Last night I was reading through some old blog posts and remembering how much I liked to write about our ordinary days. It's really fun to go back and remember the little things about each kid that I've since forgotten. The writing itself was therapeutic for me, and I actually think some of what I wrote was pretty good.

I haven't done it in ages, though. To be honest, putting together a few coherent sentences is pretty much beyond my current abilities. It takes me so long to think of the right word, my spelling is so bad even spellcheck is confused and I have a broken finger so typing is not the fastest. Sleep deprivation is really bad for your brain. Top priority for 2017 is to address that and perhaps I will start blogging more again.

We faced many challenges this year. I learned a lot about accepting other people as they are and not who you wish they were. I also did a lot of reflecting on the importance of setting and holding  boundaries.

Highlights from this year? M kept running. He slogged his way through the brutal Eastern States 100 and finished in 13th place. (Perhaps I can convince him to post a race report, because it sounded adventurous in a I'm-sure-glad-that-didn't-kill-me kind of way.) He beat his time from last year in the Oil Creek 100 and finished 2nd in that one! We all went up for that race to cheer him on, which was really fun. I started riding my bike again and went on a 150 mile trip on the Great Allegheny Passage with my friend Prachi during peak fall leaf season in October. The views were outstanding and we stayed in some really cool Airbnb's that weekend.  As a family, we came up with the idea of "Running Club" and had a pretty successful summer season of it. It was fun to do something like that all together, and I look forward to future family collaborations. I organized a neighborhood clean-up and an ice cream social, and volunteered for Laurel's Girl Scout troop.

Max has brought us a lot of joy this year. He makes funny poses when someone takes his picture. He has a cute little crinkle-nose smile that makes him look so much like me as a baby, and he has an obsession with looking for people's belly buttons that makes us all laugh. His favorite activity is getting inside a box, but only if it's half-filled with toys or books or something. He loves going down the slides at the park.

Marko at age 3 always has something interesting to say. This morning he asked me, "how would you feel when you don't have what you don't want?" Very philosophical, indeed.  It's hard to imagine he was once a 2 year old who rarely spoke. He wears a tie pretty much every day. He's learning to write letters and numbers, although he still insists that his name is spelled MRKO. He loves Pokemon and he sleeps with a light shining directly into his eyes because, as he puts it, "that's the only way they will close." I don't really care since he's finally sleeping in his own bed.

Laurel started 1st grade, lost all her front teeth and when the new adult teeth came in, it totally transformed her face. She cut off 12 inches of her hair and donated it to Wigs for Kids, joined a Daisy Scout Troop, and did well in a few races. Her work as an artist is quite impressive. She can read independently, but still likes to hear us read a few chapters before bed.

Above all, I feel like our family unit really solidified this year. We have a pack mentality now, and have learned to function together somewhat. We are each other's favorite people and there is something really grounding and beautiful to love and to be loved that way.


K's Big Ride

Two years ago, M and I took the kids (at the time it was just Laurel and Marko) on bike trip from our house to Cumberland, MD and back. We are so lucky to have the Great Allegheny Passage close to home...it's one of the best rails to trails projects in the country and the scenery in October can't be beat. About six months ago, I hatched a plan to spend a weekend away biking on the GAP. I booked a couple of AirBnBs and convinced my friend Prachi to come along. After that, I pretty much forgot about it. I did a couple of practice rides to make sure my bike was in good shape, and it really just needed a good cleaning. I would not say I was in peak physical shape when the weekend finally (quickly?) arrived, but like most things, I figured I could do it if I tried.

The weather was great. Cold enough to wear my lobster claw gloves when we set out from Ohiopyle, but sunny. It warmed up by midday enough to be comfortable sitting for a while when we ate lunch. Our plan for day 1 was to ride from Ohiopyle to Frostburg, which was about 60 miles. This was slightly ambitious since we had to drive from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle first, and the days are pretty short in October. However, I knew from experience that it could be done. I expected it to be easier since the last time I rode 60 miles I was hauling a small child and loads of gear in a Bob trailer. It turns out you will feel the burn from a steady, ever-so-slightly uphill from Ohiopyle to the Continental Divide whether you have a trailer or just overstuffed panniers. We felt like we were flying once we crested the mountain and started heading down towards Frostburg.

In Frostburg I had booked a really quirky AirBnB that ended up being super comfortable and incredibly well stocked (It's called Wesley's Playhouse, and I definitely recommend it). There were tons of games and books, but I just went to bed. The host advertised "free continental breakfast" but had left us a fridge full of groceries...local milk and bacon and pastured eggs. After breakfast we headed down the trail with the intention of making it to Cumberland. It was freezing! I had on a hat and gloves, but the grade is a little steeper on this stretch so you can go pretty fast. With only a mile to go, we were surrounded by a mob of pink-clad breast cancer awareness walkers, practically shoulder to shoulder. We decided not to wait for them to pass (they were moving very slowly and there were literally a thousand of them), and turned around to head back up the mountain. Today, we only had 50 miles to go, so we took our time. Pedaling back up Savage Mountain took a while. At one point we stopped at a cluster of picnic tables to make some soup. Just as I was lighting my stove, the tourist train pulled up, the conductors jumped out and started setting up umbrellas on the tables and putting out ash trays and then people started pouring out of the train! Apparently there was a small land slide on the tracks up ahead and instead of doing their usual stop in Frostburg, they were stopping here. Many of them were curious about us and one guy even took a video of us. (I have no idea who he was or where this footage will end up.)

It took pretty much all day to pedal those 50 miles, but we both appreciated the freedom of being able to take our time and not have to worry about kids. That night we stopped in Meyersdale and stayed at a more traditional B&B. A big group of cyclists from California was also staying there - they had plans to ride all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. We had dinner and beer at the Morguen Toole Company, and once again I fell asleep early. On the final day, we pedaled back to my car in Ohiopyle. Since it was Sunday and the weather was quite warm, the trail was packed with cyclists. We stopped in Confluence for a beer and a snack and our conversation immediately went towards planning another bike ride.

I love riding on rail trails because all of the anxiety about sharing the road with cars is removed. The grade means that pretty much anyone can handle it, although you will definitely burn a few calories with the steady pedaling. The Great Allegheny Passage now has water fountains right at the trail crossings, as well as some bathrooms, and the towns are rarely more than 10 or 15 miles apart. You always know exactly where you are because there are markers at every mile. More and more long-distance cyclists are using it, and the tourism has really turned around some of the little towns along the way. But you also see a lot of local people out there, walking dogs, or taking their kids out for a ride.

What kind of bike do you need?
I have a touring bike with drop bars and pretty narrow tires. Prachi rode a hybrid with thicker tires and upright seating. There are pros and cons to each. I like mine because there are a lot of different positions you can ride in, so during a 6 or 8 hour day you don't get as stiff. But I was definitely envying her suspension. The trail is pretty rough in places.

What happens if you get a flat tire?
Luckily we didn't! But we did carry tools, a pump, chain lubricant and extra tubes. I actually had an extra folding tire as well, but that may have been overkill. I would definitely at least be prepared to change a tire and have something to make adjustments/tighten things, but if you have a more serious problem there are actually a number of bike shops along the way.

Aren't you breastfeeding Max? How did that work?
I pumped a stash before I left (it took me three months to store enough for 3 days, although I wasn't very diligent about pumping extra every day). On the trail I carried a hand pump and used it whenever we took a break. No real good way to store that milk so I just dumped it. I'm writing this a few weeks after the trip and my supply did not seem to have been negatively affected and Max was mad at me for a few minutes after I got home, but he got over it quickly.

