Shadow Eyes: Reflecting on Dementia

wbhi_silver_pendant4_grandeA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was researching my family tree and working on a keepsake book.  It’s a project that was intended to be a hobby, a brief diversion from the everyday, but it’s taken on a life of its own.  I have accumulated documentation and pictures galore, uncovered some family “scandals” and discovered babies who lived for such a short time that no one living knows they ever existed.

While I was scanning several photos onto my computer, my 6 year-old son offered to help.  He was keen to ask questions about the grainy black and whites that he gingerly passed to me.  He asked about the old-fashioned clothing, the dour backdrops and the sour expressions.  His comments, as they always do, caused me to laugh but also to reflect on how childhood has evolved over generations.

He passed me a square sepia photo; the edges soft and worn thin.  The year 1929 is scrawled in faded ink on the back. A baby, maybe 6 months old, is dressed for winter.  Tiny mittens covering tiny hands, a knitted cap pulled down low, and a blanket pulled up high exposing only pudgy cheeks that appear flush from the cold, a button nose and dancing eyes.

“Do you know who this is?” I asked him; sure that he wouldn’t have the faintest idea.

“It’s grandma,” he said with certainty, without pause, without even a moment to focus on the face of his great-grandmother.

It had taken me a few minutes to place my grandmother’s face.  I had to take care not to confuse her distinct features with those of her siblings, consulting the date to prove my guess.

“How did you know it’s her?”

“Because her eyes are the same.”  He says this as he scoots off the chair and races out of the room. Bored with scanning pictures and hearing about orphaned relatives.

Of course he’s right.  I stared at that picture and compared it with a more recent one of my grandmother, accurately representing her 86 years. I laid both pictures along side several others.

Pictures of her as a young woman with a page-boy and a clingy sweater, as a young mother cradling her third baby on the front porch in the spring of ’56, the undeniably 70’s era shot where she leans into the camera flashing a smile while holding my grandfather’s shoulder, another image of her holding his same shoulder but this time decades later at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  All of these photos are on the table, looking up at me.  The hairstyles, the fashions, the décor are different in each photo, telling a story of their own and yet her eyes remain the same.

But my son was only partly right.  Her eyes may be same shape, the same colour blue dotted with flecks of black, but they are not same.  They are shadowed now.

I come from a long line of octogenarians.  Most of my predecessors have lived well into their seventies, eighties and nineties – even back two hundred years ago.  I like to loom this over my husband’s head from time-to-time.  I like to remind him that when he finds me annoying after 10 years of marriage, I have the potential to give him at least another 40 more.  He likes to remind me that his genes don’t offer such promises.  Sometimes I wonder which of us is holding the winning hand.

Times are changing and people are living longer and more enriching lives.  For the most part people (who live in this country anyway) don’t die from diseases that their ancestors may have succumbed to.  It’s rare to hear of someone dying from tuberculosis or dysentery today just as it was less common to see people living well into old-age hundreds of years ago.

However, it is estimated today that 550,000 people living in Canada have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Like most diseases, the patient is ground zero and families feel the collateral damage.  Caregiver fatigue and the Sandwich Generation are hot topics with politicians, policy makers and employers, never mind the voice writers and researchers give to the thousands of people who identify themselves as such.

Lynn Posluns, a long time Toronto volunteer, philanthropist and activist, is one such voice and a powerful one at that.  She recently founded the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to raise awareness about the inequity in brain aging research funding for women.

Women are twice as likely as men as to suffer from brain aging illnesses, stroke and depression.  In fact, 70% of newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients are women.

The WBHI puts out an informative magazine (available online here) with articles written by leading researchers and doctors about how estrogen, stress, cortisol and pregnancy/motherhood may influence your overall brain health as well as simple lifestyle modifications that may have significant long-term benefits.

I have discovered that while my genes my have a ticket for longevity, I want to those years to be as fulfilling as possible.

More and more the research is showing that the choices we make while we are young and healthy directly affect how we age.

I see my grandmother in these pictures as a young woman, a wife, a sister, a mother.  I see how she changes with each passing decade.  I see how her role changes too. No longer is she the central hub of her family, mothering her four children.  No longer is she the grandmother called upon to host family dinners or arrange annual reunions.

Time is sneaky.  The photographs are all the proof that I need.  Generations pass in an instant leaving nothing more than a trail of pictures, and if you’re lucky, memories.

