Lessons from the Floor

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For the last several days, I have been sleeping on the floor of my kid’s bedroom. I know it sounds crazy, but I have a good reason.

My bedroom is upstairs, and the kids’ bedrooms are downstairs, which means that if a kid is sick or otherwise needs me during the night, I have to haul my 43-year-old body all the way down the staircase and back again–sometimes, multiple times in the same night. As you can imagine, this is not fun.

It is far better for me to find a place to sleep downstairs when someone is sick or otherwise needs me. However, it can’t be the couch in the living room because it is made of hard, slippery leather. It can’t be the loveseat because it isn’t big enough. It can’t be a trundle or similar bed because we don’t have the floor space, and it can’t be an air mattress because it is way too buoyant and I’m afraid of vertigo.

I should also mention that Cosmo, our one-year-old Shih Tzu puppy, will not even entertain a scenario that does not include him sleeping as close to me as possible, so whatever solution I come up with has to consider his needs as well.

Ultimately, I decided to purchase a cheap crib mattress on clearance at Babies R Us and combine it with an old toddler-size foam couch emblazoned with Dora the Explorer logos that I store under the basement stairs for such an occasion. This set-up is admittedly pretty awful, but at least it’s something.

Here is what I have learned from sleeping in this manner over the last several days:

  1. It is difficult to sleep on a shitty crib mattress/toddler-size Dora couch combo on the floor with a dog, but not impossible.
  2. I get really snippy when I am tired. And I am sorry.
  3. My skin breaks out when I don’t get enough sleep. See rosacea, or lupus.
  4. I am a selfish brat for complaining about sleeping on the floor temporarily, since there are millions of people around the world who happily sleep on the floor every single night. See Shanty Town.
  5. Dogs don’t care if there isn’t enough room for them in your “bed,” they will still find a spot.
  6. Husbands don’t care if you’ve been sleeping on the floor for several days; they still expect clean undershirts, hot meals, and other things. See 50 Shades of Are You Kidding Me?
  7. It’s funny to say “I’m going to floor” at the end of a long day.
  8. Since heat rises, it’s f**king cold on the floor.
  9. Despite my shitty crib mattress/toddler-size Dora couch combo, it’s still hard on the floor.
  10. Only J-Lo can dance the night away, live her life and stay young on the floor.

When Your Child Has Surgery

I have a friend who recently underwent a long and complex orthopedic surgery–not her own, but her child’s. The whole thing played out on social media, as do lots of things these days, and it brought me right back to when my daughter had knee surgery in 2013 at the age of ten. Here are all the emotions parents go through after hearing the news that their child needs surgery:

Dread — We know how our kid reacts to a splinter and that the level of pain they are going to experience with surgery is going to rock their world, not to mention that they will likely be out for the entire winter/spring/summer/fall basketball/soccer/baseball/lacrosse season and are going to be pissed.

Intimidation — After scouring planet Earth for a surgeon with just the right mix of skill, experience and compassion, we grill him with questions so detailed it sounds like we, too, are orthopedic (or maxillofacial or urological or whatever) surgeons and would do the surgery ourselves if not for the conflict of interest. We want to make sure the doctor knows that we are more informed than the average parent and therefore should perhaps be taken a little more seriously.

Confidence — The day of the surgery, we appear unusually brave and calm. We get up early, have a healthy breakfast, and wear a great outfit. We smile, crack jokes with the surgeon, and spew forth a number of positive affirmations that are intended to inspire our child but instead expose us for the massive geek that we are. At this stage, we are surrounded by friends and family, either physically or via social media, and although we are nervous we know in our heart that everything is going to be just fine.

Shock — This occurs anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after surgery and coincides with the wearing off of anesthesia and/or spinal blocks as well as any fantasies we had about this going smoothly. This is when we realize that someone has physically cut into our child’s body WITH A SHARP KNIFE and now she is screaming like an infant with unmedicated reflux. We can’t believe how much pain she is in, and what the hell are we supposed to do when she has to go to the bathroom?

