Just how hard I’ve been moming

Blippi glasses

I’ve been moming so hard this week, you guys.

Really, really hard. The past 48 hours? Serious parenting. The digging-deep-and-hoping-the-well-isn’t-empty kind. The sort that tests both your sanity and mettle. The variety that we can only hope will generate stories that are funny and bittersweet when our kids are flying to a neighboring solar system because we raised them to be brave and intelligent people who grew up to be freakin’ astronauts.

I miss writing here and sorting out the thoughts that just ain’t fit to print elsewhere. The ideas that aren’t polished and non-embarrassing enough for a column. Those that are too lengthy and likely to be misconstrued in a Facebook post. I’ve basically given up on Twitter, and Instagram has become a catalogue of my children’s random snapshots because I’m tired and feel it’s increasingly complicated to think deeply about . . . anything.

I find myself filtering my observations into soft, bite-sized portions because they’re easier to digest — for others and me. Becoming a mother is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done — mentally, physically, spiritually — and I had no idea I would become the anxious, loving, complicated mom-beast that I am. It is a truly 24/7 job with no ability to punch out.

Still, here we are. Oliver is now three. Hadley is one. Spence and I will be celebrating five years (!) of marriage this fall. We have settled into some routines and are working on establishing others. Ollie talks nonstop (“Mommy, look high in the sky! It’s an AIRPLANE! Did you see the airplane? Mommy. Mommy. Mommy! Did you see it? It’s GRAY! A gray airplane!”) and Hadley, impish and sweet, is working on walking. When they’re both on the move, God help us.

I’m approaching the one-year mark since I joined the world of health care marketing and public relations after my decade in community journalism. Which means I’ve been freelancing for almost a year, too. A year of writing at 11 p.m. with one eye open (and sometimes both eyes closed). That’s almost 100 columns that I pulled from the shattered remains of my energy after the kids had gone to bed.

I write because it matters to me. Because, for so long, it defined my identity. It was my identity. Before I was a wife and a mother and even really a grown woman, I was a writer.

It was never my intention to take such a long break here. I said that last time, I know. But the column has a deadline, and the pressure keeps me motivated. Without that same constraint, I get lazy. Also: have I stressed that I basically run on caffeine and a painful, irrational fight-or-flight instinct that saturates just about everything I do?

Right.

Remember how I’ve been moming so hard?

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Yesterday Spence and I signed our lives away to purchase a new vehicle. I agreed to 10,000 stipulations without doing any research because that’s just apparently where I am right now. While committing us to five years of payments, my son — thick in the middle of the toddler “I must do absolutely everything myself” phase — dumped apple juice all over my lap.

In the middle of the finance manager’s office, yes. Sticky, warm, wet apple juice from my waist to my (exposed, flip-flop-clad) feet.

Ollie was stunned. Spencer and I were stunned. The young finance manager was definitely stunned. I saw no family photos adorning his sleek, orderly desk, so I can only assume he has no children. For a moment I thought he’d knock a few hundred off the price in exchange for all the free birth control we were doling out, but we left with the bottom line intact.

Our sanity? Not so much.

The vehicle we were buying? A van. A minivan. The one that will, undoubtedly, be covered in those stupid pinwheel-like caps from the squeeze pouches of yogurt — strawberry only — that Oliver, an insanely picky eater, just about survives on. A good family van for Hadley to store all her favorite critter books and schlep my 576 bags from Target much easier than my 14-year-old sedan.

Buying that van somehow felt more daunting than taking out the mortgage on our house. When I learned the offer on our place had been accepted, I literally could not sit at my desk for fear of being sick. I took a 15-minute break at work that turned into an hour because I found my mom at a coffeeshop and whipped myself into a complete frenzy.

Massive debt will apparently do that to you.

We got home with the van at 8 p.m. last night, and I checked Oliver’s temperature for the 12th time. Normal. But he’d woken up at 2 a.m. in a dead sweat and hollered out for me. I found him standing straight up in bed, red-cheeked and frantic, and the lava-like feel of his skin instantly woke me up and into action. A 102 temp. Juice and Motrin.

