Eight Reasons Why I Can’t Talk on the Phone

Texting is not for teens. It’s for moms. Making an actual phone call is a Herculean effort. It’s not our fault, okay?

  1. Someone is always screaming, whether joyfully or angrily.
  2. It is perfectly acceptable to put the phone down while texting in order to change a poop. Not so for a phone call. (“Hold on, Doctor. I know your time is valuable and all, but can you just hang on a sec while I change this diaper?”)
  3. During nap time, if I answer the phone, someone WILL wake up. (This peculiarity of my children does not extend to nighttime sleeping, however.)
  4. After the kids go to bed, my arms are too tired to lift that phone and call anyone. Really.
  5. My brain is no longer capable of rational conversation. Short non-committal bursts of texting, however, are well within my brain power. (Sometimes I can even be witty.)
  6. My cell phone kind of acts like a walkie-talkie, in that it cuts out whenever anyone is making any noise whatsoever. Since three toddlers are 100% never ever silent, this means I can’t hear you and you can’t hear me. Well, we can hear each other, if you are interested in hearing every-other syllable. Cool.
  7. Kids are diabolical geniuses who will use the distraction of a phone call to execute their naughtiest plan. I think they plot things in their head and lie in wait until I dial a number. Phone calls are when they try to figure out if fleece jammies can soak up all the water in a toilet (they can), or when the oldest tries to see if he can “baptize the babies” (he can’t).
  8. Everything I would say (GET DOWN!) during a phone call (DON’T STRADDLE THE DOG!) is punctuated (DON’T EAT SHOES THAT JUST WALKED THROUGH THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE!) by parenting.

The only time I feel like making calls is at about 5:30 in the morning. Anyone up for a chat?

 

***

 

This post was originally written for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their site. You can find the original article here.

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“It’s Not Your Season,” Says My Mom

“Mom, I just wish I could have some energy to do an exercise DVD after they go to bed.”

“Honey, it’s just not your season. There will be plenty of time for that.”

 

“Mom, I just miss reading so much.”

“It’s just not your season, honey. Do you think your aunt ever read a book when she was raising her five boys? Now look at her!”

 

“Mom, sometimes I feel like I’m going to scream if I have to eat PBJ for lunch one more time! I just want to go out to lunch ONCE! Just once!”

“It’s not your season.”

 

My mother is referring to The Book of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1)

Before I was a mother, I heard a quote from one of our church leaders that stuck with me: “[A woman] need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.” [i]

Sometimes I try to sing too many verses simultaneously. Then I remember to back it up and focus on one thing at a time. But, on a larger scale, that line explains perfectly why I am a stay-at-home mother. I had a long career as a student. I had a five-year career as a kindergarten teacher. I had an eight-year career as a wife, but not a mother. I am currently having a career as a wife AND mother. And, someday, I will be able to read/exercise/go out to lunch again. It’s okay with me to do things sequentially.

I love being a woman. I love being a stay-at-home mom. My husband checks in with me frequently to make sure that I don’t feel “marginalized”. I ask him what that means, exactly. Does he want to know if I felt like the margin on a page, when he is the main print? If so, the answer is no. I am not a margin. This here, this work that I do every day, IS the main text. Everything else – work, friends, distractions, hobbies, reading books/exercising/going out to lunch – is the margin. Everything else is FOR THIS.

all three at sink

He works for THIS.

r cuddles

I quit my career for THIS.

storytime

He comes home for THIS.

tied down

I wake up for THIS.

e cuddle

“Your children are not distractions – they are the very purpose.” [ii]

He wants to be sure I don’t have regrets. I assure him that even though this is hard, this was the plan. This is what I was meant to do. I am a nurturer. My decisions are supported by wonderful friends and family.

Nevertheless, there are times when I feel like I am going to cry. And I do. There are times when I feel like I am going to scream. And I do (in the bathroom, silently). There are time when I feel like I am going crazy. And I do – but it passes. Today, I was changing one baby’s terrible terrible diaper mess, and the other baby was getting into the prescription diaper cream, while they were both crying, and the dog was barking, and the oldest was whining, all together. And I told myself, “Breathe. Just wait for this to pass. (And don’t let any poop go flying while you wait.)” Experience has taught me that those moments do pass.

There are times when I feel like nobody ever recognizes the good that we stay-at-home moms do. My husband might get an award or a bonus or a good grade, but I don’t. I just get more poop and more diaper rash and more barking and more whining and more crying. Bless his heart, though, because he says, “WE got an A-plus today. WE got a bonus. WE got a time-off award.” And often, my husband recognizes what I do around the house and with the children. But, as Dr. Phil says, there is a lot of “invisible work” that spouses don’t see – like the way I mop under the table three times a day. Or the way I miraculously read twelve books to wiggly one-year-olds today. He assumes, but he doesn’t really know. It’s the same as how I don’t see all the invisible work that he does to diagnose, repair, and maintain our dryer/ lawn mower/ beige minivan.

I remind myself that heaven sees what I do. God, Jesus, maybe my grandmother who died – I believe they see me and my hard work and my love for my children every day. There are countless witnesses above who may be watching me.

On earth, I have only three witnesses of what I do every day: my children. Most of the time, they don’t care, but every once in a while I will catch them showing empathy to each other in a way that mimics me, and I am so grateful. I will catch them pretending to read a book in the same sing-song-y fashion as me, and I am so proud. Every movement of their bodies can be attributed to something I have taught them- words from their mouths, spoons to their lips, hugs from their arms – it all attests to my hard work.

All that is the point. The main text. Not the margin. And that’s why I quit my career. That’s why I have no regrets. That’s why I don’t feel marginalized. And that’s why I have to remind myself that “it’s just not my season” for the things in the margin. Or, more accurately, I can call my mom and she can remind me.

My work is the main text, not the margin.

 

***

 

[i] James E. Faust (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/09/a-message-to-my-granddaughters-becoming-great-women?lang=eng)

[ii] Richard and Linda Eyre, from a fireside address, as quoted by Dwight Egan, Church News contributor (https://www.lds.org/church/news/father-of-8-missionary-sons-shares-advice-that-helped-him?lang=eng)

 

This post was originally written for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their website.

Christmas Fail? But Charity Never Faileth

Christmas is four days away. I feel like a failure in each and every way, and yet I am so grateful for all the acts of love and service that others have given to us.

The Okayest Family has been quite ill for quite some time, and my to-do lists have been ashamed of themselves.

My Christmas tree has looked like this for over a week now:

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My Christmas decorations are still in their boxes in the basement:

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My presents are still not wrapped:

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And my dresser looks like this:

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(Okay, let’s be honest: my dresser always looks like that. It has nothing to do with sickness or Christmas, but we can just pretend, mmkay?)

I feel frustrated. I feel sad. I feel like I’m failing. I promised my oldest that he would sit on Santa’s lap at the church Christmas party, but we couldn’t go when my husband was still too ill to assist me in child-wrangling. My kids didn’t perform in the church Christmas program this Sunday for the same reason.

Things aren’t going smoothly, and I’m so tired, and I want to cry all the time. However, most every mother probably feels this way around this time of year. Besides, I’m just okayest; I know how to take things down a notch, right? (I’m no Pinterest mom, but I do want my kids to have a Christmas.)

I force myself to pick myself up and remind myself to count my blessings. It slowly is starting to work. I am so thankful that my husband has a secure job with paid sick leave. I am so grateful that we got to cut down the Christmas tree together (even if it is still outside), that we can afford presents (even if they aren’t wrapped), that we have a warm home with room for storage of luxuries like Christmas decorations (even if they aren’t hung up).

christmas cookies (2)So many people have shown me love and service lately, and it humbles me. Every time I feel like I am drowning in illness and exhaustion and undone to-do lists, someone else shows me love and service. My in-laws come to care for the children when we can’t, even if they subject themselves to heinous viruses. My mother comes to have a “Christmas craft day” with my kids, and brings her cookies to decorate and makes sure we at least get out the only decoration that matters: my great-grandma’s nativity.

imageFriends check up on me via text. Church sisters offer to put up my tree, substitute teach my Sunday School class of six-year-olds, bring dinner, and even haul my twins into the beige minivan when I can’t physically maneuver them. One friend even makes my kids some “shake it” sensory bottles when I go to her for advice about some specific behavioral problems.

My church sisters’ love makes my heart full. My Mormon friends each have more children than I do, and yet they always help. Mormon women seem extra good at serving in specific ways. They never say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, they say, “I’m bringing dinner,” and, “I’m teaching your class.” Sometimes they don’t say anything, but just pick up that runaway twin. They will do things like this for people they hardly know. They have always done it for other sisters; they will continue to do it in the next town they move to. It’s not just for me. They are a great example to me. I will pay it forward someday … when the kids are in school? I know heaven smiles on these women.

