Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elmo's Not Dead!

I made so many vows upon entering into impending motherhood. I had a vision of how life for my child should look, and it was suspiciously like the inside of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Nevermind that it might look a bit conspicuous, not having a Pottery Barn house and all, but it was my dream. I remember shopping in Target one day during my pregnancy, walking past the toy section and telling Steve, in my best matter-of-fact voice (read: I’m the pregnant one, you’d better just nod and smile) that our child would play only with hand-painted, natural-looking wooden toys. He just laughed, and we proceeded to enter into the wonderful world of plastic.

About 15 years ago, I learned that my beloved fuzzy, rainbow-hued, big-nosed Muppet friends from Sesame Street had been forever altered by new characters, such as Elmo, Prairie Dog, Zoe, Telly, and others. I learned this from my manager at one of my old jobs, who had two young children that happened to be obsessed with Elmo. I decided then and there that Elmo was dead to me. Bring back Kermit the Frog, and we’d talk. I’m pretty sure that my opinion regarding Elmo at that time was based pretty strongly on my intense dislike of that particular lazy, untrustworthy manager who had it out for me (and who was ultimately fired and escorted out through the back door), but I still felt that something very important had changed, and I wasn’t happy about it. No child of mine would like that obnoxious, loud, red dust bunny, Elmo, oh no.

Character licensing had always been a sore spot with me. As a teenager and young adult, I had always pushed against those portions of pop culture that would appeal to the masses. I wasn’t trendy, I was alternative. In my quest to be so different as to not be definable, I inadvertently defined myself. *big sigh* I remained determined in my adulthood to consider mass-production character licensing as a marketing ploy to get your money and to suck your children into a brain-numbing vortex of crap with a tenuous grasp on reality. So you could take your Pokemon, your Mickey Mouse, your Dora and your Disney Princesses and shove them…

Dora and Disney Princesses…uh oh, too late… Did I say that out loud? They’re unavoidable. And they’re not the harbingers of evil and doom that I thought they would be. When I started watching Dora with Samantha, I realized that it was actually teaching her something! Dora, while still a bit annoying, was a decent teacher, and my daughter was learning bits and pieces of the Spanish language along with word recognition, memorization and logic. We now welcome Dora and all of her lovely slippers, bath toys and books into our home.

I knew we were in trouble a few months ago when, on a visit to the doctor’s office, Samantha was offered the choice of two stickers at the nurse’s station. The first was Hello Kitty, and the second was Disney Princesses. I held them out to her and said, “Which sticker would you like?”, fully expecting her to take the Hello Kitty sticker. Instead, she pointed to the other one, and said, “Princess.” We have yet to watch anything that involves the fantastically and unrealistically beautiful Disney Princesses, but a pair of slippers, some dress up clothes and the ill-fated sticker later, we’re not turning them away.

Kids will be kids, and kids will be mass-marketed to. I now recognize that. And I now recognize that there is a reason for children’s obsessions with these trends that goes well beyond the simple placement of products in the store. I have to think of my daughter’s happiness and well-being, and if plastic toys and cartoon characters are how she’s learning and what she enjoys, then who am I to judge? I will still draw the line at some point, when the learning opportunities begin to fade and real mindless, brain-numbing programming begins to creep in.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Around and Around and Around We Go...

