Saturday, August 16, 2014

#8: An Ebenezer Scrooge Anniversary on Bed Rest

When we found out our surprise twin babies were "high-risk," we were only 21 weeks into pregnancy. I remember thinking, if we can just make it to the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th, everything will be okay.

Eight years ago, on this feast day, Wally and I went on our first date: August 15, 2006. And every year since, we've found a way to celebrate again. 

This year I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, spirited around to anniversaries past, present, and future, as I lay on the couch, under doctor's threat of pre-term delivery or miscarriage if I do anything more than roll over. And I was quite the Scrooge. Grumpy from lack of sleep and lack of movement, an influx of artificial and natural hormones trying to regulate this pregnancy, and the frustrations of being a do-er relegated to observer status in my own home. 

I watched Wally get up early to eat breakfast, put away the dishes from the night before, make oatmeal for our preschool boys, get them up and dressed, humor them into eating, all the while re-filling water cups, coaching "please" and "thank you," wiping noses, packing lunch, cleaning the breakfast dishes, chatting up next week's first day of school, banking the 4-year-old's pennies for evening Mass, an impromptu treasure hunt for the 3-year-old's rock collection, crisis toddler shoe intervention, and a swirl of chaos as they all swept out the door to play at Mommom's house while Daddy went to work. 

With my body measuring at 39 weeks gestation for a singleton birth (while at 28 weeks gestation with the twins), I really thought bed rest sounded nice. Walks with my kids were already a tortoise affair, house chores were borderline ridiculous/creative, and evenings were pretty much crashed out on the couch anyway. But I didn't realize how important those moments were, until I couldn't jump in to fix a snack or clean up a potty-training accident or run to the store for milk and bananas. Bed rest feels pretty useless, aside from the whole gestating babies thing. 

It's hard watching Wally do everything around here, especially since he does it with such a natural, unassuming attitude. I mean, sure I've taken over care of the kids for a couple days, when he's been sick or in a busy season at work, but I make sure it's proclaimed with a healthy dose of martyrdom and performance theatrics. Wally just does it, and still manages to raise an eyebrow and keep his sense of humor when our four-year-old panics about an empty water cup, finally gets the "please" out to secure a refill, and then wanders off mid-tantrum without a second thought. 

In his late afternoon transition from work to picking up our boys to taking them to evening Mass, Wally surprised me with anniversary roses and Sonic drinks. His few minutes of downtime were spent bringing in the mail, adding automatic cleaner to the toilets, and preparing little vases with roses, so the boys could bring flowers to Mary on her feast day. A quick kiss and he was out the door again, into the craziest part of the day.

Meanwhile I rolled over, used my evening bathroom pass, unstitched all my crocheting from the day before, watched "Shark Week," wondered for the hundredth time if it was labor or just a cramped muscle, re-read the internet, tried to explain to the dog why I couldn't feed her, and hoped Wally was surviving evening Mass with both boys. 

Then there was a rush of hyper, happy excitement as everyone crashed through the front door -- a day's worth of stories in five cacophonous minutes: flowers, lotion, pennies, singing, a playground at the mall, more lotion, fishing, trains, a search for the ever-missing rock collection, and then Wally had the dog fed, and dinner ready on the table, and both boys calmly eating. 

The eighth anniversary of our first date wound down with the boys' impromptu reenactment of Mass in our living room, followed by their ever-lengthening bedtime routine. I re-located bed rest to the floor of their bedroom, grateful for these calm moments together (some evenings not so calm), as we read our Bibles and prayed our prayers and sang our lullabies.

When I came back to the living room, Wally asked what I'd like for dinner, and I said nachos sounded good. Without hesitation, he pulled a hot plate of nachos from the microwave, passed me the dinner he'd just prepared for himself, and pulled leftover pot roast from the fridge to replace it. I tried to protest, but he just passed me another Ensure (flash forward 50 years), and asked what movie we should watch.

