Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'm Raising Them in Decatur, Georgia.

Earlier this summer, we decided it was time to leave our high-rise condo life and seek out our next abode.  When we began our hunt, we couldn't ignore the fact that our next home would (hopefully) be filled with our own little campers.  This can be slightly tricky if you are a city dweller of Atlanta as we are, wish to remain in the city, and desire to send your kids to a good public school.  Sadly, the corruption of Atlanta Public School officials has made national headlines, graduation rates and test scores are low and crime and behaviour problems are high. There are some great neighborhoods in Atlanta and some wonderful elementary schools to go with them.  But by the time most of these children reach high school, their parents enroll them in private school.  We wanted a neighborhood that could carry our kids to their college years.

So what's a would-be young urban family to do?  City of Decatur.  The answer had been pretty obvious from the start.  This gem of a town has gone through tremendous transformation in the last 20 years.  From getting shout-outs in hip hop songs to earning a new reputation for its strategic development.  It is miles from Downtown, has a small town feel with big city amenities.  And the schools are great!  Every school this year ranked "distinguished" on the APY report.  The Washington Post ranked Decatur High #9 in the state (223 in the country) and the system is experiencing unprecedented growth.  Enrollment this year is up 9%, more than what officials projected.

In addition to the good looking numbers and programs, the city of Decatur is progressive in other ways that align with some of our personal values.  They've created farm to school programs that gets locally grown food into the cafeterias.  They've also launched a safe routes to schools program that encourages parents to walk or lead "bike-pools" with their kids to school.  Additionally, there is a ton of transparency and communication between the school administration and the community.  The Decatur High principal has his own blog and the Assistant Superintendent makes himself available for interviews in local neighborhood fliers.

Then there's the testimony of the residents themselves.  Every Decaturite I've met is absolutely and unequivocally passionate about the community.  This place is forward-thinking, big picture seeing, inclusive, and just down-right friendly.  I cannot wait to count myself among them beginning in October!

So, when I have kids, I will be happy to bring them up as Decaturites.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Will Brace for the Battle of the Birthday Parties

There's nothing I love more than throwing a party.  My wedding registry was littered with everything you could think of for the entertainer.  I was thrilled to receive every piece of china and serving ware, from chafing dishes to chip and dip sets.  But more than getting these incredibly generous gifts from friends, I love getting to use them.  When it comes to hosting a party, I take on every imaginable role: planner, chef, decorator, graphic designer, DJ, server, etc.  And I'm a sucker for a theme!  If you want more proof, check out the wedding shower we hosted for our friends earlier this year here.

Tensions run a little high between my husband, Kevin, and me during the planning and setting up stages of the hosting process.  My party plans are always highly ambitious, usually calling for complicated gourmet recipes and custom signage and decorations.   Kevin becomes a parrot:  "K-I-S-S!  Keep it simple, Susan."  Sometimes, he'll throw in "This is too expensive." His other favorite word in our party planning dialogue: "No."  

This is only slightly problematic now.  Honestly, I do need some resistance in my life or I really will get carried away.  Despite our clashing priorities, I think our parties always turn out great.  However, I think this dynamic is setting us up for some trouble once the first birthday party comes along. 

My nephew's first birthday was a wonderful little affair.  It consisted of immediate family only.  A gathering and a cake.  Kevin thought this was ideal.  That all kids' birthday parties should be that simple and that he'd hope we'd follow suit with our own kids, especially when they're at age too young to remember anything.   I think my first reaction was something along the lines of "Do you not know me at all?!!" Of course I'm going to be one of those mothers that comes up with some cutesy, not too mainstream, theme and custom design the invitations myself, and spend hours in the kitchen creating a kid-friendly but elegant menu of hors d'oeuvres.  I know, a ton of work!  But I never really understood the term "labor of love" until I figured out how much I enjoy cooking.  I can't explain the gratification I have in pulling off a successful event, particularly when it involves food that I've created.

Also, birthdays were kind of a big deal in my house growing up.  I loved that once a year, the very fact that you were brought into existence was celebrated in whichever way you desired.  And my mother always knew how to throw a great party.  In fact, I can recall the details of every single one to age five, including all the new birthday outfits that accompanied each fĂȘte.

For me, entertaining family and friends, is a mutually beneficial form of affection.  I can't say it's a completely unselfish act to cook for others, because I sometimes feel like I'm doing it for myself, given all the joy and pleasure I take from it.  But when it comes to children, I can't imagine a more joyful experience than giving them one day a year that reminds them how special they are while creating a lifetime of lasting memories.  I can already hear Kevin's rebuttal in my head, "You can do that without spending a fortune!"  I know, dear.

