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Starting Our Christmas Traditions, One Less Gift at a Time

Not even Halloween and already my Facebook and Twitter feeds are seeing many posts about alternative Christmas gift ideas and suggestions for keeping Christmas gifts from piling up in our homes. If you haven’t read any of the posts or pins out there about the desire for a simpler, crap-free holiday, I suggest you take some time to catch up on this trend.

Parents and other gift-givers who jump on this bandwagon are not scrooges, or cruel, or robbing their kids of the fun of the holiday season. These are the kinds of parents I want to have in my “it takes a village” scenario. They walk the balance between giving their kids material possessions that bring them joy, and teaching them to value what they have without being greedy.

I loved Christmas as a kid, and I would never strip presents under the tree from Ben’s life. His birthday is 10 days before Christmas and I am very aware of celebrating both, because kids who have December birthdays are easy to overlook in the holiday craziness.

But if we’re being honest here, Ben’s first birthday is a big deal for us and not so much for him. He won’t remember it save for looking at pictures. His first (second really, but a NICU Christmas a month before your due date is really forgettable don’t you think?) Christmas will be the same story – he won’t remember or notice the presents he does or doesn’t get.

Ben is a lucky, loved little boy. He has grandparents and many adopted family members that I think it’s safe to assume will want to send him some sort of birthday and/or Christmas gift. We would just like to encourage the start of Ben’s gift receiving life to be meaningful and helpful and not something that turns his expectations and our home into this:

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As Ben gets older and can understand charity, one tradition we will involve him with is making care packages for his NICU. We received a stocking last Christmas from a 2012 graduate and it was not only useful but a much needed reminder that we wouldn’t be there forever. That photo above is the opposite of charity, it screams MORE STUFF MORE STUFF I NEED TO HAVE LOTS OF STUFF! That’s not how we want to bring up our son. Period.

So without further adieu, here is a sample of what our almost 1-year-old would like for his birthday and Christmas this year. Feel free to borrow and modify these ideas for your own little ones.

Diapers and wipes. I still go through a lot of diapers, and I really love playing with the big card board box they come in so it’s a win-win on the fun AND functional scale! I’m in size 3 Costco diapers for daytime and size 3 Pampers Extra Protection nighttime diapers for bedtime. I use the bulk Costco wipes too.

Formula. My doctors think I’ll be on bottles for a few months past my first birthday. I eat the Target brand infant formula with iron (it’s the orange container). Just like diapers, I love to play with the empty containers!

Family pass to the MN Zoo. One of my first family outings after months of isolation was to the zoo, and I sure would love to have our membership renewed for 2015. My recent favorite animal were the baby pigs in the farm exhibit. Couldn’t stop giggling at them. If you want to make this a really awesome gift, plan a day where you can come with me to the zoo! Experience with you mean so much more to me than a toy.

Family pass to the Edina Aquatic Center. I spent a lot of time splashing in the zero depth pool with my momma, and I bet it will be even more fun next summer when I can walk! I would love for you to join me for a day at the pool (I really don’t care what you look like in a swim suit).

Tuition. My momma and daddy would love to keep me involved in things like baby swim classes, music classes, ECFE and Parent Morning Out. At these activities I get to engage in sensory play, meet other babies, and break up the monotony of an indoor Minnesota winter.

Books. My parents agree that spoiling me in books is always acceptable. I hear that I’m growing up in a world full of screen time, and my parents know that the more they read to me the more likely I am to choose reading over iPad games or TV. I love used books (15 for $3 at Goodwill!) and, if I can be really greedy here, it would be wonderful if you brought me books and then spent time reading them to me. I love the sound of your voice and the comfort of your lap much more than an iPad or the TV.

Your time! Come over and play with me! You can even send momma and daddy away for a few hours so I can have you all to myself. I missed out on a lot of visitors last year and have a lot of catching up to do.

There’s some things that I really don’t need. I don’t need toys. Maybe when I’m older and I’m really interested in legos or cars I’ll appreciate some toys for my birthday or Christmas, but right now I am happiest playing with you and the buckets of toys I already have. I also don’t need clothes. Between garage sales and hand-me-downs, my parents have a well stocked closet. I know buying baby clothes can be fun because they’re so cute, but my momma has packed away lots of clothes with tags on that I never even got to wear.

