Friday, May 31, 2013

On Jenny

I haven't blogged in a while for a few reasons:

1. I didn't want to. It takes a long time.

2. I'm very busy having a pity party for myself that my best friend is moving away in two weeks. I've spent the last lots-of-days NOT blogging and instead, insisting she hang out with me every single second of every single day. I am holding a monopoly on Jenny right now because she is leaving me. And I really don't think she should. Her husband doesn't need that job in Louisiana. Ugh. Like steady income is sooooo important... Meh. Since when does paying for college tuitions and mortgages outweigh my awesome friendship?? If she really loved me, she'd take my advice and find a married senator here in DC to have a torrid & scandalous affair, then blackmail him for a Georgetown brick-front and a monthly stipend. But since she seems to think that brilliant idea of mine is unethical and immoral and she claims she loves her husband, I guess she is going to actually go through with this moving crap. On that note, no one is allowed near her for the next two weeks unless you don't mind hanging out with me, too -- while I cling desperately to her leg.

And 3. I've fallen head over heels in love with Glennon/Momastery and have been READING her book! I haven't finished the book yet because choosing to read is a luxury for me. When I am sitting and reading, I feel like I really should be writing myself or editing or tackling the three days of dishes chillin' in my sink instead. Reading a book is a big deal. Hence, it needs to be blogged. Just not in this post. Stay tuned. Momastery comes next.

This blog is about Jenny.

You see, since leaving North Carolina for college in Michigan, I have never lived near my family. I can't call my parents or Mike's in the middle of the night to help to watch one child while we run a feverish other child to the ER only to find out that he has a "just a virus". And yeah, there's no free babysitting. Ever. My sitter costs $10/hr and needs advanced notice. And guess what? If there's a Taylor Swift concert in town, you do NOT get to go out on that date you desperately need to escape the stage-five clingers because EVERY. SINGLE. TEENAGE. GIRL goes to that concert. There are no Sunday dinner traditions with our brother or sister and our precious niece and nephews. And mini kid-free vacations on Friday nights so we can drink way too much, make out and sleep in while the children are under the care of trustworthy family? Those don't happen either.

And this lack of close family is all ok. It's what we know. It's how we live. And I think we've made it through so easily and so very happily because we have been lucky enough to have made our own family.

Seven years ago, we pulled into the driveway of our new house in Beaumont, TX and looked directly across the street to see University of Michigan license plates. Turned out there was a family of Michigan alum working for the same company with it's very own redheaded Jennifer right across from us. And for some really amazing reason - my sanity, I believe - God has blessed us to stay neighbors for SEVEN years, five in TX and two here in DC.

Over the last 7 years living as friends and neighbors, Jenny, Brad, Emma & Coopie-doo have been our family. Jenny's kids are my kids. When I take all four of them somewhere or post a picture of them all on FB, I don't differentiate. I just say they're all "my kids". I'm sure it's very confusing to most people... Brad is my husband's best friend. Actually, I don't think guys say "best friend" but if they did, that's what they'd be: kindred hard-working, nerdy engineer BFFs who love beer and University of Michigan ALL sports. And Brad is like a brother to me - my annoying, much older brother. :)

I don't even lump Jenny into a BFF category. You see, Jenny is my sister.
That's a level way above BFF.

Jenny knew I was pregnant with Henry before hubs as I ran screaming over to her house at 8am with a positive pregnancy test. Charlie slept at her house while I gave birth and when he woke up, she was the one who first told him "You're a big brother!!!" I held her youngest on the very first day he came into the world. Our big kids have been friends since they were small enough to both fit in a pink princess corvette power wheels and now they wear abercrombie sweatshirts and discuss their favorite ipod apps.
Watching babies grow into big kids? That's family.

When we have hair/dentist/doctor appointments, Jenny and I are there to watch each other's children and then have a drink afterwards and swear we are going to go home and then just decide to feed the kids because we still had lots to chat about and then, aw heck, let's call the guys and have a big spontaneous family dinner together!

Staying up late on school nights so we can all eat together? That's family.

Every Easter, we eat ham, mrs. schubert's rolls and cheesy potatoes and then we watch Brad fall asleep on the couch and post pictures of it on social media. Seriously. Every Easter he falls asleep on the couch. And every Easter, I shame him publicly.
Holidays? That's family.

