Making a Difference: Ollie Cantos

Throughts on the Storycorps conversations between Ollie Cantos and Leo, Nick and Steven Argel

Every so often, I come across a story that stops me in my tracks. Such stories remind me that what seems like a small gesture can change the path of a person’s life for the better. They remind me that it’s okay to accept help as well as to offer it. They make me proud to be human.

The story of triplet brothers Leo, Nick and Steven Argel, and their mentor, Ollie Cantos, is one of those reminders. Go on, listen to it. I’ll be here when you get back. If you’re not able to listen to it right now, perhaps the transcript will work better for you.

Ollie Cantos with his soon-to-be adoptive sons

Done wiping your tears? I told you I’d be here.

This story touches me on so many levels. Yes, there’s the obvious triplets thing. Thanks to my sweet twin daughters, M and J, as well as their triplet cousins, I’m a sucker for happy stories about multiples. That’s not all, though.

I have the privilege to know an extremely well-adjusted, smart, sweet, highly energetic little girl who happens to be blind. She’s 9 years old and a role model to my daughters, both academically and socially. She recently took first place at our regional Braille Challenge. Several months ago, one of my daughters was driving a scooter on the sidewalk and not paying attention. Her blind friend reached out for the handles from behind her and turned quickly to keep both girls out of the street, then lectured my daughter on street safety.

This little girl’s mother is one of the few NICU moms I know in real life. The grace with which she navigates single motherhood and encourages her daughter’s independence and self-advocacy is an inspiration to me in my newfound single mom life. The matter of fact way in which she faces her daughter’s disability has been a model for the way I discuss my own daughter M’s birth defect with her.

I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can provide for my children. However, I don’t do it alone. While I am well-equipped to feed, clothe and educate J and M, I lean on my church community for their spiritual formation. I know that Nick, Steven and Leo’s mom did her very best, but simply wasn’t in a position to know what her sons were capable of. I can’t imagine it was easy for her to let Ollie into her sons’ lives, putting in relief all the ways in which she hadn’t been able to nurture them alone.

This is a story of love. It’s a reminder that family isn’t just a group that you’re born into, but one built on love and chance meetings. I am newly invigourated to not only to continue to deepen my relationships with children in my community who, for whatever reason, have crossed my path and been drawn to me, but to accept help from others in raising my own two daughters.

Thank you, Mr. Cantos.

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Transcript of the Storycorps interview of Ollie Cantos and Leo, Nick and Steven Argel

Ollie Cantos: I had a lot of trouble growing up because I didn’t have any friends really. I was made fun of a lot. There would be people who would put their hands in front of my face and say, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Leo Argel: Same thing.
Ollie Cantos: Same thing with you guys, right?
Leo Argel: Yes.
Ollie Cantos: So, what were things like growing up?
Leo Argel: Well, every day was like wake up, go to school, come back home, and then you stay there for the rest of the day. There were certain things that I wish I could do like go out and play in the snow like everyone else. ‘Cause I’ve heard kids through the window… we could hear that they were having fun. The only thing I remember when I was seven, we went to McDonald’s, and we went to the park. We rarely went outside.
Nick Argel: It was getting so bad that I wanted to die. But it was one of the decisions I’m glad I did not make because I would have missed out on everything.
Ollie Cantos: Do you remember that night when I first arrived?
Nick Argel: Oh yeah, I do. Because I… I certainly didn’t know that there were other blind people except me and my brothers.
Ollie Cantos: You didn’t believe me that I’m really blind. So, I’m like, “Well yeah, here’s my cane.” And then you left and came back with a book, and you put my hand on it, and it was the Bible. You couldn’t believe that I actually read Braille.
Nick Argel: It just made me feel like I had a person that I could trust, because I didn’t trust anyone.
Ollie Cantos: I took you guys individually to learn how to use your canes better, and we’d just go to the corner store, and I remember, Leo, one day the store clerk, she said, “Is that your son?” And, you know, before I could answer, you put your arm around me, and you said, “Yeah, it’s my dad.” And I said, “Do you know what that means?” You said, “Well, you take us places, you protect us, you help us with our homework. Sounds like a dad to me.” Whenever I hear you call me “Dad,” it’s the highest compliment to me. You three used to be in the same situation that I was, and to see you come out of that and to be the way you guys are now, it’s impossible to describe how grateful I am that I get to be your dad.

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Stepmonster – A Book Review

Stepmonster

Angela talked about one aspect of children and marriage in her post this morning. When you and your spouse have children together, it becomes far more challenging to balance your priorities and give your marriage the attention it needs. There’s another place where children and marriage intersect: step-parenting. When you fall in love with someone who is already a parent, or when you’re a parent who falls in love anew, the stepparent role is a difficult one to navigate.

About Stepmonster

Review of Stepmonster from a mom trying to help her kids with their father's remarriageWednesday Martin’s book Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do can help. As you can tell, this book is targeted at women. There’s a real reason for that. While being a stepfather is no walk in the park, stepmothers are burdened with impossible cultural expectations and tropes. Our children grow up thinking of Snow White’s as the archetype of a stepchild, the witch-queen as the model of a stepmother. That’s a hard narrative to overcome. The title of the book is a reference to this perception of stepmothers. When we hear “stepmonster” we often can’t help but envision a stepmonster.

