Justin, Junior

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It Could Be Worse, I Guess...

...and, conversely, of course, it could be better, too.

Hello, Mother!
  One evening in March, as I was drying my son off after his bath, he did this weird eye thing, where he deliberately blinked and then rolled his eyes back into his head. He did it twice. I thought it was weird, but hey, my kid’s weird, and I honestly thought maybe he had gotten water in his eyes. And then, a few days later, he did it again. And as dumb as it seems, in retrospect, I thought, “Nerd. He’s discovered how to roll his eyes.”

But then he did it a third time. He was playing with a push toy - you know, the really annoying one that has all those plastic balls in it and makes that impossibly loud popping sound. He was pushing it around, and then he stopped, blinked his eyes once, very deliberately, and then his eyes rolled back into his head again. He repeated this three more times, and I called his father, and then his pediatrician.

His pediatrician referred us to a pediatric neurologist, and we had to wait more than a month to see him. The appointment was brief, and pretty harsh: Epilepsy.

I have spent the past month telling myself that I was probably going to hear that. And that I would be okay with it. That most kids outgrow epilepsy (in fact, the neurologist informed me that 80% of kids outgrow epilepsy when it manifests at this young of an age). That, as far as epilepsy goes, this whole blinking-eye-roll thing is pretty mild. He doesn’t convulse. He doesn’t asphyxiate or turn blue.

But…it was still hard not to cry when the neurologist said it.

Of course, as the doctor was questioning me about family medical history in general and Junior’s medical history in particular - for example, things like had my son ever had a head injury - Junior was walking around, banging his head against anything and everything. For whatever reason, he seemed to have forgotten how to duck, and insisted on trying to walk underneath the sink multiple times, hitting his head with each attempt, and I’m thinking, My God, how often does he hit his head?

“No, Doctor. No head injury.” Bang. Jesus.

So we have an MRI scheduled for the 10th, to “rule out any underlying brain abnormalities” that may be causing this. If there were ever words calculated to scare the hell out of any parent, those would be towards the top of the list. Of course, his development has been normal and the doctor said it was pretty routine…

But nothing about this seems routine to me. My baby has to be sedated for this procedure. I hate sedation. I’m confused and incredibly nauseated when I come out of it. I don’t want my boy to have to go through that. I don’t want there to be one minute where he’s left without me, surrounded by people he doesn’t know and bright lights and the thought of him being scared for even one instant upsets me far worse than the diagnosis of epilepsy does.

The reasonable part of me knows he’s going to be fine. He’s a healthy little boy, and surely if there were underlying brain abnormalities or damage, then I would know about it. He is smart and active and he is with me all the time.  I'm his mom.  I would know.  The fact that these seizures (there, I did it - I used the “S” word instead of referring to them as “episodes,” which is what I have been doing these past months) are triggered only when he is tired (they always happen before nap or bedtime) points strongly in the direction of epilepsy rather than anything else.

And the reasonable part of me also says that epilepsy is no big deal. We can handle it. Of course, we can handle it. Even if we couldn’t handle it, we would damn well find a way to handle it. That’s what parents do. This isn’t life altering. It’s a matter of keeping him off of stairs and away from swimming pools and playground equipment when he’s tired, so that if he seizes, he won’t get hurt. It’s a matter of learning what to do if the seizures ever do escalate. It’s five more minutes of instruction before leaving him with a sitter. When the neurologist asked how I felt about medicating him, I declined without hesitation. At this point, I feel that treating this with medication is far more detrimental than the seizures. So, he blinks weird and rolls his eyes funny and just sort of checks out for 10 to 15 seconds sometimes when he’s tired. It’s no big deal.

But oh, that mom part of me, that bone-deep, protective, howling mom-part of me feels like this is a big deal. I’m the mom who thinks a damn stomach bug is a big deal. This is my baby, my little boy, I would straight punch someone in the face for looking at him wrong, I would give him my heart if he needed it. I let him have the last M & M, the only Oreo, the final bite of ice cream every time, and his brain is misfiring on some level and I’m his mom and I can’t fix it. Why the fuck didn’t I become a neurologist? His neurologist has weird hair and cowboy boots. I have weird hair and cowboy boots. I should have become a neurologist.

OK. Mom freak-out complete. Moving on.

So, that’s where we’re at right now. MRI first, and when that comes back normal (because it will, because it has to), we’ll be scheduled for an EEG, where they’ll use some different techniques (flashing lights, hyperventilation) in order to try to induce a seizure so the neurologist can try to see what type of epilepsy Junior may have. And then…that’s it.

Writing this has actually made me feel better. There are things much worse and much scarier than epilepsy. And in all honesty, Junior has had cases of diarrhea that has had more of a profound impact on our daily life than his seizures do. I’m back to where I was a month ago, when I realized that the testing is more worrisome than the actual diagnosis. After all, there’s no learning how to “handle” his seizures - we’re already handling them. I will continue to do what I’ve been doing: trying to minimize his trigger, which, at this point, simply seems to be sleepiness. Easy enough…Lord knows we love naptime in the Kilgore household.

