Thursday, April 10, 2014

Happy Siblings Day

When we got married and decided to start a family, there was one thing that was a given. That there would be more than one child, probably a lot of children, but we knew we wanted our child to have siblings. I was one of 6. My husband was one of 4. My dad was one of 4. His dad was one of 3. My mom was one of 6. His mom was one of four. I liked the idea of having kids growing up having a companion.

Today is National Siblings Day and I have to say that I have always loved being part of a big family. I've sometimes felt like the oldest as there was a 13 year span between my older siblings and the older three were out on their own by the time I was in kindergarten. I have twin sisters that are two years younger. So, I was a middle child, but kind of an oldest child if that makes sense. I loved having older siblings and I always looked up to them. These days we don't see each other all that often since we're all living in different suburbs (and one sis is now out in Arizona and one is in Central Illinois,) but we really enjoy seeing each other and getting the cousins together. I'm so glad that I didn't grow up alone and that I had older siblings watching out for me and younger ones to grow up with.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To be a parent is to never sleep the same again

My sister has a new baby and one that isn't sleeping much. Imagine that. I know it is something all moms have gone through - sleepless nights. I have five children, so I can definitely confirm the idea that every child is different. And sleeping habits are also so different. And there are so many things you try to get that much needed rest. How many sitcoms have you seen where new parents have resorted to driving their kids around in a car because the motion puts them to sleep?

My first son was a pretty good sleeper once we got him to sleep, but it was getting him to sleep that often posed a problem. I was young and a new mom and just followed anything I read that was put out by an expert and believed that it was the way you should do it not realizing that there are so many variables and that some things just don't work on some babies. The expert opinion at that time was to put a baby to sleep in a separate room in a crib on his side and to put him down drowsy but not fully asleep.

I had no problem getting him to drift off in my arms, usually as I rocked him. Then he'd fall asleep. I'd put him in his crib on his side in between the contraption I'd bought at Babies are Us of two wedges that kept him from rolling onto his tummy or back. At that time they pushed side sleeping as they believed there was a significant risk of choking if babies were put to sleep on their back.

So, he slept pretty good stretches. If he did wake up, I'd tiptoe in and pop a pacifier in his mouth and he'd usually go right back to sleep. But, he still wouldn't go to sleep if I put him in the crib awake. I was listening to all the experts and figured I was doing something wrong. I tried the "letting him cry" method, which is complete torture. I'd let him cry a few minutes. I'd go in and try to calm him without picking him up. I did it not because I wanted to but because I thought I was supposed to. I wish I'd listened to my gut more often than doing what I read was recommended. It didn't last very long. I didn't want to let him cry. He was crying because he wanted his mother and I was right there and I was letting him cry when it didn't feel right to let him cry.

I soon returned to the nightly routine in the rocking chair. Where he'd fall asleep nursing or cuddling beside the glow of a nightlight and then I'd put him in his crib and we'd all go to sleep. When I finally decided to ignore the expert advice and follow my heart, we were all much better for it. It was a beautiful routine that I cherished of rocking my baby to sleep in my arms. Once in a while he'd wake at 2 a.m. and I would have to rock him back to sleep and I would tell myself that one day he'd be grown up and I'd be wishing I had a baby to rock and sing to in the middle of the night.

With my second one it was really difficult. After an emergency c-section, I woke to a quick peek at my baby who then went down to special care where he spent the next 5 days sleeping naked on his tummy with his eyes covered because his bilirubin levels were extremely high and he had extreme jaundice. At five days old, I finally got to hold him. He came home with us and less than 48 hours later we ended up bringing him back to the ER because he wasn't eating or responding. He was then in the pediatrics unit for several more days - same thing - under the lights, unable to be held.

Once he got home, he only was content falling asleep on my chest. I attributed it to being so starved of human contact in those first several days. As much as I loved snuggling with him, it just couldn't be sustained with him sleeping that way all the time. I was still recovering and I had another child to take care of. The only way to keep him sleeping once he was asleep was to gently transfer him onto his stomach, which I hated doing because I was so terrified of SIDS. But, when dozens of attempts to put him on his side (the recommended position at the time) didn't work, I finally had to resort to letting his sleep on his stomach as it was the only way he would sleep when he wasn't on top of me. Finally when he got to the point where he was lifting himself easily and pushing himself onto his side or back, I felt a little better and just gave in to it. But in those early weeks when he would only sleep on his stomach, I wasn't sleeping at all because of the constant worry for his safely.

