babies

I Don't Know How You Do It

I pulled up and parked in my favorite lot: the side mall entrance. There were usually plenty of spots available, especially mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. A couple of afternoons a month I would take the twins, then babies, to the mall to walk around. If I timed nursing just right I would have about an hour and a half to spend there. Fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back meant I would return home in time to nurse them again. (Because nursing twins in public is a whole other level of stress, y’all.)

The mall was the perfect spot to stretch my legs while I pushed the stroller, especially with the chilly spring weather outside. I liked to look at the sale racks at JCrew and Banana Republic, though we didn’t really have the money to buy anything. Instead, I’d treat myself to a consolation pretzel (cinnamon sugar) and lemonade from Auntie Anne’s, then sit on a bench and hope the babies wouldn’t cry because we’d stopped moving.

On this particular Tuesday, I hauled the frame for the double stroller out of the trunk of our Prius, released one carseat and strapped it in, then another. I threw the overstuffed diaper bag over my shoulder and headed to the entrance, pushing the handicap button to let us in.

Nothing happened.

I pushed it again, harder this time. And again, at a slightly different angle.

The door didn’t budge. I stared at the door to the mall entrance, now my enemy. I shoved the diaper bag higher up on my shoulder and pulled the door open, balancing it with my legs splayed while I pulled the double stroller inside. Once in the vestibule I pushed the button for the interior door. It didn’t move, either. I glared at the second door. We were basically trapped since the in-line double-stroller took up the entire entry from door to door. I sucked in my stomach, moved around the stroller as best I could, and managed to open the door a few inches before it hit a stroller wheel. I scooched and inched my way in, wiggling first the stroller, then the door, until we made it inside.

I pushed my hair out of my face and looked around at the bright lights inside the department store as I caught my breath. My enthusiasm for this outing had waned during the whole door debacle. I was startled when I realized a woman stood next to the rack of shirts beside us, staring down and smiling at me and the babies.

“Twins?” she asked sweetly, “I don’t know how you do it!”

Well, I thought, I sure could’ve used a hand with the door. Had she been there the whole time? I felt annoyed at her, at the malfunctioning doors, at the fact that no one had come to my rescue. Bothered that she probably wanted to stop and coo at the babies, taking up my precious non-nursing time.

I’m sure I gave her a faint smile, though I know I had absolutely no response. I heard this often. And every time the answer that popped into my head was because I have to.

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"So what's it like to have twins?" is something I’ve been asked dozens of times. It’s diminished over the years, after we added a third to the mix and I was no longer accompanied everywhere by two babies in carseats. More often now I’m asked if my kids are triplets.

I never knew how to answer the question. What is life with twins like? I have no idea. Exhausting, I guess? I might as well ask you what life with one baby is like since that’s something I’ve never known. The concept of one baby is as foreign to me as multiples is to everyone else.

I would usually shrug, give a little laugh, and say something like, "Well, it's all we've ever known!" Or, the ever-vague answer of “busy!” Which was true, if not detailed.

However the conversation went, it was often followed up with the whole “I don’t know how you do it!” thing. I got it from everyone: grandparents, baristas, friends’ spouses. I never knew what to say to this, either.

And maybe I never needed to say anything. Maybe my postpartum hormones were working in overdrive while my sleep-deprived brain tried to make sense of the process of engaging in adult conversation. But every time I heard, “I don’t know how you do it!”, it bothered me. It implied I had a choice.

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And what choice did I have? Quitting my job was non-negotiable, for starters. There was no money to put two babies into daycare when the cost of daycare would have eaten up my entire paycheck. Then there was the state of my mental health - I couldn’t wrap my head around working all day and coming home to (literally) take care of two babies all night. When you factored in the cost of formula, disposable diapers, take-out, and the value of both Tyson’s and my mental stability, the decision was clear.

At night when one woke up to nurse, so did the other. Neither Tyson or I had a choice then. He would rock a baby while I nursed the second. We were the definition of two ships passing in the night while we wore a path in the upstairs carpet, each walking back and forth with a fussy baby, sometimes for hours at a time. While friends of ours bemoaned having to trade shifts at night and couldn’t get more than a three-hour stretch of sleep with their one baby, I bit my tongue. The idea of “shifts” didn’t exist in our house. If one was up, everyone was up.

After the very early days of pure survival, I began to leave the apartment again. By the time they were three months old, this was a necessity. I couldn’t breathe in our tiny space day after day. “I don’t know how you do it!” people would say when I showed up to a social outing with two babies in tow. Do you really expect me to stay home all the time? I would think.

