Winging It

You could probably safely call me a control freak, with a side of OCD. It’s just who I am, how I’ve always been. I’m a neat freak. I like things in their places. I crave order. I love routine. Change is difficult – it throws me off my game. I’m a planner, down to the smallest details. I hate when plans are derailed. Know what challenges all of that? Having kids, and living life.

We had Little Man’s birthday party Saturday evening. Now,  he is kid #3. I’ve spent sixteen years going crazy over birthday parties – handmade invitations, sleepovers with 13 kids, tea parties, American Girl trips, Pinterested out decorations/cupcakes/games. When he said he wanted a sleepover, I shot it down. First, I’m tapped on the sleepover birthday parties, seriously., and it was the night before I was running a 15K race. No go, my friend. His second idea was a trampoline park. Oh yeah! 1) I love any party that’s not at my house; 2) I wouldn’t’ have to provide any entertainment; 3) Food and drinks were included; 4) Did I mention it wasn’t at my house?

And so let’s just say, I was purely focused on the detail of getting the kids there, bringing them home, and the cake we were allowed to bring in. Have I mentioned things have been a little crazy around our house lately, and that I had a nine-mile race to run the next morning? See where this might be headed?

First off, Little Man, while having good friends, does not have a ton of friends, so his party was small. Spouse was at a golf tournament, so I was the solo parent. The trampoline park set aside three tables for us in their party area – THREE! We all fit, with room to spare, at one table. I put the cake and gifts on another table just so we wouldn’t look so pathetic. We also didn’t have any decorations. He isn’t a little kid, so there wasn’t a theme involved, and honestly, decorations never even crossed my mind. While the kids jumped, I sat there, by myself, at a huge, empty table, no decorations, not a ton of gifts, no other adults. #loser

I also didn’t bring any extra snacks or drinks. I knew pizza and soda were coming, and we were only there for two hours. So imagine how amazing I felt when the kids came back to the party area looking for hydration? I gave them a few dollars to get waters out of the machine as our sodas weren’t coming for another half hour.

Then it hit me….I had cake, but I hadn’t brought enough candles. neither did I have anything with which to light the candles I did have. I didn’t have any cake plates, nor forks, nor napkins. Even more, I didn’t have a cake cutter. The kids figured out something was going on, and I was honest with them. They just started laughing. So did I. Stress broken. We joked about using one of the paper pizza plates to cut the cake. When we did sing, “Happy Birthday”, a few of the kids held their fingers over the cake as imaginary candles.

They all helped clean up when we were ready to go. I checked out while they headed out to load up the car. When I arrived at my car, the Princess asked if the cake cutter the park had loaned us was ours to take. They’d efficiently, in their cleaning and gathering, packed the cake cutter in the cake box. Hysterics ensued. P took the cake cutter back into the trampoline park, from which I’m fairly sure we’ve been blackballed. And oh man, did we all laugh on the way home. I apologized for being a loser, overwhelmed mom, and for messing it all up. One of the boys said, “This is the strangest, but most fun, birthday party I’ve ever been to,” and one of the girls said, “I wish my mom were more like you. This is fun.” Hah!

Not one of them cared. Not one of them felt the party was ruined by my phoning it in Everyone had a good time. Everyone had enough to eat. Everyone jumped and had a good time.  That’s all that matters right?

I’m learning you don’t always have to plan to the last detail, especially when it comes to kids.  Sometimes things turn out better when you just wing it, rather than stressing about every little thing. And often, when you admit you’ve messed up, and are able to laugh at yourself, everyone around you will have your back. I can’t control everything. I certainly can’t control everyone. I’ve learned that while my need for order, control, organization, and routine is okay, it isn’t the end of the world when things don’t go the way I planned. Sometimes,  you get a better result when you epicly “fail.”

And I thought that was hard

Big Man was born 3.5 months too soon, and spent ninety-three days in the NICU. I spent countless hours driving back and forth to spend countless hours sitting by his isolette. I watched him forget to breath, watched his heart rate drop, watched him turn gray, watched him battle his own infections, watched machines keep him alive, watched him fight to survive. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man on his birth day

Big Man came home from the NICU, and we had a home health nurse out every other week, a developmental specialist out every month, bi-weekly doctor visits for weight checks, monthly doctor visits for synagis shots to keep him from getting RSV. My life, my schedule was not my own. He didn’t want to be put down, ever. I had to learn to let go of my want for routine, schedule, time. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was four months old, I discovered I was pregnant with the Princess. I faced a pregnancy certain we were going to be back in the NICU. I was full of fear and anxiety. I saw a specialist OB (perinatologist) every other week, until we got past the gestational age Big Man was born. Then she had to be induced at 41 weeks 1 day. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was developmentally nine months old when the Princess was born, so I basically had two infants under one roof. They are twelve months and nineteen days apart. Sleep was at a premium. Bottles were everywhere. We all three cried for hours every evening. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man had high muscle tone on his left side, and a mild speech delay. Enter therapists visits to the weekly routine. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was nearly two, and the Princess eight months old, we moved….400 miles away.  I left my career of ten years. I left my family. I left my friends. I left my church. We moved in with spouse’s  (awesomely amazing) parents for eight months while our new home was being built. I found a new job I hated. It took forever to build new relationships. I had two toddlers in a new place, and I wasn’t entirely happy…yet. And I thought that was hard.

