Did I Tell You The One Where Christmas Break Would Not End?

1476175_10202797128275919_1196886460_nTeachers everywhere were rejoicing. Of that I have no doubt. It started all extra-nice. (See above photo for evidence.)  It was snowy outside, warm and cozy inside, and the boys loved each other. I was having visions of piling up on the soda, toasty warm, watching our favorite movies, reading our favorite books. Cocoa would be in hand, complete with marshmallows. Zach in his footed pj’s, Evan in his flannel sleep pants, me in sweats.  The world shut out, and the ones I love shut in against the cold. There was no school for me, and only my 3 scheduled days of work per week. It was going to be great.

Then this happened:1480549_10202798469749455_592936327_nIt snowed. I love our street in the snow. The houses look so cute and cozy, the neighborhood becomes a Thomas Kinkade painting. We put up the Christmas tree together. This year, Zachy was really able to  participate, which was adorable. I kicked the OCD into low gear as he put the ornaments too close together, and somehow resisted the urge to tweak them ever-so-slightly the entire time that tree was up.

This year, I even managed to somehow get all of the Christmas presents for the boys wrapped before anyone knew what they were getting. This was about as successful a Christmas as I could’ve asked for, considering some of our previous misadventures. The whole next day, the boys broke  played with their new things. Then Evan remembered how fun toys can be when you are only 3, and Santa brings you things like racetracks for toy cars or little train sets. And it dawned on Zachy just how cool big-kid stuff can be.

Magic: Over. Bubble: Burst.

Next thing we knew, there were fights. “Mommy, Evan did________.”, squealed Zach. “Mom! Zach has my _______.”, whined Evan. And so it went all the way up through the end of their Christmas break. It seemed like the longest one in the history of winter breaks. I seriously thought I was going to die. To make matters worse, I was fresh out of school. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have that distraction. With me home more, John felt he deserved a break, and left most parenting matters to me. I’m certain the grey hairs on my head have multiplied as a result.

The eve of their first day back to school, I was working the ICU. It really is a good thing my patient was in a medically-induced coma and couldn’t hear me or tell on me. The tv in his room was turned to the news, where I saw the update where the boys’ first day back was called off due to weather.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’m sure my wail reverberated off of the walls of the ICU, into the adjacent waiting area and throughout the rest of the hospital. Nurses from outside the room rushed in to see what had happened, as I’m not generally an alarmist at work.

That day. That day I had been dreaming of, hoping for, wishing on….My hopes were crushed. My spirit broken.

The fighting a home got worse as cabin fever started in. Snow kept dumping on us. Just when it would start to clear up, more would come. And then it didn’t. The boys were finally going to go back to school. I was relieved, and by that time, I think they were as sick of us as we were of them causing chaos.

And then that “Polar Vortex” bullshit happened. Anyone remember the “I can’t put my arms down” scene in A Christmas Story? Well, we will never have a modern-day version of that. They cancelled school because it was too cold. For not one day, but days-yep, plural. When we were kids, our parents would just bundle us up. We waited a little closer to last minute to go to our bus stops. But our bus stops weren’t at our driveway, either. Generally, we had to walk. If it was dangerously cold–as in losing digits to frost bite despite gloves or mittens—my mom would crank the heat in the car to warm it up while I was getting ready and then drive me to the bus stop, where I would sit in the car until the bus was in sight. The lowest it got here was 2 degrees, and I am sure that I remember it getting a lot colder. As a matter of fact, I just googled that and discovered we had temps as low as -25 in 1985 in Cincinnati. But they closed school. There was no snow or ice on the ground, no slick roads, no frozen pipes at the school. It was just cold.

It seemed like winter break was never going to end. John and I were never going to have a single moment of peace. Armageddon was going to strike, Hell was freezing over, and we would have to home-school the children from now on. I was on the verge, man.

Finally, on January 10th, the boogers got on the bus and headed back. They were out of school for 29 days in total. I sincerely hope they tack the extra unplanned missed days onto the end of the school year. I am now on a mission to treasure every moment of silence until June, and promise to never take a peaceful moment for granted for as long as I live.

