Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Time We Were Investigated by DCF for Child Neglect

As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
- Job 13:4-5

Just after turning ten months old, Molly fell off the bed one night while Nathan was out of town.  She escaped past my barricade of pillows at the edge of the bed.  Poor baby!  She was upset but not inconsolable.  After checking that she was still doing the things she does (clicking her tongue, saying “mama,” making kissing sounds) I nursed her back to sleep, and she slept until morning.

When she woke I was concerned, because Molly was unhappy, and was favoring her left arm.  Her underarm felt a bit different when I went to lift her, sort of lacking in resistance.  I called a dear friend who is a nurse to ask for advice.  She advised that I take her to be seen when our family practice opened later that morning, and that there was no immediate need to go to the ER.  It was a Monday morning, MLK Day, but fortunately, our practice was open.  I called and was given an appointment with a doctor, new to the practice, that we had never seen before.  She referred us for an x-ray, which we got taken immediately, and which revealed a fractured clavicle.  Poor, poor baby!  Guilty, sad Mama!

Nathan returned from his travels that evening, and complimented me on keeping my head on my shoulders -- not sobbing hysterically or beating myself up endlessly, but focusing on getting Molly the care that she needed.  As we talked about what happened, I remember saying that I hate that we live in a world where a tiny bit of me was afraid to take her to be seen, because you never know what a doctor might think when a baby has an injury.  He reassured me that the people at our family practice have known us for almost six years, and no one would doubt that I was a good mother who cared for my kids well.

* * *

Fast-forward to that Friday evening, just before 5 pm, when our home phone rang and it was for me.  The man calling said, "I'm calling from the Department of Children and Families.  We've received a report alleging medical negligence..."  

I'm sitting here now, weeks later, and yet the memory of that moment is a stark, clear one: the pit in my stomach, the disbelief that this could be happening.  I unleashed a slight outburst of shock and outrage on the DCF agent before bursting into tears and handing the phone to Nathan, who graciously took over the phone call.  There was to be an investigation at our home the following Monday morning.

* * *

Let me back up and fill in a few blanks here.  The truth is that I remember calling Nathan right after Molly's initial appointment as we were on our way to get x-rays, saying, "I had a weird feeling about the doctor we saw.  She seemed more concerned about the fact that Molly hadn't been at every CDC recommended Well Child visit than about the fracture."  It was true -- the doctor had looked at Molly's chart and said very dramatically, "WHO has been seeing this baby?"  Confused, I had replied, "She's a patient here."  The doctor responded, "She hasn't been seen here in MONTHS!  It is really important that she come to every Well Child visit so that we can weigh her!"  

Now, to my credit, I did not roll my eyes back into my throat, but instead responded with a smile, "I have a scale and weigh her at home."  The doctor did not seem reassured by this at all, but said, "Well, we also need to make sure she's hitting her milestones."  Again I smiled and said, "As a third-time mom I have felt confident in assessing that she's growing and developing right on track."  At this point, the doctor said, "Well, I'm going to follow you out to the front desk after this appointment and make sure you schedule appointments for all your kids," which seemed pretty dramatic to me.  Our older two children already had their yearly appointments on the books, scheduled since their previous physicals.  In any case, it all gave me an odd feeling at the time, but I was preoccupied with the fact that my poor infant daughter likely had a fracture and I pushed the encounter with that doctor to the back of my mind.

No one wants to be faced with the thought that taking a child for medical care will be worse than the injury.

* * *

That first Monday evening a nurse from the practice called me to deliver the results of the x-rays.  She advised me that these fractures are relatively common, and that all we needed to do was to safety pin her sleeve to the bodice of her clothing each day to limit her mobility and create a sort of a sling.  She also recommended a follow-up at Boston Children's. 

The following morning I called the nurse back to ask a few questions.  Was the follow-up in Boston so the x-rays could be read by someone more specialized?  Was there a chance she would need surgery?  Would they advise treatment more intensive than the safety pin?  Should I give her motrin if she was in pain?  The nurse reassured me that Molly would be fine and would heal quickly.  She also indicated that the follow-up in Boston (while something they routinely offer a referral for) wasn't necessary if we preferred to follow up at our local practice in a week or two.

Since lengthy rides in her car seat seemed uncomfortable for a baby with a broken clavicle, and since our oldest daughter also had a lingering cough that had been causing chest pain, I decided that avoiding unnecessary trips into the city was an excellent plan, and agreed to follow up at our family practice.

Molly already seemed significantly improved by Tuesday.  I held her, snuggled her, was careful what positions she slept in, and kept her sleeve pinned -- although she fought it and kept trying to crawl, pull herself up, and continue in all her usual tricks!  All seemed to be well -- or at least, I felt assured that it would be.  

* * *

That Thursday, I took our oldest daughter into the practice for her cough.  A year ago around this time she suffered a bout of pneumonia, and so when she had complained to me that it hurt to breathe deeply, I went on the alert.  Her cough was sporadic and not severe, but I still thought it was worth getting checked out.  At that appointment, no one at the practice indicated that anything might be amiss.  I had no idea that, as we would later learn, a report had been filed with DCF the previous day, and I would only learn about it the following day.  No one in the office mentioned making any attempts to follow up on Molly's care or to reach either Nathan or myself.  I took our five-year-old for a chest x-ray as recommended, and then headed home.

Friday morning was Nathan's day off from work.  That morning he was catching up on some paperwork and other matters, and found himself listening to several unheard voicemails from unknown numbers that had accumulated on his cell phone.  We were both sitting in the living room together when he got a very surprised and confused look, and said, "Babe, I think I have a voicemail from that doctor who saw Molly."  He put it on speaker so I could hear.  We were very perplexed, to say the least.  In the voicemail she said she was "Calling to make sure that Sarah was following up on Molly's care" ("Is this the 1950's?" I asked Nathan), and that she "understood that we might not be following up at Boston Children's, and that's okay..." but went on to say that Molly was at risk of her clavicle puncturing her lung, and that she needed to be seen again at the practice immediately for her arm to be properly immobilized.  She also said she understood I might be giving Molly Motrin (I wasn't, but it's what the nurse had suggested over the phone) and that I should absolutely NOT be doing this as it would impede her healing.  She concluded the voicemail, which had been left on Wednesday, by asking Nathan to call her back "by tomorrow."  Regrettably, this was now Friday.

