The Fertility Roller Coaster – What the Hell?

This post was inspired by questions and comments I’ve been receiving from astute readers who have picked up on some of my wording in posts about our boys. Yes, our first son is the product of fertility treatments. I am not a medical professional or an expert on polycystic ovary syndrome; I’m just a girl who needed the loving care of her OBGYN to be able to realize her dream of having biological children. We rode the fertility roller coaster for nearly two years before getting those precious two lines on the stick. This post could never capture what those two years were like, but it does capture some of the raw emotions and motivation for staying on that hellish ride as long as we did. In the most trying moments of being parents, my husband and I lock eyes and smile; we are beyond blessed to have these boys, and we never forget it.

I had wanted to be a mother from the first time I held a Cabbage Patch Kid. My friends and I used to put the “babies” up under our shirts, take turns lying down on the bed while the other friend pulled the baby out from under our shirt, and rock and carry those dolls until they were cruddy and crusty. I remember having the knock-off Barbie that came with both a maternity shirt and a regular shirt and two babies that you could put up under her shirt, too. I never got into babysitting because I didn’t care too much for other people’s children, at least not those that I wasn’t related to, but I bought a rocking chair when I was sixteen and would sit and rock and dream about the boy I would meet that would become the daddy of a baby that I could rock in that same chair.

Then my first ovarian cyst ruptured. We didn’t know what happened; I was fine one minute and then passed out in my parents’ hallway the next. I had never felt so much pain in my life, but the pain didn’t seem to be in the correct spot for it to be appendicitis. My mom rushed me to a hospital and the doctor kept grilling me about the possibility of being pregnant. Nope. Hadn’t met that boy yet – you know, the one I dreamt about while rocking lazily in the chair. I had my first ultrasound that night, and little did I know that I would later become an expert in reading those ultrasounds. That was an unpleasant experience, which may become the subject of a What the Hell? at some point, but for now, those gory details are best left to the imagination.

Anyway, one year and one day later, my second ovarian cyst ruptured and I was scared to death. I was seventeen years old, seeing my OBGYN for the umpteenth time in my short reproductive life, and asking whether or not I’d be able to have children. Now, this man is a saint in our family because he has seen my grandmother through both ovarian and breast cancer, and we already had developed a very trusting relationship. He grabbed my hands in his cold, fleshy ones (why are OBGYN’s hands always so damn cold?), looked me square in the eye, and said we’d worry about that when the time came. My heart sank. This man always had been straightforward with me, and that was the first time I ever had heard a vague answer from him. I was scared. And sad. Those dream babies already were slipping away, and I hadn’t even finished high school or met my future husband.

Fast-forward to college graduate, wife, and homeowner who had desperately talked her reluctant husband into trying to start a family. I’m sitting in the same OBGYN’s office because I had been off birth control and trying to get pregnant for a year, and I wasn’t even menstruating. Trying so bravely to hold back the tears, I asked him that same old question I had been asking once a year for ten years: Do you think I can have children? And then hearing that tired answer: We’ll see when the time comes. The time had, in fact, come.

I wasn’t menstruating. I wasn’t ovulating. Nothing about my stupid lady parts was working. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and I had to take medication to menstruate, then I had to take medication to help stimulate ovulation, and then I had to get an injection to help the egg to mature and actually release. I was having ultrasounds twice a week. My school nurse give me the shot, my husband’s aunt gave me the shot, and nurses in my OBGYN’s office gave me the shot. The drug was damn near impossible to find. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my mother, a phonebook between us, calling every pharmacy in a 50-mile radius. More than once. I was a holy mess of hormones and anxiety and I wasn’t even to the heavy-duty drugs yet.

When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I started ordering the nursery necessities. I think I worried my mother and my husband; this had Lifetime movie written all over it. I painted the walls, I ironed and hung curtains, I measured and decorated with wall hangings, and I sat in that damn rocking chair holding a teddy bear, crying my heart out. Every night while my husband was at work, I sat in that chair, asking God for a baby. I tried reasoning with Him because it wasn’t fair that He had instilled such a maternal instinct in me that my friends had teased me about being the “mother” of the group because I always had the tissues and the lip balm, and my middle-school students called me “Mom” because I always had tampons and cough drops and Band-Aids in my desk. Begging Him to give us just one baby and I would be happy.