Finally,

Grocery Woes

8019650_f520Hang with me here, because I swear I have a point. Off the top of my head, breakfast items I purchased for the house include the following:

  • 2 packages of whole-wheat English muffins
  • 1 pound of turkey bacon
  • 12 yogurts
  • 2 boxes of Pop-Tarts (don’t judge me!)
  • Multiple types of fruit–berries, oranges, clementines, apples, grapes
  • 3—yes, 3–boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios (they had a bundle pack that was discounted)
  • 1 Bag of Bagels–I buy the minis because they are more like a normal serving size, so I am estimating 12 were in the bag.
  • 18 eggs
  • 4 boxes of Nutrigrain-type cereal bars
  • a container of oatmeal
  • 1 box of Grape Nuts

I ate, I think, 2 English muffins, maybe a couple of pieces of fruit. I went to work for 3 nights and got off on the following Monday, and all of it–everything on the above list–was gone. What else didn’t survive the weekend? 3 boxes of granola bars, 2 boxes of low-calorie snacks I bought for myself, 2 boxes of snack crackers, an 18-pack of Jell-O, 2 gallons of chocolate milk, a whole pound of turkey breast. In one weekend. And that is just the quick items.

So it goes like this: I get paid, I determine a grocery budget, and I go to the grocery store. There isn’t a lot to go around anymore because my boss has cut down on our ability to work overtime, so I have to stretch what I do have. I clip coupons, I price match, I shop sales. I usually do pretty well, coming home from the store with the back of our SUV filled with grocery bags. On the last trip right before Christmas break, I spent $350 because I knew the kids would be home all day everyday. It would be more than enough for anyone.

Except for this family.

I never dreamed I would say this, but I cannot afford to feed this family anymore. More specifically, I cannot afford to fee Evan. The kid eats something and immediately goes back for more. All day long, this is how it goes. So my trips to the grocery store are decimated and when I come home from work after a 3-day stretch, there is nothing left and we spend the rest of the week running to and from the store, buying miscellaneous items because there is nothing left in the house. Which is decidedly unfriendly to the environment and to my wallet, as gas is fricken expensive. I have even had to let some bills slide to buy more food because they ran us out and we cannot starve for the rest of the week..

I should add that this does not just happen when I am gone. Last night for dinner, for example, John made chops, veggies, baked potatoes. When he made the potatoes, he made a whole bunch of them because they were smallish. I split one with Zach. John had one. Evan cried and carried on until he ate the rest of them. If we order a pizza, he eats more than all of us combined. One night, I made a pan of baked ziti–lowfat, of course, for John–and we all got a spoonful while Evan ate the rest of the pan.  He’s starving, he says. He cries.

We have tried everything. We’ve explained how obesity runs in our family, as well as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. We’ve had discussions about genetics and how John’s dad had to have open-heart in his 40’s and John had all of those blocked arteries this past summer in his 30’s, so Evan is pretty much doomed if he doesn’t amend his eating habits. I can’t make too much of an issue of it because I don’t want to make such an unhealthy connection with food, as this can also lead to problems.

What do I do? And the reason I am asking? Well, after the “polar vortex” that we have had that expanded the kids’ winter break, I am broke. We literally have no money. I have fed this child until our wallets, pockets, bank accounts are completely empty. And there is no food left. I have resources and I can get groceries, but the point is that nobody else will get to eat them. And even when we are diligent, when we watch the food supplies all day, being careful about what Evan consumes, our efforts go to waste when he sneaks into the kitchen after all have gone to bed and hoard entire boxes of stuff into his room. In the morning when he wakes, we have found empty boxes of snack crackers, granola bars, anything that he can easily take and snack on all night.

Do we have to sleep in shifts? Put the food under lock and key? Start buying by the meal instead of stocking the kitchen? And then when he cannot get what he wants, we deal with one of his meltdowns where he turns over furniture, gets violent with his brother, breaks our things intentionally.

I am at my wit’s end. I do not know what to do or how to do it.

And I’m hungry.

Still Alive

One day, I’ll return to writing for my own sake.

In the meantime, this is what is going on right now:

Evan is thriving in middle school. The girls are swarming. It’s bad. Last Thursday, after some really strange symptoms that had been going on sporadically, we were told that they thought he had a brain tumor. More about that experience on another day. I just can’t right now. He is seeing a pediatric neurologist in a few days and we’ll hopefully get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I am trying not to unravel in my worry by focusing my attention on the fact that the head CT was negative. I am instead focusing on other things: that–for the first time ever–this kid has friends; that girls love him and I actually have to worry about what goes on when he is not supervised with a girl, that he is now wearing small men’s clothes, that he has that goofy ‘stache coming in and his dad is going to have to teach him to shave.

