To Kegel, or not to Kegel?

I was totally going to start this post with some kind of reflection or explanation for my lack of blogging these past two months — something funny and clever about my failure to keep a non-resolution resolution just a few days after the new year.

YawnThen I was like, *yawn.* People reading this are mostly parents too, who know all about work and bills and kids and illnesses and clutter and injuries and errands and conferences and all the blahbidy blahs that come with life. I don’t have to write about that today.

Nope, today I’m going to blog about the one thing that concerns Moms everywhere — incontinence.

I mean, we’re still in the cough and cold season. Which makes for a lot of knee crossing.

I gave birth to four good-sized babies in five years. And, with all due respect to Dr. Kegel, that’s a whole lot of stretching out. Given that I’m not made of elastic, well, let’s just say it’s not all snapped back yet.

This is all on my mind today because, in the middle of de-cluttering my computer files, I came across this bit of writing from the end of January, when I was still in the throes of an awful, lingering, hacking-up-my-lungs cold:

Note to Dr. Kegel:

Your “exercises” are a BIG FREAKIN SCAM.

You go ahead and push out multiple kids from your girl parts and see how well those parts rebound even after YEARS of doing all those squeezes (and yes, I mean doing those exercises watermelonwith all the peace and serenity and focus and commitment of the good and powerful mom who did that birthing and the pushing with complete joy and purpose and without any medication at all, which is to say all the joyous and blessed pain that comes with squeezing a watermelon out of your vagina).

Dr. Kegel, after all that pushing and tearing and widening and re-sizing, YOU sneeze without crossing your legs and see what happens. YOU get bronchitis and then you’ll know what constant coughing and mucous-expelling and re-applying sanitary napkins have in common.

YOU get yourself a female pelvic floor, and then we’ll talk.

Love,

Mothers everywhere

So, what say you, ladies? To Kegel, or not to Kegel?

When life gets twisty…

I am almost failing my post-a-day goal! But today was a crazy one. It went something like this:

Child mentions physical concern.sick kid

Parent schedules doctor’s appointment for later in the day.

Doctor confirms concern, sends parent and child to hospital for further testing.

Parent and child go to hospital and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And get awaited-for test.

Results are positive, less extreme than feared. Medicine and follow-ups prescribed.

Parent and child return home after six hours at various medical facilities, for a quick dinner, hefty doses of intense medicine, and bed.

Waiting parent consumes wine and gives thanks for positive diagnosis, which didn’t included the very much feared surgery, or worse, the unspoken but consuming fear of a suspicion of malignancy.

Child is sleeping. Parents are fed and relaxing. Thanks are being raised for this moment, when all is well and the future is hopeful.

And an extra prayer is being sent that the doctors are right.

Sending.

Prayers.

Please, that they got it right this time.

Please.

The pressure of January 1st

I’m very glad January 1st is almost over. It’s a lot of pressure, this one little day out of so many, pressure to make resolutions and plan life changes and carpe diem and all that stuff.

Gah.

I don’t like to make resolutions any more. I used to — I’m a huge fan of lists, and crafting a Things To Do or Accomplish in the New Year List used to make me happy. But then I’d always get to December and realize that I hardly did any of the things on my list, and the failure make me depressed. I mean, what’s the point of making a list if you can’t check things off? So I stopped making the darned list.

Lately, what I do, ’round about this time of the year, is think about how I’m going to live better. Just little things. Remember that I don’t need to save all the vegetables for the kids — I need them too. Get some more fresh air. Stretch. Laugh. Possibly come up with a system of organization that once and for all relieves me of all the clutter.

My sister, who’s a health coach and possibly the biggest cheerleader anyone could ask for, recently wrote about New Year’s and talked about the idea of “do overs”:

I like to think of the new year as a do-over! Did something you tried not go so well?  What if you yelled “do over” like we did when we were kids and tried again?  What would your life be like if you gave yourself permission to let go of your disappointment and try again?  Why don’t you take this year to find out?

Isn’t that a great way to look at it?

