Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Deconstructing Christmas

Overall, I have mostly come to terms with Christmas music.  No, I really, REALLY don't want to hear it for a solid 6 weeks every year, but I admit that it makes the sometimes-tedious task of wrapping gifts a bit more fun.  Plus, my baby son seems to like it when I dance to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for him.

I prefer the sacred songs to the secular ones, but I find there is one thing that many Christmas songs, regardless of origin, have in common.


Incredibly.  Ridiculous.  Lyrics.  Weird word choices.  Creepy phrases.


Please, allow me to explain in the form of a top ten list (in no particular order).


#10. Winter Wonderland: Later on, we'll conspire / As we dream by the fire / To face unafraid / The plans that we've made / Walking in a winter wonderland.  What kind of plans were you making that you have to note you're unafraid to follow through on them?  I mean, are we talking going skiing on a too-steep slope or an attempt at world domination here?

Image from christmas-kid.com.

#9: Do You Hear What I Hear? A child, a child shivers in the cold / Let us bring Him silver and gold / Let us bring Him silver and gold.  No.  Just no.  The thought is mighty sweet, Your Highness, but the Holy Child could use a nice wool blanket, or maybe some crocheted booties instead.  Thanks.


#8: Away in a Manger: The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. Yes, Jesus was God made flesh, but that does NOT mean he was too sweet and angelic to cry.  As a new mom, I can say the chances were really good that little Lord Jesus cried when He was hungry and cried when He was wet and cried when He was tired...it's the human aspect of Him and all.


#7: Little Drummer Boy: Mary nodded / Pa rum pum pum pum.  In the same vein as the above, Mary's a teenage mom, but she isn't stupid.  If her baby just fell asleep, your rat-a-tat-tatting on the drum is not going to be a welcome gift, Ringo.


#6: Little Saint Nick: Christmas comes this time each year.  I love you, Beach Boys.  Really.  You're among my very favorite bands.  But this is akin to saying "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a reindeer with a red nose."  Guys.  Come on.


#5. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: There'll be scary ghost stories / And tales of the glories / Of Christmases long, long ago.  I never understood this.  Why would you tell ghost stories on Christmas?  Wrong holiday, right?  I don't get it, either. 


Image from mashable.com
#4. Santa Claus is Coming to Town: He sees you when you're sleeping / He knows when you're awake / He knows when you've been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake! This pretty much attributes divine characteristics to Santa.  I'm conservative and according to most folks, a "religious person", so in my opinion, only God himself gets to claim these talents.  So it's a no-go for me.

#3. Frosty the Snowman: Frosty the Snowman / Knew the sun was hot that day / So he said, "Let's run / And have some fun / Now before I melt away."  Hot sun + running = melting even faster.  Basic science, Frosty.  You might be magical, but you're not the brightest crayon in the box.

#2. Last Christmas: I keep my distance/ But you still catch my eye / Tell me baby, do you recognize me / Well, it's been a year; it doesn't surprise me.  Okay, let me get this.  You were passionately in love, gave your heart away, and don't think your lover would recognize you just a year later?  I recognize people I haven't seen for a decade...and I didn't even profess undying love for them.  So, the question is...how dramatically did you change your hair?

#1. Here Comes Santa Claus: So let's give thanks to the Lord above / 'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.  Again, I kind of lean to the right when I celebrate Christmas...so thanking God for Santa Claus - and not for the birth of Jesus - seems kind of selfish and icky to me.  I guess I should apologize if this seems a bit on the biting end of sarcastic.  It's only the past two years I've really been able to enjoy Christmas after years of bad memories associated with the holidays.  Still...some lyrics are almost as inane as what you hear in pop music.  Just something to think about.

As I'm listening to Christmas music, of course.  My husband is rewriting some of the lyrics for me: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you returned it to K-Mart."

And he's cheery WITHOUT the addition of rum in his eggnog. 


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Little Brony

There is a chance I am accidentally-on-purpose raising my infant son to be a fan of My Little Pony.  Is it because I'm a raging feminist, hell-bent on smashing gender-norms?  Is it because I can't stand cartoons for little boys?  Is it because I am obsessed with pink and sparkly things?

No on all counts.

Except the pink and sparkly one.  I do like things that are pink and sparkly.

I guess, even before I get started, I should explain that I am NOT plopping my baby down in front of the television and walking away for hours on end.  We watch a little bit, though, mostly because it helps with his torticollis (he is supposed to do stretching and exercises to strengthen the neck muscles on his left side).  If I position him a certain way, and he is interested in something (be it the TV, the cats, or a toy), he'll force his head to turn in the correct direction.  So there, that's for all the parents out there who are scandalized that I would even begin to allow my baby to become part of the entertainment culture.

Moving on...

I am an adult, yes, and I like cartoons.  I always have.  But even I approached the latest incarnation of My Little Pony with hesitation.  I'd heard about bronies and I thought that whole thing was a little weird.  I was a fan of the franchise when I was a child, but it wasn't my favorite.  (That honor would have been a tie between Jem and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with She-Ra and the Ghostbusters following close behind.)  But, as I stated above, I like sparkly things, and I really enjoy Flash animation.  

So I got hooked.

