May 25, 2010

Brotherly Love and Sibling Rivalry

One of my greatest fears of parenting has been coming true.  Namely, that my daughters would realize that they are different people who don't want to share with each other.  I have vivid memories of fighting with my sisters- I was right in the middle of three girls within three years of each other- and our fights were awful.  Boys have one way of fighting.  They might hit each other, but they don't tend to hold a grudge.  Not girls.  Girls will tease and torture until somebody develops an eating disorder.

And I find myself the mother of two girls.  You can imagine my concern.

More and more, DD seems to realize that if SI has a toy, that means that it's not available.  More and more, this is not an acceptable arrangement.  We spent a great deal of yesterday on the go, and I spent an absurd amount of my energy rearranging toys.   DD would drop her toy on the floor, yank SI's away, and then watch anxiously as I gave toy number one to SI.  Repeat, repeat ad nauseum.  And poor SI.  She'll watch DD take her toy away, and instead of taking it back, she'll simply start to cry.

Now, they are still very calm, mellow little girls.  But DD is beginning to see her parents as a part of this proprietary universe.  I had a lovely little moment with the girls this morning.

DD stole a toy from SI.  SI, frustrated, reached to take it back, overbalance, and fell- banging her head very hard on the hardwood floor.  Of course I rushed over to pick her up and soothe her, and of course she screamed and cried.  DD, unfortunately, realized that mommy was picking up SI and not her.  What's more, she knew exactly why.  So as I walked SI around hushing and soothing her, DD intentionally face planted onto her play mat.  Did she hurt herself?  No- but she did fall over, look at me, and begin to scream.

Here comes the unexpected part- DD and SI were, of course, both on my lap and both crying, when DD realized that SI was being serious.  DD stopped crying, and started staring at SI with a look of unmistakable concern.  She kept looking at me and then at her sister, as if to say, "You can fix that, right?  Because really I'm okay and I don't like it that SI is sad."  Within moments of SI's calm silence, DD began beaming, bouncing, and laughing.  All things being right in the world.

They remind me already of me and my sisters.  I can't help but laugh- DD was completely unaware of her role is her sister's distress, but already has a sense of affection and empathy that makes her all the more lovable.  And poor SI, I know she'll be the victim of her sister's accidental cruelty for years yet.  But watching them I can already see them becoming friends.  Playing, sharing on occasion, and spending whole stretches of time just looking and each other and smiling and laughing.

I know the novelty will wear off.  I know that I'm their mom, so of course I'm proud of everything that they do.  But today they acted not just like children but like sisters... and now I feel a sense of pride, of nostalgia, and of sadness and fear all mixed together.  The time of having two infants, oblivious to each other is over.  They're siblings now- for better or worse- to become best friends or worst enemies.  I hope they are kinder to each other than my sisters and I (it would be hard not to be) and if today is any indication, I can be confident that someday they might hug and make up all on their own.

Today my daughters are sisters.  That's one step closer to being complete people.

May 23, 2010

The Best Gift You Can Give Your Children

Two years ago today, I married the man of my dreams.

Well, not quite. I think the man of my dreams was names Brett something or other, and I had the most painful crush on him at summer camp after fourth grade. But I married the man I loved- my best friend and soul mate. Even if we didn't ever slow-dance to Boyz II Men on the beach.

As I've already said, the best parenting advice I ever got was from my college adviser. She said that the best thing I could do for my babies was to have a good relationship with their father. So here we are, parenting together and celebrating another year over and another beginning in our lives together.

We aren't exactly doing much to celebrate today, after all, we're busy people with Important Things to do, but we spent the bulk of the day out of the house, away from our kids.

Which leads me to a General Rule of Parenting. Find a good babysitter. Not just a grandparent or aunt, because your relationship with that person goes beyond babysitting. No, find a babysitter. Somebody you like and trust who will do a good job taking care of your kids YOUR way while you get away. Somebody who when you come back again you don't have to make small talk or promise to do something WITH them soon- let's face it, we don't have time or energy for all those social engagements. Find a babysitter who you pay to give you guilt free time off.

That money? That's guilt money. Free babysitters cost a lot more than cash in the guilt department. It's all well and good when you're strapped for cash and you need a sitter, but a guilt-free sitter will genuinely make your life happier.

