Caden

Life Lately

Like many of you, my heart has been with the detention centers at the border. As more and more reporting came out late last week and over the weekend, I couldn’t tear my mind away from it.

Which means that as I washed off a face mask and shaved my legs in the shower, I thought how immigrants to my own country weren’t even provided with soap. And when I started my period on Sunday I thought of all the teenage girls who would get their periods, maybe for the very first time, in an overcrowded detention center. I have little hope these girls are being provided with pads or tampons if they’re not even being given toothbrushes. I pray for a kind female border guard or older teenage girl to help them through. And as I threw away a head of lettuce, a pint of blueberries, and two containers of leftovers that went bad before we could eat them, I thought how these kids are saying they’re not being fed enough, they’re still hungry, that they can’t go out to play because it takes all their energy just to survive another day.

These are kids who are in America. In 2019. I’m tired of being told these people are a threat to us when clearly we are a threat to them.

Sit with that a moment. And then read this Instagram post, and this article, and this one, too. And let it crush you as you imagine your children in such a place and let it make you physically sick to your stomach. Then read them again.

Part of me wants to rush down there and scoop up as many of those children as I can and bring them back home. Obviously that’s not practical or feasible in any way shape or form. It seems like so little, yet if you can, please consider donating to Together Rising. They are working with people on the ground to reunite families, give these children proper medical care, and to get them out of there as fast as they can.

Also contact your representatives. Let them know we’re watching. Because there’s no such thing as other people’s children. And if we’re a country that truly values children, this is not the kind of country we want to be.

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Horrific story adjacent: One thing I’ve been doing to combat mindlessly scrolling through social media is to stop whenever I see something awful, something that hits me to my core. Things like the reports of the treatment of children at the border, a post from a friend about infant loss, etc. When it makes me stop and think, when it makes my heart hurt, I stop what I’m doing and put my phone down. I may click into the article if it’s a news report, but then I put it away. I sit with those feelings and really force myself to think about what I’ve just read.

It can be hard sometimes. Who wants to sit with those shitty feelings? But it feels more honest than to continue to scroll. To continue through photos of happy families on vacation and ads for clothes I don’t need but am tempted to click on, anyway.

Honestly, it felt more shitty when I kept scrolling and tried to shove those feelings down. It’s helped. It’s something.

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In an abrupt shift, because that seems to be how my brain works these days, these two spent the better part of the weekend riding around on two wheels.

One push from me, and a little bit of convincing, was all it took. Those balance bikes are miracle-workers for sure. Teaching them to ride on two wheels, something I thought we could do to kill time - maybe take up the better part of an afternoon - took all of ten minutes. And that included the time it took to take the training wheels off.

“That wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!” Brooklyn said after her inaugural ride down the sidewalk.

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The food websites have been bringing it lately with their collections of food writing. First was Bon Apetit with their “Welcome to Red Sauce America” essays. (I read it over a period of a week…and had a mad craving for some chicken piccata the whole time. Which has yet to be fulfilled.) Then, less lengthy but no less fun, Taste talked all things 90’s in “The 90’s Issue”. While all the pieces are worth a read, I’m calling out “The Bizarre History of Buca di Beppo” and “The 1990s Boom of California’s Mexican Supermarkets” as my personal favorites. (I also have to give a shout out to a favorite spot in Madison as well as a favorite here.)

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Food adjacent: please read this op-ed from the New York Times: “Smash the Wellness Industry”.

I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. “The thing is,” she said with a grimace, “you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.”

The new dietitian had a different take. “What a gift,” she said, appreciatively, “to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?” It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.

It’s. So. Good.

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I made a big batch of homemade freezees a few weeks ago using these. They work great, though the zip-close doesn’t work very well. While they’re not reusable like I was hoping, at least the kids are eating pureed fruit instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

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I promise it’s simple: pulse up some fruit along with just a little orange juice or lemonade in a food processor, add sugar if needed (I used less than a tablespoon with each batch, otherwise they were pretty tart), pour, and freeze. My next step is to just freeze lemonade for some Italian ice-style freezees. So far we’ve made:

  • strawberry (strawberries with orange juice)

  • mixed berry (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries with lemonade)

  • cantaloupe (cantaloupe with a few strawberries and orange juice)

  • strawberry-banana smoothie (strawberries, a banana, and yogurt instead of juice) (my favorite!)

