The Gratitude Muscle

Building strength can be hard.

The first part is deciding to get stronger.  That’s really the hardest part, even though it doesn’t even involve a workout regime.  It’s just a mindset, at first, a determination to make improvements to who we are.

Until it becomes habit, reminders are needed.  Sticky notes that say, “go work out!” and a calendar on the fridge with the workout plan on display, demanding to be seen.  Smiley faces are drawn on the days the plan is followed through and frowny faces are drawn on the days that aren’t.  Until it is second nature, strict discipline and careful planning are needed.

Over time, the body starts to crave the good feeling it gets from the workouts on its own. There is less reliance on the sticky notes and the calendars and more just listening to the muscles, noticing when they need to rest and recoup, and when they ache to be used.

It doesn’t take long for changes in the body to be noticed.  At first by you, and then by those around you.  Energy pervades, even when the muscles are tired, or sore, because they are stronger.  Healthier.  Everyone has slumps, but those who are determined find motivators: workout buddies or personal trainers, or bigger calendars on the fridge.  Even with a downward slide here or there, a fit person generally keeps getting fitter.

There are 206 bones and several hundreds of muscles that make up the adult body, but one of the most important, yet overlooked, piece of human anatomy is the Gratitude Muscle.

Just as the heart must be strong enough to pump oxygen and nutrients, and our bones must to be strong enough to carry our weight, the Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile.

Children have bodies with natural strength, they exercise daily, through exploration and play, but over time sedentary lifestyles and self-neglect can cause atrophy to all of the muscles, including the Gratitude Muscle.  Even though the importance of staying fit is always recognized, we can easily become set in our ways and make excuses for why we don’t have time to learn, to play, to be grateful.  People without healthy Gratitude Muscles, can technically survive, but they.tend to live horribly dreary, unhappy existences.

The good news is that even if we’ve neglected our Gratitude Muscle in the past, we can always start strengthening it now, no matter how weak it may be.  If we have the desire, we can bolster our thankfulness, even if it is currently grey and mushy from extended disuse.  It is worth penciling in Gratitude Workouts, forcing ourselves to focus on what we have, and what is good.  Working to find gratitude in everything and everyone means pushing ourselves to new limits, which might tire us out, might sometimes cause temporary strain.  It can be uncomfortable at times, practicing gratitude.  The end result is worth it , no pain, no gain, as they say, and a little bit of tenderness can feel good, in this case, loving what we have so much it hurts.

The Gratitude Muscle is an anatomical necessity that must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

We’re Full of Bull

My daughters come from a long line of strong-willed individuals.  Before they were born Mr. Grouch and I wondered what our kids would look like, or what they would be interested in, but one thing we knew for sure.  They’d be headstrong.  Our girls have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and, lucky for them, great-grandparents too, who are full of strength, who say to themselves, “I will be brave, I will not give up, I will not be stopped”, and who say to others, “I will be heard, I will follow my dreams, I will not be knocked down”.  There is wicked strength within each individual and we, as a family, are a formidable force when our energy is corralled in the same direction. An unstoppable herd.

We are bulls.

Toddler Grouch is at the age where her bullheadedness can sometimes be frustrating.   Like when she won’t put on her shoes, or brush her teeth, even when I say to her, “C’mon girl, we’ve gotta go!  We can’t be late!”  When she digs her heels in, asserting her independence and demonstrating her strong will, sometimes I call her my Little Bull. I place my hands by my ears, point my fingers up like horns, while I huff and shuffle my feet on the floor.  She laughs and mimics the gestures, repeating the phrase, “C’mon, Little Bull!”   Even when she doesn’t listen right away or when she blatantly disobeys, and I have to pull out my discipliny-mama voice, I’m secretly proud that she’s hard-nosed. There’s a lot of positive attributes to being a bull.