Martin is herself the stepmother of two who has managed to make it work, although it hasn’t been easy. As she writes in the introduction to Stepmonster, “Step-hell was for stepmonsters, and I wasn’t going there. Until I was.” She talks about how integrating a stepmother and stepchildren is inherently disruptive. The husband/father will get caught in the middle, especially if the children had been accustomed to having his time and attention to themselves.

Martin points out that most research and writing on integrating existing children into a new marriage focuses on the children. The effort to make things work is expected to come from the stepmother. Little heed is paid to the stepmother’s needs and challenges. Any failure in a stepmother/stepchild relationship is blamed on the stepmother, although I think all of us know that our children are not always angels. A stepmother is not a mother. Yes, there are occasions in which a stepmother fills the role of adoptive mother, but these are rare compared to the stepmother who doesn’t quite have the right to discipline the children, the stepmother who is expected to love her stepkids as her own even though there’s no expectation that they should love her in the way their love their own mother.

Possibly my favourite passage from the book is this one. It captures so well the unrelenting complexity of divorce, children and remarriage.

Though well-intentioned, the increasingly widespread belief that remarriage with children should be child-centric and change-free as possible can lead to stress for everyone involved. It is easy to see how it might be stressful for the woman with stepchildren. But research also shows that high levels of closeness and involvement between exes are as confusing and counterproductive for children as are high levels of conflict. Children are likely to wonder, “If you like each other so much and get along so well, why did you get a divorce?” and feel profoundly perplexed about what exactly makes a good relationship.

Why I Read Stepmonster

I wasn’t the target audience of this book. It is intended for stepmothers and stepmothers-to-be. I picked it up, however, for insight into how I could ease my daughters’ relationship with their father’s new (and now ex-) wife.

My kids hadn’t really even begun processing the reality of my divorce when their father remarried. We divorced in June of 2012, he moved in with his new girlfriend in September, and they were married in February of 2013. I needed to make this okay for my kids. I had reached out to my ex’s then-girlfriend, mother to mother, she having two young daughters of her own. We needed to put all four children first in this messy family reorganization. She was wonderfully receptive, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about my kids’ treatment of her without disrespecting my ex’s boundaries. So, I did what I do, looked for blogs and books that would help me understand the other side of this story. Stepmonster was the answer.

What I Learned from Stepmonster

Stepmonster has a lot of lessons for the brand new stepmother or the woman considering getting serious with a partner who already has children. A stepmother is not the stepchild’s mother. It’s okay not to have the unconditional adoration of a mother. A stepchild is not a stepmother’s child. It’s okay for the child not to have the love and trust in his stepmother that he has in his mother. The father/husband has a role to play. It’s not fair or appropriate to expect stepmother and stepchild to figure out where the boundaries lie. A father/husband has an active responsibility in making things work, respecting his new wife’s need for respect and boundaries, understanding his child’s misgivings about this replacement of her mother.

What I took away from this book was the role I could play. Martin didn’t really spell it out, but reading between the lines, I could see that I needed to do everything in my power to avoid feeding the stepmonster image of stepmotherhood.

I talked to my ex’s girlfriend, letting her know that I recognized that she would be an important part of my children’s lives, asking how I could help. I thanked her for every gesture she made to bring my children within her family, and she made many. She even went toe-to-toe with my children’s father, insisting that they needed to feel like they always had a place in their home, even if they were there only rarely. She insisted that they be allowed to have toothbrushes at their apartment. She set up a second bunk bed in her daughters’ room with my daughters’ names on it. She took my daughters to visit her parents at Thanksgiving, and her mom treated them no differently from her own granddaughters.

I’m not a jealous type, so that came easily. I know that some mothers fear that a close bond between children and their stepmothers threatens the mother-child bond. I just don’t see it that way. My kids have plenty of love for both each other and me. Why couldn’t they love their stepmother too?

In part, I’d learned from my own experience as a stepchild. Well, I’ve never knowingly met my stepmother of 20ish years, so perhaps it’s overstating it to call myself a stepchild. But I do know that the bitterness and venom that my mother spewed about my father’s girlfriends and the woman he eventually married did nothing but make me resent my mother and perceive her as being petty and selfish. It certainly didn’t make me love or trust her more.

I promised myself that I would not allow myself to feed into what Martin calls the “typical stepmother conundrum”: “the husband’s ex who wants it both way, giving us responsibility but not granting authority.” It was easy to keep boundaries with my ex; I was accustomed to taking care of business without his help, since he’d been deployed overseas for half our marriage. I was always the one who fixed plumbing issues and sealed the countertops, so I didn’t look to him for that stuff, although there was one time while we were waiting out the 90 days for our divorce to be finalized that he helped me look for my keys. (The cat had decided that they were toys and shoved them under a stool.) Our boundaries weren’t without issue, however. Our elderly neighbours were irate on observing me packing up my house to move without my ex helping watch the kids or lift some of the heavier boxes. I didn’t know 80-year-old Hispanic women possessed the colourful language I heard on that subject!

When There’s Another Divorce

Martin cites the following statistics: the divorce rate for couples in which one partner comes in with a child or children is 65%. When both partners already have children, it’s a depressing 70%. Only 5% of survey respondents considered stepchildren to be an asset to their marriages.

