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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

Clover  February 2013-March 2015

Clover
February 2013-March 2015

I am typing this post in the lounge area of the gym, hoping that being surrounded by strangers will help me to contain the tears of grief that sting my eyes and throat. So far, it’s working, but barely. Last week I had to make the hardest decision I have yet to make in my 40 years of life. I had to decide what to with Clover, our two year old dog, after she attacked Cooper the weekend that I was enjoying my first trip alone in over 9 years. Here’s what happened:

After we put down our almost 13 year old Rottweiler Shepard mix a little over two years ago, I knew I wanted another family dog. Because Bear had lived a long and happy life and right up to the tippy-top of her lifespan giving her size and weight (115 pounds!), saying goodbye was hard but still both her life and death were the best I could have hoped for as she fell asleep forever on the floor of our house as my husband and I cradled her. I missed her dearly but had no feelings of guilt or regret. It was inevitable and we only made sure it was peaceful and that she was not alone. Six months later, we adopted Clover from the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.

Clover was sweet and submissive but with a high level of stranger anxiety. She would bark continuously at anyone who came through the door or passed on the sidewalk. It was hard to break the trance, except with food. She was extremely motivated by food and would act like a trained circus dog if a treat was involved. This seemed great for training, however, we soon learned that this did not necessarily mean should would do any of her tricks if something edible was not involved.

To make a long story short, Clover’s behavior became more and more unpredictable. After over a year of living with us, she became more aggressive towards our eleven year cat. At times she would give the cat a wide berth and at others she would corner her, snarling and snapping until someone intervened. She had also started snapping at the children…not for any specific reason, just if they got in her space when she was resting and she would even bite me if she had found a string cheese someone had dropped and I went to take it from her. I knew things were becoming problematic. I did some searches on the internet and researched little dog syndrome—when little dogs are overly coddled and held by their owners and then become snappy at anyone who approaches “their person.” This didn’t seem to apply. I certainly didn’t walk around with Clover in a purse or even holding her. She did sleep in bed with us and was allowed on the couch. But no matter how strict or lax we were on those kinds of rules, her obsession with food continued, as did her dislike of people she didn’t know. She would even run out of the house and chase after people walking by.

While I was in New York doing work with my nonprofit, a life-changing event happened, and thankfully my husband didn’t tell me about it until I was home from my trip. He told me that one of Clover’s bones was in the middle of the living room floor. She wasn’t chewing on it and wasn’t even near it at the time. But Cooper walked over to pick it up and she launched herself on him from across the room, grabbing onto to his hand and not letting go, like a police dog practicing on a dummy arm. Even when Burton grabbed her, she didn’t let go immediately. As he told me the story, a black pit formed in my stomach and the post-trip elation I had felt vanished. Though Clover didn’t break the skin, Cooper did have several teeth scrapes on his hand and wrist. But I kept picturing him pretending to be a dog and picking up the bone in his mouth. What would have happened to his face? I felt sick. And oddly, I never felt a bit of anger for Clover. I felt very, very sad for her because I loved her so much and so did the kids. But something had changed and there was no going back.

The rest of the week was a gut-wrenching blur.The weight of responsibility to do the right thing for our kids and for Clover left me without an appetite or the ability to think of anything else. I looked at rescues that might take her but not being a “pure bred,” many wouldn’t even consider her. Several rescues only took shelter dogs on death row and would not take owner-give ups. Still others would not take dogs that have bitten. And I knew, based on her stranger anxiety, Clover would never be a good candidate for re-homing, whether from our house or a foster home she had settled into.

Finally, I talked to our vet and we discussed the options. We both worried she may be abused if she was adopted by another family who didn’t tolerate her nervous quirks around new people, or if worse, she snapped at someone. We thought of trying meds but when she checked her charts, we realized we’d already tried them when we first adopted her and they made her behavior worse. I knew we could not keep her with our children in the house and dozens of friends who come over throughout the year. I was crushed. I. Loved. That. Dog. She bit my child and I still adored her silly little face and her soft fur and the way she loved me. But my children came first and her safety came next. She would be traumatized by being abandoned at the Humane Society and that was the only option we had left. I couldn’t do it and imagine her sitting in a cold kennel alone and wondering where we were and left to an uncertain fate.

