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Sunday, June 29, 2014

You've Got to Know When to Fold 'Em

This is one of those special moments in a parent's life where they just don't want to forget all the fun details of a unique experience.  My sister tells me I'm long-winded, and this post will prove her right. I could tell this story in a few sentences, but that won't capture the range of emotion I want to convey. Parents will be able to empathize, and those without kids may feel like I'm exaggerating what was probably just a slightly stressful time. To be too honest, I could not care any less about your perception of how this went down. I was there. I know what it felt like.


My parenting risk management skills have really been refined since having twins. I don't get to take them very many places, not because I am a lazy mom, but because it just is not safe to have two toddlers or now 2 year olds out with only one adult to watch them. They are too "full of life" to be trusted in some situations. Sometimes the guilt sets in and I get this heavy sinking feeling in my heart that I'm not giving them the same experiences I gave my others. But I have to remind myself that I am not willing to risk their safety and well-being to achieve a fun "experience". With twins it is just a different parenting game. The rules change. Everything changes. But sometimes I get parent-pressured into breaking the rules, and usually the outcome is not pretty.
You know what parent pressure is, I'm sure. It's how parents can influence the actions or thoughts of other parents, consciously or not. It's when those Pinterest mommies make incredible birthday cakes and then pressure you to make your own. It's those fort-building daddies who whip together treehouses and rocketships out of recycled materials and give the unspoken challenge to you to beat that. It's the parents who go on glamorous vacations with their kids, or without, and make you wish you could do the same. It's the pressure you feel when you see a mom with her jogging stroller and then immediately let your eyes fall to your poochy belly, or the pressure when a parent orders first and picks a salad and now you don't know if you can order your cheeseburger without guilt and resentment. It's the pressure that their two year old is reading, and your two year old can barely string two words together. It's the pressure you feel when a parent who you typically respect is letting their kid go to a sleepover or get a pedicure, or anything else you didn't feel was age appropriate for yours, but you inadvertently start to rethink your decision. It's the pressure you feel when you are a stay at home mom and you are forced to recognize and consider there are beautiful, happy, successful mommies who are working outside the home, or vice versa.
I try to be aware of those moments when I'm being parent-pressured, so I don't make a decision that stems from it.  Just because other parents do something doesn't mean it will work for my family. But this time, in this moment, I was taken by surprise. I was parent-pressured by my very own mother.

She was visiting last week, watching my 2 nieces (7 and 3) and nephew (6) while my sister and her husband were out of town. When my children combine with my sister's children, we have a full-fledged daycare happening. Peace and quiet are always invited to our get-togethers, but they never show, and they are always sorely missed.

While in town, my mom suggested we all go to a splash pad in the next town over--one where I'd never been, but she had been the day before...she said that although there was a pool area attached, and it was a bit crowded when she went, we could do it. It's doable, she said. It will be fun, she said. The twins will love it, she said.
I did the math, the calculations of adult hands to children hands plus water, and swim diapers, and a nursing infant, and floaties, etc...It would be me, my 8yrold, 5yrold, 2 year old twins, and 8 week old baby, along with her three charges: 7, 6, and 3 yr old.  Two adults, 8 children. YOUNG children.

Spoiler alert: It sucked.

So I should have listened to my refined parental risk management thoughts when they were clearly telling me, "Danger. Do Not Attempt.. Guaranteed Stress. Chances of injury and accident: high. Chances of success: low."
But like many times before, the guilt starts to set in. My provoking inner monologue starts to pressure me: "Your mom had 6 kids. She says it'll be doable.  She would know.
Your mom has the patience and willingness to try new and challenging things with your kids, why don't you?Where's your sense of sacrifice of comfort for your kids' sakes?"

I was parent-pressured. I said yes.

