Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Toddler parenting trick #4: Comfort Them

This is A-Train self-comforting.  I wish I had it on video!

This post is not really about breastfeeding.  I thought it would be, but writing it out and really reflecting, I realized nursing was the form that comfort for Bean and peace and quiet for me happened to take.  I'd love to hear in the comments what form this has taken for other toddlers and their parents.

I have said before that I don't think breastfeeding through toddlerhood or through any particular age at all is a requirement for raising awesome kids.  I debate including this in my impromptu series and reflections on what worked in Bean's toddlerhood because it's obviously a little more complicated (and loaded) than picking up a timer, pouring on some focused attention, or slowing down and letting yourself (and your kids) dawdle.

But this was a huge part of my successful experiences of parenting Bean.  So far, with A-Train, not so much.  It's there, but it is not nearly so central (hence I haven't blogged much about breastfeeding since we got the whole thing to stop making me think I had permanent nerve damage to my nipples...).

All that said, with Bean, wow.  Wow was I ever glad to have this parenting tool.  For Bean, nursing was the ultimate comfort.  It was the best way to calm him down when he was hurling himself over the edge (read:  at me).  If I wasn't here, eventually he would go completely over the edge (read:  rage against inanimate and immovable objects and scream unintelligibly for a lonnnnnnng time) and then ask someone to read him a book - he would never get to that point with me (and I tried!  Oh how I tried!).

A-Train is totally different.  Yes, sometimes he wants to nurse for comfort, but it isn't really his norm.  Sometimes he just needs his upset acknowledged ("Oh.  You're frustrated.  Here's a little help."  Moving on...).  Sometimes he just wants to be held or see what I'm doing.  Right now he wants to nurse all the time because his gut is still recovering from a virus.

I'm trying to remember how and when it has all shifted with Bean, who can now be instructed to take deep breaths and talk about his emotions, and who can sometimes be convinced to walk away and take a break when he is so frustrated he can't think straight.  At A-Train's current age (17 months), I seem to recall that every little upset or transition with Bean ended with my bra flap down.  I think that continued into his third year when yes, I was pregnant and yes, I would rather have not nursed so often and yes, we had more and more limits on nursing.  It's just who he is.  He is clearly my child - he flings himself whole-heartedly into every task, every emotion, and every interest.  Sometimes we each careen into obstacles...and we both have a really hard time admitting defeat.  I say this as I am exhausted after being up until 1AM obsessing over stuff that could easily have waited until daylight...or even the weekend...  The good news for Bean is that I kind of "get it."  The bad news for Bean is that I live it.  Man can we lock horns!

It took time and energy and patience to teach him to find comfort away from the breast.  I have to admit that I am grateful to have A-Train to show me that Bean's passion and his long-term frequent nursing were not "my fault."  Those boys arrived in my arms as individuals.  They arrived in my arms needing completely different things from me, each requiring me to stretch and grow in new ways to be the best mother for them.

I worry less about having to wean A-Train if my kidneys go south than I worried about Bean.  (Yes, the kidney disease is always hanging over my head in this area.  I have never felt any guilt at the prospect of weaning, but I have felt pangs of terror because dang that seems like a lot of work with energy I am not sure I have anyway, and it would be in a time of stress...  So yeah.  Terror.  Not guilt.)  They are just such different people.  Not that I am willing to work at weaning him now - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I suppose, really, I could boil this "trick" down way beyond nursing.  It's not the nursing that really mattered - it was respecting that my toddler had deep and sometimes-painful needs for what had always comforted him.  He was not ready to shift to more mature ways of being comforted or to more culturally-accepted ways of being comforted.  I know for some kids this comfort is a lovey, or a pacifier, or stroking their mother's hair, or any number of other things.  (And yes I did try giving him a lovey, a pacifier, and any number of other things - like words and sounds and actions and stuff to beat up!  And yet, that bra flap always ended up down.  Have I mentioned he is kind of stubborn and comes by it honestly?  ha!)

In fact, now that I really think about it, I'm starting to see other comforts emerge for A-Train.  He has always had this thing about pressure on his head.  He finds it relaxing if I press my palm to his forehead, and sometimes he firmly and repeatedly presses his head against a wall or the floor.  And he will grab my hand and move it along his face, wanting me to stroke his face and talk to him.  He also has yet to regularly go over the edge to the point where he can't hear me - so a simple suggestion of "let's get your pants and go outside" sends him running to his dresser gleefully, completely forgetting he was a little upset.

I wonder what is coming down the pike with him - the big tantrums started right around 18 months with Bean.  And I remember those first couple vividly!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Parenting trick #3: SLOW DOWN

Slow down!  Make a pretend bed to take a pretend nap in the kitchen!
This is something I have been learning as Bean's mom since the day he was born, and need near-constant reminding of!  It is so easy to get caught up in efficiency and getting things done...sometimes I forget to slow down and help my kids along.  With each increase in Bean's abilities, I catch myself mistakenly thinking that now my efficiency will pick up and I will get more done.  Eventually I realize I am shoving people into their clothes, scooping them up mid-exploration, and getting from point A to point B with a shell-shocked and understandably upset child or two.  Because they really enjoy dilly-dallying (aka exploring the world around them and doing little things repetitively so they can perfect them).

When Bean was under two, I remember getting frustrated that we were running late and apologizing to him for being snippy.  I told him I needed to slow down, and I would stop rushing him in and out of the car.  A couple days later, I was telling him what we were going to do that day and said, "right now we're going to quickly run into the YMCA for just a second.  Mommy has to drop something off."  He responded. "No.  Slooowwwly...."  Point taken, kid.

The timer helps.  I have done 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off on days when I have something time-sensitive to do - Bean is finally to an age where he can entertain himself for a short period of time, especially with the promise of slowwwwwwwing down and hanging out as soon as the timer beeps. 

I have also taken to saying out loud that I am doing one thing, and what it is.  So instead of feeling interrupted 20 kajillion times and saying "no" to every request he makes, I can say "I am washing dishes.  That is all I am doing.  I can do one thing at a time.  When I am done with this, I will be available to do something with you."

The bottom line is that being in a hurry never helps.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Preschool (and toddler) Parenting Trick #2: Special Time

Not a photo of Special Time (I don't think any exist), but one of my all-time favorite photos of Bean and me playing together.

Ah.  Special Time.  I think this was probably the biggest game-changer for us in Bean's 4th year, but we have been doing some variation on it for about 2.5 years!

Essentially it is simply 10-15 minutes doing whatever your kid wants.  You are not teaching, you are not molding, you don't answer your phone, you completely forget about the dishes and the mess and the laundry.  You just play.  For 15 minutes.  You don't take it away as punishment.  You don't give it as a reward.  It is your right and your child(ren)'s right to have this little bit of time on a regular basis. 

