Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Message from Middle School

Big Sis is in sixth grade, for just over a week now.  And I've been tempted to post something to the effect of middle school:emotion::Pope:Catholic.  Because, wow.  Maybe it's just, as a BFF calls it, Transition Sickness.  But there's been a lot of turmoil, sobbing, exhaustion, nostalgia for the easier times of childhood, and, as it turns out, reflection.

Tonight, Big Sis busted out a soliloquy that I urged her to write down.  Because she's so right on, and she has managed, through her tiredness and tears, to focus on some big themes.  Her ideas resonated, because just last week I exhorted a group of seniors to think of college:life::wedding:marriage.  College isn't what you've spent 18 years preparing for; it's not the be all, end all.  Life is what you've spent 18 years preparing for, and you're actually living it NOW.

It took me 43 years to figure this stuff out, but Big Sis has some wisdom as a newly minted sixth grader (and I copy her text here with her permission):

OK, Here it goes.  I have just begun middle school, and lately we have been given a few talks.  During each one I am thinking.  We're hearing that middle school is all about preparing, preparing, preparing for life.  But really it's not just preparing.  It's all an experience.  You're not just learning to learn, you're learning for your own good.  You're living RIGHT NOW.  

You can't always be living in the future, because it's like we are only preparing for the life ahead of us, which makes us a big stress case.  Just go with the flow and relax and just think about how you're doing right now.  Because otherwise all you're doing is waiting.  All waiting will do is discourage you.  You're not always preparing if you're having a great experience living in the now.  

Of course it's alright to have your mind set on a certain career.  But think of other things you might enjoy as well.  For example, I love soccer, and would like to pursue my dream, but I can't put all my eggs in one basket.  I also love to read and would love to become an author as well.  

Not every stage in life is preparation for the next stage.  If we act like that, when will it stop?  The problem is, it won't.  We will keep living like this and it will never end.  

So, what I am humbly saying is that we, (especially us kids) need to think about life differently.  School, in particular.  We all need to think of it like an experience.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One...Singular Sensation

I'm ONE!  That's right, everyone, point your finger:  ONE!  One year old.

One year ago today I made my unexpected debut in Boston, Mass, far away from home but in great hands.  Today, you'd never know I was a preemie, that I was born with meningitis and scared the heck out of my family, that I spent a month in the NICU.  Today I am Just Fine.  Better than Fine.  I'm plump and developing appropriately.  Any areas in which I'm behind (say, sleeping through the night) are my mom's fault (Hey!  She likes to snuggle me!).

I am busy and I am noisy.  I babble; I squawk; I growl.  I say "dog," "baby," "doll," "Mama," "hello," or pretty close renditions.  I wave; I talk on the phone (the shoe phone, the banana phone, the block phone...).  I've learned to make an ungodly screech if someone takes an electrical cord out of my mouth or I'm forced to return a toy I've stolen from a cousin.  But my cousins!  How I love my cousins.  I lean my head in close to theirs to hug them over and over when I see them.  I've gotten to see lots of cousins this summer.

My mom told my sisters I'd annoy them someday and they didn't believe it.  But I know how to bug them when they're on the computer, or to head for the stairs or dog food super quick when Mom or Dad asks them to watch me.  I can pull hair and I pinch when I'm pulling up on Big Sis's shoulders. I also know how to let my sisters know if they're annoying me.  We're like legit siblings now.

I'm not walking yet; there's time for that.  I'm a really efficient crawler, and I like to cruise between pieces of furniture.  Sometimes I take my hands off just to show off.  My favorite activity is standing up and playing--at a table, water table, play kitchen...I have lots of plans for things to build and touch and put in my mouth.

Thank you to all of you who have made my life wonderful, and my family's life manageable!  There are SO MANY OF YOU.  It's been quite a year for my family, watching me, holding me, hugging me, and chasing me.  I'm booking them for more chasing me around during my second year.  And I've got walking and talking to master.

