Oct 31, 2010

No Witches, Monsters or Superheros Here (at least not until next year)

"What are you going to be for Halloween?" has been the recurrent question directed at my son over the last week. I found myself having to come up with a variety of excuses and imaginary costumes in order to defuse the situation. Imaginary because K will not be in a costume. He wasn't last year and he won't be this year either. Yup, I am that evil mom who is going to deprive her son from turning into a pumpkin, a dragon or a superhero.

I have nothing against Halloween. In fact, I love the idea of trick-or-treating (especially when there's leftover candy at my house) and am pretty impressed with some of the inventive costumes I see around NYC. What I don't like about Halloween is dressing up people (read, infants, babies, young toddlers) in costumes that they have no say in picking. In fact, they don't even know what they're dressed up as. To me, it's just as silly as dressing up your pet. Sure, it's cute, but at the same time it makes me as sad as watching circus animals do tricks.

Once K is at an age when he can identify the costume and/or help pick it out (next year, I suppose), I will be more than happy to dress him up. But for now, buying an overpriced costume, that he will either refuse to wear come Halloween or become unrecognizable because of the additional layers he will have to wear seems like a complete waist to me.

Before you categorize me as the 'Witch Who Stole Halloween,' I did get in the spirit of the holiday and bought K pj's that look like a skeleton. I would post a picture, but that would fly in the face of everything I wrote above. ;)

Happy Halloween! Waaahhhhhhwwaaahhhh!!

Oct 28, 2010

Living in Limbo: My Least Favorite Dance

I'm a planner. I plan things, events, trips... That's what I do. I like to know what happens next. Where I stand physically and emotionally. My planning doesn't take away from my ability to be spontaneous for the appropriate occasions -- sex comes to mind. But, I like to be in control of my life. Certainly, one would think that after 3+ years of infertility I would have learned a life long lesson to let go, but no. It appears I can't completely change who I am.

The last 9 months have been challenging my planning genes. It all started with a job offer for DH in Minneapolis. I tried to go with the flow. Be supportive, positive and relied on my planning (here read, research) abilities to stay optimistic about our future. Well, after 6 months, I just couldn't keep it going. We'd put our lives on hold -- delaying signing up for classes, making renovations on our house, even making plans with friends. For various reasons, it all fell through; in part because I just couldn't move there. Couldn't leave our life, family and friends for a place I felt no connection to.

I'm not a superstitious person, but ever since that job opportunity, there are constant mentions about Minneapolis on TV, in the paper, magazines, shows. The other day, I picked up a bath toy that K was playing with (which was originally brought home by DH after a business trip) and it said "Minneapolis, MN" under it. Pretty crazy, no?

This whole time, we kept of laughing off these apparitions (albeit, nervously) and waited to see what will happen. And now, even 2 months after turning the job down, we still wonder whether those were signs or coincidences. In truth, larger issues that were out of our hands would have prevented us from moving there, but one still wonders.

I great relief came upon me when we finally decided to stay in New York. I started looking at nursery schools for K to attend next year; called in some contractors to finally build that infamous bathroom we've been talking about for the last 5 years; been much more pro-active at nurturing my new friendship in our community that we are now happy to be a part of.

Well, the Universe is saying "not so fast!" Over the last couple of weeks, DH has been approached by three more companies that are out of state. It's like a sick joke. Really!

Of course, this time around, I took a deep breath and already told DH I could never go to one of the locations. The other two are very different from each other, but could be very exciting in their own right.

Part of me is incredibly proud and thrilled for DH (and us). I grew up moving around, adapting to new places, making new friends. I often itch for a change of scenery, a new adventure. And yet, the other part of me was so set on finally growing our roots here that I'm nervous to walk away.

So now, I internalize the Minneapolis mentions not as sign that we should have moved there, but more as the pivotal point when everything changed... for the better, I hope.

Until things become clearer, I'm back to being in limbo. No school to commit to, no bathroom contract plans to sign. But I'm still holding on to my friendships. Off to play date.

Oct 19, 2010

"God in the Age of Doubt": A Question of Freedom of Religion

I want to preface this entry by stating that this is not a discussion about whether there is a God or not. I'm sharing my views and would like the conversation to specifically revolve around how to handle our beliefs about God/religion when faced with the curious minds of our children. 

