I’m very much a “yes” girl at heart. Yes, I’ll volunteer for this and that fundraiser. Yes, I’ll be at the extra service this week. Yes, I’ll teach that extra class. Yes, I’ll sign up for extracurriculars. Yes, I’ll meet up at the coffee shop.
But this year, I’m learning to say “no” more than I ever have.
No, I’ve got to stay home this week to catch up. No, I’m sorry, teaching that class is actually going to take me away from other priorities. No, I can’t do this fundraiser this time, but I’d love to help next month.
It sometimes means saying no to a lot of good things. Sometimes it means missing out on something that I’d really like to be part of. Sometimes it means giving something up for a time so that I can refocus on other goals.
This year, we’ve said no to a couple of job possibilities that weren’t going to be a good fit for our family. We cut way back on our extracurricular school activities as we settled into our first real year of homeschool. I said no to attending births, no to multiple playdates, no to several homesteading projects, no to the commitment of regular blog posts, and no to teaching some lessons that weren’t fitting in my schedule.
I’m learning to say no to a multitude of self-inflicted pressures. No, my house doesn’t have to be clean today. No, I actually don’t have to make everything from scratch this month. No, I will not feel guilt over the lack of crunchy stuff going on in my life right now.
Happily, all of this gives me room to say yes to the things that matter most right now. Yes to homeschool. Yes to a few dedicated music students. Yes to gigs that work well for our family. Yes to practicing voice. Yes to time at home together. Yes to reading, yes to drawing, yes to laying together and talking about our day.
Nothing is permanent, and I can always re-prioritize what commitments I choose to take on down the road. However, I can’t get back the time that I lose hustling and bustling and trying to do everything at once.
Here’s to saying yes to the things that matter most.
I wrote this post a while back, but I’m realizing my own need to revisit it regularly. It’s easy to get frustrated with kids in the kitchen, and to just want to do it yourself to save time and hassle. I often forget the reasons why I so want them to learn to cook in the first place! So, here’s to you and me both working towards this goal together. Press on, parents of sous chefs.
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Kids should cook.
Kids should know where food comes from. They should know food preparation basics. They should have the basic skills they need to cook a simple meal. And, ideally, they should enjoy doing it!
(J cooking his own egg for lunch. He’s able to do it from start to finish- with supervision at the stove, of course.)
“Anyone can cook, and most everyone should. It’s a sorry sign that many people consider ‘from scratch’ an unusual and even rare talent. In fact, cooking is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn and even succeed at from the get-go.” –How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, by Mark Bittman.
I don’t want my children to grow up without a clue as to how to perform simple cooking tasks for themselves. I don’t want them to rely on microwaves and fast food joints. I’d hate for J to one day get his own apartment and stare at his stove in dismay, not knowing where to begin.
Why? Part of it is about life skills. A little home economics goes a long way for kids these days, especially when the push for more convenience and less labor is growing ever stronger. But more importantly, I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food: to know where it comes from, to know what they’re putting into their bodies, to make moderate and nourishing choices when possible, and to be grateful for what they have.
How do we get started on this process? It can seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t cook too much yourself.
There are lots of kid’s cookbooks available, but these resources can be either a blessing or a curse. Sometimes they actually teach kids a simple recipe. Other times, however, they just teach children to microwave chicken nuggets and make a special dipping sauce out of three different condiments you already have in your fridge. Really? Is this cooking? Is this what we want our children to have in mind when they think of preparing a meal?
Look, I’m not a great cook, but I do an awful lot of it. And from the time my kids are very little, I have them in the kitchen with me, helping with simple tasks. Is it always easy? No. Do I get frustrated and fed up with them making a mess of things? Yes. Do I push them to do it perfectly? No. Do you end up with carrots in the silverware drawer? Yes. Is it worth it to teach them? Yes.
You can do this.