All we did today was go to brunch and catch a matinee- not even the one we had planned to see. But it was like a second honeymoon. I even wore a pair of high heels.

So it's right back to our daily grind- babies babies babies!- but it's all a little more romantic today. Because we have a little secret from our girls, and that secret is that we are crazy in love.

We're taking our first real family vacation this week. We're heading off to a secluded cabin in the woods with the girls for nearly two weeks. The girls will play in a body of fresh water, play in the grass, and probably taste a few completely new foods. And a vacation where you still have a full time job- being a parent- is hardly a vacation in the spirit of the word. But today... today we had our break.

 Is marriage hard? Yeah. And having kids does make it harder. But as my adviser rightly said, maintaining a good one is the best thing you can do for your kids.

May 22, 2010

Experimental Parenting

...rock on, parents. Rock on.

May 21, 2010

Grandparents and Gardening

There are four people in my life that seems to love nothing more than making my life easier. Truly, they are the un-sung heroes of my days. Those people are my children's grandparents. Any time they are able, they want to play with my kids, feed my kids, change my kids' diapers... in short, they are endlessly willing to, in short bursts, do my job for me. And for this, I am immeasurably grateful.

We have a 2-5 day long grandparent visit pretty much once a month. It's marvelous- it's a time when somebody I love and trust wants me to go do something else so they can play with the babies. So I do. M and I will go on a rare date, or more often we'll finally accomplish some tasks that have been building up for weeks. Every time I have a paper due for class, I like some grandparents to come to town. It leaves me free to work on something that isn't my children.

This week, my parents came to town. They hadn't seen their grandchildren in a whole six weeks, the longest stretch of time yet. They were amazed at the changes in their grand-kids, and utterly over the moon to change poopy diapers and shovel porridge into reluctant mouths. And what did I do?

I FINALLY got into my garden.

Now, by "into my garden," I mean that I dove in without any of the tools that probably would have been most useful. Say, a machete and a bee-keeper's suit.

You see, my "garden" is the five foot wide stretch of land that runs nearly the length of our building, between the south wall and a chain link fence. The fence borders what is essentially a dog park, so there's no obstruction to the light. However, this plot of land has been thoroughly ignored by the entire condo association until our arrival last summer. Of course I was too busy to get to it then, what with being pregnant and settling into a new home, but I've been antsy to get my hands dirty for months now. And that's just what I did. Unfortunately though, without what might have been the best tools for the job.

The weeds- you wouldn't believe! Saplings from the giant maple in the back yard, thistles, milkweed, run-of-the-mill grasses grown three feet high... and as you might imagine, this area was thoroughly inhabited.

The other gardener types in the building have been warning me that the soil in the yard is dreadful, and to be sure it is sandy, but I think that the neglect along the south side might have been helping that soil get healthier. I dug up lots of worms and snails, most of whom I returned to their earthy homes, but I met a few less friendly squatters as well. All of whom I hope to make as welcome in my garden- if not on my PERSON- as they were in their dense urban jungle.

Living in my garden is a wolf spider carrying an egg sac. Now, I am genuinely arachnophobic. A surprise encounter with a spider can cause me to go into OCD fits of terror and occasional self injury for days. Honestly. So the initial discovery of my tenant and her potential offspring forced me to take a fifteen minute breather on the other end of the building. But wolf spiders are good- they kill and eat the pests that would be eating my vegetables.

The other unpleasant meeting I had was with a hive of bumblebees. Did you know that they build their nests in the ground? Because I sure didn't. Bumblebees and I go way back, my first honest to goodness nightmare was about a bumblebee. That said, they're pretty darn harmless. They're pretty much the least harmless stinging insect I can think of. But go digging up their home, and you can make any animal pretty vicious. Bumblebees are good news, though. They are excellent pollinators, so I'm optimistic they'll keep my veggies healthy.

So I cleared nearly 2/3 of the jungle, leaving the other third for another time or perhaps another year. I've tilled and turned nearly half of what will become my actual garden, where I will (I hope I hope) be planting tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and herbs this weekend. My husband, sister, and sister-in-law all got me credit towards my plants for my birthday, and I've been anxious all month to buy them and put them in the dirt. And now, the time may have finally come.

The girls played with my mother in the grass under the big maple tree for two and a half hours while I sweated buckets into the brush and caked dirt all over myself. I have a few tips for any of you other scatterbrained mamas planning on spending your time in the garden.

