Olive is 8 (months) and “When Breath Becomes Air”

On 1.28.18, our Olive Tree turned eight months old.  I’m finally getting used to saying “my daughter.”  It seems like fake news that she ever lived inside of me even though I have pictures and witnesses.  She looks like both her brothers though lately, favoring Micah more.  I wondered aloud if she resembled Oliver Platt when she pouts but Kevin got offended.

She still looks a bit like Governor Christie, just like Micah resembled Paul Giamatti as an infant.

She joined our family when The Middle was 4.5 and Firstborn was 6.5 but to think of those years without her, with just the boys, seems odd and made up.

Everyone comments on her how serious she is.  Her stare game is strong.  Her gentleness is evident too as she coos and babbles and tries to suck on her own toes.

We never had to cry her out for sleep because she only cries when it’s an emergency.  I teased Kevin for jumping up to spring her, Mr. Let’s Cry Them Out When Newborn, Oops, Is That Too Early.  He claims he is not being easy on her because she is his little girl but that once he tried to ignore her cries and she had vomited a bit so she trained him early that she means business when she cries.

She loves to pull on glasses and grab noses.  She also loves to grab her brothers’ cheeks and wants to be included in play.  She is an old soul.  Her smiles and sighs still make me want to pass out from delight.

I recently read an unforgettable memoir called “When Breath Becomes Air.”  Dr. Paul Kalanithi blessed the world with this book before he passed away from Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 37.  His book took my breath away as he was clearly brilliant and unbelievably in touch with his mortality.

Kevin, on the other hand, read a few chapters and put it down.  “How could you put it down!?  I wanted to read it in one sitting.”  I suspected he didn’t want to read it because it is just too sad.  Kevin explained that he didn’t want to read it because the dude is on another level of brilliant and he could not connect to those heights.

True, his intelligence was almost comical.  Laughably smart.  And as a neurosurgeon, his contributions to the world were quantifiable yet immeasurable.  Death does not discriminate.

I also happened to read this book when Olive was the EXACT SAME AGE as Dr. K’s own infant daughter.  Here is a message he wrote for his daughter before he passed away, before he had a chance to complete his memoir:

“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

If I may bite offa this brilliant man for a moment…

Olive, I hope we always remain as close as we are right now, as you peer into my eyes and beat my bosom as you nurse.  I know mothers and daughters are notorious for butting heads and not seeing eye to eye later, but please know that you were just a daydream of mine until God deposited you in my 39.999 year old womb.  Unlike Dr. K, I *had* known a joy like this in prior years, through your brothers, but I didn’t know that I would get to experience this again, for what must be the last time.  Please know that when your not-young mom swings you at the freezing playground, she still resists the urge to lift her mittened-hands to the heavens in gratitude and in awe of you.  (I also don’t lift my hands because I got to spot you on the baby swing.)

Olive you.  I hope I get to be around for a LONG time.  To see my Olive tree grow.

Thank you, Dr. PK, for sharing your story with us and reminding me again that every gummy, babbling, suddenly-not-sleeping-through-the-night, pudgy-cheeked, breast-pumping-at-work-during-appointed-time-slots, moment is a gift.

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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Though it seems like an odd testament to the existence of God, I can always testify to His existence and realness when I experience a palpable darkness trying to creep in.  I can feel Light and Darkness.  So, just what am I talking about?

I’m not sure if Kevin or I noticed this first but EACH time I blogged about how well we were doing during my pregnancy with Olive, how jubilant I am about this bonus baby, or how our marriage has been resuscitated after years of struggle, I would face some strange tribulation the next day.

Kevin wisely suggested that we almost anticipate it and pray specifically against it.

This was not limited to when I would blog about happy thangs instead of writing about persistent struggle and angst.  It would also occur when Kevin and I were doing exceptionally well and creating new, healthy habits.  Like a couple nights ago, Kevin and I finally had our New Year’s talk, using Pastor Rich’s Rule of Life steps (which I hope to write about, too).

