That indefinable coolness

PastedGraphic-2Yesterday was the talent show at my kids elementary school and my son did a little Tae Kwon Do routine and broke a board with his kick. It was tons of fun. (With a little bit of drama mixed in when he experiences his first bit of stage fright.) Though I volunteer at the kid’s school a little bit, I don’t often get the full depth and breadth of the elementary school experience the way I did by watching the talent show.

Here’s what struck me watching the talent show: some kids are cool and others just aren’t.

I know. Brilliant observation, right? That’s me. Genius at large.

But I found myself fascinated trying to figure out the difference between the cool kids and the not. For the record, I was never one of the cool kids. I was always too much in my own head. For too long I was totally unaware that there were cool kids. And then I was trying too desperately to be like them and failing. My daughter, who is nine, will suffer the same fate. I can see it happening already. I’m okay with it, I think. If my daughter was cool and super popular, what would I do with that? Would I know how to be the mother of a cool kid? I don’t think so. My son has a shot at it, I think. It seems to me that there are some parents who are very invested in whether or not their kids are cool. As for me, I’m very invested in not caring about it either way.

However, I am fascinated by watching it. Trying to figure it out. I guess it’s the YA writer in me–still trying to learn the rules of high school. Trying to study “cool” like I’m some sort of anthropologist. So, watching the talent, I was inexplicably aware of which kids have “it” and which don’t. And, furthermore, trying to figure out what “it” even is.

Here’s what I’ve decided: for boys, it has something to do with being tall. And coordinated. And probably tough. For girls, it has something to do with understanding the rules. With knowing how to manipulate and control other people, both girls and boys. With having power over other people. And I guess that makes sense–from and evolutionary stand point, I mean. Despite ten thousand years of civilization, we are all still tribal creatures, high school more so than any other time in our lives. And in the ancient tribe, the men who were tough in battle and best able to defend the tribe were the most valuable. The most cool. And the woman who were able to keep everyone else in line were equally valuable.

How I Got Into CollegeOf course, the problem is, we no longer live in tribes. So we must simultaneously prepare are children to survive in the tribe of high school and then to evolve to succeed in the (hopefully) more civilized world beyond school. In the end, what I’d most like my children to realize is that the “cool” you are forever chasing in high school fades away in the world beyond. Many of the most interesting, successful people I know were geeky rejects in high school, just like I was. On the other hand, I have good friends now that I have no idea what their social status was in school. They may have been the popular kids. They may have been the losers. It just doesn’t matter any more. One of my favorite movies from the early ’90’s was called How I Got into College. I’m guessing no one remembers it, because I think only twenty-three people ever saw it. But here’s my favorite line: “College is like a federal protection and relocation program for high school students.”


822 Grams

I’ve touched on this a little in a few blogs, but I’ve never dedicated a blog to the topic, not until now. Today. Six years later.

My memories are sketchy. They come and go like images from a long ago slide show. Some are starker than others, they play over and over, while others surface only every now and then. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday, other times like another life, another person, a story I read long ago.

I remember the day we got the test results back, a strong HCG reading. Very strong actually. And the follow-up test results, an HCG number that way more than doubled. A good sign…but also a possible indicator of twins, or more.

I remember stalling on scheduling the sonogram, because I was so terrified of what it might show. Eventually, my nurse called me asking me to come in…

I remember the relief of seeing only one baby, and one very strong heartbeat. I remember the daily injections, a blood thinner and progesterone.

I remember deciding with my husband not to tell anyone, not until we were past twelve weeks, just to be sure. Just to be safe. We’d been down that road before, and getting everyone’s hopes up again was something we didn’t want to do.

I remember the 12-week sonogram, and the 15-week sonogram, showing a strong healthy boy. But still we held quiet.

I remember around 16 weeks our little girl, 4 at the time, coming downstairs in the middle of the night and climbing into bed with us, sleepily telling us how happy she was that her twin brother, who’d died at 19 weeks while still in the womb with her, was finally coming to be part of our family. We had not said a word to her yet about the pregnancy.

I remember the phone call from a friend—a friend who knows things. She was calling to talk to me about the baby, to tell me that he had a marvelous sense of humor and to warn me that he was coming early…but that he would be okay. I had not yet told her of the pregnancy.

