Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Daddy Dolls

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Categories Dads, Emotion, Holidays, Products, Talking to Kids, Toys, Travel, Wouldn't Do Without WednesdayTags , 48 Comments

Monday was Memorial Day, the American remembrance to honour all who have given their lives in service to the USA.

Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of a day off work, family barbecues, and widely advertised sales, forgetting the Memorial part of the day altogether. My daughters’ father is a career soldier and has served 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we’re thankful that he has never been injured, I’m very aware that not all military families are so fortunate. On this day of the year, I always remember a waitress I met near where we live. We started chatting about our families when she noticed that my girls were twins. She was pregnant with her twins, she told me, when her husband was killed on duty at the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001. She moved back to Texas so that her parents could help her raise her three children even as she grieved.

It’s easy to overlook how war, especially war that takes place far from our shores, impacts children. It does impact them, though. My daughters have known all their lives that Daddy goes away to catch bad men. They know that he carries a gun, and so do the bad men. They also know that most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are just mommies and daddies and kids who don’t want any fighting. They just want to be together.

These conversations with my daughters were not easy. They were at least as hard as the conversations we’ve had about divorce and that mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more. Now that M and J are 9, they can verbalize how they’re feeling. When they were younger, it was much harder, especially with Daddy away more often than he was living with us at home.

To help my daughters talk about and process their father’s absence, I turned to Daddy Dolls, a company started by two Marine wives. They turn the full-length photo of a loved one into a doll for your child to interact with. Ours came out wonderfully. They held up through 2 years of daily hugs and countless runs through the washing machine, looking just as they did they day we received them. Sadly, they’ve been left at the bottom of the toy bin since shortly after the divorce, despite my efforts to bring them out to play.

I ordered the girls’ dolls the day that my now-ex left for his 3rd combat tour. We took photos of L in front of our garage the morning he deployed to Afghanistan. The company removed the background image and printed a smiling picture on each of two camo-backed dolls.

Daddy dolls give the military child something to hold onto while a parent is deployed.

When our then 4-year-old daughters received their dolls, they were completely enamoured. You can see their reaction in this video.

A few days after we received the Daddy dolls, I walked over to J’s bed after brushing M’s hair. J had her doll in her hand, facing me.

J (age 4, as Daddy): Hi Sadia!
Me: Hi L (ex’s name)!
J: So, how are you doing?
Me: I’m fine, but I miss you. I have a hard time falling asleep.
J: I just came by to say, “You’re welcome.”
Me: I see.
J: You’re welcome for the dolls.
Me: I love you!
J: I miss you all, even Penelope (the cat).
Me: And we miss you.
J: (as J, addressing the doll) You and me only have the … What’s the hole called?
Me: A dimple.
J: You and me only have a dimple.
M (age 4): Mommy and me have moles!
J: Does Daddy have a mole?
Me: Yes.

Of course, the utility and value of these dolls isn’t limited to families with a deployed parent. Any child suffering loss might benefit. I gave a gift card to the site to a friend for her son when her husband passed away. Moving away from the morbid, when it comes time for holiday shopping, a Daddy (or Mommy or Grandma or Sister) Doll might make for a good present. We received ours in less than two weeks.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.As with all Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday posts, I received no compensation for this review.

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Children of Military Divorce

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Categories Discipline, Divorce, Grief, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Parenting, Relationships, Single Parenting, Talking to KidsTags , , , 2 Comments
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our babies were 5 months old.
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our military babies were 5 months old.

Early in my pregnancy, I made the mistake of referring to our twins as “military brats.” Their dad told me that he would not accept that term. Our children, M and J, would never be allowed to use our family’s military connections as an excuse for brattiness or other poor behaviour. His point has stayed with me. It extends to our divorce too. Divorce has been hard on the children, but does not furnish them with a free pass to be badly behaved.

Military life is hard on kids. The moving, the extended absences of a parent and the fear associated with having a parent in combat are no small things. We’ve honestly had it pretty easy. Instead of having to move to a different part of the country or world every few years, we were able to stay in the Austin area for 8 of the 9 years that I was engaged or married. That gave us the time to build a solid steel support network. Although I got to stay put, during the time I was a military fiancée/wife, my husband went to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once, Korea once and was activated for hurricane relief. He missed every one of our daughters’ odd birthdays.

My ex is currently stationed in North Carolina. We live in Texas. This absence is much harder for my girls than the ones in the past have been. Perhaps it’s that now, at age 7, their memories are long enough to know what they’re missing. Perhaps this absence, where Daddy is stateside and in garrison, not overseas or in training, feels different to the girls.

My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq.
My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq. He was also a champion diaper changer and baby burper. He did not cut nails or breastfeed, but he was otherwise as present as I was to our babies.

I don’t have much patience for excuses. Instead, I believe in acknowledging our mistakes and identifying their sources to prevent similar mistakes in the future. When my daughters try to pull the army or divorce cards to explain away poor decisions, I acknowledge that it is difficult to be military children and have gone through our divorce. I then remind them that those things are no excuse for bad behaviour.

