Sunday, January 25, 2015

Big brother can’t quite grasp big news


Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag and we have outed ourselves as expecting parents once again, there is much to be done.
But before totes of newborn clothes and burp cloths get hauled out of the basement, first things first: Explaining the new baby to our 3-year-old.
It’s not that I thought my toddler would really understand. But I figured that the earlier we planted the idea, the easier time he would have adjusting to a little brother or sister arriving this summer.
The first attempt was pretty anticlimactic. When I said I had a baby in my belly, he blinked, turned around and started playing with his dinosaurs.
A few days later, I tried again.
“Do you want a brother or a sister?” I asked.
“… I want … a big brother.”
“Well, you’re going to be the big brother,” I said.
“No, I’m gonna have a big brother,” he replied.
“Sorry, kiddo. Short of building a time machine, that’s not happening.”
I occasionally tried again. The answers would range from “a brother and a sister” to “I don’t want a brother or sister.” Once he said the baby was going to hatch from an egg (he’s in a bit of a dinosaur obsession).
I decided to regroup.
Over the next few weeks, I went for a more subtle approach. I figured focusing on the novelty wasn’t as important as the fact that the new baby is a part of our lives now. The more I made it a certainty, the less jarring it might be when we bring him or her home.
“Would you like to give the baby a kiss?” I asked him one morning as I was getting him ready for daycare.
“Yeah!” he squealed and leaned in and kissed my belly. He even laid his head on my abdomen and tried to point to where he thought our new nugget was.
I thought it was considerable progress until he informed me that he, also, had a baby in his belly. He lifted up his shirt and asked me to kiss it.
Oh well, maybe when I start to look like I swallowed a beach ball, it might be a little easier for him to comprehend.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com or Twitter.com/@SentinelLeach.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Keeping hope through infertility not so easy


The road of infertility is often paved in disappointment and doubt.

You have to keep hoping that for all the effort you put into the process, that by some miracle, things will work out the way you want. And each time you realize another month has passed, it’s more and more difficult to rally that hope again.

Now, I’ve been going through this process for two years, after I figured out that things were not going to just happen as easily as they did the first time around. I’ve been to nearly a dozen doctor offices around West Michigan, been on several different types of medication, underwent abdominal surgery and given enough blood to operate a blood bank.

And each month, nothing changed.

My husband and I started quietly discussing the increasing likelihood that we might only have the one child, so we began to focus more on our toddler. He turned 3 last weekend and it’s been an amazing ride as a first-time mom.

He has taught me so much about patience, love and understanding. I know that having him in my life has made me a better person — a stronger, more compassionate person. Watching him discover the world through those big, blue eyes, I see wonders that my jaded, cynical side long ago had crushed.

I find myself marvelling at the joy of snow. We get so caught up in the dregs of winter and the ever omnipresent polar vortex from hell, but when you have a 3-year-old, he just wants to stomp his boots and feel the powder in his hands. He wants to feel the flakes dissolve on his tongue and figure out how to make a snowball.

He makes me want to slow down and appreciate all the beauty and wonder there is in the world, and even though I very much wanted to go through this entire experience again with a new baby, I began to accept — even embrace — that it was not to be.

And it made him that much more precious to me. It made me realize that I should savor every minute and appreciate every experience we will have with him. I remember seeing my tot perched on his dad’s shoulders as we watched Holland’s annual Parade of Lights and I said to myself, “This is enough. This is more than enough and I AM happy.”

It’s funny how life can be serendipitous that way — almost as if God was waiting for me to accept the plan he had all along.

I’m pregnant.

I found out the day after that parade, and it was the most beautiful moment I have ever had in my life, and I can’t wait to welcome this new life in early August. What more is there to say than that all of it — every single moment — was completely worth it.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com or Twitter.com/@SentinelLeach.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Avalanche of ‘stuff’ has me anxious to purge