I first heard about this concept from Harvey Karp's Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Let me say here that I liked Karp's attitude and descriptions of various ages and stages well enough that I now own this book, but the part that most consider the centerpiece of it - "Toddlerese" - was a complete failure and source of meltdowns with Bean.  The basic premise of that is that you diffuse tantrums by acknowledging what the child is saying/requesting/feeling before you say anything else.  You do this by repeating what they're asking for in short, simple sentences.  Once they're calm (and, thus, can listen you), you might tell them you can't fulfill their request.

This pissed Bean off.  For him, it was like teasing - "yes, I understand exactly what you want and I'm going to make it really clear that I understand perfectly, and then I'm going to tell you that you still can't have it!"So Toddlerese was a fail.  That's not to say I won't try it with A-Train or that it can never be a success, or that the concept of acknowledging your child's feelings before doing anything else isn't valuable (see my next post!).

But I digress.  Back to Special Time!

I started every day with Special Time when Bean was about 18 months old and did so until I was on bedrest with A-Train about a year later.  It was a nice way to start the day.  At 18 months, was obviously deciding what we were doing.  We would color with crayons, or get out some clay or paint.   I would get out bowls of water to play in, sometimes adding food coloring

When A-Train joined the family, Special Time stopped happening.  I tried to do it every now and then when the stars aligned and Bean was awake, A-Train was asleep, and I didn't feel overwhelmed with laundry or dishes....but it pretty much stopped.

I was still, of course, giving Bean tons of attention.  I was setting up activities between feedings and loads of laundry, I was reading with him while I nursed A-Train, I was listening to his stories while I did dishes, I was oohing and ahhing appropriately over his impressive airplanes.  I was scooping him up and snuggling him - or even nursing him - whenever he was upset or injured.  Just no dedicated "Special Time." 

The Game Change
When Bean was in the throes of three-years-old, I talked to many people - both professionals and other parents - about parenting and the struggles I was having with Bean.  Variations on Special Time kept coming up, and I though "nah.  Won't help.  I'm already giving him so. much. attention."  I was also struggling with my own stuff (postpartum depression?  nursing difficulties?  having two kids?  New stuff coming up about Mom?  All of the above?).  I was at a loss.  I was wishing my mother was here to tell me how she handled my own intensity, and that just deepened all the emotions.  I would really describe my feelings from about Bean's third birthday until he was 3-and-a-half as desperate.  I have joked that maybe all I needed was a vacation.  But I also finally put Special Time back into our routine, and it was a huge game changer.

Bean would get Special Time with each parent every evening after dinner.  He'd get 15 minutes with each of us, he got to say who went first and what everyone was doing. His brother was completely removed from the room by the other parent.  There was an immediate change in Bean's willingness to cooperate with us.  And he lit up when we did Special Time.  He looked forward to it, he often had some big plan for how we would spend it, and the laughter - hallelujah! - our house was filled with his laughter again.  After a month or two, he gave it up!  He just said, "no thanks."  I was stunned, but it also felt good because he was obviously getting his need for The Beast and me met.

Now, we occasionally do Special Time by request.  Or if there just seems to be a lot of yelling, arguing, tension, and lack of cooperation, I'll start suggesting it again.  I have sort of incorporated it into days when I'm feeling agitated - I will set the timer for 15 minutes and just be with the kids (not one-on-one, but it's something!), and then I will go complete a task, and then I'll do 15 more minutes with them, etc.  It seems that if I can completely give in to their need for attention for just 15 minutes at a time, we can shift the dynamic of the day and I can get things like dishes done without people screaming at me.  It even helps A-Train because Bean is more willing to entertain him and has more patience for his meddling toddler ways!

So.  Special Time.  More than just paying attention to them!  I'm glad I returned to it, as skeptical as I was!

P.S. We have a kitchen timer that I only use for Special Time and to designate 15 minutes of play during the day.  We start Special Time by shouting "On your mark.....get set!  SPECIAL TIME!"  And Bean gets to press the button to start the timer.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Preschool (and toddler) trick #1: timer transitions

One day while I was taking stock of what had worked or was currently working in parenting Bean, and thinking about what was going on with A-Train and what might lay ahead, I started making lists in my draft folder.  In one of my moms' groups, the use of timers as parenting tools came up today.  So, I'll go ahead and elaborate and publish this entry, and do a little series on the things I remember working with Bean.  It'll be a great refresher course for me, since A-Train is about to enter the second half of his second year (what?!?  Didn't this just happen???).  I have a feeling I'm going to be digging into this list shortly - though he is so different from his brother...I will need y'all to make your own lists!!

So.  Timers.  I have been using a timer with Bean since he was somewhere under 2 years old - maybe 18 months?  I still use it for all kinds of things.  I think it initially started with me counting to three to give him warning that we were about to transition.  Things like "count of three we are leaving!  1-2-3!"  I'm already doing this with A-Train - I say it's time to go, if he resists I give him a little more time and suggest he give a hug/kiss and say goodbye to whatever he's playing with, and if he still resists I tell him we're leaving on the count of three.  Honestly, this is so far more for my benefit and feeling like I'm not just tearing things out of his hands, but he generally does do better with a little warning than if I scoop him up and pry something away from him immediately.

In any case, the timer became a constant companion for transitions with Bean.  At the park, I would say "when the timer beeps it is time to go!"  My saying "time to go" would elicit a tantrum.  The timer saying "time to go" was no big deal.

As Bean got a little older and started negotiating, I would let him say how long the timer would be set for (usually I was honest, because I wanted him to start getting some small sense of time...but I have never, in fact, set my timer for "twelve-sixty-ninety minutes").  Sometimes he would be ready to go before that.  Sometimes he was in the middle of something and wanted another minute.  But I think it gave him a sense of power - and it made me stop and note that whatever he was doing was important to him, and I should let him finish if I could.

The timer has also made for fun games.  We have raced the timer to get ready for bed, or once Bean challenged me to clean up various sections of the house in under 5 minutes apiece.  He didn't help, but he laughed and stayed out of the way and wasn't pulling stuff down behind me - I think that's at least 3/4 of a victory on encouraging him to clean up after himself...Also, the house got cleaned up pretty thoroughly, and he thought it was hilarious that I kept losing to the timer.

Currently, I set the timer for 10 minutes and we clean up together.  He still requires reminders to stay on task, and he needs specific instructions (like to clean up all the Legos, or see how many books he can find) because he gets really overwhelmed just looking at the mess he just made.  As do I!

And, finally, "timer turns."  If there is one of something, every toddler wants it right now.  Timer turns usually end with someone losing interest, but Bean is pretty well accustomed to taking turns according to the timer (I think I did 30 seconds when he was really small, and now I might do 3 minutes - it really depends on the toy/activity, and also the age of the other child and whether they are flipping out or the timer thing makes a lick of sense to them).