For the youngest children, just having them “work” alongside you is great. If you’re making bread, give them a small piece of dough to mold while you knead the big loaf. Give them a small amount of flour to draw in. Yes, it will get on their clothes and the floor. Can it be cleaned? Yes, and maybe you should invite them to help wipe it up with a towel.
For 2-3 year olds, have them try simple kitchen tasks. Scooping cups of flour. Mixing ingredients in a bowl. Cracking eggs. Washing the potatoes before you peel them. Mashing the apples you’re cooking down into sauce.
For preschoolers, try having them begin sequencing tasks. For muffins: First we mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, then we gently put them together. Or, for an omelette: heat the pan, add the chopped veggies, whisk the eggs and milk, then pour the mixture onto the hot pan. Top with cheese while it’s cooking. Cooking is a homeschooling mom’s dream lesson- it’s great for beginning math (counting, adding, etc.), science (how does baking soda work?), and general life skills.
You can have elementary aged children practice skills that require more coordination. J (not quite 5) is already practicing proper knife skills with a butter knife. Once your children are older, you can teach them to use a real knife- always supervised, of course. Older children can try recipes that require a little more finesse- like using a double boiler, or trying to cook eggs in different styles (over-medium, sunny-side up, hard-fried, etc.). Older children can read recipes themselves, plan a meal, and learn proper safety precautions for using the stove or oven.
My sister-in-law has each of her teenage children take a night of the week cooking, and they can make great meals for the whole family. The younger ones always have responsibilities to fulfill for the meal as well. Imagine what a good foundation they will have for when they leave the home!
While it’s true that I’ve spent a lot of times pulling my hair out while trying to guide my son in helping, we’ve had just as many times that cooking together has been an encouraging and bonding experience. Yes, it can be a lot of work at first, but the memories we have created are wonderful, and I am proud of all that he is learning in the kitchen.
All that work is starting to pay off! J just made his first full meal for us last night- tuna burgers and toppings on homemade buns, with homemade ice cream for dessert. I had to help him with measuring (he can’t read yet), shaping the buns (he just needed a break from prep), and flipping the burgers (we don’t want burnt little hands!), but he did everything else himself. The resulting meal was delicious, and he was proud of it. In fact, he doesn’t even like tuna- but he ate it because he cooked it himself and wanted to take part in his meal.
Kids can cook, and they probably should too! A little energy and patience put into teaching them cooking skills will set them off on the right foot for healthy eating, independence, and food appreciation- for life!
Would you like a little help to guide you on the way? The Kids Cook Real Food course from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship looks like a wonderful resource. It’s definitely on my list to try!
It’s August and I haven’t written in three weeks. Whoops.
We had a family reunion in Vermont, and it seems that I never got back into the groove of writing after a week away. Perhaps I’ve been in a bit of a post-vacation funk.
There’s been a lot on our plates– Life decisions to be made, a homeschool year to organize, sibling arguments to mitigate, budgets to balance, lurking unfulfilled ambitions, and the feeling that we’ll never get it all together. To be totally honest, keeping up with the homesteady stuff on top of it all has just felt like one more big chore to complete.
I drag my feet out to the rabbits and chickens every morning, baby in the Boba backpack and shrilly screaming children misbehaving every 56 seconds, or so it seems. The grass is wet and I can’t drag the rabbit tractor without slipping around. I inadvertently step in poop. I open the chicken coop and accidentally let a rooster escape. My son grabs the hose from my hands while I’m filling the waterers so he can make a rainbow. It takes me 30 minutes to do 10 minutes worth of chores.
(A girl and her goat.)
And whatever the heck I’m trying to do, I’m often doing it wrong. I planted lots of stuff in the wrong places this year. I under-cooked our home processed rooster, and over-cooked the store bought chicken. I forgot about the extra rhubarb stocks in the back of the fridge where they lay in wait until they were moldy. I’ve broken 2 dishes in 36 hours. I’m spending WAY more money at the grocery store than I used to and all my self-reliant bragging is coming back to haunt me.
