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When I Miss You

It happens most when I’m home alone in the evening, sitting on the couch, watching your brother sleep on the baby monitor. I miss you when I see the space beside him where you were, where we saw you for a moment, and I can imagine the space beside him where you should be.

I miss you when people ask if we will have more kids, and I can’t help but think that for almost 10 weeks, we had two.

I miss you when the guilt of your brother’s prematurity takes my breath away, when I wonder if I my body, your mother’s body, failed you in the the worst way. I miss you when I see photos of preemie twins on the support groups I belong to.

I miss you when I realize that just a couple more weeks, and you could have been that cold but important term – viable.

I miss you when your dad shows me the cute videos of twins talking to each other in their secret language, the videos I’ve avoided because it’s too easy to imagine you and Ben and all the things you would have shared.

I miss you tonight, my baby, I miss you because when I carried the perfect weight of your brother to bed, his head on my shoulder, his fist holding my shirt, I could feel the space on my chest, my heart, where your perfect weight is missing,

I miss you in ways I never anticipated, never imagined, never expected. I miss you despite of so many in this world not understanding or accepting that you were my baby. 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years, it doesn’t matter. A mother is attached from the beginning, maybe even before. As I learn this new love, I miss you more.

When I miss you, it feels like the tears will never stop.

And yet.

When I miss you, it validates you. So I’ll keep missing you, and loving you, for the rest of my life.

Love,

Momma

Reminder: This Is Just a bump in the Road. Not a Dead End.

We’ve begun the process of financial planning for our new stage of life. Before Ben, it was pretty simple – pay off debt and contribute to savings and retirement accounts.

Then Ben happened. I had to quit my job (lost life insurance and 401k) and we found ourselves with (to date) $9,000ish in medical bills.

I applied for life insurance about 6 weeks after giving birth and about a month ago found out I was denied coverage due to high labs. I guess having blood pressure in the 140/90 range at 30 years old means I’m too much of a liability. G-R-E-A-T. So lately, I’ve added “what if I get hit by a bus” anxiety to my list of shit to worry about. I hate not being covered, because the idea of something happening to me that would leave Dustin and Ben in ruins…yikes.

So we got a few referrals of places and people who could help us. We’ve really enjoyed the lady we’ve been working with and today we spent about an hour filling out life insurance applications to start a new application process. Whatever it costs, I need life insurance. We also filled out the application for Dustin to increase his insurance, and odd as it is, we are applying for permanent life insurance for Ben. If he gets in, this means he will have phenomenal insurance for the rest of his life at a ridiculously low rate.

But he might not get in, all because we had to check a few boxes on his application. Yes to premature birth. Yes to low birth weight. Yes to hospitalizations, physical therapy, specialists. Goddammit, I hate prematurity and any opportunity it might take from my son.

Back to my application – when I got to the line asking about employment, our financial planner said “mom extraordinaire”.

Really? That’s what I am now? Just a mom?

Then we all remembered I’m an independent contractor now, so I didn’t just have to write homemaker. Yes, it’s a real and true career. But if that’s all I was ever identified as on official paperwork…I think I would vomit.

The best thing that came out of our meeting was that we prepared well enough in our pre-Ben life that in order to be on track for estimated retirement needs, we would need to contribute approximately $675/month to long-term savings. If that sounds like a lot to you…well, it isn’t. And someday, when the medical bills and student loans are gone (and we’ll get there, someday) we will save even more than that. It’s just who we are, and it’s just what we want for our future.

In a time of total emotional and financial havoc, I can’t even begin to explain how happy that made me. For the first time, however fleetingly, I saw this time in our life for what it is – a bump in the road, not a dead-end.

Next time I freak out (it’ll happen, ya’ll know that) point me back to this post.

Because we will be okay.

For once,  I almost believe that’s true.

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Week 31: Reaching Out

I’ve missed a few weeks of updates for Ben-B-Jamin and now I’m sitting here at 5:45a.m. (more on that later) trying to think of how to summarize most of July.

