Friday, December 27, 2013

Interview with a Four-Year-Old

My daughter turns five-years-old today. It's surreal because the time has gone by so quickly, yet in some ways it's difficult to remember what life was like before she was in it. 

In an attempt to capture her likes, dislikes, loves, and ideas, I sat down with her throughout this week and asked her about some of her favorite things. 

Q. What is your favorite color?
A: Pink and purple and orange. I think just every color of the rainbow is my favorite. 

Q: What do you like to eat best?

A: Pizza and pasta. And broccoli and strawberries. Oh, and icee pops, popcorn, and Starburst. And chocolate.

Q. Favorite songs?
A.  “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and “Rocky Top”

Q. Favorite movies/TV shows?
A. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Scooby Doo and Superhero shows.

Q. Favorite sports?

A. Soccer and gymnastics and swimming.

Q. Favorite subject in preschool? 
A. The alphabet.

Q. Are you an early bird or night owl? 
A. Huh? (After I explained) I like to stay up late. 

Q. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A. A ballet teacher, a weather reporter, mail deliverer, or an artist like my dad. 

Q. Best friend? 
A. Everbody!

Q. Best part about having a birthday? 
A. The piñata. And being a whole hand! (five years old :) 

Q. Favorite vacation spot?
A. The beach and Disney World.

Q. Favorite books?
A. Berenstein Bears and Junie B. Jones books. And Even Mosters Need Haircuts, and Even Aliens Need Snacks.

Q. Favorite animal? 
A. Bunnies and my dog, Shelby. 

Q. Favorite things?
A. Rainbows and unicorns and superheros and princesses! 

And just like that, my sweet Ellie was five. 

"feels like some kind of ride but it's turning out just to be life going absolutely perfectly"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Meltdown

Last weekend Laddy, Ellie and I ate lunch at Panera. We had no idea one chocolate chip cookie would cause such drama from our normally very generous daughter. She’d eaten about three quarters of it, with Laddy and me both grabbing a bite, and he’d brought the rest to the car to see if she wanted to finish it. That was the beginning of the meltdown.

Laddy: “Ellie, would you like the rest of this cookie?”

Ellie: “No thanks.”

Laddy: “Are you sure?”

Ellie: “I’m sure.”

Laddy: “You’re finished then?”

Ellie: “Yes. Finished.”

Laddy: “Okay. Since you don’t want it, I’ll eat it.”

Ellie: “NO! I don’t want you to have it.”

Laddy: “Ellie, if you don’t want it, it should be fine for me to eat it.”

Ellie: [crying] “But I do want it! I want to save it!”

Amy: “No. You’ve already said you don’t want it three times. You're finished.”

Ellie: [screaming] But I do! I’ll eat it now!”

Laddy: [trying to make a point about sharing] “No, Ellie. That’s not the way we act. You already said you don’t want more, and now I will eat this last bite.”

Laddy popped the last piece of cookie into his mouth.

Ellie: [hysterical] “That cookie was my friend! That poor, poor cookie!”

Laddy and I tried to keep from totally cracking up because the entire event was so ridiculous. And honestly, she hadn’t thrown a fit like that in a very long time. Thank goodness. A few miles down the road Laddy pulled into a parking lot to run an errand. Ellie and I hung out in the car so she could calm down, and I had great hopes that I could rationalize with her.

Amy: “Ellie, if you don’t want something you should want your family or friends to have it. Your daddy’s going to be back in just a few minutes. If you’re a smart girl you’ll tell him you’re sorry for acting like that and you love him.”

Ellie: "Well, [in a very matter of fact tone] I guess I’m not a smart girl.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Life Lessons

It’s strange how one lesson often morphs into two. Or three. It catches me off guard sometimes when I have to switch directions. Having a child certainly keeps me on my toes. 