Accepting the fact that I may never be the mother I had always wanted to be was not an option; yet, I told my husband that he might want to leave me because I couldn’t bear a child. He said he married me, not our future children, but I felt guilty and somehow like less of a woman because I couldn’t get pregnant.

Then the bomb dropped. I couldn’t even get an injection one month because the cysts were so large I was in danger of having a ruptured ovary. I broke down in the doctor’s office and the poor nurse had no idea how to console me. I wrote the check for the office visit with blurred vision and apologized for handing the receptionist a soggy check. I sat in the lobby and cried until people getting out of the elevator had looks of true concern on their faces.

That was a very dark “What the Hell?” I knew of infertile women who had been trying to conceive for years. At that point, we were sixteen months into the fertility treatments.   I knew there were women who were undergoing IVF who were losing embryos monthly. I knew there were women whose husbands were giving them shots in their stomachs and who were even administering their own injections. I knew there were women desperately seeking surrogates. And, I was sitting in the lobby crying my eyes out and feeling guilt, pity, and defeat… but mostly feeling empty inside.

This went on for months before something felt different. I left that office after my OBGYN was the one to give me the injection. It was the one and only time he administered it himself, and I remember he patted my hip and said, “This one will work.”

I was staring at four positive home pregnancy tests two weeks later. What the Hell?

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Cleaning Day – What the Hell?

I’ll admit that I don’t do heavy-duty housecleaning as often as I should, but we do the weekly routine of light dusting and vacuuming and steam-mopping pretty well. I keep up with the laundry and dishes because there is no alternative, and I clean the kitchen counters and table several times a day. The Department of Health and Children and Youth haven’t been here yet, so things must be acceptable… or at least clean enough.

Today was one of those days that I set aside for heavy-duty cleaning. I have been dreading it for weeks. I know that I’m going to be stuck inside cleaning while everyone else is out having a day date or playing in the backyard or doing anything other than helping me clean; and, I absolutely think that they should be since the boys are so little. It just leaves me with a lot of the work. And a lot of time to complain about the work while I’m doing it, so it’s a good thing little ears are not here to hear me.

I had planned on cleaning our whole first floor – kitchen, playroom, den, walkways, dining area, and laundry room – today. I started by putting away the 900 million Thomas the Tank Engine parts and all of his friends’ parts and asking the boys to put back any toys they got out during the day, and five minutes later the toys I had just cleaned up were everywhere. On the floor. On the couch. On the end tables. Ugh! By lunch, there were more toys out than I thought we owned. I only had sat down to eat breakfast, and I had been picking up and organizing for four hours, but there was the tornado of toys yet again. What the Hell!

Part of my heavy-duty cleaning days consists of sorting toys into “Keep” and “Yard Sale” piles. All of the toys that I recognize from some form of a kid’s meal immediately get tossed into the trash, if I haven’t seen someone playing with them within the past day. It’s important to note that I never broadcast my heavy-duty cleaning days ahead of time to our five year old because I know that he has caught on to my toy-trashing plan and will sit and play with all of the toys that still faintly smell like nuggets or fries because he wants me to think that he still likes them and wants to keep them. He doesn’t even know where they are until I find them and sort them, but he wants them, by God!

Similarly, all of the not-from-a-fast-food-joint toys that I know nobody has touched in the past few weeks get put into the Yard Sale pile, and again, the phenomenon of “Keep that. I love that. I play with it all the time” starts up in full force. My favorite memory of this is the following…

Me: I haven’t seen you play with this. What is it?

Five Year Old: I don’t know and I don’t think I have all of the pieces.

Me: Let’s throw it away, then, if it’ missing parts.

Five Year Old: But I want it. We’ll find them. It’s SO fun.

Me: You don’t even know what it is!

Five Year Old: But I know it’s fun. I can tell.

After a day full of finding all of the parts to toys and putting them together and figuring out which ones to keep, putting them in the appropriate toy bins, and gluing those that we are keeping but need a little TLC first, I had two minutes to dust, wash windows, vacuum, move furniture, clean curtains and blinds, and put out the Fourth of July decorations. I got one room totally done today. ONE! What the Hell?

