"The Gift of An Ordinary Day" - A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison

Last month, I commented to my youngest sister that I would give anything to go back to the days of teaching a preschool boy to drown Cheerios in the toilet. She was lamenting a stubborn three year old completely uninterested in potty training. I was dealing with an obstinate, ungrateful 18 year old man/child. Two days later she brought over a book that she declared a must read for me, given where I am in my life right now. After sailing through it, I want to suggest that it is a must read for all mothers. Whether we are at home raising tiny little people, or getting ready to launch young adults off to college, the message is relevant.

“The Gift of an Ordinary Day” ~ A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison, starts with a family’s move from suburban Boston to rural New Hampshire. The author’s mid life crisis was the impetus for the move. Her desire to live in a slower-paced environment and have her family more grounded, starts the family on a house building adventure that doesn’t end until the oldest is off to college. Her family consists of her husband and two sons, one of whom is getting ready to start high school, the other just on the cusp of puberty. During this transition, she reflects on all the moments long passed that caused her so much anxiety, as she worried about whether her boys would turn out alright. She notices her parents’ calm demeanor and relaxed attitude toward her sons and their increasingly independent behavior. She remembers all the moments with her boys when they were little that were priceless and mostly unappreciated at the time. Mostly, she tries to live in the present,
and be truly aware of those ordinary moments with her family, cognizant of the fact that in 4 short years, these moments will be increasingly few and far between.

For me, the struggle that she writes of – the fine mingling of letting go and holding on – hits very close to home. I cannot make it through a single chapter without shedding a tear, all while trying to hide it from my husband. Each chapter offers up multiple quotes that resonate so strongly with my life, I feel like I could have written this book, although not nearly as eloquently. The description of the entire college application process, the pressure this age group is under and the reality that no kid can just be ordinary anymore, is something I am living daily. The uncertainty of how this will all end, and the desire to slow down the whole process, so I can have this delightful boy with me just a little longer, is ever present.

I also found it reassuring that another mother, and famous author at that, feels the way I do about so many things. The anxiety she experiences is something that I struggled with since I became a mother, but it did dissipate with time. My confidence in my ability to parent these boys to adulthood and in their ability to make good choices grew tremendously. Now, I am overwhelmed at times by all the struggles people in my age group are dealing with: divorce, illness, financial crisis, wayward teenagers and aging parents. My best friend’s mother always says “Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.” And she is so right! But this is the stage of life that I am in, and it will pass. And in so many ways, it is easier. I have time to myself. I get a good night’s sleep. I can go for a run when I want to. I can talk and reason with my kids. My husband and I can sneak out for a drink if we want to! I am lucky to have a job that I am as passionate about as I was about staying home and raising my boys. Really, even when it’s hard, it’s good. And this book reminded me of that on every
page!

So for the next six months, I am going to cherish every moment with my oldest, even the difficult ones. I am going to revel in the times the six of us are all together, no matter what we are doing. I will create opportunities for them to have good memories of this phase in their life. And I am going to try hard to let go with grace, and trust that they will all wind up where they are supposed to be, with faith that I have done the best I can with the most rewarding, but hardest job in the world.

The Effects of Birth Control on Breastfeeding

Some of you might remember this article, but I feel compelled to run it again as I had two instances of this last month. A mom will start the mini-pill and quickly watch it affect her milk supply, sometimes with a very dramatic decrease. I wanted to remind everyone of what I see clinically in some of my patients who take the mini-pill, so I can prevent other mothers from going through the same thing!  Please remember that this is my anecdotal experience, not at all backed by research, and is different from what the pharmaceutical companies and many doctors and midwives believe. Also, I see moms with issues, so my population is skewed!  There are many who have no problems with the mini-pill at all. But it is something for all moms to be aware of, especially if they have concerns about their supply. 

So much of my work is about asking the right question at the right time. I had a perfect reminder of this over the summer. I was sitting by the pool watching my boys play with some of their cousins. My sister’s sister-in-law was sitting next to me and we were talking about her beautiful little boy who was 9 months at the time. He is happy, chubby and very well nourished by his mom who has been nursing him. And he has rock star hair to boot! She was lamenting the difficulty she has had with maintaining her milk supply for this baby. It was an experience much different than her first child, for whom she felt she had an abundant supply. And of course, we had been in contact regarding this since the baby was born. She was doing all the right things: eating and drinking well, pumping when necessary, nursing on demand and trying to get adequate rest. But she really felt she had to stay on top of this with this baby and couldn’t figure out why. And frankly, neither could I.

