Friday, April 8, 2011

Puppies and babies: a comparison

So, it turns out that having a puppy is quite a lot like having a baby. We brought Lily, our new labradoodle puppy, home on March 26 and I have been much, much busier than I expected. I've had puppies before but somehow I forgot that they go to the bathroom about once an hour or so. But I have had time to think about some of the similarities and differences between having a puppy and having a baby.

Ways in which having a puppy IS like having a baby:

1) There is a lot of pee and poop involved;

2) They are very, very cute, which saves them time and again;

3) Babies of all varieties cause explosions in the volume of laundry;

4) They need a lot, and they need it NOW;

5) Neither sleeps through the night very well;

6) They cry the moment you sit down to eat;

7) Both will try to kill themselves using common household items, like hair ties;

8) The more you have, the less likely you are to be able to take pictures.

Ways in which having a puppy IS NOT like having a baby:

1) There is a lot of pee and poop involved, but with puppies you have to go outside, often in the middle of the night, even when it is wretched out;

2) No one brings meals over so you don't have to worry about cooking.

Really, I think these are the only differences...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

ANOTHER trip to the ER

I really need to read the story of the boy who cried wolf to Rachel. It seems I am always taking her to the doctor or the ER for something that turns out to be absolutely NOTHING. About 6 weeks ago we were in there for strep throat, which she really did have, and which really did need to be treated, so that was fair. And then, just before Matilda was born she went in for a neck injury, and then there was the time when we were in VA that we spent 10 hours at the ER chasing rabbits down holes.

But today, Rachel received an injury to her back (I'm not really going into details about how she injured it, let's just say there was some sibling rivalry going on...), which made her sooooo miserable that I took her to the ER. We had the same gracious, patient and respectful doctor that we had for the strep business. I want to take a moment to say thank you Dr. Robinson, for not treating me like a) an over-protective, hysterical mother, or b) a mother with Munchaussen-by-Proxy syndrome. Especially because I am friends with your wife...

OK, back to Rachel and her mortal injury. So, she got hurt and lay suffering and sobbing on her bed until I found her there. I called Ben home (he was at his office, working on his birthday, poor man). We hemmed and hawed, trying to decide what to do. I called the doctor on call, and of course he suggested that we take her in for an X-ray. So I did. By the time we got there, she was already acting much better, no longer leaning on me and limping pitifully. Something about the emergency room intrigues Rachel enough that she starts acting like a totally healthy person the moment she is installed behind a curtain, but by that time it's too late, we're in the system, bound for a deductible-breaking series of tests and procedures. Luckily, this time the doctor was sensible enough to suggest that we forego the X-ray. However, he was concerned enough that her kidneys might have taken some serious punishment, so he wanted to rule out anything there. Good thinking! Thankfully, she was fine and we were on our way home within an hour, even after waiting for a full U/A. Ahhhh, small towns are great!

Tomorrow is another day, and it will be interesting to see how many times Rachel calls me from school. Rachel's teacher is on maternity leave and they have a substitute teacher, a butterball of a boy, fresh out of Ed School. Fresh out. Fresh, fresh, fresh out. So fresh that he is being eaten alive by Rachel's class of 28, which includes 16 boys, plus Declan who counts as three so that actually adds up to a total of about 19 boys and 11 girls, all eager to use that phone in the room. I think Rachel has called me 36 times in the last 2 weeks, and I have spoken with a few other class moms who are also receiving an unusual number of calls. This evening I sent an email to the teacher saying that unless she needed to call for a hearse, Rachel was NOT to use the phone tomorrow! We'll see how well that works...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baby #4

Congratulations are in order! I finally talked Ben into another baby - no, not a human baby (that probably would have been an easier sell, to tell you the truth) but one of the canine variety. Her stats first, then the story. The puppy is a labradoodle (half labrador retriever and half poodle), born Jan. 30, a girl, with a very curly coat and will probably mature to around 45-50 lbs.