Oh!  Ok, one last thing - we have a designated timer ("The Special Timer") for Special Time....which I will write about in another post, probably tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homemade Ketchup

Low-sodium and yummy!
When I first mentioned to some friends that I was trying out ketchup recipes, I frequently got this response:  "huh?!?  Why?"
First off, because the stuff you buy at the store is generally loaded with salt (160mg in a Tbsp of Heinz...and I don't know about you but a Tablespoon is not a serving for me...).  And the no-salt added ketchups have a chemical salt substitute, which just weirds me out.  Plus, ketchup tends to be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.  That is not on my list of things to worry about because I just don't eat enough packaged food for it to be a concern, but I feel like I should mention that for those of you who don't have funky dietary restrictions

Also?  This stuff is awesome.  I actually find I prefer it to store-bought ketchup.  I love the red bell pepper flavor in it. 

It is very easy to make, and it keeps well in the freezer.  I put it into wide-mouth pint jars and only keep one jar in the fridge.  We spoon it out onto our plates, though I could of course find a nice glass bottle or reuse a squeeze bottle if I wanted. 

As a quick side note - I highly recommend this ketchup with falafel.  Bean was insistent on having something to dip his falafel in one night when we had no ranch we offered him ketchup and all ended up enjoying it!

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

3/4 c. cider vinegar
2TBSP Pickling Spice (available with the spices at the grocery store, or you could make your own - I haven't yet done a cost comparison, and the bottled variety has zero sodium)
2TBSP neutral oil - I use vegetable (because it's cheap.  And oils confuse me...)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly rhopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 TBSP tomato paste
6 c. chopped ripe tomato (about 3 pounds.  I use cans, including the juice)
1/4 c. brown sugar


Pickling spice and cider vinegar.
1.  In a small pot, bring the cider vinegar and pickling spice to a boil and then turn off the heat.  Let the spices steep while you prepare the vegetables (at least 45 minutes).

Lots of veggies!
2. Meanwhile, put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat while you prep and add the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft (about 10 minutes). 

3.  Stir in the tomato paste until evenly distributed, then add the tomato and stir well.  Adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened (about 45 minutes).  Be careful not to let the tomato stick to the bottom and burn.

4. Strain the spiced vinegar (I do it through a hand strainer straight into the tomato mixture) and stir into the tomato mixture with the brown sugar.  Cook until just a little thinner than bottled ketchup (about 45 minutes).
5.  Remove from heat.  Use an immersion blender to puree the ketchup in the pot (or you can pass it through a foodmill, or let it cool and then use a food processor or blend in batches).
6.  Cool, and store in glass jars in the fridge and/or freezer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Orange Box: Purgatory for Clothes

You know that blog post that went viral a couple of years ago about how having a toddler is like going to a frat party?  I think about that blog post all the time.

This activity was an attempt to keep #2 just to crumpled underpants.  My mental rule for underwear is that if it is on the ground, it is now dirty laundry.  I'm not going to expect Bean to put his underwear back on tomorrow, even if he only wore it to school and then spent the rest of the day naked.

But the rest of the clothes strewn about the house during his 8 bajillion costume changes each day (I think, at minimum, the kid wears 3 different ensembles and 2 sets of pajamas a day.  Sometimes they overlap.) were making me crazy.  We never knew what was clean or dirty.  When The Beast and Bean would clean his room, I'd suddenly have three loads of laundry despite just thinking I was all caught up.

So I decided we needed a purgatory for those clothes that had been worn, but were not really "dirty."  I also wanted to make it fun and personalized and somehow make Bean interested in it.  I'm happy to report that, a few months later, it is pretty successful.

Stickers, scrapbooking papers, and a fun bowl
  • A box large enough to contain all the clothes your kid might go through before realizing his drawers are empty but his clothes are all still clean...
  • Three sheets of paper - I used scrapbooking papers that represented water, sky, and land
  • Stickers that can be sorted into three groups (one for each paper)
  • Mod Podge
  • Acrylic paint (we went with orange, as it's Bean's favorite color)
Fun Halloween bowl - this was back in October!  And look what is behind him!
1.  Cut the stickers apart and put them in a bowl or pile (I got a pack of dinosaurs and a pack of vehicles)

2.  Lay out the papers and let your kid go to town sorting them onto the correct paper (boats and prehistoric aquatic animals go on the water paper...pterosaurs and airplanes on the sky and T-Rex on the land)

3. Let your kid go to town peeling and sticking the stickers. 

4.  Paint the box.  We did this on three different days so it could dry in between coats.  Bean had a blast.  I wore a lot of orange paint.

5.  Mod Podge the papers to the box.  I also printed Bean's name and glued that on.

6.  Constantly remind your child to put the clothes he just took off in. the orange. box.

In all seriousness, this worked really well, and I ended up designating (but not yet decorating) a box for A-Train and a box for myself.  This morning, Bean admonished me for leaving A-Train's pajamas on the floor while I put away diaper stuff.  "Mom, is this clean?  Doesn't it belong in the orange box?"

Monday, February 20, 2012

To sum up the last week...

Go Red for Women donation card from the luncheon.
Here we go.  Finally sitting down to write about last week.  I have no idea what I'm about to say, because this is my first real opportunity to sit down and think about it.

Right now, I am noticeably agitated.  I have been snapping at the kids and not able to focus on much of anything.  So I made this list of everything that is contributing, and I think it's safe to say that once things calm down this agitation will resolve on its own!

1.  The usual.  I have two little kids and no time to think.  There is constant noise, climbing me, biting me (yay!  A-Train turns out to be a runner and a biter - two things I haven't had the fun of dealing with before!  And, by the way, he totally bites with love.).  "Mom look at this!"  "Eh! Eh!"  ::scream::  ::collapse into puddle of crying mush:: "Did you see that?!!"  "A-Trrrrrrain!  NO! NO NO NO!  THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA!" (Bean is like a third parent.) 

People of various sizes and speeds trip me when I turn around in the kitchen.  I open the fridge and someone appears out of nowhere, grabbing their sippy of milk or pulling every. damn. thing. off the shelves on the fridge door. 

I can generally only find half a pair of shoes per person.  Socks no longer have to match.  I'm not sure how long it has been since the boys had baths (whatever!).  All I know is that no one smells and I just used the mama spit method to remove the visible dirt and stickiness from A-Train while he nursed to sleep for his nap.  And guess what?  Absolutely not a lick of shame in telling you all this because this is life with two little kids and I'm embracing it.

