Month: October 2014

H and I got our flu vaccines a week ago. He got the flu mist, and I got a flu shot.

The window during which either of would have experienced side effects has closed. H did not love the seven seconds it took to administer the nasal spray, but otherwise suffered no ill effects from the vaccine. My left arm, the one that took the injection, was achingly sore, then back to feeling completely normal after a day and a half.

By the end of another week, our bodies will have developed the antibodies that protect against four strains of influenza virus that research suggests will be most common this winter. For those that geek out over stuff like this, all 2014-2015 flu vaccine is made to protect against an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus, an A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus. The quadrivalent vaccine, which we received, protects against a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus as well.

It is not possible to know exactly what this flu season will bring. Some seasons are relatively mild, some more severe. Some seasons are short, some are drawn out. Some years see an excellent match between the flu strains included in the vaccine and those circulating, some do not.

Influenza spreads every year. This much is certain. The flu can make some people more sick than others, but even the most healthy can fall seriously ill. On average, more than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized each year for illnesses associated with influenza , and estimates of influenza-related deaths (based on data from 1976 to 2007) have ranged from 3,300 to 49,000 a year. The World Heath Organization estimates that the flu results worldwide in about three to five million cases of severe illness yearly, and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, as bad as it’s yet been, killed somewhere around 50 million people, more than died in World War I. Influenza can be nasty.

We will, of course, be doing everything we can to stay healthy this winter, including washing hands often, avoiding contact with people known to be sick, getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water, and eating well. We’ll cover our coughs, and if we do get sick, we’ll stay home to prevent spreading illness to others. We’ll do these things knowing that we’ve also done the single best thing we can do to reduce the chances that either of us will get the flu and spread it to other people. We got our flu vaccines.

Luckily, there was no wait at the clinic this year, so before long we were enjoying a self-styled frozen yogurt sampler, drawing with chalk, and debating the relative merits of returning to the car via escalator or elevator. It was close, but the elevator won in the end, and before we knew it we were on our way, our bodies doing the excellent work of keeping us healthy and strong with a little extra help from a vaccine.

More information about the 2014-2015 flu season and the flu vaccine.

When H is nursing, I may or may not be thinking about how many months have passed since his birth, how long he has grown, or how he is able to tell me with words that he would like to breastfeed.

When H is nursing, the furthest thing from my mind is that his age, height, or language ability ought to disqualify him from breastfeeding eligibility.

When H is nursing, I may or may not be thinking about the healthy fats, protein, and vitamins my breast milk provides for him; how he continues to receive antibodies through my milk that help him fight the illnesses to which we are both exposed; or that meeting his dependency needs for as long as he requires may in fact be the best way to support his independence.

When H is nursing, the furthest thing from my mind is that I am stunting him physically, immunologically, psychologically, or emotionally by following his lead in continuing our breastfeeding relationship into his toddlerhood.

When H is nursing, I may or may not be thinking about the benefits of breastfeeding to my own health and well-being, including the reduced risk of breast cancer and the positive emotional boost from the oxytocin release that comes with each let down.

When H is nursing, I am, truth be told, rarely thinking about how it benefits me, though there are many ways in which it does.

When H is nursing, I may or may not be thinking about how the American Pediatrics Association “recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant,” or how the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine concur.

When H is nursing, I may or may not be thinking about how breastfeeding is one facet of our relationship, how it has become a dance that ensures both of our needs are met moment to moment, or how lovely it is that we have this connection and tool at this point in our journey.

When H is nursing, the furthest thing from my mind is that it is okay for someone else to tell either of us what we are doing is unnecessary, bad, or wrong; or that it is acceptable for someone else to intervene or dictate the terms of our breastfeeding relationship.

Our breastfeeding relationship is ours. It is mutually agreeable. It continues to be beneficial to him as a toddler and to me as his mother and as a woman. It is lovely. It is normal for us.

It is ours.