I remember the appointment, so, so vividly. The doctor, a perinatologist, the same one who’d performed the sonogram that revealed our daughter’s twin brother had passed away half way during the pregnancy. He was a youngish man, around our age. Blond. I remember the way he looked at me that first time, the uncomfortable sympathy in his eyes. I remember seeing that again, and I remember the instant sheet of cold that slipped through my body. We were eighteen weeks along, but our baby’s growth had slowed…just like the twin we lost, and the baby girl before him. Tests were inconclusive. No one knew why he was slowing, only that he was…and chances of a viable pregnancy were low.

I remember having to tell the family about the pregnancy—and the complication—all in one numbing conversation.

I remember going from specialist to specialist, each of them with a different opinion. Downs was discussed and dismissed. A heart condition ruled out.

I remember the kindly older Spanish doctor who finally seemed to comprehend what was going on. I remember seeing him several times a week for him to measure blood flow through my umbilical cord. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my husband each time, terrified of what the coming sonogram might show.

I remember touring the NICU at 22 weeks…just in case. Just to be ready. I remember meeting with the neonatologist. I remember all the things he told us, all the things that can go wrong with preemie babies.

I remember going on bedrest, my mother and my mother-in-law taking turns caring for me and the household, for my husband, my daughter. I remember all the food that got piled into me, in the hopes that if I kept growing, our baby boy would grow as well.

I remember waking up one morning and about an hour later realizing my left eye wouldn’t close. I remember looking into the mirror and realizing it was the entire left side of my face, frozen in Bell’s Palsy.

I remember being in the hospital for almost four weeks, so the medical staff could keep a closer eye on me. I remember the days and nights in the bed, with too much time alone with my thoughts. I remember the loneliness, the fear, the hospital food…and three times/day stress tests to monitor our little boy’s heart.

I remember the day of my little girl’s dance recital, my wonderful neighbor who dressed her and did her make-up, who brought her to me. I remember seeing two little four year olds giggling and dancing in the hospital room.

I remember the morning of Friday, May 30, going to see the kindly older Spanish doctor for a routine sonogram that turned out to be anything but. I remember him telling me “today was the day”….because he’d seen something he didn’t like. I remember calling my husband, in a meeting at work. And my mother, who ran for her car and started the long drive from Louisiana.

I remember the nurse—the amazing, wonderful, kind, dedicated nurse—who decided to put the belts on me until they took me down to L&D, just in case. I remember watching the readout…and seeing my baby’s heart-rate growing weaker. I remember the nurse rushing in, my husband by my side, the gurney race down to L&D. I remember my doctor walking in from lunch…the second he realized what was going on. I remember the drink in his hand, a yellow fast food cup a straw coming out the top. I remember him tossing it on a counter and coming to me.

I remember the race to the operating room, how fast everyone was moving, how efficient, how wordlessly. I remember my doctor’s nurse coming in and taking my hand, and promising me she wouldn’t let go. I remember the gas mask coming down on my face. And I remember the voice, right as I was going under, another nurse, her words: He’s crashing.

I remember coming to sometime later, but not opening my eyes, not wanting to, not until I knew what I was waking up to. I remember lying there with my eyes closed, drifting, listening to various murmurs. Finally I remember hearing my sister say, “Isn’t he beautiful?” and then I opened my eyes.

I remember the shock of hearing 1 lb, 13 oz, of being wheeled on the gurney to the NICU, of seeing him for the first time, my little boy, my baby, so tiny and reddish purple, his skin stretched over his skeleton like parchment, his eyes darting around the brightness in confusion and fear. I remember that it hurt to look at him. I remember that I was not allowed to touch him, because just that, my touch, might have been too much for his immature nervous (and immune) system.


I remember awaking that night in a panic attack, but having just had a C-section, being barely able to move. I remember throwing things across the hospital room to wake my husband up, so he could go down to the NICU and check on our little boy. I remember him being gone for a long, long time, and my imagination doing cruel, cruel things.

After that, it all blurs, the days and nights and weeks and months. He was small and fragile but healthy. He needed time to grow. For his body to gain strength and learn how to function on its own. I remember all the monitors, new terms like micropreemie and NEC and Brady, Pulse Ox and brain bleeds. (And yeah…wimpy white boys.) I remember countless hours sitting by his isolette, kangarooing him for the first time, calling the hospital all hours of the night for status updates and hanging onto every single gram he gained—or lost. I remember the miracle workers, the doctors and nurses who cared for him.


