A room of her own

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When we moved into our house three years ago, I immediately marked one upstairs bedroom as “the nursery.”

It’s bright and sunny, getting the best light in the house, and also the one closest to our bedroom. I was pregnant by the fall, and the nursery transformed from a Pepto Bismol-pink monstrosity to the pale blue little guy’s room that Oliver enjoys today.

Down the hall was another room: lime-green walls, purple carpet. Dark purple. A third bedroom above the garage was set up for guests while the middle bedroom — now affectionately dubbed “The Hulk Room” — became a storage space. A very cluttered, nonsensical storage space.

When we learned we were expecting our second child, one of my early thoughts — aside from, you know, oh my God — was the need to transform this dumping ground of childhood memorabilia and outgrown baby equipment into a haven for Baby No. 2. Until we learned she is, in fact, a she, we were toying with the expense of replacing the grape purple carpet — but given a little lady is less likely to find it bothersome, we decided to keep it and save the money.

It’s a bold decorating choice, for sure.

“Preparing the nursery” is a rite of passage for expectant parents — even if “the nursery” is nothing more than a corner of their current bedroom or family room. No matter. Babies need love, nourishment and a safe place to sleep. Truth be told, Baby Girl will likely be sleeping in a bassinet in our room for the first six-ish months of her life, just as Oliver did. Still, I feel this pressing weight — this nesting need, I guess — to get her bedroom ready.

valspar-comet-dust-5006-1aSpencer painted the walls last week, instantly transforming the space from eye-assaulting Hulk chic to calm, placid gray. We chose a color called “Comet Dust,” which seemed just right for encouraging this girl to dream big dreams.

I have no problem with pink. I grew up in a bright-pink bedroom with bright pink accessories, bedding and feminine touches, and I think pink is upbeat and fun.

But I wanted something else. Taking the walls down to that subtle gray has completely transformed the space — just as we hoped it would (no carpet replacement necessary). My husband was up late painting, so I didn’t see the final results until the next morning — and in that weak light, standing there before Oliver called out in the room beside this one, I thought, Yes. This will work.

I’ve spent hours browsing for artwork for these fresh, neutral walls. I want to adorn this space with hope and love and optimism, just as I did with Ollie’s. Oliver’s room was completed during the month he spent in the NICU — a welcome distraction and a focus for my anxious energy. But this time? Well, I’ve seen what can happen if you wait too long. I feel better have items checked off the ol’ to-do list as soon as possible.

HomeGoods is a good place to kill time and paychecks, and I ran there last week on a lunch break to “look around.” I was there for a curtain rod, actually, but it’s impossible to leave with just a curtain rod in a place like that.

In the children’s decor section, the blue/pink contrast is stark. Boys’ items on one side; girls’ on the other. For boys, of course, are step stools covered in footballs, “Travel the world!”-style posters, ceramic trains and robots. And for the girls? Ballerinas and princesses, pink fur-lined lamps and handheld mirrors.

To be honest, I was there to inspect a castle. My mom texted me a photo of a canvas print featuring an ornate princess castle the day before, and the bright purple was similar to our carpet color.

I found the castle. It was pretty. And big. Large enough to fill half of one of those blank, blank walls.

But then I saw the map.

I’ve always been fascinated by geography — other places, other cultures, other lives. I won a globe in elementary school and used to spin it as hard as I could, letting my finger fall on some far-flung place I’d then look up in my world atlas. What and who would I find in Korea or Cambodia, Jamaica or Portugal?

Maps hold a strange fascination for me — and this one is bright. Bold. It’s playful and unique — unlike any I’ve seen before.

At $40, it was a little more than what I’d wanted to spend; I’ve been doing pretty well finding items at thrift stores and on clearance at Michael’s. But I fell in love with it. This map spoke to me. I knew that if I left it there, I wouldn’t stop thinking about it until I’d returned . . . and would probably find it gone. So that was it.

I hadn’t bothered to take a cart at HomeGoods, so I shouldered it all the way to check-out: a very pregnant lady on a mission, waddling with the world in her arms.

I don’t know if baby will care about geography, or world history, or physics, or Jane Austen. But I want to believe she and her brother will find more inspiration in a world map than they would in a princess castle.

Dream big, my babies.

Comet Dust, indeed.

