Thursday, December 20, 2012

Early Christmas Present and a Fall Photo Album Update

Last Thursday, December 13th, Naomi was acting peculiar. She came into the kitchen, where I was making sugar cookies, and pulled open the blinds to stare out the window. I scolded her for being careless with the blinds and not getting her schoolwork done. I asked her what she was looking at, and she said, "Oh...nothing." Then she went into our schoolroom and stood staring out the front window.

It was about the time that the school buses start pulling up in front of our house and unloading all the kids who live in the trailer court, so I asked if she was watching the kids come home. "No," she replied casually. Clearly, she wasn't giving out information, so I even entertained the thought that she might have a secret crush on a boy she was watching. I sure couldn't think of anything else she would be secretly stalking all afternoon.

I continued baking cookies and Naomi continued to disregard my reminders that she ought to be doing her schoolwork. At this point, I was so mystified that I demanded she tell me what in the world was going on. Backed into a corner, she sighed and turned to me. "It's a surprise," she scolded.

Oh. A surprise for me? Something outside for me? My children often made surprises for me that involved construction paper, toilet paper tubes, and scotch tape, but I doubted they would have planted one of those kinds of surprises outside. Could this possibly be something Matt was behind? No. Certainly not. Matt had not bought me a single Christmas present in the entire previous thirteen Christmas seasons we had known each other. Silly me...but...maybe.

About fifteen minutes later a large brown truck pulled up beside our house and all the children began screaming, "It's here! It's here! Don't open it, Mommy! Daddy says we have to keep you from opening it until he gets home! It's a surprise! Don't open it, Mommy!" The UPS man smiled broadly at my crowd of cheering children as I signed for the large package.

"They're telling me this is a surprise," I informed the delivery man, raising my eyebrows at him to ask if he had any information.

"I don't know nothing!" he laughed, with his eyes twinkling, and I thought that his job must be wonderful this time of year.

The large, trapezoid-shaped, brown box gave no clues to its origin, and though I had a reasonable idea of what might be inside, I pretended to have no idea at all.

"!" I mused, "What in the world did Daddy get me?" All the girls giggled with a wild excitement that told me they'd been plotting this for some time with Daddy. "It looks like...a new...pyramid decoration for my living room!"

More giggles erupted, "Nope. No, no, no. Not even close, Mommy."

"No? Hmmm....well, then...Oh! I know! It's a new swing set for my baby dolls!"

"No, no, no. Not at all."

"Can I open it now and look?"

"NO!! No opening until Daddy comes home!"

Matt was almost as giddy as the girls when he finally arrived home three hours later. We gathered in the living room and this is what I found.

Yes, this is the brand new iMac that just became available to order on November 30th. The card from the kids reads:

"Dear Mommy, you're the best mommy ever. We love you a lot. You'll really like our early Christmas present. It's a new computer that is even bigger and faster than Daddy's. I bet you'll really like it. Now you won't ever have to complain to Daddy about how slow your computer is. Have a Merry Christmas. Love, Naomi, Hannah, Emma, and Toby"

This is, for the record, the best Christmas present I could have possibly received. I have been using a Dell laptop that Matt and I bought in 2002, just after we were married. It is now exceedingly outdated, slow, and frustrating to try to complete any task on. This fall I have nearly given up on blogging or posting pictures because of the enormous amount of time wasted trying to use a computer that continually froze, crashed, and lost my work. Matt heard my laments and saw my frustration and put my needs before his own this year. I feel very well taken care of. Here are the before and after pictures of my desk.

This is also the computer that Toby pulled 17 keys off when he was a toddler. B key never recovered.

Matt has been working hard to get everything installed and transferred to my new computer. Most of his spare time in the last week has been dedicated to getting everything up and running for me. Today I finally retrieved a huge number of pictures from my camera that my previous, retarded computer couldn't handle. In honor of my new, updated capabilities. Here is a collection of some of my favorite moments from this summer and fall that I haven't had a chance to share yet.

"Mommy! Elijah got into the wipes tub and pulled out all the wipes!"

I love how these boys are enjoying playing together already.

Such a Daddy's boy

The "twins" strike again, losing their first teeth 24 hours apart.


Superman, and his smaller side-kick Pooperman

So there's your pictorial highlights from summer and fall 2012 in the Eby house--all thanks to my new favorite Christmas present ever, from my favorite husband ever.

And now, back to real life: running a household where four children ages 6 and under are infected with strep throat at the same time. But that will have to be the subject of another blog.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hannah Gets Jipped Again

Ever since Emma effortlessly lost (yes, literally lost) her first tooth while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and beat her older sister to the missing tooth club by one day, Hannah has been wiggling and yanking at her second loose tooth, determined not to be outdone again.

Matt had the day off of work today, so I had the pleasure of picking Emma up from preschool and driving her to speech therapy all by myself today. As we drove, we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and had a lovely conversation about her morning at preschool. Emma clearly enjoyed having all the attention to herself, and especially having zero competition for pushing the elevator buttons at the therapy building.

After checking in, Emma brought a book to me and asked me to read it. I stared at her mouth for a second, then suddenly began laughing. "Emma?! What happened to your other loose tooth?!" I asked. "Did you eat another tooth?!"

Emma looked bewildered, put her finger in her mouth and felt the newly-widened gap on her lower jaw. She looked back to me, and seeing the amusement on my face, decided that it was indeed a funny situation. How in the world does a child unknowingly eat a baby tooth that we didn't even know was loose...twice!...while her poor older sister can't seem to coax her teeth out with a sledgehammer?

I called Matt to share the laugh, and after he had spread the announcement to the kids I heard Hannah yell, "I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!"

By the time we returned home two hours later Hannah had yanked that stubborn chomper right out of her jaw, and she couldn't have been more least for someone who had just won second place...again. Tonight the tooth fairy will be busy again. At least she pays the same, whether or not your tooth came out before your little sister's.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ingraspable Complexity: A Health Update

Another day, another doctor--it's one of those kinds of weeks again. I haven't posted much of a health update on the kids lately because, while there have been health struggles, we haven't gotten much in the way of conclusive answers. After another long morning with another doctor I feel I need to vent, conclusive answers or not. So for those who are interested here is the run-down on the Eby kids' health lately.

Elijah--This poor little guy has been afflicted with diarrhea ever since the rounds and rounds of antibiotics in September for his ear infections. Time and probiotics are not healing it either, it's getting worse. He was the most ill over the Thanksgiving weekend (of course), with watery diarrhea running all down into his footed sleeper 10-15 times in 24 hours. He had finally begun sleeping through the night two weeks prior, but when diarrhea began striking all night long I had to return to tending to him every hour or two around the clock. We tested him for C Diff, and that was negative. It can't be rotavirus, because he's been vaccinated against that and because the doctor didn't think it smelled like rotavirus. We just had his blood drawn again on Monday to check for food allergies, and are still awaiting those results.

Toby--He's just getting over his second ear infection this year and has a mysterious mouth ulcer that has ruined his appetite, but overall he seems to be in better health since we discovered his milk allergy and removed dairy from his diet in October.

Emma--This is my healthiest child. She's had a few preschool-shared viruses but is doing great overall. Her speech therapist even suggested we are almost done with her need for speech therapy! Emma is now able to produce all of the sounds that are age appropriate for her (th, l, and v aren't considered delayed until kids are six or seven). She doesn't always include them in her everyday speech, but she will if she is reminded, and if all she needs now is a reminder to speak carefully, that's something I can do at home with her. This is amazing news just 6 months after therapy started!

