Monday, July 19, 2010

Food sensitivities

When my son was about two, I made the mistake of eating chili for dinner. I was breastfeeding, but nobody had ever told me to avoid spicy foods. Anyway, that night around 2 in the morning he woke up with projectile vomiting. We noticed because he was sharing our bed. Let me tell you, they call it projectile vomiting for a very good reason.

A week or two later, it happened again. We figured it out. No chili.

A couple of months later, I noticed that it took several extra hours to get him to bed on nights that I had chocolate chip cookies with my lunch.

Then, a chiropractor friend of mine suggested we take our son (and me, since I was still nursing) off dairy. Our pediatrician was getting ready to put tubes in our son's ears because of frequent ear infections. We stopped eating dairy and the ears cleared up, so the ear doctor decided not to do the operation. From then on, as long as we stayed away from dairy, no more ear infections.

As the years went by, we got in the habit of looking at food and what we were eating as possible culprits for all kinds of issues. With lots of experimenting, mostly trial and error, we found that fruit, of all things, made our son hyper. He could tolerate sugar pretty well, but one blueberry would have him bouncing off the walls.

When we went out to dinner, he would curl up into a ball on his chair after eating, until we stopped giving him soda with his meal as a treat.

His acne was so bad as a teenager, I was really worried he would scar for life. We tried topical treatments, but didn't want to medicate him, as he's so sensitive. Finally, we found the culprit - eggs! He stopped eating eggs, and all products that have eggs in them, and the acne cleared up.

I hear more and more about kids with sensitivities to foods. Adults too. When I changed my diet, I stopped having headaches, heart palpitations, constipation, itchy skin, sore throats... the list goes on and on. I hope that other parents will do as I did and look at what you're eating and feeding your family. Experiment with your diet. Pay attention to what you eat when problems arise. It just may be that it is your diet that is making you sick.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A little stirring up

Did you ever think you could watch a doctor close a wound with stitches? I found out it was possible the day my son, at the age of 2, was crawling on the hardwood floor and my 4-year-old daughter decided it would be fun to play wheelbarrow and picked up his feet. His chin hit the floor with a whack and started bleeding profusely. I quickly staunched the flow, covered it with a band-aid, called the doctor to say that I was on my way, dropped my daughter at a neighbor’s house, and drove over to the doctor’s office. It was not far, thank heaven. He cried all the way.

At the doctor’s office, I had to hold my son down while the nurse cleaned him up and the doctor carefully stitched up his chin. He needed three stitches, but it seemed to take forever, as though the doctor was moving in slow motion. I never took my eyes off his hand while he worked, inwardly astonished at what I was doing. Funny, the things we are capable of in a crisis.

Now, years later, I wonder if there were repercussions, like a ripple in a pond that forever flows outward from a disturbance. Did my daughter ever get over the guilt of knowing she was responsible for hurting her little brother? Is that why she was so protective of him from that day forward? Did my son ever regain his trust in the people around him who held him down and put needles in him? Is this why I always felt I had to watch my children like a hawk so nothing bad ever happens to them?

Or is this the stuff that is supposed to happen? Perhaps life just decided things were going along too smoothly there, and we needed a little stirring up. Perhaps we needed to be knocked a little off balance so we can learn to find that balance again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Little dictator

What do you do when you have a child who desperately needs to have their own way? They try to run the family.

When our son was little, he was always trying to tell us what to do. We used to say jokingly, “This child is going to grow up and become a dictator of some foreign country.” There was this constant tug-of-war between what he wanted and what we wanted.

We heard the saying somewhere – “Pick your battles” – and used it often. We would dig in our heels only when it really mattered.

As he grew older, we discovered other techniques that worked, too: distraction, bargaining and finally - discussions; we listened to his point of view and he listened to ours. It was often easy to find a solution then. The best solutions were the ones we agreed on together. He would sometimes surprise us with a solution that we hadn’t thought of ourselves.

Our son is grown up now and recently I began to wonder if somehow my husband and I fostered this personality trait in our son. We both had a parent that was unusually controlling and being the second born in both our cases, we grew up feeling we had very little control.

Is it a coincidence that we produced a child who has the same needs and continues to create that same tug-of-war feeling in us?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Better or different?

Every child is different. And every parent realizes this shortly after the second child is born.

For us, the births were entirely different.
The sleeping patterns were different.
The ages they accomplished things were different.
I could go on and on.

Somehow the differences stand out. We had to make up our mind - do we judge one as better than the other, or just different?

We worried that our son couldn't compete with his sister academically, socially, athletically. She shone in all the easy and obvious ways. So, one day I sat down and made a list of his strengths.

