A million minutes

I work outside of the home, which means I arrive home around 5:30 with a hungry, tired, sometimes grouchy, screamy, combative) toddler in tow. I usually have no clue what we’re having for supper. I try to cook, tidy up, prepare for the next day, and cram in a little quality time with the kiddo.

There is never enough time to get everything done. I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think that about 75% of the time, being an adult is a total bum deal. Of course, I didn’t appreciate the awesomeness of being a child until I was an adult, which is the cruelest cut of all.

Working full-time and having a very young child means sometimes I feel like I have been spread so thin I can barely see myself, and yet my to-do list never diminishes. Last night, as I parked myself on the sofa for a few minutes of peace before going to bed, I started day dreaming about all of the things I would get done if I had a million extra minutes. (Lest you think that is a ridiculous amount of time, it is just a little under seventeen hours.)

On my list were things like…

– give myself a proper manicure where I push my cuticles with an orange stick wrapped in cotton. (I’ve read that you’re supposed to do that in Glamour. Does anyone actually do that?)

– finish watching Mad Men because I am sooooooooo behind. I was starting Season Four when I got horrible gastro and I never finished it and now I am so many seasons behind I might just wait until the series ends and watch the whole thing. (Unless I found a million minutes just lying around somewhere.)

– take a long nap with no alarm.

– take a long bath, with the door locked, and  a book, and someone watching my kiddo so that I wouldn’t have to listen to constant knocking on the door and pleading to come in.

– learn how to use my damn sewing machine. I would read the manual, and then take some lessons. I told Nina that I would make little pyjamas for her Waldorf doll, and I have a whole list of projects I want to try if I can just find the time to sit down and learn how to use the machine.

– organize the pictures on my laptop and make one of those online baby books for Nina. (God knows I sucked at making a real one for her.)

– see a movie alone in an almost-empty theatre, where I can put my feet up on the seat in front of me and I don’t have to share my popcorn.

– spend some quality time with my kid. Nothing involving cooking or cleaning, just something fun like going to the park or the pool or reading or colouring. Time where I don’t have to say “just a moment” or “as soon as I finish this.”

How about everyone else? What would YOU do with a million minutes?

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An Inconvenient Tooth

My kid is hooked on the binky. I hate it (but that’s a blog for a whole other day) because it has caused her front teeth to stick out. It makes them hard to see and hard to brush. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it, but one day in April I realized that I hadn’t actually seen her front teeth in a long time. I laid her on my lap and pulled her top lip back and –

OMFG. OMFG. OMFG.OMFG.

Holes. Big, brown, holes. IN MY BABY’S TEETH. The horror.

What kind of a mother was I? I didn’t know anyone else whose toddler had cavities. I sent a frantic e-mail to my husband, asking him if he knew about the gaping canyons in our child’s teeth. Then I turned to my old friend, Google. (Well, I went in the bathroom and cried a little. And then I went to Google.)

To my surprise, there was more than a little information online about cavities in toddlers. There were hundreds of news articles, message boards, op-eds, and blogs. There is a toddler tooth crisis that I never even knew about, until my child became a statistic. The teeth of poor little souls all over the first world are literally crumbling out of their mouths.

In Canadian children under five, tooth decay is up nearly 30% from ten years ago. Kids as young as 2 are going to the operating room to have extensive dental work, including extractions, root canals, abscesses, fillings, and caps. There is surgery with anesthesia. If my child were in an accident or became ill and needed life-saving surgery, I wouldn’t hesitate to give my consent. But for cavities?

Left untreated, childhood tooth decay has plenty of long term effects on adult teeth as well. Children with active infection in their baby teeth are more likely to have cavities in their adult teeth. Premature loss of baby teeth can result in crowding as the adult teeth grow in, which can lead to many more (expensive) interventions down the road.

Everything we eat contains more sugar than it used to – canned vegetables, prepared side dishes, pasta sauce, soda, cooking sauces, snack foods, juice and other drinks, yogurt, breakfast cereal. Even for those who avoid prepared and processed foods entirely, there is the natural-occuring sugar in fruits and vegetables. Dried fruit, sticky and sweet, is like tooth kryptonite. And of course there are the bottles at bedtime. I’m not judging anyone, since I was guilty of this until a few months ago myself.

I also don’t want to minimize the socioeconomic factors at play. Children from low income families, certain minority groups, and with reduced access to dental care are at much greater risk. First Nations children are in the throes of a catastrophic dental crisis, the details of which would make you weep. There are also some children who, even with the best of care, are physically predisposed to dental decay and other issues.

But I am ashamed that we are in this place, because we are not a low income family. There are times when money is a little tight, but we have never had to choose between diapers and food, or worse. My husband and I have excellent dental benefits through our workplaces.