Stepmonster gives some advice on beating those odds. Just as in our post Finding Time for Romance When You Have Kids this morning, she argues that the marriage has to come first. Time alone is essential. Convincing your partner of this isn’t easy, but it’s critical. Having a child together is a wonderful thing, but it won’t decrease tension at all. It will increase it. A stepchild might adore his half-sibling, but that doesn’t mean he won’t resent what that sibling represents.

Unfortunately for me and my daughters, there wasn’t much in Stepmonster to help guide me on how to handle Daddy’s second divorce in less than 2 years with my kids. When J expressed her disappointment at the loss of her stepmother and stepsisters, Daddy told her, “You just need to forget them.” I knew that wasn’t the answer. I didn’t need a book for that! I reached out to my ex’s new ex and asked her if she’d be willing to maintain casual contact between her daughters and mine. She agreed.

On the bright side, post-divorce isn’t nearly as much work as a good marriage!

Any stepmothers out there? Does this book sound like something you’d want to read?

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

We Love Each Other, But… – A Book Review

Review of We Love Each Other, But from hdydi.comI’m divorced.

It’s a little awkward to be recommending a marriage advice book when my own marriage failed. Clearly, I’m no example of how to make a marriage successful, so perhaps my endorsement itself makes you swear to never look to this book. I hope not, though. We Love Each Other But… Simple secrets to strengthen your relationship and make love last is an easy-to-read book chock full of practical and effective ideas for making your partnership the strongest it can be, despite the challenges that life brings.

I feel like I’m the exception the proves the rule when it comes to the effectiveness of the approaches discussed in We Love Each Other But… I believe that implementing some of Wachtel’s advice gave my marriage an additional two years we wouldn’t have otherwise had. Over those two years, I saw my husband abandon the positive practices described in the book, one by one. I suppose his desire to leave the marriage was making itself apparent, but I didn’t see it until he said those words. “I want a divorce.”

but

What’s in We Love Each Other But…

When I read the book, I was embarrassed to look at the chapter headings and realize how typical I was, having allowed my marriage to grow weeds through neglect:

  • We Love Each Other But … Every Decision is a Tug-of-War
  • We Love Each Other But … We Get into Really Bad Arguments
  • We Love Each Other But … We Don’t Have Much of a Sex Life
  • We Love Each Other But … But I Have a Hard Time Dealing with my Partner’s Emotional Hang-ups
  • We Used to Love Each Other But … Now I’m Not So Sure
  • We Love Each Other But … Life with Children Isn’t Easy
  • We Love Each Other But … Is This It?

Wachtel’s advice is straightforward. Her writing is very readable. My ex, who is NOT a self-help seeker, read the book from cover to cover and recommended it to anyone who would listen. We read it together, each with our own copy, while he was deployed in Iraq. We wrote to each other with our thoughts and reactions.

The author mixes advice with case studies of real couples.

An example of her advice is the author’s recommendation of turning potentially explosive arguments into productive discussions by walking away from the conversation when either partner gets emotional or defensive, returning to it after 10 minutes or an hour. Agree to accept it when someone calls a time out. Equally important, don’t forget the point of contention when tempers cool; find a mutually agreeable solution after the emotional component has been removed. When my ex and I were practicing this take-a-break-then-deal approach, we pretty much eliminated unproductive disagreement. After having found a space in which to think, not feel, about the conflict, it often seemed less important to have our own way. In many cases, a creative compromise became apparent.

A Criticism

Wachtel’s claims that her practices can be used effectively even if only partner chooses to use them. I disagree. When my husband and I agreed to discuss points of conflict after we’d overcome any initial emotional reaction, communication was stellar. We had fun together, looked forward to our time together, felt loved. When he abandoned that practice, things fell apart.

In the most extreme instance, we were in disagreement over something. I don’t recall the topic of contention. I determined that the escalation of emotion was unproductive and decided to take a shower to take a break from the conversation. My husband waited a few minutes, but then couldn’t wait to address the issue any longer. He came into the bathroom, shouting. Let me tell you, cornering a rape survivor naked in the shower is a great way to trigger a paralyzing flashback.

That whole rape issue was addressed very well in the chapter in emotional hangups.

Applied to Parenting

There are a couple of ways that the content of this book speaks to parenting. First and most obviously, there’s a chapter devoted to making room for your marriage in light of the demands of raising children. Secondly, I think that it’s worth noting that there are a number of parallels between sibling relationships and marriage, especially if you have particularly close multiples.

We Love Each Other But… Life with Children Isn’t Easy

Wachtel starts this chapter by confronting the guilt that we parents feel for any feeling of frustration or resentment of the changes and challenges that our children bring. She reminds us that our children need their parents to project feeling fulfilled as much as they need our time and attention. It’s okay and important to spend time and energy on your partner and marriage. After all, as my ex used to say, ours was the relationship that would still be there after the kids had moved onto their adult lives. (Oh, the irony.)

The author’s tips from this chapter are:

  1. Develop a ritual for you and your spouse to spend fifteen to twenty minutes alone together every day.
  2. Go out together.
  3. Have romantic “dates” at home.
  4. Break the rules.
  5. Steal a sexy moment.

She also addresses the anxiety we often feel about leaving our children in a babysitter’s care, resolving conflict over the division of child-care responsibilities, the stress of kids’ bedtime in particular and family time in general and other common concerns.

