Archive for April, 2010

April is the Cruelest Month

April. A gorgeous month. The leaves on the trees start to emerge, spring bulbs pop up in explosions of color. I daydream of camping, summer festivals and beers on the deck. Students grow restless for summer, and I do too. I welcome the colorful chairs on the Memorial Union Terrace like old friends. We turn off the heat in the house, open the windows and let our hopes for the coming months fly out into the atmosphere.

But April has not always been so kind to my family. It has been marked by loss of all sorts. Loss of loved ones weary and sick, sudden loss, loss of the young and of the young at heart.

I anticipate April. April’s losses have always felt sudden, but April doesn’t sneak up on me. I can feel it coming as the days stretch gradually out, as the first warm breeze whispers across my face. I can feel it on my arms the first time I go outside in short sleeves.

In a way, I kind of appreciate that nearly all of my personal landmines are neatly tucked into a 30-day period. As the world takes a deep breath to welcome the spring, I can use the time to look back and reflect before summer arrives and I am wholly focused on my present.

April has had a way of providing. The April day I lost the happiest man I have ever known was glorious and sunny and beautiful. I was by myself all day that day and my reaction after hearing the news was to throw my windows open for the first time that spring. The warm breeze that came in was cleansing and real and made me feel as if I wasn’t alone. And during the hardest week of my saddest April it rained for days and days, as if to tell me that the world was crying with me. And perhaps it was.

Two years ago, with April behind me, I had my first Mother’s Day. I was a mama, but did not have a baby to hold in my arms. My husband bought me a lovely bleeding heart that I planted in my garden.

Bleeding Heart

And every April, my bleeding heart blooms.

– ALW

If You’re Happy and You Know It

From my earliest memories I was not a happy person. Nothing terrible to report or overly morose – part biology and part experience – and my adulthood is a blessed one.

But when I was preparing to become a parent for the first time what kept me up many nights were the painful thoughts that my child-to-be would be unhappy. I didn’t expect to create an environment of perfection; even I know that the many moves and challenging personalities I handled as a child made me the resilient person I am today. But what if my child was *born* unhappy? And I, by virtue of bringing them into this world had brought an unhappy person into, well, unhappiness.

While my launch into motherhood was marked with many difficult surprises – 44 Hours of Labor! A Baby Who Wouldn’t Nurse! A Visit to the Hospital to Cure Jaundice! A Biliblanket! – the moment she entered the world I experienced profound, earth-shattering, core-stabilizing and deep, deep Joy.

Who was this person that I launched into the world? This stranger that I could finally meet after months of deep-sea moves under my skin? Who emerged was a happy baby. A baby who loved looking and taking in different sights and sounds. Loved smiling as soon as she could, who loved learning. A person who just last week looked at me when I came home and said that she was “happy.”

As we drove home this afternoon from a visit at my mother-in-law’s, we had the kids’ version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” on repeat. Each time it started up again she would say “More happy!” It made me want to clap my hands, stomp my feet and shout “hooray!”

Happy!

– MD

The Street We Live On

We live in a basic little house in an OK part of town.  The city we live in is awesome (I can’t imagine living ANYWHERE else) and we live within walking or biking (or short-ish drive) to most everything we love.  The house itself – it’s ok, too.  It’s what we could afford and has just enough space not to make us crazy. And wood floors. They were on the must list.

But my hubby and I always laugh because we bought the house before we had kids, and had we had one already on the way, perhaps we would have made a different decision. Busy Busy streets (where people drive too fast)  surround our home, and mostly older or single people live around us. Maybe now we would have bought one just a few blocks away (where all of the families chose to live and the streets are super quiet).

But there are a few things about our house that that I just wouldn’t want to trade.  I love to look at this list through the eyes of my wee ones. I love thinking about how they will grow into adults, probably not thinking twice about their house versus their friends’ houses (I never did), but will remember these things fondly:

  • Our neighbors. God forbid they ever move. They aren’t allowed.  They don’t have kids of their own, but have become Our AND our children’s Bestest of friends. We share gardens, we share house keys (and ovens on large occasions), and barbecue and beer on spontaneous summer nights. They back us up with the extra tables and excellent food when a party is in order and frequently make a few extra brownies to send our way. They and my littles share good-mornings out our windows. They’ll always remember B and L and their laughs, and her snake, and how B always asks my H if he wants to dig dirt and garden with him. Aaaahhhhh, they top the list.
  • Airplanes. Our house is in a flight path. Some people would see this as a detriment. But seriously – airplanes! Above our house! A zillion times a day! So close that you can see their numbers, and markings, and make our TV reception die! They bring out the kid in me every time they go over head.  My kids will always remember those airplanes.
  • Friends. We have lots of friends who live nearby. And our local community center is just around the bend. All are down a few busy streets, but that’s OK. My kids will learn to be safe.
  • And maybe Close to the Top of this List? Ella’s Deli is right around the corner. Ella’s is the place that all of the locals and tourists bring their kids to eat. Every table, every inch of ceiling and wall space is covered with moving things and collections, and lights and noises. There is an ice-cream parlor, too, that serves the best ice-cream in town. The real stuff. The ice-cream has an ingredient list that says “Don’t even ask. This is the best ice-cream in Wisconsin and it tastes so good because it has gobs of real Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it’s not low-fat, low-calorie, or low-anything, and that’s why everyone loves it. You want nutrition, eat carrots.” And Ella’s even has a real carousel outside.

Ella's Deli Carousel

On random days – those without special occasions – I love to grab our bikes and strollers and walk (carefully, across a busy road) to Ella’s. We get ice-cream, and we ride the carousel. It makes ordinary days special, and being a kid awesome. It makes being a parent pretty amazing, too.

Ice Cream

And when the wind is *just right* on a summer day, the sound of the carousel floats into our upstairs windows. I sometimes see my eldest sitting at the window-sill, watching the trees (and the parking lot that sits behind our house) and listening to the Carousel. I know that someday he’ll hear that familiar sound, and he’ll tell anyone who will listen that he had the bestest home any kid could have. He won’t care about the laundry list of reasons why his mom and dad wish they could have had something just a bit different. He’ll remember this list (much expanded) as all of the reasons his OK house was an Awesome Home.

H on the Carousel

– EC

Which Way Home

So, uh, yeah, it was my turn to post yesterday and I didn’t make it. We’ll chalk it up to I-caught-my-toddler’s-cold-for-two-weeks-and-have-had-to-work-some-long-days. But in my stead, I offer you a great post from a fantastic site, Dadwagon. Have you subscribed? I love it. Honest, witty and insightful, the daddios at Dadwagon know how it goes.

I asked for permission to post the following post about divorce, since this is a topic many of us can relate to in one way or another. It happened to us, but maybe we promise it will never happen to our children. Let’ see what Theodore Ross says. You can find his original post here and below.- MD

JP was young enough when my ex moved out that he doesn’t remember his parents ever having lived together. I consider this a good thing, given the amount of arguing he witnessed in the latter stages of our marriage.

As a result, however, his residential life has always included a great deal of shuttling back and forth. There’s some good in this as well–two beds, separate sets of toys, and the like. The downside, perhaps, is a slightly weakened sense of stability and place.

One by-product of this arrangement has been intermittent feelings of  defensiveness on my part about his concept of home. I’m always alert to the possibility that JP doesn’t really feel like he lives with me. So when he refers to his mother’s apartment as “home” and my place as, well, my place, I correct him. We live together, I say. This is your home, too. He doesn’t really get it at this age, but I suspect eventually he will.

One interesting development on this front occurred recently when my ex moved. She decided to tell JP that they were leaving their old apartment for a special new home. Thus JP now talks about “our home”–that is, his home with me–and his “special home,” by which he means his new place with his mother.

No tragedy here, mind you. It’s just interesting to see the three-year-old mind at work, furiously processing. Makes you wonder what else he notices.

– TR


It’s Over and Done With

I am so excited to welcome back guest Summer Pierre. You might remember her “I-can’t-believe-she-had-a-baby-in-a-cab” post. Go ahead and read it again. Her new book, The Artist in the Office, is doing extremely well and is a personal favorite in our house. Below is an account of her struggles with breastfeeding. I know I can relate, as someone who had a baby who either screamed or fell asleep when placed on my chest. – MD

What It Takes

So as some of you know, I’ve had some struggles with breastfeeding. One of those struggles was just grappling with the SHOCK that it could be so hard. I am still grappling with that shock–as it has been renewed again and again over the last 3 months with each twist and turn I’ve had to manage. The newest shock is that I’m throwing in the towel, that it actually never worked for us and won’t. This is perhaps the most painful shock of all.

I wrote a post about this issue after things had gone to utter shit and I visited with a lactation consultant. I was very hopeful then, clinging to my little plan with my knuckles going white. I was bound and DETERMINED to get this BALL ROLLING, dagnabbit. Give me a plan and I am ready for the fight! Friends and acquaintances came forward with their stories of breastfeeding triumphs over tragedies. I got some wonderful e-mails from some of you with your own stories of feedings gone wrong and right. My fragile spirit rose timidly. So we went ahead, trying to get my milk supply up and to fix Gus’ supposed sucking issue so I could get rid of the nipple shield. Little did I know, that at that moment things were as good as they ever were going to be and the only thing that was going to REALLY change was my attitude. I’m glad no one told me this it of information. I would have been a basket case.

