When I Had Two

October 28, 2010 at 10:11 pm (Family, Parenthood)

We can all look back upon the days when we had our first child(ren) and see how our ideals/methods/activities have changed.  As expectant parents, we develop fairy tale stories of parenting.  As we have more children we grow the family and our parenting skills.  We choose some fairy tale scenarios to concentrate on and abandon others.  Some tales we still long for, when they don’t come true despite our best efforts.  Our lives change profoundly in the process.

I never had just one child, but changes have certainly occurred since I had two.

When I had (just!) two children:

  • bathing a child was not a noteworthy event.
  • pictures of each child hung on the walls.
  • children left the house fully dressed and matching.
  • I had no gray hairs.
  • I worked full time.
  • I weighed as much as 55 pounds less.
  • toys were regularly picked up and shelved in bins labeled with pictures of the contents.  (Now toys are picked up to vacuum occasionally, by throwing any and all into whatever giant tub I can find.)
  • the children ate apple carrot cakes made without sugar on their first birthday.
  • I sang each child to sleep each night.
  • I never ever let a child cry without picking him up, even for five seconds.
  • laundry was washed, dried, folded, and put away all on the same day.

As one has more children, parenting is distilled into what one decides are the most important facets.

Now I have four children, and still:

  • every child is greeted each morning and goes to bed each night with a giant hug.  As many as possible are squeezed into the time in between.
  • many many books are read to each child (and I’ve just begun to be read to!).
  • I usually cook nutritious meals at home, and bake healthy(er) yummies often.
  • I do my very best to attend to each child’s needs, whether it be play or problem-solving or cuddles or a snack; they just might have to wait until I finish putting the laundry into the washer.  I no longer think I have to drop everything the moment a child peeps up.
  • playing and art messes are encouraged.  Helping clean up the messes is also strongly encouraged.
  • each child’s individual interests are fostered in the conversations we have, the books we read, the events we attend, the home activities we choose.  Hence, I’ve gone to Dinosaur Night at the Burke, outings involve seeking grasshoppers for Harry the Tarantula (I know, yuck), regularly mix together food coloring, baking soda and vinegar (“chemistry”), and read more monkey books than I’d care to.  I wonder what we’ll be doing in a few years with Willa!
  • all four children are respected and loved for their differences in making up this family of ours.
  • I haven’t learned to sit down to nurse a baby with a rag to catch the inevitable spit-up.

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October 20, 2010 at 4:20 am (MJ, Parenthood)

A few unrelated notes from our weekend:

On Mrs. G’s suggestion that Sun Chips are good for keeping a marriage alive, Friday night I came home with a bag.  I showed him the post, too.

“Look, we can see if our [compost] worms will eat the [100% compostable!] bag”, I said. 

Our compost worms?  They don’t even know who you are,” replied Mark.  This being a thinly veiled dig (ha) at me for not helping once in the garden this year. 

“True, I don’t bury our compost,” I admitted.  “Perhaps I was too busy paying the bills”.  Zing!  The last time Mark paid a bill was a few months before he moved in together with me.  Meaning his finances were one of the first of his messes I cleaned up.  (Don’t misunderstand, he’s cleaned up plenty of mine.)  Not his strong suit, money management.

“Friendly” banter ensued about who does what around here.  An interesting consideration, really, how much we should leave as only one party’s responsibility.  In the corporate world I worked in, we had a back-up for every task.  Mark and I probably overlap more on what we’re capable of than many couples.  I do more around the house now, but Mark is quite capable of all things domestic, and chips in when he notices something piling up.  Our biggest exclusive jobs are all things outside (him) and all things money-related (me).  These have held true whichever one of us held an outside job, or when both of us did.  I maintain that if I died he would be more screwed than I would be if he died.  Beyond the obvious emotional upset, of course.  It would be a long time before lack of pruning caused serious ills to the family, but lack of paying the water bill is a different story.

