Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Do We Tell the Children?



There are so many bad things happening in our world. And as an avid NPR listener—when in the car (don’t worry, I let my kids listen to Casper Babypants, and BNL Kids, and Rocknocerous too, but Mama’s gotta get her news fix somewhere!)—my kids hear about them. I’m a Social Worker by profession and I’m not one to shy away from a tough conversation with my kids.  And as my oldest gets older (he’s 5 now), those tough conversations have been getting a lot tougher. I’ve spent my career talking to kids who are dying (and their loved ones) about death. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.   But having these sometimes very sad conversations with my own kid is really hard.
So, what do we tell our kids when they hear about a mass shooting, with racism at its core, in South Carolina, or about another shooting in a movie theater/school/church/pick your place, or about an ISIS attack in Syria or Iraq, or about a family who got evicted because they couldn’t pay rent? Sad, scary, devastating stories about our town, country, or world are not things we should hide from our children. Instead, we can take an opportunity to talk to our children in an honest, caring, open way that I hope will help prevent many of these tragedies from occurring in the future. My hope is that my children won’t have to have as many of these tough conversations with their own kids.
When my son heard the reporter on NPR say, “9 people were gunned down by a 21 year-old in a South Carolina church,” the conversation went something like this.

Ryan: Mama, what did he say? What is gunned down?
Me: It means that one bad guy shot 9 people with a gun.
Ryan: Did they die?
Me: Yes, they did.
Ryan: Why did he do that?
Me: Because he was a very bad person. He wasn’t taught how to love people the way we do.
Ryan: Why did he want to hurt them?
Me: Sometimes, bad people think it’s ok to hate other people just because they are different. And we know that’s not ok.
Ryan: What was different about them?
Me: Well, the bad man who shot them had light colored skin like you and I have. And the people he shot had brown skin.
Ryan: He shot them because their skin was a different color?
Me: Yes, he did.
Ryan: That’s silly.
Me: Yes, it is very silly. It’s terrible…and very, very sad.
(long silence......)
Ryan: Mama,  are there bad guys like that near here?
Me: Maybe. But we are very lucky. We live in a very safe town, and the police, and all the other good guys do everything they can to keep us safe from any bad guys.

And that’s where it ended this time. He’s getting older, and one day I know the follow-up question will be, “But Mama, what if the bad guy near here had a gun and still was able to hurt people? What if they hurt us? Or someone we know?” And I would say, “That would be terrible. And we would all be scared and sad. But we would also all work together to help the people who were hurt. And we would then do everything we could to try and make sure it never happens again.” As he gets older, I’ll explain that it’s our responsibility to do what we can NOW. No one should wait until the next tragedy is in their backyard.

 Here are some general guidelines I use when talking with my kids, or other kids about really tough subjects:

1.     Be Honest:
Kids are smart and intuitive. They can easily tell when you’re not being truthful or are trying to hide things from them. And hiding things from kids only makes them feel more anxious and worried. Children have very vivid imaginations. If they feel that something is being kept from them they may imagine things are much worse than they really are. The truth is scary. But not knowing what to believe or who to trust is scarier.

2.       Give Information In Tidbits
In the conversation I had with my son about what happened in South Carolina you can see that I fed him little bits of information at a time. I let him ask lots of follow-up questions. I let him voice the questions that mattered to him. Sometimes, we can give kids too much information and overwhelm them. If we spit out too much information too quickly, we might cause them to worry about things that they haven’t even begun to understand, much less worry about. So, follow your child’s lead. Answer the questions they ask one step at a time.

3.       Don’t be afraid to show emotions
Not showing our honest emotions is akin to not telling the truth. And as I said, above, kids are intuitive. They know when we’re hiding something. When kids can sense that they aren’t being given the whole picture—and they can sense this at a very young age (a fascinating study on this topic was just recently published, you can read about it here)— they grow anxious and distrusting.  If we don’t let kids see us cry, or show anger or frustration, then they will think that doing so is wrong. Hiding our feelings teaches our kids to hide their feelings. Showing our emotions teaches kids that it’s ok to show theirs too.

