survivingmyboyz

tales from a stay-at-home mom of four boys

Archive for the tag “motherhood”

And then there were five

I’ve never claimed to be a smart woman and I’m definitely not a sane one, but my heart is bigger than the piles of laundry my kids leave behind for me each week. That’s why when the good lord presented us with the opportunity to expand our family I said yes before ever even asking my husband. I’m just lucky that my husband knows me and loves me anyway, because he fully supported my decision.

It all started a little more than three months ago. I was reading a book called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands (the words “endless demands” really seemed to sum up my life), when I received an email from a pastor at our church who was looking for some temporary housing for a teenaged boy who was going through the emancipation process. I have always wanted to take in older kids who are aging out or have aged out of foster care and have no family to go to for holidays or to share life celebrations with, but I didn’t expect to do it until my boys were a lot older or possibly out of the house. This opportunity spoke to me though and it was only temporary, so I saw it as God calling me to say yes and make a difference in someone’s life while trying out something I’d thought about doing. I figured we already had 4 boys, what was one more? So I emailed the pastor back and told him our not so ideal situation of too many kids and not enough room, but that we would be happy to help if no one else could. I didn’t really expect that this would work out and hadn’t had time to mention my offer to my husband when I heard back from the pastor the next day that they were happy to take me up on the offer. I was excited, but terrified that my husband would kill me when I told him. You know you’ve found your soul mate though when you tell them about some crazy scheme you’ve committed them to and they just look at you lovingly and say “Ok, I know this is something you’ve always wanted to do.” And with that we welcomed a teenager into our home.

Upon arrive at our home, the goals were to help our new teenager to become emancipated, get a job, and set him up with a place to live. The job thing and emancipation were surprisingly easy, but it isn’t easy to find a place for a 16 year old boy to rent and it become increasingly clear that the bigger problem was that this 16 year old boy wasn’t ready to live on his own. I think the idea of him living on his own really started to scare me when I had to stop him from eating fried chicken that he’d bought half a day earlier and had left out on the counter for multiple hours. I started to picture this boy in his own apartment dead on the floor from food poisoning.  I knew he needed more guidance. Aside from my concern over this boys safety and well being if left on his own, I started to enjoy having him around and really didn’t want him to leave. Behind closed doors, my husband and I would talk about how we really wanted to just keep him. So finally I just asked him if he was happy here and he said yes, so asked if he wanted to stay here and he said yes. I responded “good, you are one of us now.” 

That was more than three months ago and I don’t think any of us regrets the decision. He might not be legally or officially ours, but as far as we are concerned, he is our teenager. So now I have five boys and they continue to keep me as busy and happy as ever.

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Mom, her four boys, and the heinous, horrible, no good, very bad day

Of course there is poop on your shorts. Somehow, magically, there is poop on your shorts in my freshly cleaned bathroom, even though you are nearly 7 and haven’t had an accident of any sort in about 4 years. That’s just the kind of day I’m having. The kind of day where everything goes wrong from the moment you wake up. The kind of day in which you question why you had kids, let alone four of them. The kind of day you just want to be over, but everyone refuses to go to sleep despite being beyond tired. The kind of day you want to forget, but feel compelled to write about.

The heinousness of this day had been foreshadowing for at least two days prior to its arrival. That’s not to say that the two days leading up to it were anywhere near as heinous as today was, but it was definitely a “well, what did you expect?! You should have known this was going to happen!” kind of day. I had set my alarm earlish this morning, but it was a rare morning in which the kids didn’t actually both me for the hour leading up to my alarm and I was enjoying a blissful dream in which I had a totally different life, one way less stressful and kidcentric, one in which I actually got to make decisions for myself and eat warm meals. Apparently, immersed in this blissful dream, I’d managed to hit my snooze button not once, but twice, waking me 20 minutes later than I’d planned. I came downstairs to find the mess of toys I’d been yelling about needing to be picked up for two days now, still all over the floor. The boys were in different stages of undress and completely engrossed in a show that had more time left to it than we could sit in watch. They ignored me as I gave them the same two commands over and over while trying to get breakfast made for the four of them (despite the fact that two of them are perfectly capable of making their own). After about the 30th time of being ignored, I flipped the TV off and gave them the same two commands another 30 times. No one was listening and I felt like I was a ghost in the room that they couldn’t see or hear. I had a 10:30 class at the gym this morning and I’d missed every class I tried to get to so far this week because of the kids and last week we were on vacation, so I missed the gym completely, I wasn’t going to miss class today even if I had to leave to kids home to fend for themselves (okay, fine, I couldn’t do that, I’m pretty sure it isn’t legal).  We had about 30 minutes to get those who weren’t dressed yet dressed, brush everyone’s teeth, get the toys picked up enough for the cleaners to come today (yes I have cleaners, I couldn’t possibly keep up with the disastrous mess my four boys make all on my own. Don’t judge!), get four kids and myself fed, load the car for the day, and get out the door. This would be doable if my kids didn’t sabotage my efforts at every turn. There was the kid who didn’t like the breakfast he asked for and wanted something new, that same kid also peed on his shirt while going to the bathroom (personally I’ve never had that problem, but somehow it happened) ,the kid who kept returning to the trampoline to bounce after each toy he picked up, the kid who couldn’t tie his shoes, but wouldn’t wear his flip flops, and the kid who spilled his bag of Kix all over the carpet in front of the door just as I was about to walk out it.

