How my fur-baby is teaching me to be a parent.

I’ve never gotten a Mother’s Day card. I’ve never had labor pains or contractions. I’ve never sat outside my baby’s door while he cried and prayed for him to soothe himself to sleep.

But I have comforted a scared baby in the middle of the night while the thunder rolls. I have rolled groggily out of bed in the wee hours to take care of bathroom needs. I have inspected poop and discussed bathroom habits at length. I have had a tiny head (or a heavy head, in recent weeks) fall asleep on my chest; I have also woken up with small feet in my ribs. I have taken my baby to sitters’ houses and to the doctor’s office and driven away while she cried and didn’t understand why I was leaving.

She didn’t come from my own body and I didn’t carry her for nine months, but she is no less my baby than someone else’s two-legged human child. And she has and is teaching me many things about how to be a good parent to those human children if and when they hopefully come along.

She has phases just like human children – she throws tantrums, she listens well sometimes and not at others, she is smart one day and sort of dumb the next. I have phases too; phases where I love her so much one moment and want to lock her in a box the next. I feel like that’s probably normal.

The phase we are in now is wanting to sleep on the bed at night, and I am learning a lot from the successes and failures of this phase.

She is allowed on the bed during the day, but has learned that she must (A) be invited, and (B) stay on the blue part of the comforter. These two things have been successful, although I don’t know how they stuck so well, but we at least have that.

In St. Kitts, she slept in the floor but would spend the last hour (between potty time and real waking up time) sleeping on the foot of the bed. When we came back to America, we decided there would be no dogs sleeping on the bed at all. This worked for a while and we didn’t have any problems. Then came the winter, when it was cold and I wanted to avoid taking her out to potty as long as possible. I found Meera would sleep longer and more soundly if we let her sleep at the foot of the bed; so we did. This also served the double purpose of keeping our feet extra toasty. When the summer started, she made us too hot and had to resume sleeping in the floor.

Well, she didn’t like that so much.

At first, she would give us the horrible pleading puppy eyes at bedtime and we wouldn’t have the heart to make her move. She got her way for a while. Then, she would start out in the floor but later disregard the “must be invited” rule and sneak onto the bed in the middle of the night when we either wouldn’t notice or would be too exhausted to bother trying to correct her. She won again. Now, most recently, she starts out in the floor and tries to sneak onto the bed. I make her get down and tell her to be quiet. She settles back into the floor for about 10 minutes before taking up a post near my head and groaning softly until I acknowledge her presence.

“Hush, Meera! Lie down!”

She resumes her silent staring. A few minutes later, the groaning starts again. “NO, Meera!” Silence. Then she’ll go around to the foot of the bed and try to make another sneak attempt where she doesn’t have to climb over me and might get away with it. The Mister wakes up irritated at this point.

“Meera! Get down! Shut up!”

This cycle repeats itself throughout the night.

On the one hand, I’m always tempted to just pat the mattress and let her win. It’s faster, easier, and I can go back to sleep without further incident. That little head curled up on my legs is so comforting. But there is always the inevitable moment hours later when I try to move my legs and can’t – there’s a very large, very solid object in the way. Said object is more than half my body weight and very, very warm. Said object is also, probably, snoring. You see, she observes the “stay only on the blue part” rule very well, and at night, when the comforter is pulled up around the Mister and I, the entire bed is the blue part… and she wants it all.

Down she goes into the floor again and the routine resumes. I don’t feel like we’re getting much sleep.

On the other hand, I can stay strong, be firm and say no. It won’t kill her to sleep in the floor or in the armchair in the living room. This, while painful for me now, is ultimately for her own good. Parents have to be the bad guys sometimes. If I let her win, she will run my life. I am her mother, not her friend. Be a parent, not a peer. Stay strong!

The voices in my head repeat these and other such cliches throughout the cycle.

In the morning, she’s always by my feet. I don’t know how this happens. We’ll try again tomorrow.

So, in summary, parenting lessons learned:

  • Don’t let the babies start doing things you don’t want them to do forever, because it’s harder to change the habit than to prevent the habit.
  • When you say no, mean it. They know when you are weak. Be strong!!
  • Just because she doesn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s hurting her.
  • Punishments must be consistent and predictable. She has to know that when she gets on the bed or knocks over the trash or doesn’t come when she’s called she will get a predictable, unpleasant result every. single. time. Not just sometimes, because she’s willing to play the odds. (See #2.)
  • I am a total pushover.

I think everyone thinking of someday having human children should have to train a dog first.

What do you think?

