The Tooth Fairy

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“Okay, Mommy – I’m going to ask you a question, because I know that parents don’t lie.”

Thing Four said this to me yesterday afternoon while standing in our kitchen, home early from school with his first-of-the-season cold. I tried to distract him by offering him a snack. But, he would not be deterred.

“I’m not hungry! I need you to answer this question, because I know you won’t lie to me.”

I knew what was coming… How? He’s my fourth kid, he lost his tooth in the middle of math class yesterday, and he was jumping up and down about the dollar that he found under his pillow before he headed off to school in the morning. I got myself ready.

“Okay. What’s your question?”

“Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

I tried to stall. “Why are you asking me that?

“Because a big kid at school today said that there’s no such thing as a Tooth Fairy and that it’s just the parents. I want to know if he’s right or not.”

The moment of truth. Ugh. I’ve walked down this path before, three times already. But with Things One, Two & Three they hadn’t posed the “Is (fill in the blank) real? Or is it just you and Daddy?” question until they were ten years old. Ten! In this day and age, I think ten might be pushing it when it comes to still believing in the magic of childhood and I was so happy that they did! Because, honestly, I still want to believe. But when I answered their questions, it was only to confirm what they already knew. Each of them expressed sadness – they were hoping against hope that magic was still real – but none of them were at all surprised.

As my tender-hearted, sweet and sensitive seven-year old boy stood before me with complete trust that I was going to confirm what he knew without question – that the Tooth Fairy was in fact very real – my heart was aching for him. The words, “Too soon! Too soon!” kept echoing in my head. He noticed my pause and asked again, “Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

“Are you really wanting the answer to that question right now?” This has been my go-to response for the older three on so many different topics over the years. I feel like it gives my kids an out if they aren’t really ready to hear the answer. And sometimes, my question stops them from going any further. My little guy’s smile started to falter and his bottom lip quivered a bit, but he still said, “Yes.”

When I told him that it was his Daddy who did the work of the Tooth Fairy his face crumpled and he started to cry. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to find the older kid who’d given him a hard time at school earlier in the day, teasing him about still believing in the Tooth Fairy – and wring his little neck.

Instantly, I was transported back to the day I was five years old – FIVE! – and my older brothers, ages eleven and thirteen at the time sat me down and told me that none of it was real. They laid it all out – and I bawled my eyes out.

I decided to do my best to soften this moment for my little guy and asked if I could hold him in my lap and try to explain.

“I don’t ever want you to feel foolish or that you’ve been tricked. I don’t want you to think that we’ve lied to you.”

“But you DID lie to me! When I asked you in the past if if the Tooth Fairy was real, you always said yes!”

“Ah, but the Tooth Fairy IS real – your Daddy’s real, isn’t he?” (A loophole, I know – but I was needing to think fast…) “You could think of him as being the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy. And the story of the Tooth Fairy been told forever! Longer than even when I was a little kid!” (That always makes them understand the passage of time. My kids think I’m ancient!) “I’d like to think that maybe the story started because somebody’s kid lost their tooth, it freaked them out, and the parents told them about the Tooth Fairy coming to take the tooth and leaving them a gift in exchange to make it all less scary. To make it more exciting and magical! It was never done to be mean-spirited or hurtful. Are you angry with me?”

“I’m angry that I ever believed in the first place,” he mumbled in between sobs.

“But didn’t believing in the magic of the Tooth Fairy make it special for you?”

“Yeah –  but it wasn’t real.”

“But the real magic is that your Daddy and me and all of your siblings -” I began, but he cut me off.

“Wait! Elisa, Ale and Lulu know there isn’t a Tooth Fairy?” a new round of tears coming down his sweet, little cheeks. “I’m the only one in this family who didn’t know?!”

And I was again transported back in time to what I remember feeling when I found out: a weird mix of wanting to fiercely believe that magic was absolutely real, wanting to remain young and innocent – and being utterly despondent that I wasn’t as grown-up and mature as my older siblings, feeling foolish for not realizing that it was all pretend.

“You know, each one of your siblings asked me the same question you just did, only they didn’t ask until they were about ten years old. Asking now, when you’re only seven makes it a lot harder on you. But you asked me to tell you the truth. So, I did. I’m so sorry you’re sad. But the magic of all of us wanting to create special excitement for you as you’re growing up, the fact that we all wanted to keep this alive for you is still very, very real. And, you have to admit – it’s kind of magical that you go to bed with a tooth under your pillow and when you wake up – it’s gone and there’s a dollar bill in it’s place!”

He wasn’t really having any of it at the moment. I knew that I just needed to love him up and hold the space for him and his emotions. And that I also needed to figure out how to not ruin every other bit of magic still left. Not yet. “Too soon!”

“Well, what about…” he trailed off.

I responded quickly, “Listen, magic is real as long as you want to continue to believe in it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, your fourteen year old brother just lost a tooth last year, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he put his tooth under his pillow and the next morning what did he find?”

“A dollar.”

“See? The magic still works as long as you believe in it. But if you’re ready to stop believing in the Tooth Fairy – the magic stops.”

