Lost

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I yelled. I never yell. Or, I used to never yell. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like to be out of control of myself. But today I yelled at my three-year-old son because he was being too rough with one of the twins, who are almost eight months old. First, I raised my voice to stop him, but that only hurried him up, made him rush to get a hit in. Then, I made myself huge — all excess — and I bellowed down at Theo like my voice was a bear, like I was going to eat him whole. I left my husband to deal with him and the baby he’d knocked over, and I took the baby I was already holding and locked myself in my room for over an hour.

Later, I apologized, and Theo brushed me off in his usual unaffected way. “Wanna play race cars with me?” he asked, as if I’d apologized for spilling some juice.

Throughout the day, there were skirmishes. Josh and I both reminded him again and again, “Please give the baby some space.” He is usually very gentle with them. His little baby sisters are the only entities he regularly expresses his love for, the only ones he regularly hugs and kisses. They are his babies. So when he is too rough, I know something is stirring in him, something wild that he wants just as much as I want to be able to control. He doesn’t want to hurt them. He wants to love them. And yet, when we give a gentle reminder, sometimes, his body betrays him. He is too rough. Mom yells. Days like these are fraught with tension. We are all apprehensive about what may happen next.

*

On Christmas Eve, Josh took Theo to Target to pick out gifts for me. Usually I’m the one who does the shopping. This was the first year we encouraged him to choose gifts for his sisters, for us. He was proud of this responsibility.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly which aisle he wandered from. I don’t know exactly how crowded and frenetic it was with all the other last-minute shoppers. I know that they got separated. A code yellow was called. Josh was to supposed to wait, and they would bring Theo to customer service, but he knew Theo would refuse to go with anyone from wherever he was. Josh went to him. He was surrounded by mothers, and he was crying.

They told me the story when they returned home that night. Theo didn’t appear to be upset. I played it cool. They weren’t in apparent distress, and I didn’t want to overreact. I didn’t want to make Josh feel bad that it had happened on his watch. I didn’t want Theo to be scared by me making it into a scary thing. So I said something like, “Oh, you guys got split up? But then Dad came and found you?”

The whole time we were talking, Theo was down on the floor, hugging his baby sister, Caroline.

*

In the couple weeks following his code yellow, Theo’s favorite book has been Little Owl Lost, a story about a baby owl that falls out of its nest and goes looking for its mother.

Lately, when I’m in another room and I don’t come quickly when he calls for me, he will come to get me, declaring with emotion, “I was lost!”

And he’s been playing out separation with his toys. There is usually a mommy and babies, and they need to find each other. I took him shopping for baby clothes, and he found a package of bath duckies, four small ones. He followed me around the store for twenty minutes, repeating the same story. “We are going to buy these baby ducks and take them home. Their mommy is there. She will be so happy to have them home with her.”

All this business of separation and being lost has done a real number on me. Our transition from a family of three to a family of five has been bumpy. We have drastically changed how much we are available to Theo. We are tired a lot and cranky. There are almost always babies crying, babies to feed, babies pulling us from him. The guilt of this has brought me to tears plenty of times. And for months now we have been trying to decide whether he should start preschool.

“I don’t want to just send him off,” I always say.

As for Theo, when we began to try to sell him on the idea — new friends! toys! your own special place to play and learn! — his immediate concern was, “And Mom can come, too?” Every time we bring it up, he asks this same question. “I only want to go to school with Mom.”

Then there’s the new sleeping arrangement. He coslept with me until my twin pregnancy. Then he moved to his own bed in his own room with Josh lying with him until he fell asleep. But when our help moved away after the babies were born, we didn’t know how to do any kind of bedtime routine with him. If he refused, we couldn’t do much because we had two babies that cried all evening and only slept in our arms.   The pallet on the floor of our room — his nest — was supposed to be temporary. Six months later, his room is a storage area for clothes and a place to race cars. We moved his bed in with us. Even so, he crawls into our bed to get as close to us as possible.

I haven’t been able to discern whether all these ways I’ve tried to preserve our attachment has helped or just made things harder. I won’t force him to sleep in his room. I won’t force him to start school. I want him to know I’m close, I’m here, I’m still his safe place, even when the babies spread me very thin.

*

Today I yelled. I apologized for it. Nothing ground-breaking happened because of it, and I thought, Does he even care? Does he even have these sensitive feelings I’m always trying to protect? Does it even faze him when I get upset, when I lose control like that?

