June 29, 2010

Baby Love

Ask any parent, they'll tell you their kid has had plenty of personality from the start.  Sure, they might have been sleepy a lot in the beginning, but parents always know the traits that predict who their kids will become later in life.  Maybe it's all speculation, maybe there really is a way to pick up on those sorts of cues from an infant.  I really don't understand it, but I know that I've had a good handle on my girls' personalities since they started kicking around my insides.

I knew that DD would be a hellion, brave and kind hearted.  I knew that SI would be smart and, frankly, lazy.  I knew that DD would run circles around her sister, and that SI would be a little clingy.  I had all of these preconceptions about who they would be, and lo and behold, here they are.

More than anything else, those little girls are loving.  Now, love is a very complicated emotion.  It's part dependence, part friendship, huge heaps of trust, and endless affection.  So how can a rational adult even begin to believe that a baby, incapable of any real form of verbal communication, feels love?

SI has a way of looking at you as though you're the most amazing thing in the world.  As my father puts it, as though you're in her own secret club.  It's a smile she reserves for people she obviously prefers- her grandfathers are at the top of her list of favorites.  She has also learned to give kisses.  She'll see her favorite stuffed animal, grin and squeal with delight, and then oh-so-gently put her mouth (with a bit of tongue sticking between her lips) against it's nose.  She does this to her parents as well.  It's a very deliberate, very slow action.  A kiss on the nose is her little ritual of affection.  And then she smiles her special little smile and looks at you as though nothing could be better than getting you slimy.

DD also gives kisses, but she prefers to essentially latch on to her victim's shoulder, slime them thoroughly while giving them a baby bear hug, and then burst into peals of laughter.  But she stares at her loved ones in absolute awe or concern, she studies your face so intently that she reacts instantly to any little change.  A sigh, a frown, anything that might give away a moment of less than joy.  And then, deliberately, she tries to distract you.  As though she thinks that she can make you happy again.  And when she succeeds, she laughs and smiles and gives you that silly bear hug I've come to associate with her so strongly.

But I didn't sit down here to write about how much my kids love me, much as I enjoy it.  I sat down here to write about how much they're starting to obviously love each other.

These last few weeks, the girls have begun to really play together.  I'll be ignoring them in order to accomplish some other task, and suddenly the room is filled with the raucous laughter of two babies.  When I go to see what's so funny, it's the girls playing.  SI, leaning in to give DD a kiss on the nose, and DD grabbing SI's head for a bear hug that knocks her onto the floor, and both of them finding it hilarious.  When SI cries, DD stops and looks, in obvious distress.  She doesn't start crying herself most times, instead she does what she would do if I were upset- she attempts to distract SI.

Yesterday I observed an unexpected scene.  DD was fussing, she was whining and her parents were too busy to pick her up at that second.  SI was about a foot away.  She picked up the glove she'd been playing with, leaned over, and placed it directly in DD's lap.  DD was instantly cheered, and SI responded to DD's smile by grinning right back.

It had been my thought when I learned I was having twins that they would always have a friend, but I didn't really understand what that meant.  I have no friends who shared my babyhood, who learned to walk and talk with me.  I have no friends who knew me before I knew myself.  Not only do DD and SI care for each other, they've learned who their little friend is.  They know the patterns, they know what the looks mean and what the sounds mean.  This, from children so small they don't understand that the baby in the mirror is their own reflection.

Each time I see them play together, hold hands or tickle each other, I am so proud of them.  I am so proud of them for becoming people, for having a life that has facets of which I am not included.  Already I'm a sort of exile- the MOM, not one of the kids.  I am not saddened at all by this, but I am surprised at how sentimental it makes me.  Already I mourn the loss of this time, as it happens.

I never have to worry that my girls will feel alone in the world.  I can see in their eyes when they play, regardless of genetics, that they have a friend for life.