We were pleased with ourselves for not automatically reaching for the remote control once the kids went to bed.  Instead, we wrote down what gives us life and what impacts our spirit negatively, in order to give ourselves some direction and motivation this new year.  We prayed for these plans and desires to take flight.  And we even had time left over to watch my new favorite show, “The Chi.”

The very next day, our family’s sacred MLK Jr. Day, another meaningful day in our household – one son named after MLK Jr. and another conceived on MLK Jr. Day 2012, I had such an emotional setback that I couldn’t believe it.  As with many setbacks, the trigger shoulda coulda woulda been manageable, but it set me off so disproportionately that I am still processing.  Details are too boring and gratuitous to use up my word count here.

So yeah, when we are doing very well, or I share about doing very well, I can feel darkness trying to deposit thoughts like, “Really though?  You guys good?  Have you really progressed?  Maybe not?  How about I throw you some shit and see if you really overcame?  You think people wanna hear about how good you doing, Pollyanna?”  and other more unsavory words of doubt and darkness.

I even said, “Dang, Kevin, maybe I shouldn’t share praises then!?”  Seems like an easy solution?  But no.  I will not be silenced by fear.  I refuse to dim the light in order to accommodate darkness.  I will keep sharing how He is working in my life even through my failures that DO make me wonder if I have progressed at all.

One blessing I dare to share about today is my middle son.  The boy has a way with words and sometimes utters things that literally take my breath away.  Last night, after my emotional setback that still got me like, “Huh!?”, the whole family listened to Dr. MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Ellis prayed, “Oh Lode, please make Martin Luther King Jr. alive again today.”  Yes, Lord, may his spirit live on during these dark times.  We need it.

And on 1/1/2018, the first day of the New Year, another day that is sacred not just to our family but to all who love a fresh new start of a new calendar page, I had another emotional snafu.  (Hmmm, I had probably shared some praises again or felt especially grateful for the last week of 2017).  After we made some dumplings from scratch, a New Year’s Day tradition we want to keep up when we are at home for New Year’s, I burnt the first batch because I got distracted.

Should be no big deal but I got real down on myself like, “Dang, girl, what the hell is wrong with you?”  and spiraled a bit when I thought I was getting better with this self-flagellation problem.  I told Ellis, “Mommy’s not doing too well.  I know it’s not a big deal that I wasted those dumplings but sometimes, Mommy talks mean to herself and she gets stuck.”

He stared at me with those eyes that look right into my soul and said:

You are my heart.  (“You ah my haw-wut.”)

You are loved.  (“You ah loved.”)

When I gave him my typical big reaction, gushing and embracing him, he somberly said, “I’m not done.  I love you.  And you are beautiful.”

It really felt like God sent me a little messenger when I needed words of affirmation to drive out my thoughts of condemnation.  I asked him to repeat himself.  He said it again to a tearful Mommy and blessed me over and over again.

Please feel free to receive those words of blessing for yourself.

**The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. – John 1:5**

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MistleTOE Marvel

Happy New Year!  I don’t have a profound declaration or meaningful mantra for this new year as I didn’t get to collect my thoughts during the last week of 2017.  So for now, I will settle for a measly rhyme:  “Year One Eight, You Will Be Great!”  And I’m still looking for a theme verse with vivid imagery for 2018.

The last week of 2017 was filled with quality family and friend time, a whole lot of togetherness in both NYC and CT.  I will spare you our December calendar.  Instead, I just wanted to capture one magical-in-the-mundane moment that took my breath away.  Magic in the mundane is a theme I keep getting drawn to, my favorite kind of treasure hunt because it’s so easy.

The boys had finally completed their last day of school on December 22nd, so close to Christmas Eve.  It felt comically late as CA friends seem to have been on break for a while.  To kick off our one week of holiday break, I announced that we should go for a family swim after dinner, though it was dark and cold out.

“Family swim” meant the boys would go with Daddy to the local pool while I stayed home with Olive.  Once they got back,  I would get tagged for my turn in this relay-parenting we’ve grown accustomed to.  It was tempting to skip my swim as it was already their bedtimes and so much warmer in our apartment with our glowy, fake Christmas tree.

