Tag Archives: parenting anxiety

Eclipse Tips for Parents of Small Children

20 Aug

If you have older children, this solar eclipse happening in the US is an astounding, wondrous, learning experience. (Right?) If you have small children, though, it’s really just cause for alarm and anxiety. Will I be that parent that watches their kids go blind?

How many minutes will my two year old calculate and obey before he tears away from me and stares directly at the sun, ruining his vision forever? Will my over-anxious five year old ever look upward again, after I warn her that it’s dangerous during a solar eclipse, or will she stare only at people’s shoes for the next fifteen years? What will they tell their future therapists about this moment? How long will it take before someone calls Child Protective Services about one of these serious situations?

Who asked for this eclipse mania, anyway? Isn’t there a better way to deal with the situation, as the parent of small children? How can you trust those solar glasses, when so many have been recalled? How could one relax when one wrong glance in the eclipse can have lifelong detriment?!

So I came up with some ideas, in case you find yourself in a similar predicament, being less than thrilled about the legal implications of your children blinding themselves and doubtful about the educational risk-benefits analysis for small children.

Best Practice #1: Pretend like it’s not happening.

Eclipse? What eclipse? What’s an eclipse? That’s when you fart really loud at a party, right? Poopies? Hahaha! It’s not something to talk about at the table, thank you.

Best Practice #2: Use technology to your advantage.

I took the kids to an informative feature at a planetarium, where they showed us what the eclipse will look like in different moments in different places. I thought this was something to prepare them for the real thing, but as it turns out my older kid was so impressed, she thought she had already seen the whole shebang. “It was yesterday,” she told her Papi. Mission accomplished. My kids have already seen eclipse history in action.

Best Practice #3: Use their lack of long-term memory to your advantage.

Really, the two year old WILL NOT remember this no matter what you do or don’t do. The five year old will remember whatever stories you start telling her now about it. Make it good. Go ahead and tell her it all started when the Earth had the hiccups. (What? Are your small children not utterly obsessed with all bodily noises and functions?)

Best Practice #4: When in doubt, show them the video.

I don’t know about your kids, but my kids are always begging for more screen time, and I usually deny them. All I have to say during the eclipse is, “Let’s watch the video instead!” and they’re sure to be fighting over the best seat to watch it from. I don’t know if I should feel proud or ashamed that my kids would probably be more excited to watch a video of something than to see it in real life. Not letting them turn into TV vegetables backfires too, y’all! Careful what you wish for! There’s no winning in parenting! Oh, wait, except, letting them watch videos so you can act like a grown-up sometimes is winning enough.

So if you didn’t make the fancy cereal boxes or do whatever else folks told you that you had to do to be a good parent for this epic event, rest assured, you are not alone!

Stay safe, do what you need to do, and don’t let the rebellious two year old go blind!

The only reason we have this amazing tool is because a grandparent made it. Thank goodness for our whole village raising my kids. But I still don’t trust the two year old.



Hop On the Cyclone of Compassion

2 May

A friend and I were talking about our small kids this week when she brought up her concerns about the teen years ahead. There’s a lot to worry about there, especially if my kids turn into rebel teens like I was. (I know, you’re shocked, right?) A couple years ago I would’ve jumped right on that gravy train of anxiety, realizing that, geez, I hadn’t worried about any of that stuff yet, and how am I going to make sure that my kid doesn’t hook up with online predators or use heroin or forget the condoms or become obsessed with crappy pop music a la Justin Beiber! AAHHHH!

Luckily for me, as I told my friend, I’m much too worried these days about whether or not I’ll find time to hang my clean clothes on the clothesline before they mold to worry about the distant future. And okay, I might just be dealing with my anxiety a little better these days. Or I could say that being a parent has obligated me to drop my control-freakness down about 27 notches. After all, starting in pregnancy, these little monsters start teaching you that YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THEM. Nananana-boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo.

So you better work on getting some control over your reactions, because that’s all you’ve got. You can hope all you want that they don’t get hurt or killed, but the only thing you get to control is resisting your own urge to hurt and kill them when they are driving you insane. Okay, you can take measures to protect them, yes, sure, please do. But you don’t have control. It’s not enough. Even the most sheltered, protected kids can die, or become junkies, or major in philosophy in college. You just can’t make them the way you want them to be.