Mr. Grouch and I are both bovine in nature, both of us capable of being bullish to the max.  Our individual ability to persist, to push on, to persevere has, for the most part, served us both well, and when we join forces, we are unstoppable.  But, with any strength, comes complementing weakness. Bulls can lack grace. Bulls sometimes charge into situations, with their eyes on the prize, not thinking about the damage they may be inflicting upon anything in their periphery, with their bucking and banging, incapable of slowing themselves down. They can have difficulty seeing something from someone else’s perspective, seeing only the path that leads them towards their own passions. Bulls can be ornery and selfish. When Mr. Grouch and I are heading in opposite directions, the results can be brutal. We charge and we crash and when we’re back on track again, we have to sort through the debris, putting together the pieces that we unceremoniously smashed to smithereens.

As a family unit, we can not all be bulls. At least, not all at the same time.  Four bulls in a house, all traveling down their own paths, means inevitable, even if inadvertent, trampling, wrecking emotional havoc and/or physical destruction.  At any given moment, one of us needs to balance some of that brute force with a bit of softness.

So, how do we do that?  How does a bull not act like a bull?  Neither one of us can dramatically change who we are, but sometimes we can temporarily morph.  We fill ourselves up, taking in all of the happiness and joy and light-heartedness that comes along with being happily married, and rearing young children.  We swell with parent-pride, and transform ourselves into beings that are a little more graceful, a little lighter on our feet, with a little more bounce in our steps.  Figurative bulloons, if you will. Kinder, stretched-out-smooth, versions of ourselves that make it easier to wipe off the shit-storms that emerge in marriage and parenthood, allowing us to more easily clear away unpleasantness and filth with a simple swipe, instead of allowing it to fester, stuck in our fur.  Our bulloon selves are gentle to the touch, are buoyant enough to rise above our usual space of constant clamor, and are highly unlikely to cause any damage, even if we are to ricochet around the room.  It works, for a while, until we deflate, landing on the ground with a thud, the floorboards creaking under our weight.  Back to our regular punchy selves, we charge into action in our typical fashion until we need to fill ourselves up once again.

These Are The Reasons I Am Thankful For My Childcare Providers

As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming.  It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there.  Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should.  Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should.  I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for.  I need to remind myself of this.

They create stability and routine. Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday.  There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused.  This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through.  As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place.  My kid whistles while she works.

They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself.   I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home.  The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers.  There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared.  “Nope”, she said with her eyes.  “You guys can do it”.  At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this.  I was a broken record and said, “Clean up.  Clean up.  Clean up.”  I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day).  I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor.  But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her.  They did not have this problem at daycare.  Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.

They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee.  She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first.  It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces.  But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight.  My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom.  I’m glad this happened.  On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around.  I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.

They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids.  I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers.  My kid’s shit always stinks.

They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub.  They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks.  During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code.  Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis.  My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.

They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue.  They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and  binoculars.  They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers.  They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do).  My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.

They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special.  They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to.  They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games.  Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions.  They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas.  I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways.  My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.

They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids.  In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for.  I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.

They love my kids. In their own way.  They play with them.  They hug them.  They want them to grow into good people.  They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do.  At least a little differently than I do.  And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do.  Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations.  This can lead you to be tough on them.  Which brings me to my next point.

They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice.  She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something.  She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them.  That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time.  I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty.  I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself.  It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill.  That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse.  I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.

They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped.  I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet.  Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things.  More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her.  Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider
Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Anything I missed that I should be thankful for?

“The Moon Got Turned Off”, and Other Reasons Being the Parent of a Toddler is Awesome

Toddlers can get a bad rap.  It is true that they have no real means of regulating their emotions, which can sometimes result in tantrums that are shockingly intense, often over matters involving having to put on pants or to wash peanut butter out of their hair, or perhaps over being asked to take a bite of macaroni.  As erratic and annoying as these behaviors can be, the moments of meltdown are far outweighed by the beauty that is toddler joy and excitement.  What is more delightful than being thrilled about what we have, right in front of us?  Being interested, being awed, being loved.  There is nothing more magnificent than that.

I give you three examples.

