Why “Breast is Best” Makes Me Cry

October 6, 2014

There is a new tax credit out for breastfeeding moms and my Facebook newsfeed has lit up about it. There are articles linked to articles linked to comments upon comments upon comments. And, of course, I scroll through the comments. Because those are the most interesting part of the article. Because there can be no simple article without a thread of conflict to follow.

The conflict revolves around a teen mom that receives WIC complaining that just because she formula feeds shouldn’t mean that the government shouldn’t help her, too. Of course her statement is full of flaws and nobody hesitates to tell her so. She holds her head high and argues every point like an indignant teenager and I chuckle and shake my head about the fact that this drama is unfolding in the comments section of an article about a new tax credit.

And then I read a comment that punches me in the gut. It throws out some statistic about how 99.9% of women are able to successfully breastfeed and those who cannot simply did not try hard enough. And it takes my breath away and brings me right back to that lonely dark place that I was 27 months ago.

When Rocketman was born, I expected to nurse him. I went to all the parenting classes. I learned that the moment he was born and the days and weeks following, we should spend our time skin to skin. That, naturally, he would find his way to the breast and that would be the beginning of something beautiful.

The delivery was beautiful. Immediately, we were skin to skin. Soon after I guided him to my breast and he seemed to know what to do. And that was beautiful too. And for an hour or two we basked in that beauty.

Rocketman was born in the late afternoon and we had many visitors show up soon after. But I had arrived at the hospital at midnight the night before and had not slept in two nights. The parenting classes said that I needed to have my baby by my side that entire time I was in the hospital, but the kind nurse that was on duty with me gently offered that it may be in mine and the baby’s best interest if I got some much needed sleep after a long hard delivery. After all, I would not be sleeping for months to follow.

I slept and the nurses did some supplementing with formula. I spent the rest of the time that I was in the hospital trying to nurse, but Rocketman would have none of it. He was a calm and content baby, but when I would take him to my breast he would scream and cry like mad and refuse to latch. The nurses tried to help to no avail. The lactation consultant came in and was at a loss. I left the hospital with a pump and a strong will to try. And also with my precious little infant that would turn my world upside down.

Rocketman slept one night by my bedside. And then the doctor called and said his bilirubin levels were too high and I needed to bring him back to the hospital to be under lights. Without me. And I cried like I have never cried before.

I would visit him every two hours throughout the day and attempt to nurse. And he would scream. And it was our bonding time before he had to be put back under lights. So we supplemented. And then he slept the night in the hospital while I cried myself to sleep at home. And they supplemented. And then I got to go get my baby and bring him home. Again.

It was such a wonderful, calm and quiet time. I rocked him in the glider. I read him nursery rhymes from a black and white bound Mother Goose book that was mine as a child. I took a million pictures of his million expressions. I sang and sang and sang. And he cooed and gurgled and was sweet and calm and content. Until it was time to eat. And I would bring him to my chest and he would scream and shout and cry. And I would bring him away from it and he would settle quietly and calmly.

So I tried, failed, pumped, and supplemented. I brought him to the pediatrician who said he was not gaining weight fast enough. I explained the situation I was having with him. She said she had never seen that happen before, but made me an appointment with the lactation consultant on staff. I attempted a feeding session in front of her. She said she had never seen that happen before either. She said to keep trying and gave me a couple of tips, but said that sometimes a baby’s personality prevails and I might just allow him to win this one.

I gave him more formula than breast milk so he could gain the needed weight back. I still went through the feeding, screaming, pumping, supplementing processes multiple times a day. It was getting old and trying and was the one dark spot on an otherwise joyous time.

I brought him back to the pediatrician for another weight check. He was growing well this time. The supplementing was giving him what he needed. He was thriving. I told her what I was going through to extract breast milk. I told her that, though I pumped every two hours every day, by the end of the day there was only enough milk to fill one bottle. She looked at me with compassion and asked me what type of stress was this bringing to the family? To the relationship between me and my new baby son? She asked me to look at him and see that he was thriving. She admitted that breast milk offered up all sorts of wonderful health advantages. But she did not think that those advantages outweighed the advantages of having a mother that was not physically and mentally shaken every two hours when feeding time came around. She repeated, “He is good. He is great. He is thriving. Look at him. It’s ok to let go.” She gave me that permission. And I bawled like a baby in her exam room, went home, and packed away the pump.

Rocketman was five weeks old. I bought “the best” formula and never looked back. When people questioned me, I explained that I had a strong willed child that would not take interest and that was that.

And Rocketman was good. In the beginning, I worried that not nursing him would prevent us from bonding. But did we ever bond. We became perfectly in sync. And he grew. He remained healthy. He was active and funny and so very verbal. He won the hearts of everyone he came into contact with. He developed a grand sense of humor. And a sense of empathy. And a sense of self- for sure. And then, when he was two years old, I got pregnant with his brother. Bubba.

When I was six months pregnant with Bubba, I met a Vietnamese woman. She was the mother of a potential ESL student that I needed to test in order to determine eligibility into the ESL program in my school district. I had never met her before. She grabbed my hand and rubbed it and expressed great pleasure at the fact that I exhibited a tremendous midsection ever growing beneath my elastic waisted black pants. She began rubbing my stomach furiously (something that made me both uncomfortable and intrigued), and shouting out facts that I had only learned quite recently myself…from my OBGYN: It’s a boy! His head is here, bottom there. Oh! You only have three more months to go! Now I was really intrigued.

As I walked her to a nearby table to discuss the testing procedure for her son, she continued holding on to my hands. As she rubbed and caressed them, a deeply satisfied look crossed her face. She looked me in the eye and said, “Oh. This boy. This boy is good boy. He very good boy. You have other boy too, yeah? He good boy too. Smart. Funny. Good boy too. But this boy. You never need to have girl to take care you. This boy here, he take care you always. He your Momma’s Boy. He your good Momma’s Boy and he take care you always. And you have a good life with these boys. So you testing my son now?”

Each time I share this, I get a different reaction. Some people respond that I should have run far from that crazy woman and not looked back. Some are as intrigued as I was. As for me, I chose to believe that she knew something that I didn’t beyond our place in time, and I was thankful that she chose to share that with me. I put my hand on my expanding midsection and smiled quietly to myself thinking, “Hi my Momma’s Boy.”

Three months later I was in the delivery room lying in some awkward position with an oxygen mask on my face after 14 hours of labor because my nurse was using “every trick in the book” to persuade the baby to move down since he had not budged in the 14 hours despite me being dilated and otherwise ready. And if he didn’t come down, he would have to be removed via c-section. And I just didn’t want that. My Momma’s Boy was four days late and perfectly content hanging exclusively with Momma.

My Momma’s Boy was going to nurse. Rocketman hadn’t. It had been a fluke. And I was never ok with it. But what made it ok was that this one would be different. He was my Momma’s Boy. And we would bond in the most primitive of ways as he suckled at my teat for many magnificent months, heck, years. Because that is the way that it was meant to be between mother and child and that is why I was made the way I was. I was woman. I used my body to house and deliver this child for 10 months. And I would continue to use it to nourish him.

He stayed in my room and I nursed. It seemed ok at first. He latched. He suckled. But as the nights in the hospital passed, his diapers were not wet often enough. And he was always hungry. And he was losing too much weight. And we needed to supplement.

Lactation consultants were called. I was not producing enough milk to fill his needs. I was instructed to rent a hospital grade pump. And nurse and then pump every two hours. Around the clock. And I did. I would pump 1/8 ounce of milk every two hours. Not enough to feed my growing and always- hungry- almost- 9- pound baby.

