Friday, September 30, 2011

Mom's Milestones

A few months ago, I set a goal for myself of running a 5K in under thirty minutes on A-Train's first birthday.  I chose a training plan and stuck to it pretty closely.  I recruited The Beast to cheer me on with the kids.  I mentioned it to a friend and neighbor and she volunteered to come cheer me on as well - possibly even with her twins in tow.

I've been sick for most of September with three separate colds.  And I had an injury to my back last week that was minor but nonetheless sidelined me for a few days.  I'm still congested and coughing occasionally from this last cold.  A-Train is still getting over a cold and ear infection and not sleeping as well as usual.  I wasn't sure I would accomplish my goal, but decided I would be proud of myself if I just ran the whole thing.  If I could go without walking or running so slowly I might as well be walking, then GO ME.

I got going about thirty minutes later than planned, mainly because The Beast didn't realize I wanted them out on the route cheering for me and Bean slept in a little.  I really wanted to make a big deal out of this - it was a goal purely for me.  This was my milestone.  This wasn't celebrating that I helped my children accomplish something, or done for any other reason than to say I did it.  Besides, when will I ever be able to make one of my children's birthdays about me again?  Ahhhh!  Selfishness!  I miss you...

So Bean and A-Train were in the double stroller.  A-Train beamed at me, just loving being outside in the morning air and having me look back at him as I walked out to my starting line (this was not an actual race - I chose the route and the date and The Beast was my official timer).  Bean yelled, "On you mark.  Get set!  GO!"  I was off.

A half-mile from the finish line, The Beast and the boys were waiting for me.  Bean told me to "stop now," and The Beast spent the rest of the race explaining why I wouldn't stop as he ran with the double stroller to keep up with me! 

As I neared the finish line, I spotted someone standing at the bus stop with a dog...which are not allowed on the bus!  Then I realized it was that friend and neighbor, sans twins but with pooch.  She took a picture as I sprinted toward my finish line.

My official time was 28:04.65!!  I beat my goal by almost two full minutes.

As we walked the short distance home, Bean recounted the whole story of the race from his perspective, ending with "then we trudged home behind you!"

I explained that "trudging" is not a good thing - it usually means you're pretty unhappy.  He said, "we need a different espwession!"  (That would be "expression.")  We came up with several, but the upshot is that we all had a great time.  And I feel like a badass.

Happy Birthday, Squeak!

I can't believe my baby is already a year old.  And what a year it has been!

I had an immensely healing birth experience.  That was immediately followed by a rough (though, oddly, also healing) breastfeeding experience.

I struggled with some anger, and I'm still not sure if that was postpartum depression?

In June, Squeak transitioned from the chillest little baby ever to the chillest older baby ever while with me at a local restaurant/cafe with a friend.  It ended up being the perfect storm of bad days (mine, Squeak's, and the restaurant owner's).  The restaurant owner's very exaggerated telling of the (otherwise forgettable) meal made rounds on Facebook and eventually off.  And that telling included admitting she had overcharged us as "a petty revenge."  (Though she later tried to backpedal over that particular aspect.  An overcharge did actually happen in two parts of the payment process, whether on purpose or by accident...). It was drama.  And it got me thinking about all kinds of stuff, including the insane level of control mothers seem to be expected to have over their children and why the heck dads aren't held to the same standards.

In July, we celebrated Baby's First Colonoscopy (sigh), and soon after it was clear I needed a break and some help.  And I got it.

Throughout the spring and summer, my thoughts turned a lot to my mother, her death, and her legacy.  I could not tell you at the time that it was my sister Tamara's becoming a Go Red spokeswoman that was bringing all that up.  If you'd like a different and more in-depth perspective on this, Tamara has started a blog about her journey since Mom's death.

Of course, Squeak has also transitioned from a newborn to an almost-toddler in the last year!  He still loves to snuggle, but he also likes to climb.  He loves to rough house with his brother, but he still requires protection.  He can stand on his own, but he doesn't realize it.  He loves to eat and he loves to feed the dog.  He's on the move, but usually toward me.  He no longer squeaks, so I think he needs a new bloggy nickname.  I'm going with A-Train.  It's something we actually call him (as in "Hey, Babe?  Could you take the A-Train so I could go pee?").

Happy Birthday, A-Train!  I'm honored to be your mother, still the center of your universe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Homemade granola bars that don't fall apart!

I have been trying to make "perfect" granola bars for weeks, and I finally succeeded!  I plan to send these to Bean's preschool for snack when it's our turn.  His school is nut-free this year, so I've been trying to think of a variety of snacks to send (I've sent peanut butter as a dip in the past).

I started with a recipe from Kitchen Stewardship, and they were so tasty...but they crumbled like crazy.  I couldn't conceive of sending them to school.  I could hardly give a piece to Bean to try without it crumbling.  It didn't stop me from eating most of the 20 bars mounds of crumble it produced, but I wanted to do better.

The following week, I tried adding more honey.  They were no longer crumbly, but they also weren't sturdy.  They were almost soggy.  They bent/sagged when I picked them up.  Still not acceptable.

So I got to thinking about what I could use as a binder, and thought of the fruity "Lära" bars that use dates...could it work in granola bars?

I looked around on various websites, and most of them were suggesting you heat the honey and butter on the stove and add it to already-toasted granola.  Then you let it cool.  Cooking two things separately sounded like a lot of work and a lot of dishes. 

