Raising My Twins

It's what's on my mind.

In Case You Were Wondering

IMG_8005Having twins is a treat, for the most part. It’s just as charming as can be to watch them play together and care for each other on a daily basis, and it’s fun to ponder how it would be to have a regular partner from birth through childhood—the good and the bad of it. Also, many people in the world love to see twins together, and that’s really fun. It’s overwhelmingly a positive experience.

And of course there are difficulties. I’ve been asked what the most difficult part of having twins is, and…I know what you think I’m going to say: potty training! But no. While that continues to be truly difficult for me with one of my twins, I now know that every kid and every twin set is different.

What’s the hardest thing? It’s the lack of little moments of everyday bonding. This is how that looks:

1. The second girl to get up from her nap bypasses me (waiting for her with open arms and a big smile) because her sister is already up and playing, and that looks more fun.

2. I NEED to talk to Twin A about a safety or learning issue, and Twin B will come and disrupt by physically messing with a) Twin A, b) me, or c) the half-prepared dinner I was working on, which is now all over the living room.

3. I start to ask Twin B about her day or mood, as it seems she needs some individual attention, and Twin A starts a) answering for Twin B, b) talking loudly and disruptively, or c) climbing on my head.

4. I am as much a toy as anything else when there are two of them. Here’s a game: Touch spoon with intent to drop it on the floor, watch mom move quickly to stop you, then make a funny “Eeeeaaah!” noise and laugh with sister at mom. Repeat—alternating twin perps—until mom stiffly removes spoons.

5. One girl climbs on my lap for snuggles, and the other girl MUST join her on my lap. Pushing and crying ensues all around (not excluding me).

Piles of “ruined moments.” I know: it’s all about expectations. The moment is only ruined if I was expecting it to go differently. So do I have a lot of expectations? YES!  I can’t help myself. Over and over, I have lovely nano-moments implode into frustration and disappointment (me) or explode into chaos and crying (them). Most of the time it feels as if I never get to “settle into” the present and really enjoy it. So much for pursuing a state of zen, huh?

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It’s Been Awhile

swimming-preschoolersThe girls have turned 3 and are as sweet as ever…and more challenging than before. It’s become important for me to spend lots of attentive time with them, which leaves me with less time for blogs and projects and cleaning (no tears shed for that).

We had a big Disneyland trip in May, just before the girls turned 3 (because they get in free until 3). It was a blast. Upon our return, Ray Ray had a week of total potty rebellion. She’d pee in her sister’s bed, in our bed, in a box outside…completely deliberately. And then come to me to point it out. Eventually I figured out I had to have no reaction to it, and it was resolved in a week. HOWEVER…

Next started a couple of weeks of pooping in her pants. She’d just refuse to go into the bathroom even though she was walking funny and stinking…and then she’d cry out “poo poo!” only as the lump was forming in her pants. Depressing? Infuriating? Oh yes.

This mama was pretty beside herself. I was calm (inner defeat) for a couple of days and then I really spazzed out one time when she was pantsless and made a pile on the floor. And another. Well, my hitting the roof made the next days even worse…she was completely out of control. I remembered to react “not at all” and further, I sensed that she needed more positive attention from me, so I stopped trying to get things done and spent more time on the floor with both of the girls.

It worked, to a point. She started going to the potty on our good days. But she requires that I pay close, almost obsessive attention to her, or she punishes me with poop accidents. Not reacting to those is ever so important now. She’s an extremely sensitive and (modern euphemism comin’ up) “strong-willed” child, and if things aren’t going according to her plan (and everything MUST go according to her plan) then she will do something rebellious, usually involving poop. This means that if I tell her she can’t go outside to play in the pool until she pees, and hold her to it even though she doesn’t want to pee (and even though this is SOP in our house as is peeing before going in the car or going to sleep) she’ll later crap in her swim pants…oops! (Yesterday’s scene.)

This is challenging to navigate, because while I think paying extra attention to her in her extra-needy times is kinda sweet, I have to be careful not to alienate her twin sister in any way. So it takes an enormous amount of energy—mostly emotional. I have to be “on” all the time.

I’ve been terrified during this time that sister would become affected by Ray’s potty issues. The Otter had recently come all the way to 100% trained—remaining dry overnight and graduating to undies at night—and felt like my “ace in the hole”. As long as she was doing so well, I could handle a lot more from Ray Ray. I mean, I’m half way done, right?

But then it happened. Audrey stopped wiping herself, demanding that I do it. Then she had a couple of pee accidents while napping, and then she stopped using her little potty in the middle of the night even if she was already awake. Even if I asked her to go. So she had an overnight “accident” in bed. I flipped out at first (I try not to, but it happens) then I pulled it together and told her she was stuck with undies and she could do it.

