Family

Why We Follow a 3 Gift Rule at Christmas

For years, as husband and wife with no kids, we simply budgeted for Christmas. A small portion for each person on our list, and slightly more for each other.

We greatly enjoyed our quiet Christmas mornings alone, before heading off to spend time with both of our families. We made the small number of gifts stretch by wrapping all our stocking stuffers and opening them one at a time. Even if they were just the required ornament (sometimes handmade), candy, and lip balm.

And somehow, no matter the budget, we always seemed to get about the same number of gifts for each other. Last year it was exactly the same – three – and they even fit in similar “categories:” a book, something to keep us warm, etc.

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Before too long, our family became threeAnd, although just four months at his first Christmas, we had to decide what we would do for our son’s Christmas gift traditions. It did not seem logical to spend the same amount of money on him as we did on each other. We could get him a box of tissues and he would be elated! At the same time, we did not want to overwhelm him with a vast number of gifts. I don’t care if he gets more gifts than us, but opening presents for hours is incredibly overwhelming for a child, and years from now, could make him spoiled with entitlement.

In my considering these things, we came across the four gift rule for Christmas presents. You may have heard of it as a way to get unique, useful gifts for your children without going overboard. It doesn’t focus so much on money, as it does on the number of gifts. Certainly, you don’t need to spend the same amount on your toddler as you do for your teenager.

The idea is that each child gets four gifts only, one from each category:

  1. Something they want.
  2. Something they need.
  3. Something to wear.
  4. Something to read.

(You can think of it like the “Something old, something new,” many brides still recite as a fun tradition.)

In pondering this framework in our own family, two ideas struck us. First, we wouldn’t want to wait until Christmas to get our son something he needed. Certainly, many examples would be either small (i.e. socks), such that he wound hardly call it a “gift,” or be very big (i.e. a laptop), which would be so exciting they hardly even feel like a boring old “need,” so much as a great big “want!” Thus, if there was one thing I wouldn’t mind dropping from this list, it would be the “need” item.

Second, if we do drop one item, that would leave just three gifts on the list: what could be better!? We already happen to get each other three things for Christmas, so it seemed like a very reasonable number of gifts. Plus, the fewer gifts, the nicer all of them (or at least one of them) could be.

So we made our own three gift rule for Christmas Presents:

  1. Something they want.
  2. Something to wear.
  3. Something to read.

Last year, although he was completely unaware of the ceremony of it all, it was fun practice to get him three gifts. Since he was just an infant, he was fully stocked on things to wear, so we gave extra books instead. We got Theodore bath toys (want), and three small board books (read). In his stocking, he got baby paper, teething toys, and an ornament.

This year, we have not quite nailed down his list, but this is a good sampling of what could be:

  1. Something they want: a toddler-size table and chairs
  2. Something to wear: slippers
  3. Something to read: My First 100 Words Lift-the-Flap20171225_133324

In his stocking, Theodore will probably get getting a few of his favorite things, such as: play-doh, crayons, bubbles, animal figurines, play food, and an ornament. (If you are looking for shopping ideas, check out the Dollar Tree, which is probably where I will get all of these things.)

By keeping ourselves under control in the number of gifts we can give him, it forces us, naturally, to be more thoughtful in the type of gifts we give him. So, instead of just adding in “one more” small toy (“But it was on SALE!”), I am forced to consider carefully which toys will go the longest, in terms of his interest, and thus be the most useful. Open-ended and high-quality toys will, by default, be the picks most often.

Plus, Theo is less likely to be overwhelmed on Christmas, and every other day of the year! Research shows kids do a lot better with fewer toys around. It allows them to be more creative and actually play more. Not only do I have less toys to clean up and store, but Theodore will get more use out of the toys he has. A win-win!

With Christmas coming up at lighting-fast pace (it gets faster every year, doesn’t it?), consider whether your family should adopt a “number” rule when it comes to toys and gifts. This applies not only to parents (who have just as difficult a time not spoiling their kids as anyone), but grandparents and aunts and uncles, too! And these principals can also easily be followed at birthdays and in Easter baskets, as well. When we have the choice, we will choose quality over quantity, every time.

How do you decide how much or how many gifts to get your child at Christmas? What about your spouse or significant other?

-D. E. Barbi Bee

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Sample Gender-Neutral Capsule Wardrobe for IUGR/Preemie Babies

I am fascinated by the idea of a capsule wardrobe for babies and kids. It seems like the perfect plan for a person who is constantly growing out of his or her clothes: it reduces the number of overall pieces, and, if the various wardrobes for each size coordinate, you can maximize use of every item during transitional sizes.

A capsule wardrobe is the minimalist concept of having a “core” set of items that can generally all coordinate together and are thoughtfully suited to your particular daily needs. The neutral basics can be made unique with a few accessories or stand-out statement pieces. Some of its proponents have an ideal number of pieces (seven, thirty-three, thirty-seven). But, for babies, the number is not as significant as the efficiency. Baby clothes are small, so thirty-five pieces will take up hardly any more space than twenty-five pieces. Additionally, babies grow quickly, their needs change quickly in different environments and moods, and they tend to make messes and need multiple outfit changes per day.

