Meltdown Madness

Parenting a toddler is by far not my favorite age. While there are many joys at this age (20 months) there are also many challenges. In such a short span, I feel as though this stage has lasted the longest. I enjoy the sweet kisses and hugs and the moments he wants to snuggle, but those are few and far between. Meltdowns are quite the norm and tantrums, as much as I try to avoid them, are inevitable. And it seems to me that there are far more traits, or lack of traits, that comprise a toddler’s everyday life.

Patience. This word is nonexistent in my toddler’s life. Everything must be done at this. Very. Moment. If he does not have the toy or music he wants, all hell will break loose. Enter hard decision-time: give him what he wants at that instant and soothe the screaming headache that has just ensued, or try to teach him aforementioned word patience and do not give in. My jury is still out. It seems I am about 50/50 on this one. Some days I give in, some days I am Shee-Ra and can withstand the torture I am undergoing. I know it needs to always be the latter, and I certainly try, but somedays after a long day of work I think, “letting him watch his sign language video one extra time is not the worst thing. At least he SIGNED to me he wants to watch it “again

Vocal Control. This is also something a toddler can’t seem to figure out. Being dissatisfied seems to equal screaming at the highest decibel possible. Sometimes I scream really loudly back, just to see what his reaction is. I don’t scream AT him, I will just let a loud noise escape my lips and typically it is enough of a distraction he forgets what he was crying about. I, on the other hand, look incredibly dumb but to be honest sometimes the yelling helps get out my frustration as well.

Super-human Strength. Toddlers seem to possess this amazing ability to NOT let you change their diaper. I don’t know if it’s because I’m trying to safely pin him down with one arm that leaves me unable to wrestle him with the other arm, or if he is really that strong. He can shoot his legs out straight to absolutely NOT allow clothes to go on or a diaper to be fitted in between these iron legs. When he is running from me, I swear he turns into RoadRunner and is able to outrun me in a circle around the house. Perhaps it’s because he’s lower to the ground and can take a sharper turn around the staircase than I, but somehow it takes two of us to put his coat on in the morning.

Fickleness. One day we love Elmo, the next day it’s Elmo who? What worked one time with a babysitter is now as successful as my Facebook stock. (sigh). Our bedtime routine was air-tight and solid. We told ourselves how lucky we were to be in this situation. Within a matter of weeks and new-found interests, our son hated every book he’d loved the day before, hated his “favorite” blankie and wanted a puppet show before bed, something we’d never done before. Typically, every afternoon is a guessing game as to what kind of mood he is in. It reminds me of some guys in my past lives…

Deciding mommy makes a better sticker page than the book.

Deciding mommy makes a better sticker page than the book.

Repetition. When the above-word is NOT in play, my son likes to do many of the same things over and over and over and over and over again. We can listen to the same version of Old MacDonald seven times in a row and when it’s done, he yells for “more.” He wants to play the same games every single night again and again. And we finish reading one book, just to start it from the very beginning, over and over again. And he even prefers to watch the same sign language video over and over, even though he has four to choose from.


Even though we swung for a while, this is his reaction to no more swinging.

Even though we swung for a while, this is his reaction to no more swinging.

Somewhere in all this mood-altering behavior I’ve read that the repetition is what makes them feel safe and comfortable, the fickleness is due to their minds developing and expanding their interests, the strength means their bodies and minds are growing, the vocals show their independence and the lack of patience is just because in their head, they think the world is ending or they’ll never get something again if I don’t give it to them. Disciplining, I’m sure no matter what the age, is hard. REALLY hard. To ignore your child when they want you or to tell them NO for their own good is not my favorite thing. But neither is the demands of someone with no attention span.

So I guess in all my complaining, I really have to take a step back and think this stage is really about raising a son who feels safe, whose mind and body are developing, who is becoming independent and who is asking for something that they love. Those things really aren’t so bad when I think about it this way.

How do you discipline this sweet face?

How do you discipline this sweet face?

I just need to remind myself of this the next time I’m singing “Old MacDonald” out in public like it’s my favorite song on the radio.

