Tag Archives | boys

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.


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.


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

the ghost of john wayne and the perils of eleven

I’m the mother of two boys.  Sometimes this fact seems like karmic revenge for a crime I didn’t know I committed in a past life. How can I be the mother of boys? I mean, does a tomato plant suddenly sprout beans?

Two days ago, Liam turned eleven, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a boy, a subject that obviously has me at a tremendous disadvantage: I’ve never been a boy and at this point I think it’s safe to say I never will be. As much as I’ve always wanted a daughter, there are times these days when I hear stories from friend with daughters the same age as Liam and I breathe a sigh of relief—the world of pre-teen girls (as I remember all too well) is fraught with pitfalls…pitfalls I was still climbing out of well into my thirties.

The pitfalls for boys seem different, in part because they have been inscribed into our culture so deeply we almost don’t see them as problems: our ideas about manhood, about masculinity: boys don’t have deep friendships, don’t cry, don’t feel. And so we forget to give them the language to talk about their feelings, forget even to give them the space to have feelings. We don’t even notice it’s happening, or if we do, we chalk it up to “growing up.” Maybe we stop giving our boys as many hugs, or the bedtime tucking-in ritual starts to seem “invasive,” or maybe we don’t hold their hands when we’re walking down the street. John Wayne died a long time ago, but his machismo lives on.

Liam may think of himself as a grown-up these days (there’s hair gel applied in the morning, sometimes so thickly that his head looks like a decoupage project; there’s a thin silver necklace around his neck and a swagger in his walk that wasn’t there last year) and sometimes he yanks his hand out of mine when we’re in public, but when the world gets too hard, he still climbs into my lap to tell me about his travails.  And that’s how it should be; it’s what I want him to do. There’s plenty of time for adolescent sullenness and withdrawal—and, truth be told, some of that is already happening: Liam, we say, what’s wrong? NOTHING, is the response, accompanied by a slammed door.  What can I say? He’s always been precocious. But given his pre-adolescent angst, I’m all the happier that he still finds comfort in my lap.

Where else does he find comfort? In the world of the computer games he’s designing (writing code, writing stories, creating worlds filled with the sort of minutiae that will probably lead him to spend his college years in a dark room playing Dungeons & Dragons); in books, which he devours like chocolate (The Hunger Games were the Best. Books. Ever. Until he finished The Lord of the Rings); and in soccer—excuse me, football—which has unfortunately led him to speak in faux-Brit accent drawn from his English soccer coach, the team’s Irish manager, every British football announcer he’s ever heard, and the entire cast of the “Harry Potter” movies. It’s atrocious.  He trots off the pitch field and says “mummy, I think I need new boots.”  Is it wrong that I pretend not to know him?

No matter what he does, Liam goes at it full tilt. I wonder sometimes if the sheer accident of his birth—being so tiny and having to fight so hard just to stay alive—created his forceful character: he’s still not much taller than his seven-year-old brother, but he’s got a personality the size of Russia.

Liam’s mind moves at a gallop; he says he resents sleeping because it’s a waste of time. I imagine that inside his brain it would be positively baroque, that it would look like a piece of music by Handel sounds: arpeggios, swoops, curlicues, all repeating around and around, building into something magnificent, symmetrical, and mathematically perfect.

This is a boy who never met a test he didn’t like (and master), and who believes in himself to a sometime absurd degree.  When he was six, after his first-ever ice skating lesson (during which he let go of the wall exactly twice) he said “mommy, I think I’ll make my living playing hockey.”  Hockey never materialized, thank god, but his confidence remains (mostly) unshakeable.

