Working the NICU

December 23rd, 2013

Saturday was going as planned. Better than planned really. We were at the farm, had a nice lunch together, and my husband was napping with our toddler. My dad needed to milk and feed the goats, so my oldest son, my stepmom and I joined him for his chores – more help than he probably needed but we were each excited to be part of the work and see the progress on transforming the barn. As the milking and feeding progressed, I thought I heard the cry of an infant goat. Their cry is much higher pitched and desperate; hard for me to describe the difference.

I pushed the thought from my mind, knowing no babies were expected today. We continued to the east side of the barn to fill the trough with hay. I heard the cry again, this time a little bit louder. I asked Dad why I heard that. He quickly climbed over the gate into the shed, as if he had only needed confirmation that he wasn’t the only one hearing the noise. He found one baby and immediately another. He told me to get back on the other side of the gate so he could hand them to me. I took them in my arms gently, in my normal everyday wool dry clean only winter coat no less.

One was brown, strong, bleating, and relatively clean. Dad later pointed out that this was clearly the first born based on the strength and cleaning. The other was black and white, weak, quiet, and covered in after birth. I was worried but also reminded of holding my own babies for the first time.

Dad told me to get to the house and find a box. Linda, my stepmom, came around the shed asking what happened. Seeing the babies in my arms, she quickly went back to the house to get the box. Not knowing exactly what I was doing and wondering if I was really supposed to take the babies into the house, I went to the warmest spot I could in the shed…and swayed my little babies; a mother’s instinct.

My son helped Bumpa find the mother, then followed me into the house with the babies. Dad set me to work rubbing the black and white baby down to warm the baby and encourage a stronger heartbeat, while he cared for the mother and milked her for the much needed colostrum. My son asked me questions about how they came out of their mom – and how he came out of me! I said as much as seemed appropriate for his age. He cooed over the brown baby, proclaimed it a boy and named him Connor after a classmate. Later, Dad checked and he was right – Connor. I checked the black and white one, a girl. I wondered to myself what I would say to my son if this little girl didn’t survive. We were worried about her, but she was responding. My son pet her and asked why she had red on her head – blood from the birth. My husband woke from his nap from the sound of a crying goat. Linda fed the doeling milk and then she was laid on warm towels; later moved to a heating pad. Dad named her Clarice after the doe in the claymation cartoon Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

My family and I caring for Clarice

Our toddler woke up from his nap and was thrilled to see these newest members of the herd. Usually a very aggressive animal lover, he sensed the tenderness necessary for these new lives. He was eager, but gentle.

My husband and I took the boys caroling with our Hawks Family, an annual tradition dating back 46 years that fills my Christmas with joy. I had a very hard time leaving the babies as I was loving the experience. I quickly changed sweatshirts – in the driveway. Used my aunt’s bathroom and cleaned my coat as much as I could with a baby wipe from my diaper bag. We enjoyed caroling and I talked about my experience a lot. I was amongst other livestock farmers and curious what they thought of my first experience.

When we returned to the farm, Clarice and Connor were both doing well. My boys gave them some attention and fought their way to bed – who could blame them with newborns in the house.

Sheba, the herding dog, showed a keen interest in the babies and soon began mothering them. She licked them clean and checked anyone going near them. She tried to climb in the bin with them, but was much too big. She would have to love her babies from a distance.

Sheba mothering the kids

The twin kids stayed in the house that night as a winter storm raged outside dumping a layer of ice followed by six inches of snow. Dad stayed up at least part of the night, partially to report the snowfall at midnight, but partially to care for his youngest animals. I awoke the next morning and began the tender care again, helping our toddler sit with the babies – and cleaning the sticky poo off my pajama pants. Then my family continued on our way for our next stop on our Christmas trip.

This type of occurrence is not that rare or surprising for my father and stepmom (with the exception of bringing them in the house). It was all new and exhilarating for me though. To hold newborn goats, moments old, and feel their soft, quick heartbeat. To be just the second person to touch them and serve as their nurse. My inexperience showed, but I learned a vast amount, not least of all the capability of my sons to care for such precious gifts. It was an honor. One I hope to repeat. These were just the first kids born for the 2014 kidding season and I will never forget the privilege of participating in their birth care.Clarice, one week old

Clarice, one week old.

