Today we put all of the stuffed animals in our house in our play tent and huddled in there. It was cozy and delightful.
If you don’t have a tent, you could use a crib. Or a bed. Or a small closet. Bring books. And blankets. Really, you don’t even need a child or stuffed animals to enjoy this. Pillows would work, too. You won’t want to leave. I promise.
I’ve been doing a lot of hunky-dory holiday posting recently, but one of the reasons I made this promise to blog from Oct 21 until Feb 11 promise was to remember a time in my life that wasn’t so hunky-dory, so that I could honor that time and appreciate the present. So warning, this post has some heavier stuff.
The holidays in the NICU are weird. I can remember well-meaning people asking why we weren’t going “home” for the holidays, not realizing that our home was of course next to Das Big Boy’s isolette, not with our other families. Everyone goes through this when they have children, of course. You’re your own family now in a way that you weren’t before. But when you’re somewhat cut off from your family because you’re spending every waking hour in a hospital, it’s somewhat more acute. The hospital does a wonderful job of infusing everything with cheer, but beneath it all there is of course a heartbreak that you try like hell to ignore.
Shortly before Das Big Boy’s first Christmas, we had what I think remains the worst night of my life. I couldn’t remember the exact anniversary, but I’ve been thinking of it for the past few days, and, as it turns out, I was right on target. On December 18, 2010, Das Big Boy had his biggest health scare of the NICU (except for almost dying the night after he was born).
I’m not sure I’m up to writing about it, but here’s part of the email I sent to the head of neonatology afterwards:
Dear [Director,]Thank you again for the wonderful care you took of [Das Big Boy.] Unfortunately, he had a very rough Saturday night and has yet to recover. When [Herr Husband] and I left at 5:30 to buy him his weekly book, he was doing great. Sating [showing blood oxygen saturations] in the mid-nineties on 28% O2, normal and even respiratory rate (for him). When we returned at 7:30, he was bouncing between the seventies and eighties on 32% 02, and his respiratory rate was elevated. When we asked his nurse what she thought was going on, she shared that…he had been sating in the 60s, and she had found that his CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure–his breathing support apparatus] was disconnected in back, and she didn’t know how long he’d been that way. His nurse raised his 02 a bit more and suctioned him. He then had a major desat, which she had a very hard time bringing him back from. He bounced between the forties and sixties for about ten minutes, and she had to raise his 02 to 60 and use blow-by to finally stabilize him, after ten or fifteen minutes. His 02 was left at 40%, and remains there. He remains very tachypnic [means he was breathing fast]–far more than usual–and is working hard to breathe.When [the fellow] took us through the records on the monitor, it appears he was sating in the 60s (during the disconnection episode) for at least ten minutes.
What I don’t write about here is that during the episode, I was hysterical in a way I never had been before or since, and that I really thought he might die or never recover. That I thought it was somehow our fault for being away from him, which we so rarely were. How furious I was that some staff had implied that our constant presence was too much and possibly sometimes interfered with his care, but that we could have prevented part of this had we been there.
The truth is, I don’t think about this night very often at all. It’s still too much and there’s no use in going there. But in a way, it’s good for me to remember how lucky I am that I don’t have to worry on this level anymore (knock on some serious wood).
So let’s move away from that for a moment.
We had a lovely Hanukkah gathering tonight with my parents, and with the wonderful Mo who volunteered to care for our babes this morning so we could do some last minute holiday stuff–sidebar: it continues to delight me how much she loves our kids and how much they love her, even though they don’t see each other very often. It’s as if our children just know how important and wonderful she is.
After dinner, I was talking with my mom about how I’d been stressed and worried lately by balancing the two kids, school, activities, therapies, etc, and how I worry I’m not doing the right things to help Das Big Boy work on the stuff he still needs to work on. And she reminded me of something she always says about parenting that I’ve espoused, too. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” Now of course, there are things and events in parenting that aren’t going to be fun. (See above). Those are the crisis moments and no one expects you to have enjoy them. But the truth is, much of the stuff that gets us down as parents is just life. The struggles are different for each of us, but they’re going to be what they’re going to be. While we can’t control them, we do have some control over how they affect us. A lot of the worrying we do about our kids isn’t about our kids. It’s about us. And in fact, it’s us interfering with their being whomever it is they are going to be. Worrying isn’t productive. It doesn’t teach them anything. It’s just a way of taking what should be about them–how can I help my child become his or her best self? And making it about us, bringing their difficulties into our brain, rather than being present with them out in the real world.