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The third stretch

28 weeks

Despite being terrible at math, I tend to find patterns in numbers and place (too much?) stock in their importance . . . almost to a superstitious degree. Even when I know being order No. 18 — my lucky number — in a restaurant is just a coincidence, I can’t shake this feeling that it “means something.” Though the something? As yet to be determined.

As of Monday, I am 28 weeks pregnant. With Oliver, I gave birth at 32. So if I were to follow that same pattern, I would be giving birth to my daughter in less than a month.

I am not ready.

When we initially considered a second child after Ollie’s early birth and my long recovery from preeclampsia, I assumed I’d be too anxious and worried to possibly try again. But then I was pregnant, and there was no debating — I had to surge forward, stay calm and be informed without troubling myself with endless “what ifs.”

I’ve done a good job of not losing my mind during the last six months, but approaching that number — 32 — is making my palms sweat. Flashbacks of the last few weeks I was hospitalized while expecting Oliver keep flying back, and all those old memories — our corner room in Baltimore; the doctor finally telling me we couldn’t go home; getting steroid shots to help his lungs — bring the panic back anew.

But this time is not that time. My blood pressure has been fine . . . low for me, even. I have no symptoms, no other issues that could be attributed to anything other than just feeling big and tired and worn down, partially from the pregnancy but also from chasing Oliver — now 20 months — around the house.

I’ve started nesting. Post-Christmas clean-up combined with this almost physical urge to work on the new baby’s nursery has me whirling around the house like a tornado. According to ye ol’ Fitbit, I logged more than 5,000 steps on Monday and barely left the house. On a regular work day, I’m lucky if I hit half of that.

I am on the move.

Moving helps me stay out of my own head, for one. More than once lately I’ve snapped awake from a nightmare about pre-term birth, about being back in the NICU. I’ve blocked so much about those early days with Ollie out, but it filters back at strange moments. Being in my third trimester with this little one is definitely whipping memories up from the murky waters into which they’d sunk.

But I’m trying to be OK with that, too. I’ve done a lot of emotional work to move forward from April 2015. I’m trying to focus on what is going right this pregnancy — everything, so far — instead of went so wrong the last time.

And anyway, more than anything, we do have a healthy son. And I am here. And we are here. And our family is strong.

This is a ramble. But it’s 2017, a fresh year, and I’m as big as a house (and getting bigger) and my brain is … well, it’s hard to form coherent thoughts these days. Last night I fell asleep at 8 p.m. and I can’t get out of bed without a tuck-and-roll technique I’m still mastering, so everything feels weird right now.

Before I had Oliver, I was terrified of childbirth. We took classes and I read books and countless blogs and thought I was “prepared,” but then I was induced at sunrise on an April Sunday two months early and I was … well, I was not prepared.

But it didn’t matter. In the end, is anyone prepared? Can anything really prepare you for parenthood — how it will build you up and break you down and sneak up on you with its moments of pure joy and pure exhaustion, fear and beauty all centered on one tiny little body?

I’m not ready to give birth again, but I will soon be ready to meet our daughter.

I have some things to tell her. And I can’t wait.


Soon to be four

ollies-announcement

Where to begin, where to begin?

Remember when I wrote this post about people asking if we were planning to have a second child and how stressed that was making me and how we were just so undecided and nervous and … blah?

Well, I was already pregnant. I took the positive test that night. My first clue came in the form of my emotions being all. over. the place., which isn’t necessarily unusual for me — but I remembered that out-of-control hormonal feeling from a previous experience. Namely: a previous pregnancy.

It was … surprising. Exciting! And scary.

It’s different this time. While I was blindly, happily naive to any sort of possible “complications” during my first pregnancy, I’m approaching this one with open eyes. Putting aside Oliver’s traumatic birth and my preeclampsia, my husband and I know what it’s like to have a newborn in the house. We know what those sleepless nights and early mornings will require of us. We know we’re going to have to invest in a king-size can of coffee, like, every few days. We know we’re going to be tired.

I’m almost 13 weeks along, preparing to bid adieu to the first trimester and generally coming back to life. This pregnancy has been easier on me physically — less nausea, less exhaustion — but tougher mentally. Having a 17-month-old during the early, awful days when I wanted nothing more than to lay in a dark room eating crackers was tough. I can’t just concentrate on me this go ’round; I have sweet Oliver reaching for his Puffs. My husband has been awesome (as always), but it’s always Ollie and me getting ready for work and daycare in the morning. Mornings are hard.