This year I’d like a do-over. To try every day to just be a slightly better version of the last-year me.

I’m also going to challenge myself to blog more. My cousin did a great project last year — a picture that captured a moment of inspiration or beauty or challenge — and she posted one a day. I’d love to try that, but, frankly, I don’t go to that many places which would make for a boring 365 pictures. But could I do a blog post a day? Hmm….perhaps.

The other thing I’d like to accomplish is to finish my novel’s revisions and start submitting it — AND work on a new one.

That’s it. Humble goals. Live better. More vegetables. Fresh air. Stretch. Laugh. Write more. *

Happy New Year!

*Notice that none of this mentions my husband or children. That’s just because, really, a better me is good for them, too. It’s an all-around win!

A Stanley Cup for the Bruins — but we’re celebrating another victory.

Today, thousands of hockey fans are celebrating the victory of the Boston Bruins over the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup in nearly forty years. There will be parties and parades and champagne and beer and music and applause and speeches and smiles.  Today, Boston hockey fans celebrate a huge victory.

Here, in my world, we are also celebrating a victory.  We won’t have parades or beer or speeches, and while there is always music and a whole lot of smiling, we aren’t doing anythingspecial.  In fact, it might be that no one in my family but me is thinking about this milestone — surviving the first year of life with diabetes.

Last June, Mitzi was recovering from her week-long hospital stay,  and we were all adjusting to the news that our world had changed forever.

It’s funny.  It occurs to me that I haven’t really written anything about what it’s been like the past year.  I thought it, writing about our new normal, from time to time, but never did.  Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to be a writer who could only write about her child’s illness.  Perhaps it was because my child and her illness was pretty much all I thought about every day — whether in the front or back of my mind, it was always there.  And because of that, when I sat down at the computer, perhaps writing was my escape.

Perhaps I was just grieving.

All parents have hopes and expectations for their children — I don’t mean the dreams-of-Harvard-or-sports-star variety, necessarily.  We hope that they will be happy and healthy, and survive adolescence relatively unscathed, and become happy, healthy, honorable adults.  Stuff like that.  And when you are suddenly informed that your child has an illness or a disability, your world shifts.  Your future shifts.  And you must shift with it.  For parents — unlike kids, who adjust far more quickly — that means grieving and letting go of whatever expectations you had.

We make new ones, of course, and certainly a diagnosis of diabetes is not as severe or shocking as another diagnosis would have been.  But life has changed.  My child will face challenges every day that before simply did not exist.  And as the parent, I have to not only deal with the challenges with my child, I have to help her learn to deal with them on her own, too.

So, the first the shock, then the grief over the loss of a future you expected.  And all of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief likely follow:  the anger, denial, depression.  I think that this is where my mind has been, even though you wouldn’t have seen it, to look at me and talk with me and watch me do my motherly thing to keep my kid healthy and be an equally good mom to the other kids as well.

But, yes, I have been angry — at God, the universe, the injustice, no one in particular.  Angry because there’s actually no one to blame, and for crying out loud, if I could find someone to blame, I could find a solution (or at least something to punch).  Angry with that feeling of helplessness, my inability to change anything, which is just about the darkest pit a parent can visit.  Angry that I had to visit that dark pit of helplessness and still find a way to smile and love and be a good mom and wife.

Angry?  Yup.  Not always, but sure, sometimes it spurted out of me at odd moments, for no obvious reason.  Denial?  Well, it’s kind of hard to deny the obvious, especially when you have to constantly watch what your kid eats and give her a bunch of shots every day.  But maybe denial in the form of not really talking about much, and by not talking about it much, maybe denying that it was basically the focus of our family.

Depression?  Sure.  Living with the diagnosis is exhausting.  Thinking about it all the time is exhausting.  Riding the roller coaster of blood sugar levels — the way they change swiftly, unpredictably, shockingly — is exhausting.  Some days I was just.  So.  Tired.  Sleep was good.  Awake was bad.  Depression?  Yes, some.  Not every day, not all the time, but it was there.