The Importance of Family Breakfast (and routine)

December 5th, 2013

I learned a lot today. About myself and my family. I have been on the planning committee for one day conference for work and today was the conference. It went well. And I watched as people were impacted by the content we had brought to them. I was part of making this possible and it was tremendously rewarding.

But it had consequences. I was in charge of logistics today. Making sure one thing flowed to the next. I needed to be at work before the event started – at 8:30. I know that sounds easy to a lot of people, but for our family that’s not always easy. I will admit there are days when we don’t get the boys to the daycare until 8AM and then we still have to drive the rest of the way to work. That gets me there about 8:20. While these are the exception, not the rule, it is hard to predict when they will happen (usually after a night where one or more boys get up in the middle of the night). We didn’t want to play our chances. So we decided it would work better for me to car pool with another committee member. He lives 3 blocks away. It made sense.

So at 7AM, my ride was at the house. I hugged the boys, oldest one twice, and headed on my way. Unbeknownst to me, my youngest proceeded to cry…and cry…and cry. I got to work and received a text from my husband that things weren’t going well. He explained the situation and I promptly started a video chat. The youngest, it turns out, wanted breakfast with momma. So he had breakfast with momma. I laid out name tags for the conference while visiting with him. He calmed down, ate, waved to me, blew me kisses. (ok, yes, this is the single cute part of this story.)

My husband got everything figured out at home then and was able to attend the conference. At the end of the day, we left for home, drained, but successful. Or so we thought.

We had dinner with two very rambunctious boys. Sooner than later it was time to start bedtime. I already figured the youngest wanted extra time with me. What I failed to realize was the oldest was impacted just as much. He was horribly hurt that mommy didn’t stay for breakfast. It wasn’t routine. Seems so obvious in hindsight really.

I don’t travel for my job – I’m not the type of person that likes to travel much anyways. I have never not had breakfast with my kids before we leave for school/work. The only exceptions are major illnesses when the kids have a clear visual that mommy can’t eat breakfast; that’s rare. To my kids, I committed a terrible offense.

Thankfully, they told me. And I’m listening. As a mom that works outside of the home, there are boundaries to my work. All parents (moms and dads) have these in some form and figure out what works best for them. For me, I find the right balance that always puts family first. Today I learned a boundary for my family. Really, I learned something I suspected was true – just to a much greater extent. Breakfast as a family is imperative at our house. So, tomorrow we plan to eat breakfast together. And every day after that.

The Nutcracker

December 3rd, 2013

This time of year is filled with my favorite traditions and music. One album commonly played this time of year gives me pause right now though.

For many musicians and dancers, The Nutcracker music really irritates us. Don’t get me wrong, its beautiful. Its just we’ve heard pieces, if not all of it, on non-stop repeat to the point that we could sing it or dance it in our sleep. I was in The Nutcracker once. One time. And for many years I was completely sick of it. (I’m still sick of Coppelia, but that’s another story.)

I haven’t performed The Nutcracker for many years now. So, a couple pieces from it aren’t so hard for me to hear. As I listened to the pas de deux from act II this morning, I was caught up in my desire to be doing more ballet. Its a complex thought for me. First, there’s the tendonitis in both feet and messed up back (though I’m working to correct that one at least). And the original primary reason I switched to computer work – to have more time home at the same time as my family. Neither of these have changed.

If you watch any of the city.ballet series online you’ll hear similar comments. Their body is severely damaged but they can’t imagine doing anything different with their life.

I often comment on twitter about missing pointe shoes or partnering, both of which are the true part of ballet I miss. Both of which can damage your body pretty bad as well.

Before we assume that this is just “my passion,” consider my dad was “hooked” after partnering with me for one year. As far as I can tell, ballet is NOT his passion (that might be livestock and also another story).

When pregnant with Will, the nurse midwife commented on how much my feet pop and crack. She couldn’t understand how I could intentionally damage my feet. Really, I never saw it as intentionally damaging my feet. Blame my genes or my training, but not everyone experiences the same thing. Uh…clearly this is blood blisters aside right? I mean, I knew about those.