Here's the story: Fiona has been asking for a dog since she could ask for anything. We have been putting her off with a variety of excuses, but a year or so ago I told her that when Matilda was walking and talking we would look into a dog. So last fall, when we learned that the mother to my mom's dog (Barkley) would be having her final litter soon, we began the campaign to win Ben over. And let me tell you, he made us work for this one! He was not going to go merrily into dog ownership, no, no, not at all. Linda had taken on the task of gently introducing Ben to the idea, but he was not taking the bait. So when the puppies were born I stepped things up, showing him pictures of the puppies and making lots of meatloaf for dinner. We went last weekend, while we were at the Great Wolf Lodge, to look at them without the kids. Ben lasted another 5 days before finally giving the green light.

Here's Fiona, holding Lily

Before I go much further, I should explain why we want a puppy from Daisy (Barkley's mom) so badly. To put it in simple terms, she is one of the finest examples of a dog I have ever met. She has a marvelous personality, practically human, and seems to pass those traits on to her offspring. She is also cute as a bug and was bred to another doodle whose coat is really curly. My mom's dog Barkley, one of Daisy's offspring, is wonderful with the kids, and is very calm and sensible. And as a labradoodle, the puppy should not bother Ben's allergies. Also, the breeder is incredibly responsible with her breeding and raising of the puppies. They are inspected and certified for everything possible, and I have the utmost confidence in this arrangement. With young children involved, one wants the most number of guarantees possible to avoid heartbreak, you know? I realize that in many ways it would be vastly preferable to adopt a pet from the shelter, but at this point this seems like the best choice for us. Primarily because Ben is really allergic to dogs and he is already sacrificing enough for this whole enterprise. Anyway, enough on all that, on to the rest of the story...

Whose puppy is this anyway??

Well, all this time I had not said a word to the kids about this possibility. We decided that this should be Fiona's puppy, and that she should pick it out and name it. The puppies are 4 weeks old today, so we went up to Traverse City to meet them and pick one out. Fiona picked a female dog, the largest of the females and also the one with the curliest coat, and named her Lily. Fi was so cute, she was so surprised she didn't know what to do. Rachel was a superstar - in the car, on the way to the kennel, we had told her what was going on so that she could be prepared. She was very gracious and hung back so that Fiona could have her moment in the sun. After 10 minutes or so, Rachel asked if she could come in the pen and hold the puppies, but she was really careful not to take away from Fi's experience. I was so proud of both of them.

Rachel, with one of the little boys

So, we'll bring home our Lily on or around March 25, the first weekend of our spring break. I am sure we'll have much more to say on this subject, and many more pictures, but we are all looking forward to her arrival. I am absolutely positive that Lily will be a great addition to our family. Once she is housebroken and has stopped eating our shoes!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Rachel brought home some work they have been doing in school, learning about needs vs. wants. Here are Rachel's lists of needs and wants:

Bananas, food
Cell phone (spelled selfon)
Wood (presumably for the fire)

Toilet (with a cute little drawing of a toilet next to it)

What a hoot! You can't get along without a cell phone, but a toilet is optional! Those of you who have lived life with neither are probably having a pretty good chuckle right about now :)

Teeth, teeth, teeth

Fiona and her beautiful teeth. She hasn't lost or gained any in years, but I
couldn't leave her out!

