What you can’t see

I took the kids to have their Christmas pictures done the other night. I’ve taken them to a portrait studio for Christmas pictures every single year since Big Man was a year old and the Princess a small infant. It’s just my thing…..I get pictures done. There are tons of photos of them all over the house.

I posted their silly picture to Facebook yesterday. Everyone was saying what a great photo it was. Here, I’ll let you see for yourselves:

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I think the thing about it that everyone loves is that Little Man just looks so happy. What isn’t in the picture, what you can’t see, is that ten minutes before this particular shot was taken, he was on the verge of a full meltdown, and had already kicked the wall twice. What you can’t see in this picture is that the Princess was really pushing back on having pictures done at all, much less the total lameness of Christmas pictures with her siblings, with a color scheme. What you can’t see in this picture is all the sighing and eyeball-rolling that had been going on for over an hour just before this shot was taken. What you can’t see is my stress, frustration, and worry. What you can’t see is me reminding Little Man to NOT make the creepy smiling face the photographer didn’t seem to notice in any of the other shots, like this one:

P3

What you don’t see, most of all, is me struggling to hang onto them being my babies for just one more year, for just a little bit longer. What you can’t see is that no matter what people post on social media, no matter how perfect a photo might make them look, there is life behind that photo. There are meltdowns, attitudes, general mayhem, arguments, sighing, anxiety.

I kind of shook my head at all the comments. How could they not see? I am THANKFUL for the comments. It is a great shot of my Herd. And I do love the photo. I just know everything that happened while obtaining that photo. I don’t mean to sound like a complete Grinch, nor that I can’t accept a compliment on a great photo of my three. That’s not my point at all. It was just a good reminder for me that no matter how amazing the photo, what you see in a snapshot of a single moment, isn’t all there is to the story, for anyone.

And just because I’m a shamelessly proud momma, here’s the one we had printed.

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Closer

Spouse and I have been married 19 years today. Go us! We have, as all other long-term married couples, been through it…ups, downs, sideways. We’ve had our share of not being even close to the same page. We’ve had seasons we were both so exhausted with just living there wasn’t energy or time for anything else. We’ve struggled, we’ve fought, we’ve battled our way through. He still makes me laugh. Still loves me. Still seems to find me somewhat attractive. And we both still choose each and every day to do what it takes to keep us, our family, together. He matters to me.

Parenting is rough on a relationship. We both bring our own upbringings to the table of parenting. We both bring our issues and insecurities to the parenting table. We bring all our wins in life, and all our regrets and wish-we-hadn’ts. That’s just the way of life. We do have different parenting styles…I am for sure the tougher, hard-ass parent. But then I’m around the babies more, thus I’m forced to be the enforcer.  When the kids were toddlers, he was very much the “let them eat dirt and cut each other’s hair off” parent. I was the rules, structure, routine, solid nap and bedtimes parent. We had lots of conversations about what to do, when we should allow the kids to do certain things, and so on. I didn’t think of it as a cornerstone of our relationship however. We just did it.

You think just having kids itself is a game-changer, and it is. But – and I’ve said this before – it’s nothing compared to parenting teens. Now that is a serious game-changer. I’ve seen it tear apart more than a few relationships. It is so hard (unless you don’t care about your kids, who they are, and who they’re on the road to being….then I guess it wouldn’t be that hard). There are so many bigger things to worry about, think about, deal with, face when your kids are teens – driving, friends, parties, boyfriends/girlfriends, phones, social media, not to mention those big scary possibilities of drinking and drugs.

I’m going to say this….parenting three teenagers has truly brought Spouse and I closer. We talk more. We have to talk more. We continually check in to make sure we’re on the same page. We keep each other in the loop. We discuss how to handle each new thing that comes up. As difficult as parenting teens is, it has had this side-benefit for our relationship.

The other thing we’ve realized is we have more time for us. We now have two full-fledged drivers in the house, besides us. We’re no longer spending hours and hours every weeks getting kids to and from. We also don’t need sitters. They’re even savvy enough to go get their own dinner at a local restaurant if we leave them money. It’s so freeing! And we realize it is very important for us to spend more time on our relationship, because in a few years, all three will be out of the house and off to college or life, and it will be just the two of us again. We need to know how to do that.

Yeah, closer. That’s the way it should be, isn’t it? Happy Anniversary to us!

