My baby newly-minted middle schooler got a cell phone a couple days ago.
What in the world.
I am having a hard time deciding if this is a milestone, some right of passage, or the end of his innocence. One more screen, one more way for him to be accessed and potentially affected.
The fact that this big life purchase coincides with him starting middle school is enough to have me second-guessing everything and fanning off cold sweats.
Normal, certainly, but change is coming into his life like a freight train. And I can try to wave it off madly from the sidelines (a spot I had better get used to), but, it’s no good. There he stands, facing that freight train with wild glee and hopeful anticipation. Bring it!
The phone is for safety. Really. I want to be able to text him and get one right back whenever cold anxiety creeps up around my ankles from under my parenting grandstand.
(“There you are. He’s not safe, you know. You should be watching him more closely, he’s too young to be left to his own devices. Start hovering, hovering, hovering, right over his head…it’s what good parents do. Hover. Now.”)
He sees the phone as an offering and affirmation that he is his own person now. Right away, the texts started. “Are you coming home for lunch?” “What time does her flight leave?” “We had to leave the pool because of lightning.”
He is so ready to take responsibility and be part of the adult conversation.
WHICH I LOVE. Yes, TELL ME every second of your day. Yesssss. I am drinking in every word, while madly kicking anxiety in the face below me.
Middle school means a school twice the size, a campus, changing classes, a class schedule, gym lockers, lunch periods and… eighth graders. EIGHTH GRADERS. I think most adults are intimidated by eighth graders, let alone a wee, pre-pubescent 6th grader, whose young for his class, and a very slight 60-ish lbs of bony awkwardness soaking wet.
(Oh and do you see all of that over the school, too? The other parents hovering? I want to be up there. My anxiety certainly insists that I do. But I’ve chained myself to this little spot on the sidelines, willing myself to let him BE, let him DO this.)
He sees and considers none of this. There he still stands, cell phone firmly in one hand, a talisman of confidence as he stares down the freight train. He’s pumped. He’s got a little swagger. He talked confidently to his reading teacher, shrugging off that introversion label in a hot second. He proudly finished his summer reading. He has mapped out every class and knows he has 4 minutes to change classes. He is NOT worried.
Anxiety just laughed at me from deep down under there.
(“Hey. Who are you kidding? He’s fooling you. He’s fooling himself. He really needs you. Get up, up in the sky, over him. Make more noise than this. MAKE SURE HE’S OK.”)
I’m not dropping him off tomorrow. My husband is. And that is a good thing. Sure, he’s worried I might embarrass him. But let’s be real. I can handle the third-grader’s drop-off. The safety of ONE classroom, ONE teacher, a much smaller campus and one we both know. I can’t bear the idea of my eldest getting out of the car, loaded down in school supplies, not looking back (he won’t, you know) and being swallowed up in a sea of kids that shave, wear make-up and look about 22.
(“What kind of mother are you? You are faaaaar too trusting.”)
But he has his cell phone. He has it right there with him. It’s proudly and comfortably zipped into his backpack (along with all the hope and trust and belief in him that I stuffed in there without him looking). I am a text, a call, and only 5 miles away from my office. (Yes, I’ve clocked it.)
Yeah, I know that cell phone will open him up to new people, friends, access, connections that I have limited control over. (Um, I WILL read his texts until he pays for it himself.) But that cell phone is myhis our safety net, our conduit, our promise that we can reconnect when HE needs me. When I need him.
Is it enough? This basic flip phone with unlimited texting?
Is he going to be OK?
Are there any guarantees?
(“Yes. You could be there more. You could drop him off and pick him up and you could watch him, demand more for him, protect him, slowwww down the train. You could, you should, why don’t you?”)
I can’t. There are no guarantees. He will be good enough. So, here’s my feeble attempt at standing and cheering to him from where I am, where I think I am supposed to be. I feel every bit of temptation and fear biting at my ankles but it doesn’t matter. I’ll just yell louder and show him that this freight train is awesome and normal and he has every reason to believe that HE can handle what it brings him all on his own. All by himself.
*Cue embarrassing mom yodeling and hollering and whooping!*
I would assume that it is only natural for parents to try to protect their children from their greatest fears. Our past traumas that haunt us just can’t possibly happen to these fresh, new lives. Untouched. Unscathed. Perfectly perfect, with no worries at all. It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that when I make Mac N Cheese for dinner, I scream for everyone to clear far, far away when I retrieve the rolling, boiling pasta from the stove.
“Hey, back OFF. I don’t want you to get hurt like Mommy did. BACK! OFF!” And they always do. Mommy’s puckered scar makes for a fantastic safety lesson.
Ironically, for work, I had just written all sorts of articles about firework safety. All sorts. Did you know that one innocent sparkler can reach temperatures as high as 2000 degrees? Well, I did. And I had smugly decided we weren’t going to buy any fireworks this year, dammit. We were going to watch other people’s fireworks from a friend’s driveway. We should be safe enough.
When I was burned, I remember what my skin looked like immediately afterward. Red raw and then white, white, white, with skin peeling. A horrid memory for a three year old. But there it remains, tucked in my history, while my mother wrapped me in an old baby blanket. With flashing lights at the end of my front walk. And my father running up from a taxi parked at a hasty angle. I don’t remember much else, however. Except for the smell of Ivory soap, which they used to scrub it clean nightly. If I smell it today, it makes me gag. Horrid stuff. I don’t remember the screaming, but I remember that soap. Oh, and the dingy, nude-toned ace bandage, wrapped and wound and ragged about my left arm.
My youngest stepped out from behind the car while I sat comfortably in a friend’s chair in her driveway. It was almost dark and there were kids everywhere. But I knew it was him. And he had a sparkler. His face, lit by the sparks, was alive and THRILLED. So, what thoughts raced through my head? Well, these: 2000 degrees. He’s so excited! Am I a horrible Mommy if I take it away?