This wardrobe I designed to meet the following criteria:

  1. Gender-Neutral: When I was pregnant with Theodore, we chose not to find out our baby’s gender until he was born. We felt it was a fun surprise, and we liked the challenge of finding unisex clothes that could work for this baby, and any subsequent babies, no matter the gender. Neutral wardrobes help maximize efficiency of your baby clothes, especially since your baby will grow out of these tiny ones very quickly! You can always supplement with more feminine or masculine accessories and statement pieces, but this capsule wardrobe on its own can work for a boy or a girl.
  2. Designed for premature and/or IUGR babies: When I was 31 weeks pregnant, we found out our baby was not growing properly, and later discovered it was because his placenta was not growing properly. We ended up having him at 37 weeks gestation, and he weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces. He spent 6 days in the NICU, and wore preemie sized clothes until he was about one month old. It is surprisingly difficult to find preemie clothes that look cute, and if your baby is in the NICU, you need to keep in mind accommodations for wires, tubes, and sensors. This wardrobe is not for 8-pound, overdue babies; it was made from my experience in the NICU, and with a very tiny, generally cold newborn at home.
  3. Made for mild/transitional weather: Our son was born at the end of summer/beginning of fall. His first few months of life, the weather continued to get increasingly cold. These clothes are exactly the type of things we needed, and anyone would need, during those transitional seasons. They allow for easy layering, and are not heavy-weight or bulky.
  4. Cost-conscious: There are some AMAZINGLY cute brands out there that produce ADORABLE clothes (I’m looking at you, Rylee + Cru, and anything on Spearmint Love). BUT, I personally can’t go out and spend that kind of money of something my baby will wear for a few weeks maximum. Plus, these boutique brands generally don’t include preemie sizes in their collections. I tried to keep these prices in the $10.00-$20.00 range, and only a few of them are outside (some more and some less). Plus, a lot of these brands tend to have coupons or sales. There is one boutique line on here, and it is very cost-efficient and designs specifically for preemies.

With those guidelines in mind, let’s jump into the wardrobe!

Here is a list of everything included in this gender-neutral capsule wardrobe for preemie/IUGR newborn babies (click this link to see the whole wardrobe on Pinterest):

Body Suits: 12 short-sleeve, 1 long-sleeve
Shirts: 5 long-sleeve
Pants: 3 footed, 3 regular
10 one-piece sleep ‘n’ plays
1 cardigan
1 sweatshirt (zip-up)
6 hats
2 pairs crib shoes
1 Cotton sleep sack
12 pairs socks

Body Suits: There are many more short-sleeve than long-sleeve because the short-sleeve ones are really great for layering. You can pretty much put a short-sleeve onesie/bodysuit under any of these outfits to additional warmth and comfort. There are two side-snap onesies, which are great for the NICU (lines and wires can poke through the snaps), and allow you to avoid pulling anything over your newborn’s head, which they hate and can be very difficult with a floppy newborn.

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a420ba7d4d8470fbe4196d105f87b54f.jpge41e9c4cf546f38b084bde49739c3e73.jpgShirts: These are excellent for layering, and are light cotton, so there is no extra bulk getting in the way. My baby loved to be swaddled in the those early weeks, so putting him in a bulky sweater and then swaddling him was not really practical. These side-snap shirts are what the nurses put on him in the NICU whenever his body temperature was a little low. You can even roll up the sleeves if they are too big. These shirts also have little pockets that flip over your baby’s hands if they are prone to getting cold or scratching themselves.

**Random note on swaddling: my son was too small for the specialized “swaddle” blankets that come with snaps and velcro and all sorts of gadgets. They could never get tight enough for our little warrior. We used plain old receiving blankets and muslin swaddles to keep him bundled up and they worked great for us.**

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Pants: I loved pants with feet attached because there were no socks to worry about, and the pants never rolled up and exposed Theo’s legs to the cold air. I also included footless pants for those warmer days, or to accommodate foot sensors in the NICU. These are all light-weight cotton as well. Remember, in those early days, your child isn’t crawling or walking, so light pants won’t get stained with dirt at that point. If he has a leaky diaper and makes a mess, castile soap, applied directly and rubbed in when it was still wet, always removed the stains for us.

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10 Sleep ‘n’ plays: These are essentially the most comfortable / only thing a baby wants to wear. They can work as pajamas, they can work as a day-time outfit. Layer them with a body suit and they are extra cozy. One of these is made of thermal material, the others are regular cotton. Some of these are zip-up, and some are snaps. Some have feet and others don’t. A word on sizing: my son was the weight of a preemie, but was 18 inches long. Most preemie clothes fit 17-inch babies. Accordingly, while he was swimming in newborn size outfits, his legs were too long for preemie outfits. We cut the feet off his outfits to allow him to wear them, but that explains why the footless outfits may be better, depending on your baby’s measurements.

**Note re: baby gowns. We loved the idea of a simple, no-fasteners’ article that could just be slipped up to change a diaper. The problem was, the gowns were no good for car rides (you can’t fasten the car seat between it’s legs), so you could only use them in the house. Also, they offered very little in thermal protection, and the ones we got were too big for our itty newborn. We did use them when he was in 0-3 month sizes, but when was very little, they just slid off his shoulders.

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00accbcda15106308e40a2f97b51f7fb.jpg52cc7dc8abdd65d1395272d787ee0f411-e1538578254761.jpg5925fac3eeea57d8c3bec82ca192e6fc1.jpg1 Cardigan: There is not really much in the realm of “cute” or “dressy” preemie sized clothes. But if there is a nice occasion (baptism, dedication, wedding) and you think your baby maybe should wear something other than essentially pajamas, here is a sweet, warm, neutral outfit that could work. Plus, the quilted style can layer nicely with other items in cold weather.

