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Keeping Kids Safe in the Car :: A Mother’s Mistakes and Second Chance

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This post is very hard for me to type. It’s not been long ago; therefore, it brings back strong emotions. I still do drive with my kids in the car. But I am 100 times more cautious than before. I hope mothers who drive with their kids can take tips and advice from this blog.

It was a haze for a second or two, fluttering eyelids, jolted out of the empty darkness. I noticed the inflated airbags and cries coming from the back seat. I saw blood on my hand, but all I could think was to get my girls out of the car. I tumbled out of the car; I opened the car door, unbuckled Teesta’s car seat belt and held her in my arms. I saw a lady in a red t-shirt run towards me. I yelled at her to help my other daughter, Torsha, to get her out of the car, which she did. I took them both and held them, examined them up and down, relieved that they were safe and not a scratch.

It was an everyday afternoon; I have taken the same route multiple times at 4:40 p.m. when I pick my girls up from day care. I barely take the 280 highway, mostly the inner roads, which takes me about seven minutes to reach home. As per usual, they were hungry and tired and wanted some snacks at that very minute. The accident happened right at the turn to enter my apartment complex. I did not see the car coming at full speed from the other way, and I suddenly took the left turn without stopping.

My Three Huge Mistakes

My mistake: I turned the rear-view mirror so I could see them and try to pacify them.

Please do not: Yes, I understand, if you look at them and reason with them, they may stop screaming for a while. but that few minutes of peace is not worth repositioning the mirrors and risking an accident. Talk to them at home, not in the car. Never reposition the mirrors to anything other than the side traffic and the back traffic. Follow the rules and the logic first.

My mistake: In all that screaming and confusion, I was in a hurry to reach home to give my girls something to eat and do something to stop their whining. I was in a rush and did not stop at the left turn.

Please do not: Seconds, minutes . . . does not matter how long it takes to reach home, safety first. Ten minutes of screaming in the back seat will not do any harm to the kid(s). Try to distance yourself from that situation and carefully drive yourself home and deal with the kid(s) in a safe environment.

My mistake: My attention was divided.

Please do not: I understand as a mother it is hard to concentrate on anything while the kids are screaming in the background. Emotions run high, sometimes we even get irritable. But while driving, emotions need to be kept aside, even for that seven minutes on a repetitive route. Undivided attention on the road and traffic should be the highest priority while driving, with kids or no kids.

The Importance of a Properly Installed Car Seat

I am incredibly grateful and thankful that all three of us are okay. And the number one reason for that is that they were buckled up in a well-equipped, professionally installed car seat. I cannot stress enough the importance of a car seat, and also the right way to install it.

Location: Center seating is the safest location to install it. But in my case, I have my twins on either side of the center seat.

Direction: My kids are three years old. They are front facing now, but I did manage to keep them back facing for the longest time. It’s just the safest position, as it absorbs most of the crash force and keeps the kid’s head, neck, and spine protected.

Installation: My husband is in charge of that, but whoever installs the car seat must read the manual thoroughly. The anchor latch should be tight and secure so that the seat is steady and does not move.

Car seat belt: My kids are very fussy and sometimes refuse to buckle the belt. Well, then I guess we will not be having ice cream at the store today. Buckling the car seat belt is a must. Please make sure to do the “pinch test.” The straps should be snug and tight.

After-Accident Precautions

A thorough checkup of the child by a professional: If you do get into a car accident, call 911 and the paramedics. Do not hesitate, even if you think the child is not hurt. Let them have a look. As a parent, we just look at their happy faces and think they are okay and miss the small signs of discomfort. Let a professional examine them thoroughly and give their expertise if the child needs to go a hospital for further checkup.

Car seat replacement: Another particularly important thing to consider. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used to recommend replacing a child restraint whenever it was in a crash, no matter the severity of the crash. That is a past recommendation. The most recent recommendation by the NHTSA says that child safety seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash. But from a mother to another mother — just do it anyway. Go ahead and replace it; do not leave it to chance.

I am glad I was able to share my experience and what I learnt from it. Please be careful on the road, with or without a kid in the back seat.

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month :: Modeling Healthy Habits for Your Children

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September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and to be honest, it’s an awareness month I only recently learned about.

In the time of social media, I think we’ve become accustomed to an influx of health-related articles for adults — the benefits of this or that diet, how to “keep the weight off,” and how to find time for exercise when you have kids and a job. We’re used to being bombarded by this information, even if the content is often too focused on diet culture. But talking about healthy habits (and especially preventing excessive weight gain) in children can be a more delicate and sensitive subject. Children are impressionable. We want to ensure their good health at an age when healthy habits are being developed, but we don’t want to ever shame them. After all, body positivity and healthy body image are just as important.

I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a personal trainer. I’m not a researcher on childhood obesity. But what I am is a mom who overcame a nine-year battle with eating disorders and black-and-white thinking about weight and health. I now embrace moderation and model healthy habits for my children in hopes that they don’t struggle in the future. I want them to appreciate eating well and treating their bodies well.