You can read 80 thousand books on baby sleep issues and still not be able to make your kid sleep where and when you want them to. You can try to ban them from playing dress up, like one father did to his 3 year son when I worked at a daycare for one nightmare month, but you can’t take that desire out of them if that’s what they want. You can teach them to fight peer pressure, but nothing guarantees that they’ll be able to invoke that in the mere moment when someone they think is really cool offers them a beer. Even if they can fight peer pressure, what happens when they just want to do something you don’t approve of? Even babies, even toddlers who are dying to please you because you are still like god to them- they’re not ours. They’re not something we can control, they’re not even someone whose death we can always prevent. They’re their own little being with their own fate, which we have the privilege to help watch and nurture and cultivate, but the way they grow is all theirs. It’s not mine, anyway.

I’m learning this slowly but surely, and I hope that when my kids are teens, I’ll try to keep it in mind. Yes, I’ll do everything I can to help them lay strong roots, and be my own tree for them to lean into. But when bad things happen (and they will), when they make bad decisions (and they will), when they get hurt (physically and emotionally, I’m sure), I’ll be there. And that’s all I can do.

Once I finished laughing at myself for overcoming anxiety thanks to exhaustion, this conversation got me to thinking about what IS really important to me. What do I really, really hope for my children? Knowing I don’t get to control anything for real, but knowing that we all model the best we can and cross our fingers from there, what do I dream for my kiddos? If I could wish just one thing for them, how do I hope they turn out?

Hands down, if I could pick something to gift them, it would be compassion. More than anything, I want my kids to be people that care about other people. Starting now, and including caring about everyone. I want my children to be the kind of people who don’t feel ashamed that the news is making them cry. Who wipe their tears and brush off their knees, getting up to ask how we’re going to fix this. To be people who say, “Of course your pain affects me,” to people across an ocean and those in their neighborhood, to people who look like them and people who don’t, to anyone who is hurting. I dream that my children will be people who ask, “What can I do to help?”

I hope my kids are the kid who invites the smelly, still-nose-picking-in-the-third-grade kid to their lunch table, even if they kinda don’t want to, because they know they’ll feel too sad to watch him eat by himself, and they know it’s the right thing to do. I hope my kiids keep asking, like my 3 year old already does, why don’t some people have houses? And why can’t they just come sleep at our house? I hope they turn into big people who maintain their capacity to imagine what someone else is feeling, and to question everything. I hope that they decide every day that even if they can’t solve world hunger or turn the tide on climate change or prevent domestic violence or keep racist, murdering cops out of the system or a million other things that they wish they could fix, they can still aim to be part of the solution, to not do more damage if they can help it, to be nice to everyone along the way.

I want them to be compassionate with themselves. To forgive themselves when they realize they’ve made a mistake, to try to make amends. To take care of themselves, so that they can better take care of others. To know that they’re good enough just the way they are, and still try to be better every day.

Of course there’s loads to worry about when they hit the teen years. When I think about my teen years, I am overwhelmed and a little embarrassed, remembering my raging hormones and sexual urgency, the intensity of my romantic concerns, the way that just a person’s name could make me break out sweating in anticipation. I sigh, remembering the goth phase, the punk phase, and the 18 different colors that I dyed my hair (plus that time I shaved it). I fondly still dance to the CD from my favorite punk/ska band, but shake my head at myself thinking about the senseless risk of all the times I got rides home from strangers after a show. I smoked cigarettes outside of school, I drank alcohol with friends in public restrooms, I tried several different drugs. I adopted any traveler kid passing through my city, and when I turned 18 I took off to hitchhike around Europe. It was quite a tumultuous adolescence (sorry, parents), but aren’t they all, really, to some extent or another?

When I write down all that, it sounds rather frightening. But even while I was busy getting into all this trouble, I was also doing cool stuff. I was learning to be a good friend, trying to talk friends out of suicide and drunk driving, holding friends’ hands after sexual assault. I hung out a lot with a group of activist kids, who were writing and publishing their own zine and taking action in the world. We’d do stuff like protest a Klu Klux Klan rally, go to the mall and put informational leaflets in the clothes that were made in sweatshops, march in the gay pride parade, no matter what our sexual identity. I became a peer educator at Planned Parenthood. I attended and then became a youth counselor at an alternative diversity camp for teens. I left high school at 15 to reeducate myself. I published my own zine. I wasn’t always nice to everyone, but when I wasn’t, it was due to my wild hormones and trying to defeat my self-loathing, and not because someone was different from me.