We were quite confused as to why a nurse from our practice would give us such a reassuring assessment of the situation and such a low-key treatment plan, and then a doctor from within the same practice would tell us there was a risk of a punctured lung.  Naturally, this made me a bit nervous.  We were also completely bewildered as to why the doctor had called Nathan's phone, since I am the primary caregiver, the parent who takes the kids to their appointments, and the parent she had met at Molly's appointment.  No attempts had been made to reach me -- I had no missed calls or voicemails on my cell phone.  And come to think of it, that started to seem weird, because at previous times when our kids have been sick, someone from the practice, some friendly nurse or someone, has always called later to check in and make sure everyone is doing well.  Why hadn't anyone called me?

I immediately got on the phone and placed a call to our practice asking to speak with our primary care doctor so that we could get a straight story.  (As a side note, the wonderful primary care doctor we had seen for nearly five years had left the practice a year ago, and since that time, while we had been reassigned to a new PCP, we had actually had our appointments with an NP who is a lovely and wonderful woman, so -- in a humorous but perhaps not uncommon situation -- we had not actually met our new PCP).  Our PCP called me back soon after I called for her, and she was lovely over the phone.  She apologized for the miscommunications, and told us Molly was fine and would continue to be fine, and was not at risk for a punctured lung. She did say to go ahead and schedule a follow-up with a specialist, but said following up locally with a pediatric ortho in town would be absolutely fine; no trekking into Boston with three kids in freezing temps necessary.  I ended that phone call and immediately called Mass General in Danvers to schedule a follow-up for Molly.  

* * *

And it was at the close of that day, much of which I spent on the phone sorting things out with doctors and other doctors and insurance providers and such, that the DCF investigator called me.

It will remain in my memory as one of the worst weekends of my life.  That Friday night I cried, and cried, and cried.  I wept until my head pounded and my face was puffy.  I was overwhelmed by so many feelings: anger at that doctor, fear of the possibility (however remote) of having my children taken from me, embarrassment that it was somehow possible I could be the kind of mother who gets reported for neglect.  Nathan and I stayed up late into the night reading any information we could find online about what to do if you are falsely reported for abuse or neglect.  There were lots of frightening accounts online of falsely accused parents losing custody of their children for extended periods of time while cases were sorted out, and we were really scared.  

{We would later hear characterizations from lawyers agreeing that DCF is indeed guilty of overreaching at times in taking children from their homes.  The Massachusetts supreme judicial court has concurred with this and passed down a ruling in the past year limiting the way DCF functions -- comforting, I suppose, but comfort amidst alarming facts is only mildly comforting.  One doesn't have to look too far to find stories of parents currently going through complete nightmares like this, having had their children removed from their homes and needing to fight tooth and nail to get them back.}

I typed up a complete timeline of events while everything was fresh in my memory.  I called my parents, and they advised us to get an attorney, as we were thinking of doing, to be at the home with us during the investigation.  

We worked hard over that weekend, not only to tidy up our home and make sure that nothing whatsoever could be found amiss, but we also contacted four medical professionals and got signed letters detailing that we have always provided for our kids' medical needs.  {We remain grateful to these four people for being willing to do this.  We felt it was really the key to immediately disprove that there could be any validity to the accusation of medical neglect.}

Saturday night, after an unimaginably stressful and worrying day, we decided to order pizza and watch a movie.  What's a good cartoon option the girls might enjoy?  Nathan suggested Dumbo, and we were all in agreement that it would be a good choice.  Oh, how wrong we were!  As it turns out, the film I remember as being primarily about a cute flying elephant is actually about a baby being taken from its mother while the mother is locked up as an unfit parent!  Let's just say the girls weren't the only ones crying as we watched it.

* * *

Sunday, the day before the investigation, our three year old declared angrily, "You're a BAD MOTHER!" when it became apparent that breakfast was not what she had hoped it would be.  I remember thinking to myself wryly, "Perfect.  Just tell the gentleman who comes to our house tomorrow morning and it'll all be cleared up!"

It wasn't until the investigator arrived at our home Monday morning that we would hear in full the allegations against us.  I was accused of medical neglect; in other words, the issue was not the fracture itself (and there was no suspicion of abuse), but the allegations were that I was not following up on her care.  I was accused of giving my children improper medication, not providing them with general medical care, and not taking measures to immobilize Molly's fracture.  {There were other things said, too -- I don't remember them all now.  We have to write to DCF to request a copy of the full report now that the case is closed, at which time I'll be able to see everything.}

As he read the report, I was both devastated and angry.  I could not ever recognize the negligent mother the report described.

The doctor claimed in her report that she had left me three unreturned phone messages.  

We also learned that the doctor had filed her report on Wednesday, yes, the same Wednesday when she asked Nathan in her voicemail to call her back "by tomorrow."  Apparently it wouldn't have made a difference if he had gotten that voicemail a little sooner, because she did not even wait three hours after that call before reporting us.

In speaking to the investigator, we felt very able to tell our side of the story, and it was easy to prove, for example, that I had no missed calls from a doctor claiming to have left me three unreturned messages.  We played her voicemail on Nathan's phone, so the investigator could hear her saying it was "okay" if we didn't follow up in Boston, and other discrepancies in the story.  I detailed how I was doing everyone the nurse had told me to do for Molly's care, and he could clearly see that she was behaving quite normally.  

The investigator asked us a lot of questions, and tried to ask our kids a question regarding discipline in our home, as well.  He also asked to inspect the rest of the house, and specifically the sleeping arrangements.  At that time our lawyer spoke up and said he didn't think that would be necessary, since it was beyond the scope of an investigation alleging we had not followed up on our daughter's medical care.

I believe that in all, the investigator was at our house for about an hour and a half.

At some point during that time, I looked over to see our three year old had helped herself to a muffin I had left for her on the kitchen table, and was happily eating it ... off the floor.

Well, kids do know how to make a good impression.

* * *

Following that investigatory home visit, we breathed a partial sigh of relief, thinking it had probably gone as well as it could.  

