Saturday, September 26, 2009

OUR PERFECT WORLD



I really do wish someone can 'tell me how to get to Sesame Street' (as the song goes).  Won’t it be divine to live on a street like that, where everyone is accommodating, taking time to help each other out, polite and sensitive to each others’ needs?...a place where there doesn’t seem to be any need for money because familiarity and friendship seem to be the only relevant currencies, and socio-economic stratification doesn’t seem to exist?...a place where even the ‘monsters’ are pleasant and immeasurably optimistic?

These days we all seem to need a dose of Sesame Street, or at least the idea of it.  Fall has officially arrived and though I’ve said multiple times before that this is my favorite season, it also signifies more challenges for me as a parent and a citizen.  This seems to be true more so now than before given the relatively new social concerns that confront us these days.

Up until last year for me, fall just signaled the need to avail of the regular flu shot for yourself and your children.  This year, you also need to worry about the H1N1 flu.  As if I’m not yet sufficiently paranoid, I now have to think twice (or more!) about taking my son out to some public play area this time of year.  I was hoping to be able to take him out more despite the colder weather and perhaps just visit some indoor play facility.  However, the thought of taking him out in public and him being with strangers, touching what every other child  has touched, freaks out the germophobe in me.  And speaking of public places, we now also need to worry about MRSA and other resistant infections.  Might I also add other concerns I have as a parent that have nothing to do with the season?...concerns such as my son contracting e.coli, salmonella and lead poisoning through toys.  Oh and of course there will always be the fear of child predators.   

Not only is there a fear of the diseases (both biological and social) themselves but also of the economic repercussions.  The painful truth is that this is just not a good time to get seriously ill because of the cost of health care particularly here in the U.S. (yet another social disease).  The current economic recession that the U.S. is barely trying to survive doesn’t seem to have fully ended.  Though experts say the recession has crested and that better days are inevitable at this point, no one can ever be too sure, too secure.  No American these days seems to be getting a full night’s sleep, secure in the thought that their job, their primary source of income would still be there the next day, and everyone here knows that ‘no job’ practically translates to ‘no health insurance’.  And how many people can truly afford health service in any shape or form without the aid of insurance?  That is the sad truth and much as I hate to admit this, I have never felt so economically insecure in my entire life…not even when I was living in the Philippines.

Let’s add one more variable to our never-ending equation for inducing modern-day paranoia…terrorism.  Just this past week, Homeland Security elevated the security alert in Chicago and warned that Al-Qaida may target public places such as hotels, stadiums and mass transit systems.  Come on!  Can they challenge my ontological security any further?!!

I am willing to bet that today, by far, is the most difficult time to be a human being, let alone be a parent.  It is particularly in this milieu where, perhaps more than ever, we find forces beyond our selves impinging on our daily lives.  We not only need to constantly contend with forces within our immediate spheres but also with global ones which we often feel we don’t have much control over. 

What I just wrote above may seem familiar to those who have read C.W. Mills’ ‘Sociological Imagination’ (S.I.).  Simply put, this refers to a way of thinking, a ‘quality of mind’ as Mills calls it, that allows someone to see the interconnections between ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’.  It is a frame of mind / a way of looking at the world or events as intersections of the personal and the social / the private and the public.  It is the ability to understand your biography as intertwined with history.  In these insecure and overwhelming times, one cannot afford not to possess such a quality of mind.  It should be common sense to realize that everything creates a ripple effect.  You are part of the world, just as the world is as much a part of you and your daily life, whether you like it or not.

Though that thought---that each of us and everything in the world are more connected than we'd like to acknowledge---may seem daunting to some or just plain bad news to others, there is immeasurable reward in embracing this.  Not only does it humble all of us, it also underscores the fact that we are all not as insignificant, nor inert as we perceive ourselves to be.  Other than having the power to act on things and even initiate changes, every issue that presents itself to us urges us to evaluate our values, both on a personal and societal level.  Whether we are confronted with 'issues' regarding our own sick children, or the way our society treats the sick in general, such crises force us to ask ourselves what is important to us, what our focus should be and what goals we want to work towards.  

It would be ideal if everyone agreed on core values and fought for those.  I don't think it would be such a bad idea to suggest that we all look to the utopic world of Sesame Street, where everyone is accommodating, taking time to help each other out, polite and sensitive to each others’ needs;  where there doesn’t seem to be any need for money because familiarity and friendship seem to be the only relevant currencies, and socio-economic stratification doesn’t seem to exist;  and where even the ‘monsters’ are pleasant and immeasurably optimistic.  This doesn't seem to be a bad place to start, don't you agree?   