But I started getting excited to finally go for my solitary swim at the end of the year, when I couldn’t make homework or dinner an excuse for not going.  My body ached to move beyond school pick-ups and baby lifting.

And what a great way to kick off winter break.  The swim would be cleansing, like a baptism into well-being.

Olive was babbling up a storm and I kissed her all over as she was bouncing up and down on my lap after she had nursed.  I noticed she was due for a toenail clipping as her little toenails scraped my thighs.  I grabbed her little feet and almost gasped when I spotted her pinky toenail.

It was extra small, curved funkily and growing up into the ceiling instead of straight across.  JUST LIKE MINE except 40 years younger, cuter and juicier.

Kevin always teases me about why I bother to have a pinky toenail when it’s that small.  The few times I’ve had a pedicure, the person doing my nails has had to basically paint my skin since there is only a dot of upturned nail.

With the Christmas music playing and with the apartment aglow with Christmas lights, I teared up once again, not just about this little girl being gifted to our family in 2017, but struck by how I’ve already handed things down to her, like this baby toenail.

What else would I pass down?  Both good and bad.  Perhaps she will be curious and compassionate like me?  Expressive and emotional?  But will she also feel things too much like me?  Prematurely grey?  Freakishly skinny wrists and ankles with nothing else thin?  Unforgiving of entitled, spoiled people?  And so much more.

I’m going to be one of her strongest influences.  Lord help me raise her up right.

I also thought about one of Kevin’s favorite songs, “Things We Handed Down” by Marc Cohn:

“Don’t know much about you
Don’t know who you are
We’ve been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far
Don’t know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we’d give you all our love
Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I’ve heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we’ve handed down …”

I wanted to text Kevin the picture of MistleToe Jr. and also ask when he might be coming home so that I wouldn’t back out of my swim.  Just as I was about to text him, I happened to look out of our big living room window to see and hear the joyful commotion of my three, bundled up guys walking home, Kevin holding on tightly to their cold, little hands.

Though they are growing up so fast, I thanked God that they were still little as I watched them cross the street.  I thanked God for them literally looking up to their dad at the crosswalk, still innocent enough for a night swim with their dad visibly delighting them.  I could feel their smiles from across the street.

And Olive, you just might inherit other funky traits from your mama, other than your funky pinky toe.  Please forgive me and know that you amaze me just by existing.  You got nothing to prove, girl.  And you can tell me anything though I know I have big reactions.  Will work on that.

Hope y’all had a merry holiday season.  Here’s to 2018!  May we have our arms stretched out to receive God’s mercy and grace that He hands down to us each moment.

 

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2018 is not a birth year for any of my children so I hope to take a break from cards.

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12.24.17  Olive’s first Christmas Eve candlelight service (photo taken by Pam Chowayou)

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Micah is SNAPPING, ok!?

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Olive the baby teenager

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Mistletoe Marvel

 

 

 

 

 

December’s Double Doctor Delight

Dear Micah,

First things first:  I’m sorry for telling you to leave your homework on the table for Mommy to check after she makes dinner, actually, hold on, after she gives your sister some butternut squash, oh wait, after she fetches your brother some rice so he won’t “help” by climbing into the fridge to get it himself.

When you were already in class this morning, I saw the homework still sitting there, unchecked.

I’m also sorry for the less-than-yummy dinner I made last night.  I forgot to add a whole cup of water to the Instant Pot so the pasta came out crunchy, while I told you guys to eat up.

I’m sorry for always asking you to get something for me these days – “Micah, plug in the tree. Micah, grab me the wipes.  Micah can you make sure your sister doesn’t roll onto the floor?”  While it’s imperative for everyone, young and old, to pitch in, I do wonder if I ask of you the most.  You, your dad, and I are all firstborns so we get it.

I’m still thinking about your doctor appointment on Saturday, when you were seen for your seven year-old wellness exam at the same time as Olive’s six month exam.  I was so happy to score one appointment for two kids.  Your brother got to spend a bit of special time with Daddy.