What does a trip like this cost?
I booked through AirBnB and spent about $100 each night, which we split. We ate dinner at a restaurant twice, but breakfast was included in our lodging and we carried food for lunch and snacks. I brought my Jetboil stove so we could heat up water for tea and soup along the way. The biggest expense is obviously the bicycles, but we already had those. If you wanted to save on lodging, you could camp.

Was it hard?
I was definitely sore and tired at the end of the day. But I had only a few moments when I thought, what the heck are we doing? Why am I not at a spa on my getaway weekend?

What would you do differently?
Carry less stuff.

On New Years Eve, M and I each made a list of things we wanted to do in 2016. This was the most ambitious thing I wrote down. At the time I had a newborn and had not even been on my bike in over a year. But with a little planning and some support from M, I made it happen. Some of the other things from my list that I tried, I ended up not really liking (like the climbing gym). But riding my bike turned out to be something I really, really enjoyed. I don't think I would actually like a spa weekend anyway, and having something really physical to do during the day meant I slept great at night. The fresh air and being outside the city was really restorative. As soon as we know what our spring schedule looks like, I'm going to book another few nights of AirBnB and make this happen again!


October 2

Yesterday I went out with my friend and rode 30 miles on the Butler Freeport Trail. It rained overnight, but by the time we got to the trail just before 8, the skies were clear. We enjoyed fresh air blue sky, and a mostly empty trail, although it was a bit soggy. Our bikes definitely need to be sprayed off. The morning gave me a much-needed break from the kids, and it also felt good to really stretch my legs and get a little bit of a workout.

Life with three kids definitely makes for full days (and nights). Max still requires a lot of help with sleeping at night. I consider it a huge win if I get a three hour stretch and I am mostly not winning. But sleep aside, I really enjoy being with the kids, which was always the part of work that I liked the best. We keep it pretty simple around here....we play in the park, make art, go to the library and build stuff with Legos. I babysit some of our neighbors, and find that more kids are generally easier to manage. As my kids get older, I am starting to have a sense of what the next stage of parenting will look like and coming to grips with the realization that baths and rocking to sleep and wiping butts is probably the easiest and most gratifying stage of this whole gig.

Last night when I was tucking the kids in to bed, I sang the words to Taps (Laurel is in Girl Scouts so our repertoire of songs is expanding greatly).

"....All is well, safely rest...." is one of the lines.

"Not everyone is safe," said Laurel when the song was done. She looked a little sad. I think she was sad because she truly values the feeling of safety and was enjoying some of that in the moment, tucked in with her brother in a great big bed inside a house on a cool, fall night. The realization that not everyone gets what she has is a tough issue to grapple with for six year olds, who have an unusual obsession with fairness.

As she leaves our proverbial nest and her exposure to the world both puts her at greater risk, and offers her a greater perspective, she will develop her own ideas about her place in the equation. And probably do a fair amount of screwing up, hurting other people, getting hurt herself. When I think about this right now, I usually think about Laurel, although of course Marko and Max will shortly follow in her footsteps. I just still have a lot of control and contact with Marko and Max, but Laurel is off doing her own thing for big parts of the day. First grade is basically a full work day, she goes to play dates by herself, etc.

Rather than thinking about what I need to do with my kids (i.e. my "parenting"), I've been thinking about my own actions, activities, and interactions with the world. Those are the things they'll actually take the most lessons from, I think. There are a couple of things we're involved in that we really loved but have turned into sources of tension. I don't have any answers or even cohesive thoughts about them at the moment. I wish I had some more time to read and write, but I have used up all of that time just on this short blog post. Back to wiping butts for now!


Camping with Kids: More Lessons

Always with the lessons....

We went for five days to Poe Valley State Park at the beginning of August. This was the park we went to three years ago when Marko was a baby and Laurel was 3 years old. Three years ago, I wrote:

Twenty minutes later, there's a poopsplosion at the same time somebody falls in a mud puddle and you realize you did not pack enough dinners for the entire week and it is a good hour to the nearest town. You desperately want to be at an all-inclusive Sandals resort with childcare. Or at least some place with a television. But then it gets better. (And then worse. And then better again.)
Yup. This is still so, so true. Camping with kids - life with kids really - is just a series of terribly messy moments alternating with pure joy. I laughed when I read through the ten lessons I learned, especially since I still haven't gotten around to replacing the coolers. You really need coolers with drains! Also, we got rid of the Fit and bought a 4Runner, partly because of trips like these, so space is less of an issue. M continues to love running trail, so most of our camping trips involve trying to find a place that is adjacent to state or national forest. We've added fishing poles to our supplies, and the kids love to swim, so we also like to find places with water.

We still haven't bought a big tent. We have two smaller backpacking tents and we split up. Personally I prefer this. The tents can be set up very quickly by one person and we never have a problem finding spots big enough to pitch them. We have a fancy screened in dining canopy that we can hang out in if it rains or gets buggy. Max has a folding high chair and I also brought a pack n play to keep him contained while we were in camp.

The biggest challenge right now is balancing the needs of all three kids. They are each 3 years apart, so Marko is still sort of in nap territory, while Laurel never needs one. Max still needs three a day. Laurel is big enough to ride her bike around the campground, but I don't trust Marko to go quite as far. Laurel will eat pretty much anything, Marko is super picky and Max still breastfeeds but also likes to make a giant mess by feeding himself finger foods when we eat. I feel like all of my brainpower goes towards just figuring out the logistics of eating and sleeping for the three of them.

We spent a lot of time swimming at the beach. I took the kids on a hike where we found a few wild blueberry and some black raspberry bushes. M took the kids fishing. We sat around a fire, toasted marshmallows and made friends with the other campers. We brought bikes for the kids and they spent hours riding back and forth.

Poe Valley is a neat place to stay. They have a mix of tent and RV sites, some with electric and some without. There is only one bath house, but it is very well maintained and the cleanest I have ever seen. Water was hot and you could not control it, since you just hit the button and it turns on for 30 seconds (the only annoying thing about it was having to hit the button over and over again).

So, here are my lessons this time....

1) Foil packet dinners are bomb. We put mushrooms, bell peppers, pieces of sweet Italian sausage, and summer squash from our Ugly CSA on the fire, tightly wrapped in heavy duty foil. Just toss with a little oil, salt and pepper.
2) Less toys. The less I gave them, the more they just played with rocks and stuff. I brought some old yogurt containers to use as buckets.
3) We NEED to get some kind of kitchen organizer. Our campsite was a total mess and when we had to leave in a hurry when Marko got hurt, it was terrible.
4) Meeting other campers is starting to get more fun! We met another family and the kids played so well together that we exchanged addresses and hope to be pen pals.


A Moment of Quiet

Last weekend, M cut his ankle badly enough to need stitches, so he has been stuck at home. And by stuck, I mean wandering around Frick Park with Laurel and Marko trying to catch Pokemon instead of out doing his big training runs on the trails. He's antsy, but I think the forced rest is probably a good for him. I think he will get back out this week sometime.

Right now, he's gone with the kids and I'm trying to move as little as possible while I watch Max carefully eat little bits of sweet potato. It's very hot. Sticky midsummer Pittsburgh hot. I've had to really slow down our activities this past week and concentrate on keeping the kids hydrated and cool, especially Max. When we go out on a walk we tuck little ice packs under his stroller pad. I finally ventured out again to the pool with three kids and it was a success, ie no drownings or near drownings, but I will definitely be avoiding crowds for now.