June 21, 2010

Being an Individual

Mothers babies get all sorts of unsolicited advice, particularly from mothers of babies.  Mothers of twins get more than unsolicited advice, they get twin-oriented nonsense spouted at them everywhere they go.  Particularly when those twins are small.  And there are lists that every mother of twins keep in their heads of the most obnoxious things that are said to them on a regular basis.  The mothers of twins that I know are particular annoyed by the question, "How do you tell them apart?"

The thing that irks me the most about these comments is that every member of the peanut gallery seems to want to label their twins as opposites.  On one walk with their grandma, the two different children were observed individually fussing, and for each the onlookers declared that the one fussing at that moment, you could tell SHE was the fussy one, and the other was the quiet one.

I hear this a lot.  Not just about fussing.  I hear that SI is so obviously intelligent while DD is so obviously social.  That DD is obviously more needy and that SI smiles more easily.  That SI seems to be the good sleeper and that DD is the good eater.

I have two beautiful girls, who have the occasional misfortune of being twins.  One is not the smart one and the other is not the pretty one, they are not two halves of a single unit.  My little girls are both people- complete, flawed, inconsistent people.  Just like everyone else.  Nobody is one side of a coin, not even a twin.

They each have good days and bad days, good nights and bad nights, good moments and bad moments.  They each have their own interests (as much as a baby can) and their own preferences, and although they might be very similar in size and in general appearance, they are not the halves of the same person.

This is something I worried about for them long before they were born.  I had decided not to dress them alike, although I've definitely failed on that count.  I had decided to do all that was possible to let them know, and to let the world know, that they are whoever they want to be.  Not each others' complimentary parts.

I've done a fair amount of reading on raising twins, and I've talked to a lot of adult twins, and what I worry most about is that twins who grow up behaving as each others' opposite half fail to build other relationships, other friendships.  Not that having a twin as your best friend and confidant isn't a wonderful thing, but there are other things.  I want them to have their own individual lives, so far as it's what they themselves want.

How do I tell my daughters apart?  One of them is DD and the other is SI.  Two entirely different people, two entirely different personalities.  Even if they were identical (which they're definitely not) I, their mother, would know them from anyone.  Twin or not.

Nobody is half of a coin.  We are all multifaceted, confusing heaps of character.  For the most part we were born this way, and most of us are lucky enough that nobody treated us as anything else during our formative years.  I hope very much that my children will learn to be their own people.  I hope they grow up happy and wise and fulfilled.  I hope they fall in love, make friends, lose touch with people, build and dissolve relationships... all those things we all do.  And I hope that being a twin is merely another part of the amazing people that they, individually, become.

June 18, 2010

Makin' with the Milks

Breasts are pretty awesome.  They're warm and snuggly, they're pleasantly roundish, and they make food.  Past that, they're pretty fun in other ways.  I'm very pro-breast.  As a sort of thick Jewish girl, I've had breasts for a long time.  Big ones.  Before my pregnancy, I'd been holding steady for about eight years at a 34G.  I would wander through lingerie sections snorting- those measly C cups!  Those adorably petite DDs!  Then of course, I had to go and procreate, and now?  Boobs of doom.  Yes, doom.  Did you know bras only seem to go up to a double O?

Of course, they're more useful now.  Never mind that it took me six months of constant searching to find a supportive nursing bra that I didn't have to get custom made, or otherwise altered.  Never mind that my breasts enter the room four or five minutes before the rest of me, never mind all of that.  They're doing an important job.  And I am beginning to wonder about when that important job will end.

You see, my children are growing teeth.  Those adorable toothless grins haven't changed much- YET- but those teeth are visible.  Pretty soon those teeth are going to be more than adorable little pearly spots, they're going to be vicious tools of destruction.

I'm not considering weaning as a purely pain related issue.  Frankly, I'm not sure SI (who used to be a FIERCE biter) even registers that she could nibble me anymore.  DD might figure out that she can get a funny reaction out of it, but they know what boobs are for and it isn't biting.  No, I'm not too terrified of the teeth.  Only terrified enough.

