N was a late talker, but he is making up for lost time these days with his constant chatter. It’s great having a child who can communicate with you and I’m enjoying hearing what he has to say. While he’s moved beyond calling his truck “gar gar” to “trash truck,” some of his pronunciation continues to need refining. I recently taught him the word “Eskimo,” which he adorably says as “a-KIZ-mo.” I have no doubt that in time he will improve his articulation and in the meantime I am enjoying that there are some words that he makes cuter.
His dad and I understand most of what he says, although he occasionally throws in a word or two that are a mystery. One of those words in particular creates quite a lot of laughter in our house. Randomly, he will look us in the eye and say, “I want a ___” and use a word that sounds like “RAW-ber-tee.” I’ve tried to think of words that he could possibly be saying (robbery, liberty, red birdy, raw berry) but he denies all of them. So I started repeating the word back to him, just as it sounded to me, and this delights him. He roars with laughter at my pronunciation of this nonsensical word. Giddy, we say it back-and-forth to each other again and again. However, I’m beginning to think there is a joke here that’s on me. So feel free to help me out and add your thoughts about what a “RAW-ber-tee” is…
Recently my best friend and I were able to get out of work for one afternoon to catch up on a sunny park bench. It was such a rare treat for two working moms to have weekday time together and without toddlers running in opposite directions. We were able to have adult conversation, finish sentences without interruption, and actually sit still for an hour soaking in the warm Spring day. Amazing.
While we shared stories about our work, we watched women leisurely strut past in yoga pants, sipping Starbucks, and pushing their Bugaboo strollers. Finally, I turned to her and said, “The life of these moms is so foreign to me.” Having time to stroll around the park with friends is a novelty and not a routine. If I had my son with me in the park, I would be covered in mud and disheveled. “I think those are nannies,” my friend suggested, offering me some hope. We then played a game of Nanny versus Mom for each designer-clad, perfectly coiffed, caretaker. We assumed that only a nanny, who was able to go home, get a full night of sleep, and shower and dress in the morning without children, could manage these pulled-together looks. In contrast, our mornings entail juggling our own hygiene with preparing our children for school and managing to get both of our breakfasts and lunches together before rushing out the door. Ponytails aren’t perfect. Lunches aren’t gourmet. Starbucks is a necessity to combat the sleep deprivation. I began to envy the nannies.
As we watched the weekday park crowd like spectators at the zoo, we confessed some of our struggles as working mothers. One in particular is defending our decision to work to others. I shared a recent encounter I had at the playground with a homeschooling mom, who expressed her concern for my unborn child related to my short maternity leave. For some reason, it seems socially acceptable for strangers to criticize working moms for the time they spend away from their children. I’ll be the first to say that the U.S. needs to have longer, paid maternity (and paternity) leaves. However, when the parent eventually returns to work, he/she should not be judged for doing so. The other thing that this playground mom assumed was that I needed to return to work for some external factors, like money, rather than the actual reasons, like loving my career and taking pride in my work. She focused on what possible damage would be done to my infant from my absence, rather than the benefits of having a happy, satisfied mom who teaches her children about following their dreams. I hoped that our conversation would show her that my love for my children and my career were not in competition, but rather enhanced each other. This was one point that I did not have to explain to my friend in her professional clothes on the sunny park bench as we swapped recent iPhone photos of our children before running off to meet them.
There are many things I tell my son not to do that he does anyway, like licking this telephone pole. Some of these instances result in tantrums and those occur multiple times a day and typically in public. I’ve written before about how Whole Foods sabotaged my attempts to ignore a tantrum in the check-out line and there have been many times I’ve sabotaged myself out of embarrassment and a desire to move on with our day. There have been other times though that I’ve been more successful. I continue to be surprised by how many strangers will comment on how I should handle these situations.
A recent example arose while we were sitting at a sidewalk café with friends. Watching a city bus go by, N said, “I drive.” I obviously explained to him that he can’t drive the SEPTA bus and this restriction set off a screaming fit, during which he attempt to run into the street. After I stopped him from charging into oncoming traffic, he threw himself down on the sidewalk and thrashed around at my feet. The waitress came upon us and instructed me that I should just “walk away” and nodded at me with an “I know what I’m talking about” authority. “I’m trying to keep him from running into the street,” I defended myself, confused about why I had to do so.