It’s hard to hear, but parents do have to accept a lot of responsibility for the example they set for their children. If your children don’t see you eating well and treating your body well, how can you expect them to do so?

Here are some things that my husband and I practice, and hopefully they might inspire you to continue to work on modeling healthy habits.

*Also, a quick reminder that we are not perfect (spoiler: we sometimes indulge in fast food and desserts, and that’s OKAY), but working each day to be intentional about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is key.

Childhood Obesity :: Modeling Healthy Habits for Your Children

We don’t say we’re going to workout. We do.

You can’t expect your child to appreciate physical activity if you are not active or if you talk about exercise like it’s something awful you are forced to do. Remember that it is a privilege to have a healthy and working body! Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am only given one body and I must treat it well. We are all busy, but we have to make activity a priority. My husband and I switch off nights that we go to the gym. It’s our preference. In fact, any time we leave the house at night, our children say, “Mommy/Daddy is going to the gym!” It’s so embedded in our family life that every time they see us leave after a certain time, they assume we are working out. To me, this shows them that exercise is something you do regularly and look forward to.

A gym may not be an option for everyone for various reasons, but there are so many ways to be active without a gym membership. Sometimes, I choose to go for a run around the neighborhood or put on a free workout video from YouTube or Prime while I find something to occupy the kids (kinetic sand, for the win!). In the same way you want to show your children your passion for work or hobbies, find a style of activity — running, Pilates, yoga, weight lifting, or dance, maybe — that makes you happy. Let your kids see you get excited about being healthy!

Childhood Obesity Awareness - model a healthy lifestyle by prioritizing activity.

We model and encourage healthy eating. 

Likewise, you can’t expect your kids to eat well if they see you eating foods with no nutritional value all the time. No one is perfect, and kids can be picky and have sensory issues surrounding food. I get this more than most. My home is not a healthy eating haven. I’d be lying if I said that! My kids don’t eat a perfectly well-rounded diet all the time. We battle picky eaters and sensory issues on the daily. But the best thing I can do as a mom is let them see me try and enjoy a variety of foods. I’m a vegetarian and my husband is not, but we both love non-American cuisines (we eat Thai food and Indian food frequently). I talk about how delicious these foods are and encourage my kids to at least try them. Meat and potatoes only have to be staples in your diet if you choose for them to be!

In reality, there is a world of different cuisines about there — and I think when children learn to appreciate good and healthy food, it makes all the difference. Show your children how to make their plates colorful and how to savor good, nutritionally-sound food. Talk to them about flavor. Sometimes, I will talk about the food groups on my plate with my children and how they all benefit my body in different ways. And in our house, even though we’re certainly not always successful with these things being eaten, we include fruits and/or veggies with every meal and talk to our children about why these things are so important for our bodies.

On the flip side, it’s also okay to enjoy desserts and chips sometimes. The key is for your children to see that you don’t always eat these things, but when you do, you enjoy them and you do NOT shame yourself for eating them. Good and healthy foods are important, but less healthy foods are not “bad” or shameful or wrong. They are just a smaller part of an overall balanced diet and mindset toward food.

We make it a family affair!

We usually take a nightly walk together as a family. We talk about fun topics so that our kids can see that being active can be fun and engaging, too. My son loves to take “themed” walks, so he picks the topic and that’s what we talk about on that walk. Or sometimes we play “I spy” (the three year old loves it). It keeps things interesting! We often visit playgrounds and parks together on the weekends. It doesn’t need to be elaborate — just be active with your kids. Pull out the scooters, bikes, and trampolines!

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month - help your children experience enjoyment in making their bodies stronger through physical activity.

We cook with our children. 

Admittedly, this is something that I only recently started doing since I began homeschooling. I think that is extremely beneficial because children can learn to feel responsible for their own food, and it encourages good discussions about what goes into healthy and delicious food (two things that are not opposites!). I keep it simple with my three year old, but I let my five year old do more in the kitchen. It’s been a great way to connect with him and to let him see what ingredients go into our meals, how they make food taste, and the importance of using real ingredients. I believe that the goodness of food is less appreciated if we are always just grabbing takeout. 

Childhood Obesity Awareness - cooking with your children is a great way to educate them about food ingredients

We do not speak negatively about our bodies in front of our children. Ever. 

This is critical. If we’re going to model healthy eating and exercise habits, we can’t forget that we must model a healthy attitude toward our bodies, as well. Today, we see kids developing eating disorders at younger ages and expressing a dislike of their bodies. Just like we watch “cuss words” around our children, we must be equally as motivated to watch the language we use about our bodies and the bodies of others around our children.

Please don’t ever talk about your diet around your children.  Please don’t ever talk about how you dislike your weight around your children. Please don’t ever talk about how you’re “bad” for enjoying ice cream or how you need to run extra miles tomorrow to “work off” that fried food. And please don’t comment on the bodies of other men and women. (Besides, we should focus more on complimenting people for non-physical qualities.)

