Monday, October 31, 2011

More than just a pain in the butt.

My daughter has had stomach problems since she was born, having inherited this unfortunate malady from me.  I have all too vivid memories as a child running to the bathroom calling for my mother.  Not quite sure what it was back then:  nerves, the wrong food, or something else to consider as "over sharing."  Thankfully I've been able to manage my issues as an adult and avoid pain and embarrassment in my daily life.

The doctor has advised us to give her prune juice, Mylicon drops and when all else fails, use suppositories or a rectal thermometor when she is really miserable.  Before I let my daughter cry herself to sleep, the whole "helping her poop" fiasco was the one that sent me into the bedroom hiding.  There is nothing worse than seeing your kid in pain.  That and not being able to explain to them how to deal with it, or that your inducing pain and discomfort is going to help them in some way.  I don't want her to grow up too fast but if we could just get to the part where we understand what she wants and she better understands us, times like these would be so much easier.

When I see her make that strenuous, red face I usually know what's coming.  However, this morning makes two days without a stinky diaper right after, which spells trouble.  People may wonder why I'm so concerned. Its only a stomach ache right?  It's not the end of the world!  Wrong.   I look at my baby with the "worry face" my husband tells me I have to work on losing.  I can't help it.  I spent too many times as a kid, doubled over wondering if I was going to die right there on the toiletbowl.  So as my poor 14 month old drops her bottle, starts crying and screaming while tightening her legs, abs and face to push, I can't help but want to scream "Someone do something!!"  And I realize that someone is me.

I lift her up, pry her legs apart to straddle me and sing a catchy, original tune called "Let's Push the Poop Out," while rubbing her back and bouncing up and down.  This works for a a few seconds until her pain subsides and she is interested in her books and dolls again.  But I know this isn't going to end unless I'm cleaning up a dirty diaper, so I reluctantly get her on the change pad and begin the "helping process."

She's older now and we haven't had to do this in a really long time so she is both stronger and more aware.  After kindly telling her that "Mommy has to help," while dodging her wild feet, I resort to a firm,  "Please stop!"  I put the thermometer near her again and she kicks me in the face and says "Top!"  while giving me her signature stink eye.  I'm both shocked and proud.  I guess she can say "stop" now and apparently knows that word should always accompany a potential invasion of her private parts.  I decide we both had enough and get her dressed.

I go to work, kiss my still constipated daughter and wish my husband luck.  We both know its going to be a long afternoon.  A few hours later I check in with him on g-chat and he tells me he has just experienced "the worst 30 minutes" he's ever had with her. Lots of straining, screaming, and crying, and still no poop.  I pounce on the keyboard, frantically sending as much advice and questions that come to mind: "Is she in serious pain?   Should we call the doctor?  Try a suppository.  Keep her active.  Maybe we should ease up on the bananas that she loves."

I wait for a response, handle a few work calls and can't concentrate.  No one understands I am distracted by the image of my baby leaning over the couch, gripping Cookie Monster in pain.  I keep eyeing the messenger for a response and my own stomach starts to hurt.  As an adult I was properly diagnosed as having a nervous tummy which, had we  known back then,  would've likely made both me and my mother less gray than we are now.

About twenty minutes later the screen blinks with a comforting:  "Someone feels better."  I feel the knot on my left side ease.  My husband gives me a full report: length, width, color.  Everything no one wants to know about unless they are a parent or lab tech.

I feel the urge to run to the toy store and get her a present for overcoming a most irritable bowel.  I wonder what would have happened had she been in someone else's care.  Would they just have thought it was her teeth and that she was being cranky?   I'm so thankful for my husband being with her, having the patience and  physical strength to make her feel better.

She is all smiles when I come home, running amongst the mess that is my living room.  It looks like a tornado came through and now I can see just how intense this afternoon's events were.  I give her the Sesame Street  book I naturally got to both make her laugh and ease my guilt.

