Wednesday, December 7, 2016

For Elise

Water broke.  Need you here,” wrote my sister’s husband, Joe.  I stared at my phone, trying to comprehend how so much grief and sadness could be packaged into such small, simple words.  How could so few words say so much?  How could they completely eviscerate all hope? 

My sister, Maryellen, was 20 weeks pregnant with her beautiful baby girl, Elise. 

It was too early—much too early.  But as we all knew, once her water broke, there would be no stopping her delivery.  It was happening. 

On that day, which was one year ago today, my sister, Maryellen, and her husband welcomed their perfect little girl, Elise. Soon after, they had to say goodbye to their sweet baby girl. 

I think about that day a lot.  All the time, actually.  I think it’s because I felt completely helpless, and I knew that there was nothing—nothing—I could do or say to take my sister’s sadness away.  What can you say when someone is preparing to say goodbye to their child?  It is incomprehensible.

I am usually a positive person, so on hard days with my own kids, I find myself saying it could be worse.  I do this several times a day.  Everyone is sick, babies up all night?  It could be worse because we’re not dealing with life-threatening illnesses.  No naps for anyone and my husband working late?  It could be worse, at least they’ll go to bed early.  In short, it could always be worse.  Except for that day, when my sister welcomed her baby girl far too early.  There was nothing worse.  There was nothing worse than welcoming a perfect, beautiful baby who you’ve hoped and prayed for, and who you know will pass away.  There was nothing worse in the world, and I couldn’t say or do anything to fix it that day.  Instead, I was a bystander to my sister's grief and tried to just be present and absorb whatever sadness I could in hopes it would lessen hers and her husband's.

Sometimes I think back to when I was pregnant with my triplets and I told everyone to stop preparing for their arrival, as we weren’t sure when they would arrive and whether they’d be ok.  My sister asked, well then, what’s it all for?  What’s it all for?  Now, after the death of her child, I was left feeling the same way.  What’s it all for?  And for me, the following question is, what can I DO, and is there anything I can do to make this better?

I think I can help today, on Elise’s birth day.  You can help, too.  Today, I’d like to help keep Elise’s memory alive by spreading kindness, hope, and love.  That can mean buying someone’s coffee.  It can mean saying a prayer for my sister and her family. It can mean donating old baby clothes and gear to Goodwill, where someone who needs them can use them.  None of these acts will take much time or effort on our part, but these acts would mean the world to my sister and her family.  I know I can’t take away their grief today, but at least I—or rather, we—can create a small, glimmering silver lining to a day that is otherwise all clouds and rain.  

We love you, Elise, and you are always in our hearts.  

P.S.  If you spread some love today while remembering Elise, can you please share it with me? Post it to my facebook page, message me on FB, or email me (foxroussel@yahoo.com), and I will share it with my sister.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chasing the Void

“But then I don’t get her feet or legs!” shouted my four-year-old to my eight-year-old. I had been reduced to body parts by my children. Pieces of myself for my kids to fight over.  

It was bedtime and I was lying on twelve tiny inches of my enormous king size bed while two of my kids were fighting over who would lie next to me.  I had refused to lie sandwiched between them, because, well, we all have our limits, right? And that was my limit.  My four-year-old was disappointed that she couldn’t claim my legs or feet, which she liked to burrow against with her busy feet. My eight-year-old claimed she hadn’t had enough time to snuggle with me.  So there they were, claiming pieces of me like candy from a pinata. 

Of all the things that are hard about motherhood, for me, the hardest part is the being “on” all the time, with all of your senses.  The noise, and the need to reply, engage, explain, or intervene, is constant.  And the touching, oh dear God the touching.  It’s incessant.  Even if you spend a healthy amount of time letting the kids entertain themselves, it still feels like you’re always on.  Ready to catch that falling toddler or sudden vomit.  Ready to explain why they can’t stuff an entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet. Ready to duck before you get head butted by a toddler.

That’s why I find myself chasing the void lately, actively seeking out brief moments of peace and quiet. I know you'd recognize that magical place: it's the void of noise, touch, and being the one to handle whatever shit is thrown at you (sometimes literally) by your little ones.  That void—where you can just exist and nothing is required of you—is the stuff of dreams for mothers.  And it is also different for all my friends.  One friend does hot yoga because, in her words, it’s so hard she can’t think about anything else.  Not a single list running through her head, not a single worry invading her thoughts.  Another friend runs outside almost every day, because it is her time and just makes her feel better.  While exercise would be the better void, I prefer solo scenic drives in my car where I can just . . . be.  For me, it’s a time when I can know that no one will bump into me and slosh my coffee against my face.  When I can listen to music if I want, because that noise doesn’t demand anything of me except singing at the top of my lungs.  

Let’s face it, just being is hard when you’re a parent because there’s always someone needing something.  But you know what?  As much as they need breakfast or clean underwear, we, as parents, need to find the void.  Just being—whether it’s running, yoga, or belting out music in your car—is just as essential as changing the diapers, brushing their hair, or doing the laundry.  Here’s to chasing the void, friends, whatever that may be for you.  If you need me I’ll be in my car, slurping a piping hot latte and shout-singing along to pop hits on the radio.  


Friday, October 7, 2016

Dear Clothing Retailers: It's Way Too Hot for Those Ponchos and Sweaters

Dear Clothing Retailers,

Please stop.  Please stop pretending that we can wear your beautiful fall clothes here in the Deep South.    

Look, I want it to be fall as much as you do.  That’s why I dutifully put out my pumpkins and festive fall wreath even though it’s 92 degrees and 158% humidity.  It’s why I still get excited for seasonal coffee drinks, even though there’s no other indication that seasons have changed.  However, I simply cannot endure your oversized cable knit ponchos, wool coats, corduroy pants, and rugged sweaters.  Or the suggestion, as provided by your mannequins, that I wear layer upon layer upon layer of clothing. 