First of all, take some ibuprofen FIRST. And maybe stretch.
Secondly, use your damn gardening gloves. I have a pair, but did I use them? No. And I have the spider bites, the nettle scratches, and scraped palms to prove it. Garden smarter, not harder!

That said, I'm looking forward to feeding my girls the home-grown organic veggies. It's never too early to teach them where food is supposed to come from, and to appreciate the simple things. Like getting grass stains on your knees and eating a tomato right off the vine.

Some days, life is simple and beautiful and good. So thank you, mom and dad, for helping me simplify it for a few days. No matter how crazy it gets around here my parents, and my husband's parents, are always willing to shoulder a little of the burden, and that is a beautiful thing. I imagine someday I might be that magical vanishing helper for my own kids, but for now they can roll in the grass with their grandparents and I will get bitten and stung, and it will be some of the happiest moments for all of us.

May 18, 2010

Bottles, Breasts, and the Brouhaha

I am, generally, a pretty hippie-dippy kind of person. I went into my experiment of motherhood determined to do a few things that I thought were Very Important.

The first was to have a natural childbirth experience. I've spent 40 hours getting tattooed, I was sure that as many as 40 hours of labor couldn't be much worse than that.

The second was to breastfeed- exclusively- for six months.

Surprise, surprise, neither of those were the case. Having multiples can really throw your plans out of order. But I learned some very interested trivia regarding my failure to have a natural birth.

Most women who carry multiples are not young and healthy. Most commonly, they are over 35 or obese. Both of those conditions carry with them the sorts of hormonal imbalances that tend to lead to multiples. Similarly, most women who undergo assisted fertility treatments that result in multiples are over 35.

Being under the age of 30 makes you significantly less likely to carry multiples to term. Likewise, having a multiple pregnancy as your FIRST pregnancy has the same effect.

What that meant for me was experiencing a sudden placental abruption at 35 weeks pregnant and having an emergency c-section. It was absolutely nothing like what I had tried so hard for, or wished for just as much. If I had my way, I would have been having one baby- probably at home- with no drugs and nobody pushing formula.

But we can't always get what we want, can we? And I DID get what I most wanted, remarkably sweet, cuddly, and healthy babies.

Of course, having premature babies meant that everyone in the hospital was pushing as hard as they could to get us to give the babies formula. They weren't small for twins- they totaled almost ten pounds together- but for a single baby they were just tiny. They didn't nurse well, and they were so easily tired, and so thin... The doctors and nurses, even those who worked tirelessly with me to help get my girls a good latch and plenty of natural booby food, advocated for supplementing with formula as well. And it didn't take much convincing for me to agree. All I wanted, and all most parents want, was to do what it took to make sure my babies would be healthy.

Now, I had and have heard all kinds of horror stories about nipple confusion, about a baby rejecting the breast in favor of formula if they eat it too early on, about the virtues of a virgin gut. And I generally agree. I generally think that breast is best, and that it's what human babies are SUPPOSED to eat. But I also think that formula was invented for a reason.

I've been hearing a lot from my friends in the breastfeeding community about the evil formula corporations and their campaign against nursing. There's a lot of terrifying truth to it, because formula makes money and breast milk doesn't there's plenty of money to be made in convincing mom's to abandon nursing in favor of formula. But honestly? I think a lot of those folk are carrying it too far.

Is formula harmless? No, it's not. It isn't as good for your child, it's more likely to contribute to lactose intolerance later, and your child misses out on all the vital antibodies you could be passing along. But the idea that a "virgin gut" is going to somehow improve your child's life is terribly silly.

As anyone knows who's seen a baby play, they put absolutely everything in their mouths. And this is important- if they don't introduce dirt and boogers and other icky things into their system in nice small doses, they'll never develop their own immune system. Our hyper-sterile environment is contributing to the rising instances of allergies and immunity problems. Formula isn't poison, it's just not as good as breast milk. The breastfeeding advocates who scare parents away from formula are no better than those who scare parents away from nursing- because both of them are breaking one of the cardinal rules of parenting.

Whatever allows you to be a better parent IS better parenting. If you are too stressed out and too exhausted by nursing to care for your child, maybe you want to supplement with formula. Let daddy take over the night feedings and let you sleep for a change. If your let-downs are so painful that nursing reduces you to tears every time, why continue to resent your child for all of that pain?

