Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Twin Conundrum

There can be only one winner. The other, by default, is the loser... 

My brother and I are just over two years apart, and I don't recall every feeling that our parents had to force a winner - maybe they were adept at dissolving sibling rivalries, but more likely, it had to do with our age and gender differences. 

My only tool is difference in temperament.

While dropping my daughters with my co-worker for some Christmas fun, Jaeda announced that she needed to use the restroom. Upon being told she would need to put on her socks and shoes (she insisted on being barefoot during the car ride), and deciding she abhorred the socks I had brought for her, she began crying for her Hello Kitty socks. 

The very same socks that her dear sister had so dutifully selected when asked to go find socks. 

I looked at her incredulously and said with sarcasm (that was lost on her), "You want Tristyn to take off her socks and give them to you???"  

My co-worker suggested that they trade one sock each. Tristyn, always the agreeable one, sweetly offered one Hello Kitty sock to her sister, but to no avail - irrationally, this only made Jaeda more defiant and angry. 

"That's the best I can do", my co-worker said very matter-of-factly. A sentiment that I admired because, truly, coercing Tristyn into relinquishing the socks to her sister would be unfair. 

I often see Tristyn as being "punished" - for lack of a better word - for being the obedient one.

I looked at my co-worker and said, "you're experiencing first hand a 'twin conundrum' that you always hear me talk about".

Luckily for me, she was undaunted, not having to deal with this on a daily (hourly) basis, and I left the bickering children in her capable care.

By the way, at naptime, I noticed that Jaeda had on ONE Hello Kitty sock. By bedtime, she had managed to finagle both from her sister. *sigh*
bickering since the very beginning...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Logistics

I've written before about my singleton angst towards mommies of one baby. It's all about perception. When the girls were newly home from the hospital, I recall seeing a documentary about newborn triplets. During the first night at home with all three of them, juggling feedings and intermittent sleeps, the mom joked to her husband, "twins would be a breeze... one would be a cinch!" I never forgot that.

It has always been the logistics that have flustered me. I'm an analytical person, always trying to solve problems in a mathematical way. Which, of course doesn't necessarily translate to having two babies.

In my online research, it appeared that the accepted advice for grocery shopping with young twins was to use two shopping carts - pushing one while pulling another behind you.

Uhh, two shopping carts? No. Freaking. Way. 

But where do you put two babies while attempting to shop? If you push a stroller, you might as well do the double cart juggle. The best way we found was to have one baby in a Bjorn strapped to your chest, and the other in the car seat situated atop the cart. But having a 15 pound baby strapped to your chest does not make for an easy shopping experience.

Honestly, nothing is easy with twin babies. But I was determined to make it look easy.

I can think of a few times when I failed miserably. The girls must have been about 6 weeks old, and I decided to stop by a friends' office to see her. I hefted both car seats out of the back seat and carried them both into the lobby. By the time I had crossed the parking lot (imagine carrying 2 buckets of water at your sides holding them out so they don't spill), I was sweating and overheated. And the girls were getting hungry and starting to whimper. I immediately regretted getting them out of the car. The visit was rushed and anxious.

That's another thing. Breastfeeding. Normally, a mom can scoop up her baby and calm a hungry baby in her arms. Don't get me wrong, I was "tandem" feeding before the girls were out of the hospital, but in public? Hell no. Simply getting situated to breastfeed 2 babies required an assistant (either a nurse, my mom or my husband), and eventually, when I figured out how to do it myself, I needed a gargantuan twin breastfeeding pillow, an armchair and cover-ups because guess what? It's impossible to breastfeed two babies simultaneously and be discreet.

This post about trying to figure out how to navigate a bathroom break while on a road trip with twin toddlers (sans a stroller) really hit home for me. Their infant car seats had their own challenges, but portability issues become even more challenging once they are in toddler seats.

Walking toddlers, too, came with challenges. I bravely attempted to utilize the dual leash system that is despised by many moms, and that was a PARENT FAIL. It worked great at first, but when the two independent minded little girls decided to go in different directions, I was forced to cruelly pull one child down onto the floor in an attempt to thwart them.

Simple pre-babies tasks became herculean to me. A necessary trip to the post office bogged my mind down with details. Besides being physically exhausted, my postpartum depression made me anxious and overwhelmed. After much mental deliberation, I opted for a single umbrella stroller and a baby on my chest in the Bjorn. Once I had negotiated the babies into their designated spots, I felt the stares of strangers boring into me like lasers. Did they know I was cursing the task, my car, the World? Did they know I was overheated and grumpy? Or was I successfully disguised behind my pseudo happy facade? 

I begged family members and friends to accompany me to the girls' doctor visits after a solo trip when a second hand umbrella stroller broke halfway across the parking lot and I was forced to ask a stranger to hold one of my babies.  

I became increasingly frustrated trying to explain the logistics to those around me. My friend didn't understand why I was hesitant to have lunch in a restaurant with two babies (I did it a number of times, and found it to be doable, but remained anxious throughout). My husband didn't understand why grocery shopping solo terrified me. 

Parks felt like a complicated puzzle that my brain wouldn't grasp. How could I be in two places at once? I recall my anger after attempting to observe both of my daughters equally at a playground, only to watch helplessly while the baby furthest from my grasp stumbled and fell right off the play structure, landing roughly on the bark mulch below, and eliciting screams that felt like daggers in my heart, my brain projecting her thoughts: 'Why weren't you there to catch me?'

I've found the peace within me that parenting is never perfect, and in every situation, you do the best you can. My daughters survived their infancy, and so did I. 

That's all I can ask for. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unaccompanied Minor

My first solo airplane trip without my twin daughters felt Sooo Simple that I reprimanded myself for ever complaining pre-children, with only myself (and sometimes partially my travel companion) to take care of. Only my luggage to cart, my shoes to remove, my_self_ to walk through security.

I hate airplane rides. It's not that I'm scared of flying. I'm not claustrophobic. I don't have a phobia of germs. Unless its intense, turbulence doesn't even really bother me. Quite honestly, it's the air. Not the air outside. The recycled, nauseating, dry air that seems to always be blowing at gale force on the top of my head, no matter how many times I twist the damn thing to OFF.