And I will get my little guy through these stupid tests with plenty of hugs and songs and kisses and maybe a vanilla ice cream cone from Sonic. And my husband will get me through these stupid tests with plenty of hugs and songs and kisses and maybe a vanilla ice cream cone from Sonic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons from my Dad

My Justins...
My dad was awesome. He was the kind of guy that could fix anything, even if he had never seen it before. If something exploded, imploded, shattered or collapsed - no problem. Dad would fix it (and on the off-chance he couldn't, he’d buy you a new one). He was good at every sport, faster and stronger than any other guy (even your dad), a gifted artist, oblivious of any wrongdoing on the part of his offspring (the way a good dad should be), a firm believer in never starting a fight but never being afraid to fight back, a champion of the underdog (and all dogs loved him). He had served his country as a paratrooper for the United States Army during Vietnam and had a great respect for others who chose to serve (as long as it wasn’t one of his kids and you didn't brag about it too much). He thought pregnant women were beautiful, and babies miraculous…and he would answer any question truthfully, as long as it didn’t have anything to do with sex. He worked hard and gave us everything, and never needed anything for himself.

It’s pretty safe to say that my brothers, sister and I all adored him. Dad taught us so many things - how to draw a hand, check your oil, make potato pancakes and how to nail a five-rail bank shot. He also taught us how unassuming and normal a hero can be, and how bravery is quiet.

He died of cancer in February of 2005. No one understands the devastation of losing a parent except those who have lost a parent. I don’t have the words to describe even the surface of pain and bewilderment you feel when you face the world fatherless (or motherless) for the first time, and realize that you have to face the world that way for the rest of your life. It sucks. Immensely.

But time really does pass, and softens the harsh edges of grief, and tempers the terror and anger and sorrow with distance. We all still cry sometimes when we talk about him, but it’s a different kind of sorrow - a “remember-when,” kinder, more mellow kind of grief, the type of tears that you can also smile through a little.

When I met (or re-met, considering we went to elementary school together) my husband, and realized that he was the one I wanted to spend my life with, even though I was incredibly happy and over-the-moon in love, I was still saddened by the fact that my husband and father never got to meet - I think they would have liked each other a great deal. When my brother walked me down the aisle and gave me away, I wanted with my whole heart for it to be my dad’s arm I was holding, but even through that, I was comforted in knowing how proud he would be of me, and how happy. And when the ceremony was over, before we joined our guests at the reception, I hugged my husband, cried a little, and said, “I wish my dad could be here today.”

And when my son was born, and I became a mother, I felt a whole new longing, wishing that my dad could see his grandson, and hold him, and see how awesome he is…and that my son could know how awesome his grandpa was. And before we let our family in to meet the newest member, I held my husband’s hand, hugged my son close, kissed his head, and cried a little as I said, “I wish my dad could be here today.”

As my son grows older and has developed relationships with his various family members, I try to picture how my dad would have fit into my son’s pantheon of adults he worships. He’s got aunts who spoil him and an uncle who adores him. He has two sets of grandparents on my husband’s side and my own mom - count ‘em up, people. That’s THREE grandmas. THREE. He’s got a great-grandma on his daddy’s side, too, so, as you can imagine, he lacks little in the spoiling department. I watch the way my son wraps his Papa Don (my father-in-law) around his chubby little finger, and I am so glad to see that, and how crazy his Papa Gary (my step-father-in-law) is for his “Buck,” but I don’t guess I’ll ever stop wishing that my dad was getting wrapped around one of those fingers, too.

My dad adored my sister’s kids, was certain that the sun rose and set on them, and they, in turn, were pretty sure he hung the moon. (So am I, for that matter.) And I am so glad that my dad got the chance to be a grandpa before he died. My niece and nephew were old enough to when he passed that they still remember him, and I hope, when my son is older, they can tell him stories about their Papa Jack and how much they loved him. And I will tell him myself that his grandpa would have adored him, as well…I just wish he were here to tell him himself.

The truth is, though, I wish my dad could be here every day. But he’s not. He wasn’t here to walk me down the aisle, or see the birth of my firstborn, and he won’t be here to see the next. This is a forever thing, this grieving we do, even tempered with time. But I tell you this - I still feel like the luckiest girl to have had the father I had for 25 years than any other dad for a hundred. And I will teach my son the things my father taught me: how to check the air in your tires and NEVER drive on a flat, that bragging is ugly, how to make the perfect buttered toast and how to knot a tie and to love Johnny Cash…and how the strongest of men are strong enough to be sweet and kind and tender.

Everything I know about being gentle in a harsh world I learned from him. Every man I ever meet is measured against him - that’s the legacy a good father leaves his daughters. And I am raising my son to be the kind of man my father would have loved and respected, because that’s the legacy a daughter leaves her father.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Toddlerhood, Round One

About 3 weeks ago, I put my baby to bed at night and he woke up a toddler. He has a mouthful of teeth and says “no” to almost everything. He’s gone from enjoying such healthy foods as zucchini and apples to a preference for dirt and chicken nuggets. Shoot, if I don’t wrap it in a tortilla and melt American cheese on it, or smother it in some sort of tomato-based sauce, he ain’t eating it, folks. And he sasses me, too - one of the few times he WON’T say no is when I tell him “no-no,” and I get a determined “yeah-yeah” in return.

The newest (and most stressful) addition to his repertoire of toddlerdom is climbing. He’s really, really good at getting up, but he kind of sucks at getting down. He likes to try and climb out of his crib. He’s a shortstack, though, so all he manages to do is get one chubby little leg caught, which results in panicked screaming and Mommy coming at a dead-run to disengage said chubby leg. I even contacted a “parenting expert” about it, and they assured me that since the railing of the crib is still only at chin-level, it doesn’t pose a danger. He won’t fall out, they told me. And he’ll learn that getting his leg caught isn’t fun.

Have you met my son?

The other day, as I was switching out laundry, he scared the crap out of me. (Some of you may have noticed that a lot of my stories began, “As I was switching out laundry.” That’s because my son isn’t allowed in our laundry room, due to the fact that it’s crammed with fishing poles and power tools as well as a washer and drier. And I’ve learned to be fast about it…but, well, nothing is as fast as an unobserved toddler.)

