Saturday, July 30, 2011

Parenting through the pain...

This pregnancy, over half way done with, has just reach the point where I feel anything that could even remotely be described as "comfortable." I'm not saying this to complain. Sure, I do my fair share of whining, I know I do! But, I really do love being pregnant. What a gift we as women have been given. To be charged with the task of growing, nourishing, caring for, and birthing new life! Yes, God certainly shows us His love in being charged with something so amazing, rewarding, and awesome!

However, since March, I've been dealing with hyperemesis. Hyperemesis is nausea and vomiting that results in at least 5% weight loss in the woman affected. I lost between 5-10% of my pre-pregnancy weight and am just now at a +1 lb for this pregnancy. Twice I found myself in the ER for IV fluids, and if I weren't so stubborn, I should have gone in more than that! Most days, getting out of bed was a huge task, managing to care for and feed the kids made me feel like a superhero! I'd be embarrassed to admit how much convenience food and TV has played a part in our lives these past 4 months.

Along with that, my anxiety disorder has been exaggerated by the pregnancy. Thankfully, once I was out of the first trimester, my doctor and I were able to work together and find a drug that helped. Not as much as my non-pregnant anxiety medication, but it does work. And I switched nausea medications as well, since a side effect of the one I was on is increased anxiety levels. The combination worked! I still have days where I need my medication, but in general I'm just fine without anything but maybe a few deep breaths here and there.

This past month, the flood has made the humidity worse. And combined with the warmest (who are we kidding? It is just downright HOT!) summer in recent memory, my asthma just isn't handling it well. When I got to the point this week where I was calling the doctor considering a second ER visit within a week because my rescue medication wasn't working, I knew things had to change. I'm now on two daily preventative medications. Singulair and an inhaled corticosteroid, Flovent.

Needless to say, I've been largely out of commission. I have barely seen friends, I haven't even really seen family all that much! We haven't done most of the usual activities we do in the summer. Trips to the zoo, picnics at the park, going fishing, etc. This spring and summer has seen us mostly housebound. Which is not at all the normal way of things for the girls and I. We're very go-go-go kind of people!

Thankfully, at home, I have my awesome husband to help out. But, he's got his own chronic health issues which have been plaguing him for about 15 months now. He's in constant pain, and while he manages to do what needs done, like me he's been just handling the basics. There are only two days a week where he's working in the mornings. On those five other days, we switch off getting up with the kids and sleeping in. Well, he sleeps in. I generally am unable to fall asleep after the kids are up anyway, but getting to just lay in bed in the dark quiet is like a vacation sometimes!

The hardest part isn't the physical toll our health issues have taken on either of us. It's been the fact that we can't be the parents we normally are! We both hate feeling like we're sitting on the sidelines, watching the kids play and grow and not being able to actively participate like we are so used to. We watch them ride their bikes up and down the street instead of my husband riding bikes with them. Trips to the park involve driving there and sitting at the picnic tables versus walking there and playing with them.

It affects them, too. How can it not? It means extra nights with grandparents, when mom and dad are too sick to give them everything they need. And while their grandparents are happy to help and they love the kids and the kids love them, it isn't the same. Then we get the "grandparent detox" when they come home. Which means the first 24-36 hours at home are spent easing back into home rules, and there is a lot of frustration and misbehavior involved. It isn't anybody's fault (not entirely, at least), but just a fact.

The past week or two they've been spending more nights away than usual. A two day trip to the amusement park (which we couldn't have done. Humidity, walking all over, being in the pool all evening, it would've taken all we had out of both of us!), spending the night when my asthma sent me to the ER then again when it almost did, a lot of nights away from home. And it shows. The oldest has taken to yelling angrily at her younger sister, and growling in frustration at her. Lots of hurtful words coming from her mouth and hurtful attitude flowing from her heart. The middle one is bouncing off the walls (which is to be expected since she doesn't have a great outlet for expelling all the energy three year olds have!), and is generally defiant in nature. It isn't malicious, it's just the nature of being three and very spirited! She wants to do things in her own time and her own way and doesn't want anybody to tell her how it is. And all of that is at a level about 10 times higher than usual right now.

Thankfully, we have an amazing family doctor. My asthma stuff is quickly getting under control thanks to the new medications I'm on. I think my lungs forgot what it felt like to not be bogged down with inflammation and mucus! And he's finding a combination of medications to help my husband's pain levels get under control. A small difference is already noticeable, after two days. We're also ALL switching ourselves over to a more plant based diet focused on real, unprocessed foods. Something that, as I mentioned above, has been seriously lacking from our house.

