What a Difference a Year Makes

When we left the hospital with Jack almost a year ago (WOW! Has it only been a year? Feels like a lifetime ago!), we were relieved, but anxious. His heart was fixed and he was healthy enough to go home, but he was still such a big question mark. Would his one working kidney hold up? Would he ever eat by mouth? Would he push beyond the obstacles of his smaller hand and missing pec muscle to sit and walk and crawl? With so many different areas of his body being affected, did we need to worry about a mental deficit, as well? 

So many questions, and, for awhile, they haunted us. When progress didn’t come quickly, or faltered, we stressed and worried, laying in the dark at night, hands clasped under the sheets, whispering our terrifying fears. We just wanted him to be healthy and pain-free, and it wasn’t happening.

He didn’t even seem very happy; he was fussy regardless of who held him, and he had no interest in toys or books. There were days I would turn to my husband, tears in my eyes, and say, “Why is he always crying? Is he hurting? Why is he never happy?”

Well, he is now.

Coming up on the one year anniversary of our jail-break, Jack can’t stop smiling. Seriously. The kid is so happy… and LOVING! I had no idea it felt like being crowned Queen of the Universe when your 14-month-old leaned in for a kiss! My 4-year-old was a very standoff-ish baby, and didn’t really give kisses until 2. Jack is the complete opposite, he loves kisses! Afterwards, he pulls back and grins at you, like, “That was fabulous.”

In the last four months he has blossomed from a cranky, uninterested-in-the-world baby to an observant, sweet and happy kid that gives me instant joy just seeing his face. 

In the last four months he:

Learned to sit. 

Learned to crawl. 

Learned to bear weight on his legs. 

Grew five teeth. 

Started eating solids by mouth. 

Started taking a few sips of water by mouth. 

Learned to say mama specifically when he wanted me. 

Started smiling at everyone and everything. 

Plays with the millions of toys we are delighted to buy for him now that he shows an interest.

Laughs with abandon. 

Plays smart games, knowing where I hid the ball under a blanket. 

Became even more enamored with his sister. 

Discovered that crawling lets him chase after the dog, his FAVORITE pastime. 

Stole my freaking heart. 

I’m so proud of this kid. I am SO. DANG. PROUD. OF. THIS. KID. He’s gone through so much, and then he had to go through a period of adjustment and watch his father and I freak while he figured life out. I’m slowly learning that Jack is awesome, and he will do all the awesome things that kids do like play sports, fall in love, make dumb decisions and learn from them. Eventually he will do all the awesome things that grown-ups do, like go out into the world, learn new things, meet new people, and have a life. 

  
As long as I have his little grin in my life until the day I die, I will be a very happy woman. 

Why Three Bites of Baby Food Changed My Life

Here in the United States, and in most countries around the world, food plays a dominant role in our gatherings. Even leaving out major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, food defines many of our activities.

Having friends over to watch the big game? Wings, chips and dip, nachos– those are “sports gathering” food.

Planning a baby shower? Sherbet and Sprite punch, dinner mints, and individual sandwiches are usually served.

On birthdays we eat cake. On the Fourth of July we eat hot dogs and hamburgers. We have Taco Tuesday nights with friends, and you can get half price off your pizza if your hometown baseball team scored seven or more runs in their last game. Many parents will even recommend M&Ms as an effective treat to entice toddlers to potty train. 

Food is not just something we eat to live. It defines a lot of our activities; heck, even eating certain foods can trigger nostalgia to hit you like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, you’re back in your grandmother’s kitchen eating salmon croquettes for the first time. 
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Takes Me Back

Music always takes you back. It takes you back to your first date, your first kiss. High school. Prom, the summer. It reminds you of years and seasons, moments. Events. Minutes, seconds and whole days. 

I watched the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black while Jack was in the hospital. I was hooked, like everyone else, because it’s addicting. Today, season three came out, and I have been dying to start it. 

Only, when I did, I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks, and a large ball of anxiety suddenly in my stomach. It takes me back to those lonely, terrifying nights in the hospital with my baby, as I rocked him and watched him sleep. He and I shared a lot of Netflix time, but OITNB was the only show I watched 100% in those hideous pastel rooms. 

The theme song is haunting as it is, and for it to bring back the memories it does… well, I wasn’t expecting the deluge. 