#whenigrowup

What do your kids want to be when they grow up? Teachers? Doctors? Lawyers? I wanted to be all of those things and I’m sure there are more. Children have such big dreams, and parents work as hard as they can to help them accomplish whatever their hearts desire in this life.

My high school choir teacher, a woman I have always admired for her strength and grace, has three children – a daughter and two sons with Hunter’s Syndrome. Hunter’s Syndrome is a genetic defect that causes mental impairment, decreased motor and verbal skills, physical abnormalities and shortened life spans.

Without a significant improvement in their treatments, Cadence and Asher, two giggling little boys that Lori and Mike prayed so hard for, likely won’t see their 16th birthdays.

They both have ports installed in their chests and receive time-consuming, uncomfortable enzyme replacement therapy every week. They might be developing antibodies to this treatment. It won’t be effective forever. (And it costs $300,00-500,000 per year, per child.)

Projectalive.org is a campaign to find a cure for Hunter’s Syndrome. Their campaign slogan – #whenigrowup – highlights what these boys and their families hope they will grow up to be:

Cadence holds a sign saying he wants to be alive when he grows up.

Cadence is not yet five years old.

The Adams family drives several hours to Miami, Florida, (more than 200 miles) each week for the boys’ treatments. They desperately need a minivan to transport the kids and their therapy equipment back and forth to the hospital. Mike, a former Marine who served several tours of duty, joined the family in Florida as soon as he could and is working around the clock at a new job to support the kids. Lori does the lion’s share of the home therapy and transportation herself. They are still trying to sell their house in Christiana, Tennessee.

If you live in the Port St. Lucie/Tradition, Florida, area, please consider this event to raise funds for the boys’ medical expenses.

Iron Sharpens Iron benefit ride

100% of the event proceeds go to help the boys live longer lives.

I ask you all to take a moment and think about your children or the children in your life. Are they healthy? Are they happy? Do they run and play and jump? Do they bring you dandelions and frogs from the yard? Do they say “I love you”?

If you have happy, healthy children in your life; if you look forward to the day your children get married and have children of their own; if you have ever wished your adult children were small again, please take a moment and give $5 in that child’s honor to the Adams family and help Lori and Mike keep their boys for as long as they can. They have an informational website where you can learn more about Hunter’s Syndrome and about Cadence and Asher’s situation. There is also a gofundme account set up to take monetary donations. (All of these bold phrases are clickable links.) To find out more about ProjectAlive, visit projectalive.org.

Also, please share the hashtag #whenigrowup on your social media sites and share what your children want to be when they grow up.

Asher Adams has Hunter's Syndrome.

Asher is the Adams’ third child. He also has Hunter’s Syndrome and has begun to show physical symptoms.

The Mess of Motherhood

I have always had an aversion to mess. My messes, I can ignore. Other people’s messes, I feel my skin start to crawl and my hands start to twitch and my brain starts screaming “clean it! wipe it up! keep it from spreading!” This is something I know to be true about myself and I keep it under control most of the time, but the times it comes out worst are the times I’m interacting with small children. You know… those little creatures that live almost solely to create messes and don’t care where or how bad they are?

Yeah. Those things.

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law was volunteered at the last minute to teach the one- and two-year-old Wednesday night class at church and I got pulled in by association. The class went well and we didn’t have any tears from anybody, and in the last ten minutes we put all seven of the toddlers into the floor to play with the puzzles, etc. This is when the problem began.

I suddenly found myself following the children around, trying to pick up their pieces as quickly as they could scatter them around the room. I realized that, while my mother-in-law watched the group as a whole and waited for the bell to ring, I was desperately trying to contain the mess without keeping the kids from playing… an impossible balance to achieve.

It dawned on me right there in the floor that this will be my biggest problem as a mother. I feel like I will be able to handle boo-boos, tantrums and nasty poopy diapers, but it’s the food on their faces, the blocks in the floor, the odds and ends scattered throughout the house that will drive me insane. I am going to have to learn to let the kids play and make what messes they will (within reason, of course), and then get it cleaned up after they go to bed.

Because I know, logically, that no matter how quickly I wipe the sauce off their highchairs they will always manage to smear more onto their faces before I can stop them. It’s a never-ending battle that can only be won by waiting for dinner to be over and then putting the child – probably clothes and all – into the tub and cleaning up the kitchen table after bedtime. I know this. But my brain has a very, VERY hard time accepting it.

