Category Archives: My Boys

***This post began as a comment on Facebook in response to the notes I received after I posted the status update and pictures shown below. But in typical FB fashion, it was being a punk and in typical Emmie fashion, I was blabbering on and on. So I dusted off this blog and decided to just post this here. Thanks for coming back to visit.***

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Thank you all for your kind thoughts. All of us are taking this very hard. For those of you who asked what happened, all we really know is that Mater got sick and went downhill fast. The very long version is as follows:

Mater vomited once on Saturday morning. We withheld food, figuring it was a stomach bug. He threw up a small amount Saturday night and then was fine until Sunday night when he vomited water. We came home (we were in the Bay dropping off the boys for camp). By Monday night, he was perking up a bit…asking for food, following me around the house close to normal. I fed him a small amount of rice. He kept it down all night. I gave him a bit more the next morning (Tuesday) but when we came home from work we found he’d thrown it up in his crate.

By that point it was clear that Harley hadn’t contracted whatever he had (they always share little stomach bugs so that was unusual) so I was no longer inclined to think it was something that simple. I called our vet who was closing for the night. They sent us to the emergency vet. (Side story: Just before we left, I took Mater into the backyard. Our neighbor’s dog was out and they did their usual tussle at the fence. Normally I’d shush him but something told me to just let him have his fun while he could. Yesterday morning, I heard the neighbors’ dog outside waiting for Mater like normal. It broke my heart.)

I got him to the emergency vet. He was solemn but wagged his tail when the tech and the vet came in. At this point, everyone thought it was an obstruction…that he’d ingested something he shouldn’t have and that it was lodged in his digestive system somewhere. X-rays indicated that was unlikely. Blood work showed his liver values were through the roof. The ER vet said his levels looked like those of a dog who ingested something poisonous. We couldn’t think of anything he could have gotten into. I told her I needed to know if he wasn’t going to make it. That I had to go get my boys who were two and a half hours away.

We started him on antibiotics and fluids and the emergency vet kept him overnight to run some more tests. In the middle of the night, she called to say his liver wasn’t producing the proteins to clot his blood (which meant they couldn’t get a biopsy of his liver, the next step in diagnosing him along with an ultrasound). He could suffer from internal bleeding at any time. The nurse caring for him said he “looked worse” in the morning. The radiologist that reviewed the film confirmed that obstruction was highly unlikely and said his liver looked smaller than it should be. The vet informed me that it would be extremely difficult to figure out what was going on and likely significantly harder to fix it. She explained the procedure for euthanasia.

At first we asked to move him to his regular vet. But as we thought about it, we wondered whether we should just keep him there so as to avoid the anxiety and discomfort of a car ride. I called our vet to tell him our concerns but he pushed hard to evaluate him himself. “He’s my patient,” he said. “Let me try to save him.” I couldn’t blame him. (In case you question his motives, he offered us a break on the expenses and was significantly cheaper than the emergency vet even without the discounts. He’s a good guy.)

The car ride over was awful. Mater cried the whole time, like I’ve never heard him cry. He threw up as we pulled into the parking lot. I got help getting him inside and talked with the vet. He ran a couple more tests (it wasn’t parvo but he had bacteria in his stool) and asked for two days to try to treat him with antibiotics. Scoot went to get the boys so they could see him that day (Wednesday) just in case. He rushed down to the Bay, told them Mater was really sick and that we wanted to give them a chance to see him, and they headed back. While they were on their way back, I got a call that Mater had a seizure. He wasn’t responding to the antibiotics (now on hour 18). I asked the vet to keep him comfortable and told him that the boys would be back in about two hours.

I went to lay with him while we waited for the boys. When I arrived, his eyes were fixed. The vet had to sedate him and he said he thought Mater was blinded by the seizure. I put my face in his. His nose twitched. He knew I was there. I talked to him, told him
how sorry I was, that we all loved him, that the boys were on their way. I wondered whether I had time to bring Harley over, thinking maybe she could bring him comfort that I couldn’t. He adored her. But I knew there wasn’t much time and my priority was to make sure he wasn’t alone. I got all the arrangements handled. We moved him to an exam room where he was able to lay comfortably on a blanket.

