A little over a week ago, a monster tornado ravaged nearby counties. Nearly every day this past week I’ve been crying as I read in the paper daily reports of the death and destruction left behind. My sorrow has been for one family in particular. Four children (two sets of brothers who were cousins) huddled in a closet when the tornado came to their home. A tree fell right where they hid for safety. Three of the boys were killed. The fourth one was a six-month-old baby. He died later at the hospital.
The tornado came within 35 miles of me and my family, but I didn’t even know about it until after it was over. I was in a live webcam training session for work, and my husband, who was in the nursery with Sam, had decided not to interrupt me unless reports changed to list our county in danger. I suppose I’m glad I wasn’t aware of it because tornadoes terrify me.
Last month Japan was slammed with an earthquake and tsunami. I watched in terrible awe videos of the awfulness of the tsunami wave swallowing the land, engulfing all with a deathly velocity. I watched in horror the vehicles clearly seen speeding along gray strips of pavement, hoping to reach safety. The annoyances of my day faded away as I was filled with gratitude for the simple blessings of health and safety. That feeling stayed with me for days. I was also filled with sorrow, not only for the many lives lost, but for those devastated souls who must keep living in a new ruined landscape with the fear of radiation. My heart felt heavy as the number of dead climbed higher. But I didn’t cry.
Is it that it was so far away? Is it that the chaos and destruction is so enormous that it is difficult to comprehend? Is it that I haven’t yet heard any personal stories from the survivors sharing their tragedy in their own voices? Is it a self-preservation technique for our psyches—sort of only allowing ourselves to feel so much pain? In other words, not taking on the crushing mutilating weight of all the world’s pain? I know that it is not that I am uncompassionate towards the suffering of others. I know that it is not that I value less the lives of Japanese people in some horrible racist twistedness. Why is it then that I did not cry last month, yet all this past week I’ve been crying over the deaths of four little boys?
Would I have been so affected a year or two ago, before I had my own little boy? I wonder. I keep envisioning myself in the scenario if a tornado comes. I’m on my knees in the bathtub, crouching and curled over. I have Sam in my arms underneath me. I am holding him tightly, trying to shield him. I’m trying to soothe him also, but my tension and tears and primal fear and the cold hardness of the tub thwart my efforts to calm him. I can hear the wind roaring in my head and all around me. I’m shaking with terror that seeps in to my core. There are two stories and an attic above us; does that provide an obstacle between us and the falling trees or does it add to the weight that may crash upon us? I don’t know. That is, if the tornado only throws trees and debris at me, and does not rip my home up wholly from the ground. Sam shrieks in distress; I hold him tightly in my arms underneath me. I would gladly take a tree across my back before I let it crush my baby, but I worry. I strongly suspect my small back is not enough to stop a falling tree in a tornado.
Like I said, tornadoes strike me with terror. We were spared this time, but my heart breaks for the family who lost all four of their little boys, even the tiny baby.
The scale read 16 lbs 12oz, which was a weight gain for Sam of one pound and three ounces! Woohoo for Sam! We were happy to see that he gained weight, and the doctor was very pleased with it also. Sam also measured a quarter inch growth in height. I’m not too sure about that though. I think that such a small difference could easily be caused by squirminess as the nurse was measuring. (You can check out the last post Small Boys in a World that loves Tall Men to get our perspective on height, growth, and why we’re so happy to see our son Sam gain over a pound during the last six weeks.)
Dwelling on weight gain and scales, I can’t help but think about the plentiful bounty of extra pounds that I’d be more than happy to donate to Sam. Or to some other child. Or really to anyone. Anyone at all. Please, take my fat.
I was a skinny 105 lbs until about 23 years old. I put on a few pounds and gained some lovely curves. Those lovely curves turned into extra flab with a few more pounds. I dropped some when I was 26. That was the year Jack and I got married; I was a beautiful and curvy 123 lb bride. I didn’t mean to let myself go after the wedding day. Truthfully, I really hate that phrase. But during our first year of marriage I put on another 12 lbs. Then, due to a cross-country move, I fell into some depression brought on by missing my home and my husband (who had to stay behind for awhile). The needle on the scale plunged back down to 125. I can’t eat when I’m depressed. Frankly I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and depressed, but oh how I wish I could get to a state of happy and pleasantly curvy.
