I was sitting at lunch with my colleagues yesterday, one of few occasions I actually get to do so, owing to regular lunch-time meetings, or frequent lunch duty down in the “dining commons” (since they’ve upgraded the lunch program, the cafeteria’s name has had a makeover, too).  Colleague A had brought in rice crackers from the bulk section of a local cooperative grocery store, so they had no label.  “They’re rice, but they’re not gluten free,” she remarked, in case anyone needed to know. Then she and two of our colleagues proceeded to calculate how many Weight Watchers points they would have.

“Four points!  In 26 crackers!” Colleague B exclaimed, as if they had been slabs of cheesecake instead of innocuous crackers from a health food store.  “I only get 21 in a day.”

It turned out that Colleagues A, B, and C all are allotted only 21 points each per day, and they were already mentally tabulating the point overages that this week’s gluttony of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie would undoubtedly cause.

Just then, Colleague D came in from the soul-sucking task of lunch duty to report that a student had whacked his head and needed the nurse.  The nurse excused herself, and Colleague D continued her report from lunch, complaining about the 9th grade girls.

“None of them eat lunch,” she lamented.  “I don’t know if it’s anorexic behavior or a social thing.  I see some of them snacking – this one eats potato chips – but none of them eat during lunch time.”

My colleagues tsked disapprovingly, saddened by the pressure that mass media has played in these girls’ negative self-image and their resulting poor nutritional choices.

I just ate some crackers.

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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. 

She is conspicuous in her absence.  I expect to see her sitting high on the end of the couch, deforming the cushion, as I walk up the front walkway.  I expect to trip over her when I traipse through the kitchen at night, to find her curled up on a dining room chair in the morning.  I am shocked when she does not bark to welcome the nanny in the morning, or to guard against anyone who walks in the door.  She doesn’t jump on me when I sit on the floor to play with the babies, nor try to eat the beignet I set on the end table as we settled into an evening of “Homicide” after the babies had gone to sleep.

 

Her “stuff” is gone, too – her bowl, her collar, her leash and harness.  There’s a space in the living room that has obviously been swept after her crate was removed to the garage.  But the biggest difference is not in her trappings nor even seeing her in her usual haunts; it’s in my behavior.  I don’t have to seal up the kitchen at night, lest she sneak in there and pee on the chair cushions.  I don’t have to obsessively close the bedroom doors, lest she do the same to our bedding.  No longer do I worry that a stray baby sock or hat on the floor will become a chew toy.  Pacifiers that E. drops will stay put until we clean them, not become squirreled away in the dog’s mouth.  I don’t have to bribe her into her crate before I leave the house, nor distract her with a treat when the nanny comes.  I don’t have constantly hush her barks as she threatens to wake the sleeping babies yet again.  And while she’s torn up a third sofa with her energy and her nails, it won’t get any worse than it is now.  I don’t have to protect our home any longer.  Molly is gone.

 

Mr.Apron took her to the shelter yesterday, took her “back” to the shelter we adopted her from 2 years ago.  Was she defective?  Were we incompetent?  Probably neither extreme is fair, and I have to believe that she’ll be adopted again soon, to a family with the fenced-in  yard she needs, and the attention she craves.  I have to believe she can be rehabilitated, or we wouldn’t have worked so hard, spent so much money on her in the time she wrecked our home, and brought chaos into our lives.

 

I’ll always be sad when I think about having to surrender Molly.  I’ll always look back on her photos nostalgically and wonder if we had tried everything in our power.  Or if we should have returned her long before we did.  But things are so much easier now; I can’t believe how much we rearranged our lives to accommodate that 32-lb dog, how careful we had to be to manage her behaviors and her less-than-desirable attributes.  It’s like we can breathe again, and relax a little in our own home.

 

As I dressed for work this morning, though, I realized it’ll take far longer than 24-hours for the dog to truly leave our lives.  While the dog and her chaos may have left, we’ll still be lint-rollering pieces of her fur off of our clothing for years to come.

