You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Family’ category.

I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids will attend public school.  At least, I tell myself this, because it will happen.  We bought a house in a top-rated school district  to ensure it will happen.  But having lived in this area for 11 years now, my eyes have been opened to the variety of private schools that exist.  I’ve worked for two of them, and perhaps drunk the Kool-Aid.  Kids learn differently.  Public school doesn’t work for everyone.  There are choices, and private school isn’t all about blazers, galas, and lacrosse.  Maybe I have edu-crushes on the Friends schools because I want my kids to have the types of hand-on education I didn’t in my cookie-cutter public schooling?  A vicarious Quaker education?

Anyhow, preschool is a paid experience (at least until Pennsylvania finally enacts universal Pre-K), so I get to dip my toes into the worlds of admissions, applications, open houses, and choosing the “best” school.  My kids attend the two-year-old program at the JCC.  Is it enough?  Is this the mommy wars/competitive parenting poisoning what is overblown in importance for kids of educated middle-class parents anyway?  (There is research out there that if a kid comes from a home where he is read to and stimulated, no one preschool is “better” than another.  I wish I could find the link to that article…)  Or maybe my standards are impossibly high from having been immersed in preschool for 5 years, years which shaped my parenting and educational philosophies.  Much as I want my kids to do Quaker and Waldorf and nature preschool stuff (but not Montessori; don’t get me started), I also want to choose a place that, frankly, has the hours and tuition and location that makes our lives easier.  I have no interest in choosing a school that will require impossible logistics.  That’s the childcare portion of it again.  Beyond financial limitations, we can’t choose a place simply because they have a classroom I fall in love with, or an ideal curriculum, a gorgeous playground, or teachers who are kindred spirits.

Bottom line: I think it doesn’t matter in the long run where they go to school when they’re 2, 3, or 4, as long as it’s not those dumps in North Philly where I did early intervention.  But the other half of the equation is that I want them to be at a place I love.  A place I feel really good about.  And it’s kind of eating me up inside that all my “expert insider” preschool knowledge came down to the fact that the school day at the JCC goes until 3:30pm and Mr. Apron can pick them up then.  Frankly, that’s what made our final decision.  That, and we thought we’d use the JCC’s fitness center.  That’s happened…exactly zero times since September.

So what do we do? Switch them next year to the other program?  Uproot them from something that works, and from a place they do in fact enjoy going to school to play the lottery on a different program? Sacrifice our logistical sanity trying to work out the transportation, tuition, and childcare challenges for a school I feel good about?  Find an anonymous benefactor to subsidize private school education and a nanny/chauffeur to handle the logistics?  We’re lucky we have choices in preschools for our kids.  Once it all gets whittled down to our limitations, though, it feels a lot less like actual choice, and more a matter of playing Tetris with our kids’ education.

Advertisements

When they sat on a clean baby blanket, covering the couch, my therapist told me one day I’d be putting out the blanket for them.  When we came home one night to find our babysitters  sitting on their book jackets and tote bags pressed flat, I rolled my eyes, and Mr. Apron confronted the absurdity of it all.  We’d replaced the cushion covers, and no dog had ever sat on that surface.

So knock it off, he told his parents.

Later, we’d return to my father-in-law sitting on a dining room chair pulled a few feet from the television, using the kids’ Fisher Price activity station as a coffee table.  That I could excuse, as we have a tiny TV, he wanted the sound low so as not to wake the babies, and he needed to see the action of The Game.

But the night we came home to find both of my in laws seated in plastic patio chairs in the middle of our living room was the epitome of the lengths to which my in laws have gone to avoid any “contamination” of dog-related materials on their person or their home.

“We have bad backs,” they said. But then followed up with, “We waited until you’d left to take the chairs out of the trunk, because we knew you’d get mad.”

Mad about their “bad backs”?  Hardly.

Mad that they treat our home, our clothing, our very children like infectious waste?  That’s more our speed.

At their home, our coats must be laid across a wrought iron banister, not placed in the coat closet.

After they leave our house, they go home and shower and change.

They refused to let us wash clothing at their house when our laundry room blew a fuse.  Not clothing – cloth diapers.  White pieces of microfiber and PUL that touch our babies’ bottoms.  The dog doesn’t wear diapers. And washing machines are for cleaning things.

I could understand that the vacuum my mother-in-law used to clean out my husband’s first apartment couldn’t be taken back to her home.  We got a free vacuum cleaner out of the deal.  But this?  Ridiculous.  Especially considering that, a few months earlier, my father-in-law had washed a load of our baby laundry in his home for us when our old washer died.  Back before he considered all the contaminants that might have been clinging to my daughter’s dresses and my son’s polo shirts.  Never mind the baby socks!

I had to go to a neighbor’s house and ask to use her machine so my children could have clean diapers for another few days.   Thankfully no one in her house is allergic to dogs, peanuts, or logic.

Now I realize none of it is based in reason, but my in-laws are guided by intense anxiety.  My sister-in-law, a 45-year-old woman with no real severe health issues, lives at home with her parents.  Yes, she has a condo of her own, but a snowstorm 3 years ago plus a mouse problem sent her packing, and she has once again moved into her childhood home.  Where her alleged allergies dictate everything that comes into the home.  While in the beginning of my relationship with my future husband, I took her at her word that she was actually allergic to dogs, I now doubt the intensity as well as the veracity of her allergy.  My own husband had allergy tests recently that revealed that he, too, is allergic to dogs.  And he takes a small pill every morning to combat the fact that he’s allergic to most things that grow outdoors, and we have a dog.

