Get a move on

Some moms love everything about pregnancy. These glowing Earth mamas rhapsodize about how being pregnant makes them feel fabulous and womanly, and boast about how beautiful their blossoming bodies are. They describe how painless — nay, transcendent! — their home water births will be.

And then, there’s the other team.  We grouse about our teen-age skin and our varicose veins and the fact that our ribcages feel as if they’re slowly being pried asunder like unready oyster shells. We whinily express our desires that an epidural port be placed in our backs around the sixth month owing to the horrendous aches and pains of pregnancy, which by the way is completely unnatural. (Can’t babies be grown to full-term in labs yet?!)

However, both camps can generally agree on one thing about pregnancy — the fact that feeling baby movements for the first time is pretty darn cool.

This is the time in the pregnancy when those among us who live in constant paranoia about having a missed miscarriage  — or, if we’ve heard a heartbeat recently, the equally alarming spectre of an armless, legless vegetable baby — can finally breathe a sigh of relief.  There is something alive in there, and it probably has limbs. Hurrah!

With both my boys, I felt movement around the 11.5-week mark, so I must confess that I was more than a little worried about miscarriages and limbless fetuses when the 12th week of pregnancy came and went, and I found myself halfway through Week 13 with no indications (other than Pam Anderson’s boobs and Tom Arnold’s belly) that anything was going on inside my body.

But, at long last, we have signs of life. Chris and I threw a Canada Day party at our house July 1, and — in order to keep up with the demanding hostessing duties of keeping soft-drink cans on ice and looking pretty — I consumed three (OK, maybe four) of my highly addictive refreshing Coke Zeros. As I sat in our neighborhood’s prime fireworks-watching lot at 10:30 or so, I felt what could only be baby somersaults. On my arrival home, I decided I needed to verify that they were, indeed, fetal movements rather than, say, a Nanaimo bar that had sprouted limbs and commenced a flamenco-dancing session in my innards. So I ate more Nanaimo bars. (You know, for the baby.)

Hours later, with fetus still fluttering at 1:20 a.m., I decided nighttime Nanaimo bars might not have been the best idea.

Daytime Nanaimo bars, however, are fair game — as are strawberries, cheesecake, jelly beans, Easter candy, mango juice and Coffee Crisp. All week, I’ve been force-feeding my fetus a cavalcade of carbohydrates, all in the name of kick-counting. Hey, I have chin acne, debilitating fatigue, and back spasms, and until last week, I could vomit on command. I know for a fact that I’m not going to be having a glorious and spiritual labor experience, despite my copious hypnobirthing practice. This is the one part of pregnancy I enjoy — so I’m optimizing the experience!

And here I am, with what could either be a bona fide burgeoning baby belly or simply a bad case of Nanaimo gut, at 13 weeks pregnant:



Pop tops

I blame it on my proclamation that I would not begin wearing maternity clothes until I was about 16 weeks along. The belly has popped, and this week — almost a month ahead of schedule — I found myself suddenly wearing the five maternity shirts which are neither stained nor bought in tentlike sizes to accommodate Thomas’ gargantuan summer pregnancy.

And I’m really annoyed, because I hate maternity clothes.

This wasn’t always the case. When I became pregnant with Maddux, it wasn’t more than a week or two before I decided it was absolutely necessary to buy all sorts of not-very-fashionable “transition pants” and accouter myself in an array of tops that accentuated the tiny hint of belly. First-time moms are so cute that way.

The transition pants (and subsequent hideous-yet-much-more-comfortable full-panel Jeans of Shame) were fun for all of about 10 weeks. Then, once I was decidedly too big to squeeze back into them, I began yearning for pants that actually came in numerical sizes and, you know, fit properly. The maternity tops were fun for awhile longer, but around the middle of the third trimester, I began hating them as well. The capacious empire-waist tops — invariably just a tad more cutesy than what I would normally wear — reminded me that I was still heavily and uncomfortably pregnant. As soon as Maddux got her Vitamin K shot, I happily packed away all the florid gestational tent-clothing and squeezed my postpartum jiggle into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe (to what I’m positive was the great dismay of those people who had to be seen with me).

When I got pregnant the next two times, I swore that I would wear my pre-pregnancy clothing until I burst out of it. When my waistline expanded, rather than caving in to comfortable panels, I pulled out my old “fat jeans.” When my belly began to round out underneath my body-conscious tops, I bought new things with ruching and draping and empire waists. But not from the maternity section. Oh, no. Not until sometime in the mid-second-trimester did I cave in and set foot in a maternity section. Somewhere in the family archives, there is a picture of me at 16 weeks pregnant with Thomas — improbably shoehorned into skinny jeans. Hey, you do crazy things when you spend half of a four-year period cooking oven-buns.

