Monday, December 28, 2015

My parenting rules

These little guys turned 3 today!
Birthdays, at least the early ones, are more of a celebration for the parents rather than a celebration for the children. Today, my kids turned 3. We've been to their peers' birthday parties and have been talking up their "Happy Birthday" for weeks. But, today I reflect upon the way the "twin tornadoes" have impacted my life. They turned me into a mother, but also a "mother of multiples," which I suspect is slightly different than parenting singleton children (that's what us mothers of multiples call offspring not born in sets). So, without further ado, here are a few lessons I've learned. 

Children (and everything else that really matters) are washable. Yep, truth. From newborn excrement and spit-up to 2-year-olds who draw all over themselves and sometimes the walls and stick stickers to my floors, it all can be washed. If it can't be washed, say that onsie has had it (throw it out!) or a magic eraser doesn't do the trick on wall art (hasn't happened to me yet), it didn't really matter in the first place. I didn't buy my babies $40 outfits because they'd likely sh!t all over it, and I don't buy my 3-year-olds $40 outfits because they really enjoy avocado (it stains!), play doh, and markers. 

Children are expressive individuals who operate on their own timeline from the day they are born (or sooner!). This is a lesson I attribute to having given birth to two babies at once. I see the insecurities of parents of singletons as they wonder if their child is "on schedule" for milestones such as rolling over, talking, walking, etc. My two never seemed to do the same thing at the same time (except poop). Rather than fret over why one of my boys walked at 11 months and the other one not until closer to 14 months, I just accepted their status as individuals. Not to say I don't experience insecurities about my children's development, because of course I do, but there is a wide range of normal.

Your children will embarrass you, but everyone else's children embarrass their parents, too. (Or they're lying or delusional.) I'm a fairly confident individual, if I do say so myself (or I'm just oblivious), but my kids do cause embarrassment occasionally, and by occasionally, I mean nearly every time we're not at home. They run (because toddlers don't walk), they throw balls inside (because what the hell else are you supposed to do with balls?), they throw tantrums (because they're expressive individuals, see above). I can handle the above embarrassment with a certain amount of grace, sometimes, but the worst is when your child is an asshole to another child (who isn't related to you). Thankfully, since my two came as a pair, they have been used to competition and most often respond to other children with either kindness or indifference, but, sometimes they are a-holes. It happens. We intervene as necessary, but we can't always prevent them from being a-holes. 

"Just wait" should be a phrase banished from discussions about children. My husband is super guilty of this one. I catch him telling his friends newly granted parent-status "just waits" all of the time. If what you are about to say to a fellow parent starts with "just wait," you're probably going to describe a negative aspect of having children. I'm amused by the "Just wait until your kid eats blueberries for the first time" (because it's super gross), but if you say something like "Just wait, your sleepy newborn will soon keep you up all night!" - just shut up. Don't say it. There are a bunch of "just wait" moments in parenting, but focus on the wonderful, especially to those new to the job. I am happy to have this life experience, even if it involves sleepless nights and other unsavory things.  

Strive not to make other people feel bad about their children or themselves. If I had made this a numbered list in order of importance, this rule would sit closer to the top. Before I had kids, I recall a colleague saying that becoming a parent really changed her as a teacher. Not how she interacted with children, but how she interacted with parents. I really, really understand what she meant now, three years into the gig. As an educator, I never, ever want to make parents feel bad about their child. For one, their child is their entire world. They know their child's weaknesses and really want what is best for their child. My own kids are in daycare, and I can honestly say no one there has made me feel bad about them. I know they're in the right place. I really only have experience as a parent up until the age of three, but I can honestly say I deliberately try to lift others up rather than make them feel bad. If you are reading this and I have ever made you feel bad about yourself or your child, I am sorry. I didn't mean to. 