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I’ve been living in these shorts and these shirts. I bought two pairs of the shorts (dark cinnabar and palm tree - recommend sizing down) and three of the shirts (fit is pretty true-to-size, or size up for a looser fit). They go perfectly together. I wear the shirt tucked in (and consequently feel like a throwback to the early ‘90’s), with a light cardigan thrown over the top for the cooler days (which we’ve had way too many of lately). It’s my summer uniform.

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I’m scared to write this for fear of jinxing myself, but we seem to have entered an era where the kids enjoy playing with each other. Several times recently I’ve discovered them scattered: the twins playing LEGOs together in their room while Nolan flips through books or builds with Duplos in his, Brooklyn and Nolan playing “baby” while Caden plays with (you guessed it) LEGOs on his own. To be fair, Caden and Brooklyn have been able to play well together for years now, it’s the fact that Nolan has been that’s the true miracle.

It’s a nice break. Just this time last year I felt I couldn’t leave the room for fear Nolan would trash the house looking for the remote, sneak into the pantry to steal snacks, or climb on the counter to sneak actual spoonfuls of sugar.

Even outside I’ve been able to pull up a chair and sit - truly get lost in a book - while they play together in the driveway. They’re still riding their bikes and scooters and that old cozy coupe we got for free from a garage sale around the roads they create on the driveway with chalk. But it’s the very first time I don’t fear Nolan dashing into the street. The past couple years it was a game - I always felt there was about a 50/50 chance he would dash into the street for fun. And now he just…doesn’t.

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I wrote this last summer, and it seems relevant again now:

This is what I've been waiting for.

…A moment prior to this realization, guilt had found me. It crept in during the break in the action and began to berate me for not doing more. To write more, volunteer more, accomplish more. Maybe I should even go back to work. Guilt admonished me for the streaks on the kitchen floor and the fruit snacks they ate in the car and for being "just" a stay-at-home mom. Surely, at the very least, I should have cleaner floors.

In the next breath I realized this is what I've been dreaming of. This little break where no one at all needs me. The past four years have been intense. Twin infants and that whole three under three business and the sleep deprivation and the making of all the food and everything else. Of course even a little wiggle room feels like a lot. A pause, a moment to take a breath; it's been seemingly impossible these past few years. Which means my type-A personality kicked in to cue the guilt. Because surely only lazy people sit around their backyards at 3:30 pm on a Thursday with their sparkling water and their sandals and their colorful lawn chairs.

Soon enough a fight will break out or they'll see a bug or rush over all at once to demand freeze pops. Soon enough my backyard will be empty as they grow older and more independent. So I take this afternoon as a blessing. Just me and my sandals, a book in my lap, three small bodies in swimsuits, a blow-up pool, sunshine, and my sparkling water. With a lime.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for.

He’s still exhausting with all that energy, his penchant for anything as long as it’s a little bit life-threatening. But we might be getting there. Instead of holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop during any momentary lull, I’ve been taking deeper breaths, able to recharge and relax just a little bit more into just exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

A Super Birthday Party

It began last March-ish. Maybe slightly earlier. I actually think the superhero obsession began right around the time of their birthday party last year. I remember thinking that it was too late to change the theme. Gifts and decorations and cakes had already been bought.

“We can do a superhero party for your birthday next year,” I remember saying. In March. And in May. And in June, July and August. And in November. And now, here we are.

If you still like superheroes, I would think. It was the asterisk, the subtext of my promise to throw them a superhero party. However the kids who planned out their Halloween costumes seven months in advance without ever once deviating (as superheroes, of course) didn’t let me down.

It’s official. They got their superhero party. And I see no end in sight to this particular obsession…

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Cupcake sprinkles.

