But he plays with everything else.
Second kid’s birth story goes up on the blog after two weeks instead of three days. Typical.
This baby! June was a very long month, I had just reached the end of my patience with being pregnant and caring for Elliott in all his threeness. My pregnancy was fine and healthy of course, so we were grateful for that. That said, I hated most minutes of it and was so ready to be done!
We got some good news that our C-section date was able to be moved to our preferred date a few days before we originally had it scheduled. I was so worried about going into labor and not knowing what to do, and just really didn’t think I would make it to two days before my due date when the surgery was originally scheduled. Elliott had low fluid and got moved to 9 days early, so I just didn’t have confidence about making it that whole last week. I had already had low fluid once this time around. My doctor could tell I had stress about it, but when we tried to move it the day was full. The assistant called every day to get me a spot on the 26th, and finally space opened up. It ended up being a very lucky move.
Emmett was scheduled on a Friday, and by Tuesday night I just didn’t feel right. (Thankfully my parents had gotten in the night before.) Turns out I was in early labor, prompting a call to my doctor at 1 a.m. because this C-section girl just had no idea what to do. I kind of assumed they just bring you in as soon as you have early labor. Turns out, they don’t. I was able to get my “luxurious” mani-pedi the next morning at the spa (made less comfortable by contractions and stress), called the office again to be sure I didn’t need to do anything, then hung out in bed all day. My parents took over everything with Elliott, and not getting to spend time with him was one of the hardest things that week.
I now have some idea of how I would have handled labor. Poorly. Very poorly. I hated those three days of early labor, I was absolutely miserable. By wednesday night I called the on-call doctor and asked if I could just come in and be monitored to make sure the baby was ok and basically get reassurance that I would make it to Friday afternoon when my surgery was scheduled. Everything was fine and it was still looking very early. So Thursday was ok just resting all day, eating well and getting through it. But all the nights that week were miserable, I couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time. By Thursday overnight I just gave up and went to the couch to watch TiVo’d episodes of Late Night and at least I was awake 8 hours prior to surgery to take my last chance to eat and drink.
For the record, not being able to eat and drink 8 hours (not even water) before surgery is the most frustrating rule ever. I had a splitting headache by Friday morning and was crazy thirsty. My wonderful friend and acupuncturist even made a house call for me when I asked her if she could fit me in to treat my headache, despite being on the way to a hike on her day off. I don’t think I could have gotten through the day without it. Outside of the hunger and thirst, Friday was at least manageable because I knew THE END WAS NEAR. I absolutely could not wait to get to the minute it was time to leave for the hospital and have this baby.
We left for the hospital a little early (because, DONE), and on the way there and during check-in the contractions were getting worse. By the time I was being prepped for surgery I was having those five-minute-apart-can’t-talk-during contractions. I did not handle these well. I officially admire those people who do unmedicated labor. I had about 10 contractions and that was plenty. No, thank you. I’ll take the surgery any day.
By the time the real contractions hit, the baby’s heart rate was dipping while they were happening. They figured the cord was wrapped somewhere. My nurse called everyone to see if we could get started a little earlier than my 2:30 time, thank god. And since his heart rate was dipping they decided to give me medication to stop the contractions for his safety. I think we got surgery started by 2 p.m.
Everything ended up working out great, we were really lucky. No only was the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, my fluid was almost nonexistent by the time he was out. I’m so grateful surgery was scheduled when it was, that I had opted for the C-section, and it happened without anyone having to scramble and without anything going wrong. Emmett was totally fine but he maybe wouldn’t have been if I had had to wait until I had those strong contractions to show up early and get an un-scheduled C-section like last time.
I still can’t believe how tiny he was at birth! I did not expect to have a 5-pound-something baby, especially for a second. (Doctor said she’d be a little worried about me having a third, but that won’t be an issue.) But he arrived perfect. Very healthy, no issues, super adorable. We are relieved and grateful and frankly I’m just so happy not to be pregnant any more and I’m also so happy to not be worrying about the unknown anymore.
We had a lovely two days in the hospital, bonding with Emmett. We had a chance to introduce him to Elliott on Saturday, who, as it turns out, wants nothing to do with him. He’s super terrified of the baby and really does not want to get near him or talk about him much. At two weeks and three days he’s starting to come around… slowly. We’ll get there.
Emmett is great. He’s sleeping, eating well (thanks, formula!) and is super sweet just like Elliott was. He’s tiny, just 6lbs and 12oz at his two week appointment. We bought a bunch more newborn clothing. Meanwhile I had a serious adhesive (or something) allergy. Same thing happened with Elliott, only this time was way worse, even sending me to the ER when my ears and throat started to swell. That is a long story that I don’t feel like telling. I’m itchy but fine and on the mend. It just came on strong and quick. I’m really grateful Mike and my parents were around so much because I was pretty much out of commission for the week before and week after the baby was born.
Mike gets 12 weeks of paternity leave and is taking 6 now. It’s bliss. It’s amazing how well his company treats their employees, it’s why we came all the way back here — to have this kind of time with our kids. I’m happy my family is complete, in love with my new baby and ready to watch him grow. (But not too fast, please.) Elliott is very proud to be a big brother at least, even though he’s less than thrilled about having a little baby around. I think it’s just different than he expected.
Here’s hoping I survive when Mike goes back to work…
Elliott’s first year of preschool has now come and gone. (So has our first year back in Seattle, and almost my entire pregnancy… it’s been a big year of transitions.)
