As I read my post from my 33rd birthday, I realized that other than round-the-clock nursing, things are very much the same around here one year later. Sure, the twins are walking and talking now, I'm getting slightly more sleep each night (although, not much), and we're in a new house.
But I am still overwhelmed on a daily basis. I am still searching for the solution that will make my life easier and me happier. I still have bags so deep under my eyes that you could eat cereal out of them.
Today will be a day like any other. 12 hours of solo childcare. Work stuffed into the cracks. A run if I'm lucky. I plan on loading up the Triple Threat and getting my free birthday ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery after "naptime." Maybe if they're lucky, I'll share.
Prior to the arrival of my sister's awesome birthday card stuffed with a Starbucks card, an iTunes card, and a Macy's card, the highlight of my day was someone from my gym calling to wish me a happy birthday. Not an automated message, an actual human being whose job responsibilities apparently include calling members on their birthdays and talking to them about their plans for the day. Pretty cool, actually.
Thanks to all of you who have emailed me, IM-ed me, and posted on my Facebook wall to wish me a happy birthday. It means more to me than you know.
Here's to 34 shots of espresso today. I'll need it.
In the past month, Isabella has developed an almost obsessive attachment to her best stuffed animal friend, Charlie. This stuffed dog (bear?) has been in her crib with her since she was born (along with a duck named Janice who somehow got herself banished to the bookshelf this past year). She has always needed Charlie for naptime and bedtime (for awhile, she slept with him draped over her head), but she left him in her bed when she got up in the morning. Now? She takes him everywhere-downstairs in the morning, to the table for her meals, outside to play, etc. She holds him and plays with him all day long. It's cute, but also a little obsessive. And I live in fear of the day that Charlie gets lost or damaged because I have no idea where to get another "Charlie."
Charlie also acts as a good bouncer between the twins in the stroller, and prevents them from scratching each other's eyes out.
Isabella has inherited her mother's Starbucks worship, which is highly amusing. I received a bunch of gift cards for Christmas, and have been going there on my way to pick up Isabella from preschool, and each and every time she sees my cup in the cupholder, she menacingly asks me: "Hey! Did you go to Starbucks?" When I tell her that yes, mommy did go to Starbucks because she needs a constant drip of caffeine in order to keep from crawling under her bed and staying there until she and her siblings are aged seven and five, respectively, she says, "I wanted to go to Starbucks with you!" (I promise, the only thing she's ever drank there is hot chocolate and Horizons milk. She knows not the addictive power of their coffee.)
Her artwork has really evolved over the past few months as well. She's moved beyond scribbles (although she does still draw them sometimes) to figures that actually look recognizable as people, animals, etc. Drawing and painting on the easel is one of her favorite things about preschool and she always brings home at least half a dozen examples of her work every Tuesday and Thursday.
I've been able to do some one-on-one activities with her lately, which is so important for both of us. We went to my friend's annual St. Patrick's Day parade pre-party, and then to the parade afterward, which was a lot of (rainy) fun. We've also met friends at the children's museum, played outside together in some of the awesome weather we've had in recent weeks, went to Sesame Street Live, and of course, we've made a couple trips to Starbucks.
Isabella is not your "typical" three-year-old girl. She eschews dress-up, has never seen a Disney Princess movie, and her favorite color is red, as opposed to pink or purple. She prefers dinosaurs and Berenstain Bears to Barbie and Cinderella.
However, out of nowhere one day, she clomps into the room wearing my black, high-heeled boots. "I love these!" she said. "When I get bigger, can I have them?" Um, who are you and what have you done with my daughter? She's put them on several times since then, and it's hilarious every single time because it's just not something I ever would have imagined her doing.
As I mentioned a few months ago, the nap is well and truly dead. She started napping again a few weeks ago, but just one or two days a week, and not consistently. Now it's been over two weeks since she's taken one. I always put her in her room with toys, Color Wonder paper, and other quiet activities, but 30 minutes later she's calling me. I have to quickly run upstairs to get her before she wakes the twins.
I took some of your suggestions and set her up in my office with crayons and coloring books, but they do not occupy her for long because she can't seem to avoid talking to me for longer than three seconds, which I realize is a ridiculous expectation for a three-year-old. So, I am getting very little work done during nap time. I could turn on the tv for her, but I just can't bring myself to do it. This is not something I've ever done for her (turned on the tv at random times during the day, as opposed to the twice a day for 30 minutes each time that's our norm), because I feel like I would be short-changing her. I also don't want her to come to expect it, and therefore refuse to ever take a nap (yes, I am holding out hope that she will start spontaneously napping again). So, it's hard.
