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Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World

“Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” –Mr. Rogers

 

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” — Nelson Mandela

 

They were a family. Five children, brought into the Emergency Department by a Child Protective Services worker. The oldest was 12, the youngest just 2 years. They had been found by a neighbor, living alone in their house for what looked like days or weeks. Mom and dad were nowhere to be found, but there was a known history of drug addiction and mental health problems. My job was to examine them, treat any obvious medical conditions and send them on their way, to be placed in foster care.

My heart broke as I looked around the room to my wide-eyed, solemn patients. Their faces were grime-encrusted, their hair matted and lice-infested. The oldest one sat on the bed, refusing to look at me or answer my questions. The smallest grabbed my leg, just trying to get my attention. I quickly thought about my own children at home in their beds, clean and warm. No mother in her right mind would ever allow her children to live that way. I ached to take them home with me, bathe their little bodies, scrubbing the dirt from under their fingernails, combing the lice from their hair, and wrapping them in big blankets to read stories before bed. I longed to be the one to tell them, ‘it’s ok, your mom is coming to get you, but you can stay here until she does.’

Once a mother always a mother. We look out for our own as well as other people’s children, because we are the ones who so intimately know how extremely fragile children can be. Little minds are undeveloped. Children don’t always understand everything that happens, so it is up to us as their parents and caregivers to guide them, explain things, keep them safe. I didn’t know what to say to these children because I didn’t know what their future looked like and I had no power to ensure that the next person they encountered would care for them.

I went into pediatrics because of the innocence of my little patients. Adults are maddening. They drink and smoke and don’t take their medicine and then lie about it. Adults don’t go to the doctor for years, and then wonder why they face things like heart disease or cancer that didn’t get diagnosed earlier. Children, on the other hand, are honest and silly and incredibly stoic when in pain. They listen and take direction and often just want to feel better. Children tell you where it hurts and are easily comforted with bubbles and stickers. Their illnesses are never as a result of poor lifestyle choices and I find myself doing everything in my power on a daily basis to diagnose, treat and care for each child to the best of my ability.

We have recently heard accounts about immigrants at the border, especially the children. Personally I have been unable to spend too much time thinking about these children, these babies, because it makes me nauseous and panicky as I consider the conditions they are in. I think about my patients, the family of 5, and I know that the children at the border are experiencing worse. Much, much worse.

I don’t know how any mother anywhere is comfortable with the reports we are hearing. Sleeping on concrete floors, little food, no soap or showers or blankets. Conditions that adults would find unsanitary and unlivable are ok for children because they don’t have voices, or because their families were fleeing to a place that might be safer than their home? Children don’t choose their situations. They don’t choose to be sick, and they don’t choose to be taken across a border. As adults, we have a moral responsibility to treat them humanely and with as much care as possible. It is what we would wish for our own. And who are we if we continue to allow it? Who are we if we don’t speak out against it?

Last summer was my last summer working as the medical director for a summer camp for children with medical diseases. I left my home for 3 days at a time, on 3 separate occasions. Each time when I returned, my toddler, who was 20 months at the time, was different. He ran away from me, refusing my hugs, screaming when I tried to kiss him. It was like he didn‘t know me. I was shocked at his reaction which I quickly realized was anger at me. He was mad at me for leaving, probably even thought I had abandoned him. When I came home he needed to let me know how mad he was. It took me a few hours for him to let me hold or kiss him, and it wasn’t until the following day that things felt normal.

These children are taken away for weeks in some cases, forever in others. I don’t know how their parents make it through each day. As a mom and a doctor I am apalled this is happening in my country. The amount of unnecessary and purposefully inflicted pain on the most innocent and most vulnerable is an atrocity that none of us should allow to continue. We should all be ashamed that it has been allowed to happen, and we all should be using every voice, everyday,  to protest in every way we know how.

It is hard, but I am forcing myself to not look away, to donate money to RAICES, and TogetherRising, to speak out, to maybe convince others to do the same. How are you responding to our crisis?

 

‘Thus says the LORD, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my mother–Abraham Lincoln

Happy Mother’s Day

I woke up this morning really NOT wanting to be a mom. For my children who could read this later, it isn’t that I didn’t want to be YOUR mom, I didn’t want to be anyone’s mom. I was wishing away the heavy responsibility and the selflessness required of me at all times.