The following day was Molly's pediatric ortho follow-up.  Everything I was told at that appointment corroborated what the nurse from our family practice had told me.  There was no concern expressed whatsoever about the nature of Molly's injury.  I was again told it was a common fracture.  There was no concern about my home care of her.  When I asked the doctor if there was a risk of a lung puncture, he actually laughed!  He and his assistant asked me where I had heard that could happen, as they only see that in extreme trauma such as a car accident.  When I replied that I heard it from the doctor who reported me to DCF, their eyes widened and they said in disbelief, "You got reported for this?!  I'm so sorry!" I was then told, "Any doctor who would report this injury or claim you weren't doing the appropriate care must not understand ortho at all.  She just must not understand.  She must not be informed." 

The doctor's assistant and I chatted briefly about how important it is for mandated reporters to have a good degree of common sense and discernment, and not to report frivolously on people, because of the serious impact it can have on a family.

The orthopedist said I could continue to immobilize her arm if I wanted to, but said that actually four out of five of the orthos at that office, himself included, do not believe clavicular fractures such as Molly's needed to be immobilized at all.  

In other words, a far cry from the hysterical claims of the doctor's DCF report.

* * *

After all of that, we waited several weeks before receiving another phone call from DCF.  This time, the case worker was following up because, when he spoke further with the doctor who reported us, she told him that we co-sleep with the baby.

He asked me over the phone if this was true, and I replied that yes, it was.  {It had not come up in the investigation at our home specifically, but I suppose we thought it was somewhat obvious given the baby had fallen out of the bed in the night.}  He then told me that while cosleeping "doesn't technically fall into the category of neglect," it is extremely dangerous and he would be sending me pamphlets to read and making a note in my file.  

It's still so surreal to me that I have "a file" with DCF at all.  

I started to say to him that unfortunately, many families he may work with would have risk factors making cosleeping unsafe such as alcohol or drug abuse, but he interrupted me to say that it is equally unsafe across all kinds of families and all lifestyles, so at that point I realized it was best not to discuss it any further -- although for the record, I still believe that cosleeping has been a wonderful thing for our family, a true sanity-saver, and if anyone thinks we shouldn't do it, well, we invite that person to come put our baby back to bed.

every. forty-five. minutes. all. night. long.


* * *

After that, DCF called some of our babysitters to check up on us, just to be sure that our humiliation was complete!

We received a letter in mid-February saying that our case had been closed and the allegations were marked as "unsupported."

We are relieved that we can put that behind us, and now we are planning to bring complaints to our {soon-to-be-former} doctor's office as well as to Lahey in general.  I believe there is also a way for us to file a counter-complaint to DCF alleging that we believe we were reported on vindictively so that future reports this doctor may make might be evaluated closely before action is taken.  These are the fun things we get to learn about now!  But we think it's important, because the more we learned about our situation, the more we realized there was really no other conclusion to draw but that the doctor who filed on us was either an unqualified doctor or a person who simply didn't like other personal choices our family was making.  The facts as we know them don't allow us to understand it any other way.  No second, third, or fourth opinions we sought from other medical professionals corroborated the "facts" the way this doctor presented them to DCF.  

* * *

In the days following the investigation, I wrote a little "personal impact statement" to eventually submit to our family practice:

"We can hardly begin to express how this experience has shocked and confused us, when we thought we were known and cared for at our family practice of nearly six years.  We now feel fearful and distrustful of the doctors with whom we thought we had a mutual relationship of trust.  Our friends who are aware of our situation are terrified at the thought they might ever find themselves in these circumstances without so much as a phone call being made before a report was filed.  Many of them have expressed their intent to leave {this practice}.

"In the days leading up to the investigative home visit, instead of having ample restful time to hold and care for our baby, we had to retain an attorney, spend time and money making sure not a single thing could be found amiss in our home, and contact multiple medical professionals to obtain letters attesting to our longstanding exemplary care of our children.

"From the time I first received the call from DCF, I have been having difficulty sleeping.  I have felt literally sick to my stomach and had episodes of shaking from anxiety and shock.  Instead of being cared for as a family by our "family practice," we have been victimized by a doctor there.  We were not treated fairly when with no probable cause whatsoever Dr. ________ set circumstances in motion that will have long-lasting effects on our family life.  Furthermore, we have learned that another medical professional at the practice vouched for us to Dr. ________, saying she should have no concerns whatsoever about our family -- yet still Dr. _________ chose to ignore the expertise of her colleague who knows us and has seen our children several times over the past year, and filed a report in direct opposition not only to the medical facts of the situation but also in opposition to the knowledgeable opinion of her colleague.

"As we try to make sense of this situation, we can only conclude that Dr. ________ is an unqualified doctor, having made hysterical claims to the DCF in direct contradiction to the opinions of every other medical professional, or that she has targeted us based on other factors she may have seen in my children's medical files, such as the fact that the children are not in public school, or the fact that we co-sleep, or the choice (made together with our longstanding family doctor) not to follow the CDC-suggested visit schedule to the letter."

* * *

Does that all sound really dramatic?  Maybe it does.  It's hard to explain that kind of fear.  You might think that being investigated by DCF really wouldn't be a big deal, because if you're not guilty it'll all work out fine.   And I get it.  DCF does good things for some kids who are truly in traumatic home situations and need help.  And they are obligated to follow up on the reports they receive, of course.  But when you're the one being investigated, the emotions surrounding it get pretty confusing.  It is probably hard to imagine if you haven't been through it, or at least had the fear of something like this happening cross your mind.

Or maybe you get it.  Maybe you can imagine the terror when you realize that you're not in control anymore -- that someone else gets to come into your home and decide if your life, your choices, your decisions, your care of your kids is acceptable or not.  

It's a really scary place to find yourself, I can tell you that.  Even if 90% of you believes it'll all be worked out and anyone will be able to see it was all a misunderstanding, there's at least 10% sheer terror.  I may or may not have been mentally considering an escape plan across the border to Canada, should things become dire!

* * *

I've learned something, though, and I think it's really important.  I think doctors and parents need to have some serious conversations about what is really happening in the medical world.  Who is in charge?  What does it mean every time you are asked to preemptively sign a consent to treatment form on behalf of your child before they are even seen at a visit?

