Tuesday, December 27, 2011

6 Months Home

Today marks 6 months since Veronica was placed in our arms.  Okay,  I guess it was yesterday if you factor in time zone switches. But there is no need to get so technical.

Like everyone who has a child, either through adoption or abdominal-stretching pregnancy, the arbitrary time milestones make you pause in the middle of the frantic day-to-day living, look around, and wonder "when did all these changes happen"?

Certain changes in Veronica are obvious.  Now she has a forever family to love her along with her birth family and foster family who, I am sure, continue to think about her and love her.  She is understanding more and more English and sign language, minimizing her communication frustration.  Her buzz cut hair has grown out to a style that could only be called "mullet-like".  And, she is losing that rounded baby appearance.  Her legs look longer in jeans even though she has gained four pounds since coming home.

Oh.  And I guess the most obvious change has been her cleft lip/palate repair.  Although to be quite honest, after a few days with her I hardly noticed her unrepaired cleft unless someone else commented on it.  And now I don't really think about her repaired lip.  Something that initially seemed like such a big deal turns out to be just a blip on the radar of our everyday lives.  Yes, there are speech therapy appointments and more surgeries to come, but it is really not a big deal.

My mental review of the past 6 months had marked changes in me, too.  I have learned that "Special Needs" is really just a fairly useless label of medical quirks. Most kids have some kind of medical or emotional quirk that requires a bit more energy to parent.  My child is so much more than a label.

I've also learned that love for an adoptive child is no different than love for a bio child.  I had posted on another link about how my Mama love came gradually for my children - Veronica was no different.  But I'll admit now that the moment of worry has passed: I had a nagging thought that I might not love her as much as my other children.  There.  I said it.  I admitted the worry that nobody in adoption is willing to say.

This worry wasn't much different than when a parent is expecting another child and wonders how they could love another baby as much as their first.  Everyone who has gone through the experience is so reassuring.  "Of course you will love your child who was adopted just as much as your biological children."  I am so grateful that I can join in that chorus.

Let me declare to all of you with biological children who might be thinking about adoption or in the midst of one that you will, in fact, love them just as much as your other children.   I know you won't completely trust me on this.  But I will boldly declare it now and reserve my "I told you so" for after your child is home.

One of the biggest and best changes to occur is the continued development of the relationships between Veronica and her siblings, Veronica and her Daddy, and Veronica and myself.  She is no longer the "new child".  The other kids now get annoyed with her sometimes when she tries to assert her wants into the family dynamic.  The necessary separation of her from contact with family (no one could feed her, hold her, comfort her except parents to help with attachment) is done.  She is a full fledged family member, required to do chores, use please and thank you, and share toys.

I have come to the point where I have stopped worrying about how to make this little girl love me.  She already does.  And I love her.  We are to the good part - where we both know that I am her Mommy and she is my little girl.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Food - Cheap and Good - Part 1

I am a bit of a magazine junkie, and in every month's issue there is some article about how to save money on groceries or frugal recipes.  These bug the heck out of me.

Yes, I am frugal, thrifty, penny-pinching, possibly even cheap.  So what's the problem?  Its bad enough when I already do the things they suggest and don't learn any valuable information.  What is worse is when their suggestions aren't that frugal to begin with.  I cringe every time I hear about a "budget" meal that costs over $3 per serving.  Seriously?  That is a splurge meal at our house.

I don't know, Dear Reader, if you are in a watch-the-money-closely mode right now, but our house is.  So, I thought I'd post a few ideas of ways we save money on our grocery budget for breakfast.  I'll tackle lunches and suppers at a different time.

1.  I have one child in particular who requires a lot of fiber in her diet.  A lot of fiber.  Tons.  We go through a lot of oatmeal.  My kids love the flavored oatmeal packets, but could easily eat 2-4 packets for a single meal.  Multiplied by 5 that is 10-20 packets a day.  To save money, sometimes we just add raisins, cinnamon, molasses, etc. to regular oatmeal (from the tubs) and top it with a sprinkle of colored sugar to make our own flavored oatmeal.  Sometimes, we will use a packet of instant and mix it with a bunch of regular tub oatmeal to stretch it and make it healthier.

2.  When you have bits and pieces of several kinds of cereal left over, but not enough for a big bowl, I combine them all and call it a "party mix"  Yes, its a bit disgusting to have crushed Raisin Bran flakes mixed with Cheerios mixed with the powdery bits of generic Captain Crunch.  But, my kids will eat it.  Note:  This tactic will require advanced marketing skills on your part.  You may not just pour it into the bowl and give it to them.  Instead put on your maniacally happy face and present the "party mix" with a flourish.  I would strongly encourage a bit of a jig and a homemade jingle to accompany it.

3.  Eggs and toast are cheap, cheap, cheap and don't take much time to make.

4.  Egg bakes are an easy way to feed a crowd if you had company stay over night.  They have the added advantage of being able to be assembled the night before and just baked in the morning.

5.  Pre-cooked bacon is insanely expensive per ounce and doesn't have that nice, crispness to it.  When I cook bacon, I cook 2 or 3 pounds at once, drain it and then freeze it.  It stays crispy, you only need to take out what you need at that meal, and you still have the quick convenience of ready made.

6.  I've stopped buying baking mixes for pancakes.  I make my own Bisquick and store it in the pantry.  It is cheaper per ounce than store bought and only takes a couple of minutes to make.

7.  I always felt wasteful throwing away those frosted shredded wheat crumbs at the bottom of the bag.  We now keep them and use them as a topping for yogurt or I use them in the following cookie recipe - which beyond frugality has the additional benefit of adding extra fiber to my child's diet who desperately needs it. 

High Fiber Shredded Wheat Cookies
  • 2 3/4 cups shredded wheat cereal, crushed (I use frosted, but plain works, too)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (you can add in anything, really.  Craisins, raisins, white chocolate, butterscotch chips, M&Ms, toffee chips, etc.)
  • 1 cup butter room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a large baking sheet.
  2. Cream together the butter and the two sugars in a very large bowl.
  3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Stir in the shredded wheat .
  6. Add the chocolate chips.
  7. Drop by  tablespoons onto the lightly greased baking sheet.
  8. Bake 8-15 minutes till the edges are slightly browned and the middle looks soft and squishy, but isn't doughy.
  9. Cool them completely before packing in an airtight container.
These freeze well.  You can also freeze the dough before baking.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crushing my Children's Dreams

Have you ever been in the situation where you feel the need to crush your child's dreams preemptively before they get their hopes up too incredibly high? 

I found myself in this situation recently when my children began asking for both Nintendo DSs and Leapsters for Christmas.  One child asked for a kid-sized remote controlled robot that he could play football with, tackle, and that would make his bed for him in the morning.

I was caught off guard as this was the first time they had asked for high-priced electronics or any robot, for that matter.  In the past, I have had children wish for puzzles, toy dinosaurs, a guitar, and even a necktie.  But, they hadn't crossed over to the land of "Not Going To Happen" before.  They weren't trying to be greedy; they don't really have a clue how much things cost.  Even I don't know how much that mythical robot would cost. 

