strip wall paper. So I do feel like they're overdue for some kind of celebration since they totally get the concept of birthdays now and are counting down the days. Also, there are three with a birthday on the same day. Maybe I should buy in to the hype a bit more than I do. And maybe I will when my fully functional clone (and Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes check) arrives in the mail.

Side Note 6: Perhaps I should send invitations on behalf of each of the children, as opposed to the three as a group, so the invitee does not feel compelled to buy three separate gifts. Or perhaps I just stick with the theme I adopted at their fourth birthday and tell invitees, "Your presence is our gift, no presents please!" because 1) the time it takes to write thank you notes can be daunting; 2) we honestly have enough stuff and 3) it removes more than one burden (a) financial; (b) what to get? what to get?!) off of people. OR maybe, half of the toys that they receive could be donated to Toys for Tots. Or something charitable.

Side Note 7: Party Favors. Whether we have the party at our house, or offsite, our "party favors" will be a real pumpkin. Am I the only one that is haunted by Goodie Bags? Or rather, those small plastic bags that are filled with candy and cheap trinkets that will be disposed of in less than an hour by the parents when the children aren't looking? Surely I'm not the only parent that is so cruel. Anyone? Anyone?

When I suggested today to our children that they select two friends that they would like to invite to their party; William suggested our 12 and 70-year old neighbors, Elizabeth suggested William's best friend and the most popular girl in school who doesn't know her name, and Carolyn suggested Noni and Jim because they are BRINGING HER NEW DOG.

Seven years later, the children are here and healthy and (for the most part), I'm in one piece. These are truly the important things in life. So I suppose we could just go with their guest list and make a nice cake.


Or rather three nice cakes because everyone wants their own.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

things i love about the east coast #2

Horseback riding in the Appalachian Mountains...


I'm not sure if there are more horses on the east coast - or more public access to horses - but it certainly seems like horseback riding is more prevalent around here than it was in California. And riding a horse through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains is awesome.


With the exception of Henry who was squeezed in to a western saddle with his dad (ouch, the horn, particularly when trotting downhill), the kids were able to ride all by themselves.


It was such an amazing feeling to see my little people on these huge animals that if they so desire, could gallop away. It surprised me that the children were totally at ease and had no trouble guiding their steed.


So it was just me who felt like I was going to wet my saddle.



Why did I think this was a good idea?

William, pull up the reins! PULL UP!


The kids really enjoyed themselves and have been talking about it every day, since. I totally understand their obsession since I've always loved to horseback ride. It was something that I did, quite a bit, when I was younger and for years I've dreamed of getting back in the saddle.


That's a picture of me, back in the saddle.

After a two-hour trail ride, I could hardly walk for the next three days.


Funny, I don't remember the crippling groin and inner thigh pain when I was younger.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

things i love about the east coast #1

Today is the first day of fall and the leaves on the trees are very gradually starting to turn colors.


Unlike last year at this time, when we didn't own a rake and all of our focus was on unpacking boxes, this year Charlie is in "hyper-crazy leaf removal mode", and can be found driving his tractor around in circles, at least twice a week, sucking up those leaves that have begun their mass exitus from the trees.

Watching the leaves fall from the trees, signals to me that it has been one full year that we've been in Virginia. Much like I wrote down a few of the things that we loved about San Diego, I thought I'd jot down some of the things that we really love about living here. And why, even though this move has challenged us in many (many, many, many) ways, it was such a good move for our family.

There's no way that you can adequately explain "seasons" to children.

Growing up in an environment with seasons, they are so important to me to signal ... I dunno. The changes in life? The passage of time? The reality that nothing stays the same, forever? Also, watching the world change around you is breathtaking and sledding is SO MUCH fun.

So I wanted our children to experience firsthand, the tangible sensation of change in the air. We had a cold snap earlier this week, so I started the process of pulling out our colder weather gear. Jackets, hats and flannel lined jeans. Then over the next few days, the temperatures warmed back up to the 70's and woolen caps were abandoned for sunhats.

