Triggering memories

In school, I was never great at history and remembering dates. I’ve got a couple big ones left in my head (Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492), but mostly they are all gone. I’m much better at remembering personally important dates like birthdays and anniversaries and such. Way before Facebook’s birthday reminders, I was a master at remembering birth dates of friends. I’m less masterful at getting my act together to actually send a card, but that’s a different story. Recently, I got in touch with an old friend I haven’t seen in probably 15 years and I texted her on her birthday and she couldn’t believe I remembered.

Lately, I’ve been getting a big kick out of Facebook’s app “On This Day”. Facebook will show you posts from years before on the same date so you can reminisce and re-share and reconnect with people over shared memories. There are other apps that do the same thing with pictures and such. It’s fun to see where my head was at on any given day 6 years ago or see pics of my boys as they grow.

was i describing laundry?

was i describing laundry?

2013 glasses

wordpress 2014

All cute, but none that I especially felt like re-sharing (ironic, since I’m now writing a blog post about it) and nothing that would actually lend itself to remembering this particular date in time. Since today also happens to be “Throwback Thursday”, another social media trend I enjoy following because who doesn’t love an excuse to post old pictures?, I began sorting through old pictures of the boys thinking I could find a fun one from July of another year. That’s when I realized the significance of the date.

July 9th. It’s not exactly a super important date in my personal history, but it is exactly 2 months until the boys’ 10th birthday. Here’s what they looked like 2 months before their 1st birthday:

10 months G 10 months cjm 10 months

Look at those pudgy little babies! How lucky we were (and are). This was back when I would take a photo on the day of their birth each month to see how they had grown. I even had a frame where I was going to put each of these monthly pictures for the first year. I think they are in a box somewhere, but I digress.

Here is what I looked like a year before that:

hospitalThree days from now will mark the tenth anniversary of the day I was admitted into the hospital with the possibility of having my babies 13.5 weeks before they were due. July 12th will be a date I will remember forever. Mostly because I make myself remember. I’ve made it a twisted anniversary of sorts. A day which could have been really horrible. A day my whole life could have changed. Maybe even a day where my world should have changed more than it did.

If I were trying to write a good story, I would say that July 12th was one of the scariest and most confusing days of my life. But that’s only partially true. Looking back, I can see I wasn’t nearly as scared as I should have been. Maybe it was faith. I had to believe that everything was going to be just fine. Maybe it was naiveté. I didn’t understand the seriousness of the issues I was having. Maybe it was stubbornness. I couldn’t let anyone think that I couldn’t handle what was happening. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was denial.

I do remember that when they admitted me to the hospital, I really didn’t think I’d have to stay there–despite the doctor flat-out telling me I was going to have to stay. I do remember thinking the doctors were being overly conservative and I was sure I’d be fine. I remember worrying about work. I do not remember being truly concerned I was going to go into labor. Even when the contractions started. Even when they put me on super strong drugs to control the contractions. I was going to be JUST fine. Yes, looking back. I think July 12th was a day of denial.

It wasn’t until the following day(s) when shit got real. I became very sick from the medication. My lungs filled up with water. I was having difficulty breathing. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure everything was going to be fine. It felt more like I was going to die. At one point, it was late at night and I was being rolled down to have a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t developed an embolism. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t want to expose my babies to radiation. I was singing “Me and my Bobby McGee” to the boys trying to make them dance in my belly so I knew they were OK. I’m sure the hospital staff was convinced I had cracked. I kept complaining about how I didn’t understand why it was necessary and wouldn’t it hurt the babies and just being a general pain in the ass until finally the frustrated technician told me it would hurt the babies a lot more if I had a pulmonary embolism and then went into labor and died.

Well, if you put it that way…

Obviously, it all turned out OK in the end. It would probably be easier for me to let my memories drift into a soft, hazy blur like so many of those first few weeks and months after the boys were born. Some memories are difficult. Some are better with the soft edges. Maybe some are even better left in the dark recesses of our minds, all but completely forgotten.

