Embracing Deployment Chaos

During her husband's 11 1/2 years of active duty service with the US Navy, Laura worked full and part-time, completed a Master's degree and the lion's share of her Ph.D., birthed 2 babies, moved 9 times, and still remembered to buy milk. Check out her advice on facing the chaos head-on in this week's guest post.

Guest Post by Laura Paganucci

Being a parent is hard.  We all know it.  No matter what walk of life you may lead, we all face seemingly insurmountable challenges, achieve great victories, and experience more defeats than we care to admit.  I have learned a lot about myself while being a mother, from patience, to absolute love, to the limits of my frustration.  More specifically however, my time spent raising children through deployments gave me my most prized quality, resiliency.

While my husband was active duty with the United States Navy, he was deployed, detached, or training for well over half of our marriage, was gone 3 of my daughter’s first 5 years, and he didn’t enter my son’s life until the age of 2 ½.

As such, I learned to be resilient.  I remember my first day going it solo in Japan.  It was evening, about 95 degrees and equivalent humidity.  My daughter, then 2, sat in her stroller and my son, 2 months old, was literally glued to me with sweat, no longer needing the Bjorn to stay upright.  I stood at the head of the Ginza, a 6-block length of storefronts showcasing screaming neon lights, kanji characters, restaurants and unknown street food, all on a stick.  We had been in country for a week and my husband was gone.

So there I stood, a sight to behold, a tiny white girl strapped to two wide-eyed children, sobbing in public, in Japan, at the busiest intersection in town.  I admit, not the proudest moment of my life, but a moment none-the-less.  At that exact point in time, I made a conscious decision to begin embracing deployment chaos.  I embraced the chaos when my daughter decided to stuff a plastic lizard tail up her nose and proceed to swallow it, prompting a trip to the base ER the night before a ridiculous bus trip to Nagasaki.  I embraced the chaos when I opened the door to my tiny faded red Honda Fit, a kid on either hip, to find 12 inches of standing water after the latest typhoon.  I embraced the chaos when I realized my potential mistake, after getting on the plane of course, in taking my 7-month old son to a third world country just so we could get a week away with my husband.  And I embraced the chaos even when my daughter cried for her father every night and my son no longer remembered the man I so desperately loved.

Don’t get me wrong, embracing deployment chaos was rarely pretty.  It meant being stoic in public and for my children, but melting into tears when alone.  But it also meant wiping away those tears, standing up straight, and setting sights on tomorrow, taking every day one day at a time.  It meant finding the good in my day and celebrating enough little victories to turn the tides to happiness and contentment.  Embracing deployment chaos wasn’t just surviving, it was living, even when faced with those many seemingly insurmountable challenges of parenting, alone, in a foreign country.  I learned to be resilient.

This resiliency allowed amazing things to happen.  While my husband was deployed during our time in Japan, we lived next to a woman whom I now consider my sister and her children, my children.  Our family expanded.  During that time, my daughter attended a Buddhist pre-school, learned Japanese, was wrapped in a fiery orange kimono to celebrate Girl’s Day, and ran through thousands of torii gates as if she were frolicking across a local playground.  My son rode the Shinkansen many times and dreamed of speeding trains, and he learned to adore the attention of petite Japanese women squealing, “kawaii!”  But most of all, my little family learned to be an impenetrable team, depending on and finding absolute joy in one another.  And when my husband did finally return, we embraced him and all of the challenges associated with re-integration, multiple moves, good-byes and hellos, new schools, and new jobs.  He is now, again, part of our team.  My daughter no longer cries and my son knows his father. 

We are resilient. 

A Dad's-Eye View of Parenting

What’s new about this installment of Parent Proof? It comes from someone who has never grown a child from within, given birth, or had to sit down to pee. What qualifies me to even write about parenting, then? I am a father of fourYes, four kids. I’m not the quickest study, so it took some repetition to figure out what caused this phenomenon. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a small list at this point. 

Digression aside, the women of this fine publication decided to give us guys a chance to show everyone that we don’t have it figured out, either. As Alice said, “I know a man who has kids…AND he’s literate!” That’s apparently the only criteria needed to contribute to this blog as a male. They don’t want to set the bar too high for the guys.  

In case the ladies were wondering, guys don’t see parenting the same way as their female counterparts. I know that statement has not blown anyone’s mind, but allow me to elaborate. There are apparently these things when it comes to raising kids called details. Things like presentable outfits, clean faces, extracurricular activities, routines, and meals fit into this category, or so I’m told. I hear these details thrown around by people who spend energy maintaining them and think, Did I turn off the coffeepot this morning? 