The boys arrived. How they felt is their own story to tell. I, however, have never felt as terrible as a parent as I did when they walked in and said their goodbyes. Mater dragged himself into Bop’s lap as Bop sat in my arms on the edge of the exam table. It was such as juxtaposition to the early days when the puppy Mater and 2-year-old Bop wanted little to do with each other.

The boys went to the waiting room with Scoot while Mater left this world. I stayed with him, nose to nose. The end was peaceful and merciful.

Meanwhile, the boys chose the inscription for his urn: Mater Johnson. Friend. Protector. Family. September 29, 2008 – August 7, 2013.

He wasn’t even five years old.

Mater was supposed to be our way of helping the boys deal with Harley’s mortality. He was supposed to comfort them and snuggle them when she died of old age. He was supposed to be here to greet them when they walked home from school by themselves for the first time. He was supposed to hang out with them while they played video games. He was supposed to be the playful peacemaker after enduring the yelling of fights between adolescent boys and their parents. He was supposed to get in the way when we were trying to take pictures of the boys on their way to prom. He was supposed to cry at the door when DJ went off to college. He wasn’t supposed to be a distant memory by then.

Instead of enjoying all of the “supposed to”s, I’m left to mourn. To comfort my husband and my kids as we all struggle with this complete and sudden shock to our lives. To second guess every decision we’ve ever made about him and his care. To wonder what would have happened if he’d been seen sooner. To research the chicken-or-the-egg cycle that is liver failure in a fruitless search for an explanation. To question my natural inclination to plan out everything in my life. To get smacked in the face by the reality that there is so much beyond my control. To try to envision my kids’ future without him in it. To answer my boys’ questions – some of which are unanswerable. To know when to let tears flow and when to dry them. To forgive myself for my role, however big or small, in his demise. And, ultimately, to have faith that none of us will feel this way forever.

I’ll miss you, my little snuggle bug.

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Friend. Protector. Family.: RIP Mater

Immunoglobulin A Deficiency and Sinuplasty and Tonsillectomy, Oh My!

For years Bop has been one of those “sick kids.” When he was very young he seemed to catch all of the colds at his daycare center. When he was two, he had ear tubes put in. The day of his surgery was, by far, my hardest day of parenting. Unbeknownst to us, Bop had so much fluid in his ears that he had 60-70% (temporary) hearing loss. As soon as he came out of surgery, he could hear like he’d probably never heard before. And he freaked the F out. I was genuinely worried I’d break one of his limbs while trying to contain console him as he came out of anesthesia after the tubes were placed.

Within months, there was so much pressure in his ear canals from more fluid accumulating that it pushed the tubes out. One day, when I was home with him while he was sick, his breathing changed. I called a nurse who told me to rush him to the doctor. He had pneumonia and, we’re told, will forever be at risk for getting it again.

When he was three, I was out of town when Scoot called and said Bop had a high fever. When I returned from my trip, I found his bed sheets covered with so much blood from the fluid draining from his ears that bleach couldn’t remove the stains.

Over the next two years, we began to build quite a collection of remnants of amoxicillin bottles in our fridge. It just seemed like he was constantly sick. During that time, we had him tested for allergies for a second time (through blood work, rather than skin tests as he’d previous had that were inconclusive) and learned he has some pretty severe allergies, including to trees and grass – two allergens it’s nearly impossible to avoid.

Some of the many bottles of amoxicillin that reside in our fridge.

Last year, when we’d get calls from school every 4 – 6 weeks saying that Bop was lethargic and had a headache, we’d chalk it up to bad allergies. Most of the time, he didn’t have a fever. He was just uncomfortable. Nothing a little Zyrtec couldn’t fix, right? I wouldn’t take him in for antibiotics unless I had reason to believe that he was actually sick, usually because of a fever or changes in his demeanor, rather than having stuffiness from allergies. When he did get sick, I thought it was because his allergies were so bad that his sinuses couldn’t drain and so would get infected. His pediatrician agreed this was a plausible cause.

This spring, when I realized that he’d been prescribed antibiotics six times in eight months, we decided to ask for a referral to an immunologist. I dug out the results of the prior allergy blood tests and started studying them so I’d have my questions prepared. I was mostly worried about the slight allergies to dogs and milk that his tests showed. Do we need to get rid of our dogs? He loves milk but should I stop letting him have it? I noticed there were tests other than those for allergens reported. Tests I hadn’t gone over with his physician.