You were such a bashful baby and toddler, offering up all your toys to any little one who came near you, even before they asked for a toy, while I was like, dag, you got to be able to handle confrontations, boy, especially as a minority!  Stand your ground.  Use your words.  Don’t let entitled moms and kids alike come and grab your thangs out of your hands.

So it’s fascinating to watch you speak directly to adults in recent years, like when the doctor asked about Olive, and you became her little papa.  You made me recall that I always daydreamed about having a big bro or two, a big bro who would play basketball with his friends and come home for some Sunny D and then one of his cute friends would notice me in the kitchen with a big island and boojie fridge, but I digress.

When the doctor was asking ME about what Olive is able to do, you answered, “Yes, she’s able to recognize faces.  She knows me.  Yeah, she is starting to say lots of stuff.  She can say vowels AND consonants.  We started giving her rice and oatmeal cereal.  She likes it.  Yes, she can hold toys with both hands.”

And when it came time for her many shots and I braced myself needlessly, as she was my least crying baby yet, you suddenly appeared between me and Olive, having squirreled your way in.  At first, I was annoyed:  “Micah, you got to give me space!  Where did you even come from, Flash?”

You mostly spoke to Olive in response as you pet her cheeks, “I have to see her!  It’s gonna be okay, girl.  Look at me.  Look at me.  Don’t be scared.”

I laughed.  “She doesn’t even know what’s about to go down right now.”

As we walked home, with Olive succumbing to sleep in the Snap N Go that is already too snug for her, and you karate-chopping the air and jumping from tree root to tree root, I was struck by how the seemingly mundane life of a mom is full of miracles.

I get to witness my fetuses turn into puppy-like morsels, and morsels into full humans that grow, transform, and blossom, like my babbling, rolly six month old to my newly minted seven year old jack-o-lantern with a missing top tooth at this double doctor appointment in December.

I’m excited to see you after school and do some Advent activities tonight.  The Tooth Fairy must be busy this holiday season – her ETA is some time this week, I heard.  Thank you for being a super big bro to Olive, and to Ellis, too (most of the time).

Love,

Mommy

 

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11.29.12  The original double doctor appointment five years ago, when you just turned two and E was almost two months old.  Look at you, both in diapers!

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Your photo of Olive while Mommy held her head.

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Recipient of Goodness – Thanksgiving 2017

My favorite Sunday of the year is Testimony Sunday, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

This past Sunday was that Sunday.  After three New Lifers shared their very different stories of gratitude and hope, Pastor Rich told us that being grateful, simply saying “thanks,” is different from living a life marked by gratitude.

He shared this definition of gratitude:  *Gratitude is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.*

As Thanksgiving and my firstborn’s birthday is upon us, I wanted to shout out Olive, who is a living, cooing reminder that we have received a tangible outpouring of goodness Memorial Sunday 2017:

Dear Olive Hope Kim,

Thank you for being Thanksgiving personified for our family this year.

During tough times, choosing to be grateful all the dang time was a challenge, a challenge I wanted to rebel against.  Other times, it is too easy.

This year, you make it too easy.  When I think of you, see you, smell you, hear you, let you sleep in my armpit when you creep over from your crib, you mark me with gratitude. Even now, you are perched on your tummy on your playmat next to me as I type and when we meet eyes, you beam at me.

I just saw a picture on Facebook from a few years ago, a picture of our family of four, when you were just a fantasy I thought I needed to put to bed because…c’mon now!

Thank you for joining us.  Thank you for allowing us to experience baby joy all over again.  Thank you for filling our cluttered household with awe, even with the overstuffed diaper bag that your dad went from saying, “Never again.  It is finished,” to “Do we have enough diapers in there?”

When I see your brothers surround you, joke with you, hold you, my hands raise to the heavens as a reflex.  Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord.

Thank you for making it seem like there was never a time before you.  Thank you for reminding us that there is still good and blessing in this world as I watch terrible current events unfold.  While I was watching news about the Vegas shooting on 10/2, the morning after your Ellis brother’s 5th birthday, you rolled over for the first time.  What a contrast:  the evil that lurks everywhere and a still-pure you, rolling over in the safety of our cozy apartment.