And then came this baby. Maybe it was the 10-pound first-trimester weight gain. Perhaps a fourth baby was simply more than my threadbare abdominal muscles could contain. It could be that my recently acquired pancake-flat mom butt makes capacious shirts look sloppy instead of sexy. Whatever the reason, I discovered this week that almost all of my most forgiving  shirts — ruched, baggy, or otherwise — were beginning to make me look like a Weeble.

So it is that I have reluctantly rotated a few maternity tops into my wardrobe. I am already sick of them, but they make me look pregnant instead of enticing small children to try their hand at knocking me down. (Not that that stops my children. They haven’t even heard of Weebles; they just enjoy running head-on into people’s legs.)

In happier news, the baby’s heartbeat has been clocked at a perfectly healthy 150 beats per minute. Also, I have stopped barfing. It is a great feeling, being hungry for things other than chicken noodle soup. And now I got me some eatin’ shirts!

Here I am, for your viewing pleasure and in super-chic “transition jeans” as usual, at 12 weeks pregnant.

Chicken soup for the bowl

I’ve often said I wished it were possible to install a Plexiglass porthole in one’s abdomen so  one could observe every stage of fetal development (and, if one is a crazy person like yours truly, check obsessively for vital signs). The next best thing to a window on the womb, I suppose, is morning sickness. And let me tell you, it is a far, far second.

For the first seven weeks of pregnancy, the only indications I was with child were an unshakable lethargy and near-constant hair-trigger irritability (Why didn’t my children leap immediately into bed when I  tried to put them down a half-hour early so I could be in bed before 8? Why is the neighbor doing yard work at 2 in the afternoon? Why is my husband taking so long to cook me my dinner?!!!)

Naturally, being the paranoid mama that I am, I was convinced that my utter sloth and irrational rage were not signs enough that all was well within my unreliable uterus. So I was overjoyed when, at 8 weeks pregnant, my stomach violently ejected a bowlful of oatmeal between breakfast and school drop-offs. Now that I had conclusive evidence that there was still something in there, I could go on with my life.

That lasted about a week.

At nine weeks, I started hurling like Roy Halladay at a double-header. Some of my hurls could have been clocked at 90 mph. Some were just … sliders. Luckily for everyone who uses our powder room, they all made it into the strike zone.

Oatmeal was the first food stricken from the lineup. Next came Cheerios, and soon, toast and sandwiches. Any red-meat-based entrees have had to be benched.

Meanwhile, spicy tuna — on a nine-month suspension — kept yelling, “Put me in, coach!”  Oh, spicy tuna roll! Would that I could.

By this point, my menu is as follows:

Campbell’s chicken noodle soup




Mango spritzers

I even had to retire my vanilla teas this week and have rotated my trusty Coke Zero back into the starting lineup. Is it gross to drink cola for breakfast? Yes. Yes it is. But not as gross as vanilla-flavored stomach juices.

Because a bowl of fruit is hard-pressed to provide 100 calories, I have been eating chicken noodle soup two meals a day. It’s not a varied menu, but it’s one that my stomach can handle. Chris hit upon the ingenious innovation of presenting my soup in a giant mug with a handle, so I can eat it in bed like an invalid while watching Real Housewives, beginning 10 minutes after the kids are tucked in their beds.  Except for the vomiting part, this is the life!

Of course, there is the slight issue of Campbell’s chicken noodle being 95 percent salt, along with that fact that salt increases bloating, and also that pregnancy in general increases bloating. These are things I’ll worry about when I’m no longer racing to hug the porcelain, driven to spasmodic dry-heaving by the overwhelming aroma of Honey Nut Cheerios.

In the meantime, I will comfort myself with the knowledge that this is almost like having a window into my pregnancy.

And here I am, between heaves, at 11 weeks pregnant, with either the beginnings of a baby belly or a lot of soup-related edema.

Back in the stirrups again

Every once in awhile, James and Maddux persuade me to let them have a “sleepover.” I know I shouldn’t even entertain the idea of any kind of co-sleeping arrangement, and that it will end horribly in the wee hours of the morning, but I allow it anyway — and vow afterward that it will never happen again.

My philosophy regarding childbirth is very similar to my policy on sleepovers. After Thomas, I was certain I was done having kids (and that was only partly because I missed the window for any kind of medication whatsoever).  I was confident in my decision to limit the hooligan squad to three — until March of last year, when, if we’d planned a fourth from the beginning, I would have been due to give birth. It was that month that my birth control failed and I found myself very unhappily pregnant. I cried for a week, and then began planning the nursery, the minivan purchase, the baby blog. A month later, however, I was sitting in the emergency room, learning that the pregnancy had never progressed beyond five weeks. I’d already made an emotional branch on our family tree for Baby No. 4, and now it sat empty. The news was a raw reminder of the three miscarriages that preceded the birth of my little Maddux. My heart was broken, and our family no longer felt complete.

