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Our First Father-Daughter Road Trip Was Escaping a Hurricane

You could never say that we didn’t see it coming.


Hurricane Irma churned its way toward Florida with a level of intensity and capacity for destruction that was plain to anyone. Its ferocious potential was evident from Barbuda to Cuba long before it reached the Gulf Coast of Florida. News broadcasts announced its power and path.

As a single dad in Tampa with a five-year-old, I had only one choice. It was time to leave.

Leaving wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Days before landfall, flights were unobtainable. First Tampa, then Orlando, then Jacksonville ran out of departures with seats. I had to settle for Atlanta, which involved an eight-hour drive in the best of conditions to catch an outbound flight to family in New Jersey. Thus was my daughter’s first road trip born.

Packing the suitcase of a five-year-old girl is an interesting experience for a guy.

Certain stuffed animals were considered essential for the journey but were too large to fit in her suitcase together with clothes and other needed items. I explained this. We negotiated. Eventually, we settled upon two smaller stuffed animal alternatives.

Only certain dresses would do. I had to explain that the climate in New Jersey in September was colder than in Tampa, Florida. We negotiated some more. This was all in good cheer, but it ate up time, patience, and energy.

I know an amazing preacher, a former NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals, who talks about his “cup of grace” that starts out full each day but can be emptied over time. He says that when your cup of grace is empty, it’s empty. It will fill back up, but you have to tell your loved ones when the cup is dry. Then they know when to cool it.

Two stuffed animals, three dresses, two beloved bath toys, carefully selected socks, a denied pair of shoes (too large to wear yet without causing blisters), a hairbrush, and an assortment of separately packed snacks later, my cup of grace was as dry as the Sahara. I love my little girl. But she is, as she describes herself, a “specific person” – in every way.

I’m impressed that a five-year-old can come up with the idea of being a “specific person” on her own, so I let that slide. I may even encourage it.

We need specific people. They build our bridges and houses and help run our computer networks. Life wouldn’t work without them. But there’s also no denying that they can be a pain at times. Especially to a creative writer dad.

Adding fuel to the specificity fire is the pronounced femininity of my little minion.

Men love women for what makes them different from us. It’s just naturally that way. If we weren’t different, nothing would work and nothing would be interesting. But no one would say that differences make for an easy time. And there’s nothing like a lengthy road trip under adverse circumstances to bring out the differences, and even magnify them up to the threshold of actual, physical pain.

I’m like most parents, whether single or married. That is to say, I have heard the “Let It Go” song from the Frozen soundtrack so many times that it’s led me to contemplate the violent destruction of audio equipment and question my sanity on multiple occasions. But there is nothing to do when your little one is herself the author of your musical interlude.

It’s excruciating.

You don’t want to stifle her enthusiasm. You want her to express herself. But girly girls sing girly songs, over and over and over. The repetition feels great to them. It must be like eating cherries: “Hey, that one tasted good, let’s have another one!” That’s what I think when I dig into a big bowl of fruit.

My little Katie was evidently feeling the same as we transited from Tampa to Ocala to Gainesville, at times on the highway and other times plying the back roads in an effort to escape the snarl of Floridians hurrying out of the way of Irma’s wrath. Katie never stopped being nice and sweet – but she never stopped singing, either.

My martial arts teacher is a third-degree black belt. He says that he can turn the volume in his household up or down simply by concentrating, that his mind is strong enough to train his focus on as much or as little of his surroundings as he likes. I don’t know if that’s possible for me or not, but I do know one thing: I’m training with that guy until I become a black belt because I’d walk through the gates of hell to possess that kind of ability.

Since I already feel like the gates of hell and I are old friends, my arrival there may be redundant. But at least I’ll feel like I’m right at home.

I have to give Katie her due. In many ways, she made the trip to Atlanta more pleasant than it would have been had I been alone. We talked about her grandmother’s house. We laughed and made jokes, even though her “knock-knock” jokes didn’t make any sense. So what if I had to rhyme words with her for hours and have contests to see which of us could spot more school buses for 300 miles? It was really fun, despite the challenges.

Kids push us to our limits, but they light up our lives. You don’t get one without the other.