I go to bed making a mental note of all of the foods we will avoid in the next few days. I consider getting her a potty to help during particularly difficult times even though she is too young for training.  I make a dozen lists in my head, trying to come up with an action plan to avoid this in the future.  But I know no matter how much I try to prepare, I can't predict what ailment is going to send us both over the edge.  Next time it could be a rash, a bee sting, a cough, or a stuffy nose.  It'll be something my husband and I will again have to manage using our instinct until she can tell us what is wrong.

So that leaves me facing my mortal enemy : ambiguity.  Whenever it comes around I'll have to jump right into managing my own discomfort with whatever it throws me.   This means singing a song in my head to mask my daughter's screams, saying "its okay," to both her and myself, and replacing mental images of her face in pain with those of her laughing .   All the while hoping one day I'll look back and  like my mother, realize I was much stronger than I gave myself credit for.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mommy vs. The Playground

My daughter was pretty content in her stroller but I knew that wouldn't last.  I swallowed hard looking over at the play area, coming up with about a dozen good reasons not to take her in there: "She is fine just sitting here,"  "There are a lot of kids, it looks crowded,"  "It costs $2 to get in."
My subconscious was on to me, "You don't want to take her in there because you're afraid of what will happen to her!"  Thank you Jiminy Cricket.  I flicked him off my shoulder, grabbed the diaper bag and wheeled the stroller in.  Her eyes widened as we got closer. She couldn't get unbuckled fast enough as I grumbled to myself, knowing I begrudgingly made the right choice.

Bringing her to the  playground or any place where there are other kids freaks me out.  I'm afraid she is going to get pushed, stomped on, or even worse, be playing with a toy that another kid is going to come over and take.  What do I do when I see that interaction take place?  Do I go over and try to nicely discipline another person's kid?  Do I ignore it and give my daughter another toy teaching her how to be passive?  What can you teach on the playground when its communal space, everything is fair game, and half the parents are talking on their cell phones?

I sat perched on the edge of the sand pit, ready to spring into action while engaging my daughter in a fun game of shoveling sand in the bucket. There were a lot of older boys playing roughly around her making me nervous. My chest tightened with every passing kid, holding my breathe until they got distracted and ran over to the slide.

A shy kid, I always suffered in social settings for having the inability to open my mouth and in turn let everyone else get their way.  I was always picked last in gym class, made fun of because of my big eyes, and always had a sense that someone was talking about me even when I'd try really hard to be nice. My husband never experienced any of these things as a child.  In fact he claims he was a young extrovert and a protector on the playground,  sticking up for his underdog friends when another person bullied them.  He can't fathom what I went through and doesn't understand this fear I have of what will become of our daughter in a social setting.

Am I a potentially overbearing, crazy mother for having this fear?  No, because as a parent, I'm realizing I have my own baggage that I have to deal it.  There will be more birthday parties, play dates and subsequently more reasons to keep her locked up at home and safe.  I'm sure other parents have similar and various other fears.  The challenge lies in asking ourselves what we are really achieving by our actions and equally, our inability to act.  Are we prioritizing the development of our kids, or our own sanity and inability to face our own fears?

Interest in the shovel and bucket was naturally short lived so my daughter left them to navigate her way around the sand pit.  After she left, a little boy came over and started playing with them.  From across the pit she dropped her new toy, ran over, waved her arms wildy and shouted gibberish at him.  He looked up sheepishly, slowly stood up and walked away, leaving the shovel and bucket at his feet.  My daughter spun around, returned to her new spot and continued to play, leaving her mother stunned, not quite believing what she had just witnessed.

I looked across the sand to my unassuming, little spitfire offspring quietly playing with a dump truck, and smiled to myself.  I couldn't help but think that she just might be okay.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Developing a "Hands Off" Policy

My parents claim they hit me only once when I was about two. I continued to touch the radio after I was told not to. They swear this was the first and last time they ever laid a hand on me and since I have no memory of that or any other incident thereafter, I believe them. I don't know of any other new parents who hit their kids, though I'm sure no one would talk about it if they were. We live in a time where child services is on everyone's speed dial and bringing food into schools that may contain traces of peanut can be considered child abuse. But many people still believe in this method and that its something as a parent you "should" or "need" to do at some point.

