Making Room for More

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Every mother worries how her first-born will adapt to life with a new baby. How can we quantify and plan for the way our hearts expand to supply enough love for more babies? When preparing for twins, I wondered how bad it would be to bring twins into a family that already housed a three-year-old.

It turned out not to be a matter measured as, “how bad,” but more “how different.” From the beginning, we were keenly aware of how important it would be, during those first few weeks, to give her a role to play as big sister, and to keep up on our promise to love her. Love comes in cuddles, extra helpings of dessert, shared bubble baths, movie nights and special walks together, at least when one is three years old.

The First Days at Home

My husband and I kept a close eye on how our oldest handled the transition. It was important to involve her in as many of the new changes as possible, so we did: She bottle-fed, sang to them, changed diapers, and drew pictures to decorate their nursery. Anytime a visitor came with a gift for the babies, we made sure to express our gratitude, but not evoke much fanfare if there wasn’t also a gift for the new big sister. This was the beginning of our learning the lesson of being even-Steven with everything in a family with multiple children.

bigsister1

One-on-One Time

We chose to do a combination of direct breastfeeding and bottle-feeding pumped milk and formula, which gave my husband and I some free time to spend one-on-one with our oldest girl. This. Was. KEY. Honestly, having a energetic three-year-old was often more work than having twinfants. She did not care if we were sleep-deprived, and she had more needs to be met than ever before. Initially, this intimidated me, and fed my worry about how I would ever have enough time and energy to satisfy each daughter.

Each day, I took a moment or two to capitalize on time together. If she woke before the twins, we would enjoy a quiet breakfast together, just us two. If the twins happened to nap at the same time, I would take her for a walk, or a quick trip into town. If all were awake, I would pile everyone onto my lap and read books, letting my oldest have a chance to ‘read’ to her sisters.

bigsister3

Let Their Bond Grow Organically

I watched my oldest with our twins and recognized there was a new dynamic in the family that required very little from me. New sister relationships were forming, and I moved out of the way. Sometimes, she was too rough with them, and they would cry or whimper in response. Rather than scold her, I watched her face process the twins’ reaction, and she learned how to better handle them. Giving her the space to learn how to be a big sister to twins on her own has given her the confidence to forge ahead, to the beat of her own drum.

She has learned when to shut them out (kindly), because she needs to be alone and doesn’t want to be a big sister sometimes. That’s her prerogative, and rightly so. In turn, the twins have learned to idolize their big sister, and today at age three themselves, they are elated when they are invited to play with her.

We also let her paint on their faces; It was non-toxic and washable!

bigsister4

When Our Hands Were Full

There were, of course, times I was busy feeding the twins, or rocking them to sleep, and I couldn’t physically respond to our oldest’s requests. I would do my best to explain I could help her with my words, but not my hands. I would sing songs if she had a tantrum, I would play word games if she was amenable. I even took to setting up a pile of stuffed animals beside me as I nursed, so I could throw them at her if she was getting into something she wasn’t supposed to!

Telling her, “I’m sorry, mama’s busy feeding” was heartbreaking and, I’ll be honest, is a guilt that doesn’t go away, although it changes as they grow older. I never feel like I am giving each of my (now four) girls everything they need at all times. How can I possibly? I cannot raise four girls with 24/7 individual attention from their parents, but I am happily raising four girls who have established a true sisterhood. They have learned from infancy the values of cooperating with others, empathy, shared joy, and patience.

Sarah is the mother to four girls, two of whom are identical twins Hailey and Robin. They were born in the Yukon in a very small hospital at 35 weeks, and though they were small, they were mighty. She now lives in Ontario, where her high school sweetheart husband works very hard, and she stays home with the girls, freelance reporting on the side. In her past life, she was a journalist who covered everything from fast-paced federal politics to cats stuck in trees. Her writing has appeared in local newspapers and magazines, and in national publications like the Globe and Mail and ParentsCanada Magazine. She is a yogi, a mediocre cook, an awesome Beyonce dance move imitator, and an avid blogger at Cure for Boredom.

Twinfant Tuesday: Are Newborn Twins Aware of Each Other?

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Mothers of infant twins sometimes ask when they can expect their babies to start interacting with each other. Anecdotally speaking, it appears that this is yet another thing that varies wildly between different sets of twins. It seems quite common for a newborn infant to seem quite unaware of the existence of his or her twin.