A friend reminds me to think of the one thing I can do each time I get overwhelmed. Maybe today I can play some Christmas music to bring peace, and maybe tomorrow I can read to the children about the birth of Jesus. They won’t care if the door has no wreath and the presents are “wrapped” in a brown cardboard Amazon box.

Most of all, I can remember to be ever grateful for my miraculous little family that was created against all odds. We are together, and of course, that is all that really matters.

***

Dear readers: I wish you and your family peace at this time of year. I hope you find it quicker than I have! I know Christmas can be hard for many of us for so many different reasons, but I hope that you have love in your life and peace in your homes. Much love to you all!

The Twins Destroyed My Body (No, Not Like That)

My ever-present wrist brace helps me hold this heavy flower (the first flower my kid ever gave me!)

My ever-present wrist brace helps me hold this heavy flower (the first flower my kid ever gave me!)

Everyone talks about the pain of childbirth, but what about the pain of child-rearing?

You think I’m going to talk about stretch marks? Wrong. The twins destroyed my body in a whole different way than I expected: they are breaking me. At just over a year and a half old, they weigh 32 and 34 pounds each, and apparently that’s too much.

I don’t really carry them anymore. I taught them to go up and down stairs on their own as soon as possible. I don’t even pick them up when they’re crying- I just sit down on the floor and let them come to me. (That’s a trick I learned during bedrest with a toddler!) But, when you have two fat children under the age of two, there is still a lot of lifting and hauling. Every day, there is hauling in and out high chairs (2 twins x 2 times per meal x 3 meals = like a thousand times), hauling in and out of cribs for naps and wake-ups and bedtimes, heaving them into carseats if we go anywhere (I long ago calculated that one trip to anywhere means four buckle/unbuckles per child: in at home, out at destination, in to go home, out to come inside), and heaving them off their brothers during tantrums over the empty Tylenol bottle.

Oh, and let’s not forget the heaving them onto the changing table for every diaper. Yes, yes, I know that I could change them on the floor or the couch. Yes, yes, I know that most of you don’t use changing tables. I don’t want to hear it. I have changed approximately three trillion diapers by now, and I know what works for me, and it’s the changing table. I am just not good enough to keep a poopy diaper away from the dog or the other twin if I change someone on the floor, okay? Also, I’m tall, and I don’t want to bend over more than I have to. Also, maybe I just suck at changing poops, because I can make a mess and I prefer to keep that e.coli contained to one area that I can disinfect. OKAY?

Anyway, as you see, the children are heavy and ridiculously large for their age and still need to be lifted many times per day. Also, as you can see from any of my photos, I am not large for my age. I have zero muscle tone. Well, not zero, but I think it would take some major steroids to make me even look like I have any muscle definition. With my first son, everyone said, “Don’t worry; you’ll get stronger.” Ha! Now I reply, “I don’t get stronger; I just get sorer.”

I hurt everywhere, all the time.

Do you other moms hurt this much? If so, how can anyone look at a young mother with her arms full of a baby or a toddler and not rub her neck? This kid thing HURTS. Everyone talks about the pain of childbirth, but what about the pain of child-rearing?

My neck hurts. My back hurts. My wrist hurts. My head hurts. My hips hurt. Let’s just say that everything from my hips to my skull hurts all the time. Tell me I’m not alone in this, or else I’m going to have to see a doctor.

I primarily lift babies on my left side, so my left shoulder and back are all bulked up – at least compared to my right side. I probably look like I have a disorder. My left shoulder sits so much higher than my right, and I spend all of yoga class trying to get it down again (that is, when I’m not staring at the dude in front of me who is wearing my same skin-tight women’s workout capris, but with his shirt tucked into them).

My left wrist started to give out when the babies were about three months old, so I received cortisone injections several times. Now the doctor won’t let me do any more, so my choices are surgery or hold on until we can turn the cribs into toddler beds and the high chairs into regular chairs.

Even my muscles in my throat hurt! I feel like I’ve been looking down for 4 1/2 years straight, and now I have foreshortened the muscles in front of my throat. I am always stretching my head backward to help. Is that weird? Has anyone else experienced this? Almost five years of gazing into their eyes while nursing and bottle-feeding, and then looking down at their short little toddler bodies from my great height …. seems to have put me in a permanent downward-facing position.

My neck is all kinked up. I have had migraines my entire life, but they are worse lately with all the muscle strain. I do yoga and I stretch out on a foam roller every night and I try to take care of myself, but there is really nothing more to do until I get these kids more independent.

What the heck, kids? My husband said I feed you too much, because you just poop too much and weigh too much, at least compared to the pooping frequency and weight percentiles of your little friends at the playgroup. I guess it’s my fault you’re so heavy. It has nothing to do with the fact that your father weighed almost ten pounds at birth, right? (My twins were seven and a half pounds each at birth, at 38 weeks gestation. I shudder to think how big they would have been at 40 weeks as a singleton. However, bedrest and tator tots helped them get to be that big. On purpose.)

I’m lucky: my husband has magic hands. He can find every knot and every tender spot. He can just touch my neck with his fingertips and I might start to cry with relief. He takes over most evenings and most weekends, doing all the heavy lifting to let me recover before the next round.

From now on, the only gift I will give a new mother will be a massage therapist to visit her house every day for three years, or for as long as her child needs to be lifted, whichever comes first. Just kidding. That’s what I’m giving myself. When I win the lottery.

 

***

I understand that there are other ways to maneuver children. I worked at a Montessori school for a while, so I know that an ideal situation would be to have everything at the child’s level. No lifting/hauling/heaving would be needed. In the Montessori method, crib mattresses are on the floor from birth and children’s tables and chairs take the place of high chairs. Their feet should be on the floor when eating and they shouldn’t be restrained behind buckles or bars. I saw this method in action, and I can attest that it works in a Montessori environment. I can also attest that my house is not a Montessori house, and that one of my twins is a hurricane. I chose the buckles and bars and all of that as a way to keep my sanity in the short term, so I have myopically chosen to sacrifice my body for my sanity.

 

When Do You Find Time to Write? I Wake Up at 4:30AM – Yes, On Purpose

I wake up at 4:30 AM with my husband. Why? I have to physically and mentally prepare for my three little ones. And I like to write.

I didn’t sleep for seven months. (Well, if you want to count the nine months of hellish twin pregnancy, I didn’t sleep for almost a year and a half.) I was completely delirious. I was about to crack. Even though the babies slept well for newborns, as any mother of multiples can tell you, their night feedings didn’t match up…and I slept about two (non-consecutive) hours a night. After my twins finished nursing and then we cried-it-out at seven months, they started sleeping through the night. They have slept from 7PM to 7AM very reliably ever since.

It took me about a year after that to catch up enough on sleep that I didn’t feel fearful every night when I lay down my sweet head.

During that whole year, my husband said, “You really just need to wake up with me.” He was right. I knew he was right. I was waking up to one, two, or three kids crying. I was waking up to poop and urine-soaked jammies and sheets that needed changing. I was leaping into the shower, only to have my oldest spend the whole time whining on the bathroom floor beside me. I was finding no time to read my scriptures, think, or have quiet time. (Naptime and bedtime don’t count, because by that time of day, I was too wrung out to do anything but stare at E!News.)

My husband, like all commuters in our area, leaves for work before dawn to beat the traffic. (Not sure how that works, exactly, since they all do it…) He reasoned that my whole day would go more smoothly if I woke up with him and had some alone time before the kids woke up.

We have always made it a priority in our marriage to go to bed at the same time – even when he woke up at 2:45 AM to drive 72 miles to work and, thus, had to go to bed while children were playing tag next door and lawnmowers were going. These days, he goes to bed at 9:30 PM (technically), and I do too. Waking up at 4:30 AM should be no big deal, right? I was (technically) getting enough sleep. Plus, as my husband reasoned, I would be far more likely to help us actually get to bed at 9:30 PM if I were waking up with him. (“Just one more show, honey?!”)

Even though my husband was right, my job as a stay-at-home mom of three kids in diapers was incredibly physically demanding/ exhausting. And even though I was sleeping through the night, I was still completely brain-dead from the damage caused by the newborn phase. It took me a good year until I was ready to try to wake up early with my commuter husband.

I know I am not reinventing the wheel here. Many of my mom friends have paved this road before me. One of my best friends, who happens to have five children, sets her alarm for 6:30 every morning because she doesn’t want her many little girls to see her putting on makeup. They were starting to primp and preen and she wanted to cut back on being that kind of example. Another friend of mine, who has four children, sets her alarm for 4:30 AM, but, instead of playing on Facebook like I do, she does all her house chores and even starts dinner in the crock pot. She says that is the only choice she has if she wants to get things done. Wow.

One day, I was ready. (Ready to try to take a shower and blog – not mop the floor.) I surprised my husband when I said, “Honey, wake me up when you leave.” And, thus, you see, the title of this blog post is a semi-fib, because he actually wakes me up at 5:15 AM, when he leaves. But I figured it was kind of true that I woke up at 4:30 since I usually hear his alarm.

