Dear Sydney

St. Sydney Bean Basset
5.2.00 – 5.24.12

Dear Sydney,

It has been less than 36 hours since you left us and not a moment has passed where you haven’t been in my thoughts. I spent so much time yesterday replaying your final hours and minutes on this earth. Our last lunch date on the kitchen floor – I was so relieved to see you partake in that Arby’s roast beef the way I know you could. You’d refused food since morning – how I knew you were ready to go – and sharing that sandwich was a parting gift from you I will always treasure. You hadn’t budged from your bed all day but somehow you mustered up the energy to follow me into the foyer and peer outside into the sunshine of the day. I could see it took every ounce of energy and breath that you had. And that look in your eye when we took that last drive to the vet – a place you had been so many times before – telling me you were ready, is one I won’t forget.

I’ve replayed some not so great moments in my head too – your final minutes of life, me burying my face in your sweet fur, feeling your chest stop moving. Hearing your amazing doctor tell me that you were indeed at peace. I’m pretty sure I’d rather swim with a sea of great whites than have to relive that moment – yet being there with you as you passed on to your next journey is an honor I would not trade for anything. You chose me to be your person – and with that honor came the responsibility to be by your side as you had for me so many times before. I don’t know what I did to deserve the chance to be your person but you chose me that fateful day 12 years ago and loved me and the family I would add to our little trio that initially was you and your sister, with every ounce of your being.  Thank you.

When I got home last night – to the house that suddenly seemed so empty without the clickety clack of your paws and your voracious bark reminding me to get you a snack or take you for a trip outside – I looked at your line-up of medications on the windowsill. My goodness, Bean, how did you manage to wag your tail faithfully and maintain your happy disposition with everything that was seemingly failing inside your little basset hound body? Significant arthritis kept you from running yet somehow; you managed to climb the steps to be with your human family, almost nearly to the end. You were on a combination of three medicines just to keep the diarrhea that had plagued you since winter at bay and most recently had added three new heart medicines to help your failing heart pump more effectively. This of course was in addition to the prednisone that had kept you alive for the nearly 10 years it has been since you were diagnosed with Addison’s disease. If you hurt inside, you never let on. Your stoicism to the end will inspire me as I age in my own earthly journey.

I spent some time looking at pictures of happier days, the day I brought you and your sister Shelby home. You were runt and carried the scrappy attitude so many runts do. You loved to nap on my belly and often I’d cop a squat on the coach only to wake up to not one, but two snoozing bassets on my belly.  I loved to put you and Shelby in a picnic basket and show you off to my friends and co-workers.

Puppy Days

A few weeks after your arrival, you showed me what would be your lifelong zest for food. I dropped a raw chicken breast in front of you and you managed to ingest the entire piece of meat before I knew what had happened.  Terrified as I could see this massive chunk of meat inside your puppy body, I called the vet, who assured me you would surely be fine but to safeguard my carpet …just in case. My carpets and upholstery have never been the same since your arrival but I think the cleaning bills were a small price to pay for what you have given me.

I came home from work one day and found you, covered in blood and missing a big chunk of your ear. You and your sister had gotten into a squabble over some day old bread and you were perfectly willing to sacrifice that ear for that darn bread (I assume you figured you had plenty to spare). When I found you, you were still laying protectively over that bread. The vet operated and stitched you up – sans a quarter size chunk of your beautiful velvety ear – and that missing ear not only added to our bond but solidified that feisty spirit I love so much.

We nearly lost you just days after your second birthday.  I came home and you did not greet me with your usual boisterous greeting. I knew something was wrong and took you to the vet immediately. Your vitals keep crashing and they shipped you to the emergency hospital in Annapolis. Your wonderful vet tried to prepare me for the very real possibility that you may not make it. I held you in my lap the entire drive and prayed. As the vet tech at the emergency room entrance leaned into the car to pick up your very weak body, you lifted your head and licked her – and another Sydney fan was immediately born. The tech turned to me with misty eyes and said to me “Going to do everything to save this little sweetheart, she is a special one.” You rallied that day and five days later we brought you home with a diagnosis of Addison’s disease.  You survived an Addisonian crisis that many dogs do not – a feat you accomplished several times in your life. Your prognosis was good but guarded – you would be what they called a special needs dog on medication for the rest of your life.

Your dad and I remember taking you to Pet Smart after that hospital stay and the first thing you did was drive that snout of yours into a bag of kibble. A bag of kibble at the verrry bottom of a large stack of bags. Oh what a mess it made and oh how you gobbled up as much as you could get your little chompers on before we managed to drag you away (and sheepishly call for clean-up on aisle 4!)

We moved you into a new home a few years after that – and you quickly found your favorite sleeping spot. You weren’t a huge fan of the new captain’s bed that we added – you somehow managed to convince us that specially made basset steps that would allow you to join us in that king-sized bed, was an essential purchase.

We added some new family members and you welcomed them each without so much as a growl or even a snarl. First Murray, the kitten, who would become your soulmate and best sleeping buddy, followed by noisy George boy #1 and noisy George boy #2. As they grew more mobile and active, I always trusted you with Noah and Nate – and despite their rowdy hijinks, more than a couple stepped-on tails and plenty of ride-on toys whizzing past you at crazy speeds, you never bared a tooth or did anything more than a quick warning bark – which I think you did more for self preservation than anything else. Thank you for being so gentle and sweet to my human babies. Even though the amount of attention I was able to give you changed when they arrived, your place in my heart was always secure.

You’ve kept me on my toes over the years with health scares. Addison’s dogs have that guarded prognosis and every vomiting episode or bad day usually meant a trip to the vet. No matter what, you propped your paws up at the vet’s lobby counter looking for a handout from your friends – and your charms always won you at least a couple extra treats each time.

