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Friday, February 6, 2015

I'm So Pretty

I recently got some new make up, courtesy of an Ulta gift card and a mom who loves to help me spend my Ulta gift cards. If you're not familiar with Ulta, it's a beauty/make up store that has a ton of different brands of make up, shampoo, hair accessories - basically it's a one-stop-shop for all your beauty needs. I love it there. And, no, this post is not paid for by Ulta (but if anyone from Ulta is reading this, you're welcome and also I need some free eyeshadow).

Last night, I was getting ready in the bathroom while Daniel played with the kids. I began to put my make up on, and, like always, I began criticizing the way I looked. At first I kept it to myself, just noticing my dry skin, my round face, the way my nose looked. I eventually became so frustrated that I said out loud, "I cannot beLIEVE how ugly I am right now. I hate how awful I look." Daniel, who is a saint, told me that I was wrong and that I looked lovely.

As much as I appreciated his words, that wasn't what made me stop complaining. It was the sound of Josh laughing as Daniel tossed him the air that stopped my next words from coming out of my mouth. I looked into the living room, and there was the rest of my family, playing together and smiling. And both of my kids had just heard me say that I was ugly, and that I hated the way I looked. I mean, they probably didn't hear me say those actual words. Josh was very busy being wrestled with and Jenna was trying to fit her whole hand into her mouth, so odds are good that they never even knew that I was there. But my words still horrified me.

I know that seems like an over-the-top response to something that wasn't a big deal. But in that moment, I realized how much I complain about my looks, my skills, my life. And maybe my kids don't understand that right now, but they will. They will hear me say that and understand my words sooner than I realize. And I don't want that.

Recently I was watching Jenna play with one of her favorite toys, a stuffed monkey from Aunt ShonShon. As I sat next to her, watching her laugh and giggle over something that really was not that funny, I found my mind wandering to the future. What would Jenna be like as a teenager? Would she still be my smiling, happy girl? Would she be feeling the pressure of friends, classmates, and commercials to look and act a certain way? Would she like the way she looked? The thought of my beautiful little girl thinking that she was ugly broke my heart. I don't want that for her. I don't want it for Joshua, either.

I want both of my kids to know that their beauty has little to do with their appearance. I want them to know that to be a truly beautiful person, you have to start from the inside and work your way out. That they do not have to prove anything to anyone in order to obtain self-worth. That they may not always feel their best, but that as long as they are trying their best, everything will be okay. I want them to know that bad haircuts are a rite of passage, and instead of focusing on their bangs, they should focus on the friends they have made and the blessings that they have. I want them to realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that no matter what their eye color is or how much they weigh, they are loved and valued.

But how I can teach my kids how important it is to value themselves if I don't value myself? If Josh and Jenna hear me tell them that it's what's on the inside the counts, and then turn around and call myself ugly, what kind of message am I sending them?

So I have decided to stop saying things like that. More importantly, I am going to try to stop thinking things like that. Don't get me wrong - make up isn't evil. I still love Ulta (and am still waiting for my eyeshadow, AHEM), and I will continue to wear make up like I normally do. I know it is equally important for my kids to know that eating well and living a healthy life is something that will benefit them, and I will continue to encourage them to do that. But in this house, there will be no more complaints of being ugly, of being fat, of being unworthy of other people.

Nothing I can do or say will totally stop my kids from feeling down about themselves at some point. I know that. But I also know that the most important lessons in life start at home, and if I want to teach my children anything, first I have to believe it for myself.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dear Preemie Mom

Dear Preemie Mom:

I see you. I see you, scared and confused, as you have to leave your baby behind in the hospital because he was early and he needs a lot of help. I see you taking notes as the doctor explains all the machines and sounds that surround your tiny, sweet baby. I see you trying your hardest to take it all in - all the medical jargon, all the dates and times and schedules - but your eyes keep wandering back to your baby in her isolette as you wonder when you will be able to hold her.

I see you driving to the hospital day after day, determined not to miss a second with your little one. I see your shoulders slump as you prepare yourself for another long day of visiting your baby and then leaving him behind once again.

I see you as you get to take your baby home - a time filled with such joy and excitement, and also a little bit of fear. You wonder if you will be able to take care of her like the doctors could. You wonder if you will be enough.

I see you a couple months down the line, rejoicing over having your baby with you at all times but becoming frustrated that your baby needs so much attention all the time. Doctors, specialists, therapists - it seems like your life now revolves around when the next appointment is and how long it will take you get there. You try to remind yourself that you should be grateful, because your baby has had to fight harder than most to even make it this far. But that doesn't always help your frustration. Sometimes it even adds to it. Why did your baby have to fight so hard? Why did this happen to your family? You ask yourself these questions every day but no answer seems right.

I see you at the birthday party for the child of a friend, a child who was born around the same time your own child was due, before they came so early. I see your smile, which is genuine, but it isn't the same smile it used to be. Because while you are happy for your friend and her child, it hurts to see how behind your own child is, and what a long way he has to go.

I see you crying late at night, wracked with guilt and worry and anger. If only you had been able to keep your baby inside a little longer...if only you had insisted the doctors take a second look at the scan... if only you hadn't had so much caffeine or sugar or whatever else you think could have contributed to your baby's prematurity. I see you blaming yourself, wondering what you can do to right this terrible wrong.

