Saturday, August 27, 2011
(Alternatively titled: I Am Apparently Incapable of Producing Normal Human Children.)
This past month has been a weird one with the baby. Just weird.
So much of the past few months have been spent defining Scarlett by all of the things that she wasn’t doing. For the past five of them she’s been stuck at about the physical and psychological capacity of a six month old. Which means, now that she’s getting better, that virtually every single week since she’s been home, she ages more than a month. A MONTH, a week.
Which basically means that we have a hulk-baby on our hands.
The lighter side to this, is that with her gaining over a pound a week, we find ourselves now with about a three day window of time in which to fit a three month span of baby dresses onto her before she outgrows them. Dresses that I have been lusting to put on her since about the day she was born. Which means that she can be found inappropriately overdressed for even the smallest occasion, most of the week. Occasions like… you know, army-crawling around the backyard, for instance, or watching Mommy fold laundry. Because, I’ll tell you right now, I will be gosh-darned if I’m going to let the fact that Farmer’s Market is the fanciest place we go all week stop me from putting THIS dress on THAT child before she outgrows it forever.
And besides, it makes for some really cute pictures, you have to agree. Even if she is busting out the seams of her dress like a big, green, comic-book monster.
Of course, being a hulk-baby also means catching up on about five months of firsts all at once, which is kind of a double-edged sword. Because, let’s face it, no one has that much access to a camera and decent light (or pristinely swept floors for that matter). We are on constant vigil with this kid. It’s a little exhausting.
The first week of this month, she learned to wave hello from side to side, and to open and close her hand to say goodbye. The next, we went to the circus and she learned to clap. She literally went into the circus having virtually not a clue in the world that clapping is even a thing that people do, and left the tent unable to stop herself. She’s become so hooked on this crazy new flair of hers that I’m hard pressed to think of a single interaction with her during the day now that doesn’t prompt a celebratory applause. Story? [clap!] lunchtime? [clap!] Stroll? [clap!] Daddy’s home? [HEART ATTACK OF HAPPINESS -- clap!]
Somewhere within the second week, the growing just got out of hand.
She points. She says CAT and DAD respectively, and she mimics our actions. When we do our Your Baby Can Read flashcards, and Matthew and I stick out our tongue at the word TONGUE, Scarlett does too. When we put a hand on our ear at the word EAR, she does too. And when we put our arms up at the ARMS UP card, she lifts a hand and puts it on her forehead, looking terribly confused. It is, hands down, the cutest thing in the universe. She kisses by request now too, which is awesome, it is, although the hugs on cue are even better somehow. And she also lifts herself up into a sitting position about 600,000,000 times a second. Abs of steel, this girl has, I’m not joking.
Changing her diaper, on a side note, is not easy these days, mostly because I’ve had to learn how to do it with her sitting up (seriously, she will not lay down) -- which, I don’t know how familiar you are with certain laws of physics like gravity, but it pretty much makes doing this very complicated. My only other option, though, is pinning her down by the chest with my elbow, which only invites her to fight against me (and really, scraping human waste of a person is just one of those things in life that requires the cooperation of all parties involved). Only she doesn’t cry like you’d expect; it’s like a game to her, like arm wrestling. Only it’s like… baby wrestling, because she’s putting her entire body into it. Her entire HULK-body. And I’m not as strong as I look, so sometimes she wins.
Incredible as those things are though, in all seriousness, the one thing that truly takes the cake has got to be the crawling. She hasn’t even made it up on all fours yet, so it’s still a very primitive attempt at the real thing. But oddly enough, I think that’s what I like best about it.
So many things come so easily to Matthew. It’s not often I get to savor the experience of encouraging him to truly work at overcoming a challenge. And I wouldn’t change that for the world, believe me… Shun me for bragging if you will, but my son is one-of-a-kind, (just like my daughter is, just like your children are) and I will never deny him the complete understanding that he is as much worth bragging about as any other child. His strengths are a part of him just like his weaknesses are, and I love them all the same because they are his.
That being said, when Scarlett started to catch up to so many milestones all at once, a small part of me… Just a small part, felt robbed of the experience to share in some of that with her. Some of that, Come on, baby girl, you got it! You can do it! time. Her gyrating across the floor on knobby little elbows in a wild hunt for choking hazards, while she learns… well, it gives me some of that.
Also, be still my freaking heart, it does makes for some really adorable photographs, doesn’t it?
Seriously. The cuteness is painful. Oddball Hulk-baby or not.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
There was a time when Matthew got the best of me more often than I would have liked to admit. We weren’t always so in-tuned to one another. And I can remember all too often in the very early days of his toddlerhood, standing back, watching him, and frankly not knowing, I mean, at all, what to do next.
There weren’t a lot of things I went into parenthood feeling strongly about. Attachment parenting, co-sleeping, character endorsement on products and clothing,… I really wasn’t so die-hard about any one direction that I couldn’t leave room for a little first hand trialing and error. Matthew was my first, after all, and to be perfectly honest, I knew that I was treading unpredictable territory anyway. I figured I’d get by with a pure heart and the best of intentions long enough to get my feet wet, learn a thing or two from experience, and then I’d take it from there. A day at a time, that was my theory.