There was another miscarriage in December, and more crying. Chris and I agreed that we would try for a fourth until July (whereupon my chart would be marked “advanced maternal age” despite my obvious youth and hotness).

And here we are, squeaking in three months before the deadline. It started with my gaining two pounds while trying to blast off my subcutaneous fat on the South Beach diet. I grumbled to Chris that low-carb diets were inherently flawed (and only partly because I subsist almost entirely on carbohydrates) and vowed to increase my cardio minutes. Then, because we were planning to drink at the kids’ school fundraiser, I took a pregnancy test just so I could enjoy my cocktails with a clear conscience. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the real reason behind my South Beach weight gain. Because of the two miscarriages last year, I refused to blog until I was convinced the baby was going to remain safely in utero for longer than a fortnight or two. And happily, at my second ultrasound, the technician pointed out an 8-week bean (which my obstetrician later identified as a 7-week 2-day bean) and a strong heartbeat. Based on careful calculation of medical data, my obstetrician gave me an official due date of January 9, and based on careful calculation using my history of early babies and bad timing, I have given myself an unofficial due date of December 24.

I happily quit the South Beach diet, which apparently doesn’t work if you’re pregnant, anyway, and immediately gained another several pounds. No ripped abs for me this summer. I’ve gone off my morning cup of coffee in favor of horrible-tasting but harmless vanilla tea, traded workouts for naps, and gagged down one daily prenatal vitamin and twice-daily doses of synthetic progesterone, which — because pregnancy isn’t tiring enough as it is — bears a heavy-machinery warning on its label.

It’s going to suck, will probably end painfully in the wee hours of the morning, and — thanks to a urology appointment for Chris in the near future — will definitely never happen again. As for the sleepovers, it’s been a few months, so I guess the kids are due. Sigh.

And, because I know you skipped over all the boring writing so you could view the construction of the baby apartment, here are the 10-week belly pics. (No, there are none from before my 8-pound weight gain, because such hubris would have killed the baby immediately.)

No-Class Baby?

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned a time or two, our kids have the good fortune to attend a really awesome school. Awesome academics, awesome teachers — even a Music & Movement class for toddlers.

It seems a decade ago now, but James and I did Music & Movement at a community center when he was a toddler. Unfortunately, because of the despised music part, most of the movement consisted of James throwing tantrums in my lap for 30 of the 45 minutes. We did not re-enroll.

Because I have given up on life have a very busy schedule, it never occurred to me to put Thomas in any such class — until I saw it advertised on the door to the kindergarten classroom. It stared me in the face daily this past January, making me feel guilty about spending Monday mornings at the gym when I could be playing and singing with my youngest after pre-school drop-off. Would this be something Thomas would enjoy?

The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding yes. Less enjoyable, however, were the experiences of the music teacher and his fellow classmates. (Although the music teacher is very gracious, and it doesn’t hurt that he gives her hugs and kisses every week.)

We spent an entire semester going to “baby music class,” where the other babies would clap in time to the music and participate in dancing circles and bang in an adorable manner on their xylophones (waiting patiently in a mother’s lap, of course, before getting their instruments).

The entire semester, Thomas would run around the seated circle of parents and babies, jump in the teacher’s lap, make a beeline for the forbidden drum kit, and generally raise Cain.

I have learned over time that nearly all of us moms have those days when we think our kids are the naughtiest, most ill-mannered children in the room, but in Thomas’ class, that really is the case.

(Not that he isn’t the cutest little naughty monkey ever. He really charms the socks off everyone there. But still.)

Anyway, a new semester started a few weeks ago, and two new families came in, including a mom with twins. They were extremely well-behaved, much to my dismay and good for her! It was the first baby music class of the semester, and all the kids were in high spirits. None more so than Thomas, of course, who ran around like a crack-addled spider monkey, opening cabinets and trying to flee the music portable when he wasn’t trying to distribute free xylophones or use maracas as hammers.

Two kids got taken out of class early by their mommies that day. Neither of them was mine. I think one was expelled for running and the other for excessive crying. I’m pretty sure neither of them tried to shoplift the guitar (thanks for that, Thomas).

I remarked to the mom of twins that her kids were enviably well-behaved, and that I felt bad for the moms who left because their kids really weren’t doing anything terribly naughty. (Let’s be honest — if I left every time someone was sort of ill-behaved, we would be hermits!)

