Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Monday, July 23, 2012

Save our sons

As another tragedy rips through Colorado, I feel heavy with the weight of loss. My heart breaks for the families who lost a loved one. I hurt for a community who will understandably second-guess a trip to the movies, or the grocery store, or the mall. I am overcome with anger and sadness and fear.

My anger quickly focuses on our nation's loose gun laws. How any informed citizen can possibly believe that the Second Amendment, drafted in the 1790s, blindly authorizes the modern-day purchase of firearms as powerful, precise, and dedicated to destruction as the 3 guns carried by James Holmes on Friday morning is beyond my comprehension. I am shocked by the opinions being expressed by certain Republican congressmen and average American citizens - some of them my friends - who feel that the number of lives lost in the Aurora theater could have been reduced if at least one of the theater patrons had been armed and able to take down the shooter. The confusion, smoke, darkness, and panic in that theater created a combat zone, and I am of the opinion that most gun-carrying citizens are not trained to keep a level head, let alone a steady aim, in such a situation. 

My sadness falls on the victims, their families, and the survivors who will be imprinted with this tragedy for the rest of their lives. The stories of loss and heroism coming out of that theater gut me. My grief extends further though. I feel an excruciating pain for the mother of James Holmes, and this is where my sadness gives way to fear. 

Before he became the mastermind behind Friday's massacre, "Holmes" was simply James. Maybe his family called him Jim. Or Jimmy. He was an honor student, an attractive young man, a boy who regularly attended church and was a counselor at a camp for underprivileged children. Even further back, twenty years ago, he was a darling little boy showing no indication of what was to come. It is too easy to look at James' picture on the news and speak of his cold eyes, his diabolical intelligence, his malicious intentions. That makes him "other." It insulates us as average citizens, normal everyday parents, from the idea that he could have been son to any one of us. My intention here is not to excuse the actions of James Holmes - far from it - but to open a dialogue on how we can protect our own sons from this tragic fate. 

Because it is always the sons, isn't it? The boys who grow into men that funnel their brokenness into mass destruction. James Holmes is the latest iteration of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Of Jared Loughner. Of Seung-Hui Cho and Nathan Dunlap (no, we haven't forgotten). There are more, of course, but this short list represent 67 deaths and that number contains enough loss to prove the point. 

And my point is this, how do we save our sons? How do we teach our boys to find outlets other than violence for their pain; to seek help before it is too late? Because this is my greatest fear. Not of being the victim of a random act of terrible violence, but of raising a son who is capable of carrying out such an act. I am a realist, and I can only assume that the mothers of the young men listed above used to look at their sons with the same love and adoration that I feel when I look on my own. Before they were monsters, they were little boys just like mine and yours. So what are we, as the mothers and fathers of sons, to do?

I don't pretend to have answersI expect the antidote to this nationwide infection of violence will be multi-layered, involving a combined effort of stricter gun regulations, increased awareness of and access to men's mental health care, and collectively analyzing our country's common use of death as entertainment. 

On a grassroots level, I believe that parents are the first line of defense in preventing future tragedy. I don't say this to lay blame on the parents of the shooters I've mentioned above, but rather to place an active burden on myself and the other parents of young boys across the country. We can make a difference. We can honor all of the victims of violence in America by doing our part to raise emotionally intelligent men. Here is my plan:

  1. No guns in our home, real or toy, period. Does my 3-year-old turn his wooden hammer into a "shooting machine"? Yes, and I let him. I adhere to the idea that "boys will be boys" and do my best not to overreact and make guns enticing by way of making them taboo, but I can't in good conscience aid and abet his introduction to realistic toy weaponry. And on days when he plays superheroes and "makes all the bad guys nice" instead of shooting them I feel like we are making a positive impression. 
  2. I will closely monitor the amount of violence that I allow into our home. My husband and I don't watch adult TV shows while our children are awake - even the baby - because we want to limit their exposure to adult situations as much as possible. And we are constantly adjusting our guidelines based on how our toddler reacts. Recent, seemingly innocuous, cartoons that have been taken out of rotation include Kung Fu Panda, Tom and Jerry, and SpongeBob SquarePants. 
  3. I am going to teach my sons that it is okay to cry. Tears are the easiest, most basic release that our bodies offer for strong emotion. My dad is a great man who can get choked up at the mere mention of his children or his grandsons. I love this about him. My husband can cry tears of both joy and pain, and this was one of the primary reasons that I knew he would make a good father. In our house, we will never tell our boys to buck up and stop crying. 
  4. My husband and I will strive to see our sons as they are and (hopefully) not as we want them to be. We will not hide our own fears, failures, or imperfections from our children in the hopes that they won't feel the need to hide their perceived shortcomings from us. 
  5. We will watch over the emotional health of our sons with the same care that we apply to their physical wellbeing. Just as we monitor a cold to make sure it doesn't become an ear infection, we will keep close eye on a temper tantrum to ensure that this lack of control doesn't become a way of life. 
  6. We are stocking our parental tool kit by reading. Not online chat room reading, but actual books written by authors with credentials to help us in our endeavor. Currently on the nightstand you can find "Becoming The Parent You Want To Be" by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, and "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman, PhD. 
  7. We are increasing the emotional tool kit of our toddler with books as well. The classic "Hands Are Not For Hitting" by Martine Agassi, PhD and "When I Feel Angry" by Cornelia Maude Spelman are great in that they teach valuable lessons on acceptable responses to strong feelings. These books open up a dialogue with children while you read so that talking about anger couldn't be easier. Most importantly, both texts emphasize that feeling like you want to hit or hurt someone and actually doing it are very different, which is a key lesson at any age. 
  8. We are redoubling our effort to actively listen when our oldest son is upset and to help him voice his feelings. We've recently been introduced to the idea that it is much more beneficial for a child to validate a fear of the dark, for example, and help work through it than to simply tell him there's nothing to be afraid of and go to sleep. This is an oversimplification, but the idea is to listen to a child's words and not dismiss or belittle their feelings based on our grownup understanding of the world. 
  9. Finally, I will always allow my sons access to mental health professionals if they have problems that are beyond my ability to help. Together my husband and I will teach them that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. If they cannot ask for help, we will ask for them. 
Yes it's a long list, and I expect that as I continue to learn it will continue to grow. But it's worth the effort. It represents a promise not only to America but also to my boys and the men they can become. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Motherhood, or "When life throws a pie in your face"

Two nights ago I took off my bra and half a french fry fell out. Par for the course with my monstrous baby-induced rack. It hoards things. But I'm not alone, right? Every mom has a collection of day-to-day moments that humble her. If you show me yours, I'll show you mine. I'll even go first...

I wash my hair so infrequently right now that it actually started to dread. I had to cut a piece out.

I was on a conference call last week when Jude got my attention, and everyone else's, by yelling out "Mom! Booger!" so that I could wipe off his picking finger.

Gabe went in to give Aidan an open mouth baby kiss and our son picked that exact moment to spit up. (Fatherhood is humbling too.)

Along those lines, Gabe once caught Jude poop with his hand during a middle of the night changing when he didn't have a fresh diaper at the ready.

Continuing on the poop train, I looked down yesterday and discovered fresh poop on my finger. I still have no idea where it came from though I am quite certain it didn't come from me. (Honestly, I don't know if that would be better or worse.)

Finally, and I'll leave you with this one, I went to rinse out a diaper this morning, pointed the sprayer the wrong direction, and full on bidet-ed myself in the face.

It is 4 minutes until noon. By the time you read this, I'll be drinking. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hip-hip-hippie Hooray!