For context, I am currently chronically sleep-deprived. This is not the sleep-deprivation of my training years, because during those, as least I got my golden weekend or a post-call day when no one needed me for 24 hours.

Sleep deprivation as a mom is much different. There is no end in sight, and the work requires me to be constantly nice and patient. I am having a hard time being nice right now. My infant is waking up about 3-4 times every night, and I can’t seem to remember the last time I had more than 4 hours of sleep at one time. The other problem is that I also have a really hard time getting back to sleep after I have been woken up. This morning when my infant woke up at 0500, all I wanted to do was to get 30 more minutes of rest, but he refused to fall back asleep. Such is being a parent.

Mother’s Day is weird, because I think most families really want to honor their moms, but I think most of us moms just want a day away. My family went to brunch this morning, in what was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture from my husband. Of course, the baby continued to cry, and my toddler wanted to run around and play with his trucks everywhere. We were also at a buffet. Two-year-old children should NEVER be left alone in front of a buffet. Fortunately, we survived and actually got to eat some food. It was lovely, but I think I was more excited about the nap I got to take after we got home!

I officially became a mother on Nov. 5, 2016. You could say that I was a ‘pseudo’ mother before that, though. I work in a pediatric Emergency Department, so seeing and taking care of children on a daily basis is my job. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I actually became a mother myself. I knew life would change, I knew I would have a deep love for my children, and I knew it would be hard. What I didn’t expect from the pregnancy and birth and then actual ‘mothering,’ was a total change in my entire identity, what I value, what I will tolerate, and how I have learned the true depth of my own personal resilience.

The actual transition into this role happens unexpectedly, and with a lot less pain than I anticipated. Becoming pregnant is the beginning, when you all of the sudden start caring about what you are putting in your body, whether you are supposed to avoid tuna or swordfish, definitely cold cuts, and every time you hear a story about listeria in ice cream, or something, you vow to avoid all the ice cream until the baby comes.

You buy diapers and formula, baby clothes and furniture. You read all the books and wait for this little person, and eagerly anticipate how things will be different.

The baby does come, and with it comes their own personality, their wants and needs. All of a sudden life does actually change. You still eat so you can feed the baby, and do everything you can to try to ensure baby sleeps. You are now a mom, the word even feels foreign as you say it. You recover from the birth and strangely you find yourself not caring that you can’t fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes. All of the effort that used to be spent at the gym is spent trying to sleep, or maybe just doing something, anything, alone. If you can.

You kind of hate your spouse, who you love, but who doesn’t feel the same utter devotion to the baby that you do, and you just wish you could tap out every once and awhile. If only I could take a break, you think, go away for a weekend and sleep in until noon. You read books on baby sleep, on mom’s diet, on how to raise a child who is obedient. You try to decide if a pacifier is ok, or if you should let your baby suck his thumb, because, what happens if he doesn’t stop? You obsess over poop and swaddles, books and bath toys. You are convinced that keeping your food in glass rather than plastic will eliminate the risk of cancer. For everyone.

All of the toys that you used to swear would never be visible in your home now scatter the living room. You buy a mini-van. And then, you become really picky about food, and only want your kid to eat organic, and to never be given sugar. You judge yourself heavily for becoming ‘that’ mom. Suddenly there is sunscreen in every bag you own, and you wonder if you will ever be able to let your kid play on a trampoline or throw a football with his friends.

For reference, when you think about this new role you have been thrust into, you think of your own mother. As a child you worshipped her. She was the only one who could always make life all better. You remember what it felt like to think, “I just want my mom.” And then you start to realize you are becoming that mother. Your toddler falls and cries just for you. You are both flattered and disillusioned. Seeing yourself from a distance, you don’t recognize that person at all. It feels like you are looking at a funny mirror at a carnival, and you aren’t sure if you and that person you see are the same.

Those days of cocktails with friends, late movies and midnight happy hours are long gone, replaced with dinner at home, cartoons, and strict bedtimes. There is a constant desire to always get at least eight hours of sleep, and a need to be ready to be awoken at 630 by a nosy toddler.

