Now That My Kids Are Big: 25 Things I Will Never Have to Do Again

I have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

There are eight years between our eldest and youngest sons (with two girls in between). Our youngest recently turned 13, which means that my husband and I will have spent 15 years – a decade and a half, roughly 5,475 days – parenting teenagers before we tap out in 2024, not that I’m counting.

I actually (mostly) enjoy being the mom of a houseful of young adults and almost-adults. They are smart and interesting, and every day they make me laugh. But whoever told me, all those years ago when I was wrangling a houseful of little ones, that it would get easier was a bold-faced liar.

What I wouldn’t give now to be able to schedule their play dates or coax my kids into submission with just the promise of an extra episode of “Backyardigans.” How I would love to be able to physically move them out of harm’s way or strap them into their carseats and just drive them around until they stop fussing.

Yes, in many ways having small children was easier, and I loved those years. In fact, though I wouldn’t trade my teenagers for all the world, I am one of those moms who would gladly go back and do it all over again. Since I can’t go back, I sometimes have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

When that doesn’t work, when I’m really longing for the simpler days of life with little children, it helps to stop and think about all the things that weren’t easy about having small ones and all the things I’ll never have to do again now that all my kids are big. Things like:

  • Catch vomit in my hands
  • Be used as a human napkin
  • Simultaneously nurse a baby and feed a squirming toddler
  • Hear “Swiper! No swiping!”
  • Sing “The Wheels on the Bus” all the way to the Gulf Coast
  • Interrupt a conversation to smell another person’s bottom
  • Get up in the middle of the night and step on a wet diaper – or a Lego
  • Fish something out of another person’s mouth
  • Bargain with someone to get her to eat
  • Eat any place that doubles as an arcade
  • Live with the shame of just throwing a towel over the spot in the bed where someone peed in the night
  • Assemble a doll house at one a.m.
  • Have the panicky realization that we’re only an hour into a 10-hour road trip and our car’s DVD player just stopped working
  • Try to sneak money under the pillow and pretend it was there all along
  • Cut grapes in half
  • Hide in my closet to eat the last cookie
  • Hear the words, “Hey kids! Wanna watch a show?” and know that was foreplay
  • Calm someone down who is hysterical because his sock is twisted
  • Go out to dinner with my husband only to eat our meals in shifts
  • Fall asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Be frantically shaken awake because I fell asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Count to three to get a response
  • Spend half the morning running errands before someone tells me I have spit-up down the back of my shirt
  • Carefully examine the contents of a diaper in hopes of finding that penny
  • Watch even one more episode of Barney

Of course, none of these minor annoyances ever really lessened the joy of parenting small children, just as none of the worry and stress of raising big kids lessens the joy of watching them grow into adults. No, parenting big kids might not be a cakewalk, but I won’t wish even one of those 5,475 days away. I know from experience how quickly they will be over and how much I will wish I could do it all again.

My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

If These Scars Could Talk

I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!

I remember a story I saw on television as a child. It was the 1970s, before lasers were available to remove tattoos. The story was about a woman who wanted a heart-shaped tattoo removed from her derrière. Apparently, the doctor incised the heart tattoo and stitched up the wound. The scar that the excision left was in the shape of a capital letter Y. I remember thinking to myself, “She better marry someone whose name starts with a Y. Otherwise her husband might get jealous!” Something about that heart-turned-into-a-Y-shaped-scar always intrigued me. That woman had a story to tell.

At age nine, I earned my own first noticeable scars when I broke my femur. My parents bought a small motorcycle, and they’d take us kids out for rides on a piece of country property that our family owned. I was too young to ride the motorcycle alone, so I climbed on the back and hung on behind one of my father’s friends. It was an accident. Emile certainly didn’t want me to get hurt, but a piece of barbed wire was dangling in our path and it snared the wheel, yanking the bike onto my leg. I still remember the pain and the long drive to the hospital. The orthopedic doctor surgically inserted a metal pin through my leg to set me up for traction. After six weeks in the hospital, six weeks at home in a body cast, and several weeks on crutches, my femur finally healed. Over 40 years later, I still think about that accident whenever I see the small scars on either side of my right leg where the pin was.

