|On Set with Alexa Gromko||
Who doesn't believe that fairy tales can come true?! They can if you create them for your cutie pie angel daughter! My daughter wanted a princess party for her 6th birthday. So, one busy mama got to work and whipped up a fairy tale come true for Aubriana and her friends.
"Ariel" finishing her sugar cube castle!
The food was the most fun for this party! Besides a beautiful cake a good friend and cake decorator made from a picture we'd seen on the internet, we had Snow White's apples, Cinderella's pumpkin tarts, Belle's gum drops, Sleeping Beauty's kisses, and Rapunzel's pretzels.
This was the most fun project if you have handy helpers! We bought the stone castle plastic backdrop from an online party store and all the castle accessories that match it. We cut it to fit our children's play structure and voila! Instant kingdom! I also got concrete tubes for construction off Craigslist for cheap and decorated them too for turrets. We plan to keep this for our son's Knights party.
We made a chariot out of large cardboard boxes, covered them with plastic table cloths, cut a hole in the back for a window and added wheels. We placed our bouncy horse in front so the girls could pretend they were riding in a real horse-pulled chariot!
What's a princess party without frogs! I lucked out at Walmart's end of summer clearance with small garden frogs for 60 cents apiece! We painted them with glitter paint. It made for a nice keepsake the guests could take home.
We played "Pin the lips on the frog" for one party game.
For decorations, I used princess and castle themed cut-outs bought online. The life size knight in shining armor greeted the guests as they arrived. The Chinese lanterns, stars, flowers, and tinsel were items from places like Michaels, Walmart, and Halo Heaven.
We played relay games, like "Pass the ring," where the girls had to carry it on a sparkly wand to their teammate without touching or dropping it. Very fun!
Much of my inspiration for this party came from perusing a Google search for princess parties. The decorations came from items I had in my own home and places like Oriental Trading Company and Shindigz, and Party Che
Many say the birth of a child is a miracle in itself. I agree and add that it's a miracle any baby is born without problems. The story of how all of us got here is an amazing one... and there's always a story associated with any birth. Aubriana's story is no less amazing. Her life story is inspiring. It's a story of hope and determination. But before it can blossom, the story of her birth must be told. And it's frightening.
Aubriana 12 days old
Aubriana had a stroke at birth. We don't know why although we have our suspicions about the way her delivery was handled at the military hospital in which she was born. What we do know is that my pregnancy was normal and full term and there were no indications anything was wrong until about halfway through the 18-hour labor. I contracted an infection, had an escalating fever, and Aubriana was showing signs of distress. As a first-time mom-to-be, I recall feeling quite bewildered at what was happening but powerless to do anything but put my utmost faith and trust in the nurses and various doctors caring for me. Petocin was administered, the epidural already functioning, but when it was time to push, copious amounts of meconium came out with each movement. And yet, labor seemed stalled. Both Aubriana's and my condition were worsening. I remember vivid hallucinations I was having... seeing and hearing things like stampeding horses running through the room, a box of wipes suddenly closing by itself after I watched a nurse open it, feeling confused as to whether it was truly open or closed. The concerned and frightened looks on the nurse's faces. But I distinctly remember the words of the doctor who had come on duty toward the last 6 hours of labor: "There's no reason this baby can't be born vaginally." Implying for me, the unspoken words "caesarian section" were silently suggested but ignored. Words that would haunt me for the rest of my sweet little girl's life.
With labor seemingly stalled and the problems escalating, the doctor suddenly appeared during the height of my hallucinations, gave me an episiotomy, and told me to push during the contractions while he used a vacuum extractor to pull my baby girl out.
This is the part that's quite difficult for me. Because she was finally here! And yet, there was no little cry, no noise, nothing. Just silence. From her. From the large group of nurses and physicians who seemed to have appeared. "Why isn't she crying?" I asked. No answer. "Why isn't she crying?" I asked again, panic about to overtake me. Still, no answer, just looks of sympathy from the nurses. Bill and I looked at each other in complete disbelief, not understanding and refusing to acknowledge the pink elephant sitting in the room: something was terribly, horribly wrong.
A curtain was drawn and a team of doctors began working on her. They had to cut the umbilical cord which was tightly wrapped twice around her neck. Aubriana's lungs were full of meconium--so much that she was blue and not breathing. Pumping her tiny chest they alternated between giving her oxygen and pumping out the meconium. The doctors were heard requesting immediate ambulance transport to Memorial Hospital's NICU. Bill held my hand. I tried to not completely lose it.