Our 3-year-old's ever-missing rock collection (currently in the toy oven)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Signing Out of the Rat Race

Last weekend, for the first time in years -- even including vacations -- I turned off my work email. It was an unceremonious transition, my work laptop passed to the replacement executive assistant, a few final good wishes, followed by the usual commute home. 

For five years, I've been in this rat race of commuting, running late, overachieving, impulsively checking in with work around the clock, shooting midnight and 5 am emails to all the other Dallas EA's, and like a hopeless crack addict, I spent the past weekend logging into my work email, checking on situations that no longer affected me, deleting the account, and then re-installing it again just to be sure. I finally realized that without the laptop, I couldn't accomplish much anyway. 

Leaving my job was a somewhat reluctant and unplanned decision (kind of like getting pregnant with twins). Never one to let go lightly, it took a series of reality checks over several months to realize "Super Mom" is a delusion, and I can't actually do it all. 

Leaving is full of uncertainty. We've re-run the new budget so many times this week, an exercise that usually ends with shrugging our shoulders and saying, "God's got this." (Or, as so many of our conversations end, with shrieking preschoolers calling us to the other room.)

What's surprised me is the joy.

In the last few days, I haven't held up my hand, asking my kids to be quiet while I finish a call. I haven't indefinitely prolonged reading "Thomas the Tank" or a hike to the park while sending a work email.

The opportunity to work part-time from home over the past year has been really great, but in only three days, I can see how work-life boundaries didn't exist (which is why it was such a good set-up for my company). I didn't have the freedom or the discipline to set limits or hours, thinking my physical presence at home with my mental presence at work was enough to satisfy everyone. 

As young kids do, they adapt, make the best, overlook any faults in their parents, and they love. 

But the past few days, sans email and laptop, have overflowed with small moments and seemingly insignificant joys.

"Mama, since we are so happy, I'm going to give you something," my four-year-old said spontaneously, and then reached little arms around my neck to gift me a hug. 

Six months pregnant with twins (both of whom are on the normal-to-high weight range for singleton births -- so much for small babies), I'm slower and more limited than I've ever been. But I'm here, mentally and physically present with my family and beginning to think the work stress has all been for nothing. 

I'm frustrated with myself for chasing the financial "American Dream." I feel like a pawn in someone else's game -- striving for accolades in a system that reinforces wealth and materialism, so I can mentally crash at the end of each day and then wake up too early to do it all again. 

I expected financial crisis, transitioning to one income (totally could still happen). I didn't expect a calmer peace of mind, a happier home, and re-discovering so many moments with my husband and kids. I would downsize ten times over to keep this. 

“This is your last chance... After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed, and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, ...and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you, how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus' offer to Neo in “The Matrix”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Doesn't God Just Give Me What I Want?

I've been trying to worship a God who's 70% American folklore and 30% Jewish heritage, the kind of generous deity that drops barbeque pits and picket fences into the lives of good followers, exacts vengeance on anyone I find offensive, and pours Middle Class bounty on anyone who can make it to church 3 out of 4 Sundays a month (all of whose attributes can be traced to the original Greek and Hebrew text of scripture).

Picture Source
Yet, if the Bible is divinely inspired, it shows a God who has no interest in blessing the status quo, or even bestowing blessings in the form of financial stability and social status. He seems far more preoccupied with random individuals --  someone who's lost everything, someone who's physically handicapped, someone who's insecure, someone with no reputable or formal education, someone who's loved and lost, someone who's socially marginalized.

So why in the world am I even interested in this God? All I want is self-sufficiency, a predictable income, good healthcare, nice kids, some social status, maybe publication in a respected periodical, good sleep, a dependable car that also looks nice, a little fun money on the side, some cool travel experiences, retirement security, a safe place to live, a reasonable commute to work, a grocery budget that includes ice cream, a dog, a cat, someone who can come by a few times a week to clean up after us and scoop the cat litter, home internet, and coffee every morning.

Picture Source

I'm not sure how I jumped to the conclusion that God might not be God, because all of my Middle Class American dreams might change with the arrival of two new babies in just a few months. 