The other mom replied that she had had to take her daughter out of gymnastics for being disobedient, but once was enough.

I’ll admit it — I felt a little like a bad mom. Do I let my kids head-butt people in the face while I turn a blind eye to what the little darlings are doing? No. I’m not that mom, at least. They do get in trouble for hurting their playmates or destroying property. But while Thomas’ energy level causes me no shortage of dismay, he’s a pretty nice little toddler. And I’m a sucker for my high-energy but generally nice little cuties. Consequently, I haven’t removed anyone from an activity since James initiated his exit from swimming class by emitting a series of ear-piercing screams and trying to clamber out of the water onto my head.

After that conversation, I thought about taking Thomas home next time he runs away from the group — laughing hysterically as he bolts for the door — or tries to pull instruments from the cabinet when he gets tired of waving scarves to the music. But you know what? He’s two years old. He has the attention span of a gnat. Would it help? Maybe there’s an off chance. But it would probably sink in about as well as the 500 times I’ve put him to bed early for throwing food and jumping out of his high chair.

So instead, the next time I ran into one of the moms who had left, I told her I was sorry she’d had to go early, and assured her that all of us have toddlers and that a little toddler-like behavior is to be expected.

I don’t know whether to feel happy for her or guilty for endorsing bad behavior. But this past week, she and her son stayed for the whole session. And (with some occasional laying down of the law, of course) our toddler boys ran around wreaking harmless mayhem like only toddler boys can.

P.S. If you are interested in baby music class, contact me. I will put you in touch with the teacher, and offer you my personal guarantee that you will not have the naughtiest child in the class!

Wanted: For disorderly conduct

Breaking Bad

Ahhh, spring break! Remember spring break? When we were in college, it was a time to go skiing or party at the beach, or perhaps to take advantage of the underage-drinking loophole in the great state of Louisiana.

Once you have kids, however, they have spring breaks of their own. And if you do go skiing or visit the beach, it is most certainly not a break for Mom and Dad — no matter how many tequila shooters you do. (Just kidding! I didn’t do any tequila shooters, because we have no tequila. Believe me, I checked.)

Because our children don’t travel well, we opted to stay sane home this year.

The week began promisingly enough. The kindergarten’s class mom organized a series of group playdates, with the first at one of our favorite local parks. The kids did a fantastic job of not being complete hooligans, and nobody had to have a time-out in the stroller. I started the next day with a 6 a.m. workout and a coffee, confident that this spring break would be different. It would be exciting! Productive! Or at least somewhat less insane, and I would not spend days on end in my pajamas, binge-eating tortilla chips and counting down the hours.

Right now, James is in a contrary phase. Well, the contrary phase has technically lasted about a year and a half, but right now he’s in a particularly contrary phase. So we’ve been trying to keep him out of the other kids’ hair on difficult days. Our innovative strategy has involved lots of Scooby Doo in Daddy’s office.

However, seeing as how Daddy is the sole wage earner, sometimes James had to mingle with the other children. Occasionally, the mingling involved insisting that everyone watch his favorite episode of Scooby Doo. Other times, it involved throwing a blanket over his head and volunteering for a beatdown (a.k.a. “ghost wrestling”). But this is how several hours of each day went:

James: “You can’t play with my Littlest Pet Shops!”

Maddux: That’s my Littlest Pet Shop, Jamesy! Stooooooooop!”

Me: “The Littlest Pet Shops are in time out now.”

Thomas (fending off James’ grabby hands): “Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!”

James: “I want that Percy train!”

Thomas (clubbing James over the head with Percy): “You no take my train!”

Me: “James, get in time out! Thomas, time out!”

Maddux: “Mommy, Jamesy’s not in his time out!”


Mommy: “And Scooby Doo is going off the TV now.”

James: “Mommy, you’re a poo-poo-head robot.”

Thomas (escaping from time-out and dancing in the middle of the room with enormous cheesy grin): “Thomas poo-poo-head robot! AHAHAHHAAAHAAA!”

Me: “Sweet merciful crap. I need so much more coffee.”

And so were great amounts of coffee consumed.

Because a little crazy is never enough, I decided to undertake two spring break projects (three, if you count the Christmas tree, which is stripped of ornaments but still standing). The first undertaking, Thomas’ potty training, was a complete bust — unless letting a 2-year-old pee in Disney Cars underwear instead of Pull-Ups and then feeding him jelly beans for sitting fruitlessly on the potty constitutes success.

The second project was eliminating James’ nap.

