Reflecting on 2014

Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug – John Lithgow

It’s New Years Day. Another year has come and gone. I was fortunate enough to have the week between Christmas and New Year off from the day job and had been looking forward to this extra time since Thanksgiving. It was going to be time for me to spend time with my family, make a last-ditch effort to complete some of my 2014 goals, and of course reflect upon the last year.

I was able to do all of these things, and at the same time recognized one singular truth: I don’t pay the woman who watches my toddler nearly enough.

I thought this after our toddler snuck beside his dad in the bathroom and tried to ‘catch’ the stream. (Oh yes, my son – that one is going down in your permanent record). After spotting the lovely ‘snow’ made up of shredded tissue paper that materialized in our foyer during the nanosecond I wasn’t paying attention. (I blame you, coffee, for this one – you should not have taken so long to get into my cup that morning… There, there. Don’t worry, I can never stay mad at you long. All is already forgiven). And again during the entire day the toddler ran from me screaming if I so much as got within a foot of him because he was convinced I was going to put him to bed (he was only right a couple of those times).

My eldest had his fair share of moments as well. Although perhaps I share some of that blame. Looking back, when I said, please don’t come into the bonus room as it is where we are currently storing the boxes for the Christmas decorations, I clearly meant, why yes, I would love for you to turn each box over in there and spill the packaging materials out. I should be thanking him for reading my mind.

My holiday wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful all the same. For each of the moments that made me want to pull my hair out, there were those I want to relive over and over. Like the watching my boys’ eyes light up as they glimpsed the pile of cookies set aside for Santa. Seeing that look of pure joy on their faces as they noticed the packages which magically appeared overnight around the tree. Listening to them belt out Christmas carols with half remembered lyrics. Those were the moments that made me wonder if my day job pays me enough to keep me away from my guys.

My time off between Christmas and New Years was very much a reflection of my entire year. There were some pretty stressful moments, moments that easily could have brought me down, but early in the year I had decided to focus on the positive. If I was only able to keep one resolution, I am glad it was that one. Because I was always on the lookout for a reason to be happy, some silver lining, I can now count at least as many accomplishments as I can failures. As a result, while I may not yet be a household name, I can still consider 2014 a resounding success.

Here’s to 2015. May it be just as rewarding!

while the video is not a scene from my house, it easily could have been…enjoy!

Thanksgiving away from home – what could be better?

Has anyone's Thanksgiving ever gone like this?

Has anyone’s Thanksgiving ever gone this smoothly? (image from wikipedia.org)

I considered myself fortunate. We were traveling for Thanksgiving, meaning I wasn’t going to have to cook (a good thing for all involved – just ask my hubby sometime about my poultry cooking skills). I didn’t have to clean. All I was expected to do was to enjoy time with my family. Silly me. I forgot that I was traveling with a toddler.

I had barely closed my eyes on Thanksgiving eve when I heard my toddler’s cry in the adjacent room which he was sharing with his brother. I immediately sprang out of bed to see what was the matter worried that might wake up the rest of the household. I was ready to once again hear, “Where Monkey Man?” This time however it wasn’t merely a request to locate his favorite toy, he was sick, and not just with the sniffles.

I rushed him to the bath while the hubby took care of the linens. Eventually we were forced to turn the lights on while I rummaged around his bag looking for his spare set of pajamas. It turned out I needn’t worry about waking his brother. My eldest didn’t even bother turning over. (Man, I wish I could still sleep like that!)

Cleaned up, my toddler clung to me like a life raft. The hubby passed by carrying our travel toddler cot. (You could smell it from a distance.) Even if we had a spare set of sheets, kiddo wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it again any time soon. I had resigned myself to a night on the couch or rocking chair. when the hubby came by again. This time with a pillow in hand. He volunteered to stay on the couch so that our son and I might sleep more comfortably on a bed.

In hindsight, I think in the end he may have gotten the better end of the deal.

It was still a loooooonnnnng a night. At home, my toddler’s bed is near the ground and has guard rails. My in-law’s guest bed, on the other hand, is very tall and all sides are completely exposed. Each time my kiddo shifted, I worried he might slip over the side and plummet to the ground. I was afraid that the cries we had already heard that night would be whispers in comparison. I tried to pull him back closer to me, but that only served to wake him up enough to remind him that his tummy was still upset.

Several trips back to the bathroom later (progressively less necessary),  I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Unless I wanted to be completely worthless the following day, I was going to have to find a way for both of us to sleep. I realized I was going to have to give him more freedom of movement. I placed a few pillows near the bed’s edge, just in case, but then I let him go. Soon I heard soft, contented snores and I allowed myself to also fall into a light sleep.

I awoke hours later to the touch of small fingers on my forehead. (Oh no! Dawn is still hours away – please, please try to go back to sleep!) My little boy whispered, “Where mommy go?”