It sounded good. Solid. Practical. Realistic. What it really was, was kind of a mess.
Even when he was the youngest of the lot, he was the runt at daycare that snatched toys and pushed older kids and ran away when he was being spoken to. He flung himself to the floor when he was upset and he kicked at me when I tried to put on his shoes. I remember him never wanting to eat his vegetables, as far back as the highchair, and learning at an absurd age to negotiate 4 sugary snacks out of his father for every one bite of produce he did agree to swallow. Naturally, I blamed myself. If I weren’t such a shit parent, my son wouldn’t be such a hellion.
Except that, when he was good, he was exceptional at being good. Almost as soon as he learned to talk, he knew how to say not only please and thank you, but I’m sorry, and even excuse me. Which is why I had such a hard time figuring out where exactly Spencer and I were screwing up.
Sometime after he turned two, it came to our attention that he was probably gifted. I started pre-schooling him from home in a very, very laidback way, just to get an idea of where his ability actually was. Then, over the summer, we gave it a rest. The line between what he was capable of doing with a little encouragement and what was just plainly over his head was becoming blurred, and frankly, I was as in over my head as anybody. They say that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, so balancing this whole giftedness thing was a little like dancing on a tightrope. On the one hand I knew that over stimulating a gifted child risked robbing them of the only childhood they’ll ever have. While on the other hand, under-stimulating them risked a complete system shut-down, which is the theory behind why gifted children tend to be such crumby test-takers. After all, what’s the fun in knowing all the answers?
Fearful that I was going to somehow damage him emotionally or something, we took the summer to learn normal things like how to swim independently with a pair of water-wings and how to pedal a bike, while I took that time to privately assess how I wanted to approach teaching him when we picked back up with our academics in the fall.
As far as his behavior was concerned, it turned on a dime when we started occupying him with learning to read and write. It was night and day. Days at a time without needing to stand in the corner for talking back, months without melting down. Likewise, toward the middle of August, it started to backslide. Finding this niche of his was like the answer to all of our parenting despair. Not because we had an excuse for his behavior, but because we had an actual SOLUTION for it. As long as he was being stimulated enough throughout the day, both physically and mentally, he was an angel. A docile, compassionate, sweet-hearted angel, even after the books were put away.
And this was good to know because last week, he threw a wedding gift for my friend clear across The Hallmark Store because I wouldn’t let him out of the stroller. I WONDER WHY, GENIUS.
After a 3 month hiatus, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away on Monday when I pulled out the old backpack and started a refresher play course with him at the table. Well, as is the trend in my life, I was wrong. I mean, I was really, really wrong.
He read. He wrote. And he got to the bottom of every puzzle I placed in front of him like he was eating it for breakfast. He rattled off words I held in front of him like he was telling me his name. TREE. BOY. ELEPHANT. DOG. CHIMPANZEE. IT. PARK. WAS. DINOSAUR. We did a puzzle where you match a picture in one column that starts with a certain letter to another picture in a second column that starts with the same letter. In three minutes flat he did not only all twenty-six of those, but he traced every letter of the alphabet with the accuracy of an adult. It was unbelievable, even to me.
I decided that it was time. I took out a book that he was familiar with and I asked him to read it to me. He opened the first page. IT WAS DARK. IT WAS STORMY. IT WAS NIGHT. He turned the page. M-M-ME?… M-M-MEL-VIN! HAD A FLAT TIRE. He turned the next page. HE PULLED INTO A SPO-OOOKY JUNK-YARD. He turned the page again. MELVIN FOUND A NEW TIRE. MELVIN HAD A STINKY BUTT. MELVIN POOPED ON A DOG!
He erupted into laughter. His older sister fell to the floor, hardly able to breathe. Matthew rolled on top of her shouting POOPED ON A DOG, POOPED ON A DOG. MARY AND MELVIN POOPED ON A DOG!
Closing the book, I suddenly found myself in a familiar place. Standing back, watching him… watching him be so innately, wonderfully, Matthew, and not knowing at all what to do next. Because more than I want to nurture in him a love of literacy and academics, and more than I want him not to throw merchandise across The Hallmark Store (Though, I’m not gonna lie, that would be stupendous.), I want to preserve in him that innate Matthew-ness he has right now, rolling on the floor like a goon with his sister, utterly unaware of how extraordinary he is. And I know that that is the biggest challenge involved.
I guess the only thing I can really know for sure is that this boy, he will always give me a run for my money. I may never stop feeling both ill prepared and intimidated by the echoing void of answers I have regarding how I’ll to raise this spirited little boy to be a great and steady man. I guess neither good intentions or a solid practical plan will always be enough. I guess we can expect that sometimes, along the road, even reality will warp into something we don’t recognize. And I guess that I should just get comfortable coming from a place of just not always knowing, when it comes to this journey I’m on with my son.