1.  Toddler Grouch and I were in the car, on our way to daycare.  Toddler Grouch was looking out the window babbling away, when she stopped mid-stream-of-thought and gasped.  “Mama!  I see the Moon!”  I wasn’t sure if I had heard her correctly, or if the Moon could, in fact, even be seen.  I surely didn’t notice it.  We turned the corner and I looked, and sure enough there it was.  The Moon.  It was the first time she had seen it, outside of picture books, that I was aware of.  I loved that she being observant, that she was able to incorporate some of what she had read into real world experience, and that she was able to share this experience with me, “You’re right honey, there it is!  The Moon!” Her speech echoed my own, “There it is!”  she inhaled sharply, doing her little gasp she does when she is surprised or excited, “I see the Moon!” The best part about the Moon spotting was that there were many trees in the neighborhood we were driving through so the Moon would become hidden behind the foliage, and then peek back out again, and she would exclaim, “there it is!” again and again, as it appeared, disappeared, and reappeared throughout the duration of the ride. Several months after the initial spotting she still gets excited about seeing the moon. The other day the moon was visible when we were on our way to daycare.  She still points out when she sees it, sometimes adding a “wow!” or a “it’s so pretty”.  This time when the Moon went behind the trees she said, “the Moon got turned off”, no doubt inspired by her current guilty pleasure of flicking the light switch on, then off, then on again.

2. On the Fourth of July, I was excited for Toddler Grouch to experience fireworks for the first time. I knew it would be a stretch to keep her awake long enough to see them, but considering she had her cousins nearby to play with, I hoped the social setting would distract her and keep her awake. As we approached the nine o’clock hour, I could tell she was getting sleepy but I didn’t shoo her to bed. At half past nine she said she wanted to go to sleep and I cursed the Sun for taking so long to set. But, I figured I wouldn’t push it, I didn’t want to make her miserable just to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not she would like the show, so we headed to the back house of my parent’s cottage and brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas and laid down together on the bed.  We shared a pillow and read two of her favorite stories, Go Dogs Go and Put Me in the Zoo. The bed faces five windows that span the length of the back house, with a view overlooking the lake. By this time, the Sun had finally set and the fireworks began with a few intermittent BOOMS.  We had heard some errant booming earlier, and when she looked at Mr. Grouch and I, slightly alarmed, we reassured her and labeled the noise. “Fireworks”, we told her. So, when the booming started again, muffled a bit since we were indoors, I reminded her that fireworks were the source of the commotion.  We kept reading until the show started. From the safety of the back house, with the security of pajamas, blankies, books and cuddles, the firework show was safe and attainable.  We saw embers that arced and popped and soared, and with each colorful explosion Toddler Grouch let out her little gasp, “Oooh!” and when a really good one sailed into view, our heads would turn towards each other and we’d give each other a little grin. Even when the firework itself was out of sight, behind a tree or out of our eye line, the windows flashed, rectangles of greens and pinks and blues.  I asked if she wanted to go outside, now that she knew what they were, and she did, for a bit, before asking to head back in.  For over an hour we continued to lay together, with the peacefully muted display before us.

3.  Toddler Grouch’s bedtime routine involves the usual brushing of teeth, putting on pajamas and reading of books.  She loves to read and we often recite the same story, over and over.  I’ll stop every once in a while and give her a raised eyebrow, and she’ll fill in the next word in the sentence.  She pays attention.  I always end story time with a kiss on her check or her head, and if she isn’t too sleepy, sometimes I’ll trace her face with my fingertips.  If I’m okay with her getting a little riled up, I’ll take the end of my ponytail and swish it over her face, which she evidently finds hilarious, since she giggles as she lifts her chin up to meet my tresses.  When I do any of these things, she usually says, “again”, which, of course, I am more than happy to oblige.  I’ll ask her where else needs kissing, or where my fingertip or ponytail needs to swipe, and she’ll say, “head” or “eye” (yes, she has me kiss her eyelids) or simply, “here” and point.  On days that I’m really lucky, she’ll touch my face gently, mimicking my gestures, running her fingers from my head, over my eyes and under my chin.  I hold very still.

There’s something to be said about the “Terrible Two’s”, and that is, it isn’t all so terrible. It’s these types of moments that astound me, the ordinary ones that are made extraordinarily beautiful, because of my toddler’s inability to hold back all of her feelings.

