If You Weren’t Sick Before…

Earlier this spring, both #4 and #5 went home sick from school on the same day. This type of thing happens only when CC is out of town, and then most often on a Wednesday, my longest work day (for the record, snow days work like this too).

I called my sub in to cover me and made it to the middle school in record time. We got home with no hurling, and when they felt up for it, I heated up some chicken soup, pulled out the saltines and ginger ale and joined them at the table.

The nurse had told me more than 25% of the kids were out sick with the bug that was going around.

Me: I like your nurse at the middle school.

#4: Same.

#5: Same.

Me: Whatever happened to “me too”?

[They stare at me blankly.]

#5: The middle school nurse is way nicer than the one at the elementary school.

Me: Yeah, that one scared me. She yelled at me.

#4: Wasn’t that because of me?

Me: Pretty much. You showed me this teeny-tiny spot on the top of your knee where you had poison ivy and I gave you Caladryl, but you neglected to mention that the back of your legs were completely covered with it and festering. Then you went to the nurse.

#4: Oh yeah, I remember that. I though they were bug bites.

Me: Yeah, well they weren’t. She screamed at me when she called. I kept expecting DYFS to show up on our doorstep for like a month.

#5: What’s festering?

Me: Festering is gross, that’s what.

#4: I remember I got poison ivy on my eye one time.

Me: When I was a kid, I got it on my whole face and my eyes swelled shut. It was awful. Though I wasn’t as bad off as my friends. They went to the bathroom in the woods and used poison ivy leaves to wipe.

[They look, horrified, in my direction.]

Me: Yes, I actually knew people that happened to.

[They look, horrified, at each other.]

Me: They got poison ivy really bad. In their … ah… nether regions.

[They both put their spoons down and scoot away from the table]

#5: Julie? Don’t ever say that again, okay?

Me: Which part?

#4: ANY OF IT!!!


With my innate nurturing skills (feed a cold; starve a fever; gross out a bug) both #4 and #5 made full recoveries. #5 and I played an epic game of Monopoly in which we bent the rules and he beat me by ending up with every single piece of property. It was an entirely different win than the one the week before where we bent the rules and he beat me by ending up with every single dollar, and I had to then explain that we couldn’t just “make” new money because that’s how economies collapse.

Meanwhile, I have a couple posts up on Family Circle’s Momster blog.

When you’re a stepmom of teenagers, you have to expand your definition of parenting wins: Treasured Moments

Attempts to teach a reluctant worker the value of a job well done: Hey Kids, Guess What? Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees!


So, ah… where’s the worst place you ever got poison ivy?



13 Steps to Successful Snow Removal

1. First, have five children. Buy each one a snow shovel.

2. When your children complain and ask, “When are we going to get a snowblower?” explain that you already have one: 5 kids with shovels who tell you how much this blows.

3. Every snow day, wake them early even though there’s no school, so they can help shovel.

4. When friendly neighbors come by with their snow blowers or plows and offer to help you out, thank them and send them away. Explain that you are attempting to teach your children the value of manual labor.

5. Dream of the day you no longer have to lead by example.

6. Be okay with the eldest child moving out– right up until the first time it snows and you realize your work force has decreased by 20%.

7. Break two shovels with use during a heavy snow season and attempt to replace them. Discover that the only shovels available at the hardware stores in the middle of winter are cheap plastic ones that are manufactured in places that never see snow, such as Sri Lanka.

8. Receive, one season, the snow that breaks you. The one you give up on, with the ice layer on top. The one where you can’t even make your kids help out it’s so heavy and brutal. The one where the mailman will no longer deliver your mail anymore because your driveway is too treacherous. Where your dogs slide right out of their collars like Max in The Grinch and go shooting down the hill into the street. The snow that every day the sun messes with a little more, tricking you into believing it’s helping when in actuality it is only creating still more tenacious ice rivers everywhere you need to step.

9. Go online to check the weather and see 40 days and 40 nights of snow coming. Order real shovels off of Amazon.

10. Have the delivery of said shovels delayed by the weather.

11. Reschedule a weather-cancelled outing with a relative and discover he has an extra snowblower. He always was your favorite relative. Not only is this more unlikely and better than extra bacon, but he’s willing to loan it to you until his other one breaks. Forgo sleep to retrieve it. Offer him up to three of your children in exchange for the snowblower. Extoll their shoveling virtues.

