Always Twins

I sat on the side of the pool during Caden and Brooklyn’s swim lesson, trying to avoid their inevitable splashes. It was the end of summer and we’d taken advantage of the break in our schedule (and the break in pricing) to do a two-week swim camp. Every morning at 8:45, swimsuits and goggles on, the two-year old occupied in the nearby movie room so I could watch the big kids do tiger paddles, pancake floats, and cannonballs.

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Brooklyn is a fish in the water. No, a mermaid. Graceful and sure. If they made instructional videos starring students for each skill, she would be the one on-screen for Level Two, every time. Perfect.

Caden, usually the daredevil of the twins, isn’t quite as sure in the water. Used to the control he has on dry land, the water requires more trust, a letting go. He loves the water, but being asked to lay his head back calmly, without thrashing, is a bit much for him. He had made a lot of progress in the past week, with dramatic improvement in most of his swimming skills. But as the day for level recommendations approached, I had a sinking feeling about his back floats and pancake flips. (No pun intended.)

I warned them both the day before testing that they might not move up to Level Three together. I wanted to prepare them so it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise if Caden had to repeat.

“Mommy,” Brooklyn asked, “Will we still be twins even if we’re not in the same class?”

I was completely caught off-guard. My heart did that contradictory thing it does so often in motherhood, where it both breaks and swells at the same time. Tears sprang into my eyes, surprising me. She had asked it as most four-year-old’s ask questions, detached of any emotion, full of nothing but pure curiosity.

“Of course you’ll still be twins!” I told them, “You’ll always, always, always be twins, and nothing can ever, ever change that.”

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I’d been expecting something like this to happen eventually, one twin left behind. I’ve been dreading it for years now, my heart already breaking for the first year they’re split up at school or in different friend groups. I’ve been anticipating the day — in middle school, maybe — when one is placed in the advanced math class while the other struggles, where one has a full social calendar while the other is left out. What I will do, what I will say. Planning for the moment there is a break in their relationship, in theirs, the strongest of twin bonds.

This one caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it so soon, at just four and a half. They’ve done everything together, mastered skills from rolling over to walking within just days or even minutes of each other. Parent-child classes and storytimes and play dates and gymnastics and dance class and preschool. And swim lessons. Until now.

At least for now they’re essentially devoid of emotion. While Caden understands he didn’t move up a level, he’s also excited to take swim lessons again by himself this fall, in the hope that he can move up and join Brooklyn again in the spring. Brooklyn is too young to be full of herself and her own mastery of swimming skills. “I moved up but Caden didn’t” is something she says more factually than pridefully.

It’s a delicate balance: how do I praise Brooklyn for her ability while not making Caden feel bad or like he’s done something wrong? How do I encourage Caden to try again, to work hard while also not comparing him to Brooklyn?

My own doubts, anxieties, and perfectionism creep in. All the things I don’t want to pass on to them. I choose my words carefully, praise Brooklyn when Caden isn’t around, assure Caden that repeating a level is perfectly fine.

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While they’re each their own people — I am very cautious of using the phrase “the twins” to describe them — it also breaks my heart to think of them separately. They are so close. That stereotypical twin bond is a real thing in this house. While they do tend to be comfortable without each other, there’s also something special about their friendship and the ease in which they play together. (Well...most of the time.) “I miss Brooklyn,” Caden said repeatedly during a recent weekend Brooklyn spent at my parent’s house, even while he had plenty of fun without her.

They have their own fascinations, desires, and ambitions. Where Caden is a Batman superfan and a daredevil on the playground, we haven’t really discovered his hidden passion yet (besides anything related to the Dark Knight). Brooklyn likes superheroes mostly because her brother does, but glories in dance class and her artistic talents. I see where they’ve begun to diverge already and can only guess how that gap will grow over time.

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Preschool has started up again for the year. (Finally. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it for awhile there.) Same classroom, same teachers. New friends. The ones from last year are a bit scattered. Except for each other. It reassures me that they still have each other. I think of Nolan entering the preschool world — all by his own little self — next year and the thought terrifies me a little. I realize this is the norm for almost every other kid ever. I’m too used to having built-in BFFs navigate the waters of life together.

We take pictures before the first day and they clasp hands, automatically. It would be almost easy to miss, they do it so often. But I notice today.

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After school, they chatter away. Finish each other’s sentences, fight when the other talks over them, show me the pictures they drew (Caden drew Batman just in case you were wondering). They’re still here, together. They still have each other, despite what class or level or grade or friends or interests they do or don’t have. They’ll always be twins. And nothing can ever, ever, ever change that.