I think the coolest part about me is my constantly cultivated sense of compassion, my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes more often than not, even when it’s really, really painful. What I most love about myself, then and now still, is my ever burning desire for everyone to have justice, for everyone to have their human rights respected. I’m no Mother Teresa, I’m not Mr. Rogers, either. I’m not as amazing as this beautiful writer and activist, or even as wise and caring as my Nonna. But I am always nurturing my ability to give people, including myself, the benefit of the doubt, and to dish out the respect and care that I want for myself and my children.

I want this so desperately for my children, this cultivating compassion, because it’s such a win-win situation. If the world were full of compassionate people, there would still be hurt and suffering, but not on the scale that it is now, and not in the same systemically unjust ways that it is today. And the more I can practice compassion, the better I feel everyday. It’s often something really small, that seems inconsequential. Like the way that I see my nursing students slack and fall behind and have too many absences in my class. Instead of thinking, “Those lazy nursing students! They’re the only group that gives me such a hard time!” I decide to think, “Those poor nursing students. They must have it so much harder than the kids in the other majors. When they do show up to my class, half the time they’re sleep-deprived, or they’re starving because they don’t get a breakfast break until later in the day.” And it makes me feel better. It makes me get along with them better, because I have an open, caring attitude instead of being pissed off at them for missing my class too much. More of them make an effort to have a decent attitude in my class, even when they’re exhausted.

Compassion, caring, respect, all of these things are cycles just like the negative cycles we talk about- the cycle of violence, of abuse. Compassion can be its own powerful cyclone if we can get ourselves into the path of the storm.

So boy do I ever want that for my kids. But since we don’t get to choose how our kids will turn out, mine will probably rebel against me and turn into excessively materialistic, sedative-abusing, constantly-complaining mall rats or something. Of course, our town would have to build a mall first, so at least there’s that on my side. Meanwhile, I’ll stay in my busyness-induced state of zen, and worry about the teen years when they get here.

Just Keep Breathing

25 Jan

The year that I was pregnant with Lucia- my first pregnancy- two children I knew died in completely separate incidents. First, a friend and coworker’s only child, a ten year old girl who was charismatic, smart and super caring, died in a car accident. Then my best friend’s second child, a beautiful baby boy, died of SIDS. They were different kinds of deaths, but what they had in common most in my mind was the suddenness, and the total injustice. Their parents in both cases were doing everything right. Ruby, the little girl, was wearing her seatbelt, in a car with both her parents, in the back seat. Neither her father’s caution in driving nor her seatbelt saved her. Likewise, Charlie’s parents could practically be poster children for doing all the things we know reduce the risk of SIDS- putting your baby to sleep on their back and all those other tips that I don’t even remember, but that they always did. And it didn’t matter. He still died, suddenly and unexplainably. Unfairly.

I got pregnant for the second time over the summer, and a month or two later another baby I knew died. (Is me being pregnant causing children’s deaths? Jeez, there’s some negative thinking….) It was the son of a really nice lady who, with her three sons, was renting a room from my mother-in-law. The lady had become a good friend of Paulina’s, often sharing meals and conversation as well as space. We had gone to visit and gotten to know her and her kids as well, including Chuy, her adorable, totally easy-going baby. He was sick part of the time we were visiting, with some kind of cold-like illness. Then he was sick off and on for a while. His mother took him to various doctors, and they gave him various medicines, and he seemed to get better, and then suddenly he was really, super sick and in the hospital. And they couldn’t help him by then.

Part of me can’t help but wonder if his death could have been prevented with better medical care. Certainly, Chuy’s mother did everything she could and used every resource and suggestion she had available. I absolutely don’t think it was her fault in any way, shape, or form, and I hope she doesn’t think that either, even in her darkest moments. Babies die in the U.S., too, despite some of the best medical advances out there. But how can you not question yourself, question all the events and circumstances, dwell on the what ifs and whys and why nots when life takes away someone you love that much, someone who’s not “supposed to” die until after you? How can I not imagine myself in Chuy’s mom’s place, with the same lack of options that I feel confident about when it comes to my child’s (and soon to be my children’s) health? Even while I do not believe it was her fault, I wonder if me finding more and possibly better options here could potentially prevent my child’s death in the future. 