Fortunately, we made it to the gym and I managed to get everyone into day care so that I was only 2 minutes late for class and there was still room in the corner for me to squeeze into class. I thought maybe this meant that my day was going to turn around, but boy was I wrong. After the gym, we had some time to kill before it was our time to swim at the pool. I needed to get the boys lunch, which you’d think would be a nice thing that they’d appreciate, but instead they just whined and complained because two of them wanted Panda Express and two of them wanted Taco Time. I took them to a local sandwich shop I’d been wanting to try. They all whined and complained that they wanted brownies and cookies and chocolate milk. Then the oldest messed with everything he could get his hands on to make a mess while my youngest darted for the open door and attempted to kill himself in the parking lot. We sat outside to eat where it was “too sunny,” “too windy,” and “too cold.” My youngest tried to kill himself in the parking lot again while the older ones chased him and encouraged him to run to his death. There were also food issues, crow issues, and sticky issues. I should’ve just loaded them in the van and taken them home right then, but no, I was determined to make this a better day.

So, stupid me, I took them back to the gym after lunch to get bands so we could swim. I’ve been promising to take them swimming at the gym for two months and we hadn’t gone yet, so today as going to be the day. We had a half hour to kill, so I brought mad libs to do with the boys, only I didn’t have a sharpened pencil with me. So the boys entertained themselves by running around like idiots, climbing on things, and the youngest tried to go up the stairs every time I looked away. When it was finally our time to swim, I told everyone to go to the bathroom before going to the pool. My four year old refused because he had gone after lunch. My two year old attempted to flush himself down the handicap toilet after escaping under the door of the stall I was in. I took the two older boys to do their deep water test so they could go down the water slide and play in the more fun section of the pool. Unfortunately, they wanted to boys to swim a lot further than their swim instructor had made them, so they couldn’t pass the test. I was then informed that you are only allowed to have two kids per adult that are “non-swimmers” and since my older two boys couldn’t pass the test, they really weren’t supposed to let us in the pool (despite the fact that both older boys could touch in all parts of the pool and were going to be required to wear life jackets too – I think it is a racket to get people to sign up for more swim lessons). I must have given her a “you’ve got to be shitting me!” look, so she allowed us to do it just this once, but we had to stay in the toddler section of the pool. Well that went over like a ton of bricks with my older boys who have been eyeing the water slide for two months now. I was instructed to stay within arms-reach of all four boys at all times while in the pool. Let me tell you how easy that wasn’t, especially since I only have two arms. It didn’t help that we had just returned from vacation where the two older boys swam all around the pool at the hotel and went down the waterslide without me needing for be arms-length away. Even my four year old was swimming all around the pool with his life jacket by the end of the trip. So these restrictions naturally lead my oldest to melt down and cry, partly out of frustration and partly out of embarrassment that they didn’t think he was as good a swimmer as we knew him to be (I’m sure he felt disappointed after working so hard at his swim lessons the beginning of the summer too). While he melted down, my two year old decided that he wanted to jump in unassisted, and my four year old decided that he suddenly needed to poop…NOW! I had to get all four boys out of the pool, but couldn’t convince the two older ones to come into the bathroom with me so I told them to wait outside the bathroom and not to go near the water. Of course, none of this was quick enough and my four year old and he crapped himself just before I could get him on the toilet. Luckily, my boys have a fear of wearing swim suits without underwear, so all the crap landed in his underwear, not his bathing suit, so I just threw them out. As I dealt with that crappy situation, my two year old decided that it would be fun to play with the soap dispenser in the bathroom and get it all over himself and wouldn’t stay away from it no matter how many times I pulled him away or yelled at him. When we were finished in the bathroom, I came out to find that my older two hadn’t changed their usual behavior of not listening to me and were in the pool. That was it for me! I told my younger two that they had three minutes and then were out of there, vowing to never bring them back. My oldest ran off to the locker room without his dry clothes, so I had to herd him back out and the three others into a private changing room so I could get them all showered off and changed. That was a fun experience, said no mother ever.