It took only those few seconds of thought for it to happen. A tiny spark jumped onto his arm. He’s never held a sparkler before, so jumping sparks are not normal. Or ok. So, instinctively, he flicked the sparkler. Down. And coals from that 2000 degree sparkler shot into that small spot where a little boys crocs meet his ankles. One actually slipped under. And stuck.
I thought his screaming was from the small spark. I was embarrassed. I was annoyed that I had to chase my screaming child up the driveway. Really, all over one little spark? I had no idea about the coals embedded in his feet.
But I did once we pulled him inside, terrified screaming bouncing off the vaulted ceilings, and stripped his shoes off. And there it was. Red raw, large patches of white, and peeled skin. And so much screaming.
I’m not going to say I handle panic well. But I have done ok-ish with emergency situations before, going into a zen-like, partially denial-based, “it’s all going to be fine” trance.
I didn’t this time. This time I panicked and had to stop my own scream. I asked someone “what do we do?” And cried and grabbed my child and pulled him away from everyone trying to treat him as if he JUST NEEDED ME. I could fix him, no one else.
It happened to be that the guy with the goofy, over-sized, red, white and blue top hat at the same 4th of July gathering we were at was an ER doctor. Somehow, our pediatrician was called. Somehow, this 4th of July guy called in meds for us. I heard “3rd degree” and “burn unit” though. I most certainly heard those words. And I thought of Ivory soap and felt sick.
We see a plastic surgeon on Friday. And my running, wild boy is now wrapped in those very same dingy, unraveling ace bandages. His left foot is the worst. I have actually found myself saying “You got a burn just like Mommy!” As if that is something to be proud of.
My mom was in the kitchen, with her back turned, when I decided to crawl onto the stove, attempt to bypass that boiling water, and make a grab for donuts.
I was in a folding chair with a beer when he emerged behind that car with a sparkler handed to him by… well, it could have been anyone that night.
The worst stuff, the stuff that YOU think is the worst stuff, can happen to your children. I get that now. The control we have over their lives is nominal. But maybe, as I am only NOW (over a week later) able to clean his wounds by myself and tell him how great his feet are looking (kind of, not really), I am figuring this lesson out. Our children force-feed us our own demons. They make us deal with it, grow-up about it, handle it. It’s just a burn. On a limb. I lived with mine without incident, he’ll live with his.
My fears, his fears. My healing, his healing. The left side puckers, regrows, scars over, and moves on.
Yesterday, in a three year old “I don’t want to nap even though I am besides myself with exhaustion” apocalyptic melt-down, my darling one decided to smash the baby monitor. I’m not sure how he did it but as I sat waiting through a stream of howling, yelling and screaming – the sounds abruptly turned to just…. static. Assuming he had pulled the monitor out of the wall, I stormed in only to find him still gloriously enraged and a part of the monitor’s plug cracked, as if hacked off the wall. My request that he nap was clearly an outrageous one – and the monitor had to pay the price for his suffering.
My monitor, my trusty spying side-kick, was dead.
As you well know, my sons are hardly wee babes any longer. They are solid, school going, “big boys” now at the substantial ages of three and six. Do I really need a monitor any longer?
Certainly there are schools of thought that believe this whole monitor business is simply one more hugely unnecessary burden today’s parent places on themselves. Our parents and our parents parents didn’t have monitors. And they successfully heard their children cry out, carry on and tantrum at naptime. In fact, some say that NOT hearing every whimper your child makes is a good thing. You’ll hear them if you need to. They can figure it out.
And I will give the nay-sayers that. The monitor requires parents to sleep with one ear trained on the breathing patterns of our children. We stir when they stir. We wake when they wake. We worry over any snarf, coo or fart.
But you see, I don’t mind.
I kind of like it that way.
Because, my friends, the sounds of my children sleeping are like an addiction of sorts. And my monitor is my dealer. While I settle in for the night, my monitor brings me my fix: my boys slumbering sighs satisfy every sense, they green-light my mind to wander, they promise me total reassurance. All is well. Sleep can happen.
I know, I know. My house isn’t even that big. If their door is open and my door is open, I can hear them if they call out. And they are three and six, for the love of God. If they REALLY needed me, they could climb out of bed and, in three seconds flat, leap wildly – with their well trained pajamaed feet – right into our bed.
Truly, our trusty little baby monitor is now – if hasn’t been all along – entirely obsolete. It’s silly. It’s unnecessary.
But it’s my addiction.
Because as I laid down to sleep last night, I heard… nothing. Silence. I felt partially deaf. Muffled. It was as if my children were no longer there. After 6 years of ambient breaths and quiet background static, there was just… nothing.
“What if someone broke into that front window, someone could get them – we wouldn’t hear anything!”
My husband looked as if he agreed. He is as much an addict as I am.
But we both know that we would hear someone if they broke in, surely. Even if my husband slept as deeply as he usually does, I would wake up. I stir when the cat walks across the floor or the rain hits the window or the toilet starts (sonofa… who didn’t jiggle handle!?) running.
We don’t need a monitor.
But. Um. I reeeeeally still want to go get one.
I mean, I kind of thought that having a monitor around the house would just come in handy. My husband can use it as a one way speaker when he’s in there. And imagine its many uses if we quietly stuffed it under their beds when they’ve reached double digits and are no longer telling me a thing. IMAGINE what we would be privy to!
Ok, maybe that’s not a great idea.
But I had truly convinced myself that monitors are 100% practical parenting tools which every household must have, no matter the child’s age.
