Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Carpool Confessions

I have reached a new stage in motherhood: the carpool years. I drive 20 miles a day, one mile at a time, back and forth and back and forth. I spend at least three hours a day shuttling my sons around, between two schools with two drop-off times and two pick-up times, as well as karate and soccer practice, which are on different days and at varying times respectively. Veteran moms, I listened, but I didn't quite understand how cumbersome this job is! And my kids are only in first grade and PreK!

Once when asked what my mom did for a living, my little brother said "she sits." He was mostly right. My mom never missed an activity; she was always there for us, sitting. She sat on the side of our bed each morning and night. She sat in the car, she sat on the bleachers, she sat in doctor's office waiting rooms, in parent-teacher conferences and at the dinner table every night with a homemade meal ... I am spending a lot of time myself these days sitting.

First Day of School!
Like most multitasking moms, I’ve come up with dozens of ways to be productive in carpool: scheduling doctors' appointments, working on my laptop, going through mail, paying bills, making mobile deposits, scrolling Facebook and Instagram, pushing back my cuticles, painting my nails, checking email, deleting my cookies, cleaning out my purse, cleaning out my car, catching up with friends, chatting with my mom, blogging, reading, jamming out, sitting in quiet contemplation ... the phone rings and Bryan asks what I'm doing.

I pick up William first in the afternoons, and we have an hour to kill before getting Anders at 3:10. The first few months of school, I wanted to get there early so William and I would sit in my car and wait and wait. (I have since slacked off!) Many days, he would nap--the only place this energetic early bird will nap is when held down physically by his car seat. Other days, he'd grow restless. One week, we went through Hamilton, then Shrek the Musical, then all my favorite Michael Jackson tunes. He can now recite the first verse and chorus to "I'm Bad" and "Beat It," with some pretty good dance moves and vocal effects. On pretty days, he opens the sun roof and peers his head out. We've brought the ball and played hot potato in the carpool line. Once he had to pee so badly that I was forced to give him an empty Tervis Tumbler. (Never drink lemonade when the cup is warm.) Another day, my air conditioning was broken, so we went to the drive-thru Cajun snowball place and devoured the cotton-candy flavored ice. My car remains a little sticky.

He's a little trooper...most of the time!
Earlier this fall, I got in a wreck (nobody was hurt!), and my car spent five weeks in the body shop. During that time, I borrowed Bryan's car, who is pretty particular and doesn't allow snowballs, for instance. At pick-up one day, William's teacher asked, "Did you wreck your husband's car, too?" I had no idea what she was talking about. I pulled over, walked around to the passenger side, and noticed a big piece of Bryan's car was missing. WTF! I didn't remember hitting anything. Surely I would know. Or would I? I was filled with self-doubt and utterly perplexed when it came to me: the carwash! I had gotten Bryan's car cleaned as a nice surprise. (Surprise, I broke your car too, honey!) Sure enough, the carwash still had the piece, they profusely apologized, and they fixed it immediately. I planned a fool-proof cover-up scheme which lasted the whole of 48 hours when William confessed everything to his daddy. BUSTED. At school the following week, William's chapel lesson was about honesty and always telling the truth. BUSTED AGAIN.

Waiting to be dropped off
With all this time in the car, it's a wonder not more has happened. Some days in the car are so incredibly boring and mundane, and others are completely maddening as the boys constantly bicker and fight, spill and destroy. But we're in a brand-new town with new schools and lots of changes, and I am their constant. Now that I'm working from home, I get to be the one who takes them to school every morning and who picks them up every afternoon. I get to witness how eagerly Anders runs down the first-grade sidewalk into the building to start his day. I get to be the first in the afternoon to hear the song William learned at school. No matter how their days went, here I am with a smile and an open door--and hopefully all the pieces to the car.

A Prayer For Carpooling Moms & Dads
A nun who works with Bryan at the hospital gave me a St. Christopher key chain after my wreck. It reads: Protect me, my passengers and all who pass by with a steady hand and a watchful eye.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Butterfly

After years of challenges and questions, our seven-year-old son, Anders, has radically transformed. He is happy and thriving, and it seemingly happened overnight. This first-grade year, he's made all As, he's reading, he's made new friends, and he's dedicated to karate and soccer, despite the fact the other kids are much more athletic.

