The kids are growing up…

I knew it was coming. As the days passed, and the kids grew older, I knew this time was coming. One day, I would no longer be required to attend parties or school events.

It starts in elementary school. In the beginning, you go with your kid to birthday parties and school activities. You relish going on field trips. Your child smiles when he sees you at the school. Or she gladly holds your hand as you walk through the zoo.

But then about second or third grade, you begin to just drop your child off at birthday parties. No longer do you have to stand awkwardly with the other parents as you watch the party games. Or if you are lucky you know some of the other parents and your time passes quickly. This stops at about the age of 7 or 8. (Maybe earlier or later depending on your child or perhaps where you live.)

During soccer practice or gymnastics, you sat through the class/practice – though sometimes that was because the practice was not long enough to leave, or it was too far to return home during that short of a time.

Throughout the elementary-school years, I have attended many after-school events with the kids from science night to art shows or choir performances. And my kids typically hung out with me at these events though sometimes as they grew older, they would venture off with friends for some or perhaps the whole time.

And then, this past year, Jase began going to middle school. There have been fewer events there, but he and I still braved an absurdly cold day in April to attend the History Fair together. But many of the other students there were with their friends and not their parents. The other parents I saw also had sixth graders. So I know what is coming…next year, I may not be coming with him at all.

And then just a few weeks later, it happened. There was a comic con at his school. Jase invited his sister to go with him. I left it up to him if he wanted me to come in with them or to just drop them off at the front door of the school. Yep, you guessed it. I wasn’t wanted. Oh, my fourth-grader wanted me to go, and in all honestly, Jase probably wouldn’t have minded.

Instead, I dropped them off at the middle school and picked them up an hour later. Jase met up with friends who are all use to Lexie joining them. (She has been tagging along since she was 4.) It felt a little odd. But now as I write this, I realize it has been coming.

For a while now, we have let the kids stay home for short times by themselves. No longer do I have to load them in the car for a quick trip to the store or to pick up a prescription. It was great to be able to run a few errands without listening to them complaining about going.

Yes, their independence is growing, and as it does, their dependence on me has lessened. A part of me is sad. Yet another part of me knew this was coming and recognizes that this is the way it has to be.


Puppy Gypsy joins our family

Katie Bell

February 20th was a sad day for our family. Katie Bell, our two-and-a-half-year-old Cocker Spaniel, had to be put to sleep after losing the mobility in her back legs due to a freak accident. It was the kids first experience with the death of a pet. But even as we were morning the loss of our crazy dog, I knew at some point we would be getting another puppy.

No puppy could of course take the place of Katie Bell. But we have a lot of love to give, and there was our other Cocker Spaniel, Sadie Rose, to consider. She would now be alone.

So, I knew we would be getting a puppy at some point. But I didn’t know when the kids would be ready. Katie Bell’s death had been hard on my son. The news came as a total shock to him, and he was upset that he never got to say goodbye.

The weeks after her death I also knew were not the right time as the kids and I had a Spring Break trip to Albuquerque planned. Even though my husband would be home, he had some late work nights planned and wouldn’t have the time for a new puppy.

Gypsy on the car ride home

When we returned from our trip, four weeks after we lost Katie Bell, we began to look even as my son, Jase, was still hesitant about getting a new dog. We knew we wanted another Cocker Spaniel and was unsure how long it would take us to find one.  We found someone who had five blonde Cocker Spaniel pups. With Jase’s approval, we took one of the girls home. (I mean seriously, who can resist a cute puppy face.)

Sadie Rose, who had begun to enjoy being an only dog, wasn’t too thrilled with the new pup who wanted to snuggle with her or tried to play with her. But a week later, the two began to settle in. And the puppy, who we named Gypsy, quickly began fitting in with the rest of the family. She approached the cats with caution and they quickly taught her they were in charge.

The kids were thrilled to have an adorable puppy to play with and entertain them with her cute antics. There were a few sad moments as they compared her with Katie Bell or the inadvertently called her by Katie Bell’s name. (Heck, I still do that on occasion even after she has been here 6 weeks.)