Unfortunately I really started gaining rapidly once hubby and I were settled in our new home and I was happier and more content than I’d been in a long time. My highest weight was 168, I think. Remember, I’m only 5’3” so that is quite heavy. The summer of ’09 I spent staying at my in-laws’ house back home. They were gracious enough to let me stay while I helped care for my grandmother during her last weeks. I started dropping weight again, this time was due not only to my grief but because I was walking everyday around their hilly neighborhood. Now that I think about it though, I know I was walking partly to relieve some of the care-taking stress and sorrow, so I guess that was indirectly related to depression also. Whatever the mix of reasons, I dropped twenty pounds that summer and was feeling a lot better about my body. Two months later I got pregnant. The nausea was so intense that I lost a few more pounds, and I looked great. By “great” I mean skinny and sickly and exhausted and green with nausea. But skinny! Of course I went right back up to 168 with Sam squirming and kicking around inside me. Now I’m at 148 lbs. Like I said, fitting into a pair of sexy jeans would be a heck of a lot easier if I could donate my fat, and I’m perfectly willing to do so. I’m not stingy and selfish about it. I’d generously give of myself.
I’m hoping Sam won’t need any of my donated fat. Like I said, I was so happy to hear the nurse say “16 lbs, 12ozs.” That was a few days ago though. Now I’m worried about this new development. Sam has always had a bottle right before going to bed. In the past couple days, he’s outright refused it. Not even a sip. I don’t know if this is a problem or not. I don’t want to have to breastfeed every night; I won’t be able to leave the house, go to work, or get my much-deserved nightly break. I’ll have to see if he still sleeps through the night without waking for a midnight feeding. I’ve heard that teething might be the cause. He does have a fifth tooth poking through. I’ve also heard that it’s a common phase to refuse the bottle. And some of my friends had mentioned that their babies let them know when they had outgrown the need for a feeding immediately before bedtime. I guess I’ll wait and see.
Oh, and feel free to contact me to arrange for your delivery of donated fat.
When the generalization becomes an expectation, there lives a stereotype.
Men are generally taller than women. There’s the generalization.
Men are tall or at least the real men are supposed to be tall. And there’s your stereotype.
Sam is a little guy. Even for a toddler, he’s small. Sure, he could go through a growth spurt at 14, sprouting gangly limbs and lurching around awkwardly, and end up a 6 foot tall giant. I don’t think it’s likely though. Did you pick up on the fact that I think 6 feet tall is a giant? That just might hint to you at how tall, or to change the perspective – how short, I am. I’m 5’3”. Jack is 5’5”. It seems likely then that our son Sam will follow the family trend.
When Jack was 18 months old he stopped growing for a while. For six months his growth had completely ceased, and then it began again, perhaps more slowly than normal. He was poked and pricked and tested for the next several years while he fell to the bottom of the growth chart. By fifth grade his buddies, the bullies, and the rest of his classmates towered over him by several inches or much more.
From x-rays of his hand and wrist, Jack was diagnosed with constitutional growth delay. It’s a condition whereby one’s physical age is younger than one’s chronological age. What? Yeah, I don’t really grasp a medical understanding of it either. But I do understand that it causes the kid to be behind his peers, growth-wise. Interestingly though, it does not cause any physical health problems; the individual should eventually reach full height and maturity albeit much later than everyone else.
In Jack’s case, six months of no growth was combined with short family genes and a case of ordinary late bloomerism. (The family trait of late bloomerism was evident in his brothers, too, who were also the shortest kids in their grades until their growth spurts naturally kicked in during junior high. However, while there’s no doubt that the brothers were short kids, the gap between Jack and his classmates was greater. As adults his brothers are 5’9” and 5’10”; there are a few tallish genes floating around the family tree. I think shortness reigns though. Jack, at his adult height of 5’5”, is still taller than both of his parents.)