What adorable things does (or did) your toddler do that made you notice and appreciate the little things?

awesome

I Love My Kids More Than You Love Yours

A few years back, when I was pregnant with my first child, some of my friends and I were gathered around my living room, chit-chatting it up.  I don’t remember the details of most of our conversation, but I will never forget one particular sentence.  A good friend of mine, who at the time was the new mom of an seven-month-old, said, “I think I love my daughter more than anyone has ever loved their child”.  I laughed and looked around at the other people in the room to make the “oh-my-goodness-isn’t-that-so-dramatic-and-hilarious” eyeball connection, and when my eyes circled back to my friend’s face, I was startled by her expression. She was smiling, but she wasn’t laughing.  She was serious. She thought she loved her kid more than anyone had ever loved theirs, ever before.

i love my kid 2

I have known this friend for almost twenty years, she is strong, she is smart, she is not one to make flaky, flippant remarks, so I was caught off guard by her statement.  I finished my now slightly uncomfortable giggle and looked down at my swollen belly. Having struggled with infertility, I did not take my pregnancy for granted; I wanted that child I was carrying so badly.  I already loved her.  But more than anyone else, ever?  That seemed a little absurd and presumptuous and slightly creeperish and definitely impossible to measure.

Of course, I hadn’t yet began the process of mothering a child, outside the womb, when I thought she was joking about her champion loving ability.  Now that I am right in the thick of that mothering process, with two girls of my own, I understand.  I totally get it.

I get that feeling of tiger-like fierceness when I think of my child getting hurt.  I get that gripping fear that something will happen, something unthinkable, and I have to force those thoughts away, because just dwelling on the mere concept that bad things could hypothetically occur can bring me to my knees.

I get that melty feeling of softness when I stroke my kid’s hair, or kiss the back of her head, or touch her shoulder when she’s standing next to me, gripping my thigh with her palms.  I get a feeling of absolute tranquility and peace when we do things as ordinary as sit together on a park bench, smiling at each other and sharing a snack, as the sun beams down on our heads.  I never thought that clumsy, awkward me would be capable of acts so tender, yet I have come to find that when I am with my children, it is second nature, and I am transformed from a bumbling oaf into a graceful nurturer, and this newfound gentle me, this me I didn’t even know existed before, is one of my favorite mes.

I get that feeling inside when my kid achieves a new feat, that bubble of pride inside of me that expands as it rises and makes my chest puff out as I think, she’s growing up so fast! coupled with the backhanded feeling of sadness, she’s growing up too fast.  I never realized it was possible to simultaneously feel so happy and so sad about the exact same event.  It’s terrifying, really, how something as simple as switching your child from a crib to a toddler bed can evoke so much emotion.

I get that the cuddles and hugs and the ability to peer in on my children’s faces as they sleep are all luxuries, even if they do not always seem to come cheap.  Yes, I pay for these gifts with a stretched out body, and wrinkled eyes, and excursions out in public with unbrushed hair and spit up on my jeans.  Yes, I pay the price with a right hip and right shoulder and right ribs that constantly get shifted out of place, that I then literally pay the price to get fixed by my osteopath on a regular basis.  I realize, though, that I am truly getting a bargain, even with these seemingly hefty tolls.

I get that eventually I will get a lot more sleep and a lot less affection.  I know that their requests for hugs and kisses, their demands to be held, their need to hide behind my legs when feeling shy, or upset, will not last long.  I understand that the occasional wiggle to shake my hand off of their backs, or the “no, Mama, don’t touch me” remarks will continue to increase and eventually I will no longer have the excuse, or the right, to touch my children as much as I want to.  They will, some day soon, no longer be physically connected to me all of the time, and while of course I want them to grow and mature, it also makes me sad because there is nothing on this planet that feels better than being in contact with them.  Just like they love to hold their blankies to their chests, or snuggle them in their arms, I love the feeling of my children draping themselves over me.  I even like it when they touch me with their toes, a dirty, stinky, little message of I love you, I need you, pressing against me.  My girls needing me may have made me seek out a chiropractor, or a glass of wine, or, at times, even a vacation, but more than anything else their neediness has made me need them right back.