Rocketman was three. Such a demanding age. And I was always, always, attached to a breast pump. Rocketman’s sensory issues had yet to truly be revealed and he was having a hell of a time potty training. He would go on the floor. Or the deck. Or in my bed. And he always wanted me to get him juice. Or milk. Or read him a story. Or put Wonderpets on for him. And I was literally tethered to the god forsaken breast pump.

One day (in between pumping sessions), Rocketman grabbed the two bottles with the suction thingies on top, put them up against his little nipples and said, “Look! I’m Mommy!”

I didn’t care. I was going to produce more. This was a means to an end. Bubba would suckle from me. I would share these moments with him. We would bond.

I called the Warm Line at the hospital where Bubba was born dozens of times a day. I wrote pages of notes on their suggestions on increasing my supply. I followed everything they said. My supply remained low. I consulted Le Leche League in my area. They had just disbanded. I visited the lactation consultant through my pediatrician. She was at a loss. Lactation websites. Lactation cookies. Fenugreek tea. I. Tried. It. All. All while trying to take care of a super-demanding-used-to-be-only-child-with-potty-issues.

At one pediatrician appointment, I was almost in tears sharing my story of failure with the on duty pediatrician. I looked at her searchingly for answers and asked, “Does this happen to a lot of women???” And she looked at me perplexed and alarmed and stated crisply, “No. None.”

So then, what was wrong with me? That I could not provide adequate nourishment for my sweet little chub a lub? What kind of a woman was I? What if he had been born a hundred years ago, before formula? Would he just starve to death then? Because the one person who was supposed to be trusted to care for and nourish him was inadequate?

My anxiety was higher that it had ever been. (And that is something.) I cried all the time. Every two hours I would: try to feed and be faced with a screaming, crying baby. Feed a little formula until he was satiated and then try to feed again (more crying.) And then give up and pump. And pump and pump and pump. And at the end of the day I had one three ounce bottle semifilled to give my son.

I was sent to a real lactation specialist through the hospital. She costed $200 and hour that I didn’t have. Her name was Deb and she was in her 50s and had long grey wavy hair down to her waist. She was slim and lined and kind and warm. She felt my anxiety from across the waiting room.

The goal of our first session was to determine exactly how much breast milk Bubba was receiving from me. She weighed him upon our arrival to the very last gram. She then counseled me through a feeding, getting up close and personal and critiquing both mine and his technique and complimenting both. We were doing everything right! He was latching! After the feeding, she weighed him again. He had practically lost weight. Whatever he was getting from me was infinitesimal. And now he was crying from hunger. And I was feeding him formula.

Deb put me on a plan. Continue to pump every two hours. More fenugreek. More supplements, teas, cookies. And a prescription that you can only get in Canada, if you are going that way. Or from a compounding pharmacy an hour away. For hundreds of dollars out of pocket because insurance won’t cover it. (The whole lack of FDA approval thing.) And she had me order an SNS: a Supplemental Nursing System. $50 on Amazon.

The SNS was a bottle that could be filled with formula or breast milk and hung around the mother’s neck. Two very thin tubes led out of the bottle and were to be fastened with tape along a woman’s breast and to her nipples. The idea is that the baby would suckle at the mother’s barren breasts and receive his or her supplement from the bottle around her neck, simulating the act of breast feeding despite the lack of milk being produced by the mother.

I thought this was a fantastic invention and could not wait to use it. Epic failure. I can’t remember the details because I think I blocked them out. I just remember that every time we tried ( and yes I kept on going back for more) there was a flood of tears shed by both me and Bubba and I was covered in formula. Stinky sticky formula. And he was screaming in hunger.

This went on and on and on and on. For five months. I would not give up. The Canadian medication did increase my milk supply. Now instead of 1/8 an ounce a session, I wold get closer to a quarter. But Bubba was eating more and more. And I was still only filling a bottle a day. My anxiety was at a constant high. I still cried all of the time. And, in addition to all of that, I sweat profusely all the time…a side effect of the medication I presume.

My typical morning went something like this: wake up at the crack of dawn after being up every two hours to pump. (Hubs would feed the waking baby formula while I did so.) Attempt to feed. Fail. Feed a bottle. Pump. Explain to first child why I could not attend to his every need while I was pumping. Again. Store precious drops of milk. Clean entire pump system. Pack bottles of formula and water for going out. (Yes, we went out every day because the three year old with sensory issues would lose his mind in the house and that would be too ugly to take so we were off to a music class, the library, the playground, a playgroup, the fire station…you name it every single day.) Pack snacks. Pack diapers. Pull-ups. Wipes. Underwear. Toys. Coloring books. Crayons. Attempt to get the three year old changed and dressed. Often times he was overstimulated. Often times he had a dirty diaper. Often times he would opt to run and dance around the room with his poopy bum waving in my face as I tried to tackle and change him before the baby started to cry because it was time to attempt to feed, fail, and pump again.

And we would go out. And my peers would talk about breast feeding and how it was going as if it were no big deal. And as time marched on, it became clearer and clearer that that would never be my reality.

I couldn’t stop, though I knew it was over. Once I stopped that would be it. Quite probably forever. I would officially dry up. The hope would be gone. But my anxiety was so high that I was sent to be evaluated for an in-house postpartum depression facility at the hospital. (They didn’t admit me, but probably would had had I visited two weeks prior.) And I was sweating all of the time. And, honestly, I had more of a relationship with the mother fucking pump than with either of my children. And I HATED that thing.

On our first family excursion, Hubs, Rocketman, Bubba and I ventured off to an aquarium a state away. I researched ahead of time to confirm they had a place to nurse, er, pump. When the time came, we were escorted into an empty nurse’s office where I sat on one bed and pumped drops of milk out of my breasts while Hubs sat on the other bed and fed our baby. And I thought. How screwed up is this situation? All I want is to feed my baby. And this whole breast feeding thing is clearly not working out. But, I COULD be feeding my baby right now. Not tucked away in the nurses office with this hideous pump attached to my body, but perhaps on a bench next to some amazing exhibit that my boys could enjoy. Instead we are all cramped up in a nurse’s office/ storage room while Rocketman attempts to tool around the room in a forgotten wheelchair. And while I fail to bond with my new baby.

Deb called frequently to check up on me, always full of empathy and understanding. She had dedicated her career to helping woman nourish their babies in a beautiful way. She knew the research, the benefits of breast feeding versus formula. The long-term health advantages for both mother and child. And the last time she called she said to me, “When you first came to me, I asked you what you hoped to get out of our sessions together. You told me that you wanted to try everything there was to try to increase your production so that you could feed your baby. That if, in the end, you were unable to produce, you would know that you had tried it all. Well, you’ve tried it all. And have just kept going. I have been doing this for thirty years and I have never had a patient who has tried as hard as you without giving up. And I am so so sorry that this has not worked out for you. But I want you to know that, despite not being able to do what you have tried so hard to do, you are a wonderful mother to have worked this hard for the benefit of your child. And I have no doubt that he will continue to grow and thrive even without breast milk.”

And five months after Bubba protested leaving the warmth and comfort of my womb, I quit the meds, the fenugreek, the tea, the pump, the hours upon hours upon hours of my already full days spent researching and reading and wishing and let myself dry up.

And life got easier.

But now, even two years later, it still smarts. It smarts when I scroll through Facebook and see the articles linked to articles linked to research linked to comments about how breast is best and if you are too lazy or ignorant and chose to bottle feed your child, you deserve to be the mother of the sickly moron he most certainly will turn into. The moms who boast about going on two years of being able to nourish their precious child because of the choice and sacrifice they made for their child’s health. And the mom that throws that percentage out: 99.9 percent of women are able to breastfeed. Those that don’t didn’t try hard enough.