Grover’s Story

Writing is cathartic for me. So I wrote this for myself, not really for the blog. Perhaps I’ll share with Cohen one day. But just in case anyone else felt like reading a really, really long post about an amazing dog named Grover, here goes:

Growing up I’ve always had dogs. We had a basset hound till I was 10 and then a schnoodle until I was 30. The latter lived almost 17 years. He died in my arms very peacefully. He was old, plain and simple. In my 20s and early 30s I had a townhome with about a fifth of an acre of a backyard. As much as I wanted a dog when I was in college like my friends or when I lived in the townhome, I knew it wouldn’t be fair and waited until I had a big yard. My husband and I finally bought a home together with an acre of flat grass and a natural area with trees and “wood-like” terrain. There were neighboring dogs and we thought, “this will do.”

Then we began looking for dogs. We liked the thought of a goldendoodle but at $1100 a pop, we weren’t interested in that. My husband rescued a weimereiner in his past but she had some problems and wasn’t a puppy when he got her. We wanted something we could raise, albeit hard, from a puppy stage.

We saw a craigslist ad for an 8-week-old puppy that was believed to be a goldendoodle or labradoodle. It would be about 50 lbs they said and non-shedding. Sean and I went to look at it and for $100 we brought him home. I’d always wanted to name my dog Grover and this one certainly looked like a Grover.

Cute Puppy

Cute Puppy

So began the hard work. We went outside every time we switched activities so he would learn to pee and poop outside. We rewarded for positive behavior. We tried to not scold unless we actually caught him in the act—something our dog books strongly encouraged. Dogs don’t know they’ve done something wrong after the fact. Positive reinforcement seemed to work well. We followed him around the yard with poop bags. Sooner than later, he was housebroken.

Sean was very big on teaching dominance. Grover was not allowed in the kitchen while we ate. He was not allowed to beg. He was not allowed to go outside until we said “okay.” He would stand with the door wide open and wait until we said okay. At first I wondered about these strict methods, but the more I read, the more I learned Grover wanted to be told what to do. It made him feel proud to have a pack leader and he knew who was in charge.

Because we both work during the day, next came time to train him with the invisible fence. Some people think they are inhumane, and I can certainly understand that. But Sean spent weeks training Grover. We didn’t just let him out into a yard to be shocked. We used the audible warnings and the flags before we ever introduced the shock. Sean walked the perimeter with Grover day after day letting him know when the collar would sound if he got too close. Grover had the beeps and the flags for cues not to get too close. We later introduced the shock and it was on a low voltage. He only got shocked once or twice and that was the end of his getting too close.

Fast forward a few weeks and we could leave Grover in the yard every day to explore to his heart’s content while we worked 8 hours. Sure enough, every day Grover would be at the top of the driveway at 5 p.m. His tall ears and tail wagging. I always wondered what he did during the day. Some days I’m sure he sat in the sun, which he loved. Other days he dug up holes that Sean so frustratingly filled. He chased a million animals that graze through our backyard and played with his myriad of toys. Grover was never good at letting go of a ball but loved to chase it and bring it back. You just had to fight his grip to get it back.

Family photo

Family photo

As Grover started to get older, we started to realize how special he was. We also started to realize he was not going to be a 50lb dog nor a non-shedding dog. Grover left himself all over the house. For Christmas we received a nice check from Sean’s grandmother and decided to buy a Dyson Animal vacuum. We had reached adulthood for sure! Grover was also now a 77-lb dog that people stopped and always asked, “what is he?”


Not sure of his breed but what a handsome dog he is

We weren’t sure of his origins. At times he looked like a pitt bull when he was young. But his ears stood straight up. His ears were always something special. I thought they’d flop over when he was older bc they were lopsided. But then one day they stood straight up like a shepherd. His hair was kind of long like a shepherd too. But he had the light-colored muzzle and funny tail. We thought he was like a Dixie Dingo or better known as a Carolina dog.

Loving the great outdoors

Loving the great outdoors


Grover developed quite the personality. He loved to play fetch and eat sticks and lick people. He loved trips to the lake where he was quite a swimmer. He also got to go to the beach and enjoyed that tremendously. He loved being out by the pool but never wanted to jump in. We weren’t sure why, since he loved the lake so much. Once, my mom and I were on floats and my dad and Sean went out to go tubing. Mom and I saw Grover start to swim out to us and assumed he’d turn around to swim toward shore. He then started swimming out further and further toward the boat. It was at least 50 yards. I was eight months pregnant and although I am a strong swimmer, I could not keep up. Finally, Grover swam at least 100 yards and I was worried he would tire to swim back. My dad had to turn around his boat to go back and get Grover. Back on shore he would dig holes, run up and down the beach lapping the waves and burying his tennis ball. He was in heaven (practically).


