Emergency Hernia Surgery for our Two-Year-Old

Written January 29, 2012.

Right now I’m sitting in room 445 in the Pediatric Unit of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, MT. It’s 11 PM on Sunday night, and I’m waiting for our two-year-old to get out of an emergency hernia surgery. In a little hospital crib in the room our 9-month-old baby girl is sleeping. She’s not sick, but she’s along for the ride because she is a nurser. Sleeping in the hospital bed nearby is my husband, Jarred, who is sick with the stomach flu. While waiting in the ER for information about our little boy’s surgery, Jarred got sick and vomited 2.5 liters. We don’t usually tally that sort of thing, but in the ER, measuring things is standard protocol for the nurse who helped clean it up. Life has a way of throwing curveballs and helping keep things in perspective. Here I was stressing out about our upcoming cross country move, and suddenly, all of that screeches to a halt because my baby boy is in surgery right now.

Sleeping in the hospital after emergency hernia surgery.

Even before an emergency hernia surgery, the weekend was full. On Friday afternoon our 6-year-old celebrated her birthday with a much anticipated party with nine friends and cousins, ages 7 and under. The two hour event took every bit of our reserves out of us, even though we tried to keep it pretty low key. Low key just doesn’t happen with that many kids swarming around a house, high on Pixie Sticks and Pepsi. As chaotic as it was, we wanted to let her have one last party here with her classmates and cousins, and they all had a blast.

So after a Friday spent getting a house ready for the onslaught of excited kids, and adding the general melee of the week, and moving plans, we didn’t do much at all on Saturday. Our two littlest ones have been getting me up a lot at night, so my days are a blur, and I looked forward to a Sunday with no plans at all.

Saturday night was especially exhausting. Our baby girl woke up once at midnight, but our 2-year-old got up and out of bed and wandered into our room three times in the night, got up for the day at 5 AM to watch cartoons, and then kept returning to our bed every half an hour or so until I dragged myself out of bed. In hindsight, he was probably starting to feel the pain of his hernia. On Sunday morning, I dragged myself to the shower and we headed to church, where I don’t remember a bit of the readings, but I do remember that our baby girl was hugging her dad adorably for much of the time.

As we were getting ready to leave, our 2-year-old complained that his tummy hurt. A few moments later he was screaming and crying in the bathroom, crouched down on the floor. I thought he was just throwing a fit because he was tired, so I picked him up and he screamed louder. When he quieted down enough, he managed to say “ow, ow, ow, my tummy hurts.” He kept on screaming for several minutes, long enough that everyone in church who sees him regularly and knows him well collectively said we should take him in to the doctor. So, in the matter of minutes, our Sunday got rearranged, and we left our two oldest kids with Jarred’s sister, we grabbed a few essentials, and headed to the ER.

When we got there, they did an abdominal x-ray and palpated his belly, took his vitals, and determined that he had a painful case of constipation and a belly full of gas making the pain worse. They gave him a suppository twice and then an enema, and we waited several hours for something to happen. The whole time he was listlessly tired and had the chills while sweating. When he finally had a messy diaper, they deemed it a success, and we were discharged and went home. As we left, the receptionist at the ER commented that he still had the same horrible look on his face as when we came in.

So, we picked up an easy fried chicken dinner at the grocery store and some recommended apple juice for our little guy, picked up our two oldest kids, and headed home, ready to call it a night. As we drove home, I held him on my lap, and he just was a limp, occasionally wimpering little puddle of his usual self. Not long after we got in the door, our sick little guy threw up all over himself and his blanket. I put him in the bathtub to clean him up, and noticed he sat completely still as the bubbles and water filled in around him. Normally, he’s a blur in the bathtub. As I dried him off he cried out in pain, and when I glanced down I saw an egg-sized bulge just above his groin on the right. Our 4-year-old had hernia surgery just 10 months ago, so I knew right away that we once again had a hernia on our hands.