My monozygotic daughters, though, always appeared aware of each other. They were separated for 20 days after birth. As soon as J left the NICU to join her twin M at home, she made it perfectly clear that she was aware of her sister, at some level.

I placed both babies on a blanket on the floor, a few inches apart.

Newborn twins, placed a few inches apart, find that expanse to be far too wide for comfort.

After a diaper change, J stretched and wriggled…

Newborn twins, reunited after their stays in the NICU, seem to seek each other out.

…and wriggled and stretched, until she was squished up against her sister. Only then did she fall asleep.

Newborn twins seek each out the comfort of their wombmate.

In nearly every photograph I have of M and J together their first few months, their heads are turned toward each other.

These weeks-old twins turn toward each other instinctively.They both liked to fall asleep holding onto Sister’s hair. As you might imagine, this didn’t often end well. I took to placing a fuzzy blanket above their heads when they were particularly stubborn, to give them both something to hold that didn’t also pull on the other’s scalp.

When did your multiples seem to become aware of each other?

Toddler Thursday: Relating to Other Siblings

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I dreamed of my three girls playing together as I incubated my twins, conjuring images of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. They would join their big sister and embark on a lifetime of adventures in adorable rompers. I took notice of sisters at the park, studying their bonds and dreaming of how close-knit my girls would be. Shortly after the twins were born, I found myself pregnant again, and gave birth to another girl. A houseful of ladies. Feelings. Hormones. Hairbrushes.

Though we have four children, we have no middle child, and that has made a big difference in how they relate to one another. Hailey and Robin, our identical twin girls, have such a unique, close relationship with each other that they don’t fit the typical description of a neglected middle child. There isn’t (yet) much competition between the girls, and so their accomplishments are celebrated by their siblings as though they are all teammates. They also coalesce in relative harmony by fulfilling roles that have developed organically.

mamaread1

I could tell in the months after the twins were born that my oldest desperately needed a role, a more solid identity. Her family became a five-some and the twin babies were a novelty to every guest who visited. She quickly became the leader. As the twins grew, began talking and moving, big sister was there to guide the play, teach them new tricks and show them boundaries. She may have delighted in kicking them out of her bedroom a little too fervently, but she found her stride as the leader.

When the youngest girl was born, Hailey and Robin were still too young to grasp the concept, but our oldest found a comrade in arms. Her role as leader and the baby’s role as the ‘other singleton’ fused a bond that rivals the twins. Big sister and littlest sister have become two peas in a pod, leaving Hailey and Robin to happily continue forging their special twin connection.

mamaswim1

Our twin girls share a closeness far deeper than a sister connection. I’m sure as the girls grow, the singletons will experience feeling left out of that special closeness. Like every tribulation in parenting, we’ll tackle that when it arises using empathy and respect. Most of the time, our daily (mis)adventures are a scene of four girls, not divided into teams, but united as a foursome.

We have tried to let the oldest be the leader, because the younger ones delight in idolizing her, and falling into line under her command. We might let the baby get away with more (we’re exhausted after just going through it all with twins, for goodness’ sakes!), but her big sisters seem to enjoy doting on her as well. The twins continue to attract attention wherever we go, and their sisters are there to put them on display and chat to interested observers.

I’m not sure to what I should credit the closeness between these four girls, but I suppose that is part of the magic to sibling relationships, isn’t it?

SarahNSarah is the mother to four girls, two of whom are identical twins Hailey and Robin. They were born in the Yukon in a very small hospital at 35 weeks, and though they were small, they were mighty. She now lives in Ontario, where her high school sweetheart husband works very hard, and she stays home with the girls, freelance reporting on the side. In her past life, she was a journalist who covered everything from fast-paced federal politics to cats stuck in trees. Her writing has appeared in local newspapers and magazines, and in national publications like the Globe and Mail and ParentsCanada Magazine. She is a yogi, a mediocre cook, an awesome Beyonce dance move imitator, and an avid blogger at Cure for Boredom.

The Twin Bond and School

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One twin starts to feel sick herself at the prospect of going to school while her sister stays home - and it's not for any lack of love for school! - How Do You Do It?

My daughter M stayed home from school today.

I’m pretty sure her immune system caved in the aftermath of Texas-wide high stakes standardized testing. It appears that M has more in common with me than just our tendency towards perfectionism and gift of the gab. During high school and college, I invariably started running a fever immediately after that last of my final exams, having seemingly exhausted all my immune energies. I did the same after completing my Masters thesis.