Confusion — This is when complications arise. Everything is a mess, and we can’t process anything anyone is saying to us, let alone a Harvard educated doctor with all of his big words and medical terminology. We haven’t showered in days, can’t find our makeup bag, feel nauseous, have a headache, hit a parked car, and only want yoga pants.

Doubt — At this stage, we become irrational and begin to suspect that all the diplomas hanging in our surgeon’s office are fake and he is really just a quack who has messed up our child for life. Also, our family members have all gone home and everyone on social media is now talking about Barbara Walters’ asinine choice for Most Fascinating Person of the Year.

Rage — We hit our breaking point and start demanding answers from any medical professional within a mile radius. We channel Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction and refuse to be ignored. If our child is still in the hospital, we start getting loud and obnoxious. Sometimes we go the other way and feign friendship with one of the nurses in an effort to find out what is really going on with our kid. If our kid is recovering at home, we relentlessly call the doctor’s office, informing the receptionist that if she puts us through to voicemail one more time things are going to get really ugly.

Fear — Shit is getting real now. We stand by helpless as our child undergoes more tests and faces the possibility of another surgery. We ask friends and family to start praying for the fever to go down, the pain to subside, or the complications to stop. We start carrying around religious artifacts and silently make deals with the man upstairs. We finally know what it’s like to suffer and vow never to take anything for granted ever again.

Relief — Finally, our child turns the corner. We weep with relief and allow ourselves the pleasure of eating once again. Our kindness returns and we feel nothing but gratitude toward the amazing doctor who operated on our child, and maybe we should get him a nice gift?

Boredom — Yes, our child has turned the corner but this block sucks too. And it’s soooooooooo loooooooooooong.

Joy — Tests are clear, the x-rays look great and our child’s doctor is very pleased with her progress. The nightmare is over, and we are stronger for having survived. This is when we allow ourselves the pleasure of alcohol–and lots of it.

Horror — The final stage is physical therapy–a special kind of hell.

How to send a card in 37 easy steps

My friend lost her aunt to lung cancer a few weeks ago, and I wanted to send a card to let her and her family know how sorry I was.

Most people I know can send a card without much trouble, but for me, sending a card is like sending a man to the moon. I’d like to blame it on the fact that I have three kids who take a lot of my time and attention away from such a task, but I have always found sending a card to be extremely challenging, even before I had kids.

Here are the steps I go through whenever I have to send a card:

1. Realize that I am going to have to buy a card because someone is having a birthday, is sick, going through something difficult or has died.

2. Forget to buy it at the store at least 2 or 3 times.

3. Buy the card.

4. Realize we are out of stamps and a trip to the post office is necessary.

5. Forget to go to the post office at least 2 or 3 times.

6. Go to the post office. It is closed.

7. Return to the post office when it is opened.

8. Realize in the case of a relative’s birthday that the kids are going to have to sign the card individually in their own handwriting.

9. Get one kid to sign the card.

10. Get the next kid to sign the card.

11. Get the last kid to sign the card.

12. Realize the address I have is out of date.

13. Forget to send an email for the new address at least 2 or 3 times.

14. Send the email requesting the new address.

15. Receive the new address.

16. Address the card.

17. Place the card on the table in the entryway.

18. Leave the card on the table in the entryway for several days.

19. Carry the card from the table in the entryway to the car.

20. Leave the card in the car for several days.

21. Completely lose the card in the car.

22. Find the card in the car.

23. Come to grips with the fact that the card is now in no condition to be sent.

24. Repeat steps 2, 3, 9-11, and 16-22

25. Put the card in the mailbox.

26. Promise to do better next time.

Goals for Today

The entire family is snowed in again. I need to focus. Here are my goals for today:

1. Don’t kill the kids.

2. Don’t kill my husband.

3. Make sure my husband doesn’t kill the kids.

4. Make sure the kids don’t kill each other.

5. Make sure the dog doesn’t kill the kids.

6. Don’t be killed.

7. Limit sugar.

8. Limit video games.

9. Don’t eat more than my head at any one sitting.

10. Wait until 5pm to start drinking.

Wish me luck!

