Grumpy about boy pee

Nick raced to the bathroom this morning to pee and cheerfully went about his business. An hour later I walked into the same room to do my own business. There was a puddle next to the toilet, and also urine all over the toilet itself, and evidence of wall usage.

I couldn’t stop the words. I yelled out to the living room. “Oh MY GOD, Nick, there’s pee everywhere! Why did you pee everywhere?? WHAT DID YOU DO, USE IT LIKE A HOSE?”

The incessant noise of dragon battle cries in the living room suddenly ceased.

I yelled again into the silence, as I started pulling Clorox wipes and fussing about. “NICK. WHY DID YOU PEE EVERYWHERE. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME.”

I know these are empty, rhetorical questions, but sometimes I just need answers, answers that don’t exist but NEED to exist, because there has to be an explanation for all this senseless PEE in my world, otherwise the meaning of things begins to unravel and I feel like my entire life has been wasted on nothing and I go blank all over (which is still better than screaming, but far worse than grumpy).

Nick must have sensed my mood, because he yelled back an answer for a change. “I was peeing and I was holding it but then I dropped it and it went DOWN, so then I picked it up and it went UP, and then I got it in the potty. SO THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED.”

It was well-articulated and truthful. What could I say. Thank you, my tiny spawn, for rescuing me from the existential void.

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grumpy about dinner

I made a delicious dinner for my family tonight, if I may make such a bold statement. Lemon pepper chicken with fresh sage.
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Home-made buns.
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Sautéed zucchini sprinkled with Parmesan.
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And the awesomeness of farm-fresh bitter escarole braised in balsamic and cider vinegars with garlic, onions and grated carrots.
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I am the BOMB. This isn’t even that abnormal. It took me about an hour (not including the bread, which was created earlier in the day), and by the time I was done Anthony was home and hanging out with the kids.

This picture was taken last week but is an exact replica of what was going down in the living room while I worked. Alone. In the kitchen. Creating a minor masterpiece. Like I frequently do.
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When I was done, I set the table and then I had to walk the dog because Anthony is suffering from plantar fasciitis. Aaaw. I had this loose idea that the kids would eat dinner with Anthony and I would miss all that drama. But no.

Jesse wanted to ride her bike around the block with me. Okay, except for the infantile whining noises she was making about water on her shorts. Before I made it to our front lawn, Nick was in the doorway begging me to wait for him, because now he wanted to come on his bike too. I can’t do dog and beginner-bike Nick at the same time so I ignored him, but he ran out of the house barefoot, shoes in hand, wailing. “MOMMY WAIT FOR MEEEE!!!” Wisely sensing an emerging crisis, Anthony jumped into the fray as Jesse disappeared down the street. He instructed me to carry on and let him help Nick, so I marched off with the dog as Nick started keening. I made it 2 houses down before Nick hit the road. I looked back and saw him barreling down the street at me, crouched athletically over the bars of his tiny 12-inch-wheel Trek, spinning the pedals at an impossible rate, all the while bellowing and screeching through his raging tears, “MOOOMMMYYYY WAAAAAIIIIIT!!!! WAIT FOR MEEEEE!!”

It was cute but also an outrageous spectacle, and all I felt in that moment was a powerful instinct to flee. Run and hide, Carla, run and hide! I mustered my courage and stood my ground, and the five of us (Anthony came along too after all) had a reasonably pleasant and quick walk/ride.

On to dinner, which we settled down to as soon as we got back to the house. Anthony and I enjoyed the meal a great deal. Nick ate the inside of a bun and choked down 6 or 7 bites of chicken drenched in ketchup. I was thankful his gag reflex didn’t kick in, and also that he didn’t call any of my food “disgusting” or “nasty.” We didn’t bother to force vegetables on him. There had already been enough tears.

Jesse ate a couple bits of onion and she made a chicken sandwich on a bun, also covered in ketchup. She had wanted a hamburger but she was being flexible; she pounded the sandwich down. I was surprised by the speed of consumption. I asked her how it was with the chicken. “It’s great, mom!” Unable to help myself, I took the didactic next step. Always a mistake, but I never learn. I pointed out how glad I was that she was enjoying the chicken as much as a beef burger, because chicken is a healthier alternative to beef… Jesse interrupted. “Yeah, it’s good, Mom. Actually, I can’t even taste the chicken because of the ketchup, so it’s great.”

Always glad to serve my kids delicious, home-made meals, which they will appreciate when they reach their late 20’s.