I struggled with how to handle this.  Part of the joy of Christmas (beyond the obvious joy of Jesus, of course) is imagining which gift will have your name on it.  What will be under all that wrapping paper?  And I can tell you one thing - Nintendo will not be unwrapped.  Santa usually brings each child one or two special gifts (under $25), books and things like toothbrushes and socks.

So, rather than have them focused on what they were never going to get, and end up utterly disappointed, I cut those daydreams down to size.

I told the children, who are very excited about Santa (except the oldest who is excited, but wise about "santa"), that I wrote a letter to Santa telling him to please not bring expensive electronics or robots.  The obvious disappointment ensued. 

"Why can't Santa bring us a DS or Leapster?"  One child asked. 

"Those things are very expensive for the elves to make."  I told them. "We don't want other children to go without because buying those for a family this size would get very pricey.  Besides, I want you guys to play with each other and not be staring at your own little screen all day."

They let their fantasy presents go with a sigh and then started thinking about other things Santa might bring.  "Maybe I'll get a magic kit or Legos"  One child said.  Another added, "Yeah, maybe he will bring the robot that I can play football with, but it just can't make my bed."

It looks like I will have to crush those dreams down a little bit more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fashionable Housework

I've got a collection that may surprise you.  I honestly don't know any other 35 year old with the same obsession, but I'm going to step out of the shadows of secrecy and into the light.

I collect and wear aprons.  It feels almost subversive to type that in today's culture.

Yes.  Aprons.  Homemade vintage aprons.  They are usually gingham with embroidery, but I can be swayed by other homemade aprons.  I've got a flour-sack apron from the Great Depression up to a patchwork monstrosity from the 70s.  Okay, not a monstrosity, but with a look that really requires an open mind to appreciate it.

Here are a few from my collection:








And yes, I do wear them.  Actually I wear one nearly every day and with enough to choose from, I usually can find something to match what I am wearing.

I am not June Cleaver.  This is not some nostalgic throw-back to the 50's suburban housewife mentality.  The aprons are somewhat practical.  Especially when cooking, I like to have something to wipe my hands on; I tend to be a messy cook.

But the main purpose these aprons serve is to delineate "working" from "not working".  When I am home all day with my children, my home is my office.  With five kids, there is ALWAYS something that needs to be done.  I think it is impossible to catch up on everything, because once you get the house looking sharp, someone has peed in their bed and laundry needs to be done.  Or, somebody inevitably will have to eat - children are needy that way.

Aprons solve the dilemma of being unable to relax with work needing to be done.  When my apron is on, I work. I cook, clean and do laundry.  I take care of what needs to be done.  But, once that apron comes off during an afternoon break or in the evening, I don't feel compelled to do housework.  I could, but I don't feel guilty if it remains undone till morning.  It helps to establish clear boundaries and makes me a much happier person.

So why homemade aprons?  Why vintage aprons?  New aprons would serve the same practical purpose, but the big advantage to aprons carefully stitched by other women, even people I will never meet, is that I feel connected to the women who have lived before me.  When wearing another woman's apron (itself a pretty personal thing) I feel like a link in the tradition of all the other women who cared for their family and took pride in it. 

The apron functions as a uniform of sorts, reminding me that I am in fact a "working mother" even if I don't currently have a salary for the job.  But like any job (even great ones) it is good when the workday is done and I can just relax with my family.

My post is part of the "On My Mind" blog sharing series on the Down To Earth Blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Avoiding the Parenting Current

There is an underlying current in parenting today.  Like all swiftly moving, but often barely visible currents in a river, it is easy to get caught up in them if you are unaware or unsure of your own strength to avoid it.  It is easier to flow in the current to be sucked along to wherever the current takes you instead of fighting back and going to the destination of your choosing.

The current that I see sweeping so many parents along (especially mothers) is the idea that every spare resource of time, money and energy needs to be put into our children.

Now, I will freely admit that after God, my family is at the center of my universe.  I think that is good and appropriate.  However, my children are not my entire universe.  Other than God, of course, my husband even outranks my kids as my primary relationship.  Shocking!

The universe is incomprehensibly vast and I want to explore it all.  I want to focus on my husband, my friends and  yes, I'll admit it. Sometimes I am going to focus on myself.

I am more than a mother, although that and laundry (as you can see from my previous post ) take up most of my time.  My life did not freeze in a perpetual state of mothering once I had children.  I still want to explore,  have my own hobbies, listen to music of my choosing, read novels, debate politics, write and do all kinds of things to truly use my God-given gifts and talents.  Yes, even the ones not related to children.

Today I have the chance to do that.  I am taking my first writing class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  I have been looking forward to this for months!  It is a class about self-editing a novel.

I've finished a rough draft of a novel, and boy is it ever rough!  Hemingway once said, "All first drafts are s**t".  If that is true, I am on my way to following in Hemingway's footsteps!  I am hoping this class will help me move beyond the first draft doldrums and really help me polish my writing.

And I know, my kids will survive without me.  In fact, they will thrive with a happier Mommy who is trying to live up to her potential.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keeping it Real - Laundry Edition


I know there are lots of magical places seen only on blogs, home garden television or decorator magazines where people's homes are always immaculate and everything is in its place.  This isn't one of those places. 

With a larger than average size family, we have a bit more laundry to do than others.  I had gotten a smidgen behind on laundry when we were gone for Thanksgiving weekend.  So, for all those who ask me about how much laundry a family of seven makes,  I thought I'd show you what really happens if I don't do a couple of loads a day.  

Full disclosure - I hadn't gotten to the sheets and blankets yet.  Those were still dirty and piled on laundry room floor.  Behind the towels rolled on one of the dining room chairs is an unseen basket full of clothes that need to be ironed.  Oh, and my basket of things needing to be mended is overflowing in my laundry room.

Welcome to my life.


Here's the hoard of laundry.

The clothes balanced precariously on the back of the chair all need to be hung up.  There is another fully draped chair hidden behind the one in this picture.
I run out of room on my table, so I also make stacks on the floor.
Anyone want to sort some socks?  Yes, that is a regular-sized storage tub  full.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks

Our family got back from a long weekend visiting with my family in Wisconsin.  Without potty breaks, it takes nearly three hours to drive there.  We stayed at my parents house for three nights, but spent Thanksgiving meal with extended family at an aunt and uncle's house.

We had been in virtual adoption hibernation trying to limit Veronica's exposure to the outside world in the initial months home (to promote bonding and attachment).  We hadn't seen these relatives for many, many months.  Some, not for nearly a year.  Yet, as soon as I walked into the house, I was welcomed. 

That never seemed extraordinary to me before.  It was a blessing I took for granted.  Of course aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would be happy to see me.  Of course I had one of several places I could go for holidays.  I fit in.  I belonged.  I was a part of this big, sometimes crazy group of people, and I would be forever. 

And, as has happened about every other year, I had a new kid to show off to the relatives.  This time, though, when my daughter was oohed and aahed over like all my other children had been, I finally realized how big a deal this was, and how much I have always taken for granted.

My husband and I chose to adopt because we love being parents and there are millions of children all over the world who need a mom and dad to tuck them into bed at night.  I got to have another child to love, and this precious child got a mom and dad.  But, it didn't really occur to me, until this first big family holiday, that she has gained so much more than parents and siblings.  She has a whole extended family now.

