Marriage: A Delicate Balancing Act

June 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

 

Marriage.

I don’t know where to begin.

Years ago after attending a friend’s wedding I wrote an essay on the origin of marriage and the subjugation of women. I didn’t think I’d ever get married. In my culture even the language reflects a misogynistic attitude toward the institution. Esposa is wife. Esposas are handcuffs.

And now here I am over a year into my marriage and boy is it challenging. This isn’t a bad thing. But if there were academic degrees in maturity, marriage would be a requirement. There’d be a graduate course just for people like me: Growing Up 101. Oddly, I don’t face the same challenges being a parent as I do being a wife.

I’m almost four years into parenting and I’ve discovered the name of the game is consistency. Consistency I can do. Brushing teeth twice a day, clipping fingernails once a week so no one gets scratched at preschool, bedtime rituals. I excelled in school so the whole responsibility track comes first hand. Also, my son has to do pretty much what I say so there’s no compromising. I love him unconditionally so I’m eternally patient. Just these three principles: compromise, unconditional love, and patience would go a long way if they translated from parenting into being a partner in marriage, but it ain’t that easy.

I don’t want to compromise. I know what’s right. So, just do it my way.

I can’t love my partner unconditionally because he’s forever not doing things my way. I can’t be patient with him for the same reason. Yet, as long as I listen to an ego that tells me I know what’s best, growing up is impossible. And yet I’m learning that if I don’t grow up, the marriage can’t work. I have to compromise, even when I think he’s wrong. I have to love him unconditionally even if he’s not doing what I want him to do. I have to be patient, because if you can’t respect and be tolerant of your partner, how can you expect whole countries to get along and the world to live in perfect harmony, which is what we all fundamentally want, right? Okay, that was a big leap, but I’m serious. I used to say that if women ran the world, there would be no war. Well, I have to revise that. If I can’t keep my own household harmonious how could I do so for an entire nation?

I don’t know what I thought marriage would be like. A house full of laughter and the smell of dinner on the stove? Sometimes it is like that. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it smells like dirty clothes and it sounds like raised voices in a heated discussion about something as trivial as returning the Netflix. Still, it’ s new. We have a lot to learn about each other. We’re just settling in. The trick, I’m learning, is to not stop communicating. And, although it’s difficult to do, I have to let him get his way too. (Damnit!) That’s something I should have learned in preschool, right? I watch my son letting others play with a toy that he prefers (compromise), waiting his turn (patience), sharing his treats (unconditional love). And I think I must have missed those lessons. Thank goodness my husband picked them up somewhere.

It’s a delicate balancing act, marriage.  One wobbly step at a time…

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This Isn’t Happening

April 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

Noah with Grandma and Easter Eggs

As I accompany my mother to her doctor’s visit, I hear her telling the nurse that I have become the mother and she the daughter.  Everyone laughs as if this is funny.  It is what happens.  The kids have to take care of their parents when they get older.  I get it, but I’m not ready to stop being the daughter. It’s far too soon.  I need her as a mother a little longer, especially since we planned and executed my getting pregnant with “our” miracle boy, Noah.  I wouldn’t have been able to have a child on my own without my mother’s support.  The woman who came home to a pouting teenager lying on her bed disappointed that her best friend reneged on going backpacking in Europe and suggested, “Why can’t you go by yourself?” was the same woman who, upon hearing I wanted to plan a baby on my own, whipped out a piece of paper and started writing down the pros and cons.  That’s my mom: a no nonsense go-getter.  She does what she says she’s going to do.  And I’ve inherited that from her.

Growing up it wasn’t always easy having such a supermom.  She was actually a workaholic and will admit today that she wished she hadn’t put so much time and energy into work at the expense of losing it with her kids, but there’s no point in regretting the past.  My father wasn’t financially reliable so it fell on her to raise five kids. She worked and promoted until she became head of the institution where she had started out as a lowly service worker.  At home she was just as ambitious. The house was spotless.  Not just for company.  All the time.  We used to say you could eat off my mom’s floors. You can imagine then, how frightening it is to see a woman with boundless energy gradually become ill to the point where both her mind and her physical stamina are failing her.

I know what it is like to be in her shoes because I have Fibromyalgia and was once as exuberant and energetic as she.  But I’ve had over a decade to come to accept my limitations.  I think my mom is still in the denial stage, although recently she has been more willing to look at the evidence.  Ergo, the doctor’s visit I mentioned at the beginning.