And while his competitive intensity does wonders on the playing field, or when it comes time to study for a school test, it’s a little less attractive when all you’re doing is gathering for a family game of Monopoly.  All games, for my darling boy, are blood sports. He doesn’t know how to turn it off.  If I have a specific worry for Liam—and parenting involves both the free-floating “what if” horror stories as well as child-specific anxieties–it’s precisely his intensity.  There are times when all his energy turns into anxiety, even a kind of frenzy:  forgot a math assignment? Death spiral. Can’t find the mouthpiece for his instrument? Utter disaster.  Forgot to bring in cookies for the bake sale? DESPAIR.  At some point, he’s going to have to find a bit of slacker in his soul—and when I tell him to relax, that maybe his quiz in gym (in gym??) doesn’t matter, he stares at me as if I’m the stoner hanging out in the bathroom instead of going to class. “Of course it matters, mommy.  Everything matters.”  His eyes fill with tears, his lip trembles, all the big-boy stuff melts away and for whatever reason, he’s worried and sad, and so I take him on my lap and rub his back.

I wonder how much longer he’ll let me do that?

a friend recently wrote a good book that challenges conventional wisdom about boys. It’s called Deep Secrets and it’s about the importance of deep, intimate friendships in boys’ lives. You should probably click right on over there to the Amazon portal and get yourself a copy…

Continue Reading · on November 20, 2011 in Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting

the mommy tree

Like I’ve been saying in these last few posts, our family has been spending a LOT of time together. Like, every waking hour, all day long, from July 6 (the day we moved out of our apartment in New York) until…well, right now. There were five precious mornings while we were in Long Beach Island where the boys went to soccer camp for a few hours, but even then–they were together, if at least away from me.

Today is Thursday and school starts for the boys on Sunday (Sunday to Thursday is the work week in Abu Dhabi) and as far as I’m concerned it’s not a moment too soon.

We’re more or less moved into to our new apartment, which, inshallah, has a third bedroom that we’ve turned into the “play your computers in here and leave me the hell alone” room, and that’s been a lifesaver, because by now? By now that whole family adventure thing is wearing just a little thin.  There aren’t any playmates for them in our new building; it’s too hot to go outside–and even if it weren’t, what would we do? Wander around together, that’s what.

Our building has a pool on the top floor–inshallah again–that has become our escape hatch. When the boys get too scritchy-scratchy, we go up there and splash around for a few hours.  The boys can play splash wars, do cannonballs, throw matchbox cars into the deep end and dive for them…the other day they took a flexible cloth frisbee we have and turned it into a pontoon boat: balanced matchbox cars on the top and floated the whole thing back and forth across the deep end.

When I get in the water, though, they only want to hang onto me. One kid on each arm, or one kid on my back and the other on my arm, or one bouncing on my knee and the other swinging off my hand, or both clinging to my waist and splashing each other.

I’m sure the other English speakers at the pool think I’m a complete bitch: “let go of me!” I say, and dive into the deep end, but damned if they don’t follow me.  “Stop hanging on me!” I mutter, and pull off the limpet fingers.

Yesterday, as they pulled on me, climbed on me, clung to me, swam through my legs and over my shoulders, I said (okay maybe I was yelling, but only a little bit) LET GO OF ME WHAT AM I TREE?

Both boys looked at me. “Yes,” they said in unison, “you are.”

Do you think their school would mind if I dropped them off early? Like, maybe, today?

Continue Reading · on September 1, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, Kids, Parenting

What Do You Take?

When it came right down to it, I couldn’t throw away the craft supplies. Sparkly pipe cleaners, glitter, feathers, beads, gold paint, clay—all the stuff you need to turn delivery boxes into trains, forts, and castles, or to create Cleopatra headdresses and war chieftain headbands.

I love crafts. Nothing makes me happier than visiting my mom in the ‘burbs of Indiana and spending a good hour or two wandering through the Michael’s craft store, that big-box homage to all things glue-gunnable.  And I loved the days when the boys begged to “do a project,” so in those little left-over pots of glitter and glue I see sparkly remnants of their little boyhood.

Neither boy is likely to ask to for stick-on fuzzy bugs any time soon, so I gave most of the supplies to Caleb’s first-grade teacher. But I couldn’t leave it all behind. I mean, what if we’re in the midst of some school project next year that would be just perfect except we don’t have any glitter? Do they have glitter in Abu Dhabi? What is the Arabic word for “craft store?”