Katie’s arrival in New Jersey kicked the whole deal into overdrive. We were safe, that was great. Irma had no chance of harming us. I breathed the sigh of relief that every parent knows and understands. But my peace of mind was short-lived because the child care marathon started roughly at 8:30 a.m. each morning.

Katie would wake up hungry. (That’s to be expected.) Then she’d want to play with the dogs, including a huge, three-month-old puppy weighing 35 pounds, who appears to be a mix of Labrador and Newfoundland. I christened the puppy Jackson, since he didn’t have a name yet. If you think Jackson’s energy was more than equal to my daughter’s, you’d be right. Sometimes you score points just when all the furniture in the house remains intact.

After some time with Jackson and my mom’s resident cocker spaniel, Katie would ask, “What’s the plan?” She likes to have an itinerary. At the age of five.

Our plans were always intense and scheduled. We went to Space Farms, a northwest New Jersey institution so long established that I went there as a kid 40 years ago. We saw and fed every animal known to man. We snacked. We picked apples. We went to the beach playground at the lake. We made sand castles. We swam even though it was September.

Back at home, we played Chinese checkers and Monopoly (Katie monopolized us thoroughly). Then we did puzzles on the floor. We drew and painted and colored. We played with the dogs some more. We decorated a pumpkin for Halloween. At last, we fell asleep watching PJ Masks.

That was Day One.

Each day was a delightful, brutal sensory onslaught from dawn to dusk. It’s what you get into being a parent. Nobody tells you that ahead of time. If they did, no one would have kids and the world would depopulate.

Candor requires me to affirm that, if it weren’t for Katie’s school to take up some of the strain, I would have been ready for the jacket with the funny sleeves a long time ago. Saying so, by the way, isn’t inconsistent with the deepest, most adoring love. It just is what it is. And it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. Hands down.

I didn’t fare too well in the father department. He was out of the picture early, as some dads are, and when he was dragged back in later, he left a trail of hurt and destruction in his wake. Some people don’t know how to do anything else.

In my darkest moments, when I’m overtired beyond anything that’s normal just trying to be a good dad, I occasionally have a moment of weakness and lament my fate. I wonder why I am called upon to be a great dad when I didn’t get even a good one. You can be used to life’s unfairness and still think that.

When I feel that injustice rise inside me and indulge for a moment in self-pity – which is exactly what it is – I look at my little girl. She smiles. It does me in. There’s no cost, there’s no past, and there’s no pain or loss. There’s only her love.

Divorce is a hurricane. Katie’s energy is another kind of hurricane. We have to stand up to these things in life. I don’t know whether everything that doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. Personally, I have my doubts about that. But I do know that raising a beautiful child ennobles us. It gives us purpose, and it gives us hope.

Hurricanes don’t last forever. And when they pass, in their wake, they always leave the most pristine, clear sky without a cloud, beckoning us to an extraordinary tomorrow.

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Between the sleepless nights, endless worries, and persistent temper tantrums, parenting can feel like a fast track to gray hairs and wrinkles.

Now, researchers at Northwestern University have proven what we've suspected all along: having children does, in fact, speed up the aging process. A new study, which was published last month in Scientific Reports, found that each pregnancy can age a mother's cells by up to two years.

Each baby ages a mother’s cells

Researchers studied 821 women in the Philippines between the ages of 20 and 22, with various reproductive histories. They examined two separate markers of cellular aging—telomere length and epigenetic age—to measure the toll pregnancy takes on the body.

"Telomere length and epigenetic age are cellular markers that independently predict mortality, and both appeared 'older' in women who had more pregnancies in their reproductive histories," Calen Ryan, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in biological anthropology at Northwestern, said in a statement. "Even after accounting for other factors that affect cellular aging, the number of pregnancies still came out on top."

The researchers were surprised to find that cellular aging increased between about six months and two years for each additional pregnancy—a figure much higher than what they originally anticipated. Meanwhile, women who were currently pregnant had cells that looked significantly younger than predicted for their biological age."