The Summer Neighborhood

It's a wet and muggy first day today. Not for us, preschool doesn't get going until next week, but for the rest of the neighborhood. Most years the day after Labor Day has dawned sunny and bright. I usually forget it's not just another Tuesday until we walk down to the park after 9:00 am to find everything quieter than usual. Windows and garage doors closed, empty yards, general stillness.

Our neighborhood comes alive in the summer. Most Midwestern ones do, I suppose. We have to enjoy it while we can. The big kids run around, free from school (or are shoved outside, away from their screens, reluctantly), little ones chalk in the driveway (or scream bloody murder because they “don’t want to get wet” even though they’re in the pool with their swimsuit on), everyone is out grilling burgers and kabobs and brats.

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One yard or another fills up with assorted neighborhood kids and parents. Some of the older kids’ parents stay inside their air-conditioned homes. I’m not sure what they do inside. I imagine they’re luxuriously soaking up stacks of books, enjoying Netflix marathons, and eating ice cream by the pint in their pristine and organized living rooms. (I’ll report back in about a decade or so to let you know if that is in fact true.) It’s a win all around. The older kids help referee the little ones while us parents chat and occasionally crack open an adult beverage.

I’ve been taking advantage of some of those bigger kids this summer, putting them to use. As babysitters for date nights or, more importantly, as “mommy’s helpers” because I desperately need a break in the afternoon. Others wander the neighborhood, offering their services. One neighbor girl came along to pull the ever-present weeds from our landscaping. (Her rate? “$2.30 for 30 minutes”. You can’t beat that, people.) Another mows our grass. For FREE. (Okay, I guess you can beat the $2.30 girl. Though we paid the grass-mower anyway.)

For the most part I’m doing a little dance inside at this time of year. With the days cooling and the leaves about to change and the pumpkins and the apples and the sweaters all headed our way, what’s not to love? I come alive again at this time of year, a fall girl who glories in the lack of humidity, the wearing of booties, and returning to the routine of a school-year schedule.

At the same time something is lost. Not quite yet but soon. The chill will go from a literal breath of fresh air to something more brutal. Everyone will turn to the warmth of their homes and blankets and fireplaces. Backyards, sidewalks, and driveways will be empty. I’ll admit there’s a beauty to this rhythm, too. I do love cozying up, decorating for the holidays, hunkering down during the first snow, and remembering how to play inside again. But a couple months of that and I’m ready for people. For the ease of social interaction without the coordination of text messages and calendars. For the easy-breezy days of stepping just outside our door to find friends. For afternoons that aren’t quite as long and tedious since we can spend them at the park. Or in the backyard. Or anywhere but the same four walls surrounding us all day every day.

We're planning to glory in our own last week of summer. Plans to spend our last few days at the park (when it's not wet), our own backyard, the farm, and topping it all off with an overnight at a local waterpark. A last hurrah. We'll enjoy our summer neighborhood while we can before embracing the indoors all over again.

Just Wing It

The babysitter looks at me expectantly. I glance down at the schedule I’ve dashed off in hot pink felt pen on the back of a four-year-old’s crayon drawing. (Shhh, don’t tell.)

5:30: Dinner (pizza delivery)
6:45: Nolan’s bedtime (diaper, pjs, 2 books, sound machine on)
7:30: Twins’ bedtime (potty, pjs, 2 books)

It’s the bare details, of course. The pizza has already been paid for, tip and all. Nolan has special nighttime diapers since he leaks through the cheaper ones we use during the day. The twins aren’t allowed to talk in their room after they’re tucked in but can quietly page through as many books as they want in their beds. Et cetera.

I realize I’m the one who’s supposed to explain all this to her. I’m the authority figure here. The mom.

When did that happen? I mean, I know we were the ones who had these kids and all but yeesh.

“So we’ve had a bit of a rough afternoon but they’re really excited for you to be here tonight,” I start off. “Bedtime should hopefully go smoothly. If you need something to keep the twins occupied while you put Nolan down they can watch TV…”

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I think back to my own days as a babysitter, which, despite three kids, almost eight years of marriage, and a mortgage, were all of yesterday. What did those parents tell me when I was the one given a schedule and standing on the other side of the counter? I think they told me to throw them in bed and instructed me on how to use the remote? Maybe? Those parents all seemed like they knew things. Self-assured. They didn’t seem as desperate to get out of the house as I do now. Did they feel the financial strain of paying for both a babysitter and a night out? These date nights drain our bank account by $100+, easily, and that’s just with the cost of a babysitter, the pizza, and a reasonably nice dinner for ourselves. The parents I babysat for didn’t seem so concerned about these things at the time. Now, on the other side, I’m not so sure.

