Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Realistic Resolutions

 I am kind of OVER making New Year's resolutions. Because I know the way life works, and that if I super-pinky-swear promise myself on December 31st that in 2015 I am going to get back to exercising for at least 30 minutes EVERY day, on January 1st I will come down with pneumonia and will be bed-ridden and lethargic for three weeks. If I tell myself 2015 is going to be the year of meditation and gluten-free foods, by January 3rd I will surely realize that meditation makes me anxious and gluten is the key to all my happiness. 

So instead of aspiring (and failing) to live a life that would get the Gwyneth Paltrow seal of approval, I have come up with the following list of "keeping it real" UNresolutions for 2015. 

These are not meant to inspire you. If they DO inspire you, you are weird.

1. I promise I am NOT going to eat kale at every meal, but I will THINK about kale at every meal. 

2. I will try to exercise for thirty minutes every day OR I will exercise until one of my small children decides to sit on my head while I attempt to do ab exercises (which is usually about four minutes into my workout).

3. I promise to use my Facebook posts as a way of bringing attention to important socio-political issues (like how many times Oren has gone poopy on the potty in one day).

4. I vow to take less time deciding what I should wear in the morning, by throwing out everything in my closet that is not black.

5. I promise to spend more quality time with my children, as long as quality time involves ice cream.

6. I swear I will cook more homemade meals for our family. Reheating counts as cooking, right?

7. I promise to read more (interviews with celebrities).

8. I will give up caffeine. Except for coffee. And soda. And chocolate. 

9. I promise to spend less money on silly toys that my children don't need. Until Disney releases Frozen 2. Then all bets are off.

10. I vow to appreciate what I have. I also vow to REALLY appreciate a winning lottery ticket.

What are your New Years resolutions, and when do you intend to give up on them?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Year in Pictures

It's true. I have basically failed as a blogger this past year. So how can I quickly sum up the beauty of a year that has gone by virtually undocumented in writing? Through pictures, of course! Here, my friends, is the Koelling Clan year in review...

Ember has evolved from a three year old into a "four going on fourteen" year old. She uses sayings like "what the heck?" and picks out her own outfits (which always involve at least three different colorful patterns and sparkly shoes). When I ask her how her day was, she tells me her mouth needs to rest. But she still needs cuddles before bedtime, and hugs. Lots of hugs (which we also LOVE giving her).

Oren has grown from a babbling baby into a very verbal, expressive toddler. He continues to be full of giggles and charm, and his favorite pastime is pretending to be a dinosaur. And then a kitty. And then a dinosaur. Oren gives million dollar hugs. Seriously, if you are ever sad, come over to our house and ask Oren to give you a hug. You will instantly feel better (until we charge you a million dollars)! He is a champion napper. He is amazing at puzzles. He ALWAYS has a cold or allergies. And he LOVES the YouTube video of "one potato, two potato."

This photo is a rare family photo of all four of us, taken during the summer. I tell you, there are annoying sides to parenting, like the fact that dinner is always chaotic, and there are always twelve loads of laundry to be washed, dried, and folded. But when the four of us huddle together like this, and our world is just a tiny microcosm of pure love, parenthood is perfection.

A photo of me and the kids. See, I told you that we hardly ever have a photo of the four of us!! This was taken at Em's camp this summer, which was a transformative experience for her.

Perhaps my favorite photo of the year, because it just says a lot about life, about having children, and about how beautiful the world is. This was taken on our vacation at the Cape, which we were generously invited on by my amazing Aunt Ellen and Uncle George.

The children love playing outside, and the fall was a perfect time to enjoy our new backyard, playing with bubbles and piles of leaves. And worms. Big, fat, juicy worms. Oren especially loved making two worms out of one worm and making his mommy gag.

Our kids being themselves, which basically means Oren creating a humongous mess and loving every minute of it, and Ember hamming it up and using her imagination to make the ordinary extraordinary.

