Sunday, August 21, 2016

With(out) Apology

This is it. Monday morning the Mr & I will have a child at each level of the educational system.

In some circles this makes us young - with Oldest entering her senior year of college we are the younger parents.

Among the parents of both Boy's and Tween's friends we are just average.

But on a recent visit to the kindergarten classroom, it was quite clear I am an older parent practically the old crone. A perfect example of how age is relative. 

But there exists a constant among all these groups - the reaction given when people hear how many children we have.

I am the often happy mother of four children. Not 100. Yet, to gauge the reactions of others, you'd think I was starring in some reality show. "Wow, how do you manage with four kids?" Or the restatement with disbelief coloring the shocked inflection, "You have four kids?" 

Apparently, there was an unannounced threshold I crossed after three - which was news to me - that seems to have mathematically doubled the meaning of four when related to children. Who knew?

Yet those reactions pale in comparison to the response I receive when they discover that my children span from five to twenty-one. Typically this involves a restatement of the age differences and some wondering comment or another while they look at me as though I were an exhibit in a historical reenactment. Or some poor soul who never learned the benefits of modern medicine.

This is when I am prone to fall into apology... If prepared, I laugh it off. I make a flip comment about spreading out college costs, or kids keeping us young; but, sometimes people ask out of the blue, having gained intel from other sources - typically one of the kids. And I apologize...

I believe apologies are important. To maintain relationships and civility - to grow - it is necessary to clearly state the wrong committed and humbly seek forgiveness. I believe in seeking forgiveness yes, my Catholic is showing, I know. But how often do we apologize for things - through word or action - that need no apology?

I have nothing to apologize for - we are raising 4 independent kids and nothing aside from the household budget is worse off than if we were raising the more acceptable 1 or 2. Sadly, this hasn't stopped me from explaining, and I have told people - who have no right or reason to know - that Youngest is not biologically ours. While it is no secret - she, herself, knows - it is none of their business. It is an apology, via explanation, which I do not owe - and worse one that separates our feisty Youngest from her family - us. So, why do I feel compelled to explain or apologize for that which needs neither?

Who knows why - but I'm not anymore. It is an insult to Youngest and the rest of us. We are who we are. If you are content with no children or 10 - great. I am thrilled for you. We are a family of six. We have four children who are spread over 16 years and span from college to kindergarten. This is who we are and it works for us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Taking the Bad with the Good

There is one thing that terrifies me, as a parent to Tween, more than anything - taking her for a shot.

At her 5 year-old check-up she cried from the moment she saw the needle and continued for the next thirty minutes. And this was just the warm-up. The next year saw swine flu, and I thought I would be a responsible parent and take the kids for shots. A school cafeteria with sectioned areas for patient shots, many nurses were on hand to administer the shots - or nasal spray quickly. I hoped for the nasal spray - really wanted it - but she was too young. Ok. Deep breaths. She can do this. Into the booth we went, handed over the paperwork, and the anxiety breathing began. Small whining noises and little squeaks that escalated into all out tears and yelling. Panicked cries that truly frightened the other children caused us to make a hasty retreat.

Yes, she was young. I held that thought as I agreed to the pneumonia and meningitis shot at her 10 year check-up. After all, she is a smart child - surely she could hear reason. Nope. The hyperventilating started as I signed the paperwork. No amount of reasoning and calm breathing could alleviate her fear. She did get the shots. And promptly stormed out of the doctor's office and sat on the lawn refusing to get into my car. She hated me most of the day. 

The resurgence of JIA prompted frequent blood work - and she is getting better with needles. Not great, but better. At her recent check-up there was minimal panic - just hyperventilating and unhappiness.

So, imagine my dismay when her rheumatologist determined her swelling and pain is not being controlled enough with medication alone. Nope - he didn't want to give her a shot. He wanted me to give her shots. Plural. A shot once a week in fact - for who knows how long. It took all my control to keep the doubt and panic I felt from bubbling up in his office with Tween looking on. "Keep a brave face and the rest will follow" is sometimes the only defense. 