We left the gym all unhappy and angry. I looked at the clock and realized that we still had an hour and a half until the farmer’s market opened and it was too late in the day to drive home without kids falling asleep. I also felt bad that the pool had been such a disaster, so, still determined to turn this day around, I decided to take my kids over to the library for a bit because, you know, that’s where you take four, rowdy, pissed off, tired boys. That went over better than I expected. My oldest was actually good and took a real interest in researching computers and technology, take many books out on the subject. My six year old also found some good books and practiced his reading. I only had to yell at my four year old a handful of times not to run or scream in the library and my two year old only had two or three full on screaming melt downs.

Thinking this might be a turning point, I took the boys to the park for a bit before the farmer’s market opened. I was feeling renewed hope by the time we walked up to the market. “This is it! We are finally going to have the nice day I’ve been striving for all day. We’ll get food, have fun, make good memories that will overshadow the rest of the day, and then head home for an early bedtime.” I mistakenly thought. It quickly became apparent though that these kids desperately needed food because they had only pretend eaten at lunch. So as I waited in line for quesadillas for some of the kids and then walked my six year old to every food stand trying to convince him to pick something, my other kids dug ice cubes out of the drink coolers at the food stands and threw them at people. Once my six year old finally decided to get dumplings (which were only supposed to take 5 minutes, but took 20 to cook), I got my kids seated to eat their quesadillas, only now they all wanted dumplings. As I went back and forth to the various food stands we had bought our food at, picking up the food, my kids sat quietly in the grass. No, that didn’t happen at all. What happened was, they chased each other, threw shoes at each other, and eventually my four year old threw a container of soy sauce at my six year old and got it all in his eye. I’m sure the people who were sitting not so close to us were all thinking that my kids had just escaped from some wild zoo exhibit. My oldest, who ate most of his own quesadilla, then circled the six year old like a vulture once he finally got his dumplings. The cries for dumplings from those who got quesadillas began again, so I ordered more dumplings for them to split. When they were finally finished eating, they all acted surprised and indignant that I wouldn’t let them get some Hawaiian shaved ice, like their shoe and soy sauce throwing behavior shouldn’t be held against them.  Despite everything, I still braved more of the farmer’s market with the goal of being there late enough that it would be okay for the littler ones to fall asleep on the care ride home. So we wandered the venders while the kids touched things they weren’t supposed to, ran off on me, whined more, fought over popcorn (yes I bought more food), and were just generally exhausting and irritating. I knew it was time to go when the two year old melted down for the 97th time that day. We made one last stop at the bathroom, which I had to force my four year old into and good thing too because he clearly needed to pee, braved the gauntlet of the parking lot, and made it to the car. The kids were given strict instructions that it would be a quiet ride home. Knowing I had them all at least temporarily contained, I took the long way hope and silently prayed that at least two would fall asleep and stay asleep once we got home.

Two kids did fall asleep before we got home, but fate was not kind enough to me to allow them to stay asleep for me so we could have an easy bedtime.  Instead, my six year old began talking loudly the minute we got hope and then the UPS truck made a loud noise as it put out a ramp to deliver several packages to a neighbor. I finally managed to get the youngest back to sleep and sneak out of the room so I could deal with the other three, but by then, the other child who was sleeping was awake and hungry. Then the other boys were hungry too despite eating their weight in food from the different food stands at the market! It was as I doled out snacks to those awake that I heard the six year old call me from the bathroom to inform me of the mysterious poop smear on his shorts. At that point I about completely lost it, but I held it together just long enough to herd the boys upstairs and hear the youngest wake up.  Perfect, just perfect!

Let’s try this again

Okay, so it has been awhile since I’ve posted and I’ve  totaly slacked off, but raising four boys takes a lot of time and effort and the few hours a day that I’m not doing that, I’m usually sleeping (or trying to). A few months ago, my husband gave me a Surface with a little key board and everything and I thought ” I’m totally going to get back to writing my blog and crank it out with this awesome keyboard!” Except, the Surface doesn’t come with the most important thing I needed, child care. So I wasn’t too successful at getting going on my blog again. I’ve missed writing dearly, just like my sanity, so I decided that, since I can’t do anything to get my sanity back, I’m going to try to get back one of the few hobbies I have and love. I’ve made a New Years resolution (for lack of a better term that doesn’t doom me to failure), I’m going to write at least one blog entry every month (baby steps, I want to succeed after all) and I’m starting with this one.

I figured I should reintroduce myself and update my situation. Hi, I’m Survivingmyboyz (barely). I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband who often widows me for long hours at his big name tech company, our 4 rambunctious boys who are aged 8, 6, 4, and almost 2, and a dog who enjoys eating garbage far more than seems health for any animal other than a goat. I live this way because sanity is over rated.

My youngest was born 9 weeks early and spent 77 days in the NICU, followed by other issues that are all resolved now. He started causing trouble before he was born and hasn’t slowed down since. His main goal in life right now is to fuck up as much shit as he can before bedtime and he is definitely suceeding at that goal.