I am not a huge fan of winter. Ok, I am not at all a fan of winter. I see winter as a five month long torture device that allows me to appreciate the months that are NOT winter. But what I DO love is seeing my kids LOVING the snow, and catching snowflakes on their tongues, and making snow cones. They are allowed to love winter, because they don't have to drive in it.

And THIS is what every parent looks forward to seeing at the end of a long day. Even if your four year old daughter is wearing a bathing suit on her head, as long as she is peacefully sleeping, it's all good.

There it is. A year in photos. 2014 was beautiful. 2015, here we come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Turning a Positive Result into a Positive Decision

Approximately two minutes after I found out I was BRCA1 positive, I knew I would be planning a preventative surgery to help drastically lower the odds of my getting breast cancer. Knowing that my mother had had a clear mammogram just months before being diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer made me want to aggressively fight my odds of getting an especially aggressive mutation. I knew that vigilant monitoring through mammograms wasn't for me, and that I would lose sleep for weeks (or months) before each yearly exam. 

So surgery seemed like the best option. Or maybe the "breast" option?

But At the beginning of this journey, I had no idea how many options are available for mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. 

I first visited with three local surgeons. Each one of them kindly told me I was a good candidate for implants, and discouraged me from thinking about other alternatives. They gave me pamphlets to read, and I read them and tried to wrap my head around the idea of implants. Honestly, the thought of an implant didn’t sit very well with me. Mostly, I couldn't picture myself as a 70 year old woman with implants. When I asked the surgeons if I would need to replace the implants as my body aged, they said I would, as if that was a given, and did not seem to acknowledge the fact that it would be a HUGE inconvenience to have to go back for repeated surgeries. Upon further investigation, I found out that many women have complications with their implants, ranging from minor to major. I just didn’t feel confident going that route.

So I decided to widen my scope. I turned to the support group FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), created for those who are BRCA mutation positive. Through various message boards and posts on the FORCE website, I found out about the DIEP FLAP surgery, where they use your stomache tissue (sparing the abdominal muscles) for the breast reconstruction. It involves microsurgery and reattaching blood vessels, which of course sounds scary and intimidating, but the women who have braved these procedures, overall, seem MUCH happier than those who have opted for implants. Many FORCE members recommended two breast reconstructive  centers, one in New Orleans, and one in San Antonio, for this type of surgery.

I reached out to both centers, and got two very different responses. When I contacted the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans, I was asked for my contact information and was told I would get a call back... which never happened. When I contacted PRMA in San Antonio, I was immediately connected with the patient advocate, Courtney, who was incredibly welcoming, informative, and an absolute pleasure to speak with. She made what could have been a very uncomfortable, stressful conversation a very easy, very comfortable one. 

Based on surgeon recommendations I saw on the FORCE website, and my two very different experiences with New Orleans and San Antonio, I asked Courtney if I could set up a consultation with Dr. Minas Chrysopoulo at PRMA. We scheduled a Skype consultation in October. I expected to speak with Dr. C, as everyone calls him, for maybe ten minutes (that was about the length of time my other consultations had lasted). Instead, Dr. C spent at least 45 minutes to an hour talking to me about my decision and the DIEP FLAP surgery. I was so impressed with his patience, attention, and care. And he didn't talk to me like I was a PATIENT. He talked to me like I was a HUMAN BEING. One of the first things he asked me was whether or not I have children, and when I told him I have two little kids, ages 2 and 4, he said, "that BY FAR is going to be the biggest challenge of having this surgery." He got it. He understood the effect of this surgery, far beyond the borders of the operating room. And we had only been talking for two minutes. Dr. C also did everything he could to set realistic expectations for what I would go through, and what the outcome would be. He was transparent. He didn't romanticize anything. He was confident but humble. And by the end of the conversation, I knew I had found my surgeon.

Following the consultation was the long and anxiety provoking wait to hear whether my insurance would cover the surgery. I may have emailed PRMA six or six hundred times to check in on the status of the approval. But when the call finally came, and Courtney told me I was approved to schedule a date for the surgery, I truly felt like screaming "hallelujah!"

