Tag Archives: parenting

Soft, warm and … scary?

There are only two conditions that cause me to become naked in public.  One of those is my daughter, Claire, who has no inkling of what I go through to keep myself decent when she is around, and the other is the introduction of someone’s small, furry dog.  The combination of the two is highly embarassing.  It is also very difficult to wrestle my skirt back down over my head while trying to pry Claire’s foot out of my mouth as she desperately clambers up my body in an attempt to escape what she considers is certain death.

Julie, being visually impaired, has never had any exposure to pets other than the sensations of soft, warm, and furry.  She’s heard us yelling at goats trying to eat her wheelchair, deer trying to consume her science projects, and seagulls divebombing her sandwich … but has considered this a wonderful joke.  When she was younger she happily experienced hippotherapy (believe it or not, this involves horses not hippos) and has a soft spot for dogs.  Unlike her calm, collected older sister, Claire’s relationship to canines is tentative at best.  I have assisted her to overcome her fears – mostly in a gentle way – but have failed miserably!  After all, she’s still scared of dogs.  I’ve tried almost every technique I could think of, including persuasion, rational emotive therapy, and a Rogerian approach whereby I encouraged her to “just talk” about her fears.  The only technique I haven’t tried is “flooding.”  I will describe flooding for those of you who have never taken Cognitive Psychology, but please, please send all children out of the room while you read – it’s nasty and you may scar them for life …. are they gone? … here goes …

If, for example, you’re using flooding to cure someone who is arachnophobic, then your goal is to expose that individual to spiders.  You may start off with introductory visualization exercises – ie., “Picture a spider on the opposite end of the football field.”  Eventually, though, you may progress to locking that poor harmless innocent in a room with hundreds of spiders until she calms down enough to realize that she is still alive.  (Honestly, though – do you think a person would appreciate this type of therapy?????)  If I were locked in a room full of spiders I’m sure I would say a lot of things I would later regret.  I might even fake a heart attack to teach that nasty therapist a lesson!

Strangely enough, Claire’s fear extends to dogs but not to other animals.  She is the self-proclaimed “guardian” of the garden, watching vigorously for errant squirrels, crows, racoon, and deer.  Fortunately for our little animal-lover, we live in Crazy Camera, Canada – which is teeming with wildlife.  Today, alone, Claire managed to stalk a squirrel, “rescued” five slugs from her murderous mater, and stood sadly by the grave-site she had built for “Alice” – a young squirrel who had died in a windstorm.  (I’m rather glad Alice is still there, actually, as she wanted to dig her up to show to a friend last week).  Claire is also the “protector” of Julie’s strawberry and tomato plants.  Bounding up the rocks yesterday and screaming the blood-curdling scream of a five-year-old banshee, she charged an adolescent stag at full tilt in order to save Julie’s greenery.  She was completely oblivious to the fact that this badly-behaved beast sported adult-size antlers.  Apparently he was too, judging by the expeditious rate at which he turned and bolted!

While Claire may not appreciate canines, she is very aware of the wildlife around her and our role as protectors of the environment.  For Claire, this fragile balance was never more obvious than this weekend when we went for lunch at an outdoor beach cafe.  She watched impatiently while crows and seagulls dive-bombed our platters of saturated fat and then decided to chase them away.  After running around and screaming, “Caw! Caw!” at the top of her voice she managed to scare all the crows and seagulls for miles.  She soon realized that she had made a big mistake – birds are much more interesting than going for lunch on the beach yet again!  For the next ten minutes we were relegated to the sight of Claire running round and around in a circle, waving her arm in the air and trying to tempt the birds back with a large, crispy onion ring!

As a parent I find it difficult to understand why a child would be comfortable with most animals and be terrified of dogs.  I suspect that because we warned Claire at a young age to be careful of strange dogs that she may have mistakenly assumed all dogs were vicious.  Julie, being confined to a wheelchair, received no lessons in fear as she was unlikely to run after any little dogs with the intent of pulling their fur.  Our lives aren’t exactly fraught with danger at every turn (ok … I’ll admit we sometimes have cougar sightings in amongst our picturesque rose bushes), but we often feel the need to protect our kids from their natural inclination to explore and experience.  Unfortunately for me, I will now have to “undo” the damage that has been done – which means that our future might well contain leashes, walks with Daisy-belle, and pooper scoopers.  Until then I will have to embark on my obligatory duty to protect Claire from all public beaches, parks, playgrounds, friends houses, schoolyards, tv shows,  and internet sites that have been exposed to snarling coal-eyed canines!

