Toddler Thursday: Sharing a Bedroom

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Categories Attitude, Development, Different Gender, Independence, Individuality, Joy, Lifestyle, Love, Mommy Issues, Multiple Types, Napping, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, Preschoolers, Sleep, Toddlers4 Comments

After obsessively searching for about two years, my husband finally found us a new house. It isn’t too far from our current house, conveniently closer to our chosen dual-language elementary school, and in a nice quiet neighborhood of the foothills. It is a little larger than our current house (which is good because we’re bursting at the seams here), but still only three bedrooms. For a family of 5 with almost-3yo b/g twins, I was really hoping our next house would have four bedrooms, so that all the kids could have their own. With the cost of remodeling prior to move-in (gutting both bathrooms, building a laundry room, moving the water heater, updating electrical, refinish floors, new paint, etc), we are left with not much of a budget for what I really wanted: a bigger kitchen and another bed/bath. Those will have to wait until we can get plans drawn and a permit for the additions.

I was very disappointed that this was how it all worked out. In my mind, the whole point of moving was so my kids wouldn’t have to share bedrooms. All the labor of packing and managing a renovation just didn’t seem worth it if I couldn’t get what I really wanted. It’s true that remodeling this home instead of buying a move-in ready one makes it feel more our “own,” there’s been a lot of stress involved with money spent and making decisions, choosing finishes. Thankfully that’s all now starting to come to a close. I just decided on a floor stain today, after having chosen paint colors last week.

And I feel like I’m also starting to turn the corner on being disappointed on the lack of a fourth bedroom. At this point, I believe the only one who really wants to make sure all the kids get their own rooms is me. For sure the twins don’t care. They’ve literally been together all their lives, even before they were born.

There are times I certainly wish they wouldn’t keep each other awake during naptime, or wake each other in the middle of the night during an illness, but most often what I see is that the presence of their twin comforts them. They are always put to bed together, and always woken up (or left in) together. On the rare occasion that one sleeps longer/shorter than the other, and they become separated, they always look for and ask the whereabouts of the other. Every day I hear their conversations before they fall asleep and when they wake up.  There is talking and giggling, singing and dancing, squeals and jumping. If a strict can’t-get-out-of-bed-during-sleep-time wasn’t imposed (I just transitioned them into toddler cribs), they’d probably be in each other’s beds. I’m not sure they would be able to verbalize their closeness right now, but I know their separation would definitely cause them anxiety, especially during such a vulnerable time as sleeping. It would be too scary. Perhaps they need a few more years together for that security and comfort.

Also, so many big changes are taking place in our lives right now with the move coming up, Big Sis starting kindergarten, and little ones beginning preschool that I’m wary about giving them any more to deal with. I now think that even if we did have a fourth bedroom, I would not be separating the twins just yet. I think it will be a while before they will ask for their own privacy and space. It may be many years before we move them into their own bedrooms. I’ve come to see that this is the connection between twins, and that it doesn’t diminish their independence nor hamper their development in any way. And it’s actually a pretty amazing thing to have in our family.

lunchldyd is sad her days have been filled with contractors instead of fun with her kids (and posting on hdydi).

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Twinfant Tuesday: A year in photos (minus the photos)

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Categories Birthdays, Celebrations, Fear, Joy, Love, Parenting, Twinfant TuesdayLeave a comment

Next week, my little monkeys will be ONE!  That one saying is so true.  What is it again?  The days go slowly, but the weeks and months fly by, or something like that?  The other night my husband and I were watching photos float by on a slideshow from the past year.  While it’s impossible to adequately describe the first year with twins, a few of these moments help summarize the roller coaster.

Exhaustion

Photo: both 8-week-old babies are in just a diaper, passed out on my husband, who is also asleep.  My son’s arm is draped over the face of my daughter, whose mouth is wide open.  Everyone looks exhausted.  I recall this night in particular, because it was taken at the end of the first night we decided to “try” one of us going out for a few hours during the “witching hour.”  This witching hour was so very real in our house between about 5 weeks-13 weeks or so.  This particular night they started crying about 10 minutes after my husband left the house (of course), and they seemed to ratchet each other higher and higher on the scale of hysteria for the next 45 minutes until I called him, beckoning him home.  I still have no idea what got them so upset, but it was one of those nights where I needed to put them each in their crib and walk away for a good 3-5 minutes because I truly did not know how to calm them.  Eventually they stop crying for just as mysterious of reasons as why they started.  I still feel shell shocked by those first few months with two infants.  I can almost still feel the anxiety, counting the time until I’d need to go pump or breastfeed two babies again, or feel the burn in my sleep-deprived eyes.