Hannah--She is still plagued by tummy aches, with some weeks being better than others. But she insists that there is a big improvement since we pulled corn from her diet and she still won't touch a corn product so I have to believe that was at least part of the problem. She is still tiny for her age, weighing 42 lbs at 6 1/2 years old, but the doctors assure me that her growth is adequate. She certainly has the perfect ballerina figure.

Naomi--Ah, Naomi, my mystery child. We met this morning with one of Naomi's pediatricians who is very gifted at looking at the child as a whole, as opposed to all of her specialists (nephrologist for kidneys, GI doctor for liver fibrosis and celiac, cardiologist for heart murmur, ophthalmologist for crossed eyes, and orthopedic doctor for club feet) who only look at their specialized problem area. Naomi has suddenly gained about 10 lbs this fall. My initial fear was that it was water retention due to decreased kidney function. Labs initially showed her kidney function was decreased, but the nephrologist thought it could be a rare side effect of a medication she was on. We removed the medication and two weeks later her kidney function had improved again (still not normal, but not immediately worrisome anymore), so that was a huge relief for us, but didn't help to solve the weight gain mystery.

I brainstormed with this pediatrician this morning about Naomi's weight gain, and she wanted to say the weight gain was not water retention, but actual body mass added. Naomi has grown about a centimeter in height, and a 10 lb weight gain is possible if something were affecting her ability to feel full normally or affecting the way her body is metabolizing food. The doctor reminded me that Naomi had shown antibodies to the thyroid gland at her last blood draw in Sept, and though it was a small amount of antibodies, it was definitely abnormal. Her thyroid function still seemed adequate (with normal T3, T4, and TSH), but that doesn't mean she might not be feeling more subtle effects of a struggling thyroid that is under attack by her own immune system.

Naomi also mysteriously has an elevated total IgE antibody level, which indicates an allergic reaction of some kind taking place in her body, but extensive allergic testing has yet to find the specific allergen. This pediatrician actually asked me what I had been researching on the Internet about Naomi's conditions lately--not to shame me as some doctors do, but because she respects me by now, and she knows that I devote my life to this and that she can learn from my research. I mentioned some things I had read about anti-thyroid antibodies sometimes indicating other autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. I shared what I've learned recently about how different gene mutations can disable the primary cilia in some kinds of cells throughout the body causing the kidney/liver disease Naomi has, and my frustration over still not finding out which mutation she has, and therefore not being able to predict accurately the course of her disease progression.

Naomi has had multiple chromosomal and genetic tests run without finding any mutations, but today the doctor explained that because we still don't know everything about the human genome, sometimes mutations are discovered that haven't been linked definitively with a disease yet. Normally these mutations are not reported since their clinical significance is still unknown. Naomi's mutation may be just such a case, since her disease is unique to her as far as we can tell. The doctor ordered yet another chromosomal microarray analysis--this time to be done by someone she knows personally who "owes her a favor" and may be able to release information on mutations detected that wouldn't ordinarily be reported. This doctor is willing to personally research any mutations found and attempt to correlate them with Naomi's symptoms in the hopes of figuring out just what is at the cause of at least some of her disease and what we might expect in the future. (In my opinion, that makes her the best doctor in the world.)

We concluded that so much in the human body is still a mystery to us, and autoimmune diseases are among the most mysterious to the medical profession. We know that they happen but we do not know why, and we are powerless to stop them, short of suppressing the entire immune system, which obviously has terrible consequences of its own. So we decided to re-check Naomi's thyroid once more and see if the level of antibodies has risen or not, and to be sure the function is still adequate. She wants me to be extra-vigilant about Naomi's diet and exercise. Beyond that we wait and watch, and deal with symptoms as they come.

There is such a false sense of control that comes from all the accumulated wealth of medical knowledge we have to draw on today. We think we understand the human body. We think we can control it. Then there is Naomi, for whom the best doctor is the most humble one--the doctor who is willing to say, "I really don't know what is going on inside your daughter, but I will do my best to find out."

Ultimately, I am reminded that Naomi is fearfully and wonderfully made, that the mind-blowing intricacies of the human genetic code and the ingraspable complexity within each cell of each system in her body are undeniable indicators that someone with knowledge far greater than ours designed her, and that she is upheld by that same powerful hand. Time and chance did not design the intelligent human immune system, and therefore I rest, knowing her immune "malfunction" has a designer as well. The potter has a right to shape the vessel as he sees fit--each for a unique purpose well beyond our comprehension. If I cannot understand how Naomi's body works I cannot expect to understand how her body's designer is working in this world on a grander scale. I guess that is the essence of worship.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dentist for Four

The success of taking five small children to the dentist is something that must be measured in relative terms. When the number of possible poor outcomes exceeds Emma's counting ability, I stop aiming for perfection and start hoping for a passing grade. Today I passed.

My kids could hardly wait to get to their appointment. I know, they need to get out more, but it does help that we go to a mega dentist office for kids, complete with a jungle gym in the waiting room, coloring book trays on the dentist chairs, and a prize box at the end. They threw off their shoes and took the jungle gym by storm before I could set the diaper bags down. Elijah's whole face lit up as Hannah slid down the slide. Then he giggled and crawled right up to the colorful foam bumps that served as stairs. I have never seen him scramble with such excitement, crow with such pride, or giggle with such delight as he did on that little gym. He never knew such fun existed.

When their names were called, they had to clamber to find their shoes, but were soon headed back to the cheery land of coloring and prizes (and teeth cleaning). I stood with Elijah at a two-way mirror, watching my kids happily take their places in their own dentist chairs in the large hygiene room. I cringed as the dental assistant left Toby unattended and led Hannah back to another room for x-rays. Toby sat still for about 10 seconds, then began to fidget. He leaned over the side of his chair to examine the underpinnings. He craned his head back to inspect the lighting. Then he hopped down, and I held my breath, but fortunately Naomi, who was seated not far away, barked something at him that spurred him back into his seat.

Hannah, in the x-ray room, was admiring her beautiful blue lead apron, smiling sweetly as she smoothed it down over her lap with her hands. Her eyes couldn't hide her excitement as the assistant placed the films in her mouth: something new! Anything new! How wonderful.

Emma clicked her heels together and pursed her lips as she sat on her chair: la-dee-dah...lets get this show on the road, people...that prize box is calling my name.

To my amazement, they each completed x-rays, cleanings, and fluoride treatments without a hitch. I could tell by the way Toby tugged on his bottom teeth for the dentist that he was sharing all about his new (imaginary) loose tooth, and amusing all who heard. Emma got lost trying to find her way back to her chair after pinning her certificate onto the "Kavity Free Klub" board. I saw the panic on her face and had to sneak my head in the door (against the rules) long enough to calm her and point her to her seat.

Toby emerged first, bearing a new plastic motorcycle that probably cost a hay-penny to produce in China and will not last past the first time Elijah gets ahold of it, but he was all grins. The assistant reported to me that he had no cavities, but did have a "huge mouth ulcer" under his top lip that looked to be possibly "trauma induced." He's a three-year-old boy, I have not a clue which trauma might have induced the gaping ulcer, but that does explain why he's been screaming in protest when I brush his teeth lately. She offered the helpful advice of encouraging Toby to gargle with warm salt-water, which provided me the best laugh I've had in a week.