The vet and I decided we would put her down right then and there because I knew I couldn’t take her home and spend “a last night” with her, counting down the hours. The pain would be more unbearable than it already was. I held her and fed a treat with some medicine in it to help her relax and then the vet gave her a shot to sedate her. She snuggled on my lap as I sobbed, racked with guilt and fear, not knowing if I was doing the right thing but with the full support of the vet who had watched us struggle with training and socializing her for months when we first got her. Finally, she fell asleep. The vet asked if I wanted to stay for the final shot, but I had to leave to pick up Cooper and she had spent her last conscious hour in my arms. I knew she wouldn’t realize if I was there or not for the very end. I was so exhausted from the week of uncertainty and anguish that I left her sleeping peacefully, cradled in a towel by the vet, who she would never would have allowed to get near her had she been conscious. Euthanizing a healthy, vibrant little dog who brought our family so much joy, despite her unpredictable behavior, was the most terrible choice I have ever had to make and I will probably always wonder if I may have made a  mistake and if there was something I could have done better to have prevented this outcome.

I miss you, Clover, and I know you never meant any harm. You weren’t perfect, but none of us are and I loved you every bit as much as I did my dog, Bear, who never hurt a fly. Love is complicated like that and if it wasn’t, this would have been a lot easier.

Thanks for hearing my story.

Liza

First Day of School,  Our third-grader and first grader!

First Day of School,
Our third-grader and first grader!

As the mother of three children, two of whom are now in early grade school, I’ve noticed the trend of parents keeping their children home another year. Lauren, our first child and now a third grader, was born on October 7th. The kindergarten cut-off for our school district is September 25th. Lauren was a bright, active and very extroverted toddler and was the same as a preschooler. I couldn’t keep her busy enough on our limited budget for preschool and five-year old dance classes. Had she been been born two weeks earlier, I would have gladly sent her to kindergarten. In hindsight, was it better to keep her home the extra year, even though I didn’t have a choice, so that she was older and therefore better able to meet school age expectations? Probably. But I still would have sent her.

Lauren was, however, not the oldest in her class. Not by a long shot. There were many kids, both girls and boys, who had been born right around mid-August, who made the cut-off for kindergarten by well over a month, but who didn’t attend kindergarten until the following year. This trend has not worked out so well for my April baby, Kate, who wasn’t “close enough” on either side of the cut-off to keep home for another year or not. Kate, now in first grade, has classmates who were born in August while she was born in April of the following year. What concerns me is this: the educational milestones that children are expected to meet in kindergarten are a far cry from what they were when I was a kindergartner in 1979. I remember coloring and singing and playing house and doing some work with letters and numbers. But it wasn’t until first grade when I remember learning to actual read—“the cat sat on the mat.” Now it seems that kids are practically expected to be reading at that level when they enter kindergarten. As a July baby, I was exactly five when I started kindergarten and six when I started first grade. But my five year old started kindergarten with kids who turned six before kindergarten even started. Looking at what is expected of children now, I can honestly say, I wish we’d had that option. But it is what it is and I have a feeling that as the kids get older, the gaps start to close. Babies change so much from one month to the next and until they are seven or eight, six months to a year can mean eons of change emotionally, physically and socially as their little brains and bodies continue to grow.

Two years ago, when Lauren was in first grade, she was reading at “grade level.” Even in the two years that have passed, what would have been grade level then, is considered “under grade level” now. So Kate, even though she is now reading at the same level Lauren was in first grade, is considered below grade level because the bar has been raised. I absolutely believe in giving our children a good education and it saddens me how far the United States has fallen behind compared to other countries. But here’s one of the problems: Grade schools are demanding more and more skills from our kindergarteners and first graders but all kindergartners come to school with different levels of preschool experience and some are much older than the other children. Some might have been in daycare, some might have been in a curriculum based school or even pre-K, some might have had a Waldorf background and some might enter kindergarten with no previous school experience whatsoever. We have private preschools and public elementary schools. With the higher expectations on kindergartners, it means some kids are more likely to be labeled as “under grade-level” right from the start. Is one option better than the other? I don’t know. But I do know that preschool is far from free, in fact, it’s pretty darn expensive.

Have you held any of children back from kindergarten even though they made the cutoff? Or do you wish you had? What are your thoughts on the expectations your school has of your young children?

Photo Credit: E A McKenzie

Photo Credit: E A McKenzie

You’ll never guess where I am as I sit and type this, completely uninterrupted with a pleasant white noise humming in the background and my water bottle and a few snacks sitting at my feet. I’m on a plane…(drumroll, please)…and I am all by myself! On Friday I flew direct from Denver to New York City for a quick trip and it’s the first time I have flown without a child in over nine years.

Living in Colorado but having all of our extended family and childhood friends on the East Coast means we have spent a lot of time flying back and forth across the country. Those with family closer by might do extended road trips, like I remember as a child.  Several times a year we would drive from Vermont to Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania or New Jersey to visit family and spend anywhere from two to four to eight hours in the car.  Since I’ve been lucky enough to be a stay home and do some free-lance work writing from the comfort of wherever I can set my computer, I’ve been able to travel quite a bit—as long as I bring the kids with me. Over the years that has gone from one infant, to a toddler and an infant, to a six year old, a toddler and an infant, and so on and so on.

