When Theo was a baby I checked milestones and development stuff weekly, sometimes more frequently. I wasn’t concerned, just curious about what to expect and when certain things might get easier. I’d come across suggestions like to talk to him a lot or sing songs, and I’d feel good because I was already doing those things. I felt like I was on the right track and doing my best for him.
I think some things come down to individual temperament and interests. Still, Theo has always been very verbal. As far as I can tell, he’s a bright kid. I take a little credit, even if the constant talking and singing and reading didn’t have that much to do with it.
So when I occasionally check to see what range of milestones the girls are coming up on, and I come across suggestions for boosting certain development areas, I get this two-pronged guilt. One prong is that I’m hardly ever able to sit and read or talk while making eye contact or go to story time, and I feel like I should be, and the other prong is that I did all those things with Theo and they seemed to work so what happens when I’m not doing them? What does it mean?
As soon as I think about all this kind of stuff, how I’m raising all my kids, I can’t help but resent a little bit that the girls are twins. Sometimes I get to play with one baby at a time, and I realize it’s the first time I’ve been fully present with her in an entire day. Or I let one baby hang out with Josh for a few hours, and I don’t feel that I’m really apart from her because I’m still with the other baby, distracted, still giving myself to someone, and then the other baby reacts to seeing me, finally, and I realize she’s been missing me. And I wonder, what if, over time, I spend significantly more hours with one than the other? What am I shaping in Emerson every time I say, “I’ll take Caroline.” Emerson is the “easier” baby, so she will go to others more often. Am I relying on that to her detriment? Does she need her mother but she just hasn’t learned to scream for me?
It’s not just every day. It’s multiple times a day that I realize I am doing things so differently this time. And yes, I have to do things differently. Yes, they are loved and healthy. But I still have this list of Things I’m Not Doing. Reading books. Singing songs. Playing interactive games on the floor with them. Letting them explore a variety of foods. Narrating my actions and naming items. Making up silly games.
What I’m doing, most of the time, is holding one while entertaining the other, or nursing one while giving a pacifier to the other, wearing one and pushing one in the shopping cart. Engaging one, not-engaging one. Or I’m trying to change one’s diaper while the other is eating paper. Or I’m just trying to get off the floor, but as soon as I set one down, the other pulls up on me, so I set that one further away and the first one is back, and the only way I can get up is to let them fall over as I stand, or else I choose one of them to pick up, thus also not-choosing the other.
There is a specific kind of fatigue with my daily life. It’s a type of decision fatigue, I guess. Or the fatigue of always being behind while always planning ahead. There is the usual slog of general baby care: changing diapers, dressing them, feeding and bathing. But with twins, there is just more of everything, and every little chore is interrupted. I almost always change one squirmy baby’s diaper while the other is climbing into my lap. If one wants to nurse, the other must nurse, but when they nurse together, they pull each other’s hair, kick, try to claim both sides at once for themselves. When they play together, they want the same toy. To take them anywhere, I have to wear a baby and carry one just to get them to the car because I can’t get the first baby into a car seat with the other in my arms; if I leave one inside, she cries, then when I come back in for her, the one in the car gets going. Feeding table foods at the same time leads to dual screaming and two messy babies who both need baths. Bathing at the same time, now that they are standing, requires two adults because they no longer sit still, safe. (And none of this figures in a brother who doesn’t want to share toys, who sometimes hits them or knocks them over so I become afraid to let them all be within arm’s reach for any length of time, a brother who barges into the bathroom to toss toys into the bath water and needs to take a bath too RIGHT NOW!!!, who has his own needs and challenges and usually needs things and challenges me when I’m in the middle of cleaning something disgusting or holding a naked baby who might poop at any moment.) At the minimum, I have to decide, all day it seems, what they’ll wear, what they’ll eat, whether and when they’ll get a bath, when to get them to take another nap by figuring out some perfect mid-point between when Em needs to sleep and when Caroline does because they woke up at different times. It’s all so much more complicated than just Taking Care of Them. It’s a game I never come close to winning.
And these are just the basics. They don’t even include the language building and development boosting activities I regret I’m not really doing. Because the hours and minutes, as much as I try to plan them out, are unpredictable. They were unpredictable with one baby, but with three kids in the mix (and a dog whose behavior worsens in correlation to the chaos in our house), I don’t bother anymore to plan activities that might enrich my children’s lives because I can’t count on going two minutes without an interruption. We are just surviving around here. And while most people will say to let the house work go a little — because this is always one of the first suggestions for handling tumultuous baby-related times, like the real struggle of parenting is just cleaning — I’m sure they don’t mean to have dirty dishes on every inch of counter space all the time, or to rely on the dog to have “clean” floors, or to have a designated Clean Laundry Couch where the clean clothes sit, unfolded, and you take the clothes as you need them until they go back into the Dirty Laundry Pile by the door.
I just want to feel like I’m doing more than the bare minimum. I’m not even sure that I’m doing the minimum at all. I knew from the beginning that being a mom of more than one kid, and especially being a mom of multiples, would be very difficult. I knew I had to accept that some things wouldn’t be a priority this time, some things would be different. But I hoped, still, naively, that I would be some mythical rock star mother whose powers grew with chaos.
Others see me that way, I think. It is flattering. I don’t want to dismiss the ways people have encouraged me and acknowledged my little victories. I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like the bar is set lower for me in some areas because it is set higher in others, so something like taking all my kids shopping is praised as a big deal while things like pouring a handful of Cheerios directly onto the play mat for breakfast are overlooked without comment. Maybe that’s realistic. Maybe I need to embrace it and trust that my kids will be decent humans no matter how many books we read or if I narrate to them, “Mommy is changing your diaper. Your diaper is white. Let’s get a nice new clean diaper on, and then we will put on an orange shirt!”
I want to fight the do all, be all, perfectionist mother who cringes inside me all day every day, is what I’m saying. She’s there, and she might always be there, but I’m working on tuning her out.