Ah, it’s the winter holiday season again, you know what that means.
It’s time to clean my house from top to bottom, prepare to host the family for the annual holiday gathering, face the most stressful weeks of the year at work and prepare for my son’s impending birthday party (because I had the awesome foresight and planning skills to have a baby 10 days after Christmas).
Be that as it may, this year was not nearly as daunting as Christmases past. I was kinder to myself and didn’t hold myself to impossible standards. Quick, simple recipes allowed me to socialize more with my guests and shoving piles of unsightly junk from my house in an unused room was a major win.
Of course, after the big get together, the junk around my house was still staring me in the face, taunting me with its giant piles of miscellaneous objects. Seriously, my living room looks like a tsunami of packaging, toys and clothes struck unannounced over the weekend.
I keep trying to find places for the things, only for more to appear (where do I put 10 pounds of chocolate and candy we received from well-meaning loved ones?)
This is the time of year where I start getting squirrely about how disorganized my house is and every New Year’s Eve I make the resolution to clean up the crap. And, sadly, each year I fail.
I suppose I can call myself somewhat successful in that I seem to be managing the chaos. No one in my friends or family group has called “Hoarding: Buried Alive” yet, so I have that going for me.
But when you have a toddler who is constantly growing and has a voracious appetite for books and other toys, you constantly have an influx of “stuff” into your home.
Despite the urge to want to break out in hives each time I survey the crap strewn across my house, it softens the blow somewhat to see my nearly 3-year-old delighted with life. His favorite toy he got this year? … A simple flashlight from his aunt and uncle.
As I watch him tread slowly down the darkened hallway with his newfound treasure in search of slaying monsters, I let myself relax a bit … at least for a week or so.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com or on Twitter @SentinelLeach.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Toddler brain is tiny, but terrifying at times


“ROOOOOAAAR!!!!”
“Honey, please don’t scream in my face,” I said.
My 2-year-old reared his head back and threw up his arms in his best Tyrannosaurus Rex pose and screamed — louder this time — an inch from my nose.
It’s not the first time he has displayed some sort of new, unwanted behavior. In fact, we’ve been through pushing, biting, hitting, roaring and fibbing phases — sometimes simultaneously.
When I try to curb unwanted behavior, such as pushing, the shutters come down over those cute baby blues and a scowl that could slay a dragon appears. Once, as I calmly tried to say, “We don’t push our friends,” I barely had the last word out before that dreaded toddler response was screamed at me.
“NO!”
 Ah, independence. Ya gotta love it.
“Honey,” I said gently, “You need to listen to Mama.”
“NO!”
I read somewhere that as brain growth in toddlers is exploding, so is emotional development. That means these little guys are not only learning colors, numbers, letters and the like, but they are experiencing new emotions, such as frustration, fear, anger and disappointment.
The only problem is that they don’t have the self-regulation to control these emotions yet, so their baser instincts usually get the best of them.
One child psychologist wrote that this is why “toddlers are the opposite of civilized human beings.”
That would explain the sudden temper tantrums over seemingly benign things. And why sometimes I’m convinced demon possession is at play.
But how do I make his toddler brain understand that these behaviors are wrong?
Here are some useful tips I found on Parenting.com:
• Pick your battles: If you’re always saying no, the child will tune out your priorities
• Know your child’s triggers and remove temptations for unwanted behavior
• Be consistent in your reactions to avoid confusing the child
• Don’t get emotional: If you get angry, that’s all the child will see versus your message
• Keep it short and simple: Speak in short phrases so the child will understand (i.e., “No hitting.”)
• Give a time out: After repeated reprimands, put the child in a time out space for one minute per age
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com or @SentinelLeach #babyboom.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No needle is getting in the way of my dream


I am terrified by needles. Like sweaty palms, shallow breathing, I’d-rather-eat-shards-of-glass terrified of needles.
One time when my mother had to take me to urgent care, it took two orderlies to hold down my legs for them to get a blood sample so I didn’t buck myself right off the bed.
Now I put on a good show; I’m even able to carry on a conversation with a phlebotomist like a champ as she takes a sample. I, of course, have to avert my eyes and think of every distraction technique known to man in order not to freak out. Lately I’ve been trying to name all the NHL teams (I’m getting pretty good at it).
So when my fertility treatments recently advanced to the stage of giving myself daily injections, it was a bit of a concern, to say the least.
My doctor and the pharmacist gave me pamphlets and video links and all the things one needs to supposedly feel comfortable with this sort of thing. But, come on, who EVER feels comfortable sticking themselves with a needle?
So it was with barely contained panic when I had to give myself that first injection. I held it over my stomach and froze.
My poor husband, who is even worse than me when it comes to this type of thing (seriously, if this isn’t already a classified phobia, it should be named after him), looked green.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, as I stared at the would-be injection site. “You might need to help me.”
He swallowed down what I can only imagine was a blood-curdling scream and said, “I will do it if you absolutely need me to.”
There was a moment then as I continued to stare at the needle, hovering inches above my skin. Could I do this? Could I overcome 36 years of terror? It’s not like I am diabetic and my life depends on this. But then another thought came: My life does depend on this.
I already know what I would do for my son, all the way up to taking a bullet for him. The thought of holding another baby in my arms is something I would go to the ends of the earth for.
And then I had my answer. I am capable of great strength, and this was no time to chicken out.
“This is for Baby, right?” I whispered, and poked the needle in.
And you know what? It didn’t hurt. At all. As in, I’m not deluding myself into thinking it didn’t hurt. It really didn’t. And I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. Suddenly all the doctor visits, blood draws, ultrasounds and injections don’t seem all that scary.
I can do this. I WILL do this and once I get that baby in my arms, every hurt in the world will have been worth it.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tricks, treats all part of Halloween lore