Fine. I am simply admitting out loud what I have felt ever since I brought my oldest son home from the hospital six years ago. The twelve steps between our bedroom door and their bedroom door seems an enormous distance in the haze of sleep, in the semi-conscious “are my babies ok?” state where every parent hovers most of the night. If I am unsure of their safety and comfort, well, I can’t help but let my mind wander and worry. And in the wee hours, its hard to agree to much sanity regarding your children unless you actually hear their sweet, shallow breaths coming from that red light on the dresser.
But FINE. Yes. I know. It’s time. I need to try. I must break myself of this addiction. It’s time for this household to say goodbye to our baby (*sniff, sniff *) monitor.
Besides. I know my ears will always do their radar thing. Monitor or not, my senses are trained on their sounds where ever they are in the house. I can still hear them. I just need to convince myself, while I roll over in the deep dark of night, that the peaceful quiet of the house means there is also peace twelve steps away. All will be well.
Unless I wander into the baby section at Target tomorrow and give in to my cravings for children’s breath and soft static. Unless…
I found out last night that there are four confirmed cases of H1N1 – aka the “Swine Flu” – at my son’s elementary school right now. One child is in my son’s “cluster”, another is in his teacher’s son’s class. Four days into the school year and it has already begun. What do I do? Should I keep him home from school? Or am I over-reacting?
While I considered what I was going to do, his teacher called me last night. She assured me that they are taking every precaution they can to sanitize the school. Children each have their own supply cases and are told not to share. They use hand sanitizer regularly, they wipe tables down between every “station” change or class change. They are encouraging children to change clothes and even bathe as soon as they get home. They are asking parents not to send children to school with any flu like symptoms. They are doing everything they can. (So many props to his teacher by the way, I can’t imagine how much work it is to try and keep 20 six year olds germ free.)
And I also should repeat what my wonderful mother in law (an experienced nurse and mother of four children herself) has been telling me since this flu began getting so much press months ago: “H1N1 is just another strain of the flu. It is NOT dangerous to those without compromised immune systems. Everyone is over-reacting entirely too much.”
Well, considering how fast this strain spreads, I am very grateful it is not as dangerous because it is impossible to protect children from germ exchange. My son’s teacher can sani-wipe those tables every five minutes but its all for nil if one kid (my kid?) picks his nose and high fives his best friend, right?
But another class mom decided not to send her son today. It’s Friday, one day off (plus a weekend) can’t hurt. If you can avoid being exposed to the flu as much as possible, you would right?
However, this is only the beginning. I have a feeling we will be seeing many, MANY more cases of H1N1 at my son’s school this year. A local Tampa school reportedly has 30% of their student body out with H1N1 so far. Am I going to keep him home every time another case surfaces? First grade won’t get very far if I do. I don’t think this is something we can avoid. Shoot, we were in Target yesterday – how many H1N1 germs did we brush up against? And I didn’t sanitize my kids when we got back to the car either. Oops.
So, if it were your child, four days into the school year with four confirmed cases of H1N1 (*SO FAR*), would you keep your son home today?
“School and health officials should work closely to balance the risks of flu in their community with the disruption dismissals will cause in both education and the wider community. The length of time schools should be dismissed will vary depending on the type of dismissal as well as the severity and extent of illness. Schools that dismiss students should do so for five to seven calendar days and should reassess whether or not to resume classes after that period. Schools that dismiss students should remain open to teachers and staff so they can continue to provide instruction through other means.
Reactive dismissals might be appropriate when schools are not able to maintain normal functioning for example, when a significant number and proportion of students have documented fever while at school despite recommendations to keep ill children home.
Preemptive dismissals can be used proactively to decrease the spread of flu. CDC may recommend preemptive school dismissals if the flu starts to cause severe disease in a significantly larger proportion of those affected.”
And along with hand-washing and proactive germ war-fare they also do suggest (parents, pay close attention here) that:
“Those with flu-like illness should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medicines. They should stay home even if they are using antiviral drugs.”
So after all this consideration, what did I do about my six year old going to school today? Well, I really wanted to talk to my pediatrician before I decided. But no go, they were closed when I found out last night and school starts before they opened this morning. So. As I lay in bed hemming and hawing this morning, I heard: “HACK, cough cough, HACK, HAAAACK.” Shocking. My six year old has developed a cold. Yeah but that’s all I needed to push my “on the fence-ness” over the side. It could be a cold, it could be a start of something else. So I’ve decided I am going to keep him home today.
However, I know I can’t keep him out every time I hear the word “H1N1” so I am going to call his pediatrician (who tends to err on the side of caution usually) and follow their recommendations from here on out. I am waiting for their office to open now. So while I wait – we wait, really – please enjoy this MUSICAL INTERLUDE.
(a blogger “on hold” if you will…)
(And I soooo love The Carpenters by the way so if you bust on Karen, you are going down….)
….Aaaaand we’re back.
I just spoke to a very helpful nurse at my son’s pediatrician’s office. She said the following:
The Swine Flu (H1N1) is no different than any other flu and the preventative measures are the same: wash hands regularly, don’t share bottles, don’t drink from water fountains, use hand sanitizer, you know the routine.
Stay home if you see any signs of the flu in your child. Symptoms at their office have included a very high fever, headache, very congested thick cough, runny nose, glassy eyes.
If they do have this or any flu, they should stay home 5 days after the onset of the flu.
So far H1N1 has been milder than the regular flu and they have not seen any serious cases at their practice yet.
Those who should be especially concerned about exposure are those with young infants, pregnant women, elderly relatives or any folks with compromised immune systems.
Be sure to get your child a flu shot this year since many strains are expected to be virilant. (I did some research on the H1N1 vaccine and here is what I found.)
So basically? Yeah, I am probably over-reacting by keeping him home today. Sure he has a cough but if its JUST a cough, it’s probably just a cold. She could not emphasize enough how important it is that we sanitize as much as possible everywhere we go – but these preventative measures go for ALL strains of the flu, not just the Swine Flu. The Swine Flu is just one of many kinds of strains going around this year – and it’s not even the most serious strain. But that strain just happened to get the most press.