We were dog-free for a number of months, after our previous mutt passed away, and toyed briefly with the idea of staying dog-free. Maybe she’d come in our home.   Maybe she’d interact more with (e.g., hold) our children.  We hosted the kids’ first birthday party in our home (as opposed to a dog-free “neutral zone”) as a way to call her bluff.  And she came.  Then, a few months later, we adopted a basset hound, a “low-shed”, short-hair dog who is an absolute delight, and the perfect hound for our family.

“Why didn’t you get a dog that doesn’t shed this time?” my sister-in-law asked.

“This breed didn’t come in that style,” I answered.

Later, we realized the ego-centrism of her question, and my husband revised our collective response.

“Because it wasn’t for you.”

Between the laundry, the couch cushions, the fact that our kids don’t know her when they look at photographs, as well as her myriad other health “issues”, it’s clear to me that she’s literally chosen her veil of sickness/allergy over her relationship with my children.

Initially, my therapist said that it wasn’t personal, that there was no commentary on my housekeeping skills woven into the fibers of the couch cover.

I’m torn, of course, because it is personal.  It’s a reflection of their disdain for our chosen animal companion, their choice to subscribe to the lifestyle of Extreme Allergic Reaction, and their preference for anxiety over family.  I don’t want to lose our local, free babysitting services, along with the family connections.  I don’t want my children to know the fuming rage I have towards those patio chairs and what they represent.

But I can’t make them feel comfortable in our home, can’t make them understand the lunacy of their proceedings, can’t make them realize it’s all manufactured bullshit.

So we accept their limitations, we accept them into our home, and help them unload their fucking patio chairs.  We roll out the allergy red carpet.  Am I putting a blanket on the couch for them, as my therapist predicted?

Not yet, but I’m this close to putting a “decontamination in progress” sign on the front door and supplying them with hazmat suits as a gesture of my good will and understanding.

Either that, or lighting a bag of dog hair on fire on their front step.

When it comes down to the reality, it’s not just my sister-in-law who’s sick.  They’re all feeding into the illness.  Before I asked my neighbor if I could wash our laundry at her house, my husband approached his other sister, one who lives less than 50 yds away, to see if she could help us out. Mr. Apron made the mistake of explaining why his parents had refused our request.

She, too, refused, siding with my parents-in-law, citing the obvious about her sister, “She’s sick.”

Yes, she is, we agreed, but not in the way you think.

I started yoga again.  I’ve done yoga on and off since my freshman year of college, which, as my reunion committee has kindly reminded me, was over 13 years ago.  I signed up for yoga as half of my physical fitness requirement (having passed out of the other half with a series of mediocre scores in sit-ups, push-ups, running, and sit-n-reach) because I was looking for something low-impact, that wouldn’t make me sweat through my pajamas.  After all, this was a 9am class.  It was low-impact.  We learned some basic postures, stretched and crawled around on the floor twice a week, and avoided working near the girls who, unfortunately, did sweat through their pajamas.

When I was pregnant two summers ago, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than prenatal yoga.  I have no idea why.  Even since I heard about it, years ago, it held a mystique.  Perhaps it was the exclusivity of the class membership, or the fact that it was one of few forms of exercise I could do as my belly bulged with the weight of twin fetuses.  I don’t pretend that I was “good” at it, if one can be skilled at prenatal yoga, but it helped me in many ways.   Physically, though my back did ache with my increasing load, it allowed me to maintain my flexibility and strength throughout my pregnancy.  I credit yoga with helping me stay healthy enough to help my twins reach a full-term gestation.  I was as agile as I could be, and the nurse who placed the fetal monitors even remarked, as I heaved my belly up so she could find my daughter’s heart rate, that she was impressed I had any abdominal strength at all left.  More that the physiological benefits, prenatal yoga became a place for me to commune with other women in the same condition.  I didn’t have any pregnancy buddies at work (they were either months ahead or months behind me, gestationally), nor really any geographically close friends who could guide me through pregnancy with their own experiences.  I was conscious of the desire not to become That Pregnant Lady who drones on and on to coworkers and family members about fetal measurements, heart rates, nursery colors, crib safety requirements, and stroller designs.  At prenatal yoga, the firist 15-25 minutes was dedicated to everyone going around the room, introducing themselves and having a couple minutes to talk about their pregnancies.  Finally, every other Saturday, I could talk about my due date, feeling the twins kick for the first time, having a good prenatal check-up, and air out my anxieties among people who welcomed them or shared their own.  And while it felt like a support group, our teacher said it was part of our yoga practice.

More recently, E, my coworker – who was thrust into the role of supervisor this year without much preparation or choice – had expressed a desire to find a way to de-stress, and was thinking of yoga.  I had been looking, too, but for a different reason.  In the midst of being a mommy for the last year-and-almost-a-half, I’ve been so focused on arranging and adhering to my children’s routine (okay, okay, it’s a semi-rigid schedule), that there’s been little time or flexibility left to feed the Me-ness, the Me-ness that I was so worried I’d lose to mommyhood.  I never wanted to be defined primarily as E’s and L’s mommy, and to that end, I have wisely kept working full-time. But once I get home, I shift to mommy mode, and still hadn’t found a way to balance what I want/need to do beyond caring for my kids.  My husband was in a play last fall, and while it was stressful to have him away two nights a week, and lonely during his dress rehearsals and shows, he got to get back into his Me-ness in a very real way.  He was back on stage, expressing his creativity, and bringing joy to yet another packed house.  It was now my turn.  With my colleague holding me accountable (and in turn, me relying on her), we found a nearby studio, made a date, and went to yoga.