So, anyhow, yesterday, as I was switching out laundry, my son managed to climb on top of the kitchen table. As I shut my drier and turned back to the kitchen, my son stood triumphantly on the tabletop, lit candle a mere inches away from his knee…I immediately grabbed him up and set him on the floor and began the whole, “That could make an owie!” speech, which has about as much effect on my son as a speech on metaphysics and the meaning of God. No sooner had I finished then he was pulling out a kitchen chair and pulling himself onto it in an effort to make it to the tabletop again. (By the way, he also had his first bloody nose yesterday, and yes, it’s directly related, and he was squirming to get back up on a chair before Daddy even got the blood flow stopped.)

See, my son can fall off of something 9 times in a row, and still climb up for round number 10. It’s the same when he gets told “no-no.“ When I’m frustrated, it’s easy for me to attribute this kind of behavior to stubbornness. When I’m in a good mood, I attribute this behavior to optimism, because I know, in his heart, my son fully believes that this will be the time it will work, that this will be the time Mama will say yes.

But the truth is, I think we’re in an incredibly awkward / difficult stage where his physical abilities are more advanced than his cognitive. And although I’m proud of all of his achievements, there are times when I think it would be much easier if things were flipped. I mean, the kid can actually do the hokey pokey (thanks to his obsession with the Hokey Pokey Elmo), complete with spins and all…but he doesn’t understand why it’s a bad idea to do it on the coffee table.

It makes me think back to my pregnancy, because see, even then, my son was active. And not just by my standards, but by my doctor’s and the ultrasound technologists, as well. We had to have lots of sonograms, because my son was so rowdy while in the womb that they were lucky to get 3 or 4 major measurements before the tech would give up and schedule another. My doctor didn’t even have me do kick-counts, because Junior met his quota within the first 45 minutes of the day. And she warned me then that there was a direct correlation between active fetuses and active babies. (Of course, I understood that by “active” she meant “genius” and “perfect.”)

But this says to me that this is who he is, and who he always has been. I don’t have to look any further than his own father to figure out why. The proud mom part of me loves the fact that he’s so fearless and energetic. The protective mom part of me wonders how many odd looks I would get if I encased him in padding and topped him off with a helmet. The mom-part of me that wants to be reasonable, though, knows that I need to help us both find a halfway ground between letting him scale the fridge and duct-taping him to his mattress. I want him to be fearless…with boundaries.

No, Mom, YOU sit down.

And so, I let him climb…within reason. Once he’s reached the top, he knows he has to sit on his bottom, and he usually does. I don’t let him ascend the kitchen table, but I do pull the kitchen chairs into the living room (carpet) and let him clamber around on them out there. I’ve decided that he’s going to do it anyhow…I might as well let him get good at it. And yes, he tumbles, and yes, he sometimes cries, and yes, I question this decision right along with every other major and minor parenting decision I’ve ever made and yes, I have eyed the feet on his pajamas and contemplated tying them together.

So, it‘s official. We have entered the realm of toddlerhood. It’s a maddening, enchanting age, a sweet and horrible pause between babydom and childhood. His cheeks are still round but I catch glimpses of what he’s going to look like - and ladies, he’s going to be a heartbreaker. He’s too cool to hold my hand, but he hugs me tight around my neck and presses his cheek to mine all the time…and I store those moments up, collect them, hoard them like a miser. His face is gaining permanence and character and definition…but oh, when he falls asleep on my chest, open-mouthed and blowing bubbles, eyelashes an inch-long, smelling and feeling and looking just the way a baby ought to…I think, “You’re still so little,” and have to resist the urge to swaddle him.

Tonight, I sat on the couch and read Things Fall Apart (a fitting title) while my son sat on a kitchen chair about 6 inches away from me and perused Good Night, Moon while drinking his milk. And I kept looking at him - the way he was sitting so that his legs dangled like a big kid, book held in his lap, bath-damp hair combed back from his eyes - and he would look back at me and grin, this big, pleased, 11 ½-toothed grin, like, “Hey, Mom, ain’t this great?” We were just hanging out, you see, just two people enjoying some good literature...

…Until he stood up on the chair, threw the book down, and pooped his pants while squealing, “Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaah.”

Yay, motherhood.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Treatise on Morphine, or, Sam's First Hallucination...(a non-mom-related post)

This is like...far-out, man.
I’ve never been a fan of morphine. I had it once in my early twenties after a minor procedure. After I came to from the anesthesia, the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. After a thoughtful deliberation, I replied “It’s a two.” Five seconds later, it felt like someone had lifted the top of my skull off and poured a can of Coca-Cola all over my brain. My head was literally fizzing and popping, my jaw felt weird, and I sat up in bed and ripped my IV out. My pain was at a zero, but my panic-level was at a 10.

“What the hell? What the hell?” I cried.

“That’s morphine,” the nurse replied. “It’s for the pain. Most people like it.“ I think we were both horrified at my reaction.

After that, whenever I was asked if I had a drug allergy, I always said not really, but that I tended to react strongly to morphine, and, as such, have managed to avoid it since then…almost a decade, actually, through kidney stones and a laparoscopic procedure and the removal of a basal cell carcinoma on my face. Even after my c-section, when my incision sort of felt like someone had placed 32 staples in my stomach in an effort to hold it together (probably because someone had placed 32 staples in my stomach in an effort to hold it together), I waited until 7 o’clock in the morning, when I was able to take 800 mg of ibuprofen by mouth.