He was better by morning and had no temperature again for the rest of the day, but I stayed home — and vigilant. By the time we left for the car dealership that evening, Ollie was starting to fade again.

You know it all just went downhill from there. We had no intention of taking Hadley and Oliver with us to buy the van, but a series of factors made it necessary. In hindsight, I wish I had done anything I could have to avoid that scenario, but life happens. And it’s done.

Within an hour of sitting at the dealership filling out paperwork we’d already taken the long, drawn-out time to fill out online (good times), Ollie was definitely feverish again. He wanted to lay across me — all 44 pounds of him — while I tried to pay attention to a series of up-sells and Spencer fought to keep a wiggly Hadley in his arms.

We eventually got the baby interested in a water bottle, which bought us some time. But Oliver was definitely sick. I’m a naturally warm-blooded person — all my insulation, I guess! — and the air conditioning in the finance office was … lackluster, shall we say.

Ollie was hot enough to be physically sticking to me, and asking to leave every 15 seconds. We were in a room small enough that I could have held out my arms to touch both sides of it. Hadley was repeatedly hollering — with happiness, I think? — at the water bottle, chasing it around the floor. Spence was pretzeled in a corner, forced to elbow Ollie and me to add his signature to the forms.

It was in this atmosphere that we committed ourselves to the van — and I ultimately wound up covered in apple juice. The photos of us with the new vehicle are angled such that it doesn’t look like I actually wet myself, and I thank my husband for that.

A story I’ll find funny someday? Yeah, maybe. I mean, I’m already mining it for material for my dusty blog, so sure.

But last night? Wow. Had. to. keep. my. stuff. together. It was HARD. So hard. So so so hard. The tension of trying to make decisions and negotiate with two young children climbing on and spilling fluids all over us was enough to make me want to throw up my hands, yell OMG FORGET IT and just head for the Canadian border.

We eventually got everyone home and resting, though, and Ollie had no temp last night or this morning. I’ve already chewed up time off work that I really don’t have, and I was selfishly relieved when Ollie was better this morning. With kisses and hugs for the kiddos, I set off for my hour-long drive to work. Spence took them to day care and went to the office himself.

I’d been at my desk for all of 45 minutes today when the phone rang. Ollie was lethargic. Mild temperature. Didn’t want to play. “You don’t have to come right now,” said his teacher, “but if his temperature climbs anymore, I’ll definitely have to call you to take him home.”

“What’s he doing now?” I asked.

“He’s … standing,” she said slowly.

” … Uh, standing?”

“It’s circle time and the kids are playing. Ollie is usually all in there,” she said, “but he’s just standing on the side by himself.”

Standing alone? The kid who never sits, never stops, never quiets? Right. Off I went.

Once I got Ollie home, he was so lethargic, hot and zombie-like that I contemplated taking him straight to the Emergency Department. No parent likes when their kids are sick, of course, but the children having health issues majorly triggers my already-easily-triggered anxiety. In .03 seconds, I can be back in the NICU with Ollie or up late with a wheezing Hadley. I go into triage mode. In some ways, it’s a relief.

I decided to squash down my crazy for a moment and called the pediatrician instead. A throat swab confirmed he has strep, and I spent the rest of the doctor’s visit trying not to gag after Ollie threw up all over me following the throat swab.

I mean, I couldn’t be mad. I remember gagging at those tests myself. He was miserably sick, and I felt terrible for my guy. Thankfully, the fever reducer they managed to get into his system before the vomiting incident did its job: he has been back to himself since lunchtime. The antibiotics have started. And as long as we keep the ibuprofen flowing, I think he’ll be OK.

“OK” includes destroying the house, asking me the same questions repeatedly, refusing to eat or drink anything that is not chocolate milk, and antagonizing his sister to the point of making her cry. Repeatedly.