My four year old has finally successfully potty trained without daily accidents as of last month. I’m so happy. It only took him a year and a half to finally get it, but he no longer stands in front of the toilet and craps his pants as I’m handling raw chicken in attempts to get dinner in the oven. Now if only he would work on his aim, I’m sure my floors, walls, and everything else in the general area of the toilet would appreciate it. Baby steps right?

My six year old is in kindergarten and I’m super proud of how hard he is working and how well he is doing in school. He’s such a sweet, wonderful kid, that I might actually agree to his requests to marry him when he is older. Of course, that is dependent on whether or not he is still most proud of being the best farter  and most gassiest because I kind of feel like a husband should have loftier goals that aren’t related to his farting abilities.

My oldest son is a good kid, but a handful. He is the kid of kid that teachers enjoy when they aren’t in their classroom. If I’d known what we were in for with him, he’d probably have been an only child. However, by the time his true colors shined through, we were already into the making of a third kid, so I just doubled down and went for four. Makes sense right? He was diagnosed with SPD (sensory processing disorder) last summer, so we are learning what the means and how to deal with his issues. It is exhausting dealing with it, but I love him (and not just because I have to).

I spend most of my life running kids where they need to be and arriving late, picking up dirty socks to wash but never pair and put away, making meals that no one will eat, cleaning things that immediately become dirty again, losing my mind in constant chaos, and really enjoy it all (ok, not all, but most of it). 

I guess what I’m saying is, this is why I haven’t written in awhile. But here I am, totally confident that, despite life not getting any easier or slowing down, I’m totally going to be better about writing my blog. I mean, I guess I could always just stay up at night to do my writing like I am now. Besides, five hours of sleep a night was starting feel like too much and I’m sure that just like sanity, sleep is overrated.

a year of health

 

a year ago (2014)

 
A year ago today, I stood in the Children’s Hospital waiting room, a ball of tension and anxiety, and I cried. I cried tears I’d need to cry for months. These weren’t tears of saddeness though, these were tears of joy, and more importantly, relief. We’d had a rough six months. Despite the sun being on the horizon multiple times, it’s rays never seemed to reach us, but that day, the sun finally shone on my family and my sweet littlest boy.

As I stood in that hospital waiting room, preparing for the worst, I heard the doctor speak the words none of us thought we would hear, “it is just a cyst.” And like that, the sun came out, a miracle was grant, and my baby was spared the horrendous picture of his likely future that the doctors had painted. He was healed. It was a night and day difference, like we’d brought in our broken little baby and they had just handed us a brand new healthy one. The docors and nurses couldn’t even believe that it was the same child. Even harder than comprehending the change from the baby who entered to hospital to the baby who left it is comprehending who this child is today compared with a year ago. On occasion, I look back at pictures and videos of my son from the first five months of his life. It is very hard to look at those pictures, but the videos are even worse. I remember his breathing being loud and him struggling with it, but I guess I had forgotten just how bad it was. These videos remind me of just how far he has come and just how lucky I am that he is now healthy. 

This past year has been a year of health for my littlest guy; a year to celebrate. A year ago today he got the all clear from the doctors. Within hours we said goodbye to the feeding tube permanently and he was sucking down bottles faster than I could pump them. It must have been just as amazing to him that he could finally breathe and because of that, he could finally eat and enjoy it. Within a week, he was taking almost all of his milk directly from the breast and within two weeks he had gained almost an entire pound. A month later we got rid of his sleeping wedge and all the equipment for feeding. We began to live normal lives. My littlest guy found his voice (a very loud one), he began eating solid foods, and he had more energy from all the food so he was able to become mobile. Soon he was cruising around the house and into everything he could reach. He was walking just after his first birthday, which he celebrated by eating a giant chunk of cake. Sure there were still reminders of all he’d gone through. There were follow up appointments and multiple shots to prevent RSV, but aside from a nasty stomach bug that hit the whole family, an ear infection, and visit to the ER for a (luckily not broken) finger slammed in the front door, he was healthy and growing. 

Today, my littlest guy still isn’t on the charts for weight, but he certainly eats his fair share. He loves peanutbutter crackers and granola bars and helps himself to them whenever he finds the pantry door left open.  He begrudgingly drinks his milk from a sippy cup, but prefers a lid-free big-kid cup. The same attitude applies to eating in a high-chair versus a normal chair, even more preferred though is to sit directly on the kitchen table, which is where I often find him. If we would let him, he would happily climb up onto the counter or into the sink after eating to clean his own dishes or even assist us in pressing the buttons on the oven to help us prepare the food. He has just changed and grown so much in the past year that it is unbelievable to think that he was that frail, sick little baby a year ago. It is amazing how much of a difference a year of health can make!
 

today (2015)

 

I’m sorry, do I know you?

Have you ever been to a store and pretended that you didn’t know your own kids? That was me today at Costco.