Bed time was a struggle. I was getting the girls to sleep, and I could hear Josh and Theo across the hall. Josh’s voice deliberately calm, deliberately patient. A diaper change and teeth brushed. That was all they needed to do. But Theo wanted to play. He was ignoring him, laughing, evading his reach. Josh got him ready somehow, and I asked, “What’s his deal?”

“I don’t know. He wants to play for a few more minutes before bed.”

He’s been doing this lately, playing for about five minutes alone, then turning off his light, shutting his door, and climbing into his bed in our room, no fuss.

But I remembered my apology earlier, how I couldn’t even be sure Theo had been listening to me. “I’m gonna talk to him. After I yelled at him… Maybe that’s why he can’t settle down.”

I opened the door and stepped in. “Hey, buddy. What are you up to?”

“Playing. Wanna play with me?”

“I do. I also want to talk to you for a minute.” He was kneeling and facing the wall, driving his cars around.

I sat behind him. “Have you had a good day?”

“Yeah,” he said. Then he added, “I made bad choices today.”

“Well, you made some bad choices. You made good choices, too.”

“I made bad choices like hitting and kicking.”

“Yes. What are some of the good choices you made today?”

“I gave hugs and kisses.”

“You did. I remember you doing that.”

He looked back at me, and I hugged him. He took my hands and gathered them over his chest. “I’m putting my good choices in my balloon.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said.

He pulled my hands apart, then brought them back to his chest. “I’m putting them in my heart balloon. When they’re in there, you can hear them.”

“You can hear your good choices when your heart beats?” I said.

“Yep. You can feel them, too, and when I put them in there, it gets bigger and feels good.”

I hugged him tighter. “I like that.”

At this point, I was ready to call the day a win because I thought it was such a sweet, beautiful metaphor. But my three-year-old turned around and looked at me, and he asked, “Did you see us in the heart balloon?” He made a face like he’d messed up and corrected himself, “In the heart hot balloon?”

“A hot-air balloon? A heart-shaped hot-air balloon?”

He nodded. “We were flying in it. And then we came back home to Dad and Mom.” He made another face. “I was flying in it, and I came home to you and Dad.”

“Oh. Were you on an adventure? But then you came back home?”

“Yeah.” He pressed his lips together, and his chin dimpled. This wasn’t a fun adventure story. It was turning into something else.

“Where did you go in your heart hot-air balloon?”

“I floated way up high in the sky. But then I came down, and I was stuck in the mud.”

“Oh, that must not have been good.”

“I was stuck,” he said, and his chin trembled.

“You were trying to come home, but you got stuck in the mud? Were you able to get out?”

“A tow truck came and got me out.”

“Oh, good. And then you came home to Mom and Dad?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t have wheels, so I couldn’t roll home. I had to fly.” His eyes shined with tears, and he pressed his lips together again.

“It sounds like it was kind of lonely when you got stuck. Like you were a bit sad, and you needed help to get home.”

He nodded, and when he blinked, a tear spilled down his cheek. I pulled him into me. He said something that I couldn’t understand. He repeated it twice, and I had to pull away to ask him to say it again. “I want some orange juice,” he said meekly, trying to control his tears. At some point, someone must have offered him a drink of water to help him calm down, probably back when my mom was living with us during my pregnancy and the girls’ first several weeks. Now when he gets hurt, he asks for a drink and stops crying almost immediately. It’s his way of coping, I guess. Although I’ve wondered if it’s the right move to give him a drink, it has always felt cruel not to, when he is trying to take care of himself. He has not wanted us to touch him during the height of his upsets; only after he has soothed himself can we offer a hug. But I didn’t want him to shut off his feelings so fast. I told him I’d get him a drink in a minute.

“When I yelled at you today, that scared you and made you feel sad, didn’t it?”

“When I got stuck in the mud.”

“When I yelled, that’s when you were stuck in the mud?” At this point, I was crying, too.

He nodded. “But then I got out, and I floated home in my heart hot balloon to you.”

“Well,” I said, “I am so, so glad that you came home to me. I’m sorry that I made you get stuck, and that you were lonely. I will try very hard not to get you stuck in the mud like that, and to help you out if you do get stuck. I sure love you so much.”

He hugged me. “I sure love you so much, too.”

I got him some juice.