Your children are always listening and watching, and what is the message you want them to hear? If your daughter thinks Mommy hates her thighs and she has similar thighs, what message does that send? If your son hears you constantly compliment people who have the opposite body type, what message does that send? If we are experiencing body image issues or harmful habits surrounding food and exercise, we must seek out appropriate help so we can get healthier and be positive role models for our children.

What are some ways you model healthy habits and a healthy body image to your children?

Love Who You Are :: Perspectives on Living as an Interracial Family

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Growing up, I was always jealous of the “normal” kids. The ones that ate “normal” food and could pack lunches without anybody laughing at them. The kids that had parents that spoke English and went to all the school events. The kids that had parents with “normal” jobs because my parents owned a nail salon and I was embarrassed that they were scrubbing feet. I was stuck in this mindset that being different wasn’t good and I needed to be just like everyone else.

I remember being so eager for acceptance that when I made friends I would hear, “My dad doesn’t let me have black friends” in front of me, and I remember thinking, “Oh good, I can be friends with her because her dad doesn’t think I am ‘black’ enough.” Identity was something I struggled with because I knew my dad didn’t look like a typical Vietnamese man, but he never talked about his father so I wasn’t entirely sure what our “race” was. We didn’t have the same hair as my mother or any other Vietnamese people, our skin was too dark, and our Vietnamese accent wasn’t “Vietnamese” enough. I remember going to Vietnam and hearing, in my home language, that my brother and I were from another country. We felt like we didn’t belong in any particular “group” and our identity really suffered from it.

Some of Mary's mixed race family

I’m saying all of this because now I have a kid that is even more mixed than I am. He is White, African American, and Asian. I want him to feel appreciated every day and know that he is made up of all these beautiful races and we are going to celebrate all of them. That might mean that I need to do research and find different opportunities for us to celebrate. My parents made it a priority for us to go to Vietnamese festivals and celebrations, and that is what I need to do for my son. Sadly, he also needs to know about social injustice and how that might never happen to him but has to his uncle and ông ngoại (grandfather). He also needs to know about white privilege and how, as a male that looks white, his life is going to be easier than those of people of color. My husband gets to have discussions with my son about some aspects of life that I won’t be able to understand, and vice versa. Some conversations are harder to have than others, but they are necessary.

I hope mixed children won’t grow up to feel lonely or not appreciated because they bring so much to the world with different perspectives and experiences. This is what I will be telling my son, and I want to present this to all the parents with mixed children reading this right now: let your kiddos explore who they are and don’t let society tell them which version of themselves to be.

Ways to Help Hurricane Sally Victims

Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores one week ago, and the destruction is immense. We are so saddened for our neighbors to the south as they are faced with the long road of recovery from this disaster. If you want to show support, here is a list of ways you can provide much-needed assistance to people in the area.

Help Hurricane Sally victimsWays to Help Hurricane Sally Victims

Grace Klein Community – Accepting donations of various items at 2652 Old Rocky Ridge Rd, Hoover, AL 35216. Monetary donations can be made on their website.

City of Birmingham – Currently hosting a supply drive for those affected by Hurricane Sally. Donations are accepted at Boutwell Auditorium on Thursday, 9/24, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and will be transported by Christian Service Mission. See here for a list of items needed.

Alabama Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services is accepting monetary donations online to help survivors.

Feeding the Gulf Coast – Providing emergency food and water to those affected by the storm.

Highlands Disaster Response – Volunteers are on the ground helping with recovery, and they accept donations on their website.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief – aiding in tree cutting and flood relief, as well as providing supplies to those in need.

UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) – Accepting monetary donations online.

Red Cross – Help people impacted by Hurricanes Sally and Laura by visiting redcross.org, calling 800-RED-CROSS or texting the word HURRICANES to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Publix – Currently running a register donation program where shoppers can add a donation of any amount to their bill at checkout.

The Humane Society – Caring for injured animals, sheltering dogs and cats without homes, providing free pet food to residents affected by the storm.

Purchase a t-shirt from local designers benefitting hurricane victims. Order by October 10th.

Support Gulf Coast businesses. Many artists, boutiques, and small businesses depend on tourism for their livelihood. Many offer shipping on their goods. 

Donate blood – The United States is facing a blood shortage in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and after a number of natural disasters across the country. LifeSouth operates blood drives throughout the city.

Reminders

Many large corporations have a matching program where they will match your charitable donations to verified organizations up to a certain amount. Check to see if this is an option where you work, and donate through your employer to maximize assistance for those in need.

If you have family or friends who have been impacted by this storm, continue to reach out to them as they recover. Losing a home or livelihood or sense of security is traumatic, and rebuilding homes and businesses takes time. They will need to know you still care over the holidays, six months from now, and a year down the road. Your physical presence, financial support, words of encouragement, and prayers will be meaningful long into the future.

Fluker, Family of Three-ish :: Our Experience with Sending Our Oldest Child Off to College

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Here’s the story of how my family went from a family of four to a family of three-ish.  

How it all Started

It all began back in 2001. I was a senior at Auburn University, married and pregnant. My son was born just a few months shy of my husband and me graduating from college. (Our running joke is that he is so smart because he had months of college before he was even born.) After graduating, we grabbed up our son and our very modest belongings and headed off to make the life that we now know. 