But looking ahead, lost as I am in all of this, all I can do is laugh alongside him.
Because, after all, where’s the fun in knowing all the answers, anyway? Right?
Friday, August 19, 2011
Matthew started hitting Scarlett.
And if it were out of sheer frustration, or plain curiosity, I’d be almost unconcerned. He’s three and he’s impatient, and she’s one and likes to lick people. Disagreements are bound to ensue. Mary and Matthew were born seven years apart and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the innumerable amount of things even they’ve learned to fight over, it’s that no two children are immune to sibling rivalry. But this, he was doing it in secret, and then lying to me about.
Secrecy is something we take very seriously around here, especially given Mary’s history with her biological mom of mental abuse and abandonment. Lying is practically a federal offense. But there was a bigger issue at hand here. I think he might sincerely resent his sister.
In fact, to assume that he wouldn’t at least a little, almost seems naïve. Even I struggled to understand how leaving Matthew with my parents so that I could stay with Scarlett in the hospital didn’t translate into Your Sister Is More Important To Me Right Now Than You Are.
Today, he cozied himself up between cushions on the couch with his older sister’s video game - a contraption he knows damn well he is not allowed to play. (Video games are one of the very few things I intend to be practically militant about keeping away from my boys for as long as I can, but because he has an eleven year old sister, he knows what they are. Once in a while, he’ll try his luck with picking one up and just hoping I won’t notice.) Today when he did it, instead of taking it away from him, I decided just to sit down at the end of the couch, and watch him. I placed my hand on his knee. I combed his hair to one side with my fingers. And I told him that I was sorry for leaving him for such a long time.
He didn’t react right away, but I could tell that he was thinking about what I said. “It’s Okay.” He peeked up from the hand-held screen, which I did not expect.
-- You were gone for a really long time, he said.
-- I know. I decided to be with Scarlett while the doctors made her sickness go away. The hospital can be a pretty scary place for a little girl if she is all alone.
His eyes were back on the screen.
-- Well. You could’ve just left her there so the doctor could fix her. And then got me. And then went back to the hos’cabal.
-- I wanted to. I missed you a lot.
We were quiet for a minute. His eyes never came back up.
-- I wasn’t scared, though. At mom-mom and pop-pop’s house. I had fun. I had ice cream.
-- I know. I made sure that Mary stayed with you too, and that mom-mom and pop-pop brought you to visit us a whole lot.
-- Scarly wasn’t scared when you were there?
-- She felt much, much better because I was there. Some babies couldn’t have their Mommas with them.
-- Were they scared?
-- Yes. They were scared. So I read stories to them and the nurses held them until their Mommas could be with them again.
-- You’re a good Momma.
-- You’re the best son. And a good big brother too. You let your sister have me when she needed me. That was very brave.
-- Hey, Momma?
-- Yes, baby?
-- Can you get out of my way? I’m tryin’ to play my video game here.
I took the video game, and I left. And he let me.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
What I like to call a big, heaping pile of responsibility with a cute, furry side of pain in the ass.
What we do have is a small house, with not much of a backyard to speak of. What’s there is overcrowded by a two car detached garage, five vehicles, not including the boat or the new motorcycle we just bought, and a shed. The driveway wraps all the way around the house to the garage in the back, taking up most of what would otherwise be yard space.
On good days I love our house, with it’s sturdy brick, new windows and shutters we painted ourselves. I feel safe and grounded in owning a piece of land, in having shelter when not everyone else does. I feel proud of the sawdust my husband and I have kicked up together to make this place our own version of beautiful, I love that we’ve put our mark on this place with our own two hands and hard work and sheer will. I love that we’ve used this place to dream of beautiful children and to love them into being within it’s walls. I feel freedom in having a small mortgage, which is largely to thank for our having all the things that take up legroom in what would otherwise be that one thing I sometimes dwell on not having -- that thing called space (in that other thing called a yard).
Other days I look at our house and even though we have a huge master bedroom, and each one of our children is lucky enough to have a room to themselves, I wish we didn’t have to share a bathroom with our kids. And even though we make great use of 3 floors, I wish we had an actual upstairs, more than a finished basement. And even though my husband’s favorite part of this whole property is
that damn his beloved garage, I wish we had a yard. And even though we have three healthy children, I wish we had a dog.
This has become a lot like our marriage. Once the honeymoon is over, they said, marriage will be a marathon. And this is where we find ourselves already; winded and trying at times to do what once came with no effort at all in endless leaps and bounds.
It’s 1:00 a.m. when my day begins now... everyday.
And this is how our any-given 24 hours together will go down:
The alarm drills a disheveling sound into my head at what can only be described as a clearly unnatural time for any person to wake up. It gets me up for the second one I’m about to hear over the baby monitor. I lie awake waiting for it while Spencer sleeps. When Scarlett’s first half of formula feeding has run dry from the bag elevated above her crib, the machine that pumps it into her tummy overnight on a continuous drip will sound. When it does, I wake up to rinse the bag of stale formula and fill it with a new, warm batch. I have to change her, knowing to expect she may still wake up needing a bath and new sheets in the morning. She’s lucky not to have the vomiting issues most babies in her situation do, but it’s a lot of stress on her bowels. Typing this, I don’t know why I don’t think this part sucks more than I do -- I guess it’s probably just too early for me to have a very strong opinion about anything. I just do it, and I go back to bed.