It sucked. But only for about five minutes. I didn’t expect the benefits to be immediate!

I felt more relaxed. Waking up to my husband kissing me awake, instead of little kids’ crying/whining/pooping/urinating was blissful. I got in the shower in silence. I didn’t rush. I took time to shave. Condition. Put the shampoo on my head instead of my face. (Yep, I’ve done that.)

After my lovely shower, I took time to blow-dry my hair. Well, that was a mistake. That woke up the children. And THAT was a long day.

Ok, I started over on Day 2. Relaxed wake-up, thorough and pleasant shower, and, yep, wet hair in a ponytail just like every other day. No blow-dryer.

My favorite chair in the house does not allow children, unless we read scriptures together in it (which we do sometimes before the twins wake up).

My favorite chair in the house does not allow children, unless we read scriptures together in it (which we do sometimes before the twins wake up).

I settled in to my big papasan chair in my bedroom. This chair was a birthday gift from my husband, who knew I always wanted one. And I never sat in it, because, well, I never sat down. Now it was time to put it to work.

My first rule for myself is that I have to read at least one chapter from my scriptures before I check any emails or social media. (That was the rule I gave myself during nighttime breastfeeding, and it worked so well for me… until I quit nursing!) As a Latter-day Saint (LDS/Mormon), we are encouraged to read our scriptures daily. We are well-versed in scriptures in our church, but we are to read and study daily to gain spiritual strength for the day. I can tell you that it works. My life feels like a careening train, or sometimes a raw exposed nerve, on the days that I don’t read my scriptures, and that has been true for me ever since I was in high school.

I feel immediate peace as I settle in to read my familiar books of scripture. I gain strength for my day. I gain the ability to be a more patient mother for their day.

After my study, it is time to play. I check email, I actually respond to email, read through my Facebook Newsfeed, read the real news, check my blog stats, and giggle and/or feel horrified at the search engine terms that lead people to my blog. I check the weather, and cry if it’s going to be too rainy/cold/hot/pollen-y to play outside that day.

After all the social media, if the children are still quiet, I start to write. I love to write. My handwritten journals that I kept for years are a thing of the past. They are precious to me, but I can’t bring myself to read them. I have so many of them… and they are mostly all way too much teenage maudlin heart or too much grown-up infertility pain. I keep them closed. Now I write for my children on this blog. And it’s mostly done before they wake up, here in my favorite non-child-friendly papasan chair.

When the children start to cry, or stir, or treat their crib as a trampoline, or do their pterodactyl shriek of joy (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE A TWIN AND HE IS STILL HERE BESIDE ME IN THAT CRIB?!!”), I am ready. Instead of feeling a sense of urgency and dread, I am ready. I’m ready for them. I’m ready for the poop and the pee-soaked jammies. I’m ready for the whining. I’m ready for the day. I’m ready to focus on them. I’m ready to be less anxious. I’m ready to be more patient.

I go into their pee-smelling rooms with a smile on my face. I’m ready.

 

***

Dang it. It’s 6:05 AM and I just finished editing this article and a baby cried. Of course! The moment I pat myself on the back a little bit, they decide to wake up an hour early to make us all miserable. I shouldn’t have said anything.

Did She Have a Bad Day Today? (Clues for the Husbands)

If…

She asks him to bring home more carpet cleaner and/or Spray n’ Wash,

The carseat is in pieces, drying on the deck,

The kids’ sheets are clean (think about it),

The living room rug is outside,

The van windows are down (think about it),

She’s standing in front of the pantry with a quizzical look on her face,

It’s raining,

The migraine medicine is out on the counter,

Her ponytail is askew,

The kids’ breakfast is still glued to their hair,

You call her from your work number and not your cell number at dinnertime,

You start a conversation with, “You know how tomorrow was supposed to be my day off?”

…then she probably had a bad day.

Demanded-Out: My Messy Beautiful Submission

Touched-out? No. Demanded-out.

My brain is touched-out. Your body has probably felt touched-out, but what about your brain? That little baby’s body, attached to your body for nine months of pregnancy and a year of infancy, can leave your body feeling a tad smooshed. But, now that my babies aren’t babies, I need a new phrase to describe how my brain feels touched-out from all these motherhood demands. I need a phrase to describe how my brain feels “demanded-out”.

My brain seems to have a limit on the amount of tantrums, demands, requests, tears, pleas, hand signals, cries, speeches, and barks it can accept. After a certain point, I feel like my nerves become raw. After that point, I think my eyes go blank and I just try to survive until bedtime. My son knows that face, no matter how much I think I’m hiding it. I’m sure every mom goes through these same exact things in the same exact order.

Mr. Okayest doesn’t understand why I can’t just ignore the demands like he can. He really is amazing. He doesn’t get sweaty, like I do, when all three cry at the same time. He doesn’t get shrill, like I do, when everyone needs something at the same time. Just ignore them, he says.

He is so smart and so supportive and so observant, but I don’t think he will ever empathize with this mom feeling. Sympathize – yes. Empathize – maybe not. I try to explain to Mr. Okayest that, as a mother, I have no choice but to respond. I don’t necessarily blame hormones, because I felt this same way when we adopted our oldest. However, there is something hard-wired into our mom-brains that makes us have to respond.

I have to respond to their cries, either to shush them or to hug them. I have to respond to their sign-language requests for more milk, whether I get up right now or in a minute or never. I have to respond to the barking dog, whether I put her in her crate or put her shock collar on. I have to respond to the phone ringing, either to look at the caller ID or to decide not to answer it, even if I am feeding a baby. I have to respond to their cries in the night, even if I am a firm believer in “crying it out” (which I am), and even if “respond” simply means I wake up with them and lie there in the dark until they fall asleep again.

There is no ignoring of anything, even if my choice is not to meet that request. Every demand is catalogued in my brain. Every single cry, plea, bargain, and questionable poop noise: it’s all getting catalogued in my brain and silently prioritized. With four children under four in our house (adoption + my niece + IVF twins), every single moment is a list of needs from an army of small people. In my brain. All the time.

I don’t know how to stop it. My senses got messed up during my horrific twin pregnancy and the whole almost-dying-during-childbirth thing. I think most new moms feel this way: everything was too bright, too loud, too rough, too shrill, too painful. But my senses didn’t seem to right themselves after recovery was over. I entered a fight-or-flight feeling that went on for a year. My adrenaline never stopped pumping. Even after my twins started sleeping through the night at seven months, I couldn’t relex. Even though my job was done at 7:30 PM, and I knew they would sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes I couldn’t stop pacing the house until my husband literally took my hand and pulled me down.

Finally, around the twins’ first birthday, my own psychology degree hanging on the wall convinced me to talk to the doctor about that feeling. I work on that feeling every day. Sometimes I have to call my husband at work to give me the “pep talk”, but I have come a long way.

No matter how far I come, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to relax all the way. Moms have to prioritize every messy moment of every messy day. I am so demanded-out. Some nights I become zombie-mommy as I go glassy-eyed at the last of the day’s cries/pleas/tantrums/barks. But I’m alive, I’m here, I’m okayest, and I’m not going to ignore this messy beautiful life.

Even though maybe sometimes I wish I could.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project from the Momastery blog. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life”, CLICK HERE.

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Pioneer Women Probably Didn’t Wonder About That: A Hierarchy of Needs

Sometimes I feel like I’m gonna cry because I didn’t do that homemade play-doh project I was going to do. Or because my kid doesn’t know how to play hide-and-seek or climb a tree. Or because I haven’t played any classical music for them in a long time. Or because I haven’t made sure they know who Bambi is. Or because I haven’t made that blueberry smoothie in the blender yet.

You know what? All those sentences have “I” in them. If I were a pioneer woman, like my ancestors, I think I would be so consumed with hard work all day long that there would be no “I” in any of my sentences about my children. I would be working to make sure they were fed, clothed, and (sometimes) clean. Well, guess what? That IS what I do all day long.

Despite the fact that this modern life provides so much mothering help –like washing machines, dishwashers, DVD players, and baby swings (wow, how did they survive without those?) – my mothering life is still about the fulfilling the basic needs: feeding, clothing, and cleaning my children. I spend as much time preparing a meal as I do feeding it to them as I do cleaning it up. Three (four) small children make an enormous mess as they are learning to eat. I have to clean every surface of the dining room after they eat. Then I have to clean the kitchen.

Do you think this leaves much time for me to worry about whether or not they are being mentally stimulated? I practice “benign neglect”, partially out of necessity and partially out of choice. My pioneer ancestors, and every other kind of ancestor, probably practiced benign neglect because they were busy surviving. If that pioneer mother had to knit every sock by hand, do you think she had time to worry if her kid mispronounced his “f’s”? If that pioneer mother had to haul water from a stream, do you think she had time to worry if her kid ate enough vegetables that day? If that pioneer mother had to keep a fire burning all day, do you think she had time to worry if her kid doesn’t know what sound an elephant makes? (What does it make?)