We've been eating the Standard American Diet and we're beginning to understand why there's such a health crisis in this country! My husband is likely doing a 5 day juice/raw veggie and fruit fast to jump start his health journey. I would LOVE to join him, but obviously won't be due to being pregnant. Instead I'll be just adding those things into my diet. And into the girls' diets. They even tried broccoli and rice this week; two things they swore up and down they hated! When the oldest asked me to make rice and beans again, I could have fainted!

In this entire process, though, we've made sure the kids know that we love them, that we aren't not doing things to punish them, etc. And we've tried to make special occasions out of things we CAN do. Family nights at home with movies and a special treat. More trips to the play areas at local malls. Lots of reading and cuddles. Making foods we don't normally make (homemade, from scratch pretzels earned this mama some serious cool points!). Helping in the kitchen. They are troopers, and have taken it in stride.

But the husband and I are saying no more. We've survived through the worst. But we don't want our family to survive, we want it to THRIVE. We're looking into joining a gym that has family programs. We can get much needed exercise (inside, away from the humidity for me!), and the kids can have classes to make friends and get energy out. I've found a tumbling class for them through the Y that they could take together, and progress together. It's way on the other side of town, but once a week we can make that drive. Most of the dance and gymnastic places I've called close to us are much more expensive, don't include gym membership for the husband and I, and have long waiting lists. We're starting back with at least once weekly zoo trips, and signing up for some of their upcoming homeschool series.

I'm excited to change the dynamic of our family. From being a group of people who all love each other and live together to being a tight knit family unit again. We've been there most of the 8 years we've been a family, we can get back there again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Preparing for the worst...or maybe the best?

As you may have heard, the Missouri River is flooding. Record flood levels have been seen all along the river's path from Montana down to St. Louis. The waters are expected to stay high for months to come. Where I live, a levy protects our city. However, if that levy is breached or fails, we are predicted to have up to 10 feet of water in our city. TEN FEET of water. We are preparing as if this is going to happen, so that if it does we hopefully don't face losing everything.

Which means, while we aren't under immediate threat of an evacuation, it could happen at any time (we're learning of more issues with keeping the levy doing it's job every day it seems). So we are getting things ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. If we don't have to, we'll consider ourselves prepared and lucky. In this process, I'm seeing a lot of similarities to the way of life we're preparing for and the life we've been trying to accomplish. Funny how that works.

By the grace of God, we were given an old, small camper trailer this last spring. My husband and brother-in-law have been fixing it up, dreaming of vacations and fishing trips. It was a hunting camper, so thing bachelor pad times 100. In good shape, but in need of fixing up to be 'family friendly'. It was also used as a kid's playhouse (and still is, as our girls often ask to go play in the camper rather than their bedroom!). If an evacuation is necessary, this camper will go from more than just a fun project and "vacation home". It will BE our home until we find newer, more permanent living arrangements.

We started by pulling up the old carpeting. Thankfully there wasn't really any water damage on the floorboards, but there was a gap between the floor and the wall on one side. My husband fixed that, and my brother in law paid for new laminate wood flooring and trim to go in. It's so pretty! We also got a new roof vent with a fan to circulate air. We're still scouting Craigslist for a roof top air conditioner since my asthma does worse in warmer temperatures...but most of our travels are in the fall so we don't anticipate a big issue here. We need some new paneling on the ceiling where there was some water damage around the old vent, but that is easy to fix whenever we have time. A big, old metal water tank was removed to add more storage space, and if we decide we want a water tank in the future for boondocking we will add a plastic one beneath the camper.

For now the dinette table that converts to a bed is just used as a bed. Rather than the cushions for the seats making a mattress, we have a twin mattress down. We figure if we have to evacuate due to flooding, we will be in the camper for a while, and our bigger girls having a comfortable sleeping spot is more important than a table! We can eat with lap trays. It also lets us use the area under the mattress as extra storage.

Storage. If I thought trying to figure out how to fit the lives of 5 (soon to be 6) people into a ~900 sq ft house was a challenge, I was foolish. Try doing it with a 12' (my estimate is 12') travel trailer! We have built in storage under each of the dinette seats (basically each is the size of a toybox or storage bench), and under the full size sofa bed (it is pretty much a futon style built onto a box frame). There is a small closet with hanging space, and 3 pull out drawers. Then in the "kitchen" there are cabinets above the counter, 3-4 more pull out drawers (silverware sized drawers) next to the stove, and a storage shelf under the sink/countertop. And another small cabinet above the dinette. It's actually a lot of space for such a small camper! I'm grateful it already has an oven/stove combo. This one is older, but looks brand new inside the stove. And a new one that looks the same but with updated finishes (no dark brown appliances!) is $300!