My next three slept in a variety of ways. One in a crib without the side pushed up against our bed or in a bassinet next to the bed. Another slept best in a pack-n-play in our room. Another co-slept. But we learned that we had to do what we had to do. Sometimes they'd sleep in a car seat or a bouncy seat or a swing. Sometimes they'd sleep beside me on the floor. Or on my chest. Or even in my arms in a recliner. We'd try the most recommended sleeping methods first, but when they didn't work, we knew we had to move on to something else. When they'd get hooked on the swing, they'd sleep in the swing for a couple weeks. By the time I was on baby #3, I knew that each phase was temporary and tried to get through it. And I learned to do what felt right with that baby.

When I had a son who was content being put down in his room to drift off watching a mobile above his crib, I did that. When I had one that I knew wanted to be rocked in my arms until he was asleep, I did that. When I had my last one and knew he would be my last one and he wanted to be close and I wanted to be close to him, I brought him into bed with me. Whatever the arrangement was, it was usually a deep dark secret I didn't let others in on as the onslaught of criticism to letting a baby sleep on their stomach or in a bed with their mom or spoiling them by rocking them to sleep every night could be brutal. Bottom line, I did what I had to do for our household to get some rest and I did what felt was right when I knew my baby needed to be comforted. We all made it through it. Sleep (or lack of it) is for sure one part of parenthood you can't prepare for and it's yet another part of your life that will never ever be the same again.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dear Sons: I'm thankful for you every day

I'd been writing a series of letters to my boys that past couple years that I post here on my mom blog. It's been quite a while, so I'm posting this today.

Dear sons:

I love you guys. And I'm so glad I'm your mom. And I'm so glad for each day that I get to spend with you. I know I don't always seem happy and excited. I get frustrated when you don't clean your room or when you fight with one of your brothers or when I see a "D" on a report card when I totally know you're capable of better grades or when I have to tell you do take out the garbage four times and then just give up end up doing it myself. It's not an easy job to be a mom, but I love this job. And I know that if I ever lost one of you that I'd give anything to have you with me to tell you to take the garbage out one more time.

I am thankful every day that you are all healthy boys. I know other people with children who aren't healthy. Or who have lost their children way too early in life - to disease, to suicide, to war. And I have you here, all of you. And if I don't make it clear quite often enough how much you mean to me, I do love you with all my heart and am so grateful to be able to see you grow. Please don't forget that.

I was working on an article today for work on a young man who died at 19. It was hard to try and do an interview with a mom who had just lost her 19-year-old son. I have a 19-year-old son. It's just hit too close to home. She talked about all he'd done in his young life. I could feel tears streaming down my face as I didn't show it in my voice over the phone. All I could think was how heartbreaking it would be to lose a child at that age. She didn't seem sad. She seemed proud and talked about happy memories. She seemed confident that her son knew how much she loved him and that she'd made the most of her time with him.

None of us knows when our time will be up. But it is up to us to not waste the time we have been given. We should make sure those we love know that we love them. I feel very loved as a mom to all of you. And I want to make sure you know how cherished you each are just for being you -- for those quirks and characteristics that make you so lovable.



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Words of Wisdom for 2014

Among the holiday parties this past month was one where we had a grab bag exchange and in our gift we were to add some advice for the new year. So, just thought I'd share mine.

Words of wisdom for 2014:

Hug often.

Listen intently.

Eat sweets.

Be interested.

Never stop learning.

Have passion.

Accept compliments.

Be better.

Don’t diet.

Take chances.

Be jolly.

Embrace change.

Hold doors for old ladies.

Play with little kids.

Smile even if it seems like you don’t have anything to smile about.

Love those who are close like you might not see them tomorrow.

Do good when no one is watching.

Don’t waste a minute.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pros and cons of tradition according to a 12-year-old

In my years of mothering I've come to realize how much our kids appreciate traditions - at least some of them. They like to see the same routines and customs year after year. My oldest is probably stuck on traditions more than any of them. Even as a teenager, he always requested to make our annual trip to the pumpkin farm or to go to the Santa House like we've done every year since he was a baby. He enjoys looking forward to things like this.