Wanting to just start crying, I instead went into battle mode, and we spent the next hour getting our kids fed, packing up and shipping off our older kids back to Jarred’s sister’s house for the night, and packing up for a night in the hospital for Mom, Dad, and the two littlest ones. Jarred drove about 90 mph back to the hospital, and even though the ER knew to expect us from the call back we made, everything moved in slow motion. As we drove in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder how helpless we would be 100 or 150 years ago in this same situation.

Once we got to the hospital, Jarred dropped me and our little guy off first, and I carried him in and mumbled his information, scrawled my signatures, and sat down on the chair. I looked down at that sweet little boy in my arms, limp and wincing in pain but too tired and dehydrated to put up much protest. Wanting so desperately to make my baby all better, but being so helpless, unable to do anything but wait is so hard. We both just wanted to scream, “Can’t you see that this little boy is really sick?” But we just waited, and I didn’t care that the crazy people that collect in the ER saw the tears rolling down my face as I cradled a little boy in footy pajamas.

The hardest part was waiting for an IV. Knowing that he would probably have hernia surgery tonight, we couldn’t let him have water. But after not drinking anything but a few ounces of apple juice all day, and then throwing up twice, he had nothing in him. He held his empty sippy cup the whole 30 mile drive into the ER, and hung onto it until right before surgery. He kept asking for water with cracked, dry lips and sunken eyes pleading for a drink, in between whimpering in another wave of pain. When it tears me up to wait the relatively short time for the IV with pain medication, I’m humbled by the desperation that countless parents feel who handle far more severe illnesses in their children or live somewhere without access to medical care.

It’s now after midnight, and we’re still waiting for our little boy to get out of surgery. Jarred just got sick again, filling up another container. It’s going to be a long, sleepless night with a baby trying to sleep in a noisy hospital crib, a two year-old fresh out of hernia surgery, a dad who is continually throwing up and not able to help take care of anyone, and me, who hasn’t hardly slept for the last few days and won’t tonight either. All of this just makes me think that if all our stuff just burned up before moving to Minnesota, it wouldn’t matter. The truth is, the only thing that I really care about moving to Minnesota is us.


How about you…ever have one of those days where all of the little things suddenly get put in perspective?

© 2012


Battle-Tested Mom’s Survival Guide to Shopping with Children

When looking for exceedingly talented strategists, the Army is missing its mark. They need to recruit mothers.

Written January 23, 2012.

When I walk into a store, I always turn heads. Jaws drop, eyes follow me, and comments often trail behind me in my wake. Oh yes, I am something else. I’d love to say it’s because I’m so ravishingly beautiful, but alas, that is not the cause of the stares. I’m more like a circus sideshow than a celebrity sighting, because I shop with four kids in tow, ages five and under.

My ordinary life doesn’t seem remarkable, until I look at it from an outsider’s perspective. I remember in my pre-children days, occasionally seeing a mom in the grocery store with a swarm of four or five children around her cart. When I saw those moms with scads of kids, my reaction was aghast horror and pity, mixed with admiration for their extraordinary maternal dexterity. Four kids no bigger than waist height in the grocery store looked like a little slice of hell. How do they even get down the aisles without losing someone or breaking something? Who in their right mind would willingly submit themselves to that torture? Fast forward a few years, and the answer is, of course, me.

Money-Saving Tip: Simply bear children until your cart has no room for unwanted impulse items.

Where we currently live in Montana, shopping with kids is even more of a challenge because of the distances involved. The closest grocery store is 30 miles from our house, in the city of Billings, and most of the stores are on the far end of Billings, 40 miles away. Anytime we need something beyond the basics available at our Broadview gas station, just commuting time on the road to stores and back takes an hour and a half. Because any shopping trip means at least 80 miles of driving with a van load of four little monkeys, I tackle the ordeal no more than once a week. When shopping day comes around, the outing is not luxuriant retail therapy, but a feat of endurance.

