How a Germaphobe Survives Preemies

If you saw my twins in the yard, you would never know that almost a year and a half ago we were in a self imposed quarantine and didn’t leave our bedroom or allow others to come in for about four months. No, I’m not joking. For four months, I obsessively monitored every object that came past my bedroom doorway, washing and sanitizing teethers, blankets and pumping equipment, and avoided physical contact with anyone that was not my husband or my mother. I nursed and pumped around the clock. I did this all in the name of the premature immune system, and avoiding cold and flu germs from school aged nephews and nieces, and commuter family members. By the spring of their first year, my girls came down to the living room and played at a distance from my young nephews.

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When my girls were born eight weeks early and at the start of cold and flu season, I did not hesitate to establish rules of contact and visitation with family and friends almost immediately after leaving the hospital. Family members would describe me as a germaphobe even before having children, so it was no surprise to them that I would be hyper sensitive to hand washing and contact when they realized I would be bringing home not one, but TWO fragile humans from the NICU.

As I pick up spoons caked with avocado and beef off the floor and wipe them on a paper towel before returning them to the lunch bowl, I reflect on what a journey this has been. I have never feared fresh air and sunshine, just germs from other people and their tiny people. From the time the girls were a month old we were bundling up and taking regular walks all over the neighborhood, but we hung a small plastic stop sign from their stroller that we received as part of our exit packet from NICU, that read, “Please wash your hands before touching mine.” It was awesome. It stopped everyone from reaching in a grabbing baby fingers (which immediately go into their mouth,) and many people shared with us that they wished they had something like that when their children were small, because it becomes an awkward task asking strangers not to stick their hands in a baby’s face. Some people don’t mind at all, and some talk about how these encounters build up immunity. I kept telling people, one day they will be sneezed on, they will eat dirt, and will roll around with all of the other kids-their immune systems have some extra developing to do now though, even more so than a full term newborn. We’ll get there.

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When spring arrived and my girls were about four months old, I gradually allowed young cousins to interact closely with the babies. We set out a large blanket on the floor and big kids and babies could play on hands and knees or crawl and giggle next to each other as long as big kids washed hands and no one was sick. I did not allow any toys that went into the girls’ mouthes to be touched by the kiddos though. Unfortunately at this point, that was usually every object they encountered. If cousins wanted to hold babies, we’d wait till after bath time or when they were out of their school clothes and sports uniforms and washed hands. Kisses were on top of the head. Even with adults, I would place a burp cloth over clothing so the girls weren’t licking or laying on a dirty shirt. I continued to breastfeed, and we avoided several stomach bugs and upper respiratory infections. By the time it was summer, our requirements were simple: wash your hands before touching the babies, and if you’re sick, stay away. The baby toys were handled more, and the girls started playing off of their blanket and on foam squares or the carpet.

We ate lunches and dinners on the front porch in our camping high chairs and spent a lot of time outside. In late summer, we took a big family trip and enjoyed floating in the lake and playing outside with our cousins. For their first birthday in November, we had a big birthday party withIMG_0931 lots of family and friends. I was still nursing. The girls were passed around to everyone, but I still kept a close eye on anyone that looked ill. I would gently usher the girls away from a coughing adult or send kids to wash their hands when I saw them wipe their noses.

Once H&G were walking, things got interesting! Walking and teething will break a mother that fears germs. Especially when there are twins and you cannot make your eyeballs move in two different directions simultaneously. Not only are they putting everything imaginable in their mouthes, but now they can get to it on their own, and sometimes in that instant you’re not looking!

Things that I’m pretty sure my toddlers have eaten:

-Hair
-Dirt
-Leaves
-Shoes
-Bird Poop <—-I thought I was going to have a heart attack!* But they were fine, and so was I 🙂
-Books
-Paper
-Lint
-Twigs
-Pebbles
-Really, REALLY old food that they managed to find deep down in the crevices of their high chairs
-Old Almond Milk
-Plastic
-Clothing tags
-Each others boogers <—Twin life
-Bugs

And one time I pulled a PENNY out of my daughter’s mouth. That could have been very dangerous, but luckily she gave herself away. We’re STILL teething, so I know the fun isn’t over yet!

My reactions to toddler noshing have mellowed, because I really have to pick and choose what is going to take up time and attention. Not everything can be earth shattering or send my blood pressure through the roof. So these are my hard NO’s:

-Don’t touch or eat poop
-Sick people stay away

-Avoid chemicals/pesticides
-No touching/eating garbage, whether on the floor or in the can.

