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Week 35: A Few Victories and a Cold That Won’t Let Go

Sorry older Ben – if you’re wondering why this post is so short, it’s because your momma is sitting at the kitchen table after taking care of you all week with a horrible cold and after a 7 hour meeting yesterday AND after doing 2 hours of work…I’m sick, I’m tired, and I get to go to bed just as soon as I wrap this up!

Victories – our Give Forward page has received more donations than we ever expected. I feel like it’s cliche to say yet again how humbled and grateful we are…but really, we are. Complete strangers have donated, family members that have already done so much have given more, and our friends have been generous beyond compare.

Thanks to all these donations we were able to make a $2,000 payment to Ridgeview. Of all our hospitals we owe money to they have been by far the hardest to deal with. They are inflexible and callous and have given me many a sleepless night. Being able to pay down the $2,797 bill to $797 was a huge relief! And then, to top off the good news, mom called their billing department and told them we’ve exhausted all resources, just made a huge payment and have paid over $1,200 over the past 8 months and asked what it would take for them to settle the balance.

We will be paying them $400 (also from donations) on Tuesday and then THAT BILL IS GONE!!!

One down, two to go. It’s a hell of lot different from where we were two weeks ago. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Physical Therapy – Ben is officially down to 1 visit/month beginning in September! He has made such great progress that he is caught up to about 7 months of age, and considering that he just turned 8 months actual last week, that’s pretty freaking fantastic. Our little spinny dude continues to scoot backwards and, well, spin in fast and furious circles. He so desperately wants to go forward, so we have a few new exercises to help him get there. Additional exercises include working on being able to sit, reach and drop to belly or sit, reach and pull a toy back without falling over unintentionally.

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Life insurance – I FINALLY qualified for Life Insurance. Finally. Now I just have to live to be 80 (or old enough that Ben is an adult and settled, no more of this losing a parent before you’re out of high school bullshit that runs in our family).

I got a coupon in the mail for $20 off a haircut at Aveda. I was long overdue and missing my short hair from this past winter, but a few days in, I am really not loving the cut. I can’t remember the last time I disliked a cut this much. It’s just hair, it will grow back, but when you already feel frumpy and mom-ish and all over gross, a bad haircut is just another wah-wah moment. When you tell a stylist that you HATE stacked hair cuts and she gives you stacked layers all over your head…not cool, lady.

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The cold from hell – all my colds are from hell, thank you life-long mono damaged immune system. It will be a week tomorrow since I got sick and I am feeling maybe 25% better than day 1.

I have to wake up feeling perfect tomorrow because we are going to be insane and attempt the State Fair with a stroller. And a baby. A crowd of tens of thousands. God help us.

 

I’ve Entered a New Circle of Hell: I’m a Sick SAHM.

Last summer I caught a nasty cold…while I was pregnant. It was a miserable experience to have a cold and not be allowed to take any of the “good stuff” to ease my way through it (and by “good stuff” I mean the drugs that you need an ID to purchase to sway you from going all “Breaking Bad” with your pseudo.)

I didn’t think having a cold could be any worse.

But I was wrong.

I’m experiencing my first taste of being sick as a SAHM. And it SUCKS.

I can’t call in sick. I can’t just go to bed. I can’t even really close my eyes just to rest them for fear I might actually doze off and Ben decides to learn to crawl forward and down the stairs he would go (note to us: buy baby gate for awkward 1970’s staircase!).

I’m taking what drugs I can during the day and combining them with energy drinks to counter-act the loopy sensation and the overall drowsiness of being sick on no sleep. I’m sure this is super healthy.

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But not being able to truly rest isn’t even the worst part. The worst of the worst worrying that I’m going to be the one who gets Ben sick for the first time. How can he not catch this cold? We’re together 24/7 and I’m sneezing on or near him just as much as he’s puking on me.

Oh yeah, Ben pukes now. And drools buckets. And screams at night about every two hours. And screams when we lay him down for nap or bed. Because of all this we took him in for our first “I don’t know if it’s teething or if he’s sick” doctor visit yesterday. Ears are clear, lungs sound good, but she couldn’t find any teeth bulging through.

