Mom Goes Bump in the Night

Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.

I can’t remember the last time I slept all night.  It wasn’t this month.  It wasn’t the month before, either.  I honestly have no recollection of the last time I crawled in bed and remained there until the morning.

Researchers now say that a person with sleep deprivation suffers some of the same hazardous side effects as being under the influence of alcohol.  Getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night, like drinking, can affect coordination, reaction time, and judgment.  Six hours or less?  That’s pretty common for me.  What does all this mean?

I’m drunk, even without a drop of alcohol in me.  Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.  My oldest will be seven in January, and I’ll classify the last few months of pregnancy as rotten sleep, so that makes seven years of drunkenness, no bar needed!

I’ve personally conducted extensive longitudinal trials on sleep deprivation over the years.  While I conduct my personal research in flannel pajamas pants rather than a white lab coat and my time is free of charge, my findings are just the same.

The four accomplices that keep me up at night, in a Halloween lineup: Ladybug, Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and the Tooth Fairy.

After particularly rough nights, I often wake up with what feels like a hangover: exhaustion, bleary eyes, a pounding head.  Unlike a big night out, though, I have no wild stories to show for my exhaustion.  Although, sometimes my late nights do involve stories of people throwing up in strange places.  But when the people are my kids and it’s my job to clean up the mess, there’s not much entertainment value in recounting the story to my friends after the fact.

Theoretically speaking, I probably should get to sleep through the night by now.  Our baby is now 18 months old, but she still usually wakes up once a night.  All sorts of people tell me their wonderful children started sleeping through the night at six weeks or something magical like that.  Sometimes I just don’t really believe them, and sometimes I feel a little envious.  Other times if I know them well enough, I put on my mock horrified look and jokingly exclaim, “Are you sure that’s normal?!  Is the baby getting enough to eat??”  I believe in equal opportunity, and even parents of perfect kids should have the chance to feel unsure of their parenting techniques, right?

The joy of a sleeping baby.

Truthfully, though, it’s not just our sweet baby girl that is the culprit for my sleep-deprived state.  She has three other young accomplices.  The beauty of sleep-deprivation, though, is also loss of memory.  When I wake up in the morning and I try to recall why I’m so knackered, often I can hardly remember.  Usually the nights are a blur.

In the last week or two, though, I began to keep track of my late night escapades.  Well, I sort of keep track, with no financial backing for my sleep deprivation study, I’m not exactly fastidious about documentation.   Oh well.  Below are some of my recent sleep interruptions:

1.  God Was Bowling:  The recent colossal thunderstorm that came through with lightning and thunder all night brought a wonderful amount of rain and a pitiful amount of sleep.  My three-year-old wandered into our bedroom scared of the storm.  I tucked him back in bed, explaining that the loud thunder was just the sound of God up in heaven bowling.  When God does a really good job knocking down the pins, it’s very loud, and the angels use their cameras to take pictures.  That, of course, is why we have lightning.  I added in ridiculous sound effects and a cheering section to make my story more convincing (all the while not waking up his brother in the same room).  My little boy went bowling twice in the last month, so he is quite an expert about all things bowling.  The notion of God bowling was enough to keep him in his own bed for the rest of the night.  Score for Mom!  Back to sleep.

2.  Puke in the Sink Makes me Happy:  (Sorry folks–Just skip reading this if you have a weak stomach.)  Last week my five-year-old coughed hard enough in the night to make himself nauseous.  He wandered into my room saying his “throat felt funny.”  I took him to the bathroom thinking a sip of water might get rid of the tickle in his throat, and as soon as we walked in, he promptly threw up in the sink. I cleaned him up and held him until the shakiness went away, and tucked him back in bed with a big bowl next to his pillow.  Afterward, I scooped the mess out of the sink.  A wave of gratitude came over me in addition to my own wave of nausea from the task at hand.  At two in the morning, I felt so grateful to be cleaning a mess out of the sink.  Had it happened a few seconds earlier, my bedroom carpet would have been the disaster site.

3.  Running from the Bulls:  A few nights ago my six-year-old came to my bed, telling me of her terrible bull dream.  Part of me felt secretly a little pleased and nostalgic.  I clearly remember scary bull dreams as a child.  And in the 4 AM haze, I thought to myself, “how wonderful, my daughter is truly growing up in the country.”  I don’t know what the standard scary dream is for an urban area, but I certainly do know that big scary bulls are pretty standard dream fare in rural places.  I initially felt inclined to tell her, “Don’t worry, you’ll have many more scary dreams about bulls,” but even in my sleepy haze, better judgment won out.  Perhaps I’m not completely “drunk” after all.