Oh, and I'm one of those lucky people whose ears pop incessantly during takeoff, and then refuse to pop at landing, so my voice is trapped inside my own head, oh-so-annoyingly, until I can snort just the right way with my head tilted to the east and my left index finger on my right nostril to clear my ears.

We traveled across country a staggering four times (that's 8 flights; 2 segments each for a total of 16) before the girls' 2nd birthday (with the last trip occurring on their 2nd birthday). And I'm not talking quick jaunts from Seattle to Portland. I'm talking 6-hour, red-eye-to-save-money, transfer-planes-in-unfamiliar-airport-with-too-little-time-in-between, lap-infants-to-save-money flights and let me tell you, It Was Not Fun.

I would scour the Dollar Store weeks before each trip searching for airplane activities that were age appropriate for my two babies/toddlers - books that made animal sounds when you press a button, large piece toddler puzzles, child-safe stamp kits, washable markers, notebooks for them to scrawl all over, stickers, you get the point - and diligently pack them away for the surprise unveiling on the plane.

Not to mention the bottles so their ears didn't hurt on takeoff and landing. The massive amounts of food and related accoutrements required to keep two babies happy on a long flight. The diapers (and extra diapers just in case) and changes of clothing. The additional layers for unanticipated changes in weather.

And all the other little items that are simply expected of a mother to have at a split seconds' notice - tissues for efficiently wiping noses, baby wipes for inevitable messes, sticky hands, POOP and the like. Band-aids - lest there be a minor toddler EMERGENCY in need of one, sugar-free suckers for soothing an over-tired 18-month old, baby advil and OMG a baby thermometer - what if baby/babies get a fever? Teething tablets, ear-ache drops, Benadryl....

Did you know that lap infants/toddlers cannot sit on the same side of the same row of an airplane? In other words, even though we were often gifted an open seat or two, we could not let the girls sit next to each other, nor could my husband and I sit next to each other (leaving one child unaccompanied on the other side of the row).

Which means passing and re-passing items back and forth across the aisle to my husband and other child. And it means having to share the coveted single DVD player between two demanding toddlers.

My anxiety before a flight has always been high. Even though I've been a regular airline customer since I was 8 years old, I still get pre-flight clammy hands and sour stomach. But with children - and postpartum depression, my anxiety began days before the trip, not the morning of.

I would keep detailed lists, scurrying around the house to make sure my carry-on bag included a solution to every possible potential problem that might occur.

This past October, at a very mature 3 1/2 years old, we all flew to San Francisco for a weekend with Grandma Starr (my mom). It was heaven. Each girl carried their own bag filled with their very own selection of toys. No need for diapers or bottles. The little seasoned travelers followed instructions perfectly, removing their own shoes at security, waiting patiently in line to get on the plane, and just generally being cute to all the other passengers.

As luck would have it, my most recent flight to Mexico with hubby and friends put me smack in front of a grumpy lap pre-toddler.

Whom I could not take my eyes off of.

I twisted around to wriggle my fingers at him between the seats. I removed my scarf and passed it to his chubby hands to play tug-of-war. I offered his harried mom one of those sugar-free suckers (that I still keep in my purse) during a tantrum.

And then I turned forward in my seat, put in my earplugs and fell asleep to the random rhythm of kicks on the back of my seat with his adorable toddler tennis shoes, thankful to have served my time on an airplane with babies.
Trying to make it look easy, 5 months old

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Connecting

Traveling outside the country always provides me with an unexpected perspective that ultimately makes me feel more contented with my life. Greece post college gave me an awareness of what it means to be an American. Central Mexico with my mom made me realize that possessions do not make a life; love does.  And Europe with my husband was a chance to appreciate history, discover different cultures and explore my family heritage.  

Post-children, the perspectives are no less profound. Last year, when my daughters were 2 1/2, I left them in the capable hands of their father and took a girls' trip to Mexico.

I re-connected with my inner self on that trip. I climbed out of the muck of diapers and spit-up and discovered the woman that still lived inside.

Last week, my husband and I took our first vacation without the girls since they were born. At the tip of the Baja peninsula, between Lover's beach and Divorce beach, I realized this trip was about connecting.

I re-connected with my husband - seeing him again with the eyes of a wife, not as a harried working mom. Seeing him as my husband, and not just as the father of my children and partner in twin parenthood.


I re-connected with humanity outside of my own circle of family and friends. I related to strangers lounging around the pool, old and young. Tears dewed my eyes as I silently wished for a good outcome for a Multiple Sclerosis surgery recipient that was staying at our resort. I imagined her grandchildren, and prayed that she will one day be able to frolic with them outside of her wheelchair.

My twin-mom friend/travel companion and I met a kindred spirit and we celebrated their 40th birthdays dancing like college kids, reincarnating our youth, uninhibited and unabashed at our age, our confidence fueled by alcohol and the fun-loving atmosphere. We celebrated our freedom from our children, and then discussed them incessantly.

And I discovered the natural longing of a mother away from her offspring, ironically choosing to read a book about motherly ambivalence. I missed their voices, their forms, their delicate arms and legs wrapped around my neck and torso, clinging to me with feisty ownership. I missed the warmth of their bodies in my lap and their determination while weaving their way through childhood.

Most of all, I missed their need for me - the indubitable desire for their mama.

Thereby, unknowingly, connecting with my purpose in life; my children.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Socially Awkward

I remember my first few forays out into the "real" world after having my babies. I felt like a fish out of water. What was once easy and natural was suddenly awkward and uncomfortable.

The worst was while I was still lactating. My breasts were like ticking time bombs strapped to my chest. 

My clothes felt like an ill-fitting costume and I would self-consciously fiddle with my earrings and hair and wonder what was the point?

Heels felt like stilts, in contrast to my birkenstocks worn while waddling through the neighborhood pushing my double stroller.

Was it my post partum depression? Was I simply out of practice after a challenging pregnancy, extended hospital stay and maternity leave?

Or had my perception of society - of the world - changed?

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the company of friends. But my priority had become these two new human beings that relied on me for life support that were made of my own flesh and blood.