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Visit the Women’s Brain Health Initiative.

The Hope-Knot designed by Mark Lash, to represent brain health, is available as sterling cufflinks, a pin or a sterling pendant and chain.  Prices start at $10.

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The Pitfalls of Living With a Love Polyglot

il_570xN.526702741_rgt8Despite winning the French fluency award in the eighth grade, growing up with a bilingual father and being married to someone who speaks three languages, I am what one would call a monolinguist.

I am no fun at parties. I raise my glass with a meek “Cheers!”

I don’t even know the dirty words, the cuss words, in any other language.

Nope.  I am decidedly a unilinguist.  And even that’s questionable considering the number of times in a day when I find myself at a loss for words, desperately searching for the perfect adjective and settling for a sub-par alternative.

However it seems when it comes to love and speaking the 5 Love Languages, I am a regular polyglot (I had to look that up)!

Either that or I am painfully insecure.

Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of services and physical touch: I speak these eloquently, without accent or hesitation, no stumbling or incorrect conjugations.

I have friends that can start a sentence in Italian and complete it in a flourish of French.  While I don’t know le from les, I know that my three boys and husband each have their own love language that is as different from each other as their thumbprints.

I transition from one love language to another with the ease and fluency of a professional translator.  This innate ability is not startling to me; it’s matter-of-fact.  It’s as natural as speaking Russian – if I were in fact, Russian.

My kids and husband benefit from my understanding the 5 Love Languages.  But there is a challenge in living with a love polyglot like myself: knowing on any given day what is being spoken when you walk through the front door.

“I was thinking of you today when I walked by the patisserie.” He says handing me my favourite, a bag of still warm pain au chocolate.

“It’s Thursday!  Thursday’s garbage day!  Do I have to do everything around here!?”

Poor guy.

 

The artwork is available at YourOwnWords on etsy.

The Martyr Mother

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I recently read the much-hyped Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

I was resistant to reading it in part due to the obvious that I am a stay-at-home mom with no aspirations to join the corporate rat race and secondly, I didn’t want to squander my precious free time reading a book that was going to make me feel bad about myself for not wanting to join said race.

So naturally I was surprised when I read Sandberg’s well-researched tome that some of her points resonated with me – a stay-at-home mom.

Make Your Partner a Real Partner and The Myth of Doing It All are two chapters worth reading, regardless of your employment status.  Sandberg raises a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind since having my first child almost seven years ago.

Sandberg describes how (mostly) women crave this idea of perfection and assume all of the responsibilities of childrearing because “they know best”.  Eventually these mothers become exhausted, irritable, unhappy, and depressed because every waking moment is spent on trying to do everything themselves.

I have seen this time and again with many women that I have gotten to know over the years.  When my boys were 4, 3 and a newborn, I had made plans to go for dinner with friend.  She had two children ages 4 and 7 months.  She had not ever been separated from her children for more than 2 hours and was sleeping a maximum of four hours a night.  She was at the end of her rope.  She called me in tears and we decided that a dinner out was exactly what we both needed.

I informed my husband that I had a dinner date.  I plopped the older two in front of the TV and the baby in the exersaucer, showered, got made-up and put on an outfit that didn’t need to be puke-resistant.  My husband walked-in and I was prepared to walk out when the phone rang.

An hour before we were to meet, my dejected friend called to say that she was not going to make our dinner.  I was sad to hear this and when I pressed for the reason she said that her husband was not comfortable “babysitting” the two kids by himself and he doesn’t know the bedtime routine.  She felt it was best if she stayed with him so that the kids schedule wasn’t messed up.

Like Sandberg, I feel like sometimes women are their own worst enemy.  Women need to be able to let go of the reins and allow someone else to do take over.  Is it a big deal that dinnertime doesn’t follow the same structure as when you are there?  Will millions of bacteria eat away your child’s skin if they skip a bath for one night?  Does it really matter if the dishes are left to air dry just this once?

“Oh, but the baby will cry!”

“Oh, but he doesn’t know how to change the diaper!”

“Oh, he feels too overwhelmed when he has both of the kids!”

Well Martyr Mothers, I would like to echo Sandberg’s sentiments . . .

THERE IS NO SHINY TROPHY WITH YOUR NAME ON IT BECAUSE YOU SACRFICED EVERY OUNCE OF YOUR BEING!

Your baby will stop crying.

He will figure out how to change a diaper.