Point is, I forget to think about the details most of the time. I’m more of a big picture fellow. My mental checklist when it comes to the survival of my children goes something like this: 

  • Is the child breathing? If YES- All is good. Move along. If NO, call 911 and try to fix it. 

  • Is the child happy? If YES, don’t change a thing because I don’t wanna hear screaming and crying. If NO, feed it and/or do something fun. Then try to sneak in a nap by lying with the kid in bed and reading Goodnight Moon for the fifty-billionth time. 

There are variations on the happiness strategies, but those are my main concerns as a dad. I try to keep things simple. 

My simple plans sometimes cause problems when it’s five in the evening and I want a quick catnap. As I read the gripping tale of a rodent infested bedroom that has a blazing fire going in one corner and a creepy red balloon floating near the ceiling to my dozing offspring, the one responsible for that routine thingy comes in and asks me what the hell I’m doing.  

“Hold on, let me get to a stopping point,” I say. (Luckily, the sturdy cardboard book blocks the projectile following that comment.) 

As a father, I parent in the moment. Is there a problem right now? Let’s try to fix it and we’re good. I think it’s great that moms can plan ahead and multitask on seven different timelines that all end in teeth being brushed, baths being taken, and bed being gotten into at a decent time. It’s something with which I will always struggle. My skill set does, however, afford me the talent of helping the kids build one bitchin’ couch-cushion-and-blanket fort five minutes before the nighttime routine is supposed to start. As long as they can breathe in that fortress of padding, I only have one concern: Are they happy in that moment? Check! 

Sam is a father of 4, science teacher, coaches soccer and likes to spend his free time thinking up new quotes about the awesomeness of Chuck Norris. 

Sam is a father of 4, science teacher, coaches soccer and likes to spend his free time thinking up new quotes about the awesomeness of Chuck Norris. 

Surviving the NICU

Today's "PP Guest Post" is brought to you by an incredible mother of three toddlers. We are amazed by how she juggles everything! She has definitely had some unique experiences and we asked her to share one with you. This is her experience in the NICU right after having the twins. 

I grew up surrounded by birthing goddesses.  Women who delivered naturally at home with my mother as the midwife, and it was so magical. A slight moan, a little push and a tilt of the head: Oh, did I have a baby?  I thought I felt a little pressure.” When I got pregnant many years later, I read all the books to prepare myself for my induction into the birthing goddess circle. I read these while imagining myself with my double jogging stroller, hair blowing in the wind as I pushed my perfectly healthy full-term twins, both asleep and full of breast milk. (Important fact—double jogging strollers are so GD heavy that you will pee yourself and leak most of your milk straining just to get them out of the driveway).    

Most of the books I read told me that 1 in 9 babies in the U.S. are born preterm, and with twins it’s a whopping 60%, but I had no concept of what prematurity really meant for a familyNow, looking back after my twins had to be medically evacuated across the ocean and live in the NICU for months, I wish there had been a book on how to survive the microcosm that is the NICU. I vaguely remember the neonatologist speaking to me after the birth and my mind wandering in a futile attempt to distract myself from the severity of the situation, thinking, um, is NICU a word or an acronym? Crap. I should know this, I read all the books.   

So I will give you the condensed version of my Neonatal Intensive Care Unit survival guide, written by someone with no qualifications other than that I am a mowho froze my ass off in the NICU for half a yearleaving only for oh-so-brief hints of sleep at the Ronald McDonald House. Here are 15 survival tips  

  1. No sleeping! This isn’t a hotel! It’s inevitable that at some point, you will fall asleep unintentionally. Perhaps from intensely concentrating on holding your finger through the incubator to touch what little of your baby you can, or from the never-ending sleep deprivation and obsessing over your child’s daily weight gain chart and watching it go down instead of up. Whatever the reasonthe nurses are always required to wake you.   

  2. If you do manage to nod off anyway, amidst all of the alarms that go off every minute, congratulations.  If you had been a cave man, you and your offspring would have died. These alarms are intentionally designed to trigger your adrenaline because they notify the nurse that your baby stopped breathing or there was a sudden HEART RATE drop.   

  3. Heart rate drop?  Oh that’s just a ‘Brady” (short for bradycardia). No big deal.  Happens all the time.   You may hear the term every day, along with “apnea” and “desat.”  You might even watch your child’s heart rate drop to zero and feel like you’re on ER, hoping that George Clooney will run through the door. This site explains each of these terms:  http://preemies.about.com/od/preemiehealthproblems/f/AsandBs.htm 

  4. You’ll freeze your ass off. Bring a hoodie and leave a blanket for yourself next to the incubator. Your hand is already shaking enough because you’re afraid that you’ll break your child, you don’t need to add hypothermia to that.  