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1 Zip-up Sweatshirt: Enough, with the layers, already! No, I won’t. A light-weight cotton sweatshirt helps add that all-important warmth without too much bulk, again. And the zipper makes it easy to come on and off. I had one very similar to this for Theodore and I think he wore it for about four months. A very useful item for us!5e1d77dbd2aeb8836065319d09d71695.jpg
6 Hats: My dear little one was totally bald for the first 10 months or so, and was very cold on top of it. He wore a hat almost every day in the winter, and even to bed, to help him stay warm. Some of the sets above come with hats, and here are a couple of others. Hat sizes are really weird, so you will need several to switch between as his or her head size changes.

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2 Pairs Crib Shoes: These fleece booties are the best! I was so, so sad when my baby grew out of them. Shoes at this age are not for protecting feet from the ground or providing stability: they are to help keep socks on and keep the baby’s feet warm. These velcro shoes are incredibly warm and stay on like glue! The smaller cotton booties are for less chilly weather and are basically slippers for your baby. So sweet!

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1 Cotton Sleep Sack: As I said above, our baby was too small for the specialized velcro “swaddles,” so we wrapped him tightly him with regular swaddle blankets. If your baby doesn’t like being swaddled, or gets too hot, I recommend sleep sacks. They are safe and when your baby starts moving around, she won’t kick them off!

83598c10180fad3ad293fd0562296c05.jpg12 Pairs Socks: Colored and patterned socks are super cute, but do you know the only thing worse than sitting around pairing grown-up socks? Sitting around pairing up tiny, doll-size socks! And if you are missing one, you might as well throw away the other one! That’s why I love having a multi-pack of all white socks. These are a great, low-cost option that, in my experience, actually stay on the baby’s feet. They are thin and stretchy.

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There you have it! 56 total items, at an average price of $8.20 per item, creating literally dozens of outfits! And by no means does everyone need all of these things to have a highly-functional newborn capsule wardrobe! To further extend the use of this wardrobe, and depending on your particular circumstances, it may be prudent to purchase some things in preemie size, and some in newborn size. Also, Burt’s Bees clothes tend to run a little smaller than Carter’s. I hope this helps you get excited about getting tiny clothes for your tiny miracle! Having or expecting a premature baby can be very stressful, but having a few cute clothes on your little warrior to look forward to can help, even if it’s just a little.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

 

P.S. Eventually your preemie will grow up, so I also made a Pinterest Board Capsule Wardrobe for a 12-month old boy in the fall/winter months. Check it out here!

Blueberry Mania

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We bought our house in December of last year.  At the time, the landscaping was nothing to be thrilled about. The backyard was grey and wet, and trees were being scaled by vines. There was a row of blueberry bushes that did not look alive, let alone fruit-producing. We more or less ignored them, so as to not get our hopes up.

When spring came around, you can imagine our surprise when the blueberry bushes (all five of them) sprouted leaves, then blossoms, and then tiny berries! Every week – like magic, as nature always seems – since the beginning of July, we have been drowning in plump, sweet, sun-warmed blueberries!

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Right now, I have about 3 pounds frozen in vacuum bags. I have another 5 pounds in the fridge as I write this. We have given away just as much as we have kept. And still more are coming! I estimate we have gotten at least 25 pounds so far this year.

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Theodore is thrilled, as he suddenly has his favorite food in endless supply. He often lunges out of our arms to grasp as the blue pops in the bushes as we walk past.

After freezing, eating fresh, topping yogurt, filling pancakes, and everything else we could imagine, I finally admitted it was time to face my fear and settle into the reality: I had to make jam.

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I love the idea of making jam: it is a cost-efficient way of storing the extra harvest for future months and years. But notwithstanding my desire to connect with the New Englanders and farmers of ages gone by, I was scared to death of this process and refused to bite the bullet.

I don’t know what scared me most. I had visions of exploding jars and molding sauces for some reason. It was built up in my head as an extremely delicate science experiment I was bound to foul up.

But this Sunday, with seven or so pounds of blueberries sitting on my counter and no idea of how else to make use of them, I spontaneously dove in.

My father-in-law Tony and sister-in-law Katie happened to be over our house that afternoon. Tony/Dad lent me all the expertise and confidence I needed. Katie wrestled Theodore so I could concentrate. Massimo cleared the counters.

I decided to start small – just a few jars – in case this went all wrong. I looked at this extremely un-intimidating recipe for guidance: a two-ingredient refrigerator jam. What could be easier simpler than that?

But my dear father-in-law, Tony, wouldn’t settle for refrigerator jam. It could go bad! Okay, so, a word on Tony: Tony hails from a little-known culinary hot spot called Italy, and happens to be a professional chef. He grew up with farmers and women who cooked bread every week and stoked a fire all day. His favorite things in the world are his family and talking about the food of his childhood: grape leaves dripping in natural syrup from the raisins stuffed inside; barrels of fresh fruit sunk in the rivers and lakes to keep fresh; stealing salami hanging from the rafters; rare treats of ice cream cones and sodas; and the “lazy summer meals” made of buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto. He has a wealth of knowledge that I am only beginning to absorb. As often as we can, Massimo and I love to cook with him or hear recipes from his childhood, to maintain the heritage and keep the memories alive for all of us.

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Antonio Barbi and his first grandson, Theodore Antonio.

So on this particular day, in his passionate, fantastical way, Dad/Father-in-Law/Nonno/Tony made canning sound so easy. After all, his mother and Nonna would do it all the time, out of pure necessity. He stood there in the kitchen and told me, mouth slightly frowned, hand gesturing along, and bottom lip pushed forward, “Just put it in the pan, add some water, and sugar, and let it cook down. You put it in the jars, put on the lids, and heat them again. That’s it.”

Easy!

