Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Movement: School Bells Are Ringing

Settling the eon long conflict in the middle east. Solving the energy crisis and our dependence on foreign oil. Choosing a president. Choosing the right school for intelligent, verbal, quirky five year olds. All serious questions facing us in our life time.

I am a product of Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) mostly overseas in Germany. I attended no less than 8 different schools before graduating high school. I did not have the typical American school experience.

My husband, on the other hand, attended the same school system with the same class from nearly birth onward. He experienced bussing integration and a school's shift from largely middle class white to largely middle and lower class African American.

I taught in the public school system for over 6 years. I have worked at the public state education agency level and been involved with implementing No Child Left Behind legislation in Washington DC schools. I am an advocate for public schools in that they take everyone. Charters, private and other schools do not take everyone. These private schools are self selecting or their tuition does the selection for them. I believed they did not welcome nor choose to support children with learning or behavioral challenges.

I also know public schools are a black hole of fraud, waste and abuse. I have witnessed an urban junior high school resemble more of a prison than a place for learning. I have attended meetings on curriculum/programming/anything and never heard the words 'student' or 'learning' be uttered.

My first baby is going to kindergarten. My husband and I are committed to faith based education. Faith based meaning a school interested in not only test scores but in the spirit, character and integrity. Unfortunately, the public schools are neither interested in nor choose to spend any of my tax dollars on building the whole child. They will, however, build a new field house for a losing football franchise. They will, however, fire an entire department despite demonstrated results for kids and families. They will, never, have the opportunity to educate my sons.

So we are in the midst of the Movement. Refugees not yet settled on a home or neighborhood. Yet, the hands of time march on and we must make a school decision. Fortunately we can make a choice. We can cut into the budget whatever it takes to pay for the best opportunities for our kids. A new car can wait. The new house can wait another few months. Learning cannot.

We are charismatic, apostolic, prophetic protestants. We are sending our son to a very, very, very catholic school. It is has the best in education, enrichment and spiritual nurturing we have ever seen. The school adminstrator held my son's hand as we toured, and he let her. My husband, ever mindful of the checkbook, was ready to sign him up immediately after the tour. It costs as much our car payment. It's worth it.

It may cost us in other ways. We go to a very conservative church. The majority of parents home school or send their kids to a conservative protestant school. They will not understand how we can send our protestant baby to a catholic school. As if the Virgin Mary will rise up and grasp our son in her clutches. Oy.

This part of the Movement has been the most difficult. It means my mothering is now changing. I must share my beautiful boy. I will remain his first and best teacher. However, someone else will become his teacher too.

I know, he's been in childcare before. At 10 weeks he was in 40-45 hours a week. I surely shared him then. It's different now. I am only beginning to embrace this mothering role of mine. I am only now feeling less like a woman trying to walk across the rocking deck of a freighter and more like I'm on solid ground. I want another chance to get it right, to do better.

The truth of it is, I do not have another chance to get it right or to make up for the mistakes of PPD past. I can only do what my LaMaze class coach advised us so many years ago. She said, "You do the best you can with the information and resources you have at the time. When you know more, when you have more, you will do more."

I am doing more than ever. I'll learn more as the school bells are ringing.

"I wike dat school. It has toys!" he said when I asked.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Baby

Twelve long and so short months ago I was, at this very moment, sitting in a rocking chair in the dark. I was slowly rocking to a rhythm thousands of years old, heard only in the heart and in the womb of a mother in labor.

I was more prepared this time. I trusted my own body more. I knew I had time. I took it.

My husband was sleeping in the bed in front of me. Periodically he would raise his head and say, "You okay babe?". I would answer with a quiet, "Yes."

I was okay. I was in pain. The worst pain I ever experienced before or since. It can best be described as your legs being shot from your hips by fire. That was my labor.

In my head, as the hormonal and muscular wave swept over me, I would hear my husband's calm and soothing voice. "You are at the top. You are doing good. You are coming down now. The worst is over. Keep breathing." I believed him, because it always did become better. It always did end, only to wash in again ten, five and then three minutes later.

I would rock in between contractions, sipping water from a mason jar. It was dark in our little bedroom. The nightlight shone on the pack and play, the changing table, the baskets decorated in blue; all was positioned to welcome the little person making his way along the shortest and most important journey of his new life.

I drank of the quiet. My older son was asleep in the next room, the only sound a slurp as he sucked his thumb. The air conditioning hummed. My husband quietly snored in harmony to the dog. I rocked.

I thanked God for this moment and all the moments to come. I prayed for the doctor and the nurses. I even prayed for a good parking spot. I prayed to be brave through the pain. Then I slept.

I slept for minutes, then seconds, between contractions. How? I still do not know. I did. It was if my body knew these were the last moments of peace for a very, very long time and I should drink them in like a woman finding an oasis in a desert.

The morning came. We called Aunt Barbara to come and stay with our son. I took a shower, stopping every three to five minutes to clasp the wall and just breathe. I could still hear my husband's voice every time. I was walking down the hall when I knew we couldn't wait for Aunt Barbara. I knew because I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think during the contraction. My husband's voice was silent. It was time.

