Motherhood

When I was young I played a game called “Family” with my younger sister Caitlin. Basically, the game entailed making a list of all your children-names and ages, discussing how many girls vs. boys you want, how many years apart each child would be, how many multiples you want (possibly 2 sets of twins and 1 set of triplets??) etc. This game could last well over an hour, as we intently discussed exactly what our future families were going to look like. And apparently at age 9 I thought it was totally feasible to have 20 children, 10 of which were multiples (twins and triplets fascinated me), but the point of the matter, the fact that I couldn’t imagine my life without being a MOM, has remained true. I feel like I’ve been in serious “mom training” since I was 14. I babysat constantly, worked at day cares, became a full time nanny….all while working on developing my own methods of childcare that I knew would serve me well once I finally became a mom myself. But I also had a second dream, right there along side my dream to be a mom, and that was to become a child life specialist. And I trained just as hard for that dream as well. I studied, I volunteered, I observed, I completed a grad school program, all to obtain this dream job of working with hospitalized children. I knew that these two dreams; to become a mother and a child life specialist, could happen simultaneously, but I also knew that eventually one dream would take over my heart, leaving little room for the other.

After I gave birth to Leah I had been working as a child life specialist for a little over 2 years. I loved what I was doing, and I loved the hospital where I was working. Although holding that baby in my arms made me ache to stay home with her full time, I also didn’t feel as though it was time yet to leave my work as a child life specialist. So, I did the next best thing, I took an extended maternity leave and returned to work after 4 1/2 months, dropping down to part time hours. And it worked for me. Leah thrived at “school” and I continued to fall more in love with my career. But then 2 more years passed and I became pregnant again. And suddenly thoughts of returning to work made me feel sick to my stomach. I still loved my job, but I knew I would soon have 2 sweet little ones at home. And I wanted to be there, nurturing them 24/7, more than I wanted anything else in the world. So Brett and I started having a conversation. Could this work? Would we be okay financially? What would this look like for our family? We went back and forth over many, many details for months. Claire was born and we still hadn’t come to a clear, concise decision. But then one night, as we were lying in bed yet again discussing our options (as my 12 week maternity leave is quickly coming to an end), Brett looked at me and said, “You know what? I think God just wants us to jump.”

So jump we will. I made it official with my boss just earlier this week (which was a crazy story in itself; involving the scheduled conversation happening 30 mins before planned, while I was still in Target, trying to chase Leah through the aisles and frantically checking out, getting home, and realizing that Leah had stolen a ball….) and it’s now official. I will not be returning to work. For now, I am saying good bye to child life and hello to being a stay at home mom. And my heart couldn’t feel happier. I wasn’t sure how I would feel once I resigned; would I feel liberated? Sad? Would I cry? It’s an odd feeling-walking away from this job I have invested my heart into for the past 5 years, and the job I have been dreaming about since I was 14. But you know what? This dream of being a stay at home mom, this dream of being with my girls every day; watching them play and learn and grow, that’s a dream of mine that’s older than any other. Back to childhood and playing “family” with my sister, back to watching my own mom who stayed home to raise her 4 girls and knowing that I wanted to be just like her, a dream that I feel excited and giddy to finally make a reality. And I feel so incredibly blessed that my family is in a position to make this dream possible. I’m so thankful for a loving, supportive husband, who wanted this dream to become a reality just as much as I did. I’ve absolutely LOVED my time as a child life specialist, and I’m not convinced that I am done with that career forever, but for now I am embarking on a new chapter of my life; staying home with my two little ladies. Our family is entering into a new season, full of a LOT of changes, but I am so excited to take this leap and see what comes next.

Life lately (according to my Iphone…)

Brett went out of town for a few days and Leah and I enjoyed some mommy and me time. We went on fro-yo dates and I made her sleep with me every night because I’m a baby and I was too scared to sleep alone.

Leah has developed a new “cheeeseee!” face and pictures will never be the same again. I am loving her little smile and poses in every picture we take these days.

Big news for South Florida-we finally got a Trader Joes!!!! Well, technically we’ve had one for awhile now, but it was all the way down in South Miami and as much as I love TJ’s, I couldn’t justify driving 45 minutes to grocery shop. Now, however, we have one only 15 minutes away and we take full advantage of the closeness!! Leah is obsessed with pushing the kid size grocery cart around and mommy is obsessed with the dark chocolate peanut butter cups…and cookie butter….and cowboy bark….and maple cookies. It’s like every pregnant woman’s dream in there.

