The Pool

We moved into our house fourteen years ago. I’ve wanted a pool since day one. I grew up around water. We had a pool in our backyard(s) from the time I could walk, even it was just a blow-up pool. We spent our summers in or by the pool. I’ve known  how to swim as long as i can remember, and competed on swim teams from the time I was seven years old through my sophomore year of high school. But Spouse wasn’t comfortable putting a pool in when the kids were so little. I lost that initial battle, but I never gave up the fight.

We re-entered pool negotiations a few years ago. I was pushing to have it done before Big Man started high school. We had plans drawn up, and started the process of getting HOA approval, but then things came up and we tabled it all…until last fall. Digging started the second week of November – yep, the week our Southern California drought started to end with rains that came weekly. Our pool is finished, although there is work yet to be done as far as landscaping and an additional patio near the pool. Can I get an amen?

Why was I so adamant about putting a pool in? Well, selfish reasons really. I love being by/in the water. I cannot wait to float around my pool this summer, book and beverage in hand. I love going to the beach, and we have plenty of friends with pools, but there’s nothing  like being able to walk out into your own backyard to your own pool. Also, I prefer my kids be at our house hanging out with their friends than be anywhere else. The pool gives us that opportunity and enticement.

The first day we were able to get into the pool, Little Man was in. This is the same kid who wouldn’t budge off the top step of any pool for years. Now, we can hardly keep him out of it. He’s outside, away from his computer, and that alone makes it worth it. A couple Friday nights ago, I sat on the back patio and watched as Big Man jumped in for the first time. The Princess has already been on her pizza float, and sat on the bench under the umbrella. This past Sunday evening, after running in a 15K race, Spouse and I got in the hot tub and watched the sun set. Happy legs!

I foresee warm days spent out there in our backyard, my kids actually hanging out together, building more memories, swimming and floating in our own pool.  I picture evenings on that back patio, hanging out by the firepit with friends. In  my mind, our backyard, our home, wasn’t complete without that pool.

We Listen to Music

One of the Princess’ friends made a comment to her that we always have the music on – at home, in the car, everywhere we go. And we do – we always have music on (unless we have the news, sports, or our favorite shows on tv going).  We listen to all kinds of music. If you put my iPod on total shuffle, you’ll hear everything from video game music to movie soundtracks, classical to hip hop,  Broadway to ballet music,  country to Christian,  gangsta rap to the Brat Pack, and Pop to hard/hair band rock.

I learned an appreciation for music basically from birth. My family always had music on, as well as my godmother/babysitter/second mom. I grew up to a varied soundtrack. We knew when the music turned on every Saturday morning. that was our cue to start our chores. We heard Neil Diamond and Elvis mostly, but also my mom’s favorite old-school, twangy country music, and the old standards for my dad – Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole. In the car, out by the pool, camping trips, on the boat – music was always on. From my godmother – a bit younger than my parents – I gained an introduction to the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary, and whatever was contemporary at the time. My godmother also took us to church every Sunday. I sang in the youth choir, learned all those good Lutheran hymns, and all our VBS/Sunday School songs, which we loved (at that young age) to belt out in the car, and around her house. My brother, four years older than I, started listening to his own music in middle school, and we’re talking late 70’s/early 80’s, so disco, Journey, KISS, Styx, Queen, Abba, Boston, Kansas, and the Eagles were added to my life soundtrack. I think I got my first PlaySchool plastic record player when I was about four. My first album was Peaches & Herb (that’s a little terrifying), followed by the Grease soundtrack, Andy Gibb, Sean Cassidy, and Donny Osmond (no jokes regarding my age, please!).

High School brought a new soundtrack, but the music definitely continued to play, all the time. INXS, Prince, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and The Time take me back to dances in the cafeteria after football games. I can almost feel the cool fall night air, remember clearly sitting on the benches outside the cafeteria where we talked with our friends and waited to be asked to dance by that certain someone who’d caught our eye that week/month. Chicago always reminds me of hanging out by the pool of my best friend’s neighbor, or sitting in her room doing homework. Janet Jackson’s Control and Run DMC’s You Be Illin have me dancing cheer routines from Homecoming and Hoopla. Beastie Boys takes me back to being on the bus to basketball games – Funny how you can remember the lyrics to every song on one particular album, including the order the songs were in, 30 years later, but can’t remember what you ate for lunch three hours ago. Paul Revere anyone? Fight for Your Right? Girls? Oh  yeah…..And don’t even get me started on the soundtracks to Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Breakfast Club. Sigh…Jake Ryan and Blane….mmmmmmmm…..