A training session with the nurse later and I was armed with a supply of syringes, a few encouraging words, and a facade of a positive attitude. Time for Tween's first home shot. I had her hold the syringe - which she dropped like a hot coal. She was armed with a stress ball - she was squeezing for all she was worth, a teasing brother - who may have helped to distract her - possibly, and facing a mother about to jab her with a needle. She did jump out of the chair - twice - but when push came to shove she held still and counted off the milliseconds as she took her first home injection. There was no declaration of hate, no storming out of the house. We all survived the first shot. 

As much as this additional routine sucks now, I remind myself that she is still lucky. She enjoys all her activities - even clogging for hours - and if I have to give her a shot once a week to keep her healthy and active, then so be it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Quiet Life

Some people live loud for good (or bad). Their actions are recorded in full technicolor for all to see or hear. The good often have names that appear on buildings, grants, and scholarships as testament that they have indeed affected the lives of others. But, most of us live quiet lives.

Do not let Thoreau fool you: quiet lives do not equal desperation. Many of these lives have a huge impact on those around them. And by turns their acts can change the face of society.

Once there was a much younger Mr Seashore who lived with his mother, alone. There were some tough times, and in stepped Auntie K with a home for them both until they were ready to move on. But her quiet, kind acts did not end here. There was assistance given to ensure a twenty-something Mr would have a roof over his head and there would be a home to bring infant-Oldest to upon her entrance to the world. Nothing was ever asked for in return. She was a quiet force of kind acts.

A mother to two daughters, she did everything in her power to ensure they overcame difficulties that life throws at everyone. Always a helping hand to those in need, including her grandchildren in their turn. An aunt to 2 nephews and a niece; there are many who hold warm memories within their hearts.

With a passion to create she was an inspired designer of her home and, when given the opportunity, her children's and grandchildren's spaces too. When she ran out of rooms to dress and design, she began to create with clay. Pouring her creative spirit into the act of forming figurines and characters from unformed mounds of colored clay, she truly held the soul of an artist, but not that of a chef. In fact, her oven was more often used for clay than food! When she was inspired there was nothing she wouldn't try, even entering into grassroots politics when many women are content to take-up more soothing hobbies.

When cancer struck, she kept a brave face. Refusing to be bowed by the vile intruder taking over her body she proceeded to live her life as she deemed fit. Until she could no longer fight. In the end, we all pass alone, but her passing was eased by the loving, constant presence of her daughter who, in her own way, portrays the quiet caring and love of her mother's spirit in her own actions.

Auntie K was and is loved. She will be mourned. She will be remembered as a person who touched lives.

God Bless and God Speed. Please give my love to Ma when you see her.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Good News & Bad News

How often has it happened that we hear our words parroted back from the mouths of babes?

This is why we eavesdrop while they play with toys. A known corner stone of play therapy, children play what they know. Hold on! Did that mom dog just threaten to spank the puppy for not listening?! Okay - she said time-out, phew. Wait, do I threaten my kids? That's not right - I'm supposed to provide logical consequences for actions. Pause for mental self chastising in lapses of best parenting practices Oh good, she is reading them a story. The mom dog is hugging the puppy! Yea! Not emotionally scarred today!

While we may take responsibility for situations our children encounter, it's important to keep things in perspective. After all, how often has a young person in your life made a statement that echos a certain princess with a bow and arrow? Or a super hero, evil genius, or Cartman from Southpark (if they are, hopefully, older teens)? Kids try on phrases like a mom getting ready for swim suit season, a seemingly endless & unsatisfying amount until they happen upon one that fits them just right or at least adequately.

Youngest recently happened across "I have good news and bad news."

Sitting near the sliding door, I watched as Youngest heaved open the obstacle and rushed forward. "Mom, I have good news and bad news," she announced in somber tones with wide eyes.

"Okay, tell me," I directed, then waited while she formulated the order of sharing within her mind.