Relationship Advice that Applies to Siblings

You may have seen me write about the parallels between marriage and the twin relationship. I think that a lot of the same conflict resolution techniques work in both types of relationships.

Three of We Love Each Other But…’s basic truths about lasting love apply to siblings:

  1. We love those who make us feel good about ourselves.
  2. Most of us know what will warm our partner’s heart.
  3. Criticism erodes love.

I encourage my daughters to communicate the positive things they see in both each other and their friends. It’s so important, I think, to communicate those things. Both my girls make daily gestures to bring joy to Sissy’s heart. For instance, M spent half her saved up allowance to buy her sister a stuffed toy she fell in love with at the store as a Valentine’s Day gift. We don’t do gifts in Valentine’s Day. She has no expectation of anything in return beyond the joy in her sister’s heart.

We talk often about choosing what points of criticism to raise with Sister. M struggles more with this that J. J is very protective of M’s feelings, but M is more likely to be on a mission to help everyone find their best selves, which can include some brutal critiques. We’re working on it.

The fourth truth Wachtel identifies, “There is no such thing as unshakable, immutable, affair-resistant love,” is only partly true of siblings. The “affair” part isn’t really relevant, although I do recommend talking with your multiples about sharing their sibling’s affection with friends and other family members. Fortunately, my kids see no conflict between loving their friends and each other. However, my daughter M did once find herself calling a friend to task when this friend asked her to choose between J and the friend. Sibling love is as strong as it comes, but it cannot be taken for granted. I think often on a coworker of my ex-husband’s who hasn’t spoken to her identical twin in years because she felt that her sister was unable to accept her as she was.

For most of us, our multiples will have each other long after we are gone. We must teach them how to nurture their relationship for a lifetime. This book’s techniques can really help.

Great Wedding Gift

I give copies of this book as wedding gifts. Love isn’t what makes a marriage work. Love is why you do the work that makes a marriage work, and We Love Each Other But… helps make that work more manageable.

If you decide to pick up this book or have already read it, stop by and tell me what you thought.

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Finding Time for Romance When You Have Kids

Marriage. Complicated at best even before you have kids. Add some multiples in the mix, and hey, let’s just say ‘ain’t nobody gettin’ lucky for awhile ’round here’.

LifeHacker.com recently posted an infographic with some interesting statistics on what makes a marriage happy, so this is definitely a hot topic. In fact, they said that the happiest couples are the ones without kids and that satisfaction levels in marriage drop for 67% of married persons.

Ouch.

So, when you have multiples (or kids in general), how do you keep your marriage relationship healthy? How do you find the time for romance? Well, with today being Valentine’s Day, we here at HDYDI figured we’d offer up some advice.

Before we dive into the juicy tips, I want to share a few resources we’ve found that can help in spicing up your marriage (did you see our giveaway today!?!) and having a healthy marriage after kids.

Healthy Marriage Resources

Books

{affiliate links}

Internet Resources

Alright, let’s get to the tips!

Romancing the Marriage…

Ldskatelyn was sick of not going on regular dates with her husband, and tired of asking the question “what should we do?” when the opportunity for a date night did appear, often resulting in the super over-done dinner and a movie date. So, for Christmas 2012 she planned out a year of date nights for her husband – 24 dates, 1 date night in and 1 date night out each month. All he had to do was pick the day! While some of the planned dates didn’t happen on schedule, or were switched with other dates, or included the kids, she ended up having way more date nights than she would’ve had otherwise. She especially found that date night ins were a great thing to have planned, especially since you can’t always afford the time or the cost of getting out, and it sure beat just watching movies or TV shows every night. For a look at what date nights she planned over the course of her year and how you can make your own ‘year of dates’, check out this post.

Not having family close-by, or a budget to hire a sitter very often, MandyE and her husband enjoy date nights “in” to stay connected with each other. For inspiration, they often think back to what they enjoyed together before their girls were born. While they haven’t made it to a college football game in the past five years, one of their favorite “dates” is to set up a tailgating event, complete with all their most-loved appetizers… even if it means watching the big game on tape delay. They find it’s a meaningful way to relax and remind themselves how much they enjoy each other’s company. See more of her date night ideas here.

SarahP understands that some people have a hard time leaving new babies. She says you should take people up on their offers to watch your kids and get out with your spouse (she’s really big on regular dates). Hanging out at home is great too, but actually leaving your home to do something together is also really vital. She encourages parents to change up their dates too. Do you want to be adventurous by exploring food you’ve never had before? What odd-ball Groupons are available? If you always go out to eat, maybe do something like ice skating or bowling. Do things that help you get to know the area you live in better. She’s very adamant that married couples should be spending quality time with their spouses, and it’s made a big difference in her marriage.

DoryDoyle shares an article on her blog about Love and Marriage and Parenting Twins. This is her first year of marriage with babies in tow, and she wanted to reflect on how to keep her marriage strong while raising twins. She shares that the statistics for couples raising multiples isn’t encouraging, and that it’s important to keep an eye on your relationship-meter. She gives 9 great tips on things she and her hubby do to have both a solid marriage (including romance!) and have fun parenting.

