Four years ago today, we finally brought our son home. Today, I was telling Das Big Boy about the significance of the day. “It’s like your birthday in a way,” I told him, “only different.” (I didn’t want him to start grubbing for presents). He still conflates the NICU with the time they were hospitalized for RSV and he got to really watch TV for the first time. But I think my message of, “I’m so happy you’re my son, and I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m so proud of you” got through.
So here we are, my readers. We’ve reached the finish line. Although another thing the NICU taught me is that there are no finish lines (or maybe that there’s only one, and we want to get there s-l-o-w-l-y). So I won’t be signing off, but you won’t have to read my words each night whether I have something to say or not. I’ll be a bit more curatorial with my thoughts.
A beloved family friend wanted to know what I loved and hated about this passion project, this nightly assignment that I’ve given myself.
We’ll start with the negative so I can finish on a high note. I’ve hated having to write when I felt like I didn’t have anything to say, like I was boring us all. I often tell my stories here, then feel awkward when I see friends and start to tell them stuff in person. Have they already heard/read this? Am I being obnoxious by wondering if they’ve already read it? And although the blog hasn’t taken time away from my kids, it has taken time away from Herr Husband. And books. So I’ll be glad to have time for them again.
But there’s so much more love than hate. Two main things: People make a lot of how we whitewash our lives when we put them on the Internet. That it makes life look like one long series of vacations, cheerful siblings, and creative craft projects. That it’s not real. I don’t think I’m guilty of that per se, but I do often put a happy or humorous spin on things, and I’ve been guilty of not sharing a few tough things because they were too painful or personal. But what’s wonderful about a little bit of tweaking. I get to see the good in my life, and appreciate it. And that makes the hard stuff seem smaller. It’s very real, but it’s me seeing the best of my reality. Perspective again. Writing has granted it to me these past 114 days.
And most of all, I’ve loved you. My readers. My commenters. My likers. The family members, college friends, high school friends, family friends, childhood friends, grad school friends, NICU friends, teaching friends, mom friends, random friends, former student friends, travel friends, blog friends and even strangers who’ve connected to me through this experience. You’ve made me feel heard. You’ve supported me and made me laugh and even connected to each other. You’ve given me a warm and comfortable home. And that’s what it’s all about.
This isn’t goodbye. Apologies for that! But the Huxtables are coming this weekend, and this time you won’t be subjected to any one-a.m.-crap-I-forgot-to-blog posts. But you will be hearing from me.
Thank you for reading. And for everything. Happy home day, Das Big Boy. And all of you. Thank you for making me feel so at home.
Hello, Dear Readers,
It’s end-of-project eve. Four years ago, Herr Husband and I took Das Big Boy into the Launch Pad, a non-medical room in the NICU–basically like a hotel room–into which parents can take their babies to practice having them at home. The medical staff are there if you summon them, but leave you alone otherwise. Now keep in mind, Das Big Boy was on oxygen when we took him home (and would be for another eight months during the day and almost a year at night), and had a naso-gastric feeding tube (a tube that ran from his nose to his stomach into which we put breast milk) that Herr Husband and I learned to insert OURSELVES (for weekly changes). Everyone, and I mean everyone, we speak to thinks this last part is insane: friends who are nurses, friends who are lay people, Das Big Boy’s doctors, everyone.
That night, I barely slept. Das Big Boy (all 8 lbs 2 oz of him) didn’t sleep great either. The first thing we did was put him down on the bed, lie down with him, and marvel. Keep in mind he had never been on a bed before. He had never left his pod in the NICU, except for a horrifying (and unnecessary) VCUG, where they shot dye into his urethra to check for kidney reflux that he didn’t have. We had held him in rocking chairs next to his crib, and he’d been in a swing or a bouncer near his crib (we brought in a huge selection of stuff to keep him entertained once he aged into real time (past his due date)). But he’d never been anywhere else. Laying him on that fake hotel room bed and lying down with him felt like a revelation: he was ours.