Another example comes from a street fair. N had been spoiled with a banana and Nutella empanada dinner and a Rita’s Ice dessert, making us feel like cool parents but also setting ourselves up for the inevitable sugar rush and crash. After accepting a few spoonfuls of the Rita’s Ice from me, he then demanded that he hold the spoon himself. Offering him this autonomy, he proceeded to spill ice all over his dad and when I took the spoon back so that we could clean up, he ran off screaming. Dodging oncoming pedestrians, he flung himself to the sidewalk about ten feet from us. A couple passing by looked at him with an expression of horror and then said, “Who does he belong to? Where are his parents?” Others glared in my direction as well. “He’s mine. He’s fine.” I said, taking a few reluctant steps closer to make sure that no one trampled him. I wanted to let him recover from this fit on his own though and realize that not holding the spoon was not a catastrophe. I continued to get stares until he stopped crying and we removed him from the sidewalk. Peace was then restored to the passerby’s evening.
It seems that whether I gave in to the tantrum and picked him up or left him to cry it out, I couldn’t win with strangers on the street. I don’t know if these people have raised ten children of their own or work as child therapists or just think they know what’s best after watching Supernanny on TV, but I wish they would leave the tantrum management up to me. As a pediatrician, I know the textbook response for how to handle these and I’ve tried that. As a mother, I know that there are also practical and circumstantial reasons to deviate from the gold standard, and I’ve done that too. I may be doing this all wrong, but if you see me on the street with a screaming toddler, please do not tell me your opinion on the situation unless you are Dr. Harvey Karp or Jo Frost, and even then I can’t promise I will listen. Sometimes a mom just has to do what she feels is best and like most moms, I’m giving it my best shot.
[first outing to the park, April 2011]
I have been watching my baby turn into a little boy over the past few months. It is amazing to watch him mature and I can’t help but wonder what he will be like as a big brother. In (hopefully) five months, we will all find out. As my belly has been growing, I’ve been trying to introduce the idea of a new baby to my baby. Typically he laughs at me and then pokes me in the belly button, obviously missing my message. Treating me like the Pillsbury-Dough-Mom is not the response I was hoping for as I share the news of our growing family.
Then, as we were playing around one day and I asked for a hug, he said, “I hug the baby.” He leaned over and pressed his cheeks against my naked belly and I became teary at the sweetness of this simple gesture.
As an older sibling and first-born, I know his relationship with his younger sibling will likely have its highs and lows and I am trying to prepare myself to parent through those situations with skill. This will be an entirely new parenting game. We are preparing to have to divide and conquer. We will have to attempt to be fair. In exchange, I hope that they play well together and take care of each other, throughout their lives.
This new addition will be hardest on N, who for the first 30 months of his life has been the center of the universe and has quite enjoyed it. Beyond hugging my belly though, he has made me hopeful in his interactions with toy dolls, babies, and younger children at school, in which he is gentle, compassionate, and loving. These are exactly the characteristics I would want in any big brother and what make N a great one already.
I do very little (read none) of the cooking in our house, but I do all of the baking and most of the baked goods consumption. A self-identified cupcake fanatic, it doesn’t surprise me that my son is equally enamored. Therefore, when I suggested one day that we bake cupcakes together and he jumped up and down, I thought I had a great mommy-son activity planned. As it turns out, toddlers don’t actually enjoy waiting the 19-23 minute baking time and instead have a tantrum lasting just as long about why cupcakes aren’t being eaten already.
After this cupcake fail, I put off hopes of us baking together. Then, after a particularly long hiatus from grocery shopping leaving few breakfast foods in the house, I decided to bake blueberry muffins this week. N was driving his toy garbage truck around the kitchen when he took an interest in what I was doing. “I pour,” he said. So I decided to try again, pulled up a chair, and let him help me with the batter. I was pleasantly surprised that this time we were able to see this project through putting the muffins in the oven and he played patiently while they baked. I now have a new sous chef!