The magic of Halloween never ceases to amaze me.
It’s the one night each year where you can transform yourself, and the creative choices are limited only by our imaginations.
When I was a girl, my mother and I, along with my stepbrothers, would canvas our subdivision on a quest to fill our pillowcases full of candy booty. We eagerly anticipated the spooky decorations our neighbors would conceive and it was an added pleasure when said neighbors couldn’t identify us — that meant our costumes were awesome.
Even the parents got into the Halloween spirit — they fretted over costume ideas just as much as us kids. I distinctly remember my mother accompanying us one year in 6-inch heels, fishnet stockings and a wig that perfectly completed her Tina Turner look. She nearly froze to death, but that’s the sacrifice one makes for one’s art on this one night a year.
When we would return home, the candy audit was enacted with flourish. Piles of candy were dumped on the living room floor, and our parents carefully inspected our haul, occasionally deeming one piece or another “not meeting muster” and confiscating the offending treats.
Once we were back to our human selves, we packed up the car and drove to my grandparents’ house, where trick-or-treating was still in full swing. As we drove down the street every year, it always seemed to be the spookiest night of the year. The leaves were gone from the trees that lined the narrow street, and the branches from each side seemed to reach overhead, creating a tree tunnel that set the perfect tenor for the holiday.
Grandma and Grandpa, instead of passing out chocolate or candy delights, opted instead to hand out nickels. I thought that strange at the time — I mean who wants boring money over culinary delights — but now I recognize its brilliance (no wonder their house was one of the most popular on the block).
 Yes, Halloween is a holiday that is steeped in tradition, and these are treasured experiences I want my son, who is now nearing 3 years old, to have. I will make sure he has a costume each year, and I will dress up as well in a show of solidarity. All I ask is a candy commission.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A simple meal can make a tradition


Ever since I can remember, there was Sunday breakfast.
Some of my earliest memories are from the small Greek-American restaurant we faithfully visited every Sunday as a way for our family to reconnect.
There was the time I was 9 and tried ketchup on my scrambled eggs for the first time, mirroring the tastes of my stepfather. It turned into an intense, if short-lived, obsession.
Or the time when I was 7 and my mother discovered I was stealing coffee creamer and drinking the little cups in the bathroom.
Then there was the time I befriended a lovely elderly couple, the Parkses, who looked forward to my visit to their table every week so much that they gifted me with a quarter regularly.
After a decade, we branched out and began to try new eateries, but the core mission was still in tact: keeping the family in touch, regardless of how crazy life gets.
But a three-hour drive sort of puts the kibosh on my ability to regularly attend Sunday breakfast with the family, and it saddens me that my son will not be exposed to the same beloved tradition.
Then something amazing happened: My in-laws suddenly proposed to start up a Sunday breakfast tradition of our own. For the past few weekends, we have been getting together, taking turns to host at the three households that comprise my West Michigan family, and make breakfast for all seven of us.
It’s a new twist on my former habits, but it’s such a welcome addition to our lives, and I know it’s nothing but a great thing for my boy.
In a world where we all get caught up in hectic nature of work, school, house projects, etc., it’s amazing when a group of this size can coordinate some time to sit with one another, eat great food and talk about our lives.
This is an ideal that often is promoted in television shows, but something reality rarely lives up to. But, with a little bit of effort in making some time for each other, my son has a great shot at having many of his first memories much the same way I did — surrounded by people he loves, sharing in his highs and lows — one week at a time.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com.