So I set my date for the surgery. I have gotten my insurance approval, gotten the ok from work (thank goodness for understanding employers!!), booked our flights, reserved a hotel, and rented a car. I have requested the help of my Eema, my stepmother, for the days following the surgery. I have had conversations with brave, beautiful women who have gone through this surgery and have generously offered to share their experiences. I have had a CTA scan in preparation for the surgery. I have had several conversations with lots of folks who only know about prophylactic mastectomies because of Angelina Jolie, which makes me more grateful to her for going public with her decision. I have scoured the Internet for packing tips, tips on how to prepare (mentally, physically, emotionally) for this surgery, tips on what to expect in the days following the surgery, and tips on where my husband can take the kids in San Antonio (though unfortunately a lot of attractions seem to be closed in the month of February). 

And now I am actively working on staying calm, staying healthy (a big challenge in this household of tiny children), getting organized, and becoming as well-informed as possible. And being a wife and mommy. And working full time.

 It's a lot, but I think I can handle it. 


Back to the Blog

It was just about four years ago that I flew out to San Jose to see my mother for the last time before she passed away in February of 2011. It was just about four years ago that I got to hug her for the last time, kiss her face for the last time, tell her I love her for the last time, and most importantly, make sure she knew I forgave her for not being a perfect parent. 

Unfortunately, a very busy life does not leave much time to mourn. Rather than putting aside time each year to grieve for my mom, I have let the comprehension of her death sneak up on me and surprise me at very random times, in very random places. I will be driving to work, or putting the kids to bed, or emptying the dishwasher, and a sense of loss will creep up behind me and put me in a choke hold. Suddenly I will be crying, and feeling like a child, and remembering my mom standing there, with sewing pins dangling out of her mouth while she worked on a craft project. She was almost always working on a craft project.

My mother was 63 when she died, after an eighteen year long battle with breast cancer. She was BRCA1 positive.

In February 2015, just two months from now, I will be commemorating the four year anniversary of my mother’s death in a unique way – by getting a prophylactic DIEP FLAP mastectomy in San Antonio, Texas. The journey to making this decision, ever since discovering my BRCA1 positive status in October of 2011, has been long and complex, but I am glad to have a plan, and a set date for the surgery. 

I haven’t written much on this blog for some time now, and I feel immensely guilty for not better documenting our family’s life the past couple of years. It seems like the minute Oren was born, any free time I had for blogging went out the window. I know it is so unfair to him, that I have this tome of writing describing in great detail Ember’s first few years.. and what? Maybe three posts about him, since he was born? This lack of writing is no indication of lack of love. I love Oren far beyond words. The lack of writing is just a testament to how busy we have been.

But once I decided on having this surgery in February, I decided that I REALLY want to reboot this blog, and to use the surgery as an opportunity to start writing again. I know that blogging will be immensely helpful to me, to my healing, and to just keeping me busy while I recuperate. I know I will have lots of “down time” coming up, and that I will be able to use the time to write about the kids and our family. I ALSO want to document my journey, so that it might be helpful to other women who are choosing to go through the same procedure I am going through, and so that, God forbid, one of my children has inherited this genetic mutation, they will know more about the choices I made to try and improve my odds of not getting cancer. In preparing for my own surgery, I have searched the web and found many invaluable pearls of wisdom from other BRCA positive women who have had mastectomies, and so blogging will be one way through which I can “pay it forward.”

So welcome back to Mooshkatoo. I hope you enjoy reading my upcoming posts as much as I will enjoy writing them. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It’s All About the DADA

So, for the first two and a half years of Emmy’s life, she was virtually attached to my hip. Often, she was LITERALLY attached to my hip, clinging to my neck with one arm, shoving her other arm and hand down my blouse to make sure her breast friends were still there, and locking her little legs around my waist.