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Smoking E-Cigarettes – What the Hell?

I don’t smoke. I have never smoked. I never even tried one puff of a cigarette during my teen or college years. Growing up, I had seen too many people with emphysema and cancer that I didn’t even want to touch those cancer sticks, and I didn’t hang out with too many people who smoked. I’d like to say that decision was because none of my friends smoked, but it really was due to the fact that I knew my parents would kill me if they thought I was smoking. I also saw friends and family members desperately try to quit smoking and fail; sadly, the addiction was too strong for many of them to overcome. I didn’t want something like that to control me, and I was happy enough with my addiction to food that I didn’t want to pile on another.

I didn’t like sitting in restaurants near the smoking section, and my boyfriend (now my husband) and I chose to wait in line for a seat in the nonsmoking section even if there were several available in the smoking section. We wouldn’t hang out on the sidewalk after a movie because of the blue haze hanging over everyone, and I often chose not to accompany my grandmother and aunts to bingo because I knew I’d be stuck in a fog of cancer-inducing secondhand smoke for at least three hours. When I volunteered to help at bingo, I immediately washed my clothes and showered when I got home. I couldn’t stand the smell that clung to every fiber.

I think I’ve made my point. Few people were more thrilled than I when the smoking bans went into effect in restaurants and bars and other public places. I was so relieved that my sons would not have to grow up trying to eat their spaghetti while gagging on secondhand smoke. They don’t even know that the restaurants we now eat in were separated into those sections only a few short years ago.

Until this week. I don’t know what’s happened, but all of a sudden, they’re EVERYWHERE. E-cigarettes. I’m ready to declare war. We went to a parade last weekend and had to dodge the sidewalk sale of e-cigarettes. Seriously? What the Hell? I knew it was a celebration of our town and our heritage and that various stores would be selling their wares on the sidewalk, but it never dawned on me that the e-cig people would be peddling their vapors among the balloon artists and face painters. To top it off, I overheard people fuming because they had been told they couldn’t smoke e-cigs at their desks. In their office building. While they’re working. In an office full of people. Where kids frequently can be found. Oh, and those no smoking policies that were implemented years ago? Those apply to SMOKING, so why would e-cigs be an exception?

Until these e-cigs affected my children, I didn’t care about them. Just like any other activity people choose to engage in, I viewed smoking e-cigs as a personal choice for people. Nobody smokes them in my home or in my car or in my children’s general environment, so I didn’t care.

Until today. We were sitting in a restaurant having lunch and I saw a woman smoking an e-cig. It’s a nonsmoking establishment. It’s been that way for years. There isn’t a sign on the door because it’s the law. But, there she was. Puffing on her e-cig and clearly enjoying it. I wanted to say something to her. I wanted to say something to the waitress. I wanted to say something to the manager. But, I was afraid of causing a scene in front of my children; I am not proud that I held my tongue, but I knew that I couldn’t confront the smoker until I had the facts.

I have the facts now. Two of my favorite resources are listed below, but I found dozens online in a few quick minutes of searching the web.

“E-Cigarettes Expose People to More Than ‘Harmless’ Water Vapor: First Comprehensive Analysis Shows that Industry Health Claims are Unsupported by Data” – Key Points

  • UC San Francisco scientists found, in a paper published May 12, 2014, in the American Heart Association’s journal Circultion, that while the data are still limited, e-cigarette emissions “are not merely ‘harmless water vapor,’ as frequently claimed, and can be a source of indoor pollution.”
  • E-cigarettes should be prohibited wherever tobacco cigarettes are prohibited and should be subjected to the same marketing restrictions as conventional cigarettes
  • E-cigarettes don’t burn in the way conventional cigarettes do, but “’bystanders are exposed to aerosol exhaled by the user,’ said the authors. Toxins and nicotine have been measured in that aerosol, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetic acid and other toxins emitted into the air
  • In one study of e-cigarettes, researchers created an environment to resemble a smoky bar and found that “markers of nicotine in nonsmokers who sat nearby was similar for both cigarette smoke and e-cigarette aerosol exposure. Short-term exposure studies of e-cigarette use show a negative impact on lung function and bystanders absorb nicotine from passive exposure to e-cigarette aerosol