Spencer goes to work at 4:00 a.m. and I wake up about the time he leaves, usually in time to hand him his lunch and kiss him a sleepy goodbye. I think the last time I made a post about our routine I was still waking up when he did to cook a hot breakfast for him before work. Sometimes I think about that and I wonder what the hell was wrong with me back then. And then I remember that Scarlett wasn’t born yet, and that life was a lot easier.
If I’m lucky Spencer walks through the door, too dirty to touch the kids or even the couch or Lord knows, anything I could use his help with around 6:30. It’s been about fifteen hours since I’ve seen him last, but even with as exhausted as I am from a day tending to three kids and a house and all of the impossible number of errands and chores that go along with having a family this size, I know that he put more muscle into the first four hours of his day than I will all week. Both of us are aching with exhaustion and neither one of us is finished the day’s responsibilities.
Every night before bed, while Matthew is brushing his teeth and Mary is turning down her sheets, Spencer and I swaddle Scarlett. We lie her on the carpet of the living room floor, and she starts to cry. Spencer holds her head into place and shushes kisses onto her forehead, telling her he’s sorry and that it’ll be okay. I unwrap the supplies and I uncap the sterile water. I can’t look at her while I’m prepping the supplies. Any shot at getting this done as quickly and painlessly as possible for her depends on my not becoming emotional about the process.
I dip the tubing into the lubricant and slide the end of it into her nasal cavity, penetrating past the point at the back of her sinuses where it always gives a little resistance, and I have to check for signs that I’m not forcing it into her lungs. She swallows involuntarily, which helps it down. She gathers a long, heaping breath to cry anew, and with that I know for sure I’ve got the position right. The tubing is plastered into place on her cheek with medical tape, which keeps her from pulling it out too easily, but doesn’t prevent it completely. “We’re almost done,” daddy shushes into her ear, unwrapping her and lifting her into his arms, letting her cry into his neck. I check the PH balance of her stomach acids by collecting some of it through the tube into a syringe and then dispensing it onto a special, color-coded strip.
We put her to bed with the same rocking and signing and prayers we always have, but before we turn to leave, we map out her calories for the day, convert the number of ounces she’s had of formula into cc’s, and subtract that number from 940. We divide it by ten, and we plug that number into a machine on a pole by her crib to set the rate at which her sustenance will be fed to her through the night. We turn on the video monitor and I set my alarm to buzz at 1:00 a.m.
By the time we hit the sheets at night, we’re lucky to have the energy it takes to string two words together, much less express our gratitude toward one another for all of the effort gone into making another day work. We realized recently, in fact, that the whole evening unravels in such a flash each night that if we don’t take the time to stop everything and hold each other for just a minute as soon as he walks in the door, we often miss the only opportunity we’ll get all day to kiss. ALL DAY.
Then last night, in the rut of it all I found this, folded into an envelope the said: to my wife.
All of our kids are lucky, and so am I, it began. An impromptu, just-because card left for me on the counter. I want to thank you for being so good to me and to our babies. You are the best in every way. You knew that something was wrong with my little girl and you fought for her until she was healthy again. You researched every possibility yourself when everyone else told you not to worry, and you stayed by her side even when it meant being away from everything else. Scarlett is so lucky to have you. We all are. You are not just my wife, but honestly my best friend. And the best damn mom. I just love you so much, and I want you to know that everyday you make me so proud to be your husband.
On good days I love our marriage, with it’s sturdy roots, it’s tested character, and it’s growing integrity. I feel safe and grounded in the shelter we provided for one another, and in the strength we have to bend. I feel proud of the ground we’ve made on our journey, the dust we’ve kicked up together, and the amazing feats we’ve carried out in the name of love. I love that we’ve built this family around our own collaborative vision of beautiful, with our own two hands and hard work and sheer will. I love that we’ve used this place to dream beautiful children and to love them into being within the very walls of our own flesh. I feel freedom in daring to dream as big as we have, and in being content to dream on, too.
Sometimes I look at my life and I think I’m only 25 and I have all of this -- and I feel burdened. And other times I look at my life and I think I’m only 25 and I have all of this -- and I feel stifled with gratitude that stuns me to my core. No matter what end of that spectrum I’m at on any given day, what I have at the end of it all is him, and that will always be all I need in just and perfect measure.
Let the marathon begin.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
“I know I’ve said it before,” I’d tell them, a renewed awe about my voice every morning when they came to check in on you, “But, doctor, it’s like meeting her for the first time.” I must have said it a dozen and a half times before we left the hospital, because it never stopped becoming truer than it was the day before. The saying caught on until even the doctors were using it to fill each other in on your progress. “It’s another new day for Scarlett!” they’d inform.