The first Tuesday, I rushed in, breathless, having struggled to put the kids to bed in time for me to get out the door.  I worried that E would think I was absolutely nuts, that yoga was completely weird, and that I was more of a hippy-dippy granola that I’d let on. We moved through the poses, focusing on breathing, getting used to the style of the instructor, catching glances at others to make sure we were doing it right.  Somewhere in the middle of the class, the self-consciousness left, and I think that was when we actually started doing yoga.  I don’t have a great grasp of the philosophical or spiritual background behind yoga. I’ve always just done it primarily for the physical benefits, hoping to become slightly more limber or well-balanced.  But my concerns of E thinking me completely batty vanished when we rolled up our mats and stepped out into the cool air of the street.  Airily, she turned to me and said, “Where has this been all my life?”

Our husbands now have to kick us out the door on Tuesday nights. We’re tired, we complain.  It’s easier just to have a relaxing evening at home, we reason.  But you come home so relaxed, they counter.  Do it for yourself. They think we’re sneaking off to bars, we come home so Zen and dopey. I’ve done yoga before to strengthen and support my body, but I’d never before done yoga to feed my mind, my soul.  I know that sounds ridiculous and transcendental.  I only wanted an activity for myself to do.  It could have been a knitting circle or a book club, or taking bassoon lessons.  But I think yoga was a serendipitous, and overly auspicious choice.  I doubt somehow I would have come home from book club with my mind freed from anxieties, my body ready to enter a peaceful sleep, and my soul filled to the brim with Me-ness.

I missed therapy last week.  At 4pm, when I should have been parking my car and entering the building, I was instead holding my son as he screamed through a nebulizer treatment on the pediatric inpatient unit of Bryn Mawr Hospital.  E had been wheezing over the weekend, and we did nothing. Sure, Mr. Apron had noticed it, had asked for my confirmation (I heard it, too), but I did nothing.  I figured, as with most infant illnesses, it would resolve on its own, and, with the new conservative stance on such things as cough and cold medicines for children, we wouldn’t be able to give him anything anyhow.

A miserable Monday night’s sleep had us headed to the pediatrician on Tuesday, and after they’d tried to jack him up with breathing treatments in the office, we were sent directly to the ER.  What followed was a 36-hour ordeal filled with doctors, nurses, changes in treatment plans, screaming babies, childcare arrangements, and poor sleep for all.  My son had to endure being poked too many times in his chubby arms.  Even after digging around in his fat flesh for endless minutes, they still could not strike a vein, so the threats of putting in an IV “just in case” were abandoned, and the poor baby passed out from sheer exhaustion.

“He looks tired,” the nurses commented.  “Yes,” I said, “He slept poorly last night and hasn’t had his nap yet this morning.”

“No,” they demurred, “When we say, ‘he looks tired,’ we mean, tired of working so hard.”

But whether from exhaustion, fatigue, or defeat, the child napped on the stretcher, ensconced in the same hospital blanket they’d used to restrain him for the failed IV attempts.

Hours later, he napped again, this time securely attached to my breast for the better part of an hour as he tried to rehydrate and comfort himself while blocking out the noise and lights of the hospital.  By the time we reached the pediatric unit, he had rested, fed, and was perking up.  It would be another 12 hours before his labored breathing relaxed enough that his little chest wasn’t retracting with each breath, but his affect was brighter, and he’d stopped the endless helpless screaming.

All Tuesday, and into Wednesday as well, I stayed by his side, cuddling my son, feeding him, and letting him sleep on me whenever he could.  I tried 6 times to transfer my sleeping child to the prison-like crib provided for him, and for about 3 hours he slept by himself as I shoveled down a soggy garden burger brought up hours earlier by room service.  When the white noise of the nebulizer shut off after the 1am breathing treatment, he awoke again, and I gave up on the lavish plans I’d had for myself – to pump milk for my daughter, and text message my sister – and just let him sleep by my side on and off all night.  We lay on the pull-out cot together from 1:30 until he woke after 5am for his usual breakfast, despite the night nurse’s pleas that I put him down in the crib.  Co-sleeping is not a hospital policy, especially for babies on oxygen, but if he hadn’t sleep with me, neither of us would have slept at all that night.

I stepped up, I rose to the occasion.  I played with him for hours when my husband went home to our daughter.  I left for only an hour to go home and take a nap.  I advocated for his care, asked about his treatment plan, saved his diapers for the nurses to weigh, and cut up bits of fruit for his breakfast.  I gave him apple juice by syringe in 5ml increments, and let him nurse whenever he wanted.  I commandeered the best toys on the hall and brought in his favorite books from home. I sat for an hour just watching him sleep in the crib — after my only successful transfer — afraid to put the crib rail up for fear of making noise and waking him up.

And when we got home Wednesday night, just in time for bed, the family breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The nightmare was largely over, save for nebulizer treatments every 4 hours, oral steroids, and more follow-ups to the pediatrician.