We have had a lot of tooth action in the Willis household in the past 9 months or so. It began last summer when Rachel lost her first tooth just days before Matilda's first one came in. When I showed Matilda's new tooth to Rachel, she exclaimed, "Hey!! The Tooth Fairy recycles teeth!" Anyway, after the first batch of new teeth (6 for Matilda in the space of a few busy - and sleepless - months, and 4 for Rachel), we had a little hiatus during which time I caught up on my sleep. But a few weeks ago, Matilda stopped sleeping again and started being really antsy (can't say she was fussy, for she is never genuinely fussy), and one day I noticed that she had two bright shiny top molars! Or at least, half the molar had erupted on each side. She is now working on the other halves, and a bottom molar has erupted too. So, no sleep for us until they are completely up, I'm afraid.
Here are Matilda's beautiful top teeth. She really has a cute smile, very buck-toothed!
"Show mama your teeth!"
Thankfully, the process is much easier the second time around. Rachel's top and bottom teeth, the ones to the sides of her new permanent teeth, have been getting pretty loose but they haven't fallen out yet. Well, just yesterday she noticed that she has two more bottom teeth that have erupted, well behind the milk teeth they are supposed to be pushing out.
Here are Rachel's new teeth: 2 on the top, and 2 on the bottom.
Where's the entertainment in all of this, you ask? Well, Rachel is, that's what. That girl is so impatient. Her first tooth to fall out, a bottom one, came out naturally last July. She was eating a black olive when, oops, out it came. Well, the second one seemed to take forever because, like its companion now, the permanent tooth erupted well behind it and didn't push it out. Apparently there was some competition between Rachel and her friend Solana to see whose tooth would fall out first, because all of a sudden Rachel started wiggling that tooth non-stop. And when Solana's tooth fell out first, well, all bets were off then - Rachel wanted her tooth out, and she wanted it out NOW. She must have known better than to ask me for help, because the next thing I know she and her father (yes, Ben. I do have to say, in his defense, that she really launched a full court press to persuade him) were in the bathroom cooking up a scheme to pull out the tooth. Here's the dialog I hear as I am sitting in the next room, nursing the baby to sleep:
Ben: "OK, Rach, we can tie some dental floss to the tooth, and then tie the other end to the doorknob and close the door."
Rachel: "That sounds good Papa. Will it really work?"
Ben: "Yeah, hold still..."
Rachel: "Uh oh, it didn't work...Do it again!"
Ben: "Hmmm...alright, one more time."
Rachel shrieks and says, hand over her mouth muffling her voice: "Papa! It's out! It's out!"
Ben, in total disbelief: "Really? It worked? Uh oh, it's really bleeding!"
It turns out that Ben agreed to try this because he really didn't think it would work and was not at all prepared for a bloody tooth dangling from a length of dental floss. He vowed then and there that he would not be doing anymore home dentistry and Rachel would just have to let nature takes its course next time. Well, now it's "next time" and, while Rachel hasn't said a word to Ben about pulling her loose tooth, she hasn't given up. Now she's trying to get Fiona in on it. I heard Rachel saying to Fi yesterday, "OK, it's alright if I get a bloody nose if you miss, just punch me hard, right here on this tooth."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge 2011

For Christmas 2009 my mom gave us a 2 night stay at the Great Wolf Lodge, and what a fabulous time it was. Matilda was 7 weeks old, and something about the place made her sleep like a rock. We all (my mom, Ben and me) took turns holding her while the others played with the big kids. It was such a great success that Mom repeated the gift for this year. It was a leeeeeetle different, but no less fun. For one thing, whatever that magic sleep potion was that made Matilda snooze the weekend away last year is gone, gone, gone. She could not be persuaded by any means to take a nap in the hotel room (all successful naps took place pool-side, in someone's arms, hence no pictures because someone was in the water while the other was holding a baby. Oh well!), and she was up and down all night, both nights. Oh, the joys of toddlerhood, when they are old enough to be interested in their surroundings. Fiona was more interested in the hot tub than anything, though the two of us had LOTS of fun on the lazy river, spending hours paddling around and around. She obediently went on a few of the big water slides, but much preferred to swim.

Of all the kids, Rachel is at the sweet age for stuff like this. She is old enough to go around and do things by herself and she does not yet really get bored by anything. The first hour we were there she said she was going on the slides, and I thought she meant the little slides. But, after a panicked 30 minute search during which I finally alerted security (Rach showed up while I was talking to the security agent - boy did I fell dumb!!), I realized that she had gone on the really big (really fast!) slides, over and over again, all by herself. Little daredevil! But she had just as much fun swimming and playing with us in the pools, and kept right on going until she dropped. Rachel is really my party girl, and a whole lot of fun. Fiona has a much different, lower key pace, and was ready to leave much earlier. But she is easier to keep up with, that's for sure! And Matilda is entertained by anything that her sisters do, the little cutie.

So, thanks Gramma Gail and Gramma Linda, for the fabulous weekend! We're glad you made it possible and could share in the fun with us!

Another difference between the first and the third

I really could devote a whole blog to the differences between how things are with the first baby versus the third, but here's just one little example: peanut butter. For those non-parents among you, for a very small number of children peanut butter is such a dangerous allergen that it can kill them pretty much on the spot. So you are supposed to wait a year or two, or even three or more, depending on your doctor's recommendation and your own personal inclinations. Or, as it turns out, the birth order of the baby in question. It goes like this:

Baby #1 (age 2): you offer a teeeeeny weeeeeny amount on each of several successive days until it is clear that the child is not going to have an allergic reaction.