4.  A Towel is Almost as Good as New Sheets:  A few times a week, we have wet sheets from a kid or two.  I help my kiddo change into dry pajamas, and then the sleepy mom in me just spreads a thick towel over the wet spot, making a dry place to sleep.  Maybe it’s sleep deprived poor judgment to not change the sheets immediately, but I know I’ve still got pretty good reaction time.  A towel gets us back to bed in just a few minutes and it does the job until the morning, when I change the sheets with daylight and slightly more coordination on my side.

5.  Home and a Kiss:  Last night I brought our crying baby into bed.  Usually she just wants a quick pick-me-up of nursing and then I return her to her crib in about ten minutes.  This time, though, I zonked out.  A few hours later I woke up to a baby head hovering over me, with eyes wide open in the moonlight.  She looked at me, leaned in and gave me the softest little kiss on the lips, and then snuggled back in next to me and went back to sleep.  I fell back asleep, too.  A little while later she woke me up when she quietly mumbled, “Home.”  She understands what home is, she says it with excited relief when we pull in the driveway after being gone.  And in the middle of the night with the security of finding herself wedged in between Mom and Dad, she knew she was home.  That kind of sleep interruption makes my heart melt.

So after seven years of bad sleep, when my son vomits in the sink, I think “wow, that’s lucky,” when my daughter has a scary bull dream, it reminds me of my youth, and a wet bed?  Well, that’s  just a whole upgrade from a pile of barf, right?  Researchers might call that “impaired judgment,” but I’ll just call that seeing the silver lining in life.  And if a baby wakes me up in the middle of the night to kiss me, well, I certainly can’t complain about that.  Someday, we’ll all sleep through the night. Someday.


A Mom’s Life Before 9 AM

We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day.  A few years back (ok, maybe 25 or so) that’s what the Army proudly announced on their commercial, showing rugged paratroopers jumping from an airplane as the sun rises.  For some reason, that phrase always stuck in my head.  That catchy slogan didn’t ever inspire me to join the Army, but sometimes I wonder if maybe they borrowed that line from a mom.

I don’t jump from airplanes before breakfast (or after), but as a mom, I do perform all sorts of amazing maneuvers all day long.  So often a day goes by and I can’t hardly remember where it went.  All we did was eat breakfast, and it’s already 9 AM…where did the time go and why can’t I get anything done?  I didn’t sit on the couch all day, but why didn’t that laundry get folded?  Or just plain washed?

This morning I decided to take stock a little bit and document just where that time goes.

Today, my day started at 6:30 AM (not counting my sleep being disturbed 3 times by restless babies).  When I peel my eyes open, my first thought is that it looks like a beautiful blue sky day in the making.  With the windows open it feels refreshingly cool after last week’s horrid heat.  Then I notice that we apparently forgot to close the blinds last night.  I roll over and I’m completely blinded by the sun, which rises in line with our east bedroom window this time of year.  It sends a welding torch beam of sunlight directly into my retinas to greet me first thing in the morning.

I then realize I woke up because I hear the new kitten hungrily meowing, the chicks peeping downstairs, and the rustling of one of our kids up, no doubt holding the new kitten. I climb out of bed, over our almost three-year-old boy who likes to sleep next to me in the morning.  My less-than-graceful bed dismount wakes him up, so he starts crying.

One door over, my daughter comforts the noisy kitten, and tells me our baby is awake and wants to get picked up. My little boy then stumbles out of our bedroom into the hall, and rubbing his eyes, asks if he can hold the kitten.  I pick up our baby girl, and we all head downstairs.

The insistent kitten gets the first attention.  She (he?) showed up just yesterday evening at our house.  As our neighbors were moving their sheep into our newly fenced-off windbreak, they heard a loud screechy yowl that scared the sheep.  And there she was, a little kitten in the windbreak.  I couldn’t find the mother or the rest of the batch of kittens, so we decided to keep her.

Anyway, after a night in her new luxurious little bed of doll blankets and old towels, it is time to feed her again.  A few droppers of milk later, she is happy. That means our little human baby gets next priority, and I sit down and nurse her on the couch.  Meanwhile, I notice the sagging nighttime diaper on her older brother, and I give him a hand taking it off, and send him upstairs for some daytime underwear.

