Aug 22, 2011

Is It Back to School Time Yet?

First day of school 2 years ago

It's officially that time of year again. The time when I hate all of my children. The time when summer has begun to wind down and we're all really REALLY getting on each other's nerves. I love my children, but the thought of not spending every waking second with them, well... that sounds fabulous. 7.5 hours of peace and quiet -- that's totally worth the homework battles and bullying and parent-teacher conferences.

Not only am I sick of them -- they are sick of each other. All Daniel needs to do is look at Quinn, and Quinn is bellowing, "Go AWAY!!!" We've finally gotten Emily's crying (over everything, and nothing, all at the same time) under control but she and Claire are still locked in an epic competition for... everything. Who can color the most pictures, play with the most Webkinz, eat the most snacks. It's monkey see, monkey do around here.

It probably doesn't help matters that Quinn has been sick for a week, Claire's starting to get sick, and, now that I think about it, my throat feels a little sore and scratchy too. Great. Top that off with I've had to buy clothes, and shoes, and school supplies for four kids and, well. I'm flat broke. Thus -- fun budget is greatly depleted and we need to stick close to home. Never mind that we have laptops, and Netflix, and Wii, and TV, and Nintendo DS, and all the game apps you could possibly want on the various iGadgets around here. Staying home sucks. Poor babies.

I've taken to barricading myself in the bedroom playing Bloons TD4 on the iPad and fantasizing about when they've all gone away to college. Or reform school. At this point, I don't really care which. However, I'm starting to think I need to find a new hiding place because, dammit, they keep finding me in here!  Here's how our day went yesterday...

[Claire] Knock knock knock.
[Me] What?
[Claire] Can I have a snack?

Now keep in mind, the child had just hoovered down a plateful of eggs and toast not 15 minutes earlier.

[Me] Fine.

Approximately two seconds later...

[Emily] Knock knock knock
[Me] What?
[Emily]  Can I have a snack?

(What I'd like to say: "No Emily. We all just really like Claire better than you and we're going to let her have all the delicious snacks she wants and you need to subsist on liver and onions and lima beans.")

What I said...

[Me]  Fine.

Approximately three minutes later...

[Quinn] Knock knock knock
[Me] What?
[Quinn] Daniel keeps touching me and it's really bothering me.
[Me] DANIEL!! Can you come here please?
[Quinn] Oh. And can I have a snack?
[Me] FINE!

[Daniel] Knock knock knock
[Me] Come in Daniel.
[Daniel] Hi Ms. Andrea! I love you very much.
[Me] I know Daniel. And I love you too. Do you keep touching Quinn?
[Daniel] No.
[Me] Are you sure you don't keep touching Quinn? Because he said you are and he said he's asked you to stop a bunch of times.
[Daniel] He didn't ask me a bunch of times. Just a few times.
[Me] But he did ask you to stop. So could you please stop?
[Daniel]  Can I have a snack?


Only 15 more days until I can have a little peace and quiet around here. I'm really hoping I can make it that long. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and eat all the snacks.

Aug 17, 2011

A Prayer for Willem

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. The kids left for and came back from their last summer visit and I always go a little nutty when they're gone. It's hard to write when your inspiration is three states away.

This blog is a little different from most in that I'm not really talking about me or my family -- but I hope that you will stick with it and read all the way through.


I don't pray. I know that's a terrible thing to admit to but, there it is. I'm not going to say I don't ever pray -- I do have occasional "conversations" with God in my head -- my "Are you there God? It's me, Andrea." moments. But to actually "pray" -- that's just not me. I don't know if it's that I don't believe in the power of prayer -- I believe that many other people believe in it. I don't know if it's that I don't feel that God and I are close enough that I can ask Him for favors. I don't even know what version of "God" I believe in -- if any. I guess I believe in some sort of a higher power but I'm not entirely sure what His or Her function is and whatever They're doing -- S/He has better things to do than take requests from me. If God really is the Master of the Universe than I imagine He's got a plan and I've really got no business sticking my two cents in asking for a change. Father knows best.

As most of you know, I'm a bit of a Facebook addict and one of the things I find most annoying is all the people who "claim" to be praying for this cause, this person, this situation. I'm willing to stake a fair amount of my bank account that a lot of those people who are "praying" for this, that, or the other -- the extent of that prayer was typing the message into the Facebook status or comment bar. That irritates the hell out of me. When people ask for prayers, or put out into the Facebook world that they're going through some trying times -- the most they'll get out of me is a genuine, "Sending good thoughts your way."

So, just so you know, I'm not one of "those people" who are out there asking for prayers all the time. Until now.


This is a story about Erin, and Thomas, and, most importantly, their son Willem. I'm going to give my version of "background" on these key players.


