I’m a big believer in family playdates. That is, playdates at which whole families get together so kids can frolic and parents can alternate between playing with children and chatting with adults while drinking wine. It’s a gift to find people you love whose family dynamics fit with yours. I feel lucky that we have several local families with whom we enjoy getting together en masse. I loved growing up with family friends, and I love that I have that for myself and my kids as an adult. It’s nice for Herr Husband, too, because sometimes it feels like because I’m the stay-at-home-parent, I get all of the friends in our community, so I’m glad when he gets in on the fun.
Today it was the Rocky Landlord Tribe and the Husband Hausfraus. We started at Launch, a superfun trampoline park (oddly owned by Ty Law, who can apparently show up there and hang out with you at any time, according to the website. I wish HH had worn his Ty Law jersey, because then maybe Ty would have come to say hello). Then we (just us and the Rocky Landlords; Ty Law did not join us) came to our house for pizza, wine, and general merriment. And by general merriment I mean me breaking a wine glass and Herr Husband throwing the entirety of Rocky and the Landlord’s pizza on the floor. And they didn’t care at all because a) they’re awesome, and b) they pretty much know what to expect from me. Which also includes an untidy home.
I can tell the rest of you are now eager to become my family friends, too.
I’ve been doing a lot of hunky-dory holiday posting recently, but one of the reasons I made this promise to blog from Oct 21 until Feb 11 promise was to remember a time in my life that wasn’t so hunky-dory, so that I could honor that time and appreciate the present. So warning, this post has some heavier stuff.
The holidays in the NICU are weird. I can remember well-meaning people asking why we weren’t going “home” for the holidays, not realizing that our home was of course next to Das Big Boy’s isolette, not with our other families. Everyone goes through this when they have children, of course. You’re your own family now in a way that you weren’t before. But when you’re somewhat cut off from your family because you’re spending every waking hour in a hospital, it’s somewhat more acute. The hospital does a wonderful job of infusing everything with cheer, but beneath it all there is of course a heartbreak that you try like hell to ignore.
Shortly before Das Big Boy’s first Christmas, we had what I think remains the worst night of my life. I couldn’t remember the exact anniversary, but I’ve been thinking of it for the past few days, and, as it turns out, I was right on target. On December 18, 2010, Das Big Boy had his biggest health scare of the NICU (except for almost dying the night after he was born).
I’m not sure I’m up to writing about it, but here’s part of the email I sent to the head of neonatology afterwards:
Dear [Director,]Thank you again for the wonderful care you took of [Das Big Boy.] Unfortunately, he had a very rough Saturday night and has yet to recover. When [Herr Husband] and I left at 5:30 to buy him his weekly book, he was doing great. Sating [showing blood oxygen saturations] in the mid-nineties on 28% O2, normal and even respiratory rate (for him). When we returned at 7:30, he was bouncing between the seventies and eighties on 32% 02, and his respiratory rate was elevated. When we asked his nurse what she thought was going on, she shared that…he had been sating in the 60s, and she had found that his CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure–his breathing support apparatus] was disconnected in back, and she didn’t know how long he’d been that way. His nurse raised his 02 a bit more and suctioned him. He then had a major desat, which she had a very hard time bringing him back from. He bounced between the forties and sixties for about ten minutes, and she had to raise his 02 to 60 and use blow-by to finally stabilize him, after ten or fifteen minutes. His 02 was left at 40%, and remains there. He remains very tachypnic [means he was breathing fast]–far more than usual–and is working hard to breathe.When [the fellow] took us through the records on the monitor, it appears he was sating in the 60s (during the disconnection episode) for at least ten minutes.
What I don’t write about here is that during the episode, I was hysterical in a way I never had been before or since, and that I really thought he might die or never recover. That I thought it was somehow our fault for being away from him, which we so rarely were. How furious I was that some staff had implied that our constant presence was too much and possibly sometimes interfered with his care, but that we could have prevented part of this had we been there.
The truth is, I don’t think about this night very often at all. It’s still too much and there’s no use in going there. But in a way, it’s good for me to remember how lucky I am that I don’t have to worry on this level anymore (knock on some serious wood).
So let’s move away from that for a moment.
We had a lovely Hanukkah gathering tonight with my parents, and with the wonderful Mo who volunteered to care for our babes this morning so we could do some last minute holiday stuff–sidebar: it continues to delight me how much she loves our kids and how much they love her, even though they don’t see each other very often. It’s as if our children just know how important and wonderful she is.
After dinner, I was talking with my mom about how I’d been stressed and worried lately by balancing the two kids, school, activities, therapies, etc, and how I worry I’m not doing the right things to help Das Big Boy work on the stuff he still needs to work on. And she reminded me of something she always says about parenting that I’ve espoused, too. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” Now of course, there are things and events in parenting that aren’t going to be fun. (See above). Those are the crisis moments and no one expects you to have enjoy them. But the truth is, much of the stuff that gets us down as parents is just life. The struggles are different for each of us, but they’re going to be what they’re going to be. While we can’t control them, we do have some control over how they affect us. A lot of the worrying we do about our kids isn’t about our kids. It’s about us. And in fact, it’s us interfering with their being whomever it is they are going to be. Worrying isn’t productive. It doesn’t teach them anything. It’s just a way of taking what should be about them–how can I help my child become his or her best self? And making it about us, bringing their difficulties into our brain, rather than being present with them out in the real world.
So that’s what I’m going to try to be better at: being present. Not remembering the scary times. Not idealizing the seemingly easier semi-recent past. Not fretting and worrying about the future. Not trying to plan the perfect project that will engage Das Big Boy so he wants to work on his fine motor skills. But playing and laughing and decorating cookies and keeping my patience as I remind Das Big Boy to sit down at the dinner table for the thousandth time or as I insist that Little Liebchen wear pants because it’s cold outside.