On one level it seems like having a few chores that are exclusively one partner or the other’s would work out.  A hundred years ago most chores were assigned by sex.  But it seems that in this marriage, we both could use a little help.  (Or perhaps we are both just oh so slightly overwhelmed at times by the work that four children and a house entails.)  My husband’s solution: “If we could just get the worms to pay the bills…”


Watching Parker make it up a long (0.6 mile) steep hill on his bike filled me with pride.  At his perseverance and at his athleticism.  Watching Parker go down the same hill filled me with fear.  At one point, going at a tremendous speed, he caught serious air, as the kids used to say, from the dip of a driveway.  He has always been good at knowing the limits of his body, and he was fine, but whew!  There is no doubt he is a big kid now.


Friday morning I took one look in the fridge and realized something needed to be done.  Mark had brought in from the garden-I-never-visit a cup containing tiny tomatoes and tiny green peppers on many successive days.  Having also quite the crop of corn in which only half the kernels matured, I decided chili was in order.  Out came a few varieties of dried beans to soak.  Greta and I spent a good while chopping, her taking off stems and taking the role of QC (Quality Control) by selecting those to donate to the worms.  Saturday morning I began boiling the beans.  A little behind schedule, sometime late Saturday afternoon I added the vegetables.  Said good-bye to Mark who was off to perform the good duties of library book returner and baseball game watcher.  Added some spice, tinkered around the house.  Told the older three kids they could make forts with not one, but two couches worth of cushions.  I was feeling generous.  Apparently we are a lazing family because I’ve just counted them up to 19 cushions!  19!  Enough for three children, yes?  “But you need to work out any troubles with sharing the cushions yourselves.  If things end up with screaming or hitting you’re done with them.  Do you understand?”  Happiness ensued for a time.  Another piece of background here is that I have a cold, and a baby with a cold and a growth spurt, and I really hadn’t slept well in a number of days.

A small disagreement over the footprint for each child’s house broke out.  I swooped in and went through the drill that always goes something like this: “Greta’s screaming because she wants a place, right?  Can you find her a place?”  “That’s your place?  OK, Greta, how about if I help you make a nice little spot here?”  “Oh, Parker, you like this spot I made better?  Well, I made it for Greta.  Greta, you still want your brother’s old spot?  OK, problem solved.”  You will notice, I did not enforce my initial condition for playing with cushions.  Mistake.  As there was not too much screaming, I let it slide.  Then five minutes later, I played referee and let it slide again.  Really, it’s hard do anything sometimes without making Greta scream.  Make her breakfast, for instance.

I smelled burning.  To get the veggies cooking, I’d turned up the chili just a smidge higher than I usually would’ve.  Two days worth of work and all the remaining bounty from the garden, all inflicted with the taste of the beans that were seriously scorched at the bottom.  I was mad.  I wanted to cry.  I was hungry.  My four children started screaming, some about unfair couch cushion portions, some in need for milk.  I wanted to scream myself.  What to do, what to do?  Have to make this better…? 

Cookies, I thought!  (I am nothing if not an emotional eater.)  There’s cookies in the car!  I grabbed the car keys, the smallest child, and headed out past the Cushion Wars unnoticed.  Plunked in the passenger seat with my sleeve of cookies, whatever hormone that is that comes with nursing (Oxytocin, maybe?), a cuddable baby, and the commiseration that is Facebook, things got better.  About halfway through my sleeve of cookies and five minutes into this break, I spied my three children, dressed for outside play, exit the front door and head around through the backyard gate, looking like they were on a mission.  Nice, I thought.  They decided to get some fresh air.  They aren’t fighting anymore.  No hurry to get inside.  Though they aren’t supposed to go into the front without a parent knowing, they did go straight to the backyard. 

Another five minutes, the remaining half sleeve of cookies, a few more deep breaths for me, a burp for the baby, and I headed back in. 