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Just believe

Tonight I donned a haute-couture lead apron at our local emergency x-ray department.  I’m not usually togged out in such glamour, but have been known to grace this establishment on more than a few occasions with Julie.  It’s an odd dance, the one taken by a parent when a child becomes desperately ill.  The child is really the patient … but the parent is definitely part of the equation.  It’s so interesting to see first-time parents and remember  what we used to be like and how we used to react.

The emergency room parent encounters the most difficulty when their baby or non-verbal child is screeching and screaming.  It is often harder for this parent to allay their own fear than that of their child.  I’m sure you’ve seen the parent (actually we’ve all been there) who gasps to the triage nurse, “I’m not sure what is wrong.”  As the nurse starts to write in the chart they then blurt out something that sounds like, “his tongue’s gone green” …  or “I am sure her hands weren’t that pink and purple colour yesterday”  …. or even a tearful “I lost the paring knife while I was making the soup … and I’m sure she swallowed it without me noticing!”

When we first started on this road, AJ and I were no different.  Our baby may have had multiple medical problems but we were not ready to be her parents and continually flubbed it.  We found it difficult to decide what was important and what wasn’t.  We missed ear infections, and then took Julie into emergency with nothing more harmful than a stomach ache.  We tried our best, but we couldn’t sift important information from the ordinary.  We were both horrified and hopeful.  We “listened” to the advice, but didn’t really understand many of the medical terms.  I suppose it’s no different when you’re learning a new computer program.  At first it’s almost impossible to learn, and then you “get it.”  The first piece of software is the worst, and then you learn to navigate around almost any program you’re given.  After a while you find that you’re becoming more “savvy” and you catch on comparatively quickly.  It is the same with being a parent of a kid who has complicated medical issues.  And sometimes … to be honest … it’s better to not know what the future holds.

I still remember our fear when we were told that our baby was going to be delivered at 28 weeks.  I can’t imagine how scared we would have been if we had been told that Julie would have congenital heart disease … acquire brain damage from the surgery … develop a blood clot … end up with liver disease … develop immune deficiency … and so on and so forth.  If that had all been dumped on us right from the start then I can tell you without a doubt that we would have lost our hope.  It may sound odd, coming from a parent of a child who has developed such complications, but you really do need to keep a picture in front of you at all times of what you hope for your child.  If you can’t do this, then try and surround yourself with people who are there to support you and your child and just keep your heart open.

Twelve years ago someone reached out to support me during a time when I was at risk of losing hope.  I was walking forlornly down the hospital corridor one evening, pushing Julie in her baby stroller after having visited emergency yet again.  Our little baby who had survived being born at 28 weeks, had then developed further brain damage following open heart surgery.  Our trip to the neurologist the week before had been like a nail in our coffin, so to speak.  “She’ll never be normal,” he had said.  “Just take her home and enjoy her.”  Instead, I had cried my eyes out.  What parent would enjoy being told that their beautiful, happy baby would never be normal.  It was one of the saddest moments of my life.  As I wandered despondently down the corridor I saw a nurse who had known me from the antenatal unit.  She asked how things were going and I told her.  She didn’t know all the “facts” but she sensed my turmoil.  Twelve years later I still remember her next words as they burned into my soul.  “Just believe,” she said.  Simply … “Just believe.”  I have never forgotten that moment.

When I was able to finally “hope” again, I changed the world for Julie.  Instead of just accepting medical diagnoses I started to reflect on this information.  With the support of her wonderful pediatrician I initiated decisions as to when she should have her blood tests, and even had the results faxed to our house so I could get a “feel” for what was happening.  As the numbers of physicians involved in her care started to increase (at one point I think she had 14 or 15 physicians and specialists at a time) I found that I became an important part of her care.  I was the person who provided the stability and the continuity as I was the only person who was attending all the appointments with her.  When I started reading medical journals on the internet to make sure I understood the jargon … interesting thoughts and theories began to materialize.

“Hmmm,” I thought, and prompted an ultrasound technician to check Julie’s liver during a routine kidney ultrasound.

“She seems to be missing some hepatic veins,” she said.  “I think I’ll call a doctor!”

That was the start of many more appointments, and also the beginning of new hope for Julie as light was shed on her condition.  It was heartbreaking to learn that Julie had tested positive for high amounts of ammonia in her blood, and it was also a big shock to realize that her brain damage had been ongoing and that some of it could have been prevented by better controlling these chemicals.  As we explored her conditions, it led to much more knowledge, culminating in a better approach to her care.

