Just Feed Them Whatever YOU Eat, They Said

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Sunday: Pizza

I love making pizzas on Sundays. Mostly because it takes forever and I usually have the luxury of time on Sundays. There’s cheese to shred and sauce to make and toppings to prep and dough to flour and stretch. Homemade pizza will absolutely, hands-down be the food highlight of the week for my family. It can – and will – only go down from here.

Bob – “This is delicious pizza! That broccoli topping is crazy good.”
Millie – “This is amazing! You are amazing! Did you make more than one pizza? Two? Only two? Okay then. Can I take the leftovers in my lunch tomorrow though?”
Henry – “THE BROCCOLI JUST DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. YOU DON’T PUT BROCCOLI ON PIZZA.”
Charlie – “So, is this sauce the spicy sauce? Because sometimes we have pizza that has spicy sauce on it and I don’t care for the sauce that is spicy. But, if this sauce isn’t spicy, I’ll like it. As long as it isn’t spicy.”

Monday: TACOS!

If I had my act together, we would have tacos on Tuesday because Taco Tuesday is more alliterative than Taco Monday but I never, ever have my act together. Ever. So, Taco Monday it is! Because EVERYONE loves tacos! EVERYONE!

Bob – Piles plate high with romaine lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, and several fresh vegetables managing to make me feel awful about all of the tacos on my plate, of which there are many tacos.
Millie – Inaudible words in between grunts of satisfaction as she shovels tortilla chips piled with taco fillings in her face.
Henry – “I just invented cheese tacos! Just taco shells! With nothing but cheese! That’s it! So easy!”
Charlie – “I’ll take the rice.” Covers the rice in ketchup before eating.

Tuesday: Spaghetti

I’ve been making my mother’s spaghetti sauce recipe for years and it is unbelievably delicious. I grew up eating a lot of spaghetti and just the smell of the sauce simmering on the stove conjures up wonderful memories of my entire family – sisters, brother, parents – gathered around the kitchen table in our home in Indiana laughing and talking and sharing stories. Those are some of my favorite memories from my childhood. It’s a really good sauce is my point here. Also, it is literally deconstructed pizza and the kids love pizza so…

Bob – “Red sauce sometimes irritates my stomach so just maybe a tablespoon or less of that, please.”
Millie – “YUM!”
Henry – “Nope. Nope-ity, nope, nope.”
Charlie – “Just plain noodles for me.” Covers the noodles in ketchup before eating.

Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner

I am a cool mom and cool moms sometimes throw caution to the wind and get all wild and stuff and fix BREAKFAST FOR DINNER. Woo-hoo! And, sometimes, we even fix breakfast for dinner when daddy ISN’T EVEN OUT OF TOWN. Pancakes for everyone!

Bob – “Um, yeah, so I’m just going to fix myself a salad.”
Millie – “THIS IS SO FUN!”
Henry – Reluctantly eats a couple of syrup-less pancakes knowing full well he’ll return to the kitchen an hour before bed and fix a plate of something coated entirely in peanut butter.
Charlie – “So, are these regular pancakes? Or, the pancakes that have those little bits of apple in them? Because I can taste those little bits of apple and I don’t really like those little bits of apples that you put in the pancakes so I really hope there isn’t little bits of apple in these.” Covers the pancakes in 1/4 cup of syrup before eating.

Thursday: Soup and Sandwich Night!

I’m running out of steam. And, love for my family.

Bob – “Hold the mayo!” This seems more a lunch than a dinner but I’m going to honor my wife’s hard work and the sheer determination it takes for her to feed her family many times a day. I will devour this soup and gamely eat this turkey sandwich. As long as it’s on that healthy bread I like that has all those nuts and seeds. The kind that makes the kids cry when it’s all that’s left for toast.
Millie – “I just love ALL of this. Soup! Sandwiches! What a GREAT combination! Did you think of this yourself?”
Henry – “So, you’re suggesting a grilled cheese but with, like, turkey on it? Let me think about it.”
Charlie – “I’ll be in my room.”

Friday: Chicken Nuggets (Or, fish sticks or, any sort of protein here really as long as it’s coated in bread and/or brown in color) & Tator Tots

Because we (and by we, I’m referring exclusively to my self-esteem) badly need a win at this point.