Emma and Hannah both came out with a clean report card, and to their dismay, discovered they had picked the same plastic fish from the prize bin. They cannot escape their destiny to be identical twins.

Naomi bravely wore her sunglasses so the bright light wouldn't bother her while they cleaned her teeth. I could see her grimace and grip the arm rests, but she cooperated perfectly: no tears, no complaints. Ah, but here is where my maternal dental record was blemished: Naomi did have one small cavity, the first among my five children. I guess I can't be perfect forever. We will have to return in January to have that filled. With her new spiro-graph kit prize in hand, she didn't seem to mind the news that she'd have to return in January. In fact, I think the others might have been a little jealous.

Tonight, after his bath, I pulled Toby's Superman pajamas on him, ruffled his hair and said, "There! Now you're Superman!"

"Yes," he answered, "but I'm not saving any worlds tonight, because I have to go to bed!"

I agree. Today I saved four mouths of tiny teeth, but no more tonight. All other worlds of responsibility will have to wait or perish. Supermom needs her rest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Injustice and The Tooth Fairy's New Client

Poor Hannah, sometimes slow and steady doesn't win the race. Life can be so unjust.

Naomi lost six baby teeth several months after she turned five years old, but Hannah has had to wait...and wait. Last year Hannah detected the tiniest amount of wiggle in a tooth, but twelve months later, at the old and moldy age of six and a half, that tooth is still clinging to its stubborn root. For the last two weeks her family and friends, and sometimes strangers, have been hearing daily updates on the state of her loose tooth.

She wiggles her tooth for me when she wakes in the morning and asks for my best prediction of when it will finally fall out. She complains at lunch about how it hurts to chew or how impossible it is to eat a sandwich. She asks me to look in her mouth at night to see if I can see the adult tooth coming in underneath the loose one.

"I think it will fall out today," Hannah predicted at breakfast this morning. "It's soooo close. It has to fall out today. I'm going to wiggle and wiggle all day long, no matter how much it hurts."

"You might be right," I agreed with Hannah, taking my daily assessment of the wiggle-ability of her tooth. "It can't be long now."

Ah, but we were wrong. Hannah's mouth still contains twenty baby teeth, but even worse is the cruel twist of irony this evening.

I had just taken Elijah upstairs with the intention of putting him to bed tonight while Matt was brushing the kids' teeth, when Matt yelled up at me, "Kathy! Did Emma lose a tooth today?! Ha! It's missing! Emma what happened to your tooth?"

I flew back down the stairs, worried at first that my toddler daughter had been the victim of some horrible accident. But after assessing a completely healthy-looking hole in Emma's mouth, and reminding myself that Emma was five years old now, and that Naomi had lost six teeth at that age, I concluded that Emma had simply beaten Hannah to the prize, fair and square. And, in typical Emma fashion, had absolutely no idea at all what had happened.

She laughed, walked over to the mirror, inspected the bloody spot in her mouth, and concluded, " is missing."

I know Emma had all twenty teeth when I left to take Hannah to ballet class tonight and gave Matt instructions to serve the kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. All we can figure is that the tooth got stuck in the peanut butter and popped out, never to be seen again. Odd, ironic, and even a little cruel, but true.

The tooth fairy will be paying her first visit to Emma's bed tonight, and I have a feeling Hannah will be wiggling harder than ever tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not So Amazing

When my alarm went off at 5:00am this morning I was ready: the lunch was made, the bags were packed, the outfits were laid out in piles on my living room floor. I felt pretty good as I headed out the door with five small children in the dark, brisk November air. We left at 6:00am for our semi-annual pilgrimage to the children's hospital for Naomi and Emma's check-ups on the liver disease they have (congenital hepatic fibrosis).

It was a pretty drive with the large barns on the Amish farms lit up for early morning chores and the misty air over the frost-covered fields as the sun brushed the sky in faint pinks and blues. We marched into the hospital, made a large bathroom break, brushed three messy heads of hair, and checked into the appointments right on time at 10:00am.

For the most part, my kids sat quietly and behaved themselves while the doctor reviewed Naomi and Emma's charts and poked on their bellies and noted the size of their livers and spleens. Toby laid on his back underneath the chairs and ate corn chex, spilling as many on the floor as he consumed, but I don't think the doctor noticed that. She remarked that everything seemed to be looking good, the disease was progressing very slowly, as always, and she would see us again in 6 months. And then the appointment was over: four hours of preparation behind us, and four hours of journeying home ahead of us for a ten minute appointment. But I tried to remind myself that that's exactly what we want, nothing notable found and permission not to think about liver disease again for another six months.

As she headed out of the room the doctor called back to me (as I was nursing Elijah and coaxing all the kids into line to leave), "You're an amazing woman." That brightened my long day. Yes sir-ee, I was amazing...until we were finishing the lunch I had packed in the hospital cafeteria, and I noticed a foul smell coming from my baby. I hurried the other kids to finish and pack-up, then scooped Elijah up in one arm to head to the bathroom.

"What just fell on the floor?!" Naomi called to me, loud enough for everyone else who had previously been enjoying their lunch to hear. "It looks like poop!" I tried to quickly (and casually--nothing to see here, people) swipe the enormous orange poop blob from the cafeteria floor with a wet-wipe and deposit it in the garbage as we left. Then I carried Elijah, hanging almost upside down, by one arm and one leg around the corner to the bathroom where I discovered his clothing was filled from neck to shoes with orange poop. I made a colossal mess attempting to strip, wash, and re-dress the poor fellow, and I'm sure that bathroom won't smell fresh again for a few days.

As I re-loaded the kids into the minivan with a lingering smell trailing us I felt a little less than amazing, and more like I barely survived. But then we were on the road again, the kids slept and the scenery soothed me, and eventually I laughed about the poop-cident. We are home, we are relatively healthy, and we are settling in for a cozy bedtime with Daddy tonight.

I drove five children 306 miles round-trip for a ten-minute doctor appointment, and we survived. Maybe I am amazing, poop-cident aside.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Empty House

This morning my house is eerily still, and while I should be celebrating my 24 hours of freedom from my four oldest kids, and I can't shake the uneasy feeling that hangs over me. I've been separated from my kids for short periods of time before--an afternoon here or there. I've even stayed away for a day or two when I was in the hospital giving birth to another baby. But I've never, ever stayed in my own house overnight without my children, since Naomi was born over 8 years ago. And while my conscious, rational being understands they are perfectly fine at Grandma's house overnight, my subconscious keeps screaming over and over, "Oh no! Where are the kids?! Something's wrong! The kids! The kids!" And it's getting really annoying.

Last night, after dropping an extremely excited crew of Naomi, Hannah, Emma, and Toby at Grandma's house for a Cousin Campout in her basement, I drove Elijah home and met Matt, just returning from work. We strapped Elijah into the stroller and went for a walk in the moonlight, a rare treat for us, especially with temps in the upper 60's in late October. This morning Elijah let me sleep in a little, and I had to remind myself not to set out all the kids' juice cups and medications this morning. I felt a little better when I read my mother in law's facebook updates that said Toby had kept her up 'till 11:30pm and Naomi had woken up at 4:30am to read books by flashlight in her tent. Oh yes, Grandma's handling everything just fine...better her than me.

