What Do I Tell My Children?

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As many of the faithful know, I have three beautiful daughters.  Sometimes, when I look at them, I am jealous of the ease of their lives.  My own childhood was defiled by problems: parents who did not think it unhealthy to fight in front of the children, alcoholism, and at times, boredom.  I was not protected from the harsh realities of life nor was anyone ever trying to make sure I enjoyed it.

However, I parent differently.  It does not hurt that my husband and I are best friends.  It is rare that we argue, but when we do, we always make sure that if it feels like it is going to escalate, we remove ourselves from the children.  Secondly, it is difficult to be bored in this day and age.  Technological advancements make it virtually impossible to feel like the only thing there is to do is watch paint dry, and thirdly, I like activity, so we are always on the go.

Yes, I think I have created a pretty good childhood experience for the girls.  They are free from the extraneous worries of the adult world.  They are free to live life and enjoy it for its intrinsic value, and that is why, days like yesterday are so difficult.

I drove home from work yesterday in silence.  I do not know why.  Usually after I call the girls to tell them I am on my way home, I like to get lost and process the day with the sounds of the radio.  Yet yesterday, for whatever reason, I drove home in silence.

Thus, when I walked in, I found it odd to find all three girls in the livingroom.  As of late, the three have not been getting along as well as they used to get along.  At thirteen, ten, and eight, they all have variant interests and wants.  While Carson wants to come home and bury herself in her room so she can Facetime her friends, the other two still want to be rambunctious and play.  It is not uncommon for me to walk through the door with one of my daughters complaining about someone else.

Yesterday, though, it was different.  I walked in and the house was virtually silent.  I did not hear the squeal of laughter coming through the wall from Carson’s room.  I did not hear the playful sounds of Maggie and Lizzie fighting over the remote or whose turn it was on Club Penguin.  The only sound in the house was the hum coming from the television in the livingroom.

Turning the corner, they were all sitting together, gripped by whatever program was on the television.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked naively, unaware of the events of the last hour.

“Did you see this?” Carson asked with alarm in her voice.  I turned the corner to view the television.  Within seconds I read the headline and saw the initial images of the blast. “Boston Marathon Bombing.”

“Jesus,” I squeaked out as I took a seat on the couch with them.

The four of us sat together on one couch, and for a few minutes no one spoke.  I was trying to figure out what was being reported.  My daughters looked on in different levels of understanding.  Lizzie was more confused than anything; Maggie looked scared; Carson, well her eyes made me the most nervous.  She understood what had happened, and she is at the age where she can process the implications and feel concern for the safety of herself and others as a whole.

What do I tell my children?  How do I explain the unexplained terroristic attack of any individuals– knowing full well that no matter who the culprit, foreign or domestic, that this was an act of terrorism?  How do I explain the situation in such a way that they do not feel afraid to live their every day lives?  Running a marathon is not out of the ordinary, just as going to work or riding in the subway, but we all know that the World Trade Center came down on what seemed to start off as an unadventful Tuesday, and the London Subway was attacked on a pretty typical Wednesday.

These are the situations where I fear that I do not know how to parent well.  I do not want my children to be terrified to live, but yet, I need for them to be cognizant and sometimes suspicious of the world.  All the same, I do not want their nighttimes to be plagued by nightmares, nor do I want their daytimes to be crippled with fear.

“Who would do this?” my middle daughter asked.  I looked into her eyes, and I knew I needed to be the parent.  I needed to put her mind at ease.

“I don’t know, Honey.  Someone who does not have regard for others’ lives,” I said.  I grabbed the remote and turned off the television for a moment.  I wanted their full attention.  “Girls, events like what just happened are scary.  Innocent people are hurt, and right now, we do not know why.  Right now, the only thing we can do is pray: pray for the victims, pray for the families, pray for some answers.”

I looked into each of their eyes.  They are so young and innocent and good.  “It’s okay for you to feel badly for the victims.  It’s okay to feel upset.”

They all nodded in agreement.  I decided to save the conversation about living each day to the fullest for a later time.  They wanted for us to sit together as a family and just be.  We turned CNN back on.  We watched the images and heard the frightening details of the second bomb, and another probable explosive.  We each processed it differently.

