In Which I Find My Limits

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73

Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

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

Working Mom Nursing Twins

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding CenterWelcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.

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My twin daughters had my breastmilk as part of their diet until they were 7 months old. They were preemies, born at 33 weeks gestation, and both spent time (16 and 21 days) in the NICU before they were stable enough to be released to us. I work full time and returned to my job when the girls were 11 weeks old and not quite 5 lbs each. My (now ex) husband is a soldier and deployed to Iraq when J and M were 5 months old for a 15-month tour. He was also gone for the first 3 weeks after the babies were home, thanks to pre-deployment training out of state.

b_134016When I describe my nursing situation like that, it seems like a victory that I was able to keep it up for 7 months. Don’t be fooled, though. Even now, 6 years after my daughters stopped nursing, I feel the dull ache of failure when I think of our breastfeeding experience. Objectively, I know that my 7-year-old daughters are healthy and smart and funny and sweet. It didn’t harm them in any way that I can see that I only breastfed for 7 months. I know I did everything I could. I know that, on balance, I’m a good mother. Still, my daughters’ 7 months of breastmilk and high-calorie formula feels like a personal failure. My goal had been 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding.

While pregnant, I had been under the impression that nursing, because it was a natural instinct, would be easy. In retrospect, “natural” and “easy” rarely go together. I should have known better. After all, what’s more natural that raising your child? And what’s harder? There are plenty of new moms for whom breastfeeding is easy. I wasn’t one of them.

It also wasn’t so hard for me that it wasn’t worth pursuing, as it was for some of my friends: the friend whose baby’s lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t gain weight on breastmilk; the friend whose baby never once latched properly; the friend whose baby was so premature that her body didn’t even interpret it as a live birth and never produced milk at all. We all have our own stories and our own set of challenges.

Two Babies

Ah, the twin thing. I had enough breasts to go around, so that was a plus. My aunt-in-law’s successful breastfeeding of her triplet daughters 12 years before my girls were born was a huge inspiration for me. It also gave my husband a surprising degree of insight into what might work for us.

Let me say this loud and clear. Moms of multiples, if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth a shot. You may be a natural (pun intended), like Wiley. It may not work out. Either way, it’s the rare MoM (that’s Mothers of Multiples to those of you not in the know!) who regrets trying to breastfeed her multiple infants.

I tried tandem nursing, simultaneously breastfeeding both babies, but it didn’t really work for me. When the girls first came home, they didn’t have the muscle tone to hold their heads up, so I needed one hand to support a body and another to support the associated head. When my husband was home, I could sit in his lap and use his arms to support the second baby, but it wasn’t practical on my own. Instead, I’d let one baby feed in my arms while the other nestled in my lap.

b_202337Prematurity

My daughters’ early birth and subsequent NICU stay were the biggest challenges to establishing breastfeeding. My water broke–or rather “J’s water broke”; M’s amniotic sac had to be ruptured by the doctor–nearly 2 months before the girls’ due date. I had to have an emergency C-section, delivering 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz babies. They hadn’t yet put on the baby fat that allows full-term newborns to regulate their own body temperature and provides them the calories to carry through until mom’s milk came in.b_074835Instead of the newborn suckling I had anticipated, my babies were fitted with feeding tubes. Instead of their first meal being colostrum, it was high calorie formula. Those calories in the formula come from corn syrup.

I began to run a fever shortly after delivery, so I didn’t get to see my daughters until about 36 hours after their birth. Both my husband and I had been loud and obnoxious about our desire to get breastmilk to our babies. The hospital staff provided me with a breastpump and associated accessories. I began pumping when the babies were a few hours old and pumped every 3 hours for the time they were in the hospital. 16 days of round the clock pumping was the only thing I could really do to mother my babies. I was no medical professional and they required medical care, but pumping made me feel a little less helpless. I was still grieving the drug-free vaginal childbirth and chubby newborns I’d imagined I’d have.

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Photo Credit: Just Multiples

About a day after the babies were born, the pumping bore fruit. A tiny golden drop of colostrum clung to side of one miniscule bottle into which I was pumping. A maternity ward nurse delivered it to the NICU for me, where the nurses poured liquid formula into the bottle, washing every speck of colostrum into the girls’ next meal. They split the enriched formula between my babies. From that point on, any milk I could produce got magicked into my teeny ones by feeding tube.

Only once in the 16 days both my daughters were in the hospital did I have the opportunity to breastfeed. The lactation consultant was available during M’s feeding time, and she worked with me on a successful latch. M had already been exposed to the doll-sized NICU bottles and had been sucking impressively. We had just got the hang of it when a NICU nurse gently pried M from my arms. We couldn’t afford to let her use her energy on suckling. She needed to focus on the growing that she didn’t get to finish in utero.

I never got to even try to nurse J in the hospital. She had a hard time remembering to suck on her bottle, and had to have her feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed to make way for exclusive oral feeding. That’s why she ended up being hospitalized 5 days longer than her sister. She needed to be able to take 1 oz (31 mLs) of formula by mouth, 8 meals in a row, to be released from the NICU.b_152911Another challenge my preemies presented was their size. They were simply too small to reach from my breast to any pillow. I tried stacking three pillows, but they were wobbly. I used pillows to rest my arms, but I wasn’t going to trust them with my babies.b_235012J and M’s prematurity-related weakness was another challenge. Their sucks were incredibly weak. Once we got home, I discovered that it took them each about 45 minutes to get a full meal. By some miracle, the babies switched to the breast easily. Finally, a round peg for a round hole!

