It Is Time

Hopefully, the last move with small children is behind us! We are settling into our new home, the one where we didn’t have tiny babies. This is the home with the big, wooden playset. This is the home with plenty of land for the kids to explore. I am so filled with joy that we are here, after so many months of talking about this place. This future was a dream of mine when I sat in the NICU with a tiny frog for a baby snuggled onto my chest, a baby attached to monitors that dinged and bellowed if I moved even slightly.

I am so grateful to be here in this place. But, I am so exhausted, so weary and so tired. Sometimes, the talker in me has nothing left to say. I’m correcting and guiding and entertaining two little ones, which can leave a mother with little emotional reserve, but the exhaustion is deeper than that. I am waiting, even in this joyful present, on the shadow of the past. I have spent the last five years moving and having tiny babies and caring for tiny babies and moving and then moving again. People have much worse, and I know I’ve been blessed. But, I’m tired, of chaos and stress and fears that whisper to me in the dark of night.

A few weeks ago, I sat on the same velvet-covered pew in the same church where I sat so many Sundays as a child and as a teenager and as a newly-married woman. My mind drifted from the sermon to a reflection of where I am. How did I become this woman? How did I have these children? Surely, I am still a girl with big dreams and plenty of spunk. Sitting there, I was overcome with the sensation of who I was before my NICU babies, the defining moments of my life. I will never be that person again, but for the most part, I am grateful for the person I have become. The one exception is the yoke of fear I carry around my neck, the fear of the unexpected. The most traumatic part of having my babies was that no one saw it coming. How can I ever trust the present when the future is so uncertain? But, then isn’t that life? Tomorrow is always a gamble, and today is always a gift. As I sat in church staring at the same stained glass I saw thousands of times as a child, I asked for help with this fear that sneaks in on me in the dark of night. It is time for me to release it, this one thing that most separates me from the girl I once was. I had the confidence of youth that things would work out, and in my adulthood I have realized that “working out” might have a different meaning from my intention.

Now, that we are in this present, I need some time to fill my emotional coffers. I need some peace. I need understanding and patience for the twists and turns of life. I need forgiveness for myself. But, most of all, I need to release this fear. It is time.

The Worst Goodbye

I knew it would be hard. I said it would be hard. But, it wasn’t hard. It was excruciating.

Leaving the kids’ school for the last time was gut-wrenching, and I’m not even exactly sure why.

I know I’m terrible at goodbyes. I hate watching people I love walk out of my life. But, I’ve said goodbye to plenty of people I love. I’ve left places I love. I’ve known I was closing chapters in my life before, but nothing compares to this goodbye.

I was completely unprepared for how it hurt me.

That last day, I watched from the booth on the other side of the one-way mirror for the last time, knowing that I might never again observe my kids in such a way. There is something amazing about witnessing your kids as they are when you aren’t visible, when they are standing on their own two feet without your presence to guide them.

That last day, I collected their art projects and extra changes of clothes.

I teared up as I individually thanked every, single person I saw, because they all are part of my children’s successes.

Their faces were sad too, because J had been at the school for longer than probably any other child. The age limit increased at exactly the time he would have aged out, so instead of getting nearly two years there, he had three.

I could see how much J meant to all of his teachers. That child isn’t the most exuberant one or the funniest or the silliest. But, he is solid and reliable and thoughtful and kind. His loyalty is rewarded by a small circle of people who love him fiercely. And maybe that’s what hurt so much about leaving. I was prepared for saying goodbye to people whom I respect, people who devote their lives to the service of helping children. I knew that leaving a place where we were all so comfortable would sting. But, we were leaving people who knew my children better than most. The purpose of coming home was to change that, to give my kids a chance to grow up around family and dear friends. But, in their early years, the dearest friends my children knew were their therapists and teachers.

Every teacher who said goodbye to J had tears in her eyes. They rubbed his head for the last time and patted his back and sent him off into the world a boy instead of a baby.

One of J’s teachers even walked us out into the parking lot, as if she couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye. She watched us walk away. I was so touched, but I stitched my face into a smile for the kids as I buckled them into their carseats. I managed a cheerful “Say goodbye to your school!” as we drove away.

And then I silently cried all the way home.

I Came Home

I went to see a nurse practitioner yesterday because I probably have a minor hernia because I might have picked up a large box while moving. Thanks to two emergency C-sections and three incisions, my abs aren’t what they once were.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen the nurse practitioner in seven years, since we last lived here. She walked in the door, looking down at her chart, and then her green eyes met mine. I was in the process of babbling that she probably didn’t remember me, and she interrupted me with, “Yes! Yes, I do remember you. And I always wondered what happened to you.” I briefed her on grad school and why I left in the first place, and then she asked, “Do you have babies?!”

Why yes, that’s an interesting topic. So, I told her about having preemies, and then a totally foreign thing happened. She told me her little girl is now a teenager who is babysitting, and just like that I have my nurse practitioner’s cell number and her daughter as a third babysitter. We just went for six months with no babysitter and no backup plan and no date nights, and without even trying, I have a list of people to call in a pinch.

I’ve spent the last four years with kids in school and therapy in a suburb in one direction and babies in a hospital in the city. And I lived in between, in a place where I knew almost no one. When I dashed to the grocery store, I knew I wouldn’t see a friendly face. One time I was surprised to run into my neighbor. I wanted to exclaim, “What are YOU doing here?!” until I realized that sounded ridiculous because the grocery store is five minutes from our neighborhood.

Having kids puts you in all sorts of pickles. You need to take one to the doctor–or even worse, the ER–but you don’t want to take your other child. You need to be in two places at once. You lock yourself out of the house, and you’re stuck outside with kids and no one to call. We’re just not meant to do it all alone, and for the last four years, I’ve had wonderful support for the kids but not really for me.

