Archive | Parenting

World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

On the 18th of November, I officially become the mother of a teenager.

Which seems weird because I’m only 25.

And it’s doubly weird because in some bizarre harmonic convergence, the 17th of November is officially “World Prematurity Day,” a day devoted to heightening awareness about premature birth and to help support the various institutions that work with the families and babies dealing with the difficulties that arise when a baby comes too soon.

In another odd harmonic convergence, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Liam’s birth mapped onto the American “hanging chad” debacle that will live in infamy. I missed most of the details of that process because I was busy being put on bedrest, then hospitalized, and then delivered of a child who came almost two months early and weighed less than two pounds.  Being delivered of a baby slightly smaller than a loaf of bread will make a gal forget about politics for a while.

Those were scary days, those early days in November, when my blissfully uncomplicated pregnancy, which had been filled with compliments about how thin I was despite being pregnant (note to lady movie stars who never really look pregnant and then regain their bodies two minutes after giving birth: you’re killing us out here in real-people land) suddenly became something that didn’t look like my life at all. Turns out that when you’re six months pregnant, you’re not supposed to be thin.

Here’s what happens when the ob-gyn does an ultrasound and announces at the end of it, “you have a crappy placenta” and puts you on bedrest:

You will be terrified; you will think to yourself that you did everything right: you ate right and you exercised right and you didn’t have coffee and you didn’t have booze except omigod that night before you knew you were pregnant you had three martinis was it the martinis omigod it was the martinis.  You will make bargains with whatever god might be listening and when people say they’re going to pray for you, you say thank you please pray, and you hope that people are slaughtering goats and chickens on your behalf because any magic, you’ll take any magic anyone wants to send your way if only everything will be okay.

You will go to bed for ten days while the country tries to figure out who will be the next President and then, when you’re admitted to the hospital after what was supposed to be a routine check on what was supposed to be all the weight gained by this little shrimp in your belly, you will lie in the hospital bed and cry.

And you will cry and cry, but because you are mostly flat on your back, the tears will pool down the sides of your face, drip into your ears and your hair. You won’t even mind the steroids they’re shooting into you, with needles that look like they were borrowed from an elephant hospital because anything, anything to make the baby be okay.  The steroids, some well-meaning but socially awkward medical resident will tell you, are for the baby’s lungs, which are “just little smears of pink jelly right now so if he was born he would probably not be able to breathe.”  And then you will cry some more because holy crap pink smears of jelly?

My tiny ferocious child, the entire 1lb, 10oz bundle, came into the world by emergency c-section, just after dawn on 18 November. The United States still didn’t have a president but I didn’t much care because the bundle was crying—weakly, it’s true, but crying. Which meant that the smears of jelly were functioning like lungs were supposed to function.

Preemies—preemies as small as Liam was—don’t really look like babies. They don’t look particularly cute or jolly or huggable. They look fragile and terrifyingly old: wizened, their skin hanging in folds around flesh that has yet to appear.

SMP-2011--00000567

Instead of being wrapped in soft blankets, they are wrapped in wires and tubes, surrounded by monitors; they are whisked away from you and tucked into an isolette (the plastic shoebox, we called it) that’s basically a small warming tank that keeps the bundle the exact temperature it would be if it were still the proverbial bun in the proverbial oven.

SMP-2011--00000558there’s a baby in there somewhere

I don’t know how we functioned, really, in the days and weeks and months of Liam being in the hospital: we lived downtown on West 4th street, and “Babies Hospital,” as it was called, is on 168th street. Sometimes it took us more than an hour each way on the subway — not that much fun, especially with sore lady bits. But we trekked back and forth every day for our sessions of “kangaroo care:” holding our bundle against our skin so he could feel our hearts beating. I hoped always that the steady sounds of our hearts would drown out the noisy pinging and whirring and beeping that defined life in the NICU.

Liam_Mom_Kanga_week2

The bundle became Liam, became a “feeder and grower” rather than anything more dire, although the NICU was filled with other babies who weren’t so lucky.  I never knew what to say on those days when I would come in and one or another isolette would be empty.  Having a preemie, I realized, is a bit like having a miscarriage: initially you think you’re the only one ever to suffer such a loss and then you realize, sadly, how many people share a version of your feelings.

