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!

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.

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!

In a year….

In just over a year, Big Man will be eighteen. That’s right – he will be an adult. Holy wow – how did that happen? He just keeps growing up. I knew this in the back of my mind, but then I really started thinking of what it will mean for him to be an adult.

First, he will still be in high school. Dang it – he’ll be able to sign  himself out if he wants. He’s a good kid, so I’m not super worried about this being available, but it’s there. It’s reality. He can sign himself off campus. He will be eighteen most of his senior year. I’m glad about that, and also terrified about that.

He won’t be able to go to his pediatrician anymore. She’s been his provider since he was just under two years old.  She knows him. She  knows his history. She knows his growth curve, his quirks, his diagnosis. I simply can’t fathom her not being his doctor. I can’t imagine having to explain his entire history to a new doctor. More than that, he will be able to go to the doctor on his own. The control freak in me is completely freaking out that. He won’t have to tell me ANYTHING about what the doctor says. I’ve played the primary role in all his medical stuff since day one. That will be near impossible to let go.

He will have to order and pick up his own medications. As an adult, he can refuse to refill them much less take them.

He will be able to enlist in the military. Yeah, that one I can’t even process.

He will have to fill out all his own paperwork. Hah! Good luck, son.

There are so many things he will have to do, be able to do as an adult that I haven’t even thought about. I’m beyond grateful he will still be at home his first year of adulthood. I feel I’ll have an opportunity to train him up before I send  him out into the world.  But it still freaks me out. In just over a year, my teeny, tiny, too-soon baby boy will be an adult.

Well that was kind of weird

Today was the first day of school for the Herd. Honestly, it didn’t really feel like we had a real summer. I know everyone says it, but our summer really did fly by. We waited forever for this summer to arrive, and then eight short weeks later, it’s gone.

Today felt weird. Maybe that had something to do with me being gone until Monday. Maybe it was because our summer was abbreviated. But Little Man put my feelings into words when I was taking first day photos of him and Big Man. He said, “It will never be the same again.” Nope, it won’t. The Princess had left an hour before, her first day photo taken inside the house, rather than the traditional courtyard photo, because it was still dark outside when she left for cheer practice. After photos, Big Man drove himself to school. The only thing that was familiar was driving carpool to the middle school. Even that though is a bit different with the addition of some traffic lights due to new neighborhoods going in.

As soon as I had Little Man dropped off, I had to get myself pulled together and go to a work lunch. That threw my game off a bit too. For the last eleven years, I’ve generally spent the first day with my mom friends, or enjoying a quiet day at home after a run or walk. The other weird was not picking any of them up from school.

Things are changing. Big Man has his license. The Princess will have her license in a few months. They’re growing up, and too soon, they will fly off to their adult lives. I’m left feeling a bit off-kilter.

I know by the end of next week, we will have settled into the routine of the school year. I’ll have wrapped my brain around the fact they are back in school. It will be less weird than it feels today.

Not posting a pic of this year’s first day since Little Man was wearing his school shirt, and I’m not tech-savvy enough to blur it out with my photo editing software. But here’s a throwback first day photo for your enjoyment…..

First day of school 2011

The last first day all three were at RC

Hey, they’re still alive, aren’t they?

When the kids were little, I learned it was okay for me to take time for myself. It was necessary to maintaining my sanity – those once-a-month bunco nights, book club, the occasional GNO….When they were older, I started to take weekends – scrapbooking retreats and girls’ getaways. Every time I came home though, I felt I was being punished for having had the nerve to go out/away. The house would be a total disaster – kitchen covered in food and dishes, cups everywhere, everything anyone had worn while I was gone tossed wherever, shoes and blankets all over the floor. I’d cry and yell in frustration. I’d bang things around, making sure everyone was aware I was unhappy with the state of our home. It didn’t make anyone feel any better.

Years passed. I continue to do book club, Girls’ Night Out, weekends away. Sometimes when I come home, they’ve taken the time to clean up, knowing it will ease re-entry for everyone involved.  Sometimes it’s a total disaster. I never really know what I’m going to get, but even if it’s relatively clean, it’s not how I would do it. Counters aren’t wiped down. Blankets aren’t folded on the back of the couch. Shoes aren’t in their baskets. There are likely towels hanging over the chairs in the backyard. The dishwasher isn’t loaded the way I load it (and everyone knows the moms load dishwashers the most effective, efficient way possible to make the most of every inch, right?).  The trash and recycling bins are probably overflowing. Floors likely aren’t swept. I’ve learned to let it go.