All this time I've been taking my kids to the doctor viewing myself as holding the proverbial reins.  Yes, I want their expert opinions.  Yes, I want to know what they see, what they think.  But I thought it was okay that sometimes I'd opt not to give the antibiotics, but to try something else first, for example.  That, after extensive conversations with the doctor who knew me and my kids best, if we decided to skip a Hep B vaccine, for example, then that was our decision.  That sometimes we'd take into consideration several medical opinions before coming to a conclusion.

Now I'm beginning to realize that some doctors may view the scenario quite differently.  Perhaps they think they are in charge, and if they don't think you're jumping through the right hoops, well, they're going to make some phone calls.  And if this is the medical climate in which we live, I think all parents need to know about it.

* * *

So there you have it.  The story of that time I was accused of neglect.  Here's hoping it's the first, last, and only time!  I suppose the doctor who reported us would tell the story differently, but this is our story.  

Through it we felt surrounded by the love and support of family, friends, and those within our church families.  Nathan and I must have said to each other a dozen times during those difficult weeks, "What do people do during times like this if they don't have a church?!"  We are immensely grateful for the ways we were upheld with advice, support, love, and prayer.  We are critically aware that we had resources and support at our fingertips that not everyone facing this kind of event has access to.  

* * *

Do you know what the legal definition of neglect is?  It's a failure to provide "minimally adequate" care for your children.  

At first, when I received the phone call alleging neglect, having that piled on top of my normal amounts of "mom guilt" was almost more than I could bear.  Not only should I probably read to the kids even more than I do, or take them to museums more often, or be more patient with them at all times, or parent them more perfectly, now -- now I might actually be considered a truly neglectful mother?!

But then Nathan read me that definition.  And he laughed.  And at some point, I think I'll be able to laugh, too.

If I've learned something from all of this, perhaps it's this: I'm actually doing an okay job.  And if anybody tries to come between me and my kids, I will fight for the right to continue to love them to the very best of my ability.  I am far from being the perfect mother I would like to be, but I believe I'm the very best mother my own kids could possibly have, simply because they're mine, and I love them like crazy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reeisms, Vol. 4

The master of making faces, the funniest kid around, and with a head full of truly terrible ideas, at age 3.5, Ree continues to keep us on our toes.

She is usually quite trustworthy out of my sight, but is never to be trusted in the bathroom alone.  Although I should know better (based on incidents including but not limited to toilet paper being stuffed in the sink and the sink being filled and flooded, for example), I recently sent her upstairs to use the bathroom and told her I'd be there in a minute.  I arrived to a guilty smile, and Ree said, "Mama I'm sorry but I washed the walls with toilet paper and water..."  Filled with dread, I asked her, "Where did you get the water you used?"  And of course, my worst suspicions were confirmed as she pointed down between her legs into the toilet bowl.  Oh my lawd but this child.  What am I going to do with this child?!

She calls flamingos falingos and a placemat a spacemat.  A telescope or a kaleidoscope are both called eyedoscopes, somewhat interchangeably.  She sings Joy to the World exuberantly although Advent and Christmas are past, blending her words together into "heavenature sing, heavenature sing! heaaaaaaavenature sing!"  

She has been known to run around the house declaring "Pip, pip, pooray!"

And when her teeth chatter, she'll say, "My teeth are snapping from the wind!"

And one of my favorites: "See you later!  In a crocodile!"

When a woman at the grocery store smiled at her, Ree declared loudly: "Well I don't like you!"
{And I died a little of embarrassment, of course.}

* * *

Ree: "I have lots of babies you know."
Me: "Where are your babies today?"
Ree: "I keep them in a cage."
Me: ...
Ree: "I don't let them out really."

* * *

Early one morning:
Me: "Ree, it's way too early to be up."
Ree: "Well, I didn't wake up until it was one sixty-two."

* * *

At 7:00 am one morning: "Hey Mama I am hungry.  Because it's five o'clock.  And the sun is setting.  Setting up."

* * *

As we came to the end of a fun hike: "I know we really need to go but I really want to stay here forever."

* * *

A conversation with her little friend Lydia, demonstrating that Ree is a regular little Miss Congeniality:

Lydia: "I like your apple hat."
Ree: "Thank you.  Well, actually, no thank you."
Lydia: "You are special and you are happy."
Ree: "No I am not happy."

* * *

"Hey Molly, do you want to die and go to a new place and visit God?  Yeah?!"

* * *

Musing to herself: "My belly button is a little bit crooked and it needs something to go on top of it."

"I don't like boy singers but I only like girl singers."

* * *

Ree: "Sometimes your brain hurts when you go poop.  Your brain that is in your tummy.  (Points to vein in wrist.)  This brain goes into my tummy."
Me: "Ohhhh your vein."
Ree: "Yeah.  And then you die and this vein goes into your tummy."
Me: ...???...

* * *

Me: {places order at Starbucks drive-thru}
Ree (yelling from the back of the van to try to be heard on the speaker by the barista): "CAN I PLEASE HAVE A DONUT?!?"

* * *

During Advent, when we were focusing on doing kind and sacrificial things for one another, Nell asked if something she had done was a sacrifice, and Ree retorted nonsensically, "No, that is not a sacrifice, that is a mad mean mookie!"

* * *

Her food choices are remarkable for a three-year-old: 
"I don't want soup, I want broccoli. Or salad."

In fact, she loves salad so much that she named her baby doll Salad.  Salad as her first name and Saliva as her middle name.  Salad Saliva.  Yes, really.

* * *

Ree {taking after her father perhaps, who has a cheek-biting habit}: "I'm eating my cheek where I bited it."
Me: "Oh, don't do that."
Ree: "But I like it and it tastes good."

In church (angrily): "I can't hear my sentence because everyone is singing too loudly!"

* * *

Disapproving of one of Nathan's Christmas music selections he was listening to: "This music is not Christmassy it is just plain."

* * *

Listening to Roger Whittaker for a moment of a throwback to my childhood, Ree said disparagingly: "I don't like this movie music!"

* * *

As the organist began to play "Go, tell it on the mountain," in church one Sunday morning, Ree declared, "This is the wrong kind of music for church!"

* * *

Driving in the car one day:
Me: "What kind of music should we listen to?"
Ree: "I want church music."