Sure, with night and day pumping, and herbs and oatmeal my milk supply eventually rose…for a time.  Then it dropped again for no apparent reason so I had to go back to supplementing and pumping and pumping some more.  I was panicked about the supplementing and would hate to give Gus any formula, freaking out every time I had to make him a bottle.  I Googled (read: BAD IDEA) breastfeeding stories and testimonies about milk supply, about how it is very rare to not  have enough milk while I pumped away night and day.  Then just like that, my milk supply would still drop on its own for no reason.  Gus also never NEVER wanted to nurse without the shield.  We’d try, he’d sometimes latch on feed for about two minutes until he realized what he was doing and he’d suddenly wake up, INSULTED, like I’d just fed him a HORRIBLE IMPOSTER and it was OBVIOUS that I didn’t love him at all, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting THIS thing in his mouth.  So back with the nipple shield, or what I like to call, the HATEFUL thing.

At the lactation consultant’s suggestion, I took Gus to see a craniosacral therapist.  The therapist took one look at Gus and said in his very even-tempered calm craniosacral way, “I think you’re the one who needs the therapy.”  He was right, of course.  I was ragged with stress over how this was still not working.  So I went.  Nothing improved.  The pediatrician did not agree with the lactation consultant on her belief that Gus had a sucking problem.  So it was me again.  And nothing improved.

After a tearful conversation with the lactation consultant (AGAIN) she gently asked, “Well, do you LIKE nursing?”

WHAT?  HUH?  What kind of crazy question is that?  The thought had never even occurred to me.  “Sometimes,” I answered, “when it works.”

“Well, why don’t you just feed him when it works?”

So that’s what I did, but it still required that I pump at least 3-4 times a day and sometimes my milk would drop anyway, but for about 2 weeks, it was okay.  Except for the mastitis.  That hurt like hell.  And also the breast that produced milk, when it uh, FELT like it, no matter if I pumped the hell out of it.  Sometimes it eked out milk, sometimes it just sputtered.  At its best, it was about 50/50 with the formula, but I thought, I’ll take what I can get.  Only, there was just one more problem:

The raging migraines that were starting to show up 3 times a week.

At first I didn’t equate them with the milk supply, but I started to notice that when I started a new dose of herbs and my milk supply went up, I’d be debilitated with violent migraines, the kind I used to get while on birth control pills.  And you know what happened when I had migraines?  I had to take medication, so it meant I had to PUMP and DUMP.  And after 4 straight days of this, with Gus barely able to feed, he decided to tell my boob and its INFERNAL SHIELD to take a hike.  He started to react as if I was offering a HOT POKER to his face instead of food.

Last week I had an appointment with my midwives, but for 3 days before I went off the herbs and I was curiously migraine free.  So I asked the midwives if this could at all be a possibility, because these are HERBS right?  Nature’s medicine!  It turns out that YES it is a total possibility, because they aren’t just tinkering with my supply, but my hormones–so there you have it.

So last weekend I started the slow process of weaning myself from breastfeeding and I am just going to say it, it’s been very very sad.  I had wanted in my heart of lowered expectations to make it to at least 6 months, but I can’ even do that.  I need to be healthy and happy for Gus, instead of forcing my supply on myself and him.  Having come from a breastfeeding culture, THE HIPPIES, I never in a million years thought this is the way it would go.  Also, as a result of being around people that have never had ongoing supply problems, I haven’t had a lot of empathy.  It’s been a lot of HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?  It’s possible, OKAY?

And while I’m on the subject I’d like to say to all the “experts” who write crap on web pages and in books about how RARE it is not to have enough milk, SHUT THE HELL UP.  Tell that to the women in THIS video.  Tell that to the woman who told me she got into a CAR ACCIDENT because she fell asleep at the wheel because she had been pumping throughout the night to get her supply up.  Tell that to the other woman who told me about sitting at a support group at the La Leche League, with a ROOM full of low milk suppliers, where a woman bragged that her two month old had finally started gaining weight and was SEVEN POUNDS.  A TWO MONTH OLD.  (Even the La Leche League leader a.k.a lactivist was like, “Lady, it’s time to give your baby some FRICKN FORMULA!”).

