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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.

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It’s at once exhilarating and terrifying.  My kids “know” Elmo.  I don’t mean we’ve been to Sesame Place (we haven’t) or that they watch Sesame Street (they don’t) or that they have three thousand Elmo-emblazoned toys at home (they haven’t).  I mean, they’re at the age where they’re pointing out all the Elmos in the world.  And that furry red monster is a sneaky bastard, lemme tell ya.  Dude is everywhere.  Sure there’s clothes, toys, and games.  Elmo has moved beyond the Tickle Me stage, and has matured into Big Hugs, Forever Friends, Lullaby & Good Night, Steps to School, Guitar Elmo, Potty Time Elmo, Counting, Trains, Soccer, K’nex, Memory, LeapFrog, and, the most disturbing evolution yet of the Tickle Me Elmo, “LOL Elmo”.  In addition to fruit snacks and applesauce with the tempting red furry mug on them, Elmo is now peddling a variety of Earth’s Best organic foods, including crackers, cookies, canned pasta in sauce, frozen waffles, instant oatmeal, squeeze-pouch smoothies, and frozen entrees.

Unlike the happy meal or cereal box that comes with a prize (do they still do that? Or is an iTunes download more enticing?), these products have little to do with the character on them.  Maybe the crackers are shaped like Elmo’s head, but the oatmeal is just oatmeal.  They are simply branded to build loyalty, character recognition, and ring up sales.  My friend who is an expert in mass media is nodding vigorously right about now, and it’s no shocker.  Kids’ characters promote products to families with kids.

PhD please.

My children are just now entering the word-combining phase of their speech development.  We are collecting their gems such as “Mama poop” (a comment) “No, doggy!” (a condemnation)“Mama, off shirt” (a command) and “More oatmeal” (a request).  One of the things that fascinated me as they learned their first words were the semantic features they would use to differentiate between words.  “Cracker” was an early word, and it encompasses all small, crunchy hand-held foods, such as Chex, Cheerios, Ritz, yogurt melts, freeze-dried strawberries and Gerber puffs. My son uses his name to apply to all babies, in person or in pictures.  The children may understand many differentiations for footwear, but only a binary distinction is required expressively.  There are “choos”, and there are “cocks”.  And when they want their Crocs, you’ll know, as they shriek and point “COCK” at the top of their  lungs.  (and don’t ask me about how they pronounce “fork” and “shirt”).  Beyond the thrilling worlds of clothing and food, they’re learning about their environment and the people/animals in it.  Children’s authors receive a dictum that approximately 70% of books must contain farm animals.  I think the library associations are subliminally preparing our children for an agrarian lifestyle.  They’re also learning about furniture, everyday objects, and those big grown-up strollers: cars.  No shocker that “car” was one of their first words, and that “mama car” and “dada car” were two of the earliest two-word phrases.  Taking them shopping was a veritable sensory overload in the parking lot, trying to label and point to all the cars individually.  (There’s a car!  There’s another car! A car!  Look, a car!  Omigosh, another one!  Car over there! Here’s a car!”)

So it follows that I wasn’t the least bit surprised that they were identifying Abby Cadabby and Elmo as we ventured out into the world.  Mind, they’ve never seen the television tuned to any children’s programming.  We have books with these characters, and they occasionally have seen them on their box of crackers or in a Babies ‘R Us circular.  Taking them through Target or the grocery store is getting dangerous.  They’re liable to point out every Abby and Elmo in sight.  And of course, I get excited and proud when they recognize a familiar character or object.  Yes, my sweet little geniuses, that is a dog walking in our neighborhood!  That is an avocado just like we eat at home! But just as I can’t buy every avocado in the supermarket, I’m not going to bring home every Disney Cars toy either.