So maybe that’s me. That .1% that tried so hard that my entire family suffered for it, me that most. But, I don’t believe it. As I continue to scroll through comments, I often run into those from other women who apologetically offer that they tried, really they did! It was just not happening. They wanted it to, but it didn’t. They failed. They are so sorry. Because breast is best, we know. But it didn’t happen.

If breast feeding was easy for you, you rock. So glad. Congrats. If it was hard, and you tried all sorts of things and then it got easier, good for you! It was all worth it. But please, please, please. Understand that all is not so simple. There is no black and white. If someone is sitting at the mall bottle feeding their child formula, don’t snarl and assume they are lazy. That they didn’t try hard enough. That they were not educated. Everyone has their own story to tell and chances are, you don’t know it. So, like hippie Debra, the lactation consultant that showed me more understanding and empathy than anyone ever has, have some compassion.

I’m ok now. My boys are healthy. And smart. And life is so much easier. Really than it’s ever been since I had Rocketman. And, though it seems to not be in the cards, if by some miracle I had another child, I would face breastfeeding with the same amount of determination as I did with Bubba. But I wouldn’t let it consume me. I wouldn’t worry about other mothers’ judgements of me. I wouldn’t let it get in the way of my time spent with my children. Because, of the many things I have learned on this short journey, for me this much is true: Quality outweighs quantity. And I don’t mean the grade of the fluid that my child is ingesting. I mean that I may not get (or even want) to spend every waking moment of my life consumed with my children. But the moments that I do spend are precious and should be seized and appreciated. And if that means cuddling up in a rocker with a bottle of Enfamil and singing lullabies to my infant because my breasts are barren, so be it. My boys do not have a doubt in their minds that I love them with all I have to give. And that I will do whatever it takes to give them the best of myself so that they can be the best that they can be.

Besides, I was born in 1977 and bottle fed with pride. And I think I may have turned out pretty ok.

Being Present for Every Last Time

September 19, 2014

I just read a poem that somebody posted on Facebook. It was sent from a mother-in-law to a friend that just had her third baby. (Still feeling a little touchy about that.) The bottom line was that: as hard as parenting is, we need to cherish every moment while our children are young. That these mundane things that take for granted: bathing them, changing them, holding their hands as they cross the street, will one day be no more. One day our child will no longer want to be bathed, changed, held. And when that “last time” comes, we will break down and cry and realize how much we should have treasured it while it was happening.

So, I read it, and it made me a bit sad. But I wasn’t devastated. Especially following some reflection of my own that I had been doing a bit earlier. Instead, I felt that the sentiment was rather dire and decided to continue and read the comment section of the post to see how others felt about it.

Some said they were weeping. One was relieved to have read this because she had just gotten through changing another diaper and wasn’t appreciating it enough. And then one mother of 4 and grandmother of 9 spoke up. She said that throughout her parenting, she witnessed many “last times,” but was never so deeply saddened by these as every last time was replaced with some mark of achievement and independence as the child gained growth and confidence. And that there was so much victory and pride in that, it made the “last time” of the prior seem less significant.

She went on to say that she had lost a grandchild at 2 years of age. And that that was a different story entirely. That the death of that child presented a true last time to all he would ever be and that the melancholy sentiment in the poem could not begin to compare to the true grief in that. And that is when I wept.

There is so much pressure on us today to appreciate every moment…even if it sucks…because all too soon it will be gone. And, of course, it is mostly true. I’ve been looking through all of my friends’ back to school pictures of their kids and thinking, “Wasn’t that child just born? Why is he wearing a backpack?” “He’s in first grade???” “She’s in MIDDLE school???” Or the kids who were toddlers when I was in college that are graduating from high school. Getting married. Having BABIES??? WTF??!

It goes by really fast.

But there are times that suck.

When Bubba was born and Rocketman was turning three, there were times that sucked. Bubba’s birth was beautiful and so was he. tghjgRocketman’s first time meeting him was the most beautiful event I have ever witnessed and their relationship was magical right from the start. I loved and cherished that little baby and toddler. And, in that first year, we had some great times. We went to a music class where Rocketman was the star of the show and Bubba began to come alive and it was the highlight of our weeks. We cuddled. We had dance parties. Playdates with the Moms Club. Good times.

But a whole lot of stuff that year sucked. Because, a lot of that first year was: me struggling with nursing, being on medication to try to increase my milk supply, feeling like a failure as a mother for not producing enough, feeling like a failure as a woman for not being able to do what all women are supposed to be able to do. Being anxious ALL THE TIME. All the time. Every moment between waking up and sleeping and throughout the night in my dreams. Feeling like a mess with breast pumps hanging off me while Rocketman peed on the floor and popped in his underwear.

I couldn’t send Rocketman to preschool (which he desperately needed) because he wouldn’t potty train. Every trip out the door would require me to pack a breast pump, meds, bottles, formula, purified water, diapers for two, changes of clothes for two, a breast feeding apron, snacks and changes of underwear. Rocketman was always overstimulated before we left the house (which I didn’t realize was related to sensory issues at the time) and it took hours trying to dress him, keep him clean and still and get him to the car. Bubba was SO fantastic. But he was hungry all the time and every feeding meant some bottle, an attempt to breastfeed, a failure to breastfeed and pumping. But I was so tired and so anxious and felt like I was losing my mind to the point that I needed to be evaluated for an in-house program at the hospital for post-partum depression. When it was time to go back to work when Bubba was 8 months old, I was chomping at the bit.

We are now a year out from the culmination of that crazy year. Bubba is 2 and Rocketman 5. And things are (dare I say it) EASY compared to that precious time. Rocketman goes to the bathroom in the toilet, for one. He is receiving treatment for his sensory issues and is making tremendous progress in so many areas, including that of self-regulation. He amazes me EVERY day with the amount of kindness, sensitivity and awareness he possesses and I look forward to seeing him and just hanging out and talking at the end of a long day.

Bubba has grown into a strong, healthy, active toddler, despite the lack of breast milk he received. He is smart and fun, funny and sweet. He loves to cuddle with Mommy, but adores his big brother above all else. And today was beautiful.

Bubba and I brought Rocketman to school and then set out on errands around town. In my diaper bag, I carried only diapers and wipes for one. And a juice box just in case. When we got home, Bubba was tired, so we put on Barney and cuddled in my bed. When Barney was over, I read him books, which he recited with me (“Bubbles bubbles in my hair, bubbles bubbles EVERYWHERE!”) and then we went to his bedroom for some songs. I sang nursery rhymes from a big red book while he sang along, cuddling up in his “wankie.” When “This Little Piggy” turned up, I asked for his little tooties and he laughed and poked them out from under the blanket, scrunching up his little face and body in anticipation of the “Wee, wee, wee…” part. When we read “Rock-a-bye baby” (the song 2-year-old Rocketman would sing to Bubba when he was in my belly), he climbed into my arms, wankie and all as I sang and rocked through three verses. And I thought THESE!!! THESE MOMENTS!!

I don’t want to miss them when they are gone, though I know I will. I just want to savor them while they are here. Not all of them, though. Not the high anxiety, always sweating, tired of listening to that mother fucking breast pump times. But that time today. When Bubba climbed out of his little toddler bed wrapped in his wankie and into my arms so that I could rock him and sing “Rock-a-by-Baby” while the ceiling fan hummed quietly and whispered cool relief to the final dog days of summer in early September 2014.