But the mornings are becoming gradually cooler. So at the moment, everyone in our house is filled with anticipation for wearing cozy clothes, apple picking, roaring fires and leaf pile jumping. Provided, of course any stay on the ground long enough for us to accumulate in a pile and jump in. CHARLIE.


But we're also really savoring these last few days of shorts and t-shirts...


And a world that surrounds us with beautiful greenery.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

in a land called honalee

Last Monday, Henry and I met the children at the bus stop.


School is a long day for them. They leave the house at 7:45 in the morning and don't return home until 3:30 in the afternoon. So when they climbed off the bus, their faces lit up when they saw us. They all yelled "HIYA MOM! HIYA HENRY!" but then they jetted past, running as fast as they could to keep up with the older neighborhood children.

Henry stayed with me, holding my hand and jabbering on about dinosaurs. As I watched my "big" kids running down the street with their backpacks swinging, I gripped the hand of the little four-year-old next to me and smiled when he grinned up at me with his big blue eyes. When we made it to our house, five minutes later, the triplets were climbing trees and laughing. They surely would have missed me if I'd taken much longer to arrive. Not because they needed me for any maternal reason ... except unlocking the door so they could bolt inside and grab a snack.

And it struck me.

This is how it happens.

They venture off. They make their own friends. Slowly but surely, and sometimes in what seem like incredibly fast bursts, they grow up.


Henry's favorite book at the moment is Puff The Magic Dragon. I've long loved that story, but instead of reading it to our children, I've always sung it.
Puff the Magic Dragon, lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee! Little Jackie Paper, loved that rascal Puff and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sails. Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail. Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came. Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys. Painted wings and giants rings make way for other toys. One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more. And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain. Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane. Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave, so Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped in to his cave.
It always made me a little sad to think of Puff crying green scales like rain. But we've picked up a wonderful version of the book (that comes with it's own CD) where an adult Jackie Paper returns to Honalee with his young daughter who becomes a new play mate for Puff.

(I'm such a sap for happy endings.)

This morning, while the older children were outside with their father riding their bikes around our driveway, I was inside the house organizing donation piles of clothes and toys the children no longer wear or play with. Henry's favorite Peanut shirt from last year is way too small. The toy dog that William never let out of his grasp has long since ripped open and lost the majority of stuffing. Carolyn no longer wears her Princess dress and Elizabeth ... well, she still hoards everything. But her siblings have agreed that their items are ready to move on to Goodwill, so they've volunteered them for our charity bag.

As I was walking past the boys' bedroom carrying tiny potty chairs from our attic that have been collecting dust, I caught sight of Henry trying to get dressed. He had on his red Superman socks and was struggling to put a leg in the pants that were currently backwards. He was staggering around the room, bumping in to the dresser and the bed while singing, "Puff da magic dwagon wived by da sea and fwowocked in da auda mist by a dand cawd Honadee!"

I walked in to the living room and turned on our stereo. Cuing up Peter Paul & Mary I turned my eyes on the boys' door and patiently waited. Within a matter of seconds, once the chorus began, Henry came running out, with one leg still outside of his pants.

"Is dat Puff?!" he exclaimed.

I happily nodded yes and he jumped in to my outstretched arms, his pant falling off his leg exposing his Spiderman underwear which were also on backwards. For the next several minutes, while an abundance of house work was waiting for me, we danced around the living room loudly singing along. Soon, he put his head on my shoulder and I put my face in to his soft (still) babyish neck. After holding him for the song once ... twice ... three times, it felt like my arms were on fire. But when the song ended and he touched my cheeks and said, "Just one more time, OK Princess Mommy?" I choked down the lump in my throat and happily obliged.


Because a dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

this could be a problem

As geologists, Charlie and I have done a lot of camping.

