Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 28-something--Big Rubber Bands

We came back from the beach today.  In the last couple of years I've noticed that as much as I love to go to the Outer Banks, I tend to sleep a lot and isolate myself from my family.  I've never been a huge beach person.  I remember being five and going to the beach; when we got home my mom made us strip in the backyard to hose all the sand off us.  I was absolutely horrified; I was convinced that all the neighbors were watching and seeing my naked butt in the backyard.

When I had kids, I took them to the ocean because I felt like every kid should at least see the ocean.  We lived halfway across the country at the time.  My kids loved the beach.  I have pictures of my little boy, walking down the beach at sunset, and my little girl rolling in the water and being covered with sand.  I remember those moments, when I was such a new mother; when I got so much pleasure from watching the absolute joy on their faces.  I'm so glad that I captured those moments with a camera.  We share collages of them between my mother and me.

That was ten years ago.  I remember specifically because we have the same week every year.  It was their first year visiting my family after we had gained custody.  I took my role as a mother incredibly serious and I cut myself about no slack.  If I made a mistake, as we all do, I beat myself into a pulp over it.  My children deserved better than me.  They deserved perfection.

It's been a long time since then, and I've learned a lot of lessons, not only about parenting, but about life. I awoke this morning to pack the cars and head home; we picked up Gabi on the way and we made it home in relatively good time.  But I've continued to ache all day.  It's pretty horrific and my foot is killing me--I have a significant bone spur in my heel.

So I'm sitting here feeling sorry for myself for a multitude of reasons, including wasting another vacation, and what comes on but the predictable bariatric surgery commercial.  A man and a woman who swear how their lives have changed due to stomach stapling; life is better than ever and so is their health.


Ten years ago I had a doctor tell me that without gastric bypass I would die in a few years.  Well, I'm still here, without the surgery, while many who have chosen to go under the knife have died.  Twenty years ago I had a doctor who put me on the legendary mix of "Phen-Fen", and after the news reported how the drug combo mix was lethal, my doctor told me obesity was more lethal.  Again, I am here and many people have suffered loss of life or had heart or lung damage due to the drug mix.  Somehow I've managed to survive despite all the wonder treatments out there.

But tonight, with my damn foot and my fibromyalgia and a bit of a possible cold (I'm getting hot and cold), I couldn't help but wonder when I saw that commercial how different my life might be if I did try surgery.

I've thought about lap band systems for awhile now.  I've even researched them on the internet.  The nice thing about a lap band is the procedure is easier than gastric bypass and the band can be adjusted.

The first time I went on a diet I was nine years old.  I probably was about fifteen pounds heavier than I should have been, which is noticeable on a nine-year old.  My mother was terrified I would have a weight problem and so she signed me up with her for Weight Watchers.  This was not the current point system--this was when foods were "legal" or "illegal".  I tried, bless my little heart, I did.  I ate WW sugarless chocolate cake that I made...oatmeal peanut butter bars...precut servings of some ice milk that resembled a frozen something or other.  But I never lost weight.  Every diet I've been on the story has been the same:  I don't lose weight.

I'm not stupid.  I know why I eat and I know I need to eat healthier and I need to eat less.  More than anything I need to exercise.  When I was a young child, I was molested by a family friend, and I used food to manage the stress I was under.  The irony of my story is that it's the same as millions of other stories.  What other drug would be available to a five year old?  And once you're eating out of comfort, the ironic circle of body hatred is complete.  You hate yourself for being abused, then you hate yourself for eating to shut it out.

In our world, we're bombarded with easy fixes for weight.  Gastric bypass, Biggest Loser, hours of exercise, supplements, drinks to substitute for meals...the list goes on and on.  So why did I write about this tonight?  Because I wonder what my life would be like if I didn't hurt.  If the physical pain left, would the psychological pain leave too?  Is the answer really as simple as a rubber band in my gut?

I've always believed that a healthy lifestyle is how a person should live, regardless of his or her size.  Making good choices is the key.  It's what I would tell my children and anyone else who asks me.  But I talk a good talk.  I need to walk it now.  Because the next vacation I take, I want to go to the pool.  And I want to ride the rides at the amusement park.  And I want to keep up with my kids.  And I don't want to think about all of the opportunities I've wasted in my mid life.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I quite frequently refer to stories about my children.  I do this for a number of reasons, primarily because they're good examples of what I'm rambling about at the time, but also because I'm their mom and I happen to think they're relatively amazing.  But today I am going to indulge myself without feeling guilty.  It's my birthday and goshdarnit, I want to talk about one of my kids!

My husband and I have been taking turns with each of the kids this summer to give them a break from each other.  We've been living with my parents while we both look for steady employment.  My mother has a small home about an hour from here, so my husband takes one of the kids down for a few days while the other spends time with me.

Well, today is my birthday.  For the last several days, my daughter has mentioned, "It's almost your birthday, isn't it?"  Then in the last day or two, the questions have changed.  "Do you like blueberries?' she kept asking me.  "We're not going to use those blueberries in the refrigerator, are we?  Because I like them and I need to have some."  Right.  Because I haven't been your mom for over ten years and seen the faces you make at the very thought of consuming any kind of berry.

