Saturday, January 24, 2009

Preemie Mom Confessions

It's been a long time since I really thought about being a "preemie mom". Because I'm able to forget most of the awful stuff that happened at the beginning of my kids' lives, I don't dwell on it. Better to work on the problems than linger on the potential causes for those issues, I say. And, the truth is, I've found that words are wholly inadequate to describe those days. There's no way to convey to someone with no experience just what it was like. None.But every now and then, there's a day that takes me back to some of those really bad times...not necessarily in a bad way, but in a contemplative sort of way. Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday, we went for our conference with Mam's preschool teachers. This is the conference where they discuss your child's readiness for kindergarten. "Do you expect any surprises from them?" Daddy asked on our way there. "No," I said. "But then, they wouldn't be surprises if I expected them, would they?"

There have certainly been surprises along our way to this point. Some of them very bad, some of them not so bad, some of them fantastic. At moments like this, where judgement (no matter how kindhearted) is going to be passed on one of my children, I often remind myself how far they've come. It plays out like a movie...with flashbacks in muted colors, but with strong emotions still attached.

Me: (in a hospital room, waiting not-altogether-anxiously for word about my baby girl, whose delivery was so scary, I didn't dare ask about it) What were her Apgar scores?

Disembodied voice: Zero, two and six.

Me: Huh. I didn't know you could be alive with an Apgar of zero.

Dawning realization...She wasn't.
Mam's teacher: She traces and cuts with scissors very well, she knows all her letters, she writes her name...

Neonatologist: She has a small bleed in her brain. There isn't anything we can do about it. We'll do another ultrasound next week to see if it's gotten better or grown. As long as it stays this size, it should be meaningless.
Mam's teacher: She counts very well, both out loud and in her head. We don't do them in class, but I asked her if she'd ever done a dot-to-dot. She was so excited to show me.

Me: (laughing) The byproduct of many children's menus!


Neonatologist: The scan shows a cyst in her brain where the bleed once was. It may be nothing. It may also develop into something we call PVL, which is often linked to severe learning disabilities.

Mam's teacher: And, of course, she can walk, run, jump and skip like nobody's business.


Me: (trying to get the attention of a doctor who had so far avoided me) Did the PT [physical therapist] come to see my baby when she was here last week?

Neonatologist: Yes.

Me: What did she say?

Neo: We're really concerned about her. She had very low muscle tone and didn't respond well. It's not a good sign.

Mam's teacher: We'd really love to keep her, but she's totally ready to go.

Me: Yeah. I know.

But there was always that lingering doubt. That little tiny voice that said..."But she was dead."

I don't know that I believe in miracles. I'm a science-y sort of girl. I think we were exceedingly lucky. I'm very grateful for that, despite the terrifying days that were Mam's beginning.

I'm painfully aware that not all parents, especially those of preemies, but many others as well, get such good news. Some parents never get the chance to hear about kindergarten at all. And the fact that Mam is almost five and perfectly prepared for kindergarten isn't something I can take for granted. It's so much more than we were given reason to hope for.

Snow in January?

I wonder how the folks in Minnesota would feel about this. This is one of the playgrounds at Mam's California. This is the one they normally call "The Beach". But no, that's not sand. That's snow. Considering that it hasn't snowed here since I was Mam's age...and it didn't look anything like that even's sort of bizarre to see the sand all covered with the cold, white stuff.

This is one of those things that might happen only in a place like upscale suburb where too many people have too much money.The school declared Thursday and Friday "Snow Day" and had someone come blow the play yard full of snow. Of course, the staff and volunteer parents didn't get away without some hard work either. They built sled runs, brought sleds, supplied a bunch of carrots for snow men and supervised hundreds of preschoolers, some experiencing snow for the first time.

It was magical, despite the overcast, drizzly weather.

