Why Platelet Donation Is Your Friend

Every stay-at-home mom should consider platelet donation.

I’m not saying that other people shouldn’t. I’m just saying that this particular service is tailor-made for those whose primary work is raising small children.

Picture this: You get up Saturday morning, get some breakfast, take a shower. Help out a little with the kids. Maybe mark something off your list. Then you glance at the clock and say “Well, I’d better go!” And your husband, baby in arms, says “See you later!”

You’re off to spend about three hours on your own. Granted, nearly an hour of that is in the car, but how often do you get to drive by yourself anyway? Three hours. And the cause is such a worthy one that, not only is your husband cheerfully taking on the household (which he would probably do anyway, because that’s just the kind of sweet man he is), but even you yourself feel no nagging sense of guilt at skipping out for that long.

And what are you going to do for that time? (Other than drive, of course.) Work your tail off? Another dose of the same time-management, get-it-done stuff that you do at home all day, just for a different cause?

Nope. You’re going to read a novel.

There’s always a catch, of course. And in this case the catch is that you’ll only have one hand free (but hey, that’s normal life with a baby in the house, right?) because the other arm will have a needle in it (ok, not as normal). And as fair warning, not everyone can donate platelets. Some people just don’t have the right veins. My husband is one such, actually — he can donate blood just fine, but the platelet thing doesn’t work for him.

I admit that the needle thing is a bit of a barrier to some people. Heck, I’ve done this a bunch of times, and it’s still a bit of a barrier to me. This last time I entertained a brief fantasy of my iron being too low to donate. Would I head home immediately, like a good mother? Or would I take a little side trip? Gee honey, I was all the way across town already, and I’ve really been needing to go to the fabric store. For an hour. The stop at Godiva Chocolates, though… that was just for fun.

But even with the needle, it’s so worth it. For about an hour and a half, you’ll sit in a semi-reclined, comfy chair, snuggled under blankets, with absolutely nothing you can do except read. Or, if you want, watch a movie. Most people do the latter, actually. I just can’t pass up that much reading time.

If you’re interested, I’ll pass along a few tips to make the experience smoother for you. Not the ones that the Red Cross gives out — they’ll tell you to drink plenty of fluids, no aspirin in the 48 hours before donation, etc. And those are important. But here are some things I’ve learned myself from my years (yes, years now!) of experience.

    Don’t forget to pee. This is important. If you’ve been following the Red Cross tips, you’ll have been drinking plenty of liquids. And you’ll be distracted when you come out of the initial exam, where you got your finger pricked and were asked questions about whether you’ve had sex with prostitutes in the last 12 months. You’ll still be wondering what the heck Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is. But do a quick internal check, because once you sit down in that chair, you’ll be there a while.

    Choose your entertainment wisely. Distraction is the name of the game here. If you’re picking a movie, pick something that you know will carry you away, preferably on the light-hearted side. (They’ll let you finish the movie even if your donation finishes first.) If you’re taking books, take at least two, one of which should be total brain-candy — the kind of book that absolutely engrosses you. A book that you would have read straight through until two in the morning, back in those long-ago days before children when the consequences for such irresponsible behavior were pretty minor. On a related note:

    Don’t take a book on a medical topic. For example, say you’ve been meaning to finish that book on childhood vaccinations, because you’re still struggling with all the “he-said, she-said” stuff surrounding that issue, and agonizing over what the right thing is for your children. The platelet donation is not the right time for it. You don’t want to be pinned in a chair for over an hour, with a needle in your arm (did I mention that bit?), reading about all of the horrible diseases that your children might get, or the various reactions to vaccines they might have. Trust me on this one.

    Ask for what you need. Think of it like a somewhat bizarre kind of spa. They want you to be comfortable, because they want you to come back. If your wrist isn’t happy, the attendant will gladly take thirty seconds to get a pillow for it. Similarly, don’t be shy about keeping your temperature good. They’ll tuck you in with blankets and a heating pad, because warmth helps the donation process. Most of the time they’re good about the setup, but one time I had an attendant crank the heating pad up a notch midway through my donation. “Let’s just get you nice and warm,” she said, and then drifted off. Within minutes I was getting sweaty and slightly nauseated, and all of the things which had been possible to ignore until then — the arm held still, the smell of hospital, the taste of the calcium tablets I’d taken — were very front and center. It probably didn’t help that this was the same trip where I was reading the vaccination book. Don’t be shy about asking for what will make you comfortable.

    Walk out feeling great. You just watched a movie or read a romance novel and at the same time made a huge difference in someone’s life. At the very least you eased someone’s suffering, someone going through chemotherapy or an organ transplant. You may have flat-out saved someone’s life. So get yourself a cup of water and some raisins from the snack table. They’re not Godiva chocolates, but they’re still pretty good.


Definitions of Failure — and Success

I think a lot about failure. I’d like to say that I think about success, but it would be dishonest of me. The truth is that, unless I’m being very careful, I’m really thinking mostly about failure.