So that’s what I’m going to try to be better at: being present. Not remembering the scary times. Not idealizing the seemingly easier semi-recent past. Not fretting and worrying about the future. Not trying to plan the perfect project that will engage Das Big Boy so he wants to work on his fine motor skills. But playing and laughing and decorating cookies and keeping my patience as I remind Das Big Boy to sit down at the dinner table for the thousandth time or as I insist that Little Liebchen wear pants because it’s cold outside.
And maybe, once in a while, we’ll jump up from the dinner table and dance around without our pants on. Because that’s the kind of family we really are.
I’ve always had a fixation with tiny toys. When I was a kid, I wanted my parents to play with me by making little animal figures or colorforms “walk, talk, and do things.” In college, my best friends and I had tiny versions of ourselves (they were Barbie’s tiniest sister, Kelly, and her friends). We sewed them outfits and brought them places and visited every Walmart between Hanover, New Hampshire and Panama City Beach, Florida to see if there were any new “Tiny Us-es,” and what they were up to (“Tennis, Desiree?“). Full disclosure: on one particularly eventful night right after college, Tiny Hipster ran away at the now no longer extant bar Drinkland in Alphabet City (She never even made it to Twilo, poor girl). I called them the next day and left an insane voicemail in which I described what she had been wearing (a denim mini and a one-sleeved zebra print tank top–it was the year 2000, after all), and the scar on her right eye where a man in a bumblebee costume had burned her with a cigarette one night months prior. As if they had found a lot of tiny dolls, and her clothes and markings were what was going to help me find her. I even told them her name…”She answers to Tiny Hipster.”
This tiny stuff fixation is really great when you have kids, because it allows you to have a tiny Hello Kitty playhouse, and a dollhouse, and eleventy-six Playmobil sets and no one judges you. Or almost no one. There’s just something about tiny stuff that makes me feel comfortably fussy, as if I can have everything how and where I want it. I can’t describe it beyond that.
Last year, I coveted a Playmobil advent calendar, and hinted pretty big so that Herr Husband would buy me one. He didn’t. But after the season, they went on supersale, so I bought one at 70% off and saved it for a year.
Now both children are old enough to really enjoy it, so I generously allow them to take turns opening the doors (Das Big Boy opens the odds, Little Liebchen opens the evens). This actually has developed a wonderful comradeship and increased awareness of sharing between them–mom recommends!
It’s a farm scene, and you get a TON of stuff in it. We’re only on the 16th and we have two horses, a pony trap, dogs, a whole rooster/chicken/chick family, two dogs, two kids, an apple tree, lots of veggies, more random stuff, and, the piece de resistance, a wheelbarrow full of horse poop. Yup. That’s what sold me on the set. The wheelbarrow full of horse poop. It emerged on the 14th, and I was beyond delighted. As were the children. Don’t let anyone tell you different: they get their love of potty humor from me.
So this year, given that both children will likely do more handling of all things tree related, we replaced our old lights with LED lights from Ikea, which are lead-free to European safety standards (which are, no duh, safer than ours). The Ikea system is slightly more complex (you need a plug kit and then strands which can attach to each other), but at $8 a strand, and $13 for the adapter, we outfitted our tree with new lights for about $50 (not chump change to be sure, but at least I can calm that one nagging anxiety).
The LEDs are very bright and cute. And you can buy funny little ornaments to put over them.
Festive and safe! What a win!
Thanks again for another useful home safety tip, Dr. G!
I hate that my Ferguson post has to be short. You may hate that I’m writing one at all. So we’ll call it even.
A lot of things break my heart about the fact that an eighteen-year-old young man was killed by a police officer, and that said officer doesn’t even have to stand trial for his death.
But this is, for better for worse, mostly a mom blog. So I’m going to look at this as a mom. A mom whose heart broke for Trayvon Martin, for Eric Garner, for Tamir Rice, and of course for Michael Brown. And for so many more. And for their mothers.
Because here’s the thing. We all worry about our children. A lot. I may even worry about my son more than most (and it’s not a contest, but I can tell you that I worry more about him than I do about my full-term daughter. His start was scary, and I may never get over it.).
Of the five women with whom I became close while Das Big Boy was in the NICU, four were women of color. Two of those women have sons. I know they poured every ounce of worry and love into their sons just as I did into mine. I know they worry to this day. But they have a worry I don’t. Because their sons are black. And that’s an injustice that really, really pains me. They have to worry that some people may respond to their sons with fear or aggression just because they are black. And that sucks, because we moms, especially we preemie moms, have enough to worry about.
I’ve broken some laws in my day. I needn’t detail them here. But if you went to college with me, you know what I mean. And my sole brush with law enforcement illustrates perfectly the concept of white privilege, that unearned privilege that my children will inherit from me unless our world changes.