If flu strains were actors, consider H1N1 the Lindsey Lohan strain. Not the most impressive of all the strains, but the one that gets the most paparazzi.
(Um, that’s my analogy, not the nurse’s.)
Oh and my mother in law? She was kind of right. Just for the record.
Happy three day weekend to my coughing (although it’s probably just a cold) six year old.
Update: My youngest did end up having Swine Flu very shortly after this post was written. Thankfully, after immediate treatment with Tamiflu, it really was no worse than any other flu experiences for us. And that has been the same for most friends and family members who’ve experienced it so far. But I do know that hasn’t been the case for everyone. It sounds as if this strain has had varied reactions depending on the person and the time it was caught. My best wishes for health and healing to everyone until this passes.
A few weeks ago I got a call from an audiologist doing screenings at my child’s school. In one long breath, she told me that my son had failed two hearing tests and would need follow up with an audiologist and referrals are being sent and I needed to wait to hear from them as they would set up the appointment – and that’s all the information she has.
So I waited. They called eventually. They set up the appointment. I explained to my kid what was going on. But. I wasn’t worried.
I mean after all, he never turned up the TV or computer or seemed unable to hear something. He is doing great at school, his teachers have never mentioned any issues and he never seems confused. And surely when he doesn’t respond to my questions, that is just his personality. He is stubborn and reserved and sometimes he just doesn’t say anything when he doesn’t want to talk about something. That’s all.
Ugh. That is exactly something a mom would say to cover for her kid, isn’t it?
So today, my five year old and I marched in to see the audiologist. I was looking forward to having this over with so I could smugly declare “See? You all had it wrong. My kid hears fine. He just didn’t feel like raising his hand to the pesky beeps.”
The audiologist’s office had a sound proof booth which my son stepped right on into. He is so good about taking direction and obliged every command. I watched carefully through the window, willing his hand up every few seconds (even though I couldn’t hear a thing from where I stood).
After a variety of tests, the doctor handed my son a “I HADE A HEARING TEST TODAY!” sticker and sat down across from me.
“Your son has a mild to moderate hearing loss in his left ear. It is likely it is permanent. And considering how well he took the test, my guess is that this test is accurate.”
She went on to explain follow up tests, forms to bring to school, how we could help him. Sure, kids with this sort of hearing loss get hearing aides. But for one ear, it may not be necessary since the other ear accommodates for the loss.
She said it’s hard to know how it happened or if its something genetic but now we should follow up and watch it carefully.
Genetic? I could have passed this down to him? And what about my two year old? He must be tested right away. No wonder he can barely talk. Oh shit. How have I not noticed this hearing loss before? How? And I never followed up with that bilateral hearing test when he was younger. I didn’t want anything to be wrong. Is this from his birth trauma? Will this loss get worse?
I thanked her and left with my son skipping besides me. I forgot to ask her if this could get worse. What if this gets worse? Shit. Don’t panic.
“So, you know how mom has really bad eyes? And you know how if I take off my contacts, I can’t see really well?”
“Yeah. You could walk into a wall!”
“Uh, right. Well, I was born with eyes like that. Turns out you were born with one ear that doesn’t work as well as the other. No big deal. And that’s what all these tests are for.”
“And maybe that explains why you can’t always hear me from the backseat when we’re driving. …Although, I can’t always here YOU from the front seat either…”
“I think then I got my bad ear from you mom.”
He could care less. And for the rest of the way to school, he munched happily on his Dunkin Donut, dreaming of his T-ball practice tonight. These results don’t change HIS world, its been this way for awhile.
I was calmer then too. And one fact comforted me the most: his birth trauma. Things could have been SO much worse. If this is it? If this is all we get for what could have been? This is no big deal. One thing those 11 days in the NICU gave me was perspective. This is fine. We can absolutely handle this.
By the time I arrived at his school, I had gathered myself. Cool, calm, a mommy in charge, I walked in and explained our morning.
“Oh.” She suddenly had a concerned look on her face. “I think you need to explain all this to someone else….” she trailed off as she ducked into the back office. Out came someone more “in charge” and after she heard the deal, she started rattling off procedures for a 504 plan and preferential seating and she would try and have him observed by someone or other who was coming in tomorrow and there will be forms to fill out and you will be called by so and so…
I didn’t feel so calm all of the sudden. Plans? Procedures? Huh?
She looked at me carefully then. “This must be very overwhelming for you dear.” She had a warm face and seemed very sympathetic.
Gulp. Finally a lump in my throat appeared. I chattered away about this and that and how I just want someone to be sure to check in with him because he won’t advocate for himself. He’s very shy and self conscious and I will be emailing his teacher and look forward to speaking to someone about his… er… 504 plan. Thank you.
Out I rushed to the car. And cried. My baby. He has a hearing loss.
While I pulled my son’s shirt over his head this morning, I eyed the news. A band of severe weather was making its way ashore directly west of us. And they were talking about Tornado threats. I pulled my boy close. That was the direction my son and husband were heading for school drop off.
So they saddled up, my son’s backpack slung over my husbands shoulder, I gave my them both extra kisses and warned my husband. “Keep an eye on this weather. Please.” Yes, yes. And off they drove. While they drove off, I pulled the potted plants out from under cover. They could use a watering.
Then I went back to watching the radar. A severe weather alert had been issued by now and the Today Show had been cut off. That’s about when the heart palpitations began. That line of bad weather had moved further inshore and a collection of about 30 or so rotating circles now rested along it. Those rotations were a sign of rotating winds, potential tornadoes – and those circles were headed due east. My son and husband were headed due west.
