Little Girls’ Swimsuits

I read this article by Pigtail Pals (which eventually made a stir at Blog Her, etc, etc), and it got me thinking. I don’t like the idea of a little girl in a “sexy” swimsuit, and I’d never buy W a string bikini, but what really got my gears turning was the argument for such swimsuits that I saw in the comments sections of the articles. Among them, the idea that a pedophile is a pedophile, and dressing one’s daughter in a specific way doesn’t increase or decrease the likelihood that a pedophile will think bad thoughts and/or do bad things. Regarding this, I heartily disagree.

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W at 9 months old, enjoying the pool with Grandma.

I want to share a story about a friend of mine. He’s a really good, stand-up guy with a moral compass that points due north, is in his late 20s, and is in a committed relationship with a great woman. I saw him at a social event a few years back, and as we were talking, we both noticed a very pretty young woman of about 18 or 19 walk by. She wasn’t dressed inappropriately for the event or for her age. Her clothing was attractive and stylish but not particularly revealing; her hair and makeup were impeccable. Still, despite all the appropriateness, she was one of those people who just sort of radiate a sexy vibe. My friend noticed her. Took another look. Really noticed her. Shortly thereafter, as he and I were still talking, we saw her walk up to a couple around my age and address the man as “dad.” Turns out, she was the couple’s (very tall) 12-year-old daughter, who — when all dolled up — managed to look completely legal. More

Dirty Feet, Skinned Knees, and the Spices of A Million Flowers

Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. -Ray Bradbury

We spent some of this past week visiting my aunt and uncle. They recently retired to a small rural community in northern Arizona, across a dirt road from the cabin my grandfather built in the 1960s. During my childhood, I would spend weeks of each summer in that cabin with my grandparents and any number of cousins. While it’s been somewhat improved in recent years, “rustic” may have inadequately described the place in those early days; there is a period of time within my memory during which the call of nature was answered in an outhouse. The only bed was a fold-out couch in the cabin’s single room, upon which my grandparents slept. Kids piled into sleeping bags and lay clumped together on the floor like so many puppies or, more often, slept out on the deck under the stars. We’d tell each other jokes and ghost stories each night, growing rowdier and rowdier until my grandmother issued a frown and a stern Hush! Chastened, we’d burrow deeper into our sleeping bags and, bending our heads close together, we’d whisper the secrets of our childhood hearts late into the night.

Those were the summers of skinned knees and dirty feet. The summers of waking with the sun and throwing clothes onto our bodies and food into our mouths as we ran out the door into the forest. Those were the summers of going barefoot and eating sun-warmed berries from right off the brambles. Of bathing in the outdoor shower my grandfather built — the cabin’s only shower for most of my childhood — while looking up at the wind-rustled pines. The cabin had no television, but we never cared. There were few, if any, toys; I remember a partial set of dominos and an old and beaten train case. These we repurposed in any number of ways, and never wanted for the fancier playthings of our city lives. We made swords out of sticks, and pretended at being knights. We brewed a magic potion from leaves and creek water, and went looking for bugs with ailments we could cure. My grandfather helped us make bows and arrows, and we spent hours trying to hit a cardboard box from 20 paces. When both my grandparents were at the cabin, we confined our boundless energy and the vast majority of our chaos to the outdoors. If ever my grandmother left for a few days, however, the rules went with her. Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches became a nutritional staple. We caught dragonflies and brought them inside, the better to observe them. We moved our extensive collections — lizards, plants, rocks — indoors, and made a museum of the kitchen table.

During those summers at the cabin we were free, my cousins and I. Free as only children can be, with no jobs, no nagging concerns, and no charge other than to be home before it got too dark, if only to collect a flashlight. As childhood flowed seamlessly into adolescence, summers at the cabin began to change. I cared less about ensuring my butterfly collection was complete, and more about whether the cute boy staying in the nearby rental was close to my age. I grew too old — or at least too self-conscious — to make believe with wooden swords, and joined the adults to play cards more often than I ran barefoot through the pine litter. Eventually the last vestiges of those carefree days fell away, replaced first by summer work and college applications, and later by jobs and mortgages and car payments. Visiting the cabin became something I did rarely — an only intermittently tolerable interruption to the flow of everyday life — and then didn’t do at all, until recently.