We moved the extra box spring and mattress from his unused room and made a “bed tower” by placing his floor mattress on top. Now his bed is up high at almost the same level as ours. I don’t know if it will keep him from crawling into our bed or not, but he was so happy. He was so relieved. “I’m so glad to have a big bed up high next to your big bed!” he said. He crawled in and pulled up his blanket, pressed the hem tightly over his chest. “I’m so glad to have a tower bed. I think it will be so good to sleep here in my big bed.”

He gave us hugs. He told us he loved us. He went right to sleep.

Today, I yelled, and I thought it was one of those bad days that you just try to sleep off. I thought I was going to have to start over tomorrow, fresh, and try not to bring today’s baggage over with me. I almost didn’t bother to go talk to my son. In fact, in a really bad moment today, I told Josh, “I’m done being his mom today.”

Thank goodness I was not done. Thank goodness he was ready to talk when I was ready to come in and listen. He was lost. Maybe I was also lost. The point is we didn’t stop looking looking for each other.

Don’t Just Wait It Out

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It gets easier at two months.

It really gets easier at six months.

The first year is hard, but then it gets better.

Two years with twins.

Y’all, things are rough when you have babies and/or small children. And the best forms of encouragement most people can offer boil down to, “Wait it out.” Sometimes, though, getting through one more minute feels like climbing a mountain, let alone surviving Wonder Weeks, teething, separation anxiety… Sometimes, you need to feel like you can DO something.

I am really bad at deciding to do something that might help because I’m afraid doing something will make things worse.

I have become afraid to stay at home with all three of my children. I feel stuck at home. The kids are more likely to all end up screaming. But to go anywhere, I have to get all three fed, changed, dressed, buckled into car seats, and then I have to drive while the babies scream. If you’ve never had a car seat screamer, you really can’t understand how stressful it is to drive with two babies crying full tilt. So, I’m afraid to stay home, and I’m afraid to drive, and I don’t live in the kind of place where walking anywhere is a viable option.

I’m so sick of ending my day with a list of Things That Sucked. And sure, part of that is about mental discipline. Feed what you want to grow, or whatever. Practice gratitude. But some days, it really does feel like many things are just harder than could ever be necessary. And while I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt in my “normal” life — you know, in that life where I sometimes get enough sleep — lately, when someone makes my day a little harder, I find my internal voice shrieking, “WTF! Don’t you know I have twins and I can’t take this right now?” Like some version of a famous person expecting special treatment: “Do you know who I am?” Although, to be fair, when my twins are with me, I can’t go anywhere without people stopping me, so maybe some extra kindness should be part of the deal.

Today, I got fifty minutes to leave the house alone, so I went to Starbucks to write and listen to music and not be bothered. They forgot to make my drink. This was my first blip of real Me Time in two months, and they just forgot I existed. Then when I raced out the door to make it home when I said I would, someone parked their truck behind me and went inside. While I was standing there, obviously getting in my car. There was a passenger, so I said, “Could you move the truck so I can leave?” “Not my truck,” he said.

It feels bigger than it should. If I didn’t feel ready to scream several times a day, if I felt like I had control over simple things like getting my family from one place to another without someone crying, I know these minor inconveniences would be just that — minor. But when it feels like everything I have to do in a day, from changing diapers to buying groceries, involves unwanted detours and obstacles and so much noise, every minor thing becomes a major thing. There are more balanced, more mindful people who handle this better than I do, and probably some amount of intentional personal growth could make me more of that kind of person, but can I just scream at the world today that life isn’t fair? Can I get that off my chest? Because I am living, day to day, under the kind of conditions where a person cutting me off makes me want, just for a second, to run them off the road while screaming, “How DARE you! Don’t you know I have TWINS!”

Have you heard the advice to let your house go a little when you have a baby? You don’t really need to vacuum. The laundry can wait. Don’t get your panties in a twist over the dishes in the sink, Miss Type A Control Freak. Sheesh. Bond with your baby. Reeeelaaaax.

Well, let me tell you a little story about dirty dishes. If you don’t wash them today, they don’t disappear. If you don’t wash them tomorrow, they get buried under another day’s worth of dishes. That keeps happening every day that you put the dirty dishes on the back burner. And then there will literally be dishes on the back burners of your stove because the entire sink and all your counter space are full of dirty dishes. This really only takes a few days. And then, you know what you have to do? You have to find the time and energy to clean every dish you own because otherwise you won’t have a plate and a fork for the one small, dependable joy in your life, which is your breakfast of frozen waffles.