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Superhero clipart. Decorative fans. Batman garland (an ode to the superhero who started all this.)

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Superhero birthday shirts.

My “sheroes” sweatshirt, now officially my new favorite piece of clothing.

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The price of admission this year was a present. “Did you bring us presents?” was how they greeted everyone at the door. I’ve said it before, but just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet please remember that subtlety is not their specialty.

It was the first year in the past five where I didn’t have to watch the cake table like a hawk the entire time (though Nolan got a few frosting swipes and sprinkle steals in). They kind of ran around and did their own thing and opened presents and ate cake like it was their jam. And, at five and three, I guess it is.

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It’s officially birthday week in the Williamses house! And as hard as it is to believe we’re quickly leaving behind the years of toddlerhood, it’s also makes perfect sense as I see how far we’ve come. Here’s to three of the craziest, most loving, most talkative, smartest, most adventurous, and least subtle (almost) three and five-year olds around.

Breakfast Scene

I flip on one light after another as I come downstairs. Another cloudy morning makes it feel more like 5 am than 7. I open the wooden blinds — the bane of my existence, the way they collect dust — but they do little to add light to my space this morning. The smell of coffee, already made and waiting in the pot, helps slightly. I grab my favorite rusty-orange mug and fill it up, then take a lap around the island, making pit stops to add a little sugar and a swirl of heavy cream.

Oatmeal awaits me on the stove, this overnight oat recipe one of my favorite life hacks to cut down on busy mornings. A little olive oil, a scoop of steel-cut oats, toast it all up before adding some water, bring to a rolling boil, cover and switch off the burner. In the morning all that’s needed is to heat it up and — voila! — breakfast. I switch on the gas burner and give it a stir, adding a little whole milk to the mix. The kids have been begging for oatmeal for days, weeks. I’ve always had an excuse; it’s too hot, we don’t have any, or (most often) I forgot the night before. That’s when I hear six little feet thundering towards the kitchen through the mudroom, home from their morning walk with daddy.

“Oatmeal! Yummy yum! Yay!” Nolan screams as he runs in and sees me, complete with exaggerated lip-licking, mouth-smacking, and dancing. He never has been my subtle child.

Brooklyn and Caden trail behind. Brooklyn huddles close to my legs, smiling, her blue eyes gleaming up at me as she asks, “Did you really make oatmeal mommy?”

I show her the full bronze pot in response. I’d doubled the recipe last night, remembering how last winter we could go through a single pot before everyone was full. I smile, glorying in a proud mom moment as I scoop globs of oatmeal into colorful bowls and top them each with dried cranberries, ask if they want cinnamon.

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Nolan takes one bite, “Yum!” Then, because he’s two, changes his mind. “I no like the oatmeal.” He pushes it away and asks for Cheerios instead.

Caden this morning has been uninterested in the oatmeal from the start. “I just want Golden Grahams and strawberries,” he says.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yup,” he replies with a furled brow. I sigh but don’t argue. I choose my battles and this morning this isn’t it.

Brooklyn is my last remaining hope. She takes a few bites (“I want to put the cranberries on myself.”), then pushes it away, declaring herself “not really hungry”.

Huh. Well then. So much for life hacks.

Once they’re settled with their assorted food items, I grab two bowls and scoop generous portions. I slice bananas and arrange them on top, scatter dried cranberries, add lines of chia seeds, top it all off with cinnamon sugar. I grab two spoons and pass one to Tyson, along with a bowl. An Instagram-worthy bowl. Someone is going to eat this long-awaited oatmeal around here. And it’s going to be damn good.

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 of Batman

Last summer was the summer of Moana. We watched at least part of the movie pretty much every day. Rainy days we usually watched the whole thing. Playing the soundtrack was a given at our house. I’d say it was in the background except it was really at the forefront, since the kids acted out the entire thing and everyone belted out the lyrics (including me) all the way from the breakfast table to dinner clean-up .