This isn’t always easy. Or fun.
But no one necessarily said it would be.
Today, I’m reminding myself of lots of blessings so I won’t be so tempted to complain.
This land, these animals, the plants from the earth are truly a provision for our family. There’s been more than once I have literally thanked God for having food in our backyard because we couldn’t afford to buy much. And though I’m not always super-efficient, raising our own food is usually a significant savings compared to the grocery store.
The hard work is good for us. It builds character. It reminds us that we’re not always in control of everything. It makes us persevere when I would really rather just sit back and order Chinese every night.
And best of all, I’ve got a loving family to do it with. Even though the kids can be a challenge, they are also an absolute joy. Really, trying to homestead without them would be positively boring. I can only hope that these early years will teach them much about caring for the world around them and being thankful for what they have. I desire that they look back on these memories with fondness.
And then there’s my husband– gardener, farmer, builder, musician, repairman, innovator, motivator, lover, father, friend. He runs the grand majority of this operation, and I am so incredibly thankful for him.
Though it may not always be a barrel of laughs, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. <3
Father’s Day: We celebrated with four families at our house on a sunny, humid, Pennsylvanian afternoon. Tim fired up the mud oven and I gloried in the delicious sights and smells of a roaring wood fire and grey smoke drifting across the yard. I prepared sourdough pizza crusts while listening to music turned up loud on my high school stereo that has survived years and multiple moves to come sit on top of our kitchen fridge. The kids played in the grass outside, getting dirty and hot and scraped up like kids do on summer days.
As I carried out unbaked pizzas to my husband on a wooden peel, I thought to myself, there’s not much better than this.
Hot, sticky days under a clear blue sky make me feel alive. Perhaps it’s because they hearken back to a time when I had less responsibility and more dreams. Or maybe it’s the fact that we still get that “school’s out for the summer” feeling when my husband is done teaching. Likely, it’s the combination of more family time and the twitterpation effect of slower days spent together under the sun.
June is when we start to see new crops in the garden, like kale, radishes, and garlic scapes aplenty. It means ripening black raspberries and fresh strawberry picking. It’s when I can really start cooking meals with whatever is fresh and available.
Summer evenings avail themselves for family fishing trips, marshmallow roasting, fires built and lightning bug hunting. The evenings drawl on and the kids stay up late. Just last week, my son fell asleep as we spent time stargazing. My husband carried that big boy up the stairs and tucked him in like a baby.
June means festivals, fairs, and eating more hot dogs and ice cream than we should. It means letting the kids have a little extra money for silly little things like three minute pony rides or a big soft pretzel. We are normally so tight that we can’t indulge in these things, but for some reason summer nudges us and whispers to loosen up a little bit.
An impromptu beach trip? Check. A picnic at a park? Check. Face painting? Check. I love seeing the kids discover and delight in it all. What else can we squeeze in before the summer days fly away from us?
We live in a society that seems to keeps kids separated from the real world and the responsibilities that come therein. We expect that kids will want their toys, their tv, their friends, and their playground much of the time. We also seem to expect that it’s unfair to disengage them from their happy place to ask them to do a job with an adult.
Children should most definitely have a lot of free time to play and explore as they feel led. However, I don’t think that giving them a job is harmful. I would even go so far as to say that we are doing children a disservice when we don’t let them participate in real, meaningful work.
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What kind of work?
The kind of work your child can participate in depends on where you live, what your lifestyle is like, and how old your kids are. We tend to have the kids help with a lot of outdoor jobs- planting seeds, egg collecting, filling animal feeders, raking, and the like. My kids are also becoming excellent sous chefs who enjoy chopping vegetables or stirring a pot for me while I’m cooking. There’s also putting away laundry, sweeping the floor, picking up messes, and housework of all kinds.