That seems to be how the Sammi’s Aide Dance goes. Ball of confusion? More like, twirl your partner, dosi-do… We’ve put in a request for a new aide for Samantha, as things just aren’t working out with the current one. I mean, how hard could this possibly be? All we want is someone who’s reliable, nurturing and responsible, who listens and supports the way we are raising our child, and…speaks English. Well. Since I’ve already emphasized it, I’ll go with my last point, to start, before any of you think we’re bad, closed-minded people for not wanting someone who’s foreign. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. We don’t care what ethnicity/nationality/religion an aide is. As a matter of fact, having someone foreign makes things interesting – Samantha could have the opportunity to learn bits of another language, being the little sponge that she is. Our first aide was a very, very sweet woman, but she a) let Samantha walk all over her (ummmm, I’m pretty sure that small children shouldn’t be allowed to try to walk up the stairs in their parents’ shoes, no matter what country you’re from. And, uh, I’m also pretty sure that small children shouldn’t be allowed to play with the cleaning supplies under the sink, even if said children act like they do that sort of thing every day.) and b) didn’t understand much of what we said and wasn’t able to tell us things we probably needed to know (we think she said that Sammi ate playdough, but we were never able to find out how much or if she was choking or any other details about the incident). However, before we could do anything about the work relationship, she announced that she was leaving to go to a different agency (one that had benefits and guaranteed pay). Our current aide (of a totally different nationality) is nice enough, but has a very strong personality. She interrupts us every time we try to give her some instruction about Samantha’s care, saying “I know, I know, I worked with children…blah, blah, blah…” She seriously does NOT listen, has the nerve to try to tell us how we should be doing things with our child, and argues with us when we try to emphasize our points and how we want Samantha to be cared for. Argues!!! Frankly (and understandably), this makes us extremely uncomfortable. And how many times can we instruct her not to feed Samantha anything other than the snacks we’ve left out for her, and only at the time we tell her to? (Er, did that just sound like instructions for Gremlins?) #1, we don’t want to spoil her appetite for dinner at 6pm. #2, we worry about Samantha’s weight. #3, the constipation issue seems to get worse when she eats too many goldfish, so we’ve seriously limited her intake of the yummy little swimmers. What do you mean, you gave her another yogurt? We can barely understand what she’s saying to us, and I’m certain that she doesn’t understand much of what we’re saying to her. Heck, if she can’t understand us, how can she understand what Samantha is saying to her? Steve spoke to her supervisors the other day, and they agreed that they wouldn’t talk to her about it until they have a replacement, since we’d be particularly uncomfortable with her taking care of Sammi in our absence if there was an elephant of that sort hanging over things (did I just mix metaphors?). In the meantime, she does really like Samantha, and the status quo is okay for the short term, but hopefully a new solution will arise soon.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Hardest Words...

“They’re pretty sure she has Down syndrome.” This is what my husband came to tell me after he chased down a delivery room nurse. He was talking about our baby. The baby I had just given birth to. The only baby we would ever have. These were the hardest words I ever had to hear. Ever. I don’t think I’ve told my story on my blog yet, but when I saw CHB’s challenge to talk about the hardest words you’ve ever heard, I knew it was the right time.

So many things came into my mind at that moment. Most of them were based on old stereotypes (did ALL children with Down syndrome have to have [institutional] haircuts like that? She’ll forever be a stumbling woman-child, holding my hand, not interacting with the world around her…never play sports…never enjoy arttravelshoppingmusicbooks…never go to school…never have friends…). I knew so little, if anything, about Ds, even though all throughout my pregnancy I talked about it as being a very real possibility due to my advanced, over-35 age (I was 37).

Getting pregnant had been a challenge in itself. While I’ll spare anyone any TMI details, after many years of trying finally culminated in getting the help of a reproductive endocrinologist and a prescription for Clomid, we were finally on our way. Routine ultrasounds never turned up anything out of the ordinary, and we refused any of the more invasive testing. It had taken us that long to get where we were, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize the health of my baby with large needles, especially since we would not have done anything with the information if it had been less-than-perfect anyway. I was grateful to my OB for not pushing the issue when I refused. Steve and I had spoken about all the “what ifs,” and he always reassured me that he felt the exact same way as I did - it would be our baby, no matter what, and we would work through any special needs in the unlikely event that there were any. All through my pregnancy I kept thinking of all of those “what ifs” but knew that they were pretty much unfounded. “My baby’s certainly not slow!” I said when I would feel her enthusiastic (and powerful!) kicks.

