Keeping Your Toddler Busy When Traveling

Last week I hopped on a plane with my very active 13-month-old baby/toddler. Desmond and I took a 4.5 hour flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, just the two of us (well, and everyone else on the plane). We flew back home yesterday.

I will come out and say this for all to read – I was terrified to take this trip on my own. But that’s how most adventures in parenting start, right?

Airport baby wearing

Babywearing at the airport

To prepare, I scoured the internet for ideas for keeping small children occupied on airplanes. I found a lot of suggestions that work for kids over the age of 2 years – those kids that are less likely to eat the crayons or throw the blocks at other passengers. Dez is still not 100% accurate with putting food in his mouth – there is no way he would have luck drawing on a magnedoodle!

Having very little luck with my search on the internet, I proceeded to tear through my house looking for items that I wouldn’t normally let Dez play with but that also aren’t dangerous while supervised. I came up with quite a few things to put in my “forbidden items grab bag.” I then hit up my Facebook parenting groups to gather more ideas before heading to Target. (I came out spending way too much, but it was less than $100, which is kind of amazing for a trip to Target!)

In the end, I collected quite the mishmash of items to entertain my toddler on the plane. And thus I bring you tips for flying with a toddler (without losing your mind).

Ewokmama tips for flying with toddler

Ideas for Fun and/or “Forbidden” Items to Bring on the Plane:

  • a fun keychain with spare keys and a large paperclip attached
  • various expired membership cards
  • a bracelet
  • post-it notes
  • small, portable toys that are new to your toddler – we had Little People figurines, My Little Pony minis, a Little People clown car
  • a pill organizer filled with snacks
  • stickers
  • interactive books (i.e. a “slide & seek” book and Pat the Bunny)
  • a pack of playing cards from the $1 bin

My cell phone is the ultimate forbidden item, of course…so I also looked around the app store to find things that might appeal to a toddler. [Note: If your kiddo is closer to 2 years and above, Toca Boca makes some awesome apps.] The best app I found is called “Animal and Tool Picture Flashcards for Babies” by Open Solutions. It’s free and contains a mixture of animal photos and clip art pictures; when you tap on a picture, the app states the name of the animal and then plays a clip of the sound that animal makes.

That app was the best money I never spent! Dez LOVED it. Even aside from the animal pictures and sounds, he really enjoyed dancing to the background music. It came in handy in the hotel room later, as well.

A word of warning, though. Now that I’ve let Dez play with my cell phone, he is more demanding about it than ever. Still, it was worth it for peace of mind on the plane!

If I were to pick one item from the above list to suggest above all others (aside from the animal flashcards app), it would be the pill organizer filled with snacks. Dez thought it was great to point to the container he wanted me to pop open – over and over. The snacks were key! A well-fed kid is a happy kid!

Aside from items to schlep along with you onto a plane, here are a few more tips for flying with toddlers:

  • Opt for the window seat. Not only will your kid like the view, but you can use stranger anxiety to keep him from trying to make a run for it.
  • If you are flying with your child on your lap, upgrade to get extra legroom. You can let your kid stand up a bit or maybe even play on the floor (depending on how MUCH leg room there is). And in case of tantrums, flailing limbs are less likely to hit the seat in front of you.
  • Babywear through security.
  • Ask for an empty cup and/or water bottle for your kid to play with.
  • Make sure to nurse or give your child something to drink during take off and landing to help with eardrum pressure.

Hopefully these things will help you get through your trip without any meltdowns from your toddler OR YOU. If not and your kid has a tantrum, hang in there! And maybe buy your neighbor – and yourself – a drink to cope.

Moms and dads, what did I forget? What are your tricks for traveling with toddlers?

Oh, What A Year

Desmond is one year old.

Desmond's 1st birthday

Desmond looking handsome in a bow tie at his first birthday party.

That statement makes me want to laugh and cry and shake my head and hide all at the same time. Where has the time gone? How can I slow it down?

That seven-pound, one-ounce boy who shot into the world last September is now a real person and not just a squishy baby. He has preferences and makes them known! He has a firm place here in our lives and it’s inconceivable that there was ever a time he wasn’t around.

At his recent well baby check-up, Dez weighed in at 21lb. 12oz. and measured slightly over 30″ (they measured twice but didn’t get an accurate reading because he refuses to lay down and be still). [Side note: I've gotten quite good at putting diapers on while Desmond is on his hands and knees or standing up.]

