Please put down the rocks.
I've followed the Gosselins before Jon and Kate Plus Eight ever debuted on TLC. I watched their one-hour specials about life with twins and sextuplets. Like many, I marveled at their family, thinking more than once that I would take the nearest bridge if I had to raise eight children, and wondering how they managed to stay sane.
Jon and Kate's marriage reminded me a lot of my own. I know Kate is loathed by many out there, but I've always liked her. She and I are a lot alike. We both have twins. We're both Type As. We're both super-organized and detail-oriented. We both have strong personalities and clear ideas of how we want things done. We're both not always nice to our husbands.
Jon reminded me a lot of my own husband. His laidback personality seemed the perfect foil to Kate's high-strung one, as my husband's is to my own. They appeared to compliment eachother well. They seemed to work well as a team. At least from what was shown on tv, they seemed to love eachother, despite the complete and utter insanity, disagreements, and enormous responsibilities of their daily lives.
I watched the premiere of Season 5 Monday night. While the sextuplets' 5th birthday party was featured, most of the episode centered on Jon and Kate's crumbling marriage.
While watching, I was struck over and over by just how sad it all was.
The couple that once playfully poked eachother or bantered back and forth while sitting on the couch conducting their interviews were interviewed separately. In the scenes where both appeared, they ignored eachother. According to Kate, Jon "needed a break" and therefore played no part in planning or setting up for the sextuplets' 5th birthday party (he later rolled up by himself in a sports car). In one scene, one of the sextuplets told her dad, "I don't want you to leave anymore." While I'm sure the younger kids are in the dark about most of what's been all over the tabloids, it's clear they know something is up.
From watching the show, it's obvious that the drama and tension between Jon and Kate is real. This was not a publicity stunt used to drum up ratings. They sat together for one interview at the end of the show. They could not have sat farther apart if they tried.
At one point, a crying Kate said that parents of multiples have more than three times the divorce rate than do couples of singletons. This is a statistic I've heard before. It's also a statistic that makes complete sense to me. With three kids under the age of three, most of the time, I feel the hubs and I are running a daycare. We have never been shorter with eachother, or more exhausted, or more pressed for time than we've been since the twins were born. We are constantly meeting the needs of at least one child at all times. Time for ourselves, both as a couple and as individuals, is virtually non-existent. As a result, we snap at eachother. A lot. We resent any time the other person spends not helping out with the never-ending work of running our household. It is stressful, and all-consuming, and draining. And we only have three kids.
It makes sense that the marriages of those with multiples dissolve more frequently than those without. Even the best of marriages require work to keep them strong. But when you factor in a whole bunch of little beings who are constantly crawling up your legs 24/7, demanding that you meet their needs, throw in the every day stresses of jobs and bills and home repairs and dentist appointments and birthday parties, and suddenly, keeping the marriage alive ranks somewhere between "de-grub the lawn" and "schedule root canal" on the To Do list. It's hard. Trust me, I know.
So to watch Jon and Kate barely tolerate each other's existence Monday night was difficult for me. While we have 5 fewer kids than they do, a house that could probably fit into a bathroom in their new mansion, and a lifestyle that's very middle class, I saw the hubs and me in them. I always have, even before we had twins.
To see Kate's sadness and tears and Jon's defensiveness and detachment replace the happiness and laughter that used to exist on the show I never missed hit a little too close to home.
And it reminded me that while I may be knee-deep in diapers and pureed acorn squash and Dora books and backpacks every day, and while my nights are spent hunched over my laptop working so I can help pay our bills, my marriage is important. I don't want to wake up five years from now and not recognize the person sitting across from me at the breakfast table.
Finding the time to keep it that way is the challenge.
She is doing spectacularly well with using the potty and is now quite modest about her business, telling us, "I need some privacy" when we have the nerve to invade her space whilst she's in the act. She's had zero accidents. Zero setbacks. I am still in awe. She's in pull-ups for naps and nighttime, but other than that, she's a potty-and-toilet-using machine. I am incredibly proud of her, and so damn happy that we no longer have three kids in diapers.