Joy

Photo: taken after a bath, and the babies were laying side by side, and my son reached out and was touching my daughter on the arm.  She smiled back at him.  They were about 5 months old and it was taken on our first trip (see also: only) with the kids.  (We really took on the challenge of a first vacation with infant twins: Cold weather.  Over Christmas.  Staying at high altitude.  Attempting to take turns to go skiing.)  It wasn’t likely the first time they connected like that, but I do think it was the first one we caught on camera.  It captures the hope that I have for a close relationship between them and the warmth I feel in my heart when I see the connection between them.

Fear

My heart aches and is filled with gratitude simultaneously when I see the photo of my son smiling, holding a small box of cheerios in a hospital gown, the morning after our first night (and, hopefully, only for a very long time) in the hospital a few weeks ago after he took a bad fall and sustained a head injury.  We spent the night saying prayers that all would be okay, while we realized the vicarious pain one can feel for their child, as a parent.  Seeing this photo, even just a few weeks after, makes me so grateful that he is okay.  I’m almost equally as fearful of other accidents and illnesses that no doubt lie down the road for us as a family.  I was warned about how you experience pain when your children hurt, but it is truly something you cannot understand until going through it.

Fascination

Photo: my daughter standing, holding onto the collar of our 8-year-old pitbull-boxer mix makes me giggle.  I remember coming around the corner and catching her standing there with our dog, who patiently sat and let our daughter examine her “necklace.”  Mind you, she cannot walk yet, so this means she crawled over and pulled herself up on our dog’s collar.  Her fascination with jewelry has begun early, as has her love of feeding this doggy all her vegetables.  This photo captures the delight and fascination I feel as I watch these kids discover their world and learn new skills every day.  It’s incredible to watch them stand for the first time, or make a new sound and see their faces light up with pride.

And, that has been the emotional cycle of the past 12 months: Exhaustion, Joy, Fear, Fascination, or some derivative of these feelings.  I truly wish I could stop time for a day or at least an hour to really reflect on the ways life has changed and motherhood has changed me in the last year.  But, for now, a post like this will have to do.

Katie has b/g twins that will be one next week.  She lives in Chicago and balances full-time work, being a mom and training for a sprint triathlon for which she regrets signing up.

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A Compromise

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Difference, Emotion, Fear, Feeling Overwhelmed, Finances and Saving, Guilt, Joy, Lifestyle, Mommy Issues, Parenting, Perspective, SAHM, Working15 Comments

A few days ago marked the close of another school year, the first one I taught after my twins were born. Having only worked 6 weeks the year prior before taking my maternity leave, it was a difficult adjustment. The first several weeks seemed like just an exhausted blur, and the weeks following did not get much better. The month of March (the “long March”) was the worst. I was feeling depressed, rundown, burnt out, just plain tired and uninspired.

The crawling babies began to walk, then run, then climb, and by the end of the school year their naps were hit-and-miss because they were ready to transition to only one. So I had cranky babies and a preschooler to pick up from school, then feed and bathe all three after a full day of work. And I constantly worried about my aging mom, who I counted on every single day in order for me to go to work. I started to rethink this decision made a year ago

Clearly, I knew my husband’s position. We’ve had this discussion many times before; I’ve been wanting to be a SAHM ever since our first was born. But the decision we made came mostly from his arguments, all of which are valid: We have family nearby, they’re willing to help, these are our prime working years, I should be building my career and our family’s financial wealth. But he doesn’t understand the guilt that comes from having nothing left to give to the kids crying and tugging at you for your attention at the end of each day. He doesn’t understand that I blissfully enjoyed almost an entire year at home with my firstborn (starting 10 weeks before her siblings were born so she had me completely to herself), and the sadness I feel that the twins will NEVER get to experience that, just by the fact there are two of them plus an older sister.

One morning in early May, after a night of tormented sleep, I sought out my administrators to ask if there were any options for me to relieve some of this distress. Other than resign and lose my job security and all the years of service credit I’ve built with the district, the only other option was to work part-time. I never considered this an option because… well, because it is rarely done. I’ve only known two colleagues who have ever done it, and currently there is only one other teacher working part-time in the entire district. But, surprisingly, after almost collapsing into tears while telling my principal of the difficulties of trying to be the best mom I could while also being the best teacher I could, she was completely supportive. And, it turns out, so was my assistant principal working on the master schedule (the schedule of all courses during all class periods for every teacher at the school)– he was able to give me two morning classes a day.

My husband and I then had this discussion once again, but this time I was offering an alternative. What if I could keep my job security, keep my vested years and retirement, but also spend more quality time with the kids? I had the numbers to present to him, and my mom had already signed off on the idea. We could take the financial hit temporarily; my mom would only have to watch them for less than 3 hours a day instead of 8. I could feel fulfilled, as I am keeping my career, but also not be completely worn out before I even pick up my kids. Surprising me yet again, my husband agreed.