And here we are today, a year later.  Acceptance?  I suppose.  I’m not angry any more — okay, I have my moments of frustration, particularly over the last month since Mitzi started her insulin pump, which was a new learning curve, almost like starting over.  But I’ve accepted life as it is.  I’m still exhausted.  I still get sad that Mitzi has to call me from school to see if she can have a cookie for a friend’s birthday, sad that the school nurse emails me throughout the day with blood sugar numbers, sad that the diabetes adds an annoying complication to my daughter’s childhood, just as she is starting to knock on the door of puberty (behind which is a whole host of new and foreign complications, also known as The Teen Years).

Sometimes I just wish that she could be like every other kid, footloose and fancy free.

And in a way, she is.  Over the past year, Mitzi has at times been annoyed, frustrated, angry, sad, and just moody about having diabetes — but mostly she is just the same smiling, ultra-creative, independent, first-born-bossy, mega-Harry Potter-fan self.  Having diabetes is just another part of her, like her freckles and big feet and great blue eyes.

She recently told me that it was hard for her to remember what it was like Before.

That’s really what matters, of course.  The time of Before has pretty much ceased to exist for Mitzi, who is young enough, resilient enough, to only know how to live in the Now.  Her aspirations and dreams remain what they are — there is nothing she cannot do! — and will continue to grow with her.  For her, there is no grief, only hope.  And that helps me leave the grief behind and find acceptance.

So today I celebrate this milestone, quietly, to myself, because it’s a good one.  We survived.  We got to the other side where our future is spread before us.

It’s not a bad view, at all.

You can have my cupcake when you pry it from my cold, dead hand….

Well, it’s about time we did something about the pervasive health hazard that has taken over our schools — the evil birthday cupcake.

This long-overdue action was taken locally by the wise leaders of schools in Mansfield, Mass., (here’s the Boston Globe story), saving hundreds of kids in that town from the ravages of butter, chocolate, and sugary frosting.

Thank God.

School officials cite the alarming rise in childhood obesity and a spike in food allergies as support for their decision.  And they’re not alone — many districts in Massachusetts and other states have started a serious crackdown on sweets.

Whew.  Now I won’t feel like such a dork when I hand my kids a slice of watermelon with a candle in it for their birthdays, as Janice King, president of our state’s School Nutrition Association, has suggested be a better option.

Except, I can’t, at least not for my oldest child.  She’s diabetic.  All those fruit sugar carbs are a big no-no for her.  Sorry, Janice.  How about a nice bowl of spinach? 

The funny thing is, the school cafeterias probably are a bigger contributor to the poor diet of our kids than the occasional birthday treat.  I know.  I get a monthly printout of each lunch — every component broken down to grams of protein, fat, carbs, calories, etc. — in case Mitzi wants to buy lunch one day.   Sure, there are choices that are better than others — an iceberg lettuce salad, for instance — but really.  Are your third graders choosing that over chicken nuggets?

I understand the issue of food allergies, sure.  It’s terrifying to know that there are foods out there that could make your kid sick — possibly kill her, if not handled immediately.  I get that.  Because diabetes is a little like that — without taking insulin, any carb, be it sugar or flour, fruit or cracker , can cause my kid harm.  It won’t kill her, you say?  Well, she spent three days in intensive care last year with blood sugar so high it almost killed her.  As a parent, it’s my job to make sure that she doesn’t eat what she’s not supposed to.  It’s my job to teach her the rules, enforcing them, working with other adults around her to ensure her health and safety.

But I have never, ever told another parent that HER kid couldn’t have a lollipop or candy cane just because it’s a danger to my kid.

Perhaps if I lived in Mansfield, parenting a kid with food concerns would be easier.

As for the other argument — the one about our kids being fatter than ever — maybe the school committee in towns like Mansfield should reinstate daily gym classes instead.  Calories in, calories out.  You eat, you move.  If you move less than you eat, you get fat.  When kids have virtually no time during the day to run around, they are likely to put on weight.  It’s that simple.  It’s not the birthday cupcake once a month that’s doing it, folks.

