Links to my nj.com writings – all in one place

annbAs many of you know, I am a weekly Parental Guidance blogger for nj.com. Here are some links to my past writings on nj.com. By clicking on any of the headlines, it will lead right to the article.

Thanks for taking the time to check out what I have to say and I always appreciate your comments and feedback. Additionally, if you have an a creative idea, news that is worth noting, or something incredible that you believe should be shared with parents, please feel free to contact me. 

 

Car seat safety: Simple steps that may save a child’s life

Can aspiring moms have it all at one time?: Ariane Duarte shares her recipes for success

Our children’s heroes and the amazing, incredible Cory Booker

Self-Esteem and Resilience: Are we handicapping our children by making their lives easier?

Giselle Bundchen, ATVs, celebrity soapboxes, and pedestals: the time has come to be grounded in common sense

Pediatricians endorse same-sex marriage: why gay parents raise good kids

C-Sections and VBACs: Why our lack of choice matters

The ‘Pop-Tart’ gun and the two-day school suspension

Teachers and sex with our students: how do we view the crime?


Uncertainty: A Formidable and Powerful Teacher

mysteryOne of the few things that I find myself certain of is my inability to tolerate uncertainty. I know, in essence, that life is always uncertain. Uncertainty contains the sweetness of risk and the power of potential. As I grow older, I recognize that patience with the unknown is a cornerstone of maturity. I fully realize that we aren’t granted tomorrow and we must live in the present to really grasp what life has to offer. In theory, I understand it. In practice though, I am still practicing.

Lately, it feels like I’ve entered a boot-camp for my discomfort with uncertainty. In all aspects of my life, I am deluged with change; flooded with so many unknowns and so few answers.  All the while as I analyze and think, this voice within has been whispering that this may feel like the real struggle but is all preparation for things ahead. All of this exercise in discomfort is just practice for what is coming.

As often is the case, that little voice within was correct.

Two weeks ago Friday, I returned home with my three daughters from a week-long Boston trip. After driving five hours through Storm Andrea, that stormy Friday afternoon was all about mounds of piled mail, even bigger mounds of piled work, and the biggest mounds of piled laundry.

When putting my oldest daughter, Sonoma, to bed that night, I noticed a small cut on her wrist. It was about 1/10 of a inch. It was barely a scratch but I recall thinking I should put some more peroxide on it before she went to sleep. I left the room to grab the peroxide and a Band-Aid. As sometimes happens, something else caught my attention. I forgot. I had three dogs to tend to, clothes to move from the washer to the dryer, emails to send out with a deadline of midnight, and an infant to nurse.

That momentary forgetfulness would later haunt me.

In the morning, two of my three daughters awoke as they always do at 6:30am. 7:30 passed and Sonoma still slept. 8:30 passed, 9:00 passed – no Sonoma. Around 9:30am, Sonoma came downstairs and quietly said that she didn’t feel well. “Look Mom, my arm looks like a tennis ball.” It was yellowish, green and swollen. By 9:48am, I had all three of my daughters in the hospital emergency waiting room. They treated her and discharged her with some antibiotics. we were back home a little after 11:00am.

The day went on. Sonoma was in good spirits. During church services that night, Sonoma began to burn up with fever. She became listless and lethargic. We headed to the emergency room right after Mass. On the way to the hospital, she developed redness running up the center of her arm. At the hospital, they diagnosed it as cellulitis, a bacterial infection. The doctors told my husband, Joe, and I that it was serious.

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Sonoma and Friends

The following hours were extremely difficult. She had a temperature of 104. They were able to reduce the fever with medication. I left the hospital at midnight to bring my infant daughter home and visit our two year old, Sienna, who was with Joe’s cousin. It took everything in me to leave her for the next few hours but I knew she was content with her dad sleeping in the chair next to her bedside.

When I texted Joe around 4:00 am to see how she was, I was told she had taken a turn for the worse. Her fever was back up to 104, her arm was red and swollen, and they were concerned. There were high fevers, periods of incessant vomiting, and uncertainty as to the trajectory of her illness. As someone who worked in a hospital for several years, I knew all the possibilities and I was terrified. I sat up in my bed sickened by the unknown. I was shaking. I had the chills. The clock read 4:03am. I called the doctor at the nurse’s station. I called her pediatrician. I asked questions trolling for certainty that i knew they couldn’t give me. I paced around the room. I threw up.  The clock read 4:21am. Time was virtually standing still.

When I returned to the hospital in the morning, her condition improved. Hours later it became slightly worse. Slowly and steadily though, Sonoma became better each day. My husband slept in the chair next to her bed every night. In the day, I sat with her. We drew pictures, painted, and spent time with family.