It's an interesting situation in which pregnancy makes someone look temporarily 'young,' but there appears to be some lasting, cumulative relationship between the number of pregnancies and more accelerated biological age," noted Christopher Kuzawa, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.

Our telomeres shorten and our epigenetic age increases

Telomeres, which are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes, protect our DNA and make it possible for our cells to divide. Longer telomeres are associated with longer lives and better health. As people age and as cells divide and replicate, those telomeres shorten.

Given that there is hyper cell production during pregnancy, it makes sense that those telomeres would shorten and, therefore, appear to age dramatically.

"During pregnancy, more cells need to be produced for carrying and nurturing the fetus, such as in red blood cells, placental cells, and more," said Dr. Kim Langdon, an Ohio-based retired OB-GYN who writes at Parenting Pod. "In addition, the cells in all organs such as the heart and uterus enlarge. This is known as hypertrophy—and when cells hypotrophy, their telomeres shorten."

Meanwhile, the epigenetic age begins to climb. This is an estimate of a person's biological age based on changes in the DNA that are caused by environmental factors, such as toxins and stress.

In other words, pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the body. "I'm not really surprised," Langdon told Healthline about the findings. "Every OB-GYN knows the extreme stress to the system that pregnancy causes."

Throughout pregnancy, the blood volume increases by 50% as does the cardiac output, which puts strain on the heart. The kidney function increases and the lungs have reduced capacity, which causes breathlessness.

Why, then, did the pregnant women seem so much better off?

It may all come down to the immunological, hormonal, and physiological changes that take place during pregnancy to support development of the baby.

For example, pregnant women experience elevated estrogen levels, which can lower oxidative stress and prevent damage to telomere length and epigenetic age. Once the baby is born, though, those shifts are no longer necessary.

The findings may not be permanent

The study supports previous evidence that women who have had more pregnancies are more susceptible to certain illnesses and have slightly shorter life spans. Earlier this year, researchers from George Mason University found that childbirth could age a woman by as many as 11 years.

While it may be nerve-racking to learn that having children can accelerate the aging process, scientists still don't fully understand why this happens and don't want women to worry.

According to Langdon, we are far away from understanding if these findings could impact family planning or the longevity or long-term health of the mother.

"We don't know if these findings are permanent," Langdon said. "More longitudinal studies need to be done over many years, even decades, to see if this is reversible or if it really can predict when you will die."

The researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Washington have already started they working on a follow-up study that will examine the same group of women 13 years after their cellular measurements were first taken. Eventually, we'll be able to see if the women's cells continue to appear older throughout their life.

Until then, though, you can keep blaming your kids for those fine lines and dark circles.

Originally posted on Healthline.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I always thought I'd have babies. As in, multiple babies. Maybe three or four? I knew it would be hard. I knew pregnancy was tough and childbirth was no walk in the park.

I just didn't know how tough. And I also had no idea how hard my recovery would be.

It's been nearly four months, and I'm still taking pain medicine. I'm still using the witch hazel pads and haven't touched toilet paper. I'm still struggling with issues from my labor and delivery that just won't go away.

I'm still dealing with the emotional guilt that comes from feeling like I failed my daughter because I don't remember her first moments of life due to the trauma of what my body went through.

My birth story was traumatic and terrifying—and rare.

At 38 weeks pregnant, I had been in what we thought was labor for almost two days—but was actually a kidney stone. I was in constant, terrible pain for nearly 48 hours straight, and morphine didn't take the pain away—it only took the edge off. I watched out the hospital window as the world went by outside, and the hours dragged on.

I didn't sleep because of the pain. My body was completely drained and had gone into survival mode because of what felt like endless torture. Eventually, I was induced because of a small leak of amniotic fluid and had to give birth in an exhausted physical state and a completely anxious mental state.

I was in no way ready to have my baby—the baby I had been so ready for just weeks earlier.

This lead to all the things I had hoped to avoid for my birth—inducement, more inducement because I wasn't progressing fast enough, having to lie flat on my back, epidural, episiotomy and forceps.

By the time my sweet daughter finally entered the world, and they placed her in my arms—all I could do was immediately fall back onto the bed and close my eyes. My body was shutting down from sheer exhaustion. I wasn't even able to look at my brand new baby, let alone admire her or watch her take her first breaths. This part of my birth story still breaks my heart.