I "met" Thomas in that peculiar way strangers meet on Facebook -- through a friend's post. My friend Scott had posted something about... something... that started a very interesting thread. Somewhere along that thread, Thomas made some little esoteric comment using a $5 vocabulary word. Being a bit of a wordy myself, I commented how impressed I was that he (a) spelled the word correctly, and (b) used it properly in a sentence. Trust me -- this isn't something that happens too often in my Facebook threads. One thing led to another and before I knew it -- Thomas had friended me. Since any friend of Scott's is a friend of mine, I accepted.

Being of a curious nature I eventually clicked over to Thomas's Facebook page to find out a little more about my new friend and I notice he's married to Erin. Wait! I know Erin!


I met Erin years ago in the post college debauchery that was my life in my early twenties. She too was a friend of Scott's (apparently Scott has all the cool friends). She was probably the coolest girl I knew. She was smart, creative, funny, introspective. She was stylish. Her home felt like a home -- not a crash pad like mine and everyone else I knew. I remember she had this quaint little wrought iron bistro set as her kitchen table. Her sofa had throw pillows. It smelled good. Erin carried herself with this quiet confidence that I envied. She could wear bright red lipstick and not look like she was trying too hard or the town slut. Oh hell, I'll just say it. Erin was my first girl-crush.

I quickly (giddily) sent Erin a friend request on Facebook and -- through her wall -- read a little about her life. She was married, had three kids, and still seemed like the cool, stylish, creative, funny chick I remember from the 90s.

Thomas & Erin

These two have a love that I am inspired by. It's quiet, respectful, and so so very obvious. To the point that, just about two years ago I was answering one of those stupid little Facebook quiz thingies (I can't seem to help myself even though I know they are trite) and one of the questions was, "Who inspires you?" I listed a few people, including Thomas and Erin. Later, Thomas emailed me asking how so? Two people, one of whom I've never met, and one I haven't seen in years, how do I find inspiration there?

My response: "You guys inspire me in that your love and respect for one another is a true and beautiful thing. It's not hearts and flowers and big fancy words... it's you worrying about her cleaning out the gutters and her missing you because you haven't been there to see what seems to be all of [your daughter's] teeth fall out. It's your concern about her driving in the weather, and her pride in what you are doing."

"I like the simple and sweet messages you leave for each other on Facebook. I think what you have with each other is what love should be all about. And it inspires me."

As a little side note -- Thomas recently re-upped into the military. He is due to ship out to Afghanistan in the near future. We should all be proud of Thomas's patriotism and admire his commitment to his family and our country.


Thomas and Erin's oldest child is Willem. Again, have never met this child and only know him via his parent's Facebook posts. Yes. I admit it. I stalk them. Harmlessly but I suppose I do. I find that I comment on most of their posts, and follow their lives voyeuristically -- but don't we all use Facebook for that?

Willem is an adorable little mop-topped kid with his mother's eyes. He's around the same age as Quinn. They seem very similar in temperament. They have a lot of the same interests. Quinn once checked out a picture of Willem fencing and was all, "Coooool! Who is that??" I told him he was the son of a friend of Mama's and he asked, "Can he be my friend?" They like Legos and Star Wars and are both skinny little brunettes. I wish we didn't live 2 hours away from Erin and Thomas and their kids because I think our sons could be very good friends, as could our daughters.

About 3.5 weeks ago Erin posted on Facebook, "Willem threw up his retainer. That was fun getting out." I laughed. Been there done that.

A few days after that she posted something about how Willem was still not feeling too hot and was worried he wasn't going to be able to go to camp. Having been through something similar with Quinn a year ago, I know how it hurts to watch your child worry they won't be able to do something that you have no control over. I thought, "Poor kid. I hope he feels better soon." And went on with my day.

A day or two after that Erin posted that she as taking Willem to the ER. Okay. This isn't minor anymore. This is heading in to the scary territory. I started paying a whole lot more attention to Erin and Thomas's Facebook pages. Normally I just limit myself to what's on my newsfeed but I found myself going directly to their pages for updates. Willem was admitted to the hospital from the ER. Then they kept him another night. And another night. Then he was being transferred to the children's hospital. Erin and Thomas were meeting with infectious diseases experts. Willem had a "team" assigned to him. He was transferred to ICU.

Holy. Shit.

Quinn came up to me as I was reading an update about Willem on his father's blog. Being a sensitive child well tuned to his mother's moods, he asked me what was wrong. I told him the "boy who fences" was very sick and that Mama was worried about him and sad for his parents. Quinn said he would say a prayer for him. This made me smile. As neglectful as I am in my own religious path, I have at least instilled some level of spirituality into my children.