One caught my eye. IgA <0.1. “Huh,” I thought. “I wonder what that means.”

A few clicks later and Dr. Google was by my side explaining selective Immunoglobulin A deficiency. I mentioned it to Scoot, who is well versed in my particular brand of hypochondria. He told me not to worry. I told him I’d ask the immunologist about it. Why wouldn’t his pediatrician have said something about this result? That means it’s no big deal, right?

I brought the blood work with me the next day. When the doctor looked the tests over he said, “And you know about his immunoglobulin deficiency, right?” I sat dumbfounded. “Um, kind of…I mean, his doctor never explained it to me. In fact, I just noticed it last night,” I replied.

The immunologist asked if my iPhone was locked as he reached for it. Confused, I fumbled with it, unlocked it and handed it back to him. He set my internet browser to http://primaryimmune.org. He said I could look there for more info. I asked where he got it from. “Which one of you [me or Scoot] had ear infections as a kid?” he asked. “I’ve had four sets of tubes,” I replied. “Go to your doctor. Get tested,” he said. He handed me seven different prescriptions for Bop, including nasal sprays, antibiotics, allergy meds, and rescue meds for the asthma attacks that are inevitable for a kid in his state. He suggested we start him on allergy shots and ordered a sinus x-ray and a return visit in a few weeks.

We went home and did more research. We learned that immunoglobulin A is an antibody that is excreted in the mucous membranes of the eyes (tear ducts), nose, mouth (saliva), and the digestive tract. Those antibodies fight infections. Immunoglobulin A deficiency occurs when someone does not produce those antibodies, causing them to be susceptible to infection. It is the most common antibody deficiencies. And it is genetic.

When we returned, Bop had gotten better and then worse. As soon as he was off his two week course of antibiotics, the sinus infection returned. He had also been to soccer camp where we learned that his grass allergies and his shin guards did not mix well. His shins were shredded from him scratching them. We were handed more prescriptions. Despair began to set in.

The immunologist urged us again to start allergy shots. We talked to Bop about them, explained that they’d help him “not be d’allergic to cats anymore” (his words). He/we decided to go ahead with the shots (which may take up to five years to finish). His immunologist also referred us to an ENT for evaluation for an adenoidectomy. It took quite some time to get scheduled (during which I was tested and confirmed to also have Immunoglobulin A deficiency as well) but when we saw the ENT in early August, he said he needed a sinus CT scan before evaluating Bop for a surgical solution to his chronic sinus infections. A few weeks later, we were told Bop was a good candidate for a balloon sinuplasty, turbinate reduction, adenoidectomy, and tonsillectomy. Though the surgery wasn’t urgent, the ENT explained, there is a good chance he’d stop being so sick if he had it and he’s in the ideal age range for these particular procedures. And cold and flu season is quickly approaching. In total, the four procedures would take less than two hours. It’d be handled in an outpatient setting. He’d be out of school for up to two weeks.

We slept on the decision. We conferred with his immunologist. We began to get clarity.

There are three distinct but related problems that are causing Bop to get sick so frequently: 1.) He’s got severe allergies. He’s now undergoing immunotherapy (allergy shots) for that. 2.) He has no antibodies to fight off infections. There’s nothing we can do about that. 3.) He’s got enlarged tissue in his ear/nose/throat that traps bacteria. Though I hate the idea of him having to undergo and, frankly more significantly, recover from surgery, the only way to address the anatomical contributors to his chronic sinus infections is by fixing his anatomy.

So what would life be like without the surgery? If history is any guide, it’d probably include many more calls from school to ask us to come pick up our sick kid, more sinus headaches and stuffy noses, and many more prescriptions for antibiotics. Plus, now that he’s been diagnosed with IgA deficiency, he’ll likely never just get a short course of antibiotics. Knowing his body isn’t naturally able to fight off infections, we want to save antibiotics for the severe infections, not just now but when he’s an old man. We don’t want him to continue having eight prescriptions for antibiotics each year.

