Happy 15 Months!

Dear Alexander and Phoebe,

Today you’re 15 months old and that means we’ve been blessed to be your parents for 15 months! Holy crap on a cracker!

Let’s cut right to the chase…this last month has been explosive for you both:

  • You both look like toddlers
  • You both wear shoes
  • You both are walking
  • Language is strong with you both!
  • Your fine motor skills are incredible with great bilateral action
  • You both love to stack rings, cups and legos
  • You both love to read
  • You both sleep without your sleep sacks

Currently we read Brown Bear Brown Bear 20 times a day and go through all the animal noises. And you love your newest book A Day In The Life of Marlon Bundo.

This last month has been so busy for you! Each weekend you got to celebrate one set of twins’ first birthday! First was Freya and Zelda, second was Dean and Emma, third was Colton and Weston and this coming weekend marks the end of the birthdays with Kevin and Jason! Phew!

This next month we are sure will be ripe with new learnings and we cannot wait! We love you more than you’ll ever know and are the luckiest to be your daddy and Abba.

All our Love,

Daddy & Abba

Cultivating a Strong Sense of Self in Our Children: “This Is Me.”

Raising strong, independent and mindful children seems to be a universal goal for parents. I know it’s a goal of ours. We want our children to grow up with a strong sense of identity, that it is okay to be themselves, that they are worthy of love and that nobody can tear them down. Ultimately, the desire for our children to be unapologetically themselves is strong and we want to cultivate this now, and throughout their lives. But how? How can we teach our children to be themselves? One could easily posit and say “throw out all labels” and just let your children be children; let them explore their world and their ideas in a safe, judgment-free manner. But, it’s not that easy. In fact it’s much more complicated since as parents we bring our own baggage of insecurities. Therefore, it would be foolish for me not to first unpack my personal story of discovering my identity and becoming “unapologetically myself.”

As a gay man I was rather young when I put together I wasn’t like everyone else. My first clear memory originated around the age of six. I knew a lesbian couple (neighbors of my aunt and uncle) and I can remember saying to myself, “if two women can live together and be happy then that means two men can, too.” I didn’t dare speak about it to anyone for fear or being ridiculed. Plus, who is going to listen to a six year old? What could they possibly know about themselves? Turns out more than some would give credit. This memory is so vivid.

In reflecting as I grew older and more aware of myself I remember the nasty epithets thrown at me down the hallways in middle school, on the baseball field or in gym class throughout high school: faggot, fudge packer, worthless piece of shit, you fat fag, you’re a disgusting homo, burn in hell. It was hurtful, demeaning and unruly at times. Many nasty rumors were started and it hurt so deep that I walked around with my head down and just minded my own business. When I needed to be happy on the outside I somehow mustered the strength, but often found myself crying at home trying to make sense of why people saw or even cared that I was different than them. I can remember my mom constantly reminding me that, “sticks and stones may break my bones by words will never harm me.” At times, though, the words did hurt – they cut so deep and to the very core of my identity, even though I was still trying to decipher and understand the nature of that identity. It wasn’t until much later in life I started to care less about others and just started living my truth. But it was through this hurt and pain that I arrived at this place.

This brings me to the crux of why I am penning this piece. Recently I heard a song from the movie The Greatest Showman, “This Is Me,” and it moved me to a place I haven’t been in some time. It’s like my new power anthem. In fact it moved me so much that it got me thinking about how we will create and cultivate our children’s minds to be free, strong and confident. The verse I heard goes like this (no, I won’t sing…):

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Lookout cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me”

I saw it as someone’s social media status, in quotes, and was like, “OMFG, this is my anthem!” So I dug a little deeper to find out the origins which lead me to this movie about P.T. Barnum and the story of his “Greatest Show on Earth.” I won’t argue the historical discrepancies in the movie (as there are many), but I will say that this movie tackles many poignant current-day issues that surround self-identity, self-pride and to put it bluntly, the many fucks none of us should give about what others think. After all, at times growing up I felt like a circus freak, an outcast and even a stranger in my own body. But it would be with a lot of inner struggle that I would finally arrive at the place I am today. Strong. Confident. Humble. And now, raising children with my husband.