Although Mam took one run on the sleds, she preferred to make snowmen with her friend, Jessica.It was nice that she got to have this snow day, considering that I bought her a snow bib after the failure of snow pants in the Sierras. This may have been her only chance to wear it before next year (fortunately, it's that big).

It was only half an hour of snow time, but all the little kids were so cute and there wasn't a single one of them sitting around doing nothing. They all had important business with the snow.

From time to time, the excesses around here make me roll my eyes with something between disgust and jealousy. But today, the excess was just plain fun.I bet there are some folks in Minnesota who would be thrilled if we brought a bunch of outdoor heaters and turned one of their playgrounds into a beach for the day. Don't you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Writing from Right Here

Although I'd love to say I'm an avid reader of The Economist...because I really like it and think that publication covers the world better than any other I've read and I love the perspective from outside the U.S....we subscribe to Newsweek. Someday, when we both retire and have lots of time to sit around and read, I'd love for this to change. By then print journalism will probably be a thing of the past. But I digress...

In its expectedly goofy way, the Newsweek "Special Inauguration Issue" arrived in our mailbox today. Of course, there was no actual information about the inauguration itself, but that doesn't mean it isn't full of interesting little tidbits. One article in particular caught my attention. It's called Welcome to Elsewhere, written by Dalton Conley. It's about the life/work balance thing and it put things in such a way that I finally understood why I hate working and trying to raise children at the same time.

The subtitle of the article pretty much sums it up. "For a new breed of professional, life is a blend of work and leisure, where you're never in the right place." Conley argues that the busy-working-parent lifestyle makes professionals feel that they should always be "elsewhere". They should be at the office, they should be at home, they should be at some network-building party...

I'm one of those people who likes to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I like to do everything I'm supposed to do. When you're always feeling like you should be elsewhere, you have to make a choice as to which elsewhere you'll inhabit at any moment in time. So you can never do everything you feel like you should be doing.

I've long understood that that was the life of a working parent...a lot of prioritizing, choices and compromises. I suck at choices. Always guilt-laden about the road not taken. And organizing anything complex where one thing relies on the success of another (like working relying on hiring a reliable babysitter) just about gives me hives.

I was such a stress case when I was working more...even though I've never really worked much more than 20 hours/week since having kids. I was so concerned about seeming "professional" while working from home that my kids got really short shrift from me. In the end, I felt like a bad mom and a poor employee. Oh yeah. I was a lousy wife and housekeeper too. I need to be able to focus on doing just one thing and doing it well. I think perhaps this economic crisis is doing me a big favor by reducing my paying workload. Now I just need to figure out that housekeeper part...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Big Day

Well, I thought it was a big day. We turned on the TV early to watch the presidential inauguration this morning. By the time Obama and Biden left the White House and got to the Capitol, Aretha Franklin sang and Joe Biden was sworn in, the kids were bored to tears. They squirmed, they whined. They left. I let them go.

But at some point, it crossed my mind that although they may not remember today, there's a chance they will...well, at least they might if they actually watched the know, if they were nailed to the floor and forced to watch. It's hard to communicate the import of such things to kids who really just want to go play with Legos or whatever. But if it wasn't important, what were all these people doing there?So, like a good mommy, I went and corralled said kids and insisted that they sit their bottoms down on the sofa and WATCH. They saw Obama sworn in as president...doubtlessly failing to notice their teary-eyed mother who couldn't even sit down. They heard his whole speech, although they probably understood little of it.I particularly appreciate President Obama's instruction to foreign leaders that their people will have greater appreciation for the things they build than the things they destroy. Mr. President, would you like to come to my house and explain that line to my first grader? He might listen if it came from you.

CNN had some kind of "inaugural album" where you can submit pictures of yourself or your family watching the proceedings. I'd like to submit mine, but I'm afraid the President wouldn't take the request above very seriously if he saw how seriously our children took his inauguration.

My Daughter's Eyes

I had no real reason to expect two children with blue eyes. Sure I have blue eyes, but Daddy doesn't. And his aren't exactly the deepest brown, but I really thought there was no chance. Must've been a better chance than I thought.