Zach is…Zach. He refuses to have anything to do with a toilet. I am tired of having to buy Pull-Ups. Or worse yet, diapers. He still sleeps in a diaper because Pull-Ups leak too much at bedtime. I would let him feel that discomfort with the idea that it would motivate him, but he just sleeps through it, thus we sleep through it, and we wake in the morning to a child with a rash and blue lips from sleeping in soaked pajamas. I cannot deal with neither the grossness factor or the health risk of that. We encourage. His preschool teachers encourage. We have purchased every toilet-learning device known to man, looking for the magic one. Currently, that is this cushie Prince Lionheart insert that seems so comfy that I wish it would accommodate adults.He has no desire whatsoever. But what is he doing? He is speaking plainly, counting, saying his alphabet, (crudely) writing his name, singing songs. (Please do not mix up the order of he verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”!) In May, this was the child who could literally say nothing that a stranger could understand. So I am not sweating the potty stuff. We’ll get there. He always does, doesn’t he? He’s still my little wonder–smart, cute,  funny, sweet.  He’s just Zachy.

John is making me proud everyday, He has lost over 50 pounds since the fateful day over the summer when a doctor I respect came to me to tell me that he could have died at any second from the blockages in his heart. His BP is down. He is down to only one medication for diabetes, and that dosage even had to be cut in half. His cardiologist cleared him to run at home after he outgrew the mild exercises at cardiac rehab. His cholesterol was actually low at his last check, so his medication for that was cut in half. The beta-blacker was stopped after he exhibited no need for it. He was wearing a size 40 waist in the summer. He is down to a 34, and those are falling off, but we’re holding off on shopping for more, since he’s built up to 2-mile runs daily–any little bit of weight he has left will melt off as his endurance gets back up there. His doctor says he only needs to lose 9 more pounds to be ideal body weight. If he loses 18 more, he will be back down to his post-boot camp weight from his Marine Corps days.

And me? I’m hanging in there. I have–wait, let me count–8 more weeks left of school. I start my capstone next Saturday. My paperwork for graduation is submitted. I am off of work. Blame some little boys who cannot seem to get their dirty laundry in a hamper. I tripped on some dirty clothes and fell down the entire flight of basement stairs on my left leg, with it ricocheting off of each step on the way down. They thought stuff was torn. Instead, I found out that every piece of cartilage in there is inflamed from the trauma. So it has been injections, PT, crutches (for about 5 weeks). I am finally to the walking stage, but only for very short trips and in transit. I cannot stand or walk for long periods at all. (Read: I can limp to my class and sit in a chair, I can walk to the car and get in it, but I can’t do shopping trips, etc.) I’m just hanging in. Also, I remember lamenting on here how I hated undergrad corporate finance. It has nothing on the 600 level.

That’s all.

I’ll be a blogger again one day, I swear,

That B-Word I’ve Been Waiting to Hear

frumsWith the start of middle school for Evan came the option to enroll in band.

I’ve been waiting for it. Ready for it. Of course, it ultimately came down to what Evan wanted to do, but I secretly hoped he would. And he did. He chose percussion–drums. Of course all band parents hope their child does not choose drums, and many nix it. I wasn’t afraid in the slightest. The kid wants to play drums. So be it.

