Things I Forgot About Having a Newborn

Coffee is life, especially with no night and day, no solid eight hours of zzz’s, and after waiting nine long months to fuel up with some serious synthetic energy.

coffee

Tiny new hands on my hands, on my chest, on my face and arms, and grasping my finger. Impossibly small (but damn – sharp) baby nails.

Running in to Target for nursing pads, diapers, ice cream, and Xmas cards for my four-year-old’s preschool teachers, when it just happens to drizzle. Hearing no less than five comments, with thinly veiled scorn: “Oh! A new baby out in rain!” She’s not a gremlin, folks. We’ll be fine.

The glory of four hours of sleep (they don’t even have to be consecutive hours).

The rock hard pain of six hours of sleep.

The stunned realization that some people are unaware that “baby weight” does not magically disappear on day one. The hospital tech who doesn’t believe, until a nurse backs me up, that I am not pregnant – that the baby directly in front of me is the one who just came from my body. The checker at CVS who says “oh, you’re just like me – takes awhile for the weight to come off”, when I’m ten days postpartum.

Walking middle of the night laps around the house with a baby who won’t be put down, and finding it perfectly justifiable to have a snack each time I pass through the kitchen.

Diaper. Blowouts.

Her sweet little “hold me” cry.

Her ear piercing, shrieking for hours, inconsolable cry. The one that makes me angry, then guilty about being angry, then makes me cry too. (Also the one my husband manages to sleep through.)

Being chained to a nursing schedule, yet having no real schedule at all.

Managing milk … Leaks. Sore, chewed up skin. Tricks for getting the best latch. Over-supply. Under-supply. Pumping. Remembering which side baby ended with last time. Big kids being too interested, too close, too needy during nursing. Knowing it will get easier with time, yet doubting my ability to keep it up for another day.

Baby eyes while nursing, staring straight into mine, or closed in contentment. Baby guzzling, gulping, and sweet little sighs. Nursing blisters on the lips of a milk drunk baby face.

Patting her back for hours trying to find a burp. Or the spit up that happens as soon as I give up.

All the questions, from all the people, about her birth. Having no possible answers that please anyone.

Never knowing if she’s dressed for the right temperature. I know the rule: “What you’re wearing, plus a layer”. But, between a barrage of hormones and body heat from chasing the big kids, I have serious temperature control issues. Consider me an unreliable source.

Cradle cap.

Babywearing through the witching hour.

Having absolutely not a single clue what she needs. Running endlessly through the list of possibilities and coming up short at every turn. Crying right along with her. Surviving it.

Intuitively knowing, with certainty, what she needs. Because she came from me, and also made me, and caring for this particular tiny human is what I have always and never known how to do.

Evie
Readers, meet Evelyn Jeanne. Evie, meet our readers. I will only mainly tell them good things about you.

Why I Teach my Kids That the Most Important Thing to be is KIND

As per usual, leaving the children’s museum after a morning of fun has become a struggle and a half. Tears over the things we did not do on this trip. Tantrums over wet pants (despite reminders that playing in the water is both against the rules and, as evidenced, leads to wet pants). Full body, pregnancy aches and pains. The kids and I are tired, hungry, and over stimulated, but we make it to the parking lot via patience and promises of skittles.

A young mom approaches; her stress shows in the sweaty gleam of her makeup and the exasperated movement of swinging a toddler held for too long from one hip to the other.

“Excuse me, but do you happen to have jumper cables? My battery’s dead and we’re stuck.” I can hear in her voice that I am not the first person she has asked. Over her shoulder I see an SUV with the hood popped, a few cars down from my own. I flash from fuck, I really just need to get out of here to I would be so pissed if that were my hood up and my panic brewing.

“Yeah, I do. Let me just get my kids changed and in my car real quick.” She looks relieved and a little guilty (which she should not be) as she apologizes, noting that I obviously have my hands full. I tell her I do, but it sucks that she’s stuck and it’s really no problem to help out.

I can feel four little eyes and four little ears – all attached to the humans I created and am raising to be civilized – at attention for this exchange. As they stand in the back of our car, waiting for dry clothes and treats, I ask: “What’s the most important thing to be?” The response is quick from both: “KIND.” No further explanation is needed – they get it. Stalling our day briefly to help a stranger in need takes priority over our slight levels of discomfort.

