Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Babies, Babies, Everywhere

February 24, 2009

One of my very good friends just had her baby yesterday, after a somewhat challenging and anxious pregnancy. Mom is doing well, and the precious new arrival is tiny, but healthy, and I can't wait to see her and hold her in my arms. I definitely plan to be 'Auntie Donna' and to watch this beautiful little girl grow and learn and play through the years.
As a matter of fact, babies are in the air. I've got friends with toddlers and newborns. I've got friends who have just found out that they are pregnant, and friends who are ready to deliver at any moment. I've got friends who are in the process of adding to their families through adoption, or have already done so. And thanks to Facebook, I get nearly weekly updates of former students who are embarking on the amazing journey. Seeing my friends and their growing families all around me makes me nostalgic and reminiscent about my own babies during that stage in my life.

I come from a family of five children, and as I was growing up, I always envisioned myself with six kids myself. I'm not sure why, other than the fact that I loved kids, and my favorite show was the Brady Bunch. I really wanted to be them when we were kids, but my mom wouldn't oblige by having one more boy, so I guess I figured I'd create my own when I got older.
When my husband and I got married, he wasn't so much into the Brady Bunch plan. (He was ten years older than me, so maybe his pop culture influences were slightly different.) When we talked about having children (as any couple should, before they get married), I conservatively said I'd like to have four, while he thought we should have two. We compromised at three, naturally.

After a few years of marriage, we decided it was time. Within a few weeks, I found that I was pregnant. I thought, "Well, that was easy!" And so it was. True to what we would eventually discover to be her nature, Brianna was agreeable and pleasant--a real people-pleaser. She gave me no trouble at all during the pregancy; it was ideal. No morning sickness, no weird cravings, no false-start scares. She measured normally and grew normally. I worked up until my due date, which was the last day of school, and then went home over the weekend and had her. She was even kind enough to arrive on Father's Day, bright and early, two days after her due date.
When we decided to add a sibling for Bree to our family, I figured it would be as easy as it was the first time around. This time, however, it took us eight months before we found out I was pregnant again. This was in keeping with what we found to be Nicholas' personality. He takes care of what needs to be taken care of, but he takes his time. His schedule, his pace, runs a little behind other people's; he's just not in a hurry to get anywhere. When he does get somewhere, though, he makes his entrance known. When he was born, he was two and a half pounds bigger than his sister was at her birth. Believe me, two and a half pounds is a noticeable difference when it comes to babies! Even now, he is clearly the strongest personality in the house, with the strongest and loudest voice. When he joins the conversation, he wants everyone to know it. His determined streak (I prefer that term to 'stubborn') was also immediately clear at birth; he did NOT want to exit the comfort of his first home. The doctors had to use the forceps to 'coax' him out.

Danielle's personality was evident from the minute she made her presence known. She was our surprise baby. She has her own mind and her own time table, and was fickle even during the pregnancy. She had at least six different due dates, because the doctor couldn't pin down her measurements. (She decided not to arrive on ANY of these due dates, by the way.) There were at least two visits when the doctor couldn't find any heartbeat, and one where he thought he heard two. She slept fitfully during the day, but was awake and kicking well into the night--every night. Even when she was born, she literally never slept through the night more than ten days total before she started kindergarten. Her actual arrival was as unpredictable as the rest of the pregnancy was--the contractions never got steady and regular; by the time I realized the time was imminent, it was REALLY imminent. We arrived at the hospital at 3:00 a.m., and she was delivered at 3:19 a.m. I wasn't even registered at the hospital yet, because our best guess was that we still had another week before she'd make her arrival. Actually, I wasn't even checked in to the hospital before she was delivered, because they could see that they needed to get me up to the room STAT. They didn't even have time to get me into a hospital gown. Today, this little cutie pie is still the most unpredictable and mercurial personality in the bunch, adding variety and interest to our daily lives.

Despite the differences in the 'personalities' of each of the pregnancies, I was blessed with uncomplicated, relatively easy pregnancies, and smooth deliveries. Not easy deliveries, mind you--delivering a baby is NOT easy. However, there were no difficulties and no health scares, and the recovery was fairly quick. Looking back, it's amazing the clues each one of them gave us as to who they were long before the grand entrance. No matter how often you hear that siblings are their own individual people, you don't really realize just how true that is until you've tried to raise them in the same household. The same approach just doesn't always work. Here's an example: When Bree was little and she got into trouble, she'd often punish herself even before I found out the infraction. I'd find her in a chair in the corner and ask her what she was doing, and she'd say, "I hit Brother, so I put myself in time-out. How long should I stay?" Putting Nicholas in time out, however, was an Olympic sport of the wrestling variety. Being determined, he'd 'escape' the minute he got put there, and I'd wrestle him back to his seat. We discovered early on that we'd need to find a different approach with him. Often loss of privileges worked best there. Danielle's time outs were effective in that she'd stay there, but the were LOUD. She wanted to make sure we knew what indignities we were imposing on her. They all reacted differently to their experiences along the way, and of course, we also had to adapt our approaches to what best helped them progress on the way to becoming the wonderful and loving individuals they are now.

