Wednesday, June 29, 2011


We have a large music festival heading our way.  Of course it can't be something cool, like a country music festival, but instead is a Phish music festival.  No, I'd never heard of them either, but apparently they are huge with the hippie/peaceloving/ecstasy and LSD doing crowd.   Oh, and glow sticks.  Apparently one of the big things at these festivals is to use a whole lot of ecstasy(which super heightens your senses) and then, with 40,000 of your friends, wave a lot of glow sticks and somehow this is "cool."

And of course I'm working up there, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, for the next 4 days. 
Lucky me.

We needed our  new udpated IDs for the fire department(both my fire department and 
the ambulance agency I work for are providing EMS coverage at the concert. I couldn't be luckier, I'm tellin ya) in order to be up there.  Rob and I hadn't picked up ours yet, so he texted the assistant chief and asked if we could get them.  Instead the chief said he had to go grocery shopping anyway and would drop them off.
After I signed for them and remarked on how terrible my picture was, I flipped them over and noticed a mistake.  On the back of mine, it had Rob's name, phone number and our address.  On the back of Rob's, it listed my name, phone number and address.  I pointed this out, that whoever made the IDs switched the backs.
The chief looked at me strangely.  "That's your emergency contact," he said.


So if something happened to Rob, all they would need to do is flip it over his photo ID, which should be hanging on the accountability board at any fire.  There is my name and my cell phone for them to call.  There is my house number and street name, in case it is really bad, and notification needs to be made in person. Right there, easy to see, no looking up papers or numbers in case of emergency.

The truth is that it probably wouldn't happen that way.  If I wasn't at the fire, I would hear a firefighter down call on the scanner or my pager long before anyone called me.  Firefighter down activates all sorts of procedures, the first being all unnecessary radio traffic stops.  All firefighting operations cease and everything turns into a rescue scenario.
I would hear all of this, and because I also have our private, F2 channels in my pager, I would be able to switch over and listen to the radio traffic.  It would probably involve his name, because we're not the best at keeping secrets.
And I would know.

The other truth is that it doesn't matter who it is.  Whether it was my husband or not, if I heard a firefighter down called, Josh is going to my cousin's and I am going to the scene.  It might be my husband, but it would definately be one of my brothers(or sisters, since we do have several female interior qualified firefighters).  It would be someone I know. Someone I love, even if I don't always like them.
Because that is the way we are.   Even if it isn't my husband, it would be someone in my family.  Whoever's ID tag was being flipped over, it would be someone I care very deeply about and trust with my life. 
And I would be there.

And maybe that is why I don't dread the midnight phone call or the knock at the door.  If something goes wrong on a fire ground, I will probably be there or be there shortly after.  And I would never, ever be alone.
There is comfort in that.

But I am not thinking that way tonight.  Tonight, my husband is at work at his full time medic job, and since I have to be at the fire house at 0530 for my 12 hour shift at the festival, Josh is spending the night at Grandma's.  So tonight, I'm putting on a movie, going to bed early, and thanking God for all of the extra family I have in my life.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Risky love

I have a secret fear. It's a fear that everyone in emergency medicine, fire, police, 911 dispatchers shares with me.  The fear that the call comes in and its your own home.  Your own family.  Your own child.

I fear sitting at the table at the work one weekend day, when I'm the only medic around, and hearing our tones on the scanner.  In my mind, I hear, Watkins Glen rescue, Schuyler Ambulance, respond to(my parents address, my address, wherever), 13-month-old male, unresponsive, not breathing, CPR in progress.
In my mind, I am calm, professional, and deal with the situation, falling apart later.
In reality, I would stumble over to the radio, and in between ragged gasps, ask the 911 dispatcher to please tone out for another paramedic to respond to the scene.  And then, I am convinced, I would die.
(Yes, I believe that if something happened to my child, I would die. This is a serious belief; please do not laugh at me.)

Every paramedic, EMT, firefighter, 911 dispatcher I have talked to shares my fears.  That someday, what we do will come home.