Oh, Jen, I hear you say, the kids have all that time after school to run around and get exercise.  Well, you might be right.  They might have that kind of time — if they don’t have to go to after school care because they have parents who work.  Or if they can find time after the hours of homework they get.  Or if they among the very few children who can play freely in their yards and neighborhoods, riding bikes and building forts and shooting hoops and skipping rope.

Aha!  How about, before singing Happy Birthday, we have the class do fifty pushups?

Every day well-meaning adults do what they can to protect kids from harm, real or perceived.  And we should — we’re the grownups, after all.  But we’re going about it the wrong way.  Simply eliminating access to something is not going to teach your child anything about making choices.   It’s a very big world out there, and unless you plan on accompanying your child for every second of it, she is surely going to face a conflict and have to make a choice on her own.   How will she know what to do, if she’s never done it before?

As for birthday cupcakes, well, I’ll keep baking them and serving them.  Some kids, like my own daughter, won’t be able to indulge.  But that doesn’t mean her brother or sisters can’t — or the other kids in the world.  For my daughter, I’ll make something else.

And don’t worry — at our family parties, I always offer fruit salad.  And I’ll make sure to run the kids ragged to make sure the cupcake won’t tip your bathroom scale.

As for the grownups and your celebratory indulgences?  I’m afraid you’re on your own for that one.  No one’s banning truffles and champagne.

At least, not yet.

Waiting for the rain

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging lately is I feel as though were I to say half of the things on my mind, you’d think I was nuts.

But here’s the truth:  some days I’m too much in my own head to write.  Some days, anxiety chokes me until I can’t breathe, until I want to throw up.  It makes my skin hot and crawly, and steals my voice.  On those days all I can do is power through, be the best parent I can under the circumstances, and hope to ride it out.

And yes, I take medication, but some days it’s not enough.

To stop the shakiness and nausea I clean.  I can’t sit still.  I wander from room to room, picking up toys and shoes and balls of lint, things that on normal days would be invisible to me.  I scrub the floorboards in the kitchen and scan the ceilings for cobwebs.  I let the kids watch too much TV and help themselves to snacks.

I first began to suffer this debilitating anxiety when I discovered the lump in my breast.  Getting a clean bill of health, getting a prescription, starting a new routine of exercise and yoga and meditation all helped.  But as life went on, those things went by the wayside.   Slowly, old habits and fears crept back in — I started smoking again.  I worried that a chest pain was a heart attack, a hemorrhoid was cancer.  Since Mitzi’s diagnosis I’ve been too focused on what to do for her to think about how I felt about it all.

So here I am today.  Hands shaking, heart thumping.  Phantom worries swirl around me and I have to remind myself to breathe.  The only thing that keeps me from crawling into a dark closet is my children.  For them, I’ll stand up and breathe and help them make play dough and splash them in pool and do the best I can, all the while hoping that tomorrow will bring rain, and peace.

The New Normal in A Mom’s World

Things have been crazy around here the past couple of  months.  The whirlwind of the end of school.  Personal stuff  I didn’t feel like talking about.   Then A Mom’s World turned upside down.

See, the thing about being a Mom to four kids is your attitude shifts a little with every new child.  You get a bit casual, laid back.  If I freaked out over every sniffle, sneeze, fever or fall, I’d be in a padded room right now.  Someone around here is always getting a cold or strep throat or a cough or a stomach bug.  Ellie falls down 93 times a day — and has the scrapes to prove it.  Everyone whines and complains and takes drama to levels Arthur Miller would envy.  I’ve grown to be somewhat easygoing these past eight years.  Wait, watch, see.  Treat, comfort, move on.

So when Mitzi complained about a tummy ache, I let her stay home from school.  By the afternoon she perked up.  Two days later, the same thing.  A week later, when she was tired and short of appetite, I didn’t think much of it.  The end of the school year blues.  Ellie had strep throat the week before — maybe Mitzi had picked it up.  Nothing to worry about.  Wait, watch, comfort, move on.