Job possibilities for children are really endless. Older children could help to contribute to a family business or parent’s jobs. Let them help file documents for you, proofread a student’s paper, answer phone calls, or help with banking and budgeting. Better yet, encourage them to start an entrepreneurial venture of their own!
If you’re stuck for ideas, ask yourself these questions:
What could my child do that would be a legitimate help to me?
How can I involve my children, even in the most mundane of jobs?
What’s the smallest task my young child could complete to feel as though she’s participating?
How can I introduce a life skill to my child through working together?
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Disclaimer: We totally are NOT perfect in getting our kids to work with us, nor have we achieved just the right balance between work and play. My kids get in the mud, watch their favorite shows on Amazon Prime, cause trouble, whine about boredom, etc., etc., etc. So don’t get the idea that we have perfectly industrious, hard-working helpers all the time!
Instead of being afraid to make our children lift a finger, we can battle entitlement and encourage strong character by including our children in real-life work. Let’s talk about some of the benefits.
Work gives children needed life skills. During my college career of kitchen work, I watched several high schoolers struggle with operating a vacuum cleaner, or stare at a pot of soup with trepidation. It was apparent that these kids had never been taught basic household modes of operation. By taking the time to teach our children how to dust, scramble an egg, hammer a nail, or help make a budget, we are giving them the life skills they need to become independent, responsible adults.
We cultivate desirable character. Motivation, confidence, steadfastness, responsibility, ingenuity, patience… I don’t know about you, but these traits don’t just fall upon me out of the great blue sky. I’m constantly learning, and one of the best God-given tools to get me to get over my selfish whining is doing hard work. It only makes sense that participating in work- with a good attitude- is good for our children as well.
Work gives children purpose and beats boredom. I find that there’s less time for moping, fighting, and complaints of boredom when I have my kids actively participating in the the day’s duties. Watering the animals and the plants in the morning, helping to prepare a lunch picnic mid-day, wiping out the bathroom sink in the afternoon, stirring a pot or putting away dishes in the evening- all of this keeps them busy doing good things. And there’s still plenty of time for them to play in between!
Work can help to loosen the grip of negative peer dependence. I’ve been slowly reading Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood. This lovely book (which deserves it’s own review, really) made a valuable and relevant point. When we teach children how to work, they develop maturity and value as responsible members of society. This can help contribute to freeing them from the feeling that they have to remain juvenile alongside their (perhaps) less industrious friends.
Work allows children to give real contributions to the family. There’s nothing quite like seeing my son’s pride and joy when he really helps Dada build something. Or hearing my kids’ delight while they serve dinner at the table, knowing that they helped to cook it for everyone.
Work gives your family quality time together. I get a thrill every time I see my husband and son out planting something, or when I get to cook alongside my 2 year old. It’s so much fun to spend the time together and get to talk and enjoy each other’s company. We make the best memories when we work together!
Do you work with your kiddos? What jobs do you give them? What’s your favorite part about it?
If you remember, I issued myself an “Unplugged Parenting” challenge a few weeks back. I promised to turn off the screen and social media unless my kids were taking a nap or having quiet time. I’m a little over halfway through the challenge, so I thought appropriate to give you guys an update.
The short of it? It was really awesome until I completely fell off the boat last week. And when I say completely, I mean it. I got sick last week with some weird bug, and spent the large majority of the time vegging out. I hurried through homeschool, put the kids in front of shows, scrolled through the smartphone unabashedly, and we all had a dreadful few days hooked on screens again.
Well. We could use a reset button, couldn’t we?
Before that, as I said, I felt that “going unplugged” on a long-term basis was really beneficial and enlightening. I can think of very few times in my life when I’ve had little or no access to screens, phones, video games, tv, computers, etc… However, each occasion where that’s been the case has been so rewarding.
As for the last three weeks, I’ve been surprised by how much more time we had. (Who knew? The internet is a time sucker!) We got more accomplished and played more together. I didn’t have that uneasy feeling that I had just wasted a perfectly good half hour doing who knows what on Facebook.