With the hectic move and the timing of it last summer, I was completely overwhelmed with the idea of finding a preschool. A friend recommended her co-op and we put ourselves on the waitlist and just couldn’t process much else. We got in the class and dove in to co-op, and I admit it was panic-inducing at first. Meetings and work days and class jobs and social events, my head was spinning and I was thinking “oh, crap, I’m in way over my head.”
However, it was really the right place at the right time. Elliott could not have gone from no school or daycare to a heavy program, nor are there many options for a two-turning-three-year-old I learned. Preschool really starts the next year, but I think kids with stay-at-home-parents really benefit from the structure and socialization. Kids who are not three and not potty trained have very few options. This class was two days a week, with me attending one day and dropping off the other. It made for a nice slow transition into school. (By the end of the fall, I knew he needed more, and we were lucky to supplement with another great school with a four-hour drop off day starting in January and it will continue in the summer.)
Elliott had a challenging year — meaning both “good” and “bad” challenging. We know he’s super bright, but his social and emotional skills had a lot of expanding to do. He (and I) adored his teacher, whom he called “Teachi-fer Jennifer” all year, and was incredibly patient, earnest and really put a lot of thought into what each kid needed. While I think there are plenty of times that it’s appropriate for grown-ups to brush off child drama, I loved how seriously she took these kids. When they had concerns — or joys — she really showed them that they were valid and meaningful. It was one of the many things I loved about the environment of our co-op class. I learned a lot as a parent — even though I’ll admit I didn’t necessarily want to be there every time, and I don’t want to be in school with Elliott next year. But the attitude there clicked with me. It was extremely respectful of these little humans, and it’s how I like to be with my kid every day.
There were a lot of little ‘school rules’ or little techniques I took away from class and brought into our lives all the time. Partly because they clicked with ways I already wanted to parent, partly because I watched these things work with the kids every week. Some of them I was kind of already using, but it was nice to get back-up and feel like “hey, I’m not crazy when I say this to my kid.”
Like “take turns.” One of our tips for working with the kids was learning that telling a kid to “share” was not developmentally appropriate for this age group and to use the phrase “take turns.” It really clicked with Elliott, and I could see why it did. I think kids this age really get a sense of fairness, but they are still inclined to do parallel play and don’t always understand how to “share” a toy. I rarely even use the word “share,” unless it’s about sharing a space. I typically stress either “let’s take turns,” or “let’s find a way to play together.” (Daniel Tiger, in his infinite wisdom, enforces both of these ideas as well.) And really giving them control, even if they are acting unfairly. “She was taking a turn with that. Do you want to give it back to her or do you want me to help you give it back?” “Elliott, your friend is waiting for a turn. You can finish your turn, but can you let your friend know when you are done because she is waiting.” And almost right away a kid says ” here you go! Your turn.” By the end of the year they start to play more together, but really most of them just want their own stuff until they’re ready to move on.
Be gentle. Both of Elliott’s schools use endlessly the word “gentle.” And I love that because It’s pretty much my number one and perhaps only rule in the house. I must say 100 times a day “gentle with our bodies and our things.” “Gentle with each other.” “Gentle hands will work better.” Because, you know what? They do. You could try to smash the puzzle piece in or maybe you could calm down and gently put it together. I just don’t really believe I can allow my kid to roughhouse with me one minute and then ask him to please not hit, kick or smash his body into me the next. I don’t encourage throwing his toys around the house one day, then ask him to stop throwing the next day. Just, gentle with our things. It’s challenging, he likes to throw his body into things sometimes — but when it hurts the dog or the furniture or me… it’s just not acceptable for my home environment. No thanks. We can find other ways to fill that sensory need when it arises. We care about each other and our favorite toys, I like to encourage acting like it. And then when we bring home a baby and start telling him to be gentle, it shouldn’t be a news flash. We’re gentle with everyone all the time (and, yes, maybe extra gentle at certain times).
I loved how the kids were encouraged to respect their classmates bodies and personal space. There’s always huggers and snugglers in a room of two- and three-year-olds, but instead of making the recipient be forced to enjoy it they were taught that you need to ask your friend if they want a hug or want to be touched. I do not think it’s ever too early to let a kid know they don’t have to tolerate touches they don’t like, or that their friends don’t get to be touched in ways they don’t like, either. I remember reading a blog a few years ago where a parent realized “no means no” should apply to her young kids and it really stuck with me. And some of the kids in the room really didn’t like or want hugs from their friends. Others did and that was fine. When we’re home I’ve always asked Elliott if he wants to be tickled and I stop if he says stop. I liked that he had this control in school, too. I’m not going to make him get hugs from strangers if he doesn’t want to. And I teach him that not everyone wants to give high fives or have him in their space without agreeing.
Model good behavior. Shockingly enough, Elliott talks to us the way we talk to him. He does the things we do. When you have a room full of parents and we’re all modeling good behavior, would you believe the kids do, too? I do it at home as much as is reasonably possible, and it’s amazing how when I’m tired or grumpy he treats us worse. Instead of constantly telling all the kids what to do, we show them what to do. And we use yes words instead of no words whenever possible. Then the kids don’t hear “no no no no no no no” all morning from six different adults. “Use walking feet” instead of “no running.”