David and I sat talking the other night (a rare moment when the house is quiet and we can both still communicate before passing out) about our second son and his future. He is a driven little guy. Dez never stops moving, seeking, daring. We already know he is going to test our limits more than Jack ever has – this kid has no fear. Not only that, but when he is doing something he knows he’s not supposed to do, he hesitates and looks back to make SURE we are watching him – once he has our attention, he cackles and goes for it! He is one cheeky little dude.

Peek a boo

Dez playing peek a boo

At a year, he is on the verge of so many things. We are hearing the beginnings of words. They all kind of sound the same, and he is very selective about using them, but I’m pretty sure he says dog and Jack. When Dez can’t see his dad, he stands at the baby gate holding the bars and yelling, “DAAAAHHH!” over and over until David shows up.

Baby yelling

Dez yelling, “Daaaahhh!”

By the end of our recent trip to the east coast, he squeaked out a “bye” and finally learned to wave (although, again, he does so selectively and often AFTER the person is out of sight). He says a lot of unintelligible things, as well – in particular he seems to love making a grand gesture by throwing his arm in the air and letting out a stream of baby babble as if he were giving a speech.

I’m hoping one day I can say, “Desmond is a great speaker” and NOT “my second son is a dictator.”

He is, in a word, ACTIVE. He is cruising on the furniture, crawling super fast (and only in the last few weeks have I noticed he’s on all fours instead of on his belly), climbing over the dog, and he took to the stairs at his grandparents’ and aunt’s houses as if he had climbed them before in a dream.

Baby climbing the stairs

Climbing the stairs at 11 months.

He loves to throw a ball and is surprisingly good at it! He digs being chased around the couch or peeking over the back at whomever is sitting there. He has recently developed a keen sense of whether the baby gate is open even when it’s out of his site and will stop whatever he is doing (often, nursing) and propel himself toward it. One of us then has to dash across the room to shut the gate just before his little fingers get in the way. Dez then wails loudly until we distract him with something else (“Dez! Look at the ball popper!”).

That kid loves to eat, as well. He waves his arms excitedly when food appears and demands to be fed – especially if others around him are eating. Yogurt melts and puffs are his favorite snacks, but he will try anything from egg salad to meatballs (making good use of his six teeth). Food makes him pretty freakin’ happy. Oh wait – EXCEPT cake! We’ve tried cake twice and he threw it on the floor both times. How in the world is this kid related to me?

Baby with first cake

Dez about to chuck his vanilla cream cheese birthday cake onto the floor.

Dez expresses love for us now and it’s the cutest thing! Yesterday Jack was upset and climbed into my lap for hugs. Dez piled on, laying his head against Jack’s back and started patting Jack’s shoulder. And when we wake up in the morning Dez likes to climb all over his dad and me and lay his head on our shoulders. He shares things – he always shows me the star map on his dad’s phone and, less awesome, he shares his food with the dog.

We have our challenges with him. Aside from the fatigue that comes with chasing an active toddler (or reading every book that he shoves in our faces), there is also the fact that he still doesn’t sleep through the night. Jack didn’t sleep through the night at this age, either, so I’m not concerned but I AM tired. Not only that, but many nights David is the only one who can get Dez to go to sleep. That usually involves holding him, SHHing, and letting him thrash and cry until he passes out. He used to fall asleep to me nursing him, but no more (except for naps). I don’t know what that’s about. There is also the fact that he won’t stay still during diaper changes, as I mentioned before.

Separation anxiety is at a peak right now, too. Dez hates it when anyone leaves the room, but especially when I leave the room. He also has stranger anxiety and had no idea what was going on when Jack came home having cut all his hair off this past weekend! Desmond could not get into my arms – and away from his brother – fast enough. On the bright side, I suppose that means he is good and attached to us. And luckily he warms up to other people fairly quickly.

So…here we are beginning the journey into year two. I find myself both excited and sad. I can’t wait to see what Dez is going to do next, but at the same time I want to savor the moments when my child is still small and roley-poley and his world is fairly simple. After all, I am keenly aware of how quickly nine years can pass.

All in all, I’m so thankful for this sweet boy and count myself as one lucky mama.

Daddy and toddler

Dez and Daddy

Cancer is a Thief

Another school year has begun. Jack’s fourth grade teacher seems likes she knows her stuff. Right from the start she walked the kids through how to organize their day so that there are fewer opportunities to “forget” homework; they carry a binder with a planner inside and dividers for each subject. Every day the class reviews what is to be done that evening and writes it in their planners. Ms. A is helping them establish executive function skills, an area in which Jack has a lot of trouble thanks to cancer treatment.