Tonight, Julie left emergency with no clear diagnosis.  She had many tests and will go back tomorrow for more.  In the meantime, she was fussed over by all the important people in her life who love her and who help her to cope.  One of these important people is her sister Claire.  By combining her endless energy, goofy behavior, and penchant for inventing “on-the-spot” rap music (today she invented a song about a butterfly who forgot to fly and fell out of a tree) she managed to get Julie to calm down.  Once Julie was in the examination room and slightly more cheerful, Claire started inventing rude noises with her mouth in honour of “Oglington Fartworthy,” one of Julie’s favorite characters in Nanny McPhee.  When she then followed this with “Je m’apelle Stinky” and phrases unlikely to have been picked up in French immersion, Julie actually grinned and chuckled.

Many years have passed since Julie made her first trip to emergency and she is now starting to become her “own person.”  As we hold her hands and walk her journey with her, we can only hope that she is able to develop her own sense of hope.  Until then, we show her how much she means to our family, help her to be courageous, and encourage her to … “Just believe!”

Sleep, sleep, or lack of it!

We seem to have a universal lack of sleep at our house.  Gone are the university days when we stayed up late studying only to find ourselves safely ensconced under cosy covers at noon the next day.  When I became a parent I suddenly found that I had become …. what’s the word? …. scheduled!

In the days of freedom anything went.  If I was tired I’d sleep.  If I felt like recreating I’d go to a movie – no need to check showtimes or ratings.  If I was hungry, I’d open a can of tuna, squeeze a dollop of mayo on top, and pick up a fork.  I didn’t even have to recycle the can after my impromptu picnic as there was never any little elves staring at me with wide horrified eyes!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Kids train parents! If any of you disagree with me on this one, please let me know.  Before you casually hit the “comment” button, stop and think about it for minute.  Are you actually convinced you do have power over your offspring …. or are you just living in denial.

Let me give you some examples ….

Exhibit A:

Think about preparing a meal.  You dish out the food on everyone’s plate, you all sit down happily to your repast and … “Mommy – can I have some more mashed potatoes please?”  In your mind you measured out the perfect amounts – happily there were no extras to sit in bowls in the fridge and rot – and you have not one mouthful to spare.  Actually … you do.  You have what’s on your plate.  Hungry or not, what would you likely say:

a)  “You can have it if you want, but I already spat on it.”

b)  Yell, “It’s mine and you aint gettin’ any of it!”

c)  Produce your best crocodile tears to accompany the words, “It’s not fair, I don’t ever get what I want!”

d) Quickly gobble them down at high speed, not waiting to swallow so that you can get in as much as you can.  Fait accompli!

e)  Sigh … and hand ’em over!

Answer:  Hmmm.  See – I was right!  On to the next question:

Exhibit B:

When you find out that every child in your kid’s class has been “asked” to bring a Barbie to your little wonder’s birthday party, and grandma has been cajoled into the latest Barbie movie, you:

a)  Gently explain that you care about her self-esteem and body image, and hand her a Kleenex to drown her tears

b) Say, “Cool!  I wonder how many Barbie’s it would take for Mythbusters to light a bonfire in October?”

c)  Warn the mothers, and post a Barbie-proof “bouncer” at the door to ward off disreputable guests

d)  Pretend to bake a “Barbie Cake” (don’t forget to put the movie in there too!) and forget to check the oven

e)  Change the birthday theme to “Malibu-Barbie-Princess-Fairy” and hand over the popcorn!

Answer:  Need I say it!  (For those of you who don’t have kids and think you have even the slightest chance – think again!  Even AJ has been cajoled by the dulcet darlings into watching each and every Barbie movie at least twice!)

EXHIBIT C:

When junior climbs into your bed for the seventh time since midnight for the fourth night in a row, do you …

a)  Spit out, “It’s my room.  Kids are not allowed!  Didn’t you read the sign!”

b)  Practice your latest Karate throw, hoping they arrive intact at their bedroom door

c)  Give your kid a hug while gloating in the fact that you purposefully ate garlic for dinner and didn’t brush your teeth – that’ll send ’em back in a hurry!”

d)  Drowsily rally all your mental power to follow Supernanny Jo’s advice and gently lead your kid back to bed each time

e) Turn to your husband/partner and blearily growl, “It’s YOUR turn to sleep on the couch!  Move it!”

Answer:  See!  Answer (e) is becoming a trend with you!