I'm learning quickly that having a toddler is a daily test as to whether or not you can keep it together and not become slap happy. Its the age when the kid wants to do his or her own thing, never stays still and you become a diaper changing ninja, shocking friends with your lighting speed. Its also emotionally and physically challenging being you are fighting a more limber, agile version of yourself with the same fiery intent of getting your way.

We found my daughter to really be at her worst around mealtime, when she decides to throw her food on the floor. After ignoring "no" a few hundred times during a recent feeding, I softly slapped her hand. This wasn't working so I slapped her hand again and again. I grew angrier and slapped harder until she stopped smiling as if to say, "Wait a minute this may not be a game." I started to swell with pride, considering I may have won. I was disgusted with myself. Victory can't come with pain to my child! Who had I, a counselor for years, become in this moment?

That night my husband and I discussed a "hands off" policy. We agreed it would be too easy to channel our frustrations with childrearing, lack of sleep, job related stress, and everything else into a slap on the hand or butt. I certainly understand how other parents can lose it, but there has to be a better way, a more creative way to discipline a child.

Its been a daily challenge but I am committed to our rule and so I have started to think outside the box. Now when she gives me a hard time on the changing table I show her how to make shadows with her hand on the wall or tickle her tummy. If that doesn't work, I just give her a minute to freak out and start over. When it comes to lunch and dinner time I realized my approach was totally wrong. I was telling her that food stays "on the table" but never taught her what the table was. So now we point to the food and the table. And when the message doesn't sink in, she understands that throwing food means I push her high chair away from the table until she is ready.

My husband and I are both working hard to be more effective and authoritative in a nurturing way and there are still those moments when we are near the edge. But just last night, my daughter confirmed that our positive actions are slowly taking affect. After telling her over and over again that we weren't going to read another book at bedtime, she got pissed and had her little meltdown. Seconds later, after she figured out she wasn't getting her way, she snuggled into me, looked up and gave me a kiss.

I see that many lessons about what is right and wrong are hard to learn as a child and respect for your parents is something earned. As my parents did, I've made the choice to teach these things in a way that may take longer but will make my family happy and strong. Just as she began to crawl and pick up toys, my daughter will slowly master these things. And one day, she will understand that though these lessons were difficult to learn, they were even harder to teach.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Don't cry over vomited milk

Crying it out, (or "CIO" as the annoying people on the mothering websites call it), is the method by which an infant cries to learn how to fall asleep without being soothed.  Lots of people love this method, with an equal amount hating it.  Whenever anyone I've talked to discusses this they leave out the grueling details of what they as a parent do while this is taking place.  What do you do while you stare at the clock and find that two minutes of crying and screaming feels like five hours of a root canal with no Novocaine?

I take this opportunity to lock myself in the bathroom, put the fan and water on, change into my pj's and occasionally clean the toilet.  All this productivity to deal with my anxiety and keep me from running to my baby's aid. If I don't do these things I find myself pacing back and forth with each change in the tone of her scream.  One sends me away from her room, one towards it, always faced with the question, "What should I do?"

As we started this grueling process last month, my daughter would get so upset that she would start to choke.  One night, after filing my nails and cleaning the shower, I turned off the bathroom fan and heard a nice retching sound followed by something hitting the floor.  I ran to the living room and my husband instantly reprimanded  me for panicking.

 "You can't go in there," he angrily whispered,  " We're going to have to start this process all over again!  You have to calm down!"

Didn't he understand?  I'm a mother, I don't have to calm down and will get even more angry when someone tells me to calm down!  Plus, my supermom sense of hearing alerted me to the fact that our daughter just threw up!

He agreed to check on her after a few minutes of coaxing.  She apparently didn't vomit and so the process started again.  This time she cried for less than five minutes while I took my makeup off, straightened the bedroom and balanced my checkbook.

She's asleep a good two hours before I check on her.  I open the door and it hits me:  the stench of milk and stomach bile.  There is nothing more poignant than the smell of milk vomit.  There it was on the floor, at the foot of her crib and as I got closer, also on the crib rail.  She had thrown up!  I knew it!

