When Pinecones are Life

Dear John,

You turned five this past week. You are super pumped to be able to hold up one hand when asked how old you are. We measured your height today and you’ve had a little growth spurt the past six months. Your body is starting to catch up with your head… a little. 

A couple of weeks ago we went hiking in the Shelton View Forest with your buddy Luke and his mom Nicole. Nicole is my longest known and dearest friend. I’ve told you and Hadley the story of how Nicole and I met in kindergarten at Shelton View Elementary. 

After our exploration around the woods, and everyone’s imminent tumble or slip as we made our way down the ravine trail, we decided to check out the playground at Shelton View Elementary right next to the forest. 

You played a little at one of the play areas on the school’s campus and then we decided to walk around and find another one. Along the way, you slipped me a pinecone you had found. In a secret whisper you said to me, “this one is special because it’s green.” I wrapped my fingers around it and held it in my hand as we made our way to the other play area. 

As you, Luke, and Hadley played on the second playground, Nicole and I sat on the bench talking about what we remember from kindergarten. Was this the same playground? Did we run around in the wooded area over there? Was that our classroom just situated in the front corner with the view of the playground?

Coincidentally, I was your age when I started kindergarten at this very school where you were now playing. Also an August baby, I had just turned five. Thirty-ish years ago, I ran around that same playground and I was the same age you were now.  Your dad and I have decided to wait another year for you to start kindergarten for a myriad of reasons, which I can explain another time. 

As I flipped the pinecone round and round in my hand, I thought about how I am watching you play at an age that I once was. An age that I can actually remember some things from. I turned the green pinecone over and over in my palm more quickly as if replicating the rapid succession in which the years seem to have flown by since that time. Then I placed it on the bench in an attempt to make time stand still as I watched you play, even if for just a minute

On our trek back toward our car I realized that I had forgotten the green pinecone back on the bench.  

“Shoot, I forgot his pinecone on the bench,” I whispered to Nicole. “Hopefully, he won’t remember.”

Seconds later you pipe up, “Mom, where’s the green pinecone I gave you?” 

“I’m so sorry buddy. I left it on the bench. Let’s find you another one here.” Dozens of pinecones lay at our feet as we passed under a huge pine tree. 

“No!!!!! That one was special for you. It was green!!” you protested.  There were plenty of pinecones to go around under the tree where we stood. Lots of different shapes and sizes. But all brown. None of them are green like the one you had found before. 

Hadley, being the best big sister there is, immediately starts searching for the best pinecone. She found a huge one for you! You smiled and laughed at the size. All is forgiven regarding the green pinecone once the big one was in your hands. One problem though, Luke liked the giant pinecone too. Unfortunately, that is the only big one we see. 

Suddenly, tears ensue as he wants the big pinecone. Hadley fiercely reiterates the fact that she found it for you. You end up getting to keep your huge pinecone, but Luke is crushed. Meanwhile, the green pinecone sits lonely on the bench and I feel terrible for the pinecone grief I’ve created. 

I put the huge pinecone in the back of the car, since it likely has bugs hidden inside. Our goodbye is short and quick as we were never able to find a huge pinecone for Luke. He is still crying and pining away for a huge pinecone as Nicole tries to convince him that the pinecones belong in the forest. Later, we found out it took Luke quite a while to forget about the pinecone. 

Hours later, back at home I realize that the huge pinecone is still in the back of the car far from it’s forest home, forgotten by all except me (and maybe still Luke). I go out to retrieve it with visions of bugs escaping and lodging between the seats of our car or throwing themselves a beach party in the bits of sand left behind from our previous beach adventures. I get it and leave it on our porch. 

Weeks later and brittled by the sun, it is still there, untouched. Yet somehow, in that moment at the school playground, that pinecone was absolutely everything. I wonder if the green pinecone is still on the bench?

We’ve enjoyed our family bike rides this summer. You zip around pedaling on your two-wheeled bike like it’s not a big deal. You’ve acquired killer scrapes and scabs to prove you can handle anything the bike path throws your way. You are so tough and fast. You are amazing on your bike and you love it. We are getting you a new bike for your birthday as you already seem to be outgrowing this one. 

One night, only a few days after our Shelton View Forest pinecone ordeal, we were speeding along the sidewalk, our family of four with eight wheels, when suddenly you spot a pinecone on the sidewalk. Instantly, your love of pinecones was revived. Almost just as quickly as it was spotted, I heard and felt the crushing wood scales of the pinecone under my front tire. “Oh no!” I realized before it was too late. Just like that, your pinecone dreams were crushed and left there on the sidewalk. 