At the pediatrician’s recommendation, my daughters supplemented their diet with two meals daily of high calorie formula and infant vitamin supplements. I still pumped for the feedings while holding the babies’ bottles. I froze the milk.

Work

We settled into a routine. Nurse M for 45 minutes. Nurse J for 45 minutes. Do as much as I could in 90 minutes: change diapers, play with the babies, eat, do minimum necessary tasks around the house, go grocery shopping, shower, bathe the girls, sleep. Then nurse for another 90 minutes. I got a lot of reading done, let me tell you!

My 11 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, much to soon. I was grateful to get back to the world of adult challenges and conversation, but leaving the babies in the care of strangers was terrifying. Those strangers are now members of our family. My daughters attend the same school as their infant room teacher’s daughter. I bought my house to ensure that they’d be at the same school.

At work, I took three 15-minute breaks, morning, noon and afternoon, to pump. I didn’t produce anywhere near the quantity of milk that I did when I pumped on one side while nursing on the other. The girls’ formula intake went up.

I’d leave my expressed breast milk in the refrigerator at daycare, and the teacher would exhaust the breast milk before resorting to formula.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have an understanding boss and supportive work environment. The guys at work rearranged our office assignments so I could share an office with a female coworker who was unbothered by breastfeeding. I could pump at my desk without having to pause my work.

It also helped that my boss was the mother of two. Her youngest was only 4 months older than my babies, so we were pumping simultaneously and both constantly eating ravenously. We both stored our milk in the office refrigerator. My boss turned out to be a font of parenting knowledge and gave me many a breastfeeding pointer.

I started taking fenugreek supplements. I looked at photos of my girls while I pumped. I watched videos of them. I brought the onesies they’d worn the day before to work with me in the hope that the smell would trigger my body to produce more milk. Nothing seemed to help a whole lot. I couldn’t get more than 4 oz in 15 minutes when I pumped exclusively. When I had a baby to one breast and the pump to the other, it was a different story. The milk  came gushing. I tried several floor model pumps at the local breastfeeding store. It wasn’t the machine. It was me.

War

My husband left for Iraq for the second time when our babies were 5 months old. My extra pair of arms for tandem feeding was gone. The extra person who could latch the babies on for midnight feedings without waking me was gone. We could no longer change diapers at the same time. He couldn’t fix me a sandwich while I bathed the babies. Plus, he was getting shot at. He would miss our daughters’ first words, first steps and first hugs. When he finally got to come home, our girls didn’t recognize him, unable to equate the strange big man in their house with the photo we said goodnight to.

b_153107At 5 months of age, J (actually in my lap in the photo above) was a Daddy’s girl. Daddy knew how to swaddle her. Daddy knew how to burp her. Daddy knew how to make her laugh.

Within a few weeks of Daddy’s departure, J went on nursing strike. I’d bring my breast to her lips and, instead of opening her mouth and latching, she’d angrily turn away. I am completely convinced that she was protesting Daddy’s absence.

One day, after I’d broken down in tears in her office, my boss suggested that I take a few days off to try to reestablish breastfeeding with J. “Spend a few days skin-to-skin with her,” she said, “and see what happens.” I’d exhausted my vacation time during maternity leave, but my boss assured me that I could make it up. I could just do my work in the middle of the night while I was nursing instead of going on leave without pay.

I took three days off, I think. I took M into daycare and kept J with me, separating the girls for the first time since the NICU. I spent my time alone with J shirtless, holding her every second that I didn’t have her on the changing table for a clean diaper.

I tried a nipple shield. I tried latching J on in her sleep. I tried starting her on a bottle and then quickly switching to the breast. I tried the football hold and the cradle and the cross-cradle and side-lying. I tried singing and silence and white noise. I tried rocking and reclining and lying down and standing and walking. I’d already been taking fenugreek for months and constantly smelled like brunch.

One thing worked. If I sat in the bathtub with J, the water slightly warm, she would breastfeed. As soon as her little bottom touched the water, her head turned toward me, her mouth open, and the magical latch would just happen. If I lifted her out of the water, even for a second to get myself to a more comfortable position, she would break the latch and turn away again.

I kept up my attempts to break J’s nursing strike for another month. I dutifully sat in the tub with her, her sister in a bouncer beside the tub, morning and night. I didn’t quite have the reach to hold J in the water and comfort M at the same time, so we never managed the whole 45 minutes in the water. Besides, the water cooled and the sound of the water refilling the tub made both babies unhappy.

After a long frustrating month, I quit trying. I’d already gotten into the habit of nursing M on one side and pumping for J on the other.

A month later, M started fussing when I offered her the breast. I’d already been through the wringer trying to fight J’s wish to move on from nursing. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

So, at 7 months old (5 months corrected), M, J and I ended our breastmilk journey.

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Life After Breastfeeding

Today, J and M are 7 years old. They’re smart and curious bookworms. They’re outgoing and popular. They’re healthy and happy. They’re loving and kind. They’re more than okay. They are the kind of people I want to get to know and be friends with when they’re adults and they absolutely adore each other.

wpid-Photo-Jul-20-2013-1137-AM.jpgI have no reason to believe that an additional 5 months of breastmilk would have improved their lives. There’s an irrational part of me, though, that just can’t let it go.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the 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 co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 5 with all the carnival links.)

  • An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
  • It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
  • Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
  • Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
  • My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
  • So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
  • Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
  • Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
  • When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
  • Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
  • Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
  • Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
  • Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
  • Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
  • Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
  • A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.

What a Nightmare

Just a heads up. This is a post in which I vent.