At night we split up the girls and coach them to near-sleep separately. I’m in charge of Audrey usually, and I’ve decided to use this time to really bond with her as it’s my only solo time with her all day. Just like her sister, when she feels very secure about her relationship with me, she tries really hard to do things that please me. So she was dry this morning. Sigh. Brow swipe.

Interestingly, even though she pooped her pants yesterday, Rachel was also dry this morning (she wears a pull-up at night). So it’s either minor progress or extreme dehydration. But it made for a nice start to the day, so I’ll enjoy the optimistic feeling for now. I never learn.

It’s been 8 months since our potty training start, by the way. I’ll just let that sink in.


And Now It Gets Much Harder…Or Does It?

The toddler years were the most daunting to contemplate when I was told I was having twins. They still are! These are the months and years I worried about the most. The ones my mom worried about on my behalf. And they are here.

The girls have just passed their second birthday and we had some extremely difficult days leading up to it. The thing is…I know it’s only the beginning. I’ve actually said it—if only to myself—many times recently, “This is the real beginning of the toddler times.” Way long ago last summer, when one of the girls had her first public tantrum at Sea World because we wouldn’t walk in her chosen direction, I thought that was the beginning. And it was. Sort of. See, it keeps escalating…the toddlerness I mean. And I’m scared that I can’t even guess how much further we have to go on this journey of willfulness and contrariness. Hoo boy. I mean…they are just barely TWO now!

Time to be honest. Most of the time, I handle the day-to-day craziness very well. I’m happy to give myself this credit because I actually work really hard at it. But occasionally—always when I have to get something done—I can’t handle it, and I freak out a little…throw my own tantrum.

After the birthday, I spent 9 days toddler proofing the kitchen so that I could finally take the gates (mostly) down in the house. I knew that most of the acting up was because they are getting too old to be cooped up in two rooms. I looked forward to getting the project done so I could let them help me with little tasks in the kitchen, which should help them feel some more power and control, and, in theory, act up less.

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Well, that whole week was terrible because I was trying to get projects done and they were acting up like crazy due to my being less attentive. But I pushed through anyway, knowing that at the end was the best prize they could hope for: freedom!

I opened up the kitchen Sunday night (or was it Monday?) and they have been having a blast. They can now run a circuit around the kitchen/living room wall if they like (I wish they would run some laps), draw on the chalkboard wall in the kitchen, help me with little kitchen tasks, and get into new sorts of mischief.

So the kitchen is organized and looks rather good for a mid-remodel kitchen, and I was right…the girls are acting up a little less now, because they are being allowed to exercise more control over their environment. And I have been having success with the gentle parenting method of firmly but respectfully reminding them of boundaries and giving them the choice to comply before I pluck them (Audrey) off the garbage cans…again…and again. Now that I’ve had a few good nights’ sleep.


Don’t You Just Want To Play With Them All Day?

Five-month-old girls.

When my babies were about 7 or 8 months old I guess, my mother-in-law came by for a visit, and while she was here enjoying playing with the babies on their little play mat, she said, “How do you get anything done? If I were you, I’d just want to play with babies all day!” It was an affectionate comment…with an unintended consequence. I immediately had lots of doubts: “I don’t want to play with them all day. Does that mean I am too detached? Selfish? Would a normal parent want to play with their babies all day?

Well, the answer is no. Turns out, most parents struggle with wanting to want to play with their baby (or babies) more. In other words, most of us will think some version of these thoughts, especially in the early months, “Why don’t I actually want to play with them more often?” or “Why does my mind wander so quickly when I sit down to give them some “quality” time?” or “Why does spending time with the babies feel a lot like watching paint dry?” And we don’t readily share those thoughts because we feel ashamed, like we are coming up short in the “job” of parenting. But actually ask around and you’ll find relieved-to-hear-it consensus all around you.

“One new mom admitted to feeling bored at home all day, since she was used to being surrounded by activity and other adults at her former job. Another described rushing out to the grocery store as soon as her husband got home, just to have an outing and some time to herself. Do not feel ashamed or guilty if you’ve had the same feelings.” — excerpt from Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, by Jane Nelson, Ed.D., Cheryl Erwin, M.A., and Roslyn Duffy.

I found this hardest at the pre-walking phase. I mean, they were adorable, of course, and full of fun smiles and giggles, but spending hours on the floor, just watching them or showing them how to do things was at times more difficult than I could have imagined.

In the early days, I thought it so important that I try to have more presence with them that I actually set a timer for 30 minutes at a time and did not let myself go look at my email, or refill my coffee cup. I treated it like meditation: when my mind would start to wander, I’d just gently bring my attention back to the girls. Over and over again.