I remember all that, and today, six years later, I celebrate. I celebrate milestones big and small. I celebrate hope and faith and love, the power of miracles. I celebrate smiles and laughter and mischievousness, a relentless thirst for life and an unstoppable spirit. Today I celebrate my little guy.

Look out world, he’s got big plans for you.

Jack then now









Four-legged Family Members

addi and me minnie ears

I didn’t grow up with pets. We were a military family who moved a lot, so having pets wasn’t too conducive to our lifestyle.

Years later, when I started a family of my own, we eventually had three dogs—two that someone brought home (without giving me a heads up beforehand) and one that we got as a puppy. The first two unfortunately both died of natural causes after several years. Talk about traumatic experiences!

Not having grown up with pets I was nervous with our first two dogs—one a golden retriever and the other a black lab. They were fully-grown when they came to our house, so even though they were both really well behaved, I was still a bit skittish if they barked. If they had something in their mouth that they shouldn’t I was the last person willing to try to take it away.

But with our third dog, I’m completely different and I know exactly why.

Addi came to us as a puppy.

Addi puppy

I researched the right breeder, speaking with other owners who’d used the same person. We visited the breeder to meet the mom and dad dogs, and eventually we picked Addi out of the litter. In preparation for her arrival I read countless books about owning and training a puppy. I bought Cesar Milan DVDs, then watched and re-watched them.

The day we brought Addi home, when she whimpered in her kennel at bedtime, I took my pillow downstairs, opened the kennel door, put my pillow halfway inside and slept on the floor with Addi resting on my pillow near my head. I did this for a couple of days, then closed the kennel door and slept in front of it so she could still see me. Little by little I moved further and further away until I was back in my bed and she was sleeping comfortably in her kennel on her own.

It’s a similar technique I used when my oldest was two and feeling afraid of sleeping alone in her new bed. It worked then, and it worked 16 years later when I brought Addi home.

Now Addi’s about 20 times the size she was when she joined our family. She’s gone from a 10 pound puppy to a 70 pound dog.

addi with toy

Despite her size, I still think of her as one of my “babies”—if she’s got something dangerous in her mouth, you can bet I’m sticking my fingers inside to get it out. If she needs some attention, I’m on the floor with her and she’s “sitting” on my lap.

When my youngest daughter went off to college last year and I sat in my room teary, Addi came in to comfort me. It’s like she knew I needed a “hug.”

So, while maybe I’m not an “animal lover” yet because it just wasn’t part of my lifestyle for so many years, I can honestly say I now understand how and why people treat their pets like they’re family members. Addi is that to me. She was one of my babies. I’ve “raised” her.

I jokingly say she’s the child that doesn’t talk back to me and who is always eager for my hugs and attention. No moody adolescent years with this one! ☺

How about you guys? Does your family have a pet—a four-legged family member? We always share stories about our kids, how about stories about the pets that help make up our family? ☺

addi at beach

Danger Everywhere

It’s in the news again. Another investigation has resulted in charges against some 70 individuals allegedly involved in creating and distributing child pornography. That’s wonderful news—because those sick people have been caught. Thank you, THANK YOU, to those investigators for putting those monsters masquerading as humans away. But ugh…it’s also bad news because the lives of their child victims will never be the same. And once again, we’re reminded that child predators walk among us.

Do you read those articles? I do. I hate clicking on the link, and the details make me sick but I feel the need to read the details, and if possible, to see the faces of the guilty. As a mom, I feel like it’s something I have to do. I want to know who they are and how they got close to those poor kids they hurt so badly, so as a mom, I can do my best to make sure my child doesn’t ever become a victim. I want to see their faces because I know they won’t look like “perverts”, but they’ll look like “normal” people I see every day at the grocery store and at the swimming pool and the mall, and I want to remind myself of that.

When I was twelve, my Army dad got a new assignment and we moved to Central America. After a few weeks in the base Guest House, we finally got our quarters and moved in. I was upstairs, going into my new room to start unpacking boxes when one of the movers came out of another room. He picked me up off the ground in a sweaty embrace and gave me a big sloppy kiss right on the mouth. I wriggled free and hightailed it downstairs to where my mom was unpacking dishes in the kitchen, and stayed within two feet of her for the rest of the day, until the movers were gone. I didn’t tell her about that nasty old guy kissing me because I didn’t want anyone to make a big, unpleasant “deal” about it. I was so lucky. That’s all that happened. I feel so very fortunate that the adults in my past were trustworthy.