The start of this new thing has not been uneventful. First, I had to get an instrument for him. We went right away. I was going to just buy him a snare drum, which is what the kids always started out with when I was in school. Nope. They have to have a bell kit, complete with a drum practice pad, a xylophone-type instrument, a stand, mallets, and sticks. And because this was Evan, I knew he would likely quit in a couple of months when he realizes that I intend to make him practice. So I opted to rent to start us out. So they hand me this form to complete. The rental fee is a whopping $22 per month. Nothing to break the bank. So I fill this form out. It consisted of my name, employer, social security number, address, employer’s address, how long, etc. Then she hands me this other sheet–5 references. Okay, I guess, just to ensure I’m not going to skip town with an instrument. Of course my phone was dead, holding within its lifeless body all of my contacts and their numbers. I had to dig deep to come up with 5 people whose addresses and phone numbers I actually knew. So I finish and start to get my wallet out to pay the woman for the first month and the book that Evan needs. Not so fast. Next she hands me a sheet of paper with more detailed information–my last 3 employers, my occupation, highest level of education. Now, mind you, all of this is duplicated for John. Then she needs my driver’s license. At one point, I looked at her and asked her how much it would cost to just pay for the damned thing. I know a snare is only a few hundred. Nope, this is over $1000 worth of stuff. So I am just waiting for her to ask me to bend over for the body cavity search while she runs my credit. But she doesn’t. Instead, I reach for my wallet out of my purse, now ready to pay her. I never dreamed. They tried to decline me!!!! I have purchased 2 new cars in the past few years. I can walk into my bank and ask for a great deal of money on credit and they will give it to me. I have multiple college degrees, a good income, and decent time on my job. Why in the hell would they deny me for something that only costs $22/ month? Well, because I have a medical bill that went to collections that I am still making payments on–for Evan’s autism diagnosis. It was thousands of dollars, and I just didn’t have the funds to pay it in full at the time. So I have been paying $250/ month for it and still owe about 2.5 more months of these payments. That is why. The good credit didn’t matter. Now if I were trying to buy a $100,000 car or something, I could see them being that particular, but this? So I was about to call my bank and arrange to just buy the thing when the woman came back and told me that it was okay, that she called their credit department, who told her to apologize to me and put it through. But then I thought about what this meant.

We have decent credit–decent enough to get credit when we need it. The only real mark against us, aside from that bill, is that we don’t own our home. That is intentional because of my education. I have no idea where I am going to be 6 months from now, so it is a convenience to just rent. I have a decent middle class income, own late model cars that I pay for on time. What about all of the people out there who earn less, have lots of medical bills, or are just pieces of crap and don’t pay? Those kids are deprived the opportunity to play an instrument, to learn music? So that leads to the next thing.

Music education is not a luxury. I know because I was a student of music. I wanted to play an instrument and, tired of buying expensive instruments for kids who would ultimately quit, my mom was hip to the game and made me choose from one our family already owned. I got my sister’s flute. And I was good at it. I played for years, with the school teachers always recommending private lessons. Mom got those for me through the local music store for a whopping $8 per hour. But within a year, I quickly outgrew those. She had to find someone from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to teach me–someone who was good. Those got more expensive, but Mom paid the $72  per hour each week. And I got good at it.  Good enough to win awards, have articles in the paper about competitions I won, honors I received. By the time I was in high school, Mom was ill. They had to file bankruptcy on medical bills. And I outgrew my sister’s flute. It was time for a professional model. The one that worked best was over $4000, and my parents simply could not do it. Of course I couldn’t either. Knowing I wanted to go on to major in music, the band director at my high school cosigned for the huge purchase and I got a job at McDonald’s to pay the payments directly to him so he ensured they were paid. And I paid the last payment right before I left for college. Mom, continued to be my biggest fan, though. She followed me around to all of the concerts, competitions, solos, honor bands and orchestras in which I was invited to play. She would always have to sit in the back with her oxygen tank, and she would cry as I would play my solos. At home, when I would practice, she would listen through the air vents, knowing that I would get nervous and stop if I knew she was listening, She doesn’t know that I knew.

So I went to college. They went to great lengths to break me down, knowing that in the music world, only the toughest survive. I rolled with it, but it was emotionally draining to take something I loved so much and make it into so much work. And Mom got even sicker. She couldn’t be there anymore. And then she passed away. And I would try to play and would come across sheet music for a piece she had wanted me to learn or for a song she loved to hear me play, and I would break down, unable to play through the tears. I eventually gave up. When I fell on financially hard times in my early twenties, I sold that expensive flute. I have not touched one since. But the lessons I learned–about finding what you love, what you are good at, and throwing yourself into it; about hard work in exchange for goals reached, about the bonding power of music, about the value of a support system–I took all of these with me. They are still here and still influence me daily. I want the same for Evan. I want the same for Evan’s classmates. This is why it made me so sad that some children may not be able to participate because of their parents.