But first, tonight?  How about some Elmo cupcakes my sisters made?  Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Turned All the Way Up to Eleven

Tootsie is on the cusp of turning one year old, on the cusp of walking and talking and ditching the breast and the bottle.  She is on the cusp of beyond babyhood.  I mused on her sweet uncalloused feet last night, respecting how little time of tenderness remains.

This month of her almost-oneness, the month when, a year ago, our lives went topsy turvy, has been emotional.  I can easily recall planning for the upcoming year at work, packing for travel, unpacking at the new house, and enjoying pregnancy.  Summer feels like Boston.  It feels like the hospital.  It feels like uncertainty and anything can happen.  It also feels like family, like love, like hope and excitement.

Tootsie is busy, busy, busy.  We took her on her first airplane ride since coming home from Boston, to Iowa to visit Husband's father.  We spent much of the weekend in the hospice house with family, Tootsie providing distractions and entertainment, cruising from chair to coffee table, babbling and growling and cackling with laughter at her sisters.  Life continues, we all nodded, as the seventeen-year cicadas swarming in the trees outside provided a fervent symphony.

She eats curried chicken salad, apples, diced grapes, and even Baked Lays potato chips (benefit of a trip to Subway with her babysitter) with her sharp little teeth, including new fangs on top.  She loves swimming, soccer balls (gooooooaaaaaaaaallll!), toys with microphones, and rocks.  She sings along.  She makes noises like an elephant.  She loves her baby cousins.

As always, she grins and smiles and laughs far more than she ever complains.  She's been ours for almost a year.  We can hardly remember life without her.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ten Months, and Tootsie's Tips

Tootsie turned ten months amid a very busy time at home and at tournaments, preparations for 5th grade promotion (Big Sis's outfit and event planning...), sister and brother-in-law and baby cousin coming to town, end-of-year awards, campaigning and bond election, and graduation.  Meanwhile, she was busy tackling more developmental stages, as well as remaining her cute and smiley self.  I found myself having a good old cry at the passage of time (my baby growing less babyish inspiring tears on one hand; my spending time elsewhere as she keeps growing on the other).  But I did some healthy reflecting on the nostalgia around our children's inevitable development, and allude to epiphanies below in my graduation speech.

Here's the big "step" Tootsie took last month:

And, of course, such strides result in frequent bangs into furniture and bonkings of her head.  She otherwise crawls at warp speed toward the dog food, giggling mischievously en route, or finds tiny objects to put in her mouth to scare the bejeezus out of us.

Instead of the 'ooo' face of wonder she adopted as a tiny baby, she now makes a serious "ohhhhhh" sound and expression when she's truly captivated or curious about something--dogs, animals, and other babies in particular.  She loves her cousins.

Her favorite song is Pharrell's "Happy," which Big Sis sang at her choir concert last month.  Her favorite books are Hug, Hush Little Baby, and On the Night You Were Born (though she was born in the AM).  She likes the Hairy Maclary book, but only until the page with the scary cat, Scarface Claw.  Then she cries.  She doesn't like the Elmo character at Sea World either.

When her sisters ask her questions like, "Do you want to help me with my homework?" she shakes her head vigorously with big grins.  Her vocabulary includes "blah blah blah blah."

She loves to swim and take baths, and we've spent some good times with the cousins in Mammom's swimming pool.

As far as nursing goes, it's like breastfeeding an octopus or wrestler.  And she uses her free hand to pound me on the chest.

But she made an apt subject for my first commencement address as a high school principal.  Here are Tootsie's Tips:

