November 18, 2014

Big Boy

I’ve discovered a special flavor of tenderness for this little man of mine—my rainbow baby, born after so much heartache. When this amazing little man came into my life and soothed all the raw places in my heart, I couldn’t help but have a little different attachment to him. I’m more protective of his babyhood. When you have your first, you’re so eager for them to grow. But this time, I just want him to stay small. And he refuses!

This is the child who wants to be big. He wants to sit in a big boy chair, drink his milk without a lid, and eat the exact same sandwich you are eating. He wants the toy that big sister wants; he would really like to ride her bike if only his legs would reach. He takes in everything, and conquers it.

He is also the child who greets me with an enthusiastic, “Mama!” every morning and any time I come home from running errands by myself. He literally runs into his Daddy’s arms every day, shouting, “Daddy!” with the biggest grin. So easy going, so happy; he makes life a joy.

He was my worry when I found out I was pregnant. H got 3½ years of my time all to herself. Poor J only gets 2 and a couple of months. He still wants to be held and soothed and rocked and cuddled. What will happen to him when both my arms are full of babies? Will he still know how very much I love him? I will have to make sure of it.

Of course, this little man also has a temper. He has a tendency to throw and hit—occasionally bite. We are learning all about gentle touches and inside voices. His vocabulary, so long limited to “Mama,” “Daddy,” and “There it is!” has begun to expand. Today his said shoes. This is big stuff.

I wondered to Josh the other night if I would feel this nostalgic for the twins or if I’d be so relieved at surviving that I’d just take a nap and call it good. I will probably be worse because they will be my last babies. And truthfully, it doesn’t matter which kid it is that is having a birthday, it reminds you of all the joy that child brings to your life (and frustration). This particular kiddo is just all the more special for being so desperately wanted and so beautifully starting to heal my heart.

Little J, I hope you always know how much I love you; how amazing your smile is; how capable I know you are; and that you can accomplish anything in this world. You will always be my little man, even when I have to look up at you.

October 5, 2014

Give it Away

So at about 10:15am this morning God told me to get off my butt and do something. Clearly, I did, because what else could I do? I blame the whole thing on Jen Hatmaker.

Some of you may laugh, but this fall I started my very first Bible study class ever. I decided I needed some Mommy time each week and Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) seemed like a good fit. It’s a military, multi-denominational group that meets once a week with snacks and has a bunch of Bible studies and child care.

I eased myself in by doing a study of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. For those not familiar with the book, Hatmaker, a blogger, writer, and pastor’s wife, took seven months and dedicated each one to an area of life that she felt was excessive. It wasn’t just about getting rid of those old snow shoes you said you’d use but never did; it was about trying to re-evaluate her life through the lens of how much she has just by virtue of being a US citizen versus the vast majority of the world. If we all took a few minutes to compare our lives to those struggling, we’d be pretty embarrassed and possibly even ashamed. It isn’t about trying to make you give away family heirlooms. It’s more about opening your eyes to the real needs of those around you and making a difference where you can. That’s where God tapped me on the shoulder this morning.

Like many churches, ours has communion on the first Sunday of every month. As a member of the choir (I sing Soprano), I have to be at both services. There’s not enough time to go home, so today I took 7 with me so I could do my reading between services.

So there I am, in this nice little library room at my church, eavesdropping on a Sunday school class of people old enough to be my grandparents and reading. Suddenly Hatmaker shares this story about a friend of hers who suddenly realized that Staci, her daughter’s friend’s Mom, was seriously struggling. Single mom, working full time and going to school. The family owned two plates. There were three of them. So Hatmaker’s friend demanded a list of what that family needed. Four days later their apartment was furnished and their cabinets were full down to a bowl of Red Delicious apples on the counter. When I read that story of how a small group of women completely transformed that family’s life, and quite possibly saved them and their future, I cried. I cried in a cute little library at my church while trying not to attract attention.

Suddenly I remembered that a few days ago I pulled on my maternity skinny jeans and found $80! That is quite a bit more than the crumpled $1 I’d expected to find when I unfolded the bills. My clothes had just come back from a round of pregnancy with my cousin in Nashville, but a few quick texts resulted in the fact that neither of us remembered misplacing $80. How comfy are our lives when $80 misplaced makes no lasting impression? In the end, I decided we could split what was essentially the windfall, and we each ended up $40 richer.

Then God poked me in the head. I picked my butt up and drove around the corner to the Dollar General, a store, incidentally, that I’d never stepped foot inside before. Being honest, I felt like it was for poor people. I didn’t need to shop in a place like that. In this case, it was a block from church and for $51.30 I bought 34 toiletry items for Welcome Central, a local non-profit that connects people in need to services in the community. They’re a first line of defense and the people who come to them are often on food stamps and have immediate needs. While you can buy tobacco and alcohol with food stamps, you cannot buy toilet paper. (Because that makes total sense.) So I bought toilet paper and shampoo and soap and combs. I bought a moment of dignity for someone in a rough situation. I bought the comfort and confidence of being able to present yourself, clean and refreshed to the world.