The next twelve days at the NICU were the most intense days of my life. Aubriana was deemed the "most critical infant" the moment she arrived. She had every machine imaginable hooked up to her. Wires and tubes were everywhere. Her head was misshapen from delivery and her mouth seemed swollen. She was unconscious, unresponsive and we overheard grave terms tossed around by her caregivers like "acidosis" and "hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy." At one point NICU doctors had to do a pneumothorax on her left lung--twice. That's where they punctured her lung, filled it with a medicine that would help heal the damage from the meconium poisoning, and then patched it. The two scars from these operations are visible on her chest to this day. Specialists of all kinds showed up to examine her... seizures were suspected and various medications were given. We were told "don't give up hope!" by the NICU doctors, regardless of the hopeless situation this little girl seemed to be in. It didn't seem fair to look at the other babies, so tiny by comparison, all of them there because they were premature. And yet, here we had a full term baby, who by all "rights" should be thriving and healthy and fine! How could this happen?! Why did God let this happen! I WAS SO MAD AT THE WORLD!
I prayed HEAVILY. Stopping at the Cathedral downtown before visiting with my baby, begging the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and all the angels and saints who would listen to me to help heal this little girl. Then one day, at home, in the moments before awakening, I heard a little girl's voice say "Hi Mommy." I opened my eyes and looked around my room but no one was there. The house was empty. I knew it was a sign. I have heeded them all my life and believe in them wholeheartedly. I felt an enormous joy in my heart, a burden lifted from my soul, and knew Aubriana was going to be ok.
You can't imagine the joy at holding such a fragile life nearly lost.
We finally got to hold our precious angel one week after her birth. It seems the doctors' diligence mixed with their intelligence paid off. And the choir of angels for which I campaigned heavily to the Almighty Creator did their part beautifully. She made an amazing turnaround. All of the original "end organ function" words on her chart changed to "resolved" one by one. It was so alarming even to the doctors, that Dr. Mark Shoptaugh deemed her a "Miracle Baby."
At this point we were overjoyed at her miraculous recovery. Aubriana was alive! She survived! We don't know what happened but at that point you don't want to dwell there. You want to celebrate life! And thank the angels in their human form of doctors and nurses who brought her back to life! The doctors proclaimed for her a "full recovery," and removed her feeding tube so she could try breastfeeding. So I worked with her. And I discovered how truly difficult breastfeeding is--especially for the first time. I kept wondering what I was doing wrong, but we quickly realized Aubriana could not latch on. She lacked the strength and coordination to nurse. Not to be deterred, I pumped and fed her with a bottle, which also proved difficult for her. But after several days, we saw progress and we were uplifted. A couple gulps here and there and she was worn out. But it was a start and we were optimistic. I was grateful I could provide breast milk for her and would continue to pump and feed her as long as I could.
Each day saw continued progress and improvement at the NICU, such that she was discharged at 12 days old. Our happiness was short lived, however, when we were dealt another blow. We were shown the results of an MRI taken that morning. The entire right side of her brain was destroyed, leaving only the left side intact. We were devastated once again. Even the doctor seemed taken aback and had us consult with a neurologist before we left for home. The news was not good. Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy were the words he used. Stroke is the basic interpretation. Prognosis? Unknown. We were told she could end up anywhere on a scale with severe cerebral palsy and mental impairment on one end... and nearly normal on the other. We wouldn't know until she reached her milestones, such as sitting up unassisted and walking, and only then would we have some idea of what we were dealing with.
Despite the gloomy outlook, we happily cherished the treasure we were finally able to bring home. She was on oxygen full-time and anti-seizure medication and was so fragile and weak, we were beyond careful about every little thing. I was both overwhelmed with love for this tiny girl and overwhelmed about how to care for her. Would she have another stroke? Would she have a seizure? What else would we have to prepare ourselves for? She was my first child so I had no reference for "normal" infant activity. To me, she seemed quite normal, had good eye contact and even smiled the day I brought her home. But I knew she would need a lot of help and therapy in her journey toward "near normal" recovery. I made it my mission to become this child's lifelong advocate and made the decision not to return to my spokesperson position in Denver and put my long TV news career on hold.
It's amazing the number of problems a stroke can leave with a person. We learned new terms every day, "aspiration" being the number one obstacle at a month old. With muscle weakness on one side of her entire body--inside and out--and a lack of coordination making the two sides work together, the stroke caused Aubriana to basically inhale the milk in her bottle. Sometimes you'd hear her choke and gag, but most of the time she aspirated her food silently. Milk was going into her lungs instead of her stomach. A chest x-ray showed the damage, which doctors warned could become fatal if not addressed immediately. She had to have regular swallow studies, where therapists watch her drink through an x-ray machine to see where the problem area is. Afterwards, they craft a therapy plan to help stop the aspiration. We had to thicken her milk to nectar consistency with a thickening agent called "Simply Thick." This slowed the milk's descent, giving her enough time to coordinate a swallow the correct way. Amazing the things we take for granted, isn't it.