In the past month, Isabella has been resisting naptime and bedtime* a bit, but her reason is one for which I can hardly blame her. She does share my genes after all. She wants to read. One morning a few weeks ago I went to get her up for the day and she said, "Mommy, I have to show you something." She lifted up her pillow, and beneath it were no fewer than 10 of her books, taken from her bookshelves in her room and placed under her pillow sometime after she was tucked in the night before. I asked her why she was hording books and she said, "So I can read them before sleeping." From that point on, each time I've tucked her in for naps or the hubs has tucked her in for bedtime, she will ask us, "Is it okay if I read a little?" and she'll lift up her pillow to show us the stockpile of books she's amassed under it. We'll tell her, "just one," and most of the time, she listens. She'll recite her version of the story's tale, tuck it back under the pillow with the others, and go to sleep.
Despite being in her big girl bed now for over three months, Isabella has still not attempted to leave her room once we've shut the door behind her. Of course, she's out of her bed to gather books, but that's about it. Her bedroom door has a safety doorknob on it to prevent her from leaving should she try, and I figure it's only a matter of time before books cease to be the bedtime procrastination tool of choice, but so far, so good!
I've begun to talk to her a bit about preschool. I've told her that she's going to have so much fun, that she'll make new friends, and get to play with all the cool toys we saw when we toured it last winter. When I told her that I would drop her off and that I would be back in a short time to get her, she said, "I don't want to be alone at preschool." That broke my heart a little, but I know that reaction is completely normal. She's still excited about it, and still asks me every single time we're in the car together if we're going to drive by her preschool so she can wave at it.
Isabella must be going through a growth spurt this month because she has an insatiable appetite. She's asking for food constantly, and I'm trying to feed her healthy snacks, but I've got to wonder where in the heck she's packing it away. I swear there are days when my 28-pound toddler (preschooler?) eats more than I do.
She is wonderfully helpful with the twins, and has taken to asking me, "Can I help you with something?". If I ask her to help me make them stop crying, she jumps up and down, sings songs, or tickles them, and a lot of the time it works. Some days she's a better mother to them than I am, and I know they like her a hell of a lot more than they like me at times, especially when I have the nerve to set them down to entertain themselves.
The twins are generally up before Isabella each morning, and they're usually in their exersaucers or on their floormat in the living room while I'm getting Isabella up for the day. She usually asks where they are (and I need to give her a very specific answer) and as she descends the stairs, she's started singing, "Here comes Isabella!" over and over to let the twins know she's coming. They immediately look to her and smile or laugh, which delights her to no end.
It's been a good month in Isabella Land. She's growing into such a funny, independent, charming little person, and while she certainly has her whiny moments, most of the time I'm so proud to be her mama.
Current Likes: Dancing, eating, ketchup
Current Dislikes: Bedtime
*Check out my most recent article for Root & Sprout on creating a bedtime routine for your preschooler. And if you haven't subscribed to the site yet, consider doing so. The feed button is located in the top-left corner of the home page.
In my family, the "first children" seem to get top billing. My mom has often told me of the special privileges she received growing up as the eldest of five children not so much from her parents (my grandparents), but by her grandma, her aunts, and her Godfather. It wasn't as if these individuals went out of their way to slight my mother's siblings, but my mom always felt as if she was her grandma's favorite, her aunts' special girl, and the daughter her Godfather never had.
When I was growing up, my sister and I were the first grandchildren in our family. We had unique bonds with our grandparents and great aunt and uncle that still exist today, while our younger cousins, while still loved and valued, do not. When I was a child, my grandma was my second mother. I never wanted to leave her house. My sister had a similar relationship with my great aunt.