What if there's more to life than what I can accomplish and how much I can collect and how comfortable my life can be? I don't like that idea, because I want to be accomplished, rich, and comfortable. 

And while I'm searching out signs of God's existence in happy outcomes and an easier life, He's trying to condition a soul. He's trying to pour more love and more light into this world, to re-connect this wanderer with her beginning and her end, and I'm still preoccupied with securing finances for another year of cable TV.

I don't know what God's doing, in the world, or even in my own small life. I don't know why He gave us twins, which completely throws off our family planning, career ambitions, and financial goals. 

But I'm a little excited. Because it means God is bigger than my 21st Century American Dream, and Wally and I are a part of an unpredictable and wild, and somewhat scary, life. 

Picture Source

Friday, July 11, 2014

How Conversations With My 4-Year-Old Helped Me Understand China's Domestic Policy

Me: Joseph, why is your brother crying?

Joseph: I don't know.

Me: It looks like he fell down. Did you push him down?

Joseph: No.

Me: Did he just fall down by himself?

Joseph: Well, I pushed him, and he fell down, but I didn't push him down. 

And now we can begin to understand this quote from Wang Haidong, a family planning official in China: "The family planning policy, as its name implies, allows planned reproduction. It does not ban anyone from reproducing."


Picture Source

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Which DIY'ers Attempt to Contract

Wally and I are very hands-on when it comes to home improvements. Not knowledgeable, but willing to learn. Not wealthy, but able to budget. And enabled by Google, Youtube, family with tools to borrow, and "This Old House" reruns, we have the most important DIY trait of all: the audacity to believe we really can do anything.

One of my favorite past times is making updates and improvements using only materials we have on hand or can get for free. Closet organization, kid-size benches, and several outdoor play areas spring up out of random, re-purposed stuff around the house.

Plus, our lower-middle-class neighborhood has constant garage sales and great trash piles. I once pieced together a full swing set from a neighbor's trash pile and had my preschoolers help me drag it in pieces 50 yards down the sidewalk to reassemble in our garage.
With a 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and twins on the way, we considered outsourcing some of our home improvement projects, so we weren't caught in the middle of an eight-month bathroom renovation, working sleep-deprived with power tools.We did the math of bank account versus time saved versus personal skill sets, and brought in professionals to trim trees, build a fence, and replace our 14-year-old hot water heater.

We tried to contract our backyard deck replacement through Lowe's and Home Depot's advertised services, but we're not sure the associates who were supposed to call us back actually even exist. After a couple weeks of one-sided phone tag and no-show store appointments, we read the signs from the universe and overhauled the deck ourselves, squeezing in extra projects of a vegetable garden, gutter install, grill table, and cat perch along the way. 

We tried to contract out a little kitchen upgrade too, after my failed cabinet refinishing. (In my defense, you can only strip so many layers of paint off construction grade wood paneling. Still, the interim effect is less than pretty.) 

The lady who came out from Kitchen Concepts was very nice, moved efficiently through our galley kitchen, measuring windows, counters, and doors, and asking how we would describe our style.

"Ummm... clean? bright?" I felt like breaking into a kitchen musical rendition of Edelweiss. "Something not... ugly."

We've based most of our DIY design decisions on available resources, or the clearance room in Ikea's "As-Is" section. We weren't sure what to do with an open palate of options. 

Luckily, as it turns out, our kitchen design style doesn't matter after all. Once we got to the end of the meeting and we shared our available budget, the designer paused.

We thought the budget was pretty generous. We had doubled the cost of cabinets and counters at market price, to allow for labor, and decided against any kind of demolition, heavy construction, or new appliances.

The nice lady smiled, scheduled a follow-up meeting for 2 weeks later at their store, and left quickly. 

We arrived at the meeting, expecting to select stain colors for our cabinets, tiles for a back splash, and surfaces for counters, but were ushered into a small conference area instead. 

"Well," the owner said hesitantly -- her designer nowhere in sight. "With your budget, you can have this particle board cabinet, in this color, with this counter. And we had to go over your budget to put this together. But look - a corner cabinet with lazy Susan shelves!"

