Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Family”

Thoughts on Maternity Leave

Our little guy is 3 months old today! It’s hard to believe how much he’s grown and overcome, especially considering this time 3 months ago we didn’t know if he’d live through the day or not. We are thankful every single moment for him- even when he’s crying!

My maternity leave ended up being longer than anticipated since my son arrived 4 weeks early. I am lucky to work in a state that provides some paid maternity leave so between sick time and temporary disability/caregiver leave, my leave will clock in at 16 weeks. I go back to work in September so I still have a few more weeks to soak up cuddles and smiles. I am incredibly fortunate that even when I return to work, I will be working a mostly part-time schedule in the office and working from home on other days. We’re also beyond grateful that my mother is willing and able to care for our little guy in our home, saving us daycare costs and letting Gray’s immune system get stronger before he’s out with other babies.

I took my son to meet my coworkers last week and one of them ( a childless man) asked me the other day if my maternity leave was restful, to which of course, I laughed. Sure there were days when we didn’t leave the house and I went from pajamas to lounge clothes to pajamas, but each day of caring for a tiny human with medical issues is definitely not restful. He’s a great baby and so much of his early month of life was filled with tears and stress that even his most crazy crying fit didn’t seem all that bad. But he’s a little human learning something new every single day– I can’t even wrap my head around that or not being able to verbalize beyond crying if something itches or is uncomfortable. All that “normal” baby stuff topped with a brain and body that is healing from trauma is a lot for anyone, let alone a tiny human!

My leave has been filled with doctor’s appointments and visiting nurses which has been a bit of blessing because so many people have been keeping their eyes on him. It should be mandatory that every new mother gets a visit or two from a nurse, especially in those first few weeks you’re home and have no clue what to do. We went through a baby boot camp crash course in the NICU in baby care, getting Gray on a schedule, and so on. I don’t know how people do this without a partner, family, or friends around. It really takes a huge village to support.

I cannot imagine Gray would have had the care he received if we didn’t have amazing private insurance – with the exception of my care and a few of his x-rays, everything has been covered because we met our deductible pretty quickly. If we had to pay out of pocket, Gray’s treatments alone are already above $25,000. it makes me sick to my stomach to think a little baby would get transferred to a lesser facility or be denied care because of insurance or a parent’s inability to pay out of pocket.

One thing I will say about maternity leave is that it didn’t provide me the clarity about life and career that I thought it would. Yes, being away from work so abruptly and taking care of my new human definitely showed us what our values are and that our current jobs are just part of the routine at this point. But in terms of getting a feeling that tells me what  “I want to be this when I grow up,” I think the only thing I’ve learned is family and health are all that really matters– they are non-negotiable to me now. Finding something that respects and understand that– and values it too– are going to be most important, no matter what the job title is. I don’t want long hours, weekends, or something that’s not going to allow me to be at a doctor’s appointment, or in the future, a school play. So for now, until we know more about Gray’s health now and in future, I’ll likely be staying put in my current role. It doesn’t feel like I’m giving up on doing what I want for my life, but it does feel like I’m putting my son and our family first which is ultimately the right thing for us all at this moment.

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Alive & Still Here

Reporting live from Babyville, the mayor of which is an adorable almost 11 week old boy who rules the roost and has captured our hearts, despite his endless hunger and crying for more milk!

I’m still alive and still here even though this space has been silent for over a month. I’ve been in an endless cycle of bottle washing, formula mixing, breast pumping, diaper changing, etc. Of course there have been lots of snuggles, smiles, and new cooing sounds every day too. And a bunch of medical appointments, labwork, and scheduling for baby too.

I have just over a month to go on my maternity leave- I’m incredibly grateful I was able to take the entire summer off, plus the extra time from when Gray decided to arrive early. Now that he’s gaining weight and the doctor’s visits are getting less and less, we are venturing out more and that’s been a huge help for keeping me sane. I’m blessed with a partner who believes in sharing the parenting duties as much as he can and family and friends that are supporting me from near and far. Overall, minus the never ending cycle of baby care routine and worrying about his medical conditions and everything associated with it, I’m handling this stay at home mom thing fairly well. I’m not sure it’s for me long term, but my opinion on that may change when I go back to work in September ( and even then, I’ll be pretty much part time).