Image from en.wikipedia.org.
It was easy to identify with Twilight Sparkle.  She's initially an introvert, a reader and scholar who prefers not to interact with people.  Hi, that's me kind of.  She's also a perfectionist and has a lot of potential.  Also kind of me-ish.  As the series progressed, I found my friends represented in the other main characters.  My friend Jaime, who I frequently mention on this blog, is like Pinkie Pie in that she is exceptionally outgoing, loves making people smile, and has boundless energy (even though she has FOUR rambunctious daughters).  My friend Emily has an element of Rarity to her; though I wouldn't call her vapid or vain, she's intensely creative, talented, and has a definite eye for design and fashion.  My friend Lindsay isn't as bashful as Fluttershy, but she is gentle, kind, sweet, soft-spoken and full of love for living things.  My sister Jules is the epitome of Applejack - a green-eyed, blond-haired country girl who doesn't mind getting dirty and who has the work ethic of, well, a Clydesdale.  My friend Jordan is a tough rebel-turned-good girl who is confident and strong-willed, but who would do anything for her friends.  I think that makes her Rainbow Dash.

Having said all that, why is it so important for my son to watch this show as he grows up?  Well...as much as I love the superhero cartoons, they don't talk a whole lot about second chances and redemption.  The thing I love most about MLP: Friendship is Magic is the element of forgiveness.  I love the way that the characters grow and learn, and their progress isn't erased as new storylines develop.  I love that, in multiple story arcs, the "bad guys" are given the chance to be heroes, to learn from their mistakes, and to make friends.  Sometimes they change, and sometimes they don't, but it's rare to see that kind of progressiveness in cartoons.  Regardless of the medium, what a beautiful lesson to teach children!  That we make bad choices and it's okay to try again.  That a friend's bad choices doesn't mean she is a bad person. That people can change when they want - or need - to.  That trust must be earned and valued.

And, that it's okay for that lesson to be wrapped up in a sparkly pink bow.

Even for boys.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Me-vember

Yup, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again.  Yup, I gave up again.  My excuse this year was the five-day road trip to Iowa, during which I tried to write but found myself both uninspired and carsick.

We were there to visit Ross's family and enjoy and early Thanksgiving.  It was a very quick but pleasant trip, made even sweeter by my decision to drop NaNoWriMo this year.  No, it's not that I am proud to be a quitter.  Not by any means.  I've tried this three times and just haven't been able to discipline myself enough to stick with a daily writing schedule.  And yes, I know that I will NEVER be a successful writer if I can't do that.

But, while we were in Iowa, I realized a few very important things about myself - things I was unhappy with.  Things I want - and need - to change.  Things that are far more important than stringing together 50,000 words and patting myself on the back.

Don't think that I'm mocking those who are participating.  I think it's a super idea, but for me, right now, it's become low priority.

In two days, I will be 33 years old.  My baby just turned 5 months old.  I am very unhappy with my body.  With my general state of health.  I've been told that moms can't snap right back into shape, that their bodies take 9 months to change and grow a baby and that there should be 9 months for it to return to "normal".  Which is fine.  But that doesn't mean that when my baby is 9 months old, suddenly by body will magically drop these 25 pounds, that my lungs will return to their "running-friendly" state, and that I will be able to sign up for the next 5K that pops up in my Facebook feed.

I have to DO something.

Granted, for 3 months after the birth of my baby, I was under medical orders not to exercise.  I'd had an emergency c-section and frankly, dealing with a baby who couldn't nurse, dealing with my own emotions, and dealing with the choice to return to work - or not - after becoming a mom, well, all those things were more than enough for me to focus on.  I wasn't worried that I couldn't squeeze my still-swollen feet into my Nikes.  Who cared?

Well, now that I've had to invest in a new, "upsized" wardrobe...I do.

It's time to celebrate me by beginning to take care of myself again.  Eating healthier.  Cooking at home more often.  Hiding the Halloween candy from myself.  Walking again.  Refusing to put myself down with my own words.  Putting God first again.

So.  For the rest of this month - and hopefully, indefinitely, I have to focus on myself and my family in a healthy, God-honoring way.  It doesn't mean I won't write.  It just means that I need to plan my time better, to sacrifice some of it for my husband and my son, to work on healthier decisions, to improve my spending habits, to put a little more effort into housework, to exercise more, to pray more, to cook more, to love more, to connect more with friends and family.

And...yeah...to put down the smartphone more.  

So that's what I'm doing for the rest of the month.  To my Nano-friends: I salute you!  May success be yours!  I'll join you next year.  By then, I am hoping and praying, I will have gotten back into the routine of taking care of myself.  

In fact, I'm planning on it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Postcard to the Past - A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self

Your parents' divorce is one of the best things that could possibly happen to you.

Of course, it doesn't seem that way right now.  You're hurting and you feel betrayed by your dad.  Your mom is struggling to raise you and your sister alone.  The three of you never seem to get along.  It's awful.

But your new step-mother is not a wicked one.  You will both grow together - she as a more confident mother and you as a more mature daughter.  She will never try to replace your mom, and that is exactly how she will succeed at being one.

The little girl who "stole" your Daddy from you will grow into your best friend and confidante.  She will amaze you with wisdom that should be coming from a person much more experienced than she.  

You will be deeply hurt when your biological mother and sister cannot attend your wedding, but these women will stand in their places - not as substitutes, but as shining examples of love that binds where blood does not.

And yes - that means you will find the love of your life.  You will marry the man who loves you for who you are, who loves you because you are strong and you are a Christian and you are curvy and you like pickles and you can quote "Star Wars".  He is out there, and he is fumbling along, the same as you, asking God where you are and making tons of mistakes in the meantime.

Just like you.

Do you remember completing that survey in kindergarten?  The one that asked the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?  You answered: a mommy.  You changed your mind when your parents were divorced because you never wanted to put a child through the hell that you went through.  You will your mind again in college when you begin working with the little ones at church - which will be more fulfilling that you can imagine.