In addition, she is starting off the year with light homework that is mostly review material. Which is great…

Except that Jack is struggling a bit with even this small amount of homework. He is fighting increased anxiety and having bouts of depression. By the second week of school, he was difficult to rouse in the mornings. He drags his feet getting ready to leave and is incredibly slow and distractible when doing any task. He complains of stomach aches or nausea a lot. He speaks of the pressures of being in fourth grade and he despairs about growing up.

My son has turned into Peter Pan.

Last week I met with Ms. A and the school’s new resource teacher to review Jack’s IEP. Afterward I felt exhausted and defeated. I’d tried to explain the issues we’re dealing with but they didn’t seem to grasp it. I guess that’s not a surprise – I feel like I am gaining new understanding all the time about why Jack’s experience with cancer has had such a profound impact on him academically and emotionally. The territory we’re in – that of a childhood cancer survivor – is relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Schools and even our oncology team are still learning what the long term effects of cancer treatment are.

As a parent of a survivor, I get a unique and up-close perspective (lucky me!). I’m only now really coming to understand that cancer is a time thief. This effect feels more pronounced with a child – a treatment that spans three and a half years impacts many more developmental phases in a child as compared to an adult.

Jack Kindergarten

Jack, age 5, first day of Kindergarten

In school and outside of it, Jack spent much of the last three and a half years in a haze. Compared to other kids his age, he didn’t play much of the time – he didn’t have the energy. He went from being a happy-go-lucky five-year-old to an intense and conflicted nine-year-old…he didn’t have much opportunity to be a kid in between those two points in time. He didn’t admit it at the time, but he admits it now: he was afraid of dying.

Academically, we are observing that Jack is missing some key building blocks for math. This past Thursday, we spent at least an hour together going over a fairly simple problem – 3,000 divided by 10. It was as if he had never divided before. And while he can answer 5×3 relatively easily, 5×30 is a whole different ball game. He hasn’t been able to connect increasingly complex math concepts with the basics.

Some of the building blocks are missing due to frequent absences from school for treatment or side effects from treatment. He missed half of kindergarten and started first grade a couple of months late because he had no ability to fight off illness. Once he was given the okay to go back to school, he rarely attended a full week until sometime in the later part of third grade. Generally if he was too sick to attend school he was also too sick (or just plain foggy-brained) to do any schoolwork at home. We did our best, but he was going at a snail’s pace while his fellow students sped along at school. When he did make it to school, he felt lost and like an outsider.

Other building blocks are missing due to the effect of chemotherapy on the brain. One of the key chemotherapy drugs Jack was given went into his spinal fluid and is known to cause learning problems in things like math and executive function. We were warned about this, but it’s not something we had the time to worry too much about because we were so busy going to and from various appointments and dealing with administering medications or battling side effects. We had limited emotional capacity for worrying about that, in any case. It was always in the back of my mind, but I had no choice but to push it aside and carry on.

Now Jack is faced with trying to catch up in an environment that barely acknowledges that he has fallen behind. He has to work much harder to stay on track – both to fill in the blanks and to learn the next thing.

Meanwhile, he has boundless energy, almost like he’s been saving it up all these years. He wants to PLAY and EXPLORE and TALK. But fourth grade is stricter, harder, has one less recess, and more kids per class. Fourth grade demands more maturity out of the kids and it just happens to coincide with a time when Jack is trying to shrug off the very thing that demanded maturity of him too soon and attempting to, essentially, recapture his youth.

Jack DC Ball Pit

Jack, age 9, in a giant ball pit in DC

Jack feels a sense of unfairness and has articulated it in his own way from time to time. “I’m dealing with cancer; why do I have to do homework?” is one line I’ve heard on several occasions. And there is the repeated refrain, “I don’t want to grow up! It’s too much pressure!”

It has taken me some time but I understand now. Three and a half years of treatment left Jack with only vague memories of what a carefree existence was like. He has his life, thankfully, but he also has PTSD and lives with so much fear. He can’t get time back – cancer has stolen his innocence and so much of his childhood.

Many nine-year-olds struggle with school and homework – in that, Jack is not alone. But Jack is the only one in his class (and, as far as I know, the only one in his school) who is dealing with those things while trying to make up for years of lost time and heal his soul. The school faculty have no idea how to help him.

Neither do I, really, but I won’t stop trying.

Jack Is 9 Years Old

My first baby turned 9 years old on Monday. It’s simply unfathomable to me that 9 years have passed since Jack was born – nearly a decade since he was conceived. As I wrote in his birthday card, there must be magic or trickery involved in the passage of time because it feels like only yesterday that he was born.