I've figured out we'll need to store a Wonder Wash for washing clothes when boondocking, and washing diapers all the time. If we evacuate, we'll be using a stash of all flat style diapers with wool covers. And taking our 3 pocket diapers to use for overnights or covers while the wool is being washed and dried. This will easily store in the bottom of the closet, along with a simple tote to hold the diapers.

Kitchen supplies are as follows:
-Cast iron skillet and dutch oven (the skillet doubles as a lid, the dutch oven doubles as a pot)
-1 cafeteria style tray/plate for each person
-1 bowl per person
-1 reusable straw cup (the kind that look like a fast food cup) per person
-Silverware set for each person
-2 flannel napkins per person
-Metal spoon and spatula
-Cookie sheet
-Foldable lap trays to eat on (these are at the RV store)
-Kitchenaid mixer (stored in the dinette...not sure if we'll use it in the camper, but I don't want to lose it to flooding, either!)

Our clothes options will be cut down as well. Our older girls can wear the same size shirts, which will make it easy. I plan on packing 4-6 short sleeve shirts for them to share. They will each take 2 pairs of jeans, and 2-3 dresses each. They wear the same size underwear, too, which for now means it all gets thrown in a drawer together. Hubby and I will each take 2 pairs of jeans (for me jeans and one skirt), and shirts. The 15 month old, well, that's the tough one. Probably 3 dresses, 3 pants, and a LOT of shirts, since that's what gets the messiest! All of this should hang in the closet without issue, and the drawers will be used for underwear and socks.

One of the dinette bench areas has been designated as the girls' storage spot. So their special toys they want to make sure aren't flooded will be put here. As well as the six year old's computer school program (Fisher Price Cool School). Everyday toys and homeschooling books will be kept in a small bin under the table top where it's easily accessible. Shoes can be stored here, too. The other dinette storage and the area under our bed are for the things in the house that we don't want to lose but don't necessarily use everyday. Pictures. My grandfather's cowboy hat and fiddle (which I'm teaching myself to play). The broken laptops I need pictures off of. Our Wii and maybe our small 19" TV (so we have them to use if we are at an RV park with electric hookups) if there's room. Our important papers we need.

Then there are the animals. We have 2 dachshunds and our cat. The cat is the tricky one, because of the litter box in such a small area. I see us using one of the top entry cat boxes, and storing it in the cubby space under the counter. That way litter isn't always getting strewn about. We'll have storage in the cargo area of our SUV, too. In addition to the stroller, we'll be storing the dog and cat food there, so when they aren't eating it's out of the way.

Our everyday stuff- the android tablet (which we'll likely purchase a keyboard case for and use in lieu of a laptop in the camper), the nook (I won't be bringing my books with me, so this will be my reading source), a sewing kit, my crochet hooks/yarn, and my camera stuff will be in the cabinet above the dinette.

It sounds like a LOT of stuff in a small area. And really, it kind of is. But, it all has a purpose (not the pictures, hat or fiddle, but really preserving the past IS a purpose). And it is all dear to us and most will be used daily. If we have to live this way, is that really bad? We try, so hard, to simplify constantly. And it seems like we're always falling just short of it. Of course we can't get rid of THAT! But yet, when forced to look at what we could bring with us, suddenly "THAT" didn't make the list. So why do we need it in the house? We're taking the space available, and using it intentionally and wisely. The idea that we could not only live in such a space, but possibly thrive? It thrills me. Not that I want to be evacuated, face losing everything, and starting over. Especially not when I'm more than halfway through a pregnancy (and could be even further than that by the time something may happen!). But just seeing the possibility of a simpler life being not only possible but attainable is great.

And the stuff we're doing? It all fits with a lot of our self-sufficient/urban homesteading ideals. We're re-thinking and using things with less electricity (a small tablet vs a laptop, having the TV be put away for occasional use only), simplifying our entertainment (the fiddle and the nook, some cards vs a lot of books and magazines, video games, etc), and we can easily outfit the camper with solar electricity to power the chargers for what we'll be using when we need to.

Of course, we'll need to have somewhere available for showering (we could go full out and do dry showers, but really we won't be full-time travelers, we'd be parked somewhere until we find housing or could return to our house). And some of our sustainable urban homesteading dreams are impossible in a small camper. The only chickens in there will be the chalkboard rooster decals I'm putting on the floor for the kids to draw on! Our garden would be obsolete, though I'd likely bring my spearmint and rosemary plants since we do use them in our cooking.

Since we do eventually want to buy an acreage and maybe live in the camper while building our own place, this exercise in preparedness has, if nothing else, shown us that it is possible. Don't get me wrong, if this were long term living in a camper, we'd be buying a bigger rig! But it's nice to know that even if we have to leave our house, we can still have our home.