Hope, Dreams and a Miracle. Times Two. (Plus Five Years.)

IMG_0777My little H and S are turning five this week!

Their due date was nearly one year to the date that we found out it was unlikely – no, impossible – that we’d be able to conceive on our own. “You have a zero percent chance,” our infertility doctor told us, without intervention. I was 26. We’d been married – and counting and calculating and hoping and praying – for six months. Not only had I not seen a positive pregnancy test, but in the month before, I’d gone through three boxes of ovulation test sticks (and at least as many tissues.) No positive there, either. The doctor confirmed that I wasn’t ovulating AND that my husband had a low sperm count.

After six months of blood work, ultrasounds and tests whose names I still can’t pronounce, including a Hysterosalpingogram – which took X-rays of dye flowing through my fallopian tubes – our only hope was IVF with an option called ICSI. This procedure took the normal practice of fertilizing as many healthy eggs as a woman could produce during an IVF cycle to a more intimate level: each egg was individually injected with one single sperm.

Thirteen eggs and a retrieval procedure later, we had eleven healthy embryos. On the morning of the transfer, we were down to TWO. I couldn’t hold back my tears and questions about how and when we would plan our next cycle, and what more we could possibly do. I was certain we’d already failed, as we finished the transfer and began the two-week wait until my pregnancy test. There was no way I could possibly be pregnant, since nine of our fertilized eggs had “died,” and the two we had weren’t perfectly formed.

But they were perfect enough.

My initial pregnancy test revealed that my hormone levels were high. A six-week ultrasound revealed not one heartbeat, but two. On February 7th, 2008, my little girls were born via C-section. Tiny and six weeks early, but breathing. Healthy. Here. And as in-my-arms as they could be when one’s arms are strapped to an operating table. For real.

The last five years have been a wild ride, to say the least. My H and S have turned our worlds upside-down, inside-out and have brought joy, love, hope (and a good night of sleep) to a depth I never imagined possible. Even when, at times, I wonder what the heck I got myself in to (starting our first night at home from the NICU, when the girls threw the nurses’ lovely little schedule to the wind) not a day goes by that I don’t think about how easily we could have missed out on the experience of parenthood. How, even with the ultimate in intervention and technology, it could so easily not have worked.

I’m just so grateful that it did.

I’m grateful for H’s random middle-of-the-night visits and hugs, and chatter about the picture she drew last week at school, what she wants to build with her Legos in the morning, and what restaurant she wants to go back to the next time we’re in Disney World. After which she is immediately and totally asleep.

I’m grateful to wake up a few minutes before S, so that I can catch a glimpse of her beloved stuffed giraffe tucked under her arm, as the day’s first smile reaches her eyes when she looks up at me.

As we celebrate the last five years and the path that led us here, my heart is with the moms and dads who are still holding on to their dreams of becoming a family. I wish them strength, peace, love, and all the support they need for their journeys. And I’m praying that their happily-ever-afters will be here soon.

XO

I Love Food. I Just Wish it Would Prepare Itself.

IMG_0705I have a confession. Last week, I cooked dinner five nights in a row, and I’m pretty sure it was the first time that’s happened since – um, I have no idea when.

On the nights I don’t plan, for one reason or another, we alternate between take-out, prepared stuff from the grocery store and something from the pantry in a box or a can. Sometimes out of boredom and desperation to keep from having the “I-don’t-know, what-do-you-want-to-do, you-know-what-the-options-are” conversation AGAIN, my husband will whip something up when he gets home from work. (Insert shame.)

We’ve been going through this cycle since our twin daughters were born, when we lived mostly on pizza and salad from a restaurant down the street. (That’s around the time when I started accumulating laundry four basketfuls at a time, too.)

It’s not that I can’t cook. (It’d be a crime: I’m Italian.) Most of the dishes I can do well involve pasta or wine. Chicken marsala over rigatoni. Broccolini, tomatoes and sausage in a white wine sauce over-well, you get the idea. (At least penne with vodka sauce and meatballs is a slight variation.) I can whip up pineapple-mango salsa or guacamole; I can even make shrimp and lobster ceviche (one of S’s favorites)! I love making side dishes and appetizers. Baking is one of my guilty pleasures: from pine nut cookies to creme brulee to cake pops decorated for every occasion. But while I manage to multitask everywhere else, when it comes to the kitchen, most days I can’t seem to find the time, patience or motivation to put an entire meal together.