Did I mention my kid is smart? He got it immediately and answered, “Well, I still believe in the magic  – ALL of it.”

“Then it will still happen! Your Daddy will continue to be the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy and when you lose a tooth and put it under your pillow, magically, a dollar will be there when you wake up.”

This was not the end of the conversation, of course. We hashed this out for at least another 30 minutes. He had loads of questions, but was quick to only ask those he felt ready to hear answers to. He needed to ask his Dad what he did with all those teeth over the years. He wanted to be the one to let his older siblings know that he knew. He had to figure out why some older kids kept the magic alive, and others felt the need to crush it.

He woke up this morning and climbed into bed between us and announced. “I’m still sad about all of this, you know.” I know, me too buddy, me too. But I still choose to believe. I choose to believe that the magic is not that a little fairy, (or in Puerto Rican tradition, a little mouse) picks up your lost tooth and leaves a gift in exchange. I choose to believe that the real magic lies in the desire to make this world with all of it’s harsh realities a little softer around the edges – to sustain just a bit of wonder in our minds and hearts for as long as possible.

I don’t know if you tell your kids that the Tooth Fairy is real or not. This isn’t supposed to be a “how-to” or “I do it like this” kind of post. Just one Momma’s way of finding her way with her littles about the big and not so big stuff of everyday living. And hoping that the decisions I’ve made in how I choose to speak to my children about magic and wonder keep these things alive in their minds and hearts for as long as they choose to believe.

Our world needs a little magic and wonder. Maybe now more than ever before.

ICEA Conference 2016

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I just got back from the annual ICEA (International Childbirth Educator’s Association) Conference in Denver, Colorado. I don’t get to go every year, but I’d like to! These educational conferences are invaluable in keeping me current. Plus I love networking with other passionate-about-all-things-pregnancy-birth-and-parenting professionals! And snagging a boatload of my required continuing education credits for recertification is a nice perk.

This year, I was not just an attendee, but also a presenter. My breakout session, “Birth Plans: Helpful or Harmful?” went really well and the preliminary evaluations look good. I exchanged lots of business cards for what I hope will yield future collaborations. The other sessions that I attended were excellent and at the end of this post there’s a shout-out to some of the amazing women behind the presentations I was lucky enough to attend. They are doing great work in the field of maternal-fetal health and wellness.

But for this post, I want to highlight something that I saw as a really wonderful, positive, and hopefully continuing trend: a small but enthusiastic group of young, energetic Millennials attended this conference. These are young women, choosing to become Childbirth Educators in the digital age, who understand the importance of face-to-face, community building, peer-to-peer education that can really only happen in person. It’s just not the same via the Almighty Internet.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I’ll remain relevant in this field, or even, how much longer the field of childbirth education will exist. It’s sad and scary to think about a time when I’ll be “too old” to teach classes, or worse – a time when expectant parents will just stop coming altogether:

“We can read about it on the Internet!”

“There’s so many YouTube births out there, we don’t need to take a class…”

“I’ve written my Birth Plan – what else do I need?”

Today’s expectant parents need connection – it’s a hunger that they might not even be fully conscious of, a product of this time when a sense of community is linked to how many friends “like” their posts, or how many “followers” they have. In the months and weeks prior to becoming a family, expectant parents need real connection:

Real connection with their childbirth educator who can provide evidence-based, unbiased information and encourage them to become truly informed consumers and advocates for themselves, their babies and their births.

Real connection with a group of people who are experiencing the same emotions and feelings of vulnerability. These are people who will not trivialize or sensationalize those feelings. They get it.

Real connection with one another as a couple, devoting time and energy to focus on each other and their baby and to learn as much as they can about the powerful transformation that the birth experience can offer.

It fills me with hope to realize that there are women who represent the age demographic of the Mommas in my classes, just entering into this field. That there are women who still get the importance of continuing to teach these classes to their peers.

I’m considered the Lead Educator at the places where I work – which means I do the mentoring of new educators. And I love it! I’m always trying to recruit potential newbies from my classes. If I see a Momma that has a certain twinkle in her eye, I try to connect with her so I can plant the seed of becoming a Childbirth Educator someday.

But as Lead Educator, I know that the classes we offer have to be nothing short of amazing. They can’t be fine. They can’t be good. They have to be classes that are an incredible value to today’s parents – not just in terms of money, but in terms of our most precious commodity – time.

When half of the class is wishing they were in their PJs, eating ice cream and binging on Netflix, and the other half of the class comes kicking and screaming because they think it’s going to be “All about HER!” – that’s a tough crowd. We have been charged with making our classes engaging, fun and entertaining. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget –  they need to learn a ton, as well!

It’s not an easy job. But none of the really important jobs ever are. Those of us working in this field know the potential that birth has to either positively or negatively affect the laboring woman’s self-identity, self-confidence, relationship with her baby, her partner and herself – for the rest of her life. We get it. But does this generation get it?

Well, this past week I got to see a sample of women from this generation taking notes, asking questions, learning from those who’ve gone before them, soaking it all up – showing me in words and actions, that yes indeed, they do get it.