But I played along.  "Oh...uh, yeah...we can make sure there's some waiting for you," I told her last night when the inquisition began again.  "I won't use them."

An hour or so later, casually, she said, "I really like pancakes."  Then, "Do you like blueberry pancakes, Mom?"

In all reality, I actually do like blueberry pancakes but not enough to make them very often.  But again, I went with it.  "Oh, yeah.  They're good, aren't they?"

"Yeah," she agreed.

Later that evening she went to make some cupcakes and got upset.  There were no more eggs.  "How can I make cupcakes without eggs, Mom?  I can't make cupcakes now."

"Sure you can...just substitute applesauce."

In case you don't know, you can substitute applesauce in a pinch for eggs in a baked goods recipe.  Depending on the recipe, it may or may not work as well as an egg.  The cupcakes turned out fairly flat and kind of stuck to the wrapper.  But my daughter was pleased with the taste of them--and the fancy tips on the frosting can.  That was almost more fun than anything else.

So imagine my surprise when I awoke to the cheery singsongy twelve-year old voice of my daughter.  "Happy Birthday!" she sang.  "Breakfast in bed for you!:

I was immediately thrown back in time to a Mother's Day several years ago when both of my children made me breakfast.  I believe it was graham crackers, peanut butter raisins, and toast.  It was so cute that I couldn't stop smiling the whole time.

My daughter placed the tray on my lap very carefully, then pointed out each item she had made.  "Blueberry pancakes," she announced first, pointing to her creation.  "Hash browns, and bacon."
I thanked her but before I could invite her to share, she had skipped out of the room.

Everything was delicious.  I thought about how many times in a day this kid brightens my smile, how often she takes pride in doing thoughtful things for me.  I was in awe, particularly, at the patience she showed in making hash browns.  She had shredded those potatoes herself,

She wandered back a few minutes later to offer me seconds, which I politely declined.  I thought about this child's career goal as a restaurant owner and executive chef, and I could easily see that happening for her.  Not only because she can cook, but because she's very determined.Most people call that stubborn when they see it in a child, but that kind of character trait will pay off for her as an adult.  I'm extremely proud of her today.  Not only did she make me a delicious breakfast as a present, she used her talents to create something memorable. And that, to me, is beautiful.

A few hours later it occurred to me that we still didn't have any eggs, and I asked her, "How did you make pancakes without eggs?"

As though she were talking to a child, she said, "Applesauce, mom." Then she smirked at me.  "I would have made you fried eggs," she said teasingly, "but I didn't think you would want me to substitute applesauce for that."

Yeah, she's a smart kid, huh?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Parents treat your children well

At around 2:15 EST today, the mothers of this country let out an audible collective gasp.  Casey Anthony,   the young mother who loved a good party and whose 2 year old daughter disappeared for several months before her tiny body was found in the woods, dead, had been found not guilty.

Casey isn't that different from a lot of young single mothers.  In fact, right before this was announced, I had been writing about how difficult it is to get support as a young mother.  When I first became a mom, I was fourteen hundred miles away from my family, starting a new job in a new city with my new husband.  We had been married a little over a year when we gained custody of our children.  What I remember the most about those days and months early on was how desperately I wanted to do a good job and how hard it was to do it with no support system.  I had no friends and only my husband's family to rely on.  My children had special needs and needed therapy each week.  My husband worked nights, so the majority of the time I was the caregiver of two special needs children.

Talk about stress.  And there was no way to relieve it.  I do believe now if I had been a mother prior to gaining custody of our children, my life would have been easier, because I would have known I had the skills to be a good mother.  Children with emotional disorders are a difficult group to manage.  Many times, especially after being told by other people I was doing it wrong, I began to question what I believed to be right.  The good news is, the therapy paid off for all of us and we formed our own family with our own values and our own rules.  I still question some of my parenting decisions, but most of them I don't view as a life-or-death type of decision, the way I did back then.  I have two beautiful, healthy, intelligent children, and consider myself lucky.

Casey Anthony can't claim any of the risk factors that I faced.  She had support from her parents.  She had friends.  She hadn't moved or even had any major life changes.  All of the normalcy of her life is what makes this case that much more frightening for parents.  We're left, collectively wondering, why?

I have long wanted to have my own biological child.  Probably much like adopted children want to know about their birth families, I want to know what my biological child would be like.  Would she have my eyes?  My personality?  My feet?  I know it sounds funny, but we've always joked about how our daughter has her birth mother's feet--long and narrow.  When she was little, I used to measure her foot with my hand, to her delight.  I remember the day she outgrew my hand and how big she thought she was.  I wonder if my biological child would be smart and beautiful and all the things that most people wonder.  I've wondered that for fifteen years.  Tomorrow i will be 42, and it's unlikely that I will ever see that wish fulfilled.