I know it sounds forced and unromantic, but it worked. Now that the girls are older, they actually play together very well, and spending time with them is easier to enjoy because they are starting to talk, they love books read to them, and they are very, very affectionate! But I still don’t spend all day watching them! I want them to know that mom’s tasks can be important too. It’s part of my desire to teach them that in our family, everyone’s pursuits are to be honored.

I still make sure to spend a little more time just hanging out with them than I’m naturally inclined to, because I know these days will be gone so soon, and I always see something amazing or charming when I just sit and watch. And act as their vaulting board.


Why Working at Home Rocks

I like being a stay-at-home-mom, it turns out. I was formerly a self-employed graphic artist, and I still mostly worked at home, but my new job has a lot of facets: childcare (of course) and play time, but also cooking, gardening, home improvement (we live in what you’d call a “major fixer”), financial planning, etc. And then there are my hobbies, including this blog.

What I like most about my new “job” is that it’s a lot like working for myself. I must prioritize some jobs but I often get to pick what I want to do on a given day. Believe me, there’s so much that needs doing, I can throw a stuffed bear to hit a project around here that needs attention.

"Mom's White Bread" is actually "Dad's White Bread" to me: my Dad perfected the recipe to emulate his mom's yummy bread.

Also, I love to cook and plan meals. I’ve been on a bread-baking bender lately. I borrowed a stand mixer from my mother-in-law and have been working it to death making white bread, wheat bread, and my favorite, French bread (so easy!) I’m going to need to return that mixer soon, so this week I’m going to make about 10 loaves of each of my favorites and freeze them. Still working on perfecting the rising of the wheat bread, but the recipe in The Joy of Cooking for “All Whole Grain Bread Cockaigne” made with molasses, is the best! 

Lastly, babies make you creative! I’ve found myself wanting to brush up on my very-amateur sewing skills, to make them toys and clothes. I’ve knitted tiny scarves for the girls and their friends. Best of all: I’m planning a “messy day” soon, in which I make some slime, and some homemade play dough, and we’re going to invite all the babies over to make a killer mess of the yard.

I’m looking forward to the messy day so much, because of course the girls want to experiment with their food and drinks constantly, which is normal, but naturally I’m not (often) allowing them to throw and mix and stir their edibles with their hands. They deserve their messy day. What else can I add? Ooh! Washable paints? Anyone know a recipe?


Sweet Thoughts on Positive Discipline

“The inevitable result of consistently employing power to control your kids when they’re young is that you never learn how to influence.” —Thomas Gordon

“I know that when my child rejects me, I’m tempted to withdraw from her emotionally.  But giving her the cold shoulder doesn’t teach her anything positive about how to build a relationship.  Worse, it undermines the supportive relationship that is her best protection throughout childhood.  Remind yourself that when kids are at their least lovable, that’s when they need your love the most.” — Dr. Laura Markham

“Here’s a bumper sticker I’d like to see: “We are the proud parents of a child who’s self-esteem is sufficient that he doesn’t need us promoting his minor scholastic achievements on the back of our car.” — George Carlin

The girls happily playing together. They cooperate very well most of the time.

I’m learning a lot about “Positive Discipline” and trying to employ its tenets here in our household. It matches so well with what I want to accomplish and what I want to convey to my kids, I’m very glad I’ve found it and that there are such great resources to support my efforts.

Here are three examples of what it looks like in our house:

The easiest one: I don’t punish the girls for undesirable behaviors. I keep in mind their curious, learning stage and realize they have to test everything, multiple times. It makes me infinitely more patient, but this does require I take care of myself well, so that I have this capacity to stop and think before reacting. If it’s something we really don’t do, such as bang on the wall heater, I remove them promptly and redirect, telling them it’s “not safe”. This was always my most consistent reaction, but the difference now is that I remember their stage and don’t let my frustration escalate as much. If they can’t be deterred, then I change the situation to keep them safe, and I’ll tell them why as briefly and respectfully as possible. (“I have to block the hallway off until you can be safe around the heater. I understand you’re not there yet, and it’s okay.”)

The sweetest one: When a girl has a tantrum, I get close to her and tell her I understand her feelings, naming them as best I can. I offer hugs if she wants, and if she doesn’t I tell her I’m here when she wants one, and then stay close by, shooting loving glances and smiles until she feels like getting that hug. This one is fun and warm, making it pretty easy to implement. The only problem is when I’ve got dinner on the stove or something. But then I just stay in communication with the girl while I go and turn the stove off or whatever.