Rolling, rolling, rolling. Ben continues to roll from front to back and back to front. He really loves chilling on his side. We all spent about a week in misery when he would roll onto his tummy in the middle of the night and start screaming with his face down into the mattress. It was almost as if he became too tired to remember that he knows how to roll back, or turn his head from side to side. There were many late night rushes into his room to pick him up and console him as he sniffed and wheezed against my shoulder. Thankfully he has stopped scaring himself when on his tummy in his crib and instead has spent a few nights sleeping solely on his tummy. This doesn’t freak him out but damn  if it doesn’t terrify me. I know that once they can roll that way, there’s nothing you can do about it and they’re generally alright. But I’m really addicted to listening to the Snuza tick (NICU 101: don’t become dependent on monitors, because when they’re gone, you’re miserable) and when Ben is on his tummy you can just barely hear it.

But ultimately, Ben being able to roll a couple of months ahead of schedule is worth the lack of sleep.

I think I almost believe this.

Out and about. We’ve done our best to get to the pool, walk to the beach and play on a blanket in the backyard as much as possible now that the rainy season has seemed to let up. Minnesota sure has been having a manic-depressive summer of 101* heat indexes followed by highs in the mid 60*s. Sometimes it takes a real effort to get up and moving to leave the house, especially when you’re not accountable to anyone. If we’re meeting someone then you HAVE to be there, so it’s easier to pack a bag, put on sunscreen, prep to-go bottles, get the dogs outside for a potty break, load the car, adjust the helmet and hit the road. When it’s just Ben and me, it’s easier to blow it off and play at home…which is a recipe for monotony and depression if there ever was one.

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Missing daddy. Part of why I’m writing at this ungodly hour is it’s Sunday, and Dustin has to work at 6a.m. When Ben woke up at 4:00 for a bottle I took care of him, and when he decided to be super chatty from 4:45-5:15a.m. I stayed in the living room with the monitor so Dustin could stay asleep until the last possible moment. We all are getting extremely sick and tired of Dustin’s part-time job. We’ve had many discussions about Dustin quitting – is giving up an entire Sunday for $64 before taxes  really worth missing an entire day with your son? Not to mention that Dustin and I are both burnt out from this schedule. When do you place happiness above money?

Sleepover fun. Ben had his first sleepover with Harris and Esme on Friday. He was so excited that there were other kids in the house that he woke up 4 times in the night! UGH! Ben had a blast being cuddled by Esme and having toys brought to him by Harris. The four of us went to the beach Saturday morning where Ben ate his first fistful of sand. We gagged, he smiled his big smile. Typical.

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He reaches for us. Ben has started to do one of my favorite baby behaviors – when we approach him he throws his arms out in front of him and twists his hands around. I think this is his way of reaching for us. Add this to his wrapping an arm around our shoulder and patting our backs while we carry him and I just don’t think he could get any sweeter. I guess this is what they mean when they say wait for it and eventually your baby will reward you for all your work and attention by showing you they love you, too.

How Do You Make Friends as a SAHM?

Most of the time I have the ability to buckle down and deal with whatever it is life has thrown at me. Maybe I don’t deal with it well, and maybe I don’t deal with it right away, but after experiencing my fair share of traumatic life events – death of a parent, abusive marriage, separation from deceased parent’s family, miscarriage, NICU, raising a preemie – I think it’s pretty darn commendable that I turned out relatively ok.

I didn’t ask to be a stay-at-home-mom, and had we had a normal pregnancy and full-term child, I would probably be working  somewhere part-time while Ben was in daycare. Dustin would not be spending 12 hours or more a week working an exhausting, physical part-time job for $8 an hour. We wouldn’t be wondering every day how we are going to make it next month, or put gas in the car, or buy our next box of diapers when our supply runs out.

I wouldn’t spend hours on the phone with hospitals and the state attempting to negotiate medical assistance for our growing stack of bills. I wouldn’t be kept up at night thinking about those statements and wondering how the hell we will ever dig out of a mess that wasn’t our fault but fate.

I wouldn’t be forcing my baby to do PT exercises that he doesn’t always like, or make him wear a helmet in the middle of summer, or go from appointment to appointment. We wouldn’t have had to send our baby into surgery.

I wouldn’t trade Ben for anything. That isn’t the issue. It’s just sometimes, all of this shit that we were dealt gets really hard to deal with.

It’s even harder when the loneliness hits.

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Could care less about the car, but this does sum it up nicely!