On March 27th, my nephew lost his father, and my sister-in-law became a widow.  It’s ironic really, to think of her adding yet another unwanted title to her identity.  The day she married her husband, her in laws hosted an informal reception on their back deck.  We ate sandwiches and the newlyweds opened gifts from their families.  I distinctly recall my sister-in-law yelling at her mother, “Don’t call him my husband.”  It’s no family secret that it was a shotgun wedding, held in a judge’s chambers, a week or two before my nephew was born.  It doesn’t take a lot of guessing to learn that my nephew was conceived when his parents “weren’t even trying” to get pregnant, and that it was my mother-in-law who was a driving force behind the rushed nuptials.

 

My sister-in-law wasn’t shy about her plans to divorce her husband as soon as their son hit school-age and she would no longer “need” him for child care.

 

For me, it was all a source of ridiculousness, of incredulity at the antics I was now a part of, by marriage.  There is bile between my husband’s sister and me.  Ever since she received her invitation to our wedding a day later than her sister did, and concluded that we didn’t therefore want her at our wedding, I have made only requisite socially appropriate overtures toward her.  I hear only stories about her teenage screaming matches with my mother-in-law, her alleged theft of family jewelry, about how she broke my husband’s arm, and the time she literally locked him in a suitcase.  Beyond the family tales, I had firsthand experience of her selfishness — how she cancels plans with others on a whim and orders her father and sister to do her bidding – sell her car, fax her resume, find her a house, fix her toilet, walk her dog, etc.  The list is as long as the stories.  Each time my husband would come home from a well intentioned visit with her, he’d spew his own venom, seething about her self-centeredness, and unloading whatever ludicrous thing she’d said that time.  She would regularly tear him down, deriding his choices and values.  In defense of my best friend, I cannot stand my sister-in-law.

 

When her husband was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer, and given a year to live, I focused mainly on how long it was taking to get a diagnosis or prognosis.  No one seemed to know anything, and as much as we were technically kept in the loop via text messages, I just kept feeling like no real information was being transmitted.  It took 2 weeks to get the diagnosis of the primary cancer type.  The staging I never really found out.  It frustrated me, personally, because I wanted to understand in the way I cope with medical tragedies – by reading and researching.  Without the tumor staging, I knew very little.  I was critical of the doctors and my in-laws for their ignorance.  They wrote things like “legions” for “lesions” and described his tumors as “the big one” and “the little ones”, rather than telling where in the brain they were, that I might understand what kind of deficits he might have.  It took several meetings with the oncologists for my sister- and brother-in-law to realize the gravity of the situation.  When the doctor told him it wouldn’t be a quick or easy treatment, he replied, “Oh, so you mean I’m going to have this when I’m 80?” The doc told him he wouldn’t live to be 80.

 

And then my nephew went to live with his grandparents.  Even though his father was tolerating the treatments very well at first, and he was getting around well and staying at home, my nephew was torn from his home, his routine, and his parents.  My parents-in-law’s lives were upended, and I was angry at my sister-in-law, again, for dumping her kid off.  My mother-in-law reduced her work hours drastically; my father-in-law started working entire weekends (instead of just Saturday mornings) so he could watch my nephew more during the week.  And with both of them orbiting around my nephew, no one had time for us.

 

My brother-in-law went into the hospital for the first time when my children were two weeks old.  His cancer has sadly eclipsed the familial joy of new babies, and deprived us of some much-needed support during the first weeks of their lives.  Selfish, yes, but factual.  I felt frazzled; they felt guilty and stretched thin.

 

As for my own reactions to the entire debacle, I’ve mostly been callous.  I’m angry at others for taking attention away from my family, yes, but it’s been hard to summon sympathy for a woman I have a “toxic relationship” with.  She never wanted to marry the guy, or to have his child.  He had nothing going for him, a real loser.  Still worked at the same sandwich shop he did in high school, still lived with his parents (until the impregnation).  He had poor credit, and let the mother of his other child dictate unreasonable amounts of child support because he just had no clue.  I couldn’t decide whom to feel more sorry for – my sister-in-law, or her husband.  Mostly, I felt bad for my nephew, with his distant and/or clueless parents.