First you rolled.
The morning after you were unplugged from the feeding pump for the first time, you woke up grinning ear to ear, nasogastric tube snaking from your nostril, but that smile was all I could see. That in itself was a new development. You reached up at my face, and then swung it at me in all of your excitement. But, wait. You saw something else next to you. A toy. A blanket. A metal bar from the hospital crib. It was like you’d never noticed any of it before. Your eyes focused. You arched your back and you reached, your legs jutting out from above you -- and then WHIP! You did it. You flipped yourself over with a (smack!) less-than-delicate face-plant you weren’t exactly expecting.
You gathered yourself and looked back. You reached behind you, lifting your head with a small grunt, and then FLIP! You did it again, the back of your head landing with a pillow-y thud onto the mattress. Of course, then you saw something else!… and so went the first 24 hour of your new, reinvented life. Flip, whip, smack, swing, kick, flip, whip, thud. I don’t know if you ever stayed focused on anything long enough to actually reach it, but I’m not sure that was the point.
Then you sat up.
You were trying to roll the first time I caught it, but someone walked in, and cut your focus short. One arm swung out in front of you and another steadied you from behind. Your belly tensed and your neck stretched to see who it was at the door, and one leg lifted involuntarily in all of the strain. It rested again once you made it. And there you were, now you could sit up. And so went the next 24 hours. Roll, flip, reach, sit. Roll, flip, reach, sit. Diaper changes were never the same.
Now you crawl.
We’re finally home, settling back into another new kind of normal - as it seems is the constant in our ever-evolving life. And setting you on the floor to play is one of the new, most exciting parts of our every little day. It’s something I could never do before, that I absolutely revere in now.
Before, you would sit up (only) if I placed you in such a position, but it was never something you enjoyed. Toys didn’t interest you. People didn’t interest you. Environment didn’t interest you. So divulging in a little independent exploration was positively out of the question. It’s funny how before I dreamed of all the things that I would do if you could only occupy yourself for 2 minutes. 120 seconds, that’s all I’d need. I could go to the bathroom, I lusted, I could switch the laundry, I could make a sandwich! It all seemed so out of reach. Like such big dreams.
Now I set you on the floor, and you busy yourself at once. flip, reach, roll, grunt, grin, sit… giggle… fall, flip, reach, roll, grunt, grin, sit. Yesterday I sat you in the grass while Matthew played in the backyard with a Frisbee. You rolled forward onto your belly. You plastered a palm flat on the grass in front of you, grabbed at it, and then pulled yourself forward, dragging your belly across the soft, dewed ground. Your back arched and you bottom curled upward, your skirt like a wave reaching into the air. Your legs bent, then tensed, your toes spread wide, every muscle in your body working in unison, helping to inch you along.
You could give a shit that I’m even here now, egging you on and tussling your hair and tickling your thighs. You’re wholly and completely engulfed in your environment, happy as a splash, gaining independence and vitality and a new love of the world you belong to -- a world you’re only seeing now for the first, real time.
I stand back, give you the space to explore. Watch you breathe it all in. Today, I have two minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. And nothing in the world better to do than this.
Monday, August 15, 2011
I was going to breastfeed this time.
I was more educated, I was better prepared. I anticipated every problem and researched every solution. I gave birth, and as if my daughter had been listening the whole time, she latched beautifully. She gulped forcefully. My husband beamed at our side while the nurses showered my daughter and I with compliment and praise. She was born a promising, up-and-coming breastfed baby.
She thrived. She was small, but breastfed babies tend to be, and she was growing. Still, every month I worried a little more than the last. Some said it was because I was comparing her to my son - who was both a boy, and a bottle-fed baby by the second half of his first year. Some said it was because I read too much into every little sign. Some said I needed to trust my body.
Everyone said not to switch to formula.
I could skate around the details, but truth be told: Scarlett was my last chance to get it right. To experience soccermomdom in all of it’s audacious, pompous glory. I quit my job. I did maternity exercises. I read chapter books aloud to my belly. I gave birth naturally. I breastfed. And I made every puree that crossed her lips myself from fresh, locally grown organic fruits and veggies -- many of them handpicked from her own grandfather’s garden. We kept her away from television entirely and even splurged on Your Baby Can Read when she was five months old.
Then Scarlett got sick. Not high-temperature sick or loose-stool sick or sick with infection. She became the kind of sick that no one could really put their finger on, exactly. The kind of ill it’s hard to tell is even there. The kind of sick a few people told me I was only imagining because she was small, and I was overly concerned.
By the time we got to the hospital, Scarlett was so attached to my breast that the jaws of life could not break her bond from them, even though she was virtually wasting away on their milk. She ardently refused any form of bottle or cup, even for the feeding expert from speech therapy assigned to her case who worked fastidiously with her every day of our stay at the hospital. We met every morning for a week with a lactation consultant. The only hope we had of getting her onto the bottle and off of the tube, we decided, was to take the breasts away from her completely - even for comfort, even right now.