Now I had a built-in, fool proof excuse for remaining away from social events. The old stay-home-and-wash-my-hair bit was put to shame by the I-have-two-preemie-babies-to-sustain. 
Who wouldn't want to spend every free moment with these 2 little nuggets?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daylight Losing Time

There are all these concepts that as adults we simply accept. Like changing the clock and sleeping in an hour later, or vice versa. But when babies enter the picture, we question the validity of such reasoning.

My girls came home from the hospital on April 30th, 2007 and we struggled to settle into a four hour feeding/sleeping interval schedule. The predictability was the only sense of frail composure in my sleep-deprived, post partumly depressed brain. 

Six months later, along comes our trusty friend Daylight Saving Time (or rather, the end of it). I know to "spring forward" and "fall back", but I couldn't always calculate if that meant I would be early or late. It didn't matter. I would dutifully change the time, and follow the clock. "Losing" or "gaining" an hour was never a big deal.

Then I had two babies.

The delicate balance that existed in our household was like a thin sheet of ice on a warm spring day, a microscopic fissure just waiting to crack open with catastrophic results, or so it felt in my overworked brain.

Unlike (most) adults, its a bit more challenging to shift sleeping and eating patterns for an infant, much less two of them simultaneously. Daylight Saving Time felt like this completely ridiculous, totally unnecessary wrench in my schedule. What did I care if it was lighter later or earlier? The whole concept felt outdated and ludicrous.

I remember we had managed to push the nighttime feeding from 3AM until 5AM. A blood-sweat-and-tears feat that took six months to carefully manipulate.

When DSL ends, we move the clock back; we "lose" an hour. What it meant for me was hearing those needy cries at 4AM instead of 5AM, which felt like needlessly unravelling half of a nearly completed hand made sweater, and being unable to do anything but pick up those knitting needles and start all over again.

Looking back, I realize that having some control over the feeding schedule (as opposed to feeding on demand) saved my sanity, and over the past few years, I have developed a strong belief that not only do babies and toddlers need routine, but adults do too.


Snoozing atop the milk factory

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vulnerability Captured

Children ooze vulnerability from their pores. Sometimes it tugs at my heart and elicits that motherly response to simply hold them to me as close as I can, as if my touch is a panacea for what ails them.

At birth, their wrinkled, jaundiced bodies covered in cords and sensors were the essence of vulnerability. It brought me to a place in my mind that was difficult to confront. It was easier to focus instead on the task at hand, which was to provide them with sustenance.

As they grow, there is a new challenge at every corner, and I take such pleasure in their focused concentration, and such distaste at their hasty frustration.

My dad is always reminding me that everything is new to my daughters. There are so many "firsts". This past weekend, walking through a field of rotting pumpkins, I overheard a conversation between him and Tristyn. While she was observing all the pumpkins, he asked her (in jest) if she had ever made a pumpkin pie? To which she replied earnestly, "No, grandpa!" and he joked with her saying, "You've never, in your whole three years, made a pumpkin pie??"

It made me think about all that lay ahead for her and her sister.

Not only experiences, but emotions and thoughts and disappointments, fears and thrills, joy and pain.

I can only cradle them in my arms when they are crying for so long. Eventually, they will need more than a kiss on a boo-boo to make it better. The mere sound of my voice may not always have the profound calming effect that it has on them now.

Maybe it's me that's vulnerable? Vulnerable to relinquish these creatures to the world, and let them experience it without holding my hand, or comforting them at every turn.
8 months

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Helen of Troy

We had one of those neighbors once, who would brag about brandishing a shotgun at cars that would drive too fast through our neighborhood.

His geriatric dog would poop in our yard and he would feign innocence.

There was an everpresent light in his garage, and I tried not to dwell on the possibilities.

He came off as a bit of a chauvanist, but I never felt disrespected by him. On the contrary, he always had a kind word for me - usually regarding my looks - but kind nonetheless.

We discovered he could see inside our living room after he commented on an empty beer can pyramid building activity during an evening with friends - which he did not attend. So, we bought blinds. And I made sure to be fully dressed wandering around my house.

Despite his oddities, I felt safe with him protecting the neighborhood, as he was a stay at home dad to his two sweet daughters, his career wife commuting to Microsoft everyday.

I saw his true colors during an interaction with him while I was pregnant. His question was benign enough, 'How are you?' For some reason, all my walls came down, and tears unexpectedly rained from my eyes.

I told him how very scared I was - scared that my babies would be premature, scared of the birth, scared of being a mom, and petrified that there would be two babies to care for.

He said something to me that I will never forget.

He said that men believe they can move the moon and the stars, but women create life in their womb, and that is more precious than any physical strength.

How can you argue with that?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Memory - The Game Of Survival?

In my house, I am forced to play a perpetual game of Memory. I can't say that I played the game all that much as a child, which was probably due to the fact that I don't think I was very good at it.

But I've become an expert. When two three-year olds are having an acrimonious debate over a toy, you learn fast. I've tried techniques telling them to "share with your sister" or "count to ten and then we'll switch". My husband has even gone with the realistic approach; "that's what having a sister is all about; live with it".

Indeed, my girls are distinguished sharers, but I tend to forget that they are together 24/7 and it's a lot to ask of a 3-year old to constantly share. Everything.

Just as you might suspect, we have two of almost everything as it relates to the girls. Usually in different colors to help distinguish which one belongs to which child. In the beginning, anything green/blue/purple generally belonged to Jaeda. Anything pink/yellow/orange was Tristyn's. But then they got smart on me. "I want the [insert color] one!" So, we keep Sharpie markers handy to quickly brand a toy or an article of clothing. Anything not marked is cemented in their brains as to which one is theirs.

Most of the time, I can defer to them and ask, "is the pink princess wand yours, or your sister's?" But recently, I've noticed to propensity to lie in order to convince mama that the one in question is indeed theirs, even if it's not.

It would appear that I've honed my Memory skills through the preservation of peace in my house, because on any given day, I usually know exactly where the second set of purple Barbie sunglasses are.

The other day, I surprised myself: while driving, one twin dramatically realized she didn't have her Mardi Gras bead necklace. No big deal right? Ha! Her sister had one and started taunting her with it. Without blinking, I reached back into the bin that I keep in between the seats and felt around for those blessed beads. How I knew they were there, I don't know, but there they were and within an instant, taunting-twin was put in her place by dramatic-twin showing her the newly found necklace.