Because that child – *twitch* – has gravy – *twitch* – in his hair – *twitch twitch twitch*…….

on History, Hatred and Learned Responses

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and had originally started this post as a list of my top recommendations for summer programming. However, I literally just finished the last few seconds of this particular movie, and as I sit here in shock, barely able to breathe, I realize that this movie cannot simply be grouped with a list of other films. This movie deserves its own discussion.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a British film, released in 2008, set during World War II. It features an eight-year-old German boy, Bruno, who comes face-to-face with a Jewish prison camp. Two young boys, one on each side of the prison fence, don’t understand why they are different.

Bruno is taught that Jews are the evil in the world, and that the camps they are sent to are recreational havens simply meant to separate them from the rest of the German population. He’s told his father, the camp director, is making the country a better place. He doesn’t understand why his new friend wears dirty, striped pajamas, why he is always so hungry, or why he can’t come out to play football. He thinks the numbers the Jewish boy wears on his chest are part of a game and repeatedly asks to know the rules.

The Jewish boy doesn’t know why he’s inside the fence or why his family is disappearing. He wants to play games with Bruno, but instinctively knows that having Bruno’s football inside the fence is dangerous. He talks about his grandparents and how they must have been very sick because they went to a “hospital” as soon as the family arrived and were never seen again.

Bruno’s older sister, Greta, is 12 and wholeheartedly embraces the Nazi ideals. She idolizes a young Nazi soldier, asks her tutor to tell her all about the “nasty Jews” and plasters her bedroom wall with posters of Hitler and his followers. She doesn’t even flinch with a Jewish gardener is beaten to death in their kitchen for spilling some wine, and tells Bruno that “he deserved it anyway.” She is constantly brainwashed with propaganda and false history that tells her what is happening is right and necessary, and that the Jews in the camp are less than human and therefore do not deserve to be treated with any human dignity or respect.

These kids are caught in a world of hatred and violence that they don’t understand. Bruno and his Jewish friend can’t understand why they are different.

Because the truth is, they aren’t. It’s only the world around them that says they should be.

The “nature vs. nurture” argument has gone on in science and sociology for decades, but one thing that cannot be argued is that a child is not born with an innate hatred for another type of person. That is a learned response. German children in World War II learned from their parents that Jews and anyone else who was different were to be persecuted and eliminated; white children in America learned from their surroundings that those with black skin were meant to be slaves; early American settlers were told by their superiors that Native American Indians were dangerous and must be controlled. How many horrible things do children learn today by watching parents and grandparents who cannot let go of their hatreds and grudges against another sort of people? It’s not just the overt things, like slavery and concentration camps; it’s also the little things we say and do that tell our children someone else is less worthy than we are. What kinds of atrocities might our children’s generation commit because we today can’t learn to accept other cultures and races and move on with our lives as a human race?

But learned responses go both ways.

Just as Greta in the movie was taught to hate Jews, so are we today taught to see that period of mankind’s history as a far-away incident, something that happened in a distant time in a distant place. We’ve all been taught about the Holocaust. We all know the basic historical facts surrounding that time period. But how many of us have really set it sink in that six million people were murdered in concentration camps across Europe? How many of us have sat at the feet of a survivor and listened to his or her terrible stories without either tuning them out as talking relics or hushing them as inappropriate for children’s ears? I am ashamed to say that I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and I spent much of my visit skimming over the exhibits wanting to get through quickly so we could find something to eat. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas hasn’t won any real awards, in Great Britain or America, and that in itself tells you something. It’s too much; it’s too brutal; it’s too true – and nobody wants to award a movie that reminds us who is at fault.

It is an old saying that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. I, however, say that those who are not shocked by history are doomed to teach their children how to repeat it.

Watch The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It’s available on Netflix both inside and outside the U.S., and can be ordered on Amazon for less than $10. I’m ordering myself a copy as I write this, and I will loan it to anyone who asks.

If the ending doesn’t leave you frozen in your seat, shocked and hardly able to breathe, then you have a much bigger problem than you realize.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Because I just saw this and I love it so much

It could have been me. It could have been you.

Aren’t you glad it wasn’t?

Your baby can have a rich, vibrant life, even if it’s with someone else. Give it that chance.

**Disclaimer: My mother would like for me to mention that this would not literally have been me because she would not have made that choice. Just in case anyone was concerned.

Top Ten Thursday – A Crash Course in Toddlers

I recently started babysitting for an Australian family here on the island and I’ve been at their house a lot this week. The girl, who I’ll call Thing 1, is 3 years old and the boy, Thing 2, is 18 months. Thing 1’s little Aussie accent kills me every time she asks me for a “biscuit” (a cookie) or tells me that her “nappie” (diaper, she wears one during naps) is wet. They love to go out “scooting” (on their scooters, obviously. I had to have that one explained to me and I don’t think we have a word for that in American English), but Thing 1’s favorite thing is to wear my “thongs” (flip flops! The first time she asked if she could wear them I had to stop and really think about what she was pointing to before I started laughing.)