Running Club has been going on for a good few weeks now and we've hit a place where families are stepping up to volunteer to lay the course and others bring ideas for tag games. We get a rotating crowd of regulars and between 15 and 20 people show up every week. I try to keep it to an hour so anyone with early bedtimes can jet out at 7, but a few families always stay a little later. If anyone wants to start a Kids Running Club, it's pretty easy. It's basically a hash, but shorter and without the beer. And plus a game of tag! We picked a day and a time to meet regularly and started posting it on Facebook as an event so people could share the link with their friends. On the event page, I wrote an FAQ to address common questions. We decided that we would run for about an hour and do four parts. First a warm up game that could be started as people arrived. Then stretching and review of the rules and introductions since new people show up all the time. We have three regular rules and one silly rule. 1) Be kind and have fun. 2) Take good care of your body. 3) Leave the park better than you found it. The silly rule is Go before you come (no bathrooms here!). Then we run the course which we've kept to about a 1/4 mile- 1/3 mile loop. Some kids do 2-3 laps, others just go once. In the future, I think I'd like to have a bunch of cheap stopwatches so they could each time themselves (instead of racing for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place). The best part is the cheer we do at the end. "2-4-6-8 Running Club is really great!" - I am actually surprised that the kids like it as much as they do but Marko chants it all week long.

Sometimes I feel like I'm doing nothing but just barely getting through the day, but the fact that I was able to make something like Running Club happen means there's more here than just surviving. And that feels pretty good.


Summer Update

Sometimes I think 3 kids is not that many, and other times, well, let's just say it's a miracle that anything at all happens beyond breakfast.

Summer is passing quickly. Today we made our first attempt at going to the pool and it was a pretty successful trip, mostly because my friend Anne was there with her daughter and she entertained Marko and Laurel. I put them both in life jackets when we got there until I had Max situated and I could figure out the dynamics of this pool, since I hadn't been there in a while. But the massive thunderstorms of the morning seemed to have scared away any regulars and maybe canceled all the camp kids swimming so it was pretty empty the whole afternoon. Eventually I let Laurel take her life jacket off and test out her swimming skills from last summer and I am happy to report that she did pretty well. She just needs to work on her strokes and become a more efficient swimmer. Marko doesn't know how to swim at all, but now that I finally bought our pool tags, I think I'll try to teach him. With Laurel I watched this video, which is a bit old and has a pretty freaky intro, but has some very sound principles. She's good at holding her breath, diving, treading water and staying afloat, but definitely needs to learn some strokes so she can get across the pool more quickly.

I wish our city pools opened to the public in the morning. They open at 1, which is peak sunburn hour and also post-lunch nap time, but I think if I wait until 3 to go, we'll just not end up going. Luckily Max will sleep in his stroller pretty happily wherever we go.


Pool Memories

I can remember what the bottom of that pool felt like on my toes when I was big enough to walk across it. It wasn't very deep so I think I could probably do it when I was about 10. By then, my grandfather had put these solar heaters on the roof to heat the water, so if it was a sunny day the water would be almost too warm. But on an overcast day, it could be very cold. The thermometer hung from a metal wire into the water. It was easy to stub your toe on the bricks surrounding the pool. Then and now my favorite part of swimming was getting out of the cold water and laying in the sun on a towel until I was completely dry and then jumping back in. By the way, doesn't my mother's hair look beautiful in that picture? 


Camping with Kids

Each time we go camping with kids, we discover another way to make it easier or more fun. Plus, as the kids get older, there are more activities that are appropriate for us. This weekend we went to our friend Jack's parents' place on the Juniata River. We've been going up there every summer for many years....since before M and I got engaged and that was in 2002! M asked me to marry him there, actually, while we were on a canoe. His parents used to have a house there, but they sold that and kept some of the land next to it. Now there is a pavilion with a fireplace and a bathroom with plumbing, but everyone sleeps in campers or tents. Jack's sisters were visiting with their families as well, so there were lots of kids to play with and it was a really fun weekend.

We still haven't purchased a big tent that we can all sleep in. We have two backpacking tents that are in good shape, and even though we're doing a lot of car camping right now, I think we will probably do more backpacking style camping once the kids are bigger. Right now, M usually sleeps with Marko and Laurel in the tent and I sleep with Max in the truck.

We bought a water proof bag to put on our roof rack and this has made it so much easier to pack. Now we don't have things jammed into every corner and falling on the kids. Plus there's more room to bring various baby containment devices for Max. He's too heavy to hold all the time, so I brought his pack n play. A standard sized crib sheet fits perfectly over the top of it to provide some shade and protection from bugs. Also, it recently occurred to me to pack an EMPTY duffel bag for our dirty laundry. This way it was easy to keep it separate and nobody accidentally put on dirty underwear. Ahem, Marko. I also borrowed my friend's pop up sun shelter and that was perfect for Max to crawl around in when we went to the lake.

Now that the kids are older, there are lots of water activities that we can do. The kids went paddling in kayaks and swimming in the river. Laurel is getting to be a decent swimmer, but I keep her in a life jacket anyway and probably will for a long time (it's the law anyway, if she's in a kayak).  (Also, for PA residents, you have to have a safety whistle in addition to a life jacket now or you will get a fine!) M bought some fishing poles. Laurel is pretty good at casting! Marko likes the idea of fishing more than the actual activity, but he does like hanging out at the river bank.  They only caught one fish, too small to keep, but I like the idea of acquiring a survival skill and maybe getting beyond just fishing in stocked lakes.

As per usual, the kids didn't sleep quite enough, but that was partially due to the fireworks that were going off everywhere. We also did a terrible job of packing food and spent way too much money at Sheetz. However, that's part of the River House fun for us, so I'm chalking it up to passing on traditions to the kids.

We are getting so much better at unpacking and putting stuff away, so most everything is clean and dry and hung up and we're ready for our next camping adventure!


Summer Break: Week 2

I had a better plan this week, which included making advanced preparation of dinners and packing lunches the night before. We also planned in advance for the kids to visit my mom and sleep over on Monday, so the week got off to a mellow start.

We spent a LOT of time in the park this week. Hours and hours at a time. On Wednesday we went out at 9:30 and came back at 3. I finally got up the nerve to let the kids take their bikes out and was really pleased with how well Laurel did. We got her a new bike for Christmas, but learning to use the hand brakes and gears proved to be a little too much for her at the time. After a few crashes, we stashed it in the garage and forgot about it for a while. The Bowling Green area of the park is perfect for practicing because it's fairly flat and there's a pretty big stretch where she can go back and forth without needing to turn around....and I could stay on the picnic blanket with Max and still see the kids. After 3 days of practice, she's so much better. Marko is a speed demon on the strider bike. Some neighborhood kids joined us some days, other days we just hung out on our own.

The other thing that went really well this week was Running Club. At least 20 kids showed up on Thursday and we did a short cross country loop in the woods. The kids liked it so much that some of them did it 3 or 4 times! I was really impressed with their stamina. We also ran sprints and played some tag. My expectations when starting this were pretty loose. I hoped kids would come and would enjoy running around. I want the kids to have a really positive association with outdoor exercise because I think running and walking in outdoor spaces are some of the most beneficial activities you can engage in throughout your whole life. I am also hoping to see the kids start to lead their own games, organize themselves, manage the conflict that arises during competition and make up new games. I could see this starting to take hold and I'm really excited to see where it goes.

This week, we did two food rescue missions. We also got a letter from our friend who went to New Mexico for the summer, so we can write a letter back now. I completely forgot to write down the books we read for the summer reading program, but we did go to the library and get new ones. The kids like getting prizes, but they read no matter what.

There was a little bit of "I'm bored" - but I read that was good for kids and sparks creativity. And sure enough I would soon find them at the Lego table, or getting out craft stuff or playing with the baby.

I did a terrible job of sleeping enough this week so I'm on the brink of exhaustion, but other than that things are pretty great.