No smoking.
When we're driving down the road and see someone smoking I ask Ellie to promise me she’ll never smoke. I really paint a horrific picture of cigarettes. In hindsight, the message of smoking equals badness may have been a little shortsighted.  Not long ago she and I were walking on Market Square, and she pointed (yes, pointed) to a gentleman who was smoking and said, “Oh no, Momma. Look at that man smokin' that yucky cigarette. I bet he stinks and is gonna get sick. I’ll never do that will I?” I’m fairly certain he heard her (Ellie hasn’t fully mastered the method of whispering.) but he graciously turned in the other direction. I was horrified. We talked about how pointing at a person is never okay. Ever. And I explained how smoking is a bad habit but that doesn't make the person who's smoking bad. Then, I still made her pinky swear she’ll never smoke. 

No hablo espanol.
A few months ago Ellie and I were shoe shopping at Dillard’s. I could see that she was mesmerized by two young girls who were speaking Spanish. It still plays out in my memory in slow motion, but it actually happened so quickly there was no way for me to intervene. My kind daughter who just wanted to say hello was somewhat overconfident in her Spanish speaking abilities. She can count from uno to diez, and she's watched about 400 episodes of Dora the Explorer, but that really doesn't prepare one to carry on a conversation. She walked over, smiled, and said something like, “Si, click clack, blue, me, si si.” I literally stood there with my mouth open in complete shock.  Once I gathered myself, I asked Ellie to come along and embarrassingly nodded a quiet apology to the mother. While I was literally dragging Ellie out of the store without any shoes, she innocently asked me, “What did I say to those girls in Spanish?”

Life lessons also work in the other direction. I’ve learned so much from our sweet girl. I’ve relearned how to see things I’ve taken for granted for years. There’s such beauty in the clouds, the moon and stars, and these mountains that hug us every single day. She genuinely finds splendor in leaves and acorns and sticks. How this girl loves her sticks. Sometimes the lesson goes beyond how clearly she sees certain things and poignantly shows how she feels about them. Oh, how blessed I am to be her momma.

Pray without ceasing.
Ellie and I were driving to meet Laddy. Off the Interstate at Western Avenue stood a man holding a sign. She asked me what it said. I was torn between whether I should read it truthfully or just make up that he was wishing us a nice day. In the final second I opted for the truth, and it broke her heart. And mine. She wanted to stop and help him. She wanted to go get him food and give him money from her piggy bank. I tried my best to explain how we really had to be careful and just couldn’t stop. I told her how we do help those who are less fortunate. I explained how we are able to give and to whom, and how there are places for him to go and get help. After about 10 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to change the subject she perked up and told me she'd figured out how we could help him. Then, she prayed the simplest, most sincere and precious prayer I’ve ever heard. And she was at peace.

“…and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Confessions of an Artwork Hoarder

In 2013 I've resolved to make a sincere effort to reduce clutter and chaos in our home. I was inspired by a William Morris quote: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." This makes sense to me, and I've made some progress by cleaning out some cabinets and drawers. I've given away a few things and made a couple of trips to local donation centers. And I've been feeling pretty good about myself until I realized this week I've saved nearly every piece of art, scribble, letter, writing effort, project, etc. my preschooler does at school and home. And I've done this for four year. I treasure it all, but let's be honest. It would be impossible to keep it all. 

I've stored it in a few places and decided to bring some of it out tonight just to see. Wow. I'm not sure there's any other way to describe how I feel seeing it all like this other than overwhelmed. I'm overcome with wonderful memories, and pride and a little nostalgia and sadness that my sweet girl is growing up so quickly. It's an impressive collection. But I'm faced with the question of what now. How do I part with it? How do I choose? Where do I even begin? (And I thought the closets would be difficult.) 

I mean how in the world could I get rid of this campfire pic of glued construction paper "fire"and sticks?
Or Ellie's interpretation of her dad, Spring, or Planet Earth?     

How could I possibly part with this drawing of a carrot, her favorite veggie?