But the road to motherhood will be very difficult for you.  Your first pregnancy will be a surprise and, even though you will be happily married at the time, you will fight feelings of shock and guilt, because you didn't feel you were ready. When you lose the baby three months later, you will fight those same feelings, magnified a hundred times.  The good news is, you will have much support from your family and friends, particularly the women at church, because many of them have endured the same heartache.

You will find strength in your own words.  God will keep you fighting, and your words will be your weapon.  More than it ever has been, your writing will be your lifeline.  Expressing yourself will be the key to unlocking your own feelings and it will help you sort through your troubles.  It will also bless others who are traveling on the same road as you.

You will go on to lose two more children.  The second loss will be the hardest, because this child will be the only one whose heartbeat you actually get to see, a mere week before another ultrasound fails to find life in your womb.

You will be pressed hard, but you will not be crushed.  You will come close to giving up, but you will hold on to hope as your friends surround you, pray for you, encourage you and believe in you.

Your relationship with God will fluctuate, just as it does with your earthly companions.  Some days, you will feel distant from him, wondering why he is allowing you to walk this path.  Others, you will feel wrapped in his love and want to share it with boldness.  

Your relationship with your mother will be similar.  You will learn, much later in life, that you share many of the traits that you found irritating in her, but you will also learn that, in some ways, you are stronger than she is.

Was.

She will die unexpectedly, painfully, and you will find in yourself a silent strength that will carry you through the first few weeks, but you will begin to fall apart in the months that follow.  You will need to reach out to others because you will feel even more alone that you did during your miscarriages.  You will realize that your mother will not be alive when you finally do have your first child.  She will not bake you another birthday cake, or send you another silly letter with colored pencil doodles in it, or share another story about her many adopted pets.  

You will be there when she dies.  You will be the last family member she makes eye contact with, and that fact alone will sustain you in many dark hours.  She saw you.  She knew you came to her.  And she was deeply sorry.

About everything.

Not long after, you will have that little baby you prayed for.  The pregnancy will be fraught with challenges, which will be no surprise to you, but you will eventually hold a precious son in your arms and you will call him your joy and your promise.

Your church family will continue to grow in importance.  You will develop deeper relationships with some of the women than you ever had with your biological sister - who will, sadly, grow far apart from the family - and you will treasure them.  

You will have days which will scare you.  Days which will make you think you inherited your mother's anxiety.  Days which will make you think you are not cut out to be a mother, or a wife, or a friend.  You will have days that make you feel like a champion.  Days that make you believe you can do anything.

You will run a 5K, despite your lifelong challenges with asthma.

You will lose 20 pounds, despite your lifelong struggles with your weight.

You will have beloved pets of your own, despite your diagnosis of allergies.

You will be disappointed, despite your best plans.

You will be surprised, despite your worst fears.

You will keep going when everything in you cries out to lay down and die.

You will doubt yourself and hate yourself and love yourself and respect yourself.

You will live a lifetime and a half in the next sixteen years, and then you will gaze into the past with pity and envy and admiration for your sixteen-year-old self.

The last thing you will say before returning, in your mind, to the present, is:

It gets worse, but then it gets so much better.  It's always too soon to give up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Honor Of...

...the women with arms aching to hold a child.

...the men who haven't yet born the title of "Daddy".

...the children who weren't for this world.

...the victims who received that heart-stopping diagnosis.

I think it is fascinating that Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is observed in October, at the same time as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Both miscarriage and breast cancer can leave a woman feeling deeply violated, less "feminine", and more vulnerable.  They attack the parts of our bodies that identify us as female: our wombs and our breasts.  There is a great deal more to being women than bras and babies, of course, but in the simplest sense, these two tragedies strike at the very heart of femininity.  I know that men can be and are affected by breast cancer and pregnancy loss as well, but on the whole, these are women's struggles with their own bodies.

When I suffered my miscarriages, I felt deeply betrayed by my body.  Biologically speaking, an adult female's body is meant largely to nurture its young.  Three times, my body proved that it was incapable of doing so.  Three times, the test was positive, and three ultrasounds later confirmed that our babies had died within the very cocoon that was meant to sustain them.  

Pregnancy Loss Awareness ribbon
 image from camolove.com
Although I have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, my friends who have say it's rather a whirlwind experience.  One day, things are fine, and the next, you think there might be a lump.  I can't imagine the excruciating frustration and fear that comes with waiting for test results.  Trying to decide how to tell loved ones.  Preparing for surgery, radiation, more tests.  Losing hair.  Losing weight.  Losing strength.  Losing hope.

Ah, hope.  Emily Dickinson called it "that thing with feathers" that keeps us going through stormy seas, that endlessly supplies is with optimism and faith for our future.  It's the one thing that cannot be taken from us, regardless of health, finances, religion, relationships.  It seems sometimes like a fickle thing that threatens for leave us whenever the doctor brings bad news, or the bills keep piling up on the kitchen table.  But real hope can not be lost, only thrown away.  Faith and hope, in Christ, are interlocked.  You cannot separate them, for they feed each other.  An archaic use of the term "hope" is "to place trust in".  Biblically, the term did not mean "a desire for something to come to pass" but instead was almost synonymous with "belief".


So this I say to the victims out there.  You women whose bodies seem to betray you.  Hold fast to hope.  It cannot leave you, though diagnosis or doubt may seem to shoo it away.  You cannot lose it, for it finds its way in in the dark with the light of God's love.  

Only you can let go of it.  


Don't.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hitting the Bottle

In the past year,  I've found myself doing, saying, and believing things I never imagined. I went to Disney World - a childhood dream I feared would never come true. I adopted yet another cat.  (She is currently my favorite, but don't tell Thor.) I overcame the curse of miscarriage and welcomed my baby boy into the world.