I think one of the best things is that the seven-week-old puppy that came home with us was pretty much already housebroken. As soon as she learned to use the pet door, we had very few accidents (and those we did have were when we had her upstairs and she didn’t know how to walk down the stairs yet.)

So, six weeks after we got her, I have to say Gypsy is settling in well. She is keeping Sadie Rose company and forcing her to be more active. And more importantly, she is easing the kids’ heartache with her cute antics and puppy licks.

Guitar lessons for my daughter

Two Christmases ago, Lexie asked for a guitar. Every once and a while, she would pull it out and strum the strings, but she never learned to play it. Then earlier this year, she became determined to take guitar lessons.

You know with kids you can never be sure how dedicated they are. They get an idea in their head and are gung-ho about it in the moment but once lessons and practice start, their enthusiasm wanes.

About this time, our school district sent out a list of classes for adults and students. They were offering a 6-week beginners guitar class for kids 6 to 17.  The description said by the end of the course, the students would be able to play a song. Lexie was all for taking this class so I signed her up.

The guitar Lexie had received for Christmas was purple with pink hearts. It was a half-size guitar which is good for kids up to about 8. Classes started a few weeks before Lexie turned 10. While she was excited to take her guitar to the first class, afterwards she declared the guitar was too small for her.

Measuring it, the guitar was a little small for her, but I wasn’t convinced she needed a new one. She practiced for a week and then back to class. Afterwards, it was the same complaint. She thought her guitar was too small. I also think she didn’t like that it looked different from the other kids’ guitars. But a new guitar is quite an investment for a good one. And with two lessons under her belt and only four more classes to go, we weren’t sure we should make this sort of investment when we didn’t know if she would want to continue lessons.

After a weekend of debating it, we decided to get her a new guitar. The new one was a Yamaha ¾ guitar that the salesperson at music store said was popular for beginners. Lexie was excited about the new guitar and happily went to the next class.

But it was about this time that Lexie declared that the class was getting harder. They were working on playing “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy. Ah, it was just as I feared. Just as the class got harder, and we required her to practice, Lexie was becoming less enthusiastic about the new guitar.

But being a kid, this attitude could change at any time. Just last week she was talking about playing the guitar in the school talent show and now she is thinking of waiting until she is older to continue lessons. Sigh. There is just no telling what she will end up doing but until then, she has just two more lessons left. At least at the end of it, she will be able to play one song on her new guitar.



Teaching my son to swallow pills

Some children learn to swallow pills early while some teenagers and even some adults can’t do it. Lexie learned almost two years ago when she was 8 but that was out of necessity. She takes daily medication for her allergies and for her attention deficit disorder (ADD). For the first year, we did open her capsules for her ADD and put the medicine in yogurt, but this method didn’t work when away from home or on vacation, so when she stayed overnight with her Nana, my mother-in-law taught her to swallow the capsules.

Twelve-year-old Jase, on the other hand, doesn’t need daily medication and is rarely sick. Of course, their pediatrician never asks if they can swallow pills and usually prescribes liquid medication on the rare occasion they need something. But Jase hates taking liquid meds and even balks at chewable medicine so swallowing pills would open a wide range of medication he can take when necessary. (Some medicine is meant to swallowed as a whole and should not be crushed or chewed or doesn’t come in a liquid version.)

And while I do think swallowing pills is important, it isn’t something we have thought about teaching him before now.

A quick search on the internet showed that any child who can swallow normal chunky textured food such as oatmeal or applesauce can swallow a pill. No, this doesn’t mean your toddler should be swallowing pills, but most school age kids (say age 6 or 7) are ready to swallow a pill.

Basic Steps to Teaching a Child to Swallow a Pill

  • Use cake decoration sprinkles or candies such as mini-M&Ms or Nerds or small mints like Tic Tacs as your “pills.” Start small and work up to bigger ones.
  • Place the “pill” in the middle of the tongue.
  • Drink water.

(You can have your child look up at the ceiling before swallowing a pill as pills are denser than the water and should sink down first. With a capsule – which floats – you do the opposite and have your child look down. The capsule should float to the back of the mouth and be easier to swallow.)

Yes, it should be that simple. Online tips suggest having your child drink again if the pill doesn’t go down with the first swallow. You then continue with the same size pill to boost confidence before gradually increasing the size of the pill.