The STAAR tests left this bright and high-performing third grader sick from the stress.Even though both my daughters are excellent test-takers, and have aced all their practice tests, the general atmosphere of stress got the better of M. My daughters reported that in the past children have been sent home the day before the tests, after throwing up from the stress. As M wisely noted, when reporting to me that science and social studies were tabled in the run-up to these math and reading tests, “The STAAR is just getting in the way of my learning.” I’ve been looking forward to these tests being over so that the teachers can get back to teaching.

M woke herself up coughing on Saturday morning, following a delightful school field trip we attended the day before. She was most pathetic, but perked up over the next few hours once she had a good breakfast and plenty of fluids. She seemed well enough to attend her best friend’s birthday party that afternoon, but come bedtime, she was warm to the touch and complaining of aching limbs.

On Sunday, the cough continued and was joined by a runny nose. Although the fever stayed away, the headache she complained of in the evening made me decide to keep her home on Monday. Her twin J asked if she could stay home to care for her sister and I responded with a straightforward, “No.” Both J and I had runny noses, although Austin allergies could have very well been to blame. We got into a rather detailed conversation about the nonspecific immune system, which I enjoyed thoroughly. J complained of no other symptoms….

Then morning came. I asked J to get ready for school. She brushed her teeth and then remembered that M would be staying home. I saw the realization dawn on her face and she suddenly got very pale.

“I don’t feel good, Mommy. I have a headache and an everything ache and I think I have a fever.”

I checked J and felt nothing approaching a fever.

“But I’m sick, Mommy. I’m queasy. I don’t think I should go to school.”

I told J that if she continued to feel ill, she could ask to see the school nurse, who would call me if she needed to come home. I was quite certain, though, that her queasiness was more to do with being without her sister than fighting off a microbe. After all, it was she who felt most strongly that she needed to be in the same classroom as her twin.

“But mom,” she explained, quite patiently, “the nurse will only send me home if I have a fever. What if I need to come home with no fever?”

Against the protestations of the usually very reasonable J, I loaded both girls in the car to go to school. M sensibly suggested that we switch their booster locations so that J would be able to exit the car in the school drop-off lane without having to climb over her sister. For entirety of our short drive, J attempted to illustrate how genuinely ill she was, coughing dramatically and clutching her belly. I told her that I was completely convinced that both she and I were fighting off whatever had rendered M unwell, but that our immune systems were up to the task.

I was struck by the contrast between this and M’s reaction to J staying home sick earlier in the school year. M was concerned about her sister, of course, but it never occurred to her to miss school. She certainly didn’t feel ill at the thought.

As soon as we got home, M headed to the bathroom. She washed her hands and opened that door saying, “Hey J! Let’s play Webkinz…. Oh. I forgot.” She was able to laugh at her own forgetfulness. She and I spent much of the morning playing pretend with my “grandchildren”.

Mommy and daughter play pretend.
This is Balance, my grandson. Or perhaps grandcat. He knows he’s a cat and likes to groom and bunny-kick his siblings, but he can talk and is getting lessons in literary analysis from his 8-year-old mother.

M didn’t mention J again until after lunchtime, when she asked how many hours it had been since we dropped her off. When we picked J up from school, I asked her how she’d felt. She said that around 1 pm she had developed a headache and gone to see the nurse, who had told her she had no fever and recommended a good night’s sleep. J’s symptoms could very well be entirely physical, but I suspect a strong emotional component to them.

In the car, on the way home, the girls exchanged notes about their days. J told M that science was back on the menu at school and that they were working on the life cycle. M was disappointed to had missed the lesson. J had picked up M’s homework and was glad to report that they didn’t need to write a reading summary this week. M was disappointed. She loves homework and gave herself some today while she was home with me.

M told J about her day, and noted that she couldn’t find her tiny stuffed hippo, Oliver, anywhere. “Bad parenting!” J responded with a giggle. Oliver was located minutes after our return home, after I insisted that the girls’ dirty clothes make it inside, rather than in the general vicinity of, the laundry basket.

Today reminded me of the time when J, home with an ear infection around 6 months old, cried inconsolably for hours. I was convinced that she’d ruptured her eardrum, but the doctor saw evidence of nothing beyond run-of-the-mill ear infection. As soon as I picked M up from daycare, where I’d taken her to be able to focus on J, J calmed down. She had been missing her sister, not crying from pain.