On Monday, my daughter M couldn’t find the shoes she wanted to wear to summer camp. I was less than sympathetic. I reminded her that she was responsible for her things. If she couldn’t be bothered to store her favourite shoes somewhere she could find them, that was too bad. She could wear another pair. I was not going to help her look for her shoes beyond double checking the shoe rack where they should have been.

There were a lot of tears, but when I ushered the children into the car, M was not barefoot. She had, however, left a pair of shoes in the middle of the hallways. These shoes were neither the pair she was wearing nor the pair she wanted to be wearing. I made her get out of the car and put them away.

She was not happy about that. She cried and cried and cried. Finally…

Dress greens with daughter http://hdydi.comM: It’s because you and Daddy got divorced!
Me: What is?
M: That’s my sadness. That’s why I have tears.
Me: Uh, no. Your sadness is that you’re dealing with the consequences of not putting your shoes away.
M: But I miss my Daddy.
Me: And so you should. Would you like to call him? You can talk to him. You cannot blame him or me for you not putting your shoes where they go.
J: There is a big hole in my heart. Around the center of my heart is a empty part. The center of my heart is M. The empty part is of missing Daddy.
Me: Sweetheart, I know. I think I understand. Remember, my parents are also divorced. I know that there’s a pain that feels like it would go away if Daddy and I hadn’t split up. But if we hadn’t gotten divorced, you wouldn’t have such a great step-mom and step-sisters. And this is one of those really really difficult things that is part of our lives that we accept.
M: My sadness is because I’m not used to Daddy being so far.
Me: I don’t understand that part. I totally understand that you miss him. What I don’t understand is why you think he’s away more now than he was before. He was gone a lot even when we were married.
J: It feels more away. Because he doesn’t get to visit so often.
Me: He didn’t get to visit much from Iraq or Korea or Afghanistan.
J: This is different.
Me: You’re right. It is different. And your feelings are normal. I wish you didn’t have this sadness. Do you want to call him on my phone?
J: No! I want to see him.
Me: Let’s figure out a way to see him, then! He’s going to pick you up for Christmas. Maybe we can find a way for you to fly to North Carolina for a few days.
M: So you’ll take us and fly home and come back to get us.
Me: No, you’d probably fly by yourselves. It’s called “unaccompanied minor”. You’d be with Sissy, of course, but the airplane people would be responsible for your safety until Daddy picked you up, or I picked you up.
M: That’s a good idea.
Me: He’s going to expect you to put your shoes away, you know.
M: Moooooooom!

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Twinfant Tuesday: Why the First Year is Hard

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Categories Attitude, Breastfeeding, Feeling Overwhelmed, Joy, Mommy Issues, Parenting, Perspective, Sleep, Twinfant Tuesday, WorkingTags , , , , , , , , 9 Comments

Parenting is no cake walk, nor should it be. Raising a child to be a successful adult, regardless of how you define success, is hard work. I’m not one to shy away from labour (pun mostly accidental) but the first year after my daughters’ birth was difficult to a degree that belies words.

What hard about the first year with twinsI’ve been through a lot in the intervening years, including the dissolution of my marriage and the loss of a son I had hoped would be mine, but it is surviving that first year of twins that I wear as my badge of honour. It’s making it to J and M’s first birthday that proved to me that I could survive anything. It was knowing that I made it through that year that gave me the strength to pick myself up and brush myself off after I watched my husband abandon me, my beloved mother-in-law turn her back on me, and my sweet nephew removed from our family.

Some of what made Year One so hard was unique to our family, but many aspects of the challenge are common to new parents. Each of the reasons below could easily deserve its own post.

I Didn’t Know My Kids Yet

The biggest influence in my parenting is my children’s personalities. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses and triggers helps me parent them.

M doesn’t deal well with change or the unexpected. She tends to lash out when she’s overwhelmed. She gets grumpy when she’s hungry. She experiences the world through words and numbers, and is energized by social interaction. She thinks out loud and needs to feel heard. She knows she’s brilliant and sometimes needs help finding humility.

J’s understanding of others’ feelings is near genius. She needs to talk through her emotions and those of others, and doesn’t take it well when people try to baby her to protect her feelings. She gets lost in imaginary worlds, both on screen and in books and needs a moment to snap back into reality. She’s usually very confident, but will confess to insecurities far beyond her age. She’s a more private person than M or I are.

Why the first year of parenting is hardDuring that first year, I didn’t know these things about my children. I was getting to know them at the same time that I was learning incorporate parenting into the other responsibilities of my life. It took me days to learn that M would cry because she wanted to be held, while J would cry because she wanted to be put down. I didn’t realize that J wanted my eye contact while M wanted to hear my voice. It took a while to figure out that J preferred Daddy to burp her while M was a burpless wonder.

The shortcuts I have at my disposal now, just from knowing who my kids are, weren’t there the first year. The first year, however, was when I learned who M and J are at their core. That M was a chatterbox, I figured out by the age of 4 months. That J was aware of and mirrored my emotions, I knew by the time she was 6 months old.