You can imagine that, for many, the years of adolescence is rife with insecurity and general misery as a kid navigates the sometimes hellish social ecosystem that is middle school and high school. (It could be unpleasant for us nerdy types anyway.) In a population that, like most of society, values height, physical strength, and athleticism in males, how much more difficult do you think adolescence might be for a small boy? The problem with constitutional growth delay then isn’t one of poor physical health; it is a social problem. Additionally, constitutional growth delay does not only affect height; puberty is also delayed. It’s hard enough to ask a girl for a date. It must be even harder when you have the body of a younger boy.
Jack’s parents made the decision to start Jack on doses of testosterone by sixth grade. He’s glad they did. It gave his growth a much-needed jumpstart. Specifically, he was able to enter the not-so-magically-wonderful world of puberty. He gained all those delightful additions of hair in funny places and other awkward changes, and his voice transformed into the voice I know and love. He was still short but started making greater progress towards reaching his full mature height.
Fast forward thirty odd years, and here we have our sweet Sam.
Having gained a mere 4 oz since his six month check-up, at Sam’s nine month appointment he weighed 15 lbs and 9 oz. And he grew one inch. Our wonderful pediatrician Dr. Morton noted that although Sam was at the bottom of the growth chart, he looked healthy and happy. And he does; Sam has good muscle tone, healthy color, not scrawny looking at all. He looks like a completely healthy baby, but a bit miniature sized. Dr. Morton at this point is more concerned about Sam not gaining any weight than about his length. He said it was time to work another meal into Sam’s diet. Jack and I followed his advice, and it’s been three meals a day now. Lately Sam has been my little piggy; by which I happily mean that he has had a healthy appetite. At first we were only giving Sam about a ¼ cup of food for a meal, and he seemed satisfied with that (not even finishing that all the time.) But in addition to increasing the frequency of meals we’ve also increased the amount. Sometimes it’s ⅓ cup, ½ cup or even more depending on his appetite and mood. We make our own baby food: a mix of fruits, veggies, yogurt, chicken, and some cheese. I’m no farmer; when I say “make” I mean that I buy fresh organic produce and dairy and cook/mash/puree it. I still breastfeed Sam five or six times a day. Jack gives him an 8oz bottle of formula at bedtime—a remnant from the very early days when we had to supplement my breast milk. Now it gives me a much-needed, much-appreciated break in the evenings!
Tomorrow we go back to the pediatrician to check on Sam’s growth. It’s been six weeks. With all this yummy and nutritious food in his diet, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some significant weight gain. In fact I’d be very surprised if we don’t because, as Jack joyfully pointed out to me last week, Sam’s thighs have put on some extra chubbiness. When he’s being changed, Sam lies on the changing table and points his feet straight up in the air. Now I grab his legs and jiggle his thighs and gleefully sing “Chuuubbyyy thiiiighs!!!” and he laughs and laughs and laughs.
I can see the chubby thighs, but I don’t see any evidence that he’s grown in length at all, but who knows? Chubby thighs certainly indicate a positive weight gain, but there may still be some trials ahead. What would we do if Sam had constitutional growth delay? Would we give him testosterone? Some parents in that situation might even opt for the more extreme growth hormone treatment. Thank God that Jack’s parents didn’t do that. The children who took the newly available growth hormone in the 1970s didn’t fare so well as they got older. I don’t know about growth hormone for Sam. That feels extreme, and definitely doesn’t seem very crunchymunchy to me. Lastly, I get to what I see as the crux of the situation. Sam’s emotional well-being.