I hate to say it folks, but I rest my case.  We like to think we’re in control … but we aren’t!  We have been brainwashed – retrained into becoming newer, brighter, shinier, and more sleep-deprived!  The good news is that all of this flexibility may lead to longer life.  Or perhaps our new lease on life may come from the glee we experience when we see our erstwhile tormentors retrained by their own kids.  Until then, in the words of climate-change scientists, “We are doomed!”  Our only hope is to occasionally stick out our tongue behind the back of our juvenile taskmasters.  If this doesn’t make you feel better, you could always blissfully hiss under your breath, “Just wait until you have kids of your own!”

Porcelain Sea-Goddess

I hate midway rides!  I hate them with a passion.  If possible, I try to avoid them at all costs!  The only thing I can think of worse than the former is a certain ferry ride from Scotland to Northern Ireland about eleven years ago.  I was an unwitting victim late one Sunday evening after a pleasant weekend spent in Belfast visiting AJ’s family and little gran.  Julie and I had spent two weeks in Edinburgh so she could experience “hyperbaric oxygen therapy” for brain damage at the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Leith.  The treatments were incredible, and the volunteer staff amazing.  It was with high hopes that I then took my two-year-old on the train to the coast for what was to become one of the most talked-about trips of my life.

The Irish countryside was beautiful, the food incredible, the people amazing.  It wasn’t until I was sitting on the ferry for the return trip that I wondered if something was wrong.  The ferry stayed on the dock for the L-O-O-O-N-G-E-S-T time.  Unbeknown to me, they had cancelled all ferries that Sunday and this was their first run of the day.  They had delayed – as was sensible – due to the size of the waves and because (at the last minute) they had started to have doubts.  If they had just warned us … I would have had a fighting chance!  Instead, I hungrily handed my money over at the buffet, drawn in by the promise of a high-class gargantuan feast and a chance to relax with Julie.

When the ferry headed out I had barely looked at my plate.  Suddenly I found I couldn’t look at my plate.  Nonplussed by this turn of events, and never having been seasick in the past, I decided to take control over the situation by ordering a glass of fine Irish Whiskey to “settle my stomach.”  It soon became obvious that my stomach no longed liked it’s favorite Irish blend.  Within minutes, it was impossible to look at my plate, and the waiter (snickering obsequiousely) made a few insincerely supportive comments and offered to refund my money.

I cannot remember much more of the trip except that I tried to order Julie a McDonald’s meal to make it up to her.  I also remember with clarity the large number of washrooms on board that vast beast.  I visited them all … one by one!  I also tried to go outside and get some fresh air, but the deck – alas – was tinged with the salty-sour smell of sea-spray mixed with human stomach.  I was unable to find an inch of railing that wasn’t lined with some poor prisoner or another, and finally returned to my ill-fated grande tour of the porcelain sea goddess’ lair.

Julie thought the whole experience was wonderful!  Being visually impaired, she loves movement of any kind.  She was also intensely fascinated by the gutteral stomach sounds emanating from her mom and couldn’t stop giggling.  The louder the sound, the louder the laugh.  Perhaps she thought this was some sort of playful experience put on as a special treat for her benefit!  Eventually, I could no longer manipulate Julie’s stroller through the accumulated stomach slime of the masses, and started to worry that I would pass out from the effort of vomiting.  I had to think fast!   I opened the washroom door … picked a “nice” looking older couple (after all, this was an Irish Ferry and there were security guards everywhere) and handed them my baby with a desperate plea for help.  I spent the rest of the trip sitting close by with the occasional sprint to the aforementioned closet.

Upon arrival in Scotland three hours later (the typical crossing takes 45 minutes) the last train for the night had long since departed.  The only way to get to Glasgow to catch my connection to Edinburgh was by a hot, stuffy tour bus through the mountains.  I cannot tell you how I made it to Glasgow, but I can tell you without a doubt that I experienced every single bend in the road through those mountain passes.  I don’t know what gave it away – my ghastly green countenance or the smell of my breath, but there weren’t too many people who sat next to me on that ill-fated trip!  I held Julie with all my might and concentrated on a specific spot on the floor next to the stairs.  If I were to throw up again, I told myself, it would be advantageous to aim for that spot as it would cause the least damage to those around me.

Many years later, this experience came back very clearly at a certain midway last weekend.  I avoided going on all the rides with Claire, nudging AJ to accompany her as often as I could.  Julie is now too big for the kiddie rides as she can’t “fit” into the carriages even if I wanted to accompany her.  Knowing how much she loves “wild and crazy” I felt sad for her, but bought her a bag of cotton candy to keep her busy.  The adult-oriented rides all had warnings that participants should be able to sit independently.  That definitely ruled out Julie!