The only upside to the whole incident? I didn’t drive the new van today. So the disgusting stench of vomit that was embedded in my clothes and Oliver’s is, no doubt, permeating my own old car rather than the spotless new vehicle we brought home yesterday.

The little victories.

I try to see them — always. Just one bite-sized piece at a time.

 

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Coming and going outside the OR

There’s an unspoken camaraderie that forms in a room where no one wants to be.

My son underwent minor surgery this week. It was planned, scheduled months ago — a procedure to correct something we learned about at birth. Padding down the NICU wing just days after he was born, a nurse pulled us aside to tell us there was an “issue.” Had we been told about it yet?

(Excuse the vagueness about the condition itself, but I want to be sensitive to my son’s personal story . . . it’s his, not mine.)

But the issue was not life-threatening; it could be corrected. Nothing that should affect him in the long term. We took comfort in that.

On Wednesday, we woke at 3:30 a.m. to get into the city by 6 a.m. for his appointment: the first of the day. Spence and I were fortunate to have my father — a well-versed D.C. driver — take us to the large facility. He sat with us all day, fielding questions from our family, as my mother- and father-in-law waited at home with dinner already made.

I’d been dreading this moment since that first mention in the NICU: having to return to a hospital; watching Ollie go into an operating room; seeing him in pain. I had nightmares for weeks leading up to Wednesday, fear upon fear building like tortuous blocks in my mind.

Anesthesia. Recovery. Complications.

I willed myself to be calm: to get into a state of peace. Sometimes I felt angry again, wondering why our 10-month-old had to go through this — any of this — and, as usual, why we couldn’t be “normal” with a “normal” experience.

Whatever that is.

As we sat in the waiting room, the families of 30 other patients filled in around us. We carried coffee and smartphones. Most wore matching looks of fear and exhaustion, springing to life as soon as Smith or Blair or Thompson were called to the front desk.

It was like an airport waiting lounge, all of us unsure if we were coming or going. Parents studied a digital screen with the status of each OR. Patient in, 7:32 a.m.

They kept us all informed. The place was loud — noisy, even — as relatives chatted nervously in small circles. Some napped, heads back or resting on shoulders; others tapped at phones, zoning out on Facebook. The desk phone rang constantly: nurses with updates. Name after name, family after family.

We were an anxious crew. Older parents, younger parents, grandparents, siblings. Parents with children in wheelchairs; others with babies on a hip. Some with children too weak to stand. Others who — “Ella, please!” — just would not sit still.

We were all there because, at some point, the same words had echoed in a sterile room: “He will have to have surgery. She needs to have surgery.”

And I thought of our collective faces, a range of colors and expressions; wide eyes, closed eyes, eyes leaking fat but silent tears. We were wan and dull that morning. The nervousness beat like a pulse.

I willed my heart to stop pounding. My mind to be clear. The panic to dull. When it was time to speak to his surgeon, to shake hands with the anesthesiologist and ER nurse and recovery nurse — an endless stream of faces I studied, people intimately tied to protecting my child — I wanted to beg them to be thorough. Focused. Caring.

But I didn’t need to. It was obvious from each handshake, every soothing assurance, that they would be.

It took four hours. We read in the waiting room, tapping our feet; we walked to the quiet cafeteria, chewing lifeless salads. They called for us at the front desk with updates, and each ring made my mouth go dry.

“It can’t be bad news,” I tittered nervously to a woman on my right. She was well-dressed and serious, waiting alone for news on her daughter. “They wouldn’t call with bad news. That would be awful. They would come out.”

She nodded, clutching a magazine in her lap. “That’s true. Yes,” she said solemnly. “You’re right. That’s very sensible.”

See? I can still be sensible, I thought. Even when I’m scared out of my mind.

The waiting board clicked with updates: OR in. PACU. Patient discharged.

Finally, mercifully, it was our turn.

Surgery complete.

Heading home.