Our seven years together have been so full of so many good things. More than I could ever put in one blog - well, I could. But all of you would definitely stop reading. 

So, Jenny, Brad - cheers, good friends!! Cheers to all the Easters, 4ths of July, Halloweens, Thanksgivings and Christmases, Michigan Football games and giant boxes from MDen, date nights in little ol' Beaumont, date nights in the big city of DC, beers from each other's fun fridge without ever having to ask, driveway parties, posing for my photoshoots, crazy children who bicker one minute and run hot laps the next, beach vacations, Nutcracker markets, Yacht Rock concerts, crawfish boils, Nats games, fireworks, birthday parties, The Sunflower Core Four and expanded Six Pack, New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Saturday nights in, shared visits with our TX friends, lots and lots and LOTS of shopping, dirty jokes, Christmas prank war, and to all the times we have laughed at each other and with each other. Cheers to our seven years of family. 

Allens, you are our people. You are our family. You are who we call in emergencies. You are who we have made traditions with.  And if we didn't spend most of our Friday nights going out with you, I'm sure you'd even be willing to watch our kids on a Friday night so Mike and I could make out and sleep in. Right, guys? I know you'd want to do this for us. There's still time. We've got two whole Fridays left. What time should I bring them over?

When I think of the Allens leaving, I feel a bit lost. But, while I'm scared to live without them - I'm going to have to change ALL my emergency contact information, y'all - I can only think of the saying that "it is better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all." It seems a bit dramatic - we aren't losing anyone - it's not goodbye, it's see-you-later - but it's true. I'm so sad that there will be a break in our lives together but I am so very grateful for the time we have been given. I wouldn't trade these past seven years for anything.

Let the ugly cry begin.

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Went to Disneyworld!!!

It all started with the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade. That marketing strategy in the form of holiday family entertainment worked on me, fo' sho'.  After the presents and the coffee cake, I popped open my laptop and started pricing it out. Mike wholeheartedly disagreed with the pricing -- especially since I was pricing out staying at the most expensive, ritzy hotel on property. So, we put it on the backburner. Well, at least that's what I told Mike we would do. But my BFF, Keri, had gone just a month before and we'd talk about it on our Tuesday lunches. And then my BFF, Jamie, posted her amazing photos of her trip in early December. And then my other BFF, Rachel, posted her amazing photos of her trip in January. (I have a lot of BFFs, and they all go to Disneyworld and have blogs and I'm pretty sure you can read my comments at the bottom of their posts saying that I. AM. GOING.). Plus, I The kids really wanted to go. We had to go.

So... we went to Disneyworld!!!!!!! Squeal! Seriously. SQUEAL!!!!! I loved it! I mean, the kids!! The kids loved it. Really, it was all for them.

I struggled over the choice to bring Princess Consuela Banana Hammock (my big girl Nikon) to Disney with me. Photography is my job (shameless promotion - Peanut Butter & Jenny) AND my passion, so I wanted to make sure that Disney felt like vacation, not work. It seems silly but I really did wrestle with the choice to bring my camera. I tend to obsess over angles and lighting and I've been known to get just a tad annoyed with my kids when they stick out their tongues at me when I'm trying to capture a moment -- and I just didn't want the stress. I settled on a compromise: I'd only bring it to the park for ONE day and the rest of the days, instagram and my brain would suffice for memories.

I chose to bring her on Wednesday - the day we had before-the-park-opened-to-the-public breakfast dining reservations at The Crystal Palace.

We hopped on the monorail at 8am.
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We had Main Street basically to ourselves that morning. It was awesome. Side note for those interested: Disney Photopass Photographers shoot on Nikon D90s fitted with 18-105mm lenses. When Rachel (see above) handed her Canon to the Disney photogs, this resulted in missed focus and made her mad (understandably). But if you're a Nikon shooter, they can handle the settings and you might have a better chance with getting the shots you want on your own equipment. (For the record, I wasn't about to pass over Princess Consuela to anyone -- but I did chat up a photog or two about this).