And, you know, work. I’m probably busier at my job than ever before — and working in a completely different environment this pregnancy. Different building, different coworkers, different boss… different company, actually, though we’re still the same newspaper. This is good, really, because I love our staff and get a lot of joy from what I do. But? You know, it’s work. I don’t want to fall behind in any area: as a parent, wife, employee. The balancing act is tough.

It probably sounds selfish, but we are all finally sleeping again and I am … scared about what adding another child to the mix will be like. Maybe all second-time parents feel this way. (I hope?) I feel like we’ve just gained our footing as a family of three, and now we’re expanding to four. While I’m thrilled and feel very fortunate to be having a second child, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, too.

The difference between this pregnancy, so far, and the last one? Well, I’ve come a long way from the woman whose chief concern was how quickly she’d be able to shower after childbirth. (Seriously? Yeah.) Being hospitalized for a week beforehand will do that to a lady.

So many of the concerns I had as a first-time parent have softened with experience. We have already taken care of an infant. Of a premature infant. Of a fresh-from-the-NICU infant. We have driven home with a 4-pound baby. We have been away from our child and close to our child and we have stayed up until 2, 3, 4 a.m. listening to him breathe. We’ve driven to the ER in the dead of night, and dashed to our son’s hospital bed after surgery.

And we have laughed together, cried together, watched endless (endless, endless) episodes of “The Muppets” together. Sometimes I still look at my child and think, I have a child. A child who now reaches out to run his little fingers through my hair, who croons “Mama” in my arms just before he falls asleep.

We have known fear, and we have known grace. So much grace.

So no, I’m not the pregnant woman I was before … but I think I’m someone stronger. And hungrier.

Someone who desperately wants tortilla chips and super-spicy queso all the time.

And cake. Brownies. Cookies.

You know what? Just bring the whole dessert platter. Let’s do this.


Handing him the spoon

Oliver

We’re inching closer toward sippy cups, not bottles. At meal times (which are now breakfast, lunch, dinner — same as us), Oliver grabs the spoon to “feed” himself. He’s cruising along the furniture, scaling walls and gripping ledges. He said his first word: “baby.” Now he says it all the time.

These developments fill me with joy, of course. We’re making strides! He’s growing up! At 15 months old, Oliver is a toddler. He toddles. His face his slimmed — along with those rubber band wrists. His legs are long and strong. He is tall enough to reach door handles and drawers, to pull down objects I never imagined he could reach. He surprises me daily by what he absorbs and parrots. He misses nothing.

Oliver is growing. And it is wonderful. I just didn’t expect to feel so . . . sad.

There is one blank date left in his “milestones” book — the one I’ve used to mark all his firsts since birth. It’s for first steps. And though I’m happy thinking about slipping on his first pair of shoes, about leading him along sidewalks and down new paths, I also feel intensely nostalgic when I realize the “firsts” are nearly done.

Will I miss the 3 a.m. feedings, the temper tantrums, the many bites of sweet potato that wind up in my lap — not his mouth?

Well . . . no. But yes. But no.

It’s bittersweet. Everything.

Parenthood is a study in opposites. It feels laughable to say I’ll miss washing bottles every night when it’s been the bane of my existence, but here’s the thing: it became our new normal. It’s a ritual, even a soothing one — and the idea of everything changing, as it so often does, fills me with apprehension. I just got used to this.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve only just found my mama footing. This stage is now comfortable, knowable. I don’t have to remind myself I’m a parent anymore — it’s been absorbed into my bones. And with my son now reaching for me, patting my cheek, resting his head on my shoulder — the only shoulder he sometimes wants in the world — well . . . that’s it. That’s it. What could matter more than that?

It isn’t all sunshine, of course. It never is. After a great visit with our family in New York, Oliver came home with a fever that burned him up for five days. The doctors couldn’t figure out why. It would climb to 102, 103, 104 — and just when Spencer and I would start to panic, fumbling for our car keys in the dark, it would break. He would rest. And then it would start up again.

There were many 4 a.m. baths in lukewarm water, frantic phone calls to the after-hours number, lots of pacing as we debated whether to drive to the hospital or urgent care or wait until morning, waiting and waiting and watching his chest rise and fall.

The panicky dread of those moments isn’t unique to us, certainly. No parent wants to see their child sick. But every time Oliver gets ill, I sink back into unpleasant memories of our month in the hospital. Sometimes I have to physically force myself to sit, take deep breaths and remember this time isn’t that time. Our 3-pound baby is now a 27-pound tank. He can handle it. We can handle it.