Life is exhausting in a way you never felt possible. Every day you desperately want to live in the moment, to capture all of the smiles and the giggles, the tumbles and the hurts. But you also constantly watch the clock wind down to bedtime, wishing for some solitude, some time to feel like ourselves again.

I was a doctor for thirteen years before I was a mother, and I definitely feel more confidant as a doctor. When life is hard at home, I would give anything to be in the ER instead because there I always have an answer. I was taught and trained and prepared for what I encounter when I am at work. I have no idea what I am doing at home. It is hard, because mothers are supposed to be all-knowing, having answers for what is for dinner, where the favorite toy went, to how to deal with the latest temper tantrum. I fumble through this, trying to find an answer or the ‘best solution’ for the latest problem of the moment. It feels a little like failure. Constant failure.

Then, just when it feels like you can’t do anything right as a mom, your son says, ‘thank you momma.’ He kisses his brother and sweetly asks you to read him a book or give him a hug. A stranger tells you that your children are so ‘well-behaved,’ and someone else tells you to ‘enjoy this time, it goes so quickly.’

People warn you to start preparing for the future. I instantly get nervous. When should I start pre-school? Should I be teaching him his letters? What if one decision when he is two will decide the trajectory of the rest of his life? These questions feel so crazy and incredibly premature.

I have decided that although we as a society are focused on performance and excellence, I want to ensure my children are kind. While I would love them to grow up to be successful with good jobs and an ability to own a home one day, I more importantly want them to be empathetic. I want them to be sensitive when others are hurting, I want them to give generously of their time or money to those less fortunate, and I want them to care about others more than they care about what others are thinking.

I don’t know how to do this, you can read books, take advice from others, but I think at the end of the day, I need to think about the kind of behavior I have shown them. Am I patient? Am I kind? Do I show anger easily, or am I flexible and resilient to the hardships of life? Do I find joy in the simple things like flowers on a walk, or coffee in the morning, or do show frustration if things aren’t perfect? Do I treat my husband with respect, love and generosity, or am I short, speaking with anger or contempt? And then, how do you do all of these things when you feel like a failure, or are in this state of sleep deprivation?

All I can do is be the best version of myself. I can love them and show them what we value as a family and model the way I would like them to be. It is easy to get angry with toddlers–tantrums, their inability to control their emotions, and their constant questions. If we get angry with them, we are only teaching them how to get angry.

I woke up this morning, weeping with exhaustion as my 4-month-old baby wouldn’t go back to sleep after waking up at 5 am. As I have become more awake and aware, I am humbled and thankful for this job every day. I also realize that we as moms need to have some grace for this job we do, to understand it will never be perfect, and sometimes we can’t make any one thing happen. We need to realize that recognizing we are doing are best is good enough, that no one is perfect at this job, and it is hard for everyone.

Good job all you mommas out there, you are doing a great job! Any thoughts from you hardworking ladies?

Adventures in Parenting–Toddler Edition

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
–Linda Wooten

 

I took my toddler to the dentist this week. He did really well last time, so I anticipated an easy experience. The minute we walked into the clinic, he started crying. It was manageable at that point with intermittent moments of quiet. I was thinking, as long as he gets something to distract him, we will be ok. The clinic was great, they brought us back to our room within minutes, but as soon as we were in the room and the door shut, he started screaming.

This quickly transitioned into a full-on temper tantrum that had no apparent cause other than him being in a place he didn’t want to be. Watching this all happen as if in slow motion, his face changing as his agitation increased, I knew I had virtually no chance of doing anything to stop it.

As his behavior escalated, I felt the judgement of everyone in the office. The watchful eyes of the other parents, the pitying and reproachful looks of the office staff that were telling me, “you sad, inexperienced mother, learn to discipline your child.” I also started judging myself, thinking, if this were someone else, I’d be snickering to myself, “my kid doesn’t act like THAT.”

As my internal monologue continued, I became increasingly anxious, and started profusely sweating. Which just worsened everything. I was also trying my best to calm him down, but to no avail. I even considered (momentarily) doing the one thing I have vowed to never do, which is give him my phone. It would have been my ‘Hail Mary,’ a last ditch attempt in the hopes I could pull up a video that might quiet him down.