Life changes after having kids. This is the way we’ve decided to compromise. My new contract was signed last Friday. I’m not absolutely sure yet that this is the best way to go for our family, but I am trying something that I think might work. We will see.

lunchldyd is currently on summer vacation from her job as a high school teacher. Her husband has deferred his hopes of moving into a bigger house soon because of her part-time working decision. 

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Traveling with Toddlers and a Preschooler

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Going out, Joy, Napping, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, Preschoolers, Sleep, Toddlers, Travel1 Comment

Having twin babies was overwhelming, having twin toddlers is exhausting, and having a preschooler and full time job on top of that is mentally draining. This is on a daily basis, in a confined predictable environment. So when Hubby suggested a trip away during my spring break last week, I was trepidatious, to say the least.

TravellingOur twins have never taken a trip of over a few hours at a time, we’ve never been out on vacation together as a family, and our preschooler hasn’t spent a night away since she was with Grandma when her siblings were first born almost 1.5 years ago. Suffice it to say, it’s been a long time. I also really wanted to go.

So, fully willing to accept getting no sleep, dealing with cranky children, and having no fun at all, we went… And it was GREAT! Completely exceeded all my expectations. For those contemplating travel with young multiples, it is possible. Here is what we did that I believe, contributed to a wonderful mini-vacation for us:

Location, Location, Location

We decided not to go too far, but far enough to stay overnight. Hubby’s suggestion of Legoland was perfect! Less than 2 hours away, nice hotel on site. We figured we’d give ourselves time to really explore, and we’d probably want to be taking it easy with so many young children, so I booked a two-night stay, and bought us 2-day hopper tickets.  We planned all our driving to coincide with the kids’ naps so that we’d have a nice quiet ride both ways.

Don’t Stress

Being very Type A, I knew beforehand I had to let go of some control. I had to force myself to relax my Nazi sleep schedule for the trip. I made a decision to prioritize nighttime sleep for the entire family and allow naps to be skipped/shortened for a couple of days. This was not easy for me, as I believe sleep is the foundation of everything for young children, but it was a necessity to balance the needs of everyone the trip. Obviously we knew what times the kids would all be sleepy, and sort of worked around those times (allowing twins to lay down in their stroller, taking it easy after lunch and returning to the hotel for a siesta), but for the most part I just loosely let naps be how they would.

Similarly, I only roughly planned the activities on this trip: What times we’d be driving, check-in/out times, the buffet hours, hotel entertainment events. I didn’t even know the layout of the park until we got there and explored it together. Besides a little mixup with our luggage being delivered to our room the first night (which of course was out of my control anyway), everything worked out great with my unplanned planning.

Eat at Buffets 

Our hotel stay included a breakfast buffet, and our kids ate free during the dinner buffet. Though we could have gotten dinner probably for less in the park or elsewhere, the convenience of food being an elevator ride away from our room, and the abundance of highchairs and kid food available at a place catering to children (an entire buffet section was at kid height) can’t be beat. We ate there for dinner both nights. Since breakfast was included for everyone staying at the hotel, it got to be very busy around 8:30am every morning. Not a problem for us: our kids are up and hungry by 6:30am. We ate breakfast there both mornings too.

Lunches we had in the park. As with all amusement park food, it was expensive and not the greatest. Factor in waiting for the food while your children are hungry, and you’d come to the decision to eat at a buffet whenever possible too.

Sleeping Arrangements 

When booking our reservation, I asked for a room on the top floor, away from the elevators. I knew that with so many kids staying in the hotel it would be loud, so I wanted to eliminate the noise as much as I could. I also brought a loud fan from home to use as a cover for any small noises we would make moving around the room. Again, this hotel is pretty spectacular that all their rooms are like mini-suites with a section for children that includes a bunk bed. My preschooler has never slept in a bunk before, so it was very exciting for her to look forward to being up high.

The hotel offered pack-n-plays, so I requested two of them. I was a little worried that there would be no space for them both, but going without them was not an option so we just had to wait and see. Thankfully, both cribs fit with plenty of space. We kept them at the foot of the adult bed. Knowing from traveling with their big sis at a younger age that being in an unfamiliar place might mean they would have trouble sleeping, I made sure to pack the bedding that they’re used to from home. The sheets and blankets took up almost half of the larger luggage we brought (the kids’), but it was worth it. They made not one peep either night. The fact that we all got a full night’s sleep really was the best part of this trip.

Ultimately, as with most things, I was much more worried about doing this than I should have been. I think now that I have 3 children instead of just one, I am learning to go more with the flow. Though damn expensive, this trip has taught me that some planning and the right attitude go a long way. I can’t wait for our next family vacation!