I don’t think I really begrudged Em’s attachment to me. I mean, it kind of felt nice to play the role of “Center of the Universe” in my daughter’s life. But I DID feel bad for my husband. Most of the time, Em saw him as just another person who was trying to get between her and her mommy. When I would hand her off to C so I could take a five minute shower, she would begin howling like a wolf, would squiggle out of his arms, run to the bathroom door, and would then scream my name through the door for the full length of time it took me to clean myself (and I would be chanting “take me away, Calgon” the whole time).

Well, the days of the Mama Love Fest are apparently over. WAY over. I am definitely NOT top dog in our household anymore. I have taken off my crown and sash, and handed them to my husband, because it is SO official: Dada Rules.

Of course, part of the reason WHY Dada rules is because with Dada, THERE ARE NO RULES. Whereas I employ the “I’m gonna count to three,” rule, the “this is your second warning,” rule, the “you cannot play until you finish your lunch,” rule, and the ever-popular “because I SAID SO” rule, Dada is a lot more lenient in his governing.

The kids were home sick (with PINK EYE! YUCK!) a few weeks ago, and my husband generously volunteered to stay home with them so I would not have to take time off from my very new job.

Now, if I had stayed home with the kids, despite being ill, they still would have had to eat a decent lunch, help clean up their playroom, and take a bath. With Dada in charge, our house becomes a frat house, with the kids running around in togas, doing keg stands, and screaming so loudly the neighbors call the cops on us.

Ok, maybe it’s not THAT bad. But when I called home from work to check in on how my husband and the kids were doing on their day off from school and work, my husband gave me this run down:
“Well, we played with the bubble machine for four hours. Then Em and I went to the movies, and we got popcorn and a huge bag of gummy bears. She ate the whole bag. Now we are going out for ice cream.”


If we were to hold an election for President of the Household, Dada would win hands-down, campaigning with slogans such as “Want Chocolate Cake for Breakfast?” and “You Look Great with Underwear on Your Head! Vote for Dada!”

Of course, Dada can be a serious parent, too. When I am home with him and the kids, he is an AMAZING partner, volunteering to get the kids bathed, making sure the kids get dressed for school, brushing their teeth, AND he reads Emmy her bedtime stories EVERY NIGHT (when I volunteer to read Emmy her books instead of Dada, she starts to whimper and then has a panic attack). My husband somehow makes even the daily grind seem more fun and silly than I ever could. As I prepare dinner downstairs, I hear Dada making silly jokes and the kids giggling hysterically as they get their pajamas on upstairs. Even with a simple task like getting the kids into the car to go shopping, Dada somehow makes it a fun and magical experience.

It’s not that I don’t have fun with the kids. I TOTALLY do. But it is very apparent, from the adoration and enthusiasm the kids have for Dada, they CLEARLY have more fun with him than they have with me.

I get it. If I had to choose between myself and my husband, I would choose him in a SECOND. Kind of why I married him.

So, this is where things stand. I had a great run as the Center of the Universe. I now enjoy watching my children follow my husband around the house like two little groupies begging for autographs. I love seeing him sitting on the couch with my daughter tucked under his arm and my son sitting on one knee. I think it is great that the first thing the kids say when they wake up in the morning is “where’s Dada?” and the first thing they say when we get home from school is “where’s Dada?” and that the other night my son screamed “DADA!!!!!!!!!!!!” instead of “MAMA!!!!!!!!!!” when my husband and I went out to dinner for our anniversary. Most of all, I love that my husband is getting HIS moment in the spotlight – after all, he had to wait patiently through three long years of Mama Love.

Do I feel slighted? Sure, a little. Does it sting? Sure, a little. But I am discovering there are perks to being the parental wallflower. I get to shower and pee without a baby sitting outside the bathroom door crying because of my momentary absence. I get to check my emails while Dada reads bedtime stories. I get to go through the day without a child physically attached to my hip.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back in my direction in a few months, or years, or decades. Maybe it won’t. For now, I’m ok with the fact that it is all about the DADA, and endlessly grateful that my husband is such an amazing dad.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Get Back to Work!