Ollie


Oliver has done so well — maybe better than his parents. He’s recovering beautifully and was back to his smiling self within a day. (The pain meds might have helped.) The surgery was successful, and we are so thankful he’s too young to remember a thing. After one rough evening when he first came home, he’s back to sleeping well and enjoying endless episodes of “The Muppets.” And I don’t complain.

I thought of myself last April: rattled to my core, shaky and hurting, terrified at the responsibility of caring for this tiny child. Worried about our future. Afraid of doing something — everything? — wrong. Nervous to even press a finger into his tiny, delicate palm.

But I am not who I was 10 months ago.

I am not even close to who I was 10 months ago.

I scrounged up all the patience and strength I possessed on Wednesday. I stood at my son’s bedside, leaning on my husband as we listened with the dedication of med students to Ollie’s team. Hanging on every word.

We asked questions. We took notes. We rubbed our son’s head, running delicate fingers through the dark curls that have suddenly sprung above his ears.

Sometimes I had to sit down — to gather myself, to breathe . . . but that’s okay.

I took Oliver’s hand and I held it.

And I stood up.


The tired life: Oliver at 3 months

Week 12 (5)

Looking over a doctor’s office summary from Oliver’s recent check-up, one line under the “Family Life” section stood out to me: “Mother reports that house is returning to normal.”

I actually laughed out loud when I read that — a loud guffaw, incredulous and surprised — because, honestly, I didn’t remember saying that (though I certainly could have), and also because I’m not sure what “normal” is anymore.

Well, with a 3-month-old baby . . . I guess it looks a lot like bottles, babbles and long, sleepy nights. Day care drop-offs and little feet kicking in bath water. Spit-up and diaper disasters, the constant tumble of laundry and tiny fingers wrapping around yours.

I’m writing this after “rising” around 3 a.m. with a fussy man who repeatedly wanted his pacifier, the one he can’t actually keep in his mouth, so perhaps this isn’t the best time to reflect lovingly upon my babe . . . but you know what? I’m completely ready for work almost two hours before I need to be there, and seem to be too dead to the world to even contemplate writing after I get home from writing at work.

So.

Here we are.

And here he is.

Week 12 (7)

Okay . . . that face makes me feel better.

Much better, honestly.

Three months into motherhood, I do feel like we’re settling in and getting adjusted to the newest member of our family — even if Spencer and I are chronically exhausted and zombie-like by Fridays. I went back to work on June 15, and developing that “new normal” around our dual work schedules has been challenging — but doable. We’re making it work.

It feels good to be back in a groove at the job I’ve had since college, though much has been changing around our office. It’s comforting to return to my normal workload and face familiar challenges, however, and getting back to writing my column has been a good way to process what I’m experiencing as a new mom. Reader feedback has been encouraging, and I’m grateful to know I’m not alone.

In many ways, it’s just a relief to feel like a “regular mom” instead of a “preemie mom” or, even harder, a “NICU mom.” I’ve never worn a title so anxiously in my life. Having Oliver home, healthy and growing has soothed my worried soul. Even in my most exhausted moments (and there are many), I can’t help but remember how lucky we are . . . and how grateful. Things could have gone differently, but they didn’t. We are blessed.

There are times I feel like I have everything together and have mastered this mama thing, and other times I feel frazzled and overwhelmed by absolutely everything. I cried last Monday for the first time since he came home, just feeling so worn out by life in general that something inside me cracked and splintered. I was so tired. I sobbed for a half hour, actually — tears I didn’t see coming, which meant they really needed to get out.

But then I took a deep breath, mopped my face with endless tissues, hugged my husband . . . and got up to help put the dinner leftovers away.

So it goes.

It’s not Ollie’s fault. Ollie is a sweet, innocent, hilarious little baby — and a very sweet one at that. Spence and I got our first “real” smiles on July 2 — much sooner than I expected with his prematurity! — and enjoy frequent giggles and grins these days. Oh, how they warm my heart . . . especially after one of those dark nights of the soul. You just can’t stay frustrated with that little guy.