But that is easier said than done. One of my guilty pleasures is “Little Women: LA,” a reality show chronicling the lives of a group of friends, and several ladies are pregnant this season. Elena is expecting twin boys — and toward the end of her pregnancy, which is being documented now, she develops preeclampsia. Noting that she’s only 34 weeks pregnant, everyone is panicking at the idea of an early delivery — how risky, how dangerous, how life-threatening. “She can’t deliver this early!” they cry.

And I delivered at 32 weeks.

Preeclampsia changed everything. The idea of becoming pregnant again — and possibly not having the same happy ending — is terrifying. Thinking about adding to our family, well . . . I could get preeclampsia again, or I could not. And there is no way to know. There is no way to prevent it, to predict it, to expect it. If anything, I have a higher chance because I’ve had it once. It was severe, and it set in early.

It’s a roll of the dice. And I’ve never been a gambler.

We’ve reached the stage where well-meaning folks ask if we’ll have a second child. I probably get asked this once a week: by friends, acquaintances, readers. To the outside world, the world in which I look like a “normal” woman with a healthy child, I understand the innocence of that question. But there is no easy answer.

“We’ll see,” I say. What else can we do?

Contrary to, well, this entire post, I actually try not to dwell on the past — or the future. We’re usually too tired for that, anyway. Things could have turned out poorly, but they didn’t. I look at my son and feel relief and love and joy.

Oliver has been working with professionals to get “up to speed” with developmental tasks — particularly physical ones, like crawling — for a while. One of his therapists recently pointed out that it was me who was uncomfortable with Oliver feeding himself, projecting my fears of choking and other harm onto his daily habits, well . . . that hit me like a slap.

But she was right. And now I think constantly about how I cannot let my anxiety hold him back. Even when that is hard — or feels impossible. Even when I want to bubblewrap him and never leave our house.

So we try new things at dinner, even when he gags on foods he cannot possibly choke on (pureed green beans, anyone?). Even when I know we’ll spend longer cleaning up the mess than he actually spent eating. I let him grasp the lip of the coffee table, ready to spring into action as he moves along. We stand by as he pushes a toy walker, looking so proud as he plants each foot. He’s always walking toward the door, seeking sunshine. He loves peeking out.

I barely breathe when he falls asleep in my lap — a rarity these days. I’m still even when my arm is asleep. Even when I can’t reach the TV remote. Even when I have to use the restroom, and I’m starving, and I don’t think I brushed my teeth that morning. Even when I need to rest myself.

Savor it, hold on to it: that’s all I can do. Nudge him forward knowing he’ll always have a safe place to land — as long as his father and I can help it, anyway.

We hand him the spoon.


Addition, not subtraction

Me with Oliver

I’m sneaking this post.

My son has been asleep for the better part of an hour already, which means we’re on borrowed time. Spencer is outside changing a series of parts on his car — don’t ask me which — and I “helped” by holding a few bolts in place while he jimmied something together. We made lunch (frozen burgers), scrubbed a few random surfaces, and I made “progress” with the laundry by moving it from the dryer to the bed, where it is heaped and waiting.

But I am happy.

Now that Oliver is 14 months old, babbling like crazy and moving everywhere, showing his first signs of independence . . . I feel these little pieces of myself returning. For so long, I was too tired for anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity (and even some things that were).

But I’m reading again. I actually finished a real, physical book, and am making progress on another (and loving it).

I’m walking like crazy. My Fitbit has totally kicked my rump in the best way, and I — er, I mean Oliver — surprised Spencer with his own for Father’s Day so we can enter into a little “friendly competition” with our steps each day. I don’t always hit 10,000, but I remember many of your tips from my post last month and push myself to do just a bit more than I think I can every day.

When I think of my life with a newborn, I was a shell of a human being — and I am at peace with saying those were not the happiest days of my life. The months we’ve had with Oliver now, who is sweet and funny and mischievous, are easily better and more rewarding and more fulfilling than our hard, hard start.

I never wondered if I was cut out for motherhood, but I have wondered if it would always be that difficult. Putting prematurity aside, I didn’t know I could be so physically exhausted and still functioning. And working. And cleaning stuff.