In January, I attended a “Glow in the Dark” New Years Eve party at dear friends’ home. On the wall they had a big piece of chart paper that was labeled, “New Years Resolutions- 2014.” Guests would pass by throughout the night and scribble everything from funny to sentimental to profane. I wandered over myself some time before the ball dropped and picked up the glowing highlighter, not knowing at all what I was going to write. As I always do when I am writing, I simply applied the pen to paper and let it write for itself. It wrote: Be Present.

I was present the entire year that Rocketman was born, and I remember it well. I was present for his first year and well into his second, while I was pregnant with Bubba. And then I kinda lost it. I lost that first year with Bubba and R’s year of three. Last year, one and four, I remember as better than the previous one, but also very hard as it began with R being evaluated as having some special needs and played out as spending the entire year trying to get the needs met.

But now they are being met. And now they are two and five. And their needs are fewer. But they are still young. And fun, and funny. There have been some “lasts” in the past two years. R’s last poopy pull-up- July 2013…I know that. Bubba’s last bottle….probably a ton more. But I’m struggling to think of them. Because I am here right now, still living it and it is getting so much easier and pleasurable. That I had the time to rock my “baby” and sing to him because he asked me to. That is beautiful. Even if it never happens again, it’s still beautiful. And the most beautiful thing of all, was that it happened because I was able to “be present.” Nothing else mattered at that moment. Not making lunch, chasing a toddler, letting out the dog, answering the phone, tending to another child. It was just me and Bubba that existed in that moment that brought so much joy to us both.

I finished reading that grieving grandmother’s comment and scrolled down to peruse a few more. One complained that it wasn’t really a poem, but prose. Another said she was weeping. But one dad thanked the woman for sharing, saying that he had lost a child at 11 months. And then someone quoted my favorite, Dr. Suess, and wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  And that only reminded me of Rocketman, old soul that he is, on the eve of his fourth birthday when I was pouring over baby pictures and lamenting about where the year had gone and he turned to me and said, “I’m right here, Mom. If you are really that sad, you can just cuddle me like I’m a baby and then we will both be happy.”

I am blessed with every moment I am here on Earth with my beautiful boys. Whether they are two years or twenty two years old, I will cherish our time spent together and will continue to marvel at their growth and achievements. I will continue to work on being present and try to record those moments afterward so that I can reflect on them years after they have happened for the “last time.”

Sage advice from Mom

January 15, 2014

One of the greatest gifts I have received as a mom is to have my own mom travel this journey alongside me. My mother-in-law passed before Hubs and I were even engaged and there is a hole in our lives where she should have been. My best friend’s mom is alive and well and completely estranged from her daughters and grandchildren. But my mom has been there from the beginning. She babysits my children two days a week while I work and has for the past four years. She buys important items for the boys like same-color-socks so that their mother (me) doesn’t have such a hard time when it comes to matching. And she always has the best, most down to earth, honest perspectives of motherhood. And that may be what I value the most.

I love being a mother. I have embraced the gift of more time with my kids since I have opted to work part-time this year. I love going on playdates and to music classes and playgroups. I love cuddling up in the middle of the day and reading books to Bubba before a nap and then watching Calliou with Rocketman. These are moments that are fleeting. Ones that I will not get back.

And everyone tells me so: Enjoy them while they are young! It goes by so fast! Remember these moments. In a minute they will be packing for college.

These comments breed panic within me. I have a grumpy moment or feel overwhelmed, and these voices will ring in my ear as I picture a teenaged Rocketman rolling his eyes at me while I lament the beautiful little boy that once believed that all guns shoot only water.

And then I have a conversation with my mom. And that grounds me.

Today is Monday. In every way. It was a difficult morning. It was a challenge getting both kids and myself ready and out the door. We finally got into the car at 10:45 to go to an OT screening and speech class for Rocketman. I had waited all morning to eat a cardboard-tasting Atkins bar, but had not had time, as my focus was on getting the boys well fed, dressed, and out the door. I rejoiced, now, that I had time during this seven minute drive to put something on my stomach and elevate my blood sugar. I had not quite gotten it to my mouth when Bubba spotted it and started to whine. Then scream. You see, it does not matter how well fed this child may be. If a person is eating something that he is not, he feels the need to also eat that something. Immediately. And if he doesn’t get it, he screams and screams.

And so, with half of an Atkins bar hanging out of my mouth, and one hand on the steering wheel, I manuvered my other hand through the diaper bag and then thrusted it into the backseat awkwardly to reveal a handful of animal crackers. While the serving method wasn’t ideal, I felt pride in the fact that I had been able to present anything at all. And then Rocketman said, “I don’t want animal crackers. Don’t you have a juicebox I could have?”

We arrived at our destination. I dragged both kids into the school, signed in, dropped R off and walked back out with Bubba. We drove to the McDonald’s drive thru, and then to a picnic area close by. Here Bubba and I enjoyed a 10 minute winter picnic before we had to jump back in the car again to go pick up Rocketman. Again, I dragged Bubba into the school.

As we sat waiting for Rocketman to complete his class, Bubba immediately discovered a large rubber exercise ball that had been left in the hallway. We spent about ten minutes pushing the oversized ball back and forth to each other in a calm, quiet manner until Rocketman came out. At which point all hell broke loose.

As I attempted to speak with his speech teacher, Rocketman and Bubba reunited and their combined energy caused a grand explosion in the form of the two of them doing belly flops onto the exercise ball and laughing uproariously. I immediately stopped my “conversation” with the speech teacher and grabbed Bubba with the theory: minimize the stimuli and calmness will ensue. This lasted for about one minute as he shimmied in my arms until he was on the floor again, racing for the ball. In desperation, I attempted to gather the necessary information from the speech teacher while wildness clearly escalated behind me.

And then an unknown teacher yelled, “Ladies! THEY should NOT be playing on that BALL!” as she barreled down the hallway. Apparently, she had witnessed Bubba coming uncomfortably close to putting his head through a wall as he flew over and off the ball. I separated the boys again, made an uncomfortable comment about wall/ball injuries being the story of my life and slunk out of the school embarrassed.

Rocketman strolled behind me as I made a beeline toward my car. He stopped to smell a garden full of dead flowers. I kept going, furious about his behavior. I turned around at the end of the sidewalk as he strolled toward me. I yelled at him to hurry up and he started running toward me as a teacher arrived at the front door near him. He lost his footing and fell down on the sidewalk. The teacher glanced my way and made a disgusted face as she noted that I was much too far away to help my injured child, and also that I was not budging. She crouched down over him and asked if he needed help getting up and shot me another nasty look before she disappeared inside the building.

Once in the car, I expressed my displeasure about R’s behavior on the ball in the hallway. His only response was that he wanted to go to a restaurant. I told him that I had gotten him McDonald’s and that I had thought it would be nice to have a picnic in the backyard since it was such a beautiful day, but now I was unsure that he deserved it after his behavior in the school. We came to a decision that from now on, he would walk out of speech and sit down in a chair in the hallway until further notice. He apologized and we agreed to have a picnic.

I pulled into our driveway, unpacked the car, and set the lunch up on the picnic table. I waited until Rocketman was enjoying his nuggets and then went into the house to let the dog out and nuke my coffee. Rocketman showed up at the backdoor a minute later for no apparent reason. Before I had a moment to remind him to leave no food unattended with the dog around, he was screaming at the top of his lungs because the she had knocked his meal to the ground and was devouring his nuggets. Stuck behind him at the top of the stairs, I encouraged him to run at her and get her away from his lunch. He just stood there frozen and crying. By the time I had made my way around him, all that was left of the Happy Meal were apple slices.