And so it's going with Isabella, the first great-grandchild in the family. To say she is a rock star is to vastly underestimate the appeal and draw of my two-year-old. My mother's entire world revolves around her. Ever since Isabella was a baby, each time either my mom, my grandma, or any one of my aunts comes to visit, they bring something for Isabella-clothes, her favorite snacks, a new book or toy, etc. As I've written here many times, everyone has something to say about even the most minor decisions I make concerning her. Most of the family converges on our car each Sunday as we pull into my aunt's driveway to welcome us (read: Isabella), and anyone who is still there when we leave waves a huge goodbye as our car pulls away. The hubs and I have walked into relatives' houses and have almost been trampled by relatives eager to welcome Isabella. They don't see us or talk to us, even though they're passing right by us, because their entire focus is on Isabella. We're the roadies. She's the star.
In many ways, I love that Isabella is so treasured. She absolutely loves being the center of attention (what kid doesn't?), and to be surrounded by so much extended family love is a gift so many kids whose relatives live elsewhere don't have.
But my concern is for the twins. There isn't equal gift-giving or attention paid. Will the twins always be "the twins" instead of Luci and Nicholas, and will they always receive second billing?
When my mom is here, she focuses 100% of her attention on Isabella. She has three grandchildren, but Isabella is clearly her favorite.I think she's afraid of showing the twins any affection in front of Isabella, lest Isabella think her grammy loves the twins more than she loves her. And I understand this. I was very concerned about this very thing when the twins were first born. I still make every effort to include Isabella in everything, and I give her as much extra attention as I can.
My concern isn't so much for the present, because let's face it, our 300-year-old neighbor with a face like the Cryptkeeper could hold Luci and Nicholas and they wouldn't care, but more for the future, when they're old enough to notice disparities in the way they're treated. Because if it's blatantly obvious to me and the hubs now, it's not going to be long before they're able to pick up on it too.
All three of my children are growing up surrounded by an incredible amount of love, and this is something for which I will always be grateful. But I'm beginning to wonder if any children arriving after the first are considered "old hat." It seems like that's the way it's worked in my family, although certainly not to an obvious or cruel degree. But the subtlety is there nonetheless.
The first child, or grandchild, or great-grandchild is the chosen one. And the rest? Just part of the flock. A much-loved flock, but a flock nonetheless.
I'm curious about how the second, third, fourth, etc. children in your families are treated. Am I just being hyper-sensitive?
The essay's content doesn't really gel with the title, which was CNN.com's title for the essay. The piece originally appeared in BabyTalk magazine with the title, "Boy Crazy." The author writes not so much about her desire for another boy, but more about her fears about being the mom to a daughter. Of not knowing how to style girl hair. Of loathing all things princess. Of being more in-tune with all things boy than typical girl interests.
Oh, how I could relate to this essay.
I've written here before about my concerns with raising a boy. When I learned the genders of the twins, I was freaking out a bit over my ability to parent my son, given the makeup of both my immediate and extended families. I know girls, or at least I thought I did. There's a whole lot of estrogen in my family tree (I was essentially raised by a single mother. I have one sister, two half-sisters, mostly female cousins, lots of aunts, and a significant lack of males in mi familiga). Before I had Isabella, I would tell my friends that I better have all girls, since I had no idea what to do with a boy. I thought I knew girl toys and girl interests and girl psyches.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't really "know girls" either. Like the writer of this essay, I don't do "pink princesses." I can barely style my own hair, much less my daughter's, and the only reason I consider myself even minimally stylish is because I've been watching What Not To Wear since the beginning of time. (Does anyone remember Wayne and his waist-length gray mane?) Oh, and my sister happens to be a diehard fashionista and helps me out when I'm desperate. If not for TLC and Karrie, I'd still be wearing the acid-washed jeans and oversized flannels from my grunge phase in the early 90s. If my daughters begin teetering around the house in princess dress-up heels and demanding that I paint their fingernails, I might request a transfer out-of-state.
Fortunately for me, I have a daughter who isn't into princesses either. Her cousins are and despite their encouragement, Isabella lacks the interest. She enjoys pounding nails on her toolbench as much as she does baking cookies (both real and imaginary). She seems not to care what I do with her hair (as long as I don't pull it during my feeble attempts to style it), and she's much happier in a pair of jeans than she is in a dress.
As for Luci and Nicholas, only time will tell.