♥♥♥♥

Why do I teach my kids to be kind, above anything else?

To counteract all the ugliness around us. In this shitstorm of a society filled with hatred, horror, and division, the only way to fight back is to create a little army of humans who will do better someday.

My kids need to be decent to each other, to their parents, to our dog, and to an overwhelming number of people with whom they must coexist daily. At 2 and 4, they are vastly selfish and need every possible bit of practice in kindness.

As they grow and form relationships, they should expect the same treatment from others. Accepting that this two-way street is mandatory will be a lot easier if they’re already following protocol in their own lanes.

It doesn’t cost or hurt anything. Seriously. 90% of the time, being kind takes absolutely nothing away from us.

The lesson reminds me to dish out compassion throughout my own day. I’m grumpy, and I don’t always like people. I go from neutral to irritated in seconds flat, and have to work hard to have a filter when I do. So I guess, at 38, I still need the practice too.

♥♥♥♥♥

The most important thing to be is kind. No day is left lacking in opportunities for this reminder.

When one of them is cooling off from hitting the other, of course, but also when one is basking in a compliment, a toy shared, or some other act of sibling sweetness.

When we bring dinner to friends, or when friends bring us dinner.

When we see a man sleeping outside and talk about how not everyone has a place to sleep, how a smile is better than a stare, how much we have come to like a particular homeless couple who we visit regularly with homemade lunches. Kind is the most important thing to be to all humans, no matter how different they may seem.

When someone holds a door open for us, remarks on a kid’s cuteness, moves their grocery cart to let us pass, or picks up one of the thousands of things that I drop and can’t reach – all small acts that could go unmentioned. Of course I model by saying thank you, but I also work to tell my kids explicitly “wasn’t that so kind?” or “that kindness made me feel good.”

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As an adult, I understand the complexities and nuances of life within a society. We often have to balance our idealistic qualities for protection. At some point, a person or situation may prove that our kindness has been exhausted and abused. It is possible for more than one thing to be the most important way to be. I want my kids (and myself) to strive for happiness, health, empathy, intellect, and success. But those all follow kindness, and my 2 and 4 year olds need to get that one down first.

So when an out of the ordinary circumstance – like someone asking for help with car trouble – presents itself, we choose compassion over convenience. That afternoon, on the way home from the museum, our conversation takes great turns. We talk about how it would feel to need help from a stranger – how it may be hard to ask, and feel upsetting to not know what to do. We talk about how it felt to stay calm and patient for long enough to figure out how to use jumper cables (or sit in the car quietly during the process, at least). We talk about how it feels when a little kindness gets us out of a jam. We talk about how car batteries and engines work. For the last ten minutes of the drive, we listen to my son lose his mind screaming and crying, because it’s long past nap time. But the example of how to be a decent human is still more important.

My myriad of hopes and dreams for my kids, of course, doesn’t end at kindness, but it starts there. And so I drill it into their little minds:

“What’s the most important thing to be?”

“Kind.”

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PSA: There are Some Problems Even Mama Can’t Solve

garden

The cry comes in the middle of the night, in the deepest part of my rare third trimester pregnancy sleep (as it always does). Groggy and slightly irritated, I zombie walk into the kids’ room, not knowing which kid is upset. Owen is sound asleep; I cover him with his blanket on my way to Addie. I sit on the edge of her bed, move the pillow covering most of her head, and push a chunk of sweaty hair out of her face.

She rolls toward me, eyes barely open, and reveals her sorrows in wails. Awakened from a dream, she mourns the loss of a ladybug once grasped in her little palm.

“I’ll never find a ladybug again!”

The source of the dream: an afternoon spent digging in the backyard garden bed, recently abandoned until next spring, and hunting under rocks for bugs. My irritation fades and my heart clicks with the genuine sorrow in hers.  I search for a way to tell her she is just reliving her day without diminishing the real weight of her emotions.

“Your beautiful imagination gives you such big dreams. It’s hard to have a bad dream when it feels so real.”