[You have to hear this story with his hand acting out all the steps as he speaks. Sprinkle the sugar = delicately but decisively rubbing his fingers together and gesticulating them in a circle over the imaginary “pot.” Also he has a thick accent. For example, that afternoon we saw a small toad in the garden and I swore he was telling me the animal looked like he should be named “Todd.” (“It’s a Todd! It’s a Todd!”)]

Off I went. Recipe thrown out the window. Just following my gut and my father-in-law’s ancestral knowledge. Just a quick Google search to make sure I sanitize the jars long enough and that was all.

I dunked the small mason jars and lids (three, because I was advised by Dad the product will go down to about half it’s original volume), in a large pot of water and boiled them for five minutes. They were removed. “Lay them on a clean towel.” – Dad. Ok.

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I poured two pounds of blueberries in the pot. I added one and a half cups of sugar in. (Haha, at this point I was still considering the recipe.)

Then – a moment. My instinct told me to improvise and I had to listen. Almost without thinking, my hand grabbed the cinnamon and sprinkled a light cover over the contents of the pot. What are you doing? I wanted to smell it together, that was all. I had to do it.

I cooked it on medium. I mashed it a little with a potato masher to help break the skins, and basically stirred constantly. Eventually I pulled up a stool to sit while I stirred my precious concoction. Easy!

After probably 45 minutes, the blueberries having completely broken down and unrecognizable from their original state, I gave up on it ever becoming “thick” and resolved at least I would have blueberry sauce.

(Dad would have given me the advice I needed,and told me it will thicken once it cools, but he had run down to the restaurant to get something. So I was flying blind now.)

I poured the sauce into the clean jars (over a plate, so as to not stain my towel too much). It turns out I should have done four small mason jars; that would have been perfect. But the last bit I simply put in a pyrex dish and said we would use it right away.

I filled the jars as high as I could. I was following my gut and it felt scary but exciting. There is something about not using a recipe. It makes cooking more of an act of creativity, rather than following instructions and procedure. It uses a different part of your brain and I thrive on it.

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I secured the lids tightly and brought the pot of water back up to a boil. This was a perfect moment to taste some of this sweet delight. I let tiny drops cool and tasted – it was amazing! The spicy cinnamon balanced the sweet sugar and tart berries. It was summery and autumnal at the same time. Theodore licked the wooden spoon, as all children should do when their parent is baking. He was obsessed.

The portion in the pyrex dish was a really good “control”, because it allowed me to watch the texture change as it cooled. Much to my surprise and delight, over the next hour the jam cooled to an actual jelly-like consistency! I couldn’t believe it worked! My instinct, yet again, was right.

I cooked the jars, submerged in water, for about ten minutes (I forgot to start the timer, so I went long on this part), and removed them. Sure enough, POP! went the lids. My experiment continued to work out.

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Dad came back and was extremely proud of my results. I was now disappointed I only made three jars, but it just means I get to make more again soon!

In a matter of a few hours I went from too many blueberries and an unnecessary fear of exploding glass in my kitchen, to three jars of jam and the specific brand of confidence that only comes from believing in your creativity.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

P.S. Shout-out to Michaela Pesce for suggesting this post! Readers, send me any suggestion you have for posts, I love it!

 

What is the music like in Heaven?

36759298_2138347296178730_4116625569376894976_n.jpgI took this picture on Monday, when I couldn’t stop thinking about Johnny for no apparent reason.

I left work early, and I almost didn’t stop. But then I did. I got out and walked around and yelled at the dirt and the sky.

I took these pictures to remember what this place looked like at this particular moment. We are working on finalizing his headstone, so this wooden cross won’t be here forever.

I looked at this picture over and over since, and that tree, to the left: it is so overwhelming. It is incredible to stand under, breathing in its sap. Johnny would have loved this tree, no doubt. That massive pine.

But then I looked at it again, and suddenly the third verse of “In Christ Alone” came to my mind:

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again.

How the disciples – how Mary – must have felt when Jesus’ body was in that grave for three days. They thought it was over. It was sealed. It was done. Cut down in his prime, at the height of his ministry. I now understand how they felt.

I love that song, “In Christ Alone.” It has the weight and subject matter of an old hymn. In fact, I often look for it when flipping through my antique hymnals. But it was written in 2001, though timeless as it already is.

That got me thinking about the music in Heaven. Do you think there are songs they sing in Heaven that we don’t know yet? Were they singing “In Christ Alone” in the presence of God before it was shared with us here on earth?

What is the music like in Heaven, anyway? I often pictured numerous languages and styles being played over each other, but are there even lyrics? Or melodies? Or is it so overwhelming, the love, that it just bursts out, incomprehensible? Or is it silent, with the sound of future, endless, eternal glory and magnificence ever-approaching, humming in the distance, but barely audible at all.

I have never had to consider Heaven the way I have in the last three months. I have never considered with this depth what happens to those who die and didn’t profess and believe in the name of Jesus; that was unspeakable.

But I think about it now. I think about how everything I think about Heaven is probably wrong. I think about what pop culture says of heaven: a field of puppies and endless ice cream without gaining weight. I think about how pathetic our versions of eternal Glory are.

To be honest, I’m frustrated by Heaven. I’m frustrated at how idolatrous humans are that we conceive the notion of paradise as completely revolving around ourselves. And every time I think I’ve figured something out, and feel a little connected to Johnny because of it, I instantly rebuke myself, knowing I am wrong.

Deborah, your mind is so small compared to God’s wonder. You can’t even imagine it.

I think I’m wrong right now. I think this is a huge stumbling block for me at the moment and the Deceiver is exploiting my curiosity. I know the Lord wants to draw us close to Himself, but my demand and desire for perfection first is getting in the way.