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Lest I sound ungrateful, I do realize this was intended as a compliment. It just always seemed so vague. “You’re such a good mom to those babies!” would have been more helpful - at the very least it would have been an easier compliment to respond with a smile and a “thank you”.

The thing was, I didn’t really want people to say anything to me when I was out with the twins. Anytime I was stopped I could only think this person was taking up the precious little time I had without a baby attached to my breast. What I wanted more than anything was help. I craved acknowledgement, to be seen. For people to understand that this was hard. That’s what they were saying to me after all. “I don’t know how you do it...because it’s so hard” is what was implied each and every time.

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But I didn’t want them to wonder how I did it. I wanted them to let me go ahead of them in the checkout line. I wanted them to ask how they could help, not just wonder aloud at how hard my life must be with two small babies to care for.

I didn’t want them to wonder how I was able to nurse two babies. I wanted them to entertain one while I nursed their sibling at the library.

I didn’t want my friends to wonder how I got out the door for a playdate. I wanted them to pick up an iced vanilla latte for me on the way.

I didn’t want a stranger to marvel at my ability to get through the door. I wanted them to hold the damn door.

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Hearing “I don’t know how you do it,” taught me what I actually needed - what any mother needs in a difficult stage in her life.

She needs someone to give her a gift card for coffee when the toddler melts down in the middle of aisle 11.

She needs someone to watch her kids for a couple of hours so she can take a nap.

She needs someone to drop off dinner on Thursday evening, just because she’s a mom of young kids and it’s Thursday.

She needs someone to say “let me help you with that” while she loads bag after bag of groceries in the minivan while also herding small children to their carseats.

She needs someone to give her a nod and a smile, just a little bit of encouragement to get through the day.

She doesn’t need anyone to wonder how she does the work of nursing, changing diapers, sweeping up crumbs, tackling mountains of laundry, and getting up night after fussy night. We’re mothers.

It’s what we do.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."

Three Under Five

When I first began listening to podcasts a couple years and change ago, I was knee-deep in small children. Like, even more so than now. The twins were two and Nolan was an infant. I began listening to podcasts to have an adult voice in my ears and to liven up my days, which were more full of diapers, snot, and Cheerios than grown-up conversation. I sought out podcasts on motherhood out of desperation for solidarity and maybe a ray of hope that this too, shall pass.

As I listened I began to notice a theme. Or at least a catchphrase. “Three kids under five,” came up frequently, like it was some Holy Grail of Difficulty in parenting. Most of the podcasters were older than me and everyone spoke of that season in tones of reverence. It was the season that buried them, one of the hardest parts of their parenting careers, maybe one of the hardest parts of their lives. Three kids under five was a lot. It was exhausting. It was to be survived.

I looked around at my own life at the time. Three kids in diapers. Three kids who couldn’t put on their own shoes or jackets or socks or mittens. Three kids who were along for the ride as I drove my minivan in circles around the parking lot to find a cart big enough to wheel everyone in the store together. Because two of those kids were too little to walk through the parking lot without a hand to hold, yet one of my arms was burdened with the third in a car seat.

Three kids under three.

Three kids under five sounded pretty good to me. Five years old — or almost? That’s big kid territory right there. Five to me represented independence, some sort of helpfulness, maybe even stability. With three kids under five, at least one of them would be in school part of the day. At a minimum, it implied they were potty trained. Surely Five must be practically able to take care of themselves.

“Three kids under five,” I would think, “Must be nice.”

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At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, I’ll tell you I realized pretty recently that I still have three kids under five. In fact, I’ve had three kids under five for three years. The first year I had three under three. Then three under four. Earlier this year I upgraded at last, officially, to three under five. Before three kids, I had two under any age you could throw at me. Under a year, under a month, under a day. Under five minutes.

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I’ve been exhausted lately and annoyed I feel that way. Surely I should feel “better” by now. Whatever that means. Certainly I should feel more energized and less drained. There’s no longer a baby in our house and I’ve been a parent now for how long? The days and even years blur together, as the quantity of small children multiplies the intensity of their years. But then I stop and do the math and realize I don’t even have a five-year old yet, though I’m due to have a couple of them in just two short months.

The truth is, I’m still in that “three under five” season the podcasters spoke of with such exhaustion. I’ve been in it for a long time. And while we’ve introduced some improvements over the years, (Caden and Brooklyn 3.0 learned to put on their own clothes, the 4.0 versions can buckle their own car seats, and glory hallelujah everyone is potty trained), my days continue to be filled with the management of temper tantrums, multiple snacktimes, and the wiping of little bottoms. (They learn this essential life skill eventually, right?)