There's no excuse for this post except as a contrast to the previous one. Not that my daughter is all sweetness and light...but she was during these pictures. What a sweetie! Seriously though. Crazy hair day should bring out the best in her next year, don't you think?

Crazy Hair Day

This was an official day at Smunch's school last week. Not for any particular reason, just 'cause hair products are so much fun, I guess!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stereo Wars

When you were a kid, did you ever turn the music in your room up really loud, only to have your sibling try to drown you out with his/her own stereo? Hey, wasn't that fun? What were you blaring? How crazy did you drive your parents with your air wars?

I was a really boring kid. I got snapped at for playing my Enya too loud once. That's embarrassing, now that I think about it.

Anyway, if you ever had this kind of obnoxious, wordless argument with your sibling, just imagine the battle in my house. It starts with Mam's new compilation of Disney princess songs, playing none-too-quietly in her room...usually accompanied by copious singing and naked dancing.

Then, Smunch retaliates by blasting the CD from his CD player (pictured above). It's the lullaby music he's listened to since he was a baby. Then the princess music gets going full blast.

As if this couldn't be cuter, here's the CD player blasting "A Whole New World" from Aladdin or "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, or the new princess medley, called "Dreams", er...whatever.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Newest Hero

I have a lot of heroes...people who inspire me for one reason or another...but today I have a new one I felt like sharing with the very limited blogosphere that reads my blog. This is Darren Sproles.He is a running back and return specialist for the San Diego Chargers. At 5'6", he's the shortest player in the NFL.

Have I mentioned that I have a 6-almost-7-year-old sports fanatic in my house? I'm sure it must've come up at some point. And baseball season is over, so Smunch is now voraciously following football...and ice hockey...but mostly football now that the playoffs are coming right up. If either the 49ers or the Raiders were any good, he'd be rooting his little heart out for them, but since they both sucked this year and the Bears probably sucked just as bad, he's left rooting for the Chargers...the team of the city where SPENCER! lives. That's really O.K. since the only NFL jersey he's got is a LaDainian Tomlinson jersey that Aunt Karen generously gave him for his last birthday.

On his last birthday, Smunch had never heard of Darren Sproles. But he's been watching a lot of football lately and Sproles has been freakin' amazing. Last weekend, as the Chargers played a wildcard game to get into the "real playoffs", Smunch watched, riveted as, in a crazy close game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sproles scored the game-winning touchdown.

And sure, I appreciate a cool sports star as much as the next, but I'd have left Smunch cheering on the Chargers if I hadn't bothered to look up a few details about Mr. Sproles...admittedly inspired by noticing just how short he is. Turns out, he broke just about every record at Kansas State, on his way to the NFL, but also on his way to...wait for it...a degree in speech pathology. A little further research confirmed my unfounded suspicion that Darren Sproles stutters. Not only does he stutter, but he's a member of The Stuttering Foundation's Sports Legends Who Stutter.

I haven't written a lot about Smunch and his stuttering lately. It has actually improved markedly in the last few weeks, but he still has trouble talking in such a way that he's super intelligible, especially if he's excited. So, you can imagine that if you get started on Darren Sproles or on any football game, you're not likely to understand or get a word in edgewise.

So, thank you Darren Sproles. I know you haven't gotten away with avoiding the interviews lately, but your willingness to share your struggles with speaking are such an inspiration to a short little white kid who stutters up here in the Northern California 'burbs. He can't run like the wind like you do, but thanks to you, he probably believes he can.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


My children are truly deprived. As long as they've been alive, it has never snowed here. To be honest, I remember it snowing only twice in my lifetime. Once when I was Mam's age and once in 1999. And most people wouldn't even consider that stuff snow. It mostly melted as it hit the ground.