As of last Thursday, Oliver weighs 12 pounds — and has officially tripled his birth weight of 3 pounds, 9 ounces! That number made me giddy with relief. Ollie has gotten so big so fast that his doctor took him off his special preemie formula: the one we were told he’d be on until his first birthday. He went from needing it for a year to “catch up” to being off in less than two months! I’m not going to lie: that was really exciting. He’s our chunky monkey, no doubt, and his 0-3 month clothing fits . . . for now.

In the last few weeks, Ollie has really “woken up” to the world around him. He has seemed to recognize our voices since birth, but now actively turns to listen to us and seeks me out. Eye contact and staring at our faces is a regular pastime, and he frequently kicks his arms and legs when I sing him silly little songs. (Which I do — all the time.) Bright lights — from the TV, the iPad — always intrigue him, too.

He takes about 4 ounces at a feed, give or take, and eats at times that have become increasingly erratic! This little man likes to chow down. His NICU nurses had him on an every-three-hours schedule, which is when Spence and I could come help with his cares, and we were able to maintain that . . . for a while. Now? Well, he’s basically fed on demand. And demand is frequent. His doctor seems to think this is okay, but we’ll revisit that with her in a few weeks.

Things Ollie likes, in no particular order . . .

— Still staring at ceiling fans
— Cuddling with Mama
— Chin tickles from Daddy
— His ever-present pacifier
— Cruising in his swing
— The music of Muse, apparently

We had our first dip in the pool yesterday — and though Ollie loves baths, the chillier pool water was definitely not a hit. He looked super cute in his little swimmer outfit, though!

Ollie swims

In the month to come? Well, I’ll be turning 30 this Saturday (! more to come on that), and we’ll be celebrating many family birthdays over the next few weeks. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson will be coming for a visit, and we’re hoping to squeeze in some fun summer activities before the season vanishes like smoke.

All in all, I guess the doc was right: we are settling in, and the house is returning to “normal.”

It’s a new one . . . but a beautiful one, too.

And since 12 pounds is the magical “sleep through the night” number, let’s hope that magical moment isn’t far behind!


The self-proclaimed book elf

Books at Christmas Connection


When I was a freshman in college, my speech professor was very community-oriented. Our class was required to deliver a talk on a worthy local charity — and that assignment was a chance to flex our persuasive muscles. The goal? Convincing our classmates to help in whatever way they could. And inspiring us to lend a hand, too.

Helping others is close to my heart, and I chose an organization easily. That Christmas in 2003, I volunteered to help distribute toys to needy families in Southern Maryland. The gratitude, spirit of giving and generosity were so inspiring — and it was an unforgettable experience.

I’ve always wanted to go back and help again, but . . . well, in the past nine years, life has just happened. Every fall I get a letter from Christmas Connection asking if I can help by donating toys or time. Though I always chip in with merchandise, thinking that’s the fun part (shopping!), I decided it was high time to get back into the nitty-gritty of the program. A few months back, I signed up to help distribute toys on Dec. 18. My sister joined in, too.

It’s been a crazy few days, obviously, and the holidays are definitely sneaking up on me. Despite being in the Christmas spirit since October and having this event on my calendar for months, I’m struggling to get myself together since the presentation of my sparkly new accessory! But Kate and I donned our Santa hats Tuesday night and rolled over to the church to help.

A volunteer addressed the group soon after we arrived. “Thank you all for coming!” she called. “Okay — I need some volunteers to distribute books.”

Books? Say what? I hadn’t realized there were books. Recalling last time I helped, I figured there would be toys, toiletries, stockings. But books?

I was on the book table in no time. You’re shocked, I know.

While Kate shopped with individual clients, helping choose gifts for 2- and 3- and 15-year-olds, I manned the books with a teacher. It was easy to channel my bookselling days: who are you shopping for today? What types of stories do they like? Can they read on their own? Are they into chapter books? Do they like princesses or animals or history?