Without reminders from Facebook or birthdays or special occasions or re-reading old emails to discover what we were thinking on any given day, without a conscious effort to tell and retell stories which conjure up vivid memories of a place or time, all we are left with are the general impressions of moments in our lives; fleeting, fuzzy, and fallible.

I think it’s important to make that conscious effort to remember. To mark the passage of time with personal anniversaries and milestones. To revisit those key memories which shape who we are and reinforce them by sharing them. So, I’ll keep looking back and telling the boys stories about the days leading up to when they were born and then all the days after that I can remember. I’ll weave for them a story of their earliest moments so they will know how much I fought for them, how much I wanted to protect them, and how much I loved them.

For this memory will always be the sweetest of my life:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

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Enough

Cleaning my house stirs up mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, when everything is clean and orderly, I get a deep sense of satisfaction. This is my house. This is what I am providing for my children. Yes, a lot of the furniture is second-hand and was given to us. Yes, the kitchen decor is from the 70s. Yes, the wood floor could use some work. Yes, there is only one bathroom that was wallpapered in psychedelic silver foil paper with bright pink and green and blue flower designs with a striped wallpaper on the ceiling giving one a sense that they were relieving themselves within a gift wrapped by someone on an acid trip, which made me immediately tear the paper off upon moving in, although I still haven’t replaced it four years later. Yes. But it is mine. And theirs.

However, while I am in the midst of cleaning I often have a bunch of other thoughts running through my head that sound a lot like this:

When I get some extra money, I am going to replace that table. I’ve always wanted a big farmhouse style dining room table with lots of chairs and a bench. It would totally fit here and be perfect. Maybe then this table could move into the kitchen as sort of a breakfast table or I could just get rid of it because it is on its last legs. I’d like to move this other table down into the basement and keep using it as an “art” table. Actually, I should probably spend money for a table on replacing the carpet in the basement. How much could that possibly cost? If we then paint the paneling and get some comfy beanbag furniture like at that new place that the boys always run in to when we pass it at the mall, it would be the perfect place for the boys to hang out with their friends and I could finally clean off that desk and make my little “office” down there too and we could have a place to do crafts that wasn’t the kitchen! But, I guess if I do have extra money, I should consider re-doing the cabinets in the kitchen. Or replacing the dishwasher. Or the microwave. Actually, I should really just suck it up and spend the money to have that bathroom built out in the basement. The people who lived here before had the wiring done and put up the beams to wall it out. How much could it cost to finish? It would be so nice to have an extra toilet in this house. And a shower, especially for the summer when coming in from the beach or being super dirty from sports, they could just get clean before even going upstairs. Perfect! I can’t imagine even having that kind of extra money though. There are always other things to spend money on. First, I should have my brother-in-law stop paying for my EZ pass. Then, when I am really on my own I can consider spending money on home improvements. Oh, and I still owe Dad money from what he loaned me for summer camp for the boys a couple of years ago. I never finished paying him back. I’ll do that with my tax money this year. If I even get any back. Of course, I need that for camp this year. Maybe I should start putting away a little money each month for all of these things. So many things! I would love to buy an electric fireplace for the blue room and a rug, then that would be a perfect room for our winter reading and snuggling. I suppose I could break down and get a TV for that room, too. If only I could get a new couch for the TV area that I could be sure the cat wouldn’t pee on. Then we could all stretch out. The boys are getting so big. That area isn’t going to hold all three of us for much longer. And I want them to be able to have friends over. I want them to have a house that they want to invite friends to. A house that will be a comforting place for them and for everyone to be.

And then I stop and sigh. And realize that for a house to be a comforting place, it is about the love of the people who live there and not about the decor. And realize, again, that I’m doing the best I can and should probably not even go down that wishful path of “It would be so great if…” We have enough. We don’t need more. Better that I can take them to the movies from time to time, or out to eat. Better that I pay for groceries and clothes. Better that they can play the sports they want. Better that we can sit at our second-hand table and play a board game and eat supper and know that someone thought enough of us to give that table to us.

