Tag Archives: parenting

Babies cry, don’t take it personally

When my baby was born into this world, I was struck with the reality of it all. She is mine, my baby, nobody else’s. It felt like one of those reality shows when you get to play a part in someone else’s life for a while–but don’t get too comfortable, the camera crew is on its way with the annoyingly chatty host.

Our strange existence as modern women of the 21 century brought many of us to the realization that by the respectable age of 30, we rarely had a chance to handle a newborn, to change his diaper, to feed him or watch him nurse. That was me anyway, a total novice (not to say a nervous wreck). Before my baby was born I wouldn’t have wanted to hold a newborn. I was afraid to break them. I regarded every new, seemingly relaxed new mother with great admiration. “How does she do it?” I asked myself (and her, if I gathered enough nerve). They all looked like mother earth to me. Relaxed and natural.

Imagine my surprise when my turn came to play mommy. Continue reading

Scrambled Heart, Part 2

{Continued from last week’s essay}

Because of the Hepatitis C diagnosis and subsequent cirrhosis doctors later agreed to evaluate him for a heart/liver transplant, quite rare, but several have been successfully completed around the country. Doctors wanted to do some lung studies first, before sending him to Seattle for a heart/liver evaluation. The doctors discovered his lung functions were extremely poor, possibly due to fibroid tumors, probably from anti-fibrillation drugs: he would need a heart/liver/lung transplant. Although multiple organ transplantation has been successful, the three big guns have been transplanted only once before.

After six months of waiting for results and decisions, a letter from Mayo Clinic arrived stating the “constellation of his anatomy” was in too great a state of disarray and he was pronounced a non-viable candidate. The sand in the hourglass draining, Mike and I began measuring time as though a bomb were set to detonate at the end of the two-year death sentence. We never told Zeke about the letter from Mayo. We told him only that the doctors said “not now” on the transplantation. Doctors agreed to respect our decision.

Continue reading

7 things I’ve learned from motherhood

1. After you leave the hospital, in the middle of the night, when the baby won’t sleep…it’s all you. (And your husband, of course, if you’ve got a good one.) But the point is, from now on, when that little face looks around for food, comfort, nurturing…you are the one. And it’s a humbling, beautifully terrifying prospect.

We’ve loved our daughter since the day she was born, but because she came to us in a different way, I’ll never forget this experience:

When she was almost three months old I went to a luncheon. Many of the women there wanted to see and hold her, and she was getting passed around quite a bit. I don’t know if something happened or if she was just getting tired of all the passing, but she began to cry and look around. Finally she found me and her eyes locked on mine; she smiled through her tears as if to say: “Mommy, I found you! Save me!” All I could think of at that moment, was “Oh my gosh, she’s looking for me!” It was an emotional experience for me for obvious reasons. She knew I was her mother. And when she saw me, she knew she would be okay.

(First lesson: you are The One.) Continue reading

If you give a mom a minute

If you give a mom a minute (while the three older kids are at school/preschool and the two younger ones are napping)…she will try to transfer a load from the washer to the dryer.

But according to her new 12-step laundry program, all clean laundry that comes out of the dryer must be put away IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise, it will never get put away. She tries to hang up the white church shirts and then she realizes all hangers in the house are in use…so she goes into the two-year-old’s closet to retrieve hangers. Continue reading

Embracing normal

I was chatting with my darling neighbor who has 3 tiny kiddos, is pregnant with her 4th, and in the middle of tearing up and remodeling her home. She’s feeling a wee bit stressed.

Soon tears were flowing and she said, “But I shouldn’t complain. You’ve got twice as much going on as me and you are always so pulled together.”

Ha! Me? Pulled together?

I told her: “I sincerely and honestly apologize if I’ve ever given you that impression. I would never want anyone to think that about me.”

As the mother of five wild boys and one crazy little princess, I am not trying to create any illusion of perfection. 10 days out of 10 I have moments where I simply CAN’T HANDLE life. And I also have really great happy moments 10 days out of 10. I choose to believe that’s a normal part of motherhood.

My friend Missy told me a story of hiking with her dad when she was 8 years old. The hike was easy and fun for the first few miles, but as the elevation increased and Missy’s energy wore down she struggled for breath and fought to keep up with her father. Convinced that something was truly wrong with her body she called to her dad, “I can’t do it. You go on. I’ll wait here.”

Her father stopped, sat her down and gently explained, “You’re OK. We’re higher on the mountain now and the air is thinner. You have to take deep breaths and I need to slow down and walk slowly with you. You’re going to make it. You’re going to be fine. This is normal.”

For Missy, those words made all the difference—there wasn’t anything wrong with her; it’s normal to struggle when you are not getting enough oxygen.