This weekend was my first weekend flying alone has been rather unreal. My luggage is light, my carry-on practically empty and I’m appreciating every single minute of sitting alone in this cramped seat. My flight from Denver to New York was delayed about 35 minutes before finally taking off. I was practically giddy with delight  that it was so easy. I found myself wanting to tell strangers how wonderful this experience was. “I don’t mind just sitting here on my computer, or reading (reading!!) or even just…sitting! It’s so RELAXING! And EASY! How could anyone ever complain about flying when they aren’t traveling with children?”

When I’m traveling with the kids, I usually spend a good deal of time bent at an unnatural angle with my head stuffed under the seat in front of me trying pull something out of my carry-on for Lauren, Kate or Cooper with one hand while the other holds onto whichever child is the current “lap baby.” I can get write this blog, I can snooze, and best of all, I can get up and use the restroom by myself without needing to nervously leave any children sitting alone for a few moments or worse, trying to cram them all into a dirty airplane bathroom with me all at once.

I was in New York for business (which is still sounds strange as I write it) doing some networking for my nonprofit Big Hearts Big Soles Inc. and I actually had the pleasure of bring shoes to the kids at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, New York. The faculty and students were friendly and welcoming and I got to hug a lot of new friends good-bye when I left. I met Nadia Lopez, the amazing principal of the school and even saw Vidal himself, dressed in a suit and tie, in person. Later that night, the friend from high school with whom I was staying, dragged me all around New York at night, to see the nights. At first I protested that I was a tired mom who needed to rest up before heading home to my children, but finally I gave in. I ended up feeling very grateful that I was able to walk around and marvel at a special place in our country, without worrying that I would lose one of my precious children if I focused on anything else for a moment.

On this flight back, I’m appreciating both the little things and the big things that I often take for granted. It’s so easy to do things without having all three of my kids being with me and I really appreciated being able to take a two night break. But I also miss them and I can’t wait to see their smiling faces in a few more hours and to wrap my arms around them and give them big hugs. As a stay at home mom, who often feels so busy and overwhelmed by parenting, that I feel like I can’t enjoy my children the way I think I am supposed to, this trip has been a gift to me in many ways.

Have you traveled without your children recently? How did you feel on your first time away from home?

Photo on 2-23-15 at 6.48 PM #3

“A tantrum or temper tantrum is an emotional outbreak, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, hitting. Physical control may be lost; the person may be unable to remain still; and even if the “goal” of the person is met, he or she may not be calmed.[1][2][3][4] A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech.”—Wikipedia

I have to admit, I chucked as I read Wikipedia’s definition of a temper tantrum because it’s so spot on. My favorite part is “even if the goal of the person is met, he or she may not be calmed.” This pretty sums up the inexplicable, incomprehensible, mind-bending and exasperating part of dealing with a child who is having a fit. Whether I am in the middle of a public place or in the privacy of our home, it seems I am often trying to prevent tantrums, stop tantrums that could not be prevented or dealing with the aftermath and the self-doubt that occurs after it’s over. If I give in to the tantrum, I feel like I am enabling bratty, spoiled behavior and that my child is doomed to grow into Veruca Salt. Or worse, if lose my own temper, but I don’t give in, have I scarred my child with my own anger and been a walking talking contradiction: Do as I say, not as I do. The perfectly calm voice of authority, who doesn’t express emotion in response to his or her child’s ridiculous raging is often a lofty goal for a tired and busy parent. Sometimes, the best way to perceive a child’s tantrum even the most trying, stressful, grey-hair and bags-under-your eyes producing behavior, is through the lens of humor. Because for the most part, the reasons for most tantrums are pretty funny, even if dealing with them in the moment isn’t.

Lauren, age 3, had an absolute conniption fit because her Polly Pocket’s hair was “too radiant!” And she kept screaming about how this radiant hair was NOT OK. My mother and I tried not to laugh while we simultaneously marveled at her advanced vocabulary. She was mad because the dolls hair would not lay flat and was sticking up (yes, like rays of randiant sunshine) around her head. After that, I only bought Polly Pockets with plastic helmet hair.