Planning their birthday party last year – I should say overplanning­ — I was lost for a “theme”.  Diving into the depths of Pinterest I saw all manner of one-year-old themes, from Eric Carle, to Dr. Seuss, to “You are my Sunshine”, to Mickey Mouse, to trucks.  I know the party is for the parents, to celebrate having survived the hardest year of their lives, have kept the defenseless slug-like child alive long enough to actually enjoy it, but I was perplexed by the themes.  Visits to the overachieving parents’ blogs would reveal, “Little Bisquick is so into The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we carved a butter sculpture with naturally-derived dyes in the shape of a chrysalis”.  Or “Rubella is so into Cookie Monster we turned the house into a Sesame Street backdrop for photo ops”. I wondered if there was something wrong with my kids that they hadn’t expressed preferences yet.  Should they be “into” princesses or hippos or farm equipment by now?  Sure there are books we read over and over and over again until we know them from memory, but my kids’ demanding to hear “Moo Baa Lalala” for the 47th time doesn’t make me want to run out and buy all the Sandra Boynton paper plates and napkins in the world.  I know they need repetition to learn language and concepts.  That’s why Blue’s Clues airs the same show five days a week.  It’s not so parents want to drive ice picks through their ears; kids actually learn that way.  (Learning from television itself, now that’s a separate story)

Once they started pointing out all the Elmos in the world, they also started pointing out more mundane things.  Cars, for one, but also doors.  My kids love to knock on doors, especially if their parents are behind said doors, trying to use the bathroom.  (I may have taught them this game, but I may have been influenced by a college roommate. I’m not naming names.  It’s funny if you’re 1 or 21, that’s all I’m saying.) So when we go to the children’s museum, they get excited by seeing the plastic bananas in the supermarket, riding the boat in the fairytale-themed exhibit, and knocking on the doors to the maintenance rooms.  Are they “into” doors?  Are they “into” bananas?

No, because outside of the sexy world of energy efficiency, Pella hasn’t figured out how to make doors fun and exciting to parents.  Chiquita hasn’t been working on cultivating the 3-and-under set to demand banana appliqués on their onesies.  There’s no commercial market place for unbranded products.  And no birthday theme packs, either.

I suppose that parents are so excited to see their kids recognize an object or character, that they project their own schema of interest, and that supplants the baby’s intent to just say, “Hey, mom, that’s a dog”.  Identifying the object (or pointing to every car in the parking lot) is the purpose of the interaction.  I know we want to support their growth, so we look for their interests.  We buy them all the Elmo drek, we fill their playrooms with vehicles and princess paraphernalia.  I think that gender roles and gender norms creep deviously into our minds and our parenting styles much more subtly than we think.  It’s not just the glittery pink Stride Rite shoes versus Star Wars action sneakers.  It’s also caregivers seeing a boy identify “car”, inferring that he’s into cars, and jumping on the boys-love-vehicles bandwagon.  They might ignore when their daughter does the same, or at least not praise it with as much overt enthusiasm.  You don’t have to explicitly tell a boy that dolls are for girls, but you might not perceive a boy as nurturing if you don’t recognize the times he pretends to feed his baby doll.

Have the marketers and ad agencies figured this out, too?  You betcha.  Put a character on a box of cereal or a carton of ice cream, and the kid will identify it, which the parent will interpret as “want”.  Even better, put it on a healthy, natural product (Princess carrots.  Have you seen these?), and the parent will coalesce the kid’s “interest” with their own desire to choose nutritious foods.  Once the kid does get old enough that the “interest” has been nurtured and funded, it’s only a matter of time until you overhear, “Mommy, I want Dora ice cream” and “But I NEED the Thomas backpack!”

That Dora cake at her first birthday?  That was all for you.  That carton of purple ice cream (or, technically, “frozen dairy dessert”) when she’s 5?  That’s to get you out of ACME without a major meltdown.

“Am I a bad mom for not wanting to take my kids to Gymboree?” I wondered aloud as we drove our kids to go on some futile errand or another.

Maybe not.

But am I a bad mom for judging others who do think it’s valuable?  I know, I know, they’re making a different choice.  One I wouldn’t make.  One I keep trying to convince myself does not have a Right or a Wrong, just a Best for Each Family.

