Third Wheel?

Our twins were our first kids, unplanned for and unexpected. On days when I cannot meet my work deadlines and haven’t showered in three days and the girls are refusing to eat and my house smells suspiciously like something has died in the heating ducts, the idea of getting pregnant again seems quite laughable. But on other days, it seems a little less terrifying than it used to. And some days, when my 20 month-old girls are giggling hysterically and keeping themselves entertained, the idea of getting pregnant again is actually kind of enticing.

I know a lot of people who had one child and then had twins. Or they had several children and then had twins. And in those families, the non-twins all seem completely level-headed and happy. But I wonder if a younger child growing up in the shadow of older twins might feel, well, like a third wheel. And then I think, well, if we have a third, we should probably have a fourth, so that he/she doesn’t feel that way…and it feels sort of funny to be thinking so far ahead about bearing a child just so another one won’t feel left out.

I’m curious about the experiences of other MOMS who have had another child after having multiples, especially if the multiples were your first children. Obviously you can try to ensure that your youngest child is included and doesn’t feel left out, but I imagine that having older identical twin sisters, as would be the case for any new child that I might have, would at times feel lonely, what with having no twin of your own. Have any of you found that be true? What have you done to help the non-multiples in your family not feel left out?

To be sure, the idea of having a singleton after having twins is very attractive. When the girls were young I used to day dream about breastfeeding only one baby and hearing the cries of only one baby. Did you all find raising singletons to be that much easier than your multiples? What was different about having one baby at a time versus two or three (or four?)

Cloth Diapers for Two, Please

As we all well know, multiples can really drain your wallet/check book/credit card/(non-existent) life savings/etc. As Jen noted earlier today, using cloth diapers is one way you can exert some control over the financial drain of diapering two or three or more babies. In my family we also found cloth diapers to be the best choice for us. Here’s why.

My mom cloth diapered all of her children, so I was intrigued about cloth diapers from the start. Cloth diapering certainly uses water and energy (and bleach at times), but I personally believe that it does less damage to the environment than using disposables. I also was somewhat uncomfortable with the chlorine and urine-absorption chemicals found in most disposable diapers.

My husband made it clear that I had to make a viable financial case for cloth diapers. I took this as a challenge and figured out how to make cloth diapers easy and affordable for us. Now that we’ve been using cloth diapers for a year and a half, we both agree that it’s been a great decision.

Cloth diapering is easy. I am fortunate enough to live in a city where I can enjoy a fabulous diaper service. Every Friday morning by 8am my bag of dirty diapers is picked up from my porch and replaced by a new bag of freshly cleaned diapers. I fold the diapers into fourths and lay them in adorable Velcro-tabbed diaper covers. When it’s time for a change I dump the diaper and all of its contents into a diaper bin and lay a new folded diaper in the cover. When the cover is dirty I throw it in the laundry basket. I wash a load of my girls’ clothes, including diaper covers, once or twice a week. Now that they’re eating solids, I rarely have to do much pre-scrubbing of the covers since most of the mess gets dumped straight into the diaper pail and the diaper service does the rest. That, for me, is the best part about using a diaper service.

Cloth diapering saves me money. Back in the newborn days, when we were going through many more diapers than we are now, the diaper service was especially cost-competitive with disposables. We were paying about 7 cents less per diaper than we would have with the disposables I priced at our local Target. Now that my girls use fewer diapers, we’ve lost some of that economy of scale with the diaper service, but the benefits of the cloth diapers more than make up for that. We also use cloth wipes, which I just throw in with our regular laundry, so we aren’t buying cases and cases of baby wipes on a regular basis either. In the summer I dry the covers, wipes and clothes on the line.

Using the free dryer

Cloth diapering has many ancillary benefits. In my experience, these include:

  1. If breastfeeding, cloth diapers give you a much better sense of how much urine output your babies are producing — and thus how much milk they’re consuming. Urine can “hide” better in disposables. I liked being able to see exactly how much my girls were producing.
  2. Cloth diapers keep messes inside the diaper so much better than disposables. The only major blowouts I’ve had were when I was using disposables while we were away from home on trips.
  3. Cloth diapering lets you control exactly what comes into contact with your babies’ most sensitive areas.
  4. Cloth diapering frees up enormous space in your garbage can. This also saves us money, because in Seattle the larger your garbage can, the larger your monthly utilities bill. Cloth diapering (and city-sponsored composting!) allows us to use a very small garbage can.
  5. Other moms have told me that cloth diapering makes potty training much easier, because kids begin to notice their wet diapers and dislike that feeling. I’m seriously hoping this rumor proves true! The sooner we potty train the sooner we stop paying for diapers all together.
  6. Cloth-diapered bums are freaking cute.