I felt like a self-proclaimed book elf, my jingle-bell necklace bobbing with every step I took.

We tore through some books on Tuesday, let me tell you. Two hours passed in the blink of an eye. Most of the books on our massive table, pictured at top, were donated by individuals or businesses. But even the used ones were in good shape — and plenty of gems could be found. I delighted in finding perfect reads for youngsters, thinking about how the right story can unlock the imagination of a child. In the overflowing stacks were books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, R.L. Stine. I found Goosebumps, Ramona and Beezus, Black Beauty.

“Did you read this when you were little?” I asked, over and over again. The parents’ delighted smiles were the constant response.

Many smiled widely, gently taking my offerings. Four books per child — and some moms and dads could barely narrow down their stacks. While just a few people bypassed the books completely, nearly everyone devoted time to choosing just the right reads. And they took my recommendations seriously.

“My son loves history. He reads so well — really well. Do you have anything on American history?”

“Do you have any dictionaries?”

“Have you seen an atlas? Or anything on the presidents?”

“What would you recommend for a 13-year-old boy who loves adventure?”

The boys were the toughest — but I love a challenge. I’m happy to say no one left empty-handed — and I know every novel will land with the right person.

Any stereotype regarding parents who turn to charity to supply their kids with Christmas gifts could be dismissed after spending just ten minutes at a program like this. While there will always be folks taking advantage of the system, that’s never been my personal experience. Everyone I met was happy, grateful and warm. The mood was festive. When we left, we felt uplifted.

And I wasn’t thinking about it as charity work. I wasn’t there because I had to be. Nothing buffs the spirit to a shine like helping others — and I was thinking about matching a child with the perfect book for him or her. So many parents delighted in telling me how much their kids love books, which surprised me — especially in this era. But there we were.

And I hope there are plenty of happy kids with the Wimpy Kid and Berenstain Bears on Christmas morning. I’m thinking about them all.


Books my future kids will read (whether they like it or NOT)

So I’m 24 years old. I spend the majority of my time with — ahem — adults, and I love them dearly . . . but let’s be frank: if I tell you I was born on a sultry July day in 1985 and you groan loudly, laughing and rolling your eyes, I’m just reminded — yet again — that I’m not yet admitted to the Married Parent Club but too old to saunter around the mall with tweens in Zac Efron tees and Ed Hardy shirts (um, do kids still wear Ed Hardy? And who is Ed Hardy?).

Me, the Happy Reader (and Pretend Napper), circa 2003

Me, the Happy Reader (and Pretend Napper), circa 2003

Yes, I’m in my twenties — and single in my twenties. While friends are getting engaged and starting their families, I’m still up late gabbing with my sister, shopping to my heart’s content and generally causing independent, self-reliant mayhem. I’m happy with my life, don’t get me wrong — and this isn’t a post about how desperately I’m ready to “move on to the next phase.” It’s just that I’ve been giving some thought to, of all things, my future children — and how I don’t want them to live in a world bereft of Disney classics like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty & The Beast” and “Aladdin.” Seriously, kids these days? I mean, what with their cell phones and iPods and laptops and digitized everything? It just makes me wonder about what’s to become of Mini Meg — and what sort of entertainment will exist for her. ‘Cause Lord knows no six-year-old of mine will be texting at the dinner table!

Which brings me to books. (Are you with me? Stop snickering — I needed to give you some background, all right?) When I’m browsing at a bookstore, running my fingers along the spines of children’s and young adult paperbacks, I’m frequently reminded of all the books I loved as a kid — and have started making mental note of all the books I want my children to read someday. When they’ll arrive and become literate is a giant Meg Mystery, but I’m hopeful that when they first open their little adorable eyes, it’ll be to a very well-stocked library!

I haven’t yet purchased any of these, so don’t freak out. I’m just beginning to cull them all in one place so when The Day finally arrives, I’ll know I’m bringing up some cute little book nerds . . . just like yours truly. (Emphasis on the cute, let’s be honest.)