First we had to find the perfect place for brushing. Not this room, that one. Then he had to be lying down, just so, in the spot right next to his grandma. No, wait! On his grandma. Then he needed just a little bit of toothpaste in his mouth before we could start. Just a little bit, and mama don’t help! H hold it himself! I am fairly certain that he wanted suck all of the toothpaste from the tube directly into his mouth, effectively bypassing the brush. He was not, however, in possession of the tube, and after a brief negotiation, he settled on the cap, with which he created an impromptu game. He pushed the cap into his grandma’s mouth, as far as she would let him, and then she popped it out. In he pushed, out she popped. And again and again. It was fun. I could tell by their laughter. There was, however, little brushing.

I observed. I made informational statements. I made polite requests. He rolled toward grandma, the cap game ongoing. He closed his mouth. He opened his mouth, only to start talking before I could get bristle to teeth. He clamped down on the tooth brush, his mouth a well guarded, gated community of sugar bugs. I was gentle. I was patient. I set a limit with empathy and respect. Still, there was little brushing.

Then I was frustrated. I felt it well up suddenly, building pressure as it rose through my body. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to run away. I wanted to yell. I was skittish and desperate to do something, anything to release the discomfort of the restless energy that had colonized my body.

“I am getting frustrated, sweet pea,” I told him, working at keeping my tone even. “I am going to take a break in the other room for three seconds. When I come back I will be ready to finish brushing your teeth.”

He looked at me intently. I wondered if he was feeling the intensity of my feelings. I hoped he was not feeling hit with it, the way I can sometimes feel hit by the emotional energy emanating from others.

I went to the kitchen. I took one drink, then another, of cold oat straw tea. I breathed in and out deeply, and then I went back to his grandma’s bedroom, where I had left them on the floor together. We finished brushing teeth without struggle or incident, and I consciously slowed my breathing again to align my body with an intention for a gentle, relaxed last stretch of bedtime.

Our bedtime routine has shifted and changed over time within a comfortable, familiar framework as he adds and subtracts elements, discarding things we have long done in favor of improvisations that stick. I have found myself improvising, too, the two of us riffing on bedtime, responding to one another’s flourishes, running with the music that delights us and gets us to our destination.

One night, I found myself taking measure of him. It’s a riff that I have made a permanent part of our bedtime routine. Almost without fail, he sits up and reads our last book after I have read it to him, turning pages, sometimes reciting the text, sometimes pointing out characters and objects, sometimes lost in his own reverie. He reads, and I memorize him as best I can. How his cheeks are still round and full like one of those vinyl baby dolls, how large his eyes still are, how small his nose. I feel how easy it is to wrap one hand around his upper arm. I imagine his deltoid, how small it must be underneath his baby soft skin, wrapping around and inserting into a humerus that matches the length from the heel of my palm to the tip of my middle finger. I push up the long sleeve of the pajamas he wears now that summer has turned to fall so that I can see his wrist. It feels so delicate in my hand, like I am holding a newly hatched baby bird, and magnifies his smallness. His feet seem so big now, but they are a fraction of the size of mine and a fraction of the size they will be when he is grown. He has outgrown the clothes we were given when he was born that were sizes ahead of where he was, the clothes I looked at then and swore would never, ever fit him. I could not conceive that he would ever be so big, not in a million years. And yet here we are, those once too big clothes now too small. He has grown so much since he was born, yet he is still so small.

I took measure of him the night we struggled with brushing teeth. I studied him so that when I closed my eyes his image flashed in front of me as from a projector, until the looking put things in perspective. I had wished that brushing teeth had not taken half an hour. I had told myself that I wanted that time back to spend on something more enjoyable, but there was something darker underneath that wish. The brutal truth is that I wanted it back so that I could do it over, because some small part of me was sure that if only I had been different, if only I had been better, we would not have struggled. If I had been better, he would have brushed teeth with joyful ease and enthusiasm. I felt bad that I had had to step out of the room, that I had not been able to remain serenely unruffled through his resistance. The truth is that I was burning with the shame of feeling not good enough as a mother.

Studying him, I could feel all of this melt away, and I could see both of us and what had transpired in a more nuanced, generous way.

He was tired. He had had a too-short nap that day. We had spent a total of about two waking hours together, which is much, much less than usual. He had experienced more than the usual number of transitions from person to person and house to house. I was tired. It had been the day of one of our longest separations yet, something that may be as hard or harder for me as it is for him. I had nearly cried on my way to work, and then again in front of a second grade class. We had had only a sliver of time to reconnect before it was time to brush teeth.