Although Steve remembers it differently (and says that I was cloudy from the lack of sleep and the epidural and can’t recall it correctly), I’m certain that immediately following Samantha’s birth, I asked the doctor, “When will we know if she has Down syndrome?” The doctor took a closer look at the baby wrapped in blankets in my arms and said, “Hmmmm,” and walked out of the door. Nobody, in my recollection, ever came by to definitively tell us that our baby had Down syndrome, but Steve followed one of the nurses to the nursery and asked her point blank, then came back to break the news to me. I don’t fault anyone for not coming to tell us, especially since we already suspected it, and were able to handle the news relatively well (relative, meaning we were ready to face it and do what we needed to do – this was a baby first). The hospital staff and all of our visitors were incredibly supportive, offering only congratulations on the birth, and positive information on the diagnosis.

There was a whirlwind of visitors in the next day or two. Samantha’s health was good, and she was to leave the hospital on time, with us, on the 3rd day. A social worker came at one point, bringing a folder of leaflets and pamphlets about Down syndrome. One of the photos struck me immediately – a child with Ds at school. My daughter would go to school! She would make friends! Then came the visitor who brought with him the next hardest words I ever heard. Steve had gone home to feed the cats and shower, and my mother and I were alone in the hospital room. Dr. H was a cardiologist. He had a friendly face, and a warm demeanor. Listening to him speak, I got the sense that everything would be okay. He went on to talk about the large percentage of children with Down syndrome who had heart conditions (not Samantha, certainly!), and that Samantha (my Samantha?) had a hole in hers. One that would require surgery to repair within 3-6 (years…whew! Don’t have to think about it yet...) months (what?) or it would most certainly become fatal in what would be a very slow, painful death (what?!? You mean we have no choice in this matter? Steve, get back here, now…) This was almost harder to hear than the original diagnosis. But as I said, Dr. H made me feel like we were in good hands, which we certainly were.

We went home on day 3, new baby in tow. We went about our lives as new parents, learning all there was to know about diapering, feeding, burping. We spent all of our free time on the internet, learning all there was to know about Down syndrome. I was obsessed with photos of children with Ds, wondering about each child’s life, their parents, their friends. I sought out the tales of parents whose children had had open heart surgery, feeling the need to prepare for every little detail. Post-surgical photos, while incredibly difficult, helped me to get ready for what couldn’t wait very long. We knew we were ready for whatever was to come.

Only two people, upon hearing of Samantha’s diagnosis, ever said “I’m sorry.” The first was right after Sammi’s birth, and from someone who didn’t know what else to say to the sobbing me on the other end of the phone line. That was completely okay. The second was months later, from an older, foreign co-worker who was visibly upset by the information I passed rather casually to her in general conversation. Perhaps it was a cultural or generational thing, and I don’t fault her, either. If I learned anything, it was that people naturally will respond to your cues. If you are okay with things, they will be okay with things, too.

And we are definitely okay with things.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Size Matters

I am hesitant to post this one, as I am about to talk about body parts. Mine. No, don't worry, this isn't going anywhere weird, but last Friday's challenge on Crazy Hip Bloggers, in conjunction with a giveaway from Loose Lips, New York, was to discuss the feature that I like best about myself. First of all, giveaways are always good. Even if I don't win, it's certainly fun trying (but winning is better...).

I rarely spend any money on myself. I think my husband might disagree since by divine right of being a girl, I am much more high maintenance than he is. But I always strive to look nice (and don't feel like I often succeed, as my age is catching up with me, and quickly!), and try to do it with as little expense as possible. I am a true bargain shopper when it comes to clothes (I blame that on 20 years of working in retail and getting discounts and knowing just how far the prices can come down if you wait long enough), I have worked hard to replicate the lovely makeup, skin care and hair potions, obviously made with gold dust and flogged for an arm and a leg in department stores, with things I can find in CVS or Target, and I try to always get haircuts that will still look, um, passable for long periods between cuts (and I mean LONG!). If plastic surgery weren't so expensive and dangerous and painful, I would buy a couple of cup sizes for my chest. My hair color comes directly out of a box, as it has since I was 18, and I dread the day when I discover I'm just too old to keep denying its true color (blech). Given that these are all things that I already change and strive to change about myself, I can hardly say that my favorite feature is included anywhere in the above-mentioned areas. Hence, it must be something that I cannot change about myself.