Hey, the kids (and pets) are still alive, right? They’ve probably been off-schedule, the boys likely haven’t taken their meds every day. But they’ve been fed. They’ve probably done some fun stuff with dad. They got a break from the way mom does everything. No, it isn’t the way I do things, but everyone is still intact, and the house can be put back to order.

I got home from my weekend in Chicago yesterday. I’d been gone for five days. The house was a DISASTER of the first order. I was so tired, and my luggage had been put on another, much-later plane than mine, so I was dealing with that too. I walked in the door, happy to be home and see my babies. I saw the mess, and sighed. I gave the boys a hug, greeted the fur herd, dropped my bag, and set about putting things in order, my order. But I wasn’t mad. It is what it is. I had an amazing weekend away. My kids had a great time at home (well except for the part both Big Man and the Princess’ phones took a dunking and had to be replaced). And hey, they were still alive, right?

Rollin

Holy wow – After that ridiculously long countdown to real summer, we have just two weeks before the Herd heads back to school. (insert bad words here) Where in the ever lovin where did summer go?

We’ve had an incredibly busy, super fun summer, but it has flown by. We’ve rolled from one thing right into the next, or at least I have. School finally ended for Little Man. The following Monday, he started tech camp. Big Man and the Princess were never really “off” as – I may have mentioned this before – high school sports continue to practice through summer. The last day of tech camp, we went to the showcase presentation, and then hit the road for Palm Springs. We spent four glorious days poolside, hanging out with our friends and neighbors who joined us, eating, drinking, sunbathing, reading, playing games, and golfing.  It was HOT, but we don’t care when we’re there. We’re in or right next to the pool all day long.

I was home for 1.5 days, then left for my summer scrapbooking retreat in  Big Bear. In four days there, I managed to finish my 2015 book, as well as our Spring Break Utah trip book. (pats self on back) It was much-needed momma time with friends. We walked by the lake each morning, talked, ate, laughed, and scrapbooked. The only bummer was our usual massage therapist wasn’t able to be there due to injury. I’d so been looking forward to that 90-minute massage. Sigh….other than that, it was a beautiful weekend.

After Big Bear, I spent three days running around like a crazed person, getting the house ready for a cousin invasion. Nine of them began arriving on Wednesday. They trickled in until Saturday, when we had everyone here. Did I mention that was also recital weekend? Yeah, that. We had five fun-filled, busy days. Oh, I won’t lie – we did take plenty of time to sit in or next to our pool, but we were definitely on the go for much of the time.

The day after cousins left, my bestie and her four teens arrived for a week-long visit. We didn’t really stop from the minute they arrived, but oh my…..so much fun! We forget how awesome our city is until people are here and we’re taking them all over. We hit Mission Beach, they kayaked La Jolla Cove, we went to the movies, spent a day in Coronado (on the beach and at the beach bar at the Hotel Del where there was a Norman Reedus (aka Daryl from Walking Dead) sighting (it was ComiCon weekend in San Diego and a bunch of stars were staying at the Hotel), watched the ponies race in Del Mar, golfed our club (K and I rode along while our spouses golfed), went wine tasting in Ramona (you get premium service when your FIL is the President of the Ramona Valley Vintner Association), and took in a Padres game. Yes, all of that. The day they left, I had a work event. I got home that evening and absolutely crashed.

This is the longest break we’ve had all summer……and I leave tomorrow for five days in Chicago. More fun…..a day a Lollapalooza, some beach time if the weather permits, and a Cubs game, not to mention more time (sans children this visit) with the bestie! Then I’ll be home for two days before we leave for a long weekend at my parents’ in Phoenix. We’re home from that trip for two days and the kids go back to school.

Are you tired? Cuz I’m tired. We’ve blasted through this summer, rollin from one fun thing to the next. I think I need a summer to recover from this summer. We’ve had pool time, bbq’s, baseball games, beach days, and movies. We’ve spent time with family and friends. We’ve soaked it all in, taking full advantage of every minute. I can’t believe it’s ending in two weeks, and we’ll be in for another long haul of a school year. I’ll put the pool towels and basket of sunscreen away, tuck the beach chairs onto their hooks in the garage, stow the cornhole game in its case, and say goodbye to summer 2017.