While this past weekend wasn’t W’s first visit to my aunt and uncle’s house, it was the first since she’s been walking. Watching her respond to the cabin area has been like stepping back in time. She wakes early and hardly has the patience to eat her breakfast before she starts to demand OOS! OOS! OOS! (Shoes!) while racing for the door. She’s learning to run on the same dirt roads upon which I learned to ride a bike. My aunt feeds the birds and squirrels in the yard, and W squeals in delight to see the animals and waves to them as they come and go. She rolls in the grass and runs her fingers over the bark of the trees, feeling their different textures. When I try to hold her hand as she tackles a steep hill, she pushes it away. No, Mama, I hear her thinking, I do it myself. I get that. This is a place to be free.

The memories here, even though it’s been so long, swirl all around me. We sit on my aunt and uncle’s porch, and I can see the clubhouse my cousins and I built out of salvaged siding and plywood. The nextdoor neighbor is a girl — of course, she’s a grown woman now — with whom I used to play sometimes; one summer, we built a boat and carried it over our heads down to the creek. It was tippy and leaked like a sieve, but we laughed the whole time. W and I go for a walk, and pass the spot where I once tripped and fell, skinning my upper lip so that I spent the rest of the summer wearing scabs like a mustache. I punctuate our walk with intermittent observations and explanations. This is the house where the mean dogs used to live, I tell her as we go by; they chased me every day. This is “Poison Ivy Lane”; it’s a shortcut to the creek, but you have to be really careful picking your way through. This is the place I caught my first fish. The woman who used to live in this house was an amazing cook, and always used to invite me in and feed me. I don’t know how much of what I say she understands, but underneath the stories is simply this: I was once a little girl, W, just like you. Where we live now isn’t where I lived when I was little — it’s not even in the same town — but this place was a big part of my childhood. Maybe the biggest part. And I am sharing it with you.

Getting W undressed for her bath the last night of our visit, I notice the dirt on her toes and the scrapes on her legs. She’s only just come in from outdoors, and her hair is still warm from the setting sun. She smells like water and dust, grass and little kid sweat. I breathe in deeply, filling my nostrils and filling my heart. Last summer, W was a baby in my arms; this is the first true summer of childhood — the first of many — full of skinned knees and dirty feet, of fun to be had and memories to be made. I’m grateful I have this place to share with her, this place where the anthem of her childhood will ring loudly in her ears, and her pigtails will stream behind her as she runs free.

 

What of the summers of your youth will you share with your child?

 

My Surgery Is Tomorrow, and I’m Scared!

This will be me around noon tomorrow. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

My shoulder surgery is tomorrow. I have been pretty calm all week. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to the surgery, for two reasons. First, because it’ll finally fix my shoulder, which aches all the time, and that will be nice. Second, because while I’ll be in more pain for a few weeks post-surgery than I’m in now, I’ll be on drugs, so I’ll probably be more comfortable than I am now. Yes, I’ve been calm all week. But as of this morning, I am Freaking. Out.

I woke up feeling very energetic, but I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t myself when, before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee, I started dusting the whole house. That turned into cleaning the bathrooms, which turned into cleaning the floors. My house hasn’t been this clean since the week before I went into labor. The cleaning hurts my shoulder, but I didn’t notice it while I was running around in a frenzied manner. Now that I’m forced to sit still (W is napping, and I am keeping her company), my mind is racing and my shoulder aches. I’m face to face with the fact that no, it’s not just that I wanted a really clean house to come home to — it’s that I’m scared shitless.

Where’s your damn science now, the snarky part of my brain asks in a taunting way. You know you aren’t going to DIE in there, you idiot. The snarky part of my brain can be really mean. But it’s right. My odds of dying under general anesthesia are hard to calculate, because most of the statistics out there include those who are ill before surgery, in general poor health, undergoing emergent procedures (which are riskier) or elderly. Still, for all surgical procedures, the risk of death as a result of anesthesia is between 0.01 and 0.016% (Arbous et al, Lienhart et al), with the risk for healthy individuals having non-emergent procedures closer to 0.0004%. For the sake of comparison, I am almost 40 times more likely to die in a car accident (odds of 1 in 6700, or 0.015%) than on the surgical table. I know this intellectually, and yet I am still scared. This is at least partly because humans are absolutely terrible at assessing risk accurately.

It occurred to me the other day that I am not actually scared of dying on the table. How do I know this? Because if W were the one going for surgery (heaven forbid), I would feel sorry for her, and I would wish to be in her place…but I would not be afraid she was going to die. By extension, the logical part of my brain explains to me, you are not actually scared you’re going to DIE. You’re scared of being out of control. You’re a control freak. A neurotic, obsessive control freak. Ok, that last bit might have been the snarky part, rather than the logical part. Still, I think there’s something to this. I am not scared I won’t wake up. I’m scared of feeling myself going under.