I have big plans to organize the kids' winter wardrobes and get some shopping done today, with only my littlest sidekick beside me, but my mind keeps wandering from the task at hand to my empty house. Whenever it happens that I get a break from the chaos I am reminded afresh that no matter how busy and stressful my life may be, I much prefer the noises of my children playing to the echo of a ticking clock, and I would rather live the same stressful but meaningful day over and over again than the same easy but empty one.

I have no funny sayings to record here today, and no cute pictures to attach to this post, because well, me in my pajamas until 10:00am is neither funny nor cute. So I'll sign off now and do my best to enjoy the unique opportunity that I have for peace and quiet today, but I'm secretly counting down until 6:00 tonight when I can be reunited with the four missing pieces of my life again.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mama's Sick Day

Matt's first words when he came home from work yesterday were, "What happened in here?!" and, "Kathy! Where are you?!"

"I'm on the couch. I can't get up. I'm sorry," I croaked back. But a small part of me was thinking, "Just in case you ever wondered what I do all I didn't do it."

The kitchen floor was covered in a mixture of Chex and Perky's Crunchy Rice cereals. The table, counters, and sink were littered with dirty dishes and open packages of tortilla chips, salsa, lunch meat, sunflower seeds, and banana chips. There was peanut butter on almost every surface imaginable. So for further clarification I added, "The kids fed themselves today. Can you tell?"

Matt was surprisingly sympathetic after picking his way through the kitchen and finding me on my deathbed, green with nausea. He poured me a glass of lemon-lime soda and asked how I was feeling.

"Not too terrible, unless I try to get up," I answered.

Emma had fallen to the 24 hour stomach flu one week earlier, probably a nice little perk of her attending preschool. After we all stayed healthy for the following five days, I breathed a premature sigh of relief. Then it began. Thursday evening I began to feel nauseous and Elijah started to have diarrhea. Friday morning I couldn't get out of bed. Every time I attempted to sit up the room spun, and I was overtaken by such nausea and lightheadedness that I was afraid I might black out.

I called the girls into my room and explained that they were going to have to be the mommies that day. I could nurse Elijah while lying in bed, and we closed the baby gate at the top of the stairs so he could crawl in between the kids' room and mine. Hannah watched Elijah while Naomi fixed the morning juices and pills for the kids. "Alright," I thought, "we can do this."

Then Elijah had a diarrhea blowout and I had no choice but to attempt to sit up and change him. It was all I could do to get him wiped up and in a fresh diaper before I collapsed back in bed. The girls had to find him clothes and get him dressed and carry the poop-covered jammies down to the bathtub, where they lay all day long.

Around noon I managed to carry Elijah down the stairs and collapse on the couch. Naomi and Hannah got him into his highchair and fed him some rice chex and pieces of lunch meat and fruit. I lay on the couch semi-conscious, with the room swirling around me, wondering what the kitchen must look like, but I never made it in to see. Matt had the pleasure of seeing it first.

"What is that awful smell in the bathroom?!" he called to me.

"Mommy! My tummy hurts!" Hannah called to me. "It hurts so, so, so bad! I just can't cry any more!" Matt got her a bowl and sent her to bed.

"Next I'm going to just blow the house up," he mused, "and put us all out of our misery."

Around 6:00pm I stumbled back up the stairs to lay in my bed too. Not long after that I heard splattering noises coming from the kids' bedroom and all I could do was call for Matt. Hannah had forgotten her bowl and decided instead to vomit all over her blankets, her pillows, and her stuffed animal collection. I felt truly sorry for Matt at this point, and I would have helped him if I could have, but that would have involved me staying vertical and conscious for more than 30 seconds, which was impossible. So I lay in my bed instead and was actually pretty impressed with how well he handled it all. He put Hannah in a warm bath, stripped the bedding, threw her pillow in the trash, ran two loads of laundry, and only gagged twice.

"Did you wash her blankets on gentle?" I asked later.

"No," he answered with a look that said 'Are you kidding me?' "I washed them on Ultra-Clean!"

This morning my nausea had finally subsided, but I felt very weak and dehydrated after nursing a 10 month old for 36 hours while taking in only sips of fluid. After a glass of lemon-lime soda I felt strong enough to clean up the kitchen and make an enormous pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Between 10am and 3pm I ate five bowls and felt much stronger again, which is good, because I still faced a mountain of laundry, including the diarrhea-laden pajamas that Matt had been so kind as to throw into the basement without even rinsing. I guess nobody's perfect.

Today Naomi and Toby have acquired the runs and Matt has begun running a low-grade fever, which means I'm back in command of this sinking ship. I'm guessing we won't be attending church tomorrow. Tonight I'm tucking everyone into bed with a bowl and a roll of paper towels. I need my sleep to face tomorrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Haunted Universe

I woke up in a haunted universe
And stood at once in awe
Of the splendor of intricate design
And the despair of its decay

And could not decide
If for the indescribable beauty
I burst with elation
Or for its wasting
I mourned

Yet under the sickening blight
The architecture was so lofty
My heart ached to know the crafter

And when I, dusting cobwebs
Glimpsed his fingerprint
On an ornate doorpost
A thrill of hope surged up my spine
He was here!
As if the evidence had not been
Overwhelmingly around me

Gazing on the structure
My eye fell on a shingle
Once loose
And a single nail, tapped into place
Holding back corruption
He is still here

If I could not ever fully explain
Why he left
Why the pain
It would not wipe that print away

And if I could not tell you why
He allows the rule of blight
It would not pull that nail from its place

I could not stand less amazed
At the artisan
Beyond my comprehension

I walk a haunted universe
Sentimental over every remnant
Of the grandeur it used to be
Grieving its demise
Cherishing each glimpse
Of his tending hand
Awaiting his return

--Katherine Eby

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hannah Ballerina and Toby Tough Guy

Hannah has a best friend now. There's a family at our church whose 5 young children are almost the same ages as mine. For the past three years our kids have made up the majority of the nursery and primary Sunday School classes at our small church. Our kids have always been friends, but recently their second-born, Abby, and my second-born, Hannah, have decided they are best-friends.

After church last Sunday while Naomi sat discussing the details of ocean life with her shark-obsessed friend (who is probably her best friend, but being a boy, will probably never be labeled a best friend), and Emma and Toby ran a muck with the other preschoolers, Hannah and Abby sat quietly together on a couch in the corner. "We were having best friend time," Hannah explained to me. "We just talked for hours and hours." From what I heard Hannah was doing most of the talking, but Abby didn't seem to mind. Abby's mom and I have often marveled at how similar those two are with their love all of all things pink, sweet, and otherwise girlie, so I'm sure they found plenty to talk about.

Recently Hannah taught Abby how to catch a butterfly. "All you have to do is call its name," she explained. "If you just say, 'Here Buddy, Buddy..." then they come to you, and you can catch them." Abby was delighted, thanked Hannah, and ran to tell her mom that Hannah had told her how to catch a butterfly. I ran to hide.