It’s not that I’m a some big, tough girl - although honestly, I think I’m a pretty big, tough girl. It’s just that when it comes down to a choice between pain and terror, I’ll take the pain almost every time…almost, of course, being the key word here. I also think doctors and nurses are too quick and heavy-handed with the stuff. I don’t like to be sleepy or addled or foggy, and for the most part, pain killers don’t kill the pain…they just mostly kill that part of my brain where I actually care about the fact that I’m in pain.

But last week, I ended up in the hospital for 5 days. Not only did I have a gallbladder that was, according to my doctor, “full of stones,” I also had one lodged in my common bile duct. This was effecting my liver, and I was incredibly jaundiced. It was also effecting my pancreas. I was in pain. I was in more pain than I have ever been in my life. This was worse than the worst contraction I had ever had during the 13 hours of hard labor before my c-section. And it was constant. Plus, I was so dehydrated from days of vomiting that it took a team of nurses 11 tries and more than 3 hours to get an IV in.

I was no longer scared of morphine…I was scared I wasn’t going to get any.

I was pretty calm during the hours it took for them to place the IV, but I made my husband hold my hand while they gave me the morphine. The nurse diluted it and gave it to me slowly, but still, I panicked and had to be reminded to breathe. My brain felt like Rice Krispies, all snap-crackle-popping, but within minutes, the excruciating pain had faded to a somewhat distant throb, and I could breathe for the first time in forever.

It was 2 hours later that I asked for more. I had waited awhile because, in my ignorance, I thought it was supposed to last for like 6 or 8 hours, and by the time 2 hours had passed, I was right back to where I had been - in agony. The nurse explained that I could have it once an hour, and to not let the pain get away from me like that again, to page her when it got to a “4” on that old 1 to 10 scale. For me, that seemed to be about every hour and a half.

Bring it on, bitches.

I still didn’t like the way it felt. It still panicked me every time. Plus, I can’t sleep on the damned stuff. Well, sort of I sleep…I nod off for 10 minutes and am astounded that hours haven’t passed. It makes me itch something fierce - I still have great welts of morphine-rash on my face and chest. But…I no longer wanted to shoot myself, or claw my eyes out with my own fingers, so I continued to ask for it when I needed it.

Fast forward to the next night…after a day of tests and labs and results and “Am I going to live?” and surgeries being scheduled and rescheduled and childcare found and bosses notified…and a big old yummy dose of morphine about every 2 hours.

I was laying in my hospital bed, and my husband was on the couch next to me. And…the speakers on my hospital bed started to whisper.

That’s not right, I thought. I know that’s not right. I adjusted my pillow so that I couldn’t hear my bed whisper to me. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of a large black-and-white cat that had pens instead of claws jumping around to the side of my bed. Curiouser and curiouser…

I knew I was hallucinating. I found out later that that’s actually a good thing - it’s when you don’t know that you are that the medical profession gets really worried. But at the time, I was intent on acting like nothing was going on, because seriously, who hallucinates on morphine?

Apparently Sam Kilgore does.

I started to giggle…not because it was funny (although a lot of it was), but because I was so nervous and was trying to play it cool. Have you ever tried to play it cool when you’re higher than a kite? Yeah, it makes for nervous giggling.

My husband said something to me, but I don’t remember what - I was more concerned with the fact that his head had gotten really, really big. So had all the people passing by in the hallway…all of them had heads like balloons.

But mostly, it was what the TV started to say to me that made me lose it. I was watching HGTV - pretty innocent. Some young couple was trying to buy a duplex. The realtor was a nice young guy. He explained to the couple that he would love to sell them this house, but that it came with an old woman from Argentina who was missing some teeth but who really liked threesomes.


“Why would he say that?” I said to the room at large.

“Who would say what?” my husband asked.

“That realtor, talking about threesomes with some old woman with missing teeth from Argentina,” I said, pointing to the TV, and my husband buzzed the nurse.  When did HGTV get X-rated?

I don’t remember what all I said, but I do know the nurse was crying she was laughing so hard, and I know that her laughter reassured me that I was going to be okay…nurses don’t laugh unless the outcome is good. She gave me something to put my silly, hallucinating ass to sleep and it was agreed that I would go on half-doses of morphine, extremely diluted, from there on out.

I did much better, then.

So, I still don’t trust morphine. In fact, I trust it even less, now. For awhile there it had me fooled.

I’m back at home, for now. They did an ERCP on me, in an attempt to retrieve the stone from my duct, but (lucky me), I have some weird syndrome that means my bile duct is incredibly narrow, and although the little sucker managed to wedge itself in there, the surgeon was unable to unwedge it. That means I’m off to a bigger hospital that has some sort of magical machine that will literally crunch the stone (doctor’s words, not mine) before they pull it out. This is all done by shoving stuff down my throat. And even though the surgeon was unable to retrieve the stone, he managed to put a splint in to widen the duct a little, allowing me quite a bit of relief from the pain and nausea, as well as allowing some of the backed up bile that was causing my liver problems and jaundice to pass through. I’m certainly looking less yellow. After that, I can have my gallbladder removed, about a week later. I’m not nervous about it - it’s done with 3 tiny incisions, and I think they’ll let me go home that afternoon, as soon as I can pee or something. I have a 14 month old…I think I’ll manage to pee just as soon as they’ll let me.

I think I’ll manage to avoid the morphine, too.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Doctor Knows Best...right?