Do you know what happens when we wear that oversized sweater poncho here in the South in October?  We become one-person sweat lodges, like the ones that people died in from overheating.   That lovely plaid wool jacket?  There may be one day this year I could actually wear it, and that day probably won’t come until January.  Also, those beautiful scarves you have draped around the necks of every mannequin? It would become a sweat rag that I could use to wipe my face after about ten minutes outside.

Listen, I love our Southern version of fake fall.  I schlep the kids to the pumpkin patch and sweat buckets with all the other parents.  I buy the candy corn and giant inflatable pumpkins for our yard and I make delicious pumpkin bread.  In short, I pretend that the seasons are actually changing, even though we all know that we’ve just moved from Summer Phase I to Summer Phase II, which lasts until November. 

There’s where you come in: I think you should dump the ponchos and coats, and instead roll out a Summer Phase II clothing line.  You could even use all those rich fall colors—deep burgundy, mustard yellow, and navy—but just skip the pants and make shorts and t-shirts.  You’d sell a lot of them, because as much as we embrace fake fall here in the South, we just can’t pretend that it’s cool enough to wear your real fall clothes. 

So happy fall, y’all.  Just not in those ponchos, corduroys, and scarves.  Shorts.  Think shorts.  

Signed,

One Sweaty Southerner

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Triplets Are Almost Two!

The days and weeks are flying by, and in just two short weeks, my babies will be two. TWO!!!! I cannot believe it. When I was pregnant with them and for months after, I couldn’t tell anyone I had triplets without stifling nervous laughter. It seemed so . . .  unbelievable.  Surreal.  Laughable, really.  

I remember when my mom and I had a rare lunch away from the hospital while the babies were in the NICU. She told our waitress that I had two-week-old triplets. I nodded, laughed nervously, and then waited for it to seem real. For months after I had the babies, I couldn't bring myself to say I had triplets because it just didn't seem real. 

I think it takes a long time to process news like triplets. It was just five short months from the day I found out it was triplets to the day they were born. I know people deal with much bigger news than that in a shorter period of time, but wow, five months didn’t seem like enough time to prepare for their arrival or wrap our heads around the idea that we’d suddenly be a party of 8.

Now that they’re almost two, most of the time I can tell people I have six kids, and triplets, without laughing. I can whip out my phone and show them videos and pictures and tell them funny stories about my crazy, busy little toddlers and their big sisters. I can answer questions from curious strangers without feeling completely uncomfortable. It has all become fairly routine to me. 

Am I sad they’re turning two and not really babies anymore? I don’t know. I don't think so. Having three babies is a completely different experience than one. You don’t have the luxury of snuggling with one baby and rocking that baby to sleep every night. You don't have the luxury of extra time, period. The pace is frenetic, and the phases are so intense that it’s hard to miss them once they’ve passed.  

At the moment, I am enjoying the fact that certain things are now easier for me. I can take them to the gym and they can all walk in themselves and wave bye-bye as they head into the gym nursery. They can tell me “love you, mama.” They can usually tell me what they want. They can sing, dance, and entertain each other. Sometimes I wonder if they know where one ends and the next begins, because even though they’re very different individually, they also see themselves as a unit, too. They look out for each other (especially Abby). They love to be together, and they want to know where the third baby is whenever one is not with them.     

Just last night I was up at 1 a.m. rocking them because they woke each other up and all wanted to get out and be together. All three of them had laid claim to a small piece of my lap and had settled in together as I rocked them, their heads bumping every five seconds. They didn’t seem to mind. They're used to being together, in each other's space. Eventually we found a lovey for each one and I got them back to sleep. Morning came fast for me, and, with it, three toddlers jumping around in their cribs shouting to each other, laughing and playing.

It may have taken almost two years, but I can now say it is no longer surreal. What’s more surprising is that there was ever a time when they were NOT part of our family, like all my older girls too.  Now, I think to myself: of course you’re here. You were meant to be here all along, just like your big sisters. That said, every once in a while I do still laugh when I say I have six kids, including triplets. But these days when I laugh, most of the time it's not a nervous laughter of disbelief. It's a joyful, happy laughter about how crazy life can be and what a wild ride it's been for the last two years. I think the best is yet to come, too.     

Elizabeth, Ruby, and Abigail

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Glimpse into Life at Home with Six Little Ones

Hi Friends!  Long time, no post!  The end of summer and start of school has kept me crazy busy.

I just realized I never shared the InRegister magazine article!  I wrote an article for them about what life is like at home with my six little ones.  I think most moms will relate to the challenges that I mentioned in the article.  Plus, you should check out the photos of us looking so clean!  Ha!  The link is below.  Special thanks to Ashley Gordon, Jeannie Frey Rhodes, and Jeanne McNeil.  Enjoy! And I promise to post another blog soon!

The Mother Load: as seen in InRegister magazine

Or, copy and paste this link into your browser: https://www.inregister.com/features/mother-load-stay-home-moms-sanity-saving-secrets

Also, check out my cover girls checking themselves out at the gas station!  They thought it was so exciting to see themselves on the cover! And I thought it was really cool to see my words in print, too!



Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why I Can't Toss My Expired Liquid Gold

Every time I open the freezer drawer, I see a bag of frozen breastmilk staring at me.  It has been waiting patiently for me to acknowledge it for months now.  But I don’t.  I usually just push it deeper into the drawer as I dig around for popsicles or pizza for the kids.  Day after day, I see it there, and yet I cannot do the simple thing I know I need to do: throw it away

I’ve been thinking about exactly why I can’t do it.  There’s a few reasons, I think. 

I think part of it is that I’m still surprised that we’re permanently moving out of the baby years.  After 8+ years of being pregnant and nursing babies, I can’t believe that we’re actually moving on to another phase.  I’m not really sad per se, it’s more just the change, you know? 

Some people like to close doors quickly, while others, like me, like to close doors so slowly and infinitesimally that we never noticed they’ve closed.  In this case, that milk, and throwing it away, is a glaring reminder that I’m closing the door to the baby years. Being reminded that I will not have another newborn makes me a little sad, even if I don't actually want another baby (definitely no to that).  In addition, I am a little unsettled knowing that we’re moving on to bigger kids with bigger problems.  Will I look back and laugh at the time when my biggest worries were washing bottles and curing diaper rash? Time will tell.

