Leave The Kids Out of It

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Pakistan students Taliban attack

I checked the news when I woke up this morning and this headline blared out:

141 die, mostly children, in Peshwar school attack

As we in North America go about our Christmas preparations, worrying about presents and parking spots, Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan.

According to Pakistani military spokesman, Asim Bajwa, it was “an assault that seemed designed purely to terrorize the children rather than take anyone hostage to further the militant group’s aims. Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That’s what they did.”

Two years ago, almost to the day, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, waving semi-automatic weapons and shooting  20 children dead.

Two completely unrelated incidents, yet both targeting the most vulnerable and precious of a community.

When I was a little kid, a part of me looked forward to being an adult. A real idealist, I naively assumed that once everyone grew up physically, they would grow up mentally and emotionally too. I thought that once people were in their 20s, or at least in their 30s, they would act like grown-ups: throw out their selfishness and put others first.

Maturity and kindness have nothing to do with age. Today on the news, I see grown men raging around with machine guns throwing tantrums and killing children. Yesterday I saw my 6-year-old son showing true bravery and kindness by standing between his little friend and a bully, taking hits so his friend wouldn’t get hurt.

As a mother, I ache for the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents in Pakistan whose lives are shattered by the loss of so many children.

As a mother, I say leave the kids out of it. Get your battles out of the schools and off the playgrounds.

As a believer, at this time of year, I say, Come O Come Emmanuel.

Goodbye, Peanut Allergy

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We took a new Lego set with us: a race car that drove onto a truck and trailer. My purse had a jar of peanut butter and three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tucked inside. We were at the allergist’s office to do a Peanut Challenge test.

At 20 months old, we took our son for allergy testing, expecting to find a mild milk allergy. Instead we were sent home with epipens, fear and an anaphylactic peanut allergy.

I had food allergies as a kid too. I remember the mean girls at the Girl Guides picnic who laughed at my special hot dogs when I was seven. I can still taste the homemade marshmallows my grandma made in an 8×8 pan so my brother and I wouldn’t feel left out at the campfire. Luckily, I outgrew my allergies by twelve.  Peanut allergies are different. “Only one in five children outgrow a peanut allergy” the allergist said. “It’s pretty likely he will have this forever.”

English: Roasted Peanuts author: Flyingdream

For four years we carried epipens everywhere. I checked food labels obsessively and talked to the manager and held my breath at restaurants. We never had to use the epipen. But the fear was always there.

I was the helicopter mother that I used to scoff at.

Birthday parties were tricky. I would call ahead. “My son has a severe peanut allergy. Where are you getting the cake from? No, he can’t eat it if it says ‘may contain peanuts’. No, he can’t eat Dairy Queen ice cream cakes. That’s okay. I’ll bring something else for him.”

I grew nervous as Kindergarten approached. We scheduled an allergist appointment with the hope that things had changed. I held my breath as they did the scratch tests on his arm. Pollen- Negative. Milk- Negative. Cats- Positive. Dogs- Positive. Penicillin- Positive. Peanuts- Positive. Sigh.

“Don’t lose hope!” said the kind intern. “Wait and see what the blood tests say.”

School started and things were okay. A letter came home to parents declaring the class Peanut-Free. My son’s epipen tucked right into the front pocket of his Buzz Lightyear backpack, just a few feet away from where he ate his snacks and lunch. The teacher was trained in what to do. My son was a pro by then and knew the rules: Never try anyone’s snack. Always ask a grown-up to read labels. Don’t trust other kids.

There was a bright red star beside my son’s name on the Kindergarten table; a reminder to the caretaker to clean that area extra well each night.

One afternoon my phone rang and the school’s name flashed in capital letters on my call display. I held my breath as I answered. “Everything’s okay!” the secretary said quickly. “Your son just had a bee sting and needed to hear your voice.” Exhale. Disaster averted.

The blood tests came and went and showed one glaring difference from the scratch test: Peanuts- Negative.

The allergist said that “80% of children who get a negative blood test have outgrown their allergy. Come in again and we will do a peanut challenge.”

So, there we were. My son, me, a jar of peanut butter and a new Lego set.

My hands shook as I opened up the jar. For years I had been protecting my son from the very thing I was about to give him.

Lego

The doctor started with a smear of peanut butter on a scratch on his arm. Wait 15 minutes. Build the Lego guys. No reaction.

Then, a tiny taste on the tip of a wooden tongue depressor. Wait fifteen very long minutes. Watch child very carefully. Ask him every five minutes if he feels okay. Build the little race car from the set. No reaction!

This same drill went on three more times and each time my son licked a little more peanut butter off the stick. Each time I held my breath and my heart raced as I watched him. For hives. For sniffles. For coughs. For anything out of the ordinary. Each time the timer beeped we’d meet the doctor in the little room for a quick check and more peanut butter.

The doctor looked excited after the third or fourth dose. “Statistics say that most people who make it past the third dose won’t have a reaction.” I allowed myself to get a tiny bit excited. My boy was excited too. The implications of no peanut allergy raced through my mind.