Our Karate Kid

When Anders was 2 and we were living in Alabama, we noticed he was behind, in speech as well as physical and emotional development. We started therapy, and shortly after William was born, he got kicked out of his first preschool for biting and temper tantrums. They had "never seen a child quite like Anders before." At age 4 in Orlando, he was kicked out of another school, again for behavior and lack of impulse control. Parents whispered, "Is he autistic? What's wrong with him?" Others were angry, called him a bully, and wanted him sent to a school "for bad kids." We hired a childhood psychologist to help us with behavior, and around that same time, he was diagnosed with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, an anxiety-based disorder that made him vomit incessantly in stressful situations, including family vacations and holidays. We decided to give him a long break from school and hold him back a year. At age 5 at a Montessori school, the director discovered he had Sensory Processing Disorder, a condition in which his brain has trouble organizing all the stimuli in the world around him. We added occupational therapy to his speech therapy and behavior therapy. Yet, his frustration level was so high and his impulse control so low, he continued having severe meltdowns at school, at home and in public. One day in May, he knocked over a bookcase and hit his teacher. He was completely devastated that he couldn't attend the field trip. While he was rightfully punished, he felt horrible about his actions. He was remorseful and overwhelmed with emotions. He admitted the fact he couldn't control the "bad Anders that comes out sometimes." All the while, the school and my amazing friends showed him constant love and unfaltering support.

As we were moving from Orlando to Louisiana, two private schools indicated that, while Anders was one of the smarter kids they had interviewed, they were either not willing or able to work with our son. This was another painful blow in a town where I wished for a fresh start. 

So we bought a house in the best public school district--closing a mere day before school registration. And we sought more tools for Anders. We invested in an expensive psych exam and a genetic screening to determine the best ADHD medicine, to help control his impulses. 

As it's turned out, we haven't needed any of that.

Because when Anders started first grade, something clicked. He has made an A in conduct every single day but two, and on those days he was "excessively talking" to a new friend. (We couldn't help but be proud of that!) After nine weeks he got a reward for making his reading goal, completing his homework every night, and behaving almost perfectly. He went from barely reading this summer to now a level D. He must be on reading level J to move on to second grade, but he has set his goal higher.

He even asked his teacher for more challenging books to read at home. One night, he threw them on the floor in frustration. He cried for a minute, then he picked them up again. "If I can't be the best reader in my class, then I'll at least be the best one in my reading group!"

Note this week from his teacher!
We could not wish for more in life than for Anders to be kind, willing to help others, and work hard.
Anders is not out of the woods yet. He's still highly emotional, and while he's controlling his frustrations, anxiety, and disappointments much better, he's had a few big breakdowns at karate as well as at school because we got there one minute after the bell rang. And although his vocabulary is excellent and he has many ideas to share, he's still on a 3-year-old level of speech articulation. We have work left to do.

I bare my soul to you in these blogs because I see other kids like Anders and I see other parents like us who struggle. Some kids are birds, kids like our five-year-old William, who are born ready to spread their wings and fly. But others are stuck in a cocoon, and we must endure dark, dark times. We wait and we wait and we wait. We continue therapy, we continue research, we continue to nurture, and nothing happens. We wait. Every day, we surround our child with friends, teachers, therapists and family members who wrap them in love, so much love. And one day, one fine day, they emerge as butterflies. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Louisiana Livin'

On this Friday the 13th, I’ve realized moving to Louisiana wasn’t so scary. We’ve been here just shy of five months and are settling in very well, thanks to an abundance of friendly people and barbecue shrimp. 

Laying down roots
We are back in the South, and it turns out living in Louisiana is a lot like living in Alabama…but with a lagniappe of Cajun culture. 

At the farmers market shortly after moving here, an older lady shouted “Sha!” at William three times. I thought she must be a Wiccan straight out of “True Blood” until my friend informed me she was saying “Cher,” which means precious and cute. Now William proudly owns a shirt with Cher Bébé across the front.

Being in the South again (I love Orlando, but it is not the South), means we are one connection away from every single person we meet. “Oh I know so-and-so from your home town of Fairhope…they went to LSU law school with my brother-in-law.” At one dinner with two other couples, we discovered one guy works with my old high school boyfriend, while the other’s goddaughter babysat Anders in Pensacola. One of my new friends grew up three blocks away from me, went to my same high school and college—yet we just met here in Lafayette. The good ol’ Southern connections go on...

My favorite things to do in a new town are meeting the people and exploring the area. Luckily for us in Acadiana, both have plenty of personality and a profound sense of place. 

Not one, but four of our neighbors, including the 80-year-old next door, brought us meals when we moved in, from crawfish pies to gumbo—made with chicken and sausage—not with okra and tomatoes. Our sweet Lafayette friends with Fairhope ties, Abigail and Gaye, brought us their favorite Louisiana products, from their canned spicy pickles and Zapp's potato chips to Swamp Pop soda and Abita beer. 