I was twenty-two, recently graduated from college. A friend from high school and another friend’s ex-boyfriend and I took a cab home from a Boston bar to a Wellesley street in an effort to find the first friend’s ex-boyfriend. My friend may have vomited in the cab. I may have offered, in the ultimate act of lady chivalry, to wear her pukey shirt so we could spread out the stink. We may have changed clothes in the street. Someone (wisely) called the police. Surprise! The police did not even chide us. They drove us home to our parents’ respective mansions with friendly banter the whole way. Not a word about keeping it down at 2 am, nary a suggestion to lay off the booze, not even an allusion to any puke stink. How do you think that would have gone down if we’d been three black young adults in Wellesley, (a town where for every 1000 residents, 110.3 black people are arrested while only 9.4 white people are arrested)? And that, people, is white privilege. It doesn’t mean that all white people are overtly racist (although some of them are). It means our social structures benefit white people.
So what can a mad white mom from the suburbs do? How do we raise children who will work for justice and equality, who will reject their privilege or extend it to everyone?
I don’t have big or great ideas. I have little ones. But I’m going to try them and hope they help. And I hope you’ll share your ideas for teaching our children as well.
1) Read children’s books with black protagonists. My community is pretty white. My son has one black classmate. My daughter thinks the African-American baby on the diaper box is Rudy (daughter of our friends the Huxtables, who are South and East Asian). But I’m a big believer in familiarity being possible through art, too, and in that familiarity building understanding. So I’m going to get my children five books for the holidays that feature black protagonists. When I’ve chosen them, I’ll share the titles.
2) Give money to an organization that advances racial and social justice. It’s holiday time, when we all pick our charities. I’m always nagging you to give to preemies and lungs and hearts. This year, I also gave to The Southern Poverty Law Center.
3) Start talking about race and justice with my children early. Earlier than may be comfortable. I heard on NPR once that the average age at which black families start discussing race with their children is three, whereas in white families it’s thirteen. Because for black children it’s a fact of life and experience, but for white children, it’s an external, even intellectual exercise. It’s why kids can describe black culture but not white culture. White privilege again. But clearly the hippie love stuff–we’re all the same, yada yada–that we white liberals (or me white liberal) have always been fond of doesn’t work so well. We need to have conversations about race from an earlier age. I’m going to research this one, too. But if you have ideas, let me know.
4. Don’t stay quiet. I’m not saying I plan to get in a flame war on Facebook or a throw down at Thanksgiving dinner. But I do have to say that most of the people responding to Ferguson with dismay on my FB feed last night were either a) people of color b) sociology graduate students/professors or c) superpolitical people (and I DON’T think this is a political issue). But I know more of us care. We can share our thoughts without getting into fights. I’m going to try to do so.
5. Put more love into the universe in general. This is a goal toward which I’m always striving. Be kinder. Less gossipy. More tolerant. More patient. I’m trying to teach this kindness and generosity to my children, too. I’ll write about those strategies on another day, because I don’t want to detract from today’s goal of doing something about racism, however small, in my own white suburban mom way, in my own white suburban family.
Peace. Really, I mean it. Peace.
A lot of parents hate bedtime. It’s odd how something that we so love and long for as adults, and so need as children, is pure anathema to the under-twelve set. But actually, my children, who stink at plenty of things–one won’t eat fruits or vegetables in solid form, the other would rather concuss herself than put on a jacket no matter the temperature–have historically been fairly agreeable at bedtime. Yes, in his early toddler days, Das Big Boy required lots of rocking and singing, and on most days Little Liebchen still weasels her way into our bed in the early morning. But they’re pretty good about the act of going to bed. After our bedtime routine (potty, jammies, teeth, books, “best part of the day,” songs), Herr Husband takes the recently nursed Little Liebchen to her crib, then returns so we can both say goodnight to Das Big Boy. And until recently, that was the end of the story. Yes, Das Big Boy would play in his bed for a while, but he’d stay there.
Then all of a sudden he had that realization that children have repeatedly until adulthood: adult authority is a myth if you don’t give a fuck. When I was a teacher, some colleagues would express bewilderment at students who didn’t come to school. Frankly, I was amazed that so many of them showed up. I mean, nerds like I was, yeah, of course they would come. But I was truly stunned that the bad ass kids who did drugs and got into fights and yelled at teachers came to school as often as they did. To this day I find it profoundly moving that they did so.
Anyway, bedtime is a social construct, and Das Big Boy suddenly wasn’t having it. I feel like a lot of kids go through this when they first move to big boy/girl beds, but he was quite good about staying in his bed unless he really, really needed something. He was still much more likely to holler for us.