"The good news is that Mr Nibbles [the guinea pig] isn't lost - he's just in the back yard and I found him. But the bad news is that there is a snake in the guinea pig cage! They keep running away because there is a snake!"

Hmm, mental check - catching wild snakes in the outdoors, not my area - cross reference topics and current occupants in the area... "Oh-no! You better tell Dad." Upon which she turned and delivered the entire explanation, verbatim, to my husband.

He dutifully put his shoes on, after she told him, "It's a giant snake in their cage! It will eat them up!" and out the door the door they went - only to discover Checkers (pig 2) was sitting on the creature and seemed unfazed by his house guest. Upon capture it turned-out to be a legless lizard (yes, there is such a thing) and Boy released it away from the pigs' home.

Since that day we have had numerous good/bad news incidents. I have heard everything from the fish are okay, but all the fish food fell into the tank (just miraculously fell in there) to I colored this picture for you, but the markers (sharpies she isn't supposed to touch) colored the kitchen table.

I like this phrase; it is reinforcing looking for the bright side in situations, a life skill that could use brushing-up in most of us.  It also offers many moments to laugh silently of course while maintaining a serious composure, as she delivers it with the full measure of gravity she deems worthy of the matter at hand.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dreadful Duty

At the tender age of 8 weeks it begins. Washed and dressed, ready for an outing we carry  our precious packages into pediatricians' offices around the country. Anxiously we hover as they are weighed, measured, and evaluated. We smile our replies as doctors ask about feeding and sleep schedules and ask our questions.

Then it is time. We knew it was coming and steel our spines as we watch our tiny treasures endure the first intentional harm to come to them. The prick of the needle.

Over the course of four children I have seen reactions ranging from slight surprise, that  perfect O forming on infant lips, to instantaneous piercing cries that can be soothed only with prompt nursing. Generally, though, the first and second series of immunizations are not devastating to anyone but the parent. It tends to be the toddlers who take personal insult with the whole business. This tears at our hearts as they wail without the luxury of instant forgetfulness induced by bottle or nursing. We comfort as best we can, and distract to the best of our ability, and we hate the inevitable necessity of it all.

And the reactions do not, necessarily, mellow with age. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, was so terrified of needles (due to other medical encounters) by the time she was 5 that she began crying before the shots. And afterwards? Well, let's just say ear plugs would have been a treasure for the 25 minute car ride of howling after we left the office. For her encore performance, 5 years later, she stormed out of the doctor's office in tears after additional immunizations and sat in the yard at the office screaming that she hated me. Ah, fun times.

But wait, there's more! For each series, there is the requisite dose of acetaminophen before the shots and the follow-up response to general lethargy and typical low (or not so low) grade fever. Youngest, having completed her 5 year check-up yesterday, complained of a sore arm - that MMR is brutal - and said, "Mom, you can't give me a snack because I eat it with this side and it won't reach my mouth."

Fear not, she can move her arm and has taken in sustenance, though not much since she started running a fever shortly after this and has been mostly miserable since yesterday afternoon.

I can see why parents would look for any excuse not to inflict this pain on their children. After all, isn't a parent's job to protect them? But from this comes not only immunity against potentially lethal illnesses for the child, it also gives the parents a reminder of a vital aspect of parenting - be a parent.

Children live in the present. It is the parental role to protect against the future. We don't give our children a time-out because it is pleasant or erases the fact that little johnny ran into the street. We do it to guard against the next time. Shots are another, albeit painful, reminder that life requires us to look to the future and endure the hardship of today to arrive at tomorrow safely. So, while I do not relish the tears of the patient nor caring for the feverish, I will always be firmly in favor of immunizations for our children. It is the act of a selfish parent to look to their own wants, be it ease of parenting over action or misplaced belief in anti-vaxxer mythology, before caring for the needs of the child.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Experiential Learning