We explained the options to Bop. We told him he can put a mask on his face, go to sleep, have doctors scratch his throat and tickle his nose to try to keep him from getting sick. We told him his throat would hurt for a couple weeks but that he’d get lots of popsicles and ice cream. We told him he wouldn’t get to play soccer for a month or so. We told him he’d miss school. And we told him that he could choose not to have surgery and that maybe he just wouldn’t be as sick as he was last year. He hates being sick. His sinus headaches have affected his quality of life. He may only be five (six on Friday) but he just wants to be done with all of the suck that is chronic sinusitis.

So next Monday, Bop will undergo four procedures to try to rid him of the misery of chronic sinus pain, pressure and infection.

We won’t know for some time whether we’ve made the right decision. I can only hope that after my baby endures the discomfort of the next few weeks, he earns himself some much needed long-term relief.

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No, He’s Not My Child AT. ALL.

Conversation between me and DJ last night…

DJ: So what do you have planned this weekend?

Me: Nothing.

Him: Nothing?

Me: Yeah, isn’t it great [after nine months of dance class every Saturday]?

Him: NO! How can you have NOTHING planned?!?!?!

Me: You’re *so* my child.

Answers to My Own Skeptical Questions about The Avengers

Who doesn’t love a weeknight date with an 8-year-old? Monday night, I took DJ to see The Avengers and, rather than do a typical movie review, I thought I’d just blurt out the answers to the questions that were on my mind before I went to see it.

Q: I heard on NPR that they opened Avengers overseas first so they could recoup the investment in the movie before it opened in the U.S. (An indication U.S. sales may slip.) Did it really suck that bad?

A: Uh…NO…absolutely not. When I heard that, I was expecting to be “meh” about the whole thing, quite honestly. I took advantage of the free tickets because I knew DJ would be excited to see a movie before it came out. But I was genuinely, thoroughly entertained. So much so that DJ and I immediately came home and told Scoot that we should go see it again as a family.

Q: Will the dirty looks I get for taking my elementary school aged kid to see this be justified or no?

A: No. DJ is 8. I was nervous about taking him to a PG-13 movie that I hadn’t prescreened. He’s seen other PG-13 movies (e.g., Transformers) but we usually get the chance to see them first to make sure the violence isn’t too extreme or too real and the sexual innuendo isn’t too over the top. He. LOVED. It. There was only one scene with “real” blood…most of the rest of the “violence” was either fist fighting-style or big explosions that weren’t particularly graphic. The sexual references were subtle enough that they went well over his head. And DJ laughed and laughed and laughed at the jokes. There was a tiny kid (maybe 3 or 4?) in the audience and he did just fine. Though he’s not a huge fan of 3D, I think Bop (age 5) would even enjoy it. (He loves him some super heroes.)

Q: I’m more of DC Comics/Batman freak fan. Will I like a Marvel movie?

A: Do you like action? Characters with great chemistry? Funny jokes? Awesome fight scenes? Big explosions? Samuel L. Jackson? Baseball and apple pie? If so, you’ll enjoy it even without Bruce Wayne. (Sorry, Bruce, you know I still love you.)

Q: Does this movie stay true to the comic books?

A: I have no idea. I don’t do comic books. But I do know that there were CLEARLY some comic book fans in the full theater… (many looked just.like.this.)…

…and they CLEARLY enjoyed the movie. They were hootin’ and hollerin’ throughout the whole thing and when a new character was introduced (one they obviously recognized), they cheered with excitement. I’d say that the comic book geek endorsement level was quite high.

Q: Do you need to have seen Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, or The Incredible Hulk to “get” this movie?

A: No. I’d seen Captain American and Iron Man 1 and 2. DJ had only seen Iron Man, I believe. We both really enjoyed the characters, their roles in the film and their development throughout the film. Though some of them disappear for a bit, they all get reasonably equal billing…no small feat for this kind of ensemble cast.

Q: I don’t really like Scarlett Johansson. Is she going to ruin this movie for me?

A: She won me over in her first scene.

I mean, the chair part? Awesome. And she held onto me throughout the rest of the film.

Q: Do I really need to see it in 3D?

A: I only saw it in 3D so I have nothing to compare it to. But I thought they handled the 3D well. Gone are the days when you need to be hit over the head time and again with cutesy 3D tricks. With the novelty of 3D long worn off, I prefer my 3D effects to be seamlessly integrated into the movie so that it enhances the story without calling attention to itself. This movie succeeded at that. So I’d say, go see it in 3D and take advantage of the craftsmanship.