He may feel overwhelmed but he’s got this.

If you feel that everything has to be done by you, take a step back and examine why you feel that way.  Are you being too controlling?  Sandberg doesn’t suggest that you walk away from your responsibilities but rather that by acquiescing a desire for perfection comes a release, and an awareness of what really matters to you.

Perhaps I am not navigating the corporate jungle gym, but contrary my thoughts prior to reading Sandberg’s book, I am a leader.  I am leading my family and a good leader surrounds themselves with a supportive and dependable team.

What do you think?  Do you think that Martyr Mothers are becoming more prevalent?  Are you a Martyr Mother?  A reformed Martyr Mother?  

More importantly, doesn’t it drive you mad when people refer to fathers as babysitters?  It’s demeaning, no?

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

You made it look so easy – mothering young children. Between balancing the needs of two small kids, the operations involved in running a household, being an attentive wife and excelling at your career; you made it seem as though there were never any sacrifices or heartache, loneliness or times of unease.  Like a director behind the camera, you orchestrated our lives without ever taking the spotlight.

Six years ago I learned one of the guarded secrets of motherhood, one that won’t be found in any book or on any blog, but revealed itself the instant my newborn was placed in my arms. With motherhood came a realization that I will never again think just of myself. Every thought from the most mundane to the dreamiest fantasies that occupy my mind will always carry with it the needs of three little people.

I thought you did this mothering job effortlessly. But I was wrong. You worked. You worked tirelessly, selflessly and endlessly to give us a solid foundation of values upon which to build our independence. You did this while reading stories, walking us to school, building forts, snuggling in on movie nights and never ceasing to cheer us on.  You gave us a childhood that storybook tales are based on.

I know now that you silently struggled too. You were not a deity that immaculately bore her children, but just a regular girl who had babies. You struggled to find your self, your voice and balance, just like me.  Just like most moms.

The bar is set high. There are days when I feel so selfish for wanting more, wanting it all and yet I am humbled by what you did for us without ever acknowledging that some of the choices you made mustn’t have been easy.  But that’s what a good mother does.  A good mother doesn’t push the weight of their world onto their children.  Like an illusionist, she allows her children to see only what she wants them to.

I wish that I had your patience, your calm and your perspective. I admit that I often feel as though I am losing my way and not only myself but the kind of mother I strive to be. Still when I feel like I am faltering I turn to you for support, guidance, and reassurance. Instead of looking up at you for answers and love like I once did, I look to you. And you have yet to let me down.

Once I became a mother you told me that the hardest part about mothering was learning how to not be a mother.  It took me years to understand what you meant by that and although my boys still cling to my skirt, I am terrified for the day when I will have to loosen my grip and eventually let go.

It is true, mom, that I do not need you anymore. You have given me direction, your strength and a ground on which to stand.  You have nourished my mind, body and soul for years and given me the fundamentals to raise my boys with the same unconditional love and immeasurable encouragement that you gave me.

You’re right, mom.  I do not need you anymore.  But I will always want you.

The Pursuit of Happiness?

I seem to find advice on how to be happy everywhere I turn.  Magazines have entire monthly columns dedicated to attaining it and numerous blogs tout the pursuit of it.

For me, the pressure to be happy can be crushing and there are times, more than I would care to admit, that “be happy” is just one more line item for supermom to check off.  There it looms on the list: above “nutritious short order cook” and below “sultry sexpot”.

Being a mother has proved to be my life riddle.  One that I am struggling to figure out.

How is it that I feel so utterly lonely but at the same time crave solitude?

Why do I want time apart from my kids but once I am alone, I count the hours to when they return?

At the end of the day, I beat myself up and wonder what is that I accomplished today?  What use did I make of my two university degrees?

At the end of the day, I am amazed by the magnitude of what I have contributed to our society: three small boys, who are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate members of the community.

There are days when I am deliriously happy and days that I feel as though I am clawing my way out of a black hole.

Today I didn’t feel happiness.  I felt claustrophobic, torn apart, pushed beyond the limit of exhaustion.  As I write this, the boys are tucked into bed and not a minute too soon.  My patience now sags like a hyper extended elastic band.

Hard days come with the mothering territory and when I feel less than sure, it’s not to the experts that I turn.  I seek solace from those elbow to elbow with me in the trenches and Glennon Melton’s Don’t Carpe Diem tops my list.