And I became a supporter of formula-feeding.

That's not to say I'm anti-breastfeeding.  Not at all. I think it's a beautiful and wonderful and wise thing to do.  But, after unforeseen factors began to stack up against my little guy and me, formula feeding ended up saving our relationship.  I mentioned it in previous posts, but I really feel that feeding my baby formula has allowed me to keep my sanity.

What interests me is that, although science has pretty consistently proven that breastmilk is best for most babies and in most situations, the long-term differences between breastfed and bottle-fed babies don't seem that significant.  

I don't have any resources to cite right now, but my friend Jaime, who out of medical necessity formula fed all four of her gorgeous girls, made a great point when I was preparing to give birth to my son.

"When they publish all those studies in support of breastfeeding," she observed (and I am paraphrasing here), "and the results always state that breastfeeding results in healthier, smarter babies, they don't take other factors into play.  They do not consider the education level of the moms, the family's income, the foods consumed by the mothers, the health of the mothers, the socio-economics involved."  

She makes a great point.  Those breastfed babies who "never get sick"...is that a result of their food alone...that in conjunction with, say, their parents' finances?  Did mom and dad have better access to medical care?  Live in a less-polluted environment?  Keep baby out of daycare or other settings that might expose them to more germs?  And, those bottle-fed babies who were "prone to be heavier"...was that because of the formula itself, or because mom and dad never modeled healthy eating habits, or allowed junior to play video games instead of riding his bicycle?  I don't believe that these studies can account for this huge range of variables.  So, even though I still think breastmilk is a great option for many moms (dare I say, most?), it isn't fair to put formula in a corner and label it "evil".

I'm sure there are vitriolic "lactivists" out there who would condemn me for "quitting" and "giving up" on my baby.  They might think that I was "condemning him" to a life of "sickness and disease" by ending breastfeeding after seven weeks of painful, distressing efforts.  "Everyone can do it," I've heard from that camp.  "It's really very, very rare that a mother cannot produce milk for her child."  

Even if that is so, my baby was a preemie with a high palate that affected his ability to latch, causing feedings to be difficult and unsatisfying for him, and painful and disheartening for me.  Three weeks in, I was already resenting my own, beloved, prayed-for and sweet-faced son.  

That was causing him more damage than offering him a bottle, people.  And it was certainly damaging to me, as well.  Any motherly feelings of warmth and love would literally be drained out of me when he began to express signs of hunger.  I would quietly sob at night when those faint wails began to drift over the baby monitor.  They would culminate in hysterical cries, from both myself and my helpless infant.  

I hated what I was becoming.  It would have been hard enough to battle the post-natal hormones if nursing had gone well, but with feeding upon feeding resulting in a hungry, angry baby, things were worse.  I was so furious and guilty because the one thing that I didn't want to compromise as a new mom seemed out of my reach.  

I got advice - usually unsolicited, of course - suggesting a lactation consult (I had several, thanks), a certain kind of tea (after nine months of decaf, people, I wanted COFFEE), pumping ideas (always pump right after a feeding - yes, I see - so, while my slow-poke eater takes an hour to gum away at his lunch, I am to spend his naptime pumping, only to wake and feed him again a half an hour after I pump...around the clock?) - and I think some ladies were genuinely convinced I was hurting my baby by feeding him formula.  One friend was even briefly shocked when I mentioned my husband was feeding the baby, before he realized that we hadn't been successful at breastfeeding. 

Even though I am not so very far removed from the situation, I can still look back on my baby's seven-week mark and say that the best choice I personally could have made for him was sticking a bottle of formula is his screaming little mouth.  With the pressure and stress of breastfeeding gone, I was able to begin to actually enjoy my son and see him as a blessing, a tiny human to love and cherish, rather than a voracious, demanding little beast who was physically hurting me 8-12 times daily.  He has slept through the night since we switched to the bottle.  I won't crow proudly over the crowds of moms whose babies are still nursing every two hours, because frankly, I have no idea of formula was the magic bullet that did it for him.  If anything, it was the fact that he finally had a full tummy, and that mommy was calmer and more peaceful when she was with him.  They say infants can sense that, right?  Well, if I were a baby suddenly getting way chill, happy vibes coming from my mama, I'd sleep more soundly, too!

Photo credit: Brent Miller
I am a member of a formula-feeders group on Facebook.  Frequently, a lot of the women there assert that formula-feeders ("FFs") should not feel obligated to share their reasons for not breastfeeding.  Some reasons are medical.  Some are emotional.  Some are practical.  But in virtually all cases, the decision was best for the family in question.  This is important, because it recognizes the needs of the mothers as well as the babies.  If we live in a society that is so passionate about women's rights, women making their own choices about their bodies, then why are we so vicious towards women who do not breastfeed?  If fickle society had its way, women of any age could have abortions whenever and wherever they liked, but, if they did have the babies, they would have to do it naturally, and then breastfeed them on demand, but never in public. Because everyone knooooooows that's what is best, right?

Hence, the Mommy Wars continue.  

That is why I choose to share my struggles and reasons for breastfeeding.  Someday, when my son is old enough - and maybe when he sees a mom breastfeeding in public and asks what is going on - I can tell him that nursing is a beautiful thing, but I chose to formula-feed him because I love him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Worst. Day. Ever.

About three weeks ago, my infant son wound up in the ER.

It was easily among the worst days of my life.

I'd been walking down the stairs, carrying the baby, intent on feeding him on the couch and watching some TV.  I tripped, fell backwards, and he flew out of my arms, knocking his head against the wooden banister before tumbling down seven steps.