She said his habitual night-waking could be nightmares/night terrors. No one in our house is sleeping much between sickness, nightmares and the responding to the nightmares.

And tomorrow we have PT and we pick up Ben’s new helmet, two events that always lead to an exhausted, crabby baby. I have to be better by tomorrow, or at least significantly improved.

This is so true.

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I’m sure he cares, a little…until he’s tired of sitting in my lap with his teething necklace, realizing that this isn’t an act of affection but a ploy to get momma some rest.

He’s still pretty cute though, even when he pukes on me. For the third time.

 

Giving Forward – Benjamin’s Bills

Yesterday was a day full of frustration and defeat. For the millionth time I spent a few hours on the phone with hospitals and Hennepin County fighting for assistance for Ben. Unfortunately, our last resort hope – that Ben would qualify for medical assistance, MnSure or both, and his initial denial into the program was a mistake – wasn’t a mistake at all.

Why? Because we bring in approximately $2,500 too much for Ben to receive county assistance.

Hospitals offer lots of great charity care programs…if you qualify for them. And for a number of ridiculous reasons – the worst being our 2013 tax returns, which are COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT since I left my job after Ben was born due to his prematurity – we don’t qualify for any of those either.

I’ve heard all this before, but until yesterday hadn’t exhausted all options. But when you are told to either a) have more kids b) take a lower paying job or c) look into medical bankruptcy, I think it’s fair to say you’ve reached the end of the line. Until yesterday, I still had some fight in me. But the white flag has been waved. There’s nothing more to argue with the hospitals and the county.

So what do we do now?

Thanks to the generosity of donations to sell at our Yard Sale Fundraiser in June we were able to raise around $3.400. This helped tremendously, and we were able to pay off several smaller bills and one bigger one. We’ve received a few random “late” donations to the garage sale which have literally helped us make a payment, or put gas in the car, or buy Ben formula.  But then Ben got his helmet, started PT…and to date, we owe just shy of $10,000.

One of the people I talked to yesterday asked about budgeting (don’t even get me started – we can’t reduce our mortgage, student loans have been lowered as far as they can go, and I’m sorry, but cutting $9 for our guilty pleasure Hulu subscription isn’t going to do much), asked if we had any other assets (nope – we emptied our short-term savings a long time ago, and you can’t make us touch our retirement savings and lose money by paying taxes and fees for early withdrawals, nice try), and then asked if we had done any sort of crowd fundraising.

Our intention with the garage sale was to make a dent in Ben’s bills without asking for financial help. Everyone cleans out their closets in the spring, right?  Is there anything worse, anything more degrading, than saying you need money? That you can’t provide for your own family? That your husband has gone back to his college part-time job at Target and that you’re working from home part-time and you still can’t  make the minimum payments the jackasses at the hospital demand?

(And if you’re thinking, just pay what you can…they don’t operate like that anymore, thank you financial collapse of 2008. You don’t pay what they decide is the minimum, they send you to collections.)

I don’t think we have ever felt so humbled and so low in our lives.

And that, friends, is the nutshell story as to how we ended up with a Giving Forward account for Benjamin’s Bills. 

Are there families going through a lot worse who owe a lot more? Yes. Absolutely. But that doesn’t take away from the (and I quote from a financial worker at a hospital here) “shitty situation you guys are in”.

The site has been up for less than a day and people have already been so incredibly generous. The blunt truth is with each donation, I mentally calculate down the amount owed for Ben’s surgery, hospital stay, and his PT. The funds raised will go directly to the hospitals.

So if you see this link posted by our wonderful family and friends on various social media sites, now you understand how we got here. If you can donate any amount, you are making a big difference in our lives. If you can’t donate but can spread the word, you are also making a big difference in our lives. We are lucky to have you all during this incredibly joyous and incredibly challenging first year with our miracle baby!

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5 Reasons To Keep Your Infant Out of Daycare

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been around family and friends with infants. As we chatted and caught up, the topic of illness inevitably came up. “Has Ben gotten sick yet?”

The answer is no. Not once. He just turned 8 months old and other than a couple 99* fevers with red, red gums, this kid has been healthy as can be. We haven’t even had the panicked first time parents (of a preemie!) run to the doctor because he just seemed off. (Well, there was that time that he almost had emergency hernia surgery, but that doesn’t count.)