But in reality, I think Gymboree is a stupid, overpriced excuse to let kids run wild in a child-safe area while their parents either worship the “teachers” as demi-gods, or else just use it as an excuse to socialize with each other. Is there value in Gymboree (or Sally’s Music Circle, or Kinder Art, or Tot Time at Bounce U)?  Yes, I can say there is.  I can flex my thinking enough to consider benefits of the programming:

  • Provides the aforementioned safe space for kids to play.
  • Kids need to get their ya-yas out.
  • Indoor space you can go to when suffering from cabin fever deep in the blahs of winter.
  • Provides  45 minutes or an hour of structured time in what might feel like a long stretch of an amorphous day as a stay-at-home parent.
  • Models developmentally appropriate child-oriented ways to interact with and stimulate children.
  • “Educational” (at least they’re not plugged into Angry Birds or Might Morphin’ Power Rangers)

But Gymboree is $82/month for one class, for one kid.  Oh, and unlimited “open gym”s.  If a parent is staying at home to raise kid, they’re taking a defacto pay cut right there, and $82/month (per child) is a chunk of change I’d rather to put into a college account, not tummy time.  At least not tummy time I pay $82/month for.

If you can afford Gymboree, good for you.  There are other issues I have with Gymboree and its ilk.  What I don’t like about the “classes” that are “taught” is that it undermines parents’ confidence in their own abilities, instincts, and competencies to take change of their kids’ development.  They begin to worship the teachers because the classes offer things like “flashlight play” and “auditory development” (singing songs).  My kids began tracking visually without flashlights, and responding to songs as they lay cooing in their pack n play in the dining room.  I dangled a half dozen baby toys from an empty wrapping paper roll, and they watched our faces and the movement of the toys.  We sang and shushed several times a day to get them to shut up and stop crying, or to go to sleep.  Teach parenting skills, by all means.  But don’t change $82/month (per kid!) to bill it as “auditory” and “visual” development.  Another beef I have is that these “classes” begin too early, way before kids “need” the structure that an organized class provides.  Do infants and toddlers need routines?  Absolutely.  But an 8-week-old doesn’t need any more structure to his days than mom and dad can provide within their own routines of eating, sleeping, and diaper changes.

In addition, you can do it all at home.  Or on your own, with limited materials.  I don’t think you have to be a musical or artistic genius to “Dance and sing to a new musical style each month including Latin, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classical and more”.  Get a Putamayo CD and some egg shakers.  Or Easter eggs filled with rice.  Kids need to run?  Take them to a tennis court or an empty field at a local college.  Take a trip to Lowe’s and buy an 8’ length of drainage hose for $9 and let your kids put balls down it.  Bubbles from the dollar store or one of those endless Pinterest recipes.  Couch cushions were our pillow forts, providing endless variations on building, toppling, and safe exploration.  Water play is a giant Tupperware bin and a towel on the kitchen floor.

If you’re not so creative, not so resourceful, try some free or inexpensive resources instead.  The local children’s museum has a family membership (up to 4 ppl) for $120/year.  You can go every single day and build with blocks, go “grocery shopping”, play doctor, explore music, art, water play, and even develop your auditory and visual systems.  My local library has story time two mornings a week.  For Free.  During the summer they run tons of programming including animal visitors, pet shows, science experiments, and special story hours (Dr. Seuss, pirates).  Take your kid to a playground or a wide open field.  If it’s rainy or cold out, two local malls have safe indoor play areas for young children that are also free.  Many nearby nature centers are free or inexpensive.

You don’t have to be a Pinterest genius, creating “sensory baths” or thematic units based on the seasons.  Even Gymboree says kids learn best through play.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate, costly, or look pretty.  My mother babysat my kids yesterday morning in her decidedly child unfriendly house.  I sent down some books and snacks, just in case. For an hour and a half, they sat on her porch with pots, pans, and measuring spoons, stimulating their auditory development by banging on different materials including chairs, cabinets, and the washing machine.  She doesn’t have a degree in early childhood education.  She doesn’t even read Parents magazine.  She definitely doesn’t do Pinterest. And she never took me to Gymboree.