I see you decline invitations to playgrounds, to lunch, to so many places that first year. You're so afraid of your little boy getting sick. The doctors told you that this first winter was crucial, that you should not go out unless you absolutely had to. So you sit alone with your baby, knowing that it will all be worth it in the spring.

I see you carefully pack your diaper bag - yours isn't always like other people's diaper bags. You need a lot of hand sanitizer, extra oxygen tanks, some masks that keep germs away. You venture into the grocery store like a soldier approaching a battlefield - assessing risk, wondering how quickly you can finish your task, praying that when you leave, everyone will still be healthy.

I see you stammer and flounder when someone asks you how old your baby is. You know if you give the real answer that there will be so many questions, and you are tired of questions. But to you, giving any other answer feels like a disservice to your child, like you aren't acknowledging all of the hard work she put into coming into this world. So you split the difference - sometimes you tell people the real age, and sometimes you don't. It changes every time you are asked.

I see you wondering if you are the kind of mother your baby really needs. You think that someone else would be much better suited for all of this. All of the therapy and special arrangements that have to be made - you think you aren't cut out for this. You don't know how you will make it through. You look back to the life you had before - maybe you used to work and now you have to stay home. Maybe you want to stay home but you have to work. Either way, it is not the life you planned for yourself. It is not how you imagined having a baby would be.


I don't have answers for you. I wish I did. I want answers for me, too. But I want you to know that I see you. I see you, and you are not alone.

Sincerely,

A Preemie Mom

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Good Idea, Bad Idea

I get asked a lot of questions about what our NICU experience was like and what another family with a baby in the NICU can expect. A lot of times I can't really give an answer, because so many things just depend on your child and your NICU and how much Diet Coke you have available to you.

But there are plenty of questions I can answer, and most of those revolve around the theme of "What can I do/say/bring/sacrifice to help?" I have gotten asked that quite a few times recently, so I thought I would post some answers here, Animaniacs style. So - prepare yourself for the good ideas and bad ideas of supporting a friend or family member in their NICU life.*

*These are meant to be helpful but also fun. If you have said/done any of the bad ideas, no worries.

Good idea: Telling your friend you are praying for her.
Bad idea: Telling your friend you are praying for her because she looks fat after just having had a baby.

Good idea: Asking what you can bring to the family during this stressful time.
Bad idea: Showing up unannounced with a mariachi band.

Good idea: Letting your friend vent to you, cry to you, hug you.
Bad idea: Letting your friend do all these things while you secretly try to get to the next level on Candy Crush.

Which reminds me - if you are thinking of inviting me to play Candy Crush, don't. Every time you send me a Candy Crush request, a tiny kitten gets carried away and eaten by a hawk. Think about that the next time you want to get more lives or whatever it is you people do. Think of the kittens.

Good idea: Sending a card to your friend or family member to let them know you are thinking of them.
Bad idea: Sending a card to your friend or family member that you filled with glitter. Glitter is the WORST, do you understand? The. Worst.

Good idea: Asking your friend how her baby is doing, what the doctors are saying, etc.
Bad idea: Asking your friend how her baby is doing while making horrified faces at the responses.

"What do you mean, his oxygen saturation is only 82 percent?!"

Good idea:
Telling your friend how cute her baby is.
Bad idea: Telling your friend how cute her baby is while using air quotes around the words "cute" or "baby."



Good idea: Asking if you can visit your friend and the baby.
Bad idea: Visiting your friend and baby for three hours while showing them a ton of hilarious YouTube videos about cats dressed like people.

So I hope that clears things up for you.
















Okay, okay. I will give you a real list. The things we found most useful during our NICU stay were:

- Phone chargers (make sure you know what kind of phone/charger they use!)
- Gift cards - gas stations or nearby restaurants are really helpful! Our hospital had a restaurant in the cafeteria and we got a lot of gift cards for that, which was fabulous.
- Gum. I went through so much gum while Josh was in the hospital that I could have wallpapered our house with the wrappers. Ooh! DIY Pinterest idea!
- Scented hand sanitizer. Hospitals are big on cleanliness (especially in the NICU!) but that hand sanitizer smell really gets old after a while. Fun scents are always exciting.
- Books or book/Kindle recommendations. I read approximately 4730282 books while Josh was in the hospital.
- Water bottles. My friend Hayley brought me a reusable water bottle that was amazing and I still use it. She also brought me a delicious dessert. Bring those, too.
- Change for vending machines or small snacks that can be eaten quickly. Our NICU did not allow eating in the actual rooms so all snacks had to be eaten in the lobby. I'm guessing that's a pretty common rule.
- Cards, texts, emails, Facebook messages - I got cards from family, friends, and total strangers. People emailed me, commented here, and wrote us letters. My aunt Shonda sent a card to Josh several times each month for his entire hospital stay. Those were so awesome. It's wonderful and encouraging to know you're being thought of and prayed for.
- One thing that is helpful to remember: It isn't about you. I don't say that to be harsh, but to help you understand that some days, your friend or family member might not want you to visit. Some days it's literally all they can do to find the will to come sit in that hospital room for yet another day, and returning a text is too exhausting. Sometimes they will want to chat nonstop about their child. I'm not saying you have to let them walk all over you or anything; just realize that it is one heck of a roller coaster and 99% of the time, their responses (or lack thereof) have little to do with you or their opinion of you. It's just exhausting.
- Celebrate the little victories with your friend! My mother-in-law set up an update page on Facebook so we could let people know how Josh was doing, and it filled my dorky little heart with so much joy when people got excited with us because he finally pooped. Their joy encouraged me and I will be forever grateful for it.