But here is the truth.  No matter how paranoid and careful I am, something could still happen.  A car jump the curb while we're out walking, Josh choke on a penny that I overlooked, a genetic disease could strike.  Just because I know the dangers out there and I know how to treat them, not everything is preventable.  Just because I want to wrap my child in bubble wrap and never let him out of my sight doesn't mean that I can do that, or that is what is best for him.  I'm a mom, and in the end, I have to choose what is best for my child, even if it is not what is safest.  Life is risk. Marriage is risk.  Motherhood is extreme amounts of risk.  And yet we do it.  We choose to fall in love.  We choose to trust someone enough that we pledge our lives to him(or her), to live together.  We promise to love each other, even when you don't like your spouse.
And then we start thinking about having a baby. Conceiving a child is the biggest leap of faith ever--that your child will be okay, and if not, that you will find the strength to go on. 
Motherhood, quite honestly, is like ripping your heart out of your chest and letting it walk around on its own, vulnerable and unprotected.

Why do we do it?  Why take this unbearable risk of babies?  Why risk so much pain and grief and worry?
The love of a mother, looking into her baby's eyes--even if that baby is only here for a few moments or hours or days--that is unfathomable, unquenchable love.  That is the love that surpasses miles, and time, and death.  That is the love that knows the risks of the future, and doesn't care.  It is a love so powerful it can shatter a heart, and put it back together again.

That is the love that chooses to give a child the best, even if it is sometimes unsafe, and sometimes scary, because it is the best thing for that child.

It's risky love, this parenting stuff.
But that, I think, is the best kind.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

furniture safety walk

I am a paranoid mom.

I think we've covered this before in detail, but I worry about: pools, open toilets, open second story windows, speeding cars, and ill-fitting car seats.    As a paramedic, my first thought has always been, how could this accident have been avoided?
That said, I try very hard to be a relaxed mom. I try not to project my paranoia onto my son, since I don't want him to grow up afraid of everything.  So sometimes I let him play in his room by himself while I am in my bedroom, right next door and in clear view, while I clean up.

Yesterday, however, I realized my mistake.  Josh was standing up, holding onto his dresser, and rocking it back and forth.  It was a big, wooden dresser that I would never have imagined he could tip over.
(Paranoid mom alert: I immediately flashed back to the call I ran where a two-year-old had pulled a dresser down on top of him, causing life threatning injuries)
So that ended playing in the bedroom unless Mom is right there or Josh is playing in his crib, until we can nail the dressers to the wall.  And this sent me on a safety walk around my house, pen and paper in hand.

The results weren't pretty.
In the den, where a young man is staying with us, he's set his old, heavy television up on a card table.
There is a heavy lamp on a nightstand doubling as an end table in the living room.
A table set up in the dining room has a whole bunch of odds and ends on it, some rather heavy.

These are all things that are easily taken care of.  The television either gets placed somewhere else in the den, or we put a lock on the door and mandate that it is always shut.
The heavy lamp gets moved to a decorative shelf in the dining room.
And the table in the dining room gets cleaned off, and then folded back up and put away(it's one that we pull out when we have a lot of guests over)

This week, grab a pen and paper and walk around your house.  What do you have absentmindedly sitting on top of furniture?  Is there a large television on a dresser?  Remove it, or tuck the cords behind the dresser and then screw it to the wall.  Is the furniture in your children's bedrooms solid enough that you are comfortable, or does it need to be screwed to the wall?  What about the objects on those dressers--could they be pulled down or fall?  What is in the drawers of your nightstand and end tables--are there things that could hurt little hands or weigh it down enough to tip over on your toddlers?  Walk around with a critical eye; even if something is questionable, right it down.  You can go back to check later.  
Just because something is unsafe doesn't mean it needs to be removed.  What can you do to secure it?

Not all of us are as paranoid as I am.  I understand that. But sometimes, a little minor adjustments to the objects in your house is not just paranoid, but smart.

in memory of Matthias

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My husband and I are water people.  Our relationships was started going out on his boat, and we spent many lazy summer afternoons our first year of marriage on the lake.  I had Josh in a pool at 4 months old, and hope to start swim lessons here in another month with him.  I expect that, as he grows, I'm going to spend many afternoons on the beach or the pool watching him swim, like so many other moms.

But if you're a mom who has a child in the water, do you know what you're looking for? 