I had two toddlers under one roof – two toddlers who were like the wonder twins. I couldn’t keep up with their creative disasters. They finger-painted with baby shampoo in the middle of Big Man’s room. Baby shampoo NEVER comes out of carpet, ever. They unraveled a Costco-sized package of toilet paper up and down the upstairs hallway. They threw another Costco-sized package (out of the plastic wrapping) into my big jacuzzi bathtub. They ran away, down the street and around two corners, while I fed their six-week old baby brother. Big Man cut ALL of the Princess’ hair off, to the scalp, twice. They colored the underside of the pool table. I caught them, frequently, eating frozen waffles underneath the dining room table. Ditto bags of candy they’d climb on top of the fridge to retrieve. And I thought that was hard.

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I had three kids under four. I can’t even list all that drama, but I thought that was hard.

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The Herd in earlier days

There was a time they were all three involved in multiple sports….baseball, soccer, dance, piano lessons, golf. I lived at whatever field it was the season for.  I spent hours and hours in the car getting them each to whatever practice, game, lesson, or recital. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was diagnosed ADHD, and with a mild visual processing disorder in second grade. We chose to medicate the ADHD. He fought the medication for the first year. I’d find pills hidden in the kitchen drawer, under the lazy susan in the middle of the kitchen island, and pretty much anywhere but in him if I didn’t watch him take it and make sure he actually swallowed it. He got glasses, and we got an every-six-months schedule of appointments with the pediatric opthamologist. And I thought that was hard.

I had three in elementary school. I went on field trips. I taped, glued, cut, copied, read to kindergartners and third graders, ran the book fair, was on the PTA, and basically lived at the school. We lived in nightly homework hell. And I thought that was hard.

Little Man was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and ADHD, in second grade. It nearly broke me, but we finally had an answer, and a plan, and help. We entered the world of IEP’s, special education, accommodations, speech therapy, psychiatrists and therapists. And  I thought that was hard.

We moved on to middle school for the older two – ugh, middle school and middle schoolers. They each got their first phones, and we had to start talking about internet safety, data plans, and had to come up with rules of how we would handle things. And I thought that was hard.

Now here we are…..two days away from having three teenagers under one roof. Two are in high school. I was ill-prepared for the drama, the angst, the emotional rollercoaster, the pushing back against rules we’ve had in place forever, the angry words that instantly bring tears to my eyes, the eyeball rolling, the intense search for independence, the life-lessons they are learning through which I just want to help but know I need to stand back and let them have at it, come whatever the natural consequences will be. I’ve watched my biggest baby boy struggle to find his way academically when it used to come to him so easily I think he took it for granted. I’ve watched P fight to find herself – somehow losing (hopefully temporarily) the brave, bold, confident girl we used to know. Then, recently, came the day Big drove himself and P to school, his driver’s license finally earned. And I think this is hard.

Within the next five years, I will watch as they have all the rest of those “firsts”, as they graduate, and leave for school, only ever to come back for what will essentially be visits between semesters and school years. I know I will look back on all those things I thought were hard and will know that was nothing, because watching them go be their own people, away from us, my heart living outside of me (possibly far away from home), now that, that will be hard.

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The Healing Baby

Little Man will turn 13 later this week – that’s right, we will have THREE teenagers under one roof. (send wine)  He doesn’t seem thirteen to me. It doesn’t seem possible on the one hand – it feels  he was just born. On another hand, because he’s autistic, and because he’s the youngest of our three, he just seems so much younger than Big Man and the Princess seemed at thirteen. Is that always the case with the youngest?

I knew, even after having our boy, and then a year later, our girl, that I wasn’t done, for many reasons. I’d always imagined myself as a mother of three kids. I didn’t feel done with having babies, although Spouse would have (back then) been good with just the two we had. In my heart, something was missing. More than that, I was hurting. I’d suffered a miscarriage, I’d had our firstborn ridiculously early, my pregnancy with the Princess was full of stress and anxiety we would go through another premature birth. I needed a pregnancy on my terms.

Little Man was just that – a pregnancy on my terms. He was my happiest pregnancy, even with that awesome morning-but-really-all-day sickness during the first trimester. I was relaxed. I was calm. I was so happy. I sang to him, I talked to him, I played music for him, I constantly had my hand on my belly. The day after my due date, having been dilated to 3cm’s for almost three weeks, I was induced. He took his time coming out, and there were a couple of hours of stress, but then he was here – the only baby put on my belly at birth. I fell in love instantaneously.

I won’t lie and say that day was perfect. We did have some stressful hours that day. He wasn’t in a good position, I wasn’t progressing, and then he started having some heart rate decelerations. We talked c-section, but then my doctor got him shifted, and things went quickly from there. Little Man had some junky breathing hours after birth. He spent some time in the nursery, and there was a brief consideration of sending him to the NICU. But then they brought him to me, and I held him, and he settled.  His first two nights home, he didn’t sleep, at all. I did, for real, fall asleep standing up. But day three home, he became the perfect infant, for the most part.

Before I got pregnant with Big Man, I had dreams of a very blond little boy. Well, Big Man was born with platinum hair that all fell out, and came back in brown. Little Man was that blondie I dreamed of, to a T. He was my healing baby – he helped me recover from all the pain, fear, guilt, grief of a too-soon birth, and then a too-soon pregnancy right after our NICU stay. He was my baby, my way.

When he was diagnosed on the spectrum, I remember feeling somehow that healing was being torn away. My perfect pregnancy, near-perfect birth, perfect baby wasn’t perfect anymore. But then a beautiful friend reminded me a diagnosis doesn’t take away who he is, how he came to be. Autism couldn’t touch how I felt the day he was born – all those cherished memories weren’t gone. He was still that beautiful blond toddler I’d dreamed about and held in my arms.

Thirteen years ago, he took away so  much pain, and brought so much joy. He completed our family, completely. I’m so grateful God saw fit to make me this precious boy’s mom.

It’s his, but he doesn’t remember

I met with a  new local March of Dimes staff-person last week. As is typical, I shared why we volunteer, told our story – how we’re connected to the mission of the organization. She asked if Big Man does his own fundraising, tells his own story. Um, no. He walks, but when it comes to the talking, he leaves that to me. Why? Well…..it is his story,, but he doesn’t remember it, thank the good Lord. He knows my version of his story. He’s heard it a billion times. He did live it, but he has no memory of it. The baby in all the photos is him, but like any other baby, he has no memory of his early years, much less his too-early, dramatic entry into the world.

He does get why  his story matters. He does  understand prematurity was, is, and always will be part of who  he is, but all the emotions attached to his premature birth belong to others, not to him. Does that make sense? He lived it, but we lived the fear, guilt, pain of having failed him in any way. He was the feisty fighter who made it while we stood by, watching and praying. He did it, but we are the ones who remember.

He compared it to when people say I’m strong for having gone through all we’ve gone through.  My response always is, “You never know how strong you are until you have to BE strong.” He just lived – he doesn’t see anything amazing in that coming from him, but instead places the credit upon us, his nurses, his doctors. I say he had a strong will to survive right from the very beginning.

I keep encouraging him to own his story. I think he’s there now. He  had to write his own obituary in his psych class recently.  He did include his premature birth in his narrative. I was a little surprised by the inclusion. If you don’t know his story, you’d never guess his story. You can’t look at him and say, “Oh, yes, he was a preemie.” You can’t tell by looking at him, in other words. Well, I have to edit that a little bit – many preemie moms I know can tell by looking at a kid, but we know what to look for as we see it in our own preemies. The general population can’t look at him and know, without being told, he was born 3.5 months too soon.

I’m thankful he doesn’t remember at all, this story of his. I’ve always said I remember enough for both of us. But I’m glad he’s owning it, making it his, because it is his, even if he doesn’t remember one second of it.

Take heart, or so I’ve been told

I want to preface this post by saying I love my daughter deeply and dearly. I love who she is, how she is, what she is. I’m proud of how hard she works at whatever she sets her mind to. I love that she’s an entirely different person than me, as it gives me a chance to watch her experience life in a way I never did. I love that she’s tougher, stronger, more outspoken, more outgoing, and way less prissy than me. I love her sense of humor, her ability to laugh at herself, her intelligent mind, her curiosity with life. I’m thankful God saw fit to give me a daughter. Now, onto the task at hand….

If you have a daughter in high school, or going into high school, you’re going to need some thick skin. It’s going to be a rough ride I’m finding. Your ego is going to take some serious hits. You may find yourself questioning yourself in a way you haven’t since you first brought your precious newborn home. I found myself scrambling like a fiend, trying to find some parental footing. I’ve cried. I’ve been angry. I’ve whined. I’ve gone silent. I’ve said some bad words in my head. I’ve retreated, and I’ve gone to battle. Then I made a choice to get off the rollercoaster. It’s her circus, her monkeys, I’m just here, being the mom.