If you're not staying on Disney property (which we weren't because my brother is awesome and allowed us his amazing timeshare for practically pennies), but you want those "extra magic hours" in the park that is saved for property vacationers, MAKE DINING RESERVATIONS at 8am at The Crystal Palace. Breakfast will cost you a chunk-and-a-half because Disney dining is pricey... but, it's WAY cheaper than a week in a Disney hotel and affords you the same level of magic and happiness! And Mickey Mouse waffles!! And if you bat your eyes at your Dad and use the line from Bridesmaids - "Help me. I'm poor.", he and your beautiful momila might just pick up that check. ;)

I'd like to point out the Pirates of the Caribbean swords that the boys got the day before... Good lord, the swords... get ready to see them in many more pics below!
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Breakfast was awesome. It was so worth my parents' money.

My kids hate characters. But I happen to love them. I also REALLY love pictures of my kids Henry hating stuff and crying. Because it's funny and adorable... and funny. And since he tortures me so... it's only fair to give a little back.

We ran into Winnie the Pooh right as we got to our table. Henry was not a fan. And Charlie, though less terrified, passed on any touching, hugging or being within a five foot radius of the characters.
Eeyore is just too cute to be scary. Henry allowed this character and ONLY this character to touch him. Actually, a kiss was granted. Perhaps Henry could relate with Eeyore's grumpiness and they had an unspoken bromance because of their mutual hate for things...? Either way, adorableness.
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Our first stop after breakfast was Fantasyland. I knew Henry would love to ride on Peter Pan's Flight -- and I really wanted to go on it too. The only time I remember having gone on it was when I was about 14 and I rode it with my Grandma. I loved it. Or at least I remembered loving it. And with Henry's love for Peter Pan, I wanted to get on there. I just didn't want the 45-50 minute wait that the ride ALWAYS has. So, right after breakfast, we hopped in the line when it was only 10 minutes of wait time.

It's a lovely ride.
And then, we rode some more lovely rides.
And then the boys popped bubbles with their swords.
Oh, Dumbo. Such a simple ride but the best ride. Loved it. And LOVED that they added a second set of Dumbos so the wait was eliminated.
Then there was a band and more sword fighting. Boys...
Pin trading. We need to talk about pin trading. It is an adorable added bit of EXPENSIVE Disney magic. I observed a bunch of children with their lanyards and pins on our first day in Disney parks and suggested the idea to Charlie who said "meh. that sounds like girl stuff." I should've just left it alone. But as we walked out of our first park on our first day - his birthday - I pulled him into a pin store and showed him -- and that was the beginning of something very special but VERY pricey. Especially since we got so excited over the pins that I told him we'd buy a pin every day to remember his favorite thing he did that day. Sometimes I'm so dumb.

They have pins for everything! Every character, every park, every ride! And they're all so cute and shiny and you just want all the pins! You collect them and then every cast member at Disney has a lanyard with pins as well and you can trade them any pin you have for one of theirs. Disney cast members are all so amazing and kind and get very excited to trade with your children. Here's the catch... Pins start at $8 each. And the good ones, the COOL ones, are $13. And THEN, you have to buy a bunch of the cheap ones (they do sell combo packs of not-so-cool pins that would average out to about $5/pin) because you realize that the Disney cast members don't actually carry the expensive ones for trading so there's no WAY you're letting your kid trade a $13 pin for an $8 pin... And then your 3 year old will notice that your 9 year old has this and spot them in one of the bazillion stores you go into at the park and pull his own lanyard off the rack and pick out a pin and you feel guilty so you buy THAT. And then you're buying double the pins... Oy. Just be prepared to spend a bit more than you normally would for PINS.   2013-05-15_0014
We were so proud of Charlie. He gets pretty nervous to ride the bigger rides. But we got him on the Barnstormer and he loved it. After that, we were able to get him on Big Thunder Mountain. And he LOVED it.

He ALMOST went on Splash Mountain. The signs hanging all over the ride's line saying "50 FOOT DROP!!!" did NOT help me since I kept telling him that the drop was the same size as the one in Pirates of the Carribean, which he just didn't know because it's in the dark... He decided it wasn't for him this trip. And that's just fine. We need to have a reason to go back!

