Learning to Let Go

Hello, adolescence!

Hello, adolescence!

It’s Friday night, and I am dropping off my 6th grader for her first middle school dance. And I am trying not to panic.

She’s wearing her “I Love Bacon” shirt and a pair of camos, and her hair is perfect. Before she jumps out of the van, I give her some last-minute advice. Well, “advice” is putting it mildly. It was more like desperate warnings on how to survive being out in the cruel, cruel world. The words still ring in my ears. “Remember, if someone tries to offer you a pill, or some drugs, use your brain.” And the ever-important “Do not, for any reason, go along with the bigger kids, who decide to go climb out onto the roof.”

“Mom. I know,” she says, as her eyes almost roll right out of her head. And then she is gone, slamming the door, walking determinedly toward the school’s front entrance. Looking back to grin at me and discreetly wave before she goes through the door.

There are cars beeping, behind me. So I drive off slowly, catching one last glimpse of her long black coat, a flash of light brown hair.

I never seem to get enough of this kid. I adore spending time with her, and I miss her when she is gone. Now, this is true of all three of my kids. Usually. Of course. But 11 is an awesome age, and K is a delight to hang out with.

Just the day before, K and I went to the mall and spent a few rare and wonderful hours together, just the two of us. We got sodas from Chic-Fil-A, and sat at one of the tall tables, our legs swinging while we got high on caffeine and sugar. We talked about Minecraft. Gaming. Someday getting a puppy. Our plans for a costume for Halloween. How to survive the zombie apocalypse. It was, in truth, one of the most delicious Cokes I’ve ever had.

Afterwards, we left the food court and headed across the mall. We were there for a special purpose. K had decided to have her ears pierced. We arrive at Claire’s, and I fill out the piercing paperwork while K picks out her first earrings. She chooses gold stars, and the piercer preps her ears, dotting the spots with purple ink. The first piercing almost sends K running out of the store, screaming in pain. But I hold her hand, and let her know that, unlike what the Claire’s employee says, it really doesn’t matter if she only gets the one ear pierced. I am indifferent. I want only for her to make her own choices.

She thinks about it for a long time, while the piercer stands nearby, impatiently. I talk to her calmly, and she finally, after about 10 minutes, makes the decision to go forward. She winces her way through the second piercing, a few tears glittering in her eyes. But then she checks out her reflection. She catches the glint of gold in her newly pierced ears, and is charmed, instantly forgetting the discomfort. I hug her. We pick out 3 pair of earrings: 2 pairs of sparkly lizards and one pair of shark earrings that bite your ear lobes. They are SO her style. And then we take off to get double chocolate chip cookies from Au Bon Pain and be incredibly late for her doctor’s appointment, 5 miles away.

This day will stand out in my memory as one of the most beautiful days I’ve spent so far with my big kid.

But that was yesterday. Tonight, I’m confused and frustrated with her. I don’t understand why she is choosing to go to this middle school dance, all alone. While all her friends are going on a Girl Scout campout. K says she wants to try to meet some new people at her middle school. And I have to respect her choices. I have to back her up. This is the kid I am raising, flexing her independent muscles. Being mighty.

Uugh. I want so badly to overrule her, to convince her/bribe her to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead, where I know she will have the time of her life. But this thing, this letting her make her own choices, is what it’s all about. THIS is the right thing to do, I assure my conflicted self. She needs to make her own choices.

And just as I talk myself into a calmer state of mind, as I get through the worst of the evening traffic on the way back from the middle school, my phone rings. I look at my phone, and there’s K’s number.

“Umm, Mom?”

“It’s really loud. Like, my ears hurt. And not where I got them pierced. The music is too loud. And I can’t see anything, because there are huge 8th graders everywhere, and …”

*pause*

“K, do you want me to come get you?” I ask, trying to sound calm and cool.

“Yeah, please?” She sounds nervous.

And I take an immediate, glorious u-turn in the middle of traffic. I’m racing back to the middle school to save my kid.

I park and go in to get her. There she is, jacket on, ready to go. Quickly. I nod to an understanding chaperone, and we jet out the door. When we get to the van, I ask her what the dance was like. She describes the too-loud music, the cafeteria, jammed with older, bigger, frenzied 7th-and-8th graders. All strangers. There was no one to notice her pretty new earrings, her shiny hair. Her quirky sense of style. Her eagerness to make friends.

So we get home, and she runs into the house to hug her little sister and brother, and then she snuggles in to join our regular family movie night. Just us. She sings along with the songs from Mulan. She eats pizza and has a tickle fight with her little brother. She goes to bed smiling. She hugs me good night.

I know it won’t always go this way. I know she will successfully venture out there, into the places I can’t control, the places I don’t approve of. And I really hope she will be ready. And that the world will treat her justly.

And I also realize just how messed up I really am. How I need to do some work on myself, to get ready for this to happen. Disengagement. Independence. I know it’s inevitable. And I want to be better at letting her go. At letting her soar. I don’t want to hold her back because of my own fear, my own issues.