Or this Halloween footprint "ghost" the Pilgrim and Indian or these dictated letters to Santa?
I'm not sure. So I'm open for suggestions. All of her creations warm my soul, but there's only so much I can realistically keep. If I'm going to be on a TLC show it needs to be "What Not To Wear" not "Hoarding: Buried Alive." 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Banana-Nut-Chocolate Chip Muffins

It’s the weekend. Yay! If your family is like mine everyone wants something different for breakfast. These muffins are something we can all agree on.

Banana-Nut-Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour (or whole wheat flour)
¾ cup sugar (or unsweetened apple sauce)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
4 mashed, very ripe bananas* (approx. 1 ½ cups)
1 tablespoon Canola oil
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup walnuts
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Use cooking spray on a 12 cup muffin tin. In two separate bowls, mix the dry and wet ingredients. Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet until everything is just combined. Don’t overmix or the muffins will become tough.  Divide equally, and bake for about 25 minutes. Enjoy!

* When my bananas get too ripe for us to eat, I peel them and put them into a freezer bag and then the freezer until I’m ready to make these muffins.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Arthritis: It’s not only a grandparents’ disease. Just ask my three-year-old daughter.

It started as a swollen index finger that never went away. Multiple x-rays, a ton of blood work, visits with a pediatric orthopedist, a cancer scare, an MRI, consultations with two pediatric rheumatologists at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and nine months later we learned her official diagnosis. By that time the swelling had progressed to all of her fingers on both hands and both ankles. Her rheumatologist explained she had juvenile arthritis affecting multiple joints. He spoke pretty straight to prepare us for what she faced while trying to reassure us it could be managed with long-term medication. My husband and I were overwhelmed, and to be honest we’re still trying to wrap our heads around it.
Although there is not nearly enough research being funded for juvenile arthritis, (Ellie is one of only 300,000 children in the entire country facing this.) we’re thankful it’s no longer the crippling disease it once was. But the reality of what could happen is terrifying. We desperately need answers and reassurance, but that’s not available.  There are no explanations for why her body attacks her healthy joints. The inflammation could go anywhere at any time. Our goal is to get it under control as soon as possible and get in front of the disease. The first round of medication she tried didn’t work, and her arthritis progressed. She’s currently taking three medications—one I crush up and sneak into apple sauce each morning, one she has to drink daily and one weekly injection that we were trained to give her. I’m not going to lie; it’s tough. We used to call her a rockstar after she’d take her medicine or get a shot. After a couple of weeks she looked at us teary-eyed and said, “I don’t wanna be a rockstar anymore.” She doesn’t understand.  How could she? She’s only three. The fact she has to comprehend arthritis and long term medicine makes me sad. I just want her to focus on being a kid.

I’m also very angry that it’s her and not me. I can hop right out of bed, but my sweet daughter can't. Our morning ritual is often long and can be frustrating. It’s difficult to be patient. I pray for understanding for her. And for Laddy and me. She calls weekends “getting up easy days” and that cracks me up. I like that better too.

We’re stressed about causing her unnecessary anxiety. The information we received encouraged us to be completely honest with her so she can learn to accept her condition, but it’s a lot. Hell, it’s a lot for me, and I don’t have to take the medicine or the shots. She sometimes asks if it’s “shot day” and we worry it’s stressing her too much. I wish I could fix it, but no amount of bear hugs or kissing it better will make it go away.

The number of doctor’s appointments that has become our new normal is overwhelming. It includes monthly bloodwork at Children’s Hospital to make sure the medication to help her arthritis isn’t hurting her liver or kidneys. And who knew the inflammation could go into her eyes? We visit the ophthalmologist every three months to ensure her eyes stay safe. For the time being we’re going back to Vanderbilt every six weeks until the doctors can get the correct combination of medication for her. 