Fifteen minutes prior to leaving, I was overcome with guilt and stupidly asked an attendant if there were any options for people with disabilities …

“You mean this girl,” he said.

“Yes,” I responded.

“Well, she could go on this ride.  It’s not too bad.”

I looked up quickly at the spinning spyder full of screaming, flailing humans and felt a vast sense of panic.  “Couldn’t she fall out?!” I squeeked

He affirmed that she would be safe and I manipulated Julie’s wheelchair closer to AJ.

AJ looked at the ride, considered Julie’s weight and the effect of centrifugal force, and said, “No.”

No amount of persuasion worked and I found myself strapped in, hanging onto Julie with all my might, and trying to be brave.  All I can say is that I was brave … I only screamed a little bit and I even managed to open my eyes occasionally.  The force of the spins whipped us around at top speed, and it was reminiscent of the bus ride through those Scottish mountains to Glasgow.  If I concentrated really hard I could squint through the rain at the ocean in the distance, but I didn’t dare let go.  There wasn’t much choice involved … if I had let go of Julie I am sure we would have both perished, strung up on a treelimb somewhere in someone’s yard a few blocks away.

Upon return to earth, the first thing I noticed was that the Spyder was right next to a hotdog stand.  And they obviously served the hotdogs with onions.  It was very, very obvious.  I grinned a big “thank you” to the helpful attendant and then ran for fresh air as soon as it was possible to do so without losing dignity.  AJ went to get the car while I weakly leaned against the wheelchair.  I desperately needed a quiet moment but I have noticed that peace never naturally occurs in motherhood.  I did my best to allow the nausea to abate while trying to avert Claire’s scowl and the “20 questions” she was throwing at full speed including “Why didn’t I get to go on the Spyder?!  It’s not fair!”  When the van pulled up I was content to settle into the seat and close my eyes, and I am happy to say I managed to make it home with the cotton candy still intact!

If you’re wondering about Julie … no, she didn’t throw up either!  She had the best time she has had in over a year and LOVED the Spyder!  She laughed and giggled for most of the ride, and had a big, cheesy grin on her face for at least half an hour afterward.  I am SO glad I managed to take her on a ride, and SO glad that the attendant “bent the rules” so she could be included.  As for me, I still hate Midways!  I could tell you with conviction that I will never repeat this experience ….  but the smile on Julie’s face was worth more than winning the lottery!  Something tells me that I may just find myself at a midway again next year …. and if I should find myself accidentally on a Spyder … well, you can bet Julie will be grinning right next to my terrified face!

Hello world!

This is my first exciting day blogging as chocolatecherrypie.  So …. grab your cuppa cocoa and read with me.  I want to write about an amazing journey as the mom of two very special children, and the wife of a soon-to-be-nominated saint.   I had a very eventful day, as days go, as I had to take a certain young lady to her kindergarten orientation.  It was a proud moment as I walked away to the parent room, knowing that I had fully prepared her, held her back a year to improve her self-esteem, and that she could handle anything!  My world fell apart in the car when she announced, “Mommy, why did they say Claire (not her real name) is a boy’s name!  It isn’t but they said I had a boy’s name!”

Suffice to say that I lost my breath and could have had a car accident!

“You were named after a princess,” I said reassuringly, thinking quickly.  “A Disney Princess!  How many princes do YOU know who are called Claire.  None?  That’s right, because Claire is a PRINCESS’ name!”

Arriving home, the little princess ran upstairs to watch tv while I plotted my next move … stop her from starting school altogether and have her remain in preschool for life …. or ask the principal to let her skip kindergarten altogether and forge straight ahead to grade one.  Two emails to the principal later, I opted to take a deep breath and try to recover from the trauma I was experiencing.  You know it – the trauma of being a mother when your youngest is starting school for the first time.  It is almost as bad as when they start preschool.  I still remember the moment.  Claire turned three and then announced casually a few days later, “Mommy, I’m ready to start school now.”  Shocked and bewildered, with all my dreams of homeschooling dashed, I took her to the local preschool to “check it out.”  My little baby marched right up to the supervisor and said, “Hi!  My name’s Claire.  I’m here to start school today.”  She started two days later, and I was still in shock two weeks later saying to myself, “What happened!”

Well, here I am reeling with self-pity and blogging about her first kindergarten experience while she calmly snores away in our bed, plotting in her little five year old brain how she is going to explain her sleepwalking the next day:  “Mommy, when you take me out of your bed and put me back in mine …. I feel ….. REJECTED!”   – and not even noticing where she spilled her glass of water all over the sheets.  C’est la Vie!  Soon she’ll be thirteen!