It’s the little things

Our 60 days of gratitude are winding down. We only have two weeks until the big birthday. This summer has been filled with a lot of ups and downs, but each night I whisper my prayer of thanks.

We are all getting giddy with excitement for our vacation and I suspect that there will be great floods of gratitude pouring out of us as we embark on our trip. A trip designed to really highlight the “little” things (which are, of course, the big things): nature, beauty, our active bodies, time with family, a slower pace, sunshine, water, peace.

But gratitude isn’t always about the big, little things. Sometimes it is about not hitting too much traffic on the way home. Or having some time to take an unscheduled bath. Or finding just the right word to express how you are feeling. And tonight my gratitude is about…

Our backpack.

Backpack

It’s an ugly old thing. Army green and black, it is actually a diaper bag. And it was probably the best thing I registered for when I was pregnant.

I had help when I was registering. Kind of ironic, looking back, that I allowed so many decisions to be made by someone who wasn’t sticking around to actually use any of the stuff, but at the time I was so happy to have a partner, I probably would have agreed to just about anything. And there it was in the diaper bag “dad” section. Filled with no frills bags in bland colors, so that no dad would be embarrassed to be carrying a bright, polka-dotted diaper bag around town. And though I looked longingly at the pretty bags, I’m nothing if not practical and not only did a backpack seem like a great idea, I would have bought anything that would ensure help from the dad of the twin tornadoes who were on the way. So, we registered for the backpack and a matching messenger bag which could be used on a quick trip to the store or whatever and it was a done deal. I was never a particularly frilly girl anyway.

Alas, no dad ever wielded that bag. But, I found as a single mom of twins, it was actually super handy to have my hands free at all times. And considering that leaving the house meant taking a shitload of diapers (pun intended) and wipes and pacifiers and bottles and changes of clothes and then as they got older, snacks and bandaids and first aid and…well, that damn bag was just about the most perfect gift I could have received.

From our first trip on an airplane (have you ever tried to change a baby in the bathroom of an airplane? It’s a treat!) to our latest trip to the beach just a couple of weeks ago, the backpack has gone everywhere with us. Affectionately known as “the family backpack”, it has grown from diaper bag and airplane carryon to daypack and overnight bag. It’s our go-to, our right-hand, our partner-in-crime.

I know it seems silly to have such an attachment to a bag. As discussed, it isn’t pretty. There have been many times since the baby years passed when I’ve thought I could find a more attractive alternative, but then I feel like I’m thinking of trading in my faithful mate for a younger, sexier model and I scoff at myself. Good looks aren’t everything, after all. I should know.

Ten years this bag has been there through thick and thin. Through diaper explosions and delayed flights and trips to the ER; through parties and picnics and camping trips, it’s been our constant companion. It’s solid. Strong. Dependable. Versatile. Sometimes over-burdened, but never quits on us. So much more than a pretty face.

And even though its original destiny was to be a “dad bag”, I’d like to think that it has received more use and love as our “family backpack”, proving that even the destiny of an inanimate object can change and find true purpose beyond the supposed-tos and could-have-beens.

Now, as the boys tenth birthday draws near and we prepare for one of our greatest adventures to date (both our trip and our entrance into the double-digits of life), I find myself appreciating this bag anew.

Thank you, old friend. I’m so grateful you’ve stuck by me all this time.

Full-disclosure Fundraising February

Full-disclosure February on this blog has turned into something more closely resembling fully-withdraw February. It happened kind of naturally and I’m not beating myself up for it, but I will make the observation that despite all my detoxing and positive thinking and lofty goals for spending this month improving my health and writing daily, I am just as tired and cold and inclined to hibernate as I am every single winter.

The good news is that I’m not necessarily depressed about it or feeling like the winter will never end. I even giggled with joy when I discovered that it was still light out at 5:30 when I left work the other night. This is progress.

Yes, my boys are pushing boundaries and climbing walls because of all the time we spend inside. Yes, I have many stories written in my head that I haven’t translated onto the screen. Yes, I think I will always feel like I should be doing more and possibly even different things than I am doing in parenting, in my career, and in my personal life. C’est la vie. At least, ma vie.