It all should have seemed so wrong.
I’d gone to such great lengths to feed my daughter as naturally and nutritiously as humanly possible, to foster a wholesome physical bond with her by breastfeeding and to give her the very best by even avoiding processed solids. Only to end up here? Sleeping in a sterile hospital room next to a metal crib while my daughter took formula through a mechanized tube that fed her overnight, supplementing throughout the day from a menu of packaged Gerber the hospital had on hand for the careful tracking of calorie intake. Scarlett’s lack of sufficient breast milk had not only stunted the growth of her bones and her muscles in the way of inches and ounces that can be gained back -- but could have impeded her brain development and aptitude for learning. In fact, we were lucky it hadn’t.
As much guilt as there may be these days that comes with offering a child a powdered supplement, I can tell you from the trenches of painful experience, the guilt that comes with realizing you’ve been starving your child - to the point of denying them their ability to thrive - is immensely worse. I don’t give a fuck what you know about breast milk.
Bear in mind, Scarlett’s situation wasn’t the most common. More than likely there’s some kind of underlying condition to blame - either permanent or long since passed, that contributed the severity and swiftness of her decline. We’re still looking into it. We also had tried to switch to formula a number of times in the past; it was her refusal to take the bottle rather than our refusal to give it to her that prolonged her adapting to supplementation. However, the fact remains that women are bullied -- downright demoralized everyday -- into ignoring the signs of malnourishment in this extremist effort to keep as many children as possible off of formula. We are guilted into sticking to breast, even after our breasts fail to meet the demands of our children, a possibility which is perpetually swept under the rug -- treated as if it never really happens. Each month handfuls of under-satiated breastfed children are brought through the doors of the same hospital Scarlett was admitted to, to be treated for the toll that being denied enough nourishment took on their bones and their muscles and their neurological health. At the very hands of mommies who only ever had the best of intentions by sticking it out with ‘breast in best’ for as long as they could.
Breast is best. I’m not arguing that. But to what extrent? None? Really?
Women deserve to know that the choice to breastfeed is not entirely devoid of imperfection the way so many activists would have you believe. One very real downside to breastfeeding is that the only way to determine if your baby isn’t thriving on it, is by allowing it to effect their growth, which means waiting until their health begins to noticeably deteriorate. It is astounding to me that the gravity of such a gamble is diluted so recklessly, so dishonorably for women concerned about their milk supply, who are actively seeking unbiased advice -- almost always to an unfortunate lack of avail. I’ve seen it time and time again: women, frantic with worry being pressured not to listen to their doctors, or to switch entirely to a practice that won‘t “push” formula or “dwell” on growth scales said to be outdated. To exhaust every lactation recourse out there FIRST, even when their children are already exhibiting signs of failing to thrive. Leaving malnourished infants with no choice but to wait it out in hunger while the mothers they depend on for nourishment busy themselves fighting to appease society, or to fit themselves into this impossible mold they’re made to believe will make them a better mom. As if pushing the limits of what these fragile, infant bodies can take is worth it, if in the long run it means one less child being tainted by formula; by nourishment that is deemed unfit by the women in our society fortunate enough to have healthy, thriving, satiated babies.
Because, after all, if they can do it, we should be able to. Right?
The danger involved in fighting to breastfeed a child who is already small, is that it doesn’t take much to shake them completely from the percentages they do have. (When Scarlett finally fell from the chart, she plummeted.) And at the same time that a worried mom is being told that rate of growth is the only way to truly determine a child’s failure to thrive on breast milk, she’s also being told that breastfed babies are supposed to be smaller, and that it’s normal for children to have peeks and valleys in their growth, and that every child reaches milestones differently, and that you shouldn’t compare, and that supplementing even a little with formula is a counterproductive, slippery slope, and that it’s perfectly normal for many women not to produce a great volume when they pump, and that, and that, and that…!
Scarlett’s physical decline was a rapid one, and she was between regular check-ups spaced 3 months apart (as is the norm between 6 and 9 months). Waiting until the next scheduled check-up for Scarlett to be weighed could have permanently effected her development. But when I tried to schedule an appointment for an impromptu weighing the way so many child-rearing, breast-biased bibles plainly suggest, the woman on the other end of our family doctor’s line told me Scarlett would be weighed at her next appointment, and that if there wasn’t physical proof of an illness, she couldn’t be seen until then.
(Thankfully, when Scarlett was admitted into the hospital shortly thereafter, and our family doctor found out, he quickly yanked her off the phones. Still, it begs the question: how many nervous mothers before me have been turned away? Made to believe they must be overreacting the way so many family and friends had suggested all along. How many cases of failure to thrive weren’t diagnosed until permanent damage took effect? I asked every nurse and every doctor I encountered during our stay, every medical student and specialist, from the dietician to the lactation consultants to the social workers; I even researched in the Parent Recourse Library -- the numbers are staggering.)