When I was a baby/toddler, she took me to a program provided by our synagogue for a nominal fee that offered babysitting for the kids, and a workshop or class for the moms.  She got to get out of the house, socialize, and had easy access to me in case I needed to nurse or be changed.  No one was selling her the snake oil that is prepackaged child development for the pre-dental set.  I banged on pots and pans.  Later, I went to nursery school when it benefited all of us.  My brother had just been born, and I needed some attention paid to me separate from the new baby.  So off I went to our synagogue’s nursery school program.  No one tried to push her into the Mommy & Me classes with a pretense that it was for me any more than those groups existed for the Mommies to have a chance to talk to another grown-up.  But they’ve repackaged the activities, thrown a dose of parental guilt (and the hefty fee that accompanies beginning your child’s “education” at 2 months). Moreover, no one was making her second guess her intuition about parenting.  In those days, that’s what grandparents were for.

Years ago, I was present as our friend’s son unwrapped birthday gifts.  One was a school bus with the alphabet emblazoned on it.  Each time you pressed a letter-button, it would name the letter.  Our friend took great delights in pushing “F” “U” over and over.  It went right back to the store.  Later, either in one of the many daycares I visited as an itinerant early intervention speech therapist, or in Kohl’s as a hormonal woman pregnant with twins, we chanced upon a toy lawn mower.  It looked just like a regular toy mower, with a handle, some noise when you pushed it around, like many walking toys, but it had one more thing – a label proclaiming it to be a “learning mower”.  I laughed it off, deciding the manufacturers had given it that title because there were ABC and 123 stickers, which added supposed educational value without actually doing anything extra in product development.

Unfortunately, the trend caught on, and it’s more than just some colorful decals on the side of a toy.  Behold: the Fisher-Price “Laugh and Learn” line.  Characterized by the goofy (and I’m sure trademarked) eyes and mouth emblazoned on every single toy, the “Laugh and Learn” line has remade such classics as mowers, vacuums, shape sorters, telephones, cameras, puzzles,  and now encompasses such things as lanterns, mirrors, chairs, iPod cases, stuffed dogs, smart phones, and ball poppers.  There’s even a soccer ball.  Fisher-Price has created a cash cow by slapping the word “learn” on their products, as if the plain, classic version had no educational value whatsoever.  Parents see a plain toy next to the jacked up “Laugh and Learn” (or, increasingly, see only the electronic version), deduce there’s added value in the battery power, and bring that home instead.  I cannot stand the battery-powered version with its repetitive mechanical tunes, and promises to “teach” babies.

Let’s take one example, the shape sorting cookie jar.  Shape sorters teach many things to babies and toddlers.  My kids, who just turned one this weekend, are able to open the lid to their classic 1972 Fisher Price shape sorter, and take out all the shapes, as well as put them back in, with or without the lid.  They can learn visual-spatial skills as they put things inside, hone fine motor tasks of grasping and releasing, fine-tune pre-puzzle skills of rotating shapes to fit into the holes, explore gravity as they drop the pieces in or out of the bucket, and there are even opportunities for such pre-academic classics as shapes, colors, and numbers.  The triangles are all green, the rectangles are red, and the circles are blue.  We can count them as they go in or out.  We can introduce an action vocabulary — push, drop, hold, count, sort.  We can sort them into different piles by shape/color.  We can even add advanced vocabulary and learn the names for 3D forms such as cylinder, rectangular prism, and triangular prism.  Maybe I’m the only one who does that.  We can learn the opposites “on” and “off”, and take shapes “out” or put them “in”.  They learn determination (“grit”) as they persevere to fit the shapes through the holes.