The sounds that came out of my when I saw my precious baby lying facedown on the carpet - unreal.  Every cell in my body screamed at the same time, and I couldn't believe the neighbors weren't at my door in seconds, demanding to know what had happened.

Ronen was dazed for only a second, then began to scream mightily.  I later learned that his immediate tantrum was a good sign - he was in pain, not unconscious.  Of course, at the time, my heart was bleeding and breaking and I made the mistake of picking him up, rather than letting him lie where he fell.

Naturally, motherly instinct trumped medical savvy.  What self-respecting mom was going to let her shrieking, injured, terrified baby just lay on the floor?  (Thankfully, I didn't cause him any further damage.)

I called 9-1-1 within seconds and was so hysterical that it took the dispatcher nearly a full minute to get my address correct.  The pained cries of the baby I was holding surely made it harder for him, so whoever you are, thank you for your patience, sir.  In under two minutes, two ambulances, four EMTs, a social worker and a police officer were in my living room.  

It helps to live three streets away from a fire station.

En route to Children's Hospital, the female EMT chatted with me about her son (who, interestingly, shared my husband's birthday), and helped keep me calm.  It didn't take long for the baby to cry himself into an exhausted sleep while firmly grabbing our thumbs in his tiny hands.  After several hours, a battery of tests, and the exchange of many weary glances between my husband and me, we learned that the baby had a fractured skull.

The look on my face said it all as the attending pediatrician immediately moved towards me, sat down, and said that, in spite of the horrifying nature of head injuries, our son's accident was having the "best possible outcome".  The fracture was long, but simple and clean.  No bone had splintered in his soft, growing skull.  There was no bleeding, no apparent brain damage.  In fact, he had no other bruises, bleeding, or cuts whatsoever, despite the fall.

My poor hungry baby was denied food for an additional eight hours as he was poked, prodded, tested, and generally made to feel miserable.  Of course the procedures were necessary, but I felt awful every time they had to take him out of my arms to draw blood or take his temperature.  He was so worn out that the only energy he had, he used to keep his pacifier locked firmly in his mouth.  He slept most of the day and quite little that night, waking up several times to feed, once he was allowed.  I felt terrible for the little boy whose semi-private room we were sharing, as he must have been woken up every time the baby whimpered.

Still, never had Ronen's creepy goat noises made me so happy!  He'd been nearly silent for almost 12 hours, but once he was wrapped up and put to bed, he soon began to make his customary "bleating" sounds, signifying contentment.  What a comforting sign!

After nearly 24 more hours of observation and visits from social workers, trauma team members, a neurosurgeon, and patient advocates, we were released with little more than a prescription for Tylenol.  He only needed a few doses, in the end, and was back to his normal self in about two or three days.

It didn't matter, though.  The damage had been done to me already.  I, who at the time of this writing, have never broken a bone, sent my beloved and long-awaited baby boy to the hospital with a busted head.  I felt guilty, but probably not as guilty as people thought I would.  I knew the accident wasn't my fault.  But I do, now, narrate my actions to the baby and they include, "Let's be extra careful on the steps, Ronen!  Let's see if anything is sitting on them that shouldn't be!" 

And every time I make the descent successfully, I announce, "WE DID IT!" and you would think I'd just won Olympic gold.

Look at his little face, though.  Better than gold.

Insurance Impasse

It was about a joke and a half away from being a Saturday Night Live skit.

The three hours I spent on the phone with government officials, attempting to sort out the knotted ball of bureaucratic red tape that is health care reform.  The fact that the state didn't add my husband's income to my application, despite my reporting it with copies of his paycheck.  The friendly confusion of the three separate employees who agreed that my income should allow me a tax break, but who couldn't seem to understand why the system wasn't permitting it.  The frustration of trying to find an insurance carrier that my OB-GYN and PCP both accept (there isn't one within my price range, BTW).  

Yes, it was what those old-time folks would have called a "laugh riot".

And this all happened after the bugs were "worked out" of the computer system.

This isn't about President Obama.  Everything, both negative and positive, that can possibly be said about health care reform has already been said.  And tweeted, and blogged about, and liked and shared on Facebook.  My tiny voice, screeching about my awful experience, will be lost in the cacophony of compliments and complaints that are already swirling around the Affordable Health Care Act.  But I still feel like I need to speak my mind.

I don't consider myself a particularly political person.  I identify as a conservative individual, generally, but not always and not necessarily a Republican.  Something my pastor always says rings so true in times of bipartisan mudslinging: "Our answer lies in no party, but in Christ alone."  In fact, when "Obamacare" was initially announced, I was cautiously hopeful.  My mother was one of those people who kept "slipping through the cracks" of the healthcare system.  Unemployed due to medical conditions, she could never prove that she was physically disabled to the satisfaction of Medical Assistance (hiatal hernias do not often cause physical impairment, but hers had been so severe it did not respond to traditional OTC treatments and ultimately killed her). She applied for aid with Catholic Charities and other organizations but never "qualified" for any type of help.  Without insurance, she refused to go to a doctor, and never got the treatment she needed.  And then she died.

I'm not blaming the system for her death, not entirely.  Much of the fault, of course, was hers.  She could have gone to the ER and insurance be damned.  What were the bill collectors going to get from her?  She literally had nothing to her name.  No house, no car, no checking or savings accounts.  Nothing.  She had thought her daughters would be saddled with any bills she had when she died, so she refused to incur any. Sadly, she didn't know that legally, in the state of Kentucky, her bills would have died with her.  Her survivors (me, actually, since mine was the signature on all the documents) owed nothing to the hospital in which she passed away, despite their many hours of life-saving attempts and round-the-clock care.