Bob – It’s Friday. I can tell she’s getting tired.
Millie – “I’m never moving out. Promise me you’ll cook for me forever.”
Henry – “TATOR TOTS! MY FAVORITE!”
Charlie – “Which kind of chicken nuggets are these because sometimes, I don’t really like the kind of chicken nuggets you get. Do you know the chicken nuggets I’m talking about? The chicken nuggets that look just like these chicken nuggets but they’re a little different kind of chicken nuggets? Those are the chicken nuggets that I’m not really a fan of. Are these those chicken nuggets?” Starts guzzling ketchup directly from the bottle.

Saturday: Just… here’s two heels from a loaf of bread. 

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The Other Side

When Henry was little more than a week old, I noticed each of his eyes had a single white spot right in the middle. The spots weren’t exactly symmetrical but there was one in each eye. A pair.

Henry had begun to open his eyes for longer periods of time, focusing on what he could in the world around him. I noticed the white spots while I was feeding him and we were gazing lovingly, exhaustedly into each other’s eyes. Him, undoubtedly wondering who this lady was that wouldn’t stop crying and me, wondering if I would ever sleep again ever in my whole entire life.

I wasn’t concerned because I was way too tired to be anything but tired but I do remember getting up from the chair we were sitting in and peering in the bathroom mirror to see if I, too, had white spots in the center of my eyes. My sleep-deprived mind had thought maybe it was a structural thing in the eye that I had simply forgotten we all had? But, no, I did not have white spots in my eyes.

Henry’s pediatrician at the time was part of a very busy group practice near our home. When I took Henry for his two-week checkup, the scheduling backup at the office meant we were seeing a doctor we had not seen prior. He was a founding physician of the practice and his son worked there as well. He was older and kind and patient and when, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned the white spots in Henry’s eyes and did he think those were supposed to be there, he took a closer look and casually exclaimed, “Oh, I see those, yes. He has cataracts.”

We never saw that doctor in the practice again and I’m not exactly sure why. I remember reading about his passing a short time later and thinking that the randomness of our appointment with him was one of the more fortuitous events in our lives because he referred us to the pediatric ophthalmologist that would eventually save Henry’s vision.

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Ten days after that newborn checkup, Bob and I took a wee baby Henry to Children’s National Medical Center to have his cataracts officially diagnosed. I remember Henry nestled in a bucket car seat we had borrowed from friends. I remember meeting his ophthalmologist for the first time – a man that would feature so prominently in our lives for more than a decade. I remember wishing I had written down more of what the doctor had said. I remember being a little scared and mostly being really, really sad.

And, I remember exactly what Henry was wearing that day – a onesie and matching pants given to us from a neighbor. The little shirt was covered with knights slaying dragons.

For the next three years, we continued with regular, frequent appointments with Henry’s ophthalmologist, tracking the progression of the cataracts and trying our best to determine what, exactly, Henry could see. Wrestling a toddler through an hours-long ophthalmology appointment is just as fun as it sounds. There’s the waiting room wait, followed by blatant coercion to cooperate in the exam room, then the application of stinging eye drops, followed by more waiting, and finally wrapping up with yet another lengthy exam. It was challenging and difficult. Henry once accidentally punched the nurse administering the eye drops. I never seemed to bring enough of the good snacks or the right toys. But, we eventually got into a routine and each appointment was a little easier than the last. Plus, the waiting room played non-stop Disney Junior.

Shortly after Charlie was born, in the summer of 2009, one of these routine appointments turned up the presence of secondary cataracts in both of Henry’s eyes. His congenital cataracts had changed as he had grown and the situation was more pressing and his condition more serious. If Henry’s clouded natural lenses weren’t replaced, his vision would be further compromised. And, compromised vision in a young child means that the critical connection between his eyes and his developing brain would also be compromised.

Surgery was inevitable and, following some intensive testing to rule out genetic disorders commonly associated with congenital cataracts, Henry was scheduled for surgery on the first eye – his left – the following May, when he was four years old.

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My memories of the nine months between Henry’s diagnosis of secondary cataracts and his first eye surgery are cloudy. I’m convinced it’s a trick my mind plays to safeguard my heart from how absolutely overwhelming life was at the time. We had just completed a whole-house renovation, I had shifted from full-time to part-time work, Charlie had surgery to repair a birth defect that included a rather complicated convalescence, and we were in the beginning stages of Bob’s heart health journey. In one particularly unimaginable day, I checked Bob out of the cardiology wing of our hospital after an overnight stay for a heart procedure and we walked – very slowly – to the children’s wing of that same hospital so Charlie could have an emergency ultrasound due to a post-surgery complication. I have no idea what the receptionist in the children’s imaging center must have thought at the sight of us. Charlie, agitated in the stroller, Bob wearily slumped in his chair, hospital bands still affixed around his wrist. Me, staring blankly ahead, willing all of this to just be over, please be over.

