From Cookies to Watermelon: How My Kids Are Helping Me Eat Healthier

It all started with watermelon. Yes, watermelon. It was still relatively early in the morning, and my daughter Julia was already on her third bowl. After her forth request, I told her that she had enough. Within seconds, I realized the absurdity of my statement. Could she really ever have enough watermelon? A wonderful, healthy fruit loaded with vitamins? While I couldn’t take back what I had just said, I did hand over an additional bowl. I then proceeded to go back to eyeing that box of cookies in my cabinet. It was only nine o’clock in the morning but I wanted them. Needed them. I am not just talking about one or two either; I was ready to devour half the box. That was the moment when I realized the cold, hard truth: my five year old daughter was officially a healthier eater than me. I was sad and very ashamed. But, I still ate the cookies.

 

My parents were over-protective in many ways, but they really weren’t on us to eat healthy. This could have been due to the fact that they weren’t the greatest eaters themselves. My dad has had a lifelong penchant for jelly donuts and lemon meringue pie. My mom loved her chocolate. As their daughter, I guess it is safe to assume I inherited their sweet tooth. One of my mother’s fondest memories of me was the uttering of my very first word. While most babies were saying “mama” and “dada”, my word of choice was “cookie.” Growing up, soft drinks were a staple in my home. Soda was actually my version of water, and it was pretty much all that I drank. The only time I would drink water was on the rare occasion I found myself parched at school and paid a visit to the nearest water fountain. “Too boring” was how I described the taste of water. Chips, cookies and ice-cream were always in abundance as well, and if by chance we happened to be running low, there undoubtedly would be a grocery store trip in the offing.

 

I can’t completely blame my parents, however. The time period had a lot to do with it as well. While growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, our generation saw an introduction to mass marketed junk foods. Most of my ideas for snacks came from television commercials. It also wasn’t uncommon for any school party to feature a wide array of fattening snacks. Potato chips in the morning? Sure! Soda to wash it down? Of course! There definitely wasn’t the same emphasis on healthy eating as there is today.

 

Over the years, I have made a conscious effort to eat better. I really have. There are some fruits and vegetables that I really do like. I just simply prefer my cookies and brownies over them. In the past, when I have had issues with my weight, I did whatever fad diet I could get my hands on. Any “quick fix” to get me skinny fast. I also had the benefit of a much faster metabolism back then. When entering my 30’s, I started eating more due to impending stress. I have been an emotional eater since then. In fact, I am noticing that most of my binge snacking occurs during particularly stressful days. I have gotten to know my triggers.

 

As a mom, I do worry about my children’s diets. My son Owen, at almost three, is just learning to enjoy his food. My daughter, at five, has enjoyed her food for awhile now. I do love how Julia favors fruit over ice-cream on a hot summer’s day. I smirk when she wants to pair her chicken nuggets with apples (Hello? What about French fries?). My husband and I have made a good effort to buy them healthy snacks; not that they don’t enjoy a good treat every once in a while. I would never deny them completely.

 

My own turning point was when I did my usual sneaking of the cookies from my kitchen cabinet. Julia spotted me and wanted one too. With a pit in my stomach, I obliged. I will also admit that this has happened more than once: daughter watching mommy eat a treat and wanting one as well. Hiding my cookies had become very frequent in my house. I became very calculated in when I would sneak a treat, usually doing so when my daughter was enamored with a t.v. show or coloring in her coloring book. I feel guilty admitting that it wasn’t just that I didn’t want her to develop poor eating habits- I also didn’t want to share.

 

One of my best memories last summer was my kids and I feasting on fruit salad in the park. It was a perfect summer’s day and we sat together all messy, sticky, and quite content. It was at that point that I decided we would at least “try” to eat healthier as a family.  I giggle to myself when I sneak an apple piece over my son’s plate and wonder just who I have turned into. Just recently, Julia requested a plate of blueberries with a side of tomatoes. Without hesitation or questioning, lunch was served. As I looked at the plate, I couldn’t help but be amazed by just how colorful and pretty that it looked. Fascinated with the creation, I made a plate of my own. Yes, I thought to myself, this is what healthy eaters do: make better choices. The new bag of cookies I had bought would remain unopened for today. And that is fine with me.