And that’s good news for us all.

*I’m always, always trying to recruit younger women to do this work. If you’ve ever thought, “I wonder what’s involved in becoming a Childbirth Educator…” please, contact me – I’d love to talk with you about next steps.

And as promised, here are some amazing women doing some incredible things in the world of birth. Please check them out!

Jennie Joseph – is working to change what happens in materno-toxic zones to help reduce pre-term birth, low birth weight babies, and other complications that women of color experience at higher rates than their white counterparts.

Barbara Harper – travels the globe with the mission of making waterbirth an available option for all women.

Amy Rebekah Chavez – I’ll let you read all about who she is and what she does, but this woman is rad and she’s got the science and education to back up her work around trauma and healing.

Elizabeth Petrucelli – recognizes the importance of discussing unexpected outcomes with the families that attend her classes and this is a message that resonates with me for sure.

Aynsley Babinski & Pam Barnes-Palty – understand the need for birth workers to take part in self-care so that they can better address the needs and concerns of the families that they work with.

Colleen Weeks – shares from her personal experience in the field for 35+ years, how to continue to grow as an educator over the arc of your career and how to support our families when they’re hurting.

Amy Haderer-Swagman – I have to highlight this Momma-artist who was one of many great vendors from the conference, who made such gorgeous mandala birth art necklaces that I bought two of them!

This is not meant to be an exclusionary list – I was unable to attend all of the sessions that were available and I didn’t get to attend the last day at all, so my apologies to all of the other fantastic presenters who I know put as much care and attention into their presentations as I did. If you check out this ICEA Conference page, you can read more about these other wonderful women and find out more about the goodness they’re bringing into the world of birth.

All The Single Ladies (And Gentlemen)

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This is a shout-out to any Mommas or Poppas out there who are doing this thing, parenting, on their own.  

By themselves.

I’ve been single parenting my four kiddos for the past week (with an entire village of helpers at the ready, mind you!) as my husband sat in a hospital bed with a bowel obstruction from a previous surgery from twenty years ago. It has been a challenge to say the least…

The hospital is a 25-minute drive from our house (if there’s no traffic) and for most of the week, I was dropping off the kids to school, then driving out to spend the day with my husband, then driving back to do the school pick-up, take them to their various activities, have dinner with them and then head back out to the hospital after bedtime to hang with my husband until passing out at home between 11 and 12 at night – only to get up and do it all over again.

There have been so many wonderful offers of help – food at the ready, and many, many people willing to shuffle kids from one place to the next. But as many of you will understand, at some point it’s just easier on me and the kids if I’m there to meet them at the end of their day, reassure them that their Dad is going to be okay, and try to bring a bit of normalcy back into their lives when everything else seems so topsy-turvy. When I texted a friend to exclaim that I didn’t know how single parents did it, she reminded me that this past week carried with it the added stress of having an ill spouse who’s in the hospital. And while that is true…

Honestly, it gave me so much more appreciation for all of you who are doing such intense, hard and important work on your own. I’ve written about it here. At least I have someone (laid up or not!) who gets how hard it is to raise children, appreciates my efforts and tells me I’m doing a good job – especially on those days when I’m certain I won’t be winning any parenting awards.

I’d write about the latest evidence for not winning that award right here, but Things One, Two, Three & Four wouldn’t appreciate it very much! Suffice it to say, that my children have been feeling the strain of this past week as much as I have. But I had nothing left to give them when they needed it. I was, shall we say, less than compassionate.

And although I didn’t actually say this, my thoughts during the various meltdowns that were happening all around me over the past couple of days were, “Are you effing kidding me right now? Take whatever stress you’re feeling and multiply it by five and you’ll be approaching where I am right now…” I’m not proud of this reaction. At all. But it’s real, it’s honest, and it’s only a tiny little fraction of what my single parenting heroes go through on a daily, no-real-end-in-sight, basis.

I wanted/needed an attitude adjustment as I was leaving the hospital last night, as things were not looking good and the possibility of surgery was beginning to look like a reality – which would mean another full week of hospital living for my husband, and another full week of single-stressed-out-parenting for me.

I got that attitude adjustment by remembering and honoring all those who single parent Every.Damn.Day, with or without the added stressors of life that inevitably happen to each of us from time to time. I have renewed respect for all of you who are doing this work on your own. I honestly don’t know how you do it – or do it as well as you do. You’re amazing! Keep up the good work and please let me help you out every once in awhile. Because I get it, I really do. At least I get it a little bit more than I did a week ago…

If you are single parenting, where do you go to find support? Do you think those around you actually “get it” – how hard you work every day, all day, to do this important work of parenting? What do you wish those of us who have a co-parent knew about your experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

PS: It appears as if the particular stressor that has happened to our family this week might be about to end. Overnight, a little miracle occurred and it appears as if my husband will be able to avoid surgery. He might even be home before the weekend is out. Thanks to all who have been supporting our family this past week. All of us were less stressed than we would have been without you!

And, given the title of this post, readers will expect this: A little music from Queen B to get your Friday off to a good start!