Am I happy every day?  No.  Am I happy most days?  Yes, and that’s good enough for me.

Life’s not a glossy magazine, folks.  If it were, I’d have better hair.

 

photo credit: http://www.symbolset.org

The Business of Mothering?

Oh, Ms. Vanderkam.  I don’t know what to say.  This message to parents about wasting time is as obnoxious as they come.

Ms. Vanderkam, the mother of a two-year-old son, has written a book about how parents can better spend their 168 hours of the week.  According to her, many parents use their time ineffectively and don’t plan enough thereby gobbling up precious hours.

Don’t worry, Ms. Vanderkam provides parents with lots of ways that they can better manage their time.  Among her suggestions:

-       Plan out your meals for the week so as not to waste time making several trips to the grocery store

-       Buy birthday presents in bulk (i.e. ten of the same thing for your child to take to parties)

-       One parent can prepare and cook the dinner while the other parent tidies up and deals with the dishes

-       Outsource!

What simply makes my blood boil is that people like Ms. Vanderkam seem to have it all figured out for the rest of us.  She has taken the hours of the week and divided them up for work, exercise, cleaning, mothering.  Following her simple suggestions should mean that we could all stop hyperventilating about how much we have to do in such a short time.

In all fairness, I have not read her book – just some interviews – but from what I have learned about her method through her interviews, it’s meant for people with very flexible work schedules, 2 parent households and those with disposable income.

I am the first to recognize that I am so very lucky to have a wonderful support system to help me shuttle my three kids (that I had, by choice, in four years) to various appointments (for which there are many), activities (for which there are even more) and school.  I am so very lucky to be able to afford to go to the grocery store a few times a week for fresh, nutritious food.  I am so very lucky to have the help that I do.

Sure, there are days that I think I could have managed things better.  I could have planned it better.  I could have arranged it differently.

Such is life as a mother.

I am constantly battling the clock – trying to be more efficient, get the boys out the door on time, carve out “me time”, “our time”, laundry time, cooking time, play time, laughing time, silly time . . .

But the reality is that being a mother (single, working or stay at home) does not allow for you to chop up your week and divvy up tasks, allotting hours.

Mothering is not a business.

Our children are our best teachers.  Plans are simply that – plans.  Being a mother calls for flexibility. Understanding.  Patience.  So. Much. Patience.

Mothering can make the minutes feel as though they are hours and years feel like seconds.

Many days it means being so depleted of energy at the end of a long day, all that’s physically possible is to watch mindless TV, read a book, or creep Facebook.

Don’t kid yourself, Ms Vanderkam.  Even when it appears us mothers are wasting away our time cruising the Internet instead of planning out next week’s meals, we are actually engaging in an internal battle with ourselves because we are so riddled with guilt about all that we are not doing.

We are racked with worry.

And we are tired.

We are so tired of women like you pointing a finger.

I have to give kudos to Glennon Melton author of Don’t Carpe Diem, who so perfectly summed up my exact feelings of motherhood.  Glennon’s honesty about the ambivalence towards motherhood is refreshing, heart warming and so real.  There’s a reason that her post went viral on the Internet and that’s because it resonated with mothers.

I love the idea of Glennon’s Kairos time.   And I do exactly as she suggests, even if the moment is fleeting.  I have extended it to include my boys.

Each day we say what we’re thankful for and what our favourite part of the day was.  I enjoy this time because it illustrates to me how meaningful all of the monotonous time-consuming tasks of a day can be.  When my older son tells me about how he thought of the perfect birthday present for a friend or when my middle son cheers with his hands above his head that he’s done it!  He’s made his bed all by himself!!!  I think to myself, that they are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate, independent people.

And that takes work.  And that takes juggling.  And that takes sacrifice.  And it never goes according to how I planned my week.

 

Two Blankets

Do you see that blanket?  I made it.  The pattern is from Stitch ‘N Bitch, and I knit it over a period of four months, a little bit here and a little bit there, for my newborn.  (I put Sophie the Giraffe on it to give a sense of its size.)  I tried my hardest to keep a label to identify what wool it is, but I can’t find any now.  It’s a blend of baby alpaca and merino woool – beautifully soft.  It required four skeins and was expensive.  I love the colours and have been using the blanket everyday so I don’t regret the splurge in any way, but I just had to mention it to give this post an air of reality.