But, by May of 2010, we were ready to fix Henry’s eyesight. We had seen some very dark days and, like seasoned warriors, we were ready for the new battle ahead.

However, Henry’s first surgery did not go as planned. Cataract surgery in young children can be difficult since the eye is so malleable at that age. It took his doctor three attempts to get Henry’s new artificial lens to sit in Henry’s eye correctly. It was a long and worrisome surgery followed by a long and difficult recovery.

The three biggest challenges in recovery being to prevent Henry from touching or rubbing the eye, to encourage Henry to open and use the eye, and to administer steroid drops directly into the eye which is akin to wrestling a grizzly bear to the ground but being, you know, gentle about it. I remember having to pin Henry to the carpet, his arms restrained under my knees, my left hand gingerly opening his delicate, damaged eye, my right administering the drops while he screamed and thrashed. We’ve both recovered from this trauma but just barely, if I’m being honest.

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Two months later, we did it all over again with his right eye.

Weeks after that second surgery, a suture from the first surgery popped, a rare complication necessitating an under-anesthesia repair. I discovered the popped suture BECAUSE YOU COULD SEE IT STICKING OUT OF HIS EYEBALL. Let that sink in for a minute.

Three months after that suture repair, another suture in the OTHER eye popped, requiring ANOTHER under-anesthesia repair. Henry’s doctor was amazed. We weren’t. We were just really tired.

At this point, Bob and I were getting pretty good at the dividing and conquering part of parenthood. One of us would remain with Charlie while the other was with Henry. Since the suture repairs were pretty quick, I was taking Henry to these procedures solo. Before I even had time to properly organize my purse, he would be out and in recovery. We had the whole process of out-patient children’s surgery down pat which, frankly, is a skill you never expect to acquire.

Several months later, the development of a membrane in Henry’s eye – kind of like scar tissue – meant another round of invasive surgery. It was impacting his vision and had to be cleared out.

A year and a half later, Henry had the same surgery on the other eye.

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The intervening years since Henry’s last surgery in 2012 have been filled with eye patches and regular checkups and the occasional emergency appointment and lots of new glasses and the inevitable replacement of those glasses when they’re broken by a renegade sibling and also some long lectures on caring for one’s glasses and a bit of wondering when Henry will be old enough to manage contacts.

For the most part though, the past few years have been a lot less stressful for Henry than the few that came before. I hope the painful memories recede for him and the better ones rise to the top.

But, my memories haven’t faded. I remember how difficult things were. I remember how hard it all was. How scared we were. I remember bracing myself at every appointment for bad news. How often there was bad news. But, I also remember how good I got at caring for Henry. How his condition made me more confident as a mother. I asked questions and sought solutions. I advocated for him. I remember how Bob and I worked so well together. I remember family that would drive long distances to help us. Friends that worked at the hospital and would distract us on surgery days. Neighbors that would ply Henry with gifts in an effort to encourage him to open his eyes.

All of these memories melt together in my mind, a mix of worry and exultation, of sadness and relief, of thankfulness and exhaustion. They’re tucked away but they’re still there. Right below the surface.

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We haven’t had an appointment with bad news in more than five years now and so, earlier this month, Henry was officially discharged from the care of his pediatric ophthalmologist. Very nonchalantly, after almost twelve years to the day of treating Henry, his doctor announced that he didn’t need to anymore. It took me by surprise. It makes sense though. Henry won’t need additional surgery until his late teens. It seems a prudent time to find a local ophthalmologist that can see him through from here. But, still, the finality of it all, the finality of our journey took my breath away. I refrained from making things awkward by crying or hugging his doctor but I did thank him profusely for his diligence. Though, Henry and I both hugged the nurse on our way out. He apologized, again, for accidentally punching her that one time.

For so long, I’ve wanted to write about our experience. To record the history of our journey, reflect on the tremendous frustrations, dwell in the depth of our gratitude. I never did. I never could. I realize now that was because I couldn’t think about it, couldn’t focus on it too much when we were in it. When you’re in it, the journey is about something else entirely. The rest of it, the reflection, comes when you’re on the other side.

I’m Really Good At Parenting Until I’m Not

This past Sunday, a friend mentioned seeing the film, The Greatest Showman. I had heard of the movie but didn’t know much about it so when I found the preview clip enthralling, I decided we HAD to see it.

 

It looked family friendly. Check.
It looked like it might make me cry. Check.
It had a catchy, inspirational theme song. Check.
It was a musical. FANTASTIC.