Okay, we are two and a half months in to our diapering adventure and drumroll please...we LOVE the cloth diapers! Instead of merely using them a few times a day, we use them 90% of the time. They are adorable, easy to use, and create so much less waste. It's also wonderful not to drop $50 on diapers every time we go to the grocery store. The absolute best part? Look how cute my baby's bum is. (And here I thought we couldn't improve on perfection.)

These diapers are also ideal for summer, when no one wants to wear any extra clothing.

I'm glad we did a trial before going whole hog on this thing though. If you'd like a recap of our initial investment, the original blog post is here.


The Good.

The GroVia hook and loop diaper shells are the best. We've tried both hook and loop (or "velcro" to normal people) and the snap shells, and velcro is the easiest and most like the disposables we were used to. They are also the fastest to secure on your kid, and this is key in winning the 7-month-old Wiggle Olympics. They are comparable in bulkiness to a disposable diaper (bonus!), so Aidan's clothes still fit.

The snap-in Soaker Pads are super. They are lined on the backside so that they trap moisture and help control leaks. They also produce less laundry than I expected since you simply unsnap the liner, toss it into the dirty clothes, and reuse the shell. Paired with a reusable organic Booster Pad (a versatile new addition to our arsenal), they can last for a few hours between changes. The soakers do take a lot to dry though. I flip them inside out, put them through a full cycle, and then let them air dry as well if needed.

The disposable Biosoakers are a nice standby when all of the soaker pads are in the washing machine. I've also used them on short excursions when I anticipate a diaper change but don't want to be stuck carting a used diaper around. (Gross. I am not that mom.) A note of caution, while these disposable inserts look similar to disposable diapers, they do not retain as much moisture and will leak if not changed in good time.

In general, since cloth diapers are not as dry for a baby as disposables, I do recommend the Bummis fleece liners or a booster pad so that something dry is against the baby's skin. If we leave a wet diaper on Aidan for any amount of time he gets a bit of a rash from the damp.

Finally, Bioliners are a must have. They look like a dryer sheet but are much more vital - they contain the poops and make it easy to flush the whole shebang down the toilet. Hooray for that.

The Not-So-Good.

Compared to disposables, cloth diapers in general are much more prone to leaks. A disposable diaper can hold a lot of liquid. In our house we call them 20-lb pee diapers, as in "That was a long day out. Looks like we got ourselves a 20-lb pee diaper here." Because of this, we will continue to use disposables for overnights as well as long afternoons spent running errands. And for car trips. And honestly for any kind of travel. Once again, I am not the mom to cart around a bag of dirty diapers waiting to be laundered. Blech.

Concerning specific products we bought and don't like, I am not a fan of the "all-in-one" style of diaper. The snap closures are odd and hard to secure on a moving target. They are also the first to leak and result in a lot of laundry for a simple pee diaper. I only use these now when everything else is dirty and I ALWAYS pair them with an organic booster pad. Otherwise they are totally useless. These are also the bulkiest diapers of the bunch.

Using a different brand of prefold diaper insert (we tried OsoCozy) is ridiculous. They are way too big to fit in this sleek little diaper shell. They also made my baby look like a fat old man. Not a waste of money though - my baby's a puker, and these make the best spit rags.

Finally, the initial investment is steep but you have to do it. We bought so few supplies to start. It made for a good trial, but not enough equipment to sustain our cloth diaper revolution. We were always out of inserts. I've since upped our count to 2 all-in-ones, 4 shells, 8 soaker pads, and 4 boosters. I'm going to purchase 4 additional shells and another dozen soaker pads and call it good for the next year.

Hot Tips:

We got a great recommendation from a friend and purchased a bumGenius Diaper Sprayer for our toilet to make rinsing poop diapers easier. It will also be useful for cleaning out a training potty when we get there again. And, according to the box, it can even be used as a personal bidet! (Again, gross. If you come to our house and use our bathroom, please do not cleanse yourself with this little sprayer. You will not be invited back.)