As I nurse my baby girl and my big girl snuggles the kitten to sleep, I see two chicks wandering into our dining room.  We’ve got six laying hen chicks that are just big enough now to be bored with their cardboard box near the kitchen, and they wandered in just to see if maybe we had some delicious bugs in need of consumption.  At this point, we decide that the little feathered girls are ready to graduate to the chicken house outside.

By the time I finish nursing our baby, the chicks left several presents on the floor and the kids began fighting over the kitten.  Time for breakfast!

I get my baby girl in a new diaper, give her high chair tray a wipe, and pop her in with a few Cheerios to tide her over while breakfast cooks.  My husband, Jarred, already mixed up the eggs and milk for French toast, so I slice up the leftover French bread while he hunts up a chick transfer box.  By the time I dip the bread in the batter and lay it on the lefse griddle to cook, we have half a dozen chicks in an old diaper box, chirping noisily and ready for transfer outside.

Dressed in his favorite uniform and ready to take off across the yard with a diaper box full of chicks. Little farmers are busy before breakfast.

Now clad in some underwear, our little boy is ready and willing to take on the chick hauling task before breakfast.  He hoists the box, and begins trekking across the yard to the chicken house.  After crossing the driveway, he decides the box is too heavy, so I haul it the rest of the way.  I hoped to just turn the chicks free in their fenced chicken yard to frolic (or whatever chicks do) on this beautiful morning, but a hole in the fence, roughly the size of, oh…maybe lets say a sheep, perhaps, makes the fence not quite ready for chicks just yet.  We take the chicks out of their carrying box and place them inside their new chicken house digs, with plans to spruce up the place with a little new bedding after breakfast.

Just about this time we realize that nobody flipped the French toast yet, so we head back to the house hoping that breakfast isn’t burned.  A few flurried minutes later, the table is set, and kids circle around like sharks ready to strike.  They settle into seats and begin some sort of kid bellering, obviously very hungry.  Jarred comments on the noise level, and I jokingly respond with a Moooo!!!” like a hungry cow waiting for some hay.  Of course the kids pick up on this, and all begin mooing.

Within a minute or so, they’ve all got fresh, hot French toast on their plates.  Next follows a flurry of frenzied requests:  Can I have more milk? More French toast, please!  Can you cut it?  I need more syrup.  Hey, stop that.  You already got syrup.  It’s my turn, and it’s almost gone.

I produce another bottle of syrup from on top of the fridge, and appreciative murmurs of Mom’s amazing powers follow. Then, in the middle of mouthfuls of French toast, they blast out a song from one of their favorite kid shows on PBS:  “Dinosaur traaaaaain….gonna riiiiiide…the dinosaur train.”

With the kids taken care of, I fill up my plate and eat a few warm pieces of French toast.  Right before I’m done, our baby girl makes it known that she’s had quite enough high chair time.  I take her out and wash the syrup out of her hands and hair.  The older kids put their plates in the sink, and wander off to play a little before chores.

Right about then is when our potty training almost three-year-old calls from the toy room, “Mom…I pooped…and I peed on the carpet, too.”  I come in and see the characteristic bow-legged walk of someone carrying a bit of a load in their pants.  Off to the bathroom to clean up the mess we go.  As we finish up the strike two on potty training for the morning, a tired baby girl wanders into the bathroom, fussing and dragging her blanket behind her.  Obviously, it’s time for a nap.

I send her brother upstairs for his second pair of underwear for the day, and get her a fresh diaper again.  I loudly announce that I’m putting the baby to bed, which often, but not always, eliminates other kids wandering into her bedroom looking for me just as she’s falling asleep.  Then I carry her upstairs and help her brother slip on his underwear.  At 8:45, I lay down with our baby to nurse her, and just before 9:00, after 15 whole minutes of quiet to ourselves, I tuck my sleeping baby in her crib and I head downstairs.

A napping baby: one of the simple joys of motherhood.

At 9 AM, there is a temporary quiet in the house and I take stock.  Four kids fed, two girls dressed, two boys semi-clothed in underwear, a baby girl napping.  Ahhh….success.  With those things completed, I can finally “start” my day.

Now, where to start?  The kids are getting antsy, there is an article to write due by noon, kids need direction on chore time, the house needs attention, the kitten needs another feeding, and the chickens need more feed and bedding.

I think I’ll be begin by making some some coffee.  This Momma’s gonna need it.