When we tell friends with little ones that our son has never, ever been sick, they all gasp, say WOW, and then tell us how their kids have had a little bit of everything, ranging from small ear infections to hospitalizations for RSV and pneumonia.

After these chats, when Dustin and I are alone, we tell each other that even though this has been the most challenging (financially and emotionally) year of our lives, we undoubtedly made the right choice for Ben. That for every time we heard someone tell us that “it’s good for babies to build up their immune systems” we knew better – a preemie is not a full term baby, and we listened carefully to every word of caution and advice our pediatrician gave us to keep Ben healthy, especially during the scary months of cold/flu/RSV season.

But what about now, when it’s summer time and there’s less illness and plenty of fresh air to keep germs moving and out of stagnant houses? We don’t keep Ben under lock and key anymore – far from it! I busted that kid out of this house the moment we got the OK and am thoroughly dreading the possibility of another RSV season under lock down. What has kept Ben healthy while these babies get sick?

One word: daycare. 

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This happens ALL THE TIME in daycare. Kid is dropped off at 8, and at 11 spikes a fever. We know damn well they were given Tylenol to buy the parents a few hours of work. In the meantime, this child has now passed along his illness to his friends. These parents just plain suck…and are usually the ones who complain most when other kids are sick! 

Now before you roll your eyes and think I’m knocking daycare, you should know that we had Ben on a waiting list for an infant room sometime around July 2013. I am 110% a believer in the benefits of early childhood education. Note: this is different than a “babysitter”, or the nice neighbor lady offering to watch a few kids. I’m talking about centers and programs that are designed for the development of young kids, with staff who have anywhere from their AA to Masters in early education.

I worked as a teacher for several years followed by several years of management before I moved on to another field. (If you’re wondering why I left – there is no money in daycare. None. After 5 years and a BA, I was making $13.10 an hour with the hope of a .10 raise every year, if the economy picked up. No benefits, no 401k, barely any PTO…this is why turnover is so high. A topic for another post, promise.)

My point is – I wanted Ben to experience the best of both worlds. Part time at home, part-time in an early ed program.

Now that I’ve been home with him for 8 months, I can’t imagine having done it any other way. In addition to friends dealing with constantly sick infants, I have other friends who suffer terrible guilt over leaving their babies behind all day. I never understood how painful that must be until I had Ben and tried to imagine not being with him when he giggled, or needed extra snuggles, or needed any kind of accommodations that a homogenized center could never offer for him.

Having worked in one world and parented in another, here are my top 5 reasons that staying at home with an infant (older kids are a different ballgame) is well worth the sacrifices. And oh yes, there are sacrifices. Going down to one income? Terrifying. Wondering how you will pay the bills and possibly enjoy some small pleasures in life? Stressful. But would I do it again, if given the choice? You bet I would. Here’s why.

8 months and counting – healthy baby, happy baby. There is no question about it – send your infant to daycare and they will get sick. Period. Think I’m exaggerating? The number one complaint I fielded when working at a center was angry parents who were sick of their kids being sent home sick. Pink eye. Ear infections. Coughs. Rashes. Hand, foot and mouth. Thrush. Whooping cough. RSV. You put a bunch of little bodies together in a room and no matter how much you clean and disinfect, toys and germs will be shared. Will this help build an immune system in your infant? Perhaps. But as one parent I know said, “it just seems unfair that my baby has to be sick all the time, she always has the sniffles”. As I mentioned before, Ben has never been sick…and the only notable difference between him and his friends is daycare.

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Money can’t buy this time back. I used to get annoyed when people would tell me that there are always jobs, but you can never get your baby’s first year back. Job security is a huge deal, and households are requiring higher salaries to make ends meet. I get it. You wouldn’t believe how much I get it. But all those people are right – the first year goes by so fast, and then it’s over. They’re walking. Talking. Ben changes so much every day, and I’m selfish – I want to be the one to make him smile when he wakes up from nap, or to read him stories, or to just hold him for a little while because we both enjoy it. These are the things that money can’t replace, and while I sure wish we still had my income, I wouldn’t change being Ben’s primary caregiver for the world.

