All the Things I Thought I Knew

There used to be constants. There were touchstones in my life. There were things I knew. There used to be things I knew. Some were concrete and some have always been more ephemeral. I thought I knew how to make dinner. I don't anymore. I thought I knew what it meant to be a good parent. I now, don't even have any clue how I would begin to make that judgment about myself, much less about anyone else. I thought everyone should sleep in their own bed. I don't anymore (think that, or, quite frankly, do it). I thought my kids would be the lucky ones. That is the lie we tell ourselves so that we, the parents, can go on living. My kids will be fine. They won't get hurt. They won't get sick.

Momma, you a pirate and I a shoulder bird.

Momma, you a pirate and I a shoulder bird.

Until, they do. 

Tonight, almost four months post dx, we had our first major "dinner is yucky and I can't eat it or I might die" moment. I'm honestly surprised it took this long. Pre-T1D, I would have taken a deep breath and launched into, "I'm sorry you are disappointed with your choices for dinner tonight, but if you are hungry I would suggest that you take some bites and see if there is anything on the plate that you might want to eat. I will not force you to eat anything, but there will be no other food available until breakfast tomorrow." This was a thing I thought I knew. She could eat the dinner that was served, or she could go to bed a little hungry.

But tonight, my brain was racing and my heart was pounding. I knew her finger prick reading was in the low range and the continuous glucose monitor (more on that later) was trending down, and she had already had several lows today. You see, P is honeymooning. That is the term that the endocrinologists use to describe what happens to the newly-diagnosed when their pancreases, or more specifically, their few remaining islet cells kick back on for a bit, once the synthetic insulin is introduced and the stress on the system decreases. It doesn't mean that she is going to get better. It just means that we have to stay really flexible with our treatment protocol, because we never know when or why tiny P's tiny pancreas is going to try to "help" and kick out a bunch of extra insulin and possibly send her plummeting to seizure/commaville. Long story, short: she needed to eat something, preferably a slow carb, preferably soon. I thought about yogurt, an easy sell. I thought about peanut butter, a sure favorite. I considered the juice boxes tucked away in the wine cabinet. (Yes, we have a cabinet FULL of wine. Don't judge.) 

And then, I took a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry you are disappointed with your choices for dinner tonight, but if you are hungry I would suggest that you take some bites and see if there is anything on the plate that you might want to eat. I will not force you to eat anything, but there will be no other food available until breakfast tomorrow."  I did this while doing another finger prick to confirm her sugars were not dangerously low and while putting a half ounce of peanuts on her plate, but I said it. I like to think that I said it calmly and with the strength and surety that P needed to understand that this was a limit, that she was safe because mom and dad had it under control.

She wailed and sobbed and I held her and repeated, "I hear that you are not happy with what we made for dinner tonight. We can try again tomorrow, but tonight, this is dinner and if you are hungry, I suggest you try some bites," all while anxiously checking her number on the CGM. It felt important, this pre-T1D parenting approach, in a post T1D world. I was running contingencies in head the entire time and was just about to call it quits and settle on a yogurt after bedtime stories, hoping it would be a long enough window that she didn't associate it with dinner, when she said, "Maybe avocado isn't yucky anymore."

I let her sit on my lap, while I fed her dinner, something I would never have done before, and she ate. She ate the whole plate, while we laughed and chatted. 130 even, cruising into bedtime (This is real good, kind of like our blood-sugar-night-time sweet spot). So, maybe I still know some things, and maybe, some of the things I'm learning are even more important. 

Discomfortable

O: Mom, I'm discomfortable. I'm too too hot. 

K: Take off your jacket.

O: But then I'll be cold like a popsicle.

When it comes to ambient temperature, O has about a three degree window of comfort. She is hungry constantly, except when she's not, and then she will pick delicately at whatever is placed in front of her. She is often hungry for only one particular food group, usually carbohydrates, namely bread. 

O: But Mommy, I'm not apple hungry. I'm bread hungry.

K: Aren't we all, kiddo. Aren't we all?

Hard work and a sandy tushy are rarely comfortable, but so worth it. 