None of these ideas are earth shattering, and I’ve heard them all before. But you really see it work with so many different kids. And there’s still plenty of conflict in the room. (It felt to me like my kid was causing most of it the whole first half of the year.) It’s amazing how much they change from age two to three, and with Elliott being one of the oldest I’d watch him be challenged by things early in the year that other kids were working on later in the year. And you’d see some kids struggle with taking turns, while other kids struggled with separation anxiety. They all had different things they were working on all year.
Some of the tools we were given to help Elliott included teaching him that other people have “different ideas” — he’d flip out if someone played with a toy a different way that he thought was wrong. He would also get attached to specific items and not be okay with another kid touching them. But he eventually started accepting that this friend just wants to play with the toy a different way and that’s ok. And we really worked on empathy; if you take a toy from your friend and he cries, you should notice that. How does your friend feel? How do you feel? It also really helped to have other adults in the room, sometimes another parent or the teacher could help Elliott work through something more quickly than I could.
There wasn’t punishment in this room. No time outs, no naughty step. It doesn’t mean the kids got whatever they wanted. Sometimes they were removed from a situation, or an item was taken out of play. Sometimes the teacher had a special talk with them about what was right or what was not acceptable, especially when safety was involved. Or they just got to be mad and had to move on eventually. It was okay to be mad or sad in this environment, which is really important to me at home, too. And it is hard when you’re with your own kid — what I didn’t like about co-op — you still tend to do the things you’d do at home, which might be less positive discipline than we’d use in the classroom. I had several moments with Elliott (almost all of them at field trips, ugh) where I’d be overly firm or said “no” a lot more than I’d ever use it with another kid in the room. And you realize you’re a lot more likely to let something go that another kid is doing and just move on because you’re not that kid’s parent.
Long term co-op is not for me, but I learned a lot. And the social connections I made were invaluable. I really needed that after moving back here, and almost everyone in the school lives nearby. There was also parent ed at the meetings, and I took so much away from that as well — three is a particularly challenging age, the toughest so far for us.
It was very hard to be in the equation of Elliott learning at school, I’m happy for him to be in a Montessori program next year, which is four days a week/four hours a day. But he’d never be ready to jump to that if we hadn’t done this co-op first. And I know he liked it better when I was there. Particularly with the baby coming I’m glad I could spend that time with him, I’m glad I got to know the kids he was around and see him grow. He now goes up to kids and says “can I play with you?” instead of just yanking whatever they have. He can move on more quickly when he doesn’t get what he wants. He’s controlling his HUGE emotions more (well, a little more.)
Yes, I was mildly sad to say goodbye to his teacher and our friends. But mostly with my kid I welcome the growth and the opportunities that open up after he passes a milestone. He’s psyched about his “Italian school” next year, he’s excited about his baby brother, and school ending just gives us a chance to reflect and see how far we’ve come. I may be more daunted by starting over with another one than watching elliott “graduate” to his next preschool. Crap.
Ruby Tuesday Helmick
5/15/2001 – 3/28/2015
Yesterday came the day we knew would come — we said goodbye to our Ruby after nearly 14 years of raising her and co-existing with her. The last couple years as her age ticked up we started to come to terms with her mortality. We knew we’d at some point [likely] have to make the decision to let her go, but you just don’t know when that day is going to come and frankly it kind of loomed over me.
I can’t count how many months or years Ruby had become a really tough dog, it just was something that became true at some point. She was as sweet and well mannered as she was disgruntled and intense. If those things could go together, they did. But she was also such a fixture in our lives since right before we got married. We planned activities and vacations with her. She was our first dog and our first kid, the first creature we had to make all those decisions for. The decisions had been getting tougher in recent months, like the dental work she had in January. It felt like the right decision for her in advance, but the recovery ended up going horribly and quite unpredictably terrible. We never wanted to neglect her care, but when you have a 13-almost-14-year-old-dog, one who screams in the car all the way to her vet visits (and then would sit calmly down when we got there), you just start to realize that you don’t want to put her through certain things.
The turning point happened so quick. I guess in a way we hoped it would, we had been figuring it would be ‘some dramatic thing’ one day. And for me, especially with Ruby, it was better than suffering through a long illness. Her poor mood and obsessions were enough suffering for her and us. She had a thyroid condition and a heart condition, but neither were serious and both managed with medication. Sadly, we had just picked her up from boarding on Friday morning, and it happened overnight Friday/early Saturday, so we hadn’t gotten much time at home with her this week. We woke up to her crying at 5:30, she had had accidents all over and gotten sick and was just laying in vomit. We first thought she had just gotten a bug at boarding. Mike worked on cleaning the floors and I started cleaning her and that was when we realized she just couldn’t get up. We got her comfortable and got everything clean (and threw out a rug) and just waited until we could call the vet when they opened for Saturday hours, continuing to try and help her get up but she never could. She cried all morning, but Tilly was nice to her and we sat with her. I tried to feed her rice and she seemed to have the desire to eat but couldn’t. She had the desire to go out but couldn’t. I eventually got her standing with the help of a sheet underneath her, but she couldn’t walk anywhere even with help. And she was FINE the day before.
Mike got the appointment scheduled and I said some goodbyes to her, just incase, and he took her in. They told us she had come down with a vestibular disorder, which comes on suddenly in old dogs. It was like her world was spinning and she had no balance — why she couldn’t walk or eat. They said mentally she was all there, which is maybe why she seemed to want to do those things and why she was crying. You couldn’t really tell, but her eyes were actually darting around. They were going to keep her for a couple hours and do bloodwork and learn more and call us.