Mostly, I’m a worrier. I’m troubled about the pain she feels that she never ever complains about. It’s both good and bad that she doesn’t whine a lot. I’m not sure I could deal with her crying all the time, but my heart breaks when I think about the rheumatologist explaining that the stiffness and discomfort she feels is her normal. I’m concerned about unknown future flare-ups. I’m worried people may treat her differently. I don’t want her to be known as the kid with arthritis.  I want them to see her as the absolutely incredible kid she is who loves coloring with markers, playing outside, gymnastics and Scooby Doo. I’m nervous about the potential side effects from the medication. Thankfully her only side effect so far has been exhaustion. Her fatigue seems to be getting better, but it can come and go without much warning and usually is most prevalent the day after her shot. I’m worried about the possibility of future bullies who may make her feel self-conscious. And I’m concerned I won’t be able to adequately balance when to rescue her from pain and when to push her to do more or try harder.

Our daughter has proven to be incredibly brave. She may be shaky when she rolls up her sleeve, but she is one tough little girl. She doesn’t scream or throw a fit. Her palms may be a little sweaty, and she may feel nervous, but even at three years old she refuses to let it get the best of her. She’s my hero. Last week she thanked us for taking such great care of her. If she’s not crying, we certainly can’t…at least not in front of her. We took turns leaving the room for a minute to get it together.
When I step back for a moment I’m so incredibly grateful her diagnosis is not life threatening. One glance around the waiting room of Children’s Hospital, and you find yourself counting your blessings. We’re learning to take it day by day and minimize the what ifs. We’re gradually accepting our new family dynamic while refusing to allow this to define our amazing daughter. We recently registered for the Knoxville Jingle Bell Run/Walk next month in hopes to gain more awareness for juvenile arthritis and hopefully raise additional funds for research. If you’d like to join or support our team please visit:

We’re also striving to enjoy the little things in life just a little more. Ellie calls everything from rocks to sticks “treasures” and loves to collect them all. I admit it used to annoy me to constantly discover these treasures throughout my house. Not anymore. My husband and I are now following her lead. We’re simplifying. We’re working to laugh more and worry less. We’re giving more and getting less. We’re trying to breathe more and obsess less. We’re sunset watching, star gazing and collecting all types of leaves and acorns. We’re seeing the beauty that’s all around us more clearly now. And we know everything will be okay.

“You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, June 1, 2012

Not My Best Mom Moment

I blame my sister. She taught my niece about the importance of brushing her teeth regularly and properly by telling her she had to brush off the sugar bugs to keep them from causing cavities. It worked perfectly, and my niece has gorgeous teeth today. Genius, right?

Until about two weeks ago it worked for me too, but out of the blue my daughter completely lost interest. She'd rather play, read another story, watch another show, or do just about anything to keep her a safe distance from her toothbrush. This drives me crazy. I'm sort of a fanatic about brushing my own teeth, and I definitely want her to develop healthy oral hygiene habits. Lately she's tried to negotiate with me. She's said, "I'll only brush them just a little bit, Momma," and "I want Daddy to brush them," (He is obviously not very thorough.) and my very favorite, "Okay, I'll brush them, but I will not use toothpaste." 

I really wasn't on my A game with patience earlier this week. I was tired... tired of negotiating, tired of bribing, just plain tired. So when she took both hands and covered her mouth refusing to open for me to brush away those sugar bugs I didn't have the energy for another debate. I calmly placed her toothbrush back into the cup and left the bathroom saying, "That's fine, but your teeth will become rotten. Would you like to see what that looks like?" She did. 

In my exhausted, if not slightly crazy state of mind I googled "rotten teeth photos" to show my three-year-old. (I agree, not my proudest parental moment.) Before I even saw her eyes grow huge I knew I'd gone too far. I don't believe in fear tactics, and that's exactly what it was. I tried to convince myself it was a here-are-the-consequences-of-not-brushing-your-teeth educational opportunity. In reality it was more of a let-mommy-scare-the-hell-out-of-you-so-you-will-just-do-what-I-ask tactic. It worked, but I was immediately ashamed. And I felt even guiltier as she walked straight to the bathroom for an extra long brushing session. 

Since then she's eagerly allowed me to brush and then taken her own turn without one word of protest. I really feel terrible, and I still blame my sister.