A couple of years later, we had a daughter. By then, we were just a tad bit better at being parents than we were when our son entered our lives. As the years progressed, we somehow grew from young, dumb college kids to full-fledged parents.  

Now, let’s fast forward a little bit. Well, a big bit. (There are way too many memories and highlights to put in one post. We’ll save those for another day.) 

The Plot Twist 

I knew from the day he asked me for the first $35 for a college application that he had a trick up his sleeve.  Yes, I’d been preparing for him to fly the coop once he graduated from high school, but nothing quite compares to the day that it actually happens. See, my family is close. Really close. So, the mere thought of going to a restaurant and hearing the hostess say, “Fluker, party of three” as opposed to “Fluker, party of four” sent my anxiety through the roof!  

At first, I played it cool. I kept my feelings in check so that I wouldn’t ruin his senior year. We celebrated college acceptances, ACT scores, scholarship offers, and the like. I smiled through the tears as he made The Decision, though I must say that it was much easier to smile since he chose our Alma Mater as the place to seek his degree.  

Then came the series of sappy social media posts. It was much easier for me to type my way through my feelings than to express them aloud. Social media gave me a way to express my feelings and get the virtual support I needed to get through what was coming.(I owe my friends so much for putting up with my foolishness! Y’all are the real MVPs.)

The Day

Next came the day that we had been preparing him for his entire life. The day we dropped him off at college. Over the years, we invested lots of time and energy teaching him to live independently to be ready for college life. We taught him about self-respect and finances and cleaning and treating people right and how life’s not fair and about hard work and being a good citizen and well, you know, all the things that parents teach their children. He’s shown us time and time again (with a few snafus along the way) that he’s been listening. He has studied hard in high school, participated in school and community activities, held leadership roles in organizations, worked a part-time job, surrounded himself with good friends (heck, I’ve even picked up some good friends through him), and just has been an overall good kid. He is prepared. He has the foundation and support that he needs to do well in life, if he chooses. My husband and I frequently high five each other for our efforts. It’s been hard work. 

But, you know one thing we forgot in the midst of preparing our son to move away for college? We forgot to prepare ourselves! We forgot to start thinking about being separated from him for the longest periods of time. We forgot to start thinking about how it would feel when he practically takes care of himself (aside from frequent calls for cash). We forgot to prepare ourselves for him deciding what, when, or if he eats or sleeps. We forgot to prepare ourselves for the empty chair at the dinner table. We forgot to prepare ourselves for the empty bedroom (never mind that I’ve already turned it into my office. LOL) We forgot to prepare ourselves for the empty parking space in our driveway. We forgot to prepare ourselves for the empty spaces in our hearts that would have to settle for phone calls and monthly (if we’re lucky) appearances from our college kid.  

The Silver Lining

Lucky for us, that was our practice run. We have another chance to get this right!  We have another kid in our home who is loving (her words, not mine) being the “only child” and getting all the attention.  She loves rubbing it in her brother’s face that she gets the parents all to herself! She’s a high school senior this year, and while we are very busy preparing her much the same as we did big brother, we also keep tucked in the back of our minds that she will one day flee the nest. Maybe this time, we won’t be so taken aback when we return home after dropping her off at college.

Maybe. 

So, until the time comes for baby girl to flee the nest, I think my husband and I will prepare ourselves by . . . wait, no we won’t! We are going to soak up every single minute of baby girl’s senior year and save the sappy, sad, woe-is-me narrative for another day. And, we’re going to patiently wait for the phone calls and visits from our son and enjoy those moments. We’re going to sit back and watch the fruit of our labor and fly in for reminders and remedial sessions as needed when they approach obstacles and challenges along the way.

Because that’s what parents do. We take the training wheels off, put the safety helmet on, and watch our kids roll off into the life that they make for themselves. We celebrate their successes, and we make teachable moments out of their missteps. At times, it may feel as if they don’t need us as much, but we know in the back of our minds that they will always need us. And even though “Fluker, party of two” is in our near future, we know that “Fluker, party of four” will always be in our hearts. 

NICU Strong :: Navigating Life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage!”

This simple rhyme I sang as a child made life, love, and motherhood seem as certain as the rising and setting sun. I carried this idea into adulthood, and was grossly underprepared for the fertility journey my husband and I faced.

My Journey to Motherhood

We tried for about a year before seeking help, and thankfully I got pregnant with the help of hormonal treatments. Due to my short cervix (unknown to me until his 18 week anatomy scan), my son Xavier was born at 21 weeks gestation and died within 10 minutes of being placed on my chest. I spent the greater part of the following year in a fog of grief, followed by a season of healing and restorative rest.

Fourteen months after having Xavi my husband and I decided to try again. In November 2017, I conceived again, this time with a different hormonal regimen. We marked off each week of the pregnancy and I felt more and more optimistic that this time we would get to bring our baby home. To address my cervix issue, I had a cerclage stitch placed at around 12 weeks gestation. Then at 16 weeks I started getting a weekly injection of progestin to help lower the risk of preterm birth. I felt confident that our different approach would have to yield a different result.