Unintentional drowning is the sixth leading cause of accidental death for all ages, and the
second leading cause of death for children ages 1-14. (The first is car accidents)  Won't happen, you say. My kids don't get near water without an adult.  We don't have a pool.  They only go wading.  Or swimming at a neighbor's while I sit on the deck at watch them.  Or the lake when we take the boat out, and two adults are sitting there watching.  Or a motel pool.  Whatever the case, you tell me, our kids are never around water without an adult watching.

Yes, I answer, nodding.
But this year approximately 750 hildren are going to die from drowning.
And 375 of those children will drown while being actively supervised by an adult within 20 yards.

Got your attention now?

Here's why.  Most of us have seen the drowning victims on television--the woman bobbing up and down, thrashing in the water, screaming for help as she thrusts her head above water.  That is what we're culturally conditioned to look for, and it couldn't be further from the truth. 
Drowning is quiet.  Very quiet.  There is no thrashing, no clawing above the surface, no screaming, no yelling.  Drowning people are physiologically unable to call for help; if they do manage to get above the water for a few seconds, their bodies will instinctively breathe, and they won't be able to talk.   They exhale and inhale very quickly before they start to sink again.   Drowing people do not have control of their arms and are not able to wave or thrash around--the body instinctively takes over, and their arms will push laterally down into the water.  This allows the body to maybe be able to get the nose above the water for a few brief seconds.  Bodies generally remain upright, and if there is a struggle on the surface, it will only last from 20-60 seconds befor the body gives up and the person sinks.
It is quick, quiet, and deadly.  You may be watching your child and not even realize there is a problem.

(One thing to point out:  a person thrashing and yelling in the water is probably experiencing some form of distress and rescue should be attempted by trained personnel, or a life jacket or ring thrown to this person.)

So what does drowning look like?  What should you be watching for?
  • head low in the water, with mouth open at water level
  • eyes closed or glassed-over and empty
  • wet hair over forehead and eyes
  • gasping and hyperventilation
  • a ladder climb, something you will particularly see in a pool where you can see below the water.  the person will be under water, with arms stretched above head, looking as if the person is trying to climb a ladder.
  • trying to roll over on back and not able to

If you have any doubts if a person is okay, ask.  If someone can answer, they probably are.  If you are watching children, and they get quiet--something is probably wrong.  You need to take a closer look to see what's going on.
If a person returns a blank stare when you talk to them, they are in serious trouble, and you need to get help now.  Call 911 before you get in the water, or have someone else call. 

And, please, do not make rescue attempts if it puts your life in danger or you are untrained to do so safely.  A backyard pool is probably okay,  but a few yards out into a lake is not.  Even if you are a strong swimmer, a limp body is very difficult to get back to shore, and there may be currents that you are not prepared for. For this reason, it's best not to swim in a lake or other body of water unless a lifeguard is present.

Nothing is 100 percent preventable, but with a little education and a whole lot of vigilance, you can make this summer's swim time fun and safe.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Taco soup


     My husband is a meat-and-potatoes guy.  Well, beef, chicken, potatoes, and pasta kind of guy.   He's not too interested in experimenting with lentils and eggplant, two staples I grew up with.  He believes rice is for rice pudding, and he buys soft, spreadable margarine in the little tub, no matter how many conversations about chemically altered butter substitutions we have.

My qualifications for a good meal are simple:  he has to want to eat it(goodbye, honey rice lentil casserole), and I have to be able to make it quickly with staples I'm able to have right on hand.  

Thus soon after we were married and I discovered he has no interest in trying beautiful, purple eggplant, I stumbled across taco soup somewhere. Yes, it sounds weird.  But  it is quick, easy, filling, and I can throw it into the crockpot in the morning and it will be ready by afternoon or evening, whichever I prefer.  It stores well for leftovers, and is good on both a cold winter evening or a hot summer dinner out on the boat.  
Taco soup has quickly become our extended family's favorite dish.  In fact, it's requested at every family potluck we have, and since I make it so often, it's not unusual for one of my sisters to call me and ask if we have any leftover that she could take to work or school.  

While I put it in the crockpot, we've also simmered it on the stove until warm.  You can try chicken instead of ground beef, pinto beans or white beans instead of baked beans, and variations on the spices if you prefer.