Are you trying a minimalist approach to raising your kids? To the holidays? Have you tried the “something to wear, something to read, something you want and something you need” technique?

 

5 Things I Really Miss Now That We’re Broke

Yesterday I took the high road and wrote a post about 5 of the things I appreciate more now that we find ourselves just barely scraping by week to week (or day by day…ick). I think being positive and having an appreciative spirit go a long way, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t things that I miss about our pre-financial crisis lifestyle. I hope that my lamenting here will help any couples looking ahead to their budgets after they have a baby get an idea of just how much of  sacrifice you might face.

I miss our healthy eating habits. We’re cooking at home more, which is obviously beneficial to our health, but the quality of what we’re cooking is not always stellar. I used to be (and can’t wait to be again) hardcore organic on milk (regular milk is disgusting), chicken (those 25 breasts that are the size of footballs that you scored for $6.99 were that cheap because they were inhumanely treated and stuffed full of steroids and other nasty hormones) and fruits and veggies. We haven’t had these things in a long time, and every time we cook the cheap crap I shudder a little.

I miss traveling. Oh, how I miss traveling. I am so glad that I knocked a lot of traveling out in my 20’s, because it will be a long time before it happens again. I am still bitter that Dustin missed comicon 2014 and that I couldn’t go with on the ultimate girls trip to Denmark this summer. I am REALLY annoyed that I will be stuck in the grey, frozen hell that is January in Minnesota. When Maddie and I went to Mexico in January 2013 I had a hunch that it would be last hurrah for a while…and it turns out, I was right. Maybe I’m psychic? Hmm…time to play the lottery.

I miss contributing to our future. I always have been a “fund your 401k” kind of girl. I miss saving. I hate that we are missing out on key saving years because of prematurity and medical bills and student loans (can I just toss out a FUCK YOU to student loans, just because?). Followed closely by..

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I miss not worrying about money. Nowadays I feel like I worry about money 97% of my waking hours (and probably 50% of my sleeping hours, if my dreams are any indication). Before, while I often thought about money and how to best reach our goals, I was never terrified that we would fall short. I miss feeling confident and proud of our financial situation. We weren’t rich, but we were OK. I miss being OK.

I miss not feeling guilty about every last purchase. Sure, there are huge perks to weighing out every dime we spend. But when we choose to spend money I loathe the guilt that comes with wondering if we really had to spend that money. For example, when I signed up for Jamberry  I tossed and turned for days worrying about making back my $99 consultant fee, because that $99 was a HUGE investment for us right now. Thankfully I have reached that goal, mostly because those nails are pretty freakin’ sweet and everyone who tries them on falls in love with them, but before I would never have panicked over making that money back ASAP.

If you’ve done some serious slimming down to your spending, what do you miss most from your frivolous days? 

 

5 Things I Appreciate More Now That We’re Broke

Dustin and I were always frugally minded people. Even before the pregnancy from hell, the preemie and his medical expenses, and the unexpected loss of my income, we made frugal decisions a regular habit. We went to movies before 10:00a.m. so they would cost us $5 instead of $12.50, we infrequently ate out, we shopped the clearance racks for clothes.

But these days, being frugal has come to mean something new entirely. Now frugality isn’t a wise choice (and by the way, living way under your means is a very wise choice), it’s a survival method. It hasn’t been an easy – or anticipated – switch to cut our income down by over half while adding more expenses to our lives.

I guess I should add that yes, I realize how much more broke we could be. It could always be worse. Anyone else sick of hearing that? Has hearing that ever helped anyone, really? To be honest, as we’ve learned over the last 10 months, if we were more broke, the county would have covered our medical bills, we would have qualified for  WIC and SSI benefits for Ben…but I digress.

Over the past 10 months of becoming more and more broke, watching our hard-earned savings slip through our fingers, I’ve found that sometimes the only thing that makes this new life bearable (aside from the awesomeness that is the baby we gave it all up for) is not being told “it could be much worse” but instead taking the time to reflect on what changes we’ve made (or at least, I feel we’ve made) that I feel we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Even when we are back on our feet I truly believe that we will continue to live with a new appreciate for these 5 things.