In other good news, I have thrown myself once again into fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve turned February into Fundraising February and I’m almost a third of the way to my goal. So, I figured that I could feed two birds from one hand and combine my full-disclosure and my fundraising on this frigid February morning.

If you knew me, you’d know I have twin boys who were born prematurely. Thankfully, they were born without much of an ado, other than me being terrified. They only had to stay one extra day in the hospital for jaundice and have only had moderate respiratory issues that we can trace back to their early birth.

If you knew me, you’d know that I now work for the March of Dimes, an organization that is committed to ending premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Before I began my work with the March of Dimes, I didn’t realize how serious the problem of prematurity was, nor how many families it affected. I didn’t know how many babies die every year because they are born too soon or because of a serious birth defect. I didn’t realize that preterm birth was the leading cause of death for children under 5.

Now if you really knew me, you’d know that when I found out I was having twins my doctors told me that I would likely have them early no matter what (this turns out not to be true, lots of twin pregnancies go full term). You’d also know that I began having complications around week 20. I had spent the day not feeling well and feeling almost like I was getting my period; achy, crampy, and just generally sick. My doctor directed me to the hospital where it was determined I was experiencing pre-term labor. I received several shots of terbutaline to stop my contractions and was sent home to strict bed rest for a couple of weeks. No work, no nothing. Bed rest. At 20 weeks. Half-way to the finish line with babies that would not survive if they were born at that time. No one said that to me though. No one said, “hey look, bed rest sucks but if you go into labor again and we can’t stop it, which is a very real possibility, your babies will die.”

If you really knew me, you’d know I didn’t come home from that first hospital visit to my own apartment and my cats and the loving, supportive father of these babies who would do everything in his power to ensure that I was able to get us all safely to the finish line. You’d know that instead I went to my dear, loving and supportive friends’ house where they had taken me in a month before because intervention-style they and my cousin decided that I shouldn’t live alone. They basically felt that I couldn’t take care of myself properly, and since aforementioned loving, supportive father of the babies had up and moved out of our apartment and was neither loving, nor supportive at that time, I had very little choice but to agree.

If you really knew me, you’d know I spent those weeks on bed rest in my friends’ home, alternating between feeling extremely lucky and grateful and feeling completely miserable and terrified. You’d know that I blame myself for the complications that continued to plague me throughout my pregnancy. You’d know that I would continue to fight with the father of the babies stressing myself out to the point that my friends once again had to give me some tough love, essentially telling me to cut the shit because they had taken me in to make sure I was safe and healthy and birthed these babies, not so that they could watch me self-destruct and take the babies with me. You’d know that I thought I had it all under control, but in reality I had nothing under control. You’d know that I cried at least a little every day.

If you really knew me, you’d know I eventually got my shit together and realized everyone around me was right and I needed to distance myself from the emotional drama that continued to unfold with the babies’ father and focus on the boys and getting them to the finish line. With the help of my friends, I moved into the home that I would make for the boys. I was reunited with my kitty babies. I was able to work from home, as long as I didn’t overdo it. I finally felt like everything was going to be OK.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I never got to “nest”. I never got to set up our little home. You’d know that my little army of personal angels had to take care of all of that for me because when I drove myself to my perinatal appointment for my 3-D ultrasound–I didn’t come home until 3 months later. You’d know that my cervix was incompetent and that my body was ready to go into labor even though my babies were only 26 weeks and would have a low chance of survival. You’d know that I was admitted into the hospital that day and the father came to show his support and I once again believed everything would be OK. You’d know that when he left, he didn’t come back for eight weeks. You’d know that all the medications they were giving me to stop the labor weren’t working. You’d know at one point I was feeling so sick and I was trying to explain to the nurse that I felt like I was going to pass out, that I couldn’t fully sit up and I couldn’t lay down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told her I felt like you do when you have swallowed too much water. It turned out the medication had given me pulmonary edema. But you’d know that I had to have an chest X-ray in the middle of the night because they were afraid that I may have an embolism. You’d know that I was terrified that the radiation would harm the babies. You’d know that the technician, who was probably the first person who was able to drive home the seriousness of what was happening, told me that the slight radiation would be better for the babies than me dying during childbirth because of an embolism.