She is still a huge help with the twins, but she is having a very difficult time sharing her toys with them, as any kid would. They are out of Baby Jail for a fair amount of the day now, and that means they have access to her things more than they've ever had before. They are not allowed to touch her special toys, or (obviously) her toys with small parts, but other toys are now fair game, and I find myself trying to find that balance between playing referee, and allowing Isabella to have her own space and her own things. How do you mediate toy disputes with small children? Is everything (except unsafe toys) fair game for everyone?
Three-and-a-half is challenging, to be sure. It's been full of Big, Big emotion for Isabella so far. But, at the end of the day, she's a sensitive, funny, insanely verbal, imaginative little girl whose presence sometimes fills me with a sense of calm, as opposed to...well, I won't even go there.
Current Likes: Helping me in the kitchen, chapstick
Current Dislikes: Putting on her own shoes and socks, the preschool morning rush
So that's why on this blog, I let the freak flag fly. Thank you for sticking by me and not turning away in disgust each time a new post shows up in your reader.
Believe it or not, there are certain things that actually do make me happy. In fact, I devoted an entire post to one of them recently! Melissa challenged me to list 10 Things That Make Me Happy. Like she did, I'm not going to list the "givens" of kids, family, friends, etc. because obviously these would appear on the list. Maybe. I'm also not going to list running, because you already know about that one.
So, here are the things that make me happy, in no particular order:
1. Starbucks (with this aspect of the company being the exception); and specifically my drink of choice: a Grande, Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato. I've been drinking this one since high school, and other than the new (and unfortunately seasonal) Caramel Brulee Latte, there is little on this earth that makes me happier than enjoying a Caramel Macchiato in...
2. Complete Silence. In my house, someone is screaming or crying virtually every 30 seconds. It's to the point now that I don't even run into the room where the screaming is occurring because the twins scream and cry when there is absolutely nothing physically wrong 90% of the time. Even before becoming a mother, I clung to the quiet. I have always loved libraries and book stores and hated bars and big parties for exactly this reason. With silence so incredibly rare in my life right now, nothing makes me happier than the moments (and preferably hours) when I have it.
3. Eating alone, while reading the newspaper. This is a big one for me. Huge, in fact. I've been eating my lunches alone while the kids are "napping" since Isabella was born. I do not like being interrupted when I eat (are you laughing now? You should be. I have three small children and haven't eaten an uninterrupted breakfast or dinner in years). But lunch? Lunch is all mine. Between meeting the kids' various and sundry requests and demands, helping the twins eat, and wiping up messes from the table, floor, and everywhere in between, I would end up eating either standing up, or not at all. And on the weekends, I let the hubs run breakfast in the dining room, while I eat at the kitchen counter with the newspaper.
4. Traveling. Probably not even worth a mention given the title of this blog, but visiting a city or country that I've never visited before, immersing myself in the culture and experiencing a way of life wholly different than my own is something that makes me incredibly happy. This was a big part of my pre-kids life, and I miss it every day.
5. The all-too-brief moments when I enter each of my children's rooms in the morning. It is the calm before the storm (and the storm always comes) when they are happy to see me, warm and rosy-cheeked from sleep, and itching to start the day. They're not (yet) screaming or making me wish I could hand them to a neighbor and go speeding off in my car. Every single day I get them up and think that perhaps this will be the day when things will start to get easier. One of these days, it will.
6. Baths. Scalding hot, no bubbles, and a good book.
7. Watching my husband do manual labor. I know what you are thinking, and trust me, it's not that. The hubs is not handy. We are "call someone and have him/her fix it" people. And he is a "tv-and-the-couch" kind of guy. But on the rare occasion when he's fixing or installing something (and most especially when he does these things without my having to beg him to do them), it's fantastic.
8. Writing. It is my life. It is what I was always meant to do. I've been writing stories and poems since I was able to hold a pencil, and diaries and journals whose purpose as an emotional outlet probably saved my life more than once. I may not always write about my passions, but even writing about mundane topics to pay the bills excites me. Crafting perfect sentences (using proper grammar, which is essential in Kristi's Word-Nerd World) is a rush for me.
9. Thunderstorms (assuming my Internet connection stays on).
10. My cats. While they do vomit on my furniture and chase eachother around the house at 4am, they do not scream, require diaper changes, or undress themselves 13 times a day. And that makes me love them very much.
I'm supposed to tag 10 people for this, but instead, just let me know if you complete this list so I can read yours.
I did 5 miles at a time, 6 days a week. I ran 30 miles each week in rain, sleet, snow, and blazing heat, and I not only loved each and every minute of it, but I was in the best shape of my life. I set a goal to train for a half-marathon.