They found she also had some sort of bad infection, and the vestibular disorder was not being caused by inner ear problems or any very fixable issues. Possibly a brain tumor or something neurological. Their first suggestion — one that many people do choose — is to bring them home and give them full nursing care to see if symptoms go away. Vestibular disease symptoms can go away (the underlying condition would remain) but she could have maybe walked and eaten eventually. We’d have carried her around and hand fed her for two days to a week, the amount of time it can take for symptoms to go away, and then see what we were left with. Or we could put her in the 24 hour emergency hospital elsewhere to care for her and see if symptoms improve.
We had already talked about the possibility of letting Ruby go through traumatic health experiences and how we didn’t want to. Her dental work problems combined with an infection she had simultaneously in January — all of which was fixable and cleared up — sent her and us nearly over the edge. And just two weeks ago she stopped eating and was lethargic and vomiting for a couple days, but she perked up. Even if these neurological symptoms were only to last for a few days, we knew that we were physically unable to perform the long list of cares she would have needed while we waited to see if the symptoms went away. Nor did we want to send her to a clinical hospital with strange caretakers to wait out her symptoms. Not to mention the mysterious underlying issues (brain tumor?), a bad infection… I knew that I didn’t want to find her laying in her own vomit ever again. I knew that she had to be distressed being aware and yet not being in control of her body, and hated doing that to her even if it was just for a couple days. With several different health troubles over just the past three months, we started to feel like putting her through so much just to wait for the next health problem, then the next, when she already was a moderately healthy but not very happy dog on a good day… We have a lot of good memories with Ruby. We didn’t want to bring her home just for all of us to spend her last few days in misery, and put off the inevitable only for days or maybe months best case. Airedale life expectancy is about 15 years, and I didn’t want Ruby to stumble to that finish line. We knew what we had to do, but it was less easy knowing that her symptoms could go away and we could have more time.
We made the right decision. It was a lovely Saturday, they had made her comfortable and we were in a position to drop Elliott off with friends and spend time together with her. No rushing, no canceling work or school, neither of us had to do it alone which ended up being really important. They just brought her into one of their nicest exam rooms, put quilts down for her and we could just sit with her and be with her. She was happy to see us and we saw her as herself for a bit. We cried a lot, which we really needed. Our wonderful vet, although she was not on call that day treating her originally, happened to be there and it was such a gift. She knew Ruby so well and knew so much about her quirks, and she was able to be the one in the room with us. She really supported our decision (I’m sure they always do) but it really helped us feel confident that we were doing the right thing for her. I realized I should have brought some chicken with me because it was such a favorite of hers, and our vet got some cat food and hand fed her while we could pet her and talk to her. There were no bright lights, no metal tables, and while Ruby was relaxing we told stories about her and laughed. And it was the first time she felt really calm in a really, really long time. It was such a gift for us to have that time with her, feel like she wasn’t alone, and also have such caring people there with us. Our vet called her “legendary.” I’m so glad we could be at this place for this, not that you ever want to do it but we were so lucky to do it under those circumstances. And I’m relieved for Ruby that we are no longer on the precipice of the next disaster.
I wanted to blog about the day not because of the sad parts — and we were and are really sad. But there were really good moments about how it happened and I didn’t want to forget them. I have tons of good Ruby stories, plenty of bad Ruby stories, but this is just another one. It was basically the best way something so hard could have gone. It’s not why we chose to do it now, but it was a relief that it went so peacefully. Who knows what the circumstances could have been. I also want to remember the sudden way the illness set in and the bad parts — incase I panic when I’m missing her and remember it wrong and let myself feel like we gave up at the wrong moment. I don’t want to forget how bad she suddenly was, because it was so quick it’s already easy to feel like it didn’t really happen.
Ruby was hard even as much as we loved her. With an energetic child, another dog and lots of transitions in the last couple years, we’ve been overwhelmed. We know we are at peace with our decision and ready to be a one dog family. The girls just couldn’t get the attention they deserved because they were too crazy together. We couldn’t take them in the car, we couldn’t have company easily. We can feel Ruby’s absence around the house, but it’s bad and good. Tilly doesn’t cry about food, she doesn’t bark at us during dinner, she doesn’t beg for her snack during Elliott’s bed time. We want to refocus on her now, do some of the things I’m feeling guilty we hadn’t done for Ruby much lately: more outings, walks and companionship. My only regrets about Ruby aren’t about what we chose yesterday, but what we hadn’t done for her in the last few months (or years) as we’ve dealt with all the other life stuff and not being able to handle her neuroses. I have a big regret on not having taken her on some walks recently as the weather got nice, and that I don’t really have memories of her walking on our new street. We have some time before a new baby to really incorporate a dog into our life again with less drama. (Tilly is still really poorly trained, so we need to address that.) But she’s pretty happy and sweet, likes to be around us, and is quiet for most parts of the day.
Elliott had been wanting to ride the car onto the ferry, and today was the perfect day to do it. We took Tilly and made it a special day for the two of them. We’re focused on the good stuff we can do for our family now with a little less chaos. Elliott seems to be understanding that Ruby is not coming home. Tilly has been pretty quiet and sleepy the last day, although she usually is after boarding. When we remembered to feed her today — no one to remind us, after all — she kind of looked at me like “this isn’t usually how we do it.” It will be hard for her but we’ll do our best and hopefully get everyone in a good place before our due date comes.