I thought it was just a routine visit, but by the time we came out of there we had referrals to four separate departments from psychiatry to audiology.  During the visit the doctor asked for my mother’s medical “directive.”  I didn’t know what they were talking about until the doctor said she would need to know many things such as would my mother, “god forbid,” want to be kept on a ventilator and my mother said she would not want to be kept alive on a ventilator.  Unbidden tears surfaced to my eyes although I knew the “directive” was practical and necessary.  Intellectually, I agree that one’s wishes should be known, a will should be made, death is a natural part of life, but sitting in a doctor’s office with my mom complaining of symptoms for which the doctor says there are medications to “slow down” early Alzheimer’s, I just couldn’t manage to tamp down my tears.  Was she diagnosing her?  Later I realized I should have clarified that.  My mom’s concentration is poor, but I think it has more to do with lack of proper nutrition and exercise than anything else.

For reasons I alluded to above, my mother didn’t have that much time to be a “mother,” but when I turned 30, our relationship changed.  She was getting closer to retirement and I had become an adult, and we had a heart to heart and our relationship suddenly became more important to both of us.  Since having my own son, we’ve become even closer.  He is only three and I’m recently married and I need a mother more than ever.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  I make a lot of mistakes as a wife and a mother and I need her to confess to and to tell me to what to do.  So, my instinct is to fight this head on like I have with my own disease.

I’ve ordered her a juicer because I recently started juicing and it’s improving my fatigue.  A few months back, being the A-types we are, we made a list of all the things we can do to improve our health.  We decided we’d be accountable to each other to do these things: drink more water, take walks, eat three meals a day, meditate, pray.  Since then I started yoga and she got off diet soda.  Progress, not perfection.

I’m angry and sad. I want to fix my mom and so we make lists; I show her how to make vegetarian lasagna and give her yoga poses that don’t require using your hands because hers are riddled with arthritis.  But actually, my higher intuition is telling me I really can’t do that much about her failing health.  She has to.  This is unbelievably frustrating for me.  I don’t know how to process the idea of not being able to fix her because I’ve been spending so many years trying to fix myself from one cure to another and though I haven’t cured myself, I’ve kept my hope alive by moving on to the next possibility of a cure.  I want to end this post saying that I just have to accept what is happening to my mother, but I cannot.  I’m not even close.

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Noah’s Art

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By Sheana Ochoa

There have been studies indicating that kids that go to preschool are more successful fiscally and emotionally as adults.  I can see the benefits of preschool in terms of socialization as well as keeping my son physically and mentally occupied, but, what I didn’t expect was Noah’s interest (at not quite three-and-half-years old) in drawing.  He loves to draw.  I pick him up from school and whatever it is he is doing, he stops and grabs the piece of paper he has drawn on and rolls it up scroll-like, and carries it to the car and into the house.  Until recently, the drawings were pretty rudimentary, mere spherical circles, what one might call scribble . . . and then within a few days, he was suddenly drawing shapes!

This milestone occurred while he was staying with his favorite aunt in San Luis Obispo. I didn’t know about his advancement, until, bored with the four-hour drive back to LA, he asked for a piece of paper to color on.  I didn’t pay much attention, but after about five minutes, he said, “Mommy, look.” And he handed me a piece of paper on which he had drawn actual forms, not squiggles.  “Wow, that’s really cool,” I said, honestly impressed.  “I’m not done,” he announced, surprising me again.  Noah continued to work on this piece for twenty or thirty minutes, apprising me of his progress every five minutes until he finally announced that the picture was finished.  He had in fact created what looked to me like a cityscape with dimension and form and different colors.

I’ve tried to get him to repeat the process, but he hasn’t had the forced attention span he had while held hostage in a car for hours on end.  Still, he’s continuing to draw shapes, which just amazes me.  How do you go from scribbling to drawing?  It was like going from crawling to walking.  Poof!  Perhaps I’m impressed because I am the worst drawer in the world.  Seriously, I have no sense of dimension or shape.  When I used to teach and I tried to illustrate something on the board, I could never quite transfer what was in my brain through my hand onto the whiteboard.  My students would end up telling me, “It’s okay, Ms. Ochoa. We know what you mean.”

Noah’s grandpa is an artist.  Apparently he got some attention for drawing in elementary school, but he never pursued it until he found art again in his 60s.  Now he paints full time.  I don’t know if this art thing is a passing phase for Noah.  Nor do I really know if his present skills are anything exceptional, not having other kids’ drawings to compare with his (and that’s not an invitation for anyone to tell me).  I’m just amazed at how the mind and body of my little boy are developing: every day a new word, a new gesture, a new idea.  I feel honored to watch it happening.

