Active shooter drills: an American school reality

“I’m scared shitless about my daughter starting kindergarten this year,” my colleague confided in me yesterday. “Just the mere thought that an active gunman could get into her school and start shooting makes me want to sob uncontrollably. I held both of my kids on Tuesday night and just cried for hours, and my older one kept asking me what was wrong. Did you know that active shooter drills are a norm in schools now?! My daughter told me they are making them do these drills regularly at her preschool… AT HER PRESCHOOL! This is life in American schools now, and she hasn’t even started kindergarten yet!”

I got teary-eyed listening to my colleague getting distressed, sharing her worst fears with me…Well, they are my worst fears, too. It also made me sick to my stomach to think that this is a reality in schools, but only here in the U.S. No other country on earth has a requirement for active shooter drills in schools; I guess that’s another example of fucking American exceptionalism, however you want to define that. I thought back to my own time in school, and the only drills we had were in preparation for fire or earthquakes — natural disasters, not manmade cycles of hell the way we are dealing with today with gun violence and politicians who would rather give their pointless “thoughts and prayers” than pass any legislation to help prevent the same carnage from happening over and over on repeat.

I have cherished every night I have put my own baby to bed, rocking her back and forth, caressing her hair and cheeks, kissing her, singing her lullabies, letting her nurse at my breast to calm her down for her sleep. But this week, I have held her even a little tighter and told her that I would still try to do everything in my power to keep her healthy and safe…But honestly, I just wasn’t sure how far my power could extend in a country as insane as this one. I just feel helpless.

When grandma insists she isn’t racist

My mom wasn’t happy about the fact we were planning to hire a nanny. She kept saying over and over that “your own blood” takes care of your baby the best. When I asked if she was suggesting that I quit my job, she told me she didn’t want that, but what other option would there have been…? When she found out we finally hired one, she immediately asked me what the nanny’s race was. When I told my mom she was Jamaican, my mom responded, “Does that mean she’s Black?” She said the world “Black” in a near whisper. Why do Asian people of her generation always do that?

I told her to stop being so racist and that there was nothing wrong with Black people, or specifically, having a Black nanny. I told her we obviously vetted this person through not only references but also a trial, so we knew she’d be a good fit for us. My mom was nervous and completely unconvinced. It wasn’t until two weeks passed when she felt more at ease… after I let her know that Kaia greets our nanny with a smile each morning when she walks in.

“Can you send me a picture of what the nanny looks like?” my mom asked. “I want to see how dark she is…. I mean, what she looks like.”

“WHAT?” I responded, incredulously. “What is wrong with you? It doesn’t matter how light or dark skinned someone is, and who cares what she looks like if she’s getting the job done?!!!”

“It’s a reasonable request,” my mom insisted. “I just want to see what the nanny looks like. She takes care of my granddaughter all day, so I have a right to know what she looks like. I’m not prejudiced. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be prejudiced.”

Uh-huh. Sure, they can’t.

When thoughts and prayers can go to hell

There is never anything effective to say to someone when they have lost someone they love. To tell them that your thoughts and prayers are with them doesn’t do much, even if you are trying to be supportive. But the concept of “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is especially empty in the face of yet another mass school shooting in the United States of America, a country where guns are protected better than women who are child-bearing… or even children themselves.

I gave up on the idea of gun access restrictions ever getting anywhere in this country after the Sandy Hook mass shooting about ten years ago. That was really when this country decided that it didn’t give a shit about children dying because of guns. If you don’t care about children dying from guns, then you really don’t care about anyone dying from guns. Let the guns and the gun nuts reign supreme while more and more of America dies quietly and futilely.

When I think of 19 elementary school age children dying senselessly from a random gunman storming through their school, not to mention the two teachers who died, I think to myself… that could be my daughter. Those families that were screaming and crying for hours on end, wanting to find out whether their children were alive or dead and just waiting without any word… That could be Chris and me, worried sick after hearing about a shooting at the school our child goes to. That could be any of my friends’ children. And the fact that this is such a real thought is absolutely terrifying. It makes me sick to my stomach. This is the reality of raising children in the United States today.

No child should go to school and end up having to duck and cover and prepare for a “bad man” coming in. No child should go to school and get shot dead. Why do these things even have to be said? This is not a mental illness issue as much as idiots on Instagram and in Congress want to tell me. The U.S. does not have higher rates of mental health issues than other countries in the world; there is no data to prove this. What we do have is easier and greater access to guns and law makers who are truly cowards and flat out evil for allowing mass shootings to continually happen with literally no action taken to prevent these things from happening in the future. These mass shootings are 100 percent preventable. But we live in a country where no one wants to prevent these mass shootings. Our government, our lawmakers, the ones who happily taking our tax dollars, are doing nothing. Ninety percent of Americans are in favor of increasing background checks for guns, which includes those from households who actually own guns, yet we have law makers who completely ignore that.

