Natural Disaster

Yesterday, Japan experienced a tremor like nothing their country had ever seen before. Thousands are homeless, hundreds are missing. The official number of wounded only accounts for physical ailments, not the mental anguish of people who have lost friends, family or a feeling of security.

Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations on our planet; the majority of its buildings are constructed to withstand violent shaking. But no matter how wiry and clever man thinks they’ve become, Mother Nature merely chuckles while walloping us with her soggy backhand. It was the tsunami that did it. No structure stood a chance.

When the muppets were staying at Chez NICU, I had a constant fear that the Bay Area would experience a similar disaster. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be right there for them, or be able to instantaneously get there. I anxiously feared how well their tiny bodies could handle the trauma of evacuation or malfunctioning equipment. (Numerous people later reassured me that in the event of THE BIG ONE, our brand new Kaiser hospital is the precise location they’d like to be.) These nightmares returned as I watched news coverage of SOS broadcast across a Japanese hospital roof. How are all the tiny babies faring?

Every geographic location is in danger of some type of natural disaster. All Californians are well aware “THE BIG ONE IS COMING.” That gets shoved down our throats every few months. Recent tragedies are a frightening reminder. Already, Bay Area residents are remembering the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. For me, that event was nothing more than a pin on our current events map in my fourth grade classroom. Apparently it also canceled a baseball game. Bummer.

I experienced the 1994 Northridge earthquake instead. I’m a California girl through and through – I spent the first half of my life in Southern California, about 20 minutes from the 1994 epicenter.

I got home late that night. I had a babysitting gig the evening of Jan. 16, 1994, and the parents assured me they’d be home by 11 p.m. At 1:30 a.m., January 17, I finally collapsed into my bed. (That family was officially marked on my “naughty families to work for” list.) We also had a brand new puppy – a hyperactive yellow lab named Stryder. He would leap against the kitchen door, rattling the door frame with his frantic whimpers and whines.

At 4:31 a.m. the rattling began in earnest. Stryder must have been furious for attention. The banging was so loud, I could feel it in my bed and see my mirror closet doors vibrating. “Stop it! I’m trying to sleep!” I instructed my dancing dresser. I was exhausted; it would be another decade and a half before I was prepared to forego sleep for tiny beings.

Then I heard my mother shout for me. As I brushed sleep out of my eyes, I felt another aftershock. “Holy crap! Earthquake!” I yelled as I bolted for the kitchen. “Did you feel that?!” My mom and brother were huddled under the kitchen table. Stryder was balled up in the center, absolutely adoring all his newfound pre-dawn attention. I’m pretty sure he thought the constant shaking and drone of the emergency radio was a bit annoying, but it was a fair trade off…

We listened to the news under that table for hours. An apartment building collapsed. Cal State Northridge was a circus (and would continue to be for years to come). Freeway pillars were bending under the pressure.

I was back at school the next day. Not many others were, though… I have a vivid memory of sitting in front of my eighth grade pre-algebra class, slumped against a wall with the proper combination of carefree and disdain appropriate for a tween. “This is one of those ‘remember where you were’ moments isn’t it?” I asked a friend.

A week later my father returned home from his San Francisco business trip. That evening, I was watching television, my brother was doing homework and my mom was in the kitchen praising Stryder for doing his business on a strategically placed wee-wee pad. The room began to rattle; it was another aftershock – less than half the original magnitude. My dad dove under the dining room table as though he had witnessed all four horsemen of the apocalypse in our living room. The rest of us continued about our business, only briefly pausing to observe my dad cowering under the table.

Based on the news reports informing the world about Japan’s current tragedy and the “ring of fire” earthquake zone, I know the muppets will experience their own “remember where you were moments” because THE BIG ONE is coming. I’m putting my faith in the U.S.’ retrofitting technologies.

And that shaking I feel right now? I’m relatively certain it’s just sugar withdrawals….

 

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(Un)Domestic Goddess

Domesticity is not my strong suit. I blame genetics.

You’ve heard about the failed pudding production experiment. I have set several microwaves and toasters on fire. (Side note: if one sets a toaster oven ablaze with a bag of mini-marshmallows atop the appliance, you will forever after be able to read the nutritional contents of the aforementioned mallows as they will be branded on your extra-toasty toaster oven.)