My son is 3 and ever since the day I switched him to formula I’ve harbored this nagging feeling of guilt. I should have kept at it longer. I should have contacted LLL and tried brewer’s yeast and hospital-grade pumps. I could have boiled funnel seeds and sipped Fenugreek three times a day and bought an occasional 6 pack. I could have radically changed my diet and taken away his pacifiers. I failed him because I couldn’t stomach the thought of waiting until all else failed to feed him.
Scarlett was my shot at putting the past to rest.
Suffice to say, I think I have.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I do. I have taken full fleeting advantage of having this time with my daughter, I have. But I miss the ever-loving crap out of a certain blue-eyed boy I’ve never been apart from for so long.
I have so badly missed his great, big 'MOM-MA!' bear hugs first thing in the morning, and I have so badly missed kissing the sleepies away from his eyes each day. I miss his little groans of protest turning into fits of bubbly laughter when I hold him upside down and spit raspberries into his belly. I miss the weight of his wiggly, giggly body fighting free from my arms in their rush to start the day and how it feels to wonder at how strong he has become.
I miss him asking for chocolate milk every morning for breakfast even though I have never, not even once, said yes. I miss the way he hangs his head when I say no.
I miss the harmonica in his pocket and the way he asks if I’d like to hear a song when he pulls it out. I miss him searching me out to dance when a song we know by heart spills through the room.
I miss coaching him over the real big bumps in the sidewalk on his bike. I miss him splashing into my arms from the steps of the pool. I miss running away from bees in the backyard with him and squealing when they find us.
I miss him asking for 'eighty nine stories' before bed and I miss all of the pages that make him laugh out loud. I miss him explaining to me that illustrator means the-person-who-painted-the-pictures, just so that he can tell me that he’s really good at painting pictures too.
I really miss painting pictures with him.
(like, really, really.)
I miss reminding him to look me in the eye when he wants to apologize. I miss telling him I love him a hundred times a hundred. I miss scooping him into my arms and letting his sneakers swing high into the air, and I miss kissing him so hard so many times that he has to squeeze his little eyes shut and wrinkle his nose. I miss his tiny little teeth when he smiles really big and I miss his big, fat, tubby toes when they patter barefoot down the sidewalk toward a friend.
And I miss every inch of him between.
Our first day home from the hospital will no doubt be an utter disaster by my old definition of it.
The dishes will get off to a healthy start because I will happily make him fourteen different things for breakfast when he can’t decide what he wants most. I will let the jam that slips off the knife sit on the counter until it cakes up and I won’t bother to wipe the crumbs around the toaster. I will busy myself putting away exactly 0 pairs of nicely folded underwear and I will only sweep if Matthew wants to help. I won’t say no to much of anything on that day. I will hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I’ve missed his orneriness when he inevitably challenges my authority. We will make much use of our sunscreen and shades and little tin lunch boxes. I will curl myself around him when his energy dwindles. I will fall asleep to the sound of his peanut butter breath when he naps. I will wake up next to him, safe in the arms of a comfy, sun-soaked afternoon at home and I’ll smile and I won’t miss him anymore.
It will be so good to be home.
May I never have to miss it again.
Way back when I was posting a lot about Matthew learning to read I had a few people e-mail me about posting videos. This is one of our Word Games we play (almost) every morning. (As I have no make-up on at this time of day, I didn’t bother with a tri-pod set-up.) (On that note, does anyone know how to upload high quality videos to blogger?) Anway, I write 4 random words on a dry erase board, then call out one word at a time for him to find. He likes to pretend he’s racing me to find them (and that he is a racecar and I am Tow Mater, which is why you can catch him calling me that in the video. I know. He is as equally weird as he is awesome.)
He is awfully awesome, though.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
I remember watching Scarlett sit in front of the coffee table one day at home… disconnected entirely from her surroundings, and thinking that it was as if she couldn’t even see them. I tried to imagine her pulling herself up and walking along the coffee table’s edge, holding on cautiously to it’s beveled wood and smiling back at me the way she should have been doing by then. I couldn’t even picture it. It was the day I knew for sure that if something wasn’t done to intervene, I’d never see my daughter walk.
When we got here, we had every reason in the world to be petrified about how this stay might change the course of our entire lives. There was immediate talk of tragic possibility. Of tumors or neurological issues we had to be prepared to find in the studies of her brain. We didn’t know why, but Scarlett was sick.
While doctors in lab coats and latex gloves lifted her limbs and examined how they fell, we talked about Scarlett’s lack of energy, her poor muscle tone, and her reflexes being almost impossible for anyone to find. We scheduled ultrasounds and x-ray imaging, and a meeting with the anesthesiologists in preparation for an MRI. Blood work and urine samples were collected to be shipped off for labs. We talked with her medical team about all of the things that she wasn’t doing. We learned that Scarlett was considered Failure to Thrive, and that we were in for a pretty long stay.
That was two weeks ago. We’ve since been moved to a room with a shower, and I’ve been doing my laundry in the Parent Recourse Center down the hall where all of the overnight parents meet every morning for Hazelnut coffee. Sometimes this is where parents come to cry. You get the feeling that purpose might have even gone into the design of the room. Sometimes just being in there makes you want to, even when you’re feeling pretty good. By the time we get beyond these walls, I think Hazelnut coffee will forever be linked in my mind to sick babies and sad, tired parents. Even the word reminds me of that room.