Q: Do I need to walk, run or run away from this one?

A: Run. See it when the theaters are packed with comic book buffs. It’s like having a bottle of wine with a wine connoisseur or going to an art museum with an artist. I sincerely felt like I enjoyed it more being around others who were so clearly enjoying it.

**Disclosure: I received two free passes to this screening from Disney. I was not asked to write about it nor was I compensated for this post. The opinions expressed here are my own. And DJ’s. Heh.**

Everyday He’s Shufflin': While You Were Out, Spring Break Edition

Ever since he was en utero, DJ has loved to dance. After seven years of saying we should enroll him in a dance class, we finally put him in hip hop and breakdancing last fall. As I saw him on stage at his recital in December, cheesin’ and basking in the spotlight as he popped, locked, glided and B-boy’d across the stage, I was struck hard – deep in my chest – with a feeling I’ve never felt before; one that’s hard to explain. I became acutely aware of and physically plugged into just how happy he was.

After his recital, I ran into his hip hop teacher backstage and, choking back tears, thanked her for helping him find that happiness. I’m certain she thinks I’m crazy, but it’s really hard to describe that feeling of seeing your child personify passion in such a way for the first time.

Fast-forward a few weeks. We had been toying with the idea of redoing DJ’s bedroom for some time. It was themed after his favorite movie as a toddler, Cars. Four years, one sequel and leap into the “tween” phase later, it seemed that we were nearing the time when we should stop talking and start acting.

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A few quick Google searches later and I realized I could buy him a small dance floor that he could practice on, maybe a mirror to watch his technique and, perhaps, some cool art for the walls. Then Scoot remembered a show he’d seen at a local art school where an interior designer had a hip hop-style room on display. He went to the school and inquired about the designer who has since graduated. Less than a day later, I was on the phone with Dee asking if she had any interest in designing a bedroom for an eight-year-old aspiring B-boy. She leapt at the chance.

I thought hiring an interior designer was something only rich people could do, but I quickly figured out that A.) It wasn’t nearly as expensive as I expected it to be; B.) She had a lot of creative ideas for materials and execution that saved us money; and C.) The results would end up being so much better than anything we could have come up with on our own.

We went away for spring break and came back to this (sorry, I had to pixelate some of the pictures to blur their names so you can’t really see the full effect of the graffiti):

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I think he likes it…

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*** If anyone in the Sacramento region needs an interior designer, I HIGHLY recommend Dee. She’s creative, professional, courteous and flexible. Her portfolio includes all sorts of styles, room types, sizes, etc. If you give her a call, tell her Emmie sent you. I didn’t get anything for saying this…it’s just a heart-felt endorsement of her work from a very satisfied client. ***

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One Million Hoodies

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“Have DJ wear his hoodie today,” Scoot whispered as he woke me up to say goodbye this morning.

“Huh?” I replied, still very sleepy.

“It’s the Million Hoodie March today for Trayvon Martin,” he replied.

“Oh, ok. Yeah,” I said.

One more snooze cycle later, I was up and in DJ’s room talking to both boys about getting dressed. “Wear your hoodie today, DJ,” I told him.

“OK. Why?”

And so it began, a weighty conversation to be having with an eight year old at six-something in the morning. I explained to him the story of Trayvon Martin. That he was killed by an adult. That he was Black. That he was wearing a hoodie in a neighborhood where this adult didn’t think he belonged. That it could have been anyone with the wrong colored skin wearing a hoodie that night. I will likely never forget the look on his face when he asked if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved like after Bloody Sunday and I replied, “No, DJ, this didn’t happen back then. This happened just a few weeks ago.”

Just a couple weeks ago, as we pulled out of the parking lot following DJ’s baseball game onto a street in our somewhat diverse suburb, I did a double-take at the green truck ahead of us. “What the f**k?” I said in disbelief to Scoot as I flipped to the camera on my phone. The entire back of the truck was covered with racist, derogatory bumper stickers exactly like the ones you’ve seen reposted on Facebook. (No, that’s not my picture. Frankly, the one I took was even worse.) This didn’t happen in the Deep South. It happened in liberal California. In 2012.