Do you think that pioneer mother loved her children any less?

My psychology degree comes in handy sometimes. I often think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states that physiological needs have to be met first – before any higher needs can be met. If our needs are a pyramid, then bodily needs are the base. Water, food, and sleep are basic human functions that have to happen. Next up the pyramid comes “safety”, where a person feels secure and safe in his body, home, and family. In the middle of the pyramid, there are “love/belonging” and “esteem”. Not until the very top of the pyramid do we see “self-actualization”, which covers creativity, learning, and even acceptance of facts. In my education classes, we were taught that our students could not learn if they were hungry. I have fed children in the back of my classroom from my own pocket.

As for my own children, I often think about how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies. I am busy all day long, just meeting the base of the pyramid for the kids: basic human needs like food, water, sleep, and oh, poop. (No kidding: “excretion” is on there.) And between those chores and emergencies and necessities, I squeeze in as much of the “love/belonging” and “esteem” as I can. We are hugging and kissing and touching. I make time at every diaper change to poke their bellies, kiss their lips, look into their eyes, see how much their eyelashes grew that day. It is shamefully easy never even to make eye contact with a baby (two babies) during a diaper change. I can be up to my elbows in poop and forget that there is someone attached to that bum. Mothers of multiples – or maybe all mothers – have to work hard to slip in those moments that make a child feel special as often as possible. I put my hand under their shirts and stroke their backs whenever I can, just so they can feel my skin, if only for a second. I am constantly trying to find ways to meet their “love/belonging” needs and their “esteem” needs.

But what about their higher needs? What about the self-actualization? What about that project I never got to start with them? What about that game I never played with them? Well, unless it’s reading a book or going outside (I almost never say “no” to those two things), they’re going to have to figure it out themselves.

I trust that by leaving my children alone while I tend to basic needs, that they will naturally gain the higher thinking processes on the Hierarchy of Needs. They are learning about give-and-take while they negotiate toys with each other. They are learning about space and time and pain and risk as they scale and descend from the couch. They are learning fine motor skills and sharing as each twin slides one rainboot on his foot.

I provide the base. They’re going to climb to the top. Maybe literally.

3-Year-Old Kid Quotes, Part 2

[This is the censored version. Sorry.]

Just like DaddyR: Don’t sing that song to the babies. They don’t like that.

R: The babies will be baptized? They will need floaties?

R: This is the fall-down potty. It’s okay. We can go to Lowe’s and get a better seat.

R: Momma, cut your poop-ons. [coupons]

While running to his blankie after lunch:
R: Blankie, I’m so happy to see you!

Daddy: Give me a hug.
R: No.
Daddy: If you’re sick, a hug makes you feel better.
R: [Hugs Daddy] I all better now.
Momma: Give me a hug, too.
R: No. I alde-ready got all better.

R: Daddy sucks the leaves up with his leaf vacuum. That’s what he ‘doos’.

R: I’m gonna go on a date. To Harbor Freight. [A tool store]

R: I will go pee-pee by myself. Momma, you come with me.

While pointing to our old black dog’s white whiskers:
R: Cleo has too many whites.

First-ever lick of a lollipop:
R: It’s like a binky!

Me: What did you today at preschool co-op?
R: I cried.

While I was pushing the triple stroller (which weighs much more than I do) up a hill:
R: Why you tired, Momma?
Me: Because this stroller is heavy.
R: You have a lotta kids. 1, 2, 3.

In bed:
Me: Don’t worry. Jesus will watch over you tonight.
R: Jesus can’t watch me. It’s dark.

R: Will you sleep with me, Momma? Not with Daddy?

Me: Who will give me a hug?
R: Not me. I alde-ready give you a hug.

R: I will dream about Fiona Apple. (!)

R: I don’t want to go outside.
Me: I do. I need fresh air.
R: I don’t need fresh air. There’s fresh air coming in the window.

To his brother:
R: Shake your booty!

About his brother:
R: Where we buy him?

R: Jesus is not our brother. Our babies is our brother.

While laughing hysterically at his brother:
Me: What’s so funny?
R: He has a PENIS!

R: Who gave you this toy? God?

To his brother:
R: Don’t be happy right now!

R: This house is dirty. We need to vacuum.

R: The washing machine is broken, Daddy. I think we have to go to Lowe’s. Oh no! They only have lawn mowers at Lowe’s!

R: I think we need a new baby.
Me: I don’t know if I can grow a new baby in my belly, but that would be nice.
R: We can go to the hospital. I can go with you.
Me: Oh? Is that where we get babies?
R: Yeah. Only 1 baby this time.
Me: Not twins?
R: No. I will give the babies back to the hospital.

While clutching his favorite book about Jesus that we had lost:
R: I FOUND JESUS!

While pointing to my shirt buttons:
R: Momma, I like your butt.

 

[Apparently, I am raising a semi-religious manly man who is a bit grouchy. I love him!]

***Bonus clip: Typical parents-of-multiples ridiculous mini-fight:
“Every time something important happens, you’re always making a salad!”

 

Guest Post: When lllness Interferes with Motherhood

renee 1 Being mama to two active boys has gone a bit differently than I planned.

This article is the sixth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my childhood friend, Renee. We were close friends in elementary school, but we probably haven’t even seen each other since middle school. (I think we were both pretty dorky. The other girls were fawning over New Kids on the Block while we were making up blues songs about our troubles at age ten.) Like lots of old friends, we re-met on facebook. Even though we haven’t been able to reconnect in person, we bonded over being on bedrest – and death’s door – together. 

Renee’s optimism is astrounding. She deserves a chance to tell her story. Here’s Renee:

The Hubster and I were married for three years when sweet boy #1 came along and we had it all figured out! I got to stay home for a while with him and the three of us had lots of fun together. Weekends were relaxing, mornings were slow, but time flew by. Other than him having pediatric epilepsy controlled by meds, nothing could stop us.

Five years, one miscarriage and many fertility issues later, sweet boy #2 greeted us! After he was delivered, the doctors delivered a 10 pound ovarian cyst that had shared space with our new bundle. We knew it was growing along with him as it was discovered right before we learned I was pregnant! Many ultrasounds took place to make sure he was outgrowing the cyst that posed a threat to us. Removal during pregnancy was too risky so we prayed and took precautions. I had ten weeks of bedrest and my ankles were the size of my knees. Yikes! But that was the least of my worries. As soon as Youngest was born, I started having severe abdominal pain. Even in the hospital, hours following the c-section, I was complaining of increasing pain and the docs said, “That’s to be expected”, or “You just had a c-section”. At the one-week mark, I had my staples removed and I was feeling a bit better.

But two days later, I woke-up with a 104.5 fever and couldn’t move my legs. My husband was home, doing what we thought was a great idea for his “time off”: putting in wood floors. Huh? Hey, don’t plan remodeling projects for maternity leave. Even though it’s your second kid and you think you are a pro. Nope. Don’t. Anyway, we were so afraid of what could be wrong so we called 911. Not kidding: paramedic dudes had to climb over plywood, wood slats, tons of tools and a bunch of new baby garb from just not getting it all put away yet. Hubster had to stay home with the kids, so this was my first ambulance ride, alone. At the ER I was told I had a “wicked” UTI. Also, it was determined I had bilateral sciatica and it “could be six months”. My left calf was also swelling and turning black. I was given antibiotics and steroids. My husband drug our babies out to pick me up. I remember sitting on the bench waiting, thinking, “I can’t walk. I can’t stand. I can’t lay. How am I going to be a mommy of two?” Once home, I literally screamed the whole way in the house. I had to have a walker at all times. Along with that, I needed posture help from my husband. Ok, I went to bed the night before feeling just fine, right? The next three weeks were what I’d describe as heart-breaking. I went to the ER seven times with excessive bleeding, fainting, unexplained pain, etc. They just kept saying, “It’s that wicked UTI.” I went to my family doctor and explained everything. He said, “Renee, what is it you’re doing here? Are you drug-seeking?” Hmmmmm. He was no help.

I decided, “I’m 30. I’m a mom. I’m going to tough this out. Oh, and I will use a walker.” I was in so much pain. I couldn’t walk, lay or stand. No cooking, no cleaning, no running to the baby’s crib when he awoke for a feeding. My husband rigged some pillows in our bed to surround me and the baby, propping me up just right for breastfeeding and remaining pain-free. My oldest climbed in next to me and we colored every page of every coloring book, and found every hidden picture ever drawn. He was a trooper. Everyday when he was home from school he’d bring me something he made to “make mommy well”. It was nearing the end of May (three weeks since birth) and it was time for my oldest’s kindergarten graduation. My leg was still massive and black and blue. I was grey all over and I still couldn’t walk. My husband finished that floor and put a comforter under my recliner. (At that point, I’d slept in the recliner since mid-bed-rest days, with the exception of birth week. Twenty pounds on my abdomen was too much for lying down, and not being able to move your legs makes it hard to get in bed.) He pulled me across our new floor (wee!) to the bathroom. He carried me to use it and back to the chair. He was dressing me completely, cooking all meals, changing all diapers, up all night with Youngest and taking Oldest to and from school and the sitter’s. My sitter was amazing. One of my best friends.

