When Good Boys Go Bad

Picture this:

Our family of six is out for our nightly post-dinner, pre-bedtime walk.  I am pushing Brett in the single stroller, Brian is pushing Aaron and Brady in their side-by-side, and Alaina is riding next to us on her big girl bike. A&B spontaneously burst out into song. We’re not sure what words they are singing, but the melody sounds a bit like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Brian and I take a moment to smile at each other and share a “Yup. All of this is ours.” proud moment. And then…

Screaming! Terror! A chorus of Brady’s “NOOOOOOOOO”. Aaron’s silence (because his mouth is otherwise occupied, full of his brother’s arm.). In 1.1 seconds we’ve gone from a Norman Rockwell painting to an audition tape for “Nanny 911″.

Sadly, we have no idea why.

And then, back to singing.

And so it goes. 22-month old brothers who love each other one second and are trying to kill each other the very next. Over nothing. Brady enjoys hitting and hair pulling, Aaron prefers to bite. Neither have ever turned their aggression towards anyone except their other half. And as quickly as they turn it on, they are over it. Leaving their father and I to scratch our heads and stare dumbly at them – and each other – thinking “What the HELL was that?”

We know they love each other. They play, they cuddle, they bring each other their cups and conspire together. We listen to them on the monitor in their room at night talking in their little twin talk we don’t understand. We hear them waking up in the morning and whispering to each other and giggling before they shout out for “DaddEEEEE”. So what is going on? Why are they so hell bent on hurting each other for what seems like no other reason than sport?

Perhaps it is a function of spending too much time together? Perhaps they are just boys being boys? Who knows. But it is frustrating to say the least. And mind-boggling that after 15-seconds of all out WAR, before we can even react, they will go back to just dancing or singing or building a tower together.

Please tell me we’re not alone!

The Stay-at-Home Dad

Guest post from my husband, Brian, The Superdad.

If you are not familiar with our family, my wife Cynthia and I have four children: a four-year-old daughter Alaina, 20-month-old identical twins sons Aaron and Brady (baby A and baby B, anyone with multiples would get the ultra-sound humor in that decision) and a 6-month-old son Brett. Before Brett was born, we had the three older children in day care full-time. It was a financial stretch. Actually, financial “disaster” would be a better choice of words. Once the baby was born we had no option but to have one of us stop working. Now, Cynthia works full time and I am a stay at home dad. How did we come to that decision? For us it wasn’t that hard.

I own a small Real Estate company. By small I mean just me, (hey the boss is a great guy). As a Realtor most of my hours are nights and weekends anyhow so the decision to be the stay at home parent was easy. We have learned not to depend on my income like we did in the past. The adjustment required giving up many of the luxuries we honestly didn’t need anyway. The life changes we made were tough but in hind site they were the best decision we’ve ever made. Cynthia works for a great company and there is a tremendous opportunity for her professional growth within her company. Besides, her company was our source of health insurance so that had to weigh into our decision.

To be honest with you, I was a little nervous at first. Could I really do it? My wife is an amazing mother and as the father (and as most fathers do) I tended to follow her lead when it came to child rearing.  Like a lot of dads, I was the king of short, extreme play sessions with my kids. I would get down and dirty with them. Rolling around on the ground, rough-housing and tossing them up in the air. It was that little thing that they got only from their daddy and both the kids and I loved it. Sometimes it would last 5 minutes, other times maybe 30 minutes, but it was never for hours on end. The general care of the kids always fell on my wife’s shoulders. I didn’t realize how much she did until it was my responsibility all day, everyday. I have a tremendous appreciation of my wife and everything that she does for this family.

I distinctly remember my first taste of being an at-home dad. When they were about 3-months old, the twins were both out of daycare sick. Cynthia had just returned to work from maternity leave and could not take the day off. I was panic-stricken. I was a very hands-on dad but this was a different ballgame altogether. Only a few hours into the day of non-stop crying, I remember calling my wife at work freaking out that she had to come home. “I can’t do this!” I hollered. I was so used to passing off my own children when things went wrong that I didn’t know what to do when I was completely on my own. Needless to say I survived the day. The boys seemed fine too. But I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad after that experience.