Breast is best, absolutely, but NOTHING is better than a functional parent. A mommy terrified that she's actively hurting her children by making her life livable is not a functional parent.

I think, in a perfect world, every mother would try to breastfeed exclusively for as long as is possible, and then begin finding the arrangement that works best for their own family.

If that includes formula, then in includes formula. If it doesn't, bully for you! But stop bullying other moms into thinking that they must be failing if they aren't meeting your own standards.

Motherhood is hard. Parenting is hard. There is no instruction manual, and the group-think conventions change constantly.

At nearly eight months old, my girls get a maximum of eight ounces of formula a day, including the formula I frequently mix with their cereal. If they have a lactose intolerance as adults, so what? I'm practically vegan already, I can't imagine it damaging their quality of life. And most importantly, those few ounces of formula allow me to function completely in my daily life- to sleep solid eight hour nights, to eat meals and finish most tasks, to complete my homework and even sew the occasional dress. And those little girls are thriving, virgin guts or no.

As a parent, I offer this advice. Do what works, and ignore anybody who tries to scare you into doing things differently. You're the parent- YOU are the authority now. Maybe not on every child, but at least on your own. There is a phrase you must commit to memory, that you will use a thousand times, and more often than not you will not be directing it at your children. Learn it well, and heed, so when somebody tries to tell you how badly you're screwing up you can say it loud and proud-

"Because I said so."

May 10, 2010

Domestic Tranquility

Early on in my very complicated pregnancy, I had to withdraw from school and take a leave of absence. This involved sitting down with the head of my program, and having a nice long talk over my ultrasound photos. She offered me a piece of advice that was absolutely true and good, "The best gift you can give your kids is a good relationship with their father."

A little background- it might in fact be true that nobody has a stronger, healthier relationship than me and my husband. I don't know if that was the case when we got engaged, but nineteen hours later I was rushing to the hospital to find him after he had a grand mal seizure during a softball game. It turned out that he had a few tumors, one the size of a golf ball, in his brain. The diagnosis was astrocytoma- a glioblastoma similar to the one that killed Ted Kennedy recently. The prognosis was very bad, but we forged ahead. With a lot of positive thinking, a lot of love, and an amazing medical study, he's basically as good as new. This July we'll be celebrating his doubling his life expectancy at the time of prognosis.

This tends to put a lot of things into perspective. Like, whether or not it's important that the dishes always get cleaned, or how much stress it is to be out of work, or how hard raising babies can be. No matter what life throws at us, we can smile at each other and say, "At least it's not brain cancer."

That said, we are fighting three of the leading causes of divorce at the moment. The first, we're both out of work. I'm still freelancing but hell- I'm a full time mom these days. And he's still looking, but his field was hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, and when the going gets tough the tough go to grad school. So he's going to be starting a master's program in the fall.

The second is that we have very different diets. I'm a life-long vegetarian (thanks Mom and Dad!), and he's a meat-and-potatoes Minnesotan. You'd be surprised how important comfort foods are to a feeling of security in your own home, and if my comfort food is saag paneer and his is meatloaf, you can see how we might have a problem.

The last is religion. I'm a Conservative Jew, and he's a Lutheran.

This is remarkably rarely an issue of contention, even when deciding how to raise our kids. The biggest religion-related fights we've ever had are about whether or not Christmas is a secular holiday. I maintain that it's absolutely not, which he says that all religious meaning has been removed and it has been completely secularized. We've pretty much agreed to disagree, although it's still a sore spot, but the girls are going to be celebrating it regardless.

On our recent trip to visit his family, his grandfather the pastor baptized the babies. If they'd been boys they'd have had a bris, but I don't really buy into the "naming ceremony" Jews have for welcoming babies into the world. It's a pretty recent invention, and I just don't get it.

My husband (M) and I are concerned that by baptizing we may give the wrong impression to our families. We don't want anyone thinking that this is some sort of final choice on the girls' upbringings. It's just one element of half of their religious education. As for the bulk of their religious education, we've decided to send the girls to Hebrew school and not Sunday school. It's my hope that they will want to become Bat Mitzvah, but it's going to be up to them what religious choices they want to make in their lives. Living in America and attending public school, they'll learn all about Christianity no matter what. Their Jewish education won't come so easy. No need to push them to spend their entire weekend in parochial classrooms, Hebrew school and an American education should do it.