I think the other reason I haven’t tossed it is that I worked really hard to pump milk for the triplets, and it seems sacrilegious to throw it away.  I nursed my older three girls, but I went into my triplet pregnancy with no expectations about nursing.  I thought, well, if it worked, great, but if it didn’t, no sweat (side note: I wish all mothers received that same grace in deciding whether to nurse).  But after my delivery, when I couldn’t hold my babies and was sitting in my post partum room, I decided to start pumping milk for them.  For the next month, I would visit the babies in the NICU and sit next to the isolettes, pumping milk while looking at them and listening to the dings and beeps of the monitors. 

I also pumped at home, on Bobby Carlos, my trusty hospital grade home pump.  I decided that if my pump and I would be spending hours together each day, he needed a name and Bobby Carlos just seemed to fit.  Bobby Carlos and I would wake up all hours of the night to pump milk, which I would then label carefully for each baby (did it really matter which baby got what milk?) and transport to the hospital in giant Ziploc bags.  I'd watch as their nurses loaded syringes full of breastmilk onto a machine that would slowly push the milk through feeding tubes in their tiny noses.  Slowly the babies began to take more bottles and every once in a while I tried nursing them.  However, their feeding sessions could not take longer than about 45 minutes because at that point, they would be expending more calories than they were taking in.  Feeding sessions required a delicate balance of getting calories in without exerting so much energy that their little bodies would be worn out.

After the babies came home from the NICU, I didn’t have the time or energy to work on getting each one to nurse, so I continued to pump with Bobby Carlos.  For the better part of nine months, I was tethered to Bobby Carlos up to eight times a day.  For the first few months, it was a grueling schedule of pumping and feeding them, where I did both things every three hours around the clock.  Sometimes I’d fall asleep to the mechanical shu-shhhh shu-shhhhh of the pump, only to wake up an hour later and find it still going.  Other times I’d fall asleep and wake up with my flanges still attached, not knowing whether I turned it off in my sleep or if it somehow shut itself off.  Seth joked that Bobby Carlos saw me more than he did, and he was probably right.  Bobby Carlos and I were tight; he came with me to the beach, to Rhode Island for my grandmother’s funeral, and various other places in between.  

I averaged about half a gallon of milk a day (80+ ounces), which left me depleted in more ways than one.  Still, I wanted to do it because it made me feel… normal It made me feel like these babies had something in common with my other babies, who would sit snuggled on my lap for long periods each day while they nursed.  I couldn’t hold all three of the triplets all day long, but I could pump for them, so I did.  I guess my rationale was just—this, this I CAN do for them, so I will.  I know I was lucky to have an abundant supply.  So every day I’d pump, fill bottles, wash bottles, wash pump parts, and do it again the next day.  Some days I made more than they drank (about 90 ounces or so), and on those days, I froze milk in little freezer bags, labeling each bag with the date and the amount.    

When the babies were about 9 months old, they were moving around a lot and it made sense for me to stop pumping.  The babies had also surpassed how much I could pump, and we gradually transitioned to formula.  It was bittersweet to stop pumping.  I was attached to my pump more than I expected (this sounds crazy, I know), and I had mixed emotions about turning it in.  However, I was also happy to be free from it and to be able to run around and chase the babies and spend time with the big girls.  On a sunny August day, when the babies were about ten months old, Bobby Carlos and I finally went our separate ways.  I took selfies with it in the car since we’d spent so much time together.  Then, I bid it adieu.
   
In the following months, I slowly went through the freezer stash of breastmilk until it was all gone, or so I thought, until I found that lone freezer bag a few months ago.  I smiled to myself when I found it, thinking about how all those hours of pumping and milk had dwindled down to one little bag of four ounces of frozen milk. Expired liquid gold.     

Months have passed, but I cannot bring myself to toss it.  I know it’s only one little bag, but it represents so much more to me: all the sleepless nights nursing my older girls, the time and effort I poured into pumping with Bobby Carlos, and the journey of watching all six of my babies become toddlers and big girls over the last eight years.  Tossing that little bag forces me to acknowledge what I already know to be true—we’re closing the door on the baby years and moving on.  For me, saying goodbye to phases, ages, seasons of life, can be surprisingly hard.  So for now, that little bag will have to sit tight in the freezer a little longer. 

P.S. did you know I'm on Facebook?  Roussel Six Pack.  Let's be friends!
P.P.S. if you're nursing multiples and want links some helpful sites or info, please message me.  There are some great Facebook support groups.  



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hitting the Summer Wall of Fatigue: Forgive Yourself, Channel Oprah, and Check Flights to Napa

Entering our seventh week of summer, I’ve hit the wall. The summer wall. You know how when you are running a marathon, and around mile 21 or so you hit a wall of fatigue (or so I'm told) and you feel like you cannot run one more step?

That’s me. Pushing against the summer wall. Pressing forward through the sweltering hot, long days of summer with my six kids.      

Listen, I’ve done my duty in regards to summer fun. I’ve helped them make the lemonade stands. I've taken them  to the library and the splash pad.  I’ve slathered on the sunscreen and jumped in the pool with them. I’ve filled up the baby pool and sat in a lawn chair in the driveway while they splashed away. I’ve hung out with them during “lazy” rainy afternoons in the house, and, when that got boring, we played in the rain. I've had all the neighborhood kids over countless days for free-for-all play time.  I've cuddled on the couch with them and watched copious amounts of t.v.  In short, we've had some serious summer fun.