Most of us don’t like scars. If you Google the word “scar,” numerous plastic surgery and dermatology websites for scar removal pop up. There’s a lot of money to be made in getting rid of our scars. Everyone wants beautiful, flawless skin that’s free of freckles, moles, and wrinkles. But if you think about it, scars equate to experiences. I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

I acquired other scars over the years, too. There’s a small one on my knee from a cut I received in a high school car accident. I think of my friend Linda when I see that scar, because she was in the car with me. Our vehicle was totaled, but Linda and I were okay. In adulthood, two cesarean section deliveries left a thin zipper across my lower abdomen. My sons are the result of those childbirth experiences, and the scars remind me of bringing Mason and Will into the world. There’s also the one on my back where I had a benign skin cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma was likely the result of childhood sunburns, and that scar brings back memories of a particularly hot family beach trip to Corpus Christie, Texas one summer. I’m grateful to those doctors. The scars are my reminders.

My most serious scarring accident happened last year. It was spring break, and I was on a skiing vacation with my family. I was skiing to the right while a young man turned too fast to the left. Our skis crossed and I flew out of control into some trees. It was a frightening experience. I immediately felt intense heat throughout my ankle. I thought it was another broken bone, but I was wrong. It turned out to be a full rupture of my Achilles tendon, requiring immediate surgery.

Despite tearing my Achilles tendon, I somehow managed to attend the book launch events for my first children’s book. I couldn’t drive for a few months, but a wheelchair, a knee scooter, and Uber provided the mobility that I needed. I’m grateful to my husband, children, parents, siblings, and friends for taking care of me. I disliked being dependent on them, but I learned that the Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I’m grateful to the ski patrol team that took quick action. I’m grateful I didn’t die when I hit the trees in that skiing accident.

When the orthopedic surgeon unwrapped the bandage to reveal my new Achilles tendon scar for the first time, I almost hoped it would be in the shape of a capital letter Y. That would’ve been perfect. But no, it’s just a two-inch horizontal mark.

My scars don’t bother me. They’re a literal skin road map of life that allows me to retrace my varied experiences. They reveal a sense of adventure. The scars point out that I might be a bit clumsy, and they always remind me to be grateful.

This post was originally published on the author’s blog.

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

How to Test Your Kids’ Vision Before They Can Read

You might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one. Here’s how.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended vision screening for all children between the ages of three and five.
If you’ve logged a good amount of time trying to distinguish “C” from “O,” you might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one.
Childhood vision screening generally takes place in a pediatrician’s office. Here’s what your child’s pediatrician is looking for and what you can expect during the visit.

What your child’s pediatrician is looking for

Unlike your eye exams, which may include testing for glasses, your child’s vision screenings are generally looking for warning signs of future vision problems.
Your child’s pediatrician is specifically screening for evidence of amblyopia, which occurs when one eye is unable to communicate properly with the brain. The risk of amblyopia is low: according to the USPSTF, between one and six percent of kids under age six will have either amblyopia of a risk factor for amblyopia.
In its review, the USPSTF found there to be small but permanent improvements to vision in three- to five-year-olds when amblyopia is identified and treated. Because the tests for amblyopia and its risk factors are non-invasive, the USPSTF has determined that the benefits of vision screening outweigh any harms.

What to expect during the visit

A pediatrician may use many different tools to examine your child’s eye structure, coordination, and acuity. The following three tests are among the most common.

Tool 1: Red Reflex

What it measures: Your child has likely had a red reflex test before, as many kids have them before two months of age. The test helps identify any physical abnormalities in the back of the eye, ranging from cataracts to retinoblastoma.
The red reflex test is named after the color healthy eyes give off when viewed through an ophthalmoscope from about one foot away. That red color is easier to see in the dark, which is why your pediatrician may turn the lights off for this test.
The phenomenon is the same as the “red eye” you try to edit out of photographs. In fact, photographs featuring a single red eye have been used to identify serious eye conditions.

Tool 2: Cover/Uncover Test

What it measures: You’ve probably seen your child’s pediatrician do a fix and follow test, in which your child is instructed to look at the pediatrician’s finger and follow it around the room. That test examined how well your child’s eyes function together.
The cover/uncover test works a similar way. Your child will be asked to focus on an object in the distance, then the pediatrician will cover one of your child’s eyes. While your child is still looking at the object, the tester will uncover the eye and watch for movement.
The test is observing for strabismus (incorrectly aligned eyes), which is one risk factor for amblyopia.

Tool 3: Lea Symbols Chart

What it measures: You may have not spent a lot of time thinking about how the letters at your optometrist office get made. They are optotypes, specially designed tools for testing vision. The letters in an optotype are designed to all blur equally under the same conditions, which give examiners a better understanding of a patient’s visual acuity.
Pre-readers get their own special optotypes. Instead of letters, they’ll likely have four symbols: a square, a circle, a house, and an apple. Those symbols, called the Lea Symbols, have been shown to get more cooperation from kids than other eye tests.
The Lea Symbols test works much like the eye charts you see (or don’t see!) at your optometrist. The test measures kids’ visual acuity, and can determine whether or not your child may need glasses.