*sigh* Disaster (aka tantrum) averted. I fully recognize that providing them with a duplicate item simply placates them, and I miss out on a potential teachable moment, but most times, I just don't have the energy.

Modern parents are reluctant to admit the tenuous truth that so much about raising children is appeasing these pint-sized monsters.

Were our parents the same way? Is it a twin thing, or do all (similar age) siblings demand toy equality? Am I creating an unhealthy dynamic between them? So many questions, but my brain space is devoted to trying to remember where I saw that other damned Zhu zhu pet...

Sharing Daddy's lap

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gone Baby Gone

Photos of teeny, barely four-pound preemies flash across my computer screen in an endless screensaver slideshow.

What strikes me about these pictures are that I know the two forms are my daughters, but they are not the same. All the parts and pieces have morphed into something different, and I strain my eyes to see a recognizable trait - a dimple in a cheek, or a look in their eyes. Sometimes, only briefly, I can catch one.

Are you lookin' at meh?
In adulthood, we certainly change over the years, but remnants of our prior selves remain. I will sometimes see a person across a room or on the street and recall a familiar face from my past, despite the passing of years, and maturing of our bodies.  

Preemies may have a lot of catching up to do, but my girls didn't waste any time. By 3 months old, they had tripled their birth weight to a sturdy 12 pounds each!

And now, at three and a half, they tower at 42 inches tall. They could easily pass for kindergartners and even I can forget they are only three.

You would never know they came into the world wrinkled, deflated preemies struggling for each breath, shocked and perhaps angry to be outside their warm, watery sanctuary.

Still preferring the security of the enclosed area of their cribs to the open space of toddler beds, they have remained in their cribs. When I gaze down at their slumbering forms, I see that my babies have been swallowed up by these long-limbed little girls.

*sigh* I will miss the whimsy of 3 year old girls when teenagers take possession of them. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Childhood Enthusiasm

I reclaimed my childhood enthusiasm when I had children.

As the years roll by, seriousness seeps into our souls and sillyness slips away.

You can't help but feel the childlike wonder when their eager minds discover things adults take for granted: airplanes, ocean waves, carousels...everything is new and curious.

We took the girls to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and what a feast for their senses! My mom couldn't get over the look in Tristyn's eyes when we stood facing the grand wooden Looff Carousel, music blaring from the pipe organ, the brightly colored, meticulously carved horses making me dizzy.

What was superficial and boring to me as a teenager now felt filled with possibility. Each sight was an opportunity to share with them.

It's as if my eyes have readjusted to the wonderland of children.

While driving up the California coast over the weekend, we spied pumpkin patches galore, with the pumpkins displayed in all sorts of creative ways, and each farm elicited a fresh exclamation of joy.

I remember an email I wrote to a friend while pregnant, in an attempt to dissuade my fears and convince myself that my life needed children, telling her I had had an epiphany - what I needed was Disney princesses, Winnie the Pooh, baby dolls and brightly colored tutus.

Lots of tutus. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

One Year

"If you think back and replay your year, if it doesn't bring you tears either of joy or sadness, consider the year wasted."  --Peter MacNicol as John Cage, Ally McBeal 

A heady sentiment, to be sure.

Pre-children, you could say that I had very few worthy years. Up until that fateful ultrasound, my life was relatively safe, relatively un-eventful; which I am thankful for.

My childhood was marred only by divorce, but the early 80's were ripe with such statistics, and we made the best of it. My brother and I became experienced travelers before we were teenagers, while expanding our family circle by embracing our new definition of family.

Part of that new definition mandated traditional roles to blur. My dad's younger sister, my aunt Mary Lee, became part of our household, and we forged a bond that can only occur while sharing the day-in and day-out intimacy of shared residence.

I saw the challenges of parenting a newborn through her eyes, and her son (my cousin) was the first baby that I ever held, cared for, and fell in love with.

She lost a long battle with breast cancer one year before I found out I was pregnant. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't be around to witness my parenting struggles.

One year is a blip in a lifetime, but it can also be an eternity.

Since starting this blog one year ago, I've exposed my vulnerabilities on the World Wide Web, for anyone to see, and yet, felt oddly exhilirated at times with the honestly that flows from my fingertips.

I follow a number of twin mommy blogs. And, as melodramatic as this may sound, I credit them (and one in particular) with saving my life the first year after I became a mom of multiples. To some, mommy blogs may appear superficial, but if you look deeper, you can see the framework of their souls, right there for anyone to see. The internet has become a safe place to display your inner demons, your deepest secrets - because we all have them, and everyone can relate.

I've come to respect and admire mommy bloggers because even though it's the internet, it's not entirely anonymous. On the contrary, recently I was introduced to someone I have never met, yet she knew all about me via my blog (hi Jeff's mom!) I was flattered and embarrassed at the same time. Had I provided the parts of me that I would have wanted her to know? Was my true self apparent in the words that I publish on the internet? You can never know a person wholly by words on a screen, but there is a certain connection that comes from sharing secrets, even with strangers.

I'm not big on anniversaries, but it felt appropriate to document my Blog-o-versary (stolen from 6512 and growing). I don't have a giveaway, just more of my innermost self to display here in this magical space that has changed our lives. I just have one question: Will you keep reading?

Mary and me, circa 1996

Monday, September 20, 2010

40 Weeks

Have you ever done the math of pregnancy? 40 weeks is full term. But 2 of those weeks occur before a woman even ovulates. Most women don't know they are pregnant until at least the 5th week - one week after the irritating, yet reliable monthly visitor is scheduled to arrive.  That leaves 35 weeks to skip about happily preparing for the arrival of the most life changing, heart wrenching experience of your entire life.

Now consider this: "full term" for twins is 37 weeks (and I use quotes to express the irony here - there is another baby, but three fewer weeks...) I won't even go into the ludicrous timeframe for triplets and quads.

Side note: I foreshadowed my own pre-term labor when I facetiously posed the rhetorical question to a friend of mine as to why, in this technological age, did I have to lug these babies around for 9 months??