American Lung Association Statement on E-Cigarettes – Key Points

  • Because there is no government oversight of e-cigarettes, it is impossible to know exactly what chemicals are contained in e-cigarettes or what the short- and long-term health implications might be
  • Initial lab tests conducted by the FDA in 2009 detected levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in anti-freeze, in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various cartridges
  • Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) coming from secondhand emissions

Yes, more studies need to be conducted. Yes, there are conflicting reports about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. But, smoking is smoking. And if there are smoking bans in place, people don’t smoke cigars because the ban is just for cigarettes. It’s a ban on smoking of any kind, e-cigarettes included. So, the next time I see someone smoking an e-cigarette in a nonsmoking establishment, I’ll be ready with my facts. And, the first words out of my mouth may just be, “What the Hell?”

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Feeling Older – What the Hell?

33 is my favorite number. Of all time. I don’t know if it’s normal to have favorite numbers or not, but that’s mine. Chicago Bulls fans should know why. But, if you don’t, please don’t admit that fact out loud. It’s just one more reason I feel old, but I’m handling it well because I finally AM my favorite number.  Okay. The answer is Scottie Pippen. Dear God, please don’t look him up right this second.

I started to notice that I was, actually, growing older when my students didn’t get my references in class. A few years ago. And then it was all downhill from there. You know, that one Friends episode where Monica tries to erase the messages on the machine… No?  Okay.  You know how Jerome Bettis would always manage to… Oh. No idea, huh?  Okay. It’s like on Seinfeld when Elaine wants the Big Salad. Haven’t heard of that one either, eh?  And now that I think about those moments that seem completely random, I think I should note that I am positive they actually did fit into class in some amazing way or another, I just can’t recall how right now.  Damn!  That’s another sign of old age, isn’t it?

I think the whole thing was sparked when I saw those updates in Facebook… Monica and Chandler’s twins would be 10 years old now.  What the Hell?  And then I saw an interview with Ian Ziering and the host asked him how he was handling turning 50.  What the Hell?  I know those fresh-faced kids weren’t actually high school aged when 90210 was on, but 50? WHAT THE HELL?

And then baseball season started. And the big stories were about the aging Phillies team and how the clubhouse could be considered a geriatric ward.  Excuse me?  They’re mostly in their early 30s. Like me.  I can’t wait until football season when the old timers are younger than I am.  And I see the college football players’ birth dates and think they’re still five years old because sometimes I still feel like I’m living in the 90s.

So, rather than sit and stew about my age, I decided to embrace 33. It IS my favorite number, after all. And I don’t feel 33.  Most of the time, I don’t feel like an adult at all, let alone one in my *gasp* 30s.  I just have trouble thinking about my boys not knowing who Dave Matthews is.  Or Michael Jordan.  My Dr. J. is going to be their Michael Jordan.  My Rolling Stones will be their Barenaked Ladies.  I’m going to have to turn the radio to the oldies station to tell them about Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and we’re going to have to watch old Bulls videos online.

And, just in case you’re not feeling old yet, here are some other gems for you:

  • The Giving Tree turns 50 this year
  • Finding Nemo turns 11 this year
  • The Goonies is gearing up to celebrate its 30th anniversary
  • Michael Jordan won his last championship 16 years ago
  • The Seinfeld finale aired 16 years ago
  • The Cosby Show finale aired 22 years ago

What the Hell?

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Bugs! – What the Hell?

I like cold weather.  Snuggling with the boys under blankets and watching movies on Snow Days is one of my all-time favorite things to do.  We turn on the fireplace, watch the snow fall, and wiggle our toes in our warm, fuzzy socks.  There is just something about seeing our little ones in sweatshirts and feeling their warm little backs up against me when we cuddle that melts my heart.

This past winter, though, it wasn’t so much snuggly weather as huddle-together-for-your-lives weather.  Freeze-your-snot cold doesn’t even begin to describe it, though I think hundreds of people around here used that phrase more this past winter than they ever had in their lives.  School was canceled because of dangerous wind chills, gas and oil companies struggled to keep homes equipped to battle the frigid temperatures, and people started to fear we would never again see a robin or a blade of green grass.  Trying to find the silver lining in the icy clouds, I told my husband that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about too many bugs this spring and summer because the cold weather had to have controlled the insect population.