It was like Christmas eve, and the night before the first day of college, and the night before my wedding all in one. I had that bubble-blooded feeling of gleeful, terrifying anticipation. We were still trying to figure out if we could make nursing work at all (ultimately, I felt so pressured to get calories into him that I gave up. I sort of blame medical pressure to fatten him, but also my own anxiety. Don’t worry. I pumped for 19 months.) So we tried some of that. We fed him some bottles and gavaged him some tube feedings. We held him and sang to him and walked around with him (something else we’d never done before, and something I wouldn’t do with an untethered infant until Little Liebchen. I used to startle at other people’s range with their unplugged babies). At around five am, I gave him a bath while Herr Husband slept, to be sure I could handle it. We managed. We began to feel natural. A bit more like a family. He was ours.
One of my readers, Andrea at An Early Start, a micropreemie mama and awesome storyteller, asked me what my biggest surprise since leaving the NICU has been. Like so many of the monumental things in our lives, there’s a dichotomous collapse that happens with me and DBB’s preemiehood. It’s everything and it’s nothing. I can forget it entirely and be defined by it. I can be enveloped by its lessons to appreciate the fuck out of my kid, or I can barely stop myself from using the word fuck when yelling at my kid. It telescopes into being incredibly far away and short, or maybe it’s incredibly far away and long, and yet sometimes it was so recently and interminable, or just yesterday and the blink of an eye. Sometimes it was traumatizing and sometimes it just was what it was. Sometimes it changed me profoundly into a stronger, better human, and sometimes I’m still the same flawed person I’ve always been, toiling on.
On the issue of strength, I do have something to say. I always thought of myself as a wimp. Some of my closest friends voted me (out of six of us): least likely to survive a zombie apocalypse, fourth smartest, and fourth nicest (but also best looking!). I always thought I was a wimp, too. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I figured I would either lay down and die or become the prostitute hanger-on for a group of stronger people. As it turns out, neither of those is an option for a NICU mom. So I did what you do. Which is just doing. (Not in the prostitute way). So much of strength is circumstance. Now I’m still not going to go do Frigid Infliction, like some of my crazy friends, but I know I can keep going. Not because I learned that I’m some special paragon of strength, or because this experience made me stronger, but because I’m a person, and that’s what people do.
If the NICU didn’t give me the gift of strength, it did give me the gift of perspective. The problem with the gift of perspective is you have to cultivate it, keep finding it every day, every moment. I have some tricks for that:
1) Surround yourself with friends who have perspective. The mamas I’ve brought into the inner circle (and the original inner circle members) help me with this. NOT by reminding me to have perspective, which is a colossally annoying thing to do to someone, but by talking stuff though and being good role models. And by making me laugh. And by not complaining a ton about small shit. Or, if they’re complaining about small shit, by being funny about it.
2) Take a break. I suck at this. Like, really. Das Big Boy and I both have to have the last word in an argument (remember how he’s four? I suck.) so in the moment it’s hard for me to take the space to clear my head. But it does work.
3) Think love. It was SO hard for me to imagine ever feeling mad at Das Big Boy when he was a NICU baby and when he first came home. Herr Husband and I actually used to fight over changing his diapers because there were days that was the only way we could have physical contact with him. It’s hard to imagine a person whose shit for which you used to clamor doing anything that doesn’t seem miraculous. As it turns out, he does. But going back to the deep love that I’ve always had for him can help me keep perspective on what matters (my children growing up feeling loved and safe and happy in their family and continuing to grow as humans), and what doesn’t (ice dams, or whether we worked on crayons and coloring enough today, or how many fruits and vegetables were consumed (in a smoothie, of course)).
4) Have fun. Fun is good for perspective. Jump on the bed. Drink wine with your girls (meaning your friends, not your children. With them, I just recommend drinking wine in their vicinity). Go on an adventure. Eat donuts.
So that’s my surprise. How everything has changed, and how nothing has. How I can both love being a mom, and find it so important and rewarding, but also so tiring and annoying. So I guess in a way, it’s a surprise, but it’s also stuff I could have figured all along. Hope that answers your question, Andrea. Perhaps a bit too philosophical and a bit short on actual surprises. You never know what you’re going to get here with the ‘Frau.
Ooh! Wait! One actual surprise is that I wish I could have been a doctor. I love this medicine stuff, you guys. Still. Like so much. But I’m too old and want to spend too much time with my kids to go to med school or nursing school or PA school. Also, I think I’m banned from more grad school (by Herr Husband. Not by schools. Schools generally like me). Oh well. Live and learn. A cliché and good advice for what to keep doing. Go forth, dear readers. Live. Learn. And love, too. That’s the best one.