And then I paid a fortune for the chance to get pregnant. I quit running before beginning the hormone shots of my IVF cycle. Even though running is perfectly safe during pregnancy. Even though continuing with most exercise programs is considered healthy and even advantageous to an easier pregnancy and recovery. I quit. I would not chance a fall or an injury. I had struggled with infertility too long.
After Isabella was born, I was able to start running again after my six-week postpartum checkup. I was working full-time from home, but I still had the time to run on the treadmill during her naps and outside on the weekend when the hubs was home. I averaged about 20-25 miles a week then.
Just before I started the FET cycle that resulted in Luci and Nico, I quit running again. And once they were born and my entire universe was flipped on its ass with six months of colic, three-to-four hours of sleep a night, and freelance work that I did during the 10 minutes a day that they weren't screaming or needing to be nursed, I ran when I could. That amounted to about 10 miles a week or less. I wasn't happy.
And then it was October, and we were moving. I was in the beginning months of my online teaching gig, which when combined with my freelance projects was a lot of work squeezed into a day that really needed to be 36 hours instead of 24.
I stopped running.
I couldn't find a way to incorporate something I loved so much into my life anymore. Three kids under the age of 3.5. Freelance work. No childcare. Laundry. Meals. Sleep. And hazardous winter running conditions. Are these excuses? Maybe. But could I see a way to get my running back? At the time, no.
In January, I was complaining (shocking, I know) to rockstar runner Sasha about how I wanted to start running again and somehow find a way to train for a half-marathon. I told her about my longtime desire to join this health club (which is more like a resort and a country club than a gym, and whose membership I wouldn't be able to afford) located five minutes from my house, because they have childcare facilities and I could run there. And at her urging, I pitched them some social media work (a blog and a Facebook page) in exchange for a membership.
Guess what? They liked the idea. And gave me a family membership in exchange for my work.
The healthy lifestyle blog, which is currently being designed by Ms. Mad Design Skillz herself, Ness, goes live in less than two weeks. I hope you'll stop by and check it out (I'll post the link when the blog is ready.) I could certainly use your support to bolster interest in the blog.
And I am running again. At the club and outside (when I have someone to watch the kids). I am averaging about 18-20 miles a week now. I started out so slowly (as in, 10-minute-mile slow), but just this past week, I rocked a five-miler at a 9:20 pace. I am improving. Training starts next month.
And damn, if I don't feel ALIVE again when I'm running. It is me, the road (or the treadmill), my ancient iPod shuffle rocking this and this and this (hello lyrics of my life), and this feeling of complete and utter exhilaration. There is no screaming on my runs. No "mommy. Hey, Mommy? MOMMY!" No diapers, no demands, no drama. Suddenly, I feel like me again. It's been a long time.
On Sunday, September 12th, you'll find me running this half-marathon. My goal is sub 2hr.
Or not dying while running 13.1 miles in what can be a very hot month in my city.
That's a good goal too.
Honestly, they are fortunate their mother finds them cute (mainly when they're sleeping) because most days? That's all these two have going for them. I've said it before and I will say it most likely until the day they turn 18 and are off to college-if I was a drinker, I would be drunk Every.Single.Day. They are siphoning off my will to live on an hour-by-hour basis.
I am waiting for the day that I can say that their personalities have mellowed. That they spend the greater part of the day happily playing instead of furiously screaming. That taking them places is no longer a huge bust each and every time, because a psychotic screaming or thrashing episode has forced us to cut and run (or not to go at all). That they don't begin the day crying while I change their diapers and get them dressed in the morning, screaming while they wait for me to get their breakfast, and then napping for an hour or less in the afternoon, which means not only that I'm unable to accomplish any of my work, and must therefore stay up until midnight trying to get it all done, but also that I have no break from the constant noise and never-ending demands of my children (Isabella is no longer napping and is also no longer content to stay quietly in her room).
Parenting these two makes me wish I worked full-time outside the home. Anywhere outside the home.
And damn if this doesn't make me feel like the worst mother in the world for admitting this.
There has been some good to come of the last month. They've both had a language explosion, and Nicholas has begun to put together words. He says, "Bye-Bye Car" when we're getting ready to go somewhere. He also says, "good boy," "thank you," and "night-night." He calls Isabella "Baba," has begun making animal noises ("meow" is his favorite), and says "more" constantly at meal times.
Luci is less verbal, but has shown a definite uptick in words since last month. Her favorite is "uh-oh," but she also now says, "ball," "baby," "down," "bye-bye," and "hi," in addition to her other words. Both babies are also fans of saying, "No!" whenever possible.