Proof he was once a baby…

Jack has grown and changed so much in his 9 years. It’s highlighted especially next to his babbling, roley-poley baby brother who can’t walk or say a single sentence. Jack is writing poems and stories and reading novels. He has ideas about how the world works – and he expresses them clearly – and they are all his own. He is goofy and laughing one minute, and the next politely requesting that I not jokingly call him a weirdo. He is 4’4″ – less than a foot of height separates us now! His feet are sure to eclipse mine in size soon, too.


Tween boy!

There are still some very kid-like qualities to him, of course. He still prefers imaginative games over board games. Although his diet does not resemble that of most kids (he would live on raw fruits and veggies if he could), he is still a pretty selective eater. He has branched out a bit – in the last 6 months or so he finally decided he liked pizza – but for the most part he eats like he did when he was 3. He loves to draw (as he has since he was 2), and has taken a liking to coloring, as well. He still loves to have books read to him before bed – we just finished Nightbirds on Nantucket and Harriet the Spy, and now we are reading The Tale of Despereaux and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He could easily read these books to himself (he is reading Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire on his own) but he is attached to the routine and loves the one-on-one time. (I love it, too.)

Jack is a cerebral kid – always has been. He has zero interest in sports and other physical pursuits, although he does run around on the playground with his friends (as long as they are imagining they are monsters or aliens at the time). He loves science fiction and is currently devouring any form of media on aliens he can find. He was perfectly happy to get a bunch of books for birthday presents this year – something that initially bummed him out at his 8th birthday party (although he appreciated it later). He poses questions about the world that are incredibly challenging to answer – and he likes to listen to science and history podcasts with me.


Looking spiffy in a suit and tie.

Our relationship has changed somewhat, partially due to his age and partially due to the addition of Desmond to the family. I’m less the default parent that he turns to when he needs something. This has made his bond with David much stronger, and Jack seems to want to learn from David more and more. He has grown more independent, as well – he will disappear into his bedroom for extended periods of time to read or write or just be by himself.

He is such a sensitive, caring kid. He is funny and kind. He is smart, quirky, and just seems to have a special light inside of him.

I’m so glad that I get to be his mom and watch him grow up.


10 Months Old

A catalog came in the mail a couple of days ago that advertised first birthday party supplies. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I need to start planning for Desmond’s first birthday. It’s only two months away – and the summer months tend to fly by at a quicker rate, it seems!

But let’s talk about Dez at 10 months. This recent picture caused me to dub him my muppet baby.

baby with crazy hair

Muppet baby!

It fits, no? That wide-mouthed grin and fuzzy hair is exactly the thing Jim Henson was all about. In fact, we’re thinking of dressing Dez up as Kermit the Frog for Halloween this year.

Or, even better in my opinion – Beaker!

Desmond doesn’t have real words yet, but that doesn’t stop him from orating steadily. He raises his hand to the air to call for attention and then lets out a steady stream of babble. It’s adorable. (Except when we’re trying to watch Orphan Black and can’t hear anything over his ranting.)

He is generally a happy little guy, but he does have a temper. When something is taken away from him (usually it’s a piece of fuzz he managed to find on the ground and attempted to eat) he stiffens his whole body, puts his arms down at his sides, and lets out a squeal of rage. He is pretty quick to get over it, though, once you distract him with something else – like the TV remote.

Baby with tv remote

Yessss Yessss, now I control it all!

He loves, loves, loves the TV remote. Our cell phones and the Playstation controller come in a close second. When he spots one of these items within his reach, he starts chuckling to himself. I’m sure he is saying to himself, “Yesssss, yesssss, I will soon have them all where I want them!”

Maybe he should be The Brain for Halloween…

He still prefers the army crawl over the more traditional crawl. He spends most of his time standing now, though, with a bit of cruising thrown in (if the TV remote is just out of reach). He hasn’t quite figured out how to get down from standing, so he usually just hangs out like that until his legs get weak and he falls over. Or he whines until we finally can’t stand it anymore and help him down (and then he cries because he didn’t want to get down, stupid parents!).

baby standing in crib

His two bottom teeth are in. One is slightly crooked, which just adds to Desmond’s charm. He’s getting more hair all the time, but the majority of it is still in the top middle of his head and it likes to stick straight up (see the part about being a muppet, above). I can no longer see any traces of positional plagiocephaly – which, whew! He still struggles with a nasty cough after his bout with RSV in April, though. He hacks like the most addicted little smoker, but it doesn’t slow him down. The pediatrician said he’ll likely grow out of it by age 2.

