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My son, Max, turns ten at the end of the month. In December 2011, only about a week and a half after his youngest brother, Elliot, was born, we rushed Max to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri because of blood in his stool, a positive test for malicious bacteria, and some joint pain. Five days, several blood tests, a colonoscopy, and sundry medications later, Max was discharged with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.
He's had struggles over the last four years, little Crohn's/Colitis related things that anyone familiar with this monster will know well. Things took a nose dive this past December, and between mid-December and the end of January, Max spent five weeks in the hospital. The doctors tried new meds and more meds, but in the end, my almost ten-year-old had his colon removed on January 20th. All of it.
I do not like to live in fear. Show me the monster, and I will meet it head-on. Now that Max has had a very necessary surgery, he's living with a "temporary" colostomy bag. Temporary in quotes? Yes. He's had one subsequent surgery to resection/restructure his small bowl, and we should have another to "reconnect" his "parts" down the road. Here's the fear and frustration part: his GI specialist and surgeon disagree as to the timing of this final surgery. The GI doctor is full of "what ifs" and "possible problems." Talking to him is a lesson in bodily horror, something with which I struggle, both as a writer and a human. Yes, there are possible problems if we reconnect. The surgeon is more optimistic. Neither agree--neither have even spoken to each other as of this writing--but we are faced with a decision: When to do the final surgery.
I do not like to live in fear.
I've learned all too well that life will bring tragedy regardless of what we do. I lost my father to brain cancer, my first wife to postpartum psychosis, and Max has this awful disease. None of them "asked" for it with dangerous living. This isn't another story of someone "getting what he deserves." I cannot and will not believe in a prosperity gospel when two good, caring adults and one innocent child face such monsters. Bad things happen to everyone, and we are defined by how we respond.
So what to do about Max? In two hours, I'll listen to his surgeon make a case for re-connection. Max has expressed his lack of love for the bag--something that if things do not go well after re-connection, he may have to live with, anyway. I've always been one to steer into the storm rather than trying to run. The storm is coming either way, and when we lie to ourselves about having control... well, that's a fast track to fear.
I will not live in fear.
My oldest son competed in his first middle school track meet last night. When I was in high school, we called various members of the team hogs, dogs, and frogs--throwers, runners, and jumpers. Owen decided to try a little bit of everything: shot put, long jump, and the 200 meter dash. So I guess he was a hog-dog-frog... the image is a little terrifying.
This happened during the 200:
Yes, that's my son on the ground. He's fast on the soccer field, but a straight sprint might not be his thing. After the race, he was worried I'd be upset because he didn't perform well. Think about it for a minute, especially those of you who are parents. Would you be upset?
My answer--which came in the form of a question as my answers often do**: What did you do after you fell?
Owen: I got up.
Me: And then?
Owen: I finished the race.
That's all that mattered to me. I felt for him. Going down hard in front of a stand full of parents and your peers is tough, especially in 7th grade. Maybe I broke some parenting rule when I shared this photo, but no, I don't think so. I'm much prouder of a boy who crashes hard and still finishes than one who wins all the time. No one--anywhere/anyone--wins all the time.
Life is more about what you do when the bad shit happens.
*I really, really despise the word "get," but here it feels somehow appropriate. Forgive my lazy verb choice.
**I wonder if it's difficult to have me as a father?
By: Pam Bachorz ,
My gradeschooler is great at a lot of things. Baseball. Reading. Making friends.
But art has never been his... thing. From the time he was very small, sweet daycare teachers would hand over his art pieces almost apologetically. "He was in a hurry to go play with the trucks," they'd say.
Now he's becoming aware of the difference between his art on the classroom wall and the art next to it. The other day, he asked me, "Mom? Am I a good artist?"
I was glad for the fact that I was driving, that he couldn't see my face jerk in surprise and worry. I was glad for the pretense of focusing on a lane change.
"You can tell me I'm bad. I want you to tell me the truth," he urged from the backseat.
"OK. I will," I said. But I still needed to think for a minute.
Is he a bad artist? What exactly makes for a bad artist? For that matter, what makes for a bad writer? Is it really about whether people like what you make?
Or is it about effort?
Could art be the one area where our modern sensibility of awarding effort actually makes sense? I'm the first to roll my eyes at everyone getting a trophy, but I wonder... maybe that's OK when it comes to creating. So long as you do you best, then you're good.
Kirkus might disagree with me, of course.
"Mom?" my kid asked from the backseat. "Tell me."
Finally, I did. And honestly. "I don't know if you're a good artist yet," I said. "But I do know that I haven't seen you try very hard. And to me, that's what makes a good artist."
Silence. I glanced in the backseat, wondering if I would see tears.