Infants Can’t Speak

Babies are incredible sponges of knowledge, and they start learning the cadences of their native language(s) in utero. They don’t, however, come out talking. They can’t tell you what they want or where it hurts. They can’t tell you that they’re crying because you held them too long (J) or not long enough (M). They can’t tell you that they like to be swaddled with one arm free (J) or that their favourite song is Row, Row, Row Your Boat (M). The slow process of elimination to figure out what would make each of my children comfortable each moment of the day was exhausting, and I had it relatively easy, since my kids were remarkably unfussy.

More than once, I remember saying to one child or the other, “I don’t know what you want!” after I’d checked her diaper, fed her, held her, walked with her, bounced her, sang to her, added more layers of clothes, removed layers of clothes and tried everything else I could think of. It took me months before I realized that wanting to be within reach of Sissy was a basic need both babies shared. I don’t believe that babies “just cry.” I firmly believe that crying is a means of communicating discomfort.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by parents whose approach to their babies was like mine. They didn’t assume their infants were drinking-and-pooping blank slates lacking in personality. Like me, they learned the meanings of their children’s different cries. (Tangent: my kids used the same cries for the same things, speaking the same language of cries. Their hunger cries were similarly urgent and shrill; they had the same whiny cry for, “I want to change positions;” they had the same hiccup-y cry to indicate that they were tired. Other babies used the same repertoire of cries to mean different things. My kids’ tired cry was another baby’s hungry.)

Baby Sign was our saving grace. It doesn’t work for everyone, but at the tender age of 7 months, my itty bitty babies could tell me if wanted milkfood, more or Mama. By 9 months, they could sign please and thank you.

It Was Wartime

The US was at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, when my babies were born. They were conceived and born between my (now ex) husband’s tours in Iraq. He needed to be in a constant state of readiness. We had a general idea of when he would be expected to go overseas, but he could be called on at any time.

As a practical matter, this meant that I needed to be on call for the babies all the time. If one of them was sent home from daycare with a fever, I could try calling Daddy to see if he could pick them up, but the answer could very well be, “No.” He might be scheduled to take them to a doctor’s appointment, only to have some sort of last-minute work obligation. Our choice would be between rescheduling the appointment or my taking time off work instead. We always chose the latter. If I was with one child in the ER in the middle of the night, I needed to be ready to take the other because Daddy might get called into base in the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s a concrete example: J and M were born at 33 weeks old. A few days after they were born, my husband’s unit left Texas for California for desert training. He got to stay behind with us. When the girls were 10 days old, his army paternity leave was over and the doctors told us that they were out of the woods. Thankfully, they were no longer at risk of dying when my husband was required to join his unit. He didn’t return home until several weeks after our girls came home from the NICU. I figured out how to care from them solo before he made it home. His dad had been staying with me but needed to go back to Washington State well before my ex returned.

Once Daddy left for Iraq, of course, there was no question about who would take care of the babies. Sleep when the babies sleep? I’m sure that advice works for moms who are home with their singletons, but it wasn’t for this working mama of twins when the twins’ sleep schedules got out of sync! I slept while I breastfed.

Kids are Enormously Expensive

Our daycare payments for two infants came out to be more than our mortgage. Thanks to the 10% discount on the second child, we “only” paid $1650 a month for childcare. That was 7 years ago. Inflation has taken its toll, so I can only imagine what the cost is now.

Daycare took up my salary, so we had to live on my husband’s. Trust me when I tell you that soldiers don’t earn a whole lot. We couldn’t afford to contribute to our retirement that first year, and that was okay.

I cut corners where I could. I made my own baby food to avoid baby food costs. I breastfed for as long as I could, which helped cut down on formula costs. I would have loved to cloth diaper, but our daycare required disposables. It was a while before I discovered Amazon Subscribe and Save, and I kicked myself for all the money I could have saved.

We bought things second-hand. Our girls’ high chairs were hand-me-downs from a twin mom at work. I returned the high chair we received as a baby shower gift and spent the money on formula. I watched my Freecycle list and pounced on clothes and toys others were getting rid of.

I didn’t eat out. If people at work wanted to lunch with me, they could buy something  and I would bring food from home. My splurge was an occasional $2.14 meal from Wendy’s.

Feeling like I couldn’t afford the occasional babysitter was scary. Budgeting without any wiggle room was awful. After a promotion at work, things became less tight. Daycare costs fell as the girls got older. Although summer camp pricing is comparable to infant care, it’s only for 3 months of the year.

I spent the extra pay that my ex got for being in combat on a lawncare service and a biweekly cleaning lady.

We were incredibly fortunate to have military health insurance. No premiums. No deductible. No co-pays, except (at the time) $3 for generic prescriptions and $10 for name brand. The girls’ birth, complete with ambulance ride, C-section and NICU time cost us $6. I had two prescriptions for painkillers.

