Friday, October 25, 2013

What are you afraid of?

Here is a list of what terrifies me, in order of severity:

1. My children getting really sick or hurt
2. Dying and leaving my young children without a mother (or vice versa, my husband dying and leaving my older children without a father)
3. Operating rooms
4. Not being able to get the things my family needs (food, clothes, car repairs, etc.)
5. Large animals that are domesticated, particularly dogs.

Are they all rational? Maybe some more than others.

Here is a (short) list of things that I am not afraid of, but what I am told to fear as a parent:
1. Strangers
2. Pesticides
3. Guns
4. Girls that like my son(s)
5. Halloween

Rather than delve too deeply into the truly terrifying list, I'm going to share more about why I'm not afraid of the things on the second list.

First, I believe that people, on the whole, are decent. I do not think they are all pedophiles and intend to do harm to my children. I lost Tommy on the beach in Wildwood when he was 5. The woman half way down the beach who realized he was lost and helped him find me again was not in the market for another kid. I think at least 90% of the other people on this planet would have done the exact same thing.

Secondly, I feed myself and my family nutritious, well balanced meals. But most what I purchase is non-organic. I also cannot be bothered with GMOs, BPAs, or chlorine in diapers. I do not have $350 a week to spend at Whole Foods or the patience to cloth diaper my baby. And I'm not going to feel guilty about this anymore.

Now the third one is a toughy, but really I am not afraid of guns. I have had so little exposure to them. I don't think I have ever seen someone fire a gun in real life. I know law enforcement officers use them to protect the majority of us non-gun owning suburbanites.  And I know that many, many Americans use them to hunt animals and eat them. Do incidences like the Sandy Hook shooting scare the crap out of me? Absolutely. But it's not the guns that scare me, it's when crazy people use them. And if you reference my first point, you'll see that since I think most people are good (and because I live in the 'burbs), the chances that I or someone I love will be the victim of gun violence, are slim. I have been a victim in a "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario and even if I had always looked both ways before crossing the street and only crossed at crosswalks my whole life, the same thing would have happened.

Girls. Can a mother really be afraid of such a thing, especially when not too long ago I was one? We all know what boys and girls do once their hormones kick in. I am confident that as long as I teach my children how to respect their bodies and those of the people they want to have sex with, they will do what is right. If you want to call me on this one though, check back in about 5 years.

And lastly, Halloween. It is really shocking to me how many people, parents in particular, are scared of this holiday. Razor blades in the candy, right? Don't eat those cookies that the little old lady down the street took the time to bake for your kids because they are most certainly poisoned. Do you know that for more than a decade a hospital system that has been scanning candy for paranoid parents has never found anything that was not supposed to be there? Also, there has never been a substantiated report of someone poisoning children on Halloween. Ok, there was this woman on long island in the 60's that didn't like the teenagers who were trick-or-treating in her neighborhood so she gave them ant buttons that were clearly labeled "poison". And also, there was a boy in TX who died after eating a cyanide-tainted pixie stick. But do you know who put the cyanide there? His father because he wanted the money from the life insurance policy he had just taken out on him.

I feel like if I was really scared about the things on the second list or always maintained a "better safe than sorry" attitude when it came to raising my kids, I'd be a basket case and my kids would never have any fun. At all. And I would turn them into basket cases. So go wild and let your kids eat a conventional apple, go for a walk around the block by themselves, and for goodness sake, let them eat that rice krispie treat Mrs. Berkovich gives them on Thursday. I dare you. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Baby blues. And then some.

There have been three really terrible events that have occurred in my adulthood that have shaped the person I am today. The first happened when I was 25 years old. I was a pedestrian in a crowd and I was struck by an SUV.  I was critically injured, but escaped with my life. Others involved in the accident were not so lucky.  The second occurred when I was 30 years old.  My father, who was not seemingly ill, died suddenly at the age of 57 from heart failure. And the third may be harder to understand. This one happened when I was 34. I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. Wait, what? That doesn't sound traumatic, especially given the magnitude of the first two events. But this one, for some reason, has been my hardest to accept and put into perspective.

Jim and I wanted to have another baby shortly after my Dad's passing, but my body was not agreeable. After a little over a year of trying on our own, I visited  a fertility clinic that I was referred to by the doctor who had delivered Tommy. Supposedly, the specialist who ran this clinic had been instrumental in helping other woman achieve pregnancies. But I have to tell you, he was super shady. I should have ran for the door. But I reluctantly proceeded through one monitored cycle and an IUI procedure. I was so stressed out by the every other day blood draws and the invasive ultrasounds that by the time the IUI came around, I knew there was no way I would conceive. And I didn't and it was heartbreaking. Afterwards, I decided that I would make small changes to my diet to improve the likelihood of another pregnancy and put it out of my mind. It would happen if it was meant to happen. And gratefully, it did!