Maybe I was over-reacting, but I had a very bad feeling about those circles. I started to panic. Those circles. They kept moving east. And there on the radar map was the road my husband was driving on. And there, yes, that’s about where my son’s school is.
Uh uh. Oh my God. My baby.
I felt my throat tighten and the tears threaten. So I dialed my husband. In a sobbing rush, I asked him to find some shelter. “I don’t care if I am over-reacting. Just get cover, ok? Please?” He agreed and said he would stop at the local barber where he needed a cut anyway. The news would be on there and at least my son would be with him.
Ok. Phew. Ok.
When the weather hit, it just seemed like some really intense thunder storm. Yes, the skies were green and dark, yes rain hammered the side of my house, yes the trees twirled and whipped about, yes there was very loud thunder and lightening. But I didn’t hear any sounds of a freight train coming. Toto and a little girl in brown pig tails never raced by. And I never had the urge to scream out for “Auntie Em, Auntie Em!”
Once it passed, I checked in with my husband.
“Yeah, we’re fine. We watched it all here. But you know the intersection I was at when you called?”
“Well, minutes after we talked, a tornado was reported to have touched down there.”
“But we’re fine. I’m taking him to school now. Everything has passed.”
“….Ok. Um. Ok.”
It seems I have been posting about panic a lot recently. And that fear of suddenly losing your child. I felt that today. Whether the threat was real or not, I believed my husband and child were in the path of real danger. And I couldn’t bear that thought. I didn’t want either of them gone in an instant because I never demanded that they stay home and wait out the storm. That panic. That fear of loss. THAT was real.
And during it all, of course I was on Twitter nervously tweeting away. There were all sorts of Floridians in the path of the storm. And news stations were following up with us, 20 homes in our area were damaged by a reported tornado. Were we ok? Did we have any pictures to share?
Laughing to myself and thanking each one of my lucky stars, I posted my “damage” (see picture to the right).
I was laughing but the taste of adrenaline was still there, at the back of my throat, reminding me: You thought you were going to lose half your family this morning, didn’t you?
Another mother on twitter posted about the snow coming down in her area. Huge amounts of it. I commented back that for mid April, that seemed hugely unfair. But then she replied back to me “I’d like to think that all the sun is in L.A. right now for Maddie.”
Today is Madeline Spohr’s funeral. Bloggers from all over the country have flown into L.A. Friends and family are gathering right now and laying 17 month old Maddie to rest.
So is that was this is? All of this crazy severe weather? Has it all come roaring ashore to wake us all up? Reminding us of what we have? How dear our families are and how quickly they can be taken from us in an instant?
And IS the sun just busy right now? Shining on everyone gathered for Maddie today?
I can’t help but think so.
And while this tornado business was happening, and I was laughing about how little it seemed like the Wizard of Oz (this was before I heard about homes that were actually damaged only miles from me), someone posted a song for Maddie on Twitter. The song was Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole’s’ “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.
Well. Honestly? No other song could seem more fitting right now.
Rest in peace over the rainbow, Maddie. You have taught me to hold my gifts close and remain forever grateful for all that I have. Thank you.
I suppose my friend and I should have known the beach was going to be crowded yesterday. Spring Break. In Florida. I mean, c’mon. A crowded beach is a given. We arrived with our kids – four of them – and pushed through the crowds with our chairs and bags and stuff that seemed not to be all that much back home. After corralling and coaxing kids to keep up, we finally found a spot and settled in. Wall to wall bodies or not, the beach is always a welcome day of activity for our kids.
So we set up our chairs, slathered SPF on our kids, nervously trained our eagle eyes on all four children and sat back, watching, biting into our homemade sandwiches. Ok. Ah. Spring break.
Would the couple RIGHT in front of me blocking one of my children please move, for crying out loud? Wow, its crowded. Well. Ok. I see him. Pass the cheetoes.
And it was about then when I heard that certain tone in a mother’s voice somewhere behind me. I know that sound: panic. I caught sight of a mom near us, wide-eyed, pacing in circles. And then she moved down to the water.
“Where is she?!?!? ELLLA!!!!! Where is SHE??? ELLLLLLAAAAA!!!! OH MY GOD WHAT IF SHES OUT THERE SOMEWHERE?!?!?!!!” And she pointed out to the water.
By this point other mothers, friends, people were surrounding her, touching her elbow, reaching out, eyes searching too, questioning, holding their breaths, just as panicked.
“What was she wearing?”
“How old is she?”
“What color hair?”
My friend and I leapt up. She called the boys in from the water and kept them at our seats. I started moving down the beach.
“A four year old girl is missing. Blond hair. Purple shorts. Floral top. Four year old girl. Blond hair. Purple shorts. Floral top. Four year old girl. Blond hair. Purple shorts. Floral top.”
More parents leapt up. More people yelling her description. Children were gathered close. All eyes were searching.
And Ella’s mother behind me. I could hear her panic. Her voice. She was screaming her name. My heart pulled tight.
“Four year old girl. Blond hair. Purple shorts. Floral top.”
Ella’s mom tore past me, she was crying now, searching searching searching down the beach.
“WHERE IS SHE?????? ELLLLLLAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”
I couldn’t help but stop and turn around. I looked out into the water. Lots of people. Did I see blond hair, purple shorts and a floral top? What was that!?!? No. Birds.
I moved back to our spot on the beach. My friend and I looked at each other.
“So am I.”
The kids were confused.
“Why can’t we go swimming?”
“Stay RIGHT HERE.”
It could have been one of ours. Ella’s mother could have been either of us. Just like that. In one impossibly fast moment. A child could be gone.
So we stood there. We couldn’t SIT. A little girl was missing. I’m not sure how long we stood there. It reminded me of Zebras I used to watch in Africa. During danger, they gather their young and surround them, pointing their rumps to them, facing out, stopped, searching, ready for anything. And that’s what we did. She looked one way and I another, with all four children sitting at our ankles.