If we’d have normal medical coverage, I honestly don’t know how we would have made ends meet. I feel like we had a decent middle class income. When you crunch the numbers, it’s a little insane.

I Had to Learn to Let Go

The perfectionist in me got slapped around, and hard, by that first year. I had to let go of all my highfalutin goals of motherhood and dig down deep to decide what really mattered. Did I want to read to perfectly clean babies with lullabies gently playing in the background in a neat and tidy home where all the laundry was folded and get a shower every day? Sure I did. Was that going to happen? No way. Not the first year.

I had the TV on. I dressed myself and the kids straight out of the clean laundry hamper. I ate pre-prepared meals. I slept on my lunch break at work, right on the floor of my office. My social calendar consisted of phone calls cut off mid-sentence and life in the blogosphere.

Being someone who processes through the written word, I devised a parenting credo to carry me through. I set achievable goals and didn’t look more than 2 weeks out. I learned humility and prioritization. I learned that being a super mom has nothing to do with being SuperMom.

Breastfeeding is Hard. Breastfeeding Two is Harder

I’ve told you my breastfeeding story recently, but both breastfeeding and formula-feeding are hard.

My Reproductive Years are My Career-Building Years

I came to conclusion that there wasn’t enough of me to meet my parenting ambitions and my career ambitions. That understanding didn’t come quickly, but it did come easily and organically. I spend my time at home managing children; I don’t have any desire to manage adults at work. Fortunately, since my girls were infants, my workplace has begun to allow for career paths that don’t lead to management. At the time, though, I made peace with motherhood and my military marriage costing me career progression. I liked my job and still do, but I would never again be a superstar.

I Need Sleep

We all need sleep, and there isn’t much to be found when you’re raising kids. My babies didn’t sleep through the night until they were well over a year old. I somehow managed to survive on 3-5 hours of interrupted sleep per night. I’m sure I could have been a much better parent if I weren’t constantly exhausted. It’s a miracle that I didn’t have an accident. I fell asleep while driving to work more than once.

Did I ever tell you about the time I showed up to work with my pants on inside out? Or the time I forgot to button my shirt after nursing and needed my daughters’ teacher to tell me to put my boob away before I got back on the road? Sleep deprivation does that.

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re sleep-deprived. It’s hard to have hope. I would say that the lack of the sleep is the biggest challenge of the first year with a new child or children.

“Wife” and “Mother” are Distinct Roles

This is a huge topic, but suffice it to say that being a wife can take as much energy, time and effort as being mother. The two are not the same thing. My co-parenting relationship with my husband had little overlap with our marital relationship. It’s easy to get so focused on meeting your new babies’ needs together to forget that there are other parts to your marriage.

A C-Section is Major Abdominal Surgery

For those of us who have had caesarean births, the recovery required seriously complicates the first days. Perhaps we can’t lift our kids and it’s painful to nurse them because they kick the incision. Perhaps you cannot physically walk to the NICU to see your baby. I may have pulled out my stitches a few times in my efforts to get to my babies. A C-section may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not major.

If ever someone tries to tell you to suck up the pain, remind them that the doctor pulled your uterus (which she’d just sliced open to remove a human being) out of your body to examine it before putting it back and sewing you up.

I’ve never had a vaginal birth, so I honestly can’t speak to how that recovery process might impact the first few days with your baby.

Hormones

There’s a reason that post-partum depression and psychosis exist as medical conditions. The changes that your body is going through as it goes from your pregnant to your non-pregnant state can wreak havoc on your brain chemistry. This is no flippant, “it’s just hormones” issue. Post-partum psychosis can be fatal.

It’s Completely Worth It

I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat. If I had the financial capacity, I would love another child. I’d love another set of twins. You know what? Hand me a set of newborn triplets. I’m in my element with babies. I love how they sound and how they smell and how they act. I love the way a baby will grasp my finger, babble to himself or seek out her own feet. Crying doesn’t faze me, although it has been known to make me lactate. I love that I can love on a baby without any fear of over-coddling him. I love the feeling of complete trust that a baby has when he’s sleeping in my arms.

(Seriously, I’m a baby whisperer. Ask Wiley.)

That first year gave me everything I needed to be able to figure this parenting thing out.

Is/was the first year hard? What made it (or kept it from being) hard? What did you learn about yourself and you babies?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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In Which I Find My Limits

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Community, Divorce, Feeling Overwhelmed, How Do The Moms Do It, Mommy Issues, Perspective, Single Parenting, WorkingTags , , 8 Comments

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73
Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Working Mom Nursing Twins

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Categories Breastfeeding, Co-parenting, Infants, Mommy Issues, NICU, Parenting Twins, Prematurity, Single Parenting, Theme Week, Working, World Breastfeeding Week Blog CarnivalTags , , , , , , , 10 Comments

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding CenterWelcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.