All parents want to ensure that their children are healthy and safe. All parents do everything within their power to ensure their children’s safety. But there comes a day when parents have to rely on their community, on their “village,” whether that’s at the playground, at school, at some activity. A parent cannot hover over and be with her child 24/7, protecting her from all harm and malice. At some point, a child’s health and safety are no longer in the hands of her parents, and we have to have trust in the community to know she is safe. But I don’t know if I can trust that this country will be safe for my daughter to live in given all of this.

The Jamaican nanny becomes more Asian

“You know, by the time I stop working with you, I will have become completely Asian!” the nanny joked with me this morning after I handed her a matcha oat milk latte I had just whisked.

Since starting with us just over two weeks ago, she has been introduced to matcha I’ve made. She’s sampled multiple Asian dishes I’ve made. She regularly drinks our Sri Lankan Dilmah tea. She’s enjoyed hand cut and peeled fruit, including Mexican ataulfo mangoes, which she revealed she’d never purchased before because she thought they looked small and wimpy compared to the larger Haitian mangoes she was used to buying in New York during mango season. Since I introduced them to her and she realized how good they were, she has started purchasing them because of me.

She’s also regularly listening to Mandarin Chinese nursery rhymes with Kaia and also trying to learn how to sing them, which I think is the most adorable thing. That’s one area where she’s totally one upped Chris. Her Chinese pronunciation, even though she has no idea what she’s saying, is far better than his.

Even though I wasn’t sure what our dynamic would be like with my working from home and her being in the next room with the baby, so far, it seems to be going pretty well. We talk occasionally and get to know each other, but when I’m working, she respects my space and doesn’t interrupt me. Hopefully, it continues to go well.

Breast milk: you produce what you eat

Our nanny grows callaloo, a West African cousin of spinach in her backyard, among other vegetables. She said she will bring us some since it’s just sprouting now. She said she knows I will like it… because my baby farts a lot, so she knows I eat a lot of vegetables.

“Mommy eats lots of vegetables and fiber!” the nanny exclaimed while feeding the baby last week. “That’s why Kaia farts so much! So much fiber in the breast milk! In the booby milk! So much good stuff in this booby milk for baby Kaia pookie!”

It’s debatable how much of what a breastfeeding mother eats will end up in her breast milk. It’s already been widely established that alcohol, certain medicines and drugs, among other things, can get into breast milk in traces, but the concentrations of which are still debated. Either way, I try to eat a wide variety of things not just for myself, but also in hopes that our baby will develop an affinity for all these different foods. I’ve intentionally eaten nuts daily, hoping she won’t have any nut allergies. I especially hope she will love all leafy green vegetables and mangoes.

Mommy thumb on both hands

So just as I thought my mommy thumb, or de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, was getting better on my right hand, lo and behold, my left hand decides to rudely raise its hand and say, “hey! I want mommy thumb, too!” It came completely out of nowhere without any warning one day as I picked up a full mug of tea and felt that sharp, shooting pain down my wrist that was unfortunately far too familiar to me.

And I thought, WHYYYYYY???? Why does my body not discriminate? Why do I always have to have all these physical ailments on BOTH sides? It doesn’t matter if it’s carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, mommy thumb, or just general pain in my fingers and hands… it’s always on both sides, just in varying degrees.

This is really not fair, I thought. And why does it seem so difficult to get help that doesn’t include medication or the suggestion of what I can already find out via a quick Google search…?

Taking the baby to Queens

Today was the second time we took the baby to Queens. She’s already been on the subway a number of times, and so this is now our new Saturday routine revised. Pre-baby and during the pandemic, Saturday was our neighborhood exploration day to taste and try new foods and restaurants. Now, we’re doing it in a more condensed fashion since baby isn’t as fast moving as we are, not to mention I still have to go home and pump.

“You took the baby on the subway?” the nanny asked me a few days ago in shock. I told her about our usual Saturday outings and how we wanted to integrate her into them now. I told her we didn’t take her on the train until early April, after she had her two-month vaccinations.

She seems to be okay with the train, as long as the train is moving or I am at least standing up. She really hates being in the baby carrier while I am sitting down. The baby is also adjusting to warm weather given that today was the hottest day of her life at over 90 degrees F.

“This child likes to move, just like me!” Chris exclaimed gleefully.

Uh-huh. Right.

Stronger and stronger

It’s almost like it was just yesterday when I first put our baby on her stomach on a blanket over the floor, and I announced to her that it was tummy time, and therefore she needed to practice lifting her head. She was only about three weeks old. They say that for newborns, if they are healthy and full term, tummy time can begin as early as the day they come home from the hospital. We were so consumed by feeding her and helping her gain weight that I totally forgot about tummy time until close to her 1-month check-up, though.

The first couple of months of tummy time were absolutely miserable: she’d yell and scream, tears would come down her little face, she’d spit up and drool all over the blanket. I felt like I was torturing her when all I wanted was for her to strengthen her neck and core muscles like every other modern-day parent was trying to do. Sometimes, Chris suggested skipping tummy time and just going right into feeding because I’m sure he felt like this was torture, too. In fact, he almost immediately renamed “tummy time” to “torture time,” and he didn’t want to be the one to place her on the floor on her stomach; he would leave that task to me, as though to quietly have our baby associate torture with her mama. How nice of him.