Food makes him incredibly happy. He will eat anything and seemingly never gets full! He is very demanding about sharing our food, particularly if that food is pizza or mashed potatoes. I now keep those little cereal puffs within reach at all times so that I can actually eat my meals.

baby eating mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes on his face!

Dez can clap (which he does constantly), wave (which he does sometimes), reach for people, and he is starting to hold onto me when I carry him. He is ALWAYS moving, so he crawls off of me in the middle of nursing (but then always comes back for more) and he will not stay put on the changing table!

He loves the bath. He splashes and splashes, then cries when we take him out.

baby bath splash

We’ve started calling him the “gateway baby” – a term I first heard from comedian Jim Gaffigan. Think you don’t want kids? You may change your mind after meeting Dez – he is THAT charming!

We love our sweet second child and can’t imagine life without him!


Hanging with Mom.

No Way Out But Through

When Jack was diagnosed with Leukemia three and a half years ago, I focused on the “End of Treatment.” I thought we would do what we could to get through the difficult treatment process, but that eventually we would be done.

Well, to be perfectly honest, I thought we would be done when the Induction phase (where remission is achieved) was complete – 30 days after diagnosis and the beginning of treatment. Then I readjusted my thinking – we would have most of the hard stuff behind us after Consolidation – the chemo-heavy “blast the hell out of any remaining cancer cells” phase. I figured Maintenance would be unpleasant, but easier that those prior phases – I thought we would pretty much be done once we got to Maintenance. But then Maintenance lasted over two years and while much of it went smoothly, we did not feel done at all – instead, the hardship of all we’d had to endure up to that point caught up to us.

THEN I thought – End of Treatment is the ticket! End of Treatment would come and this business would be behind us! But, well…

I’ve lost count of the number of therapy sessions Jack has had at this point. With this latest therapist, we’re at least past 10 sessions by now. This therapist has been the most helpful, and Jack has had two successful blood draws! By “successful,” I in NO WAY mean easy. There was shaking and tears, and both times I thought we would not get the draw. But Jack managed to push past his fear and do it!

The first time he was successful (after 8 therapy sessions and countless “needle exposures” at home), he felt jubilant and accomplished afterward! He even said it hurt much less than he thought it would. But the second time was harder for some reason, and afterward he felt tired and defeated and weepy. It didn’t help that one of the phlebotomists in the lab muttered, “He’s never going to be ready,” which Jack heard.

Two steps forward, one step back. Can I bill the lab for the therapy appointments, ya think?

As the therapist delves deeper with Jack into the medical trauma he has experienced, the emotions (mostly negative) get harder to deal with and manifest that difficulty comes out in various ways. Fear randomly comes and goes, insomnia often plagues him, and Jack has felt more of a need to cling to his parents. Some OCD tendencies showed up during the second blood draw, something we hadn’t seen in him before, and then again in his therapy session the next day. Depression – a despair that no 8-year-old should even be able to contemplate – came over him at bedtime on Sunday.

Having gone through trauma therapy myself, I know how hard it is and that when you are in it, it feels like nothing will ever be okay. There are many forces within our minds that try to protect us from feeling the pain of trauma – they tell us to run from even distant memories of it. It’s exhausting to fight your own brain. It takes a fierce, stubborn person to do it, and lots of support.

I have no doubt Jack can do it. We will support him every step of the way.

But he has many doubts and fears. After the therapy appointment Saturday, which had him so upset that he started to run around the room near the end and stopped being cooperative, I tried to reassure him that it’s all worth it.

“It doesn’t feel worth it! It feels terrible!”

I know, buddy. It really, really sucks.

The blood test results – what much of this effort and urgency is about – look pretty good. Jack’s immune system is recovering, which is very reassuring. But for some reason, his iron is super low and that leads to other worries, more medications (thankfully, just a liquid iron supplement at the moment), and additional tests.

We don’t want more worries, more medications, or more tests. Our cups not only runneth over from these things – they’re being crushed by the weight of them. We don’t want anymore, thank you!

We have no other choice, though, so it’s one foot in front of the other. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have to stop thinking in terms of when cancer will be behind us. When you’re in it, you can’t see through to the other side.

You just have to keep going anyway.

Sharing Our Story About Pediatric Cancer

Saturday we attended the Grand Finale event for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign (Bay Area Chapter). Jack and Celia, the Boy and Girl of the Year, handed out the awards to the participants and the winners were announced. The grand total for the campaign was also announced – 10 weeks of fundraising resulted in $804,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Candidates who raised over $50,000 are able to directly choose a research grant to fund with that money. Pretty awesome!