I don't rightly know every effort my mom made to get financial help.  Maybe she just told me she tried, and never really did.  Maybe she didn't want to bother because she thought she would be denied anyway.  Maybe the process intimidated or frustrated her.  I will never know.  But it upsets me to think that she wasn't alone in her quest for coverage.  I wanted to think that an act of the government could have helped people in her position.  But how do you change the direction of a great big, lumbering, bloated and self-important beast that's been plodding along for dozens of years?  Can you reason with it?  Can you destroy it?  How do you even begin? 

One of the things I learned during my time as a mid-level manager with various companies is that, if you're going to point out a problem to your superiors, it helps to have a potential solution in mind to offer them.

This time, I don't.  I have no idea how to fix this.  I know that bi-partisan politics is making our country's health insurance woes much worse, because along with every "helpful" suggestion that is offered comes a heaping helping of stiff-necked pride.  No one's ever proud when compromise is reached and the country benefits.  Just when one side "wins".  

Guess what, y'all?  We're all losing here.  I am generally proud to be an American, but this whole debacle has us looking like a scrappy junkyard dog endlessly chasing its tail.

I feel like we - all of us in this country - are being required to eat at a certain restaurant, but the menu doesn't take into account people with allergies, or diabetes, or religious restrictions.  And the cook is on vacation.  And the waitstaff was just hired and isn't fully trained yet.  And there are rats in the kitchen.  And cockroaches.

I think you get the idea.

I just wish I knew how to make things better.  For all of us.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shame

I'm sorry.

I'm so, so sorry.


I'm sorry for the times you felt hated.  I'm sorry that you felt you couldn't be yourself; I'm sorry if you felt devalued or unimportant.  I'm sorry you were criticized instead of cared for.


I'm sorry you felt like you couldn't speak up.  I'm sorry that you felt your clothing, or your piercings, or your tattoos, or your divorce, or your unplanned pregnancy, or your sexual history made you invalid or unwanted.


I'm sorry that you were encouraged to feel that way.


I'm sorry that, instead of treasuring you, we branded you with your mistakes and set you in the corner - a warning to those who might follow in your footsteps.


I'm sorry that, when you needed a friend, you got a sermon.


I'm sorry that, when you needed hope, you got judgment.


I'm sorry that we who call ourselves by the name of Christ don't always reflect Him.

A few weeks ago, I came across a group on Facebook which purported to belong to a Christian community.  Although I could not verify if it was genuine, it was really disturbing.  Due to the content of the page, I can only hope that it's bogus, designed by non-Christians in an attempt to mock or discredit Christianity.

It was nauseating.  I refuse to post any links here or even identify the organization because I don't want to give them any traffic, but the page was covered in anti-homosexual, anti-woman, anti-adoption, anti-immigration, anti-formula-feeding, anti-rock music, and anti-government propaganda.  The posts were juvenile, taking scriptural verses dramatically out of context and using them to shame and slander those who would disagree.  

The more I think about it, the more disgusted I get.  First and foremost, I am ashamed to even imagine the idea that people might come across this group - whether they are genuine or phony - and think they are an accurate representation of Christianity.  Or any religion, for that matter.  Secondly, I'm so heartsick that, if this is a real group, these people have been so violently deceived by...well, whomever heads up this cult.  Slapping the label of Christianity on this group is like hearing Nicki Minaj's fake British accent and assuming she's the Queen of England.  

I've posted about this before and been very open about my beliefs in person.  I do believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  I also believe that simply quoting it to people is not an effective way to share God's love with others.  I believe there is a right and a wrong, and there is an absolute Truth that really does supercede all of our individual belief systems.  That's generally considered an outdated way of thinking nowadays, and I acknowledge that.  I'm okay with it.  What I'm not okay with is that, because of the actions of some high-profile, low-morality "church" groups, the label "Christian" has become synonymous with "bigot", "hateful", "judgmental", "hypocritical" and "narrow-minded".  

For those of you reading this blog who feel that way, I am sorry.  I truly am.  Although no one's perfect, Christians by the very nature of their faith are supposed to live as closely to the ideal of Jesus Christ as possible.  That doesn't mean condoning what they disagree with, but it does mean treating others with love.  The simplest definition of love, I think, other than the word "God", is this: "to wish someone well, regardless of circumstances."  To be able to love someone doesn't preclude one's own convictions.  

I can disagree with your religion, your lifestyle, your decisions, your parenting, your fashion sense, your bumper stickers - and still love you.

It's my hope that the Christians in your life - if there are any - are sharing the Gospel with you out of love, not a sense of superiority.  Or obligation.  Or guilt.  

Or judgment.

I want to be more like Jesus.  But I am NOT Jesus.  He has the final say, and my job is to try to point you to Him.  To live a life that makes you want to know more about my faith - not less.  To express myself in a way that is honest and clear, not cloaked in mystery and metaphor.  To share my beliefs in a respectful, no-nonsense, accessible way.  To understand that every single person in the world has been given free will and can and will make his or her own decisions.  

Like I made mine.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Leaf on the Wind?

Over the past several weeks, I've been struggling with my role as a stay-at-home mom, a wife, a daughter, and a friend.  As an introvert, even though I love my family and friends, I truly value my alone time.  I'm learning that's not really a great thing for a new mom.  Women in this position need the company of other adults - and it doesn't even always have to be other mommies.  

I've been re-evaluating my relationship with God and the church.  Instead of feeling closer to God these past few months, I've felt further away from Him.  I'm back at church but still dealing with a spiritual "blackout" that I want to push through.

I've been wondering why I haven't been writing - even when I have time.  I identify myself as a writer.  I love to write.  I have lots of ideas.  I just don't sit down and do it.