Just a few years ago, Scoot and I were shopping at a mall. A display just before the entrance to a high-end department store caught my eye and I slowed. Not seeing me, Scoot walked into the men’s section of the department store, far enough ahead that no one could know that we were together. As I walked in behind him, I noticed a salesman tailing him. I watched as he, a twenty-something father stopping by the store to check out shirts and ties for his white collar job, was followed suspiciously.

Just a score ago, Black friends and schoolmates who lived in the same uber-liberal town that I grew up in were followed home from school by White administrators who were suspicious of their residency. They couldn’t fathom that these Black kids’ parents could possibly afford a home in this well-off city. In their mind, those kids must live on the other side of the creek, not in our district.

Sometimes it’s hard to do more than shake my head at these occasionally subtle, often overt expressions of suspicion based solely on the color of someone’s skin and the sense they don’t belong. I’ve been amazed by the conversations I’ve had and heard with and between other White people who won’t or don’t believe that these things take place. Still. Today. It confuses me why they walk around in ignorance or defiance, unable or unwilling to raise their voices, even in the safe confines of conversations with people who look like them, and say, “Yeah, I noticed that. It’s messed up.” And when I raise my voice, I get frustrated when other White parents act like I’m some hypersensitive wing-nut for talking to my children about such things, “forcing them to grow up too fast” rather than “protecting their innocence.”

There are seventeen year old kids out there, my nephews (who are Black) included, who walk around with hoodies on. They deserve to have their innocence protected too.

There is much that can and has been said about this atrocity. There will be much more said, I’m sure. Having my kids wear hoodies today won’t change anything. But talking to them about it, being honest with them about the world they live in, teaching them what’s right, and empowering them to do something, anything to keep this kind of tragedy from happening again? Not just today but everyday? Some day, that just might.

Happy Delete Your Google Web Search History Day!!! (Oh, and Happy Leap Year)

I’m a horribly complacent (and pessimistic) web user. Despite Path doing shady stuff with my iPhone contacts, I downloaded their update and kept on using them. I willingly pin on Pinterest (though to be fair, I have a strong bias against repinning others’ pins if they don’t link to original content). I’ve never threatened to quit Facebook. When Google first announced changes to their privacy policy that would allow them to do something likely sinister with the unthinkable amounts of data they have about me, I hit “Dismiss.” I started seeing posts on Facebook about how to delete your Google web search history. I ignored them. As this week began, they were posted with increased frequency and increased urgency. Oh yeah. That. Maybe I should take a look. And so, yesterday I decided to give it a shot and see what all the brou-ha-ha was about.

The first two pages weren’t all that interesting. I am constantly logged into Google and use it frequently for work. My search history would bore pretty much anyone. So I clicked the little button that said, “Earliest.”

This is what I found:

February 10, 2006. My first Google search (while logged in). I searched for baby names. February 10, 2006. B-Bop was born almost nine months later. This? Was the week I found out I was pregnant with Bop. Maybe even the day. And I turned to Google to ask what I should name him.

That? Is kind of a big deal. At least to me it is. There was one other person in the whole wide world who knew I was pregnant and that was Scoot. (Cat’s out the bag for the rest of y’all now.)

And that’s the thing about privacy. I want to control who I tell what to and when. And I want to “have my cake and eat it too” by being able to use the genius inventions of others to explore and learn and probe and express without having to abdicate my rights to that kind (and other kinds) of privacy. I want it to not be too much to ask.

Google, I love you. I’ve been hanging out with you for a long time. But, please, please, I’m begging you…don’t mess this up. Understand, I’m willing to give you little pieces of information about me so you can sustain your business model. In fact, I frequently click on advertisers’ sponsored links to make you money (even when their links are the first to show up in search) in some form of backwards spite.

But, Google, you were the second person (ok, I know you’re not a person but whatever, you know what I’m saying) that I told I was pregnant. I Googled my way through that pregnancy, through my subsequent job search, through my move across the country and house search, through my miscarriage and doubts and depression and worries and absolute freakouts, through raising my kids and asking if they’re “normal,” through finding soccer leagues and dance studios and places to vacation. Google, I (stupidly? blindly? but willingly) trust you a whole lot. Please, please don’t let me down.

Who Am I Anyway?

When I realized I’d be home before the boys tonight, I asked DJ what he’d like for Valentine’s Day dinner. He said, “I don’t know. Something heart-shaped.”