I help her get comfortable again; what a disaster she is in sleep. Most nights I find her hanging off the edge of the bed, with blankets and pillows in mounds. Her stuffed animals are tossed aside in favor of armfuls of Kleenex and the nighttime water bottle that lives on the shelf above her head. I reposition limbs, blankets, garbage, and loveys.  Since she was a newborn, she has slept with arms and legs outstretched – body and heart open to the world. No wonder she feels so much hurt when her dream ladybug disappears.

After a moment, she opens her eyes and I hand her a stuffed ladybug: “Look, you found one already!” Skeptical, she holds it for less than a second before chucking it. My first attempt at righting the wrongs of dreamland has failed.

I try again, stroking her hair softly: “Close your eyes and think about ladybugs flying around you, red ladybugs crawling on the green grass, sweet ladybugs landing in your hands.”

She turns back to me, locks my eyes in hers, and exorcist style grunts. “I want to smash the ladybugs”. Then she rolls away from me again, and drops back into solid sleep.

Bewildered and slightly concerned about the real ladybugs in her future, I leave the room. I have dug deep on this one (for the middle of the night, especially) and come up without a fix or an understanding of what she wants.

•••••

It happens on occasion – usually when I’m feeling a little overconfident in my maternal capability – that an issue arises for which I have no immediate or ongoing solution. No matter how deep I dig into my Mary Poppins carpetbag full of parental tricks, I come up short. There are some problems that even moms can’t solve.

I can’t fix it if the kids each insist on singing different versions of The Wheels on the Bus simultaneously, but fuss about the other one singing.

Repairing broken granola bars is out of my wheelhouse. (“If you eat both pieces, they will go back together in your tummy!” is a common phrase in our house).

I can’t get Owen five hours away to visit Grammy, even when he spends a full twelve hours in a meltdown over wanting to, out of nowhere.

When too much glue leads to a rip in the construction paper jack o’ lantern face, I can suggest covering it with the mouth. I can offer empathy, or a do over. But I cannot bend the laws of physics and unrip the paper.

When Owen refuses to participate in an obstacle course at soccer, no matter how cool he thinks it is, and then cries that he missed out, I don’t have a fix. I can only offer a consoling snuggle as we watch from the bench.

 When Addie still hasn’t put on her underwear after half an hour of warnings that the pizza will be delivered soon, and then cannot be the one to answer the door (because c’mon – we have some decency left), I can’t solve the problem she has created. I can’t deescalate her meltdown or keep it from spiraling into ruining the whole evening, no matter how many ways I suggest to move on.

As much as I want them to believe in the all-powerful nature of their Mama, I cannot literally make the sun rise or the rain stop falling to suit our desires.  

•••••

The reality is some things are beyond the scope of my control. And isn’t there a lesson in that somewhere? It hurts me when they hurt, but accepting the flow of the universe is a must for survival and happiness. Things will come up when we are apart; unexpected transitions at school will throw Addie, and Owen may need something only I understand when he is at Mimi’s house. ALL of the issues created out of their own willingness to participate or cooperate are sometimes better left as teachable moments (right???).

As they grow older, and life changes, we all have to reconcile new challenges. Hopefully this Mama’s continued snuggles, love, and middle of the night presence will solve some of the problems – ladybug dreams and beyond.

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A Pledge to my Spirited Daughter

My first born daughter – my whole heart and soul – it has taken me four years to wrap my mind around your spirit, acknowledge and be okay that it came directly from me, and resolve to work with it, instead of accidentally breaking it. Here is what I commit in my heart to you.

♥♥♥♥

You are the daughter I have, want, and love, and I accept every part of you.

We will get through the ages, stages, and phases when this drive of yours is toughest – maybe not all with grace, but we will learn from every struggle. Together.

I promise to celebrate the times when you thrive, and you lift the rest of us up, because of your dedication to doing things your own way.

You will know and feel my love for YOU more than you will feel my disappointment or frustration in your behavior.

I will not compare you to your siblings (or any other children) because you are different; you are beyond and more, for better and worse. We celebrate differences in our family, instead of counting them against each other.

Your strong will and unique needs are a part of your very core. I will not diminish you by apologizing to others for your nature; I will help guide you toward behavior that requires fewer apologies.

I vow to separate (as much as possible) my feelings about you from my feelings about myself. We are similar, but not the same person. You are not responsible for my errors, nor doomed to repeat them.