I Wouldn’t Wish Labor Pains on My Worst Enemy, But I Would on My Husband

Without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires.

I wouldn’t wish labor pains on my worst enemy. But I would wish them on my husband.
To be fair, I don’t have that many personal enemies. The mean girl in high school? Ex-boyfriend? They don’t deserve 12 hours of back labor that leaves them feeling like their hips are stuck in a vice. That jerk who cut me off in traffic? I hope she never knows what it’s like to vomit between blood-curdling screams.
The blinding pain, the all-encompassing agony – I don’t think anyone should have to go through that.
Except my husband.
What I wouldn’t give for him to experience labor just as I did.
Here’s the thing. He’s a good husband. The best, really. This isn’t some personal vendetta against him. It’s not like he was off romancing a mistress while I sweated through contraction after contraction. He held my hand, told me how well I was doing, and texted family with updates for hours.
And I hated him for it.
It was the same throughout each of my pregnancies. I was grateful when he gave me a foot rub, but what I really wanted was for him to know what it felt like to have swollen, throbbing feet. Sure, he was sympathetic as he hoisted me out of bed each morning. But I would have preferred that he fully understand the humiliation I felt at not being able to accomplish such a simple task myself.
When my breasts ballooned to triple their normal size, I was grateful for the cooling cabbage leaves he ran out to get (even if they were purple and stained my chest). What I truly needed, though, was for him to know what it was like to have a tiny life solely dependent on something you still weren’t quite sure how to give them.
My husband doled out sympathy for every pregnancy, birth, and postpartum ailment that came my way. But what I really needed was empathy.
Everyone knows that empathy is the trendy version of sympathy. It’s the one you are supposed to offer. But without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires. My husband could believe me when I told him my pregnancy and breast-feeding struggles, but he had no idea what they actually felt like.
Unfortunately, even talking to other moms doesn’t often provide us with the deep understanding we so desire. Conversations tend to head in one of two directions.
The “I had it way worse – why would you even complain?” exchange:
You: “I was in labor for 16 hours and pushed for another three.”
Playground mom: “Oh I wish I was in labor for only 16 hours! I was in active labor for six days, had back labor the entire time, and one contraction that lasted a solid 24 hours. I pushed for five hours while on a conference call for work. You don’t know how lucky you are!”
Or the “I can totally relate! Except I can’t.” exchange:
You: “Bed rest is really mentally and physically difficult for me.”
Other playground mom: “Oh, I know how you feel! My husband would cook me breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings and, honestly, sometimes I just kinda got bored laying there waiting for him. So hard, but such a blessing!”
You: No comment.
We crave someone who can fully share our experiences, and in turn, validate what we have been through. At the same time, we want recognition of the pain and difficulties that are uniquely ours, without having them watered down by comparisons.
More than wanting to be understood, even, we want to be appreciated. And on some level, we know that even the most sincere “thank you for all that you do” feels a bit inadequate when we think of all the aches and pains we didn’t even bother to clue our partners in on.
My husband will never fully understand what I went through with each of my pregnancies and births. But he knows the rest of the story: the sleepless nights with a child who wants to be walked up and down the halls, the panic the first time you rush your child to the E.R. with an undiagnosed allergic reaction, the pride and nerves you feel when they first hoist a backpack onto their shoulders and wave good-bye.
Occasionally my blood boils when I think of how he technically didn’t have any parenting responsibilities between the moment of conception and the moment of birth (and enjoyed a significantly lighter workload than me for the first few months thereafter). But the more years that come between the birth of my first son and the present day, I realize what a small percentage of parenting that truly was.
My husband might not ever be able to grant me true empathy. But I’ll be okay as long as he believes me when I tell him how difficult it all is.
And, yes, I plan on telling him about it for many years to come.