And now the bundle will be thirteen. I’ve wondered if his formidable character – confident, tenacious, focused – was shaped by spending his earliest months in such inhospitable circumstances.  Or maybe character is a fluke, just like what happened to him was a fluke. No doctor could ever explain why Liam was IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction, which I think is medical-speak for “the baby didn’t grow”) or why none of the dire predictions came true (no oxygen tanks, no developmental delays, no blindness, no physical impediments…the list went on and on).

Who really can say: maybe all the prayers and burning sage and chanting and whatever else people were doing on Liam’s behalf while he was in the hospital worked; I have no way of knowing.

What I do know? I know that my son is creative and athletic; he loves math and he loves writing; he is funny and beautiful and aggravating, all in equal measure. Liam’s preemie story ends happily; we were lucky in our doctors, our hospital, and in the baby who came into the world so tiny and so strong.

Happy birthday, teenager. The last thirteen years have been amazing; I can’t wait to see what happens next.

liam_minionThis summer Liam decided he’d learn to make stuffed toys: so he made minions. No pattern, just made ’em.

IMG_0552standing on the dividing mark between the Mara, in Kenya, and the Serengeti, in Tanzania

liam_birth_feet-thumb-450x326his feet at birth: actual size

 

Continue Reading · on November 17, 2013 in aging, birth, family, HGH, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, preemies

Nothing Ever Dies on the Internet

I’m still playing ketchup with nablopomo, which sounds a bit like something you’d order in a Mexican restaurant, doesn’t it?

You can read today’s post in Abu Dhabi’s newspaper, where I’m writing about the eternal conflict between innocence (my almost thirteen year old son) and experience (me, aka cynical mommy).  Youth and innocence wants to believe that his friends would never, ever spread anything of his across the internet. Cynicism and bitterness says…nothing ever dies on the internet, so be careful.

Shockingly, I don’t think he believes me.

You can read the piece here

Continue Reading · on November 9, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, tech life, The National

in which I experience an epic parenting fail

So Liam has been walking around the last few days humming and singing “here comes the sun,” which I think of as one of the all-time great songs.

I say to him, “wow, I love that song; I didn’t know you liked The Beatles.”

He looks at me, horrified. “I don’t. It’s from “Glee,” with Demi Lovato.”

Me, equally horrified, “Demi Lovato? Singing The Beatles?”

Liam, speaking as if to someone who has had a lobotomy, “Not just Demi Lovato. Santana, too. A capella, so you can really hear the lyrics.”

Me, making a last-ditch effort, “But the Beatles version–”

Liam, firmly, “Mom. Demi Lovato is GREAT. And her version is SO MUCH BETTER than the old one.”

 

I am now a shell of my former self.  My brilliant wonderful son—talented in so many ways—disdains The Beatles in favor of Demi Lovato?  I know that teens and parents are supposed to disagree with each other’s musical taste, but…Demi Lovato?  Where have I gone wrong?

Fasten your seatbelts, people. It’s gonna be a bumpy adolescence.

Continue Reading · on November 6, 2013 in family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, pop culture

what goes around, comes around: in which i suffer karmic retribution

Way back in the dim mists of time (which is to say, 1985), my family took a trip to France. I’d been studying in London and my mother, an eternal Francophile, had planned a two-week family driving tour through France at the end of my semester.  A two-week trip that she planned  before the internet.  There was no tripadvisor, people; there was no google map. It was like an artisanal trip: crafted entirely by hand.

Her plan: Paris, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, a few days driving through the Loire Valley and visiting historic chateaux; then Brittany, and the Normandy Beaches.  What a fantastic itinerary, you say;  that must have been the trip of a lifetime, you say.

Yep.  Trip of a lifetime:  My sister, sporting a slicked-back hairdo ala Princess Stephanie of Monaco, complained because the only sightseeing she wanted to do was in the Paris shops; my father threw his back out and was in dire pain for the entire two weeks; my brother only put down the book he was reading (Thomas Covenant) long enough to dart from the car to the highest allowable point of whatever chateau we happened to be visiting.  I’d like to say that I was a paragon, a perfect traveler, but alas dear reader, I fear that while studying in England I’d picked up the habit of smoking Gitanes and while I didn’t smoke in the car, I must have always smelled like a French bar at closing time. Plus I was all weepy-eyed and forlorn at having said good-bye to my Irish boyfriend, he of the peroxide-blonde hair, sea-green eyes, and cheekbones like scimitars.   I’m not even going to mention the hour we spent on the first day looping endlessly around the Arc de Triomphe, listening to my father (who didn’t usually swear) let loose a string of blue language that would make a Marine blush, as he tried in vain to get from the innermost lane to the outermost so he could make the turn towards Versailles.

