An Attitude of Gratitude

This has been a wild and crazy fall. The sweet, sandy days of summer are long behind us, and the frantic pace of September’s start-of-school hasn’t let up yet, despite the fact that we are closing in on December. The transition from September to October was so busy that we forgot to update our calendar for a full week. It’s a wonder anyone got to where they were supposed to be. But if I’m being honest, that fact is a wonder most days. Even with a carefully crafted calendar (or three).

For a long time, the simple logistics of going anywhere with three toddlers (much less going in different directions) was too much to navigate. But now, in the height of preschoolerhood, we can count ninja class, sports class, and musical theater class among our ever-growing list of activities. Because, you know, it’s important for little people to individuate. And when you have three little people, that means three individual activities. Add in swimming (an essential life skill if you’re going to spend your summers on Long Island at Nana’s) and soccer (because…have you met their dad?) for everyone, and suddenly, we are one of those Upper East Side families whose preschoolers’ schedules are more complicated (okay, not really…) than their parents’.

 

 

Top that with a Manhattan kindergarten admissions process times three, and well, I probably don’t need to say much more.

Amidst our busy schedules, we’ve had a fair amount of heartbreak and stress this season. In the past three months we’ve lost two people near and dear to our hearts. In the past two weeks, we’ve spent two nights in the hospital. We’ve managed two terrible cases of croup (when will they grow out of this?!?!), two x-rays and one broken arm. We’ve been to the pulmonologist, the endocrinologist, and the allergist. And we’ve endured an awful lot of poking and prodding for flu shots, blood draws, and IV medications. Not to mention about a thousand colds.

But we’ve also had about a thousand adventures. I can’t describe them all here or even post all the pictures, and I doubt you’d have the patience to scroll through them all anyway. Perhaps I should try to be a bit more regular about this whole blogging thing? But here’s just a taste (seriously, this doesn’t even begin to cover it!) of all the adventures we’ve been lucky enough to have over the past few crazy busy months.

We’ve fed the animas at the Bronx Zoo, seen the Statue of Liberty up close, and explored the many exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History.

We’ve run around just about every playground in Manhattan, chased bubbles in Central Park, and spent countless hours at the New York Public Library.

We’ve eaten a ton of cheeseburgers and two tons of French fries.

And we’ve located nut-free donuts. Only two subway rides away from home.

We’ve played a hundred board games and done a thousand crafts.

We’ve enjoyed getting lost in the ball pit at The Color Factory, trying on witch hats at “The Craft Store,” and watching the trains race by at Grand Central. And most of all, we’ve enjoyed each other.

And then every night (okay, not every night…see our crazy schedules above) when we sit around the dinner table together, we each list two things: 1) Our favorite part of the day and 2) One thing we are grateful for.

In the midst of all that is crazy and busy and hard and sad, we insist on an attitude of gratitude. You may already know I’m a bit of a gratitude fanatic. You may have seen my Friday Five social media posts. You may know that I force my sixth grade homeroom students to partake in the Friday Five practice on a weekly basis.

What you may not know is that this attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to me. I’m a glass half-empty kind of gal. I’m an “expect the worst, hope for the best” kind of worrier. My childhood drama teacher used to have to beg me to smile when I got on stage to play the ingenue. “I’ll smile on opening night,” I’d say.” And then, I wouldn’t really. (Sorry, Helene)! My tennis instructor used to call me “Smiley Gillespie,” his tone tongue-in-cheek, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

It turns out, even for those of us who have a million reasons to be grateful every day, this gratitude business is pretty difficult. One of my students asked the other day, “Can we list the things we’re not grateful for instead?” “Why would you want to do that?” I asked. “Because it’s easier.”

Yeah, kid, you’re right. It IS easier to recite our long list of gripes each day. To dig into all that is frustrating, exhausting, unpleasant, or even downright miserable. To complain or whine or wallow. But that’s the point of a gratitude practice, isn’t it? To retrain your brain to see the bright side? To look for the silver linings among the cloudy skies?

It still takes some effort for me, particularly when we’re having the kind of fall we’ve been having, but at the top of my gratitude list is the fact that my kiddos are learning early that being grateful is going to be the norm in our family. Even if it takes a little effort and reflection.

And then scanning through our photos and looking back on all the memories we made this fall, I’ve found about a hundred other reasons to be grateful.

I am also so very grateful for the friends and family (not pictured here) who have lifted us up and supported us during difficult times. The ones who check in via text twenty times a day to see how we’re hanging in. The ones who reach out in the middle of the night when they see we’re in the hospital and ask what they can do. The ones who stay at our home past midnight, holding down the fort so that Will and I don’t have to divide and conquer for the really hard things. The ones who come by on a Friday with pizza, or wine, or dogs. The ones who ask over and over and over, at work and at home, “How can I help?”

We Strumolos aren’t big on asking for help. All five of us could probably stand to shore up our self-advocacy skills. But what we know is that if we do ask for help, we’ve got an army of people ready and willing to pitch in. And that? Well that’s is pretty freaking awesome.

