Tagged parenting

For everyone who has a middle child...

Stuck In The Middle With You – From One Middle Child To Another

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“I don’t love you anymore.”

These words would strike a dagger into the hearts of most parents. The child you helped bring in this world – the one who you STILL help get his shoes on EVERY TIME he leaves the house – the one you feed 2 times before you even sit down at the dinner table – your own child who you sacrifice your own needs for routinely.

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These words don’t get to me – because I have said them myself – many times growing up.

You see – I am a middle child, same as my son. You can call us middles – you can throw out phrases like “middle-child syndrome,” you can try to define us, but we’re as difficult to define as irony, (Alanis Morissette is a middle child.)

So being a middle child, my heart goes out to my son. It’s not easy being a kid – and it’s really not easy being a middle child. All my old feelings I had growing with my older (good looking, football playing) brother, and my little sister (who got away with murder) they all come back when I see my son.

When I wasn’t getting beat up by my older brother, I was seeing all the things my sister got that I didn’t get at the same age. And the poundings never stopped me from sticking up to my brother- that’s gotta be some middle thing.

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“You’re not my friend. And you never will be.”

Coming from one of my daughters, this would sting, of course, but only one of them can talk – and the other would never mean it, so I am safe for a while. But I hear this phrase from Asher, and my brain processes it as “Give me a break dad.”

A middle never gets the undivided attention of his parents-like my eldest did for 2 years before we had another baby. A middle never feels the unbridled joy of the last baby – the one that we, as parents, always say ‘let’s appreciate and savor this because it’s the last time we’ll do it.’

NO.

I could tell him “I understand” but that’s the last thing a middle wants to hear. I know better than that – you couldn’t possible understand.

LOTS OF GOOD IN THE MIDDLE

So, in thinking about my son, and all these middle traits – I realized it’s not just about empathy for my middle son- truth be told, I am kinda proud to be a middle myself. So I came up with a top 5 qualities I see in my son that may be attributed to his birth order:

4.  Negotiation skills: When you have an older and younger sibling, your life is about negotiation.  You have to learn to talk  to get your way- and I already see my son as a master negotiator.  “I’m hungry Papa.  Chocolate has protein in it.” *nods*

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3. Independence: All the times he’s playing with friends and just kind of drops back, and starts doing his own thing, I remember that I still battle the desire to be a ‘lone wolf.’ There’s just something displeasing about wanting to be with a pack sometimes – it seems like it would be fun- but it’s never as cool as you expect. I feel you son.

2. I Will Be Heard: I am glad he can express himself the way that he does. Sure, he says hurtful things, and sure he says things over and over again to emphasize his point. But, he is not sitting idly by. He has a sense of rebellion that I have always appreciated in kids – I sometimes wonder how many members of The Ramones or Sex Pistols were middle children?

Maybe it’s the middle child in me, but I decided to leave off #1 and #5 – sometimes, that’s the only ones people read in these lists.  I guess one of them might be something about being contrary.  So what?

 

 

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

For the Love of Humankind: A Bit of Sanity for the Overworked Parent

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Philanthropy – a word from Greek origin that translates to “ for the love of mankind”.

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

Philanthropists are generous, donating time and/or money where profit is not a motive. This idea, though still at the core of philanthropy, is evolving. Everyday people use their buying power to effect change when they support organizations that ‘give back’, are local (less environmental impact), support fair-trade, etc. I call it ‘conscious consumerism’ and you see it everywhere these days. Many businesses have it built into their philosophy where employees are paid to donate time for a cause, where corporate sponsorship, business-lead fundraising (think of 5km runs for cancer, walks for muscular dystrophy etc.) are the norm. So how does this relate to parenting?

It comes down to mindset. Who comes to mind when you think of a philanthropist? You may think of Andrew Carnegie for which Carnegie Hall in New York City is named, or Bill Gates and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Both Carnegie and Gates were wise businessmen, set on amassing fortunes often before their generous spirit was sparked. The kind of philanthropy they and many who amass millions are associated with comes with brand or name recognition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, often a name helps attract and initiates further generosity, which is great. Carnegie believed his purpose (and that of industrialists) was to first accumulate wealth and to follow that by distributing the wealth to benevolent causes. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy. Though I have certain issues with the Gates Foundation (why not make computers that don’t become obsolete is what many argue and I would agree), the Foundation does amazing work in so many fields across the globe. But what about your neighbor, who picks up two other kids from your street afterschool and looks after them, free of charge, until thier working parents come home? Take a look in the mirror. What about you?