Yet, as I was crying, I looked over at my beautiful, happy, just-got-his-first-tooth, big boy sleeping, and it’s amazing how much different he is from the last time I heard the opening song. 

“Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard.” — “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor

Regina was wrong, because all of the steps he’s made in his progress are the result of incredibly hard work. Nothing easy about it. 

My mind will never remove the association between that very difficult time in our lives and this show, but every time I watch it, I get to smile and be proud of how far he’s come. 

The tears are worth it. 

I See You Staring…

I see you staring.

My kids are super gorgeous, I know. They have those cheesy baby smiles and are a perfect blend of me and my husband — my daughter inheriting my blue eyes and my husband’s sandy blonde hair, and my son sporting my dark hair and my husband’s deep brown irises.

Their manners are above reproach, as well. That’s not to say my daughter’s threenager attitude doesn’t pop out sometimes or my son’s 1-year-old confusion of the world doesn’t cause some tantrums, but on the whole, they are happy, sweet kids.

Though, I know you’re not staring because they are over-the-top adorable to look at or because you’ve never seen such darling manners in kids this tiny.

You’re looking at my son’s tiny hand, aren’t you? Or perhaps you see us hooking a tube to a device on his stomach. Or you’ve noticed how one of his eyes never blinks.

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Good Ju-Ju, please — UPDATED

Dear readers, 

Please thing good thoughts, today! Jack is going in for a swallow study, and it would be AMAZING for it to show how much progress his speech and physical therapists believe he’s made. 

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but he has been eating so good the last seven months, I will be crushed if they say he shouldn’t be eating. My stomach is in furious knots right now. 

I will update after his appointment at 2:30!

Update:

It went WONDERFULLY! He was cleared to eat everything above Stage 2 baby food, which includes Stage 3, and all manner of table food! We are also clear to start practicing honey-consistency liquids, and will have another swallow study in six months to see his progress. But, I am BEYOND happy, because the fact that he can eat table foods means we can actually start weaning him off the button and formula, because his calories can come from actual food! We will have to give him water via tube because it’s too thin for him to handle right now, but this is still 10 GIANT STEPS forward. I am so proud and happy, and will be on cloud nine for DAYS. 😎😎😎

— Jack and Rachel

Deep Breaths

Dear Me-From-A-Year-Ago,

Stop, right now, and take a deep breath. I know how wrong things seem right now. You want to revel in the blissful euphoria that comes after having a baby, like you did with Sydney. Unfortunately, you’re too scared. I know. It doesn’t feel right, he doesn’t feel right. Something is wrong, but you don’t know exactly what. You’re right. You are going to need every last ounce of your patience, your strength and courage to get through the next three months. 
Yes. Three. Full. Months. On May 11, right after Sarah’s graduation party, you will take Jack to the ER, where he will be picked up by a Cook’s Children’s plane, and taken away. 
I know that’s shocking. I know you’re wondering how bad it is if they need to keep him that long. I know you’ll be aching to hold your 15-day-old baby in your arms, without the dizzying array of wires that accompany him already. I know he looks weak, and fragile, and he has you wondering if something really awful is going to happen. 
It doesn’t. At least, not the soul-crushing, bleak tragedy you’re imagining. Awful things will happen, and these three months will scar you and change you like you never thought possible. Even now, a year later, thinking about the days we spent waiting for answers and solutions, fighting with doctors, feeling the loss of control from our lives, feeling the days slipping by us with no sign of an end… it brings me to tears. 
You will feel lost and scared. You will eventually stop trusting anyone to tell you the truth. You will feel like a nuisance to the medical staff, even when you try your hardest to make those days comfortable and home-like for Jackson– providing his own clothes to wear, and his own linen for the bed. You will have an ache in your heart that refuses to leave, and it will be the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. 
Rock Jackson. Look into his eyes. You’re there for him. When you argue with the doctors, when you make your demands known, when you force them to listen you, you’re doing it for Jackson. Be strong. Confrontation is not easy for you, but if ever there was a time to face that fear, it’s now. 
Be his advocate. You and Justin are the only ones who can, and he’s going to need both of you. Fight for heart surgery, because, trust me, IT MAKES IT ALL BETTER. 
Yes. Everything. Less than two weeks after surgery, he will be home. So fight for it. Demand it. 
But, most of all, know this:
He turns out perfect. I’m serious. He’s here with me, a year later, and he’s thriving. He’s happy. He’s smiling and laughing. Sydney is his favorite person, and he and Oliver have a sweet boy-and-his-dog relationship already. Go figure. He eats food, and waves bye-bye, and uses his little hand to pick up his pacifier, and pull your hair. And you have changed more pee diapers than ever before, evidence that his one kidney is a rockstar. He’s FINE. 
So, deep breaths. Today is May 11, and he will be discharged on August 9. You will spend those days rocking him and talking to him, binge watching A LOT of Netflix, and eating your feelings in the cafeteria. Go ahead, eat, we’ll take care of our sad pounds later (still in progress, of course, I’m not a miracle worker). 
   