Speaking of work, I thought that this time off would provide me with some much needed clarity about what I want to be doing for work. It has to a certain extent and in other ways, I still have no clue. I know I want to be in a position that allows me to focus on my son and family so the position I have right now is right for our family at this time, especially as we still have some question marks about Gray’s health.

Even though we’ve into a good groove with the little guy, every day looks a little different because of his various appointments so it;s been hard for me to carve out time for myself for anything beyond social media and reading some breezy books on Kindle. I’m committed to writing here, even if only sporadically! And a quick note– you won’t see any photos of my son on this space because his father and I have made an active decision to limit what we’re putting out in the world about him, but if you’re so inclined, Gray will sporadically appear over on my Instagram, so feel free to send me a friend request there!

Hope your summer is full of relaxation and fun!

Post NICU Life

Thank you all from far and wide for the good wishes and support on the arrival of Gray and the month-long stay in the NICU. He was discharged this past Thursday so we’ve been home as a family adjusting to each other and our new schedule. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions from joy to tiredness and frustration– for all of us! Even though he’s a month old, it’s like bringing a complete newborn home and trying to figure out which end is up. The amount of random Amazon purchases for baby that we’ve made in the last few days probably speaks to our often cluelessness about what to do with a new baby.

Some day I’ll have the emotional bandwidth to write Gray’s birth story, if only for us as a family to remember the journey we went through as a family. The month-long saga is not something I’d wish on anyone– leaving the hospital every day without your baby to come home to a house with baby things everywhere is difficult in ways I don’t think I have the words to describe. And yet, I have such an intense level of gratitude for the month that we were there– the care Gray received allowed him to bounce back from what could have been a very different outcome in our life. NICU nurses are true angels on earth not only in what they do for the babies they care for, but for how they support and teach the families- and they do it for more than just Mom and Dad. As we’ve entered into the new parent sleepy phase with midnight and 3AM feedings, I even had a moment of missing the NICU because of the around the clock care that allowed us to sleep every night and sleep in a few weekend mornings too.

Having a baby in the NICU is incredibly difficult in the postpartum weeks- not just the fact that you’re recovering from birth, but missing out on a lot of the early bonding which is so important. Gray was born on a Monday, but I wasn’t able to hold him until late Friday of the same week. And yet that difficulty is also paired with gratitude for having time and space to heal from emergency surgery. There were definitely more than a few tough moments of getting in the car, needing help showering, etc. where I was relieved my baby was safe at hospital while I was healing at home. A million high fives to Moms who have a C-section and then come home with baby 3-4 days later– you are serious real-life super heroes.

Gray’s birth has re-ignited my faith in the power of prayer, love, and things bigger than us. It affirmed my belief in guardian angels, being in the right place at the right time, and counting blessings big and small. It’s opened an emotional part of myself that I imagine happens with many mothers regardless of how their child came into the world. It reminded me that family and true friends who are family rise to the occasion when a crisis happens. Amid the crazy bad news of the world, it reminded me how good and kind people are, even complete strangers who Gray and I will never meet who prayed for our family and his health/recovery.

They say a baby changes everything, but I think Baby Gray has been more of an inspiration than his little 36 day old self can realize.

 

A Quick Update

A quick life update!

Life threw us a huge curveball on Monday, May 20th when our son, Gray, decided to enter the world four weeks early. His birth was fast, furious, and traumatic for both of us, but at least for me I was out of the hospital four days later. Gray is still in the NICU and will be for the foreseeable future, although his dad and I are about ready to steal him away to go home ( is it stealing if it’s your baby?) We’re head over heels in love with the blue-eyes, dark haired little boy who is amazing us every moment at the strides he’s made in his 15 days of life ( now if he could only get the eating/feeding thing down!)