She will become part of our large family's lore and legends.  For the rest of her life, she, like the rest of my children, will belong.

And that is what I am so incredibly grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nerf Guns and the Evolution of a Parenting Philosophy

My kids have lost all the bullets to their Nerf guns, and I have been thinking about whether to get some spares for a Christmas gift.  I never would have considered this a decade ago.  Let me walk you through the evolution of a parenting philosophy - from pre-children brilliance to resigned compliance.

1. Before I had my first child -"My children will never play with toy guns.  Guns are serious business.  They should be used for getting some venison and little else.  My future children will be thoughtful and not ever consider perpetrating acts of violence either real or imaginary."

2.  First child is an infant/toddler - "Look at all those hooligans kids shooting things."  A smug smile would accompany my obviously better parenting.

3.  Now I have a couple of kids - "Stop turning those sticks into guns.  Put your fingers down.  I'm looking at you Mister.  Put your fingers down.  You may NOT say 'Bang bang you're dead' to the tree."

4.  Add a couple more kids - "Maybe if I pretend I don't see them, I don't have to try to stop the inevitable.  I played Star Wars and GI Joe as a kid and managed to not turn into a sociopath killer.  Lets hope for the best."

5.  Kids a little older  - We went to a garage sale and there was a whole arsenal of toys spread on the lawn.  "Yes, kids.  You can each pick out a sword.  No, not a gun."  Swords became our gateway drug into the word of weaponry.  I end up duct taping many of these weapons after rowdy games of pirates, which kept my children (and the neighborhood children) content in their make-believe worlds for a full summer.  Imagination is good, right?

6.  Kids got little older, as they tend to do - Child receives Nerf gun as a gift.  Clearly this is the coolest thing he has ever gotten.  "At least its not a realistic replica of a tommy gun or howitzer."  I sigh in resignation.

7. Present Day - "Just don't shoot anyone who doesn't want to be shot."

Sometimes you pick your battles.  Sometimes those battles involve foam bullets and plastic swords.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Long Time - No Post

As I posted previously, I had been immersed in the creative marathon that is "National Novel Writing Month."  Yes, I used the past tense.

Friends, let me teach you a little lesson about backing up your files.  In my creative writing frenzy, I had written over 16,000 words in my novel.  That is approximately 1/4 of a novel.  Then my laptop went kaput.  It is fried.  It has corrupted the files, overwritten them and practically laughed at me while it happened.

My sweet, computer-competent husband tried to recover the file.  He managed to (after hours of work) access a couple of the files, but they contained gobbledy-gook with a few readable sentences thrown in to taunt me.  My novel is lost.  I want to tell you all that flash drives are your friends.  Please back up all the important bits and pieces you wouldn't want to lose.  Everyone knows this, but most people put it in the back of their minds.  Let this be a friendly reminder to you.

Were does that leave me?  I had been on track to complete my novel during National Novel Writing Month, but I think this will put me out of contention.  I am pretty awesome, but I can't finish a new novel in two and a half weeks.  I succeeded in completing my novel in time last year, so I know I am capable of doing it.  I'll have to wait till next year for the thrill of victory.

So, what am I doing with myself without the looming November 30th deadline?  I've started my next novel.  I won't have the glory of finishing it in a month, but I've at least got the stick-to-it-ness to keep on going.

And, lucky for all my faithful, friendly readers, I will have more time to post on the blog.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Come Procrastinate With Me

Come and join my procrastination party.

You see, this is November. And that means it is National Novel Writing Month.  This is the month that thousands of people around the world work towards completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  (Thank goodness for daylight savings time.  One more hour.  Woo hoo.)

I had thought about participating in this a few years ago, but always made excuses for why I couldn't and then I wimped out and didn't even try.  Last year I thought, "This is it.  I'm doing it."  And I did.  I finished the 50,000 words with one day to spare.  Sure, not all the words flowed like Hemingway or Austen, but I finished it.  I had a rough draft of a novel. 

So I began this year.  Unfortunately, my procrastinating led me to have absolutely no plot thought of up until the day it started.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants and not exactly sure where this novel is going to go. 

You may be wondering why a person would attempt to write a novel in a month.  What is the prize, you may ask yourself.  I'll tell you - a great big "Good Job" and that's it.  Its just for glory and bragging rights.  What more motivation does a girl need?  This is what fuels me through hours of writing a day.  Well, that and pixie stix and Diet Dr. Pepper.  But mainly the sense of accomplishment thing.

So, dear readers, I am counting on you.  Please forgive my less consistent posting this month.  Please encourage me to get off the internet and get writing.  I need all of you to hold me accountable.  This is like running a marathon.  Only it lasts 30 days.  And nobody is on the sidelines cheering for you.  And nobody hands you water as you run. 

Actually, I'm not too fond of running, so maybe the marathon analogy falls apart.  But the cheering thing is always helpful.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Fun

We had beautiful weather for a Minnesota Halloween.  The kids had a great time Trick-or-Treating.  Veronica figured out looking cute would get her some candy and kept up with the big kids.

Connor - Man of Steel

Bridget - Why yes that is a ninja with a Mohawk






Riley - Trust me.  Riley is under the mask
Sawyer - We had all the superheroes protecting the neighborhood

Veronica - This puppy is not sure what is about to happen

One pumpkin for each child

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alright, Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

Nothing makes an evening quite so memorable as singing karaoke without a drop of liquid courage.

That was the situation I found myself in last night at my monthly Mom's Night Out.  On the last Tuesday of the month, you can find me with a great group of friends eating, talking and laughing till entirely too long past my bedtime.

This month we followed up our meal with karaoke.

And yes, fellow readers of my generation, the title of this post was a reference to Vanilla Ice's hit Ice Ice Baby, which I sang with great joy, but little talent last night in front of a crowd of friends and strangers.  I will admit to wasting much too much of my life learning the words.  But, the song instantly transports me back to Junior High when I though it was the coolest thing I had ever heard.

I haven't sung karaoke since three children ago, and was nervous.  But, my personal karaoke philosophy is to pick a song that you don't really need any musical ability to perform and you will do okay.  I think it helps to pick out songs that everybody used to love, but now claim are incredibly lame.  You know they still love them.  Even if they are much too cool to admit to liking said song, their lips still move along to the words.

More important than my singing performance was the fact that I was with a bunch of friends.  Over a year ago, I organized a group that meets once a month.  Sometimes there are many people.  Sometimes there are a few.  But, a night out with them is a splurge that I look forward to all month.

Since the date is standard, we don't have the huge issue of scheduling.  You know what I mean.  The "Lets get together sometime."  "Sure, I'll check my schedule."  But nothing ever happens because there is never a date when everyone can get together.  There are about 20 people invited each month, and they each come when they can.

Women in general, and moms in particular, have a tendency to talk themselves out of fun.  When confronted with the option of going out, immediately a woman will think about all the backed up housework she has, work commitments, and the social and extra-curricular activities of their children.  She will think about her husband's schedule and how to squeeze something else in.  She will often think, "I'm just too busy" without taking into account that a night out with girlfriends is exactly what she needs to recharge.