© 2012

Road Trippin’ Just Isn’t What it Used to Be

Written May 14, 2012

Back in college, hearing the words “Road Trip!” instantly evoked a rush of excited emotion.  The freedom of the open road and the promise of new discovery lured me like the Sirens’ call.  Something about blue sky, sunshine, a long stretch of open highway, and good driving tunes made life feel limitless and free, and love of a good road trip was partly what drove me to attend a college far from home in Bozeman, Montana.

While going to school out in Bozeman, road trips were a standard part of my non-classroom college life curriculum.  With many long stretches of road between towns in Montana, driving long distances is the norm.  In my social circle of Montana natives and farm kids from a few other states, it felt pretty normal to spontaneously hop in someone’s pickup and cruise back roads if nothing better was going on.  Friends, music, a cold drink, jerky, and some gravel roads always felt like a perfectly fine way to spend a Saturday night.

Most of those late night cruises had no destination, just ample time squished together to hash out all of life’s details.  Somewhere, somebody has a “Dead End” sign in the back of their garage as a momento of one of those evenings, but what I mostly took from those nights is good memories of a time when I lived with four of my best friends and our lives were wide open with a world of possibilities.

In addition to the those late night meanderings, we embarked on a few Big (with a capital “B”) Road Trips.  Stored away in the college section of my memories are the trips with a car full of friends on spring break travels to Southern California, Las Vegas, and a Thanksgiving trip to Denver.  Broke, with just enough money to split the gas, we scouted out the cheap hotel rooms and food, but were utterly happy with the heady taste of freedom, fresh and new, all around us.

And now, fast forward ten years after college graduation.  (In the movie version of my life, you’d hear that screeching sound of a record player scratching to a stop.)  My college roommates are off in other places, married, all with kids.  And speaking of kids, my road trips these days have a decidedly different flair.

Road trips in my present life involve our four kids, one minivan, and just shy of 1,000 miles to log.  That soaring sense of freedom and a carefree lifestyle that marked road trips in the days of yore, hmm.  I believe we lost all that somewhere on the wayside of having our first child.  But with my husband’s family all in Montana, and my side of the family in Minnesota, road trips are still a common part of life.  The distance between the families is long, but we don’t let a not-so-little stretch of I-90 get in the way of making regular family visits.

My four little road warriors, at our hotel in Belle Fourche, South Dakota…287 miles down, about 700 miles to go with me as the only adult on the trip. Yes, I’m crazy.

Everyone’s heard the “It’s the journey, not the destination,” phrase, but that’s really not the case for us.  It’s the destination.  The journey?  It’s really just something we tolerate and endure.  The journey is the means to an end; we’re driving to visit our family.  More time on the road just means less time visiting the people we love.

Sure, we could stop at one of the many not-so-alluring attractions in South Dakota, but we usually just drive on by with the ultimate destinations in mind.  Ironically, by skipping any fluff along the way, with our four kids in tow we now make the trek between MT and MN faster than ever.  We drive at night.  When the sun starts going down, we load up the kids in their pajamas, fill the tank with gas, stock up on snacks, water, and coffee, and set off.  If the kids are exhausted from a week of visiting with cousins, the trip is all the more peaceful.

Usually we assemble some makeshift beds on the floor of our van and let our oldest kids stretch out a little bit, and the younger two sleep in their car seats.  Yep, we certainly realize that everyone is supposed to be in their car seats all the time, but we acquiesce to comfort in the middle of South Dakota, where in the middle of the night, we are usually the only vehicle on the road for as far as we can see in both directions.

Driving all night long certainly involves a fair amount of self-loathing (and coffee), but we decided it’s definitely worth the sleep deprivation to have a quiet van on the endless miles.  My husband settles in behind the wheel, and I sit in the co-pilot position, on kid duty.  I snooze in between settling whimpers, drink requests, and territorial disputes over foot space.  We stop for gas and bathrooms as quickly as possible.

In the rural west, it’s fairly common to encounter gas stations that close at night, offering only pay-at-the-pump gas.  We’ve adapted by always hauling our own plentiful coffee supply, and I have absolutely no qualms about ducking behind the gas station in the middle of the night, and finding the, um, “alfresco” bathroom facilities that include gravel and shrubs.  In some ways I actually prefer those late night bathroom accommodations, because a patch of grass always look much cleaner than most highway bathrooms, and a sky full of stars over head is much more pleasant than a rusty air vent.

With a few trades on driving duty and a few gas stops, my husband and I can leave our house in Minnesota at the kids’ bedtime, and arrive in Montana shortly after breakfast time at their grandparents’ house.   Everyone has a rotten night of rest, but the nearly 1,000 mile trip is accomplished in fairly short fashion.