Getting to Viability: Ezra’s Birthday

At around 22 weeks my water broke at home and my husband and I rushed to the hospital. Intense waves of anger, grief, and déjà vu flooded me. I was admitted to UAB, and placed on strict bed rest for the first week. In the second week I was moved to the high-risk floor and monitored with fewer movement restrictions. I could go to the bathroom, be wheeled outside, and sit up with visitors. Doctors stood at my bedside daily, reminding me how critical each day in utero was for our baby. Our first goal was to make it to 24 weeks, the age of viability. This number would be the game changer: it meant that life saving measures would be used. Measures that weren’t available for Xavier.

As if she was aware of the time and day, Ezra Joy joined our family in the early morning hours of April 25 at 24 weeks and three days gestation. Like her brother, born alive. Like her brother, less than two pounds. But whereas Xavier and I got to have immediate skin-to-skin time, Ezra was whisked away with a team of neonatologists who had been huddled in the corner during my labor. As the nurse helped clean me up, I received a text message from my dad who had followed my husband and Ezra to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It was a grainy picture of a tiny red face, with a tiny white hat, wrapped in plastic. My daughter.

NICU mom

The First 24 Hours

Within those first blurry hours of the morning, I demanded a breast pump, as pumping milk was one of the only things I felt I could do in that moment. Nursing staff observed me in recovery for a few hours before I was permitted to see my baby. Before I was permitted. Almost as if she wasn’t even mine.

Once I was cleared, my husband wheeled me into an elevator and took me to the NICU floor. I clenched two one-ounce plastic bottles in my fists with the tiniest amount of thick, sticky colostrum clinging to the sides. Liquid gold the nurses would call it. Words fall short in describing how proud and empowered I felt as the nurse showed me how to dip a cotton swab in the bottle and gently place it on my daughter’s eager tongue.

NICU mom - visiting baby
Ezra Joy’s first taste of colostrum

Life as a NICU Mama

For the next 115 days UAB became our second home. Grateful to live 15 minutes away, we were able to come and go as we pleased or stay overnight as we wished. Those months spent mothering in the NICU forged in me a fierce mama heart. I asked questions — a LOT of them. I kept rigorous notes, with time, dates and the names of anyone who came in to speak with us: neonatologists, respiratory therapists, occupational and speech therapists, nursing staff, residents. I learned to unabashedly advocate for myself and for Ezra. If I had an issue with something, I learned quickly who to speak to in order to see results. I pumped like a cow around the clock and brought so much milk each day that they ran out of room to store it in the NICU freezer. (We were sent home with hundreds of ounces and had to buy a deep freezer, along with storing bottles at friends’ homes!)

We had been told to expect Ezra’s hospital stay to extend at least to her due date, which wasn’t until August. The idea was daunting. Day after day leaving her became more difficult. After praying over her and saying good night, we would drive home and I would ache to be near her again. Many nights and early mornings when I couldn’t sleep for thinking about her, I’d call the NICU and speak with the nurse on call about her vitals, her breathing, her feeds and her output. Anything to stay informed, to feel like she was my child, and not a science project we visited daily.

Ups and Downs of NICU Life

For the most part things went as predicted, but the growth and development of a prematurely born child is in no way linear. Ezra was intubated and extubated multiple times; she would seem to be able to handle lower oxygen settings and then would tucker out and need more assistance breathing. Each day she would progress, and then a few days later have a setback: improvement and regression. This ebb and flow strained my hope until all that remained was a thread. I began to wonder if we’d ever bring her home.

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Over time the beeping, dinging, BRADY warnings, and alarms became background noise for me as I sang over her isolette each day. This became our liturgy — slide open room door, set down bag, check vitals on screen, remove jewelry, wash hands up to my elbows for three minutes, dry hands, squirt foam sanitizer in hands, flap hands to dry, open port holes and gently cradle my sweet girl, careful not to overstimulate her delicate skin. I learned from Nurse Paula what was within my rights to ask for — daily skin to skin being one of them.

Each day as they placed her tiny body against mine her heart rate steadied, my anxiety washed away, and for those moments we became one. With every shift change, nurses helped ease me into mothering, showing me best methods for changing a micro preemie diaper, teaching me how to pace feed once we started bottle-feeding, and getting up close and personal as we worked on getting her to latch while nursing. I know I was a better-prepared mother because of them.

After weeks and months of driving to and from UAB at all times of the day, we finally made it to August. We were still working on getting her to finish all her feeds orally, and we buckled down for two weeks, basically living at the hospital for as long as we could stand. Finally, a week after my original due date we were discharged and brought our sweet girl home.

Time to head home–FINALLY!

For the Littles That Don’t Come Home

I am all too aware of the families who don’t have a story that ends like ours. If that is you, Mama, my heart breaks for you. I want you to know you are not forgotten, and I remember you. I remember the baby who roomed next to Ezzi, whose family sat solemnly in the dark amidst the glow of the bili lights. I remember when the dry-erase board of his vitals was cleared and his room emptied to await another family. I remember those whose babies fought like warriors to stay alive, but then took a turn and died in their arms. 