Last night I tried out the dates...and it worked!  The Beast took two bars to work today for snacks, and I lost count of how many I ate.  I think I had two for breakfast...  They are so tasty, and I think they're going to be really great for throwing in the diaper bag, taking on hikes, and helping The Beast stay well-fed at work (the man probably eats 3000-3500 calories a day...). 

And they are easy!  Heck, I forgot to butter the pan but they still came out alright (the fact that it's a non-stick pan probably saved my oats...).  I forgot to add the chocolate chips and just poured them on top when it came out of the oven.  It worked out just fine!

So here it is!  My granola bar recipe.

1/2 c. dried deglet dates
1/2 c. butter, softened (you can microwave it for 30 seconds to soften it plenty)
1c. honey (I originally was going to use 1/2 c. but the mixture looked too dry)
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flour of any sort
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons of chia seeds (these are optional, but they do make for a better texture)
Add-ins I've tried: 
  • 1c. mini-chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter - add this with the butter, honey, and dates.  Peanut butter and chocolate chips are The Beast's favorites.
  • 1/2 c. each of dried cranberries and diced dried apricots
  • Chocolate (with no processed sugar!) - replace 1/4c. flour with cocoa powder
  • The pumpkin variation.

-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

-Butter a 9x13 pan (straight edges/corners work best)

-Process the dates in your food processor or blender.  Add to a large mixing bowl with the butter and honey.  Use a hand mixer to blend thoroughly.

-Add everything else but the add-ins and beat until well-combined.

-Stir in your add-ins.

-Transfer mixture to the pan.  With slightly wet fingers, firmly press the mixture into the pan.

-Bake for 15-20 minutes (my oven runs a little hot, so 15 minutes is plenty).

-Allow to cool for 10+ minutes (I did dishes and started dinner) before cutting into bars.  I used a pastry cutter/scraper because it has a straight and fairly sharp edge.  A sharp knife would work, too.  I made 20 bars from the 9x13 pan.

-Once they're cut, refrigerate overnight (or so).  Then remove the bars from the pan and store in layers, with a piece of wax paper between.  The Beast took his to work in a container, but you could package them any way you like.

Other thoughts, tips, and ideas

-For maximum efficiency of dishes producing lots of food for the week, I first made a double batch of granola. I put half of it on a cookie sheet and half of it in the 9x13 pan.  The granola in the pan took a little longer to toast, but not by much.  While that was going, I washed dishes and prepared the granola bar mixture in the same bowl I'd used for the granola (will have to make nut-free granola to be extra safe for preschool).  I let the granola cool and stored it before buttering the pan and loading it up.  Then, while the granola bars cooked, I did some more dishes to clear some space.  While they cooled, I made the fruity ("Lära") bars - and I made them into heart shapes, per a request from Bean.  They are cute!

-Choose your knife/cutting implement carefully.  You want something you can press down into the bars with and not have to saw/drag back and forth.  You could try a pizza wheel, a large chef's knife, etc.

-One recipe I was looking at had a great allergy tip:  you can easily make these gluten-free by grinding a cup of oats in your blender or food processor and using that oat flour.

-If you really want great-looking bars, you could line your pan with parchment paper, chill the whole thing, turn out the entire pan, and cut the bars outside the pan.  Then you're not dealing with getting the bars out of the pan, and they separate when cut so they don't get smushed.  I'd rather not deal with the parchment paper, and I don't mind if my bars are slightly irregular, so I didn't do that.

Update 12/2/12
PHOTOS of the bars in progress.  I had some questions about what the batter should look like.  Here are some pictures that will hopefully help!

Dates processed into oblivion.  I always think they look a bit like frosting.
Honey, butter, and dates:  you can see flecks of dates, but everything is well-mixed.
The final batter (before add-ins).  It should clump, but it won't be stuck together until you've pressed it into the pan and baked it.
Close-up of the batter without add-ins.
cranberry-apricot bars ready to go in the oven
Chocolate and cranberry-apricot bars ready to go in the fridge or freezer.  NOM!
Chocolate granola bar, ready to go in my belly!
Cranberry-apricot bars, stacked as artfully as I do...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How I am doing

I just wanted to tell everyone explicitly that I am doing really well with the story of my mother's death being made public.  I am distracted, but not by the sort of grief or anxiety I thought I might be stricken with.  Instead, I am distracted by frustration. 

I am frustrated that messages about women's health are still not getting out.  I am frustrated that women do not know the signs of a heart attack.  I am appalled to read in discussions about how many seeking medical attention are told they're anxious and narrowly escape death by luck, a shift change, or persistence.  And where is diagnostic testing in this?  It appears these tests cannot be trusted, and I am working on asking a specialist about this.  How, after we are informed, are we to advocate for ourselves when a problem can't be detected?

So I'm distracted from my usual tasks and spending a lot more time on Facebook (and now Google+ because what did Facebook just do to itself?!?) posting various things to various groups and pages and responding to posts attempting to spark or continue discussions. 

I am giving in and allowing myself to focus on this - to be distracted elsewhere.  I'll deal with the mail piling up and the dishes to be washed and errands to run at some point.  The family is fed on our usual fare.  My kids are attended to (if I disappear for awhile it's because Climb-a-palooza is happening with Squeak and I have to keep a close eye on his antics...).  I'm going to let myself be focused on this for a little while, though.  It is so important to me that word gets out about women and heart disease.  I don't want another child to experience what my sister and I did.