Best Friends, circa 2004

I would give my left arm to feel your nose snuggle into my arm the way you liked to – or to feel those massive basset paws climb into my lap. I’d give anything to see you greet me in your usual way – by going and fetching a favorite stuffed toy and bringing it my way. You hadn’t done that in years and last month picked up the habit a few times. It was a glimpse of my young puppy again – another one of your final gifts as your story came full circle. Arthritis had taken this away a couple years ago but I will never forget the tap, tap, tap your back leg made when someone gave your belly a good scratch – or the RiverDance type moves you made at night to get your bed linens crumpled up just right before you settled in. You managed an abbreviated version of that comical dance yesterday – another final gift  and moment I’ll never forget.

I’m not sure dinners will ever be the same without the musical accompaniment of your nonstop barking, insisting a spot at the table be made for you. You got a lot of scraps thrown your way – though your dad reminds me that one of the few tricks you and I learned before we dropped out of obedience school was ‘speak” – and you were just making sure I knew you hadn’t forgotten your schooling!

I don’t think I can count how many times I’ve e cone upstairs to find the contents of my purse, gym bag or briefcase strewn across the room and the remnants of whatever granola bar or candy was inside. Trashcans were fair game too and as the boys begin to bring more snacks into their room, you made certain no crumb was wasted.

My emotions have ebbed and flowed today. I’ve cried in your fur many a time over things that had nothing to do with you – so you know what a softie your Mom is. I came downstairs and saw a piece of your hair on the hardwood floor – the last place you sat – and suddenly could not breathe. I checked in on my Facebook page and saw over 100 loving posts in your honor on my page! Our vet office even posted a touching tribute in your honor on their Facebook page. The tears flowed again.

I’m looking for a sign that you are OK and have made it safely to your next destination. I don’t know how to not worry about you – its been part of my identity for over a decade now – but my faith tells me you are better than you have ever been, back in the loving arms of your Maker.  I hope you have found your real mommy by now – she was so sad when I picked you and your sister up from the breeder’s that day – I could hear her sad howls the entire way to the car as I carried you and Shelby away. She sure loved you and I can only imagine was thrilled for that sweet reunion with her scrappy runt baby.

I’m not sure I’ve said all I have to say to you, sweet Bean, but tonight, typing furiously on my keyboard is somehow keeping a smile on my face as the tears roll down. You were a great dog. The best dog. And I am so grateful you picked me. Send my love to Lucy and Bear and all our other furry friends and know that no matter how many days pass, you will always carry a piece of my heart. You’ve taken a piece of my heart with you that I am not sure I will ever get back – but my heart grew at least a couple sizes because of your love so I hopeful that someday, I’ll let myself open it up to another four-legged loved one. I’m sure you will help send me a sign.

I’ll bid you goodnight, sweet Syd and leave you with the prayer your daddy read to you as we said goodbye to you yesterday. Rest well, Bean, Good girl. I love you.

Loving God,

Our beloved pet and family member Sydney is on her final journey.

We will miss her dearly because of the joy and affection Sydney has given to us so unconditionally.

Bless Sydney and give her peace.

May your care for Sydney never die.

We thank you for the gift that Sydney has been to us.

Give us hope that in your great kindness, you may restore Sydney in your heavenly kingdom, according to your wisdom, which goes beyond all human understanding.

Make a place for her with you God and help us find our way to the sweet reunion we will have with her in heaven.



We’re Going to Disney World!

We’re going to DISNEYWORLD!

It is no secret I have been dreaming of a trip to this magical place for a very long time. Since well before I had kids of my own, I dreamed of meeting the main mouse who has been the object of my idolatry since I was still in diapers.

The quest to get to Disney started when my almost-6-year-old came home, asking when he can go to Walt Disney World.

“Mom, I really want to go to Disney. Adam, Blake and Caleigh all went over Christmas break and Daniel is going soon too.” I tell him we will go — but probably when he is a little bit older. “Why do they get to go when they are 6 and I have to wait?”

It is hard to explain socioeconomics, credit card debt and the economic downturn to a kindergartner, so I don’t try.

“We will go when we can. Want to make a Disney piggy bank to save?”

He excitedly got into this little project and proceeded to dig through every nook and crevice in our house to get any and all spare change.

Between he and his brother, they managed to come up with about $30 worth of coins — please don’t ask me how on earth I had $30 worth of coins in my house — and was pretty convinced that this particular haul was adequate in securing a trip to Disney. … Like tomorrow. Each day, my 3-year-old — who has been a huge fan of Mickey Mouse since he could walk — asks me “We go see Mickey Mouse tomario?” (Yes, this is how he pronounces the word “tomorrow” — and I dread the day when he can say that, and so many other cute Nate-words, correctly).

So earlier this month, despite the stack of bills sitting in front of me and the uncertain health status of our beloved family pet, I pulled the trigger and booked a trip for August.

Just like that.

I wanted to jump up and down shout it from the rooftops — but a simple Facebook posting to my social network was the loudest I shouted — in all caps nonetheless!

We really probably shouldn’t go — Nate is still very young, we have some overdue costly house repairs that are likely to impact our family finances, our beloved basset hound’s health status is surely more of a hospice situation than a long term one — never mind the fact that the time of year we have in mind is when Orlando is at its hottest.

But for all of the reasons I have to delay the trip to a better time, I’m reminded that tomorrow is never guaranteed for any of us.  It has been a tough year. I’ve had a couple significant health scares (everything is fine, thankfully), our sweet basset hound is celebrating what is likely her last birthday on this earth, and both Kevin and I have unexpectedly lost childhood friends who were literally in the prime of their life.