For as long as I can remember I was always the tallest person, and certainly the tallest girl in my classes at school. It was never an advantage, and always caused me more grief and anxiety than I was willing to admit at the time. It wasn't until I was in college that I dared to wear heels, and that was only after I finally realized that guys didn't care if I was tall or not. The older I got, the more comfortable I became with it, and I'd say that it is certainly my best feature. I no longer feel awkward, I have no problem wearing heels (I miss my early-90s platforms, but alas, fashion still changes with the time...), and being 6' tall has some distinct advantages when standing in a crowd. I rarely hear anymore the very tired, old, "gee, I haven't heard that before" question about whether or not I played basketball in school. (And for those of you who may be dying to ask it yourselves, the answer is "no." I sucked at sports.) I exceed my husband's height by an inch or two (without shoes), and I do lament the fact that Samantha's extra chromosome will likely only get her to about 5'2", regardless of her family's sizes.

Funny how sometimes our best features stem from our perceived worst. But it comes with maturity and a comfort in our own skins.

I leave you now with a pic of my high-maintenance little princess and her two friends, Beth and Marie, playing dress-up (I apologize about the quality of the photo, but it was taken from my phone).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Happy to Share!

Many warm thanks to Ashley at Chaos Diaries for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger award. This is quite an honor, especially coming from someone as eloquent as she is. I have, until very recently, been in a bit of a blogging slump. I keep hearing this from so many other bloggers, and in my case, at least, I have Facebook to blame. I figure that if I already posted about it on FB, what’s the point of blogging about it? I think I assume that most of my blog readers are also friends on FB, but I can’t be certain. So I’m often challenged to come up with new and more interesting, or creative things to write about, still staying mainly on the path of topics about my daughter, although I certainly don’t mind straying a bit just to be a rebel. A few posts ago, I mentioned how happy I was to be finally inspired by an outside source, Crazy Hip Bloggers. The post before that, I was lamenting the lack of time in my life. Lack of inspiration + no time = SLUMP. Surprise! I now feel that I have been doubly-challenged to get things in gear.

One of the rules in accepting the Kreativ Blogger award is to list 7 things that people might not know about me. I was thinking about that this morning on my way to work, and had to keep reminding myself this is 7 things people might not know, NOT 7 secrets people don’t need to know! Hahaha. I don’t think I could possibly think of 7 secrets anyway. 2 or 3, maybe…Then I had to keep reminding myself that my readers are not my family (well, not all of them are), and what I assume people already know about me, they probably don’t, so this may not be quite as difficult to come up with as I’d originally thought.

1) I kept a diary from the time I was 7 pretty much until I got married, at 23. I remember the very first diary I bought, a little blue book with flowers on the cover, and gold-edged pages. Sadly, that one book, of all the books I kept over the years, has gone missing. It chronicled my crushes on Shawn Cassidy and Donny Osmond, and how mad I was at my parents for not being allowed to do whatever it was I was not allowed to do on any particular day. That volume was followed up by a Hello Kitty diary with a little gold key. I always tell myself I want to re-read all of them, then scan or type them into electronic form, but there’s never a day rainy enough to start it. The teen angst years are a particularly riveting read, and I feel that knot in my stomach all over again whenever I look at them.

2) I was an only child until I was 21 (and already moved out of the house), when my baby brother, Josh, was born & adopted. I think this accounts for my love of reading, writing and art. What else is a little kid going to do when there’s no one else to play with? I sure hope it all rubs off on Samantha…

3) I played classical piano from the time I was 6. I stopped when I went away to college and while I wasn’t bad, I now can’t bring myself to play much because I think it all sounds terrible. That’s what I get for letting 23 years go by without any additional practice or training.

4) I have a serious and incurable addiction to ice cream. Pretty much any kind. (Woooo, that was scandalous! Oh, wait, things people might not know, not secrets…)

5) I have lived in Okinawa, Germany and London. Amazing experiences, all of them.