Oddly, while I couldn’t quite throw away all the crafts, I had no problem tossing out boxes and boxes of nursery school mementos. I marched through those boxes like Sherman marching across the South. I kept a few things—a huge painting of a sunflower that Caleb made; the fairy-tale hats given to each graduate from their nursery school; a few of the more wonderful drawings that Liam made, including an entire “book” he made, in 2004, about Olympic women’s hockey (he drew pictures of his favorite teams, complete with uniform details, players’ names, and stats).

When I was finished weeding through the boxes and boxes of saved projects, oddly shaped bent-wire creations, and store-bought valentines from kids we no longer know, I felt like someone in an article from Real Simple: “look at the marvelously organized mom!”

Then guilt hit: had I really thrown away the worksheets Caleb used to practice his letters? The snowman made from pom-poms? Will my children think I don’t love them when I can’t produce the first-ever fingerpainting?

It’s a risk I’m going to have to take. I refuse to be the woman a friend of mine told me about, who photographs every worksheet and art project her kids bring home and then throws away the projects.
I mean, that’s crazy, right?

Whereas bringing little pots of glitter and sparkly pipe cleaners to Abu Dhabi makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, growing up, moving

Sticks and Stones

We’re in the final countdown for our move.  July 5th the moving minions show up to wrap everything in bubble wrap and cardboard.  July 6th they cart all the boxes off to long-term storage and our Big Adventure officially begins.  Each of us is dealing with this impending move in our own delightful way, resulting in a household where everyone is just an itsy-bitsy bit TENSE and maybe just a tad SURLY.  If we don’t all kill each other first, I’m sure we’re going to have a great time exploring Abu Dhabi.

So as part of the pre-move sifting and sorting, I sat with Caleb the other day and helped him go through his desk. We had two boxes: a big one for storage and a small one for treasures he wanted to take with him to Abu Dhabi.

Into the big box went ceramic objects (a bowl, a snake, a plate) he’d made with our friend Nancy, various decorative boxes filled with coins, a Samurai coloring book, a balsa wood pirate.

And a bag of rocks.  “These rocks are not my important rocks,” he said. “My important rocks I sent already to Abu Dhabi. These rocks can stay here.”

Then he rummaged around and held up a small Ziploc baggie. “But these are my most precious rocks. I saved these. I want to get one of those rock polishers for these rocks.”

“These rocks” are foraged primarily from the driveways of people who live in the Easthampton neighborhood where our friends the Horwiches live.  When we visited them last month, Caleb and I went rock hunting (and rescued any number inch worms who would otherwise have died a squashy death in the middle of the road).  Caleb loves sparkly rocks, which I imagine cost a pretty penny per pound. Thank you, Easthampton neighbors. I am now going to be carrying pieces of your driveway around the world to Arabia.

The small bag of rocks went into the “bringing with” box and we continued sorting.  Then Caleb dropped to his knees and started scrabbling behind the desk like some kind of truffle-hunting pig.

Triumphant, he stood up, brandishing a stick. “My favorite stick! I thought I lost it!”

Then he held up his other favorite stick. “This stick is my worm-digger. I love this stick.” (We do not dig for worms in our family, by the way. Never have, probably never will. We are a worm-fearful people.)

I tried, really, I did. I said, “There are probably great sticks in Abu Dhabi.” I said, “We’re going to be in London—there are great sticks in London.” I said, “Why don’t we leave these sticks here, in storage, and they’ll be waiting for you when we get back.” (I was, of course, lying through my teeth, because of course I intended to chuck those sticks into the garbage.)

What I said was utterly irrelevant. His face crumpled, tears rolled, mouth went completely upside down. “I WANT MY STICKS!”

I gave in. We agreed to wrap the sticks in plastic bags and put them in his suitcase.

Which means that, yes, I will be bringing sticks and stones to the Middle East.  I’m sure they will be infinitely superior to any indigenous sticks and stones, but I’m a little unclear about how to declare these priceless treasures on our customs forms.

I think calling them “security sticks” could get us into trouble, considering our destination.  What about “xanax branches?”

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Continue Reading · on June 28, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, moving, Travel

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