J is very protective of her sister, at least when they’re not arguing. M adores J, but sees no reason to mother her, instead projecting her maternal instincts on her stuffed toys. Identical they may be, but their relationship isn’t particularly symmetrical. I don’t think it needs to be.

How do your twins react to being apart?

House Monkey Update – Donna

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In this springtime update, entrepreneur Donna talks about the  constant give and take of raising a family, nurturing a marriage, and running a business.

This morning, it’s cold & raining outside. Clearly, it is still very chilly here in the northeast yet I’m sitting here (symbolically wearing my flip flops) thinking about Spring.

The most basic thing in nature is birth, and Spring is always filled with birth. This time around I don’t have a round belly full of babies, but rather a brain bursting at the seams with a vision and a desire to birth our House Monkey dream. Over the last two weeks, my nights have been filled with sketching out the House Monkey website. What should it look like? What information needs to be on the website now (while we are still developing House Monkey itself)?

The list of thoughts go on and on. I realized I needed to gear up and get that website up and running because our magnets (promised to our backers from KickStarter) have the URL address on it… yet the website isn’t up yet. Nightly STRESS!

My days have been spent bursting at the seams with a scientific-based technical project from our day job. Another “birthing” process, but for one of my favorite clients. The guy is smart and I respect him significantly. It has been a great experience: climbing challenging corporate-manufactured “hills” with him to customize this unique product Mike and I have developed together for his organization.

Every day that I work with this client, it helps me realize that people make all the difference in the world. I believe any experience can be viewed as good or bad. I read in a book not long ago that all experiences are like a train that rides on 2 tracks. The good parts of the experience are the right track and bad are on the left track.

Which track we look at from inside the train is up to us. I do believe in this concept but I’ve noticed over time that if I like and respect someone, it is easier to look at the right track all the time! I’m feeling blessed with our work projects right now, despite the stress. I know we worked hard over the last two years to be here, but I can’t help but feel that it is all a gift.

Currently, the work-life balance seems in check (and that does indeed vary from time to time) but 5pm until bedtime has been running smoothly the last two weeks (draining, but running smoothly).

If you read Mike’s last post, you also know we were forced to call a “family meeting” to address the “spring slide” (slide in grades, slide in chores etc.). Thank goodness it seems to have worked. Perhaps it’s why our last two weeks have been smoother! Maybe the kids had a “re-birth” of their own. Or want their iPads back.

The why doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Mike and I are very consciously sticking to our guns with this discipline. So not easy to do. Do you ever feel like you’re the one being punished when you have to discipline your kids? That’s how we feel. Sometimes it is so much easier to give in and let them watch TV.

On the last day of school before Spring Break, my eldest, who gets home an hour earlier than the others, is pitching in at the office. Before Spring re-birth comes Spring cleaning: make room for the new. He did his two weeks without the iPad and now I told him he’d earned back his electronics 2 days early with his efforts! Is that cheating? Am I not sticking to my guns? Or am I giving him the opportunity to make things right?

More importantly, how do handle 3 other little faces walking thru the door in a few minutes who haven’t had the same opportunity? Someone tell the basement that its floor may reappear in a couple of hours!!!! It just depends on how badly they want their stuff back!

So the work-family life balance is for the most part in check, but the work-life-marriage balance has definitely been rough lately.

Our work and family time constraints are draining our couple time. Folks make me laugh when they say, “You see him all day long”! Nothing could be further from the truth. Mike goes in the man cave basement office to work, while I am in my upstairs office. Sometimes we connect in passing in the kitchen when we go grab some grub, but we usually take lunch back to my office. (We’ve gotta stop doing that!) When we do see each other, it is scheduled meetings to discuss work content. Other employees are usually in attendance OR it’s to discuss the family or child “problem du jour”.

Mike already mentioned our trip planned for our 15 year anniversary. It cracks me up how casually he mentions it.

The last time we went away alone was our 10 year anniversary. My parents took the kids (the twins were only 2 at the time) and we went to Bermuda. What Mike seems to forget is how I panicked. It took a lawyer and new wills just to convince me to leave my babies. Who gets the kids was such a deep question I didn’t want to think about.

Then there was the plane ride. Know that even though I fly all the time for work, I hate it! Many years ago, I stood on 7th avenue in NYC and watched a plane crash into a building and it still bugs me. Add on 4 little kids that mean more than the world to me AND add on both of their parents on the same flight! It was awful for me. You know it’s bad when the flight attendant offers to buy you a drink! But we got there and spent 4 glorious days in the sun.