The most difficult one: I’m weaning myself off of “Good job!” and instead trying to say, “Look what you can do!” and “You did it!” For some reason it’s very hard to stop myself from the old standby. The thought behind this, in its short form, is that it helps the child to develop an inner sense of accomplishment, not to live for your praise alone. I used to think this was mumbo jumbo, but I don’t anymore. However, it’s going to take some time to retrain me. I do try to think in terms of how I can get them to be proud of themselves, rather than how they can make me proud. In fact, this is one thing I’ve done from early on—I say, “You must be proud of yourself!” a little more often than I say, “I’m proud of you!” But the latter phrase definitely pops out from time to time.

I like the warmth and trust inherent in these techniques, but I have a little further to go to get practiced at them. Another thing I really want to do is separate the girls when Dad is home and we each spend 10 uninterrupted minutes with each toddler, doing whatever they choose to do. Dad is excited about this too, but we haven’t done it yet. We have to get organized. I think first thing in the morning would be a great time for this, but they do love to play together at that time. Maybe before dinner would be better.

For more information on Positive Parenting, try Dr. Laura Markham’s website, which has an absolute wealth of information: http://www.ahaparenting.com/


They Don’t Tell You: You Need Puppies and Kittens

Catching some Zs with the 3-month-old girls.

People love to start sentences like that…”Here’s what they don’t tell you about becoming a parent…” But there really is one thing that I never heard (or remembered hearing anyway) until after I had my babies and talked to other new moms: A new mom’s brain needs complete insulation from all world horrors and evils, because it will create the most horrid scenarios all on its own.

Perhaps the reason we don’t hear about this is that it fades away, out of our memories eventually, like the pain of childbirth. If so, that would be a tremendously life-affirming development. In any case, it took me by surprise, until I found out my fellow mama friends were experiencing the same things in their own heads.

It seems to be most rabid in the earliest months, right after you bring the babies home. Just as you are trying to get a grip on how to manage your new sleepless life, and you do manage to lie down to catch a few winks, your brain suddenly flashes a ghastly scene, snapping your eyes open and causing your heart to race. I’m talking about really hideous thoughts…pictures of your new babies mutilated or killed in graphic detail.

I can’t remember the exact detail of my own vile imaginings (thank goodness!) because I tried to block them out so quickly. But I know that they were powered with a ferocious energy, as if forcibly pushed into my consciousness by my subconscious, not to be ignored. I remember feeling so helpless against the assault, and so disgusting! How could I imagine such things? I mean, it’s my own mind that’s creating these vivid, abhorrent scenes! Am I some sort of sicko?

The onslaught did ease up after the first year, but then I had a resurgence a couple of months ago, when the babies were around 18 months I guess. This second round was just as horrifying, and unfortunately seemed more realistic. The images were of the girls being hit by cars and trains, mostly. This is not easier, because it really could happen. But at least it’s not just horror-movie level gore.

I think that maybe what powers these thoughts is good ol’ maternal instinct (and oh yeah, hormones). Our brains seem to be telling us not to totally relax because the new responsibility we hold is very great. As if we didn’t know.

But the other thing behind it is something most people are familiar with. It’s that thought that temporarily flashes while driving on a windy road that has no guardrails,”I could drive right off the road right now.” I guess it’s a flirtation with the realities of human choice and the temporary nature of our lives. I mean, we all know somewhere, deep down, that life can change in an instant, but we don’t really behave that way, do we? We actually do most things in our lives to establish the illusion of control.

Having babies puts the issues of life and death right in front of you, all the time. When you see them grow an inch overnight (they really can!) you are reminded that they will continue to grow, right up to and past your own age (that is, barring your mind’s frightful scenarios becoming realities). And every time you retire another baby or toddler accoutrement, you get misty because you know that there will never be another baby bottle or pacifier for them ever again. Time will continue to push us on toward our futures, and of course toward our deaths. Which is a very hard thing to think about. We’d much rather dwell on the innocence and newness of these tiny, perfect humans than on thoughts of future loss and pain.

I think these moments of weird horror are just our subconscious reminding us that our lives are a little bit fragile. And they can help us to really cherish the present moment, but they can leave you with a lasting feeling of discomfort, too. Which is why one new-mommy friend of mine literally has to think of “puppies and kittens…puppies and kittens…” when the thoughts attack. Because the thoughts are intolerable, and can definitely cause some level of depression, not to mention rob you of the little sleep you are afforded in the early days!

Of course maybe it’s all just about balance. Because the joys and insane beauty in which you get to bask as a parent are so intense, that maybe the mind simply has to counter-balance its chemistry, and so doses you with some downers to keep you from flying off on a blissful pink cloud of unreality. In any case, the good stuff—as in most areas of life—outweighs the bad, and I can endure these frights for the contrasting delights.

Do you remember any of your own freaky thoughts?