 

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Santa: To Believe or Not To Believe

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

“Where’s Christmas?” my three-year-old keeps asking.  Since Thanksgiving ended, he sees signs of it everywhere.  There’s another house with its lights up and more tree-lit avenues with elaborate wreaths or even Santa and the reindeer soaring across the intersection.  “Look at the one in the front with the red nose,” I point out. “That’s Rudolph.”  “Oh,” my toddler responds introspectively, “but where’s Christmas?”  I tried explaining that Christmas was a day not a place, but for someone who doesn’t know his days of the week or even the concept of time, this whole Christmas season is baffling.

And let’s just get to the meat of the matter.  He wants to know when he’s going to get his presents.  Ever since his third birthday party he’s got the idea of presents down.  And since Grandma and Mommy have been asking him what he wants for Christmas (chocolate), what he’s really asking is “When am I getting my chocolate?”

I hadn’t planned on bringing up the whole Santa myth, but when I picked him up from preschool last week he started in on the “Where’s Christmas?” inquiry.  So, I drove around playing “I spy” with him as we found all sorts of Christmasy stuff and then there was Santa and Mrs. Clause on the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo and I pulled over.  Maybe Santa could explain to him where Christmas was.  But my boy was too shy with these strangers who wanted him to sit on Santa’s lap and wanted him to sing “Jingle Bells” to ask where Christmas was.

As we headed back to the car amidst fake snow jetting down on our sweaters, the “where’s Christmas” mantra started up again.  So I just decided to tell him Santa was working on it and that seemed to (finally) satiate his curiosity.  Nothing like making someone else responsible.

Without premeditation, I’ve indoctrinated my son into believing in Santa Claus and, of course, the reindeer and how he delivers presents in his sleigh. Yesterday, he saw a reindeer and it sparked a whining bit about getting his presents now.  I used my Santa scapegoat again, explaining that Santa had a lot of work to do since there were a lot of people in the world, but it didn’t work and his whining escalated.  So, I stooped to telling him that if he wasn’t good, Santa wouldn’t give him presents.  I couldn’t believe I was bribing him since I believe it’s manipulative to bribe kids with a reward for being good.

Now my boy believes in Santa Claus and he thinks he has to be a good boy to get his presents.  There’s only one thing to do.  I will let him believe in Santa as a playful thing.  I won’t hide stuffing his stocking or wrapping his presents under the guise that Santa does this.  I won’t use Santa as a weapon to make him behave.  Santa can just be a nice story, another emblem of Christmas like the tree we’ll get this week.  What he will learn is that Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is family time.  A day to spend and honor your family, which I will try to remind him can be everyday and everywhere.

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Preschool: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

September 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

My son started preschool last Wednesday. It wasn’t pretty. We entered the school and because I was concerned about him wetting his pants (my last two blogs were about my struggle with potty training), the first thing I did was show him the bathroom. Next we went to the cubby area where each kid has a shoe-sized plastic box for extra clothes. I showed him his extra underwear, flushable wipes for number two, and pull-ups to put on at naptime. I suddenly felt like I had given him too much responsibility at once. At home, we put his pull-ups on at naptime. I began second-guessing this whole preschool thing; I mean, he hasn’t even turned 3 yet. Still, we continued to the common room where about forty kids were finishing breakfast and waiting to be told where to go next. They knew the drill; it’s a year-round school, and most had already been enrolled in school for some time.

I introduced Noah to his teacher and when I went to say goodbye, he began to cry, imploring me not to leave him. I was not prepared. All the other kids entered the classroom as I was trying to say goodbye to Noah in the hallway.

He had been home the last month, mastering potty training. Prior to that he was enrolled in daycare for over a year, a small, family-run outfit with a one to four adult-to-child ratio. He was comfortable there, knew all the kids by name. I don’t know if taking a month off and staying at home helped him or hindered his transition into preschool.

An aide appeared at the door in the hall. I looked at her helplessly and asked if I should go. She nodded. Against all my motherly instinct, I wrenched my son’s small hands from my clothes, told him I loved him, that I would be back and I left. I felt guilty and helpless back in my car. Should I go back in? Wouldn’t that make it worse? How could I leave my son so terrified with complete strangers?

I was supposed to have coffee with a friend whom I called and she began to tell me how when her son went to preschool she did not leave. She told him she would never leave him and that she would stay there until he said it was okay for her to go. In other words, she let him find his independence and take control when he was ready. I had denied Noah the opportunity to find his comfortable levels of safety. I deprived him of feeling empowered by becoming ready to let me go. I was the one with all the control to come and go as I pleased. My friend said she had sat outside where her son could see her through a window. She read a book for three or four hours a day until he came to her at the end of the week and said, “Mom, you can go home.”