But right now, I’m so tired. I’m tired of looking for their shoes every single day.  I'm tired of the twenty outfit changes a day and all the laundry that they generate. I’m tired of figuring out what to make for every single meal of the day.  (Side note: why are they all so hungry all the time?).  I’m tired of answering the questions about what’s next and what fun thing are we doing today?  I’m tired of wiping babies' bottoms and being buried under my children, all six of whom decide they want to sit next to or on top of me at the exact same time. And don't even get me started on the popsicle messes; I keep swearing I'll never buy them again and somehow we always have more. 

Summer burnout is a thing, apparently.

Sometimes, I find myself fantasizing about being alone on these long, sunny days. On the craziest days, I look up how much it’d cost to fly to Napa that very day, where I’d stay in a really posh hotel and drink wine in a fancy bathrobe. I’d order room service and eat my meal on the bed while watching really crappy reality tv. All alone, with no one sitting on top of me. What a luxury.

I know you’re suffering from it too. That’s why we were both at the gym for two hours yesterday (hello free childcare), even if we didn’t sweat very much. It’s why all the go-to babysitters are booked right now. It’s why all the summer camps are full, despite their totally overinflated prices; it’s supply and demand at work. 
 
I have two solutions to help us all enjoy these summer days.  

First, let’s forgive ourselves daily when we lose our patience, our keys, and everything else too.  Summer is hard.  Fun, but hard.  Like life.  It’s ok to lose your patience when they leave their wet bathing suits all over the house for the millionth time.  It’s ok to be frustrated when you have to answer the 7,535th question of the day.  It's ok to curse and get mad when no one has picked up their toys and shoes that are strewn all over the yard.  Forgive yourself and move on, tomorrow is another day.  One where you will likely be asked 8,345 questions, so get ready.

Second, I’m working with my kids to foster an attitude of gratitude.  I had a long talk with my kids about gratitude the other night, and, after a few false starts (“I’m grateful that I’m grateful!”), I think they have the idea.  I know my kids want the summer to be an endless carousel of fun where they spin around and around and around until they hop off at the first day of school, but that’s not happening, kids.  Because that's not life.  Life also includes down days, where we clean up and do laundry and go to the grocery store. That’s why we’re going to talk about what we’re grateful for every day, a la Oprah, if you recall her love of a daily gratitude journal.  If it works for Oprah, surely it will work for us, too, right?  So we're going to be like Oprah on these summer days and name three things we're grateful for each night before we go to sleep. (So recap: forgive yourself and be like Oprah. m'kay?).

Look, I know we’ll get through this crazy, busy summer. One day and one step at a time. We’ll limp, we’ll crawl, but we’ll get there. And when we do cross that finish line on the last day of summer, let’s meet up and toast ourselves with giant margaritas. In the meantime, I’ll be checking flights to Napa, forgiving myself on the daily, and channeling Oprah's attitude of gratitude.  Solidarity, fellow parents, we can do this.  

P.S. feel free to share if you know fellow parents who've hit the wall and may benefit from these tips.

P.P.S. did you know I'm on Facebook? Find me and let's be friends! Roussel Six Pack.

Note to Self: Stop Thinking "It Gets Easier" and Focus on Today

As a parent, it's really easy to get caught up in thinking "it will get easier when . . ." I know this because I do it a lot. I think "oh, it'll be so much easier when they're not in diapers." Or, "it'll be so much quicker when they can walk to the car themselves."

Just today I said to myself that this summer will be the hardest summer with the babies, because next year they'll have lots of words and be more independent.

Then I came across this photo tonight while scrolling through my phone. This was a year ago today. I remember that day. I remember thinking it would be easier next summer (this summer), when the babies could get up and walk outside and entertain themselves a bit more. Ha. I was wrong--it's busier than ever.

I think it was the perfect reminder for me to pause and focus on what's good on any given day, rather than focus on what might be easier in a year, two years, or five years. Because when I look at this photo, all I see is my happy, chubby babies and their sweet big sister. I can't even remember what was so hard on that day or even last summer.

So my note to self for today: focus on today. Don't wish away today thinking that tomorrow, next month, or next year will be easier. It probably won't be. So take a deep breath and take it all in.


Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gift of Friends Who Knew You Before Kids

Two of my dearest friends just visited.  We now have ten daughters between the three of us (ten!).  We met when we were in our late 20's and working long hours together at a big law firm in Washington, D.C.  Our lives were very different then; we were very different then.  I have to say, there's something special about my friends who knew me before I became a mom.  I've been trying to put my finger exactly what that is, and I think it's that they have a more complete picture of me.  In short, they knew me before:
  1.  They knew me when my wardrobe consisted of stylish tops, trousers, heels, and a variety of accessories.  When I wore makeup and blew my hair dry every day.  Waaaay before the days of dry shampoo.  And undereye concealer too.  I barely remember this version of myself, y'all.  
  2. They knew me when my ambitions were vast and anything seemed possible.  They knew me long before lists of life goals included sleeping all night and finding a sippy cup that doesn't leak or have 50+ parts. (Why is this so impossible?  Why?)  
  3. They knew me when I went to happy hours on a whim, where cocktails flowed freely and we'd move from happy hour to dinner and stay out much too late, laughing and drinking.
  4. They knew me and my husband when we were a party of two.  I repeat, party of two.  Amazing.    
  5. They knew me when my weekend plans included leisurely brunches and back-to-back movies.
  6. They knew me when I wasn't sleep deprived.  (Again, kind of wanting to revisit that version of me).
  7. They knew me when I drove a tiny car.  Long before the SUV, the the mini van, and now the big van.  That was so many vehicles ago, friends.
  8. They knew me when we'd travel to far away places at the drop of a hat, with only a small carry-on in tow: Greece, Costa Rica, France--the world was waiting and we were ready to go.
  9. They knew me when working out actually meant going to the gym or running rather than hauling babies and carseats back and forth to the van.
  10. They knew me when I was stressed about short-deadline projects and briefs rather than stomach bugs and developmental milestones.
  11. They knew me when I whispered in the bar that I was fake drinking because I was pregnant with a baby that was the size of an olive.
  12. They knew me when we had a gender reveal party at an Irish pub, and we opened the envelope and found out our first baby was a girl.     
  13. They knew me when I welcomed my first baby girl into the world.  Then the second.  Then the third.  Then the fourth, fifth, and sixth.  They cheered.  They cried.  And they came to visit me and my babies, where they held them and marveled at their littleness.   
I love that they knew me before kids--what made me tick, what motivated me, what made me happy--and were witnesses to my journey of creating my family.  And what I love even more about these friends is that they still know me, too.  
  1. They know that I generally only wear makeup if I have an appointment (hello, jury duty and parent teacher conferences) or am going out on a date night.
  2. They know that happy hour now means drinking a glass of wine in my kitchen while I sweep up crushed graham crackers.  
  3. They know that it requires a lot of coordination and a team of babysitters to go out to dinner. 
  4. They know that if they text me at 10 p.m. and I don't answer, I'm asleep on the couch.  
  5. They know that I'm happy with life as a party of 8.
  6. They know that brunch doesn't happen and the only movies I see are rated PG or G.
  7. They know that my weekend plans now include t-ball games, birthday parties, and the occasional date night.  
  8. They know that travel requires days and days of preparation and packing, and that I never travel on a whim these days.
  9. They know that I've traded big-city daily commutes for crazy-long carpool lines, which I happen to love because it means no one can touch me for 20 minutes. 
  10. They know that I regularly spend a small fortune on coffee rather than vacations because my little coffee is like a 30 second vacation every day.
  11. They know that I love my kids and my husband, even though I sometimes complain. 
  12. They know that my babies are miracles and I'm so thankful every day that they're here and healthy.  
  13. They know that my phone chats, visits, and texts with them are the highlights of my days.
  14. They know that our children will always know each other, and we will always be present in each others' lives, because no matter what changes, we're in it together.