One of the muppets’ favorite foods is oatmeal. This is good stuff that they cannot get enough of – mouths wide open before I can refill the spoon. (Ok, who am I kidding – they seem to love all foods, but I digress.) After utilizing some rudimentary mathematical measurement skills, we determined that two oatmeal servings was equal to one-half cup. (The other foods come in single serve jars.) I pulled our measuring cup out and set about preparing dinner.

“You know that’s for liquid measurements right?” Jon queried.

You mean they’re not the same thing? Apparently stylistic design choices are not the sole reason for liquid measuring cups and the cups for measuring solid foods. Well, we’re never too old to learn something new!

During our Southern California adventure, I asked GrammaJ if I could borrow a measuring cup. She looked at me quizzically as she reminded me that she’d already given me one. “But I need one for the oatmeal; this one is for water,” I replied.

“Whatever,” she brushed me off. “They’re the same thing.”

Granted, this sage advice was proffered by a woman who is infamous for her culinary substitutions. Don’t have the specific spice called for in a recipe? No problem – there’s sure to be another spice on the rack that’s the same color and consistency, that’s what AllSpice is for, right? Casserole calls for cream of chicken soup? Chicken noodle has the same main ingredient, right? Hmmm, no olive oil for the brownies I’m making. A ha! The baby’s applesauce is easily at the ready.

(To be fair, that applesauce trick does work. And Jon conducted a little experiment while we were gone: those liquid and solid measuring cups are, in fact, pretty much the same thing.)

Overall, the women in my family get around this kitchen aversion by just not cooking. GrammaJ brags that she will cook twice a year – Thanksgiving and Christmas. But now that she’s handed the hosting reigns over to the next generation, she doesn’t do those holidays anymore. The prime example of our familial edibility ineptitude is AuntJ helping her future mother-in-law prepare a holiday feast.

“How can I help?” the eager soon-to-be-wed offered. Her beloved’s mother suggested she could best assist by preparing the mashed potatoes. “Sure!” AuntJ exclaimed. “Where’s the box?”

The reason the measuring cup inquiries initially came about is because GrammaJ and GrampaStavo recently remodeled the kitchen (so now I don’t know where anything is in my childhood home). A reasonable question here would be why a non-cook would redo the kitchen. “Well, if it’s never used, it won’t get dirty!” is GrammaJ’s logical response. (Worth mentioning: GrampaStavo is quite the cook, so the kitchen does actually participate in the creation of meals.)

During the recent remodel, all household items were packed up. The iron was lost in the aftermath. “Oh well,” mused GrammaJ. “Nothing’s going to get ironed. I’m not buying a new one.” Then, over the past weekend, I opened the cabinet below the bathroom sink to grab a hairdryer. Like the Farmer in the Dell’s cheese, the iron stood alone.

“Mom, I found your iron!” I called. I wasn’t expecting a hero’s cheer given my mother’s equal enthusiasm for housework as for cooking, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for her response.

“I know. I put it there. That way I’ll remember where it is now.”

I’m sorry? You put it there? On purpose?

I regaled G.G. with this amusing quirk of my mother’s during our drive down to the beach. She chuckled, mentioning that she has never been a big fan of ironing either. Perhaps that is because her iron does not have any steaming capabilities – to press a garment, one needs to iron over the item with a damp cloth.

I bet you’re wondering, “Do they even make irons without steaming options these days?” The answer to that would be a resounding, “No.” G.G.’s iron was a wedding gift. In 1949. She still has the same one. Why would you need to replace an appliance that never gets used. “Wrinkled or wash-and-wear,” G.G. proudly announced.

I understand the thought process. Years ago, before we were married, Jon and I had a “crucial conversation” about household chores – I wasn’t pulling my fair share. I couldn’t really argue this…I don’t do bathrooms. But I was willing to make an effort to equally distribute the chores.

I hired a housekeeper.

Given my new status as housewife, this familial history could present a problem.