I’m paranoid about taking my son to the doctor. Sounds funny, right, since those of you who know me know that lately we’ve been checking out Children’s Mercy like we’re looking to move in or something. But the thing is, I am paranoid about it. What if the doctor sees that bruise on my son’s butt, the one he got from pulling a large decorative plate off a shelf, flipping it over, then falling down hard on the rim of it? Or the chipped front tooth that he got in the bathtub? And lately, we’ve been having penis issues - which necessitated a trip to the Emergency Room, because this Mama does not mess around when it comes to her little boy’s penis. I was terrified that the doctor would think it was because I didn’t bathe my son or something, and that social services would be called in.

My son doesn’t make this any easier on me - whenever we have an appointment, he always seems to get a runny nose, resulting in a crusty face - or, this last time, he had a bad bout of diarrhea 2 days prior to his appointment, which resulted in a slight diaper rash. Or I notice in the waiting room that his fingernails have magically grown ½ centimeter and that he has earwax in his left ear - any of which I become certain will be grounds for the doctor to call in Child Protective Services to question me.

I don’t know if this is normal or not. My husband seems to think it’s not, but he knew I was neurotic when he married me, and, unfortunately, motherhood seems to, in many ways, magnify that neurosis. I think it boils down to this: I adore my son beyond reason. I love him with great depth and without boundaries. And sometimes I think that I will never measure up to the task of keeping him safe and raising him well. I’m certain that someone - probably medical, and certainly official - will point their accusing finger at me and cry out, “That woman has no idea what she’s doing!”

So far, though, so good. The penis issue? Pretty common in little boys, certainly not my fault, and had not been caused by lack of hygiene but had, rather, been exacerbated by the multiple bubble baths we had been taking together. Lesson learned. The earwax? That’s a good sign, it means his ears are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The diaper rash? The doctor didn’t even see it until I had pointed it out, and then he commented that his wife always said their own children never have a diaper rash unless they’re about to go to the doctor. So, even doctor’s kids get it.

Last week, I was finally able to take my son into his one-year checkup…7 weeks late. I felt that horrible guilt again. My first excuse was that my son’s birthday falls 3 days before Christmas, and I did not want him cranky from his vaccinations on the holiday. The next week was his birthday party. And then two appointments were cancelled due to fevers he decided to run, and a third was cancelled because my mother had scheduled eye surgery on the one Monday that I told her not to, of course. I was pretty sure the new pediatrician we were seeing would want to check my son’s sippy cup for Coca-Cola or something.

Junior checked out well - I had no worries there. My husband and I briefly basked in the praise of our son - how strong he is, how dexterous (he’s already jumping, for God’s sake), how utterly perfect he is. And then the lecture began.

“You may want to think about baby proofing. Things like electrical outlets should be covered, cabinets should be locked.”

Yeah. We know. He started crawling at 6 months and walking before 10 months…we’ve pretty much got that covered, thanks. Shoot, we even keep things like knives and guns out of reach, for the most part.

“It may seem silly, but you should start reading to him now. Reading is important.”

We’ve been reading to him since he was in utero.

“You should never leave your son unattended in the bath.”

Uhhh…yeah. We know that. He’s 14 months old. He’s never unattended, period.

I glanced at my husband to see how he was taking this. Maybe I was just being too sensitive, but no - his brow was furrowed and his jaw was set.

“How does he eat?” the doctor asked.

“Often,” I replied, back on confident ground. I’m pretty proud of my son’s diet - it’s well-rounded and varied. I pay careful attention to all the food groups…but I’m not going to lie, we like Chef Boyardee and the occasional chicken McNugget. “Three meals and two snacks a day.”

“Plenty of fruits and veggies?”

“Yup, as long as we serve the veggies first,” I replied.

“What about milk?” he asked.

“Well, that depends on what he’s eaten,” I said. “If he’s had cheese or yogurt or both, then he gets less. But he loves milk, and drinks it whenever we give it to him.”

“Well, he needs more milk. It doesn’t matter what he’s eaten, he should have at least 15 to 20 ounces of milk a day.”

But I had researched this plenty when we switched him to milk. Everything I read, and all the moms I talked to, said that too much can be a bad thing. Too much calcium can make the absorption of other vitamins and nutrients necessary next to impossible - it particularly inhibits the absorption of iron. Also, milk fills my son’s tummy. If I give it to him with meals, then he won’t eat.

“And now that he’s a year old and weighs 23 pounds, switch your carseat to forward facing.”

“No, we’ll wait,” I said.

“There’s no reason to wait.”

What? There are lots of reasons to wait. I won’t go into all of them, but the prevention of decapitation is high on my list of reasons to wait. The one-year / 20-pound mark is a minimum guideline…you know, kind of like when you get a “D” on your report card you still pass, but an “A” is so much better. (You can read more here:

“We’ll wait,” my husband said.

“No, no reason to wait,” the doctor continued, and then, “I am going to assume he’s off the bottle and no more formula, right?”

“He was breastfed,” I said. And then, “He still is, once or twice a day.” Honestly, I should have known better, but usually nurses and doctors congratulate us on this. Only 22% of breastfeeding moms make it 12 months, and there’s a reason for that - it ain’t always easy. Just a few weeks prior, when, due to a horrible bout of stomach flu that necessitated an IV being placed in my son’s arm for dehydration, the pediatrician said it was awesome that I still breastfeed, that it was the best thing for him, especially while he was sick.

“Oh, there’s no need for breastfeeding anymore. At 12 months, the benefits he gets from breast milk decline sharply.”