This graduation was a big deal to me. But I didn’t think I could make it. However, walker and all, I arrived. The ceremony felt like hours. I cried tears of joy for his accomplishment and tears of sadness for our situation. Life was upside down.

My husband’s leave ended and that weekend we were faced with “Who will care for Renee? Who will care for the boys? Should this be the same person?” We thought I’d be better by now. My sitter would come over and literally babysit me, 30-year old me. I had so much pain. We’d cry and pray together. I even confessed that I felt death was near.

My husband suddenly had a brilliant idea! He was approved to use his vacation time to drive us out to my mom’s house in Missouri so she could take care of me before school started back. That way, he could go back to work and not lose his job. Also, we figured I’d be better by then.

Off we went! I had a 104 fever through four states. It was 112 degrees outside and I had chills and a fleece blanket. Once we arrived, I was so ill that we unloaded and my husband got me back in the car to go to a nearby hospital. We sat in the waiting room for nine hours. I was hemorrhaging. When they took me back they said, “Oh you have a UTI. And postpartum depression.” Say huh? That causes hemorrhaging these days? A doctor in Virginia had suggested that as well and I had to go to a counselor. During that first visit, she said, “It’s clear you’re not at all depressed. Rather, you seem scared.” Anyway, the ER treated my fever with Tylenol and it responded, down to 101. They said, “Sorry you have walking problems. It’s your weight.” Fun times.

We left. Guess what?? Fever was back to 104.5. Also, BIG allergic reaction to the IV med they used to treat my UTI. Back we went. A doctor took one look at me and said, “Oh! You are very ill! I’m going to run these tests!” Tests revealed I was suffering from sepsis (a bloodstream infection). He gave me two weeks to live. Hi, I have babies! I got shipped to a smaller hospital two hours away because the Joplin, MO tornado hit and I was not a priority patient. I woke up in a new place, sicker than ever. A nurse was standing next to my bed with a breast pump. “Dear, you must wake-up so we can pump some milk and see if it’s poisonous.” Whaaaa?!?!? I’ve been poisoning my baby? She added, “Fifty percent of babies need serious medical intervention from poisoned milk; the other fifty percent just poop green.” Called mom. Baby was fine. Five days passed and hubby was running back and forth between kids and mommy. He had to go back to Virginia. Vacation’s over. So he got me to my mom’s and left (I’m not cured, but better). Tears!

For three weeks, I sat on the couch. My legs started loosening up and I could take 10-15 steps on my own. I could change diapers, people!!! Oh, I was a happy momma. At night, I sat on the couch by our little baby in his pack-n-play. Bottles, burps, kisses: these little things helped me get through immeasurable physical pain still occurring in my abdomen and legs. I also felt like my heart was beating through my spine. I taught my oldest how to make all the basic foods, as I couldn’t always get up to make foods when he wanted them. We called it “big boy tools”.

The last night before my husband came to get us, I started bleeding again. Buckets. And kidney pain out the yang. He arrived and we loaded the car. I cried all the way to Kentucky, but quietly. I didn’t want my kids to know. I said, “We must stop. I am bleeding to death. I feel death is near.” I fell on the counter inside the convenience store and told the poor teenager workers I was dying and need an ambulance. While waiting, I went back to the car and I put on a brave face and talked to Oldest while holding Youngest’s bottle. The ambulance arrived and we caravanned, oh, 60 miles.

At the hospital, I was told to lay down on the bed at the hospital, but I begged them to let me sit. They have no idea what we’ve been through. The girl across the hall had my same first and last name, with the exception of three letters. Really??? So she got my doctor first by accident. I waited three hours, alone, as I told Hubster to get the kids to a hotel with a pool and play. Finally, the doctor. “Ma’am, you are not urinating, only bleeding. I bet it’s a stone. Oh here, tests show a UTI. And your sepsis test takes 72 hours. So here’s your walking papers!” Really? I begged him to admit me. It was 3:00a.m. My pain was a ten out of ten, and I am bleeding so much I couldn’t keep it from getting all over the place. A nurse cut off my wristband and I went to the lobby. Hubster and kids drove out and took me to the hotel. The next morning I was crying at the continental breakfast bar. I could see how I was no longer a necessary element to our family’s function. People were dressed, fed and packed. It took all I had to walk from the elevator to the car.

We got home to Virginia about 3:00p.m. I had Hubster drop me at the hospital. I said bye to my boys like I had once before. Like when I had had pain and bleeding so immense that I thought I should get in my last kisses. After argument from staff about how I was a frequent flier, I got a CT scan, which I demanded. They found 66 kidney stones. I met with my urologist four long days later and he had read my whole, entire chart. “Renee, this bloodstream infection usually eats heart valves. I need you to get an echocardiogram.” My infectious disease doctor does a heart check before the echo and jumps back from me. “Do you have a murmur? Because right here, I hear a large hole in your heart!” Ok. Echo, done. “Hi, I’m a cardiologist. You need open heart surgery. Now. You have 48 hours to live. If you want a second opinion, call them on my personal cell phone because there’s no time.” Ok. My kids are at the sitter. My husband’s at work. My mom drove in yesterday, before any of this was known, because she “felt like something was wrong”. She was holding my hand while we got the news and I think I broke her pinky.

I was admitted and tests started immediately. I was too sick to operate. I had to wait. But could die. My kids weren’t allowed in to visit until the night before surgery, as my “valve is hanging off and excitement could push it to the brain causing immediate death.” The night before surgery, I said goodbye to them. Like for real this time. I was convinced those first two times were practice. I bawled like a banshee when they left. One of my best friends and my husband spent the night with me. I had taken two antiseptic showers and I had my game face on. I looked at the sunrise and told the doctors I would see tomorrow’s sunrise.

Nine hour surgery. Recovery. Five weeks more in the hospital. Cardiac rehab. Home.

I have to re-bond with my little baby who is now three months old. My oldest is overjoyed mommy is home. But I still can’t be alone. After several weeks, I was feeling better, fully bonded again and part of our family mechanics! Oh, did I mention I lost my full-time job during these events, where I had worked as a counselor for several years due to “restructuring”? And you aren’t allowed to draw unemployment if you’re under a doctor’s care. Yeah. We couldn’t get food stamps, Medicaid, WIC or any other government support. Still had all the same bills with half the income. Add in monstrous medical bills, a home nurse for three weeks and picc line maintenance charges. Yeah, we made $80 too much per year for federal assistance. For reals? That’s two gas tanks.

Anyway, it was time for kidney surgeries. Sixteen in all. One surgery went horribly wrong, causing another “you have 48 hours to live” and required two extra corrective surgeries and 16 blood transfusions. I was sent to a larger hospital for these life-saving procedures. My husband had to be home with the boys, as these things happened so often, we got tired of asking friends to care for our boys, fearing they’d feel taken advantage of. A dear friend rode in the ambulance with me. I spent the next three days throwing up and bleeding profusely. Even my nurses said, “Oh sugar, I dunno if you can pull through this one!” I had blood thinners on board due to my mechanical heart valve in place, so that exaggerated the bleeding.

Oh my poor babies. Weeks of curtains closed, babysitters for mommy, mommy stuck to the couch, trips to the doctor. But you know what? After that last surgery, it was over. Mostly. I just had to endure many ureter stent placements for draining my kidneys.

On my first day with no scheduled surgeries, my oldest climbed in bed with me and started crying. He said, “Mama, you don’t know, but I cried at night while you were gone. I beed brave for you. Now, it’s time to cry together. Let all your tears go in my hair so they don’t get wasted on the ground.” Really???? You’re 5??? All of us were bawling.

It was a new day. My nightmare had ended and I began mourning the long nights awake with my newborn, piles of 0-6 laundry, walks with the stroller, and so so much more. I couldn’t even hold my three-month-old until November and it had already been since July. I now completed laundry with joy! Nothing could shake me! But there was that whole now-you’re-losing-your-house and have-to-sell-everything-but-your-kids just to eat. Sure, food banks were nice, but having both worked in a field where we helped with food banks, or drove clients to the food banks, those people knew us. And we were not always received kindly.

I can tell you, I’m not your average parent of small, growing kids. I’m not the mom with the jogging stroller at the park. I’m not the busy carpool-driving mom who “does it all”. In the last two years since surgery, I missed my oldest getting dropped off by the bus due to passing out; I’ve had a heart attack; I’ve needed two surgeries to stop bleeding and in turn required several blood transfusions. Most of my surgeries since 2011 have made me sterile. I’ve logged 137 days in the hospital away from my babies and husband. I’ve sat in an empty hospital room, wondering when my last breath would be. Would I know? Who would find me? I’ve made thousands of friends who are nurses and doctors, because I make time for them in my schedule (that was a joke, but true). I’ve learned a lot about health, and although my problems were caused by a freak occurrence of endocarditis, I’ve worked hard to save the rest of my heart by losing 154 pounds since surgery. I can run, but I mostly walk. I can be mommy! I can get on the floor and play! I can go to Chuck E. Cheese! I can be me. I have great stories to tell! The craziest one is that I called my son’s school to cancel the parent/teacher conference we had scheduled… because I was busy having a heart attack. I sit in waiting rooms with 30 ninety-year olds and learn so so much.