This fall when we enrolled Hannah in soccer, Abby was enrolled in ballet class. Hannah loved the idea of playing soccer, but once the practices and games began she surprised me with how timid she was. It didn't help that my girls got placed on the best team in the league with a bunch of tough and experienced players. Hannah would rather stand in one spot and daydream than push and shove her way into a mass of kicking, flailing legs just to kick a silly ball. I really enjoyed playing soccer as a kid, and Matt played all through college, so we've tried to encourage our girls to give it a chance. But a few weeks back, when Abby had "bring a friend" day at ballet class and Hannah glowed for three days afterwards, we began to think we may be pushing Hannah down the wrong path.

Last Sunday Abby's mom, who had participated in ballet into young adulthood, was concerned that Abby wasn't enjoying ballet as much as she might if she has a friend with her. I laughed thinking just how much fun Hannah and Abby would have at ballet together, but never really entertained the idea because the cost of tuition was far above our means. On Monday morning Abby's mom called me and said that she and her husband would like to help us with the ballet tuition if Hannah would like to join Abby's ballet class. I talked it over with Matt and was surprised at how readily he agreed. Hannah didn't take much convincing either.

"Oh! Do you mean it, Mama?" she asked with gaping mouth and saucer eyes. "I can actually go to ballet every week with Abby?! I never thought you'd actually let me do that! Oh! I love ballet!"

"Do you love it more than soccer?" I asked, tongue in cheek.

"Soccer is boring!" she retorted. "Soccer is for boys!"

All the rest of Monday and Tuesday Hannah told everyone she met that she was going to be in ballet: the doctor at Toby and Elijah's appointment, the registration lady at the hospital, and each of her sisters at least twenty times until I had to tell her to tone it down a little. Yesterday as I got Hannah dressed in her ballet uniform (a spare on loan from Abby's mom), her excitement kept bubbling up in giddy giggles.

"You look really beautiful, sweetie," I smiled as I fixed the bun in her hair.

"Cute," she corrected me, "I don't look beautiful, I look cute 'cause I'm still little."

We arrived early to class to fill out papers and get her fitted for slippers. Then Hannah and Abby sat together on the dancers' bench and walked into class holding hands. "We held hands going in," Hannah later told me, "and we were beside each other the whole class. We were lucky too, because the teacher even picked us to be partners."

I wish I could have seen the class, but the parents aren't allowed to watch. I sat in the waiting room with my other four kids (Matt was working late again), talked with Abby's mom, and listened to the Disney music drifting in from the studio on the other side of the wall. When class was over Hannah was all smiles. "It was lots of fun, Mama!" she chattered on her way to the van. "We even did one dance with magic wands and tiaras. Mine was purple and pink. And we did one dance where we got to hold our partner's hand and twirl around. And we did lots of plie, straighten up, plie, straighten up."

"So do you think you'd like to go back again?" I teased.

"Oh! Only ten-thousand times more!" she gasped, fainting into her car seat.

Her continuous ballet babble leaked into every gap in the bedtime routine last night. It was still oozing from my ears as I filled Toby's cup of milk. The contrast with Toby's bed-time boasting made me laugh. Toby zipped-up his "Bob-the-builder" dress-up vest and announced, "I put on my cement clothes! I'm a man! It's cold outside and I don't care about cold. I just wear my cement coat outside!"

He wasn't feeling quite so brave at 5:00am though, when I heard the most ear-splitting scream followed by running and crashing noises, and more screaming. I lept out of bed more from the terror of Elijah waking than fear for Toby's well-being. Toby clung to me and shook and screamed for a long half-minute before settling down.

"It's OK, it's OK, Toby," I soothed him, "Did something scare you?"

"Yeah," he whimpered, "That shadow!" He pointed to the shadows of the tree branches waving across his window, and we had a little laugh and tucked him back in.  This morning he is brave and strong again, and we are settled down for a more normal day of the homeschool routine. Elijah is threatening to disrupt the peace with his new stair-climbing abilities, and Hannah is back to gurgling on about ballet class.

"I wish ballet was more than just one time a week, " she began this morning. Still blinking her eyes in the kitchen light, she looked at the calendar and sighed, "In six more days I'll go to ballet again."

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Floodgates

Tuesday was a rough day for me. I was more tired and grumpy than usual. Hannah had begun to have severe stomach aches whenever she ate any amount of corn, and the idea of having to remove corn from a diet that is already gluten, dairy, and dye-free seemed so overwhelming to me. Corn is possibly the only ingredient in the American diet that is more pervasive than wheat. In my cupboard I found "cornstarch" or "corn-syrup" on the labels of most of my favorite gf foods.
My wrists have been burning lately (probably carpel-tunnel syndrome) from toting a heavy Elijah around on my hip and from spending hours chopping potatoes, carrots, celery, onions and other veggies for meal after meal. I took a break from the chopping Tuesday evening, sat down at my computer, and typed the following facebook post:
Dear Santa (and his affiliates),

For Christmas I want a great big rice cooker, a great big food processor, a huge crock-pot, and a food dehydrator. Maybe then I will be able to feed my kids without spending 10 hours a day in the kitchen--might even be able to lower it to 8 hours a day.


A mom whose feet are tired of standing by the stove, whose wrists can't take chopping any more potatoes by hand, and whose children might be fooled into believing that dehydrated fruits and veggies are actually a new snack

It was a lighthearted post, meant mainly as a way for me to vent my frustration. I used larger-than-life language because it seemed to fit how much the situation felt out of my hands. I felt inadequate to feed my family all of the from-scratch meals they would need without an industrial-sized kitchen at my fingertips, something that was obviously far beyond my reach. The post was my way of saying, "I don't think I can do this."

Three days later I am still overwhelmed by the completely unexpected response I received. My friends opened their cupboards and their pocketbooks and generously poured out their aid and encouragement on me. In the last three days my kitchen has been donated: a great big rice cooker, a great big food processor, two huge crock-pots, a food dehydrator, a food steamer, and a pressure cooker.

What is more overwhelming to me than the generosity of my friends, is the tender-hearted care of my father in heaven that is evident in this small miracle. He saw my need and he provided, even though I felt more like venting about my inadequacies than praying for his provision.

Over these past three days I have heard in my mind the words of familiar bible verses, reminding me of truths I am always tempted to forget. And though each of these passages is clearly set in a very different context than my own, the truths they convey remain wholly applicable to my life: God sees his childrens' needs, has unlimited resources to meet them, and delights in providing abundantly to those who trust him, sometimes even to those who choose to complain instead of trusting. I am reminded again that complaining is the same as accusing God of being inadequate to meet my needs. Tonight I am humbled, my faith is renewed, and my spirit refreshed--a priceless gift from God though Christ's body to me.

I have no need of a bull from your stall
   or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Psalm 50:9-12

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
Malachi 3:9-11

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14

I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 4:18-20

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Loose Tooth Talk

"Mommy!" Hannah whined as she ran into my office yesterday afternoon. "I bit this really hard piece of rice that was in my rice pudding and now my tooth really hurts!"

I pried open her reluctant mouth and spied a tiny trickle of blood around one of her bottom, front teeth. It wiggled easily. "Congratulations, Hannah," I announced, "you have a loose tooth!"

She quickly reached her finger up and wiggled. "It really is loose!" she concluded happily.

Last night, when Matt came home, the first thing he had to hear about was Hannah's loose tooth. And it was the first thing on her mind this morning. She snuck into my room just after Elijah had stood up in his crib and announced, "Nah Nuh!" (which I think means, "All done.")

"Good morning, Hannah," I said, sitting up and holding out my arms for a hug.