Since working on a book on philanthropy with Gena Rotstein of Dexterity Ventures (www.dexterityventures.ca) how I look at philanthropy and the work I do as a parent has been changing. I would’ve never thought myself a philanthropist before. Sure, I’ve donated dollars to support friends and colleagues in their donation pledges and I’ve run in a number of charity runs, but that wasn’t philanthropy, or so I though. It counts of course, but in my mind that wasn’t real philanthropy. The writing I’ve been doing with Gena Rotstein has been about actualizing what philanthropy can glean from a business – asking questions, having a goal and strong vision, being accountable – these are just a few business applications that are reshaping the landscape of philanthropy and have reshaped how I began to look at parenting as a kind of philanthropy. I’m donating LOTS of time and energy to raising a decent human being – one who is courteous, mindful, respectful, brave, thoughtful, inquisitive, playful, and innovative. This is not for personal gains alone. My son is going to outlive me of course, but before that his outreach is going to extend way beyond my personal world. Am I parenting so I can boast that he has manners and gets good grades? Not at all.

When you think about, it’s not a stretch, to see that when we engage in mindful parenting (and yes, that clause is important because I don’t think it’s applicable always, like when I let the TV run, I’m not being mindful though that’s ok too), aren’t we doing so “for the love of humankind?”

I’m not suggesting anything beyond opening up our minds to what parenting is. That in those tough moments when things don’t seem to being going right, when he’s not listening, when you are pressed for time and struggling to find patience to be kind when your kid is shouting no at you and you strive to look beyond the scene playing out in front of you. Think of me. Think of your neighbours. Think of your children’s future acquaintances. Go beyond that scene, take a breath and then respond. What happens when you think, this is not about me, or him, but how can I act here, now, that will change our future interactions for the better? This is philanthropy at it’s core – generating time, a huge dose of patience to practice asking how your actions can move beyond solving the immediate to solving the immediate AND effecting change in the future. Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? You act in a way that gets you out of a bind but is also generous to everyone else around you by engaging with your child in a way that suggests accountable actions (both yours and his) in the future. It’s a pretty great investment. It’s hard to see it like that sometimes, but it’s helped me in some of those moments and I offer it here, as possibly helping you step beyond a tense scene for a great cause: for you, your child, for me. For the love of humankind.

 

*For more doses of the philanthropist mindset Kim is starting a Daily Donation on her blog WhiteSpaceBlackArt.com where you can find generous spirit motivators useful to parents and non-parents alike and information on various charities doing work in all realms of outreach that have to do with our future: children.

 

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting: Toddlers and Mini-Carts Don’t Mix

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My husband and I recently took our toddlers to a new grocery store in town. The market is known for its amazing deals on produce, impressive bulk selection, and (among the 6-and-under-crowd) for the line of shiny red pint-sized carts waiting just inside the front doors. “They are going to love this!” I said, laughing at my son’s wide eyes as he ran into the building. My husband was already busy chasing after our daughter and picking up the oranges that were rolling down the aisle in her wake and it wasn’t long before my son was also veering off course, running full steam towards the mountain of bananas. “Okay. I can do this.” I coached myself, ready to try a few of the gentle parenting ideas I’d been reading about. And then, instead of giving in to my natural impulse (shouting “no! no! NO!” and grabbing his cart away), I simply stepped between him and the tempting tower. I asked him if he could pick out one bunch of those beautiful bananas and of course he was thrilled, placing them in his cart with such pride! I was so impressed that the yell-free approach had actually worked, my heart swelled with optimism and confidence to tackle the rest of our list. 

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

If only it were so simple! The rest of the trip was a marathon of near-misses and small disasters. We suffered two early cart-tippings (Have you ever seen an avocado explode? Instant guacamole.) and entirely abandoned our search for cheese when we realized it was located right next to the looming display of fancy glass-bottled oils and vinegars. The freezer section was prime for toddler cart drag racing: the displays lit up like a runway as my little maniacs barreled down the aisle, drunk with freedom. There was a bit of a tussle as we zipped past the bulk bins (so many enticing treats just begging for a sample!) but the end was in sight: a check-out lane was just opening up and the doors to freedom (and child-restraining car seats) shone as bright beacons of hope just beyond the registers.

I tried to hype it up to my kids as I steered them toward the empty lane:  “Look guys! Now we get to put all our treasures on the shelf and buy them!” [ahem. marketer I am not.] I reached into my son’s cart and he threw himself into the wall of check-out snacks and then onto the floor, full-on meltdown mode. Screaming, crying, kicking at other customers, grabbing things off the shelves. It was intense.

