twins

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."

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 Same Two Feet of Space (National Siblings Day 2018)

I always laughed last summer as I watched how my three kids approached others to play at the park.

“Hi,” one of my then three-year old twins would say, “What’s your name?”

The kid would respond with their name, before asking back, “What’s your name?”

Without missing a beat, the twin would respond with, “We’re Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan.”

Every time. They didn’t really take a break between the names, or make a distinction between the three of them. Just Caden-and-Brooklyn-and-Nolan like it was one word, all in the same breath.

I love that they think like that. That they have this bond together. Surely asking for one of their names is asking for all of their names, right? It would be simply unthinkable not to.

I’m used to having them all around me all the time. Having twins followed pretty quickly by a third, I had full arms right from the very start. Our house is rarely quiet as they run and chatter and fight and scream and sing. Usually at least one is underfoot while the other two are nearby. I’ve asked, “Why are we all occupying the same two-foot space when we live in a 2000-square foot house?” too many times to count, as I sit with one in my lap, another climbs up my back, and a third hovers an inch from my face.

Photo credit  Prall Photography .

Photo credit Prall Photography.

Read the rest over at the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

A Dinosaur Princess Birthday Party

You know I can't resist posting about the kids' birthday party each year. My inner creative goes nuts as I research everything that has to do with anything connected to the party theme. And I think this every year, but this time, I mean it: This was my favorite birthday party yet!

The theme? A dinosaur princess one, of course.

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Brooklyn's dress. Tiara headbands.

I'll say it was easier to come up with dinosaur-themed things than princess ones. Taking to Google for a "princess party" search ends up with a billion results featuring Disney princesses, but what if you just want a generic princess theme? I settled on lots of gold, sparkles, and crowns, and hoped the shiny dinosaurs were enough. (According to the two birthday kids above, they were.)

Stomp, sparkle, roar, we're turning two and four! Clever...right?

Stomp, sparkle, roar, we're turning two and four! Clever...right?

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Cupcake  wrappers . Pearlized  dinosaurs . Gold  dinosaurs . Dinosaur  sprinkles .

Cupcake wrappers. Pearlized dinosaurs. Gold dinosaurs. Dinosaur sprinkles.

I praised myself last year for the genius move of ordering out for all the cakes. This year? Well, it got away from me. I lost January to guests, work travel for Tyson, and family travel for us all. By the time I was thinking - really thinking -- about all things dinosaur and princess and party it was really too late to order anything from a bakery. I tackled all three cakes and 36 cupcakes the day before the party. My cake decorating skills may be mediocre, but it was nothing some sparkles, sprinkles, and gold dinosaurs couldn't save.

(And if you're interested: Layer cake recipe. Buttercream frosting recipe. Chocolate cupcake recipe. Apple spice cupcake recipe. Cream cheese frosting recipe. Everything turned out yummy and I will be using all of these recipes again and again. Especially that chocolate cupcake one - yum!)

Definitely my favorite one. That   pterodactylis giving me life.

Definitely my favorite one. That pterodactylis giving me life.

I create a photo banner every year with pictures from the past twelve months. It's one of my favorite (and most difficult) tasks. We leave it to hang for a few weeks even once the birthday festivities are over, and then I tuck the photos away in a box upstairs. It guarantees that I've at least printed out some photos each year instead of leaving them all to the digital confines of my computer.

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Dinosaur  banners . Gold  balloons .

Dinosaur banners. Gold balloons.

Mostly, it was dinosaurs, dinosaurs everywhere.

Literally everywhere.

Dinosaur  necklace .

Dinosaur necklace.

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Brooklyn is shaking her groove thing with one of these dinosaur tails. Foam crown craft. Ginormous giraffe courtesy of my brother. That's what uncles are for, right?

This was also probably the most relaxing birthday party we've ever had. I toned down the guest list to a more manageable size this year and the kids were all old enough to fend for themselves. I didn't have to worry about nursing a baby or hovering over six tiny hands trying to reach the cupcakes. (Only two tiny hands... *cough* Nolan *cough*) 

Everyone had fun with all things "dine-a-sord" (that's a Nolan-ism) and princess. Caden asked me if we can have another party after quiet time today. I'm enjoying the last few chocolate cupcakes. Also prepping for actual birthdays around here on Tuesday (the twins') and Thursday (Nolan's). There's a chance that our current snowstorm may be keeping us snowed-in tomorrow, but at least our house is decorated appropriately.

If you're interested:

Candy first and third birthday party
Barnyard second birthday party
Ties and Tutus first birthday party

The Leftovers

The snow this year. They love it. “They” being the twins. Nolan hates it. The kid who can’t stop moving also can’t stand confinement. All that snow pant-boots-fleece jacket-waterproof jacket-hat-AND-mittens business is too much for him. He can’t run and he can’t move and he can’t even stand having mittens on, which means he pulls them off only to whine afterward because his hands are cold. After an epic Battle of the Mittens (on-off-on-off-on-off-off-off-sigh) I take him inside where he breathes a visible sigh of relief and takes off running again, the second he’s free from those damn snow pants.

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But back to Caden and Brooklyn. They adore the snow. As soon as Caden wakes up from his nap he demands to go outside. He’s usually not fully awake yet — still wiping sleep from tired eyes, his voice scratchy — yet he’s ready to forgo his afternoon snack and any chance of screen time to dig and throw and run and slide in all that white stuff. Each morning he looks out the window, “It snowed again!” he declares, whether it really is fresh powder or the same old snow from days before.