The Adequate Mother, who is an anesthesiologist, wrote a very helpful post about what to expect when you’re anesthetized (thank you!). Between that and watching videos of the procedure I’m going to have (or part of the procedure, anyway; these videos cover the Bankart repair, and I am also having a capsular repair), I am intellectually prepared for what will happen tomorrow.

In the quiet spaces in my brain, though, the fear continues to churn. I am afraid of being in pain. Not because of the pain itself, but because I’m scared it’ll make me cranky and less responsive to W. I am scared for W, that she’ll be afraid of what’s going on. I’ve talked to her about it a lot (I even made a little book for her about what is going to happen and what Mommy will be like when she comes home), but I know it’ll still be difficult for her. I’m scared that she’ll be nervous, or worried, or frightened that I can’t hold her with both arms. That I can’t sleep beside her. That I won’t be giving her nighttime bath. That I won’t be able to cuddle her as she falls asleep, or nurse her when she wakes in the middle of the night with her teeth aching. I’m scared she won’t feel as connected to me. I’m scared of losing some of our attachment. That’s probably silly — I’m the mama, after all, and nothing is changing that — but I’m scared all the same. I’m scared that as a reasonable and appropriate medical precaution, I had to write a living will and medical power of attorney for the first time in my life. I had to specify which organs I wanted to donate and for what purpose, under what conditions I wanted medical care to cease, what I wanted done with my remains.

I’m a logical person. So logical that sometimes, I think, I seem cold. I know that. But logic, science, statistics, facts and figures…they have nothing to offer me now. Tomorrow I will have to lay back, let go, trust someone else completely — and science won’t be there to comfort me. If I want comfort tomorrow, I will need something even more profound. Some people call it god, some say faith. Me? I call it peace. And I hope the universe has some to spare for me tomorrow.

 

Any words of wisdom? Advice? Experiences to share?

 

References:

Arbous et al. Mortality associated with anaesthesia: a qualitative analysis to identify risk factors. Anaesthesia. 2001 Dec;56(12):1141-53.

Lienhart et al. Survey of anesthesia-related mortality in France. Anesthesiology. 2006 Dec;105(6):1087-97.

Lessons In Chemistry and Physics From A Toddler

1) 1st Law of Thermodynamics — the energy of the universe is constant. That is to say, if one system or object gains energy, another system or object must have lost energy. As the day progresses, I steadily lose energy, and W steadily becomes more and more energetic.

2) 2nd Law of Thermodynamics — entropy is always increasing. “Entropy” is a fancy chemical word for disorder. ‘Nuff said.

3) Processes are reversible. However, a process that occurs spontaneously in one direction requires an input of energy in the reverse direction, and vice versa. It takes me significant effort to clean up the house. W can take it apart again with no apparent expenditure of energy.

4) Macromolecules bind to one another via an “induced fit” rather than a “lock and key” mechanism. If you pound hard enough, you can get the square peg into the round hole.

5) The laws of the macroscopic universe are constant, and effects are predictable and reproducible. When W squeezes the fruit smoothie pouch, fruit smoothie comes boiling out all over the floor. Every. Single. Time.

6) The most damaging types of radiation are undetectable by humans. Beware the silent toddler.

7) The true nature of a particle is a mathematic combination of all possible states of that particle. Like Schrodinger’s cat, a toddler can exist in multiple (and completely oppositional) states at once. Like ecstatic and enraged. Or exhausted and wired.

8 ) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that it’s impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. This is because the act of measuring the position affects the momentum, and vice versa. Similarly, the very act of checking up on a toddler’s current activity affects the toddler’s next action, making it impossible to predict with any certainty what said toddler might do next.

9) Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion — every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When W throws herself on the floor of the grocery store and starts screaming and ripping all her clothes off in an attempt to get me to pick her up, all I want to do is run. Far. Away.

10) Gravity. It works.

 

What lessons in the physical sciences has your child taught you?

 

 

Reflections on a First Birthday — My, How We’ve Grown

This Saturday, my sweet W will celebrate her first birthday. Ok, no, not really. We’ll celebrate her first birthday; she’ll sort of cluelessly enjoy the fact that she’s being handed a cupcake.

It goes without saying that she’s grown and changed so much in the last 365 days. Seriously. It goes without saying. So I’m not going to say it.

Instead, I want to talk about someone else who’s grown and changed in countless ways this last year — me.

A year ago Saturday, my OB plopped a tiny, squirming, mewling, squishy baby onto my chest. I stared deep into her beautiful, soulful eyes, and thought to myself, “Holy shit.* I’m a mother. Whose idea was THAT?” Which, admittedly, is not what I’d envisioned myself thinking at that particular moment.