These have solidified my resolve about Disney and some pretty important reminders for everyday living.

Life is short.

Say I love you.

Cry if you need to.

Play with your dog.

Hug your kids.

Dance in the rain.

Take your kid to Disney.

So yep, I’m taking my kids to Disney because while tomorrow is never guaranteed to be there, all the reasons not to go, the bills, the worries, the chores — will be.

Thank you friends, for taking the time to share in my journey through this blog. In case I haven’t told you, your time and attention to my words mean the world to me, too.

Natural Highs

The boys dancing in the rain - the first cool downpour after a lengthy heat wave. What a natural high that was!

I came home from work tonight to a lovely sight — my  two boys, running around the front yard, giggling non-stop from a game of chase with a neighborhood friend. The sheer happiness on the faces was apparent and made me forget, at least for a second or two, just how grumpy I was feeling.

They were on a natural high, no doubt, and it is those moments that I love to freeze-frame in my mind and pull out of my memory when I need a little pick me up.

Natural highs abound around us. Laughing until your face actually hurts. The feeling of slipping into freshly laundered sheets. The smell of a newborn baby’s head. Turning on the radio to your favorite song. These are all little things that can snap me out of any funk and remind me just how great life really is.

Those moments have been few and far between lately. Sickness seems to have taken a hold of my household and won’t let go, and my family and I are reluctantly preparing for the inevitable loss of our beloved basset hound.

It takes its toll on you to be sure — I am both mentally and physically exhausted and my lack of focus on even my favorite tasks of the day is unnerving. But something about coming home to those crazy giggles reminded me that the sunny days will return and that there are small wonders to be enjoyed amidst even the saddest of eras in our lives.

I’m reminding myself of a few of those small wonders this evening — and hope they give me the little kick in the pants I need to get through any dark moments that lie ahead. I hope you, my friends, have an arsenal of natural highs that give you comfort and glee, in times of both happiness and sorrow.

If you care to share, I’d love to hear about them!

  • The first bite of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Is there anything yummier than the first bite of anything that you truly enjoy? I look forward to my first sip of coffee in the morning each day — and usually how rewarding that first gulp of java is sets the scene for how the rest of my day unfolds. The first fistful of hot buttery popcorn at the movies, the glorious spray of watermelon juice that only a first bite can deliver, that ooey gooey goodness of the first bite of pizza (from Rusticana of course). I may sound ridiculously food-driven but something about those first bites of my favorite tasty treats are about as blissful as it gets.
  • Flannel Pajamas. There is nothing I look forward to more than slipping off my work clothes and donning my favorite pair of flannel pajamas accompanied by warm fuzzy slippers. No matter how stressed I am, something about that moment just shaves inches of stress off my shoulders.
  • Visits from the UPS man. I love that little brown truck — even if the package arriving at my doorstep is bearing a gift for someone else! There is nothing more exciting than getting that knock on your door, followed by a delivery. I love breaking into my newly delivered treasures and seeing what is inside! I lreally ove watching my boys get a delivery from one of their long-distance relatives. Their faces and sheer lack of patience to rip into the carefully taped cardboard is a feeling I know quite well — and continue to share even in adulthood!
  • Reunions. I melt from the greeting I get from all of my children when I return home. No matter whether I’ve been gone for nine hours or 90 minutes, each of them can be counted on to make sure I know that they know that I have been gone. My sons spot me and through the window I can lip read “Mommy’s home! Yay!” Soon after this proclamation, I hear my four-legged children begin their welcoming howls. It is sheer chaos of the best variety. No drug could ever feel as good as those moments.
  • Finding $20 in your coat pocket. Or that long lost lipstick. I love that giddy feeling when I reach into the coat I haven’t worn in months and find money I didn’t know I’d misplaced. Sometimes that comes in paper and sometimes it comes in coins but any occasion is always one that makes me feel just a little richer than I did a few moments earlier.
  • Driving with the sunroof open on a cool summer night. There is nothing sweeter than cruising in your car with the sunroof open, listening to your favorite song on the radio on a cool summer night. I am sure I look much cooler these days as I complete the aforementioned cruise in a minivan – but I never get tired of that feeling. The twilight of the evening combined with the smells only an Eastern Shore summer can bring – all surrounded with the soundtrack of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” or a similar favorite tune. Instant bliss.
  • A really hot shower. There is nothing more soothing than a hot shower to make all of the worries and weariness fade away for a bit. Combine that with my favorite lavender soap and I could just melt into the floor from relaxation. I love the way the heat sinks into my bones, the way my nightclothes feel on my skin and the way the entire master bedroom smells from the steamy aromatherapy. Sigh.
  • My mommy’s cooking. I am 36 years old, but something about my mother’s chicken noodle soup takes me back to being a little girl. Back to days when life was easy and I felt as safe and secure as could be. There is nothing better than coming home to find a pot of my mom’s soup or a delivery of her baked chicken keeping warm in the oven. I could replicate the recipe to the final detail and never duplicate the taste — or feeling that ultimate comfort food does for my soul.
  • Watching my children sleep. I don’t get the chance to do  this nearly enough — but there is something downright intoxicating about watching my babies at rest. The sweet lip pucker, the slow, soft breathing — it takes me back to when they were newborns when I did, literally stare at their sweet, sleeping faces all day.
  • The view from my front porch. One of my favorite things about our little old house is the swing we have on the front porch. My husband and I love to sit there and watch the boys play in the yard — and the boys like to hop on the swing and pretend it is a playground swing for as long as they can until one of us stops them. We have a lovely neighborhood and there are tons of people around — and so any evening spent in such an idyllic setting — is always worth mustering a smile, no matter how bad the day has been.