  







Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taking Away the Binky : The 3 T's



I feel like I've accomplished the seemingly impossible!  No, I have not magically transformed myself into a 120lb woman.  I'm talking about weaning Noah off his pacifier (or the binky as we call it at home).  


Last Sunday, September 13, my Mom pointed out how Noah seems to have developed a slight overbite.  Being the paranoid mother that I am, I said, "That's it!  We definitely have to take the binky away....starting TODAY!"  Don't get me wrong.  I knew it needed more than just my will power and paranoia.  Note too that we have attempted several times before and failed.  We've always known that we have the perfect formula for disaster or failure.  Noah is such a strong-willed, not to mention, extremely loud cry baby, while I was never the patient kind.  I can't stand too much noise and non-stop crying most of all.  It just drives me totally insane!  When I tried taking away the binky so many months ago, Noah just ended up losing his mind and taking mine with him in the process.  In the end, I was the one who surrendered.  Admittedly, it was as if I was the one that paid ransom to Noah in the form of his binky, just so I can have my sanity back.  I was no match to my own son's stubbornness.

This time though, I knew it was going to be different.  It just had to be.  I knew I didn't want to spend a ton of money on retainers or braces for my son in the future.  Neither did I feel guilty anymore for taking it away from him mainly because I felt that NOW was the right time.  


To any parent needing to take on a similar mission, my realization is that the 3 T's are crucial:


TIMING
Noah is now 29 months old.  He is talking and understanding so much more at this point.  He's also beginning to be toilet-trained.  Given his development, I felt it was a good time to take away the binky without me feeling too guilty.  Most parents and  experts would say that ideally, you should take away the pacifier before the child turns 2yrs old.  For most of us parents who have had to deal with this sort of thing, we know that that is easier said than done.  When I tried before, I just ended up guilt-stricken and angry both at Noah and myself.  I was angry at Noah because I felt he was just deliberately making things hard for me.  And I felt self-loathe not only because I felt powerless and ineffective as a parent for not being able to enforce the 'ideal' / the 'rules' given by experts, but also because I felt mean and unloving.  This time though, it was clear that he is no longer a baby and I knew I wouldn't feel like I was depriving a poor little helpless and clueless child if I took away this one source of comfort.  In other words, I felt justified in doing this at this time.  


The other side of timing is doing this during the day and not just at night.  From mid-morning, we all talked to Noah about taking away his binky.  We kept telling him all morning that starting from that day, there would no longer be a binky and that he was already a 'big boy' and therefore didn't need it anymore.  Come nap time at mid-afternoon, when it was time to ask for the binky, the battle began.  Noah asked nicely, then incessantly, until finally the requests elevated to deafening screams as if being tortured and abused.  Had I done this at night time, I would not have withstood all the drama for fear of waking up the entire neighborhood.  But since it was afternoon, I had the strength to resist all sense of propriety and just let my son scream his lungs out.  I just did not care if my neighbors heard.  I knew I wasn't seriously annoying anyone anyway.  


After 40 minutes of non-stop screaming, rolling around in bed and head banging, he finally gave in to exhaustion and fell asleep.  Sure I was a bit more deaf than when he first started crying but at least I did not feel defeated.  He woke up another 40 minutes later and continued to cry for another 15 minutes but that was it.  When night time came and it was time to hit the sack, I think Noah was too tired to ask for his binky.  It seemed as if he has cried it all out of his system and that was it.  I felt triumphant!


TECHNIQUE
I have only two words for you...Cold Turkey.  I've tried the slow and subtle technique of cutting slits on the pacifier. Experts say it would make it less pleasurable for the child and therefore would make them want to give the habit up.  It did not work for my son.  Then I thought of snipping off the entire tip until Noah was just left with half an inch of the nipple to suck on.  He still didn't give up on it.  These techniques don't work for highly stubborn and desperate beings such as my Noah.  Only plain and simple full-time deprivation works and most parents I've spoken to know this.  Complete withdrawal is key.


TENACITY
Regardless of your chosen technique and timing, this I think is the most important factor.  You have to be THE parent.  You can't be his buddy, friend or nice baby sitter.  You need to be clear about your objective and stand your ground.  You need to focus on the bigger picture and know within yourself that this is the compassionate thing to do.  Like I mentioned above, I feel that it is easier to be persistent and consistent if there is less guilt to battle with, if you feel justified in doing this.  When Noah was so much younger and I wanted to take away the binky, after 15 minutes of crying and begging, I thought to myself, "Is enforcing what experts recommend worth my baby's suffering?  He doesn't even understand what's going on!  He's JUST A BABY!"  After this internal conversation, I just willingly surrendered and didn't think it was worth the struggle.  