Like this essay's author, I think a lot of parenting each gender is "loving what you have and having what you love." I grew up surrounded by women. My first child was a girl. I thought I knew girls and had real fears about raising a son. In many ways, I still do.
But I've also learned that parenting different genders is also about taking children out of their expectation boxes. Not all girls wear fairy wings 24-7 and have memorized the words to every Disney princess movie ever made. Not all boys like trucks and digging in the dirt. Sure, there's something to be said for innate differences between boys and girls and their predilections for certain play objects. However, my concerns over being a mom to Nicholas because he's a boy or Isabella and Luci because they're girls should be based more on the frightening pressures and expectations they'll face once they enter school, and less on their childhood interests and favorite pastimes.
I may be unable to relate to my children's toys and hobbies. I might be clueless as to how to play Matchbox cars with Nicholas or how to properly apply pretend makeup with Luci. But if they turn out to enjoy these things, then that's okay. If I'm somehow able to raise them to be independent, confident, sensitive, and empathetic kids despite the institutional forces acting against them, I'll consider myself a success.
People always ask me, with pitying smiles on their faces, "Are things getting any easier?". And I always respond, "It depends on the day."
Luci and Nicholas are improving. Things are getting less chaotic here, albeit not enough for my liking. But the progress is painstakingly slow, and it often comes in the form of two steps forward, and another step back.
For example, last month, I wrote of how they were finally on a nap schedule. That's still true. But what's happened now is that Nicholas initially will fall asleep while I'm nursing him and stay in his crib for mere minutes before waking up and being unable to go back to sleep on his own. This happens at night too. He will begin to fuss and cry, at which point we immediately transition him to the swing, where he spends most naps, and every single night. This means the hubs has not slept in our bed in over a month (he sleeps downstairs on the couch).
I really want to allow Nicholas to try and put himself back to sleep, but with Luci in the room with him, this is impossible. I've sought input from other moms of twins who have suggested putting the pack-n-play back in our room for Nicholas or simply letting him CIO, so he and Luci get accustomed to eachother's cries. Because we are spectacular procrastinators, we've so far chosen Option 3: Do Nothing. However, a change is imminent, because it's not fair to Isabella to constantly shush her in the mornings because her brother is napping on the first floor of our house.
Behold, our brand new swing, which the hubs had to run out and buy at 8pm one night last week after Nicholas burned out the motor in the old one.
Nighttime sleep is vastly improving. Nicholas will generally sleep through the night after a late night nursing session (somewhere between 10 and midnight) and Luci sometimes does as well, although she's up in the middle of the night more often than she's not. But, it's only once, which is a HUGE improvement.
Nicholas is loving solids, but Luci wants nothing to do with them. She started off liking them, and then basically quit. So, each day I try her on tiny bits of whatever I'm feeding Nicholas and mostly she refuses food and cries. Her pediatrician isn't concerned and basically said she's getting all her nutritional needs met via breastmilk, and to try again in a few weeks.
The twins are still not babies that you can leave on their own for even a few minutes. And by this, I don't mean that I'm surprised they won't sit in their bouncy seats while I run for an hour on the treadmill. If I lay them down on their playmat or put them in their exersaucers, they generally begin to cry immediately. As soon as I pick them up, they're fine. It is massively frustrating because I can't unload the dishwasher, check my email, pick up toys, or even leave the room unless I'm willing to listen to two babies wailing in unison. It's especially fun listening to 20+ minutes of screaming when I'm nursing one while the other waits. One or both of them is screaming every night during dinner. This aspect of their personalities is what's most difficult for me to deal with lately.
I like to tell them that they arrived 2.5 years too late to receive undivided attention.
Nicholas has discovered his feet over the past month, and loves playing with them. He's also taken to grabbing my face and giving huge, slobbery kisses. He is constantly chewing on his hands, rattles, and anything else he can get his hands on. It appears as if one of his incisors is coming in, but I can't be certain.