I almost got away with a trip to Costco with just the baby, but I pushed my luck, hoping for a little extra time with my oldest, and convinced him to come. At the last minute my second oldest decided that he would come too. I hadn’t exactly asked him, but I didn’t want him to feel like we were excluding him. I really just wanted to take less kids with me, but I guess technically three out of four kids is less kids. Plus, I thought it might be a good chance for the older two boys to bond more since they will both be going to school together next year. Unfortunately, they bonded in a way I hadn’t really expected.

We started the trip with all three boys in the cart, which I knew wouldn’t last long. I was lucky enough to keep the baby entertained enough to keep him from whining until checkout by giving him a frozen yogurt to make a mess with. The other two, however, found their own form of entertainment and took off running by the time we were past the snack aisles at the front of the store. They devised several games over the course of the trip which included a racing game, chasing game, fighting with bananas and cucumbers game, a rolling on the floor wrestling game, and a punching game. I’m sure there were a few others I didn’t pick up on because once they got to the chasing game I began to pretend I didn’t know them. 

We entered the cold produce area and I began make my way around the square area of vegetables when I heard a mom yell at her child with the dreaded triple name call and scold her for attempting to play chase around and around with my boys who we in full on rambunctious, but not destructive mode. I heard her explain to her child that she was absolutely not allowed to act in such a manner as she looked around for the terrible mother that was doing such a horrible job of being responsible for these out of control children.  I just looked at her, looked at my two boys, and then looked back at my mess, but well behaved baby and pretended like he was the only child I had. I was careful to not yell at the boys until she was well out of earshot so as not to blow my cover. From that point on, I continued to walk through Costco pretending I didn’t know my own children unless one of them was about to run into someone, break something, or they exposed me by addressing me directly.

I really didn’t think I’d spend an afternoon in the same location as my kids pretending I didn’t know them until the were at least Tweens or teenagers and begged me not to acknowledge them so they wouldn’t die of embarrassment. I’m thinking that when the tables are turned, a few years from now, maybe their father and I should run around like idiots as pay back.

Our first Mother’s Day together

Dear Mom with a baby (or babies) in the NICU,

Today is the day in which mothers are doted on by their families. Mom are thanked and loved the way they probably should be everyday. The day is filled with hugs and kisses, cuddles and laughs, hand-made cards and jewelry, flowers and meals cooked by someone else. This is the day moms finally get to relax and enjoy watching their kids be kids, knowing that Dad is on clean up duty. At least that is how today should go, but for you, that is not the case. 

Your day probably looked more like this. You sat in a quiet, sterol room listening to the beeps, buzzs, and whoshes of machines. If you are lucky and your baby is doing well, you got to change a tiny diaper, take baby’s temperature, and enjoy some kangaroo-care with your little one. Maybe today you only got to place a gentle hand through a portal in the isolet for a small amount of time to touch your precious baby and let them know you are there. Maybe today wasn’t even that good of a day and you simply had to watch from outside of the isolet as your tiny little one, attached to a million wires, lay under the blue bili light. Or maybe your day wasn’t  like that at all because, though this might be your first Mother’s Day with your NICU baby, it is not your first Mother’s Day, so you made the painful choice to say home from the hospital today in an attempt to get some much needed rest and spend some time with your other kids. Despite your best intentions, you spent most of the distracted by your guilt over missing a day at the hospital. That choice may have been a hard one, but it was not a selfish one, I know, I made that tough choice last year and spent the whole feeling bad about it, but I’m glad I did.

However you spent this Mother’s Day and whatever mixed emotions you are feeling about this day, just know that you are not alone. Unfortunately, there are many Mamas in the NICU Moms club, the club that no one asks to be in. No two situations are completely the same, but a lot of the experiences and feelings are shared with other members in this club. I was a member last year and it was pure agony, but I wouldn’t change it because it made me stronger and more appreciative. I made it through and so did my little boy. You will also make it through and I pray that your little one(s) will too. Whatever your outcome, on the other side of it, you will find some sense of meaning and peace, though it may take a while.

Today I spent my first Mother’s Day with my littlest guy, after choosing not to spend my Mother’s Day with him last year. The fact that this was my first Mother’s Day with him was not lost on me. I reflexed back on where we were a year ago and what we went through to get to today. Our story last year made our time together today that much sweeter. Sure I was adorned by some of the finest pins and jewelry preschoolers can make, a spectacular breakfast, and I card that I know was a labor of love for my seven year old to write, and I loved it all, but the best present I received today was just the fact that my baby was here with me and I was able to bask in his beautiful smile all day long.

So to you mom’s with little ones in the NICU right now, my message to you this Mother’s Day is this: you aren’t alone no matter how lonely you feel right now. Things are hard, but they will eventually  get easier. Take a little time for yourself every once in a while so you are fresh and present for your baby. And enjoy  any little moments you can get with your precious one. My Mother’s Day wish for you today is, that next year your Mother’s Day will be as wonderful and filled with joy as mine was today.