My college soundtrack covered the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s. I went from the scene in Santa Barbara – Oingo Boingo, UB40, the Cure, and U2 – to the Central Valley of CA and hip hop/dance music including MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Kriss Kross, and Color Me Badd. I spent hours driving to and from Santa Barbara listening to Kylie Minogue, Amy Grant, Michael  W Smith, and Debby Gibson.

Nearly every relationship has a playlist. Every single time I hear The Outfield, I’m once again riding in my first boyfriend’s truck (or his daddy’s Porsche, but that’s another story for another day). Garth Brook’s Friends in Low Places comes on and I’m at one of many college parties, with some awful memories attached to that particular disastrous relationship – but I still love that song. LL Cool J and Jodeci play, and I’m in J’s truck driving to our first vacation together in Tahoe. (It seems I dated a few boys who drove trucks) Color Me Badd songs remind me of following my end-of-and-just-out-of-college boyfriend to Chico for the baseball team’s games, and some of the ball players doing a crazy-good job of lip-syncing and dancing in some bar there.

Everyone who’s had someone has also lost someone. I have my sad break-up songs, my angry break-up songs, my revenge music.

Then there’s Spouse. We have our own soundtrack, and it’s pretty long. We met in a country bar, so that genre has always been part of us. Garth Brooks played at our wedding, as did Clay Walker, and Shania Twain. We also both love to dance, so any pop/dance music from the last twenty years goes on our soundtrack too. Loving, and actually being able to dance was one of my top requirements for the man I would spend my  life with. Spouse qualifies.

I have my own playlists for each of them. For Big Man, there are the songs that remind me of driving to and from the NICU – He’s My Son, and Creed’s Arms Wide Open. Wake Me Up When September Ends will always, always make me cry,  because it takes me back to that month – the month he was born, the month I lost everything I dreamed of when I got pregnant with him, and gained a tiny, two-pound, fragile, miracle of a child. For P, our only girl, My Little Girl, I Loved Her First, and Slipping Through My Fingers will remind us how quickly she’s growing up, that someday she’ll belong to someone else. I hear Nutcracker music, or any of the songs she’s danced solos to, and I can see her dancing in my head. Taylor Swift reminds me of the concerts we’ve gone to, For Good from Wicked reminds me of singing in the car with her (which we do a lot). I’m watching my kids develop their personal life-soundtracks now too. P is already planning the playlist for her Sweet Sixteen party, and I’m sure she will carry those songs with her for the rest of her life, as a captured memory of that night.

One of my FB memories the other day was when Little Man was little, and was singing Sexy Back loudly from his carseat in the second row of my SUV. Not embarrassing at all to pull up at a light, windows open, and your toddler is singing about bringing sexy back. Mother of the Year.

We do listen to music, all the time. It can reflect a mood, improve a mood, or set a mood. Music is part of our family fabric. What’s on your life soundtrack?

First and Last

Do you remember your first love? Do you remember how much you had invested in that relationship? Do you remember what it was like to have a crush on someone in high school? The “Oh my god, what if he doesn’t notice I’m alive? Oh my god, what if he Does? Oh my god, what if he doesn’t talk to me? OH MY GOD,WHAT IF HE DOES? What will I do if he asks me to dance? What will I do if he actually asks me out. OH MY GOD HE’S WALKING THIS WAY!” Yeah, that. Lucky thing school came relatively easy to me because I spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting my days, dissecting my friends’ days with my friends….who talked to whom, who didn’t talk to whom, who said he said he liked who, who passed on what rumor, and so on….Do you remember your heart pounding and your stomach fluttering when you knew you would pass him in the hallway between classes? Do you remember your stuttered, clumsy talking when you sat next to him in class?

I remember all of those things so well. But here I am on my  last love…..a love I’ve been with for nearly 21 years. I’m with my last love, watching our teens going through all the drama of all those firsts….how every little event is so HUGE for them. We have the experience. We have the wisdom. We have the longevity.  We have the memories. It’s so interesting to be on this side. We see the bigger picture, because, well, we’ve lived it. Every minute, every minute happening doesn’t mean everything to us. But we have been there.

Truly, my heart aches for the heartaches they will endure, and endure them they must. That’s just part of life….the unrequited crushes, the beginnings and ends, the breakups, the broken dreams, the fears, the insecurities. But I’m also excited for their excitement, for their new experiences, for them realizing that someone who doesn’t have to will love them.

