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Looking Back, Moving Forward

severely premature newborn
Previously I wrote on two topics that touch all of us – how our lives can change forever in a heartbeat and how staying calm empowers us to carry on. Lest we forget, the universe sends reminders from time to time.
The World Turned Upside Down
At birth, every child transforms the lives of its family. Daily living will never be as it was. That’s a given. When a child arrives at 25 weeks, two days gestation weighing 1 1/2 pounds, the world turns upside down. Obviously unexpected and clearly life-threatening, the situation requires everyone to remain calm, despite intense emotions. Keeping calm makes carrying on possible and insures the best possible outcome.
Entering A Parallel Universe
Most families never experience such an event. Those who have known how terrifying it is, even when the birth occurs in a hospital with top tier neonatal facilities. Such Neonatal Intensive Care Units are marvels of technology staffed with specially trained doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Each infant is cared for by her own highly skilled nurse. To enter such a unit is to enter a parallel universe. Going there for the first time took my breath away.
My daughter-in-law recalls being in shock and feeling queasy on her first visit. Overwhelmed by monitors displaying information she didn’t yet know how to interpret and afraid to look at her daughter, she remembers the compassion of the nurse as she gently encouraged her to stop looking at the monitors and look at her baby, saying “I’ll look at the monitors. That’s my job. You look at your baby.”
I recall feeling apprehensive about being there and about what lay ahead for our only grandchild. Astonished by her delicate beauty, thick hair, and skin so thin I could see her heart beating. And dismayed by the enormity of the challenges she faced.
Acknowledging Feelings
That’s an invitation, however ill-timed, to acknowledge all the feelings that come with this experience. Doing so is essential self-care – imperative for keeping calm and carrying on. This journey is the ultimate rollercoaster ride. I’ve never relished the ups and downs, twists and turns of a rollercoaster, and even those who do can appreciate the difference between living on a roller coaster and a thrilling ride at an amusement park.
Counting Blessings
Our family has been blessed by what hasn’t happened as well as by what has. That’s life in NICU. The range of challenges is staggering. Every situation is unique yet shares common threads. When schedules overlap, parents become acquainted, exchange information, and offer encouragement.
 Although we do not know the parents and other grands, we appreciate their plight and exchange greetings in passing. Carrying on takes on new meaning when everyone is literally in “the same boat.” The journey is long and exhausting. A nod or a smile brings comfort and encouragement. Small gestures make a big difference.
Bundle of Joy
Ciera and her parents began enjoying skin time when she was four weeks old. She contentedly snuggled. My best Christmas gift ever was being able to hold her on Christmas Eve, the day she turned seven weeks old. By 36 weeks gestation, she had shed many tubes, lines, and leads.
Celebrating Milestones
After a nurse moved the feeding tube from her mouth to her nose, she became giddy with joy. She delighted in being free from that nuisance. This is not our imagination. She smiled more than ever and took joy in testing how far she could stick out her tongue and how wide she could open her mouth.
Discovering Likes and Dislikes
Ciera likes the sound of words beginning with “p” and “s”, an observation her mother tested out after I reported her delight in the word “purple.” She smiles every time she hears the word. She also likes the sound of peaches, pears, and plums, but not of broccoli.
Settling In 
She left the NICU at three months old, only to be readmitted six days later. After 12 days, she was once again in her own bassinet, adjusting to life on the outside. And so the journey continues. We’re all acutely aware that we’re still on that roller coaster, subject to unexpected, high speed twists and turns, and yes, that’s scary. But as her mother says, “we’ve got this.”
We celebrate each milestone and those professionals who worked tirelessly and compassionately to insure Ciera not only survived severe prematurity but thrives. Our favorite neonatologist reminds us to think of her age in terms of her due date, not her birth date. Wise counsel. That’s where she is. So newborn, first time parents, and never-expected-yet-delighted-to-be grandparents are all adjusting to our new reality, grateful for the opportunity to grow together.
Learning New Tricks
The first time she came to spend an afternoon with us, all went well, despite the learning curve that comes when the time between becoming parents and grandparents is 40 years. We laughed when our son called to express his gratitude for the free time and said, “Mom, did you realize you’d put her diaper on backwards?” “Son,” I replied, “do you think I’d have done that if I’d known front from back?” Four decades ago his diapers were cotton, secured with pins, and worn under plastic pants. Current diapering practices are but one of the new tricks we old dogs have learned.
We focus on how “baby girl” lights up our world and delight in holding her, sharing family stories, reading snippets of Dr. Seuss, and singing the purple people eater song, a fave for the girl who likes the sound of the letter p.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Worry Eaters Relieve Anxiety

Plush character that eats your worries

Acknowledging Feelings

When life throws a curve ball, ignoring our feelings makes matters worse. Successful coping requires us to acknowledge our feelings. Otherwise we’ll likely “come undone.” Suppressed emotions have a way of escaping, often at inopportune times and in inappropriate ways. Self awareness is the first step. Sharing how we feel with people we trust opens channels of support and helps us find ways to ease our distress.