Most of all, I commit to finding renewed patience for you every day. It can be hard, with a spirited child, to maintain the level of empathy a parent has for another child. But you deserve it, my little love. When your actions are frustrating, harmful, and hurtful they are showing me how you feel. I will meet you there, love you wherever you are, and help you through.

♥♥♥♥

While your intensity and inability to conform makes some parenting moments truly suck, you are a future world leader, an innovator, a dreamer. You are strong, larger than life, and the world will have to adjust to you as much as you adjust to it. I am forever in love with your spirit, and future proud of where it will take you.

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It’s Owen’s Turn

When it’s pancake breakfast day at the 4 year old’s preschool, there is no getting around taking the 2 year old out for a pancake breakfast of his own. And who am I really kidding: I am not one to turn down second breakfast (or any other meal). So along with the hullabaloo of Addie going to school in pajamas, with her teddy bear, to eat pancakes with her school friends, Owen and I had to plan our own brunch date.

It was the last thing they both talked about the night before, and the first thing that morning. While the excitement was not quite enough to curb the getting ready for the day fussfest, it eased it a bit. After Addie was settled at school, Owen and I started off on our morning: soccer, pancakes, and then a run to Trader Joe’s.

It was all talk of pancakes for the first hour or so, and airplanes, since our favorite breakfast spot (Two Niner Diner) is by the airport. Somehwere along the way, the Trader Joe’s stop began to compete for his enthusiasm. Over SOCCER and PANCAKES.

His reasoning: “It’s my turn.” With the boss big sis at school, it was finally his turn to push the pint-sized, kids’ shopping cart. It sums up his whole attitude about this phase of daily life; it’s Owen’s turn. These days are (finally and temporarily) the days of Owen and Mama. And they are amazing.

Owen 4

My little shadow runs rights along next to me as we get things done, sits with a little hand on my leg at doctor’s appointments, helps with Penny Dog at the vet, and thanks me for taking him to the library for toddler story time. When he wakes from nap he runs out of his room to be greeted by me and only me. We take all the time we want to snuggle, build block towers, read books, and talk. I honestly don’t know which of us is enjoying it more. He is fully embracing the attention and freedom, while I am luxuriating in this one and only chunk of time with just one kid (basically a vacation).

Owen 3

Every moment is beautiful and magical … except the ones that are not at all.

At two and a half, Owen now spends large amounts of the day throwing himself screaming to the ground. He whines a lot. I mean, a lot. He pushes, hits, and throws things. He protests, and insists on independence in the most inconvenient of times. Some days I drown in a barrage of needs, inconsolable moods, and tantrums.

Some of his meltdowns, so far from anything rational, are surely a joke – a parody of himself. We decide one day on a lunch stop for bagels (I seriously never turn down food), and he asks, “is there milk at bagel shop?” My answer, while seemingly reasonable, was clearly not. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen milk there, bud.”

He catches and clings to the tiny, semantic, implication in that “pretty sure”. “I want milk with bagel! Bagel shop don’t have milks!!!” Throughout the entire drive across town he wails, mourning the milk that he has convinced himself he will not get. No matter how many times I reassure him that they will have it, he can’t let it go.

When we get to the bagel shop, of course, there is milk, but the little stinker steals my orange juice instead. His big feelings of grief are suddenly replaced by joy and mischief.

Owen 1

As taxing as it all is, I’m glad to have this one on one time to help him through the perils of being two. I can protect our future emotional selves by getting down to his level, helping him name his big feelings, offering some empathy, and taking as long as he needs to get to a solution/distraction/reconciliation.

Most days are on the sunny and fun side, despite being filled with huge struggles and/or overwhelming joy. We have plenty of minor issues and blissful connection through simple grins, giggles, and snuggles. We have daily battles over holding hands in the parking lot, me being allowed to go use a bathroom (all the time, thanks third pregnancy), or wear a hair tie. We have glorious bike rides, read endless Curious George stories, and bond over building “big, huge [Lego] trucks”.

Most importantly, I have a stellar eating buddy (until this baby gets so big that I have no room for food any more).

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Is It Bedtime Yet?