The song appears in the movie midway through when the circus cast wants to join the bourgeoisie of Connecticut to celebrate a performance they had just attended (in a highly invisible section of the theater, mind you). Excited to celebrate before their nightly show they were rejected entry to the gala by their ringleader – for the first time in their history with Barnum he refused them entry giving the most asinine of excuses. It’s in this moment we see the ‘bearded lady’ Lettie Lutz finally emerge and bust out this song. She gave me life! And as I watched it for the first time, eyes fixed on the screen sitting at the edge of my seat, there I was singing, smiling and rooting her on (And I mean hooting and hollerin’!). Each member of the circus were constantly judged by society, constantly emotionally and physically beaten down, constantly told that they are less than human, constantly told that they don’t deserve anything in life…that they were freaks. When Lutz starts the song with, “Hide away, they say, ‘cause we don’t want your broken parts” I teared up. I don’t ever want our children feeling this way. Nothing about them is broken. They are themselves, they are human and they are always whole. And our children know, even at the tender age of 14 months, that they are loved no matter what. How do I know? Because it starts with us, their parents, with hugs, kisses and telling them they are loved. It starts by us accepting them for being who they are no matter what, and mark my words, our love will not waiver or be held to any condition.

Lutz continues the song, “But I won’t let them break me down to dust, I know that there’s a place for us, for we are glorious.” At this point in the film we’ve gotten to see Lutz move from a place of insecurity to finally emerging as a freed person, a leader of the pack for the so-called “freaks” of the circus. It was glorious to hear these words. But it doesn’t come without being allowed to feel the hurt – it’s from our pain and negative experiences that she arrives at this epiphany. The lesson? We cannot shelter our children from all possible hurt – it’s impossible. Even if we could what would that do? Nothing. What we can do is encourage them to feel the hurt, openly discuss why it hurts and then determine the right path forward to where that hurt can be used for good. Lutz turns her pain around and uses it as a means of celebrating with the words, “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.” I still get goose pimples when this is sung…

She then leads her new-found family with the following words, “Look out cause here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum, I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.” It was in this moment that I felt myself relating to her on a whole new level. I remember the feelings of being a freak, being an outcast and being alone. And it wasn’t just me – it was the drama nerds, the science geeks, it was the music nerds…it was anyone that dared to be themselves. I remember the nerves and heart-pounding excitement the first time I held a boyfriend’s hand in public in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I remember the looks given to us (the gays) when we went to the bars to dance and enjoy time with others like us. Ultimately we learned that from our experiences we can either give in to the pressures of untruths (i.e. give up) or just to live our lives as we see fit. Ultimately, the choice to live my life as I see fit is what won. And here I am, unapologetically me, not scared to be seen and marching to my own drumbeat. This is me. 100%. And I am proud, damn proud of who I’ve become.

The last major line that affected me in ways I didn’t expect was, “and I know that I deserve your love, ’cause there’s nothing I’m not worthy of.” And it’s true. As humans we are all deserving of love. Every single one of us, even when we feel deep down inside that we’re not. And I’ll be damned if I fail my children; may they never doubt that they are deserving of love. In fact, they will be shown that first they must learn to love themselves, and that to love ourselves comes with struggles and acceptance. Each of us struggle with self-love, in fact most of us push it off. How will we teach this to our children? Truthfully, I have no idea. Perhaps self-affirming mantras, giving ourselves hugs, celebrating our triumphs and openly discussing failures. Honestly, to love yourself is one of the hardest things to do and is something with which I continue to struggle. I won’t hide this struggle from them for hiding from something only increases fear of what it is you’re hiding from. I plan on leading by example in that it’s ok to struggle and constantly evolve. That’s part of living in this world: always being able to learn about yourself and even about those that around us. Each of our struggles can help to teach and guide us to be better humans. Each of us have our own truths to live.

The movie holds on to this theme of self-love and acceptance no matter what or who we are. And, even though there are some facts left out that doesn’t change the underlying message: we are all people who are amazing, talented and deserve to be true to ourselves. And it’s with this underlying message that makes me reflect on how I will teach our children to be unapologetically themselves. Finally, I offer an answer to question: how will we let our children grow up to be themselves? The answer: let them be themselves, let them fall, let them explore, with guidance and acceptance that through it all, they are entirely loved without fail or conditions. This is how. With an open heart, an open mind and unconditional love we will teach our children that they are free to be themselves, that who they are is perfect and that their truths are theirs to own no matter what someone else may think or say.  We’re all glorious.

Happy (Belated) 14 months!

Dear Phoebe & Alexander,

Happy 14 months, yeladim! It seems surreal with each letter and passing month…how did we get so lucky to be your parents? We are grateful each and every day and love you both so very much!