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I am miserable. Everything I’ve been stressing about for the past several months is now starting to come to a head. I start work next week, with the official first day of school on the following Monday. With this deadline in mind, I feel like I’m fighting on too many fronts.

On Weaning

I’ve done the whole pump at work thing. Not fun. Not part of my return to work plan. But I’ve hit a slight snag trying to wean. 2.5 years ago with my first it wasn’t hard at all. I wanted badly to stop pumping, so I used the week off during Thanksgiving to step it down, and then Christmas break to finally end it. It was blissful to be finally done. But the point is that I was highly motivated and I had the time to make it a very gradual process. With the twins… I’m actually enjoying my pumping ritual. Pumping for two is not easy, and I am proud of having done it for this long. It just feels wrong to be letting it go. With that said, I still refuse to go back to pumping at work. So, starting about a month ago, I began lengthening the time between pumpings to 3 or 4 hours. I got a clogged duct. Well, the solution to a clogged duct is to pump MORE. So, in pain and running a fever, I went back to every 2 hours and finally it stopped hurting. Then I started over and to 3 hours, then 5, now 6… and guess what? I feel another clog coming on. I’ve never once experienced a clogged duct pumping for Toddler; this time is the 4th painful clog. Oy vey!

On Twins’ Sleep

For the last few days, we’ve been experiencing a sleep upheaval around here. The babies are not sleeping their normal times and durations, it’s affecting their feeding schedule, and they’ve been crying inconsolably much like they used to 4 or 5 months ago. I can only guess that they are transitioning to 2 naps now. It’s wreaking havoc on my nerves. This transition is probably never easy (I remember some headaches when Toddler went through them), but with twins it really is difficult x2. Maybe one is ready for a new schedule and the other isn’t? Maybe they both are but they need me to do something differently? I haven’t figured it out yet. I want to have them firmly set in the new routine before shipping them off to my mom’s, but right now it’s just survival.

On Twins’ Childcare Arrangement

So my mom decided she’d rather have me bring the babies to her house where she’s more comfortable instead of coming over to mine. I’m not altogether sure this is the best way to go, but it’s what she chose so we’ll have to work it out. Husband, his brother, and I spent quite a bit of time last weekend over there (while she was at our house watching the kids) clearing out, cleaning, assembling a second crib (Toddler’s will now be babies’), and installing a baby gate in the babies’ room. We are nowhere near done. The carpet needs to be cleaned, toys sanitized and organized, and all the baby paraphernalia x2 need to make their way over there. Did I mention this room is upstairs?

On Toddler’s Childcare Arrangement

Yesterday I registered Toddler for full day preschool nearby. It isn’t the most ideal place (Husband would say that I don’t think anywhere is good enough for her), but it will have to do. Mandarin is spoken, it’s close to home, the price isn’t too exorbitant, and the teachers seem caring enough. I paid for the month of August and gave a $250 deposit. Like all preschools, no discount for holidays (teachers get lots!) and 6 months’ attendance is required before the deposit can be refunded. No turning back now. She better like it there. I’m so scared what will happen when I have to leave her, or worse, at nap time. If she cries, I think I will cry too.

On Start of School Anxiety

After so long of being a SAHM, I truly dread going back to the frantic life of a working mom.  Not that life isn’t frantic staying at home with 3 young children, but in a different way I guess. I don’t look forward to waking up at the crack of dawn, getting myself ready as well as Toddler (before I didn’t really care how she looked to go to grandma’s house– she went in pajamas and unbrushed hair), remembering to get the day’s stuff ready for 2 babies, and rushing out the door to make it to school at 7am so I could get things done since I can’t stay after school. I also don’t have any appropriate clothes. Seriously, I haven’t worn real clothes or shoes for over a year. My wardrobe since the twins were born consists of camis and stretch pants. Before that I was wearing maternity clothes. And I literally have been only wearing a single pair of flip flops since the beginning of last summer. My shoes probably don’t even fit anymore. There is certainly some shopping to be done, which I don’t have time to do with 3 kids around.

On Other BS Stuff

Of course when one (several) bad things are happening, life has a way of throwing a bunch at us at the same time right? Our washing machine has been on the fritz for weeks. Buy a new one or attempt to repair it? No clue how to answer that question, but wondering every time I put in a load of laundry whether it will spin is not a way to live. I haven’t seen the dentist in at least 4 years. It’s probably time to go, but time and money and my fear of the dentist are all prominent factors here. Do baby clothes ever manage themselves? I find that I am frequently taking piles of outgrown clothes, some still with tags, and throwing them in huge storage bins. Here is another instance where two babies is definitely worse than one. I have had intermittent back pain ever since the twins were born. Keeping up with two mobile babies really does a number on me. Add in some stress and physical exertion and I start to feel like I’m breaking in half at the waist. You know what else? Our cleaning lady is vacationing for the month of August.

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Ok, I’m done. Whew! That feels a little bit better (not really). If anyone has any advice how to get through this, I could use it.

Saying Goodbye to the Breastpump

The time has come. School starts in about 5 weeks, and I go back to work in less than 4. I can’t believe it’s already upon me. I had thought back when the twins were 8 weeks old that I had quite a lot of time to decide how I would handle the breastfeeding thing. Making it to 8 months was always the ideal goal, the one that would happen in the best of possible worlds. More realistically I thought I’d stop when Husband went back to work, or at most 6 months perhaps. But somehow, I’ve been able to keep up with pumping every two hours while I’m awake for over 7 months now.