  

Portrait of a Mom

 I call this “Portrait of a Mom on Mother’s Day”. (Note the kid-made accessories and binkie.) 

Happy first birthday: letting go of the NICU

It is St. Patrick’s day and I am sitting here, listening to Celtic lullabies, holding my littlest guy, decked out in his St. Patty’s day onesie, rocking him to sleep, and I am reminded of where I was a year ago today. One year ago, I was sitting in the NICU, holding my littlest guy, kangaroo-care style, and rocking his tiny body, too small for clothes, only a hat with a shamrock sticker on it to show it was St. Patrick’s day. Tonight I am rocking my littlest guy for the thousandth time, but a year ago, I rocked him for one of the first times, after waiting several days to finally be able to hold him.

Less than two weeks ago we celebrated a big milestone for my littlest guy, his first birthday. I was prepared for it to be a bittersweet day, a day of mixed emotions, but it wasn’t. The past week and a half since then has been the emotional part for me.

We had just a small celebration with our three other kids and my parents, which seemed fitting since they were the ones who were really there for us through last year’s ordeal and the ones that really sacrificed for my growing family. My wonderful mother was a Godsend when everything happened so I was glad that she decided to come out to celebrate our accomplishment of making it through that first year. There was no party and very little pomp and circumstance that day. I made a homemade vanilla cake with blueberry filling and blueberry butter cream frosting. I was obsessive about making it as perfect as I could and poured a lot of attention into the cake making processes. It is only now that I realize this obesession with the cake was a way of keeping my mind off where we were a year earlier. I felt like it was some how vital that his cake be perfect, even though he wouldn’t know otherwise, nor would he remember it later in life. He received a few gifts that day, but the main event of the day was a return to the NICU with gifts. I was insistent that it be done on his birthday because I felt the need for some sort of closure. I brought  one and a half dozen cupcakes, the same flavor as his cake, for all the NICU nurses working the different shifts that day. I had also organized and assembled,  with the help of one of my moms groups, care baskets for the parents in the NICU. During my small amount of spare time, during the months leading up to his birthday, I crocheted a dozen Easter bunny hats, like the one I’d made my littlest guy while he was in the NICU.  On his birthday, I delivered all these things back to the place where he had spent the first 77 days of his life. I thought for sure that I’d break down upon entering the NICU again, but it didn’t happen. I got a little teary eyed, especially when I saw one of his first nurses, who cared for him the most during his stay there. Other than that, I didn’t feel the need to escape quickly before I was overcome by emotion. In fact, I didn’t really feel that way at all that day. The days after his birthday, however, were another story.

People talk about having PTSD after time in the NICU and it is very much real. I know I never totally dealt with all of what was going on at the time and instead I pushed things down inside or tried  to brush them off because I didn’t have the time or strength to deal with them. I kind of assumed that it had all gone away with time, but that wasn’t  the case. A lot of these emotions and thoughts are starting to resurface now that we have made it through the first year. My husband keeps telling me not to be sad because our baby is healthy now, but it isn’t about that. I’ve found myself in a not too wonderful place mentally and emotionally the last few days. Some of this is partially due to how other people in my life dealt with (or didn’t deal with) this important milestone in my son’s life, but part of it is just the experience itself and the finality of the fact that this is my last baby and I didnt even carry him to term, hold him when he was born, or get to take him home and enjoy him until he was several months old, and even then there were still several more months of problems before I could let go and just be a a regular mom. On a recent trip to Target, I found myself close to tears while browsing the baby clothes aisle when I came across a pair of tiny little mittens that were identical to the ones they attempted to keep on my son while he was in the NICU. I started to think about him in the NICU with those tiny mittens that were still too big for his even tinier hands, then I began to think of how we will never again own tiny mittens like those because he is our last baby.  I’m sad because I feel like I want to have more babies, but not really, I  just want my time with him back to do again, but this time to do the way I had envisioned it. 

I want a chance to finish my pregnancy, know it is time to deliver him, and for both of us to be ready to meet on the outside world. I want a chance to hold my baby in those first hours, breathe in his wonderful baby smell, and rest with him in my arms after such a big day. I want to chance to buy those outfits that say “baby’s first” St. Patrick’s Day and Easter that I never got to because he was too small to wear them and because he really should have been celebrating these holidays for the first time right now. I want the chance to be a new mom who celebrates and shows off her new baby instead of one who hides away in the sterol world of the NICU, afraid to be happy because my baby might not come home.  I want to let go of and not know the anger I feel over people in my life not understanding or caring about the heaviness that comes with having a baby in the NICU or how monumental that first birthday is after surviving such a year. But most of all, I want to finally come to terms with and feel peace with how my last son came into this world and what he went through during his first year of life, because like my husband constantly reminds me, he is healthy now and that is what is important.