Then our conversation went on to other things and we eventually got talking about plans for the future. Nosey me asked if and when this little boy would have a younger sibling. And his mom replied that she would love to have another one someday, but was on the pill now and they were waiting a little bit longer for all the usual reasons. “You’re on the pill?” I asked. “Yes, since he was 6 weeks old,” she replied. “Wasn’t that when you started having problems with your supply?” I asked.

She went on to say that she was assured by her MD that it was safe to take this mini pill while nursing. I told her that she received correct information. It is considered perfectly safe for babies  to nurse when their mothers take the mini pill. What she wasn’t told though, was that in the fine print of the drug literature, it clearly states that it can cause a decrease in your supply. In fact in light of this new information, I was absolutely amazed that she had nursed this baby as well as she had! Many mothers that I work with in this situation lose their milk supply significantly within about 2 weeks. It is usually a very sad situation, as they were told it was safe for the baby, but not told that the side effect is a significant reduction in milk supply. They had no intention of weaning, but it happened dramatically and much sooner than they would have liked.

How did I miss this in someone who is essentially part of my family? It’s all in the questions I ask and I honestly am learning new stuff every day. I will never make that mistake again, but will probably make a new different one! In the meantime, I hope everyone reading this has learned a little something about birth control pills and nursing. And also, please tell me or any other health care provider you deal with everything you think they might need to know, even if you think it is inconsequential.

It just might be the one thing they need to know!

SIBLING RIVALRY

Written in 2010

My three younger sisters are the only thing getting me through this phase of my life. My relationships with them help me to hold out hope that one day my children will not only be civil and kind to each other, but they may actually want to spend time together. I vaguely remember tension between my closest sister and me, as she was only 11 months younger than I was. I recall viscous fights and terrible things said to each other. But with the two younger ones, I only remember fun. Now, as we all raise our children together, there really are no other women I would rather be with. Will my kids ever feel that way? If you spent an hour in my house, you wouldn’t think so.

I am the mother of four boys. The youngest is 7 and adorable. His older brothers love him. He has not yet become annoying. The three other ones are 12, 15 and 18, so there is a lot of testosterone in my house. And with that comes trash talk, bullying, and the occasional “accidental” bat to the teeth. I wish I was kidding about that one. 

© Wernerimages | Dreamstime.com

© Wernerimages | Dreamstime.com

Coming from a family of girls, I am unaccustomed to the sheer physical nature of their interactions. My two oldest boys now have the bodies of men and tower over me. It seems that no one walks by the other without a nudge, flick or swat to the head. All when I have my back turned, of course. The verbal insults I can at least hear, but often wish I didn’t. I find it heartbreaking the way they speak to each other. Then I have to endure all the different versions of how things went down, who started it and how they should be punished. Invariably, someone is upset that I haven’t taken their side and I feel like I am the one beaten down in the end.

I hear from other men with brothers that this is normal behavior; that what I am experiencing is relatively tame and butting out is the best option. But don’t we have a responsibility as mothers to point out bad behavior? And to protect them from each other? Someone could get really hurt, right?

My mother-in-law stayed with us for a week once and she gave me advice that helped eliminate some volatile exchanges. She suggested that I not put the particularly combative ones together while doing chores, babysitting, on car rides etc. It really worked! My problem is that I frequently forget that advice. In my hurry to get things done, I bark out orders and put them in situations that foster the bad behavior. But I find that now that they are bigger and stronger, I really need to pay attention to what I am asking of them and determine whether they can handle it with everything else that is going on in their life. If they are having a good day and are relatively happy, they might find it fun to be with their brothers and endure a little good-natured ribbing. If not, look out. Someone else is going to bear the brunt of their difficult day.

I’ve tried to put some thought into what each child seeks from another. The older ones really want respect. They want the younger ones to take what they say to heart, to do what they ask the first time, to have their privacy, and their possessions left alone. The younger ones just want to be with the older ones and to be an important part of their lives. None of them need additional parents. I keep saying things like “Just be the cool big brother” or “Be what you want him to become.” Let the parents actually engage in the parental behavior.