I remember thinking (very guiltily) I could use one more day. The plane ride home was easier – and those 4 days bought me at least a year of sane parenting and a renewed connection to my husband! So yes, I agreed to a 15 year anniversary trip for my parenting sanity and for the ability to reconnect with Mike. But that doesn’t mean I am not already feeling guilty about a trip that is months away.

How do you make time to connect with your spouse?

Single Parenting, Solo Parenting, Co-Parenting and That Frightening Place in Between

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In August 2009, just before I recognized that my marriage had turned down the path that would lead to its end in divorce three years later, I wrote this post:

My husband L is a US soldier. This means that he’s overseas, 15 months at a time, about every other year. Right now, he’s living in Korea. We have seven long months left before we get to see him again. He misses me and the kids, of course, and we miss him terribly.

Because of L’s frequent absences, people sometimes refer to me as a single mother. It usually comes in the form, “Wow, your kids are wonderful, but they’re a handful, and to think you manage as a single mother!” I accept and appreciate the compliment. I object to the label.

I take exception to being called a single mother because it’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to L, who is an involved, and loving father. It’s also disrespectful to all the single parents out there. I certainly couldn’t pull off single parenthood!

Because L’s job takes him away from us about half the time, I do tend to make the day-to-day decisions in raising M and J. However, whenever possible, we make decisions together. If I can’t contact L before I have to make a decision, we’ll discuss it afterward, and adjust as needed. Even for the tiny things that don’t merit discussion, I take into account our joint philosophy on parenting, not just my own opinions. I would have never had children by myself, or with anyone other than L. He gives me balance. He makes me a competent mother, even when he’s geographically distant, by caring as much about our children’s well-being as I do, by being their advocate, by letting me know when I’m doing things right, and showing me how to do them better.

To call me a single mother implies that I do not raise my children in partnership with my husband. I recognize that there are plenty of parents out there who are no longer in a romantic relationship or marriage with the other parent of their child, but still partner in raising their child. Perhaps our parenting arrangement isn’t all that different from theirs. However, I don’t think that this is what people mean when they refer to me as a single mother.

Parenting with a partner is easier than parenting alone. Sure, partnering takes work and commitment, whether or not you see your co-parent on a daily basis. There are constant compromises and course corrections. Unlike a single parent, though, we have two incomes. I know that L will eventually come home, and I can take a nice long bubble bath without a worry in the world. I know that he will see to the girls’ spiritual upbringing, which I cannot. I know that if anything were to happen to me, my daughters would be all right.

So please, don’t give me credit I don’t deserve. Tell the next single parent you see that you recognize that they’re doing the most difficult job in the world alone, and probably very well.

I was reminded of this post by Elizabeth‘s comment on lunchldyd’s post earlier. What a difference a few years makes!

My main point remains the same. Taking care of the day-to-day business of parenting by oneself for a while with a co-parent in the picture is completely different than single parenting. I prefer the term “solo parenting” for that temporary period of flying solo while a co-parent is away. However, being married doesn’t guarantee that you have a co-parent. A few months after I wrote the post I quoted above, I realized that nothing I could do could get my now-ex to engage with the family. It would be another 3 years before he left us, but I had no emotional or childcare partner during the slow death of our marriage. I did still have his income contributing to the family, but I had entered a realm adjacent to that of the single parenting world.

Parenting by yourself for a little while doesn't make you a single parent, but being married doesn't guarantee you a co-parent either. One divorced mom looks back on the evolution of her parenting identity.

That shadow realm was far tougher than my current reality as a card-carrying single mom. (If being the Single Parent Coordinator for Multiples of America doesn’t grant me a membership card, I don’t know what would!) I was trying to rescue a broken marriage. I still had to budget for the needs and habits of another adult. I had to try to shelter my children from their father’s emotional unavailability. And I had to try to raise them in his faith, not my own, without any participation from him.

Yes, things are tight on the money front for us, but not because of the loss of my ex’s salary. The financial straits we’re in just now were born of the expenses of our custody battle.

For me—and I speak for myself alone—single parenthood is the easiest of the three modes: co-parenting, transition, and single parenthood. That whole thing about needing L to raise the kids Christian? Pshaw! Just yesterday, J asked him what Good Friday was and he couldn’t remember. So I, the atheist parent, was once again the one to explain that it was the day Jesus was crucified and it’s “good” not because of his suffering and death, but because of his willingness to bear the consequences of everyone else’s mistake rendered it holy. I still get input from those I respect who know and love my kids, but this is a far larger community than my ex would allow when we were together: teachers, mentors, friends and church members. Single parenting is far less lonely a path for us than co-parenting was.