“The pizza is paid for and should be here at 5:30 - the boys will eat sausage and Brooklyn will only eat cheese. There are oranges in the pantry, too, and please help yourself to anything you’d like. Leftovers can go in the fridge. These are their bedtimes...”

She looks at me, absorbing everything I’ve said. Either that or she’s completely disinterested. That blank face all teenagers seem to master gives away nothing. She’s been to our house before, but not to babysit. What else does she need to know? Should I give her a tour of the kids’ bedrooms? All three of them know where their own pajamas are. Should I show her how to work Nolan’s sound machine or the baby monitor? That seems like an insult to her 15-year-old, iPhone-wielding intelligence. Besides, Nolan knows how to work his own sound machine.

This situation, me on one side of the counter, her on the other with her poreless skin and her leggings and the scrunchi on her wrist, (because apparently we’re going full flashback mode here and those are back in style), seems so bizarre and formal and old. How on Earth am I the one in need of a babysitter?

I rattle off a final list of instructions as the kids run around our legs and hope I haven’t left anything out.

“Nolan needs to wear one of the Elmo diapers to bed, they’re in the top drawer - if the twins have a hard time settling down you can tell them that mommy and daddy will give them donuts in the morning if they stay in their beds quietly - the remote is here and feel free to watch Netflix or whatever once they’re all in bed and the toys are picked up - the kids can help put things away before they go down.”

I don’t need to show her exactly how to change a diaper, do I?

Nah.

Hugs and kisses all around once Tyson comes downstairs, clean-shaven and all. I grab my shoes and purse, ready to dash out the door. Nolan realizes what’s about to happen and lets out a desperate cry of “Mom-meee!” with tears in his eyes. The only way to solve that problem is to get out of sight as fast as possible. I give her one last instruction as I shove a flailing Nolan in her arms. “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Just wing it! That’s all I do, anyway!”

“Okay,” she says, as she looks at me with wide eyes and a half-smile. Maybe I’ve broken the mystique of any potential authority I have as the mom by telling her to wing it. He will calm down I know, just as soon as we’re gone. That or he’ll work as an excellent form of birth control.

We wave from the minivan as they watch us go from the window of the playroom, three little faces pressed against the window, Nolan still with tears in his eyes. Maybe I should feel bad but instead I grin at Tyson as we pull away. A 30-minute drive downtown and a kid-free dinner means freedom for a few evening hours. Here we go.

Crap. I forgot to tell her about the emergency numbers. Oh well. They'll be fine.

Life Lately (Summer edition)

We’ve been living up summer over here. Most afternoons have found us in the backyard, in the pool, the kids splashing and swimming and running off to the swingset while I occasionally get some reading done. They’re at their best outside: less inclined to fight, to exclude, to tantrum. Of course that still does happen. But not nearly as much as when we’re all cooped up.

I love our backyard. It’s shaded and somehow there’s always a breeze back there, even on the hottest of days where the branches are still everywhere else. It’s comfortable and cool and the perfect spot to summer with a book and some water and my lawn chair and the occasional (read: daily) freezee pop.

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True confessions: I wrote the above two paragraphs a couple of weeks ago. August is actually the absolute worst. I'm sure next year I'll be wishing it were longer (because KINDERGARTENNNNNNN) but, well, it's still this year and the kids have basically forgotten how to play outside and just wander around in circles whining and/or fighting. So. Yeah. I'm over it.

(And yes I realize that mere months ago I was complaining about winter but that was after a literal six months of snow. My self-awareness has grown as I've realized that my tolerance for any given season is about a two month time period (with the exception of fall) so my new proposal is an eight-month year with two months each for spring, summer, fall, and winter. Who's with me? Let's get on that.)

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We went on our annual family vacation up north in July. It was the most enjoyable year in awhile. I wasn’t breastfeeding anyone, we didn’t really care about nap schedules since it was just easier to wear them out and then put them to bed at night, we were more comfortable with the kids in the water given their recent swimming lessons and the magic of life jackets.

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Brooklyn was the fishiest of fish and I’m amazed we got her out of the water at all. Caden loved any boat he could con a ride on, from the paddleboat to the pontoon to the stand-up paddleboard. Nolan gloried in being his full summer-kid self and also ate all the snacks he could get his hands on. I enjoyed more time in the surprisingly warm lake than in the past few years combined, enjoyed a drink or three, and devoted entire chunks of time to reading. It was glorious.