I answered, “Mommy’s here. Are you okay?” (yep, the couch was definitely the better option)

“I better.” Then no more words. Instead, he snuggled next to me, and the soft snores resumed in short order. Even though I knew right then that it was only a matter of time before I came down with whatever illness my toddler turned outbreak monkey possessed (4 days to be exact), I couldn’t help but smile. I’ll take what I can get.

My toddler used to only want to be with me. Then one day he stopped, and now prefers the company of his dad. All too soon, I know this stage will also be over and he’ll only want to be around his friends. I’ll eventually have to let him find his own way in life, but it is good to know that he’ll still look for mommy now and then.

Oh the joys of the 3AM wake up call

The Bat-Signal as seen at the end of Batman

When does Batman/Bruce Wayne sleep between business and saving the day/night? I’ve often wondered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was three AM Sunday morning. More accurately 3:27. I know this because we have one of those clocks that project the time onto the ceiling like some sort of sadistic batman call sign. (In the wee hours of the morning, I tend to forget our rationale for buying it.) I could hear our toddler crying in his room. I closed my eyes, hoping in vain that he would settle himself down. If anything it increased in pitch and volume. To my side, I could hear the rhythmic breathing of my hubby still enjoying deep sleep. The toddler’s call wasn’t quite loud enough to rouse him – yet. Groan. It was up to me. Cursed mom ears, with their supersonic hearing, I thought to myself for the millionth time.

I stumbled down our hallway to the little guy’s room unwilling to turn on a light to help along the way. Opening the door, my son emitted one last loud cry before noticing that help had arrived. I’m not sure exactly what might have caused my son to wake up. Perhaps he had a nightmare, or maybe it was just the sound of the heat turning on that startled him. Who really knows what two-year-olds think about at night. The cause really didn’t matter. He was up and needed mom. I’m a fan of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Throne Series. The line, “for the night is dark and full of terrors” came to mind, as I picked him up and held him close.

Even though I was there he still he continued to whimper. I asked him what he needed, only to hear pitiful sounds in reply. A change of strategy was required. “Use your words,” I told him.

“I wan Monkey Man,” he answered (his reigning favorite toy). Of course he did. Sigh. Monkey Man is a small, flat, toy that is always hiding itself away. Why couldn’t my son have an obsession with a large, glow in the dark, GPS enabled toy that I could tether to the bed? Something woke him up and now he couldn’t find his friend. It was a catastrophe!

I told him that I would find it as I tucked him back into his bed. He looked up at me with a smile as I searched around the bedding, confident that all would be made right soon.

I located the little guy wedged between two other stuffed animals at the foot of the bed and handed it back to him. My toddler clutched his toy, snuggling next to with a sleepy grin as if he hadn’t just been wide awake and crying his eyes out five minutes before. All was once again right in toddlerland. I closed the door and tip toed back to my room where I proceeded to lie awake for the next twenty minutes.

There are many things that can keep me up at night. What if I am on the wrong track, what if I fail, what if something goes terribly, terribly wrong? How nice would it be if all my fears and doubts could be as easily silenced as my son’s. On those nights when I lie awake in a panic, does my mom still wake up wondering why her ears are tingling?

Of course none of that matters to the little boy down the hall. He doesn’t care that about what I do or don’t do well. All he cares about is that there is someone who will hold him tight when he’s afraid and help make everything right, and he adores me for it. It gives me a warm feeling that is almost worth the 3AM wake up call. Almost.

My boys will be grown and on their own in what will seem like a blink of the eye. I’ll soon know first hand whether or not mom ears ever lose their acute sense of hearing. If fears seem more terrible at night, at least I can take comfort knowing that as time flies by, dawn will arrive that much sooner, and with it, delicious coffee.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How to create a dinner of champions

I may have actually stumbled upon the secret to get my toddler to willingly eat more than mac n’ cheese and applesauce at dinner time!

My eldest son spoiled me rotten. As a baby he loved sweet peas, and as a kindergartener one of his favorite meals is chicken nuggets with a strawberries and a side salad. Yes. A side salad. And not just lettuce smeared with ranch dressing. No, he prefers a drizzle of balsamic glaze. I was therefore fully unprepared for the challenge that is my youngest son at meal times.

So sayeth the toddler

Greens need not touch his plate. In fact, go ahead and extend that to most other food groups. If the food on his plate wasn’t a complex carb – well he just wasn’t interested. We tried plane sounds. We tried rewards and other bribery such as promising deserts. He sealed his lips tighter than Fort Knox. We tried trickery. He returned the favor by hiding it all in his cheeks and spitting it out later. We told him that if he didn’t eat his dinner he would be sent to time out or even to bed. He chose time out. And I don’t just mean by continuing with attitude. I mean my toddler actually said, in clear English, with a smile on his face, “I wan time out.”