One of our family traditions has been taking a family drive every year for a real Christmas tree. Initially we would drive out to a lot in Alsip near where my husband and his dad worked and pick out a tree from the Wisconsin tree farmer that hauled his trees down here to the suburbs. After a while he moved to a different lot in Crestwood, and we followed, but when he abandoned that one and the only locations left were about an hour away, we decided to find a new place after probably 15 years. That year we decided to cut down out own tree. The next year we found a place on the Munster/Highland border and we followed up with dinner afterwards at Texas Corral, a favorite of the boys mostly because you get to dig into a big bucket of peanuts and drop your shells wherever you wish. That became our new tradition and we've kept it up year after year.

Today we decided we would go pick out a tree in the afternoon and follow up with dinner. Well, this afternoon I had to run an errand and drove past our normal spot and didn't see the usual sign. I pulled in and there were no trees anywhere.

My 12-year-old was with me. He's Mr. Rule Follower. Mr. Practical. Mr. Logical. He questions why we get a real tree. "Mom, do you know how much money you'd save if you got a fake tree?" he asked. "You spend 80 dollars on a tree. That's $800 you spend in 10 years. You could buy one tree and save yourself all that money!"

I tried to explain that it wasn't about the money, it was about preference and tradition. Then he gave all the other pros of owning an artificial tree. "The needles won't fall off. You won't have to water it. It won't dry out. You won't have to clean up needles." He was trying hard to prove his point. I told him that he was correct on all counts, but that we get a real tree because it's tradition, even if it is expensive and messy. But I told him that when he grows up and has his own house, he'll get to decide if he wants to carry them on or start his own. "Do you want to have a fake tree instead of a real tree and root for the Yankees instead of the Cubs when you are older?" I asked him. "Yeah, what's wrong with that?" he asked. "Nothing," I said. "Nothing at all. It will all be up to you. You're your own person and you'll be able to decide." And I really wasn't sad about the thought of him dissing our family traditions, I was excited at the idea of him coming up with his own.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Being too aware during cancer awareness month

My, my time flies. I can't tell you how many little notes I scratched on to slips of paper with ideas for blog posts, but, you gets in the way and things don't always get done. My last post was well over a month ago just after the kids were back in school. September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This year I seem to be more aware of cancer than I ever have been after losing my father-in-law to cancer a few months ago and knowing a few others who have been battling the disease.

Not too long before that I had been to cover a camp for kids with cancer and among the kids I came across was one I recognized. I had no idea she had cancer. She's an adorable little girl I recognized from reading to classrooms over the past couple years. She's the same age as my youngest son - age 8. I thought perhaps it was her first time attending camp and she was recently diagnosed, but when I asked her, I think she said it was her fourth year there. I left and cried much of the way home thinking about this little girl and how fortunate I am that my kids are so healthy.

During September, I also learned that a little boy who had been in class with a couple of my boys who had cancer had been doing poorly. Last spring his former teacher held a fundraiser to send him and his family on a trip to Disney Land. And thanks to her help, his wish was granted to take a trip with his family. He lost his battle with cancer later that month.

Cancer is such an awful disease and to see how it affects adults is hard enough, but to see it affect kids is so heartbreaking. And it makes you hug your kids a little tighter and makes the small stuff seem so trivial.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Feeling needed even when you're not

After a few days out of town and way too much to catch up on, I wasn't feeling well. I decided to lay down in my dark bedroom and hope my dull headache would subside. About an hour later, I woke up with the headache almost gone and feeling a little more refreshed. I looked at the clock. It was past lunch time. I couldn't believe it had been quiet enough for me to sleep a little bit and that no one woke me up asking for something to eat.

I was still feeling groggy and tossed around in bed a little longer. Then my stomach was grumbling, too, and I figured I better get out of bed. I came down the stairs and there was my just-turned-10-year-old in front of the television with a plate. He'd made himself a salad and a quesadilla while I was napping. I felt better that he had eaten something and at the same time I felt guilty that I hadn't done it for him and even a little bad that he was able to pull off a good meal on his own without my help.

As moms, our ultimate goal is to raise children to be independent and self-sufficient who don't have to depend on us for every little thing. But, as moms, we also like to take care of our children and we like to do things for them. That transition period when they are moving into doing things on their own can be a hard one for moms. It makes us feel good when we see they can make a meal on their own, but it's still nice to get a request for a peanut butter and jelly with the crust cut off.