But gradually, she got stronger and stronger. She started turning her head from side to side on her tummy. Then, she started lifting her head between cries and yells. Then, she stopped wanting to be cradled when held and insisted we hold her upright with her head high and supported on her own while over our shoulders. She began lifting her head off the floor. Then, she lifted her shoulders. The tummy time cries stopped. And now, she’s doing tummy time for nearly 30 minutes AT A TIME. She’s pushing her hands down to lift her entire chest up. She tries to grab toys while on her tummy and lifting her chest. She’s even starting to crawl backwards for the first time. My baby is 23 weeks old and growing too fast. Whenever she is on her tummy now, she looks up, as though victorious, confident in her newfound and growing strength.

“Soon, she’ll be crawling, and then, she’ll be running all over this apartment!” the nanny exclaimed this morning.

Noooooo, don’t talk about that, I said to her. This is all happening too fast. I just want to enjoy her stages right here and right now.

Treatment of hired help

I think it’s generally a good rule of thumb to treat people you hire like human beings. That seems like a basic thing to ask, but it apparently isn’t so basic. As the saying goes, “Common sense is not so common.” Common decency isn’t so common, either.

I’ve read nightmarish nanny stories of nannies who were offered food by their employers only if it was expired or unwanted by the families. I’ve heard of nannies who were told they were not allowed to use the family’s microwave because their food smelled and would stink up their house. It’s really sad what some employers do with their nannies — basically treat them as though they are lesser human beings who deserve no kindness or respect.

One of the things our nanny said to me she was looking for when choosing her next family was “respect.” I was a bit caught off guard when she said that during the interview, as I wasn’t expecting to hear that, but it makes sense when I think of all the stupid stories above. A few days a week, I prepare a fruit bowl for her of fruit that I peel and cut up, and she initially had this look of shock on her face when I offered it. I mean.. I was already cutting and prepping fruit for myself, so it’s not much more work for me to do it for her. This morning, I offered to prepare her a cup of tea, and once again, she had this look of surprise on her face that I was doing this one thing for her. Preparing a cup of tea is simple: all I’m doing is putting a bag into a cup and filling it with hot water, but she was just so appreciative and thanked me multiple times when I handed it to her. It made me realize that she probably wasn’t treated that well by some of her past employers, and the thought just made me feel sorry for her.

I am not blind to the fact that we live in a classist society. The US is a country that likes to pretend it has no classes, or that everyone is “middle class,” but that frankly is just not the case. The people with big paychecks pay people with smaller paychecks to do to the work that they don’t want to do, or perhaps cannot do. The paycheck of the CEO of my company is likely at least 6-10 times what I get paid. He may look at my paycheck and think it’s pocket change. But the size of your paycheck is relative: I have a larger paycheck than my nanny, but then otherwise, how would I pay her…? But living in a classist society is not an excuse to treat other people like shit or as though they are lesser than you. Your worth as a human being should not be tied to the employment choice you make or the size of your paycheck.

Breast milk: a labor of love

“You produce a lot of milk,” our nanny said one morning, as she watched me measure out freshly pumped breast milk for the baby’s second morning bottle.

She was trying to compliment me and be kind. But when she said that, it made me think about how long it took me to get to this level of output. “It’s definitely a lot more than it was before, but it’s still not enough,” I responded. “That’s why she has at least one formula bottle per day. She’s a hungry little hippo!”

I told her that I did not always produce this much milk; in fact, if you asked our first night nurse a few months ago what my milk output was, she would not have had a positive response like this. She told me that the ratio of breast milk to formula our baby was getting was in reverse to what her son’s wife was able to produce for her grandson when he was a baby. He’s now just over 2 years old. She said she barely produced a few ounces of breast milk per day. Well, I can relate to that; once upon a time, I was in her painful shoes.

She exclusively breast fed her first child, a son. But with her second child, a daughter, she refused to eat from her breast; and when she pumped milk, she just wouldn’t take it, so she ended up having to be fully formula fed. “Breastfeeding is so, so much work,” she lamented. “Nursing directly or pumping; it’s just so hard. People just don’t understand unless they’ve done it themselves.”

It was funny we were talking about this as there is a nationwide formula shortage. Lots of people on social media are blaming moms who choose not to breastfeed, saying that “breast milk is free” but we choose not to use it. It’s sad because those accusations are rooted in ignorance. Hell, I’ve even made that ignorant statement myself once upon a time. Not all of us can breastfeed, and those of us who do, like myself, just don’t produce enough for our babies to eat, so that’s why we use formula. Then, there are situations like our nanny’s daughter who just refused breast milk. What do you do in those cases – let your baby starve and die?

But her comments just go to show how relative the amount of breastmilk we produce is, whether it’s a lot or a little. I really should stop focusing on the negative, as in, “I do not produce enough,” and rather focus on the fact that my baby is growing and thriving with a majority diet of the milk my body is producing. I have come a long way and should give credit where it is due. I feel very thankful for this.