I know all of this, and yet, I still can’t stop thinking what the music is like in Heaven.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Happy Birthday

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Happy birthday to you.

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Happy birthday to you.

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Happy birthday, dear Johnny.

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Happy birthday

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to you.

 

Happy twenty-fifth birthday, my brother.

It would have been such a great birthday. Twenty-five is a good one.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17

Thank you for the laugh lines

This summer, on June 30, Massimo and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. It feels like a big one. And I can’t believe it’s already been five years, but I can’t believe it’s only been five years.

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Married for 30-ish minutes.

We have lived in different places, transitioned to multiple jobs and I graduated law school. We have a baby, for goodness sake! We have a whole new person in our lives because of our years together.

I am different. He is different. I was very, very thin when I got married. Not unhealthy, I was just twenty-three and I was thin. I was younger. I didn’t have these lines around my eyes and mouth. I didn’t have acne scars from my pregnancy hormones, nor did I have this extra fat and stretch marks, let alone the five-inch scar above my womb from giving birth.

I am different. He is different. He is thinner and more fit now than when we married. And his hair is shorter. And he has some gray hairs peeking out. He looks older. He was twenty-one when we got married, so he should look older. He is more confident, more refined. He knows more about who he is and doesn’t worry so much. He has bags under his eyes from getting up every night to get Theodore back to sleep. Even his wardrobe has changed from when we got married.

Every time he points out another sign of his aging, another gray hair or something, he says it like it a bad thing. And for a moment – just a moment – I am sad, too. Not because he will become less handsome or lovely, but because I know our time is short. People say they don’t want to marry young, but I look back and I am disappointed I had to wait until I was twenty-three! I know that was the right timing for us, and God’s plan needed us to do more individual work before we got together, but I couldn’t wait to have all the time I could with this man. I love our team. I love our family, and knowing we are aging reminds me it will not last forever. We have a short time together. And that makes me sad.

But then, after the moment, I am met with pride and honor. Pride I get to watch this man grow older. Honor to stand by his side and count his gray hairs. The fine lines on my face are from all the smiles and laughter he brings out of me. The stretch marks and scar on my stomach are from the child we brought forth together. The weight changes and wardrobe adjustments are from the many season we have endured together.

The truth is, I want to watch all his hairs go gray. I want to watch him wear out his jeans, and buy new shoes. I want to have photos of us every year, each year with slightly more wrinkles and slightly more mature eyes. No one is entitled to grow old with his or her spouse. No one has a right to die before their children. No one has the unalienable opportunity to outlive her mortgage and reach retirement age. Every single day is an undeserved blessing. Every wrinkle and scar that comes with it are the keepsakes, the tick mark on the wall to count how long we have been given this gift.

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Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for the perfect, vacation-like days when we have napped in the sunshine or soaked in the rest and peace. Thank you for the days of hard work, when we went to bed exhausted and dirty, proud of a long day of productivity. Thank you for the every morning, when we wake up thrilled at the sight of each other.

Thank you for the days we couldn’t wait to be over, when we anticipated some relief around the corner. Thank you for the battles. Thank you for the scars. Thank you for the fights. Thank you for our flaws. Thank you for the fire. Thank you for the days I wish I could take away, to ease our pain. Oh, how I wish I could make them go away. But thank you any way.

And most of all, thank you for the laugh lines.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

It is IUGR Awareness Day!

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Eight months ago, I had never heard of IUGR. In fact, when my sister-in-law had to be induced before her due date because of a failing placenta, I am ashamed to say I thought the doctors were wrong. “Why would you take a baby early who isn’t growing well? Shouldn’t she stay in longer?”

Well, things have changed – a lot! I have learned about as much as I, a layperson and mom of an IUGR baby, can learn in the past eight months, ever since Theodore was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction. In honor of this day, to celebrate these strong babies and remember those who we have lost, here are ten things you should know about IUGR:

  1. IUGR refers to a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb. A baby who is “just small” is called Small for Gestation Age (SGA). The difference is an IUGR baby should have been bigger, but something intervened (infection, injury, genetic condition, bad placenta, poor nutrition from mom, etc.). An SGA baby is just a small baby. Both are usually smaller than ninety percent of babies their age. (More on the confusion over these terms here. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but they are not the same.)
  2. IUGR is common for twins, and mothers with certain health conditions or lifestyles. However, there are TONS of possible causes and most moms never know what caused their baby’s IUGR. Sometimes, nature just fails and the placenta wasn’t healthy; importantly: it is no one’s fault.
  3. For those of us who do not know what caused our IUGR, we worry a lot about whether this will happen if and when we have more babies. There is a lot of conflicting data on it, but it certainly can happen. Which is scary.
  4. Many of us find out about IUGR during pregnancy, by going to all our regular prenatal appointments and through ultrasounds. Some of us do not find out until delivery. Which is why it is super important to go to all your doctor’s appointments when you are pregnant. Important.
  5. If you know someone who may have IUGR, please be supportive and helpful. It is not helpful to try to convince the person there is no problem, the doctor’s do not know what they are talking about, and the ultrasound was probably wrong. These could be true, but when you hear there could be something wrong with your baby, you have to be extremely cautious and careful. Supportive and helpful things are assisting the person in getting the nursery ready early, supplying preemie size diapers and clothes, coming with her to her many doctor’s appointments, and lending her food and help if she on bedrest.