Strive to make your child not feel bad about him or herself. As parents, we all lose our "game face" at times. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed and yell even though I know better. At my school, when the adults lose their "game face," we say that we "leak." So, yep, I leak. But, I really don't want to make my children (or anyone else's children) feel bad about themselves. You won't catch me referring to my child as a "bad boy." I cringe if I hear that kind of language. You might catch me saying "good boy," but know that was a slip of tongue rather than a deliberate choice of words. Am I saying I don't correct behaviors or offer praise? Of course not. Feedback should be immediate and specific, in my professional opinion, "professional" referring to my teacher self rather than my parental self. So instead of saying, "You hit your brother! Bad boy!" say, "We do not hit. That is not nice." I am not saying I've got this parenting thing all figured out, I'm just saying I don't believe in labeling children. Label behaviors. 

So, Happy, Happy Birthday to the guys who took everything I thought I knew and up-ended it. It's been a real trip.
The newly 3-year-olds this morning. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Anniversaries/Life goes on

Not surprisingly, I remember exactly what I was doing a year ago today. Sure, it's the eve of Christmas Eve, and it was only a year ago, but next year I will likely remember this December 23rd as a semi-ordinary Wednesday. 

One year ago today I was in diagnosis limbo, which felt like diagnosis hell, really, if I'm allowed to be dramatically figurative. My husband and I attended our first-ever "baby gender reveal party," unless you call our twins' first detailed ultrasound a "gender reveal party." I cried on the way there. I cried on the way home. I did not allow myself to cry at the party, I put on a happy face and did my best to avoid thinking about my pancreas. No one else knew I was having a hard time, and I was determined to keep it that way. I drank a glass of wine, I ate some pizza. I witnessed the true joy of expectant parents finding out the gender of their baby. I was so, so happy for them. This event was a memorable lesson in "life goes on." This is corny, but every joy I have had the fortune to witness since my tumor has been especially joyful. I don't mean necessarily in a "I'm so glad I'm here to experience this" kind of way, but in a "life is truly incredible" kind of way. 

One year ago was not my first memorable December 23rd, however. Four years prior (five years ago today), I spent part of the day in the emergency room (as a patient), as doctors tried to decide if I was carrying a viable pregnancy or if I was miscarrying. I would have to return on December 25th for blood work that would confirm a miscarriage. I had to make a couple of interesting phone calls that evening, since we hadn't told anyone I was pregnant but that my miscarriage might interrupt holiday plans thus people (parents) must be informed. So I had to announce my likely failed pregnancy on Christmas Eve eve. No fun. I will say that telephoning my father to tell him about my pancreatic tumor was much, much worse, though, but it wasn't on a December 23rd. As mentioned in a previous post, I'm going through a bunch of weird anniversaries this month, some good, some really, really, bad, but all memorable. 

So, if this blog post were a record, "Life Goes On" would be the B-side. I'm not trying to compare myself to The Beatles, by the way, but it's a catchy, meaningful title of a decent song. I suppose I could also steal It's a Wonderful Life as an analogy for this next bit. After my surgery I was hospitalized for 14 days and recovering at home for months. I got a view of my life I suspect most people don't experience at the age of 33. I was most certainly alive, but I got to see what life was like without my active participation. You know what? Life carried on. My husband, family, friends, and daycare providers took over. I remember trying to explain this to my BFF, who summarized this revelation that life goes on as "a really depressing episode of Dr. Who." Yep, it's depressing to think about, but also reassuring. Obviously, I was the most worried about my 2-year-old twins through this whole ordeal. But I learned that they'd be okay. They'd know me, too, through the people who knew me. I'm tearing up as I write this, but it's a reality I tackled head on during my illness and during counseling. 

But, today, on Christmas Eve eve, today's reality was normal things. Life really is incredible. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Different strokes for different folks

I've lost count of the number of times I've been to the doctor over the past year. And by "the doctor" I mean any number of doctors, because I have quite a few. I've definitely been to "the doctor" tens of times this year. Three groups of 10? Five groups of 10? Can you tell I teach small children for a living? 