Quick and dirty fact list:

  • #1 killer of women over age 20.
  • Kills more women every year than the next four causes of death combined.
  • Symptoms of heart attack in women often differ from men.
  • 90% of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
  • Most women do not know it is the #1 killer.
  • Even those who do know tend to think it's not a threat to their own life - they are not aware of their own risk factors.
  • Check out Go Red's website - tell 5 women you want them to live, take the risk assessment, read the facts, check out BetterU

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Mom would be 63 years old today!  I Go Red for her five grandchildren. 

Here's a message for all you moms...

I am quite happy to be sharing my mother's story and seeing friends and family take note of their own health on my mother's birthday this year.  This is not a sad thing.  This is actually satisfying. 

Tamara's Story

I am updating the controversy post with this video, but I also wanted to post it separately, and will also be sharing the stories of the other Go Red women. 

Here is my sister's story, as told/edited for Go Red for Women.  Who do you Go Red for?  I Go Red for my mother's grandchildren.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just a Little Controversy?

My sister is just to the right of center.  The photo I really wanted to include was this one.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I shared some big and important news this week:  my sister, Tamara, was chosen as a national spokeswoman for Go Red for Women.  If you visit this link you can read or watch the stories of all six Go Red Women.  Tamara's video is below.

As you may already know from my previous posts, we witnessed as our mother died of a heart attack on our kitchen floor. 

So when I saw the trailer for the short film made by Go Red to raise awareness this year, and saw that it was clearly a mother having a heart attack on the kitchen floor?  I tensed up a bit.  When the full short film, Just a Little Heart Attack, was released, I waited to watch it until I was with my sister just before the official premiere/party.  We didn't say much.

At the premiere party, I watched it standing next to Star Jones, with Elizabeth Banks standing perhaps ten feet away.  I was in a room full of people who had just heard my sister tell the nutshell version of the story of our mother's death, but they didn't know I was the sister she had mentioned.  It was a surreal.

I cannot deny that the film was a tidbit....triggering...

There has been a little bit of backlash against Go Red (on their Facebook page is what I've mostly seen) for making a funny film about a serious issue.

Obviously I can see the point.

But I think it's a great approach as long as I set aside my own stuff.  First off, in my opinion, it's ok - even a good thing - to find something to laugh at in something serious.  And you know what?  Women/moms really do put their needs behind others' even when they are having a heart attack.  It's so ridiculous that it is laughable when we see it in this film, but women really do wait until it's "more convenient" to seek medical attention!

And if you laugh about this dramatized situation rather than cry, you might actually learn something.  Rather than turn away, cry, or get caught up in your own emotions, perhaps you will watch the whole way through.  Perhaps you will hear (or see in Banks' acting) the list of symptoms women report when they're having a heart attack.  (Hint:  It's not the typical chest pain we all think of.)

And I like the controversy.  I wish Go Red would be more controversial.  I wish they would make major headlines.  My mother died of a misdiagnosed heart attack seventeen years ago and still I hear of women's heart attacked misdiagnosed as panic attacks.  Still I hear of mothers not knowing the symptoms of heart attack in women and leaving behind teenaged children.  Still surveys show that even when women do know that heart disease is their number one killer they do not think it's a threat to their own health and life!

So laugh it up.  Or get angry/indignant/frustrated/offended.  And tell someone what you thought of it.

Watch the short film.  Share it.  Be controversial if you want.  Help Go Red for Women make some headlines and create some buzz.  Learn the signs of heart attack and stroke - from the film or from Go Red's website.  Spread the word.  Go Red for the women you love - and for the children in your life.

This Week in Sleep (what's the date again?)

This week in sleep I'm sick again.  And I traveled.  I'm tired.  I will attempt to blog when I'm feeling better.  I do have a lot I want to say about my trip!

Ugh.  I can't believe I got back-to-back viruses.

I'm pretty proud of myself just for keeping up with my posting schedule for This Week in Sleep.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thank You; Sleep; Coming Up Next...

First, a big "thank you" to everyone who read my last entry and left me a comment - on Facebook, via email, and in the comment section here.  It was a mix of people who have known me for a long time, a short time, and family.  Being able to share openly what happened so many years ago is a tremendous weight off my shoulders.  Keeping such a huge event to myself makes it feel heavier - but it's not exactly something that comes up in regular conversations.  I have had friends who knew me for five years without ever knowing about this!

I don't keep it a secret; it's certainly not something I am ashamed of.  But it does freak people out - it seems to either bring me closer to people or push them away, and I've just learned to be ok with that.  I'm intense, my life has been intense - in joy as well as in sorrow.

Apologies for not responding to each comment.  I actually ended up out of commission part of this week with such a bad sinus headache on Thursday that I could hardly look at a computer screen or read a book!

Which brings me to "This Week In Sleep."  Uh I don't really remember.  Everyone's schedules are messed up, mine included.  The days all kind of ran together in a blur of congestion, dizziness, nausea, dozing, and hot fluids.

Squeak is nursing more at night than I think he ever has, though.  What's worse than frequency is that he wakes up and cries and he flops about while he nurses.  I think it's gross motor milestones.  He's getting nearer and nearer to free-standing and then walking!  So I'm tired from that, tired from being ill and restless myself, tired from the previous week of sick kids.  Just one of those times with a perfect storm of sleeplessness!