This upset Rocketman immensely. He sobbed into my shirt as I tried to reassure him. We had spaghettios in the house. He could have some yummy chefboyrdee. He cried and cried stating that all he ever wanted today was to eat his Old McDonalds. I felt I had no choice. I dragged the naughty dog into the house, threw both kids in the car and drove back to Old McDonalds. Half way there I realized I’d forgotten my wallet. Back home, back to Old McD’s, and back home once again to set up my third picnic of apple slices and McNuggets and to get some sort of satisfaction out of watching Rocketman relish them.

By Bubba’s naptime, I had a migraine. I crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head. And then my mom called.

I told her I had a migraine and she told me she’d let me go. And then I found myself going on and on about my terrible day. And this is what she said: No wonder you have a migraine.

She went on to say that as she travels with the boys and meets other grandmothers, she is often confronted with the idea that one needs to embrace every moment for it is all too fleeting and will soon be lost. And, while she knows it to be true: this time does go by fast. Little bodies grow big. Squeaky voices grow deep. Sometimes these moments are absolutely exhausting. Or monotonous. Or dirty. Frustrating. Worrisome. Because these precious little growing creatures demand so much. So much of the time. Your time, your patience, your body, your guidance.

And we take pictures of the cute, the sweet, the cuddly. But not the ugly, the ornery and the prickly. And so we forget those moments. And maybe that is a good thing. But maybe not. Because if we remember that moment- the one where we have a piercing migraine and are completely exhausted by midday because our kids are being brats and the dog ate their McDonalds- then maybe we can appreciate the future stages of childhood and adulthood even. Maybe we can look back at the photographs and embrace the cute, sweet and cuddly moments each snapshot holds and at the same time embrace the satisfaction that is received in each passing year as they become more independent.

And eventually, when the kids have established a career, married and have kids of their own, I could patiently listen to a young father banter about his hectic day with his children and, as my mom did today, shout out, “I love my quiet boring life!”

Holiday Magic

January 6, 2014

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years came and went.  I spent one month working on balancing the stress of everyday adult life with the magic and wonder of the season seen through child’s eyes.  I made a decision at the beginning of the season, the day Alvin the elf (on the shelf) arrived at our home.  I promised myself that I would not let the stress of the season disable me from embracing its magic. I knew that, if I provided the opportunities, I would be able to see that magic reflect in the eyes of my four and one year olds. And I decided not to miss it.

There were plenty of challenges.  There was a six week period between November and December that at least one member of the family had strep throat.  Bubba got it twice, and I needed to go onto IV strength antibiotics to wipe it out because the Z-pac just didn’t work. And that was during parent-teacher conferences (as the teacher), where I was essentially working 12 hour days for two days straight and couldn’t get a break from talking (which is an absolute job requirement for me). So that sucked.

Plus, there was gift buying and ugly sweater parties and report cards. And we needed to visit Santa Claus and find the coolest Christmas lights and decorate Christmas cookies.  And none of the latter should be a chore.

So, I pushed through and checked out that reflection in those my kids’ big blue eyes. This is what I saw:

Alvin, the Elf on the Shelf

Though Alvin didn’t do anything crazy like sit on the toilet and poop Hershey’s kisses or zip line through the living room on a candy cane, he changed his location every day (mostly) and quickly became a like a member of the family. Rocketman began with daily conversations about what he would like for Christmas (a Batman helicopter).  But as each day was opened on the Advent calendar, his conversations became more complex.  He would share stories of the day, or run up and show Alvin his most recent craft or project.  while  Rocketman’s daily checkins with Alvin did sometimes  include tattles on Bubba that he assumedly hoped would be reported to Santa, overall Alvin’s visit provided a daily magical reminder of the innocent faith in magic that we all once possessed as children.

Bubba’s Obsession with Santa

Around 10 months, Bubba started talking.  By 12 months, he spoke about 20 words.  By 15 months, he had decided to stop talking.  And there seemed to be little progress as months went on. Bubba turned 18 months old two days before Christmas.  Suddenly, he is talking up a storm.

Most of his words have turned out to be seasonal: tree (“Oooooo! A tree, a TREE,” when he woke to find an undecorated tree in our living room), christmas lights (sounding more like, “hushus lights,” as he repeated his brother after passing every single house that displayed even a single candle in the window), snow (“so”).  But, beyond anything else, Bubba’s favorite phrase for the last few months has been: HO HO HO….MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! And he bursts out repeating this phrase over and over whenever he sees so much as a Santa hat.

So this was something that needed to be checked off the Christmas Magic list: a visit with Santa. Although we brought Rocketman to the local Polar Express train for the past two years, we decided to try something else this year, as to not take the magic out of the Polar Express.  Instead, we visited a local attraction, Edaville, USA.  The attraction included a train ride that crossed through acres of creatively themed Christmas lights, as well as carnival type rides and games.  The best things that we encountered there, however, were the giant blowup snowglobe that the kids could actually go inside of and play with pretend snow, and Santa’s village which featured scenes from the North Pole and lots of toy train activities and displays.  It also included a gift shop….and Santa Claus.  Bubba, who had spent the entire trip repeating, “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas,” finally had the opportunity to meet his mentor.

Upon first sight, Bubba’s interest was peaked.  He craned his neck and pointed and even squealed a little bit.  There were a few “ho ho hos” muttered and then it was our turn to sit on Santa’s lap.  We scampered quickly to his platform, trying to place children and then move out of the way in time for the teenaged photographer to take the overpriced photo.  Image

Cole was not impressed.

But I couldn’t help but to spend the $17 to remember this moment as to share and laugh about it in years to come.  It couldn’t have been that dramatic as Christmas has come and gone and Bubba is still walking around saying “HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!”

Rocketman’s Holiday Play

Have I mentioned how much I love love love Rocketman’s Pre-K teacher? She goes above and beyond in every area to give her students the best possible educational experience.  And for the last two months, Rocketman and his classmates have been practicing their play, “The Night Before Christmas.”  Starring Rocketman as “Prancer the Reindeer.”

Nana, Auntie, Hubs, Bubba and I attended the show, along with many other Pre-K families and it was quite the Pre-K treat.  A magnet that was supposed to hold a stocking with care malfunctioned and dear Ms. Ana had to run and fix it as the 4-year-old actors in PJs waited awkwardly.  “Dasher” the reindeer wheeled 5-year-old Santa in on a wagon disguised as a sleigh, took one look at the crowd, froze and started bawling.  He continued to do so as Ms. Ana scooped his rigid body off the floor and out of the room.  The rest of the reindeer (including Rocketman’s Prancer) gave star performances, scuttling across the floor on their hands and knees and then waiting patiently as Santa gave a command performance.  (By “waited patiently” I mean scooped up fake snow from the floor and threw it up in the air over and over again until it was time to scuttle out of the room.)

As an encore performance, the class sang “Jingle Bells” and “Feliz Navidad.” Rocketman stood right in the front of the group and his voice could be heard above the rest.  As he sang, “I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heeeeaaarrrrtttt,” he swept his arms up like a V and then started dancing around lifting his shirt up and down.  Everyone laughed and I thought, “Pre-K holiday plays don’t get much better than this,”

Refreshments were served after the show, but we went to the local ice cream parlor afterward anyway to celebrate his performance.  The balloon man was there, and Rocketman had a hard time eating his sundae as he anxiously waited for the balloon man to visit our table.  When he finally arrived, he made a balloon giraffe for Rocketman and a balloon turtle for Bubba.  Before bedtime, we reviewed the fantastic, busy day and asked my nightly question: what was your favorite part?  Rocketman responded, “My favorite part was when the balloon man made me a giraffe and Bubba a turtle.”  Therein lies the simplicity of a 4-year-old’s expectations

Christmas and Christmas Eve themselves were full of wonder.  Rocketman is the best, most emphatic gift receiver ever and Bubba got a great kick out of it all, tearing open his gifts and saying “Ooooooooo!” It was great to spend time with family and we ate so much that I need to go on a sugar detox yesterday.