“Noooooo!” you screamed to a halt on your bike. “That was my pinecone! You ran over it!” as you flung your head and upper body over the front of your bike in complete despair like a sack of flour. 

Unlike the playground, there weren’t tons of pine cones around. We were on a sidewalk near a busy road.  Suddenly, one is spotted across the street. Your dad, makes note that the street is currently clear of cars and quickly pedals over to retrieve the loner pinecone. “Oh great,”  I think. “Getting hit by a car is totally worth this and again… it’s all my fault.” Instead of leaving behind the precious pinecone, this time like all your hopes and dreams, I had crushed it.

The new pinecone was retrieved and brought over to you. Immediately you are relieved and composed enough to be able to ride again. Of course, you don’t have a free hand, pocket or bike basket to put the precious pinecone in so your dad hands it to me. Again, I am left with a pinecone. In my pocket it goes. 

I can’t even tell you what happened to that pinecone. I think it made it home but it was totally forgotten about the minute your helmet was off your still-larger-than-average head. But it doesn’t matter. In those moments, as an almost five-year-old, those pinecones are life. 

John, you are a like a green pinecone. Special and uniquely made beyond comparison. There may be others that come along: big ones, cute little ones, ones filled with bugs, but none quite like you. I left the green pinecone there on the bench on the playground where my world as a five-year-old expanded and bloomed as I know yours will too. I pray you realize your importance and place in this world. I know things will get tougher than a lost or crushed pinecone. I will be here for you.

A few days ago, we came across some mini pinecones on our vacation. You picked up four and gifted one to each of us. It is then that I realized, I don’t need to keep the pinecones. There are endless amounts of them. They are like moments with you, sweet and gifted to me from the Father above. They pass quickly by and yet, there are so many more to come. So many more to find and treasure. Happy Birthday, John!

I Am There

I was surprised at how well my husband and I handled our daughter’s first couple vomiting experiences. It was as if we each assumed our roles without needing to talk it through or practice the scenario. As if there is ever time in that type of situation, because you are almost never ready.

It is an unmistakable sound, the retching cough and gag, the acidic liquid chunks hitting the bottom of the bowl. The smell is unmistakable too. A rancid, partially broken down blended mix of the past day’s food and stomach acids. The putrid smelling liquid warms your hands though the bowl as you clutch it shakily. 

Vomit. An expected human bodily function to eliminate contaminated particles from our body. 

Expected, yet never ready, especially with young kids. Vomit isn’t the only thing that has come up without warning as my husband and I raise our kids. With the vomit at least we assumed our roles and we knew it would pass. After that first spew, we had somewhat of an idea of what would follow. But as we are neck deep in the throes of parenting young kids, sometimes we don’t have an idea of what is coming and we don’t really know what to expect next. 

It is an unmistakable feeling, wondering if you’ve handled a situation with your child correctly. Did I discipline correctly? Am I teaching them the way that’s best for them? The guilt is unmistakable too. I got too angry and yelled. My mouth spewed out commands and my face reddened. I didn’t follow through with what I said I would. My shoulders sink. Unsteadily, I sit down and ponder the best way to raise my children. 

>>>

There are some great stories about my father-in-law that my husband has shared with me on multiple occasions. One story that my husband recalls is when he threw up over the side of his bunk bed when he was around eight (he was on the top bunk of course) and my father-in-law caught the vomit in his hands. That was just one of many vomit-catching moments of my father-in-law’s parenting life. Whenever one of his kids would vomit unexpectedly, he’d make a little cup with his hands together catching it all in one seemingly swift motion

I’ve always thought, “That’s it.” When I am a parent and I catch my kid’s vomit in my hands, I’ve arrived. I’ve become wise. I’ve reached the peak of all-knowing parental wisdom. 

>>>

“Say bye to Grandma and Grandpa! Say goodbye to Nana and Papa!” I told Hadley as we quickly made our way off the ferry deck and down the stairs to our car.

 “Noooo!!” Hadley yelled, red-faced and cheeks wet with tears. The ferry ride back to Edmonds was short and as soon as the announcement was made, people quickly made their way back to the car deck below. Hadley had just spent the entire weekend with our extended family on Whidbey Island and she did not know the goodbye would be so quick. 