While the phrase “road trip” doesn’t really evoke excited emotions much these days, the elements of spontaneity and surprise still appear to be alive and well.  Last Monday afternoon we got a call that Jarred’s brother and family that live up in Fairbanks, Alaska were back visiting their hometown of Broadview, Montana.  We haven’t seen Jarred’s brother’s family in over three years, so with just a few hours of packing and planning, we set off on the road back to Montana to have a chance to catch up with family for a few days.  We got up last Monday morning making plans of getting more settled in our MN life, but by late Tuesday morning, we were far west, unloading our van of squirrely kids in Montana to go play with their many cousins.

And today, I am embarking on what may be an act of insantiy.  Jarred has a week of projects to take care of in MT, but after already being here a week visiting, I’m ready to get back and take on some projects at our new home in MN.  So, I’m heading out on the 1,000 mile trip back to Minnesota with our four kids BY MYSELF.  If the kids were older and more self-reliant, this wouldn’t be that much of a feat, but our oldest is only six, and the youngest is just 13 months.

We will fire up the DVD player and I will placate them with a few new cheap toys and plenty of yummy snacks.  I’ll be pulling off to nurse the baby several times on the I-90 exit ramps, and we’ll stop and sleep at a hotel somewhere in South Dakota.  (Have I mentioned that I often have fantasies of somehow excising South Dakota, making Montana and Minnesota neighboring states?)  My ultimate goal is to arrive home safely with my sanity intact.  I’ll also settle for arriving home safely, sanity can be restored at a later date.

By the time anyone reads this, we will all be back home.  And with any luck, we won’t take on any road trips for a long time.  Well, until next month when we are heading to Montana again to see my husband’s long-time friend get married.  Have I mentioned that when I hear “Road Trip!” I involuntarily cringe and shudder?

© 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

Written April 2, 2012.

One of the best side benefits of children is the way they mark time.  After I passed my highly anticipated 21st birthday, the weeks, months, and years began to fly by.  One holiday blurs into the one from before, and another birthday passing doesn’t feel much different than any other.  Christmas rolling around sometimes feels like a burden when it seems like just yesterday I was shopping for last year’s gifts.
With kids, though, time matters in a big way.  The passage of a week is monumental when it marks the first tooth finally coming in, each changing season is magic to a preschooler, holidays take forever to arrive, and birthdays are important enough that our son tells his age in half-years, “I’m four AND A HALF,” because that extra half means a lot when you’ve only had four full years out in the world.
The significance of time is on my mind because this week, on April 2nd to be exact, our sweet little baby girl turns one year old.  Like any parent, I look at my baby, and just yesterday I saw her for the first time, a brand new pink, wriggling bundle of dainty arms and legs.  Then somehow, I blinked, and a whole year went by.  And like a typical mom, a part of me feels a little sad, because even though she still wakes up to nurse at night, I can foresee a not-too-distant day when she’ll be pulling out of the yard to head off to college.

One year ago, our baby boy held his new baby sister for the first time when she was just a few hours old.

Maybe her first year feels like a blur to me because it truly was.  Her first year of life marked all of the typical baby milestones, and it marked a series of monumental changes for us as a family.  Tallied up, in her first year, she lived in three different houses, logged 5,000 highway miles crisscrossing between MT and MN, and learned to feed herself and crawl in the midst hundreds of discussions about long-term family plans.

Last year in March, just weeks before she was due, we sold our little log house in Broadview, Montana.  “Nesting” for our fourth baby involved not decorating, but packing up the nursery.  We listed our log house for sale in anticipation of a move to Osseo, WI, where we had a signed purchase agreement on a business property.  At the time it seemed like an almost done deal, but we faced roadblocks at every turn, and the deal in Wisconsin ultimately dissolved.  So when we finally sold our house in MT, we no longer had a specific final destination, although we knew we wanted to find something near my family in MN.

Just two weeks after our daughter was born, we packed up and moved out of our log house.  It was an easy move, distance-wise, just across town to rent the church parsonage in Broadview, MT.  The hard part was the long-term uncertainty.

Spring 2011, then, was a blur of newborn baby care and moving boxes.  Moving chaos, a new baby, and living in limbo as a family of six sounds like a perfect recipe for post-partum depression, but that wasn’t the case.  We were thankful to find a home to rent in our tiny town, especially with month-to-month lease flexibility.  Grandparents just across the street and a neighborhood full of friends for our kids made the rental house a great short-term home.