My Brush with Galactosemia

The birth of my first child in 2003 was terribly traumatizing for me. I was completely unprepared for all the blood, the length of time it takes a vagina to open wide enough for a baby to pass through, and the word galactosemia.

I heard the word for the first time ten days after my daughter was born. A doctor I didn’t know called to tell me that a test from the hospital came back abnormal and I was to get another test as quickly as possible. She also told me I could be slowly poisoning my new baby with my breastmilk and to switch to soy formula immediately. Like within the hour.

As you can imagine, I was beside myself. I reached out for help from my midwife, my pediatrician, and my friends, many of whom were also new mothers and who had, I hoped, gotten the same scary phone call that later turned out to be nothing. My midwife and pediatrician sided with the doctor and told me to rent a breast pump until we could get things straightened out. None of my friends had ever gotten a similar phone call and none had ever heard of galactosemia. They did reassure me, though, that their cousin had a friend who had a baby with lactose intolerance and was doing fine.

Of course, lactose intolerance and galactosemia are not the same thing. Galactosemia is a rare metabolic disease characterized by the body’s inability to digest galactose, a sugar found in human and animal milk. The sugar builds up and becomes toxic in the blood, causing kidney damage, seizures, and death. If you identify galactosemia early enough, your baby will likely live but with serious complications like mental retardation, developmental delays, and infertility in girls. In fact, galactosemia is so devastating that almost all newborns in the United States are screened for it at birth, along with some other, equally horrifying diseases such as phenylketonuria (PKU) and congenital hypothyroidism.

In my gut, I knew my baby didn’t have galactosemia, but I had to do the right thing and switch my daughter cold turkey to soy formula and pray that after 24 hours or so I could go back to breastfeeding and everything would be right with the world again. I took my brand new baby out in the bitter cold and snow of February to the hospital where there are all of these people and all of these germs and got her heel pricked by a needle for a second time, and I cried right along with her.

When the 48-hour marked passed with no word from the hospital and the breast pump I rented from the corner pharmacy failed, I had a nice little meltdown on my living room floor. I was so angry that this was happening to us. Simultaneously, I felt guilty because there are parents out there who live with galactosemia or worse things like Down Syndrome every day, and they actually feel blessed! Here I was just borrowing galactosemia and I felt like the world was ending.

The hospital wound up losing the results of the second test, so we had to get the baby’s heel pricked a third time. While we were waiting for the results of the third test, the hospital found the second test which was also abnormal. That was when I started to feel pure unadulterated panic. I prayed like a child, and I promised myself that I was going to make eradicating galactosemia my life’s mission if it turned out my daughter didn’t have it.

The results of the third test came back closer to normal but the doctors still weren’t comfortable, so they sent us to the only pediatric metabolic geneticist in New Jersey where our precious baby, after having been pricked in the heel three f**king times already, now had to have blood drawn from a teeny tiny vein in her arm. My husband and I also had to have blood drawn.

We arrived at the geneticist’s office accompanied by every relative from both sides of our family. There were like 24 of us sitting in the waiting room. We all had print outs from the Internet, we all had questions, and we were all prepared to give up milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream for the rest of our lives should this new member of our family not ever be able to know how delicious they are.

We got through the visit with the geneticist, and then we were sent home for some more waiting. Every time the phone rang, my stomach would lurch. We were still getting cards and presents delivered every day, but there was little joy. Anxiety, fear and guilt reigned in those early weeks, and I felt robbed.

Finally, five weeks after the first phone call, we got the news we prayed for. Our daughter did not have galactosemia–she only carries the gene, which explained why the test results were wonky. My husband carries the gene as well, but I don’t, and so we opened our front door and kicked galactosemia out on its ass forever where it belongs.

My baby sadly never breastfed again, but I made up for it with my second child who had a milk protein allergy completely unrelated to galactosemia and breastfed until he was almost two, and my last who breastfed another 12 months. I can now say without any qualms at all that breastfeeding is the worst thing in the whole world and I don’t know why anyone does it (not really).