So see, I’m trying to become one of those gentle parents. You know the ones. We’re all waiting patiently in line and their kid is throwing the biggest fit but they just take a deep breath and squat down nearby saying things like, “I see you’re really frustrated. You want to keep the cart, it was really fun to push. It’s time to buy our food so we have to be all done. I see you’re really upset. I have to move you so you don’t hurt anybody.” and we’re all like “Lady. Did you rehearse that monologue? Do you really think he’s even listening? How could he hear anything over that piercing scream? Drag that child to the car so we can check-out in peace. Your kid is out. of. control.”

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting. Attachment Parenting. Respectful parenting. My foray into this new-to-me parenting philosophy has come as my twins approach their second birthday, well into the frustrations of little people who possess intense desires and sub-par communication abilities. The world around them moves sometimes much too slow and sometimes much too fast and it takes a toll on their already taxed reservoirs of calm.

As their mom – an introvert who often feels out of step with the social expectations of my peers – I should be able to relate to their struggle. I should have compassion and insight and patience, understanding the miserable reality of being forced to do something you don’t want to do, especially in front of other people. Except, I don’t. I feel embarrassed. I want to crawl into a hole, drag my toddler down with me, and disappear. I feel the laser-eyes of annoyed strangers, their huffing as they move out of the way of my kid. I doubt myself and think ugly things about my children and vow never to run errands with them again.

But there I squat, trying to be calm but mostly not knowing what I’m doing. Eventually I decide it’s time to get our loud little show on the road. I leave my daughter with my husband to pay for the groceries and I head for the car, carrying my screaming son in one arm, hunched over so I can push the absurd little cart with the other. I’m about to totally lose it on him (and on my husband, just because I’ve got rage to spare and want to spew it everywhere) when some sweet grannies stop us, look me in the eye and tell me my son is darling and that he must have had so much fun with the cart, adding “poor dear” for good measure. *Poof* Rage be gone. Grannies of the world, what would we be without you?

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So it seems I’m learning less about how to be a good parent and more about how much baggage I bring into my parenting. I’m realizing that the ways I was disciplined as a child have a huge influence on how I feel about my own kids’ behavior. How much respect matters to me. How much I want to be complimented on well-behaved kids. How I hate to be the center of (negative) attention. How personal it feels when my children catapult us to center stage.

Gentle parenting involves a lot of checking in on my own motives and expectations. It requires me to keep working out my own issues and to remind myself of what I’m really working for (strong, capable, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people) and what I’m working against (my ego-protecting anger, children who behave out of fear). Gentle parenting takes the long view while being present in each moment. It empowers parents to provide helpful limits and boundaries for their child’s world while also making space for and respecting their child’s needs (emotional, physical, and developmental). I.e., I’ll let my child have a tantrum on the floor in the middle of the store because I respect his frustration and the intensity of his feelings, but I won’t let him knock over a display or ram a cart into someone’s legs. (In retrospect, I suppose I can sympathize with him. During his scream-fest all I wanted to do was throw something massive across the floor as a diversion and run out of there.)

At the end of the day, I realize I keep coming back to my discomfort at my own lack of control over my kids’ behavior. I want to minimize my own embarrassment. I want other people to be impressed with my kids. I want my kids to “get it”, to respect me and my decisions. I’m looking to them to validate me, to prove my worth as a mom. It’s a startling realization and a pretty scary place to try to parent from.

So, I’m going to start making the same plain observations about my own emotions and asking myself the same questions I ask my toddlers. A meditation of sorts, one I can dive into even crouched down in the check-out lane: “Julianne, it seems like you’re really frustrated. You thought the shopping carts would be a fun new experience for the kids. You’re feeling embarrassed about your lack of foresight. You’re feeling exhausted from running around a crowded store, hunched over a tiny cart and a screaming little person. Now he’s on the floor and you don’t know what to do. It’s okay. Breathe. You’ve got this. They trust you. You’re a good mom. You will make it to the car.”

“But, Julianne, never again, okay? Never. Again.”

Our first steps into homeschooling

Homeschool: Into The Great Wide Open

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What is the ideal learning environment for your kids?

Is it the best public school tax dollars can buy? Is it a private school that keeps you broke but your kids engaged? What about a puddle of mud, 4 sticks, and no worries of how dirty you child will get?

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If you’re a parent, then chances are, you’ve stressed about your child’s education. What teacher will my kid get? Will there be a behavior chart? What in the world will I have to deal with to pick up my kids everyday?

We all have our different take on school, that’s why there are so many options, because, let’s face it, kids learn in different ways, so experiences can be quite different, even for 2 kids at the same school.