It’s weird, in a society that doesn’t supposedly support breastfeeding, I haven’t felt a lot of support around not breastfeeding or knowledge about why women don’t breastfeed (thank you to those who have reached out their non breastfeeding selves to me!).  It’s been a real eye opener–another in the long list that is under the title MOTHERHOOD.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go feed my healthy, thriving son.

– SP

Reading List

I’m a huge fan of information. I love to read, and will read just about anything about just about anything: books, magazines, articles on the Internet, etc. But now that I’m a mom, I’ve started to realize that all this information can be more stressful than helpful.

When I was pregnant, I read a ton of stuff, and got completely stressed out by all the physical stuff: all the stories about morning sickness, problem pregnancies and difficult births.

When SP was a baby, it was still reading about physical stuff that was stressing me out, but this time it was about her body, not mine: does she have colic, what types of rashes need medical intervention, potential injuries due to tumbling off the changing table.

SP’s toddler stage started the developmental stress. Now I was reading things that made me worry about whether she was on track for talking, potty training and hand-eye coordination.

Now that SP is in kindergarten, the reading material that’s stressing me out is all social. Here are some sample articles causing me angst: How to Throw a Great Birthday Party, What to Do if your Child Is Shy, How Many Activities Are too Many (and its inverse: Encourage your Child to Get Involved).

I still love getting as much information as possible, and some of it has been really helpful. (If I hadn’t read Vicki Iovine’s books, I think I would have had a heart attack almost daily when SP was little.) But the biggest thing I’ve learned from reading all of this information on childrearing? That the person I need to listen to the most is me.

The best way to know whether something is right for SP is to listen to my gut. I know what’s best for SP and for me. Though it sure is fun to read about 40 Ways to Encourage your Child’s Love of Reading.

– RBVH

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I’d like to think that having a baby didn’t change me. Yes, it changed me in all the usual and wonderful ways. I have more love in my heart than I ever thought possible. I feel more joy and gratitude than I have ever known. My highs are higher and my lows are lower. But at my core? I’d like to think I’m the same person.

Who is that person? I’m maybe a little loud, I can be a bit brash. I’m honest and open and giving. I laugh easily. I swear like a sailor and, well, I tend to say some really raunchy things. I’m a bit shy in new situations, but friendly. I can be slow to warm up to new people. I hate talking on the phone. I have well-informed opinions on the world around me. I pay attention and read people well. My bullshit meter is off the charts.

We all know those people who completely change when they have a baby. Every conversation is about what their little one is doing, how potty training is going, how much sleep they got last night. You know, the people who can’t hold a conversation about anything other than their kids.

I am not that person.

Right?

I got my first clue that things had changed at work. I was picking out some colored paper for a form with a co-worker, and she decided on yellow. “YELLOW!” I shrieked, clapping my hands.

“You are SO the mother of a toddler,” she deadpanned.

A few days later, my husband and I were able to get out for a date night. We went shopping for our daughter’s first birthday and then out to a bar for a few beers. It was lovely, having a night to ourselves, shopping for our daughter and celebrating this huge milestone. We thought back on the past year and the difficult years before our daughter arrived, and marveled at how far we’ve come. This was our chance to reflect, spend some time together, have some adult conversation.

“Did you ever notice that Murray doesn’t interact with ANYONE else on Sesame Street? If it wasn’t for ‘Murray Had a Little Lamb’ he’d be nothing more than a host. But she really loves him, it’s a shame that they don’t make a Murray doll. And you know, I find that Mr. Noodle kind of creepy. But I do like his brother, Mr. Noodle. And that robot! I love that robot, with the underbite?”

Sitting at the bar downtown, spending a few glorious hours outside the house by ourselves, I was rambling on and on. Not about current events or the book I was reading. Not about what was happening at work or our plans for the weekend. I was going on and on about SESAME STREET.

I stopped to catch my breath and looked at my husband. “I’m done talking about Sesame Street,” I promised.

Yeah, I’m the same person. I still have many of the qualities that I had before, with a few new ones thrown in. I am trying – TRYING – to curb my swearing. I keep my mind out of the gutter until after my daughter’s bedtime. I’m still a bit loud, but I’m thankfully starting to feel less shy in new situations. I’m trying new things. I am not quite as tuned in to the world around me and sadly, I have less time for reading.

I’m still all of the things I used to be. But these days, I’m also a person who yells out colors and numbers and shapes. I laugh more easily at silly antics. I get on down the floor and play. Yes, I have opinions on baby constipation and diaper rash and sleep schedules. And I will hold deep, meaningful conversations about Sesame Street late into the night at a bar.

It’s who I am.

– ALW