Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Baby Humpback Washes Up Near My House

On Wednesday afternoon last week, a dead baby humpback whale washed up on a rocky part of the beach near my house. This caused quite a stir, as one can well imagine. The body of the whale drew a crowd, with people stopping by the side of the road throughout the day to view the unusual and sad spectacle.

I joked with my husband that I hoped they got rid of it before it exploded. Roadkill is one thing, but whale entrails spewed across a major roadway was not something I was interested in encountering.

I was hesitant to go see it myself. While I've long since become relatively inured to roadkill, I'm still not one to view carnage with aplomb. But then I decided that a whale was no ordinary dead animal. This might be my only chance to see a whale up close, dead or not, and it was probably worth taking a peek. Besides if all these other people were happily whale-gazing, it couldn't be that bad, right?

I wasn't sure if I should let the kids look. We tend to want to protect our kids from disturbing or upsetting sights. The seven-year-old mentioned that everyone at school was talking about it and that many of his friends had gone to see it. Maybe it was the right thing to do, to let my kids have this unusual experience. And this was something we'd be talking about for a long time. "Hey, do you remember that time the whale washed up on the beach?" It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I decided I'd regret not taking the opportunity to see a whale up close.

We stopped by the side of the road on Thursday evening, after confirming that it had not yet been removed. The seven-year-old and 2.5-year-old wanted to get out and see it, so I left the five-year-old and baby in the car and took the others out to take a peek.

It was not at all gory, but it was sad. The poor baby was on its back, its neck and belly bloated from the gasses building up inside (my worry about it exploding was not, after all, unfounded), and with each wave, it was banged against the rocks. This poor, majestic creature was just another piece of flotsam. Why was it here? I wondered. How did it die? Was its mother looking for it? Was she mourning? I've read that whales mourn.

We looked for a few minutes with a few dozen other people, everyone with a camera or phone in hand to capture the image and the memory. Then we hopped back in the car and went home.

The next afternoon, my five-year-old declared that he actually did want to see the whale. I asked my oldest if he knew whether it was still there - he seemed to be in the loop, since everyone at school was talking about it. He said he didn't know, but the question was quickly answered as we headed down the road and saw that people were still standing around on the rocks and parking along side. I pulled over and got the five-year-old out.

To my chagrin, between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, scientists had been by to study the whale and perform a necropsy to see what they could learn about this whale and how it had died. They had pulled it farther up onto the rocks and most of the way out of the water, flipped it over, and cut it open. It was not as majestic or pretty a sight as it had been the previous day. I was morbidly curious about it, having never seen a whale cut open before (really?), but I am also not able to view these things with as clinical an eye as others. I worried that it would be upsetting to my son, but he didn't seem at all disturbed by it. He pointed out the tail and the mouth. I'm not sure he even realized that it had been cut open. (At least the release of gasses meant that there was no longer a danger of it exploding!) I later read that they had determined it was a juvenile female, about 25 feet long and perhaps less than two years old, and appeared to have experienced some trauma, but the carcass was already too decomposed to determine a cause of death. Too bad.

I knew they'd be towing it out to sea soon, so it could go to its proper graveyard and no longer be subject to the morbid interest of tourists and onlookers. I hoped it sank and rotted far, far from shore.

All-in-all, I'm glad we decided to go see the whale. I think I'd have regretted missing out. When something like this happens practically just outside your door, it's worth taking a few moments to appreciate the wonders - and sadnesses - of nature.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Kids are Sick at Night

The other night, my 2.5-year-old was coughing up a storm. I tried all the usual remedies - from Vicks on the feet to sitting in a steamy bathroom to giving him a dose of albuterol to a spoonful of honey (rejected) to sitting outside in the cool air to try to soothe the inflammation - but it was over two hours before the coughing fit ended. I suspect it was some combination of all of these efforts that eventually calmed the spasms. After the poor kid finally relaxed and was able to sleep, around midnight, I lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening. His bedroom wall adjoins ours, so I can hear him clearly if he does make any sound.

The baby was asleep beside me. The older two kids were cuddled together on the 5-year-old's bed, as they are wont to do, the 7-year-old snoring softly, more of a low hum than the buzz of a chainsaw.