And this? Is why so many people have fallen in love with Pinterest. One search for “heart-shaped” yielded me three easy courses for our special Valentine’s Day breakfast-for-dinner.

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(Red-and-white heart-shaped pancakes, heart-shaped bacon, heart-shaped watermelon.)

The Working Mom’s Guide to Business Travel: 10 Tips and Tricks to Keep You and Your Family Sane While You’re Away

January was a busy month of business travel for me. With three business trips in as many weeks (two of which were cross-country) as well as three separate trips (one for all of us, two others for Scoot) to the Bay, it would have been easy for any one of the four of us to have a complete meltdown. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it went. Though most of the credit goes to having a more-than-capable husband willing and able to stand in for me while I’m away and my dad who pinched hit for a couple days while we were both away, I also like to think that the tricks I’ve developed over the years have helped make my absence less burdensome to Scoot and the boys. In the hopes of helping others relieve some of the stress (and, perhaps, guilt) that come with being a traveling working mom, I thought I’d share my experiences.

  1. Plan ahead. While Scoot is responsible for cooking meals most weeknights anyway, I usually develop a weekly meal plan that he follows so he doesn’t have to think about what he should make and we’re sure to have everything he needs in the fridge/pantry. Before I leave for a trip, I write out the meals for the week and, if appropriate, where to find the recipes and post them on the fridge. Anything that is out of the ordinary such as snack day, fundraisers due, etc. are dealt with ahead of time to minimize the number of things he has to remember in my absence. We let the boys get hot lunch or have a Lunchables (I know, not the greatest nutritional options but the vast majority of the boys’ lunches are quite well-rounded and health-conscious) to make getting out in the mornings as easy as possible.
  2. Do ahead. When I leave, I try to have the first day’s meal in the crockpot and the first day’s lunches made. I double-check to make sure all the bills are paid so neither of us has to worry about that while I’m away. I hate coming home to a messy house and a sink full of dishes but I understand how hard it is to find time for cleaning during a busy week. I’ve found that the cleaner I leave the house, the cleaner it’s likely to be upon my return. Think beyond the day of your return as well. Planning the day after my return keeps me from having to be “on” as soon as I get home. (See also, #10.)
  3. Keep a routine. Having mom gone can be disruptive so keeping a routine for the boys is important. We do whatever we can to keep their before and after school routines as normal as possible. Scoot, DJ and I share a Google calendar and I put everything (basketball practices, dress-up days at school, library book due dates, etc.) on there so all three of us know what’s supposed to happen on each day. I also make sure to tell the boys’ teachers/daycare workers that I’ll be gone so they can adapt to funky moods or the need for a little extra TLC (this was especially true when they were in daycare/preschool).
  4. Allow for fun. My mom didn’t travel much for work but the times that she did were great fun for me and my dad. I have fond memories of going to St. Louis Cardinals games at Busch Stadium on *gasp!* weeknights while my mom was off at her conferences (there’s no way would that ever fly if she were home). Though I don’t want to break the bank or get the boys’ routines out of whack, I generally encourage some special “Mom is gone, let’s go crazy” activities like a trip to the ice cream shop or a special dinner out. This extends past my return as well. If at all possible, I try to make sure Scoot gets some down time when I get home so that he can unwind without the boys too.
  5. Plan travel around your family. Sometimes meeting times, flight costs and schedules, and company policies dictate what times and days I travel. But if I can leave after morning drop-off (Scoot does pick-up anyway) or get back in time for dinner and bedtime routines, those extra few hours of being able to provide my regular contribution to our family’s day are incredibly helpful. Not to mention the fact that each extra day of added care for the boys costs $32. If I can at all make it work, I try to schedule my trips so that I leave and return while they’re at school.
  6. Pack fast and light. Even my dog gets stressed out when I bring out a suitcase and spend hours debating what to put in it. Dragging out my preparation just rubs my boys’ noses in the fact I’ll be leaving them so I try to pack either after they’re in bed or when they’re off at school right before I leave. Even when I was away for an entire week, I packed in a carry-on so I could get off the plane and into my car to get home to them as quickly as possible. I find little worse than being “home” but delaying my arrival home for 30 minutes or more while standing around waiting for luggage.
  7. Stay in touch. Technology is a godsend for the traveling mom. Even on a regular day, Scoot and I are in frequent communication with each other about home life. Being available (when I’m not working or in meetings) to answer quick questions like, “Where are Bop’s basketball shoes?” or being kept abreast of the days’ developments like, “DJ forgot his homework,” help me feel connected and relieve a bit of the pressure on Scoot to keep track of absolutely everything under the sun. Ever since DJ’s gotten his iPod, I’ve used email to send him little notes, letting him know I miss him and am thinking about him and sending little reminders. Bop has discovered Facetime on Scoot’s phone and he LOVES talking to me and making funny faces through it. I’m grateful that it’s so much easier to stay connected than it was a generation ago.
  8. Get rewarded. I’ve signed up for a handful of relevant loyalty programs (airline miles, hotel points, etc.) and take advantage of my travel in order to accrue points that I use for family vacations. I maximize my earning potential by trying to travel on one of two airlines and earn my points wherever I can. (For example, you can usually opt for airline miles instead of or in addition to hotel points at most hotels). I use programs like Star Alliance to focus on accruing on US Air even while traveling on United. Similarly, because I have to use a personal card and get reimbursed for travel expenses, I signed up a Chase Disney Rewards Visa that accrues points that convert to Disney dollars. On our last trip to DisneyWorld we had $600 worth of Disney dollars accrued that we used for food, souvenirs, hotel and tickets. My philosophy is if I have to travel for work, the least I can do is figure out ways for the boys to benefit from it (besides, you know, the whole paycheck thing. Heh.)
  9. Take care of yourself. Traveling is hard on the body. When I travel for work, many of the factors most important to feeling good are out of my control. But I try my best to eat well (including lots of fiber and lots of water), take my vitamins, get sleep, etc. Sure socializing with coworkers, clients or business associates can be fun and sometimes required, but late nights out – especially those that involved drinking – can take their toll. I try to take advantage of the peace and quiet that come with being alone in a hotel by reading, watching a TV show or movie that I’ve wanted to see and – by far the best part of business travel – sleeping diagonally across the bed.
  10. Celebrate your return. I make sure the boys know when I’m coming home (with the always fun caveat that sometimes things happen and flights get delayed) and I make plans with them for the special things we’re going to do when I return. I pick them up from school (rather than having them go to after school care), take them to lunch or dinner or ice cream, or just get in bed and snuggle with them. Being back together again is certainly cause to celebrate.