 

 

A Tale of Two Redheads: Remembering Our Son On St. Patrick’s Day

“You have a redhead!” the doctor said.

 
My mother wasn’t expecting to give birth to a “ginger”. Neither of my parents were redheads, although there were a few on my father’s side of the family. It was a pleasant surprise. Mom was delighted. She named me Kathleen, after my paternal grandmother, who also just happened to have red hair.

 
My mom reveled in all the attention. There were always compliments. Early on, everyone marveled at the infant with the pretty red locks sleeping in the pram. Even the late actor Henry Fonda took notice one day as my mother exited a hardware store in Manhattan. “Cute baby,” he said as he held the door for us.

 
My earliest memory of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was as a spectator. My dad took me. I was about three years old and dressed in an Irish sweater, green jacket and green ribbons on my pigtails. I looked like I belonged on a poster promoting Irish tourism. Everyone thought I looked adorable. Everyone except for me.

 
I hated my red hair from day one. As a child, I didn’t like how it made me different. All of the other kids had either dark or light hair. I also didn’t like all the freckles that I gained with each passing summer. All of my friends came back to school each year with a glow. Instead, I had a bunch of freckles merging together. It was almost as if they were holding hands.

 
“You will love your red hair when you get older,” my mother always told me.

 
She would go on to say how unique my hair color was. I didn’t care to hear it then. She wanted me to vow to never change it. She said that if I did, I would lose the natural color that I was born with. Even as I grew into an adult, I kept my promise. My hair would stay the same until the day my mother died. I was just twenty- five years old at the time.

 
On January 1, 2008, my husband Brian and I found out we were expecting our first child. We were ecstatic. My pregnancy had been going very well so far. I had a strong feeling I was having a boy. We would name him Liam. Liam meant “strong- willed warrior.”

 
That April, we had our Anatomy Scan. My husband wore his special green tie with shamrocks. It was a corny little tie, but looking at it made me giddy. I knew it was his special little way of bringing along his own “luck of the Irish.” I flashed back to my first St. Patrick’s Day. Years later, it was now a sweet memory. Next year, I would be spending that holiday with my new little family. The sonogram technician did her thing. As I predicted, we would be having a boy. As she continued to move the wand around my abdomen, her perplexed look would lead to news that I wasn’t prepared for: little Liam had a serious congenital heart defect. It was called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Our own hearts were broken.

 
After a stressful few months, our lives would brighten by the arrival of this amazing little miracle. I remember the doctor telling me that I needed to push one more time. As I did, Liam officially entered the world. They put him right on my chest. I cried. I was so in love with this little person and he was so sick. The wave of emotions was both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. I will never forget that moment. I will never forget experiencing that indescribable love.

 
They whisked our little man off to the NICU immediately. I wouldn’t get to see him for a couple of hours. Knowing this, one of our nurses was nice enough to get some pictures of Liam as they were cleaning him off in the other room. It was a kind gesture. As she came back with the camera she exclaimed, “He’s a redhead!”

 
We had nine days with our beautiful little boy before he passed away. Liam was the boy who finally showed me what my smart mother had been telling me all along. Red hair was indeed beautiful. I was so very proud of him, just as my mom was of me.

 
Eighteen months after our tragic loss, we would finally attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade as a family. There were three of us. That past October, Liam’s little sister Julia joined our family. There is no doubt that Liam guided Julia into our arms. Although our family would always be incomplete; we certainly had reason to celebrate that year.
Every year, on St. Patrick’s Day, I do a tribute to Liam on Facebook. I call him my little Irish prince. I share our favorite photograph. It is the same picture that the nurse took that very first day of his life. In it, you see his beautiful red hair. I still miss him and think about him every day. Mostly, I am so thankful that he chose me to be his mother. For Liam, I couldn’t be more thankful.