So, why? I don’t really have answers that I can articulate to you in words. I have a vision in my mind. I suppose I can summarize it as art. Ballet is art and your body just happens to be the medium. A medium that has severe consequences if pushed too hard. So I continue this torment and write this thought down, each time just a little different.

P.S. If you’re looking for a good performance of The Nutcracker in Iowa, I recommend the Dubuque City Youth Ballet, the company I once preformed The Nutcracker with. The founder passed a year ago, my teacher is still the choreographer, and a woman I danced with as a young girl is now the principal instructor. They produce a phenomenal semi-professional ballet. Tickets are available through the Grand Opera House in Dubuque.

A Kid Can Change the World

October 8th, 2013

Our church last year collected quarters for Heifer International, which resulted in over $7000 – an “ark and a half” (not all quarters). This year we have started the same project and the kids were ready the very first Sunday to drop their quarters in the quarter tubes. The service continued on while one little girl continued to drop her quarters in the tube.

Our oldest son made a great connection with this project last year because of the goats at our family farm. “More quarters, baby goats,” he said, which we all translated to “More quarters, more goats.” And he’s quick to point out that there are lots more goats on the farm now! Perhaps a small part of this project has not yet clicked for him that the goats being purchased are going to farmers around the world, despite our weekly reminders of this.

This year, as I shared this story with my grandma, I learned a deeper family connection to this project. I wanted to be sure to document this story and I figured I might as well share it as well.

Heifer International goes back to 1944, starting right here in the midwest (source: Heifer.org). Sometime before 1965, the United Methodist Men collected money for a calf at the Methodist Church in Preemption, Illinois, a small town just 8 miles from our family farm. My grandfather was one of those men and the calf was purchased from our farm. They loaded the calf into the backseat of a car (with the seats removed) and transported it to meet up with Heifer International where it then continued on its way to Europe, South America, or some other international destination (Grandma thinks South America).

My grandfather died October 8th, 1983 – 30 years ago. My sons will never meet him in person. They may have a deep connection to him though as they carry on his work one quarter at a time.

Senior Dance Recital

August 19th, 2013

Last week, as I listened to a new rdio station while programming at work, a song came on that sent me back 10 years, the Forest Gump Suite. I held a senior recital at the end of high school, which mostly included pieces from various dances I had performed in high school, some choreographed by me and some not. I had initially hoped to choreograph several new pieces and perform them with my friends, but I just didn’t have the time (I still have the scribblings of my good intentions). But I completed one original piece, asked my dad to perform with me, and together we…well we sort of brought the house down.

I knew it was a powerful concept I had selected, but I didn’t really process that much. I focused on the technical work and all the other busy things going on in my life (AP tests, graduation, spring dance performance with the company, selling and repairing Macs at the local Mac shop, preparing for college, healing the torn ligament in my foot, etc). When I watch the video, I get caught up in the detail of my skill all over. I am very aware that I was imperfect as a dancer. I see all the things I could have done better. Why didn’t I push my jumps higher? Why did I have that move there? Why this? Why that?

It is when I just listen to the music that I get caught up in the emotion. I’m not distracted by my short comings. I can feel the choreography in my muscles and know what concept I had in mind. That at one point in my life my dad was ever present, helping me through life and then slowly I went off on my own. You see Dad and I dance together and you see me do similar actions off on my own. You see me doing different actions all together as I dance on my own longer. I find it very meaningful that there was a lack of curtains on the stage for this piece. The audience could see him always watching over me from the sidelines, willing me to do the right thing. As a fierce teenager about to embark on independent living, I saw how exciting it was to go off on my own. Now, as an adult and as a parent, I see so much more. And when I just listen to the music, I too have tears in my eyes.

That’s why I enjoy choreography. I take something and make it so meaningful that I remind you of some important emotion your life, whether it be an important relationship, a special moment, or something else altogether. I have no idea how it will impact you individually. I just hope that it will come together some how. And that my dance, no matter how imperfect it is technically, will touch someone somewhere.