Instead I saw a determined face. The same one he gets when he's two strikes down, or strapping on his catcher's gear, or aiming for a basket.
"Then I'd better try more," he said.
The next day he came home with a cool drawing of a cave with a dog in it. Or maybe a weasel. That's debatable. But he'd obviously spent a lot of time on it. And I could see traces of him sketching everything before coloring it in. There were erase marks, even, in places.
And guess what? He says he won a prize for best drawing in class that day. Now I know it was probably because the teacher was so astonished that he spent a "whole half hour" on this drawing. But that's fine. He needs the encouragement.
And like everyone who wants to be a good artist, he needs the practice.
By: Pam Bachorz ,
Our son's camp has a new policy this summer: no nuts, period. No peanut butter, no Nutella, no trail mix with nuts, etc. They are Not Kidding Around. Kids who bring any food with nuts will see their lunch confiscated and tossed.
Let me hasten to say that I get it. Nut allergies are a very serious thing. Without policies like this, some kids might not be able to go to camp at all.
(I do wonder what's going to happen when some of these kids grow up and head off to the corporate world... are nutfree policies coming soon to an office park near you?)
Anyway, facing a summer without hot school lunches and Uncrustables to feed my child was a very daunting prospect. I'll admit it. We're not the most ambitious lunch makers for our kid. Nor is he the most adventurous lunch eater.
I tried googling for lunch ideas and found such helpful suggestions as making my child a gourmet cherry-Asian-chicken salad (oh yes, THAT will go over big) or using a nutfree peanut butter substitute like sunbutter (tried it; hated it; moving on). There aren't any microwaves available to warm up lunch, nor is there refrigeration available, of course (thank goodness for ice packs). Pair that with my inconsistent but insistent worries about food additives (my latest freakout is nitrites, so forget lunchables) and we had quite a time coming up with lunches.
So, I'm listing a few of the lunches "main dishes" that have been a big hit with our incoming second grader. Hope this is useful to a few other parents too.
- Hard-boiled eggs along with garlic popcorn we buy in Wegmans (sounds weird but he LOVES it, and the popcorn is a whole grain, riiiiight?)
- "Stackers" made of Jimmy Dean reduced-fat turkey sausage patties and (defrosted) frozen waffles. I use a biscuit cutter to make the waffle size match the sausage patties size. If I'm careful I can get two little waffles out of a normal-sized one (and the leftover bits are a good start to my breakfast).
- "Stackers" made of nitrite-nitrate-free salami (thank you Applegate Farms) and colby-jack cheese, paired with Ritz crackers. I use the same biscuit cutter to shape the salami and cheese. Leftover salami and cheese scraps go great in a breakfast omelette.
- Bagel spread with a thick layer of cream cheese
- Pasta salad made with the Betty Crocker Suddenly Salad Classic mix. This is getting oddly hard to find in grocery stores, but he LOVES the stuff and it cooks up in ten minutes. One box will buy me two days' worth of lunches.
What nut-free kid lunches are a big hit in your house?
As America’s Independence Day draws near, what better time to talk with author Brandon Marie Miller about her new book George Washington for Kids - His Life and Times?
Listen as Miller gives interesting details about this book, plus some tips for writing children’s nonfiction.
Book Bites for Kids Brandon Marie Miller George Washington Writing For KidsBook Bites for Kids Brandon Marie Miller George Washington Writing For KidsBook Bites for Kids
, Brandon Marie Miller
, George Washington
, Writing For Kids
Mark Booth surveys "The Age of Freemasonry" in his new book The Secret History of the World, recently published by Overlook. Included in a fascinating chapter on the secret mission of freemasonry are some interesting bits on George Washington, whose birthday we will celebrate this President's Day weekend. Washington, Booth notes, was initiated as a Freemason in 1752, and eventually became a "Master Mason," the highest rank you can achieve as a Freemason. Who were the original Freemasons? What do they believe, and what influence have they had on the world? Find out in The Secret History of the World.
Blog post: Library Lady is bringing up her kidsAs someone who used to do library storytimes as a children's librarian and is now bringing her own child to library storytimes, this post resonates with me. There are no good terms for parents who work for a paycheck outside the home, those who work for a paycheck inside the home, and those who work without ever seeing a paycheck. "Working mom"
Today's Ypulse Youth Advisory Board review comes from Lauren Williams who tuned into NBC for the premiere of Ron Howard's new family dramedy "Parenthood."
Boasting a talented multigenerational cast skewed on the younger side and featuring the likes... Read the rest of this post
By: Pam Bachorz ,
Little Dude was born six years ago today. This means he has to endure--and has been enduring, for about a week--both of his parents repeatedly exclaiming "I can't believe you're six!" and "When did you get so tall?" and "Seems like yesterday we were holding a tiny little baby and now... wow!"