Huh? That’s news to me. Now, I have no intention of breastfeeding my son throughout toddlerhood or (God help me) beyond, but at 14 months, I’m pretty sure that breastfeeding is still beneficial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you breastfeed for at least the first year, and the World Health Organization states that breastfeeding through the second year is beneficial. It goes back to that minimum standard thing. Plus, I checked my boobs thoroughly and there’s no expiration date on them as far as I can see.

Anyhow, he finished with his lecture and sent the nurse in to give my son his vaccinations (and yes, I vaccinate…please don’t get me started on that) and we left.

Once in the car, with our son safely strapped into his rear-facing carseat, my husband said, “What the ____? ‘Don’t leave your baby unattended in the bath.’ Does he think we’re morons?”

“Maybe,” I said. “He is a doctor, after all. Probably we all seem like morons to him. He was thorough, at least.”

My husband looked at me in complete disbelief. I think he was expecting me to hyperventilate or something - after all, we had been questioned about our parenting abilities, something I obsess over unnecessarily. Usually I am tripping over myself to prove to any medical personnel that we’re good parents, we do our best, we read all the books.

But, strangely, I was able to shrug this off. We went home, and I breastfed my cranky son, who was noticeably less cranky afterwards. (Pretty beneficial, I think.) Because we learned that our son is only 3 inches away from reaching the height limit on his carseat, we started researching for a new one, which will allow him to remain rear facing until at least 40 pounds. (Why not? It certainly can’t hurt, and it certainly might help.) And since my son ate an entire grilled cheese sandwich for dinner (along with a serving of broccoli and half a banana), I withheld milk from him for that meal.

We go back in 3 months in order to get another round of vaccinations. Justin wondered whether we should go to another pediatrician, and I thought about it for awhile, and I’ve decided no, I like this doctor. For one thing, the office is 2 minutes from home. I know several of the women who work there, and if I need an appointment, I never have to wait. The nurses are great. And the doctor? Well, he’s obvious, obviously, but I started to think about all the people he must see, and maybe to some of them, not leaving your baby unattended in the bath is a newsflash. So maybe, rather than assuming we know the obvious, he just trots it out there in the open. And maybe next time he’ll say something that I didn’t know, and that could be helpful. I think I would rather have a pediatrician who belabors what should be done than one who just assumes we already know, because I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot we don’t know. We just learned last week that the difference between infant Tylenol and Infant Motrin is that the first helps with pain and fever, while the second helps with pain, fever and inflammation. We didn’t know that. That was helpful. And his time-consuming lecture took time. He wasn’t rushing on to the next patient - he wanted us to know these things. And I appreciate that.

See, oddly enough, rather than making me question my parenting decisions, I left that office feeling more confident. Motherhood is no longer a huge, scary territory to me all of the time (I mean sometimes it still is, and I imagine it will be when my son’s 14 years old instead of 14 months old). I know enough now to question what the pediatrician tells me, to take his advice with a grain of salt, or modify it with my own concerns and beliefs, or ask my sister and sister-in-law or my mom-friends what they think, because hell, they’re in the trenches with me. I am certain enough of the decisions I make to say, “I don’t agree with that,” on some points, and confident enough to say, “I think you’re right, let’s do that,” which is why I elected to have my son get the flu shot along with his immunizations. And I was confident enough in the parenting choices my husband and I make to not argue with the doctor when he spouted off about weight limits and breastfeeding. Six months ago, I would have been spouting off statistics and studies in a superhuman effort to appear informed and competent. But the truth is, I am informed and competent, and I don’t need a stamp of approval from a pediatrician to know that.

The doctor may know a lot, but as far as I’m concerned, Mama knows best.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho...It's Off to Work We Go (And yeah, I mean "We.")

Ready for "school"
So, it’s official. I am now a working mom.

I was lucky enough to find a job at a wonderful daycare, which allows me to take my son with me. I was so excited to start - after all, I love babies. I really do. I love the squishy sweetness of them, their acceptance, their curiosity, their inability to sass me. I was also excited for my son. I figured it would be like an all-day playdate for him. He would love it.

He hated it at first, which is why I waited awhile to write this post, because honestly, those first 2 weeks were rough, and I really wasn’t sure I (or my son) were going to be able to handle it.

The babies in my room were just as sweet and squishy as I knew they would be…but, like all babies, the poop a lot. I can handle that. I’m an expert diaper-changer. My son, however, freaked out every time. I would lay one baby down in order to change him, and my son would cling to my back like a spider monkey, bawling with displeasure. I would take him upstairs to the toddler room, where he would scream until I couldn’t take it anymore. And then he got sick - really sick - like ended up in the emergency room getting an IV sick. Even when he got better, he was a complete bear for awhile. It seemed like I was calling someone to come and get him every day, because I couldn’t handle 4 babies when my baby was acting like, well, a big baby.

I freaked out on a nightly basis, when my husband came to pick me up from work. “I’m going to have to put him in daycare so I can work at a daycare,” I cried. “That’ll leave me with - what? $15 leftover after I pay for it?”

He assured me that we didn’t need me to work - but I think we did. Plus, I was finding that, despite my son’s daily hysterics, I liked working. I liked getting out of the house, having a schedule, seeing other adults, and contributing to my family financially. Plus, although I am able to shrug off most “You’re going to spoil him” type comments, even I knew that if I quit a job (and not only a job, but a nice job, a job where I get to hang out with cute babies all day, and the only shit I deal with is literal shit, which is, on the whole, a lot nicer to deal with than the shit I used to deal with in an office setting) because Junior didn’t like it, I was going to be setting us both up for a long line of failures.