Marissa explains that because of her situation (complex medical needs), she and her husband really couldn’t both be gone that first year. So they did the next best thing – had a sitter come over and stay upstairs while they enjoyed take-out and a movie downstairs. No baby monitor to distract them either, because they were still right there in case of a medical need.

One of our newest contributors, MariTherrien says it’s the little things that matter. A quick backrub or playing with her hair the way she likes. Remembering your first date-iversary with a card, getting your partner’s favorite coffee or little treat at the store. Romance doesn’t always have to be movie-like grand gestures. When you do the little things you send the message that s/he matters!

They’re right. Going out on dates with your spouse – finding that time time bond – is pretty important. But, today is Valentine’s Day already, so how are you going to put together something that will show your spouse you’re serious about this romance thing?

Here’s what I did this year (see pic below). I made mine on HeritageMakers.com, but I also designed some free printable coupons where all you have to do is fill in the blanks and give  it to your spouse. It’s a cute idea that will start getting you on the right track towards adding that romance back in.

valentines gift love coupons

More Than Just Romance…

Now, romance is great and all, but let’s face it, there are other things that are also important to keeping a marriage healthy, like communication.

Sadia emphasizes that a marriage takes two, and it’s about more than just romance (although, that certainly helps!). She gives these tips:

  • ALWAYS say “I love you.” And always mean it.
  • Listen to understand, not just to respond.
  • Acknowledge your partner’s efforts, no matter how small.
  • Choose to be in love every single day.
  • Nurture your partner’s values, even if you don’t share them.
  • Don’t try to be everything to your partner. It’s okay for them to have friends to share certain interests with.

RebeccaD has one add-on to Sadia’s list above: figure out how to manage your own stress. Raising twins is STRESSFUL, especially the first year. If you don’t know how to manage it positively (or if you’re in need of new strategies now that time for workouts, spa dates, and sleep is nil), it will come out negatively at the nearest available adult—namely, your spouse.

I agree with them. Ever flown before? In the event of an emergency, you’re supposed to put on your air mask first, then help your children. Why? Because if you pass out while trying to help them, then you’re both doomed. And that’s the thing. The biggest piece of advice we can give you today:

Take care of your marriage first (or at least make it a strong priority), and parenting will fall into place.

When Romance & Marriage Just Aren’t Working…

This couldn’t go without saying, so here’s a side note from us HDYDI moms that have had a marriage end: We realize that not every marriage is a happy one, even if you’ve tried the above suggestions. So, if one spouse decides that they want out and has no interest in making things work, it’s time for both of you to put the children first and minimize the anguish of what is an unavoidably heartbreaking situation. Don’t get vindictive. Don’t get mean. Help your children know that they will never have to choose between their parents. You can’t convince someone to stay in a marriage after their commitment and heart have left it.

How do you keep your marriage strong and your romance alive? Tell us your tips and let’s all have a happier Valentine’s Day!

Favourite Thing Ever

My daughters’ second grade teacher has given them permission to decorate their daily folders with stickers. My daughter J asked if she could use a dollar of her savings to buy stickers. I told her she could, but might want to check out the sticker bin in the art centre first.

Soon afterward, I found both 7-year-olds rummaging through stickers.

These twins' favourite thing ever? Each other! Check out this sweet conversation at hdydi.comJ: Mom! We have some really great stickers in here.
Me: I know! You’ve had them all along.
M: I knew they were there, but I didn’t really look. I’m not such a sticker person.
Me: You guys went through a period, when you were about 3, when you were all about stickers. They were your favourite thing ever.
M: More than sisters?
Me: Well, no.
M: That’s what I thought.

These kids have no clue how much joy their love for one another brings me.

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Silly Old Grandpa

Grandparents. Ah, grandparents. Is there a more peculiar set of people out there? These last few days have really illustrated to me how amazing, spectacular, bizarre, hilarious grandparents sometimes are, especially grandfathers.

It’s been a whirlwind of Chinese New Year celebrations around here. My dad, who is only here a couple months a year, came from Taiwan a few days ago, just in time to host a big CNY party at my parents’ home. My children, who he hasn’t seen in person since a year ago, were featured prominently in this gathering of their longtime friends.

From the time we arrived, my dad gave his entire attention to my children. This man, who I’ve always known as an extremely strict and stoic father, was completely transformed when his grandchildren were placed in front of him. I mean, a completely-unrecognizable-to-me different person. It’s unexplainable, really, where this weird smiling stranger came from. Whereas to us, his grown children, there is no great outpouring of affection, never a big show of feeling, something came over him while in the presence of this next generation. It was a very odd, yet not unwelcome, sensation to watch him study my children with adoration and pride. He couldn’t control his joy when they went to him, dropped anything else to play with them… I even saw his eyes get watery when my firstborn told him she remembered a game he played with her the last time he was here.

The kids’ other grandfather is certainly not immune to their charms either. We found out that a guest at my parents’ party is coincidentally also a tennis-playing friend of my father-in-law’s. Hilariously, he recognized my children because my FIL never misses any opportunity to whip out their picture to show everyone his beautiful grandchildren. We were entertained for some time listening to stories of him talking about his grandchildren every chance he gets, to whoever was still willing to listen.

Such endearing, unexpected behaviors, especially when we are so used to the very stern and reticent fathers they used to be. Is this just crazy weird or what?