We will miss our Ruby Tuesday, and we’ve missed the younger, happier Ruby for a while. Now that she’s left us, I’m actually really able to look back on lots of times with her and remember them better because I’m not actually caring for her in the moment. Her tilted head, her pricked up tail and springy walk. There’s nothing quite like seeing the life of your first family pet come full circle, and I’m so glad we had almost 14 years with her and all the memories and photos and stories. It’s sad to know that Elliott probably will not remember her, but he’ll always know pictures and stories. And I think Matilda and our kids have potential to be the very best of friends.
I’m compiling my photos of Ruby, but I’m going to put them in another post. She really had the best name ever, too. I will miss using it so much. It’s from the song, but technically the Over the Rhine cover. Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. Who could hang a name on you, when you change with every new day? Still, I’m gonna miss you…
Today started at about 5 a.m. Here is a brief list of things the child has refused to do today. (And today was a relatively good day.)
A short list of things I’m unable to do today:
Anyone who reads my blog will already know that we are having our second child in June. And I will preface this blog entry by saying YES, we are thrilled on many levels: the baby looks healthy, we haven’t had any trouble having our two children (thus far) and the timing is great — we finally feel settled and ready to make that huge change. We always wanted two children and we’re happy to be able to make that dream a reality. I imagine there is no pain like the pain of wanting to have a child and not being able to, losing a child, or dealing with a severe childhood illness. We’ve known people who have been through all of it and sometimes you don’t know why you got the luck and they didn’t. We’ve had virtually no trauma — not that we’re out of the woods yet to experience problems, and we’ll handle whatever comes our way — but we so far feel incredibly lucky to have Elliott, and now a second — we already know it’s a boy.
That said, I’m consistently a horribly miserable pregnant person. I’ve had people say “Oh, I felt sick, too.” No, that’s not it (although I did). I’m negative, grumpy, depressive and cynical. The hormones coursing through me can make me act like a complete shrew, exacerbated this time by having a three year old who just today threw three different temper tantrums over the cup of cereal needing to be just in some way unattainably different, and two dogs who through their behavior seem to be trying to get kicked out of the house. There has been one thing I looked forward to each pregnancy, once we were past that early scary time and first few tests: hearing the words “It’s a girl!” I have never and will never hear those words, and thus now I’m on the dreaded path of what I recently learned is called “gender disappointment.” Again. It’s unintentional and terrible.
It’s somewhat comforting to have a term for it, something I didn’t know last time. It feels like a form of depression. It’s apparently common and yet no one talks about it, not surprisingly, due to the shame and guilt you feel when you experience it. So, I’m talking about it and hoping that by sharing — something I’ve read can help — I can purge some of the heartache. Reading that other people have experienced it is one of the only thing that helps. If you’re thinking, “what’s wrong with you, you petty, horrible mother?!” well, I’m also wondering the same thing so that doesn’t need saying.
It’s attractive, isn’t it — To take good news and turn it into grief? A phone call or ultrasound that tells you your baby looks so far perfectly healthy makes you cry for days/weeks/who knows how long. (I don’t remember how long it was with Elliott, who of course I never actually wanted to change, but it lingered for long time.) It’s so hard to admit, when so many people have real problems, that it doesn’t feel like good news to hear you will never have a daughter. I have so badly wanted a girl since long before I ever wanted to be a parent. It’s something you just assume you’re going to get to do. You don’t even consider at times that you may not experience something as simple as raising a child of your own gender. (Or perhaps you wanted boys and didn’t get any.) It’s embarrassing and guilt-inducing to not appreciate the healthy child you are having and feel just an incredible sense of loss. I’m discovering the pain is so much more acute this second time, now that we’re done and my family will never include a girl. You never think that you’ll care, and when there aren’t so many hormones you don’t care in remotely the same way, but at the time you worry a part of you will always feel empty.
After Elliott, I knew I would never have a girl. I just knew. The boy news the first time was incredibly difficult because I for some reason felt I needed to have my girl first. So that next time I wouldn’t care. And this time I assumed it would be a boy, tried so hard to not allow myself to see any glimmer of hope. And yet again all I could picture was a girl. All I could imagine hearing on the phone was “girl,” and I couldn’t push out those voices of people telling me “it could be a girl this time!” no matter how many times I asked not to hear it. I wanted to rule out any possibility in my mind so that I wouldn’t cry uncontrollably again… for days… when I got the news. It didn’t work. And the finality and certainty of hearing it this time — there’s no mistaking Y chromosomes in your blood, after all — is making it in some ways harder because there’s no longer any chance. Elliott is making it a little easier because, you know, I do really like him and he is a boy. As is my husband to whom I’m also kind of partial. Nor do I even believe all kids should and will fall into pre-conceived gender roles! And yet, the feelings still exist.