Yesterday was one of those really bad days where I thought I was going to start screaming just to hear the echo of my own voice. I am alone way, way too much and I really don’t know what to do about it. All I know is the alone-ness is overwhelming. I LIVE for my Saturdays, now more than when I was working.

I am alone Monday-Friday 6am-3:15p.m. Add in another 4 hours when Dustin works on Wednesday. I am alone on Sunday from 6am-3:00p.m.

And then there’s the realization that there is never a break. Ever. Yesterday it dawned on me that I can’t ever call in sick. I can’t take a PTO day to run errands, get a haircut and lay in the hammock. I am always within earshot of a baby. A baby who I love to pieces, but still…who can be “on” 24/7?

Am I whining? Absolutely. But why shouldn’t I? Moms who work in an office get to whine about their co-workers and their projects. Why shouldn’t stay-at-home-moms have the right to complain about what I think is the worst part of staying at home?

My mom is a lifesaver and does her best to stop by on Wednesday nights just so I can have another adult to talk to for a bit. But I want to know…how do SAHM make friends?

We tried the ECFE class and that was a total bust. Many of the moms had already met and bonded in the winter session when their babies were younger, the one we couldn’t go to because of Ben’s health concerns. I hear them making playdates and plans and I have to wonder how bad it would be to invite myself along. Honestly, I think once they hung out with me and the baby in a helmet who can’t quite keep up, they would like us.

I’ve read blogs and books that say summer is the prime time for SAHM friendships. There’s the park, the pool, the beach, the grocery store during the day…so far, no luck. I’ve yet to see another mom at the pool by herself with an infant, they’re all in clusters with infants and older kids. They’ve found their niche. And if I see a mom at a park with a baby, it’s a little awkward to approach her and say, “So, I see you have a baby. Want to play?” It’s like a bad pick-up line by a drunk in a bar, only worse because it involves children.

So where are all the moms? What’s the secret handshake? I’m serious. I’ll try anything to avoid days like yesterday.

Do You Need to Be Smart To “Get” Memoir?

Ever start a post and just know deep down you’re going to ruffle feathers?

Ever start a post when you’re half asleep but it’s the only free time you have available to you? Ever do so and hope and pray that the spelling mistakes aren’t too atrocious? That your readers will be forgiving?

You see where I’m going with this, right?

The other day I made a stupid move and checked my reviews on Amazon. Unless you’re reading the glowing reviews for a bit of a motivational boost, don’t bother reading the 3 star and lower reviews. I’m not afraid of critique…when it’s constructive. And anything lower than a 4 star review on Amazon will more than likely not be constructive. It will be hurtful, hateful and probably leave you in tears. This touches on a much bigger issue involving the validity and power of Amazon reviews; another post for another day.

After reading the not-so-glowing review of my book, I decided to do what (I hope) many other authors do: head to the Amazon pages of some of our favorite best-selling authors and read their horrific 1 and 2 star reviews. Yeah, this is playground mentality, but it works.

I decided to read a couple of reviews on some very popular memoirs. Sidebar: popular does not mean good. 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight are perfect examples of popular not being good.

But is there a difference between popular fiction and popular memoirs and what it takes to read AND comprehend them?

I think so.

I think – and this might be the feather ruffling part – that it takes a certain level of education or intelligence to “get” a good memoir. Why? Because when you look at the reviews of some of the most popular memoirs, the bad reviews have a theme wherein they attack the basic premise of the memoir, missing the point entirely.

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Take these reviews, borrowed directly from Amazon,  of “The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan.

As so many have written, the author is a whiny self-indulgent adult who needs to grow up. The world appears to revolve around her and she appears to be the only one who knows what should take place, who to contact etc and how people should act or believe.”

Rebuttal: She does need to grow up…which is exactly what being in “the middle place” is all about. When do we separate ourselves from being someones child to transitioning to being an equal, and eventually, a caretaker? How many of us have looked at our kids and thought, damn, am I really a parent? Am I really responsible for another human life? And once you do have the life-altering realization that you are way to grown-up to be called a child, do you in fact stop being a child to your parents? This is the deep, probing question the author has chosen to explore in her memoir. And doing so isn’t always pretty. In fact, it takes a lot of guts to write about your worst traits. It takes a lot of courage to face them and move forward.