Of course at times this has been incredibly challenging, like taking the pump with me while on outings longer than 3 hours and pumping in the car/bathroom/other weird location, or pumping while one or two or all three kids need my attention. I’ve woken up in a pool of leaked milk, stayed up late to wash pump parts that I forgot about, and threatened to take a hammer to the darned contraption when I was done (might still do this).

But mostly, it’s just become a part of my life. I have learned to live it in 2-3 hour increments. After that amount of time, I get to take a “break” to go pump, and allow myself 10 minutes of me time. Sometimes Toddler comes along and plays on my bed next to me for a quiet chat– time to spend alone with her. It’s a chance for me to get caught up on the news, read some blogs, check in on Facebook– I’ve recently even started reading Game of Thrones.

Now that this routine is about to change, I feel a bit lost. I weaned the pump when Toddler was 8 months old. Working and pumping definitely took a much bigger toll, and I couldn’t wait to be done. But this time I feel different. I’m sort of mourning the loss of something that has become such a big part of my life. I read somewhere that the pump is like your third child, and in a way it is, and that child is kind of hard to let go. I know I should be excited that I will no longer need to wash all those pump parts, my family can get all that time back, and pumping will not be one of our schedule constraints any longer, but I’m actually more… sad.

Or maybe I’m projecting my emotions about returning to work onto pumping. I think I would happily trade continuing to pump if it meant I could continue to stay home.

Silver Linings of Bed Rest

12 days ago I went in to the doc for my 32-week check up and a half hour or so later, ended up in the hospital for monitoring, due to high blood pressure, having dilated and lots of swelling.  Once hooked up for monitoring, I was told my contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart.  I had been having contractions for a few months now, and never really bothered to time them, as I’d been told it was normal to have contractions early with twins. Before you knew it, I was being admitted, and stayed two days in order to get some meds in my system to slow down contractions and two doses of steroids to help with the babies’ lung development should they come a lot earlier than anticipated. Upon discharge, it was recommended that I stay on bed rest till 34 weeks, at minimum.

12 things I’ve learned in those 12 days that I did not know before

  1. The clock does not matter in the hospital.  I had a nurse come in to check my weight at 3am.  My weight.  I understand that this could be related to ruling out preeclampsia.  But still.  3am seemed a little unnecessary.  Almost like they just wanted to give a job to the night nurse to even out the daytime workload.
  2. After only two days of hospital bed rest, my muscles seemed to weaken.  I have nothing but sympathy and total admiration for you MoMs who endure MONTHS of hospital bed rest, not to mention, people who struggle with chronic illnesses that keep them bedridden for the forseeable future.
  3.  Even nurses in the high-risk OB floor, whose caseloads are probably half women pregnant with multiples, will make the annoying comments like, “Wow, a boy/girl set of twins!  Now you’re done!”  If the nurses in this arena still make these comments, can we really have hope for the rest of society to be more PC?
  4. IVF really does prepare you for the discomforts of being poked and prodded a million times and the lack of modesty that comes with being in the hospital.  Silver linings.
  5.  It is possible to gain 10 lbs of fluid in 48 hours from IV fluid.
  6.  It is possible for it to take 10 days to lose said 10 lbs of fluid.
  7.  The advice from others takes different shape throughout pregnancy, and has followed this timeline for us: Trying to conceive advice- “Just don’t stress about it, it’ll happen.”  Pregnant advice-”You think you’re tired now, just WAIT until you have a baby to take care of at 3am.”  Twin advice (from moms of singletons)- “Better you than me.”  See also number 10 on this list.  Bedrest advice-”You need to just accept it.  It’s all for the greater good.”  I just can’t wait to see what lovely nuggets of wisdom we get once the babies are actually here.
  8. That list of things I’ve always wanted to do that’s piled up for ages can actually get done pretty quickly when I don’t have other things like work, exercise, cleaning that I’m able/allowed to do.
  9. Working from home would not be something good for me.  I didn’t learn this through this experience, but it reaffirmed that I do get so much out of being around others each day, conversing, learning, contributing.  And I’m grateful to have a job I can return to that will allow me this luxury when the twins arrive.
  10. I am so lucky I had no complications in this twin pregnancy until 32 weeks, and even with being on bed rest, this is still a very healthy pregnancy.
  11. Every step of our fertility and pregnancy journey has taught me more and more to surrender and accept the things I cannot control.  Bed rest is just another one of these things to humble me and remind me to live life on life’s terms, not on mine.
  12. I am so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by friends who have texted every day, parents who have driven 45 minutes just to walk my dog for me, a husband who has waited on me hand and foot, family to visit and make us meals, a great hospital system a few blocks from our house, and my general health.

What did you learn from your bedrest or pregnancy complications?

Katie is almost 34 weeks pregnant with b/g twins, currently on bed rest and watching way too much HGTV.  She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and soon-to-be-big-sister canine friend.  

Third Strike at Summer Camp

summercamp“Specialty” summer camp logistics has been a nightmare that I can’t wake up from. I told you about the fiasco of our first couple of days this morning. Today was the final straw.

When I went to drop the kids off, I signed them into the full-day program and made sure that the counselors at drop off knew that my daughters needed to get to their cheer and soccer camps at 8:00. At that point, I was informed that this wasn’t an option on field trip days. Since the full-day campers and counselors would be offsite on their field trip, there would be no one available to take care of the children when the specialty camps let out. I could elect either to have the kids go on the field trip and skip cheer and soccer or I could find alternate care for the afternoon.