That said, the baptism was remarkable difficult for me. Not because of watching the babies get Jesus-ed, that was fine, it was more the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by my Christian family members and their desire for my children to grow up and follow their religion. It's made me think a lot about how M will feel when at the end of the month we're in New York for my cousin's Bar Mitzvah. Surrounded by my family, will he feel just as second guessed and pressured, despite not a word being uttered? Probably. And then we'll look at each other, and that silent mantra will fly through both of our heads again. "At least it's not brain cancer."

So I've done it. I've outed myself as a Jew with baptized children. But that doesn't stop me from singing them Hebrew lullabies, it doesn't stop me from putting them in a four questions onesie, and it doesn't hurt any of us. At the hardest, it just teaches both of us to ask better questions, to respect each other's beliefs, and to remember that our children are people. They will make their own choices someday.

May 8, 2010

My Nemesis

SuperMommy is, of course, a heroine of epic notoriety. Like Superman, Captain America, and Professor X before her, she rights wrongs and helps those in need. Most notably, her children. But also like these other heroes, she has an arch enemy. For SuperMommy, her enemy and single vulnerability are one. Lex Luthor and kryptonite combined into one horrible and sinister foe.


Hormones are amazing. Without them, I could never have children, never nurse them, and probably wouldn't fall so desperately in love with them on sight. However, hormones are also an evil the likes of which have never been known.

You might have been wondering where I was these last few days. The short answer is Minnesota, but the long answer is that I was a captive of my evil hormones, holding not only me but my entire family hostage.

You see, the girls have been eating more and more solid foods. They have two of their meals each day completely solid, and they have at least one opportunity a day to "play" with solid food. Smooshed peas or chunky bananas mostly get shoved into armpits and dropped on the floor, but occasionally make it from the high chair tray to a baby's mouth, by way of baby's own hand! It's amazing. However, what I didn't realize when we started giving the children more and more solid food was that it meant I was, essentially, beginning to wean my twins.

The human female body is amazing. We come equipped with four innate forms of birth control. The first is pre-pubescence. The next is menopause. The third is pregnancy itself (thank god we can only do THAT once at a time), and the last is breast feeding. Unfortunately, breast feeding is not perfect birth control, but if your body is producing enough milk to COMPLETELY satisfy at least one baby, the odds of you getting pregnant do go down. The more babies you're feeding, obviously the more milk you're producing, and again the less likely a pregnancy becomes. Yeah, it would be great if it were a perfect system, but as far as birth control methods go it's pretty good. Those first eight weeks that you're not hardly sleeping at all, that you've got a little monkey eating constantly... you're probably not going to get knocked up while all that's happening. And that is a relief.

But the weaning comes, as it must, and then you're up the creek. Now you haven't had a period in nigh a year and a half, and your body might be a little slow on the uptake as far as remembering exactly how to cope with that.

Now, I have never had particularly bad PMS. But this last week I've felt as though I were in danger of literally killing people. Besides being hysterically upset, generally depressed, and irrationally angry, I've broken out like I haven't since high school and CRAVED sugar and salt in a way that my pregnancy couldn't come close to comparing with. While my not-in-eighteen-monthly visitor hasn't actually arrived, I'm expecting her any day. And, oh hormones my hormones, the madness that has consumed me seems to have one suggestion to offer.

My hormones, these same demons that have me throwing vitamin bottles at doors and shrieking to the useless Comcast customer service reps that I'm going to puke on their carpets (only possibly an exaggeration), have an EXCELLENT idea for how to not go through this miserable PMS-ish ordeal.

"Let's have another baby!" say the hormones. "Let's have it RIGHT NOW!"

And, weakened by exhaustion, by aches and by my own fury, I think to myself, "Now that might not be such a bad idea."

Damn you, hormones! Damn you all! I thank you for the many gifts you've bestowed upon me, but this relationship is becoming far too abusive. All at once I'm doubting my ability to parent what with the anger and the crying and the constant nutella sandwiches, yet you've very nearly got me convinced that I just want to be pregnant again.

And I remember how much I hated being pregnant.

Hormones. My nemesis. This time I conquer you. This time I grit my teeth and wait for the tide to rise and wash over me and then to return to a modicum of sanity.

I win this time, hormones. I win this time.


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