Jesus is our source of strength. We trust him through all of the crazy twists life throws at us. We are thankful for me being alive. And for Youngest not being poisoned.

In addition, many friends and family have helped us through these years of hard times. People sold vehicles to pay for our mortgage so we wouldn’t lose it all. But we couldn’t hold on anymore. We sold the house but had to bring 1/4 of the mortgage with us as a personal loan due to poor housing prices. We are trying not to let that eat us alive.

renee 2We now live with my mom in Missouri. I went back to work full-time for nine months last year. I was stuck at work many times, as we didn’t have money for gas to get home. Not to mention health scares here and there, adding to our medical debt. Most difficult was the $800/month health insurance, for myself. The kids were never hungry but Hubster and I shared plates. We wouldn’t change our journey, but we don’t want to do it again.

Today, I’m a stay-at-home mom! I love it! My medical team just isn’t sure I should work out of the home at this time. We are closer than ever as a family of four. My husband is working hard to rebuild our financial stance, as it had completely disappeared.

We will get back on our feet! And I will take each step with joy.

renee 3.

Note/Update from Okayest Mom: In my post Please Consider Helping My Childhood Friend this Christmas , I asked for my readers’ help in passing Renee’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign along. We were hoping we could help her and her husband pay off some of their staggering medical costs. I personally thank each of you who prayed, shared, or even donated. I am happy to report that they raised a take-home total of $10,330.75! Renee writes, “We are filled with gratitude. Thank you for every prayer & share – each one a treasure. Thank you also to Jesus. Each and every donation was a blessing and brought freedom. We are taking a sigh of relief tonight and every penny has been used to pay off my health insurance and 47 doctor visits from 7/2013 thru 2/2014!! That was chunked in one bill and it was eating us alive! NOW, it’s PAID in FULL!!! Thank you. We take none of you for granted.”

Setting the Record Straight

Sometimes people misunderstand my snarky tone. I hope I can write well enough that everyone understands my intentions. My intentions are to convey the absurd in my daily life. I want to be truthful. The truth is:

1) I love my kids. This is indisputable. Everyone loves his or her kids. Every parent wants to do his or her best for  the children. If I wrote a blog about that, it would be really boring.

2) What I do is really hard: There are only 2 people on the whole planet, besides myself, who have done this job alone all day (my husband and a friend from church). Usually it takes 2-3 grandparents to replace me for a day. Having three children under three, or three children in diapers, does not occur often in nature. Number 2 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

3) What I do is really ridiculous: My daily life is absurd. It’s weird. It’s crazy. Normal people do not live this way. If I didn’t find humor in what is happening here, I would crack. I might literally crack in half from being tense. Number 3 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

My blog is trying to tell the truth about numbers 2 and 3. I have mothers all over the world messaging me about how grateful they are that I am telling the truth. I have infertile women all over the world telling me that they are sobbing while reading my story because someone finally understands them. I have friends telling me they are crying with laughter or crying with tears at something funny or sad that I wrote. How are we supposed to help others if we don’t tell the truth? How can we relate to others if we don’t show our weaknesses?

If you have read my “about me” page, you know all this already. I have overcome trials as we struggled to build our family- some of which include infertility, miscarriage, adoption, IVF, carrying twins, and almost dying. I want to tell my children what it was really like to “acquire” them.  It was hard, sad, funny, ridiculous, embarrassing, and wonderful. I also want to record what these early days were like for us. Soon enough, they will be in school, and none of us will really remember these painfully beautiful and painfully hard days. I have a bad memory, and I am seriously sleep-deprived –  both of which indicate that I will not remember the majority of what is happening here.

A friend of mine has a sign on her wall that says, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

This blog is written for my children. A question I answered in my “What Happens When You Start Blogging” post was, “Why are you writing in a public forum if the information is really for your children?” The answer is that I have discovered that I am incapable of keeping a private journal for them – I just don’t make the time. However, when I am blogging, I know I have followers who are waiting for my new posts. I currently have just shy of 1500 followers. People tell me that they eagerly anticipate the email notification that I have posted something new. That knowledge is excellent motivation to keep writing. So, yes, this information is recorded for my children, but you readers are the motivation. And I thank you for that!

With all that cemented, let me set the record straight by doing something I never do: brag about my children. Here are some amazing things about them… just so you know they are loved. wink wink.

My oldest son (R, age 4):

  • Has a very long attention span
  • is obedient, despite tantrums
  • has excellent motor skills, both fine and gross
  • can recite some scripture stories and knows how to pray
  • can talk about Jesus and Heavenly Father
  • is very thoughtful
  • has favorite foods that include salmon, blueberries, falafel, quinoa, and veggie juices
  • doesn’t know what a “Happy Meal” is (even though he loves french fries, I admit)
  • does not watch TV (but does watch a limited selection of DVDs)
  • does not know how to manipulate any sort of smart phone, computer, or device (this is my choice)
  • protects his babies from all sorts of dangers
  • has an above-average vocabulary (according to a speech therapist) and even understands a bit of Farsi

My middle son/oldest twin (E, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my husband’s baby photos, but with lighter eyes and hair
  • is a hugger. He will even pause to hug the stairs, the wall, or a boot
  • has a lower lip that slays me
  • rubs two fingers together when he is nervous
  • is much larger than almost all singletons his age
  • is already learning to share and take turns, because he has no choice
  • has favorite foods that include avocado (he can eat a whole one every day), eggs (he can eat 3), salmon, falafel, and plain yogurt
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says many words

My youngest son/youngest twin (G, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my baby pictures, but with darker hair and eyes
  • is quick and sneaky, like a ninja – or a chess player.
  • has the most kissable head… His oldest brother calls him “baby doll head” (he made that up)
  • was in charge in the womb and is in charge now
  • is much larger than most singletons his age, but is way smaller than his twin
  • has favorite foods that include all the same healthy foods that his brothers like
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says some words

I love my kids (duh, boring), and what I do is really hard and really ridiculous. There you have it. The record is straight.

Guest Post: A Twin Mom Gives “The Talk”

This article is the second in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my childhood friend, Holli. We have been friends since fourth grade, mostly because we shared a love of books and finishing our school work quickly so we could read more books. Now that we are all grown up, we share a twin mothering bond. I go to her for reinforcement when someone says something weird about adoption or my twin mommy guilt threatens to swallow me whole. She is always ready with a kind word or a snappy comeback (whichever I need most). She does not mince words. I give you Holli, straight-talkin’ twin mom:

rylanramziephotoA few days ago I received a request from the World’s Okayest Mom to write a guest blog that capitalized on my experience as the mother of twins.  Perhaps she wanted my (often sarcastic) responses to the typical questions I get when out with my children.  So, before you ask…“Yes, they are identical.  No, neither one is ‘dominant’.  No, they are not complete opposites, nor are they exactly alike.  No, one of them is not evil.  And, yes, they do have different fathers”…sorry, that last one is the answer I typically give out at Walmart, just to see the reactions I get.

Mrs. Okayest may have also wanted me to demonstrate that you can survive twins, but since mine are only eight years old, the jury is still out.  What I do have for you, loyal audience, is a story that recognizes the individuality of twins.  A story that overlooks how similar my boys are in many ways and exemplifies a challenge that any parent can sympathize with.  This is the story of why I had the talk with one of my boys, but not the other.

Yep, you heard me.  The TALK.  I had the TALK with my eight-year-old son.  Are you done gasping in horror?  If so, hear me out.  Maybe it was because the boys are in different classes, possibly exposing Rylan to information that Ramzie was not privy to.  Maybe it was due to the fact that Rylan loves to read – those Captain Underpants books might be a bad influence.  Whatever the reason, this past summer Rylan began bringing up the topic of sex.  At first, I ignored the comments as he appeared to be gauging me for a reaction.  But, when he wrote a story with “sex” in the title, I decided to ask him about it (with the full consent of my husband).

For those of you who do not know me, I taught anatomy and physiology for five years at a private school.  The body, and its functions, do not embarrass me in the least (a handy fact when in the company of children).  I’m pretty comfortable talking about sex and reproduction, as any of my adult students could attest to.  In keeping with my nature, one evening after finding out about the story Rylan wrote, I asked him flat out if he had questions about sex.  Before he answered, I told him to think about it – did he really want to know?  To my surprise, he did.