I wasn’t told when I signed the kids up for camp that specialty camps were essentially going to be incompatible with a work schedule. I specifically told the guy at registration that I was a single working mom, so full-day was a non-negotiable requirement. I’m sure that plenty of kids and parents elect to lose a day specialty camp over time at work, but poor J had already missed a day of cheer-leading on Monday. I wasn’t going to disappoint her again. Instead, I tried to do as much work as I could from my house with the kids there after I picked them up at 1:00 (having been late to work all week thanks to the search for answers at the Y). I was able to get some good focused time in immediately after they got home while they read, but by 4:00, they needed me to focus on them. I’m just so grateful that I have an employer who flexes to the unpredictable needs of two-career and single parents.

Even the coaches at the specialty camps were completely unaware of the conflict between full-day field trips and part-day specialty camps. I can’t help wondering how many coaches have had to stay late, over the years, on discovering that there was no one there to take responsibility for a subset of their kids when they were done with camp for the day.

I must say, in defense of the full-day program, that Sophia, the coordinator, called me as I was pulling out of the full-day parking lot to let me know about the field trip/afternoon care conflict. She apologized for not having mentioned it when we spoke yesterday. I’m embarrassed to say that I landed all my frustrations on her. She’s been nothing but helpful, and I called her later in the day to apologize for venting the way I had.

My daughters and I chatted in the car until shortly before 8:00, when I delivered M and J to their respective coaches. I then stalked YMCA staff until I located supervisors who were willing to talk to me. Specialty camp management was downright useless (except for Casey, who I mentioned yesterday).

The full-day management seemed to take my concerns seriously. They had obviously already discussed my frustrations. They listened to my concerns and recommendations for improvement. They promised to look into both systemic changes that they could implement and why I hadn’t received their weekly emails that outline what we can expect from camp. (There were emails!? This was the first I’d heard of them!)

I made sure that they knew that I had no complaints about the care my children were receiving, and that I’d had nothing but positive interactions with full-day staff. I was just flummoxed by the lack of communication, and the general not-my-problem attitude of the specialty camp administration. I reminded the full-day management that, while they probably get into the swing of things over the course of the summer, there are probably going to be new parents every week for whom the whole process is new and unknown. One of managers let slip that the specialty program doesn’t even inform them of which of the full-day children are enrolled in specialty camps in any given week; I think there’s clearly some federated organization pain going on, which is something I deal with–and try to minimize–at my own workplace.

I had originally thought we could push through the remaining specialty camps that M and J had selected and signed up for this summer, but I think it’ll be better for my blood pressure and the resulting home climate for us to call it quits. The emotional eating alone may be taking years off my life. The friend whose daughter is in J’s cheer camp and my daughters’ Girl Scout troop offered to pick my girls up early on field trip days so I don’t have to miss more work. I’m incredibly grateful for the offer, but she just shouldn’t have to make it.

I think it’s time to stick with the simplicity of the tried and true. Trying to make specialty camps and full-day care work together is like fitting a round peg in a square hole. I’ll leave those special programs to parents who don’t have to balance childcare with a work schedule during the summer. We’ll just stick with the full-day program at an elementary school location. These soccer, cheer, cooking and tumbling camps will have to be another set of things that J and M don’t get to experience because Mommy has a job.

On the upside, both M and J had a grand day. At one point, J’s cheer class happened to go outside to practice, ending up at the same field where M was working on soccer drills. The girls had an emotional reunion, and the coaches agreed to let M skip out of soccer early to visit J’s cheer camp for the week’s performance of the routine they’ve been working on. J, being the lightest kid in cheer camp, gets to be a “flyer,” the girl at the top of the pyramid. She’s giddy about M getting to watch her. I think that the counselors’ sensitivity to J and M’s relationship with each other and their willingness to think outside the box to nurture it shows that they don’t subscribe in the least to the uncaring culture of their management.

Summer Camp Makes Me Cry

summercampOur school district has a 12-week summer vacation. I’m a single mom with a full-time job, so I have to find somewhere safe and fun for my 7-year-old daughters to spend the summer months. According to our divorce decree, my ex-husband is supposed to get 30 summer days with the kids when he’s stateside, but he had to decline that right this year, so arrangements for the entirety of the 12 weeks fell to me.

I pored over summer camp brochures. My kids qualified, academically, for the highly rated Summer Wonders program for gifted children, but the full-day program plus extended care (for two) was well outside my schedule requirements as well as my budget. I finally decided to go with a local YMCA program for 11 weeks and Girl Scout camp for 1 week and let the kids pick specific options.

A friend made all the transportation arrangements for Girl Scout camp and kept my daughters after camp until I got home from work that week. The paperwork was more than a little frustrating–why would a day camp require that I provide scans of the girls’ medical insurance cards?–but the kids had a fantastic time.

Most of the YMCA weeks were to be spent at a school location at one of their basic camps. Each of these basic camps has a weekly field trip, weekly swimming outing and fun activities all day, every day. The kids are obviously happy and well-cared for, and the counselors make sure that I knew the schedule, providing daily updates on a whiteboard, a printed schedule, and verbal reminders.

For a few weeks,  we elected to sign up for a few “special” camps: tumbling, cheer-leading, soccer and cooking. These camps last from 8 am to 1 pm. Outside these hours, kids can additionally register for full-day camp, and the YMCA staff is responsible for transitioning the kids from one program to the other.

Once the kids were actually at their special camps, they had a blast. The counselors were fantastic. J, being petite, got to participate in the most fun part of all sorts of cheerleading stunts. She’s a “flyer.” M couldn’t stop talking about her dribbling, defense and scoring skills.