We are constantly barraged with images of “perfect” homes and families on the television and in magazines. It is easy to slip into the mindset of wanting more, of trying to reach this standard of living which is pretty improbable for the majority of people in the world. It’s easy to confuse this idea that having the perfectly decorated house means you have a perfect family and life. It feels almost like if you can achieve that perfect backyard, you will certainly have the loving family memories that go along with it. But of course it doesn’t matter what your house or yard looks like. I don’t love my family any less because I have an unfinished bathroom and a Brady kitchen (sans avocado fridge).

They say that women get a low self-esteem from reading fashion magazines. Well, I had to stop looking at Pottery Barn catalogs and home magazines for similar reasons. If a furniture catalog comes in the mail, I throw it out.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses,” especially when one lives in an affluent, Northeastern suburb like I do. Many of my children’s friends live in large, gorgeously decorated homes. They often “wish” we had a bigger house. I always respond with, “Who would clean it? You boys don’t even like to clean the one we have!”

And now with Christmas rapidly approaching I will be faced with the boys and their desires for toys that are way too expensive and homes all around us that are beautifully decked out for the holidays. We will make our humble house homey for the season with our tree that we pick out together and a collection of ornaments that I inherited from my mom from my own childhood, as well as ornaments the boys and I have been picking out and collecting over the years. The boys’ will get new bikes for Christmas and a few other gifts and will be spoiled by their relatives and not even realize how lucky they are. But I’ll know.

The truth is we are luckier than 99% of the people out there in this great big world. We have our health  and a roof over our head and food in the refrigerator and a loving family and lots of “extras”. My kids complain that they are bored if they aren’t playing video games on their ridiculously expensive devices. I was able to buy and cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my mother and brother and have leftovers to feed us for a week. I have a job and a steady income and my boys can go to school and get an education and learn music and art and play sports. And at the end of the day, we are together. We can snuggle on our almost too small couch and read a book or watch a movie.

We have enough.

Ginger ale and crackers

Everyone in my house slept through the night. Thanks to my sister, the goddess of basically everything, who brought me a plethora of home remedies including ginger, honey, cloves, apple cider vinegar, peppermint, ginger drops, saltines, ginger ale, and lots of vitamin water, I was able to stop the excruciating pain and vomiting and get some uninterrupted sleep.

Mostly uninterrupted, actually, since my little bear C felt the need to sleep in my bed again. Between some strange show he caught  glimpse of that scared him and watching his mama barely able to drag herself off the bathroom floor, I think he just needed to stay close by.

He was in tears several times last night and kept saying that he didn’t want me to be sick anymore. Poor baby. It’s so hard as a parent to watch your kids be sick. You want to be able to take all the pain away and you feel so helpless to make them better. I had told both of my boys that very thing when they came down with the stomach bug… if I could, I would be sick instead of you. I guess what I didn’t consider was how helpless they feel watching their parent get sick.

I wrote before about how being sick as a single parent is one of the hardest things among many hard things. When I wrote it I was thinking about how you just have to carry on even when you are feeling so miserable. And yet, I didn’t consider how awful it must be when you actually cant carry on. I was only sick like that for a day. I can only imagine what parents go through who have to suffer cancer and chemo treatments or other chronic illnesses that lay them out for days at a time. Knowing your kids are worried and scared must be torture.

The boys didn’t have school today, but I had already paid for the “School’s Out Camp” that they YMCA puts on so that working parents have some options for all the days that kids seem to have off during the school year. So, I made some lunches and put on clean clothes and drove them over to the camp for the day. That was about all I could manage.

When I got home, I took a couple of sips of ginger ale, sent an email to work to let them know I wasn’t going to make it, and crawled back into bed. Part of me felt guilty, like since I wasn’t actively vomiting that I ought to be working or cleaning the house or something. But I realized that the most important thing that I had to do was to be ready for those little boys to come home again. To see a mom who was “better”. To know that she was going to be able to take care of them and that everything was under control.