My toddler is now two and a half, which means I only have to live with the terrible twos for another few months. [Then I get the joy of the trying threes! Yippee!!!] As a result, you may believe that he will naturally become more willing to try new things as maturing. Perhaps. But perhaps he requires more incentive to change his behavior. Perhaps we all do.

Vision without execution is hallucinationI recently read a post suggesting that everyone should find themselves an accountability partner. I loved the idea and brought it up with my hubby. He and I are both idea people, and idea people tend to make terrible executors if left to their own devices. Not because they don’t want to execute on their original idea, just because there is always a nicer, shinier, new idea just waiting to be developed. I asked him if he’d be willing to start setting a personal goal each week which we’d discuss over Sunday dinner. He agreed to try.

Sunday rolled around and we started discussing what we wanted to accomplish this week. Our kindergartener caught on and wanted to come up with his own goal for the week. Excellent! We agreed that we would all take on one small bite sized goal for the week. If we were all successful at the end of the week as a family, we’d award ourselves with a single star. If we could all earn twenty stars then we’d go on a vacation. Kiddo was sold. He loves winning, no matter what the rules of the game are. Then he asked what his brother’s goal should be. We thought about and agreed that he had to try his food every night this week.

Sunday dinner went smoothly. Monday’s too. Then Tuesday night, toddler stubbornness was back in full effect. I sighed and said, well I guess we aren’t getting a star this week as I tried to figure out my next strategy. Suddenly Kiddo was by his brother’s side cheering his brother along. My toddler may enjoy tests of will against me, but adores his brother above all things and wants to be just like him. His mouth opened and in went the food. The star was saved for another day and there was much rejoicing.

Execution is made easiest when you allow your team to take ownership of the method, and the best incentives are the ones the team comes up with themselves. All the leader is supposed to do is provide a clear vision of where they want to go and then get out of the way while his or her team does what they do best in order to get there. It would seem this is just as true in the house as it is the office.

It has only been a few days, but I am optimistic that my family will be healthier and stronger, or at least better fed, as a result of this experiment. With a little determination and a lot of accountability, the seats around out dinner table on Sundays will soon be filled with champions.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Harder_Better_Faster_Stronger_by_momentscomic

As I picked up my toddler from day care, his teacher approached me positively beaming. “He attempted to climb out of his bed today at nap time,” she explained with a big grin. Though he sleeps in a big boy bed at home, his bed at day care is one of those portable cribs. To my eyes, there is a fairly significant drop from the railing to the floor below. For many care givers, reporting that a child in their care is putting themselves into a potentially harmful situation isn’t something to be excited about. At least it isn’t something to be positively excited about.

But my little lord tyrant has always had a way of redefining expectations.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how my son has hypermobility and how difficult it was for him to catch up to his peers in terms of motor skills. If that challenge hadn’t been bad enough, according to his last several check-ups, it is likely he’ll inherit his height from my side of the gene pool. Poor thing. My height hasn’t been considered average since before the 1900s. The crib wall comes up to his shoulders. Therefore if he is able to successful pull his entire body weight over that height it is an impressive achievement, even if earns a few new bruises as a trophy.

We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster.

We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster.

The conversation reminded me about the multiple weeks we spent with the physical therapist. Once he achieved walking, each follow up appointment started by placing him on a baby treadmill. His therapist explained to me that in order to build up muscle mass in his legs, he had to first tire them out. He had to make his muscles strain and suffer in order to build up their strength. The phrase no pain, no gain, came to mind.

Pain is a funny thing. It warns us when there is something the matter so that changes can be made before more permanent damage is done. Without the sensation of pain, you might not realize that you need to remove your hand from a hot pan on the stove. If we are lucky, an unexplained pain can send us to the doctor before a tumor becomes un-treatable. While pain is something most of us would like to avoid, it is a necessary component to continued health.

Pain can also be the world’s best teacher. If we never experienced hurt, and life’s other lows, we would never truly be able to fully appreciate their opposites. If we never pushed ourselves to our limits, we would never fully learn the extent of our capabilities.

I’ve begun work on my third novel. With each project the task has become increasingly more difficult. I am in the process of making a few edits to An Uncertain Faith, and plan to be releasing a new edition in the coming months. Additionally I still have to finalize the cover design for the second project and begin rolling out its release. Finding the time to fit in the writing of a third novel, a sequel, is no easy feat.

But in someways writing the third is significantly easier than writing my first two books. It is a sequel. I know these characters and their setting. I know what it takes to pull their story from my mind and put it to paper. I can plan my schedule accordingly and have given myself a much longer runway. I may at times feel like I am straining myself, trying to do so much, but it’s made my determination to succeed that much stronger.

If I am asking my toddler continue to push himself, the least I can do is to do the same.