A couple of years ago, it snowed in the hills above our town and we took the kids up to enjoy the couple of inches of white stuff. They weren't that impressed. It was COLD. And, of course, we don't have much in the way of appropriate clothing for snow.

This year, we got wind of a possible opportunity to join my stepinlaws (Yes, I'm quite sure it's one word, at least in this case) at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe. Although the stepinlaws are a crazy bunch of people, I knew Daddy would want to spend some time with his dad (who spent almost the entirety of the holidays up there) and the kids were already asking to go to the snow, so we shopped the Lands End sale at Sears after Christmas and as soon as Karen and SPENCER! left, we headed to the Sierras.

Thanks to Junie B. Jones, the four-hour trip up there was a no-brainer. And as soon as we arrived, the snow clothes were on and the sleds and saucers were out on the hill behind the cabin.Daddy and Grandpa dug them a snow cave.Step-gram gave them snowball makers. They made liberal use of them quickly.I clearly need to learn some evasive moves while trying to take artsy photos with the new camera or Smuch is going to nail me. Mam decided maybe snow would taste good.We learned why snow bibs are a whole lot more practical than plain ol' snow pants when Smunch had a whole lot of trouble keeping his up.After an hour or so, everyone was cold and wet and we went inside, where the kids began a rousing game of Jenga with their grandpa.Guess who was winning...Considering that many of the stepinlaws are pretty hardcore skiiers, there was some significant pressure to sign the kids up for ski lessons the following day. Step-gram had even gone to all the trouble to provide us with all the registration which point we realized that two hours of lessons for two kids would cost more than $300. Yikes! But I thought I'd at least run it past the kids and see what they thought. It would've given Daddy a chance to get his skis out and hit the slopes himself, at least. But being left to my own devices with the stepinaws didn't really thrill me a whole lot.

Smunch, ever the timid one, insisted he wasn't interested in skiing. Mam thought she wanted to try it. The next morning, we went out to the ski slopes to take a look at the kiddie ski classes. Smunch still didn't want to go. Mam did. But then, maybe not without Smunch. Then I gave them the choice of going ice skating or skiing. They unanimously chose to go skating. My wallet breathed a sigh of relief, but a little part of me wished they were a tad more adventurous.

For the uninitiated, the ice skating rink at Squaw Valley is a really spectacular venue at 8200 feet. You have to take a gondola up to "High Camp" to get there.Although there was a lot of whining, some crying and a ridiculous amount of snot (thanks for stocking Kleenex, Squaw), Mam had a great time.and Smunch had his share of success before the wind kicked up and made it unbearably cold to be skating outside in the mountains in a completely unsheltered ice rink.There are lots of reminders that Squaw Valley was the venue for the 1960 Olympic Games.We went inside for some cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. I should have known that Smunch would find a sports page that would fascinate him, even if it's almost 50 years old.It was New Year's Eve, so we all headed off the mountain for a fine few games of Wii Sports and Ryder spaghetti.

We escaped Squaw just in front of a snow storm and while we could still get home in time to spend the weekend at home before getting back into the whole school routine. It was a fun time though and we left, already talking about when we might be able to get back up there.

Outdoors for the Holidays

A visit from my sister is hardly complete without a trip to the local open space preserve. Our dad used to take us out there regularly when we were kids. Back then, no one else really seemed to know about it. This time, we felt lucky to find a parking space in one of the five parking lots they constructed since our childhood. Our dad and my kids' dad joined us. Grandpa rode his bike along with my kids on their little bikes and SPENCER! on a borrowed tricycle. Karen, Daddy and I walked.

The ultimate destination of this bike ride/walk is a city-owned working farm. It's not quite as active as it was when I was a kid, but there are still a bunch of animals out there and it's fun to see who's around each time. I, however, used the opportunity of being outdoors on a beautiful day to experiment with my Christmas present...a lot. Daddy and I met the rest of the crew on their way back from the farm.I had a lot of fun and learned a few things. I think there's a whole lot of room for improvement though!