 

The viewing.  The funeral.  I had to miss half of my first day back at work to go the funeral.  I was planning on working, but my father-in-law pressured me into going.  First we went to the wrong cemetery.  Next we were early, and sat with my in-laws in a growing car line, waiting for the limo with the family and the ashes.  I sat there fuming at the wasted morning.  Then, we stood at the gravesite in the whipping wind while my husband’s uncle made tacky remarks about what a nice site they had chosen.  And finally, I saw my sister-in-law dissolving into tears, her shoulders hunched, her eyes pressed shut, as she said good bye to her husband.  I saw her as human for the first time.  The wall of defenses I had built up – my distaste for her, my indifference towards her husband, the entire family’s naïveté of the cancer – crumbled, and I, too, wept.  I wept for my nephew, I wept for my brother-in-law’s parents.  I wept for my sister-in-law, for she was human.  It didn’t matter if she felt guilty for being so mean to him, for threatening to divorce him, for saying what a loser he was, for driving him to drink.  He was gone, all of him.  I wept, too, for my own children.  If a 35-year-old can live 3 months after  his initial diagnosis, cancer can deprive anyone of their parents, their children, their partners, their family.  I wept for my husband, standing beside me.  I wept for our humanity.

 

It was much easier to cloak my mourning in callous scientific facts, and impatience with others’ ignorance.  At the end of the day, he’s still dead.  In wrapping ourselves up in our own lives, with our newborn children, we had allowed ourselves a respite from not only seeing him grow sicker and sicker, but in having to face seeing my sister-in-law grow human.  It’s easier to vilify her, to criticize her choices and her lifestyle.  In attending the funeral – a 15-minute graveside operation with no clergy, and only a brief eulogy by his father about some football game 20 years ago – I had to face reality, and let my sister-in-law, and myself in turn, hurt.

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.


*By “dummies”, I mean sleep-deprived new mothers nearing delirium.  My IQ must have dropped at least 20 points (10 per child?) since becoming a parent.

I have sought out support in breastfeeding, both before the babies arrived, and in the last 5 weeks.  I went to two classes prenatally.  I have also been offered unsolicited advice by well-meaning mommy-friends, and called in a lactation consultant.  I have started going to an awesome support group on Thursday mornings.  From all of these sources, I have distilled a top-ten list of breastfeeding tips, as no one who needs help breastfeeding has time to read any more than 10 bulleted points at a sitting.  Heck, I don’t even know if there are ten.  It’s just a nice, round number.