One size doesn’t fit all. Ben has several PT exercises that ideally should be done 4-6 times/day. If he were in daycare, I know the staff would do their best to fit them in, but odds are, the demands of the day wouldn’t allow for the one-on-one that he needs to succeed. Obviously not all kids need PT, but in daycare there has to be a class schedule, and what works for one child might not be the best for another. For example, if Ben were in daycare his teachers would be pushing him to get to 2 naps/day, because in a couple months he would transition to an older infant room. Ben isn’t ready for that yet, but he would be forced as much as possible to stay awake at a daycare so he could fit the mold. Infant how-to guides are great, but they’re just that. Guidelines. Each baby is different, but there isn’t too much room for different in daycare.

Patience and turn taking are lessons for later in life. When there are 8 infants in a room with 2 teachers and two need naps, three need bottles and three need new diapers, someone is going to have to wait it out. Or, someone is going to have to be put in a crib in a rush because they can be upset and maybe fall asleep while a poopy diaper won’t change itself. (Don’t start in with the “it’s ok for babies to cry”…I know that. Not the point.) Does the world revolve around your child? Hell no. But should any infant have to wait her turn when she really needs a few snuggles before her crib, or is hungry for a bottle but all arms are busy? Babies don’t understand things like “patience” or “it’s nice to take turns”. They understand that they have a need, and if the need isn’t met they react. In daycare, babies will inevitably have to wait it out.

Babies need consistency. While a baby in daycare may benefit from the consistency of a class schedule, it is pretty rare to find a classroom with a permanent, long-term teacher. Low pay, horrible management conditions, no benefits and many other reasons prompt teachers who are really great to quit. Trust me, it is very upsetting when the person you’ve left your infant with for the past three months, who you finally trust and feel comfortable with, puts in her two-week notice. While the center scrambles (and yes, it’s a mad dash scramble) to hire a new body for the room, subs come and go. Sometimes it is easier to keep getting subs than it is to hire someone, and so your baby has a new teacher every day or every other day. So much for a consistent, loving presence that they (or you) trust. By staying home with Ben, I’m providing him with the consistency that will only benefit him and his relationships in the long run. (And before the haters claim I’m one of “those moms” who think no one else can watch their baby….HA! My mom babysits Ben all the time, because I know that a)we need date nights and b) consistency is different than clingyness.)

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Whew! That became a long post! But hopefully this helps some of you understand why parents might make the decision to step out of the work force and away from the security that comes from a regular paycheck (and sanity from adult conversation) to spend some time at home with their baby.

Later this week I will post my top 5 reasons for why your children should attend an early education program – stay tuned!

Wisconsin Dells: Camping at the KOA, the Ducks, and Mount Olympus

Back in January, in the middle of medically required house arrest, we booked a trip to the KOA at Wisconsin Dells. 7 months later the trip has come and gone, and I’m delighted to report that it was a complete success!

Before booking the trip I did several searches for “taking little kids to Wisconsin Dells” and oddly enough, not much came back. We went with three kids, a 4-year-old, an almost 10-month-old and an almost 8-month-old. If you’re like me and wondering if a)the Dells is a good choice for kids this young and b) if the KOA is a good choice for lodging, then you’ve come to the right place.

Should I take little kids to the Dells? I suppose the best way to answer this is to ask yourself how much patience you have and what expectations you have of the attractions. If the idea of hauling around a baby and all their required stuff from place to place sounds like more work than it’s worth, then maybe you should wait until your little one is a bit older and more self-sufficient. Traveling with another couple that also had an infant kept us all on the same pace – no one got annoyed if a baby needed a nap or a bottle, and if they cried or woke up ready to party at 1 a.m., there were no hard feelings.

The Dells has many, many attractions designed for older kids and adults. I think you’d have to be 10 and up to really appreciate all the Dells has to offer. However, this doesn’t mean that the younger crowd can’t have a great time. Our kids loved riding the Ducks (more on this later) and our infants thoroughly enjoyed the splash pads and sitting in laps for some lazy river fun.