Luci has shown great improvement in grabbing for toys and handling them. She's still behind Nicholas in the motor skills department, but she's getting there. She takes fantastic morning naps and mediocre afternoon ones, but she no longer seems to fight sleep, which is a huge relief. She's even able to put herself back to sleep sometimes in the middle of the night with no little or no crying. In general, she's a lot less fussy than she used to be. Nicholas, however, seems a lot more fussy than he used to be. Such is life with twins, I suppose.
They're about to move up to Size 2 Huggies, and their six month clothing fits them very well now. Neither baby is able to roll from back to tummy yet, but Luci seems very close to achieving this.
It's still utter chaos at my house most days. They still cry a lot. I'm still in pursuit of a peaceful dinnertime. But we're better. We are better because I am ever so slowly learning to roll with it. I am not a roll with it person, but as most things are with twins, it's trial by fire.
And fortunately for them, when they're not screaming at full volume and making me wish I had soundproofed at least one room in my house, they're pretty cute. And they seem to know exactly how to work that to their advantage.
Soon after, she began to request Clifford episodes that featured him. And each and every time he appeared on screen, she'd grin and cover her face, or else she would turn completely around and bury her face in the couch pillow, turning shyly around only after her embarrassment passed.
At first we thought she was afraid of him, and then we realized that no, she most definitely wasn't afraid. It was something else.
Isabella has a crush on Mr. Bleakman.
In case you're not familiar with the world of Clifford, this is Horace Bleakman, Clifford and Emily Elizabeth's curmudgeonly next-door neighbor. A Jonas brother, he is not:
Clearly, my daughter has a thing for older men. Much older men.
Starting about a month ago, at the end of every naptime and bedtime routine, once we've tucked her in, Isabella requests both a story and a song about Mr. Bleakman. She chooses the plotline, and they are extremely elaborate. For example, "Tell me a story about Mr. Bleakman digging his pond, and then Clifford comes over and splash! splash! splash!, he jumps into Mr. Bleakman's pond and Mr. Bleakman is really, really mad."
And then, like a contestant on Whose Line Is It Anyway? either the hubs or I have to immediately come up with the story to satisfy her desire for all things Bleakman. The songs are the most difficult. Try coming up with a song based on Mr. Bleakman getting caught in a net on the beach (and yes, that was an actual request from Isabella just a few days ago).
The hubs and I have begun to tease her about her crush. "You loooove him, don't you?", we'll say to her, and Isabella smiles and tries to hide her face behind her hands. Sometimes she'll tell us to stop, and ever since we told her we're just teasing her, she now says, "Stop teasing me, mommy!"
But stopping the teasing is hard, simply because it's so much damn fun. Why have kids if you can't laugh at them every once and awhile? Her reactions are priceless, and we thought we'd have to wait at least 10 more years to tease her about the boys she likes.
I'm just hoping she doesn't bring home a senior citizen to meet mom and dad when she's 18 years old.
Check out my latest article on Root & Sprout, which shows you how to make healthier choices for your kids at fast food restaurants.
Finally, happy early Mother's Day to all my mom readers.
To those of you still waiting for your turn, I hope the journey ends soon.
Pfft. Shoes. Who needs 'em (or a shirt, for that matter) when you look this good?
Enter the twins. Enter colic. Enter nap strikes and ensuing crankiness. Enter hours and hours and hours of crying. Enter my absolute fear of handling two tiny grenades (plus Isabella) in public on my own. Enter agoraphobia. Enter unhappy Kristi.
As I mentioned in their six-month update, I have taken the kids out a few times on my own, but only to places, such as friends' houses, where I know my screaming brood and I won't be thrown out on our collectives arses. Most days, I am home all day long with them. There are weeks when I don't leave my house for three or four days. Each time I consider taking them somewhere, I talk myself out of it, not only because it takes me approximately seven hours to dress them all, pack their gear, load them into carseats, and get on the road, but also because the process is exhausting and the mere thought of the preparation and work involved makes me want to take to the couch and apply a cold cloth to my forehead. But the biggest reason I stay holed up in my home like a Branch Davidian is because I am terrified that Luci and Nicholas will simultaneously implode in public and I will be unable to get them under control.