The good news is that Squeak is such an easy almost-toddler to enjoy.  He is so even-tempered, easy-to-please, snuggly, sweet.  But he's getting more independent, too, with all the crawling, pulling up, exploring, etc.  So that leaves me space to sit and watch and enjoy and also to snuggle and play with Bean.  Plus the two of them play together now, and Bean has resumed being generally sweet to his brother after a short hitting phase.  I'm feeling pretty good about my boys (and need to write a post about what we've been doing differently with Bean that has made a tremendous difference for all of us!).  This is a good phase, even with some great displays of Threeness from Bean and some emerging Toddlerisms and mischief from Squeak.  It all feels balanced and like we are all functioning as a unit (generally).  There is enough of me to go around right now - even for myself!

Coming up next week, Squeak and I are going out of town for a few days and then I'll have exciting news to share with the internet.  (No, I am not pregnant.)  I will probably share it on Facebook first, simply because it's quick and I'm not sure how much time I'm going to have to sit down and write a proper post.  So if you haven't "liked" the Facebook page, do it now!

There are several posts clanging around in my head these days - hopefully I will finally bang 'em out here at the computer next week! 

So, again, thank everyone for the support and love and "listening ears"  (reading eyes?).  I am one lucky lady.  Stay tuned - exciting things ahead!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Story of That Day.

Some Background
Though my mother died in 1994, my sister and I did not divide up her jewelry or her needlepoint until ten years later.  Her will stated that, if she died before I was 21, we had to wait until my 21st birthday to divide up those two types of possessions. 

My sister and I haven't lived in the same state (and have just barely lived in the same time zone) since several months after Mom died, so we finally met at our maternal grandmother's house in the summer of 2004 to sort through some of Mom's most prized possessions.

Needlepoint may seem random, but these were items that Mom herself had created and that hung in our house growing up.  There were also some prints made by an artist family member and a few other decorative odds and ends.  They were the visuals that I took for granted as a kid - I walked by them every day, sat near them while I watched TV, and looked at them absent-mindedly while having lengthy discussions with (...or nagging...) my mom as she put on make-up at her bathroom mirror.  Many of those I inherited hang in my home now, and they make my house feel like more of a home.  In fact, one of her needlepoints says "A house is made of a brick and stone.  A home is made of love alone."  Perfect.

Knowing she spent hours with these in her lap, holding the thread in her hands, perhaps cursing in frustration over mistakes or tangles, makes them invaluable.

Some of the jewelry had some monetary value, but obviously it was the sentimental value that led to Mom specifically mentioning it in her will - and also stating that anything her daughters couldn't agree on would be pawned and the money split.  (Ahem.  There may have been some sibling rivalry and sisterly squabbles growing up that made Mom think we'd need a little extra motivation to agree...)

It was an intense day, to say the least.  When we were finally done, there was a collection of jewelry that was very much Mom but that neither of us thought we'd ever wear.  Highlights included vintage brass earrings from the 1970s, turquoise jewelry from her many years living in the southwest, and 3-inch bejeweled unicorn and castle pins (I don't know, folks.  Maybe it was part of a Halloween costume?  Mom was a teacher - it could have been something to amuse her students?).

We didn't want the jewelry to be buried at the bottom of our jewelry boxes or gathering dust anywhere else.  My sister said, "I feel like we should spread Mom around."

Out of that came the idea for me to take this jewelry back to college and sell it to benefit the American Heart Association.  I planned to get a little table in or near the student union, put out a little information about heart disease, make sure people were aware of why I was there, and hopefully raise a couple hundred dollars (if I was lucky) along with awareness.

I mentioned it to a mentor at school, and she proclaimed that she had jewelry she would donate to something like this.  I liked that idea!  I sent an email out to friends and family explaining what was going on and asking them to send me any jewelry they wanted to contribute.  Within a couple of weeks I was receiving jewelry from all over the country, emails from people I'd never met, and planning a much larger event than a little table with Mom's jewelry!

The support was astounding.  Soon there was a group of us planning the event, preparing the jewelry, and creating education and marketing materials.  Thanks to the owner of a local vintage shop and the owners of a local fine jewelry store, I got a crash course in jewelry appraisal.  A fellow student donated an eye-catching and powerful logo. 

That event, in April of 2005, raised $5000!  More importantly, there were many conversations had about heart disease.  Many people stopped in their tracks on their way through a public square to look at the pictures of my mom and find out who she was and what had happened to her.  The connection to the jewelry lasted years.  Occasionally, I still hear from friends saying they are wearing my sister's earrings, my mother's necklace, or some other piece they purchased at that original event (and there were events over the next few years, as well).  More importantly, they told me they were thinking of my mother's story and reminded of their own health.

I wrote an essay to distribute that day telling virtually the entire story of Mom's death.  That is what follows.

In Loving Memory (Written April, 2005)
Exactly ten years and eight months after her death on August 16, 1994, my mother has an enormous presence in my life.  As I begin to write about my mother’s life and death, I am keenly aware of my split personality.  I am a 24-year-old college graduate excited about the future who loves her life.  I am also a 13-year-old eighth grader, who has just witnessed her mother’s death on the first day of school.