Managing Feelings

What we do with our feelings speaks volumes about our ability to manage our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to control us. Some adults keep journals, appreciating how writing clarifies and comforts or express themselves through art. Others turn to prayer, meditation, or physical activity.

Worry Eaters Help Kids Cope

Truth is, we all worry – adults and kids alike. Sometimes our worries are small; other times overwhelming. The causes differ, but we all know the feeling. Managing anxiety requires identifying its cause and finding healthy ways to cope. Worry Eaters invite kids to express their feelings and help them develop healthy coping skills. With self confidence and optimism, keeping calm and carrying on in the face of adversity is easier.

Worry Eaters help children do just that. Kids write out or draw what’s bugging them, zip their cares in a Worry Eaters mouth, and let their favorite character hold on to them. The message is you don’t need to carry your worries all by yourself.

Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters

Certified Child Life Specialist Morgan Livingstone has written a Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters that outlines common childhood worries by developmental stages, from toddlers to preteens. She stresses the value of Worry Eaters as a tool to help kids “to identify worries, clarify misunderstandings or misconceptions, resolve conflicts and build self esteem.”

Worry Eaters Appeal to Everyone

There’s a Worry Eater for every personality and situation. Consider Flint. He has horns, but to a kid who wears an eye patch, Flint is an appealing companion. Whether short and wide or tall and narrow, all characters are soft and cuddly, eager to take care of our worries so we don’t have to.

Available in two sizes, the large invites hugging as well as carrying worries. The small make ideal take-alongs. That’s why some children tuck a Worry Eater in their back pack.  When they know their Worry Eater is nearby, they say worry less .

Worry Eaters appeal to adults as well as kids. Many parents buy Worry Eaters for kids in college and beyond, saying these young adults need reminders to worry less. We all do.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Life Happens – Be Resilient

baby brother and sister hugging

We’ve all likely heard the oft quoted, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Experience confirms the truth. Lest I forget, however, I was reminded when my daughter-in-law called in tears to say she needed a ride to the hospital. She was in labor. And only 25 weeks into the pregnancy.

Despite efforts to prolong the pregnancy, life-threatening complications dictated the baby be delivered three days later. Fortunately she was born in a medical center fully equipped to care for her and is blessedly stable. We know that could change in a heartbeat. Yet we’re optimistic that she will not only survive but thrive.

Continuing to navigate the unknowns that lie ahead will be stressful, yet we need, as the Brits say, to keep calm and carry on. Not as easily done as said, but certainly best practice when difficult situations arise. Staying calm requires acknowledging feelings and embracing healthy coping strategies. Once grounded, we’re better equipped to carry on.

All this has me thinking about resilience. How do we learn this and can we teach children how to be resilient? Why do some people seem more capable of bouncing back than others?  What accounts for these differences?

These are questions without clear answers. Still as adults we have a responsibility to empower children with knowledge and skills they can call on when difficulties arise. Here’s what I think everyone, adults and kids alike, need to know about getting through difficulties and helping others in their times of distress.

Keeping calm does not mean ignoring our feelings. Emotions can run high and deep and must be acknowledged if we’re to carry on. Sometimes people have conflicted feelings and may feel fearful or ashamed. That’s when a trusted friend or therapist is indispensable.

People often don’t know what to do or say when someone they know is dealing with one of life’s curve balls. Reach out. If not in person, call or send a text message. That simple act can be profoundly comforting and deeply appreciated.

The admonition, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” is also a solid bit of advice. Hell is no place to stop. So don’t. Keep moving forward, even if your pace is slow. Our best efforts to be resilient vary. Some days we’ll be calm, unflappable. Others we’ll struggle to keep our anxieties in check. Having caring people in our lives helps us stay grounded. Being such a compassionate, positive person is a gift we give to ourselves as well as others.

Modeling the resiliency we’d like to see in our children is critical. Actions speak louder than words. Children learn about resilience by watching us. Our actions reflect our hard won wisdom. We cannot control what’s happening, but we can choose how we respond. That’s a lesson worth passing along.

Showing compassion to ourselves and others fosters a resilient spirit. We know we’re not alone, and if we’re wise, we’re grateful for all that doesn’t go wrong and all the kindnesses we experience as we strive to remain calm and move forward.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play