A review of the Wisconsin Dells KOA. Guys, can’t stress this enough – this campground was AMAZING! The location was perfect, close to everything but out of the traffic and congestion of downtown Dells. The pool was heated. The playgrounds were plentiful (and had this really awkward flower spinning thing that was never empty and provided us with hours of entertainment watching kids and adults spinspinspinspin and then stumble or face plant into the sand!). The bathrooms were both spotless and individual (same goes for the showers). The staff were attentive and friendly. We really loved this campground, and considering how expensive the resorts at the Dells can get, $370 for a 3 night stay was quite the steal.

We stayed in the 2 bedroom kabin, and it ended up fitting the 7 of us perfectly. There kabin is no more than two rooms, but the size was perfect for 4 adults and 2 pack-n-plays. The only complaint was the door that divided the two rooms was SO LOUD when opened. It woke or startled a baby more than once during the trip. But this is a small complaint and we all agreed we would definitely stay here again. They offer larger, deluxe cabins that I’m sure are just as nice, and the tent sites looked well kept and cozy.

The trains. The only negative review I could find of the Dells KOA was the noise caused by the trains. Here’s the deal – if you have very light sleepers, the trains may bug you. There is a track and you can definitely hear the trains going by. If there were any that went by overnight I must have been sleeping too deeply to hear them. Throughout the day and evening the train became part of the background noise. It certainly isn’t a constant disruption, and not a reason to skip this campground. If you have light sleepers or cherish quiet at all hours of the day and night, then this may not be the campground for you. (Actually, if you’re that concerned about quiet, the Dells isn’t for you at all!)

The Wisconsin Ducks. There are many variations of Duck rides offered, and several places that claim to offer discounted tickets. What we learned is that the Ducks cost $26 for an adult no matter where you go. Unless you have a coupon from someone who has ridden the Ducks and tipped the driver in exchange for a Duck brochure with coupons, you’re going to pay $26. We also learned that the differences in the Ducks are pretty lame – different paint job for the Army Ducks (who cares?) and they spend less time in the water than the originals. The water tour is really cool, so stick with the Original Ducks.

We brought all 3 kids on the Ducks, and even though I was a little nervous by the big open sides of the car/boat thing, the babies did great. There were a couple of times that we had to hold on a bit tighter to Ben – like when the Duck went from land to water for the first time – but nothing that was unsafe for him.

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Mount OlympusWe purchased our tickets through our friend’s work for $16/each. When we got to the Dells, there were signs everywhere advertising $15 tickets – they said that this is the first year they’ve had such a discount, and whether or not this is true, you get a lot for $15. The water park is huge, and the theme park has several roller coasters that looked like fun, along with some other rides. We did not go to the indoor parks (though they were included in the price) because a)it was super nice outside and b) when we went into the indoor water park we quickly realized there were no chairs or space set up for people with stuff, like strollers and beach bags.

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The babies playing with their toys while the big kids ride the go-karts at Mt. Olympus

Our one complaint – parking. It cost $15 to park our car in their lot! Charging the same amount to park as it costs to get in? I don’t know about you, but that didn’t seem right to us. There isn’t really a place to park your car and walk in either, so Mt. Olympus got $30 from our group just so our car could sit in the parking lot. A lot of theme parks have been raising their parking rates over the past few years to absurd amounts and it really makes me mad. But, with no other option, we handed over our cash.

Our trip was pretty much perfect – we had great weather, the kids loved the cabin and the atmosphere, and personally, I really enjoyed almost 4 days of no screen time. It was wonderful to spend 4 days with Dustin and Ben, and watching our kids play together was as entertaining as the attractions. The only downside? Ben was super cranky today and I think it was because he missed having the undivided attention of 6 other people! Momma is pretty boring after campfires, boat rides, picnics and swimming.

 

Denied.

I have a fabulous post brewing summarizing our recent camping trip to Wisconsin Dells (before you give me any crap, even poor people are entitled to enjoy a summer weekend budget trip with their families, especially when they booked and paid for it back in January), I need to drop my jaw once again on this blog over the absurd hoops that one has to jump through simply to get denied.

On Tuesday I spoke with someone at Hennepin County to check on the status of our MNSure application. The lady on the phone said she would add it to her Wednesday to-do list but from what she could see, there was no reason to think we wouldn’t be approved.