(As an aside, Legoland is such a wonderful place for young children. I would say it is perfect for kids aged 4 to 10. It is much smaller than Disneyland, easily walkable for young children without getting too tired. It was also less crowded, and if you don’t go during peak times there are no lines. Going almost anywhere with a double stroller often means a lot of maneuvering and blocking traffic, but Legoland was full of doubles, and we never had a problem getting around. Even “stroller parking” seemed plentiful. The Legoland hotel was the highlight of this trip though. Catered specifically to this age group, it had so many conveniences and amenities that made the trip super easy for us. Highly recommended.)

lunchldyd is mom to an almost-4yo and her 17mo b/g twin siblings. She is a high school teacher in a suburb of Los Angeles.

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Toddler Thursday: Mispronunciations

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Categories Development, Joy, Language, Toddler Thursday, Toddlers6 Comments

What could be cuter than the mispronunciations of toddlers?

My firstborn has always been a very verbal child. I’d consider her speech now at almost 4 to be distinct and clear, but it was so even when she first began to talk. Rarely did we not understand what she was saying, but that doesn’t mean some of her pronunciation wasn’t adorably incorrect.

Some of her first mispronunciations were not so much mispronunciations but made up words. She consistently used her own word for the purple yams my mom would bake for her that she loved so much. I don’t remember the word anymore, but it was a completely non-sensical word that sounded nothing like “yams” in Mandarin. I think she did the same for the word “hair.”

Another one of her first words was “budget.” No, not the one involving money, but this is what she called her beloved blanket for the longest time. She actually hung on to this pronunciation way after she knew how to correctly say it, I think probably because she sensed we enjoyed it so much! To this day, we still bring it up and laugh about it.

Many of these mispronunciations were so short-lived, though, that by the time I wanted to write them down, she was already pronouncing them correctly. I wish I had been able to get all of them, but we only have a few of the most memorable ones in English: some-ting (something), lolly-pot (lollipop), poof-rints (footprints), hostiple (hospital), weally/wite (really/right), lub (love), fay-bwet (favorite), sawsee (sorry), pick-mick (picnic), catta-pitta (caterpillar), gir-lull (girl), squir-lull nuts (acorns).

And her numbers were particularly charming, especially when they were out of order: “One, two, dwee, five, se-ben.” I fondly remember her favorite game at age 2: hide-and-seek with Daddy. She would count to 10 in her out-of-order way, then say, “Ready not, here come!” (And she would promptly forget whether she was the hider or seeker, so they would often both be running around looking for the other, or both be quietly hiding. Hilarious!)

To all you new parents out there, record record record! Get as much video of your cute kiddos jabbering on, because there will come a day (when your preschooler is arguing with you in fully formed sentences) you will look back on them as your most treasured memories.

lunchldyd is mom to 3 3/4 yo daughter and 15 mo b/g twins. As a busy high school teacher and mom of 3, she is constantly reminding herself to take her own advice.

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Sad/Happy

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Categories Emotion, Grief, Joy, Medical, Parenting, PregnancyTags , , , 7 Comments

I am 36 weeks pregnant. I have had a very healthy pregnancy, despite the concerns over us having twins. I see my OB and a high-risk doctor, and I have fantastic care with both offices. I have beaten the odds. My babies are doing great. I should be happy 100% of the time. I should be. When I think about my babies, I am. When I think about the struggles that so many others are going through, I just can’t be 100% happy.

Last Monday, we went in for our 35 week scan. The nurses looked at us in amazement as they looked at the ultrasounds. Heartbeats are perfect. Amniotic fluid is perfect. Both babies are practicing breathing. Then they hook me up to the monitors for 20 minutes to check their heartbeats further (to make sure they are raising and lowering as the babies move). The babies pass the NST (non-stress test) within minutes, although they keep me hooked up for the full 20 minutes anyway. The nurses can’t believe how successful a pregnancy I am having. Seriously, they stare at us because here we are at the HIGH RISK DOCTOR and we are showing signs that we are passing with flying colors. Last week, our doctor used the terms “gorgeous babies” and “hitting it out of the ballpark.” We are thrilled. They are sad that I am not delivering at their hospital, because they all want to come visit us. They are happy with our fairy-tale pregnancy, as I’m sure they don’t see many being a high-risk office.

I know that others are hurting, and it pulls me out of this dream land that I’m in. I really struggle with this mix of happiness and devastation.