Hard work and a sandy tushy are rarely comfortable, but so worth it. 

I feel responsible to provide for my children's basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, and so on. I even feel responsible to provide them with an engaging and enriching life: swim lessons, education, vacations, trips to museums. As O gets older and more self-sufficient, however, I feel less and less responsible for her overall comfort. Even as I'm typing this I realize how harsh that might sound. I really don't care much about her comfort. 

I want her to have agency and understand consequences. I want her to make the choice to not carry her jacket and then deal with the natural consequence that extends from that choice.  

But even beyond that, I don't want her to always be comfortable. Most of the big, wonderful things in life are uncomfortable at some point. Learning something new, putting yourself out there for a new relationship, getting your PhD, mastering a skill, swimming in the big pool, these things are not comfortable. They require someone with the resilience to move through discomfort, to see the big picture, to chase the dream.

Unfortunately, what that looks like right now is my dragging a hungry, inappropriately dressed preschooler through the world, while she wails that her bag is too heavy and her shoes hurt her feet, while I stride forward, deaf to her cries and blind to the judgmental stares from anyone in earshot. Mostly. 

Mother of the year.

Two Loners and a Social Butterfly

O: But mama, I miss my friends.  How am I supposed to feel happy without people that are not you and dad?

Jim and I are loners.  We really enjoy solitude. We are often overwhelmed by large groups. We are happiest at home.  We will make plans, with people we genuinely like, then have to give each other pep talks in order to get out the door. One of the reasons I knew that he and I would be good partners, was that we figured out, very early on, how to be alone, together.  

May she always know that love can be this beautiful.

May she always know that love can be this beautiful.

Somehow, in spite of her parents, O is a social animal. She loves being around people. She thrives at school and in large groups.  She can talk to and befriend anyone.  I think she takes after my dad.  After a few days at home without outside contact, she is climbing the walls, craving that interaction and stimulation from her peers. Honestly, I am in awe of her at times, her energy for people, her empathy, and her complete willingness to see everyone as a potential friend.

My best guess is that in the neighborhoods of yesteryear, or maybe even still, on the streets of small towns, this kind of thing works itself out.  The introverted parents attend the requisite number of community functions and then retreat to their shag-carpeted dens to read science fiction, while their extroverted off-spring wander from house to house in a neighborhood of best friends, a full-social calendar achieved with very little effort.  Los Angeles, however, is the land of the playdate, a culture where having parents with some mild social anxiety can seriously conflict with the filling of a tiny person's dance card.  

O has forced me outside of my comfort zone more times than I can count, and in trying to act in her best interest and respond to her needs, I have found myself, inadvertently acting in my own best interest. Because I recognize in her a need for community, I found one for myself as well. That community of friends, of other parents, of other children, has become invaluable to me, and my sanity. It is yet another reminder that these tiny humans we are living with come with their own wants, needs, and passions that we might not be able to fully grasp or comprehend. Yet, if we can step back and try to learn about them, we might learn something about ourselves as well.

That is what joy looks like, in case you were wondering

That is what joy looks like, in case you were wondering

A special thank you to all of those families who have endured my awkward behavior at playdates over the past three years, and I owe a debt of love and gratitude to O for helping me find my community that I didn't even know I needed.  

 

 

Pebbles and Boulders

O: (sobbing) But mama, I need. I need. I need.

K: What do you need, my love?

O: I don't know.

The indignities of childhood are innumerable: scraped knees, hurt feelings, bullies, bragging, tattletales, and countless disappointments.  When your kids are little it is so tempting to swoop in, to cuddle, to soothe, to pacify, to clear every single pebble or boulder that they come across. They are ours for such a short time, why wouldn't we want to smooth their path while we still can?  

It is so tempting to be mommy-fix-it.  Taking away their hurt and being the hero can feel irresistible, but that is not about them. It is about me.  When I solve a problem or sweep away a stone, that is my victory, not theirs.  It shows them how much they need me, instead of how capable they are.  It robs them of an opportunity to learn a new skill, to think about a problem in a new way, or to discover something inherently powerful in themselves.  