“…..they found her!”
Someone yelled in the distance that they found her.
“That’s what I heard. Someone just yelled it down the beach.”
“Did they find her?”
“That’s what I just heard.”
And then, in the distance, I saw Ella’s mother. In her arms, wrapped around her body, was a little girl with blond hair, purple shorts and a floral shirt. Ella’s face was buried in her mother’s neck. Her mother had her hand on the back of her little girl’s head – pressing Ella to her – and was walking slowly back down the beach. Sobbing. Smiling. Nodding to people she passed.
“Yes. I got her. Thank you. Yes, I am very relieved.” Shuddering, crying, laughing.
When she got to us, I fought back tears. Along with all the mothers around us, we stepped forward to reach out again.
“Ella, are you ok?”
She lifted her face from her mother’s neck, her big wet blue eyes stared back. She nodded. She held tightly on to her mother.
Oh thank God. She was ok. Oh thank God.
My friend and I started breathing again. We laughed nervously. Regrouped a bit. We herded the kids back down to the water, gave them back their shovels and sat gratefully back into our seats. Eyes locked on all four heads.
“So am I. Holy crap.”
“Where are those Cheetoes.”
Children go missing on beaches all the time. I am not sure what it was about this moment that struck a chord so deeply. Well, maybe I do. I couldn’t help but think of Maddie for some reason. Not another little girl. Gone. Just like that. I couldn’t help but put myself in that mother’s position, like I have with Heather. But like the events after Maddie’s passing, I was amazed to watch mothers in action. Those moms dropped everything to get the word out Ella was gone. They searched, they comforted, they worried. Yesterday and since Maddie has passed, my heart has been so touched to watch the incredible act of mothers taking care of other mothers. It is a powerful and stunning example of beauty, kindness, empathy and love.
So once again, I know to bring my boys closer and appreciate their craziness and all that comes with it. All is well in our life. We are fine. No zebra circling today. And since all is well with our lives, we can look out for and reach out to other mothers who need our support right now.
Heather Spohr’s family must raise $7,000 for her daughter Maddie’s funeral. Donations may be sent to a paypal account in her name at: email@example.com . Services will be held for Maddie on Tuesday, April 14th at 2:30pm at Old North Church, Forest Lawn, in Hollywood Hills. All are welcome to attend. Please wear purple in her honor. Also, a website with links and information about Maddie have been set up here.
The other night after putting my children to bed, I settled onto my couch with my laptop and switched on MSNBC. I was ready to hear from our President. I was looking for hope, for answers, for any sign that there will be a light at the end of this very long and difficult tunnel. Homes in my neighborhood stand empty, friends are losing their jobs, funding for my son’s education is being cut drastically and I’m getting nervous about affording even groceries right now. This speech needed to assure me that eventually everything is going to be alright. And did it? Here is my reaction to the President’s address to congress.
After thunderous opening applause and a quick introduction by Pelosi, President Obama launched enthusiastically into his speech. Right away he recognized just how bad it’s gotten. He explained that he didn’t need to rattle off any more statistics about this recession since we are all experiencing it first hand.
With my arms folded and my heart sadly resigned, I certainly agreed. As much as I support our President whole-heartedly, I know the reality and can’t help but worry the obstacles in front of us are impossible to overcome.
He then reminded us that we are all responsible for our economy, for our environment, for our children’s futures. After years of excessive spending and with no regard for the consequences of bad loans or oil dependence, we’ve wound up where we are. His words were strong, he spoke plainly and he spoke right to me.
All this time, I’ve been smugly blaming the previous administration and everyone else for this mess. But it was at this moment when I realized that this problem is all of ours. We have all played a part in this mess and we all need to make an effort to fix it.
“Now is the time” he demanded. Ok. You’re right. I’m listening.
He then went on to explain this recovery plan will do the following:
Create 3.5 million jobs
Give 95% of Americans a tax cut by April 1
Give families paying for college tuition a $2,500 tax credit
Honestly? These promises practically make me giddy with hope. I was ready to leap to my feet during this part of his speech faster than Pelosi herself. But I didn’t. I was still holding myself back. These are promises and certainly look great on paper – but I am still waiting and seeing.
Obviously, this recovery plan means that a lot of money (read: trillions) will be floating around. Considering our reckless past, I appreciated the President explaining that careful tabs will be kept on every dollar spent. Americans can go to recovery.gov to see where our money is going. This is good. Actions and process have to be kept transparent if we want if regain any economic confidence.
The next points he brought up were about banking, credit and loans. The message came across loud and clear that our money in our banks is safe and that we cannot stop loaning to individuals and businesses. This will stop economic growth in its tracks. Clearly, trust needs to be rebuilt again.
He also pointed out that “responsible” families struggling to hold on to their homes will be assisted. He said that:
“…the average family who refinances today can save nearly $2,000 per year on their mortgage.”
For a family like ours who followed the rules, bought a home within our means but are still scraping to pay our mortgage – this was very encouraging to hear.
Further into his speech, I was thrilled to hear the three priorities of the recovery plan:
“…the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.”
He explained that ignoring these areas will change the future of our country if we do not give them immediate support and attention.
This was where my cautious “we’ll see” grumblings gave way to affirmative exclamations. I was emotionally on board then. All I could think about was my child’s school staying open, my $150 co-pays to treat my son’s flu that never responded to his $25 flu shot, and the empty homes scattered all over my neighborhood. Maybe? Could it be? Well, it seems there actually is hope.
As our president concluded his speech, he mentioned the stories of individuals who have made differences in their communities. He then introduced us to the young high school girl who reminded our congress that “We are not quitters!”