This last month has been explosive for you both, it’s so tough to even begin…

Phoebe: you are officially walking unassisted! In fact you took your first few steps alone when Abba asked you “where’s Hedwig?” You shocked both Daddy and Abba by turning around, walking the 5 – 6 steps, squatting down to pick her up and then coming back to us. We both looked at one another, jaw-dropped, speechless. Congrats baby girl! Here’s to your future exploring life on two legs. Also this last month your language exploded. You have a growing vocabulary of words and sounds. You can blow kisses, wave hello and goodbye and identify a whole bunch of different people and objects.

Alexander: you officially received your first haircut! Abba and Daddy wanted to wait a bit longer, but the wildness of your hair was becoming annoying to you while taking your glasses off and on. You were so well behaved throughout the whole experience. You have developed a love of objects that can be nested and love to show us both the great work you do. Two other great accomplishment this last month are your ability to point to objects and your communication skills.

Communally this last month:

·         We had our first Family Photoshoot

·         You’re both sleeping with your arms out of your sleep sacks

·         You’re both getting only 2 bottles a day and ready to give up the morning bottle

·         You’re daily interactions between the two of you grow by the day

You are both growing, learning and doing so much each day. It’s such a joy and blessing to witness. Your bond is so strong and so precious, may it continue to blossom with each day. We love you both so much.

All of our love,

Daddy & Abba

13 Months!!

Dear Yeladim

Although we’re two days late in publishing this letter, it’s been 13 whole months since you’ve been born and 13 whole months that we’ve been blessed to be your Daddy and Abba. And it just seems to get better, crazier and more hectic with each passing day. Since your 12 month check-up much has happened!

Phoebe: you have begun to point. At everything. And you use your “pointing” to explore literally everything. Your new favorite thing is to ask Daddy to pick you up and walk to wherever you point! You love it! And, you still love to walk like a busy-body with your walker. In fact, you’ve even mastered the ability to move forward, stop, reverse, pivot and navigate to where you want to be. You’ve discovered the joys of pasta and bananas, and you inhale them both! And, you have even learned how to place objects within one another (i.e. cleaning up, nested objects). .

Xander: since your 12 month check-up you have had a pediatric ophthalmologist appointment where you’ve been diagnosed with both strabismus and Duane’s Syndrome. Both are not a big deal and we’ve already started to take corrective action. You’ve been fitted for your first pair of glasses, and without fail you look even more adorable than you already are! You took a minute to get used to them (still are adjusting) and love to rip them off your face when you’re feeling most frustrated, bored or have the messiest hands in the world. You are officially crawling quadruped and really keeping up with your sister now!

Of all the things you’ve individually accomplished perhaps some of the cutest moments this last month were of your interactions together. You both LOVE to play together, steal objects from one another, trade pacifiers (willingly) and most of all giggle at one another. When one starts the other follows. Your conversational jabber is beyond adorable and entertaining and keeps Abba and Daddy entertained. You both still love your food and feeding yourselves, you enjoy getting messy and then love the bath right after! You have an incredible listening vocabulary and understand so much of your world it’s beautiful.

Keep exploring. Keep playing. Keep learning. Keep falling. Keep getting back up. Keep laughing. Keep testing your limits and boundaries. Keep snuggling us for as long as you want, for we’ll miss these days when they’ve passed us by.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

I Don’t Know How You Do It?

Becoming parents has been the journey of a lifetime. In fact the most adventurous and crazy we’ve ever experienced. Like most expecting parents we thought we were ready for the insanity that would be twins, but like most we were clearly deluded. While we navigated the bumpy, swerve-laden and cliff-edge walking craziness perhaps the one aspect of “crazy” we never considered was the stupid brought to us by none other than other adults. This piece is about them and the crazy things they say/question to parents of twins (or multiples in general) and some of the witty, snarky and wish-we-had said responses to the stupid. Some of this is commentary from our heterosexual friends but nearly all of this has been first-hand experience. Enjoy!

You Have Your Hands Full

Um. No shit. We have two babies. Are you offering a helping hand or just staring in sheer amazement at our awesomeness? Pointing out the obvious seems off-putting. Sure, as parents of twins we do have our hands full: of snot, of bottles, of toys and of course babies. Don’t forget that our hearts are also filled with joy. As parents of multiples we are blessed with: twice the snuggles, twice the smiles, twice the kisses and twice of everything that’s “oh so nice!” #TwiceAsNice

Who’s who? I Mean There Are Two Fathers

Wow. Captain obvious strikes again. Imagine that – two dads. There is Jeff and there is Brian. One of us is Abba and the other is Daddy. Ok? Moving on as our children are nowhere near as confused as you seem to be. They seem to be perfectly fine and know exactly who we both are: their parents. Thanks! #DoesThisEvenMatter

Better You Then Me

With a response like this I would absolutely agree. I don’t think anything more needs to be said. #ByeFelicia

Which Of You Did The Deed With Your Surrogate?