She gave a shy smile, slipped into my lap, and informed me, "My tooth's still loose."

At breakfast she could talk about nothing else, so I kept a little log of her conversation while I poured cups of juice and bowls of Rice Chex. The following is an actual transcript of our breakfast conversation.

Hannah: "Daddy said my tooth is so loose it might just fall out any time while I'm eating."

Me: "I think it might take a few weeks still, darling."

Hannah: "Oh don't say that, Mommy!  I've been waiting sooo long already! I've been waiting 14 years for my tooth to fall out!"

Me: "Honey, you've only been alive for six and a half years."

Hannah: "Well, I've been waiting six and a half years, then, and that's still a long time."

Emma: "I don't understand."

Me: "Hannah's pretending she's been waiting for her teeth to fall out since the day she was first born. Do you think she's really been waiting that long?"

Emma, giggling now: "Nope."

Hannah: "Well I've really been waiting since I was three, which is when I first found out you could lose teeth, and that's the truth! When I was three I was like, 'When I grow up, I'm going to lose all my teeth all at once,' like, 'Cccccrrrrrraaaahhh' and they all just fall out! And then the tooth fairy would have to give me 20 things because I have 20 teeth. I know I do because I counted them in the mirror. I think everyone has 20 , except for people with health problems. I can't chew with my loose tooth, Emma, because it hurts...Mama! I just got a big crunch on my loose tooth and now it hurts really bad! And now I have another loose tooth and I don't want another loose tooth! I only want one!"

Me: "I thought you wanted to lose all your teeth at once."

Hannah at Emma's preschool b-day party last month
Hannah: "That was when I was three! ... I'm glad I have a loose tooth. Make sure you give me enough money to buy a stuffed animal, Tooth Fairy Mama."

Me: "I'll be sure to tell the tooth fairy that's what you want."

Hannah: "You are the tooth fairy, Mama! And since I stay up all night I can catch you! I'll just pretend I'm fast asleep, and I'll put my thumb in my mouth too, so you won't know I'm awake!"

Me: "Well you can try to catch her, but I hear she's pretty sneaky. Now it's time to get dressed and start your schoolwork."

Hannah is sitting at the table now, absentmindedly wiggling her tooth while she works math problems. Actually, let's be honest, she's probably absentmindedly working math problems while she wiggles her tooth.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Summing up September

I've set a new record now, going nearly a month without writing here. This month has been an unprecedented kind of busy for our family. We've picked up the level of homeschooling as I'm now teaching a 1st grader and a 3rd grader, we're attending a coop art class on Tuesday mornings, and we've added soccer with two hours devoted to practice on Monday nights and two hours devoted to games on Saturday mornings. This has significantly reduced any "freeish" time in my schedule from precious to endangered.

But what has really consumed my remaining time and energy is another round of illness--not the viral and bacterial kinds that plagued us last February, but a sudden outbreak of the autoimmune kinds: asthma, allergies, and chronic ear infections (likely caused by chronic inflammation of the eustachian tube due to allergies). Emma was diagnosed with asthma earlier this month after weeks of uncontrollable wheezing and coughing. She also got an ear infection at this time, and had two episodes of inexplicably breaking out in hives. Toby had an ear infection in August that caused blood to seep out of his ear tube (that was a bit alarming). He also had some minor cases of hives. Now he has been coughing uncontrollably for weeks and was diagnosed with asthma on Monday. Both Emma and Toby are on a daily dose of singulair now, which is helping.

Hannah has been having frequent stomach aches and diarrhea which I think I've traced to a corn allergy or sensitivity. Even little Elijah has broken out in hives this month and had a six-week-long ear infection that managed to resist 10 days on Amoxicillin, 10 days on Augmentin, a shot of Rocefin with 7 days of cephalexin, then 3 shots of Rocefin. When he finally saw the ENT last week, the doctor remarked that there was a "tremendous amount of pressure on both eardrums" and that he was surprised Elijah wasn't "screaming 24/7." He pulled strings at the hospital and got Elijah into ear tube surgery the next morning.

With Elijah's ear tubes in place he is finally fussing less and sleeping more. Emma has returned to a state of health. Hannah seems to be OK if we avoid corn (not easy on a gluten-free diet). But Toby's lingering cough, dark eyes, and poor appetite still concern me. I did get the three girls into the doctor this week for more extensive allergy testing. The boys will get their turn soon. I'm hoping I can glean some helpful information and get us all back to relative good health before cold and flu season hits hard.

I feel perpetually depleted these days--not depressed, just old-fashioned exhausted. Some uninterrupted sleep, and a day or two of down-time would really help. I would love to record the more funny and joyful moments from this month: Emma's fifth birthday, Hannah's inability to keep from daydreaming on the soccer field, her melodrama at her last blood draw, Toby's adorable sayings, and Elijah's adventures in crawling. But now it is time for me to pack everyone into the van for another Saturday morning soccer game, then to my in-law's tonight for a cookout. Hopefully I'll be back to blog again soon.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Speech Maps

This morning Emma wanted to tell me that her vitamin pill was a "monster on a skateboard." But having just learned how to pronounce /n/ /s/ /t/ /r/ /k/ and /d/ in the last two months these two words posed a daunting challenge to her. At first she just reverted to her familiar pronunciation of mostly vowels: "mah-eh ah a gay-oh." I smiled, raise my eyebrows expectantly and waited for her to try again.

She got a look of determination on her face and gave it a second try, hitting a few more consonants, "mah-sss-er ah a gate-bor!" I wasn't sure whether to just praise her and move on or to push her further. I didn't want to make her melt down with frustration, but she seemed fresh enough to give it another try. I broke the blended sounds of "nst" and "sk" into separate consonants and we made it through both words slowly, but blending the sounds fluently seemed to be far beyond her capability.

Before giving up I wanted to try one more thing. Grabbing my notebook I wrote the words "monster" and "skateboard" on a clean sheet of paper. Emma immediately began to sound them out, carefully and perfectly blending all the sounds! I could see that the jumble of sounds coming into her ears had just straightened themselves out on the paper in front of her like puzzle pieces falling together.

Speech apraxia is a "motor planning" disorder, meaning Emma has difficulty planning out the movements needed to produce the complex sounds in our language. She also has difficulty sending this plan to the muscles of her mouth. It's like needing to draw a map and then email it to her mouth so her mouth knows which route to take. When we practice certain sounds in isolation over and over again this strengthens the "internet connection" between her brain and her mouth, increasing the "bandwidth" so that these messages get through more smoothly. But I realized this morning that these new, faster neurological connections that we've been working so hard to build are of limited use if Emma can't draw an efficient map in her mind of the sounds she needs to say.

My experiment this morning confirmed for me that Emma is a very visual learner, that seeing the sounds laid out in order for her made sense of them in a way that hearing them never could have. I am a very auditory learner: I need to hear a sentence spoken to understand it well, but living with Matt has helped me understand that other people out there need to see things written down in order to understand efficiently. Emma clearly takes after Matt in this area.