* * *

She thinks all pop music is a commercial - like the moments of pop music she hears in between songs when we're listening to music on Spotify.  A few times when I've put on some pop music to listen to, Ree will come dashing into the room and yell, "THIS is just a COMMERCIAL!"

"I need to practice my violin now because in seventy-two weeks I'm playing a concert for my kids."

* * *

Walking in abruptly on me using the bathroom: "You look nice."   {Um, thanks?}

* * *

Putting me in my place, as she frequently does:

Ree: "Mama I'm sorry but I peed a little in my undies."
Me: "Ok go hop on the potty quickly!"
Ree: "Ok.  Well good job not screaming Mama!"

{In my defense the so-called "screaming" is usually a slightly raised voice urging the speed required to go upstairs and get on the potty before the slightly damp undies turn into a full-on accident.}

When I took the girls to see the Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet after Christmas, and the Arabian dance began {with the male dancer, as usual, without a shirt on}, Ree declared in a loud whisper, "That's not appropriate!  That's not acceptable!  That daddy is naked!"

* * *

And when we went to the beach one wintery day and there was snow all around and the girls were in their snow pants and boots, Ree said ecstatically, "Look at the ducks!  I'm going to go in and swim with those ducks now!"

* * *

When she had an earache one evening, Ree said pitifully: "I have an ear 'fection.  Something is in my ear is choking me.  And it's having a fight in there.  And it's hurting me."

* * *

And later that same evening: "I want medicine.  And I get to decide what medicine it will be because it's my ears and it's my body so I get to decide what kind of medicine I want."

"God can make even Joseph and Mary cuz that's why God is flexible."

* * *

When I came downstairs wearing a dress one morning: "WOW I love you!  You are so beautiful!"

* * *

When I was reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe aloud to them recently: "They shouldn't have gone to that dangerous place with a witch they should have stayed home with their mother!"

* * *

And further musings on Narnia: "I wouldn't go to those bad scary places.  I would just go to good churches."

"When I was a baby asleep in your tummy I feeled that I was in your bone.  Isn't it funny that babies can be in your bone?  In your tummy bone?  And then they come out of your belly button and there's a scab and a cord and a clip to hold it and then it falls off and the cord is off and there's a hole."

And there you have it, my friends.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Molly at ten months

Sweet Miss Molly.  Ever so happy as long as Mama is holding her or is close by, and showing off her two bottom teeth with frequent grins, this girl manages to be both Mama's girl and extrovert at the same time, grinning at everyone she sees -- as long as they don't try to take her away from me.  

She sits at my feet for a lot of the violin lessons that I teach these days, and eagerly greets my students with big smiles.

A few stats:

Weight: 18ish pounds, I think

Nicknames: Molly Moe, Moll, Mollywog.  Oh, and in the past five minutes Nathan has referred to her as a "Beautiful, beautiful, Artisinal quality, handmade in small batches, beautiful, beautiful, high level baby."

Expertise: Scratching faces, grabbing glasses

Her favorite food is paper, and it doesn't seem to matter that we keep explaining to her that this isn't in fact a food.  All solid foods that enter her mouth are subsequently spit back out.  Paper, on the other hand, is surreptitiously grabbed in tiny bits that big sisters have dropped to the floor, and happily gnawed on until Mama finds it in her mouth and removes it.

She fights sleep, this girlie, and often seems to have some sort of baby-insomnia where the skills she's earnestly trying to develop are keeping her awake.  She'll be drifting off to sleep, and then open her eyes, pop up, and start saying "mamama!  mama!  mamama!" or clicking her tongue, or making kissing noises.  All wonderful, adorable skills, to be sure, but sleeping is a skill too -- and one we're hoping she'll develop one of these days.

Speaking of sleep, in a sad turn of events, poor Molly fell off the bed and fractured her left clavicle on Sunday night.  She keeps looking at me reproachfully, and who can blame her, really?

The poor baby, who usually cosleeps between Mama and Daddy, was blissfully cosleeping with just me while Nathan was out of town for the better part of a week.  Despite the pillow barricade I had set up, she apparently found a means of escape.

"Really, Mom?  You thought a mere pillow could stop me from sleep-crawling off the edge of the bed?"
It was pretty evident that something was amiss after her fall, so when morning dawned I called the doctor's office and we traipsed over there so that Molly's reproachful expressions could be joined by the reproachful expressions of doctors and nurses.  

Yes, of course, I feel terrible about it.  I know I won't be getting any Mother of the Year awards at the rate I'm going.  And I probably shouldn't admit that I'm pretty sure each of my kids has fallen out of bed a time or two, and somehow Molly was just the first one unlucky enough to get a resulting fracture from the experience.

In the meantime, by Tuesday she was already back to crawling around a bit and even pulling herself up.  I've tried various tactics to immobilize her arm, but she wiggles out of everything and keeps moving.  We're safety-pinning her sleeve down to the body of her clothing, which is what the doctor recommended, and aside from that precaution, it seems like her pain levels will determine what she can and can't do, and she seems to be managing okay.  

I have to admit my soft spot for this babe of mine has grown even softer, tenderized by a dose of pity, I suppose.  She needs lots of holding and snuggles, and I'm only too happy to oblige right now.

But look!  She's still got some pretty fabulous grins going on, fractured collarbone notwithstanding.

I'm working hard with Marie on the understanding that we need to be extra gentle with Molly right now, and not touch her at all.  This is difficult with a child who scarcely seems to be able to be gentle to begin with, and the only reasonable solution may be to never leave the two of them together until Molly is healed.  

I did allow the big girls a closely supervised photo op with Molly, of course -- and no, they didn't dress up for the occasion.  They were already dressed this way, as they often are.  Regular clothes are so boring when all you want to do all day is dress up and dance and twirl and be ballerinas.  I think Molly is wondering when she can join the fun.

Dear Molly,

I've probably said "I'm sorry" to you a hundred times in the past three days, but I'll say it again here, for the record.  I feel terrible that you took a tumble on my watch.  Somehow the knowledge that it's just the beginning in a long line of life's hurts I won't be able to protect you from makes it all the more poignant, and I've spent a lot of time in the rocking chair the past few evenings, just cuddling you and singing to you.  

You're a tough one, and I know you'll be good as new in no time.  