Last summer I was a pregnant new principal who planned to start the school year and then take a little time off when our baby was born in September.  But next thing I knew, I was having my baby early, in the wrong state across the country, and we were in the hospital on your first day of school.  I wound up missing the fall semester of your senior year, and you can go ahead and blame it on the baby, Faera, or as she became known to many, Tootsie.  As school has come to a close, I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons Tootsie taught me this year, and I want to pass them along to you. 
 First, accept life’s vicissitudes.
 There’s a tendency, a normal and natural and wise tendency, to plan out your life.  And I suggest you do.  But this year I’ve had to recognize what parts of life are in and out of my control.  Tootsie has helped me accept that life is messy, unpredictable, scary, and mysterious, but also beautiful and surprising and serendipitous.  You may invest time, work, and hope, only to experience a disappointing outcome.  Practice facing the circumstances before you and renouncing regret for what couldn’t or cannot be.  Tootsie would endorse what your classmate Ines Cruz wrote so aptly in her Identity Project in art:  “I want to fearlessly go, and see what unfolds before me.  If I mess up, I want to know it’s okay; it’s part of the journey, part of the design of my life.” 
 Second:  Embrace the new and unfamiliar
During babies’ first months, every experience, every place is brand new.  I watch Tootsie wake up sometimes and I know she’s thinking where the heck am I now?  Here you sit before us, about to depart the familiar—your daily routine at home and at CHS with the people you know—for an adventure of the unexplored.  You’re going to cry about it sometimes—Tootsie does—but we don’t bail her out every time she wants to eject from a seemingly scary place.  Recognize that this is your mission:  to explore the new, and to exploit the opportunities that adventure brings. From Ines Cruz:  “I need to walk on warm sand, not on hot concrete, under stars, not street lamps, over miles and miles of new places with new people, not standing stagnant in place.” 
Third:  Make the most of where you are:
Tootsie only recently started to crawl.  She has spent most of her short life stuck where we put her—in her carseat, stroller, crib, or front pack.  But from flat on her back or sitting up she finds the world an amazing place and the people around her fascinating.  Ever been stuck in a long line and noticed the adults looking anywhere but at each other?  Babies seek out and gaze right at fellow humans with wonder.  They grin, coo, and engage with anyone who catches their eye, no matter who they are.  You, too, can make the most of where you are, and even make someone’s day, on planes, in traffic, at jury duty, in your dorm with assigned roommates: entertain yourself, enjoy the view, bring your best attitude.  Get to know the person next to you. 
This one is for the parents too:  Accept your own and others’ evolutions
I always wanted a third baby.  I love babies (almost as much as I love teenagers). But a baby is a growing person, and however much we want our babies to stay small and cute and cuddly, they grow and change.  Every day my Tootsie is a newer version of herself.  And so are you.  You haven’t discovered all of your own strengths, skills, and vulnerabilities.  Future experiences and relationships will bring out new facets of your self.  You don’t have to be whom you have always been or expected to be.  By next summer you may have adopted different interests and aspirations, hobbies and habits.  Be prepared to find your high school friends and family members have, too.  Let yourself and others shed dead skin and emerge anew.  Graduates, parents, friends:  pledge to reacquaint yourself with your loved ones in their present. 
 Just a few more tidbits from Tootsie: 
Dance, sing, laugh, or act goofy. Every day.
When you perceive an injustice, holler about it.

And finally, Tootsie has this look she gets on her face when she’s particularly proud of herself.  It’s okay to think you’re hot stuff, especially when you’re making a huge developmental leap.  So, high five, graduates; swagger on down that carpet.  You did it.  Congratulations.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy to Have a Happy Mother's Day

Since last Mother's Day, our third daughter, Tootsie, joined the family.  By now most of you know the saga of Tootsie--born two months early across the country, and with meningitis.  Tootsie and I spent six weeks together in a Boston hospital apart from Husband and Big and Middle Sis.  But the truth is, after a fairly speedy recovery from her infection, Tootsie was pretty good to go. Throughout the ordeal, we were fortunate on many levels, benefiting from the care of incredible health care professionals in an amazing hospital, the overwhelming support of family and friends, and a lack of related long-term health issues.  Today, you would never know our bouncing baby girl was a preemie.

Because this was my third go-round with pregnancy and childbirth, I knew to watch myself for signs of baby blues.  I figured I was particularly susceptible at this point in my life, with a new job and already busy household.  Returning to a recently purchased home with a fragile newborn and two daughters who missed their mom added a few variables.  But I had no idea how difficult things would be.

While this Mother's Day morning I woke up cheerful, loved up my girls, did a load of laundry, went for a jog, and enjoyed brunch with my family, mere months ago, in the throes of serious post-partum depression and anxiety, I struggled to get out of bed each morning.  Now that I'm reunited with Myself, I have the perspective to appreciate how scary post-partum depression can be for a normally happy, confident woman and her family.