6) I swore off organized religion when I was 13 and living in Okinawa. I had been raised Jewish, but the only English-speaking school that was close to where we lived (we were not on a base) was run by fundamentalist Christian missionaries. I was truly scarred for life. I still have an incredible appreciation for religion for people that want or need it and for religious art (my favorite), but just choose to do my own thing. And I have nothing against the missionaries that taught me there, I just was at an age where things were particularly confusing and hard to sort through.

7) Steve and I eloped in England after knowing each other for just over a year, 7 months of which were long-distance.

Well, I hope that satisfied your curiosity. I know you were just dying to know those things.

Okay, so here are the official rules to accepting the Kreativ Blogger award:
1) Thank the person giving the award - Check...
2) Copy the award to your blog - Check...
3) Place a link to their blog - Check...
4) Name 7 things people don’t know about you - Check...
5) Nominate 7 bloggers - Keep reading...
6) Place a link to those bloggers - Keep reading...
7) Leave a comment letting those bloggers know about the award - Oh, that'll have to wait until tomorrow. My bed is calling me...

Here are the 7 nominated bloggers, whose blogs I enjoy reading regularly and who make me think. :-)

Amber at Tales of the Baker Bunch
Dawn at An Unexpected Trip to Holland
Sun at How to be a Zombie in Two Easy Steps
CJ at Don't Lick the Ferrets
Monica at Monkey Musings
Linda at Lila's Miracle Life
Michelle at Big Blueberry Eyes

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scenes from the IHOP

Me: Sammi, do you want some juice? (handing her a bottle of juice)

Samantha: No juice. Milk. (pushes the juce bottle away from her)

Me: You want milk?

Samantha: Yes. Milk. (starts to whine - it's one of those mornings)

(The milk arrives at the table)

Samantha: No milk! (whining and pushing the milk away from her)

Me: You don't want milk?

Samantha: No! Juice!

(I put the juice back down in front of her and she grabs it, drinking it quickly)

Granted, the poor little thing just wasn't feeling very well today, but is this what 3 is really like? How long does this last?!?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Justification Eradicates Guilt...Really, it Does!

Oh, I’m justified, all right. Most mothers are, although they don’t necessarily see it at the time. I’ve been given a challenge by The Crazy Hip Bloggers and Parentopia to talk about mommy guilt today, and I’m only too happy to do so. Yes, I feel guilt on a daily basis as Samantha’s mommy. For a variety of things, one of which I’ll talk about today (food & feeding). Guilt sometimes accompanies fear, and as my only child, she gets the full force of first-time-parent disease. You always hear the parents of multiple children talk about 2nd child syndrome, where the 2nd (and 3rd, 4th, etc.) child is allowed to do all of the things that they were too afraid to allow the first to do. I read a quote by an unidentified author that said, “Guilt is regret for what we have done. Regret is guilt for what we didn’t do.” I honestly think regret is too strong a word when talking about “depriving” our children of something for their own good. I prefer “justification.”

Samantha is an incredibly picky eater. We’re finally starting to make some headway, as she’ll now open her mouth to try something new rather than clamping it shut and shaking her head from side to side. I feel huge amounts of responsibility (and hence, guilt) for this. Back when she was younger than 2 years old, Samantha pretty much refused to chew her food. She would try to swallow things whole, so we kept her on formula and pureed Stage 3 baby foods for the most part. Not a terribly exciting diet, but it was certainly better than chancing the alternative – choking. Add to that the fear that her extra chromosome could possibly dictate a future weight problem, we kept a fairly tight reign on her intake.