Notes to My Former Self

Hindsight is 20/20. Well, this isn't really hindsight since I'm still IN it. Like, way in it. I don't know what day it is but summer vacation is NOT almost over. Max started crawling and my vacuum cleaner has another mysterious clog, a terrible coincidence of events. Nonetheless, if I could go back in time and write a parenting book for my newbie parent self, it would have these tidbits in it....

1) It's always good to have some friends with kids older than yours. The bigger kids will play with your kids in ways you'll never be able to and it's a window to your future. Keeps things in perspective and reminds you that time keeps marching on, even when the days feel endless.
2) Never cook dinner at 5 o'clock. Little children are wild beast demons at 5 o'clock. Big children need rides to activities. STOP FIGHTING FIVE O'CLOCK! It will beat you down every time. Cook dinner at some other time and reheat it. Or have sandwiches.
3) Record your baby's laughter.
4) Seek out wide open spaces. Children do magical things with wide open spaces, and it's good for them to take their conflicts out of your ear shot (they solve their own problems) but still under your watchful gaze (they don't kill each other doing it).
5) Don't spend too much time figuring out when your children will sleep. Instead, figure out how you can squeeze in a solid eight hours in between nursing, nightmares, kids spilling water bottles on you, losing your spot in the bed and wandering the house looking for an uncluttered horizontal surface to fall down on and so forth.


Summer Break: Week 1

2-4-6-8 Running Club is really great!
Week 1 of Laurel's 8 week summer break is coming to a close. She specifically requested "no camps" this summer. I love her school, but the schedule is kind of intense for kindergarten....8:30-3:30 every day and no nap. I can totally understand why she wants some unstructured time. And luckily, I can accommodate that very easily as a SAHM! I knew that I couldn't just let the summer unfold without any planning though, so we made some lists. Summer Reading Program at the library. Running Club (more on that below). A Duckie Tour. Painting on the porch. Visiting every pool in the city. Volunteering somewhere. I made a loose schedule so we could be motivated to get out of the house with enough time to get back in the afternoons for naps for the boys. I thought it would be amazing.

Then Monday happened. It was terrible. 

The kids fought with each other all morning. They only wanted to watch tv. It was hot. Max was having trouble going to sleep or nursing with all the distractions. The house was almost immediately destroyed. They took out all the art supplies and every toy. Marko stole some jelly out of the fridge and was eating it with a spoon but also leaving big sticky globs all over the place until I caught him. I immediately started researching which camps still had slots opened.  Then my mom came to the rescue and picked up Laurel. She had a lovely two day vacation at their house. When I went to pick her up, we left Marko there for a night. It takes a village, people. However, there were some good times this week. On Thursday we launched our Running Club. We do a warm up, stretching, run a course or some sprints and then play games that involve running. Laurel loves to run, but pretty much hates all sports that involve balls and passing them off to teammates. Her favorite thing to do is play tag. This week was the first session and 12 kids came, even though it was pouring down rain. I think it's going to be a big hit this summer. 

Bagel rescue complete!
Another thing we did was visit Creative Reuse to stock up on paper and random junk for crafting. Apparently a science teacher recently cleaned out her classroom because they have a lot of pyrex beakers and pipettes and scales and other fun science-y things for sale right now. Marko and Laurel spent hours on the front porch assembling projects. Max likes to stand in his exersaucer and watch them. I need to add glue - a LOT more glue - to my shopping list, though. We also went to our usual playgroup, which meets outside in the summer. The playgroup is hosted by the pastor's wife at the Pittsburgh New Church and they have a great space outside for kids to play. There's also a school there, so they are very unfussy about kids playing in the dirt and mud, constructing fairy houses, climbing the trees, etc. And on Friday we did our "Food Rescue Mission" and diverted three boxes of bagels to a senior high rise. One of my strongest childhood memories is volunteering for various things with my dad and siblings. We used to go to a nursing home and do crafts with the residents. And finally, we wrote letters to our school friends who went away to New Mexico for the summer. I love getting mail and it's really fun to do pen pals with Laurel now because she can write her own letters.

So, even though there was a fair amount of crying and gnashing of teeth, when I look back at the week and see all that we did, I feel pretty happy. Next week my mom will take the kids for an overnight, and we'll do pretty much the same thing, except maybe add a trip to the creek or to the spray park.


Single Track

I can still hear crying when I lock the door behind me, but M shoos me on. I can actually "hear" it all the way down the street, but at that point it's actually just a noise stuck in my head. Once I turn down the first gravel path into the park, my head starts to clear a little. By the time I get to the single track turnoff, my shoulders have lost their tension and my arms are swinging freely. My breathing slows and deepens. After an hour or so of walking in the park, I feel recharged.

I spend a lot of time with my kids right now. This is not a bad thing, because I have fun with reading aloud and painting and playing with Legos. Poop, pee, vomit and blood do not phase me at all (loose teeth are another story). I have remarkable patience for answering the same question over and over again. I would say that 90% of the time I'm really enjoying myself as a stay-at-home-mom. But still, the twenty-four-hour-ness of the job can be taxing. Taking a break is key. I try to do different things....hang out with friends at a bar, go to the coffee shop to write, or take a yoga class. But none of those are as effective as an hour of walking on single track paths in the woods.

It's rained a bit the last week or so and the trails are very muddy and slick. I like the focus that is required to remain upright with each step. I like how my eyes adjust to the wall of green and brown surroundings and start to pick up all the variations in color and texture. I like how the city noises fade into the background and what I mostly hear are birds and squirrels.

When I get back home, M has generally succeeded in getting all the children into bed and will have a dish towel slung over his shoulder, while he cleans up the dinner dishes. Our evenings together are much more pleasant when I've been walking. My birthday is coming up this week and the best thing about getting older is figuring out what makes me feel good and not worrying about whether it's what I should be doing or getting. Frankly, a haircut causes me great anxiety and a pedicure would probably put me over the edge. Walking in the woods does the trick, though.

Stop Biting Her Face!

My house is a giant mess. Marko gets into everything. Anytime I sit down, I sit on a raisin or stale Cheerio or a blob of jelly, even on days when I know I didn't serve anyone jelly (how do they reach that high?). Laurel's preferred activity is to make "art" out of little bits of garbage she finds. Max leaves puddles of drool. Most nights, I tidy the house but it takes only 5 minutes for it to look like burglars rifled through all our stuff but decided to steal nothing, because everything we own is a broken down piece of crap, or if it was once good, has since been destroyed by the children. But then we have a morning like this one, everyone hanging out in the dining room, painting and listening to music, Max looking on from his high chair. I have time for a second cup of coffee. All is calm.

I am learning that there needs to be a balance between structure and flexibility. I made a daily routine that includes post-dinner outside play, and that has turned out to be a really good thing for bedtime. Playing outside after dinner has become this privilege that I can use to leverage good behavior. I didn't intend for that, but that's they see it as a reward. We play outside before dinner, too, but for some reason, it doesn't seem to be viewed the same in their eyes. I'm thinking ahead to summer time, when I'll have all three kids all day long again and trying to get ready for that. I give them a bucket of warm water (because it's still kind of cool here) and some shovels and containers from the recycling bin and they pretty much entertain themselves with mud.

Laurel and Marko fight a lot. I try not to intervene, but you have to draw the line at face-biting! (Seriously, I said, "No face-biting" today.) If I stay back, usually they move through the conflict in 5 minutes or less. But there are days when they seem to pick at each other all day long.


Mother's Day

My gift from Laurel. She
was so excited to give it to
me and I love it.
Sunday morning I was awake at the very first light. I don't mean the sunrise, but long before that, before even the first bird songs, when the darkness of the sky shifts ever so slightly to gray, and you can imagine the end of night coming. I was sleeping in the back of our SUV with Max, which sounds horrible to every single person I ever tell, but is actually really comfortable. The seats fold down and it's pretty much flat and firm. M was in the tent with the other kids. We were camping with our neighbors, who have two kids. Other than that, there weren't too many people at the campground this weekend. It rained for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was dark, dark, dark.