This rang true with me. I went home and called Echo Parenting where I was going to start taking parenting classes. They put me on with a child development specialist. I explained what had happened and she listened, giving me an earful of ideas and concepts I had not heard before: at 2 and 3, kids don’t understand the idea of “I’ll be back”; throwing Noah into a new environment is a huge change that he should be transitioned into in order to make him feel safe and build trust between him and me. She began talking about what they do in their parenting and one-on-one classes at the center and it all sounded smart and child-centered. She told me to call the school and tell them I wanted to stay with him and help him transition into this new world.

The principal actually answered the phone. She didn’t like the idea. She assured me that after ten minutes Noah was up and playing with the other kids (10 minutes!? He cried for 10 entire minutes?) She questioned how he would build a bond with the teacher if I were there. Other kids transitioned without their parents. She had arguments that intimidated me, but I stood my ground, fortified with the information the child specialist had given me. “I will let you stay for one week only,” she declared even though I knew I had the right to stay all day all year if I wanted. I didn’t counter her, but thanked her.

Meanwhile I had emailed my husband and told him the story. His response was that if the principal didn’t believe I needed to stay, and if Noah was fine after 10 minutes, I shouldn’t worry. I felt alone. Suddenly I felt I had to justify to my own husband my right to transition Noah into preschool.

That same night we had a play to attend. Now I was left with the dilemma of picking up Noah from preschool, and then dropping him off again with someone I know and trust, but that he doesn’t know very well. I decided if he didn’t want me to go, I would not leave him.

When we arrived, I told my friend about my day, thinking she would be an ally, but she happened to have taught preschool and believed it was best to drop off the kid and leave. Now my husband had the ally. I was left with this nagging intuition that I knew what was best for Noah, but without anyone to support me. Noah was fine so we went ahead to the play where we ran into another friend who had taught preschool. She also believed it was fine to just leave the kid without transitioning. I thought the world was suddenly conspiring against me. Was I making too big a deal out of this? All I had to do was remember the look of terror on my son’s face to remind myself I was not.

The next day I asked my husband to come with me to drop him off so he could see first hand how excruciating it was. Afterward, I sobbed uncontrollably for twenty minutes. I met with a friend later and when I mentioned my predicament he shared his story with his son. His wife had researched separation anxiety and the needs of their child’s developmental stage. She decided to stay with her son until he transitioned. My friend called it “developmental parenting”. Finally, I thought, an objective fellow parent. The next day I stayed with Noah.

The entire hour and half that I stayed, Noah was afraid I was going to leave him. Sometimes he felt safe and ventured off to explore the variety of things to do, but if I stood up from my seat, he was on me, whining: “Don’t go.” When we went outside to play he ran out to the jungle gym. I thought it was a good opportunity to ask him if I could leave. I told him I was going and he seemed okay with it. I kissed him and walked away. Just before I left the play yard, I heard him running and crying toward me, but it was too late. I had reentered the classroom and I felt that reappearing would create the same situation. The following day I stayed again, but not as long. He cried again when I left. I felt gridlocked. I was confused because Noah cried whether I stayed or not.

I asked my husband to stay with him the next day. He stayed, but again, Noah cried when he left. I didn’t know what was best for Noah. Should I stay or should I go? Since he cried either way, I thought perhaps I should let him go and trust his resilience. The next day he cried again when I left and it tore my heart out. How long would this go on?

Then I recalled when I first put him in daycare. I was recovering from a major Fibromyalgia flare and could not stay with him had I wanted to. My days were spent in bed resting up in order to take care of him at night. Every day for the first month of daycare, Noah cried when I dropped him off. A month! I don’t know how I did it then. Maybe my own health was too fragile to be affected or maybe I didn’t know what I do now about transitioning. I would not let this separation anxiety go on for an entire month, which meant I had to stay with Noah until he felt comfortable with letting me go. I was back at square one. I sat in my car, every ounce of me wanting to walk straight into that school and scoop my child up and bring him home, but I drove away.

On the sixth day of school, Noah assured me from his car seat that I could stay with him. I decided to play out what I thought he might be feeling. I said I didn’t know the kids and that was scary. He said, “not scary, Mommy.” I said I didn’t know the teachers and that was scary. Same response. So when I dropped him off I said hello to the other kids and I kissed Noah goodbye, intending to stay if he cried, but he didn’t. I wanted to jump for joy all the way back to my car.

I believe that if I hadn’t taken the time to help him through his first week of school, the crying would have continued for more weeks. Even though I didn’t stay with him from day one, I showed him he was important enough to take the time to put myself in his shoes, in a new environment with new people. Both Daddy and Mommy spent time with him in school, which although it was inconsistent, showed him that his feelings were important.