The administrative side, though, was just horrendous. I thought that, once I’d filled out the forms, paid out my $400 deposit ($15 per week per child for 12 weeks plus some base deposit) and paid the first week’s tuition, things would go smoothly.

Not so.

In week one, I was the first one to mess up. I showed up to the school-based camp location instead of the specials place. One of the counselors made some calls to help me figure out where J and M should be. They were signed up for tumbling camp… except that they weren’t. I managed to register M and J on the spot for the school location and left them there while I tried to chase things down. As I said, the on-site staff, the people who actually deal with kids, are professional, accommodating, and infinitely helpful.

What had happened, it turns out, was that when I signed J and M up for tumbling camp (or perhaps when they got around to entering them into their system), the camp was full. So someone took the initiative to move my $30 deposit for the week to be a credit against another week of camp, without ever bothering to communicate the change to me, and effectively leaving me without childcare for that week. When I tried to point out that the appropriate, polite and professional thing to do would have been to inform and consult me, the manager simply said, “Well, I have no idea who did it. Jeff took your paperwork, but he would never do that. I can’t look up who did.”

Great. Thanks. That makes everything better. Obviously, my first impression of the “special” camps wasn’t fantastic. Neither was the second.

What I had gathered from the (incomplete) information on the YMCA website and from several conversations was that I could drop the girls off at the full-day location between 7 and 8 or bring them directly to their special camp at 8. On the first day, I decided on the latter. I easily located M’s soccer coach, signed her in, and began to seek J’s cheer instructor.

I asked for a location at the front desk. I was pointed to a room in the building. We went in and it was empty. It was 7:55. I called out, thinking that I was simply failing to see someone. There was no response. I went to the childcare program offices for help.

“We don’t run that program,” said the ever unhelpful Jeff. “You’ll have to ask at the front desk.”
“I already did,” I told him. “They told me to go to room X.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“There’s no one there.”
“Oh, you should take her down to the [location] for the full-day program.”
“Now?”
“Yeah.”

I loaded J into the car and went down the street to the full-day location. Drop-off was easy, and J and I made sure that the counselor knew that J was supposed to be going to cheer camp. I left, my heart easy. I knew Sophia, the woman running the full-day program, and I knew she’d make sure everything was ship-shape.

When I returned in the afternoon to pick up the girls, Sophia was there. “I was so surprised!” she said. “I came in around 9, and there was J! It was so nice to see her.”

That didn’t sound right. At 9:00, J should have been at cheer camp. I mentioned my confusion. Sophia looked at her paperwork and confirmed that J should have been taken to cheer. She promised to look into it. J told me that she’d repeatedly told her counselor that she was in the wrong place, but I imagine that the counselor is accustomed to the petulant and unrealistic demands of 7-year-olds.

Within 10 minutes of our leaving to drive home, Sophia called. She’d called a couple of people. She and her counselors had messed up, she told me. By the time J and I arrived that morning, the posse of kids destined for special programs had already left. I assured her that, while I appreciated her taking responsibility, there were plenty of others who had given us misinformation.

The next morning, we were there at 7:50. M’s drop-off with her soccer coaches went smoothly, but J’s was again problematic. I went to the classroom in question, and it was filled with serious looking types in suits. I again went to the front desk. I tried to express to the man there that I was seeking the cheer instructor, and he informed me that he wasn’t the person I should talk to. I asked who I should talk to. He told me that no one I should talk to was there yet. I asked who, among the people there, could help me locate my child’s coach. He finally gave me the phone number for the head of the program. I went back to my car to get my phone, called the number he’d given me, and left a message. She still hasn’t had the decency to return my call.

On the way back to the classroom (for the fourth time in 2 days), I ran into a friend whose daughter was also in cheer camp. They’d be meeting in the grass that morning because of the meeting taking place in their regular location, she told me. By the time we found them, the other kids were in a circle, stretching with the coach. A woman–Carrie? Casey? I’m ashamed to say I was too upset to have retained her name–asked if I would like to sign J in. No, I told her. I wanted to talk to her.

I told her the whole story. By the time I was half way through, I was sobbing. I told her that I was entrusting her organization with the care of my children, and their behaviour wasn’t filling me with confidence. I trusted Sophia, I told her, to make sure that my kids were safe. She’d earned my trust over months of consistent communication, thoughtful and gentle discipline, and excellent time management. Sophia knew and cared for my kids. I hadn’t gotten an impression of caring from the other administrative staff. The not-my-problem attitude wasn’t winning any brownie points.

Carrie (?) looked into the whole tumbling fiasco. She took a screenshot of the oddball transactions and put it on the accounts manager’s desk for him to investigate. She explained to me that getting full-day kids to their special camps was the responsibility of the full-day counselors. I told her that I had already spoken to Sophia and worked out that part of it. I did ask her why, when J was missing yesterday, I didn’t receive a call to tell that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. A lot of kids, it turns out, just never show up, so they don’t bother calling no shows. I recommended that the two programs get on the same page about what should be done with kids who arrive in that grey time between 7:50 and 8:00. Parents would understand, I assured her, if we needed to stay 10 minutes. Just tell us that instead of sending us on wild goose chases.

Sophia called me later that morning to check in. I assured her that I felt that she’d done what she could. I let her know, though, that a coworker of mine said that he’d had similar issues at the location 15+ years ago. It was time to fix some things. She listened to my recommendations and promised to follow up. She even thanked me for giving her a parent’s perspective.