Watching you grow into a real human will be one of the top five periods of my life I will reminisce about in my old age.  Sure, I’m tired and now that it’s cold, I’m carrying All the Jackets and I can’t get past the tables at the library or in the aisles of T.J. Maxx.

Some days, especially from school pick-up through bedtime, I want to yell or actually yell at your excitable brothers who seem to have hearing problems when I speak.  Then I’ll catch a glimpse of you lying around in some corner of our living room, beaming like we are celebrities, or searching the room with your bright eyes, moaning for somebody to come poke you in the belly or just pay you some mind, and then I’ll be back at Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord.

Right now, there is no separate Olive and Mommy.  You are an extension of me wherever I go.  Even at church, when Daddy asks to hold you, I miss you and I want to feel your warm body back in my arms, gazing at me and punching my chest as you nurse.

Your precious infanthood is already almost halfway done and it isn’t hard for me to cherish every moment, as the cliche goes, because I now know all too well how fast it goes before I’m chasing you at the playground and trying not to say something I’ll regret.

Under a Friendsgiving tarp this past Sunday, with the rain beating down, your dad decided to dance with you while he was holding you.  He told me that he got teary-eyed as he imagined dancing with you decades down the line, Lord willing, perhaps under a tarp with loved ones, and you still beaming at him.

I’m done typing now so I can hold you, our Thanksgiving star.  Publishing now before our laptop crashes again.

Love,

Mommy

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Family Fun at the Farm (after attitude adjustments)

This weekend was perfect.

Not because we spontaneously skipped the boys’ Saturday activities to catch the last weekend of our favorite pumpkin patch, or because of Sunday’s storm accompanied by Kevin’s homemade pho, or the video game-like World Series Game 5 between the Dodgers and the Astros providing much excitement and bonding for everyone across the country late Sunday night.

The forecast showed that Saturday would be in the 60s before Sunday’s storm and though I craved rest, AND I didn’t want the boys to miss their Saturday sports, I couldn’t pass up this last chance to take Olive to our favorite pumpkin patch for her first visit.  We hadn’t missed a year yet for maybe the past four years?

But this would require effort.  Effort beyond scrounging up something to wear these days for my still postpartum body.

Grabbing all the costumes, refilling the diaper bag, packing extra blankets for Olive, charging the camera, finding and charging the selfie stick (which we never used once we got there), and other mundane but necessary To Do’s.  I even insisted on M and E getting haircuts before we headed out because I can’t stand looking at shaggy hair in my holiday photos.

Kevin took them to the car first because I can’t hear myself think when we’re trying to head out.  I packed a final tote bag of more stuff, to add to the corned beef and PB&J samiches I had packed during their haircuts and Olive’s morning nap.

I was already sweating from getting ready and I had grown irritated that getting out the apartment was harder in part because we had to repeat ourselves.  The boys were hurting my supersonic ears and Kevin reported back that the boys had fought the entire way down and had gotten in his way AGAIN at the garage steps, where he has to hoist the Snap n Go to level ground.

By the time I got into the passenger seat, I warned them that I was NOT having it:

“It’s already hard for our bigger family to get out the door but when you guys don’t listen, and get in our way, it makes it harder and it is NOT okay.  You guys know better and can do better.  You have to choose the right thing.  Mommy doesn’t even feel like going any more when you fight and make it harder to leave.  When it’s already hard, you should say, ‘How can we help?’ rather than make it harder.  And if you can’t help, at least don’t make it worse.

Now, I won’t force it but can someone other than Mommy or Daddy pray for me and for the rest of the day?  If we want to go, we can’t go like this.”

I was sure that they would sulk so I was surprised when M volunteered.  “Please Lord, help us to listen better and to break the cycle.  Thank You for letting us go together and please keep us safe.”

I am all too familiar with going to fun destinations and having a horrible time because we weren’t able to break the cycle of conflict and emotional turmoil before or during a special event so *THIS* was the highlight of my weekend, as awesome as the rest of it was.