 

Kiss on Jack, love on him, and know you’ll both be just fine. Hang in there, mom.

Happy Birthday, son. 

Happy first birthday, Jackson.

  

After six hours of induced labor, and an emergency c-section, the sound of your cry sent relief rushing through every cell of my body. When the doctor popped your round little head over the curtain, and I took in your full head of dark hair (which you have somehow managed to maintain!), it was instant love. I was so grateful you were here, and so excited to see what new joy my life would now hold, now that you were in it.

But, and you’ve heard this story before, mere moments after we celebrated your arrival, the medical scares started coming. And they would keep coming and keep coming, until I thought we would never be able to crawl out of the deep hole we found ourselves.

  

  
  
You, however, were amazing. You took your surgeries in stride, always recovering so well, and bouncing back. When we finally strong-armed a surgeon into giving you heart surgery, you said, “Okay! I’m done! Let’s get out of here,” and 12 days later, I carried you out of that hospital.
  

Today is bittersweet for me, because I will always remember those first few moments and the following days, and remember how scared I was, how scared everyone was. We didn’t know what to expect. You were so tiny, so fragile. So sick.


The wonderful thing about those sad memories is how amazing you look now in comparison. It’s hard to imagine how afraid we were when we see what a chunky, happy, giggly baby you have become!

  

  
  
  
Your smile is not the biggest smile in the room, but it’s the most perfect. It tells me how much you love me, and how you love your sister even more! It tells me one of your favorite things is letting the puppy kiss your face. And it pops up so quickly when you hear the voice of Mickey Mouse; your whole face lights up.
  

  
  
The first four months of your life were slower than any other I have ever experienced. The next eight flew by in the blink of an eye. Where did the time go?! Suddenly, you’re turning one, and are apparently now labeled a “toddler.” I hate that, and refuse to call you that. You are my last baby, and so you will ALWAYS be the baby. Tough break, kid.
  

  
  
I love, love, love you Jackson, more than you could ever possibly understand. You completed our family, little boy!
  

My Mini Vacation

The kids’ clothes had all been washed, folded and packed carefully away in their lime green shared suitcase. I had loaded a bag full of toys, beloved stuffed animals, and favorite spoons as well; the things kids have to have every day, but you don’t think about it until you’re taking inventory on what to send when they stay the night at grandma’s. 

I pulled one more grocery brown bag out of the cabinet; just a few odds and ends. I meticulously arranged four cans of formula at the bottom of the bag. On top, I counted eight 500 mL feeding bags, and two extension tubes which connected the bags to Jack’s gastric feeding button. I also added a roll of medical tape, and some gauze, as well as a Foley catheter. My mom already had an extra button at her house, for emergencies.
 
Walking down the hall, I called for my mom to meet me in the foyer, and pulled out the catheter. “Okay, if he pulls out his button, you need to put some KY Jelly on the end of this, and put it into his stoma to keep the hole from closing.” My mom looked at me wearily.

 

“It won’t hurt him, we just want to prevent him from needing surgery to re-insert his button if the hole closes up,” I told her. Though, I knew if it happened, she’d be a wreck, just as I would be. So far, *knock on wood*, Jack hasn’t pulled out his button in the nine months he’s had it. Mom could handle the bags, and the feeding pump, and hooking him up, and cleaning everything, but all of that requires the button to stay put.
 
She walked back to the guest room to get the rest of her stuff, and I rocked back on my heels beside the bag of medical supplies. Medical supplies. My 10-month-old son was going to spend a few days with his grandparents, and to do that, he needed to have a bag of medical supplies accompany him. Ridiculous. I couldn’t control the tears as they fell from my eyes, still surprised at how annoyed and angry I was at the situation. Regardless of how amazing, happy and content Jack is, the extra obstacles to meet his needs that other kids don’t have continue to prevent me from being the carefree mom I was when his sister was that small.
 