I know that's how women think because that's what I used to do.  Ben is my husband and best friend, but he's a boy.  He doesn't always understand or care about girl things.  Women, when they get together can relate to each other in a totally different (not better or worse, just different) way than a woman can relate to her husband.  I can't survive without girlfriends.  And I realized that I don't want to turn into a middle aged woman who doesn't have good friends.

Admit it.  What is your favorite song to sing - either in karaoke or just in the car?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Media, Media Everywhere

I am sick of not being able to go anywhere without some giant screen facing me.  You'd think with so many people super-glued to their smart phones, there would be less of a need for ginormous, loud, obnoxious televisions infiltrating every formerly quiet area.

Be prepared.  I am ready to step up on my soapbox.  If you are not in the mood for a rant, you might wish to politely stop reading and wait for a less frustrated post.


Still with me?

First, I want to say that I don't hate television.  In moderation, it is a fun diversion.  However, I feel extraordinarily frustrated when my children and myself are being bombarded with it constantly.  They don't need to watch a video in the doctor's waiting room.  They don't need to see an endless commercial loop at Wal-Mart.  They don't need to watch TV during a rare trip to a restaurant.  And they certainly don't need a screen with video games set up at the library.  The LIBRARY!  Jeesh.

My children should be able to behave and amuse themselves for a few moments.  Worst case scenario, they can actually talk with me while we wait.  I really don't mind.

I am absolutely against TVs in the car.  There.  I said it.  I know I am in the minority here, but I don't want one at all.  Even if it was in the budget, I'd say, "negatory, good buddy."

Airplanes are a different story.  Children have the potential to annoy numerous people who paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to sit in a near-fetal crouch and wait eagerly for hours for a 1/2 can of Coke in a plastic cup.  By all means, do whatever is necessary to avoid agitating everyone at 30,000 feet.

But in your own car, they only annoy your own family.  And that is why we go on family road trips, isn't it?

Yes, I have been on road trips with five children.  I have been in a moving vehicle for 12 hours a day with my children.  I have listened to, "He's touching me." and "How much longer?" in the most cringe-inducing whine imaginable.  I still don't want a TV in my vehicle.  Or individual video games.  Or smart phones that can do just about everything except useful stuff like laundry. 

What better way to get family conversations going than when there is nothing else to do and no escape at 55 mph?  How many opportunities do we have to have for distraction free time together?  Except for the driver, of course.  He or she should most surely stay distracted from family time and instead focus on other cars, curves in the road and flashing lights. 

One of the best road trips ever involved us driving four children (all under age 8 at the time) from Branson, MO to Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN in one day.  My kids had no other option than to play with their nearest sibling.  They had a handful of quiet toys, and they used their imaginations.  Kids still have those.  Really, they do!

Which brings me to last weekend's adventure.  We had a few unscheduled scenic routes on our mini-vacation.  Okay, we got lost.  The kids weren't idyllically playing quietly in the backseat.  They were annoying each other and me.  Obviously, we "are not there yet" if the truck is still moving.

Then I explained to my children about the Oregon Trail.  Yes, the five month odyssey that families went on in the mid 1800's in search of a plot of land and a chance at back-breaking manual labor.

If my children were on the Oregon Trail westward, they would be loaded up in the wagon (if they were lucky enough not to have to walk) for months at a time.  The wagon was bumpy, dusty and hot.  There was little room to move.  They would have nothing to do, except work, for days and days at a time.  They would be thirsty constantly with nary a slushy to parch their throats.  And they would be lucky if they didn't die from smallpox or cholera.

In light of that, I think my kids can survive a few hours without television in the car.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mini-Vacation Weekend

This past weekend Ben and I had our first entire day by ourselves, with no schedule or responsibilities since about three children ago.  We took a weekend trip up North because we found a great online deal for a two night stay at a hotel suite. 

The first night, we dropped the children off at Ben's parents house.  This was the first time we left Veronica overnight.  I had been concerned, but she did beautifully.  I think it was a huge help having her brothers and sister with her.

The next day, Ben and I had hours upon hours to do with as we chose.  We decided to take a car trip and just stop at whatever struck our fancy.  We ended up passing an auction house that had a sale that day.  I had never been to an auction before, but Ben was an old pro.

I'm ready to bid on something.  Anything.

The auction took several hours, so we stayed to watch them auction off boats and ATVs.  Then we left during the gun and bear trap sales.  Seriously, these bear traps were scary!  Huge, rusted metal death traps.  The one we saw auctioned off before we left sold for $350.

After a leisurely lunch in which I cut up only my own food and didn't wipe up a single spill, we returned to the auction.  I was giddy with the thrill of bidding on something.  I had been eying up a box of cookbooks.  I am a sucker for cookbooks, the older, the better.  This box had some old church cookbooks and some newer glossy color books.

By the time the cookbooks were ready to sell, all the big ticket items had gone.  These giant carts with boxed items (like my cookbooks) were being sold.  The auctioneer asked if anyone wanted anything on the cart and he started the bidding at $2.50.  Feeling flush with vacation money, I told Ben I was willing to go up to $5.  Maybe $7.50.  I was so eager to make eye contact with the auctioneer and casually raise my hand, thus dashing the hopes of the other wannabe cookbook buyers.  I handed my box to the auctioneers helper.  In a blur of words I don't quite know if I understood, I realized that I was the only  one there who wanted the cookbooks.  Yay that I didn't have to pay more than $2.50.  Bummer that I couldn't actually raise a bid.  I was content with my purchase, but a little disappointed by the lack of others' enthusiasm for my treasure.

Why yes, there is a Chinese cookbook included in the bunch.

A second auctioneer was outside the warehouse auctioning off piles of junk on a cart.    Amid the unidentifiable rusted tools and parts, I spotted it.  I had to have it.  I didn't know what I would use it for, but it called to me.  "Kristin.  Buy us.  Love us.  Make us useful again."  It was a couple of large plastic containers full of keys.  No, not decorative and pricey skeleton keys, but run-of-the-mill house keys, car keys and misc. who-knows-what keys.  I needed them.  And they needed me.

Ben was skeptical, but as he had found his own box of useless stuff (I mean treasure) he guiltily supported my decision on the keys.  Once again, I was shocked that nobody else wanted them.  I spent my $2.50 and didn't get to outbid anyone else.

Lots and lots of useless keys.


I am still convinced that I will be able to find a craft use for these keys.  If any of you brilliant readers has a suggestion, I would love to hear it. I'm thinking maybe of decorating a picture frame.

Included in the key box was an old combination lock with no combination.  You may be thinking that is a useless item, but you would be wrong.  A creative Momma can figure out lots of brilliant, but cheap ways to entertain her children.

I told my kids that I would put $5 (An absolute fortune for them) in their collection boxes for church if they could show me that they were able to open the lock.  Yes, I require proof.  If they are able to open it and tell me what combination they used, I would give $10 to their church collection box.

They have been busy with that thing for hours.  It was well worth the $2.50 I spent for the keys.

A plastic tote full of pristine, hard-cover children's book rounded out our purchases.  That, was $3.00. We got to outbid the $2.50 bid of the guy next to us who just wanted the plastic tub, not the books.  Score!  I felt the thrill of victory that only raising somebody 50 cents a bid can bring to a person.

That evening, we picked up the kids again and spent the rest of the evening and next morning before check-out time playing in the pool.