So, what are you? A co-parent? A single parent? Or are you in that treacherous realm in between? 

Twins Separating Spontaneously

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Categories Christianity, Development, Identical, Parenting Twins, Relationships, SiblingsTags , , 5 Comments

The Togetherness

My identical twin daughters, age nearly 9, are going through a major relationship realignment. They’ve always been very twinny twins, much to my initial surprise. They still sleep in the same bed, despite nominally having separate ones. They’ve asked to be in the same classroom for the past two years and foreseeable future. They identify as twins above all.

These twin sisters have always wanted to be together.

Don’t get me wrong. They’ve always had their unique personalities and interests. M is the chatterbox. J is a talker, but she has moments of thoughtful reflection. M doesn’t. M prides herself on being a mathematician and loves to perform feats of mental mathematics for fun. J likes math too, but prefers mathematical concepts to hard numbers. J is enormously protective of her sister, I suspect at least in part because of her frontonasal dysplasia, whereas M is surprised on the rare occasion that J’s feelings are hurt. M is cautious, while J is my risk-taker.

J and M with mommy as toddlers.

They both love to read and are intensely social. They both have fabulous senses of humour and a love of wordplay. They’re both smart and insightful and self-righteous and persistent and messy and forgetful and my favourite people in the entire world.

The Divergence

I’ve always said that I would support my children’s religious choices and do my best to educate them to enable them to make their own decisions. I’m an atheist, but have raised my daughters within a Christian community and with age-appropriate knowledge of the Bible.

For the past 9 years, I have been taking my children to church. Just over two years ago, they chose the church to attend, and thereby their own denomination too. They’ve attended the Kids’ Kingdom Sunday school program and developed deep friendships. They both feel very much at home there.

Or rather, they both felt very much at home there.

At age 8, identical twins start down different faith paths as one choose Christianity and the other atheism.

This week, M informed me that she is atheist. She’s been thinking about her beliefs for about 6 months, starting during the period during which we were apart. She is very much at peace with her choice. Her biggest concern was how to break the news to her sister. I told M that as long as she was honest and respectful of both J’s feelings and beliefs, it would be okay.

That same night, with very little fanfare, M decided that she was too hot and wanted to sleep alone. J wanted snuggles and crawled into my bed. For the first time that I can remember, M slept in a room alone. J has done so before, but never M. She’s growing up and growing independent. It struck me that with that small step and the much larger faith decision, M is started to tread her own path, not in active contrast to her sister, as she’s done with math, but spontaneously, organically, and age-appropriately.

J took the news of M’s atheism surprisingly well. When I asked if she wanted to talk to me about how she was feeling, J retorted that I wouldn’t understand. I reminded her of the church community members who would understand and would be available for her to talk to. She said she would call them after she’d had some time to think.

And so it begins, the gentle individuation of my monozygotic daughters. I had feared that this tearing apart would wait until the teenage years, when my daughters will additionally be forging identities separate from me and the family unit. Perhaps this will make the teenage years a little less terror-inspiring? Or at least only as terrifying as that of their singleton peers?

Have your multiples been independent from the start? Or has their inter-dependency evolved over time?

Resenting Gifted Children

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Profoundly Gifted

My identical twin daughters, now nearly 9 years old, have both been identified as being profoundly gifted. This is an extraordinary, well, gift. School comes easily to them and they both love to learn. They’re voracious readers, and they retain everything. They’re more than happy to accompany me to public astronomy lectures, and “let’s research that” is a phrase that’s said at least once a day in our home.

When it comes to discipline, I can reason with M and J. At 8 years old, they are intellectually capable of understanding it when I explain the psychological underpinnings of my approach to setting boundaries and expectations for them.

“You have to be strict with us,” my daughter J once told me, “so that we’ll be able to make good decisions when we’re grownups. I know you have rules because you love us.”

Kids

Despite their intellectual abilities, they are still little girls. They have to be nagged to floss and brush their teeth every night. They get their feelings hurt on the playground and can spend hours playing pretend. They believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They needed me to inform them that Star Wars was, in fact, not a historical account.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The opening crawl to Star Wars.