  • Don’t ask your mother for help.  Or at least, don’t expect her to be the ultimate resource. I tried asking my mother, whom I know successfully breastfed all three of her children.  I personally was nursed exclusively for 15 months, having refused nearly all baby food.  I figured Mom would be a good resource, especially as she was breastfeeding during formula’s hey-dey.  Nope.  Her first response, when I asked if she had any resources (books, advice, etc.) back in the 1980s, was, “No.” She initially claimed breastfeeding was natural, so easy she never gave it a second thought. This led to a lengthy discussion about the manufactured industry of lactation consultants and heavy-handed pressure on all moms to breastfeed nowadays.  Later, however, upon visiting my house and seeing La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” on my bookshelf, she remarked that it was the seminal resource she herself had consulted.  And also that she had met with a group of stay-at-home new moms of young babies in their homes to, among other things, troubleshoot breastfeeding.  But no, it had been for her, a completely natural, instinctive thing to do.  No support whatever.  So, yeah, don’t hedge your bets on maternal wisdom.
  • When we eat a hoagie (translation for non-Philadelphians: sub/zep/Dagwood/regional sandwich), we don’t just open our mouths and shove it in.  Try it next time.  Watch what you do.  I’ll bet you squish the bun/bread a bit, then roll the sandwich into your mouth from the lower lip first.  Your boobie is a hoagie for your baby.  Compress it, then roll it into the baby’s mouth from the lower lip.  Don’t just try to shove your breast into their mouth as is.  Compression while nursing also helps baby breathe, a vastly underrated function during breastfeeding.
  • It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding. Make sure your kiddo has a huge mouth-full of boobie.  You’re actually aiming for your nipple to go as far back as the place where the hard and soft palates meet.  Feel in your own mouth using your tongue; that’s pretty far back, and if the kiddo is only latched onto your nipple, not only will it hurt like tiny needles stabbing your breast, but there’s no chance it’ll reach that far back in baby’s mouth.
  • Breastfeeding might hurt, even if you’re doing it right.  There’s some mystical bullshit out there that if it hurts, you have to adjust baby’s latch, or your position, or your chakra. Nope.  It might hurt for a minute when they’re latching, or only during the initial let-down, or for four months.  And you might be doing everything right.
  • Bring kid to boobie, not boobie to kid.  Otherwise, you’ll be hunched over like some old hagitha for a half-hour, dangling your breast in your kid’s mouth.  And your back will hurt.
  • To help you bring baby to boobie, get a pillow designed for breastfeeding.  My favorite is the idiotically named “My Brest Friend.”  You’ll feel like a tool the first few times you strap this planetary orbit around your midsection, and stupider still as you waltz around the house wearing a satellite dish, but it’s the best thing ever not to have to fold and fluff a regular pillow into the right position, or to strain your arm holding even the smallest infant in the precise position for any length of time.  Many people love Boppies.  They do have pretty covers, but it’ll be a cold day in Hell if you think you can wrench my “My Best Friend” away from me.
  • When baby is rooting, and opening its mouth, and you seize the opportunity to shove its precious little head towards your engorged breast, manipulate your little darling’s noggin by holding it nearer to its neck, not the round part of its skull.  I usually hold my baby’s heads with a thumb and forefinger or middle finger by the mastoid bones, which are right behind the ears, near where the lower jaw attaches.  If someone tries to move your head around by pushing at the back (occipital region), feel how you tense up and resist (go on, try it.  No one’s looking).  Now feel how much more control they’d have by holding nearer the neck.  Now you have ultimate control over baby’s noggin.  Use it wisely.
  • Set a stopwatch so you can keep track of how long baby is nursing for.  You can try just watching a clock and doing the math, but in my experience, your brain will be too fried to do even simple subtraction.  Plus, when you’re at it ‘round the clock, you won’t remember if the :19 you’re calculating from was from the 3pm feed or the 6pm feed.  The doctors profess to love and support breastfeeding, but it makes them nuts, because it’s so hard to measure.  They want numbers for their reports, so they can make calculations, compare to charts, and write goals.  If you have a formula-fed baby, you can ask how much it’s taking from a bottle, and report back in ounces.  Easy.  With a breast-fed baby, the best you can do on a regular basis is count wet/dirty diapers, and ask how long they nurse for.  Babies are all different, and some are more efficient than others.  Women produce more milk at different times of the day.  And sometimes babies who hang out for a long time at the breast, are just dicking around, using you as a human pacifier.  Sure, you can weigh a baby before and after a feed, but on a daily basis, the duration and frequency of a nursing session is the only number you’ll be able to give the doctors.
  • Get an iPad or an ereader or at least some good phone apps.  Nursing is not only time-consuming, but also soporific.  To keep yourself from falling asleep mid-suckle, download engaging books and mind-numbing games.  Until your baby knows it has hands and can stop flailing about volitionally, you’ll have to help it stay on the breast.  This requires at least one hand.  You will value any and all activities you can do with the other hand, and you may eventually tire of 3am TV infomercials.  Though I am only a recent convert to the ebook world, I have found yet another lesser-known advantage over paper books – you can turn the pages with the swipe of a finger, and don’t have to deal with a paperback folding up, losing your page, or holding the spine open with two fingers and turning pages with another.  While you’re at it, download a stopwatch app and a nursing log app.  The doctors will love you.
  • I guess I only had 9 tips.  Oh, no, wait.  Here’s one more – keep trying.  Breastfeeding can be really hard, but don’t give up.  Call in the troops.  Get a lactation consultant, or go to a breastfeeding support group.  Call a mommy-friend, or  use your iPad to find an online support group.  But keep at it.  You’re awesome.
  • Oh, shit.  Another one.  This one was personal, and stems from a failed 4am feeding where L. wouldn’t latch.  Through streaming tears, I pleaded with her to stop rejecting my breast, to stop rejecting me.  And while this may seem silly from the comfort of daylight hours, it was very real to me.  A baby’s difficulty latching, or sucking, or removing enough milk is not a personal affront on your motherhood.
  • Or your best intentions.  It killed me to have to supplement with formula on doctor’s orders because my babies had lost too much weight since birth.  But by adding formula for only two weeks, I was able to appease the doctor’s need for numbers (Yes, we give her up 2oz to “top off” after a 20-minute feed, etc.), and once I could show my babies were gaining weight, we were back to boobie.  It did not mean I was a failure that I had to give my children formula.  We just needed some help.

I hope my earnest little list offered you’re a little help.  Now go, get some sleep.  You look awful.