(The musical aspect was probably my favorite part. The last time I saw a musical with Bob was 2002, when we saw the movie version of Chicago. When that film started rolling and those actors started singing and most everyone started dancing, the confusion on Bob’s face was priceless. He had NO IDEA it was a musical. Consequently, he fell asleep about 20 minutes in. I was eager to recreate all of this.)

I found the showtimes for our nearest theatre and discovered that if we got our act together, we could see an early evening show. I’ll surprise the kids and Bob! We rarely all go to the movies! What a lovely way to spend a Sunday night! I am such a good and thoughtful parent! I’m one of those FUN moms!

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My first mistake was trying to do something nice for my children on such short notice, with such little preparation and precedence. Any fun and spontaneous activity with the kids always turns out better in my head more so than real life. I always THINK my kids will be up for a last minute adventure and I always THINK my kids will be filled with gratitude for such treats but, in actuality, that’s never, ever what happens.

It’s no surprise then, when I suggested Sunday afternoon that we go see a movie that very night, everyone reacted with a mix of confusion and suspicion, which was really rather anticlimactic.

Bob immediately wanted to know what the movie was about. Not wanting to ruin the musical surprise, I just waved in his general direction and said, “I think it’s about the founding of the Barnum circus people.” He was satisfied with this response. As was Henry.

Then, when I explained to the kids that all of our Sunday night tasks – homework, dinner, baths and showers – would need to get accomplished in advance so we could fill our evening with FUN, they all immediately started negotiating down what I was asking them to do. Which is probably my least favorite thing that my kids do of late. The person that needed to take a bath, wanted to take a shower. The person that needed to take a shower, wanted to take a bath. But only a quick bath. No hair washing. And, did they really have to use soap at all? Then I got requests to just eat dinner at the theatre and a plea about doing homework the following morning instead and it was just all too much pushback.

“ENOUGH,” I yelled. “We’re done here! We’re not going to the movies. You are all ridiculous. I tried to do something nice and you are obviously not on board.”

This elicited tears from the most egregious offenders in the bunch which, was kind of the whole point. This is a classic parenting strategy in my arsenal. I take away something they never fully appreciated and then they get sad and cry and the tough love leaves an impression and they never, ever take anything you do for them for granted ever again. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

Once everyone had retreated mournfully to their rooms for a bit, they slowly emerged, much more eager to be complicit in my demands. Bob and I cheerfully announced that if they could uphold their end of the bargain, then, yes, we would go to the movies. Tub kid tearfully climbed into the tub. Shower kid tearfully climbed into the shower. Big kid started on his homework. Having imparted an important life lesson on my children, I started smugly working on dinner.

My second mistake was not checking to see if tickets were even available before suggesting that we all go see a movie because at some point, while prepping dinner, it occurred to me that I should probably buy our movie tickets online. This particular theatre gets busy and has reserved seating and we were, like, INVESTED in this experience at this point. I mean, the kids were discussing what kind of candy they were going to get from the concession stand. Better to not risk waiting until we get to the theatre to procure our seats.

So, obviously, when I went to buy tickets, sure enough, the show was sold out.

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I went and broke it to the kid in the tub and told the kid getting out of the shower and hollered down to Henry that unfortunately and by the way I’m SO SORRY but we can’t see the movie after all because it’s sold out and yes, isn’t that ironic and no, Mama did not check first and I agree, this is all terrible and have I said I’m sorry?

Two of three children start crying. Again. At this point, Bob is giving me A Look.

I make one more half-hearted attempt to find tickets at a theatre that’s a little further away but, alas, they are unavailable as well. Once again, raising everyone’s expectations and then dashing them. Like the worst roller coaster ride ever. At this point, we all pretty much wish I had never tried to do something fun and spontaneous in the first place.

My third (and will not be my last by a long shot) mistake was agreeing to rent Despicable Me 3 as a poor substitute to The Greatest Showman. I think we can all agree that by the time we get to the third movie in any franchise, the quality has diminished quite a bit. Despicable Me 3 is no musical. Just one unending fart joke. But, I was desperate for a way out of this mess. Besides, the kids had been requesting to rent it so that seemed to brighten everyone’s mood a little bit. Also, everyone was fed and bathed and, at this point, it was only 4:30 in the afternoon. We still had daylight to burn.

When I explained Plan B to (a still slightly upset) Charlie, he looked me straight in the eyes, asked if I would make him some popcorn and said, “It’s the least you can do in this situation.”