I have tried many times to cut out the nap, but James tends to crash hard around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, after which point our adorable child might as well be a wild boar on methamphetamine. But after a nice, refreshing afternoon nap, James was staying up until 9 p.m., or, occasionally, 1:30 a.m., and acting like a meth-crazed wild boar in school.

If my child is going to race about growling and attacking people like some feral animal, I’d rather have it be at home than at school. So we stuck it out through two horrible, irrational days of meth-crazed wild-boar boy, and finally James started going to sleep at a civilized hour and acting human during the day. Success!

Until …

Somehow, a year or so ago, Maddux got it into her head that there is nothing cooler in all the world than — get this — a sleepover.

Raise your hand if you think this is a good idea. No one? Yeah, me neither.

But gut feelings aside, in 2009, on Christmas Eve, I agreed to sleep in Maddux’ room along with her and James. They were very excited, because we have a hard-and-fast rule that people sleep in their own rooms. (You know, so they can sleep.)

Maddux was bright-eyed and giggly at first, but she’s a morning lark rather than a night owl, so by 8:45 she was exhausted. James, however, chattered away nonstop about trains until 12:45 a.m. Maybe longer. I don’t know, because I fell asleep. Then Maddux woke everyone at 6.

I swore it would never happen again.

But somehow, the kids finagled another sleepover during winter break. This time, I was smart enough not to try to sleep in the room with them. Not so smart, however, was Maddi’s decision to wake James at 9 p.m. because he was drooling. Having been completely reinvigorated by his 20-minute nap, James stayed up into the wee hours and the sleepover was aborted. Apparently, though, in my half-asleep delirium, I promised the children that they would get a second chance over spring break.

Let me make it clear that neither do I remember making any such promise nor do I find it plausible that I would have done so. Nevertheless, I let the little ones have another sleepover. (Well, once I found them entrenched under Maddux’ bunk bed at 8:45 p.m. surrounded by everything James has ever owned and looking up at me with their most plaintive saucer eyes, anyway.) They were asleep by 10, but the next day, James was so tired he had a nap. As the kids say, facepalm.

Add to all that a shopping trip on the penultimate day of spring break, which — in addition to the usual mirror-licking, begging for everything in a 5-meter radius by Maddux, rejection of any and all new clothing by James, and throwing of decorative rocks in fancy stores — also included the improper use of the stroller as some sort of MMA fighting cage on wheels.

Corn chips — check.
Pajamas — check.
Tequila shooters — checked. Couldn’t find tequila, settled for Riesling.

The only thing breaking this spring was my sanity.

The Kid’s Speech

James has spent most of his life being different from other kids in myriad ways. When he was smaller, many activities left him overstimulated, screaming and clinging to his favorite die-cast toy bus. Things such as jackets, new shoes and his bed being placed a quarter-inch “off” resulted in 45-minute meltdowns. He didn’t really seem to understand or care about what people were saying. But the thing that stood out most about James was his speech.

Until he was a bit older than 3, James hardly ever put more than two words together. When he did speak, it was usually during his bedtime story, when he would expertly parrot exactly what I was reading, as if on a two-second delay. Once he learned to express himself, he compulsively said the last consonant of most words three times. (Example: “Maddux-x-x wearin-n-n’ pants-s-s.”)

Last spring, he had a speech evaluation. Predictably, he was referred for speech therapy, although the waitlist was many months long — in fact, we still have not been called in for speech or occupational therapy.

I’m not really fond of waiting. (Shocking, I know.) So I researched a few approaches and decided on Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime model. In Floortime, you begin by simply observing how the child plays, then engage in parallel play with the child. Once you’ve tricked your poor, unsuspecting kid into letting you play with him, you encourage expressiveness and interaction. Soon, you can introduce directions and turn-taking.

Since I’m no therapist and playing with a bossy, tantrum-prone 4-year-old makes me need about a dozen tequila shooters frustrated, we’re still working on turn-taking and directions. With a lot of guidance, he can sort of play Hi-Ho Cherry-O. For about five minutes. But gone are the days when James lorded over his train table and beats interlopers about the head with Sir Handel.

A good chunk of James’ progress coincided with his entry to preschool. The Montessori curriculum depends a lot on routine, which James loves, and teaches independence, which James needs.

Not only is he improving socially, but we’ve noticed he can finally participate in a decent approximation of a conversation (providing he’s not over-tired, at which point any question will be answered with a defiant: “I DON’T WANNA [fill in the blank], YOU POO-POO ROBOT HEAD!”)

So great have been his strides that, this Wednesday, the woman who evaluated his speech last year was blown away.

A little less than a year ago, James’ speech was coming along, but he mostly echoed others or narrated rather than actually interacting. He had only just begun pointing to things when asked.