Bridget

Riley

Connor

Sawyer

Ben and Veronica

In the "warm" tub

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miss Veronica Turns Two

Miss Veronica turned two!  I believe she even looks older now.

Since we had a big get-together for her baptism about a month ago, we had a fairly small birthday party for her this year.  We just had immediate family and grandparents over.  Both sets of grandparents were already planning on driving over (about 3 hours)  for Grandparent's Day at the oldest three kids school.


Of course, I made my sweet girl a fancy cake.  As my oldest daughter abhors anything remotely "girly" I haven't made a typically girl cake for many years.  This butterfly cake was fun to make, and since I didn't bother with fondant this time, it was really easy, too.  

Be warned, you may develop a cavity just from looking at the coating of candy on it.  Yes.  Those are jelly beans coating the top.  Yes, the licorice goes all the way around the sides. 







For the kids' supper meals for their birthday, I usually let them choose what they want, within reason.  I draw the line at all candy or junk food.  But, we have had some interesting choices like macaroni and cheese with blueberries on top, hot dogs and pickles, and Ramen noodles with a side of steak.

Since Veronica couldn't yet tell me what she wanted, I chose things I knew she liked.  We had chicken, sweet potatoes, biscuits, and her favorite - cooked spinach.  She had about 1 1/2 cups of cooked spinach.  I finally had to stop her because I knew what that next diaper was going to look like.




Happy Birthday to my Sweet Veronica!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2 Weeks Post-Op

After re-reading my prior post about the Veronica's surgery, I am shocked we survived to this point.  I'm glad I wrote the post when I did, because my memory is already cloudy with just how difficult it was.  Looking back, I think, "Gee, that wasn't so tough!"

At two weeks post-op, Veronica is back to her usual wonderful self.  She is much, much happier now that she is officially restriction-free and doesn't have any pain or discomfort.  Her arm splints are off so she is free to move around freely and climb onto every available chair, slide, rock, etc.

She is also off the liquid and soft-food diet.  She can feed herself again.  We haven't given her anything too hard or crunchy yet; we've decided to ease into that.  She is happy holding a spoon and shoveling anything and everything in.  A new advancement - she is able to drink out of a soft spouted sippy cup by herself now.

We are also grateful to be able to brush her teeth again.  Two weeks without a good teeth led to some pretty stinky breath.  She was positively giddy when she saw her toothbrush again.

Her surgery went well.  Her lip is healed up well and I can tell she is hearing more now that she has ear tubes.  Her palate also healed up well.  Here's what it looks like now, compared to pre-op (which you can see here)



Her uvula is sutured together also, but you'll have to take my word for that.  She wasn't able/willing to open her mouth wide enough for me to get a picture of that.

And, I will officially and publicly declare that I now love her new little smile just as much as her old one.  It took a few days to get used to her new look, but I know she is still absolutely breathtaking.  Don't you agree?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Did You Hear That?

Listen carefully.  Can you hear what I am hearing?  I'll give you a hint.  Its the most wonderful sound in the world.

MAMA!!

With Veronica's lip healed up and her palate closed, she has been babbling and practicing different sounds.  She had been making random mamamama sounds.  But, at the supper table, she pointed right at me and said, "Mama!"  Then, just to be sure everyone knew how clever she was, she repeated it several times.

There's not a whole lot in this world that can fill a heart with more joy than that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Joys of Potty Training

Potty training isn't the greatest joy of parenting.  The title of this post was a trick.  Did you fall for it?  Did you really think it was joyful?  If so, I'm guessing you are a first time parent who hasn't gone down this road yet.

It is a necessity, for sure, because I doubt my children will want me diapering them up before prom or a job interview.  But, it isn't my favorite.

I remember freaking out with my first child because I knew I would have to "demonstrate" how to go potty.  For someone who still turns on the fan, runs the water and locks the door just to tinkle (even when I am alone in the house), this was a traumatic thought.  Leave the door open for someone to see?  My face is flushed just typing that sentence.  And, I am very protective of my private bathroom time (as described in my Are You Bleeding, Choking or on Fire?  post).

So, my potty training MO has been to show the oldest child how its done and then let each subsequent child train the next.  By the time #2 (yes, that is a potty joke) was ready to potty train, the oldest was eager to show him how big kids use the potty.  This was convenient for me because I was big, uncomfortable pregnant with #3.  (no, that is not a potty joke)

In all honesty, I was not ready to potty train the second child when he was ready.  He was barely two years old and I figured he would just regress anyway when the next child was born about a month later.  I tried convincing him to play with toys instead of going potty.  I pretended I didn't see him banging on the door.  But, it didn't work.  He was ready to go.

Poor boy missed out on all the fanfare given to the oldest.  He got no M&Ms.  He got no stickers.  He got no jubilant potty dance from Mommy.  Instead he got a half-hearted thumbs-up and a "Good job, Buddy." before I laid back on the couch to stretch my sore back.

This pattern repeated for my third and fourth child.  I never really pushed potty training.  I figured they would get it eventually.  If I used cloth diapers I am sure I would feel differently.  And, I have had at least one child in diapers for the past 9 1/2 years.  I have forgotten what it is like to live without wiping another person's butt.

Which brings me to my newest potty adventure.  Veronica is asking to go potty.  Well, not with words because she isn't really talking yet.  But, she grabs herself and points eagerly to the toilet.  As coincidence would have it, pee came out at the same time she was sitting a couple of times.

And so another round of potty training may be starting.

And a tip to my good and faithful readers - DO NOT TEACH YOUR BOYS TO STAND UP TO PEE!  This is one of my biggest pieces of parenting advice.  You may think its cute now, but you will be wiping up those messes around the floor for years if you do.  A friend has also told me a cautionary tale about a fast-falling seat lid and little boy parts.  The visual makes me cringe.

We save standing to pee for those "special" times when we go out to public bathrooms or peeing alongside the road on car trips when they "really, really gotta go."  We have also only purchased books about girls potty training because the boy books show the child standing.  I don't want my boys getting the idea too early that there is a fun way to point and shoot, so to speak.

Save yourself a bunch of aggravation and save a bunch of Lysol.  Sit.  Sit. Sit.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Can We Afford So Many Kids?

Many people have told me that they would like to have more children, but they just can't afford to (as they are drinking expensive coffee).  Or, they wonder how we can possible afford to raise our family and pay for our adoption.  We are a family of seven people living on one computer programmer income.

So, if you are looking for ways to cut costs, here are some of the big and small things we do:

1.  Frugal grocery shopping - this is such a huge topic (close to my heart) that it will have to be a separate blog post.

2.  Eat at home.  According to Zagat's, nationally people eat out (or have fast food or take-out) an average of 3.1 times per week.  ( http://www.zagat.com/node/3695295 ) If each person's meal with beverage costs an average of $5 (a very conservative guess), That would be over $100 per week and over $5,200 per year for our family.

We do eat out occasionally.  Our family eats out about once per month (usually when we are traveling) and I go out with my friends once per month.  Every couple of weeks I'll take one individual child out to eat on a date.  And Ben and I TRY to go out on a date once a month, usually using a buy-one-get-one free coupon.  Ben also packs a lunch to take to work.  We don't go out for coffee, buy a fun treat at the mall, or go out for ice cream unless it is a specially planned event.