In the meantime, I know that when I have kids, I will have to brace for the battle over the birthday parties.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'm Keeping Them FAR FAR Away from Pit Bulls

While I am not a clinician or researcher by any stretch of the imagination, my work puts me in close proximity to some of the world's leading scientists.  I find myself at forums, symposiums, workshops, etc. where biomedical researchers share their knowledge, work, findings, and hypotheses.  While I usually understand only about 40% of what's being said, I am frequently fascinated and inspired by what these pioneers are doing for the good of humanity.  I frequent Wikipedia a lot more now than I ever have before, but I'm glad to be learning things outside of my discipline, even if it's mostly lessons in latin.

With that said, I found myself at Emory University's School of Medicine early yesterday morning for a pediatric technology and surgery research symposium.  I brought my laptop to work in case the terminology of the presentations became too overwhelming for me to understand.  I was pleased that I was able to keep up with most of the topics.  I did get a little lost during some presentations on stem cells and T-cells and isolating them and how they proliferate.  Even as I write this, I have no idea what I'm relaying. 

Well, there were a couple of presentations that really resonated with me, specifically one clinician's presentation,  "Pitbulls and Children: A Deadly Combination."  This clinician (meaning he is an M.D. who doesn't practice medicine per se, but mostly conducts research) decided to conduct a retrospective study using patient data from two years of children admitted to all of the Atlanta area children's hospitals with dog bite injuries.  You'll have to bear with me now, because I am terrible at remembering numbers and statistics.  (remember no where close to being a scientist.  could never master the numbers thing.) I know that I will misquote specific statics, so you'll have to take my word for it when I just go with term "majority."  So, their findings showed that children admitted with dog bite injuries, the breed that was responsible for the majority of the attacks were pit bulls.  (I think it's something like 60%).  And a child attacked by a pit bull had the most severe injuries, which was evidenced by some pain quotient physicians use and their length of stay in the hospital.  A child injured by any other dog averages a 3 day stay versus 7 days for children attacked by pit bulls.   Most pit bull attacks occurred in suburban areas and the overwhelming majority of the time (~80%, I think), the dog belonged to either a family member, neighbor, or friend.  

Unfortunately, his presentation featured some very graphic photos of injuries.  It was heartbreaking and disturbing for this sensitive, non-scientist person to see.  

I got a chance to chat with this presenter during the break.  This two year study was just the beginning of their work.  Now, they're conducting a prospective study which will allow them to gather more data such as socio-economic factors.  If I understand correctly, the end goal of this study is to draw some correlations to dog fighting and help influence legislation with regards to vicious dogs.  

I probably got to spend about 10 minutes talking to this doctor after his 12 minute presentation.  That's how long it took to set my mind against letting my future children near any pit bulls: 22 minutes.  Now, this is not a campaign against pit bulls.  I'm sure people have plenty of positive testimony about their personal experiences with this breed.  Allow me to give you some insight on my personality:  I am an excessive worrier.  I'd say that 75% of the time my thoughts are either in the past brooding over "coulda, shoulda, wouldas" or in the future fretting over hypotheticals.  (That should come as no surprise given the very nature of this blog.)  But I only have to hear of a tragedy happening once in order to fear that the same misfortune will surely befall me someday.  And my brain operates under the theory that if I allow myself to worry about something no matter how much the odds are already stacked against it of actually happening, then the less likely it will occur.  There is the flawed logic of me, the worrier.   

Just one photo or one story was all I would ever need to know that when I have kids, I am keeping them far far away from pit bulls and I won't care who they belong to. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Volunteering My Toddlers for the "No Fly List."

Babies on airplanes get a bad wrap.  We're all guilty of it.  We see a parent board an aircraft with an infant in arms and our anxiety levels immediately creep up.  Let's face it, flying itself can be uncomfortable and down-right panic-inducing for some people; add in an inconsolable crying baby in a confined space with no escape, and things can get quite unnerving or annoying, depending on your personal temperament. Or so, this is the perception people generally have when they think of a baby on an airplane.  I'm here to tell you friends, it's not the babies to fear or dread on an airplane;  It's the toddlers.  You know, the little people that have just recently discovered their own mobility on two feet.  Who constantly want to exert their independence but have limited communication skills.  (A toddler + limited entertainment options)  x  2 or more hours = a dreadful flight experience for all. 

I used to be concerned when I saw a baby come aboard any airplane I was on.  However, I've had quite a few flying experiences this year that proved my concerns to be completely misguided.   In my limited experience with children, babies cry when they are uncomfortable in some way.  And when they cry on an airplane, it really isn't that loud.  Their noises are easily masked by headphones.   For the most part, they can be consoled through feeding and eventually they fall asleep.  To me, a crying baby elicits sympathy for the parent.  On the other hand, a wild toddler garners contempt for bad parenting.  