My daughter is turning 12 on February 1 and I never did make eradicating galactosemia my life’s mission, but I have donated several times to the Parents of Galactosemic Children, Inc., which has since been renamed the Galactosemia Foundation. They provide critical support to new families dealing with the heartbreaking challenges of galactosemia and network with professionals to inspire treatment and advanced research. I will be donating again this February 1. I hope you will consider donating, too. Here is a link.

My First Bolognese

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I am so honored to be part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge, which was created by Genie De Wit at Bunny Eats Design to connect bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month the event is hosted by food blogger Francesca at Fearless Kitchen. Hope you enjoy!

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I have a friend named Josephine who is eight feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. She is beautiful. The first thing you notice about her is her hair. It is long and lush and reminds me of a warm, safe place where as a child I’d hide. It’s also super curly but never has any frizz. It’s the hair I’ve always wanted but can’t have no matter how many products, specialized cuts or styling techniques I try.

The second thing you notice about her is how nice and sweet she is, and how totally unfazed she is by motherhood. I wish I could be half as carefree with my children as she seems.

Josephine is also 100% Italian. She speaks fluent Italian and vacations in Italy every year. To compare, I am part Italian, can say “parmigiano reggiano” with a killer Italian accent, and really enjoyed our recent getaway to Myrtle Beach.

Josephine’s husband, Loreto, is also 100% Italian and serves on our town’s Little League board along with my husband, who does not have any Italian blood whatsoever. Loreto recently invited all of the board members to his home for a meeting and “traditional Sunday gravy” made by his wife.

My husband was pretty psyched when he got the email, but that was nothing once he started eating. He began texting me.

“OMG the Sunday gravy is amazing :)”

Now, I’d like to point out that over the course of our 13 year marriage, I can count the number of times I have served my husband jarred tomato sauce on one hand. Because I am part Italian, I know how important it is to make homemade sauce, and years ago I was lucky enough to secure the recipe of Grandma Marionni, my friend’s Italian grandmother-in-law, and have made it so many times I now have it memorized. I have used it over and over again in countless lasagnas, baked zitis, and chicken parms. My husband is not deprived of authentic Italian cooking at all, so I guess I was a little surprised he was so impressed by Josephine’s gravy. But, whatever, I was just glad I didn’t have to cook for him that night, and also — how nice was it of her to cook for the entire Little League board? And right after the holidays???

Moments later, my husband sent me another text:

“Meatballs.”

Oh brother. Years ago, in a move to make us healthier, I started making meatballs from ground turkey. They are awesome, but my husband doesn’t agree. In his world, meatballs should be made of meat. From this one word text, it was clear to me that Josephine’s meatballs weren’t made of turkey.

Here were his other texts, one after another:

“Montepulciano wine.”

“Fresh grated pecorino cheese.”

“The gravy is really thick.”

“Josephine made it.”

Good grief. Ok, that does it. Right then and there, I resolved to make my non-Italian husband a real Sunday gravy with real meatballs. I consulted my Sopranos Family Cookbook and learned that I would have to obtain a meaty pork neck bone and run a can of peeled tomatoes through a food mill. Forget it.

My second idea was to make an authentic bolognese. I have never made one before. I mean, sometimes I will quickly cook a pound of ground turkey and add it to Grandma Marionni’s sauce right before the pasta is done and pretend it’s bolognese, but I know it’s not. A true bolognese is something I’ve always wanted to make, but never had a reason. Until now.

I contacted Grandma Marionni’s granddaughter-in-law for advice and she told me that Lidia Bastianich’s recipe was the best and that I was to not, under any circumstances, make the one from Giada.

Lidia’s recipe, entitled “Sugo alla Bolognese,” has 13 ingredients and takes three hours, but at least I don’t have to see or touch a pig’s meaty neck bone. I was pumped, so I purchased my ingredients and got to work:

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Step One: Saute the vegetables in olive oil.

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Step Two: Add beef and pork.

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Step Three: Add wine.

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Step Four: Add tomatoes and bay leaves.