Evan may never be a rock god, a virtuoso, a prodigy when it comes to music. But I will encourage him. I will be there. I will remind him of the value of it all. My mom served as a great role model in that.

What I Said I Would Never Do and Then Did Anyway

Kid-With-Cell-PhoneKids and cellphones. It drives me crazy. I work with someone who literally bought their two-year-old an iPhone. No, I’m not kidding. I am being completely serious. I didn’t have a cell until a couple of years ago. It just wasn’t a need of mine. When it became a need, I went and got one. But a little kid? Call me crazy, but when you are too young to be left alone for a second, when you are chauffeured around to every destination, go no places on your own, you have no need to be reachable at all hours and in any locale. And besides,  the only person who should need that type of contact with you at that age had better be a parent, and aren’t you with one of them?

Read: “No, Evan, you CANNOT have a cell phone!”

I did, however, let him have a Facebook account and email, with the password known to me and the username set as the email address, so every stinkin’ time he gets a like, a comment, a message, a friend request, I know about it. It’s a pain for me, as my phone vibrates non-stop almost, but it is necessary to keep him safe from himself and from others who prey on kids. And as a result of these other internet uses, he inherited an old smartphone of ours that no longer has service. He could still use the wi-fi functionality at home to email his new friends. (A long story that will have to be told at another time.)

So this has been going on for some time now. Fast forward to now. Well, to a couple of days ago. He is currently at his grandfather’s house for his annual summer visit, when he gets to fly planes and boat and jet-ski to his heart’s content. See evidence here:evan fliesSo this past Saturday, he calls. John answers the phone. I can hear the worry in John’s voice. He’s asking what is wrong. Then I see John roll his eyes, say, “Oh my God, talk to your mother!” as he thrusts the phone at me. Evan is completely hysterical. I can barely understand him. I get him calmed down and then it starts to become clearer: the phone he was using–my old one–finally bit the dust. He is 4 hours away. He cannot email his friends or anything, and he is going to be down there for awhile due to some health issues John is having. (Oh my GOD, that makes it sound like John has the plague–he doesn’t. You’ll understand later.) I assure him we will find a solution, hang up the phone and go to work on this little issue.

I could do any of the following:

A. An iPod Touch. It has wi-fi and messaging capabilities. Maybe Grandpa could take Evan to get one and I could reimburse him. Nope, they’re too expensive, so I can’t ask someone to do that for us.

B. Send Grandpa to get Evan a cheap pre-paid cell and reimburse him for that. Ehhh. Wouldn’t that give Evan a long-distance phone number?

C. Call our cell carrier and see if they can sell me a cheap smartphone to have shipped down there to Evan. Hmmmm. And that is when it happened.

They tell me that I have a family plan, and that if I add a line, they are giving away free iPhone 4S’s.

Shit.

And that, since we have unlimited talk and text, Evan could call and text however much he liked and it wouldn’t run up our bill.

Double Shit.

And that they have this service called Smart Limits that allows us, as his parents, to limit what he is allowed to do on his line. For example, he would only be able to make purchases with a credit card and not simply by billing to the cell bill. We could limit who he calls, who calls him, how much data he can use (the other sure-fire way for me to one day get a $800 cell bill in the mail!).

Triple Shit. Evan got a cell phone. 

An iPhone at that. Which may have been free to me, but is still a $500 phone. And I don’t think it was a bad decision. He’s starting middle school in the fall. He’s still a little awkward, but he’s blossoming socially. He’s making friends. Just before he left, he was outside playing with some friends and lost track of time because nobody wears a watch anymore and none of the kids had phones. He’s getting to the age where he will be old enough to drop off at the mall to hang with friends or be permitted to have a house key and let himself  in after school. Not quite yet, but soon. It was time.

Of course, he could completely make a fool out of me. I wired money down to him with orders that, as soon as the phone arrives, he is to take it the local AT&T store and buy an OtterBox for the damned thing. This will minimize the chance that it will be destroyed on accident. Given how badly he has begged me for this for a couple of years, it isn’t likely that he will destroy it on purpose. And the smart peeps at the phone company have limited his ability to drive me to financial ruin with the thing. So I have moved forward with calculated risk.

And besides, he is growing. How is he going to prove he can be responsible without the opportunity to prove it?