There is no equivalent for my two older boys, and I find myself inevitably attaching some symbolism to this blanket.   I can’t help but think of how far I’ve come since the birth of my first baby.  My transition to motherhood wasn’t particularly smooth.  I know there’s no “arrival” point for being a parent, but I’m much more comfortable in my mother skin, and it feels good. I’ll still relentlessly question most of what I’m doing since that’s how I’m made, but I do now know (better) what parenting approaches and lifestyle I believe in, and have even found a supportive community for it.  Tonight I was at my son’s school’s winter concert, and couldn’t help noticing how many handknits were peppered throughout the audience.  It is but a small point of contact, but again I saw it as a symbol.  I knew I was in an environment where the values of working with our hands, of respecting women’s craft, and of creative and sustainable living, were largely understood.

And yet as I took a celebratory photograph of my baby’s wool blanket, I felt compelled to capture another little blanket, because I feel like paying tribute to it too.  A square cotton receiving blanket, part of a little layette that my sister-in-law bought for me while I was in the hospital five years ago with my firstborn.  I had admitted myself because I couldn’t feel the baby moving, and was told that the placenta had partly abrupted.  After an emergency c-section birth, my premature son lay in an incubator in the neo-natal ICU on another floor in clothes donated by the hospital.

Neither my husband’s parents nor my mother were in the country, but I knew I still had support.  There were people who helped me in those early days, and I’d like to give a good-sized nod to a few of them.  I made a call to my brother, who then spent two hours doing consumer research online before appearing with a baby carseat and a lesson on how to use it.  My sister, who supplied food in the hospital and at home.  And my sister-in-law, for her help in buying me that layette, but especially, unforgettably, for seeing the terrifying birth process as evidence of strength rather than weakness in me.  “I told your brother,” she said, “that you saved that baby.”

And finally, I want to note that very new mother in me.  The professional who looked down at her four pound baby and wondered what on earth to do now.  In a culture that sometimes seems to feed off of the insecurity of mothers, I feel like telling that woman she’s okay.

Two blankets.  Two periods of time.  I value them both.

This post also appears at http://thekingsandi.wordpress.com.

Live Day To Day – a continuation of Mothering Through Adversity

A continuation from Mothering Through Adversity . . .

Marina and her husband, Robin, have experienced many emotional ups and downs during their son, first year of life.  After receiving a diagnosis of Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus, Niklas has undergone numerous diagnostic tests and surgeries.

Marina remains optimistic about her son’s future and is the first to admit that there is always something far more serious her family could be dealing with.

“Things fall into perspective quickly.” Marina says when recalling the numerous young faces she sees in the waiting rooms of SickKids Hospital.   The common cold or minor illnesses seem more like inconveniences than anything else.

When asked about how this past year has affected her family, Marina admits that she initially overcompensated as Niklas’s mother until Robin stepped in and very matter-of-factly reminded her that Niklas doesn’t need her pity.

It’s not always easy learning to undo maternal instincts but Marina has found lots of support among an on-line community of bloggers.  Marina describes feeling a sense of connectedness reading real stories of families just like hers and not focusing on the gory images and tragic stories that flood her screen when she Googles Niklas’s condition.

“We all handle it differently.  I cry sometimes.  The girls (her two daughters) act out sometimes.  Robin is pragmatic and stays away from the Internet.” Marina answers when I ask her about the stress associated with a family members diagnosis.

But her on-line community has empowered her with research and anecdotes that prove to be effective munition when she joins forces with Niklas’s doctors and the same bloggers who offer advice on tissue expansion also permit her to let go of the stress and anxiety that she is carrying with her.

“Live day to day and don’t let it control you.  It will control your life if you let it.”  That is the message that Marina wants to send to other parents dealing with a child’s illness.

Take a moment to review some of the bloggers that Marina takes inspiration from:

Checking Back With Zac

Wonderful World of Vance

News From The Nagels

Journeys With Joshua

Amanda and Mason Waite

Mothering Through Adversity


“He’s the luckiest unlucky baby,” says his mother, Marina with a wide smile.  You wouldn’t know from talking with her that her infant son is recovering from major surgery.  Her optimism is as authentic as her love for her family.

More than six years ago, Marina and her husband, Robin, decided to have a family.  When things didn’t go as smoothly as planned, they turned to fertility treatment and were fortunate to have a healthy daughter.   A few years later their joy multiplied when another daughter joined their family.  Counting their blessings, Marina and her husband decided to graciously accept the gift of their daughters and considered their family complete.