I learned that I had to honor my intuition even when the odds were stacked up against me. The most revealing lesson I discovered was how afraid I was to assert my rights as a mother, although I’ve never been afraid to assert my rights for myself.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally. I can defend myself as a woman, but because I’m new at being at mother, it is difficult to defend myself as a mother. Despite popular opinion, parents can draw boundaries and be models, but they shouldn’t try to “control” their kids in order to make them bend to their own agenda. There are tools to be used as in any profession to assure that you are doing the best job you can do. I intend to seek out these tools as often and as diligently as I can, based on the developmental stage my child is at. I intend to listen to him. If he needs me, I’ll be there to teach him that he doesn’t really “need” me until he believes it for himself. Kids don’t learn that by themselves. They internalize abandonment or distrust. I’d much rather have Noah learn through love and empathy how to self-regulate his emotional life in order to prepare him for the turbulent roads ahead.

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Lessons Learned from Potty Training

September 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

We took Noah out of daycare in order to potty train him so he would be able to start preschool next week. It was a long, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding month in which I learned:

1) It’s impossible to potty train a kid if he is still wearing a diaper all day. (During this past month, we had him in underwear and after an average of two accidents a day the first week, he began going on his own to the potty.)

2) You can’t expect a kid to be potty trained everywhere just because he goes potty at home. (After numerous accidents in his car seat for which I had to take apart the seat and wash and clean it almost every other day, I learned to just put a diaper on him for long outings.)

3) Going potty on his own doesn’t mean he’s potty trained. (You still have to teach him to shoot straight into the toilet and not all over the floor and then there’s the whole wiping business, which from what I read, he will be learning for the next couple of years.)

I also learned that even in matters as banal as potty training, my husband is a wonderful father. Together we set a goal and together we potty-trained Noah in time to start preschool. If I’m busy when Noah announces, “I have to go pee pee!” Jordan will take him. If he’s busy, I take him. Once I tossed the training toilet and had Noah pee standing up in the regular toilet, it was Jordan who modeled holding and aiming. He was also quite fastidious about having Noah wash his hands, which I appreciated, especially as we began teaching Noah to wipe his butt. For once, I’m glad he’s such a stubborn kid, because when it’s time to wipe, he doesn’t even like me to do the final, clean swipe. “I’ll do it!” he demands.

Still I am apprehensive. Noah starts preschool next week and because it’s a public school, the teacher cannot accompany the kid into the bathroom. Also, no one can actually change his clothes should he have an accident. I’m particularly worried that he might pee during nap time. At home we still put a diaper on him when he sleeps. I don’t want anything to impede his progress or traumatize him.

I can just imagine my sleepy-eyed grump waking up to a wet bottom and soaked clothes as he does when he naps at home and crying, “I’m all wet!” He still has trouble putting on his underwear if they’re not around his ankles. I don’t know how he’s going to put on a new outfit by himself. I know I can’t control this so I have to just expect the best and if it doesn’t work out, continue working with him until he can do those things on his own. BUT, I really want my mornings back again. I want to send out queries for articles, finish the endnote cleanup on my manuscripts, update my website, investigate writing contests, and just GET ORGANIZED!

At the same time, I feel we’ve, as a family, made such an accomplishment, a major milestone. The other day, Grandma called and he had just wiped himself for the first time after going number two. He said hello and when Grandma asked what he was doing, he proudly declared, “I wiped my butt!” It was hysterical and lovely. How often is something both hysterical and lovely?

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Movies and Concerts and the Circus, Oh My!

August 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

My sister and her family had to take their son to college, a long trek cross-country to Cornell. So, she gave us her tickets to the latest Circe de Soleil’s production, Iris. We took Noah last night at the Kodak theatre. I doubt Noah will remember his first visit to the circus, but it was an amazing experience.

The production was state-of-the-art, impeccable, combining film tricks with phenomenal physical feats; the entire show was pure eye candy. A perfect metaphor. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, not knowing which way to look because everything was so enticing. Noah is an outstanding audience member. He claps, he gasps, he narrates what’s going on. He’s learning to whisper, so the latter isn’t so annoying to others. I’ve been taking Noah to the movies and to concerts for over a year now. I love that he’s being exposed to so much art and culture.

I think I am the one most benefiting from these experiences, however. The first time I took Noah to the movies he had just turned two. I didn’t think we would actually be able to stay and see the film, but it was an experiment. I couldn’t take my eyes off Noah who was absolutely mesmerized by the big screen. He watched the entire movie and has gone to half a dozen movies since.