I spend most nights in the well-lit city though, so even enjoying camping as much as I do, it can be unnerving to experience the darkness of the forest in the middle of the night. Max is five months old today, and wakes up several times at night to nurse, but last night I had no diversions to see me through these night feedings. No Facebook to scroll through, no Atlantic stories bookmarked in my browser. (Once I even placed a grocery order in the middle of the night.)

It's good to have some time to think, and especially on Mother's Day. Motherhood has been this hugely transformative force in my life these last 7 years. It's not easy all the time, but it has become a role that I find deeply fulfilling. And this is perplexing to me, because all the "doing" of motherhood is repetitive, messy crap that gets undone quickly, that mostly goes unnoticed by others and is highly undervalued in our society. The other tasks of raising up children...teaching kindness and empathy and conflict resolution....you can't actually be very successful at them if you set out to them "right." It's actually a lot more effective to just strive to do them well yourself. They will see. They see everything. At the end of the day, I have little tangible evidence of my work. I was me. I swept crumbs. How is it that I am so happy doing it and that it feels so worthwhile to be doing it?

I've written about this before, but motherhood feels like I am on a stage, constantly watched and imitated. As the children gain language they experiment with my phrases, with my tones. Their play mimics my work. My missteps are reflected back immediately by the expressions on their faces. But on the other hand, they are not growing up to BE me. I can't really make them be any kind of way. Admitting that lack of control over them is both freeing and terrifying.

Our camping trip - our first with Max - went well. We found sites at Ohiopyle that had a little creek flowing behind them so the kids had someplace to play. I brought just enough changes of clothes for Marko. Nobody seems to have gotten poison ivy, miraculously because it was everywhere. We had a really nice hike along the river and saw a water snake and tadpoles and tons of spring wildflowers. And my mother's day wish was fulfilled when we managed to get a photo with all five of us in it!


April Showers bring Neighborhood Cleanups

Still crazy here. Marko is wearing Laurel's underwear (he couldn't find any of his, despite the fact that at least 50% of our clothes are clean and it is highly unlikely that he doesn't have any in his drawer). This morning I caught him handing a pencil to Max (eeek! But at least it wasn't sharpened...).

Max continues to have difficulty feeding during the day and nurses a lot overnight. However, if he eats a lot overnight then he pees a lot overnight and with his weird rashiness, he really can't sit in a wet diaper for very long. I am too tired to google solutions and just try to keep my focus on the year 2021 when Max will turn 5 and theoretically everyone in the house will be sleeping in their own beds and all night long.

This weekend we organized the neighborhood clean up. Frankly I'm a little burned out on community organizing at the moment, but I have to admit that it was kind of fun. I got up early on Saturday morning and baked banana bread. We had a bunch of garbage bags and shovels and work gloves leftover from last year's clean up (which nobody attended) and set up a table outside. The kids made a sign. Abut 15 people actually did show up this year (probably because I put a facebook post advertising the fresh-from-the-oven banana bread), and it was really nice to stand around in our yard, eating little slices of banana bread balanced on paper towels and making small talk with people we haven't seen all winter.

When I manage to organize something like this, I feel like myself, or some part of myself outside of the motherhood part of my existence. Many days, I can only see myself as mother, all the way to the horizon in every direction. I have heard lots of people talk about getting "lost" in this phase of life. I always assumed that it would feel bad if you made it to that level, but it doesn't really. There's a lot of joy and gratitude and satisfaction and it often feels very right to be doing it. You just stop and wonder every now and again what happened to that other person you were before you had all these little people swirling around you all day and night.


Things That Happened This Week (So Far)

Max learned to laugh this week. Laurel was dancing in front of him and he went from his usual coo/grunt/heavy breathing to an actual giggle. A baby's laughter is a magical sound. It should be recorded and piped in to stressful situations.

I had to take him to the doctor for his eczema last week. He has it pretty bad. While I was there, they weighed him and he is 13 lbs 12 oz. He has great head control and can hold himself up pretty well when he's sitting in someone's lap. We got lots of new creams and a prescription antihistamine to try. He looked and seemed to feel a lot better over the weekend but had a big flare up last night, so now it's on to try an elimination diet for me, since he's still breastfeeding. This does not make me excited, but to be honest, I could do a better job of eating well, so maybe it's a good thing for both of us. I have a suspicion that it's eggs, so I'm going to start with eggs and dairy.

Laurel and I had a Daisy troop meeting. It's wild, this group of kindergarteners at 7 o'clock on a school night. Last night I was really dragging and didn't particularly want to be there. But M was home with two crying boys, so I guess at least it was a break from that. I really do like the Girl Scouts program, though, and we are very excited to do our first day at Girl Scout Camp in May. And when they sing their friendship circle song at the end, it is the cutest thing ever.

I went to two different social events, by myself, to hang out with other moms. This required a Herculean effort on my part to get out of the house because I'm beat-ass tired from getting up with Max all night and chasing Marko around all day. But I love talking with other women about stuff they're doing. Travel, volunteer stuff, work, politics, etc. I'm burnt out on talking about parenting/mothering at the moment....so I want to talk about other stuff, but for some reason, I really only want to talk to other moms about non-mom stuff. How much sense does that make?


Things That Happened This Week

1) Max rolled. He was delighted with himself. I was slightly less delighted because now I have to be super careful about where I leave him.

2) Marko ran up to me in the schoolyard at pick up time holding a plastic baggie of something brown and said, "Here's some poop, Mom!" It wasn't (I don't think), but still. WHY DID YOU PICK IT UP IF YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A BAG OF POOP, MARKO??

3)  Laurel and I had a Daisy meeting. I am a recent convert to the Girl Scouts, but I love two things about it. First, her Daisy troop is definitely bonding with each other and I think it's cool to have some good friends outside of school. Second, I think our society has degraded into a decidedly uncivil state, and I adore hearing Laurel recite the Girl Scouts Promise and the Girl Scouts Law because it reminds us to be friendly and helpful, honest and fair and so forth.

4) I became obsessed with Property Brothers. This is a tv show where a realtor and a contractor first trick an unsuspecting couple by showing them the house of their dreams...that is way out of their budget. HAHAHAHA! LOLOL. They are always mad. Then they show them ugly houses that smell like cat pee and convince them to buy and renovate. Don't worry, it always turns out great. Neatly wrapped up in 42 minutes. Personally I disagree with the "open concept" obsession. This when all your rooms are open, especially the kitchen. For "entertaining" they always say. I prefer a door, to hide the dishes from my guests. Also, what's the fuss about granite countertops? I'm saving up for butcher block.

5) I planted some green onions. I keep seeing these articles about food you can grow from scraps. We often buy things like green onions, cilantro, or ginger and usually only need a little but you have to buy the whole bunch and then some of it goes bad. Well, it goes into my compost pile, so I'm not totally wasting it, but I've really been thinking about food waste since I did a volunteer mission for 412 Food Rescue. If you are local to Pittsburgh, definitely follow them on Facebook and you too could save some food that is perfectly good, but about to get dumped!



The 24 hour-ness of being a stay at home mom is pretty intense.

I feel like I'm underwater. Everything slightly muted and moving a bit slower than usual. Max does not sleep in long stretches and at first I was buoyed by post-partum hormones. He's a newborn, I told myself, and this is a phase that will end soon. Besides, he went back to sleep easily. But this last month has been torturous. With everyone in the house battling colds and flus, I found myself sleeping less and less. When I went to physical therapy this week and answered some questions about my activity level I was horrified to discover that I may be sleeping as little as 2 or 3 hours a night. A few nights I slept not at all, being woken by one child after another just as soon as I drifted off.