I feel it's important to acknowledge how many women enter into what is universally considered the blessed state of motherhood with the monkey of PPD on their backs--a monkey accompanied by Fear, Lack of Confidence and Motivation, Guilt, Self-Loathing, Malaise, and Search for Meaning, among other unwanted guests.  The challenges of parenthood are great enough without attempting to mother from the bottom of a well.  Sitting among first-time mothers in my therapy/support group, I wondered if I would have had more children if I felt the way I did this time after our firstborn.

I am well enough now to know I would do it all over again.

But the journey back to rational thinking and happy days felt long and hard (and necessitated work on myself I'd never felt compelled to do in 42 years), and I suspect I will always keep an eye trained on myself and my vulnerability to overwhelm.

Whatever the causes of PPD--hormonal, societal, circumstantial, genetic--it's important we are mindful of the mamas out there. It's easy for those of us missing infants and rocking chairs to exclaim to new mothers that these are the best of days and aren't you just so in love?  I was always in love.  But I was also wide-eyed and paralyzed by a sense that everything was Just Too Much to Handle.  Thankfully, perceptive family members and friends began throwing out lifelines as I floundered.

We've got to continue to ask new and experienced mothers probing questions, offer help and support, and be persistent about seeking professional care when there's concern.  I was told a million times that the best mother is a healthy one.  I was told a million times it would get better, and a thousand times I didn't believe it.  But I am a happier, healthier self than I was six months ago, and I love being a mother more than ever.

Happy Mother's Day.  This year, I am not taking the "happy" for granted.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nine Months

9 Months Old (young!)
She's officially been out of the womb longer than she was in.  And this month, she's on the go, crawling across the floor as of Sunday morning.  We need a gate on those stairs, stat!

When she's not bonking her head during one of her mobile adventures, Tootsie is blowing raspberries, showing off her two little razor-sharp teeth (and using them to gnaw on puffs, strawberries, Mum-Mums, her toes, and family members), lunging at her dog, practicing syllables (dadadada), and perfecting her role as soccer fan.  At her developmental check she was deemed right on target. Go Tootsie!

But no, she doesn't sleep through the night.  We call that a parenting fail.  Okay, okay:  One particular parent's fail.

One early morning this month before meeting her babysitter I brought our little rascal into the school library and asked our friend the librarian to hold her as I visited the restroom.  I returned to find her being passed around among staff members and students, who were taking pictures with her on their phones and competing for her company.  One of the older teenage boys was especially tender with her, resting his head on hers and breathing in her baby scent.

Her ready smiles and willingness to be held by strangers make her a great ambassador and her tagging along renders my work enterprises (cheering at lacrosse games, walking precincts for the bond election, attending superintendent's meetings) much more joyful.  Sometimes where my Work Life and Mom Life intersect is stressful, and sometimes it helps me feel better about both.  That morning, watching our baby connect with my students, I felt more connected to both them and her.

Her sisters still find that sun rises and sets on Tootsie; in fact, when there are occasions I whisk her off with me early in the morning and return with her late, they admittedly pine for her all day.

So much love.  *Blissful sigh*

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Thirds

She's eight months old today, a whole two-thirds of a year, our Tootsie. Every day we get to know her a little better and come to the same conclusion:  she's a happy, happy baby.  In this photo you get a glimpse of her two new bottom (sharp!) teeth, her drool, her expressive eyebrows, and her devilish grin.  She can swivel herself around in a circle, and is starting to rock on all fours.   Crawling can't be far off.

So far her favorite foods are hummus, black beans, and Mammom's salmon.  And Baby Mum Mums as an appetizer.  She thinks she's hot stuff when she holds and drinks from a cup or water bottle.  She's still sleeping, for the most part, right between her mom and dad.

At soccer games (and she's been to many in her short life), she loves to be passed around among the players.  She knows how to relax in the jacuzzi. Dogs crack her up.  She's grabby, gummy, game, and amiable.  As Husband likes to say, "How did we ever get so lucky?"