And I guess that’s my message to all my fellow mothers. None of us are getting enough oxygen. Every mother I know, whether she has 10 kids or 1, is pouring every bit of her energy into the bottomless pit of motherhood. It’s meant to be hard. This is normal.

I don’t ever anticipate being the pulled-together super-mom. I don’t want to be. Forgetting a birthday party or serving cereal for dinner is fine with me. If I ever get too organized I may not have time to sit and hold my Gabriel while he tells me about last night’s dream or I may not be willing to leave the beds unmade and go on a walk with a friend. Inadequate, imperfect, scatterbrained, messy—it all makes me a better mother.

I should stop here but I won’t. My cute neighbor said she tried to explain her stress to her mother but her mother’s reply was, “You have no idea how lucky you are. There are so many people in the world with bigger problems than yours.”

I beg to differ. My friend is a nurse in a child abuse unit; she served an 18-month service mission in Guatemala. She is acutely aware of the problems in the world and often expresses her profound gratitude for her husband, home, and children. Just talking about her blessings throws her into guilty worries that she isn’t grateful enough.

But taking care of 3 small people, growing a new one in your belly and picking out tile for the kitchen are exhausting, oxygen-depleting tasks. Not life threatening, but exhausting. It’s OK to be frustrated, it’s OK to be overwhelmed. This is normal.

Michelle Lehnardt never folds laundry and her car is a mess. She runs through the streets of Salt Lake City, UT, takes lots of photos, plays Uno with her 5 fabulous boys and buys way too many dresses for the little princess. Her husband is the most romantic man in the world because he does all the Costco shopping AND hauls it into the house (sorry to make you jealous girls). She writes at Scenes from the Wild.

Nod, be present, and listen

When my sons were taking piano lessons, I decided to steal the motivational technique of my first teacher, Mrs. Childs, and reward them with a candy bar whenever they memorized a piece. For me, chocolate has always been wildly motivating; perhaps this is why, according to my mother, no one ever had to nag me to practice.

At the time of this story, my sons were seven and ten, my father had just died, and my mother was dying. I felt that I was failing her–and everyone else in my life–in a multitude of ways on a daily, even hourly, basis, and was so desperate for solace that I decided to make one last attempt at psychotherapy. In the Midwest, where I was raised, the accepted credo is “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Hardly an attitude that fosters the kind of work that needs to occur in a therapist’s office.

This therapist, however, was different. Her technique was unusual. She’d get me talking–they all do that–but when I let my guard down and became loose-lipped enough to let slip with something honest, something vaguely not-nice, i.e. “I’m mad at her,” the therapist had me repeat more potent versions of that statement (“I’m angry at my mother for getting cancer,” or “I’m so mad at you, Mom, for dying!” etc.) over and over again, while at the same time making little tapping motions on the backs of my hands, the top of my head, the center of my chest. I’d cry. I’d feel crummy for awhile. But through the course of the session, eventually I’d move through and beyond that not-nice feeling to a place of calm, a place where – for some reason – I could at least function. It helped.

One afternoon, when my eldest son Noah failed to demonstrate that he’d memorized “Bill Grogan’s Goat,” he was told that chocolate would not be forthcoming – not today anyway, but surely tomorrow, because he almost had it, just a couple of notes, a little bit more practice, he was so close!

He burst into tears.

“What?” I cried. My son’s response was so sudden, so out of proportion that I wondered if he’d physically hurt himself. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“It’s not fair!” he wailed, shrugging off my attempts to hug him. “It’s not fair…”

Exacerbating Noah’s misery was the fact that his brother Sam had already finished his practice session and–having successfully memorized “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”–was sitting a few feet away on the sofa, blithely consuming his Almond Joy. I wish I could say that I had the good sense to ask him to remove himself to the kitchen. Maybe I did. I don’t remember.

After telling Noah how sorry I was that he felt sad, I went on to explain that it actually was fair, reminding him this was our policy when it came to practicing. What really wouldn’t be fair would be if I gave him a candy bar when he hadn’t memorized his piece.

This did not comfort him.

“But it’s not fair!” he repeated. “Sam’s songs are easier than mine!”

“That’s true, but when Sam is ten like you, he’ll have harder songs, and then –”

“It’s not fair!” Noah proclaimed again, head shaking, tears falling. “It’s not fair, it’s not FAIR!”

Okay, I thought. Not working.

Remembering another therapist from years ago, the one who encouraged me to think of intensely negative feelings as temporary, like billowy clouds in a variable sky, I said, “Okay then, let’s pretend that this big feeling of Unfair is a huge puffy cloud, and we’re going to blow it away.” Noah paused and frowned, still sniffling, but seemed game. “Are you ready? Are you ready to take a big breath with me and blow that huge Unfair Cloud away?”