Get the hell out of here. Really? Did you just ask that question? Deconstructing this response has been nothing short of humorous. But really, my favorite response to this has been, “but that’s just not how any of this works…ever.” While we’re on the topic did y’all choose missionary for your children? See? It’s awkward, uncomfortable and rude. #NotAppropriateEver

Are Your Twins Natural?

Are artificial twins a real thing? Cause I don’t know how to answer this one. While we’ve received this question I am going to offer two choice responses not just from us, but from other parents of twins having received the same question.

  1. Our twins are natural. If by natural you mean where they conceived by chance or via IVF/Assisted Reproductive Technology then surely that is none of your business. All you need to know is that the both of them came out of my uterus on the same day. Want to hear about the afterbirth? #MovingOn
  2. Our twins are natural. And – wait for it – they have two dads. You see, we had one egg fertilized by Abba and one egg fertilized by Daddy (via IVF, again, nobody had sex with anyone) and they were then placed into our surrogate’s uterus to grow. #BecauseScience

They’re Not Twins! They Don’t Look Alike!

Newsflash – twins typically exist in two buckets: Identical and Fraternal. Think back to basic biology (remember that high school class?): when one egg is fertilized and splits into two embryos they are called identical twins as they share the same DNA. When two eggs are released from the ovaries and both subsequently fertilized and implanted in the uterus they, too, are twins. As they started with two different eggs and fertilized by two different sperm they will look no more or less alike than two siblings. These are called fraternal twins. Identical twins are always the same biological sex (and for those crafty enough to look up tuner syndrome or polar-body twinning please let’s not be overly technical here). Fraternal twins can be either of the following combinations: Boy & Girl, Boy & Boy and Girl & Girl. #BasicBiology

I Don’t Know How You Do It

How do you manage to brush your teeth, comb your hair, shower every day, go to work, food shop, cook, eat etc.? The thing is when you have kids, no matter how many, you figure it out. Whether you have one at a time or are blessed with having twins, triplets or more, you survive. I mean is there another option? In the words of fashion icon guru Tim Gunn: #MakeItWork

Now can we stop with the absolutely stupid and highly inappropriate questions to parents of multiples? After all we’re not some spectacle at a zoo – we’re people just like you. We just happen to have more than one same-age baby at the same time. And while this isn’t an exhaustive list of stupid things said to parents of multiples, these are likely the most frequent I’ve encountered. Someone once said, “Kids say the darnedest of things,” when really they meant adults.

At the end of the day parenting is parenting whether or not you have one, two three or more kids or multiples. All parenting comes with unique sets of challenges regardless. While I am sure there will continue to be an influx of stupid and inappropriate questions, one thing I know is for sure: yes our hands are full with both of us being their fathers, I will always be glad it’s me and not you, neither of us had sex with our surrogate, our twins are very natural, they are definitely not identical (but still twins) and we live life every day with a heart filled with love and twice the snot on our sleeves. #TwinLife

12 Month Check Up!

Dear Yeladim,

Today you had your 12 month wellness visit with your pediatrician! It seriously couldn’t have been a better visit! Let’s get the basis over with:

Phoebe – in just one year you have gone from 3lbs 13oz to 21lbs! You’ve more than quintupled your weight. You’ve grown 11.5” from 16.5” to 28”! Incredible!

Alexander – in just one year you have gone from 5lbs 4.3oz to 27lbs! You’ve quintupled your weight exactly! Incredible! You’ve grown 11.2” from 19.3” to 30.5”! Amazing!

Guys – so you know you were born premature, right? Well, you would never know it. You are kicking prematurity’s butt! When it comes to milestones you are hitting chronological milestones (as opposed to corrected). This is incredible. Your doctor was just so happy to see how things are going…we talked about all the crazy things you do like jibber and jabber, cruise from here to there, play peek-a-boo and clap your hands. We even talked about the crazy foods you eat and you shovel them in so quickly! You both really are great eaters. We talked about making your first dentist appointment this year and weaning you from the bottle (which you’re both already on the way). Truly, it was a terrific visit. You both really make Abba and Daddy proud!

When we came home we had a delicious lunch of peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich on whole wheat bread, orange segments and yogurt. You both tore it up! And then later for dinner Abba made you one of Daddy’s favorite meals: Indonesian Chicken. Phoebe you were literally in Heaven; Xander, it took you a few to get in your groove but you got there! After dinner we took a walk outside to get some more fresh air, home in time for good night bottles, story, brush teeth and bed.

