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.
Two things to be proud of:
1. This tower.
2. Little Liebchen wore undies today! And only had two accidents. I wanted to do the naked potty training thing with her (she’s been telling us when she has to go, so I’d decided to give it a shot). But of course she didn’t want to be bottomless because then she wasn’t wearing an outfit. So she got to wear undies and pants. And she did great and is very pleased with herself. She wants to tell everyone about them and have very, very long conversations in which we list who else uses the potty. Rocky, Landlord, Huxtables, Gigi, Papa, Grandma, Grandpa, Nini, Dr. G., ‘Burban Bestie, Mo, and others, your names were invoked in these conversations.
Ok, remember how I was all la-la-la I love having my kids home and snow days are great and here are all the things we’re doing at the Husband Hausfrau preschool?
Yeah, I’m kind of over it. We have ANOTHER snow day tomorrow. Now remember, we had one last Monday, one the Monday before that and one that Tuesday. Plus, Das Big Boy was home sick on Thursday and Friday of last week. That’s a whole lotta stuck at home time. And Herr Husband left tonight and ostensibly won’t be back until Friday (he’s technically here from 11 pm Wednesday until 5 am Thursday, but I think we can all agree that doesn’t count.)
So things may get a smidge crazy up in here. I’m thinking board games, sand play, water play, mouse paint, and giant collages are on the agenda. Or maybe just mild maternal day drinking. We’ll see.
BSO = smashing success! My wiggle pants sat stock still every time the music played (although he was a little less compelled by the interstitial talks from the conductor–which were great–he behaved beautifully and had an awesome time). He loved the space and the music and watching the conductor. Herr Husband and Little Liebchen had an equally wonderful time at the aquarium, and then we all met there for a quick snack and quick viewing of the penguins, seals, and rays. To top it all off, we picked up Anna’s Taqueria on the way home.
Exhaustion for all. But here’s some photographic evidence.
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.