What seems almost pre-arranged is that the girls are essentially weaning themselves as they cut their teeth.  They only nurse two or three times a day now, mostly if they're sleepy and want to wind down for a nap.  They get three solid meals, as many as two of what we call "booby snacks," before a snooze, and then their bedtime eating routine.  They don't want bottles before bed, nursing until they're all sleepy is all it's about, not another real meal.  They decided they were ready to move on from their previous diet, and their mouths corresponded.

I love nursing.  I never expected to say that.  It was hard to get started, really freakin' hard.  There are a lot of women out there who were born to nurse, but I am not one of them.  For one thing, my mother had a hormonal imbalance that made her let-down EXTREMELY painful.  For another, (and I can't believe I'm actually putting this out there,) I have one semi-inverted nipple.  I fully expected an nearly impossible latching situation.  Amazingly, the thing stayed popped out the right way from the get go, but not nearly as much so as its counterpart.  And preemies aren't so good at latching or sucking so that breast was a bit of an issue.  Even if they have the skills they tire very easily, and if they tire before they get to eat they fail to thrive.  I fully accepted the idea of supplementing with bottles early, it was unavoidable.

Getting started breast feeding was hard.  It involved a lot of crying, a lot of disappointment, and a lot of anger.  Nothing has ever made me angrier than being post-partum.  But we finally got the hang of it a few months in.  And it's wonderful.  Not just because the girls are big and I credit their diet, not only because I know they're getting the best food they possibly can, and it's not because we're saving a fortune on baby formula.  A few times a day, I get the opportunity to just sit and hold my babies, to play with them a little, to soothe them, and to generally feel like we're the only people on earth.

It's a little like falling in love, a couple times a day.

Sometimes, it's just a pain in the ass.  Sometimes, it's another thing I have to do that keeps me from doing the things I need to do.  Sometimes, the girls don't cooperate and there's screaming and there's tears and I am helpless furniture.

I'm also getting very good at repeating the motherly phrases, "Don't hit your sister," and "Eyes are not for grabbing."

I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss nursing when it's all over.  I'm just as sure I'll be relieved- freed to return to tight and complicated clothing and nights out.  But I understand the women who keep up nursing into the second year and beyond.  The girls and I are both so calmed, so comforted by just getting that warm, snuggly skin-on-skin time together.  It's a beautiful thing, nursing your babies.  It's not exactly an essential thing, it's not something that works for everyone, but it is an awfully nice thing.

I found that goals helped keep me going.  When I started, my goal was to nurse for six months.  When that turned up, I decided to aim for a full year.  I'm halfway there, and I think at this point I'm going to let them wean themselves.  There are days that they don't nurse at all before bed, that pre-nap nursing session is purely a sedative.  I don't know that I'll ever have to really work on weaning, they're so cooperative most of the time, but it's coming.  Three teeth between two babies, two to three booby snacks a day...

They're not little babies anymore.  They're big babies.  And soon they'll be children, and I'll find another lovely thing to do with them that makes us all happy and calm before bed.  We'll read bedtime stories together, sing our lullabies together, get tucked in and kissed goodnight...  But for now?  Nursing is still awfully nice.  Because breasts are amazing.

June 13, 2010

Edible Food-Like Products

In a perfect world, I would make everything that everyone in my family ate.  In a perfect world, I would control everything that went into my children's bellies.  In a perfect world, I could trust those "trusted brands" to pick up the slack when I really need them to.

Turns out, this ain't a perfect world.

Did you know that they add ALL SORTS of awful stuff to baby foods?  Things that pediatricians recommend avoiding, things that have NO nutritional value, things that might potentially be harmful to your children?

I'm not talking about formaldehyde or anything.  But take a peek.  That baby food that boasts DHA is loaded with tuna oil.  That cereal with fruit in it has gelatin added in order to keep it looking, well, like baby food.