But it’s been more than a year, and I rarely forget we’re a trio now — not a duo. We take walks with Oliver in the stroller on the nights the humidity doesn’t settle like a wool blanket, and I love watching his eyes take in the swaying trees. He swings his feet now and leans forward, gripping the baby-sized cupholders, and whatever irritable mood he was in before that moment is carried off by the breeze.

Life is not perfect. Nothing ever is. But I don’t have to try and remember if I’ve actually brushed my teeth or used the restroom that morning, which is a huge step up from where we have been.

I am finding balance.

Thinking of everything that has happened since we married in late 2013, I do try to give myself a break. I mean, two years ago this week, we were moving into our new house. One year ago, I had just returned to work after Oliver was born in April.

If becoming a mom was an adjustment, becoming working parents certainly added a new dimension to our lives. But Spence and I have made it work — even when I wasn’t sure how we would. It’s taken a combination of a wonderful babysitter, supportive local family, flexible bosses and work schedules . . . but we haven’t missed an appointment, meeting or deadline. And Ollie has been in great hands.

This year? I breathe more. I chat more. I find time for the little things that make me happy — baking, reading three pages of a book . . . heck, even shopping — when, in fits of exhaustion, I didn’t know if I ever would or could again. Sometimes it takes creativity, and it’s not as seamless as it may have been before we had a baby. But even someone terrible at math can see he is an addition, not a subtraction. Never a subtraction.

And when in doubt, I walk it out. I’ve never looked forward to being outside or slipping on sneakers, but those quiet moments of movement are as close to meditating as I get. Just like with weight loss, it’s less about a number and more about a feeling.

And I feel better. Calmer. And I am so, so grateful for that.


Oliver at 1

Ollie is 1

My baby, sweet baby — he’s 1!

Last week was Oliver’s first birthday. After speaking with many preemie parents about approaching their child’s unexpected birth date, I worried I’d slip into a funk — remembering my hospitalization, steroid shots, the late-night ambulance ride, the blood pressure cuff that went off day and night . . .

But somehow, it never happened. There was no funk, no sadness. Spencer and I took the day off to celebrate — and we did! Oliver didn’t know it was his birthday, of course, but it wasn’t like we could concentrate at the office. I just wanted us all to be together.

We went for a walk, took photos, exposed Ollie to the magic of blowing bubbles. He laughed with us and grinned and squirmed in our laps, permitting my (many) kisses and trying his first cupcake. My parents and sister came by, too, and we sang “Happy Birthday” with gusto.

On Saturday, we hosted family and friends for a big birthday blowout — and, in a weird way, it was healing for me. Not to harp on an old subject, but I missed my baby shower while I was hospitalized last spring. It might seem silly, given the seriousness of that whole situation, but I was devastated. I still have a hard time thinking about it.

Having loved ones gathered at our house almost one year later to the day, when Ollie has come so far . . . that was therapeutic. And realizing I felt nothing but joy and gratitude on Oliver’s birthday? Well, I feel like I’ve turned a page.

Growing up, my parents would joke that it wasn’t technically “our birthday” until the exact time at which we were born. I came into the world at 10:21 a.m. on a hot July day, so we’d watch the clock until then. If my mom was at work, she’d call at that exact moment to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Ollie was born at 9:57 p.m. — about 14 hours after I was induced on a Sunday. I will always remember the sunrise that morning: the streaks of pink visible from our corner hospital room with the lights of Baltimore beginning to blink off. It was still dark when the kind Midwestern doctor came in to say we couldn’t wait: the baby needed to come that day. And by nightfall, he had.

After Ollie was born and whisked off to the NICU, I told Spencer he could go be with him — my first experience with having my child outside my body. Until that moment, I don’t think I’d processed that my little someone was actually someone: his own someone. We were no longer a unit. I could no longer protect him. And maybe I never had, with a failing body and fearful heart.

Clearly, I still wrestle with Oliver’s early birth. It can be hard for me to talk about preeclampsia. But as time presses on, I dwell less and less on how Oliver arrived and just rejoice in the fact that he did.

He is well. He is happy. He is so very loved.

Though Oliver was asleep by 8 p.m. on his birthday, Spencer and I stayed up to mark the hour. At 9:57 p.m. this April 12, we were sitting quietly with the television down low.

“Well, we did it,” I murmured. “A year.”

We talked of Oliver’s arrival: the “practice push” that needed no practice at all; the soul-shattering pain that melted into instant relief; the doctor who called out, “Happy birthday!” and extended our baby for me to kiss before everything fell quiet, and I was alone.