Okay, that is really it. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! But I reserve the right to answer in titles of Britney Spears songs. And to tell you about my Baby One More Time.

I'm hilarious.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Size FAWM

What do clowns and I have in common? NO, not the frizzy hair. Jerks. No, not the nose. Just stop guessing. This isn't healthy for our relationship. I'll just tell you: It's our feet. Clowns have huge feet, and so do I. I'm not going to tell you what size I am, because I maintain precious little dignity on social media and I'll be darned if you all start checking out my shoes every time you see me. Let's just say my feet are fearfully and wonderfully made, or FAWM for short.

I come by it honestly - there is a not a dainty-footed person in my family. My brother has to special-order his shoes because stores don't sell them. You'd think we'd be taller, but...no. Just my brother is tall. My sister and I have to endure both large feet and not being able to reach the top shelf of our kitchen cabinets. Life is unfair sometimes.

The thing about having size FAWM feet is that you're sort of limited in the kinds of shoes you can wear. And if your feet are also wide, like mine (thanks, gene pool), that makes your choices even slimmer. It's not that shoes don't come in size FAWM - many of them do. But when shoe designers make shoes, they are thinking of average people who have average feet, not average people who walk around with their legs attached to canoes. So they make all these cute designs and add the stripes and make everything reflective and shiny, which is all really cute in, like, a size 7. But when you add a few more inches to that shiny little stripe on the side, suddenly it turns into a giant flashing sign that says, "HEY. HEY, YOU GUYS. LOOK OVER HERE. MY FEET ARE BIG. COME OVER HERE SO YOU CAN BE PROPERLY HORRIFIED." Not a sexy look.

But the worst part of wearing size FAWM is that I almost never find my size out on the floor. Like I said, companies make my size. But I don't know a ton of people who wear size FAWM, and those sizes are understandably kept in the back so that people who don't have freak-of-nature feet can enjoy shopping without having to witness the horror of the giant box that contains the size FAWMs.

My usual MO is to find a few pairs that I like, bring a box of each to the store clerk, and ask him to bring me the shoes in my size. I do it that way so I don't have to ask for my gigantor shoes more than once. Because, inevitably, asking for my shoe size involves a much lengthier conversation than I would like. Well, I would like no conversation, but I would settle for a two-sentence maximum.

Instead, I usually have some variation of the following conversation:

Me: Hi, can you see if you have these in a FAWM? (Don't worry; I give the real size to them)
Store Clerk: A size what?
Me: *shuffling feet, clearing throat* A size FAWM.
SC: Oh. *raises eyebrows* Really? But you're so short!
Me: Yeah, I know.
SC: Are you sure that's your size? We could measure you.
Me: I'm sure. I've been wearing the same size for a while.
SC: Not many women wear that size.
Me: I'm special.
SC: Okay, well, if you're sure, I'll go get these for you. *pauses expectantly*
Me: Yes, please.

It's exhausting. I only buy new shoes once every million years so I don't have to have the conversation a lot, but I think we can all agree that once is enough.

Don't even get me started on the shoes I've worn as a bridesmaid. I have zero complaints about the fashion choices my friends and family have made for their bridesmaids. Cute dresses, cute theme, cute shoes. But nothing looks quite as dainty on a size FAWM foot. During my sister's wedding, you can see me walking down the aisle, a smile frozen on my face, and you start to wonder why I haven't changed my expression at all. But if you listen closely, you can hear a clop, clop, clop, clop in the background. Those would be my super-sized tootsies, stomping their way through an otherwise very quiet church. I was trying to concentrate on walking more quietly while also continuing to smile while also using my Panic Eyes to convey to someone, anyone, that I was aware of the noise and would hopefully be down the aisle in a timely fashion.

The struggle is real. Two kids later, the struggle has become even realer. But I did get new shoes recently, and, wonder of wonders, they had size FAWM on the shelf! I found my people. And my new shoes are black - it's so slimming!

These are not the shoes I bought recently. I ordered these from clownfeet.org. I think they bring out the sturdiness of my ankles!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Pain Olympics

We are all Olympians. We can't all swim fast or ski over those bump things or remember the words to our national anthem, but there is an Olympian in all of us. The kind of Olympics we participate in are not the kind that you see every four years, though. These are the kind of Olympics that we participate in on a regular basis, daily or at least weekly for most of us. I am talking about the Pain Olympics.

I've written here before about my disdain for the One-Upper - that person in your life who just has to go one better when it comes to crazy stories or bad experiences. We all hate that person. But when it comes to the Pain Olympics, we all are that person.