Their constant physical presence require that I be my best self.  Amidst the chaos and the crumbs and the dodging of the plastic objects on the floor, they have forced me to work on finding happiness, and finding peace and finding balance.  I didn’t really need to work on those areas of myself until I became a parent and wanted to ensure I was the best role model and the best mama I could be.  And while it isn’t always easy, they make me laugh, even when I don’t feel like laughing, and they make me appreciate the beauty in ordinary life, that I very likely would otherwise ignore.  Plus, they make me clean all the dirty crevices in my house on a regular basis.  They make me happier than I ever thought was possible, and I have been made into a better person just by being near them.  Will I be able to keep this up, without their push?  Each new feat they perform is a sharp, jabbing reminder that pretty soon they won’t need me anymore, even if I still need them.

I think back to my friend’s comment about how much she loved her daughter and just like then, I still find her sentiment to be a tad bit silly – except now I think so for a very different reason. I now know it was silly because I’m the one who loves my kids the most.  Out of anyone, ever.  I am sure of it.  Her idea that I had once thought to be sweet, but slightly irrational, I now not only subscribe to, but believe to have beaten the record.  I don’t care how impossible it is to measure, I am certain that I love the most. She surely will protest this, but I don’t feel badly about battling her for the title, because there really can be no losers in a competition to out-love someone, can there?  Everybody participating wins.

i am a better person because of my children
i am a better person because of my children

 

 

Beautiful Moments Aren’t Always Pretty

Baby Grouch woke me this morning with her chatter and her happy squeals and periodic shouts of “Mama!” coming from her crib.   I padded to her room, in my pajamas, and smiled at her when she exclaimed, “Morning!” as I walked in.  “Book. Book. Cookie”.  We had the time, so I acquiesced to her demand that I read her “The Best Mouse Cookie” before bringing her downstairs for breakfast.

She ate some steamed broccoli (might as well squeeze in a vegetable wherever you can, right?) and a few bites of peach yogurt before asking me to make her a waffle.  “Bite.  Faffle!”  Again, I complied with her request, because today was technically a holiday (President’s Day, but whatever, I had the day off) and most days I’m the one calling the shots. Before walking to the toaster, I turned on Pandora’s Nursery Rhyme Radio, one of her favorite stations.

I came back with the waffle for her and sweetened black tea for me, and before I could set down her food, she held out her arms, saying, “uppie”.  Instead of telling her to finish eating at her seat, I unbuckled her from the booster and swooped her onto my lap, placing the waffle in front of both of us.  And there she stayed for the next hour and fifteen minutes.

Compared to our normal rushy-rush attitude, we lingered.  She tickled my knees and I gave her some laughs and tickled her back.  She sat on my lap, turning to face me, placing her feet on my pregnant belly, my arms supporting her back.  Every so often I’d get a hug, or a pat, or a stare up at my face and a “Mama!” coming out of her mouth.  We sang and we sang and we sang, me, completely off-key, she, with an impressive number of correct words or close-to-it sounds, to the nursery rhymes she loved – her favorites (I could tell they were her top choices because of how much she sang along and the “yay!” she shouted after they were done) included, Wheels on the Bus, Somewhere Over The Rainbow (the Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole version), Skidamarink, The ABC’s and Apples and Bananas.  She does not like Hakuna Matata, “don’t like it.  Uh uh”.  Between songs we tickle-tickled and peekabooed and then went back to singing, as she slowly continued to munch on her waffle.

Midway through our special time at the kitchen table, I thought I could capture our moment, as beautiful as it was, and snapped a couple mother-daughter selfies.  And EW. They were not pretty. They showed me in my black skull pajama pants and clashing blue and white striped tank top, with my splotchy skin and puffy eyes and protruding stomach. She’s pretty darn cute, but in these pictures, her hair was all over the place, her eyes half-shut in the photos.  The angles were awkward and, well, we just weren’t so photogenic this morning.

After a few attempts I realized there was no way to capture the moment, and that was okay.  I put away the phone, and we went back to focusing on each other and I thought to myself, what a good lesson this was for both of us.

Sometimes the most remarkable moments are the ones that look unremarkable.  The ones with so much beauty coming from the inside, there isn’t any left for the outside.