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NOLAN IS USING THE POTTY. The kid I thought would be in diapers forever due to all of his “I a BABY!” and “I no YIKE it!” and all that running away from the actual potty up and decided out of the blue that hey, the potty isn’t so bad, after all.

About a month ago he was pulling at the front of his pants so I asked him, as I’ve asked him one hundred million times before, “You look like you have to go potty. Do you want to go on the potty?” and instead of screaming "NOOOO" he gave me a spirited “YEAH!” and ran to the potty, where he pulled down his pants, sat down, and went like he’s been doing it all his life. (I had a slight moment of “Are you KIDDING me?” as he probably could have been potty trained six months ago, but whatever.)

So. We’re going potty. And for the first time in about 4 ½ years, I have exactly ZERO children in diapers. Praise the Lord.

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Nolan also sometimes doesn't nap. And rarely naps for more than 60 minutes. It’s the worst thing ever. Fix it, Jesus.

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Caden obsessively and compulsively saved up for a $99.99 LEGO Batman set. Specifically this LEGO Batman set or as he calls it, “The one hundred dollar Batman LEGO set that has the Batcave and Bruce Wayne and Alfred Dad and the Penguin.” Yeah. That one. Then he obsessively and compulsively carved out time each day to work on putting it together (often by himself and please just go look at that "8-14"-year old age suggestion on it again) and spent the rest of the time keeping Nolan away from it. Every night he thanks God for “my Batman LEGO set with the Batcave because it makes me so happy.” 

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Earlier this month I spent some time in Denver with my favorite group of women - a group of mamas and writers just like me. It was also the first time we met in person. Little did I know that my favorite group of people could also be ones I'd never actually "met" before, but I guess that's the Internet for ya. 

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They were smart, fierce, funny, passionate, wonderful, lovely, extraordinary women. We may start our own commune just so we don't have to hop on a plane in order to see each other and can help each other take care of babies and make meals and give each other time off to go write for days at a time. Okay, probably not, but we can dream. It was perfect and wonderful (besides a four-hour flight delay on my way out of town) and I can't wait to do it again.

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Upon my (very, very late at night) return from Denver, Tyson told me, "If anything is too hard today, don't do it." I took that as my cue to procure Happy Meals for lunch.

 Please note that nobody complained about this situation.

Please note that nobody complained about this situation.

I'm also taking it as my motto for the rest of summer. We've summered and now we are surviving. I'm resting, reading, and yelling instructions or corrections from my chair. This is where we're at, people.

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Some toddler and preschooler-isms I'm loving lately:

  • "Oosp" (oops). Nolan always mixes up the last two letters. It's ridiculously endearing and part of the reason I want to read Blue Hat, Green Hat with him every. single. day. It also sounds like it should be a thing from IKEA. The Oosp floor lamp or something.
  • "Sun scream" (sunscreen). Those "m"s and those "n"s, man. They're tough.
  • "Nusic" (music). See above.
  • "Fly splatter" (fly swatter). You know their version is better.
  • "Constructions" (instructions). Like the booklets of instructions that come with all those LEGO sets. Another preschooler-ism that I'm convinced is better than the original.
  • "The day before this day" and "the day after this one". Because no matter how much we remind them, those four-year olds have a tough time remembering the words "yesterday" and "tomorrow" but can string their own set of words together pretty well to get the point across.

Counting Motherhood

I keep a lot of numbers in my head.

One is the number of pink lines I was expecting. I was ready for that disappointment. But first one and then another appeared as I watched the white stick on the counter, surprising me after all.

Two has been a big number for us. Because those two pink lines represented not one, but two little babies. They were born just two minutes apart, first brother, then sister. Then they turned two only two days before our youngest was born. A brother. Number three.

Three takes up a lot of space in our home right now. It’s the number of toddler beds, mini Pottery Barn chairs, three-wheeled scooters, and balance bikes you’ll find around here. Three plates and three spoons and three half-full cups of milk. Three sets of shoes (out of the so many more), three jackets, and three little backpacks to put on and take off.

Four is the number of years I’ve been doing this stay-at-home mom gig. Four years since those twins were born. Those four years have involved some bigger numbers. I’m sure I’ve changed about 12,482 diapers in that time. I must have done upwards of 2000 loads of laundry. I’ve served up approximately 3408 snacks and stepped on 324 Goldfish (probably).

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!