To my friends, thanks for being there before and after, and the entire time.  I love you and I'm so thankful for our friendship.


My friends and I with 7/10 of our group.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Disney Do's and Don'ts (aka Our Disney Trip in Review)

Once upon a time, about three months ago, my husband and I were both awake when all the kids were asleep.  This, in and of itself, was a VICTORY.  We sat on the couch drinking wine and talking when he came across ridiculously cheap airlines tickets to Orlando.  “We could go to Disney,” he said.  I almost spit out my wine (I’m not that crazy) and did a double take to make sure he hadn’t been replaced with a pull-string mannequin who’d suggest such an insane idea.  He’d previously said “hell no” whenever I suggested a Disney trip with all the kids.  I quickly seized on his momentary weakness, excitedly saying “YEAH!! Let’s do it!”  A few clicks later, our Disney “vacation” (this was a trip, not a vacation) was really happening.    

That’s the quick story of how the eight of us, along with my mom, ended up at Disney this May.  That’s three toddlers, one preschooler, two school-aged kids, two 38 year-olds and one grandma.  (We were totally outnumbered, right?  I digress.)  All things considered, it was a really great—albeit exhausting—trip.  Here’s a quick list of Disney do’s and don’ts based on our trip.  Enjoy!        

DO some pre-trip strength training and conditioning.

Disney is a strenuous trip.  You should prepare for it by strapping all your children and luggage to you and running around your yard.  Or, if your gym has a sauna, strap weights to your chest and pace back and forth while you shout, “no this way!  We’re going to the Magic Carpets!  Stay with us!”  Even if you don’t physically prepare for your trip, you should at minimum mentally prepare for the marathon days at Disney.  It will be nonstop, so get in a good headspace so that you’re up for the challenge. 

DO keep it a surprise, if you can.

On the day of the trip, we picked the big girls up from school, came home, and told them we had a big surprise.  “You’re having three more babies!” Molly guessed.  Um, no.  “We’re getting a dog!” yelled Lucy.  No again.  Thankfully, they weren’t disappointed when they learned that Disney was the big surprise.  Keeping the trip a surprise helped set the tone for a relaxed, fun trip; they hadn’t had weeks or months to think of all the rides they wanted to go on, etc.  Instead, they were just happy we were going. 

DO buy the entire athleisure wear dept. of Target, but DON’T bring it all with you.

Go ahead and give up any idea that you can look stylish at Disney.  Because you know what?  YOU’RE AT DISNEY, PEOPLE.  Think athleisure wear (athletic/leisure aka athleisure) for the trip, unless you’re going in January.  I bought pretty much every item in Target’s athleisure dept., then pared down my selection to a few key things I could wear more than once.  Capris may be out, but I rocked some athletic capris most days because they dried quick and were comfortable as we slogged our way around the park. 

If flying, DO pour some sugary sweetness on the ticket agents.  They can help you big time.

Checking in at the ticket counter, we were quite a sight to see: bags stacked high, babies in the triple stroller, big girls dancing around the open areas.  As the ticket agent enjoyed the spectacle that is the Roussel family, I kindly asked if we could be spread out over three rows, and she happily obliged.  That meant we had a baby, big girl, and grown-up on each row—lots of room.  Thankfully, the flight was quick and fairly uneventful.  I can’t remember now who had a screaming baby but it wasn’t me.  The only thing I remember about that is that it wasn’t me who had the screaming baby (#winning). 

Do KNOW THYSELF when picking a hotel, deciding how long to go to the park, etc.

This is big.  You have to know your group and consider what’s going to be realistic for your days at the park.  If you’re taking triplet toddlers to the park, you can’t expect to stay there from morning to midnight.  It’s not going to happen.  That’s where we were this trip, so we stayed as close as possible to the Magic Kingdom (Contemporary Resort) so that one of us could go back to the hotel with the babies mid-day.  I think there are some great, affordable options offsite, but those wouldn’t work for us this time.  Maybe next time.

As for setting an agenda for your park visit each day, I think it’s wise to keep your expectations ridiculously low.  I asked the biggies what one ride they wanted to go on while we were there, and we made sure we did those rides.  Otherwise, we loaded up our fast passes and tried to do as much as possible before our group disintegrated each day, which typically happened around the 4-hour mark in the park. 