I feel such relief not to go it alone any more.

As I was leaving the nurse practitioner’s office, she gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so glad you’re back.”

That’s why I came home.

The Timing That Is Not Our Own

Closing on our first house

My husband and I are living in our fourth city as a couple, and as we prepare to move again, I can’t help but see a pattern to all the moves. With each transition, we changed a bit. We met new people, and we changed jobs. Our accomplishments and failures varied. Each place asked different things of us.

I see very clearly why we were here in this place, directly between a city with excellent NICUs to our north and a college town with an amazing preschool to our south. When we first came to look at homes before we moved here, I was newly pregnant, and our realtor had to remind us to view each home as parents. Did the house have a yard? Could you cook in the kitchen and see children playing in the living room? We had wanted a cottage near downtown, but instead we chose a comfortable home in the suburbs because it was close to my husband’s new workplace. We didn’t concern ourselves with the ratings of area hospitals or preschools, because we had no idea what lay ahead of us.

Almost from the moment we arrived with the moving truck, I was unhappy. Nothing about this place felt like home. In the six weeks before J was born, I wondered what we had done. And I knew my feelings weren’t the moving jitters that settle down after all the boxes are unpacked. I had moved enough times to sense immediately that this place would never be Home for me.

But, when we have kids, it’s not really about us, is it? With four years of perspective, I see vividly that this place was never about my husband or me. It was about what our children would need.

And, oh, how their needs have been met. Obstetricians who performed skillful emergency surgeries. An amazing NICU filled with dedicated professionals who cared for our children in all the ways we couldn’t. A pediatrician who has rejoiced with us. A speech therapist who helped J find all the words that jumbled in his head, frustrating him in ways he couldn’t communicate to us. A physical therapist who has known my babies since they were stranded in newborn bodies and who has been the only friend I’ve seen on a weekly basis for the last 3.5 years. A preschool with more devoted and talented teachers under one roof than a parent could ever expect, a place that has become a second home for my kids. These people have been life-sustaining in so many ways, and they have been an emotional oasis for all of us.

The days have been so very long, and I’ve wasted plenty of time yearning for new adventures for our family in a place that feels more like home. But, I’m amazed to discover as our time here draws to a close that it hurts to leave. This was the home of our babies, the anchor during difficult storms, our prison during winter quarantines, and our refuge during days that sucked the life out of us. Leaving here closes the chapter on tiny babies and NICUs. We came to this home as a couple, and we leave as a family.

This place has taught me about timing. We are not the masters of time, no matter how much we think we understand the plan. Having two tiny babies was never in my plan, but I would never change it. And living here might not have been of my choosing, but it was never about my husband and me. Our reason for being here was those babies who needed so much love and care in their early years.

And this week I’ve had one final lesson to underscore the point. Since M was born nearly 18 months ago, I’ve been saying that I didn’t want to leave her physical therapist until she could walk.

M took her first two steps at home this week, and she took four steps in therapy today. She is beginning to walk, the week before we’re leaving.

Sometimes, it is inexplicable how neatly the loose ends of life are tied.

It’s Time To Move On

I think we sold our house today.

I won’t trust that it’s sold until we have the check in our hand, but in the short term, it really makes no difference. It’s now time to begin rapidly packing up, shutting down this life we’ve made here. It’s time to put all our treasures in boxes and pull up stakes and move to a place that I hope will become a final destination, the place my children will call home.

I hate moving, and it’s always sad. This is our fifth out-of-state move in ten years. But, this move is different, and what is painful about this move is so different. It’s not the friends I’ve made, because I haven’t made many. It’s not the people I see on a daily basis, because I don’t see many. I’m not leaving a job behind or a school. The most important people in my daily life will all be going with me.

I am most sad to leave my kids’ preschool. The teachers there have been fundamental in shaping my kids, in giving them confidence as well as knowledge. They have pushed my babies to high standards, encouraging them to achieve new goals. They have loved my kids, cherished them in a way I never could have expected. I was so worried to leave J that first day at school when he was a 16-month-old baby who couldn’t crawl or walk or stand on his own. Literally, he couldn’t stand on his own two feet, and now? He runs and talks and laughs. He has a pack of boys he plays with. He is independent and confident and more outspoken than I could have imagined two years ago when he wasn’t speaking at all. The transformation in just the last six months has been phenomenal.

I am deeply saddened that M won’t have the same experience. She has only had four months at the school, but she already has such a joy and exuberance for learning. Her teachers thrill her. She watches for their reactions, and she soaks up their attention. M looks straight into the face of each little friend in her class with such excitement, as if they’re all her new best friends. I have no doubt she would love for me to just leave her at school everyday. And I would, if I could.

And our physical therapist. Our pt. Oh, how will I leave her? These last 3.5 years, she has known both my kids better than most of the people in their lives. She knows their personalities. She has been aware of the big and little things happening in our lives. She is one of the only friends I have here, one of the few women I see on a regular basis. During this time of such loneliness for me, she has been an island of reassurance and kindness. I don’t have to explain what has been hard about this life to her, because she already knows. But, she’s also a steady reminder that other families have it so much worse. She gives me the freedom to fret and question and wonder, but she also has great suggestions and advice just when I need them the most.

All the people I am dreading hugging goodbye are related to this difficult and beautiful journey we’ve been on. I swear everything about this place from the time I arrived five months pregnant and only six weeks away from delivering J until this very moment has been about having preemies. This entire chapter of my life’s book is about the magic of these kids.

And it doesn’t matter how ready you are to start writing a new chapter, closing the book on a place is difficult. Especially when it’s the place where you had your two tiny babies.