I don’t know what people should say instead of what they say. But I do know that Let The House Go probably doesn’t still apply at six and a half months and maybe never did. Because while you’re letting it all pile up, the baby isn’t going to develop so quickly in all the important areas that you will be more rested when you have to finally face the mess. (This is assuming you’re a Normal who doesn’t have a team of hired help to handle it.) At this point, somehow, I should be back to managing things again. And if that’s not the expectation, if it’s still normal to feel like I am surviving each day, barely sometimes, then how are there people exercising off their baby weight and blow-drying their hair and scrambling their eggs? Am I doing it wrong, or am I just complaining more about it? I don’t know.

Yesterday, I was standing outside with two friends while our kids ran around after their gym class. I was wearing the babies in a way that, in order to nurse, I had to take them both out of the carrier. I had to juggle them around a bit and hold them while nursing because the ground was too cold to lay one down. Both women said, “Let me hold one while you nurse.” My immediate response was, “Oh, I can manage.” But then I realized, I don’t have to manage. One held a baby, then the other held one. They helped me pack up all my stuff — snacks, water, blanket, etc, etc — while they both got their own small-child-and-baby cohort ready to leave. They even offered to help me get the babies to my car. It wasn’t because I have it any harder than they do. It wasn’t because they felt sorry for me. And there were no strings attached or judgment or the expectation of my gratitude. They just saw that there could be an easier way for me, and they jumped right in.

I want to look at my day and see those things bigger and brighter than everything else. The Things That Rocked. And I want to be less pre-occupied with the feeling that I’ve got fires burning all around me and I’m responsible for extinguishing them. Maybe it does take time to feel settled for longer than a couple days, I don’t know. But at some point, it would be really great to look past my babies in my arms, my kid at my feet, and see where I can make things a little easier for someone else.

In the here and now? I’m looking at what choices might simplify my world a bit. Maybe there are options that are harder before they are easier, and maybe that’s why I’ve been afraid to do them. But it’s time to stop waiting for some magical milestone where the babies sleep great and the kid can read and the dog can walk herself. It’s time to find where I have choices and make some.

Still

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By all accounts, I had an incredibly lucky/fortunate birth experience with my twins. I’m grateful that it was a vaginal birth because that’s what made me feel safest. With both babies presenting breech, and the first coming out that way, I know that I had choices lots of birthing people don’t have because I had a doctor who was on board and lots of other people on board. Four months later, I think about that nearly every day and am grateful.

I do wish they’d come even half a week later, though. I had them at 35 weeks, 3 days. My minimum goal was 36 weeks. My ideal goal was 38. I hoped for no NICU time. I didn’t want mine to be among the half of twin pregnancies that go into labor before 36 weeks, a statistic.

But they came when they came. They went to the NICU for only 4 and 8 days. Their health was never really in question. We were assured often that it was just for monitoring, that the 5-day watch on Emerson for bradys was to be on the safe side but likely she’d be fine. She was fine. She waited in there for those last 5 days, and of course if she’d had another brady, maybe we would have felt like she needed to be there, but because she didn’t, it felt instead like they were keeping her hostage, being too conservative. Her NICU stay began with them saying she would likely only need to transition there for 6 hours. Every day, we thought she might come home until day 5.

I don’t know what I’m trying to get at exactly. Look. I saw the other babies there. One had been there like 6 months. Some babies were on feeding tubes and cpaps, and their parents weren’t supposed to touch them too much because they would get overstimulated. From the start, our girls were in open isolettes. Caroline’s cpap was more of a boost for her – she was breathing okay on her own – and it came off on day 2. Of course there were way worse situations going on with most of the other babies there, so it felt wrong to be too upset at the time, and it still feels wrong to feel too sad about it now.

But.

When I left the hospital with their untouched baby bag, and the woman being wheeled out to the pickup line next to me had her baby

When Caroline came home but Emerson didn’t and I chose to stay home for one day because I’d only pumped so much milk and it needed to go to Em and Caroline needed to be fed every 3 hours

When it took over 6 hours after their birth to get a breast pump because it was the weekend and I had to split what little I got between the girls and I didn’t know you could use a dropper to get the drops of colostrum out instead of them mixing it in formula that the girls didn’t finish, and I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to see my babies for more than those 6 hours or be told I couldn’t hold Caroline and couldn’t breastfeed either of them

When I see photos of other moms, especially of twins, holding both their babies together, or I see their sweet babies swaddled together in one bassinet, in the hospital

I was/am hit with regret and sadness.