DON’T wait in lines for rides all day.   

Disney loves you and your army of small children, so they have all these ways to make sure you don’t wait in lines forever.  Take advantage of the fast passes, where you can reserve a time window for riding popular rides.  If you have little kids that can’t ride certain rides, ask for a rider swap, which is basically a fast pass good for whichever parent is stuck waiting with in the little ones.  Your lucky big kids (up to two) will get to ride the ride again with you.  Along those same lines, don’t completely lose it when you HAVE waited in line for 20 minutes and your preschooler declares she has to pee RIGHT NOW—they’ll give you a fast pass to get back in line.  My last piece of advice is to get the park EARLY in the morning because it is so much less hot and crowded.    

DO bring snacks and water bottles into the park.

Disney doesn’t care if you bring snacks and drinks into the park because they know they’ll still make a small fortune off you.  Seriously.  We brought water bottles, goldfish, granola bars, baby smoothie pouches, etc. so that we had food and drinks at the ready.  That left us with more time for rides, buying overpriced souvenirs, crying, bathroom breaks, you name it.

DON’T bring everything you need, Amazon Prime has your back, as always.     

Even when we pack “light,” there’s just so much stuff.  We brought a double stroller, a triple stroller, a backpack for each girl, and one large suitcase full of miscellaneous stuff—with only two checked bags, that was pretty light for us.  We Amazon Primed diapers, wipes, rash cream, sunscreen, snacks—anything we could.  Amazon Prime, you always come through for me, so thanks for that.  I love you.

You can also order groceries online and have them delivered to your resort.  That was amazing!  We had milk, bread, fruit, wine, etc. waiting for us when we checked in at 11 p.m.  We used Garden Grocer but there are a few stores that do this.

DON’T lose your shit when the wheels fall off, literally or figuratively. 

Oh y’all.  Let me paint this picture for you.  It’s a good one. 

Seth was in charge of the babies while I rode some rides with the big girls.  I get a call from him as he’s exiting the monorail and heading the park that our COMPLETELY ESSENTIAL triple stroller had broken when a front wheel snapped off.  As my friends said, NOT THE TRIPLE STROLLER!  Seth wheeled the gimpy stroller, holding three screaming babies, into the Magic Kingdom.  We met up on picturesque Main Street.  We unloaded the babies and Seth sat on the ground trying to fix the stroller with duct tape (a ha ha ha ha ha).  Meanwhile, the babies were eating popcorn, dropping most of it, and eating it off the ground. 

At this point, Seth and I are both sweating buckets and cursing under my breath when some passersby tell me, excuse me, just so you know, your babies are eating popcorn off the ground.  I said thanks and waved them along from our shitshow.  I was actually aware they were eating popcorn off the ground, and was ok with it, because it meant that they weren’t all running away.  With only one of me and three of them, they could scatter fast and get lost in the crowd. 

At that exact time, a double decker bus pulled up, and I shout, DOUBLE DECKER BUS, BIG GIRLS, GO GET ON IT!  I knew how much Lucy wanted to ride a double decker bus (how does she even know they exist?) and I thought, I’ll be damned if my broken stroller crushed those dreams.  I continued trying to corral the babies, still eating like birds off the ground, when I see Emily dart over to the double decker bus.  Seth, meanwhile, was holding onto shreds of hope that he could fix the stroller.  I repeatedly tell him it’s a lost cause.  I may have started singing Let It Go, I don’t remember.  I keep my eyes on the three babies and Emily, who’s off in the distance about to get on the double decker bus alone.  After more urging, Seth finally agrees and runs to get on the bus with Emily and the other big girls. 

The babies and I schlepped back to the hotel.  I don’t know if you’ve ever pushed a double stroller up a steep incline while also holding a toddler too, but it is hard.  Really hard.  You’ll be glad you’re wearing those lightweight athleisure pants and shirt.

DO ask for help when you need it. 

I decided it’d be a piece of cake to take the triplets on It’s a Small World by myself.  I was wrong.  Actually, the ride itself was great but disembarking with three toddlers was basically impossible.  Cue the lovely French-Canadian couple sitting in front of me with their 4 year-old twins.  The multiples bond runs strong, even at Disney.  Each of the parents carried a baby off the ride for me and I carried the third.  They were the loveliest family and we sat visiting for a while outside It’s a Small World.  Because, y’all, it IS a small world after all, where Canadians helps Americans when they need a few extra hands.  Isn’t that amazing and unexpected?  I only regret I didn’t get a photo with those nice people.    

DO take a few photos.

You need to have photographic evidence of your fun.  Trust me, you do.  Your kids will look at the photos and talk about how fun it was (or they’ll see them on your phone, because, let’s face it, we’ll never get them developed).  They won’t remember the crying, the sweating, the bickering.  They’ll remember the time together.  Be sure to snap a few.      

DO pause to take it all in when you see the joy on your little one’s faces. 

I think one of the most fun things about being a parent is seeing the joy on your kids’ faces when they experience the same fun things you did as a kid.  That’s how I felt on It’s a Small World.  It was my Dad’s favorite ride, and I remember riding on it with my Dad and my whole family.  On this trip, baby Ruby LOVED every second of the ride.  She clapped and smiled and laughed the entire time.  It was also fun to see my other girls laugh and smile on their favorite rides.  Lucy loved Splash Mountain, while Molly loved the water ride at the Animal Kingdom.  Emily couldn’t get enough of the Peter Pan ride, as evidenced by her detailed description of each part of the ride.  The other babies seemed to enjoy watching the crowds and the Main Street parade.  In short, there were so many moments of happiness and joy that it made all the schlepping and sweat worth it.      

DO toast yourselves when you make it home. 

I ransacked our kitchen for our best champagne, which, ironically, had been purchased on a fabulous trip to Napa sans-kids several years earlier.  Home never tasted so sweet. You conquered Disney and won.  Cheers to THAT, friends.

DO start planning your next trip.