We were SO much less distracted. I didn’t “just check” this or that throughout the day- and so, I was present with my children. It sounds simple, but actually listening to, learning from, and being with my children without going down so many technological rabbit trails was a really beautiful thing. It’s amazing how much we can miss without realizing it.
We spent more time outside, played more music- and I would wager to say, just enjoyed real life more.
Consequently, we were also less grumpy. (Generally, of course.) I think that’s because we were spending more quality time together, and better tending to each other’s needs.
The best night was a night that we made heart-shaped pizza together. We made a TOTAL wreck of the kitchen mixing dough, rolling it out, using cookie cutters, and topping teeny Valentines-ey culinary creations. To make thing messier, we baked a quadruple batch of friendship cake at the same time. We ate by candlelight with the counters in complete shambles around us.
After dinner, my husband turned on Pandora, plugged in his bluetooth speaker, and turned up some music. My daughter stood by my side, “washing” dishes with me, while I handed my son a dish at a time to dry and put away. My husband chipped away at the countertop. It was a cheerful scene, reminiscent of Snow White and her animal friends whistling while they worked. The kitchen got cleaned relatively quickly and we ended the night with family reading time.
Now why couldn’t we live like that all the time? Undistracted, cheerful, hardworking, kind? Focusing on the relationships instead of all the screens that steal our time and attention?
I’m not fooled into thinking that removing technology will create a perfect world for our family. And of course, technology isn’t bad in and of itself. However- at least for this mama- removing it for a time definitely seemed to help us refocus our priorities.
So here I go again. I may have flopped and failed for a bit, but it’s time to just pick up where I left off and carry on for the rest of this challenge. I know I won’t regret it. <3
After several months with hardly a nod to old man winter, we finally got our first notable accumulation of white stuff this week. (I’m not complaining.) I groaned as the children tugged at my shirt hem and scrambled for boots.
“Not right now guys,” I answered, stalling. “I’ve gotta take care of a couple things first.”
I mentally tried to work up the gumption to get the three kids snowsuited, hatted, gloved, and bundled. My inner sluggard despises the preparation and supervision needed for outdoor winter play, especially when I’m trying to keep an infant warm too.
I had just gotten the baby to sleep when the kids asked to watch a show on Amazon. I said yes, with great relief, and set them up in front of the computer. I’d much rather do that than deal with bulky layers, potty needs, icy fingers, and wet play clothes.
It was a lazy mother moment, to say the least. I let them be content with another episode of Daniel Tiger on the screen, instead of the chill and crispness of a winter’s day with fresh snow on the branches, and the promise of coming inside for hot chocolate and a warm bath afterwards.
It’s an example that’s indicative of my own problems. I’d much rather sit down in front of Facebook than knit. I’m more addicted to my smart phone than my music practice. Email can easily suck away the time that could be spent building blocks or playing dragons with my children.
What’s more than that, I find that too much “tech time” can put a real damper on all of our moods- mine included. We get cranky and irritable after staring at a screen. None of us want to be distracted from that which is entertaining us. It’s ugly to see it in a 2 year old’s temper tantrum when a show is turned off. It’s even uglier when a parent doesn’t want to be pulled away from his or her own “toys.”
We talk often about creating an “unplugged childhood” for our kids. What about unplugged parenting?
When my kids are grown, what memories will I want to look back on? Hours of scrolling through countless news feeds, communications, beeps and notifications? Or doing, being, loving, living together?
I think the answer should be obvious.
I’m going to commit to going the next 40 days (yes, inspired by the Lenten season) in not being on the computer or smart phone unless the kids are asleep or having quiet time. I usually think these kinds of rules feel a little silly, but sometimes it helps me to make changes if I have a concrete plan. Plus, if I make a public commitment to do it then it will be good motivation to follow through. 😉 All the blog and social media posts that you see from me for a while (including this one) will be pre-scheduled.