Taco Soup

1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
1 packet taco seasoning or your favorite spices
1 12 ounce can whole corn, drained
1 12 ounce can red kidney beans, drained
1 12 ounce can baked beans(we prefer maple or brown sugar)

Throw all this into your crockpot and cook until warm.  I generally put it on the low setting for 6-8 hours.

Serve with plain nacho chips crumbled on top, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Promises and contracts and jobs...

#1: I apologize for the lack of photos of the most beautiful little boy in the world.  My computer is on the fritz and we're going to have to buy another one; till then it's my sister's laptop that I'm using, and there's no pictures of the baby on here.
Except he's not a baby, he really is a full fledged toddler now.  Sigh.

#2:  Some people have asked why I don't just quit my job altogether, instead of trying to cut back on hours and rearrange schedules that never seem to work, and no matter what I do, I wind up working 40+ hours a week.  The answer is simple: I have a contract.  This contract states that I will work for the ambulance agency for a certain amount of time.  I signed this contract and it's notarized.  If I break it, I have to repay the several thousand dollars they paid for my critical care paramedic class.  And they sent me for specialized schooling under the assumption that I would work for them for x amount of time after getting those credentials.

And, no, I really have no say it how or when I'm scheduled.  In jobs like ours, the needs of the agency come long before our needs as individuals or families.  In fact, um, our needs really don't fit into the equation at all.  If they need 92 hours this week, 92 hours this week is what they get.  And I don't have a lot of say in that.

Could I look for something else?   Yeah, I've sent out resumes.  Gotten a few phone calls.
But at the end of the day, there is a piece of paper in my safe at home with my name on it and a promise I made in good faith.
It's only another year, and if all goes according to plan, my contract will be up about the time we have another baby, and then it will be time to ease out of my job completely.  I may stay on as a volunteer for 6 or 12 hours a month, but I have complete control over my schedule then.

So that is why I don't just quit.  Not because it's not an option--I could break it, after all--but because I made a promise to stay.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Long distance husbands

Rob is in the middle of an 87 hour week.  He was home a few hours last night, then left for another 24 hour shift at 8 am this morning.  He gets done at 8am tomorrow morning and has to be back at 5pm for another 24 hour shift.  He gets done at 5pm Friday night and goes back Saturday morning.

Plus I'm working 40+ hours this week plus taking human biology at the community college--one more class down towards my RN degree.
You can imagine how my house looks.

It is hard, sometimes, not to be jealous of the wives who get to be, well, wives.  Their husbands come home at night, and they can pass the fussy baby off to him for a few minutes.  When their toilet backs up or their car won't start, their husband can either run home or will be home that evening to take care of it.  They get to cook dinner because someone other than themselves will be there to eat it.  They roll over in the night and feel someone else's body next to theirs. 
This isn't my life.  My husband comes home for a few hours or even a night and then leaves again for another 24 hours.  When something breaks, I fix it or hire someone to fix it.  When the baby is fussy, there is no one to hand him off to for a few minutes.  I don't even bother cooking, because I hate wasting food and I cannot get the hang of cooking for one.  And we have a double bed, not even a queen size, because we can't justify the expense when most nights there is only one person in the bed.  When I need grocery shopping done or the electric bill paid, I can't wait for a day when my husband is home to do it.  It has to be done, and it all falls on me.

Add a pretty-much-full-time(though it wasn't supposed to be) job into this, and, yes, it's hard.
It's hard to work all day and come home to a messy house and no food(or our highly processed staples: frozen pizza and Hamburger Helper) and no other adult there to help.
I won't dare to speak for single mothers, but for a quasi-single-mom: It's all on me.  All the time.  With no vacations.

So if you know a mom whose husband isn't around a lot, pray for her.  It's harder than you can imagine.   Don't judge them--they may not be working a lot because they want the boats and the big televisions, but maybe the husband makes a pitiful hourly wage and needs all the overtime, or, like my husband, works in a profession(like long-distance trucking and equities trading and corrections) where eighty hours a week is simply what the job requires.   My husband is mandated overtime; he rarely chooses to pick up that many hours a week.    Yes, your husband may have a lovely home business where he is home every day, or have an 8-5 p.m. job where he walks in the door every night at 5:30 on the dot.  You may even be of the persuasion that the only way to properly raise a family is a lot of fatherly involvement, which you believe is best done by having dad at home in a family business.  Those are lovely goals(though when my dad, an engineer, owned his own company, we saw a lot less of him, and we had no health insurance, so though he made loads of money, the home business idea didn't make a lot of sense and he dissolved it to go work a 9-5 job), but they aren't for everyone.