I was tense, waiting for the hacking to start up again, for the thump of his sliding out of bed, the pit-pat of his feet on the wood floor, a "Mommy, I want to come up your bed." But I heard none of these things, to my relief.

I strained for the sound of gentle breathing, the rasping of a half-stuffed nose, the scraping of his water cup against the wall.

I was wired. On nights like these, all senses are on alert for signs of distress. My brain is seeking other avenues of comfort, cataloging the medicines available in the house, running lists of possible remedies, planning for an emergency room run or a phone call to an after-hours nurse line. I am calculating how much sleep is left to me for the night, deciding how badly I need it, figuring out what can be sacrificed the next day, just in case.

But, the extended quiet period continued. My eyes grew heavy. I forced myself to stay awake for a few more minutes, just to make sure. I resisted the urge to go check on him, buried the nonsensical fear that something was terribly wrong, reassured myself that an intriguing mix of bubbe meises (grandma's wisdom) and modern medical knowledge had relieved the coughing so he could sleep comfortably.

It was a while before my body and brain allowed me to drift off to sleep, and I was still half-listening for a new coughing fit to begin. In fact, I was very confused when I did hear someone cough, many hours later, but it wasn't the toddler. It took me a few moments to change gears and realize that it was the baby, cuddled up next to me, who had coughed!

I find that I am so attuned to my kids that I am the first to wake up and become aware when one is unhappy or uncomfortable, often before he himself even awakens fully. I hear the whimpering, the out-of-character squirming in bed, the unusual rhythm of his breath. I lie in bed, eyes open, wondering if and when I'll have to wrest myself from the covers and untangle myself from the baby to check on which ever child is in need.

I suppose that awareness of your kids doesn't end when they grow out of toddlerhood. I remember being 11 or 12 and upset about something late at night. I would cry softly in my bed until my mom would wake up and come to my room to find out what was wrong. I didn't go to her. I didn't call for her. But she always knew that I was unhappy and came to comfort me.

Knowing that I know when something's not right with my babies means that I can relax and sleep when everything's fine. I don't have to worry, because I trust my Mama-sense. Perhaps, one day, I'll be able to sleep deeply and unaware once more, but as long as my children are nearby, I'll have half an ear cocked in their direction, I'm sure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

As I Nurse You To Sleep, My Son

I love that you understand
what it means as I lay down beside you
and fiddle with my shirt
and brush your cheek with a bit of my skin

And you open your mouth
and you pant like a little bird
whose Mommy has just returned with
a juicy morsel.

You wiggle and wriggle and scoot
your whole body
your feet kick
your head moves back and forth
like a sonar pinging

Looking for...

Looking for...


And then you lunge at me
latching on
somehow both excited
and gentle

Your teeth do not but brush
the sensitive skin
Your lips settle
Your fist grasps my shirt
A foot digs into my soft belly

The quiet kah kah kah of swallowing
The rhythm of your jaw
The tongue flicking up and down
Up and down


Your eyes roll back in bliss
The same bliss I feel when I take that first bite
of cheesecake
or fudge
or sip a perfect milkshake on a hot summer day

Slowly your eyelids droop
Eyes open and close
Open and close

Until finally...


Your fist opens
The kah kah slows
Your foot slips from its perch
on my soft belly

Your tongue flutters
chin quivers
jaw relaxes

And you slip off

Eyes open once, briefly
Lips quirk in a contented smile
Then lids droop once more
Mouth closes
And you sleep.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On Running Errands Alone

On Saturday afternoons, my husband occupies all four kids one way or another and I have a half-hour guitar lesson. For that short time each week, I am kid-less. It is a healthy, rejuvenating half-hour for me. A half-hour in which I can focus on myself, my guitar, and the chords before me and not wonder if the toddler is getting into something he shouldn't, not have to break up shouting matches between my two oldest, not have to be interrupted to feed a crying baby. It is a half-hour all my own, and I treasure it.

Something interesting happened recently. I got to my lesson about 15 minutes early, accidentally (I over-estimated traffic). I was thirsty and needed to use the bathroom, and we needed a few groceries. Next to Guitar Center is a Trader Joe's. I parked the car, went to Trader Joe's, bought a couple of things, including a drink for myself, drank it, then went into Guitar Center, used the bathroom, and then went to my lesson.