I could go on and on for many more words about all of the things that make me happy — the simple things in life that provide a much-needed natural high amidst the craziness and stress of everyday living.

I needed to remind myself of them tonight — and knowing that the list could effortlessly continue well into several pages tells me that no matter how dark the days seem, there will always be something to lighten it up. Now that you mention it, I hear my lavender chamomile bath calling me…

True Companion: A Tribute to my Best Friend

Some things are just meant to be.

No one epitomizes that more than my beloved basset hound, Sydney. She wasn’t even supposed to come home with me 12 years ago, but somehow, that little runt of the litter wasn’t taking no for an answer.

I was at the breeder’s in St. Mary’s County, paying my puppy one of the numerous visits I’d make before she was old enough to leave her mother. I’d picked Shelby out when she was barely five days old — the beautiful lemon-colored pup with the soft, sweet eyes — and while I noticed the scrappy runt with the distinct red markings that made her all-white body look like she was wearing pants – I never dreamed she’d be anything more than a memory when looking back at Shelby’s puppy days.

But that day — as I was trying to interact with Shelby, her sister, Sydney was there, licking my feet, playing keep-away, barking — making sure I noticed her.

“That runt is still available, you know,” the breeder said. “You could take her instead. She is my only one left and she sure does seem to have taken a liking to you.”

Shelby, on the other hand, was more cautious, preferring to keep her distance.

“Take ‘em both out in the big yard and see how you get along,” he said.

I obliged, but felt certain my first choice would remain my choice for the best friend I’d waited so long for. I was moving home, taking a job at my local paper — and decided I would cushion the blow of giving up my dream of a career in the big city with a new pet.

The pups joined me in the yard and as predicted, that little runt — who had not gotten all of her markings yet and was a stark white with the aforementioned red markings — was in her glory. I fell in love with her playful spirit.

“I’ll take this little monkey,” I said.

At that instant, Shelby came over to me, looked up at me with milky brown eyes — and rested her chin solidly in my lap.


“You know, two litter-mates are often easier than one,” added the breeder. “I’ll give you both of them for just $100 more.”

I looked at my mother, who had accompanied me on this visit — since the pup and I would be staying with her until I got on my feet, this was her decision too.

“I’ve heard  two can be easier than one,” she said. “If you think you can handle it, I don’t see why you can’t bring them both home.”

So my journey of being the food slave to two Bassets began. I named that scrappy runt Sydney – Saint Sydney Bean Basset, to be exact – and prepared for their homecoming. Double the gear, food and veterinary costs – how bad could that be, I thought? I was single and mortgage-free at the time, so they would have access to all of my disposable income.

I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that Sydney’s inability to take any kind of response that does not completely cater to her needs has been her modus operandi for the past 12 years. Over the years, that feisty spirit has manifested itself into some not so lovable habits. A  stubbornness about stepping out for potty breaks in anything but perfect weather conditions. Her uncanny ability to time her desire for an early mealtime with one of the two-legged children’s naps. A propensity to tear into anything at almost any height that has even a remote scent of food on it. A nightly serenade of nonstop barking during mealtimes. But somehow, her character makes all of those less than lovable traits easy to forgive. I wonder sometimes how I can love her so much — obstinance and all — but the fact that she makes me love her so much despite her transgressions just adds to the character I’ve grown to adore.

I’ve nearly lost my “little Bean” as I’ve called her throughout her life — first when she was only 2 years old and her littermate ripped off a large chunk of her ear over a scrap piece of food. I came home for lunch and found Sydney, laying protectively over the aforementioned food, bleeding profusely. About $2,000 later she was all better (minus about a quarter of her left ear ) but I knew that had I opted not to come home for a lunchbreak that day, we might have had a different outcome. Fate.

Our next scare came barely a year later when Sydney suffered a mysterious crash that nearly killed her. She spent a scary day at her vets and as she continued to deteriorate, was sent to the Annapolis veterinary hospital with a very grim outlook. I’ll never forget the moment — the veterinary tech greeted us at the entrance to carry a limp and lifeless dog into the emergency treatment area — Syd looked up at the tech and gave her a swift lick. The tech turned to me with misty eyes and said to me “Going to do everything to save this little sweetheart, she is a special one.”

A week’s hospital stay and several thousand dollars later, we got the diagnosis of  Addison’s Disease, a highly treatable disease that she would have the rest of her life. She could live a normal life, I was told — but any number of complications could prevent her from reaching her full life expectancy.

I learned that day the true meaning of worry — and since then, Sydney has had a propensity for adding gray hairs to my scalp as well as hers!

When Sydney was diagnosed with Addison’s in 2002, I vowed I would get her to her 10th birthday. No measure of time seemed enough but I wanted to see my girl reach a double digit birthday.

Just days after Sydney and Shelby celebrated their 11th birthday, we came as close as we ever have to losing her. She refused to eat and I knew something was wrong. (To say Sydney is food-driven is quite the understatement!) By the time we got her to the vet, she could barely walk, she was so weak. Our vet decided to treat her with fluids and an extra dose of her prednisone — and wait. I headed home and barely five minutes later, received a frantic call, letting me know that Syd had almost died on the table and her story was not looking good.  Taking her back to the Annapolis hospital was an option — but unlike those days when I had no other responsibilities, I had no means to pay for the costly visit across the bridge. The boys and I headed back to be with her – to say goodbye — and prayed that our vet’s care would be enough to get her through the night.

The next day, our vet called with a great deal of joy and surprise in her voice. Syd had rallied! Remarkable. She went home a couple days later— and I was once again reminded just how meant to be this best friend of mine was. She wasn’t ready to leave me just yet — and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, either. We’d been given a gift — it might be a day, a week, a month — whatever God was willing to give me with my sweet, now-senior miracle dog — I would gladly take.