I blame myself for ignoring the wheezing and landing us all in the hospital.  I blame my inadequacy as a parent.  I was in denial that he was sick because I couldn’t allow myself to believe something serious could be wrong.  Lurking around the corner, hiding behind that sweet baby wheeze, is asthma.

They technically won’t diagnose a baby with asthma, as they can’t really cooperate with all the breathing tests to measure tidal volume, and blowing out the birthday candles or whatever assessments Mr. Apron has told me about from his years of experience at his pediatric allergist/pulmonologist (to whom he still goes, but at least they don’t make him do the birthday cake any more).  But he might have it.  Having a nebulizer, giving him albuterol treatment, listening for wheezing, having an “asthma treatment plan” as part of our discharge instructions — it all scares  me shitless.

“This should be the worst thing that ever happens to him,” Mr. Apron says.  Asthma, or reactive airway, or wheezing when he gets a cold – all of these are manageable things.  Still, I found myself collapsed on the kitchen floor at 9:40pm the night we got home from the hospital, having a whimpering, silent, self-indulgent adult tantrum about having to give my baby nebulizer treatments.  Because I was in denial, and couldn’t face the fact that something real and scary might be wrong with my baby.

Eventually, Mr. Apron refused to coddle me, I shelved the self-pity, and I pulled on my big-girl panties to go help my son.  I learned about all the meds, familiarized myself with the nebulizer, figured out how to detach the individual vials of meds from the plastic strips, and determined how to teach the nanny all of this horrific mess of plastic tubing and drugs.  I labeled each vial with a time, and taped them to E.’s daily communication notebook.

Nebulizer aside, meds aside, asthma aside, it’s just one more task in a seemingly endless series of “have to”s in caring for my children.  And it’s just exhausting.  Choosing to breastfeed means managing milk, rotating my personal dairy, freezing it when it reaches close to expiration, worrying about producing enough, and making sure others know how to handle the Liquid Gold.  Choosing a convertible car seat (and having to buy 4) means researching safety, ease of installation, trying them out in my tiny car, and finding the best deal (did I mention we had to buy 4?).  Starting solid foods means more preparation, choosing healthy, kid-friendly foods, and keeping alert for hidden, forbidden ingredients.  Managing food safety.  Making bottles.  Teaching my husband or in-laws how to use the car seats. It’s an awful lot, and I was managing pretty well.  But along came bronchiolitis and a nebulizer, and treatments every 4 hours, and I just melted down.  Being a detail-oriented, perfectionist mom is hard enough.  I was stretched to my breaking point, everything just working, but without wiggle room.  Adding one more “have to” just set me over the edge.

I’m okay now.  I debriefed with my therapist.  The nanny used a nebulizer when she was a kid.  And the pediatrician said we can skip the overnight treatments, as he supports my belief that sleep is restorative and uber-important.  I love our pediatrician.  I may have a doctor-crush on him; don’t tell Mr. Apron.

I don’t really know how to end this post, as it was just meant to be a Brain Dump, cathartic way of processing the hospital stay and my resulting feelings.  I’m glad we’re all home and on the way to healthy.  I’m glad I’m no longer scared of the nebulizer.  I’m relieved I’m able to care for my son.  I’m scared, too, scared for the future, whether the next emergency is my son and asthma-related symptoms, or something frightening with my daughter, my husband, or my parents.  It’s certainly not the last crisis in the years to come, but I hope I can get my big girl panties in gear so I can handle the situation like a grown-up.

In my house, only the babies are allowed to shit themselves.

When my husband was growing up, he would often express his desire to be a police officer, to which his mother would respond that that was not for him.  It was “for some other mother’s son”.  My mother-in-law was not being a snob; she was simply stating that it was fine for other mother’s children to risk their lives protecting the peace and enforcing laws.  Hers would have to find employment in some other, safer discipline.  Fine for others; not for hers.

Last night, I was staring up at the bulletin board above my crafting area, a sort of proto-Pinterest where I pin magazine clippings, googly eyes, bias tape, a target from our trip to the shooting range, a Gilbert & Sullivan parody Mr. Apron wrote me for my birthday last year, the wedding announcement I placed in my alumni journal, the prototype of the card we used to announce our impending twin-parenthood:

and vestiges of our Valentine’s Day cards. I spied our first photo card:

The felt reindeer from 2011’s highly successful Christmas letter parody:

And this year’s card:

We didn’t get a chance to photograph our babies a la Anne Geddes when they were in their slug stage, when we could pose them just so, and they would sleep through the entire experience.  I hadn’t done any research into the cost or the logistics or the props for such arrangements, but I wanted these images for posterity, for baby books, for Facebook.  I wanted to be able to smile at the cherubs years later, and forget all the insanity of the first few weeks.

Unfortunately, with twins, the insanity of the first few weeks overtook us, and we never made it to the portrait studio, and the photographer never made it to us.  We couldn’t remember to eat, let alone coordinate baby photo shoots.  We were at the doctor for weight checks, the hospital for blood draws, and working so hard on establishing successful breastfeeding – round the clock – that it just never happened.

The only professional photo of my family sits of my mantle.  It was part of a fundraiser for my family’s synagogue, and it probably dates from 1989.  My hair has not been brushed in weeks, my father looks ever slightly stunned, my brother’s eyes dilate as if  stoned, and my baby sister, primped like a real-life doll, has her lips pursed, sucking on an M&M.  It was the only way to shut her up.  My mother looks pretty good, actually.  I think she’s the only one who wanted the photo taken.  My family of origin was not meant for photo studio shots, that much is clear.