Over the years, we've heard that others typically do not like to camp directly alongside us. Because my husband, it would seem, snores when he sleeps. He snores loudly. To the point that he could easily wake up an entire campground and send both small and large animals scurrying in to the forest. So for those faithful veterans that have returned to the outdoors with us, we try not to be offended when they wait to see where we set up our tent and then set theirs a mile upwind.

Now, interestingly enough, Charlie's snoring doesn't bother me in the slightest. I find this fascinating considering the slightest sound that our children make during the night will cause me to stir. Just a few weeks ago, when I was under the influence of prescription strength sleeping medication, I jerked awake to rush in when my child was heaving over the side of their bed at 4 AM. Charlie, meanwhile, snored right through it.

Although we certainly have our ups and downs in our marriage, by and large we have an incredibly deep devotion to each other. Whenever I tell Charlie the things that I adore about him: his ability to make me laugh, the way that he cherishes our children, his commitment to our family, his incredible cooking skills; he will respond that he adores me because yada yada yada, and most importantly ... I am able to sleep through his snoring.

Where could I ever find another woman like you?


Suffice it to say, Charlie considers himself a very lucky man to have a wife by his side that doesn't try to suffocate him at night by putting a pillow over his face as he rattles art off the walls.

But what's the saying?

Nothing lasts forever?

Or perhaps, all good things must come to an end?

This morning, we were awoken early by Carolyn who was standing next to the bed with her arms tightly crossed against her chest. She was as scowling and as angry as a six-year-old girl could be. "MOM! DAD!" She nearly shouted. "I DID NOT SLEEP WELL AT! ALL! LAST NIGHT!"

"Oh, no, what happened, sweetheart?" I asked as I sat up to embrace her. Thinking that perhaps she had a bad dream or was feeling unwell, she stuck out her entire arm and a very accusatory finger at her father and said, "HE KEPT ME UP ALL NIGHT WITH THAT SNORING!"

Much like our triplets could sleep through each others crying when they were babies because that's what they were accustomed to, we'd been banking on the theory our children would have developed a tolerance - like I obviously have - to their father's nightly symphonics.

That's apparently not the case.

"Oh no ..." Charlie groaned when he learned that his daughter did not possess her mother's outstanding immunity. "What are we going to do about that?"

Carolyn crossed her arms again and bit her lip in thought.


Finally she concluded, "Well, either you can sleep outside in the car. Or ... you'll just have to stop breathing."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

house and home

Charlie recently pulled out our 4-sided measuring stick to record the children's heights. We've been charting this information since they were newborns and it's incredible to see how much they've grown...


This is the current tally:
  • William = 4'1"
  • Elizabeth = 3'11"
  • Carolyn = 4'5"
  • Henry = 3'6"
Charlie's is the shortest of his three brothers at 6'1".

I'm the second shortest of my five sisters at 5'7".

While Charlie and I aren't exceptionally tall, there are some very tall genes in the mix as represented by our niece, Alice, who is 6'2". When we recently saw Emily - who is an even six feet - we learned that when she was our children's ages, she was the same size as Elizabeth. What this means is that Carolyn, who is currently six inches taller than her sister, very well might surpass me in height by the time she's 10, and Charlie by the time she's 12.

Seeing how much they've grown certainly helps me to understand why we're spending an obscene amount of money on food (and shoes and clothes) these days. And I know that their food consumption is only going to go UP. Already, on any given day, they'll consume an average of one gallon of milk, a half gallon of orange juice, one loaf of bread, eight cups of cereal, 64 ounces of yogurt and five pounds of fresh fruit. As for me, I'm the scavenger that lives off their uneaten scraps and has been wearing the same pair of running shoes for two years.

Motherhood: It's a glamorous life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

me and my rose tinted glasses

Yesterday was Henry's first day at his NEW preschool.