Technology can be quite useful, and it isn’t inherently bad. However, it’s become far too much of a distraction for our family, and that needs to change. Anyone care to join me?
Have you noticed the “one word” trend for each new year? I don’t know where it came from, but the idea is to pick a particular character quality or aspiration that can be summed up in one word, then use it as your personal motto or goal for an entire year. A good friend of mine is aiming for kindness. Other words-of-the-year that I’ve heard recently are “flourish,” “rest,” “joy,” “balance,” “freedom,” etc.
I’ve never jumped on board with the one word deal. How in the world could you pick just one quality that you wanted to focus on for an entire year? To me, it just seemed gimmicky and lacked depth. Life is, after all, multi-faceted, and the lessons to be learned can’t always be boiled down to just one principle.
Of course, I’m sure the one-worders would agree with me on that. Picking one word is just a tool, not an ultimatum for life- and I’m all for whatever tools help you grow. (But still. It’s just the part of me that can’t pick up a self-help or parenting book without squirming in my seat a little.)
Despite my aversion to year-long words, the trend got me thinking about a lesson that I’ve been very slowly learning: peace.
The weight of parenting worry is a heavy load to bear. I still have to regularly beat down the monster that tells me I don’t deserve to mother these beautiful children.
Though my last pregnancy was desired, I came to be terrified of having our third child. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to manage it. I actually had to have a good cry and tell my midwife that I changed my mind about having another kid– during my labor. (Ha.)
My pregnancy had been soured by my own fear. When I needed to practice acceptance, I was clenching my jaws in nervous anticipation. When I should have been grateful, I was consumed by anxiety and self-pity. What a waste of what should have been a happy time.
But then when I had that baby, I fell in love all over again. She was so tiny, so soft, so beautiful. I felt almost physically pained by the regret of how much I had dreaded her arrival, and wanted nothing but to hold her and treasure the moments before her infancy vanished.
Everything about her pointed me to this- that I needed to be at peace with the undertaking that is motherhood.
Yes, it’s hard. I yell too much, sleep too little, pick too many battles. It’s easy to be cranky at home. It’s far simpler to be the miserable bear I don’t want my kids to be than it is to model the peace and joy that I want for them to embrace.
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It’s easy to despair, to compare myself to other mothers, to fret over all the things I’m not doing that I should be doing, to be guilty over the habits I probably shouldn’t allow to develop… But maybe I’m just getting overwhelmed by things that really shouldn’t be so concerning.
So even though I don’t usually pick just one word for a year, maybe I can at least take a hint from those who do. Perhaps being at peace- and sharing that peace with those in my family- is what I’m supposed to learn at this time in my life.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.” Isaiah 26:3
My two-year-old daughter was hospitalized with croup last week. It was a terrifying initiation into the world of ER trips. I was left horrified by watching my child fight for her every breath, and exhausted from the trips back and forth to the hospital as she recovered.
However, the experience, as frightening as it was, was also sprinkled with blessings. There were little rays of sunshine that broke through the clouds of fear throughout our hospital stay- plus I learned to look a little more on the bright side of things too.
It started with the PA in the urgent care clinic. She was kind, soft-spoken, and calm as she explained that she would have to call 911. She stayed with us as we waited.
Next was the ambulance ride- the EMTs had a little stuffed bear that they gave to V to hold (and keep for later). It’s hard to tell how scared she was at the time -she couldn’t talk and could barely breathe- but I’m certain that the bear was at least a little bit of a comfort for her.
One pleasant surprise was that we recognized one of the nurses working in the ER. “Hey, I know you!” she cried. We realized we knew her from a community yard sale we had both participated in. Our children had played together all that day. How nice it was to see a familiar face among a whirlwind of medical staff!