I was so wrong.  So, so wrong.  The mosquitos now are swarming in epic proportions.  I watch as my children are eaten alive just playing outside after dinner.  My poor two year old swings his arms and swats like he’s battling some invisible ancient karate grand master.  My five year old goes running for the orange flyswatter that he keeps in its own special place on the back porch and yells guttural battle cries just because he wanted to slide down the big slide out back, “but the bugs are in the way!”  I have bug bites upon bug bites – literally.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think we had measles.  Or mumps.  I can’t keep those two straight.

Then, we started finding the ticks.  We don’t have any animals in the house because of the allergies that plague this family (that may become fodder for a future What the Hell?), but we are finding ticks left and right.  I thought the two year old was really interested in something he found on the carpet the other day, and when I investigated, I found him poking at a crawling tick.  Thank goodness that one never made its way onto him!   But, just the sheer thought of those damn bugs makes us all squirm.  I hate that our five year old examines every bug he comes across, just in case “IT’S A TICK!”  This seems to be the only phrase he consistently screams at the top of his lungs, and he’s only been right once; much to my chagrin, he belts that out every time he sees a bug outside.  Ugh!

We’ve taken all of the necessary precautions against these bugs, but we are fighting a losing battle.  We’ve even tried smoke bombs, as per our five year old’s adorable request; it helps when you can buy them from that big warehouse store in bulk quantities.  Alas, all of our defenses are futile.  So, we suffered through mind-numbing cold this past winter, and for all I can tell, it made the bugs spring to life with a vengeance.  What the Hell?

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So Different – What the Hell?

I love our boys. I cannot remember life without trucks, cars, Ninja Turtles, Thomas the Tank Engine, and dirt. I was so thrilled just to be blessed with two pregnancies that I didn’t even worry about whether we would need to buy pink or blue until I realized the second time around that it would be important to determine the sex of the baby; I either would need to hire movers to come and haul out all of the clothes and toys I had stashed away after our first son was born so I could begin making room for dresses and tutus, or I would need to start laundering the ungodly amounts of onesies I had hoarded. (Okay, I don’t really know what I would have needed if we had had a daughter, but judging from friends with daughters, I would be in a pink princessy haze right about now.) But, I was thrilled to learn that baby #2 also was a boy. I have a boy. I know how to do this. We won’t need to buy clothes or toys ever again!

Boy, was I wrong! Baby #2 entered this world a bruiser and hasn’t slowed down yet. A full two pounds heavier than his older brother at birth, our younger son has been his own man since we first laid eyes on him. And, of course, he didn’t fit into many of the clothes I had ready and waiting for him. Size wasn’t the only difference. He had squawked so loudly when he made his grand entrance that nurses came to make sure everything was okay. He spent his time in the hospital crying in such a unique way that the other families in the maternity ward knew right away that it was that “big baby.” Baby #1 only cried in the hospital when we tried to bathe him and put him in his car seat for the first time. Oh, isn’t he cute? That’s THE cutest cry we’ve ever heard. You know, silly first-time parents think that even the crying is adorable. And that first poopy diaper? Precious!

By the second time around, though, you think you know what you’re in for. You’re expecting to not sleep ever again, only wear clothes doused in spit-up and drool and God-only-knows-what-else, and never clean your house again. You know how to measure formula in the middle of the night without any lights on and not spill a single drop while bouncing a screaming baby and praying that he’s not really waking up the entire neighborhood. Car seats and high chairs and strollers and Pack ‘N Plays that once seemed like you needed a degree in rocket science if you ever had any hope of using them correctly are now operated with one hand.   I got this!