His NEW preschool that he attended for two weeks over the summer as part of an introductory session and that introductory session went very well, even though his teacher suggested on the last day that we might need to have Child Find come in to the class to work with him because ... well, it's too early to say but he's on every one's radar. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing because I'd rather have him be ON the radar than totally OFF the radar and potentially floating away in to some behavioral/developmental sea of oblivion.

Henry will be attending his NEW preschool three days a week for the next ten months, and then potentially, five days a week beginning next Fall as a segue for the full day kindergarten that we suspect he'll begin in the Fall of 2013. Of course that scenario will only come to fruition if we continue on this path of traditional living as opposed to the one in which we sell everything off and begin a new life in some remote location as goat herding homeschoolers. (If Charlie wasn't so level headed and "responsible", you know I'd totally execute that game plan. Just think, I could be your one stop-shop for goat milk soap and mohair sweaters!)

Henry loves his NEW preschool and as far as traditional living goes, I love it because it is extremely play-based and when the Director told us to be sure we do not put our children in fancy clothes because there is an excellent chance they WILL get messy, I wiped a tear from my eye. This NEW preschool is such a far cry from his preschool last year where the majority of class time was spent "readying" them for the academic side of kindergarten.

They're little for such a short period of time.

What's the big rush on making them grow up so fast?


Speaking of which, I unintentionally ignited a very lively discussion with some of the mothers at the NEW preschool yesterday. Charlie had a dentist appointment to complete a root canal (although, eight weeks and counting and the root canal is still not completed; tomorrow's blog post topic, "Is it Possible To Obtain A Dental License From A Cracker Jack Box? Me Thinks YES!"), so I had the excitement of dropping Henry off and attending the preschool orientation.

Following the orientation, we had about 15-minutes to spare before school was dismissed and I was introducing myself to other parents. One of the women has a son in our triplet's first grade class and we've known the family for almost a year. We were talking about what we'd done this past weekend and she indicated that she had attended a memorial service at the Pentagon with her family to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. When they returned home, they spent the rest of the day watching footage of the attacks.

Her children are approximately the same age as ours, so I asked, "How did the kids do with all of that?" She replied, "Well, it was difficult because they were very upset and confused, but with my husband in the military, I felt like it was important that they saw and understood what had happened to our country, why people are crying and why Daddy is gone so much."

Personally, I wouldn't have exposed our children to ALL of that. I probably would've told them that Daddy is gone so much because he has the very important job of keeping our country safe and is trying to promote peace in the world.

But you know how it is ... everyone's got an opinion and rather than present my 180 degree opposite philosophy, I decided to broach the subject of birthday parties because we've got one coming up a month from tomorrow (Let the Great Dog Countdown Begin!!) and I really need some ideas.

Alas, before I could even launch in to "What are some good party spots in the area?", one of the other mothers nearby piped up, "You let your four-year-old watch coverage of 9/11? Didn't that give him NIGHTMARES?!"

Now I'm sure it wasn't her intent to put the first mother on the defensive but within a matter of seconds, parents started congregating and joining the discussion and they are either violently shaking their heads in opposition or eagerly nodding their heads in agreement about just how much "news" should be disclosed with our children.

As the conversation quickly grew in intensity, because everyone felt compelled to share their opinions on the matter, I stepped away for a snack (anyone want this last chocolate glazed donut? Going once ... going twice ... ) because meh, joining that discussion was going to take way too much energy and I really didn't think I'd be able to articulate the thoughts in my head.

Also? Mmmm, chocolate glazed donuts!

Nonetheless, I've been thinking a lot about the "discussion" for the past day, particularly that component of just how much is too much to tell a child? At our house, we toe the line of "Too Much Information" very carefully. We share, but we shelter and there's a good reason...

Ignorance really is bliss!

When I was circa six-years-old, there was a house on the way in to town that had a horrible fire. Inside the house there had been a young mother with her small children. Apparently, she liked to sleep in the buff and when the downstairs had caught on fire, she was trapped upstairs. The fire department arrived on the scene and told her to JUMP out the window. Now I don't know if it was because she was nude and modest, or overcome by smoke and losing consciousness, but for whatever reason, she didn't jump. Nor did she throw her children to safety.

