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It’s back.  That little red pouch.  It seems so innocuous – the directions to return assignments on Friday, Robert neatly written across the top.  The promise of a whole week to complete the assignments.  What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a delicate balance, this homework pouch.  Doling out the homework assignments, knowing what our schedule holds for the week.  Do we get all of the math finished in one night?  Could we get a jump start on that over the weekend, since it’s all online?  Maybe we get the reading journal out of the way early in the week?  And the sight words?  Lord, help me.  The sight words.  They have to be able to read them, well, on sight and write them in five seconds or less.  And Robbie’s interest has waned after the first night of reviewing them.

I’m stuck in this limbo of wanting my kid to be the best he can be, not wanting to push so hard that school isn’t fun, and letting him be a kid.  But to be the best?  Not really.  There’s so much pressure in trying to always stay on top.  Somewhere in the middle?  Yeah.

Did I do flash cards and math skills practice over the summer like I should have?  No.  Did I read to my kid every day?  You bet.  Make sure he was playing outside, catching crawdads in a creek, building forts, and coming home filthy?  Absolutely.  He’s not going to be little forever; all too soon, that will give way to test prep courses, jobs, and real life.

Tonight was a battle.  There were no sight words to contend with, but we had to get our first reading journal entry, literally, in the books.  I’m at school for open house until 7:30 tomorrow night, and trying to finish this at 8:00 the night before the little red pouch gets returned to school after a 12-hour work day didn’t seem like a good idea.

There was crying, avoidance, begging, and, finally, submission.  It took 30 minutes to get three sentences and an illustration out of Robbie.  In between his distractions, he focused so intently on being perfect, using his finger to space his words and erasing letters that weren’t perfectly formed.  Ultimately, we got three sentences down about Man on the Moon, even though Robbie would have preferred to stop at just one.  Or, even better, just the required illustration at the top of the page.

I struggle with this – the mother and the teacher in me are at odds.  I tell students in my class, “You think these three paragraphs are awful to write?  Wait until high school.  I’m just trying to prepare you for what’s to come”  But when Robbie asks, “Mom, what is homework for, anyways?” I just don’t have a great answer.


A Little Buggy…


Monday night, just as I was falling asleep, Alex started fussing upstairs.  I did what any good wife would have done after being on her own for two weeks: I pretended to be asleep and waited for Justin to go upstairs and deal with it.  Eventually, he made his way upstairs and stayed with the baby for half an hour.  Every now and then, I would hear fussing, but, I figured Justin had it coming.  Eventually he made his way downstairs and stopped in our bedroom door.  The conversation went a little something like this:

“Hon, I hate to wake you, (Really?!   Then don’t!) but Alex has thrown up twice.  I’ve pulled the sheets off his bed.  He probably needs to sleep down here.”

“Oh, poor baby!  Are you feeling sick?  Come see Mommy.  We’ll make you feel better.”

“Is he going to sleep down here?  Maybe I’ll sleep upstairs with Rob to give you more room.”

Please, please tell me he was kidding, you implore?  No.  I can’t.  Up he headed to sleep with the healthy child, while I snuggled with the baby.  Eventually, Alex put his head on my chest.  And threw up all over me.  Miraculously, the sheets stayed clean.  I changed and got back in bed, sure that nothing was left in Alex’s stomach.  I was wrong.  Minutes later, he sat up quickly and looked at me funny.  I managed to haul him over the side of the bed just before he threw up again.  My patience was gone as I called Justin to find a towel for me.  After yelling his name five times, he stumbled down the stairs to find a towel.  The second conversation went a little like this:

“You do not get to sleep upstairs with the healthy child while I get puked on all night.  Get in bed and be miserable with me.”


Except he wasn’t miserable with me.  He was asleep within a minute and snoring within two.  I may have kicked him.  More than once.  Which may have prompted him to get shoot up out of bed, asking me what in the world I wanted.  I’m sure it wasn’t one of my finer moments, and whatever I said in the passion of the moment resulted in Justin taking Alex upstairs to sleep.  I’m a smart woman, and I value my sleep, so I didn’t argue.