4.       Give them hope
As grown-ups we all look for the positives in tragic situations. Not doing so leaves us feeling hopeless and paralyzed by fear. Children too, need that glimmer of hope. Mr. Roger’s quote (above) about looking for the helpers is one of my favorites. It can be used in many situations and circumstances. Develop the habit in yourself of looking for the helpers so that your children learn how to find hope in the most tragic situations.


5.       Keep the lines of communication open
One of the best things we can do as parents for our children is to assure them that we are always available to talk, that no topic is off limits, and that they can trust us with the really hard stuff. If we don’t talk openly, easily, and honestly with our children on a daily basis, then they won’t seek us out in scary, sad, and difficult times. Helping our kids understand, process, cope, survive, and thrive after a tragedy is not something achieved only in times of tragedy. We work toward it every single day. The way you communicate with your children and with the people you love teaches your children how to communicate with you, with the people they love, and the people they encounter on a daily basis. As Gandhi so wisely instructed us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and begin with your children. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

From One to Three

Being the mom to three young kids ages 5 and under, I often find myself reflecting on how different my parenting is now with my 3rd than it was with my 1st. So, here are 5 of the most glaring differences between my first-time-mom self and my seasoned third-time-mom status.

1.    The Diaper Blowout:

FIRST KID: Carefully remove the shirt, trying desperately not to get poop on his face or in his hair, even though it's unavoidable. Promptly give baby a full bath. Scrub the shirt to remove stain from oh-so-stainable infant poop. Soak shirt in Oxyclean for 12 hours, then wash. 

SECOND KID: Remove shirt as carefully as possible knowing he's going to get poop on him. Give him a good clean up with a few wipes. Toss shirt in the laundry and hope the stains come out.

THIRD KID: Cut shirt off with scissors and toss in trash. Change non-poop-covered baby. He's as good as new!
(Only recently did that whole “oh! The collars on Onesies are like that so you can roll the shirt down instead of take it over their head” thing go viral. So, yeah, I had no idea about that….but, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. I’d still be throwing Onesies away at this point.)

2.    Books I’ve read about “How To Get the Baby to Sleep.”

FIRST KID: Allllllll of them. Every. Single. Freakin’. One.

SECOND KID: The one my Sister-in-law swears worked miracles for her son.

THIRD KID: None. And I threw away all the other ones I read before with the other two. Nope, I wouldn’t even donate them. No parent out there needs to worry that much about their kid’s sleep.
(To be clear, this change is not because I became some “master of getting my kids to sleep” by reading all those books. Noooooo, definitely not. I just don’t care anymore. I’ve accepted the fact that my children do not sleep through the night until at least 14 months, and I am OK with that).

3.    People who have seen my boobs (while nursing):

FIRST KID: The baby. My husband. Maaaaaaybe my mom.

SECOND KID: The baby. My husband. My older son. Definitely my mom, probably my sisters-in-law.

THIRD KID: The baby, my husband, my two older kids, my mom, my sisters-in-law, my dad, the pediatrician, the UPS guy, the old lady who came up to talk to us while my older two were feeding the ducks, the numerous guys at the construction site we frequent daily to watch the trucks, the nice woman in the coffee shop at the train station (that we also frequent daily to watch the trains), and maaaaaybe my brothers (but probably not. Some things will always just be weird).

4.    Questions I have for the Pediatrician at well visits:

FIRST KID: Soooooooo many. And they were typed out, on a neat list, that I printed the night before. I brought two copies. One that had been neatly glued in my “Baby’s 1st year” notebook so that I could take notes, and one so that the pediatrician could have a copy, because clearly, he needed a copy of my questions.

SECOND KID: None.