In fact, most days pass by before I can wonder what to do first. I’m occupied with my daughters and behind on work and cleaning, and the thought of tackling one more thing with enthusiasm is just laughable. Between preparing breakfast and lunch and snacks in between, wiping, vacuuming and all of that, the thought of going back in the kitchen makes me want to take a nap.

Oh. Right. We still kind of have to eat. So, I rack my brain.

I’m bored with soup. I love salad, but it takes too long to wash and dry lettuce and all the other stuff. I’m fairly certain the lettuce spinner is just a joke. It spins and spins and – what the hell, the stupid lettuce is still wet! (Yes, I dump out the water.)  And OH

MY

GOD!

All that cleaning… Cutting boards, knives, prep bowls, serving bowls, whisks, tongs, baking sheets, pots and pans! Yes, I have a dishwasher. I’d pretend not to notice that half of it shouldn’t go in and take my chances, but my husband would kill me.

He’s the Master Chef in our house, cooking up perfectly marinated/seasoned/cooked meat, seafood and vegetables – on the grill, in the oven or on the stove. He makes a rib roast with wine sauce or linguini and clams (which also happens to have wine in it) look effortless. Flawless. It tastes amazing, too, and he doesn’t even follow recipes. He can throw together a restaurant-quality meal after working a ten-hour day faster than I can gather the necessities to boil water.

Darn right, I’m jealous!

I decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year. But in my general quest for balance, better time management and good health, trying to be a little more domestic seemed like a good idea for all of us. I’m no goddess, but I’m learning that I really don’t need to be. With a full life outside of the kitchen, this may never be my favorite way to spend time. Still, planning and preparing meals does establish a much-needed weeknight routine around here. I figure as long as I keep things relatively simple, I’ll spend less time cooking than dreading the Dinner Conversation.

And best of all, I made a meal on Tuesday that the Master Chef asked for again – get this – on Friday. That was kind of cool.

My New Year’s (Un)Resolution

Hello, 2013!

Hello, 2013!

We took down the Christmas tree, vacuumed up Frazier Fir needles that we’ll undoubtedly be finding until next year, and reclaimed some of our living space. As a kid, I used to watch my mom do this (but with a big, fat Blue Spruce that had to be tied to the beams in the living room) and I’d fight back tears. The excitement got packed away carefully into see-through plastic boxes in the attic, and everything just looked so empty and boring: AKA what I now view as “clean and organized.”

Grown-up life, and keeping up with H and S, my four-year-old twin daughters, leaves much less time for being sad about tossing our beloved tree (whose dead, dried-out branches tried to reclaim most of our ornaments) on the front lawn. And urgent displays in the retail world are already sweeping us up into the excitement of the Next Big Thing. Winter Clearances, Valentine’s Day, and the one thing I won’t be taking part in this year: tackling our New Year’s resolutions head-on. For 2013, my resolution is to take a year off from making new resolutions.

For the last few years, I’ve seen January 1st as a time to restructure my life. To finally lose that last ten to fifteen pounds I’ve been fighting with since the girls were born. To spend more time reading and writing, pushing along my dreams of becoming a Real Writer. To finally put together the girls’ scrapbooks in which they haven’t even been officially born yet. To organize the whole house and make efficient use of every bit of space, one room at a time.

And every year, I start out whole-heartedly, throwing myself at the new, improved version of me. Then I get lost in the day-to-day like I always do, wondering what’s wrong with me and why I feel like I’m always moving and nothing ever feels DONE.

I’ve finally realized that neither my life nor my personality (have I mentioned I’m a Libra and a perfectionist?) is well-suited for focusing on one goal. I’ve been multi-tasking for as long as I can remember, even before becoming a mom, and it can be tiring and mind-boggling, yes, but mostly, it works for me. It’s what I know. The more I try to focus on ONE thing, the others fall through the cracks, and I end up feeling worse instead of better. Yes, I need to lose that weight. Yes, I should be writing more. Reading more. Outlining the next steps in my career. Moving things along. But sometimes, it needs to be okay to just be still. To slow down and take inventory. To live in the moment, especially when it comes to enjoying time with my husband and daughters.