The stage in my life when these tiny and beautiful babies first came into my world was truly magical, and I miss it dearly every time I see another newborn. Honestly, I'd do it again in a heartbeat tomorrow if I could--go through all the sleepless nights, diaper changes, the absolute, turn-your-life-upside down changes. A newborn babe still pulls at something deep within me, connecting me to the pure miracle of a new human being. But these stages of life that we are in the throes of now--the stages of the teenager, the pre-adolescent, and the exuberant child-- are also incredibly miraculous and unexpected and full of wonder, for me and for my children. I am blessed to be able to guide them on this journey as they reach out to find their potential and become the people they are becoming--the people they started out as so many years ago. I can't wait to see what's coming next for all of them...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Valentine's Week

February 17, 2009
I'm a big believer in the idea that you should make it a point every week, every day, to make sure that the ones you love KNOW that they're the ones you love. That doesn't mean you love everything they say and every choice they make, but it does mean that you let them know you are behind them if they should fall, in front of them when they need to be led, and beside them when they need to walk hand-in-hand with you.That being said, I love Valentine's Day. I might not so much if I pinned all my emotional hopes on that one day, but I don't. It's just a day when I can indulge my inner (well, not so inner, if you really know me) girly-girl romantic. I had the best of both worlds this year--an afternoon of quality time with the kids, and a adults-only night out with my sweetie.

Nicholas had a play date in the afternoon, but before he went, I took him out to a Robotics showcase over at Buchanan. Not your typical way to spend quality time with your loved one on Valentine's Day. However, this organization speaks the kind of language that Nicholas speaks--science and building and robots and NASA and Legos. These are the things that make Nicholas tick, that really mean something to him--that he's GOOD at. So,although I'm pretty sure it'll never be my cup of tea, that is how I chose to spend my time with Nicholas on Saturday, because I want him to know that I respect the things he values, and I want him to pursue the interests that draw him in. My joy in checking out the new Robotics team offering was in watching his eyes light up, and seeing him recognize possibility ahead of him. That is how my boy and I shared our Valentine's Day.

Afterward, when Nicholas was at his playdate, the girls and I got to spend our afternoon doing something we love to do together. We headed off to the movie theater to catch "Bedtime Stories," the kid-friendly flick that is young enough to appeal to Danielle, and broad enough to offer humor and entertainment for Bree and me. The real fun, though, is our running commentary. The Lutjens girls are talkers, and funny ones at that. I'm sure Adam Sandler thought he made a pretty amusing movie, but really, it wasn't quite finished until we got to it. My daughters crack me up, and I'm told they laugh with me (not always at me) as well. And the beauty of a kids' movie is that you don't have all the Serious Movie Viewers shushing you throughout the movie--they're all there for a good time and a laugh as well. I'm still smiling now, thinking about it again.

Once evening rolled around, it was time for the kids to head off to their dad's for the evening. When I got back from dropping them off, Doug and I got ready for a night out. First, he gave me a gift, which was a surprise, since I thought we were just planning on going out to dinner. Then we met up with some friends and headed out to Tokyo Steakhouse, Our dinners were great, and the company made the time fly. One of our friends, Carleen, is a great singer, and since she and Doug both sing karaoke on occasion, we thought we'd find some place where the two of them could sing. (I myself sing well, but only in the car, with the windows rolled up and the radio turned up LOUDLY. And usually by myself, though my kids don't mind belting one out with me when the mood strikes them. Singing karaoke in public, with a mike and random strangers all about--well, that's a different thing entirely.)

We found a place not far from us, and amazingly, the place was packed. I figured on Valentine's night, a dive karaoke bar wouldn't be a hoppin' joint, but I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. I mean, we all ended up there, too. So Doug took the book, and put his name up for a song. When they called his name, he headed up to the stage. Before the song began, he said, "I want to dedicate this song to my beautiful wife, Donna," and you should have seen all the girls swoon! (Including me. I'm pretty sure there was swooning on my part, too.) I even saw a couple of girls reach out and slap their boyfriends on the arm, a look of, "Hey, why don't you sing like that for me!" reading loud and clear on their faces. The music started, and he belted out Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy." Our song. Oh, my goodness. And not only did he sound great, but he looked great, too. Oh yes, it totally fed my girly-girl romanticism. The big gestures just mean that much more, when you add them to all the little day-to-day gestures already built up.We stayed awhile longer, through good karaoke and bad (REALLY bad, honestly!), but then left on a high note when Doug and Carleen sang a fabulous "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" duet. Finally, we said goodbye to our friends, and came home to celebrate with a little champagne for two. A beautiful close to a beautiful day...