Mostly, though, through all of these deaths, I cried and mourned for the child and their parents, and I stubbornly refused to consciously think about the implications and possibilities for loss in my life. “It’s not gonna happen to you,” my best friend tried to reassure me, even in the midst of all her grief and sorrow. But I think you can only fool yourself into believing that if you think that you are somehow fundamentally different from the person experiencing loss, or if you find a way to blame them and can therefore convince yourself that it can’t happen to you because you won’t do x, y, or z. But of course I knew that it wasn’t their fault, and that I was no different, and that it could happen to me. It can. SIDS or a car wreck or cancer or a million billion other things. So I promised myself, I decided resolutely, in the aftermath of those two great losses during my first pregnancy, while inhaling and exhaling grief for what seemed like weeks on end, that I wouldn’t- couldn’t- let fear run my life. That instead I had to try to just be grateful for my child’s existence the days that she exists in my life.

So Lucia’s entire first year of life, no matter how exhausted and sleep-deprived-delusion and burnt out I felt, I thanked the universe profusely every time she woke up, even as I gritted my teeth and wondered how much sleep deprivation might kill me. She is no longer at risk for SIDS, but it doesn’t mean a kajillion other things can’t happen to her. I think that I am prepared, I think that I can deal with (some) bad things that might happen to her, but thinking about her dying from one of them, thinking of her not existing in my life, is so tremendously painful that occasionally I start to panic.

My angst and anxiety mostly only flare up when she’s having a health problem that’s not a normal cold, which thankfully is not very often. When it does happen, though, I get alternately angry and scared. I get angry imagining that if I lived in Louisville still, I would have the answers. I already had our perfect pediatrician there. When I needed a gynecologist, I told my friends what kinds of attitude/practice I was looking for, and they recommended me someone fabulous. My life was full of information and options to make informed choices about the health of myself and my child (and to recommend about the health of my partner). Here it’s just not.

I feel like I’m not being a good enough mother, because after a year in Puerto we still don’t have a doctor here that we can trust, that we have any confidence in. Lots of people, ourselves included, for convenience and price, go to the “pharmacy doctor”- a doctor who works in a pharmacy and sees patients on an acute basis. But pharmacy doctors have prescribed me an antibiotic that is dangerous during pregnancy even though I told them that I’m pregnant. They’ve given Lucia medicine that I’ve read isn’t used anymore for that kind of infection. For these and other reasons, I don’t think they’re a good option. But I don’t know what the good option is.

Many of our friends with kids go to the public health clinic, either because they’re happy enough with it or because they don’t have any other options economically. I was not happy enough with it, but neither were we impressed the one time we shelled out half a day’s pay for a pediatrician. Charging a lot doesn’t always mean they have qualities that you’re looking for. I also haven’t even bothered to sign her up on my insurance, because it’s a toss-up on them being more or less useless than most of these pharmacy doctors.

Thus, I feel like all health problems are on our shoulders, as parents practically acting as her doctor. I feel this immense stress that we have to figure it all out and advocate and push and prod for what we hope is the right kind of treatment. It’s a lot of pressure, to say the least. Not knowing where to go for health problems makes me feel ignorant and helpless and full of indecision. I am terrified that I’m going to make the wrong (uninformed) decision and it could be life or death.

I don’t think I realized just how badly I was handling the situation, emotionally, until the other night when I put myself into a panic imagining that Lucia was having an allergic reaction to a medicine we were giving her for a urinary tract infection. Her breathing seemed too labored, and I just felt like something else was wrong. She was getting worse instead of better, despite a couple doses of antibiotic she’d already taken. Her fever wasn’t going away even with fever reducer and cool compresses, and I just had a feeling that she needed a better doctor than the stupid pharmacy doctor we’d taken her to. Although she was sleeping, I wanted to take her to this expensive private 24 hour clinic right then and there. Conan wanted to wait until morning. I insisted. Well, to put it outright, I said, “I’m taking her whether you want to or not because if anything happens to her I’m going to kill myself.”

Whoa. Where did that come from? I had most definitely not been sitting around contemplating suicide because of her health problems, but I sounded eerily decided and sure of myself when I said it. Perhaps I was just trying to shock Conan into action? (I’m gonna go with that explanation, thanks.) I even kind of freaked myself out at that point, but I was too focused on getting her to what I hoped would be a better doctor to worry about it.