Most people who knew my mother will, when thinking of her, remember her laugh first and foremost.  Mom didn’t seem to know how to giggle.  I have never been able to picture her as a giggly teenager.  She always laughed whole-heartedly, throwing her head back so far you could see the fillings in her teeth!  There was a decorative wooden block in her classroom (she was a speech therapist in an elementary school) that, in my memory, sums up her outlook.  It said, “Life is for living, love is for giving.”  It seems simple and trite, but, save for the memories of the mother-daughter fights we had (or perhaps then most), this little slogan for living and loving was my mother in a nutshell.  

Mom kept in great shape.  She took brisk walks when the weather was chilly (we lived in the desert of Texas, so it was never too cold), and she swam laps almost every day in the summer.  She was so conscientious about her health and that of those she loved that she once scheduled two back-to-back mammogram appointments so a friend of hers, who had been putting the test off, would have no choice but to go.

So why is my mother, a healthy, strong, and vivacious woman, not physically here today?

Unfortunately, my mother fell through the cracks in a way that women often do, even now, more than ten years after her death.  For about three months, Mom was told that she was having panic attacks and that if they continued she should return to the doctor.  She chronicled every chest pain she had.  We found her notes in her date book after her death – she woke up with pain around 4:30AM the day she died.  She wrote down the time the clock read, and that she should call the doctor that day.  According to her death certificate, she died at 8:18PM.  She had a heart attack for almost 16 hours!

My sister, Tamara, and I watched as the final hours of her life flew past in a blur.  Mom picked me up from my first day of school, dropped off a friend, then dropped me at home before heading off to the store, mainly to pick up requested school supplies.  When she came home, she practically threw my supplies at me, let the dogs out in the backyard, and started crying as she shut the back door.  She mumbled an answer when I asked what was wrong.  At first I thought maybe she was annoyed with me, because I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before and had crawled in bed with her to sleep.  She had admonished me for sleeping at odd hours all summer, but then she had snuggled me and stroked my hair until I fell asleep.  So, when she mumbled an answer, I let it go and watched her walk to the back of the house.  The next thing I remember, Tamara was walking toward me and using a tone of voice I couldn’t place.  I heard something about calling the doctor.  My mom was following behind Tamara, gripping her left arm as if in pain.

A few minutes later, Tamara was about to take my mother to the Emergency Room when her doctor returned my sister’s initial phone call to give us instructions.  I ran and got my sister from the car before she left.  Shortly thereafter, my mother sort of stumbled back into the kitchen, using various objects along the way from the garage to support her weight.  As she slid to the kitchen floor, she told my sister to call 911.  As Tamara spoke to the dispatcher, I watched my mother, who was on her knees, place her head on the floor, her hands clasped behind her knees.  She started rocking back and forth, obviously trying to deal with pain.  I stood helpless for a bit and asked Mom if there was anything I should do.  Some of the last words she would ever speak to me were something along the lines of “No, sweetie.  It’s going to be ok.  The pain is getting better now.”  My brain quickly reviewed all the information I had been taught in school or heard on television.  I told Mom I was going outside to make sure the ambulance found the house – our street number was difficult to see from the road.  She said that was a good idea.

I stood in the yard, not sure which end of the street to watch.  I heard sirens, and when I saw the fire truck, I started yelling and waving my arms.  They turned the other way!  My sister came out, crying, as I stood frozen on the lawn, my stomach in my throat.  She told me to go get them. I ran down the street as fast as I could – I remember a neighborhood boy at the corner saying “they’ll come back.”  I kept on running.  I caught up with the fire truck and got their attention.  One of the paramedics ran back to the house with me, carrying equipment.  When I arrived back at the kitchen, Mom was unconscious, not responding to the paramedic’s repeated “Ma’am?  Ma’am?  Can you hear me Ma’am?”  At this point I knew it was really bad.

We waited at the hospital for a long time.  It seemed like eternity.  Finally a doctor came in and started a long explanation before saying the words we all dreaded…but we knew if it were good news she would have started with “she’s going to be fine.”  My sister interrupted her, saying “She’s dead, isn’t she.”  The doctor said, “Yes.  She has died.”  The room spun, and I couldn’t stop screaming “NO! NO! NO!”  Eventually a social worker was there, and they began to figure out what to do with us for the night, since our father was in New Jersey.

After my mother’s death, I mourned with all my energy.  I became clinically depressed and suicidal.  My family was a mess – my sister and I lived with friends so she could finish high school in Texas, I eventually moved away to live with an aunt, then boarding school, and then, finally, college here in Oberlin where I have had the chance to put down roots again.  This is, of course, the much simplified version.

The Heart Project has been a chance to celebrate my mother’s life, and the legacy that she has left behind.  Untax My Heart Day is another chance for me to say goodbye.  This time I’ve had the opportunity to prepare myself and even to do it on my terms.  I cannot say that I am entirely without reservations about selling her jewelry today, but I hear Tamara’s words, spoken in the summer of 2004 when this crazy idea began:  “I feel like we should spread Mom around.”

I know that our mother is smiling down on us today.  I know that, even though her death caused so much pain, she would be honored and proud to see that it was not in vain.  If  this project saves the life of one woman, and spares one child the pain that I suffered  (and that I know I will feel to some extent for the rest of my life), I can let go of the senselessness of my mother’s death at least a little more.