This morning I was awakened by my husband, who had discovered our carpet covered in bloody diarrhea. Sydney bounded downstairs, eagerly calling for her breakfast service. I exhaled.

Bloody diarrhea can’t be good, but thank goodness she sure seems like Sydney, I thought.

I called her vet — who seemed concerned but not overly alarmed — and got ready to take her as soon as the office was available. Within moments of hanging up the phone, her situation was bad. Sydney was pale, weak and lethargic, and could barely walk to the car. Her vet — who has seen her through so much — was reassuring but honest with us and kept her at the hospital to treat her.

“No news is good news, “ he said. “I’ll call you if she deteriorates but otherwise I will call you at noon with a status update.”

You never get used to waiting for the phone to ring with news about a loved one’s health and today was no different. The phone rang at 11:16 a.m. — way earlier than I’ d hoped — but I was grateful when he immediately followed his greeting with the words I was afraid I would not hear “Sydney is doing much better — I’m very relieved.”

Me too. [Exhale.] (sort of).

As I write this, Sydney is hopefully resting comfortable at the hospital and will have an uneventful night of healing. I don’t know what her long-term outlook is — she is a 12-year-old Addisonian dog with what seems to be a recurring bout of colitis. I know this is not a recipe for longevity and I’m pretty sure I’ve sprouted a few new gray hairs and wrinkle lines in just the past 12 hours.

I’m hopeful Sydney will come home to me tomorrow — that our date with destiny will give us a few more magical days, months or years together. I’ve wanted to write down her story for so long and just never seem to get around to it. I want to write this when it is still a tribute — not a memorial. How else do you thank a devoted best friend who has been by your side, loyally for almost a dozen years? A friend who picked you to be her best friend and guardian for life? A companion who has never so much as bared a tooth at myself or my rowdy children, even as they have ridden her back, stepped on her tail in their roughhousing or startled her out of a sound doggy daydream? There are simply not enough rawhides or treats to begin to pay off that debt.

I’ll never be able to truly repay her for that love she has given me so unconditionally through the years and I know that whatever time God has left for her will never be enough. I often tell my husband that I won’t get another dog after Sydney’s journey here with me is over — I just couldn’t bear such a profound loss of the pain of  beloved friend. As I say that. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a Tim McGraw song that played on the radio on the night I almost lost Syd nearly a decade ago. It just about sums up how many of us feel about the ones we love the most, doesn’t it?

Just to see you smile

I’d do anything that you wanted me to

When all is said and done

I’d never count the cost

It’s worth all that’s lost

Just to see you smile…

The Best Medicine

Take two of these and call me in the morning!

I’ve been a mother for almost six years and every once in awhile, I learn something new that was definitely not In the “What to Expect” books I read during my pregnancy. My latest lesson?

Mommies don’t get sick.

Well, we do. … But we aren’t supposed to. Mommies are the boo-boo kissers, the ones who nurse us back to health when we are sick, and the ones who comfort us when the tears won’t stop falling. Mommies can’t be sick. … Can they?

This is the logic employed by my 5-year-old son: “Mom, if you die, who will sing me a song at night?” This was the question I got the other day, when, after battling three straight days of a sinus bug, opted to ditch my sweet little family immediately after dinner was served, to give my throbbing head a bit of rest before the bedtime routine began.

“Sweetheart, Mommy isn’t going to die from this cold,” I said, cautiously, not wanting to head down the “when-will-we-die” conversation that has been a sticky wicket to dodge in previous conversations. “Don’t worry. I just need extra rest so I can feel better.”

Conversation over. Five minutes later, he bounds back in. “Mommy, why do people get sick? I mean, where do germs come from? Why does God let us get sick?”

Oh Boy. At this point, Nyquil has been in my system for about 25 minutes, and while I would have been ill-prepared to give a decent explanation before dosing myself with sleep inducing cold medicine, I know this is a conversation with no easy answers.

So, I try the teachable lesson approach: “Do you remember me talking to you about how important it is to wash your hands and not put our hands in our mouth and noses?” I get a nod. “Well, Mommy must have picked up some germs and forgotten to wash her hands. So, now I have a cold.”

His response. “Well, that wasn’t a good idea was it? Now you have a cold and can’t play with me!”

Gulp. I pull off the covers, blow my nose, give my face a good splash of cool water and begin our evening play/wrestle/tickle adventure that we both so look forward to, but that I have been skipping as of late. He giggles with glee and, despite my stuffy head and sore throat, my heart is happy.

My littlest has a more sympathetic approach. Toddling into the room with all of his 3-year-old cuteness, he climbs into bed next to me, puts his head on my shoulder and says “You sick, Mommy? You need go doctor? You need yo medicine? I hope you feel bedda!”

Swoon. Moments like that I could quite literally melt from adoration of that sweet kid.

Either reaction to my illness reminds me of this unspoken rule of parenting: Mommies (and, to some degree, Daddies) aren’t supposed to get sick. In Kid World, this is about as unnerving as it gets — to see the person in charge of your well being, in a less-than-thriving state. In my pre-kid days when I was ill, I would use sick leave from work (instead of saving it for the inevitable sick leave I need when the next stomach bug wipes my kids out for three days) or I’d come home from work, grab a bowl of cereal and head straight to bed. When you are a parent, it changes. So, how do you balance taking care of yourself and taking care of the loved ones who — even when you are at full physical strength — can take every ounce of physical and mental energy you have?

This recent nasty bout with illness has reminded me of a few ways I can still be a “good enough” Mommy, keep my children from worrying about me (or possibly using my weakness as an opportunity to become little pint-sized anarchists around the house) and still meet my work, social and other obligations.