BFF

I still remember getting the phone call with her name. I was on a break at my job at Blockbuster, my mom had opened the letter from my new college – and it contained the name of my new roommate and dorm room. I was going to be spending my freshman year on the 11th floor of an 11 story building with a stranger named Rebecca.

We exchanged emails throughout the months leading up to the start of our collegiate career. (It was last century, but we still had the archaic email technology.) Each and every day of the summer, someone reminded me, “Remember – you don’t need to be best friends with this individual. You just need to tolerate her for one single school year.

On move-in day we discovered each other in the hallway. “Are you Rebecca,” I stared. “Yes. Are you Patricia,” she questioned in return? We set about arranging our room, my father puttering about building a bunk bed and moving bookshelves. “Your new roommate is very quiet,” he observed later in the day. “No, Gustavo,” corrected my mother. “She just can’t understand a word you say.” (GrampaStavo has a rather thick Italian accent).

And then I stood in front of the building, watching my parents drive away. I lived alone for the first time in my life; the only person I knew was someone I’d exchanged a few emails with. She seemed nice enough. But remember – I didn’t need to be great friends with her, I just needed to tolerate her for one year.

Back upstairs we awkwardly stared at each other a bit more. Finally Rebecca broke the ice and asked if I was interested in accompanying her to the dining hall for our first dinner as college kids. By the end of the meal, we were chatting like old friends. (Advice – emailing your future roommate gives you a great background to go off of when you get where you’re going.) By the end of the year, we were thick as thieves. She’d pile my laundry in the closet to avoid the “trails” I made for myself; I’d make her eat a bag of pretzels before any argument commenced in case it was just low blood sugar making her cranky.

We were both 17, the youngest kids on the floor. Neither of us were theatre majors (yet, I’d become one later), but we’d indicated that particular pastime as an interest on our personality form. (I think colleges match roommates by hobby and height.) Becca’s mom had warned her that theatre people were weird, but I’m glad she marked the checkbox anyway. We pulled one all-nighter together – the two of us calling our educator moms at 6 a.m. to say good morning in a fit of giggles before we finally passed out.

Birthdays were always a big deal in our room. When I got flowers on my birthday, Becca proudly marched them down the hall proclaiming, “We got roses!!!” Sophomore year, when her birthday morning arrived, I think I may have rolled over and mumbled “happybirthday” before collapsing into sleep’s warm embrace. Becca was definitely a little hurt – she’d even gone to the trouble of circling the date on all of our calendars. But the moment she headed out the door for work, our little gaggle of girlfriends leapt into action. We decorated the room with flowers and cards (but made sure not to include any balloons) and placed a giant bow on her aerodynamic new desk chair. You didn’t think we’d really forget her birthday, do you?

Senior year we proudly stood in front of the Communications department and argued our joint thesis project together. We were both 21 and getting ready to move on to the next stage of our lives – the one where we played grownup.

In 2006, she got married and I was there. In 2007, on her one-year anniversary, I got married and she was there. In 2009, she had a little girl. I couldn’t wait to meet the newest member of our family. When I announced I was pregnant in 2010, she immediately demanded to see the ultrasound photos of her nephews.

During my hospital lockdown, we once again began exchanging emails as she sent me amusing anecdotes to keep my sprits up. And this Thanksgiving our families celebrated together, thankful for so much – especially friends who are family.

Today, Auntie Beeeca (nickname derived from GrampaStavo’s inability to correctly pronounce or spell her name) is 30. For someone I just had to tolerate for nine months, I’m awfully glad it was her. I’m truly lucky to have a friend like her.

Happy Dirty 30, Auntie Beeeca! Party like a rockstar. And here’s to our masquerade as grownups.

Doggies Say Woof

I am a dog person. I have a firm belief that dogs make people happy. In fact, during my hospital confinement I was even prescribed canine therapy. (This may or may not have had anything to do with my emotional meltdown during my first in-patient stint, in which I demanded canine companionship and threatened to escape so I could see my puppies at home.)

Throughout my childhood, my brother and I campaigned for a dog. After 12 years of wearing her down, my mother acquiesced with what she likely thought was a fool proof plan. If both of her children could turn in a year’s worth of straight A report cards, we’d complete our perfect American dream family – Father, Mother, 2.5 kids and Rover. Academic bribery was a swimming success; we became Lab people. Our first dog was Stryder, a yellow lab.