My grandfather passed away last summer, and his twin brother passed away 6 months later, in February. To say that I was sad is an understatement. I had to learn how to function again without my grandfather. At least I had his twin brother as my surrogate. Losing him hurt in an entirely new way. The very next month, however, I got pregnant with our twins. Our family was in the depths of grief, yet my pregnancy and the idea of new life gave a bit of light, hope, help to recover out of the dark times.

positiveIt seems like life has a funny way of doing this. We are faced with horrific situations. Then something wonderful happens. Maybe not to us, but maybe to someone around us. It provides just a bit of light. It allows us to feel like maybe there is something positive that can happen in our lives too.

Maybe we are in such a dark place that we just can’t see it. We don’t want to see it. We aren’t ready to see it. That’s okay too. We will see the light when we are ready to. Until then, it’s okay.

Does that mean that those of us that have been privy to the light shouldn’t revel in it? I don’t know. I struggle with this daily. I want to be thrilled. And when I think of my babies, I really am thrilled. I can’t think of anything happier. But I do think of the sadness that others are feeling, and I do forget about my babies and my happiness. I do grieve. I do cry. I do want to be in that dark place too. But right now, I can’t. Right now, I have to be a mother and give these babies the best chance they can get. And that is by providing them a happy, light-filled surrounding for them to be born into.

Did I pay attention to the election this year? No, because I didn’t want to be brought down by the negative campaigns.

Do I watch the news about the devastation from the typhoon? No, as I can’t bear to hear about the loss of life as I am about to bring in two lives myself.

Can I bear to even watch Grey’s Anatomy? Barely, as I just can’t allow myself to witness that tear-jerker (even though I know they are only actors on a fictional TV show).

It doesn’t mean I don’t know they are happening. I know they are. I’m not completely shut off from the world. I know there is suffering. I know that so many friends and loved ones are suffering. So what do I do? Do I let myself be sad right now? Do I let myself be happy? Can I be both? I try to do both, and I struggle. I really do struggle. I wish I could just be 100% happy right now. I want to be for my two babies.

Life has both awful and glorious moments. If it were all terrible, we wouldn’t have a reason to face another day. If it were all incredible, we wouldn’t understand how magnificent those special moments are. Right now, my “job” is to provide a light-filled moment. I hide my achy back and sore hips. I take a shower every morning, straighten my hair, and sometimes even put on some makeup. I put on a big smile and am grateful for the gift of these babies that I have been given. I will provide the brightness for those around me, if they want it. It doesn’t mean that I am not struggling inside. I doesn’t mean that I am not hurting for them. I just know that I have allowed myself into that dark spot other times in my life. Now is my turn to help give relief to those that need it.

*You can read more about Dory on her family blog, “Doyle Dispatch.” To read more posts about Dory’s pregnancy and nursery decorating on her blog, you can see the list here.*

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Twinfant Tuesday: Joy of Your Life

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Categories Joy, Parenting, Perspective, Pregnancy, Twinfant TuesdayTags , , , , 3 Comments

It has been 3.5 months since I had Jack and Ben. It is so hard to put the last few months into words! Let’s rewind to when I first found out I was having twins. It’s actually one of my favorite memories because my husband and I were just so dumbfounded.

Ultrasound gets up and running.
Sonographer: Soooo this is your first appointment with this pregnancy, right?
Hubby and I: Yeah! (All bright eyed and giddy-like.)
Sonographer: Okay, well let me tell you what I’m seeing here. See, there are two dark spots on the screen?
Me: No way. There is no. way.
Sonographer: Well, that means there are two sacs…
Me: No way! No way! No way! No way!
Sonographer: “…and THAT means there are TWO babies.”
My husband and I just looked at each other and burst into laughter. Yes way!

I knew right then and there that the next big life event for me was underway, and with it would come everyone, their mom, and their dog telling me how hard things were going to get. It happened when I was pregnant with my first son (“Enjoy life right now because once that baby comes…!”), it happened before my husband started medical school (“Good luck being a single mom for the next 4+ years!”), and I knew it was about to happen again.

So, I buckled up and put on my realistic-peppered-with-optimistic life lenses. I knew that twins and a two-year-old were going to push me to my limits. There would be severe lack of sleep. There would be diapers upon diapers upon diapers. There would be temper tantrums. There would unavoidably be Mommy melt downs and there most certainly would be a lot of ice cream for said melt downs. And oh, by the way, how do I go grocery shopping? How do I even leave the house?? How do I even take a shower??!

But I also knew that life has a way of balancing out. Although there would be a lot of hard stuff, there would also be an overflow of joy. I figure you don’t know joy unless you know trials. And oh man, when I see my 2-year-old plant kisses on those two wide-eyed, dopey smiling, leg-kicking munchkins I’m filled with a lot of joy. I can’t imagine my life without them.

Don’t get me wrong, the last few months have most certainly not been all rainbows and butterflies. I had numerous break downs when I thought, “This is it. This is going to be the trial that beats me.” I’ll save the details of those moments for other posts.