My travels this year have taught me that having a toddler within ten rows of your seat will make your flight most miserable.  This is what I have learned about toddlers on airplanes:
  • They don't like to sit still.
  • They don't understand what the fasten seat belt sign means, nor do they care.
  • They don't respond well to forced restraint.
  • They scream much louder than babies and they seem to like to do it for fun.
  • They are much stronger than they appear, which is evidenced by the amount of force they use to jostle the seats around them either through full body banging or kicking. 
So, it's highly disruptive and annoying to have a crazy acting toddler on your airplane, but the frustration of the entire situation is exponentially compounded when said toddler is accompanied by a seemingly aloof parent.  One of my flights included a child that was completely calm and quiet until the Captain made us prematurely stow away all electronics due to turbulent air with more than hour to go in flight.   Once this child's DVD player was shut down, he was immediately in need of an exorcism.  He screamed and screeched for no apparent reason while seizing and banging his entire body around his seat, which unfortunately for me, was directly in front of mine.  I've never been at risk of being hit or knocked by the movement of the seat in front of me before.  In fact, it never occurred to me that it was a risk to be concerned about at all.  And mind you, no electronics.  No music to drown him out.  No peace for reading.  Just mounting irritation as the mother whispered in a hushed and much-too-calm voice, "No, Sam. That's not nice." All the while, he manages to throw some punches her way in between his seizing and screeching.  

It reminded me of my flight to Salt Lake City earlier this year and I watched another toddler continuously kick the back of my friend's seat with no attempt by the parent to stop or correct the behavior.  I think I would have rather been back on the Salt Lake City flight.  Despite the annoyance of getting your seat kicked, it was a much calmer scene.  

Handling toddlers is difficult, I get it.  I'm sure those parents felt all eyes on them and everyone within ear shot judging every parental move they did or did not make.  I guess the best you could do is to make an earnest effort to at least distract or entertain your child, or hold them in a way that keeps them from kicking the seat in front of them. Just do something that lets the people around you know you're doing everything you can to try and make it better. 

I can't imagine that the presence of my toddler-aged child is so completely necessary anywhere in the world that it would require them to board an aircraft.  I also would like to avoid the judgement of fellow passengers that my parenting efforts aren't enough to quell the disruption of a tantrum-tossing child.  Therefore, when it comes to travel, I will make other arrangements, be it driving, leaving my toddler at home with a family member or friend, or staying behind myself.  

From the time my child is walking until about age four, I will keep them on the ground until their behavior can be more easily controlled.  When I have kids, I will volunteer my toddlers for the "No Fly List."

Friday, April 15, 2011

They'll Be Potty Trained at 18 Months

One of the things I dread about parenthood is diapers and everything that comes with it.  I would definitely not be aunt of the year if it came down to diaper changing.  I avoid it like the plague that it is.  I can tolerate the number ones.  Once, I got stuck with a fully loaded diaper and I thought I was going to be sick.  The stench was so offensive and as I was changing it, I felt this lump rise up from the pit of my stomach and get lodged into my throat.  I became nauseated and I couldn't stop gagging as my eyes from welled with water.  It was as awful as I thought it was going to be.

I hear parents joke about disgusting bodily fluids becoming projectile and getting in the worst places, like in mommy's hair or on daddy's rented tux.  I have to say that I am not amused by these stories.  It completely grosses me out.   Some claim that it comes with the territory, you're earning your stripes, or that you get used to it.   Parents like to downplay how horrible something like this is.  I don't think I'll ever stop being disgusted by someone else's excrement, even if it is from my own child.

Of course, I will have to learn to cope with this at least for a little while.  I guess I technically could move out to a farm somewhere and let my children wander around without anything on and teach them to squat in a field or something and just hose them off when they're done.  Alas, I do like city life and this condo will be really hard to sell.  So, I guess I'm stuck with learning to cope and potty training them as soon as possible.

According to my husband's family legend, my husband was potty trained at 18 months.  I don't think I knew this was even possible, but now that I know it can be done, it's on.  I will buy up every book and employ every technique I can to minimize my exposure to anything becoming projectile that shouldn't.

So, when I have kids, I will potty train them at 18 months.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Will Send Them to Camp

Anyone who has known me since childhood shouldn't be surprised by what will follow in this post: a full out gushing about my summer experiences at Camp Juliette Low.