But my children?  How awkward could some newborn photos be?  All I wanted was to scour Etsy for some coordinating hats and to capture something like this:

Is that so wrong?

Okay, so maybe posing them like they’re humping each other is less than ideal:

And this is a little creepy:

But still, is it so wrong to want this?

But we missed that opportunity.  A kind friend listened to me lamenting as I bemoaned missing the window for “slug-phase” photos, and she suggested we do it now.  They took their son for many photo shoots in his first year, and have a veritable catalogue of beautiful memories.  It’s not like my six-month-olds aren’t cute.  They’re still years from their awkward phase.

But as I sat staring up at this year’s Valentine, I was reminded of the tremendous feat it took to pull off the photo shoot on our couch.  We took forever to birth a concept, then had to scour and create props, “design” make-up, and call in a dear friend (who fortunately understands we’re not quite right in the heads) to take the pictures.  Doing some quick figuring, I reasoned that if Valentine’s Day is mid-February, we had managed to take the pictures perhaps mid-January, when our slugs were about a month old.

Staring up at the bulletin board last night — that was when I realized that our White Trash Valentine (or Married…with Children, or North Country, or Trailer Trash) was our newborn photo shoot.  Our little slugs — clothed only in their diapers, cuddled up against a mother wearing too much mascara, a father puffing on a fake cigarette, and surrounded by cheez doodles, a TV dinner, and fake cans of Budweiser — had had their moment.  We made a decision to shoot that Valentine against all odds.  In spite of not knowing which day it was, which feeding we were on, and which end of the baby was more volatile at any given moment, we managed to coordinate our annual Valentine, and mail it out to 100 of our closest friends.  That we didn’t do the same for an Anne Geddes-style session speaks to our true nature.

Those photos are for some other mother’s twins.

It’s easy to feel superior to a babysitter, nanny, or grandmother, when you’re the only one who can comfort your crying child.  It’s easy to be self-congratulatory when your husband leaves the house exasperated because the kid. will. not. go. to. sleep. and you go into the nursery, hold the pacifier in his mouth for 30 seconds, and leave a peacefully sleeping child behind.  It’s easy to feel great when you’re staring at endless open highway ahead, yet the other side is backed up for miles.  You beam internally when you find one more box of your husband’s favorite granola bars, squirreled away in the pantry.  You knew what to do.  You picked the right route.  You – and only you – could fix the problem, comfort the child, find the matching Tupperware lid.

Yet when so much self-worth is wrapped up in the incredible highs of awesomeness, the lows that accompany moments of humanity – “failures”, in your mind – deal equally damaging blows.  If you can’t comfort the child or find the Tupperware lid, and you drop the apple (repeatedly) in the garbage can while you’re peeling it, the waves of exasperation are overwhelming.  You find yourself gently willing the cranky, over-tired child to sleep, cooing softly in its ear, “I’m sorry I’m inadequate.  I’m sorry I fucked up.  Your mother is inadequate.  I’m sorry.”  Because it’s your fault the child won’t go to bed.  Obviously.  And that fault points to a deeper character flaw, not just some fluke in the Baby Laws of the Universe, or a soggy diaper.

Superiority, on the other hand, feels so good.  It’s so easy, so gratifying.  Choices others make immediately speak of their flawed character, their lack of taste, leadership, common sense, etc.  That fiberglass fence my sister-in-law picked out?  Hideous.  The overweight, tattooed couple at the mall wearing matching dishwater-grey wifebeaters and carrying matching half-gallons of Wawa iced tea?  Just trashy.  Really funny, too.  Funny enough for a surreptitious cell-phone picture shared with husband and sister.  Funny enough for us all to feel superior.  Heaven forbid anyone with a cell phone camera at the same mall yesterday saw me with my shorts hanging off my hips, so loose they literally did fall down as I was carrying a baby up the stairs.  My own wardrobe malfunctions might point to my own inability to dress for my body type, my age, or to adjust to my changing body after childbirth.  Not merely that clothes are clothes.  And, with twins at home and a full-time job and a decaying dog and visiting relatives  I haven’t had time to buy a new wardrobe.

When my daughter cries, does it reflect negatively on me?  If I choose to let her cry herself to sleep, do I feel like I have somehow failed her because I couldn’t figure out any better method?  Or am I just like everyone else out there, navigating a world that came with no instruction manual?  If I give up the self-deprecation that accompanies my failures (or human flaws), do I also have to give up the superiority that goes so nicely with my successes?  I don’t want to; it makes me feel pretty good.  But this begs the question: why is my self-worth so wrapped up in feeling better than others by my choices, my accomplishments, even my SAT scores?

“He made a different choice,” I told the 5-year-old.  The boy I had been working with in this particular church basement in North Philadelphia was using his pencil to color in some “educational” worksheet that alleged to teach about Jesus, apples, or the letter M.  This particular daycare center had a culture of tattling, and all the teachers were called, “Teacher”, so there was a constant refrain of, “Teacher, he goin’ up the slide!”  or “Teacher, he bite me!” On this day, coloring in a worksheet with pencil set off alarms of propriety in the sometimes rigid preschool mind, which knew that crayons were the only thing allowed for coloring.  This was not a far-flung assumption in a center which passed out only one crayon per child, and only red crayons for apples, despite that fact that apples come in myriad colors.  Away from the distracted gaze of the daycare providers, I assured the tattler (“Teacher, he colorin’ scribble scrabble!  He usin’ a pencil!”) that using a pencil to color however he wished was simply a different choice.