Five minutes later, I heard coughing and crying.  I shot upstairs, expecting to head into the guest room.  No.  Justin had taken the sick child to sleep in the same bed as the healthy child, and there was vomit all over the bed.  Off Robbie went down to our bed, and off Alex went to the bathtub.  Now, I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do laundry over the weekend, and Alex was out of pajamas.  I found a not-so-dirty pair in my laundry basket and got the child dressed in his fourth pair of pajamas for the night.

Hoping there was no way he would throw up for a sixth time – but not confident in my odds – I put Alex in the crib with a towel under him.  I sent Justin downstairs with Robbie and headed into the guest room to sleep.  Within minutes, I heard Alex get sick again (thank goodness for the towel!).  I picked him up to soothe him and earned the opportunity to change into my third pair of pajamas.

Surely this was it, right?  Kind of.  Twenty minutes later, just as I was really about to sleep (it was only 12:45 at this point), I heard screaming from Alex’s room.  A diaper change later, and I was just sure things were winding down.  They weren’t.  Mere moments after my head hit the pillow, there were even worse cries coming from Alex.  This time, he required a full change.  For the fifth time.  Unfortunately, we only had two choices for the poor boy.  Dress pants and a button down or pajama bottoms with no shirt.  I opted for pajama pants and no shirt, thinking I could just wipe him down in the event of an eleventh emergency.

Being out of sheets, I took Alex back to the guest room to sleep with me.  We curled up, ready for a few hours of sleep.  I’m not sure when it happened, but, at some point, the sweet boy leaned over and kissed me on my forehead.  That, right there, made everything right in the world.  Well, that and the two-hour delay the next morning.

Big Helper


Tonight, Justin had a meeting, so I was on my own for bedtime.  The boys and I got home and headed upstairs.  Robbie and I were in a race to get on our pajamas when Alex started crying.  I tried to hurry, but, before I could get back to the hallway, the crying stopped.  Instantly suspicious, I finished changing quickly and headed towards Robbie’s room.

As I got closer to Robbie’s room, I could see that the car seat had been moved into his doorway.  And it was empty.  Still, there was no crying, but I did hear voices.  I peered in the door to discover both boys lying on Robbie’s bed, Robbie with his arms under his head.

“See, Alex?  We’re just relaxing.  This is how we do it ’cause we’re bros.  We don’t need to cry.”

What I would have given to have seen them get there.  I’m still not sure how Robbie knew how to undo all the buckles and get Alex extracted from the car seat.  And then there was book selection, as Robbie informed me once I walked in the room, before they headed to the bed.

There is nothing like seeing Robbie look out for his little brother, even when he’s doing something I’ve asked him not to do (like carry his brother around).  He has such pure motives and is so genuine in his attempts to help.  The pretty incredible part is that it really seems to work.  If I had gotten Alex out of his car seat and laid him on the bed (on top of the covers, Robbie informed me, because there were rattle snakes under the comforter), Alex would have continued screaming.  Robbie does it, and Alex happily sat through all of story time.  There’s nothing quite like a big brother.



The other day, on the way to school, I heard a small voice from the back seat say, “I’m so, so sorry, Mom.”  Nearing a red light, I glanced in the rearview mirror, curious about what had Robbie seeking forgiveness so early in the morning.  Our day had been smooth so far, no yelling or crying on the way out the door that morning or at bedtime the night before.

“For what, love?” I asked.

“For dropping Alex on the floor.  I’m just so, so sorry, Mom!”

Fortunately, the car was stopped at an intersection, giving me a moment to process the information.  “What do you mean, Rob?” I asked.  And then, suddenly, I knew exactly what he was talking about.  About a week prior, I left Robbie and Alex in my room while I was in the kitchen fixing dinner.  There had been a sudden, panicked screaming from the bedroom, but, by the time I got back in there, everything seemed OK.

“Robbie?  Was this the other day when Alex was crying really loudly in my room?”

“Yeah, Mom.”

“Well, what in the world happened?” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry; after all, Alex seemed to be fine.  And Robbie was so sincerely upset that I wanted to cry for him.