There are times I would they could skip all that – just go on being and have their first be their last, years and years from now.  I remember how all those endings felt – how I literally felt my heart would fall out of my chest, broken and bruised, how hard it was just to breath much less go on with life as if nothing momentous had happened, how the mere sight of him hundreds of yards away would throw me right back to my room and my already-soaked pillow, how unworthy I felt, how hard a hit my self-confidence took each time. I remember hating myself for causing pain to anyone when I was the one to end things.

I knew my last love was waiting for me. I knew each of those other loves was preparing me for this love.  My hope is my children learn that lesson, have that outlook.  My hope is that each first brings them closer to their last.

I didn’t cry

Yesterday, Spouse and I celebrated eighteen years of marriage. Wow – our marriage is an adult now! As must be usual on an anniversary, I mentally revisited our wedding day. Like so many other life-changing, significant events, the day is etched in my mind, even though it seemed to fly by, and in spite of the fact so much time has passed.

The Princess has asked about our wedding day, as any young girl will. She asked how I felt as I walked down that aisle towards Spouse. “Did you cry buckets, Mom?” No, I didn’t cry. I’d waited to find just the right person, and I was so ecstatically happy, I simply grinned from ear-to-ear. There’s a photo that shows my Daddy hardly holding it together as he walked with me, and then me, walking next to him, cheesy grin on my face, my eyes lit up. I didn’t know then how much work marriage would be, but I knew I’d been blessed with a man who would work just as much as I to build the life we both wanted. So, I didn’t cry. I didn’t need to cry. I wasn’t even really that nervous about it, other than I really didn’t want to trip on that long walk towards him.

Lots will happen over eighteen years. There’s a country song out right now that says it better than I ever could, “It All Started with a Beer” by Frankie Ballard. You see, we met in a big country bar (think Urban Cowboy). And yes, he bought me a beer. We danced, we talked, I told him I’d go out with him but I was NOT in the market for a boyfriend, at all. And yet, here we are, eighteen years later, three kids, a home, a life together. The song talks about good times and bad, times when money was a problem and times when it wasn’t, times when we’re getting along and times when we aren’t, but more good than bad, and we’re still here. We’ve moved more times than I care to recall, struggled with infertility, had job/career changes, learned what prematurity is and what it will do to a family, been handed miracles, struggled, fought, wondered if we would make it, battled financial troubles (along with the rest of the world it seems), cried, laughed, yelled, sighed. We’ve three gorgeous babies, a happy home, a good life.

If I’d known all this that day eighteen years ago, would I have cried? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I still smile when I think about him (most of the time), still smile when I remember that day, still feel the choice we made to create a life together was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Under the Friday Night Lights

Tonight is the last football game of the season for our high school. That really just hit me today. We’ve been floating along in this new routine for a couple of months. I think I just now grasped this is our last week of this particular routine.

It’s been awesome – watching the teams, watching my girlie cheer. Everything I’d hoped for her in this experience has been realized. There’s been  ups and downs – our team isn’t the best – and there has, of course, been drama. You can’t put thirty girls on a team and expect there to not be drama. But she’s part of the school culture, part of the Friday night legacy. She’s a cheerleader.

Watching her, and the teams, every week, has brought back so many memories. My family spent every fall Friday night at a high school football field from the time my brother was a Sophomore in high school until my youngest sister graduated. There’s a community – the students, the parents, the rowdy crowd, the band, the football players, coaches, the cheerleaders, the younger and the older siblings. I love being part of that again, even if I’m frequently reminded I’m now just the mom.

Watching her cheer, watching her teammates, watching the football players, you can forget they’re just kids after all. They seem larger than life out there. But then the DJ will play some music, and you see them start to dance a bit, or a helmet comes off and you recall just how young they are, that they have so much life ahead of them.

But tonight is the last game of the season for her freshman year. I’m planning on trying to just take it in.

The Little Things – PTSD and the Preemie Parent

There have been numerous studies showing parents of preemies suffer from PTSD. Makes sense – you go through something so full of trauma, guilt, fear, anxiety, living minute-by-minute – you’re going to have ongoing emotional and psychological fallout. Most days, I don’t think about what we went through; it has been sixteen years after all since Little Man was born so early. But all it takes is one little sound, smell, sight and I am right back in those moments. I feel it, all over again. I forget we’re where we are, and I’m back in those days of fear, highs and lows, two steps forward and three steps back, having everything out of my control.

My mom had open heart surgery in 2009.  I went up shortly after the surgery itself to be there for her. She was in the critical care unit. I was in her room with my sister, all of us talking, when someone in a room nearby must have dropped oxygen sats and heartrate. The bonging alarm went off. My heartrate accelerated, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I heard that bonging every single day in the NICU, often coming from my own son’s monitors. You go into panic mode every time you hear that sound. I can still hear that sound in my mind. I will never forget that sound. I doubt I will ever hear it without reacting with panic.