Poor daddy

Anthony made lunch for us today. He seemed to be seething with grumpy after Jesse refused to come to the table. Nick and I were enjoying our delicious repast. I leaned in to whisper secrets with Nick.

“Nick, daddy seems grumpy. What can we do to cheer him up?”

Nick got a sly smile on his face. He hissed loudly at me in a conspiratorial stage whisper. “Yell at him!”

“Okay. Let’s do that.”

We did. Daddy did not smile.

“It didn’t work, Nick. What else could we do?”

“Poop on him?” This made Nick and me snicker. Anthony glared.

“Nooo, I don’t think that’ll work either, little buddy.”

“Give him hugs and kisses?”

“Yes! That will definitely cheer him up.”

“Okay mommy,” Nick replied, suddenly bored. “You do that part then.”

Four-year-old boy love.

Daddy still grumpy. Maybe he’ll feel better if the Tigers win today.

Grumpy about marriage (happy anniversary)

I’ve been married 21 years as of today. Anthony and I are finally street legal. He’s a keeper for sure. I feel like we’ve had a storybook relationship. Ups and downs, good times and bad, suffering and decay, yadda yadda. But I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single day I’ve regretted the choice I made. The only regret I have is that someday it’ll end. We’ll separate, because death. It’s a bitter pill, but one worth swallowing for the (hopefully) many years of love and happiness preceding it.

We’re celebrating our anniversary the old fashioned way. Anthony had to go out to a work dinner. Someone is leaving and it’s good bye, so it didn’t seem right for him to skip it. I’m leaving in a few minutes to go to a friend’s house for drinks. They’ve had my kids all afternoon, so now it’s time for me to impose myself on them even more.

Anthony will be home about when the kids fall asleep, and then we’ll drink together and watch MI5 re-runs. Or maybe we’ll get crazy and watch the silly parts of BBC’s now-ancient Pride and Prejudice. Either way, it’s romantic enough for me these days. I’m just happy to have Anthony by my side at the end of the day, even on the grumpy days.

Still grumpy about the egg allergy (postscript)

Jesse was super tired yesterday after summer camp, where they made crystals using a powder that contained egg whites. It’s rare for her to have a slump day; she and Nick are energy titans. But we have been keeping it busy for summer vacation so far, and it didn’t surprise me that she just wanted to lie around watching Ninjago on her iPad and playing with sticker books. The teacher had assured me that she didn’t touch the powder, and she displayed no visible allergy symptoms, so I didn’t rush to connect any dots.

She told me her throat was extra itchy, and she was coughing a little more than usual, but that’s within the scope of normal. A lifetime of reflux and frequent puking (reflux, allergies, anxiety), and also all the screaming, have left her throat perpetually raw.

She said her stomach was hurting. She didn’t eat well. Also normal. I took it all in stride because that’s what I try to do with my little train wreck.

At bed time, she was still a bit out of it, and her perennial butt rash was worse than it’s been for a week or so. Normal. It fluctuates.

It wasn’t until later at night that I had the big DUH about all these little things and thought again about the egg whites in the camp’s crystal-making powder. I went in to check on Jesse, touched her cheek and felt her tummy, gave her a kiss. She was sleeping peacefully so I didn’t do anything. I still had doubts.

I woke up this morning to Jesse announcing she just had a nasty bout of diarrhea. It was the last warning sign. I gave her Zyrtec, to the tune of this conversation:

J: Why do I need Zyrtec?
me: You’re acting off. I think you might be having an allergic reaction to something.
J: Oh.
me: But I’m not sure. Remember the crystal powder with egg whites in it?  Since you didn’t touch it, I’m not sure what’s going on.
J: Yes I did.
me: You touched it? The teacher said you didn’t.
J:  Yes. I did.
me: Did you wash your hands after you learned there was egg in it?
J: No.

I’m grateful I’m on blood pressure meds. I swallowed my dismay. Jesse took her Zyrtec a little reluctantly. An hour and a half later, when I dropped her off at camp, she told me she was feeling a lot better. When I picked her up 3 hours after that, she ate lunch like she had been starved for 3 days and told me she was feeling a LOT better. She only coughed a little, much more like normal. She commented dryly, almost muttering under her breath, as she stuffed food in her mouth, “I think I was having an allergic reaction.”

I spent yesterday soiling myself with self-pity over Jesse’s egg allergy instead of actually doing something sensible about it, like giving her prophylactic Zyrtec just in case she sustained more of an exposure than she was letting on. Then she wouldn’t have been miserable for a day, her body struggling to fight off the effects of this tiny, tiny exposure. What a moron. Me, not Jesse.