“You should just be grateful”

I was talking with another preemie mom this morning about our precious gifts, the NICU, how terrifying and devastating and overwhelming it all was. She said that someone had told her, once she brought her daughter home, she should “just be grateful.” What in the ever-lovin? But yes, I’ve heard the same. I should just be grateful – my son is here. He dodged pretty  much all the bullets. He’s amazingly perfectly normal and healthy. Damn right, I’m grateful, every single day. But I’m also sad, heartbroken, guilt-ridden, maybe a tiny bit angry still for all we lost. Don’t ever tell a preemie parent they should just be grateful. You have zero clues.

Seventeen years later, I can still cry over his photos. I can, and do, still frequently cry over all he’s able to do. Every milestone is that much different because I  know very well what could have been, what probably should have been. I pull out his first hat, and am just stunned that it once was too big for him, and my fist barely fits into it. I see his first diapers (clean ones of course) and know they’re the size of a credit card. For real. I remember clearly how it felt to hold two pounds in my hands.

I think about the new mom that I was…..wheeled past the registration desk and all the people waiting in the ER, straight to Labor & Delivery, where I nearly fainted to hear his heartbeat on the monitor, so sure I’d been he was already dead inside of me. I think about all those stats they threw at us each day – his prognosis for survival, then his prognosis for survival without lifelong debilitating disabilities. I think about how much pain I was in, running a 104 degree fever for 16+ hours, knowing there was nothing we could do and that he was safer outside of me. We saw Wonder last weekend. That moment they whisk the baby out of the delivery room, no words said, just silence when there should be joy and laughter and the sound of a newborn crying, I started crying. That’s what it was like. That god-awful silence…..I hate that memory. I hate no one even told us if we had a boy or a girl. I hate that I know how many grams he weighed when he was born (under 1000). I hate that a hospital-grade breast pump was rolled into my room not two hours after giving birth – it became my companion for three months, every two hours. I hate I didn’t even know how to find my son in the NICU when I was finally released. I hate that I went home every night from the NICU to sit by an empty crib….a crib that waited 93 days to be filled.

Don’t tell me I should just be grateful. I am grateful. But I also hurt, I also grieve what we lost, the horrible things we faced that no parent should face. Don’t ask me to be grateful for that. Please. I wouldn’t wish prematurity or the NICU on my worst enemy. I’m grateful – my beautiful, precious miracle child survived. That is amazing. He is a joy. I am thankful and very aware our blessings. But dammit – nothing, no amount of time, takes away the scars from that experience.

Dark Places

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. I’ve been participating in a 30-day photo challenge, with a list of photos from our NICU time….everything from photos of him with all his tubes, to his feedings, first outfits, and so on. It’s been something of an emotional haul, going back through his baby scrapbook and all the other photos we have from those 93 days. Most days these days, I can recall his early birth and NICU time without getting caught up in the horror of that time. I have a normal, healthy 17-year-old young man. I have much to be thankful for, and he miraculously came out the other side, so those bad memories can take a backseat for the most part.

Here’s the thing….once you’ve lived that, you’re changed forever. There are deep scars that remain. And once in awhile, something will happen…a song, a sound, a smell, a photo…will take me right back to that time. Once in a greater while, something will really get to me, and I go to those dark places I rarely allow myself to go. It’s like a punch to the gut, my breath catches, and my heart races with grief and fear.

Those dark places are pretty intense and painful.  I hate that I fully believed my son was already dead the minute I saw that toilet full of blood. I feel I’d lost faith in him, his life, his will to fight. It messes with my mind, brings up all the what-ifs, should haves, could haves, would haves.

I was away from him for five days following his birth. God those days haunt me. Logically, I know it was completely out of my control, and it could have been so much worse. There was one point, due to the need to properly treat the severity of my staph infection, the doctors discussed keeping me where I was for four weeks so they could monitor my recovery closely and administer the strong antibiotics I needed in a controlled environment. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like…four weeks locked up in that hospital, ten minutes away from my son’s hospital, unable to see him. As it was, five days nearly drove me insane. I wasn’t there for him. Spouse saw him, touched him, held him, knew how to find him in the NICU, knew his doctors, knew the routine, knew what our son’s face looked like. Spouse had to show me all of that when I did get out. I still feel guilt over that. Stupid guilt, yes, but guilt nonetheless.  I hate those five days. I hate how they make me feel when I let myself go to this particular dark place.