I remember the babies who would cry through the night, no family or guardian to comfort them. I learned of the frequency of NICU boarder babies, babies ready for discharge, but with no one to go home to. As one nurse mentioned, the NICU can be a place of parents’ highest highs and lowest of lows. Whether you brought your precious one home in your arms or you carry them in your heart, you are a NICU mama.

Raising Awareness

Organizations like the March of Dimes offer loads of education and resources for families with a child in the NICU. A few other moms have given great insight into how to love on NICU families, and practical tips on navigating the rollercoaster of emotions as a parent of a critically ill child. With September being NICU Awareness month, I would encourage us all to hold space for all the nurses, doctors, and staff that work tirelessly for these vulnerable and precious little lives. I cannot imagine the strain they are facing in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, on top of the everyday challenges that come with their line of work.

Also, I ask that you choose to remember the families: the mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. They are living in an unprecedented moment, caring for children in ways that they never could have prepared for.

Visit nicuawareness.org for more information on NICU Awareness.

Confessions of a Brand-New Homeschooler :: I Almost Quit Already

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The ability to travel has always been at the top of our list of reasons for wanting to homeschool. So much so, that the pictures of homeschooling I have created in my head have as much to do with the road trips we would take to visit all the places we’ve learned about as the actual lesson plans themselves. As new homeschoolers, we didn’t waste much time before hitting the road. Loving our new freedom, we took three trips in four weeks. Our plans were coming together, and my homeschooling dreams were coming true. This is what this new life is all about!

Or is it?

There’s an old saying, “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” The truth of this hit me hard as we were eating lunch at a restaurant in Arkansas on our way home from our last trip. I was so tired, and a bit frazzled, knowing the fun was over and work awaited us at home. Our toddler was very restless at the table since he had been in the car all day. I don’t really remember how we kept him quiet during the meal, but this sweet old lady eating next to us thought we were cool as cucumbers when it came to parenting. As she and her husband got up from their meal, they stopped at our table to tell us how they were so impressed with our gentle parenting. I didn’t know what to say, but I think my jaw hit the floor. Us? Gentle parents?  

If only they had seen the real us, our boys’ real parents, on this last trip. I had raised my voice more times than I would like to admit and manipulated my boys’ behavior by reminding them how happy they should be to be able to go on fun trips. Though that sweet old lady thought she was giving us a compliment, she was actually giving me a reality check. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this, and it was time to quit.

As I sorted through piles of laundry and got our house back in order after our travels, I cried a lot and wrestled with my thoughts for several days. I chose to homeschool because I see so many great things about it, and I wanted to give it a real shot. My son was enjoying it. We were getting to do so many fun things and had a full curriculum that was teaching us so much. So why was I so frustrated?

Then it hit me. We were doing too much . . .

I was too focused on cramming in all the good and fun things. Things my son never asked for. Sure, he loves an adventure, but he loves a happy mommy so much more. I can take him to see all the places we read about in books, but at what cost to our relationship if I’m stressed out? 

I also began to strip away some of our curriculum for now, which is very difficult for me. When there’s so much beauty in learning, it’s hard to choose what to leave out. My son is only in first grade, so we are sticking to the three Rs and adding in some great books, a little beauty, and lots of nature. Since making this switch, our days have gone so much more smoothly.

My husband and I also made the decision to stay at home for a while and find a family rhythm that works. We will travel more in the near future, but it can wait. I realized I have needs too and was feeling resentful with all that was on my plate. We worked out a plan that helps me find time to get out of the house and to take a daily walk.

I admit I was ready to call it quits on our way home that day. I am learning it’s normal to feel that way, but it’s what we do with those feelings that matters. Right now, I don’t want to quit. I want to set priorities, simplify our schedule, and focus most on relationships.

Exploring Alabama :: A Day Trip to the Alabama Safari Park

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A “Wild” Hair

You see what I did there? I got a “wild” hair over Labor Day weekend to take the family on a quick road trip to the Alabama Safari Park in Hope Hull, Alabama. It is very doable with small children in tow with it being just an hour and a half from Birmingham. We were still back home before dinner, even with a relaxing lunch on the Alabama River in Montgomery and a stop for ice cream at Clanton’s Peach Park. If you are thinking about going on a social-distancing-friendly day trip that is a little out of the ordinary, read along to hear more.  

A day trip to the Alabama Safari Park

Before You Go

My biggest piece of advice is to be prepared for a little mess. The park does not rent vehicles to drive through the safari because of COVID, so you’ll be in your own car. I took a couple of wet soapy hand towels for clean up. We always keep antibacterial wipes in the car and made sure we were well stocked for this trip. I also saw a few cars that had towels draped over their rolled down windows to protect their car. We didn’t think of that brilliant idea, so we left with really fun drool all down the side of our van. To me, it added to the laughter of the day. I have a one year old, a two year old, and a four year old, so we also decided to take all the car seats out when we arrived. The kids could now roam free from side-to-side and could feed and pet the animals better. 