The vast majority of people they come across are incredibly supportive. While often initially taken aback by the insights in my daughters’ observations, most friends and strangers alike will adjust their conversational expectations and meet J and M where they are. Their best friend A almost always introduces them as “my friends who are super smart, but they’re really fun too!”

Resentment Demonstrated

Unfortunately, some people are intimidated by my daughters’ giftedness. Even more unfortunately, some of these people are adults whom M and J love and want to trust. They don’t always handle their resentment well.

J’s recent Pi Day project led her to find out how to calculate the volume of a sphere. While asking Google for the formula may seem rather mundane to those of us with high school geometry under our belts, 8-year-old J was beside herself with excitement. She told everyone she was close to about her plan, and nearly everyone caught her enthusiasm.

One person, though, wounded her deeply. This adult, on hearing her plan to calculate the volume of the sun, repeatedly told her that this exercise would be beyond her abilities. J attempted to demonstrate that she was prepared, explaining what π was, describing what a volume is, talking about her love of exponents. Her conversational partner was having none of it. Finally, the person found something J didn’t know to put the final nail in the conversational coffin: order of operations. J was devastated.

I explained to J that the concept of order of operations was something that she knew inherently, just not by that name. Some people, including the adult who’d so hurt her, needed to be taught the steps in which to perform stacked mathematical operations. To her, it was as obvious as the existence of negative numbers. I told J that I was confident in her ability to take on her project.

She and I elected to talk through her sadness with her friend A’s mom, who may be one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. J poured out her heart. In short, she felt that the adult in question hadn’t listened to her. Even as she explained what she already knew, the adult had told her that she couldn’t possibly know enough, trying to teach J things she had already demonstrated understanding.

A’s mom recommended that J tell the person who had hurt her how she felt, but that it was okay to protect her heart.

A’s mom pointed out that the adult might have been intimidated by J’s knowledge. This person may have been rusty on their geometry and been unwilling to confess their own ignorance. Our dear friend told J that she didn’t understand all of the mathematical details that J had spelled out when explaining her project, but that she was excited that J was excited and was proud that J was so comfortable with math. A’s mom knows her own strengths, and isn’t particularly concerned that math isn’t one of them.

Coming to an Understanding

While talking to me and A’s mom about the incident made J’s immediate pain manageable, it continued to haunt her for over a week. She was visibly sad. While it was pretty clear to me that the person who had hurt her had done so out of personal insecurity, J felt that she had done something wrong.

I decided it was time to turn this into an academic exercise. While M played on my iPad, J and I sat down together at the computer. We wrote down what J was feeling:

This adult doesn’t want to listen to what I have to say. They don’t think I’m smart enough to understand π.

Next, I encouraged her to come up with some alternate explanations.

This adult can’t hear very well.

This adult was having a bad day.

This adult doesn’t understand what I say. They don’t understand π.

Next, J wrote in her observations from the conversation. The only explanations that they all fit was the last one: The adult didn’t understand the math and was embarrassed to admit it.

Over the last days of Spring Break, J perked up. I asked her how she was feeling about the whole situation.

“I learned a new expression,” she told me. ‘Misery loves company.’ It means that grumpy people want everyone around them to be grumpy too. I won’t keep grumpiness company.”

I’m sure this is only one of many incidents in which my children’s giftedness will brings challenges their way, in addition to making many things come easier to them than it does to many of their peers. I wish I could protect my girls from hurtful situations like these, but part of me is glad that they’re dealing with them now, while I can still guide them towards a place of peace. As J said at the top of this post, she and her sister will need to make good decisions when they’re grownups.

What do you do when you feel that your children have been wronged?

Twinfant Tuesday: How Motherhood Affects Your Social Life

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I thought that I had a decent idea of what motherhood would be like. I was nothing like the Tacoma, Washington woman who wrote to advice columnist Carolyn Hax (full text).

My only sibling is nearly 11 years younger than me, so I’d done my share of diaper changing, potty training, and homework help as a pre-teen and teenager. I knew twins would be more work, of course, but becoming a mother seemed another small step in my progression to full adulthood. I’d gotten married, finished grad school, started my career, built a house and gotten pregnant, all within a couple of years. One close friend had ditched me when I got married, but that was the only casualty of all these life changes. I imagined that becoming a mother would have a similarly minor impact on my friendships.

I was completely clueless.

I had no clue how all-consuming parenthood is. I had no idea how rewarding it is. I had no idea how completely everything would change. And I confess that I gave very little thought to the impact my becoming a mother would have on my friendships.