I try to be mindful of what and when I fix.  Sometimes, it's ok to stumble on a pebble.  Sometimes, a boulder is there for a reason. It isn't always pretty. There is usually screaming and sometimes tears, real ones, wet and fat, running in rivers down their sweet, round faces. The worst is when there is no good solution, only that they have to learn to sit with their sadness.  That is when it is the hardest not to swoop in and fix. That's when I cry with them. 

As satisfying as it is to move the boulder for them, I try to imagine the pride and joy on their faces when they discover their own way around that boulder, or often, in O's case, straight through it.  I get the sense that P will be the type to burrow under her boulders, or vault over them, finding solutions none of us could have ever even envisioned.   

There is immediate relief in clearing that path, but there is true bliss in watching them move mountains.  It takes patience and self-restraint, but what part of parenting doesn't?  

Fierce

O:  I am going to scrub and scrub my skin until it is so beautiful, like a princess.

K: Why?

O: Because princesses have beautiful skin, because they are not real, not like the dinosaurs, who are real and have scaly skin with feathers and bumps. 

I am not raising princesses.  I am not raising tom boys. I am not raising girls.  I am raising two people, who happen to be female.  

Don't call them bossy. They are assertive and have excellent leadership qualities.  Don't call them dramatic. They have big feelings and are learning how to express them.  Don't help them on the playground or in the store.  What may look like laziness on my part is a studied choice. I am hanging back, purposely, working very hard to show them how to help themselves.

Don't make assumptions about who they will play with, how they will play, or what they will play with.  They don't. They just play.  Don't compliment them on their pretty dresses or tell them that they are cute.  Trust me, they hear that often enough.  

Ask them what their favorite books are, or how flowers grow, or to tell you a story.  Ask them what they are thinking about. They will tell you, or rather, O will tell you on P's behalf.  

I am raising two people, who happen to be female.  They are fierce.  They will have to be.  

Saying Yes: Another Sunday Guest Blog

O:  Daddy, will you dance in the rain with me?

J:  Yes.

I was already a half-hour late for work when O posed this question to me one morning.  Without hesitation, I said, "yes."

We danced and laughed together in the gentle rain for a few minutes, and then I left for work.  I didn't care that I was late anymore.  I didn't care that traffic was a little bit heavier now.  I didn't care that my dress shoes were a little (or maybe a lot) wet.

I had danced with my daughter in the rain.

Growth Spurt

O: It is time to go to sleep, P, so you can grow big and strong like sissy. 

O went to bed and woke up an inch taller.  Her shoes don't fit anymore and her pants are too short.  She can't even shimmy into her most recent bathing suit.  She leaned out and shot up, her sweet round face morphing over night into the face of a girl instead of my baby.  

She was walking away from me, and I saw in her gait, her length, her shape, the adult O, striding into the rest of her life, with my hair,  her father's calves, and a confidence entirely her own.  

When Jim sends me pictures of P via text, I first think that it must be O, with pudgy knees and fluffy hair, until I enlarge the thumbnail and find, my newborn there, looking all too much like a toddler.  I swear, she was just born a minute ago. Or was it a year? Or was it nearly two?  

Stop it.  Both of you.  I need a chance to catch my breath, to catch up.  I feel like I'm missing all of it. Just stop it.  Okay?

The Gap

O: Mommy, what did you do before I got here?

There is this gap between the type of parent you imagine you will be and the type of parent you are. The hypothetical conversations about attachment parenting, discipline, rules, and diapers that take place between partners or friends are the breeding ground for those definitive statements about things we'll never do. They start from a seed of judgement but grow from our own self-doubt and fear.  

I try to look back on pre-O Kate's ideas about parenthood fondly and gently.  I admire her enthusiasm and regret only her absolutism.  I try to remember her when I'm talking to people who don't have children yet.  I try to stifle my laughter, my eye roll, or my snide remarks, when they share with me the things they think they'll never do.

I forgive her for her naïveté.  She couldn't know. She couldn't know how terrible and wonderful it would be all at once.  She couldn't know how much she would be willing to give up for sixty-seconds of uninterrupted silence.  She couldn't know how the long stretches of complete boredom and drudgery would be punctuated by moments of sheer, blinding, white-hot bliss.  She couldn't know how badly she would need community, how isolating and lonely being a parent can be.  She just couldn't.  