I thought of the exhausted, overwhelmed, half-broken woman collapsed in a hospital bed after the strangest day of her life. I replayed the moment I saw my son through blurry eyes, frantically asking for my glasses so I could see his face (I didn’t).

That was only the beginning.

A year later, we are tired — and we have been tested. I have laughed and I have cried, felt like I was going crazy and stepped back from the brink. Spencer has been by my side through everything, every good and painful moment: and though there were times we were not our best selves by any stretch, we were still those selves together.

Our sweet boy is upstairs, asleep in the crib where I once slept, and I can’t help but laugh at how unprepared we were.

Unprepared. That word in this context? Well, it’s funny. Because being “unprepared” means you could, in theory, actually have been ready — and that’s just not true.

No one is prepared for parenthood. You cannot be prepared for parenthood. Even if you’ve changed 10,000 diapers, babysat all the neighborhood children, helped raise a niece or nephew, been a teacher or a nanny or just a concerned friend . . . until those little eyes look up at you, a face that leans always toward your own burning sun, needing everything you have to give and much of what you don’t . . .

How can you prepare someone for that?

When I creep into my son’s room and see his little face peeking at me from between the slats of his bed, the way he “growls” and now reaches his arms up for an embrace, when he lowers his head to my shoulder or gently strokes my arm . . . these moments shatter me. In a good way.

Nothing can prepare you for how much you’ll love this little person.

At 1, Oliver is sweet and curious, funny and charming, active and so good-natured. Our boy has never met a stranger, offers smiles easily and misses nothing in his observations. He plays well by himself, but prefers company. He’s patient to a point, but soon wants your full attention. Ollie loves daycare and his first friends there, and we are beyond fortunate to have his wonderful babysitter in our lives.

He lives for “The Muppets,” ABC’s new TV show. No “Muppet” movie or TV show or cartoon will do. Spencer and I have seen every episode dozens of times, even acting out the dialogue and quoting Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Pepe, Uncle Deadly, Rizzo and gang to each other out of habit. We live and breathe “The Muppets.” I’ll never look at them the same way again and, forever and ever, they’ll have a special place in my heart.


Ollie and Kermit


Oliver is still toothless (!), but we see the telltale white caps beginning to break through on bottom. We’ve been taking our time with feeding, still offering mostly formula in a bottle, but Ollie has been doing much better with a spoon. To date, the only food he has not liked is birthday cake! He gobbles up vegetables and fruits, and is starting to pick at Puffs and other small snacks. He’s more than content for you to feed him, though, and plays with utensils and sippy cups more than he actually uses them.

Ollie rolls anywhere he wants to go, which is usually to the front of the television cabinet to look at “the baby” in the glass — and loves to kick his legs and smack anything (and everything!) with his purple rattle. He’s doing much better with balance, sits completely independently and is now doing a combination scoot/crawl that gives him some independence. From the moment he’s up until the moment he crashes, he is a study in motion. The boy does not like to sit still for a moment!

Despite my best efforts, Oliver is just now starting to pay attention to books. His interest in them has mainly been to chew on and tear at them. But persistence pays off: I recently looked over to find my son reaching for a touch-and-feel book on his own. He runs his fingers across the “fur” of an animal or “wheels” of a truck, and loves turning pages by himself. The look of concentration on his face when he’s “reading” — bottom lip stuck slightly out; eyebrows furrowed — is priceless.

Ollie strings together sounds easily, but hasn’t seemed to connect them to the world just yet. Everything is “ba ba ba” or “bob,” and he loves to grunt and growl while flapping his arms like an eagle. He screams out of happiness and displeasure, and is easily the loudest person in any room.

When I get close to his face and encourage him with “Mama,” he often smiles coyly and puts a chubby hand on my arm or leg. We try again — “Mama, Mama, Mama”; Ollie giggles and looks away. I can’t help feeling like he knows I want him to say it, to say that “magic word,” and he’s just content to make me wait.

But that’s OK. It will be worth it.

Baby, sweet baby — I’ll always wait for you.


Coming and going outside the OR

There’s an unspoken camaraderie that forms in a room where no one wants to be.

My son underwent minor surgery this week. It was planned, scheduled months ago — a procedure to correct something we learned about at birth. Padding down the NICU wing just days after he was born, a nurse pulled us aside to tell us there was an “issue.” Had we been told about it yet?