  • Assign a person who is physically present to be in charge of parent communication at all times throughout the day, and make sure that all staff members know who that person is.
  • Coordinate between programs so that managers know where children should be taken at what time.
  • Provide clear and consistent expectations for drop-off times and locations to all employees and train them on answering questions with patience and a sense of ownership of the problem.
  • Send email or written confirmation of registration records to ensure that parents have the same impression as the YMCA of their child’s schedule.
  • Along with written confirmation of registration, send parents a list of assumptions. Who is responsible for our child at different points in the day? Where, precisely, are we supposed to go to drop them off and pick them up? What should they bring with them?
  • Train data entry staff on appropriate handling of unusual cases or insist that they check with a manager before making modifications.

Honestly, I don’t have much confidence that they’ll fix anything. I’ll just have to trust that Sophia will notice even if everyone else loses track of my children. And this will be our last year of turning to the Y for special camps.

Edit: June 26, 2013, 11 pm CDT – Things got worse today. Read on.

Decision Made

Well, it’s been decided. Not in a definitive moment of inspired epiphany kind of way, instead a slow but sure realization that there wasn’t ever any other option. Who was I kidding? (Myself.) There is no long-term way that we would be happy living on one income in Los Angeles, especially now with three children who are only going to get more expensive as they require activities and demand stuff. And by no means do we spoil our kids, but we don’t want them wanting for anything if we are able to provide it.

So there it is. Decision made. I will go back to work for the next school year, continue my career, strive to impact the lives of young people, and hopefully sock away money for the enough-bedrooms-for-everyone next house.

To be really honest though, I’m not sure I was ready for the uncertainty of taking a few years’ break from my career. As a teacher, my job is comparatively secure. There have been layoffs in my profession in recent years, but it’s not nearly as bad as in others. However, I currently have 10 years in my district, which represents a pretty solid seniority ranking– one I would lose if I left and started working in a different district in the future, not to mention a loss in pay as well for basically starting over. And even if we are able to afford me staying at home full time in the future, am I really ready to completely let go of my career? What will I do when my children all go to school?

I do even look forward to time away from my kids. Not that I don’t love being at home with them, but I do need some time to myself, time that isn’t precariously contingent upon nap schedules and baby mood swings. I can get up in the morning, shower, get dressed, and go on my way like a normal person. I can interact with people who are over the age of 3. I can have an intelligent conversation with someone who isn’t my husband or a mommy friend. And then I can run home and enjoy my more-precious children at the 3pm bell.

But that’s not to say this isn’t a heart wrenching decision that comes with its own dilemmas. I will need to not only part with my 3 year old every morning, but also two more kids who will by then be in the throes of separation anxiety. Their lives will drastically change after almost 9 months of Mommy-all-the-time. What the heck, my life will drastically change and I will suffer baby withdrawals. No more mid-morning trip to the park, afternoon visit to the library, or classes with Toddler. And it will be the end of naps for Mama. No more break while the kids are all taking their midday nap. I will be gone for the relatively easy naps/feeds/happy children during the day but retain the craziness of getting out the door in the morning and dinner/bedtime/cranky children in the evening. All while putting in a full day of work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And I haven’t exactly locked down where Toddler will be going to school come fall. We’ve decided she is definitely ready for more structured socialization, but the preschool hunt has turned up nothing spectacular. My requirement of Chinese instruction is what really holds us back, but that is also the one thing I cannot compromise.

Nor have I really figured out what to do with the twins. My mom has been coming to take over one feeding with the babies two mornings a week while I spend time alone with Toddler. She does great with them, and I always come home to well-fed and back-asleep babies. But she’s only here 3 hours, and they’re napping for almost half of that time. She’s an aging grandma with her own ailments, and I think caring for crawling-in-different-directions twins might break her. Ideally we’d have the exact same setup as with Toddler: Drop them off at her house in the morning, drive 5 minutes to work, and pick them up 10 minutes after the last class. But schlepping two around this time, with stuff for two, up and down stairs with two, two additional cribs, highchairs, two everything… and picking up Toddler somewhere along the way, that’s just daunting. So maybe she will need to come to my house? Maybe I will need to hire an additional helper? Maybe I need a nanny instead?

I am very anxious that this isn’t all worked out by now.

So, it is ultimately with a heavy heart that I will be going to be back to my classroom in a matter of weeks, unpacking boxes from cabinets, putting up bulletin boards, and preparing to meet the 120+ teenagers who it will be my job to mold this year. Maybe I can reassess next spring…

lunchldyd is a high school teacher and mom to 3 kids 3 and under.

The Online Mother of Multiples Club

I didn’t seek out mother of multiples clubs when I was pregnant. It never even occurred to me that such a thing existed. However, I had a fortuitous run-in at my daughters’ very first pediatric visit, the day after J was released from the NICU, 22 days old. I was stopped on the way to the examination room by a mother, Laura, who told me that she had twin boys, and would I be interested in joining her mothers of multiples club? It was a small one, limited to the suburb in which we lived. There were fewer than 20 moms in the group. I gave her my contact information, and found myself attending the next meeting.

These women were incredibly nice. One of them, Kara, was tandem nursing her one-year-olds. Formula had never touched their lips. She was an inspiration to me throughout my efforts to breastfeed my girls.

The problem, though, was that I was the only woman in the group with a full-time job. The group’s activities that included kids were all held during the day, on weekdays. They didn’t have any weekend activities; they wanted to spend that time together as a family with their husbands. The monthly weekday evening meetings were child-free. They were intended to be a chance for a bunch of girlfriends to leave their kids with their husbands and get a night off. That worked for me for a couple of months, but then my husband deployed to Iraq when our babies were 5 months old.