Sleep begets sleep, they say. When I have adequate sleep, I find it easy to fall asleep, or to nap when the opportunity presents itself. But when I haven't been sleeping, especially when it's because other people keep waking me up, I start to dread night time. It becomes very difficult to even lay down and close my eyes because I think, what's the point? Someone is going to need something in a minute anyway. I feel less tired when I just stay awake than if I am constantly jolted out of sleep. Of course, this is logical only to a very tired person, and in fact staying awake for many days in a row will literally kill you or make you crazy. But then I start feeling anxious about not having slept and perpetually worry that I may already be crazy. It doesn't help that over the past month we've been stuck at home a lot and the only person I'm talking to is three and says things like "I know how to swim in Spanish."

This is one of the biggest downsides of breastfeeding. Trying to pump enough to make a bottle someone else could give the baby is a lot of work if you also have to nurse the baby throughout the day. And even if you do get enough and someone else can feed the baby, you will probably be woken up by engorged, leaky breasts and then either have to pump in the middle of the night or hope the baby wakes up and needs to be fed again.

I started googling for answers - never a good thing - and almost bought the Magical Merlin Sleepsuit. Yes, that's a real thing. It costs like $40 and looks like one of those sumo costumes you put on when your company has decided your division should do some team building. It's supposed to ease the transition out of swaddling.

I also decided I should probably stop eating dairy, eggs, peanuts and shellfish. Oh and gluten. And start eating more oatmeal and brewer's yeast. (That's from the internet, can you tell?)

Later I thought I'd maybe just throw in the towel and wean Max onto formula. Until I saw what a can of formula costs. Then my commitment to breastfeeding was renewed.

I made a schedule and tried to stick to it for naps and feeding. Max slept even less.

I bought him gas drops. He seems to enjoy the taste, but farts as much as he ever did.

I tried to banish Marko from my bed, thinking maybe Max was disturbed by too many people in the room. But then Marko slept even less.

I cut down on coffee, but that just gave me a headache, and you know how they say to put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else? Well, my coffee is the oxygen mask I must put on before even thinking about pouring the first bowl of cheerios.

They say the days are long but the years are short. Right now it just feels like one big long never-ending day. The good thing about this phase is if you are a person who likes hugs (which I am), there is no shortage of that. Hugs are available from my children 24-7.


Things That Happened This Week

In no particular order...

1) Laurel had her last gymnastics class for the session and I finally ended up making it to this one. She was bubbling over with excitement. Marko even got to come in and was super excited to scamper over all the equipment and try out the trampoline. I would not have been able to pull this off without the help of my friend, who also has children in this class. We met at the bus stop last year and due to similar schedules, we ran into each other a lot. Our kids play well together, so even though they aren't at the same school anymore, we've kept things going. I didn't even imagine that I would be able to go in to the class and hoped taking pictures from behind the glass would satisfy Laurel, but Valentina appeared, scooping up little Max and singing to him for 30 minutes because that was the only thing that kept him from crying.

2) Marko sneezed while having a nosebleed, spraying blood all over my face, neck and hair. It was like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Oh, sorry, Mom! he said cheerfully, because he gets nose bleeds periodically so they are not a super scary event to him. This was during school pick up and because we live one block from the school, I didn't have a diaper bag. My friend Alison appeared with kleenex and wipes and even dabbed off the spots that I missed on my own neck. Without making me feel dumb at all.

3) The neighbors who borrowed our book on fermentation brought it back and delivered homemade blueberry oatmeal muffins along with it. Muffins are pretty much the best breakfast food ever for my kids so for a change they all got dressed and ready for the day without screwing around.

4) I wrote a complaint email and got a refund. I usually really suck at this so it was a pleasant surprise.

5) My mom took Marko to her house, and with Laurel at school I got a chance to spend some one on one time with Max while he's not just strapped in the back of the car. He's starting to roll over and loves scooting around on his back by pushing off with his feet. I can feel his eyes following me, waiting for me to make eye contact with him, and then he smiles and pushes his legs up and down. He reminds me a lot of Laurel.


Something About Me

It's still February and it's actually snowing today, but it was a spring-like snow. Pretty flakes falling but not accumulating. I like to see the little gatherings of snowflakes on the ground next to the crocuses and snow drops that have started to come up. Springer Fever is hitting us hard.

Compost is my new obsession and we've had warm enough weather that I've taken the boys into our woefully neglected backyard. Max lays in the stroller and looks at the sky. Marko drags every blessed toy out of the garage. And I turn my compost pile. I find it extraordinary that (certain) things we discard can turn into soil given enough time. I'm more pragmatic than scientific about my compost, and pretty much try to create optimal conditions for available materials. I shred up corrugated cardboard and newspaper when I run out of dried leaves to mix with my food scraps.

I feel exceptionally tired tonight, I think because of all the shoveling and pitchforking. I have a new mom friend who has equal enthusiasm for dirt and we even went to an urban farm down the street and voluntarily turned their compost pile, in return for a bucket of their finished compost. I've also procured a BOB double jogging stroller, and have been taking the boys on lots of walks at a brisk pace instead of at a Marko pace. I definitely feel the burn though, pushing that thing up a hill.

And speaking of burn, the other exciting and muscle fatiguing thing that I did recently was go to the rock climbing gym. They have a bouldering section so you don't even need to belay at first. After a brief orientation, they pretty much let you at it. I climbed so hard that I had blisters on my hands and could barely lift my hands over my head. The only downside was the awkwardness of being too old to fit in with all the college kids who were hitting on each other and not old enough to be one of the quirky old people. They really didn't know what to make of me.

I'm writing this down because it's a reminder that even though parenting takes up the vast majority of my time, that there are still things that I do that are about me or for me that have nothing to do with the children and I'd be just as likely to do them if they'd never come along. Of course, I'm delighted that they are here...but I'm equally delighted that I'm still here.


Two Months Post Partum

I don't have a newborn anymore! Max is 2 months old, weighs 11 pounds 14 oz and is 24 inches long. He wailed through the measurement portion of his check up. Also the vaccination portion. He's kind of a homebody, likes to nap in his own bed, with his white noise machine. He needs breaks from the action-packed life going on downstairs. But when he's with the whole family he seems to really enjoy us.

He smiles at us, kicks his legs, and tries to scoot backwards while lying on his back. He looks delighted when he manages to get all the way off the changing pad, which I usually lay on my bed. He's not a huge fan of babywearing or nursing. Definitely an eat-to-live sort of guy and I very rarely nurse him to sleep. He likes a pacifier. He hates wearing hats. If he's feeling a little fussy the only thing that will do is laying him over my arm on his tummy and walking around while patting his back. This is an extraordinarily difficult position to maintain while getting anything else done, like say helping Marko use the toilet in a sanitary fashion, or cooking dinner. I love having a baby and it's nice to be somewhat relieved of most of the new parent anxiety around rashes and pooping. I can just enjoy him. But I'm glad that the baby phase only lasts for a short while.

As for me, I don't feel the way I did before I had this third baby. I think three kids might be a tipping point of some sort. Your belly button will only take so many years of being stretched out. I still have a linea nigra, but it's fading. I try to work out every day in some way, although even getting in a 30 minute cardio video without interruption is kind of impossible some days. From past experience, I know that my body will hang on to the extra weight until I wean Max, and then it will come off pretty easily.

I can remember when taking one child out with me was an arduous task. Getting into the car with the three kids is like reverse Jenga and requires a careful order of entry and buckling. It has sort of a carbon offset effect though, because I tend to plan our outings and errands for one day and stick to the neighborhood the rest of the time.