I buckled her in the car seat and decided to sit in the back with her to calm her down. She continued to scream and cry, just not quite ready for goodbye. Then suddenly, it came. I held out my hands cupping them together for the regurgitated Chex mix vomit. 

Catch. Shake. Wipe. 

Well, it’s safe to say, I’ve caught vomit in my hands at least a few times now and I’m here to tell you, I have not arrived. I am not the wise sagely mother I thought I would be. Instinctual perhaps, yes. One of my kids retches and I shoot out my hands and form a cup in front of their face and I remember my father-in-law with the story of his magical vomit-catching father hands. I instinctively hold out my hands. But this is not because I am wise, it’s because this is an impulse. Parenting seems to be more acting on impulse than wisdom lately. 

I came out of my daughter’s room after saying goodnight to find my husband sitting in the dark at the kitchen counter. 

“What are you doing?” I asked scrunching my brow. 

“Just thinking.” He paused and then continued, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m doing any of this right. I think I came down too hard on her tonight.”

“I don’t know either.” I shrugged. I sat there next to him while my tea water boiled. We have caught the vomit with our hands and we still don’t know. 

The first few months after Hadley started kindergarten was admittedly a little rough at home. She’s been amazing at school and has no behavioral issues. She’s learning, forming friendships, and loves school. For that, we are grateful. She seems to be leveling out a little now that we are halfway through the year, but we’ve had our share of evening tantrums, which have included but are not limited to yelling, hitting, throwing, stomping, slamming, screaming and 6-year-old emotional logic. My husband calls it, “The Upside Down.” (Thank you, Stranger Things). 

We tell ourselves, “We’ve reached the point of no return, she’s in The Upside Down now and we can’t get her back.” 

We blame exhaustion, we blame her mind and body being on overload. I am glad she can let it out at home and she knows she’s safe and loved no matter what, but dealing with this behavior all too often has its wear. We aren’t ever really sure if we’ve handled the situation correctly, we try to use what we have in the moment, catching it with our hands if we have to. 

>>>

Mom sat with me on the edge of my bed. Her hand rubbed my back and swept back strands of hair as I clutched the tin bowl in my hands. Hot dogs. We had eaten hot dogs for dinner that night. I hadn’t imagined I would see the same hot dog I ate for a second time. 

After throwing up hot dogs, it took me a while to ever eat them again. The smell was terrible. Mom didn’t let on and never even flinched, but I knew it was horrid. 

Sometimes you are ready. You know the vomit is coming and you are prepared for the purging of your child’s stomach. My mom was prepared for what came that night. She had the tin bowl ready to catch my mighty spew.

My father-in-law had no clue what was coming and he caught the vomit with his bare hands. 

Sometimes, we are prepared for what’s coming as parents and sometimes we aren’t. 

I’ve come to the realization that parenting is one part tin bowl- prepared, calm, ready, and one part cupping your hands together- instinctive, resourceful, and brave. We use one or the other sometimes alternating between both.  But whatever we use, we catch that damn vomit. 

However, what about the vomit that comes at night and ends up all over the bedding and rug? What then? No hands, no bowl, no preparedness or resourcefulness, just a disgusting mess to clean up without trying to vomit yourself as you gag from the stench. 

Well, I don’t know. I don’t have my tin bowl. I don’t have my hands ready. I don’t have anything. Except, I am there. I am there to clean up the mess, to draw the bath, change their clothes, stroke their hair, and say “It’s alright.” 

I am there. 

 

How to Stay Sane During Cold and Flu Season

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love how the landscape changes its palette of colors, the crispness that settles in the air, the new routines, and excitement of the unknown as school and other activities begin. There is one thing about fall however, that I one hundred percent despise, and that is the start of the cold and flu season

I hate during fall and winter when my kids are sick. When they have constant runny noses or a cough that lasts for what seems like weeks, I loathe that whatever they end up catching, I will likely end up catching. The sickness season always seems to hit my family pretty hard initially. Last year, we all caught a cold that came with a side of viral eye infections. My son and husband couldn’t even make Thanksgiving dinner at my parents house. 

This year, it was a stomach bug. Within a span of about two weeks, this nasty stomach virus circulated through everyone in our family mid-October. This was shortly followed by a cold virus. A shot of stomach virus quickly followed by a chaser of cold virus was not an easy combination to take. 

My husband and I joke that my daughter is always patient zero. She comes home from school with all sorts of germs and invisible nastiness. No matter how hard I try, I can never keep all the sickness away. 

Over the past couple years as we have survived cold and flu season, I have learned some useful tips that have helped keep me sane. 