My pregnancy with Nicholas was largely uneventful. My prenatal screenings, blood work, glucose test, and blood pressure were all normal. Other then measuring large for his gestational age, the ultrasounds showed Nicholas was developing typically. The technician that performed my ultrasounds said to Jim and I “Thank you for sharing this baby with me”, which helped put my mind at ease. I was even taking a step to control my anxiety by attending weekly prenatal yoga class.

Despite what I knew about childbirth already, I bought into the thinking that I may somehow be able to control "my birth experience" with Nicholas. So rather than try for a VBAC, as I once thought I would, I decided for a repeat c-section. Since Nicholas was also a large baby, I was afraid that attempting to deliver him vaginally would end up as Thomas’ birth did; with a baby in distress, with low birth scores and a subsequent NICU stay. My c-section was scheduled for January 11, 2012.

But once again, my body had a different idea about how this was all going to turn out. Right before the new year, at 37 weeks, I began having terrible pains in my left side. I also began vomiting.  As you near the end of a pregnancy, everything that you read tells you “Yes, you are uncomfortable and yes you may be experiencing unusual symptoms, but all of this is normal and will subside after the birth of the baby.” But I needed relief. So on the morning of New Year's Eve, Jim and I headed to the ER at Cooper Hospital to find  it. Unfortunately, I left feeling worse than when I came in. This was partly due to the nurse and residents’ uncertainty about what was wrong with me and also as a response to some of the other women in the labor and delivery suite and their frightening prenatal activities, including heroin use.  Thankfully, my stepmother came to my rescue with some pain medication donated by a very generous family member. I rang in the New Year in bed, but with some measure of comfort. The following day, I was still weak but feeling better and looked forward to putting this “hiccup” in my pregnancy behind me.

Within only a few days though I began to experience the same symptoms and made another visit to the ER, choosing Virtua in Voorhees over another trek into Camden. They too sent me home, but with some muscle relaxers since my sides were in so much pain from repeated vomiting. My recollection is a little fuzzy here but it took almost no time at all for me to begin feeling sick again. And this time, it was very, very bad. I told  Jim I’d rather die than continue to feel the way that I did. Needless to say, he packed up our sleeping five year old and his very sick wife and drove to Virtua in the middle of the night in some of the only snow we received all winter. But on this trip, I would not return home for 6 days.

No one could figure out what was wrong with me for close to 12 hours after my arrival. Finally, after an ultrasound of my entire abdominal area, they knew. The scan had reveled a partial bowel obstruction as a result of scar tissue from a previous abdominal surgery that had wrapped itself around my intestine.  Did I mention that while I was waiting for this ultrasound I began having contractions? Yeah, it was awesome.

Here is where it all goes south real fast. First, the doctors told me they were going to deliver the baby that afternoon but they were going to have to do it under general anesthesia, so I wouldn't be able to hold him or see him for many hours after he was born (Did I mention I was intent on breastfeeding right away?).  In addition, they were going to insert a catheter and an NG tube into my body BEFORE they put me to sleep. And the clincher in this trifeca of awfulness, was that instead of a neat little c-section scar, they would have to make a vertical incision in my abdomen to deliver Nicholas and repair my intestine.

I have very few memories of the remainder of that day. I remember my stepmother and sisters coming to visit me in the recovery room. I remember calling my Mom who was flying home from FL to tell her I had just had a perfect baby boy. But I don't remember meeting my son for the first time. This is me holding him the next morning. (Man, I look like shit.)

The following days in the hospital were filled with doctors visits, endless tests, little sleep and many more needles. Oh, and no food. I was not allowed to eat anything at all for 4 days. Despite having no sustenance other than the liquid nutrition that was being fed to me through my IV, I tried my best to breastfeed my baby. Even in the middle of the night. Everyone remarked at how sleepy he was in the hospital and in retrospect it was probably because he was too malnourished to wake up (although I know the nurses supplemented him with formula when he needed to be fed and I was "unavailable", thank god!) Once I came home from the hospital, my health did not improve for a few weeks. Of course, all of this physical and emotional stress led to an argument between Jim and I. Tommy was present to witness our outburst of anger. Over our shouting, Tommy exclaimed "Can't we just have a little peace in this house?". Out of the mouth of a 5 year old.  