I’m kidding.  I know Seth says we’re not going to Disney again until the triplets are 10, but I think he’s wrong.  Because here’s the thing—he will eventually remember that, although it was hard, it was worth it.  Like most things in life.  So the next time he has another momentary weakness and suggests a trip to Disney, I’m going for it.  Or should I say, we’ll go for it, and head back to the most magical place on earth.

P.S. if you have friends going to Disney who could benefit from these superb tips, feel free to share on Facebook!!!  We're all in this together--sweating, laughing, and finding the joy in the chaos whenever we can.

P.P.S.--there's a video below of Ruby on It's a Small World but if you're reading this on your phone it won't show up there!

Roussels Take Disney 2016
Heading to Orlando!
The Disney Magical Express was slightly less magical at 11 p.m. with three overtired toddlers.
Even the coffee is magical, y'all.
Three out of four Roussels thoroughly enjoyed this ride.
Grandma and Lu on Splash Mountain
Hanging out while big sisters rode Thunder Mountain.
Seven Dwarves' Mine Ride--a favorite.
Who doesn't love the teacups?
Babies liked the hotel splash pad more than the park.
When you have six kids, you stroll your laundry to the washing machines in your oversized stroller.  
Em loved the people mover.
Goodbye Disney, it's been fun.

Cheers to a great trip.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guest Blog Post on New Orleans' Moms' Blog: My Virtual Village

Hi, all!  Life has been crazy in our house.  We took the six pack to Disney World (more on that in another post!) and then it was end of the school year craziness and now it's summer!  How on earth did that happen so fast?!

In the midst of the recent chaos, I neglected to share this recent guest blog entry I wrote for the New Orleans' Moms' Blog.  I am thrilled they published it.  This is one of my most favorite blog posts I've written.  I laugh, vent, and sometimes cry to my best friends, my "virtual village," via text on a daily basis.  Enjoy!

http://www.neworleansmomsblog.com/2016/05/07/my-virtual-village/

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

School's Almost Out: Let's Have a Party for the Parents

Dear Fellow Parents,

It's almost here.  The END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.  We know this because there's a different year-end celebration every other day and we're all doing our best to keep up.  Soccer team parties.  Class parties.  Scouting parties.  Field day.  This has me thinking that we need to have a huge party for all the parents, because we survived yet another school year.

So here's my (not remotely) modest proposal for my dream parents-only year-end party.

Party attire will be come as you are.  No specific theme.  No silly socks required, no specific color shirts required, just come as you are.  So friends, dry shampoo that hair for the third day in a row and wipe that peanut butter off the shirt and head out the door.  Also since I know you spend half your days looking for shoes, no shoes required.  Just come barefoot.

Party food will be all those things you try to hide from your kids so you don't have to share. You love Reese's?  Ok, we'll have bowls of them and you won't have to hide in your closet to eat them.  Or maybe you like Cheetos but don't ever get them because your kids would never eat anything else, so we'll try to have those too.  And bright red jumbo alcoholic snowballs.  Oh wait, I guess that's daiquiris? Ok daiquiris for all.  You won't have to worry about them staining your lounge wear.  We will also have fancy craft beer for the beer snobs (ahem, Seth).  Whatever we serve for food, it will be so amazing because we won't have to share it with ANYONE.  And we will get to eat it while sitting down because we won't be scrambling to get everyone else their food too.  Let's just pause and daydream about how amazing that would be. . . . Amazing!!

Party entertainment will be giant slip-n-slides and karaoke.  There will be no whining or crying because we're all adults and we should be able to wait in line for our turns on the slides.  And no one will cry when they fall off the slide and get grass burns on their arms and legs.  As for karaoke, how FUN would it be to see all your kids' classmates' parents belt out some Britney Spears or Madonna?  I think the last time I did karaoke was Bourbon Street 2004 at my bachelorette party.  Clearly it's been too long.  Start warming up those vocal cords now.  And be sure to charge your phone because without our kids with us, we'll be able to keep our phones on us the whole time and capture all the madness.

At our party, we'll also have clean bathrooms and no one will ask us to wipe their bottoms.  This may be the highlight of the whole party for me.

Goody bags.  Oh the goody bags.  Because the party itself is not enough, there will of course be goody bags.  I'm going to send you home with the most beautiful new beach tote, monogrammed with your name on it.  It'll be filled with essentials for summer.  Like a giant, beautiful candle that you can light when you're having a really long day with the kids.  It will smell just like the spa so that you can pretend you're there.  I'll give you earplugs, too, to drown out the crying and whining.  The bags will also have a new secret stash of chocolate and diet Coke Sometimes you just need them in your life.  Especially during summer.  Oh, let's also throw in a Starbucks gift card for good measure.  

In between slip-n-sliding, slurping daiquiris, and karaoke, we'll trade high-fives and pats on the back because we did it.  We survived--and thrived--for another school year.  We sat there night after night through the painstaking task of reading the new books.  We completed the special school projects about the water cycle without shedding many tears.  We kept the class hamster alive!  We didn't forget a single free dress day (can I get an amen for that!).  We went on the field trips.  We remembered to send the money for the special class projects and the teacher gifts.  In short, we rocked it for the school year, so cheers to us, fellow parents, for getting it done.  When summer is over, we'll have an even bigger party, because surviving summer is a whole other ball game.  

P.S. I'm on Facebook--Roussel Six Pack.  Feel feel to share if you'd like.  





Saturday, May 7, 2016

Buoys, Babies, and a Bittersweet Day

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time boating.  (Just bear with me a second, ok?!)  Every weekend, my parents would load the six of us into the boat and set out to the Gulf so that we could play on the deserted barrier islands.  We’d push away from the dock and make our way out of the Back Bay, guided by the buoys that marked the route of the deeper channel.  Many times, when we got out of the channel, I’d look back and see the little buoys dotting the path we took.  It was always interesting to me because as you were passing them, you really didn’t notice that they created a clear route for you, marking the way.  But when you paused to look back, you could see the path so clearly, like a highway on the water.    
    