I felt like a total parental fail. It was awful. Fortunately the dentist was pretty nice and tried his best to keep a neutral demeanor. He quickly examined JP as he screamed, talked to me for a quick minute and let me go so that the tantrum couldn’t continue in his office.

I was mortified. I left the office feeling like the world was not only judging my parenting, but also my child, and neither were good.

Then I thought to myself, why do I care? I know my husband and I are doing are best to provide discipline and are working diligently to reprimand behavior that we don’t like. Other people’s judgments don’t matter, right?

In addition, children are totally unpredictable. To think that I have complete control over my almost two-year-old’s behavior is crazy. For anyone. I realized in moments like these, I have to learn to give myself a break.

Right now in my life I am personally trying to interrupt my own judgmental tendencies. I am also trying to stop feeling as though others are constantly judging me. In this endeavor, I have felt more free than ever before and recognize the constraints we put on life when we operate from judgement.

Despite my good intentions, adding my son into this mix made my efforts much harder and it was more challenging to dismiss other’s judgments. It was now my kid, not just me, and I became much more reactionary. Wanting to defend him, explain myself and stop everyone from thinking ill of my (normally sweet) toddler.

This experience has led me to also acknowledge that I’m feeling a lot of pressure these days around parenting. I’m feeling it from almost everyone I encounter, from parents of small children to parents of older children, friends of ours and mere acquaintances.

There is so much pressure and expectations. Pressure to have my son be potty-trained, pressure to have him in pre-school. Expectations that he be involved in swimming classes or soccer or music lessons. I feel pressured to have him dressed in a cute outfit, to take away his pacifier, to count the number of words he says and report it proudly to all who will listen. It is as if these things are a reflection of how much I love him or how much I will do as his mother.

I realize this is the state of parenting these days. Every parent seems to be afraid that their child will be average, so they do everything in their power to avoid that possibility. Teach them to read early, get them to learn a foreign language, encourage athleticism, etc. Hopefully the result is that they are ahead of their peers, and their parents are subsequently rewarded with other’s approval. I feel like it’s asking them to grow up really fast. So everyone can marvel at how advanced they are.

So much pressure. JP is not even two.

For me, the most important things right now are to teach him boundaries, respect for others, and hopefully to manage his emotions so he doesn’t have a temper tantrum every time he goes to see the dentist. I want to teach him to love, be silly, to laugh at things, to be infinitely curious.

I realize that the pressure I am feeling comes from other parents who are likely feeling unsure or inadequate about their own parental choices, so they project those anxieties onto whoever will listen. The more anxious the parent, the more forceful they will be about their opinions about pre-school, or potty-training or pacifier removal. I am learning to listen and nod, and read my audience before I calmly explain that I have no intention to enroll him in pre-school any time soon.

The reality for us as parents is that each child is different, and each will have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is not my decision what those will be, regardless of how many classes I put him in. I’m finding myself struggling with all of it. I mean, I want my kid to grow up with opportunities, too. I want him to explore his interests, learn what it feels to be successful and learn to enjoy the process of learning.

But. I don’t want to impose my agenda, my wants and needs, as I want him to figure things for himself. I want him to learn to be his own individual, to learn what he likes to do, what his passions are.

I am constantly asking myself, ‘Do I have to do anything right now?’ Will his future trajectory be solely decided whether or not he learns to play soccer at 2?’

Or can I let us continue to luxuriate in the ‘unplanned play.’ To use our imaginations, to let each day we have together proceed in the most organic way.

I have learned that for me,  too much on the calendar is stressful. Could that be true for our children as well? Or am I being short-sighted—and the more chances they have to find passions, the more likely they will, which will set them on a trajectory for a purposeful life.

I think I am struggling so much  because I realize it is just the beginning. We have years of this coming, and I think it is only going to get worse. Soon our lives will become more complicated and he will have his own thoughts and opinions about what he wears, what he likes and what he wants to do. Each of these ‘seasons’ of our lives are going to be met with many other people’s expectations, judgments and an enormous amount of pressure.

I think for now I am going to hit ‘pause.’ Take a breath, and not actually DO anything right now. We have lots of time. 

 

What about you? Do any of you struggle with the pressures being placed by others?