People with two boys like to tell you how incredibly great it is (perhaps as they trudge from one football game to the next). People who have girls like to remind you that its just “a lot of drama,” and that you should be happy you’re avoiding it. Either way, people just like what they have. But when I’m in the throes of the disappointment I imagine my future and all I see is dirt, sports, noise, swords, guns, laundry, fighting and urine. There will be no braids or dresses, probably no manicures or ballet class. My husband points out the American Girl store, relieved he never has to go there, and I want to cry and say “I’ll never get to go there!” Every ponytail I see breaks my heart. I look at names and cry that I can’t use the girl’s name that I loved more than any boy’s name. I wanted to pass on my love of the Anne of Green Gables books and Barbies. I wanted to maybe help pick out a wedding dress or watch my child be a mother — not as a bystander but in the first degree. I don’t want to just look forward to potential daughters-in-law or granddaughters in 30 years and stand on the sidelines of someone else’s little girl, that doesn’t count. There isn’t a substitute. I wanted to raise my own. If you have a daughter, appreciate how you get to do those things and I want to and never will. Just like all parents who are as lucky as me can appreciate holding their child tight — or a second or third child — when others may always grieve for that. I know I’m grateful for it every day.
Among my irrational feelings the second time around, I find I’m dreading the saturation, the piling on of all the “boy stuff” I’m afraid I’ll hate. I’m fearing losing my own interests, femininity or identity and being forced to become too outdoorsy/sporty/geeky/whatever the boys are. I feel a waste of my own childhood interests that I can’t pass on. I even suddenly feel very left out and outnumbered, feelings that are new this time. I’m craving the balance and the experience of having a child of each sex, and fearing the experience won’t be different enough or that the kids won’t be different enough and have enough separate worlds and their own things. I even think about not wanting Elliott to have to share everything, or not wanting my second kid to get all the hand-me-down toys or clothes just because we have them already. (Not that picking out anything new is fun, have you SEEN boys’ clothes? No, you haven’t, because they’re in that one quarter of the store behind all the cute dresses.) I wish I could differentiate “my son” and “my daughter.” I always wanted one of each more than two girls, even though we always saw ourselves with two girls, ironically. By the way, I have the only husband on the planet that also really wanted a daughter and wasn’t clamoring to have only boys. I even find myself mad at him sometimes and feeling like he “wins” by getting those things I feel like I’m missing. It’s not his fault and he’s being super supportive even though I know I’m dampening some of his joy with my experience. But there’s nothing he can really do except wait for me to feel better, and accept that he can’t completely know how this feels. His trade-off for dealing with me is that he doesn’t have to be pregnant or have a baby cut out of him.
It’s selfish and also impossible to want to choose what your children will be, and everyone knows they’re going to be who they will be regardless of their gender anyway. They’re going to like what they like — and it may not be football or Barbies — and once you know the people they are it’s okay. Before you’ve ever met them you only have generalizations and assumptions of what “girl” means or what “boy” means. You see other pairs of brothers in public (they’re sometimes dirty or shooting each other) and you can just only picture your kids doing what those kids are doing. But they’re going to be your kids, different from any other. For the record, I’ve seen girls have lots of energy, and boys who sit quietly. And my son is 100% drama most of the time, more than any girl in his preschool class.
But when you don’t yet know they people they are going to be, all you have is the visions and dreams that are now not coming true, and it aches. For several months, the sex is the only thing you know about your kid, so you can’t help but base every impression on that only fact you have. Even my three-year-old is not yet firmly rooted in many gender-specific behaviors. I can’t know how much he may want to play football, so of course I find myself assuming he’ll be obsessed with it! He may not. But there are quite a few things you can feel confident your sons will never do, a few things you can feel pretty confident they will do, and those are the only things you can focus on at the time.
I call it an unflattering grief. Yes, I know it’s irrational. Yes, I know it’s petty and unattractive. By the way, no, most of the stuff people tell you doesn’t help! (Not “girls are so hard in high school!” or “boys are easier and more fun!” and least of all “you just could have another one!”) Their kids aren’t your kids, and pep-talks are given by people who don’t understand depression. Nor do I think my kids need to check some sort of arbitrary box, and I’m not going to keep having more until they do. (I read some people with “extreme gender disappointment” do actually have children until they get the sex they want, and it can be tragic for them. I’m grateful my experience is not this extreme and will go away.)
I used to hear “you’ll love him when he comes out,” or “I know someone who wanted a girl but now loves her son!” People do not need to explain to you that you’ll love your baby! Of course you will! Gender disappointment doesn’t remotely affect how much you love the kid you’re having, how relieved you are that he’s healthy, and how happy you are to have him. It’s mourning the loss of the child you’re not having and is completely separate.
Time helps. Meeting and getting to know your child helps. Learning that the feeling is valid helps. Hearing that other people have felt it to varying degrees helps. It’s been only four days since we got the news. I’m going to give myself permission to grieve, recognize the feelings and allow them to be real, ask for patience and forgiveness of my loved ones why they deal with my bitterness, or I may simply take some time away from a lot of people so I’m not too prolific with my complaints to a degree that I’ll regret. And just wait for it to go away.
My husband likes to remind me his sister is the only kid in his family who played a bunch of sports while he did music and swimming. Elliott does like football and cars, but he also loves music, art, yoga, play kitchens and he always says his favorite color is purple. And he’ll change his interests lots of times, probably to plenty of things I don’t like, and you accept that as a parent. I still think my child is perfect, and always have. I know I’ll think the second one is perfect, too. I don’t want to change them or replace them. No, I don’t actually believe a parent has to force herself to like the things her kids like. I will still never enjoy watching football. (Okay, I just REALLY HATE football.) They’ll probably be taught to clean their own toilet. Wrestling just isn’t allowed, and no mud in the house. They can come to the theatre with me or I’ll go alone. And on Sundays I guess I’ll just go get my nails done by myself.