Kate would lose her mind if Lauren got the purple bowl when SHE wanted the purple bowl for her cereal. So we’d switch bowls and suddenly, the PINK bowl seemed much more appealing and Kate would be losing her mind because she should have that bowl and Lauren shouldn’t. This is a perfect example of the “goal being achieved” (i.e. getting the bowl you want) not ending the tantrum. Any logical human being, with properly firing synapses, would be baffled by this completely irrational display and might try using reason, “But you GOT the purple bowl. You wanted the purple bowl. Here have it.” This same person would be amazed when the previously coveted purple bowl was thrown on the floor, even if it was full of ice cream. This is when you know the problem isn’t the color of the bowl. The problem is an over-tired, over-stimulated or overly-hungry child who is just plain cranky and just needs an excuse to have a melt down because that’s how they tell us all is not right in their world, even if they don’t know why.

I can’t even remember what set Cooper off yesterday, I can only remember him yelling and pointing at his sister, saying “But Lauren is standing on the FLOOR!” He was obviously very, very ticked off about something and he needed to vent so he stood there furious and raging about how she should NOT BE “standing on the floor!” Lauren just stood there looking confused and I made a funny face at her like “Aren’t little kids just silly sometimes?” And then later I made sure to tell her all of the things that she used to get very upset about, like dolls having radiant hair or her stubborn insistence on wearing a certain shirt even if it was in the dirty laundry basket and covered in mud stains.

 

What is the funniest or most ridiculous thing over which your child has had a meltdown?

 

 

 

I make no secret of the fact that I’ve had three c-sections and zero vaginal births. Sure, I made a valiant effort to push my first daughter out “the old fashioned-way,” as I jokingly call vaginal deliveries, but the fact is, were it not for modern medicine, both Lauren and I would have died in childbirth. Had we lived in the 1800s or early 1900s, maybe one of us would have survived at the expense of the other. This is why I offer you some retorts to anyone who talks about childbirth, labor, epidurals, cesarean sections or even breastfeeding in anything less than a respectful and tolerant tone.

“Women have been giving birth for thousands of years without pain meds or epidurals.”

This is true. You can’t deny it. And yet, those cave women also didn’t have a choice. You can’t speak for the cave woman who after three hours of agonizing back labor, probably would have jumped at the chance for an epidural. Not having the option of an epidural is not the same as choosing not to have an epidural. Just because women have been giving birth naturally for centuries (because they had no other choice) doesn’t mean they would do the same thing today.

“Too many women are having labor induced so their doctors can make their tee times.”

This also may be true. It depends on if your OB plays golf. If it’s something you are worried about, be sure to ask your doctor, “Do you play golf? Because I don’t want to be induced just so you can make your tee time.” Or, you could also say “No thank you, I’d rather not be induced and I’d rather let nature take it’s course.” But back to our friend the Cave Woman. We can’t be sure she didn’t use her own primitive methods to stimulate labor. Just because she didn’t have modern medicine at her fingertips, doesn’t mean she wasn’t just as anxious, uncomfortable and sick of waddling around like the rest of get when we know we are about to “pop.” We do know that women have been trying various methods of stimulating labor since, well, forever–like eating spicy foods or engaging in certain rigorous activities–all in the hopes of trying to get the inevitable started sooner rather than later.

“Breastfeeding is the way nature intended women to feed their babies.”

Well, you certainly can’t argue with that. But, if you have any tact, you should refrain from saying it to a bottle-feeding mother. I actually did end up nursing all three of my children but because of my extremely stressful three-plus hour attempt at pushing out Lauren, followed by an emergency c-section, my body was so “out of wack” that my milk didn’t come in for almost a full week. We supplemented Lauren with formula but I continued to try to try to nurse her. She lost a lot of weight in that first week and I was on the verge of giving up. Hours after I left the pediatrician’s office in tears, my milk finally came in. Breastfeeding is the way nature intended us to feed our babies, that is, those mothers and babies who weren’t killed off during the birthing process. Nature is efficient but that efficiency is brutal. There was nothing about the process that was “natural,” especially since we both lived! Judging mothers who are bottle feeding is the same and whether it is by necessity of choice, if both mom and baby are healthy and happy, it’s really no one else’s business.

As mothers preparing to give birth, the best we can do is to educate ourselves and to make ourselves aware of the different options that exist when things start to unfold. There are a lot of things that you simply cannot know until you are in the moment. This is true whether you are in labor with your first baby or your sixth. If you hear someone who means well, or maybe someone who has really wide birth canal and a super-high pain tolerance (not to mention a superiority complex and a competitive attitude about giving birth) remind her that there is no shame in using modern medicine during childbirth—and because of it, the mother and infant mortality rate has dropped A LOT in the last century. Besides, that cave woman might have really appreciated an epidural.

The Cave Woman and the Epidural by Elizabeth A. McKenzie

The Cave Woman and the Epidural by EAM