But I’m just selfishly glad that Friday, that this time, SHE wasn’t ready, either … yet.

 

Here’s to Beginnings!

Andrew at Seuss Land in Universal
Tonight, I put my 2 year old to bed in a separate room from me. It’s been 2 hours since I nursed him down to sleep, his protestations about not being in our bed silenced by exhaustion and a happy tummy filled with comforting mommy’s milk.

Today, I transformed the bedroom we share with our toddler back into the bedroom I share with my husband. The ultra-huge king+ size bed (a queen and a twin put together) that took up most of the room was reduced to just the queen bed. I returned furniture to the room. Put the lamps back. Hung things on the wall. Cleaned out the baby clutter. I’m taking back my space. I do this at the end of bed-sharing with my babies. And today I decided that it’s time to get that ball rolling. To get my boy to take the next developmental step. To sleep on his own, out of range of the comfort of his mother.

I’m ecstatic to think of sleeping for more than a few hours at a time. It’s been 2 years+ of having many of my executive functions .. not functioning because of lack of sleep. I wonder what it’s like to get sleep.

I know I’m a long way from the goal I’m beginning tonight — to have my toddler sleep through the night. Likely, it will be weeks or months until I can claim that success. But it’s beginning. It’s the first step.

Part of me is already mourning. I love sharing bed space with my kids. But that other part of me has a lot of pull. The part that is hope. Hope that I’ll get a little bit more of myself back. I’ve given a lot. I look forward to reclaiming some of that lost power and functionality.

Goodnight.

Girl Scouting Grows Up

Terry ROCKS the cookie sales!
During a first-aid training session recently, one of my fellow Girl Scout Leaders-in-Training piped up about a potential health concern in her new troop. One of her girls has celiac disease. She has a very severe allergy to all things gluten. The child’s mother said that she wasn’t sure about putting her child into a Daisy Girl Scouts troop because, well, what about all those Girl Scout cookies? The public image of Girl Scouting is so tied up in Girl Scout Cookies that sometimes that’s all people associate them with. Instead of pointing out this non-sequitur, the leader-in-training said something wonderful. She said “We want your child. Girl Scouts is all about cultural pluralism.”

cultural pluralism. noun Sociology.
1. a condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.
2. a doctrine that a society benefits from such a condition.

I hope that young mother reads her Yahoo news this morning. My husband pointed me to this link, about a young child who was born with boy parts wanting to join the Girl Scouts in his hometown in Colorado.  At first, the local leader said “no” because of said boy parts. But up the chain of command, the Colorado leaders did a very amazing and forward-thinking thing: they invited him and his family to join. Because Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization.

I’m proud and awed that this organization that my girls are a part of, that was such a big part of my own childhood and young adulthood, is growing up and opening its doors to families of all types, and supporting the families of transgender children.

Girl Scouting isn’t all about cookies. Or about teaching young cisgendered girls how to become strong cisgendered women. It’s not about turning out cookie-cutter people into society with a boxed set of beliefs and a road-map toward finding a suitable life partner and career. It’s about teaching young people to have a voice, to take action, to make things happen. And to be a part of an experience wherein we not only respect cultural differences but celebrate them.

Hooray for Girl Scouts of Colorado for setting this very public precedent of supporting families with transgendered children.

Committing to Co-Sleeping

Tub full o' kids

Today is the day we, as parents, have committed to sharing sleep with our youngest child for an indefinite amount of time going forward. We’ve co-slept with all three of our babies, so it’s not like we’re doing anything new. Our usual modus operandi is to co-sleep for the first year of baby’s life, and then to gently sleep train baby to sleep apart in another room. My third child is now 18 months old, and he and I co-sleep in his room because he is too big to fit in our bed. My poor, lonely husband gets to sleep all alone in our bedroom down the hall. But everything changes now. Today, I moved a twin bed into our bedroom and squished it beside our queen-sized bed to make one ginormous bed. We are now committed. No going back. It is done.

Oh gods. I must be insane.

*Takes a deep breath*

I see that quizzical look. I hear your cynical sigh. I know it’s nuts. But let me ‘splain. We have these older girls, one of whom is OHMYFREAKINGOD 9 years old. And this 9-year-old has been sharing a room with her 7-year-old sister forEVER. No, really. Since Laurel was 1 and Kelsey was 3, they have shared a room. So, yeah, forever. A few months back, this older child posited the question: “Why does the baby get his own room, and Laurel and I have to share one?” To which I answered, “Ummm, well… because… Oh, look, something shiny! Want some cookies?”

These people take up space!

It didn’t work for long. I did get a few months, though. But I’m out of cookies and shiny things.

Despite my best efforts to be fair, it turns out that I’m that unfair mother who puts the BOY child into his own cute little room. While the girls are jammed into the adjoining room, their shelves overflowing. Their moods conflicting. Their desire for “personal time” making it nigh impossible to share space without the use of a stopwatch, a calendar, and a lot of grumpiness.