At the beginning of my parenting journey, I, too, was like the inflexible preschooler.  I had read all the books, absorbed all the literature, and while I acknowledged that there were different approaches to parenting infants (e.g., no-cry vs. Ferber for sleep-training), I knew certain truths:  babies must sleep on their backs, in their own bed/crib/bassinette.  They may not have covers other than swaddling blankets and/or sleep sacks.  They must sleep in tight-fitting flame-retardant pajamas. Thou shalt not take a baby to bed with you.  Otherwise, the SIDS monster was lurking outside the nursery door, certain to attack in its mysterious, not completely understood way.

Then, I became a parent.  Despite sleep-deprived hallucinations that my husband’s flannel pajama pants (and the leg inside) were actually a swaddled baby we had brought to bed, I clung to certain knowledge of what was the “right” thing to do.  At an early breastfeeding support group meeting, the first time I heard a parent talk about co-sleeping (and not in a co-sleeper/sidecar, but actually sharing a bed with a baby), I silently tsked at the parent, who was asking for advice on how to get her 18-month-old out of the parental bed, and into his own crib to sleep.  I tsked not only because it went against American Academy of Pediatrics (gospel itself) guidelines to co-sleep, but because it basically proved to me the ill consequences of her own, wrong decision 18 months ago, to bring her child to bed.  Well, now look what you’ve done, I concluded.  You made your bed (pun intended), now lie in it.

My children are now 5 ½ months old.  In the past 5 ½ months, I will admit I have let my children sleep on my chest, in my bed, in my arms, in a sling, on their tummies, and under a blanket.  I have nursed them to sleep, despite warnings about sleep-association problems.  I have put two children in equipment made only for one, and I have exceeded weight limits on the bassinet of the pack n’ play.  I don’t change them into pajamas when they nap, and they’ve even fallen asleep (and been left to do so) on Boppies, despite their huge “NO SLEEP” warning tags.

Am I a bad parent? Am I engaging in reckless behavior?  Or am I merely making a choice that I can live with, a choice that enhances my sanity (by gaining precious minutes of baby or adult sleep), and thus, my parenting skills overall?  In all of these choices, I had to weigh the risk of SIDS, sleep-association problems, and countless other fears with my own choices, and the benefits I saw in my children being comfortable, being happy, being fed, and being well rested.  I made a different choice.

Making different choices is a theme that comes up often these days, as I struggle to allow myself to be human, to make mistakes, and to be flexible in understanding how people do things differently.  It has become a constant refrain as I seek to understand the actions of my spouse, my parents, and my in-laws.  For as ridiculous as it seems to me that my father-in-law and sister-in-law would choose to lease Buicks solely on the fact that they are one of the only companies to offer 24-month leases, or as absurd as it is that my mother-in-law drives her car ¼ mile to work regardless of the weather, those are their choices.  Despite even research that driving cars such short distances is harmful for the vehicle, it’s her choice, and it’s different than one I would have made.  In my own family, my mother’s slavish devotion to her constantly breaking down Jaguar wagon and countless expenditures on rebuilding it make me cringe, but keeping that car, and pouring money into its upkeep, are her choices, too.  The way I began to understand others’ choices was, oddly enough, through cars.  My car, a Honda Fit, has consistently earned top honors in comparison tests for compact cars in numerous automotive publications, in both point-to-point contests as well as anecdotal reviews.  My car is objectively the best, based on actual research.  Yet not everyone who needs a compact car drives a Honda Fit.  It’s not only because it costs more than a comparable Toyota Yaris, or a Nissan Versa, nor it is because they were somewhat hard to come by when I was in the market for one.  It might be because they like the way the other cars look, or drive, or the pretty Toyota blue the Yaris comes in.  Maybe they hate the awesome functionality of a hatch, and wanted the ugly sedan version instead.  Regardless of the research that shows (I might say proves) my car is superior (even superlative), the other cars are made, and purchased, and driven, because people make different choices.

Despite all my research to find the best baby products, to learn the best methods for calming and feeding and caring for my offspring, there still remain others who don’t agree.  Beyond the individual variability of babies themselves, parents do make different choices, whether it’s about cloth vs. disposable diapering, baby-led solids vs. baby food purees, cosleeping vs. AAP guidelines, or even which stroller to buy.  And as long as it works for them, who am I to judge?  I used to feel rather smug when a choice I had made was working well for me, as if I had truly made the right choice, and if only others would emulate me, they, too, could feel awesome and superior.

Then, my children stopped going down to bed so easily, started taking an hour-and-a-half to fall asleep, and it turned out maybe it was just a developmental stage, or pure chance, not some awesome parenting trick I had discovered.

Back at the church basement daycare center, the children continued to color in their worksheets.  Yet another child noticed the graphite gray of the worksheet my student was coloring in.  She began the all-too-familiar chorus, “Teacher, he using a pencil!”  My heart sang as I heard the object of my earlier correction turn to the girl and tell her, “He made a different choice.”

Lest I judge my fellow humans too harshly, I try to remember that they, too make different choices. 