But for whatever reason, God gave a child to Casey Anthony.  In this day and age, giving up your baby is an easy thing.  You can just drop the kid off at a "safe place"--a firestation, a hospital--and walk away, no questions asked.  And when I see a child like Caylee, lost forever, I can't help but wonder why.  Why Casey Anthony's arms were full of a baby she cared so little for, and another mother's arms are empty.  What a two-year old could do that would enrage a parent enough to kill her.  How even if Caylee's death was an accident, Casey could hide it from her own family for fifty one days.  Six and a half weeks.

I wonder how many parents watched the news reports yesterday and thought as I did:  "I would have gladly taken Caylee."  I don't have money to pay for every kid in the world.  But if it mean the difference between life and death, how many children would YOU turn away?

I don't have any answers.  Children can be frustrating sometimes.  Parents need support systems.  They need help from their family, friends, and neighbors.  It takes a village to support parents and children for healthy relationships.  In my case, I developed friendships, had help from a wonderful team of therapists, had a great preschool for the children who supported the children's development.   It took time, but I developed a strong support system--so strong that leaving it a year ago to move closer to my parents was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I don't know that any of us will ever know what really happened that day.  Maybe Caylee drowned in the pool due to negligence.  Maybe she was killed by her mother.  But as a mother myself, I cannot imagine missing one of my children for 51 days, with no idea where s/he was, and I would imagine it's the same if you're a grandmother.

I am a huge proponent of taking precautionary measures instead of having to fix a problem after it happens.  As a nation, we need to figure out how to help parents understand the commitment they're making long before they are holding the baby in their arms.  Children are most likely to be victims of abuse or neglect in their first year of life.  This statistic just makes it that much more important.

We're all familiar with the old adage "You have to get a fishing license to go fishing, but you don't need a parenting license to be a parent."  True.  But I can't help wondering if Casey had attended parenting classes before Caylee was born, perhaps she would have been better equipped to manage her daughter.  Or maybe she would have made a different decision altogether.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Good Side of TV

Today is a blah kind of day.  My daughter and I are spending the week together without my husband and son, and neither of us are on top of the world today.  She's having allergy issues and I'm not feeling well either.  For people who don't suffer from sever allergies, it's a really horrible thing to deal with.  My daughter's allergies cause the typical watery eyes, runny nose, sore throat, and tiredness, but hers also cause moderate to severe eczema, itchiness all over the body, and even asthma symptoms.

So we're snuggled up in bed and watching television.  I'm really not crazy about daytime tv, but when I switched on MTV and saw Teen Mom was on, the decision was made.

If you've never watched Teen Mom, it follows the lives of four young women--Amber, Maci, Farrah, and Catelynn--who got pregnant at sixteen and are now raising their toddlers, with the exception of Catelynn.  Catelynn and her boyfriend Tyler gave their baby up for adoption.  Interestingly, they are also the only couple still together.

I first watched Teen Mom a few months ago, after hearing my daughter talk about it.  When my kids were young, I really supervised the television viewing.  As they've gotten older, I've given them more freedom.  The kids often talk about the shows they watch, and I do make an effort to peek in.  But when my then-eleven year old started talking about this show, I listened carefully.  My mom-radar started going off like crazy.  So I watched it.

Here's what I found:  this show is a realistic look at teen motherhood.  Some of the girls have given up their education.  One has had to move away from her family.  One of the girls and her boyfriend are dealing with a volatile domestic abuse situation, another young woman is sharing custody with her ex (who's hardly a role model for fatherhood), and two of the teens are still mourning the loss of their baby, even though they know it was the right decision to make.

Teen mom has become one of those shows around our house that we talk about.  My daughter has her own very strong opinions about the show; she has frequently commented on how terrible it is that Amber hits Gary, her boyfriend; she is trying to understand why Catelynn and Tyler would give their baby up for adoption.  My daugher's birth mother was unable to care for her, and my daughter is trying to liken the situations.  She's thinking about it.

It's not often that a show like this comes along, documenting the lives of these girls and everyone who affects them.  There's no sugar-coating the episodes.  Babies cry, people get sick, teenagers are ugly to each other, and there's a lot of friction between the girls' moms and the girls.  But there's also no excessive drama.  These girls love their babies as much as they can; they love other people; they're searching for themselves.  And all of that has brought my daughter to the conclusion that "having a baby is a fun thing, but you have to be able to take care of it."  Well said.

When my children were toddlers/ early preschoolers, they watched no more than thirty minutes a day of television, and they didn't really miss it.  But even then, I tried to give them the opportunity to choose between programs that would be entertaining or lead to interesting conversation.  Scooby Doo was a favorite and still is for millions of kids.  Why?  Because nobody can resist that cute, human sized dog!

If you have young kids or teach them, you will one day face conversations about the television.  It's important for adults to listen to the conversations, even if it's from Scooby Doo.  Television is an extra member in our families these days, and it's a savvy consumer who uses it as a teaching tool to help their children build good values in this world.

Often, parents fail to see the incredible usefulness of television.  Is there crap on TV?  Oh yeah!  But for every bit of crap television there's decent stuff too.  If you're willing to watch with your kid and talk with him or her about it, you'll get a bird's eye view into what and how your child thinks and reasons.  And that, in my opinion, is totally worth an hour of my time.