The sight of a full fridge hasn’t never been so satisfying. There have been weeks where a photo shoot or a random web work job has made the difference between groceries and no groceries. My mom and my mother-in-law babysat for us back in September and they both commented on how empty our fridge was. Yeah…we know. Sometimes we scrounge. We are fortunate in that something has always come through, but we’ve cut it close a few times. I will never look at our full fridge the same way again.

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Same goes for a full tank of gas. I’ve always bitched about the cost of gas, but I’ve never been in a position where we have to budget gas miles until recently. I try to make all our trips in one run so we aren’t needlessly going back and forth.

When we do get to go out, it’s more fun than ever. Now when we splurge on a $5 Saturday morning movie, it’s a huge deal. Huge. We treat ourselves because we know that even broke people have to leave their house and have fun every once in a while. Last week I met friends for a picnic play date in the park, and I honestly appreciated every single bite of the $9 Panera lunch (bacon turkey bravo!!) I was able to buy.

We think through every single purchase we make. Before December 2013 we would give lots of thought to the big purchases, and some thought to the medium ones, and almost no thought to the small stuff. Now we take the time to weigh out every purchase. Someday, when this is over, we will be saving so much money by being hyperaware of every dime we spend.

We have a new sense of purpose. There’s something scary-powerful walking on the edge of survival and disaster. It forces you to have a new level of fight in your day-to-day living. Yeah, this is hard. Really hard. We aren’t sure that we will make it next month, or the month after, but we made it today, and that’s worth celebrating. We appreciate the smart choices we made pre-baby and realize that had we acted differently in our past, we would not have made it this far in our new present. Making it this long has made us want to fight harder and longer.

How have you turned a negative time in your life in to a positive? What frugal budgeting skills have kept you afloat when times are tough?

 

Wave of Light – Another Great Use of Social Media

Social Media can really suck the positive energy right out of you. Between our newsfeeds, twitter feeds, Google search results, hateful comments and bloggers…yikes. Sometimes I would rather not be connected to the world, because it seems that the most obnoxious people are often the loudest.

But on occasion, Social Media can kick ass at healing hurts and offering support and connections among complete strangers.

Take a moment to look up the hashtag #waveoflight. There’s some truly touching, beautiful stuff happening right now. And without Social Media, this movement may not even exist, and it needs to exist, clearly, because there are thousands of parents participating.

Love and hugs to you all. It’s hard to type through a cloud of tears, isn’t it?

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I Want to Be the Mom in the Video

Thursday was, to put it mildly, a very rough day. So rough in fact that it has taken me two days to be able to bounce back enough to be able to write about it.

I’ve written before about my love/loathe of ECFE. When I took Ben over the summer, I had (too high) hopes of finally making mom friends in my area. I was looking forward to seeing Ben like a normal baby who could be around kids.

And then we went, and while Ben enjoyed all the sights and sounds, it was more apparent than ever that we were the odd ones out. Ben was behaving more like a 4 month old than a 6 month old. My “joys and concerns” shares were nothing like the other moms – I was worried about his progress in PT, his forthcoming helmet, his delays in crawling and eating, and when I shared these worries, it was obvious that we were one of the “cautionary tale” people. You know, the ones where you hear about something in their lives and all you can think is “thank God that’s not us!”.

But Ben clearly loved the singing and the stimulation, so I bit my lip and tolerated it. I listened to other moms (who had met in the previous class when their healthy newborns could actually leave the house) make play dates and my heart would ache with jealousy, and my gut would clench with anger. I wanted to be a normal mom. I wanted a normal pregnancy, birth and a child who could have been taken out of the house when he finally came home from the hospital.

I reluctantly signed up for the 2014-2015 ECFE year knowing that it might be just as bad but hoping that with Ben’s leaps and bounds made over the summer in his development that it might be better.

We are a couple of weeks in and until this past session it was going rather well. The moms all separate from their kids for the first hour and talk about various topics. This week the instructor played a video focusing on birth and the first year as a mom, and the big deal of the first birthday. It was a tear-jerker of a video for any mom, but it was all I could do to hold it together.