My wife and I want our kids to have access to nature and lots of it. We want them to have a sense of wonderment attached to their learning, and we want the kids (especially my son) to be encouraged to move and play to learn, and not sit in a chair. And we wanted to see it all from our backyard. So, our answer became clear, we could homeschool, or as my wife prefers to call it: “home based learning and exploration.”

Now, I was homeschooled in high school, and I just needed to finish my reading assignment before an upcoming rerun of Chips, or complete my ethics workbook in time to watch Maury Povich (you laugh, but it’s true). So – not exactly a challenging, or inspiring atmosphere, so you can understand my slight hesitation when my wife proposed the idea of homeschool to me (“What? Why? Are you crazy?”)

But there’s nothing like coming home from work to my kids like this:

 

I am now a believer, seeing how homeschool can look.

We are only providing instruction to our kids based on their interests, so they are always enthused about learning, and any and all learning opportunities are child led. We are constantly challenging ourselves to encourage our kids to extend an idea, or use something in a different way.

As my wife and I are both educators, we understand that teaching children is never a one-size-fits-all situation, and our kids are vastly different and we try to honor that by presenting them each with provocations that learn toward their individual strengths.

For example, our son NEEDS rich sensory experiences like a duck needs water. So in our environment, we provide him with meaningful sensory experiences. Practicing scooping and measuring flour, whisking bubbles, pouring water into different containers, drawing with chalk pastels, painting, manipulating clay all meet his need for in depth tactile experiences while providing practical life applications and creative expression and problem solving. (pictures)

If you are interested in homeschooling, here are some tips:

  1. Designate an area in your home for learning (we renovated our backyard patio into a classroom, but it could be as simple as designating a corner of a dining room – a clearly defined space relaxes the children by letting them know they have a space of their own, where they can have freedom within limits.)
  2. Develop and (continue to) hone your patience. You will need it. Lots of it. Truckloads. I firmly believe that no child will test your patience like your own child; and your kids definitely know this.
  3. Refrain from answering their questions with answers. Answer questions with more questions. Shoot for open-ended questions to bring out their own ideas and their train of thought. There are no wrong answers. Google is here to stay. We are no longer teaching facts and figures to our children, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves.
  4. Plan daily instead of long term, using your observations of what they are into, and let their questions guide where you go next.
  5. Observe, observe, observe. Take notes. Look deeper. Keep asking questions of yourself and how you can better facilitate your child’s experience. This is so, so, so important and should serve as your very own individualized pedagogy for your own children’s education.
  6. Give your child lots of social opportunities. sports, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding!, ice skating!, art classes, these are very important things. Giving your children experiences of their own is important for their confidence and development. Homeschooling takes much less time of the day than traditional school giving plenty of time for unstructured play AND extracurriculars. Win!
  7. Find or create a community of likeminded parents that you can draw upon and share with. Don’t go it alone.
  8. Find experts within the community that can teach classes (authentic art classes, Spanish, etc.)
  9. Be flexible. It may not be for your kid every year. Follow their lead. I do plan on taking my son to my wonderful Pre-K school next year, if I can.  I feel like the whole child philosophy at my school and nature/nurture components are just perfectly in line with our own philosophy, so yes, I do hope to take him to my school next year, provided that is still a good fit for him.
  10. Give up the TV during school time.  Facebook too. And screens, as much as you can. Just be present for your kids.
  11. Extended recess everyday. There’s no such thing as too much outdoor time. Ever.

 

Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

School Drop-offs: Easy Peasy or Dreaded Disaster?

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Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

Transitions are hard for us.

For the past year or two, my now nearly six year old son had a hard time separating from me.  It didn’t matter if I was dropping him off with a friend or even leaving him with his dad while I went for an evening out.  There was nearly always a few minutes before I left in which he was uber clingy, whiney, and teary-eyed.  The worst, however, was when I dropped him off at school.

School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.
School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.

On good days last year, everything was fine leaving the house, on the drive in, and going into school. The closer we got to his classroom though, the slower his steps got. He got clingy and the whining started. On bad days, it started at home, with passionate pleas on how much he didn’t want to go to school. It continued on the drive in. The actual drop off was devoid of actual complaining, but instead had an onslaught of body clinging that would put an octopus to shame.  (One morning involved a full-on, writhing-on-the floor tantrum.  That was fun.  Nothing like putting your parenting skills on full display to start your day.)

I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.
I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.

Importantly, there was nothing wrong at school. His PK class was a tight knit group of friends, having been with each other since they were babies or toddlers. His teachers (and all the teachers in the school) are world class and he’s known them since he was a baby. And once he’s there (2 seconds after I leave), he has a great time. So much fun that pickup at the end of the day can be another challenge.