“Alex was crying, so I was holding him and standing up and bumping Alex,” Robbie started.  Let me interject here – we have a very clear rule that Robbie is not allowed to hold Alex while he is standing up.  Also, “bumping” Alex means jostling him to calm him down.  “And I was singing ‘twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are,'” he sang, taking a pause.  “And then Alex was on the floor.  I’m just so, so sorry, Mom.”

“But, Robbie, when I got in there, you were both back on the bed, and you told me you thought he was just hungry.”

“Well, he might have been a little hungry, too.  I’m just so, so sorry!”

What can you even say to that?



A good friend had her second child last spring.  When I asked how it was, she told me she was totally in love with her second child; she couldn’t even bear to put her down.  I was doubtful – how could I love anyone as much as I loved Robbie?  How could I ever be more smitten than I was with Robbie?  And then another friend told me the second child was “the one you can enjoy.”  Again, I was doubtful.  Nothing could ever replace the excitement of a first child.  But then Alex was born.

He really is the child I can enjoy.  With Robbie, I was terrified and overwhelmed.  There was grad school, work, and an administrative practicum.  We were a thousand miles from family.  I’d never spent so much time with a baby, and I can remember thinking, at the end of the day, “I did it!  I survived the day!”  Then I was hit with the realization that no parent was coming to relieve me.  “Oh, shit!” I’d think.  “I have to do it all again tomorrow.  And every day for the next eighteen years.”  For some reason, this never occurred to me when I was pregnant.

It’s different with the second child, perhaps because (unless God is laughing as I type this) Alex will be our last.  All of a sudden, I’m not worried about surviving the next day; I’m worried that the days are going to go too fast and I won’t have soaked in all the baby time.  I don’t mind being up in the middle of the night to nurse because it’s only going to happen for a very little while.  I’m trying to breathe in every baby-scented breath I can sneak because, all too soon, he’s going to smell like a sweaty little boy (which is wonderful in it’s own odd way).

Already he’s growing up too fast.  We’ve passed being able to count his age in days, and I’m barely hanging on to how many weeks he is.  Soon, we’ll be into marking his age by months and then years.  Just today I registered Robbie for kindergarten.  I’m so thankful to have so much time between the two of them because, just maybe, it will make the time slow down a little bit.



When Robbie was first born, the days seemed interminable.  I would get to the end, proud of myself for surviving, only to realize that no one was coming home to relieve me and that I’d have to do it all again the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  When I communicated this realization to my mom, she imparted some wisdom.  “The days are long,” she told me, “but the years are short.”  I had no idea how right she was.

All of a sudden, with two boys, time seems to be passing twice as fast.  Robbie has gone from a baby to a grown-up little boy over night, even more so since Alex was born.  He has intense conversations, offering insight I’m not even sure I possess.  He does big kids things – skate boarding, playing basketball, walking the dog.  And he drinks tea.  How in the world can I get him to slow down?

With Alex, I have time to enjoy a baby again, time to revel in the things that I forgot or didn’t take the time to truly enjoy.  Even so, I can’t grasp the time; I can’t hold on to him being a baby as much as I would like.  It’s all slipping through my fingers.  Before I realized it, he was to old to say how many days he was; we were onto weeks.  And shortly, I’ll be forced to say how many months he is because I will have lost count of the weeks.

I suppose I’ll just breathe in the baby scent and soak in all the cooing and toothless smiles I can.  Because, my mom was right.

Happy and Healthy


Ask any expectant parent whether they are hoping for a boy or a girl, and you will probably hear the same stock response: “Oh, we don’t care.  Just so long as it’s happy and healthy.”  I was a little more selfish than that; I wanted happy, healthy, and male.  Both times.

Growing up, I always wanted an older brother.  It just seems like everyone needs an older brother.  Of course, I say this never having had an older brother.  The second time around, I still wanted a boy.  I was getting pretty good at raising a boy, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my status as the only girl in the house.  Sure, I was a little disappointed when I realized that we weren’t having a girl and that I’d never get to buy hair bows and cute dressed.  But I was even more relieved to realize I’d never have to learn to do hair or deal with spilled nail polish or have my own shoes and clothes stolen out of my closet.