“My book club read this memoir and all nine of us disliked it. Not one of us thought this was the inspiring memoir of a breast cancer survivor – which is what we expected. If you like reading light, fluffy stuff about people you don’t know, then you may enjoy this book.”

Rebuttal: If memoirs are only full of dark and never full of light, they are terrible. They would be sent back by any editor for massive rewrites. Memoirs serve to put readers in someone else’s shoes to a point. Readers want to feel, not drown. A depressing story does not make for a good memoir. “The Middle Place” is not first and foremost meant to be a story about surviving cancer. Kelly’s cancer and her father’s recurring cancer are the catalysts that drive her transition. The survival is definitely in this book, but it is the secondary focus.

And finally…

“As someone else mentioned, this book is not about going through the experience of having cancer. The author probably framed it that way to increase her chances of having it published. I don’t know how many people would run out and buy a book if it was touted as a book about a spoiled, self-centered child-woman who is as bratty as a two-year old.”

OUCH!

Rebuttal: Um, read the back of the book? Again, cancer is the catalyst, not the main character. She was published because she wrote a brilliant and insightful memoir. Kelly certainly shows us her bratty side…as well as her loving side, her nurturing side, the parts of her that feel fear and grief. Showing her bratty side is what makes her vulnerable and real. If she was a saint, no one would buy it. Sorry, but having cancer does not give you an automatic sainthood card! Showing the bratty side is necessary for us to see her growth by the end of the book.

My point is, I think that good memoirs fall into a class of books above pop culture fiction. They aren’t dime a dozen Tom Clancy novels that anyone with a basic level of education can read and enjoy. Memoirs are incredibly difficult to write because unlike a mystery or a romance, which have a distinct outline of how they should be written, memoirs mix up the undeniable rules of writing to create a new genre. Unlike fiction, memoirs can’t be overly dramatic, sappy or emotional. They have to walk a line between real and imaginative. They have to make readers feel without making those readers feel duped.

Go look at other reviews for popular memoirs and you will notice a trend. The majority of negative reviews out there simply don’t “get” what they read.

Do you agree? Disagree? By all means, let me know what you think!

It’s about Faith, Not Church

Yesterday we took Ben to Mound’s Spirit of the Lakes parade. It was a much calmer experience than taking him to the Minneapolis Pride Parade last month, but still a good time with the family.

There were several church floats in the parade. One had volunteers using the very clever line “Do you enjoy fishing?” to give them an opening to hand out these:

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A very nice old man noticed the three of us sitting behind the sidewalk in the grass, feeding Ben, and made his way through the crowd to ask Dustin if he liked to fish. “Trying wearing this the next time you go fishing,” he said. I took the baggie from him because Dustin had his hands full with a hungry Ben. “Do you have a church affiliation?” he asked. We said no.

“What’s holding you back?”

More than we could ever discuss on a crowded street during a parade, sir. But I told him one part of the truth. “Our son was born premature. We couldn’t take him out of the house to go anywhere for the first few months of his life.” In fact, churches were on the top of the list of places we were not supposed to take a preemie. Confined spaces, cold and flu season, and lots of well-meaning people who want to see and greet and touch a cute baby = health hazard.

But it’s more than that.

We would need to find a church that views women as equals and not servants. We would need to find a church that practices what it preaches and accepts everyone from all walks of life, including but not limited to accepting gay people. Not in the “love the person, cure the disease” bullshit that some churches teach.

We would need to find a church that gives more than it takes. We cannot stand churches that spend billions of dollars on their fancy buildings but give very little back to the community or congregation.

But what I really wanted to tell this nice man was that you don’t have to be in church to have church. You can walk the walk and reach more people than talking the talk. To this man, not having a church affiliation meant that we were lost. (I’m assuming of course, but this is a common mistake among those dedicated to a church, at least in my experience.) We are not lost.

Usually I find the things I am about to post silly and cliché and overly sentimental. But this is exactly how I feel about being Ben’s mom. This comes from faith, not from a church.

Did you ever wonder how mothers of premature babies are chosen? Somehow, I visualize God hovering over Earth, selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. 