As a mother, I have a heavy heart.  Every single victim is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, possibly, even someone’s father or mother.  Why do innocent people have to endure the pain and hostility of others?  Why is this unwarranted suffering thrust into these radiant lives?

What do I tell my children to help any of it make sense?

The Most Surreal Moment of My Life

Whoa!  What is the most surreal moment I have ever had?   Most definitely, it would have to be the birth of Carson.

Sunday May 28, 2000: Tom decides he needs to spend the day with a buddy watching the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.  The baby’s due date is just six days away, and he views this as his last hurrah.  Tom spends the day being a man’s man: drinking beer, eating chicken wings, and watching cars turn circles over and over again.

10:00 PM: Tom arrives home, and he decides he needs to go directly to bed.  He is drunk tired. He needs some sleep.

12:00 AM: I have not fallen asleep because I have been experiencing tension in my abdomen.  I am unsure if this is labor or just Braxton-Hicks, so I lay in bed and monitor how I feel.

2:00 AM: I decide it is labor.  The pains are coming more readily and more intensely.  I decide to wake Tom.

“Tom,” I whisper, shaking him lightly.

Nothing.

“Tom,” I say a bit louder, shaking him a bit more roughly.

“Huh?” he groans.

“I think I’m in labor.”

“Okay.”  He rolls over onto his shoulder, takes a deep breath, and falls back to sleep.

Hmmm.  He doesn’t seem concerned, so I imagine I can lay her until morning.

Suddenly, Tom springs up and turns on the light.  He is very awake and very coherent.  “Are you having contractions?”

“Yes.”

“How far apart?”

“Like ten minutes.”

“When are we supposed to go to the hospital?” he asks rubbing my belly.

“When they are five minutes apart.”

We sit together monitoring my pain.

4:30 AM: I have had three consecutive contractions at five minutes apart.  We agree that it is time to get up, get dressed, and pack a bag.

5 AM: I am in triage in the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus strapped to a baby monitor.  A nice Indian doctor with an accent I can barely understand looks at the data sheets spewing from the monitor, checks my dilation and effacement, and says, “Your contractions are three and a half minutes apart, but you are only two centimeters dilated and 20% effaced.  You are not ready to have this baby.  Go home.  If you go to a Memorial Day picnic, don’t eat too much.”

Wait.  What?  A Memorial Picnic?  Three and half minutes apart?  I was told to come to the hospital when my contractions were five minutes apart.  I came and now he is sending me home?  I have no idea when to come back.  The rules of labor don’t make any sense, and the contractions are getting more and more intense.

I want to cry as I sign the papers releasing me from the hospital.

8:00 AM: We are back at our apartment.  Tom is trying to nap.  I am in the living room contemplating jumping off the balcony, it hurts so badly.  The pain is literally paralyzing and I begin to cry.  Tom comes out of our room and rubs my back gently.  “Maybe we should walk.  I remember reading that walking helps.  Let’s go to your parents, drop off the dog, and walk around the neighborhood.”

“Okay,” I say through tears.

9:00 AM: We walk from my parents driveway to the stop sign.  Oh, did I tell you they have the corner house?  The stop sign is inches away.  I cannot walk, it hurts too much.

Watching me in pain, Tom begins to stress.  “This is fucking ridiculous.  You could be ready to have this baby right now!  I’m calling the hospital.”

9:02 AM: A new doctor is on shift.  She asks Tom to put me on the phone, but I am in the middle of a contraction and all she can hear is me moan and groan.

“Bring her down,” the nice doctor says.  We can help her.

9:30 AM:  We are back in triage and nothing feels right.  I feel sick.

“I think I am going to be….”  I projectile vomit all over the floor.

“I am so sorry.  Please.  I am so sorry,” I say to the nurse.

“It’s okay, Honey.  Maybe you should go to the restroom,” she says guiding me toward a toilet.

Yes, I need the restroom, and a bucket.  It is coming out both ends.  I cannot make it stop.  The contractions are still coming.  I am miserable.

10:00 AM: I am given some kind of drug to take the edge off.  I’m ordered to walk the halls because I am still 2 centimeters dilated and 30% effaced.  Nothing is changing.