This gift of UNDERSTANDING at a young age that just because you messed up, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in it and sabotage the rest of the day in order to subconsciously or consciously match it up to the initial jacked up-ness.  The kids are grasping this idea that at any moment of any given day, THEY have to power to redirect themselves.  There is always more grace and His mercies are not just new every morning but every moment.

I didn’t live this out myself until recently, after about five years of struggling in our marriage and now that I’m doing much better, this day at the pumpkin patch started off on the right vibe and the picture perfect moments were truly that.  Also, as third-time parents, knowing how crazy I get about preserving ALL the moments, we intentionally practiced the art of taking a deep breath and saying, “That’s enough picture-taking.  Let’s just take stop and enjoy.”

So, Olive turned five months old at the pumpkin patch and as the third child, she is inheriting an emotionally healthier family.

Here are some photos:

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She-Hulk Makes Tater Tots

This always happens.

When the boys are climbing where they shouldn’t or being too loud, I quickly go to “Calgon, Take Me Away” daydreams but when they are at school, I miss them.

I’m now laughing on the inside thinking about yesterday.

Yesterday was MY witching hour around 5 pm when I was making dinner and shuffling Baby O somewhere she can be part of our family scene but also out of brothers’ way.

I heard myself repeatedly bellowing, “Get out your homeworks NEE-OW! If Mommy has to ask again, you will regret it!”  In my frustration, I had forgotten the boys’ request to never pronounce “NOW” as “NEE-OW!!”  So you know Mama wasn’t having it.

Then I started judging myself because I knew I was becoming cranky when they were just being kids.

The boys had walked with me and Olive in her Snap n Go, from school to doctor to playground in yesterday’s weirdly-windy-but-not-yet-cold weather.

Everything took longer than I had imagined.  The doctor’s office staff seemed like they just did not want to deal with people, period.

And this is the easy phase as Olive has never had a diaper blowout or even needed me to change her during afterschool play.  All she does is coo and beam at us, our family mascot.

But the boys never just “walk” with me.  They gallop, run, pick berries and rocks, trailing far behind me even after I say, “If you behind me, someone can take you and I won’t even know!  A dark van can roll up looking for two Asian boys to snatch and I won’t even know if you don’t walk ahead of me!”

I knew I was getting cranky when I had to repeat myself, “Don’t run on the grass. People leave dog poop there!” By the time I had to repeat myself for the third time, sarcasm had kicked in, “Please continue on the grass!  Don’t even think about walking on the sidewalk.  Enjoy the fresh poop you will step in.” (I did manage to laugh when Micah pointed out, “But Mommy, that one poop is shaped EXACTLY like a duck!”  It was.)

By the time dinner and homework had to be done, I just wanted to sit down and do nothing.  Crack my toe knuckles and be done.  But we had the busiest hours coming up – dinner, homework, baths, clean up, prepare for the next day.

Every request was annoying me.

“Mommy, can we have some tater tots with the galbi?”

Sigh.  I could have said no but their galbi dinner could have used some potato.

“Sure, let me turn the oven on. And lemme warn you that Mommy is cranky because I’m just really tired. Can you pray for me so that I don’t She-Hulk?”

“Dear God, please help our mom not become She-Hulk.  Thank You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Thank you, my beauties.”

Boys are whispering to each other, cupping ears. They both come up to me, beaming. Ellis is the appointed spokesperson for this exchange:

“Mommy, WE APPWEECIATE YOU!…Can we have some tater tots?”

“Thank you so much for telling me you appreciate me especially when Mommy is cranky.  That means so much to me.

Now, I said I have to first warm up the oven so yes to the tater tots but NO to asking me again. For some reason, Mommy gets annoyed when I am already making the food and you guys ask about it, aight?  Please be patient.”

16 minutes later:

“Mommy, I’m not asking about the tater tots, right?”

Epilogue: I took a 30 minute nap at 7 pm and emerged only with a growling belly and no trace of She-Hulk.

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At doc office:  “Come, let’s take a picture of you three.  I haven’t taken a Big Three picture in a while.”

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Dramatically awaiting M’s flu shot