You have probably listened to a friend talk to you about some problem and while you feel bad for them and listen attentively, a small part of you is thinking that you would kill for the "problems" this other person is telling you about. You don't wish them any ill will but you secretly wish you could tell them what you've gone through, to show them what true problems look like. You might not speak up but you think it and it starts to lead to some resentment.

But some people do speak up. Some people wait for your sentence to end just so they can one-up you with their life experiences. They tell you that you should thank your lucky stars that your only issues are the ones you just described because that sounds like a cakewalk compared to their own lives.

If you are one of those people, stop it. That's enough out of you. I will pinch you. If you are not one of those people, play on. 

It goes the other way, too. I meet a lot of other parents who have had kids in the NICU or who have medical/development issues. Sometimes we have a lot in common, but when they find out how early Josh was, or how much he is working to overcome his delay, they get quiet and start to explain that they know what they have gone through can never compare to what we went through.

Honestly, I hate that just as much. Not because it bugs me, but because it isn't fair. It isn't fair that because their child wasn't quite as premature that they have to feel like they can't complain. It isn't fair that some people feel like someone else's experience was somehow better than their own because it isn't identical to what they went through.

When my mom found out she had breast cancer, I cried to Daniel that I was upset, and also guilty for being upset because all signs pointed to my mom being totally fine and there were people in the world who were in war zones and being kidnapped. I don't know why my mind went there; I'm sort of a weirdo. But Daniel told me something that has stuck with me ever since:

Pain is not relative.

I love that because it's just so true. You can't compare pain. There is just no way. When Josh was born at 26 weeks and we spent 115 days in the NICU, that was the worst thing that ever happened. When my friend's son was born at 37 weeks and he unexpectedly spent two weeks in the NICU, that was the worst thing that ever happened. When my dad got laid off from his job, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, when my best friend broke her leg in a car accident - they were all the worst. Not because they were all horrible things that no one will ever recover from, but because in those moments, it mattered the most to them and the people who love them.

You can look at our situation: Josh was really early. But he never had to have surgery like my friend's son did. But he has a more significant developmental delay than a lot of kids. But I know another woman whose child will never overcome his delays. But Josh has so many doctors and so many health issues and it isn't fair. But at least we live in a country where he can get the help he needs, unlike many other children around the world. I could do this for hours. Sure, someone could "outdo" me when it comes to life, but does that make my experiences any less painful or any less meaningful? No. Not even a little. 

Should you still look for the silver lining in tragedy? Sure. Should you leave this post all depressed because I just told you your life was the worst? Well...I would hate that, but do what you will. But just remember that in the Pain Olympics, there are no winners. Because that isn't the point. If you are only listening to someone else talk about their problems so you can one-up them, you need to re-evaluate your friendship skills. But also don't feel like your problems are no longer worthy of being complained about because you think someone has it worse. It isn't a competition. It's just life. Life is complicated and fun and exciting and scary and painful and great and everyone learns that in their own way. No one wins. No one loses. Just listen and be a friend and know you're not alone.

I promised you a happy post after my last one. And you believed me. You fools.

Butseriously, the next one will be soooooo happy. I promise.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Space-Toddler Continuum

Let's get one thing straight: This post is not about science. I don't do science. Tried it once; didn't like it. So if you came here for science, please talk to my husband instead. That guy knows science.

If you came here for cute pictures of my kids, here you go:


Don't be ashamed if that's the only reason you're here. They are pretty adorable.

But if you did, indeed, come here for a blog post, please keep reading. However, I feel obligated to warn you that this isn't one of my funnier posts. I will post a funny one later to make up for it. Just for you. Kisses!

**Disclaimer: I am super proud of Joshua. Like, super proud. He does amazing things. He works harder than anyone I know. I know his delays are only temporary and that he will catch up. He has come a really long way in his short little life and I admire him for his tenacity. Even on days when he is giving me toddler 'tude, I am reminded that it was this same stubborn personality that got him through the toughest days at the NICU.**

I put that disclaimer up because this post is, more or less, a big, long whine and I just want people to know that I know those things.  So - on to the show.

I wrote before that recently I had found myself starting to resent Josh for all of his issues. I knew (and know) that none of this was his fault, that it wasn't anyone's fault, but I was angry and I wanted someone to blame. So I picked my toddler. Classy. But, honestly, I don't resent him anymore. Once I realized that was happening, I started to figure out why I was angry, why I was looking for something to blame, why our situation suddenly frustrated me when it's nothing we haven't dealt with for (almost) the last two years.

And as I've watched Jenna grow and change, I think I've solved the mystery: I am stuck. I am stuck in a time warp of sorts, where things and people and circumstances progress at a regular rate, all except for Joshua.

It's kind of like taking a trip to Narnia. You guys know I love me some Narnia and look for pretty much any excuse to work it into this blog, but in this case it really, actually applies. In case you haven't read the books/seen the movies/have done both and still think I'm reaching, let me explain: In the story, four kids travel to a magical land called Narnia by means of a closet in a stranger's house. Yet another reason you shouldn't go through strangers' closets, but anyway... The kids stay in the magical land for years and years. They start out very young when they arrive and by the end of the book, they are adults. When they decide to go back home, they are surprised to realize that almost no time has passed at all in the real world. Maybe a few minutes at the most. They have become children again and no one is the wiser.