1. It is OK to have sandwiches for dinner. Even cold ones. Kids are happy when meals are a bit unconventional and I have fulfilled my obligation to nourish my family with a nutritious meal.

2.Daddies are far more capable than we Moms often give them credit for. And that rescue-the-damsel-in-distress gene that men have kicks in when the mother of their children is ill. Let them play hero — you need your rest and you will get your chance to return the favor.

3. Washing your hands is not just advice for 5-year-olds. Forget this rule — especially if you live with little germ carriers — and you will catch every bug that they bring into the house.

4. You are never too old to need some TLC from Mom – and if you are lucky enough to have your own Mom nearby, don’t be afraid to hint that you need some mothering. I will never outgrow the craving for my mom’s chicken noodle soup – or the comfort only her words can bring – when I am ill.

5. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, those little germ carriers — infectious as they can quite literally be — are often the best medicine to ease your pain. This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m., with such a sinus headache that I was moments away from driving myself to the emergency room. My mind began racing — as nighttime thoughts tend to do — and the self-diagnosing I was engaged in just made my physical symptoms even worse. Soon after, my youngest wandered in — the early bird — asking for his daily pre-dawn snack. He snuggled in close, requested his favorite show … and all was well with the world. My head still felt like someone was shoving an ice pick through it, but somehow, with that blue-eyed boy beside me, everything was going to be OK.

As I write this, my Advil is wearing off and I am surrounded by two rowdy, giggly boys who are quite excited about the weekend. Rest would be good — and will hopefully come — but I know that given that old cliché “Laughter is the best medicine” will definitely come into play over the next two days. With my crew, that medicine is bound to come in just the right dosage.

The Rough and Tumble Life

I’ve always been convinced that God, in all his wisdom and mercy, has a pretty good sense of humor in between ruling the heavens and Earth.

He blessed me with two sons — which is exactly what I was supposed to have — but I know that he is watching me maneuver the crazy, messy, disorderly world that boys create with a good, hearty chuckle.

Having grown up with two sisters, followed by nieces, let’s just say that I fully expected to have … well, daughters. I’m not exactly a girly-girl but I am definitely not a tomboy either.

Mud and dirt? No thank you,

Sports? As long as it is on TV.

Laid back? Nope, not at all.

So, when my first son was born — a feisty firecracker with a stubborn streak that seemed pretty apparent before he even made his grand entrance to the world (hello, 22 hours of labor and pitocin at levels I don’t even want to think about again. I knew I was in for an adventure.)

When the doctor proclaimed another “It’s a boy” in the delivery room just a mere 29 months later, I recall looking up at the heavens with a prayer, thanking God for delivering me another healthy son and then thinking, “Yep, you are a funny one. This should provide you some serious entertainment.”

While I never could have imagined a life with boys, it is a life that I was soooo meant to live. Years ago, I’d watch “Leave it to Beaver” or “A Christmas Story” and think, “Those poor women, stuck in a house with no other women and … All. Those. Boys. Yikes.”

And yet, here I am, the lone Y chromosome in the house and you could not pay me any amount of money to go back into the past and reverse my destiny.

Boys are loud, boys are messy, and boys certainly keep you on your toes.

Go to any daycare, preschool or playground and watch the very distinct ways that boys and girls play. I know there are exceptions to every rule, and girls have their share of loud and crazy moments, too.

Case in point. Just days after giving birth to his brother, I attended my older son’s preschool Christmas party.

He was 29 months old and one of five other boys in the class. I arrived and the boys were literally running circles around the main table where the party was taking place.

The girls? Sitting quietly at that table, doing the craft assigned to them.

It was that moment — as I watched my sweaty 2 ½-year old and peered down at the infant boy in his carrier, that I came to the swift realization of what my life was going to be like (or perhaps more importantly, what it was not going to be like: Quiet!)

But amidst the chaos, the dirt and the constant noise, I’ve grown to fall in love with the experiences these boys have given me: How to fight like a ninja. Which superhero wins in a fight (Spiderman, in case you were wondering). Just how cool trains and trucks can really be. And, finally understanding just what the term “Momma’s Boy” really means — are just a few of the things I would never have known I were missing, had these two boys not entered my life.

As my children’s social circles expand, having these crazy boys has also given me special friendships with moms living the same situation I am — in a house full of crazy, rumple-haired boys.

Whether you have all girls, all boys or some mix of both, have you found that you find fellow parents in the same situation as you?

Parents with twins, parents with four kids, families with multiple children of the same gender, just seem to find each other — a survival mechanism, perhaps. It makes sense on so many levels.

I made friends when I got my first children — my two Basset hounds; both girls, by the way — because dog people naturally seem to find each other. Fellow Basset food slaves and I always seem to become lifelong friends because they know — as no other dog lover does — the unique challenges and joys of loving the long eared howling Basset hound.

The same, I think, goes for parents of boys. I love the friendships I’ve made with my fellow boy-moms.

Several are raising children the same age as mine — which makes for natural play dates and friendships to evolve for all age groups involved. I’ve been blessed to find friendship with moms of sons in older age groups than mine — and have found those glimpses of what life will be like with college-age, middle-school and children older than mine to be a great sneak preview of what awaits me in just a blink of an eye.

Do I still love my friendships with friends with girls or even no kids at all? Sure do — of course I do — but I do love the sisterhood of friendships that form between women who are raising someone’s future husband!

I think about that responsibility — and know that is why God gave me, the girl who knew nothing about boys at all — two boys of my own to raise.

We get to raise the men of the future — and what could be more important than that? Really, no matter whether you have sons, daughters, or some combination of the two, is there any more important role than parenting these tiny little people toward becoming good adults?