Today’s snow day, you’ll be pleased to learn, was actually one of the good ones. The kids were cooperated and listened and played and were cute. This may be because I held TV over their heads, with a promise we could watch Thomas and George and Martha at 4:00 if they were good until then. Now threatening TV loss really fucks over one person: me. Because if they suck and lose TV, then I get sucky kids to whom I have to listen for an additional 45 minutes.
We planned a picnic on the TV room floor, with popcorn for Little Liebchen and me and Trader Joe’s cheesey sandwich crackers for Das Big Boy. But then at 4:00, as I was making the popcorn, Little Liebchen dropped and shattered her glass of milk (yes, I’m an idiot and I sometimes give her open glasses with which to walk around). So I shooed her away. Then Das Big boy came thundering into the room, pushing LL’s doll stroller. “Stay away from the play kitchen,” I told him. “There’s glass over there and you could get hurt.” He ignored me. “DBB, stay away. Be careful! Get away from there!” He backed up, then went for it full force. So I screamed at him to move away. Like, really screamed. I am a mom who yells sometimes, I admit it. But I am not a screamer.
And then he moved away, but started to have a meltdown. So I put him in a timeout (or maybe it was a time in, since I went with him), and explained to him that I had screamed not because I was mad, but because I was afraid he would get hurt. And that when it’s a matter of safety, he has to listen and can’t play around. And he stopped melting. And he listened. And we both apologized. Was that me and my kid?!
The miracle of it was that neither of us allowed it to be anything other than a blip in an otherwise delightful day. We still watched our TV (I didn’t hold the incident against him because a) he had made it to 4, and b) he calmed down so well. (And, ok, c) because I was excited for our cozy time.)
Then our cozy time was wonderful. We watched the shows we’d planned on. We snuggled and snacked. So there was a lesson here for me: That it’s so much better to let go of the tough moments and not let them define the day. Getting mad, or scared, or stressed doesn’t mean one has to stay that way. (Duh. But also difficult).
But let’s be honest: it’s impossible not to let the weather define the day. Seriously. Snow. What the fuck?! I’ve lived in New England for thirty-two of my thirty-seven years, including four years in New Hampshire. I have never seen anything like this. Here are some views from my house:
Today, I went out to shovel our walkway and a path to the car. I informed Das Big Boy of my intentions. “No,” he said, “Only Daddy shovels.” Groan. #failedfeminist. And then I did shovel. And I did a great job. So there. But not so great that I want school tomorrow. Not sure I want to dig out my car. And if the kiddos are such sweetpeas again, I’ll have fun being home with them. I give this a much lower likelihood than the survival of that garage.
And local friends, don’t look at the forecast.
PS: the title of this post has nothing to do with anything, really, except it’s Gordon’s catchphrase on Thomas and I’m obsessed.
The big news is that Das Big Boy is better. No intestinal incidents today, and although he did wake up miserable, he seemed to feel much better after eating. So we’re a go for our big mother/son date tomorrow: the Family Concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Das Big Boy loves classical music, so it should be quite fun. And it’s a deal: kids are free, and my ticket was $20. We tend to spend all of our family time as a foursome, which is great, but we think it’s a good idea to give each kid some one-on-one attention. So Little Liebchen will have some father-daughter time, activity TBD.
Here is how we spent our day at home: painting, reading, napping, and watching Thomas. We’re all obsessed with the way Gordon says, “Oh, the indignity,” and we say it 100 times a day.
If we’re not Facebook friends (highly unlikely, given my readership), you missed this unmissable gem:
Little Liebchen: What’s on your neck?
Hipster Hausfrau: I don’t know, what’s on my neck?
LL: Your boobs.
HH: Not anymore, honey.
LL: They on your tummy?
HH: Unfortunately, yes. That is closer to the truth.
What was extra adorable and hilarious was the earnestness in her voice when she asked, “They on your tummy?” She just wanted to get it right, you guys.
That’s all I have to give tonight. Herr Husband is back after three nights away, and we’re binge watching Downton and eating Abbott’s Frozen Custard peanut butter cup pie. A dear friend asked what I would do better when I wasn’t blogging every day: one thing I’ll be better at is spending time with Herr Husband!