Stuck to Mommy

My daughters returned home to me in Texas on Friday after a glorious 3 weeks enjoying the holidays with extended family in Washington and Oregon. Poor M caught the virus her father and grandmother suffered before her and came home with a fever. Things were looking a little worrying for twin sister J, but she’s managed to avoid the coughing, runny nose, fever and exhaustion.

Both girls insisted that they absolutely had to have Mommy snuggles all night Friday. Mommy could not sleep in her own bed. With M still feverish, I didn’t protest and took advantage of the opportunity to monitor her throughout the night. I just need to give up on keeping the girls in their room. If I’m giving in on their request that I sleep with them, I might as well do it a non-lofted bigger-than-twin bed. We are getting seriously squished as these girls of mine grow!

Saturday came and went, all the while M refusing to leave my side. If I sat, she sat next to me, thigh to thigh, arm to ribs, head to breast. If I stood, she hooked her hand in my pants waist and came with me. J wanted to be in the same room as me but she, usually the snugglier of my pair, wanted a typical amount of physical contact: the occasional hug, the odd moment tracing the lines on my palms, asking me to brush her hair a couple of times.

I thought that M might be needy because she didn’t feel well, or just because she’d missed me. After she let me release her for the period of her bath time, it occurred to me that at 7, she might know why she was so acting so needy.

“What’s up, M? Why such a snuggle bug?”
“I didn’t get enough snuggles while I was gone.”
“Oh? You know, you can always ask for snuggles. Grammy and Grampy and Daddy and Auntie love you as much as I do.”
“I know. I had four grownups for snuggles, but I snuggle you every day and them, it was more like every other day. And then I got sick and didn’t want to share my germs.”

I imagined my 7-year-old trying to emulate her grandmother and father in self-imposed isolation, protecting those around her from her germs, sacrificing the comfort of hugs to behave like a grownup. I was proud of her and yet it made it that much harder to know that my little girl had been sick without me there to care for her. A sick little girl needs her Mommy or at the very least her custodial parent. However you categorize it, M needed me.

As she fell asleep that Saturday night, one arm under me and one arm over me, breathing in my face and occasionally coughing, I was glad to know that my mature little girl thought me immune to her germs, able to give her all those missing snuggles while she still felt poorly. Usually, she gives a sleepytime squeeze before seeking personal space.

Sunday, and Monday too, she remained glued to me. By Monday, she allowed her sister in my lap, but only as long as I kept a hand on her head and a leg where she could rest hers. I had made a halfhearted effort to find childcare for the day, since school wouldn’t open until Tuesday, but the YMCA has been inconsistent in their full day care, M begged to stay home, and I wasn’t convinced J wasn’t still incubating the virus. I elected to work from home. Thank goodness that I have that option!
Snuggle bunnies from hdydi.com

This photo was taken with my iPad resting on my stomach. M is the farther child, but her legs are hooked over mine. She insisted that I type one-handed, allowing her sister next to me only as long as I kept a hand on her head.

How do your children seek comfort when they don’t feel well? Do they seek out one parent over the other?
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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Twin Sister Love

My 7-year-old twin daughters, M and J, love each other, deeply and openly. They bicker and annoy each other on purpose, but their love for one another is never in doubt. They may argue at bedtime, sometimes until late at night, but they fall asleep in each other’s arms 99% of the time.

Twin Sister Love from hdydi.com

Every few weeks, J tells me worriedly, “This might hurt your feelings, but I love M more than anything.” I always let her know that my feelings are doing just fine and that her love for her sister is completely appropriate.

The other day, M was admiring her own waist length hair in the mirror. “I’m never cutting my hair,” she told me, “except to trim it. Having my hair cut off is my worst nightmare. No. J dying is my worst nightmare. But I like my long hair.” Some might consider her statement morbid, but it was delivered as fact.

A while ago, J suffered a theological crisis in church when she realized that she was supposed to love God above everything, even her sister. She began to cry in the middle of service. “You don’t understand,” she told me vehemently when I tried to soothe her. “You don’t have a twin sister and you don’t even believe in God!” She was finally comforted by a friend in the congregation who told her that her love for her sister, the sacrifices she was willing to make for her, was a reflection of J’s love for God and God’s love for her.

J and M don’t have any homework this week and will be leaving to spend Christmas with their father’s family tomorrow. On the spur of the moment, finding ourselves with some free time, we decided to go to the movies and watch Frozen.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Flix Brewhouse in Round Rock, TX, the only movie theatre near enough with a showtime that worked for us. I hadn’t gone before, assuming it would be a cheap and underwhelming attempt to copy the Alamo Drafthouse. Instead, I was pleased to find a spotless and charming movie theatre with excellent food–the fries were better than those at the Alamo–unobtrusive but attentive waitstaff during the movie, comfortable chairs, well-designed tables that fit even my 7-year-olds, and excellent film and sound quality. I was impressed even without trying the beer brewed on site; after all, I was driving.

We loved the movie. J left the theatre singing, “The cold never bothered me anyway.” All three of us were smiling. We agreed to buy the DVD as soon as it came out. (If you go to see the movie, watch for the disclaimer at the end of the credits. I laughed so hard!)