We had dealt with separation anxiety before — when he was much younger.  When it cropped up again, I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  Initially, we had to brute force it, with a teacher holding him while I left. No amount of distraction by other kids or activities — strategies that used to work — would make for a pleasant experience. We tried all of the usual strategies (like those found here and here).  Simply saying goodbye with a kiss & promise to see him that evening would not make things easier.  Letting him keep his taggy (or other beloved item) was a must, but not sufficient for an easy drop off. Quickly, however, we developed a goodbye ritual that almost always allowed him to separate easily.  A conveniently placed window and access to a small outside play area from his classroom allowed us to wave and blow kisses to each other after I left the building. When the weather was nice, he was allowed outside for a “fence kiss”.  To get him to the window/fence after saying goodbye, we always had a race to determine whose shoes were faster: his sneakers or my pumps/boots/flats.  (A couple of times, he let me win.)  The final piece to our drop-off puzzle was a reward.  My son earns stars for making good choices about his behavior, so easy-peasy drop-offs earned him more stars.  A quick race, a kiss through the fence, and some earned stars got us through 95% of the clingy drop-offs.

How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.
How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.

With the end of the school year and the beginning of summer camp, I was worried about changing up our process.  Rather than dropping off at his daycare, he took a bus to summer camp each day.  Transitioning each morning was still a bit of a challenge, but we established a few rituals to make it easier.  Quickly getting on the bus, waving through the window after he was on the bus, and blowing kisses as it pulled out of the parking lot was our summer ritual.  We’re making progress.

Kindergarten starts in a few weeks.  I have no idea what drop-off will entail or what rituals we will come up with.  He and I have starting talking about it a bit, prepping ourselves for the change.  I’m not so naive as to think it will be easy-peasy from the get-go.  But we’ve learned and grown a lot this past year (both of us!).  I’m optimistic that Kindergarten drop-offs will continue to get easier and easier.  When drop-offs are always easy-peasy, I know I’ll miss these days of him needing me constantly.  However, my pride at his independence and confidence will overshadow my nostalgia.

Insufficient Glandular Tissue - When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned

When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned

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This is the first of I don’t know how many posts to tell my breastfeeding story. I don’t know if it’s that long or if it is going to take me that long to get it all out and emotionally relive it all again.

Insufficient Glandular Tissue - When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned

When my first was born, I had no idea of the learning curve that comes with breastfeeding. Babies can cry a lot when rooting and trying to latch. The latch. The frustrating, seemingly never ending, unbelievably rewarding latch. I thought he would swim to my boob and lay there happily. Um no. He was MOST irritated and he didn’t even have the chapped nipples to prove it. A friend of mine (who is also a doula) said to me “this is normal” after observing me giving two day old babe a breakfast meal. Or at least I thought I was giving two day old babe a breakfast meal. It was more like a 100 calorie snack. As far as everything looked, though, I was right on track to exclusively breastfeeding.

If I had a dozen babies I believe that every single one would be inflicted with jaundice. On day three we had to turn around and rush baby boy back to the NICU after a follow-up blood test proved his levels were elevated. Our new family bubble of bliss had been popped. Nothing and no one would get us back to that warm feeling we had felt just hours before.

Breastfeeding

A huge blessing for us was being allowed to room in for our son’s brief stay. Every 3 hours I was allowed to offer him my breast for 10 minutes followed by a long cycle at the breast pump. I was feeling really terrible with a cough and I hadn’t slept since I first went into labor. I initially attributed my low milk supply to lack of sleep, feeling under the weather, and our new “home.” Anything, but my broken breasts.

Lactation consultants would say to me “sometimes it just doesn’t happen…” with lingering looks toward the door. One “sweet” lady in particular said something that hit a nerve and has stuck with me since my first child, but only clicked with my second. “You don’t have the right breasts for breastfeeding,” she said. Immediately my loyal sister piped up “she has similar breasts as mine and I was able to breastfeed all three of my babies.” Her quip gave me a little bit of hope but I was also internally digesting this statement, comparing her breasts to mine, sixth grade thoughts all over again. Although our breasts are similar, they aren’t identical. And what I’ve learned is; even if our breasts appeared identical that wouldn’t necessarily mean we would both be able to exclusively breastfeed our babies. Some breasts just don’t produce (enough) milk but I didn’t learn this until years later.

After our return from the NICU I was supplementing with formula because otherwise he would have been a very hungry hippo.

(There is photographic evidence of this, that I was THIS CLOSE to posting, of me naked from the waist up, my head wrapped up in a towel with the supplemental feeding system clipped to it and the baby boy trying like heck to get a decent meal. My husband ran interference with this and rightfully so, by asking me if I was OK with the “POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A MEME?”)