Despite  all these emotions and all the difficulties of my son’s first year, I know that I really wouldn’t change  it. My littlest guy’s first year made my family stronger, more appreciative, and showed us who really loved us enough to be there for us. His first year made my littlest guy stronger too and gave us a glimpse of who he is; a determined, stubborn, fighter, who is small but mighty. I guess that means that I just need to except these mixed emotions, allow myself to feel them, and move past them. Our experience in the NICU will always be a part of us, but it shouldn’t continue to hurt us. I am sure by the time we reach this time next year, our time in the NICU will feel like a life time ago, as I watch my littlest guy run around with his brothers, laughing and yelling, the picture of a healthy two year old.

A return to the NICU

The other day I decided to bring cookies to the nurses working in labor and delivery and the NICU for Valentines day. I hadn’t initially planned to do this and wasn’t expecting to go back there until next month when I plan to drop off a service project to celebrate my son’s first birthday. Still, I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, the NICU is a secure ward, so I’d just call call in, someone would come to the door to get the cookies, and I’d leave; no big deal. I was wrong. It was a little bigger of a deal than I had planned on and prepared for.

I’d been back to the hospital exactly once since my son let the NICU and it took a lot of mental preparation to go that once. He was six months and healthy by then, just awaiting a second look to confirm there was no regrowth of his cyst. Driving into the parking garage made me feel claustrophobic, but other than the parking garage, I didn’t go into any other part of the hospital that was connected with memories. It wasn’t long after that that I stopped feeling tense anytime I drove in the direction of the hospital. I still got occasional pangs of painful memories if a certain song came on the radio and the weather was just so as I drove near the hospital, but other than that, I was pretty ok. Yesterday, however, I made an actual return to the second floor and the place where my son spent the first 77 days of his life.

When I called into the NICU, I really didn’t expect for them to buzz me back, but they did. The second those double doors swung open with a whoosh, that sickening-sweet sterol smell hit me, and I felt like I was floating in a dream. The first thing I caught sight of was my son’s original room, which now was occupied by some other little boy, with his name plate displayed on the door. I resanitized my hands upon entering and proceeded around the corner to the nurses’ station. One of the nurses who was usually at the desk was sitting there and immediately recognized me. I presented them with the cookies and focused on my task at hand. When I was done, the nurse who remembered me asked about my littlest guy. I began to tell her how great he was, but the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the NICU, coupled with discussing my baby became too much for me. My eyes began to fill with tears and I had to quickly take leave, explaining that it was just too much to be there, but promised to come back with pictures next mother. I walked so quickly to the door that I forgot to hit the security button to let me out and I got stuck as the door made a little sound. I apologized, joking that I was out of practice, and made my quick escape. The tears came as I entered the stairwell. I was desperate to exit the building and get back to the car where my baby was. All I wanted to do was pull my baby from his car seat and kiss and hug him, thankful that he was no longer living on that second floor behind those secure double doors. Unfortunately, when I returned to the car, my littlest guy was sleeping so soundly in his seat, I didn’t dare touch him and wake him, so I had to settle for a quick glimpse of him before jumping in the car and heading out. It took me a few minutes to recover and I even began to tear up again as I told my husband about the experience.

This spur of the moment trip was too much for me right now, but I’m hope to be better prepared in a few weeks when I return for the one year anniversary of my son’s arrival and stay at the NICU. I’m not really sure how I will mentally prepare for this visit or how I will even deal with what would normally be a happy time for most families. It feels so bitter sweet to celebrate his first birthday next month. I’m so thankful for my son and the fact that he is now healthy, but I fear there are still a lot of emotions I never truly let myself feel and this might be the opportunity they take to escape. I’ve already felt great hesitation and sorrow at the idea of the anniversary of my two week bed rest approaching, so I know those feeling are beginning to stir inside me. I’m just hoping I can feel more joy rather than guilt and sadness on my son’s first birthday. I will just have to try to continue to focus on the present and future and my son’s beautiful smile to get me beyond the past and all we went through.