We celebrated a bit prematurely (pun intended), thinking that even a little help would mean big things in our world. We’ve been talking seriously about Dustin leaving his part-time job because we’re both miserable having him gone 12 hours a week for $8.25 an hour. We left for our long-awaited vacation with a very dangerous item packed in our bags – hope.

And then we came home, got our mail, and opened up a letter from Hennepin County that we were denied assistance because our income is too high.

I’m so fucking sick of hearing this.

I’ve been told their numbers and guidelines, and we would actually be better off if Dustin took a lower paying job – maybe by $10,000/year – than for him to make his current salary. We bring in a little too much for assistance, but not nearly enough to make the mandatory payments by the hospitals.

To say we felt like we’d been kicked in the stomach is an understatement.

And yes, I’m well aware that so many people owe so much more than we do. Okay, there. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

But for us, our remaining balance seems pretty insurmountable.

Maybe my next book will be a bestseller and I’ll be able to help take care of my family? Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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Week 32: Sitting Up, Stepping Back

And suddenly, it’s August, and I swear I saw a snowflake even though the temperature is well into the 90’s today.

I am already having nightmares about winter returning. I’ll stay locked inside again if I have to for Ben’s sake, but boy am I hopeful that his doctor says the lock down of last year doesn’t need to happen again in 2014.

But for now, Ben has been getting plenty of outdoor time this past week. We’ve been to the beach, the zoo, the Loring Park Art Festival, a splash pad with cousins and to our friend Emmett’s house for some splash time in his pool.

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Momma, it’s HOT outside…and I love it!

Between all our fun in the sun, Ben had another helmet adjustment and physical therapy appointment this week. Our last PT appointment was such a success that I wasn’t really expecting a setback this week. Ben’s new challenge involves sitting up. When you get him in a sitting position he can hold himself there really well with help. When I’m not there to support him he will start to topple over and instead of putting a hand down to catch himself, he either tips over completely or places a hand down but in a really backward, weak and awkward way. If he wants a toy in front of him and he grabs it, once he has it he will topple over without a care in the world – something isn’t clicking for him that he’s falling and needs to steady himself.

We were right back to hearing that he’s still at about 4-5 months developmentally in these areas (he will be 8 months actual age on 8/15) and that we still need to work on strength and endurance on his left side. He still doesn’t grip as well with the left hand, still can’t hold his head turned to left for very long, and doesn’t use both hands to support himself while sitting.

The blunt truth – this was the first PT appointment where he looked like a kid who needed to be there.

PT is hard work for this little guy. A half an hour of stretches and challenges later, he is exhausted. We then drive 5 minutes to the clinic for his helmet adjustment, which gives him just enough time to fall asleep. I have to pick him up out of the car, make him cry and rub his eyes, all so he can get poked and prodded to get his helmet readjusted. He is usually off for the rest of the day after this routine, and after this particular visit we were both bummed, tired and out of sorts.

Here’s the deal – I KNOW how much worse he could have it. I KNOW how lucky we are. I KNOW that he will catch up someday physically and that we are blessedly, ridiculously lucky.

But guess what? Telling me that after I have to watch my kid struggle doesn’t do jack shit. It’s like telling a 2 year old that there are starving children in the world who would kill for the dinner they won’t eat. While that may be true, and perhaps logically they understand it on some level, it doesn’t do anything to take away the immediate issue.

My mom threw all that at me after I told her about Ben’s day, and it made me really mad. As if I didn’t know how lucky and fortunate we are. But just because we lucked out doesn’t mean I don’t get to be tired, and sad, and hurt for my baby, does it? I think I’m allowed to feel these things.

My mom, while well-meaning, has never been a preemie mom. She’s never dealt with developmental delays or the unknown fear of what physical or emotional delays may come from a premature birth. You don’t know what you’re going to have to deal with until you’re in the middle of it.

This aside, Ben had a very fun week. He’s even slept from 7 – 5:30 a couple of nights this week, HUZZAH!

And if you’re wondering where Ben is while I type this, he is currently grinning at his dad, who is dancing around the living room like a complete idiot. A completely adorable, lovable idiot.

Ah, my boys.

 

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