I began to fanatically watch the blog for updates. No one was exactly sure what was wrong with Willem. Willem spent his birthday in the hospital. He was ventilated. He was sedated. And I found myself starting to have one of my "conversations" with God. Nothing organized or concrete -- more of a "these are good people and I would really appreciate it if you could help them out" kind of thing.

Willem had a GI scope. He had a bone marrow test. I saw a whole lot of diseases being posted on Thomas's blog and Facebook page -- diseases that had initials for names and couldn't easily be researched on Gastroenteritis. Typhoidal Tularemia. Macrophage Activation Syndrome (MAS). Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).

Holy. Shit.


A check of Thomas's blog this morning shows that Willem is still on a ventilator and is being aggressively treated for HLH. Which brings me to you, dear Reader. I'm asking you to take a moment today, right now, stop what you are doing and say a prayer, send a good thought, happy vibe, whatever you've got, to Erin and Thomas and Willem. These are good people. And, while no one deserves to watch their child go through this -- I especially don't want these people, these good, loving, caring people, to go through this. Please.

I don't know if I believe in the power of prayer, but I believe it can't hurt. And I'd like to believe it would help. So please. Say a prayer for Willem.

Aug 8, 2011

A Little Motherly Advice

I've been facing my mortality a lot lately. I mean, I've always known that no one gets out of this world alive, but I guess in my youth, the concept of death and dying was something I didn't spend a lot of time considering.

A few things have happened over the course of the last few years that have made me realize that my link to this life is tenuous at best. Having recently faced a health scare of my own, I guess I'm trying to come to terms with my date with the Grim Reaper.

Being mostly agnostic, I'm not weighed down with a lot of organized religion's opinions on the afterlife. I don't really know what happens when I eventually end up taking the big dirt nap. And no one can tell me -- since no one knows. We may all meet St. Peter at the pearly gates, or we may just be worm food. Either way I'm not going to spend a ton of time in prayerful supplication in an attempt to garner a seat at the big dinner table in the sky. I live a (relatively speaking) virtuous life, and my "God" and I -- we have an understanding of how I roll. I figure since we're all (allegedly) created in His image, He knows what's in my head and my heart and while I may have some 'splainin' to do -- I'm comfortable with how things will turn out.

My problem is more about the people I would leave behind. You see, as verbose as I am, I struggle with the whole discussing feelings thing. I must have missed the day when they covered that in Girl Behavior 101 (along with lessons on shopping math and crying to get your way). I just plain suck at that stuff. I'm more from the behavior school of: If I like you, you'd know it. If I don't like you, you'd know that too. And if you're not sure -- we aren't that good of friends.

So there's a lot of people who mean a tremendous amount to me: my family, Peter, the whole Alvarez/Anderson crew, a select group of friends. And I probably don't tell any of them often enough (if ever) how much they matter to me. I guess I just kind of hope that they know. But when you're faced with the thought that you may run out of time before you have a chance to really let them know... well... that's kind of overwhelming. I've spent the last few months trying -- in my own way -- to tell those that count what they mean to me.

The bigger thing is my kids. I'd kind of planned on being around for them their entire lives and now, dealing with the fact that I may not have that luxury, I'm struggling to put down all the things I need to say to them. There just aren't enough words.  And since I put every other personal thing on this blog -- I figured that this is as good a place as any to start writing these things down so they may someday -- hopefully many many years in the future -- read my version of motherly advice.

To Quinn:

I didn't know the meaning of absolute love, or absolute fear, until the moment I held you the first time. I didn't know what I was doing or how I was going to do it, but I was fiercely determined I was going to do the best I could by you. I knew I wouldn't always get things right, I knew I would make plenty of mistakes. But I was going to do my best. I look at the boy you are and I see glimpses of the man you will be and I think I've done okay. I am proud of you, always.

I am proud of your honesty. While many children lie easily, and often, that has never been the case with you. I hope it always remains so. You are quick to take responsibility, and I am proud that your apologies are not empty. When you say you are sorry, you mean it. Do not lose this as you grow hardened in this world. It is always easier to own your mistakes, speak your truth, and live with the consequences. Lying is never the answer.

You didn't get your long fuse from me -- I have always been quick tempered. But I wish sometimes you were quicker to ignite than you are. You let people push you more than you should. You don't always have to agree. You, my little negotiator, are more than smart enough to learn how to say no. You can do it nicely, politely, and with a flash of those perfect dimples in your beautiful smile and no one will be upset with you. It is not up to you to manage the emotions of the world. Making yourself sick to make everyone else happy is no way to live. Stand up for yourself in every way.