2.  Busy week.  It has me tired.  Need I say more?

3.  Zoloft - I just went completely off of it week before last.  I had been on it since just before I went to New York and my sister was officially introduced as a spokeswoman for Go Red for Women.  I didn't mention it on the blog because it wasn't really that big a deal.  I needed something to get me through numerous upcoming triggers and unusual stresses.  I wasn't entirely sure how much I was going to see/hear my sister's story or photos of my mother or just how hard it would all tug at my heart strings and pull the trigger on my flashbacks.  After that, there was the trip to Texas to sort through Mom's stuff that had been in storage.  I wasn't sure what exactly I'd find, what condition it would be in, or what it would trigger.  It ended up being fun and wonderful to see all of the stuff, which was mostly in good condition.  Through all of this, we thought we might be moving.  Moving is actually another trigger for me - not of flashbacks, but of general emotional turmoil.  We aren't moving, and other triggers seem to be calming down, so I went off of the Zoloft and wonder if I am having a bit of a rebound....or if I shouldn't have gone off of it.

4.  Mom's story.  I was so glad to be able to share Mom's story but, uh, I'm sure you can guess that telling it to a thousand people was a potential trigger.  I expended a decent amount of energy being hyper-aware of my surroundings and anything that could make me too emotional to speak intelligibly.  (I'm going to get into the speech and event itself a little more below.)

So there you have it.  I'm kind of wanting to yell (ok, I might have already yelled), "Everybody get off of me!"  I think it will pass.  I'm hoping writing all of that up and just getting it out of my head will clear some space in there.  Because it is packed tight and loud in my head right now.  Whew!

This might be a pretty good example of what one former Go Red speaker told me - that even sharing her story over and over,  it was still emotional and difficult and draining.  She is currently retired from that type of volunteer work, and I can completely understand why.  I am currently at the opposite end - I want to shout Mom's story from the roof tops until the statistics change.  I want to clear a little space from the chattering question of why is this still happening???  Why are women's symptoms being ignored or misdiagnosed?  Why do I know of numerous stories similar to my mother's that took place well after her death?

The Luncheon. 

So.  Friday, I spoke at the largest Go Red Luncheon in the country.  I also hustled to get my kids taken care of, gorged on really not-healthy food well past my bedtime, and got in a full-body workout by pushing both kids around the house in a laundry basket.  All in a day's work!

After hustling to sort out babysitters after the original one realized she had triple-booked herself,  I left with A-Train at about 8:45AM, confident two sitters (both of whom Bean knows) would figure it out and I'd pick him up somewhere or other or see him at home in the afternoon.  I was sort of glad there had been a (very minor) crisis because dealing with something right then kept me from being overly stressed about my speech.

I arrived in Indianapolis and met a bunch of people and didn't really know what I was supposed to be doing for the first 45 minutes.  I realize now that I was supposed to be enjoying myself and taking advantage of the really fabulous stuff they had going on at the luncheon.  Had I not been distracted by my inner dialogue ("Deeeeeeeep breaths.  Hold it together jussssssst enough.  You need to be able to speak clearly enough for people to understand you.  But you should cry.  You're going to cry.  But don't cry right now.  For real.  Now is not the time.") - if I hadn't been distracted, I probably would have gotten a free chair massage and also maybe some lipstick at the free makeup booth because apparently I don't currently own any and I bet I looked like I have no lips from the back of the ginormous ballroom...

In any case, we did a quick walk-through.  I chose to leave my slightly annotated script for my speech with the podium copy of the script for the event, and then I had to keep moving.  I went back to the room where I had stashed our stuff and listened to sweet A-Train say "uh oh.  uh oh.  uh oh." He didn't know I was there and I am pretty sure he was saying "uh oh" just because he can and not because anything had happened.  His sweet little voice was such a comfort.  Mothering hormones are awesome.

I came back and anxiously sat at my table near the stage.  I was kind of afraid my time to speak would sneak up on me and I'd have a mouth full of salad as I introduced myself.  I took tiny bites and huge deep breaths.  Then I was up.

No one else had used the podium copy of the script.  In fact, I think everyone had left their copies of the script there, because there were at least three.  I chuckled and said something like, "well...somewhere around here is what I have to tell you..."  To a thousand people.  As I prepared to tell them about the single most traumatic event of my life, I was trying to be my goofy self.  The incongruence was actually funny.

So I started my speech.  Throughout the other speakers (which were largely talking about and giving awards for generosity, sponsorship, and the incredible amount of volunteer and staff work that went in to coordinating this huge event), there had been clinking of forks.  During my speech, there was complete silence.  I thought that might make me uncomfortable, but it felt good.  There were no distractions - no eating, no shopping, no background noise, nothing.  My story - Mom's story - would be heard.

I did "the ask" - I asked everyone to donate, and to do it generously.  I was happy to do it.  What I know of The American Heart Association and Go Red and their use of funds is good.  Funds are necessary for research.  I've even independently heard wonderful things from AHA-funded researchers about the efficiency of the organization.  Money is necessary to hold events, print information, create the photos that go on the print information, purchase space in media, etc.  Money is essential.

But I do wish now that I'd said something like "invest enough in this cause that you take it personally the next time you hear a woman slipped through the cracks like my mother.  Invest enough that you can't keep your mouth shut when it comes to spreading the facts about heart disease and women."  But I don't even mean invest money...I want people to invest themselves.

The bottom line for me is that I am frustrated not by a lack of money, but by the lack of awareness - amongst women/the general public, and seemingly amongst medical professionals (possibly not "seemingly" - and I don't have the time/energy to devote to finding a better link/study/source than that and this...apologies).  Though the medical professionals I know seem to be aware, I am still hearing of women's symptoms being missed or not taken seriously.  I have yet to hear a single story of a man's heart attack not being taken seriously.*  And the broader cultural attitude that women will fly into a panic or make poor choices if we give them appropriate information pertaining to their health...well, there is an awful lot of that going around in all arenas of women's health.  (I will not discuss reproductive rights.  I will not discuss reproductive rights.  I will not discuss reproductive rights.)

In any case, I asked for money and received some applause (wouldn't it be cool if you got applause every time you asked someone to write a check?).  Of course I know the applause was for my story, but I was still caught off-guard (that wasn't in the script!).  I finished up the rest of my portion of the program and returned to my seat.

My sister was front and center on the donation cards.  It was perfect.  It very much felt like the three of us were together and in some way had made the tragedy into a small victory.

A local television reporter returned to the stage as Mistress of Ceremonies and asked me to stand up.  Then she asked everyone else to stand up and applaud me.  Wow. 

A woman at my table asked for my mother's name so she could make a donation in her honor.  During lunch, people came to my table and hugged me.  Multiple people stopped me after the event to tell me they were touched, that my mother was proud, and that I should always remember that laugh of hers I spoke of in the speech (remembering the sound of her voice and her laugh is a wholllllle other post).  My heart could have burst - in the good, metaphorical way!