The Determination of the Tiniest Fighter

They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for too long.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
They told us not to think the worst when we didn’t hear a sound. They said a baby of your gestation wouldn’t have lungs developed enough to cry. That tiny, determined cry as you were pulled from deep within me is etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
They told us you wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. They said you would need a ventilator until you got stronger. I can so vividly recall watching your tiny lungs, fighting hard to push out breaths by themselves, under your paper-thin skin.
They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for long periods of time. I held you, skin to skin, tucked down my top, your tiny little head resting on my chest for hours at a time.
They told us that you were too early to know who we were. They said you didn’t know I was your Mum. But I know that you turned to me when you heard my voice, that your heart beat slowed when I held you, that when I looked into your eyes, there was a connection.
They told us that you would need to be tube fed as you were so early. They said you were not yet at the stage where you would have mastered sucking, swallowing and breathing all at the same time, that these skills were mastered in the womb. I remember watching you in awe as you drank your first sip of milk from a bottle, your tiny mouth barely big enough to take the teat.
They told us it was unlikely you would breast feed. They said that I could try and nurse you for the comfort. For six weeks I pumped for hours a day to have the milk ready for you when you were strong. I knew you were a fighter and I knew you could do it. I was right.
They told us you would be in special care until your due date at least. They said they had not let a baby as tiny as you leave the hospital. Four weeks before your due date we carried you out of that hospital. At six weeks you weighed under four pounds.
They told us that there was a chance your development may be impaired. They said you might experience delays and to look at things in terms of your adjusted age. By 12 months, you had not only caught up with any developmental milestones, you were ahead of them.
My tiny little fighter, beating the odds from the moment you entered the world. A world you shouldn’t have been in yet, a world you fought so hard to stay in, a world that you weren’t ready for, but thrived in all the same. I know you will continue through life with this same desire and determination to succeed. My little fighter. Don’t ever stop fighting for what you want.

The Parenting Hack That Keeps My Kid in His Room at Bedtime

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence- until I discovered this.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence.

As a child, it brought on anxiety, and fears of intruders and house fires abounded. As a teen, bedtime meant I had to close my computer and end phone calls with friends, and what a terrible thing to have to do. As an adult, bedtime often felt lonely and stressful, with endless to-do lists and existential thoughts suddenly overcrowding my mind. Now, as a parent, bedtime entails being utterly exhausted – bone-tired, brain-fried – but unable to rest until I wrangle my two energetic children into bed and somehow convince them to stay there.

It’s easier with my infant – just knock him out with some of Mama’s milk and he’s not going anywhere, but with my preschooler, it’s a different story. For the first three years of his life, he co-slept with my husband and me. While our family fell into the habit out of sleep deprivation and desperation, I grew to completely love co-sleeping: the cuddles, the closeness, the ease of nursing, the reassurance of having my baby right beside me, and the reassurance it gave my baby.

Still, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that end was near when I became pregnant with my second son when my first was two and a half. I could tell by then that my big boy was ready for his own bed and his own room (both of which he had – he just hadn’t slept in them yet), but I also knew that this was going to be a tough transition, for both of us if I’m being honest.

I looked to the Internet to help me figure out what to expect from this process, and I came across the term: “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome,” defined as a common “affliction” causing children to constantly pop out of bed after their parents have put them to sleep due to a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The articles I read contained some tips for dealing with it, but I soon learned that I’d have to think outside the box, because my son’s “Jack-in-the-Box” game was on point and strong.

“Hey Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Dad! I’m thirsty.”

“There are shadows on my wall.”

“What’s inside the wall?”

“How many miles have I slept so far?”

“I mean minutes.”

“Is it morning?”

By the third or fourth night of this, I was losing steam. I couldn’t spend the whole night ushering him back to his bedroom, and he couldn’t be staying up so late. I started to waver in my decision to transition him. Should we build some kind of epic family bed instead that can fit our growing family? No, no, no, I thought, this will be so good for him. He’ll learn to love his big boy bed and be proud of his independence.

But how would we get there?

One night it dawned on me as I was using the talk button on the baby monitor to tell my son, “You better not open up that door!” that I could use this talk function for way more than issuing warnings. I could use it as a tool to make it appealing for my boy to remain in his bed by inviting him to engage in actual conversation with me over the monitor. This way, I could open up the lines of communication that he so misses when I shut his bedroom door, and I could also ensure that I don’t miss out on the meaningful talks we always had while co-sleeping when he was relaxed enough to really open up – talks that would be more difficult to have with a newborn in the mix. Plus, we could pretend like we’re using walkie-talkies, and how fun is that? This could be our new special thing.

And just like that (well maybe there were also some toy rewards involved) bedtime started to change for the better. Not only did this parenting hack help my son stay put in his room, it also helped keep our bedtime routine (relatively) short and sweet. Kids will do just about anything to prolong saying goodnight. Now when my little man gives me puppy eyes after we’ve already done bath and books and snuggles, and says, “But I just have to tell you one more thing!” I reply, “And I can’t wait to hear that one thing, over the MONITOR!” and I make it sound super exciting. It works.