The cat lady has enjoyed visits with the neighborhood cat. This cat (blacky? Shadow? I can never remember) isn’t exactly owned by anyone, but one of our neighbors lets it sleep in their garage and our other neighbor feeds him (her?) treats, so the cat basically belongs to the street. She has taking a strong liking to Leah and will follow us up and down the street when we go for evening strolls, rubbing up against Leah’s legs until she bends down and pets her. And our little animal lover here is obsessed with her and is so sad anytime we go out and the kitty is no where to be found (which isn’t often). And I just love how Leah has the sweetest little heart for any and all animals!

My child life co-workers threw me and the other pregger child lifers (Katie and Shannon) the CUTEST “Three Peas in a Pod” baby shower at work!! It was so incredibly sweet and all the food was delicious!! I had to leave in the middle to run and pick up Leah, but she came back in time to help me open gifts and snack on cake pops, so she wasn’t complaining!

Fall is coming to Florida!!! (maybe?) The last few days have brought “chilly” mornings and highs of only low 80’s which has made being outside and going on long walks MUCH more enjoyable!! The other day I decided to walk the 3 round trip miles to the grocery store with Leah to get a few necessities and I quickly learned that 83 degrees is still VERY hot for an 8 month pregnant lady pushing a stroller full of groceries, but I just can’t help it. The cool breeze is giving me hope that this hot, hot season is over!!

Lately Leah’s art projects look a lot like this. Who am I to question her artistic genius, even when it spreads itself all over the kitchen floor!? On that day she told me that she was drawing “pumpkins.”

Some of my very best friends took me out to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate baby girl’s soon-to-be arrival!! We had a blast and they spoiled me with an amazing dinner, flowers, and baby gift. I’m so thankful to have these girls in my life!

My friend Katie, however, missed that dinner because she was busy in the hospital GIVING BIRTH to her beautiful baby boy, Colby!!! He was born last Thursday around 2 pm and I am in love with the little squish. I spent much of my morning on Friday up on the mother and baby unit holding that little guy (I mean, working hard for any co-workers who might read this!! haha) and then I just had to go back on Saturday as well before they were discharged. Colby is seriously the cutest little chub muffin in the world (8 lbs 10 oz at birth!!) and yet, still so teeny and I just soaked in his sweetness. I held him over my baby bump and told him that he would be meeting his girlfriend soon!!

 

A baby shower

I hosted the cutest little baby shower for one of my best friends and her sweet baby boy-to-be! It’s a little insane right now-with three babies due back-to-back-to-back, but I’m so glad we got to pause everything and throw Katie a shower for her little Colby, because she sure does deserve it! We had a blast decorating bibs, playing a few games (Anyone ever done The Price is Right, Baby Edition? I think it’s one of my favorites!) and eating wayyy too much delicious food. Leah was hilarious the whole time, thinking she was just one of the girls, as she sat there and quietly decorated her bib and then watched Katie open all of her gifts. I love that sweet little girl of mine! Now we are just counting down the weeks until November 3rd! Can’t wait to snuggle that sweet little boy of hers!

Why I do what I do….

So I know I’ve talked many, many (MANY) times about how much I love my job, but it’s true; I have the best job in the world. As a child life specialist (especially one that works in an outpatient setting) I encounter a high volume of patients on a weekly basis (probably upwards of 100) and, although I have some amazing interactions and some not-so-amazing ones, very rarely do I see these kids more than one time. Because of that, I usually have no way of knowing if (or how) my interaction with a specific child made a difference in their life outside of their brief hospitalization. And, really, that’s fine. I didn’t get into the field of child life for the praise and admiration (because if so, it would be laughable at how LITTLE praise we actually get….) but instead I do it because I want to make a difference in a child’s experience HERE and NOW, at the very moment of high anxiety and stress. And if they then skip out the door, with the memory of me left behind, I’m honestly happy, because hopefully that means that child is leaving without a care in the world. But every once and awhile, usually in the midst of a stressful day (or week), when I’m having those kinds of thoughts like “this place (and everyone in it) drives me crazy..” something happens, like a little beacon from God, that reminds me why it is I do what I do. (And why it’s so darn special).