I’m a sucker for traditional musicals and this was a modern throwback to the days of Cinderella and Snow White, where the main characters broke into song midscene. I started out a little annoyed that this was to be yet another story about a damsel in distress being saved by a swashbuckling man, but there was a nice twist to story that pleased the feminist and strong single woman in me.

The part of the movie experience that touched me the most, though, was a moment in which the two main characters, sisters Elsa and Anna, clearly put their love for each other first. I glanced at my own little girls during that moment and caught my sweet J brushing a tear from her eye. The parallel between her connection to M and Anna’s to Elsa hadn’t escaped her either. She smiled at me sheepishly and said, “I just love M.”

I hope that love lasts always.

Unfortunately, my sister and I have drifted apart, living very different lives on different continents as we do. We’re nothing like twins, born over a decade apart. I wish she knew how much I love her and felt comfortable opening up to me, but I realize that it may never happen. The kind of love I have to give may not be what she wishes to receive. Meaningful long distance relationships may never be her comfort zone.

May my daughters never feel that loss.

I am so grateful that even such mainstream media companies as Disney recognize the value of the relationship between sisters. Brotherly love is harder to portray, thanks to our societal assumptions that emotions like love belong in the feminine domain. I can’t help remembering a passage in One and the Same (previously reviewed by yours truly) in which Abigail Pogrebin talks about how hard some identical twin men find it to find romantic partners who aren’t frightened off by their intimate relationships with each other.

Are your multiples close? How do others perceive their relationship?

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

I Almost Missed My Child’s Call for Help

I predicted that M would explode into emotion at some point after her therapist’s death. When it actually happened after she heard about her Dad’s impending second divorce, I nearly missed the opportunity to talk to her about how she was feeling.

help

My 7-year-olds share a room and each has her own lofted bed. Still, they sleep in the same bed most nights. Last night, after prayers, when they should have been settling in to sleep, they were still bickering.

“M kicked me!” J informed me.
“Only ’cause J punched me first.”
“There is no hitting or kicking in the family,” I reminded them.
“Sorry,” J apologized, almost convincingly.
“She punched me first!” countered M.
I stood firm. “You owe her an apology.”
“But…”
“No ‘but’. No hitting”
“But it was because…,” M kept trying to defend herself.
“No because. No hitting. No excuses.”
“But Mom!”
“No ‘but’,” I  insisted. “No excuses. We do not hit in this family for any reason. Use words or get help.”
“I hate this family!” M yelled.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told her. “I love you.”
She’d escalated to a full-throated scream by this point. She turned on her sister. “Get. Out. Of. My. Bed.”
“But I’m already settled,” J tried to argue.
“GET OUT!”
I tried to restore peace. “J, go ahead and go to your own bed. I can sleep with you.”
M was horrified. “Who’s going to sleep with me?”
“No one. You asked J to leave.”
“That’s not fair!” M took the default child position. “I want you to snuggle with me!”
“J may have been inappropriate at the start, but you’re the one making poor choices right now,” I explained. “This is a consequence.”
“I don’t feel loved,” M cried. “I don’t feel part of this family. I want to find another family.”
“Good luck finding a family that allows hitting and kicking and is still loving and safe,” I retorted. “I have these rules because I love you.”

I kissed both children good night and sat down on the couch to clear out the spam comments on this site before I tackled the Neverending Laundry Story. M’s words were echoing in my ears.

I don’t feel part of this family.
Family…
Family…

Realization hit all at once. She was upset about family. She was upset about Daddy’s divorce and confused about her standing with her stepmother and stepsisters. Her anger wasn’t directed at her sister, or even me, at all. We were the safe people in her life; she could act out with us. The family she didn’t feel part of was the bigger family, outside the safety of Mommy and Sissy.

I know that this is how M processes big emotions, with a massive explosion that makes way for her readiness to process things. Even knowing this, I almost missed it in the rush to bedtime, in my focus on M’s lack of self-discipline, in my quest for just treatment of my daughters.

I quite literally ran across the living room, down the hall, and into the girls’ room. They were both still awake.

“What?” J asked.
“I have to talk to M,” I told her. “I just realized something. Go to sleep, J Bear.”
I climbed into M’s bed and lowered my voice to speak to her.
“I’m so sorry, M. You’re upset about Daddy and Melissa’s divorce. Am I right?”
She nodded.

We talked and talked and talked. She told me about her confusion, her sadness, her anger. She told me that she was disappointed in her daddy. She told me she was embarrassed to tell her friends that she had two divorces. She told me that she didn’t think they gave their marriage enough time. She wondered why her stepmother hadn’t realized what Daddy’s being a soldier would mean before they got married. She wondered if her stepsisters would still love her. She wished her relatives weren’t all so far away. She wished people she loved who weren’t her relatives weren’t all so far away.

Maybe if people were allowed to marry 3 wives, she pondered, there wouldn’t need to be divorce. That way, Daddy could be married to me and Melissa and another person and would never have to be divorced. That way, she could still have a mom and stepmom and never have to know the word “divorce.”

She has more insight than she realizes.