He quieted long enough for us to inhale and exhale, our conjoined breaths creating an impressive gale force wind which sent several dust bunnies careening across the living room floor.

There was a pause, and then a resumption of inconsolable sobs.

That was when I remembered that the emotions-as-clouds metaphor hadn’t worked any better for me than it did for my son.

“It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s JUST NOT FAIR!”

I continue to be amazed by what a dullard I can be when it comes to my own children, how my response as a parent can sometimes lead me to relate to my sons in a completely unhelpful–and uncharacteristic–manner. Would I treat one of my friends like this? Would I try to talk her out of her feelings? Of course not. I’d commiserate. I’d buy her a glass of wine. I’d sit and listen. I’d let her moan to her heart’s content.

It’s not fair.

Finally I remembered the technique my therapist had been using with me: encouraging me to repeat the unvarnished, unattractive, unreasonable truth.

So I started to say, “You’re right, honey, it’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”

Noah joined in. We sang the It’s Not Fair lament for a few minutes and then, eventually, the sky cleared, the clouds passed, the tears ceased. Sam finished his Almond Joy without further notice. Noah got past his grief and went on to memorize (and earn a Three Musketeers) another day.

Now, when my kids let forth with an uncensored expression of unreasonable emotional truth–-“I had a scary, bad thought” or “This homework is so pointless” or “I’m never going to get this!” etc.–I try not to talk it away with reason, or blow it away with a gale force exhalation. I try to remember to simply nod my head, be present, and listen. So much of childhood is baffling. So much of what our children experience emotionally is not nice.

We’ve abandoned the candy bar reward, by the way, as well as piano lessons. Noah, now thirteen, plays the trumpet, Sam plays trombone, and I do what most parents do when it comes to motivating their kids to practice: I nag.

I wish I didn’t have to. My mom never had to nag me to practice.

It is so unfair.

Stephanie Kallos lives in Seattle with her husband and sons. She is the author of two published novels, BROKEN FOR YOU and SING THEM HOME. Her website is: www.stephaniekallos.com

On blooming timing

I have a soft spot for late bloomers, all varieties. My grandpa took up painting just a couple of years ago and sends us watercolor treasures, scenes from Italy and France and his hometown. I linger over articles about authors late to the publishing world, taking small shards of hope from their late blooming success.

My kids didn’t get teeth until they were 9 months old and that was perfectly fine with me. Sam’s now nine years and he’s only lost a few teeth. He’s the rare 4th grader with the gappy front tooth smile, up to 5 years later than some of his friends. And Maddy still cherished her doll Emily with the fidelity of a mother, long after dolls had lost their cool for most of her friends. Everything in its time, I think to myself, privately happy to extend the moments of childhood and allow them their own timetables.

That’s not to say I don’t get caught up in the comparing game sometimes. [And yes, I agree that some comparing to the norm is essential to make sure your child is developing and growing (e.g., growth charts at the pediatrician).] It’s tough not to grade yourself as a parent based on the timelines of others. Get a group of parents together and inevitably there’s a little sly comparing. You see the girl down the street walking and look at your own same-aged crawler and wonder when. You hear that your nephew’s reading books at age four and wonder should I start flashcards? Someone in your playgroup pottytrained their 1-year-old and suddenly you feel like you can’t look at another diaper. For us, it was bike riding.

Are you ready for this?

Sam just mastered riding a bike last summer.

Truthfully, we tried. For several years, we took him out and tried. Because WE were ready, because we wanted to check the box next to that accomplishment as done. But he didn’t like it, dug in his heels and refused. Didn’t see the point. You know that saying about horses and water and drinking? Try young boys and bicycles and riding. So we finally took the hint and set it aside for a while.

Eventually, Sam wanted to learn it (I think it was right after he stayed home from the scout bike rodeo). It was time, his time. Finally one week last July, with the aid of a positive and patient dad and much negotiation, he agreed to work at it for ten tries. And then, mid-week, he started rolling his bike out to the front of the house on the sly, doggedly working solo on that tricky starting moment where you lift both feet to the pedals and push. The next day he was zipping around the neighborhood, all glee and I-did-it-ness. In a couple of days, not the weeks and months of earlier efforts.

Children are bloomers. That’s what they do! They bloom–sometimes early, sometimes late, sometimes right on the average. I’m slowly learning to turn the timing over to my kids, to watch them for clues that they’re ready to grow into a new season. Trying to be more of a gardener, less of a train conductor.

Annie Waddoups lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. She is the founder of Letters to a Parent and can be reached and annie.waddoups@gmail.com.