A year after I graduated college I was lucky enough to purchase my first home – a condo with a view. My first act of responsible home ownership was to sign up for a Labrador Retriever rescue group so I could be matched with the perfect puppy. Bailey was a neurotic seven-year-old chocolate lab. He was our first child and absolutely terrified of packing materials.

Several months after our wedding, Jon told me he was going to breakfast with his dad. That was a big fat lie. Two hours later, he returned home with Cooper the yellow lab. Cooper is an independent soul. He insists on inspecting everything before settling anywhere and his sole purpose in life is to get one of his people to throw a tennis ball for him. We had to adjust our lifestyle a bit once Cooper joined our family. He has an unfortunate tendency to rapidly dart through a doorway to go about exploring the great outdoors – resulting in me flying after him like a crazy person while he explores the great wide world.

Shortly after we bought our house, we decided to get a friend for Cooper. Our family expanded to four after we adopted Scout the black lab. Scout is a big boy – he loves everyone and every thing, which is good because he wasn’t entirely blessed in the brains department. (His relationship with his brother Cooper can often be likened to the cartoon Pinky and the Brain.)

When the muppets joined us, I was so blessed to have five amazing boys to share my life with. To make sure we would all live happily ever after together Jon and I brought blankets home from the hospital with the muppets scent. We took our four-legged sons on walks with an empty stroller. And once our twins came home, we introduced all the boys – inviting them all to sniff each other.

As it turns out, Caden and Logan are dog people too. Both boys are utterly fascinated by them. Caden laughs hysterically at their every move and reaches out to pet them. A dog sauntering through the living room is guaranteed to elicit grins from both my guys. Our pups aren’t quite sure about them just yet. When we first brought the boys home, Cooper was pretty certain they were duds. “C’mon Mom, these new puppies can’t even throw balls…” Scout loves them; they’re his new best friend! But sometimes he worries the new puppies will take his place with his people.

But they’re slowly starting to become better friends. Cooper and Scout tolerate Caden and Logan a little bit more every day. When the muppets start toddling the fun will really begin! Like I said – dogs make people happy.

 

Doppelganger

Are they identical?

As we’ve established, the muppets are not identical. They just look like brothers.

However…

One of these is my brother. The other is a random athlete (more specifically, the recent winner of the Australian Open). They are not related.

The muppets are each other’s doppelgangers. Apparently, Uncle Paul’s is a (very good) professional tennis player. Wonder who mine is?

Preemie Babies 101

Preemie Babies 101 is a site where preemie parents can find information, comfort and support about the ginormous twist and turns their lives are about to embark upon. I wish I’d found it sooner.

Afton Mower runs the site – her son became an angel at 21w2d gestation; he weighed only 12 ounces and was 10 inches long. Two years later, her daughter was born at 27w3d gestation and spent 94 days in the NICU. (For comparison by muppet enthusiasts, Caden and Logan were born at 27w4d gestation.)

Throughout her experience from the NICU and watching her daughter grow up, she decided to provide a social hub where preemie parents could band together and help each other through the ups and downs of the NICU and raising preemie babies.

Stressed, confused and exhausted parents are invited to read the experiences, opinions, and stories of other preemie parents, and share fears, thoughts, hopes about the strength of all our little miracles.

Today, you can read the muppets story there.

This story may seem familiar to regular readers of the blog. It is updated from its initial iteration in support of the March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Day.

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Tricia’s Story (Parent Stories)

This story was thoughtfully submitted by one of our readers, Tricia.

I never thought I’d end up a mommy blogger. A world-famous Newbery Medal recipient, sure, but it instead appears my writing talents have headed down the road less traveled. One of my girlfriends started blogging about the random stories of mommyhood shortly after I found out I was pregnant.

My first trimester was rough – not just morning sickness, all day arfing sickness. I had just started a new job in December 2009, so being green on the job took on a whole new meaning. In January, we found out our family was growing a bit faster than expected. Our twins were due in August. In March, we learned our little muppets were two boys. I was finally feeling good.