I am grateful for our family, near and far. And as I type this, I am especially grateful for Nana and Grumples who are hosting our kiddos for Thanksgiving this year, while we fly across the country to surprise the other half of our family. I’m grateful for Henry, Jack, and Sophie who didn’t bat an eyelash when they heard we’d be skipping out on Thanksgiving in Southampton, and went to bed last night saying, “Love you, Mommy. See you Saturday!”‘And I am grateful for the members of Strumolo clan who helped coordinate our surprise trip out to Seattle (and of course for those members who were out in Seattle waiting to be surprised)! I am grateful for the chance to celebrate birthdays and meet our nephews. And if I’m being completely honest, I’m grateful for six hours on a plane to read, to blog, and to soak up a little peace and quiet, even if it is from 35,000 feet up.

It is apropos that I am especially grateful today, but I aim to cultivate an attitude of gratitude daily. So for all of you reading this who have helped make this fall a little more bearable, thank you.

I may not say it enough, but for you, I am

The Miracles of Modern Medicine

The past ten days have been rough. It started last Tuesday night with a midnight trip to the ER, a dose of racemic epinephrine, and a round of steroids. Jack had wandered into our room, gasping for breath, a nasty bout of croup with stridor having developed in the few hours since he’d fallen asleep.

By Monday, we’d added a trip to Urgent Care plus four rapid strep tests (all negative, thank goodness!), and one pretty sick mama.

Wednesday brought with it three fevers (and no school), and one sleepless night for Sophie, Mom, and Dad. By Thursday, I’d lost my voice (and pretty much all of my energy), and we rounded out the day with a trip to the pediatrician to rule out strep (again) and an ear infection.

There is still a lot of snot and a lot of coughing in our household, and not a lot of sleep. The fevers keep coming and going, and I don’t think anyone has eaten a square meal in over a week.

BUT (and this is a VERY big but), if coughs, and colds, and fevers, and runny noses, and yes, even a trip to the ER for croup is our worst week…then I cannot help but count us all very lucky.

Our road to parenthood was not an easy one. The before, during, and after of my pregnancy involved a lot of doctors, a lot of medicine, and a lot of hope. The photos below are a constant reminder of how far these little people have come, and the fact that their little bodies are strong enough to fend off these viruses makes me one very grateful mama.

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On the top left there is Henry, still eleven weeks before a baby is supposed to be out in this world on his own, barely two pounds, and working to breathe with a collapsed lung.

And then there’s Jack, working hard just to open his eyes a few days after being born.

And finally Sophie. Rocking her shades from the from her phototherapy treatment for jaundice.

It would be days before we held Henry, weeks before the three of them were reunited with each other, and months before they came home.

So I’ll take the sniffles, the sleepless nights, and the multiple trips to the doctor if it means I get to have these three happy humans in my arms, at home, every night. It was a long time coming, and I am just so very grateful that they are here.

 

ER Trip #5

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On Saturday, Sophie started gaining on Henry with trips to the emergency room. Jack is still holding out, and we’re just hoping that doesn’t mean he’s waiting for something REALLY big before he makes his first trip. Everything is a competition when there are three. Just kidding. Sort of.

The back story: 

On Friday, Jack woke up with a runny nose. By Friday afternoon, Sophie had taken on most of the drippiness, and overnight she started coughing a bit. On Saturday morning, she was a bit more congested, and by Saturday afternoon post-nap, she was breathing very audibly. Her temp was 99.5. She started breathing a bit faster, and since it was Saturday evening and we were away from home, we went to the ER, thinking they would tell us: steam from the shower, cold air, humidifier, lots of fluids, lots of rest.

At intake they didn’t give me much info except that her temp was 100.1 and it didn’t look like she was retracting. She was hysterical during this whole process, so it was a bit tricky to get an accurate read on anything. She especially didn’t like the “light on [her] toe!” Re: the oxygen monitor. She has clearly forgotten that she used to have one practically permanently affixed to her tiny little foot during her days in the NICU.

When the doctor came in to see us, she said Sophie’s breathing did sound loud and fast, and it sounded “croupy.” We’ve dealt with croup before, and though that also involved one trip to the ER for a breathing treatment and steroids, I thought, “Ok. That stinks, but we know how to deal with that.”

One listen with the stethoscope and the doctor said, “Actually, it sounds like pneumonia.” We’re going to need a chest x-ray. Pneumonia?! She literally just got a runny nose approximately thirty hours ago. WTF.

And if you’ve ever attempted a chest x-ray with a feisty two year old, you know the next part of our hospital adventure was less than awesome. It didn’t help that I couldn’t seem to unlock the guided access on our iPad and all my attempts to turn the volume down only made things longer, so we walked the halls and filled that x-ray room with the booming sounds of Daniel Tiger at FULL volume. Add a screaming kid to the mix, and we were LOUD.

It turns out it IS pneumonia, and we had to wait quite a while longer for Sophie’s heart rate to go down and her oxygen saturation to go up. In the meantime, she became quite fond of “the red light on [her] toe” and even asked me to take a picture so she could show Jack and Henry.