At this point, the designer poked her head in: "Oh no, we couldn't do the lazy Susan. It's just a regular corner cabinet."

I think our heads exploded, as we tried to calculate where all the money went. Maybe this wasn't a kitchen renovation store at all. I looked around at the European contemporary design, no other customers in sight. Come to think of it, had we ever seen cars in the parking lot? Was it all a front, funneling money to a Swedish mob? 

I felt like we should leave quickly, before they figured out we were on to them and found ourselves buried in fresh concrete at the back of an industrial strip center in Addison, Texas. 

We smiled, pointed to my growing belly, mumbled something about waiting till after the babies were born, and made it to safely to our car. And then laughed all the way home.  

I guess we'll just keep this on the end of our "To Do" list!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Baby Names! And How 21st Century Neonatal Technology Just Gives Moms More Stuff To Worry About.

We named our baby boys!

Jonathan James Paul Bader and David Timothy Paul Bader. The latest ultrasound shows David sucking his thumb, kicking and rolling down my left side, and Jonathan spread eagle on the right, showing his boy parts on the monitor every chance he gets.

"Paul" is a family name -- my husband's real name (though his sisters' nickname of "Wally" in high school has taken over), my brother's name, and a lineage of many "Saint Pauls" back through time.  Our babies' namesake is for Pope Paul VI, author of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which he wrote on the dignity of each human life from conception to natural death, and a saint with a legacy of intercession for babies with special needs in the womb.

(I wanted their middle names to be "All-Saints" to really feel like we're calling down all of heaven on their behalf, but 20 years from now, we're afraid their takeaway would just be their parents were religious nuts.)

Wally and I laughed as the sonographer scanned through all their healthy, functioning organs, listened to the heartbeats, measured bones and head circumference, and then left the room to see if our midwife/nurse practitioner had made it back from a delivery.

"I'm so glad everything looks good," I remarked to Wally, waiting for them to return. "Or she has a really good poker face."

They both came back in, and the sonographer scanned the babies again, the screen cutting out after a view of their four little feet under my ribcage. As it turns out, she has a good poker face.

We find out our twins are identical, not fraternal, and they share a placenta, with blood passing unevenly through the placenta to each other. This usually results in one big baby, and one little baby: one grows too big, and his heart can't handle the extra blood supply, and the other becomes anemic from a limited blood supply.

I tell myself that Google is just full of outdated articles, as I spend the evening attempting to become a self-proclaimed expert before our perinatal specialist appointment the next day. My mind can't handle the statistics. To do nothing has a less than 5% survival rate for both twins. To repeatedly drain excess fluid via amniocentesis is risky, and only treats the symptom of too much amniotic fluid in one sac. There's a new laser ablation treatment that actually separates the blood supplies in the placenta, but it's not available in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. There don't seem to be any silver linings. I keep scanning for "good outcome if caught early" and "high success rate with this treatment." But article after article just ends with fact-spouting finality.

I start second-guessing everything I've done over the past 5 months of pregnancy. I shouldn't have lifted those cinder blocks two months ago. I shouldn't have hiked at high altitudes last week. I shouldn't have picked up my 2-year-old yesterday. But apparently it's all determined before you even know you're pregnant, something about the timing of when the cells split to form identical twins.*

Thankfully, the perinatal specialist is much more well-balanced and calm than any of the apocalyptic websites I'd sourced the night before. The amniotic fluid levels were uneven, and slightly outside "normal," and Jonathan had enlarged kidneys, but both babies were growing and moving well, with good circulation. She even checked the arteries through their brains for anemia, and the four chambers of their hearts for blood flow. 

So we're on weekly check-ups, 23 weeks gestation, making sure amniotic fluid levels are giving each boy the environment he needs, and that they're both continuing to grow.

I feel a little silly for choosing worry over sleep so many nights, but also reassured that Pope Paul VI and all the angels and saints in heaven are interceding with us for these two tiny little boys! Please join with us as we thank God for this fascinating, surprising gift of two small babies, and please keep David and Jonathan in your prayers.