There are many things I miss about my former freedom, but going out to eat tops the list. I think it's well-established on this blog that I do not cook (I do, however, reheat like nobody's business), and therefore any meal I do not have to prepare is a gift. And while we didn't do it often, eating out with Isabella was fun.
This Sunday, the hubs and I skipped mass given the "if-not-swine-flu-than-eerily-close-to-it" pandemic that apparently has infected the unofficial "families with small children" section of back-of-the-church pews we normally frequent, and opted on a whim to instead go out to breakfast. We had never before taken the twins to a restaurant.
We prepared for battle by packing no fewer than 15 toys, 4 burp cloths, 8 diapers, several teething rattles, and 4 binkies. We also both wore track shoes, lest we have to cut and run from the restaurant at a moment's notice.
Upon arrival at the restaurant (chosen for its wide open floor plan and high ceilings to deflect noise) we crossed our fingers, took two deep breaths, and entered. Both twins were awake in their infant carseats. To say we were terrified is to put it mildly.
We sat down in a booth with Luci on my side and Nicholas on the hubs' side. Isabella sat in a toddler chair at the end of the table. The babies stared at us, perhaps mentally calculating exactly how many minutes of silence they could deliver us before we'd relax our guard.
We ordered. The babies stared at the lights. They were silent. The calm before the storm, we thought.
They fell asleep.
My two little time bombs, who can transition from happy to harpie in three seconds flat, who take a brutal combination of nursing and rocking and walking and black magic to get to sleep each evening, and who even then wake up 15 minutes later, put themselves to sleep. In a restaurant. And they stayed that way through our entire meal.
The first meal we have eaten together as a family that didn't involve one or both of them screaming through it.
Two very ordinary buttermilk pancakes never tasted so good.
Today marks the end of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Given that 7.3 million Americans suffer from infertility, it's likely that someone you know has it, even though you may not know it.
Last night, the hubs, the kiddos, and I went to my fertility clinic's 26th Anniversary Celebration of IVF, held at our city's science museum. Held each year during NIAW, this celebration (the same one we attended last year) is meant to reunite IVF patients with their doctors, nurses, embryologists, and other medical professionals who helped make them parents. It's also a great occasion to track down your own doctor, who skillfully eluded you at last year's party, held a mere nine days after you found out you were expecting twins instead of the singleton he told you you were having after a very long and exhaustive seven-week ultrasound, and demand some concrete answers, because seriously, WTF, dude? Didn't you go to school for like 100 years to do those things accurately?
I did talk to him last night, after stalking him for the entire 1.5 hours we were there. He pretended to be interested in chatting away with the many other families thrusting their babies into his arms for photo ops. But I knew the truth. He was avoiding me and thinking the entire time about ways to hide behind his colleagues and some fake potted trees once his fan club left him alone.
In all seriously, I really like the guy. He's funny, personable, and was a great RE. When he was finally free, we talked about my gigantic stroller, and then he said, "So, I guess you're done!" (meaning, I won't be requiring his services anymore).
Yeah, you could say that.
Isabella had a great time at the museum, Luci and Nicholas actually behaved even though it was held during their witching hour, and I enjoyed just being in the company of people who know exactly what I've been through. There were twins galore, lots of tiny babies clutched tightly to the chests of mothers who thought they'd never feel that soft bundle of warmth in their arms, and plenty of smiles and laughter from both those who beat the odds and their doctors who got them there.
So...Wednesday's post generated a lot of debate, which was my entire purpose in posting it. I like to stir the pot, so-to-speak, and topics like this are what keeps my brain cells from atrophying after watching nothing but Dora and reading nothing but Harold and the Purple Crayon all day long. Thank you so much for sharing your honest, intelligent, and well-thought-out opinions. I'm planning a follow-up post in the coming days, and I hope you'll comment as much on that post as you did on this one.
Finally, if you're looking for a good read on this fine Saturday, check out my latest article, "How to Find and Keep Mom Friends After Having a Baby" on Root & Sprout, which has just moved to a new publishing schedule, in which one or two articles will post each day in a blog format. Consider subscribing to the feed so you don't miss a single article.