In moments like these, when I’m beating up on myself for being so senseless, it’s my father’s ghost who speaks to me from the corners of my mind. If he was alive, the next time I called him I would have told him about how I screwed up. I would have shared with him how awful I feel, how the failure is just eating at me, dropping the ball on the one significant responsibility in my life – keeping my kids safe. My grumpy, grumpy dad would have  just grumbled at me. “Aigoo, Carla,” he would have groaned, a little angry. (Aigoo is a catch-all Korean exclamation, pronounced by Dad as “eye-goo,” which loosely translates to something like “jeez” or “golly”.) He would have chewed me out a little, grumpy with me for being too hard on myself. He would have reminded me it’s okay to screw up, to be human. I’m still a great mom, he would have reminded me, doing the best I can.

Thanks, Dad. I do feel better, except for missing you.

Grumpy about the egg allergy

I’m so tired of Jesse’s egg allergy.

I’m tired of all the little practical stuff. Filling out medical authorization forms and passing her epi-pen around. Drawing blood every year for testing, in the hopeless hope that her allergy will abate (at age 9, statistics suggest she’s got maybe a 5% chance of growing out of it by her late teens). Bringing Jesse’s own treats to birthday parties and explaining to hosts that she can’t have what they’re offering, and then walking away just hoping and hoping they’ll remember. Reading labels and interrogating people about food ingredients. Asking friends and family to accommodate Jesse’s allergy in the safest way by clearing eggs out of their diet when she’s around. Writing letters to parents of Jesse’s classmates begging them to leave eggs out of the classroom, and knowing it won’t happen. Hassling teachers. Finding food when we travel. Calling restaurants to figure out if Jesse can eat safely. Cleaning surfaces in public places before we eat on them. Washing hands, washing hands, washing hands.

I’m just as tired of the emotional shit. Seeing that look on Jesse’s face — a mix of alienation and fear — when she has to be around other kids enjoying delicious-looking food that has eggs in it. Watching her eye the treats in a bakery, the way Charlie eyed Willy Wonka’s goods in the candy shop, wistful and wishful and hopeless. Trying to soothe her bitter disappointment when we can’t find anything good to eat that’s also safe, as we walk through an airport concourse’s food court. Dealing with her explosions of anxiety and anger when it overwhelms her. Dealing with my own anxiety and anger, and hiding it from her best I can.

I still cry every time I think about the day in preschool when Jesse’s class made a batter with raw eggs, without my knowledge. I knew something was wrong the second I saw Jesse at pick-up. I knelt down and looked in her face, grossly swollen, splotchy, covered in hives. I looked over at the teacher, incredulous that no one had noticed her condition. “Something’s wrong with Jesse. Were there eggs in the class today??” Ooooh… They explained that she hadn’t touched or ingested the eggs, as if that solved things. I stripped Jesse’s clothes off and washed her hands and face. I fed her antihistamines. I held her and tried to keep my cool, be all business, not panic, as we waited and watched to see if her condition would worsen or improve. It improved enough that she didn’t have to go to the ER. When she wasn’t with me later that day, I finally wept and wept and wept. I kept weeping for the next month while we dosed her with antihistamines, dealt with her follow-on eye, ear and sinus infections, gave her antibiotics, wiped her diarrhetic ass, waited for her to step out of the malaise.

Some days it feels like the world is smeared in eggs, dripping in poison waiting to fall on Jesse. Chicken egg is everywhere. I can’t avoid it. Today I took Jesse into her summer camp class at the Audubon nature center. They’re studying crystals this week. The teacher took me aside and showed me that the grow-crystal-kit powder they had used yesterday contained egg whites. She hadn’t noticed until it was too late. I wouldn’t have either. Why would I? Who would ever imagine that a kid’s inedible crystal-growing science project would contain egg whites?

The teacher told Jesse yesterday about the eggs in the powder. No one had actually touched it with their fingers, and it ended up enclosed in jars of water, on sticks. Jesse apparently stayed calm, and they just cleaned up carefully. I didn’t hear about it until today. Jesse didn’t tell me. Not a hint, and no displays of inchoate anxiety. It was weird. She seems fine.

But it was one of those things. I came home after dropping her off and wept, again. I’m tired of being afraid of eggs, and I’m only nine years into her life. Bah. I get even more grumpy when I’m in this mood, because I feel ungrateful.