Physical beauty is overrated.  We sat, for what simultaneously seemed like an eternity, and also just an instant, soaking up the relaxation and comfort of each other’s company. When she finished eating, we got up and danced the Hokey Pokey before it was back to reality, and I started cleaning up the waffle crumbs that had fallen to the floor and started putting on her coat and shoes so we could head to the grocery store, resuming the typical busy-day-schedule we are so accustomed to.

Beautiful Moments Aren't Always Pretty
Beautiful Moments Aren’t Always Pretty

Emotional Stages: Discovering You Will Become The Parent of Multiples (And Then Not)

We struggled to become pregnant with baby number 1.  We tried on our own for two years before seeking help from a reproductive endocrinologist (RE), who informed us that I very likely was not ovulating on my own at all (makes it a little harder to conceive) due to my PCOS.   After a year of ingestible, injectable, and suppository meds, a combination worked and after a relatively delightful pregnancy and birth, Baby Grouch was born.  Huzzah! The whole process made me naively believe that, for me, conception was close to impossible, but pregnancy would be relatively easy.  Pregnancy Viking!

We knew we wanted another child, so started trying on our own very soon after her birth. Naturally, the whole no ovulation thing meant nothing actually resulted from those attempts.  Who did we think we were?  Normal people?  Hah.  So, we went back to the RE, who put us on the same combination of meds that resulted in the first pregnancy.  And WHAMMO.  Pregnant the first medicated cycle! Crazytown.  Unfortunately, that ended in an early miscarriage.  A few months later we started our next medicated cycle. And can you believe it?  WHAMMO AGAIN!  The power of (correctly balanced) hormones is astounding.

In infertility terms, three pregnancies in a row (okay, in a medicated row, over a course of 21 months) is almost unheard of.  It’s like winning the lottery.  No.  That’s not quite right. It’s more like winning The Conception Toilet Bowl, since you’re comparing yourself only to the group of people who really suck at baby-making.  Whatever, you still get a prize in the end.

Immediately I could tell that this pregnancy was different.  It was so much MORE than the last one(s).   First, there was the uterus.  The uterus that I swear felt – POOF, and expand exponentially, instantaneously.  I seriously felt poochy 3 days after conception.  A week later I KNEW I was pregnant.   My body was heavy with the pregnancy already.   I alternated between feeling nauseous and ravenously hungry. I only wanted to eat Crunchwrap Supremes from Taco Bell, a food item I had previously disliked. But, what did I know?  I had only experienced the glimmer of a second pregnancy before, so maybe this is what it always felt like when you already had one child.

Then the data started rolling in.  My beta numbers were through the roof.  Whereas my beta over the summer was 70 (very much in the average range), my beta in the fall was 1270.  Honestly, still in the realm of possibility of a singleton, since HCG levels can vary widely, but the number was noticeably high.

I was sure there were TWO. I sent my  husband texts that said things like, “The babieS are hungry today!”.  I had a dream that we had twin boys.

Working with the RE, we got to have our first ultrasound at 7 weeks (how on Earth do you normal people wait so freaking long to see your baby?!).

The following stages are what we went through from the day of that first appointment, until now.

1. Fear – What if there isn’t a heartbeat?  What if I am just feeling so pregnant because I WANT to be so pregnant?  Water poured out of my eyes, as we waited for the ultrasound tech to get ready to give us a peek at my insides.  I was just hoping I could blame the tears on surging hormone levels.

2.  Elation –  There’s a baby!  With a heartbeat!  OMG there are two babies!!!!  Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa.  I turned to Mr. Grouch and said, “I told you!because no wife misses an opportunity to tell their husband they told them so.  Um. Three heartbeats!?!  Yes.  Three.  Holy Eff.  But, no matter how freaking crazy it might seem, once you hear your baby’s Whumpa Whumpa, you’re elated.  In this case, triple time.

3  Shock – The car ride home was mostly filled with silence.  Mr. Grouch broke it at one point to say, “We have to buy two new cars.  We won’t be able to fit our entire family in either of our cars“.  This was followed up with more silence.

4.  Denial/Disbelief – It’s so early in the pregnancy.  Anything could happen. There might not even BE three heartbeats anymore by the time we go back.  There was one little runt that was much smaller than the other two.