Part of me will always be thirteen.  It’s the part of me that knows my mother and refuses to let go.  It’s the part of me who feels that a great injustice has been done and that it must be righted.  It is also a part of me who is grateful to be allowed to come out in public today with the hopes of making you think twice about putting your children first every hour of every day.  Taking time for yourself, listening to your body, and not putting off a visit to the doctor or even a trip to the hospital could end up being the single best thing you ever do for your child.  I know that my mother always put my sister and me first.  I’d rather she were alive today.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Baby-Led Solids

Squeak at 8 months, gnawing on a slice of strawberry

Being the crunchy-ish mom that I am, I'm asked if I make my own baby food.  The answer:  yes and no.

I have never made food specifically for my babies.  Instead, we let them feed themselves and gave them opportunities to try things from our plates.  Bean wasn't interested in solid food for a long while.  He hardly ate anything in his first year, and what he did eat was mainly grains of puffed rice, a bite here and there of fruits, and a couple of beans every now and then. 

This method of introducing a baby to solid food is called either "baby-led solids" or "baby-led weaning."  I usually call it baby-led solids, but really once you introduce something other than breastmilk or formula you have initiated weaning to solid foods.  Either name works.

So here's a quick crash course in this method of starting solids from my experience doing this with my two kids.

There are so many schools of thought on this!  You can find lists and articles on signs of readiness that often conflict with each other.  The AAP recommends starting solids at six months.  We tried starting Bean right at six months and it was a total flop and so stressful!  He has always been opinionated.  He wouldn't let me feed him.  He didn't want solids at six months. 

With Squeak, I actually let him gum at something on my fork shortly before he was six months old because he was screaming and grabbing at it!

In the end, I'd advocate that you watch your baby and (as always) trust your gut.  I love baby-led solids partly because I feel that I am meeting my baby's needs and following his developmental path, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all schedule.  And my kids' paths are so different!  Bean was crawling at 7 months and walking at 9.5 months but his fine motor skills were average-to-slow, and that included the pincer grasp and eating.  Squeak crawled at about 9.5 months and I don't expect him to walk before his birthay, but has always had excellent fine motor skills.  His pincer grasp was great at 6 months and he could feed himself grains of puffed rice - even switching from one hand's pincer grasp to the other - by 7 months old.

All that is to say that I don't think anyone can tell you when to start solids (or exactly how), except your baby.  That said, do look over some information about growth spurts, night-waking, and the infant gut if you're feeling unsure.  I really don't think a baby would let you not give them solids when they've decided they're ready, though!  I had planned to not even offer Squeak food at six months (I was going to wait to see his interest), but he was demanding it!


 My own reasons:
  • I like knowing what exactly my kids are eating, and I like the idea of making my own baby food...but I don't really want to deal with whizzing stuff up, storing it, etc. 
  • I feel that this allows me to follow my baby's lead in easiest way.
  • My kids eat what we're eating right from the beginning (sometimes I have to pick things out of my meal, but it's generally not a big deal).
  • No baby food jars or other packaging.  The trash/clutter/storage aspect is sort of a neurosis of mine.
  • Generally the baby is eating on his own near me and, while I might be putting more food on his tray as he eats it, I'm not feeding him every bite.  Less work for me.  (Arguably messier, I admit.  Really, I think babies and solid food is gross.  They require after-meal baths, their poop becomes disgusting, the kitchen floor is covered in food, and our old fabric high chair was so difficult to clean that it was growing mold from all the food gunk smushed into it.  But I don't think this is unique to baby-led solids - I think it is a universal experience with solids-eating babies and very young children!)
For a short time, Squeak wanted to gum at whatever was on my fork.  We took turns eating my dinner.  But for the most part I have simply put some food on his tray.  For example, last night I picked out rice and beans and made sure I avoided onions and peppers (because he can't grind anything down yet, since he doesn't have molars).

What foods do you start with?
There are two categories of foods I currently give Squeak:
1) large chunks (too large to choke on) that he can scrape with his teeth, gum, etc without them falling apart.  Carrots and celery are great for this.  Though, currently, I don't give him celery because he can break/bite a chunk off but he cannot actually chew it.  Before he had figured out biting, it was fine.
2) Foods that I can eat without using my teeth - if I can suck on it until it can be swallowed or work on it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, then I will let Squeak try it. This includes steal-cut oats, cooked veggies, rice puffs, tender meats, bananas, etc.  He does chew/grind with his four front teeth now, so I watch him closely and let him try some crisper things (like apples).  He will store some in his cheek - I've gotten good and holding his nose and doing a quick sweep to get food (and rocks, leaves, fuzz, grass, and paper) out of his mouth.

Puffed rice is a favorite snack food.  It dissolves into a mush with just a little gumming and moving it around with the tongue.  It's also an excellent size for practicing that pincer grasp!

Now that Squeak is biting chunks off of things, I also give him puffed corn as a quick snack.

What about iron?

Both of my kids have actually been very slightly anemic at their 9-month checks.  I have spoken to our pediatrician about whether to do iron-fortified infant cereals, a supplement, or focus on foods that are iron- and vitamin-c rich plus cook with a cast-iron skillet.  Because their iron was only slightly below normal, she was comfortable having me do only (non-fortified) foods and skip the supplement.  This was an appealing option to me because the supplement can cause constipation and generally really  really gross diapers (I gave it to Bean once, before doing some reading and then talking to the pediatrician.  It was like tar...).  Also, the iron present naturally in foods and breastmilk is better-absorbed than supplements or fortified cereals.  Plus, the absorption of naturally-occurring iron can be blocked by the supplements/added iron.