Three days later, Sonoma was discharged. She remained in good spirits and has made a wonderful recovery.

This could easilyimage3 be a cautionary story about the dangers of an infected cut. In all honesty, with three children ages four and under, my children get scratches and scrapes every single day. I do clean their cuts but not every single one. I grew up in a pre-bike helmet, pre-car seat, pre-antibacterial soap era and always silently reasoned that I survived. I now see the danger in what occurred and how serious something became so quickly. All I can say is to err on the side of caution and trust your parental gut.

This could be a story about the need to slow down. I was so busy tending to the little things that I forgot to tend to another little thing that was  important. Responding to an email requesting a recipe or a Facebook comment can wait. So can that 3rd load of laundry. There will always be laundry and inbox messages. At the end of the day, children are just more important.image1

This could be a story about the power of prayer and positive energy. Immediately, friends and family asked what they could do. They offered to watch our daughters, watch our dogs, come to the hospital, or come to our home. There is power in love and in kindness. There is power in showing up for others in their time of need.

This could be a story about bravery. Our daughter was such a sweet, brave spirit. With every blood test and IV and medicine administered, she didn’t fuss but showed remarkable resilience and even smiled. Her ability to endure everything with grace was astounding. Sometimes we discount the ability of our children to understand what is going on. I was astounded at my daughter’s ability to process everything and handle it with such dignity.

This story could be about so many different things but this is a story about gratefulness. It is not just gratefulness for the fact that she is recovering and there is a happy ending to this story. It is a more enduring grimage2atefulness based on perspective and the bigger picture.

Sonoma was on the Pediatric Unit of the hospital. It was a unit with children of various ages and illnesses. Often children were walking the halls with their parents and there was an art room for children that were healthy enough to meander over. During Sonoma’s hospitalization, we would see children who had received chemo and children who didn’t have the liberty to leave the hospital in 3 days, as we did.

When I think of that feeling of being despondent that night, that seemingly unbearable feeling was just for one night. There are parents who have to live with similar feelings of uncertainty about their child’s health for months and even years. These same parents who had been there with their child for many months were the same parents who held the door open for us. They smiled in the hallway at us and even offered to share their art supplies with us. That is true courage, kindness, and bravery.

Now that our somewhat hectic life has resumed, I was standing on line at Starbuck’s yesterday and the man in front of me online lambasted the Barista for getting his coffee order wrong. I found myself instantly thinking of  that mom walking the hallway with her small sick, bald  daughter and their IV on wheels and her smiling into Sonoma’s room when they passed by. With all that mother was dealing with, that mom took the time to show us a gesture of kindness.

Although we can’t control what we are dealt in life, we can control our reactions. In this sense, we hold the potential for growth, change, and healing within our own grasp.

The next time, I’m in the car flashing my lights for someone to speed up or honking to tell someone to slow down, maybe that person is on their way to the hospital or somewhere else just as  important. Perhaps they’re not, and just an inconsiderate driver. Nonetheless, it is about being mindful. So many of us are fighting important, secret battles. It is essential to be kind.

Perspective. Making sure the things in our lives aren’t more important than the people in our lives. Making certain that we don’t allow the petty matters of daily life overshadow great and simple opportunities to express our love for others.

Perhaps the only certainties in life are those that we make certain to embrace and express, such as love and kindness. And perhaps certainty and resolution are highly overrated. Pema Chodron addresses this idea in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”


Bumpy Milestones and Mean Kids

parentsignAs a mother, once your child is born and sometimes long before that baby was even expected, you dream of celebrating your child’s milestones. Since the very moment I held my first daughter, Sonoma, I imagined what it would be like when she said her first word, ate messy cake at her first birthday party, went on her first family trip to Disney World with us, and understood what the excitement of Christmas morning was all about. I vividly imagined every moment from walking her into her kindergarten classroom to her walk down the aisle with her father on her wedding day, and all of the future memories in between. Maybe its a bit cliché but that is what I did and I still continue to do every so often. As these early milestones come and go, I have rejoiced with my enthusiastic daughter and secretly wished that I could slow down each minute. It all seems to goes by in a blink. What milestone I did not anticipate was the first time she would encounter mean kids at school, and that milestone came last night.

When I was putting my soon-to-be four-year-old to bed last night and helping her put on her x-small blue princess pajamas, she woefully asked me, “Mama, am I too small?” Sonoma is one of the sweetest little souls you may ever encounter. She is in the first percentile for weight, the seventh percentile for height, and 110th percentile for energy. When I asked her as to why she was asking me that, she explained. She said that two girls in her preschool class told her she is “too small” and cannot play at the workbench with them. She added that they called her “tiny”, pulled all of the toys away, and told her to “go away”. The words and tone coming forth from her petite frame crushed my heart.