But I can’t even explain how amazing it has been to feel my love grow for these two new baby boys. Now it’s like they’ve always been here. My family is forever better because they are in it.

So buckle up future mothers of multiples, you’re in for the joy of your life!

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Twinfant Tuesday: Why the First Year is Hard

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Categories Attitude, Breastfeeding, Feeling Overwhelmed, Joy, Mommy Issues, Parenting, Perspective, Sleep, Twinfant Tuesday, WorkingTags , , , , , , , , 9 Comments

Parenting is no cake walk, nor should it be. Raising a child to be a successful adult, regardless of how you define success, is hard work. I’m not one to shy away from labour (pun mostly accidental) but the first year after my daughters’ birth was difficult to a degree that belies words.

What hard about the first year with twinsI’ve been through a lot in the intervening years, including the dissolution of my marriage and the loss of a son I had hoped would be mine, but it is surviving that first year of twins that I wear as my badge of honour. It’s making it to J and M’s first birthday that proved to me that I could survive anything. It was knowing that I made it through that year that gave me the strength to pick myself up and brush myself off after I watched my husband abandon me, my beloved mother-in-law turn her back on me, and my sweet nephew removed from our family.

Some of what made Year One so hard was unique to our family, but many aspects of the challenge are common to new parents. Each of the reasons below could easily deserve its own post.

I Didn’t Know My Kids Yet

The biggest influence in my parenting is my children’s personalities. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses and triggers helps me parent them.

M doesn’t deal well with change or the unexpected. She tends to lash out when she’s overwhelmed. She gets grumpy when she’s hungry. She experiences the world through words and numbers, and is energized by social interaction. She thinks out loud and needs to feel heard. She knows she’s brilliant and sometimes needs help finding humility.

J’s understanding of others’ feelings is near genius. She needs to talk through her emotions and those of others, and doesn’t take it well when people try to baby her to protect her feelings. She gets lost in imaginary worlds, both on screen and in books and needs a moment to snap back into reality. She’s usually very confident, but will confess to insecurities far beyond her age. She’s a more private person than M or I are.

Why the first year of parenting is hardDuring that first year, I didn’t know these things about my children. I was getting to know them at the same time that I was learning incorporate parenting into the other responsibilities of my life. It took me days to learn that M would cry because she wanted to be held, while J would cry because she wanted to be put down. I didn’t realize that J wanted my eye contact while M wanted to hear my voice. It took a while to figure out that J preferred Daddy to burp her while M was a burpless wonder.

The shortcuts I have at my disposal now, just from knowing who my kids are, weren’t there the first year. The first year, however, was when I learned who M and J are at their core. That M was a chatterbox, I figured out by the age of 4 months. That J was aware of and mirrored my emotions, I knew by the time she was 6 months old.

Infants Can’t Speak

Babies are incredible sponges of knowledge, and they start learning the cadences of their native language(s) in utero. They don’t, however, come out talking. They can’t tell you what they want or where it hurts. They can’t tell you that they’re crying because you held them too long (J) or not long enough (M). They can’t tell you that they like to be swaddled with one arm free (J) or that their favourite song is Row, Row, Row Your Boat (M). The slow process of elimination to figure out what would make each of my children comfortable each moment of the day was exhausting, and I had it relatively easy, since my kids were remarkably unfussy.

More than once, I remember saying to one child or the other, “I don’t know what you want!” after I’d checked her diaper, fed her, held her, walked with her, bounced her, sang to her, added more layers of clothes, removed layers of clothes and tried everything else I could think of. It took me months before I realized that wanting to be within reach of Sissy was a basic need both babies shared. I don’t believe that babies “just cry.” I firmly believe that crying is a means of communicating discomfort.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by parents whose approach to their babies was like mine. They didn’t assume their infants were drinking-and-pooping blank slates lacking in personality. Like me, they learned the meanings of their children’s different cries. (Tangent: my kids used the same cries for the same things, speaking the same language of cries. Their hunger cries were similarly urgent and shrill; they had the same whiny cry for, “I want to change positions;” they had the same hiccup-y cry to indicate that they were tired. Other babies used the same repertoire of cries to mean different things. My kids’ tired cry was another baby’s hungry.)

Baby Sign was our saving grace. It doesn’t work for everyone, but at the tender age of 7 months, my itty bitty babies could tell me if wanted milkfood, more or Mama. By 9 months, they could sign please and thank you.

It Was Wartime

The US was at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, when my babies were born. They were conceived and born between my (now ex) husband’s tours in Iraq. He needed to be in a constant state of readiness. We had a general idea of when he would be expected to go overseas, but he could be called on at any time.