Earl, the Pastor/Maintenance/Best Friend, came to stay with my still sleeping first born. I barely said good morning before rushing down the hall. I stopped at the elevator, again clutching the wall.

On the way my husband hit every pot hole, every bump, every jolt he could or so I felt. I grasped the door handle and his hand, holding on with every ounce of strength. I would not, could not, give birth in a car. I would not, could not, go that far!

I reconnected with my "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar" self and told my husband to park the car. I could begin the journey upstairs to L&D myself. I could do it myself. Right. Sure. The kids in the elevator only stared as I deeply breathed through two contractions. Their eyes as wide as saucers. They were thinking, "Oh no she isn't!" I wasn't, but I was close.

I only made it a couple steps through the mother/baby ward when a young nurse pushed a wheelchair under my now immobile form. I couldn't move another step. The fire was close to sending my legs crashing through the walls!

At registration, this crazy, stupid-girl kept asking me questions. I had to close my eyes to keep from either stabbing her in the eye with her Bic or telling her what I really thought she could do with her forms. A veteran nurse said,"She can't answer. She's having a contraction. Give her a minute."

In the room we waited anxiously. It was only minutes until I was undressed and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey to the monitors. I was AMA which is the medical-ese term for old bitch giving birth. Really it's Advanced Maternal Age. I was also expected to deliver a ten pound plus baby. They were pulling out all the stops. I hoped they were pulling out all the drugs.

I had to wait for the doctor. When he said I was 5 cm (that's more than halfway there for the un-labored) my husband and I cheered. "You did it!" he said, "I am so proud of you." I was proud of myself. I had labored as long as I wanted where was that damn anesthesiologist with my damn epidural???? Things were down to minutes now and I needed a little pharmaceutical assistance....stat.

While she was putting the needle in my back I had another contraction. I had to remain still when everything in my body screamed, "MOVE!" Mary, my goddess of a nurse, rubbed my sweaty neck. "You are doing great. Think of the beautiful baby you'll be holding soon." And I did.

As the drugs seeped in everything went quiet and calm again. My husband sat beside me, clutching my hand with an awestruck look of pride and panic. We rested. The contractions continued.

I was dehydrated and laboring too fast. I also needed at least one course of antibiotics before delivery. So things had to slow down. We kept resting. The contractions continued.

It was time. It only took 7 minutes. Seven minutes for a skinny, squalling, bloody bundle to land on my chest. He was so small. Much smaller than they thought. For me, for my husband, he was large enough to fill the room.

I became a mother again that morning. I didn't know then the tough times ahead. If I had, I still would have done it.

Today he is more boy than baby. Learning to walk, loud and eating everything within arm's reach. He wraps his arms around my neck and plays with my hair. He cuddles. His screams can peel paint from a wall and clear a restaurant. He is a pain in the ass. He is the son of my heart.

I still struggle with what it is to be a mother. I just realized, he has never struggled with what it is to be my son. Maybe I should take notes from him.

Happy Birthday Baby. I love you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Movement: Mother In Law Camp

Let me begin with a disclaimer. Between any mother and her daughter-in-law there exists a resident tension. It is the tug between past and future, a constant redefining of roles, responsibilities and prominence. I love, respect and appreciate my mother-in-law more than most.

Now, on to Mother-In-Law camp.

I have discovered a new law of the Universe. As unchanging as gravity, as permanent as the day is to the night: No two mothers can peacefully coexist and be in charge, in the same vicinity, at the same time over the same children. If the law is broken, the explosions will be cataclysmic. How do I know? Read on.

In the course of The Movement, I and the children spent two weeks at NaNa's house. She and my father-in-law invited the 'zoo' to join them as we transitioned to the next stop in The Movement. A near five year old, 11 month old and 30'ish year old (and all the accompanying stuff) moved in to the custom built home for what promised to be a fun, family summer vacation in the 'Burbs.

Now, NaNa is the poster child for grandmothers the world over. If there is a sweet treat to be consumed or a cartoon to be giggled at, NaNa is the first to make it happen. No child should want for anything. Ever. No baby should cry. Ever. And 'No' isn't a part of her vocabulary.

So instead of controlling the erratic, loud and obnoxious behaviors and demands of her grandchildren, she decided to control the next closest person. Me.


It wasn't pretty. At some points, I preempted her comments by filling in the blanks myself. "I know my hair is boring, however, this is how I am wearing it today. I know you hate this shirt, however, I'm wearing it. Don't criticize, plenty of people wear black. And I like this purse even if you think an old Bubba would carry it. I know I am over weight, however....I know...." However, I didn't know how tough it would be to have two queen bees from two separate Mothering planets attempt to co-exist. It wasn't pretty, it was nearly Medea in the 'Burbs.