*Yes, I swore. If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you’ll remember I once wrote a post about how I’d never swear on SquintMom, because I wanted it to be a “Gentle Space” where people could come and know in advance that they weren’t going to read anything that could ruin a good mood. Screw it. This blog is as much for me as it is for everyone else, and sometimes, moms need to swear. This is another way in which I’ve changed in the last year; I recognize that now.

Anyway…not what I’d envisioned myself thinking. No, during pregnancy (when my brain was filled with fluffy bunnies and butterflies and all the other sorts of gooey, lovey things that a preggo brain, hopped up on preggo hormones, is filled with), I envisioned myself locking eyes with my newborn and falling deeply, perfectly in love. I imagined I’d immediately feel a sense of “motherishness,” and that I’d, from that moment on, be transformed (in ways more profound than the integrity of my lady parts). I imagined I’d be willing to die for my baby. You know, like that Maureen Hawkins quote goes: “…before you were born, I loved you. Before you were an hour old, I would give my life for you.”

Bullshit. That did not happen for me. Did it happen for you? That’s nice. No, really. I’m happy for you. But it doesn’t make you a better mother than me. Here’s the thing, though…at the time, I thought it did.

I thought, lying there in my hospital bed, holding my newborn W, that there was something wrong with me, because I couldn’t honestly say that I LOVED her, or that I’d DIE for her. Sure, I felt strong and instinctive things toward her. I cried harder than she when they did that PKU heel-stick thing. I wanted to punch the nurse who (I felt) took an excessive amount of blood for her bilirubin re-test. But love? How could I LOVE someone I didn’t know? How could I LOVE someone I’d only just met? How could I LOVE someone who, up until hours ago, had been nothing but an idea, an image on the sonogram, an occasional squirming sensation in my belly.

I realize there are those mothers for whom love comes strong and early. Who truly do love their babies before they’re born. I don’t doubt that. I just wish I hadn’t expected to be one of them. I wish I’d known then what I know now, which is that love comes to some like a hurricane, fast and furious. Forceful, and certain. For some, love blows open the doors to the heart, and storms in. For others, love creeps on silent feet, curls into a corner of the heart, and settles down. It’s not as dramatic, but it’s just as real.

I wondered many times, in those first weeks, whether there was something missing in me. I wondered whether I was “meant” to be a mother. It felt so hard. She wouldn’t sleep unless she was in my arms. She cried All. The. Time. I fumbled through diaper changes, needed step-by-step pictogram instructions to swaddle her, and worried her bobbly head would fall off if I didn’t hold it just so. She couldn’t latch, so we had to use a nipple shield to nurse. My breasts — which had been, shall we say, “fun size” — swelled to beyond Playboy proportions. I looked like a badly drawn pornographic cartoon character. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t recognize my life. I felt like someone had made a terrible mistake, trusting me — ME! What were you thinking!! — with this beautiful, helpless human.

Somehow, slowly, things changed. She and I got to know each other. Nursing became easier (though sleep never has, but we’ll get there). My arms learned to cradle her, and my hands learned to diaper her. The muscle memories of these actions became so ingrained that I could perform them in my sleep. I grew accustomed to my new body, and came to appreciate what it could do. Also, at some point — and looking back, I don’t even know when, exactly — I fell in love. Love crept into my heart on silent paws, and now it fills me.

I’ve also realized that “becoming a mother” isn’t something that happens one night on a beach with a six-pack of beer, nor is it something that happens in a delivery room. It happens day-by-day, month-by-month, even year-by-year. Because yes, I’m good at changing diapers now, and I can tell the difference between a “hungry” whine and a “tired” whine, but I am as clueless about the year ahead of me — the first year of her toddlerhood — as I was about the year of her infancy. I’m FANTASTIC at mothering an infant now. Too bad for me, I don’t have one anymore! So off I go to keep becoming a mother.

But here’s the thing, and this makes all the difference. Back then, in the delivery room, I had the expectation that I should “become a mother” instantaneously. That I should feel love right away, have an instinctive sense of what to do. And I judged myself harshly when things didn’t happen that way. Now? I’m perfectly accepting of my cluelessness. I know I’ll screw up, and go to bed at night thinking, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better.” But I also know I’ll figure out how to mother a toddler eventually. Heck, I know I’ll become FANTASTIC at it. Eventually. Like, by the time she’s ready for preschool.

 

How did your first year of motherhood change you?