I won’t go into all the details of our conversation, but I explained to Rylan in simple terms what sex involved and that it was how babies were created.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Rylan got the giggles.  Really got the giggles.
  • I couldn’t explain where the phrase “the talk” came from.  I still don’t have a clue.
  • He said “Ewww”.  A lot.
  • Part of our conversation went like this:

Me:  “Sex is really about intimacy and there are different levels of intimacy.”

Rylan:  “Different levels.  Like in a video game?”

My husband:  “Exactly.  One where you’re always going for the high score.” (As you can see, my husband was extremely helpful during this conversation.)

After the TALK portion of our conversation was over, I had to make it clear to Rylan that this was not information he could share.  Not with his brother, his classmates, etc.  I explained that everyone was ready for this information at different times, and that it was not up to him to determine when that time was.  Since he claimed that I had now scarred him for life, I was pretty sure he would keep this information to himself.

My point in sharing this story is that Rylan, despite his comments, was ready for this information, as indicated by his previous comments and story.  His twin, however, was not.  Ramzie has made no such indications until recently, but is still not quite ready.  As their mom, I have to recognize their rights as individuals and not paint them both with the same brush.  Part of that individuality involves their maturity and knowledge levels.  While Rylan is in no way ‘more mature’ than Ramzie, his knowledge level, for whatever reason, brought him to a place that Ramzie has not yet reached.

Right now you may be thinking that you would never tell your eight-year-old the facts of life – and that’s fine.  As a parent, all you can do is take in all available information and then proceed with what you think is best.  Not what your mom says, not what Dr. Phil encourages and not what you read in the social media.  My gut told me that Rylan would benefit from having the facts and the correct information.  Your gut may tell you something completely the opposite.  That’s the great thing about being the parent – you get to decide.  Just remember to make that decision before his friends or the kids on the bus do it for you.

I’ll leave you with this.  If you have twins, or even just have multiple children, respond to their cues and not the “shoulds” of the polite world.  Remember that each child is different and try not to become entrenched in a timeline set by an older siblings (flashback to my childhood pleas that were often met with “Your sister didn’t get to wear make-up/shave her legs/stay up later until she was ## years old, so you can’t do it either”).  Recognize the cues that they give you and, hopefully, you don’t scar them for life.  Oh, and by the way? Your best friend’s cousin’s sister that has a twin boy and girl does not have identical twins.  If you don’t know why they aren’t identical, call me.  I’ll give you the TALK.

To My Readers Who Are Struggling with Infertility

I don’t just sympathize – I truly empathize with you. I feel your pain. I walked in your shoes. Whatever you are going through or feeling right now, I probably experienced it:

…..Miscarriages, adoption paperwork, IUI, IVF, Clomid, Follistim, Bravelle, Lupron, progesterone suppositories, 1.5” needles, glass vials, cysts, insensitive comments from strangers or non-strangers, meeting with social workers to prove that my house was suitable for children, getting fingerprinted at the police station like a criminal to prove that I was suitable for children…

…Spending $1500 out of pocket at the pharmacy for one month’s medications, enduring laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, waking up in agony after egg retrieval surgeries during IVF cycles, wasting thousands of dollars when my period started and that cycle didn’t work, breaking down in tears at family parties, screaming in pain during not one but two HSG procedures (barbaric), blood tests every other day, vaginal ultrasounds sometimes EVERY day…

…Genetic testing for me and for my lost fetus, trying to change everything from the lotions I used (parabens!) to the temperature of the water I drank (the ayurvedic doctor said only hot water!), crying  in Wal-mart because I saw a poster of a baby, wanting to run over the “stork parking” signs in parking lots, hating my body because it couldn’t do something that teenagers/ out-of-wedlock couples/ drug addicts can do by accident… (And I’m worrying about the kind of Teflon on my pots?!)

Did I forget anything?

The whole thing was infuriating, and it made me feel powerless over my life and my body and my future. I wanted more than one child, and the clock was ticking.  I even listened to my doctor say, “Well, if it hasn’t happened in five years, it’s probably not going to.”

So, yeah, I get it.

But, I am here to tell you something. I not only survived infertility, I kicked its butt! I never want to dull the pain of what happened to me, because I want to support those who are coming down the infertility path behind me. I want to be a small source of hope for you. Everyone is probably telling you stories (like “My friend so-and-so…”), but I don’t want to be that person. I just want you to know that I felt how you felt at one point, and now it’s over. It’s over. And it will be over for you someday too. I know it.

I experienced all of those things, and more. After 13 rounds of fertility drugs, 2 rounds of IVF, miscarriage, and adoption, I now have three beautiful boys. Although we haven’t used birth control in nearly a decade, none of those children were conceived in my own body. One of them came to us through adoption, and two of them came to us (simultaneously) through IVF. All of them have souls that belong in this family.

While the acute pain of infertility has ended, I refuse to forget about it. I think I know what you are feeling. And that feeling won’t last forever.

"Not room enough to receive it."

“Not room enough to receive it.”

I reflect on my infertile time each day at naptime, when I settle my three big baby boys on my lap for their milk. Combined, they weigh almost as much as I do. They take up all the space on my big rocking armchair. My lap literally cannot hold them all. I get weepy and emotional each day during this rare few moments. It’s the only time of day I get to cuddle them all. I think of a scripture each day during this time: “I will…open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10) That scripture runs through my mind as they try to sit there on my lap because there is literally “not room enough to receive” them all. My arms are full. My lap is full. The windows of heaven opened, and, I must say, we worked really really hard to open them.

We may have never had this lap full/chair full/ house full of children if we had not prayed, or had miscarriages, or done the adoption paperwork, or decided to do IVF twice. I don’t know. All I know is that, in my case, I had to wait. I had to wait and learn and be patient and work really hard. But, most of all, I had to break. I didn’t bend when I was supposed to bend. I was not a strong branch. Eventually, instead of bending, I broke. But after that, I accepted my life/journey/path/challenge (ugh, each of those word choices is equally as cheesy as the next). I reached a state of peacefulness and true patience somewhere around the eight-year mark – and that’s when my children started arriving.

There was not room enough to receive them.

***

[And, yes, I do know that the verse from Malachi is about tithing, not IVF.]

Surviving the NICU: Life as a Preemie Mommy

Preemie Motherhood - 2

This article is the first in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law, “Dee”, who, along with her 2-year-old daughter, Em, is currently living with us. Em, my niece, was born 3 1/2 months early and survived. Em, a former micropreemie, now weighs 27 pounds and can hold her own against her three cousins (who have managed to outweigh her). We have four children under the age of four living in this house. The chaos, mess, noise, and diapers are out of control, but every time I see Em giggle, hug a cousin, or say “oops” with a lisp, my heart soars. She is the Girl Who Lived. Here is a little window into the world of preemie motherhood.

When Melissa asked me to be a guest writer for her blog, I thought about what “okayest” moments I’ve had parenting my daughter, Em. I could go on for days about different situations we’ve had, but being a mom of a 1.5 lb baby tops all of my other mommy moments. Parenting in a NICU is incredibly difficult, especially when you never saw it coming. There are no perfect moments. There are no lovely, glowing pictures of you snuggling your newborn. It is chaotic, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to watch your tiny baby struggle to live, while you struggle to keep your sanity. Each and every day is about surviving and being okay.

Em’s (glossed over) Birth Story:

At 25-weeks gestation, I noticed a small amount of spotting. I’ve heard it’s not terribly uncommon, but I had my husband take me to the hospital just to make sure. As my doctor was checking me, his expression turned from unconcerned to uncomfortable. He told me that I was 2 cm dilated, and needed to be rushed to a hospital with a level three NICU, so that they could put a stitch in my cervix.

While in the ambulance, I asked the EMT how many premature babies he had delivered. He responded with: “Two. But neither made it, since we aren’t equipped to keep smaller babies alive.” I was stunned and furious. Who says that to a patient that is 25-weeks pregnant and on a two hour trek to the hospital?!

By the time we arrived, I was 4 cm and having contractions. They were able to give me medication to keep Em in the womb for another week, which saved her nearly a month in the NICU.

On the seventh day, I woke up bleeding and contracting, and spent the next five hours begging my nurse to get my doctor to help me. She would come in every half an hour or so to tell me that I was fine, and that I was not in labor. I cried. I pleaded. It took my mother and husband yelling at nurses down the hallways to get someone to come in. By the time my doctor showed up, my daughter was having her legs crushed in the birth canal. I was told I needed a stat c-section. Then an ultrasound showed that there was no time, and she needed to be born breech, immediately. My tiny little baby was born with bruised, black legs, because of my nurse’s negligence. Had she been head first, my time as a mom would have ended that morning.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten's.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten’s.

Em went through nine weeks of crazy ups and downs. We went through more than I can even write, but here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Being a preemie mommy means:

-…you were (more than likely) unaware that your little one was going to come into this world so soon, and are BEYOND unprepared. And it’s okay that you are! You will learn by watching your baby change each hour of each day (and from the occasional google search that turns out to be helpful, and then is just down-right terrifying).