I remember three years ago, sitting with Marina at a children’s consignment sale.  She was giddy at the thought of no more Exersaucers cluttering her family room and when I asked her if this meant that there were no more babies in her future, she emphatically replied, “Nope.  We’re a two-kid family.”

Life certainly does laugh at our plans.  Almost two years ago, Marina unexpectedly became pregnant for a third time.  She and her husband were overjoyed albeit a bit surprised.

“We were shocked!  I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I was pregnant.  How did that happen without fertility meds?” Marina says followed by a playful laugh.  “I guess you can’t plan everything!”

Marina endured the usual question during her third pregnancy: “Are you hoping for a boy?” to round out her family of girls and she answered people sincerely by saying that she didn’t care what the sex of the baby, all that she wished for was (s)he be healthy.

Secretly, Marina was anxious.  She felt as though she had tempted fate twice before and won.  She had two healthy babies.  What more could one ask for?  Marina’s fears were brushed aside by most everyone she talked to as “normal” especially for mothers with more than one child.  Nonetheless, she couldn’t let the suspicion go.

After a fairly uneventful pregnancy, Marina went ahead with her planned C-section.  Robin was by her side when they welcomed their baby boy into the world on an early June morning.

Immediately, Marina sensed something was wrong.  Having had two previous C-sections she knew what to expect and reading the expressions on the faces of the medical staff and her husband, she knew her worst fear had been realized.

“They definitely didn’t handle it well at all.  I guess everyone was in shock.  It’s not something you come across every day.” Marina says casually, having forgiven the medical team for their lack of composure.

At first glimpse her tiny son looked dark purple.  His skin wasn’t the pinky hue she’d been expecting and seen twice before.  Immediately the doctors began calling for specialists to make their way to the OR.  Marina felt helpless lying on the table, her stomach being tethered back together, watching her son being examined under lights on a table a few feet away from her.

What seemed like hours later, but in reality was probably minutes, a nurse handed Marina her son.  With her husband by her side, she held baby Niklas in her arms for the first time and instantly fell in love.  Their special moment abruptly came to an end when not even a minute later, Niklas was taken the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because he was experiencing difficulty breathing.  That turned out to be un-related to the skin condition, but Marina was unsure of what was happening and feared the worst.

An hour later in the recovery room, a young female doctor made her way over to the bedside and gently explained to Marina that her son was born with a very rare and potentially fatal disease, Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus.

“I didn’t know what to make of all she was saying.  All that I was heard cancer, and mortality.  I think that I blocked it out.”  Marina says of those first few minutes when she learned her son wasn’t born “perfect”.  In a daze of operative drugs and post-partum hormones, Marina continued to sit in the recovery room frightened that her son might not make it.  She was told that she wouldn’t see Niklas again for at least 24 hours because of his status in the NICU and that she was unable to sit in a wheelchair due to her c-section.

“I didn’t think, at first, that it was that bad until Robin went to speak with the doctors.  We had always agreed that immediately following the delivery; I would stay in the hospital with Niklas while Robin attended his graduation (from an MBA program) that afternoon just a few blocks away.  He’d come back to the hospital later and in a few days we had planned to head home.  But when Robin came back into the room after his meeting with the doctors and told me that he wasn’t going to the graduation, I knew something was wrong.”

Staying in the hospital to recover from her C-section ended up being a temporary reprieve for Marina.  Without Google at her fingertips she was able to digest what information the doctors had told her.  Keeping positive was easy without the evils of Wikipedia permeating her brain.  Robin wasn’t so fortunate.  He went home and preceded to do the very thing the doctors had advised against: he went online to research more about his son’s condition.

Marina explains to me that most people are not born with moles but acquire them over their lifetime.  By age 20 most people have 20 moles but because Niklas was born with so many birthmarks, particularly the large birthmark on his back, his propensity to develop skin cancer is much, much greater.

Congenital Melanocytic Nevus is a dark mole, which cover the body.  There is usually one main nevus that can have hundreds of satellites.  These moles have a high likelihood of either being cancerous or turning cancerous, even in childhood.

The reason the medical staff cautioned against self directed research is that they were still uncertain the extent of Niklas’s diagnosis.  Statistics pummeled Marina and Robin.  Only 0.02 percent of babies are born with Congenital Melanocytic Nevus.  Of those, 1/3 will have nevi on their brain or spinal cord and a very small percent will develop complications that can result in death.