To tell the truth, sometimes my arms get tired of holding you and I get frustrated by how little you nap and how much you need me.  I guess that, even after almost six years of motherhood, I still have some selfishness left in me.  But at the end of each long day, I still look at your sweet, sweet little face and feel like I could explode from loving you so much.

I'm heading up to bed now to snuggle you, because I can hear your cries up there right now and can tell that Daddy just isn't cutting it for you.  I guess his feelings for your {as expressed earlier in this post} aren't yet 100% mutual.  Okay, okay!  I'll come snuggle you back to sleep.

I love you, girlie.  


{catching up}: Molly at 9.5 months

Aaaaand skipping over eight months, because life was crazy and poor Molly had a nose that streamed snot for weeks on end... I did manage to get some nine month pictures only a couple of weeks late! {At which point she was on round two of a cold, and still a little red-nosed and sad!}

Molly at nine months was crawling everywhere, pulling up on things, making kissing sounds, babbling (with aaahhhdadadadada being a particular favorite), and blowing raspberries like a pro.  She peed in the potty sometimes, with frequent resolutions by her mother to be more consistent with elimination communication so we could start getting the yucky stuff that really matters into that delightfully appropriate receptacle known as the baby potty.  She was rapidly moving into 12 month baby clothes, and her fingernails kept growing at an alarming rate that allowed her to scratch my face and draw blood from time to time.  I guess the 80 fingernails and toenails I'm singlehandedly responsible for trimming around here these days are getting the better of me.

Nine month Molly had become more attached than ever to Mama, and would often prefer to sit quietly and play at my feet while I was teaching violin lessons rather than be subjected to spending time with - the horror of it - a babysitter.  As with her sisters before her, I found her occasional babbles far less distracting than the sound of her screaming in a nearby room, so she has been keeping me company in my teaching these days more often than not.  

This child is not what you might call a good sleeper of late, and the past month or two has had its challenges in that regard.  In fact, for most of December she utterly refused to be laid down at any point for a single nap.  After endlessly trying to transfer her from arms or Lillebaby carrier to her crib, all of which ended in a wide awake and overtired and very crabby baby, we mutually gave up the effort and either Nathan or I would just wear her in the carrier for every. single. nap. for a while.  We simply concluded that between the emergence of two cute bottom teeth, and one cold followed by another, poor Molly just needed lots of cuddles.  So she took her naps on my chest in the carrier, and then would sleep the first part of each night's sleep in the carrier on Nathan's chest, and thus she was a reasonably happy camper, and we all kept surviving.

It's a good thing she's cute.

She had her first Christmas, and I think she approved of the experience.  She even got an ornament from Mama and Daddy to commemorate the occasion.

happily gnawing on a giant jingle bell.

Dear Molly,

You are surely adored around here.  Your sister Nell is of two minds on the matter: on the one hand, she wishes you were still a newborn baby and sometimes reminisces about those early days of tiny sweetness, and the way she could hold you and you didn't wriggle away.  On the other hand she can hardly wait for you to keep growing bigger and be able to really play with her!  You sister Marie loves you with the strange {deranged?} love of a three-year-old, and while it's dangerous to leave you alone with her, I do think that most of her cheek-pinching and body-slamming is somehow well-intended ... at least, we hope so.  Daddy can't get enough of you, and regards it as a personal accomplishment that most of your babbles are "dadada" rather than "mamama."  And I, while quite tired and sometimes overwhelmed with all the chaos and daily hard work of having three young children in the house these days, well, I wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas

We've been celebrating the twelve days of Christmas in some sense ever since we became parents.  Early on, it just didn't make sense to try to open all the gifts in one sitting with a toddler.  Little Nell wanted to enjoy something for a while.  And then a nap needed to happen.  And all this in between a special Christmas breakfast and then church and then, of course, Christmas dinner.  So we sort of accidentally fell into the idea of spreading the gifts out across the days following Christmas, and then we liturgically embraced it with intentionality, and we've been doing it ever since.

It also happens to work really well for our family given that Nathan works many, many extra hours in the month of December.  We really aren't that family that goes and cuts a tree in the snowy woods of New Hampshire on a weekend together, or strings popcorn and cranberry garlands together by candlelight, or drinks cocoa while Daddy reads the Christmas story.  But after Christmas, he usually gets some time off of work, and it's the perfect time for all that Advent anticipation to turn into Christmas celebration -- as a family.

It's really the way it's supposed to be, if one observes Advent, that to observe Christmas properly one ought to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany.  Somehow in our culture everything has gotten a bit backwards and people celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving (or, more honestly it would seem, Halloween) through December 25, and then everything fizzles out and everyone sits around in a post-Christmas slump of torn wrapping paper and wonders what to do with themselves until school starts again.

I try to be very intentional about Advent with my kids, and then we sure enjoy spreading out the Christmas cheer over the following days.  This year I'm trying to be particularly intentional about it, with a list of ideas going in my traveler's notebook {the delightful version of a day planner / journal / catch-all that I use} for ways we can properly celebrate Christmastide.

And before you begin thinking that celebrating twelve days of Christmas is the last thing you could possibly want to do because you're already exhausted and strung out from just the one day, wait! -- this is actually a much less stressful version of Christmas.  I promise.  It doesn't all hinge on one day. It's truly much more enjoyable this way!

A few people have asked me how we do this, so I'll share some ideas here:

Christmas Day

We open stockings first thing on Christmas morning, which is the way I grew up doing it.  But the kids don't get to go downstairs in the mornings until Nathan and I are ready to go down, too.  So when they wake up they wait for us to be awake, too, and sometimes once I'm up I'll tell them they can go tickle Daddy to wake him up, too.  Then they can come downstairs, but I always go down ahead of them and take a picture of the kids on the stairs, if for no other reason than because my parents always did this with us, and I love continuing that tradition!

This year the big girls were already wearing one of their gifts! I had decided it would be fun to give them the little hooded cowls I knitted for them first thing in the morning, when they woke and came into our bedroom.  They were quite pleased with them.  {And one of the things I'll be doing during the twelve days of Christmas is actually finishing them, since I ran out of time to add the little bear ears!}
Then, after opening stockings, the kids can play with their stocking treasures while I start making whatever breakfast things I haven't already made the night before.