Loving the lake

Loving the lake

At home, Grover’s domain was the back yard. Our driveway has a slight slope and everyday when I pulled up from work, I would check the mail. Like a night sky, Grover was always there. Tail wagging, ears perked high, Grover was waiting for me. “HI Grover” I would yell from the driveway.  Some days I pulled up and my neighbor was already in my yard playing with him. Other neighbors would tell me they saw him outside during the day and he did this or that. There is a muddy, worn path that outlines the perimeter of our pool where Grover would run daily from one side of the yard to another. We joked that he looked like a greyhound sprinting around the curve. Sean worked so hard to repair the grass that Grover killed, either through urine or digging. Each week he would repair an old hole, only to find a new one.

When we came home every day, Grover would be there. We let him in to come have some comfort. Usually Sean would wrestle with him or I’d lay him down for a good belly rub. Our son would gleefully pet him and shriek with excitement just to be in his presence. Grover always sat there, patient and gentle. He was never one to be anything but protective and kind to his owners. Even baby owners that yanked on his tails.

So sweet to his brother

So sweet to his brother


My favorite Grover story makes me look like a bad mother but shows how lucky I was to have him as a dog. One day I was in the kitchen and turned my back on Cohen. Not realizing Cohen was now mobile, I came to the kitchen only to find Cohen gone. I panicked and immediately walked toward the stairs. There going up one step at a time, were Cohen and Grover. Grover hopped up each step as slowly as Cohen did, protecting him from danger. I stood in awe and for a moment didn’t even rush to my son. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Grover was protecting Cohen. That beautiful trait was not something you could ever buy, it was loyalty at its finest.

When Cohen was first born, Grover came running upstairs in the middle of the night to inquire as to the shrieking newborn cries. This was not part of his VERY comfortable, normal routine. He would sit at the edge of Cohen’s room, never to come in unless invited. Many nights he slept outside Cohen’s room in fact, but never entered. It wasn’t until Cohen was much older that he could say “grove” and invite him in.


Waiting outside Cohen’s room

My family has a special attachment to Grover as well. We had only had him a week when he had to go to Charleston for a wedding. My sister Stephanie kept him while we stayed at a hotel. She was in love with this sweet puppy and took great care of him. From that weekend on, every time Grover saw her he would lick her incessantly upon arrival and jump in the bed with her at our house. He was so happy to have her home. My parents also loved Grover. They kept him many times for us, even though they were no longer dog owners, so we could go out of town. They would send us pictures of him while we were gone and let us know about his antics. Although he shed, they grew to love him as well—letting him in their boat and car for trips to the lake. At Christmas, they brought Grover stocking treats and would always go pet him outside when they arrived. Like always, Grover was there waiting with excitement, tail wagging, when anyone new came over. But he always seemed more excited when someone he knew was around.

I always envisioned having many, many years with Grover. I figured he would grow up with our kid(s) and we discussed needing a bigger car for road trips because we’d need to have room for 1-2 kids, luggage and the dog. He wasn’t a nuisance but a necessity in our life. He never asked for anything. He never asked for people food. In fact, he stayed in the den while we ate. He ate the same food every single night for more than two years. He would ask, however, to go outside when he needed to use the bathroom. Many nights I would sit lazily on the couch as he whimpered at my feet and paced to the door. My husband and I would say “not it” for who had to take him out. We had to remind ourselves that this minor inconvenience was pretty amazing actually, that our dog would tell us it was time to go out. Surely, we could be inconvenienced for a few minutes to let him outside to pee.

I can only hope we were half as good to Grover as he was to us. We sure did like to make him comfortable. When his $90 pet bed seemed to be too small, we got him another bigger one. He was laying half off of it, so we thought it was time for a new one. We found the biggest one possible, for a great dane or something, since Grover liked to spread out to sleep. That bed lasted only a few months before his jaws ripped it to shreds. We still had the expensive one and some days he would find it in another room and curl up in it. He started sleeping in the computer room when he wanted to get away from the noise of the TV. We called his apartment. If I asked, “where’s Grovie,” Sean would say, “the apartment.”