These days, what I find myself craving – way more than productivity and results – is balance, and the breathing room I need to find it. In a way that’s healthy for me and that works for my family, and for what my life ACTUALLY looks like, instead of the Superwoman-infused version my guilt tells me I should be mastering instead.

This isn’t to say I won’t plan or set goals; I wouldn’t be able to function without a to-do list, or six. I’m a planner at heart, through and through, and have lists for everything. On my Apple Calendar. In Things for my iPhone, iPad and MacBook. What needs to be done this week, and next. What to pack in the kids’ overnight bags. I even have a spreadsheet to budget for our next trip to Disney.

So while I won’t be starting every morning at the gym or writing ten pages before I get out of bed, this year I already know I have one accomplishment to celebrate: I think I finally know myself well enough to take a break when I need it instead of piling it on, without feeling like a slacker.

Well – maybe you should ask me about that in a few days 😉

 

Anxiety Aweigh (Please?)

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It’s been a warm, cozy week in the company of family and friends – in spite of this year’s tragically dimmer holiday glow (see Finding Happy in (This Year’s) Holidays.) As the festivities and time off come to a close, I’m feeling grateful. A little extra mindful of my priorities. And ridiculously anxious about getting back to the normal that doesn’t really exist anymore: namely, sending my kids off to school again.

Anxiety and me are no strangers, and we definitely aren’t friends. We’re engaged in a long-standing power struggle: it trying to convince me that I must be constantly aware of any Bad Thing that could happen at any given moment (from a variety of illnesses to accidents – to acts of God, or jerk faces) and me trying to live a healthy, balanced, preferably sane life, without driving everyone around me crazy.

It started shortly after my father died when I was four years old. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, pull the door open wide enough to get out, tiptoe out of my room, step lightly on the creaky spots and find my way through the dark to my mother’s bedroom. I’d stand there and listen for a minute for the sound of her breathing. And if I wasn’t completely sure that she was, I’d lean in a tiny bit closer.

“What’s wrong?” she’d ask.

“Nothing,” I’d say, and go back to bed.

I alternate between surrendering myself to the craziness and learning to manage it. From panic attacks at 33,000 feet in the air over random concerns, my germ phobia (see Motherhood: My Work-in-Progress) and to-do lists left undone to the crippling post-September-11th fears that sneak up on me in crowded places, familiar or not. Especially now that I’m a mom.

We can’t live in panic mode, I know. And what am I really capable of controlling or changing? I guess I could homeschool my kids. It would grant me the illusion of safety, I suppose, but would it outweigh what they would miss socially, academically, individually? Probably not. And what about when we leave the house? Whether we’re off to the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, or a plane to Disney World, what is safe and untouchable anymore?

I know the only option is to keep moving. To keep living our lives as fully as we can, with increased awareness that we’ll hope and pray is enough, and in a way that lets my little girls know I love them so much I can barely see straight. I won’t pretend to have any advice or magical words of wisdom; I’ll probably always struggle this way. There will always be SOMEthing (or 100 things) to worry about. The main thing that inspires me to keep it together is not wanting to teach my daughters to live in fear, too – with a small aside: the fact that all this worrying and thinking is overextending my brain. It turns me into a person I’m not really sure I like. It’s not the life I want for me, either, anymore than for them.

So, on January 2nd, I will put on a brave face and mirror H and S’s enthusiasm as I walk them to their classroom. After hugs and kisses and one last glance at their beautiful smiles as they give themselves away to the day’s excitement, I’ll walk away, and remind myself to breathe.

Finding Happy in (This Year’s) Holidays

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Pretty lights are strung, our stockings are hung. Our Christmas tree’s branches are flipping upside down, and they’d damn well better hold themselves together for Santa. And hopefully no one will notice that I completely s_ck at wrapping.

This, of course, is really the least of my concerns. All that’s on my mind these days is the same as what’s on everyone else’s: I’m still reeling from the sickening events of last Friday. Every year at this point, I’m baking like crazy, making baskets of cake pops, peppermint bark and cookies for everyone I know. This year, I’m trying to tear myself away from the TV, the tributes, the stories of the families whose children should be here to tell their own. I alternate between crying, fuming and stretching as far as I can, reaching for the light. It’s hard to feel like doing much of anything. Even sleep is disturbing. I still can’t quite believe what I’m seeing: our little local community, Sandy Hook, CT, pasted across the screen on every channel. The unthinkable. Every parent’s worst nightmare – no, not just every parent. Every person who’s ever loved a child. Of any age.