If we spend approximately $75 per month eating out, we save about  $4,300 more than if we went out as much as the typical family.

3.   We buy used vehicles -  and Ben does the maintenance and repair work on them.  This saves oodles of money.   Hooray for a handy husband.

4.  We hang clothes on the line whenever we can.  I read somewhere that it costs about $1 in energy to dry a load of laundry.  Considering I do about 10 loads a week including bedding and towels, I can save quite a bit during the nice days of Spring, Summer and Fall.

5.  Old technology - Our phones aren't smart.  They ring and we answer them.  We have no apps.  We don't text.  We bought our beast of a 65 inch TV for $200 off Craigslist.  Our computer and monitor are, well, ancient and cobbled together.  No flat screen for us; the monitor is about a foot and a half deep.  We bought a used laptop.  We don't own IPads, IPhones or IPods.  We don't have a car navigational system.  We don't own surround sound, nor do we have portable DVD players. We are practically Luddites. 

6.  Just Say "No" to Hot Lunch - Hot lunch at our school costs $3 per meal.  I can pack my children's lunch for an average of $1 per meal. Assuming costs don't change, at about 170 days of school per year from K-8th grade, I will save over $15,000 in lunch money alone for my five children.  If they don't rebel, and still take cold lunch through high school (or buy their own lunch) I'll save nearly $7,000 more. 

7.  Hand-Me-Down Clothes - We have been the fortunate and grateful recipients of many tubs of hand-me-down clothing for the children.  We supplement this clothing with garage sale purchases.  On any given day, the only new clothing my children will be wearing are socks and underwear.  We share the clothes with others when we are done.  Our own clothes are purchased at the 75% off sales at the end of the season.

8.  Cheap Furnishings and Housewares - Here's one of the best little known websites ever:  http://www.twincitiesfreemarket.org/  We have given away things through this site and have gotten many treasures to furnish our house.

We've gotten bunk beds, a Nordic track, a treadmill, our VCR, a small entertainment center, two bookcases, a basketball hoop with stand, shrubs with the nursery tags still on them, a desk, a sewing machine, a business sized mail sorter that I use for scrap booking supplies, and more that I probably can't remember.  When we need to buy furniture, we nearly always buy used.  I love finding an incredibly made, garage sale bargain that often just needs a coat of paint and a little bit of love to look great.

9.  Stick to the List (also known as No New Toys) - My kids know that when they go shopping they will not get a toy, except the occasional garage sale purchase.  Other than birthdays and Christmas, there is no reason to buy a bunch of toys.  Sure, I will buy sidewalk chalk at the beginning of the summer and replace a popped rubber ball, but other than that, I'm not buying them anything.  They are extremely excited when the occasion comes around that they do get a new toy.

10.  Wait and Save - I have my wish list.  I am desperate to replace my yucky, partially melted in spots, (exploding pan of brownies - long story) circa 1968 Formica counter top with Silestone.  I've been dreaming about this for years.  However, it isn't in the budget now; we have other priorities.  We'll save and some day we'll replace it.  My washing machine is, shall we say it - temperamental.  After a load is done I often have to turn the dial back to the spin cycle and give the poor thing a jump start by manually moving the drum. It will need replacing.  Soon.  But I can get by for now.  Yes, we have enough money saved up to buy these things right now if we wished, but they are not our current financial priorities.

Our home has been in various stages of construction practically since we moved in.  We complete projects as time and money permit.  I'd rather wait and save till I can pay for my purchases.  By not buying immediately, we can be sure we are in a good financial position and not pay interest.  And I refuse to diminish our retirement savings for things we can save up for.

11.  Cut the Kids Hair - My children are not going on job interviews.  They are not getting married, nor are they giving public speeches.  They don't need an expensive haircut.  It costs about $10 (excluding tip) to get kids hair cut and they need a haircut about 4 times a year (at least!)

I am saving $200 per year by cutting 5 kids hair.  If I cut their hair till they are 18, I'll have saved $3,600 for just a few minutes work.  And its just as fast to cut their hair at home as it is to load them all up, wait for them all to get their haircut and drive home.  I will also occasionally cut Ben's hair.  It has been agreed that it is best for me to get my hair cut (albeit rather cheaply) by a non-husband and non-child family member.  Fortunately I'm not going gray yet and don't have to get my hair dyed. That will be a non-negotiable expense when the time comes.

12.  Homemade Gifts - I adore receiving homemade gifts and I love making gifts for other people.  Yes, there is often a large time commitment, but I enjoy making things with my hands and it is a nice bonus that it is less money than purchasing gifts.  I like to give Embroidered pillowcases, homemade truffles, etc.  No, I won't force my kids to give homemade gifts to their friends for birthday parties.

13.  Discount Entertainment -  You can provide a lot of entertainment for your kids without spending a lot of money.  For a special treat, I'll take my older kids to the discount theater a couple of times a year.  For $20, my three oldest kids and I can get our tickets, each have a large drink and split 2 large buckets of popcorn.  At our local regular theater, I would spend $33 for tickets alone and another $20 for refreshments.

If you want to expose your children to cultural events, that too can be cheap or free, depending upon where you live.  There are free days at museums or we sometimes buy annual family passes because with 1 or 2 trips we usually have them paid for!  There are free concerts in the park near our home and probably yours.  Kids get nearly as much enthralled enjoyment out of a high school play as a professional production.  And local high school (or middle school) sports events are just as exciting as professional ones when you are holding a bag of popcorn and cheering for the home team. 

14. Ben Walks To Work - My husband works in downtown Minneapolis and we live in the suburbs.  Its too far for him to walk, obviously, but he parks over a mile from his work and takes a pretty walk over the Stone Arch Bridge to his office.  When it is raining, he wears his rain suit.  When it is cold, he bundles up.  On the 5 or 6 truly awful days of the year, he will pay to park close to work.  With parking around $175 per month, we save over $2,000 per year and Ben gets a bit of exercise and fresh air, which he enjoys.

15.  Just Do It  - We don't pay someone to do something that we can do for ourselves.  We take care of our own lawn,  (Having a dozen kids from the neighborhood trample the backyard grass into oblivion cuts down on the need to mow) do most of our own home repairs, cook our own food, clean our own house, shovel our own driveway, clean our own gutters, do our own landscaping, decorate our own house, wash our own windows, unplug our own toilets, fix our own broken housewares, watch our own children, and paint our own walls. 

These are just a few of the ways we save money to be able to afford our larger family and adoption expenses.  Before you think we don't have any luxuries, I'll admit to a few things we hold onto tightly that others might consider a waste of money.  It is all about priorities.

1.  Private Elementary School - Our children go to our church's elementary school.  The cost of sending all of our kids through the school, grades K-8 would probably pay for a nice cottage up north.  But, for our family, we are convinced that a Christ-centered education is right for our family, and we are willing to scrimp on many other things to pay for it.

2.  Diet Dr. Pepper - My favorite vice in the world.

3.  Cable TV and TIVO - We rarely go out.  When we have time, we like to watch the few programs that we have recorded.  This way we don't waste our time watching things just because they are on and we don't have to worry about missing a show or watching at a certain time.  Our level of TV watching has gone down since we got TIVO.  We are on a program where we paid a lifetime fee so we don't have a monthly charge.  We don't have any premium channels, but love a few particular shows on cable.