Motherhood is more than I could have imagined. No doubt it’s challenging –creating boundaries, modeling correct behavior. But there’s this whole other aspect I hadn’t even considered. Not the complete adoration and pride, which I had anticipated. What I never imagined was all this laughter. The boy cracks me up. We laugh and play and tickle and act completely silly. Last night, I unabashedly clapped and gasped and narrated (voc sotto), delighting in the circus. With Noah, I get to be a kid on a daily basis, which makes the adult responsibility of raising him less daunting.

I do know this is going by all too quickly. One day I’ll be taking Noah off to college and this will all be over. But think of all the fun we get to have in the next 15 years!

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From Bowser to Bam-Bam: Adventures of an Addled Potty Trainer

August 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa


Potty training my toddler —whom my husband and I often refer to as Bam Bam —is no different from training my late dog, Chloe. They hem and haw, have accidents, and require loads of paper towels and consistency. I realized the similarities last weekend when my brother, who is rather fastidious, invited us over for lunch. It was a perfect afternoon with excellent food and a cool breeze on the patio. I went inside to retrieve something and when I returned, I discovered marble-sized turds all over the carpet next to the lunch table. My brother was shocked, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Needless to say, he isn’t having children; they don’t go with his immaculate home décor. The only difference between training an animal and a person is psychological, which can actually become a chasm of difference if your child is as stubborn as mine.

Once my dog Chloe knew the difference between going potty inside and going potty outside, I wasn’t forgiving of her disobedience. She knew better, but would sometimes deliberately pee or worse, poop, in the house. Once, we were having Christmas dinner at my sister’s house and she pooed inside, so I struck her on the rump. Yes, all you PETA-philes, I hit my dog. My sister exiled Chloe from her home, which made it very difficult every year on the holidays because we had to travel distances to be with the family and I didn’t travel without Chloe. We found solutions for temporary places for her to stay while I ate dinner, even if she had to stay in my car, but I was not happy about it. If you think I’m a horrible person for having hit my dog, it gets worse.

Because I planned my child, I had an entire year to study and prepare for motherhood even before conceiving, but none of the research, talking to experts, interviewing other moms helped me with the real-life decisions I have had to make intuitively. Having said that, I went through my pregnancy as the attachment-parenting poster mom. Corporeal punishment? Absolutely not! I just had to get on the floor to my child’s level and “acknowledge” his frustration, fear, or anger. Yeah, that worked out real well at giving him the vantage point of socking me in the nose or head, banging me in the brow as he flailed about in a tantrum. There was plenty of corporeal punishment his first two years: I was the one getting beaten up.

As Noah began talking, he gained even more confidence defying me. He could tell me what he wanted, and if I didn’t understand his pre-verbal mumbo jumbo, I’d be in trouble. “No!” he’d yell at me and repeat what he wanted which sounded like some sub-Saharan dialect. I’d guess wrong. “No, Mommy!” he’d scream as if I were an imbecile, swatting at me. So, it began with grabbing his hand and firmly saying, “Don’t hit Mommy.” No matter how hard I squeezed, this tactic didn’t work. Month after month he continued hitting me. One day, he hit me so hard, I paused so as not to be angry as the experts say. After a few seconds the sting of his blow passed, and I slapped his hand. He cried incredulously.

Fast-forward to potty training. Setting a timer and asking him every 20 minutes if he had to pee wasn’t working because he was still wearing a diaper. So I made the leap: I purchased a dozen underpants. At first he peed in his underwear, while sitting on his training toilet, but at least he was sitting on the toilet. Then I discovered, since he was a boy (and would be teased in preschool for peeing sitting down, I shouldn’t be training him to sit and pee. Why do they sell those damned training toilets then, especially when cleaning up number two is so impractical?

So I invested in a toilet seat that goes over the real toilet seat so he doesn’t fall in for number two and began training him to stand while peeing. At this juncture, Noah mastered taking off his underwear and although it took a couple weeks to get him to stand, he does so, but it’s uncomfortable. He hunches over, which doesn’t allow a steady flow into the bowl; the urine gets all over the floor. I tell him to stand up straight and when he sees how successful this is in not getting the floor wet, he begins to overcompensate by squeezing his penis as if it will make the stream flow straighter. He is trying his best to get the urine into the toilet – although that last trickle is impossible because the stream has been interrupted.

The other night, Daddy took him to pee and I could hear him saying, “Noah, don’t move around. Noah you’re getting pee everywhere.” And I knew Noah was playing with the stream of pee, moving it out of the bowl because he had tried that business on me a few times and I wasn’t having it. I had sternly told him to pee in the bowl. After I overheard that Noah had gone as far as to pee on my husband during these shenanigans, I waited till they were finished. Then I spanked him. Yes, I put my hand to his flesh and he didn’t even have his underwear on.