Nicholas is still not as steady on his feet as Luci is, but he's getting there. He loves books, and will often bring one of his two favorites ("Where is Baby's Birthday Cake?" or "Dear Zoo") to me to read to him.
He is into everything, a stereotypical boy, and his behavior makes me realize I am going to have to do a whole lot more babyproofing for him than I did for Isabella.
I have dubbed Luci "Sybil," because her temperament can swing from sweet and docile one minute to screeching harpie the next. She walks really well, and is just beginning to run, which Isabella loves because it means they can chase each other. She is an instigator, and still loves to take her brother's binky, toys, or whatever of his she can get her hands on.
Luci has formed a tight bond with her "lovey," Bonnie, a stuffed rabbit that's been in her crib since she was an infant. She carries it around the house with her, and snuggles with it at night. She calls Bonnie her "baby."
Everyday I wake up and think that soon things must get better. I feel guilty that my feelings toward them are often less than positive, and that I would be able to deal with one high-needs baby + Isabella so much better than I'm dealing with two high needs babies + a preschooler.
I'm considering creating a tear-off calendar to count down the days until their third birthday. By that point they will have chilled the hell out, right? And if they haven't, well, I'm sure there are boarding preschools out there that would love to have them.
A few miscellaneous facts: They are mainly wearing size 12 months clothing, although Nicholas could probably fit into size 18 month shirts (but not pants) and Luci still wears some of her size 9 months pants. Nicholas has 8 teeth. Luci has 1, and it's not even fully in yet. Both are wearing size 3 Huggies, although Nicholas is just about to move to size 4.
The basics are this: Last fall, a man strangled his wife. He is a highly educated, successful academic from one of the largest colleges in the area. She was equally successful, equally well-educated, and a talented artist and environmental activist. They were a liberal, upper-class, socially aware couple. And according to myriad accounts of all who knew them, a couple very much in love, very much inseparable, and very happily married.
Everyone thought they had the perfect marriage. The murder stunned their circle of friends.
And it has me thinking about marriage and about how the public face of a couple's relationship can be so radically different from what goes on behind closed doors.
I have known several couples within my own family and among my friends whose failed marriages have stunned me. For reasons only they will ever know, they chose to present images of their relationships that would lead all who knew them to suspect nothing was wrong until one day, the marriages just ended. Of course, I am not privy to the intimate details of each and every one of my friends' and family members' relationships, nor would I want to be. But when these relationships ended, everyone who knew them (from mothers to brothers and sisters, to best friends to best men) were in shock. How could there have been no warning signs, no public disagreements, no late-night phone calls to friends or sisters or brothers to discuss a fight had, a feeling lost, a suspicion confirmed?
And then I think of my own marriage and what my family and friends would say about it. I've read that the divorce rate for parents of multiples is much higher than it is for the rest of the population. This fact surprises me not in the slightest. Our life is much more stressful, crazed, and chaotic than it was both before becoming parents and when we had only Isabella. The work is never-ending. The responsibility is soul-crushing at times, and with our work schedules (the hubs works all day, and I work on my freelance projects most of the night), we have very little time to spend together. Truth be told, we have fought more since the twins were born. A lot more.
But, I don't hide this fact from the world. Do I tell each friend I have about every fight we have? No. But do I share with my sister or my close friends that yeah, my life sucks sometimes and sometimes, the hubs and I are barely communicating because we're both either too exhausted or too stubborn or both? Yes. I have to. I'm Italian and Irish. We don't do "bottled up emotions."
So in this sense, while my inner circle is certainly not a third-party inside my marriage, the public face of our relationship is not that far off from reality.
I am curious. What would your circle of friends and family say about your marriage or long-term relationship? Would they think it rock-solid? Is the public face of your relationship accurate? Feel free to comment anonymously (even if you don't normally).
We paired down their toys this weekend, and stashed the exersaucer, walkers, and other miscellaneous items in the basement. I'm sure there are expensive fences we can buy, and a more permanent solution must come soon (are you reading this, dear?), but when I asked the hubs to come up with some way to prevent the inevitable forehead-fireplace collision, this is what he came up with: pillows. Clearly, engineering is not his strong suit.
Each and every morning, it takes them approximately 3.2 seconds to rip off every pillow from the hearth and attempt to scale the fireplace, SpiderBaby-style.
Don't even waste your breath, woman. I can't vouch for the kid to my left, but there is no stopping me. Mu-hahhahahahhahaha!
Despite her belief that she finds my parenting skills sub-par, and I find her efforts to undermine my parenting decisions maddening, my grandma is a loving, generous, and demonstrative grandparent to my children. They love her like crazy, and not just because she hides chocolate-covered animal cookies in her purse when she comes to visit, and then slips them to Isabella when she thinks I'm not looking.