When I think of having a family, I always think of three kids, maybe because I was from a family of three kids. I have fond memories of my siblings from childhood, but I don't remember any of the chaos that we are currently experiencing. We were very close in age, only 2 years apart, instead of the 3 that my kids are. So maybe it was crazy when we were all very young and I just don't remember it. The only memory I have when I was 4 is the color of the carpet in my house, and I only have a few memories of when I was 5 or 6. Sitting at the orange table in kindergarten. This Toyota minivan that the neighbors drove. The color of my sister's hair when she was very young. It's kind of depressing when I think about it, that my kids will probably not remember very much of what has happened so far in their lives, especially when the last 7 years have been such a formative experience for me.

This morning, Max took a nap and Laurel went to school, so Marko and I hung out and sorted the coins in his piggy bank. We dropped some pennies into a solution of vinegar and salt and watched them turn shiny again. We arranged them into shapes - triangles and squares. I have a tendency to get a little too lesson-oriented sometimes, but Marko lets me know when it's too much for a three year old. For instance, today I started pointing out some of the pictures that are on the coins and telling him about who they were. His response was to lay down on the couch and say "I'm going to lay down. It's a pretend nap. Cover me up." Then I remember, he's 3 years old. There's no rush to learn a damn thing about Abraham Lincoln. The constant flood of language that middle class parents believe is giving their children a positive early childhood experience might just be a little annoying to them. Sometimes, you should shut up and listen. Or just be silent together.


More Real Life

Marko and I finally made it back to our Thursday playgroup today for the first time since Max was born. It was a cold morning but Marko was a good sport about walking because he had his snowball maker. Max was not so into the cold wind, but he fell asleep pretty quickly. There are lots of new babies in this playgroup and it's nice to have some mom friends who are doing the whole up-all-night thing. I like that I can send a message in the middle of the night and pretty much expect an immediate reply.

The morning playgroup and the walk there and back paved the way for an afternoon nap for Marko, although sadly, Max was awake so I didn't get to lay down. After that, it's exercise time (dancing to YouTube videos), and then we pick up Laurel from school. And bam, that's the day, because it all goes to hell when we get back home.

If the weather isn't terrible, we stay and play in the school yard. There's another mom who has a very similar tolerance for dirt and free play, as well as a similarly chill schedule, so there's always at least one other kid to play with. Today they got super muddy. I'm not sure what game they were playing, but the snow melt today created some pretty intense mud conditions. When we finally called them out of the school yard to come home they emerged clutching large balls of mud. I seriously thought they were holding cow poo. It was made slightly worse by the fact that Marko had a bloody nose at some point, which the girls took upon themselves to help him with, so he was covered with dried blood. I made my kids strip on the front porch with the plan of immediately heading towards bath time. (If it's getting dark, I consider it night and appropriate to start night time routines. Who cares if it's 5 o'clock?)

Laurel had already reached her limits today, and started arguing. She loves to argue so much she will argue against getting things she wants. Then she cries. So then I had two naked children, one of them yelling and crying and the other gleeful to be naked. And a screaming baby. I wish I could say this was unusual. If it's not mud, it's something else.

People warned me about this three kids thing. It's a lot more kids than two kids, they said. No way, I told them.  I was a teacher after all. I'm used to dealing with children in groups of 20.

I try not to think of parenting as an Us vs Them kind of thing. But if it were a competition? The kids would win the matches played between 4 and 6pm. Every. Single. Day.

So here's what I do. First, I put on Brian Eno's Music for Airports. And I get myself a coffee or a beer. This relaxes me more than the kids, but you gotta put your own oxygen mask on first. I neutralize Marko by putting him in the bath. He'll hang out there for a good twenty minutes and there's a minimal amount of destruction he can cause in the bathtub. Sometimes he even remembers to wash himself. Then I help the baby because there's only like 4 things that make him cry and 3 of them I can take care of really quickly. By this time I've gotten used to Laurel's wailing and tuned it out. If I give her a good 10-15 minutes to cry, she comes around with an apology and a solution. Ten minutes is a long time to listen to a six year old cry (sorry, neighbors), but I honestly just think this is part of the way she processes her day.

By six o'clock they are usually all in pj's and eating a snack. (You'll notice there is no mention of dinner...cooking or eating it. I'm sure at some point I'll have to figure this out, but for now, I have given up on real dinner. I make them pb&j's or quesadillas or an egg. Almonds, carrot sticks and green smoothies on the side. Clif bars or muffins for dessert and a hearty glass of milk.) Real dinner is reserved for grownups who don't complain about being served dishes with multiple ingredients that touch each other.

Then we have story time, and suddenly I like having three kids again. If Max is awake, he joins us and the kids will read something to him. Tonight I read Lemonade in Winter and Leaf Man to Marko and the first part of a children's version of a Midsummer Nights' Dream to Laurel. Max fell asleep too fast to get a story this time.

At this point in the evening, Marko becomes the wild card. Some nights he lays down in his bed and falls asleep. If he does not fall asleep right away, I will spend the next 2 hours bringing him ice packs for real and imagined injuries, helping him on and off the toilet, tucking his covers, removing or adding various layers of pajamas, finding his water bottle and other various requests he comes up with that have just enough legitimacy to make it hard to say no. Three year olds are geniuses at this sort of thing.

Laurel falls asleep immediately pretty much every night. Thank you, full day kindergarten.

Once everyone is asleep, I take a bath, which is a cue for someone to wake up. Seriously, as soon as I just start to relax in the water, someone cries. Most nights M is home from work by this time so he deals with it. Tonight he is at a meeting, so I'm just not going to bother trying.

What I want to remember about today is looking across the school yard and watching Marko and Laurel hug each other. Max's big round eyes and his smile when I bounced him on my knees and how pleased he looked with himself as he is learning to hold his head up. I want to remember sharing the last slice of Marko's fire truck birthday cake with him today after nap time and how he relished each bite. Laurel nestled in next to me while I read to her and how quiet and still she was while she tried to make sense of Shakespeare's words.


Real Life

Max just spent a half an hour trying to let go of his left hand with his right hand. You know how little babies can't really control their grasp for a while? There was much grunting and heavy breathing over the effort, but no crying. Exhausted from the effort, he fell asleep. I took it as a gift and grabbed the opportunity to make myself some lunch and read Facebook while I pretended that I didn't know that Laurel and Marko started another Netflix show.

It is 5 o'clock. Laurel has no school today or tomorrow. M was in Florida for work last week, and I don't think I've quite recovered from the experience of being by myself with 3 kids. The days were long. The nights were longer.

Also, winter.

Getting everyone dressed and out the door and then immediately back in the door and undressed because someone forgot to use the potty and then redressed and out the door and the baby is now screaming because he's hot...well I didn't even start down that path today.

Things that happened today....

Marko and Laurel found Pez dispensers. And many rolls of Pez. They hid under the couch and ate them for breakfast. Thank you very much to whoever bought these for my children.

Marko went to his annual physical and apparently had an ear infection that is now fortunately clearing up on its own. He also has gained the appropriate amount of height and weight despite refusing to eat 85% of what we prepare for him. PB&J's forever.

Laurel emerged from Quiet Time with a large amount of makeup on her face. But it wasn't makeup because she's six and doesn't have makeup, so she used crayons. It was applied surprisingly well considering she doesn't have a mirror in her room.

I bought a subscription to Beachbody because I'm all gungho about working out and losing what I'm calling baby weight, but is actually more due to my husband becoming an ultra marathoner this year and me eating enough to also be an ultramarathoner, but not putting in the miles. The kids ended up doing more of the workout than I did because Max screamed the whole time and I sort of tried to keep up using Max instead of my dumbbells but I'm not sure I actually burned any more calories than I would have if I was just doing the usual rocking and bouncing and patting routine.