Earlier this week I made the decision to go to urgent care because my shoulder REALLY hurt. Before I arrived at said decision I was filled with doubt- should I go to the doctor? Can't I handle this on my own? Will I be wasting my time and the doctor's time? I knew I had just hurt myself and I didn't know what to do as I had to go to work and I can no longer take anti-inflammatories (like Advil, thanks to the Whipple). But I was seriously worried about whether or not this was worth the doctor's time and was I just being a wimp. 

I have a really hard time asking for help. I bet nearly everyone reading this would say the same thing. Why is that? Why do we feel the need to handle things on our own, without an expert? Why did I feel my shoulder injury was "silly?" I didn't want to go to the doctor when I had that awful heartburn that led to the diagnosis of my tumor, either. I remember saying it was "just heartburn." Ha. It was just heartburn, but it was being caused by something really huge- a 9.5 cm pancreatic tumor. I suppose I'm glad I went to the doctor then. There were three months between that initial visit and diagnosis, though, and during that three months I became a regular at my primary care doctor's office, trying to figure out what was wrong. At one point the doctor started treating me for depression, thinking maybe my stomach problems were a physical manifestation of depression. I remember later explaining to my would-be-surgeon that I was taking anti-depressants and him telling me "you're not depressed, you have a legitimate physical reason you are sick." He was both right and wrong. I had a legitimate physical reason I was sick, but I was also depressed. I have been diagnosed with "adjustment disorder," which is considered a somewhat temporary depression in response to life events. My definition of adjustment disorder probably isn't super medically accurate, but that's how I understand it. 

It's difficult to ask for help when something is physically wrong, but in my opinion it is even more difficult to ask for help when you can't cope emotionally. A physical problem seems less within your control than an emotional problem. I was raised to believe that emotional problems were a lack of strength or a sign of weakness, something you could think yourself out of. I know some people truly believe that their coping mechanisms and strength of mind are within their control, and that they should be within my control, too. I'm sure people think I'm weak for taking an antidepressant, that I should somehow be able to snap out of my funk with positive thoughts or exercise. A part of me believes that I should be able to snap out of my funk with positive thoughts or exercise, too. My life is pretty great, admittedly. I have a family, a job, a home. But I'm also depressed. And an antidepressant is just one tool in my toolbox of mechanisms to snap out of it. I am not going to feel bad about it or allow someone to shame me for needing medication. 

Each reader will make his/her own conclusions about the legitimacy of my depression, and I suppose that's fine. But the teacher in me feels the need to restate the moral of my story: don't judge. Maybe you can handle more than I can, but don't assign me the label of weak of character. Don't assign others that label, either. I ended up going to two doctors for my shoulder pain, and in the words of my osteopath, I "tweaked" a rotator cuff muscle. Ouch. She assigned me heat, stretches, and steroids. I feel much better today, and there's no shame in me having asked her for help. If you believe in asking for help for physical pain, please believe the same for emotional pain. It might not be what you need, but I'm not you. We all aim to be healthy and happy, and our paths to that aim will be different. And that's okay.

Different strokes for different folks. Some people make funny faces when having their picture taken.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mmm, Barium.

This will be a VERY short post, as I am pressed for time. I don't know what I was thinking, but I scheduled my 1-year-post imaging test for today, 364 days after my first-ever CT scan that revealed my pancreatic tumor. I am not super worried that the tumor has returned, because it is unlikely to have done so, but I won't get the results until my oncology appointment next Tuesday. I scheduled my oncology appointment to be before Christmas on purpose, relying on good news. The thought was if I knew I was OK before Christmas, I would be free to enjoy this holiday season (last Christmas SUCKED). I suppose this was going to be a hard week anyways, approaching all sorts of tough "anniversaries," so might as well pile it on. My husband and I have a history of dramatic holidays. Last year we were not-so-patiently waiting for my biopsy, three years ago awaiting the birth of our twins (this was crazy good drama, of course), and five years ago I miscarried the day after Christmas, after having spent part of the 23rd and the 25th in the ER. So, fingers crossed for a medically uneventful holiday season. If this last year has proven anything, I can handle the unexpected, ungracefully, but I can handle it. Fingers crossed for a "normal" CT.