Most doctors will schedule the first ultrasound at 20 weeks; mine was reluctantly done at 16 weeks, due to persistent high blood pressure in my first trimester. After being assured of a solo, yet strong heartbeat at my 12 week appointment, I had settled into pregnancy quite easily. Although anxious about motherhood, I had no idea what lay ahead.
 
Of course, it was at that ultrasound that I first saw this image.

18 weeks later, at 34 weeks, I gave birth to my identical twin baby girls. That's 4 1/2 months for those of you still following my math. So, one half the normal time to mentally prepare for two times the number of infants.

Does not compute!
_______________________________

While I was pregnant, during the course of a normal day, I might get to experience the little thrill of telling a stranger that had inquired about my pregnancy that I was expecting twins. The overwhelming common response was, "What a blessing!" Now, not being a religious minded person, I admit to cringing a bit the first few times.

But while shopping at Old Navy for bigger maternity clothes, I remember the first time that I actually believed my twin baby girls may just be a blessing. It was the same day I had spent the morning sobbing to my dad on the phone as he encouraged me to embrace the thought of twins, and to look forward to the day when I could hold them both in my arms.

Children bring immeasurable joy to our lives, no matter the manner or timeframe in which they arrive.

I love them more and more each day, and wonder how that's possible?
(picture taken in May 2010, Pacific Beach, WA)


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feminism and the Modern Toddler

For my girls' second Christmas, I asked my mom and sister-in-law to buy them kitchen items for pretend play - the little velcro carrots and eggplant, a loaf of french bread with "cutting" board and plastic knife, and mini cardboard boxes of cereal and milk. One even came with a child sized shopping cart with optional hand held basket for those shorter trips.

I loved the sets. My girls - not so much. They couldn't quite get the handle (pun!) of the knife, nor the cutting motion needed to un-stick the velcro partners. The cardboard boxes soon became flattened into the carpet, like discarded recycling. Holding onto hope, I dutifully put the scattered plastic produce away each night, and re-shaped and taped the cereal boxes.

I was thrilled when my boss ("Auntie T") brought in pictures on her iPhone of her daughter's hand-crafted wood kitchen set, complete with fridge, stovetop/kitchen sink, dishwasher, washer, dryer - all with moving parts! At first, they loved opening and closing the doors, but never quite got the full gist of the beauty that lay before them. I imagined them spending hours (ha ha) engrossed in pretend baking, cooking and shopping.

A friend generously donated his spice jar collection to add to their ever-growing kitchen accessories. I meticulously cleaned them and set them out like little glass trophies. I even filled one with coffee beans for the shaker effect.

Nada.

Not giving up, I arranged for the procurement of two identical miniature muffin tins at the neighbor's garage sale for a quarter each.

I scoured our kitchen drawers for duplicated items that I could relocate to the kitchen replica that was evolving in the playroom.

I snagged two plastic colanders from the dollar store.

Our old camping pots and pans were relegated to imaginary play when we upgraded our camper.

I found a bargain on a Princess tea set in the toy section of a discount department store.

I mail ordered a dozen styrofoam eggs, after they expressed an interest in the plastic Easter egg variety, thinking this would jump start their interest. After all, they loved making scrambled eggs with me, demanding I allow them to crack the egg, shell and all, into the bowl and take turns stirring. (sigh)

Over a year later, the entire collection sits in the corner of their playroom like an unloved pet. They would much rather pester me in MY kitchen, despite my plea suggestion to "go make muffins in Your kitchen!"

Is this an example of the grass-is-always-greener? Or are they budding feminists bucking the system and striking for women's lib in the kitchen?

Perhaps I should have bought them a tool bench.


Play kitchen "glory" days. Temper tantrum by Tristyn.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ambivalence Expounded

In my mid 20’s, and during my first years of marriage, I had decided I didn’t want children. I wanted to be free of the obligation, the hard work, and not to mention the heartache that inevitably comes with motherhood.

But life leads us in the direction we need to go, and we get little hints along the way.

My dad had a heart attack one year after I was married, and the rug was pulled out from underneath me. Hercules in the eyes of his daughter – the man who could do just about anything, fix just about anything, build just about anything. I spoke to him on the phone from his hospital bed. As he told me about his experience - that he lost feeling in both his arms, and struggled to breathe but still refused to accept that something was wrong – I lost it. I felt so helpless. My dad - who so lovingly raised me, who woke up with us before school when I was in 5th grade to help me curl my hair, who was so strict with me as a teenager (which I now realize was his way of showing he loved me), and now that I am an adult, who never lets me leave without telling me he loves me – was sick.

My memory of him in the hospital will stay with me always. The nurse, in awe of all the long-staying guests in the room asked him, “how many children do you have?” to which he responded, “I have a double King’s ransom… two boys and two girls”. I looked at her face, and realized that my dad was the luckiest man alive, not because he had survived his heart attack, but because he had a family. I knew in my heart that my life would not be complete without children.

Just one month later, my husband’s step-dad lost his long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his children up until the moment that he died.

On a recent trip to the Washington Coast with my extended family, I retired early after putting my girls to bed, and listened to the clatter of my family in the next room.

I thought of the modern concept of family, and how it's like math. What begins as simple addition (marriage, children), division (divorce), subsequent addition (re-marry) and sometimes subtraction (death) eventually becomes multiplication (grandchildren) and then evolves into algebra (in-laws, etc.)

Sticking with the mathematical analogy, which component does a family need in order to continue to exist?

I've been asked quite a few times why I changed my mind about having children. Instead of relaying the above, I tell them this:

If my 30-year old self could have a conversation with my 50-year old self, what would I say?

My best, logical guess would be To Have Children. 
Twins + Grandpa = Happy

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cowards

"Motherhood makes cowards of all of us."
-The Girl With No Shadow, Joanne Harris

I wrote down this quote because it struck a cord with me. I've never been a risk-taker, or a lover of extreme sports, but I did play co-ed hockey for 5 years before my children were born. I even broke my leg in 3 places, which required 2 surgeries. I consider myself a tough chick.

But now that I'm a mom, I find myself remembering all the times my brother and I called my mom a "worry wort".