We've been to our first Fais Do-Do (a Cajun dance party). We've learned to play the card game Bourré. We've eaten boudin balls, crawfish enchiladas and duck gumbo. We've ventured out on a swamp tour and learned about Rougarou, the Cajun swamp monster. We've taken trips to New Orleans, one of our all-time favorite cities and learned the words to "Audubon Zoo." We've been the only Nick Saban fans and the only Protestants in the room. We've had an intimate dinner with two nuns and a Catholic bishop. And I committed the ultimate sin in Alabama: I've hit up the drive-thru daiquiri stand and have bought hard liquor at Target. 

Cutest kids either side of the Mississippi
There are lots more updates and future blog possibilities, starting with "How to Make New Friends Without Looking Like a Stalker," "How in the Hell Does Baton Rouge Have Worse Traffic Than Orlando," "Why Do They Listen at Karate but Not to Mom" and "How Your Marriage Can Survive an Extensive Home Renovation."

Two weeks before moving in!

Instead of diving into those now, I'll quickly mention one more thing. We couldn’t have dreamt up a better start for the boys at school. Subject A is at public school, and subject William is at private, but both are thriving in their environments. Something has taken over Anders' body, and he's behaving, doing homework, and working hard at reading. He even wants to please his teacher! We don't know what's happened, so maybe it's just some good Louisiana voodoo. I am becoming a believer. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Passport to Freedom

If summer vacation has taught us anything, it's that we moms no longer belong to ourselves. For the past three months, we've met the demanding daily needs of high-maintenance miniature people whom we voluntarily brought forth into the world. Now that school has started again (HALLELUJAH!), we can finally take a breath, slowly sip a cup of coffee, remember to pay the credit card bill and take a shower without hearing the word "mom" 137 times a minute.

This summer I've been completely physically and emotionally consumed with my family. On Memorial Day, we moved from Orlando, Florida to Lafayette, Louisiana for my husband to start a new job. Sensitive to making my two boys happy in our new home, I've given in to their every request. I went to Chuck E. Cheese's, the trampoline park, the go-kart track, the god-forsaken arcade and even a roadside dinosaur park à la "Pee-Wee Herman's Big Adventure." In a span of weeks, we found a house and a school; found a babysitter, a pediatrician, a dentist and a speech therapist; and on the fifth attempt, we found a grocery store that sells the "right" kind of cottage cheese, per Anders. Without a job and without a permanent home, I've spent most of my days in an animal print-themed furnished condo entertaining the boys and keeping them from killing one another.  

But last weekend I got to escape all that. I went on a trip to Mexico with one of my very best friends-- my roommate from college--and we got to be Laura and Jennifer for three days. 

Even being in the airport alone with a book and a Starbucks was bliss. The flight attendant only interrupted my in-flight movie 16 times, which was at least a third of what the boys typically do. (When my friend Virginia stayed with me once, it took us three nights to watch "Straight Outta Compton.")

In Isla Mujeres, appropriately meaning "Island of Women," Jen and I sat in knee-deep, clear aqua water where the only thing pulling on us were the waves. I brought Jennifer coffee, she fetched me a beer, and other than that, we got our own shit. She didn't ask me to carry anything. I didn't help her get dressed. She didn't do any cannonballs and ruin my eye makeup or make me watch mediocre "tricks" in the pool. 

A highlight of our trip was renting a golf cart for the day and riding around the entire island, the wind in our hair, free as birds. Hey, a zip line! Wanna do it? Look, a hiking trail down a rocky cliff, let's check it out! A fun-looking dive bar that doesn't allow kids! (We had just enough Pesos for a couple of margaritas but had to split the tacos.) We did whatever we pleased. We laughed and laughed and laughed, so hard we almost wet our pants because nobody bothered to bring the Poise pads. We remembered what it was like way before kids and realized our fun, free-spirited selves never really left. We'd been there all along, and just needed to give ourselves permission to come out and play. 

By the third morning, news of a tropical storm made us extra anxious to get home. We couldn't wait for snuggles with our boys. Even after our taste of freedom, we were ready to get back to our ball-and-chains. Our little guys are life-size magnets so powerful, they can pull us from postcard-perfect beaches back into mundane worlds at home. No matter how hard kids are, how whiny and how difficult, these little guys make our lives more meaningful. They are the anchor in the ebb and flow of life. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

18 Summers of Hell

Many of my friends shared the sentimental essay on Facebook about only having 18 summers with your children. In the comments, they even admitted to crying. I, too, cried. You mean I have to endure this summer after summer? Time stand still? My 4-year-old wakes with the birds at 5 am and goes to bed with the sun at 9 pm. They are the longest, most excruciating days of my life. Oh for the love of God, let's get this next school year started already.