So, I'm going back to work. Full time.

It's such a crazy feeling, to be on the cusp of this major change. I'm elated, on the one hand, because I got offered a job that seems challenging and interesting in an environment that seems incredibly positive and supportive. I will no longer just be known as "mommy" or "Ember's mommy" or "Oren's mommy." I will have a valid reason to wear something other than sweatpants and a t-shirt. I won't have to fill my co-workers' sippy cups with apple juice every ten minutes. I will be able to have actual adult conversations, and not just daydream about them.

But I'm also sad and worried. In ten days, I will no longer be singing "Let It Go!" with my kids every five minutes. I will no longer be taking the kids to the toddler story times at the library every day. I will no longer be the person who is with my kids each time they reach some huge or tiny developmental milestone. I will no longer have my sweet little hand-clapping, feet stomping, head-bobbing entourage with me throughout the day.

My kids are amazing. They can be difficult to manage every hour of every day, but they are amazing. I am so proud of who they are, even at only 16 months old and three and a half years old. And even though I am having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that the intense period of mothering that I have experienced as a stay-at-home mom is coming to an end, I know they are going to do really well in this next phase of childhood. Because they are amazing.

So this is my SAHM swan song. It was the best of times, it was the craziest of times. I learned a boat load about my children, about myself, about parenthood, and about life, and I wouldn't trade the past year and a half for anything in the world. I wish I had had the time to better document all the adventures the kids and I had together, but I was just too busy being a mom to document anything.

On Wednesday night, while I was putting Emmy to bed, I had one of my (all too frequent these days) spontaneous emotional breakdowns, and tears started streaming down my face as I sang Em her lullabies.

Em looked at me and asked me why I was crying.

"Well, you know how I told you I would be going back to work, Em?"


"Well, sometimes I get sad when I think about going to work and not being with you all day, because I know I am going to miss you very very much."

"Well, mama, you don't have to be sad, because remember that your heart is right next to my heart, and even if you are at work, our hearts are next to each other."

I had used that explanation to get Emmy to calm down one day when she was telling me how she didn't like going to nursery school because the boys would growl like tigers at her. I told her my heart was always next to her heart, even when I wasn't standing right next to her, and that my heart could help her not be scared.

Of course, hearing Em's comforting words just made me bawl even more. So she held out her two favorite stuffed animals.

"Maybe you could bring puppy or pink reindeer with you to work, so you won't be so sad."

And I of course started crying even harder.

"Thank you, Emmy. Mommy is going to be fine. I promise."

And I will be fine, I know I will. It might take me a few days, or even a few weeks, to adjust to not being around my kids all day, but I know I will be fine.

Still, if you ever come visit me at my new work place, and you see a pink reindeer sitting on my desk, don't ask questions. It is there for a very good reason.

Friday, February 28, 2014

I've Been Trapped Under a Snowbank (and other excuses for not blogging recently)

So, the kids are asleep and C is at volleyball. I have the option to use this time wisely in a couple different ways:
a) I could go to sleep right now, THIS second, and could try to score more than my average four or five hours of sleep a night. This would make the bags under my eyes look less like, say, carpet bags and more like, say, chic little purses.
b) I could fold laundry. Because there is ALWAYS laundry to fold. I have come to the realization that I will probably spend at least 80 billion hours of my life folding our family's laundry. I don't exactly EMBRACE the idea, but I haven't burned all of our clothes yet, or suggested that we move to a nudist's colony.
c) I could write a very long overdue blog post about this absolutely insane winter, and about my absolutely insane (but hysterical and beautiful) children, and about the many revelations I have had while basically snowed-in during these long, cold months.

Sleep, I guess you are going to have to wait. Laundry, you can fold yourself for one night. This mama has got to blog.

Ok, let me start off by saying that had I known, back in June, that the first winter I would experience as a stay-at-home mom would be a record-breaking, snow-up-to-my-nose, frostbite-within-seconds-of-leaving-the-house, eight-month long season, I probably would have stayed employed.