Interestingly enough though, as a mother, she was a lot like me. She was the "toughie" to her husband's (my grandfather's) softie. She made the majority of the family decisions, she kept the kids in line, she demanded good manners, appropriate behavior, and respect for authority. As a grandmother and as a great-grandmother...well, you already know that story.
The entire family wracked their brains trying to come up with a gift for her 80th. Finally, my mom decided to create a photo album/scrapbook for her with the theme of "Children and Grandchildren," because, as my mom put it, "Kids and grandkids are her life."
And it's true.
My grandma lived to be a mother, then lived to be a grandmother, and now, she lives to be a great-grandmother to Isabella, Luci, and Nicholas. She married at 19, had my mom at 20, one aunt at 22, and my crazy aunt at 24. A few years after that, she had my two uncles. By the time she was 30, she had five kids. She became a grandmother for the first time (to me) when she was 46. My grandma worked a few part-time jobs when her kids were older, but nothing lasted more than a few months. Her children (my mother, my aunts, and my uncles) define my grandmother in terms of her role as their mother, and then grandmother to their children. This is a role by which my grandmother very happily defines herself.
My mother sent digital photos of the scrapbook to everyone in the family. It's a beautiful representation of my grandmother's family. Page after page of photos of her children and their accomplishments, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.
The scrapbook makes me sad.
There is no doubt in my mind that my grandma will adore this scrapbook of photos and memories. She is the first to admit that her family is her life. But where are the photos of her climbing trees and playing the drums (two of her favorite pastimes) as a teenager? Where are the memories of the many countries she visited from her 40s through her 60s, with her group of friends she calls her "Gang" - a group of couples with whom she has had a friendship for 50+ years? My grandmother has traveled to more foreign countries than I have, and has vivid memories of each visit. My mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my children are all hugely important parts of her life, but where is my grandma in this testament to her 80 years of life?
If I make it to 80, I want my scrapbook to reflect a life that isn't simply defined by my relationships with my kids (and perhaps my grandkids and great-grandkids). I want it to show my passions: writing, reading, running, and traveling. I want it to show that I rocked several half-marathons (more on this in a coming post) and perhaps even a marathon or two. I want postcards from Europe, pages from my novel or non-fiction book, and my Starbucks Gold Card. And of course, I want photos of my family too.
My grandma raised her family in a different era. Women rarely attended college. They got married right out of high school. Few went to college. Even fewer had jobs. Women raised their families. That's just what they did.
My children are a big, huge, important part of my life, but they are not the only thing that makes me who I am. Nothing terrifies me more than being swallowed alive by my kids. I realize how strange this sounds, but I fear it's happening just a little bit every single day.
My life on paper will be about me. I'll make sure of it.
Until Sunday night.
We went to the hubs' father's house for dinner. We came home, and Luci vomited. We put her to bed, and the next morning when Isabella and I opened her door...I'll spare you the details and just say that every part of her crib, her stuffed bunny (Bonnie, to Nico's Clyde), her pajamas, and Luci herself needed immediate scouring.
She bounced right back though, and by Monday night seemed just fine.
On Tuesday afternoon about 4pm, Nico went down, or rather the entire contents of his stomach did, all over the ottoman in Baby Jail. The poor boy proceeded to vomit all over me five separate times, before spending the rest of the night dry-heaving. Did I mention that I was running the show solo until after bedtime, due to the hubs' late work commitment? Oh, and did I also mention that round about 5pm, yours truly started to feel very ill herself?
I managed to make dinner for Luci and Isabella, mop up multiple piles of vomit, change Nicholas out of puked-upon pajamas so many times that he ended up sleeping in a pair of Luci's overnight because all of his were dirty, change my own shirt four times because of being the aforementioned target of Nico's stomach issues, get everyone in clean pjs, and get the twins in bed for the night before I fell victim right in the middle of reading The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby. I ran out of Isabella's room, became very familiar with the toilet bowl in the kid's bathroom, and then returned to finish bedtime.
By the time the hubs arrived home around 8pm, I was in bed, having been sick several more times. Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning showcased repeat performances, and then I spent the day in bed yesterday, while the hubs took a sick day to wrangle the Triple Threat.
I am much, much better today.
Around noon, the phone rang. The hubs was headed home from work. One more down.
If you're keeping track, that leaves, in the immortal words of Jeff Probst, One! Survivor!
The girl who spends six hours a week in a veritable petri dish of germs is the only one left unstricken.
Will she survive Volatile Stomach Virus 2010?
Only time will tell.