A day trip to the Alabama Safari Park - feeding zebras!

All the Squeals! 

The 350-acre park was created in 2018 and supports wildlife conservation in 25+ countries globally. You will see zebra, camels, llamas, giraffe, bison, watusi, impalas, kangaroos, and so much more.

You can purchase buckets of food as you enter. Believe me, you will want more than one. Let me give you a few words of wisdom on the front end. The camels WILL steal the entire bucket, so two hands are needed to feed them! The animals are gentle and will most definitely come right up to and into your car for the food. Some of them really enjoyed hanging around to get a little love from the kids. Others were quick to move on to find more food. We got tickled at the ones that would stand right in the middle of the road and give us a stare down until we put the food out the window.

The kids absolutely loved all of the personal interaction. At first, there were squeals and screams of fear and hesitation. After a few slobbery kisses, though, the apprehension turned to delight. I’m not sure if the animals can hear yet from all the high-pitched squeals of excitement that were pouring out of our car. 

A day trip to the Alabama Safari Park - petting the animals

Around the World in One Hour

The park has animals from nearly every continent, and they give you a guidebook as you purchase tickets so you can learn about each of them. It took us a little less than an hour to do the full loop. You can also ride through as many times as you want on the same day! We chose to go through twice and realized that we were smart to have arrived right as the park opened. The animals weren’t nearly as active on the second loop because they had already eaten and the temperature was rising quickly. You can stop after each full loop to purchase more food, use the restroom, buy refreshments, or just visit the gift shop if you want.

A day trip to the Alabama Safari Park - the walk-about

Going on a Walk-About

We stopped to enjoy the “walk-about area” after our second loop. This is where you will find African Pygmy Goats, Kune Kune Pigs, Red Kangaroos, lemurs, giraffes, the budgie house, and more. You can purchase romaine to feed the giraffes at the gift shop. Those twenty-two-inch prehensile tongues, especially the one that licked my son on the head, made for some great laughs. The walk-about is spread out and very easy to stay more than six feet away from others. We opted out of taking strollers. You may want to consider it for this portion of the park if you have non-walkers, though. 

Overall, it was a really great day trip that we would most definitely do again. We stopped for lunch at the Capital Oyster Bar on the way home. It is situated right on the Alabama River and offers socially distanced outdoor seating overlooking the water. You can’t drive south on I-65 without stopping at the Peach Park for dessert! I have never realized how many cute outdoor tables, benches, swings, and chairs they have. All five of us relaxed on a swing in the shaded garden, enjoying our ice cream with no one else around. Okay, let me be realistic. We really sat on a shaded swing trying to catch melting ice cream while keeping babies from falling off the swing! Such is life and life is great! 

Do you have any favorite kid-friendly Alabama day trips? If so, tell me about them in the comments! We are always looking for new places. 

Kids and Masks :: Helpful Tips from Children’s of Alabama

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We love working with Children's of Alabama! This is sponsored content.

A year ago, we’d never have dreamed we’d be discussing proper mask wearing with our children. Yet, here we are, still in the middle of the global pandemic that is COVID-19. With schools, sports, and other extracurricular activities starting back, our kids need advice on proper mask protocol.

Thankfully, Children’s of Alabama is here today to offer us all the mask information we could ever need!

Masks for Kids: Why and How

Why Kids Need Masks

  • Kids need to be in school — for their mental health and ours.
  • Kids can catch and spread COVID-19.
  • Masking is a straightforward, safe, and effective tool to help prevent outbreaks in schools.
  • Masking can be used in addition to other strategies for prevention of viral spread like physical distancing, good hand hygiene, screening for illness, and rapid response to any symptoms. The more tools we use, the better chance we have to contain COVID-19.
  • From a healthcare perspective, masks play a large role in determining who is at risk after a COVID-19 exposure.
  • Universal masking in schools could prevent large-scale school quarantines/closures when COVID-19 is found in some students.
  • Kids under two years old should not wear masks. If your child has a serious health condition, check with your doctor to find out if masking is appropriate.

How to Teach Our Kids to Mask Up

  • Masking is a new skill and needs to be taught.
  • Kids need time to learn and adapt to this new skill before they are expected to implement it for extended periods of time.
  • Learning to mask properly is not a skill that can or should be taught the first day of school.
  • Teachers can then reinforce the skills learned at home.
  • If most kids can learn this skill at home, good peer modeling can help kids who are not able to master masking at home.

Tips to Help Kids Learn to Mask

  • Talk with your child about masking. Explain why it is important; how it can help keep everyone safe, healthy, and help us get back to our previous activities.
  • Choose a mask from the wide variety of masks available. Kids may be more likely to try a mask if they have helped pick it out. The goal is a piece of fabric that can cover the nose and mouth and stay in place with normal movement and talking.
  • Ideally, your child should have several masks to wear throughout the week.
  • Wash the masks before wearing.
  • Masks are like underwear and shouldn’t be worn more than one time between washings. And like underwear, discuss with your child that masks are not to be shared with friends, loaned, or traded.
  • Consider getting a reusable plastic container or disposable paper lunch bags for mask storage at school when not in use.
  • To practice masking, start by having your child wear a mask for 10-15 minutes, 3 times a day. Increase the wear time every day if possible.
  • Practice removing the mask and folding it so that the inside/face-side of the mask does not touch the outside of the mask. Once it is folded properly, it is ready to be stored between wears.
  • Practice wearing the mask while talking, jumping, and playing around inside.