And then we realized this tiny creature was getting to be evermore different from our first tiny creature. This one had a little giggle instead of a deep belly laugh. This one loved tummy time instead of screaming like a banshee if we even attempted to put him on his belly. This one only puked every time he ate sweet potatoes instead of every time he ate. Every. Time. This one did an adorable Army belly crawl instead of refusing to crawl until he was up on his hands and knees like the poster child for infant mobility. This one loves to take naps and asks for “Night, night time” instead of forcing you to drive up your gas bills and put hundreds of miles on your car just for a fifteen-minute reprieve. This one is fiercely independent and stubborn instead of letting you talk logically and show him how to do things. This one throws the most unholy tantrums you’ve ever seen, complete with kicking, thrashing, hitting, screaming, crying, and banging his head on the floor. Wait. What the Hell?

Oh, yes. The tantrums. We didn’t have these before. We don’t know how to handle this. We don’t know if we need to buy him a helmet, put him in a padded room, or start looking for an expensive therapist. Mother of God, how does one child create such noise and mass confusion? What could possibly cause him this much stress and frustration? The trains aren’t staying connected when he pushes them across the floor. He can’t find the milk cup that is two inches from his hand. His mother stood up and walked to the bathroom when she should have been pushing the truck. It’s Wednesday and the sun is shining. He doesn’t need a reason. He just loses it. And then we want to lose it.

It’s funny how two children from the same parents can be so different. We haven’t changed our parenting style, and he certainly didn’t learn this from his older brother. The only logical conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that we got the wrong baby at the hospital. I just don’t know which one is the wrong one: the sweet, sensitive child or the impatient, irrational child. Either way, we are stuck with this tantrum-throwing beast that we love with all of our hearts and who causes his older brother to look at him, shake his head, and mutter, “Oh, that kid,” while I look at him and think, “What the hell?”

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No More Kisses – What the Hell?

Our five year old is one of the most sensitive kids we have ever met.  Seriously.  When a kid we don’t even know falls down at the playground with a thud, he is the first to ask him whether he is okay; I’ve seen him get to these potentially-hurt kids faster than their own mothers and fathers.  He worries when his younger brother is upset, hurt, or just having a screaming fit in general. He also knows that hugs and kisses from his own mother can heal any ailment from embarrassment to scraped knees to moments of anger and frustration, and he frequently seeks out comfort in those quick motherly acts of love.

So, imagine my utter shock and confusion when, at that most sacred of parent-child times, bedtime, my five-year-old baby looked at me and said, “Mommy.  Do you have to kiss me all of the time?”  WHAT THE HELL?

Why, yes, son I do.  It’s not really within my control.  You see, I love you so much that I want to hug and kiss every chance I get.  You were my first baby; the one we weren’t sure we were ever going to be blessed with.  You already have grown taller than I was prepared for in five short years and smarter than I let myself hope you would be.  You have lost all of your baby fat and can do so many amazing things that I don’t recognize you as that baby anymore, until I really take the time to look into your eyes.  So, yes, you have to endure dozens of hugs and kisses each day.  Actually, you should be happy that I keep my signs of affection in check as well as I do, considering the fact that you have one of the two cutest little boy faces I have ever seen and your cheeks are irresistible to your Mama.

In actuality, my heart broke as I answered: “No, honey.  I don’t have to kiss you so much if it bothers you.  How about if I try to keep it to three kisses a day?”

He nodded in agreement, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he had just broken my heart into a bazillion tiny pieces, and I wanted to hug him and kiss him to make myself feel better.  He’s damn cute, after all!

But, I had to try to look at it from his point of view.  He lives with a mother who can’t stop giving him quick pecks on the cheek, a younger brother who imitates his every move and phrase, and a dad who antagonizes him with pillow fights and hide-and-go-seek-even-though-you-don’t-know-we’re-playing-yet-so-I’m-really-just-scaring-you on a near-daily basis.  He’s probably yearning for personal space.  Oh, and he may be feeling as though I still consider him my baby because I might just be guilty of singing an original song to him every night about still being my baby.  Oops.

The real pain was not inflicted by his request, because, all things considered, it makes sense.  The real pain was in the fact that his request made me come face-to-face with the ugly truth that he is growing up.  I can try to deny it by still buying the cute clothes from our favorite children’s clothing store even though he is getting too small for their “Baby Boy” line.  I still can cut his meat and twirl his spaghetti and pour his juice into a cup with the mandatory straw included, but I have to admit that he is growing taller and leaner and more independent on a daily basis.

What the Hell?  Who are you and what have you done with my baby?