He's energetic. Creative. Affectionate. Strong-minded. Confident. Imaginative. Funny. Focussed. He can draw. He can sing. He's a leader.

Once we knew his strengths, we could help him see himself in a whole new light.

It wasn't about who he was compared to his sister. It was about - who he was. Unique. Wonderful in his own way.

And with this we fostered tolerance and love of diversity. And a self-esteem that couldn't be shaken.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wrestling with the No-sleep Monster

We had trouble getting our first child to sleep almost from the get-go.

She was a nursing baby, but she rarely nursed to sleep. Oh no - life was too interesting. She'd finish nursing and then blink up at me as if to say, "Okay, Mom, what next?"

Then it was Dad's turn. He had the "magic shoulder". He would walk with her... and walk with her... and walk with her... When it looked like she was asleep, he'd stop walking and look down, holding his breath and hoping. But she would lift her head and look at him as if to say, "Okay Daddy, what next?" Eventually, she really would fall asleep and we would both breathe a sigh of relief. And if we were very, very lucky, she would stay asleep when we laid her down in her crib.

She was very good at sleeping, once asleep. At 3 months old, she would sleep 11 hours at a stretch. This routine lasted until she was 6 months old. Suddenly, it got harder and harder to get her to fall asleep at night. Her bedtime slipped from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., then midnight, then 2 a.m. Soon she was falling asleep at 5:30 in the morning and sleeping until 4:30 in the afternoon. She'd watch TV with me all night and wake up in time to see Dad walk in the door from work.

This was not ideal for us. We picked up books on how to get a baby to sleep and tried the "crying it out" routine. The first night, she cried for 3 hours (and so did I) before finally falling asleep. The second night, it took 45 minutes. After that, only 10.

We thought we had fixed the problem, until we visited my parents' house or the baby got a cold. Any change in routine and we had to start all over again. It was painful for all of us.

It wasn't until our daughter was 2 that we finally found a solution. By this time, she was sleeping in a grown-up-sized bed with a wall on one side and a protective railing on the other. We had our little bedtime routine - reading a book together, singing a song - then lights out. I would cuddle with her under the covers and then I would say good-night. Then, no matter what she said or did, I didn't respond. I was pretending to be asleep. (Of course I would respond if she became truly agitated for some reason, but that never happened).

She would babble for a few minutes, then play with my face, then lay quietly,and finally, after about 10 minutes and 2 distinct yawns, she would fall asleep. When I was sure she was sleeping soundly, I would slip out from under the covers and go spend the rest of the evening with my husband.

I loved having this special time with my child, just the two of us. It left us both with a feeling of security and love. There is nothing like a peaceful bedtime routine for living happily ever after.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Time with our children

When I was little, there were only two things I wanted to be when I grew up – an actress and a mom. I spent my childhood taking drama classes, going to drama camp and majoring in theater in college. But, when it was time to choose a career for myself, I realized that having a family and being a mom was more important to me.

Some people would frown on that choice, I suppose. Everyone knows that a woman can do everything today, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

One of my mother’s closest friends once exclaimed to me that she didn’t understand why women didn’t stay home with their children. After all, it was such a short time in a woman’s life, and it goes by so quickly. She can work before and after, right? But, the time with one’s children is so precious.

This made an impression on me. So, after my husband earned his graduate degree and landed a full-time job in his field, we decided to see if we could live on his salary (my earnings would be “extra”) so I would have the option of staying home with the children. That’s precisely what I did and I don’t regret it for a moment.

How do women do it? Work full or part-time and still raise a family? I know they manage somehow and I imagine it is a constant juggling act.

For me, I had no choice. I couldn’t leave my children. I needed to be there with them every day, to witness every delightful expression that pops out of their mouths or shows on their faces… to discover finger painting and chalk mazes on the driveway… play playdoh with them and bake cookies… sing Sesame Street songs and plan birthday parties. I didn’t want to miss a moment.

Sometimes if I planned too many activities, I could see the stress in my children’s behavior and realized it was time to have a quiet afternoon at home. It made all the difference. Quiet time. Time to read. Time to be.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Heading off sibling rivalry

Between our two children, we never had much sibling rivalry, and as I look back, I realize we took steps pretty early to prepare our elder child for the arrival of her brother. This was important to me, because I believe my own older sibling had a difficult time adjusting to my birth.

Our efforts began with simply talking to our almost two-year-old about “our baby”, including her in the ownership of him. Months before the birth, we borrowed books from the library about a baby in the house and being an older sister and read them to her frequently.

We planned a special welcome event. We bought a gift that the baby could “give” our daughter and a gift that our daughter chose to give the baby. We exchanged these gifts at the hospital when the children met for the first time. This promoted such good feelings right from the start. I believe she could still tell you today what that gift was. It meant something to her.