I’m thankful that my four-year-old daughters are mostly oblivious. In the heat of our shock and emotion, they picked up that something really bad had happened. S was the first to ask. All they know is that a man who was sick in his brain hurt a lot of people – some adults and some children – and that a lot of them died. They don’t know where or when or how. They didn’t ask. I let them know they were safe, and that the man who did it died, too. I reassured them that if they wanted to talk or had any questions, they could just ask Mommy or Daddy. If nothing else, I pray that this opens the door for good communication, that it’s not more than their little minds and hearts can handle when I can barely manage myself.

No parent should ever have to have this conversation with their child. My heart breaks for the ones who had to share news that was even worse.

We’re a very affectionate family anyway, but these days I’m needing extra hugs and snuggles.

“Hug time!” I call.

S turns up her nose at me.

“Again?” she asks.

H comes running. I scoop her up in my arms, grateful for and surprised by her unspoken understanding.

“Mommy?” she says. “Can I go now? I’m a little busy.”

Over the next couple of days, I’m determined to pour my heart into enjoying every minute with my husband, little girls and family and friends.

And because of the last few days, I’m determined to spread positive energy and kindness to everyone I can. To live in the moment, because, oh-my-god, we really have no idea what’s in store  for us. It’s hard to get used to living in this kind of world. I’m not sure if I can. But my little girls are depending on me to show them the way, and the very least I can do is not let them down. They deserve better than that. In honor of those beautiful little angels taken too soon, their amazing families and their unimaginable strength, and the kindness of strangers that far outweighs the evil in the world, I will find a way to keep moving forward. To find a healthy, peaceful place again for my little girls.

Wishing you and your family safety and peace, love and comfort this holiday season, and always. XO.

Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust in an Upside-down World

IMG_0550I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, so with a loving push from family and friends, I set out to just write already. But before I could decide how to pick up where I left off, the news broke from our neighboring town of Sandy Hook that made writing anything else feel insignificant and meaningless.

My husband and I were celebrating the holidays at H and S’s preschool on Friday morning, holding them on our laps, singing Christmas and Hanukah songs. As the unthinkable tragedy and its impact unfolded, I was lucky and grateful to have my two little girls in my arms. And my heart ached for the moms and dads who couldn’t in that moment – and especially the ones that had yet to learn they wouldn’t ever.

I can’t stop thinking about those little kids, how their daily lives were probably not so unlike my own daughters’. Filled with wonder over where the Elf on the Shelf might land each morning, counting on their fingers (and toes) how many days are left until Christmas. Singing “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” songs while coloring at (and sometimes ON) the kitchen table. Pretending the bubbles in the bath are piles of pixie dust that Tinker Bell gave them to fly. Learning their first dance steps, showing off moves that might mean to be cartwheels. Hanging off their beds, giggling wildly, fearlessly, yelling, “Mommy! Look at me! I’m upside-down!”

And then there are the quieter things I can’t help focusing a little extra on. Christmas dresses set out on top of each of the girls’ dressers, waiting to be tried on. Two baskets of laundry I haven’t found time to put away in the last (couple of) week(s.) Lying on top: H’s favorite “feet pajamas” with polar bears on them that she strongly insists are sheep. A yellow “S” written backwards on the wall next to guess-who’s-bedroom, and a blue one on the way downstairs to the playroom: evidence of pride for her most favorite letter. The mess of toys that I complain about, scattered across the living room floor. The Ariel doll whose hair has been carefully combed and twisted into an almost-braid and placed in Cinderella’s wedding carriage for her 5 PM wedding to Prince Eric.

This morning, while the girls were busy playing, I curled back into bed with H’s favorite blanket, that she’s been toting with her everywhere since she was able to crawl, and S’s beloved “Raffey,” a giraffe whose face she’s practically loved off, and who’s never far from her arms. It is just too painful to imagine what any of those little angels – and grown up ones, too – endured. Or what my own life would feel like if suddenly, inexplicably, my babies were no longer present in it. NO. It hurts too much to breathe.