In any case, I’m now in another club no one wants to be in– a NICU mother. It’s heartbreaking, stressful, overwhelming, boring, tiring, and about a million other things in between. The wins are amazing, the setbacks are heartbreaking, and we’ve only been there 15 days. Today I overheard docs talking about a baby who has been there 120 days. l literally cannot imagine because I’m about to lose my mind.

This is all to say  it might be quiet around these parts for awhile. It’s funny because in between Gray’s feedings, meeting with OT, docs, and other happenings, the day goes by quickly and slow all at the same time. Q and I are making it through- he dealt with the brunt of the scary stuff for the first 2 weeks of Gray’s life while I was healing from an emergency c-section that’s left me quite sore. He had to go back to work this week and is trying to spend the nights at NICU with our little guy. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short.

Some day, when I’m off this emotional roller coaster, I’ll write up his birth story, if for no other reason than it might help me put together the timeline of what happened– from the time I called the hospital that my water broke, to the time Gray was born was only about 2.5 hours so it was a whirlwind that I’m still not sure I completely understand ( and not sure I want to quite yet).

It’ll be quiet over here for bit until we get Gray home and get our new life together– not sure how long that’ll be, so wishing you all a lovely June and start of summer!

John McCain & Grief

I met John McCain for a brief moment in 2007 when he was in New Hampshire campaigning for the 2008 presidential race. My then boyfriend (now ex-husband) was really involved in politics and after the NH Republican debate that year, we went to a few of the candidate after parties. Since it was literally a two second hello as he walked passed us, I don’t have anything meaningful to say about the interaction other than it happened.

I don’t agree with a lot of McCain’s politics, but I, like many people in the past few weeks, was struck with his death, possibly because it seems like it might signal not only loss of a good person, but also the loss of a type of civil politician that seems to be a rarity in these maddening times.

During all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the death of an American statesman, I was actually feeling more for his family. As happens when someone loses a parent, whether I know them or not, it always brings up grief and feelings related to my Dad. I commented to a few people how emotionally (and likely physically) exhausted the McCain family must be after the marathon week of memorials and ceremony– it was just 5 days from the day my Dad died to his funeral and it was by far one of the most tiring weeks I’ve ever experienced.

Seeing Megan McCain’s grieving brought back a lot of raw emotions for me and took me right back to that week almost five years ago. Again, don’t agree with most of her politics ( though I applaud her efforts on body-positive stuff for women), but felt connected with her in a weird way watching every public display of grief that the media seems to love so much. Side note: the voyeuristic nature of celebrity/public figure grief is something I will never understand the interest in, yet seeing it stirred something in me. The mind/heart is weird.

Grief is a weird life partner because even when you think you’re in a good head space, it creeps in at weird times. Songs, smells, a random memory all bring a person to mind– I like to think that’s when Dad’s spirit is with me so it can be comforting or it can be just plain unsettling. I also think grief and losing Dad has made me a much more empathetic, kind, and patient person. It’s also made me feel this urge to reach out to people who lose someone, especially a parent, because I feel like we’re in this club together. A club no one wants to be in, but there together and connecting in some way makes the situation easier to handle.

Be Kind

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week came at a time when suicide was on the mind of Q and I already. A year ago, Q’s brother-in-law took his own life, and it’s changed so much of our family since then. Not just the actual physical loss of someone, but dealing with the pain of knowing they chose to leave this world and trying to make sense of it all. It’s been really hard for Q because he was incredibly close to his BIL, who often was the only person he’d talk to about some tough things. They were fishing buddies, and it’s something they did together, so much that Q hasn’t even fished since.