It's impossible to understand how much life changes on becoming a parent, and friendships necessarily change in parallel.

I was one of the truly lucky new mothers out there on the friendship front. My closest friends took my babies in stride, completely welcoming them into all social activities. One of them, Kaylan, even moved in with us after a bad breakup when my daughters were just a few months old. She understood why it took me three hours to make it through a single sandwich and why I had to get up to retrieve a crying child or two mid-sentence. My dear friend Sara and I went through our pregnancies together, giving birth 14 days apart. Our husbands deployed to Iraq together, so we were in exactly the same place in our lives, even though she was a stay-at-home mom and I worked outside the home full-time.

I wasn’t much of a drinker or partier, and chatting over a meal in someone’s home or a restaurant was relatively easy with two easygoing, if premature, infants in tow. My good friends thought nothing of my getting up from the group to change a couple of diapers or of my briefly turning away to latch a baby on. The majority of my friends live a good distance from me, so I was able to maintain those friendships by telephone while breastfeeding my nurslings.

There were friends, though, who drifted away. The folks who wanted to go to the movies or a bar or do something active on relatively little notice, I could simply no longer accommodate. Friends who wanted a leisurely meal with me sitting in one place and making eye contact throughout a conversation found new friendships. Those friends who wanted my undivided attention could now afford none of my attention at all. Those friends who wanted just Sadia, not Sadia-the-mom, moved on. Some of them re-entered my life when they had children a few years later. Others, I check in with every so often. And with some, I have simply parted ways.

Yes, I miss those friends, and occasionally wish they understood why I have so much less time for them. I wish that they, like those friends who have stuck around, had become virtual family to my daughters, M and J.

Far deeper, though, are the friendships that have come to me because of motherhood. The neighbours I merely smiled when I moved in pregnant have become beloved friends, people who took the 9-hour road trip to see us when we briefly moved away. Their children are like siblings to mine. We raised our children together. Our kids peed on each other’s floors and in our yards during the Age of Potty Training. There is no friendship more precious than that. The incredible parents I have met through my daughters’ school and extracurricular activities have become our family. These friendships, born of middle-of-the-night ER visits, shared moments of parental pride, and exchanges of discipline and encouragement strategies, are just as strong as the friendships that stuck through my transition to motherhood.

The friends you lose when you become a mother are far outweighed by the mommy friendships you make.

Many parents need friendships outside the context of parenthood. For me, these relationships are fulfilled at work, and my entire social life beyond the workday revolves around my daughters. The people I enjoy spending time with are also those who I want around my children. I am deeply blessed to have friends who are as likely to look forward to spending time with my children as with me, and I enjoy their children’s company just as much. When we offer to babysit each other’s children, it’s as much for the pleasure of the children’s company as it is to help our friends out. Our children repay our affection. My daughters will occasionally want to discuss weighty matters with both me and a friend’s parent. My friend’s children will ask me to send me a picture of their report cards when they’re especially proud of their performance.

To the new parents who are discovering the impact of parenthood on your friendships, I would encourage you not to consider those who draw back as fair weather friends. They just don’t feel comfortable following you into the parenting stage of life. They may come back later, when they catch up. And I promise you that new, lasting friendships are just around the corner.

How did parenthood impact your pre-existing relationships?

What Do You Like About Yourself?

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What do you like best about yourself?

My 8-year-old daughters decided to take a quiz, designed for friends, to determine how well they knew each other. They had to predict what the other’s answer would be to a set of questions. The questions were mostly straightforward: favourite movie; famous person you’d like to be for a day; favourite food.

My daughters did reasonably well at guessing each other’s answers. J had changed her favourite song since the day before, so M got that one wrong. J completely missed M’s favourite movie until M set her right by humming the theme to Superman. Yes, the Christopher Reeve one from 1978.

The question that really got me thinking was this one: What do you like most about yourself? J’s answer was that she is trustworthy. M’s answer was that she was a twin.

I confess to being surprised by M’s response. I’m certainly aware that her relationship with her sister is central to her life and sense of self, but I wouldn’t have predicted that she would choose that as what she likes most about herself. I asked her what she meant, and she told me that she loves having someone who is always there, who loves her, and whom she can love. Rather than responding with a personal trait, she was responding with what she likes best about her life.

The twin relationship, something I have been trying to wrap my head around for the past 9 years, is that simple to my wise 8-year-old. She has love.

Take a moment to ask yourself what you like most about yourself.