This interesting piece by Bruce Feiler was featured in the NYTimes this past weekend. The author, confronted by his 5 year-old daughter, asks how we should talk to kids about God in the age of doubt. It's definitely a question I ask myself often, especially as I mentally prepare for sending K into the outside world (ok, it's only pre-K, but it's still a first step) where he will be exposed to thoughts, concepts and beliefs that I might not always agree with. From the moment we decided to have kids, DH and I agreed that we want to raise a free-thinker. A child (then adult) who is inquisitive and doesn't just accept beliefs as truths. Looking at K's personality, I'd say he's primed to be a free-thinker without us even trying. 

Growing up we didn't really talk about  religion or God in my family. It was there, but not an integral part of our lives. I became interested in religion once I hit my teenage years and went on to take many religious studies classes while in college. By that point, I was definitely not religious; I probably would have called myself agnostic. I wanted to know and understand more. It was during that time, that I came to the realization that all of it seemed fabricated. I lost my faith not because of proof of God's none existence but more from proof that the stories told were intricately weaved together to make the masses think less for themselves, thus blindly willing to be indoctrinated by power seeking individuals. So the idea of God fell victim to that equation. I didn't need God or religion to be kind, respectful, moral and productive. As Sam Harris summarized so perfectly, "Religion gives people bad reasons to be good, where good reasons are actually available."
I'm definitely not one of those atheists who goes around telling others how stupid they are for believing in God. In my eyes, if believing in God gives you comfort and helps you lead a better life, then I respect your views, as long as you respect mine.

While visiting the handful of preschools that we are considering sending K to next year, I have been asking about how secular the schools are and if religious holidays are celebrated. Almost all confirmed the non-denominational and secular environment of the schools, followed by an emphatic, "but all holidays are celebrated here." I'm assume that those holiday celebrations will not be focused on the religious meanings behind them but more on the imageries that they create. I expect that I will get drawings of Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles and Chinese New Year dragons (Sounds like when they say "all holidays," Muslim and Hindu holidays are not included. To be discussed another time.). And I have no issues with that. In fact, I want K to attend his cousins Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and find presents under his step-grandmother's Christmas tree.

What I am fearing is the misinformation that may be relayed to him as he grows up, talks to friends or reads certain books. Comments and references that are thrown out there like universal truths. When I read that atheists are better versed about religions than self-professed believers, it scares me to think of conversations I may find myself having with my son, his schools, and (when forced to) fellow parents.  But before even tackling the meatier aspects of religions, I expect to be faced with a question about God's existence.

My interpretation of freedom of religion entails allowing our kids to learn about all points of view (believers and non-believers), as well as all religions (in an accurate light and not what one religion has to say about another). I don't want to indoctrinate my child with my views and strongly believe that as parents it is our responsibility to allow our kids to think for themselves. And like Fieler concludes, we have to be honest about our uncertainties. And so, on that fateful day, as K will look to me for answers, I will simply say, "What do you think?"

Oct 13, 2010

Deciding on a Pre-K is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

I've been busy touring nursery schools over the last couple of weeks. Before I started this process, I must admit, I never understood why parents (and who are we kidding, mostly moms) stressed so much about which pre-K to send their kids to. What's the big deal?! You are going to send your newly verbal child to a school where he's going to finger-paint and learn to play with others. There will be a snack and circle-time, and before they know it, you're going to pick him up and go on with your day wondering where the last 3 hours of peace went.

Well, I'm eating my words. I'm realizing now that there's so much more to this process. I didn't expect such variety in the schools. From the facilities to the directors of the schools and the philosophies. When we first moved to our area, I saw a couple of pre-Ks and assumed that when we have little one of our own, we'd just send him to the local schools. But now that I have an actual toddler who exhibits tremendous strong will and an infectious sense of humor, I realize that I can't just send him to any old school. I want a school that will harness his strength (my son doesn't have weakness of course!). I want him to be able to continue to display that incredible self-confidence that came with his pint-size package.

My mom used to tell me that your worries become greater as your kids grow older. At first you think that if only he'd sleep through the night you'll be able to get through the next 22 years. Today, I'm finally starting to understand the wisdom of her words. K does sleep through the night (I thought this day would never come), but now I'm the one up at night, roaming the house wondering if I'm going to make the best decision for K. I try to remind myself that it's only nursery school and not the rest of his life -- my parents certainly didn't spend weeks visiting one school after another, and I turned out ok.

I think what I'm most scared of is to let my own baggage affect my final decision. I think all parents do it (mostly subconsciously); letting the good, the bad and the ugly of their own upbringing influence how they raise their children. We learn from our experiences and we set certain aspiration for our kids -- perhaps goals and achievements that we never reached. My European schooling and upbringing (read formal and rigid) is directing me towards a nursery school that will truly be an enriching experience for K. After all, I am paying all this money to send him to a school. If it's just to play with other kids and sit still for storytime, I should just keep him at home or send him to a daycare, and not a nursery school with a tuition that contains more zeros than K can count.