We are so excited to walk with you this second year of life. We eagerly await the milestones you will achieve throughout the year and look forward to documenting them for your future! We love you both so much!

All our Love,

Daddy and Abba

Happy One Year Birthday!!!

Dear Yeladim,

Today is the 365th day we’re blessed to be your parents…it’s crazy to imagine and truly hard for us to believe, but you’re one whole year old! Up until today we measured your age in months (remember, 12 months makes one year) but this is a whole new milestone! So much has happened in this last year…let’s recap.

– you were born

– you lived in the NICU for your first month

– you learned to suck, swallow and breath

– you learned to communicate with us by differentiating your cries

– you’ve taken three airplane rides

– you’ve been to a bowling alley

– you’ve been to a zoo

– you’ve been to restaurants

– you’ve learned how to sit up

– you’ve learned how to babble

– you’ve learned how to smile and show many, many emotions

– you’ve learned basic words and can say Abba and Daddy

– you’ve gained weight and strength and can now pull your weight up, stand climb and cruise

– you’ve learned to fall and get back up

– you’ve learned to play and love one another like we’ve never seen before

– you’ve learned to eat solid foods (and you love them!!)

– you’ve learned to find and seek objects

– you’ve learned to play basic games

– you’ve learned how to clap

– you’ve learned how to be stronger and fight through your prematurity

– you’ve learned that there isn’t a thing you can’t do when you set your minds to it

But most of all you’ve learned and you know that you have two daddies that will always be here for you. Aways love you. Always hug you. And always guide you. Always. Your smiles when we walk into a room light up our hearts. Your giggles tickle our very soul. Your babbles to us and one another are the sweetest sounds. And your snuggles are by far the best snuggles ever.

Today we celebrate you, but we also celebrate someone else. Aunt Ashly and her family. Without her and her family we would not be here today celebrating you! So today we honor her and thank her for all she’s done for us in helping to make us our perfect family. Aunt Ashly: We Love You!

So today, February 17, 2018, we celebrate the last year of living by partying with friends and family and surrounding us by the community that helped us through this year. And although not all of our family could be here, we know they’re here in our hearts (and FaceTime!) and that we love them!

Keep growing. Keep exploring. Keep making us proud with the little things you do every single day.

All our Love,

Daddy and Abba

Unpacking the Last Year

I dedicate this piece to my husband, for without him I may not have survived this last year. We’ve struggled together and independently, but for me this piece was a tough and necessary one to write. I know others who have been through similar and feel alone. You are not. You are never alone. So to my rock, to my Miter, to the man I love, and to the best Big Poppa an Abba could ask for: I love you.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

In just eight days our twins will be one years old. It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly one year since we first met them. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been parents for this last year. It’s hard to believe how much has happened this last year. But most of all, and something that I wasn’t expecting, it’s hard to believe just how traumatic our experience was prior to, and leading up to our stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It’s taken me a while to truly unpack. A lot of tears. A lot of talking. And a lot of networking with parents whom have had similar experiences.

Many of you who follow my blog know that we wrote letters. We wrote them every single night while we ate dinner prior to returning for nighttime cares in our assigned NICU pod. Sometimes I wrote them myself, crying, and others I asked Brian to write because I was empty. Some of them we wrote together, or at least outlined what we wanted to share, but one thing was certain: we wrote them as a means to digest exactly what was happening, a way to communicate to those back home what was going on and a way to take care of our joint mental health. I cannot begin to describe what it was like to experience being away from our friends and family for so long. It was grueling. But we continued these letters for major milestones throughout their first year – and it’s been great for both of us and will turn into an even greater memory for our children.

When we got the call early on February 17th that our surrogate had gone into labor – like legit labor – we went into action mode despite being scared shitless. Brian got on the phone and booked flights, I secured us a ride to the airport, and our surrogate’s husband was as stellar as could be in keeping us up-to-date with literally everything that was going on. In fact, if it wasn’t for him and his wife (clearly) it would have been so much worse. They were truly a foundation for us, but little did we know just the firmament they would provide. We secured our animal’s wellbeing for the time (indefinitely) that we would be in Texas and packed for the trip.