Still, when my 3-year-old asks me “Mommy, are you sad you don’t have a penis?” – in the most serious tone – I’ve been living this life in the boy zone long enough that I answer him “No sweetie, I am thankful to be a girl and to get to be your Mommy” and manage to keep a straight face, looking to the heavens with a wry smile.

And, I’m pretty sure I just saw the heavens wink back.

The importance of being…NICE

My faith in humanity — or at least my conviction that people are genuinely nice by nature — has been tested recently.

It started a few weeks ago with a Saturday shopping trip — never a recipe for successful social interactions to begin with, I know, but it is the only free day I get all week and so I have gotten used to the crowds and overall chaos.

My youngest and I dropped his older brother and Dad off to soccer practice and headed out to our favorite pet store to pick up some grub for the four-legged kiddos. I was parked in a spot, gathering my things for the trek inside when the biggest box truck I have ever seen parks … Right. Next. To. Me.

When I say rightnexttome, I mean there were literally a few centimeters of distance between his driver’s side and my passenger side.

His lopsided parking job left part of the back end of his van actually in my space — and afforded him just enough space to crack his driver’s side door and squeeze out.

Now, I am the furthest thing from confrontational, but I reluctantly spoke up.

“Excuse me, sir?”

He completely ignored me and continued to walk on to his destination.

“Sir? … In the van?”

Nope. Still no acknowledgement.

“Sir, with the van parked next to me — I cannot get out of this space or get my child out!”

Still never slowing down, the man said “Oh well, guess you are gonna have to wait for me to come out.”

In desperation, I pleaded, “Seriously, I really cannot get out — you are blocking me in!” His response: “Guess you need to turn in your license until you learn how to drive.” Ouch.

Thankfully, some parking lot witnesses helped me guide my van out and I left — shaken up and pretty upset about the confrontation — postponing my shopping trip for later.

I was stunned that not only did this man not respect the fact that he was in the wrong, but he insulted me over his own parking inadequacies.

He had the name of his grooming/dog breeding business on the side of his van, and in the heat of the moment, I conspired to develop a Facebook campaign to boycott his business — but anyone who knows me knows full well I am not wired that way. To be mean or unkind.

You see, of all the traits that people aspire to be, being a nice, kind person is probably the one that means the most to me.

I’ve never been the smartest, prettiest or the most popular in the room — and I’m OK with that. But I like to think in many cases, I qualify as one of the nicer folks you can meet — or at least I work really hard at it.

The following week — another Saturday out running errands — I was in the fast food drive-through lane getting my little soccer star his requested Happy Meal. The clerk requested that I move up and wait for them to hand-deliver his chicken nuggets, which were still cooking, so they could keep the line moving.

We’ve all had to do that right? I know I’ve driven past many a car still waiting for their order to be delivered without so much as an eye roll about their parking.

Well, the nuggets were delivered and I waited until it was clear to leave when a giant pick-up truck flies past me, rolls his window down and yells “Get your dumb a$$ the (insert expletive here) out of the way!”

Now, thankfully, my children were in a different car with their dad and not exposed to the vulgarity but I was once again stunned by the lack of civility that I’d witnessed two times in as many weeks in my sweet little small town.

“Why are people so mean?” I asked my husband when I got home. “Is anyone nice to anyone anymore?”

But just as quickly as I am shaken by the idiot at the drive-through (another not so smart business owner with his company on his vehicle — let’s just say Mr. Baker will not be getting any of my future plumbing business!), I am reminded of the kindness that does abound around me: The glass of ice water that arrives faithfully on my nightstand each night, courtesy of my doting hubby, the boss who covers a meeting for me during her own busy schedule while I recover from a nasty cold, my mother and her frequent deliveries of goodies for my boys, the neighbor who drops off her coupon inserts on my doorstep, the former co-worker who still drives miles off her commute to leave bags and bags of clothes that her son has outgrown for my two boys.

There is plenty of kindness around — and from the people whose kindness truly makes a difference in my life. The more I think about it all of the truly good people who are in my life, the easier those not so great interactions are to forget.

Would it be nice to receive the kindness and civility from strangers every once in a while? Of course — and I still see signs of it during those crazy shopping trips.

And just as that terrible parker had no idea that backing out of that spot was already going to be a challenge for a driver (me) who had taken a tumble down the steps just a day earlier, I have no idea of his story either.

Maybe his dog had just died, he had just received some bad news. … Or maybe he really is a jerk of a person.

However, I will continue to aspire to be as loving as I can to everyone I can and hope the habit gets passed along and that kindness is paid forward. And I will continue to teach that trait to my boys — and hope for the best.

But maybe I better rethink my Saturday outings (and avoid akita breeders in box trucks and plumbers).  Just in case! 🙂

Yep.That about says it all...

Can a finicky 5-year-old help ME get healthy?

It is more than halfway through January and I am just starting my New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not that I am a procrastinator — well, I am a little bit — but I like to give myself time to really prepare for the tasks at hand. The first couple weeks of January are so busy to begin with: Back to work and school after the holiday rush, de-Christmasing the house and finding a way to fit all of the new items acquired over the holiday, into a house that was already way short of extra storage space to begin with. … And all of those meetings, appointments, and other tasks that were put off until “after the first of the year” have come calling for the piper to be paid.

But now that the tree is put away, the holiday candy is digested and my checkbook has stopped smoking from the Christmas spending blitz, I can truly focus on what changes I want to implement for my family and me in the months ahead. One of those resolutions is to eat at home more and, perhaps more importantly, to make those meals healthier than ever.