Don’t call me Super Mom.  When my children were 3 weeks old, I bundled them up, and my husband drove us all to a breastfeeding support group meeting.  He carried their car seats into the meeting, as I wasn’t medically cleared to lug two occupied car seats, and our stroller wasn’t up and running yet.  The leader, a lactation consultant, commended my very presence as a new mom to twins. I sat there, holding back my questions, just basking in the sisterhood of motherhood.  A few weeks later, after a rough night spent questioning our very decision to become parents, I went back to the group – this time by myself – to give myself a positive parenting experience.  Seeing my own children napping quietly, other babies playing and cooing, let me fall in love with them all over again. 

But I am no Super Mom for hauling my family out on a chilly January morning to seek the company of other new moms.  I am no Super Mom for dragging my children to the post office to pick up a certified letter I had missed the delivery of the previous day because I was nursing my children.  I am no Super Mom because I am exclusively breastfeeding my twins and have been home with them by myself since my husband went back to work 5 weeks ago. 

I break down.  I need help.  I need my father-in-law to come by for an hour in the evening while my husband goes to teach a student.  I need a neighborhood girl to play with the babies for an hour and a half after school, so I can shower, or nap, or make a dinner that didn’t start with a pot of boiling water or a can opener.  I need my own mother to come for occasional visits and bring emotional and physical baggage, so that I don’t feel so isolated and alone during the days.

When I go out in the car with the babies, I take the Double Snap n’ Go stroller, a contraption that is more a frame than a stroller.  The car seats rest atop the frame, one behind the other, and I resemble a stretch pram.  It’s quite a bit more conspicuous than the regular double stroller I push around the neighborhood.  It’s impossible to pretend you just have two young children when you’re at the tail end of the car seat brigade.  It’s twins.  It’s painfully, awkwardly, obviously twins.  Twins, who are somehow cuter, more approachable, more irresistible than any two babies not sharing a stroller.  I read the lips, “There are two of them!”  “Look!  Twins!” I respond to the inane questions, “Are they twins?”  “Are they identical?” “Two boys or two girls?”  And, most recently, “Can I…touch them?”

I wish I’d had the temerity to say no. 

More annoying, though, than the ogling and the stupid questions, are the people who applaud my bravery, who marvel at my decision/ability to leave my home with my offspring in tow.  As if I’m supposed to be confined to my home – hair unwashed, still in pajamas at 2:30pm – until they’re 3 years old.  I may not get to wash my hair every day, and I cannot promise that my clothing (not pajamas, mind you) is spit-up-free, but I go out for my own good, and the babies’. 

I often say I go out “for practice”.  Practice doing what? They ask.  Practice going out, I reply, cyclically.  Maintaining my sanity requires that I get dressed every morning, choose cute outfits for my children every day, try to wash my hair every other day, and try to get out of the house (if weather permits) in the stroller or in the car a few times a week.  Getting to go to the post office, the breastfeeding support group, or Saxby’s, is a liberating feeling.  I can go out if I choose.  I am not chained to my house, and my children do not shackle me to the Pack n’ Play.  The mild winter has made outings possible, and I have taken advantage of almost every temperate day. 

I did not choose to become the mother of twins.  They chose me.  There’s no use praising me as I know no other way.  I don’t know what it’s like to only have one child to hold, comfort, soothe, feed, dress, bathe, or smile at.   It’s like praising someone born with a disability with how well they cope; they’ve never known anything else.  Don’t offer me up empty praise or admiration.  Don’t tell me how brave I am for waking up every morning.  Having children is tough for anyone, whether they have one or seventeen.  The middle of the night is no less disorienting for the parents of one child; a breastfeeding difficulty is no less frustrating.  It may take me longer to get ready to leave the house, longer to dress, or bathe my children, longer to feed them, and change them.  My husband and I may do more laundry than parents of a single child, but we are no less tired if woken up at 2am, no less worried about their meeting developmental milestones, no less insecure about our parenting decisions. 

Maintaining my sanity, exposing my children to life beyond these four walls (they get bored, too), and perhaps knocking off a miniscule errand – striving towards these goals does not make me Super Mom.  Just “Mom” will suffice.

Mr. Apron took the kids for their first carwash so I could take a nap without one ear tuned to their whimpers.  I think we’re doing pretty well as parents these days.  I’m still on maternity leave as they turn 3 months old, but I’ll be heading back to work soon.  We’ve somehow managed to reach this magical age where they take regular naps, which allows me to do regular people things, like shower, do laundry, and consume a meal using both of my hands.

I’m pretty proud of how far we’ve come, from our first clueless days where we didn’t know which way was up and the babies didn’t know day from night, to the magical, sanity-saving evening/nighttime routine we’ve hammered out.  We are the parents of twins.

Whenever I venture out into public, I know that it won’t only be the babies who get attention. I’ll be approached, lauded, and cooed over, merely for showing our faces.  Before they were born, I was uncompromisingly critical of my sister-in-law, who used any child-related excuse possible to cancel plans, or to dump her son at her parents’ house for free childcare.  “Babies are portable,” I lamented, as my nephew spent yet another night at his grandparents’ house so his parents could cavort to a wedding, a night out, or an entire week in Jamaica.

I’m still kind of critical, as her child is/was eminently more portable than ours.  Ours, born in the coldest days of an admittedly mild winter, require twice as much gear and bundling.  Ours require their mother to be near them every 2-3 hours to feed, while hers required only a bottle full of formula attached to an anonymous arm.  After he was born, he never needed her.