And it went like this:
Twins cry the entire drive to the splash pad because we passed their aunt's house and they thought we were headed there.
****stress level manageable but steadily creeping up****
I park the car and start putting swim diapers on the twins, then shorts, then shoes. Next twin, swim diaper, shorts, shoes. Meanwhile I discover my oldest, Mr8, forgot to bring his flipflops when I yelled at him, "Make sure you get your shoes!!" as we left, so he is hopping and yelping that the parking lot is burning his feet. I grab the diaper bag for the baby and twins, pop out the stroller, snap in the baby carrier, and my mother joins us from her car with the cousins, and a big bin full of snacks, towels, and clothes.
Twins still crying.
***stress level increases as I anticipate the worst splashpad experience ever***
Walk/Run into the place, and have to stop at the desk to pay for everyone. I survey the scene, it's much worse than expected. VERY crowded, and more like a mini waterpark than a "splash pad". There are big twisty slides, diving boards in adjacent pools, water shooters, swim lanes, and yes, a "splashpad" area.  Twins see water and start to pull away. Older kids start all talking at once asking if they can go in. I start yelling at everyone different rules and regulations, and we wait as my mother pays the nice man at the desk, counting children and ages and calculating.
.
Every kid impatient, a few whining/crying, and we wait to pay.
A line is building behind us.
My phone rings, it's my OB calling to give me a pregnancy test result, because, for some unexplained reason, the first two were positive. I was expecting the call for hours.
****stress levels peaking****
Clearly I'm very distracted as I take the call.
Pregnancy result negative, she explains something about false positives due to pregnancy hormones still present, something something I can't hear you there are too many kids screaming around me.
I sigh and pray a silent thank you and tell the woman I told you so and hang up.
***stress levels abate considerably***
I see some of our kids start to walk in ahead of me, but I'm so distracted I think my mother is leading the train, I push the stroller and follow the group toward the water.
Only too late do I notice I've entered the water park without my mom, who was still at the desk paying. Twin A starts charging toward the water. I yell at Mr.8 to go get him, I bend down to start tugging floaties on Twin B, who is screaming crying because I took his shoes off too soon and the cement is burning his feet. When I look up, the 3rd old niece has decided to help TwinA instead of Mr8. She is 3 but is as big as any 5 year old, just not exactly as coordinated. Before I can yell stop she picks him up from behind, loses her balance, and body slams him face forward into the cement. ***stress levels peak again**** He screams and is inconsolable for the next 20 minutes, as blood flows steadily from his nose.

My mother joins us at that point, just in time to see the three year old unintentionally flattening TwinA. I frantically tug floaties on the sobbing and bleeding Twin A and leave him at the stroller with my mom, to rush off to catch Twin B, who has run into the 0 entry pool without me.  He wanders immediately AWAY from the splash zone and into deeper water. As I follow, a lifeguard comes over to me and sweetly points out that I have my hands full, and if I could keep my little ones in the splash area they would love it. I smile. I'm embarrassed.
Thanks. Great suggestion. I'll get right on it.

I watch from the water, keeping Twin B by my side, TwinA still screaming, walking away from the stroller, along at the water's edge. Infant in stroller is now unattended as my mom has to follow Twin A to keep him safe.
Who knows where the 3 year old is? Or any of the others for that matter? Not me. I've got one eye on the stroller, one eye on the fearless twin B who is bobbing along beside me, snickering and trying to move further out, and one eye on TwinA who I can see from a distance still has blood coming from his nose, still sobbing. Wait. I didn't have enough eyes for that. I darted eyes back and forth, scanning, and trying to keep an eye out for our other children a midst the hundred kids splashing, screaming, and laughing around me. To no avail.
My mom brings TwinA back to the stroller several times, only to have him walk away crying each time.
She encourages him to touch and enter the water, to calm down, but he screams more.

10 very long minutes later Twin A finally is willing to take his sister's hand and walks into the pool toward me. Too late do I realize I was better off having him cry at the water's edge than for him to lose his fear and join us in the pool.
******stress increases to off the charts, now definitely outnumbered by the twins**********
I catch my mom out of the corner of my eye start to push the stroller around the park, I'm only assuming the infant has begun to get fussy, otherwise why in the world would she leave me in the pool with 7 children?? Yes there are lifeguards, but there are about 100 children. They are no real comfort to me. And the baby should be due to nurse soon. What will happen when I get out of the pool to nurse him? How is that going to work?!
Trying to keep Twins afloat and happy...the minutes are like hours, I keep checking my watch and wonder how long we have to stay to get her money's worth but also leave without anyone drowning first.

3 year old finds me, comes up to me crying to tell me 5 year old is being mean. "Go find Grandma and tell her, and tell 5 year old to come here."
8 year old finds me, asks if he can slide down the big twisting slide. "NO! ok..yes, whatever, be careful."
5 year old finds me, asks if she can take her floaties off because she says she doesn't really need them. "NO! and stop being mean to your cousin!"
Twins have a conference while I'm not paying attention and decide to split up to really get the anxiety flowing. Twin A starts to climb splash pad play equipment with slide, Twin B starts to wade further out into the water where he can't reach. I choose to stick with Twin B in the open water and hope Twin A can fend for himself among the big kids at the play equipment, hoping he doesn't try the slide because no one is there to catch him at the other end.

Is it true or was I imagining every parent's judging eyes on my back during my disastrous situation?