So how did I manage it later on? Did the children change? Not one bit. I did. I took on a bigger every day role on the weekends. I stopped relying on my wife to do all the “dirty work” and I am not just talking about changing diapers. This prepared me for the big day when we would take them out of daycare and I was on my own. I am not going to tell you it was easy, or that everything came natural but it was manageable. After a week or two I was an old pro.

The key was routine. Guys, your wife probably preaches this to you every day. I was just like you. The weekend came around and I would take the kids out to do something fun, not caring if it was a little past their nap-time. “They’ll be fine,” I always said. Great call genius! Kids are all about routine. Break that routine and they may be fine for a few hours, but it will bite you in the end. It may not be until the next day but you will regret it. You learn fast on this job.

The second key change for me was patience. You learn quickly that you can’t satisfy all of your kids needs (especially when you have three under two years of age) at once. You have to prioritize. You have to learn to let the screaming bounce off of you. Focus on what you can do to make one of them happy. Move quickly without taking short cuts and move on to the next issue. After awhile you get to know each child’s tendencies and you can get them what they need before they need it. Once you’ve reached this point being an at-home parent is great.

Now don’t misread that. I didn’t say “easy”, I said “great”. It is the most rewarding job (and don’t kid yourself, it is a real job) albeit the toughest one I’ve ever had. Work stress and child caring stress are completely different. I also don’t want to belittle the working parent’s role. It’s a team effort. You should both try to appreciate what the other does.

I could tell you a million stories, but I have a short attention span and this post is already longer than I would voluntarily read. I do have a few parting bits of advice. I sensed a collective cringe when I wrote that. Fear not. I am not going to tell you how to raise your kids. To be honest I wouldn’t have the first clue how to raise someone’s kids. I can, however, give you a few tidbits that have made all the difference our arrangement:

1 – Get out of the house, for your own sanity if nothing else. I take the boys to a local children’s museum a couple times a week. We also go to story hour at the library and a playgroup at an area YMCA. Dig around a little, you can always ask other parents you meet what they do. Getting three little ones out of the house is a daunting task but there is a wonderful reward. Giving them a change of scenery is not only fun, but it always leads to a nice long nap for my kids. Hello “me” time.

2 – Appreciate your spouse. We are a well-oiled machine at this point. We both know what needs to be done each evening so we just do it. Don’t wait for your spouse to ask you to do what you know needs to be done. Just do it and next thing you know the kids will be asleep and you can finally relax. As a side note, everyone has a bad day. My wife and I give the other heads up on those especially tough days. Something as simple as, “just to warn you, it’s been a long day and I’m unusually cranky”. It’s simple yet effective.

3 – Try to create “me” time for each other. Take care of the kids solo so your wife can go out with her friends to lunch, shopping, or a movie. Whatever makes her happy. My wife plans to take half days on Wednesdays this summer so I can play golf. Don’t underestimate the meaning of little gestures.

4 – Get the kids on a schedule and stick to it. They may not like it at first but trust me long term you will all be better for it.

5 –Don’t let the little hiccups get you down. Look, things never go as planned.  If you can appreciate them for their future humor, you will be better for it. Just this morning I woke up sick as a dog to find Brady buck naked in his crib with you guessed it all over the mattress and crib. Was I in the mood to deal with “that” today? No chance. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hilarious. Why not laugh about it then?

6 – Enjoy your kids. Everyone you meet tells you to enjoy your children because they grow up quickly, but it’s true. The next thing you know they are going to be teenagers and want next to nothing to do with their parents. Keeping this in the back of your mind will help with those especially frustrating days. Always remember that they won’t be little forever so enjoy them.