That is what I think of when I think of our lives with Josh. Daniel and Jenna and me, we're all living in Narnia, living our lives and progressing at the "normal" pace. But Josh is still in the real world, and every time we go back to check on him, not much has changed.

If you have kids or nieces or nephews or ever saw a kid once at the mall, you're probably familiar with the most common piece of parenting wisdom in the entire world: "Enjoy it; it goes by fast." This makes mothers everywhere roll their eyes, even the ones who say it to others, because, really, is there any statement that's more obvious?

But lately I find myself discovering that it doesn't go by fast for everyone. With Josh, for instance, it hasn't gone by fast. I mean, yes, the days and weeks have passed so quickly it's hard to believe that he will be two soon. But looking at his development, where he is in therapy, well...it's hard to believe he will be two soon.

Recently Josh was evaluated by a team of therapists and tested at about a 12-month level for development and skills. This was progress from his last eval, which was great news! But I think my frustration comes from the fact that it took him nearly two years to get to this level. Two years of hard work for him to still be behind. And that is just difficult to deal with a lot of the time. Because it doesn't mean that in another month, he will test at a 13-month level. He just doesn't follow a timeline like that.

Does that make any sense at all? I don't want to sound like I'm disappointed in Josh or that he is doing something wrong. Neither of those things is true. But one of the perks of being a parent is the joy you get from your kids and the way they grow up. Joshua will be two in February. He doesn't walk yet, he doesn't really say much, and, honestly, I don't get as much interaction out of him as I would a "typical" two-year-old. Do I enjoy him and love and cherish the interaction we do have? Absolutely. I freakin' love that kid. But because of the way he progresses, it's like he's growing up at half the regular pace, and that gets hard sometimes.

For babies born prematurely, doctors and specialists and parents adjust their age for milestones and expectations. This means that since Josh was born a little over three months early, he isn't expected to meet the milestones of his actual age, but those of the age he would be if he had been born on his due date. So right now he is 21 months and gets evaluated as an 18-month-old. However, that all stops when he turns two. In theory, preemies catch up by then and there is no longer any need to adjust their age. Obviously, Josh won't be caught up, but they will still stop adjusting his age.

I have been looking forward to Josh's second birthday ever since they told us that he would probably catch up by then, way back when he was still in the NICU. I didn't wish my time away but I was excited about being able to give a simple answer for his age and to be able to pretend that he was just like every other kid. That won't happen, and while that isn't the end of the world, it still bums me out. His therapists say that when he turns three, he should be much closer to being caught up. So now I guess we wait for three. Unless it's four. Or five. Or never.

Toddlers are supposed to toddle. They are supposed to run around and climb up things and push over the baby gates and flush things down the toilet. Those things are frustrating and I don't think other parents have it easier, but I really want Josh to flush something down our toilet. Not because I relish the idea of either going after or missing whatever he flushes, but because it means he will have walked in there by himself. He will have figured out how the toilet works. He will have had the wherewithal to sneak around, find Daniel's watch (I'm just assuming...), and use his planning skills for evil to create a mini-disaster. All things that he should be able to do right now. It's weird to want that, but I do. I want him to yell "NO" at me and say "uh-oh" when he drops something. He has a few words but he rarely ever says Mama or Mommy. And I know he loves me, but I just wish he could tell me. He's almost two. That is how it should be.

And please hear me - er, read me - when I say that Joshua "should" be doing something, I don't think he's doing anything wrong. I know he is really trying hard to learn and grow. I know that all kids develop at different rates and that Jenna could struggle just as much in spite of being born on time. I know that this will pass, and it won't be our lives forever. I know that I will look back on this post and laugh about how dramatic I am and how much of a Debbie Downer I can be. But right now, I am here, stuck in some kind of space-time continuum where everything changes but it doesn't change. And the more I see other kids his age or younger progress and then pass him up, the harder it is to keep up with our little time warp.

I almost didn't write this post. I didn't want to bum people out, I didn't want people to think I am super depressed or upset, and I didn't want to have to justify my feelings to anyone. But one of my greatest comforts since Joshua was born has been reading blogs or articles by people in the same situation and knowing that I'm not the worst mom in the world for feeling like this. So I am going to post it, and tell people about it, and hope that maybe it will help someone else who is dealing with this. Maybe not exactly this, but something close enough that you can relate and know you're not the only one.

And since this was a bummer post, I'll end with something hilarious: A joke!

- Knock, knock!
- Who's there?
- Interrupting cow!
- Interrupting cow wh--
- MOOOOOOOOO.

Huh. I guess that one doesn't really translate in print. Oh, well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MOPS

This weekend, I had the honor of speaking at a meeting for MOPS, an organization for moms with kids ages birth to kindergarten. It was such an amazing experience! I had a great time there and everyone was so welcoming. Special thanks to Hannah for asking me to come! A few people asked me to share what I spoke about here, so this is me, doing what you want. Enjoy.

And if you thought this post was going to be about cleaning...No. I don't clean.


Let me ask you a question: What do a dictionary, my favorite pair of boots, and a box of baby wipes have in common? They are all heavier than my son was when he was born.