Obviously, if my kids were more than a little iron-deficient (or diet didn't raise it as quickly as it did), I would have loaded them up with all the supplemental iron I could!  I am not advocating here to go against doctors' orders or saying supplements and fortified cereals are bad or always unnecessary.  If they give you peace of mind, do it.

And vitamin C is necessary for absorption of iron, so if you're concerned about iron-deficiency anemia, focus on that as well!

What about choking?
We've had some gagging, and I have done a few finger sweeps to help the gagging, but the gag and tongue-thrust reflexes make most babies pretty adept at ejecting things that s/he can't swallow.  And ever since Squeak swallowed part of a cocktail umbrella and it successfully passed through his stomach only to get stuck in his colon...and he was just fine?  I don't worry as much about actual food as I once did...

However, if you are freaking out at this whole notion?  Don't do it.  It's simply another option - not the ultimate, must-do, best practice!

How did you start and progress with solids, or how do you plan to?  Did/do you find it intimidating?  Fun?  Gross?

Any other questions?  I have information about food allergies, what foods to hold off on (like honey until your baby's first birthday), websites about baby-led weaning (there is also a book and even a cookbook), etc.  Just comment, email (contentedlycrunchy at gmail dot com), or leave a comment on the Facebook page!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Motherly Foregiveness

I knew that having kids would bring up my own "stuff."  I didn't expect it would be so much so soon, and I didn't realize how raw or how healing it could really be.

I was a difficult kid.  I was a biter, a hitter, a tantrum-thrower, and I once was so frustrated by not being called on by my kindergarten teacher that I kicked her in the shin and gave her a bruise.  I still remember how my mom dealt with that.  I was taking a bath, and she came in and asked me if I wanted to hear a story.  Yes, I definitely wanted to hear a story!  Then she told me the story of a little girl who kicked her teacher.  I bawled.  I felt so guilty.  But my impulse control and ability to deal with frustration were lacking, to say the least.

I often felt like I was simply bad.  And when I was asking for TLC and was rebuffed, I took it personally.  I felt too needy, too sensitive, too much.  Always too much.  And when I was sick or injured I especially felt I was too much.

I got to thinking about this on my run this morning.  I've been holed up in the house with sick kids for five days and starting to feel like I have no more to give because I haven't had a real chance to recharge my own batteries.  I have done much snuggling, given much extra patience, gone many extra miles to meet more sensitive needs, and sat on my butt keeping my kids calm.  The Beast has done a little extra cooking (it's difficult to cook when two kids need snuggles), he came home a little early from work one day, we've both been up in the middle of the night taking turns with a croupy baby, and he has also given extra patience and extra of himself in general.

Out for a run this morning, everything came together in my head.  I thought of my mother feeling just the way I was feeling - only probably more so as a single parent.  She wasn't telling me I was bad, but that's how it felt.  And I gather that Bean often feels the same way when I tell him I'm not doing anything else for him at the moment because I need a break.

Running - recharging my batteries - I suddenly felt a lightness as I forgave my mother, my kids, and myself.  I didn't feel I was forgiving my mother because I was angry with her or blaming her, but because I would imagine she felt some guilt and would benefit from hearing my forgiveness and appreciation (hey, even if she does have to hear it from her grave!).  Especially the appreciation that she must have been exhausted - I am exhausted, and I have an incredible partner in The Beast.  She was doing her best.  Which brought forgiveness of myself - I am doing my best. 

The forgiveness of my children is more a deeper dimension of acceptance that they have deep and intense needs for attention, affection, and understanding.  I forgive them those needs, and forgive them for not realizing how much they are demanding of us as their parents.  It's not their job to realize.  I don't want them (yet) to know and understand pain and suffering so well that they know how lucky they are.  I forgive them their naivaté.

I know that sounds silly - that I forgive my children for lacking sophistication, wisdom, understanding.  But it is awfully easy to fall into resentment when my needs are not met.  I forget that my children are, well, children.  I become a bit of a needy child myself - after all, who is going to mother me?  Why is nobody taking care of me?

Perhaps this is all compounded by the mothering I missed out on and not being able to resolve some of this stuff with my mother through my teen years and into adulthood.  Maybe.  But I don't know, because this is my only experience of motherhood and adulthood.

I'd love to hear other perspectives, as I sort of suspect this is not unique to me or to those who have lost their mothers.

Similarly, I suspect the closeness I am feeling to my mother - the feeling that I "get it" now - is not unique to me.  Of course, there is some grieving that comes along with it for me.  It is intensely bittersweet.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This week in Sleep (8/27-9/2)

Bean skipped his nap both Saturday and Sunday, but went to bed at a "normal" hour both nights (i.e. 7:30 or 8PM).  The Beast and I didn't even know what to do with ourselves, because Squeak went to bed on the early side as well (but, of course, was teething and restless...).

8/31 - I've never before seen a baby obviously ready to pass out at the dinner table.  Squeak has definitely been feeling under the weather today (Bean is sharing).  He was babbling in a mumbly drunken way and staring off into space while putting food in his mouth.  I took him to bed and he flopped onto his face and cried half-heartedly.  Needless to say, he nursed to sleep pretty quickly!