I am hopeful that after my talks with some of the candidates, they are aware of the issues in childhood cancer treatment and will direct their funds toward those research grants.

Jack Boy of the Year

At dinner during the event, I sat next to the President & CEO of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Dr. DeGennaro. He is a very nice man and it was clear he cares deeply about what the organization does. I took the opportunity to let him know what it meant to us to be part of the Man & Woman of the Year campaign, and also to emphasize that we need more focus on new, better treatments for kids (an area that is consistently underfunded). He said it’s one of the issues at the forefront in his mind (as well as prevention!), and that one of the challenges with getting new treatments for kids is that many in the medical community see the high survival rates (over 90% for ALL, for instance) and think their work is done.

Researchers, physicians, and advocates…we are nowhere near done. Cancer treatment for kids takes YEARS and it’s incredibly hard on the whole family. While the treatments usually work, they are not great – they cause secondary cancers, organ damage, learning problems, and other terrible (and sometimes deadly) side effects. Most of the time during Jack’s treatment, I didn’t worry about the cancer killing him – I worried about infection, which was statistically more likely to be a problem.

Friends, this is my challenge to you – please share our family’s story whenever you can. My wish is to spread awareness and hopefully get more funding diverted to childhood cancer research – for reference, only 4% of federal funding is devoted to childhood cancer through the National Cancer Institute. This is despite the fact that cancer is the #1 disease killing children.

Here is our family’s interview video that was made as part of this campaign. Please feel free to share it far and wide.

Note: I’ve read that if you donate to LLS, you can earmark the funds for pediatric cancer research by making a note in the memo section that states: RESTRICTED TO PEDIATRIC BLOOD CANCER RESEARCH. Additionally, for those who are donating at least $10,000 LLS says you can tie your donation to a specific research portfolio.

A Much-Needed Date Night

Since Desmond’s birth in September of last year, David and I have been out alone ONE TIME. That’s right, one measly time in over 8 months. And do you know what we chose to do that time?

We went to the movies.

Now, we like the movies but it’s not exactly quality time. We couldn’t talk to one another and we didn’t even see something romantic. We saw Birdman (it was weird – but good – and not in the least bit romantic). Afterward we ate at a crummy Thai place and then went home. The night was more about checking a task off our list than it was about spending time with one another.

That was back at the beginning of February, so we have been in dire need of a real date night – with time to connect and be US! The problem was that we didn’t have a babysitter to call. Believe it or not, I haven’t actually used a babysitter since Jack was about a year old! I’ve always relied on friends or just stayed home. (Mostly the latter.)

Enter UrbanSitter. I signed up to become a member and was instantly able to search for someone who had infant experience, was CPR-certified (because Dez is putting everything in his mouth he can get his hands on!), and had a background check on the website (I’m a little on the paranoid side). I filtered the results further by searching for sitters close to my house and those that are known through my local parent networks (in this area, Berkeley Parents Network is a go-to for all kinds of things!).

When I connected my account to Facebook, I saw that some of the sitters in my area had been hired by my friends! Further, I got a personalized welcome email from a representative with the site who provided recommendations .

I searched and found a couple of babysitters in my price range that I wanted to interview, and I also posted my request for a sitter on the Jobs section of the website. Almost immediately, responses from sitters who were interested in the job started rolling in! I selected a couple more babysitters to interview from that pool of people.

The phone interviews were super easy to schedule – sitters plug their schedules into a calendar on the website and keep them up to date, so you can look directly at the individual calendars, find a time that works, and click to request the interview spot. The sitters then log in and confirm the time – then the site emails a confirmation with contact information. Easy peasy.

Every interview (four total) went perfectly. It was a tough choice and ultimately the person I choose had to cancel a couple days later when she got sick (which, I completely appreciate – we’ve had so much illness in our house already). By that time, the other sitters I had interviewed had all taken other jobs, but it was not a problem at all! I ran a search again with the date/time I needed plugged into the search parameters, and found a couple more sitters who were available on short notice. I scheduled two interviews and ended up booking the first person I spoke with right over the phone!

Meet Jane (yes, that’s her real name). She is a nanny, a former non-profit employee, and a future Waldorf teacher.


Jane and a peacefully sleeping Dez

Dez took to her within 5 minutes of her (perfectly on-time) arrival. She was warm and friendly and started playing with him right away. We chatted and got to know one another for a good 20 minutes, then David and I took off for our date night. Dez didn’t even make a peep when we walked out the door – he was completely absorbed with the strings on Jane’s hoodie.