Four hours of hell.

2:00 PM: The nice doctor sees how awful this experience is for me.  “I think we will break your water,” she says to me.  “You are not dilating and your contractions are two minutes apart.  Breaking your water might get your body moving.”

2:10 PM: “Your water is full of meconium,” she says.

I know this word, but I cannot remember it, but I know it is bad.

“We will need to have extra hands in the room to help the baby avoid ingesting meconium.” She smiles as she looks into my eyes.  “We are not going to worry, though.”

I believe her.

“I’m going to order an epidural and get you out of pain.”

3:00PM: The anesthesiologist administers the epidural.

3:30 PM: The pain is gone.  The Indians are on the television and for the first time in a long time, I feel like myself.

4:30 PM: “Tom, I am feeling pain.  I think there is something wrong.”  The pain is pulsing down my left leg.

“That’s impossible.  You had an epidural,” he says.

“I know, but please get the nurse.  It really hurts.”

I can see that he feels that I am exaggerating or making up phantom pain. I hear him apologize to the nurse.  As she walks in, I can feel that this visit is to placate me because surely I could not be feeling pain.  She checks the monitor.

“Oh good God,” she says shocked.  “No one ever turned the epidural on.  I need to call anesthesiology.”

I smile smugly at Tom because he did not believe me.

4:45 PM: Another direct shot makes me completely numb from the waste down.  I cannot feel my legs or feet at all.

11:00 PM:  “Okay,” the nurse says.  “You are ten centimeters dilated.  It’s time to start pushing.”

“I can’t feel anything.”  I am still completely paralyzed.

“That’s okay.  Just bear down.  Your body will know what to do.”

“What about the doctor?” Tom asks.  He looks concerned.

“She and a team will be in when the baby starts to crown.”

11:54 PM:  Not much change.  Baby is not crowning.  I’m exhausted.  “Can you get forceps?” I plead.  I do not want to do this any longer.

The nurse laughs.  “You’re doing fine.  You don’t want a baby with a deformed head.  We will just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Or I will: PUSH!

12:30 AM: Modesty is out the window.  There are literally ten people in this room looking at my hoo-haa.  Everyone has on masks and some of the people are holding suction devices.  It is getting close to the baby being born, and they are armed and ready to attack the meconium.

1:02 AM: “The head is about to deliver.  Everyone ready?” the nice doctor says to the team.  Everyone nods and moves a bit closer.  “Okay, Cheryl, one big push.”  I bare down and push.  I hear sucking sounds.  I look at Tom and he looks amazed and horrified at the same time.  The baby is covered in meconium, a green liquidy mess.

1:05 AM: “Just one more,” the doctor says.  One push and she is out.  “It’s a girl.  Congratulations,” she says excited for us, but preoccupied with the events of the moment.  The baby faintly cries, the doctor cuts the umbilical cord, and the baby is immediately moved to a table.  Five people surround her, washing her, checking her vitals, still sucking out her ears, nose, and mouth.

1:07 AM: She is taken to the NICU, a level 3 NICU.  I hear someone say she might have to be moved.  To where, I wonder, but I am so tired and delirious and excited to have had a baby, that it doesn’t really hit me that she is not with us, that we have not held her, that she has been taken away.

2:10 AM: Tom and I wait patiently for word about what is going on.  I am getting frustrated and scared.  Can’t someone tell us what is going on?

3:30 AM: A doctor I have never seen before walks in the room.  He talks about the possibility of pneumonia and infection.  She is in an incubator, she needs oxygen, she is not breathing well on her own.  “We have very high hopes she will be fine, but we need to monitor her. She is in an incubator.”

None of what he says is sinking in.  Is it serious?  Could she be mentally retarded by the meconium?  Will she be able to walk or talk or ever ride a bike?

“I need to get some sleep,” Tom admits.  “If they are going to monitor her until morning, I am going to go home, take a shower, and take a nap.  You should try to nap, too,” he says.

I try, to no avail.

6:00 AM: Three doctors with clipboards walk in my room.  “Ma’am, we need to life flight your baby to Metro Hospital.  They have a level 5 NICU, and we want to make sure your baby gets the best care possible.  The helicopter is on the way.”