9/2 - Squeak had The Beast and me taking shifts pretty much all night last night.  Poor little guy has croup.  With The Beast, Squeak slept in the Ergo.  With me, he nursed sitting upright rocking in front of an air conditioner.  I debated going to the ER at 5AM, but it wasn't to the point of an actual emergency so I waited and went in to the pediatrician's office in the daylight.

We've officially had our first fall illness go through the house and it has been nearly 100 degrees outside!

Friday, September 2, 2011

So about that commune...

I found it
.  It's in Western Washington.  I spent three weeks there.

We've been back a month and I am still feeling the benefits of that time spent at my in-laws' house.  When we went, I was fried.  Absolutely fried.  And I really wondered if there was something wrong with me that had me struggling so much in this phase of motherhood.  Was I suffering from postpartum depression?  I've also been going through what I've called "re-grieving" of my mother's death.  I will get into that more in another post (I have a feeling the next couple of months will bring some intense ones...), but it is ultimately a good thing and not something to pity me for (mmmkay?).

Anyhow, a few things were particularly fantastic about the trip in terms of long-term benefits.  The first was, of course, that I got a real break.  I hardly cooked (and we hardly ate out - I was able to stick to my low-sodium diet!).  I hardly washed dishes.  The house got picked up every night.  I cleaned the bathroom a couple of times and I did all of our laundry, and I obviously mothered my children.  Those were my responsibilities.  I managed to read a book.  I started to get caught up on email.  The Beast and I took Squeak and got a night away from Bean (taking Squeak was not a big deal - he is so easygoing and also was just starting to crawl at the time - so he wasn't all over the place!).

Another benefit was that Bean's formerly for-Mom-only behaviors - or at least the intensity of those traits and behaviors - came out with other people around.  The Beast spent several whole days in a row with Bean and said to me at one point that Bean was "getting worse" (aka more difficult/trying).  I looked at him and said, "no he's not.  This is exactly what my days have been like."

And my mother-in-law confirmed that Bean was a bit "more" than she remembered either of her kids being.  He demanded more attention, he demanded more creative problem-solving, he had more intense meltdowns, he was more persistent, he had more difficulty going with the flow.  This is especially evident when Squeak is happily and quietly playing on his own in a way that Bean never did as a baby, and my mother-in-law finds his demeanor so much more reminiscent of her days with small children.  Far from being a condemnation of our parenting or of Bean himself, her observations were so freeing.  I am not crazy!  My kid is just more. 

Having that objective confirmation was invaluable.  I had really tried not to project my own concerns about my childhood onto Bean.  I was a sort of a notoriously difficult/tempestuous/exhausting kid and was diagnosed with ADD.  I felt very pathologized, and still feel that my child-self is talked about as something being wrong with me.  It is often very difficult for me to hear stories of myself as a kid.  So I resisted and resisted any and all labels for Bean.  My mother-in-law gets along incredibly well with Bean.  I love watching them together.  So to hear her say - with immense love and affection and respect for him - that he's particularly intense in every way was awesome.  There's nothing wrong with him - or with me - I just need some different tools

Since we've been back, I have felt more centered.  The feedback loop of Bean and me pushing each other's buttons has been broken to a degree, and Bean and I are getting along better over all (read:  many fewer meltdowns for each of us!).  The family dynamic has shifted so that weekends are a little awful - Bean is pushing The Beast more than he is me now!  But since it's directed at The Beast, I am able to stay more calm.  The Beast gets to go back to work on Mondays, plus he's a lot more patient than I am.  So it works out alright.

Generally, I am not constantly feeling desperate for a break anymore.  I still have my list of people to call for help.  I'm making sure I am taking time for myself proactively;  If I don't get an hour during the day, I try to take an hour when The Beast is home.  I'm getting a sitter occasionally when I don't have an appointment, just so I can get a few things done and check in with myself. 

Family life is good.  Which is a major relief because the next couple of months promise to be intense and filled with revisiting the most traumatic event of my life.  In fact, it looks like I will spend the end of October/beginning of November sorting through things of my mother's that have been in storage for seventeen years.  I'm not entirely sure what I will come across (furniture, and I think a chest of items she held onto from our earliest years to give to grandchildren, and I'm not sure what else...) and I'm not sure what condition it will be in (there have been floods in the area, plus it has been in storage for seventeen years).

I think I'm in a good place for what is to come this fall.  And I'm prepared to ask for help, should I need it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sexual assault does not make a humorous anecdote

Trigger warning, if you click on the links, for a description of sexual assault.

I read about this and watched the video a few days ago, and I cannot shake it. This is called "borderline rape" in many articles about it, but there is nothing "borderline" about it. This man raped a woman and thought it was a funny anecdote fit to share publicly.  He doesn't seem to feel he did anything wrong.  Does a lack of violence make this "borderline," because I hear nothing but coercion and probably fear in his telling of this story.

I debated whether and where to write something about this, but feel I am no better than the laughing audience members or the comics on stage trying to cut the awkwardness with more humor if I do not speak up in some way.

The guy has since been identified and the authorities may or may not be involved (I would think his victim would need to surface and press charges, but I don't know the law when you confess to rape on video...).  I'm not out for a witch hunt - I won't post his name or the links to articles identifying him (you can Google and find it pretty easily) - but the language about rape and sexual assault and whether this situation is either of those things (it's both, no question) is a larger issue.

I know too many women who have been victims of non-violent sexual assault.  Violence is not what defines rape; lack of consent defines rape.  And consent obtained by coercion or any threat doesn't count.

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