In a few years of wrangling babies, toddlers, and preschoolers through stores, I sustained a few battle scars, earned my stripes, and am now convinced of this: when looking for exceedingly talented strategists, the Army is missing its mark. They need to recruit mothers. Any mom with young kids can anticipate and strategize with the best of military planners. After all, in the fierce world of parenthood, one must develop superior tactics, or quickly suffer a swift, decisive, and embarrassing defeat. For parents, a successful day of shopping requires nothing short of a battle plan that includes equipment, emergency rations, and stealth tactics. Below is a technical guide for surviving logistics and acquisition with your little soldiers.

 Shopping with Monkeys Survival Guide

Battle Plan: Before deployment, create a plan of attack. Consider the number of goals to accomplish. Now, cut that number in half. This is what you can accomplish. Any casual shopping is best done in your mind. Actually attempting to browse will only create anguish and undue stress to all involved.

Deployment: Prepare children’s gear in advance, allot a sufficient amount of time for unexpected disasters, double that time, and you will arrive only slightly late at your destination. Leaving home during nap time, while possible, is not advisable.

Equipment: Contain as many of your monkeys as possible in the cart to prevent anyone from going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). Note: children not in a cart will gravitate to the blind spot in the front of the cart, where a cart-to-child collision is inevitable. Finally, while using cart as a battering ram for slow-moving shoppers may be tempting, this generally should be avoided.

NOTICE: In some states, operating this high occupancy vehicle (HOV) may require a passenger endorsement and/or specialized training courses.

SCUBA: Self-contained Underutilized Baby Attachment (AKA baby slings, wraps, front/back carriers). Compact and easy to stash in a purse or diaper bag until needed, baby slings and wraps are a vital part of the mommy arsenal that save many shopping trips. Slings are a veritable Swiss Army Knife of convenience: tired babies and toddlers can survive through a store when held, and parents can get through the store with their hands still free. Use this secret weapon freely.

PT: No, not physical training. Regularly hauling 20 and 30 pound packs (children) is plenty of strength training already. PT is Potty Training. Best tactical maneuver: Offer bathroom time as you enter the store. Pottying is a covert operation that strikes with little warning, generally when your defenses are at their weakest. Be assured that when the cart is full and your closest bathroom rendezvous is entirely across the store, that is when potty time will strike. Knowledge of store layout is critical. Avoid hazards such as slow-moving browsing shoppers and mine fields like the toy section. Action must be swift and decisive, or you will certainly suffer defeat.

MREs: Meals Ready to Eat. Feed early, feed often. When pondering eating or a going to store, eat first. Food must be available at all times. If no food is readily available, hungry small children rapidly fill the cart with Brightly Colored Corn Syrup Food Substitutes, AKA “bright substitutes” or BS.

Evasive Maneuvers: One of the most critical techniques to master is evasiveness and stealth. Small monkeys are irresistibly attracted to bright, shiny objects. Attention must be diverted in order to prevent unwanted accumulation of expensive objects in cart. The specific technique is not important: conversations about stinky feet, what to eat for lunch, and making embarrassingly funny noises are equally useful. Just create a diversion, and make a hasty retreat.

G-Force: G as in grandparents. When fatigue sets in and your defenses weaken, never cease to believe in the power of the G-Force, grandparents. Unrelated, random grandmas are your friendly allies in stores, often appearing suddenly, and sometimes reluctant to leave when engaged. Empathetic comments like “I remember those days” “I had (x) kids, so I know how busy you are” or “Looks like you’ve got your hands full” can propel you on when you want to collapse. Do not neglect simple compliments of “What a cute bunch of kids/ what a beautiful baby/ what a nice helper she/he is.” Those compliments can sustain you through shopping fatigue. Be advised: Do not expect friendly grandfathers to correctly identify gender. Any hairless baby is male, regardless of clothing color or accessories. Just smile and nod. Attempting to correct this grandfather anomaly is futile.

Exit Strategy: Recall countless war movies. At some point, when a battalion is obviously outnumbered, beaten down from prolonged onslaught, out of rations, etc., the general faces a tough decision: either beat a hasty retreat, or face certain slaughter of all the troops. When there are no alternatives left, remember this: there is no place for pride in parenthood. Toughen up, soldier, and admit defeat when it is apparent. Abort your shopping mission and flee homeward. Retreat! Retreat! Retreat! A word of caution: the battle that you surrendered to today is the battle you must fight once again tomorrow. That shopping list will not simply disappear, but most importantly, you may live to shop another day.