This year, he used excellent eye contact (to be fair, he’s always done this), engaged the evaluator, participated appropriately in adult-led play, and when the evaluator dumped 10 blocks on the table, he told her, “You take these four and I’ll take these six,” almost before they were out of the box. (Although now that I think of it, didn’t Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rain Man” do that with toothpicks? Hmm, maybe that’s a poor example.)

James has gone from being a kid with unintelligible speech, consisting mostly of echolalia, to being able to identify all his colors, numbers and phonics sounds. He identified the crying baby among the happy babies in the evaluator’s flip-chart — a big deal considering his preliminary diagnosis of PDD-NOS in October.

At the end, the evaluator said he has very few red flags for autism, speech-wise. There are still issues for the pediatrician, such as his spells of absence and the outrageous tantrums and the pants-pooping and the fact that he sometimes stays up ’til 1:30 a.m. But the good (bad?) news is, he probably no longer needs the speech therapy he was referred for and still hasn’t gotten. Yay. (Pardon me if I’m a bit bitter about the slow access to autism-related services after nearly three years of trying to get help for James.)

Cognitively, James is at or above age level. Speechwise, he’s just the tiniest bit behind his peers. We just need to work on talking about abstract ideas.

And that poo-poo robot head thing.

Who has two thumbs and can (sometimes) smile for the camera? This guy!

Last, But Not Least

As the eldest of four children, I’ve never had much sympathy for the complaints of those born last. Sure, they may not have never had the complete attention of their parents, but the silver lining is that … they never had the complete attention of their parents.


Firstborn: Mom, I’m going to South America to help build a school for orphans.
Mom: Well, your Aunt Mildred’s friend Bessie’s minister said that 10 years ago, some teen-agers nearly fornicated on one of those trips. I don’t feel comfortable sending you into that kind of environment until I know exactly where you’re going, who’s supervising, and who else is going. Also, I’m implanting you with a subdermal GPS chip. And LoJacking your underwear.

Youngest: Mom, I’m going to go party with Charlie Sheen. Don’t wait up.
Mom: Oh, how nice. Charlie Sheen needs more good influences in his life.

Mercifully, Thomas is decades away from partying with half-men, but he still gets away with plenty. All he has to do to get out of trouble is blink innocently, cock his head, and ask — as if surprised and horrified — “I being bad?” Last night, as I stood sentry at James’ door, it occurred to me that even the middle child has it exponentially easier than the eldest: I was playing bedtime prison warden when Maddux was just 18 months old.

Despite the carefree existence a youngest child enjoys, there are tradeoffs. Only now, as a mom, am I keenly aware of how many achievements are overshadowed, how many activities missed, how many pages left blank in the baby book. (Note to self: Buy baby book.)

Maddux gets plenty of blog entries. She’s the eldest and hits all the exciting milestones first. Before this blog, there was her baby blog, and before that, my pregnancy blog. Both are chock-a-block full of weekly posts and pictures. James had a few entries, but his blog was nothing like Maddi’s. Thomas’ personal blog had two posts: One said “I’m pregnant” and the other said “Baby’s out.” And even in this blog, which I started so the boys would be included in more posts, Thomas is rarely the star. His last post was in April. Whether it’s walking, talking, or destroying a room with poop, someone’s done it before.

Until recently, Thomas also got short shrift on activities. When Mads was a baby, she went to Baby Talk, playgroup and library sing-a-long. Later, it was ballet, soccer, gymnastics and swimming. James had a few Music and Movement classes, but he screamed at the top of his lungs and clutched his die-cast school bus the entire time. We decided large, noisy classes were not his cup of tea. And it seems we got so used to avoiding activities for James that his little brother got lost in the shuffle. Besides a few seasons of swimming classes, Thomas had nothing until this winter’s Music and Movement classes. And we only signed up for those because they were held at his siblings’ school, right after drop-off time, and I would have felt guilty missing them to go to the gym.

So now Thomas has classes. He feels very grown-up and toddles into the music portable with a little backpack on his shoulders. (Then he makes a break for the drums and tries to destroy everything. He is, after all, a lastborn child and has a reputation to uphold.)

In the interest of unabashed bragging highlighting more of Thomas’ achievements, I should also tell you that he knows the phonics sounds for at least half the alphabet, can count a bit and identify several numbers, is maybe two-thirds potty-trained and can sort of use chopsticks. He likes to shout out the answers to James’ homework before James can open his mouth. Oh, and Thomas is an old hand at the iPhone. Or, as he calls it, his iPhone. Yep, he’s a youngest child. No doubt about that.