At first, it was a novelty, having three kids so close together. We drew stares and questions and compliments everywhere we went. Each day was a challenge, a puzzle to figure out, a new adventure to survive. Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m tired of it all. Physically weary, yes. Exhausted from the mental burden of caring for the same three kids day after day. Worn out from always carting three kids from place to place to place. The past few years have been more or less the same scene: me in the minivan with three small kids in car seats and an overstuffed diaper bag.

I’ve been the one at classes, at storytime, at the park, at playdates, at Target, and the drive-thru of the nearest coffee shop with three kids in tow for three freaking years. The novelty has worn off.

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My kids love open gym time. The benefit to having three kids in a two-year timespan is how they all enjoy the same activities. They laugh at the same shows, play with the same toys, and here they’re all the same age to tumble around together for a couple of hours. Even better is that they have yet to mind me dressing them in matching shirts. It’s one of the tricks I picked up in the past few years: when doing a headcount I only need to look around the cavernous space for the exact same shirt three times. I think other families use this tactic for Disneyworld. I use it for open gym time on an average Wednesday.

The local school districts throughout our state offer exceptional parent-child classes and weekly playtime events. These have been staple activities in our house. I’m used to having more kids in my lap than anyone else at circle time. Other parents may have three or more kids, but with more traditional age gaps, they only attend with their youngest. I’m so used to dividing myself in three so there’s enough of me to go around the room I hardly notice anymore.

I discovered early on that those enormous minivan-versions of carts at Target (bless them) can hold twin two-year olds, a baby in a carseat, a week’s worth of groceries, and a box of diapers. For the first six months of his life, Nolan lay in his carseat while I piled groceries around him, higher and higher, usually throwing a loaf of bread and a bag of Goldfish on top of him as I ran out of space.

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But the kids used to fit better in those enormous carts than they do now. They’ve gotten bigger over the past couple of years, as kids do. On our most recent Target run it felt like I could hardly contain them all in the big red cart. The cart felt heavy, burdensome. I still get stares, but the exclamations and questions over how cute or how old they are have more or less subsided. More frequently now they’re asked when they’re going to start school.

Last week at our parent-child class the teacher told us to put our kids on our laps as we sang a song and bounced them. I looked around the group of a dozen other parents; two had two kids with them, the others had just one. Once upon a time, I would have risen to the challenge, and plopped all three kids, two toddlers and a baby, in my lap. Now, at a collective weight of approximately 109.2 pounds, I listened to that instruction and gave it a hard NOPE. “You guys can sit next to me and bounce yourselves,” I told Caden and Brooklyn. Let me experience having one kid in my lap for once.

Soon enough I’ll have only one kid at open gym time. Then none at all. A staple of the past few years will become a thing of the past, a remember when that they probably won’t remember. I’ll remember, though. I’ll remember taking a headcount every couple of minutes, the few photos I have in their matching shirts where they’re not all a blur, the way they chased each other around and around the cavernous gym pretending to be their favorite characters together — “Catboy!” “Gecko!” “Owlette!” “Let’s go!” — without getting tired.

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As the weather has turned colder, I’ve been refocusing my attention in the afternoon, to play with the kids purposefully. We watch a little TV, have a snack, build or bake something, circle up around the table for art time, and often I just watch while they run around the house like crazy people, because, after all, they’re still three kids under five.

When Caden and Brooklyn were younger, I was more intentional with our afternoon time. Mornings were for activities and errands, but the afternoons were ours. I’ve been trying to reset myself back to that time, to that routine. Because, as hard as it is to imagine, we have less than a year of afternoons left before Caden and Brooklyn head off to Kindergarten.

I can’t wait.

Also, I wish it were still three years away.

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Can we hold both of these things, simultaneously, and let them be true at the same time?

I’m sick of having three kids under five.

I’m going to miss having three kids under five.

My Motherhood Journey Through Food

First pregnancy (twins!), first trimester. I want no food. Nothing. Absolutely no food. Wait, I want ice cream. Yes, ice cream sounds good. Nevermind. We don’t have any ice cream and it’s been five minutes so now it sounds terrible. Maybe an apple? No, not an apple. Chewing anything that long makes me want to puke. What about Thai food? Thai food sounds so good right now. In fact, only Thai food sounds good and I think I need some curry, stat. If I can’t eat that then I can’t eat anything. Oh and also an Arby’s roast beef sandwich. I don’t remember the last time I had Arby’s but now I want to eat one of those sandwiches every day until I die.

First pregnancy, second trimester.
Phew. Food is just food again.

First pregnancy, third trimester. I am so hungry all the time. Also, I can’t eat anything. I am so full and huge and my stomach has no room to even exist in my body anymore, much less have room for food inside. I am going to eat very small amounts of food all day long. I probably look like a glutton because I constantly have food on my person but really I can only eat one bite every five minutes or I will probably, actually, literally explode.