We had a blast! We went to a wine & tapas bar close to our house and treated ourselves to everything our bellies desired. We talked about anything and everything (podcasts, vacation, plans for our house and future), somehow managing to branch out beyond the topic of our kids. We were able to truly relax and enjoy ourselves for the first time in months!


A toast to us!

After dinner, I checked in with Jane just to make sure Dez hadn’t turned into a monster while I was gone. He had fallen asleep and all was well. David and I then hopped over to another restaurant for dessert, Prosecco, and coffee. I will admit that I got a bit tipsy (but it was totally worth it!).

When we arrived back home, I thanked Jane, paid her with my credit card through the UrbanSitter app, and David drove her to BART while I snuggled with my baby.


Nighttime snuggles!

Dez slept super well that night and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our experience. UrbanSitter may have just saved our marriage, you guys (or, at least, our sanity)!

I highly recommend the site for your next date night or quick getaway. You can find all kinds of care for your child – in advance, last minute, overnight – and have access to wonderful caregivers who are reviewed by other parents or have a background check. If you use the code FORFREETRIAL when you sign up for your UrbanSitter account you can get a free month to try it out (normally membership is $14.95 per month).

When is the last time you went on a date night or had some precious personal time?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Leaving Chemo Behind

I notice more changes in Jack every day as the chemo starts leaving his body. Most of these changes are good, and others are not so good but are likely temporary.

I have to say that as much as I want to leave chemo – and the whole experience of cancer – behind us, I can’t help but be reflective. We lived with treatment for more than three years and much of it became routine (albeit unpleasant routine). Suddenly we are in a different routine and even though it’s a normal life routine (mostly), it’s new again and quite a change. And even though we’ve lived with a regular life routine before, it’s new to us because we have been so changed by Jack’s illness.

So please bear with me as I continue to write about living with – and after – cancer. There is still so much to process.

Jack and Dez

Jack and Dez

The first change I noticed in Jack after chemotherapy ended was the increase in his energy level. Less than a week after ending treatment, he woke up on his own and popped out of bed with all of the vigor of his pre-cancer self. Now, he doesn’t jump out of bed ready to face the day every morning, but most mornings he is fairly easy to rouse now. As I posted on Facebook the first day this astonishing thing happened – when you have a young child, you spend a good deal of time wishing they wouldn’t wake up so damned early every day. That wish changes when you have a chronically ill child who sleeps in every day.

So even if he is back to waking up early on weekends, I have a new appreciation for the early rising!

With that said, MY energy level has not increased in alignment with Jack’s! As much as I’m celebrating the return of my kid’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed side, I am also finding myself wishing for quiet and solitude more often. It feels like all of the energy Jack couldn’t muster over the last three years has simply been stored up and waiting…and now it’s a flood.

I’m hoping his energy level will get to be a bit more manageable with time. I am sick of hearing myself tell him to please stop shrieking like a raptor or to not be so wild and IN his brother’s face. Sigh.

Today as I felt a headache coming on, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard Jack complain of a headache in a while. While on chemo, he essentially lived with a headache all the time. He got used to it and only asked for Tylenol when it got particularly bad – that tended to happen 1-3 times a week. When I asked Jack today when the last time was that he had a headache, he couldn’t remember. That’s a good thing!

Jack’s body is getting rid of the chemo in a physically noticeable way, as well. The meds had dried out his skin quite a bit, damaged the nail beds on his two big toes, and interfered with the process of normal skin shedding, creating some discoloration in areas. He also became extra sensitive to the sun, so even limited sun exposure resulted in him being very tan (and looking like a raccoon when he takes off his glasses). Now his skin is reacting to the lack of chemo in his system – his throat has broken out in an itchy rash (mild but still annoying) and it has edged up to his cheeks a bit. His lips have become chapped, as well, and he is even thirstier than he was when on the chemo. Clearly his body is trying to get rid of the junk and work on repairing itself.

That is also clear in the amazing increase to Jack’s appetite! He has eaten like a bird the last three years and since he was diagnosed at 5.5 years old, he has gained only about 8lbs (and didn’t consistency maintain that). He has gotten taller during that time, but no matter how we tried to add in calories in the absence of a decent appetite, he has remained on the disturbingly thin side. 