I was told by people and the internet that THIS (formula feeding) was the reason I wasn’t producing more milk, even though I was pumping after every feeding, sometimes for 30 minutes.
To make matters worse, when I was five weeks into life with our first I was diagnosed with pneumonia. The pneumonia would be my latest excuse for my low supply. The toll it took on me was devastating. I ended up spending a number of days in the hospital, all the while continuously pumping on a regular schedule. I was pumping around the clock and for such long times I’m surprised my nipples even survived. Because of very heavy drugs, I had to pump and dump.

Breast Feeding Blues
Photo Credit: www.someecards.com

I was a complete mess. A woman crying while pumping both breasts to the rhythmic beat of the Medela “Pump in Style” has got to be one of the saddest sights ever. My dear husband was there all the while with all the right things to say and even then I COULD NOT GET OVER THE SADNESS. I had a healthy baby boy (that I couldn’t breastfeed.) I had a beautiful baby boy (that I couldn’t breastfeed.) I had to give him formula?

During my pregnancy the idea of feeding my baby formula was so far from my mind. I would have turned up my nose if you told me it would become our lives. He needed that Enfamil to thrive and survive. HE COULDN’T get what he needed from me. This was a big, scratchy, debilitating pill to swallow.

To be continued…

 

The Procrastinator's Guide to the End of the Summer

The Procrastinator’s Guide to the End of Summer

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When school ended and summer stretched out endlessly before me, I had a vision of how my family would wind down our summer.

The Procrastinator's Guide to the End of the Summer

Two weeks before we started school, we would strictly adhere to my boys’ 8 o’clock bedtime. A week before starting classes, we would resume our 6 a.m. wake-up schedule. I even considered instituting a 15 minute “homework” time in the early afternoon, so that the transition between complete freedom and structure wouldn’t be so jarring. Then, August came a little sooner than I expected.
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We decided to spend our last days of summer in the Canyonlands of northwest Texas. For the past 20 years, the area has experienced intermittent drought. With only 7 inches of rain, 2011 was the driest year in recorded history. A local friend told me they were only 20 years into a 40 year dry cycle. Others began to talk about the desertification of the southwest. The dependable creek, where I spent my youth fishing, went dry–a cracked and hollow ghost of its former self. This year, however, El Niño brought spring and summer rains. The yellowed grass ran green against the pink canyon walls. Sunflowers, blue spiderwort, yellow evening-primrose, canyon tea, buffalo grass, Russian thistles, and yucca filled the canyon floor. The area teemed with wildlife. We saw mule deer, frogs, grasshoppers, cottontail rabbits, and evidence of raccoons, pack rats, and skunks. There were even reported sightings of beavers in the creek. My kids fished, swam and wandered into the “wilderness” alone, a luxury they do not have in the city. We had campfires and s’mores and dinner parties with friends. My children made homes for grasshoppers and minnows. They collected sherds of Native American pottery and flint from a dirt road leading up to the rim of the canyon.
Deer - Summer time

In this unpredictable space, we don’t know many things. On our walks, we don’t know if we’ll see deer, lightning bugs, rabbits, or a snake. The children peeking under rocks could find a toad, a black widow, a lizard or a centipede. Next year could bring rain with full creeks and springs, but it could also bring more drought, more dryness, yellowed land, and parched earth. The only certainty we have is how beautiful our surroundings are now. While we know that school will begin in one week, the need to plan, to worry, and to prepare becomes eclipsed by our desire to appreciate nature. We watch the green herons skim across the creek to catch perch or catfish. The Mississippi Kites circle high above the canyon without any indication of their future migration to South America. We also swim, canoe, catch minnows and bugs, savoring our last few days in the canyon without a hint of our own trajectory south, or the world that we ordinarily inhabit with bedtimes and order, traffic and schedules, and our own carefully constructed routine.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

It’s More Like “Girl Crash!”

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Yesterday my daughters, ages 6 and 11, and I were driving down the road on our way to a doctor’s appointment about 50 miles away. I flipped through radio stations on the way, stopping when something met our fancy. At one point I landed on a station and heard an unfamiliar melody sung by a smooth female voice. I stopped and listened.

Frequently I can listen to an entire song and focus so intently on the music, the voice, or the harmony line that I completely miss the lyrics. For whatever reason, this time I caught the words.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

The song was Girl Crush, and I suppose I was somewhere in the middle of the second verse when I clued in to the fact that this song was about Girl A who envied Girl B because Girl B was with a boy that Girl A wanted. I think I had just gotten to the following part.