As they say, kids are like sponges. They learn so much interacting with daily life -- K for instance loves the grocery store and watching me cook (fingers crossed he turns into an amazing chef). We talk numbers, colors, textures, smells. But that's as far as my teaching skills go. I'm looking to theses schools/teachers' expertise to teach K things that I wouldn't be able to, in a way that only a good teacher can.

Looking at how stressed out I am over nursery school, let's hope I find a way to take things in stride by the time he's applying to colleges.

I will have to make a  decision very soon. I hope I make the right one. I'd really love to hear from you and what influenced your decision to send your kid(s) to a specific pre-K.

Oct 11, 2010

A Nobel Prize is Nice but Not Enough

So, the other day, when the big news broke that Dr. Edwards was receiving a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for developing IVF, I thought it will be the perfect topic to discuss. Surely many of you had heard the news and were probably jumping for joy over this long overdue acknowledgment -- or like Julia at A Little Pregnant, you created a unique artwork to express your excitement; really, how can you top that?

But then, I decided to wait things out and see what the comments were going to be on the news sites. It seems that most Nobel prizes never go without some controversy. Someone somewhere just isn't going to be happy about it. So I sat there by my computer watching the comments pouring in. It was no surprise of course that right out the gate, the comments were negative and critical. Some blamed IVF for over-populating of our already over-populated planet (What about the countless unwanted pregnancies/babies?); others suggested that it went against "God's design" (Then when you get cancer please don't seek out medical treatments -- like stem cells, because it seems to me that "God" wanted you to die, plus we're over-populated anyway); while many went straight for the "why don't you just adopt" route (Really? I'd never considered that option. Thank you for enlightening me). The Vatican of course was apparently "perplexed" by the award, not that I expected any other reaction from them.

Eventually, voices of reason and sanity trickled in from people who were in one way or another affected by IVF. Considering there are about 4 millions babies out there as a direct result of A.R.T., I'd say the comments boxes should have been flooded with congratulations and thanks.

While I pondered how to tackle this news and the reactions that ensued, I started reading opinion pieces from respected writers and bloggers. I think this Op-Ed piece by Robin Marantz Henig (author of "Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution") exemplifies the overall perception of where our society stands 32 years after the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was conceived. The piece declares (and it's not the only one) that we have come a long way and that "our attitude toward Dr. Edwards's research has completely changed: I.V.F. is now used so often it is practically routine." (She does point out that some skeptics are still out there, but that the numbers are marginal.)

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we've come along far enough. While I can't imagine anyone still believes that IVF babies will come out with genetic defects (or some kind of monsters), as long as people and even the press continue to callously use "test-tube babies" to describe the progenies created via ART, I think it's pretty clear that the stigma persists. (Plus not a single test-tube was ever used. Petri dishes sure, but no test tubes like in your high school chemistry class.) That terminology is incredibly dated and yet thrown around today to categorize our kids -- "Oh, yes, so-and-so also has a test-tube baby. You should meet her" -- as though our kids are somehow abnormal; part of some grand experiment.

Even if I manage to move beyond this hair-raising terminology, I cannot get past the comments suggesting that we don't deserve to have the family we want. Whether it's the "playing God" comments, the "just adopt" comments or "we're already over-populated" comments, they all point to one thing: If you're infertile, you should not have kids. And if you want kids, then adopt. But only if you're of a certain age, married and not gay. Our society, as progressive as we believe it is, still establishes the boundaries of what it deems to be right and wrong according to some archaic set of believes that predate our abilities of rational thought and tangible scientific progress.

Awarding a Nobel Prize is a wonderful step in the right direction, but the fact that it took them more than three decades to grant this acknowledgement (and thus, robbing Dr. Steptoe who passed in 1988 from being celebrated) is nothing to boast about. The Nobel committee claims that they need proof of the legitimacy of the scientific discovery before awarding a prize. Establishing certain benchmarks is certainly necessary before honoring someone with a coveted prize. But 30 years is not an acceptable measure in this case since the committee in no time honored scientists like Fritz HaberAntonion MonizJohannes Fibiger*all of whom were proven wrong shortly after their prizes were handed out.

Winning a Nobel Prize for pioneering modern day ART has allowed for the science that is for many of us our only hope to receive front-page placement in the news, but it isn't doing much to shed light on the personal heart breaking journeys that too many of us have taken/are taking.