The saying that’s been going around all week “everyone’s fighting a battle, you don’t know it, so be kind,” is very true. This December marks 5 years since my Dad died, and I’ve felt his loss more this year than probably the previous few. I think part of it is because I’m in a transition- planning about moving somewhere new (who knows where!), possibly a new career, and hoping to expand my family with Q. I think a lot about Dad when I’m doing yard work or things around the house, something we often did together. Father’s Day is always a tricky time that brings up a lot of sadness because he isn’t here to celebrate and there is so much all around reminding me he is not here. I actually had to stop buying Q a Father’s Day card because I was having crying fits in the card aisle. This year feels particularly touchy because Q likely won’t see Little Man. It’s a long story, but we haven’t seen Q’s son in quite some time and I honestly don’t know when we will again. It’s another layer to our grief battle, just another kind.

All of this is to say to remember to be kind to people and to tell your people you love them.

Via LifeofTheKind

 

 

2018 Goal: Digitize Family Photos

If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, it’s not surprise that family is the most important thing in my life. I spend a lot of time with them, talk to them on the phone/text multiple times a day, and so on. In my house, I’m surrounded my family heirlooms, mementos, and photos that are my most valued possessions. After my mother and grandmother sold their houses, I became the keeper of some of the family photographs, in particular my Dad’s collection of slides from the 1970s and 1980s when that was a thing you did when developing film.

One of the my goals of 2018 is to pare back the amount of stuff we have, partly because Q and I are hoping to move in the next year or so, and partly because I want to be able to use and engage with the stuff I have. I really wanted to digitize my Dad’s slides because so many of them were from when he was in art school and I wanted to make some prints of his photos to hang alongside those of my aunt’s (his sister), who is a very talented photographer. Also, there were a lot of baby photos in these slides of me, and as the second child, there was a serious lack of photos hanging around with me as a baby because my parents were sleepless and frazzled with jobs and 2 kids under the age of 2!

A few years back, photographer aunt found an online company, Scan Cafe, to digitize her batch of family photos and I used them to digitize my parent’s 8mm film collection onto a DVD for a Christmas present. I was impressed with their pricing and service, so went through them again to do this latest batch of digitization. I’ll go back to them again for my next batch and then hope to attack the photo albums and such that my mother has after that.

As a museum person and historian, I know the photos and slides will only fade over time, so this was a big priority for me to tackle this year, especially a lot of the early photos of my grandparents from the 1950s. It was a great winter project to spend a weekend organizing and going through photos, even if it made me miss my Dad and Grandpa a ton. Scan Cafe has a lot of different packages and has deals all the time so it wasn’t an expensive venture, but preserving memories is priceless (Sorry that sounds like a really cheese tag line!)

Me, Christmas 1983. Photo by Dad.

 

All opinions my own. This is an honest review of Scan Cafe based on my experiences. I paid for all services on my own and was not provided anything or solicited by Scan Cafe for this review. 

The Dinner Table

I grew up having dinner with my parents and brother every single night of the week. Some times it was a quick hot dog and chips before a ball game or a choir practice, other times it was a dreaded meal made for my then-picky eater brother (cheeseburger pie, gross– also happy to report my brother somehow went from super picky to a foodie). But we always gathered together for this meal. Growing up it was often my Mom who made it, but my Dad helped a lot too. In his later years, he was doing a lot more of the cooking, something I know he enjoyed a lot.

Q and I eat together pretty much every single night. Even the nights when I have to work late or have a work event, he will frequently wait for me to get home to eat takeout together. I will admit that we frequently sit on the couch and eat at the coffee table while watching the news and talking about our days. Part of that is Q often has a lot of work to do at home and what is the dining room table becomes his home office. Our kitchen is tiny so we retreat to our coffee table for dinner. Not the best habit, but we try to not get the mechanics of where we eat dinner get in the way of that time together.

Growing up with that built in time with loved ones is an important part of my childhood and who I am as an adult. I look at dinner together as a pretty sacred time to connect, not talk about work (or at least let it be the last time at night we talk about it), and focus on each other. Even when I’m tired or in a cooking rut, I take pride in making or picking up food to have together. I have coworkers who think it’s old-fashioned that I make dinner every night, but it’s part of my value of family and time together, so we make it a priority.

The dinner table holds an important place in my life and heart. It’s the place where the stress and worries of the day melt away and it’s all about home and the people who matter the most to me.