Like watching those buoys, sometimes you go through major life events that you don't fully process right away; you need a little time and distance before you can see the mark they've left on your life. 

That is exactly what happened last weekend when my family and I walked in the March of Dimes walk for babies. 

When our babies were in the NICU, the March of Dimes did lots of little things to make families’ time in the NICU a little more pleasant.  They left coloring books and crayons for siblings in the lounge, and they generally made things a little more like home. Those little things—bottled water you could take with you, a quick hello and how’s it going—go a long way when you’re trekking back and forth to the NICU every day to see your babies.  So, when I found out about the March of Dimes walk, we happily signed up to march for the babies and raise money for March of Dimes.  I felt like we had personally benefited from their services, and I was looking forward to celebrating our three healthy girls.  We also wanted to celebrate my niece, Elise, who passed away in December after being born very premature.  As a fortuitous coincidence, or maybe a God wink, the walk fell on my sister’s due date with Elise, April 30.  My sisters and I knew it would be a bittersweet way to celebrate her life.      

On the day of the walk, we got to the event early and unloaded the babies on the big grassy field.  I looked around and saw teams of families in different colored shirts.  Their shirts said things like “believe in miracles,” “preemie strong,” and “miracles do happen.”  It was almost like different sections of the rainbow all huddled together in various spots around the field.  Each team seemed happy to be there and ready to celebrate their babies.

Then I saw a mom pulling a wagon with her daughters, and the back of the wagon had a large photo of her intubated preemie on the back.  I looked at it and felt something twist in my chest.  It was both so familiar and so foreign to me now that I have three healthy, crazy-busy toddlers.  But deep down I knew that my babies once looked just like that.  I was staring at it and trying to reconcile in my mind how my three rowdy toddlers ever looked like that baby.  It brought me right back to the time when my toddlers were preemie babies trying to figure out how to eat and breathe.  I was surprised that I felt so emotional about it.     

I will not cry, I said to myself.  

I looked around again and saw a few special needs kids.  Though I don’t know the cause of their disabilities, I think that they were likely a result of prematurity, since the March of Dimes’ mission is (in large part) to reduce premature birth.

I found myself jolted to back to my days on bedrest with the triplets, where I lay on the couch—never sitting and always laying down—and hoped to make it to the next day and next week and then finally my big goal of 28 weeks.  I thought back to my doctor’s appointment at 23.5 weeks gestation, when I hovered on the cusp of viability.  I thought about my doctor’s words when he said, “so things have changed, but all hope is not lost.  I still think everything can be fine.”  I thought about how focused I was on my mission to lie down and be still.  If being still could keep the babies baking, I would do it.  I would be the stillest person they’d ever seen.  I would do whatever it took.  But I also knew deep down that I could only do so much.  Which was terrifying.  Because it wasn’t up to me, what would happen to our babies.  We just had to wait and take each day as it came.

I thought about those other parents, who wished and hoped the same things, and got different endings to their stories.  I knew that nothing but luck separated me from those other parents.  I thought about my sister, who had a different ending.  An unimaginably sad ending.  I thought about all those parents who were consumed with worry and fear about having a premature baby and whose stories did not have happy endings.  And whose endings did not include healthy babies.  I knew the only thing separating us was luck.  And nothing else.    

I will keep it together.           

Someone encouraged us to visit a video booth set up for recording testimonials for the March of Dimes.  I was preoccupied sorting through all those big feelings, but I nevertheless scooped up two babies and headed to the booth.  Seth trailed me with another baby.  I could feel the tears building up inside, ready to spring from my eyes at any second.    

I will not cry right now.  I will hang on.  I can do this.  This will be easy.

The videographer started asking questions.  Why did we think it was important to support the March of Dimes?  I felt myself looking back, like I did in the boat.  With time and distance, I felt myself appreciating the full spectrum of emotions that came with my experience of having a high risk pregnancy and preemie babies.  Thinking about how easily we could’ve had a different outcome.  Thinking about how grateful we were to have our three girls.  Thinking about my sister.  Thinking about Elise.   

And just like a buoy that was somehow buried deep under the water, it was suddenly untangled and racing to the surface.  I could feel it coming closer, speeding towards the top of the water as I exploded into tears.  Big, ugly tears.  I could not stop crying.  I could not talk.  I was standing there on camera, not talking—just crying and holding two babies.  I could feel Seth turn and stare at me for a second, realizing what was happening.  I must’ve looked a little comical.  Or hysterical?  Or both?  I could tell that the young videographer was caught off guard and thinking, do I keep going?  Seth picked up the slack and started answering: our babies were born at 30 weeks and spent a month in the NICU.  Two of our babies received surfactant, which was developed by the March of Dimes.  We appreciated everything they did for us in the NICU.  I squeaked out something about appreciating the small things that the March of Dimes did, and something about bottled water.  We finished our interview, and the professional photographer came over and wiped tears off my face because I couldn’t do it while holding two babies.

I thanked her and felt words tumbling out: we are just so thankful.  This—having three healthy, thriving, crazy toddlers—is all we ever hoped for.  I wished for this and the craziness of three busy toddlers because that meant our babies were okay.  But I know so many others’ babies did not make it, including my sister’s own baby, who was due today.  We are so happy and sad. And, oh, yes, thank you so much for wiping my tears.  It is such a bittersweet day for my family. 

Like a buoy bobbing on the water, all those big feelings were completely on the surface: knowing how close we came to having a different outcome; feeling like we had "made it;" grieving the losses of those whose babies did not, including my own sister’s.  Of course those feelings were there all along, but sometimes it takes time and distance to see more clearly how things like this shape your life and guide your path.  In that way, they’re so much like the buoys, and I’m happy now that I can look back and see that they are just one part of the journey in creating our family.  My hope is that one day, my sister will also be able to say the same.

So yes, it was a great day indeed.  To celebrate our babies.  To remember my niece.  I can’t think of anything more bittersweet.  

To my sister, I love you.  You are the strongest person I know.