Even if we’re under the weather, we will always get sunshine and fresh air. We still want people to wash their hands when they come home from a store, a school, or any busy public place. We eat mainly organic foods, and my girls and I have been dairy and soy free because of allergies. I very recently (at 18.5 months) stopped nursing my twins. This was bittersweet and I definitely cried. It marked a new stage for my growing girls and made me feel like my security blanket of providing that little extra immunity for them disappeared. I’m happy to say though, that at 19+ months we have lived alongside several flus, stomach viruses, upper respiratory infections, and croup, and have never been sick with any of them. I hear that we’re bound to catch something between now and 24 months, but I feel like my girls have strong immune systems now. I’m so thankful that we were able to give that extra time to develop and ease into interactions with a very large circle of family and friends, and I am so thankful that I was able to breastfeed twins for as long as I did.

You know you’ve made progress when other people are running around, pulling all sorts of things out of your toddler’s hands, and you’re like, “ehh, it’s fiber.”

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I am Groundhog’s Day. Bill Murray, Please Visit Me (if you are in good health.)

Little boxes in the sky to
Little boxes in the ground

Your hair left lifeless in the brush
Like a relic I would hold it up

Examine all these pieces of you
I never saw before

A few things. Reflecting this week on how lucky it is to have family still in my life, and nearby. The luck of being born into this time and place-to travel without greasing hands, or worry about clean health care facilities. To have quality food and water ready and available when needed. For health. For the joys of all the seasons, even the impassable conditions of winter.  So much to be thankful for.

Life has felt a bit like Groundhog’s Day this past year. Days are very similar around here-babies nursing, diapers, electronic devices, organic baby food, family, music, ABCs, and books. The same routines happen everyday. It can be quite nice, actually. The only variables are the occasional visitor, sickness, death, or hubs needing to work later than usual. It’s winter, so my self-imposed seclusion is, in my mind, completely practical, but renders entire weeks uneventful. Of course Bill Murray and the movie Groundhog’s Day had me thinking about this today. In the movie, Murray experiences the five stages of grief as he is forced to relive each day in the sleepy town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance.

For me, there is a similar process that happens after having children and deciding to stay home, although I think the stages may happen in a different order, or sometimes simultaneously.

First, there was happiness, excitement, and love. There was some denial about being a parent.  Am I really a parent? Am I even a grownup? There was anger-in the form of frustration as I learned how to do this new job.   I was tired, sometimes delirious, and therefore, impatient. On a daily basis, there is bargaining with babies-trying to get them to stop crying, or eat a new food.  There has been some depression about the loneliness of being the stay at home parent, and the uncertainty of the whole situation. My confidence, talents,  and self-worth have been questioned. 

 This year has been my personal Groundhog’s Day. Those that know me, know that I am in love with my children.  I’ve deliberately avoided visits, certain outings, and social invitations to tend to a list of needs and wants for my family. My choices have been aimed at the best health and interests of my children. This was exactly what I wanted, and I’ve cherished this time with my daughters.  But, even getting what you want means making sacrifices. I guess I’ve mourned my social life a bit, and that sense of freedom of driving solo in the car to a friend’s house, or taking a shower at an unplanned time of day.  I’ve missed the excitement of things out-of-the-ordinary, and surprises.

So I’m thinking, to liven things up around here, Bill Murray should visit me.  Given Bill Murray’s kind, and spontaneous nature lately, I’m thinking this is not as crazy an idea as one might think. He’s been spotted at bachelor parties and engagement photo shoots, so why not add feeding some avocado to twins in high chairs to the list? It would certainly brighten my day. We don’t have to talk about anything special, we can just hang out. Just one thing though, Bill, (if you’re reading this,) I just ask that if you accept my invitation, please be in good health.  I’m a bit of a germaphobe, and we just narrowly avoided the flu, so I can’t handle any sick visitors right now.  Personally, it would make a great story to catch the flu from you, but I can’t take that chance with the babes. Friends of Bill, agents, colleagues-please pass this along. 🙂

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Another thought about Groundhog’s Day the movie: Murray’s character gets to work this day out until he’s nearly perfected it.  There is something so Zen about that.  I’ve looked at my time home in a similar way. Every day I’m trying to master parenthood, but I’m also finding comfort in accepting the repetition. There has been beauty in the simplicity of our days, and real quality time spent with my girls. At first, the day was just a series of daily tasks played out while snuggling and carrying my toddlers.  But now, I’m drawing again, and reading, and starting to see friends more often. Hopefully these positive karmic seeds will help to grow healthy, loved, creative, and balanced individuals, myself included.