29103580_10205023656706854_5369735055075877304_n6.  So an IUGR baby is small – so what? Like just about all health conditions, the outcomes for IUGR babies cover a broad range. Some babies are born perfectly healthy and go home right away with no problem. Some babies are lost to the condition. Some babies have some catching up to do in the size department, but are otherwise perfectly healthy. Some babies have on-going complications and require medications, hormones, or therapy to help them grow and overcome other issues.

7.  We are pretty sensitive about our IUGR baby’s size, because he or she can be small for several months to several years. So if you ever see a baby and are shocked at his or her size, please don’t ask if the mom feeds her baby. Please don’t joke that she must be wrong about the baby’s age. Just say how cute he or she is. We don’t mind hearing that, ever.

8.  IUGR babies are usually delivered earlier than their due date. Some because there is an emergency. Some go into labor early on their own. But some of us have to be induced a few weeks early because the statistical risk of still birth increases after 37 weeks for IUGR babies. Basically, our baby is probably starving inside our bodies, and at 37 weeks he or she is healthy enough to probably be fine outside (with medical help, usually), and will even thrive because he can get lots of clean oxygen and nutrients outside. On the other hand, leaving the baby inside until the due date or later could cause significant injury to the baby, or loss.

9.  Many of us have c-sections. Again, either because of an emergency or because the baby is too small to handle labor. Not all of us, but many of us. Personally, I do not see my induction and c-section as a failure or that I’m not “woman enough.” I am incredibly proud of what God allowed me to do: bring my son into this world. It is not my fault my baby was tiny. It was not my fault his little body could not tolerate labor. I am truly grateful that my baby is safe and healthy and I am, too. Was it my first choice? No. But every mom, whether unconscious during delivery or having a medication-free birth, does the same thing in labor: she is doing everything she can to get her baby here safe and sound.

10.  Finally, though they are small, IUGR babies are tough. They are tiny warriors that do incredible things. They may not all make it, but they are all fighters, through and through. And we are crazy proud of them.

On 2017

If I had to sum up 2017 in two words, the words that instantly come to mind are “Stewardship” and “Blessings.”

When I look back on this year, I cannot stop thinking, “There is simply no reason in all the world that I deserve what I have received.” Grace and mercy do not even begin to describe what the Lord has given us.

This time last year, Massimo and I stood together, arms over each other’s shoulders, looking ahead to the great grey abyss. We saw everything and nothing. We imagined what may lie beyond the fog, and feared for it and longed for it: the great mystery of the unknown. And we held each close and looked each other in the eye and said, “Let’s go.” We cannot do anything on our own, great or hard. We nodded to the Father and said, “Okay. What is there?”

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21

2016 was a year of preparation. We grew and learned and planned for what would come next. It was not a wasted year by any means, but a year of little change and uncertainty in our own lives, while we saved and dreamed of 2017.

When 2017 started with a positive pregnancy test, we knew it would be a different sort of year. Blissfully overjoyed, we attempted to ignore the ever-mounting list of things over which we had no control, but needed figured out.

Would this baby be healthy?

How are we going to pay for health care?

How will we care for this baby?

Will I work? Will Massimo? How much time can we take for maternity and paternity leave?

What car will we drive?

Where will we live?

When will Massimo start his guitar business?

How on earth will we afford all of this?

After all the questions, came blessing after blessing. Maternity leave was determined with my ever-gracious boss. Health care was covered for the baby and I. I was perfectly healthy throughout the pregnancy, and for 75% of the time time, the baby was, too. A car was found and purchased. Our landlord allowed us to have a month-to-month lease as we searched for a house. And, last month, we shockingly moved into our very first home. (It is really, truly our’s and we can’t believe it.)

We even got cherries on top of it all. In May we learned my dear cousin and best friend was expecting her first child. Another dear friend from church welcomed her fourth child the same month, and my brother and sister in law not only had their first child, but came up to the United States for six months to let us enjoy their presence!

Despite all our many, many blessings, there were still ever-present uncertainties. Months where we didn’t know where the money would come from. Shocking news when we learned our unborn baby was not growing well and we would have to keep an extra-close eye on him. Having to pay out of our savings for an unexpected tax bill. Searching and wishing for the perfect house, but facing fruitless searches time after time.

Which is why the other word for 2017 is stewardship. Not a very popular topic, I know. It is not one we throw around often. “I hope you have a very healthy new year, and can be good stewards of your blessings!” No exactly.

But it was a theme we continued to return to time after time. When things got tight – time, money, emotions – we pledged that we would be ever-diligent in our stewardship over these resources. When resources are abundant, we are cursed with not considering that they are truly in limited supply. It is a gift to be required to consider the value of what we are using. We knew our needs, and we continuously asked God to direct our resources to meet our needs.

The good thing is, when there is little and his has to stretch far, you are forced to ask God where to put it and to make a feast out of a few loaves of bread and fish. Somehow, miraculously, truly, Massimo worked full-time all year. We went on a trip to Vermont to celebrate four amazing years of marriage. We spent days and weekends with our families and friends around camp fires, swimming pools, feasts, and birthday cakes. Massimo finished his second guitar. We bought a house and still have an emergency savings account. Despite the failure in our health insurance system leading to Massimo not having health insurance all year, his body was protected and he did not need it. We had full bellies and bursting closets and our tanks are on FULL.

I will end my reflection on this year with a small illustration of the themes of this year. Early in my pregnancy, before I even went to the doctor, the Lord revealed to me to be a good steward and celebrate the blessing of the small person presumably growing inside me. Early in a pregnancy, one is all-to aware of the high risk of miscarriage, and fears the worst. Most women even delay telling anyone about her pregnancy because there is such a high risk that it will end tragically.