I couldn’t quite see my way to hiring a babysitter when I was already away from my daughters 11 hours every day. I maintained friendships with individual members of the group by email. I volunteered to manage the membership records. I couldn’t really attend any events, though.

My “real” participation was limited to the annual family-inclusive potluck picnic. I was the only one at the picnic without a husband. (Since then, three of us have gotten divorced and one has remarried.) It was a great time, though. When I got up from my hotdog to give my girls their bottles, their having rejected the breast months earlier, Kara asked me to hand her a baby. We each fed a child with one hand, feeding ourselves with the other, while she watched her three kids run in the grass. I was dumbfounded. With the exception of my dear friends Sara, whose son was 14 days younger than mine and whose husband had deployed with with mine, and Kaylan, who was living with us, my friends were generally terrified by my children. I hardly knew what to do with this cool, collected and well-coiffed mother who was clearly comfortable handling an undersize baby or two.

I tried reaching out to the much larger mothers of multiples group that served the greater Austin area, but never received a response to my queries. I looked at their meeting schedule, and sure enough, kid-friendly activities were during work hours. Kids weren’t welcome at after-hours events. I was a little miffed, but figured that I had a pretty great support network through work, plus the gifts of Sara and Kaylan.

This whole time, I’d been blogging, trying to provide a place for our relatives around the world, including Daddy in Iraq, to keep up with what M and J were up to. There were lots of photos and here’s-what-we-did-today posts. One day, I clicked a link in a moms’ forum to The Busy Dad Blog. I don’t even remember what post it was, but it had me in stitches and I left a comment. On a whim, I linked my name to my little family-and-friends mommy blog.

Community surrounds usFrom that teeny little comment, people–complete strangers–started visiting my dinky little blog. People starting commenting. I clicked to their sites. I discovered this entire culture of mommy blogging. (Sorry, Jim, but I consider you a mommy blogger; if there were more daddy bloggers like you around, I’d probably graduate to “parent blogger,” but there you have it.) Before long, I was finding my parenting deeply impacted and greatly improved by the observations and recommendations of the likes of LauraC, Goddess in Progress, and Momo Fali. LauraC’s extraordinary boys, Nate and Alex, are only 6 days younger than my daughters, she works full-time, and her husband travels for work. There’s no one else I’d come across who seemed to understand my day-to-day reality better.

Tracey is reading to our two sets of twins.I discovered LauraC and Goddess in Progress right here at How Do You Do It? I’ve since met HDYDI’s LauraC and Reanbean in real life. Goddess and I can somehow never quite make it to the same place at the same time, although we’ve tried. I’ve become close friends with Tracey, also a former blogger at HDYDI. Our families have even spent Christmas together, although her boys can no more tell my girls apart than my girls can distinguish them. It doesn’t seem to negatively impact their play.

My virtual mothers of multiples club online has helped me get through potty training, the Terrible (Horrible Awful Monstrous) Threes, deployment after deployment, school decisions and, most recently, divorce. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t experience online relationships like these how much these people, most of whom I will never meet face-to-face, mean to me. I’ll never be able to repay what I owe them.

Traditional mother of multiples clubs haven’t quite worked out for me, but the blogosphere? That’s my club. Online parenting support has been priceless. My daughters are better off for the community of thoughtful parents who’ve shaped how they’re raised.

Thanks to MarisaB and RebeccaD for kicking off this conversation.

Summer Vacation? What Summer Vacation?

I have a variety of mommy–or rather parent–friends. I’m a single working mom of twins, but the families my daughters and I spend time with run the gamut from large home-schooling ones to two-income families with one child.

When we moved back to Central Texas last August after a year living in El Paso, we reconnected with old friends and also made a number of new ones in our new neighbourhood and at J and M’s school. The majority of these new mommy friends are either stay-at-home moms or teachers. Another friend with whom we try to spend as much time as possible is going to college. All their routines change drastically during the summer. No school, no work.

As the kids’ school year drew to a close, people’s excitement was palpable. Mom after mom talked about the plans they had in place to entertain and educate their kids during the summer. They proposed fun and exciting events and activities. One mom is even going to host Spanish language activities for five kids, including my daughters, so that they don’t lose the huge leaps in Spanish fluency they’ve made this year in dual language first grade.

Although I work at a university, my work schedule is not impacted by the academic calendar. I need full-day childcare for my daughters when they’re not in school. When they were littler and in daycare, our summer routine was no different than the rest of the year’s. Now that they’re in school, I replace after-school care with summer camps.

A letter from J describing her first day of Girl Scout camp

Our old friends quickly learned that our social calendar was limited to weekend activities. After all, I went back to work when M and J were 11 weeks old. Our new friends are learning this now. Just yesterday, I had to turn down two invitations for midweek play dates. I’ll still be at work at the times my friends proposed. A couple of times, we’ve been invited to weeknight events; my daughters’ friends can sleep in the next day, but my girls have to be dropped off early so I can be at work on time.

A complication in our attempts to schedule play dates is that my daughters have a number of friends who, like them, have divorced parents. Birds of a feather, you know. M and J’s dad lives in North Carolina, and we’re in Texas. He sees them when he can. Many of the girls’ friends spend alternate weekends with their dads, and I’m friends with the moms. On the Daddy weekends, none of the girls’ “divorced” friends are open for play dates.

My daughters’ routine gets switched up during summer vacation, but mine remains the same.

Does summer bring a marked change to your family’s routine? Do your kids’ social calendars put yours to shame?