As a practical matter, this meant that I needed to be on call for the babies all the time. If one of them was sent home from daycare with a fever, I could try calling Daddy to see if he could pick them up, but the answer could very well be, “No.” He might be scheduled to take them to a doctor’s appointment, only to have some sort of last-minute work obligation. Our choice would be between rescheduling the appointment or my taking time off work instead. We always chose the latter. If I was with one child in the ER in the middle of the night, I needed to be ready to take the other because Daddy might get called into base in the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s a concrete example: J and M were born at 33 weeks old. A few days after they were born, my husband’s unit left Texas for California for desert training. He got to stay behind with us. When the girls were 10 days old, his army paternity leave was over and the doctors told us that they were out of the woods. Thankfully, they were no longer at risk of dying when my husband was required to join his unit. He didn’t return home until several weeks after our girls came home from the NICU. I figured out how to care from them solo before he made it home. His dad had been staying with me but needed to go back to Washington State well before my ex returned.

Once Daddy left for Iraq, of course, there was no question about who would take care of the babies. Sleep when the babies sleep? I’m sure that advice works for moms who are home with their singletons, but it wasn’t for this working mama of twins when the twins’ sleep schedules got out of sync! I slept while I breastfed.

Kids are Enormously Expensive

Our daycare payments for two infants came out to be more than our mortgage. Thanks to the 10% discount on the second child, we “only” paid $1650 a month for childcare. That was 7 years ago. Inflation has taken its toll, so I can only imagine what the cost is now.

Daycare took up my salary, so we had to live on my husband’s. Trust me when I tell you that soldiers don’t earn a whole lot. We couldn’t afford to contribute to our retirement that first year, and that was okay.

I cut corners where I could. I made my own baby food to avoid baby food costs. I breastfed for as long as I could, which helped cut down on formula costs. I would have loved to cloth diaper, but our daycare required disposables. It was a while before I discovered Amazon Subscribe and Save, and I kicked myself for all the money I could have saved.

We bought things second-hand. Our girls’ high chairs were hand-me-downs from a twin mom at work. I returned the high chair we received as a baby shower gift and spent the money on formula. I watched my Freecycle list and pounced on clothes and toys others were getting rid of.

I didn’t eat out. If people at work wanted to lunch with me, they could buy something  and I would bring food from home. My splurge was an occasional $2.14 meal from Wendy’s.

Feeling like I couldn’t afford the occasional babysitter was scary. Budgeting without any wiggle room was awful. After a promotion at work, things became less tight. Daycare costs fell as the girls got older. Although summer camp pricing is comparable to infant care, it’s only for 3 months of the year.

I spent the extra pay that my ex got for being in combat on a lawncare service and a biweekly cleaning lady.

We were incredibly fortunate to have military health insurance. No premiums. No deductible. No co-pays, except (at the time) $3 for generic prescriptions and $10 for name brand. The girls’ birth, complete with ambulance ride, C-section and NICU time cost us $6. I had two prescriptions for painkillers.

If we’d have normal medical coverage, I honestly don’t know how we would have made ends meet. I feel like we had a decent middle class income. When you crunch the numbers, it’s a little insane.

I Had to Learn to Let Go

The perfectionist in me got slapped around, and hard, by that first year. I had to let go of all my highfalutin goals of motherhood and dig down deep to decide what really mattered. Did I want to read to perfectly clean babies with lullabies gently playing in the background in a neat and tidy home where all the laundry was folded and get a shower every day? Sure I did. Was that going to happen? No way. Not the first year.

I had the TV on. I dressed myself and the kids straight out of the clean laundry hamper. I ate pre-prepared meals. I slept on my lunch break at work, right on the floor of my office. My social calendar consisted of phone calls cut off mid-sentence and life in the blogosphere.

Being someone who processes through the written word, I devised a parenting credo to carry me through. I set achievable goals and didn’t look more than 2 weeks out. I learned humility and prioritization. I learned that being a super mom has nothing to do with being SuperMom.

Breastfeeding is Hard. Breastfeeding Two is Harder

I’ve told you my breastfeeding story recently, but both breastfeeding and formula-feeding are hard.

My Reproductive Years are My Career-Building Years

I came to conclusion that there wasn’t enough of me to meet my parenting ambitions and my career ambitions. That understanding didn’t come quickly, but it did come easily and organically. I spend my time at home managing children; I don’t have any desire to manage adults at work. Fortunately, since my girls were infants, my workplace has begun to allow for career paths that don’t lead to management. At the time, though, I made peace with motherhood and my military marriage costing me career progression. I liked my job and still do, but I would never again be a superstar.

I Need Sleep

We all need sleep, and there isn’t much to be found when you’re raising kids. My babies didn’t sleep through the night until they were well over a year old. I somehow managed to survive on 3-5 hours of interrupted sleep per night. I’m sure I could have been a much better parent if I weren’t constantly exhausted. It’s a miracle that I didn’t have an accident. I fell asleep while driving to work more than once.