4.  Family vacations - Over a decade ago we bought into a vacation club and stay at time shares very inexpensively.  We can have our whole family in one unit (instead of multiple hotel rooms) and have a kitchen so we don't have to eat out.  We can drive the family to these resorts instead of flying.  Great vacation memories are worth the cost.

5.  Fresh Flowers - Whether Ben buys these for me or I get them myself, I crave fresh flowers.  In the spring and summer, I can cut flowers from my garden.  In the colder months, Ben often stops off to pick up flowers or I may buy an inexpensive bunch of daisies at the supermarket that will last a couple of weeks.  Since I am home so much of the day, I have absolute joy, especially in the middle of winter, seeing something beautiful in my home.  It is an impractical but fabulous luxury.  When flowering plants are on sale, I will buy these.  I consider in the same category as cut flowers because Ben and I both know they will be dead within a few weeks anyway.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Surgery Recovery

I am just coming out of my sleep-deprived stupor.  I think both Veronica and I will survive this surgery.  Maybe.

I'm not going to lie.  The past few days have been really hard.  There had been moments where she seemed like her normal self.  But, mostly she has been very clingy, whiney, crying, sleepy-but-unable-to-sleep, hungry and sore.  Just because she has every reason to be needy, and my empathy for her is near limitless, doesn't mean its easy to be available to her constantly, night and day.

Even with the prescribed pain medication, it is obvious that it often hurts to swallow.  Because swallowing hurts, she doesn't want to eat her soft food diet.  Because she is still hungry, she isn't sleeping well.  Because she isn't getting enough sleep, she has a harder time dealing with the pain and frustrations of the day.  Its a tough circular cycle to get off.

Last night, though, I think the pain started to subside.  She only woke up 3 times needing her pain medicine and then went back to sleep within a half hour.  Today she played as best she could while wearing her arm splints.  She was back to wanting to accessorize herself to the hilt with barrettes, bows and headbands at the same time.  She is up to double digit shoe changes already today.  A girl clearly must rotate among several pairs of hand-me-down shoes throughout the morning.

Veronica has eaten more today than previous days and she is in the midst of an over three hour long nap.  She is finally able to be comfortable enough to sleep.

I think we will see a dramatic improvement in the next couple of days.

To answer the same reoccurring questions we have been getting:

1.  Yes, she is doing well overall and the surgery was a success.
2.  No, she can't say much yet, although we have been hearing her say consonants, which she couldn't do before.  Her first intentional word with a consonant since surgery was "NO!" when we were giving her medicine. 
3.  Yes, we knew it would be a hard recovery.
4.  And absolutely yes, she is so worth it and I'd do this all over again in a heartbeat!

Thank you everyone for your kind words, prayers and support through the surgery.  Thanks especially to my parents who watched our other children for a few days while we were in the hospital and home the first day helping her recover.  Also, thanks for the wonderful community of parents of children affected by clefts for all your wisdom and knowledge.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surgery - Lip, Palate and Ear Tubes

Preparing for a planned surgery with your child is like being pregnant and obsessing over labor and delivery.  I  wanted to hear every cleft palate surgery experience.  I wanted details.  I wanted to know what to expect including worst case scenarios.  Mainly, I wanted to know that my sweet girl would be okay and that somehow I would be able to help her through this.

Just a heads-up that this will be an unfiltered blog post, including descriptions of the surgery and post surgery photos.  It isn't gruesome, but it is descriptive.  And long.  I am hoping that my honesty will help prepare other parents facing the same surgery.

Presurgery

The night before - I don't sleep well at all.

Veronica's surgery is scheduled for 10:15, and we have to be at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis by 8:45.  She had to stop eating by shortly after midnight and she had to stop drinking before 7:00AM.  We stuffed her full of chili the night before (two adult size bowls) and woke her up at 6:30 to squeeze as much apple juice in her that we could.  We had been dreading keeping her awake for so long (1 1/2 hours before her normal wake-up time) without food and drink.  She takes some juice and then points to her crib.  She wants to sleep.  Thank you God for small miracles.  We wake her up just in time to put her in her car seat and go.

We check into the hospital.  I believe every employee is forced to ask if you have any cold or flu symptoms.  Suddenly I have an overwhelming urge to clear my throat and cough.  I manage to hold it in.

We wait in the waiting room for about 30 minutes.  She has a blast.  I feel compelled to take lots of last-minute pictures of my daughter's face the way God made her.



We move to Pre-op.  The Child Life expert talks to us about how we can best help Veronica through the surgery and shows Veronica the type of  mask that she will breathe the anesthesia through.  This becomes the ideal toy.  She turns it around and chews on the tube end, with drool oozing through it.  It falls on the hospital floor several times.  I shamelessly wipe it on my pants and give it back to her.  I am hoping there are no super-icky germs.  Veronica is completely tired of the pre-op area and the tube distracts her from her empty tummy.



By 9:30, I am feeling desperate to keep her happy without food or drink.  I am doing the mental countdown.  45 minutes till surgery.  43 minutes till surgery.  38 minutes till surgery...

The doctor comes in and says he needs to do another procedure before Veronica's   The procedure will take 15 minutes.  I smile and think how generous I am with the doctor's time.  "Sure, that's fine."   I add 15 more minutes to the countdown.  I believe I can handle the extra 15 minutes fairly well.  I was wrong.

The fifteen minutes stretched to about an hour, with the last 30 minutes being extremely difficult for Veronica.  She keeps asking for food and milk.  I smile and say, "Later!"  in my cheerful voice.  I feel like a fraud for not explaining how much later.
I also feel bad because I can't truly explain to my daughter what is going to happen to her.  I had told her all the facts, but if someone explained things to me in Chinese, I wouldn't exactly grasp what they were saying, either.

Finally, the anesthesiologist comes in to explain the process he will use.  We have taken other children to surgeries, so are comfortable with how things might go.

I hold her while she gets put under.  She handles things very well.  I, however, start to feel very, very sad.  With the mask on her, I couldn't see her cute little cleft mouth one more time before I left.  The doctor asks if I am okay.  I put on a happy face and reassure him that I know he will take good care of my girl, and I do know she will be well taken care of.  I was afraid I would burst into tears if I said out loud the reason for the sadness I was feeling.



Surgery

Veronica's surgery was scheduled to last about five hours, and ended up taking about 5 1/2.  First they put in ear tubes.  They drain out all the fluid, too.  I am pleased to know that her hearing should be in the "normal" range after surgery.  This part of the surgery takes about 15 minutes.

Then, the palate is repaired.  This is what it looks like before the repair.  The doctor says her cleft palate is fairly typical.  Not the widest and most difficult to repair, but not the easiest either.



In non-technical terms, to fix a cleft palate the surgeon takes muscle and tissue from around the cleft and attaches it over the cleft.  There are arteries running in this area, allowing the newly placed tissue to thrive and grow.  Once the materials are moved, there looks almost like channels in the area the tissue was taken from.  Amazingly, this tissue grows back.