-…mourning a pregnancy that ended too soon. You will feel gypped. You may have to go to your baby shower while your baby is in the NICU. You don’t get to look super pregnant and take fun maternity pictures. If you’re like me and waited until the second trimester to tell anyone, you’re going to feel like you’ve been pregnant for five minutes.

-…not getting to touch or hold your own baby for days or even weeks.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

-…being discharged and having to go home without your baby. This was one of the worst nights of my life. The guilt, the pain, the uncontrollable need to just be with your baby…. As hard as the first night is, it gets less painful as visits become routine. Eventually, you will be able to walk out of the hospital with your sweet little preemie and it’ll be a day you’ll never forget.

-…having to decide different courses of action, whether they are invasive, risky, or down right experimental. Em was part of the NEWNO study, which is a double-blind study to test whether or not giving a particular gas to preemies helps them breathe on their own faster. It was a scary decision to make, but to us, everything that was being done to save Em was first tested on preemies that were part of studies like this one. She can know that she made a difference to future preemies.

-…realizing that you and your child are capable of more strength, endurance, and hope than you can imagine. It may not seem like it, now, but trust me. You will see.

The Unique Positives:

-You will get to know your baby sooner than most parents do. You will see their personality shine through from day one, and (let’s be honest) it is interesting to watch a baby develop before your very eyes. When Em was born, her eyes were still fused shut, like a kitten. When she was about two weeks old, we walked up to her incubator to find these odd paper sunglasses on her, and her nurse told us that early in the morning, her eyes opened. I wish we could have seen it, but we put pictures of us in her incubator, so at least she still saw us.

-You will see that your preemie is a warrior. They will go through things that adults can’t handle, and their strength will amaze you. One of Em’s scariest NICU experiences was when a PICC line (an intravenous catheter that is threaded from the arm/leg/head to the heart for prolonged medication) site became infected. For several days I watched the slightly concerning bump on her foot turn into a black, marble-sized wound, that the nurses just would not take seriously. It wasn’t until she started running a fever of 103 degrees with her heart rate at 220 bpm, that they took action. They took off my 2.5 lb infants clothes and made her stay in an open bassinet for hours just to bring her temperature down. Once her fever was under control (days later), they told us that they needed to do a spinal tap to check for a deeper infection. After they performed it (and we cried harder than she did), we went home, for the night. At 3 am, I received a call from the doctor that they didn’t get enough fluid to test, and that she needed consent right now to perform a SECOND spinal tap, while she was all alone. As you can imagine, spinal taps are PAINFUL, and she was only given a small amount of Tylenol to ease the pain. These tests bring grown men to their knees, and yet these preemies often go through some of the scariest things alone. By the time we got there, she was bundled back up and sleeping soundly. It was if she hadn’t just had two giant needles jabbed into her frail back, just hours earlier. I don’t think I would have been in her position.

-You have more milestones to celebrate! Daily weight-checks to see if they’ve gained a few grams, being able to finally put some cute little clothes on your tiny baby, graduating to an open bassinet, and for some preemies, getting to take an ambulance ride to go from a level three NICU to a hospital with a level two!

Life at Home:

Here is the joyful day of Em's homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

Here is the joyful but intimidating day of Em’s homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

-The first night at home, you will be thinking: “WAIT. No monitors?! How will I know what her sats are? What if she has bradies (bradycardic episodes)?! How will I know?!?!” The idea of going from medical care 24/7 to being totally on your own is terrifying. Chances are, there will be a lot of unnecessary phone calls to the NICU because you think something is wrong, but DO NOT stop calling just because you think you’re being overly concerned. Had we given in to the many doctors that told us we were just young parents, and were still having some PTSD from Em’s prematurity, she would have never been diagnosed with epilepsy when she was, and she very well may not be here today, had we not followed our parental instincts.

-As time goes on, you start seeing your baby as a normal, healthy baby. No wires, no needles, no bandages, just your wonderful munchkin. Other people, however, don’t always know how to treat you and your preemie, now that you’re home. Which brings me to my next thought.

What NOT to Say to a Preemie Mommy:

1. “At least you’re not 40 weeks! Being this pregnant sucks!”

Say this to a preemie mommy, and she’ll want to punch you in the left ovary. We would give ANYTHING just to have been pregnant long enough to deliver a healthy baby. Bite your tongue!

2. “I wish I didn’t have to breastfeed!” or “You DON’T breastfeed?”

Preemie mommies can’t always lactate, which makes us feel inadequate and guilty for robbing our sickly babies of something that is so good for them. Even if you don’t want to breastfeed, it stinks not to have a choice.

3. “How is your baby having a GOOD day?! It’s so sick!”

Preemies can have good days. Even if it’s just gaining ten grams or coming down on their oxygen levels, it’s progress and that leads to hope. If you aren’t going to be positive/sympathetic, don’t say anything! We could use someone to just listen to us.

4. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

Yeah? Where did you get your doctorate of neonatology? Not only is this infuriating because no one knows if your baby will be fine or not, but it makes you sound passive about a very upsetting situation.

5. “Yeah, my kid was in the hospital with the flu for a few days. It’s tough!”

There are many parents out there that have had kids in the hospital, and many for reasons far worse than prematurity. But if your kid is in the hospital for poison ivy, don’t compare.

6. “At least you didn’t have to deliver a big baby!”

(Insert the hundreds of “at least you”’s that preemie parents can throw back at you.)

7. “She looks awful!”

She may not look well, because she is small and sick, but come on, now.

8. “She’s a preemie and you took her outside in this weather?!”

I’ve got more doctors numbers in my phone than I have friends/family. If I need medical advice on my kid, I won’t be asking you.

9. When your GYN nurse asks (without looking at your chart) “Did you feel the baby move, today?”

And cue sobbing. Running into people that don’t know you delivered early is tough. I have no advice for this one. It’s just awkward and sad.

10. “I’ve heard that the odds of a preemie doing ____ are ____%”

I’ve heard that the odds of being killed from falling out of bed are 1 in 2 million, so I’d start sleeping on the floor, if I was you. I hear statistics from every doctor and nurse that crosses my path. Don’t be negative, or try to be “realistic” about it. Just be supportive.

A Few Things to Remember:

-It’s okay to have fun outside of the NICU. I’ve had my share of guilt about going grocery shopping, seeing a movie, or just getting some dang sleep, but it’s necessary! You really do have to take care of yourself! Your baby has plenty of people taking care of him/her, so get take a little time each day to do something for you, even if it’s only for five minutes.

-Don’t take people’s crap in the NICU! I had a good share of family members that needed to just get the boot, either from being upsetting or negative. Your baby wants a happy mommy, and he/she won’t get that if mom is stressed out by a visitor that isn’t being supportive. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give you some space!

-The NICU stay will end eventually. It will seem like you will never escape the monitors, doctors and the sickening smell of Purell, but in a few weeks/months, you will hopefully be home with your little one.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but it seems like an even more unattainable status when you’re the mommy of a preemie. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to pretend like you didn’t just cry in Target because a woman was pushing around her newborn, and you can’t even find a preemie shirt that will fit your baby (which, by the way, you’ll want ones with snaps that go down the front!). If you follow your instincts, get some sleep every once in a while, and just do your best, you will be okay.

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em's uncle)

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em’s uncle)

Momma Quotes

kid stuck under tvWell, I gave you 2-year-old quotes. And then I gave you 3-year-old quotes. What I forgot was 34-year-old momma quotes. You’re welcome.

Moms say things in combinations that have never been tried before in the history of the world. Ever chastised your kid and then wondered, “Has anyone ever said that sentence before? That was a weird thing that just came out of my mouth.” You just witnessed a completely original moment in history. Here are some things that I (may) have remarkably invented, and  that made me laugh. Later.

“Don’t sniff your brother’s bottom when he’s naked.”

“We don’t put potties in the kitchen.”

“Your hair is not a napkin.”

“No, sorry, we can’t get another Jesus even though he died.”

“Doesn’t underwear feel cozy on your penis?”

“If you don’t finish your french fries, you can’t have any more blueberries.” (Don’t ask, cuz I don’t remember.)

“Um, that is just where my peepee comes out.”

“Um, that is just where my milk comes out.”

“Yes, you can play there if you promise not to step in dog poop.”

“We don’t poke the dog in her bottom.”

“No, you will not get baptized with a floatie.”

“Why do you have to put avocado in your ear every day?”

“I’m allowed to laugh.”

“I’m allowed to sing.”

“I’m allowed to run.”

“I’m allowed to talk.”

“It’s good to poop, but we can’t touch poop.”

“Yes, you can have some dog food.”

“Kick your leg like Aerosmith.”

“Honey, one of the babies snotted in my eye today and I finally got the booger out just now! My eye still burns though.”

“All right, who threw up in the toy box?!”

And, lastly, the best one ever:

“We don’t put turtles in our brother’s bottom.”