We received, by way of hand-me-down from my nephew, the Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise cookie jar shape sorter.  It has five shapes/colors, so you know it already has added value (my kids may never learn what a star or a heart is otherwise). Plus, the shapes are all emblazoned with a raised numeral, even though it’s not developmentally appropriate to be teaching number symbols until kids have an awareness of quantity of real objects (“two” feet?  My kids just learned they have feet).  Then, we get to the battery-operated wonder.  The cookie jar has little ball-bearings in each opening, so when you successfully force a shape through the hole (it requires more force than the traditional shape sorter owing to the motion sensing technology impeding the shape’s progress), it labels the shape (or number) for you.  And then sings its stupid song.  “Shapes are in my cookie jar, triangle, heart and star.  There’s a circle over there, here’s a square!”  Or, if the toggle switch is set on “number” mode: “Would you like some cookies? Here they are!  Five different shapes, in my cookie jar! You can take them out, you can put them back, five little cookies make a tasty snack!” You can also just push the red nose of the cookie jar’s face to get a bonus song.  The most positive reviews of this toy range from detailing how the song is “catchy, not too annoying” to “It’s my kid’s favorite toy, but I want to shoot myself for buying it”.  That seems to be the theme.  As a parent, you have to put up with the stupid songs or noises because of their “educational” value, and if they’re only mildly annoying, that’s as good as you can expect to do.

What’s ironic, is that in trying to bolster educational value by adding sounds/music, the companies are actually grossly simplifying what the toy can actually “teach”.  It also makes parents feel like they’re depriving their child of something educational if they buy the plain shape sorter.  What do kids “learn” from these toys?  They learn mostly cause and effect.  If I push the button here, I get a song.  Many, many toys teach this concept.  While this is an important baby toy skill, it is only one aspect of play, and of learning.  Just as hearing a mechanical voice say “triangle” is only one exposure a child will have, and will mostly certainly not be the way my children end up figuring out the abstract concepts of shapes.  What I cannot stand is when parents measure educational value by the amount of time their child pushed the red nose over and over and stayed quiet in their crib.  While I appreciate time to go shower, make a phone call, or eat a sandwich, I do not conflate repetitive button-pushing with “learning”.  Nor do I think my kids will figure out shapes, colors, or numbers from playing with educational toys.  I also rail against what those songs are replacing.  For the parents who think it’s the toy’s job to “teach”, and not theirs, it’s replacing a parent coaching a child along, saying, perhaps, “Yes, mummy, that red square goes in the hole.  Can you put it in there?  Oops, not quite.  Try it a different way.  Yes, like that.  Push.  Almost.  Good job!”  The toy says, “Square” or “Four” and then sings a song.  If recent research in language acquisition is any guide, the child playing with the toy without the parent has just lost out on 28 additional words.  Fast-forward to preschool-aged children using a “learning vacuum” for pretend play.  If the vacuum’s job is to teach letters or numbers, and the toy constantly sings when you push its buttons, where is the voice of the child going ‘vroooom’ pretending to suck up dirt?  Where is the child narrating his play as he imitates the adults in his life?  Where is the integration of the vacuum into a larger ‘house’ play scheme?  So-called educational toys are by far the least open-ended toys I’ve seen on the market.

Why does a soccer ball need additional value?  So you can charge more for it, obviously.  So you can guilt well-meaning but anxious parents into purchasing more crap.  So you can assuage the guilt parents feel about not providing constant stimulation so their children can “get ahead” by the time they get to preschool.

In my family, the premier purchaser of this Chinese-made, battery-powered plastic crap is the last person you’d think of — a librarian.  But my mother-in-law gobbles up these toys, from the Vtech Infant Learning Jungle Fun Music Box my nephew was scared of for his first six months, to the “Rhyme and Discover” “book” (from a librarian — this shocked me), the infamous cookie jar, and the newest one, that just left my jaw hanging open, the Singin’ Soccer Ball, which, in addition to ABCs and 123s (again, not developmentally appropriate for the 9 month old pictured holding it), purports to teach sportsmanship.