Mostly, though, we just come here to think for a second. Because there are things like showers and rooms reserved just for napping, the only people who really use the Recourse Room are the ones who are here for a while. It’s the one place you can go without having to worry about strangers smiling when they pass, like out in the hall toward the elevators. We usually just nod our heads and say good luck as we leave. It’s just the etiquette you pick up on after a few days.
No one actually knows what’s wrong with anyone else’s kid because you’re not supposed to ask, which was relieving to me because I don’t want to know. Scarlett isn’t the sickest kid living at the hospital, but she’s mine and talking out loud about her being unhealthy is one of the ugliest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve only been home twice so far to grab a shower and one of the times I caught the neighbor, who was anxious to hear how she was doing. It caught me off guard. My whole mouth filled with the taste of salt and tears and I had to stop and just say that she was fine, even before I knew she was.
Before we got here I’d spent two months watching my daughter deteriorate, and feeling like no one could help. She was regressing in her milestones by the end of the first month, and dramatically in her size. Growing backward suddenly, both physically and mentally, although I didn’t have solid proof of it at the time. When I started speaking up about my worries, so many people tried to lovingly explain away my concerns in an effort to make me feel better, which only served to make me feel more alone. Even Spencer kept saying, “I love my teeny, tiny baby girl. She’s perfect just the way she is.” Maybe he was right -- what kind of mother would I be, then, to think that she wasn’t?
Coming here was like learning that it was okay to mourn over the time I’d lost with her to the sick, lethargic state she’d been trapped in for so long. Two whole months of her small ten month existence were wasted away. She wasn’t able to play. She barely responded to us. Spencer even thought that she hated him because all she wanted to do was lie like putty in my arms, and sleep. For two really rough days I questioned from dawn to dust and back again if I was really cut out for everything I realize now that motherhood was actually asking of me. Sure, Scarlett wasn’t the sickest kid in the hospital this time. But someone in here was. And that someone had a mother somewhere, who could just as easily be me someday down the road with my own kids. And could I do her job? Could I really be that mother if it was what were asked of me? Aren’t we all taking that chance when we make the reckless decision to have children we can only hope turn out healthy?
To me, up until now, being a mother was pretty easy. It was keeping the toilets bleached and hair combed to the side for church. It was banana-berry smoothies for breakfast and saying prayers as a family. It was making sure the floors were swept and the dishes put away before Mary got home from school. It was struggling to make time for date nights and personal interests. It wasn’t always cake, but it was a walk in the park compared to this. This was a disaster. This was not what I signed up for. This was definitely what it looked like to bite off about 800 THOUSAND times more than a person could chew. I was choking on my ability to be a parent at all. Watching all of these sad, tired parents cry over their coffees early in the morning, and in front of the elevators in the middle of the afternoon and into the telephones late into the night was more evidence than I could have ever prepared myself the see, that being a parent was a difficult and tragic thing I clearly did not have the balls to do. Not by a long shot.
Of course, like every other ordinary humdrum day that came before, even those two long, exhausting days eventually come to an end. And when they did, our course was changed.
Putting her on a feeding tube was like breathing life into her veins, and within 48 hours she was a different child completely. It was as if - just as I was bracing for the worst - life, instead, just winked at us and walked away.
I can’t begrudge this crazy turn of events anymore for anything that led us here; It doesn’t matter now that I haven’t slept with my husband or kissed my son goodnight or washed my face with actual soap for the better part of a month. It only matters now that I have her. The real her. The healthy her.
Sure, it will be nice to go home, absolutely, but it is nicer to be with her. Worth it a thousand times over. Wherever that may be.
This morning one of the best pediatric doctors in the nation, who has become an everyday part of our lives, came in to do a minor evaluation of Scarlett’s developmental progress. He commented that she was catching up beautifully. She was still a little “floppy,” and it concerns him to some degree that she isn’t exhibiting any stranger anxiety by now (especially after all she’s been through the past two weeks). But he says that we’ll have to cut her some slack when it comes to our milestone expectations. She’s going to lag behind a little. It’s expected. But she’ll catch up. He winked and he left.
When we got to the Child Life Activity Center today, she crawled for the very first time. After eight days of her doing it, I’m still getting used to watching her reach for toys that are placed under her nose. (Much less out of reach!) Kind of like I am still getting used to watching tall, gruff men with tattoos cry into their hands over their children. I guess that’s part of what parenthood is though: always becoming more than you thought. Be it beautiful or hideous. It’s always stretching just beyond what you ever thought it could.
My appreciation for parenthood is absolutely and forever changed because of this experience. It’s a more powerful thing than I realized before. More powerful than I think I was ready to be before this happened. I shudder to think of all the ways I still have to grow and how the experiences to come will prepare me for that. But if one thing is for sure, it’s that they will.