For those out there contemplating being a stay-at-home parent. Do it. Don’t hesitate. In fact, you should jump at the opportunity. The first few weeks might be tough but you’ll find a way. I love that I get to see my kids everyday. My wife would love to be in my shoes (most of the time). Granted I am so tired by the end of the day that I have zero social life, but eventually they’ll grow up and I’ll have plenty of time to do that stuff again. You only get one chance to raise your kids.

I am a better person for it. You can ask any of our friends or family if I have changed and they would say with absolute certainty, yes! They don’t see me as much but when they do they notice that I am more relaxed. The little things that stressed me out before bounce right off me now. Just this past Sunday as we were stuck in traffic with the four kids in the car, instead of freaking out about the guy trying to cut me off, I turned to my wife and said, “I’m really happy. We have a great family, our relationship has never been better… things are great”. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never have said that. I am grateful for my amazing wife and beautiful children and I love them more than you can possibly imagine. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never had written that in a public blog either.

Now if you will excuse me. The boys are all asleep and the Yankees have a day game. Off to the couch I go with a cold beer in one hand and the other hand down my pants. I may have gotten a little softer, but hey, I’m still a dude!

(Mom’s edit: no beers were consumed during the writing of this post. I hope. You can read more about our family on our personal blog.)

Playing Well With Others

I am lucky enough to be going through the experience of a raising a singleton and the experience of raising multiples. (And the experience of raising another singleton…)

Although I know I shouldn’t, I often find myself making comparisons between the development of the older singleton and her younger multiple brothers. More often than not she comes out “ahead” in these comparisons – she walked first, she talked first, her gross and fine motor skills were slightly ahead. That could be because she was a first-born, a singleton, a girl. Who knows? It could just be her.

Regardless, the boys have come out light-years ahead in one area: playing nicely with others. Sure, they like to bicker amongst themselves. But when it comes to their siblings, their cousins, random strangers at Story Hour, these boys are outgoing and always willing to interact with other children.

Always.

If they are playing with a toy and another child takes it, as long as that other child isn’t their twin brother, they simply move on. If another child has a toy that they want, they will stand, smiling, and watch that kid play until it is their turn to have it. They experience true joy when they watch someone else having a good time. And if they see another child crying, they will pat that child’s back.

I’d like to think we taught them this, but, really, we didn’t. They are just comfortable being around other little people. More so than their big sister ever was. They have an innate sensitivity that I’d like to bottle and sell to the other parents at the local Children’s Museum…and a few relatives as well!

So if we didn’t “teach” them, how did they get that way? Is it a function of being a multiple? I don’t know. It could be. Whatever it is, it’s simply amazing. I hope it stays with them as they grow into teenagers and adulthood.

What Was I Afraid Of?

When I found out I was pregnant again after having multiples, I panicked. I cried. I stressed.

Did I mention the multiples were only 8 months old when I got the news? And my “big” girl had just turned 3? And some amount of bedrest would be all be guaranteed with my history? Yup. Scary stuff.

My husband talked me down off the ledge. I had the support of an amazing family. I had a job with wonderful benefits and an incredible amount of understanding. I mean, it wasn’t fun telling my manager that I was pregnant again when I hadn’t even been back five months from the last maternity leave, but the conversation went more smoothly than I could have ever dreamed.

Now that the baby is four months old — and since Goddess specifically asked about it this week — I’ve been thinking: is it as hard as I thought it would be? Would I do it again?

Yes and yes.

I won’t lie: going through a higher-risk pregnancy with multiples SO young was treacherous. The boys didn’t walk until the last six weeks of my pregnancy so they needed to be carried around. A lot. I was told to lift “nothing”. Hmmm… The boys also didn’t sleep through the night until the same time. I needed more sleep than ever. It was hard. THEN came bedrest.

I kept telling myself, if I could just make it through the pregnancy, things would only get easier with every passing day after that. And, for the most part, THEY DO. Sure, kids get sick and there are the normal daily challenges. But really, now that my body is my own again, it’s easier to take all that in stride.