Veronica had a split uvula, too.  (The uvula is the hangy-ball thing at the back of your throat.)  The doctor also sewed that together, but her mouth has been too sore for her open wide enough to see.  Later I'll post pictures of the repaired palate, but again, we couldn't get a clear picture because her mouth hurt too much to open.  Many times the uvula splits open again, but that isn't a huge deal.  Uvula - one of the least necessary body parts.

After the palate repair, the doctor begins the lip repair.  This involves attaching the lip muscles from both sides of the cleft as well as putting the cleft-side nostril into position.  Our doctor uses a zig-zag stitch to repair Veronica's lip.  The lip stitches, along with the palate stitches will dissolve.  A clear-type coating is put over her stitches to protect them while they heal.

Most kids with clefts have issues with the cartilage in their nose.  Apparently Veronica's cartilage issue is more severe than most.  She has one nostril nearly closed after the repair and the tip is very flat, almost non-existent.  This will be repaired in another surgery a few years later.

The lip repair takes about two hours.

All the while the surgery is going on, we get updates every hour or hour and a half telling us things are progressing well.  This is a very long time to wait and dwell on things that could go wrong.  So, my sweet husband and I spend the time reading magazines and entertaining each other with inappropriate humor.

Since lunch is smack-dab in the middle of surgery, we go one floor down to the hospital cafeteria.  I'm shocked that the food looks so good.  I feel guilty trying to relax and eat while my daughter is going through some pretty invasive procedures upstairs.  Since things seem to be going well, I am more apprehensive than worried.

Post Surgery

After Veronica's surgery is done, she is taken to a recovery room where she slowly cones out of anesthesia.  We wait in a consultation room for the anesthesiologist.  He tells us that she did great, but was belligerent when she came out of anesthesia.  Okay, he didn't say belligerent.  He said she was really feisty, which is a more polite way to phrase things. 

Then our doctor came to consult about the procedure and what to expect in the next few days.  I listen and ask seemingly intelligent questions, but really am just anxious to see my daughter.

Then, she is wheeled into the hallway on a hospital bed where we meet up with her. 

I didn't know what I had expected upon seeing her, but it in all honesty, I feel a bit of a disconnect.  My normally spunky girl is in a daze.  She doesn't look like my daughter.  I keep repeating in my head, "This is your daughter.  This is your daughter."  I feel like I have to convince myself.  I am surprised I feel this way.

We get to our room, and she is fighting off the remaining anesthesia.  She screams for two hours strait.   We hold her.  We talk calmly to her.  I am glad I wore an old, dark colored shirt because she is drooling blood on me.  I think nothing I do will ever help.   She sweats from the effort of it all.  Finally, she wears herself out and sleeps in Ben's arms.

Her own arms are in restraints called "no-nos" which are like Velcro splints.  These will prevent her from bending her elbows and potentially putting something in her mouth, thus popping stitches and requiring more surgery.  She will wear the splints for 2 weeks  She is not a fan of the no-nos.

She is on morphine till 10PM.  Then she switches over to Tylenol with codeine.  She also has ear drops for the tubes in her ears and Amoxiccilian to ward off any potential infections.



While Ben finally has her asleep, I take my shift to get some supper.  I am feeling so much more stressed out now than during the surgery.  I don't know if I can help her through this.  I finish eating quickly and then go to the chapel that is a little ways down from the cafeteria.

I start by thanking God for helping Veronica get through the surgery so well.  But then start crying.  Not the gentle eye-dabbing kind of tears but the blotchy faced, drippy kind.

Veronica has had three mothers in her life.  She has had a birth mother who loved her for the first nine months of her life.  She has a foster mother that loved her for the next 21 months of her life.  And now she has me who has only been loving on her for barely three months.  I wish I could convey to her just how much I truly love her and want to help.

I know when she gets upset, she doesn't always want me to comfort her.  I think about my biological kids and how they would not (and should not) immediately love a new mother if they were taken from me.  I doubt my ability to be the mother she wants to help her through this.

Since I want to look like I have things under control, I head to the bathroom and splash a bunch of cold water on my face.  I take a few deep breaths then head upstairs.  I don't tell Ben because he's concerned enough about helping Veronica through this. 

Earlier in the day we had decided that I would be the one to spend the night with Veronica.  I selfishly want to do this because I need to mother her.  I need to feel like she needs me.

It is a long night.  I rock her back to sleep after each round of medicine, vital checks, etc.  The nurses are wonderful and just doing their job, but I dread each time I hear their footsteps at night.  I sleep maybe 2 1/2 or 3 hours if you add up all the minutes.  I actually don't mind too much.  This is my chance to help my fiercely independent girl.  I'm beginning to believe she needs me as much as I need her.  I am thrilled to learn that my best effort is enough.







She has started drinking apple juice - a great sign that she is on the way to recovery.  Most kids don't start eating or drinking the same day as her surgery.

By 6AM the next morning, I recognize my girl.  She has gotten her spunk back.  She is eager to eat, drink, and get the IV out of her arm.  I try to keep her happy in a 2 square foot area until the nurse is able to disconnect her from her IV bag.  She still has the IV in her hand, but she is mobile.  And happy at last.

The doctor visits her on his rounds and is incredibly impressed by her progress.  My sweet baby girl is amazing!   She has eaten pudding and pears and applesauce.  (She will be on a soft food diet for 2 weeks.)  She has drunk milk and juice.  He says she can go home later today if we are comfortable, or she can stay one more day.  We will decide that afternoon.

She spends her morning happily playing in the playroom.  She learns to maneuver with her no-nos on.  She gets braver and tries climbing on things.  I worry how much to let her do because I don't want her to fall on her face and pop open her lip.  She can't really brace herself for a fall with the arm restraints on.

We decide she should come home that evening.

I am falling in love with her new little face.  She is acting more like her truly delightful self.  I am amazed at how quickly she is recovering.  While waiting for discharge paperwork from the hospital, she plays peek-a-boo with me.  She shows us her first real smile with her new lip.

She is still absolutely beautiful. 





Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wishing I Could Time Travel

I am trying to come to terms with Veronica's cleft lip and palate surgery on Tuesday.  I am sure the surgery will go well.  I have confidence in the surgeon and hospital.  Helping a child through surgery recovery is never fun, but we've done it before and can do it again.

But, this will radically change the way my sweet girl looks.  I have been committing her cute little face to memory (and taking lots of pictures) before her repair.  I am trying to look on the positive side - I will get to fall in love with her beautiful new face. 

As a mother, I alternate between wanting time to freeze at this exact moment and my impatience to see how my children will develop and grow in the future.  I want to time travel, to skip around in their life stories. 

On difficult days, I want to spring forward to see that yes, they will stay dry all night, eat with silverware, brush their teeth without reminders and generally be a productive member of society.  On the days when my children seem so mature, kindhearted and accomplish some great personal goal, I wish I could momentarily pop back in time to see just how far they have come.

Without this time travel possibility, I am resigned to relying on my imagination, subjective memory and lots of photos.



Bridget

Bridget - A Packer fan like her Mom


Riley - May the Force be with you

Riley

Connor

Connor - Watch out for birds

Sawyer - Homemade hat? Headband? Native American headpiece with feather?  Paper fire shooting out of his head?


Sawyer

Veronica - Baptismal Gown

Veronica - Howdy Partner!