Jonathan's hand, giving us the "Hey, guy!"
David, sucking his thumb
*If the cells split 3 days after conception, you have two babies growing in two separate amniotic sacs, pulling nutrients from two separate placentas. Statistically, this is the best case scenario for the health of both babies.

If the cells split 4-7 days after conception, you have two babies growing in two separate amniotic sacs, sharing one placenta. This appears to be the case for our babies, and due to the shared blood supply, can cause twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.

If the cells split 7-11 days after conception, you have two babies sharing one amniotic sac and one placenta, and if the cells split after 12 days, the babies may be conjoined.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Real Proverbs 31 Woman

Does Mother's Day leave anyone else feeling down in the dumps? Please feel free to leave the names and numbers of your therapists in the comments, and mention if they do long-term pro bono work, house calls, and if there's a limit to the number of toddlers allowed in the room during sessions. It would also be great if they do dishes. 

I remember feeling alive, but lately, whenever I call up those moments of exhilaration, my mind conjures parallel images of trampled grass and dead vines. I don't like feeling defeated and weary. I want the world to see joy and laughter when they look at me, at my family. 

But I'm tired of my kids' poop and pee and spit and vomit. I'm tired of early mornings cooking oatmeal, resenting my boss for keeping me from my kids,  resenting my kids for keeping me from my work, putting down my phone to watch my two-year-old's twentieth rendition of crashing a tower of blocks, feeling guilty for not wanting to put down my phone and lose contact with the world outside my preschool prenatal microcosm. 

I'm tired of imagining the judgment of other moms whose kids don't recognize local drive-thrus by name, judging other moms who didn't breastfeed for a year while working full time and pumping milk on their lunch breaks in their cars, and then doing it all again a year later. 

I'm tired of saying no to stuff that's not in the budget but everyone else is doing and posting fabulous pictures of on Facebook.I'm tired of my first jaded thoughts when I see a youthful, smiling new mom post a first sonogram picture. Just wait, just wait, I inevitably think. 

I'm sure those who struggle with infertility must be exasperated at my calloused and seemingly unchecked fertility. I'm sorry. If it helps at all, I feel shallow and selfish at taking my family for granted.

I didn't realize how much sleep I would lose, how much personal time I took for granted, how personal space becomes indefinitely communal when you have children. I'd like to think my true self was who I was before kids --  someone I remember as pretty competent, level-headed, and even compassionate. But maybe I've always been this selfish, and the intensity of having kids just brought out true colors. 

I've been reflecting on that super amazing all competent woman held up as the ideal in Proverbs 31 (after the advice to give strong drink and wine to the perishing, distressed, and poor). And I come to realize, for the first time today, that even this woman has some kind of upper-middle class edge: "she rises while it is still night and provides tasks for her servant girls." 

Well geez, if I could have a few servant girls folding laundry or getting dinner going in a crockpot while I'm doing a midnight check on the baby, maybe I'd have it a little more together too! Maybe I could supply the merchants with sashes, consider a field and purchase it, and plant that vineyard she's got time to tend. 

But then, what of the servant girls? Do they stand any chance of becoming Proverbs 31 women too, or are they just destined to keep hopelessly balancing work and family, helping out the super awesome virtuous woman who gives middle-of-the-night orders? Anyway, I'm done with trying to be a Proverbs 31 woman until I get some maidservants. 

I didn't realize when Jesus said to die to ourselves for others, it wouldn't be something pretty and artistic. 

I didn't realize when God said two would become one in marriage that the sacrifice wouldn't always be romantic or big screen valiant.

I wanted Christianity to be a middle class demographic that would keep our kids moral and our family somewhat "normal."

But my compass must be totally off, because it seems God is far wilder than I expected. He gives us surprises that are bigger than the plans we make, and dreams that are crazier than the safe havens we create.

As my world keeps turning upside down, somehow the most regular event on my calendar is feeding the ducks. I'm okay with that.