Peace would be a little further off though since I need sleep like a fish needs water and in his first year of life, Nicholas seemingly did not. Only this year, as I am starting to lift the shadow of the events of his birth (and sleep deprivation), am I able to see who he really is. A happy, bright-eyed child who is as enamored with me as I am with him. He is virtually my constant companion. On the doorstep of turning 2 years old, I am seeing all of these small things about his personality that I was either too tired or too depressed to notice before. I wish I could have some of those earlier moments back with him; to be more engaged, more "with-it". But time marches forward and the only thing I can do now is make plans and promises for the future.  Even though it took him many years to arrive and his arrival was by no means ideal, I was meant to be Nicholas' mom and he will always be my perfect baby boy. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

UGH. The 'N' Word.

As happens many days around my house, a group of boys congregated after school to play outside. Some of them are second graders like Tommy, but most of them are older. Sometimes it's basketball or football. On the most interesting days, it's ZOMBIE ATTACK! Today it was Ball Tag. Ball Tag is played by trying to tag another player with the ball so they are "it" and you no longer have to be. In the interest of fairness,  I suggested that instead of one kid being "it" they use 3 balls so they are playing on loose teams and no one is singled out for any long period of time. They agreed this would be more fun and after patting myself on the back, I drug my toddler kicking and screaming inside so he wouldn't get trampled by the melee that was about to ensue. He got over it after a dose of Bubble Guppies and goldfish crackers, btw.

Game play seemed to be going along well as quite a few giggly and out of breath boys ran in and out of my yard through our two gates. But after some time, instead of laughter or squeals, I heard angry tones. I had to investigate. Seems as though one of the kids said the 'N' word. I'm not sure that it was directed at one person in particular. But it was said. Many of the kids, including my son, stood on the periphery while the boy who fashions himself as the neighborhood police (sometimes bully) took the lead. He told the bad word boy that he was offended and that he had to go home despite the bad word boy's apologies and tears. At first, my inclination was to tell them to get over it and keep playing. But then I stopped myself because as much as I hate seeing a kid cry (probably because he knew what he did was wrong), I let the bad word boy get on his bike and peddle home.

Tommy ran over to me and asked excitedly "What's the N-word?, What's the N-word?". He hadn't heard the boy actually say the word and was still somewhat in the dark about the confrontation. What word could have been so terrible that they had to kick a friend out of the game? Tommy asked me if the  N-word was "negative" and all I could think of was "YES, YES! This is what I want you to think the N-word is because you are still sweet and innocent and only seven years old!!!". My son still believes in Santa Claus, but I had to tell him what the N-word meant.

I waited for reinforcements and after dinner my husband and I sat Tommy down. We explained that he wasn't in any trouble. We told him what the word was and that he was never, under any circumstances, to use it. We explained that it wasn't like "shit" or "damn" that would be viewed by some people, especially at school, as rude. The N-word was deeply hurtful. We had to tell him why it was so hurtful. He thought the word sounded funny, like something in a joke. We had to explain to him again why it was so hurtful. We told him other people, in music lyrics or in movies, might use the word. But we expected that he never would.

He cried. It was intense. I'm not sure why he cried. Was he sad that the bad word boy said the word, perhaps about his other friends? Did he really grasp why the word could be so hurtful and feel the guilt that so many of us feel when we understand why the word exists? I'm not sure. I'm not even sure that we did the right thing by telling him. But what I am sure of is that my son grew up a little more today.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can Tommy Play?

Tommy has a friend who is in the fifth grade. He comes to our house every morning before school, even though he rides his bike and we walk. I drive him home when it is raining. He comes over to hang out on weekends and sometimes after school. One summer afternoon, he rung our doorbell and ended up playing with Tommy for 5 hours. He lights up when he sees Nicholas and calls him "his little buddy". I give him drinks, but I usually have to offer. He never accepts food, even if Tommy is having a snack. He tells me that he thinks Tommy is really smart and lucky that he doesn't have to leave his classroom for extra help. This afternoon, I packed his bike and his drum kit in my car because it was raining and I was worried he couldn't get both home safely. I gave him our phone number to call if it is raining tomorrow morning and he needs a ride to school.