With Jase, this didn’t help. He couldn’t swallow even the smallest pill. We didn’t know if this had anything to do with his gag reflex (which can delay learning to swallow a pill) or if the problem was all in his head. We expected it was the latter one and that he just couldn’t get pass the swallowing something without chewing first. We even tried hiding the “pill” in some yogurt (since he doesn’t like applesauce that was the suggested on the internet). Nope. Still didn’t work.

Another online suggestion was to wait until they have already chewed something like a cookie and then stick the pill in and swallow. But with the problem being in his head, we didn’t try this one.

Finally, after moving to the smallest “pill” (grape Nerds), Jase was able to swallow one. And then we tried the largest Nerd in the box. After that we went to gummy bears cut up into small pieces figuring the soft pieces would be easier than a hard “pill.”

Soon he progressed up to the small M&M but had problems with the slightly bigger and capsule-shaped Tic Tacs. The good news is that he became good enough at the smaller pills that when he caught a cold he took small-Sudafed sized pills.

And I guess that is the point of taking the time to teach your child to swallow pills now before it becomes medically necessary because if you wait until they “must” take pills you and your child will most likely become frustrated.

For more information and tips on teaching pill swallowing, check out this website.

Being named Alexa in a world being taken over by Amazon’s Alexa

In the beginning of 2015, the Amazon Echo joined our family. The digital assistant for this smart home device is named Alexa. The same name as my daughter. So, of course, we changed the “wake word” (the word to activate the digital assistant) to ‘Echo’ on our device to avoid confusion. Later we got an Echo Show and changed its “wake word” to ‘Amazon.’ (Recently, Amazon also offered the word ‘computer’ as a possible “wake word,” but at this point you must choose one of their pre-selected wake words.)

In the three years since we got our Echo, more and more other families have gotten their own Amazon Echoes, and they have not needed to change the digital assistant’s name from Alexa. This means the kids in these families think it is funny to try to give my daughter commands as if she is their personal assistant.

“Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes,” one kid recently kept repeating to her.

“Alexa, what is the weather like today,” another kid quipped.

And she isn’t the only one finding this frustrating. Thousands of other people named Alexa are in the same boat. I really wish Amazon had thought through the name more before deciding upon it.

It has been reported that the name was inspired by the ancient Egyptian Library of Alexandria. Supposedly, the word’s hard ‘X’ consonant was easy for the speech recognition algorithms to identify.

That is all well and good for them, but if they had taken a few minutes and checked the lists of popular girl names they would have seen that Alexa has been no lower than #87 in the 14 previous years before their release of their device.

Image result for alexa nameIn the year, my daughter was born, the name was #50 of the most popular girls’ names. Alexis was #15 (which is what my husband originally suggested naming her.) In 2015, 6049 people named their daughter Alexa. (It was #32 on the most popular list that year.)

All those poor Alexas will be getting teased by people who think they are being witty. An occasional joke may be okay, but most people don’t know when to let it go. Just ask anyone named Siri, Alexa or Cortana.

A few months ago, Lexie was very upset about being teased at school. Knowing that no matter what she says this will probably be an issue for years to come, we wanted to help her find a way to deal with it. Here are some of the options we gave her:

  • Ignore the comments. If she shows no reaction, the fun will not be there and hopefully the commenter will stop. This can include walking away with her head held high.
  • Come up with a one-liner to shoot back at the person such as “How original,” said drolly. Or “Is that the best you can come up with?”
  • Pretend you can’t hear them and transform it into a joke.
  • Look bored with the teasing. Cross her arms and tap her feet as if she doesn’t have time for this.

The main thing is that she needs to not get upset or cry about it as that will only encourage the person to continue.

It wasn’t long after we talked to her about these options that she came home. But this time instead of being upset by the teasing, she was proud to say she hadn’t gotten upset. She had simply asked the kid to stop. And this time that alone worked. But I know this won’t be the last time and certainly that other kids will be more relentless in their teasing. All we can do is continue to support her and hope Amazon soon offers consumers the option to change the device’s name to anything they want instead of defaulting to Alexa.