But I have friends whose childhood memories have horrible, dark shadows in them. Days and moments they’ll never forget because they were so traumatic. I don’t want my kids to ever have to suffer that. I have a 12 year old and a 16 year old, and we’ve had some very frank conversations that I hope will keep them safe every day, at school, at church activities, and anywhere else they may go. And if they have a problem I truly think they’ll tell me right away, unlike my twelve year old self who just kept quiet.

Still, as a parent, when it comes to my kids I tend to look at the world with a certain level of suspicion and mistrust. One example, my daughter has a good friend who lives down the street, but I don’t know the parents well. They’ve invited her to go to an uncle’s surprise birthday party this weekend—one of those all day and into the night parties where there will be swimming and food and fun. My first thought? Suspicion. A grown up uncle? So there will be adults there, in addition to kids? What if there’s a BAD PERSON there, in proximity to my daughter? I know my neighbors love their kids, but will they watch over mine as much as I would if I were there? So…I haven’t given an answer yet.

Am I wrong? Should I trust more? I don’t want to keep my kids from having fun and making great memories. Especially at this age, where they are both starting to enjoy some independence. How do we as parents let our kids enjoy the world and all it has to offer, while protecting them?

The Birthday Brat

IMG_1106My daughter turns nine today!

Like all moms, on every child’s birthday, I woke up thinking, “How is it her birthday again? I can’t believe how fast the last year’s gone by!”

I mean, that is what we all think, right?

In our house, we have the normal cadre of traditions: special meals, birthday songs, yummy cake. All the normal stuff. One year I even made a Barbie cake! That was so much fun!

But for the past, oh, maybe four years, we’ve had another birthday tradition: bratty behavior.

DSC_0031For the week or two lead up to her birthday, my daughter would be a total pill. Sometimes demanding. Sometimes weepy. Sometimes just … well, bratty. More temper tantrums. More energy. More, more, more! And the, usually a day or two after the big day, she’d calm down and be her normal self again.

Maybe it was just the excitement leading up to her birthday, but my gut said something else was going on. That it wasn’t only excitement. That is was trepidation as well. Maybe fear of change. I’m not really sure, but I do know this: the gradual transition from baby to child to teen to adult is a hard one. The constant uncertainty–what is next? What is coming? What will be expected of me? It must be very unsettling for a child. And although that change is gradual, birthdays are symbolic. They seems so big. Like New Years, they’re a time of joy, but of fear and sorrow also.

Though I’ve always been frustrated when the Birthday Brat shows up at our house, I try to understand and be gentle with her.

How do your kids handle birthdays? Does the Birthday Brat show up at your house? If she/he does, how do you handle it?


Emily McKay–a.k.a. the Hippy Chick Mom–loves to bake, read, and watch TV. Some times she even gets writing done.




When Our Kids are Sick

sick child

Being a mom is tough. I think many of our blog posts have established that point fairly well. ☺

Being a mom with a sick child can be a little tougher than normal. Even when that kid is a big kid, home from college for a few weeks in the summer.

Case in point, I’ve got a college-aged baby who’s about to have her tonsils removed tomorrow. Yes, it’s a relatively routine outpatient surgery, but it still makes me nervous. I still worry about what could go wrong—all while I’m slapping a peppy smile on my face and spouting every positive mantra I can think of so I don’t make my kid nervous, too.

I’m googling “tonsillectomy” and “post-tonsillectomy recovery tips” in the hopes that I’ll be prepared for whatever comes. Doing my best to make her recovery as painless and comfortable as possible. Although, the doc has already warned us that “this is the most painful procedure you’ll ever have.” Naturally, I wanted to ask how it compared to childbirth, but why scare my child even more? ☺

So, today my question for all you readers out there is: have you or your child had a tonsillectomy? If so, any suggestions on recovery? Any tips for a mom who’s a worrywart?

Moms, You Matter

I don’t feel all that confident that I’m a great mom. Sometimes Princess Galen says something that makes me doubt myself. Sometimes my husband says something. Sometimes everyone seems to think I’m doing wonderfully, but inside I feel like I should be doing X or Y. Moms, we have to stop being so hard on ourselves.  This Mother’s Day, try to think about all the things you do RIGHT. That’s my homework too.

This video is three minutes. I promise it’s worth the time it will take you to watch.