On the social front, Thomas is a very friendly fellow. We are not sure who to blame for that, but it is what it is. His sometimes-playmate Ayden still regards him with faint suspicion after a particularly enthusiastic tackle hug this fall.

Even the grown-ups aren’t safe. Once Thomas has spent time with an adult more than once, he feels free to run up and hug that person’s leg. If he is picked up by someone who does not have a scratchy beard, kisses aren’t out of the question. Today, he ran up to the head of school squealing, “Hi, Mr. Grieve!” and then wrapped himself around Mr. Grieve’s knees. (FYI, Thomas has not spent significant amounts of time socializing with the headmaster, unless you count the time he was in a Santa costume and Thomas teleported into his lap from across the room in .005 seconds.)

That’s our youngest, in a nutshell. Thomas may not get our undivided attention, but he can wheedle a snuggle out of us — anytime, anyplace. He’s a smart, humorous, gregarious little guy. He likes to tear pages out of books (still!!) and scribble on nonwashable surfaces, and he sometimes slugs siblings or pulls hair, but he always apologizes in the cutest way possible.

One day, the kid will be a great influence on Charlie Sheen.

Everything about this picture is completely normal


An Inconvenient Tooth

When Maddux’ bottom incisors came in, late in 2005, they seemed huge. To my slight dismay, these sharp invaders had broken up the pristine pink gum line that featured prominently in her adorable, gape-mouthed baby grins. But as I tried to pull her left mandibular incisor last night, it occurred to me that those teeth — so conspicuous in her mouth five years ago — were actually really tiny. And now, just when I’ve gotten used to them, they’ve decided to come out.

Of course, while I drag my heels at every milestone, reluctant to admit my children are no longer wee, helpless newborns, Maddux is more than happy to grow up.

She’s been shopping for her own clothes since she was 2 — often gleefully handing the cashier my debit card — and recently invited six classmates to a sleepover at our house, scheduled for that very night without my knowledge. (Much to her dismay, the sleepover was postponed indefinitely.) A month ago, she started talking about her loose tooth. Remembering with near-certainty that almost everyone I knew lost their first teeth at age 6, I blew it off. After all, Maddux also claims to have superpowers and swears she saw a baby bird trying to hatch out of a white stone she brought home from school.

But the talk of a wiggly tooth continued.

“Wanna see me wiggle my loose tooth?” Maddux asked me one day three weeks ago.

“Sure, honey,” I said, playing along like a good mommy.

To my great surprise it was actually loose. Really loose. She’s been wiggling it to and fro, backward and forward, pushing it with her tongue and cracking it against her upper incisors with abandon. At least once every five minutes, her friends and family have obligingly watched her perform various feats of dental flexibility and pain tolerance.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, Maddux came to me. Her bright eyes bore a mixture of anxiety and giddiness.

“I’m ready for you to pull my tooth, Mommy, ” Maddux announced solemnly, pride tugging the corners of her mouth ever so slightly.

With Daddy wielding the camera, we stood in the hallway, I with a tissue to help me grip the little tooth, Maddux with her mouth open like a manhole — as much as that is possible while smiling and bugging out one’s already preternaturally large eyes, anyway.

Unfortunately, while she’s grown into her teeth, Maddux apparently still makes just as much drool as she did when she was a tiny little thing of seven months. Between her slick, ever watering mouth, her penchant for biting down nervously, and the little barley-size kernel of a tooth, it was impossible for me to get enough of a grip to pull. We called it a night, and Maddux slipped off to silently weep lipitor medicine. (Yes, she doesn’t cry, she weeps, because that’s what Cinderella does. Even if her weeping sometimes takes place during a time-out and involves Linda-Blair-like theatrics and the words “I hate you, Mommy!”)

Tonight, she was ready again. After the boys were in bed, she pranced up to me, all anxious smiles and sparkling eyes, her tooth jutting out, cantilevered, over her bottom lip. She had been wiggling it furiously all day, her resolve only hardened by last night’s failure.

“Mommymommymommy, time to pull out my tooth!” she badgered. I didn’t really want to try again, because she is not allowed to get any older, EVER since her tooth didn’t seem ready last night, but I can only take so much adorable begging. I relented.

Daddy again grabbed his camera, I revisited the Kleenex box, and Maddux opened up — only not quite so wide this time (I suppose because she knew she was going to bite me eventually anyway). We tried a few times with the tissue, to the same results as before. But Maddux was certain she wanted her tooth out, and I was certain I didn’t want to send her off all teary and disappointed again. Chris pulled out the rubber gloves and we gave it another go.

To give you an idea of what it was like, imagine pulling half a Tic-Tac out of a backed-up sink where it’s been craft-glued, while avoiding 19 other closely-spaced (but Superglued) Tic-Tac halves. The faucet is running and a bear trap is threatening to ensnare your hand.