THIRD KID: Lots. But they are all about my oldest. I’ve done this baby stuff before. But I’ve never done this 5 year-old stuff before! I’m still a “first time Mom” to him. Basically, well visits for the baby are just an opportunity to get the advice of a doctor I have grown to love and respect tremendously over the years. I might need to keep having kids just so I can have regular advice sessions with him. I mean seriously, when my youngest is 2 am I really expected to go an ENTIRE year without the reassurance he provides that I’m not completely screwing up my kids?

5.    Visits to the Pediatrician outside of Well-visits during the first year:

FIRST KID: None. Seriously, I thought I was a freaking rock star! I mean, not one ear infection, not one stomach bug, not one case of pink eye! I was mom of the year! Clearly, my kid’s awesome health was because I was DOING IT ALL RIGHT!

SECOND KID: 37. Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but it felt like that. My oldest still never gets sick. My second gets a fever if you look at him crooked and has an uncanny ability to catch every cold in a 20 mile radius. They were both breastfed. Don’t let anyone tell you your kid does or doesn’t get sick because of the breast or the bottle. Some just don’t. And some do. And some get the benefit of an older sibling who shares allllll the germs.

THIRD KID: None. We’re only at month 8. But so far, no “sick” visits. But this isn’t because he hasn’t been sick. For the first 4 months of his life I felt like he had a constant cold. But my threshold for concern is much lower. (That visit to the ER doesn’t count, right?)


Whether you’re a first time, a third time, or a sixteenth time mom, this parenting thing has a constant and steep learning curve. Don’t be too hard on yourself no matter where you are on that curve. Some days it is easier. Some days it feels endless. But chances are, you’re doing just fine. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The First of Many Graduations

Dear Ryan,

About 2 weeks ago you graduated from Preschool, Crofton Nursery School (CNS) to be exact. It was a wonderful little school with lots of parent involvement, and Daddy and I got to watch you blossom from a little boy who cried every day for the first three weeks of school during your "3s" year to a boy who bounded out of the car with such excitement each day of your "4s" year that you often forgot to toss a hurried "I love you, too!" my way as you headed out of the car and into your beloved school.



CNS was a place where you learned to love school. And that is all I wanted from your preschool experience. Yes, you made friends, and grew to understand the "social norms" of a classroom setting, and you learned about numbers, and bugs, and letters, and colors, and patterns, and experimenting, and fun. But mostly, you just loved going there, and that's all that mattered to me.



At your preschool graduation I saw so many moms who were teary, and emotional, and a little sad to see their sweet babies growing up. And I  totally get that. Really, I do. I look back at your newborn pictures and wonder where the heck the past 5 years have gone. But most of all, as I sat at your preschool graduation, watching you sing songs with enthusiasm, watching you do all the hand motions with precision, and watching you wink at me occasionally when you knew you were singing one of my favorite songs, the thing I was most thinking about is how every excited I am for you. This was just your first school experience...The first of many graduations to come. So much more lies ahead of you. I know you will thrive in school. You are inquisitive, eager, excited, determined, and kind. Every time I read a non-fiction book with you, either about trains, or trucks, or most recently about volcanoes I just love how you absorb every detail of information. You take it in. You swish it around in your brain for a bit, and then a few minutes, hours, or days later you come back with wonderful questions that show how you've assimilated all the information and are working to make even more sense of it all.



And so, instead of being sad that you're growing up (though, I'm not gonna lie, I still can't believe you're such a boy and not a baby anymore) I am just so thrilled that you are coming up on a point in your life where you will really take off, and develop new interests, and learn new skills, and explore talents you didn't even know you had. You're gonna do great, sweet boy. Kindergarten is going to be amazing!

Until then, let's enjoy this summer and soak in as much fun as we can. Because while I am soooo excited for you to begin "big kid" school, I can NOT believe that in a few short months you will spend the majority of every day not with me. I'm going to miss you! But I will so look forward to your stories when you come home (because really, you better not pull that whole "How was your day? Good. What did you do? Nothing. BS that I (and every other kid ever) has pulled on their parents. I want details, little man. I want to hear all about the new worlds opening up to you! You'll be the pilot, please take me along for the ride!