And then I remember how he looks at me and reads a word on the television screen while he’s picking up a toy that the two-year-old hellion just threw at him, and I realize that I love “five.”  (I remember an episode of The Cosby Show where Rudy is upset that she’s so much younger than the rest of the clan, and she’s in the backyard with Clair complaining about being so little, and by the end of that special mother-daughter time, she’s cheering: “Yay, five!”)  He’s a great helper, he enjoys helping me cook, he swims so well that I don’t feel like a lifeguard on duty 24/7 at the pool, he’s asking deep questions, he’s making us laugh with his wit and humor and *gasp* sarcasm, and I love him now more than ever.

So, I may have to come to terms with the fact that my first baby is five already.  But, he’s going to have to deal with the fact that I will still kiss him.  Whenever I want to.  And in public.  Maybe I’m just providing him with material for his own “What the Hell?” moments.

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They’re Trusting Me With Their Children? – What the Hell?

I remember my very first day as a classroom teacher in my first teaching position.  I was fortunate enough to have had a fantastic, dedicated, amazing (enter any glowingly sappy description here because she was all of these things and more) cooperating teacher during my twelve-week student teaching placement, and I had no fears about teaching on my own when she missed two weeks of school due to pneumonia.  The substitutes let me do my own thing, and I felt very confident and comfortable in a notoriously tough middle school.

So, when I interviewed with two districts before I graduated from college with a BA in English Literature and PA Secondary English Teaching Certificate in my hand, I felt fairly good about my chances of landing my first teaching position.  Not only did my first district hire me before I graduated, but they also paid me to write curriculum over the summer before starting my new position.  And, not to toot my own horn, but I had been in the top of my high school and college graduating classes, had received several writing honors in both high school and college, and received several thousand dollars in academic scholarships.  Confidence in the classroom and in myself had never been a problem, neither as a student nor as a student teacher.

That all changed when I became THE TEACHER.  I never subbed a day in my life, so I was not sure what it would be like to face a roomful of teens without the safety net of my cooperating teacher or one of her substitutes.  That first morning, I shook for the entire forty-five minute drive to school.  I hadn’t slept for one second the night before, and I hadn’t eaten for two days (for me, that was a big deal –  I love to sleep and eat).  I paced inside my classroom and hid from colleagues and administrators who tried to track me down and wish me luck.  I looked at the class lists again and again, trying to memorize my seating chart and imagine what the faces attached to those names would look like.

When that very first morning bell rang, I was ready to puke, faint, and run away screaming all at the same time.  I didn’t know what I was going to say, how I was going to earn their respect and trust, or why I had wanted to become a teacher in the first place.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared.  I had spent weeks planning lessons and icebreaker activities and gathering advice from my new colleagues.  To this day, I can’t remember who walked into my room first or what I said at any point during the school day.  I merely remember thinking one thing, and the thought was stuck on Repeat for the entire day: “People are trusting me with their children?  WHAT THE HELL?”

This became the first of many “What the Hell?” moments in my eleven-year teaching career, but only one of several hundred “What the Hell?” moments in my lifetime.  At some point, they may all end up on this blog.

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)

Sorry, Not Sorry – What the Hell?

The Pantene “Sorry, NOT SORRY” video was all over social media, the news, and talk shows.  The goal?  To illustrate just how often women apologize for things they should not even think about apologizing for, and how to shift their semantics to sound more empowered and strong.  As part of the #ShineStrong campaign, Pantene may be on to something.

As a teacher, I heard female students apologize before asking a question, much like the female professional in the commercial in the boardroom. Over the course of my career, I had countless female students open my door and say, “I’m sorry” before asking me if I had a minute to explain a homework assignment or borrow a book: they were coming for help, and that was nothing that should have carried any shame.  I witnessed female teachers who had to make no more than ten copies apologize for standing at the copier when male teachers walked in expecting to make hundreds of copies.  The most heartbreaking example is a female student who would raise her hand to her shoulder level, desperately try to get my attention with extended fingers, and then apologize to me as I approached her for bothering me and probably being wrong.  She is the one I worked the most with on self worth and confidence.