An important part of our Christmas traditions are plenty of feasting.  We have special things that we only have at Christmas: cranberry coffee cake and a pecan ring, along with bacon and eggs and fruit and of course, coffee for me.


After breakfast, we go to church on Christmas day.  Always.  We have done this for the past six or seven years, I think.  And it's one of my favorite church services!  For our family, because my husband works at a church in Boston, Christmas Day is one of the rare days when we get to attend church as a family and sit together.  So, if the fact that it's Christmas Day weren't already enough, our kids really enjoy getting to have Daddy come with us, too.  This year we got quite a bit of snow on Christmas morning and only about four families braved the falling snow and un-cleared roads to come to church, but of course, you know those families really wanted to be there, and there was something extra lovely about that small crew of folks singing carols joyfully together.  The organist didn't make it in the snow storm, so Nathan of course stepped in and pulled out all the stops in his usual fashion.

By the time we've enjoyed all these things -- stockings, breakfast, and church -- it's a perfect time for kids to have a nap or at least a quiet time.  And then, depending on the year and what our plans are, we either begin making our Christmas dinner or begin to get ready to go visit with friends if we're doing that.  Either way, we make time to open about one gift per person.  I try to make sure whatever gift that is for the kids is the sort of thing that they will enjoy playing with for the rest of the day, and that it's relatively portable if we're going to someone's house for Christmas dinner.

This year we spent Christmas afternoon and evening with some lovely friends in their beautiful home, and passed the day with spiced nuts and chocolates and egg nog and other holiday treats until it was time for dinner.  And that was Christmas Day.

I know - you are probably not wondering how to celebrate Christmas Day because you already do that quite well, no doubt, and you have your own family traditions already well-established.  Good!  But the main thing I want to point out about Christmas Day is that it will be "magical," no matter what you do.  I did not grow up attending church on Christmas Day, and in my family we opened all the gifts on Christmas.  And it was magical.  I loved it.  Consequently, I sometimes have a niggling voice in my head telling me that if we don't do it the way I grew up doing it, which I experienced as being so magical, well, then my kids might miss out on that magic.

But I am learning that that is not true.

Sometimes when people learn that I didn't grow up "doing Santa" in my family, they immediately exclaim with surprise, "But Santa is so magical!  You missed out on all the magic!"  But of course, every one of my childhood Christmases was delightful and magical and we didn't need Santa to make it that way.

In the same way, Nathan and I get to choose and establish traditions for our family, and they don't have to be what we personally experienced as children to be wonderful, and delightful, and magical.  And who is to say that purple isn't every bit as wonderful as red in the early days of December?  And yes, it actually is magical to spread out the gift opening across many days of Christmas!  In fact, my children savor the continuing anticipation, and as a parent, I'm always quite happy that we pretty much manage to avoid the post-Christmas crash and resulting doldrums.

The Other Eleven Days

I'm pretty sure most of what I'm going to say here can be summed up as: take the things most people do before Christmas or on Christmas Day, and do them during the twelve days of Christmas, instead.  Need I say more?  {But you know I will, anyway!}  Here are some of the things I keep in mind to carry us through the twelve days of celebration.  Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but keep your decorations up!

Feasting: During Christmastide, I say "yes" to a lot of things I usually say "no" to.  We have leftover cranberry coffee cake for breakfast for several days following Christmas Day, or cardamom bread with plenty of butter, and clementines that seem extra special simply because they were in our stockings!  We also keep cheeses and salami and other savory treats around and just generally enjoy eating more festively.  (That said, the girls and I have had soup and salad the last two nights, because we also feel better when we don't go completely crazy, of course.)

Christmas cookies: The kids and I bake cookies after Christmas, too.  This year I plan to do cut-out sugar cookies with them and invite some friends over to decorate them.  This is a great example of an activity a lot of people would do in the days leading up to Christmas, but it is okay to do it during Christmastide, instead!  And of course, cookies fall squarely into the above category as well -- treats we usually don't eat a lot of, but it can be fun to enjoy during Christmas time.

Stories: We keep reading from our basket of Christmas books.  And, having done our Jesse Tree readings during Advent, during Christmas I like to read the gospel accounts of the nativity over and over again.  We have quite a few different children's Bible story books to choose from {thanks to my thrift store shopping habits}, so we enjoy reading lots of different versions!

Christmas music: This works especially well if you've been embracing Advent hymns throughout the season leading to Christmas, so you aren't already sick of Christmas music.  We love listening to Christmas music during the twelve days!  My girls are running around the house singing O Come All Ye Faithful, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and all the other good ones.  Daddy puts on all our best records and we listen to everything from Bing Crosby to King's College Choir to The Nutcracker.

Activities and Events: Speaking of the Nutcracker, we went the day after Christmas this year and I would love to make that a tradition for our family, that going to a special Christmas event like that can happen in the days following Christmas rather than the busy days leading up to it.  {For both my husband (a church musician) and myself (a violinist), the days leading up to Christmas are somewhat busy of necessity despite the fact that I try to create a slow-paced environment in our home during Advent.}

Keep Celebrating: You've probably noticed that there's a little thing called New Year's Eve that happens shortly after Christmas.  This is, in fact, within the twelve days, so why not enjoy the opportunity to eat some good food and get together with friends and make that a part of your general spirit of festivity and celebration during this time?

Puzzles/Games: I'm currently enjoying working on a 1,000 piece Christmas puzzle and the girls love working alongside me.  This is my idea of the perfect kind of Christmas activity.  If you're not a puzzle person, it could be playing with a new Christmas game or toy together, instead - so plan ahead and make a good family game or puzzle one or more of your gifts for one of the days of Christmas.

Arts & Crafts: Along with the girls' usual affinity for drawing and painting and handicrafts, during the days following Christmas we try to work in something special.  For example, this year they received unpainted wooden nutcrackers in their stockings that they get to paint themselves.