Lightning strike causes havoc

It was a dark and stormy morning.

The sounds of the thunderstorm woke me. A glance at the clock showed it was 5 a.m. Suddenly, a bright burst of light flashed, followed by a boom that shook the house.

The kids leapt from their beds screaming. As they ran for our bedroom, the smoke detectors in the hall began emitting an ear-piercing, non-stop series of beeps. This only increased the kids’ panic.

“The house is not on fire,” my husband said as I tired to reassure them everything was okay.

No, the house wasn’t on fire. Instead, lightning struck really close to our house or possibly even hit it.

It wasn’t until later that we would realize all the damage that lightning strike did. As it was, some of the power was out in several rooms and all of the GCFI electrical outlets were tripped. To get the smoke detectors to stop, my husband had to disconnect them from the ceiling.

As the storm died down, the kids returned to their rooms. It was getting close to time for me to get up so I didn’t go back to bed. Instead, I turned on the TV to see if the morning news was covering the storm, but the satellite was out. I didn’t think much about it as it often goes out during heavy rain.

It wasn’t until I was fixing breakfast that I noticed the thermostat wasn’t working. About this time, my husband realized our internet was down.

So instead of going to work, he spent the morning calling repair men. We scheduled the satellite repairman for the next morning. (The dish on the roof and two boxes inside were destroyed.) Our internet provider determined our internet router was damaged and overnighted us another one. We called the A/C repair company and they had a technician in the area who came right over to look at the thermostat.

As we waited for him, we made a list of other damage. Our big screen TV, the garage door opener, two of our computer monitors and my husband’s 3D printer were all damaged by the power surge. Most of these items did not have surge protectors though the TV did and was still damaged.

The A/C repairman replaced the thermostat and then checked the inside unit. The circuit board was damaged. He replaced that and then realized the circuit board on the outside unit was was also fried. After replacing that one, he noted that the coolant levels were a little low and suggested we have it tested when it was warmer outside and not raining. He left and by now we had paid $3,500 in repairs.

By this time, my husband had called our house insurance company to file a claim for damages. It wasn’t until the next morning that we realized the air condition wasn’t coming on. The house thermostat said 78 for the downstairs which means the upstairs was even warmer. It was cooler outside, so we opened up the windows and waited for the repairman to return.

He inspected the rest of the system, including climbing into our attic where he noticed the copper pipe that takes the coolant from the outside unit to the inside unit was damaged. We would need the whole line replaced – at the tune of $3700. But the kicker was that they couldn’t repair it until Monday. That meant 2 days without the A/C. And yes, in Texas there is a good chance we could need the A/C in February. Here the weather can be 40 degrees one day and then 80 by the weekend. Luckily for us the temps weren’t scheduled to get that high for the next few days.

We went out and bought a new garage door opener and a new big screen TV. Another $1000 gone. My husband ordered new monitors. More money gone.

As it stands right now, we have spent $9000 on repairs and replacement items and have yet to replace the 3D printer which should be about $500. (Luckily the satellite and intent repairs cost us nothing.) And we are still finding problems. The internet keeps going off and on and a repairman is coming to check to see if the wires are damaged.

The insurance company wants the whole electrical system checked out and is willing to reimburse us the cost. We had heard that insurance companies sometimes were reluctant to pay out on what is considered a ground lightning strike but so far our insurance company seems willing to work with us. Hopefully soon everything will return back to normal.

Losing Katie Bell – the kids’ first experience with death

Last week, my kids experienced their first real loss with the death of their dog Katie Bell. Our pets our important parts of our family and Katie’s death was very unexpected and hit us hard.

If you follow my blog, you might recall a little over two years ago I wrote about our new puppy, a Cocker Spaniel, which we named Katie Bell. She was a little black ball of fluff who bounced around like her legs were on springs. Unlike our other Cocker Spaniel, Sadie Rose, Katie Bell was very vocal. She barked and growled. And while she may have been smaller than Sadie Rose, she was the clear alpha dog. She had to be first at everything – the first to eat, the first to pick a bone to chew and the first to go upstairs. It was this very desire to be first that caused her downfall.