And no matter how many times I wrap my arms around their tiny waists, bury my nose in their soft, flowing curls and inhale slowly, deeply, it is never enough.

Learning New Steps (is a Little Overrated)

Yesterday morning, I asked my four-year-old twins what they wanted for breakfast. 
 
“Toast with peanut butter,” H and S said in unison. 
 
“And honey,” S added.
 
“NO honey for me,” H reminded me. 
 
“How about apple honey butter?” I asked H, hoping she’d be in the mood to try something new. Trying new things with H is – well, TRYING. 
 
“NOOOOOOOO,” she whined. Her usual answer. 
 
I remind her about the time she finally ate – and loved – the shrimp she once protested in the shrimp soup she orders at our local Mexican restaurant. (I know. Don’t ask.)
 
“NOOOOOOOO,” she insisted. 
 
But I decided to put the apple honey butter on a little corner of her toast so she could try it, and if she didn’t like it, the rest of her peanut butter would remain untainted. She frowned at me and whined, but then she stuck her tongue out and licked it. And loved it. I ended up putting apple-honey butter on the whole piece of toast. 
 
Battle won. Add one to the list of “Foods H Will Eat.”
 
Okay, yes, this is minor. And, truth be told, I can’t say either of my daughters is fussy, considering that, at Open House at preschool this week, I learned that when asked her favorite food, S answered without hesitation, “Ceviche.” H didn’t have to think before sharing her most-frequent request: “Lamb with wine sauce.” As crazy as that sounds, it’s a little taste of the food-loving fun we’ve been sharing with the girls since they were old enough to eat what we eat. 
 
The reason I’m giving this a second thought is H’s resistance to new things has gone beyond food protests to day-to-day things I want to see her overcome. The girls just started a new year of dance classes, with all of the same friends as last year, and a few new ones. But this year, they’ll have a different teacher. H caught me completely off-guard when she woke up that morning and cried non-stop until we left for school about how she didn’t want to go to dance, or to school. She just wanted to stay home with me and “have work meetings with Daddy and go to stores.” 
 
After my husband met me at school to assist with drop-off, and I gave everyone who needed to know a heads up, I spent most of the day with knots in my stomach. Wondering if she was crying, if she would have a huge meltdown and I’d have to go get her. I’ve been lucky in that the girls have been excited and easily convinced to go to school – and the only worries and tears I’ve had to contend with were my own.
 
This is SO much worse than that. 
 
It’s hard not to question the choices we make as parents. When’s a good time to start school? Is it too soon? Will it be too late if we wait? Do we choose this activity – or that one? Is it too much? Not enough? And most of all, if they’re crying, if it’s something non-essential, do we just stop doing it and try again later? 
 
I’m seeing something in H that I struggle with myself. She likes her comforts and familiarity. She loves where she is so much that change is a threat rather than an opportunity to experience the world, to find more things – and people – to love. I get hung up a lot on that, especially when it comes to the girls growing out of something and into something else. I know where we’ve been and what we can do – and from the safety of the present, I can fully embrace the past. Which makes the future sometimes look more daunting and maybe not as meaningful.
 
This leads me to my biggest question yet: how do I teach my daughter something I haven’t quite resolved for myself? And how do I tell her it’s going to be okay, when I know exactly how torn and uncomfortable she feels? Do I protect her from her fears, or find a way to help her work through them?
 
After some discussion, my husband and I decided the right thing for us is to stick with the dance classes, and help H (and S by example) through what will be the first of many (big and small) transitions in her life. I’m trying not to play up the fact that she has her sister with her, because next year, due to school rules, they’ll be in separate classes. Ah, more change! We’ve been talking about trying new things – and things she’d have missed if we didn’t try, like Thunder Mountain at Disney. We’re trying to help her focus on the company of her friends, and how proud she was last year when she showed us all she learned at their dance recital.
 
I’m grateful to have the support and help of her teachers and the kindness of other parents in the meantime. I’m pretty sure it will work out sooner or later. Half the time when the girls are home, they’re dressed up like Disney princesses, dancing and singing around their room, anyway. With any luck, maybe this will be a healthy step forward for both of us.