 

 

Hosting Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday- food, family, and fun without the pressure of gift giving. As the holiday has changed over the years with people coming and going from our table, it still remains as one of my favorite days of the entire year. This year was extra special as it was my first time hosting and it’s something I looked forward to for the past few months.

Q and I both ended up taking the entire week off of work and I’m so glad we did because we were able to relax and prep the house instead of being tired and cranky getting ready after work. Q even did a few house projects in the early part of the week, which I will admit I was not too happy about when he mentioned wanting to do that, but in the end, worked out amazingly.

We had 8 people and 2 dogs for dinner. In full disclosure, I was merely the host spot for Thanksgiving and the sous chef to my mother. Her years of Thanksgiving cooking mastery are a thing of beauty and organization, I merely just support her and set the table.

One of the things I love about Thanksgiving is the traditions- old and new. I like that each year we use the same electric carving knife that my parents received when they were married in 1978. I use the same pans, old-fashioned crank chopper, and Pyrex casserole dish for the stuffing as my grandmother did. We still buy a Marie Callendar’s Dutch Apple pie as one of the desserts because it was my father’s favorite. Even though each year has brought different circumstances and people to the Thanksgiving table, each year it’s a time to put aside all the noise of life and just enjoy being together.

 

The dishes aftermath! Honestly, I like the cleaning up after, especially this year when I did it after everyone left while drinking wine and listening to a podcast.

Family History

If you’ve been reading this little space on the internet for any length of time, you know that family is one of the most important things in my life. I grew up in a close knit family that ate dinner together every night, and every Sunday with my grandparents. Holidays were spent with extended family and friends who became family. I take great pride in this and in my family’s history, as both sides of my family have interesting stories to be told. My mother is Canadian and her family immigrated to Nova Scotia from The Netherlands in the early 1950s. My father’s side is Portuguese and both of his grandparents came to Massachusetts from the Portuguese islands of the Azores in the 1920s.

I know a lot about my family history and have always taken great pride in my ethnic background being 50% Dutch and 50% Portuguese, though I don’t look Dutch in any way. Last winter as a bit of project to combat cabin fever, Q and I embarked upon doing his family’s genealogy, particularly trying to learn more about his paternal grandfather and that line of his family tree. That grandfather passed when Q was a teenager and there had always been a family story that the grandfather was actually Native American, and that Q’s great-grandfather was actually a STEP great grandfather. It turns out the latter part of the story is true, but we had a lot of trouble learning more about his grandfather. Since we were tooling around with all the Ancestry stuff, it seemed like a good idea for Q to take the Ancestry DNA test to see what his genetic ethnicity might be, in an effort to find out if the Native American story was correct.

It was not.

Q’s genetic makeup turned out to be mostly Eastern European, with a big concentration in Poland and the various Slavic countries. The mystery about his paternal grandfather persists, though we’re both enjoying trying to figure out the story more. Q’s DNA opened up another big can of worms though because his maternal grandfather had a Portuguese last name and while born in the United States, had parents who were born in the Azores. It looks like from the quick family tree research we’ve done on that side that perhaps those great-grandparents moved to the Azores from Scotland, so we’re going to spend our winter doing a lot of that digging for Q.

The interesting findings on Q made me so curious about myself and my genetic ethnicity because so much of my family’s history was already known to me. I was fascinated by the results which I’ve copied here:

Not surprising that I have so much Italy/Greece and Iberian Peninsula with my Portuguese heritage, and not totally shocking about North Africa either. But I was completely blown away by the 36% concentration of Great Britain. These types of things just go to show how interconnected the world was even thousands of years ago when explorers and conquerors traversed the globe to create empires and discover new lands.

Have you done any of the DNA services to find out more about your ethnic DNA? I’d love to hear more about it as this type of stuff is fascinating to me as a history buff.

 

 

 

I purchased two Ancestry DNA kits on my own and was not paid by Ancestry to promote their product and services. All opinions are unsolicited and my own. 

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