If your child complains of shortness of breath with short duration of mask wear, consult your pediatrician for further guidance. Never force continuous wear.

Note for teens: They may struggle with “maskne,” which is acne related to masking. Using masks made with wicking fabric and an over-the-counter acne wash may help prevent this. Consult your pediatrician or dermatologist if this becomes an issue.

A Life Worth Saving {National Suicide Prevention Month}

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Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself?

Have you felt like ending your life?

Almost daily I pose these two questions to every child, teen, and adult who comes into my office. Sometimes I get mostly nos; but, other times there are several yeses. Suicide is real. Suicide is common. Suicide is heartbreaking. Suicide is preventable.

National Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a hard topic to discuss but such a necessary one. I have lost patients to suicide. I have hospitalized patients for serious thoughts of suicide and for thwarted suicide attempts. I have witnessed the devastating legacy of suicide and attempted to help impacted families piece their lives back together in the aftermath.

Facts & Staggering Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Someone dies from suicide every 11 minutes.
  • Over 48,000 people died by suicide in 2018.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals ages 10 – 34 years of age, the 4th leading cause of death for people ages 35 – 54, and the 8th leading cause of death for adults ages 55 – 64.
  • Suicide is on the rise for Black youth – the suicide rate for black children ages 5 – 12 years is almost double that of white children within the same age group.
  • Women are more likely to attempt suicide while men are more likely to die by suicide because they tend to use more lethal means (firearms).
Myths about Suicide

There are many mistruths about suicide, like suicide is selfish or that suicide is “the easy way out.” Some say suicide is cowardly, a lack of faith, that you are crazy, or it is evidence of moral failing. Suicide is none of these things. Let me say it again — suicide is NONE of these things.

Suicide is often the unbearable weight of depression. It’s an overwhelming desire to escape life’s pain, which is not necessarily a will to die. It’s hopelessness. It’s the illusion of finality, of no way out. It’s despair and anguish. It’s feeling like a burden to those who love you. For moms, it might feel like your children would be happier without you. For youth, it might be feeling alone, like you don’t belong, or growing tired of being bullied by peers.

As someone who sees people at their worst, let me assure you that your life matters. Unequivocally! Your life matters to me. It matters to those who love you — your family, your children, your friends, your significant other, your employers/colleagues, and so many others. Your life has purpose and meaning despite your present circumstances or the painful events that characterize your past. It can and will get better because treatment works. It’s not going to be easy nor quick, especially when suicidal thoughts come as a consequence of mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but treatment is effective. Therapy works. Medications helps.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

Getting Help

  • Reach out for help. You are not alone. You may feel alone, like no one cares; but you are not alone. Help is available. Reach out to a friend and let them know what’s going on. If that feels uncomfortable, then call your doctor, go to your local health department, or contact your local community mental health center, which provides low cost mental health services including therapy and medications. If you need immediate attention because you don’t feel safe, then call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • For those who identify as Christian, Jesus + therapy + medications all work together beautifully. I am a believer, and I know that God has given me the gift of healing. He provides wise counsel through mental health providers. He gives unique insights to the researchers and those in the pharmaceutical industry to develop effective treatments. Your diagnosis does not mean that you lack sufficient faith or that God has turned his back on you.
  • Stay connected. We are not meant to live life in isolation. Find healthy connections through church/religious gatherings, co-workers, friends, a significant other, online communities, neighbors, and more. Given the prevalence of suicide and mental disorders, it’s clear that many others are facing similar battles. Don’t go through life alone.
  • Learn healthy coping skills to manage stress like journaling, breath work using apps like Breethe, adult coloring books, exercise, and mindfulness exercises. Stress is inevitable, but how you manage that stress dictates the severity of its impact on your life.
  • Remove firearms and other weapons from your possession. Leave them with a friend or family member or get rid of them. Dispose of old medications. Formulate a safety plan that will include an ordered list of people to call and other steps to take if thoughts of suicide arise.
  • If you are a friend or family member, take statements about suicide seriously. If you are worried about a loved one, then ask. Studies show that simply asking often brings relief and does not make someone decide to kill themselves.

Silence the Shame

It’s time to silence the shame and stigma. Mental illness is real. Stress, job loss, relationship drama, financial constraints, school difficulties, and COVID-19 and other health problems create emotional instability that can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. There is nothing wrong with getting help. Getting help makes you a better parent, a better friend, a better spouse, a better you. While it takes courage to ask for help, your vulnerability and transparency will lead to your healing. You got this, my friend.

Your life really does matter. Yours is a life worth saving.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

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