Don’t Blame Yourself 

This is a big one. Every year when our first round of sickness hits, I ask myself, “Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?  Why my kids always get sick? Other friends’ kids seem healthy and mine are already battling the invisible germs and viruses.

My mind is a continual feed of questions and self-doubt. “My kids probably don’t eat enough spinach or kale. That has to be it. Maybe we were overly aware of germs and hand washing/sanitizing when they were babies and now we are paying the price? Maybe I didn’t teach my daughter how to wash her hands well enough? Maybe our house is too clean? Maybe it isn’t clean enough-we must have too much dust or maybe…we have mold!?!”

Each year, I go through this cycle of guilt, that it is somehow my fault and I always come to the realization that it is not. Sickness just happens. It always will happen. Are there certain things we can do to help with the amount of sickness? Sure. But do I need to bang my head against the wall, wondering if it was because we didn’t wash our hands well enough after coming home from the park? No. All we can do as parents is try our best to teach good cleanliness habits to our kids and even with all that in place, sickness can still happen. 

So to sum up: don’t blame yourself, sickness just happens. 

Do Have a Basket of Remedies 

This leads me to my next tip. When sickness happens in your household and despite your best efforts, it will, I find it is best to be prepared with the necessary medicines and comforts. 

I have a hard time with daily living when I have a cluttered kitchen counter but when someone or multiple people are sick in the household, it seems not only necessary but convenient to have medicines, teas, rubs, and oils out where we can access them easily. 

Two years ago, I just grabbed an extra basket and started sticking in the essentials as I used them. I ended up with this collection of remedies in a basket on my kitchen counter. Our basket includes items such as Tylenol, chest rub, eucalyptus essential oil, honey lollipops and so on.  I also have some things stocked in there for my husband and I as well such as Nuun tablets and Emergen-C packets. 

Jordan and I tend to feel bad and buy kids gifts each time they are sick (especially if they are really sick). This can add up though, so I’d like to try creating a basket or container tucked away with small toys or activities for when they are sick.  This is something I am still working on. 

I am not a big fan of slime, but it provided some good hours of entertainment for the kids while we were all under the weather in October. Since, they don’t usually play with it, this was something special that kept them occupied for a long time. Then I tossed it, never to be seen again. Nonetheless, I was glad I had something new to bring out that kept them occupied. 

Don’t Go Overkill With Cleaning and Sanitizing

Guilty. With the stomach virus earlier this season, I bleached, wiped, washed my hands until they were cracked and bleeding, washed bedding with hot water, and we all still got sick, save for Grandma and Grandpa who just stayed away (Thank God)!

This circulates back to my first idea that sickness just happens and despite your best efforts, there is sometimes nothing you can do to prevent it from happening. 

I guess what I really want to say is you can clean and try your best to sanitize but don’t be a crazy maniac about it. It might be better to just take the restful moments you have (if any) and sit. Cuddle up with the kids and watch the movie. Make that cup of tea. Take the nap. I am the worst at this, but I am trying. 

Take Advantage of When Your Family is Healthy

I’m a pretty hardcore introvert. I have to be cooped up in my house a long time before it really starts to wear on me. Even as a homebody at heart, dealing with sickness, yours or your spouse or kids, day in and day out for a while, can be hard. I am one of those people where I am fine, until I am totally not fine and I burst. 

So I have to say to myself and now I am saying to you, introvert or not, take advantage of when you are healthy. Say yes to those playdates, those get togethers, or when your husband suggests the whole family go out and do something. Take your daughter to her friend’s pool party and go down the waterslide with her as many times as she wants. Say yes to getting together with other couples, even though you might have the strong urge to take a raincheck and stay in. Say yes because there might be a day in about three weeks when you are neck deep in vomit and you just want the hell out. 

Stay healthy friends. It is likely though that you won’t, so I hope these little tips are encouraging. 

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Here are a few of my favorite countertop basket items:

Zarbees baby soothing chest rub: made with eucalyptus, lavender and beeswax

Nuun hydration tablets: these were a lifesaver for me after the stomach virus. Very little sugar unlike other electrolyte drinks. 

Oilogic Stuffy Nose and Cough Vapor Bath: bubbles that help kids breath (yes, please). If you can’t find the bath bubbles, I like the epsom salt too. 

-PRI Manuka Honey Lemon Honey Lollipops: I don’t know if these really help a sore throat, but my kids love them and they are special treat when they are sick.