My twin daughters had my breastmilk as part of their diet until they were 7 months old. They were preemies, born at 33 weeks gestation, and both spent time (16 and 21 days) in the NICU before they were stable enough to be released to us. I work full time and returned to my job when the girls were 11 weeks old and not quite 5 lbs each. My (now ex) husband is a soldier and deployed to Iraq when J and M were 5 months old for a 15-month tour. He was also gone for the first 3 weeks after the babies were home, thanks to pre-deployment training out of state.

b_134016When I describe my nursing situation like that, it seems like a victory that I was able to keep it up for 7 months. Don’t be fooled, though. Even now, 6 years after my daughters stopped nursing, I feel the dull ache of failure when I think of our breastfeeding experience. Objectively, I know that my 7-year-old daughters are healthy and smart and funny and sweet. It didn’t harm them in any way that I can see that I only breastfed for 7 months. I know I did everything I could. I know that, on balance, I’m a good mother. Still, my daughters’ 7 months of breastmilk and high-calorie formula feels like a personal failure. My goal had been 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding.

While pregnant, I had been under the impression that nursing, because it was a natural instinct, would be easy. In retrospect, “natural” and “easy” rarely go together. I should have known better. After all, what’s more natural that raising your child? And what’s harder? There are plenty of new moms for whom breastfeeding is easy. I wasn’t one of them.

It also wasn’t so hard for me that it wasn’t worth pursuing, as it was for some of my friends: the friend whose baby’s lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t gain weight on breastmilk; the friend whose baby never once latched properly; the friend whose baby was so premature that her body didn’t even interpret it as a live birth and never produced milk at all. We all have our own stories and our own set of challenges.

Two Babies

Ah, the twin thing. I had enough breasts to go around, so that was a plus. My aunt-in-law’s successful breastfeeding of her triplet daughters 12 years before my girls were born was a huge inspiration for me. It also gave my husband a surprising degree of insight into what might work for us.

Let me say this loud and clear. Moms of multiples, if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth a shot. You may be a natural (pun intended), like Wiley. It may not work out. Either way, it’s the rare MoM (that’s Mothers of Multiples to those of you not in the know!) who regrets trying to breastfeed her multiple infants.

I tried tandem nursing, simultaneously breastfeeding both babies, but it didn’t really work for me. When the girls first came home, they didn’t have the muscle tone to hold their heads up, so I needed one hand to support a body and another to support the associated head. When my husband was home, I could sit in his lap and use his arms to support the second baby, but it wasn’t practical on my own. Instead, I’d let one baby feed in my arms while the other nestled in my lap.

b_202337Prematurity

My daughters’ early birth and subsequent NICU stay were the biggest challenges to establishing breastfeeding. My water broke–or rather “J’s water broke”; M’s amniotic sac had to be ruptured by the doctor–nearly 2 months before the girls’ due date. I had to have an emergency C-section, delivering 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz babies. They hadn’t yet put on the baby fat that allows full-term newborns to regulate their own body temperature and provides them the calories to carry through until mom’s milk came in.b_074835Instead of the newborn suckling I had anticipated, my babies were fitted with feeding tubes. Instead of their first meal being colostrum, it was high calorie formula. Those calories in the formula come from corn syrup.

I began to run a fever shortly after delivery, so I didn’t get to see my daughters until about 36 hours after their birth. Both my husband and I had been loud and obnoxious about our desire to get breastmilk to our babies. The hospital staff provided me with a breastpump and associated accessories. I began pumping when the babies were a few hours old and pumped every 3 hours for the time they were in the hospital. 16 days of round the clock pumping was the only thing I could really do to mother my babies. I was no medical professional and they required medical care, but pumping made me feel a little less helpless. I was still grieving the drug-free vaginal childbirth and chubby newborns I’d imagined I’d have.

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Photo Credit: Just Multiples

About a day after the babies were born, the pumping bore fruit. A tiny golden drop of colostrum clung to side of one miniscule bottle into which I was pumping. A maternity ward nurse delivered it to the NICU for me, where the nurses poured liquid formula into the bottle, washing every speck of colostrum into the girls’ next meal. They split the enriched formula between my babies. From that point on, any milk I could produce got magicked into my teeny ones by feeding tube.

Only once in the 16 days both my daughters were in the hospital did I have the opportunity to breastfeed. The lactation consultant was available during M’s feeding time, and she worked with me on a successful latch. M had already been exposed to the doll-sized NICU bottles and had been sucking impressively. We had just got the hang of it when a NICU nurse gently pried M from my arms. We couldn’t afford to let her use her energy on suckling. She needed to focus on the growing that she didn’t get to finish in utero.

I never got to even try to nurse J in the hospital. She had a hard time remembering to suck on her bottle, and had to have her feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed to make way for exclusive oral feeding. That’s why she ended up being hospitalized 5 days longer than her sister. She needed to be able to take 1 oz (31 mLs) of formula by mouth, 8 meals in a row, to be released from the NICU.b_152911Another challenge my preemies presented was their size. They were simply too small to reach from my breast to any pillow. I tried stacking three pillows, but they were wobbly. I used pillows to rest my arms, but I wasn’t going to trust them with my babies.b_235012J and M’s prematurity-related weakness was another challenge. Their sucks were incredibly weak. Once we got home, I discovered that it took them each about 45 minutes to get a full meal. By some miracle, the babies switched to the breast easily. Finally, a round peg for a round hole!