From the oldest to the youngest they have all been through the ritual. Sitting on their haunches at the sweet spot, just where the wave breaks on the the shore, they wait. In it comes and out it goes, causing them to leap into action. Chubby preschool hands or slender competent teen fingers, they all know the routine. Take a scoop, not too much, of the newly soaked sand and deftly sift through until the feel of firmness meets your fingertips. Hold them tight and give a rinse to reveal the treasure of coquinas: tiny, delicate shells in an array of pastels from peach to violet. Then they release the treasure to the sand to watch intently as each shell swiftly upends itself while digging its way down into the soft wave washed sand. While toddlers, they call out excitedly for help as they watch the mollusks bury themselves, not quite able to make their fingers move with the deftness required to separate the creature from the sand. As they grow they collect them in buckets of water until some unspoken quota of colors is achieved before pouring them back into the waves to watch them return to safety.

Children at the seashore understand things tourists don't: stingrays require a bit of shuffling feet in the sand to scare them away, sharks teeth have a definite shape and hue when found among the grains of sand and crushed shells, and sand dollars are live animals that are best kept in the ocean. They are versed in the plethora of mammoth sized insects and lizards, both native and invasive that frequent the area around their homes. Many kids clamp anoles to their earlobes as makeshift earrings once they've reached a certain age, only to chase others around in a modern day native dance that plays itself out on the playgrounds across the state. Their knowledge can be impressive.

But there are definite holes.

It was muck out the guinea pig pen day, and I was outside helping Tween to shovel shavings from the playhouse they call home. While watching shavings fall from the heaping mound, I mentioned that this would be much easier with a snow shovel. Tween uttered a noncommittal sound and continued to hold the bag for a scoop or two. Then she paused, lowered the bag and in the searing 95 degree sunshine asked me, "What does a snow shovel look like?"

She can differentiate between a Florida and Cuban tree frog, knows when to reapply sunscreen and that a manatee is a safe swimming partner, but she has no frame of reference when discussing anything cold weather related.

It's a price we pay to live in paradise, but it might be good to take a trip north this winter...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Marriage Maxims Minimized

Preparing to marry in the Catholic church requires a lot of prep seemingly designed to measure the amount of stress a relationship between an agnostic guy and Catholic girl can take to bring the couple closer together.

During the retreat there were experienced couples sharing their stories of marriage - tips to make the relationship last and flourish. And I listened. Contritely. After all, we had already been friends for 8 years, we had a child well on her way to 2, and I knew dang well I went to bed angry. More than once. And I knew he had, too. There seemed to be an abundance of couples in the world who had a lovely anecdote ready to share - and our relationship was not living up to the generally accepted "guidelines for a great marriage." Nah, no stress there. But we persevered - the only casualty being an electric griddle which I still miss to this day. Twenty years later.

Yes, today marks the 20th anniversary (china anniversary) of my marriage. It seems going to bed angry doesn't derail a marriage after all. In fact there are lots and lots of "guidelines" we have both broken more than a couple of times.

But here are some we use:

1. Show compassion for each other: "Obviously you are hurt, so call the doctor! What do you think I can do?"

2. Use flirtation to stay connected on a fun level: "Oh baby, you know how excited I get when you fold the laundry."

3. Make alone time for yourselves as a couple: "I gotta get out of the house, wanna run to Walmart with me?"

4. Share your hobbies: "I thought I'd come stand here and watch you sand some wood for a bit before I go back to reading my book."

5. Discuss all major decisions as a team: me:"The baby was removed from her parents and we need to take her." him: "Okay. I'll leave work now."

What? We live by the letter of the rules if not the spirit. What we do have is a spirit of of loyalty and a shared history that reminds us of our connection and devotion. I know that when the world seems hostile and I just want someone on my side he will be there for me. Whether it's tagging off in parenting or deciding a home project we are partners. Partners don't always see things the same, and they certainly don't do things the same, but they are willing to share the responsibility and the rewards. We laugh - at the silly moments and sometimes at the darkest moments. We love - everyday and through the annoyances.

So it is to that nervous girl wondering if her husband-to-be is going to be on time, attired appropriately, if he will break her heart or be there for the duration I say, relax. Life is not easy, but you have a partner who will face it with you. Here's to the next 20 years.