Recently the Husband Hausfrau children became obsessed with the selfie, or at least the version of the picture in which they could see it being taken.
This fixation yielded near constant cries of, “Take my picture, Mommy!” And the following results:
Yes, that is Das Big Boy with a bra on his face. He says it’s a mask. More specifically, he says it’s a mask a friend wore to a party celebrating one of Brian Staveley’s novels, in which said friend was dressed as the Blank God. (PS read Brian’s novels immediately if you haven’t! They are awesome and will cure your GRRM itch, which GRRM himself just ain’t scratchin’).
My shopping helper. She insisted on carrying the bag. And I don’t usually shop at Janie and Jack, but Das Big Boy needed an outfit for our date on Saturday (more on that soon), and everything was on sale.
Here, I was trying to quickly snap a pic of them walking on the path through the snow, but the lens was reversed from their earlier pics, so I got a scary picture of myself. Sheer terror somewhat mitigated by the adorable sunglasses Herr Husband got me for my birthday.
Das Big Boy didn’t cry at drop-off today or during the rest of school. Yahoo! Not sure if it was because we played school anxiety with dollies over breakfast, or if he was just in a better mood, but I can’t tell you how relieved I am. His stories from school were decidedly amusing as well. They had music today, and they sang a “Hello Song, ” but didn’t play drums. A woman named Nancy brought a toy dog named Bobo who was black with four feet and read them a book. I have no idea if the latter story is a total fabrication, or a strange tale about the school nurse (named Nancy). Maybe she came to do a puppeted presentation on hand hygiene? Who knows. He also took a walk to get the mail (with all of his teachers–who, I ask, was manning the classroom?), and drew a picture. Sounds like a pretty great day to me.
Someone else enjoyed the time while Das Big Boy was away at school as well. Little Liebchen has taken to refusing her afternoon nap (and it was never that awesome a nap anyway) about 40% of the time. Das Big Boy gave up his nap right at two, and I was really, really hoping his sister wouldn’t pull the same stunt. She’s not so much up for playing quietly in her crib, either. She likes to hurl everything out and jump up and down and hoot and holler. And then if you go to retrieve her, she says, “I wake up,” which is not true because she hasn’t slept. But this petty distinction is wholly unimportant to her, as she blatantly lied to the cashier at Trader Joe’s today and told her, “I taked a nap. I wake up,” as I was explaining that her cuteness was temporary because she’d forgone her nap and that this evening she would be totally unreasonable. I was right. Duh.
But she is very cute and if she skips her nap I can do things like go to Trader Joe’s with one child instead of two. So it can be hard to force the nap issue. Is anyone surprised that she only takes one if she feels like it? Am I letting the monkeys run the zoo?
Today is Das Big Boy’s due date, a fact that is remarkable only because it feels like forever ago that I started blogging every day, but it was on his birthday, which means the distance between his birthday and his due date was–a world of duh–rather long. Twelve weeks and two days, to be exact.
Due dates emit a forcefield in preemie land. To mix metaphors, they’re when the gun goes off (ok, young man, now you’re REALLY one, so start acting like it), so to speak. They’re also the date by which you feel you’re supposed to be able to bring your babe home. And in many, many cases, they are. I can remember a nurse saying in late November that she was sure we’d have our guy home by New Years. But New Years, my father-in-law’s birthday, MLK, and my birthday came and went without a take-home baby. I remember sobbing that if he wasn’t home by
Valentine’s Day, I didn’t know what I would do. Thankfully, he made it. But it was hard. The pre-due date time was bonus time with our guy. Sure, it was scary and depressing bonus time, but it was still time during which we got to know him, love him, hold him, bathe him, sing to him, and read to him. But the post-due date time was time he should have been with us, living his real baby life at home. Of course, plenty of preemie families don’t get to bring their babies home at all. So we were lucky. But also sad. But also lucky. And so on.
Once again, I told Das Big Boy about his due date this year. He wasn’t that impressed. I think unless I start offering a birthday gift, it’s just not going to be that interesting. He still conflates his NICU time with the time he and Little Liebchen were hospitalized with RSV. (“That’s when I watched Grover and Piño“).
And, to really remind you of the magic in the universe, this. Because four years ago, who would have thought we’d be celebrating something at once so simple and momentous today?