You see, that is exactly it for me. I am scared right now. I am nervous that from the bottom of this economic hole, these promises are just too good to be true. I want to hide my head in the sand and wish it all away. Or maybe just wait for someone else to fix it. But we are not quitters. No matter what side of the tracks you fall on: get up, get out and do something. This is everyone’s problem. Not just Wall Street’s or Congress’s or our President’s.
No doubt about it, our President is a fantastic speaker. But he is also an extremely smart and capable leader. The impossible is ahead of us but instead of moaning about what can’t be done, I will follow his lead and consider all that can be done. He is inspiring me to take responsibility, move forward and do my part. It was an excellent speech and I’m excited and ready to see what our future has in store.
I am guessing that by now you are fairly familiar with my perspective as a liberal mom. Well, how about a father’s perspective? What is it like to be a liberal father raising children today? Wouldn’t you know it, my husband just happens to be a liberal father. So I sat him down tonight and asked him what his thoughts were on freedom of speech, equality, stereotypes about white men and the future of the Supreme Court. Come see what he has to say, his answers may surprise you.
Now to give you some background about my husband, he is a 6 ft, 4” white college athletics coach. He grew up in a privileged town in Connecticut; he just completed his MBA and might be one of the smartest people I know. We’ll call him B. for the sake of this interview.
Caroline: As a liberal father, what issues are most important to you?
B: I am pretty straightforward about my values. I believe in civil rights, civil liberties, freedom of speech and every citizen having an equal opportunity to succeed.
C: And what about how your values relate to raising our children?
B: Well, our sons are part of a privileged class as two white males. I just hope I can raise them to have the same values I do.
C: So what about being a white male? What are your thoughts on affirmative action and our son’s future’s as white males?
B: It’s a topic I struggle with. I mean, why am I the bad guy? I know my race and gender give me a certain privilege but I wrestle with legislated equality sometimes. I realize sometimes we have to manufacture equal opportunity – and I get it – but I’ll admit that I struggle with this issue.
C: What have been some challenges for you as a liberal father?
B: I think I am most frustrated with the assumptions people make about me. I am a white, male coach – stereotypes are immediately drawn up. I mean, come on, even on the most progressive college campus, the Athletic department is assumed to be the last conservative bastion. As a result, comments are made around me since folks may presume I may have a certain value system which I don’t.
C: So how do you deal with that?
B: If I am at work and someone says something that I disagree with, I usually walk away or say nothing. I’ve got work to do and I am not going to start something then, but my silence usually clues them in. If I am outside of a work environment though, I do usually say something or try to start a constructive conversation about the topic. I make no apologies for my politics, take them or leave them.
C: With the new administration, what is the most important issue for you as a liberal father?
B: Apart from the obvious issues of establishing economic and global security for this country (and in turn, for our family), the appointment of the next Supreme Court justices is an extremely important issue for me. The current liberal appointments are not getting any younger. Whoever Obama chooses will leave a lasting impression on this country – probably longer than his own administration will. Do you know what kind of Supreme Court justices I want in there next?
C(smiling because I already know – and love – this answer): Tell me.
B: I want a purple haired, pierced nosed, extremely bright, straight talking lesbian from Northampton, Massachusetts appointed next. In fact, I want three of them in there!
I paused here to give him a big ol’ kiss. I love this guy.
C: Ok well gay adoption is illegal here in Florida. And you’ve heard all the threats about how legalizing gay marriage would ruin our marriage. What are your thoughts as a liberal father?
B: What in the world does my marriage have to do with two gay individuals who decide to be married? The success or failure of our marriage is strictly our responsibility. I have yet to hear one good cognizant argument against gay marriage. It is an equal rights issue that needs to be granted finally. If my sons grow up and decide that they want to love and marry another man, that is their right and I think it should be recognized, supported and protected.
C: Any final thoughts about being a liberal dad?
B: Florida is an interesting place. As far as I can tell in our area, I would say that being a liberal father is not particularly common. One morning a few days after the election, I was sitting at a red light. I mean, here I am, a white guy, with my kid in his car seat, on the way to kindergarten drop off with an HRC and Obama sticker on my bumper. I just don’t see that too often around here. All of the sudden, a guy in the car next to me (with his own collection of Obama stickers) started waving and honking at me, giving me the thumbs up. I saw that he too had kids in car seats in his backseat. I think it was a unique moment to see another guy like me so fired about this election. It was an interesting moment for me.
When it comes to my son and any accessment about his education or development, I seriously lose my mind. No I mean it. I’d like to think that with most things in my life, I can keep a fair, rational, logical perspective on things. I don’t cry too much. I am realistic. Whatever, I can be cool. But for some reason, when it comes to my son and school or anything to do with how he’s growing up, I completely and utterly lose my frigging tree. A crazy lady, frothed and pleading, takes over my brain and there seems that nothing can be done. Are you relating to this? Or are you fanicated by another parenting train wreck post from me? Well, go ahead. Read on. I’m warning you though. I’m a nut job and I’m going to prove it.
When my wonderful Aunt S. was raising her son, she used to tell me about this insanitything that happens to moms. My Aunt S. is a speech pathologist. And apart from being super smart about children’s development, she just kind of “gets it”. She is surrounded by amazing resources and she has been blessed with a very level head about raising children. But she used to tell me all the time that when it came to her discussing own child, all reasoning went out the window and some crazy lady took over. She would just kind of… loose it.
Oh. Seriously. You would not BELIEVE how I get what she was saying now.