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A dose of Tylenol, some antibiotics plus a prescription for more, and we were on our way. All in all, the ER trip was only about three hours, and we were very grateful for Daniel Tiger. And iPads. And amazing nurses (thanks, Janice)! And of course, Nana.

The next morning Sophie’s breathing seemed even louder as we waited for CVS to open so we could pick up the antibiotics. She did enjoy part of a waffle while watching Mickey Mouse Club House. 

Perk of being sick: eating whatever you want wherever you want and watching t.v.

Still, we couldn’t get Sophie’s breathing to calm down, and after frantically trying to pack up to go BACK to NYC (I swear we had just unpacked) while managing two slightly cranky brothers and one wheezy Sophie, we made for the ER again. On the way, Sophie’s breathing slowed and quieted, so we stopped at CVS to pick up her meds. She continued to breathe slowly and quietly (again, thank you Daniel Tiger!) so we made for Manhattan.

Here she enjoyed more eating whatever she wanted (or not eating whatever she didn’t want), wherever she wanted, and watching t.v. This is us “eating” dinner on the couch and watching Finding Nemo. That’s her dinner plate in between us.

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By this morning, she was feeling (and sounding) MUCH better, and consequently so were Mom and Dad. It was a “fancy pancake” kind of morning.

This afternoon, Sophie resumed her normal behavior of refusing her nap and choosing instead to play with all her “friends” in her crib and sing to her brothers. Until they wake up. So glad she’s feeling better 🙂

Until our next ER visit…or at least until I can get my act together to write about something else. With any luck for blogger and readers, we’ll have non-emergency room content coming soon.

Our ER Stats:

  • Henry: 3
  • Sophie: 2
  • Jack: 0
  • Trips in Manhattan: 2
  • Trips in Southampton while visiting Nana: 2 😦
  • Chest x-rays: 2
  • Diagnoses: Virus, Peanut allergy, forehead stitches, croup, pneumonia
  • Blech, BLECH, blech, double blech, triple blech

 

 

 

Our Little Bobble Heads

As some of you may already know, Henry and Jack have rather large heads. They’ve had these rather large heads for a while now, and we’d sort of forgotten about them (although we are briefly reminded every time we struggle to get a onesie over their head).

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So…hard…to lift…heads…

Jack and Henry’s heavy heads weigh them down when they try to push up during tummy time or sit up in their Bumbos, so we weren’t terribly surprised when Sophie reached those milestones first. For all of her adorable chub, Sophie is tiny. A mere 22 inches long!

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Hello! I’m tiny!

In any event, we had never been worried about the boys’ heads. Until last Tuesday. On Tuesday, we had our 6-month check up with the pediatrician. Two adults, three babies, twelve shots, and three oral vaccines can make for a rough evening. Add to that that the babies were being poked and prodded at around 5:30 pm (their LEAST favorite time of day), and that they are now able to roll OFF the exam table should they choose to do so, and things can get pretty wild. But despite the requisite wails when they were jabbed in the leg four times in a row, the trips were perfect patients. In fact, the boys started showing up, pushing up on their elbows like never before! The only question our pediatrician had was, “Why are their heads growing so fast?”

Those adorable noggins of theirs have hopped their way up into the 70th-77th percentile in the past few months. For non-preemie 6-month-olds. That means Henry and Jack’s heads are bigger than approximately 75% of their 6-month-old, carried-to-term, singleton counterparts. Weight and height are usually adjusted for their age (so we compare to 3.5-month-olds) but doing that for their head circumferences puts them off the charts. So our pediatrician sent us off for head ultrasounds. She tried to sound calm, assured us that she didn’t want to scare us, and urged us not to Google it (yeah, right), but she wanted to rule out fluid in the brain. Hydrocephalus to be medically precise.

Here’s Henry the morning before his head ultrasound, looking none-to-pleased (and simultaneously adorable of course).

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Sophie came along for the ride because her head isn’t exactly small, and so on Friday afternoon, the Strumolo Five were off to the pediatric radiology department of New York Presbyterian. We are still awaiting the official results, but the outlook is promising. Sophie is off the hook–nothing in that pretty little head of hers but brains–and the initial, unofficial reading of the boys’ pictures show no fluid in the brain. It does appear that they have a significant amount of fluid outside the brain, however, so we are still waiting for word on what that means, but our Google search (sorry, Doc!) suggests that the approach is just wait and see. We think it should resolve on its own.

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Sleeping with her shades on. Or off. Whatever.

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Cool dudes.

I will keep you all posted. In the meantime, these little peanuts have been enjoying the fall weather, their toys, and each other.

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Sophie and her doll are doing tummy time together.

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Sitting up on her own. For a second. Maybe two.

Sibling time!

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Tea Party!

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Henry wanted to make sure that Daddy was a part of the party.

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He felt much better when he knew everyone was included.

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Hanging out and working on those wobbly heads.

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This is too much fun!

THIS JUST IN! If you are still reading this, I heard official word from the doctor between starting this post and finishing it. One word sums it up: “BENIGN!” That’s a word we like to hear. They did ask that Will and I measure our own head circumferences to see if either of us have a head circumference in the 95th+ percentile. We’ll keep you posted (and you can keep guessing which one of us you think it is).