The type of parent that I am today is kinder, more loving, and more flexible than pre-O Kate could ever imagine.  She dances in the rain, does cartwheels, and goes to bed without finishing the dishes. She has learned that there is joy in the smallest things.  She eats ice cream right out of the container and has french fry parties.  She makes mistakes, big, terrible, unfixable mistakes, that she forgives herself for and learns from, or at least tries to.  I could have never even conceptualized the parent that I am, because the parent that I am has been shaped and molded by who my children are becoming.  I owe them a debt of gratitude for that. 

Five Things I Swore I'd Never Do

O: It's ok mom, I'll just watch another DVDV. 

Before I had kids, I swore I would never

1. give them food I haven't paid for yet in the grocery store.

I will buy your silence with string cheese, even before I buy your string cheese.

I came here to kick butt and eat string cheese and we are all out of string cheese

I came here to kick butt and eat string cheese and we are all out of string cheese

2. ever use a disposable diaper.

We were so close, but I can not tell a lie.  When it is after midnight and I discover we are all out of clean cloth diapers, I'm super happy about that secret stash of disposable diapers, left over from our Grand Canyon trip, I have hidden in the trunk of the car.  

they just take so long to dry

they just take so long to dry

3. let them have screen time on road trips.

Kids need to be bored, I said. It's when they stretch their brains and use their imagination, I said. Evidently, I said a lot of silly things.

4. utter the phrase, "Because I said so."

To be fair, I did say so, and sometimes, shouldn't that be enough?

5. start a blog, but especially, a mommy blog.

Oops.

 

Wanted: Infinitely Patient, Brillant Scientist

O: Why does our skin move? Why don't our bellies have any bones? What's the ooey stuff between my hair and my head? Why is a dragon not a dinosaur? Why am I not a dragon? Why does bread get hard when you leave it out? Why? Mom? Moooom? Mom?

O: I got a smart thinkin' brain.

O: I got a smart thinkin' brain.

Wanted: an infinitely patient, brilliant scientist, preferably with a weird sense of humor and a background in earth science, biology, paleontology, evolution, and mythology.  Needs to love children and answering questions.  

Why am I worried that this is some kind of upside-down flag, anarchy symbol that means Jim and I should be very afraid?

Why am I worried that this is some kind of upside-down flag, anarchy symbol that means Jim and I should be very afraid?

I'm no dummy. I love science. I studied botany and physics in college (and political science, and linguistics, and psychology, but that is a conversation for another day). 

I'm doing my best.  Drawing on everything that I can remember,  I am trying to take each query honestly and answer it genuinely.

K: Our skin moves, because we move and it needs to be flexible so that it will move with us. There are no bones in our bellies because that soft tissue is where a lot of our organs are and they expand depending on what they are doing and bones would get in the way of their function. I have no idea what the ooey stuff between your hair and your head is, but we are definitely washing your hair tonight. A dragon is not a dinosaur because dragons are mythical beasts and dinosaurs are archeological fact that we can observe in the fossil record. You are not a dragon because you were born of human parents, and for that I apologize, because it is almost entirely my fault. Bread gets hard when you leave it out because the moisture in the bread evaporates into the atmosphere and it becomes, what we call, stale.  

Oh, no.  Next, P is going to start asking me questions about trees.  

Oh, no.  Next, P is going to start asking me questions about trees.  

But, apparently, it is not enough.  So if you know anyone who meets the above description and works cheap, please, send them my way.  

O: Why does the sky turn orangy pinky when the sun sets?  K: Because, well, light refracts at different angles and then, well. Why don't you ask Daddy?

O: Why does the sky turn orangy pinky when the sun sets?

K: Because, well, light refracts at different angles and then, well. Why don't you ask Daddy?

I would also settle for a very talented creative writing major, who could tell her beautiful, artistic and complex lies, but watch out, the kid knows when you're reaching.  She's got a smart thinkin' brain.