But, I am happy now, on January 3, to return to some sort of routine of normalcy.  I welcomed going back to work yesterday (though today I did not get out of my pjs thanks to a bitter cold snowstorm causing school’s closing) and am excited for Rocketman to go back to Speech on Monday and Pre-K on Tuesday after 2 weeks off.  As of today, nobody in the house is on antibiotics, though Bubba has a pretty nasty cough and cold and Rocketman a sore throat and runny nose. But I am so glad that I made that decision in late November, to embrace the season’s magic as much as possible.  Because it is evident to me everyday that these kids are growing faster than I can even understand, and if I dare to blink, I may soon no longer hear little voices calling out, “Christmas lights!!!” from the backseat or be met with the rolls of eyes when Alvin suddenly appears the day after Thanksgiving.  These are the short years of Holiday Magic and I desperatly need to embrace them before they are gone.

FWD: Trash Talk

November 22, 2013

Last week at this time I was not speaking to my husband. My best friends knew this, and why this was, but I was unclear about whether or not he was aware that I was not speaking to him. I mean, I spoke to him.  “Did you pack Rocketman’s lunch for tomorrow?” “I think it’s your night to read to Bubba.” “Make sure that set of gloves that I put out gets to school with the baby.”  Co-parenting stuff. Because, that is what is pretty good about our relationship: even if we are totally having a bad marriage moment, we are still pretty good co-parents.  In fact, sometimes that feels like all our relationship has time for.

Anyway, I was pissed off.  I was tired and I felt overworked and under appreciated. And every little thing that he did pissed me off more.  So on Sunday night, when I got a special Mom’s Night Out with the girls, I vented my heart out over a couple of Sangrias and was met with a great deal of “Amen Sisters” and “Hallelujahs.” And then I stewed in my anger for a couple of more days until I received an email from the Hubs on Wednesday asking me out on a date Saturday night. Which took me down a couple of notches until I realized that I was in charge of securing a babysitter for this very rare event and I was pissed off all over again.

I emailed my BMF (Best Mom Friend) who had been there cheering me on during Mom’s Night Out and asked if she’d babysit.  I included in my email that Hubs either knows that I am pissed off and not speaking to him and wants to make amends or he continues to be oblivious and this is a coincidence. I sent if off on Thursday and received the reply first thing Friday morning at work: No problem! It will be fun!! (Love this woman.) I proudly checked finding a babysitter off the list and quickly forwarded her reply to Hubs at work.

As soon as I clicked the mouse, I realized my mistake.  The snide email that I had sent to her two days prior was attached to the forward that I had just sent. Now he would know that 1) I really hadn’t been talking to him all week, and 2) I might not have discussed why I was angry with him, but my BMF knew all about it! I think that I actually blushed at that point.

When my BMF called later to find out the details, I told her that I didn’t know if we would still be going out on the date thanks to my mishandling of the mouse that morning. She laughed at my story and then said, “I hear every word of where you are at right now.  You guys NEED this night out.”

And she was so right.  Hubs never mentioned the email, though I know that he read it.  And I tried to let everything go because I knew I was going to actually have time to have an uninterrupted conversation with him and did not want to waste time bitching about week-old annoyances. Plus, the email thing was pretty obnoxious.  So we were pretty much even anyway.

One night of a grown up dinner out with a couple of drinks followed by a rocking rock opera changed everything.  My nasty attitude, my melancholy. My doubts about our marriage beyond co-parenting had all evaporated by the time we were giggling over our second glass of wine. We talked.  We laughed. We rocked out.  And we were the same couple that we were five years ago, before the first positive pregnancy test.  And four years before that when we moved into our first house four months after our wedding. And eight years before that when he told me he loved me for the first time and I freaked out and told him he couldn’t say that because this was just supposed to be a summer fling.  Even though I loved him too but was so afraid to admit it.

Being parents is this fun, crazy, wild, beautiful thing.  And often it’s exhausting.  And that shades everything else that isn’t parenting. Including your relationships. And then date night comes and you hope and pray that those butterflies you felt in your tummy 16 years ago show up over dinner and that you still are able to banter back and forth giggling the way you did way back in the days when there wasn’t a small person climbing into your bed in the middle of the night or throwing the dinner that you just spent an hour making all over the dog and laughing.

And then I was standing in this old converted mill swaying to this rocking guitar and screaming all the words to the song and my hip bumped his.  And he put his arm around me and I laid back against him and every stupid thing that I was pissed off about for a week disintegrated. And I felt the butterflies.

So the moral, I suppose, is: let’s not  allow this whole parenting thing to be so consuming.  Let’s get out every now and then and take the opportunity to rediscover who we are as husband and wife for a moment instead of mother and father. And also: don’t forward an email before reviewing everything in the thread.


November 10, 2013

I attended my first IEP meeting yesterday.  It actually wasn’t my first.  I probably attend one every other month and have been doing so for the past 13 years. But this was my first on the other side of the table.  For the first time, my name noted “parent” next to it as opposed to “teacher.” And that changed everything.

On a side note,

I’m officially changing B’s blog name to Rocketman. He inspired me yesterday, the day of the first IEP meeting where he would be the main topic of conversation and where his name (his real name, not Rocketman) would top all of the 13 paged document that I would have to sign to indicate my approval of the plan. “Rocketman” came from a morning made more difficult than we are used to due to the typical November in New England drop in temperature. This led to chaos of misplaced gloves (that were in his pocket), the panic of a missing hat (that was on his head), and the delay of taking off all of his layers once he arrived at school (despite my constant urging). A bit frustrated, I exclaimed, “My goodness! You are out in space today!” As which point a big goofy smile spread across his four year old face as he responded, “Coool! I love outer space!”  On my way back to my car, ready to head to work with my overstuffed brain overwhelming me, Elton John’s “Rocketman” came on the radio. And I smiled and thought, “Yes.  That is who he is.  My goofy little Rocketman.”

So now we are back at the IEP table where I am on the other side facing a speech pathologist and the head of Child Outreach. Ready to fight my fight and to show them I know a thing or two about education, about the law, about my child’s rights as a soon-to-be special needs student. But it didn’t take much. Apparently they were on my side.  Apparently they seem to have a desire to meet my child’s needs as well. Or so it seems so far.

So it wasn’t a fight or an argument or a disinterest that propelled the meeting. It was a serious, thoughtful discussion about Rocketman and how his needs might be eventually met. And why it is imperative that his needs be met.

I listened and listened and listened.  And then it was my turn to talk. And they were giving me free reign to talk about my kid. Which was strange. Because everyone wants to just talk and talk about their kids, but who ever gives them free reign to do so? But there they were, asking questions about Rocketman. Wondering how it was that while he has an exceedingly strong social emotional skill set, he struggles with sensory issues to the point where he cannot wear a button-down shirt without putting up a fight, runs blindly screaming during a fireworks show and gets so overstimulated by his baby brother that he flaps, grunts and stomps until we have to send him to his room for a break. Or a time out.