And there really aren’t that many… but I just keep wanting to write them down so I don’t forget 🙂
He keeps learning new words by the bucket, so I’m sure they’ll get funnier. Or there are sentences like “Mommy, can you take your ice out of your glass so I can lick it?” or “Mommy, can you hold my milk so I can dance?”
Ohhhh, stuff. I have such a complicated and constantly evolving relationship with the stuff in my life. Nothing makes you be in touch with your stuff quite like moving. And moving again. And I’ve been thinking, for a while now, about how to approach the stuff in my life in a true and authentic way. It’s a topic I’ve been considering writing about for a while.
I’ve come to the conclusion that ideally my stuff meets one of these three criteria:
While there are exceptions, I’ve decided this list doesn’t include “It was expensive,” or “it’s new” or “it’s old” or it is “from someone” or it “used to serve a purpose” or “I may want it again someday.” There are a lot of bad reasons to hold on to things, and I’m always trying to figure out what those reasons are.
What is our stuff, anyway? Some people will tell you “Stuff doesn’t mean anything. It’s just things, it’s not important, I don’t need stuff.” But is that really true completely? How do you really live that authentically? It’s easy to say that and even to think it but… to live it? I think few people really do. I admire those that can.
I recently read one of those blog posts going around about the warm and fuzzy feeling one mom got from throwing all her kids toys away. In one of those heartwarming lessons, her kids learned stuff wasn’t important, they just needed imagination and each other and miraculously everyone was so happy all the time and the children didn’t fight over toys anymore.
And I call BS. Really? I’m supposed to throw my kid’s toys away to teach him about what’s important in life? Or not having things is the only way to be pure and happy and good? Or perhaps, in less dramatic fashion, I could teach him about how to treat our things nicely, how not to have too many things, how to share our things with others, and what our things can represent in our lives. A gift from someone special makes us think of that person. Or a specific item can cause comfort. Living outside our house in this corporate apartment with none of our own things, you realize how some of your stuff makes your house a home. My kid isn’t sleeping, he just wants his own room back. (You also realize you can live without most of your stuff, too. It goes both ways.)
The truth is, I love getting rid of things. I recently had the opportunity to donate a bunch of my stuff to an organization that helps house refugees. Refugees. These people not only have zero things, they leave terrifying environments and face arduous journeys to a completely new place. Nothing makes you think of your stuff in the same way after you’ve had the chance to go through your house and think about what you could give these people.
I was in a situation where I needed to lighten our load before coming here. We accumulated about two extra rooms of STUFF when moving to the suburb house, and that was very difficult for me due to my anxiety about having stuff sitting around. (Because once you have it, you may need to un-have it, and un-having it is more difficult.) So I’m going through my house and saying: “what things in my life can go from not really serving me to serving someone else greatly?” The relief I felt not only getting rid of just some of the quantity in my life, but turning that quantity into real, tangible use for someone who truly needs things? Incredible.
One of the items I passed on was made by someone as a gift to us a long time ago, and had since found it’s way into storage. I thought long and hard and decided: I could leave this thing in a cabinet because it was from someone I care about but didn’t fit into my life well at the present time. OR I could honor that person by seeing that their loving handiwork actually served a purpose to someone who had little. In good faith I chose the latter. I hope anything I would make for someone would find the same fate. Because “stuff isn’t important, people are important,” right?
Fo me, it really comes down to this — is this stuff serving me, and in what way? Is it useful? Sentimental? Beautiful? If its none, it might be time to let go. And the benefit of letting it go increases the more you find it can be put to direct use by someone else. My stuff doesn’t do me any good sitting in storage, or piling up on counters or overflowing out of toy bins. And I like stuff. I like art and design and color and interesting toys and cool furniture. I like old stuff that belonged to people I love or was found in some cool place. I love thoughtful gifts from people. I’m not going to stop accumulating stuff, but I’m constantly searching for that equilibrium. I don’t want to accumulate for the sake of accumulating. I don’t want to just vacuum up stuff that has no meaning or purpose, not just because its “on sale” or “cute” or any of that. Not if I don’t want it. It’s ok to not want stuff and it’s also ok to want it, and you just have to know the difference.
Sometimes the “stuff I love” becomes the “crap I don’t want” for whatever reason, and that’s life. We evolve. What I’ve learned to consider is quantity and passion and true desire for certain stuff. If you bring home 15 souvenirs from a trip (and I have), they all have less meaning than if you bring home one or two. Even sentimental items: If you have 50 keepsakes from a loved one or a phase of your life, they start to have less meaning than if you just had a few really special ones. It’s REALLY HARD to narrow down the sentimental stuff. Super hard. And yet, I’ve learned, it can have less meaning in great quantity. IF in fact, the quantity isn’t serving anyone. (If it is, then, go forth in quantity. It’s called a collection and collections can be awesome.) But if I have to let go of something sentimental, I do still have the memory and the love of what it represents, even if I don’t have the thing.
I used to love that show on TLC where they organized people’s homes and they had that expert guy on. He said something over and over that stuck with me: If you say it has value to you and it means something, then prove it. Frame it, display it, store it lovingly, treat it with respect OR let it go. People would keep boxes and boxes of baby clothes from grown children. Let them go, they serve a better purpose to someone who can use them and needs them. Save two or three special ones and put them somewhere nice. Donate the rest. They serve you not at all piled in a closet.