We don’t really have to worry about adding calories now – we just need to keep the fridge and pantry stocked. Jack eats ALL.THE.TIME. He wakes up starving, he eats everything in his lunch (whereas before we threw away so much of it that he didn’t eat), and he snacks constantly. All his meals are bigger now and he generally clears his plate. And then asks for more. He is kind of a human garbage disposal now!
I’m looking forward to his knees being less knobby even though that means I’m also going to be spending a ton on new clothes.

It’s kind of a strange time. I had expected life to calm down with the end of treatment but it hasn’t quite done so. It’s better, but it will still take time to let go and settle into life post-treatment.

Reconstructing The Past

Jack is starting therapy soon to address the post-traumatic stress issues that are causing us all concern. The short term goal is to address the  needle phobia associated with it, which is more accurately described as a “lab-induced panic spiral,” but ultimately he has a LOT of anxiety that controls him and if we could ease that even a little bit, I’ll consider it a WIN.

There are a lot of forms to fill out when you go to any sort of specialist, so I’ve filled out so many pages my hands have gone numb and started aching (seriously). Forms for the IEP evaluation, forms for the neuropsychological evaluation, forms for the ADHD assessment, and now forms for this new therapy.

They are all similar, but different. They all include questions about the past – and this is where I pat myself on the back for keeping records (something I’m less good about with Desmond – arg!) about Jack’s younger years. I have my blog, a baby book, the CaringBridge journal, and many, many pictures. I use all of these things to answer the endless questions and reconstruct the past because my own memory is full of emotion, which can often be difficult to explain in words.

I’ve spoken with the oncology team, the social worker, the child life specialist, several therapists, and all of Jack’s other parents (of course) about the best way to move forward and address this issue. I’m the collector of information and the main distributor. Perhaps this is because I’m a writer, or because I’m a mother, or some combination of things. It’s a little bit odd that it’s me in this role, though, because my memory in general resembles swiss cheese – some memories are perfectly in tact and others are just GONE. Still, it’s up to me and somehow I’m making it work.

This whole Leukemia business started with some general sickness and then a blood test. That blood test was traumatic – for me and Jack. He was 5 and had never had one done. He had never liked needles, but he didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them…until that day when I had to hold him down and lock my legs around him in order to keep him still for the lab tech to insert the needle (note: always ask for a pediatric phlebotomist for your child!).

I know intellectually that he screamed and cried but I don’t have a specific memory of that part – that part of my inner film is a gaping hole. Holding down my screaming child while he was being hurt was too horrible to remember clearly, so I locked it up and threw away the key.

That night, Jack had his first night terror. I’d never seen one before (in Jack or in anyone) and it scared the crap out of me! I thought it was a seizure. I didn’t connect it to the blood draw at all, even though I knew the blood draw had been traumatizing. I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time, after all.

But I’m thinking clearly now (mostly). And after filling out a ton of questionnaires and recounting all of the methods we’ve tried and reading over various records of that time when Jack was diagnosed and having witnessed several night terrors (that are pretty much always the same – screaming, thrashing, pleading “No no no no no! Mom! No!”) – all the dots finally connected enough for me to wrap my brain around it.

That initial blood draw, and then the wave of awfulness that followed (more blood draws, an IV, surgery, an MRI, x-rays, platelet infusion, cancer diagnosis – all within the span of 4 days), was the catalyst for this ‘needle phobia.’

Knowing all I know about mental health and having lived with PTSD for decades myself, it still took me this long to wrap my head around what happened to get us to a point where Jack can NOT STAND a blood draw. Stopping to think about it makes it clear to me – OF COURSE he is terrified of blood draws. Every time he sits down and holds his arm out to a white-coated person, he is transported back to that time 3 years ago. The emotions and blurred memories of a terrified 5 year old rush back to him and suddenly he is reliving the collection of medical traumas he’s endured since he first got sick.

Even though he’s 8 now, he is still not much more equipped to handle all of that now than he was then. To him, a needle is not just a needle – it is so much more terrifying that a sharp piece of metal. To Jack, a needle represents a 3-year battle for his life. And that battle has ended, but the winner is still unclear. The cancer is gone, but we don’t know for sure that’s it gone for good and that uncertainty leads to anxiety.

With cancer out of the way, the emotions that were pushed to the background over the last few years have resurfaced and they’re kind of taking over. Jack’s had two night terrors in the last week. His anxiety is at a high again and he has a weird, nervous energy about him that he seems unable to control. He has complained several times of “feeling like he’s going under anesthesia,” which I’ve gleaned is likely some sort of dissociation, and it comes upon him at random times.

Jack brain is reconstructing the past whether he wants it to or not. And my job as his parent is to help him get the tools to understand and resolve it.

To therapy we go.