So she and her children perished in an inferno.

I've seen many horrific things in my lifetime, but my young memory of that house probably takes the cake and haunts me to this day. The front door, windows and portions of roof were gone and there was black soot coating every inch of the exterior. You could still see the remnants of curtains, flapping in the breeze and burned out furniture on the inside. I know it was my imagination, but every time we went past, I could see figures standing in the upstairs window.

Honestly, I wish my family hadn't told me the story of what had happened there. I wish that at six-years-old, I never knew that something like that could happen. Chances are, I never would have even noticed the burned out house whenever we drove past and thereby wouldn't have had my mind filled with such terrifying images. Moreover, I wouldn't lie awake in bed worrying that something like that was going to happen to ME and to MY family and maybe I should just keep my eyes open all night... and ... what's that smell?


As a mother, it's my instinct to keep our children safe. Therefore, I tell them what I believe to be enough information that is: 1) beneficial and 2) suitable for them to process at their young ages.


For example, last week, a local 12-year old boy drowned in a creek due to the torrential rains. We pulled up a picture of the boy on our computer - said a prayer for his family - and then I reminded the children, "You are not allowed to go down to our creek without your father or I with you." I showed them the pictures that I took with Henry the other day and how quickly the water rose. We talked about our trips to the beach and how the waves could toss us around like rag dolls. If enough rain falls, our creek could quickly turn in to raging river with currents similarly strong.

While I thought our conversation was general enough, the kids were terribly frightened. William was up no less than four times during the night, worried about the boy - worried about his family - worried about himself washing down the swollen creek. Just as I imagined that it was my house that burned down, William now imagines that the 12-year old boy could have been him. Did I share too much information - or just enough?

It is my belief (and hope) that I shared just enough to empower our children with the realization that accidents can and do happen but in certain circumstances, they possess the ability to keep themselves safe by thinking through their actions and behaving in a safe manner. As parents, we are trying to instill in our children the knowledge that they are ultimately responsible for their own well being.

This summer, I read that an eight-year-old boy in New York who was abducted on the way home from day camp. I was already opposed to letting our children walk around our neighborhood unattended and this story validated precisely why. So I shared with our children that a little boy had been taken by a stranger off the street. He was lost and had asked for directions and .... that was the end of the little boy. He would no longer see the sunshine or play in the rain and his family are very sad. The kids looked at me with wide eyes and asked, "Will the Mom and Dad of the little boy be sad for more than 1,000 weeks?"

Yes. They'll be sad for the rest of their lives.

The children asked for more information and all that I divulged was that he died because of a very bad man whom the little boy had thought was a good man who would help him. We worked through various scenarios of what would the children do if they were in a situation where they couldn't find their mother or father?

Who would they talk to for help?

Since that time, the kids WILL NOT go in our front yard without a whistle. Little surprise, William (aka: Mr. Cautious) insists on wearing it and he keeps his eyes peeled for any unusual cars that drive down the road. And believe it or not, that bit of safety consciousness comes without me telling the children that the bad man had drugged the boy before smothering him. Sure, I could have provided "all the details" but I didn't feel compelled to tell the children that when the police found the remains of the child, the psychopath had severed his feet and disposed of his body in various garbage bins around town.

In my humble opinion, that would be classified as TMI for a child to process so instead, I signed them up for Tae Kwon Do and will be buying them all nun-chucks for their birthday.

A few weeks later, in addition to praying for the family of the boy in New York, we also started praying for families in Norway. "Why?" the children asked. I don't even remember what I told them, but I certainly didn't tell them that yet another psychopath set off a bomb in one location and then dressed up as a policeman and shot innocent children as they tried to escape in the water. I didn't tell them that children used other children's bodies to hide beneath and that children who ran up to the "policeman" for help were shot dead.