What’s interesting about having two children of the same sex is that everyone assumes you aren’t satisfied.  No sooner had we found out that we were having an Alexander and not an Alexandra, then people began asking when we would try for a third.  It surprised me – no one started asking when we would try for a second while I was pregnant with Robbie.  However, I soon realized the deeper meaning in the question when my response was not what people expected.  The conversations (all of them) went a little something like this:

“So, will you and Justin try for a third right away?”

“No, we’re stopping with just two.  No more room at the house!”

“Oh.”  There was usually a pause here, since no one expected me to say we were done.  “So, you’re not going to try for a girl?”

That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.  I love my two boys, and, from the time I found out I was pregnant with Alex, I felt like our family was complete.  There has never been a need for another child (plus, in all honesty, now that Alex is here, the idea of really being outnumbered sounds terrifying – and expensive!).  It took me awhile to come up with the proper response.  Finally, I found the one that stopped the conversation.

“No.  In fact, we’re not having a third because it might be a girl.”

Conversation.  Over.

Yours, Mine, and Ours


Justin and I spent four-and-a-half years sharing the responsibility of one child.  It was, for all intents and purposes, easy.  Now?  We’re playing man-to-man.  There is no break, unless one of us decides to take on both children.  And so, without even realizing it, we have divided the boys as a matter of necessity.

Robbie has become Justin’s child, particularly at bedtime, and Alex has become mine.  We divide and conquer almost everything: mornings, meals, car rides, baths.  We just aren’t good enough at two kids to try to take both of them on at once – except, of course, for the fact that Justin starts traveling again tomorrow.

Part of me is jealous of Justin and his time with Robbie, especially at night.  I miss reading books with Robbie and talking about the best part of his day right before he falls asleep. I got a little bit of that tonight.  After Alex was asleep, I noticed that Justin had fallen asleep in Robbie’s room and that Robbie had not.  So, like any good mother, I climbed in bed with the two of them for a little snuggling time with my favorite four-year-old.  

I know we’ll get it figured out with a little more finesse.  Hopefully by tomorrow, when I have my first solo attempt with the kids.  It probably won’t go smoothly, but it’ll happen.  Eventually.

Grumpy Perspective


I am totally head-over-heels in love with Alex Manna.  I think he is adorable – his cheeks are the most kissable I’ve ever seen and he smells just like a baby should.  He cuddles with me, falling asleep on my chest.  He makes faces that melt my heart – the surprised look when he realizes he’s going to get to eat, the look as he tries to register what he’s seeing.  And he smiles, although probably not at me, right before he falls asleep.

Justin, however, sees a very different baby – The Grump.  He sees the face of an angry old man, a constant scowl.  He focuses on how Alex really is a Manna, preferring to pace and unable to be still for any prolonged period unless he’s asleep.  And maybe he’s a little accurate, but who wouldn’t be a little grumpy after being born?

It has to be hard for Justin, though.  Or for any dad, really.  I spent nine months with this child growing inside me; I knew him before anyone else did. I felt his first movements long before Justin was able to.  Alex was physically attached to me, dependent on me for survival.  And the most Justin could do was put a hand on my belly, hoping to be graced with a kick.

Even now, three-and-a-half weeks later, I am still the most important person in Alex’s world: I provide the food.  Sure, Justin gives Alex bottles of pumped milk and changes diapers and gives baths and paces the floor to keep him happy between naps.  But it’s not the same – there are no googlie eyes for Justin like there are for me.  Alex doesn’t get excited to see Justin because, well, Justin has nothing to offer him.  Yet.

There is going to come a time when Justin is Alex’s hero, when he is the fun one.  For now, though, I’m going to relish my sweet baby and my opportunity to be his most important person.

Project 2014


Almost 24 hours into the new year, the clean slate we’ve all been waiting for.  A chance to change ourselves – even if most of us forget what we actually wanted to change sometime in mid-February or, if we’re really lucky, late March.  Sure, there are things I’d like to do.  Lose weight (half of the baby weight is gone but the rest is not going to lose itself).  Be more organized.  Stay on top of the laundry.  But is any of that really going to change who I am?  Maybe I simply need to look to my children to see what it is that I really need to change about myself.