**********stress remains at uncomfortably high levels************
After about 40 minutes of this I couldn't take any more. I told the twins we were going to the car and they started to scream and pull away from me as I pulled them out of the water. They are big boys, and have floaties on which made it even more difficult to manage them, but I threw one on my hip and gripped the other's wrist, and dragged them out of the pool.  I spotted my mom and the stroller in some shade and headed toward her. With her help, I just needed to get some shoes on them one at a time, without the other one darting back into the pool, so we could walk out to the car without anyone's toes burning off. My mom was willing to keep the other 5 with her at the pool for a little longer, but I couldn't do another minute, and she said it was ok if I left. She offered to help me to the car but then who would watch the other 5 in the pool?
I told her I could walk them and the baby and stroller out by myself... It takes obedience on their part, I need them to cooperate and walk on their own, but ideally we could leave as we came in, I hold a twin's hand on either side of me while I push and steer the stroller with my midsection.
I had bought two big beautiful red lollipops about a year ago, and had hidden them in my diaperbag for such a time as this, a horrendous scene in our lives where I was overwhelmed and out of options. The time had come to pass out the emergency lollipops.
We slowly made it back to the car, sticky red smiling faces, I stripped them naked and put them unceremoniously into their car seats, and drove off, the stress decreasing with every mile I put between myself and the nightmarish splashpad. My heart returned to a regular bpm and I woosahhed all the way home.

I'm sorry for those who read to the end and were being built up for a great climactic end to this story, but thankfully it ended without any more suspense. We were all exhausted. The older 5 were totally unaware of my stresses...they had a great time. My mom managed her five with grace and competency, as only a veteran mother could. But the twins were a game-changer. They may continue to be game-changers for years to come, and I can't be parent-pressured into making decisions that will not work for my boys.

In a previous post I explored the fact that I was sometimes scared to do things with my twins for the wrong reasons. I didn't want to experience failure and embarrassment if they could not be managed. But to be honest, most of the time I'm scared to do things with my twins for the right reasons.  At the splashpad we were always just 3 minutes away from a very scary disastrous accident. And so henceforth I will be careful to trust my momgut. No one knows what I am capable of more than me. Sometimes, yes, challenges are important for growth and learning. But you also have to know when to say no and when to bow out of life's challenges. It's not worth risking the safety and wellbeing of your children.  As the wise gambler says,


"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run..."


If I could've run out of that splashpad I would've. We won't be going back any time soon--at least not without a few extra adults, or a few less kids, or a whole bag of red lollipops.

What I Was Hoping For:

 
What It Felt Like:  

What it Really Was: 




Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Roll With the Punches

I've never been one for too many details. I hope I'm known as a go-with-the-flow type of woman, friend, wife, mom...one who rolls with the punches. (I'm working on my epitaph, so far I've got "Danielle McLean, proven pelvis, rolled with the punches.) Truth is it's easy for me because compared to some, I haven't really had a lot of punches to roll with. As I've said many times, my life is beautiful. So I don't take a lot of effort in the planning of minor details. That is not how I've been wired which, it turns out, is fantastic, because I have a bunch of kids now and details get lost in the mess. 
Sure, I have some general and unambitious "plans" for my life, such as:
1. Get my own bedroom.  Check. (freshman year of college, first time having my own room)

2. Graduate from college. Check. (UCF, c/o 2005)
3. Marry my high school sweetheart a humble, funny, handsome, strong, kind, honest, pre-screened and pre-selected by God, most patient man in the universe. Check. (thanks God, I owe you--again.)
4. Have four children. Check. (after 4, numbers don't matter. It's just a lot.)
5. Grow old with same man involved in #3 and #4. 
Sorry to disappoint, but I have no plan to run for office, get a PhD, travel the world, rule the world, etc., as cool as those things might sound to some. You may have noted some of my plans happened out of order, which renders me eternally thankful for a God who is able to work all things for good, for those who love Him. And for anyone still in the market, sovereignty is definitely a quality you want to have in your God, when you're selecting who you will follow in this life, keep that in mind. 

Anyway. My point is, even my minimalist planning approach to life has proven to be either too specific or too self-absorbed, usually both. None of us can predict how our lives will unfold. The most mundane moment in time can shift our future. The most seemingly inconsequential information, encounter, or decision can change everything. In retrospect, sure, it's easy to see how and where a tsunami originated, but when you're busy living your life, most simply can't imagine what is about to befall them. Take, for example, my friend on the bike.