So I’m adding another stage to my stay at home parenting. Something more than acceptance, between joy and appreciation, next to love. I don’t have a name for it yet.  It will help me welcome these next few weeks of winter though, all snowed in with my girls. That’s where I’ll be tomorrow when my little alarm clocks start chirping to start the day. Happy Groundhog’s Day! And Happy Winter!  Bill, we’ll be waiting for you. 🙂

Below are some photos I took while visiting the town of Punxsutawney, PA.  It’s a beautiful, small town of Victorian homes and painted statues dedicated to the city’s most well-known icon-the weather predicting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Hubs and I passed through on one of our road trips on the way back from Canada and Chicago.

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This is My Brain on Packing

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Leave the flat-iron, take the local honey.

Snow day over? If the novelty of drinking tea and shoveling snow has grown stale, you’ll probably be setting your sights on a relaxing getaway, a change of scenery, or maybe even a staycation where you can temporarily suspend the demands of reality.

If you’re planning a trip for two or the whole family, a little forethought could save you time packing and loads of stress before your trip starts.

Here are some quick and useful tips to help you get out the door faster, and happier.

And here is my brain on Venn Diagrams:

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Who doesn’t love a good old Venn Diagram?

1. Spend a little time on your computer.
Sit down for ten minutes and open a text document. Visualize your day, start to finish, and imagine all the items and foods you use throughout the course of a day. Write down everything that needs to make its way to vacationland with you. If you’re like me, you may want to turn these items into a check list that can be printed and used each time you travel. It’s always a good idea to leave some blank check boxes too, in case items change for different times of the year or certain foods or medications need to be included. You can check out my version here:

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It looks a little over the top, but I spent a little time making it once, and now just slightly edit it and reference it whenever I travel!

2. Cover all the major categories: CATVEGI. Yup, CATVEGI. It’s so ridiculous, you’ll remember it.

Clothing
Accessories (hats, shoes, sunglasses, etc.,)
Toiletries
Vitamins/medications/special foods
Electronics and chargers
Gear (camping chairs, pool floats, etc.,)
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS. This includes, but is not limited to:
-Drivers license
-Passport
-Plane tickets or any physical documents that provide proof of reservations or travel

3. Think Small. Either invest in travel size bottles or reuse existing toiletry bottles for new products. I’m a big fan of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps and take them everywhere with me, so I purchased a small bottle of their soap once, and constantly refill it from my gallon containers to travel with. I’ve also saved small face wash pump bottles and cleaned them out to use for lotions.

4. Seal it up.  Secure all toiletries in ziplock bags before packing. This prevents them from leaking on other items in your luggage. Save your bags to reuse for future packing. I keep a wad of zip locks in the closet that are strictly for holding small items, not food, and use them over and over again. You can also try the plastic wrap trick (see links below.)

5. If possible, get double.
Many people have several of the same items already laying around the house. Hair ties, travel size deodorants, bath sponges, hair products, and makeup can be put together as your travel set. If you can get duplicates of certain items, it will make packing and UNPACKING easier.

6. Grab and Go Ready. Keep your toiletry bag prepacked and ready to go. Fill it with your travel set of items, in their ziplock bags, and tuck it into a closet or under the bed so you’re ready to go when you head out of town. All you’ll need to do is throw in the bigger items like blow driers, if you need them.

8. Aim for Arm’s Reach. If you’re packing for babies (like me,) make sure all of the items you will need right away during travel are reachable in your car, and in your diaper bag. Items needed first should be stored at the top of your bag, and outside areas of your car. When we’re taking long car rides and stop mid-way for an overnight rest, we pack a smaller piece of luggage with just the pajamas and outfits for the following day so we don’t have to unpack the whole car.

9. Imagine the Kid Zone. Consider how you will entertain your little one and provide a safe space wherever you are going. You may need to pack toys for the car, outlet covers for your hotel room, or a playpen, depending on where you’re headed, and the age of your child. A playpen may be bulky, but provide the most safe and secure space for your child wherever you go.

10. The Staples of Travel.
Keep a gallon of water and some water bottles in you car along with a roll of paper towels, some tissues, and empty trash and laundry bags. These little extras will come in handy, trust me! Pack disinfecting wipes with you. These can be used on everything from gas pumps to the hotel room remote.

Check out these creative packing tips here from Buzzfeed:

And I love that the folks over at Howdini reuse their old toiletry bottles and seem to use ziplock bags as much as I do.

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H & G sincerely hope you enjoy your vacation and get to kick back and relax! 🙂 🙂