On top of the feeding troubles, signs of the stroke were becoming clearer every day. The entire left side of her body was weak and she rarely moved her left arm or opened her left hand or wiggled her left leg. Only the right side moved around normally. On her face it was the right side that was weaker than the left.
The good news was that Aubriana was gaining weight and continuing to recover and grow every day. Despite constant setbacks and obstacles, our little girl was a fighter and always overcame them. She began occupational and physical therapy at three months old, with therapists working all of her muscles together. The goal was to get both sides to meet at the midline--raising her weaker arm to meet her strong arm in the middle. They showed me how to do tracking exercises with Aubriana and move her legs and arms in cycling motions constantly. We learned the reason for this was to re-create the pathways in her brain... to re-train it, in essence, to do the tasks that come naturally to us. Her intact left brain was handling her right side of the body without problems, but her right brain was damaged beyond repair to control the left side of the body, so it didn't move and her awareness of that side was non-existant. Through repetition, both gross motor and fine motor, Aubriana has trained her left brain to take over the tasks of the right. Her entire life she will have motor planning issues because of this challenge, meaning certain physical routines may require a bit more thought before implementation.
We bought this pirate ship bed for Cade today. Scored a GREAT deal on Craigslist... $60 and they threw in the mattress, bedding and a huge pirate flag to hang on his wall. It matches the pirate theme I have going on in his room so I'm TOTALLY PSYCHED! This bed costs $300 new so yeah, $60's a steal. We'll probably use our own mattress though, just for peace of mind. But I discovered online that to sanitize a mattress, you vacuum it, shelac the bejeezus out of it with Lysol, let it dry, then douse it in Febreeze. So we're actually doing that with the new mattress anyway.
Cade is 20 months old and we have no choice, really, about the crib equation. He's fallen out of it several times in the last few days and won't stop climbing.. so it's time to do something. We decided this would be the best route until he's a little bigger. I think little beds like this are totally fun! I mean, how many of us can say we slept on a pirate ship in our toddler years? Way cool. If I could transform my bed into a yacht complete with sails I. SO. WOULD.
That mom in the store trying to keep it together while her toddler has a wicked screaming temper tantrum, pretending that it isn’t fazing her? That was me on Cyber Monday. I'm writing about it now because I'm finally over it. 25 minutes of ear-piercing, fingernails down the chalkboard irritating wailing, complete with booger snot smeared all over his pudgy cheeks. And not a tissue in sight.
As my blood boils and my body temperature rises to the point of a whistling tea kettle, I try every trick to get him to shut up. His bottle. He chucks it across the aisle. His snack inside a Ziploc bag—throws it. A cute stuffed doggy—tossed. A plush Santa: 3-pointer on aisle 21. Nothing. Worked. It. Was. Pure. Agony.
I could not leave. I went to Michael’s determined to get wreaths for my outdoor holiday decorating. Michaels had EXACTLY what I wanted. Half price. I even had a coupon for more discount. Nothing stands in the way of a bargain shopper and her Cyber Monday sale day plus coupons. NOTHING. Not even a screaming, raging, LOUD toddler with a NON-STOP TANTRUM.
Why was this usually adorable, well-behaved blonde-headed sprite having a tantrum at exactly that moment in time? Because he wanted the damn candy cane. No, not the sweet confection (although I would have given my left arm if someone offered him one). No, the 6-foot high, candy cane lights all connected by string on the outdoor decoration display table. The ones that are impossible for toddlers to carry around. Yes, THAT candy cane.
It is one of those moments of mommyhood that truly tries every ounce of patience I have.. which isn’t much to begin with. At least I don’t have high blood pressure, which runs in my family. A tantrum like that could send you to an early grave. I probably have at least five new gray hairs for enduring the experience, waiting in the checkout line with eight other shoppers, glancing my way with dirty looks. A few women tried to help by coo-cooing him into submission. It only made him scream louder and my scalp get even hotter (hell, I’m 42. Can you say hot flash, anyone?)… Even the checkout lady seemed frazzled by it and there was nothing I could do but endure the stares, irritated looks and frustrated people all around me as I waited to pay for my purchase.
When we got to the car.. he stopped crying and was a perfect angel. Go figure.
Test over, mama. You survived. “Mom 1, Cade 0”