Did I ever tell you about the time I showed up to work with my pants on inside out? Or the time I forgot to button my shirt after nursing and needed my daughters’ teacher to tell me to put my boob away before I got back on the road? Sleep deprivation does that.

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re sleep-deprived. It’s hard to have hope. I would say that the lack of the sleep is the biggest challenge of the first year with a new child or children.

“Wife” and “Mother” are Distinct Roles

This is a huge topic, but suffice it to say that being a wife can take as much energy, time and effort as being mother. The two are not the same thing. My co-parenting relationship with my husband had little overlap with our marital relationship. It’s easy to get so focused on meeting your new babies’ needs together to forget that there are other parts to your marriage.

A C-Section is Major Abdominal Surgery

For those of us who have had caesarean births, the recovery required seriously complicates the first days. Perhaps we can’t lift our kids and it’s painful to nurse them because they kick the incision. Perhaps you cannot physically walk to the NICU to see your baby. I may have pulled out my stitches a few times in my efforts to get to my babies. A C-section may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not major.

If ever someone tries to tell you to suck up the pain, remind them that the doctor pulled your uterus (which she’d just sliced open to remove a human being) out of your body to examine it before putting it back and sewing you up.

I’ve never had a vaginal birth, so I honestly can’t speak to how that recovery process might impact the first few days with your baby.

Hormones

There’s a reason that post-partum depression and psychosis exist as medical conditions. The changes that your body is going through as it goes from your pregnant to your non-pregnant state can wreak havoc on your brain chemistry. This is no flippant, “it’s just hormones” issue. Post-partum psychosis can be fatal.

It’s Completely Worth It

I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat. If I had the financial capacity, I would love another child. I’d love another set of twins. You know what? Hand me a set of newborn triplets. I’m in my element with babies. I love how they sound and how they smell and how they act. I love the way a baby will grasp my finger, babble to himself or seek out her own feet. Crying doesn’t faze me, although it has been known to make me lactate. I love that I can love on a baby without any fear of over-coddling him. I love the feeling of complete trust that a baby has when he’s sleeping in my arms.

(Seriously, I’m a baby whisperer. Ask Wiley.)

That first year gave me everything I needed to be able to figure this parenting thing out.

Is/was the first year hard? What made it (or kept it from being) hard? What did you learn about yourself and you babies?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Happy Mom

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I have started my own “Happiness Project”. Fans of Gretchen Rubin’s books will recognize the term: I am working to become aware of what ideas and habits make me happy and will in turn make for a happier family. I have already incorporated many of her suggestions such as singing my kids awake in the morning, paying attention to small parenthood moments, always kissing my spouse goodbye. Only, just now–as I folded laundry, listened to my husband bang away at a home improvement project, and watch my children alternate between playing and yelling at each other–did my steps towards happiness crystallize in my mind as a formal project.

All three of my kids are in school this year, which gives me a bit more margin in my day, some time to breathe. What I am learning is that I, as an adult, crave certain routines throughout the day in order to be a great parent. That my happy consists of getting up before my husband and children, having my first cup of coffee by myself, quiet, reading. These 30 minutes of peace set my day on the right track. Remember, my kids are older, and I didn’t start this practice when I had a singleton toddler and infant twins!

Sunrise from my kitchen window.

Another daily routine that ensures my happiness is having my dinner cooked and in the fridge waiting to be warmed up by 3pm (more details on how I get this done in a future post!) What started as a survival strategy to make sure my husband and I ate a nutritious meal during our seasons of colic, preschool 5pm witching hour, and now after-school sports and activities, has served me well over the last nine years of parenting.

It has taken me years of parenting to figure out what daily routines work for my family. Yes, every parenting book will give you a strategies and suggestions for your children, but what about you ideas to take care of you–the caregiver? Sometimes the standard suggestion of “a night out” is not enough. What do you need to have happen during the day to make it through? Parent self-care is often an afterthought, and it was for me for so many years. But our family life is much smoother when I have put just a few of my needs into our daily routine. Books and blogs inspire and validate these  my ideas. I highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s and Christine Carter’s books on happiness as a place to start.

I wish I had been self-aware of my happiness and needs for routines when I had younger children at home all day–I made so many mistakes! When our kids were toddlers, my friend proudly wore a t-shirt that said “Happy Mom.” How true! We all need to have happy moms!

Have you started your own happiness project? If not, take a brief, quiet moment to think about what pieces of your daily routine you can add, delete, or tweak to make you a happier parent. Let me know how it works out.

Leslie H. is a tired but happy mom to three loud, active, adventurous children, two of which happen to be twins.

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