And if they don’t like my selections? I’ll whip out a tactic my mom and dad used when I was, um, reluctant to practice piano as a kid — I’ll set a cooking timer. Thirty minutes of practicing — or reading — before I could get up and go about my general business of pestering my sister, watching TV or obsessing over the Weather Channel (yes, the Weather Channel, friends). “Think you’re getting up without finishing that chapter, little Johnny? What does Mommy’s clock say? Hmm, right — I thought not.”

Clearly, I’m already in the running for Future Parent Of The Year. I’ll let you know where you can cast your vote as soon as I find a contest I can enter!



Some Books Meg’s Kids Will Read

(Or They’ll Be In Time Out For-ev-er)


very_hungry_caterpillar The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

OK, so I don’t really imagine Mini Meg putting up a fight about reading this one . . . because what’s not to like? Carle’s classic tale of “science and gluttony” (nicely said, Amazon) has sold more than 12 million copies since its publication decades ago. I remember loving the colorful illustrations as a kid, and the transformation from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly was a fun, powerful thing to behold as a child.


tiggy_and_the_babysitter Tiggy and the Babysitter by Happy Endings Books

I’m not going to lie — I got a little verklempt when the cover of this one appeared on Amazon! I read (and loved) this story of why babysitters aren’t scary — not that I should have ever been scared of babysitters, anyway (mine were always my lovely grandparents!). A little part of my soul died when I realized Tiggy is out of print, but I’m happy to report I still have my (battered) hardcover, straight out of 1987, tucked away on a dusty bookshelf somewhere. Now nobody touch it!


giving_tree The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

What do you mean, this book was published more than 40 years ago? Silverstein’s tale of the friendship between a boy and a tree is timeless and touching — and one of the first times I got a realistic portrayal of unselfish love as a kid. I remember unwrapping the copy given to me by my grandmother and running my fingers carefully over the green cover, even poking that little red apple! I still have my hardcover, so thankfully Mini Meg will get to peruse my very copy! I’ll add it to the stack with Tiggy.


bunniculaBunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
by Deborah & James Howe

So when I was growing up, the “vampire” we were all obsessed with reading about didn’t have the initials E.C. — and ours was considerably smaller. And fuzzier! The Bunnicula books were beloved in our school library; we all took turns reading about the misadventures of Harold the dog and Chester the cat, who are forced to welcome a new bunny into their home after the Monroe family discovers him at a showing of “Dracula.” Harold seems to be the only one to realize the rabbit’s evil tendencies, and I remember the books being both hilarious and creepy.


berenstain_bears_trick The Berenstain Bears book series
by Stan & Jan Berenstain

Some of my fondest bookish memories as a kid involve The Berenstain Bears, that loveable family of Mama, Papa, Sister & Brother and their many, many adventures. My parents loved sharing them with Kate and me because every story had a “moral,” teaching us a lesson about sharing, family, love or health. Trick Or Treat is awesome, joining the elite ranks of The Truth and Learn About Strangers as several of my favorites. The Berenstain series is alive and well, so I’m not too worried about stockpiling the paperbacks right now. Still, I don’t want to live in a world where I don’t have Mama and Papa to help me teach my kids about junk food, another of my favorites. So maybe I better grab it when I see it!


super_fudgeSuperfudge by Judy Blume

It’s pretty much impossible to read about Farley Drexel Hatcher — a.k.a. Fudge — without falling at least a little in love with this adorable, meddlesome and Dennis the Menace-esque brother of Peter! Blume’s books were another huge hit at our elementary school, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of them at least twice. It took me a little while to find the orange cover I recognized, pictured at left — but I knew I had a winner when I spotted Fudge covering the baby with stamps! Classic!

