Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Cabin

Around this time last summer, we went on our first family vacation to a cabin on Flathead Lake. To our great surprise, Jack actually enjoyed being in a new space for the entire week. He was in heaven, really. For a kid who loves his routine, we didn't know what to expect, but he did great and especially loved being by the water.
That's why we were thrilled to hear that Jon's parents (Nans and Pops) purchased a little cabin in a beautiful valley in Montana, nestled right along a river. They invited us to use the cabin last weekend, so we drove down and enjoyed three days of peace and quiet... like no cell phones or internet peace and quiet.
Once we got over, what I call, "the twitchy feeling" of not having access to the world wide web, we just relaxed. There is nothing like sitting next to a rushing river, book in hand, and the sun on your face. This particular river, the Boulder, is pretty incredible. I had yet to see it in person, except for bits and pieces in iconic Montana movies (think A River Runs Through It). My pictures won't do it justice, but I still wanted to share a sliver of our weekend.
This little clearing, right outside the doors of the cabin, is where we spent most of our outdoor time. I just love this photo of my boys.

The cabin was perfect for us three. We had a nice little kitchen connected to a cozy living area, two small bedrooms, and a bathroom. No, not super primitive, but we aren't really the camping and toughing-it-out-in-the-wilderness types. Jack had his trusty DVDs to watch and books to read when he was missing home. I finished two books while I was there and even started another! It will be the perfect place to study in the next few months for my exams. Jon read, too, and got to check out the best fishing spots (thanks for the fishing pole and supplies, Cheeks!).

Jack was mesmerized by the water.

And he loved throwing sticks and rocks into it.

Jon was constantly collecting rocks for Jack to throw.

Haha, I appear in one picture out of the hundreds I took. Such is the life of a mom photographer!

OK, so this next thing. A HORSE RIDE!! Thanks to my friend, Lindsay, and her connections with a camp down the road from the cabin, we were able to make such a fun memory with our boy. 

Jack was timid and unsure at first. He would take a quick glance at the horses and then bury his head into daddy's shoulder. He whined a lot, but then was curious. He just didn't know what to think! We took our time just looking at the horses and being around them. They are incredible creatures.

Once Jack got up on the horse, he immediately calmed down and relaxed.

In fact he got so relaxed, that he almost nodded off! What a beautiful day for a ride.

After the ride, Jack got right on the ground, where he usually ends up to get a better feel and lay of the land. By this point, he was feeling good and happy to be around the horses.

Then, to top it all off, he got to feed the donkey, pet the bunny, and see a brand new kitten. The day was pretty much perfect! We don't know if he's a full-blown animal lover yet (we keep trying to get him to like dogs so we can get another one), but it was so fun to watch his reaction to everything.

(Special shout out to Carla and Shelby from Clydehurst Christian Ranch. We had so much fun.)

The next days at the cabin were filled with lots of river watching, rock throwing, sunglass wearing, and s'mores eating.

We even got out on a little hike (thanks Forest Service for wheelchair/stroller accessibility!).

And just lots and lots of rest.

Jon was master of the kitchen/bbq and we ate pretty well! There's nothing like cooking and eating in the great outdoors.

My favorite view out the window in the morning. Ahh.

Wait. Scratch that. THIS is my favorite view.

Until next time, cabin.
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Remember The Fathers

My husband and I live in San Diego, where he is a pediatric resident at the Naval Medical Center. I stay at home with our brood, and have a degree in Educational Sciences, with an emphasis in Science. Together, we have five children— two biological, two in the process of adoption from foster care, and one foster child. Of our permanent four, three were born prematurely. Our biological son, Caleb, was born at 39 weeks, while our biological daughter, Charlotte, at 23 weeks, our soon-to-be-legally-adopted son, Pierce, at 34 weeks, and our soon-to-be-legally-adopted daughter, Olive, at 33 weeks. Charlotte and Pierce are both trached and use ventilators while they sleep, g-tubes while they eat, and smiles while they melt your heart. Since the soon-to-be-legally-adopted kids are not “officially” ours yet (in paperwork only) I’m speaking only about our experiences around our biological daughter.


Peter had been away, working at the Naval Hospital in Virginia in the weeks leading up to our daughter’s delivery. (Ironically, he was working one of his last OB/GYN rotations of medical school, dealing with the medical emergencies of pregnant women, while I sat in appointment after appointment, trying to hold on to our own pregnancy.) The night he drove home, we ventured out for a short dinner, and in the parking lot of the restaurant, my water broke, and our lives changed forever. That night is hazy in my mind, splotchy moments that I can remember clearly, and completely blank hours that I have never recalled.

But I remember Peter.

I remember him sitting to the left of me, staring at the wall, as I changed into the hospital gown in the triage room. I remember his look, the fact that he knew what was happening before anyone told him. I remember him days later, as I called him from my hospital room, telling him that the time was up, and it looked like she had to be delivered that day. I remember his church clothes, his dress shirt hanging out of the paper scrubs they give fathers prepping for a c-section.

I remember the Sunday afternoons, months and months of them, when he pulled up the rocking chair and waited for nurses to help him hold his baby in the NICU. I remember him planning his outfits so he could transition to Kangaroo Care most easily. I remember him holding her, with his eyes closed, willing her lungs to grow, and her brain to function. I remember the long conversations with the Neonatologists, looking over X-rays and labs.