5.  Guilt – OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD please don’t let anything happen to my babies.  Please let them be alright!  Whumpa whumpa whumpa echoed in our heads.  A primitive, instinctual beat.

6.  Trepidation – How will all three babies get enough touch?  We can’t hold them all at once.  What will the psychological damage from this be?  How will Baby Grouch handle suddenly being the sister of The Triplets?  Will she feel left out? Holy hell, we can’t afford daycare for four children under the age of 2.  At least not without giving up groceries, heat, water and garbage removal.  We will never, ever retire.  How are we going to do this?  Oh, yea, don’t forget we need new cars.

7. Acceptance – We’ll figure it out.  We have a good support system.  We’ll beg and borrow for baby things.  We’ll be alright.

8.  Elation – We’re going to have a loud, obnoxious, messy house, plastered with Cheerios and dirty handprints and SO. MUCH. LOVE.  And drama. There will be a lot of drama.  Still cool.

At around 10 weeks we went in for our last appointment with the RE.  We stared at the screen as the ultrasound tech adjusted the wand until all three of our babies were visible on the screen. There they were!  Except they weren’t really all there anymore.  Not all of them. We immediately noticed that Baby A was still little.  Too little.

9.  Relief – So there are only two.

10.  Grief – So there are only two.

11.  Shock – When the ultrasound says, matter-of-factly, “I see one heartbeat“.  I inhaled sharply, and Mr. Grouch instinctively reached out to touch the only part of me he could reach – my foot. Since the very beginning there had always been more than one.  We had never imagined one.  And now she said “one“.  It was incomprehensible.  It was shockingly sad.

12.  Anguish – After losing three of our babies in a matter of months, it was hard to concentrate on the fact that there was still one beautifully healthy looking 10-week-old fetus intact. We both left the office in tears, trying to stay positive and appreciate the good news we had been given.  But, we could hardly look at on another other because our own grief was reflected on each other’s faces.

13.  Guilt – How dare I be upset about not getting THREE when so many do not even have ONE?  I should not feel sad, I should not be so greedy.  We’re getting one, which was what we set out for in the first place.  But, no matter how many times I reprimanded myself, I was still heartbroken.

13.  Anxiety – We graduated from the RE to the regular OB.  The wait between appointments was brutal.  We had lost Baby A and Baby B, without warning.  What made us think that Baby C would be okay?  The thought of losing yet another was too hard to imagine, yet impossible to push from my mind.

At our OB appointment, we explained our first trimester history to the nurse.  She saw the anxiety on my face, and she measured it with the blood pressure cuff. She told me she’d try to find the heartbeat as soon as she could.  She moved the doppler around, “That’s your intestines.  That’s your heartbeat“.  She kept moving the instrument around my abdomen.  Tears started to leak out.  Where was the heartbeat, where was it?

14.  Gratitude –  “There’s the heartbeat!  There it is!” Her relief was almost as obvious as mine.  Except my elation was exposed in the form of uncontrollable sobbing, right there in the office, in front of the nurse.  After our appointment, I played with Baby Grouch, and when she was in bed, I snuck into her room and just watched her sleep.  Mr. Grouch and I turned in, and Mr. Grouch wrapped his arm around me, caressing my belly, simultaneously saying goodbye to A and B, while sending love to C.  Gratitude wrapped in a thin veil of grief is still gratitude.

15. Elation. We’re having a baby! The happiest words ever uttered.

So, that’s the news.  We’ll be keeping the cars we have, and Baby Grouch will be a Big Sister in June.

Don’t Forget.

Don’t forget.

Where you put the keys.

To get the milk.

To turn off the lights.

 

 

Don’t forget.

To say words that are true.

And kind.

And to say them often.

 

 

Don’t forget.

To focus.

On what’s important.

On who’s important.

 

 

Don’t forget.

That inside, somewhere,

Could be the monster

that will erase the past.

 

 

Know today, that I love you.

Delight in you.

And etched in my brain, right now,

Is every bit of you.

 

 

In case I can’t say it tomorrow,

Or the next day.

It’s important, this.

Please honey, don’t forget.

Alzheimer's takes away the past.  Please honey, don't forget.
Alzheimer’s takes away the past. Please honey, don’t forget.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: