Great Expectations

My husband and I are quickly approaching our seventh wedding anniversary, and soon our 14th year together. I am the last person to claim that I am savvy enough to give advice on marriage. Victor and I first ‘dated’ when we were barely 13 years old, back when dating meant exchanging letters in the hallway and holding hands between classes. Two years later, having matured into earnest, wise 15 year olds we started a relationship, and this time it lasted. Our road has not always been smooth, there have been ups and downs, casual criticisms that devolved into fissures in our relationships, missteps on both our parts, and of course the daily humdrum of family schedules that can leave you overlooking the very person you so anxiously wanted to build your life with. Most of our trials have been commonplace, some are exclusive to us, and the majority of the heartache we’ve caused each other has been solely our making. I wouldn’t change a thing though, we’ve educated one another, and there are a few patterns I’ve noticed in myself and others around me that I just have to bring up.

Expectations. My mother raised me with forewarning that expectations will only hurt you. Of course intellectually I understood this, but it has only been within the last year or so of my relationship I have fully tried to grasp on to this statement and put it into practice.

I am certain men have unrealistic expectations just like women do, but I’m not positive their expectations are so numerous, or wrapped into some grand scheme of how they envision their lives to be.

I cannot tell you how many female friends of mine, say things along the lines of, “I’ve always envisioned my marriage this way since I was a child, and I don’t understand why he is being so distant.” I’ve always wanted to respond, “Well, you only met Tom when you were 24, so I suppose you are trying to jam him into the mold of a marriage you’d projected since you were a little girl.” Yet, I don’t because I also had apparitions of some spectral romance.

As a teenager, these dreamy ideations manifested in expecting my husband to be as superfluous and flowing with his words as I was. I expected tit for tat, and it made me miserable. I frequently roamed my high school hallways complaining to my best friend about how I wasn’t sure why Victor was so distant. He wasn’t distant though, he just wasn’t me. He shows his affection and love in different ways, back then he would pick me up after school – even though he went to a different high school. He would drive 20 minutes out of his way just to see me for a few minutes, but since he didn’t arrive spouting poetry I was too young to see it.

I’ve seen numerous relationships fall apart because one partner already has the framework of whom their significant other is, and what duties they are to fulfill – sometimes long before they even meet. If this was done as routinely to women as we do it to men, we would be calling foul. We’d lambast men for thinking we had to fit into their outline of what a woman is. As I’ve said, I’m sure men do this – but I’ve yet to meet a man who creates the elaborate backstory for his future wife that women do for their husbands.

Perhaps if we all took a breath and saw each other for who they really are, and not who we project due to our own needs, our history, or our insecurities, it would make for a more honest, multifaceted relationship. It’s the old adage that you can’t change a person. Too often, people marry great expectations and not the individual.

For the fathers….

I’d like to preface this entry by saying I believe people from all walks of life can be marvelous parents. A man and a woman, two men, two women, grandparents, a single mother, a single father, and so forth. The most integral element to nurturing any child is love, and after love I’d have to say stability. I do have strong feelings however that children should be raised in a two-person household. I use the term ‘household’ loosely. Single parents need reinforcements, be that Grandpa or Abuela, Uncle, cousin, Tia or best friends. I also think children need long term role models of both sexes. If you’re raised in a loving home with two fathers, a friend, grandmother or aunt can slip into that female role.

This entry might seem divisive to some, and if you feel that way you should immediately stop reading. This entry is about the notion of a nuclear family and a father’s position in it, but really can be applied to numerous familial scenarios.

Good ole’ dads. This might sound terse, but before I had children I really didn’t believe fathers were immensely vital creatures.  My father is a wonderful man, but in terms of fathering he is very old fashioned and tended to let my mother and grandparents do most of the rearing.

I’m so thrilled that I live in an era where so many fathers were raised by single mothers, and seem to be letting loose of conventional gender roles. They can wash dishes, do the laundry, cook, clean and especially in this current economy there are more and more stay at home fathers. But as women, we have to allow them to do these things. Most young fathers I know are incredibly hands on. They change diapers, they comb their daughters’ hair, they rough house and they read bedtime stories. That is, if you’re lucky. And I have to admit I’m lucky. I married an amazing man to whom fathering seems to be a sixth sense. I know innately that my husband Victor works each day for his family, and I never stop reminding our children of that. Does it make me nervous when my husband likes to carry our children upside down like ragdolls? Yes! However he’s playing with them, and I’m grateful they’re spending quality time with their father.

To throw some gravitas my way though, I let my husband parent. I’ve seen many mothers who complain their spouses aren’t taking an active role in parenting, my question is, are you letting him? As a mother, we can tend to hover, and micromanage. Now I’m not saying all mothers, but in general the Moms I know (and I’m including myself at times) we posture as Gaea, the all-knowing mother. It’s not really something that’s done to distance fathers, but let’s face it, many mothers go back to the argument of “I carried this child in my body…”

Every parent has his or her own unique way of childrearing, and whenever I think incredulously, “Really?” I remind myself that the world would be a boring, monotonous place if we were all alike. Which is what I tell myself as Victor tickles our toddler right after eating (although after our oldest son laughed hysterically and then vomited in the car my husband learned his lesson about tickling). Do I get nervous when Victor lets our older boys who are six and four years old walk in front of him in stores without holding hands? Undoubtedly, but I need to trust his parental instincts just as he trusts mine. Truthfully, if it were up to me my boys would be 12 and still holding my hand.

The most important thing my husband and I agreed about early on was that we wouldn’t undermine each other in front of the children. If Victor is disciplining one of our children, I don’t interrupt. He does the same for me. If we have issues about how that parent has disciplined, we talk about it later behind closed doors. To be fair, having four small children means they outnumber us and threat of a mutiny is ever present, let them see a split in the ranks and it’s all downhill.

Within the last 10 to 15 years the courts have taken a much more evenly balanced position when it comes to custody. Courts are rewarding fathers 50/50 custody in large numbers and there are currently several groups devoted to the rights of fathers. There is a societal sea change underway, not asking, but demanding fathers be seen as equal parents. This is exhilarating, it’s what so many mothers have been clamoring about for generations, but I’m going to admit what many mother will not. It is slightly intimidating for us. For some it is even maddening. There are many women who still feel as mothers, we are the more deserving parent, the ‘rightful owner’ if you will. To them I say, your child is every bit as much their father’s as they are yours. Unless the person you have chosen to have children with is unhinged or unsafe, both parents should be given the same rights.

And to those mothers out there who will read this and undeniably think, “My child’s father isn’t even around to pay child support, let alone play with him” I go back to my earlier statement. A father doesn’t necessarily mean the man who helped conceive, it can be a grandfather, an uncle, a loved one. I believe love, consistency and understanding are the main tenets of life, if every child in this world had that, I think it’d be a different place.



Nursing Nightmares and Successes

Breastfeeding. If this makes you squeamish don’t read on. I’m about to give you a very vivid, completely true account of my ups and downs with nursing not one, not two, but four babies. This blog isn’t about singing the praises of nursing (although there are literally hundreds I can recite). I am not the La Leche League. If you would like to learn all the wonderful benefits to nursing (such as increased IQ, increased immunities for your newborn, the fact the food is created expressly for your specific offspring, not to mention all the perks for the mother) just Google it.

I knew as soon as I became pregnant with my first son Vicente than I was going to nurse. It wasn’t even a decision. My mother had nursed, as had my grandmother and it was just a part of parenthood that I didn’t need to over analyze – or so I thought. My son was born with the bite of a gator, he was over nine pounds, and I was a scrawny girl (at the time). He was born holding his head up, he had calves and even the pediatrician described him as a ‘biter.’ To this day we still joke he ate his twin in utero. If anything you could say he seemed a little overdue, but he wasn’t at all. He was born on his exact due date.

I had never nursed before, and was a Lamaze class drop out (after two classes my husband insisted it was a waste of time, that these things should be innate and we should go to the movies instead). I had however taken one class about nursing (I dragged my much chagrined husband to it so I could hear him sigh and see him roll his eyes). Though my husband Victor was skeptical about nursing at first, he is now the one who urges our friends to nurse their children. He says he has seen firsthand the benefits of nursing, and I cannot argue there.

After Vicente was born I instantly latched him onto my chest and let him nurse. They say its integral to let them nurse as soon after birth as possible, and I have done this with my following three children as well.

Really the only good thing I can say about nursing those first two months with my first son was that he had a healthy appetite, became plump and happy on breast milk and we had nice bonding moments when I wasn’t crying through the pain.

This is where I suggest the faint of heart stop reading, because as they say, “it’s about to get real up in here.”

Vicente was such a good feeder that he nursed between 16 and 18 times a day. I was young so I thought I was supposed to feed ‘on demand’ AND every four hours. And I thought I was supposed to count three hours between feedings from the start of the feeding. This led to me nursing this chunky baby all day long. It wasn’t the fact my son almost never slept that was painful; he was such a joyful baby that wasn’t an issue.

It was what he was doing to my nipples. He was pulverizing them. The entire first two months of nursing I didn’t just have chapped nipples, I had cracked, bleeding nipples. I wondered if I would ever regain feeling again (don’t worry folks that part turned out alright). I was insistent on nursing through the pain though. I would sing ‘Lemon Tree’ by Peter, Paul and Mary to him so that he wouldn’t think I was upset (as a first time parent I had read all those books about how your moods can impact your child’s appetite making them into a sociopath and serial killer – or whatever guilt trip those ‘books’ lay on gullible new moms).

The first few weeks of breastfeeding were my first experience with engorgement, which all us nursing moms become pros at. But I was a young kid and the feeling of having my breasts being filled with rocks while simultaneously aching as if I’d been beaten with a bat on my chest was new to me. Luckily a few warm washcloths, and a nursing Vicente made the engorgement went away. Oddly enough, the way your chest looks when engorged is I guess what every guy dreams of; too bad it’s so sore you won’t let your husband near you.

I had to wear thick, plastic nipple shields because even the soft cotton of my nursing bra was unbearable. And if you are in a similar position, the best thing to rub onto your nipples to heal the wounds (because they are, in all fairness, war wounds) is your own breast milk. Besides the plastic nipple shields, the engorged chest, and the sore, bloody, pustule nipples, was the leaking. I leaked milk everywhere. Since Vicente ate nonstop the leaking didn’t end until he was about five months old and he began to supplement with baby food and baby cereal. He weaned himself easily off of me when he was around 14 months old, and the majority of our nursing experience was wonderful. Those first two months were unbelievably challenging though.

Liam. Liam was my only problem pregnancy. I had extreme cramping through out the pregnancy, lost 15 pounds in the first trimester, and had placenta previa for part of the pregnancy. They told us repeatedly there was a good chance we might lose the baby, and to be prepared. My entire pregnancy I was in and out of the hospital. The extreme cramping would leave me doubled over in pain, and they eventually insisted I go on bed rest. I couldn’t of course, I had my Vicente to care for, but I did try to limit lifting the 38 pound one and a half year old Vicente.

When Liam was finally born I was ecstatic. I carried him to forty weeks, even with a severe stomach flu that put me overnight in the hospital those last few weeks. He was our little blessing. My OB had told us he would be a small baby, and not to expect a huge child like Vicente. When Liam was born he was small, for us. He weighed eight and a half pounds and was a long little guy. I thought nursing him would be cake. Once again I put him on to nurse within his first hour of birth and he latched on right away.

Liam was also a healthy eater, but luckily he didn’t make mincemeat out of my chest. The only pain I had with Liam was the cramping. One of the reasons nursing is so good for the mother, is because every time you nurse your uterus contracts and shrinks back to its regular size much quicker than a non-nursing mother. I suppose because of the terrible cramping and complications during my pregnancy, these contractions were as painful as labor contractions. After the first week they eased up, and nursing Liam became effortless. Except when I would try to nurse him in public and he’d reach his little hands out to pull down the blanket and expose me. It was a little game he played with me, and I always was very embarrassed. He also weaned himself off around 10 or 11 months, not before a few little bites though.

Audrey. My daughter was over nine and a half pounds and has always been a hearty girl. Nursing her went swimmingly until I was two weeks postpartum and got mastitis. Mastitis is when your breast tissue becomes inflamed and infected. If it gets bad enough, you can see exactly where is infected, I had angry red striations running up and down my chest like a candy cane.

When Audrey was two weeks old, I was nursing her and had my two little boys at home. I lived 45 minutes from my OB and suddenly overnight I woke up with chills, both breasts engorged and a skyrocketing fever. I tried nursing for the next several hours, but nothing seemed to help. I was in such bad shape I couldn’t even move. I ached all over and knew I needed to see the doctor. My husband was working long 15 to 16 hour days and was unable to take off from his job. Luckily my older brother drove down, loaded all the kids into my car and took me to my OB. The OB said had I waited another day to come in, I would’ve been hospitalized with a severe staph infection. After some antibiotics I was good as new. I remember thinking to myself, “I was in all that pain and agony and these little pills fixed it all?”

Unfortunately once you have mastitis you are prone to getting it again, which I did, a few weeks later. I was worried I had been doing something wrong, perhaps wearing an under-wire bra, or not nursing enough, or too much. My doctor explained however that these things just happen.

After having my last son, Nikolai I had mastitis three times. Every time it was agonizing and once it was so bad they had to treat me with antibiotics that were too strong for me to nurse Nikolai while taking them. In my feverish insanity I told my husband I wasn’t going to take the medicine. Niko was only a month old and should be nursing, I insisted. Good thing my husband is a wonderful, reasonable man who told me to take the medicine. For an entire week I pumped and dumped my milk and begrudgingly fed Niko formula. I wish I could say things went smoothly after that, but I had mastitis one more time and a clogged milk duct twice.

Clogged milk ducts can sometimes be treated at home, and one of them I treated easily with extended nursing and warm compresses. Nursing through a clogged duct is almost as painful as nursing through mastitis, but it has to be done in order to feel better. My other experience with a clogged duct needed antibiotics, since it quickly turned into an infection. Clogged milk ducts are most common during the holidays (which is when I got them) since mothers are nursing on the go, often wearing bras that might not fit well, or missing feedings due to holiday activities.

Luckily I now have a happy, chunky six month old, breastfed baby.

The reason I wrote this article is not to scare women from nursing, because I’m sure if you’re not a mother yet, you might be thinking, “Glad she warned me. I’ll be using formula!”

I don’t consider myself some sort of martyr for nursing through the pain, we’re moms, we’ll do whatever is necessary for our children. I have just always felt if women went into nursing knowing that there might be rough patches, that there might be tenderness, or pain from the start, that they’d be less willing to give it up. Many of the advocacy groups make you feel that if you aren’t nursing you’re a bad mother, and if you are nursing but are in pain, that you’re doing it wrong. They act as if nursing will always be a wonderful, picturesque bonding experience, which it has been the majority of the time for me, but it isn’t always that way. I’m sure there are groups and nurses that don’t make women feel that way. But the ones I’ve come in contact with in the hospital man handle your chest, insist you do it this way, not that, and frighten you with ‘nipple confusion.’

My husband and I have been treated as first time parents with every single one of our children, I’m guessing it’s our age. In fact with our last child, a nurse came in and when I told her Nikolai was nursing an awful lot she first insisted I wasn’t doing it right (I was) and then suggested he nursed differently from my other three because he had a different father, and perhaps a different shaped mouth. She said this while my husband was sitting right next to me!

Nursing is simple supply and demand, I cannot stress this enough! If you continue nursing your baby, your milk will come in. Less than 1% of new mothers do not have enough milk to feed their babies. What new mothers should be told is that your milk can come in anywhere from a day or two after your baby’s born to a week later. The nutrient rich colostrum is all your baby needs in their first few days or week. After the first two weeks of nursing you’ll notice you have thick, heavier milk coming in and that’ll be what you feed your baby until they are weaned.

My milk came in fairly rapidly with my first three children, within the first few days actually. With my fourth child, Nikolai, it took about four or five days. My pediatrician said since I was older now (26!) and my chest had already nursed several children, it’s not unusual for the milk to take a little longer.

In those first few weeks or months, many mothers fall back on formula, this is dangerous because it diminishes your milk right when you’re starting to build your supply and get on a schedule. On the other hand, if you are worried your child is eating enough, you have to do what you feel is right. I’m not some militant nursing mother. We all know what’s best for our own children.

If you have a C-section you cannot nurse. This is just plain false. My mother had three Cesareans and nursed us all. Many of my friends have successfully nursed after C-sections. I have heard however that is tougher to nurse those first few weeks depending on wearing your C-section incision is, and because the first few days you might be groggy from certain medications.

Your child is allergic to your milk. This is not the case. What tends to happen is that babies can be sensitive to a mother’s diet, but even that is very rare. Although I have to admit my son Nikolai was extremely sensitive when I ate peanuts and when he was a month and a half old his brother and sister touched him with peanuts and he had a full out allergic reaction. With all my other children though, my diet was not problematic at all.

Breast-fed babies sleep less than formula fed babies. Sorry Moms, this is true. Since breast milk is so light and easily digestible, breast fed babies eat almost 50% more often than formula fed babies. There is a plus, as nursing Moms we burn 500 calories a day nursing (that’s if your child drinks the average 18-24 ounces of a milk a day). The week I had to pump and dump, I realized my fourth son was drinking upwards of 48 ounces of breast milk a day, that’s a 1,000 calories or more I was burning just letting him nurse! Beats an hour on the treadmill any day lol!

Moreover, breast milk has so many wonderful uses – but I’ll get to that in another blog.

Nursing has become extremely politicized. Do I think it’s the best thing for babies? Of course, that’s why I’ve nursed all my children. That doesn’t mean I’m going to look down on other mothers for not nursing. It’s their child; they have their children’s best interests at heart. As mothers we all have different priorities, what might be a huge deal for me, might not be on another parents list of concerns. I think we should support each other as parents, and not tear each other down for being different. After all, our children learn by our actions.

My four little ones at almost six months.

My four little ones at almost six months.

My Top Five Children’s Books (ages 5 to 7)

Here are some of our family’s favorite children’s books. Even though these books are primarily aimed at the preschool to first grade age group, all my children enjoy them. The stories have just enough heart, action, and rich illustrations to keep us all entertained!


Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth

Zen Shorts, is not only one of my children’s favorite books, it’s mine as well. I love the parables that are at the heart of this book. The elegant illustrations perfectly bring to life Stillwater, the Zen panda who teaches three siblings some integral life lessons. Not only is this storybook magnificently magical in it’s expressive narrative but when you finish reading it you feel as if you’ve educated your soul. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I really enjoy children’s books with a bit of a deeper, spiritual side to them, my oldest son Vicente has picked up on this and now searches his shelves for books with meaningful anecdotes.


There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly illustrated by Pam Adams

As a child my mother read this book to us, and I knew I had to have it for my children. The repetitive, sing song style of the story is fun for all ages. And the crazy, wacky, bright colors hold even the crankiest toddler’s attention for the duration of the book. My two-year-old daughter Audrey loves to clap her chubby little hands as we sing the song together.


Oh, the Thinks You can Think!” by Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ books have been a staple in most children’s libraries for the last forty years, and it is no different in my house. This book has Seuss’ typical run on sentences, fabricated words and whimsical pictures. The story not only asks children to think and use their imagination, but it’s as if Dr. Seuss has written the book from within the vibrant, varied head of a young child! My sons adore this book, especially Liam who is four now. It’s not so long that his attention wanders off, but just long enough to have him become enthralled in the kooky creatures.


If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff

The books in the “If You Give” series are considered hysterical in my family. This story is no different. Mayhem ensues when a little boy gives his dog a donut, then the dog gets wilder and wilder. The donut is not good enough; the dog then needs juice, a ball, to dance and so forth. My kids enjoy this book because they think the little dog is so silly, and I love the book because the little dog reminds me of my four children. There is always something the doggy needs; ad the little boy doesn’t rest until the dog has gotten what he wants. The pictures are playful, the tone is lighthearted, all in all it’s a wonderful anytime story.