Life just doesn't go how we plan. I am learning more and more to not try to plan how perfect or easy tomorrow will be, because that's not real and hardly ever comes to pass.  Real life is messy, scary, bumpy, and hard, with joy and beauty intertwined throughout those tough times (note the joyful and beautiful checkpoint flags in God's plan). 
If you would have told me I would be mother to twins, specifically a mother to four boys and 1 girl, I might have been scared into not having any. Four boys is a lot of boys. I had 4 sisters and just one brother to contend with, almost the exact opposite...how can I raise all these boys?? Further, if you would have told me that our firstborn son would have a scary delivery and need to be vacuumed out, and then at 3 years old would grow a thyroglossal duct cyst right next to his vocal cords that would need surgery to remove, I'd be scared to tears. If you would have told me that our newborn daughter would have high levels of bilirubin and would need to have an IV and undergo phototherapy for days, I'd be appropriately upset. If you told me we'd have twin boys who were nonverbal and showed developmental delays for their age, and that they'd benefit from speech and occupational therapy, I'd be understandably shocked.  But we must and we do, roll with the punches. Making plans of having 1, or 2, or 3, or 4 children does not guarantee you'll actually have them, and having hopes of uncomplicated or a complete absence of medical experiences for your children does not keep pain and suffering from coming to them. 

This brings me to Levi, our super baby, our number five.  He's been as uncomplicated as uncomplicated can get. He was born healthy and big and strong.  He latched on right away, a strong little sucker. He gained weight appropriately, and is just a perfect little red-headed munchkin. But 2 weeks ago the pediatrician showed concern that his head was off the charts for size, and a little too oblong for her liking. She said although infants can have heads that are a little misshapen from delivery, they will correct naturally in the first weeks of life. Levi's skull shape has only gotten more ovoid. But honestly, I didn't think much of it. Our #1 had a head off the charts too. We did CT scans to rule out hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or any other issues, and turned out, he just had and still has a humongous head. 
So we took this pediatrician's referral to a pediatric neurosurgeon pretty lightly. We scheduled the appointment at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando and didn't think of it again, until the day before the appointment. I was still calm, but I realized I didn't even know what our pediatrician suspected, or what she wrote on the referral, or what her concern was. I started googling, and very quickly found Levi's skull shape on other infants on the internet.  The diagnosis of an infant skull being elongated was possibly a case of scaphocephaly, a condition that only appears in approximately 1 out of every 2500 births. 

I drove Levi up to Orlando for his appointment, and after examining Levi for just a few minutes, a very nice pediatric neurologist diagnosed scaphocephaly.  We were sent to get a CT scan just to be sure, and the results confirmed it. At 5 weeks old Levi's skull should show soft spots in several places, leaving room for his growing brain to expand as needed, symmetrically, for the course of the next year. Levi's skull, however, has prematurely fused shut along the sagittal suture (the line running front to back), causing the brain to push back, causing the back of his skull to push out, taking on an oblong shape. 
The only treatment is surgery. 
I was not hysterical as he told me Levi was a candidate for surgery because I had already researched the condition and treatment, so I was somewhat prepared. I was calm, and am still calm, and I attribute that to being a mother of 5, but mostly I attribute it to the prayers that were and are expressed to God on my behalf.  (please don't stop praying!) I felt peace throughout the entire conversation with the doctor. I still feel peace about it, but in reality, it is quite scary when I allow fear to creep in. The surgeon will remove about a 2cm strip of the center of Levi's skull, and then cut some strategic and geometric slices down the two side areas of the skull, to alleviate pressure and allow for proper future growth. It's a two hour procedure, and about 1 in 3 infants undergoing the surgery need a blood transfusion. Minimum 3 days in the hospital post op. 

The surgery is scheduled for July. He will be 10 weeks old.  As I type this, I am watching Levi sleep, cuddled up in a warm fluffy polka-dotted blanket in his swing, wishing he could just stay this comfortable forever.  I don't want to think about what will happen to him in July, I don't want to imagine the trauma that he will suffer, the pain that I am willingly subjecting him to. I know I can't plan for him to have a pain-free life, just as I can't plan that for myself or any of my loved ones, but it sucks to know what's coming for him, and at the same time, it also sucks to not really know what's coming for him or any of my other children in the future. 

But I can take comfort in expecting the journey to get rough in spots.  Life isn't smooth sailing, it isn't an easy ride. If I am prepared for the bridge to collapse under me at some point, since I know this world can offer me no guarantees of safety, peace or comfort, then the bridge collapse may not be so shocking when it happens.  I'm practicing peace, which is a moment-by-moment undertaking, but I know God has Levi in His hands, and that is where my peace comes from. This is not a brain tumor, this is not cancer, this is not fatal.  This does not affect his brain function or sentence him to a hard, painful life. I remind myself of these reasons to give thanks and that helps too. 


If you're already praying for my family, don't stop now. If you're not a pray-er, stop living like that. It's sad.

Life is a journey, not a destination, right? Right?? right. 


Stay tuned for the updates on my other sweet shish kabobs and how I manage to survive the summer with them all...all day long...by myself...
Don't change that dial.