What else would I have done with $40? Nothing noteworthy. It would have been spent at Target on things we almost certainly didn’t have a lasting need for or on an Elsa wig for H’s Halloween costume (I’ll freely admit, that’s still happening, though it had better not cost $40! Thankfully I am blessed enough to start seeing the poor and still afford to give my five-year-old a bit of magic.)

As I headed back down to the choir room after dropping off my bags of toiletries in the atrium, I was amazed at how God had so clearly spoken to me in that moment. I’ve always been a Goodwill donations person, but I can be pretty lazy the rest of the time. I was even more amazed when I checked the flyer and realized that  though I’d been meaning to grab an extra shampoo at the Commissary anyway, the last day to donate was next Sunday, when I would be out of town. That moment in the library was the moment. The only moment when I could make that difference with money I’d lost and never missed. Money that could feed a family for a few days or help a bunch of people who just needed toilet paper.

It makes me wonder what else I miss in my frantic Mom-of-young-children world. Probably a lot. But my eyes and ears are opening, and I hope they never close.

September 2, 2014

Take a Bite

There I am in the kitchen last night, mixing up cinnamon muffins from a box. I silently lament, “It’s too bad I was so stressed this weekend. It would have been nice to make something.” You’re quick on the uptake; you’ve already realized that I was in fact making something at that very moment. It took me a few more minutes to realize that I am the rare person who considers making muffins from a box mix “buying muffins from the store” as opposed to making them at home, i.e., from scratch.

The light bulb goes on, and all I can do is shake my head at myself.

It reminds me of a time a few years ago when we were staying home for Christmas and didn’t have a huge crowd coming in. A neighbor asked what we were doing for Christmas, and I said we’d probably just make spaghetti. The sweet lady gave me a look—eyes narrowing, head tilting. She tentatively asked, “Spaghetti? You’re more than welcome to come over…”

I looked back her, my head tilted, puzzled eyes, and after a good 30 seconds realized what the problem was. In her mind having spaghetti for dinner meant a jar of sauce from the store. For a lot of people it’s probably one of the simplest, lowest stress meals you can prepare. It’s definitely not worthy of the celebration of Christ’s birth. What she didn’t realize is that I’m Italian. We’ve been having sauce on Christmas my entire life. It’s made from scratch. It takes at least six hours. When my mom does it, it takes the form of a lasagna capable of feeding about 30 people. There is also anti-pasto salad, garlic bread, and bowls of pork and sausage cooked in the sauce. This is followed by Christmas cookies of every description, all made from scratch, and cream puffs, also made from scratch. No one leaves the table hungry—for anything—ever again.

I feel like this topic of food has come up several times now because I keep finding myself relating to food and its preparation in ways that seem to vary—sometimes wildly—from the norm.

We spent three weeks waiting for our household goods to arrive from the other side of the state. My neighbors have been so amazing. We brought some basics with us: a 6 quart pot, a griddle, a 3 quart pot, and a colander. We also had a few spatulas, can opener, etc. There were a few things I had to buy, like a cutting board and a cookie sheet. I borrowed a set of mixing bowls from a neighbor. But still, I managed to make chicken pot pie and blueberry cobbler. We only increased our meals out when we realized we could charge them to the incompetent movers.

Is that weird? It reminds me of my grandmother, who, when they camped had my grandfather improvise an oven so she could make stuffed peppers and bake a cake. They had the most popular campsite. Kids would wander over and return to their own campsites demanding to know why they were stuck with hot dogs and beans.

That’s weird, right?

The only explanation I can provide is that I’m third generation American. It’s actually kind of crazy. There’s a single branch of my family, the Sterners, that goes back to the Revolutionary War. Everyone else came from Italy in the early part of the 20th century. All the other great grandparents were born in Italy. My dad’s mom spent World War II in Sicily after her family was trapped there when they went back to visit. Her dad was a fascist. She worked as a translator for the Allies after Sicily was liberated. My great uncle was part of machine gun crew for the Italian army. My mom grew up living above her Italian grandparents. Grandma Miraldi spoke to her in Italian, and my mom answered in English. My dad was the secret translator for his siblings when his parents spoke Italian.

It’s a different tradition when your family’s cultural heritage is still so close. My parents both grew up on Staten Island. They went to the Italian stores; they lived practically next door to their entire families. My dad has a picture of somebody’s birthday, black and white, and around the table are bodies packed just wall to wall. He can name almost every one, and they’re just about all related to him. And if you thought that description earlier of Christmas dinner was crazy, try it at my dad’s house growing up. First you had an entire pasta meal, all the trimmings mentioned above; then you had a turkey or a ham or both; then you had fruits and nuts and cheeses; then you had dessert. It took hours. And it was like that at every holiday.

I can guarantee you that none of it was pre-prepared or store bought. Of course, that’s partially because those things didn’t exist in the 1950s, but mostly it was because that’s not how it’s done.

This isn't my actual family, but you get the idea.

I will definitely continue to laugh at myself for baking “store bought” muffins from a mix. But I’m so proud of my heritage and the skills that have come with it. H loves to cook with me, and I’m so happy to pass that knowledge on to her. Not only does it mean a chance to teach her tradition and heritage, but it also means learning to understand food and appreciate it in its many wonderful permutations. Being able to cook gives you a freedom to control your destiny, while still honoring the past.