Sure, the carrots only have carrots in them.  But the rest of it?  The "pasta dinner" that's filled with turkey?  The "vegetable risotto" filled with tallow?

Eggs here and there, some honey, even nuts for crying out loud!  These are known allergens, these are things that modern medicine (and in most cases common sense) recommends waiting to feed our children.

I'm so angry that I, a vegetarian and an ethical eater, have been misled into feeding that trash to my little girls.

I've purchased a new blender system that will allow me to more easily make all my baby food.  So, in a way, thanks Gerber for making this a more perfect world.

Yeah, thanks a lot.

June 12, 2010

Parenting and Irrational Fear

Sometimes, life is a little too perfect.  And then something has to happen to remind you that life doesn't actually work that way, and that it's still hard and complicated and there's always room for improvement.  There's always an opportunity for you to completely fail to meet your expectations, to see conclusively that you're still a little kid without any damn sense on the inside, and that you have a long way to go before you're that person you always wanted to be when you grew up.

In general, those events are tiny, insignificant moments.  Like when you realize that you've been using really offensive language in front of a toddler on the bus, or that you're checking out at the grocery store with about 6,000 calories worth of junk food that you just KNOW is all going to get eaten before dawn the next day.  And you're always having such a great time you simply don't see it coming.  But then it's right there in front of you, and you have to accept once again that you've still got a long way to go.

My little family just returned from its first real vacation.  It was amazing, we were just like a real family, endlessly driving and driving and driving... I believe we spent 32 hours in the car just getting from point A to B etc., to the tune of about 1,700 miles.  Yeah, it was THAT kind of vacation.

We started by heading off to a family event- my cousin's bar mitzvah.  It was the first time most everyone I'm related to has had an opportunity to meet my children.  We got to see all my cousins on my mom's side, everyone was duly impressed with the girls, and it was really a lovely time.  Then we headed back to my childhood home.

You see, my family moved around a fair amount when I was a kid.  The place I lived for the longest was New Jersey, and (no offense to those of you who hail from the Garden State) I HATED it.  I wasn't exactly a popular kid, and the whole state seemed to me everything that was wrong with my childhood.  But every summer, for the whole summer, we went to my family's property in northern Michigan.   My mother inherited a plot of rusticated heaven from her grandfather, with a smattering of cabins on it dating back to the 1800's.  There's an old barn we called the Presidential Suite, where my sisters and I stayed.  It wasn't just our own room, it was our own BUILDING, and we had a few to call our own!  There was an old chicken coop that we'd transformed into a play house, complete with kitchen and dining room, and a little jail cell.  We roamed the woods, hiding out under felled trees and swimming in the spring fed pond, picking wild strawberries at the beginning of the season and apples at the end, rushing out to wave at the freight trains, marveling at the endless sky...  In many ways, those summers shaped my personality and emotional development more than any other aspect of my childhood.  How many kids these days have the chance to just PLAY outside all day?  To spy on herons and deer and to play pooh sticks on the bridge and to chase frogs into the water?

Unfortunately, all this nature and tree climbing and all could not cure me of my CRIPPLING arachnophobia.  Yes, I am terrified of spiders.  There's nothing rational about it.  In an effort to cure myself, I would study spiders, I would grit my teeth and hold my breath and tell myself, "I'm going to be brave!" and then I would fail.  As I've gotten older it's gotten a little better, but after a surprise spider I tend to spend the next several days- yes, DAYS- snatching my hair out and hyperventilating.  As you can imagine, my sisters and many friends found this hilarious, but I certainly didn't.  After all, I knew these creatures were harmless.  I knew they were my friends, eating the mosquitoes that would brutalize my ankles and the flies that bit my shoulders, but I couldn't see one without having a full blown panic attack.  And, as you must also imagine, in a place like Guppy Lake there are spiders EVERYWHERE.