While wrestling these fears, God revealed to me that there was no use in worrying, and that by pinning my hopes on passing a certain week of gestation without bad news, I would only be disappointed. He told me that even if my baby did not survive, I should celebrate its life now, while he or she is alive. That may be, after all, all I have with this unborn child. This lesson – to celebrate blessings in the moment and cast cares to another day – became even more valuable when, months later, we learned we had a high risk of losing our unborn child, despite being well past the first trimester “danger zone.”

Thanks to God working on my heart and gracefully teaching me a lesson I would need ever more months later, I was able to look over my pregnancy as a steward- a mother to this unborn baby despite the lack of control and uncertainty. Being a steward means caring for what you have for the benefit of someone else – in my case, our Heavenly Father. It doesn’t mean you have complete control over it; all it means is that you have to do the best with what you have, and leave it up to God to honor your obedience. Not does it mean everything will work out sunshine and roses. Obedience is, after all, a reward in and of itself.

D.E. Barbi Bee

 

On breastfeeding

I never understood why some women choose to breastfeed their children until beyond the child’s learning to walk, talk, and – in some cases – read. But over the past several months of my own new hobby (nursing my son), I have started to appreciate where they are coming from.

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Massimo feeding newborn Theodore with a bottle of donor milk.

 

I always assumed the question of when to stop breastfeeding would be answered for me: when my body or my child stopped nursing. I had heard so many perils and stories of bodies not producing enough milk, or babies not being able to latch, that I went into it with a very, “If it works, it works,” attitude. I tried not to get my hopes up, and was advised to set small goals when starting out with nursing.

I decided I wanted to try, for many reasons, chiefly the health of the baby and myself and saving money. I decided I would at least try for as long as I was home with him, and then when it came to going back to work we would see.

When I gave birth to a 4 pound, 10 ounce baby boy via c-section, he was too small and weak to eat on his own. I did not get to hold him skin-to-skin and attempt nursing right away, as all the experts advised to do to help aid in milk production. I did not get to see him at all for thirteen hours after he was born, let alone hold him. (When I finally did hold him, skin-to-skin, it greatly helped his breathing rate improve, and my own mood, as well.)

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We held Theodore skin-to-skin as much as we could, wrapped in warmed blankets. We always had to get him back to his crib soon, though, because being moved and held was exhausting for our tiny warrior.

From my room, what felt like miles from my son, within hours after he was born I was hand-expressing milk for my boy. My husband rushed every exhausting vile of milk to the NICU to be fed to Theodore. At first, he was fed exclusively via nasogastric intubation. For the first few feedings, the doctors had to act so quickly he was fed formula. When they were able to consult with me, we signed up for donor milk to be given to him while I worked to get my own milk to come in. He was given just 15 mL of milk every three hours, which increased by 5 mL every day. Every three hours, the doctors woke him up by taking his temperature, changing his diaper, checking his bilirubin level, blood sugar, and pulling a syringe up through his NG tube to make sure it was still in his stomach and measure how much food from his last feed was still left un-digested.

The feedings started with my milk, then donor milk to complete the total amount needed. They started by giving him a bottle, but when he fell asleep and was impossible to wake up again, whatever was left in the bottle was fed through his NG tube. The feedings couldn’t take longer than thirty minutes, or else he would be burning more calories trying to eat than he was getting with the food he consumed.

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After his bottle feeds, whatever he could not finish was fed through his NG tube. We called him our “foie gras baby” because we felt like we were force feeding him. But it helped him maintain his blood sugar and not lose too much weight.

For my part, I was on a race against the clock to get my milk to come in before the donor milk program ended. The milk was only intended as a bridge – just three or four days to get us through to my milk supply meeting his needs. Hot wash-clothes, massages, and brutal work earned me a few drops – literally – at every feeding for the first day. Many times I did not see single drop. I was extremely discouraged and hurt. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world to give him formula, but I worried about his little body having to work any harder than it needed to, and knew formula was harder to break down. I was determined to make this work.

I was set up with a pump and ran the pump for ten minutes every three hours – day and night. During the day, Massimo and I went to the NICU to change Theo’s diapers and feed him. After his feeding was done, we held him for some time before letting him get back to his crib to sleep. Then I would pump. The first time I actually had any measurable amount of milk pumped was when I was holding him during my pumping session. It was an extremely difficult maneuver, but it paid off! Just a half a day before we would be cut off from donor milk, I finally was pumping enough milk to meet his feeding requirements! I was indescribably relieved and overjoyed. For the first time in days I felt like something was actually working.

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This corner of the NICU was our home for what felt like forever. The nurses gave us tons of space to spread out and leave things there. You can’t see him, but Theo is tucked under that blanket on Massimo’s chest.

By the time we left the hospital, I was pumping more than twice what Theodore was eating. He was not yet breastfeeding, so we were in an exhausting bottle feed-then-pump cycle. It was not until he was three weeks old that we could finally stop reheating bottles of milk and he was officially nursing full-time!

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At five months, Theodore weighed about 14 pounds and smiles like crazy! He is a far cry from the warrior in the NICU.

Fast forward to Theodore being five months old: I still nurse him four or five times while I am at home, and he has two bottles of pumped milk while I am at work. I pump twice a day while at work, and have a freezer at home with more than 1,100 ounces of milk to prove it! (It is absurd to remember that we used to measure his feeds in milliliters and now measure them in ounces!) I estimate the value of all that milk to be approximately $700 dollars! His feedings take less than 15 minutes now.

It is impossible to appreciate how far this little boy has come in just five months – and how much things have changed in my life. At first, there were several days I was sure this breastfeeding thing was going to fail. He needed food, and I didn’t have it. I was trying to come to terms with it but I stubbornly couldn’t let it go.