Yesterday was one of those days. After having some (not so fun) encounters with co-workers and dealing with some stressful phone calls, I was taking a break to walk our hospital therapy dog across the street so she could “get busy.” (I know, I know, my job sounds increasingly glamorous). As I neared the middle of the road, a car screeched to a halt and a woman rolled down the window yelling, “Christina!” I, admittedly, didn’t recognize her (like I said, I meet a LOT of people on a daily basis….) but then the back window rolled down and a freckled face, no front tooth, smile beamed out and I immediately recognized her. Patient P was an adorable, but HIGHLY anxious patient I’ve had the honor of working with twice. My first interaction with P was about 2 months ago. She was admitted and a co-worker called me as she was on her way down to the outpatient surgical unit for a (pretty common and not very invasive) procedure. “She’s an anxious one..” my co-worker warned me. And, not long after I hung up, I heard P coming around the corner, being wheeled in her bed as she cried her eyes out, with mom trailing after her. P was the type of 9 year old who was not easy to please. She looked at me suspiciously when I entered the room and continued crying. I concentrated on mom, introducing myself and explaining what child life could do to help. Then, I turned my attention to P. “Hey! What’s your name?” Tears. “My name is Christina! It’s nice to meet you!” More tears. Needing a different strategy I told P I would be right back, that I needed to go get something super fun. I came back with beads and string and sat right down on her bed. And what do you know, the tears stopped. P and I spent a good 20 minutes making bracelets for her, myself, mom, the nurse….you get the point. Not once did I mention the procedure, we just chatted casually. Once she got going, P was quite the chatter box. The therapy dog came. We had her jump up on the bed and snuggle P for another 20 minutes. We made the dog a name bracelet too. Only then did I bring up the procedure. The tears welled. We talked, I joked….tears dried up, smiles came out. I ended our encounter with giving her a stuffed toy to take back to the OR with her to “keep her brave.” (Of course then a name necklace was made for the bear as well…)

About 3 weeks later P came back for a follow-up. Our encounter was brief, as she happily told me “I’m not nervous this time!!” and, since I had plenty of other kids who WERE in tears about this or that, I quickly said hello, gave a re-fresher course of the anesthesia mask, hooked her up with some arts and crafts, and then was on my way. It was a 10 minute tops encounter.

Fast forward to yesterday. There was P beaming from the back of mom’s car, and mom asked if they could pull into the hospital drive real quick. I said sure and hurried to let the dog do her thing. When I came back to the hospital I was greeted with a big hug from P and 3 bags full of Webkinz. P proudly told me that the stuffed animal I had gifted her had helped so much, that, when she left the hospital, she told her mom that she wanted to collect new stuffed animals to give to the other kids who were just as worried as she was. My eyes welled. I noticed that she was still wearing her (backwards) name bracelet we had made 2 months previously. She then turned to her mom and said “tell her! mom tell her!” Her mom smiled and said, “You tell her, P!” P looked me right in the eyes and said, “When I grow up, I’m going to become a child life specialist. I’m going to be just like you.” Cue tears overflowing (stupid pregnancy hormones…) I gave her a hug and told her that she would be an EXCELLENT child life specialist, and that any hospital would be lucky to have her. Mom went on and gushed about how wonderful child life was, how impressed she was, and how P has been talking about being a child life specialist ever since, even telling the kids in her class all about it.

And that is why I do what I do. Not for the praise, not for the admiration, not for the “oh we were so impressed with you” (although, admittedly it feels good and is nice to hear), but for the little 9 year old who looks me right in the eyes, standing straight and tall, and proclaiming that she too would one day be a child life specialist. Because we are always in need of more passionate girls (and guys!) who are committed to making the hospital a less scary place for our kids. And P? Your bright smile made my week, girl, and you are going to ROCK the world of child life one day.

Happy!

A little fun for your Wednesday afternoon. 🙂
March is child life month and in honor of my AMAZING profession, our team decided to make a fun music video with our patients and staff. Just try not to smile (or sing along!) while watching these cute kiddos dance……

Child Life Internship/job help

unnamedThis little blog of mine gets a LOT of child life traffic, especially as deadlines for internships, grad school applications and interviews draw near. And as much as I LOVE getting emails and answering questions; helping out in any way I can, some of you have expressed the desire to send me your application/resume/child life philosophy/etc to look over and critique. And this takes a LOT of time because I want to do it RIGHT and give each application packet my 100% attention (plus I’m just a stickler when it comes to grammatical mistakes and run on sentences. As much as I may use them here…..)  Doing this on top of working and taking care of Miss Leah is extremely time consuming, BUT I really love the idea of helping out in any way I possibly can, especially when it comes to seeing my beloved field of child life grow and expand. So! All that to say, I have developed a little side business here. If you are interested in having me look over/critique/help you with your application, resume, child life philosophy, essay questions, etc. OR even do a mock phone interview, please email me for details on pricing (I promise, nothing is too expensive) at cbecker211 at gmail dot com.