There are certainly things that are more difficult, but in dealing with them, my husband and I find our own positives. We’ve had to face some really hard facts and make some hard choices. The biggest issues, of course, revolve around money and time and how it seems we never have quite enough of either. But, the process of making these big decisions has really brought us together. Our relationship is stronger and we are better parents for it.

One thing I had been excited about was the chance of a “do-over” with a singleton baby. That has been wonderful. I find I am so much more relaxed with this baby. And I am able to really savor and enjoy little things like going out with just a single stroller. Or not having to run home from an outting to breastfeed because unlike the days of tandem nursing, I can modestly feed one child at a time in public.

We’ve also noticed that Aaron and Brady are treated less like “twins” with the addition of the new baby. The focus from the outside world is no longer on the fact that they are multiples. When strangers meet us, they almost always focus on the family as a whole rather than singling out the boys — at the inevitable expense of their sister –  which I love.

Aaron and Brady are also incredibly loving and accepting of their new brother. I really believe that the fact that they are multiples plays a part in this. In their whole lives, they’ve never been the “only child”. By definition, they are accustomed to sharing — their parents’ attention, their stuff, their space.

So, more kids after multiples. Clearly it is an issue for you to take up in your own family. But for this family, it was the greatest give we could have received. It’s challenging. But then again, was life really easy before? No. And it’s a whole lot more rewarding now.

Brotherly Love…finally!

FINALLY!

My boys are acknowledging each other in a positive way!

Sure, in the beginning they needed to be near each other to sleep. But that was an instinct not a choice; a simple result of having slept together for 34 weeks prior.

But as they grew and we moved them to separate cribs, they seemed to pay almost no attention to each other. I kept wondering when they would like each other. If they would like each other.

Now in their 18th month, they are really starting to care for one another. Sure, they still take each others toys away, just for the sake of it — not because they actually want that toy – but when it counts, they are proving that they do love each other:

When one cries, the other will come over and rub his back or smack pat him on the head.

When one gets hurt, the other one will cry in sympathy.

When they go to bed, they can be heard for 15 minutes in their room blowing each other kisses.

When they wake up in the morning, they can be heard “talking” and laughing with each other for a while before yelling out for “Daaaaadeeee” to come get them out.

We even caught them holding hands before bed the other night. Finally, the twin bond is starting to emerge.

holdinghands2

A Simpler Time

It used to be that when Brian and I went to stay overnight for a holiday with a set of our parents, we could bring a backpack. Toothbrush, sweats for the drive home the next day, change of underwear, and deoderant. Done.

I have just finished packing for our Thanksgiving overnight (yes, just one night) and I am amazed at the amount of stuff required to travel for four kids under four:
- 4 pairs of pajamas
- 1 package size 3 diapers
- 1 package size 1 diapers
- wipes (flushable and non)
- 4 outfits for the next day
- 4 sets of back-up clothes for the holiday itself
- Infant thermometer
- A stash of “just in case” medications: infant Tylenol, children’s Triaminic, Saline nasal spray
- 3 toothbrushes
- Portable baby swing
- 3 bottles (with liners and milk)
- 2 favorite sippy cups
- Portable potty for the car
- CD with favorite Nursery Rhymes for the twins
- Boppy Pillow
- 1 Miguel

And that’s just for the kids. And I’m sure I’m missing stuff. It’s really quite a hit list. And forgetting or not bringing something could throw the kids (or us) so far off, it’s not worth it to try and save space by packing less.

I’m starting to think the mini-van is not a big enough vehicle…

Oh Well. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

How DO People Do It?

I have a confession to make: I have no idea how to be alone with all four of my children (awake) at the same time.

Sure, my 3-year old is a dream; she is really almost entirely self-sufficient. Baby Brett is also pretty easy. But as he is a 100% breast-fed baby, when it’s time for him to eat, I’m pretty tied down.

This leaves the monkeys twins, Aaron and Brady. These two are a challenge. It’s not that they are bad kids; they are just toddlers. Adventurous, curious toddlers. Plotting and scheming toddlers with their own “language“. So they need constant monitoring when they are awake. And almost constant physical intervention. The word “no” gets no reaction from them whatsoever. Well, except for a smile and a laugh. (And I think they are learning how to wink at us before climbing on the back of the couch as well.)