I’ve gained 10 pounds since the fall – so I am motivated to get my body back in shape before the less-than-forgiving tank top season rolls around again. I’m driven even more however, by a strong desire to feed my boys — aka the Cheetos and chicken nugget kings — healthier food everyday, too. I know it is an uphill battle: My oldest thumbs his nose at anything that doesn’t come in nugget or pizza form or slathered in some kind of dipping sauce — but having recently started a career working in the healthcare field, I am reminded daily of how important healthy eating is.

Diabetes, obesity, disease risk– are all things I think about on a daily basis. As fearful as I am of this for my own health, the thought of any of these things afflicting my children, especially if it were due to unhealthy eating habits that I helped perpetuate, terrifies me to my core.

So I am planning meals, I am buying whole foods and I am cutting out things like ranch dressing and desserts after every meal.

Tonight I prepared a healthy version of dirty rice: Extra lean beef with onions, green peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes with a white/brown rice blend.  My finicky 5-year-old examines the table skeptically.

“Mom, what is that?” he asks.

I get creative: “You are in luck. It is a special pizza taco with yummy veggies mixed in! Sounds yummy, huh?”

His response: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I won’t like it.”

I’m not one to engage in food battles with my children — my hubby and I usually tell the kids that they will eat what is on their plate or no dessert.

No arguments. No pleading to eat one more bite.

Either eat it or don’t. But if you choose the latter, the sweet stuff is off limits.

So tonight I was as surprised as my son was to hear me say, “That’s it. I am tired of you not eating what is good, healthy food, you will eat this tonight. And I am making pot roast tomorrow, and you are going to eat that too. Understood?”

And you know what? He ate it!

Granted, I had to wrap it in a flour tortilla, but Rome wasn’t built in a day —and so I am sure that reversing nearly four years of finicky eating won’t happen overnight, either.  This weekend I gave the boys honey mustard instead of ranch and turkey bacon instead of the full fat pork variety they are used to — and I never heard a grumble the entire time they were inhaling their food!

I’m getting my oldest involved in the food preparation — so he can get excited about eating his own kitchen masterpieces. My youngest dutifully eats what is given to him on his plate – so I am committed to putting things before him that are as healthy as possible!

I have hope that through my commitment to giving my boys the best start I can, I can glean some lessons for life for their dad and me, too.

It is easy to see me skipping the gym or choosing a burger instead of grilled chicken for lunch, but the desire to assure the long term health of my kids is something I refuse to take lightly.

And somehow, I think I’ll manage to reap some healthy benefits from it in the end too.

Momma loves her quarterbacks…

My three football viewing boys!

Nothing can snap me out of my winter doldrums better than some good ol’ NFL playoff excitement. Having a one or two — or, in my case this year, five — teams to root for in some way, shape or form is an exciting way to get through the post holiday blues. … And by the time the Super Bowl rolls around, Spring is literally only weeks away!

I’m not exactly a die-hard — I used to avoid watching television on Sundays for the first two decades of so of my life or so, but I developed an affinity for the Washington Redskins in my early 20s while rooming with a very avid ’Skins fan. Then, a little while later, a trip to Lambeau Field for a work-related trip to Wisconsin cemented my affection for my current favorite team, the Green Bay Packers.

When I married a then-sportswriter, I went from simply rooting for my team without a clue as to what I was watching or why everyone else was cheering — to actually understanding what a play was and what the heck the difference was between a running back and a cornerback. … Oh wait, never mind. My hubby still has to explain that!

Still, I love the playoff season — the hysteria and excitement of the fans, the prospects for making food that can be lapped up with a tortilla chip and the chance to show your team pride on a day other than “any given Sunday” without judgment.

And watching the (usually) friendly Facebook banter between fans of opposing teams certainly carries its own entertainment value!

My children are already getting excited for their beloved Ravens to win their playoff games, with my oldest son reminding me that purple hair is really the only way to truly show your team spirit among the elementary school set.

This year’s playoffs remind me of just how fond I am of quarterbacks. This is probably a common sentiment since they are the leaders of the team — but I love me a good quarterback.

No matter how tarnished his reputation got at the end, I still miss the enthusiasm Favre brought to the game!

Even on his worst day, there was nothing Brett Favre could do wrong on that field that would prevent me from proudly wearing my No. 4 jersey. (That is until the now-infamous cell phone incident, but let’s just move on …)

What it comes down to for me is this: If I like your quarterback, I root for you.

And if your quarterback is a despicable character known more for his off –field escapades than his arm (yes, Ben Rothlisberger, I am talking about you), your entire team loses my vote.

So, this year, I am rooting for the Packers, Ravens, Saints and Broncos. I’d root for my boy Eli Manning — but his Giants are facing my Packers this week, and team loyalty trumps the cute quarterback!

I’d never watched more than five minutes of a Denver Broncos game before last Sunday, but I can honestly say it was one of the best games I have ever seen! Tim Tebow, where have you been my whole life?

And then there is Drew Brees. To know (or at least admire from my couch) Drew Brees and his “Who Dat” Nation — is to love him. Any other ladies out there still swooning after watching his post-Super Bowl win two years ago, as he tearfully gripped his infant son while the confetti showered down on him? He beat my Colts that year — I am still heartbroken that I haven’t seen Peyton Manning throw a touchdown pass this season — and I still became a fan that day.

My husband, who has more sports jerseys than dress shirts in his closet, doesn’t seem to mind all the other men in my life. He supports it actually — we have his-and-hers Favre jerseys, and my gift for our first Christmas together was a No. 18 Colts jersey that I still wear today.

It is a nice way for us to enjoy a sport he adores in a way that I can get my own enjoyment from. It is also nice to be able to enjoy the Super bowl for more than the commercials!

So, friends — enjoy the fun, fellowship and super yummy food that is coming your way over the coming weeks ahead. … And do share …

Who are you rooting for?