Every morning the dogs race up the stairs to enjoy some time in our bedroom. One Sunday, Katie Bell rounded the corner on the stairs, sliding as she did so. She yelped in pain. We thought at the time that she might have pulled a muscle. She wasn’t limping but clearly in pain. We gave her a little aspirin (later we found out we shouldn’t have done this especially on an empty stomach.) She spent the day resting downstairs. But later when she got up, her gait was off and she yelped in pain.

Lexie and Katie Bell

The next morning, she wouldn’t eat and wasn’t walking correctly, so I called and immediately got an appointment with the veterinarian. He too noticed that she seemed to be favoring her back left leg and suggested an x-ray. The diagnosis what that she had some compression in her spine. There was an area between the vertebrae that was narrower than it should be indicating she had injured her spine. He had also tested her reflexes and her back legs were not responding as quickly as they should. His recommendation was to have her on bed rest and pain medication for the next two weeks.  They couldn’t give her anti-inflammatory medicine because we had given her the aspirin.

At this time she was still walking (albeit in that off-gait type way). As I carried her out of the vet’s office, there were dogs in the waiting room. Katie Bell went crazy and squirmed in my arms. I couldn’t set her down as I didn’t have her collar and leash on her. I don’t know if this incident had any factor on what happened later. Actually, there are lots of things I wonder if we could have handled differently and had the outcome change.

If we hadn’t given her the aspirin and they gave her anti-inflammatory medication, would it have helped? What if we had taken her to a veterinarian emergency room on Sunday when we thought it was just a pulled muscle? What if she hadn’t struggled in my arms as we left the vet’s office? What if we had taken her in when we first noticed she was losing the use of her legs? So many questions that I don’t think we can ever answer but I am jumping ahead of the story.

By 4 p.m., she was reluctant to walk. A few hours later, she couldn’t walk at all. We called the veterinarian the next morning and he had us take her to a critical care specialist. After some tests, they diagnosed a spinal cord injury. They would need to do an MRI to see if a disc was pressing on it or had merely hit and damaged it. If the disc was still pressing on it, they could do surgery, but there would only be a 50% chance of her getting feeling/motion back in her back legs. If surgery wasn’t an option, the chances of her walking again would be even lower.

We thought about our happy, energetic, bouncy puppy and knew that she would never be the same again. Even if by some remote chance that she did walk again, another injury could happen at any time. We truly didn’t believe she would be happy without being able to run or jump. She had been in pain all day Sunday and this morning she looked so upset about the loss of feeling in her back legs. We chose compassionate euthanasia.

We were both there, giving her loving as they administered the drugs. As hard as this decision was we knew it was the right thing to do. But of course, the hardest thing would come next – telling our children. My husband was scheduled for a meeting after work and wouldn’t be home until 9 p.m. He suggested waiting until he got home to tell them, but I would have had to answer the kids questions about where Katie Bell was when the arrived home. I decided not to hold off telling them.

I told Lexie first. I think she expected bad news. The hardest things for her were that she didn’t get to say good-bye and that it was so unfair that this happened to Katie Bell who was only 2 1/2 years old.

We picked Jase up from school and even though Lexie and I were somber, Jase didn’t pick up on our sadness like Lexie had picked up on mine when I picked her up from school. He was still bouncing around when I had to tell him. He didn’t believe me at first. To say it was a shock is an understatement. As far as he knew, Katie Bell was supposed to be on rest and the doctor thought she would get better. And here I was telling him that her injuries were too severe.

As the kids asked questions, I answered as truthfully as I could. (I had visited a few sites on pet death and kids to prepare myself.) I did tell them that we had her euthanized because they asked. I gave them space as they needed it and held them while they cried. I still feel utterly horrible that I had to take my son’s good day and crush it with devastating news. I feel I didn’t handle telling him as well as telling Lexie.

As the days have gone by, we are all sad at different times. It is hard to walk into the kitchen and not see Katie Bell’s bouncy presence or to have her lying next to me on the bed at the end of the day. But things are getting better. And talk has turned to getting another puppy so that our older Cocker Spaniel, Sadie Rose, won’t be alone. A bundle of puppy cuteness can certainly make us all feel better but will certainly never replace our Katie Bell.