So that’s it. I hope some of these tips help relieve the stress and guilt that can accompany a business trip when you’re a wife and mom. What about you? What do you do to make sure everyone survives when you’re from home?

Feed America for just $1

When we picked DJ up from school last week, he asked if he could choose an ornament from his after school program’s “Adopt a Family” tree. “Of course,” we said. After careful consideration, he chose to take responsibility for buying an 8-year-old boy (his age) a pair of pajamas.

We went to the store and picked out a pair. Knowing nothing about this boy, it was tough to figure out what size to get (DJ himself is often between sizes). I suggested that we get a slightly larger size because flannel pajamas were likely to shrink when they were washed.

“But, mom, I don’t think they have a washing machine,” he said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“They might live in a car. You know, some kids don’t have houses like we do.”

We’ve been working to teach DJ about giving to others who don’t have access to the things we do. Each year, he goes through his playroom and donates his toys to kids who aren’t as fortunate. He sets aside one-third of his modest allowance to give to charities of his choice. It’s not easy giving on a budget. That has become all that much more obvious over the past few years as we’ve had to cut back our own charitable giving budget. That is exactly why I was so impressed when Megan told me about Feeding America and asked me to help.

The programs offered by Feeding America are vast – from a nationwide network of supported food banks, to programs to supplement government poverty programs that are constantly on the chopping block given our economy, to disaster relief for those facing an unforeseen emergency. These programs help the nearly 49 million Americans – including an astonishing 1 in 5 American children – who go hungry every day.

With just $1, Feeding America can provide 8 nutritious meals to those in need. EIGHT!!!! $5 = 40 meals! $25 = 200!!!

DJ and I talked about how much we feel comfortable giving. What about you? You can click here to donate. When you’re done, head on over to Undomestic Diva’s blog, leave her one comment for every $5 you donate and you can win a $50 gift card to Starbucks.

And if you need help, you can head over to Feeding America’s site to find out more.

May you all have a very happy Thanksgiving.

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