When William is tired, he becomes a crazy-hyper, uncontrollable drunk monkey.

Cramping My Style
We recently moved from a house in Disney World to a temporary condo in Louisiana where it rained the first 10 days after we arrived. This is the definition of torture, people. Coop up a mother with her two sons, who apparently hate each other, inside a small space in a brand-new environment. I felt like a Ragin' Cajun constantly yelling at my kids. Lord knows what our neighbors above, beside, and below us think about that "nice family from Florida" now.

If You Tell Me You're Bored One More Time ....
What do you mean you're bored? What about all your toys? Your iPad, your new DVDs? The bikes we miraculously managed to fit in our car for the 770-mile drive? What about the condo elevator you just had to ride all day yesterday? The two playgrounds within walking distance? The basketball court and the soccer goal and the pool we have free access to this summer? I'll show you bored, you spoiled brats! Don't make me go 19th century on your asses!  

When Mom Is Not a Happy Camper
I didn't bite on the inexpensive early-bird rates for summer camps. I won't need them, I thought, blissfully naive as I daydreamed about a summer full of adventure and flexibility. Of course this daydreaming was when I was at a full-time job in Orlando and the boys were in school and still acted normal. Here I am mid-June desperately scrambling to find anything they're willing to do then gladly paying double. Well played, summer camps. Well played. 

Karate all summer? Let's do it! Overpriced swim lessons? Sign us up! Critter Camp? Great! VBS at a church with questionable religious beliefs? It's free? Well that's certainly a fine option!

Mom, you are getting on my nerves. (long pause) What are nerves, Mom?

Endless Summers
The truth is we have many more summers than 18. I still spend time every summer with my parents and my brother.  My mother can tell you the second 18 summers with me was way better than the first. I don't run around the house naked because I don't feel like putting on my bathing suit. I don't lie down on the floor in Target and cry because I can't buy something. At the movies, I don't have to pee four times during the feature film. I don't have to poop at every single store and restaurant I go in. I don't hit my mother in the face because I have to wear Crocs to the beach instead of tennis shoes. I don't mow family members over with my bike because I didn't get my way at the pool. 

I know our family will have good times this summerand many summers aheadbecause I'm determined to make that happen. There will be beach trips, boat rides, swamp tours, and ice-cream dinners. There will be beach-towel snuggles and wet-from-the-pool kisses and spontaneous laughter from inside jokes only we share, not even with daddy. And when those short moments arise, I would have earned every single second with every ounce of my being. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Goodbye, Orlando!

You know that feeling when you're having so much fun at Disney World and it's time to leave? That's exactly how I am feeling as we prepare our move to Louisiana. We have practically been living at Disney for the past three years, and oh how magical it has been.

We have been lucky to call the town of Celebration home, the town that was actually built by the Walt Disney Company. We walk to parks, pools and restaurants. At Christmas, snow falls from the Florida sky--exactly four times nightly on the hour. On more than one occasion I've left the car door open (as in wide open), all night or the keys in the front door.

In the mornings on the way to school, we often see hot air balloons over the golf course. And at night, I can tell you the exact time by the sound of fireworks. 8:30 Hollywood Studios. 9:00 Epcot. 10:00 ... boys, you better get to bed RIGHT NOW because I can hear the Magic Kingdom fireworks!

Bryan's and my favorite date-night place was Epcot. "Tonight, let's go to Italy then France!" Or, "I want to do Mexico then Morocco!" As for the kids ... wow, have ours been spoiled. Where else can you watch the movie Toy Story in the morning, then dance with Woody and Jessie in the streets by noon? Or hop on an African safari or become a Jedi for the day?

While we have been to Disney World well over 100 times, the kids have had their normal childhood experiences, too. In the last three years, Anders learned to ride a bike without training wheels. He lost his first tooth, and he learned to read. William went from our sweet blonde baby to our spunky brown-haired boy who knows every word of the Moana soundtrack.

I became friends with people I never imagined I'd love so much, from exotic places like Brazil, Venezuela, England, Greece and even New Jersey and Indiana. Celebration life taught me it's not where you're from, how you talk, how you dress, or even what you believe ... it's the person inside that makes a good friend. Well, that, and a really high tolerance of your children.