I was first introduced to Camp Juliette Low through a cousin who I accompanied to a Camp Reunion at the age of nine.  It only took a very short weekend to spark a love and fondness for a place that remains with me to this day.  I don't remember the details on how I sold my mother on the idea of sending me back the next summer as a camper, but whatever methods I employed, I am so glad it worked.  Camp was expensive, but the experience was priceless.

When I began at CJL as an official camper, it was the summer of 1990.  We were sorted into one of four units by our age group.  A unit consisted of approximately 28 girls and 4 counselors.  The unit as your at camp homestead, featured a cluster of tents, four girls to a tent, generally arranged around the centrally located counselors' tent.  Our tents were perched upon large wooden platforms with army-like canvas that provided more than adequate shelter from the rains.  The tents remain, but in my early years as a camper, the American Camping Association had yet to frown upon latrines and cold showers as bathroom facilities for young girls.  That's right, no flushing toilets.  I promise, it was not as traumatic as it seems.  In fact, I would regard it to be much less disgusting than today's port-a-johns at your local concert or festival.

As I write this, I am beginning to realize that I could spend this entire post just describing the set up and facilities.  In an effort to make this as succinct as possible, I will move on.  The all girl's camp is nestled on top of Lookout Mountain.  Trails and paths wind throughout the property to the lake, the swimming hole with the sliding rock and swinging bridge, the soft rocks, which I think my words would fail to capture the magic of, woods, and open fields.

Days at camp pass far too quickly in a whirlwind of daily chores and kapers, activities (such as archery, sailing, horseback riding, arts and crafts to name a few), incredible home cooked meals, unit time, swimming, and campfires at night.  All of this happens to the camp's own personal soundtrack boasting a choir of angel voices which happen to be those of all the girls there.  The culture of song and singing that is so inherent to camp life is almost a phenomena of camp living on its own.  We had songs for EVERYTHING and we sang all the time.  We had unit songs we sang on our way to meals or activities.  We sang all of our blessings for our meals.  We sang while we were doing our chores.  We even had a singing competition at the end of the session.  I sincerely believe that the gift of song and music in some magical way fostered the sense of sisterhood and friendship that had an ability to grow at an exponential rate.

Friends at camp are made so fast.  As a young girl, I guess I didn't think much of it.  Now that I am grown, I am kind of amazed that intense bonds form between friends in a matter days.  Some of these bonds still exist today.  One of the things I loved about camp was the friends I made and only got to see year after year each summer.  We would keep in touch throughout the school year with letters.  Remember pen pals?  I regret to say that I've lost touch with a good number of girls that made my camp life the amazing experience that it was.  Fortunately, I can at least keep up with them now through Facebook.  :)

Outdoor life was pretty familiar for me before I started camp.  My parents would take us camping, so the rustic atmosphere of camp life wasn't completely foreign to me.  CJL really fostered my love for the outdoors and I think her primary way of doing this was through lessons in outdoor skills.  Even at the tender age of 10, I learned to safely use an ax to chop wood, collect firewood, build a fire, cook a meal on said fire, extinguish it properly, and make it appear as if I was never there.  I also learned knot tying, lashing (creating things and structures with only rope and sticks), and how to pee in the woods.  These activities were exercises in team work and confidence-building that have remained with me throughout my life.  There is something quite empowering about a 10 year old girl learning essential life survival skills.

CJL created a sisterhood of young girls and women in which a strong character and spirit of community were esteemed and celebrated.  Being a young, growing girl can be wrought with the pain of social peer cruelty, self-doubt and self-conciousness.  For some reason, CJL seemed to be an escape from all of that for me.  I never found those dynamics among my peers at camp.  In fact, I always felt like I was the best version of myself during my days at CJL.

My husband and my friends have heard my drone on and on about individual stories and excerpts of my camp life that support all of my sentiments.  In fact, I think I could write an autobiography on the impact of a camp experience for a growing girl, but no amount of words could do justice to the essence that is just CJL.   I think you have to experience it for yourself.   I fear my words now fail to truly capture what it means to grow up through CJL.  So I will close with this:  CJL remains one of the most meaningful and influential experiences I have had in my life.

I hope that if I am blessed with a daughter, that she will share the same love and affinity for Camp Juliette Low.  I know I need to prepare myself now that she may not adore it to the same degree as me, and rest assured I will be heartbroken if she doesn't.

At the very least though, when I have kids I will send them to camp.  Even if it's not my beloved Camp Juliette Low and even if it is only once.