Whenever news would come on covering the story, we'd quickly turn the channel. Because how could they glean anything of value from that? What could OUR children do to avoid a situation like that in the future? Not go to camp? Not approach a policeman for help?

Or, more likely, stay up all night worrying about something happening to them?

We don't shelter our children from everything. They know about cancer and drownings and vague details surrounding kidnappings. But there are A LOT of things our children don't know about. Heck, most days, I wish I didn't know as much as I did .... which is a large part of the reason we really don't watch much "news."

If the news covered stories about elementary school children spreading cheer by visiting the elderly in nursing homes, or the record number of volunteers that showed up to help out at the homeless shelter, I'd tune in every day. But those aren't the stories that make the headlines and quite frankly, I'd rather not know about another homicide, rape, senseless beating, insert the evil of mankind's ways here ________________ that vividly highlights just how DANGEROUS and TWISTED of a world we live in.

Our children don't know that the reason we lock their bedroom windows every night is because of a little girl named Polly Klaas and another little girl named Danielle van Dam both of who lived only a few miles from us when they disappeared. To tell a six-year-old that someone snuck in to their homes and abducted them while they were sleeping before raping and murdering them, is information our children don't need to know. One was a stranger to the child, the other a neighbor and yes, those horrors actually happened and because those unthinkable crimes happened in the towns where I lived, I know ALL about them, but why should our young children? For the same reason, do they need to know that the reason we insist either their father or I accompany them in to a public restroom is because of little Matthew Cecchi?

All too soon, there will come a time when our children will know a lot more than they know right now. They will be reading proficiently and will probably pick up the newspaper and devour the headlines before we do. But there are certain things that at this juncture, I'm not prepared for them to learn about. There are certain things that are so horrific for me, I don't believe that I am capable of digesting the information and transferring it to them in a way that is appropriate for their age. Which takes me back to the discussion at Henry's NEW preschool...

I don't want our children watching planes crashing in to buildings or people jumping to their deaths because they are trapped. I'm not ready to "share" that information with them just yet. Maybe I'm over protective and stunting their development in some way. But I suspect that when they are older they will be more capable of handling the gravity of that information much better than they are now. Although at 40, I can barely handle it myself.

To me, the best part of childhood (outside of fantastic skin, lightening fast metabolism and flexibility) is a certain naivety to the cold hard truths of the world. There is a very small window of pure innocence that exists wherein a child believes that they are completely safe and thoroughly loved by everyone. There will come a time when our children no longer believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny or leprechauns. There will come a time when they will realize that Mom and Dad were the ones that chowed down the cookies on Christmas Eve.

Why would I allow those awesome fairytales to exist while also exposing them to gruesome under belly of humanity? Sadly, there will also come a day in the not too far off future when our children will be fully cognizant that the person sitting next to them on an airplane might very well be linked to a terrorist network that would rejoice in their death simply because they are an American.


Thankfully, today isn't that day and I'm going to keep that day at bay for as long as possible.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

taking a moment to remember

Last night, when I was scrolling through various images of that fateful day ten years ago, I could feel my chest and throat tightening up. And when I watched this video timeline of the two hours that reshaped our modern world, I was instantly transported back to the moment ... that exact moment ... when I was standing in our living room in my pajamas watching the television and muttering to my husband, "Oh my God. What just happened?"

Last night, I was glued to 10-year anniversary images on my computer, much like I was glued to the television for the entire week following the event in 2001. As painful as it was to revisit those images and immerse myself in the memory, I felt like it was something I had to do.

I felt like 10-years had diluted the shock and horror of that day and I felt like I had become almost calloused to seeing pictures of the burning buildings or images of rescue workers covered in ash. But the more I looked at the images and the more stories I read, the more I was reminded and transported back to that time. Just like 10 years ago, I couldn't look away until I heard one more story or studied one more photograph.