Secondly, we bought a Planet Wise Diaper Wet Bag to store the dirty diapers between washes. I wash the diapers every other day and the bag every few cycles. Between bag washings I spritz the inside with Febreze and let it air out. Works just fine. We need to buy another for the upstairs though.

Final adjustment - flushable toddler wipes instead of traditional diaper wipes. We were at a loss - throwing wipes in the trash without the convenient package of a disposable diaper was nasty, and flushing them is bad for your plumbing. Storing the used wipes in a smaller wet bag and tossing the contents a few times a week was a recommendation that I couldn't stomach, and we were NOT going to go so far as to embrace reusable cloth wipes. (My eco-conscience only extends so far. Apologies, Gaia.) Flushable wipes are a lifesaver.

And there you have it. Our little effort to conserve, one diaper at a time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I hate to be one to espouse procrastination, but sometimes it's the only way to go. Like with gardening. A late garden seems to be de rigueur at my house. In years one and two, this stressed me out. Here in year three, where the final planting didn't happen until this morning, I see it as a bonus.

Stick with me on this, oh you Almanac gardening calendar purists.

The first year that I planted late I avoided the hard frost that crept in the week after Mother's Day. Last year, my late garden missed out on an early-June blizzard. This year? Many timely gardens were wrecked by a freak hail storm and then two straight weeks of 100 degree weather. But my early July garden is beautiful. And, let's be real. I didn't plant from seed, so a plant growing in a pot at Home Depot vs braving the early elements in my garden probably has a better shot anyway.

Gabe prepped the soil this year with organic compost and one round of grass clippings. I am fertilizing every 3 weeks with an organic fish-based fertilizer. Unlike the fish juice of year one, this time I chose one that had been "naturally deodorized with mint." I'm also relying on my trusty old friend the marigold to help fight off bugs. They are much prettier than spiders, and instantly brighten the garden.

For the sake of ease, I decided to skip the crops that didn't work out so well in years past, namely strawberries (dead before they even started), peppers (all leaf, no fruit),  and pumpkins. "How can one mess up pumpkins?" you may ask. Apparently you need flowers of both sexes to get fruit, and my plant was strictly same-on-same. Yes, much like my boyfriends of yore, this plant was gay to the gay. The blooms were quite lovely though, and I would definitely vote in favor of allowing this plant to marry if it so desired.

But I digress...

This year I planted 5 containers of tomatoes: Early Girl (hybrid), Cherokee Purple (heirloom!), Cherry (hybrid) and two Patio (never heard of them, but what the hell, as I am in fact growing tomatoes on a patio). Yeah...I prefer more heirloom varieties, but late season beggars can't be choosers; I had to settle for what was there.

In the beds, I planted 4 zucchini this year. I know, it's a lot. But the year I did 5 it was too many, and 2 proved too few. Keep an eye out as summer progresses and I'll share my favorite recipes as well as freezing tips. This is the easiest vegetable to sneak into foods that kids eat.

Finally, I planted a lot of herbs. Rosemary, parsley, oregano, cilantro, 2 thyme (my new love), and 5 basil. Sweet sweet basil, giver of all things pesto. I still have one final batch in my freezer from last year and can only now bear to use it with my new basil crop being in the ground. As a general rule I only plant sweet basil, but I did branch out this year (once again, making do with what was available) and buy 2 boxwood basil plants. Look at the size of these leaves - now with 100% less chopping!

(Dirty nail courtesy of the soil, with its chewed-down length being the direct result of an anxiety-based oral fixation.) 

My favorite garden find this year came a few months ago in the dollar aisle at Target - little chalkboard garden signs that I wrote on with a white paint pen. I've been saving these since April. (Who plants in April?! Other than retirees and Texans I mean.)

Not only are these Martha Stewart-adorable, they are especially useful when I send Gabe out to clip herbs while I'm cooking. Helps us avoid the "looks like a Christmas tree but smaller" conversations.

And really, I do love to label so these are perfect for me. With that final touch the garden was planted. Bring it, July!