© 2012

A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins with a Little Panic and Denial

Written January 16, 2012.

Six weeks from now our plan is to move from Montana to Minnesota. That’s six weeks to pack up a family of six, pack up a welding shop full of gigantic tools and equipment, and tie up an infinite number of loose ends. Quite frankly, I don’t know yet how it’s all going to happen by that time. But I do know a few things for certain: I am utterly overwhelmed, a touch panicked, and still in a mild state of shock and denial that this move is real.

Six weeks from a big move, this box and all the others sit woefully empty.

I know the gravity of the short time frame of our move is sinking in because I simply can’t concentrate on anything. Add that to my usual sleep deprivation from a teething baby with a stuffy nose and a two-year old night roamer, and while I look like my usual self on the outside, on the inside I’m just running around yelling, “AAAHHHH!!!” with a bit of hand flailing thrown in for good measure. This week, I created the beginnings of five different columns. At some point, each one of them will probably make an appearance for your reading enjoyment.

None of those that I started to write, though, held my attention. The whole time that I worked on any one of them, one part of me was busy sorting out details of my topic at hand, but that voice screaming in panic about an impending move kept yelling, “How can you write about feeding the baby?!! Don’t you know that you should have something packed up by now?!” And so, here I am. I am finally succumbing to the voice in my head. Perhaps if I get all my demons down on paper, they won’t bother me as much.

Maybe six weeks to moving sounds like a far-off date, perhaps too far away to have that nagging nervous feeling. I am overwhelmed, though, because I’m a procrastinator and not an organizer by nature. Our Christmas cards are still patiently waiting to be sent out. Oops, I mean “New Year’s” cards. Good thing the message printed next to the photo says “Happy Holidays.” This year, I’ll take “holidays” to include Groundhog’s Day, as well.

Delayed Christmas cards aside, though, it’s not that I want to just put things off until the last minute. Procrastination was my modus operandi throughout college, and I still graduated with highest honors. It really is motherhood that is forcing me for the first time to become better at planning out life and getting things done before a deadline. With this impending cross country move, I fully realize the enormity of the task before us. Because of that, my modest goal last week was to start the packing process by boxing up the summer clothes in our bedroom. I envisioned a happy stack of boxes in the corner of our bedroom, patiently waiting to be put on a truck and driven to their new wonderful home in Minnesota. And guess what. A week went by, and I can count the number of boxes I packed not on one hand, but no hands. Zero boxes packed. Gulp.

This is where the utterly overwhelmed feeling becomes a touch panicked. How in the world is this house going to be empty six weeks from now? With at least three kids at home at any given time, the day to day routines more than fill a day. In the past week we were fortunate to have no new incidents of ironed, melted carpet. But of course, there are always the bowls of spilled cereal, wet beds that kids don’t mention until the next time they want to sleep in them, and oh yes, the great benevolent milk provider in the house (me) had to ward off a case of mastitis last week. All of this makes me think wistfully of our newlywed days, when we made a 2,700 mile move from Poulsbo, WA to State College, PA by ditching our crappy second-hand furniture and moving ourselves in just our two cars. I don’t think today that we could even pack the kids’ toys in two cars.

These boxes might require a little reinforcement, but the essentials inside are ready to go.

While I swim in a sea of mild panic, organization and a plan of action also come hard because we are frankly in a state of shock about it all. It’s been nearly three years since we started looking at real estate in MN, and about five years since we started throwing around ideas about making a change from our lives here in Broadview, MT. Last year at this time, we thought Osseo, WI was our next home. We had a signed purchase agreement on a business property there, but then encountered road blocks at every step of the way, and what seemed like nearly a done deal eventually dissolved. But now, we officially own a home on acreage south of Utica, MN and I still can’t really believe it. After working so hard toward this move back to the midwest for so many years, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the fact that it really is happening. Finally! This is real.