As he observes, he instructs his angels to take notes in a giant ledger. “Armstrong, Beth, son. Patron Saint, Matthew. Forrest, Marjorie, daughter. Patron Saint, Celia. Rutledge, Carrie, twins. Patron Saint. . .give her Gerard. He’s used to profanity.” Finally, he passes a name to an angel and smiles. “Give her a preemie.” 

The angel is curious. “Why this one, God? She’s so happy.” “Exactly,” smiles God. “Could I give a premature baby a mother who knows no laughter? That would be cruel.” 

“But does she have the patience?” asks the angel. “I don’t want her to have too much patience, or she’ll drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wear off she’ll handle it. 

“I watched her today. She has that sense of self and independence so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I’m going to give her has a world of its own. She has to make it live in her world, and that’s not going to be easy.” 

“But Lord, I don’t think she even believes in you.” God smiles. “No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect. She has just the right amount of selfishness.” The angel gasps, “Selfishness? Is that a virtue?” God nods. 

“If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she will never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is to be envied. 

She will never take for granted a spoken word. She will never consider a step ordinary. When her child says momma for the first time, she will be witness to a miracle and know it. I will permit her to see clearly the things I see, ignorance, cruelty, prejudice–and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as she is here by my side.” 

“And what about her Patron Saint?” asks the angel, his pen poised in the air. 

God smiles. 

“A mirror will suffice

And Sometimes, You Find Yourself.

Ben and I made a stop at Goodwill today to look through the .20 toddler Thursday discounted books and the 50% off discounted toys. His physical therapist suggested buying him some taller toys to use for some of his exercises. Ben is now the proud owner of a set of stacking rings that are currently drying in the dish rack after a thorough washing.

While we were flipping through books, a mom and two little boys joined us in the aisle. This woman was so clearly a mom, through and through. Even if she hadn’t had her kids with her, I would have known she was a mom. She set her youngest down on the ground with his blanket (I think he had just woken up from a nap in the car) while reminding her older son that sometimes they won’t be able to find any books and that they could always try again next week.

The older son, who was probably five or six, began rummaging through each book, one at a time, his eyebrows furrowed behind his adorable glasses. If you’ve ever looked for books at a Goodwill you know how tightly packed together they are. This kid was clearly on a mission.

As the younger boy perked up, he noticed Ben and smiled at us behind his pacifier. He waddled over to the stack of board books on the ground and picked up a Baby Einstein book, indicating that it was for the baby. His brother, not wanting to be left out, came over to us and said, “We’re looking for Star Wars books. Sometimes we can’t find any, but we have to look through everything to know what they’ve got.” Apparently the quest for Star Wars books was a family project.

I watched as this woman expertly kept one eye on her toddler and the other on the books, determined to find a Star Wars book for her son. Anyone could see that a successful trip to the book aisle would mean the world to this mom.

I wonder how this woman spent her Thursdays before she had two little boys to care for. I wonder which books she would have searched for, had she had a moment of time for such indulgences. I wonder if she ever thinks this way and if she misses shopping for her without two little children at her heels.

I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks about such things while my own baby is strapped to my chest, babbling away, unaware that the momma who is holding him close existed as something else entirely before he came along.

I was almost done looking for books when I noticed a Yoda and Friends board book. “I don’t know if this is too young, but…” I slid it slyly toward her so she could make the call.

“Nothing is too young,” she said, taking the book and showing it to her son. “Benjamin, look what this lady found!” Big Benjamin smiled at me.

“Your name is Benjamin? What a coincidence. My baby’s name is Benjamin, too!”

More smiles. “What do you say to Benjamin’s mommy?” Big Benjamin’s mom coaxed.

“Thank you! I think I should look where you’re looking” Big Benjamin said, and then he stepped in front of me, convinced that a gold mine of Star Wars books was awaiting.

It struck me (Benjamin’s mommy) as we walked from the store that I already was that mom. My mission of the day wasn’t about me, it was about finding Ben toys he needed. This momma thing sneaks up on me when I least expect it. Here I am, watching a woman who radiates mother as if I didn’t do the same.

I hope Big Benjamin found more Star Wars books than he could carry.

I hope his mom gets ten minutes to herself today, wherever she is.

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