I shave my legs almost every single day (TMI – sorry not sorry). If I go more than 48 hours without shaving my legs, I get twitchy. The reason? When I was on hospital bedrest, I went over  a week at a time without having my legs shaved. I can’t stand that feeling. It reminds me of laying helpless, lonely, bored, and terrified in that hospital bed. Same goes for washing my hair. I can barely make it 48 hours without washing my hair because it takes me back to those 16 days in that hospital room.  Seemingly little things, yes? But still – little things that can set me off all over again.

I spent months reaching for the foot pedal every time I went to wash my hands. If I smell that antiseptic soap ever, I’m back in the NICU, washing my  hands before I walked through the double-doors into the NICU pods. Half the time when I wash my hands, I still mentally sing the ABC’s as we were taught early on the NICU – because that’s about how long you’re supposed to lather and wash to make sure your hands are really clean. If I come across a foot-pedal sink, I’m back in the NICU too.

Seeing pictures and videos of preemies in the NICU send me right back to Big Man’s early days. There’s a distinctive way NICU babies move with all the wires and tubes connected to pretty  much every extremity. I’m reminded one of the things I hated the most – that board strapped to his arm or leg to keep the lines straight. God I hated that board. I hated the mass of tape over and around his mouth to hold the ventilator and feeding tube in place. I hated the nurse who ripped the tape off his face one night, tearing off layers of his too-thin skin, leaving him with a dark splotch on his face he carries to this day. I hate that I still cry when I think about this.

We played music for him throughout the day as soon as he was able to tolerate the stimulation. I had to toss those cd’s when we got home from the NICU. I couldn’t stand to hear those songs anymore. When I heard them, I could smell and hear the NICU again. I still get the sweats when I hear any of those songs, which blessedly isn’t often at all, but still.

Most days, I don’t think about the NICU, or hospital bedrest, nor all the attendant fear, grief, anxiety, pain, heartache, stress. But those little things, man, they’ll do  me in in a heartbeat. PTSD for parents of preemies – it’s a real thing.  Just ask a preemie parent.

How Could I Forget?

When I was in sixth grade (yes, folks, we’re going way back here), I started taking clarinet lessons. Yes, Middle School band. Well, it was orchestra where I went to school. You get the point. I decided on the clarinet because that’s what my beloved big brother had played in junior high. By starting in sixth grade, I was two years behind most of my peers. But I practiced a lot, and caught up fairly quickly. I won’t kid you though…it was middle school. Have you ever heard a middle school band/orchestra? Yeah, that.

In high school, I decided band wasn’t for me, but went into the high school orchestra. By sophomore year, I was first chair clarinet, and stayed there three years. I was part of our competitive chamber ensemble. I joined the county honor orchestra. I had the opportunity to play in the pit for two of our drama department’s productions. There were performances at local elementary schools, competitions, performances at school events and graduations, and our annual Christmas and Spring recitals. We went to see the San Francisco Symphony every year. Classical music was part of my life. I knew Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Handel, etc, etc, etc.

I continued to play for a year after I graduated high school. Then  my clarinet went in its case into my closet, where it stayed. It came with me through many moves. But I  never played it again.

When music lessons – school band – became available for the Princess, she chose the clarinet. I didn’t offer mine, knowing it would need work after so much time. I rented a clarinet for her from the local music store. I totally thought I would be able to hold it, put the mouthpiece in my mouth, and just be able to play again. Um, yeah, not so much. I couldn’t get a single sound, besides that awful clarinet squeak, to come out. I was shocked and sad. How could I forget something that had been such a huge part of my life for nine years, something I was good at?

The Princess only played the clarinet for about a year. Eventually, we donated the instrument to the school, it having done nothing more than catch dust for three years. It made me a little sad. It made me wonder if I did pull out my clarinet and really tried, if it would all come back. I’m almost embarrassed to even try. I certainly won’t try with anyone else in the house to hear it. Hah!

I did start listening to classical music again recently. I guess I’m old. It’s been like revisiting an old friend, familiar pieces taking me back to high school. The music is calming, and brings a certain piece. The kids are not fans.  They thought I’d lost my mind the first time I turned it on with them in the car. I wish they had an appreciation for it. In that area, along with many others, I’ve obviously failed them. Maybe some day, they’ll understand.

I still have my clarinet. It sits in its case on a shelf in my closet. I can’t make myself get rid of it. Even if I never play it again, it’s part of my past, a huge part of who I am, and how I came to be the person I am today.