I'm a little bit in denial about how fussy Max is.

I have a book and a magazine and three weeks worth of New York Times Sunday Editions still mocking me from inside their blue bags, but I cannot comprehend anything more complex than blizzard photos right now. Just a tiny bit tired these days.

So Facebook it is, and a few words on this blog and waiting for M to get home from work so we can have Pho.

And that's Real Life around here.


Max at One Month

Max is a month old already. I just reread what I wrote about the other two when they were this age and found it hilarious how similar Laurel acted when Marko was born to how Marko is acting now. Three year olds, man. They are a trip.

Laurel had a colicky stage, which forced us to go to great lengths to stop her crying (and eventually just masking it to save our sanity). I can remember one time my parents walking in and we were rocking her in a cradle with the vacuum cleaner parked next to it, all other sources of white noise having failed us. If there is a six year old version of colic, she still has it. Her feelings will not be a secret to you or anyone else. She has a need to cry in order to process some things and bursts of creative energy that must be released. It's kind of beautiful actually, to see the world through her perspective. It's so very intense.

Marko was the pure opposite as a baby. Maybe because he was a tinier baby and born at an earlier gestational age? He didn't really do anything except sleep until he was about 2 months old. He has lots of energy now, but is goofy and entertaining. He can read an audience and perform in a way that Laurel doesn't.

And who will Max become? As a newborn, he has been somewhere in between. He gets a little fussy with gas at times and he hates to have a soiled diaper. But we can also swaddle him up and put him down. He can fall asleep and stay asleep without touching someone. In fact, he doesn't really like to ride around in the wrap or to sleep on my chest the way the other two did. Sometimes in the afternoons or evenings, he wants to be held in the crook of our arms, cradled close to our bodies, but so that he can look at the lights.

M and I go between enjoying the ease of having a third, healthy baby and dropping f-bombs over the astonishing amount of mess and chaos that descends upon our family from time to time. We know how to take care of Max, so that part is much more relaxing. On the other hand, it's totally nuts around here. We'll have everything under control, and then some kind of a cyclonic energy hits the kids and everyone cries, dumps out every toy they own, pees their pants, spills our coffee...all at once.

Max at one month is about 10 pounds, up from his 8 pounds 3 ounces at birth. His ears are very round. He has different cries...he uses a particularly angry one for a wet diaper. He likes the Soothie brand pacifier and relaxes the second he hears the white noise app on my iPhone. He has a tiny tuft of hair that sticks up on top. I have only given him one real bath so far and he seemed to like it ok, once he got over the initial shock. I haven't read to him that much but the other kids do. I love the way that he recognizes my voice and turns his head when I come into the room, and how he looks at me with big, round eyes. Chemical love. It's deep and out of my control. I do not choose to love him, it washes over me. Slows my heartbeat. Flows down my arms so that my shoulders drop their tension. I suppose this happened with the other two, but I was always distracted by worries. Was the latch right, what's that rash, should we sleep more or less, should I cut out dairy? This time, freed from such distractions, I can really savor the mother/newborn bonding that is happening.


Not What I Expected, But I Probably Should Have...

Last year we went to CodeMash for the first time, which is a conference for developers, but also has a bunch of activities for families, which they call Kidzmash. I remember being really surprised and delighted because so much of what is called STEM for young children is poorly done. The main thing Laurel remembers was making a robot that colored. She wired it up and everything. Very cool. The conference also has the benefit of taking place in the country's largest indoor water park. A bunch of people from M's office go, and some of them were presenting, so of course we thought we should go again....despite the fact that we had just welcomed Baby Max 4 weeks before and have not exactly worked out all the logistics of managing our family yet.

Sometimes we have good ideas. And sometimes we have good ideas that end up not being that fun when we do them, but they have that element of "2nd degree fun" - miserable now, but it makes a great story, or we'll laugh about it one day. Great childhoods are dependent on lots of 2nd degree fun.

And sometimes we just have terrible ideas. This was pretty much in that category.

After we arrived home and I was giving Marko a bath, I asked him what his favorite part was. He said getting candy from the vendors. There was a 12,000 square foot wave pool and a van de Graaff generator, but he liked getting the mini packet of M&Ms from the guys at the IBM table. We never even really made it to any of the formal sessions for the kids because just getting all of us to the bathroom was practically an hour long process. I didn't get a chance to ask Laurel what her favorite part was because she went to bed immediately, saying she had a headache. My guess is that she probably liked the candy the best too.

Live and learn, though. I'd rather try stuff and have it not work out perfectly than never go anywhere with the kids.

I wanted to blog about Kidzmash, but I don't have much to say except that the Open Hangoutz room was spectacularly equipped with toys, games and art supplies, and Marko and Laurel played with other kids and learned some very cool new games. Marko liked Gobblet Gobblers in particular. Laurel dug into the art supplies and immediately started crafting all sorts of interesting things. She totally gets the whole "Make It" movement, although she seems to be driven more towards artistic creativity than engineering creativity. Of course, the stack of empty boxes from the conference t-shirts proved to be the one thing that all the kids liked playing with the most. We did not get to make a flashlight or play robot laser tag or use the Snap Circuits. Perhaps next year.

Instead, I'll tell you about the parenting lessons learned. It was a humbling three days.

I should have borrowed a double stroller. I usually think of Marko as way too old for a stroller. And last weekend he walked almost five miles right along side us. But if I had brought one with me, he would have taken a few cat naps on the go, which is what he really needed. Last year he was 1-almost-2 instead of 2-almost 3 and that's a big difference. He probably weighed about 22 pounds and I carried him on my back in the Ergo, leaving my hands free to help Laurel with the activities, which is why she got to do so many cool things. This year, I ran out of hands and he had no place to sleep. I am totally shopping for a double stroller on Craigslist right now.

White noise is magical. This should not surprise me, but the white noise app put a fussy Max to sleep in the middle of a chaotic hotel room. Wish it still worked on the big kids.

Don't try to make it epic. Because last year was so amazing, we had high expectations. On Thursday, we left our hotel for the conference center right after breakfast, with plans to stay there until the big Family Dinner which was starting at 6:00pm. Disastrous. By 10:30, I was losing my mind. I actually wrote my phone number ON MY CHILDRENS' BODIES because I was worried I would lose them. There was no place I could sit and nurse Max while watching both Marko and Laurel play. There were thousands of people everywhere, and it was way too noisy and overwhelming for the kids. They needed some quiet in between the activities. I ended up taking them back to the hotel for a couple of hours to chill out in our room. We should have picked one conference activity and one waterpark activity each day, and that would have been more than enough. Should have kept it simple.

Car seats are clearly engineered by the Devil himself. We have a midsize SUV. You should be able to fit 3 kids in the back. Why are car seats so wide? Why are the latch hooks designed for installation of only 2 car seats? Why do the little seat belt clicky things fall down into the abyss? Who put a banana peel underneath the car seat??? After much YouTube research and experimentation, I finally found a way to safely install our seats, but it is a long and involved process each and every time.

Six year olds still have a lot of needs. I suppose all humans have a lot of needs....they just change over time.  Laurel is extremely outgoing and self-sufficient, so it's easy to backburner her when Max is crying or Marko is suddenly naked for no clear reason. Recognizing her changing needs has probably been the biggest adjustment for us lately but we're working on it.

If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, the whole family is doomed.

Remain united. We may be technically outnumbered by children now, but M and I are smarter, more experienced and have the money and the car keys. It's all good as long as we work as a team.