I know it could have been worse. I know that what has happened and will happen after their NICU stay matters more, shapes them more in the long run, than the hours I didn’t get to hold them, the formula I wish had been breastmilk, the strangers who touched them when I couldn’t, the baths I’d intended to postpone, the plans that changed. I know that. And I’m grateful that the NICU nurses took good care of them. I’m grateful even when I’m not convinced they should have stayed so long. I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I was just a mom who wanted to have her babies home.

I wanted a picture of my babies in my arms in my recovery room.

I wanted the double baby bassinet.

I wanted to dress them in the little coordinating sleepers that I literally had to have shipped three times because of order mix-ups.

These are small things to accept about the whole experience when I take in the bigger picture.

Still.

Sometimes, I want those first days back.

 

Just an Idea

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The babies were crying. The dog was barking. My son had just smacked me across the back with a snapped off, quarter-inch thick tree branch from the yard. My husband was unreachable. I cried. I held the babies, all three of us crying, and walked aimlessly around strewn toys in the living room, trying to come up with a plan, or just the first step of a plan. And the best I could think to do was walk out to my front yard and wait and hope a neighbor would hear or see me and come help. Nobody did.

After a few minutes, I took the babies to the back yard instead. They calmed down, but soon mosquitoes drove us back inside. I changed their diapers. I put on a smile and did wild jazz hands and sang cheerfully to keep them from falling apart again. Eventually my husband came home.

This is what having twins and a three-year-old has been like for me. Not always, of course. But often enough, I am out of energy, out of ideas, and out of my mind. When I took the babies to the front yard, I thought someone would happen to be out watering their lawn and, without commenting on my emotional state, say, “Oh, what beautiful babies. Could I hold one?” Soon after I walked out there, though, I saw myself from a different perspective. I realized how ridiculous I looked. No one was going to help me. They were going stare curiously from their window, wondering what on earth I was doing and why I wasn’t containing the screaming voices to my own home. Or I don’t know. That’s what I would have done.

I’ve said this before, but it feels more urgent than ever: there should be parenting centers within a reasonable drive where people with babies and young kids can go in their desperate moments. At these centers, there should be a staff who can calm an anxious parent, offer arms for a colicky or stressed baby, or simply be a presence exuding solidarity, support, and safety. There could be free or affordable classes on parenting. There could be consultants on sleep, breastfeeding, and nutrition. There could be groups for people struggling with postnatal mood issues and more. But the important thing is that it would be a safe place to go, an answer, the first step of a plan.

I realize this is a pipe dream. We don’t care nearly enough about the practical needs of mothers and families, especially those for whom hiring help is a hardship. We expect people to manage on their own. It’s hard to find a sense of community among parents of young children because we are less connected in general, and we don’t feel responsible for other people’s kids. We feel judged. We worry when our babies cry or our toddlers scream at Target. Or I do anyway. So I wouldn’t expect to actually see these kinds of centers pop up, and certainly not ones that are funded and, therefore, accessible to people who need them.

But wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t it be a shining hope in the darkest day? How many people would grip their steering wheels to the sound of a screaming baby, knowing they just had to get there, instead of the walls closing in at their home, their bodies trembling from feeling out of control? Maybe a caregiver would not shake or hit a baby. Maybe a parent’s anxiety or depression would be caught sooner and alleviated.

In Houston, there is a place called The Motherhood Center. I came across it while pregnant and again recently as I searched for a postpartum support group. It’s a center where one can find sleep trainers and doulas, take a newborn or breastfeeding class, get a massage, and do mommy and baby yoga. It’s the only place I’ve stumbled upon that sounds sort of like what I’ve imagined. But there’s a price for the services there. It is self-described as a “mommy country club” located in River Oaks, a famously wealthy part of the city. You can buy gift packages for services in the range of $350. To me, it feels like a spa, like a lovely luxury. Find your lactation consultant the same place where you do Pilates and get a deep-tissue massage.  So I guess there are places where parents can find resources, but if you can afford a mommy country club, you probably have the means to hire help, to pay for classes, to have a plan B. I’m not trashing this place. I’d love to be able to go there. But it’s not the kind of accessible resource I’m talking about. As far as I know, that place doesn’t exist.

Am I only person who sees the need for this kind of thing? I mean, we still need support for families in the form of stronger maternity and paternity leave, better rights in workplaces for women who need to pump, affordable and regulated child care… I just wish this kind of place existed. Because instead of standing helplessly on my driveway crying, and then going back inside feeling lost and just trying to wait it out until my husband came home, I’d have gone there, and I think it would have helped.