She's sleeping peacefully on her belly as I crouch closer to be sure she's not sleeping in her own vomit.  Tears well as I look down and find a piece of tomato from dinner on the sole of her little foot.  I'm enraged and let loose on my husband who is somehow confused that he missed this and doesn't say much as I start to clean up the mess.  I'm festering with anger as I go over and lift her up.  He tells me to leave her alone and that she will be okay.  But its NOT okay.  My baby will not sleep in her own smelly, vomit stained pajamas.

I lift her up, gingerly change her pj's and put her down, choking back tears as I rub her head.  She is asleep as I clean the rest of the mess up in the dark while whispering "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

I was a bad mother, succumbing to the parental peer pressure of letting my kid cry it out.  I let all of those people get into my ear with their "you should do this" and "its the only way she will learn", ignoring my maternal instinct to rush to her aid. She needed us and we ignored her.  When she cried loudly it was when she got sick.  She was scared and we let her cry.

She slept soundly that night and woke up with smiles the next day.  Since then she has become a good sleeper, the crying has waned, and my bathroom is a bit dirtier.

I'm thankful her infant memory saves her from thinking we've abandoned her and wanting to run away with the circus when she's older.  Mommy's memory on the other hand, will be easily recalled.  I'll confirm years from now, when my daughter has her own child, that the crying it out method certainly does work.  It only took me seconds after crawling into bed, hands smelling of soap and rancid milk, to cry myself to sleep.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Can you hear me now?

A few weeks ago during the hurricane, we lost power in our apartment building.  I was in my doorway talking to some neighbors and my daughter took off down the pitch black hallway.  She was headed directly towards whatever monsters and goblins were lurking in the dark.  I actually had a moment of childlike panic venturing into the darkness to retrieve her.  Naturally I called to her and she just continued on.  Aside from realizing she had no fear,  I wondered if she was harboring some secret super power like night vision.   Alas, my daughter just wasn't listening to me.  I'm certain she heard me and that this wasn't some auditory issue.  She was clearly ignoring me and likely relishing in the fact that I too knew that this was just the beginning.

In my many attempts to take control of this situation, I've yet to find my "mother voice."  Its the one everyone knows and still creates shockwaves in your system as an adult.  Its the tone of your mother's voice that indicates she is pissed either because you did something, your father did something, or dinner just isn't coming out the way she planned.  I've caught myself going through a series of voices, saying the same thing and hoping for a different result.  You've got the low, bellowing voice that "means business,"  the loud, quick voice that means "I'm pissed, get your little ass over here," and the dry, soft voice that is tired and basically pleads "get back here so I don't have to walk another inch."  Just like my husband and his poor attempts to voice her puppets, my daughter is on to me. She gives me the same look she gives him when Boober the Fraggle sounds a lot like our ninety two year old neighbor.

Maybe she thinks I'm nagging her.  Last night she was putting her snacks in a candy dish on my mother's coffee table.  I came up behind her and told her, very kindly,  to take them out, because "snacks don't go in there silly!".  She turned around, stiffened her whole body, waved her arms and shouted "Meh meh meh!"   Everyone laughed as they too could see she was clearly putting me in my place.  I laughed it off but cowered back into my chair.  Was that baby talk for "stop annoying me woman!"and if so, has my husband been coaching her for this moment all along? I quickly realized there are no allies in this war against the kid that wants her way.

Its our job as parents to teach our kids right from wrong and to keep them safe.  So how do you do that if your kid isn't listening and at what point do you differentiate between them just being a curious toddler and being defiant?  Do you yell for them in the store, letting every potential pedophile know their name, or chase after them letting them think its a game and running away from mommy and daddy is fun?

I'm beginning to think its a little bit of both and that it will take another few months, maybe years, before I'm able to find my true "mother voice."  I'll know I've found it when she stops what she is doing and gives me a look of defeat.  I'll have a moment of excitement, feel the urge to call all my mom friends and tell them "It happened!  She listened!  Dreams do come true!" .  But then I will see her face, feel guilty, and take her to Friendly's.  We'll share a clown cone, suck down a Fribble and both relish in the fact that together we know, this is the just the beginning.