Of course, as soon as I tell myself “this is real,” the other part of me says, “no, not really.” For eight years, Broadview, Montana has been home. Home. We can’t really be moving. Our kids were all born at home, right here in this little tiny town. Montana born and bred little tikes, they are. They regularly call up Grandma and Grandpa and invite them across the street to our house for supper or Saturday morning buttermilk pancakes. Our oldest daughter dearly loves her best friend, the only other girl in their kindergarten class of three. Our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old each have cousins here just their age. That means our kids could grow up, play with, and get in all sorts of trouble with cousins in their close knit classes at school.

But wait, that’s not going to happen. As completely overjoyed as I am about making this move back to Minnesota, I also completely dread saying goodbye. I hate long-term goodbyes enough that I often avoid them altogether. In six weeks, though, I am going to say goodbye for now to all of the family and friends that have made Broadview, Montana a great place to call home. We will head east 1,000 miles to Minnesota, back to where I grew up, where our family and friends there will help make our new house become the place we call…home.

© 2012

Chocolate Syrup Farming and other Unnatural Disasters

Written January 8, 2012.

Chocolate Lakes
My first run-in with Hershey’s chocolate syrup came sometime last summer. Leaving my 2-year-old to his own devices for a whole minute or two, he saw chocolate syrup on the table, and found he had a terrible, immediate need for chocolate milk. I came in the dining room to find a glass with about an inch of chocolate syrup in the bottom (yes, that should be sufficient), and then discovered he went a step further and decided to make a few extra lakes of chocolate syrup on the living room carpet for later.

I stepped in with some remediation: a time-out on the steps, an explanation that chocolate syrup belongs in a glass, not on carpet, told him only moms and dads get to use it, and followed up by giving him a rag and making him clean. Two-year-olds are terrible cleaners, and he probably made the mess worse, but the cleaning was about restorative justice, not efficiency. After mopping up the lakes, I put the chocolate syrup away in the fridge. I blame sleep deprivation-induced insanity on thinking that simply putting the offending syrup away behind the closed door of the refrigerator would take care of the problem.

Farming Chocolate Syrup

When applying chocolate to carpet, en erector set front loader helps to ensure greater surface area coverage and better carpet penetration.

All seemed well on a morning a few weeks later when I put down our baby for her morning nap. Usually when I take her upstairs and nurse her to sleep, we get interrupted several times by the aforementioned 2-year-old. That morning, though, I had a full 15-minute blissful reprieve from the world. All was quiet. In fact, I almost feel asleep as I laid on my bed feeding her. But in the mommy world, no quiet reprieve is ever without its consequences. In the eery quiet, I suddenly bolted up in terror, mommy senses tingling.

Just across the hallway was a little boy, fully engrossed in his activities. Chocolate syrup somehow made its way out of the fridge, and then found itself in several puddles on his bedroom carpet and a bonus chocolate puddle was later discovered in the playroom. Most magnificent was the erector set front loader set that he used to “farm” the chocolate syrup more properly into the carpet, improving both coverage and penetration. I apologize that the photo is grainy and does not do justice to the full extent of the mess. The picture was a quick snap with my camera phone that I emailed to his father with a comment thanking him for producing such clever, industrious offspring.

Snapping an incredulous photo was about all I had in me, though. Thinking about cleaning up a chocolate syrup mess again just sapped the little smidgen of energy I had in me. Instead, I gave it a quick fix: I covered the chocolate puddles with some toilet paper, not cleaning it up, but preventing the mess from spreading out any further than what it already was. I figured an evening cleaning would get the job done just the same. Later that day, Jarred saw the mess. Forgetting the photo I had sent him, he asked with reservation if I knew if one of the kids or maybe Spot had an “accident” on the bedroom floor that somebody tried to “fix” with toilet paper.