I try to pretend I’m coming around on the electronic toy front, for the sake of family harmony.  I try to pretend it’s all copasetic if I just turn the toy off when I’m around. (though the kids are confused why the buttons that used to light up are now dark…) I try to pretend it’s okay if our household isn’t 100% battery-powered toy free.  In short, I try not to be a helicopter control-freak parent.  But every time we unwrap a new gift, whether it’s a talking puzzle from my uncle, or a battery-powered walking toy from my in-laws, or when we receive a new bag of hand-me-downs (and that fucking cookie jar) from my nephew, I just want to cringe.  It should simply be a parent’s choice to offer these toys.  It shouldn’t make me so angry, should it?  Yet, short of explaining (again) to my in-laws that we don’t want those toys, they keep on coming.  I doubt they’d sit and listen to a condensed lecture from this diatribe.  Maybe it’s more the fact that I feel disrespected in my parenting decisions, the fact that the burden of deciding whether to return a well-intentioned toy, try to remove the batteries, allow it, or smash it into a million pieces falls on us.  I’d rather spend my time building block towers with my kids for them to smash than arranging for childcare so I can run to Kohl’s for the third time this month, and return the piece of junk.

As I goggled in disbelief at the Singin’ Soccer Ball, I was unable to disguise my contempt in the usual forced smile I reserve for playtime at my in-laws’ house, and my father-in-law asked, “Why, it’s bad?” while I searched in vain for the off switch (IT HAS NONE!!!), I replied, through gritted teeth, “No, they’re just not my favorite kind of toy.” It’s true, kind of.  If my wonderful mother-in-law is sitting on the floor with my children, interacting with them and the heathenous toy, it’s not harming them.  If my brother likes pushing the buttons, and it helps him play with my kids, then that’s great for everyone.  No one toy sitting on the shelf is going to make or break a child’s kindergarten readiness.  No open-ended shoebox, or high-priced baby laptop can replace a parent’s interactions.

I am officially going on record to speak for all those parents writing Amazon reviews about annoying songs and tolerable noise levels — you don’t have to buy that crap.  I absolve you of your feeling a need to buy “educational” toys.  You are so much better than that.  You are not only your child’s first teacher; you’re also his first — and best — toy.

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.

Honey wheat?  How did that even get in our house?  As they say in the film, Funny Bones, “I only eat brown bread”.  Now that Arnold no longer makes the “Bran’ola” I grew up on, it’s been a struggle to find a whole grain bread for the house.  I bring home whole wheat, multi-grain, something healthy sounding with whole grains in the ingredient list.  But honey wheat?  I estimate I do at least 75% of the grocery shopping in the house.  And I put away at least 80% of the groceries.  How did that loaf sneak in under my radar?  Yet there it was, in the form of toast for our ten-month-old twins, sitting innocuously enough on their trays, slathered in yogurt or apple butter, being raked into tiny doughy hands, slipping almost unnoticed into our children’s mouths.  As soon as I saw the loaf in the fridge, as I was raiding the bread drawer for some other morsel, I flipped.  I ran to their trays, grabbed up the offending squares of toast, and chucked them into the trashcan, with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary.

“Two things they can’t have,” I said slowly and sternly, perhaps a little too loudly, “Two.  Honey, and nuts.”

“Children under one year should not be given honey under any circumstances,” said Carole Allen, M.D., pediatrician and Vice President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “There is too great a risk that the infant may contract infantile botulism.”

Are my kids under one?  Yes.  Are they practically 11 months old, and mere weeks away from one?  Yes.  Do I think that any magical processes happen in the digestive system the day of their birthday, allowing them to be safe from botulism?  No.  But I don’t think completely adhering to a recommendation from the AAP when the risk is paralysis is unreasonable.  Will they probably be okay, being merely weeks away from the (magical) one year old, having consumed a smidgeon of honey baked into a highly processed loaf of white bread?  Yup.  Still, to me, not work the risk.