Yeah, we know. We've got to stop that. At least he's pretty tolerant (so far).
So, for six years, six random things about motherhood, working parenthood, and being a writer mama:
1. Brownies make it all better, especially in the three months after birth.
2. If someone tells you that pacifiers are evil--tell them to shut up. They probably let their kid have a paci until they went to sleepover camp and they're just covering their tracks.
3. You will always be tired when you sit down to write. And most of them time you will have more energy after you're done writing. Even if it's just energy to curse the drivel you just committed to bytes or paper.
4. The TV shows just get more entertaining as they get older, even if the questions from them get hairier. ("Mom? What's detention? Mom? How do you hot-wire a car?")
5. New parents, you might as well face it now: your determined family "rules" are going to shift and sometimes just plain erode. When Little Dude was born I sworn we'd never have toy guns in the house. Guess what we put in the goody bags for his birthday party this year? (But they were SQUIRT guns!)
6. Having other mama friends? Critical. I don't care if you go out to happy hour with hair that hasn't been washed for three days and a shirt that smells faintly of applesauce (just tell yourself that smell is applesauce). GO. It's hard to be so harsh on yourself when you find out all of your girlfriends have been through the same exact thing.
So, happy Parent Day to me and my husband, happy birthday to Little Dude, and happy Valentine's Day to everybody else!
By: Pam Bachorz ,
So, when we were getting ready to celebrate Little Dude's sixth birthday, I asked him what sort of cake he wanted.
"Star Wars", said he. "All Star Wars. With frosting."
Proof that he is my child, for a vat of frosting combined with Star Wars is pretty much my idea of heaven too. Especially if Han Solo is involved. But I digress.
We started at my mainstay, the local bakery near our house that has been in business for decades. I love this place. You timewarp into the 1950s the moment you step in the door. But they do NOT make Star Wars cake. That's the problem with timewarps to a time before George Lucas could lift a camera. Strikeout.
So we went to Safeway, where they keep the cake book (you know, the big shiny binder with the pictures of all the cakes they make) behind the deli counter. They kept one eye on me at all times while we flipped through it, as if I was going to tuck it under my arm and sprint for the exit. And look! There's a Star Wars cake in there, but... "we don't make THAT one," they said to me. Their tone suggested I'd asked them to lace the cake with LSD and hand out glowsticks at the party entrance.
I looked at the Giant supermarket cake book online. They DO make a Star Wars cake, the same one that Safeway decided was just too crazy to offer. But the toys... well. They'd snap after a few good light saber volleys. And the bright-red frosting gave me flashbacks to the fourth birthday cake--firetrucks. Good luck washing that red frosting dye from your fingers. Ew. I felt like the goody bag should have included an apology note.
And let's face it. Little Dude wanted a Star Wars cake for one reason: THE TOYS that would be on top. That is the same reason he chose McDonalds for his birthday dinner. I doubt he even tasted his stone-cold fries because he had a cool Tonka Glacier Basher Thingie in front of him.
So I did something else.
I went back to my beloved neighborhood bakery and ordered a half-sheet cake. "In desert colors--like Star Wars? Tatooine?" I said. To their credit, I saw the baker actually write down "Tatooine". "Leave room for toys," I told her.
Then I went to the Toy Exchange in Wheaton, Maryland, just north of DC. This place is Star Wars collector heaven, but they've got toys at decent prices too, so you don't feel guilty handing the toys to your six year-old. I picked up two different Luke figures (Little Dude's favorite) and an original landspeeder. "I had one just like this when I was little!" I exclaimed. The owner's patient look told me that I wasn't the first to say that... or the hundredth.
On the day of the party, I cleaned off the landspeeder and pulled the Luke figures out of their packaging (no doubt incurring bad Collector Karma). Then I set them on the cake (the landspeeder got a layer of wax paper between it and the frosting). The cake came out great: a light-tan frosting with dark brown and white decorations and a few little blobs that I think were desert scrub. Very fine rendition of Tatooine.
Result? A gang of little dudes grouped around the cake saying "Whoa. Wow."
And a huge smile on my Little Dude's face.
And a landspeeder I can play with when he's in bed.
All around, winner!
Even if the cake was nowhere these Star Wars cake masterpieces over at Cake Wrecks...
As parents, how often have your kids asked you for a pet? There are so many reasons we can tell ourselves to wait. In our family we have had a dog for three years and now we can't imagine life without her. There are great resources out on the internet to help you in [...]
It is 1:30 am and I am watching TV with my 14yo. This is not a fun sleepover. I am not a bad mother. And she is not a happy camper. At all. The reason we are up? The tummy bug that hit others in our family last week suddenly hit her this morning. And then.. [...]