In many ways, becoming a mother makes you tougher than you ever thought possible. You give birth. You watch your child struggle knowing it is in his best interest to learn it by himself. You empathize for every mother than has ever lost a child. You punish with the intent to improve behavior (life). You protect your child (both emotionally and physically) more fiercely than you protect yourself. Your own safety or pain avoidance is secondary to theirs. And you hide your own pain from them.

There is something visceral and almost painful in my love for my daughters. They bring out a vulnerability in me that I didn't know existed.

My mother-in-law is also a worrier. We can't leave the house while the dryer is running because my husband was told his whole life that it could start a fire. But the longer I know her, the more I see the logic in all her worries. A house fire nearly changed the course of their lives.

Indeed, from my past experiences and those that aren't mine, but that ramble around in my brain, I come up with my own worries.

Each night before bed, I check on the girls, cover them up, turn off the overhead light (which we leave on at its lowest setting), close their door and then latch the gate at the top of the stairs.

The gate is no longer to prevent them from falling - they have been navigating the stairs without incident for quite some time.

There is a very specific reason for the gate.

It is to prevent them from sleepwalking, unlocking the front door, wandering outside and...

See, I can't even say it out loud. The fears of a mother are buried deep inside, hesitant to be exposed in the light of day.

No, my children have never walked in their sleep (but I did when I was a child). And no, they can't unlock the front door. And we have an alarm system.

But a colleague of mine lost a child in just that way. And I have never forgotten her pain, her vulnerability or her strength.
Nowadays, when I get the inevitable question from friends and former teammates, 'Will you play hockey again?' I say No. When they ask why, my answer is always the same.

Because I have kids now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just Leave Me Alone!

Sometimes, I have to fight back the urge to scream these words directly into my sweet children's faces. I often forget that children are just that - children - and they need constant reassurance (hmm, just like some adults I know). And I'm the person they can count on getting it from.

But some days, it feels like simply my presence creates an unhealthy helplessness. The requests for my assistance are incessant, and I feel like a pinball bouncing around in a machine aimlessly, unable to control my own direction.

The... err, challenge with 3 year olds (and having two of them) is that they want so badly to be autonomous, yet can't quite complete a task without adult intervention. Or, they try and struggle only to relinquish the power back to me.

After a particularly demanding day camping, I found myself commiserating with the cable TV customer service rep over the phone about the excessive amount of time it took to prepare a simple lunch of PB&J for the girls. Doing it myself would have taken 3 minutes, tops. But both girls insisted on spreading the jam on the bread; of course, I had to display the bread, paper towel, peanut butter, jam and butter knife just so in preparation for them. After patiently watching them attempt to spread jam, the task was returned to me. I convinced them the peanut butter was too cold for them to spread, but they meticulously observed to make sure I mashed down each and every lump for perfectly even coverage. 

Meanwhile, my husband was anxiously awaiting my preparation of hamburger patties, which had to wait until I was released from my PB&J supervision duties.

Finally, the sandwiches were complete. But wait! The crusts needed to be cut off. (Where did they learn that??) Oh, and god forbid, I forget to cut each sandwich in half.

Neither child ate their fastidiously sculpted sandwich.

*sigh* I tried to brush away my frustration, but what I really needed was a break.

Unless physically removed from said child/children, breaks for moms are ridiculous fantasy, known only in the utopian world of parenting advice articles and books. While attempting a "break" a few minutes later to read a magazine in front of the campfire, I found myself craning my neck around the child that had crawled into my lap, while another requested demanded my help doing....yet another mommy assisted activity. 

Childishly, I held up my hand like a wall and said, "mommy is off duty". (Mind you, I still have a child in my lap). She backed away sheepishly and gave me that look that twists my motherly insides like bread dough.

With that, the spell is broken. I am the overly demonstrative, huggy, kissy, reassuring mommy once again.

The true breaks happen when you least expect.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is it a Boy? A Girl? Or Twins?

I can't keep quiet any longer. Twin moms can damn me, but if I hear of one more Hollywood person that is expecting twins, I might scream.

Leave it to selfish, overpaid Hollywood stars to bring the occurrence of twin pregnancies to an absurd level.

Infants are meant to come one at a time, dammit.

I'll go so far as to say it has become an epidemic. Go ahead - I'll accept the backlash, but I will defend my opinion, experience and perspective like a mama grizzly bear.

This boston.com article is shockingly accurate to me, yet the seething comments suggest that many other moms fervently disagree.

The human uterus wasn't meant to carry 20+ pounds (if a full term newborn weighs 7 pounds that leaves 3 pounds for all the other goodies). My womb gave out when my daughters had barely reached 4 pounds each. My placenta, created to nourish my babies, could not sustain the development of these fragile beings.

Multiples are forced to share the womb, a sacred hotel designed for single occupancy, then jockey for space and essential, scarce resources - a process that can have heartbreaking and sometimes devasting outcomes.

This unhealthy competition continues throughout infancy, childhood and into adulthood.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of twin moms like me that had "natural" or "spontaneous" (moms of multiples looove these terms) twins and tons more women that legitimately opt to keep a twin pregnancy after expensive, grueling and exhausting infertility treatments.

Many of my closest friends fall into this category.

And let's face it, twins are fascinating. The news of one baby can send a entire extended family into a frenzy of anticipated excitement; two (or more) can be downright overwhelming!

During my pregnancy, I relished each opportunity to announce there were two in there; the reactions were so raw and human; most women carry one baby, while I unexpectedly conceived two.

After they were born, I was a sight to see, lugging my two infant carriers. It never failed to elicit a look or a comment.

Walking the promenade in Cabo San Lucas Mexico when they were 18 months old, my girls must have felt like celebrities - more than once, enthralled admirers rushed over to us to touch my duplicate daughters, with their pale skin and ringlet blonde curls.
.
My little celebrities (September 2008) 

But I still have a hard time accepting this new "trend" among the rich and famous. Is this similar to the "too posh to push" that made c-sections practically mandatory in hospitals? Will we soon accept multiple pregnancies/births as simply a notch in our sociological evolution?

I believe that all women who want to become mothers should become mothers. But where do we draw the line?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now

My favorite twin mommy blogger, Jane Roper/Baby Squared once described depression like "walking around all day inside a cube made of thick, dirty glass" and that "everything is muted and dark and dull".