I've had the most fun job, where I got to "research" and "review" the most exciting places around town. I will miss my coworkers, fellow writers and colleagues who are smarter and wittier than I am. It has been the coolest little club of people.

Two different friends, who are both wise and kind, told me the same thing when they heard our news: You'll grow where you are planted. And while part of me wants to kick and scream like a child leaving Disney World, I'm also really excited about our new opportunities and adventures. I've been from Fairhope, Alabama to Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, Huntsville, Nashville, Pensacola, Florence, Orlando and now to Lafayette. With every move, our lives have been enriched by new jobs, new experiences and new relationships. We have gained so much from the people in these places, and we wouldn't dare take a different path.

Goodbye, Orlando.

Hello, Louisiana!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Realities of Moving

The last 60 days at the Lee house have been a roller coaster of emotions and drama--it's been like a series of reality shows. 

February was "The Bachelor." Bryan and I took a secret rendezvous to Lafayette, Louisiana for his interview at the hospital there. On our hometown visit, they put us up in a fantasy suite, where we found a generous gift basket and a handwritten note. We liked them, and we knew they liked us, but would Bryan get the final rose? We didn't know how they really felt because they were courting two candidates. It really is a nerve wracking feeling...the not knowing. Finally, three painful weeks, no fingernails, and a teenager-like acne breakout later, I got the news. Bryan called me at work to tell me he had gotten the job!

March became that Jimmy Kimmel segment where the kids get bad presents at Christmas. After all that waiting and secrecy, we suddenly had lots to do...put our house on the market, quit our current jobs, and tell the boys. Nothing steals the bravado of landing an impressive CEO job like the tears and pleas of an almost 7 year old. "This is our house! I want to go to first grade here! I want my room and my tree house! No thank you! No thank you! No thank you! No thank you!" Anders also wanted to make sure there was nothing dangerous tornadoes or earthquakes or floods. Instead of answering, "2 out of 3 ain't bad," I promised him we would always keep him safe.

Talk about heart wrenching. 

Then William, through feigned tears, just trying to emulate his brother, said, "But I don't want to wash our clothes in a laundry mat!"

We have no idea why this thought popped into his head. "Stop pretending to cry. They have appliances in Louisiana."

I tried explaining to the boys that home is where the heart is and our hearts were with our family. They didn't buy it.

Apparently home is where your toys are, and William ran off happily when he realized we could take them all with us. Anders said his heart was with Pokémon Go. Bryan's new cell phone already has the app, and Anders is now excited about catching some Cajun Pokémon on the river.

Bring on "Love It or List It." Getting your house in mint condition with disgusting 4 and 6-year-old boys, who pee on the seat, leave dried spit in the sink, and throw Legos everywhere, is a joke. A really really sick mean joke. (And please tell me that smear on the floor is Nutella!) 

You have the impossible task of getting your house spotless, hiding your everyday items and pretending you don't use things like hair dryers, makeup, toothbrushes, computers, printers, cutting boards, or toys. And you basically just have to lock the kids in the car because as soon as you get one room organized, you enter the room where you left the kids to find a complete disaster. Seriously, how has any mother anywhere managed to sell her home?!

There definitely needs to be a House Hunters Temporary Housing for Families Edition. I'm on the phone with the realtor in Louisiana and William keeps interrupting.

"William, I am trying to figure out where we are going to live!"

He answers just as agitated, yet much louder. "And I am trying to figure out WHO is going to TIE MY SHOE!"

When we finally get to Louisiana, we are all crammed in the realtor's Buick Encore, who insisted against her better judgment on driving all of us in her car. The boys sat in the back seat opening and closing her DVD player over and over again and as soon we walked into the first apartment, they both went number two. (Really, kids? Really?! Not at the hotel, but here?) The second apartment was very depressing, and the third was too far outside of town. Will the Lees choose the Poo Poo Palace, Might be Suicidal, or Summer in Isolation? 

Bryan and I luckily see eye to eye when it comes to big important life stuff, but when it comes to the little things, we might need a little mediation. Enter "The People's Court." If you Google "life's biggest stressors," new job and moving are two of the top. They don't even mention with kids.  A few of our irreconcilable differences are: Whether or not to spend five nights painting the garage floor before putting the house on the market. Whether or not the wooden Easter bunny of my childhood should stay on the front porch during showings. Which one of us dropped the ball on calling the sprinkler company. Big fights,
people. BIG!

And ladies, no matter how busy you've been taking care of two sick kids, working 40 hours, cleaning the entire house for showings, and then packing for three people for a scouting trip in your new town, do not, I repeat, do not paint your fingernails in the car on the way to the airport.