Now, of course, this monitor chatting can get a bit out of control, and there’ve been plenty of shit-show moments where I’m trying to nurse the baby to sleep while also fielding questions from my preschooler about why he can’t marry his cousin and how many days are left until Christmas. When this happens, I remind him that he needs his sleep and kindly request that he slow his roll with the questions. For the most part, he does.

Other nights, he barely talks to me at all, but knowing that he can is comforting to him, and that’s what makes this system so great. He gets his own space and chance to self-soothe, which is healthy and important at his age, and I don’t have to spend hours in a dark room waiting for him to fall asleep. I can tend to his baby brother, do chores, or unwind while still helping my son feel secure and heard as he decompresses from the day.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he tells me over the monitor each night.

“I love you to infinity and beyond,” I respond.

I don’t know how long he’ll want to talk with me like this, but I’ll be ready and waiting, monitor in hand, for as long as he does. When my six-month-old gets older and moves out of my bed, I’ll try the same hack with him, although with his chatty and loving big brother around, I may not even need to.

Somehow: an Ode to Parenthood

You know the days. The ones where you can’t catch a breath, or a second to stop and think. And still something, somehow piles on.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
You know the days. The ones where you can’t catch a breath, or a second to stop and think. You roll again and again with the punches to keep your head above water. And still something, somehow piles on.
The sleepless sunrises follow sleepless nights of waking upon waking. You try different tactics. Swaddled rocking or scheduled training. Soothing song or quiet dark. Another feed. Another diaper change. Another 24 hours.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The car breaks down full of groceries. A hungry infant wails as you convey the urgency of your situation to the jaded operator of the towing company. They easily charge almost double what you spent on the food that now sits spoiling in the backseat.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
A virus sweeps through your household and you can’t tell whose bodily fluids stain the sweatpants you’ve worn for days. Taking a shower seems pointless; the laundry has piled up and the only clean clothes no longer fit.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
You’ve diligently stayed late at the office to prepare for a project. Assured colleagues you could handle it. The final presentation is interrupted by a phone call. A newfound allergy, a burst appendix, a broken bone. The rush to the hospital is anger and worry, adrenaline tinged with rationality.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The voice of critics mounts so loud and consistent that you begin to hear it in your own thoughts. You did something wrong. Said something wrong. Believe something wrong. Doubts compete with self-assurance, teetering for space on the edge of your sanity.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The school trip slip, or treats for a bake sale, or necessary science project component. Forgotten on the counter where you were sure you’d remember it. You race against time and battle snail-paced traffic, knowing in the big scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. But in the end, the look on their face is all that matters. The clock ticks on.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
You’ve attended recitals and sports practices. Waded through birthday parties and waiting rooms alike. Patiently spent hours on homework problems you never dreamed you’d face again. And you thought you were prepared for the first time “I hate you” crosses their lips.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
Silence fills their conversations with you. You, who are now too old, or too familiar, to truly understand their rage. Days, weeks, months pass with nary a “thank you.” Until all it takes is a broken heart, a misunderstanding of how cruel life can be, to send them rushing back into your arms. Only your words and shoulder can provide comfort.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The distance between phone calls grows. Visits occur when convenient and thus, not as often as you’d prefer. The static interrupts notifications of promotions and marriage. Then one day, they understand completely. Look up at you with awe as they hold a new child in their arms. The questions flood. How did you do it?
You take a breath. Stop to think.
And somehow, you did it.

Teaching My Son About Sex in the Age of Harvey Weinstein

I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future.