Let every morning be a fresh start.  I mess up.  Every single day.  I yell at Robbie when I really shouldn’t have (like maybe when he sticks my pearl necklace down the barrel of his Nerf gun, even when I’ve asked him three times to please stop but can’t get up because I’m nursing Alex and it’s really just too much to handle at the moment).  Or I forget to make him the hot tea I promised to make for him to drink during story time – even though it really just sits on his dresser and is never touched.  Or I couldn’t get his shoes tight enough or made him wear long sleeves or told him he absolutely, positively had to sleep in his bed.  He doesn’t always react well to these things.  Sure, sometimes he tells me it’s OK because we all make mistakes.  But, more often than not, he cries right along with me when I realize I’ve been too harsh and hurt his feelings or yells because I’m just not being fair.  In the morning, though, all is forgiven and forgotten (if we’re being honest, it’s usually taken care of by bedtime).  I’m back to being his “best mom”, worthy of hugs and an extra kiss before he hops in the car to go to school.  It doesn’t matter how badly I messed up the day before; Robbie gives me a whole new opportunity to be the best mom I can be.  If he can do that, why can’t I?

Playing is fun.  We have work.  And family.  And a house to clean.  Where in the world is there time to have fun?  Everywhere.  Being off work for the past three weeks – and spending two of them with a four-and-a-half-year-old at home – I’ve had to do some serious looking for the fun.  It’s making cookies, even when there’s no special occasion.  Or racing from one corner to the next in an effort to actually complete a two-mile run with a small child.  Some days, the laundry can wait.  Dinner doesn’t have to be spectacular – especially if you’re making it together.  It’s OK if the house is a mess.  Robbie and Alex aren’t going to remember that they had to wear the same socks two days in a row because you took an hour to go to the playground instead of doing laundry (that’s actually a true story – don’t judge; their feet don’t smell too horrible at this age).

Naps are good.  This kind of follows the previous paragraph.  Cuddling up with a sleeping baby, relishing that you can take a nap while the rest of the world is at work (which, by the way, is exactly what I plan to do tomorrow when everyone goes back to school) is empowering.  OK, maybe not empowering, but it sure does make you feel awesome.  Leave the dishes in the sink, slide under the covers, close your eyes, and enjoy the moments of nothing.

Listening is important – even more important than talking.  Robbie talks.  A lot.  About everything that passes through his brain.  I don’t always follow it.  In fact, there are times that I really want to tune it all out, but I can’t because he expects me to respond to what he’s saying.  We’ve done a lot of walking in the past week – close to ten miles, which is a lot of time for talking.  Robbie has showed me all the houses where his imaginary friend, Jack’s, family lives.  We’ve talked about what living organisms have brains (trees don’t), which led to commentary on Robbie’s brain deciding to order pizza.  We’ve looked at cloud shapes and held hands.  It’s the little things that I would miss if I didn’t listen carefully.  How much do we miss around us because we are too busy on our cell phones or thinking about everything else we have to do?  Slow down – it’ll be OK if you don’t respond to that text for the next five minutes.

Hugs fix a lot of things.  It’s true.  They just do.  Skinned knees, hurt feelings, bad dreams.  This applies in real life, too.  Don’t be afraid to give a hug to someone who needs one – or to ask for one when it’s really just too much to take.

People are good and really just want to be friends.  People hurt Robbie’s feelings (and I’m pretty sure he hurts theirs, too), but he’s always the first to remind me that they are his friends.  Tonight, he told me that most people are on Santa’s nice list – only bad guys (like witches, ghosts, and zombies) are on the naughty list.  It’s easy to forget – everyone is a person, with a heart.  Treat people that way.  Assume they are on the nice list.

Will I remember all of this every day?  Absolutely not.  But that’s OK, as long as I remember the first rule of 2014 and start every morning fresh.  The rest will fall into place.