We were also incredibly grateful that we got V to the hospital when we did. Another nurse told us that she was only about 20 minutes away from needing a ventilator when we brought her in. “They only breathe like that for so long before they just stop breathing. ” I told him that I felt awful that I didn’t bring her in earlier in the day, but he replied with reassurance: “No,” he said, “You did the right thing. You did what they told you to do. You did the right thing.”
Then there were the workers from the Ronald McDonald house at the hospital- I cannot say enough about what an encouragement these ladies were. From the explanation of available services, to offering to bring V a high chair and a box of toys to play with, they were sure to keep everyone’s spirits up. One older lady representative with a missing tooth came in and told me they were bringing cheer with a gift of characteristic McDonald’s striped socks for V. “Praise God she’s getting better!” she cried, and threw her arms around my neck. I nearly cried because it was just what I needed at the moment.
While we didn’t need to make use of the Ronald McDonald house itself, the charity also provided a lounge on the pediatric unit for families of sick children. They had a kitchen area stocked with convenience meals and a comfortable living room area to rest in. I got to nurse the baby in that room (she wasn’t allowed in V’s room) and the available food right down the hall kept us from having to leave V for any length of time.
(V testing out the playroom.)
The pediatric unit was beautiful, and the staff was so good with V. They even had a little playroom for children to use when they were feeling up to it. I cannot say enough good things about how kind and compassionate everyone was when caring for her.
The whole thing made me realize how good we have it. V was only hospitalized for two days. Two days! I have friends who have had their babies in the hospital for weeks, even months on end. And beyond that, I have three normally healthy children. How blessed we are that our need for medical help was relatively short-lived.
Finally, there was lots of help and offers of help from our family and friends. It was so nice to know that our other children were being cared for while my husband and I took shifts at the hospital. We couldn’t have done it without the help we had.
I’m not trying to be over-dramatic by recounting the events in such detail. However, I think it’s worth noting how God provided such specific encouragement throughout our hospital stay. I was so incredibly grateful for each little blessing when I was feeling so strung out and worried.
Oh- and our little one is doing SO much better now. You’d never be able to know it happened at all. 🙂
“Just monitor her this afternoon,” the doctor told me. “Bring her into urgent care at 5.”
My 2 year old woke up in the night with a low grade fever, a cough, and congestion. It gradually turned into wheezy, labored breathing throughout the morning. It became progressively worse, with episodes in which she would take a deep breath in, hold it for a moment, then grunt out with the exhale.
This is not normal, I thought. But I had told the doctors her symptoms, and they told me just to watch her. They didn’t seem concerned, so I didn’t want to be an alarmist. I kept considering going to ER, but no. They told me to wait.
So wait I did. I sweat as I watched her slip into restless sleep, then wake up with particularly raspy breaths. I clenched my jaws nervously as I sat there with her, watching a movie to help her rest.
By the time my husband came home, she seemed almost normal. Sick, yes, but her breathing was much better and she was sitting up eating some pretzels. Tim at first didn’t see why I felt she needed to get to the doctor’s office.
But over the next hour, it got worse again. She began to put more and more effort into breathing. I got ready quickly, trying to distract myself from the fear that was mounting inside. We were about to get in the car when she had another episode of not quite being able to catch her breath.
We drove quickly. I could see the cavities on the sides of her neck going concave with the effort of breathing. She still kept it steady, but it was obviously paining her. She began drooling as we got out of the car. We signed into the clinic. She stopped verbally answering us, and resorted to shaking her head yes or no. I stood anxiously in one place, wiling them to call our names. We should have gone to ER. We should have gone to ER.
I don’t know now what kept me from walking out and driving her to the hospital nearby. I don’t know why I didn’t insist for help. It was just that nobody seemed to think it might be an emergency but me. The receptionists and nurses in the lobby could see her breathing. We had told them why we were there. They weren’t rushing around in a panic to see her, were they?