To absorb the images and horrific scenes in to my mind, was to absorb the victims - the survivors - the families - and our country. As a country, we swore that we would never forget. So to absorb all of this, was my way to remember.

Last night, I was reading the tribute that I wrote five years ago to Perry Anthony Thompson.

I was thinking of Perry's daughters, Ashley and Chelsea, who were approximately the same age as our children are now.
At our children's current ages, they wholeheartedly believe in fairies and magic. They would never comprehend that there are people in this world that would thrive on hurting them, or anyone they love. There is a beautiful and yet extremely fragile veil of innocence that surrounds and protects them.

Today we fleetingly entertained the thought of driving to Washington, D.C. for a memorial service. But almost as fast as the idea entered our minds, we reconsidered. Not only because we don't want to face the traffic and any possible loonies that might descend upon the crowd on such an occasion, but because we're not ready to fully discuss with our children the details surrounding what happened ten years ago, today. We want to keep the veil of innocence around our children for as long as possible because we want for them to feel safe in their world.

Our children know next to nothing about September 11. I've read them this book about the Twin Towers that reflect on the landmark buildings during an amazingly happy time. But the children don't fully understand the amazingly horrific time ... the day that those Twin Towers collapsed. They don't fully understand that passenger planes full of innocent people were used as missiles to destroy multiple buildings. They don't know about the rescue workers who rushed in to help, only to become victims themselves. They don't know about the plane that crashed in to the Pentagon, just a few miles from our current house. Nor do they know about the plane that crashed in to the field in Pennsylvania.

They don't know about the wars that we've been fighting and the tens of thousands of lives lost because of what happened 10 years ago, today.

When I think of that beautiful Tuesday morning 10-years ago, I can just imagine Perry tiptoeing in to a dark room to softly kiss his little girls on their cheeks as they slept, before he walked out the door to work.
In just a few hours, their daddy would be taken from them and the veil of innocence that surrounded his sweet children - and so many of us - would be ripped away.

It's just as unfathomable now as it was then.

Friday, September 09, 2011

taking one for the team

William has been waiting to join Boy Scouts for an entire year.

Unlike Girl Scouts when the girls can start in kindergarten, the boys can't start Boy Scouts until they are in first grade. And you better believe that every two weeks when the Daisies would descend upon our house in their matching uniforms and patches, my sweet little son would longingly look at the girls' uniforms and ask, "Mom? How many more days before I can be a Boy Scout and wear a uniform, too?"

Three months ago, Charlie said that he'd volunteer to lead a Boy Scout troop. But I haven't been certain his heart was in it. So a few days ago, I said "Look, if you don't really want to do this, don't do it. Please don't take on the commitment if you don't think you're up for it."

Charlie became defensive and said, "Listen. I'm going to do this! I'm going to be a Den Leader and I'm going to lead those kids until they're EAGLE SCOUTS. We're going all the way!"

"Are you absolutely sure?" I asked. "YES. Of course I'm absolutely sure. Nothing is going to stop me!"he said as he scooped a smiling William up in to his arms.

Tonight, as we were feeding the kids dinner, the doorbell rang. It was our local Boy Scout representative dropping off the packet of information for Charlie surrounding what he needs to do to be a Den Leader. After the man left, Charlie asked, "Uh, Jen? Was he wearing a uniform when he came to visit us?" I did notice that he had on a uniform, but since I was in the midst of dinner, I didn't notice what kind, exactly. Maybe Air Force?

A bit later, Charlie was perusing some Boy Scout paperwork when he gasped, "What is this? Whoa. Wait a minute. WHAT IS THIS?"

"What is what?" I ask.

"THIS!" he holds up a flier.


"WHY are the people in this picture wearing a UNIFORM? You don't have to wear a UNIFORM with Girl Scouts, do you?! Do I have to wear a uniform? Please tell me I don't have to wear a UNIFORM. Oh No. No, no, no, no, no...."