As I arrived home and was getting everyone in the door, my phone rang.  It was a previous speaker at the event, who had been really busy and was apologetic for not calling sooner.  We talked for a little while - found that we have some similar frustrations and concerns regarding women's heart disease awareness (her mother was also misdiagnosed, and also died).  And also that she works at the hotel where The Beast was staying.  Further, she told me the whole hotel goes red through February, has drinks and entrees that raise money for Go Red for Women.  The Beast had not yet informed me that his hotel was very obviously in support of Mom and me while he was away!  The Universe is bizarre. 

I got the boys inside and we played for a little while - mainly with me pushing those squealing weights around in laundry basket boat.  There were stormy seas!  And obstacles to avoid!  That's a workout I'd recommend for the busy and/or bored!!

*Do point me to these stories if you know of them, as I'm perfectly willing to be - and maybe even hopeful that I am - wrong about this attitude and trend.

Transcript from Go Red for Women Luncheon

This is what I said at the luncheon on Friday.  It is mostly from the essay I posted here.  Written at the top, to remind me to be prepared, was "TISSUES."  I'm hoping there will be a video available, and I will link it on Facebook if there is!
Good afternoon. My name is Brea Carlson.

It has already been 18 years since I lost my mother, but even now as a young mother with two children of my own, I feel 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 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!

Mom was a speech therapist in an elementary school. There was a decorative wooden block in her classroom 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, 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 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, so many 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 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 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 on her forehead, 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, but 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 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?”

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 my sister interrupted her, saying flatly, “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!” 

A few months ago, I found my own diaries from that pivotal time in my life.  A month after she died, I wrote:

I love my mom very much, I always will.  I wish she could have lived to see me go to college, or even get my braces off, or graduate from high school.  She was the best mother and person I can think of, and I can't imagine what my life will be like without her.

Years from now, I hope time travel is possible so that I can make my mother get help when she had her chest pains at the beginning of the summer of '94 (before my 8th grade year).  Maybe it wouldn't save her, maybe it would be useless, but all I want to do now is change the past, but that can't be done and I know that.

We can’t change the past, but we do have an opportunity to change the future. There are still women who need to know the risks and warning signs of heart disease. We have the ability to change their lives…by sharing this message…and by supporting the work of the American Heart Association and Go Red For Women.

(And then I gladly asked everyone for money, but more on my feelings on that aspect in another post.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Too tired

Still haven't managed to write up Friday. Spent "my" time today (a few hours away I get every Sunday) doing an online breastfeeding course for my postpartum doula certification.

So tired. Skipped my long run today. Back hurts so bad I was up laying on tennis balls until midnight. What's that about???

Also think my increased blood pressure med is contributing to the tiredness. C'est la vie.

Hopefully will blog tomorrow. Skipped yesterday. Currently blogging from my iPod...

But you get a cute photo of A-Train.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today was awesome.

I am waaaaay too tired to do today justice, and I need to head to bed.  I made notes in Blogger to myself today about stuff I should write about when summing it all up. 

I'm just going to publish the list.  ha!  I will try to flesh it out tomorrow!

Babysitter fiasco
Make-up....and castor oil
Complete silence.
Standing ovation
Phone call from Chicago.  Universe is weird.
Spaghetti again
Asleep holding my iPod.
Gave up and laid down.  "A-Train!  Sit on your butt!!!"
Gorged.  Probably feel hungover tomorrow.
Yay.  Wheeeeeee.  ::snore::

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trauma Mama

I'm just going to come out and say it, right off the bat:  I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I don't suffer with it.  It is not a part of my daily life, or even really part of my identity - it is not debilitating.  But it's there.  I'm going to attempt to describe some of my experiences of it, in hopes of reducing my own sense of stigma around it, and perhaps reducing whatever real stigma exists.

So here goes.

Every time I hear sirens, my thoughts go immediately to the day Mom died.

Being in traffic trying to let an ambulance - or, worse, a firetruck - pass gets my heart racing, and I cannot pull over far enough or fast enough.  It all comes back:  the panic I felt when the firetruck turned the wrong way;  the questioning of whether they could figure out where we were or how to get back; finally sprinting after them; nausea and gagging after running, panicked and on an empty stomach; not knowing whether we were too late; seeing Mom laying on the kitchen floor, unconscious; standing in the yard watching them put her in an ambulance; riding to the hospital and not knowing whether she was alive or dead, or even whether to hope she was alive or dead (for fear of brain damage).

I have an overwhelming sense of needing to clear a path and make sure that emergency vehicle gets through as quickly as possible.  I search my rear-view mirror and pull over immediately whenever I hear sirens.

I know that trigger.  If I feel like I'm not completely mentally "here," I repeat to myself where I am, what year it is, and what I am doing.  ("I'm gripping a steering wheel.  I have two kids.  I am 31 years old.  Mom has been dead for 17 years.  I'm driving in Bloomington.  It is 2012.")  It passes quickly.

I have had two flashbacks/dissociations/I-don't-know-what-the-proper-term-is that were concerning (because, I'm sorry to say, they made me dangerous), so I sought help.

The Flashback
It was July of 2007.  I would find out within a week or so that I was pregnant with Bean.  I was playing in a wind ensemble (the high-brow term for a band a la band geeks).  We were playing an outdoor concert.  The wind ensemble was set up in the fire lane/drop-off loop of a performing arts center and the audience was set up on the lawn in front.

As we finished our second-to-last piece and got ready to play our Star Wars finale, an audience member told the conductor that a doctor was needed.

A woman was unconscious in her seat.

We sat there for awhile.  Someone lowered her to the ground.  I became nauseous.

It seemed to take a long long time for a campus police officer to show up.  They had called 9-1-1.

We were in the fire lane.  I was just trying to hold myself together.  How were they going to get this woman out, if we were blocking the firelane?!? No one in the band knew me.  The Beast hadn't attended. A firetruck pulled in to the firelane, an ambulance pulled in behind.

I was trying not to hyperventilate.  Somebody say something.  Somebody make the band move.  Make way for the emergency vehicles.  Somebody realize we are blocking the fire lane!

Finally they took the audience member away on a gurney.  She was conscious.  Embarrassed.  It didn't matter.

Somehow I played Star Wars without vomiting in my flute or getting up and running away.  I then packed up my flute as quickly as I could and went (drove) home.  I got home and was sobbing and blathering unintelligibly.

It took a bit for The Beast to get me calmed down enough to even understand what had happened.

The Other Flashback
When Bean was several months old, I was driving home with him in the backseat and a firetruck with sirens blaring was coming up behind us.  People were having a hard time getting out of the way.

It wasn't until I pulled onto our road that I realized I had not "been there" (consciously in my head) since.  Thank goodness for the good ol' reptile brain that got us home safely, but of course it was not ok that this had happened.

And so I saw a counselor.  Reminding myself where I am (out loud - yes, I look and sound a little batty) keeps me totally there until the vague sense of panic subsides.  Sometimes I talk to Bean about ho-hum things or ask him to talk to me.  It is generally very undramatic.