And the head of Child Outreach folded her arms thoughtfully and said, “What is so unusual about this case is that, typically, children that have these types of sensory issues struggle with social issues as well. Whereas the list of strengths that you just handed me are actually really good strengths to have.”  Which is fabulous and frustrating at the same time. Because, while it’s nice that my sensory kid does not fit the typical sensory profile, he still has ALL THESE ISSUES. And the issues are impacting his life, and mine, in wearisome, troublesome ways.

I am hopeful.  I have a little boy who is very smart, very sweet and very well adaptable.  He has a magnificent preschool teacher, a empathic pediatrician and a proactive mother.  He has strong, smart women in his life who care very much about him and will move mountains to get him what he needs.  Or at least I will.  I am ready to move mountains to get him what he needs. My silly and smart, sweet and so very funny Rocketman.

The Imperfect Child

September 15, 2013

September is tough.  It is all about transition and transition is tough.  Summer is fabulous.  Lazy hot days, no true schedule, and no real obligations.  Just lots of social activities and fun, fun, fun.  And then it’s over. And suddenly, lunches need to be packed, clothes set out, schedules kept. And every member of the family is stressed out because each is going through his or her own transition.  And that makes it hard.

So, this we know.  But, what made September even harder this year was that we had B’s 4 year pediatrician appointment (2 months late) in the midsts of all of this mayhem. And it stressed me the frick out.

Unfortunately, B was unable to see his smart, amazing and wonderful doctor this time around.  Instead, he saw a new nurse practitioner that I did not know and therefore did not trust.  When I brought out my list of concerns, she immediately started naming phycological disorders and freaking me the hell out.  Eventually, the suggestion was to contact a local hospital to have him evaluated due to his sensory issues as well as his speech issues.

So that was my week: calling this one and that one.  Trying to make one appointment of the other. Asking the advice of family, friends, neighbors, strangers. FREAKING OUT. What about?  Was this a shock that he has speech and sensory issues? Did he not freak out at Seasame Street Live?  Does he not dive for cover during fireworks? And take a year and a half to potty train? And stick fluff up his nose? And suck his fingers? And…oh my God, this kid has ISSUES.

So part of it was this: I spent 15 years as a public school educator attending IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings and sitting on the opposite side of the table from these parents who always looked lost or scared or concerned or angry. And I would feel these surges of empathy thinking: I will someday be a parent.  And when I am, I hope I am not going to have to sit on the opposite side of the table and be lost or scared or concerned or angry. But what if I am…

And now this.  The beginning.  And it may turn out to be fine.  But I think that more likely, he will end up on an IEP and I will be that parent. And I perseverated over that all week. And everything that he did, I thought: sensory.  Look. He’s gritting his teeth again.  He’s stamping his feet. He’s so flipping loud.  And I might have even resented him for some of it. Because I began looking at him differently.  Not as my first child that, of course, was perfect in absolutely every way. But as this child who had issues. Who ran lopsided. Who got way too overexcited when the baby did something funny. And then I hated myself for feeling that way.

So after the nuttiness of the week died down and the weekend finally arrived, I took some time to forget about all the appointments that I need to make and just focus on enjoying my family.  Part of that was to go on a playdate. B and I met one of his preschool friends and his mom at a local farm that had all sorts of fun attractions. The boys loved all of the activities and I enjoyed watching B interact with his friend and all of the people and animals on the farm. After checking out all of the activities, B’s friend and his mom headed home for a birthday party while B and I stopped at the farm’s ice cream shop and chatted while he watched with excitement as a model train ran around a track that wrapped the perimeter of the room near the ceiling.  Driving home, he requested the radio and that is when I had time to reflect.

The child I observed today is sweet.  He is polite.  He says, “please” and “thank you” and “how was your day” and he is just four and should be rather self centered.  He is fun-loving. He loves to jump and climb and race pedal cars around a track. He loves duck races and pumpkin patches and soft floppy eared bunnies and stupid silly goats. He is a good listener and he listens and respects what adults say. And he is so curious about the world that when someone says, “If you have any questions, let me know,” his hand instantly goes up.  Even if he hasn’t been able to formulate a question yet.

And this child is my perfect first born. And he is not perfect. I am not perfect and neither is his father. All of us are far from it. But if he has some sensory issues, we will simply address them and help him thorough them. And if he ends up on an IEP, I will sit confidently on the opposite side of that table.  And maybe I will be confused, or scared, or concerned, or angry.  But I will be an advocate for my child and do anything in my power to get him the help that he needs and to realize that, at no point, do these issues define who he is, or who I am as a mother. These are stumbling blocks that we will work through and be so proud to know that at the end of the day, B is a sweet, active, curious child who lives life to the fullest and loves as hard as he possibly can.

And with every inch of who I am, I am so damn proud of the positively imperfect person he has become.

School Daze

September 5, 2013

So, this is it.  The end of something wonderful. The beginning of something yet to be determined. And I feel…I feel ok about it. I think.

Summer vacation is officially over. B started his new Pre-K school last week. I am starting my thirteenth year teaching tomorrow. Well, I won’t be teaching tomorrow. It’s a PD day for teachers. So I guess it’s my thirteenth first day of school for the year. Not including the eighteen first days before I graduated college.

So clearly I’m all over the place here. So, I made the decision to blog instead of going to sleep like I should because I knew that I would not sleep without making some sense out of what is going on in my head and the only way to do that is to write it out.

So we move forward. But let me go backward just for a sec. This summer rocked. I spent quality quality time with my amazing children. I watched them grow and change and laugh and live and I tried to soaked up every moment. And I think that normally I would be devastated that the summer is ending and so are these moments. But, as of right now, I really am not. I’m anxious to get this first and second day…maybe this whole week….over with, but I am not weepingly devastated to part ways with my 2 and a half month 24/7 mom job with my kids. Here are the reasons why:

1) Last week, my sweet, funny, sensitive, independent B became a leech of sorts. He stuck himself to my side and whined and cried and whined some more until I wanted to scream. I saw a side of him that I normally don’t see and it awoke a side of me that is wretched and ugly and that I am not at all proud of. I know it had a lot to do with the transitions that are happening (as he is a mini-me, he does not do well with them, either), but I wonder if also we were just reaching our being-together breaking point. There was a lot of quality AND quantity this summer and the quantity may have become too much for both of us and was beginning to border on the unhealthy.

2) This is the maiden voyage of my dream come true. In 2007 before all the shit hit the fan and we all lost all of our money, jobs, etc. and there was still financial hope for a just-turned-thirty-year-old, I bought a book. It was a step-by-step guide on how to retire a millionaire and it was written for the youngish middle class woman. I had big plans. I took that book and devoured it.  Then I hit the worksheets. It asked me to write down my biggest financial goal. And I wrote down, “To be able to stay home with my kids for a little while and then work part time.” The funny thing was, I didn’t even have kids yet. B was born two years later (less than a year after the “bubble” burst) and, thanks to the fact that I lost more than half of my savings, I was able to stay home only six months before going back full-time. Which was excruciating. Three years later, C was born and we had saved enough so that I was able to stay home for ten months. But now I had two and one was a crazy active three year old and the other a newborn that I couldn’t adequately nurse and I found it very very overwhelming. Especially once the New England winter came and it wasn’t so easy to get them out of the house and keep them entertained for eight long hours a day. Last March I was beaming as I entered my classroom for the first time in almost a year because I was SO ready to use my brain in a totally different way and just get a break from the 24/7 mothering that was leaving me so depleted and causing me to become this very ugly person. Not the type of mother that I would choose to be.

But 3 months later, I was fried in a totally different way. I was overloaded. I was doing two full time jobs simultaneously. I was lucky to be dressed every morning and I know I looked like poop. And my memory was shot. And I wasn’t doing a particularly good job at either job.