Clifford The Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

I know this might come off as completely ditzy, but Clifford and Emily Elizabeth’s relationships are one of the most enduring and sweet love stories in literary history. All right, that’s a bit much, but in the world of young children, this is one love story for the ages. Clifford was a lost and lonely pup until Emily Elizabeth brought him home and loved him. She loved him so much he grew bigger than a house! Besides the sweet relationship between Emily Elizabeth and Clifford, readers get to meet a whole host of characters (dogs and people alike), which makes this series definitely worth reading! There are multiple stories detailing Clifford, Emily Elizabeth and all the townsfolk’s triumphs and adventures. The illustrations are vivid and just exude a sense of happiness. I think you and yours will enjoy this book as much as my family does!

A page from Zen Shorts

A page from Zen Shorts

A Mantra for All Mommies (and Daddies too!)

            Since I gave birth to my first child, I’ve had so many of my friends ask me, “What’s the biggest change when having children?” I’m assuming they’re not asking about the pregnancy flatulence, the swollen feet, or the projectile spit up. Those are things everybody knows about pregnancy and newborns. What most people aren’t ready to come to terms with (sometimes ever) is that having a child means putting yourself on the back burner for quite awhile. I tell everybody the same thing; “It’s not about you anymore.”

In fact sing that mantra to yourself “It’s not about me, it’s not about me.” Truly having a child, and especially in the case of multiple children, or children with special needs, you are on hold. Don’t get me wrong; parenting isn’t a selfless act by some martyr. But so many of the things you were accustomed to will vanish upon having children.

I have to admit, in a way I was saved from the shock of this a bit. I came from a large family, was raised by a mother who believes it’s tacky to talk about yourself, and started having children so young I had just graduated from teenager to college student. I hadn’t spent years cultivating an adult lifestyle; I went from accepting my high school diploma to becoming a parent within a very short period of time. I know many people who parenthood has hit pretty hard. They’ve been used to their freedom, their careers, and their weekends sleeping in or traveling. They’ve been accustomed to writing their own ticket, on their schedule, and it seems the more habituated they are to that, the more difficult the transition to parenting can be.

I’m sure these parents bring a more adult perspective into their child rearing, than perhaps I did at the time. Many though are appalled to learn that babies and children have no schedule. Of course, eventually you can get them into a sleep pattern, school routine, etc. but children are a lesson in unpredictability. Not just in their behavior, but in their very essence. Children become sick at one in the morning, they throw up on you just after you’ve gotten dressed for work, they decide to melt down in the middle of the grocery store when you’re rushing to get home and get everybody fed. They are completely capricious. As their parent, you are as well.

I hate to even think about how many birthday parties, weddings, family gatherings, double dates (and the list goes on) my husband and I have canceled at the very last minute due to our children (or should I say our role as parents). Being a parent requires you putting your wants on hold for your children. Most of the time that is effortless, some days it can be excruciating. Everyone has days where they say to themselves, “I can’t remember the last time I took a shower in peace!”

If you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle, if you think you can just ‘tweak’ a few things and a baby will slide right in, you’re on the precipice of a huge revelation. I’m not telling you to give up going out, to quit your job, become a hermit for 18 years and only venture into the sunlight once your child is ready for college. I’m certainly not advocating giving up your identity, but there has to be a gargantuan shift in priorities. Whether you ease into those changes naturally or surrender to them screaming is your choice.

While child rearing may sound exhausting and almost thankless to some of my single friends, it is the most amazing experience. Not only does loving and caring for your children benefit them, it benefits you. You don’t fathom your own strength until you’re a parent. You can’t grasp the depths of love until you are a parent. Sure you may be giving up many things, but nothing is more amazing than snuggling your newborn, or hearing ‘I love you’ from your child for the first time.

My young sons routinely tell me I look beautiful (usually late in the day when I’m covered in baby spit up, dust and who knows what else), and I have to take a step back and look at myself through their eyes, and that is pretty spectacular. They don’t notice that I still am carrying around baby weight, that my hair hasn’t been coiffed properly in who knows how long, that I haven’t gotten a real pedicure in years. They just know I’m their Mommy and they think I’m great. In the end, what did I really give up anyway?