For anyone else, questions about child life, internships, grad school advice, etc, will of course be happily answered at any time at no charge. 🙂

*Disclaimer: I will NEVER tell you what to say in your essay or philosophy as this needs to be your own individual thoughts and ideas! This is more to help you with making your application really stick out amongst all other applicants.

**Disclaimer #2: Obviously I cannot guarantee you an internship, job, or acceptance into a child life program, as much as I wish I could.

***Disclaimer #3: Should I find that in the (unlikely) event that you are applying for an internship/job at the hospital where I currently work, in order to remain impartial in our process, I will be unable to give any in depth help.

 

On dealing with death…and then moving on.

unnamedI’ve said time and time again that I love my job. I seriously would not be able to leave my own child day after day if I wasn’t doing work that I felt SO strongly about. But there is one part of my job that I hate. A part of my job that makes my stomach cramp up when the phone call comes though. Where I feel clammy and awkward and out of place. And that is bereavements. Death is, unfortunately, a part of working at a children’s hospital, but it is (luckily) a part that I am not forced to deal with on a daily, or even monthly, basis. But every once and awhile I seem to hit a “death streak” where I happen to do a few bereavements back to back and I seem to have hit that streak now, having done two bereavements in the past two weeks, both dealing with pre-school age males.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with child life, our role during a death is two fold. First, we are a sense of support for the family. We are there to comfort, to talk, to grab a glass of water, to hold a hand; basically whatever the family needs. Many times that includes talking with any siblings the patient had; explaining death in the best possible way and keeping them busy and occupied while their parents and other adult members of their family grieve. The second part of our role during a death is making a memory box for the family, should they choose to have one. Our memory boxes contain a hand mold (or foot mold if it’s a baby) or ink print and a lock of the child’s hair. We are the ones who touch the child, making the mold or print, washing the ink off their hands, and making the mold/print as “pretty” so to speak as we possibly can so that it can be a special keepsake for the family. This second part, the part where I am working with the patient, is the part that is the most emotionally exhausting for me.

During grad school I took a class on Death and Bereavement. During the class we talked a lot about this unfortunate part of our job as a child life specialist and I tried my best to prepare myself for something that is really impossible to prepare for. During the class, however, I was most concerned with the first part of our job during a death. How would I know what to tell siblings? What if the family doesn’t want some stranger there during their time of grief? What if I say something awkward or insensitive? That was what worried me the most and, to be honest, I thought very little about the second part of our job. The part that requires me to be (usually) alone in the room with a child who has died. The part where I touch their hands and press their little fingers hard into a mold. The part where I look at their patient sticker and notice that they just recently celebrated a birthday. The part where I leave that room and have to immediately put a smile on my face as I walk in to see my next patient.

Today, as I held the hand of a young boy in my own, ready to do his prints, I thought about how I would be the last person to ever lovingly hold his hand. I found myself looking at his clean cut nails and wondering when his mother last cut them. Having no idea that this horror was just around the corner. Being a mother myself makes every bereavement more vivid. I hug Leah before putting her down and my mind jumps to horrible images of her dying during the night. Of someone doing her hand molds….and my stomach seizes and I am overwhelmed with fear. Because, I’ll be honest, it’s impossible for me to be a part of a death and then move on with my life without any lasting effects. I remember every bereavement I’ve done during my time as a child life specialist. The death where the family was prepared. The one where they told funny and touching stories and even laughed a little. The death of a tiny baby and how frantic his mother was while she waited for her husband to arrive. The death of a father where I struggled to fit his hand prints on paper while his children watched. The death of a young boy while his two siblings ran around the ER….the list continues and each detail is etched in my brain where they will most likely stay forever.

So today I will let myself unwind. I will let myself mindlessly watch Dance Moms while Leah naps. I will let myself eat that extra large bowl of ice cream, should I so choose. I will work out hard at the gym and let my mind wander. And, if I need to, I will think about it all later and I will let myself cry. Because that’s what helps me. That’s what helps me return to work tomorrow with a smile and a renewed sense of love for my job. Listen, all you future child lifers, dealing with death sucks. Touching a dead child? No one should have to do that. But guess what, it happens. And through it all, I still think child life is the greatest profession in the world. Because, even doing this part that I hate the most, we are still loving, serving and supporting patients and families. And that’s what makes our job so uniquely special.