  5. Keep a notebook with you at all times. Write down questions as you think of them and the responses you get from the staff.  Advocate for your child(ren).       

  6. Make sure you’re there for rounds each morning so you can hear the latest about your child. The staff walks from room to room and they get briefed about each patient. If a parent is there, they give the briefing anyway. They do this at ungodly hours, I assume hoping that no one will be there. If you are working and cannot get much time off, this would be the time I would choose to go.  

  7. You can page a doctor. Yes. It’s just like the movies. And they’re usually just as good looking. Except that you don’t care because everything is blurry from sleep deprivation and you’ve just aged 10 years in a few months and haven’t washed your hair in 3 weeks. But page away….  

  8. The wipes on the wall? Don’t touch them. They kill cancer. Your skin will peel. At least that’s what the sign says. Use gloves.  

  9. You’ll want to be with your child at all times, but you’ll have to leave for the following: 

    1. To use the restroom 

    2. To eat 

    3. To pop a Xanax 

    4. Twice a day for shift change, so the nurses can brief each other about how cute your children are. At least that’s what you like to imagine because you know they are actually gossiping about how you never leave and how many questions you incessantly ask.    

  10. When you do leave, know that the process for re-entering is so difficult and time consuming that you feel ashamed for even thinking using the bathroom was important. There is a litany of steps you’ll need to take in order to see your child.  Yes, your child that you carried and birthed, who is now on the other side of a well-armed castle (which ultimately you’ll be grateful for after watching too many of those switched at birth films in the 80’s)My fav of these steps has to be the monotonous sanitation video playing at the hand-washing station that you will most certainly want to burn by the time you leave.  

  11. The car seat test. This is a requirement for your child to be released to go home.  We, the very experienced nurses who change a 2 lb baby’s diaper without blinking an eye, are going to watch nervous, shaking, sleep deprived you put your 4 lb baby in a car seat without breaking him and if he stops breathing at any point, then he’ll have to try again tomorrow. He may even become a feeder-grower. 

  12. Feeder-grower? These are babies who are premature with no other conditions, they are simply there to eat and grow. Boooo-ring.  When you walk by these feeder-growers or a 9 lb baby who was admitted because of a small apnea episode, don’t be jealous. No, be jealous. Your hormones are pumping, your breasts are engorged because your preemies can’t latch well yet and the 9 lb baby looks like a total freak to you.  You are blinded by motherly love so much that you can’t see your babies for what they are—naked little squirrels.    

  13. The nurses. We had a different one every day shift. That’s over 60 nurses that I had to get acquainted with every day. Here’s a helpful tip I didn’t know until halfway through—you can request nurses that you like. Maybe they gossip more and it distracts you from the fact that you can’t hold your child all the time or maybe they’re quiet and leave you alone but are good with the babies—whatever the reason, they don’t have to know whyGo to the NICU nurse scheduler and ask them to make that nurse your regular. They can (if the schedule permits and the nurse agreesassign her or him to your child.   

  14. Sometimes the nurses may weigh your child before and after you breastfeed, to calculate how many oz they gained from that feeding and if they need to supplementSo if you are breastfeeding, no pressure!  Luckily our NICU nurses were very pro-breastfeeding and encouraging. If you are not producing enough, you can ask if your hospital has donated breast milk available. The feeding schedule for our twins was every three hours and if you’re not there, they get a bottle. So I recommend that you pump pump pump.  You can ask family to be your breast milk carriers. Believe me, it’s everything they ever hoped being a grandparent would look like. If you are so dedicated that you want to be there for every feeding, then more power to ya! You are insane and will never sleep.   You can also go the (GASP!) formula route. The NICU will provide that 

  15. If the alarm goes off and you see everyone scrubbing in, it can mean they are performing emergency surgery on a child in the NICU and they don’t have time to take him or her to the OR. Run as fast as you can or you will be locked in until they give the all clear.   

As challenging as my time in the NICU was, it gave me perspective and I am grateful for that. When my three toddlers are throwing food on the floor and my daughter takes her diaper off and smears it everywhere when I’m not looking, it doesn’t faze meIt’s in these moments, these sweet, (literally) shitty moments, that I remember looking at my babies through a plastic wall, the startling and constant sound of the alarms, and the CPAP on my son’s face. Most of all, I remember the baby who was also Level 3 like my son, who was released to hospice, and the nurses grieving quietly together. In the end, I may not have been inducted into the birthing circle as I had intended, but every mom I saw there was a NICU goddess. We can all certainly survive the toddler years if we survived the NICU