Summer months sailed by with a baby on my hip and three kids to chase.  Our newest addition spent the summer nursing and growing a nice, round tummy and plenty of rolls on her thighs for the swimsuit season.  We played outside, visited Grandma and Grandpa, our kids shared backyards with neighborhood friends, I cooked constantly to keep everyone fed, and fought the sometimes losing battle of keeping the kids and house clean (barring chocolate syrup disasters).

As fall began, our baby began feeding herself solids, and we made a visit to MN that led to a signed a purchase agreement for what is now our home.  School days mixed with months of stress and more uncertainty.  We submitted literally hundreds of pages of financials to banks, made countless phone calls, and waited.  Babies don’t care about any of that, though, and she happily endeared herself to all of her family in Montana, willingly accepting hugs and kisses from her adoring  fans: grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

Just two days after our little girl’s first Christmas, we got the best gift of all, closing on our house in Minnesota.  We barely noticed that the winter snows never really showed up this year in the blur of making moving preparations.  As I packed boxes, she gleefully learned to unpack them, scattering the contents on the floor and then abandoning them in search of a new conquest.  Stealthily crawling into the bathroom and unrolling the toilet paper in the holder with smooth, efficient swats became one of her favorite skills as I tried to clean the house to move out.

And now spring is here again.  One year ago our family in Montana helped us moved across town to a short-term rental, and now, a year later our family here in Minnesota bowled us over with not just moving help, but painting, wiring, plumbing, repairs, cleaning, and filling our wood burner while we were gone, all totaling up to countless hours that we appreciate beyond words.

Last week, just shy of our baby’s first birthday, we finally moved into our house here in Minnesota.  Showing up unexpectedly last Sunday, we still had a yard full of cars with family eager to help us get settled in our house.  On two hours of sleep after driving through the night, I walked through the house in an exhausted astonishment at seeing much of our house already unpacked by family who had unloaded a trailer load of our things a month before.  Our kids played in their yard for the first time, chasing their cousins across the green grass in the warm afternoon sunshine, and our baby took her first nap in her new bedroom.

The little birthday girl, surrounded by her favorite entourage in their new house.

On our fourth child’s first birthday, we will create a sibling-decorated cake, and observe the sacred first birthday ritual of letting her smash and smear cake all over herself.  We will celebrate not only the joy of a beautiful, healthy, fun baby, but the excitement of beginning a new phase of our life in the home that we will “never move out of,” as our six-year-old proclaimed to her aunt in Montana.

 © 2012

Emergency Hernia Surgery for our Two-Year-Old

Written January 29, 2012.

Right now I’m sitting in room 445 in the Pediatric Unit of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, MT. It’s 11 PM on Sunday night, and I’m waiting for our two-year-old to get out of an emergency hernia surgery. In a little hospital crib in the room our 9-month-old baby girl is sleeping. She’s not sick, but she’s along for the ride because she is a nurser. Sleeping in the hospital bed nearby is my husband, Jarred, who is sick with the stomach flu. While waiting in the ER for information about our little boy’s surgery, Jarred got sick and vomited 2.5 liters. We don’t usually tally that sort of thing, but in the ER, measuring things is standard protocol for the nurse who helped clean it up. Life has a way of throwing curveballs and helping keep things in perspective. Here I was stressing out about our upcoming cross country move, and suddenly, all of that screeches to a halt because my baby boy is in surgery right now.

Sleeping in the hospital after emergency hernia surgery.

Even before an emergency hernia surgery, the weekend was full. On Friday afternoon our 6-year-old celebrated her birthday with a much anticipated party with nine friends and cousins, ages 7 and under. The two hour event took every bit of our reserves out of us, even though we tried to keep it pretty low key. Low key just doesn’t happen with that many kids swarming around a house, high on Pixie Sticks and Pepsi. As chaotic as it was, we wanted to let her have one last party here with her classmates and cousins, and they all had a blast.

So after a Friday spent getting a house ready for the onslaught of excited kids, and adding the general melee of the week, and moving plans, we didn’t do much at all on Saturday. Our two littlest ones have been getting me up a lot at night, so my days are a blur, and I looked forward to a Sunday with no plans at all.

Saturday night was especially exhausting. Our baby girl woke up once at midnight, but our 2-year-old got up and out of bed and wandered into our room three times in the night, got up for the day at 5 AM to watch cartoons, and then kept returning to our bed every half an hour or so until I dragged myself out of bed. In hindsight, he was probably starting to feel the pain of his hernia. On Sunday morning, I dragged myself to the shower and we headed to church, where I don’t remember a bit of the readings, but I do remember that our baby girl was hugging her dad adorably for much of the time.