This is wonderful news as far as I am concerned. It means that as Emma learns to read and spell words she will be building a library of speech maps for all of these words, ready to pull up and send down her newly built neurological pathways. Her tongue should get less lost on its way to an intelligible sentence, and hopefully someday she will arrive at fluent speech.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Keeping Up with Super Mom

Emma has an ear infection. This makes about one million and one for Emma, and five total ear infections between my younger three kids in the last three months. Our pediatrician confirmed today that her second set of ear tubes have fallen out and her left ear is infected. Actually, we first saw the infection when I took her in for her asthma three days ago. We decided to wait and see if it would resolve, but three days later it is no better and, with Emma's history of escalating infections, we now need to treat it. This means yet another dose of antibiotics.

Today I came home from taking five kids to the pediatrician, speech therapy, and the pharmacy to see that someone had posted something on facebook about why it's horrible to give kids antibiotics for ear infections, and I doubted myself. (If you are that person and you're reading this, believe me I love you, and I love all the helpful and intriguing things you post, that's why I read them--I'm about to describe a problem in me, not you.) Should I be giving Emma antibiotics again?

I do believe antibiotics are overused. I know they destroy the helpful intestinal flora. I believe that this harms the immune system. I know that all kinds of things we do in this day and age screw up our immune systems--from all the crap additives in our foods, to (possibly) the additives in vaccinations that over-accumulate due to our overly aggressive vaccination schedule, to constantly wiping out our intestinal flora with antibiotics. Two of my children already suffer from an autoimmune disease, celiac disease, possibly because of something I exposed them to or didn't expose them to when they were babies. But what am I to do?

I became defensive at this point, arguing at length in my mind with the imaginary people out there who might fault me for the constant rounds of antibiotics in this house.

"You don't know our history!" I yelled in my mind while I made dinner. "You don't know that I agreed with you and tried not to over treat Emma when she was a toddler. You don't know that she had constant ear infections and fluid in the ears for six months, that she cried every night for hours and banged her head on things, and that when we did try antibiotics it took round after round of different kinds to finally clear up the infection, only to have it return again. You don't know that I postponed the ear tube surgery because I didn't want to put her at risk for an unnecessary surgery. You don't know that when she exhibited severe speech delays the following year I blamed myself for not treating the infections sooner."

"Well," the imaginary better-than-me mother argues, "all of this could have been avoided if you had been feeding your daughter healthier food, practicing better hygiene, and giving her more vitamin D as well as doses of all of these natural antibiotics I know of. Don't you know garlic is a natural antibiotic?"

"Yes, I do!" I counter. "In fact, one winter when Matt and I suffered from a severe chest infection and had no health insurance we tried your little garlic cure. I chopped and chopped fresh, raw garlic and we choked down clove after clove of that pungent placebo! And we drank echinacea tea and took vitamins, and you know what? None of it helped! We hacked and coughed and suffered until we caved in and paid to see a doctor. Twenty-four hours on Amoxicillin and we were both cured! Garlic might be a natural antibiotic, but it doesn't compare to Amoxicillin, sorry."

"But have you organically farmed your own vegetables infused with probiotics?" Super Mom continues. "Do you home-culture your own kefir? You know, home-cultured kefir contains over fifty strains of beneficial bacteria that will restore your children's gut and immune systems! I also noticed that Emma's bedding wasn't washed in hot water using home-made laundry detergent in the last week, and your vacuum doesn't have a hepa filter on it... hmmmmm... overlooking these details will only exacerbate her asthma, which is sure to get worse with another round of antibiotics..."

And so it went in my mind, as it so often does. Am I right? Am I wrong? Should I be doing more? Will I look back on how I parented and regret it later? But, dejected, I conclude that I cannot do everything. I am raising five children, homeschooling three of them, juggling doctors and therapists, and spending hours every day on meeting my children's special dietary needs. What are these special needs?

Currently I cook:
--Gluten free--no products from wheat, barley, rye, or oats because two kids have celiac disease
--Dairy free--because it causes behavioral changes in Naomi
--No food dyes--because it causes major behavioral changes in Naomi
--Low soy--because I suspect that too much soy affects Naomi as well
--Low corn--because I suspect that Hannah may have a sensitivity to this
--Low nitrates/nitrites--because they cause behavioral changes in Naomi
--No tree nuts--Hannah is allergic to them
--Any fruits in the apple family (apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, cherries) need to be cooked first--Hannah is allergic to them unless they're cooked first (oral allergy syndrome)

Which leaves us with: meats (as long as they're not infused with broth that contains gluten), vegetables, fruits (as long as they're cooked first if they're in the apple family), rice, potatoes, and beans. These meals also need to be cheap--we're not made of money. This means I spend 2-5 hours a day on our meals (finding recipes, shopping, cooking from scratch, serving, cleaning up).

I have limited time and limited resources. Money does not grow in our backyard, and those vitamin supplements and natural antibiotics cost money I do not have. I live in a rental house where I can not organically farm my own food supply. I can only do so much. I am maxed out. And what good does it do for me to try to keep up with Super Mom if I am so stressed out that I snap in anger at every thing my kids do wrong? Is it worth it for my kids to have perfect immune systems if I have to give up the time to build real relationship with them, to train them in the things of God, to laugh with them and hug them? No, that is a sacrifice I will not make.

So I will measure out syringes of Amoxicillin for Emma and feed her yogurt. Some day maybe Emma will grow up and look with horror on the amount of antibiotics I pushed through her system. Some day maybe she will ask me why I didn't home culture my own kefir to naturally cure her every ailment. But I think I know what I will tell her now: "I did the best I could possibly do for you. I loved you with everything I had."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Emma's Asthma

Emma has wheezed since she was a tiny baby. Her first winter we lived at the pediatrician's office trying a regimen of nebulizer treatments and steroids. Finally, a different pediatrician told me that while the wheezing sounded alarming, her oxygen saturation wasn't really dropping, so I shouldn't be concerned. She called Emma a "happy winter wheezer." And that is what I've told people ever since, "Don't worry about that alarmingly loud wheezing sound coming from my daughter. Her doctor told me she's a happy winter wheezer."

But, while my other three kids outgrew this babyhood wheezing, Emma's has gotten progressively worse. When she had her ear tube surgery last year they almost didn't discharge her because she was wheezing and her oxygen saturations were in the upper 80's. This was the first time I realized that all the wheezing was actually hurting her. And it has continued to worsen. A cold virus sets her wheezing and coughing for weeks now. Exercise throws her into wheezing and coughing fits for an hour or more. More recently her allergies and even stress will set her off.

The past week Emma has wheezed and coughed around the clock. I have given her the rescue nebulizer treatments (like an inhaler, only breathed in a mist for 10 minutes) multiple times, and waited for it to pass, but it isn't passing. For three nights now Emma has slept propped up on the couch, and I have been woken up every few hours by her coughing fits and had to get up to give her another treatment. It was becoming obvious that were were dealing with much more than "happy winter wheezing." So today I finally broke down and took Emma back to the pediatrician's office. (Thankfully there are three different doctors at this practice and we've been making our way around all three of them in rotation. I'm hoping they don't compare notes and find out I have the world's sickest kids.)

Dr. A listened to the history I described and then listened to Emma, who happened to be coughing quite nicely at the moment. I asked her, "So would you call it asthma?"

She looked at me with a "do you really need to ask me that?" look, and said, "I would call it out-of-control asthma!"

Sigh. I'm the world's worst mom. I know every detail about every strange disease known to man and I've missed the most obvious kid malady ever: asthma. But really, having that one pediatrician tell me not to worry about it at all really trained me to overlook the obvious. Alas for poor Emma who probably should have been on asthma meds long ago.