“You can’t spank me!” he cried.

I couldn’t believe it. I have raised him to have such an upper hand that he believes I can’t spank him when he intentionally pees on Daddy. That was eye-opening. “Yes I can. I’m in charge, not you,” I told him and something changed, a look in his eye akin to admiration. He wasn’t happy Mommy spanked him, but something shifted and we both knew it. I was in charge to protect him. I wish my son had the temperament of someone that I could discipline with a firm No! and consistency, but he doesn’t.

Allowing him to continue believing that he is in charge would be nothing less than negligent. I know I’ll get plenty of advice from non-corporeal punishment advocates after publishing this blog, but believe me, I have studied it all. I was sold on it myself from the No-Cry-Sleep-Solution to all of Dr. Sears’s books. It didn’t work with my child and there’s no one that knows my child like I do. In fact, it’s all I can do not to take him in my arms the minute those crocodile tears flow after I scold him, but I resist a couple of minutes until it sets in that I’m serious. Afterward, I cuddle him and explain that just because Mommy yelled or swatted his hand doesn’t mean I don’t love him. And his tears dry up even though my heart is still aching and the irrational part of my head is saying, “Please don’t stop loving me, I’m just doing it for your own good.”

But, as I learned during ten years’ of teaching other kids, my job isn’t to be a child’s friend; it is to instruct them so they can become respectful, well-adjusted, informed, compassionate human beings.

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Pretending Normal

July 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

Here I am with my dad before we walked down the aisle.  Pictures can be so deceiving.  That morning I had to take an ambien in order to nap; if I hadn’t napped, I would’ve felt very weak around 4pm when this picture was taken because I have an energy-depleting disease.  Just short of two weeks before this photo was taken my dad lost consciousness while driving. He veered off the road, but continued after he came to, thinking he could make it home.  Next thing he knew he lost consciousness again and was choking in his vomit off the highway. Paramedics rushed him to the ER. He was still sick and weak on my wedding day, but I think we held each other up pretty well.

In my penultimate blog, I wrote about my dad’s failing health.  Since he lost consciousness he hasn’t been the same.  There’s definitely something wrong, but we don’t know what.  We only know what is not wrong with him: the MRI showed his brain is normal, while the EKG and stress test show his heart is also in good shape.  I was sure his syncope while driving was due to a stroke, but apparently it wasn’t. Nor did it have anything, apparently, to do with the heart blockage they operated on back in January.  After a month of not finding any answers, I finally got him referred to UCLA medical center.  He came to stay with me last week and we started over with new doctors.

By the end of the week I felt I were reliving my three-year search for the cause of my own illness in which every test came back normal. Ultimately a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was declared when all other illnesses with the same symptoms (MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis) were ruled out.  I wondered how they were going to find out what was wrong with my dad.  Throughout my own journey to figure out what is wrong with me, I’ve learned how little doctors know and how when they don’t know, they are loathe to admit it. They turn the tables and blame you for your woes.

More alarming for me this past week was how quickly I unraveled physically after taking my dad to doctors’ appointments, tests, calling and calling previous doctors to have his records forwarded to his new doctors.  Unable to focus on myself, I realized the extent to which I micromanage my life in order to make the outsides appear normal.  It may take all day, but by the time my husband comes home I’m usually bathed, my hair cleaned and brushed, the beds made, the dishes put away, and I try to find time between appearances —even if it’s only thirty minutes— to do something for myself so I don’t feel entirely useless at the end of the day.

While running my dad around (which I was honored and happy to do), I couldn’t keep up the façade. My husband had to do things I would usually do, like find an outfit for Noah and take him to daycare, pick up his apple juice, wash the coffee pot. It was truly eye opening to see how quickly my disability announced itself and my foundation crumbled. I couldn’t lie in bed if I felt dizzy or fatigued.  I couldn’t plan downtime to be alone and regroup in order to avoid stress so my symptoms weren’t exacerbated.  I couldn’t do the things I do, in effect, in order to have the wherewithal at the end of the day to pick my son up from daycare and be present with him and enjoy it. I couldn’t pretend to be a normal mother.

Instead, at night I found myself depleted, stressed, emotional, on the brink of being taken over by the illness. Just now I referred to “my disability”, not only owning it with the possessive “my” but naming it a disability.  I looked up disability: “a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.”

I don’t even identify myself as disabled. I spend every day disguising it.  It feels as if I’m giving in if I say: “I’m disabled”, even though I receive a disability check, even though I take medication every day, even though I have a disability placard for when my energy suddenly abandons me and I can barely make it to my car. With all these factors, I still don’t think of myself as disabled.  I think of someone without a limb as disabled, but not someone with a chronic disease.  I guess it’s all semantics anyway, but it was brought home to me this last week.