Giving Days: I came across this idea from a few different people online and we are doing it with our kids this year.  They each get their own "giving day" where they get to give the majority of whatever gifts they have selected or made for others (if they haven't already been eager to give a particular something before their "Giving Day," which would be okay, too).  They also get to do acts of giving to the family, like helping choose and make breakfast or another meal, and, since my kids are still quite young, I'll encourage them to make or draw something simple to give to family members.  {n.b.: I thought about giving myself a Giving Day as well, but I couldn't quite think of what I would do differently on that day in addition to the things I already do.  And then I realized that every day is a mama's Giving Day, ha!}

Shopping: Now if you've already "shopped til' you dropped" in the days leading up to Christmas, you probably neither want nor need to do this.  But if you happen to be like me, and skipped the malls and the busyness and even the craze of online shopping, well, it can be kind of fun to take the kids on a spin through the after-Christmas sales at Target or someplace!  Let them help choose gift wrap or gift tags for next year, or pick out a special ornament to add to the tree.  We did this last year with some good friends and had a great time.  Some of the holiday foods were also deeply discounted, and this is going to be perfect for you, because you know that Christmas isn't over and you're still celebrating!  So pick up that bag of cheddar popcorn or that tin of peppermint hot cocoa!

Follow the Star: We have one small nativity that I kept set up in its completion throughout Advent down at the kids' eye level.  I wanted them to be able to see and touch the figures and see it all together.  But then we also have a beautiful peg doll nativity set made by my talented friend Erin of My Pretty Peggy.  That nativity we set up in the wooden barn frame my parents made for us several years ago, and while the animals have been waiting in the barn since the beginning of Advent, we didn't add Mary and Joseph until Christmas Eve, and then late that night, I tucked baby Jesus into the manger so he would be there on Christmas morning.  But our wise men still aren't there!  The day after Christmas a star appeared somewhere in our house - a small glittering star I taped to the wall in a corner of our music room.  I sent the girls, with wise men in hand, on a hunt for the star.  When they found it, they got to place the wise men near it.  Each night I move the star, and as they find it, they move the wise men to follow it.  A friend shared this idea with me and I love it!  The girls are having a lot of fun, and it's a good daily reminder of Christmastide and of Epiphany approaching.

Gather with friends: You can invite good friends or new acquaintances or anyone you like to join you in many of these things.  I am hoping to incorporate more time with friends into our twelve days this year -- and hoping to grow closer relationships with others who are living somewhat liturgically, as well.  And note that this kind of gathering doesn't have to be stressful or fancy -- Christmas cookies and hot cocoa might be just the thing!  Or switch it up and have a salad night, ha, if you're all in a sugar coma and longing to eat something fresh and healthful.

Twelfth Night: This year for the first time I am planning to host a Twelfth Night party.  This is not a tradition I grew up with, but I had been pondering the idea of doing one, and then the very day I mentioned the idea to some friends, later that day I found that Leila Lawler, whom I look up to as a sort of beacon of creating a beautiful and meaningful family life, posted this: Restoring the Culture with Twelfth Night Festivities!  {She also has a post about celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, which you should read, too.}  So, I think it is meant to be that we shall do this sort of thing this year.  And Twelfth Night also falls on a Friday this year, which is an excellent time for a party.  I'm thinking we'll chalk the door and have king cakes {with a hidden bean, of course, the finder of which will become king or queen for the night}, and play games, and eat good food and drink wassail and sing carols one last time as we say goodbye to Christmastide and hello to Epiphany.  I'm excited about the idea and am hoping that some friends will want to join us.

Gifts: Of course, there are the gifts.  We have never made a hard and fast prescription for how the gifts ought to unfold, but I can tell you that it is actually not hard to have gifts that spread across twelve days, by the time you have a gift or two from grandparents, and sibling gifts to one another, and perhaps gifts from aunts and uncles as well, and of course, gifts from us, the parents {we usually do about three gifts per child, although it's flexible from year to year}.

This year I thought I wasn't really going to buy anything for the girls, as I had been storing away little treasures I found at thrift stores over the past year, hiding them in my closet.  When December rolled around, I found that I could just "shop" from my closet and I had lovely gifts I knew the girls would use and enjoy and cherish.  But then a few days before Christmas I found myself in Savers {dropping off donations, and then distracted by looking around as tends to happen to me at thrift stores!} and I ended up buying a few more things: a lovely tiny Christmas doll for Nell, wooden buildings and road signs and cars to add to Ree's collection, board books for Molly, and a pair of shoes for Nell and a dress for each girl.  They were all things I might have bought anyway, even if it weren't Christmas, but this is perfectly in keeping with my philosophy -- it's okay to make an ordinary thing such as a practical pair of shoes in perfectly beautiful condition into a special gift.  This is an essential aspect of celebrating the twelve days while keeping things simple and non-stressful!  Just like the simplest of things during Advent can become our special thing for the day with the right introduction and mood, so too can doing a jigsaw puzzle or receiving a new-to-you dress become a special Christmas thing.

{n.b.: you may want to clue in extended family that you're doing things this way, so they aren't surprised if you haven't already opened their gifts on Christmas Day.}

So between gifts, cookies and puzzles and games, a few gatherings with friends, The Nutcracker, good books and music, and a few other little things {I've promised I'll paint their toenails red tomorrow}, we really enjoying spreading Christmas out across the twelve days.

* * *

You know how that Danish word hygge has become quite popular in recent years?

Well, that's the feeling we're going for around here.

In between the naps needing to happen and the diapers needing to be changed and the laundry needing to be done... in between kids having their usual meltdowns over one thing or another and me going a little stir crazy from time to time... something as simple as keeping the Christmas candles burning and the Christmas mugs out within ready reach and the peppermint tea flowing steadily is going to give you that nice, cozy sense that it isn't over, you see.  There's more.  There's more to celebrate now, during Christmastide, and then there's more after that, too.  Because we get to observe each season of the church year, each with its own traditions and special celebrations, and we get to do it all year after year, orbiting around those most central of stories: that God became man, that he dwelled with us, that he sacrificed himself for us, that he wants to draw us to himself now, and that it isn't over.

The wonderful thing about the church calendar is that it is waiting with open arms to give you, whether as a parent or as an individual, the structure that you need to create intentional times and seasons in your life.  And I am finding that, if I do even just a little each year during these seasons to observe the things the church is calling me to observe, well, we will grow together as a family and grow in our knowledge and love of God.  It is so much easier than trying to start from scratch -- What should I read to my children? What verses should I teach them? What things should I do with them?  Do what the church is telling you to do right now.  It is the best of starting points.