On February 22, 2013, I woke up to what I expected to be an ordinary day. The first thing I did was shower and shave my legs, which should have been a sign that this day was going to be a weird one, but I didn't think much of it at the time. I was 26 weeks pregnant with my first child and was heading to my monthly check-up at the OB's office. We knew were having a boy, and we knew we were naming him Joshua Michael. Michael, after both our dads and my husband, and Joshua, because that is one Biblical dude you don't want to mess with.

I drove to my appointment, hoping it wouldn't take too long so I wouldn't miss too much work. I was saving up my vacation days for maternity leave that I was supposed to start in June and didn't want to waste any time. Plus I had leftover chicken fingers in the car that I was planning to eat on the way to work because that's how I roll. However, Joshua had other plans. After I arrived at my appointment and had been examined, the nurse realized that I was developing pre-eclampsia, a condition that is dangerous for both pregnant mothers and unborn babies. She sent me to the local hospital. I called my husband on the way there, trying to act like it was no big deal and that he should only come if he reeeaaally wanted to. He really did, so he and my mom met me there.

When I got there I was more annoyed than anything. I knew everything would be fine and I just wanted to get to work. And my chicken fingers. But everything wasn't fine. They checked on Josh and realized he was barely moving, he was too small, and he wouldn't respond to anything. So I was sent to another hospital, one that specialized in helping premature babies. At this hospital, they found that not only was Josh small and unresponsive, he was rapidly growing worse. A doctor came in and did an ultrasound and explained to us that it seemed like the umbilical cord was not giving Josh the nutrition he needed - basically, it was only working about half the time. They said I would have to stay in the hospital and they would need to check on him every day for a while. I didn't understand part of the scan and asked the doctor to show me again. And while he was explaining it to me, he noticed that now the umbilical cord had stopped working altogether. Unless Josh was born that night, he would not survive more than a few hours.

Have you ever gone down the steps and missed the very last stair? It's so surprising, so unpredictable, and a jolt of fear goes through you that is so deep and sudden that it takes you a minute to recover, even though you are okay. That's what I felt like. When they told me Joshua would be born that night, it felt like I was missing stair after stair and no one could catch me.

I was rushed to the operating room for an emergency c-section. It was so surreal. I felt like I was watching my life on a movie screen, like I wasn't really even part of it. At 7:08 in the evening, my son Joshua was born. He weighed one pound, seven ounces, and was 12.5 inches long. He was smaller than this Beanie Baby. I could have fit him in my shoe. But the doctors advised against that. The doctor brought him to me, told me I could give him a kiss, and then took him away to the NICU, where they would work for hours to save him.

My son was in the hospital for 115 days. He had dozens of blood transfusions, was on a ventilator for several weeks, and had a level two brain bleed. During his time in the NICU, he developed a blood infection, had both of his lungs collapse multiple times, and stopped breathing on several occasions. I didn’t get to hold him until he was two weeks old. It was a terrible, difficult time in our lives. But God is good, and on June 17, when he was four months old, we finally brought our boy home. Today he weighs eighteen pounds, is trying to walk, and has the biggest ears I have ever seen.

The first few months with Joshua at home are still sort of a blur. He needed to see a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, a physical therapist, an audiologist, an optometrist, and basically any other doctor that ends in “ist.” He was on oxygen at all times and we had to cart his tank and monitors with us wherever we went. And let me tell you, there is no graceful way to unload an oxygen tank from a minivan. None. Don’t even try it. Just accept that you will look ridiculous and move on.

At night, Josh had to be hooked up to a machine that monitored his heart rate and oxygen levels. My husband and I were regularly heard asking each other if we had remembered to plug the baby in. It was stressful, but we didn’t know any other way. We just did what we needed to so Josh would be happy and healthy. And after a while we fell into a routine that, while not exactly easy, was at least doable.

When Josh first came home, my husband and I decided we would wait for several years before discussing any more children, if we even decided to have another one at all. That was the plan that we thought we best for our family. But have you ever heard the saying "We plan and God laughs"? Well, God is still laughing over what happened next. When Joshua was barely seven months old, we found out that we were expecting our second child. We were floored. I took about twenty tests just to make sure I hadn't gotten it wrong. It turns out it's pretty difficult to mess up peeing on a stick and we determined I was indeed pregnant.

I was not excited. This was not our plan. At this point, Josh was still on supplemental oxygen and monitors and saw a specialist of some kind about once a week. I had been laid off from my job just before Josh came home and we had moved in with my parents. We were barely keeping our heads above water. Long story short, another child was not ideal for us at the time.

I know I sound cold. I promise I'm nicer to my kids when I talk to them. Most of the time. But I was panicked. With Joshua, everything had gone wrong. What if the same thing happened again? What if this baby was born even earlier? What if she needed oxygen and specialists and was sick? I didn't think I had it in me to do all of that again. Everyone around me told me God had it under control, and I knew that He did, but I still worried about what that meant for my family.

We found out we were having a girl this time. After a fairly uneventful pregnancy, our daughter Jenna was born on May 29 of this year. She was perfectly healthy and we were able to come home after only a few days in the hospital. Just like with Joshua, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

But Jenna also kind of scared me. Not like she was scary-looking or hid in my closet at night with a Freddie Kruger mask; just that she was so totally, completely…normal. There was no monitor attached to her so I could check her heart rate. She didn't need to see any specialists and had no breathing problems. My entire experience with babies until Jenna was born had consisted of hospitals and cardiologists and oxygen tanks and physical therapists. To be able to take her with me to the grocery store, to not have to worry if someone got too close to her at church, to put her to bed without taping a little monitor to her foot - this was all brand new territory for us.