This time around though, none of my old justifications felt right.  He's no longer a baby and I am being a good parent by doing this.  I was clear about that and there was nothing to stop me in enforcing what I set out to do.

Good luck to anyone out there who is still struggling with their toddlers when it comes to the pacifier.  Aside from my 3 T's, the only other piece of advice I have that we cannot lose sight of as parents is this....that all children are unique and that in the end, YOU are the REAL expert when it comes to YOUR CHILD.


   

Sunday, September 6, 2009

FAREWELL SUNNY DAYS




Tomorrow is Labor Day here in the U.S. and the long holiday weekend is done.  Most people get quite sentimental about this because other than just signaling the transition from summer to the fall season, it translates to interesting (translate: potentially drastic) lifestyle changes.  It took me quite some time to understand the extent of this. 


Coming from a country with only two not-so-distinct seasons, the idea of seriously planning your life around the seasons/ climate/ weather was foreign to me.  In the Philippines, particularly in Metro Manila where I grew up, there are only the wet and dry seasons.  The rains normally come around June and lasts until approximately September.  October and the rest of the months before June are considered the dry months for the most part.  Other than the need to anticipate rains and some flooding, the temperatures don’t vary all that much from day to day or season to season.  As such, I never really felt the need to plan my life, from the major activities to the mundane, around the seasons.  


When I was a kid in school, it was all about looking forward to the start of summer vacation come March/April, and then feeling sad about the end of that ‘season’ come June.  At the same time, June spelled out the initial excitement about going back to school and meeting friends, as well as celebrating the arrival of rains or storms which spelled out school closings or holidays!  Other than these highs and lows in my juvenile life, everything else seemed pretty constant.  The style of my clothes was pretty much the same the whole year round.  Leisure activities were also more or less predictable and not too seasonal.  You can just imagine the adjustment I had to go through during my first year here in the Midwest, particularly where I am where you can sometimes experience all four seasons in a single day! 


I’ve had to get used to more planning when it came to leisure activities or vacation plans.  For the longest time, my husband would keep telling me that vacations here need to be planned a year ahead and that people here take those vacations seriously, especially if it’s during the summer.  And speaking of summer, I never understood the elation that Americans feel when the sun starts shining and days get warm.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit perplexed every time I heard someone getting excited over the thought of barbecue, picnics or the beach.  I’ve always had to remind myself that where I am now, you only really see the sun and feel its heat for only half of the year….if you’re lucky.  (No wonder anti-depressants are so popular here, but let’s save that for another blog, shall we?).  On the reverse, I also remind my American friends and family that since I’m from a tropical country, it’s the cold that has novelty for me.  I always get excited and genuinely look forward to fall and winter!  I love how it gets cooler and absolutely adore the changing colors of leaves and the sight of the first snow fall of the year.   
   
I think a list is now in order.  Let me just share the few things I will miss, as well as the things I can’t wait to leave behind as we say goodbye to summer and greet fall with open arms:
I will miss ---
*driving on dry roads and not fearing skidding
*late sunsets that let you stay out longer
*my sandals and skorts
*seeing my son Noah in shorts and sleeveless shirts that make his thighs and arms absolutely irresistible to me
*boating and feeling the cool, comfortable breeze on my face
*sweet bi-colored corn and smoky ribs for dinner
*transporting Noah from the car to his stroller and through a parking lot without rushing and freezing to death
 *seeing the wonderful colors of flowers, especially of tulips, along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago




I can’t wait to ---
*enjoy late sunrises and have that ‘extra’ hour as we adjust our clocks in November to mark the end of daylight saving time
*be inspired by the poetry of the reds, purples, browns, oranges and all the wondrous colors of the fall foliage
*be all covered up again in sweaters, fashionable jackets, cardigans and coats….My body has neither preferred, nor attempted to wear, tank tops or any sleeveless shirts, in public.
*not see ants, flies and bugs that bite when I’m outdoors
*forget about pedicure and just have my feet celebrate comfortably in my boots
*welcome the new season of all my favorite t.v. shows back in my living room:  CSI Las Vegas, Medium, Lost, How I Met Your Mother and other new interesting shows the networks are launching
*see Noah wear a bonnet that emphasizes his chubby cheeks
* play in the snow with my family


There are a lot of things to hate about the colder seasons but to an almost 36-year old person who spent 30 ½ years of her life in the tropics, you can say that I am just a kid looking at the same old Midwestern things but with fresh new eyes.  How exciting!