For me, I feel like I respect myself, my home and others when I can find that balance of stuff. I seek to honor those things I love or that are sentimental, and have them in moderation. And who cares if its a Tiffany bowl and I don’t want it anymore? Let it go. Who cares if it’s a cheap gnome from Target that I love? (I recently acquired one.) Or a dumb gadget that happens to be super useful? Keep it. I say buy your kids a few toys if you can and want, let them enjoy things in their world. Without feeling materialistic or guilty over simply having it. You can feel when it’s too much or it’s for the wrong reasons. I look forward to the day I can teach my son about giving and sharing and the right amount of stuff that’s appropriate to have. About how something you care little for could be cared for a lot by someone else. About how to only seek the things that give you joy, not just for status or competition. About how having more or less things has no bearing on if you’re a good person. And, importantly, about how lucky he is to have anything, let a lone a lot of things. Because anyone who has to write a blog post about how to deal with their stuff is truly lucky. (Not “blessed.” Lucky. I read that blog post, too. Blessings are about the immaterial.)
For me, when there’s excess and anxiety over piles, or full closets and boxes I never access, then I need to address the stuff and feel okay about letting go. Even if it was a gift or I used to love it and don’t anymore, it’s ok. Sometimes things serve their purpose in our lives and then we move on. I want it to serve a purpose for someone else if I don’t want it, don’t need it or am not using it. Or if, in the case of those refugees, stuff I might have held onto under other circumstances suddenly felt compelled to leave my possession. I have more things than some people, fewer things than others, and it just doesn’t matter. It has no bearing on who I am if the stuff isn’t controlling me.
One request: Please don’t give Goodwill your garbage. I hate the idea that if it’s trash to you it should go to Goodwill. They don’t want your garbage. If it’s torn or stained or broken and no one you know wants to repurpose it, then pitch it. Sometimes, sadly, things are garbage. And I HATE adding to landfills but I’ve learned how. I recently dropped off a load at St. Vincent DePaul and it made me sad to see an overflowing dumpster of random crap like an old pool noodle, a broken baby swing and a bunch of other junk. Please don’t. Donate. Your trash. And consider cleaning out your closets before the clothing you don’t like becomes decades out of style, or an item you don’t want becomes dusty and old and faded. Maximize its use to someone else. Donating is about helping someone else, not just you having a place to dump all your garbage.
As I look ahead to a different house, I feel empowered to deal with my stuff in a positive way. (I mean, ask me again when it all comes off a truck…) I’m growing to understand that my possessions are simply an evolving collection of happy things that have the power to make my life better, but can also make it worse. I’m not going to throw all my kid’s toys away, and frankly I think that feels like kind of a heavy-handed lesson. But whatever, to each her own. What I want to do is teach my kid how to have stuff, and how to let others have stuff, and how to let that stuff not control you but simply make you happy. And if our house burned down and we had no stuff, we’d be okay, too. Stuff isn’t important, people are important. Stuff is only nice to have, and there is happiness found in having just the right amount.
— Revised, new words added —
I love the way toddlers pronounce things incorrectly. While I think one reason Elliott speaks well is that we talk clearly with him, use proper words and correct him as he’s learning. But I’ll admit there are some words I have a hard time correcting because, cuteness.
I might always call them Alligators, and embarrass him when he’s 20.
Tonight I spent some time looking for Alpha-bits. I looked at Kroger for them and couldn’t find them. I figured between the fact that my child lives on about 67% cereal and talks 100% about the alphabet that this product needed to be found. (You can get them at Target.)
So. Sick. Of the ABCs. Here’s a typical bedtime routine.
“Elliott, what book do you want to read?”
“What other book would you like to read”
“What song do you want to sing tonight. Twinkle Twinkle?”
“No….. How about…. ABCS!!!”
In case you were wondering, its always the ABCs. Sometimes different versions of the ABCs, but always the ABCs. And if there’s a second song? It’s the ABCs.
Tuesday I wanted to take him to the zoo, he’d been asking to go and it was one whole free day we had this week. There is a baby giraffe, for godsakes. No, he wanted to go to the bookstore to get a particular alphabet book he had been wanting for weeks. He’s two and a half and he’s been waiting to get a specific alphabet book that he saw in a thumbnail on the back of a numbers book we have.
The funny thing is he found a different letters book on the sale rack outside, carried it in, sat and read it and wouldn’t put it down. It took 15 minutes to check out because he wouldn’t give me the book. (We had to get both letters books.In addition to the letters book we got the last time we were there.)
The new thing is that anything with letters on it — so, everything — is about the alphabet. Every book in the bookstore was an alphabet book. I suppose technically that’s true…
We have to stop and read signs walking down the sidewalk. He awkwardly points at people’s tee shirts and reads the letters on them. He makes letter shapes out of straws, fingers, crayons. His tub toys are letters. And, my favorite, “Mommy draw letters!”
He is now progressing into letter sounds, and reads his alphabet now by saying “aa buh cuh duh.” So, I figure he’ll be (a) reading by age three and (b) potty trained somewhere around 4 and a half.
I blame, in no particular order:
We definitely fueled the interest, and now I’m stuck between wanting to encourage it, not wanting him to get burned out on it, and just wanting a frickin break from the alphabet. I almost — just almost — wish the kid would talk about SPORTS for a minute or to. (Almost. Not quite.)
Here is our repertoire. At least they don’t ALL say X is for Xylophone.
This is his favorite ABC video, one I heard sung over the monitor today post-nap. (Personally, I like the one with Usher. )