I wasn’t able to take any photos of the process, as I was too busy guarding the eggs and holding him on the chair, but the after photos were a lot of fun and the muffins were yummy!
I woke up the other day excited about the view from my window in our new house. A simple view of a tree, neighboring rooftops, and blue sky may not seem exciting to you, but after many years of city apartments with buildings a mere 30 feet away, this open view was invigorating. I feel more connected to the world around me in our new home and I know that my son is feeling the same way.
Part of our bedtime ritual involves hoisting him up onto his windowsill so he can say “night, night buildings.” We say goodnight to many things, but it always starts with the buildings, which are the skyscrapers that make up the Philadelphia skyline. Whenever we are traveling around the city and catch a glimpse of the skyline, N shouts “buildings!” He has started to think that these are his buildings, since he can see them from his window. His view is perfect for a growing imagination because in addition to buildings, we see trees, airplanes, and cars and discuss history, travel, nature, and weather. This view allows us to dream.
The skyline makes an appearance in one of his favorite counting board books as well, 1-2-3 Philadelphia. I found the book in his crib this morning and couldn’t help but think about how some day my little man will go out and explore the world on his own, but that his view of the world is already opening up.
* This post is dedicated to some of my favorite cities: Philadelphia, New York, and in particular today, Boston.
Easter was a casualty of my parent’s divorce. As is usual procedure, the holidays were divided up and my dad got Thanksgiving, my mom got Christmas, and Easter was up for grabs. After we outgrew the Easter bunny and egg hunts, the appeal of Easter dwindled anyway, but the holiday always reminded me of being lost between two families. Without strong Easter holiday traditions, it leaves me open to recreating new ones as I raise my own family. The holiday may be about reflection, but I was ready to reclaim it and look forward, not back.
The pressure of creating and maintaining a new tradition is heavy though. There were lots of ideas on local message boards and emails from other city parents. I read about where to find the best egg hunt or the fuzziest Easter bunny. I contemplated what would be in the perfect Easter basket. I bought the materials to dye eggs and feared the damage it would cause my kitchen. I thought about whether or not we would dress-up and go to church or have a casual brunch at home. I waited in line at the bakery for the yummy Easter cookies with the rest of the city.
In the end though, N wasn’t too interested in Easter yet either. He tried to eat the hard-boiled egg with the shell on, wouldn’t eat the brunch, and we missed the egg hunt. So we stuck with our most recent tradition of spending the afternoon with family and left the commercial aspects of Easter for another year. We did, however, use some of the Easter materials to do some art projects together and made a sign for our window and a card for Grandma. I think our new Easter tradition of homemade fun and family is off to a good start. I know that N will help add to this each year with his own preferences and as he grows, so will our new family traditions. I look forward to our next Easter together already.
N’s had a healing scar on his forehead for a number of months now, so in a recent effort to try to finally get this thing to heal I’ve started bandaging it each night to keep his little fingers away. We have a very predictable bedtime routine, which now includes a trip to the hall closet to get a Band-Aid and then sitting still so mommy can apply it. After it’s in place I say, “perfect,” which now N has become accustomed to saying for me. You may think I’m talking about his appearance with this scar covered, or my placement of the Band-Aid, or his cooperation with the process, however, I’m usually just thinking about him. Now I know no one is perfect, but I’m his mom and I’m allowed to say that he is.
From birth, N was destined to be judged critically by his pediatrician mommy. When you monitor children’s development daily, your own child is bound to get the same level of scrutiny. Being born prematurely, I was even keener on watching his developmental progress. At around five months of age, he started Early Intervention. We were lucky enough to have wonderful therapists who spent each week helping us become better parents to N. Some weeks I thought we weren’t making any progress at all and became more and more resigned to the possibility that he wouldn’t catch-up from his delays. Other weeks I was certain he was a genius. Every week though I thought he was perfect.