Thing 1 has the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar memorized, and I love when she and her brother sit in the floor together and she names the foods that he points to. Precious beyond words. But then ten minutes later she steals his truck and he bonks her on the head and the atmosphere changes dramatically. (Reminds me of me and my brother, actually, and I can practically see my mother laughing as she reads this.)

Which brings me to the Top Ten things I’ve learned about toddlers and about living with toddlers in the last 48 hours.

1. We can watch the same movie every day for a week and it doesn’t get old. In fact, if I sit on the couch with them but play Solitaire on my iPad because I’ve seen Ice Age twice this week already, Thing 1 tells me to “turn that thing off and pay attention!” (I mean, Ice Age, come on! If we’re going to watch something over and over at least let it be a good Disney movie so I can be hilariously entertaining by singing all the songs in different voices.)
2. I’ve watched infants who spit up their baby food and older kids who are completely independent, but the ages in between are impossible to feed. How do you get a child to eat anything when they are old enough to insist on feeding themselves but young enough that they refuse to sit still and eat what you give them? As their father said to me last night, “We’ve resorted to just feeding Thing 2 like he’s a caged animal.”
3. The smallest things can avoid a temper tantrum. Producing a second toy, helping one cook in the pretend kitchen while the other sets the tiny table, or even twirling around in circles and making funny noises can make them forget why they were about to start screaming. But once the screaming starts full blast, I am still at a complete loss on how to stop it. (If they were my kids I’d snatch them up and swat them. But they aren’t, so I can’t.)
4. Parents should never be home at the same time as the babysitter. First of all, it makes me feel like I’m completely incompetent because nothing I do works and Dad has to come out of his office to help; and secondly, the kids know you’re there and don’t want anything to do with me. Or they intentionally work to make me look incompetent, I haven’t really figured out which.
5. The most well-behaved angels during the day can still turn into toy-stealing, sister-bonking, pushing, crying, tattling creatures at about 30 minutes to bedtime.
6. Little kids sleep a lot. Two-hour afternoon naps and then bedtime at 7 for Thing 2 and 7:30 for Thing 1. I haven’t stayed with them in the morning yet, but I’m sort of hoping they take morning naps too because tomorrow (Thursday, so probably as you are reading this) I’ll be here from 7:30 a.m. to lunchtime. I’m sure naptimes are when parents actually get things done, but I’m scared to do anything for fear of waking them up!
7. They will never want to do what you want to do. If I want to play with the kitchen, they want to race cars across the living room floor. If I want to build a tower, they want to have a tea party. Etc etc.
8. Thing 1 will antagonize her brother for no reason at all. Simply to do it, I suppose. (Which, again, I probably still do to my brother.)
9. But then they can turn around and be such sweet siblings. Thing 1 will run to take Dog to Thing 2 when he forgets it. Thing 2 will retrieve a ball that rolled away from Thing 1 and give it back. They will hug and snuggle and Thing 2 will sit in Thing 1’s lap and it’s all very adorable. Until the next change in the winds….
10. There really is no good way to have multiple children. If they are too close together they cause more chaos; farther apart makes one able to help watch the other. BUT, too far apart means they don’t nap at the same times and you don’t get this lovely block of silence in the middle of your day, and it takes you longer to have them all (and then, on the flip side, to get them all out of the house).

I’ve been around lots of children and I’m pretty good with them, but I suppose you can never be expected to know how to handle everything until you have them for yourself.

Do you have any suggestions on how to entertain small children inside the house? Ways to calm screaming meltdowns? What about just funny words your kids made up when they were little?

From Four-legged Children, on Two-legged Children

I realized this weekend that I completely forgot about having a Thursday post. If anyone noticed, I apologize. If you didn’t notice, my feelings are hurt. But either way, if you’d been part of the week the Mister and I have had, you would understand.

We’re still living in puppy land waiting for our new apartment to be move-in ready. We are a bit disappointed with the way the housing situation is going, since our new landlord assured us that our apartment would not only be cleaned quickly and ready for us to move in over the break, but also that there would be no problems with the unit and that it would come stocked with basic kitchen appliances, utensils, cookware and tableware. None of these things has turned out to be true. She told us the house was ready for us to start moving in yesterday, but when we arrived with a load of our belongings we found the bathrooms in mid-repair, half the house dirty and electrical wires hanging out of the wall in a state of mid-examination. Welcome to St. Kitts, one of the few places in the world where unkept promises and terrible service are both expected and considered acceptable.