At the pediatrician’s recommendation, my daughters supplemented their diet with two meals daily of high calorie formula and infant vitamin supplements. I still pumped for the feedings while holding the babies’ bottles. I froze the milk.

Work

We settled into a routine. Nurse M for 45 minutes. Nurse J for 45 minutes. Do as much as I could in 90 minutes: change diapers, play with the babies, eat, do minimum necessary tasks around the house, go grocery shopping, shower, bathe the girls, sleep. Then nurse for another 90 minutes. I got a lot of reading done, let me tell you!

My 11 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, much to soon. I was grateful to get back to the world of adult challenges and conversation, but leaving the babies in the care of strangers was terrifying. Those strangers are now members of our family. My daughters attend the same school as their infant room teacher’s daughter. I bought my house to ensure that they’d be at the same school.

At work, I took three 15-minute breaks, morning, noon and afternoon, to pump. I didn’t produce anywhere near the quantity of milk that I did when I pumped on one side while nursing on the other. The girls’ formula intake went up.

I’d leave my expressed breast milk in the refrigerator at daycare, and the teacher would exhaust the breast milk before resorting to formula.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have an understanding boss and supportive work environment. The guys at work rearranged our office assignments so I could share an office with a female coworker who was unbothered by breastfeeding. I could pump at my desk without having to pause my work.

It also helped that my boss was the mother of two. Her youngest was only 4 months older than my babies, so we were pumping simultaneously and both constantly eating ravenously. We both stored our milk in the office refrigerator. My boss turned out to be a font of parenting knowledge and gave me many a breastfeeding pointer.

I started taking fenugreek supplements. I looked at photos of my girls while I pumped. I watched videos of them. I brought the onesies they’d worn the day before to work with me in the hope that the smell would trigger my body to produce more milk. Nothing seemed to help a whole lot. I couldn’t get more than 4 oz in 15 minutes when I pumped exclusively. When I had a baby to one breast and the pump to the other, it was a different story. The milk  came gushing. I tried several floor model pumps at the local breastfeeding store. It wasn’t the machine. It was me.

War

My husband left for Iraq for the second time when our babies were 5 months old. My extra pair of arms for tandem feeding was gone. The extra person who could latch the babies on for midnight feedings without waking me was gone. We could no longer change diapers at the same time. He couldn’t fix me a sandwich while I bathed the babies. Plus, he was getting shot at. He would miss our daughters’ first words, first steps and first hugs. When he finally got to come home, our girls didn’t recognize him, unable to equate the strange big man in their house with the photo we said goodnight to.

b_153107At 5 months of age, J (actually in my lap in the photo above) was a Daddy’s girl. Daddy knew how to swaddle her. Daddy knew how to burp her. Daddy knew how to make her laugh.

Within a few weeks of Daddy’s departure, J went on nursing strike. I’d bring my breast to her lips and, instead of opening her mouth and latching, she’d angrily turn away. I am completely convinced that she was protesting Daddy’s absence.

One day, after I’d broken down in tears in her office, my boss suggested that I take a few days off to try to reestablish breastfeeding with J. “Spend a few days skin-to-skin with her,” she said, “and see what happens.” I’d exhausted my vacation time during maternity leave, but my boss assured me that I could make it up. I could just do my work in the middle of the night while I was nursing instead of going on leave without pay.

I took three days off, I think. I took M into daycare and kept J with me, separating the girls for the first time since the NICU. I spent my time alone with J shirtless, holding her every second that I didn’t have her on the changing table for a clean diaper.

I tried a nipple shield. I tried latching J on in her sleep. I tried starting her on a bottle and then quickly switching to the breast. I tried the football hold and the cradle and the cross-cradle and side-lying. I tried singing and silence and white noise. I tried rocking and reclining and lying down and standing and walking. I’d already been taking fenugreek for months and constantly smelled like brunch.

One thing worked. If I sat in the bathtub with J, the water slightly warm, she would breastfeed. As soon as her little bottom touched the water, her head turned toward me, her mouth open, and the magical latch would just happen. If I lifted her out of the water, even for a second to get myself to a more comfortable position, she would break the latch and turn away again.

I kept up my attempts to break J’s nursing strike for another month. I dutifully sat in the tub with her, her sister in a bouncer beside the tub, morning and night. I didn’t quite have the reach to hold J in the water and comfort M at the same time, so we never managed the whole 45 minutes in the water. Besides, the water cooled and the sound of the water refilling the tub made both babies unhappy.

After a long frustrating month, I quit trying. I’d already gotten into the habit of nursing M on one side and pumping for J on the other.

A month later, M started fussing when I offered her the breast. I’d already been through the wringer trying to fight J’s wish to move on from nursing. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

So, at 7 months old (5 months corrected), M, J and I ended our breastmilk journey.