(Excuse the vagueness about the condition itself, but I want to be sensitive to my son’s personal story . . . it’s his, not mine.)

But the issue was not life-threatening; it could be corrected. Nothing that should affect him in the long term. We took comfort in that.

On Wednesday, we woke at 3:30 a.m. to get into the city by 6 a.m. for his appointment: the first of the day. Spence and I were fortunate to have my father — a well-versed D.C. driver — take us to the large facility. He sat with us all day, fielding questions from our family, as my mother- and father-in-law waited at home with dinner already made.

I’d been dreading this moment since that first mention in the NICU: having to return to a hospital; watching Ollie go into an operating room; seeing him in pain. I had nightmares for weeks leading up to Wednesday, fear upon fear building like tortuous blocks in my mind.

Anesthesia. Recovery. Complications.

I willed myself to be calm: to get into a state of peace. Sometimes I felt angry again, wondering why our 10-month-old had to go through this — any of this — and, as usual, why we couldn’t be “normal” with a “normal” experience.

Whatever that is.

As we sat in the waiting room, the families of 30 other patients filled in around us. We carried coffee and smartphones. Most wore matching looks of fear and exhaustion, springing to life as soon as Smith or Blair or Thompson were called to the front desk.

It was like an airport waiting lounge, all of us unsure if we were coming or going. Parents studied a digital screen with the status of each OR. Patient in, 7:32 a.m.

They kept us all informed. The place was loud — noisy, even — as relatives chatted nervously in small circles. Some napped, heads back or resting on shoulders; others tapped at phones, zoning out on Facebook. The desk phone rang constantly: nurses with updates. Name after name, family after family.

We were an anxious crew. Older parents, younger parents, grandparents, siblings. Parents with children in wheelchairs; others with babies on a hip. Some with children too weak to stand. Others who — “Ella, please!” — just would not sit still.

We were all there because, at some point, the same words had echoed in a sterile room: “He will have to have surgery. She needs to have surgery.”

And I thought of our collective faces, a range of colors and expressions; wide eyes, closed eyes, eyes leaking fat but silent tears. We were wan and dull that morning. The nervousness beat like a pulse.

I willed my heart to stop pounding. My mind to be clear. The panic to dull. When it was time to speak to his surgeon, to shake hands with the anesthesiologist and ER nurse and recovery nurse — an endless stream of faces I studied, people intimately tied to protecting my child — I wanted to beg them to be thorough. Focused. Caring.

But I didn’t need to. It was obvious from each handshake, every soothing assurance, that they would be.

It took four hours. We read in the waiting room, tapping our feet; we walked to the quiet cafeteria, chewing lifeless salads. They called for us at the front desk with updates, and each ring made my mouth go dry.

“It can’t be bad news,” I tittered nervously to a woman on my right. She was well-dressed and serious, waiting alone for news on her daughter. “They wouldn’t call with bad news. That would be awful. They would come out.”

She nodded, clutching a magazine in her lap. “That’s true. Yes,” she said solemnly. “You’re right. That’s very sensible.”

See? I can still be sensible, I thought. Even when I’m scared out of my mind.

The waiting board clicked with updates: OR in. PACU. Patient discharged.

Finally, mercifully, it was our turn.

Surgery complete.

Heading home.


Ollie


Oliver has done so well — maybe better than his parents. He’s recovering beautifully and was back to his smiling self within a day. (The pain meds might have helped.) The surgery was successful, and we are so thankful he’s too young to remember a thing. After one rough evening when he first came home, he’s back to sleeping well and enjoying endless episodes of “The Muppets.” And I don’t complain.

I thought of myself last April: rattled to my core, shaky and hurting, terrified at the responsibility of caring for this tiny child. Worried about our future. Afraid of doing something — everything? — wrong. Nervous to even press a finger into his tiny, delicate palm.

But I am not who I was 10 months ago.

I am not even close to who I was 10 months ago.

I scrounged up all the patience and strength I possessed on Wednesday. I stood at my son’s bedside, leaning on my husband as we listened with the dedication of med students to Ollie’s team. Hanging on every word.

We asked questions. We took notes. We rubbed our son’s head, running delicate fingers through the dark curls that have suddenly sprung above his ears.

Sometimes I had to sit down — to gather myself, to breathe . . . but that’s okay.

I took Oliver’s hand and I held it.

And I stood up.