I love you, more than you'll ever know!

Always,

Mama

Monday, June 1, 2015

Connor Matthew: 8 Months


Dear Connor,

You turned 8 months old the other day. (Yes, I am a few days late in writing this. I am actually writing it on June 5th, even though I will date stamp it as June 1st so that when you're older and looking for these posts you can easily find them).

You've been very busy this month! On May 6th you and I were on the local news talking about your birth, and once again advocating for Family Centered C-sections. The video of our television debut can be seen here: http://www.abc2news.com/news/in-focus/mother-advocates-for-family-centered-c-sections
(I often wonder if 5, 10, 15 years from now these news stories will still be there....I hope so!)

Other than being on TV you've also been accomplishing a lot at home. You are desperate to be able to move around. And despite the fact that you are so close to being able to crawl you generally get frustrated with trying and prefer to pull yourself up on anything and everything you can. You get soooo excited when you stand up and you just giggle and bounce whenever you're standing up straight holding onto something by yourself.


I have a feeling you will be an early walker like your big brothers were. But honestly, I'm ok with you staying immobile for quite a while longer. Life will change for all of us when you are truly mobile! Ryan and Zach won't know what to do with you and you might not be in their perpetual good graces any longer once you can move around and take their stuff. Daddy and I will have to watch you like a hawk because you already somehow manage to get into a lot of trouble even though you can't really move on your own yet!


In addition to trying to get up and about and take on the world, you've also made huge strides in eating. You recently learned how to suck on a straw and out of a baby food pouch. So, you now drink from a sippy cup and you have increased your food intake dramatically. (And yes, you eat mostly baby food pouches...but! They're all organic! I know I made almost all of Ryan's baby food and most of Zach's. I'm sorry that so far I have made exactly none of yours. But, between raising three kids and selling our house life hasn't left time to make baby food. But I promise, you're no worse for the wear!) You also love Cheerios, puffs, strawberries (that you eat whole and suck on/mash with your gums), whole wheat waffles, peanut butter, mandarin oranges, roasted carrots cut into small pieces, Greek yogurt, and whatever little morsels of food your brothers sneak you from their plates. You love sitting in your high chair when the whole family joins you. But you get sad when you're the only one sitting there. 



Just yesterday (June 4th) your first, front, bottom (right) tooth popped through. Consequently, you have been waking more at night than is typical for you. But to be honest, I have no idea how much you wake on a typical night. Usually you just co-sleep with me and when you want to nurse, you do, and I go back to sleep. I stopped trying to "sleep train" my kiddos after Ryan. I've realized that you will eventually sleep through the night. And the battle to get you to do it before you're really ready is too stressful for anyone at all. So, until then, Daddy and I are enjoying your baby snuggles. 



You continue to be an absolute JOY. You have an infectious giggle that practically brings tears to my eyes when I hear it because I'm just so. darn. happy. anytime I hear it. You give shy, sheepish smiles to strangers who say hello to you in the grocery store and you make those people smile too. Speaking of grocery stores, you rode in the cart for the first time the other day and you LOVED it. You smiled and giggled the entire time we were there. Lots of people smiled as you road by. You bring a lot of joy, to a lot of people sweet Connor and we are so very, very happy that you're a part of our family. 
A lot is going to change between now and your next month-day. We just got a contract on this house we currently live in. The people buying it want to settle on July 9th. Its crazy to think that we will be leaving this house, the only house that you, Zachary, and Ryan have ever known in about 30 days. Its very emotional. We are so very, very excited to move into our new beautiful home (once its built) but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to how sad it is to know you (and probably Zach too) will never remember this house, your first house....OUR first house. Its driven us crazy at times, but its been a good house. So, if I don't manage to write a 9 month post, please forgive me.

Happy 8-month-day, sweet boy! I love you more than you will ever know!

Always, 

Mommy