Now I'm an adult.  I am a grown woman with my own children.  I was happier to be bringing them to the site of my greatest childhood joys than I can adequately describe.  But I knew what I was likely to find- spiders.  Those early summer spiders that are just hatching and coming out of all their hidey holes- spiders that my very conscientious parents would have no idea had moved in.  There were likely to be spiders everywhere.  "I'm going to be brave," I told myself.  "If I see a spider while the girls are around, I will be brave, and I won't panic, and then the girls won't be afraid of spiders like me."

We had a big bonfire one night, and in the car driving the sleeping babies back to the main cabin, I saw a daddy long legs looking spider crawling on my husband's shoulder.  I squealed and squawked and my husband jumped out of the car and shook off the spider, and all in all I was very proud of myself.  I hadn't screamed, I hadn't disturbed the girls in the slightest... and after all it had been ON my husband, IN my car!  I felt I was to be congratulated, and that the worst must be over.

Oh, how wrong I was.

On our last night at Guppy Lake, I was bathing my daughters in the double kitchen sink.  DD was all clean, and just playing in the water.  SI only needed her face to be washed off, and then we would be all done.  It was then that I felt a sort of tickle on the back of my hand.  I looked down to see a GIGANTIC black spider, with thick short legs and a fat body skittering across my hand.

There was no thinking.  There was no deep breath, no counting to three, no serene removal of the bug.  No, there was only panic.  Blind, animal panic.  I shrieked and frantically waved my hand, and then the heart stopping, most awful moment of all... the spider, now running around just as frantically as me, landed on my bathing baby.

Here my memory gets a bit fuzzy.  I know I was screaming, I know my father pushed me out of the way and removed the spider from my daughter, and I know I somehow ended up doubled over in the doorway with my husband holding my arms at my sides and calmly assuring me that everything was fine.  But everything was not fine.  That THING had been on my daughter, and I had put it there.

There are things that we fear with good reason.  Child molesters, nuclear holocaust, car accidents... spiders just plain don't make the list of rational fears.  But there's an ancient, lizardy brain fold somewhere in there that for some of us never shut down properly.  Something that makes those awful creepy critters worse than anything.

Seeing that spider on my daughter, BECAUSE OF ME, was easily one of the worst moments of my life.  My parents laughed and laughed, how could they not?  The whole thing was absurd.  But it still makes me sick to my stomach.  Not because SI was actually in any danger.  Not because of the spider itself, even.  But mostly because I completely and utterly failed.  I was going to be brave.  I was going to be a calm, rational adult.  Instead, I was a useless panting mess.

How does a person overcome a phobia like that?  Therapy might help, of course, and there's never really a bad reason to go to therapy.  But that doesn't really satisfy my need to meet my expectations for adulthood and mothering.  As a hippy-dippy nature-chica earth-mama lady, I should raise children who are happy to pick up frogs and bugs and to get dirty.  How will they learn to be better than me if I can't teach them?

And that's it.  The heart of the matter.  How do you teach your children to surpass you?  The short answer, I expect, is that you can't.  I am a human being, a limited, imperfect human being.  It is my hope that my children will be better than I, that they will be stronger, smarter, and in every way an improvement.  If they succeed, I succeed alongside them.

But I have failed them this time.  I've failed myself.  It certainly isn't their job, but I somehow expected my daughters to teach me to be a better grown-up.  For some reason I believed that simply being a mother would improve me.  Perhaps it has, but not in every way.  Certainly not it that deeply rooted, primordial way.

Will I keep trying to be brave?  Of course.  I have no doubt I will have to somehow suck it up and push it back and evacuate spiders from my children's bedrooms, and if not spiders than something else.  But thankfully I at least know that this horrible wellspring of terror is completely irrational.  I don't have to worry that they'll grow up and a spider will crawl on them, because I know that if that does happen it will be completely harmless.  I only have to worry about seeing it.  And I just keep telling myself the same thing...

"I'm going to be brave."

June 2, 2010

I'm an Offbeat Mama!

See my feature in Offbeat Mama!


My favorite comment?

"Darned right saag paneer is comfort food!"


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