I love how you are comfortable with your own company but don't let that turn you into a loner. I know it's hard for you to be the social animal your sister and father are, but it's not good to always go inward. People enjoy your company. And you need to enjoy theirs as well. You don't need to be the life or the party, just as you don't need to be the wallflower. Find a happy medium and just celebrate being in the presence of those who appreciate you. You have more to offer than you know.

Don't be afraid of hard work. Test yourself, physically and intellectually. It will only benefit you in the long run.

Don't be afraid to fail. And never, never, never give up. Nothing is insurmountable. 

Always celebrate your uniqueness. You have never looked like, acted like, thought like, or behaved like any other child I knew. I hope you will always remain my perfect little non-conformist. In the words of E.E. Cummings: "To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting." And remember, my darling boy, that dorks rule the world.

To Claire:

You are beautiful. I know I don't tell you that because I wanted you to be more than just a pretty face. But you are. And while I am in awe of your beauty, it is your character that matters. Never cheapen yourself by trying to get by on your looks. You are better than that in every way.

You are the personification of the phrase "generous to a fault".  But remember, there are many people in this world who will take advantage of that generosity. You don't need to give everything away to get people to like you. If someone doesn't like you for you, they are not worthy of your company.  Give because you want to give, not because someone demands something from you, or because you hope to gain something for it.

Let go of your grudges, for they only hold you back. Hatred, anger, hurt feelings -- these all take tremendous energy to foster and, in the end, it's never worth the price you pay to hold them dear to you. Let them go. You need to learn to shake it off and move on. If someone says they are sorry, and means it, be gracious enough to accept the apology and go forward. Live in the present, look forward to your future, learn from and let go of your past.

I love how helpful you are but sometimes people (your brother, your sort-of step-siblings, your friends...) need to do for themselves. And you need to let them or you will have a lifetime of being an enabler.

Don't strive for acceptance from others. The most important acceptance you need is from yourself. Accept who you are and accept that you are fabulous in your own way. Don't spend a lifetime comparing yourself to others. There will always always always be someone who is more than you are, just as there will always always always be someone who is less. Don't be complacent, but don't be competitive either. At least not with others. Compete with yourself. Try to better yourself for yourself.

Dream big. And don't let ANYONE tell you you can't, or that your ideas are stupid. I've heard that it only takes one negative comment to kill a dream -- but not if you don't let it. If someone laughs at you, ignore it. Your dreams are beautiful, and worthwhile, and don't give someone the power to take them away from you. It's okay to not know, but it's not okay to not try. You CAN do anything you put your mind to.  the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway." It is within your power to control your own destiny. Don't give that power away to someone else. Your life is your own.  And you, my darling girl, will go on to do great things some day.


While Emily and Daniel aren't *my* children -- I feel like I have some wisdom (such as it is) to share with them as well.

To Emily: 

Stop being afraid. Everyone who knows you, loves you, believes in you, and supports you. But as we've told you -- you are not perfect. You make mistakes. Everyone does. And there's no shame in being wrong sometimes. I promise you, there is not a single person you know who is 100% right all the time. It's okay. Mistakes are proof that you are trying!  The worst mistake that you will ever make is being too afraid to make one. Don't let your fear of being wrong paralyze you -- there is so much of life you will miss out on that way. Failure is the best way to learn.

Work hard. You can't simply dream about being rich and successful -- you need to wake up and work hard to achieve that. And it's not always about being first -- it's about doing your best. You don't win for being the first one to finish the test but with all the wrong answers.

Learn to love who you -- Emily -- are. Stop trying on other personas -- Claire's, your cousins', your mother's. Each of those personalities are perfectly lovely on that person -- and not such a good fit on you. You are wonderful just being you. Don't try to be anyone other than quirky, funny, beautiful Emily. She's the best person for you to be.

To Daniel: 

Be kind. You have such an amazing sense of humor -- but you need to learn that you can be funny without making someone the butt of your joke. Laughing at someone isn't humorous -- it's mean. And going for a laugh at someone's expense isn't funny -- it's cheap. You are smarter, funnier, and nicer than that.

Words have the power to hurt as much as your fists do. Be gentle with both.

Like anyone -- you can benefit from the following advice: Listen more. Talk less. Your dad and I found a little sign the other day that we thought we perfect for you to memorize:  Before you speak, THINK.

T -- is it true?
H -- is it helpful?
I -- is it inspiring?
N -- is it necessary?
K -- is it kind?

If the answer to any of those questions is no -- don't say it.

To all of "my" children:  Find what and who it is that makes you happy and stick to it, and them. Be good to yourselves. Be kind to one another. I read somewhere that good manners can take people where neither money nor education can take them. Be polite. Be respectful. Be gracious. Be grateful. And most of all, be yourself. I love you with all of my heart.

~~ Mama