I think a lot about how to be a better mother to my son.  What kind of person do I want to encourage him to be?  Is it possible to walk way from the Mommy Wars and still be involved in the motherhood community?  Can I refuse to take sides without going AWOL?  Can I put aside my own insecurities and raise my baby boy to be a gentleman who respects women and his elders?  Who looks past appearances and treats others with love?

Image from www.etsy.com.
With all these thoughts swirling in my head like the leaves that will soon fly through the autumn air, I'm taking on a bit of a new identity.  A new symbol.  A new inspiration.

The feather.

Feathers are the means by which birds can fly.  Not the only way, of course; bone structure and anatomy play a role.  But a featherless bird cannot fly.  Birds that can fly doesn't think about flying.  It's part of their genetic make-up.  They just do it.

I need to stop thinking about being able to do something - and just do things.  I've spent too much time trying to talk myself out of things that seem too hard for me.

Feathers also represent writing and fighting.  Words and warfare  Feathers, once altered, can be used as quill pens to spill a soul on paper, or the means to guide arrows to the hearts of their targets.  I am a writer and a fighter.  My husband once told me he married me because I'm strong.  I don't always feel strong, but frequently, fighting just to get through a bad day or a period of difficulty is enough to qualify us as strong.  We don't have to be heroes.  We don't have to be faultless.  


Feathers also represent God.  As believers, we frequently turn to Psalm 91 as a prayer of protection and safety. Verse 4 reads: "He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection."  In my mind, I see the image of a worn and weary refugee, huddled beneath a pair of majestic, shining wings.  It's an image of rest and peace.  Those bright feathers promise hope.

So, instead of a leaf on the wind, I'll be a feather.  Ready to fly, or be honed into a tool for writing or fighting.  Flexible, faithful, true.  


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Decade Without Decaf

I realized it earlier today, as I was driving my son home from his dermatologist's appointment.  It was ten years ago this summer that I was hired at Starbucks.

Ten years ago that I became part of the opening crew at the Collier Town Square Store.

Ten years ago that I began my journey towards understanding adulthood, maturity, and responsibility.  

Ten years ago that I sipped my first cup of freshly brewed, sunny Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and compared it to the lemony brightness of Kenya.

Ten years ago that I made friends I still think about almost daily, with whom I faltered along as we grew into real-life "grown-ups".
Ten years ago: day one on the job.

Ten years ago that I realized I actually liked coffee.  Like, really, really liked it.

Ten years ago, when I was twenty-two and still expected to make a living in the arts.  (Don't laugh.)

Ten years ago, when I was still starry-eyed about the opposite sex, and continually hoped that HE would walk through the door and somehow be impressed with my knowledge of Arabica coffee beans.

Ten years ago, when my whole life seemed to lie ahead of me and I couldn't wait to run out and grab it.

A few months of working in a coffee shop turned into a "real" job, one where I was working my way up the corporate ladder.  My closest friends were managers who poured into me, who taught me to take responsibility for my choices.  Two of them taught me things I would never forget.  The first thing was that perception was everything.  To most people, truth doesn't matter, but what they think is true does.  The second thing was that you have the right to make your own decisions if you can defend them.  The worst choice you can make is the arbitrary one.

No apron here, though I WAS barefoot
and pregnant, ten years later...
Four and a half years later and a rather ugly falling out led to me working at the bank and, again, working my way into management.  After my first miscarriage, I left the bank (though those two events were unrelated).  I took a job at a small billing office with regular hours, which I had never enjoyed, and virtually no responsibility.  That was a nice change after nearly seven years in management.  But it wouldn't last.  Downsizing forced me "on the streets", so to speak, and after just over a year, I was unemployed.  Six months later, as my unemployment checks were ending, I landed a job at a pediatricians' office, which combined skills from all three of my previous jobs.  I enjoyed it.  A lot.  In fact, I think I was happier there than I was anywhere else, except in the earliest days and at the very end of my stint at Starbucks.

Why is this all important?


Today, THIS little peanut is my boss.
I don't really know.  It's just that I owe a lot to my experiences at The Buck, as we liked to call it.  On the practical side, I learned about time management, critical thinking, customer service, accepting and offering constructive criticism, leadership, and accountability.  These skills served me later as a small group leader, then a youth leader at my church.  I also learned mad coffee-tasting skills and my sense of smell is as sharp as ever.  I can still identify a coffee's country of origin from a single sniff.  Not as thrilling or valuable a skill, I admit, but it's a neat party trick.  I mean, it could be.  If I went to parties.  Or had friends who threw them.

But, in ten years, I have yet to amass those kinds of friends.

Mine are more homebodies.  Not much for clubbing, never were.  More likely to invite me over for fondue than for a night on the town.  Which suits me just fine.

I'll bring dessert.

And decaf.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Surprises

As I continue to adjust to my role as a mom, I have to admit, there were a few surprises that no one prepared me for - even the wisest and most experienced mamas I know.  Some turned out to be pleasant and others, well...you'll see.

1. My skin grew up.  In a good way.  I suffered for a very long time with acne.  I mean - we're talking over twenty years of my life, trying Noxema and Clearasil and Pro-Activ and three different medications from the dermatologist and countless other treatments, and virtually nothing worked long-term.  The closest I came was with the oil-cleansing method, but even that wasn't fool-proof.  My skin was pretty clear during my pregnancy, which I knew isn't usually the case.  So I buckled down and prepared for the worst when the hormones shifted after the baby came.  Nothing changed.  I am insanely grateful, and now leave the house without make-up more frequently.  Of course, people still seem to think I'm "sick" or "tired" without it, but that's life.