“Life is filled with sunshine and rain. Some days are fancy and others are plain.” – Remember Forever, Rainstorm Publishing

And some days – like Tuesdays – are very, very long. With a mix of sunshiny joy, rainy tears, stormy tantrums, bright blue skies and eyes, foggy pregnancy brain, and everything in between.

Tuesdays are my least and most favorite days right now. Addie is home from preschool. Kevin is gone from long before the kids wake up to after they go to bed. It’s just the three of us (and Penny Dog) to fill the day which, right now, takes every minute of my focus and energy. We have little independent play, frequent cries of boredom, and much fighting. It’s utterly exhausting.

At the same time, I am relishing my two big kids before baby sister arrives, enjoying how capable and fun they are, and being constantly wowed by their interests and achievements. By this time next year, Addie will be in full time school, Owen in preschool, and I will be back to baby business.

I try to cherish every moment, like I am supposed to be doing, but in reality I’ll settle for enjoying some and surviving others. Here is how we fill an average Tuesday.

 

First thing: scooter ride, dog walk, Mama-sore-hips-stretching walk, playground. Exercise and fresh air for all.

Cheese Meltdown

Back at home, we had a string of five back to back meltdowns within the span of ten minutes. A fight over who got to sweep which outdoor table; a little brother destroying preschool artwork (fixable); tears over sweatshirts; screams for treats; a piece of cheese that broke and will never be whole again. Tragedies, all of them, resulting in tears (from all of us).

 

Luckily, I had some preplanned activities for the day/week (a must right now, although they sometimes fail to even launch). After everyone recovered and snacked, a little structured creativity was a good breather. This one was a hit: Disappearing Letters.*

11 am when we wrapped up  – only 7.5 hours until bedtime. They begged to watch their current favorite movie, Sing, so we made it special by eating lunch in the living room (a rare treat from this clean freak Mama). Anything different from routine can go two ways: total disaster or fresh and exciting. Maybe because food and screen time were combined, maybe they were getting tired, or maybe I just got lucky, but this was a solid hour and a half of quiet time. Plus Owen was fed and sleepy at nap time on the dot.

 

Lunch.jpg

While the young monster napped, the older beast had be restrained for quiet time. Since dropping her nap over the summer, this is often a battle. But some golden days – like this one – it becomes an opportunity for sweet together time, side by side downtime, or a combination of the two. **

By the after nap portion of these kinds of days (okay, of every day) I am seriously wiped out. Today required an afternoon outing, somewhere that the kids could run wild and I could sit and watch, conserving energy for the evening hustle, intervening only when needed. One of our new favorite spots for this is an indoor kids’ play space in town, called Time Out.*** After a hour and a half here, they were sufficiently beat, and it was technically late enough to start dinner.

Dinner … I have learned my lesson about making a “real” dinner on the nights that Kevin is not home to eat with us. It’s kid food all the way. For a final, fun, activity, I put them to work on their own mini pizzas on english muffins. Classic kid dinner.

Dinner

Eyelids and spirits were drooping fast at the dinner table. Tuesdays are a firm no bath night. Neither kid had the energy to protest getting wiped down, putting on pajamas, and only getting one book each before lights out.

At the end of it all, I am about to fall over from exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional. My back is shot, my belly has been one solid Braxton Hicks contraction since 2 pm, I am craving silence and stillness, and have no energy to face the regular chores. But, while brushing her teeth, Addie reached out to give me a hug, saying “Thanks for the nice day, Mama”. And, on his eighth time out of bed to go pee, Owen said “That was fun make pizza, Mom, and watch Sing, and go Time Out, and scooter ride.” Their little faces and words of gratitude make it all worth it.

Signing off now for a giant piece of pie and the season premiere of This Is Us (if I can stay awake for it). Nighty fucking night. May everyone stay in their own beds until sunrise.

*https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2012/11/disappearing-letters-alphabet-for-starters-activity.html

** Fall counting worksheet and matching/memory games from: https://www.giftofcuriosity.com. This site is awesome – tons of free printable and activities, and a $10 credit to buy others when you subscribe by email. They’re not paying me to say this or anything, I just love when I come across a good resource for keeping the mini beasts entertained and learning.