Where do you stand on this matter?

* Thank you Mel at Stirrup Queens for pointing those out to us.


Oct 4, 2010

Home Alone

I don't know if it's because I'm an only child and had to know how to entertain myself, but I enjoy the occasional home alone nights. When DH has to work late, it means it's a quiet night for me to watch what I want, while doing my nails after having carefully performed a blue-wax lip hair removal treatment. (Listen! I'm Mediterranean, it's in the genes!).

My parents were young when they had me and enjoyed a very social life. While I grew up with a lot of love (I'm still incredibly close with my parents), I was often left to keep myself occupied. My parents bought me lots of great dolls, games and books. But I have very few memories of actually playing with my parents. I loved TV, which I guess helped pass the time without needing company. I watched my shows (from cartoons to series that would probably be deemed inappropriate for children) and listened to a lot of music in my room. Played with my dolls and games. At night, no one ever read to me: I had these books-on-tape things and I'd just put on my walkman and turn the pages until I was ready to go to sleep. I think I was probably doing such a good job at being on my own without ever getting into trouble that my parents began to let me babysit myself at age 6! Something that is unfathomable to me today. (I'm smelling a new blog entry here: "Fucked up things my parents did that I would never do!" More to come.)

So, point is, I grew up with a capacity to just make the time pass... Up until I met DH, I always liked being alone. Sure, I had friends to go out with and boyfriends to bring back home, but at the end of the day, I liked my own company just as much. I knew DH was the one when life with him was better, brighter and more fun than when I was on my own. In fact, 99% of the time, I want him by my side.

But on occasion, I enjoy spending a night or a day on my own (I threw in the "day" part as wishful thinking, of course). Free to do whatever I want. Minutes turn into hours and I can honestly say, I had a great time all by myself. When I have the privilege of having my babysitter for the day, I doll-up for no one else other than myself and do a little window shopping, go for lunch and end the day with a nice latte somewhere fancy. All without ever feeling the need to call a single soul.

While no one would label me anti-social (No really. I promise I have lots of friends), I relish the quiet, the silence. And perhaps because I get so little of it these days, a night like this one is just worth sharing with all of you.

Now, if you'll excuse me...

Oct 1, 2010

Cutting the Monitor Cord

Before I became a mother, I always assumed that I would experience the proverbial cutting of the umbilical cord once my kid hit puberty. You know, when I was no longer cool enough to be seen in public with, when my son was becoming his own man, asserting his independence. I am mentally preparing myself for the kind of mother I will develop into and hope that my love for him will be reciprocated -- probably via a silent code of acknowledgment; a smile, a look, an occasional hug. Sure, I'll wait up until he comes home from a party, but pretend I wasn't waiting up for him -- Oh, I'm just watching TV. Did you have fun? And then he'll proceed to tell me how his life is going. The life I'm no longer the center of, but only an observer with front row seats (I know people. I'm connected like that).

But, when my video monitor broke a couple of days ago, I felt a pang in my chest. No, I'm not ready for this yet! Of course, it's not like the separation I'm going to adjust to in a few years, but I didn't expect to feel such panic over losing my connection to him while he's drifting into peaceful slumber. I don't know how parents did it before video monitors. I love being able to watch him sleep, surrounded by his stuffed animals, completely oblivious to the world. His arms spread out, moving from position to position in his comfy crib. The video monitor isn't so much voyeuristic as it is my umbilical cord to him when he's in his own world of dreams. I miss him when I can't hear the little patters of his feet running around the house. (Walking is not an option. He must RUN everywhere.) I'm not alone in my dependence on this device, my husband loves it too; it's his only chance to "see" him when he comes home at night. Then it serves yet another purpose in the mornings: watching K talk to his bed buddies -- Big Blue Dog, Happy Dog, Mini Dog and Mr. Bear. He babbles to them, maybe telling them about the dreams he had or just checking how they slept.

I went to see an exhibit of Leon Levinstein's New York photographs at the Met the other day. Each portrait more intimate than the next. But one just grabbed me and didn't let me go. It was a picture of a mother cuddling with her baby on a beach. The way she's embracing him with her long elegant arms, with undeniable love. While her baby is nuzzled up into the crook of her neck. They are both laying there, between wakefulness and sleep. That perfect state of bliss. Well, that's how I see me and K. I want us to stay like that forever, but I know we can't. He's growing up so fast and now that I don't have a video monitor, I can't watch him sleep. I'm not ready to let go yet.

When/what was your moment of realization that your baby isn't going to remain in your arms forever?