2. Never change a diaper immediately after a poop.  This one probably is SUCH a no-brainer to most moms that they don't even think of it as useful advice.  I figured it out on my own, and we won't get into any details, but I have a 60-second rule now with changing a diaper full of number two.

3. Formula is freeing.  This one doesn't apply to everyone, but it did for me.  After several weeks of attempted nursing, and lots of emotional trauma, we finally elected to exclusively formula-feed our little guy.  In spite of the heated mommy wars surrounding this topic, we've found that it works best for our family.  In my case, nursing was such a painful and frustrating experience that I grew to dread it.  Heaven forbid I should be in public when the baby got hungry.  I felt forced to make a hasty retreat home, red-faced and shameful.  I didn't want to feed in public because it made me uncomfortable - not to mention, after seven weeks, baby still couldn't get the swing of things.  For us, formula has allowed the rest of the family to participate more in caring for the baby, as well as given us more mobility.  

4. It's okay NOT to worry.  Wanting a (cheap) date night, my husband and I planned to see Guardians of the Galaxy at a local cinema's $5 night right up the road from my parents' house.  We left the baby and a bag full of supplies with them and I am not joking when I say that not an ounce of worry entered my mind.  I knew my parents were going to shower him with love, and my step-mom's extensive experience with children and babies certainly was a comfort, too.  I felt guilty only because I thought I was supposed to wail and cry and mourn about my first time away from my newborn.  Nope.  See #3 above.

5.  Babies are noisy.  I'm not talking about the crying.  I mean, I had no idea that this dude was going to grunt like a billy goat and sigh and sniffle and growl and shriek and hiss.  The first few times these sounds erupted forth from my tiny infant, I just stood there with my head cocked to the side, assuming that one of the cats had snuck into the room and was making terrifying bleating noises.  But no - cats don't typically do that, either.  On the plus side: he's cooing now and it is the best sound in the whole world since the beginning of time.

6. Nothing can prepare you for the NICU experience.  Especially if you've gotten this far after dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss, you might think you're invincible.  The worst has already happened and no matter what, things will be okay once the baby is delivered.  Not true.  Even though our little boy was only in for nine days, and received wonderful care, those days were some of the hardest and most miserable we've ever experienced.  Not only was I in emotional and physical pain from an emergency c-section, but every time we visited the baby, the updates changed - not always for the better.  My heart will always go out to parents whose babies are in the NICU, no matter what the circumstance.

7. The first time someone questions a decision you've made, your heart will break.  And your world will dim for a moment, and you'll panic and you'll stumble and you'll wonder if you're a terrible parent and you'll re-evaluate every single plan of action you'd considered.  But then, chances are, you'll realize that you're doing the best you can in your situation, for your family.  And you'll learn to handle people sneering because you're not breastfeeding...or sneering because you are breastfeeding.  And, when your baby smiles at you, the haughty look you got from that random old lady at Sheetz after a misguided and awkward conversation about homeschooling...well, that doesn't matter at all.  Not.  At.  All.

Any other first-time moms get some unexpected surprises - pleasant or otherwise? - when baby was born?

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's a Kind of Magic

Still, it's kinda only suitable for geeks and readers.

Now that baby and I are beginning to develop a routine, I find that I do have some free time during my day.  If I'm not slavishly clicking "next episode" on Netflix, that is.  Or if I'm not meeting up with another chick for a mommies' coffee date.

So, that means one of two things.  Housework...or writing.

I'd be lying if I said that writing always wins, to be honest.  In fact, lately, a less cluttered house has really helped my mental state, so even if I'm only accomplishing a single load of laundry or washing just the pots and pans in the sink between feedings, cuddlings, and pumpings, it's worth it.

But I miss writing, and it's time to return to it.  I have two beloved casts of characters in two completely different novels just itching for me to tell their stories (I know they are itching because they live in my head, after all, and believe me - they itch).

The first novel I began for NaNoWriMo two years ago and, to my credit, got further than I've ever gotten with any writing project (other than a collection of mediocre poetry).  It's a fantasy story that centers on a group of bards-in-training and other servants belonging to a wealthy lord, and that lord's relationship with the King and his family.  It is a basic good-versus-evil story geared towards young adults and borders on being a Christian allegory, but nothing so majestic or sweeping as "The Chronicles of Narnia", for example.

I have much of the plot strung together, but here is where I'm looking for the advice of YOU, the geeky, intelligent reader.  

Magic.  Yes or no?

There is a double-edged sword to creating your own realm.  You make up all the rules!  Is magic practiced there?  Is it effective, or just a "sham religion"?  How does it work?  Who wields it?  Does a person need to work on spells, or possess a talisman, or be born with a special gift?  
Marvel's Infamous Loki.  En.wikipedia.org.
As of now, the story has been plotted and written without mention of magic.  It would not be difficult to add it in as a factor, but I'm not sure if I want to.  

I'd like you to weigh in!  Does magic or other supernatural phenomena in literature entertain you or frustrate you?  Is it too much of a deus ex machina for your clever, solution-seeking mind, or do you enjoy the escapism?  What works for you and what does not?  Try to think about the different ways magic is used in film; examples are as dramatically different as Highlander and Disney's Aladdin, Lord of the Rings and Supernatural.  Consider your favorite fantasy, supernatural, or sci-fi flick, book, or series.  What works for you?  What has always grated on your nerves or rang "untrue"?  That's the kind of info I am looking for.

You can comment here or on my Facebook page.  Thanks in advance for your input!

(And...by the way...there are no vampires or werewolves - glittery or otherwise - in this novel, thankyouverymuch.)