Ever since the day my son was born, I have hung on every word any “specialist” might share with me. As I’ve mentioned before, my son had a pretty rough start. So if I am talking to ANY variation of child expert (and I mean ANY kind), I kind of loose it. Friends or family that happen to be teachers, substitute teachers, doctors, nurses, speech pathologists (I’ve got two in my family), or even just moms… or even people that have maybe even seen a kid before… once, I babble endlessly to them about my son. And I can’t stop. When they ask “How is school going”, I know they are expecting a quick “fine” back. Huh. Well, not me. My mind simply sees a green light, social norms fall away and I just… go for it. I launch into a detailed account about his social and educational development. What this teacher said, what friends I think and hope he is playing with, what test score he got, what I think is REALLY going on, after all I know best, I’m his mom. Right? RIGHT?!?!?!!! And as they quickly try to change the subject, I corner them into telling me that T. is doing “Great. Just GREAT. Really. He is.” And I calm my panting, wipe my brow and scramble to get a grip.
The irony? T. is a pretty smart kid. He really IS doing great.
(I’m holding back here. Really. I am. Don’t go on about Caroline. Don’t do it, girl!!!)
So yeah, he’s a smart kid. But that doesn’t satisfy me. And it’s not *HIM* that I am pushing (I don’t think?) it’s everything around him. If he is acing his reading, I wonder if the school is challenging him enough. If he is struggling with subtraction, I gasp and shake my head and fold my arms and ask my husband outright “Who the hell thinks subtraction is a good idea in Kindergarten? I mean, Come on!!!”
And what did me and my crazy lady within get to experience last week? The first parent-teacher meeting of the year of course. (Bum, bum BUM!!!) So there we were, early for our appointment. I paced out front, the children tackled each other on the sidewalk, and my husband stood there with his hands in his pockets, kind of breaking out into hives about being anywhere NEAR a classroom. (A brilliant man, but clearly he’s never been a fan of sitting still for class. Did I tell you he’s a college coach?)
When they called us in, all I could think was “Be calm. Be normal. Be NICE. And most of all. DON’T BE THAT PARENT.” We sat down, them across from us, record books cracked open, guarded smiles on their faces. And I know exactly why they were guarded too. Because they have dealt with freak after FREAK of parents marching in and demanding and flipping out and gushing about how THEIR kid is so uber amazing. Poor teachers. How annoying. Not me, not this parent, I GET it.
“So yes. Mr and Mrs. Morngsidemom, T. is doing very well. Very quiet. Pays attention….” And on it goes. But the more they talk, the more I butt in “Yes, did I tell you about his birth trauma? Oh, she knows but you didn’t hear about it? Maybe its just good you know, just to give you some context.” or “Hes very quiet because he is a ‘LISTENER’, thats how he PROCESSES the world (Heh, like I’m some expert.). He may not respond right away because he is LISTENING and is taking every bit in, I promise you.” “Mmmm, hmmmmm….” they say.
But c’mon. Even *I* know better. I know he’s off thinking about light sabers and speeders and which Star Wars episode is his favorite. But its like I can’t help it. There is some strange urge within to justify everything he says or does. To explain it. To tell them he is BRILLIANT DAMMIT, BRILLIANT. And by the time I have jumped into hyper-speed talking and gesticulating and demanding and flipping out and gushing about how MY kid really IS uber amazing… I realize, the teachers are just sitting there. Blink. Blink. With guarded smiles plastered to their wonderfully patient faces. Oops. I did it YET again.
So then, when we got back home from the meeting, per the Math teachers suggestion, I calmly (nervous laughing as I type this) sat down with T. and his subtraction homework. “Hon, maybe a number line is a good idea. You think? Here’s how it works! Stop coloring. Pay attention. Hey. Think dammit! A number line. Ok. Count forward or backward… ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION??!!?!! YOU’RE SUCH A SMART BOY YOU CAN DO THIS!”
Ok, I swear, I am not like that. Ask my husband, he sees “homework time” go down. But thats what the freak show, crazy lady, jumping around in my head is saying. Fer real.
Anyway, so I showed him the number line. And we worked on it together. And he got it and sailed through his homework. And that was that.
However. Have I wanted to harass his lovely (really, shes so wonderful) math teacher with a little follow up email??? Oh ho, yes. I wanna so bad. I bet it would go something like: “I printed a number line for him, it really works for him, if you’d just make sure he has one when he’s doing his work, that would really help, because he really understands the concepts, he’s such a smart kid, really, I swear, its just the WAY he PROCESSES things, a LISTENER, remember? I’m his mom, I know, so could ya get him a number line? MMM, thanks. That would be greeeaaaat.”
But nope. I haven’t done that yet. (Restraint being my middle name and all…) Although, I asked T. in the car yesterday, “So!” (-all calm and relaxed like-) “Did you tell your teacher that you would like to use a number line with your subtraction?”
“Oh! Oh that’s ok. So.” (Clearing my throat. Totally chilled out about the WHOLE topic.) “How was your quiz then?”
(SCREEEEEEECH, my car swerved all over the road, I was filled with utter glee.)
“I am SOOOO PROUD OF YOU!!!!!” (beaming at that point, cars honking everywhere, but I. Am. BEAMING.) “But, uh, how did you do it without a number line?”
“I just used the one in my head. Mom? C. is picking his nose again. And wiping it on me….”
Yeah, well. THAT about sums it up, right?
Anyhow, for those of you who have made it all the way through this rambling post, this is only one small chapter in my epic novel of parenting madness. Someone needs to just tell me to frigging quit it. Someone needs to smack the crazy lady OUTA me. Someone needs to make sure I am not completely screwing him up at school. I don’t want EITHER of my kids to feel like they need to be perfect. I just want them to try to do their best.
And me. As a mom. Wondering (desperately, wildly, dramatically) how my kids will turn out, I guess they can’t expect me to be perfect either. I just am going to try to do my best.
(As for all you “experts” who I corner on a regular basis? My most humble, insanity riddled apologies. At least I am aware of the problem. Oh and by the way? C. hasn’t even started school yet… bum, bum, BUUUUUUM!)