The Awesome Flashback (or, how running is my therapy)I'm told these reactions are part of my nervous system - they're like a reflex.  Sirens flip a panic switch, even though I am not in danger (though I am often thinking that someone is in need of that emergency help...which deepens my anxiety).

Seeing as my trigger is sirens, and it is a stronger trigger if I see the emergency vehicle, stronger still if it is a firetruck, and the strongest if I feel they are somehow stuck, the car is an unfortunately common place for triggers.  But now I realize what is happening and I have my trusty tool that diffuses the whole thing pretty quickly.

But one morning this fall, I noted I was having a flashback and I embraced it.  It was the first time it has happened on a run, and it was incredible.

I was out in an old neighborhood with street parking on its already-narrow streets.  A block over, I heard sirens.  I spotted the firetruck.  I immediately went into panic mode:  these streets are too narrow for cars to easily move out of the way.

At first my new reflex was to describe what I was doing and my surroundings.  But I started with "I'm running in a neighborhood."  Whew.  New trigger.

Now I'm running in a neighborhood just like I ran in our neighborhood after that firetruck.  I'm so slow.  I was always slow.  I will be too late.  Mom will die.  It is my fault.  ::cue survivor's guilt::

I was in two places at once, and somehow cognizant of it.  The conversation in my head was like 13-year-old me was being comforted by 30-year-old me.  30-year-old me said, "you are not slow now.  You are not that weak, awkward kid anymore.  You are strong.  You are fast.  You feel great out here.  And she is still dead.  You cannot save her by running fast."

I let myself have the flashback.  I could almost describe it as "pretending" I was there again.  But it was more like the dramatized flashbacks you see in movies (especially because I was physically moving in the same way as the flashback)...but with my current self narrating.

I felt lighter afterward.  I almost blogged about it, but I have been slow to talk about this unique and stigmatized element of my life...especially after some reactions I got to admitting I deal with what I think is a very normal part of motherhood.  But it was an empowering moment!  (As was that previous entry, by the way.)

I know that I have many friends who deal with PTSD, anxiety disorders, and other types and aspects of mental illness.  They all seem to manifest differently for different people - none of us is the same, none of our triggers are the same.  Some find a daily impact on their lives, others are sometimes blindsided by it.  Some of us take medication (I have gone on and off medication several times since Mom died).  Some of us don't.

I could go on and on about the variations in experience - all just to be clear that I am sharing my experience here and no one else's.  Nor am I saying my way has been the right or wrong way to cope - with the experience or with my coping mechanisms themselves. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Favorite Toddler Activity

I started out with this when A-Train was about 9 months old.  I gave him an empty plastic honey bottle with the lid off, and I put some puffed corn in it.  He would shake and turn the bottle and eventually dump the puffed corn onto the floor and eat it.

Then, as his fine motor skills progressed, I left the lid off the bottle and gave him some q-tips.  He would focus so hard to get those q-tips into the bottle!

Then, around his first birthday, I put the lid on the bottle and he could get the q-tips into the bottle through the lid!

Incidentally, Bean loves to do this activity and also loves to set it up for A-Train.  It helps that "setting up" means dumping a bottle of q-tips on the floor. 

This video was taken a little over 3 months ago, but A-Train is still enjoying this activity (and still growling victoriously).  If ever I am comfortable allowing A-Train near toothpicks again, I would like to move to a smaller opening to put toothpicks through.  For now, the most recent alternative was beading large wooden beads onto pipe cleaners (he can't manage a lace yet).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Brea Day Eve!

To the rest of the world it may be Valentine's Day, but to us it is Brea Day Eve!  More on the origins of Brea Day in a moment.

First, please allow me to regale you with a tale that will possibly turn you off to chocolate for the remainder of the day (a good thing!  Heart-shaped chocolates can be found for 50% off on Brea Day!).  You might also be a vegetarian by the end of this post.

Remember how I said my dog was bleeding from his butt?  Well, The Beast took him to the vet and was informed - apparently with very little concern and a we-see-this-all-the-time attitude - that the dog has a ruptured anal gland.

Given that I am a nerd and generally enjoy learning more about just about anything, you'd think maybe I would become fascinated with this?  No.  I pretty much stopped wanting to know anything about the dog's butt after the word "ruptured" was associated with it.  Maybe when I am feeling less shell-shocked I will go find out what an anal gland even is.

How do you treat this lovely condition?  Well, the vet expresses the gland.  (ew ew ew ew ew)  And then she sends you home with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Then, as you are looking at your poor dog's exploded rear end to determine how much pain he might be in, how much more blood you can anticipate, etc...your preschooler says "Oh.  Is that....meat?  I think I see some meat!"

Ok.  Back on topic.  What the heck is Brea Day?  My birthday was over a month ago, but I have this whole holiday in my honor!  It started back in college, when The Beast and I were dating.  He refused to do anything having to do with Valentine's Day.  I told him that was lame - here I finally had someone to celebrate the holiday with and he was going to boycott it?  Come on!  I want romance!  It's all well and good to be like "blah blah blah I love you every day and don't need a special day to tell you I love you" but I wanted us each to do a little something extra to proclaim our undying love (or some such thing).

So he said, "fine.  February 15th can be Brea Day."

I rolled my eyes.  "You'll never remember."

Sure enough, he did.  And he has every year since.  Usually, we go out and get on-sale Valentine's Day candy.  One year he was being kind of a jerk (it may or may not have been due to a certain non-sleeping child of mine not sleeping and making us cranky.  I may or may not have also been a jerk) so I took myself out for my Brea Day treat and ate it sitting alone.  In my car.  Under a lamp in the grocery store parking lot. 

Ah!  Romance...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Annnnnnnnnd GO!

The Beast being the Sexiest Man Alive by wearing an ugly red shirt in honor of the mother-in-law he never met, and A-Train being a darn adorable Go Red superhero (note the cape!) for the National Day to Wear Red.  This picture is only tangentially related to this post.

I'm starting out an exceptionally busy week with a dog who is bleeding from his butt.  There is no other way to say it.  My dog's butt is bleeding!  We don't know what happened.  The Beast will be taking him to the vet shortly.

I've just returned from my nephrology appointment - test results, prognosis, etc are all the same (phew!) but we're raising my dosage on one blood pressure medication.  *sigh*  This is the same medication that I think gave me leaden legs a few months ago.  At least I know that will pass!

Tomorrow The Beast is gone late (as he is every Tuesday).  Wednesday he is leaving for a conference, where he is presenting a paper.  Wednesday is also Brea Day.  I'll have to explain that in another post.  He'll be back Saturday evening (it was originally going to be Friday, but this morning his transportation back home changed and blah blah blah I'm a supportive partner and he is ending up staying another day).