I could have it so much worse. It doesn’t seem to be a life-threatening allergy, and most allergy deaths are related to nuts or dairy. So that’s good news. Jesse probably won’t die from it. I could have a child with far more serious medical conditions. The main problem Jesse contends with, severe anxiety, is actually very helpful because it renders her hyper-vigilant. Her crazies may keep her safe.

We could have friends and family who are indifferent or uncaring. Instead I’m surrounded by people who have bent like grass in the wind to accommodate Jesse.  My own family has been amazing, going totally egg-free whenever we visit California and never once doing or saying a single thing to make me feel guilty. Our good friends here in the Milwaukee area always try to keep it safe for Jesse. I’m blessed. This summer we’re going to a beach house on the Outer Banks with a collection of college mates, 10 families, 30 people in all. We’ve never been able to participate in these sorts of get-togethers because it was impossible to imagine how to keep Jesse safe. This year I mentioned our situation as a sort of wishful sigh, and with hardly a ripple in the waters, the entire crew agreed to make the beach house egg-safe. Incredible. Everyone refuses to let me feel that I’m imposing. It made me weep again, but for all the right reasons.

Well shit. Maybe I just tend to go weepy. So lame. I just made myself grumpy again.

Grumpy about field day (we survived second grade)

Last Tuesday, the second-to-last day at Jesse’s elementary school, I spent three and a half hours chaperoning 10 second-graders (including my Jesse) through field day events. I participated in almost all activities, because that was more fun and because I wouldn’t have time later to get my own exercise in. It was physical and non-stop, 10 to 15 minutes at each of dozens of stations:  a variety of running relays, sack racing, move-water-from-here-to-there sponge and bucket relays, hula hopping (not a typo), jump rope, various throwing events (softballs, beanbags, wet rubber chickens), tug-of-war, tire-rolling, and so on.  My favorite (which we made up at a water station) was shag infinite nerf footballs for Carla and then try to tackle Carla.

Being chased by 10 second-graders was an interesting experience. Frankly, it felt a little ominous as I started off. A couple of them are almost as tall as me, and mostly they look so lithe and healthy, whereas I’m a frumpy 47-year-old mom. Granted, under the blub I’m chiseled, but still I expected them to be faster and more coordinated than me after the first 15 seconds. They weren’t. Also they moved in a pack instead of dividing and fanning out, so I felt like a comet with 10 trailers. I evaded them for long enough that I finally slowed down so they could catch me and pile on.

Jesse really struggled emotionally throughout the afternoon. When we first headed out, the kids were stoked and insane. Jesse immediately turned to me and snapped, almost desperate, “You know I can’t handle this, mom! It’s too crazy for me! It makes me feel crazy!” But she wanted to hang in there, so I did too.  I spent the rest of the event observing her intermittent melt-downs (5 or 6 in all) and pondering how she’ll ever make it in this life without breaking completely, but I also saw hints of why she will make it. Her screaming was always about herself, not others, so she didn’t alienate anyone who mattered. The head she beat with fists was her own. She’s not mean to anyone, really, except herself. Her classmates patiently kept coming to her aid, emotionally and physically. They’ve seen her pull this shit all school year, and still they didn’t judge her for her crazies or give up on her. They circled the wagons on her when I sent her away to take breaks and calm down – indeed, they got pissed off at me. One peaceful little girl took on the mantle of calming and soothing Jesse, filling her hurting soul with hugs, hand-holds, and quiet chatter whenever Jesse allowed it. It was amazing and sweet to see. I felt like I was given a significant object lesson in how to improve my behavior towards Jesse when she’s falling apart.

The other lesson I learned is that second-graders are generally still really temperamental and, well, sociopathic. Jesse’s pretty normal among this crew.

By the end of the day, half my peeps had shed tears. There were tears because I lost, I fell, I was awful, someone made fun of me, I got a scrape, she was mean to me, I’m too wet, I’m cold, this is too hard, my popsicle is the wrong color, I have to pee so bad. I gave out as many hugs and ministrations as I could, and I gave my sweater away.

Girl A was cliquey. She always wanted the same person on her team and she’d make a “we’re so cool we’re together!” exclusive mini-scene about it. Yeesh. I can’t stand that. I started splitting them up at stations requiring teams.

Most of the kids tried to get away with cheating at one point or another — not my Jesse, of course, who’s extremely rigid about that stuff. Boy B — a drama queen who cried a lot, despite classmates’ exhortations not to do it — kept complaining to me about the teams not being fair, not having a chance to go first, other classmates not letting him be on their teams, and so on. Whatever he could think of. He’d walk away from my indifference and comment dramatically over his shoulder, “I just want things to be fair. That’s all. I’m just really wanting it to be FAIR.” He was the biggest cheater of all. I started outing him whenever I saw him cheating (i.e., at every station) and making him go back for not-cheating do-overs. Jerk.