Women use “I’m sorry” in place of “Excuse me,” “Got a minute?” “You’re in the wrong but I don’t want to inconvenience YOU,” and a multitude of other phrases.  The commercial does an excellent job showcasing these unfortunate daily circumstances, and I hope that its message reaches the students and colleagues it brought to my mind.


The second half of the commercial, when it’s actually #ShineStrong, would have been so much more powerful if the men had said they are sorry.  I cannot begin to express how much I wish the guy in the commercial who hogs the armrest would apologize to the woman sitting beside him.  It kills me when the man in bed does not apologize to his significant other for stealing the covers in the first place but rather spoons with her because he’s cold.

Just as we are gearing up to teach girls and young women to be empowered, we need to also teach boys and young men to be more aware of how their actions, words, and attitudes affect those around them and more importantly the how and the when to say they are sorry.

What the Hell?  If we are going to show women how to use their voices, we must show men how to use their voices as well.  Emotional literacy is not just a female thing.  It’s a human thing.

Oh, and maybe Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue could get in on the act and create a #dandRUFFSORRY campaign to help men feel more secure about apologizing when necessary.  Just a thought.

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)

Washing Machine – An Early Childhood “What the Hell?” Moment

An early “What the Hell?” moment comes from the development in which I grew up and for which I still have many fond memories.  Unfortunately, I have more “What the Hell?” memories than fond memories of growing up, but that’s to be expected when you’re the only girl living in the bottom portion of a development and all of the girls living in the top part of the development go to dance class and cheerleading camp and do all of that way-too-girly-stuff for you to want to walk the whole way to the top of the hill to play with them, anyway.

On this particular “What the Hell?” day, I was playing with four of the boys who lived closest to me.  Two of them were dangerously older than I, and that should have been my first clue to go home and stay put.  I’ve never been one to correctly judge the intentions of older boys who I thought were so cool because they could hit the ball farther and kick the ball higher than anyone else I knew, so I was doomed from the start.  One of the four boys decided that playing hide-and-seek would be a dandy way to spend the day, and, seeing as how I was the only girl, I was nominated to be the first seeker.  Before I even knew what was happening, the eldest hooligan of the group scooped me up and put me up on top of the washing machine in his garage.  He told me to stay there and count to 100 before I could get down and start seeking.  I had been counting to 100 forever, so I didn’t think this command was too far-fetched or demanding.

What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that nobody would be around to get me back down from the top of the washing machine.  At this point in my life, I was already destined to be the short, round girl, and getting down from a washing machine was a tall order.  As the numbers swelled closer and closer to 100, I started to panic.  I didn’t know how to get down, and I knew none of the boys would lose his chance at being the winner of hide-and-seek just to come and get me down.  I also didn’t want to be the girl who needed help getting down, so I never once thought about calling for an adult to help me.  My five-year-old mind wasn’t yet adept at using foul language, so I know the thought wasn’t formulated as a “What the Hell?”  But, that’s exactly what I was thinking in whatever language my inner voice was capable of producing.

So, I sat there.  He had told me to sit there, and I did.  I slowed down the counting, and I whispered the final few numbers so that anyone who had chosen to hide near me would not know that I was getting close to the final number.  I always was an obedient girl, and it was more important to me that I follow the instructions of the “big boy” than to get myself out of an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation.

The fact that I still to this day cannot remember how I was saved proves that “What the Hell?” moments are less about the outcome and more about the feeling in the moment.  How stupid could I have been to be put into that situation?  What kind of a moron lets all of the kids run away and leave her stranded on top of an old appliance in a dirty, smelly garage?  More importantly, what kind of a girl does exactly what a boy tells her to do, even when it doesn’t feel quite right?

Reflecting on the events leading up to and the circumstances that put you into the “What the Hell?” moments are where the truths of life and ourselves lie.  And having some sort of foresight is the key to not having too many of those moments.

I still bump into those boys every once in a while.  Now that we’re all grown up and some of us are married with our own children, I can’t help but wonder if they remember putting me into peril at such a tender age.  But I do know this: I will teach my boys how to get down from a washing machine so they don’t have to face the humiliation of appliance-stranding like their mother.  I might just teach them not to put a girl on a pedestal if they don’t think she belongs there, too.

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)