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They love it. Nolan hates it. I'm left feeling torn on how to spend our time. It’s pretty pointless for me to spend the better part of ten minutes bundling Nolan up when he lasts outside for less than two. He stands in one spot in utter misery for a moment or two before grabbing my hand and leading me toward the house. “I’side,” he declares (inside, for those of us who have mastered our “n”s).

Luckily I have Tyson who works from home and doesn’t mind me stashing Nolan in his office for a bit while I attempt to knock the snow-fever out of the twins’ systems. But I don’t feel comfortable doing so for long: Tyson is still working, which means Nolan is kept occupied (and more importantly: quiet) with more than his fair share of Little Baby Bum

I remind myself that the first two years are kind of a crapshoot when it comes to snow. Those little bodies aren’t quite in proportion yet. The twins didn’t much care for the snow until they were on the verge of three, when their legs had lengthened out and they were able to move in the snow with (some) ease. Someday I will be able to throw them all outside in the cold and they won't return for a couple of hours. I'll have a quiet, warm house while they master that whole sledding business, have an epic snowball fight, build a snowman. When they return they’ll be able to remove all the damp snow gear by themselves while I greet them with hot chocolate and a smile.

For now, it’s a balance and battle of wills. The young energetic toddler vs. the enthusiastic preschoolers. Inside vs. out. One vs. two. With me in the middle. Who will get their way today?

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I told Tyson recently that I feel like I could be a really good parent to one child. A single child who would get the benefit of the good parenting techniques I read up on. One who, when they need discipline, reaps the full benefit of a conversation about right and wrong and the consequences of their actions, without the interruption of a sister screaming from the bathroom that she needs help wiping and a brother who wanders over in the midst of that serious discussion to whack them over the head with a piece of wooden train track. Which leads to an attempt at the same discussion with a different kid about right from wrong, consequences, actions, etc. Or just some redirection. If I could only focus on the needs of one, instead of being pulled in three different directions simultaneously.

My attention is divided, is what I'm getting at. The battle for mommy is often won by whoever is the loudest, most demanding, most polite, most severely injured, or the smelliest. Using screen time as a break for one often results in screen time for all. I feel like we could do so much more if we didn’t have to focus on this kid's nap schedule, if journeying out in public weren’t quite so draining with all of Nolan's energy, if I could just focus on completing a single task instead of picking up the threads of six half-finished ones.

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Three kids in two years is a pretty quick way to grow a family. In some ways I’m used to it. Surprise it's twins! meant getting used to chaos from the start. In other ways, I’m jealous of those with one toddler or a bigger age gap. (Bigger age gap meaning anywhere north of the two-minute mark.) The idea of focusing on a single child, uninterrupted, is absolutely novel to me.

It's easy for me to feel like my entire parenting career has been about giving one child or another the leftovers. (Not of the edible variety, although there are plenty of those, too.) My leftovers: leftover time or energy or attention. Beginning this parenting journey with not one but two babies teaches you how to divide that attention pretty quickly. To prioritize needs and balance your energy when you are outnumbered from the start. I often feel that no one gets my full attention, though both hands are busy, my lap is full, and my ears long for the sound of quiet.

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At its worst, I feel they are disadvantaged. Surely a child who can capture their parents’ undivided attention with ease is better off in the world. They must be more intelligent, have a calmer disposition. They're probably small prodigies at gymnastics, without a mommy who has to bounce back and forth between two children in the same class with a third on her hip. Almost certainly they spend more time on age-appropriate learning activities and less in front of the screen. At the very least they're probably bathed more frequently.

But at its best, I look around and realize how good this whole close-in-age business is for them. What a cohesive unit these three are. I can barely remember life without Nolan. They are their own little gang, our very own pack, nearly inseparable. (Until the twins try to play some sort of make-believe or tower-building game that Nolan just can’t take part in. Then they call for me to keep him “astracted”.) He runs along with the twins so seamlessly (and combined with his giant size) it can’t be long before I get the “are they triplets” question on a regular basis.

{A rare sighting of a Nolan in the snow. It lasted less than four minutes.}

Over the summer, Caden and Brooklyn frequently approached other kids at the playground to ask their names. When the question was reversed they would answer immediately with, “We’re Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan.” Always all three. Caden-and-Brooklyn-and-Nolan all said in the same breath. (Once Brooklyn responded with, “We’re just Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan. We’re not monsters.” Depends on the day, I thought while the older girl looked on with confusion.)

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They’re actually thriving despite, or because of, the chaos. We have our fair share of tantrums yet overall they tend to handle conflict better than most kids their ages. They’re all well-spoken and bubble over with words and excitement. Nolan even counted up to ten last week. (I give full credit to the twins, whose habit of counting everything in sight is currently in vogue at our house.) They’re inclusive and curious, adventuresome and independent, and overall too smart for their own good. 

Maybe I do give them the leftovers more often than I'd like. Many days, that’s all I feel I have to give. It seems to be enough. It is enough. Leftovers or not, they’re doing just fine. It's enough. It has to be. And if Nolan has to watch Wheels on the Bus twelve times in a row for us to get those rosy cheeks and a good snowball fight in, so be it.