He is small. He has taken in and learned a remarkable amount in just over two years. He is working on self-regulation and boundaries and learning how to be an independent and interdependent human being. He does well, really, really well, at this stuff, and he is allowed to be exactly where he is on his path. Immediate, easy compliance is not what I would want from him at any rate, even if it would sometimes make teeth brushing easier. Wishing away the struggle and resistance would short circuit his learning, keeping him stuck in place, and dishonor his wholeness as a human being.

I am bigger. I have taken in and learned a remarkable amount in forty years of life. I have things that I am working on, I am growing still, and I do really well, sometimes, and sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I find myself sprawled out on rough ground, having taken a spectacular nose dive, but I am learning that it is all okay. Perfection is a cloak I am working on shedding. It leaves no room for me to be exactly where I am on my path without harsh judgment and self-recrimination, things that short circuit my learning, keeping me stuck in place. It dishonors my wholeness as a human being.

There will never be a point at which either of us are done learning and growing, and in this process, there will always be struggles and successes, steps forward and steps back. Here we are together, two souls having met for a time, growing and learning together. And sometimes struggling to brush teeth.

We saw a road side apple stand in North Bend, right off the interstate, in the parking lot of a gas station. H and I, giddy with excitement at the prospect of freshly picked Honeycrisps, approached and asked how much for the apples. The apple stand guy showed me small bags, large bags, and even larger boxes of gorgeous, shiny apples. He told me he took cash and checks. I had a credit card.

“How much for one apple?” I asked, planning to borrow some cash from a friend back at the car.

He cut off a chunk of apple for H to sample and insisted that he give us a whole apple to take home.

“No, no,” I said, “I want to give you some money. How much for one apple?”

“Here, take one,” he said, his arm extending an apple to me.

“No, really, I will get some cash. How much does one apple cost?”

“Here, take two,” he said, now holding out two apples.

“I really want to give you something, please,” I told him.

“Please, take them. Be blessed,” he said, so I did.

I watched H, back in his car seat, hold one of those large Honeycrisp apples with both of his tiny hands and take small bites that left tart juice streaming down his chin. It was the first time I had given him a whole apple, unsliced and unpeeled. He chewed happily. I felt happy, too.

What a gift to be blessed.

Later, at home, H and I played near the condominium mailboxes. H had left our box open, mailbox key still in it, while he played with sticks and pine needles and dirt in front of the mailboxes. I sat to the side on the curb.

“Excuse me,” said an unpleasant voice.

“Hi,” I said, looking up to see our neighbor from two doors down. I lifted H onto my lap, out of the way of the mailboxes, though still close.

She said nothing in return, nor did she look at us while she pulled letters and catalogs from her box. She left without a goodbye.

“So I walked over there and said excuse me, and she took that little boy and just sat there,” I overheard her nasally, loud voice complain to someone unseen as she returned to her condo.

I had become peripherally involved in a condominium conflict by showing support for someone I felt had been egregiously maligned for his part in an argument. The neighbor at the mailbox was not pleased about what I had done. She couldn’t see me and H as people anymore, only me as someone now to hate because she hated the person I had had some grace for.

What a lot of unhappiness can seethe inside one person.

May I, like the apple stand guy, find the strength and courage to bless those I meet in the course of my days. May I have grace for those around me, even if they have none for me. May I be a living example to H, as much as I can manage to be, of what it means to move through life with an open heart, aware always of our connectedness and of the sacredness that lies in each of us.

Story time today was a mishmash of books and songs with no clear theme stringing them together.

One of the books we heard was Over in the Meadow by Olive A. Wadsworth, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. It is an Appalachian counting rhyme featuring animals and nature that can be sung to the loveliest tune. The Keats illustrations are fantastic.

We also found and brought home 1 to 20, Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

H has recently become interested in numbers. He points them out in text and often counts to himself: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, twelve, fourteen, eleven, six, eleven, six, eleven, six. I have been on the look out for books and objects for our home environment that support his interest in numbers, and these two books were unexpected and beautifully perfect finds.