I have never met his mother. He tells me she works hard and at every job she has had; they always make her the boss. I told him that must be because she is responsible and knows how to take care of business. I know that she also has two daughters; one who is 3, the other 13. I know that over the summer the 13 year old took care of the 3 year old a lot. Tommy's friend helped out, he said, when he wasn't at our house or out riding bikes with his older friends. I know his Dad drives a truck and is not around a lot. His Mom and Dad are separated.

He is a good friend to Tommy and respectful of our house and our rules. I have started to look forward to seeing him every morning and to hearing his stories about things going on in our neighborhood. He recently told my husband and I that a new pastry shop opened in the shopping center adjacent to our development and that we should "check it out."

I am grateful that Tommy has friends like this boy and I am happy to be able to be there for him in the small ways we are. I hope that my sons have people who will help them in their lives when they need that little extra support too. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recommitting to Stay at Home

What is the toughest, loneliest job in the world? Some might guess working at the Antarctic weather station, but NO! In fact it is being a stay at home Mom. For me it is, at least. There are no lunches out, no meaningful, productive conversation with colleagues, no accolades for pairing that blouse with those kick-ass jeans. Just your kids and their demands. Oh and your house if you feel the need to pick up every once in a while. For 20 months now, I have been feeling resentful about being at home, even though many parents would love the opportunity to at least make the choice. So it high time for a recommitment

Recommitting sort of implies that I was not committed before now. Don't get me wrong, I changed the diapers, did the laundry, made countless meals, helped with homework...the list goes on and on. But I wasn't fully devoted to it. Because while my outside actions appeared as though I was holding it all together, on the inside I was desperate for something else.

Since my youngest son was born, I always thought I would go back to work even though I never really threw myself into my original career in nonprofit advocacy. Sure, I was good at it and worked with some great people doing admirable things, but it never clicked for me. I didn't love it and knew that I didn't want to sacrifice time with my children to keep doing it. I wasn't sure if I would go back part-time of full-time but I was counting on a job. I was looking for an external source to validate me. To give me the reassurance that I could be a good employee or at least an income source so that my family could enjoy special outings like going to the movies or eating out more frequently. 

I also had a hard time finding the strength inside myself to commit to a frugal lifestyle that stay at home parenting often requires. I've never been particularly fashionable or interested in the latest tech trends, but I did like to spend money "going out". Out to dinner, out of town, off on an adventure somewhere. But that changed after I became a Mom and especially after we had two children and our income was drastically reduced.

So I turned to the internet for inspiration. Certainly there were other  mothers out there like me who felt the same way I did and I did find some honest words that made sense and practical applications of austerity that helped me tighten our purse strings, but not in the same source. Many of the "thrifty" women I follow online, for coupons or cheap meal ideas, find their personal strength in God. I have never been particularly religious, and while I respect those who are, the messages that "God will provide" or "This is the work God intended for you to do" fall on deaf ears.  It is simply not a motivating factor for me.

But you know what is motivating? My kids. My children reap the benefit of me being here with them every day. My older son is smart, observant, and kind. My baby is happy, silly, and secure. Would their personalities be like that had they been cared for by someone else? Your guess is as good as mine. But I will have taught them the things I think will make them successful in life.

I read an article on recently called "The Day Care Dilemma" that attempts to review the scientific literature about outcomes for children in child care and those at home, most often with their mothers. In general, children in high quality daycare have slightly better cogitative and language skills but later in life they are reported by their teachers to have more behavioral problems. Now if I wanted to be all sanctimonious,  I would point to this a justification for why it is important to be home with my kids. But the real point the article made that resonated the most with me was this:
"When moms said it was better for mothers to stay home with their kids, and these  mothers did stay home with their kids, their children fared very well. When moms felt that it is OK to work and put kids in child care, and these moms did work and put their kids in child care, their kids did great too"'

So I guess the bottom line is to be committed to whatever choice you make. Sure you'll have doubts from time to time. I might wake up tomorrow morning and have my toddler grunt and whine at me for something I couldn't even begin to guess at and think "Man, I need to pay someone else to do this for me!!!"  But I would be missing out on something I always wanted. Something tough and lonely: stay-at-home-motherhood, but also something nuanced and fleeting: my kids' childhood. I'm all in.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I am the Neighborhood Mom

Definition (Source: The Urban Dictionary)- A woman that not only takes care of her own children, but adopts the kids of everybody else living nearby. Often she is a better parent to the visiting children than their own (neglectful) parents, which is why they prefer to hang out at her house.
Make sure to slow down before you drive past the neighborhood mom's house, there's a lot of kids running around outside there.