In the midst of the passive aggressive war going on inside the perfectly decorated home, something remarkable was happening. My urbanite little boy charmed his way into the training wheel circuit of the neighborhood. To say my boy has concrete and traffic in his blood is an understatement. He actually, for the longest time, thought any house with a yard was a farm. He wouldn't get out of our car in the dark woods for fear of bears and beavers biting him. He would ask for sanitizer after playing outside. This was soon and quickly to change.

I answered the door one evening (a rum and coke in my hand, to soothe the latest battle wounds in the 'Mommy Wars') and before me stood two tweens. They were simply standing there, smiling with their braces and fiddling with their sparkly barrettes. I asked if they were there for the Queen Bee. They said, "No. Can Ian come out to play?" Two girls. Stopping by to ask if my boy can come out. He's five.

Nearly every night my little fella would be racing and chasing. He was sought out and was asked over for play dates. He learned what it was like to play with other Daddies and Mommies. He learned, for the first time, what it was like to live in a community of families. He learned dynamics and how we were different or the same as other families. While NaNa and I were having our own little internal family drama, he was having a family revelation.

At NaNa camp, my sons developed whines at a pitch only discernible to canines. They learned arms raised and pouty lips gained them a hug and a gummy dinosaur. Sleep became secondary to cuddling for hours on the couch. And there is nothing better than a bike race in the setting sun around the cul-de-sac.

At Mother In Law camp I learned I am overweight, have boring hair, can't dress and don't keep my children fed or clean enough. I also learned the fierce love of a Mother for her son doesn't change after marriage and children. It only deepens. It deepens enough to keep everyone else as the interlopers. Guests at this buffet of family love.

Had I still been in the throes of PPD, I wouldn't be blogging right now. I would be in the hospital or jail. However, I am not still in the throes of PPD. I am in the midst of my healing, my overcoming, my freedom. Surviving MIL camp helped me to see how far I have come and how far I have yet to go.

The best thing about Mother In Law Camp was her Pomegranate martinis, carefully measured and shaken into a Starbucks mug. To make amends for my role in the battles, I'm sending her a real martini set.

She was tough. I was probably just as tough. Well, maybe not just as tough.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Observations from the Mother Deck

There are a myriad of moments to mothering. Frustrating, fun, manic and moving, they all crash into one another like so many multicolored marbles.

Of late, my own mothering moments have been shaped by my recovery from PPD, moving and the subsequent journey of self discovery. As I often, and sometimes painfully, examined my own moments, I became an avid observer from the Mother Deck of others. From glimpses and glances I began to construct a clearer picture of this job, this calling, this thing of being a mom.

Ronald Reagan had a foreign policy of 'peace through strength'. Some mothering moments are only possible after a display of a deep seated and almost epic source of strength. It only manifests in battles both won and lost.

As I left my Peep Jamie in her hospital room, I witnessed one of those moments of peace only gotten through strength. She lost as many battles as she won in her journey to deliver her miracle J.B. As I quietly exited her room, I saw a look of peace on her face only partly from the post-Cesarean narcotics. She stared at him on her lap, asking me, herself and God, "How did I get so lucky to have him? I would do it all again in a heartbeat to have him." She meant it. What is it about a mother that we forget the pain, the heartache-the blood, sweat and tears on the way as long as the destination is good? It took a deep strength for Jamie to endure the long years of disappointment and pain on the way to this little grunty bundle. He was worth it.

It is that strength I call on to get through this move. To over come fully the PPD, to gain the freedom to be. To be the mother, woman, wife, sister, daughter and friend I was created to be. To have peace even when I have to be strong.

Another moment occurred last night. We were out late. Dinner and shopping got us home far past the baby's bedtime. He was wailing in fatigue. The car was packed with bags, the five year old was running around in joy because Star Wars was on, the dog was barking hello and the fridge had no room for groceries. It was the definition of chaos.

In the midst, NaNa was a bastion of mothering bliss. The baby only needed a quick face wash, jammies and a bottle. I didn't think he would tolerate any more on the way to bed. As soon as she got him upstairs I heard the opposite of the expected howls. I heard belly laughs.

I peeked into the bathroom. My five year old was naked and explaining to NaNa how you have to flush after you pee and aim for the water so it makes the tinkle sound. The baby was in her arms splashing his feet in the sink, now full of water. He was happily munching on the soap until I replaced it with a dixie cup. His red rimmed eyes were now crinkled into a smile as he looked in the mirror at his grandmother. Still in dress clothes, NaNa was smiling too, exhausted from a long day at work and an even longer night shopping with two kids and a daughter in law. They were all in their element. The children were happy to be splishing and splashing. NaNa was happy to be giving of her last iota of energy to care for these little miracles in front of her. It was beautiful to see the complete example of joyful, in the moment, mothering.

My moment now? A stinky dog at my feet. A nearly 5 year old slurping his thumb in a vain attempt to avoid a desperately needed nap. A peacefully slumbering baby. A warm laptop under my wrists.

Oh, me? I'm unexpectedly content. Surprisingly, at peace. And only a little late to get the laundry out of the washer.