Sometimes, I feel their bad behavior is an attempt to get some attention from me. I might be flattering myself, but I do know that if I make the effort to spend time alone with each one, things tend to be better at home. So when I can, I take a boy with me. Whether it is to the grocery store, bank or post office, you can learn a lot when alone for a half hour with a boy. In addition, almost

every day each of them wants/needs something from me- a permission slip signed, form filled out, a button sewn back on their pants. Silly little stuff, but important to them. And when I take care of it, they are more inclined to take care of each other. Sometimes I really have to stop myself and pay attention to what is important to them. I think that is important advice for mothers of children of any age. When we look them in the eye and take their requests to heart, it validates them and lets them know we think they are important.

So in a nutshell, here is what I have found works:

Don’t take sides. If you didn’t see it, you cannot make a judgment about it. Listening to all sides of the story makes you pick sides and someone will be unhappy. My husband came up with a grand plan of punishing all involved equally, regardless of who started it or did what. This has made them think long and hard before coming to us, and they tend to resolve things amicably themselves.

Physical and verbal abuse/ bullying is never acceptable. There is no excuse for it regardless of the behavior that provoked it. When you see or hear it, stop it immediately and remove the offender from the situation. Take away a privilege if the behavior continues.

Don’t put kids who are combative in a situation where they are forced to work together without adult supervision. I have learned who works well together and when I need to, I am involved in supervising the activity. My presence usually keeps the situation under control, without them realizing that is my intention. Sometimes they even have fun together!

Give each child some one-on-one time with a parent as often as you can, especially if they seem to be having a hard time within the family. Reinforcing your unconditional love and letting them know they have you to protect them does wonders for their self esteem and gives them the strength to stand up for themselves.

For the younger kids, teach and model empathy every chance you get. This has been reported to be a critical developmental milestone. If they are able to put themselves in another’s shoes and understand how they feel, it goes a long way in keeping them from treating others badly. And it can be the basis for everything ~sharing, taking turns, manners and respect.

And maybe someday, they will look back on this time fondly, while hanging out with their siblings and their own children. At least we can hope for that, right? I know I do, every day. 

Onto the Next Phase - Preparing for Change as My Youngest Starts Kindergarten

A throwback from 2007 that many of you can relate to as your children start a new school year.

I am a woman on the verge of freedom. After sixteen years at home, the youngest of my four sons is off to a full day of Kindergarten in the fall. I am at the same time, elated and depressed. I alternate between euphoria at the possibilities that are opening up for me, and hysterical tears as I experience each last milestone with my baby. Preschool is over. We sat together for the last time at First Friday Mass, waving at his big brothers. Next time I go, he will be sitting with his classmates. He is done with Eager Beavers at the YMCA. I no longer have a child to take to the playgroup I have been attending weekly for 8 years. Even as we go shopping at the grocery store, I am reminded that come fall, I can do this by myself. Think of the money I will save! And how quickly I will get it done! Then the tears start, as I realize my constant companion will be otherwise occupied come September.

I should be happy, right? Everywhere I go, I see mothers with young children. I remember how tiring it is to carry a car seat, reason with a 2 year old, nurse a baby for the third time in 2 hours, race home before naptime, and beg a six year old to run and get me a diaper, again. I vividly remember the energy it took to take care of all of them and their needs, while mine forever took a back seat. I see the fatigue in my friends’ faces whose schedules still revolve around their little ones. I hear it in my clients’ voices when I try to reassure them that this particular phase won’t last forever. I am frequently reminded of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Kathleen Huggins. “If you find it hard, it’s because it is hard.” And it was.

But it has also been one of the best things I have ever done. And if I had more money and energy, and was a little bit younger, I would do it all over again. I’d love the chance to get another marriage proposal from a 3 year old or have a 5 year old tell me, “Mom, you’re my whole world.” I want to have a newborn stop crying immediately when I pick him up and feel a little hand grab a hold of mine while walking through a crowd. I’d even love to rock my sick toddler in my arms in the middle of the night. These are the memories that I cherish, and long for.

And yet, this phase of my life is almost over. And in so many ways, the new phase is terrific. I have built-in babysitters and can go out to dinner with my husband, or for a run in the morning before anyone wakes up. We actually get where we are going mostly on time now and my youngest prides himself on helping me. My 9 year old will still talk to me when no one else in the family wants to. I love nothing more than sitting on the couch with my two teenagers, rehashing the day, and laughing till I cry when I hear of their escapades. I am amazed at the men they are all becoming, and excited for their futures.

So, what is a woman to do in this situation? I have agonized about it, and finally decided. I am getting a puppy. It’s a boy and he’s coming home Labor Day Weekend. But don’t tell my kids! It’s a surprise, and we are on to our next phase.