One of his many beds

One of his many beds

Later, he would also start sleeping in the bonus room upstairs. The couch to be exact. This became his condo. When he would sleep in the sunroom, underneath a giant plant, we called this his fort. And on the days he slept just in his regular bed (the fourth one we purchased) this was just his “bed.” Sean even put a bed inside the homemade dog house he built him for outside. Not only did he have a doghouse but he also had a covered area that he could hang out under with plenty of space to run around and walk. I must add that Sean also installed a heat lamp on a timer for the doghouse. This dog in no way was put out whatsoever! Still, there were many rainy days I came home and yes, Grover stood at the top of the driveway soaking wet. Why he didn’t use the doghouse was unknown to us, but that was just part of him.

We started noticing in late January that he was throwing up and having loose stools. We immediately took him to the vet and got him started on some antibiotics. A couple days later he was not eating as much. He continued throwing up. We took him back. Special diet later and another few days, we noticed the ribs were starting to become a little visible. We noticed he was lethargic. His ears were not as perky. We took him back in to the vet for X-rays, blood work, the whole nine yards. $500 later, we learned he was fine. Special diet again and keep him inside during the day for a week. Our gracious neighbor took him out during the day and we monitored his outdoor time so that he would not eat his poo or sticks or anything too upsetting to the stomach. Meanwhile, more ribs were becoming visible. At each visit he was dropping major weight. Still, I figured the THIRD round of antibiotics would do the trick.

A couple days later, he vomited 4 times in 24 hours. He didn’t eat or drink for two days. I knew something was wrong. Back again to the vet. This time we asked for a referral to a specialist and the vet agreed, something was definitely wrong and out of their control. Two days later, and four pounds less than the last time we took him in, I took him to the specialist. She carefully let me tell her everything and I wept a few times trying to remember all the visits to the vet. She had read his chart but wanted my story. I could hardly remember which visit yielded which result. She told me she was VERY concerned about the weight loss and that he must be very ill. But she assured me we could hopefully find some answers with the ultrasound.

I waited 45 mins in a room alone, praying something would come back negative or positive for an easy fix. Right before he left me, the doctor told me she could feel something in his abdomen. I thought, Oh, Great! Maybe it is just a foreign body that we can remove somehow. Knowing how he loved sticks, perhaps it’s just a stick leftover.

sick and waiting at the vet.

sick and waiting at the vet.

The vet came back and told me she saw a very large mass attached to his intestine. Or else it was blocking her view of the intestine, she couldn’t know for sure. She said his lymph nodes were 4-5 centimeters and should be 1 centimeter at most. She said there were packs of them all over his body that were gigantic. And the mass, she just had no idea what it was but she didn’t like it. She could feel it from the outside. “He needs immediate surgery,” she said. I wept and wept. I knew in my heart something bad was happening. I called Sean and told him we would need to spend another $3,000 to try and save his life. Was that okay? He agreed. We’d been budgeting for a new bathroom but we couldn’t very well soak up in the luxury of a new shower and know we had never given our precious Grover a chance at life.

We brought him home that night (surgery was scheduled for first thing the next morning) and I sat with him on the floor for 30 minutes. I just rubbed his newly shaved belly and whispered to him. I told him I needed him for many more years and that he would be okay after tomorrow. I told him just to rest because tomorrow would be a long day and then he would feel better. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring but I wanted to believe he would be better soon.  Sean and I tried to get him to sleep in our bed that night, but after 10 minutes he retreated to his condo. He wasn’t allowed on our bed normally, although I secretly let him sometimes. Don’t tell Sean. So I can understand why it would be foreign to him to sleep there that night. When I am sick, there is nothing more comfortable than my own bed. And Grover’s condo was by far his favorite place to sleep.

The next morning I woke up, gave him lots of kisses and asked Sean to take my picture with him just in case. I think in my heart I knew it might be the last time I saw him but I certainly didn’t believe it. Sean dropped him off at the surgery center and we went to work. They didn’t let us come back so I figured we’d pick him up the next stay after a night in the hospital.

saying goodbye. He was so sick he could not lift his head even. This was not Grover's normal personality.

saying goodbye. He was so sick he could not lift his head even. This was not Grover’s normal personality.