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Life After Breastfeeding

Today, J and M are 7 years old. They’re smart and curious bookworms. They’re outgoing and popular. They’re healthy and happy. They’re loving and kind. They’re more than okay. They are the kind of people I want to get to know and be friends with when they’re adults and they absolutely adore each other.

wpid-Photo-Jul-20-2013-1137-AM.jpgI have no reason to believe that an additional 5 months of breastmilk would have improved their lives. There’s an irrational part of me, though, that just can’t let it go.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.


Adventures of a Novice Mum
Featured on the Breastfeeding and I project linkup.
World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

  • An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
  • It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
  • Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
  • Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
  • My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
  • So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
  • Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
  • Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
  • When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
  • Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
  • Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
  • Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
  • Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
  • Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
  • Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
  • A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.
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Creating a New Community

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Categories Attitude, Community, Loneliness, MoM Groups, Mommy Issues, Other people, Perspective, Relationships, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , 10 Comments

This is a story of failure.

Nearly two years ago, in August 2011, I learned that my family would be moving to El Paso, TX from greater Austin, where I’d lived for a decade, where my kids were born, and where my job was. My husband at the time was a soldier, and the Army had issued him PCS orders to Ft Bliss.

Being an Army wife made me an near-expert in military acronyms. PCS stands for permanent change of station, as opposed to deployment to a combat zone, which is considered temporary… even though many deployments are longer than a soldier’s stay at their “permanent” posting. My favourite acronym? POV, for personally owned vehicle, or what you or I would call “car.”

We’d known there was a chance we’d have to move shortly after he returned from Afghanistan in July 2011. My husband’s entire unit, with a handful of exceptions, would be moving to Ft Bliss, El Paso. Right until the day he got orders, he was assured that he was in that handful that would get to stay at Ft Hood, near(ish) Austin. I was the rare Army wife who got to stay put for years. Two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and a PCS to Korea, and my soldier had kept coming back to Ft Hood. I assumed we’d just stay again and registered the kids for kindergarten.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=205082121919581953142.0004dfdce58c935ca63d2&ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=31.007557,-102.134399&spn=1.51596,8.778076&z=4&output=embed&w=300&h=250]

Once we learned we had to move, we had two weeks. We ended up moving the day before the girlies would have started kindergarten with two of the other kids on our street. My employers agreed to let me keep my job. That’s right. They. Let. Me. Keep. My. Job. I was moving 600 miles and one time zone away, and they said, “Sure, Sadia. Keep doing what you’re doing, except from your new house instead of in the office. And we’ll keep paying you what we pay you.” Now that, my friends, is how you support military families.

I put my most positive face on the move. It would be an adventure. We would build a new community after relocating. We would learn all about the culture of the Borderlands. I would finally have my chance to learn Spanish. My commute would go from an hour+ each way to run-a-brush-through-my-hair. I made sure I had plenty of mommy cards and business cards in my wallet.

I tried to make friends at my daughters’ school. The only person who bit was one German army wife. I tried to make friends at the girls’ dance studio. I made one friend the whole year I was there. I joined the local professional choir, and made two deep friendships that I suspect will last the rest of my life. I tried to join the local mothers of multiples group, but it had been inactive for years. I considered starting one myself, but none of the twin moms I ran into ever reciprocated the interest in developing a relationship. My daughters, too, tried to make friends, but my notes to parents inviting their kids for playdates or dinners were never answered. With the exception of the elderly couple next door, people on my street didn’t talk to each other. I was deeply grateful to a friend of my husband’s from their time together in Korea. He, his wife and their two sons were almost the entirety of our social network.

I’m sure there were a lot of reasons that I wasn’t able to find my niche. The other Army wives didn’t have careers. The other career moms didn’t, for the most part, speak English, and my attempts to morph my French and Italian into Spanish didn’t cut it. I didn’t really end up having that much time to find a place for myself in El Paso. In February 2012, my husband informed that our marriage had ended. It took 90 days to get divorced and another 60 to find, purchase and move to a new home back in greater Austin. J, M and I were residents of El Paso for a total of 359 days.

We didn’t move back to the same neighbourhood in which we’d lived before. Actually, we’re not even in the same Central Texan suburb. We have an enormous network of amazing people from the last time we lived in the area, but we’ve also managed to develop that community within our new neighbourhood and school that I was desperately seeking in El Paso.

Our first playdate at M and J’s new school was initiated by the other mom, not me. As it turns out, she was a twin mom, but hadn’t realized that my girls were twins too. My daughters’ Girl Scout troop leader and I have become good friends, and I’ll be co-leading the troop with her next year. She offered to carpool my kids and watch them in the afternoon for an entire week so they could attend Girl Scout camp with her daughter without my having to miss work. I hit it off with a mother whose daughter is M’s good friend and, as luck would have it, she’ll be my daughters’ teacher next year. When I called her on Tuesday last week to chat, she asked if my girls could play hooky from summer camp to spend the next day with her. All three girls had a blast, and their future teacher got a baseline on their reading and math abilities so that she can be ready to challenge them in second grade. Sunday morning, I got a text from the neighbour two doors down, asking whether her daughter could spend part of the day with us while mom finished up a paper for a summer course she’s taking for her nursing degree. We moved here 315 days ago.