As I type this, I feel that I must disclose that I am really, truly alone with the children for very tiny windows of time during the day. I am blessed with a work-at-home husband who does 99% of the heavy lifting. But he does get caught up on work phone calls or occasionally would like to use the bathroom or shower.

Since I was born with only average, human-length arms, during those times when I am alone, if I need to sit and breastfeed, I only have two choices for the twins. First, I can take a chance and let Aaron and Brady (who sense weakness and go for it) have full run of their normal playroom. This room is <em>mostly </em>childproof but still has a few holes that they are drawn to when they know no one can jump up and physically stop them.

OR, I could confine them in their ever-present pack & play with a toy or a DVD for the duration of the nursing session. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the baby’s mood at the time. That seems a little unfair to them.

If there is anyone out there who has any advice on how to make these nursing sessions a little less stressful, please help!

This post is cross-posted on my personal blog, www.thewjourney.com.

The Superdad

A few weeks ago we made an important decision in our house: we would be pulling our 14-month old twins out of full-time day care. They would be joining their 3 1/2 year old sister at home. And the primary caretaker would be their father.

At the time, I was a little bitter. I wanted to be the one to stay home full-time. As the mother, I felt I was not only better suited, but I felt a sense of entitlement to the part. After all, I carried them, endured bed rest, delivered them, and nursed them. Shouldn’t I get the reward of spending oodles and oodles of time enjoying them now? But, circumstances of our household and current employment situations mean – Dad is the man for the job.

I am now home on bed rest (with child #4) and I’ve had plenty of time to observe and over-hear daily events in this house and I realize – Holy Crap. He IS better for the job. He’s Superdad.

And what is his superpower?

Nerves of Steel.

While I have the patience of a saint, I have the nerves of, mmm, straw, perhaps? And with the boys finding their footing and learning to climb, move furniture, wrestle, etc., I find, I am not suited for their full-time care at this point. I can barely breathe when they get going. I want to wrap them in bubble wrap and keep them in furniture-free zone. My husband on the other hand is not phased one iota by their shenanigans.

And everyone is happier and more relaxed as a result.

He even managed to take all three out of the house yesterday to give me some peace and quiet. Where was his chosen destination? Shoe shopping (for himself) and the Apple Store. Yes, a mecca of electronics so breakable and expensive I barely touch anything when I go in there by myself. Was he nervous? No. He just pumped right on in there with three kids and proceeded to consult with an employee about some issues on his laptop. As a result of his ease, the children behaved. If I were to duplicate this adventure, my stress level would have them so ramped up, we would all be running out of there crying. He then proceeded to take the three of them out to lunch. In a restaurant. WHAT? I’m shaking at the thought of doing that. And they all ate, and the staff and other patrons loved them.

So, yes, I wish I didn’t have to work and could spend hours on end with the children. But, perhaps I will keep quiet about that desire until they are, say, seven? Or at least able to know enough to not to try and walk upright under the kitchen table, practically knocking themselves unconscious in the process.

Thanks, Superdad. You’re my hero.

Going Back to a Singleton

There are so many differences between a singleton pregnancy and birth and a multiple one.  I am so very, very fortunate to have been able to experience both already. I feel like the first time around I was overwhelmed as a new mother. But after having twins, my perspective has changed slightly. So I’m thrilled that I get a, sort of, do-over with another singleton. I am more relaxed and, definitely, I understand that this time will be, at the very least, less physically demanding.