We’ve also had three more centipede encounters since my last post, the last two of which were a fully-grown 10+ inches long and one of which bit a friend’s foot and caused lots of screaming and panic on all sides.

But the biggest revelation from this past week is the constant reaffirmation of the fact that the Mister and I are not mentally or physically prepared to have children, third world country or not.

You parents out there will read this post and laugh at our expense, I’m sure. But, to make up for not having a Top Ten Thursday list last week, I will give you a Top Twenty-two list of valuable lessons these puppies have taught me about my parenting future.

1. In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon explains that women are naturally more likely to be woken by high-pitched noises so we will be able to hear our babies crying. I have proven this absolutely true, as I seem to be able to hear the tinkle of a dog tag through concrete walls and floors with two fans whirring and from a deep sleep.
2. There are not enough toys in the world to occupy three children (or in our case puppies, which are basically the same thing). The floor is covered in chew toys, plush animals and tinkling balls of all shapes and sizes, but the only toy worth playing with is the one currently in someone else’s mouth.
3. They will never give you enough sleep. Ever. Even on the one morning they mercifully allow you to go back to sleep on the couch, it will still be an intermittent nap, punctuated by frequent yelps and shouts of “No! We don’t chew on people’s faces!”
4. You have to constantly be making sure they are chewing on something acceptable and not destroying mommy’s best pair of flip-flops.
5. If they all suddenly go quiet, that’s not permission to relax. That’s a sign to get off the couch in panic and make sure you can account for all of them. (See item #4.)
6. You punish them and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And then sometimes it backfires. Like when you swat one for howling senselessly in the middle of the night and you wake in the morning to a pool of retaliatory pee in the kitchen floor.
7. Listening skills deteriorate over time, especially when the listener in question seems to feel that your commands are increasingly irrelevant. Why would I let you take me inside to protect me from a giant poisonous bug when I could be running through the tall grass in the dark getting stung all on my own?
8. Some things in life are certain, like death and taxes. Poop schedules are not one of those things.
9. They are always hungry. Always. Even if they just ate a heaping bowl of food and then stole some from the other children. They will still eat mouthfuls of paper in order to chew into the food bag and find some more.
10. Loud noises are often made for no logical reason other than to annoy the fire out of whoever is in charge at the time.
11. Just because they bark and howl at the unexpected visitor doesn’t mean they won’t run for cover behind mommy’s legs when that stranger tries to touch them.
12. Your dreams revolve around caring for and worrying about them. So much so that you sometimes wonder whether you were ever actually asleep or not.
13. The first few times you lose sight of them outside, you panic and call their names, clapping your hands and running to look around corners. As time goes on, you cease to look and just start to figure they will turn up on their own at some point.
14. When you have three, there will always be one that’s left out. It would probably be easier to have four, that way everyone should always have a playmate. However, if we can’t handle three we certainly should not have four, so we will be stopping at two.
15. They want to sleep all the time…except while you’re asleep. They wake you up at ungodly hours of the morning and then sleep for most of the morning and afternoon and don’t want to go to bed at night. You know that, logically, you should keep them awake during the day so they will sleep at night, but you just don’t have the energy because you’ve been awake since 5:30 a.m.
16. Sometimes they crawl over to be sweet and snuggly. Sometimes they crawl over to let you know they are about to poop all over the place. These actions look EXACTLY THE SAME! Always ere on the side of caution.
17. Sometimes the one you expected to be the most challenging is actually the best-behaved. It’s during these moments when you do a double-take to make sure you still have all the right ones.
18. You become overly concerned with bathroom habits. Who pooped and how long ago? How much? Did it look normal? When did they pee? About how much came out? Etc.
19. Things that never seemed complicated before, like leaving the house to pick up a pizza with friends, suddenly require a ridiculous amount of preplanning.
20. You begin to take an absurd number of pictures and post them online. These pictures will all feature the exact same thing and you will check back frequently to make sure everyone in the online world appreciates them as much as you feel like they should. If they don’t, you will take this as a personal offense and consider using this criteria to clean out your friends list.
21. At the end of the day, no matter how much they’ve driven you crazy, it still breaks your heart to hear them whine about going to bed alone.
22. There really is nothing better than warm snuggle time.

What lessons did your children (or your pets) teach you about parenting? Did you learn anything you didn’t expect to learn?