But this is it.  This is my dream, my goal, that I have had since 2005: to work part-time doing something I love while being able to spend more time with my kids. Part-time. Two and a half days a week. How can that be bad?

So this is it.  This is why it is all ok.  This is why, even though I am walking into a new school with strange colleagues tomorrow and a whole new clientele of students the following day, I have a good deal of hope that this situation will provide me with the balance that has been lacking in my life for the past four years.

And so that is all. It is way past my bedtime and I am squinting trying to keep my eyes open, but I am less anxious and more hopeful than I have been on most of those other thirty-one nights before the first days of school. So this was all worth it.

Big Fat Juicy Ones

August 30, 2013

When I was pregnant with my first, and all the scary “you might loose the baby” stuff was behind us and we knew that it appeared to be a healthy pregnancy, I breathed a sigh of relief, took my husband’s hands in mine, looked him in the eye and said, “I so hope this is a boy!” And he did too. But we were both convinced that it was actually a girl and that that would be fine too, as long as it was healthy and ladidadida.

So we set a date (the first day of Spring) to look at the card that the ultrasound tech had written for us that would reveal the sex. We opened it together and it said, “It’s a boy…congrats!” And we looked at each other and laughed until we rolled for about 20 minutes. It was so very exciting.

So we got our boy and that was B and I loved having a boy as much as I had imagined I would. And then I got pregnant again and while it was such a better pregnancy physically, I think that looking back I was an emotional basket case. And at Thanksgiving, when I revealed to extended family that I was pregnant and someone suggested how adorable a girl that looked like B would be, I started crying into my cranberries. I did not want a girl.

What’s wrong with girls?! After all, I’m a girl! I grew up with one sister and no brothers. I have a bunch of great girlfriends and, as a teacher, I absolutely love my girls! They are so helpful and thoughtful and studious and sweet. And CALM. Girls are great! So what would be the problem with having a girl?

I didn’t want a girl because I really just thought that I would make a better mother to a boy than to a girl. I grew up hiking through swamps and catching toads all summer. I went crabbing with the boys in the rocks at the beach. I hated dressing up. (I still do.) I had no problem with getting dirty. (In fact, I was quite good at it.) And then, as I got older, I learned that as a girl you were supposed to play games. Not games like “Wall Ball” where you throw a ball against a wall and somebody catches it and throws it again (totally a boy game), but games like “If that girl talks to you, don’t talk back to her because it will make her feel rotten and that will be funny.” Or “Flirt with that guy until he asks you out but then turn him down because otherwise you will look desperate.” I never knew how to play any of those games very well.  I never got them.

If I had a girl (or if I ever have a girl…because I suppose anything is possible?) I would totally step up to the plate and do the best that I could. But I knew that if I had boys, they would most likely enjoy hiking through swamps, catching gross creatures, and getting dirty with me. And I wouldn’t have to worry about making sure I had the newest cutest Bean and Bets (or whatever the hell they wear) coat or get into the most popular dance class and wear a tutu onstage….these are the nightmares I’ve had when I thought I might have girls.

Anyway, today there was a crowning mother- of -boys moment where I got to use all my tomboyish talents to prove that I can rock this boys’ mom thing. C toddled over to me in the backyard, incredibly excited about his discovery- a rock that he held tightly in his grubby hand.  I got excited too and told him to follow me to B’s old “Rock Garden” that I had created when B had his rock obsession at 2.  The rock garden had seen better days. Rocks were buried under weeds, dead leaves and sticks. I suggested (more to B since C is 1) that we should clean out the rock garden and make it look good again.

We went to work right away, filling a bucket with all the big rocks and tearing the weeds and dead leaves out. I grabbed a plastic hoe and started moving the pea stone around, exposing the earth for the first time in two years and this big fat night crawler came creeping out of the ground and started wriggling all over the place.  I let out a quick, startled scream and then laughed, daring B to grab it for our composter. He excitedly went after it, but it kept wriggling out of his hands. C stood, screaming in pure terror. I picked C up in one arm, reassuring him that the worm would not hurt us, and grabbed the night crawler with the other hand and ran it to the composter. B had to say his sentimental goodbyes and then we returned to the rock garden and repeated this scenario 7 more times.

Finally, when C had truly had enough. I told B I would be putting him down for a nap. B wanted to stay out to catch more worms, but decided it just wasn’t as fun without Mom, so came in and watched Curious George instead. But it was totally the highlight of my (otherwise rather stressful) day. It’s totally why it was ok that I cried into my cranberries that Thanksgiving and why we laughed like hyenas for twenty minutes when we discovered that B was a boy.

I am not good at doing hair. Or shopping. Or keeping my nails painted for more than a day. But I rock at hiking up the creekbed to catch crayfish, storing a whole rock collection in my pocket and catching a ton of worms. I love girls. I love the daughters of all of my friends and family members. But this is what I was meant to be: the mother of a couple of loud, silly, dirty, active, crazy boys.


August 30, 2013

B, C and I attended our last music class of the summer today. It is a class for toddlers and preschoolers that is run by an elementary school teacher that I worked with. He is wonderful, the kids love it and so do I.  Every class, the teacher reads one story aloud to the children. Today’s read aloud was “Mortimer” by Robert Munsch.

The teacher introduced  the read aloud by building some background.  He told the children that Mortimer was a boy who had trouble falling asleep and asked if any of the children had trouble falling asleep.  Of course my B, who has had over a year’s worth of struggles with sleep, (If he doesn’t nap during the day he is tired but falls asleep at 8.  If he naps he is rejuvenated but falls asleep at 11 and battles with us every hour until then) raises his hand. He announces to the class that he sometimes has trouble falling asleep but makes sure that he is in bed by 10:00 because that is the time that the police come to the house to see if all children are asleep and if they are not the parents get in trouble. (I may or may not have told that story a few times in great desperation not realizing that my little white…story would be exposed in front of a colleague, several parents and grandparents and a group of toddlers and preschoolers.) Luckily, the teacher responded that there happened to be police in the story that he was about to read (they were actually called because the child would not go to sleep and was being too noisy!), too, and it became a great opener for him to begin reading the book.

The story was delightful and quite relavant and when my hubs asked about music class at dinnertime, Ben was quick to recount the story.  I remembered that there were several Robert Munsch ebooks that I could access through my library and at bedtime tonight we picked one to read and laughed the whole way through.

I have been teaching elementary school for fifteen years but have somehow missed the bulk of this man’s work.  Curious, I went onto his website to read his biography.  It was incredibly interesting and inspiring.  I learned that this enormously successful author gets most of his stories from listening to children. In his bio, Robert Munsch states, “I hope that everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges.” http://robertmunsch.com/about

This is something that I have always believed.  What children think, feel and say is enormously important and many adults seem not to respect that. But it was a good reminder to me. Four-year-old B has a great deal to say. But he says it through stutters of um, um, um, um, the, the, the, the, that, that, that, that… It can prove to be very frustrating and I often would like to cut him off and finish his sentence and move on with my day. Especially when I am tired. But then, that wouldn’t be fair. It would make it appear that, as his mother and the person who should love him the most, I am disinterested in what he has to share. And then, would that mean that what he has to share lacks importance?

So, this impromptu author study will be a reminder, then, of how important it is to listen to children.  Their perspectives are fresh and not jaded. They experience without judgement and report  without bias. They are funny. They are bright. And they are a piece of who we are that has been lost over years of hardened reality . We should listen.  I will listen. And I will appreciate and respect the amazing stories and perspectives that come from these silly little people that still have so much to teach us about life.