For me, depression felt like quicksand that I was always trying to crawl out of. I would find a precarious foot hold only to slip back down, the muck threatening to squeeze the air from my lungs.

When my girls were infants, I craved only three things:
1) sleep
2) order
3) predictability

Lack of any of these threw me into a tailspin.

Is there any experience in life that involves less sleep, is less predictable or less orderly than simultaneously raising two infants??

I would scour the internet looking for activities to keep my twinfants occupied, while stimulating their rapidly developing brains. But when it came time to execute a project, I simply didn't have the energy - physical or mental. Or, the girls would devour the activity and crave more, but I had nothing left to give.

Some days felt like an exhausting countdown towards the next sleep break.

Coincidentally, the things I noticed when my meds started to kick in were the same as when I got my first pair of corrective lenses; the leaves on the trees, the details of those around me - just as if my eyes were more focused.

Coming out of depression is like a prolonged, good marijuana high, when random thoughts and ideas flow - and seem worthy. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my brain - from darkness to light.

At times, I've found myself at a loss for words to describe my depression, and could simply say it was "a dark place".

When I look back at pictures of myself, I am transported back there, and remember how I was feeling.

In these photos, which my boss took of me on my 34 birthday (which marked 15 months for my little clones), I can see that my depression was starting to lift, and I was finally starting to enjoy my daughters.

Can you see it? There's hope in those eyes.

This post is dedicated to Jane Roper, who was brave enough to share her story with her readers, and who inspired me to write again, and more importantly, to get help for my depression. I've never met her, but she will be in my heart always.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Birth Order

Twins don't have a birth order. Sure, there are minutes, sometimes hours or even days that separate them, but the theory refers to singletons born years apart - and how the time between affects their psychological development, bonding with parents, etc. It's also a convenient way of distinguishing between offspring - my oldest daughter, etc.

Nonetheless, I humor the inquiries of "who was born first" with anecdotes to support the theory and the characteristics that differentiate them.

But I also can't help myself from labeling them.

(When twins or higher order multiples are born, they are labeled A, B, C, D in order of appearance. In utero, it is by access to the cervix - a queue to the exit, if you will.)

Pregnant mothers love to assign characteristics to their unborn babies. And moms of multiples are no different. I knew from the beginning that my Baby A would be spunky and squirmy and that Baby B would be mellow and easygoing. Baby A (Jaeda) was sprawled out diagonally across my belly, with her feet and arms outstretched. Baby B (Tristyn) was curled up - folded in half actually - taking up little space in my too-small womb.

When they were infants, it was quite the opposite. If they were hungry, it needed to be Tristyn that was fed first; I called her my little T-bird. Jaeda, on the other hand, was so laid back that I worried that she would be pushed aside by her aggressive sister.

Not anymore.

One department store restroom "twin expert" (and twin moms run into so many) told me that their initial characteristics would flip-flop. As if, I thought.

But they did.

Jaeda can't sit still for 2 seconds, even when she is sleeping. She thrashes around in her bed so much that I often find her in awkward positions, without blankets, completely turned around. My husband brought Jaeda into bed with us the other night because she had spilled a cup of water in her bed (which she got from the bathroom...) and when my husband woke up, I pleaded for him to "get her out of here".

Tristyn, on the other hand, will remain in the same position throughout the entire night, her arms folded angelically across her chest.

Jaeda makes sure she is the first in the car, the first to choose a toy or a dress or a snack. She's more opinionated on matters of clothing (Tristyn is almost always agreeable to whatever mommy chooses),  bath water temperature, and the general method of things (such as how I brush her teeth).

Tristyn is sweet and forgiving and gentle. She is often on the receiving end of Jaeda's aggression, and is "injured" by her sister ten times more than the other way around.

How could 46 minutes possibly manifest such profound differences?


Regardless of birth order, in my heart of a mother, I will always see my Baby A as my oldest, and fearless leader; Baby B as my "baby", the youngest and most fragile. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Run

This post is dedicated to the memory of John S., who loved nothing more than his family and his bike rides.

In the waning daylight hours of a summer evening, the problems and worries that plague my mind dissolve into manicured lawns and law abiding drivers meandering down the street. There is no oil spill in the gulf, no war in Afghanistan, no poverty, no imprisoned innocents. There are no abused or neglected children. There is no threat of my career extinction from Healthcare Reform. There are only the bright flowers lovingly planted in front yards, rows of mailboxes, and refreshingly green trees and shrubs.

A man plays frisbee with his dog, and a mother and daughter step aside to let me pass. A dad waves to me as his little girl speeds past him on her bike.

I weave between houses, past private backyard sanctuaries where people enjoy their lives, their most precious moments, away from work and traffic and illness and suffering and and...

But I digress.

Each song changes my gait, just slightly, to conform with the new feeling; Jordin Sparks fades to Amy Winehouse, and Justin Timberlake hip hops his way into my stride. 

Manure and blackberries mesh together in a country perfume that caresses my senses. The grass is impossibly green; a gift of the wretched, tireless rain that plagues us in Spring, and returns like an unwanted visit from a relative in October. Today, the rain has yielded to a sunlit evening that sparkles like a child from a warm bath. Fluffy clouds dot the horizon beneath the welcoming blue sky.

Kanye's 'Stronger' reverberates in my ears and my heart follows dutifully to the beat. The kids are tucked in bed as I stretch the tightly wound cord that tethers me to home. I see the pale green house where my hopes and dreams are kept safe; where my children will grow and dream of when they are adults, just like I dream of my own childhood home.

I am not running away anymore, I'm running towards life.
-----------
This post is also an homage to Linda over at All & Sundry, who inspires me with her determination.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rock Star

I've described the day my mother-in-law left as one of the worst of my life. It represented much more than her exit after five weeks of helping to care for my new babies; it meant my maternity leave was over - I would return to work part-time the following day - and most of all, I felt so very alone and scared to care for these two infants without a veteran mom - my own mother or my husband's mom - there to guide me.

Our girls came home after a relatively uneventful 21 days in the NICU.

Then the fun started.