Finally, after an agonizingly long 10 minutes, we went back to see a PA. She looked her over and asked us a few short questions.
“Well, there could be a couple different things causing this. But in either case, this is actually a medical emergency. You can’t take her to the hospital by car, because she could just seize up breathing without warning. We need to call 911 now and have you transported.”
I started to cry. Why didn’t I call before? Why didn’t any other medical staff show more concern when I talked to them previously? Why did I sit around all day monitoring her?
We called our parents and made quick arrangements. I got into the ambulance with V and tried to hold it together. I tried to make it very light-hearted. “How neat, V, you get to ride in the big truck with the lights! Just wait, you’ll get to tell J all about this later on.” I felt it was imperative to keep her calm to help with her breathing.
“You can use lights to get us through traffic,” the EMT said to the driver. They were so kind. They asked questions and began giving her a nebulizer treatment. It was surreal, driving fast and hearing the sirens from the inside of the ambulance. The drive from our town to the hospital never felt so long. I kept trying to stay positive for V’s sake.
But I could only fool her so much with my happy talk. It seemed that the stress of the ride made it worse. By the time we reached the hospital her stomach was retracting so much it was going halfway to her back with every breath. She couldn’t speak at all. It was taking every ounce of her strength to keep breathing.
They got her into the ER, and nurses began working on her immediately. Weight, IV, rectal temp, suppository, blood samples, cultures, nasal fluid collection, more nebulizer. The doctor asked to switch her nebulizer from albuterol to epinephrine. They gave her magnesium to relax her muscles. Her heart rate was already over 200, and her respiratory rate was 40+. I was scared of how she would react to all the medications, but she was still fighting for air so I knew she needed it. For once in my life, I fully embraced modern medicine without question.
I sat with her on the bed, holding her and trying to keep her calm.
“She’s going to be okay, mom,” a nurse reassured me. “This is serious, but she’s going to be okay.”
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Tim arrived. He made sure J and baby I were safe at home with my parents. I was so glad to have him there.
As soon as V had her epinephrine, there was a marked improvement. She was able to wheeze out one word answers to us, and she seemed to be struggling a lot less. She had several x-rays done while she finished out an hour-long albuterol treatment. Everybody was starting to calm down and talk and joke a bit.
After about 90 intense minutes in the ER, V was stable.
The results of the bloodwork, cultures, and x-rays came back, it was determined that this was caused by croup. She would be admitted for observation, but probably only overnight.
Things are never quick and easy in the hospital. Everything takes a long time. She finally was admitted to the pediatric ward and finished her last albuterol treatment by about 10 pm. She was absolutely exhausted, and basically passed out during the treatment.
One by one, the nurses left, my dad came with supplies and then left, and my husband went home to be with the other kids and feed I by bottle overnight.
I paced the quiet room by myself for a bit, trying to unwind from the incredible stress that I had been holding in all day. I turned out the light but couldn’t sleep. I remembered her little chest heaving in and out harder than anything I’ve ever seen, and I lost it. I let myself lay there and finally cry it all out. The evening had been a parent’s nightmare come true.
But the nightmare came around to a happy ending. She was stable and in good hands, and I was so incredibly thankful for her monitors. I don’t think I could have possibly thought about sleep without them beeping peacefully away throughout the night. Of course I couldn’t help myself from hovering over the crib and checking on her. I saw her heart rate gradually drop back to a normal level after her last treatment. I heard her breathing- deeply, slowly, quietly, as she soaked up her much needed rest. I think I may have slept for three or four hours total, but it was all I needed.
It will have been about 36 hours since she was admitted once this post is published, and she’s still in the hospital. She needed extra time because her little body had been through a LOT, and she just wasn’t ready to come home yet after only one night. But we’ve seen huge improvements in her appetite, energy, and general well-being, and she’s had no more difficulty breathing, thank God.
This bout with croup was terribly frightening. I want my baby home, but I know she’s where she needs to be right now.