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:

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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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Is it fair?

I was talking with a friend the other day about where Little Man will go to high school and how it might be if he goes to the same high school his siblings attend. I have a huge hangup over putting responsibility on them to take care of him and look out for him. They’ve had five and six years of being at a different school, without him impacting their school days, who they are at school. They didn’t ask for a special needs sibling. And I just get scared of putting too much on them where he’s concerned. But my friend said, “He’s their brother. It isn’t too much, it just is.” And then we both started to cry.

They’ve had freedom for a while…freedom from being the autistic kid’s sibling while at school. How will it affect them to have him on the same campus, especially when  he goes sideways (because he will), or decides to hide rather than go to class, or he starts crying in class, or runs out of class, or gets bullied? I won’t be there to buffer nor to manage him.

I don’t even know if this makes any sense, my fears and concerns. On the one hand, I would be so relieved to know he has people who know him and love him there on campus helping to keep an eye out. But on the other hand, ugh, the responsibility. They’re teenagers. They have enough on their plates without having to help him through each day at school. Would it kill their social mojo? Distract from their own priorities?

He has been around some of their friends. Most seem to take him in stride, but he can sometimes be a lot. He’s been fairly manic lately, swinging in seconds from really up, to really pissed off or sad. He’s loud. He’s  intent upon talking about what he wants to talk about. He still struggles with social cues. He wants to be part of things, but he doesn’t always know how to do that, and then sometimes being part of what’s going on is overwhelming to him no matter how much he wants it. Sometimes he is just the annoying little brother, which is normal, but which is also a little bit more difficult for him to understand.

I do, since Saturday, keep going back to what my friend said, “He’s their brother. It isn’t asking too much. It just is.” Sigh….would that this were all easier, and I didn’t have to even have much less process these worries.

“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.

Duck!

I’m not talking about duck as in a bird. Nor am I telling you to duck. You know what autocorrect does to a certain word? Yeah, that.

I wrote about the kids laughing at Little Man last week.  He’s been reluctant to go back to science class since. I’ve seen the return of all his aversion techniques…going to the nurse’s office, leaving class to go to his quiet space, outbursts, tears, meltdowns. Friday, the nurse called about an hour after school started. He was in her office with a headache that wasn’t getting better. He had fallen and hit his head on the ground at soccer practice Wednesday night, and although he’d had no symptoms since then, she didn’t want to take any chances. I brought him home.  He was fine all weekend, outside of a meltdown Saturday  morning over getting woken up to get ready for his soccer game. It wasn’t pretty, and lasted about twenty minutes, but then he was perfectly fine at his game as well as the rest of the day.  He was great on Sunday – no meltdowns, no outbursts, no physical complaints.

An hour into the school day Monday, the nurse called me again. He was back in her office with another headache, and would I bring him some ibuprofen so we could try to get him through the day. So I took him some ibuprofen. Two hours later, I got another call. He was back again, the headache wasn’t any better, would I come pick him up. Back to school for the third time that day, and I brought him home early.  Yesterday, he made it the entire day (I’d told him that morning I wasn’t coming to get him early at all), but when  I picked him up, he told me he’d “freaked out” at recess, that kids were laughing at him, but he couldn’t tell me what the situation actually entailed, nor what had happened before or when the kids started laughing. He could not talk about it without getting really upset.

I emailed his team last night. Something is going on, and it’s affecting him intensely. His SAI let me know they’re aware something is happening and they’re looking into it.

Today, Little Man called me. I was in the middle of work, and asked him to ride it out for a bit, see if his headache got better. He called twenty minutes later. I took him ibuprofen again, and, as I had to leave town for work, told him he’d have to call Dad if anything else happened. Not to make it sound like I put work ahead of him…..I’d never do that if I believed in that moment he was dreadfully sick or really needed me, and only me, to come get him.

My phone rang while I was driving. It was the school counselor. Little Man had spent much of the day with her, most of that in tears. He’s unable to verbalize to her what’s happening when the kids are laughing at him. And he told her it would be better if he weren’t alive anymore. Dear Lord. My breath caught. I explained we do take him seriously, every time he says this. We can’t not take him seriously, but we also know he learned those words are a ticket out of whatever situation he doesn’t want to be in. It’s a very fine line to walk. I ducking HATE this. I hate it. I hate that he hurts. I hate he can’t tell us why. I hate we can’t just snap our fingers and make it better. I hate the anxiety, the social deficits that make him reach this point. Duck! DUCK! DUCK! DUCK!

I did ask if we could add speech therapy back to his repertoire. I feel he needs help with pragmatics again, as social situations and dynamics have shifted over the last two years. His peers are in an entirely different place, and they are very aware his issues, which are once again much more obvious. And we know how very mature thirteen year olds are. We’re also going to call his old outside therapist and see if he can have some sessions with her. The problem with that is he doesn’t want to talk when he’s supposed to talk. Does that make sense? If it’s on his terms, he *might* talk. If it’s a scheduled thing, he’s more likely to push back and shut down. DUCK!!!

I’m exhausted. I’m fearful for my boy. I’m emotionally tapped. I feel I have to be with him all the time, have to be on my guard all the time, have to utilize everything I have in me on him. Which then leaves the question, what do I have left for Spouse, for his siblings, for my friends, for my job? How is it fair to any of  us, much less Little Man. DUCK!

My heart just ducking hurts.

This Boy

My dear, sweet, precious boy…..How can it be you will be seventeen years old tomorrow? I’d swear it was yesterday I heard your tiny cry for the first time. But here you are, taller than me, voice deepening, you’re driving, we’re talking college plans. You’ve grown up when I was busy being a mom.

You made me a mom first. I’ll never forget the first time I heard you, and knew you’d be a fighter. I won’t forget the first time I saw you, and it seemed impossible you were the same baby that had been inside of me just a few hours earlier. I won’t forget the first time I touched you, and you held on with all the strength in your tiny hand. I won’t forget the first time I held you, finally at peace, finally able to breath after five days of watching you through a 2-inch video camera screen. Was I scared? Oh yeah…I was terrified. I wasn’t ready. You certainly weren’t ready, but there you were. You taught me from day one things were going to happen on your terms and in your time. You’ve taught me more patience than I probably cared to ever have. You’ve taught me how it feels to live with my heart outside of my chest. You helped me learn to let things go, those little things that just don’t matter as much.

I love watching you, even still.  You walk into a room, and own it, whether you believe it or not. I love the way you connect with people.  I love watching people’s faces light up (especially your grandmothers, aunts, and great-aunts) when you give them one of your famous hugs. I love your quirkiness, your laugh, your spirit. I love that you’ve learned to battle your way through challenges, how to pick yourself back up and keep going. You will always be my first baby. You lead the way for your brother and sister.

I’ve walked those sixteen days over and over each year…..those days leading up to your birth. Your life is a gift. Your journey gave me a strength I didn’t know I had. You taught me how to be a fighter, even against the biggest odds.

Do you make me crazy sometimes? Uh, yep, ya do. Trust me, I thank God for even that.

Tomorrow is your birthday….seventeen. I don’t know why that seems to be a milestone, but it feels big to me. Big changes are coming, and you’re just on the verge of adulthood. I’m almost done the biggest part of my job as your mom. But know that no matter how old you get, or how tall you get, I will always see that little baby boy when I look at you. I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m honored and blessed to be your mom. Happy Birthday!

On Notice

My dear, sweet family….I love you all like crazy. I love being a mostly-stay-at-home mom. I love doing things to make your lives easier, and getting the things I know you like. BUT,  you are hereby all on notice of the following (frustrated momma rant comin right up):

  • I do not sit around all day waiting for one or more of you to call or text me, asking me to bring you something, get you something, do something for you. I am generally pretty busy all day.
  • If you need something for an assignment, class, project, meal, or sports team, I need a little bit more than 24 hours to get that handled for you.
  • I do have a job. Sometimes, I will not be home, won’t be able to answer my phone, won’t see your text until I’m done working.
  • CLEAN  UP AFTER YOURSELVES!!!!!!! The floor, kitchen counter, family room, and stairs are not your personal dumping grounds. Put your shoes in your bins or in your rooms, put your dirty uniforms and socks in the laundry room, put your books on your desks, your papers in your backpacks or desk files or your stack, put your towels in the laundry or in the buckets by the pool, throw away your food trash, put the milk back in the fridge, don’t get a new cup every single time, don’t leave your dirty cups all over the counter, put your snacks back in the pantry, put your dishes in the dishwasher. You are all FULLY CAPABLE of these simple tasks, trust me.
  • I really hate to nag, but I will nag if I must to get you to clean up after yourselves and do your chores. But please don’t make me nag. It makes me unhappy. Ever heard the phrase “happy wife, happy life?” Same goes with happy mom.
  • If you notice we are running out of something, or have run out of something, don’t wait until just after I’ve gone to the store to tell me. Write it on a sticky and put it on my computer, or put it on the whiteboard. Although the grocery store employees get concerned if they don’t see me at least a few times a week, they also start to look at me like I’m crazy if I’m there every single day. Boys, if you run out of shampoo or soap, please tell me….don’t just keep showering without washing your hair or bodies (yes, this has been known to happen).
  • Because I work, I’m sometimes not home in the evening. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. When it happens, please do not text me asking me what’s for dinner. Kids, this particularly applies if dad is home. But you’re all capable of opening the fridge/pantry and finding something to eat. I know all of you can cook to one extent or another. Part of me having a job is you all working it out when I’m not here. You can do it! Oh, and just make sure you clean up whatever mess you make – that’s part of the deal. If I have to work AND clean up your mess when I get home, I’m going to be a wee bit cranky (read: there might be some heavy sighing and cabinet slamming).
  • There’s a calendar on the wall for a reason. Almost everything is on there. Look at it, remember it, tell me if something changes, or you need something added.
  • I do the best I can, but I do sometimes forget something you’ve told me. I might ask a couple, or even a few times, especially if it’s a busy work week. Please be patient with me. I’m so not perfect, but it really isn’t fun to be reminded I’ve failed. Put a sticky on my computer. Or text me. Or email me.
  • Don’t take, use, or eat anyone else’s stuff without asking. And when you’re done with it, put it back (except for food you’ve eaten – we don’t need to see that again). Candy, charging cables, and headphones are not fair game.
  • I am NOT in charge of knowing where ALL of your stuff is. You can ask me if I’ve seen it, but it’s not my responsibility to keep track of everyone’s stuff. I have enough trouble keeping track of my stuff.
  • Looking for something means actually looking for something which means moving things around in the fridge/pantry,  and actually walking into a room to search

Whew…okay…I think my rant is done. Any of you moms out there ever gone on strike? I’ve considered it a few times, but I’m more worried my need for order would override my need to teach my family a blessing (lesson).