Friday I am driving a little over an hour each way to speak at a Go Red For Women Luncheon.  Bean will stay with a sitter, and A-Train will come up with me (a volunteer will wrangle him during my speech).  I'm essentially speaking this.  To a thousand people.  BreatheInBreatheOutBreatheInBreatheOut.  OhmmmmOhmmmmmmmOHMMMMMMMM.  Just kidding.  A little. 

I have a couple of blog entries ready to go if I can't write one or two days this week.  Obviously I'm going to be running from one thing to another and also trying to keep the house from imploding.  Thank goodness there are many jars of soup, spaghetti sauce, beans, and pumpkin puree in the fridge and freezer, in addition to some frozen stir-fry vegetables!

Ready......Set......!  Go!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Never-ending measuring and pouring practice

I ask for an appreciate Bean's help any time he is willing to give it, but loading up a measuring spoon with liquid and dumping into a mixing bowl without spilling requires more fine motor control and focus than his almost-four-year-old, perpetual-motion self can generally muster.

So when my (imitation) vanilla extract ran out, I filled up the bottle with water and set him up to practice all he wanted.  It ended up keeping him occupied for about half an hour, he got in some great practice, and there was basically no prep time beforehand or clean-up afterward. Win!

It is essentially a measuring spoon, a mixing bowl, a funnel, and the bottle of water.  I had him do everything in a dish basin and a big tupperware to minimize a wet floor situation.
Focused on filling the spoon, then he dumped it in the mixing bowl.
When the bottle was empty, he refilled it using the funnel.  He loved every little step of this activity!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Safety of the Commune

Have you heard about Sherry Arnold?  I usually do not get caught up in missing persons cases.  I don't follow them, and I don't feel much beyond a cursory "oh how sad."  But the Sherry Arnold case has been like a punch to the gut - for me, and for so much of the running moms community. 

Sherry went out for an early morning run on January 7th - fitting in her Saturday run before the sun came up, like so many of us do.  Except Sherry hasn't come home yet.  The FBI has declared her dead, two men have been arrested, but her body has yet to be found.

It really got me thinking about running safely - especially in the early (dark) morning hours when I am doing most of my running these days...and when Sherry disappeared.  There were discussions in my running moms group about whether we should be out running alone ever, let alone in the dark.  And whether we should all take self-defense classes, carry mace, or whether any of us carried a firearm when we ran.

I participated in the virtual run for Sherry today.  I ran seven miles, and I thought a lot about keeping myself safe.  I do what I can on my own - I carry my cell phone; I remain aware of my surroundings; I give up style in favor of making myself visible by wearing reflective suspenders, a head lamp, a strobe LED, and bright orange hat and mittens/gloves; I generally do my early morning runs in areas where there is already at least some foot and auto traffic at that hour.

I also try to make eye contact and say hello to everyone I see along the way.  If something were to happen to me, I hope they will remember that they saw me that morning and be able to say what time and approximately where.

And today as I drove to the grocery store - with Sherry and the virtual run on my mind - I passed a runner who got me concerned.  She stopped near a crosswalk (normal) and she quickly doubled over and put her hands on her legs (normal if you're done, but usually runners try to keep themselves moving at intersections, especially when it is cold out, and it was about 18 degrees at the time!).  I looked back as I yielded at the entrance to the roundabout, and she had a hand over her mouth.  I thought she looked like she might throw up.

I went all the way around the roundabout with the intention of rolling down my window when I got back to her, and asking if she was alright (embarrassing for her if she was just fine?  Maybe.  But better embarrassed than injured and struggling to get home, correct?).  By the time I got around the roundabout she had taken off, just fine.

So on my run for Sherry (7 miles, run at a pace under a 9-minute mile, TYVM!), I thought about safety as another function of community.  I have written a lot in the context of motherhood about community, supporting one another, the possible depths of friendship, the importance of supporting new moms, and generally wanting to live on a commune and looking out for each other.

In the end, the need to look out for each other extends far beyond mothers, children, or families.  Sherry - and the experience of driving behind an erratic, texting driver a couple weeks ago - have renewed my own commitment to reporting things that are unsafe (erratic and/or texting drivers, for example!), taking note of things that are out of the ordinary, and checking in with people I am concerned about.

I do declare...

I'm going to be a postpartum doula!

I meant to blog last night, but instead got wrapped up in a couple of things that are coming up.  First, I paid my registration fee for a postpartum doula training course through DONA.

I have been contemplating how I wanted to and could be involved in supporting women through the childbearing year since I was pregnant with Bean.  I have decided to wade in beginning with postpartum and antepartum doula work, possibly expanding into other forms of support...we'll see! 

A what?!?  Why?
Doulas are becoming more and more common in the delivery room.  Birth doulas, that is.  These are non-medical support for laboring women.  They provide information, practical support (a back rub, relief for the labor partner, suggestions for comfort measures and laboring positions), and moral support for both the mother and her partner.  But what about after the baby's arrival?  Or what about moms on bedrest at home, unable to tend to more than their most basic needs (like getting up to pee or take a shower)?  Or women on bedrest in a hospital setting who cannot even get up to pee?  This article does a great job of outlining some things that are missing from our cultural traditions around birth and the following months.  These omissions are often thought of as pampering - as though mothers emerge fully-formed from their baby's birth and should just carry on...  This attitude leaves mothers vulnerable to the "baby blues," postpartum depression, and other postpartum mood disorders.

Personal Inspiration
We have never had family in our area, and most of my friends finished graduate school and left for jobs in other states as I entered my third trimester of pregnancy.  After several weeks of being secluded and lonely while on bedrest, the wife of one of The Beast's colleagues found out and gave me a great gift:  she organized her friends to come clean my house, prepare the house for the arrival of my baby, and bring us meals before and after Bean's birth.  And they were simply around to talk to (as they cleaned my house!!).  It was such a gift.  So there's the antepartum part - mainly for women on bedrest or needing a little extra help (or support) in preparing to welcome a baby.

As I went through that rough first pregnancy, I also began to get connected with the local birth community (mainly by taking childbirth classes and hiring a birth doula, but also by calling Bloomington Area Birth Services when I found myself 37 weeks pregnant, naked, alone, and unable to move.  Ah...symphysis pubis dysfunction...  We had some good times together...argh). 

When I was recovering (both physically and emotionally) from Bean's difficult birth, that community helped keep me from shattering.  We had about 2 weeks between Bean's birth and any of our family arriving.    I could hardly walk for the first week or two, then we struggled to breastfeed, then I came down with mastitis - twice.  Add to that the renewed grief over not having my mother there for yet another milestone in my life, the trauma of Bean's birth for my husband (he feared at times during the birth that Bean and I would die, or that I would die and leave him to raise our baby alone), and the fact that he had just spent two months taking care of bedrested me with very little help...