I don’t know what the difference was between our El Paso experience and the one here in Central Texas. Perhaps my loneliness was obvious, despite my attempts to hide it. Maybe I was just too desperate in El Paso for people to want to befriend me. I’m certainly more confident on my home turf. Perhaps my social cues are that of a Central Texan and not of an El Pasoan. Maybe it’s that Austin is a college town and many of us, perhaps the majority, are transplants from elsewhere who have had to start over here.

I really thought that the girls and I had personalities perfectly suited to the Army lifestyle. We’re all intensely outgoing, able to start up a conversation with just about anyone. We’re all comfortable trying to learn new languages… me more than the girlies and J more than M, but still far more adventurous than the average American. I thought it would be easy to connect with new people, no matter where we were. If all else failed, I’d find my tribe among local moms of multiples.

What I found, though, was that moving from Austin to El Paso at age 32 was just like moving from the United Kingdom to Bangladesh at age 8. I couldn’t find my footing. I couldn’t find my sense of home. No matter how hard I tried or how long I stayed, I was always a foreigner. I tried to normalize things for the kids in El Paso, but I was desperately unhappy. As I’ve said many a time, my happiness at returning home was far greater than my sadness at getting divorced. Pathetic, huh?

If nothing else, this detour taught me where home was.

Sadia is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full-time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Shelter in the Storm

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Categories Older Children, Safety, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

I feel incredibly petty having used the word “terrified” to describe myself a couple of days ago in light of the recent tragedy in Boston. To be honest, I haven’t reached the point of feeling frightened. Mostly, I’m horrified. My reactions today have been a lot like those I had in the first hours of September 11, 2001. Disbelief. Anger. Horror. Sadness. Helplessness. Of course, there’s an enormous difference in scale between today’s horrific attack and the unthinkable and reality-changing events in New York and at the Pentagon a dozen years ago. Another difference, on a personal front, is that I now look at the world through the eyes of a mother.

My daughters are more aware than a lot of their peers of current events. Being the daughters of a soldier who has served three tours in combat, they are keenly aware that war happens and evil exists. The poem that M wrote at school two weeks ago shows that she’s not exactly sheltered.

Soldiers are heroes,
On hard times go to war.
Loving all people.
Dying sometimes
In wars,
Ending their lives.
Right to fight for the good.
Sacrificing themselves.

“Bad guys” are more real to military kids than to a lot of their friends. While we keep the worst of what Daddy has been through from J and M, they know that he goes to war and that it’s dangerous. Still, there are some dangers they’re not old enough to cope with at 6 years old, not in the way that the news media cover them. Today’s bombings are among them.

I usually listen to public radio in the car. Before I got out of the car to pick my children up this afternoon, I switched over to a Laurie Berkner CD. I did the same thing in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting. I believe that it’s important to teach my children to be citizens. I believe that they should know and care about current events and people outside their immediate sphere. I also believe that there are some forms of ugliness from which they still need and deserve to be protected. I believe that one of my jobs is to filter information that is just too difficult or complex for my daughters, for now. There will be plenty of time for them to experience the full weight of the world when they are older.

We only turn our television on once a month or so, but even if I were still in the habit of catching the local news, the TV would be off today and for the next few days. We’re going to be avoiding the radio for the next while, even music stations, because they do often broadcast snippets of high profile stories. PBS has an excellent guide to how to handle exposure to and discussion of disturbing news events with children of different ages.

Over the next hours and days, I’m going to have to figure out how to handle it if my daughters hear about the Boston bombings at school. They have a lot of older friends, and other parents may not be as vigilant as me at keeping the news and its disturbing images out of their homes. Kids overhear teachers talking all the time. I think I’ll just make some sort of open-ended statement in the morning: “If you hear about something in the news that you want to talk about, remember that you can always come to me.”

As with all things, if we need to discuss today’s tragedy, I will be honest. I will tell the children that I, too, am scared and sad and angry. I will tell them that I don’t understand why some people are so broken that they would want to hurt others. I will tell them that I know that we live in a mostly safe world, but that unexpected tragedies happen and that I find that very frightening. I will remind them that most people in the world are like Daddy the soldier, Grampy the firefighter, their great uncle the policeman, and all the wonderful teachers and mentors in their lives. Most people are there to protect them, and they are safe, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.

Do your kids see or hear the news? Are their certain stories you filter? At what age do you think it’s appropriate to start and stop shielding children from media coverage of disturbing developments?

Sadia is the mother of 6-year-old twin daughters and a former US army wife, now divorced. She lives in the Austin, TX area, where she works in higher education information technology. She is originally from the United Kingdom and Bangladesh.

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