“I want to drown myself

In a bottle of her perfume.

I want her long blonde hair.

I want her magic touch.

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then

You’d want me just as much.”

I’d like to say something really intelligent and insightful came out of my mouth at this point, but that would be a lie. Instead I blurted, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” and clicked to a different station. Then the 11 year old voice in the back seat said, “No kidding! I was thinking the same thing.”

Whoa, I didn’t realize she’d been listening, taking all of that nonsense in. The immediate image that came to mind was of the Sirens. You know, the sultry crooning mythological creatures who lure you with their sweet song until you’re shipwrecked on their island and you meet your ultimate demise. We were lulled by a pretty song and drifted lazily along until we snapped to and saw the sharp rocks ahead.

                        “I got it real bad,

                        Want everything she has…

                        I don’t get no sleep.

                        I don’t get no peace.”

 

No! No! No! Hell to the nah!

I’ve got an eleven year old girl in the backseat. She starts junior high next year. I don’t want her drowning herself in anything, much less some other girl’s identity. My mind started racing, processing all the things that were wrong with this picture.

I want my daughters to be able to admire and respect other people without desiring to become them. It’s a good thing to be able to appreciate another person’s talent or beauty, but recognizing that another person has some positive attributes should happen in conjunction with recognizing your own talent and beauty. “They have it all, and I have nothing” is a messed up equation. It’s not balanced and we aren’t studying that kind of math. The idea of shape shifting into someone else’s image so you can be “good enough” or “acceptable” is not where we want to go.

Not to mention, the attributes that are touted as desirable for adoption in the song all had to do with physical appearance or sexual prowess. And, the tone of the whole darn thing was acquisitional. (i.e. “How can I acquire her long blonde hair, her magic touch, her whisper, so the guy will want to acquire me?”)

Yuck! I don’t want my daughters to view themselves as a commodity to be marketed. Likewise, I don’t want them to buy in to some caricature of masculinity that suggests men only chase blondes with magic fingers and throaty whispers.

I get that the song probably wasn’t written with an 11-year-old audience in mind, but that song wafted through the speakers of my Kia Sorento carried on the waves of a Top-40 station. I guarantee when she walks into junior high in a few weeks, 90% of the 6th grade will have heard it. I wondered just how far the song had burrowed into her brain, so this morning I asked her if she remembered the song we heard on the radio yesterday. Her response: “You mean the one about the girl wanting to drown herself in some other girl’s perfume and steal her blonde hair?”

            Yep, that’s the one.

So, here’s what we’re gonna do. My husband and I can’t shield her from the reality that our society depicts and encourages images of people and relationships that we find to be inaccurate and unhealthy. We can use some of society’s distortion as a starting point for a conversation in which we share our perceptions about healthy women and men. We can ask questions about the underlying assumptions that would inspire a person to create a song like that, and then we can share our foundational beliefs about people’s worth and identity.

My hope is that conversations like this when my daughter is 11 will prevent her from polluting the airwaves with songs like this when she’s a young adult.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Reluctant or Rejoicing: A New School Year Begins

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As the new school year approaches, there are a myriad of feeling swirling about for both parents and kids. Many kids are thrilled to back to school shop, break out the new backpack and head off for a grand new adventure in their new grade. On the flip side, some students are anxious about their upcoming school year. These kids might have anxiety, or be at a new school, or just struggling this year.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Here are some tips to help start the school year off right no matter how your child is feeling.

Rejoicing Students:

1. Help them start off organized with folders, and new supplies.

2. Talk with them about what they are most excited about as school approaches.

3. Talk with them about what they can do if their feelings change. (Like when they learn their best friend is in a different class, or they did not get the teacher they wanted, etc…)

4. Celebrate the beginning of the school year with a fun breakfast!

5. After the first day have them share out what they liked best! Some kids might like to draw or write about their day as well. A new journal might be just the ticket!

Reluctant Students:

1. Talk about the things that are making them worry. Are their things that can be done to minimize these feelings? Talking to the new teacher? Touching base with the school counselor? A good friend?

2. Go through the morning routines before school starts. Practice what the morning will look like and what the kid will need to do so there are fewer surprises. For some students, a picture schedule may help.

3. Celebrate the new school year with a special breakfast. For some students their favorite or “regular” breakfast will be a source of comfort.

4. Help the student know what each item of school supplies are used for. Sometimes they will need practice putting items in folders, using parts of backpacks etc. Model with items at home so they have a better idea how to stay organized. For those student that struggle with executive function, or focus, this will be an ongoing lesson.

5. Talk about the positive things that will be happening at school. This could be a good friend to play with, a familiar routine, teachers they know, or fun events that happen at school.