Girl C was being given the silent treatment by a couple girls from the class following ours as we moved through stations. She got quiet and sad for about half an hour, held my hand and stuck close, and then felt better and moved on. Stupid mean girls.

Boys D and E displayed significant attentional issues and were really, really hyperactive. Managing them was like chasing small unleashed dogs around. It was exhausting. They kept bumping into and tackling each other on purpose, they couldn’t keep their hands off anything, they couldn’t stay still to hear instructions, they seemed unaware of their surroundings. But they also seemed a little traumatized by nine months of behavior modification charts, and I didn’t have the heart to come down too hard on them. It would have taken away a lot of the fun. Also they were really good-natured and I enjoyed my time with them. They had so much fun energy, and I didn’t mind that they acted like hooligans. This was an eye-opener.

Girl F got so worn out she was in tears over each new station. I made her do the activities anyway, but I went with her. I ran (shuffled, really) next to her for the 50 yard dashes and tried to buoy her flagging spirits with pep talks, but she really had trouble bucking up. She didn’t scream and rant like Jesse, but she was feeling just as down about herself.

Boy G had so much extra energy that every time we finished an activity I had him run circles around our group for about 20 seconds (I’d yell, “G, run your laps!”). He’d run and run with a crazy look in his eyes and then catch his breath, ready to fall into step again.

And then there was Girl H, who always puzzles me. She took my mind in an unexpected direction. She’s always cheerful and articulate, with a ready smile; well-mannered, confident, strong, and apparently very bright. She seems like such a great kid who should have a lot of friends. But it was clear she hadn’t really connected with anyone in our crew. She went about her business from station to station, a smile planted on her face, the most athletic kid of the lot — but she never interacted informally with her classmates, and never let loose. I know from the volunteer admin work I do for second grade that she’s struggling academically, well behind in both math and reading test results. I know from my Jesse that she frequently cried at school about her academic difficulties.

H caused no trouble at all to me as the chaperone, but by the end of the day she was the one I walked away worrying about. I hope all the masks don’t stop that sweet little girl from succeeding, hiding her woes until it’s too late to address them. I hope she makes friends next year.

Despite the struggles of parenting Jesse, I’m thankful that she’s raw and naked, showing me everything that hurts so that we can work through it together. Otherwise, who knows?

Grumpy about my smart ass

Jesse: Stop correcting me.
Me: I’m not.
Jesse: You just corrected me. You’re always correcting me.
Me: That’s not true.
Jesse: you just corrected me.
Me: No I didn’t.
Jesse: you corrected me again.
Me: That’s not fair. I’m not correcting you. I’m defending myself.
Jesse: You just corrected me again.

Silence. The match goes to Jesse.

What a smart ass. Where did she learn to cop that attitude. Not from me. Nobody has ever called me a smart ass. At least, not without me correcting them.

Grumpy about the lovers’ quarrel

If you sit on the toilet in the half bath on the first floor of our house, your face is one foot away from a window looking out on the road. So if you’re careful in adjusting the shutters, you can watch the world go by while you do your doodie in privacy. If you’re, say, a guy peeing and you forget about the shutters, then the world passing by might have to see your sweet cheeks, for better or worse.

Right. I’ve already completely lost my train of thought, and I’ve only been typing for 45 seconds. Give me a second.

Oh. Here’s where I was going. I ran in for a quick pee and what did I see out the window but two teenagers fighting. I couldn’t hear them, but it was clearly a lovers’ spat, old school. She was moping and gloomy, staring at the ground and very emotional, but silent. He was angry, gesticulating and nattering. They were just standing there in my front yard, fighting. I didn’t like that. Nick came over, because I was peeing so he had a sudden inchoate need for me. I told him to look out the kitchen screen door, which is five feet away from the toilet. He pressed his face on the screen and stared at the young couple, but they took no notice. I told Nick, “say hi.” He complied. He put on his biggest smile, started waving wildly, and screamed repeatedly. “HI! HIIIIII!! HIIIIIIII!” The teens looked over in anger and shock. They scurried off down the street, just exactly like I remember peeps doing in the ’90’s when I would happen to interrupt their crack-ho deals on Logan Circle in DC. Good riddance.

Little kids are good for something after all.