Their small plastic pool was Moana’s boat. Brooklyn was Moana and Caden embraced the role of Maui. I’m not really sure who Nolan was. Maybe Te Ká since they sure seemed to fight a lot. The shovels from their sandbox became paddles and I yelled at them more often than not for flinging all the water out of the pool as they “paddled”. (“I’m only refilling the pool ONE MORE TIME!”)

That was our entire summer. I completely forgot about it until Caden brought one of his plastic shovels into the pool the other day. I sat up expectantly in my lawn chair, waiting for the Moana reenactment to begin. Except it didn’t. Instead he went on and on about how it was some sort of Batman thing. Batrope, Batarang, Batshovel. I don’t even know.

Wait! I wanted to say, What about Moana? Aren’t you going to paddle across the ocean and battle Te Ká and Tamatoa? What about Te Fiti? Don’t you remember all that?

Nope. I guess we’ve moved on. Now it’s Batman or bust.

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I didn’t realize I was supposed to hold on to all of that from last summer. Twelve months later and we’re back outside. Here I thought we were going to settle right back into the same routine. I’m still sitting in my same little lounge chair, wearing the same old sandals, drinking either iced coffee or sparkling water out of the same clear tumbler, depending on the time of day. (Though not with the same plastic straw. Nolan bites through those like it’s his job. And apparently I’m supposed to stop using plastic now? Ugh. But I digress.)

Of course it’s not all the same. The clothes they’re wearing are mostly new, a size bigger, besides the hand-me-downs for Nolan. They ride bigger bikes, faster, and race around on new scooters like I’m running a neighborhood scooter gang. The swing set is getting small for them, probably too small. We’ll for sure need a new one next summer. Even the pool is different. A bigger, better, upgraded version complete with seats and cup holders. (Maybe the grown-ups need to get in on this pool action, too.)

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Batman has taken over. The level of obsession has been kicked up a notch. While I don’t think we owned a scrap of clothing with Moana’s face on it last year, now I have to pry Batman pajamas off of Caden’s body, plead with him to let me wash them after three days of dirt, yogurt smears, and general preschooler grossness. We’ve leveled up to the Batman Lego movie and all three chime in to chant Batman’s password to the Batcave, “Ironman sucks!” (Yup. Guess I’ve got other mountains to die on than the language one.) Caden schemes to own every Batman Lego set in existence and has conned Nana and Papa out of more money than they’d probably like to admit to fuel his addiction.

They race around with capes and masks, mastered the art of superhero poses, and have been plotting their Halloween costumes since February. Batman, Batgirl, and Robin. I told them they had nine months to wait. An eternity.

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Do I need to bottle this up, too? Should I be taking pictures, video, snapshots of all things Batman? Will I settle in next summer (same lawn chair, sandals, tumbler) just to have everything else change again?

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Batman whooshes past me. “Pew! Pew! Pew!” he cries with his stick-turned-gun. (I don’t know what it is with four-year olds, but we hit that age and now everything is a gun.) Robin follows behind, “Pew! Pew!” He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he’ll follow along with whatever Batman does. “Come on, Batgirl!” Batman cries, and she rushes off to join them in a chorus of more pew-pew-pew-ing, rolling around in the grass, and some impressively large jumps off the slide. It may look like regular old toddler play, but I know they’re fighting off bad guys.

(Fight scenes. Always blurry.)

“I Robitt!” Nolan growls as he runs up to me. He hasn’t quite mastered the “n” in Robin yet. Then he runs off again.

“Batman talks like this,” Caden says in a gravelly voice as he marches up to me with his hands on his hips. It makes me laugh every time, this low voice he takes on to portray his hero such a funny contrast to his regular, high-pitched one. His stick arms and legs and lack of a butt to hold up the shorts that are forever falling down his bottom are the antithesis to Batman’s ripped physique.

I watch them play, scream, tumble. I take pictures and store up memories.

Because next summer, things will change.

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Ahem. It should be noted that I wrote this post off and on over the course of two weeks. Yesterday afternoon, as I was thinking it over in my head knowing I was going to hit "publish" at night, they played Moana in the pool all. freaking. afternoon. So there's that. Really, what do I know, anyway?