So the husband and I talked. And we’ve decided that we either do this insane thing, or move to a bigger apartment. And we are NOT moving. I’m not ready to move and give up this f-ing amazing location across the street from my kids’ school. Really, we have the perfect apartment. And did I mention I’m not moving?

And so today I put my statue of Treebeard up high. I hid my shell collection. I moved Andrew’s things into our room, and I know that he will be very happy sharing sleep and space with his parents. I’m excited that our girls want to and will be able to, for the first time, make their space their own. And I hope this move will help them maintain what is right now a really sound and healthy sibling relationship.

I worry about finding time and space for the easy intimacy I share with Allen. But I know we’ll figure it out. I know that there is cuddling on the couch with books and good movies and ice cream. There is our shared office, where we hang out sociably every evening. There are the shared showers and those wonderful Saturday mornings when all the kids are playing nicely in the other parts of the house. I know we’ll be OK. And it’s not forever. Babies don’t stay babies for long. This apartment won’t be the last place we parent three children. It will be the last 3 bedroom we’ll be renting. Our next home will have to have 4 bedrooms and please, oh please, more than 1 bathroom. For now, we’ll make it work here.

We’ll be OK, Allen and I. Besides, there is that secret room in the basement….

Extended Breastfeeding, Part II: Tips to Begin and Extend Your Breastfeeding Relationship

These people changed my life. Thanks, kids!

Click here to read Extended Breastfeeding, Part I! If you are a new parent, or if you are expecting to become one and are setting the bar toward extended breastfeeding, do yourself and your offspring a favor: prepare for utter chaos. For life to change in unexpected ways. Maybe everything will happen just as you expected. I hear there are amazingly self-actuated folks out there who flow naturally into parenthood without hitting any bumps. And then there’s the other 98% of us, the foggy-brained insomniacs who learn that the ones running the game are the screaming newborns. Sometimes, all your best intentions go poof. It happened to me. My kids MADE me into this Mom you see and read about. How did that happen? Twelve weeks of insomnia, of breastfeeding around the clock, of learning that the pediatricians I had so carefully chosen were spouting advice about baby-rearing that absolutely was contrary to every feeling and instinct raging through my brain. Twelve weeks of shattering every preconceived notion I had about parenting. I ended up giving up my career, and I became a co-sleeping, baby-wearing, breast-feeding, attachment parent. My kids changed me, and I am utterly transformed. For the better, I think. I hope? So, I have TIPS. Because there are some things you should think about before you even get started. But this article is about breastfeeding, so I will limit myself to just THOSE tips. If you’re considering nursing a baby, short or long term, prepare yourself for the battle early:

  • Know the law.
  • Have a support team of partners/parents/friends who understand what your intentions are, and will be supportive and keep you motivated.
  • Choose medical professionals who understand and will help support you.
  • Buy this book: Medications and Mothers’ Milk: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology
  • If you’re planning a natural birth, read about the breast crawl!
  • Get it right, from the start. Hire a lactation consultant to give you the best chances of starting and maintaining good nursing habits.
  • If your lifestyle permits, breastfeed on demand. Don’t look at the clock. Your doctor/Mom/book/website does not know best about how often to nurse. Your baby does.
  • Use that new tax credit to get a good pump if you can’t be there for every feeding.
  • Understand the normal patterns of infant weight gain for breast-fed babies. Don’t be pressured into putting your baby on formula because of weight gain charts that are based on formula-fed babies.
  • Ask if your pediatrician follows the WHO charts for infant growth rates of breast-fed babies
  • Don’t miss a feeding in those first 3 months, as you are establishing your milk supply. Pumped milk is still your breast milk, and it’s best for your baby. A second option is breast milk from a human milk bank. Formula is not evil, but it should be your last option.
  • Get support in the work place for expressing your milk if you work outside the home.
  • Develop a breast milk bank in your community. It takes some simple screening,  supplies, pumps, and freezer space. Having friends who are willing and able to open up their stored milk coffers if I have a medical emergency does wonders for my confidence.
  • If it’s possible, exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months. His/her gastrointestinal tract will thank you.
  • Nurse in public, because you will further the cause!
  • Wean when it’s right for you and your baby.

Join Up! If you see a woman nursing a child, you should take a mental picture. She’s doing something amazing. And if my words have reached women out there who are thinking of nursing their baby and have the economic and biological opportunity to do so, I hope you get what I’m saying here. We need you on the ground, as part of our new army of fabulous breast-wielding baby-feeders who daringly nurse past that 6 month mark, nay the 12 month mark! Who whip out a boob on park benches, on the subway, in the doctor’s office, in the pews, in the mall, and feed those toddling youngsters straight from the source. Those gorgeous portable containers that keep your milk at optimal temperature should be a source of pride! Keep motivated! As I said in Part I of Extended Breastfeeding, you’re more likely to see a unicorn trotting through your local park than a woman breastfeeding an older child. Don’t be a unicorn! Nurse your baby for as long as it still works for you and your child. Talk about it. Discuss it. Argue for it. And send me your stories and snapshots of breastfeeding babies. We want to see your boobies doing what they are functionally designed to do!