Back-To-School

The most difficult part may be to gauge what category your child falls into because it may change day to day or minute to minute. Talking to the teacher or school staff if your child is really reluctant may help so they can have a heads up and try to quickly get your student involved as they enter the building. If you have more than one child the struggle may be to keep the rejoicing student from overwhelming the reluctant student OR it may be keeping the reluctant student from stealing the joy from the rejoicing student.

Good Luck on a brand new school year! Celebrate each small joy, small victory and focus on the positive. This will help all of the students in your life!

How do I know it is time to wean?

On Breastfeeding, Bonding and Weaning

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I’m eating cold chicken fried rice from a takeout container in the light of the fridge; door left open with me staring into the shelves like some culinary masterpiece will present itself. It’s almost midnight and I’ve just been lying on the grass outside with a dear old friend who is visiting from Israel. I get to see her once a year, her arrival marked in the calendar as soon as she books her flight. Tonight was just about us – I left my two-year-old at home with papa for the routine of bath, books and bed. I was free from that and free from the more-usual-than-not back and forth my son and I have over breastfeeding.

How do I know it is time to wean?

Like teenagers, my friend and I lay in the grass watching the clouds pass overhead, stars twinkling above us, not a care in the world. Since we both have children this is far from our reality. We care, about so many, too many little things. Tonight thought, was soul nourishing – conversation that had nothing to do with diapers and education and the potentially controversial topic of my breasts still being used to nourish and soothe my son.

I feel aligned with photographer Jade Bell, in her strength in allowing the relationship with her son prevail over anything else. I tell myself that my son and I will be done with the “booboo” routine by the age of three and the pictures of Jade nursing her 3 year old son don’t confirm or change this thought, I’m simply thinking (as perhaps Jade did too) that for sure by then the dance will end.

Days can pass without nursing my son. We get through bedtime without him asking, he cries and he’s comforted simply with a hug. But just when I think we are done with it for good, he asks for it. I rationalize. I debate. I suggest alternatives to him but so far, I’ve continued to concede to the desire of my 25-month old. Some days I love it. Some nights, it drives me mad with rage that he’s asking. Shouldn’t this be done by now? I want my breasts back! Am I preventing independence by indulging him?

Weaning comes with variances and styles. Phase the breast out, offer milk. Have someone else do the nighttime routines. Just stop. The first day will be hell, really hell, but by day three you’ll be laughing. Go away for a few nights – he won’t want it when you return.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what the ‘right’ method is and I’ve come to this: I will only know when I know. When I’m either too tired or mad by the idea of breastfeeding or when I do take that 48-hour self-care reprieve I so desire, it will end. Some may argue that it’s laziness or co-dependent to let our breastfeeding routine continue and the truth is it’s personal and quite frankly, nobody’s business. It’s not ‘right’ to wean at 3 months or 6 or 12 or 18 months. It’s not ‘wrong’ to be breastfeeding a child at three. The more I’ve had to sit with this, this who-knows from one day to the next if he’ll ask, the more I’ve actually let go of any rules I read about parenting and really tuned into the personal needs of my son. He will succeed at potty training when he does. He moved into a bed from a crib easily at 18 months. Some days he likes broccoli, most days he does not. I’m not being entirely indulgent with him. We talk about it ending; I think he understands that it’s winding down. Like Jade Bell I don’t breastfeed in public anymore, it’s just not something I want to do.

I also understand that he’s my little guy, and he doesn’t take a soother or suck his thumb and maybe this is just our little thing, our gift of lingering in the tender skin on skin moments that trace back to his first breathe in this world. I feel lucky (and a bit surprised) that I’ve been able to continue to breastfeed.

After I finished eating cold take out I stayed up and wrote until 1am. The alarm went off at 5am in my bedroom, my son coming to cuddle shortly after that. The visit with my distant girlfriend is so cherished, lying on the grass that evening even more so. I won’t forget it for a long time – it was so freeing to lie there, late as it was. Admitting to being famished afterward and standing in front of the fridge simple means I’m human. I feel similarly about breastfeeding – me eating cold take one night and me ‘extended breastfeeding’ my son is so very private, and makes me neither a terrible or grand person. My son will one day know when he’s done, I trust that with our continued discussions and his emotional growth, it will one day be like watching the clouds pass over the stars and the feeling of grass on my back on a warm July day – an image that brings happiness. Ruminations of bonding with my son. Tender and loving. I won’t remember the exact day he stops nursing, unless I mark it down, and I doubt I will. That’s too methodical. I’d rather mark the milestones of growth with sweet nights that pass into memory with fondness.