I remember him bringing her home. I remember the doctor appointments he attended, and the ones he didn’t, because he was busy being a medical provider for other families. I remember the hours he spent arranging her transportation to San Diego.

I remember the nights he slept in the hospital, sleeping in the chair-bed reserved for parents of patients. I remember the questions he asked as a father, not as a medical resident. I remember the desperation, the joy, the fear, and the questions in his eyes.

I remember so much.

People often forget about Peter. They remember to ask me, “How are you doing? How are you holding up?” They remember Charlotte, “How is our little Princess today? What’s the latest with her medical status?”

But Peter is often forgotten.

It’s easy to forget that she has his eyes, and it’s easy to forget that her determination to succeed is 100% her father. It’s easy to forget that he knows exactly which creases to tickle, and that her hand slides into his with ease. It’s easy to forget that when Charlotte is sedated for yet another test or surgery or procedure, she has a father who worries. It’s easy to forget that when she wakes up, she has a dad who sighs with relief.

It’s easy, but it’s wrong.

Peter is not the parent I am. We have different priorities and goals in our parenting, and we don’t always see eye to eye. But I would be wrong if I didn’t shout from the corners of the internet that he’s exactly the father my children need him to be.

That’s an incredible privilege, and I know that. I recognize that many, many mothers are raising their babies on their own. I hope, though, that in recognizing the tireless hours so many mothers put in, we can also take time to remember that many fathers also log those hours, and often do so at risk of being forgotten.

I’m far from perfect, and I often have to remember to remember.

But when I do, oh, the memories I have.

photo by Nina Siebert of Blackbird Ink Photography

(Thank you, Amanda, for so eloquently putting into words how many of us are feeling leading up to Father's Day. -Jessi)
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This Happened When We Used A Handicapped Placard

I pulled into the parking lot and made my way past the line of cars to the front, looking for an open spot. I noticed the very first handicapped spot was free. I pulled in and parked, opened the glove box, got out our newly mailed placard and placed it on the mirror.

I looked over and saw Jon walking to the car. He was meeting us on his lunch break. He opened the door to get Jack out. I grabbed my purse and began walking to grab a shopping cart. That's when I noticed a man coming quickly toward us. I immediately thought oh no, here it comes.

In preparation for getting the decal, I had gone over exactly what I would say if someone would question us about parking in the reserved spots. I have read so many articles about this happening, that I thought well, this is the way it's going to be and I have to be ready to answer, to educate. Jack might not look disabled upon first glance. He does not have something noticeable, like a wheelchair, to assuage people's concern. He is not elderly or walking with a cane. Sadly, I knew that getting questioned comes with the territory.

A few months ago we realized we were at the point of needing a parking permit to make life a little easier on our growing boy. Accessing the hospital and public places was getting more and more difficult as Jack got bigger and my ability to carry him long distances was diminishing. The fact that he can't walk more than a few dozen feet only adds to the need. So our doctor got us the decal and we have tentatively been using it.

When I saw the man rushing at us, my stomach sank. I had already noticed some odd stares the first few times of use, and now we were already going to be lectured! I thought not yet. Please, just let us be. I took a deep breath and waited.

The man exclaimed "I just wanted to come and say that you are doing such a good job being his parents." Pointing to Jack with a smile on his face, he said "you are taking such good care of him. I hope you have a great day."

We mumbled a shocked "well, thank you" as he walked away, into the store.

We just looked at each other and laughed. There are some really good people in the world.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Expectation of Joy

Those things you were so up in arms about yesterday? They don't matter.

That argument happening on FB? Not really worth it.

The project with a deadline? It can wait.

How, you may wonder? How can you not get caught up in the noise, in the hustle? When the world demands we attend every argument, achieve the next goal right now, and purchase the shiniest things all the while documenting it in pretty little squares? This is why. We don't have to attend because we are focused.

Our reality is that when pain and suffering entered the picture, we got this razor sharp focus. I talk and write a lot about how I am grateful for the perspective Jack's life has given us and when I do, I am really talking about focus. We know what matters and quite frankly, on many days, it is just taking the next breath. We know that this life is so fragile and short. We make the most of our sitution. We celebrate and enjoy the good times like no other.

But that doesn't mean this perspective is even remotely what I long for on a daily basis. No, I'd say I long for comfort. Sometimes I want to attend those silly arguments. Sometimes I want to care about something else or go back to a time when life wasn't so difficult. Especially on the hard days, when Jack is struggling through a migraine and all I'm thinking about is the next med dosage and wondering if this is actually a stroke or a seizure, I don't especially love this razor sharp focus.

Then I remember that focus and feeling strongly about the most important things has its benefits. Of course it hurts, perhaps even a majority of the time it hurts, but it can also feel incredibly good. Jack being discharged from the NICU comes to mind. Would I have been able to understand that almost euphoric, razor sharp joy of walking out those hospital doors and into my car without the back story? Without knowing intimately each and every step it took to get us to that point? Would it have felt the same? Of course not.

When you spend so much of your time in sharp focus, pain resides closely to joy. I spend many of my days feeling like joy is right over the horizon and even though I can't see it at the moment, I know it's coming. Most days, I'm living in hopeful expectation of joy. And when that joy does come, there is no need to focus on anything else.

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