Around 3 months old, I was afraid his nursing days were over. Theodore did not have much of an appetite and people told me he could be rejecting nursing in favor of the easier bottles. The doctors told me not to worry, but I could feel the weight of this thing being taken from me. I know it will end, some time soon, in fact. But I was not yet ready for it to be taken, ended on terms other than my own.

But he bounced back and now, although easily distracted, Theodore seems perfectly content to switch between bottles and nursing without missing a beat.

So now I am in this awkward predicament of having to chose where to take us next. When will I cut back how many pumping sessions I have a day? It would certainly free up my time and make court less stressful if I had to pump only once instead of twice. I would not be sad to say good-bye to pumping in my car in the corners of parking lots and washing countless bottles daily. When will I cut back pumping entirely? When will I stop nursing entirely?

As I said in the outset of this now lengthy post, I now appreciate where women are coming from when they breastfeed for four or five years. I am not interested in doing that myself, but it does take away the awkward, difficult decision of when to stop. You get so comfortable, so resigned and conformed to breastfeeding, that it becomes hard to remember not breastfeeding. My clothes are nursing-friendly. My schedule revolves around Theodore’s, as well as my diet. You get so comfortable, in fact, that it becomes strangely scary to go back to your old world; the previously solely-known becomes somehow unknown.

For now, I know only two things for sure: 1. I cannot pass judgment on any women who chooses to or not to breastfeed, on any woman who nurses, pumps, formula feeds, or any mix of them, nor for how long she decides or is forced to decide to do any of these things. And 2. I am extremely grateful that, like most elements of my journey into motherhood, I have had the burden of choice when it comes to breastfeeding. It is a burden I did not expect, but one I accept with honor.

I anticipate continuing to slowly transition out of breastfeeding, much less abruptly than over more time than I transitioned into it. I have a special privilege in this circumstance. And to all the other mothers out there who faced their own expectations to try to do the very best for her children, please be kind to yourself and to the other mothers who are trying to do the exact same thing.

D. E. Barbi Bee

But I’m okay, really.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice.

Plus when he spit up last night, that’s three times in less than twelve hours. That is a new record for him. I don’t know if he is sick, or if it’s just a coincidence, but I will henceforth be carrying a change of clothes with me because “Baby Puke” is, shockingly, *not* the new Chanel No. 5.

I was slightly later to work than usual. My leg is damp with the 2 ounces of Tide To Go I scrubbed into my black pants. That baby’s biological scent just lingers in my hair and sweater. And on top of it all, I am worried about my baby. I’m at the office, but my heart wishes I was snuggling my baby and making sure he is not uncomfortable. I know he will get sick, eventually, but I would not mind putting it off as long as possible.

That was my morning. But I’m okay, really. Because I have my son. And he is well. And we are well.

In Ohio right now there is a mother and father facing the first morning after their five day-old daughter died.

One of the surprising by-products of receiving the diagnosis of Intrauterine Growth Restriction during my pregnancy with Theodore was joining a Facebook group with other IUGR parents. Before the diagnosis, I had never heard of IUGR, let alone what life could look like due to this condition.

In the group, parents ask questions and tell their stories. I learned of the myriad of outcomes from IUGR, and that no two babies are the same. I learned why it is often safest to remove a baby slightly early from the womb, and how incredibly strong tiny babies can be. I learned how incredibly strong parents can be, even in the most difficult circumstances. We pray for each other, suggest questions to ask our doctors and tests that should be requested, tell each other to hope for the best and be patient, and cry for each other when it’s just too much.

I have also seen pictures and heard stories of babies so small and fragile, they should not be here. Intrauterine growth restriction causes a baby to not reach his or her growth potential. So instead of just being “a small baby” or, “an early baby,” they are developmentally and physically retarded behind their gestational age.

The effect of this condition is that by looking at these babies, it is like taking a look inside the womb, to a place we never or rarely otherwise would be.

My son was born three weeks early. Not technically a “preemie” (at 37 weeks, he is called “early term”), so people are generally surprised at his size and complications. I tell them that although he was only three weeks early, he was the size of a baby six weeks early.

In the IUGR Facebook group, there are mothers whose children were born two weeks early, but the size of a baby eight weeks early. Five days ago, a mother gave birth to a beautiful baby girl ten weeks early, but the size of a baby fifteen weeks early.

She was beautiful.

She was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The lines on the palms of her hands.

She had dark hair.

I imagined all the babies who go full-term and whose mothers never see their baby so small and early in his development. I imagined all the mothers who see a line on the pregnancy test, or the blurry gray shapes on the ultrasound machine and never see the skin and eyes and fingers and toes.

But we have seen them. IUGR and preemie moms have to wait longer to have their cute, pudgy babies so many people crave. We have to wait a little longer to see smiles and strength and visual tracking and rolls.

But we have seen things other mothers have never seen. We have seen life before the laws recognize life. We have seen breath when others see a “lump of cells.” We have literally watched our babies develop in the harsh, heavy world to learn what other babies get to do inside. We have seen incredible things the animations on pregnancy apps cannot show.

Heartbroken, this beautiful little girl suffered brain bleeds in her short life and there was no hope for her. Her parents held her in their arms and watched the angels take her away last night.

This is a gift. There is a reason. But I’m sobbing for them all the same.

My son, my hefty, happy son is two and half months old. Every once in a while I forget how we could have lost him, how small he was, how hard it was. But then I remember and I look at him and just thank God.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice. Plus last night. The smell is there, I was late to work.

But I’m okay, really.