While we were being driven down to the airport we got the call and text that Ashly would have to have an emergency c-section. As emotionally charged as I was it was the worst (and best) news ever. We were going to miss the birth of our children. This was something for which I was not emotionally ready. Given all the variables we had we planned to be there at the beginning of 35 weeks gestation, but alas, biology had other plans. This is the first time I am writing about it, but I was shattered. So. Utterly. Shattered. For the nearly 21 months leading up to their birth I fantasized about that day. Arriving at the hospital. Getting gowned up and cleaned. Cutting the cord. Holding our children for the first time. And just like that – gone. Like a band aid ripped from the most sensitive area of my body it was gone. I would never experience their birth. And that fact left a pit inside…But, what did happen, and we’re forever thankful, is that our surrogate’s husband Mac FaceTimed us in the airport during the procedure. It was the next best thing to being there. And not only did he FaceTime, he had an extra device that he used to video their birth so that we would have that memory forever. I have watched this video over and over imagining what it would be like for us to have been present. I am thankful for this. In fact more thankful than he’ll ever know because the shear emptiness I felt when I knew we wouldn’t be there was an emptiness I’ll never forget.

And then we got to the hospital. So much of it is a blur – but we got there. We were registered. The intake staff was so nice. SO nice. And then…they brought us up to meet our children. It was still February 17th so we got to meet them the day they were born. It was nothing short of miraculous. Seeing our son, our daughter, holding their hands. Stroking their forearms. Hearing them cry. Smelling them. Staring at them. Observing their every move. And then we were given the opportunity to hold them, skin to skin, for the very first time. My body experienced something that day that it had truly never experienced before. I don’t even have a word to describe what it was like to see Brian holding Alexander that first time…and then the feeling of holding all 3lbs 13oz of Phoebe…it was surreal like something out of a fairy tale. But there we were, holding our children for the first time. But there was something different about it. They were attached to wires. Breathing apparatuses strapped to their faces. Feeding tubes taped to their mouths. Soon the realization that we were in the NICU sank in.

The doctor doing rounds came to us to speak. It was crazy – she wanted to talk to us about our children. OUR children. And we did. We learned a lot about their health status and what we should expect: to be in Texas until their gestational due date in early April. The pit that hit both of us was akin to the worst sucker punch in the gut. It didn’t sink in. We pretended that it did. But it didn’t. We stayed in the hospital until late that night – we had a really hard time leaving. In fact we left somewhere around 2am to drive to our surrogate’s home to unpack, try to sleep and then wake up the next day and go to the hospital. And that’s exactly what we did.

Our routine for the next month was the following:

  1. Wake up
  2. Shower
  3. Pack up expressed breastmilk for the day
  4. Drive to the hospital
  5. Walk to the NICU
  6. Scrub our hands for 3 minutes
  7. Sanitize our cell phones
  8. Sit in the NICU pod until care time (feed, diaper change and temperature check at 8am, 11 am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm and 11pm)
  9. Drive home to our surrogates without our children
  10. Repeat the next day

Each time we left the NICU walls and returned (which was only for lunch and dinner breaks and to sleep at night) we would repeat steps 4 – 8. It was like living a real-life groundhog’s day except it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t entertaining. It was grueling. It was tedious. It was torturous. And to this day I cannot stand the smell of antibacterial soap or products like hand sanitizer – in fact it was around month 3 after their birth I put it together – the smell of these products made me nauseous. Of course, I wash my hands with soap and water like everyone else and will use sanitizer when needed, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t trigger these memories and bring this pit back into my soul.

We watched our children struggle each day to perform simple tasks like drinking, breathing and regulating their body temperatures. We watched as their internal organs were still maturing, vying for the time missed in the womb. We watched them from their birth weight as they lost weight, then cheered every night at their 11pm weight check to see how many grams they’d gained. We did this every day for a month – hoping – praying for the moment that we would be told that they could be discharged. Eventually that day did come and it was one of the most joyous days…we could finally drive back to our surrogate’s home to rest and we would no longer be empty handed, we would finally be heading to her home as our family. All of us. The way it was meant to be.

All in all we spent one month in the NICU. And in that time our surrogate and her family became something much greater to us. While we had spent the last year and a half getting to know them, bonding with them what we didn’t do is live with them. But this time, we did. They opened up their home. They opened up their lives. They treated us like the family they already had. And in that month they transformed into extensions of our own family. When we needed to cry or talk they were there. When we needed a human touch, a hug, compassion – whatever, they were there. They may someday read this piece of mine, but I hope they already know just how good they are. I hope they know just how pure and human they are. I hope that they know that the humanity and love they extended to Brian and I will never be forgotten. Ever. And if it wasn’t for them, that first month of our children’s lives would have barely been bearable and we’re forever grateful for that love.