    I see a plumber’s bum

Of course cloth diapering is, as with everything, probably harder with twins and triplets than with a singleton. Here are my tips for cloth diapering with twins:

  1. Have backup disposables on hand. I probably buy one small box of disposables every two months or so.
  2. Buy used diapers and/or covers. The baby consignment stores here in Seattle sell tons of used diaper covers, and I often find $15 covers for $4 or so. If you don’t have nearby consignment stores, diaperswappers features a forum where moms sell their used diapers and diaper covers to each other.
  3. Make sure every caretaker is instructed on how to use your cloth diapers. Don’t allow anyone the excuse, “I don’t know how to use those diapers.” It’s easy to learn, and it frees you from being responsible for all those diaper changes!
  4. If you’re overwhelmed with the decisions to be made regarding cloth diapering, start with disposables. There’s no reason you can’t revisit cloth diapering after a month or two. Plus, your children will be bigger and you may be able to skip over the smallest sizes of cloth diapers.
  5. If you have a diaper service available in your area, it’s a great baby shower gift to ask for. People can prepay for service and you can begin the service whenever you’re ready.

Who's In Charge Here?

The other night, during one of our now typical epic bedtime failures, I started laughing so hard at the scene in front of me, thinking about Super Nanny – I think, at least, it’s her that says this — looking at me and my husband and asking with great disdain, “Who’s in charge here?” The girls were running wild, jumping on their floor beds, throwing themselves against the wall, tossing their Mr. Potato Head parts down the stairs, strangling each other and frantically rocking the large rocking chair while yelling, “Rock! Rock! Rock!!!” It was 9pm and nobody was going to sleep any time soon.

You see, I am a little overwhelmed. Lots of traveling + moving into a new house + a new clingy phase = absolute mayhem around here most days and nights. My girls refuse to sit in their new high chairs or sit down in the bath. They demand me and my lap constantly. They have suddenly begun waking every four hours screaming for bottles that just a month ago were almost completely eliminated from our routine. And as of two weeks ago, the only way I can get them to go sleep is to lie down with one on either side of me and let them flop around for an hour while they slowly settle themselves. I won’t even discuss naps, which occur only while wasting endless gallons of gas in the car.

How did I get here?

After losing a key piece of one crib during our recent move, I took it as a sign (brilliant!) and made a rash decision to abandon the cribs entirely (my girls are 19 months old) and transition to floor beds. Yes, yes, I know: all the HDYDI ladies have strongly recommended against beginning this transition too early. But I liked the Montessori-inspired floor bed idea, and I figured that having the beds to play on during the day would be a treat.

I also figured that giving them a bottle of milk at 6am when they woke would yield two additional hours of sleep for them and me in the morning. Though it worked for two days, my excellent idea has since backfired royally, with the 6am bottle slowly creeping back toward 2am, and a new round of screams/demands for “Babas” occurring at 6:30am. Of course, full wakefulness follows, and I’m now getting far less sleep than I got five months ago. As for their complete refusal to sit in the bath or high chairs and their propensity to hurt/attempt to murder each other every 15 minutes, I am blaming my 18-months-is-the-new-terrible-twos theory.

I know we need to institute some order and calm in our family. I know because I have cried three nights in a row and have poured myself increasingly larger glasses of wine each night after their long protracted bedtime. I know because my husband and I are sniping at each other like we did in those first sleep-deprived weeks/months of their infancy.

I know I need to wean them from their bottles and get them to stop demanding milk meals during the night. I know I need to re-Ferberize them (we did it with great success at 14 months). I know I need to figure out what in the hell I’m doing about their sleeping situation, and commit to these floor beds or find/buy the missing crib part and revert back to cribs.

I pride myself on being a laid-back mom, but somehow in the last few months my relaxed attitude has not served me well. I need to pick my battles and fix something, because many things in this situation are broken.

I think I’m going to start by working on reducing the amount of milk they drink during the night. Baby steps! And I’ll continue to enjoy liberal pours of red wine in the evening and that really great chocolate and tell myself that this, too shall pass. One day I’ll be in charge again!

So how do you all right the ship when it’s gone off course? How do you control the chaos and prevent it from controlling you?

The Urge to Compare

Hi, I’m a full-time work-from-home mom of two 18-month identical girls. We are just now moving out of my parents’ house (finally!) and getting our own place after finding ourselves unexpectedly pregnant far sooner than anticipated. I’m looking forward to being more directly engaged in the HDYDI community!

