rants

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."

The Worst March Mom

I’m convinced March and August are the absolute worst months out of the year.

The first is a month that sounds like it’s supposed to be spring. Can we all just agree that March, April, and May are spring months? (June, July, and August get summer, September, October, and November claim fall, while December, January, and February are clearly winter. This is basic science and logic.) Apparently Mother Nature is not on board, since she often sends blizzards of snow in late March just to remind us of where we all live. By that point, the snow isn’t magical anymore. It’s something to survive. We’re all sick of the sixth straight month of living in the same few square feet of space and the sibling fights become truly epic.

And August. I just can’t with August. It’s too hot. I don’t like stepping outside and immediately sweating. All the summer activities have ended but the fall ones have yet to begin. It makes for a very long month. I’m over the whole sunscreen thing. I don’t want to wear shorts and tanktops. I’m also sick of coming up with no-cook meal ideas because who wants to cook when it’s 97 degrees outside? Nobody, that’s who.

Now listen, lest you think I’m the grumpiest mom ever, let me tell you that I’m a great beginning-of-season parent.The first real days where it smells like summer or hints at the chill of winter? I am freaking fantastic. My mom game is on point in May and October.

We kick off the first snowfall by drinking hot chocolate. With marshmallows. We watch Frozen as our landscape transforms, even if it’s only a little white dusting across the grass. I drink hot tea again. I break our day into a routine complete with designated snack, art, and quiet times. The fireplace is turned on, our warmest blankets are pulled out, and we are a hunker-down-in-this-house, hygge machine.

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Read more over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Forget Later

We’ve all heard it. Too many times, probably. Maybe as soon as we pushed those babies out of our bodies or welcomed them into our homes.

They’re only little once. Enjoy it. You can clean the mess later.

When exactly is later? I wonder, as I load up the dishwasher with the things we’ll need if we want to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner again tomorrow. In my head I picture a very literal “later”: a kitchen overcome with over a decade’s worth of dishes to tackle, after my youngest has presumably left the house. Twenty years worth of encrusted grime. Maybe we could use paper plates, but then who would take the garbage out? (Also: the environment. Not good.)

I think of the kids’ bathroom wedged between their bedrooms. How can I possibly clean this later? I can’t do it even after they’re all asleep. The sound of the toilet flushing would wake up the twins on the other side of one wall; running the water to scrub the bathtub would wake up the third on the other side of another.

I look around the playroom after a joy-filled afternoon of play and sigh. The last thing I want to do is deal with this later. It’s a disaster. Absolutely worth it, since all three kids played together so well with everything from puzzles to their play kitchen. But still a complete and total watch-where-you-step-because-you-can’t-see-the-floor disaster. It’s not fair to expect me or my husband to clean this all up later when we didn’t make one iota of this mess. To excuse the kids from their part in this so we can “enjoy them now and clean up later” seems absolutely absurd. And exhausting.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Notes From a Polar Vortex

I saw it coming late last week when I looked at my weather app. Wednesday loomed large, -16 for the high. Yikes. School would certainly be cancelled since the windchills were predicted to be more than 50 below. Yuck, I thought, I guess winter is finally here.

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The last time we left the house was Sunday afternoon. We saw The Little Mermaid, went out for dinner. There was a winter storm warning, we were supposed to get a snowstorm before the deep freeze hit, though the sky was still sunny and clear when we drove to the movie theater. By the time we left dinner it was dark, about 6:00.

“Let’s swing by Target,” I told Tyson, “I’ll just run in quick. We could use some things to get through the next few days if it’s really going to be as bad as they say it is.”

I ran into Target, threw some necessities in the cart: bread, eggs, marshmallows for hot chocolate, stickers from the dollar section, a rotisserie chicken for soup.

By the time I walked out 15 minutes later, it had started snowing.

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Monday would have been the day to leave the house. It wasn’t that cold yet. The 6-10 inches of snow predicted petered out to a measly 4-5. But school was cancelled. I’d been prepping for Wednesday in my head, but Monday was called off already by late Sunday evening. I heard it was because the Department of Transportation wanted the roads as clear as possible - the more traffic the more the fresh snow would get packed down on the roads, making it impossible for the plows to clear, and impossibly slippery as it got colder. Salt wouldn’t work to melt the ice with the subzero temperatures headed our way.