It’s an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in coastal Maine, and I’ve brought lunch to our back porch for my eight-year-old son and his spritely female friend whom he has known most of his life. They’ve just come up from the tidal shoreline. The air is salty and thick.
I venture back inside to retrieve drinks and, when I return, I am met with giggling and sheepish grinning between the two old friends. It isn’t hard to imagine what they might have been discussing as I’ve gotten used to observing them unfurl so many of life’s mysteries together.
I have been anticipating a conversation about the mechanics of sex with my son for several years now. I had wanted to follow his lead, hoping to answer any questions he might have and then segueing into the details that I would like for him to know. I have wanted to normalize sex for my son in a way that was never done for me so that he might enjoy this vital connection throughout his life in a healthy way, without the hang-ups of shame and disassociation that so many of us have had to shed.
In my adolescence, my mother – while folding clothing together in our laundry room – spoke vaguely of a man planting a seed in a woman.
My father once made a comment about my holding a penny between my knees at all times and referred to me as a “fallen woman” (in apparent jest) when he found out I was sharing an apartment with my boyfriend after graduating from college.
There was no eye contact between any of us in these off-hand and uncomfortable attempts at providing information about the facts of life. There was no mention of love or connection or protection. There was no follow-up, no books to study. I was entirely unprepared as a young woman – as a human – for what it would mean to enter into my sexuality.
For a boy so deeply curious about the inner workings of all things in nature, culture, and even politics – don’t get him started on Donald Trump – my son has been remarkably indifferent, or perhaps reticent, in his inquiry about how babies are made and what our “private parts” have to do with it all. He’s all about being a boy, jokingly intensifying bodily sounds and functions. But outside of speaking about animals mating, he has shown little interest in learning about the human equivalent.
I’ve been teaching him about sexuality in subtle ways from the start. Our language around the body is anatomically correct, and we have a firm policy about listening to the “no’s” we receive from others. I have established this practice with the understanding that honoring physical boundaries now will translate into respectful treatment of partners’ bodies later in life. I feel a particular responsibility in this regard as a mother of boys and as a woman who recently chimed in, “me too” on my social media account.
When my son falls asleep at night, I sit on the edge of his bed, rubbing his back and neck. Sometimes he will convince me to rub his legs and feet, which can feel a little indulgent at times. He directs me to his sore muscles, so I place extra attention there. In these quiet moments, he tests out what it means to share his inner workings and thoughts while nestled in a bed with a woman at his side who loves him with every cell of her being.
I listen intently to what he has to say and engage in this tenderness of touch so that he may one day experience such healthy intimacy as a mature young man in the embrace of someone he loves. I work hard to preserve his connection with his feelings – to help him decipher them and share them verbally so as not to turn on the switch that perpetuates the male tendency to use sex alone as the sole means for connection and comfort.
Back on the porch, I asked the two friends what made them giggle so. My son indicated that they might have been talking about something inappropriate. They had found a couple of horseshoe crabs stuck together down by the shore, and his friend had said that human beings do a similar thing – stick themselves together – to make a baby.
In the brief pause before I spoke, I took in my son’s face – one part cherub, one part Huck Finn – and noticed how he peered at me squarely in the eyes without shame or hesitation in anticipation of my response. I absorbed how comfortable and confident he felt coming to me with this inquiry.
I told him that she was exactly right, that we humans do put ourselves together in a similar way at times. I assured him that I wanted to share everything he wanted to know on the topic, that families like to provide these details to their own children, and so we would have that conversation very soon and in privacy. But if they had any pressing questions, I would be happy to answer those.
They both looked at me and smiled with ease. No questions.
On Sunday afternoon, the house was quiet, and I peeked my head into where my son was working on a drawing. I asked him if we could pick up our conversation, and he suggested nonchalantly that we talk while he continued working. I agreed. As soon as I began to share my thoughts, he turned away from his drawing and looked at me head-on.
I engaged my son in some guessing about what our various parts are meant to do. It turned out he already knew what went where. I was not surprised, but happy to confirm (in anatomically correct language) what he’d already heard in cruder terms at school.
Then we discussed the things that really matter. We spoke about the love and warmth involved in “human mating.” I assured him that, while he will likely hear all sorts of things suggesting that sex is somehow dirty or bad or something to hide, it is actually a beautiful miracle to be cherished between two people.
I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future. It felt like any other conversation we’ve ever had about the things he needs to know as a human being new to this earth without a map.
I called my sister later that night. We celebrated another hurdle in forging new ground as parents better equipped than our parents were to nurture our children’s emotional and physical well-being. We know that, if they could have, they would have provided us with more information about sex, and we would have learned about the value of our bodies – our rights and responsibilities as women – in less painful ways.
A few days later, my son came home from school and told me about a boy making a joke about breasts using jocular hand gestures. In all earnestness, he said, “ He doesn’t respect women’s bodies.”
I did a little happy dance inside and stifled a smile.
I don’t anticipate that my son will always be so perfectly respectful. I don’t pretend that he will never test out some objectifying behaviors, which are so frequently modeled in our culture. But for now, I feel assured that he is on the path toward learning that sex is something he can discuss openly with me.
I like to imagine that what I’ve shared will live inside him and be available when the time is right. I like to imagine that the prospect of his sexuality causing him or his partners shame or pain will be something he can never understand.