It's not that I haven't enjoyed bonding with my kids, or getting to see and experience Oren's first year on this earth in such a complete way. I really really have. I feel like I know my kids SO well now, and that is incredibly valuable to me.

But this winter has been the winter from hell, and has proven very clearly to me that I am a seasonally successful stay-at-home mom. In the summer and fall, I would say I do a relatively good job as a SAHM. I find ways of making the days entertaining and educational, while actually ENJOYING my responsibilities. But in the winter? I suck at life AND motherhood. I spend most of the day staring at the window, cursing at each and every snowflake and icicle while the children juggle knives and strangle each other somewhere in the distance. I have TRIED to get out of the house, when possible, but other than outings to the library and indoor play parks and pet stores, there really hasn't been much to do.

But enough about the winter of my discontent. Let's focus on the kids.

The kids. Seriously. They are crazy. And they are A-MA-ZING. And they are COMPLETELY crazy.

Ember is no longer Ember. By that, I mean she honestly spends 9 hours of the day playing the role of Elsa from the movie Frozen. And because Elsa has the magical power to freeze people, I spend 9 hours of the day pretending to be frozen. So if you are in need of a living statue, look no further. I have had LOTS of practice. I'm your gal.

Ember is also EMBER. By that, I mean even though she is only three and a half years old, she is so much her own person and personality. I think it actually took having a second child for me to realize how unique Emmy's personality traits are to her. She is SO creative, and SO sensitive, and SO funny, and sometime also SO difficult. My biggest challenge with her is getting her to LISTEN and pay attention. She gets caught up in her own thoughts and imagination and needs, and it is sometimes very tough getting her to step outside her own circle. We are working on it, though.

And Oren? He's a delight, and he's a joy, and he's a very silly, very mischievous boy. He is very quick to smile and laugh, and is SO good at cuddling. He loves dancing and music and balls and lights and eating crackers and smushing crackers into the living room rug. He also LOVES climbing up on chairs, couches, tables, shelves... and sometimes he loves climbing INTO shelves. He loves finding the most dangerous object in the room and using it as a drum stick. He loves trying to flush large objects down the toilet. He loves running around naked. He loves digging through the garbage to find small plastic items to choke on. In short, he loves giving me small heart attacks on an hourly basis.

Oren is talking - saying quite a few words already, and then grunting to make his needs known the rest of the time. His vocabulary is telling of his personality: mama, dada, ball, uh-oh, kick, cracker, no (with the intonation of "no"), no (with the intonation of "more"), down, and all done. It's amazing how much we can communicate using just these ten words.

I feel guilty (SO guilty) for not having blogged more about his growth, his milestones, and his personality. He truly is a gem, and a love, and I feel like I have cheated him by not recording his first year in a more complete manner. But it is what it is, and I can only try to try harder.

And in other news, we have sold our house and are moving to a bigger home, just about eight miles from where we live now. The whole buying and selling process has been so incredibly stressful for our whole family. It is SO not easy to show a house when you have a one year old and a three year old. I turned into a maniac from the moment our house went on the market, and became vicious about keeping the house clean and tidy. Every time the kids took out a toy to play with, I would get a nervous tic. It was NOT good. But we were incredibly lucky in having our home sell in 15 days (we had multiple offers, which was pretty thrilling considering we were selling in the dead of this stupid winter, and in this rather dead economy). So now we just have to get through the next month of the closing process, which I am sure will feel like the longest month EVER, and then we will be in a new home, with lots more room (and a second bathroom - yay)!

I think the whole country is ready for this winter to be over, so I am in good company in aching for spring's arrival. I cannot WAIT to bring the kids to the playground again, and to feed the ducks and the fishies at the pond, and to not have to dress them in eight layers of clothing every time we leave the house. If, in the future, I ever start to lose an appreciation for the warmer weather days, and start to take them for granted, I hope I re-read this post and pause to give thanks for the grass and sun and flowers and how much easier it is to parent when it is NOT wintertime.