Baby #2 (age approx. 18 months): Oh, thank goodness you're old enough to have peanut butter. Finally! Here ya go, babe, eat up!

Baby #3 (age 12 months): "Hey Mommy, I gave the baby my peanut butter! She really likes it!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2010: The Year in Review

After some months (oh, really? Well, I guess it has been few years actually…) away from blogging, I’ve decided to try to get back to it. The kids are really growing and changing so fast, it might be a good thing to get it all documented, with a few pictures thrown in, especially for grandparents and relatives far away. So, by way of a beginning, I thought I might recap the last year or so, and then move on from there. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with it regularly, as much as I can with anything! This is a really long one, so go get a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable…
2010: The Year in Review
Last year, as you probably know, we had our third daughter. Matilda Jane Willis was born in January (though we had rather expected she would come in December, at least that’s what all those fun little due date calculators said, Dec. 24th. She had other ideas.), so that makes a good place to begin.

January: 2010 began with me pregnant. I had rather expected not to be pregnant by that point, so you can imagine the mood around our house was a little tense. But we rang in the new year and I hoped fervently for some sign that I might someday soon be holding a baby. The first two weeks of the year were spent in what now seems like a rather humorous program of activities to bring labor on. Every few days I went to the chiropractor, the masseuse or the midwife.

My sister and her partner Amy had planned a trip to Michigan to meet our new baby, and it was beginning to look like they would either witness her birth, or just sit around looking at my belly. They arrived on January 15, just in time to be with us for Matilda’s birth on the following day. I will write that story and post it separately for those who like birth stories. I wrote down Rachel and Fiona’s stories, and I owe it to Tilda to do the same. It was such an amazing and precious day, but I am sure it will fade from memory and I should have it written down. Anyway, in summary, she was born at home at 7:29am on January 16, weighing 9lbs, 3 oz and 21.5 inches long. And she’s been pure joy ever since!

The remainder of January and all of February was just a pleasant haze of new baby love. In March, when Matilda was 6 weeks old or so, we went to the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City for the weekend. This was a Christmas gift from my mom and we had a blast. The baby slept right through the whole thing, and Fiona was a little overwhelmed, but Rachel was in her element. We are planning to go again this February, so stay tuned for a post on that!
At the end of March we all piled in the car and drove to Oklahoma City for Spring Break. Wow, what a trip! Ben’s dad had had some very serious heart problems during the winter, and was still recovering. It was a particularly precious moment in time because all of Ben’s siblings and their children gathered with us there for Easter. Matilda was a super good traveler, just like her sisters, and we all had such a great time.
After we returned, in April, our friends the Hales visited, and life just kept rolling along. School let out at Memorial Day and summer began. Oh boy, what a summer! It was so hot for so long, we really got a full dose of summer. Lake Michigan warmed up faster than it ever has, and we really swam as much as possible. Believe me, it is not easy to take three kids, one of them a small baby, to the beach, but we did it a lot. Rachel and Fiona were capable enough in the water that I could just sit in a chair under the umbrella, hold the baby while she slept and watch them splash around. It was really blissful.

At the beginning of June, Ben and I got a wild hair and decided to rip out the built in bookcases in our living room (don’t panic, they weren’t original to the house), patch our cracked and bumpy plaster walls and paint the living rooms and dining rooms. We planned to be done in time for houseguest season, which usually begins in July. Well…anyone who has been to our house in the last little while knows just how far that project got. I guess we grossly overestimated what we could get done while caring for three young children. There’s always hope for this year!

In July we took a trip down to Ypsilanti to visit the Hales (who had been up for July 4th), and watch their daughter Kenzie in her first play. She was great, and enjoyed it so much that she was in a fall production as well. Later in July we camped with the Manchester family at Otsego Lake State Park. Ben had to work, so it was just me with the girls for 4 nights. Exhausting! I really don’t have any pictures of that week, just because my hands were so busy with other things. We had a fabulous time nevertheless and hope to make it an annual tradition. The kids are big enough now that they were allowed to roam the campground and find friends – they loved it!
We rolled right from our camping trip to the McKinney family reunion, the first weekend in August. We hosted it in TC, and Beth and Amy came up for the occasion. The, toward the end of August, Ben’s parents visited us too. Bob was still recovering, but was so much stronger and really enjoyed the time with the kids.