So I slept most of the day. Then, I gave myself a little pep talk and got up to take a shower and clean the bedclothes and dirty dishes and disinfect the bathroom. Now, I feel like I just won a marathon. Climbing onto my stripped down bed with a little plate of crackers and my cup of ginger ale, I realize once again how lucky I am. Soon, I will go and pick up the boys and make them dinner and we will all snuggle and watch a movie and they will feel safe and loved and secure. And that is all I can ask for.

Worse, but better

After yesterday’s post about things generally sucking all around, I was reminded that it can always get worse. My poor baby G, who is plagued with various health issues, got hit with a stomach virus. So the two of us got to spend the evening (and morning) running to the bathroom and one of us got the added bonus of cleaning various body fluids from the floors and clothes and rugs and disinfecting the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Sigh.

Yes, but the silver lining is this: a mom friend had offered to take the boys to a rocket-building clinic today that she was bringing her son to, so that they could make their rockets for the Cub Scout Rocket Derby.  When I told her that G was sick, she offered to pick up C early. And feed him lunch. And keep him busy while his brother and his mother recuperated. This. Is. Huge.

I decided that I will use my NaBloPoMo post time to jot down a quick list of things that I am grateful for and all the ways my life does not suck at all. I won’t add any explanatory copy, but use them as prompts for the next few days for full-blown posts.

  1. Mom friends who swoop in and rescue me
  2. I have the most awesome sister
  3. Cub Scouts
  4. Beautiful fall days
  5. Child support after 8 long, broke years
  6. Shop-Rite grocery delivery
  7. My parents are still alive and able to be a part of the boys’ lives
  8. Old friends
  9. I have enough

I will think of these things tonight instead of how tired I am, how I wish I could take my boy’s pain away,and how I wish we could catch a break. Because when it comes right down to it, I’m one lucky woman.

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Flashback

This time 9 years ago I was lying in a hospital bed crying. Everything was too much. I had spent 60 days lying around medicated to keep my preterm labor at bay and the doctors had agreed to take me off the medication at 35 weeks and let nature take its course. When nothing transpired after a few hours, the doctors joked that maybe the babies had gotten comfortable and would stay the 40 weeks after all. Hahahahahaha…no.

I was enormous and miserable. My back hurt, my legs and feet were swollen, and the thought of eating made me sick. I just wanted to give birth. But as with the 9 weeks before, I also didn’t want to give birth and have there be complications with the babies. I was between the proverbial rock and the hard place. I received an email from the boys’ father informing me that he wouldn’t be participating in our lives any longer. Not that he had been the doting father-to-be up until that moment, but there had been brief periods of hope on my part that it may all work out the way I thought I wanted it to: two happy, loving parents and two happy, healthy baby boys.

But that night my future was so uncertain, my emotions so erratic, that I couldn’t see how it would all be OK. My happily ever after seemed so very far away.

The prior few weeks my San Diego friends (read: ANGELS) had been working hard to assure a happily ever after scenario for the boys and me. They cleaned and organized my house. They set up the nursery. They fed my cats. They took care of my mail. They brought me meatballs (I was a vegetarian, but hey, the babies wanted what they wanted!) They brought me toothpaste, books, movies, funny stories, company, “happy hour”, music, and burritos. They did my laundry and my errands. They took care of my car; installed the baby seats, got an oil change, and a tune-up. My friends and family from further away kept me supplied with magazines and movies and emails and phone calls and prayers and well wishes.