 

 

No, She’s Not “Over It”: The Truth About Child Loss

It was a beautiful day for a birthday party. Your new neighbor Mary arrives with her son Dylan in tow. You have become quite fond of Dylan, who always plays so nicely with your own son. Mary is as sweet as can be, and you are happy to have made a new friend. Life is good. Suddenly, you notice Mary’s eyes go directly to your niece Sophia. Sophia is very striking; with beautiful brown hair and big brown eyes. Mary cannot stop staring at her. You notice that she has tears in her eyes. You have no idea what happened, but I am here to tell you: Mary’s first baby died at birth. Her own baby girl also had brown hair and eyes and would have been four yesterday. Sophia turned four last week. Yes, it has been a few years now. And, no, Mary isn’t “over it.’’ Not even close.

 
I can emphasize with Mary. I, too, lost my firstborn child in September of 2008. His name was Liam and he passed away at nine days old due to a congenital heart defect. It will be seven years this September. I still speak about him to my family and friends. I still commemorate his birthday every year on Facebook. I still tear up at the sight of another boy with red hair, and I still feel a lump in my throat every time I hear another mom call her own son Liam. I guess I am not “over it” either.
We bereaved parents live a difficult life. Not only are we left with pieces of our hearts missing, we are expected to eventually resume to “normal.” We are frequently given an unspoken allotted “grieving time.” It seems to vary from person to person. In our case, since Liam died in mid-September, our family and friends gave us until the end of the year. It was only fair, with the holiday season and all. When January arrived, baby making was on everyone’s minds. When my husband and I continued to grieve, there was much confusion. It was okay to always be sad, they said, but we had to move on too. We needed to stop going to the cemetery every day. We also needed to stop isolating ourselves. Another baby would make everything better. Or so they thought.

 
I was fortunate to get pregnant that second month into the new year. I was happy, but sad at the same time. In fact, I had just hit a serious rock bottom. The shock was gone, but the pain was intense. It hit me hard: We were parents but our son was not with us physically. We never had a chance to bring him home from the hospital. It was unfair and cruel. I was angry and very bitter. I wondered how I would be able to take care of a new child in this condition. I was seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had left my job and barely left the house. I questioned my own sanity.

 
After Liam’s passing, I made a promise to speak out about neonatal loss in his memory. I wrote a lot. I also changed significantly. While the grief is still there, and always will be, it has taken on a new form. I have since had a girl and another boy. While my two year old son is too young to understand, my daughter talks about Liam frequently. Since day one, we were open about the fact that they had a big brother and that he passed away because his heart didn’t work well. Julia speaks about how much she wishes that she had met him. She wants to know how this could have happened. I wish I had better answers for her. We also have no idea why he was taken from us. We miss him every single day.

 
Inevitably, our personal relationships have changed drastically. Many have become strained. It does happen. As I am now almost seven years into the process, I can see both sides. Our loved ones were devastated as well. They were devastated both for Liam and for us. It is hard to watch people you love go through such a devastating loss. At first, I felt as if everyone was rushing us through it but now I know better. It is a lot on everybody. They just wanted us to be happy again.

 

 

For grieving parents, there is no greater gift than to remember our child. Say his name once in awhile. When we post a tribute on social media, instead of just scrolling by, give an acknowledgement. Contrary to popular belief, speaking publicly about our children on an anniversary or birthday is not for attention purposes. It is all we have. Whether you think it is strange or not, this is our reality. When others remember too, it brings us a sense of comfort.

 
Although painful, I am thankful for the sadness. With each passing day, week, and year, I know I am losing some of the memories that were so vivid in the beginning. Since we had only nine days with Liam, we don’t have a lot. We do have pictures and video, for which I am grateful for. Liam’s life may have been brief, but he was my first. He has given me the strength to be a better mother. I one day yearn to be the special person that he was. I couldn’t be more thankful for the gift of being his mom. Liam will continue to be a part of our family. Always.