And enter the angels.  I joke that we had "an army" of postpartum doulas.  I don't even remember who they all were, and I know some of them were never paid a dime.  One angel would ask what we needed and would ask permission to bring in someone else to get our needs met.  Strangers were walking our dogs.  They were bringing us food (and low sodium, to boot!).  At one point while I was pumping, our favorite postpartum doula cut up that food and fed me.  They washed pump parts.  They helped me take baths, with and without my newborn. 

Help that had initially seemed "decadent" to The Beast was really a necessity - and I have come to realize that this is a necessity for all mothers, not just those who have whacky stressful experiences like mine.

This feeling that it is a necessity does bring up potential moral dilemmas for me as I pursue this work.  Bottom line:  I need to bring in income for my family right now.  So my volunteer hours, working with families who probably need the most help, will have to be kept to a minimum and/or wait until a time when my income could be considered supplemental.

So that's my exciting news!  I will take the postpartum certification course at the end of April, and I hope to start working with postpartum clients at the beginning of May.  I am not completing an official antepartum training or certification at the moment, but I think my experience on bedrest and with two high-risk pregnancies might qualify as some on-the-job training. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Friends beyond a lifetime

The NaBloPoMo prompt for today struck me as trite.  It is:  Talk about this quote: "Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends."

Fate does not choose my relations.  Relations means "who I relate to" or "who I am in relationship with," right?  Family, friend, "relation..."  The lines are very blurry for me.  That was obvious from my short post about my sisters, I'm sure.

I know this is something that was very hard on my mother's family.  Mom was jerked so suddenly and violently from all of our lives, and it might have felt like a slap in the face for us to choose to live with "not family."  (The way it really went down was that Tamara was forced to make that choice, and I would have gone along with any choice she made...just to have the smallest sliver of normalcy.  Of before.)

I imagine they each - my aunts, my grandparents - had their own personal reasons and perspectives that created a sense of impropriety in my referring to friends (Art, Sarah, and Kiirstin) with family titles.  For me, at least (I cannot speak for Tamara), giving them familial titles removed the necessity of going into detail.  Every time I referred to them as friends, it raised additional questions and it felt like it cheapened my relationship with them.  These are people who took me into their home, grieving and broken, and treated me as their daughter.  They bought me my first car.  Sarah helped me sort through my mother's things in October. 

They never replaced my mother.  No one could, of course.  But certainly they are my family.  And, since "Art and Sarah" or "The Daniels" doesn't mean much to those who don't know my story, I call them "my parents" to a perfect stranger and "my Texas Parents" to those who know me a little better, or who I think I can explain the background to.

What would my mother think?
I have been asked this many times.  I honestly don't know for sure what Mom would think.  Last I knew her, I was still a child.  It is difficult for me to see her thoughts, feelings, and opinions through a grown-up lens.  But I think my mother would have approved of this whole arrangement.  The endurance of her friendships - lasting well beyond her death - says so much about her as a friend, and the value she placed on those relationships.

A dear friend of Mom’s had Tam and me come out and stay with her (halfway across the country) after Mom died.  I don’t remember when it was, or how we got there.  It’s a very odd and hazy set of memories for me.

I remember going to a jewelry store and the friend told us to pick out whatever we wanted – whatever made us think of Mom.  I fell in love with a bracelet.  It had rose gold and yellow gold, little flowers.  It reminded me of some of the mixed-metal jewelry of Mom’s….and I just liked it.  Tam whispered to me that it was way too nice.  It was too expensive.  Don’t be rude.
What is the proper etiquette when people want to do things for you to make you feel better, and you appreciate the gesture and really do hope they can make you feel better…but there’s no filling the void…

I was always the rude, inconsiderate, bull-in-a-china-closet sister.  I got the bracelet.  I still keep it in my jewelry box, and every time I see it I think of this friend of Mom’s who I am still sometimes in touch with.  I think of her, and I think how amazing – what a wonderful friend – my mother must have been for someone to keep in touch with her daughters for decades after her death.

This particular friend knew my mother from graduate school on, and there is another group of friends from high school that still get together to celebrate milestone birthdays.  They pooled some money and bought Tam and I each a necklace for what would have been Mom’s 50th birthday.  I got it when I graduated from high school.  I’m still in touch with a few of them.

I hope for my children to have these kinds of friendships.  I hope I am the sort of friend my mother so obviously was.

Clearing out my desk months ago, I came across a letter from that grad school friend.  It is dated just five days after Mom’s death.

In Union, New Jersey there is a memorial service being held at the same time I am holding mine.

My dearest and sweetest friend has been placed in the hands of God and I miss her.  She was full of life.  Her laugh is inside my head and I can see her black and silver hair as it forms a curly wreath around her head.

A numbness has come over me.  I go deep into the woods and sit on an old, hollowed out stump.  The rain is softly coming down and I watch as it bounces off the leaves that surround my feet.
Closing my eyes and placing pressure on my lids brings a white light to my vision path and I pray her life, eternal, is filled with light and peace and contentment.

This friend of 24 years loved her children with a passion that knew no end.  She gave them life with the birth but she gave them so much more.

She left a legacy of determination and positive thinking.  She surrounded them and all she loved with a fierce loyalty and deep integrity that few people ever know.

Years passed that we only talked on the phone or wrote to each other but we always ended with, “I love you” and our friendship was one that knew no bounds.  I was there for her and she for me, if in spirit only, but it was like we had an extra sense about each other.

Our last conversation some months ago had evolved around that I was planning a trip to El Paso and make it a stop on my way to visit Troy in California.  She expressed Tamara’s interest in Northwestern and Troy’s phone number was given to her so the contact could be made.

She loved Troy.  She cared for him whenever I would need a break and she gave me my only baby shower for him in Tucson.  Her happiness for me was unending and she loved to cuddle him as much as I did.

Sharing memories is what builds a foundation for a long, lasting and loving relationship, and we had plenty of those.

Memories of trying to study for a final exam but Nita was more interested in watching the birth of kittens than studying so that is what we did.

Laughing in a graduate class because the professor was making no sense and we both knew it.  Smiling in the sunlight as we walked across campus and talked about her dreams and ideas and what her goals were.

Keeping in touch over the years as we gave birth, married, divorced, experienced pain and sadness — but always sharing and being there.

That is what I already miss.  The fact that I can no longer cry, laugh, or talk with her.

Death is something we rarely discussed because we both felt it was in the far future, but if we had I know she would have said something like this,

“Grieve for me, watch over my babes, be there for them and then let me go and live life.  See me in the mountains, on the ski slopes, in the quiet of the woods and in the rush of the water over the rocks.  But, don’t hang onto the sorrow, as I want life to be lived, not just passed by.  I love you.”

And Nita, I love you.

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