After triple-checking to make sure anything they could possibly need or want was packed, I waved goodbye as my mom’s SUV rolled out of sight. I walked back into my suddenly very quiet and empty house– the first time I had been without my kids in over a year. Sinking into the couch, I felt myself beginning to panic. I had the sudden urge to call my mom and demand she turn around and bring the two people I cared most for in this world back, right then!
 
But, I just cried. I already missed them, and was out-of-my-mind with worry about my parents handling Jackson’s needs all by themselves without me to offer assistance or takeover. However, I was looking forward to a break. A glorious break where I wasn’t clocking the time between feeds and rinsing out extension tubes, and worrying if I have time to get his last feed in, on top of all of the care and attention that comes with a 3-year-old girl (FYI: SO MUCH!).
 
For three days, I did whatever I wanted. I tanned. I shopped. I worked out. I got a pedicure. My husband and I actually saw a movie in the theater (Kingsman– we loved it!). We had dinner together without having to rush, or worry if the toddler was dropping food on the floor, or if Jack was going to be cranky. We hung out together at night without having to stop for bath time, or for bedtime routines, or to put toys away. We drank beers together late and talked, not having to worry that one of us needed to stay sober.
 

It was wonderfully freeing and absolute agony all at once. I forgot how much easier it was, and how selfish you could be when there was only your spouse to think about.
 
I also realized how empty my life would be without them.
 
At the end of my mini vacation, I pulled into my parents’ driveway after the two hour trip, and saw all four of them waiting on the porch for me, my toddler so giddy with excitement, she couldn’t keep a single part of her body still. I opened my door, and heard her sweet voice, “MOMMYMOMMYMOMMYMOMMY!” as she jumped into my arms for a hug.
 
It doesn’t get better than that.
 
Jack looked at me like he hadn’t seen me in years, and it felt amazing to have him back in my arms!
 

Bottom line: I need a little break every now and then, but it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are what make my life worth living. Oh, and my parents are completely capable of handling Jackson and anything he may need, and I need to stop being a worry-wart. Thanks, mom and dad, Justin and I more than enjoyed the alone time, and we love knowing they were in such good hands! 

Mine

I’ve seen both my parents walk the stage for their Bachelor degrees, and later watched my mom walk for her Masters. I walked for my own Bachelor’s. I survived three of my husband’s deployments alone. I watched him thrive in his military career. I have seen my work published in places that were once a dream.

And, yet, I have never been more proud of anything in my entire life, as I am watching my kids grow and conquer their next milestone.

No matter what I do with the rest of my life, whether I go on to write a zillion best sellers or not, the best thing I will have ever done is give the world Jackson and Sydney. My own world is a better place just having them in it. Just watching Jack sleep makes my heart twist and fizzle and jump because he’s mine! He’s so beautiful and sweet and strong and brave, and he’s mine! And, my Sydney, she is so kind and loving and adventurous and fearless, and she’s mine!

These gifts I have created and nurtured and cherished and loved will do amazing things one day. I know this, because just by existing they bring a smile to my face. Who knows what they can do for the world?

Taking a Rain Check on Valentine’s Day

Last week, my husband asked me what I wanted to do for Valentine’s Day, and I looked at him, my eyes full of need, and whispered, “Take a nap.” He laughed, I laughed, and together, we decided the only thing to do was cancel Valentine’s Day.

Yep.

Not forever, but possibly, at least until the youngest is potty trained and can sleep through the night. That’s where people lose me when they tell me I have to keep the romance alive in my marriage after kids. Are you kidding? I’m working to keep myself alive and two tiny children who depend on me for everything. I don’t have time to worry about keeping romance alive, too!

Romance to me is when my husband comes home from work and immediately grabs the baby off my hip while I’m cooking dinner. Or when he throws some shoes on the toddler and takes her to the park for half an hour while the baby naps so I can get the house (and myself) back in order.

Seriously, nothing turns me on more.

I can’t think of anything worse than trying to dress myself up for a night out on Valentine’s Day, a.k.a. the Longest Dinner Wait of the Year. Why on earth would I want to detangle myself from my baby, only to shove myself into control top pantyhose and an itchy push-up bra and stand in high heels for a 45-minute wait at Olive Garden with every other couple in town?

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