August 30, 2014

Attention, Please

“H, sweetie. H? Look at me. Over here. I need you to put this book in your room and then get shoes on. OK?”

She looks at me and vaguely nods. I ask, “What did I just ask you to do?”

The vague look briefly intensifies and then turns to a look of anger/annoyance. I get something between a whine and a grunt.

“What did I ask you to do, please?” I repeat.

After one or two more exchanges of that sort, I finally get her to answer me in words. “I don’t remember,” she tells me, not looking at me.

And then we start again. It either ends in the book put away and the shoes on or it ends in a tantrum and some time out.

It was moments like that, plus a lot of other things that finally led us to take H to a developmental pediatrician right around her birthday this year. We’d begun to suspect that she had Inattentive ADHD, and it turns out that she does. I know those of you who know H are thinking, “No! She’s not hyperactive. She’s so sweet and quiet.” You’re right. She’s not hyperactive. It turns out there are two sub-types to ADHD: Hyperactive and Inattentive. She has the inattentive type.

Suddenly we had an explanation for her behavior. We knew why, at five, I still had to stand in her room and remind her of every item of clothing that needed to be put on—sometimes multiple times. We knew why she seemed to forget immediately the things we’d talk about. We knew why she was sometimes so rigid in her preference for routine—asking her to brush her teeth at the wrong time of the morning could spell disaster.

The news also brought me such mixed emotions. There was relief that we weren’t crazy; that something actually was going on. Relief too that I wasn’t just a bad parent who couldn’t teach her kid to be independent. But then there was the realization that this is a lifelong condition. There was the fear of the hurdles she’d have to overcome to be the independent, successful adult we want her to be. There was concern for how she’d manage in school, and whether this meant a lifetime of meds to improve her concentration.

It’s been a few months, and I still feel all of that. You can also add in the frustration I feel when I realize that her behavior is motivated by the ADHD, not her desire to drive me insane, yet there’s NOTHING I can do to change it. I suspect that this is kind of a new normal, which I hope will improve as she gets older and her understanding of her world and herself improves.

I recently read my awesome friend, S’s, blog. She’s a homeschooling mama and was talking about her struggle to reduce interruptions from her three boys as she tries to provide each one-on-one instruction during their school day. She talked to her oldest two about the issue, they brainstormed ideas, put them into action, and she saw progress immediately. The kids are doing great with it, and everyone is happier.

It was sort of like reading fiction for me. That would never happen in our house. I would take the same route to try and talk rationally, on her level, about the problem. She would tune out two minutes later and interrupt me to ask a complete non sequitor. I would try to redirect. The conversation would end with me realizing the entire content was completely lost on her. We’d try again later. I’d try to implement some simple strategies. If I managed to stay sane and incredibly consistent then we might see progress in two to four months.

I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating. She’s a smart kid. She’s a loving child. She just can’t concentrate long enough to listen and remember things most of the time.

What makes the entire situation more perverse is the fact that Josh and I are both extremely logical people. We are cause and effect people. We are problem solvers. We are practical. When H begins to sob uncontrollably in the middle of a project because she can’t open the lid to a jar, we are both baffled and bewildered. To us, this is no big deal. Try again. Ask a grown up. Problem solved. To her, it seems as though a dragon has appeared and inserted itself between her and all the happiness in the world. Getting her to “see reason” is so difficult. Even after we resolve the problem, you get the sense that she may not have learned the lesson you were hoping to teach.

The list goes on. Her ADHD touches all aspects of her life—intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

I’m hopefully not whining here or even really venting. My purpose today is just to be real and express my concerns. I’m also curious if anyone else has gone through this with a child. The further we travel this rabbit hole, the more likely it appears that we will at least need to try concentration meds. This is not something I am enthusiastic about. So far, removing gluten from her diet has improved her appetite (a huge win) and lessened her mood swings (also a huge win), but it has not addressed her main problem of inattention. We could try more extreme elimination diets, but I fear that we will start to see push back if we start taking away things she loves, like dairy. She’s five, and it’s really hard for her to understand the abstract interaction of food and behavior. On an everyday basis, we coach her as best we can on coping methods when she runs into a speed bump, but it can be hard to find the right language and approach that makes sense to her. It’s almost like she speaks a different language. We just don’t think the way she does, and I feel like that’s starting to show more and more.

At times, I feel so distressed and helpless. I keep hoping that as she gets older, she’ll understand more and things will just click. But I fear the reality is that as she gets older and life gets more complicated, the problem will only get worse as her meager coping skills become stretched to their limit. How do we help our kids when we don’t know what’s best for them? Meds can be a dangerous path. Side effects can be worse than the symptoms they alleviate. She may have to be on them for years, and we don’t really know the effect on a growing brain. But not giving drugs could carry a heavy price in terms of self-esteem and self-confidence with “untreated” ADHD. Does she really need them? Or is it just that I want an easy solution? And nowhere did anyone issue me that instruction manual kids were meant to come with.

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