My boss and co-workers assured me that it would get better, because frankly, I was embarrassed. My son was seriously the worst-behaved child in the whole place. “I swear he’s such a good boy, normally!” I would almost plead as once again my son began to wail at the top of his lungs. If another baby took his toy, he collapsed. If a baby made a loud noise, he started to cry. My son, who refused to take a pacifier or the bottle at age 4.5 months and wouldn’t have eaten formula even if I had laced it with Hershey’s syrup and offered it to him with a fifty-dollar bill, became a bottle-swiper and a binkie-thief. On top of it all, the pediatrician who had seen him while he was ill encouraged me to breastfeed on demand for awhile, since it would help hydrate him and would be gentle on his tummy, and so we had gone from being a little boy who was perfectly content with getting his breastfed in the morning (and even then we were starting to skip feedings in an effort to wean him once and for all) to a little monster who yanked at my shirt and screamed when I firmly told him no. (It was much harder to wean him the second go ’round than it was the first…go figure. Probably because this time he knew what was coming - little nerd.)

So, I stuck with it. And magically, last week, he proved my co-workers right. It did get better. The first day, I thought it was a fluke. The second day, I was tentatively hopeful. By the third, I was confident that we had done it. We had hit a rhythm. Did another baby take his toy? “If you want it so bad, take it back,” I would tell him cheerfully, and sure enough, soon he was engaging in tug-of-war with the best of them. (We’ll work on sharing later.) Did a baby make a loud noise? Awesome. We can make loud noises, too. It’s not the end of the world when Mama needs to change diapers…and trust me, Mama needs to change diapers a lot. Today, he even spent time upstairs with the “big” kids (18 months and up) with a minimum amount of tears.

He has a little buddy in our room - he’s the son of a friend of mine, and it’s awesome to watch them play. Junior always thinks E. (I’ll abbreviate his name in case his mama wouldn’t want it on here) is chasing him, and they giggle together quite a bit. Once I get E. and Junior involved in something (today it was Junior stacking blocks while E. knocked them down as quick as he could get them up - awesome game), I can focus on the smaller ones, which is fun. I’m not as overwhelmed anymore - there are times when all of them are needing something, but I just take it in order of need and / or age…or holler upstairs for some help. I’ve learned the schedule, so I’m not caught unaware or dismally behind, and by 12:30 it’s daycare-wide naptime until 2:30 or 3:00. I get a break. We do some quick cleaning-up, but after that, I get a break for at least 2 hours. I don’t do laundry. I don’t pay bills. I don’t “take advantage” of the time to clean my toilet (although I do clean the toilet in my room) or put fresh sheets on the bed. I’ve actually had time to read some trashy magazines this week, too…which is good, because since we turned the cable off a year ago, I had no idea what Kate Gosselin has been up to.

Working outside the home is not as overwhelming as I thought it would be, either. As a SAHM, I did 100% of everything household and baby-maintenance-related. When Justin got home from work, I wanted the time we spent together to be quality, so I always made sure everything was done. But he’s pitched in A LOT - a lot more than I even expected, considering he also goes to school, now. Evenings are hectic, because my husband works the night shift and by the time Junior and I get home from work, the kid is ready for dinner RIGHT THEN, and I have to hustle. And then it’s bath time and play time and story time and bed time…which I do have to do by myself because Justin is working.

I loved staying at home with my son for his first year. And I can say with experience that staying at home is a career in itself, with its own unique challenges and joys and heartache and job-related exhaustion, just like any career. You may not be punching a literal time clock, but you still have a schedule that needs to be followed and a boss who can scream and throw a tantrum when you fall behind. And personally, because I did stay at home, I felt an overwhelming pressure to always have a perfectly clean home and caught-up laundry and a home cooked meal prepared every night.

Working also has its own challenges. Organization is key - I can’t put off getting myself (or my son) dressed until 9:30 anymore, and serving a nutritious dinner on a nightly basis still throws me for a loop some days. (Hence the McNugget feast we dined upon tonight.) But I no longer mop on a daily basis, and if a load of clothes from Wednesday remains in the dryer until Thursday night, I don’t obsess about it…too much. And I no longer shy away from asking my husband for help, or a break. I never did before because he worked so hard so I could stay at home, and I think that’s common for a lot of SAHMs. But lately, on Sundays, although I still get up early with the baby, I’ve been going back to bed when Daddy wakes up, and sometimes I stay there until 11. It’s nice. I deserve it. I deserved it before, but I feel more entitled to it now.

So, yeah. It’s official now. I have a job, and I like it, and Junior likes it, too. I only work 3 days a week right now, but it looks like I’ll be going to 5 days a week this spring, and I think we can handle it. I get Junior excited when we go to work…he calls it “cool” (instead of “school”). I’m not sure if he knows what he’s saying, but when we’re strapping him in his carseat and I say, “Are you so happy to go to school?” he says it “cool” with some enthusiasm, so that’s good. And I know he loves Fridays, which is cinnamon roll day. That kid can eat his weight in cinnamon rolls. And, apparently, chicken McNuggets.

Have a great weekend, everyone! (That’s the other awesome part about working…the weekend is actually an event for me.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Once a No-No, ALWAYS a No-No

He's obviously up to something
Before I had a child, I would avert my head whenever I saw a toddler or child throwing a fit in public. The mother, usually a bit unkempt and harried, was a little contemptuous to me. “Get a grip, lady,” I would think, if the fit was a bad one. “Maybe you should do Wal-Mart a little less and try parenting a little more.” No sympathy, right? The only little ones I had experience with were my sister’s 2 children, who are beautifully behaved. (She recently assured me that they, too, threw their fair-share of tantrums, but I doubt my perfect niece or nephew ever did. They’re too sweet for that...Aunt Baba knows better.)