12. Come to the understanding that, unlike a pre-season purchase of a snowblower, a mid-season gifting of a snowblower does not possess any snow-preventing voodoo.

13. Bring your children to the understanding that possessing a snowblower does not actually get them out of shoveling detail; it only lightens their load.

Did you have to shovel snow when you were a kid?


Unexpected Gifts

#5 is sick.

He’s been sick off and on for more than two months and every time we think we’ve figured it out, we haven’t. In the realm of sick kids it is both the worst (vomiting & diarrhea and all the awesomeness that goes with that) and the best (it isn’t a whole bunch of even worse things, and we have really good insurance). He’s a trooper but it’s wearing him down. He’s lost five pounds and for someone who hasn’t hit 70lbs yet, that’s a lot.

When he told me yesterday that the smell of bacon made his stomach hurt it was all I could do to not break down in front of him.

We were at the Children’s Hospital last week to see the specialist and there were some pretty sick kids in the waiting room, accompanied by parents who were as used to hospital waiting rooms as one could be. Parents who, at the moment, were not wild-eyed with fear and were content to watch their kids bounce around the room. Kids who had lost their hair and their coloring and a lot of their energy but could still pop up in front of the aquarium and scream, “Fishie!” I was desperately looking for a direction to turn my mind to that wasn’t all panic and fear, and watching these kids got me thinking about gratitude and unexpected gifts.

Now, I love Christmas. Even when I’m depressed I love everything about it: the decorations, the overly-scented candles, the music, the anticipation, the too many sweets, that goddamn elf, the presents.

Yeah, the presents. There’s some idea running around the intellectuals where I live that you shouldn’t like Christmas presents. That we should all be striving towards more lofty goals of solving world hunger and making peace in the Middle East and that if we get filled with joy when someone gifts us a brightly wrapped package, we’ve merely succumbed to our baser human nature and, oh, we really shouldn’t mention Jesus when we talk about Christmas because it offends all the non-Christians.

But I love the presents. And the baby Jesus.

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized and our culture is too focused on the material every day of the year; Christmas can be an excuse to go into hyperdrive. But presents- concretely material, unnecessary, wrapped up in pretty paper you usually just throw away- are awesome.

I reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook a couple years ago, and at Christmas he sent my family some pears. You know, those Harry & David ones.


The gesture really touched me, I’m sure more than he realizes. I thought about our differences: he’s West Coast now, and I’m East; he didn’t celebrate Christmas when we were kids and I did; he doesn’t have children and I have a houseful of them. The note said: I’m glad we reconnected. Now, pears. Big whoop, right? Well, I happen to love them. But the Christmas miracle is that my kids tried them after having rejected the entire pear genre for years. Because Harry & David’s only sends out perfect pears (I picture tiny pear fairies scattering magic dust on the trees in 8-hour shifts), they hoovered them. The case of pears lasted like two days. There is now one more healthy thing my kids will eat, and that’s a big deal. Every time I go to the store, #3 asks if it’s pear season.

Another friend last year gave me this plate. A rectangle plate with a really cool painting on it containing both a dove and an alligator, completely unexpected and entirely perfect.


I like to think of the dove and the alligator as two aspects of me, and hope that someday the dove will be this much bigger. The plate lives on the sideboard and holds CC’s open wine bottle. I see it every day, and I think of my friend every day. I like that.

Then there’s the skull ring from one of my best friends. Every 40+ year-old needs a skull ring. Mine is particularly badass because she got it in Paris from an artist on the street. It sits on top of my writing desk and I wear it when the muse is fickle.


It’s on my finger now, and at the end of this long, frustrating day I am reminded that when my friend went to Paris she saw this and thought of me.

We’re on the path to finding out what’s wrong with #5 and getting him well. It may take a while. The greatest gift would be a sudden, complete, magic cure. Perhaps the Harry & David’s pear fairies can put in a good word with the vomit fairies when they get together at the fairy bar. Meanwhile, I’m not turning up my nose at pretty packages with bows on top, because presents don’t have to save the  whole world. Sometimes they make one person smile, and that’s enough to save the day.

What’s the best unexpected gift you ever received?

(Shout out to Elena Aitkin because I totally swiped the title of one of her sweet books- click here: Unexpected Gifts is free for a limited time)