The day IT happened, Mitzi, normally a very early riser, slept till 9 a.m.  Then she dozed on the couch for a few hours.  Again, she perked up for a trip to the grocery store and our final Girl Scout meeting/party, even swimming a bit.  But by the end of the meeting she was exhausted.  At home she returned to the couch.  Ray took the other kids to Ellie’s tee ball game.  Mitzi and I watched Iron Chef America.   Then, the vomiting.  Clean up, bath, bed.  By then I was a little more concerned, but assumed she’d gotten a stomach bug, maybe.

In the hours after midnight, she went downhill fast.  She drank cup after cup of water, used the bathroom repeatedly.  Time went on and she got very weak.  Her skin seemed to stretch around her bones, as if she’d somehow lost 10 pounds (that she didn’t need to lose).  Then her speech began to slur.  Had she swallowed some pills?  Gotten a concussion?  Had a stroke? 

Dawn neared.  Should we take her to the emergency room and sit in the waiting area for a couple of hours?  Or stay here until we could call the doctor?  We opted for the latter.   Ray brought her to the first appointment of the morning in the doctor’s satellite office, 30 minutes away.  Meanwhile, I put Cooper on the school bus, and let the little girls watch TV.  I sat at my desk, stared at the computer, waiting for the phone to ring.  Meanwhile, the doctor took one look at Mitzi — by now unable to walk on her own or say anything coherent — tested her blood glucose (over 600), then called an ambulance to take her to the local hospital.  She was far too sick to make it to a Boston hospital.

Medicine was given in an effort to lower her blood sugar — which, it turned out, actually caused swelling in her brain.  But eventually she was stable enough to be transferred to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where she was admitted to the ICU.  It wasn’t until the next day that I learned just how scarily sick she was.

An aside here — Ray was with Mitzi the whole time.  We have one car, and he’d taken it.  In what just might be the single most beyond-the-call-of-duty acts I’ve ever seen, two angelic nurses from the pediatrician’s office drove the car to me.  They gave me information, comfort, counsel while standing on my front porch.   They are amazing people.

Of course, the story ends a happy one.  Mitzi stabilized overnight, and by morning was speaking in full sentences.  She bemoaned missing Field Day for the second year in a row (last year she came home early with strep throat).  She complained about the gazillion IVs and other gadgets hooked up to her body, and watched Harry Potter and The Spiderwick Chronicles on my cousin’s iPad.

The diagnosis of juvenile diabetes was a shock to us, with no family history or clue that it was brewing, but far less devastating than the news other families at Children’s Hospital received during the week we were there.  It could have been much, much worse.

Ray and I have quickly become adept at managing her condition.  Mitzi, in her usual first-born manner, is already the Boss, counting carbs and planning meals and testing her glucose levels throughout the day.  And true to form, she’s stubborn and demanding and tantrum-throwing when I put my foot down about having ice cream for her morning snack (“But Mom it’s got protein and fat and carbs!”  “But you can’t eat ice cream all the time.”  “You are the meanest Mom ever!”)

So things are back to normal.  Well, the new normal.

I have a great deal to say about the new normal — how it’s changed us all, how it continues to change us, how we are redefining the world around us daily.  How amazing Ray was and continues to be.  The forty-seven ways my family stepped up and helped us through the crisis.  The support of our friends and neighbors in our wonderful town.

And I’ll have a lot to say about me, the mom.   I have all the regrets and self-blame that parents experience when things like this happen.  How I should have seen the signs that are so clear when I look back on them.  How I should have taken her to the doctor far earlier rather than being so casual about the symptoms.  How I want to keep all of my children locked in a room now, to keep them safe and protected — but how I know I can’t.  How painful it is now to watch and wait and hope for the best, when before it was so easy.

Because even when you’re prepared, the worst can happen.  And sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop it.

And that is what I need to accept.  Right now, though, it’s a hard lesson that I’m not willing to learn.