Don’t cry, the one night nurse told me, then your babies will be sad and cry all the time too. Awesome. I was fucking up my kids while they were still in the womb. Great job, mommy. I couldn’t manage to keep them in my body properly. I couldn’t manage my roller coaster of emotions, from the moment I found out I was pregnant to all the ups and downs of my ridiculously unstable relationship. The doctors warned me constantly that I was at risk to give birth at any time and that the boys would likely have lifelong health problems if that happened. I needed to be grateful that they were still inside my body baking (and I was!) But I was also terrified. And miserable. And excited. And depressed. And oh-so-gigantic. I couldn’t really move without pain. But I was lucky. And I knew I was lucky. But sometimes, like this night 9 years ago, it was hard not to lose sight of all that grace and just feel the “whys”. Why can’t this be a little easier? Why did I bring this all on myself? Why does it have to suck so badly? Why can’t I just have it go my way?

I don’t remember if I cried myself to sleep. I do remember that I stayed up until my last monitoring which had to be just before midnight. Sometimes I would try to sleep before the nurse would come in and barely acknowledge the routine of trying to find the heartbeats and strapping the contraction monitor on me. I think I was hoping for some sign that the last 9 weeks of being in the hospital on medication had been necessary. That the boys would have come and it would have been disastrous. That now the medication was out of my system, my body was free to do what it had been trying to do all along…get those babies born.

But the night nurse cheerfully told me all was quiet. And repeated the doctor’s joke about them happily staying put for the next 5 weeks. Wasn’t I lucky? Yup. Super lucky. Miserable and fat and in pain, but very blessed thank you very much. Now get out.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I had to get myself out of bed and waddle to the bathroom. This was no easy feat. I had to rock myself back and forth a little to get the leverage to sit up. Ridiculous. Anyway, I remember going to the bathroom thinking how lousy I felt. Wondering how I would make it through another day. Thinking now I had to deal with a stomachache and cramps on top of everything else. Terrific! I waddled my sick body back to bed and hoped that there was still an hour or more I could try to sleep before the morning nurse came in. I dozed, but didn’t sleep and I didn’t feel great. At no point did it occur to me I had started going into labor. After all that waiting and wishing, you’d think I would have clued in. But no. It was only when the morning nurse came in to monitor me that it became clear: the contractions had begun and the babies were coming.

I was thrilled and scared, but so very ready. I made sure they called my doctor right away. She had said she didn’t want me to labor too long because they had already determined I needed to have a C-section and they didn’t want to risk either of the babies getting into distress and causing an unnecessary emergency after all the caution we had exercised over the previous two months. I remember speaking to the doctor on the phone and hearing the most delightful words I had ever heard: “Today is a good day to be born”. And then the wait began.

After 9 weeks, you wouldn’t think 8 hours would seem so long. But it did. I called my mom and sister and dad. I talked to my local friends who were on standby. Two of my angels agreed to come and be in the delivery room with me. One of them called the father and let him know he was about to miss out on the most important day of his life. He agreed to come. He agreed to come and stay. To once again attempt to put it all behind us and really be a part of this. It was happening. One of my favorite nurses was on hand in the afternoon to help me get prepped for surgery. She was none too happy to hear that “papa” would be around, but told me to focus on nothing but the babies. I followed her advice. Nothing else mattered.

Once we were in the OR, I was happy I had asked a friend of mine to print out my Will. Suddenly, I had this horrible feeling like I had served my purpose. I had done a terrible job being pregnant, but now the babies were finally coming, and I might not make it through the ordeal. I had already had a horrible reaction to the medication they had first used to stop my preterm labor and in general, I do not do well with anesthesia and drugs. After they had given me the spinal, I had this pain in my neck and I was hot and cold and nauseous and could feel pretty much everything and was convinced something was about to go terribly wrong.

I tried not to panic. They gave me more drugs and I became completely numb. He who shall not be named was in the OR with me. He had shown up after all and I was grateful for a hand to clutch. The actual surgery was a little surreal. I could hear the doctors chatting. I could feel the pushing and pulling on my belly. I kept asking if they were coming and what could he see. Finally, I heard something: a faint cry and the doctor held G up for me to see and then whisked him away. And then seemingly an instant later, C was held up for me to look at and taken away just as quickly.

