We Know The Things

peas

I have never identified so closely with something written by another mother as I identify with a Mother’s Day essay written last year by Ellen Seidman of LoveThatMax.com.

Entitled, “I am the person who notices we are running out of toilet paper, and I rock: A Mother’s Day tribute to moms everywhere,” this essay includes Seidman’s lists of all the practical, life-improving practical things she notices in her own home. Among things like snack food and glitter and glass-cleaner are also the things like “shoes that fit” and recent family photos and storage for the growing collection of tiny toys from birthday party giveaways. Ellen, like most mothers, also notices uncharged electronics and plugs them in, and she realizes the vegetables in the fridge need to be used before they spoil, and she remembers to procure a gift for the next graduation party her family will attend.

In short, Ellen is a parent.

For most but not all of my female friends with children, Ellen represents in her blog post the inner workings of their minds at all times. Without question, many dads I know have a similar inner monologue, and Ellen notes in her blog that her husband has his own list going. In my house, actually, my husband notices the dwindling toilet paper supply long before I do, but I’m more likely to notice the absence of roasted seaweed, clementines, and red delicious apples before he does. Still, I definitely hold more of the practical, hands-on requirements of child-rearing in my head than he does.

In response, my husband has done a remarkable job thinking ten years ahead of me. When our daughters were born, he set up college savings accounts. He remembers to fund them, too. He handles detailed paperwork like school and religious school registration, health care savings accounts, vehicle research for our current one-car-every-decade-and-a-half car purchasing plan, mortgages, and managing things like making sure the roof isn’t falling in and, if it is, selecting a good roofing company with a good reputation.

And I buy the frozen peas.

Because of this division of labor, when I am forced to consider anything further than a few months away (“does she need new sandals for this summer?”), I find myself out of shape and ill-equipped for the task. I have a talent for dealing with this very moment, and that talent has been honed more than I’d care to have honed it in operating rooms and hospital bedsides over the last dozen years. I know how to throw resources into this very moment far better than how to plan for a moment in the distance. However, as health care plans for this country show a clear path toward ruin for my children, I was forced to get out of this moment and think about what might come next. Continue Reading…

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Spring Breaks: 2011-2017

It is April 7, 2011, and my family is giddy.

Sitting around the sticky table of a local frozen custard shop are my daughters and husband, each of them with a mountain of gooey dessert: piles of custard under clouds of whipped cream and rivers of fudge. My younger daughter, aged 5, is grinning ear-to-ear. I’m snapping pictures like the mother of a baby trying solid food for the first time. At one point, I step outside to breathe the fresh air of a world restored.

For the ten months prior to today, my little girl has been on a path to discovery, she and her team of doctors searching for the food protein that’s causing the strange patches of white blood cells in her esophagus, the patches that were keeping her from swallowing well. For ten months, she’s been avoiding a list of common allergens — dairy, soy, egg, nuts, and wheat — and undergoing tests to see if the culprit could be found. Earlier today, we got the news that only one food was left to be added, since all the others had seemed to cause her no ill. Adding that last food — dairy — means that she can eat out at any restaurant she liked. It means that, for the first time in ten months, we can travel without worrying about her food.

We leave the frozen custard shop and embark immediately on a road trip. We feed her everything she’s been missing: restaurant pancakes with butter and syrup, cheese popcorn, candy bars, pizza, string cheese and yogurt. For the first time in nearly a year, I don’t carry a big insulated bag full of food for her. We rejoice, but under the rejoicing is the knowledge that this is just another food trial. It’s both a first meal and a last — this is the last food trial, and everyone expects it to be a failure.

Spring break, 2011: last meal. Continue Reading…

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Widening the Lens

widening-the-lens

Many years ago, before I had children, I joined the staff of a large nonprofit organization as what I thought would be a relatively insignificant cog in a mighty machine. Instead, I was surprised when my new boss put me in charge of a committee to plan a big redesign of the organization’s enormous web site. I’d never sat on a committee or even attended a committee meeting before, but my boss said it wasn’t hard. I trusted her.

What followed were were months of meetings and planning sessions. We interviewed vendors, discussed budgets, and were deliberate in our choices. We began the nearly inconceivable task of moving tens of thousands of pages of content from one system into another, page by page, which took hundreds and hundreds of hours. For the unappreciated staff members who were responsible for their departments’ pages, I threw “parties” in our training room and fed them cookies while answering their technical questions. During that time, I went home each night to my first baby, who was born in the early stages of the project’s conception and who turned one just before the new site launched.

The launch was an unmitigated disaster.

The staff was thrilled to have it complete, but we had missed a major consideration. Though we had been thorough amongst ourselves, the organization for which we dozens of staff members worked was a professional association. Our members used this web site for their work — for reference, for activism and advocacy, and for their own teaching tools. They were our most important stakeholders — and we hadn’t asked them a thing about the site before it launched, a fact which they — appropriately — did not take well. After an onslaught of angry emails, the director of the organization flew several board members and a dozen other influential general members to our office on a Saturday. I kissed my baby girl and my husband goodbye and went into the office.

I was 28 years old. I had never met a member of this organization before. I had never been to a board meeting. Continue Reading…

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Across the Border

fromthebackI’ve been thinking about resolution and falling action, lately.

In any compelling story, there is a natural building of intensity that leads, as we all know, to a climax. A couple searches for each other, meets, falls in love, and commits or separates, and they’re left different, marked by their experiences. Or: a world is beset by confrontation and battle, factions emerge, one side is victorious or decimated, and a new world is born. Or: a child is born to a yearning mother, grows sick, struggles, stumbles, regains her footing, and is cured, revealing mother and child older, changed, and almost unrecognizable.

That’s the resolution. What happens next? What is in the falling action of my story, the third story, the one with a once-sick now-well daughter, and a once-frightened now-what mother?

My daughter is eleven now, almost three years past her final surgery, two-and-a-half years past the time she first began eating well, two years past her dismissal from all her specialists, two years past the first major gains in height and weight she’d had since her babyhood. I haven’t had reason — real reason, justifiable reason — to worry about her health in the last two school years.

It has been, in many ways, like becoming a mother all over again. Continue Reading…

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The Hands and Feet of Napping

meshugalunchWhen my daughters were little — five and two, perhaps — and past the age of napping, I sometimes found myself desperate for any way at all that I could get even a little bit of mid-day sleep. I cleared the lunch plates of their detritus of blueberries, macaroni, and blobs of yogurt, feeling the lethargy settle on me and press my eyelids down even as I heard the first gleefully-shouted requests to go to the park. No way, I thought. No park. I can’t even imagine it. The coats alone…no.

In this, I’m sure I was no different than millions of other at-home moms who begin their day at 5am and race through it until they collapse, bleary-eyed, into their beds at night. These other mothers almost certainly have their own strategies for recharging mid-day; I have friends who used anything from “quiet time in your room” to a walk toward the nearest coffeeshop. I tried some of these things but nothing really worked. If I insisted they stay in their rooms, the constant squealing, questions about “how much longer?” and requests for snacks kept my frustration at a low boil — not very restorative. If we went to the park or out in search of an afternoon treat, I was worn down further by the process of getting everyone ready and out the door and of keeping my squirmy running toddler out of the street.

In the end, on those days when I simply could not roll out another pancake of Play-Doh or braid another head of doll hair or read Eloise Takes a Bawth one more time, I weighed my exhaustion and ill temper against the potential damage of the television and, against all advice by the American Academy of Pediatrics, we — gasp! — watched a movie. Continue Reading…

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