And then the comparisons began. I want to state first that I love my kids equally. I am so proud of both of them. Josh has a pretty significant developmental delay but he works really hard to catch up. And Jenna smells like strawberries, which I appreciate. But it was hard not to separate my children into a "failure" and "success" category. I never realized how behind Joshua was until I saw what Jenna could do. When she grabbed for a toy at two months - something Josh hadn't done until he was almost a year old - I called my husband and told him our daughter was a genius. I tried not to compare, but with every milestone that Jenna met, I would mentally put her in the "success" column and then wait for Josh to do something so I could put him the success column, too.

And after a while, I started to resent Joshua. I know. I am the mother of the year. I was just so tired of dealing with everything. I was tired of explaining our lives to people. I was tired of smiling politely while people informed me that my son was a little small for his age, and they wondered if I was concerned about it. I was tired of working so hard for the tiniest victories that other people got to take for granted.

Are you familiar with Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live? She was a character that always brought down the mood of whatever room she was in. Any time someone would say something happy or encouraging, Debbie would counter it with something incredibly depressing and ridiculous. Her statements were accompanied by a sound effect that went something like wahhhh, wahhhhhhhh.

I always loved the Debbie Downer skits. But even though the skits were funny and not meant to be taken seriously, it felt like Debbie Downer was following my family, waiting for something good to happen so she could bring us all down again. With every issue Joshua faced, I heard the wahhhh, wahhhh in the back of my mind. He finally started babbling! Yay! Except he should be saying at least ten words by now so we should focus on that. Wahhh, wahhh. He finally learned to hold his own bottle! Wow! Except by now he is supposed to be using sippy cups and we need to take the bottles away. Wahhhh, wahhh. You get the picture. I was so frustrated that he was still behind after all of his hard work, and I started to be angry with him for not catching up faster. And then I compared him and Jenna more and more, to the point where I would write down when Jenna reached milestones just so I could compare to when Josh met the same milestones. It was like a I was keeping a scorecard of my children’s accomplishments.

It took me a while to realize that I was even doing it. And then it took me even longer to realize why I was doing it. Why did I feel the need to compare my children? They are so different in so many ways it would be like comparing an ostrich to an alligator.  I knew that comparing was pointless and would ultimately only hurt me and my kids, but I still felt the need to keep score. I think a lot of us are familiar with that feeling. As moms, we are constantly surrounded by people who are judging our choices and making us feel like we can't even blink without causing permanent damage to our child's psyche. Just look at the arguments between mothers, more fondly known as the mommy wars. We argue about eeeeeeverything. Whether it's where our babies sleep or what kind of surface they will poop on, we find a way to make sure that everyone knows how wrong their choices are. And when we run out of things to argue about, we rehash the original arguments over and over again.

Isn’t that crazy? Just look at how angry we get with people we barely know. Half the time it’s people we have only talked to on the internet. And I am as guilty as the next person of getting sucked into a good cloth versus disposable diaper debate. It’s funny because before I became a mother, I swore to myself I wouldn’t get worked up about stuff like this. I only had a vague idea of what parents did. Feed child, clothe child, try to keep child from beating up other children. But I was sure I could rise above such petty and insignificant arguments.

And then I crossed over to the Other Side. No, not Narnia. The Other Side of the gap that separates parents from non-parents. The side filled with tiny onesies and 800 sets of plastic keys and dogs that whisper "Hug meeee" at four in the morning when you're walking to the bathroom. You can look behind you and see the non-parent side for a little while. Then Dora the Explorer asks you to help her find her map and before you know it the non-parent side is nothing more than a distant memory. And the next thing you know, you’re typing in all capital letters on Facebook to some idiot who thinks that people who use strollers are turning their kids into serial killers while your husband begs you to just walk away from the computer because you’re starting to turn red and the children are scared.

Don’t pretend it hasn’t happened to you. None of us are immune to the mommy wars. It sneaks up on you suddenly, usually over something you didn’t even realize you cared that much about. I remember one time I was in a debate on Facebook over the cry it out method of sleep training. I was halfway through typing a really long paragraph when I suddenly wondered why in the world I gave two flips about which sleep training method a stranger from Canada was using. I couldn’t think of a good answer, and it dawned on me that maybe I was arguing just for the heck it.

Which brings me back to my original question: Why? Why do we do this? Why do I compare myself to other mothers? Why do I worry about what my friends think of the way I raise my children? Why am I online at three in the morning making some poor girl cry because we disagree on which brand of formula is best?

I thought about this for a long time. I felt like the answer was right under my nose but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then it came to me: Guilt.

I don’t know about you, but I have never been less confident in any decision I’ve made than I am in the decisions I make as a parent. Every little choice causes me to worry. For example, my son has recently gotten into the charming habit of throwing his sippy cup off his tray, a past time I’m sure many of you are familiar with. Every time he does this, I wonder what I should do next. It’s like my brain suddenly kicks into overdrive with all the possible responses I can give and the possible consequences they can have. If I get angry at him for throwing his cup, he’ll know it’s bad and he will stop. And then he will resent me for yelling at him and never be able to make friends and he won’t do well in school and won’t get into a good college and he will have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.