When taking care of premature patients, I always tell the parents that we expect them to catch-up both in growth and development by 2-years-old. This piece of guidance has never been more salient than as my son’s second birthday approached. I started to believe it when his teachers first pointed out to me that he had a growth spurt and was one of the tallest in his class. Then, his Early Intervention therapists started talking about discharging him from their services. He was caught up.
This weekend we celebrated my baby’s second birthday. He’s no longer receiving any special therapy, he’s no longer plotted on a premature growth curve, and he’s no longer corrected for his gestational age. It feels good that his prematurity is now a part of his history and not his future. I have never been prouder. I have never met anyone more perfect.
Whenever I make a parenting blunder, two of my colleagues try to make me feel better by sharing tales of their parenting mishaps. They said they had an ironic Mom of the Year competition and welcomed me into this club. Previously, I didn’t feel like I truly earned this title because my missteps seemed small, but that changed recently when we found ourselves headed to the hospital and it was my fault.
We were rushing out the door to school/work and I accidentally slammed N’s fingers in the car door. With my mommy hat on, I swept him up and showered him with kisses, hugs, and apologies. With my doctor hat on, I assessed the damage and decided that he needed an x-ray. As we drove to the hospital, he put his ice pack on his fingers and repeated “my boo-boo,” making my heart break even more. Yes, mommy gave you a boo-boo. Mom of the Year, I thought.
Luckily, nothing was broken and we left the hospital with 2 stickers and a smiling toddler. I, however, had fractured my mommy confidence. It helped that when I arrived at work, there were plenty of other mommies who shared similar stories and reassured me that even good moms make mistakes. When I picked up N at the end of the day, he seemed completely recovered and I breathed a sigh of relief. He stroked my hair and said, “my mommy,” and I knew that whether Mom of the Year or not, I was N’s mom and he loved imperfect me.
During a routine 4-month-old well child exam, I placed the baby on his stomach and he quickly rolled himself to his back. “Oh, I didn’t know he could do that,” his mom said with embarrassment. Moments earlier I had asked about his developmental milestones and she had denied that he could roll over. “The nanny mentioned that he could roll, but I didn’t believe her because I hadn’t seen it myself,” she admitted, realizing how silly it sounded out loud. She continued to explain: “By the time I get home from work, there aren’t many waking hours to spend with him, so sometimes I feel out of touch.” This last comment hit close to home. When I went back to work, my husband was home with my son and for months whenever we went to the pediatrician, I had him give the history about what our son ate, how much he slept, and what skills he had mastered. My time with him usually entailed breastfeeding and sleeping. Those first few months of infancy felt like bonding time was rare and I was simply a milk station, while my husband got to experience it all.
Now that my son is older and awake more when I get home from work, we have more time to play, however it is still only about two hours a day during the week. This is nothing in comparison to the amount of time he spends with his teachers—approximately thirty-two hours a week. There are many words, skills, and songs that surprise me coming from N and I know he must have learned them at school. While I do wish we had more time together, I am grateful that he has such great teachers from whom to learn.
I recently ran into one of my great teachers. I first met Ms. S in middle school, when like most thirteen-year-old girls I was dealing with a lot of emotions. She taught me things about myself that my parents probably never could have simply because they were my parents and I was a teenager. While many of my classmates likely remember her only as our English teacher, she helped shape the person I am today. It is remarkable that you never know what impact a particular person will have on your life. When I saw her after all these years I was so overcome with emotions that I was crying and thanked her for teaching me to be…. I couldn’t think of the word and she finished my sentence with “…an empowered woman.” It takes one to know one, I thought.
So as I saw this mom with the rolling 4-month-old son, I gave her a sympathetic nod. Her son may not always be under her nose and she may not always know all of his accomplishments the moment that they happen. He will grow and thrive without her. This hurts our mommy core. Her son is learning and developing in the care of his nanny, the first of many teachers in his life. She is helping him grow into the boy he will become. These teachers do not replace, but rather supplement, the things your parents teach you and provide a valuable, new perspective. My reunion with Ms. S reminded me that a great teacher can make a substantial impact and can continue to inspire you decades after you leave the classroom.
**Details about this patient and family have been changed in order to protect their identity.