And now, I will tell you my shameful secret: that chocolate syrup patched with toilet paper sat there for a few months. Yes, months. I really spent most of the summer in survival mode. A new baby seems to throw ordinary life out of whack for about six months, but for me, our new baby was the easy one. Our 2-year-old took about 75% of my time last summer, the other three kids including our baby encompassed the rest. I picked up toys and put away clothes, but every time I glanced at those messes, they just seemed too daunting. I am happy to report, however, that those messes are now just a not-so-distant memory. Chocolate syrup, even if it sits for far too long, actually cleans up quite nicely.

After that incident, I unequivocally learned my own lesson. Chocolate syrup still has a place in our life, but sequestered on house arrest on top of the refrigerator. These days, in order to reach the syrup, one needs to be at least five feet tall. All is well. Mostly.

Hurricane Hershey
One day as I put a basket of laundry away upstairs, the chocolate bandit struck again. Somehow, we unintentionally left the Hershey’s on the counter that day. Feeling like I’d accomplished something positive getting the clothes put away, I returned to not just puddles of chocolate, but a full on Hurricane Hershey in my living room, dining room, and kitchen. Missing chocolate syrup for a few months, our son was far more prolific this time. It was everywhere: streaked in chocolate swirls and loops across the carpet, spiraled up the steps and punctuated there with a deep puddle of chocolate in a small garbage can borrowed from the bathroom, drooled into the kitchen leaving streaks of chocolate graffiti on the garbage can and floor, and finally, for his baby sister sitting in her high chair, a large puddle lovingly squirted all over her tray for her gleeful enjoyment.

The chocolatey mess was sheer carnage. I couldn’t put our amazing 2-year-old in time out because the usual step was covered in chocolate mess. In the melee, I snapped a picture of a very happy baby accomplice, made the naughty boy do some cleaning of the kitchen linoleum and garbage can, then threw two messy kids in the tub. The rest of the clean-up is a blur. We buy our chocolate syrup at Costco, where bottles come in a convenient bulk-size twin pack. Imagine.

An illicit foray into chocolate syrup makes for a very happy baby.

Another Blow to our Sanity
Lately, chocolate doesn’t feel like an indulgent treat for some reason. Days Free of Chocolate Incidents to Report: 76 and counting. However, this morning as I put down his sister for a nap, our little wonder discovered an appliance he’d never seen before sitting unplugged on the laundry room table. He hauled it to the living room, plugged it in, and seeing that it did not light up or make fun noises, he abandoned it face down in the middle of living room carpet. We now have melted, ironed flat carpet. I kid you not.

So much for getting back our rental deposit. On the bright side, the carpet is wrinkle-free.

When Jarred came home for lunch and saw the melted imprint of an iron in the center of the living room carpet, he almost immediately broke out into laughter. Living under the reign of a terrorist regime (The Terrible Twos), you find a way to see humor even in the atrocities of daily life. It’s a defense mechanism that helps keep us humans from going completely insane. Please check in next week to make sure we still have a house.

© 2012

Welcome to Kathy’s Chronicles

For whatever crazy reason, I willingly volunteered myself to write a weekly column for the hometown newspaper.  Whether it’s needing to tap into a smidge of my intellectual side, or simply the product of sleep-deprivation induced insanity, I am now committed to several hours each week of writing a column.

Almost every time I have the deadline looming in front of me, I hate myself for committing to this weekly writing project.  But without fail, when I’m done, I’m thankful to accomplish something tangible in busy blur of raising our monkeys.  And of course, I’m the most happy that some of the daily craziness of our life is permanently recorded.  There’s no way I would ever remember all of these details about frequent household atrocities and moving 1,000 miles cross country otherwise.

After six months of writing, I’m starting to understand that the writing isn’t just for me.  In the universal human conditions of parenthood and adulthood, there is plenty of therapeutic value in sharing the triumphs and defeats.  Maybe you never had to scrub most of a bottle of chocolate syrup out of the living room carpet, but you can probably relate or maybe know someone who lit the carpet on fire instead.  Kids are kids, and that doesn’t change no matter how many electronic devices we throw at them.

With so many friends and family out of the range of my hometown newspaper and weekly column, I decided to make the sordid and sublime details of my life easily accessible on the web.  And so, this blog was born.

Thanks for stopping by.