Samantha used to love the idea of food, too. Any food. Anything you gave her in a crumb small enough to allow her to swallow it was eaten with relish, to the “yummy sounds,” mmmmmm mmmmm… (Young Frankenstein, anyone?) We worried that if she started to eat something she wouldn’t stop. When we told her something that she was enjoying at the time was all done, she threw a fit, saying, “more!!” and crying. Whenever she saw one of us eating something, she’d make the yummy sound and cry if we didn’t give her some. Then she’d want more and more. Steve was working with the Special Olympics at that time. One of their athletes, a young man with Down syndrome, had an issue where he didn’t know limits to what he was eating, and would eat and eat until the source was removed. His parents reportedly had to keep locks on the cupboards at home. This, frankly, scared the crap out of me. Was this common? Was this something we had to look out for? How could we live like that? How could we ever expect her to have an independent life like that? What would happen to her socially? And on and on… We began to eat out of her sight, and rarely took meals together (mainly because of my work schedule more than anything else). Eventually, at 2, she began to chew more, and her desire to try different foods decreased. And I felt responsible. I had to nearly force her to try things, conning her into opening her mouth while I popped something new in. She either chomped down on it, discovering that it actually tasted good, or, more often than not, spat it out, not even giving it the benefit of leaving its flavor on her tongue for her to consider.

I like to think that her reticence came as the result of a random childhood virus she had shortly after her 2nd birthday. It seemed that her pickiness coincided with it. It makes me feel a bit better to justify it this way.

There are so many other things to feel guilty about, too, with regard to deprivation. We avoid giving her candy of any kind (although her nightly cookie for dessert is ritual), or soda (which we don’t really drink anyway). I already know that she likes sugar, so why give her more of that when we could be working on introducing her to fruit or vegetables? (Woo hoo! She likes carrots and broccoli and green beans and apples now!!) We still badger her about chewing, and watch her like a hawk while she eats to make sure she does. Her chronic constipation causes us to make sure she’s getting enough fluids every day, so we harass her about that, too. Sheesh, maybe she doesn’t want to drink that whole big cup of milk/juice/water after eating a big meal!?! But you know what? We’re going to stand over her until she does. It’s for her own good, right? Guilt tells me that she’ll have big food issues when she grows up. Maybe not, but hey, what’s one more thing to worry about? I had a Jewish grandmother – I know how to do this well…

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Whose Side is Time On, Anyway?

I really don’t know how I managed to have almost no free time in my life. I mean, it’s nice to be busy, and it’s nice to be able to account for all of my time, but someone just reminded me that you still need to be sure to have balance. I have to resist peer pressure a lot to avoid adding anything additional into my days. My time away from work is spent devoted to my daughter. So, really, I don’t necessarily want to have other things to do, if it means spending time away from her. So, where do I sacrifice? Maybe I should go to bed later. That would buy me some evening hours to read, watch a movie, or, um, clean (as I will be doing tonight in advance of weekend house guests). I may even squeeze in a phone call or two (I don’t ever feel like there’s a good time to talk on the phone, and as a consequence, often feel somewhat isolated). But going to bed later would ensure that I don’t get up at 5am to go to the gym. (Okay, well, that’s another point—since the weather has gotten cold, I haven’t gone to the gym anyway. I need to get off my duff and start that again.) My free time consists of a 45 minute window in the mornings at 5am for the gym, 20 minutes after Samantha gets on the bus at 7:30 for me to eat breakfast and surf the web, an occasional hour during my lunch break at work (although I often will just eat at my desk and work through it since I’m almost always 10-15 minutes late to work in the morning), and between 8pm and 10pm, when I’ll eat dinner and relax with my husband, watch tv, do laundry, etc. (Okay, so there’s some free time there, but I do like to have it be as mindless as possible.) My blog is suffering from a serious lack of motivation, too. Hopefully my joining the Crazy Hip Bloggers will help me become a little bit more conscientious and inspired!

I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a more efficient way to dole out my day, to perhaps catch up on a book, or find a social life. I’ve been reading the same freaking book for the last 13 months, which is totally unacceptable to me (granted, it’s large and slow-moving, but that’s still no reason), when I’ve always been an avid reader. Maybe I should keep it in the bathroom or something, because next to the bed is doing me absolutely no good when I can’t stay awake for more than a page or two at night.

Amazingly, I do feel better for having written that. Blogging certainly helps to sort through stuff sometimes, allowing me to see things more objectively. It’s not how much time I have, but how I use it. The fact that I’ve stolen 10 minutes of my workday (okay, let’s call it lunch!) to write this gives me hope…

I now leave you with a nice, static-y picture of my girl. :-)