As we were getting ready to leave, our 2-year-old complained that his tummy hurt. A few moments later he was screaming and crying in the bathroom, crouched down on the floor. I thought he was just throwing a fit because he was tired, so I picked him up and he screamed louder. When he quieted down enough, he managed to say “ow, ow, ow, my tummy hurts.” He kept on screaming for several minutes, long enough that everyone in church who sees him regularly and knows him well collectively said we should take him in to the doctor. So, in the matter of minutes, our Sunday got rearranged, and we left our two oldest kids with Jarred’s sister, we grabbed a few essentials, and headed to the ER.

When we got there, they did an abdominal x-ray and palpated his belly, took his vitals, and determined that he had a painful case of constipation and a belly full of gas making the pain worse. They gave him a suppository twice and then an enema, and we waited several hours for something to happen. The whole time he was listlessly tired and had the chills while sweating. When he finally had a messy diaper, they deemed it a success, and we were discharged and went home. As we left, the receptionist at the ER commented that he still had the same horrible look on his face as when we came in.

So, we picked up an easy fried chicken dinner at the grocery store and some recommended apple juice for our little guy, picked up our two oldest kids, and headed home, ready to call it a night. As we drove home, I held him on my lap, and he just was a limp, occasionally wimpering little puddle of his usual self. Not long after we got in the door, our sick little guy threw up all over himself and his blanket. I put him in the bathtub to clean him up, and noticed he sat completely still as the bubbles and water filled in around him. Normally, he’s a blur in the bathtub. As I dried him off he cried out in pain, and when I glanced down I saw an egg-sized bulge just above his groin on the right. Our 4-year-old had hernia surgery just 10 months ago, so I knew right away that we once again had a hernia on our hands.

Wanting to just start crying, I instead went into battle mode, and we spent the next hour getting our kids fed, packing up and shipping off our older kids back to Jarred’s sister’s house for the night, and packing up for a night in the hospital for Mom, Dad, and the two littlest ones. Jarred drove about 90 mph back to the hospital, and even though the ER knew to expect us from the call back we made, everything moved in slow motion. As we drove in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder how helpless we would be 100 or 150 years ago in this same situation.

Once we got to the hospital, Jarred dropped me and our little guy off first, and I carried him in and mumbled his information, scrawled my signatures, and sat down on the chair. I looked down at that sweet little boy in my arms, limp and wincing in pain but too tired and dehydrated to put up much protest. Wanting so desperately to make my baby all better, but being so helpless, unable to do anything but wait is so hard. We both just wanted to scream, “Can’t you see that this little boy is really sick?” But we just waited, and I didn’t care that the crazy people that collect in the ER saw the tears rolling down my face as I cradled a little boy in footy pajamas.

The hardest part was waiting for an IV. Knowing that he would probably have hernia surgery tonight, we couldn’t let him have water. But after not drinking anything but a few ounces of apple juice all day, and then throwing up twice, he had nothing in him. He held his empty sippy cup the whole 30 mile drive into the ER, and hung onto it until right before surgery. He kept asking for water with cracked, dry lips and sunken eyes pleading for a drink, in between whimpering in another wave of pain. When it tears me up to wait the relatively short time for the IV with pain medication, I’m humbled by the desperation that countless parents feel who handle far more severe illnesses in their children or live somewhere without access to medical care.

It’s now after midnight, and we’re still waiting for our little boy to get out of surgery. Jarred just got sick again, filling up another container. It’s going to be a long, sleepless night with a baby trying to sleep in a noisy hospital crib, a two year-old fresh out of hernia surgery, a dad who is continually throwing up and not able to help take care of anyone, and me, who hasn’t hardly slept for the last few days and won’t tonight either. All of this just makes me think that if all our stuff just burned up before moving to Minnesota, it wouldn’t matter. The truth is, the only thing that I really care about moving to Minnesota is us.


How about you…ever have one of those days where all of the little things suddenly get put in perspective?

© 2012

A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins with a Little Panic and Denial

Written January 16, 2012.

Six weeks from now our plan is to move from Montana to Minnesota. That’s six weeks to pack up a family of six, pack up a welding shop full of gigantic tools and equipment, and tie up an infinite number of loose ends. Quite frankly, I don’t know yet how it’s all going to happen by that time. But I do know a few things for certain: I am utterly overwhelmed, a touch panicked, and still in a mild state of shock and denial that this move is real.