“I think I’ll start a blog,” I decided one afternoon. I signed myself up on WordPress and there my page template sat for several weeks. No magical article-writing elves appeared to tell my story, so I sat myself down and announced to the global online community that Double Trouble was coming to town. I figured this blog would be a single source location for family and friends. I could sporadically post clever little anecdotes and event photos.

On April 13, I posted an article shouting from the rooftops that I was officialy having a normal pregnancy. Two weeks later, my world turned upside down. I started writing more and more – detailing and journaling my experience on bedrest and ultimately as an ante-partum patient in the hospital as I prayed for healthy twins.

Jon and I became parents on May 28, 2010. Our precious muppets were born weighing 2 pounds 3 ounces and 2 pounds 2 ounces. I held Caden in my arms for no more than 10 seconds after his birth. I watched Logan get wheeled out of the OR wrought with tubes and encased in a plastic incubator.

They were born 12 weeks too soon. And then I passed out.

I didn’t get to meet my muppets the day they were born. I spent hours shivering uncontrollably in a recovery room – demanding water from a nurse who tried my patience to its last nerve by insisting on following medical protocol instead of catering to my thirsty whims. Five hours after they were born, Jon was indoctrinated into life as a NICU parent. He was crying when he came back, but he reported they were doing amazingly well. There were so many wires…

The next day, I learned why people believe in love at first sight. Our nurses and doctors were cautiously optimistic. The muppets were all I could think about. So throughout the next 10 weeks, I took to the Web – sharing my thoughts, feelings and fears to anyone who may happen upon here. As I talked to people and shared our story, it seemed everyone knew someone who was premature. Suddenly, my new normal was “preemie parenthood.” Term babies seemed jumbo and odd.

I found the March of Dimes website accidentally as I scoured the Internet looking for any and all information on the hospital jargon being thrown at me. I became a mother on a mission. My boys were coming home healthy if I had to get a medical degree to do it.

The NICU staff laughed. “When you leave here, we’ll be sending you home part parent, part nurse.”

I never thought prematurity would be the cause I’d get behind. I did everything I was supposed to, but fate/humanity had other ideas and life isn’t fair. My body was broken but my boys are fighters.

The muppets are now more than seven months old. They’re laughing now (and having a grand old time spitting rice cereal raspberries) and it’s hard to remember how tiny they truly were when we first started our journey home.

I’m proud to be a preemie-parent. And I’m proud to be the mom to such nifty NICU grads. Next week our family will return to the hospital for a well-check with our pediatrician, and I expect at least one of the boys to tip the scales at 17 pounds – a far cry from tiny two pounders.

Thanks for getting the word out.

If You Give the Muppets a Midnight Snack

If you give a muppet a midnight snack,

he’s going to ask for a fresh new diaper.

When you change his diaper, he’ll probably want to put on a new outfit as well.

Once he’s dressed, he’ll ask to put on a drool bib.

Then he will want to chew on his hand and various lovies nearby.

While he’s sucking his thumb, he’ll probably realize that there’s a lot of interesting stuff surrounding him. So he’s going to want to look around a bit.

When he’s finished taking everything in, he’ll want to listen to some classic music to calm himself down. You will have to make sure the iPod is plugged into the speakers and find the Disney Classic Lullabies playlist.

While he’s listening to the songs, he’s probably going to want to sing along. He’ll smile and squeal; his voice will make him remember a funny story he wants to share about his day.

Telling his story will remind him of all the books in our children’s library. So you’ll read him one of his cardboard books and he’ll want to turn the pages himself.

When he holds the book, he’ll get so excited that he’ll want to hold all his toys. He’ll ask to sit on the floor so he can grab his blocks.

He’ll try to crawl. When he starts to get frustrated, he’ll want to snuggle with you in his glider.

The gentle rocking will slowly start to put him to sleep against your chest. Which means you’ll need to bundle him back up in his wearable blanket and put him back in his crib.

Squirming and rolling in his sleepsack to get comfortable will make him realize that his diaper is wet again. So…he’ll ask for another diaper change.

And chances are, if he needs a new diaper, he’s going to want a midnight snack before he goes back to bed.

 

Inspired by the book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Joffe Numeroff