If you really knew me, you’d know that after the first week of absolute mayhem, of trying all the different medications and giving the babies steroid shots so they would have a fighting chance if they were born; the doctors tried a calcium-channel blocker called Nifedipine to stop the contractions. It worked. For the next seven weeks, I waited. I prayed. I took my pills. I let myself be prodded and poked. I took joy in listening to the babies’ heartbeat each day. But I was incredibly lonely and scared. And I forgot all the seriousness of what had landed me in the hospital to begin with. I thought I was out of the woods. I wanted to go home. The doctors ignored me (and probably hated me for continuing to ask if I could just go home now). I had no idea how lucky I was that all the measures the doctors took got me safely into my 35th week of pregnancy. I had no idea what our lives would have been like if my babies had been born in that terrifying 26th week. I had no idea how close we had been to death or to life-long health issues.

If you know me, you’d know our story has a happy ending. If you really knew me, you’d know the survivors guilt I often feel. Especially at work where I have the honor and privilege to work on a support community that the March of Dimes provides for parent and families who have experienced the unthinkable; parents who have watched their babies’ struggle and fight for life in the NICU, who have had to leave their babies in the hospital every day not knowing if they would survive, who have had to hold their lifeless newborns in their arms.

Each year during the March for Babies walk, the boys and I talk about the story of their birth. I’ve told them how scary it was to think they were going to come too soon, but mostly I focus on how lucky we are. Someday they will be old enough to hear the rest of it, if I am brave enough to tell it. Someday maybe I will forgive myself and their father for the undue stress we put on my pregnancy. But every day I am grateful for my friends who were the ones who got me to the finish line, even when they had to drag me there and that is part of the story I tell. Every day I am grateful to the doctors who took zero chances with my sons’ lives. Every day I am grateful to the March of Dimes for the work they do to end prematurity.

If you are so inclined, we would be very grateful for your donation. It is tax-deductible and the research and programs that the March of Dimes funds with your money is nothing short of life-saving:

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And it is because of the tireless work of the March of Dimes that I experienced this moment:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Please consider making a donation: marchforbabies.org/caramclaughlin

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.

Why I can’t count my blessings

I thought I would re-share this post from last year, since I realized I reused my favorite Thanksgiving quote for One-Liner Wednesday last night. And since I have gained so many thoughtful new readers, for whom I am extremely grateful, I thought I’d repost my expanded thoughts on counting blessings. Today, I am grateful for the sounds of my boys playing together in the other room, the hot coffee in my cup, the opportunity to cook for my family, food in the fridge, friends all over the world, the air in my lungs, the brain in my head, and my sensitive heart that can at times seem like a curse, as well as a blessing. And I am thankful for the people who read this blog and encourage me in my writing pursuits, however good or poor the results sometimes. And I thank God for choosing me to live out this adventure; I have faith that even though the path is sometimes rocky, it is leading somewhere amazing.

Thanksgiving Belly

Giving thanks for his Thanksgiving Belly

 

Adventures in Single Mommyhood

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is “thank you”, it will be enough. – Meister Eckhart

Recently, C has been having a problem sleeping thanks to a scary book that his brother had brought home from the library. I told him that he just needed to think about happy things as he was drifting off to sleep. He said, I can’t think of any happy things. WHAT?! There are so many things to be happy about, I told him. So I started rattling off the biggies: his family, his friends, his pets, black-and-white his beloved stuffed animal…but I could see from his expression that this just wasn’t doing it for him. Then I remembered the book: 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. C was intrigued and a bit skeptical. 14,000 things? We got the book from my room and we got him all snuggled…

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One-Liner Wednesday– Thanksgiving

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.

-Meister Eckhart


My favorite and oft-quoted thought on Thanksgiving and gratitude is brought to you as part of Linda G Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday: http://lindaghill.com/2014/11/26/one-liner-wednesday-dragons/