And maybe, once in a while, we’ll jump up from the dinner table and dance around without our pants on. Because that’s the kind of family we really are.
Today we received our best holiday gift yet: a visit from Nanny Sunshine. You may remember her as the former student/goddess who kept our lives in order while my cervix and the rest of me lazed about. I remember her as one of my favorite people in the universe. And yes, she’s as luminous as ever. Wise and warm and kind.
And it was even better than when she took care of us, because we could gab and drink sparkling Shiraz and eat cheese without assessing it for pasteurization.
She hadn’t seen Das Big Boy in fourteen months, and yet he was still so deeply happy to see her, which did my heart good as we know he can be a bit on the shy side. And although Little Liebchen was initially mistrustful (she thinks all women are here to babysit, and her instincts about NS weren’t entirely wrong given NS’s former role in our life), she quickly warmed up to her in a way I’ve seen her fall in love with few people. Either she remembers Nanny Sunshine’s voice from in utero, or she’s an excellent judge of character. Maybe both.
So it was a full heart sort of day, which ended with a trip to Target where the children behaved quite well and were each allowed to pick out a toy for Toys for Tots. Das Big Boy is still very into the concept of giving things to “kids who don’t have any toys.” Let us hope he retains this spirit of generosity throughout his life.
May your homes be filled with the extra love this season can bring, as ours was today. And if you have a little extra love to give, Jess’s family could still use our help. Her sister Laura was kind enough to comment here. Please continue to send her all of your good thoughts, love, prayers, white light, positive energy, or whatever it is that you deal in. And thank you to all of you who have helped them already. You’re good folks, you are.
Sending some of my extra love to you all,
Deine Hipster Hausfrau
As in oh my goodness, but also as in the goodness that surrounds us.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I studied and taught literature for half of my life–ambiguities and dichotomies and binary oppositions and transcendence and the mysteries of the human heart are where a teacher of books makes her trade (there and messy classrooms and cozy coffee shops). But it still astounds me to see that a tragedy can bring me low and make me question the justice and purpose of the whole darn universe, and yet from that event can come an outpouring of support that reaffirms my love of humanity and belief in its fundamental goodness.
Jess and Liam’s death is tragic and unreal and so horrible I want to crawl out of my skin. At the same time, so many of you have done so much good by sharing the Go Fund Me link and giving money (which you can of course still do!). And that is a magical thing that does my heart good. Thank you for helping.
I write tonight with sad news and a plea. On Friday morning, Jess, a woman from my hometown, was killed along with her younger brother in a car accident. She was a single mother of three children, whom her sister now plans to raise. I want to ask you to click here and help them if you can.
Jess and I were in totally different circles in high school. We’d gone to elementary school together, too, and while we weren’t especially close then either, she came to my birthday parties and I thought she was pretty and nice. But the strangeness that is Facebook brought us together in the past few years. She was a reader of this blog. And I so enjoyed her frequent, feisty, funny status updates. She was a firebrand of lefty politics who took no shit and always said exactly what she thought. She was funny and acerbic and whip-smart. She was a fiercely loving mother who was proud of her children and truly enjoyed them. She was a powerful advocate for the health of her daughter with epilepsy. Jess finished her associates degree this spring and had just begun nursing school, a goal of which she’d dreamed for a long time. She was rightfully proud of what she had accomplished on her own and was excited to begin the next part of her journey. But then her father became seriously ill and she and her family moved to West Virginia (from Worcester) to care for him. She was just settling in there when she and her brother (whom she’d helped raise) died.
I hadn’t spoken to Jess for probably twenty years. But she’s been on my mind almost daily in the four years or so we’ve been Facebook friends, which is the odd thing about this whole Internet friendship business. She’s supported me through Das Big Boy’s challenges and triumphs, and I hers with her daughter and school. So to have her light extinguished when she has children who depend on her, so many who love her, and when she has accomplished so much and was set to accomplish more is heartbreaking. I might never have seen her again, but knowing she is gone hurts. I will miss her.
Be well. Be safe. Love each other.
Das Big Boy has a song from school to the tune of Frère Jacques. It goes:
Friends are special, friends are special.
Yes they are. Yes they are.
We take turns when talking. We take turns when talking.
We need friends. We need friends.
Not so sure about the third line, especially as it applies to me and Rocky and me and ‘Burban Bestie. (I’m still waiting for one of us to finish a story without getting side-tracked.)
But the fourth line is spot on. Friends are coming up big for me today. It was a great morning, during which Rocky and I took the little ladies and Das Big Boy to Jam Time, an indoor playspace that our kids adore. She let me vent/confess about my recent short fuse which has gotten Das Big Boy and me into what I must admit is a mutual tantrum cycle. I’m trying to be better. I’m even–gasp–reading parenting books (something I don’t do). But I’m definitely someone who doesn’t want to be a yeller who has done some yelling recently.
Anyway, probably thanks to our fun morning, it was a good day. But it somehow became a crummy evening. I should know better than to attempt an evening errand followed by an organized craft project, but I did. We actually got through that, but dinner time descended into grumpy town. I yelled, and Das Big Boy scratched the wall to deliberately make me mad, which was ear-splitting, but also struck me as clever. And maybe scary.
Anyway, we ultimately made up. I apologized (I think it’s good to let your kids know if your behavior has been less than ideal. Shows room for growth, or self-awareness, or something.) And he’s very good at apologizing for behavior, too. A few extra snuggles at bedtime seems to have sorted it.
And now ‘Burban Bestie is coming over for wine gab, which always recenters me. So I’ll unwind a bit and be fresh for tomorrow (because, oh yeah, Herr Husband is gone until Friday after bedtime). Send me some zen mama vibes, please!