After they moved me to my recovery room, I asked my husband what our delivery room number was—because I never wanted to go in that room again. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to walk down the hallway past it. And I really didn't want to think about what happened in there. My mind was scarred by the fear and anxiety I experienced.

The hardest part of all of this is that now, the thought of getting pregnant again terrifies me. My heart longs to have a house full of little feet running down the halls, yet my body says "closed for business." It's a confusing tension.

I know of women who have suffered through experiences much worse than I have. I know there are stories out there that are almost unbelievable. I don't know if or when or how I will ever feel ready for another baby again.

Yet, I have been realizing a few things.

It's okay that I'm scared. It's okay that I didn't feel as strong as I hoped to be. It's okay that I didn't power through childbirth without assistance. It's okay that I wasn't like the moms who can give birth in their sleep.

And it's okay that I wasn't physically able to witness my daughter's first moments of life. It doesn't make me a bad mother. It won't ruin my daughter's life. She doesn't even know what happened—only I do. I'm the one whose heart is broken because of this—not hers. She was in mama's arms and that's all she knew.

So I'm giving myself grace. I'm letting my mind and body heal for however long it takes. I'm not going to feel the guilt of failure—because I didn't fail.

So, mama with the traumatic birth story, please give yourself grace too. You're a good mom. You're a strong and powerful woman who has done something amazing.

You brought life into this world.

Your body didn't fail—you survived, and you're a mother now. And it's absolutely, 100% okay if you change your mind about having another baby. You have permission to feel exactly how you feel, right now at this moment.

Don't feel like less of a woman because of a story that was ultimately out of your control. You did it. You really did it. That is what makes you a strong, powerful woman. You are amazing, and you are a rockstar for going through what you did.

And you know what? You're killing this whole motherhood thing, too—just so you know.

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First responders do a lot of heroic things on the job. We're used to seeing police officers on TV pulling victims to safety or chasing down the bad guys, but sometimes heroism looks a lot different. Sometimes, it looks like breastfeeding.

A Facebook photo of a police officer breastfeeding a hungry baby in an Argentinian hospital has now gone viral for a very good reason. It's a simple act, but to that hungry baby, Officer Celeste Ayala is certainly a hero.

The photo was posted to Facebook by Marcos Heredia, who says he witnessed the police officer comfort and breastfeed a hungry baby while on duty at the Sister Maria Ludovica Children's Hospital in Buenos Aires.

According to Heredia, who tagged the officer in the Facebook post, Officer Ayala was attending the busy hospital on August 14 when she noticed the baby, a patient, needing care and comfort, and took it upon herself to give it.

"I want to make public this great gesture of love that you had today with that little baby, who without knowing you didn't hesitate, and for a moment you fulfilled [as if] you were their mother," reads a loose translation of Heredia's post.

Multiple Spanish-language websites report the 6-month-old baby Ayala breastfed is the youngest of six siblings who were in the process of being placed into foster care because their mother did not have the resources to feed them. The children were at the hospital for the medical exams they needed before being moved into foster care when Ayala came into contact with the baby, who was desperately hungry while waiting, according to reports.

Metro reports Ayala spoke to local media in Buenos Aires, explaining that she noticed hospital staff were overwhelmed so she, a mother of two, asked if she could comfort and feed the baby. "I noticed that he was hungry, as he was putting his hand into his mouth, so I asked to hug him and breastfeed him. It was a sad moment, it broke my soul seeing him like this, society should be sensitive to the issues affecting children, it cannot keep happening," Ayala reportedly said.

Not only is Ayala a mother and a police officer, but she is also apparently a volunteer firefighter as well. Her fellow firefighters joined in the chorus of people supporting Ayala's simple heroism on social media.

'We want to congratulate the voluntary firefighting cadet Celeste Ayala who yesterday in her job as police officer whilst she was on guard duty at the hospital, breastfed a young child who arrived crying."

Sometimes, first responders pull people from a burning building or save people from a hostage taking. And sometimes they feed babies.


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