A couple weeks ago I was doing the dishes after lunch (ok, well after lunch) and had just picked up my most-used skillet. Omelette with caramelized onions and cheese, whispered my memory, and raw carrots as an offset. Nathan had eaten a good amount of both. As he had of the toast made from home-baked, whole wheat bread, with homemade jam. And the multi-grain porridge that morning. And the fresh apple. Come to think of it, I’d been doing really well on food that day.

And actually… here it was, early afternoon, and I’d already done my cleaning for the day, I’d played at being dogs with Nathan, done some drawing with him, and gotten enough clothes on him that I didn’t feel bad about the time he’d spent playing outside in the rain. I’d baked a freaking cake. I’d made up a song about baking a cake and sung it, with accompanying sign language, to the kids. I’d done a little writing, knit a few rows, and had the baby naked-bottom all day with only one miss.

Maybe for some people this list of accomplishments would not be impressive, but for me it’s almost miraculous. In the space of thirty seconds the day unfolded before my eyes as a huge, smashing success. I was having a SuperMom day.

And I’d been completely oblivious to it.

I had not, however, been oblivious to the dishes piled up in the kitchen or the toys strewn across the living room floor. I had been quite consciously keeping myself from thinking about the three nagging things that had been clogging up my list for days now.

My husband and I have talked a lot about perceptions of success. For me, it comes down in large part to the difference between feeling something — completing a task, say — as success, versus feeling it as staving off failure.

I tend to be oriented toward the latter. This was not such a big deal in school, since tasks were laid out as clear and (relatively) easy hoops to be jumped through, so failure was fairly easy to stave off. I didn’t even actually know that I had this perspective until I got out of college and discovered that I was now required to set up my own hoops, so to speak. I have at times paralyzed myself with the number of expectations I set for myself.

Constantly feeling as though you’re staving off failure is a non-optimal perspective on life. I don’t know of an easy fix, either (if I did, I wouldn’t be writing this post). But thanks in large part to discussions with my insightful and very patient husband, I’ve developed a variety of techniques to try and guide myself to a less failure-oriented perspective.

For example: Yesterday was not a SuperMom day. If there’s a way to be a SuperMom with two grumpy kids (I’m pretty sure mild illness was involved), both wanting constant and individualized attention, I don’t know what it is. Yesterday was the kind of day to keep careful track of the good moments — Nathan snuggled up with me while we read, Ryan laughing his head off in my arms while I chased his brother around the house, six separate occasions when I almost lost my patience but managed not to. (Yes, six. Yes, I was counting.) Forcing myself to catalog good moments helps to forestall my tendency to catalog the other ones.

Does it work? Does it re-orient me toward success? Sometimes better than others. It isn’t a habit for me yet, so it takes conscious effort to keep from slipping into a failure zone. It’s an ongoing process.

Just like the rest of life.


From my husband:

“Need-free kids are like fat-free cookies — bland, and with a funny aftertaste.”

I spent my early morning nursing time listening to the wind and rain outside. It’s a perfect cozy day to stay inside and devour a good book, maybe knit a little… Or, if I can follow through on yesterday’s impulses, attempt to clean the entire house in one marathon cleaning spree.


I started an embroidery project a while ago.

This was an extraordinarily silly thing to do. I knew it when I did it. In fact, I put it off for a while, despite the clear and insistent image in my mind of this thing I wanted to make.

Don’t do it, whispered my little Voice Of Practicality. You don’t have time for hand-work. It’s just going to end up as yet another Unfinished Project.

Screw you, I eventually whispered back, and started the thing anyway.

Ok, ok, my Voice Of Practicality conceded. I can see that you’re going to do this. Fine. But at least be reasonable. Set yourself up for success, here. At least three strands of floss, right? And use a simple stitch, like back stitch, to make it quicker.

I tried, I really did. Three strands — no problem. But as I sat there with my hoop in hand, poised to take the first stitch, I just couldn’t commit to doing the entire project in back stitch. The stitch that I really like for outlining is braid stitch, which takes three times as much floss and time, but creates a beautiful raised line of stitching.

So often I find myself here — teetering on that careful brink between getting something done and investing in its perfection. It isn’t an easy balance. I truly do want to finish this project, sometime within the foreseeable future, and hang it up. On the other hand, I don’t want to do so only to feel a little stab of dissatisfaction every time I look at it. If only I’d taken the time to… Projects that make me re-live their creation every time I look at them, mentally making different choices, tend to get shuffled to our-of-the-way corners where I don’t have to see them.

For this project in particular, I try to remind myself that right now hand-work functions as my meditation time. When things are busy, when I never get a moment with both kids asleep, when the kitchen is a mess and my list is long, I try to spend a few minutes stitching or knitting. I try to focus only on the motion of my hands and the slow work that they’re creating.

Then, too, this project inspires me to be especially mindful of the lightness, the joy of life. The end result (if and when it’s completed) will be a wall hanging embroidered with one of my favorite poems from Gyo Fujikawa’s A Child’s Book of Poems.

Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings,
Knowing he hath wings.
Victor Hugo

This post is part of the Moms’ 30-Minute Blog Challenge.

Happiness Is Taking It Outside

The kids love it. There something about being outside that both of them respond to. Maybe it’s just the change of pace after a long winter indoors, but I don’t think that’s all. I feel the same lure myself, and it drives me to bring out toys, our meals, my knitting. I find myself brainstorming outdoor chores that can be done with baby in arm — any excuse to prolong our time outside. Nathan has lately demonstrated a solid ability to stay on the property, so I’ve increasingly let him stay outside on his own (although I still check on him frequently, both to make sure he’s ok and that he isn’t digging in the garden).

But truly, there’s something about being outside that rests my soul, even just on a little suburban lot. For example, what is the insane pleasure that I get from finally being able to hang my wash outside again? I know it’s temporary (the spring rains aren’t nearly over), but the simple act of taking the wash outside and spending a few minutes pinning it up is marvelous. It feels serene.

And fortunately we have a lot of outdoor work coming up. The enormous plant order that I placed last fall has now arrived. This includes not only fruit trees, but an eclectic mix of other edibles — more strawberries, some novel raspberry varieties, etc. This means that there’s a non-trivial amount of work on our plates to get all these things in the ground. Very, very exciting to me…


Ever notice how cool trains are?

I knew about engines, cabooses and boxcars (because of course I read and loved The Boxcar Children). But hopper cars? Refridgerator cars? And beyond just a working knowledge of different types of cars, have you ever stopped to notice the sheer length of some of these trains? I mean, other than being annoyed at how long you’re having to wait at a crossing? It’s really an impressive amount of stuff to be pulled by a single engine.

Nathan, like most of his ilk, loves trains. He loves anything that’s big and powerful and loud. And what’s surprised me is that I’m starting to like them a little too. Not just because his face lights up, but because, when I really think about it, trains are kind of cool.

There are very few subjects in life that I find truly boring (I can’t think of one at the moment), but I definitely have my preferences. I lean much more toward natural and biological sciences, with a healthy dose of art thrown in.

And don’t get me wrong — I love Nathan’s enjoyment of nature. I love that beetles and spider webs and “big trees!” are still really neat to him. (Although sometimes the innocence of childhood doesn’t look quite the way you expect. The first time I showed Nathan a little ant’s nest, he spent about two minutes listening to how cool ants were and the next fifteen minutes laughing while he tried to stomp them.)

But in a way I expected to have the wonders of nature become more vivid through my children’s eyes. What I didn’t expect was to be introduced to the wonders of garbage trucks.

Ever notice how cool garbage trucks are? I have to push aside, for a moment, my feelings about trash itself in order to appreciate the coolness, but it’s there. The task that they do, of automatically picking up and unloading garbage bins, is a non-trivial one. There’s a serious amount of engineering in that pick-up arm. And they don’t just up-end the bin; they bounce it a little, to encourage the emptying process.

When we first moved to this house Nathan was about seven months old. Garbage trucks were so, so cool. Every garbage day we would go outside (multiple times, since with recycling and yard waste there are multiple trucks that come on garbage day) and watch the trucks. Better yet, we live on a dead end — so trucks go down the street, back all the way back up it, beeping the whole way, back all the way down, and then handle the other side of the street. This may not seem desirable to some, but I can’t even count the number of mornings that Nathan and I have sat together out on our step watching the action. Sometimes we would walk out to the side of the road for a better view. Occasionally I would get embarrassed about watching a garbage truck with such interest, and make myself look down at Nathan, as though to convey to any onlookers that this was all for his enjoyment, and I was just being an indulgent mother.

Fortunately I eventually got over that embarrassment. Now, when we go out to watch the construction near us, I watch with unashamed interest. Ever notice how cool construction is? The way that an experienced operator can make an excavator move with an uncanny, almost organic sense? They use each machine for more than just its obvious task, hooking chains to the bottom of the excavator shovel so that it can help lift, pushing gravel and dirt back into a hole with the side of the shovel.

The construction is a sore spot for locals, whose daily drives have been upset by all the work, and who have another year of it to look forward to. But when one of my neighbors casually complains about the construction as a conversation opener, I can only make noncommittal noises in reply. The truth is that I kind of love it. Sure, it’s loud and interfering and annoying, but how many hours has Nathan spent watching it? He could distinguish between a front loader and a backhoe loader before he could distinguish between a cow and a pig. I don’t know if that’s my ideal, but it’s true.

And although sometimes I think to bring a book on our walks, usually I’m watching construction right along with him.

I don’t actually mind.

Because long before we had kids, we talked about letting them explore their interests. And watching things with Nathan helps to remind me that there are a lot of cool things in the world.

No Sandbox

And thank goodness.

What a waste it would have been, to have constrained this boy and his backhoe loader to a sandbox.

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