Before Nina’s dental crisis, I had never really discussed toddler dental care before. I’ve learned that if you bring up the subject with a group of mothers, at least one of them will know someone who has already been through it. My mum, a long-time pediatric nurse, scoffed when I called to tell to her about it. She said that she rarely brushed our teeth as toddlers and we were just fine and that I was probably overreacting (which is kind of my specialty). She told me that she knew people whose baby teeth had rotted to black stubs, but grew beautiful, pearly white adult teeth in their place.

She was trying to be helpful, but I wasn’t comforted. Health concerns aside, I don’t want my child to have to walk around with black stubs. I don’t want her to be made fun of because she has rotten teeth. Social status on the playground is tenuous at best.

Thankfully, Google also helped me find a great pediatric dentist in our area. At Nina’s first appointment there was a lot of sniffling and apologizing (me) and screaming (the kid), but there was also a great deal of compassion and understanding. And most importantly, a lot of education. Teeth MUST be brushed every day, whether it is a fight or not. And flossing needs to be added to the routine. Juice, which doesn’t have a lot of nutritional benefits anyway, should be avoided whenever possible. Nina does have some decay, and we are going back every three months for the next year in order to stop the progression of infection. Nina’s second appointment was much better. Diligent brushing and flossing have prevented the spread of decay, and continue to buy us more time before she might need any major interventions like surgery. She got a new toothbrush (dinosaur) and a prize (a snap bracelet) and I got a little peace of mind. 

I don’t know what the future holds for Nina’s baby teeth. We may end up in the operating room. I’m not sharing our experiences because I want to make anyone feel guilty. I know that people are busy and time is in short supply. We are all doing our best for our kids. Brushing a small child’s teeth sucks. Who wants to battle a 25 pound rabid wolverine/Uma-Thurman-in-Kill-Bill after a long day of work? No one. I felt like this was one battle that wasn’t worth picking, that I would catch up when she was a little older, but I was dead wrong on this one.

Can’t

My two-year old daughter, Nina, is very independent. She is learning new skills and getting more coordinated. Much to my chagrin, she regularly swats my hand away when getting out of her car seat or climbing the stairs, shouting “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” She wants to feed herself and put on her own shoes and have her own pillow at bedtime; she wants to smell and touch and try everything.

Or at least she did. The newest catchphrase in my daughter’s repertoire is “I can’t.” It has been whispered, shouted, and wailed. I’m not exactly sure where she picked it up, but it bugs the shit out of me. I can’t put my finger on the reason why it bothers me so much.

The first time she said it, I was surprised. She realized that she had forgotten one of her stuffies in the living room at bedtime, and she turned to me and said “Where is Mama fox?” I said that she must have left it on the couch, but she could go get it and then come straight back to bed.

“I can’t.”

I hesitated, because I recently made the (unbelivably idiotic and still kicking myself for it) mistake of joking about monsters in her room, and the subject has reared its ugly head a number of times since.

“Why not?”

“Because Mummy do it.”

I snickered and rolled my eyes a little and told her that her two legs work just fine, to go ahead and get Mama fox and bring her to bed. (An aside: Is she seriously refusing an excuse to get out of bed? She has complained of cold tummy, sore legs, water in the wrong colour of cup, just to avoid going to sleep.) She refused to budge, so Mama fox spent the night on the couch.

Unfortunately, that was the start of a whole shit-ton of “I can’t” over the past few weeks.

“I can’t” is not “No” or “No way.” It isn’t the refusal to get her hair brushed or eat her supper or get changed for bed. Don’t get me wrong. “NO WAY!” is uber-annoying. I know that it is sassy and rude, and I discourage her from saying it. There is a consequence for refusing to mind, like being wrestled to the floor and stuffed into the pyjamas, or the removal of a privilege. But she often laughs or smiles when she is saying it. She is aware of the kind of effect that it has on the person she is saying it to.

Not so with “I can’t.”

“I can’t” is not “I need some help.”  She asks for help all the time, with a zipper, or knots in her shoelaces, or if she can’t reach something. She trusts that if she asks for help, someone will be there.

“I can’t” is so plaintive and sad. It sounds too much like giving up. And my biggest fear is that she learned it from me. I don’t think of myself as the kind of person who frequently says that “I can’t.” Hell, I’m usually the person who says “I can” until I am so overloaded with tasks and activities that I actually can’t handle them all. And then I do them anyway.

I am a clinical depressive, but my illness is usually fairly well-managed. Lately I’ve been going off the rails a bit. I’ve withdrawn socially. I don’t get much pleasure from the things that usually make me happy. I can’t fall alseep at night, which makes me tired and weepy. I’m trying some things, but it takes time.

I’m scared that I haven’t been as good at compartmentalizing the issue as I thought I was, and that maybe Nina’s “I can’t” is her way of expressing what she has been observing. I don’t want her to think that being sad is normal, and I don’t want her to get in the habit of giving up before she even tries. She has so many adventures ahead of her: school, friends, family, travel.

I am probably overanalysing the situation. She has been eating and playing normally, and she is full of smiles and giggles when I pick her up from daycare. “I can’t” is probably just a silly phase, nothing to worry about. I really should let it stop bothering me, but I can’t.