Maddux is lucky she’s so cute, or she’d still have that tooth.

The gloves found a non-slobbery surface on the third try. One quick yank and it was done. The tooth that had once seemed so dominant in her infant mouth was surprisingly tiny resting in my palm. I packed it away in Ziploc, with an aching sense of loss troubling my chest. Here was this little tooth — one that had grown in my daughter’s jaw as a fetus and pushed through her gums right before her first Christmas — and now it was no longer a part of my little girl. Not only had Maddux lost her tooth, she’d shed her babyhood.

Which, of course, delights my firstborn to no end. She is finally a Big Kid. Any day now, she will have superpowers and decolletage and princely marriage proposals and her long-awaited baby daughter, Rainbow Rose. Like a real grown-up, she has decided to defer monetary gratification and show her little incisor off at school before leaving it out for the Tooth Fairy.

On the other hand, in the background of her proud little toothless mug shot, I can be seen blinking away tears.

Gap girl

Read ‘Em and Weep

For centuries, doctors and scientists grappled with the problem of infection. Hand-washing and boiling helped limit bacterial outbreaks, but once infection set in, there was little one could do other than throw a few leeches on the patient and hope for the best. Then, in 1928, Alexander Fleming left a petri dish uncovered, some mold grew on his culture, and the rest was history.

I wouldn’t say I view competition as mold, but I do confess to being a little bit of a hippie. I always stress to Maddux that she shouldn’t worry about what her friends are doing; she should try to do her best job, regardless. (I realize this may seem hypocritical coming from someone who expected from herself nothing less than perfect scores, but “Tiger Mom” I am not.)

Nonetheless, just like the mold that inhibited bacterial growth on those cultures at St. Mary’s Hospital some 82 years ago, competition — that thing I try so hard not to emphasize — has proven to be the catalyst for my daughter’s reading breakthrough.

At the beginning of this school year, Maddux couldn’t read much more than her name. Perhaps it’s part of the ADHD, perhaps she’s a touch dyslexic, or maybe she’s just a late bloomer, but for some reason the letters seem to mix themselves up before her eyes and she quickly gives up trying to decipher the text in front of her. Until this month.

For the past few weeks, Maddux’ kindergarten class has been participating in a schoolwide “read-a-thon” in which the house teams compete, based on minutes read, for a gold medal. (At least that is what my daughter tells me. Whether there is an actual medal, I have no idea, but far be it from me to detract from her incentive!)

Because she is a superhero and a princess, Maddux feels that she should be the very best at everything. She wants to be the fastest runner, the strongest lifter, have the blondest hair, be the lead in the class play, lose the first tooth — I think you get the picture.

For an entire semester, I was under the impression (based on her frequent bemoaning of the fact that “everybody else” was in a higher-level reader) that she was the worst reader in her class — until her teacher informed me that, upon beginning her ADHD medication, she quickly advanced to perfectly average. I was also informed that she was a pretty darn good mathematician, which Maddux conveniently forgot to mention because she expects to be marvelous at everything.

Me: How are you doing in number work?
Maddux: (Shrugs) OK.

But since her reading contest began, Maddux has been strangely enthusiastic about reading. Gone are the days when getting her to complete her 10 minutes of reading homework requires threats and bribery. No sooner is her backpack hung on its hook on our return from school than I hear “Mommy, can we do some readin’ now? I want to read for 90 minutes today so we can BEAT THE RED TEAM! They’re CHEATIN’!”

We haven’t quite made it to 90 minutes, but she has read aloud for about 30 minutes most nights ever since she realized her team wasn’t in the lead. This weekend, she has a sore throat, but she still managed to log 34 minutes tonight without prompting.

Her hard work is paying off. On Thursday, her house team pulled ahead in the competition, thanks in part to the six stickers she earned for the “racetrack” on the wall in the school hallway. Apparently, she read more minutes last week than any other kindergartner — despite the fact that she still painstakingly sounds out every letter.

Who would have thought that, like the mold at St. Mary’s Hospital, the answer to our reading problems was lurking under our noses the entire time? I had tried everything with Mads — phonics games, interesting books, conversations about phonics while driving to and from school — to no avail. Apparently, for Maddux, learning is not its own reward. Gold medals are. (Perhaps we will start having room-cleaning contests and not-interrupting-grown-ups-while-they’re-talking contests.)

I’m still not sold on competition as the sole motivator for learning (after all, that’s how we get test-bank cheating and “ringers” taking the SATs), but for now, I’ll take it. Like penicillin, it may not work forever, but it cleared up our reading issues quite nicely.