And then suddenly, about two months ago: Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. He was out of bed. He was playing with his toys. He was in our room. He was blaming his stuffed animals for the loud crashes we heard. I didn’t climb on the shelves to get the jellyfish; Clifford did it.
We tried putting desirable toys “to bed” by hiding them under blankets. We taped down the light switch and told him the light was sleeping. On one particularly ugly evening that I caught him making book towers, I told him that if he did it one more time I would take every single book out of his room. And then when he did so, I had to honor my promise, practically spitting with rage as I dragged probably two-hundred books out from every corner of his room. It was not my proudest parenting moment.
But I think we’ve finally hit on something that works. His current nightlight is very dim, such that he wants us to leave the door open so he can see his books (yes, I let him take books to bed. I was a sneak-reader and I feel like there are worse things to be) by the hall light. The deal is, if he gets out of bed, even once, the hall light goes off.
This leads to some squeals of, “Help me! Mom, I can’t reach it!” as he tries to keep his feet on the bed while reaching for a book and gets trapped in a sort of wheelbarrow pose, but the stakes seem just high enough to keep him where he belongs.
Until he realizes, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” and starts turning his own light on again, probably so he can do things like remove all of the clothes from his drawers or color on the walls.
It’s bound to happen.
Edit: Just read that the grand jury decided not to press charges against Darren Wilson (ugh), which makes my use of “Killing in the Name of” for my suburban mom blog seem a bit too cute for tonight. Apologies for that.
I’m dating myself. Not in the way in which I make myself look old in front of the babysitter by talking about Thanksgiving pep rallies, but in the way in which I take myself on a date.
And it’s fucking awesome.
I’ve always loved dining in restaurants alone. A book, yummy food, wine, people watching and weird chit chat with strangers. It’s a joy I associate with travel, but something one can do anywhere, even in her hometown.
So yeah. Herr Husband is traveling for work all weekend, and our fantastic babysitter was available tonight. So I decided to take myself out.
I had a ninety minute massage. (Courtney at Lotus is a goddess. She has that sixth sense where she finds all your tension and presses it out of you. See her now. But not while I’m seeing her.)
Then I took myself out to dinner. I first fell in love with dining alone when I lived with a Spanish family in college. I was a newly minted vegetarian, and some nights their garden salad efforts at feeding my weird palate (“Estás segura que no quieres probar el cordero?”) just weren’t cutting it. So I would fake a study group and sneak off to the restaurant around the corner with my book and postcards on which to write deeply philosophical and revelatory notes to my high school boyfriend. The restauranteurs found my requests for gazpacho increasingly odd as autumn wore on, but they humored me with their deliciously cold soup and their cozy Rioja and left me to my my late-adolescent musings. The last time I remember dining solo was on a research trip to Germany shortly before I got pregnant with Das Big Boy. And once again, that combination of a book, wine, food, and writing materials was just perfect as I tried to trace my grandmother’s footsteps all over Berlin.
But once you have kids, it’s hard to mark out time to dine alone. I wouldn’t choose it over a date with Herr Husband, because we get so few of those. And when I do ditch him (or when he ditches me) it’s usually for friends. So I’ve inadvertently abandoned one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
No more. Tonight it was the wonderful Farmhouse for Montepulciano, kale salad, and cheese plate. And make a note of it people, it is possible to experience Euro-style solo dining fun in suburbia. I walked to dinner. I had a glass of wine paid for by a stranger: a fellow mom (of older kids) whom I’d just met who clearly appreciated my efforts at me-time. [Shout out and big thanks to Charlotte!]. And I ate yummy food including dessert and coffee. I read my book, The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe, because yes, I adore the charming #1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. I thought thoughts and remembered memories and breathed and relaxed and smiled to myself about my sweet family. I chatted with the bartender about his impending baby. I walked home and bumped into my neighbor the life coach and enjoyed his friendly if unsolicited advice. My (amazing) babysitter said all was well. My children slept.
Life was good.
So here it is, people. I’m not going to make November 7 international date yourself day, if for no other reason than it would make getting a babysitter really fucking hard. But I insist you all date yourselves. We parents talk about me time but I don’t think we’re good at it. We come home and the kids are awake and we’re right back in the thick of it. We choose to go out with friends or our partners because we don’t get enough time with them as it is. But I insist. Go out by yourself. Dining alone is the best, but if you’re too shy, just go get a cup of coffee alone. Take yourself out. You’ll find you’re excellent company (and if you’re not, I do know a life coach you can call…).