I was SO proud of my little worrier. He did awesome.
And then we rode the River Boat because my Dad wanted to. It was pretty boring.
But when we stepped off the boat, it was time for the parade!
Charlie got special attention from this fox character - Pinocchio? - who took off his hat and started to walk away with it.
And there was the shootout game!
And then there was rain, so I put away my camera for a bit. And there were lots and lots more rides and family moments, and smiles, and happy thoughts. Our mommy and daddy hearts were full of gratitude and pride that we could give these moments to our boys.
And Henry was asleep by the time we stepped on the monorail to head home... Having fun is so exhausting.
So, my tips for Disney? Get yourself a Jamie. Once you have a Jamie, she will make you a spreadsheet telling you which park to go to on which day. She will add tips for parades and fireworks. Follow her advice and you will have a PERFECT trip!

Oh, Disney. Your magic is irresistible. I love you. And I miss you already. But, don't worry, I'm already scheming a plan to get back to you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Momila's Day

I couldn't remember that it was mother's day. Certainly not in any amount of time to plan anything in advance. I booked a photoshoot in DC the morning of mother's day - that's how much I was paying attention to a day to honor my mother (or better yet, to have those stretch-mark-makers honor me). No brunches for me. No on-time presents for my mom. Ooops.

But my mom remembered. A few days ago, an amazon gift card was in my email with a note telling me how much she loved me as a mom. Of course she did. Damn it. And AMAZON, too. Which is basically the greatest gift ever. Shopping that arrives in two days. Nothing beats that. But damn it, if I'm going to forget, I'd really like it if my mom forgot too so I feel less like an asshole. A mutual boycott of a Hallmark holiday just seems so much better than being the daughter who dropped the ball on a special day.

But, as these things tend to do, feeling like an asshole got me thinking. Really thinking. About her. And who she is. And who she's been to me. Thinking through life with your mother is rather fascinating in the way you have such drastically conflicting memories of her. When you are a child, your mother is perfect, flawless and right.  She is the super hero of your life. And when you are an adult, she is this complex, deep and real person. Someone who is so much more than just YOU but at the same time, someone who is so eerily, exactly you. She becomes this person you just really want to know. Knowing her means knowing you.

It's impossible to write about how wonderful this woman is... writing the words, "my mom is the best" puts her into a category with every other mother. And that would be wrong. She's more than the best. Way more.

My mom is the purple carpet that I chose for my bedroom as a girl. She is every creative and perfectly wonderful and different choice I've made in life because when I dreamed of purple carpet... I got it. Things like resale value was never, ever more important than purple carpet.

She is the cookie dough that never made it into the oven because we ate it all. She is the raw eggs, sugar and bleached flour... eaten over giggles and licked off beater attachments.

She is the steak and baked potato picnics we'd have on the tv room floor in front of old movies on AMC.

She is my 9:30am phone call on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I am starting my drive to take Henry to school when school started at 9:30. She is where my late came from. Late is really not a big deal. It's just 15 minutes. Or 30. Or sometimes 45.  Or it's a blog post on the day after mother's day.

She is the trips to the bookstore at 8pm on schoolnights. She is the sitting on the floor with books in our laps trying to decide on the next story that will take us on an adventure. She is the two books I left with because choosing one was too hard.

She is the hot baths she takes that I put my feet in and tell her about my life, my ideas and my boys.

She is the strength of her hand as she held mine when I was crushed by teenage pain and she is the grip of her palm on my leg as I gave birth to my children.

She is her booming laughter that you can hear from any part of the house. The loud, delighted laughter that when you're not with her, you can hear in your head and you can see how she is putting her hand to her chest and throwing her head back. She is the laughter that when it's directed at you, you feel like the most interesting and wonderful person in the world because you made her laugh.

She is the counters we sit on for chats in the kitchen and the tabletops we climb on for birthdays and Christmas. She is the floor she lays on to read her newspaper that no one can stand to let her do alone because you want her attention for yourself. She is the six inches of the edge of her bed where I climb in and she wraps her arm all the way around me and tucks back under my chest so that I'm held so tight, I couldn't fall off.

My mom is the intuition that knows the difference in the tone of my voice from just my "hello" when she answers the phone. She immediately knows that someone is sleeping, I'm in the middle of something, something is wrong, something is great or I'm on the verge of tears. She. Just. Knows.

She is Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" that we dance wildly to on the couch in our 1986 living room.