One of the books I read in those quiet last months before my girls were born was One and the Same, by Abigail Pogrebin. A fun peek into the lives of adult twins, it gave me, for the first time, an opportunity to think about the way I intended to parent twins. But it was the author’s own reflections on her adult relationship with her identical twin sister that caused me great anxiety. While I’d always thought growing up with a built-in best friend would be something to embrace and cherish, I never considered that identity-defining choices and other adult decisions would take on new weight. Not only would the outside world judge, but they would have an identical person’s decisions and choices to use as a frame of reference. What pressure! I suddenly was thrilled I wasn’t a twin myself. When I chose my jobs, my boyfriends, my husband, my (terrible) apartments, they were my decisions alone. My family and friends were never able to say, “Well yes, she ended up with a pretty decent guy, but goodness, isn’t her sister’s husband just fabulous!”

Twin parents talk a lot about identity. We try to spend time alone with one twin, or to dress them differently and assign them their own toys, cups, shoes, etc. Identical twins in particular pose a serious challenge to parents concerned about establishing that identity. As I become more aware of the kind of mother I really am I have realized that I am quite guilty of two things I thought I would never do – regularly comparing my girls and treating them as a single unit.

For instance, my girls have always been terrible sleepers. We are one and a half years into this party and I still can’t reliably get them to nap in their cribs. Nights are a crapshoot: Bug slept through the night three out of the last four nights, but Bean has been up each night before 2am, demanding a bottle and our bed. A week prior the situation was reversed. I don’t know if our experience is typical, but it’s as if they play a secret game of rock-paper-scissors at bath time to determine who will sleep through the night. In this case, I treat them as a unit. I can’t  remember from day to day who has been sleeping well and who has not. People inquire, and I mumble, “I don’t know.”  I just know that, inevitably, we’ll be up in the wee hours of the night. How many times in the last 18 months have they both slept through the night? Four times. Yet they can and do sleep through the night individually. They are my single unit of terrible sleepers and they are, in all likelihood, playing me and my husband for chumps.

When I take my girls in for their well-child visits, I report to our pediatric office as a master of one unit. They eat the same amounts of the same things, they have the same diaper rash, they sleep the same amount of hours, and they say the exact same adorable words. They even call each other the same name, unable or unwilling to pronounce Bug’s name. They hit developmental milestones at the same time, too: they took their first steps within 30 seconds of each other. My doctor is always prodding me to discuss each girl individually, but honestly, I enjoy the economy of scale here. I only have to commit the consistency and frequency of one girl’s poop to memory because they are usually the same.

So while I destroy any semblance of identity by treating them as a unit, I also compare them subconsciously when I probably should not. Bug’s crabbiness seems especially pronounced when I compare her to Bean, quietly munching on crackers and reading a book in the corner. Bug’s ease with which she falls asleep in the stroller during some much-needed quiet time outdoors suddenly seems that much more amazing after ten minutes of Bean’s cries of complaint.

I worry about this in the long term. We certainly notice very different personalities between the two girls, and different responses to certain things, like bugs and new kids and our oscillating fan. If I was just raising one girl and the other wasn’t in the picture, I’d probably attribute each of these responses to new stimuli to some funny toddler idiosyncrasy. But instead of saying to myself, “Oh, weird, Bug doesn’t like that fan very much,” I think, “Oh, weird, Bug doesn’t like that fan very much, but Bean doesn’t seem to care.” Suddenly Bug’s aversion to the fan is cast in a whole new light: is she more scared than she should be? Why does she need to hold my hand while she walks past it, while Bean saunters by paying it no mind? OMG, is  Bug going to suffer irrational and debilitating fears of things with moving blades when she gets older?!?

I don’t actually worry about this all the time. We are, after all, raising two healthy happy girls who love to explore and appear to like each other most of the time. But I don’t think they care much about their identities at 18 months. What about at 18 years? Will I be able to objectively respond to one girl’s failing grades when I know that her sister has done much better? Will I inadvertently use one as an example when asking why the other one doesn’t measure up? I think I’m going to be a good enough parent to recognize that making such comparisons is more harmful than helpful. I think I’ll be able to help each girl tap into her own strengths and become a strong woman in her own right. But man, it is going to be hard for them. They are always going to be “the twins,” discussed as a unit when convenient and discussed as two competing individuals when interesting. They are going to have to dig deeper and work harder than most to establish their identities and ensure that their friendship remains strong and resilient. I’m here to help them. How do you all do it?