Vanilla milkshakes.
With every meal in the hospital after giving birth. The hospital, of all places, made the most amazing milkshakes. If there’s a time in life that you get to overdose on milkshakes, it’s after giving birth. To twins.

Meals in tinfoil.
And in take-out containers. Casseroles in disposable aluminum pans. Also individually-wrapped granola bars, dry cereal, and dried fruit. Some kind of dark chocolate. All within arm’s reach. The early postpartum months of meals from friends and constant breastfeeding.

Coffee. Enough said.

Baby food. 
Cereal puffs. Banana slices. Cheerios. Yogurt. And all of these things ground into every crevice of every high chair and car seat.

Normalcy. We’ve survived the first year and I’m making real meals again! Actual real, human meals with things like protein and carbs and fruits and veggies and healthy fats! Yay!

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(Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!)

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!

Rocking My Baby

I still rock Nolan to sleep.

He’s going to be two next month. I’d worry that I’ve instilled some terrible sleep habits except he goes down at night just fine. Nighttime is easy. Diaper change, clothes off, pajamas on, read two books in the rocking chair, sing the Daniel Tiger goodnight song, “fissy” (read: fishy) projection on the ceiling, sound of rain on the sound machine, plop him in bed and goodnight goodbye see you in the morning.

Naptime is another story.

I plop him in bed and he does just fine flipping through (or occasionally ripping apart) some books for a while. But it doesn’t take long before I hear, “Mommy! Mommmmeeee! Mom-MEEEE!”. Mommy, mommy, mommy on repeat. I’m not sure exactly how long he would keep it up if I let him. I cave after a few minutes since I have three others to worry about in rooms nearby: two three-year olds in separate rooms and a husband in the bedroom-turned-office that shares a wall with Nolan’s room, all attempting their own version of work and quiet time. So I give in, go upstairs, open the door, peek my head in. “Up,” he demands with that serious little look, chin tucked down, big blue eyes looking up at me. “Rock,” he says, and so I do.

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Part of the reason I’ve kept it up this long is that it’s quick. It takes no longer than five minutes and usually less than two. The second his head hits my shoulder and I start to move around the room his body relaxes. I make a couple of laps around the bedroom and stop in front of his door to do the side-to-side bounce that does him in every time. Right-left-right-left-right-left and it doesn’t take much before he’s a goner.

Part of it is that I’m lazy. It’s the easy thing to do, the why-fix-what-ain’t-broken route. After a full morning of carrying, feeding, changing, driving, playing, disciplining, and plain old interacting with three little ones, I’m over it. It’s naptime. Just go to sleep. Whatever it takes. A quick rock, drop him in the crib where he immediately rolls over to his right side, V for victory arms as I walk out of the room, and done.

Part of me enjoys it. I didn’t enjoy the rocking all that much when they were babies, when I could walk and rock and pace the room for half an hour and still not know if they were really asleep, if they would stay asleep, if they would ever for the love of God please just sleep. But this two minutes and done rocking session is right up my alley. I put in my time, he does his thing, and see you later. It’s a remnant of his babyhood. He still curls his hand up right against his cheek. I have pictures of him with the same face, the same hand, the same droopy-lipped position when he was a real baby, not the boy-giant he is now.

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It’s a connection to this babyhood, I suppose. Really the last fragment of it from an almost-two year old who is ahead of the game in nearly every other area, one who is talking in full sentences, counting to ten, who could climb up to the top of the tallest part of our neighborhood playground at 14-months old, and often eats more at a meal than his brother and sister combined. (Well, the naptime rocking and the diapers. Though the diapers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. He asks for the potty and then runs away screaming, “I don’t like it!” *sigh* Someday…)

My right shoulder is often tense and sore. I’m sure it’s from these rocking sessions, every day at naptime. They may last mere minutes, but my “baby” is now 30+ pounds. My right shoulder is exactly the spot where he curls up, and has curled up, nearly every day for the past two years. (Somehow “fit in monthly massage therapy appointments” hasn’t quite made it into the budget in the past 24 months.)

I don’t have any real plans to drop our daily rocking session in the near future. I’ve made arbitrary deadlines before...when he’s 15 months old...when he’s a year and a half...sometime this fall...but I clearly haven’t followed through. It’s the one time a day, just me and him, that I don’t mind it being just me and him. The rest of the time he’s so loud, so active, so wiggly, so squirmy, so fast, so much. He relaxes for a couple of minutes in my arms and so do I. Now if he could just get the hang of that whole nap thing for more than an hour and fifteen minutes at a time...

Photo credit: Prall Photography.