I was fairly calm with the little bits on the stick but started freaking out when the doctor handed my son a big glob of it on a soda cracker. “Eat it up!” said the doc. “Really?” I asked. The doctor nodded and my son was delighted. He loved the taste and smacked his lips happily. That wait was a very long fifteen minutes. The whole cab of the Lego semi-truck was built. I’m not sure I breathed.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

The timer beeped and we headed in for the final challenge: two crackers loaded up with peanut butter and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup thrown in for good measure. “Really?” I asked again. “Are you sure?” The allergist nodded and the timer was set, this time for 30 minutes. If he made it to the end with no symptoms we were home free.

I watched my son obsessively, texted my husband and posted updates on Facebook. My son finished building the trailer for the Lego truck. The timer dinged. We were done.

“That’s it!” said the allergist. “His allergy is gone.” Four simple words that changed my son’s life.

The next day before school I tucked his epipen into his backpack, just in case. Old habits are hard to break. I’m not sure how long I’ll leave it there. He doesn’t mind. This is new territory for him too. He happily scratched the red star off his desk and announced to the kindergarten children that his allergy was gone. They hugged him and cheered with true kindergarten camaraderie.

As we list off all the foods he can finally try (Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares! Thai food! Vietnamese!) and imagine the birthday parties, barbeques, summer camps and restaurants he can attend without fear, we are thankful.

Dear Dad of a Toddler and a Newborn

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Dear Dad of a toddler and a newborn,

Congratulations on the birth of your second child! Your life has just changed immensely. I’m sure you assumed that a second child would be no big deal. You’ve already done this, right? Sure, there will be some sleepless nights but you’re a pro now, aren’t you?

When my husband and I were expecting our second child, someone told me that the first child is hardest on the mom but the second child is hardest on the dad. Even if dad is a fabulous supporter, the first baby is mom’s 24 hour responsibility. Especially if she is breastfeeding, mom is the one who is up for hours and hours in the night and mom is (typically) the one responsible for more of the first baby’s care.

When the second baby is born, dad must step up to the plate. Mom is very busy with the newborn so when dad is home, he’s on toddler duty. I’m lucky to have a stellar husband who quickly upped his game when our daughter came along. I have friends who weren’t so lucky.

So dad, here’s a simple true or false quiz to enlighten you on your new role:

True or False: It’s Saturday afternoon and the baby is sleeping so you can take a nap.  FALSE. There is still a rambunctious toddler in the house who doesn’t nap and needs entertaining, feeding, wiping and horsey rides.

True or False: You get home from work and decide to put your feet up and check the scores. FALSE. Now that there are two children and your wife is probably breastfeeding, she has hardly sat down all day and she got three hours of sleep last night. Download some recipe apps on your iPhone or dial-up Dominos…you are on dinner duty!

True or False: You come in from a busy Sunday out with the family and head to your man cave for a little time to recharge. FALSE. Your wife has been out all day too and has a hungry baby and a hungry toddler in her arms. Someone needs to make supper and someone needs to change and watch the kiddies. Take your pick. Choose kid-duty once in a while because cooking dinner is the easy job. The man cave must wait.

True or False: It’s finally bedtime and both kids are tucked in. Surely now it’s time for you to relax for a few hours with Netflix or a game on your laptop. FALSE. Sure, it’s worth a try. Get settled in for some much-needed R&R. But don’t forget that your partner needs some too. Earn huge brownie points by being the first to jump up when the cry comes through the baby monitor. Jump fast because now that there’s two kids, the baby will wake the toddler. And then the toddler will wake the baby.

True or False: You made a huge mistake having a second child. FALSE. Don’t worry, your life won’t feel this crazy forever. Things will lighten up in two years or so when your children start playing together. But for now, roll up your sleeves and cuddle those babies. You won’t regret it and your wife will love you even more.

Things people say when my toddler is screaming

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Having just survived the terrible twos for a second time,  I’ve had plenty of advice from random strangers about how to raise my toddlers. Don’t get me wrong, there have also been many kind people in the grocery store line-up who have sent an encouraging smile my way mid-tantrum.  I’ve learned to develop a thick skin for the people who take it upon themselves to give me their “helpful” unsolicited advice. I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had similar experiences.

crying-toddler

Here are some of the best (worst) things my friends and I have heard mid-tantrum:

  1. “My children didn’t do that. I had a 2-year-old AND newborn twins.”
  2. “My grandchildren don’t do that. And there’s four of them. And my daughter home schools them.”
  3. “Wow! He’s really upset!”
  4. “You should really be more consistent. That would nip this in the bud.”
  5. “Can I give him a piece of candy?”
  6. “Keep your cool.”
  7. “Get that kid to shut the hell up!”
  8. “She has a very loud scream.”
  9. “What a shame. He’s so cute.”
  10. “You are horrible parents for not buying your kid that toy.”
  11. “Oh my heavens!” (said with a patronizing, disgusted look)
  12. A friend’s toddler was screaming near a hotel elevator. A woman thought my friend and her husband were abducting their own child. My friends had to scream and get help from strangers to restrain the (elderly) woman who was convinced they were kidnappers!