Rigid, inflexible.  Resistant to change.  These are adjectives I used to write on evaluation forms and IEPs to describe preschool-age children with autism.  Am I so like them?  I intend to breastfeed my children for one year, and not a day less.  You have to make some goals for yourself, some guidelines.  And if you don’t stick to your own, completely achievable (only 4.5 weeks to go, and no signs of earnest weaning yet) goals, what’s the point of setting them at all?  AAP says, breastfeed for (at least) a year, so I will.

Apparently, though, it’s not the goal setting that’s an issue, nor the good intentions.  It’s the rigid adherence to the path that sets me apart, that makes me feel like a petulant child.  A few years ago, going through a bout of digestive disquiet, I was unable to eat anything for breakfast besides cereal, soymilk, and low acid orange juice.  I missed leisurely weekend brunches filled with pancakes, eggs, or even yogurt and granola.  If I found we were going out for brunch, or if Mr. Apron wanted to grab breakfast sandwiches from Delancey Street, I would pre-game with a mini-breakfast of cereal.  My stomach just wouldn’t have it any other way.  Without my pre-breakfast, I’d be miserable for hours.

Thankfully, after I gave birth to the twins, my stomach improved and I was able to consume large quantities of whatever I wanted.  It was liberating.  And necessary.  As I struggle to keep up with the demands of two milk-consuming monsters, I’m grateful I can (and do) eat anything that isn’t nailed down.

I look back through the various aspects of my life, and I see the rigid adherence to an ideal (if not an overt goal), sometimes flavored with notes of perfectionism, or at the very least, the idea that there is a right way to do things.  Growing up, we never had a uniform set of dishes or towels.  Towels had been accumulated through the years, through various moves and houses, and there were sets from my mother’s childhood through my own.  There were the yellow ones from the duck bathroom in Plattsburgh, and the purple ones from my parents’ master bathroom in Rochester.  There were the soft, almost velour-like orange towels that could only date from the 70s, and a random assortment of washcloths that could tell the story of the textile industry from the industrial revolution through modern day.  Dishes were another story.  Owing in large part to my bargain-hunting grandmother, we had full sets, but never in one color.  One set of plates were 80% blue, and 20% yellow.  The melamine Dallasware was blue and red, with one random set of yellow.  I desperately wanted matching towels for my wedding, probably because I had never known such uniformity in a linen closet.  Though we registered for all sage green towels, Macy’s ran out before our friends and family could buy them all.  We have coral, green, and honey colored towels.  All the same brand, mind, but it seems I was not meant to have my towels match.

Who cares?  Apparently, I do.  Apparently, in some deep recesses of my mind, towels and plates should match. That that is the right way (that there is a right way) to furnish one’s linen closet and one’s home. A right way to get your car repaired or to choose a dentist. A right way to feed your children, a right time to have children. While I’m working on my new mantra of “Other people make different choices,” there is still the niggling voice that adds, “which I would never make” and the tacit thought besides: because it’s wrong, or at least wrong for me. I can get smug (even to myself) when I do accomplish something grand, or do succeed at making a “right” choice. And I can get positively furious with myself when I fail at self-imposed perfection. My first cavity, my first B, missing an appointment or shirking on a potluck by not bringing something homemade. I’m setting myself up, if not for self-defined failure, then for disappointment, when I can’t, or refuse to flex. Boxed brownie mix taunts me, as does the Cooper Hospital-emblazoned diaper bag we use, a reminder that I wasn’t able to make a diaper bag for myself before the kids were born. I don’t reflect on the crib skirts (with their combined 16 pleats), the tree mural, the mobile with hand-stitched birds dangling from a branch, or the name buntings I was able to complete, only on the few points I fell short of being as ready as a new mom “should” be.

I will always fall short of my own ideals unless I find a way to be flexible. To look at other ways, not just as inferior options for legions of “other” people, but for a human version of myself, too.

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.