*** http://timeoutnplay.com I promise, they’re not paying me either. No one is paying me, actually. No one at all.

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The Only Things to Hold Onto at the End of the Day

Friday afternoon, 4 pm, at my house is predictably chaotic. This has been a particularly brutal week, and it’s still a long-ass time until dinner. It is my last day of babysitting, and Addie has just gotten home from school, so everyone is underfoot. One kid is overtired and on day five of the constant unhappiness in the life of a four year old (“I don’t like how my life has turned out!”). The other kid, lacking in physical activity for the day, is running wild laps and jumping off the couch (standard issue two year old crazies). I am getting worn out from the baby’s game of pulling up to stand on my legs, swaying unsteadily with wild eyes and arms for 1-2 minutes, and then crashing into my massively pregnant belly, laughing like a tiny psycho. Addie and Owen are making up for the time they spent apart by cramming all of the screaming and hitting they can into each second.

I am suddenly saved by my handsome husband getting home from work. He is exhausted –meetings and back to school night this week have left him fried. Maybe it’s because of this that Owen quickly talks him into a scooter ride. With the dog.

So that’s one tiny human and a dog occupied, out of my line of sight.

My little sprite, Addie, needs some downtime to unwind from the work of preschool and gear up for the evening (including having family friends over for a pizza party). I toss out my first suggestion for a quiet activity, bracing for the usual battle: me offering six to ten choices, her screaming at the ludicrousness of each one, and then an argument in which she says “I never have anything to do. Life is so boring.” and I say “We can throw out all the toys then! You can just sit in silence.”

This day, though, the occasionally reasonable side she has developed since turning four kicks in, and the fight never happens. I say “Sweetie, why don’t you take some time to relax in your room. Please go sit down quietly and read all of your new library books.” She says (drumroll please) “Okay Mommy”. What just happened? Never mind, don’t question it.

And then she does it; she walks into her room without whining, growling, or stomping, and is silent (save for a little rustling of paper).

That makes two small people, and the dog, out of my personal space.

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Jacob gets a bottle and a snuggle. I get as deep of a breath as the baby pushing on my diaphragm from the inside will allow. We may survive the witching hour.

My amazing little book lover stays in her room quietly for a full twenty minutes. She emerges with calm, renewed energy that shows in her smile and lack of screaming or flailing. She sits next to me on the floor and hugs Jacob, asking again “Is this our last day babysitting? Will we still get to see him?” Yes it is, but of course we will. Answers which previously caused her to melt down in tears and anger make her hug him a little tighter, telling him what a sweet and clever baby he is.

I ask how quiet reading time was and she says (I don’t even need to embellish here – I swear – because the phrases are now engrained in my memory forever): “Mommy, there are two books that you picked that we read before, and I love them so much. Thank you Mommy, for picking such good books. You’re the best Mommy.”

It’s a fleeting moment of peace, wrapped in a feeling of relief, and rolled into a four year old who is turning out to be more perfect all the time.

I offer to read her the two she loves so much, and she leaps at the chance. She snuggles next to me on the floor, with her funny way of wrapping her little arm around my shoulders, as though she is the adult. We read Poppleton in Fall, and PJ FunnyBunny Camps Out. Jacob starts his wild standing and flopping game again, and we laugh. The guys and the pup get home.

Chaos resumes and grows as our friends arrive. The house is full of wild kid noises, pizza and countless interrupted adult conversations until the evening ends and we ruin the tiny humans’ lives by making them say goodbye to each other. Kevin and I have a quick bedtime strategy conference: definitely no baths, just wipe them down; which one do you want?; what kind of bribe can we offer for cooperation?  We do the bare minimum, roll them into bed, make the rare decision to leave the house messy, and drag our tired old selves to the TV.

These are the things (the only things) to hold onto from today. The beauty in all that chaos; the fact that we survived another week; that calm moment when I soaked in my girl with pride; the last day with Jacob going smoothly and culminating in a perfectly crazy dinner with both of our families; the quiet after the storm and the short chunk of time with my husband before another wild day begins.

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Rylant, Cynthis. Poppleton in Fall. The Blue Sky Press, 1999.

Sadler, Marilyn. P.J. Funnybunny Camps Out. Random House, 1993.