So what would be helpful for a parent who’s dealing with a screaming child in public? How about:

*An empathetic smile

*”That is a tough age.”

*”Can I help carry your groceries?”

One by one we can support other parents and drown out the dreaded, unhelpful grocery store comments!

 

Leave your best “things people say when my toddler is screaming” in the comments below. Soldier on, mommas.

For the days when you want to quit

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“I don’t really like my three-year old.”

“Sometimes I hate my child and then I feel terrible for thinking that.”

Both of these comments were whispered to me by friends. I admit I’ve thought similar things during my not-so-shiny moments of parenting.

I usually refrain from posting whiny, complaining-type posts and tend to focus on the sweet things my kids do. I complain a lot about sleep but try not to be that bitter mother whose kids bring more grief than joy.

But some days just suck.

The other night my husband kept texting, “leaving any minute” “be home soon” “just waiting for the bus” and it was almost 7:00 before he got home. I’m not sure if I was tired, the kids were tired or if it was a full moon, but by the time he walked in I was ready to walk out.

I get to the end of my rope regularly. Life with young children jumps from amazing and awe-inspiring one moment to out-of-control and exasperating the next. I have an up and down personality and my highest highs are followed by crashes of the lowest lows, all within one rotation of the minute hand on the clock.

The other day my children were playing together on the top bunk in my son’s room. They cuddled on the pillows with their stuffed animals and blankets, both giggling and squirming around like Labrador puppies. My son made his little sister laugh hysterically and she tickled him under his chin and teased him back; a real sibling love fest. I smiled and felt all warm inside and proud of the beautiful healthy kids I was raising. All was well.

Seconds later I turned away to brush my teeth and the whole scenario cratered. Laughs turned to screams. Giggles turned to cries. Snuggles turned to grabs and pushes. Toys flew across the room. My heart raced and blood boiled as I jumped to separate the two before someone fell off the bunk. Both kids were crying. It was the end of the world, in preschooler land. It was one of those moments when I just wanted to quit.

Growing up, if I didn’t like something, I quit. I quit competitive swimming, gymnastics, ringette, art classes and who knows what else after a few years each because I wasn’t a star at them.  My world was very black and white. Do the enjoyable and easy things that I could excel at. Avoid the difficult things. That philosophy was fine when there was just me to worry about. It even worked with my husband in the picture, for the most part.

The months (and years) after becoming a mother were the hardest of my life so far. I’m not really sure how I made it through those years of terrible sleep deprivation. My fierce love for my newborn son (and then three years later, my daughter) taught me that just because something is really, really hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. The wondrous little children that were created and carried and loved and rocked and fed, sometimes with my tears blending in with theirs, are mine to keep.

It’s okay to want to quit. Anyone who tells you parenthood is blissful perfection is a liar. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less. Parenting babies and young children is like riding a ferris wheel that never stops. There’s no smiling man at the bottom to push a button if you want to get off to catch your breath.

Embrace the high highs and perfect moments, fleeting as they may be. Breathe them in and take lots of pictures. Cuddle up to your son’s snuggly warm cheeks. Trace your daughter’s dimples with your finger and hold her tiny feet in your hands. Freeze the perfect moments in your memory so you can bring them back to your mind during the times when everyone is screaming, you are trudging through a dreary day and your ferris wheel is scraping the bottom again.

The next time you have a day when you want to quit, take a deep breath and hold on. The rough times will pass and the view really will turn back to beautiful.

*A version of this post was published on Scary Mommy on July 23, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was glared at for talking in Starbucks

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Green logo used from 1987-2010, still being us...

Green logo used from 1987-2010, still being used as a secondary logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday afternoon I went out for coffee with my parents and my two young children. Chaos ensued when my children realized there was only one cookie in the display case. Then we had to discuss the whip cream on the hot chocolate and find the little bags of popcorn.

When we finally made it to our table, my two-year-old sat by her grandma, my six-year-old near his grandpa and me somewhere in the middle. We had our usual happy conversation around the big wooden table. The kids were fine, but they are kids…they don’t sit and stare into space while drinking hot chocolate. They discussed their days. They told my mom tiny details about their favourite toys and goofed around with my dad. My daughter screeched when her foot got stuck in the high chair that she was too big for. My son freaked out a little because he wanted his popcorn in the bag, not in a cup. They weren’t being rude, just kids happy to be with their grandparents in a fun setting.

I felt like I had to hush them for the whole hour we were there. Why? Because every other person in the coffee shop was silent. Everyone was dead quiet and concentrating intently on an iPhone, laptop or tablet. Many people have written about the fact that our devices are making us antisocial. We all know that. It’s been said a million times. I get it, I really do. I too love zoning out in front of my iPhone at any opportunity.

What was different about today is that it was the first time that I felt like the minority for sitting in a coffee shop and chatting with my family. Maybe I’m just getting older but I remember back in the good old days when Starbucks and Tim Hortons were places to meet and talk.

Is it now more socially acceptable to be antisocial to those around you, while simultaneously being active on social media?

The next time I’m in a coffee shop with family or friends, I’m not hushing my children. I’m going to sit back with my coffee and company and talk and laugh away. I dare you to try it.