Six weeks from a big move, this box and all the others sit woefully empty.

I know the gravity of the short time frame of our move is sinking in because I simply can’t concentrate on anything. Add that to my usual sleep deprivation from a teething baby with a stuffy nose and a two-year old night roamer, and while I look like my usual self on the outside, on the inside I’m just running around yelling, “AAAHHHH!!!” with a bit of hand flailing thrown in for good measure. This week, I created the beginnings of five different columns. At some point, each one of them will probably make an appearance for your reading enjoyment.

None of those that I started to write, though, held my attention. The whole time that I worked on any one of them, one part of me was busy sorting out details of my topic at hand, but that voice screaming in panic about an impending move kept yelling, “How can you write about feeding the baby?!! Don’t you know that you should have something packed up by now?!” And so, here I am. I am finally succumbing to the voice in my head. Perhaps if I get all my demons down on paper, they won’t bother me as much.

Maybe six weeks to moving sounds like a far-off date, perhaps too far away to have that nagging nervous feeling. I am overwhelmed, though, because I’m a procrastinator and not an organizer by nature. Our Christmas cards are still patiently waiting to be sent out. Oops, I mean “New Year’s” cards. Good thing the message printed next to the photo says “Happy Holidays.” This year, I’ll take “holidays” to include Groundhog’s Day, as well.

Delayed Christmas cards aside, though, it’s not that I want to just put things off until the last minute. Procrastination was my modus operandi throughout college, and I still graduated with highest honors. It really is motherhood that is forcing me for the first time to become better at planning out life and getting things done before a deadline. With this impending cross country move, I fully realize the enormity of the task before us. Because of that, my modest goal last week was to start the packing process by boxing up the summer clothes in our bedroom. I envisioned a happy stack of boxes in the corner of our bedroom, patiently waiting to be put on a truck and driven to their new wonderful home in Minnesota. And guess what. A week went by, and I can count the number of boxes I packed not on one hand, but no hands. Zero boxes packed. Gulp.

This is where the utterly overwhelmed feeling becomes a touch panicked. How in the world is this house going to be empty six weeks from now? With at least three kids at home at any given time, the day to day routines more than fill a day. In the past week we were fortunate to have no new incidents of ironed, melted carpet. But of course, there are always the bowls of spilled cereal, wet beds that kids don’t mention until the next time they want to sleep in them, and oh yes, the great benevolent milk provider in the house (me) had to ward off a case of mastitis last week. All of this makes me think wistfully of our newlywed days, when we made a 2,700 mile move from Poulsbo, WA to State College, PA by ditching our crappy second-hand furniture and moving ourselves in just our two cars. I don’t think today that we could even pack the kids’ toys in two cars.

These boxes might require a little reinforcement, but the essentials inside are ready to go.

While I swim in a sea of mild panic, organization and a plan of action also come hard because we are frankly in a state of shock about it all. It’s been nearly three years since we started looking at real estate in MN, and about five years since we started throwing around ideas about making a change from our lives here in Broadview, MT. Last year at this time, we thought Osseo, WI was our next home. We had a signed purchase agreement on a business property there, but then encountered road blocks at every step of the way, and what seemed like nearly a done deal eventually dissolved. But now, we officially own a home on acreage south of Utica, MN and I still can’t really believe it. After working so hard toward this move back to the midwest for so many years, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the fact that it really is happening. Finally! This is real.

Of course, as soon as I tell myself “this is real,” the other part of me says, “no, not really.” For eight years, Broadview, Montana has been home. Home. We can’t really be moving. Our kids were all born at home, right here in this little tiny town. Montana born and bred little tikes, they are. They regularly call up Grandma and Grandpa and invite them across the street to our house for supper or Saturday morning buttermilk pancakes. Our oldest daughter dearly loves her best friend, the only other girl in their kindergarten class of three. Our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old each have cousins here just their age. That means our kids could grow up, play with, and get in all sorts of trouble with cousins in their close knit classes at school.

But wait, that’s not going to happen. As completely overjoyed as I am about making this move back to Minnesota, I also completely dread saying goodbye. I hate long-term goodbyes enough that I often avoid them altogether. In six weeks, though, I am going to say goodbye for now to all of the family and friends that have made Broadview, Montana a great place to call home. We will head east 1,000 miles to Minnesota, back to where I grew up, where our family and friends there will help make our new house become the place we call…home.

© 2012