6:03 AM: “Tom, they are taking her to Metro.  Come back!”

7:00 AM: They wheel in an incubator.  My baby is hooked up to tubes and needles and oxygen.  She is so small, so innocent.  Please God.  Please let her be okay.  Tom and I touch the incubator, we cannot touch the child.  “I love you, Carson.”  This is the first time I have addressed her.  This is the first time I have said her name to her.

9:00 AM: “Okay, well this has been a difficult night,” the new doctor says to me.  “How are you feeling?”

Hmm.  My legs are tingly.  I am exhausted.  My child has been life-flighted.  “Okay,” I say.

“All right.  We are going to take your vitals and make sure you are okay.  I think we can have you out of here by eleven,” he says.  I swallow hard.  I have not slept.  I do not think I can walk.  I don’t know what I am supposed to do.  “You do want to go be with your baby?” he asks.

Is that protocol?  “Yes,” I say.

“Great.”

9:45 AM: A nurse. Instructions.  Blood, Sitz Bath. Walking. Bleeding.  “Any clot egg-size or smaller is fine to pass.  Anything bigger, and you need to go directly to an emergency room.”

I had not thought about bleeding out.

11:00 AM: Getting into the car on the way to another hospital.  I am woozy.  I am weak.  I am tired.  I gave birth less than twelve hours earlier, and I have been discharged from the hospital.  I am scared.  I am worried.  I am the new mother of a sick child.

**********************

7 days later: Carson comes home. She had suffered from pneumonia and infection, nothing more.

12 and 1/2 years later: She is a straight A student about to compete in the local Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (having won her way in), a dancer, a guitar player, a knitter, and an all-around kick ass kid.

Day 359: Page Three of My Autobiography.

My father asked my mother to marry him without asking her father for her hand.  He knew what the answer would have been if he had.  My mother’s parents did not approve of my father.  He was my mother’s first boyfriend, and he did not fit the mold of what they expected for her.  First of all, he was Polish.  As a Croatian, you married a Croatian.  It was expected.  Secondly, he was a high-school drop out and he was five years older than she was.  My mother had a attended Lord’s Academy and graduated top of her class.  She was a college Freshman, and they expected great things from her.

After only six months of dating, my father went to the jewelry story and bought a ring:  a spectacular square-cut diamond set in white gold.  It was gorgeous and it was everything my mother represented to him.  He proposed in his 1958 Buick Super because people didn’t stage grand gestures in those days.  My mother cried and insisted on going home to show her parents.   She ran into the house to show them the ring and my grandmother with a disapproving glare said, “So you’re going to marry a Pollock,” and then she burst into tears.  She never did wish my mother good wishes, and my grandfather walked out of the room.  Her parents’ response disappointed my mother and hurt her to the core.  They never approved of any decision she made, and she knew that for the rest of her, they would watch her with the same disapproving stare.

Sometimes, I think she married my father just to rebel.  And with this rebellious nature, she plunged herself into a marriage with a man that she constantly corrected.  His English was poor and she was embarrassed he did not graduate high school.  She insisted he read, and he would not allow him to join a bowling league because she viewed it as low class.  I think he was shocked at the realities of marriage.  They really had nothing in common those first few years.

Even though they were different, they shared a loved that was unconquerable.  They swore “in richer and poorer, in good times and bad, death do us part” and they meant it, although they spent everyday of their entire relationship testing those words.   They were always trying to test each other’s boundaries.  It’s as if they were in a constant game of I-Knew-You-Couldn’t-Love-Me-Enough.  Each of my parents broke the bonds of marriage.  They each did horrible acts to hurt the other person.  They waited for the other to fold.    “If I do this one horrible thing.  This unmentionable action, will you leave me or will you stay?”  They pushed and pushed and pushed, but no one ever left.   It was not uncommon for them to be awake at three in the morning screaming at each other and throwing dishes.  However, in the morning, they would quietly clean up the mess together, and somewhere in the midst of the madness, they would make up.  Each and every fight led to a new level of understanding.  Each and every fight led to a deeper and stronger love.