The moms in the video have smiling photos of them going in to the hospital. (I have a stash of hospital bracelets from all our near-admissions and late night emergency trips to triage.)

The moms in the video shared their photos of seeing their baby for the first time. (I saw Ben for 30 seconds, pale and still, a sight that frightened me more than brought me joy, before he was taken away by a team of specialists.)

The moms in the video shared their photos and reactions to holding their baby for the first time. (When I could finally visit Ben, I was allowed to place one finger on his leg. I could not rub his skin, simply hold my finger in place, because he couldn’t handle the stimulation.)

The moms in the video are holding their babies to them, talking, crying, telling them they love them, that they’re beautiful. (Dustin and I did not say that our baby was beautiful, we said that he didn’t look as skeletal as we were expecting. And we said this back in my room, as we couldn’t speak in anything above a whisper in his room.)

The moms in the video took their babies home when they left the hospital. (I did not, and the first night away from Ben, sitting alone in front of the Christmas tree, was one of the worst moments of my life.)

The moms in the video were so happy. (I allowed myself to be happy after the nurse told us she was relieved that she could say with confidence that we would get to bring our baby home. This was a couple of days into Ben’s life.)

The moms in the video are excited for their baby’s first birthday. They look back fondly over the last year and remember with joy the day their child came into the world. (I don’t care about Ben’s first birthday, at least not yet. I remember worry, pain, sadness, fear, guilt, loneliness, exhaustion. The joy is there too, but those other emotions are pesky and persistent.)

The video wrapped and all the moms in my class were drying their eyes. The discussion that followed was about how important those first hours and first days of life are for bonding with a mother. The smells, the feeling of her arms, the sound of her voice are all critical to a baby’s social and emotional development.

While the other moms in the room recalled their own first joyous, bonding moments, I sat there wondering if Ben’s social and emotional development will be hindered by his lack of touch, the constant needle prick, the high-tension noise of the alarms and monitors, the painful IV, the uncomfortable feeding tube.

I held it together until I left class, and then I sat in my car for twenty minutes and cried against the steering wheel while Ben played with his toy monkey in his car seat. I texted Dustin that it was a rough day, and that I wanted a do over.

I just want the chance to be the mom in the video. More importantly, I want to give Ben the chance to be the baby in the video. He deserves that. We both do.

 

Being a Parent Is Ruining My Love of Scary Movies

Dustin and I are horror movie fanatics. We rarely get out to the theater these days, but when we do go, it’s usually because there is a new scary movie we just have to see on the big screen. Most recently it was “As Above/So Below”, which was quite creepy and worth a watch, if you’re into that sort of entertainment.

When I heard that the folks who thought up The Conjuring (terrifying, cannot watch when home alone) were going to make a prequel about the doll who kicks the movie off and then fades to the background, I knew we would be first in line to see it.

But now that the commercials are running on TV, I have to admit that I’m a little less excited than I thought I’d be. Why? Because the possessed doll, Annabelle, is clearly after an infant. There’s a scene where the mother rushes to the nursery to find her baby missing. There’s another where the mother is watching her baby from under the crack of the door, and the doll falls in front of her.

I’ll be honest – these previews make me feel uneasy, and not in the fun “I’m about to be scared” way. It’s in a “I know this is just a movie, but don’t hurt that baby!”.

It’s dawning on me that having a baby and becoming a mother is starting to ruin my love of scary movies, both new and old favorites. In “As Above/So Below” one of the main characters is tortured by images of his brother, who he believes he is responsible for letting drown when they were kids. Some old faves that are now ruined:

Scream – When Drew Barrymore dies in the opening scene (and if that’s a spoiler to you now…I can’t even apologize, it’s 2014 people) her mother listens to Drew’s final gasps of breath on the cordless phone (remember those?). I feel sick just thinking about the moment the mother discovers the body of her daughter.

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Dawn of the Dead – The little girl who attacks in the beginning was happily rollerskating the day before. And then there’s the baby zombie…okay, so this is far fetched, but still, they kill the baby.

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Pet Semetary – This one hits particularly close to home. Little Gage runs into the road and is hit and killed by a semi truck. Is your heart sinking yet? We live on a super busy road – the one thing that made me not want to buy our home – and it will be an ironclad house rule that Ben will never, ever go into the front yard without holding the hand of an adult.