But prematurity left its mark on our children – even to this day. I’ve covered topics like corrected age and aspects of prematurity many don’t have to consider, so I won’t re-hash that here, but what I will say is that it’s constantly thrown in our face. No, not by the average person, but by the ways in which our children grow and develop. Our children were and are constantly compared to other babies born at full term. Comments like, “But my baby is the same age and doing this and doing that…” to the medical questionnaires given to us at their wellness visits and having to answer “no, my baby cannot do that yet…” or, “oh, other 6 month old babies do that?!” It’s been an uphill and sometimes downright trudging through the mud. Thankfully we’re lucky in that our pediatrician is well versed in prematurity and standardizes our kids based on corrected age. The best note we’ve gotten from her was at 11 months we retook out 9 month (chronological) CDC survey. Remember, being born at 33 weeks means that their corrected age is always 2 months behind their chronological age. Her response? “Your children are perfect!”

But premature digestion lead to severe reflux. Premature immunity lead to lots of colds and illness once they went into public daycare. Premature lungs lead to breathing treatments for both children for nearly every single cold. Prematurity has delayed almost all aspects of their gross motor skills, cognitive and emotional development. And it’s OK. They are making amazing strides, and, as the doctor said, “Perfect!” But it doesn’t make the sting of comparison any less easy. But as all parents do we cope. We survive. We grow. And we are stronger for all of this experience than we were had we not been through this. And while I wouldn’t wish this on anyone I am grateful that this was our experience. Because it’s our experiences in life that mold us into the people that we are – and for that, I am grateful to know that our mutual strengths will continue to help our children thrive and grow.

That’s the long and short of unpacking the last year. To say that it’s been a “roller coaster ride” is kind of an understatement. It’s been more like a bungee cord adventure jumping from the highest peak, stumbling on the way down, recoiling back up only to be dropped back down…and repeat, repeat, repeat. Ultimately, we’ve landed on our feet and like all adventures we’ve survived. And we’ve learned that no matter what is thrown our way in this adventure of parenting one thing is for sure: we love our children more than humanly possible and every ounce of our being will go into making sure that they are cared for, protected, loved, nurtured and ready to face the world. We will impart our lessons and tools so that they can continue to navigate this world (ok, just our living room and play area for now) as we prepare and head into completing their first year of life and start their second. We are excited. We are ready (well, almost…). And we are and always will be: one family. Perfectly imperfect. Quirky. And above all filled with love.

Rainy Day Fun – Salt Dough!

As a child that grew up in the eighties somewhere between analog and digital, often times rainy day activities consisted of what we could do at home: paint, color, play with kitchen utensil and even Play-doh (and movies…but we didn’t have a VHS until the late 80’s and daytime TV was not ever child-appropriate lol). Of all the things we did Play-doh was one of my most favorite – I mean where else could you make a hamburger, apple pie, a convertible car and an ice cream cone, wreck it all, and do it all again? It was a fun, creative and encouraged me to use my hands to sculpt and play. However, at some point I ended up with containers of drab brown mush with rock-hard pieces intertwined…which I hated. I’d ask my folks for more, but alas, it was expensive and I had to wait for a special occasion like a birthday or Hanukkah.

Fast forward 30-something years and here I am with kids, and while they’re not quite ready for Play-doh just yet you can bet that once they are it will be in the house – with just one caveat – I won’t purchase the store stuff. My reason is simple and truthfully it has little to do with the money. It has to do with the interactivity and lessons that I can teach my children. It’s amazing that with a few common household ingredients we can make our own Play-doh – it is [significantly] cheaper than the store bought stuff and teaches kids how to be even more creative since we can make our own fabulous color combinations with whatever food colors we have on hand.

There are two types of homemade Play-doh recipes that I am going to share – both are classified as “salt dough.” I learned both of these recipes while working in the JCC Kid’s activity room in college (thank you Charlie for teaching me!). In fact I was running a program called “Kids in the Kitchen,” which was all about teaching kids responsible kitchen behaviors, how to make fun and healthy snacks and build necessary kitchen safety skills. One recipe is cooked and the other is not. Either way, have fun, be safe and remember to store whatever you make in an airtight container (Glass jars work the best, but you know, safety first!). If stored properly these recipes should last up to 3 months or more.