On Labor Day weekend, a big wind storm blew in, the air temperature dropped and the lake temperature plummeted about 40 degrees. Good bye summer! School started – Rachel in 2nd grade and Fiona in her second year of 3 year old preschool. The previous year, Rachel had loved school and Fiona was not so wild about it. This year, it was the opposite. Rachel, for the first time in her life, hated school! Apparently, the fun and games are over in second grade! Her teacher this year is very, very good, and runs a very disciplined classroom. It took Rachel a few weeks to get used to her teacher’s style. Also, Rachel’s reading ability was really not up to the task. So she’s been working very hard with reading specialists and a tutor, and her work is definitely looking excellent. It was a real struggle in the beginning, but she is consistently bringing home stars, smiley faces and A plusses. We are very proud of her and how hard she has worked to turn things around. Hooray for Rachel!

Halloween was super fun. My dad joined us for the party, as did my mom, her partner, and her partner’s mom. And Barkley the dog, of course! Matilda wore the same bumblebee costume Rachel and Fiona had worn on their first Halloweens. Rachel was a vampire (I actually made a cape for her on my sewing machine! I know, go figure…) and Fiona was a princess (not a Disney princess – I haven’t fallen that far from my principles! No, we’re talking garden variety fancy dress – Easter, Christmas and the like. I pick them up for next to nothing at Goodwill and then let her wear them to death.). Actually, Fiona has been a princess everyday for several months – she’s in that fancy dress phase. It’s getting kind of old by now, but I’m trying to go with it. She even wears dresses to bed. It can just be a little frustrating, since these phases always seem to happen right after you buy a bunch of really cute back-to-school clothes and then they won’t wear them because they aren’t a princess dress. I guess that’s what I get for letting them dress themselves. Whoever wrote that chapter about fostering independence by letting them choose their own clothes in the Little Kid Manual didn’t have girls! I’m pretty sure the Little Kid Manual was written by someone who has no children, but that is another post entirely.
Back on topic… At Thanksgiving we all piled back into the car and headed to Oklahoma again. And once again had a great time. The girls get to ride horses (which Rachel loves and Fiona endures), and this time we went to the zoo. The weather was unseasonably warm during the first part of our visit, so we got a lot of good quality time outside, at parks, the barn, the zoo and so on. We returned in time to begin preparations for Rachel and Fiona’s birthday on December 3rd. Each of them had a separate party on the day in question, in addition to the cupcakes and such I felt obliged to send to school with each of them. And, to top it all off, Ben selected that week (OK, it was the only one available, but still…) to surgically end our childbearing years. What a stressful week! I think next year we’ll go somewhere else instead. At least, I know I will be going somewhere!!!
The day after the girls’ birthday, Mom, Linda and Gramma Gramma (Linda’s mom) came down for the annual Victorian Sleighbell Festival and Parade in Manistee, as well as to celebrate with Rachel and Fiona’s. While they went to the parade, Ben and I escorted Matilda to the ER for her first ever hospital visit. Poor little thing, she touched our wood burning stove and burned her little hand. She was fine, thought nothing of it, and the burns healed in no time. She really enjoyed flirting with the hospital staff and they put a funny bandage on her hand, which kept her well entertained. Needless to say, our woodstove now has a cage around it.

I hate this @&!% BOW! Pictures for Christmas cards did not go so well...

We stayed in Michigan for Christmas, which was so magical. We had Christmas morning at our house, and then went on to my mom’s for a few days. Uncle Dan was with us, and both Rachel and Fiona felt that getting to spend time with him was the high point of their holiday. We missed the family that we could not be with, and that was the only hard part about the holidays. We rang in 2011 with a little party in the living room. Fiona and Rachel stayed up to watch the ball drop, and we played games, ate popcorn and watched a movie all snuggled on the couch. In a few years, Matilda will be able to stay up and what fun it will be then.
I always love to make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m pretty good at keeping them. We’ll see how it goes, but I hope to a) take more pictures of my kids, and b) blog regularly. Wish me luck and stay tuned!