She is the spilled milk that we don't cry over.

She is the teal carpet in my childhood home that I just desperately wanted to be beige like ALL the other people in all the other houses. She is every mismatched decoration that she buys - not because it "goes" but because she LOVES it. She is the living you do for yourself and not others. She is what makes her happy. She is perfect teal carpet.

She is the slight tickle on my knee or the scratch on the top of my head that she does in passing that drives me utterly crazy that I immediately swat it away. But after the swat, she is my smile because I hate it but I love her.

She is not Grandma or Grammila. She is "Blah". Because a 14-month-old baby boy started saying it trying to mimic a sound she always made for him... and to her, that's the best name she could ever take - the one she was specially given. It would never and could never matter to her that it makes no sense to anyone else but us. She is the personalized license plate that says "Blah Times 3" that she will send back and renew to "Blah Times 4" because she has another grandchild that she refuses to leave out.

She is Diet Coke and brilliance and navy blue and peanut m&ms and shelves of cookbooks. She is fast internet and the latest technology and driving with the windows down. She is dishes that pile in the sink because she's too busy putting more important things first. She is the beauty AND the brains. She is a ball buster and a glass ceiling breaker. She is everything you say she can't do that she does, and does well. She is the deep thought she's having when she gets lost in outer space. She is sensitive, vulnerable and fragile but doesn't want you to know. She is double masters degrees and a lover of murder-mystery novels. She is the icing, not the cake. She is the giant heart that can't bear to see someone hurting. She is her closed-tight eyes when something's scary. She is Texas Hold Em poker and chicken scratch and shuffleboard. She is the $5 she wants to take from you when she wins. She is telling the truth, silliness, loud kisses, spending money on moments and having fun. She is the picture of the family dinner with no one looking and food in your cheeks that she takes because we are all there. Together.

She is the reason that I feel like I'm a good mother. She is everything I like most about myself.

She is real, and flawless, and flawed, and complex, and beautiful, and my super hero.

My mom is the best.

Happy Mother's Day, Momila. I'm sorry I'm late.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Body by Smoothies & God's Good Graces

I'm a thin woman. When God made me, He decided I didn't need breasts like all the other women in the world. Nope, He thought, "a rib cage is just enough chest for this one"...  But, He did do me a solid and hooked me up with some pretty stellar metabolism. And so far in life, I've tried not to take that gift for granted by exercising or eating vegetables. In fact, I like to honor this God-given gift by regularly challenging my metabolism with coffee, chocolate chip cookies, whole bags of chips and bottles of wine. I mean, do the lovely-breasted women just spite God's kindnesses and have reductions? No! This is how I honor Him. 

However, I've recently made a change to my diet. Yup. I'm drinking smoothies now. I'm that girl. The one who drinks smoothies. With SPINACH in them.

Why the change? Why purposely drink spinach? 

Well, being thin does not exactly mean I'm healthy and fit. I mean, coffee and chips and cookies are pretty much amazing but that section at the bottom of the packages with all the vitamin and nutrient stats...? Well... those are always zeroes. That can't be good, right? 
So, smoothies are here to put nutritious things back into my body without me having to actually sit down with a knife and fork. Don't worry. I'm not going to turn into a crazy health nut. I'm still never going to start running. {shudder}

If you'd like a recipe for a pretty solid-tasting smoothie recipe chock-full of legit "super foods", here is mine:

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 frozen banana
1 heaping handful of spinach
1/2 cup 0% greek yogurt
1 spoonful almond butter
1 spoonful honey
Enough coconut water to get the blender to work



The Baseball Boost

I've been doing this mommy-stuff for a really long time. I've been doing it since before there were DVRs, kindles, iPads and iPhones... heck, before iPods. Before there was Facebook (heck, before MySpace), I was a mommy. I was a young mommy - doing it grassroots style - with no other mommy friends to watch or ask questions. I had a book or two that I decided to faithfully ignore and my own gut instinct, which I faithfully followed. 

I've always been incredibly proud of how well I've done as a mom. When you have a baby young, and clearly not exactly on purpose, no one expects you to be such a parenting badass. But I have been. I am a really good mom. Nailed it.

So far.