There are so many things that I took for granted the first time around that I’m looking forward to experiencing (with greater gusto) this time. Things like going out with just one baby for a quick trip to the mall. Or, going to the doctor and only filling out the required paperwork ONCE (while entertaining said child in the waiting room). But there are also so many things unique to the multiples experience that I feel this baby — and I — will miss out on.  Here are some examples:

  • I’m looking forward to nursing one baby and savoring the cradle hold. With the twins it was all about the football hold since there were always two on me.
  • I will miss looking down during a nursing session and seeing two little babies instinctively reach out and hold each others’ hands across my chest.
  • I’m looking forward to buying — and stocking — normal amounts of diapers and wipes.
  • I will miss watching this child have a built-in best friend.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to pick up my new baby’s prescriptions in a timely manner because there isn’t any confusion with my insurance company about why I’m filling and re-filling a prescription at the same time! For the life of them — no matter how many phone calls I make — my pharmacy insurance will only work from a date of birth, which means every time the twins have prescriptions filled simultaneously, only Aaron’s is filled. Brady’s is always rejected because they see it as a refill (being filled too soon). Knock on wood, though, we won’t need to fill as many for this child!
  • I am looking forward to a “normal” birth experience; that is, giving birth and getting to hold the baby rather than having him whisked off to the NICU before I can touch him.
  • I will miss the amazing sense of pride that comes with saying “yes, they are twins.”

I am also curious to see how small of a diaper bag I can carry this time. With my first child, I had a bag that could have easily doubled for weekend, carry-on luggage! I was constantly over-supplied and over-burdened with just stuff. When the twins arrived, the size of the bag actually decreased by more than half. Only the bare essentials made the trip. And I learned to stock extras in a small storage bin in my car – there if really necessary, but not a burden to carry around. I’m curious to see with three children under two years, how small of a bag I can pare down to this time around.

With the birth just weeks away, I am excited. I can’t wait to put my new, more relaxed approach to motherhood to work and just enjoy this baby. I hope it will be a more carefree experience than the first time around. I also hope that having gone through the first year with twin boys hasn’t made me TOO relaxed so that this kid turns out to be a holy terror! Time will tell. But I’m so thankful that the multiple experience has mellowed me out as a mom.

Why I Now Like Brangelina a Little Bit More

The views expressed below are strictly my own, not necessarily those of the collective “How Do You Do It?” mommies.

I’ve said it before but, I get a little annoyed when I read about celebrities having twins. It seems like there are new famous twins expected every day. Just this week alone we’ve heard that Rebecca Romjin and Lisa Marie Presley are going to be doubly blessed.

Don’t these people have enough? Fame, fortune, incredible good looks. Now they’re gaining entrance into this special group that makes me feel special in my otherwise ordinary world – they are going to become parents of multiples. And, really, I feel like they are not putting in the dues that the rest of us are with their army of nannies, personal trainers, housekeepers, chefs, drivers, etc., etc.

But when I first heard the news about the famous Brangelina twins, I was especially annoyed. Seriously, I have to share my special club with these two? Isn’t it enough for them to be the World’s Best Looking Family? I did my best to boycott all news of the pregnancy and eventual birth. Although, when you’re talking about the world’s most famous couple, it’s hard to avoid all the news unless you live under a rock.

Finally, curiousity got the best of me and I clicked onto People.com to view the world’s first photo of the twins. Then, I caught a glimpse of Hello!’s first photo and I was instantly shamed for all of my earlier feelings. This is a beautiful family. A family with seemingly hands-on parents. A family who has chosen to adopt beautiful children AND who has been blessed with a gift of amazing fertility. A family who has taken the world’s fascination with them and turned it into a charitable opportunity. A family who looks…exhausted!

Yes – thank you! After seeing the spread of J. Lo and Marc Anthony with their frill and pink outfits skipping down their driveway, I was moved to see Brad and Angelina looking like perhaps they were not well-rested. Are those bags under your eyes? Welcome to the club!

I’ve read recently that while Brad is planning a red carpet appearance in Venice, Angelina is not slated to appear. She is opting (I assume) to stay home and recover and tend to her growing brood. Finally, I feel like I can relate to her. Well, red carpet events aside that is.

So, I take back what I’ve said and thought about Brangelina. I now feel a connection with them I didn’t think possible. I wish them and their ever-growing family all the best. Parenting twins is a special gift – I’m happy they are part of our club.