For all the hours of therapeutic graduate study and practice that I have offering the “right answers” to children and adults alike, I was at a loss. I remain still at somewhat of a loss. I know the preferred answers in theory, yet the Mama Bear in me wants to stomp through the sandbox and yank these little bullies by their pigtails* and tell them to stay away from my daughter. Better yet, I should really be yanking the side-ponies* of these girls’ mothers. It is more an issue of what they have learned, where they have learned it, and what is permissible. A  four-year-old learned that acting this way towards a fellow peer is okay from somewhere or someone. It’s an age old case of falling apples and trees.

Sonoma shares a room with her younger sister, Sienna. For as every bit gentle as Sonoma is, my middle-child is headstrong and spirited. As Sonoma told me about this rude, exclusive playground duo, Sienna sat there adamantly shaking her head in disapproval and telling her sister, “Noma, I no like the girls!” Somehow, I imagine my fiery-redheaded daughter wouldn’t have handled it the same as her older sister. Sienna can be a pusher and a fighter. I know that as a mom, encouraging a shove is not the answer by any means, but I would be lying if I told you it didn’t cross my mind. It is interesting how you have children born a few months apart and believe to be raising them the same way and they each develop so differently with such unique responses.

My response was a bit botched. I said something to the effect of  “great things come in small packages.” Sonoma looked at me quizzically and told me she “didn’t want to come in a package” but wanted to just “get along” with everyone. After I encouraged Sonoma to talk to her teachers and reaffirmed how truly wonderful she is, I retreated to my bedroom and began whispering about it with my husband. The debate began.

I was never popular in school. I was labelled Dork-O’Rourke (O’Rourke being my maiden name) and still remain a nerd in many aspects. It became worse in high school. Well over fifteen years and countless hours of self-introspection later, I’m so very okay with who I am. I can say with ungarnished honesty that I am glad high school was not the highlight of my life. I am happy I didn’t follow a herd mentality. Undoubtedly, some of the friction I faced helped to shape me into a person who is unique in my perception of things, to shape my voraciously competitive spirit, and to mold me into an individual who is sensitive to others. The strife that I faced was truly a boot camp for my sensitivity, helping me to shed my victim skin, and metamorphosis into a strong soul. All that said though, I’d like my daughters to avoid many of the struggles I endured.

In direct opposition to my humble experience, my husband was always popular. He excelled in sports, attended all the parties, threw the best parties (according to local legend), and was one of the last ones to leave the party. He had and continues to have a close group of loyal, lifelong friends with whom he grew up with. My husband has unabashed confidence and a fiery strong will. To him, words from his critics and quips from naysayers are like water off a duck’s back. I, on the other hand, always had trouble sloughing the harsh words of others off. At times, I envy my husband’s self-assurance and his refusal to overthink each step of the way. He often plods forward where I stumble over my own trepidacious feet.

I realize it’s all a trade-off and there are benefits of each experience but I struggle with what the right answers are. This is just such a hard topic and I ponder how so many other parents deal with it.

When it comes to parenting, my worst preoccupation is that I just don’t want to make crucial mistakes. I wholeheartedly want to give all three of my daughters the best answers, the best choices, and the best direction. I’d like to take the best of my husband and the best of myself and offer it to them so that they can become their best selves and aspire big-time. I want the world to be kind to my children. Although I don’t intend to ruin my children by making their lives easy, I also don’t want to watch them struggle.

I can’t help but think of that scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when Alvy walks up to the fashionable, smiling young couple on the city sidewalk and asks them how they account for their happiness. The young, trendy woman replies, “I am very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say. ” Her attractive male counterpart adds, “I am exactly the same way.” Perhaps being too sensitive and too aware of the world around you, adversely effects your happiness. Maybe ignorance, and insensitivity,are often bliss.

I also wonder whether this is actually an issue of my daughter’s feelings or my feelings. I can’t help but feel that maybe I am the one who is too sensitive on the matter entirely. I do not want to clout this matter with all of my own magnified issues of the past. Am I making this too big a deal? Maybe this moment is more pivotal for me than it is for her?

I intend to go speak with her teachers. From a positive perspective, she seemed very enthusiastic about going to school and spoke about how much she enjoys her time with her other friends in the class. Let me know your thoughts. I am interested to hear your strategies and the lessons that you have learned and insight you may have. Input on this subject is very much appreciated!

(*and please don’t write me about yanking anyone’s hair – it is an expression and not an intention – I’m not an aggressive person or a hair-puller by any means.)