Here's the catch. Mommyhood is fluid. It is an ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-flowing path. The second you feel like you've done something right (or wrong, and then worked to make it right again), the little buggers have holes in their new jeans and outgrown shoes and you're staring down the path at a whole new adventure. So, here I am... a mommy veteran... coursing the ship into new, unchartered waters... again.

My baby, my baaaaaaaaaby, is growing up. He's nine. NINE!!!!! Parenting is now so much more than cuddles and teaching the alphabet and watching your language and convincing them to eat a vegetable...

I am building confidence. Instilling values. Educating right from wrong. Promoting the importance of a solid, well-rounded education. Teaching empathy, spirituality, and gulp... all the changes in the growing human body. But more than anything else, I am trying so, so, so hard to do whatever I can now to make sure he doesn't turn into the kind of teenager who doesn't care at all about any of this and turns into a conforming, peer-pressure-caving idiot in 4 years. There is just so much at stake.

Parenting a nine year old is causing me to question every move I make... Is it the right one?? Is what I'm doing now helping or hurting?? Is he going to remember this moment when someone offers him a cigarette??

Two weeks ago, the moment was there.

Chuck was assigned the pitching position in his baseball game. He's never been assigned to pitch before. This is his third season with kid-pitch innings and even though I'm pretty sure that the rules state that every kid is supposed to play every position at least once, he's never been up to the mound. Competitive Daddy coaches... ?

Charlie is little. He's perfect in every way. But he's little. He hasn't developed his little chicken wing  for pitching yet. Lord, we've JUST finally gotten him to get consistent hits at bat. So... I was worried. I was mama-worried that he'd get up to the mound and he would suck. 

And he did. He did suck.

Fuck. Bad words.

I was stuck there behind the fence just watching. I couldn't step in. I couldn't rush out and pep talk him. I couldn't hold his arm and go through the movement of the pitch with him. I couldn't tell him that it would be ok. I couldn't tell the coach to pull him and put another kid up there. I just had to sit there... and watch while all the confidence he's gained in the game slowly melted away as the other team walked 6 guys...

But, then, finally, it was over. As he walked off the mound and towards his dugout, I saw the tears coming through on his face. I hopped the fence and I grabbed him tight.

Surprisingly, without any real thought about what I was going to say at all, all the right things you say to a kid who just sucked at pitching in front of a bunch of people came out. And as I was saying it, as I was holding him tight, wiping tears and using my strong mama-voice to remind him that he did his very best on his very first time and that everyone sucks at their first time of anything - Verlander's first pitch sucked - and that practice would make him better and that I love him and getting up there and working hard was whats most important, I could feel that I might just have a fighting chance at doing this right.

At least for that moment, I had nailed it.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sick Henry

When Charlie was younger, my best friend would tell me tales of the pediatrician and how she'd neurotically keep her children outside of the doctor's office waiting rooms while purelling their hands on three minute rotation to avoid taking home something worse than what they went with. But, Charlie was a day care child so her neurosis made no sense to me. I could take Chuck to the Doctor's office for a well appointment and he could play with all the community toys {gasp!}, heck, he could've licked them, and walk out of there without a single sniffle. The acquired immunity of all-day, everyday child care with eight other snotty-nosed children was like that of a super hero.

But Henry is a different story. He's that lucky second child who was born five years later and into a bit more means than the first... so at 4 months, when I went back to work in the middle of a semester, instead of day care, he got a pretty, young, energetic nanny willing to ride out his fussiness by wearing him in a sling all day. {she did our dishes and organized our tupperware as well. man, good times.} At 8 months, when I went back to work for the full school year, we found the world's sweetest Granny to shower him with attention. And then, when my hubby's job brought us to DC when Hank turned one, sweet baby boy got his very own stay-at-home mommy.

And no super-hero immunity...

I am now that mom who freaks out at the pediatrican who can be heard two rooms over screaming...

But seriously... I might as well just let them lick the doorknobs... because it never works. Henry catches something new every time we go.

Three weeks ago, Henry was at the pedi for an ear infection. A week after that, he had a fever of 105 - the culprit of the ear infection which had worsened plus some sort of viral nastiness that then plagued Mike and myself.

Charlie, of course, was fine.

But for the record, sick babies who fall asleep in the middle of the day are really the cutest.