Our discussion on her feelings of divorce slipped seamlessly into the other subject that’s been bothering her.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “This is all too much sadness for a little 7-year-old to deal with.”
“I’m not little!” she told me, offended.
“Giant 7-year-old?”
“No, Mommy! I’m a normal 7-year-old girl, despite my looks.” (What? Your 7-year-old doesn’t use the word “despite” in regular conversation? Mine does.)
“What do you mean, ‘despite your looks’?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant.
My kissy nose.”
“Are people still making rude comments?”
“Yes, but Mrs. H is reading Wonder to our class. It’s only for 5th graders and 4th graders and 3rd graders but Mrs. C [the principal] said Mrs. H could read it to our class.”
“I’ve heard great things about it.”
“It’s so good! The character has a funny face like me…”

We talked more. Auggie, M thought, would understand her if only her weren’t fictional. I suggested that perhaps the author understood her, but M wasn’t interested in pursuing that train of thought. Auggie had a big sister who beat people up when they teased him, “kind of like J! Daddy told me she beat someone up at Chick-Fil-A for laughing at me.” (They were 2 years old. A big kid pushed M off the slide in the playscape and J let him have it with all of her 18 lbs.)

“I’m not exactly like him, though,” M mused.
“No?”
“He wishes he looked ordinary. I don’t want a different nose. I just want people not to tease me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Some people scream when they see the character,” M told me.
“No one would do that to you.” I was relieved to have something positive to offer.
“But they scream with laughter.”
“That’s terrible. What should they do instead?”
“That should ask me! And I’ll tell them I was born this way! That’s all. That’s it. I’ll tell them it’s my kissy nose.”

M is adorable.

I almost missed M’s call for help in the midst of the daily grind.

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Another Divorce

Silly me. I thought that if I made my life as stable as humanly possible, I would be able to maintain my daughters’ sense of security despite my abrupt divorce nearly a year and a half ago. I thought I had parenting through divorce figured out.

I don’t control my daughters’ world, though. My job as a mother is to give them the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges, not to keep them from experiencing them. It’s so tempting, though, to want to keep them away from heartache, that it’s a good thing that hiding my babies away isn’t a real option.

On the night before Thanksgiving, J and M learned that their father was getting divorced again, this time from the stepmother they’d come to love in the year and a half since she entered their lives. He told M and J that their stepsisters were no longer their sisters. When J countered that we’d already bought their Christmas presents, he told her to tell me to return them. I quickly told her that she and her former stepsisters could continue their relationship regardless of their parents’ marital status. My ex-husband texted me his ex-wife’s address as soon as he got off the phone and we’ll be dropping their gifts in the mail.

As J told me once she was done sobbing, “I feel like Melissa [her stepmother] has one arm and Daddy has one arm and you have one leg and Dustin [a friend of mine J is very close to] has one leg and I’m being pulled apart.”

M had an open conversation with her grandmother. “I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t Melissa want a long-distance relationship? Daddy’s in the army. I have a long-distance relationship with him too. I have a long-distance relationship with you! Mommy and Daddy had a relationship for lots of years!”

I can’t say I agree with my ex’s choice to explain the entirety of his second divorce as being his ex-wife’s choice. While he was the one to leave me, I felt that it was important that my daughters see me take responsibility for my own shortcomings. To each their own, though. Our daughters are smart and observant, and I imagine that it was very hard for him to answer their questions. I’m used to talking to them openly and honestly and it still took a year before J did finally got me to admit that I had agreed to our divorce, but not wanted it.

The girls had practical questions. What had happened to the bunk bed with their names on it at their stepmom’s house? Were stepmom and stepsisters still living in the apartment they’d visited? Would they ever see them again? Why had this happened?

Children always want to know why, and they always think it’s their fault. I reminded my daughters of the book Was It the Chocolate Pudding? and that divorce is never a child’s fault. I didn’t hear them blaming themselves, but I wanted to be sure.

Both girls told me that they didn’t want to tell anyone about Daddy’s second divorce because they were embarrassed. They were both especially concerned about Divorce Club, the school support group for kids of divorce. They wanted to be honest but didn’t want to talk about it and felt torn.

I asked J whether she’d be willing to tell her teacher and she said yes. I called Mrs. H right away, as she celebrated Thanksgiving Eve at her parents’ house. J came away from that conversation feeling much more safe and closer to being ready to talk about the divorce with others. We were all reminded that people don’t have to officially or legally be our mothers to love us as if we were their daughters.

My little girls are 7 and they have been through things that would have broken adults. Their resilience puts me to shame. The day after they had their hearts broken yet again, they threw themselves into a joyous Thanksgiving. We had a genuinely happy day, although Daddy’s most recent divorce did come up in conversation a couple of times.

At bedtime, I reminded the girls to say their prayers.

“Thank you, Lord,” J said, her hands pressed together and her eyes closed, “for my family who loves me. Thank you for all my nice things and for all my yummy food and making the world and everything. I am very grateful.”

“Hey, J,” I prompted, “don’t you want to ask for help during a rough time? Like maybe for understanding or peace or feeling better?”

“Nope,” she responded. “I get that stuff from you.”

I know there will be a day when my child no longer needs me, and the teen years before that when she no longer wants me. For now, though, I’ll fill my role as her stability, strength and guide to the best of my ability. My sweet M doesn’t quite have her sister’s emotional awareness or talent for heart-melting one-liners, but I know she shares J’s strength and sunny outlook. I hope that she also feels that I give her strength and understanding. I do my best, as every mother does.

Have you ever had to discuss someone else’s divorce with your children? How did you approach it?

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 and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.