How do Jack and I teach Sam that height doesn’t matter nearly as much as society may lead you to think it does? How do we instill confidence in Sam, or help and support him in having confidence in himself? Jack had a friend in high school who was also shorter than most of the guys. Ted, however, was brimming with confidence, and nobody messed with him. What was Ted’s secret? And how do we raise Sam to not feel as though his height is a plague upon him? Jack believes that all children have a moment where they realize that they are different from other children in an undesirable way. For Jack, it was his height. The undesirability of the trait may be all in the child’s own head (for example maybe it’s glasses or red hair that marks them as different) but that doesn’t make the feelings and self-consciousness any less real. If height proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to Sam surviving the teenage and college years happily and perhaps an obstacle to romance as well, but there was some way we could improve the situation, wouldn’t we want to do it? If we decided to use testosterone treatment to advance growth, how would we do that while simultaneously preaching that Sam was perfect and beautiful exactly the way that he was? Perhaps most importantly, how do we raise Sam to be able to love himself and be comfortable in his own skin? And how do we do that in a world that loves tall men, and where short men are often the butt of a joke?
I am tired and want nothing more than to put my feet up, eat dinner, and enjoy some smooth Bailey’s Irish Cream. The day’s highlight? I was asked for ID when I bought the Bailey’s at the liquor store! Other than that happy moment, it’s been a long and tiring day. There’s nothing like having to work on a beautiful sunny Saturday instead of joining your hubby and son for an enjoyable day at the market and bookstore.
It’s 9:37 pm. I should be realxing to the sounds of peaceful nothingness. Or maybe just the sounds of Jack cooking dinner. And soft lullabies coming from the CD player in the nursery. But instead, Sam is in his jumper just four feet away fom me. He’s jumping up and down furiously, taking full advantage of this last push of energy for the day. The noise of the attached toys and especially the springs seems to grow louder and louder. Now it’s 9:43. Wow! He’s really getting some air between his toes and the floor!
I suppose that some might insist that I’m too lenient, I’m allowing bad habits, or that I’m not showing him who is in control. He’s 10 months old; of course he’s in control. Although perhaps “control” is not the right word. As a young whippersnapper, I always resisted the idea of being controlled myself, and I don’t feel any great need to “control” Sam. Plenty of advice givers from the great pool of *They* would advise me to put Sam in his crib and let him “cry it out” to sleep. It’s 9:48. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
So my options are 1) Place Sam, who is wide awake and full of energy, into his crib and his energy will drain from screaming. Granted, perhaps it is our fault that he is wide awake. Scheduling for the day was off, bath-time got started very late, etc. I suppose sleep-training proponents might argue that there wouldn’t be any screaming because by 10 months old, Sam would know better than to pointlessly scream. Oh wait, but he would still be filled with unspent energy then, wouldn’t he?
He paused in his jumping…it’s 9:54. Maybe he’s done… nope, there he goes again, still jumping.
Option 2) Place Sam in his jumper. He’s happy. He’s using up that energy. He’s tiring himself out. Sure, the noise from the springs is loud and annoying, but not nearly as awful to listen to as screaming and crying would be. Once he’s done jumping, I’ll give him some more milk, put him to bed, turn those soft lullabies on, and most likely he’ll fall asleep before long. This option seems like a win-win situation for tonight. Then tomorrow I’ll try to do a better job of physical play and meals and evening scheduling, etc.
With such a choice analysis, I’m not sure why I would even consider option #1 cry in crib. Except of course that that is what *they* say I should be doing. (There’s always a faceless, anonymous They to be telling you what you ought to be doing). At least I’m fortunate enough to have some friends who also eschew the Ferber sleep training method. I have to say though, when I first heard about it Sam was only maybe 6 weeks old. I was informed by a friend to start sleep training at 3 months. I thought I would, because I thought that was what you did. It sounded like a good idea; make bedtime a smooth and quiet affair. My husband, Jack, was the one to refuse Ferber methods right from the start, saying that we could still have a happy baby that would sleep at night even without being trained. I’m glad he did. We’ve definitely seen our share of some difficult nights. And as I write that, I think to myself that “difficult” is an understatement. There were a few nights that I wondered if I would have to resort to letting Sam cry it out. But those aren’t common. For the most part, Sam’s bedtime is very pleasant for all involved.
It’s 10:07. He’s definitely slowing down. Now I can feed him and hopefully he’ll sleep. Then I can proofread this blog, publish it, and maybe figure out how I can get spammers to stop showing up in my site stats. Oh yeah- and grab a glass, pour a drink, and savor some smooth and sweet Baileys Irish Cream.