Homemade Play-doh (Uncooked)

1 cup All Purpose Flour
¼ cup + 1 tbsp Kosher salt (I find this works better than iodized salt, but truthfully whatever you have works)
½ cup warm water (sometimes you may need an additional tablespoon or so to absorb the flour)
Food Color (Water soluble – not more than 6 drops)

  • Mix together the flour and the salt.
  • Mix together the flour and food coloring.
  • While stirring add the water to the flour – and more water if necessary.
  • Transfer the dough to a plastic cutting board* and knead until smooth.

Homemade Play-doh (Cooked)    

1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 cup water
¼ cup + 2tbsp Kosher salt
1 ¾ tsp Cream of Tartar (also known as tartaric acid)
1 tbsp vegetable oil (such as olive, canola or rapeseed)
Food Coloring (Water soluble – not more than 6 drops)

  • Combine all ingredients (except for food coloring) in a medium sauce pan.
  • Turn stove to medium/medium high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken (if you’ve ever made Pâte à Choux, or éclair dough, this is similar).
  • Add the food coloring once thickening begins.
  • Continue to cook until the Play-doh has bunched itself up onto the spoon and the dough doesn’t appear to be “wet.”
  • Place onto a plate or parchment paper and allow to cool for 20 – 30 minutes before playing.

* A great trick to make a cutting board “nonstick” is to put a damp dishrag underneath. This will prevent the board from sliding everywhere. I also recommend plastic as opposed to wooden cutting boards since the wood will absorb the food coloring.

Now that you’ve made your homemade Play-doh it’s time to play! Don’t forget that a trip to the dollar store for accessories is way cheaper than the fancy sets! Pick up things like mini rolling pins, cookie cutters, forks, spoons and so many other things…be creative. Have fun! Make memories!

Happy 11 Months, Yeladim!!

Dear Phoebe & Alexander,

Today is your 11th month birth celebration and our 11 month blessed to be your parents. As we type this we sit in disbelief trying to understand how fast the time has flown and that in just one months time we’ll be celebrating your one year birthday…ok, back to this month…

Yeladim – this last month has been a rough one. It’s been wrought with illnesses, tears and even a loss. You both somehow managed to come home with another sinus infection, double ear infections, bronchiolitis (Xander), coxsackie virus (again) and even conjunctivitis. And, over new years weekend we lost one of our furblings: Ebony Rooster Mahoney Broustein. Through it all you both were troopers and gave some incredible snuggles and reached incredible milestones. Oh, and how could we forget, you took an airplane ride back from Florida.

Phoebe – your 11th month was filled with discovery. Your ability to crawl around has progressed from army style to all fours. You move around everywhere. You have also mastered pulling yourself to stand with many types of base objects. You even walk across the couch and reach to other spaces to try and “walk across.” Examining objects and banging them together is one of your favorite things to do. You’ve developed a strong affinity towards our “peek a boo” blanket. You love to be hidden underneath and asked, “Where’s Phoebe?!” You immediately uncover yourself, bounce with joy and a smile…and, you’ve started to clap your hands…it’s been such a month of progress!

Xander – your 11th month was filled with lots of movement! You’ve mastered the army crawl, well, sort of…it’s more like you’re just “Slytherin…” Ok, bad Harry Potter joke. But seriously, you get all around and are just so proud when you get to where you want to go. You love to jump and play musical instruments; in fact the tambourine and the xylophone are your favorites. You love when we sing and dance, it brings such a smile to your face! As for steps you are taking so many assisted steps with Abba or Daddy holding your hands…but, you are still very much learning how to use and move your body and often just find yourself taking little tumbles here and there. Oh, and you absolutely love chasing your sister but by the time you get to her she’s sadly moving on…

One thing that you have both started during nap time is likely the one thing we’ve dreaded – resisting the nap and playing with one another. It’s mildly hysterical, but you both just stare and make one another giggle from your respective cribs. Xander – your laugh when Phoebe is babbling to you is priceless…all belly laugh. But seriously – you both need those naps so you’re not cranky 🙂

We cannot wait for winter to be over as that should mark the end of the sicknesses. This year has been particularly rough for many kids, but most especially for those born prematurely. The temperature swings have made for a particularly great breeding environment for nasty bugs and sadly you’ve both picked them up. It’s been hell but your pediatrician is not worried and says that this happens often. By two years old (gulp) you’ll have a rock-star immune system. And by preschool and grade school even stronger which means perfect attendance. No sick days!

Last thing – today is also your Daddy’s birthday. He stayed home from work to be with us since today was an “Abba home day.” It was just so much fun!

We love you both to the moon and back. Until next month when we celebrate your one year birthday and have our first reunion with your Aunt Ashly, Uncle Mac, Kaisen and Evie!

All our Love,

Daddy and Abba