A few days later, while the girls slumbered in the pack-n-play, my best friend, her boyfriend, my mother-in-law and I bowled enthusiastically on the Wii. My husband was upstairs when my cell phone rang. Oddly, it was him calling from our bedroom, telling me he needed to go to the emergency room. He'd been relentlessly sick for more than 48 hours.

We left our preemies in the capable hands of their worried grandma and drove to the ER.

Living in a small town has its advantages; my close friend and birthing coach was also his ER nurse. As she tended to him, I waited anxiously. Worry consumed me. This man, my husband, partner and the new father of my fragile children, was such a valued commodity; I needed him to be well. I needed him to survive.

When my friends' husband and their 4 month old baby came around the corner, I crumbled into tears.

After numerous tests, Colin was sent home without any answers. As one fear slowly diminished, another one took hold. I became so sick that I could barely get out of bed, much less care for my babies. I did not hold my newborns, for fear I would give them my illness, so instead gave them precious antibodies through expressed milk.

My husband returned to work, and my mother-in-law singlehandedly cared for two infants, and their sick mother. I could not have been more appreciative, or more in awe of her.

After an emotional conversation with my own mother, telling her through my sobs that I couldn't do it - I couldn't take care of these twins, I made my way downstairs where my MIL had the whole house in order - the kitchen was clean and the babies were sleeping peacefully, with full bellies and clean diapers.

I realized the baby monitor had been on in my bedroom where I spoke so candidly to my mom, and Edna certainly must have heard it all.

During those five weeks, not only did she witness my worst moments physically, but also emotionally. When you have raised three spirited boys into strong men, there resides an inner strength and an understanding of human nature that I could not have comprehended.

When she left, the door sill under my feet felt like a precipice with the momentum of life urging me to jump. I fought back tears as she hugged me one last time, my stomach in knots and my heart sinking as I watched her leave.

I don't recall the moments after closing the door. The relentless hamster wheel of infant care surely carried me into the afternoon, evening and into the next day.

Eventually, I scaled down that cliff, and discovered the strength that motherhood brings.   

My MIL, Edna (in blue) and her identical twin sister, Ellen holding my identical twins, Tristyn (sleeping) and Jaeda.

Do you need further proof that my mom-in-law is a Rock Star? Here she is holding her OTHER set of twin grandchildren, Micah (left) & Gabriel (right), born just 5 months after ours. Of course, she was there also to help them adjust to the world.  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mother's Intuition

I hear a child rustling in the early morning hours, groping through the dark in our new camper, a still unfamiliar sleeping arrangement. 

"Jaeda?"

I sense her confusion and bolt out of my warm bed to rescue her - she won the twin sister lottery for the top bunk, another new sleeping arrangement, and I'm not entirely confident that she can get down by herself, especially in the dark.

Back in bed, I lay there wondering - how did I know it was Jaeda and not Tristyn? And why did it matter, really? My child needed assistance going pee at 2am - a perfectly normal occurence.

I recall a night perhaps 2 years ago, before the girls had turned one. We were staying at my father-in-law's place in White Rock, just outside of Vancouver B.C. The girls slept in pack-n-plays at the foot of our bed.

Without any warning or reason, I suddenly knew that Jaeda needed me. Mind you, this was in the midst of 11 months of sleep deprivation, and I would have done anything to avoid an interruption of sleep, especially without reason.

Both girls were gloriously quiet.

But as I reached into Jaeda's crib, my heart was pounding and I began to call out her name as I realized, horrified, that the elastic cord of the sleeping bag placed between the sheet and the mattress for padding was wrapped around her neck and torso so many times that I could not untangle her from it's grip.

Seconds felt like minutes as I freed her and felt her breath on my neck. I cradled her tiny body and cuddled her up next to me, holding her as though my life depended on it.

A moment in time can drastically change the course of so many lives. Tristyn would be a twinless twin and my husband and I would lose a piece of our hearts forever.

I can only hope that I have more positive life changing moments in my life than negative ones.
Mommy & Jaeda (1 year)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unplugged

I unplugged this past weekend; turned off my celly, left my laptop at home and went camping with the fam.

I love hearing the voices of my Northwest neighbors through the rhododendrons and fir trees.

We need these forays back into wilderness, sans electronics, to reconnect with ourselves.

Upon arrival at our campsite, the girls rushed to investigate the lush landscape. Leaves were of particular interest.













The girls attempted to re-create the eco-structure built by their 7 year old camping companion. Her mother is an architect; can you tell?













Watermelon was ignored. Instead the coveted big-as-your-head marshmallows were consumed as often as I would allow. (Note my beer awaiting my attention).













We explored Scenic Beach, which was chock full of pearly white oyster shells, which made perfect cell phones, containers and rock chippers (?)


























Despite the cloudy weather, we were happy campers. :-)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Light Socket

I'm making dinner, rushing to finish before my trainer and friends arrive for our Monday evening workout session. The girls are playing contentedly with play dough and rolling pins.

It's easy to mistake pre-school savvy with worldly knowledge.

Without warning, Tristyn stands beside me earnestly pushing a screwdriver (recently used for changing batteries in their cherished Zhu Zhu pets) into the electrical socket that is eye level to her.

"OH NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!", I shout and grab the screwdriver from her eager hand.

She crumbles into tears as I kneel down to hug her tight. It is one of those moments in motherhood where my heart feels as though it's being squeezed and I just want time to stop while I embrace the precious life in her small body.

Cause and effect is a complicated subject to explain to a 3-year old as her twin scolds me, "Don't yell at my sister, mama!"

I flash back to my childhood - I am 7 years old and my brother, Che', and I are arguing about standing atop 2 flat steel posts sticking out of the ground (oh what a different world we lived in 30 years ago). Impatient for my turn, I push his legs out from underneath him. He crashes down onto the sharp steel projections which puncture his back, nearly collapsing his lung.

Today, the scar that blemishes his perfect olive skin below his shoulder blade still brings me shame.  

But my mom tells me she did not scold me. She knew as my mother what I didn't even know myself; I had learned my lesson without anyone even telling me.

My husband, in all his fatherly wisdom, echos that sentiment when I relay the incident to him. He lovingly tells Tristyn, "We learn from our mistakes".

Che' and I with our wise mama
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