But my babies need me.  Breastfeeding is a complex choice, borne from the best intentions, but wrought with narcissism and inconvenience and controversy, all of which surprised me.  I hadn’t given it a second thought, intending only to provide my children with the best nutrition available.  However, it literally chains them to me.  In the beginning, when I was feeding them separately, I was attached to one or the other (and my couch) for a full 8 hours a day.  Now it’s down to about 4 hours, as I can feed them together.  At best, I gaze down longingly at their little faces, mouths agape, lips pursed as I provide manna for them.  They suckle eagerly, as they were born to do.  Now that we’re past the technical difficulties that plagued us in the first few weeks, it’s natural.  It’s a time when I have to stop racing around and devote myself to them.  Sure, sometimes I’ll watch TV, talk on the phone, or play games on my iPad while they nurse, but at best, it truly is a bonding experience.

At worst, I feel like a sow.  Now that my children are such expert eaters, I feel like I could just lie on the barnyard floor and let others bring them to me to snack at the milk fountains.  Plug them in for a recharge.

And as portable as the babies are, and as portable as their food is, their feeding is less so.  Books that promote breastfeeding may laud the ever-ready meal that’s always at the right temperature, always the right amount, never requires mixing, preparing, or washing-up of bottles.  There are laws in my state permitting me to feed my children anywhere I’m allowed to be.  Easy, right?  Just pack some diapers and go.  Yet it’s one thing to fight for laws allowing me to nurse; it’s another thing entirely to feel comfortable enough in Target, the convention center, my doctor’s office, or a public park to whip out my breasts and nourish my children.

With one kid, you whip out a breast, you curl up in an out-of-the-way corner, and you nurse on demand, when your kid wants it.  With two kids, I am showing enough flesh to earn my share of Mardi Gras beads.  If I’m at home, I can nurse them together, using a special pillow I’ve termed “The Lunch Counter” or the “Double Wide” nursing pillow.  In public, I haven’t mastered the art of tandem nursing, discretely or not.  So I have to feed one then the other, whether we want it or not.  I have to keep them on the same schedule, or I’m back to nursing 8 hours a day.  So a leisurely trip to the mall may result in my being parked on a bench in the food court for an entire hour feeding my children.  One may be screaming to eat for a half-hour while I try to give the first child as much as she wants.

Formula feeding may have its disadvantages, but you never worry about lifting up your shirt.  I know it’s PC to nurse, but it sure can be inconvenient with twins.  Three months down, nine to go.

Thirty minutes.  That’s all I have been granted in my demanding schedule by my new bosses to write a blog.  That’s all they’ll give me for myself, and they never cease to remind me that I’m writing on company time.  In fact, I have one of them yoked around my neck as a constant reminder, and the other one on speakerphone listening in, threatening to disrupt me at any moment.

These babies rule my life.  In retribution for letting them (us) sleep in 3- and 4-hour chunks last night, I have to kind of make up by feeding them every two hours during the day.  I need to squeeze in at least 8 feedings a day.  So, for this 24-hour period, that’s 2am, 5am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, and I’m gearing up to do 2:30pm, 4:30pm, 6:30pm, and 9pm.  See that extra 30 minutes that crept in there?  Merely wiggle room because you can’t “schedule” 8-week-old babies.  They typically spend 30 minutes at the tit, plus 10 minutes on either end with diaper changes, because L. won’t eat if she’s shit herself, and E. almost always poops while he’s eating.  Yes, curious onlookers, they have quite distinct personalities.

It’s insane.  And just when I though I couldn’t take it anymore, they started sleeping reliably at night.  We’ve had more good nights, nights where they’ll sleep 3-4 hour stretches without interruptions every 10 minutes for a dropped binky, an escaped swaddle, a dirty diaper, or a need to be held.  Sure, there are still bad nights, nights with serial diaper changes, little L. screaming at the top of her lungs as she soils a 4th straight Pamper, nights where little E. pees through 3 consecutive sleep sacks and decides he wants his binky as soon as my head hits the pillow, despite his earlier rejections of the pacifier.  But there are more good nights.  And more days where I’m able to remember what day of the week it is, what diapers.com necessity we’re out of, and even finish a whole load of laundry.  Just kidding.  We’re a mess around here.  Even more so because Mr. Apron went back to work today.

He brought them to me for the 5am feeding, after which the three of us dropped back off to sleep.  Then I had to manage feeding two babies, two dogs, and myself, in order of importance and demand.  I finally shoveled down most of a bowl of Special K to the soundtrack of dogs panting and babies screaming, but I took care of myself.  E. was needier this morning, so I wore him in my Baby K’tan sling while bumbling around folding week-old laundry and putting away dishes.  This afternoon, L. wants my undivided attention, so she’s strapped to my chest.  It seems she’ll be here until the 2:30pm feeding at least.

Also just when we thought our only job was to keep the munchkins alive until they became able to function in their own bodies (hold heads up, stop shitting 12 times a day [each], use hands to grasp objects, find thumbs to suck, if desired), they started rewarding us with smiles.  Real smiles.  I have a feeling this is how it will go.  The children will test us with whatever phase they’re in – formerly, the disaffected needy newborn phase – until our breaking point, at which time they will coyly shift into a new stage of development, with all the rewards and mayhem that will bring.

My new bosses are demanding, but at least they know how to build some incentives into the work.