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Saw III – The main character is on a quest to get through one of Jigsaw’s house of horrors. The point of this torture? To make the man realize that just because his son died doesn’t give him the right to stop living. I beg to differ – anyone who functions after the loss of a child is a god among men in my book. In the end, the mother dies, the father is left alone in a pool of his wife’s blood, and their remaining child is locked away, alone and scared, and apparently, left to die.

How entertaining…not. What was wrong with me before Ben? Did I not have a heart?!

This isn’t limited to horror movies. I had a meltdown in Game of Thrones  (as in, I started crying) when this little baby was left alone, cold and crying in the snow. I almost couldn’t watch as the White Walkers approached.

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Last but not least, we watched The Giver  the other night (it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be). I knew the release of the twin was coming. It is absolutely horrific in the novel. The CGI cheesiness of the twin doomed to die because of his slightly lower birth weight helped the blow a little, but I couldn’t separate my tiny baby, my tiny baby with needles and tubes, and my lost twin as I watched Jonas’s dad give the baby a lethal injection in the forehead and then stuff him in a box in the trash. I will spare you a picture, because frankly, I’m bummed out enough. 

They say that becoming a parent will change you and rock you to your core. I used to always argue that because I have this firm belief that you can still be “you” and be a parent. I need to amend this argument. You can remain “you”, but have to accept the fact that some big things will change – and for me, taking a break from certain horror movies might just be one of them.

 

Week 39: Nebulizers and Anniversary Apples

Our pediatrician – who is also the mom of a preemie – has told us the same story at almost all of Ben’s check-ups: when their preemie got sick for the first time she and her husband had this moment where they stared at the baby’s runny nose and realized, oh my God, it’s happening.

She’s warned us that despite all our best intentions and efforts, it would happen to Ben eventually too. I know this. Oh, how I know this. I’ve played quasi-nurse to hundreds of kids, as anyone who has ever been an early education teacher can attest to. But let me tell you, nothing can compare to dealing with it when it’s YOUR baby. Your PREEMIE baby.

My nasty, ass-kicking cold made its way to Ben sometime late last week. We weren’t totally sure that he was sick because as luck would have it he was also getting a couple of teeth. On Friday he was so congested that I slept with him for most of the night in my arms in the recliner. On Saturday he was a little muted in personality, but no fever higher than 100*.

He was miserable again on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, he was obviously a sick baby. He just cried and wanted to be held, and mostly slept when in our arms. His breathing was too hard, and there was crackling audible coming from his lungs.

We brought him in to the doctor, and the office was packed with coughing, hacking kids. The ease of the summer vanished and Dustin kept Ben outside of the office in the lobby while I waited among the germs. When we were finally seen, they pretty quickly ordered a nebulizer of albuterol and…an RSV test.

Why yes, that is my heart sinking to the floor. RSV? That’s the big one. The one we’ve been most afraid of.

Fuck.

He didn’t have it. We were sent home with nebs, a follow-up appointment, and a diagnosis of probably bronchilitis. When we headed to the doctor we had packed our bags prepared to go to Children’s hospital, because that’s just how preemie parenting rolls. We were beyond grateful that we could treat Ben at home.

It’s been a very, very, very long week. Ben spent most of the week sleeping in his rock n play (and by sleep I mean not sleeping) with a humidifier pumping out steam all night. He finally turned a corner on Thursday night when he made it until 2pm, and last night he made it until 6, with only one burst of misery from 11-1230.

We are exhausted, bone freaking tired, to say the least.

Wednesday was our 3 year anniversary, so Dustin took Friday off so we could all have a long weekend to celebrate. To keep with our tradition of doing something we’ve never done before (last year was Stillwater, the year before Cedar Point), we decided to enjoy the 80* day and take Ben to Deardorff Apple Orchard in Waconia.

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Last night Dustin and I hit up Brave New Workshop for their Wolf of Walmart show, because really, when don’t we celebrate with something other than BNW?

Ben is feeling better and better each day, and is currently being rocked to sleep by Grandma Jan. As soon as he’s out, I am going to give my mom her first jamicure!

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