Or I could ignore him when he throws his cup and he will see that misbehaving does not get him attention. And then he might try even harder to get my attention because he feels so ignored and he will start lighting dog poo on fire and leaving it on people’s doorsteps and then he will vandalize the school gym and won’t get into a good college and have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.

Or I could pick the cup up and give it back to him, showing him that he has a second chance to do the right thing. And then he will probably learn that none of his actions have consequences and he will never learn manners and will disrespect his teachers in school and won’t get into a good college and he will have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.

See what I mean? I know this struggle is something we all deal with. It’s silly but it’s also serious. My kids are so young that right now I have ultimate control over their lives. I decide what they wear, what they eat, where they go, who they see. And while the control freak part of me likes having that security, the worrying part of me finds it overwhelming and terrifying. I am far from perfect. And honestly I find myself wondering why in the world God would give me two children, one of whom requires a lot of special attention.

And because I feel so unworthy and unable to make these decisions, I look to other mothers to see how they are handling it. That’s how the comparisons begin. I see that Sally Smith is using cloth diapers and I read about how they’re better for the environment and better for babies’ skin and I start to feel really guilty because my own poor kids are in disposable diapers and if I am going to use those I may as well just dress my kids in garbage bags because it’s basically the same thing. And then I start to resent Sally because who is she to tell me how to diaper my kids? My kids are very happy in their disposable diapers and they have pictures of Mickey Mouse and Big Bird on them and those guys have educational shows so I am educating my kids by putting them in disposable diapers. And before I know it I hate Sally Smith for her judgmental ways and for making me doubt myself and for her stupid opinions on her stupid diapers.

That might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever said. In the scenario I just described, no one judged me. No one tried to make me feel guilty. It was my own guilt, my own insecurity, that turned a simple observation into an argument.

And please hear me - I am not trying to shame you or blame you for feeling bad when someone judges you. I know that some people are just itching for a fight and go to great lengths to make others feel bad. I know there are bullies in the world who just want to hurt other people and more likely than not, we’ve all run across at least one.

I just think that mothers are easy targets because we are already constantly second-guessing ourselves. And that’s truly where I think the mommy wars come from. The worry that we are not enough for our children, and the guilt over not giving them our best. Even the bullies that have hurt you or told you you’re a terrible mother because of a choice you made - I would bet that they are feeling pretty lost and insecure themselves and just want reassurance that they are doing okay with their own kids.

But I’ve got some good news. It won’t sound like good news at first, but trust me; it’s good news.

We are not enough. And sometimes we won’t be our best. But we serve someone who is always enough and who only gives His best. It isn’t up to us to be perfect. God has promised us that though we will mess up, He will be there to guide us back on the right path.

That can be a scary thought. But it can also be a relieving one. It isn’t up to me to be the best mom on the planet. I don’t have to worry that because I made the wrong decision my child will be permanently unhappy. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it so amazing to know that the very creator of the universe is investing His time into our children, and that he is allowing us to be part of that?

Don’t get me wrong - I am not giving you permission to stop raising your kids. When little Timmy asks you for some breakfast, I am not suggesting that you stay in bed and tell him that God will be along to butter his toast in a few minutes. God has placed with us the task of raising our children and teaching them and loving them. But he didn’t just drop these kids off on our porches and run away. He is there with us, protecting us, redirecting us, showing us that though we are still sinners He still desires us.

When Hannah asked me to speak today, at first I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think I had much of a story to tell. But over the last few weeks God has shown me so much truth that has set me free. I still struggle. I am still tempted to keep a scorecard for my kids. But now that I know the reasons behind it, it’s not so scary to deal with. I am able to enjoy my family more and rest in God’s promise of redemption for me as a mother, daughter, sister, and so much more.

And now I can compare my kids in a much more wonderful way: I can look at their different personalities and gifts, not as a way to decide who is doing better, but as a way to celebrate their unique identities. My son Josh is a thinker, like his father. He never does anything without deliberate consideration and planning. But he likes to giggle. And he loves people. He would sell me online in a heartbeat if someone gave him a hug and a pop tart. He likes to pretend but he is too excited to keep it up for very long so any games of pretend usually dissolve into giggles pretty fast. He is my strong boy, a living example of the way God works all things together for good. My daughter Jenna, though only five months old, is already much more of a drama queen. She feels every emotion with all of the power her little body can muster. She is impulsive and moves from toy to toy, trying to gather all of them in her hand at once. She is slower to give a smile but once she does, it’s always worth the wait. She is my passionate girl, a living example of God’s faithfulness to His people.

Those are the comparisons I want to focus on. Those are the things I want to remember in twenty years when my kids are in school (or living in a refrigerator box) and I am reflecting on their lives. Those are the things I want them to remember when they have their own kids and struggle with wondering if they are doing a good job raising them.

I will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But I can sleep easier tonight knowing that our Heavenly Father makes no mistakes, and that He loves my kids even more than I do.