IMG_3762Step Five: Cook for three hours, adding water every now and then so that the meat is always covered.

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Step Six: Mangia!

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Step Seven: Receive just as many compliments from my husband as Josephine, including my favorite, “This is restaurant quality.” I personally felt it needed more salt (Lidia doesn’t give exact amounts of salt; she says to salt things “lightly,” but her idea of “lightly” and my idea of “lightly” are, I think, two different things). Nevertheless, my husband didn’t seem to mind. I think he just loves to eat. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My Man and his Cold

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At the end of every year, my husband gets sick. Usually, it’s a cold. Sometimes it’s a stomach virus. But no matter what it is, he is convinced he is dying.

I’m not sure why he acts this way. I mean, no one likes getting sick. And yes, I get stressed worrying how I am going to continue meeting the needs of my family while operating on only one cylinder, but previous experience tells me my ailment will most likely be temporary and I can rest knowing that I’ll be serving drinks and cleaning urine from the toilet seat again in no time.

My husband, however, develops amnesia with each cold or virus he gets and forgets that they usually aren’t fatal. A nervous person by nature, my husband hits such high levels of anxiety when he is sick you would think he and he alone is responsible for the earth’s rotation.

This is what happens, in chronological order, when my husband’s throat gets a little scratchy:

1. “I feel something…”

This is the beginning stage of his illness and usually comes after one of our kids has been sick. It is a warning that soon he will fall like a moose that’s been shot from behind. Also, take a look at the calender. If it’s anywhere between January and November, his sickness probably won’t progress beyond this stage and as his wife, you can relax. If it’s December and you need him to help you get the house ready for Christmas, you better get ready because he’s going down.

2. “I can’t afford to get sick…”

My husband works from home and conducts most of his business over email. But a cold will cause his voice to sound slightly different, so clearly, this will cause him to lose thousands of dollars in deals.

3. “I’m burning up…”

He will claim to have a fever, and when I look at him, he might in fact look a little pale. After giving him a thermometer and confirming a body temperature of 97.4, however, I realize his pallor is being caused by panic and fear not by sickness.

4. “You think I’m faking don’t you?”

He gets angry at the thermometer, and demands that I stop laughing. He is not faking, he really does feel sick, and he can’t understand how it happened. He really, truly, does not know how a germ can invade his body, since he is not human but a Martian cyborg.

5. Elephants and fire ants

He will go to bed at sunset, roll over twice, and wake up 14 hours later complaining about how poorly he slept. He will turn to two analogies I have heard over and over again since we were married 13 years ago: “I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest, and there are fire ants in my throat.” I cannot roll my eyes hard enough when he hits this phase, and suddenly the baseboards are screaming at me to clean them.

6. “Here is where I keep all the important documents.”

This is when I feel a little bad for laughing, because he will finally register a fever of 100.3 and officially be a sick person. He stops in his tracks, falls like the moose I described above, and prepares for death by sleeping all day for four days–on the couch, in the middle of everything. There could be an earthquake, a hurricane, and a newborn infant in the living room all at the same time but he won’t budge. As you might guess, this phase is my least favorite.

7. “What’s a doctor going to do?”

More elephants are sitting on his chest, the fire ants have built a full-fledged colony, and he is looking beyond me to the light glowing in the distance, so now I know I have to call the doctor. Except he argues with me because what he has is probably so rare and so serious there is no doctor in our area equipped to deal with it, so there is no point in going. Better to just die in peace at home on the couch, moaning.

8. “The doctor said I have a virus and need to take an antibiotic.”

Honey, that doesn’t make any sense. An antibiotic only kills bacteria.

9. More sleep

After he gets his antibiotics, I insist he relocate to our bedroom, where he will sleep so hard for so long it’s like he’s not even home. This is when I love his sickness. I will play annoying Top 40 music, order shoes from Zappos, and party like it’s 1999 and he won’t have any idea. A day or two later, he will finally emerge from our bedroom, kind of like a butterfly but much bigger and with a lot more body hair, and vow to embrace life to the fullest, because you never know when it will be over for good.