Just a typical morning of fights, chaos, and vermin

This morning was one of those not so typical mornings that seems to be typical in a household with four kids. It was filled with the chaos of wrangling four children, the fights to get them ready and out the door, and of course, the less typical, vermin.
Our morning started off far too early in the purple darkness of a winter morning creeping closer to spring. The sun no longer waits until we are almost out the door to come up, but it is still kind enough not to rise and wake our children during a time that should still be night (I.e. Anytime before 5am). No one had slept well, as usual, especially myself who was up at two separate intervals with a fussy, gassy, teething baby for more than an hour each time. I was also lucky enough to have enjoyed the double whammy of a toddler in my bed who has a habit of waking up screaming for water several times a night. My memory is foggy, but I’m pretty sure it was my seven year old who woke us, as he does most mornings, by loudly and clumsily stumbling into my room in search of an iPad. The toddler was now awake, so I sent him to wake is dad who was asleep where the toddler should have been, in bed with the five year old. Instead of my husband, a three year old and five year old came back into my room. I got up and woke my husband from his few minutes of restful slumber after a night of listening to the five year old cough in bed next to him. The baby hand off took place and everyone’s day began except for mine as I crawled back into bed for a few minutes of sleep without two children clinging to me.
The next thing I knew, I was being awoken by my seven year old crying that he was hungry as if he’d never been served breakfast.
It is entirely possible that in my husband’s exhausted state he had forgotten to give my son a proper breakfast before school, but that wasn’t the case. Apparently my son had eaten a breakfast sandwich, finished it, played games and the iPad for a bit, and the second my husband told him to go upstairs to brush his teeth, my 7 year old complained that he was still hungry. My husband asked what my son wanted to eat, to which he asked “what do we have?” My husband listed off about ten different things he could eat, but my son seemed uninterested in any and just processed to whine the two alternating phrases of “I’m hungry! ” and “what do we have?” This seems to have become a common place occurrence these days since my 7 year old seems absolutely uninterested in any food offered to him, even his usual favorites, but insists he is hungry (someone please tell me that they have had this problem before and have a solution for me). Eventually my husband had enough and marched my son out the door but couldn’t get him to walk to the bus stop. This is when the real chaos of a typical morning ensues as we race against the clock to get everyone to their separate prospective schools on time ( three different buildings, two different locations, all starting at 9:00am).
My oldest clearly wasn’t going to make the bus this morning, so I brought him back inside, fed him and myself some oatmeal, gave the baby a quick snack then marched everyone upstairs to finish dressing and brush teeth as my husband finished getting ready for work. A plan was hatched, between fights with each child to get upstairs and brush, that I was to take the baby and drop my oldest at school while my husband took the middle two to their school. We needed to be quick so everyone could get to school on time and my husband and I could make it to our appointments on time. The middle two went downstairs (one dragged in my husband’s arms) to get shoes and go off to school. As I finished dressing, I could hear small voices outside long after my husband should have left. I assumed it was the neighbor kids, but found I was wrong when I finally got my youngest, oldest, and myself downstairs at two minutes until 9:00. My middle two were both standing outside my husband’s car as my husband rummages through his it. “What’s going on? Why haven’t you left yet?!” I asked. The response, “there’s a mouse in Dad’s car!” This is the point where our typical morning chaos turns into not so typical chaos. My husband was in the midst of moving offices and had some of his office stuff in his car and apparently a mouse had crawled in with his stuff and taken a ride home with him last night. The mouse made himself at home over the course of the night, chewing up papers and pooping in the cup holders. My husband gave up searching for the mouse and left to take the kids to school. I told the kids to be sure to tell their teachers why they were late, I figured they’d probably never heard the “sorry, I’m late, but there was a mouse in my dad’s car” excuse before.
I still had to take my oldest to school in the next town, so we headed out. I tried talking to my son to try and make his morning a little less miserable than it had started out, but he had no interest in talking and just stared out the window despite my best mouse in the car jokes. When we reached school, I’d planned to just park out front, leave the baby In the car since it was pouring and quickly sign him in so I could run back to the car before the baby even realized the car had stopped. Of course, as I stood at the passenger door in the pouring rain, trying to gather my son’s things and get him out, my son had different plans. Now he had decided that he was tired and didn’t want to go to school. The clock was quickly approaching 9:30 and I had to be somewhere by 10:00. I was sleep deprived, hadn’t had enough coffee, and was standing in the pouring rain; I didn’t have the time or patience for this. Despite my best efforts to encourage, pep talk, and sympathize with my son, he wasn’t moving, so ultimately I had to threaten loss of video games to get him out (this is my go to move when nothing else works, but I hate that it has to come to that point). Finally my son got out of the car and dragged his “tired” body to the front door complaining that he was going to be grumpy all day. I told him to join the club, signed him in, and kissed him goodbye.
I felt bad and worried most of the day about my oldest’s morning and hoped his day wasn’t too bad, but I’m pretty sure he had forgotten all about it the moment he entered his classroom because when I met him at the bus in the afternoon, he came bounding out with all the energy of a typical first grader and full of smiles. My husband and I made it to over appointments with just minutes to spare, though I’m not sure either of us had our whits completely about us or enough coffee to function well. My middle two were about 20-25 minutes late to school, which is less than three hours long to begin with. As for the mouse, he has not been caught, nor have we seen anymore evidence of him residing in my husbands car. We can only hope that he found his way out of the car and has made a lovely new home for himself over at my husband’s new office.
Like I said, this morning was just another typical morning in our household. The thing about having four kids is, something strange and untypical is always happening as part of that typical day, like a mouse in the car, but the chaos is part of what makes a big family so fun.

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