I’m me. I’m not the one going through a huge transitionary period in life. I’m the parent. I’m the adult. I’m not going to change just because that might be easier.  I’m still engaged, still overseeing, still enforcing all our mean rules. I know she’s going through what she must in order to separate, become independent, become her own person. That doesn’t make it hurt any less sometimes. Oh the days when the looks of disdain, the talking to me as if I’m the dumbest person in the world, the eyeball rolling – those hurt no matter how much I understand the reason behind them. But I do understand the reason behind them, so I, like all the other moms before me, soldier on. She is still an amazing, incredible, good, smart, talented kid. I know, because I hear it from other adults.

I have friends with daughters who have already gone through this and reached the other side. “Take heart,” they continually tell me, “Your daughter will come back to you.” That’s what I keep reminding myself. We will get through this. Our relationship will survive. I’ll have some bruises on my ego. I might cry. We’re going to have days we don’t like each other a whole lot. That’s family, though, isn’t it? This too shall pass. So take heart, moms of daughters, we can do this.

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Those Nights – Empty Crib

I’ve written lots about the days I spent on hospital bedrest, Big Man’s premature birth day, and his many days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  There’s one thing I haven’t really ever talked much of, except for with friends who experienced it themselves, and that’s all the nights I left his bedside and drove home, leaving my son behind to the care of doctors, nurses, and machines.

I was released from my hospital five days after Big Man was born. I’d gone five days without seeing my son in person, staring at the two polaroid photos we’d been given, and watching video of him on the 2 x 2 inch screen of the video camera Spouse had bought the day our sweet boy was born. We sped to his hospital where I saw him, and held him, and began a “new normal” routine.

My days were full of routine – wake up, pump, get showered, eat breakfast, pump again, and begin the forty-five minute drive from home to the NICU. I was typically there by 9, and I’d sit there with him until 3 or 4, only leaving to pump again or go have lunch during shift change. To get to and from his hospital, I faced all the commute traffic the Bay Area could throw at me, so I generally tried to get out of there before rush hour started, or stayed until long after it was over.

I hated those drives home. I hated walking away from my baby boy to go home. I hated leaving him. Many of those nights, I cried nearly all the way home. I can’t even really begin to tell you what I did at home each night…I’m sure I made dinner, maybe stopped on the way home to get groceries, paid bills, returned phone calls, walked the dogs, fed the cats, watched tv. But mostly, my brain was wrapped up in the fact my too-small boy was not with us. We were a family, but a split family. He was not under our roof because my body had failed him. He was 4o miles away. His crib in his room was empty.

Blessedly, I didn’t have to walk past his room to get to mine each night, but too often, I found myself in his room, sitting in the glider beside that empty crib, thinking about all I could have done, should have done, all we’d lost, all we were waiting for, all that could go wrong, had gone wrong. When I was with him in the NICU, I focused purely on him – how much weight he’d gained, how many times he’s stopped breathing during the night, where he was on the developmental chart, how he looked. But at night, with no baby right there before me, I felt all those awful things I wouldn’t let myself feel when I was with him during the day.

The empty crib, my empty arms, are the things I remember of those many long nights before he came home. I don’t talk about them often because those are the really dark memories of that time. But they happened, and they are part of the reality of having a baby in the NICU.

Suddenly

We have spent years dealing with a child crawling into our bed at all hours of the night, nearly every night. I’ve become so used to having a foot in my face, getting punched or kicked randomly, hearing the grinding of teeth, or him yelling out that sleep disruption is just a natural state. He learned last year to not ask if he could climb in, but rather to sneak in from the foot of the bed. Sneaky little man.

I’ve had awful insomnia the last few nights, awake from 3:30am – 5am, and I mean wide awake, brain spiraling. One of the things that hit me as I struggled to find sleep again was that Little Man wasn’t in our bed. Not only was he not in our bed, he  hasn’t been in our bed for awhile now. Suddenly, he is staying in his own room, all night. Suddenly, he is sleeping through the entire night. Suddenly, he isn’t waking us at 3am, yelling, hitting or kicking his wall, crying, or crawling over us to sleep between us. And it happened just like that.

He will be thirteen next month. I forget that sometimes, as emotionally and socially  he seems SO much younger. But his body is that of a near-thirteen-year-old, so hormones are changing. He sleeps longer. He sleeps more deeply. Oh my gosh – he’s doing something “normal”.

We knew the day would come we didn’t have a child crawling into our bed, or attempting to crawl into our bed. That’s probably why I didn’t really fight it much for too long. He’s our youngest, and I think I wanted to hang onto those precious moments, in spite of the fact it was a serious disruption of my sleep. They grow up too quickly, that time is so very fleeting. At the same time, I’m relieved he’s sleeping – getting what his body desperately needs. I’m relieved he’s sleeping the night through, in his own bed. Suddenly, he sleeps.