Because of that, we stayed home, off the roads. We had a couple of playdates, went outside three separate times to play in the snow, drank our hot chocolate. Let the adventure begin.

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That was my first thought: this was all some big, grand adventure. Except instead of being really exciting, the adventure was survive being trapped inside your house for a bunch of days with three kids under five.

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My next thought was to wonder about the homeless. Where would people go? There’s no way to survive this, not without shelter. My heart and mind kept turning back to them. I did hear that shelter workers were out, full-force, to help and encourage people to find shelter. And that city buses and other public transportation would be running all night as a place for people to find refuge from the cold. It made me feel a little better. But only a little.

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I raided my drawers for my coziest sweaters. If we were going to be trapped inside, I was at least going to look the part. Maybe this wasn’t an adventure so much as the ultimate hygge challenge. I made plans to hygge the shit out of this thing: I pulled out our warmest blankets, drank hot tea and coffee, sat in front of the fireplace, planned my baking schedule.

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Tuesday we walked over to a neighbor’s house for a change of scenery. We bundled up: inner fleece jackets zipped into the outer waterproof ones, snowpants, boots, our warmest hats and mittens. All for the 2-minute walk four houses down and across the street. I warned the kids that we couldn’t stop to play; we just had to walk straight over and go inside. I told them how dangerous this cold was, tried to explain frostbite.

“Do bugs give you the bites?” Brooklyn wanted to know.

“No,” I told her, “The cold does.” It was very confusing.

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It was weird that we couldn’t leave the house, a sort of forced confinement. I mean, we could have - and eventually did - but we were strongly advised not to. And with all the reports of cars not starting I didn’t exactly want to successfully leave the comfort of our home only to risk the car not starting to return, leaving me stranded with three kids. Not to mention the cold just plain hurt your face.

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It felt sort of like a holiday, except not. Everyone was pretty cocooned up in their own houses. And Tyson still had to work (maybe a downside to working from home?). My motivation went to nil, just like it does between Christmas and New Year’s. I could’ve/should’ve written more, prepped more for the kids’ upcoming birthday party, maybe even cleaned my house. Instead I embraced my cocoon, more often opting for books and blankets than not.

(I finished this book in just a couple of days, and made some decent headway into both this one and this one.)

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Besides the homeless, I wondered about employees missing work because their businesses were closed, or parents who still had to work but suddenly had children to take care of for four straight days. So many businesses were (justifiably) closed, but what if their employees couldn’t afford to miss work, even for a day? I viewed this all as a lark, my grand hygge adventure. I winged up prayers for those who thought this was anything but.

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By Wednesday I was over it. We all were. Wednesday was the worst day of all. We’d already been through two days of this and then Wednesday rolled around. I mean, the entire state was shut down. Schools, restaurants, stores. Even mail delivery was suspended.

In my own house, there were more tears, yelling, and tantrums than the previous two days combined.

“DON’T PLAY WITH A TOY BY YOUR BROTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT HIM TO TOUCH IT!”
“HE WILL STOP CHASING YOU IF YOU STOP RUNNING.”
“RESPECT YOUR SISTER!”

Angry mom came out on Wednesday. She enforced an unprecedented 11:00 am quiet time because we could no longer all be in the same room together. She shook her fist at the heavens for allowing such a thing as a polar vortex to exist. She self-medicated with strong coffee and cookies.

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Monday we baked chocolate chip cookies. Wednesday we made compost cookies. Today we made granola muffins.

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Generally speaking, I noticed a pretty clear divide in the emotions of parents whose kids were home all day every day for four straight (week)days.

The parents whose kids were usually at school (and could easily be home to accommodate this change in schedule) seemed thrilled.

Those of us who are usually with our kids for the bulk of the day anyway: not so much.

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Wednesday afternoon some neighbors came over.

“I hope they don’t get any of those bites!” Brooklyn said when I told her they were on the way.

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Thursday, we left the house.

We had to. We were desperate for groceries and a change of scenery. There was the sense that the worst was over. I loaded everyone up in the car (noting the -26 degree temperature displayed on the dash) and just prayed we would make it back home. (Spoiler alert: we did.)

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More polar vortex recipes: chicken and dumpling soup. Swedish meatballs. Pasta alla vodka.

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Well, that’s one way to close out January.

Godspeed tomorrow, preschool teachers. They’ve been home with us all week. TGIF indeed.

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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.