A few hours later the vet called. Grover was opened up and the mass was attached to the intestine. The lymph nodes were indeed gigantic and there were more masses on his liver. She was 99.9 percent sure it was lymphoma, or cancer. My two-and-a-half –year-old pup had cancer. I NEVER saw this coming. Our choices were not so simple: 1) try to remove the very-hard-to-remove mass and then treat him with chemotherapy ($4,000) injections weekly along with medicine at home. He would live 3-6 months at most. 2) Don’t remove the mass and still treat with chemo and he would live 3 months at most. The vet said this was not really an option though bc he would surely be miserable and in pain because the mass was still blocking his intestine. 3) Option three, don’t wake him up from anesthesia.

When writing down the options on paper, I got to number three and my heart stopped. I think it had stopped at option 1 but it really stopped at option 3. I realized we were out of options. I lost it and cried and cried on the phone. I could really only choose option 3. Even if we had all the money in the world, we could only buy him 6 months at most and they wouldn’t be wonderful months. I would probably count each day as though it was his last and in the back of my mind I would probably think, “he is dying.” At least with option three, he was peaceful and asleep and never knew any different. Sean and the vet concurred: we would do option 3.

It has been a tough few days but I wanted to capture Grover’s abundant life while it was all still fresh. Cohen is a little bit confused about where “grove” is and it’s been hard to not see those ears at the top of the driveway. It’s been hard with the dog  bed empty, but I keep thinking he must be in the fort or the condo or the apartment. We’ve had so many wonderful friends send condolences and at times I feel foolish for being so upset. It is just a dog after all. But it wasn’t just any dog, it was our dog. Oour wonderful Grover. And now, I smile at all the wonderful times we had. What a truly amazing pet!

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Work it Girl!

Today was my eighth and final workout with Johan, my Swedish trainer. I was looking forward to our workout at lunch today and reflected on our previous seven sessions. I am happy about the progress I have made. As I entered the basement-level locker room (which is no fun to climb out of post-workout) I opened my locker in horror! I had forgotten my workout pants! Crap. I looked down at my jeans (Friday is jeans day in honor of Solid Orange Day) and thought to myself, do I skip the last workout? Do I ask to reschedule? Or do I just push through and work out in jeans.?

I knew Johan would not be able to fit me in next week since my month was up and he didn’t roll over sessions. So I figured I had to choose the latter.

I went to the workout space and started warming up in my jeans and T-shirt. Thankfully I had the right shoes and sports bra but still, I was an interesting juxtaposition next to those college girls in their barely-there leggings and sports bras that double as shirts. Here I was in an XL T-shirt and jeans, of all things, working out. Could I stick out any more?

Johan stared for a second at my denim option and said, “interesting,” and I gave him a look of “don’t ask.” “Guess we’ll do upper body again?” he asked. We had just completed a rigorous upper body set on Wednesday and I was kind of looking forward to resting my arms for at least three or four days. But that was not in the cards.

Thankfully my jeans had somewhat of a decent range of motion and I was able to do the warm up. We went over to the BOSU ball and I can hardly remember what transpired next. But somehow I was lifting more weight than I’d ever done in my life and my triceps were bulging. Take that skinny college girls! Johan recorded my weight amt on his 4-week-old paper. “Great job!” he said. Then we spent the next 45 minutes torturing my upper body. I was sure my triceps and shoulders would pop out of my skin at any minute. At one point my arms and brain just could not work together anymore and they fell down. “Mind over matter,” Johan said. We did 10 more reps. “Hold it 15 seconds on my count,” he said AFTER the 10 reps. Then he said if I fell off the BOSU I had to do 10 more reps. I thought to myself, “Work it girl!” Somehow my core was able to hold me up there bc every other body part was melting into one.

We finished off with some abs and core and planking work. The first day I held the plank for 23 seconds and today was about 80 seconds. The first day I was using 7.5 lb dumbbells for hammer curls and today did 12.5 weight for 45 reps. In a short time I could see the improvement.

But the best part was that our workouts did exactly what I set out to do, which was fall in love with the gym all over again. I could tell I missed working out on the days we weren’t doing it. I liked the way I felt even when it was sheer exhaustion. I like feeling strong and powerful, even if I am wearing jeans. Two of our sessions were at 6:45 in the morning. This was after I drove 30 minutes to get to the gym, meaning I was up before 6 a.m. This made me realized how committed I am. I’m hoping these workouts really did ignite something in me again. From now on, I will hear Johan in my ear everytime I think about not wanting to workout. He was polite but firm, encouraging but tough. Now, let’s just hope I can lift my toddler up tomorrow morning!