By that time, I was sobbing. With joy, relief, and a million other emotions I couldn’t name then or now. I kept asking, are they OK? Where are they? Can I see them? It seemed like an eternity before they brought them over to me, but I was so drugged up I couldn’t hold them. I had to wait. They eventually wheeled me into the recovery room where at least most of my upper body movement returned. And then the sweetest moment of my whole life.

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

This was just the beginning of our story. And every year from July 12 (the day I was hospitalized) through their birthday I start thinking about how differently our story could have ended. How there are so many people who made sure we survived. I wrote something on Facebook a few years ago which really sums it up and acknowledges those angels who made it happen. And since then, we have continued to attract amazing and wonderful friends into our lives. The boys are surrounded by good friends with good families who are always willing to help us out. Our family continues to be the rock to which we cling for safety and security, without whom, we could not be where we are today.

9 years ago tonight, I felt so desperate and sad and just wished I knew it would all turn out OK. I now wish that scared, lonely mama-to-be could have caught a glimpse of her amazing future.

Here’s an excerpt from the note in 2011:

But luckily, God had a plan. It was a very intricate plan and one I still don’t fully understand the meaning behind, but a few things I know. God gave me twin boys so that G and C would ALWAYS have each other no matter what. They would never have to be alone. And God made sure that I was surrounded by angels so that I would be able to get through those first few days, weeks, months and learn that I could do it on my own…with a little help from my friends (and family).

I try to thank these angels personally at least once a year to let them know I haven’t forgotten. It has been on my mind a lot lately. And for these and so many other things I want to thank:

Danielle Tannourji & Bo Diklich for taking me in and giving me a home until I had my babies, being there when they were born, and helping me out every chance you got after they arrived.

Gina Frazier, Laura Whelan, Kim Berry for keeping me company in the hospital, washing untold amounts of baby clothes, bringing me burritos and having game nights while the babies were sleeping and in general, relaxing the “no babies club” rules.

Dustin Schueneman for being the “fairy buddha father”, cooking us meals, and for showing up that very first night and bringing me pizza and watching the boys so i could take a shower, for sleeping over when they first got their shots and I was worried that they’d get sick.

Katie & Gary Grisko for helping to prepare my house and car so that I could bring my precious cargo home, for keeping my spirits up, for not thinking i was too crazy and printing out the will at the last minute and for the very important job of actually BRINGING US HOME!!!(along with Tami Reano who provided extra support)

Blair & Rob Mitchell who were also part of the “preparation” crew and Blair who literally swooped in and organized my life the next day when I thought I might drop from exhaustion, letting me sleep and waking up to a clean house, groceries ordered, happy babies and positive outlook.

Joel Williams for his help with the house and making sure I always had a smile on my face and making my return to work that much easier.

Joe Ueno for showing up that first day and getting me my medicine that I so desperately needed.

Jerry Garrett & Eric Zeiner for taking care of my OTHER babies while I was in the hospital.

Ace Pemble,Toutu & Ken Gold, Uschi & Jeremy Morris, Heather Domenico, Bonita Patterson, Vanessa & Michael Spencer, and Jenny & David Brumley for providing so much support both while I was in the hospital and in the months to follow, allowing me to get my strength back and to know that I had such amazing people on my side.

David Sarlo, my most loving cousin and amazing Uncle David to the boys, for too many moments to count.

Obviously, there are so many more people to thank in the roles that they’ve played in the boys’ lives and in mine. My family and friends who lived outside of San Diego have provided so much moral support and visits and advice and love. But the angels in San Diego that God sent to me deserve this special shout out tonight, six years later, because I truly couldn’t have done it without you. It really does take a village. And I am stronger for it and a better mom for it and I believe that as I’ve faced these years as a “single” parent one of the important things I’ve learned is that none of us is ever truly alone if you’ve got a friend and sometimes just knowing that is enough to get you through anything!