Anyway, the treatment now is three days of oral steroids to dry up the secretions in Emma's lungs that she is drowning in. Also a daily dose of singulair, and nebulizers as needed. We may add inhaled steroids or other meds later if needed.

Here's hoping that makes this winter more bearable for her, and hey, it may just help her speech if she can finally breathe easier.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Naomi Rides

As the summer draws to a close, I have redoubled my commitment to teach Naomi and Hannah how to ride a bike this year. Our one-time session to the church parking lot in May for riding lessons had been such an effort that we had never repeated it, especially with the soaring temps this July. With temperatures cooling down and only a month or two left of suitable conditions I decided to try teaching the girls in our own yard a little each evening.

Last Thursday I took all four big kids outside after I put Elijah to bed. Hannah and Naomi took turns attempting to pedal through the grass while I steadied them by holding the seat. Again and again I ran behind them around the yard, but they failed to ever take control of the balancing, falling each time I tried letting go. Naomi grew only more and more tense, over correcting herself and balancing less. A couple different friends had suggested we teach her how to coast down a gentle slope first, but we don't own a coaster bike and the pedals kept tripping her up when she attempted to coast on her bike. She ended the night in tears. I was tired and we each had a few bruises.

Discouraged, and desperate for ideas, I came in and, while Matt was tucking the girls in bed, googled "how to teach a child to ride a bike." Almost immediately I came across the idea, which should have been obvious to me, of simply taking the pedals off of the bike so the child can learn to coast first. I ran downstairs and easily removed both pedals, then I ran upstairs to tell Naomi that our next trip out would certainly be better. We went to bed hopeful.

The weekend was busy, but tonight I finally had time to take Naomi out again. This time I left the other kids inside with Matt and just focused on Naomi. She was awkward and clumsy as she tried to push herself along the grass outside, not able to get up enough speed to balance. We tried coasting down the grassy slope to the mailboxes, but the slope is littered with walnuts, rocks, and divots. Then I saw the gently sloping drive that curves around the far side of the mobile home court. Perfect!

The drive was smooth and rarely used. We walked to the top and let Naomi coast down. The first few times down she barely dared to take her feet off the ground. But eventually she lifted her feet more and let the bike roll faster. By about the tenth trip she was coasting most of the 100 yard stretch with her feet up and an enormous smile on her face!

Best of all, I didn't have to run behind her and
coach her at all. I only had to stand by and tell her how proud I was. Even as it grew dark out I ran to get Matt and the other kids. Naomi beamed as she coasted down the hill in front of them, and we all clapped and cheered.

Hopefully she'll be riding and pedaling in a few more sessions, because I already have three more little ones signed up for my learn-to-bike program.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Off Schedule

In the interest of becoming the perfect homeschooling mom (ha!) I have succumbed to scheduling out most of our days now, and while the schedule has helped to get the school year off to a good start, there are going to have to be some adjustments, especially scheduling in more time for me to blog! I'm thankful that the last two weeks have been so productive, but I've also lost the chance to share and preserve memories. So I'm coming back now to preserve here what I can remember.

Two weeks ago I dedicated myself heart and soul to cleaning out our school/craft room and organizing the kids' curriculum for the year. After a week of mess, stress, and a couple of near mental-breakdowns, I stood in a clean room with a box of school curriculum for each girl and a schedule of each girl's school days posted on the wall. Naomi found the binder I had organized with math review worksheets for her to complete during our first several weeks of school, and she sat one afternoon for 5 1/2 hours completing it. I decided then that she was ready for school to begin. And with the hardest work behind us, we were all psyched to hit the ground running last Monday. We just had to stick to the schedules.

Elijah began running a fever shortly after midnight Monday morning. Ah yes, the joke was on me. Because his last ear infection hadn't looked one hundred percent resolved a week earlier, I had been told to bring him in if he began running a fever. So in to the doctor we went Monday morning, where Elijah was diagnosed with a double ear infection. Then to the park we went while we waited for the antibiotic to be prepared, then to the pharmacy, then home for lunch. When Hannah complained that she hadn't gotten the sticker she'd wanted at the doctor, I took the opportunity to explain how sometimes we "get what we get and we don't throw a fit," just as I hadn't gotten the start to our school year that I'd wanted, but we would just "go with the flow." After this convenient lesson in English idiom, we did manage to get a decent day of school in during the afternoon.

Tuesday morning I drug a sad, feverish Elijah to our home school art class, because I didn't want the girls to miss their chance to paint in the style of Eric Carle. When Elijah's fever stayed stubbornly over 104 for the third day, we spent Wednesday morning going back to the doctor to re-check his ears. The ears looked better, which led the doctor to believe Elijah's fever was viral, so we went home to wait it out. His fever broke Wednesday night and Thursday morning he was covered in the tell-tale rash of harmless Roseola. I breathed a sigh of relief then.

Despite this serious attempt to derail our schedule Naomi had done amazingly well at completing her work each day. I had forgotten how much she thrived on a schedule. Somehow that same routine that feels so restrictive to me seems to only empower her. She dove into her work each day, delighted in checking off each completed task, and felt fulfilled when evening came. She is eight years, three months old, and technically entering third grade. Yet she is reading on a fifth to sixth grade level and breezing through her fifth-grade reading for comprehension workbook. She is entering fourth-grade math, devouring fourth grade science, enjoying a fifth-grade vocabulary workbook, thrilled to write couplet poetry, and is refusing to put down her American History textbook--reading 3/4 of it in the first week of school. I flipped through the book yesterday and quizzed her with random questions like "Who was Blacksnake?" which she answered with no trouble at all. In some ways this makes her the easiest child in the world to home school, but in some ways it is very challenging to keep this girl challenged! Just when I think I have a year's worth of curriculum lined up, I find myself scrambling to find more for her to read.

Hannah, on the other hand, has a bright mind but is a little less focused. She wants so badly to help me with Elijah or help Emma with her reading, that she has a hard time sitting still with her own spelling words. She's doing just fine in school, but most of the time still has her head in the clouds. Today she said to me, "Mommy, sometimes I'm tired of just being Hannah all the time."

"You mean you'd like a different name?" I asked, "Which name would you choose?"

She smiled sheepishly and her eyes twinkled up at me, "There are a lot of good names. I think I would choose..." Here she paused dramatically and then whispered whimsically, "Rosie!"

"Rosie Eby?" I laughed.

"No, I can choose a different middle and last name too," she objected. "I would be Rosie Josephina Ruth."

Oh my. I think I need to read her Anne of Green Gables next. She's not Anne Shirley. She's Cordelia.

Unfortunately for Rosie Ruth, the soccer season has been delayed. This means another two weeks or torturous waiting for her. What she doesn't yet know is that a friend from church has decided to bring her to her "bring a friend to ballet class" on Tuesday evening. No, I am not telling Rosie about this until Tuesday afternoon, I've learned my lesson there!

Yes, that is a bow on Elijah's head. Not my fault.
Emma, who still prefers to be called Emma, continues to progress nicely with her speech and can't wait for the preschool year to begin. And Toby continues to amuse me with suggestions like (while looking at another potato-based dinner), "Maybe we could borrow some pizza from Applebees for dinner."

Tomorrow begins another week of learning, growing, and laughing at the Eby house--on schedule or off.