Upon seeing his reaction, I had to sit down I was laughing so hard. William overhears our discussion, sees the pictures of the Den Leaders in uniform, and was so excited he could hardly breathe. "DADDY! You mean you're going to wear a uniform, too?!"

See, I've always said that Charlie is a real trooper.

And now he'll have the outfit (and badges) to prove it.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

raindrops keep falling (and falling and falling and falling and falling) on my head

When we recently caught sight of what looked like a .... maple tree seedling? ... growing OUT of the gutters, we thought it was high time we do an inspection.


So this past Monday, Charlie climbed up a ladder, confirmed it was indeed ... a maple tree seedling! ... growing OUT of our gutters, and he took the gutter guards off to clean them out.

Although, I must admit, there was a part of me that wanted him to leave that little seedling there to see just how big it would grow. It might have turned in to a real tourist attraction. Come one, come all! Come see the leaves change color on the tree that is growing out of the gutter!

Fall is in the air!


What my husband wasn't expecting is that when he removed the gutter guards, there would be well established ecosystem IN the gutters. There was at least three inches of rich mulch and beneath that, countless tadpoles and full grown frogs.


I still can't believe there were FROGS in the gutters. I wouldn't have ever guessed that was even possible. I mean, how did they get there? I don't see how they could hop on the roof, and if they fell out of a tree, they wouldn't have been able to squeeze under the gutter guard. Maybe they climbed up the gutters? Or maybe ... they just EVOLVED from the bacterial matter that had accumulated? Obviously it was an environment that sustained life because they were plump and had babies, happily swimming about.

Charlie finished his cleaning in the nick of time.


Because by Monday afternoon, it started to rain and continued raining all night. It spitted on and off for most of the day Tuesday. But by Wednesday morning, Mother Nature cranked the shower on high and then she just forgot about it.


As I wrote a few weeks ago, I've experienced two, now three hurricanes. But I don't recall ever in my life seeing the kind of precipitation like I've seen here in the past few days. This morning, I woke up to a torrential downpour. So I put on my boots and walked down to the creek to see just how high it had risen.


Oh, it was high alright.


But within an hour, it had crested the bank and was flooding our lower yard.


And the rain didn't stop falling. Relentless downpour are the two most suitable words that come to mind. When we lived in San Diego, I never turned on the weather channel because ... why?


Ever since we've moved to Virginia, the Weather Channel is my favorite television program. I've got a Weather App on my phone and receive e-mail updates. I never realized before just how much I LOVE WEATHER. It's awesome and adds tremendous joy to my life. It's really such fun living in a place where there is some variability because it is so unpredictable.


Last week, we were all wearing shorts and t-shirts.

This week, we should all be wearing scuba gear.


Standing down by the creek made me nervous. In the blink of an eye, the water was so high, you couldn't even see the river bank. I scooped Henry up as I was snapping this picture because one wrong step and he'd be in the river and on his way to the Chesapeake.


From the safety of the house, perched high on the hill, we watched huge trees washed downstream. We watched the water level rise so high, it was lapping the base of the children's play structure.


According to Charlie's rudimentary (but extremely accurate) rain gauge system, as of 9:45 PM tonight, we have received almost TWELVE inches of rain since Monday afternoon.


Six of those inches fell today. The reason for this record rainfall is because we're wedged between Tropical Storm Lee to the west and Hurricane Katia to the east. And from the projections I've seen, there are even more storms that will be following on the heels of these big 'uns over the next few weeks.


This was the run-off from our front yard.



This was the run-off from our back yard.



And this is my husband who realized I was using his iPhone to take pictures. Not my phone of course, because it would get ruined in these wet conditions. (Just kidding! Yes it's my phone. Yours is still drying out from when I took pictures this morning...)


Since we've now had an earthquake, hurricane and massive flooding in two weeks time, I think God is trying to tell Virginia something. So we've got the plans drawn up and for an ark. At the moment, I'm just keeping my eyes peeled for animals to come marching swimming out of the forest in pairs.