Yep. A beautiful trip and mostly we were all assholes, in one way or another.

Sorry mom.

Oh the wheel of life, how it does turn.  Last week we were in Italy—there were school holidays here (the States get Columbus Day, we get Eid-Al-Hadha), the boys have been curious about Pompeii—and wait, really, who needs an excuse.  Italy: ruins, art, pizza, gelato, shoe shopping. Did I say gelato? Perfect family trip site, with something for everyone, right?

But the ghost of France in ’85 was never far away.

Liam’s feet hurt. Caleb was hungry. Why do we have to take the train? Why do we have to walk? Can we have more gelato? I don’t want more gelato. This church/building/museum/painting is stupid/boring/lame. I’m hot. I’m cold. It’s raining. It’s too sunny. He hit me. He hit me.

Ah yes, the Bicker McBickersons had apparently come along for the ride.  They had needs, dammit, and Italy was falling short of their expectations.  Liam wanted to know why episodes of “The Daily Show” weren’t downloading to his phone.  I mean really, no wifi? In the middle of Pompeii? Who can live like that? No wonder the Pompeiians died. Caleb wondered why Husband didn’t want to discuss the finer points of “Star Wars The Old Republic” as we climbed to the Vesuvius crater, which was a grave disappointment to him because of the lack of molten lava. He climbed all that way for what? A few rocks, a whiff of steam? Lame.

They wanted to know why it was a problem that they were just doing a little shoving, some fun shoving,  just some happy shoving, and they were just  goofing around because they were sooo bored. Why did I have to get so angry?

BECAUSE YOU’RE IN THE GODDAMN VATICAN MUSEUM SHOVING EACH OTHER INTO PRICELESS FRESCOES THAT’S WHY I’M MAD, GODDAMMIT.

That may have been a bit of a low point. The loud swearing in the Pope’s museum. Yes. Well, Um.

Luckily we were surrounded on all sides by Chinese tourists with headsets on, so I am hoping they didn’t understand, or just thought I was praying loudly and with gesticulation.

And I was praying. Praying that someday my kids will take their kids on a lovingly planned family trip and that the karmic wheel will circle around yet again. Amen.

IMG_1092

from a detail of a beautiful & rather disturbing tapestry titled “The Slaughter of the Innocents,  in the Vatican Museum. 

 

 

Continue Reading · on October 19, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

in which there is a vague lesson in genetics

Last week, as I was sitting next to Caleb while he did his homework, we had a conversation.

Caleb:  Mommy, did you used to be smart?

Me, deciding now is not the time for a lesson about past and present tenses: Uh…well, you know, I like to think that I’m still smart.

Caleb: No, I mean, Daddy was even smart way back in high school. Were you?

Me, deciding now is not the time to talk about my rocky adolescence and general sense of disaffection from academic institutions:  Yep. Pretty much always been smart. How do you think you and your brother got to be smart yourselves?

Caleb: So I’m smart from both of you?

Me, wishing I’d paid attention during genetics lessons, deciding now is not the time to tell Caleb that “smart” and “paying attention” don’t always go together: Yep. Both of us.

Caleb, suddenly fearful: Does that mean I have to be a professor too?

Me, deciding that now is not the time to tell him that “smart” and “professor” don’t always go together: Nope. You can be whatever you want.

Caleb, relieved: Because I think I want to be a spy. Or a CIA agent. But maybe an author, too.

 

One out of three ain’t bad, I guess. The genetic apple maybe hasn’t fallen so far from the genetic tree.

***

Somehow, despite my apparent lack of intelligence, I am now writing regularly for The National, Abu Dhabi’s English-language paper.  Last week I wrote about world’s only truly universal language. It’s not chocolate and it’s not love.  It’s..Ikean-ease.   And the column before that was about an astonishing innovation coming soon to Abu Dhabi: street addresses.  It’s true. I live in a city where mail doesn’t get delivered to houses; only to post boxes or offices. It’s a little odd, and was annoying when we first moved here but now I feel sort of nostalgic about the vague chaos.

 

 

 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on October 16, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, Parenting, The National

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