The doctor there certainly seemed more competent. She prescribed her a different antibiotic. We talked about allergic reactions (Lucia was not having one). I calmed down. Lucia’s fever went down a little more in the night air on the way there (she still had one, though). We couldn’t actually acquire the antibiotic until the next day, though, so yes, it probably really could have waited till morning (although points for my team, we probably waited less time at the clinic because it was late at night, and the price was the same). Days later, lab results showed that her infection was indeed resistant to the antibiotic that the pharmacy doctor had prescribed her, so I was right that it wasn’t helping.

By far the best things, for me, that came out of our nighttime trip to the doctor / my little panic attack were 1) knowing there is someplace decent to take her for emergencies, 2) calming myself down enough to get through the night, and 3) convincing myself to keep trying other doctors and pediatricians. I decided that even if we spend a whole month’s salary trying out doctors, I have to find a doctor that I feel is knowledgable and a good fit for my child. Even if we have to go to other towns to find it. I can’t take the pressure I’m putting on myself for her health. I can read lots of books and internet articles, I can take care of my kid in general and be a great advocate, but I’m not and I can’t be her doctor. If we have to go into debt to have a good doctor for her, it’ll still be worth it, better than late night panic attacks and suicide threats.*   

Meanwhile, I’m trying to wrap my heart around this lack of control, still. Intellectually I know that my kid can have the perfect doctor, that I can “do everything right” and there’s still zero guarantee of her safety. Intellectually, I know that bad things happen to “good” and “bad” people alike, and that life isn’t some cheesy movie where things turn out fairly.

I know all this, but internalizing it emotionally, especially in the context of your child, is a horse of a different color. I mean, starting in pregnancy there’s such a fine, weird line of being totally responsible for them and yet still not being in control of what happens to them. Like you can wash their hands after they use the restroom and before they eat, and breastfeed, and give them only healthy food (for a while, anyway), but it doesn’t mean they won’t get sick. When you’re pregnant you can give up coffee and medium-rare steak and follow all the other rules, but it doesn’t guarantee you won’t have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. And then there are all the women who don’t follow the rules, to whatever extent (like my mom who smoked cigarettes throughout her pregnancy- gasp!), and who still have perfectly healthy babies. So what’s the point? Why even bother to act like it matters what we do, if it doesn’t give us the desired outcome?

Intellectually, I know that it’s a good idea to do the best you can because at least you’re more likely to keep your kids safe and healthy. But where do you draw the line? Up to what point can we pat ourselves on the back for having healthy kids and/or blame ourselves when our kids are not healthy, or when something bad happens to them? I mean, who are we kidding? I don’t even have all that much control over my own life and what happens to me, so how could I possibly really control what happens to my kid?

I don’t have the answers. I doubt you have answers, either, dear reader, parent extraordinaire though you may be. I don’t think there are real, solid answers. So before this new baby arrives and I stay up half the night watching him or her breathe, I’m trying to re-learn how to breathe myself. I’m trying to get more comfortable acknowledging my life in this gray, indefinite, uncertain universe. I’m not trying to prepare myself for the worst. I don’t think “the worst” will ever be anything but unbelievably, excruciatingly painful, and I don’t think having imagined it or practicing for it would make it any easier. I suspect it just makes us have more fear.

Instead I want to embrace my joy. I want to be able to nod at my fear, and let it go. Inhale it, and exhale it back out. I want to appreciate this great privilege (and great trial!) that is being a parent. I want to be able to emotionally internalize this knowledge that I don’t “deserve” this- be it a positive this or a negative this- any more or less than anyone else, that I can’t control what happens in life, period. Of course I want to strive to do my best, to be my best, as a person, as a parent, just because I want to. But I want to live knowing that I get to mess up and not be perfect and not do everything perfectly, and that it doesn’t make me more or less responsible for what happens. And when in doubt, I’ll try to keep breathing. Inhaling and exhaling, hopefully more joy and pleasure than guilt and fear. Breathing. And hope that my kids will, too. 

*I’m pleased to report that we’ve since been to a pediatrician that we all feel good about- even Lucia felt comfortable in the doctor’s office for the first time ever! The doctor charges quite a bit more than these cheap (and crappy) pharmacy doctors, but she’s trilingual, and experienced, and nice, and totally, totally worth it for our piece of mind. Thank you, universe!