“He’s the luckiest unlucky baby!” Marina says again.  Niklas’s MRI determined that he does have a nevus on his brain but so far he has been developing like any normal infant and recently celebrated his first birthday.  However, it is the fear of the unknown that has weighed heavily on both Marina and her husband.

That is not to say that Niklas hasn’t had his share of challenges over the year.  He has had surgeries to remove nevi (called excision) and is going to undergo tissue expansion surgery.  Like a sci-fi movie, doctors insert a balloon under his skin that will cause it to stretch.  Once the skin has expanded enough, it will be stretched over the area where the birthmark will be removed.  Marina admits that she feels very lucky to live so close to Sick Kid’s Hospital home to some of the world’s leading physicians and surgeons.

In addition, Niklas must stay out of the sun, or completely covered and visit with a dermatologist every six months for the rest of his life.

In spite of this adversity, Marina and Robin remain optimistic and thankful that this all they have to contend with.  “Sitting in the waiting room for Niklas’s plastic surgeon or meeting with other specialists puts things into perspective.”

Please watch for Part Two of my interview with Marina as she shares how Niklas’s diagnosis has changed her family and how she has used social media as a support network.

photo credit: babygirlslipsonsshoes.co.cc

Women who opt-out of the workforce: non-contributors?

I read Katrina Onstad’s column in the Globe and Mail each week.  I find her social commentary to be witty, encapsulating and at times, provoking.  Which is exactly what her column titled, Kate Middleton Quits Her Job proved to be.

I expected more from a Katrina Onstad article than snide and judgmental comments directed at Kate Middleton for choosing to quit her job to plan her and Prince William’s royal wedding.  I was willing to ignore Onstad’s sneers about “giving it all up” for a man until she flung Kate into the epicenter of the mommy-wars, and the poor woman doesn’t even have children!

To support her argument, Onstad quotes noted philosopher Linda Hirshman:

“Philosopher Linda Hirshman took them on in her 2006 “manifesto” Get to Work. Her argument was only partially about how work can provide “human flourishing” or personal fulfillment (the usual reasons mothers work or don’t, after finances). Her real assertion was that a culture where women aren’t working sets back women as a group, reinforcing a dangerous social imbalance. Women remain financial dependents and unpaid labourers, while men earn cash and respect. Hirshman scorned “choice feminism” as a watery cop-out: Women unquestioningly supporting each other’s choices isn’t feminism; women working together for better social conditions for all women is.”

Well Ms. Hirshman and Ms. Onstad, I couldn’t disagree with you more and by calling women out who choose a different path than you as anti-feminist is frankly, oppressive.  Isn’t that what “choice” is about?  The freedom to choose for yourself what shape your life will take?

Suggesting that women who opt-out of the workforce by choice are non-contributors and setting back the entire feminist movement is asinine.  In fact, in my opinion such comments do nothing but stack insurmountable pressure on both working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.  In addition to bringing home the bacon and frying it up, don’t forget to swing by the local farmer’s market, pound the treadmill, toss in a load of laundry, recall the exact steps of long division, reply to that birthday party invitation and don’t forget that tomorrow is purple shirt day.

Why is it that Hirshman and Onstad have strongly tied work with contribution and contribution with compensation?  I don’t see a dime for the hours upon hours I log on the home front, but to imply that I am not contributing?  Contributing to what exactly?

I see my contribution everyday.  I see my son reach out to help up a fallen friend on the playground.  I see my son enthusiastically separate the recyclables from the garbage.  I see my son neatly fold his outgrown clothes to donate to a family in need.

It is true that there is not a chorus of people telling me what a great job I am doing.  It is true that I don’t see my bank balance increasing.  It is true that there are days I think that there has to be more to my life than snow pants, potty breaks and trips to the doctor.

But who is Hirshman to put a value on my day?  Why are Katrina Onstad’s musings worth more than my walks to the schoolyard?

When I think of a woman like Michelle Obama who has put her law career on hold to focus on being the First Lady, opting-out is the last thought that comes to mind.  I view her as someone who is opting-in.  She is opting-in (for a short time) to be present in her life and do something that she is passionate about.

And that is what feminism means to me.

At this point in my life, I have decided to opt-out of the work force but don’t ever suggest that I am not contributing to our society.

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