Once home, we showed her how to touch the baby, always gently, and where she could touch him – his hand, his back. We encouraged her to talk to him, and sing to him.

Most importantly, we made sure that mom and daughter still had some one-on-one time together. When nursing the baby, I would often read to her. At bedtime, my husband would take over with the baby for a while so I could do the bedtime routine with our daughter, just the two of us.

I’ll never forget one night, when tucking her in. She said, “Mama?”

“Hm?” I replied.

“What happened to us?”

I stared at her and my heart leapt up into my throat. Did she mean what I thought she meant? Was my daughter, just a few months past two, asking me to explain why things had changed?

“Well,” I began. “We have a baby in the family now,” the words stumbled out.

Yes, something had changed and she certainly noticed. Was the new baby a blessing or a curse? It would be another two years before he would be old enough to really play with her. But, then, ah… the magic would begin. A companion. A playmate. A source of inspiration and entertainment. And, a partial substitute for mom. Because when all is said and done, I can never really give her my undivided attention again.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Home from the hospital

I’ll never forget the moment when I climbed into the car after securing our little one into the infant seat for the first time. I put on my own seatbelt, my husband put the car into reverse and I was suddenly swamped with emotion. As he pulled out of the parking lot, we looked at each other and tears came into my eyes. “We’re a family,” I said.

My husband had taken a couple of weeks off from work. Thank God he did. Everything was so new. My mother had offered to come up and help, but we wanted a little time to figure things out for ourselves. Those first couple of weeks, I really relied on my husband for some of the tricky tasks, such as bathing the baby and cutting fingernails. He would clip fingernails while I nursed. This kept the baby from fidgeting.

It took me a while to get up the nerve to bathe the baby myself. But finally, I took a deep breath and just did it. We bought one of those bath sponges that you can place in the bathtub in warm water and place the baby in. It worked great, although it was a little hard on the knees as you knelt by the tub. (A folded towel under them helped.)

When Phil went back to work, I was terrified. I finally realized that if I can just manage to feed myself and the baby, change diapers, use the bathroom and get some sleep, I was accomplishing a lot. I couldn’t understand why I would cry at the drop of a hat. Postpartum depression? No. I wasn’t depressed. Just emotional.

We loved the Snuggly. If I put the baby in the Snuggly, a front carrier which placed the baby’s head snuggled against my chest, I would have my hands free to make dinner or wash dishes, or even do laundry.

Breastfeeding was the other challenge. The doctor had told me I was to nurse every 3-4 hours. But the baby would never wait that long to fuss. How I wish I’d called La Leche League earlier, or even before the baby was born. Once I started going to their meetings, stress over nursing became a thing of the past. There’s nothing worse than watching the clock and wondering why your baby doesn’t stick to a schedule. And it was a relief to learn that babies don’t nurse only for nourishment, but also for closeness and emotional reasons.

Once I got used to nursing, I quickly came to realize what a blessing it was. I began to look forward to settling down with my baby and drifting into that euphoric state where the world falls away. I feel the compact body of my baby snuggled close to me and I'm no longer sure where my body stops and hers begins. I see the sweet face of my baby, eyes closed, long lashes against her cheek. I feel the gentle tugging at the breast, the touch of a baby hand, the softness of that cheek I stroke with my finger, the gentle press of little feet against my stomach… and I feel a oneness and a rightness with the world.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The beginning...

Do you remember the moment when you first laid eyes on your newborn? For me, there was an instantaneous feeling of recognition, as if I was welcoming an old friend. There I lay, propped up against some pillows with this tiny infant in my arms and I’m thinking, “Hello, old friend.”

I hesitate to say I didn’t experience that same feeling with my second child. The birth was easier than with my first, although it was in some ways more traumatic because it was the first time I was separated for more than a couple of hours from my two-year-old daughter. I wonder if somehow my son knew my thoughts were elsewhere because within a day he found a way to get my attention. He developed what the doctor called “Fast Breathing”, so they put him in an incubator for 4 days and started giving him antibiotics in case there was some kind of lung infection. I had to leave him in the hospital eventually and pump my breast milk that first week. It gave us a good scare, and I understand now as I look back that even then he never had any trouble gaining the attention he needed and deserved.

We never did find out what was wrong. Perhaps he just wanted to make a grand entrance and shake everyone up. The end result was that he created a parent-child bond that was just as powerful and life-changing as his sister. And in both cases, I felt as though something had hit me over the head and spun me around until I was dizzy and disoriented and wasn’t sure which way was up or down.

The world never really does settle back down again. Perhaps it’s the job of children to spin our world around every once in a while and make us see things in a new way…