For someone without kids, or someone who is regularly able to run errands without their kids, this doesn't seem at all remarkable. I mean, it's an obvious sequence of events.

But if you're like me and you almost always have at least one or two small children with you - or even three or four - you can understand why this was interesting. Normally, running any errand, whether it's to pick up a few things at the store, make a deposit at the bank, or run in to the post office, is a project. Depending on how many and which kids I have along for the ride, I need to plan my parking spot close to the door or the cart return, I need to wear the baby or put him in the cart, I need to hold at least two other hands, keep my eyes on the others lest they wander. I usually try to limit my errand-running to one or two per day. It can be exhausting.

No to mention that any trip to a grocery store inevitably involves requests for treats or a drink, various instances of "can we get this?", a trip to the samples table (at Trader Joe's), and potentially fights over who sits in the cart and/or who pushes it. And G-d help me if there are kid-sized carts!

And forget stopping in the bathroom. I'll just hold it until I get home.

If I forget to buy something on a trip to the store, oh well, we'll do without. If we need something in particular, I stack that errand with any others I may need to do. There's no "stopping in on the way to" or "just running out for"s in my life. I'm not complaining. This is just my reality right now. It has gotten easier in recent months since the older two can get themselves into the car without assistance and the toddler can at least climb into his car seat, although I do have to buckle him. It's gotten easier because the older two know not to run off or dawdle in parking lots. It's gotten easier because they can actually help me by grabbing things from the shelves, standing with the cart while I run to the other end of the aisle for something, and make the baby smile.

So, suffice it to say, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to run in to Trader Joe's, buy some stuff, and use the bathroom all by myself.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

No, We Have NOT Ruined The Next Generation!

Kids these days, eh? If you believe the blog posts that tend to go viral, kids these days are being raised to be worthless, useless beggars who won't be able to make it in this world because no one is teaching them how to take care of themselves, we don't give them any independence, and we don't let them take risks and learn to fail. We are ruining the next generation and, by extension, the world by raising dependent and needy kids who never want for anything, care only about themselves, and can't be bothered to so much as wash their own clothes, solve their own minor problems, or learn to manage their money properly.

Kids these days. All they want to do all day is sit in front of their computers, watch TV, and text. They've always got their noses buried in their iPhones, drink 64-ounce Cokes from McDonald's, and take pills to help them stay awake for tests. They're all fat and lazy. They're bullies. They don't know how to respect each other or adults.

It's funny, because when I'm driving around my neighborhood, I see kids out riding their bikes and scooters in the pleasant springtime afternoons. We go to the park and there are always other kids there swinging, playing ball, and going down the slides. Yes, some of them have iPhones. Yes, many have earbuds in their ears. But they're out there, running around, playing together. They invite other kids to play with them. They express concern when a peer is hurt. They help the younger ones climb up the ladder to the slide. They push their younger siblings on the swings.

I meet kids who hold doors open for me as I come through with my stroller or a kid on each arm. Polite and sweet children greet me and each other and introduce themselves. Kids share sand toys at the beach and cars and trucks at the park.

I see kids wanting to solve hunger in their communities. I see young people showing incredible sportsmanship. I see kids raising money to fight cancer. I see teenagers helping a stranger with special needs find his way home. I see high schoolers rallying to to give a sick friend the time of her life.

There was the boy at school who helped my son to the bathroom when he wasn't feeling well, then brought him to his teacher. There were the boys playing baseball in the park who invited my son to join them. There was the little girl in the sandbox who offered to share some of her sand toys with my sons so they could play with her.

How about the middle schooler who found an elegantly simple solution to help his school district and the federal government save hundreds of thousands of dollars? Or the young man who got into all eight Ivy League universities?

Instead of denigrating a whole generation, let's hold up these shining stars as examples for their peers. Instead of blaming young parents for raising a crop of moochers who won't do anything to advance humanity, let's celebrate families whose kids go above and beyond. Instead of bemoaning the selfishness of today's youth, let's rejoice in their compassion and generosity.

Tell me about children in your life who deserve recognition for kindness, respect, and accomplishments!