 

 

The Stuff in My Head — Random Poetry

Earlier this week I was really frustrated (as evidenced by this post). Truth be told, I’m still really frustrated, but I’ve got some perspective now. One of the wonderful things about motherhood is that even on the days when I want to tear my hair out, there are beautiful moments. Many of them. One night a few months ago, after a really hard day, I watched W sleep and wrote this…and I thought I’d share it…

 

Mama

It’s true that it’s me she kicks

And me she bites

But it’s also me who got her first kiss

Her first smile

The first touch of a starfish hand.

There are days when I just can’t stand another moment of being

Needed and touched…

 

Every.

Single.

Second.

 

And there are moments within every day —

Even the best days —

When I wonder how much more I can take before I crack.

Before I break.

 

There are moments of frustration at the fact that

I am her everything.

But then I realize…

I am her

EVERYTHING.

 

It’s me she turns to for comfort

It’s me she wants when she’s scared

It’s me she reaches for in her sleep

It’s me she watches each morning when she wakes…

She lies quietly beside me and waits…

And waits…

For my eyes to open…

And she grins her big toothless baby grin…

And there is no sunrise so precious.

 

I know it’ll be at me that she yells “I hate you!” when she can’t

Draw on the walls

Have more ice cream

Take the car out.

 

But it will also be me she tells when she

Makes her first best friend

Falls in love

Feels her belly swell with her own sweet baby some day.

 

There are days when I am stretched to breaking,

And I am sure I can’t do this for one more second…

But then I give her a bath

And we nurse

And she hums her going-to-sleep song

And her eyes close

And I look into her beautiful, beautiful, peaceful, sleeping face.

 

In these moments I realize that being Mama is the

Hardest

Sweetest

Most impossible

Most beautiful thing I will ever do.

 

And I would never trade it.

Not for gold,

Not for freedom.

 

She is

My everything.

 

 

My Birthday

So, rather than trying to write a single, coherent PhPh post today, I’ve got a bunch of stuff rattling around in my brain and figured I’d share it in a series of shorts, in no particular order.

1. It’s my birthday today. I’m 34 29. Yesterday, I had an appointment with the eye doctor for an annual checkup (I wear contacts). Word to the wise: never schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional the week of your birthday (unless you’re pregnant and are hoping to go into labor, which is what I was doing on my birthday last year). Why? Because healthcare professionals have a nasty habit of telling you things that translate to you’re getting older. Which unless you’re under 21, isn’t what you want to hear. For instance, yesterday I got to hear you have presbyopia, which is optometrist-speak for you need {an expensive pair of really cute} glasses on top of your contact lenses so you can see when you read and use the computer. Ok, in fairness, he didn’t say the “expensive and cute” part, but that’s what I chose to hear. That was my aging-eyes consolation prize. I got to pick out my expensive-and-cute frames while W had an I’m-almost-one-going-on-terrible-two tantrum in the frame store. Whadaya think…how’d I do?

2. On a related note, I offered W to a woman at the frame shop. I had finally stopped the tantruming by letting W push her stroller around the store (yes, I have become the annoying mom with the child that pushes her stroller around the store, about whom childless people think things like why can’t she control her kid and Jeezus, just leave her at home next time. I was that childless person. It’s karma that I’ve become the annoying mom. Oh, and to the childless people, I AM controlling my kid. There are two options here — because…leave her at home? With WHOM? — and they are a) let her push the stroller around the store, or b) let her scream. I’ve gone with the option that I assume you prefer, but if you’d rather hear her scream, lemme know. Happy to oblige.) Anyway, so while she was pushing her stroller around, a woman who had not been present for the tantruming commented that she was really, really cute. I said, like I was flattered, Oh, you think? She reaffirmed. I said, You want her? And then I laughed, to convince myself that to show her that I was kidding. Anyway, one of the things I’ve learned about motherhood is that it means loving someone more than anything, but occasionally being willing to sell them to gypsies for the right price.

3. Husband baked me a birthday cake last night so that it could cool and set while we slept. It’s chocolate. Yum. Anyway, I was in bed already (because W holds me hostage every night likes me to lie next to her after she goes to sleep), and when he came to bed, he smelled like chocolate. Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever.

4. I’m starting to wonder whether this blog needs to split into two separate ones. The sciency posts are becoming more sciency and less personal/philosophical than they used to be, while the PhPh posts are becoming more personal and less sciency. I’d love some feedback. Should PhPh stay on SquintMom to “soften” it up, or should SquintMom become strictly resources for evidence-based parenting, while I take my snarky, wish-I-could-swear-in-posts-but-don’t-want-to-on-a-semi-professional-blog self off to another URL dedicated to my random thoughts and observations?

5. Happy birthday to me. Looking forward to a big glass of wine, maybe even two, with dinner. Hooray for being not-pregnant!

 

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