Basically, I never once thought that the tantrum wasn’t directly related to something that the parent was doing wrong.

I was wrong.

It’s not that I don’t make my fair share of parenting mistakes, because I do. But when it comes to what is a no-no, I’m very consistent. Once a no-no, always a no-no. It’s pretty easy, since most of the stuff that I term a no-no is potentially dangerous. It’s never okay to play with an electrical outlet, or go swimming in the toilet. I’m consistent. But I am afraid we’ve entered the golden age of tantrums. My son is officially 13-months-going-on-3. He is stubborn (like his daddy), strong-willed, and too damned smart for his (my) own good…pair that with big blue eyes and a smile that makes you want to give him whatever he wants, well…this is hard.

I had the occasion to be the mom that people turned their heads from not that long ago at K-Mart. It was the second store we went to that day (and the last). My son doesn’t care for the car seat (after all, it’s hard to move around when you’re strapped in), and although he’s usually pretty content in a cart (there’s stuff to look at), he had apparently had enough. One second he was fine, and the next he was shrieking his head off. I panicked, immediately certain that some sort of metal piece from the cart was poking him, or he had pinched his finger in something, so I quickly unbuckled him and pulled him out to examine him. He arched his back, kicking both legs, and suddenly increased in weight by about 708%. One worker stopped and asked, concerned, “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know!” I replied, and then had to kneel because of my son’s convulsions - I was afraid I was going to drop him. As soon as he saw he was near the ground, he jerked away from me, stood up, and began to toddle down the aisle, clapping and laughing. I tried to corral him - he thought it was a game. I finally captured him, carried him giggling all the way back to the cart, and when he realized my intent, it was another back-arching, screaming, “no-no-no” fit. No one stopped in concern this time - people made a wide berth around us. By the time I got him crammed into the cart (I had to like physically bend him, he was so stiff), my hair was messed up, we were both red-faced (and a little teary) and I had actually worked up a sweat.

People were looking. I was that mom. I was every mom I had ever rolled my eyes at.

His newest trick is to say “good” whenever he’s doing something that he knows is not good. I still can’t decide whether he’s trying to convince himself, or reassure me, but whereas silence lasting longer than 47 seconds used to make me stop whatever I was doing and check on him, the word “good” can now bring me running at warp speed. (And mind you, I’m usually only about 10 feet away from him, but he’s fast.)

He finds Daddy’s cell phone charger? That’s good. In the 2.7 seconds Mom takes to switch out laundry from the washer to the drier, he decides it’s good to get his own snack…in this case, a box of pancake mix. That was good, too. Opening up Daddy’s sock drawer and taking every sock out is really good. We like to do that every chance we get.

And it’s getting harder to redirect him, now. I can’t swiftly swap out the cell phone charger for a rattle the way I could when he was younger. When I do that, he literally stomps his feet, makes what my husband and I call “scrunchy fists” (hands held out, rapidly opening and closing in the universal sign of “I want!”), followed by a mixed string of “No no no” and “Good! Good!” that usually culminates in tears…and not just any tears, but flings-himself-on-the-ground, hides-his-face-in-the-carpet-because-he-has-the-meanest-mom tears.

And sometimes the hardest thing to do is not laughing at how smart or funny he is. The other night, I was on the phone with my sister and my cell phone was almost dead. So I plugged my phone in and sat on a kitchen chair. My son, as usual, was within close proximity, and seeing what he thinks is the ultimate plaything (yes, we have a real issue with cell phone chargers here), promptly unplugged it.

“No-no,” I said firmly, plugged the phone back in, and quickly handed him a toy, which he examined briefly before dropping it and once again unplugging my phone.

“No-no,” I said again, more firmly…just a few short weeks ago, the first one would have been enough. Once again, I plugged the phone back in and handed him a toy.

He dropped the toy, edged very close to the charger, and held completely still for a long moment. Holding completely still is very hard for him, so I knew he was up to something. Keeping up a narrative for my sister, who was cackling with glee at her naughty nephew, I watched as my son veeeerrrry slooooowly, so as not to capture Mama’s attention, lifted one chubby, precious finger and placed it lightly on the cell phone charger and held it there.

No-no!” I said. “That could make an owie! You are making Mama sad!” Again, just a few sort weeks ago, “making Mama sad” would freeze him in his tracks. Not so much now.

To give him credit, he did pull his finger away on his own. But then, I watched in disbelief, biting my lips to keep from cracking up (my sister, herself laughing but telling me “Don’t laugh! You can’t laugh!”) as my son used a chair to help balance himself as he lifted one leg, and, with a look of intent concentration, placed his foot upon the cell phone charger.

I got off the phone. I unplugged the phone from the wall outlet and plugged it in at a higher, out-of-Junior’s reach outlet, whereupon he promptly began stomping his feet, made a frantic series of desperate scrunchy hands, and, in general, let me know just how displeased he was with my behavior. I ignored it.

I have had a few moments of weakness…a few times when I have thought, “The cell phone charger isn’t plugged in - what harm could it do?” or “Well, if he eats his fill of pancake mix, then I don’t have to make him lunch.” But then my mind fast-forwards 5 years, and I see my 6-year old son raising holy hell in Wal-Mart, but it’s even worse, because he now has more words at his disposal. And then my mind fast-forwards another 10 years, and I see my future 16-year old son stomping his feet and making scrunchy hands at a Camaro or something, and I find it easier to stick to my guns.

Once a no-no, always a no-no….no matter how cute your kid may be.