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Is What I'll Tell Them About Why I Started This Blog

I have always been a couple of years behind my friends when it comes to transitioning into the next stages of life.  I guess this started in college.  I probably really wasn't ready to be on my own at 18, but that's a story for another day.  Long story short, I didn't graduate college until 24.  I didn't become interested in settling down and becoming more responsible until about 27, and I didn't get married until I was 30.  On a global scale, I probably am among the average.  In comparison to my friends and family, I'm a little behind.  I am perfectly okay with this.

With that said, I am not completely ready to have children.  I will celebrate my first wedding anniversary next weekend and I am really enjoying my life as a newlywed.  I feel like we have a very limited time to enjoy each other as husband and wife in a way that is much more simple now before kids are brought into the picture.    Currently, I want to focus on building a strong marital foundation and continue learning about my husband in ways that were impossible before we were married and living together.

Although I am not ready to actually have a baby yet, I am interested in parenthood in ways I've never been before.  For some time now, I have been devising plans and ideas of what kind of mother I want to be and what kind of people I want my kids to grow up to be.  I think it's pretty natural.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that most parents have all done the same.  I've always enjoyed writing, but I've never really had anything to write about other than my own life and let's face it, this blog is much more interesting than my personal blog.  At least, that's what my blog statistics are telling me.  I figured that people might take some of things I write personally.  I wrote about this on My About page.  Another thing my blog stats tell me, that people haven't read it, which further justifies the reason for this post.

My whole intent here is to write a blog that interests and amuses people and creates conversation around a topic that I am obviously very interested in.  I want to remember all the things I say now.  What I write are genuine thoughts and opinions and in 10 years, I will be curious about what I thought and felt about these things now.  Hopefully, in the future, it will help me keep perspective when I encounter non-parental types like me who have all these fabulous ideas and notions about a life experience they haven't had yet.

As I've watched my friends and family members enter into parenthood one by one, I've observed a very natural occurrence:  parenthood is like its own fraternity. I've watched my own friends become closer and bond with each other over their children.  Honestly, parenthood can be socially divisive in some ways. Children are a natural and frequent topic of conversation.  Parent-only friends get together for play dates.   And let's be honest with ourselves, no one likes to be left out of anything, well, at least not me.   So, this blog for me, even though I am on the periphery with my parent friends, allows me to engage in some of the dialog about parenthood in ways that I otherwise wouldn't be included in.  Even though I don't have kids, I am interested in them.  

I know I've started something on a very touchy subject.  People take parenting very personally.  I imagine that you should. I don't need kids to know that being a parent is a really hard job.  I also realize that most parents are doing the best that they can.  Some of my thoughts or opinions may seem critical and judgmental, but I don't see anything wrong with that.  This is why:  criticism and judgment have their place in our society.   I think they are essential tools in helping us observe what's going on around us, categorize how we feel about certain things, and thus, allow us to develop and strengthen our own personal value systems.  So yes, I sometimes cannot decide what I will or won't do without observing what some parents are doing and figuring out where it aligns with my ideals and priorities for raising a kid.  But please make no mistake, if you do something that I write against, I do not think less of you as a person (unless you are letting your kids run wild through a restaurant.)  Rather, I am merely putting an idea out there and offering it up for rebuttal.  I learned a lot from my post about kid leashes.  Some of my readers gave me perspectives I had never even considered.  I welcome that dialog and conversation.  It allows my opinions to evolve and gives me a better understanding on parental behavior and perhaps, the world at large.

My aim in my writing about these topics is mostly to entertain. I thought it would be amusing for myself and others, if I documented these thoughts.  I am well aware that, well I'll let Robert Burns take it from here:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

I know I am taking a big risk with this blog.  I am offering myself up for what could be future humiliation and certainly, the same criticisms and judgements that I've unleashed on my readership.  What has surprised me most about this blog is the sense I get from people, that they can't wait for some kind of revenge that will naturally occur once I do have kids, just because I've journaled my opinions and ideas about parenthood without actually being a parent.  I reserve the right to change my mind about anything I write here and for some reason, I imagine that if I do change my mind, there will be readers out there who will think they've clinched some some of victory at my own admission of erroneous thought and will boast "I knew it! or I told you so!"  And that is fine if they do.  I will take all of that then the way I hope my readers take what I write now, with a grain of salt.

If you do not agree with what I write, I welcome you to offer up a counter argument and help me understand your point of view.  I regard myself as an open-minded person and I am happy to consider other ways of thinking.  My theory on this blog is that if you take anything I write personally, then you are taking me too seriously.

I hope you all will stay with me on this journey, not so that you can rub my face in my wrong words in the future, but so that you can find amusement in some of my naivety, and hopefully offer your own opinions and experiences to help shape and mold my ideas, and witness first hand (one day) the evolution of a woman to a mother.