(And, yes, I say this because I have had those ideals quoted to me and been told that my family will simply fall apart because we work a lot of hours.  This is generally followed by the recommendation that my husband go back to contracting, despite that it would be a $25,000 pay cut and lose our health insurance)

But, practically, what can you do?

Offer to take the kids every now and then.  I only have one child, and I can't imagine having three or four or five and trying to drag them through Wal-Mart.  Offer to watch the kids for an hour or two so Mom can run errands.  Remember, Dad isn't coming home that evening to play with the kids while Mom decompresses.  So step in and offer to give Mom a little bit of time to just get some basic grocery shopping done.

Invite them over for dinner.  Especially with a baby, I have a hard time cooking for myself.  Usually I don't; and since Rob has taken this job, our fast food bills have skyrocketed.  Honestly, it's super easy to swing through Burger King on the way home from work or toss a frozen pizza in the oven, rather than coming home with no energy and trying to find something to cook for just one person.  Even on the days I'm not working, I just really have a hard time spending the time and energy on dinner when I'm the only person home.  And a Mom by herself with a lot of me, she'd love dinner and some adult company.

Offer up your husband.  There is nothing more frustrating than having something break and my husband being gone for 36 hours.  I am fortunate; when something happens that I don't know how to fix, I have a lot of guys in my fire department and a Dad who are all only a phone call away.  And trust me, I've had to ask for help.  And especially if she has sons who want to do manly stuff--if your husband is taking your boys fishing or hiking or even just teaching them how change the oil in the car, call her up and see if her boys would like to participate.  Nobody will be offended, trust me.  There is probably a little boy sitting at home wishing his Dad was there to play basketball, because, at least in our house, Mom isn't going to do that.

Call her just to see how she's doing.  I am fortunate in that I can usually talk to my husband when I need to.  Unless he's with a patient or sleeping, he's available to talk to me.  I understand not all men have jobs like that, so we count our blessings that I can always call or text him.  However, I don't have a lot(read that: any) female friends to talk to.  And my husband and I are simply on different wavelengths a lot of the time, and I would love a girlfriend to chat with.  Who won't be clueless when I'm sobbing on the phone because I just got home from work and am exhausted, the dog needs to be walked, the baby is fussy and clingy, there is laundry to do and a dishwasher to run, and groceries to buy, and Dad isn't due home for another two days.  And yes, that was tonight, and when I called my husband crying, his (mostly unhelpful) response was that if I couldn't do everything to eliminate something--even though I pointed out that the big four things were our son, work, housekeeping and trying to cook decent meals, none of which could really be succesfully eliminated from our agenda.  He then told me to stop thinking and just do what he suggested, which I am very sure a best girlfriend would never say.  In all seriousness, though, a five minute how-are-you-doing phone call to help a stressed out and overwhelmed Mom decompress could make all the difference in the world.

And if you are a Mom whose husband is gone a lot?
It's okay to be overwhelmed.
It's okay to not serve gourmet, from scratch meals and it's okay not to scrub the bathroom every two days.
It's okay to sometimes cry.
It's okay to ask for help when you need it.
It's okay to even be a teensy bit jealous sometimes when you see picture perfect families having picnics, and all you really want is just to see your husband for five minutes.

What's not okay?
Criticizing your husband.
Wishing you were married to someone else.
Fantasizing about how much better life would be if only your husband would listen to you and find another job.
Comparing your family to what you think everybody else has.

It's okay to acknowledge that sometimes this is a tough road to walk.  It's not okay to spend all your time dwelling on how hard it is.  If you're a Mom who is alone a lot, you're couragous, and strong, and can do more than you think you can.

In the end, we all have to do what is best for our family.
It's hard.  Being married to a firefighter-paramedic is not for the faint of heart, but I'm proud of my husband and what he does.
And tonight, now that the baby has finally gone to sleep, I can go run the dishwasher and feed the dog and pick up the living room and fold the laundry.  And I will go to bed, alone, and wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

And, really, I wouldn't have it an other way.