Spending every day with my dad, I realized I was just as tired as he was.  I had to lie down in the middle of the morning just like he did, and then again when we returned from our office visits.  I had to take my medication just like he did.  I had to eat many times during the day in order to stave off nausea and weakness.  I was behaving like a sick 70-year-old.  I’m not humbled; I’m pissed off.  I listened to my dad, bewildered that all his tests were coming back normal.  He was frustrated and I identified.

Ten years into my illness I’m still trying “cures”. I’ve been on my present protocol for two years and it seems to be addressing the pain component of the illness, but that could also be the anti-anxiety medication I take.  In theory, I should have reversed the illness by now, but I’m maintaining faith that this time, this doctor knows what he’s doing.

All these years I’ve been telling myself that there has to be a reason for being sick. I’ve gone through variations of reasoning, from blame –“the illness was brought on by my own inability to accept unrequited love”, to altruism –“I got this in order to help others who are sick”.  Then I figured I must have this illness in order to transcend my corporeal body into the spiritual realm.  Spiritual transcendence dignified the illness, but never really explained it, mollified it, or answered the obvious consequential question: How does spiritual transcendence serve anyone (me, others, the universe) if I am STILL sick?

So I’m left, like so many others, to just live the best life I can with what I have.  There’s no doubt I’m blessed to have been able to have a child.  Still, I grieve where I could’ve been and what I could’ve accomplished this last decade if I had lived through my thirties (my prime!) in good health.  But I’ve learned one thing: you are what you focus on.  If I don’t focus on my illness (how do you not think about something that engulfs you everyday?), perhaps the good things in my life will flourish. I still believe deep down I will cure myself and that hope keeps me going. Focusing outside of myself is still the best cure.  I think it may just be the best cure for everything since our society is ego-driven.  And I’m back where I began: spiritual transcendence. If I could forget about myself, the illness would disappear too. It doesn’t get the dishes done, but maybe it’s made me a better person?  Right now, I’d just like to get to the point where I stop asking “Why?”, stop feeling I have to pretend to be normal and stop judging myself for not accepting that I am sick.

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Plan B: Marriage

By: Sheana Ochoa

After getting married I knew my status as a blogger for The Next Family would have to change from “single mother by choice” to “urban dweller”, which, I told my editor, didn’t sound as sexy.  I wondered how an urban dweller is representative of a modern family, the audience to which The Next Family caters?  Haven’t there been urban-dwelling families for centuries?  Sure, the fact that I had my two-year-old on my own by anonymous donor and then married the man who would become his father makes this urban-dwelling family different.  So different that I have new worries I hadn’t considered before:

-Since Noah won’t be asking why he doesn’t have a father, he will assume my husband is his bio father.  When and how do we tell him he is not?

-If we have another child, how will Noah feel that s/he is Daddy’s biological child and Noah is not -that Noah is different?

-How will Daddy’s feelings about his biological son or daughter be different from those he has for Noah?

There’s no doubt that having a father around is a good thing.  But although I knew Noah might encounter feeling different among his peers at school, I didn’t anticipate he might feel different in his own home with his own father.

Among the SMC community, we mothers have predecessors to help us answer certain questions, with “Why don’t I have a daddy?” being the primary one.  When the day came, I knew I would tell Noah: “There are lots of different families.  Some kids are raised by their grandparents, others just their moms or two moms or two dads.  You have one mom and everyone else that loves you from your aunt to Grandma.” And depending on his age when he asks, I might be able to add: “I wanted you so much that I had to actually plan to bring you into this world.  I had to save money and have long serious talks with Grandma and wait a year until I felt healthy enough and I had to make a lot of doctor’s visits even before I got pregnant.  It was the biggest decision of my life. Do you know why?  Because I knew that I would love you so much that I couldn’t stand living without you.  And now here you are because Mommy wanted you so badly.”

I am grateful that Noah is young enough to not be aware that my husband isn’t his “real” father.  Experts say that kids learn their most important social/emotional coping skills by seven years old.  So, if Noah gets to seven feeling secure and confident, I think he’ll be able to deal with “the truth.”  For instance, if he sees our wedding photos and notices he is the ring bearer, he’s too young to ask why we were married after his birth.  But I’m sure there will be many other “clues” along the way that will prompt him to ask questions and I want to be prepared to answer them.

Presently, I’m not.

When I decided to have a baby on my own, I didn’t have to think about this turn of events.  I never thought Plan B would be “marriage.”

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