Blume spoke at this year’s National Book Festival and, when asked by a member of the audience, explained that Fudge was based, in part, on her own son’s childhood. I thought that was adorable! And when someone asked her what Fudge would be like as an adult, the author recoiled; Fudge is, to her, perpetually small! It would be impossible to imagine him as a teen, or with a family of his own. I agree! Long live Fudge! I just hope Mini Meg doesn’t adopt any of his antics . . .


julie_wolves Julie Of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

George’s novel of Miyax/Julie, a 13-year-old Eskimo orphan, made a huge impression on me when I first read it in fifth grade. Julie Of The Wolves was one of the books I read over vacation, sprawled out on the couch under a fan, and it took no time for me to leap from the heat of another blazing Maryland summer to the cold, desolate Alaskan wilderness. A coming-of-age story of friendship, acceptance and survival, Mini Meg will probably have to hit middle school before I’ll share this one with her — because I remember the whole lonely, no-parents thing being a bit disturbing?


sarah_plain_tallSarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Unlike my sister, I was never into the Little House books; MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall was my first (and only) introduction to pioneer life as a kid, if you don’t count playing “Oregon Trail” on my dad’s old computer for hours!

The story of Sarah, who arrives from Maine to become the wife of widowed farmer Jacob, is sparse but moving and served, for me, as another great introduction to unconditional love. Caleb and Anna, Jacob’s children, could have served as stand-ins for any one of the other youngsters who read the book in my fourth grade class. I remember our unanimous stamp of approval!

One of the Cheerleader Girls

Apparently, not me. Photo by Richelle Antipolo

Apparently, not me. Photo by Richelle Antipolo

Trust kids to tell you the truth about something — and everything. Whether you’re prepared for it or not.

At a family birthday party this weekend, I chatted with Isabelle, my cousin’s four-year-old niece. Quite possibly the world’s cutest and most vivacious child, Isabelle loved putting pink lipstick all over the faces of her captivated audience and wowing us with her zippy one-liners, including “Did you know Michael Jackson has a sister?” and “God doesn’t like liars.” (I swear we didn’t provoke her!)

One of the most telling, though, had to come as we all gathered around in the backyard. Isabelle was swinging with my sister and me while her aunt — my cousin Ciara — sat nearby. After putting a full face of makeup on Katie and I and declaring us her “Fashion Girls,” Isabelle surveyed her work carefully. After a few moments she made a face, jumped up and flew over to sit in Ciara’s lap.

“Where are you going?” I asked her, laughing at her suddenly-smug expression from across the yard. “Aren’t you a Fashion Girl?”

Isabelle wrinkled her little nose at me, her whole face collapsing in disdain. Ciara looked over at us, bemused, as Isabelle tossed her long ponytail over her shoulder. “Um, we’re the Cheerleader Girls,” Isabelle then announced. “And you’re not.”

Kate’s eyebrows shot straight up as she laughed, her face just as shocked as mine. “What do you mean, not a Cheerleader Girl?” she asked Isabelle, who just grinned devilishly (and adorably, I have to say).

I could feel my whole stomach trembling with laughter, remembering my high school days that were filled with just about anything but cheerleading. I was a straight theatre geek, actress in all the school plays and editor of the school newspaper. I spent my time in the dark recesses of the school auditorium, learning lines and rehearsing and playing around with friends. My long hair has been, since the dawn of time, a bit unkempt . . . mostly because no contraption or amount of hair product can make it look the way I want. When you get to know me, I’m a little loud and bossy — definitely not one to float along with the crowd. In the literary world of Megan McCafferty, I fancy myself much more a Jessica Darling than, say, a Sara D’Abruzzi or Manda Powers. And I was always good with that.

But how is that even a four-year-old knows I’m not “one of them” — not a Cheerleader Girl?

Despite the fact that Isabelle and I continued to play and she did eventually come to the Fashion Girls, there was a sudden and crisp division between us that even my “Fashionable” status couldn’t save. Just like the summer I turned fourteen and stepped into the halls as a newly-minted high school freshman, I was standing in one clique looking out once again.

I guess high school really doesn’t end — even before you get there.