When I did get out of my hospital and went to his, they could have told me any boy in that NICU was mine and I would have believed them. I had only seen him for a few minutes before he was transported to his NICU. Most of his face was covered in tape. I hate knowing I wouldn’t have recognized my own child if  you’d lined up five boys in their isolettes in front of me.

I didn’t spend 93 days and nights in the NICU with  him. The world continued outside, and I was encouraged to take care of myself…..go home at night, get rest, do life as much as possible. I dreaded leaving him every evening. I hate that I left him to the care of doctors, nurses, and machines while I went home and did normal stuff….bought groceries, made meals, cleaned the house, fed the dogs and cats, watched tv, and slept. I hate that the world went on, that I participated in any “normal” while he lay there battling to live.

There was one point he was developing an infection of some sort. They needed to do a clean blood draw, and then transfuse him. I broke down and fell completely apart. He was maybe three weeks old. I’d only been in the NICU for a little over an hour that day, but I left. I couldn’t take it. I could see his tiny face, red with anger and hurt. I could hear his muted cry, and I couldn’t take it. I went home and just cried…I’d failed him again. I wasn’t there for him again.

See…..dark places. They, as much as anything else, are a part of premature birth. It is rare I let myself go to these dark places. They are my worst memories, my worst fears, my deepest pain from his prematurity. They shouldn’t matter anymore, shouldn’t affect me anymore, but they do……very rarely, but they do.

Why now? Why wait so long?

I am the victim of sexual assault. It was a long time ago. No, I never reported it. Why? Well, I felt like it was somehow my fault, that no one would believe me, that he would deny it, that I would be humiliated even further. I blamed myself for putting myself in the situation that enabled him to do what he did to me. It took years for me to even acknowledge it was sexual assault, much less deal with the emotional fallout, and trust me, there was a LOT of emotional fallout. It’s not something you ever get over or forget.

All the reasons I never told anyone are all the reasons these women, and men, coming forward now to report sexual assaults, abuses, and harassment rather than years ago when they happened. And all the people pushing back only reinforce the rightness of their silence in the victims’ minds.

I’ve been filled with righteous anger the last couple of weeks at the insensitivity towards these victims, the ignorance of the naysayers saying they must be lying, or that they waited until just this moment to “ruin” the abusers’ lives. They have no idea how much these victims have suffered, how their lives have been ruined. That disbelief, that pushback is exactly why victims keep their mouths shut. Reinforcing that only does more damage, makes them believe maybe it didn’t happen, maybe it wasn’t what they thought, maybe it was their fault and they asked for it.

So stop asking them why now, stop questioning their motives, their motivation for coming forward now. Listen to them, support them, let them know you believe them, and it isn’t their fault what happened to them. Asking “why now” just makes you part of the problem, adds to the rape culture that exists in our world.

ALL the Books!

Hi, I’m Donna, and I’m a bookaholic.

I have a problem – I love to read. I’ve loved to read as long as I’ve been able to read. If my  parents couldn’t find me, they knew I was likely tucked into a corner somewhere, or laying across the recliner, or huddled on the couch, reading. My godmother took  us to the library weekly. The five-book limit drove young me insane. Who could read *just* five books in a week?

I read everything I could get my hands on, but  my favorites were pretty typical – Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Little Women (along with all the sequels), Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie series…..all the childhood favorites. Most I re-read multiple times. I read Gone With the Wind when I was ten, Pride & Prejudice at eleven. It’s no surprise I ended up majoring in English Literature in college – it seemed a natural progression.

I did take a break from reading for a few years after college. Analyzing and diagramming books into 30+ page papers for five years will do that to a person. But I slowly found my way back into reading for pleasure, first with brainless trashy novels and then onto popular novels.

I’d still rather read than watch television, unless sports are on, then it’s a draw. When Kindles first came out, Spouse got me one for Christmas. Oh lordy….access to new books 24/7? YES PLEASE!!! And also, “Danger Will Robinson!!!” Everyone knew to buy Amazon gift cards for me at every occasion. I will admit, I went a little crazy those first few months with my Kindle.

I have a thing about owning books, maybe because we grew up with little money for extras. I rarely had brand new books. I still enjoy the library, but there is just something about owning a book, holding it in your hands, knowing it’s yours, knowing you can go back and read it anytime you want. I go 50/50 between real books and e-books. I think I prefer real books – love the feel of the paper, the weight of a good, long book. You just don’t get that on an e-reader. But it is also easier, when you finish your stack of books, to jump online and have a new book on  your iPad within seconds.

I digress……If there was a catastrophe, or WWIII started while I was in a Barnes & Noble, I probably wouldn’t mind much, especially if it’s a B&N with a Starbucks inside. I mean, seriously….a seemingly-endless supply of reading material, music, coffee, pastries, and cheesecake? Sign me up. (I am being facetious…kind of). Let’s just say, I wouldn’t be opposed to living inside a bookstore for a few months, with  uninterrupted reading time, able to just work my way up one row and down another…..

I found myself inside B&N after yoga this morning. I didn’t  need to be there. I have three unread books on my Kindle, and six real unread books on my bookshelf in my room. I do not NEED any new books. But I wanted books…I wanted ALL the books. It’s like crack to me….I love seeing the covers, the titles…..love reading new things by favorite authors, love finding new favorite authors, love sharing new faves with friends, love re-reading classics and childhood favorites, love gaining new perspective on novels I read long ago. I limited myself to four novels and a biography. They sit waiting for me on the shelf beside my bed, until after I finish the two books I’m reading right now…..

Mean, Part 2

Spouse and I were discussing teenage girls the other day because, well, we have one of those. As he never had a sister, and went to an all-boys high school, he has zero clue what life is like for teenage girls, nor what goes on in their heads/hearts, nor why they behave the way they do. And let’s face it, teenage girls just go through stuff – stuff that’s hard, and stuff that totally sucks.

He asked why some girls (probably too many girls) can be so mean. Sigh….the honest truth is that it all boils down to competition. Girls and women compete with each other almost 100% of the time. Some of us handle that better than others. Some can overcome that internal conversation completely. Some can have the competitive and comparative thoughts and move past them immediately while others can’t, and then feel the need to act upon those thoughts. The more a girl feels she can’t compete with a certain person, or doesn’t compare well against that person, the meaner she’s likely to be to that person. Trust me, I know it’s completely illogical, but it is the way it is.

As girls get older, most learn to keep that comparing and competing inside their own heads and don’t let it affect how they treat people, nor how they feel around other people. But teenage girls….most haven’t yet accomplished that skill. The more insecure a teenage girl feels about her position, her standing, more likely she is to be a mean girl, a controlling, manipulative bully. She will do what she can to make someone, anyone, feel less than she, and then keep them there.

I dealt with my share of mean girls in high school.  When my mom told me what was behind it, I didn’t believe her. You see, I always saw  myself as less than, ugly, awkward, nerdy, and I accepted that position. I was perfectly happy flying under the radar, until I wasn’t flying under the radar anymore and the mean girls showed up. It made no sense to me…..I was nothing, so why were they bothering me? Why did my friends dump me and then humiliate me? Why did these girls who had ignored me for three years suddenly find me their favorite target? Why were rumors swirling? Why the torment? What had I ever done to them? I didn’t even move in their circles. But, years later, I figured out my mom had been right. Shocking, that. Moms were once teenage girls too.

High school for girls sucks. It’s hard. You  have so much going on as it is….classes,  homework, hormones, boys, social hierarchy….and then mean girls happen.

I wish I had been stronger back then, more capable of defending myself. I did have amazing friends who did stand up for me, reminded me that I wasn’t “nothing”, and picked me up when I would get down. As I see my own girlie going through the process of high school, I want to relay the strength to her it took me years to find. I want her to be able to understand the reason behind the mean girls.  So what would I tell my high school self and what would I tell my own high school girl? First, don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you’re less than. Second, understand where the meanness is coming from – they’re comparing themselves to you and feeling like they aren’t measuring up, so they feel the need to bring you down. Third, don’t hold yourself accountable for their insecurities.  Fourth, don’t ever let anyone in your life who continually reinforces your own insecurities. Fifth, know, honor and celebrate your strengths as well as the strengths of those around you. Sixth, it’s so okay to be different and do things not everyone else is doing.

I’d love to be able to say that mean girls eventually go away. Unfortunately, they don’t. There are just fewer of them, and most women learn to avoid them and/or respond better to that treatment. I’m blessed to have some pretty incredibly women in my life – women who build me – and everyone else around them –  up. Navigating high school as a teenage girl sucks….but eventually, those four years come to an end, and you move on, find your people, and the mean girls become just part of your past.