“Mooooom, where WERE you?” Auden cried.  Oh no, they were worried about me.  Crap!  “We looked all over for you, even outside!”  Oh, that’s what their mission was.  Much assurance that Mama would never leave them followed.  And hugs.  Have I mentioned that I love my Auden boy?  Mr. Responsiblity and Mr. Sensitive.  (Not that I’d label my children, right?)  He had the phone, and a scrap of paper that he’d written my sister’s phone number on that he keeps in his wallet.  He also keeps his dad’s business card with all his numbers in his safe.  Yes, he’s six, and he requested a safe (it’s his own padlocked drawer in a file cabinet).  To my knowledge, he’s never actually dialed the phone without parental help though.  But good thinking.  Appropriate to call your (local) aunt and say, “Auntie Al-Gal, I can’t find my mom!”  We had a good talk about different emergencies and what to do.  When you’d call your aunt, when you’d call 911.  I don’t think I caused any lasting worries.  But I won’t be leaving them, even just to hide in the car, without telling them, again.  And Mark came home with pizza.

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Olly olly oxen free

October 13, 2010 at 6:18 am (Parenthood) ()

October 11th is* National Coming Out Day.  I have to admit it’s an occasion I’ve never marked on my calendar before.  This year it’s getting more attention (at least according to my Facebook page) due to the publicity of Rutger University’s Tyler Clementi’s untimely passing.  All the attention has got me thinking, too.

Acceptance of LGBT persons is honestly something I haven’t considered much recently.  I socialize with people who express no discriminatory thoughts, or at least don’t dare express them in front of me.  But I also don’t have any friends that we see regularly who are (openly) gay, so I don’t have much regular second-hand knowledge about what it’s like these days.  In some respects, I feel like I’m overstepping my bounds writing a blog post about it.  But on the other hand, another message advocating R-E-S-P-E-C-T can’t be a bad thing, right?

My first friendships with anybody gay began, oddly enough, in East Africa.  Most of Africa remains an extremely homophobic place.  But amongst the group of twenty or so American college students that I went with to study at the University of Dar es Salaam, being gay, questioning whether you might be gay, and beginning to come out were much discussed.  Discussed and discussed and discussed, in the way that college students, who stay up late nights and have little else to do, can.  A few were amidst the beginning of their Coming Out Journeys, for a few it was college experimentation in a straight person,  and the others were along for the ride.

When I returned I brought up the subject often.  Enough that the people around me probably got tired of hearing about the gay majority in a small community of Hall Seven at UDSM.  But it did have at least one positive effect.  I was honored when a housemate picked me to be the first person she came out to.  I’m happy to report she’s now happily married to the woman she had just met back then, and she’s pregnant with their third child. 

For my part in spreading acceptance on National Coming Out Day, I decided on the spur of the moment to bring it up with one of my six year olds.  I’m not sure how I haven’t explained what gay means to them before.  I guess who a person dates and marries hasn’t come up too much, period.  Where babies come from, that subject has been questioned and read about and talked about ad infinitum.  But not attraction and falling in love.

It’s a completely anticlimactic story.  Casually I ask Twin 2 while setting the breakfast cereal bowls out, “Have you heard of the word ‘gay’?” 

Twin 2: “Uh, no, I don’t think so.  Say it again.”

Me: “Gay.  Have you ever noticed that sometimes instead of a man and a woman being a couple there can be couples with two women or two men?  That’s what the word gay means.”  (They did go to preschool with two kids with gay parents, one who had two mommies and one who had Daddy and Papa, but my kids never brought it up to me and I never pointed it out.

Twin 2: “No.  So it rhymes with ‘day’?  Guh, guh, it starts with G?”

Me: “Yes, it starts with G.  Well, I just wanted you to know that sometimes people fall in love with somebody that’s their same sex.  Do you have any questions about that?”

Twin 2: “G… A… any more letters?”

Me: “Y.” 

And that was that.

Clearly this isn’t something that has hit his radar.  And clearly his learning-to-read/spell brain is in high gear.  But I’m glad I brought it up before somebody other than me did.  A seed was planted for him to think about.  Any topic is best explained in small pieces.  He may bring it up again in a few days, he may not.  Certainly, though, it will come up again sooner than later.  And he will know it’s something he can talk to Mom about.

I decided not to initially explain that we think being gay is okay.  One because he didn’t seem interested in further discussion, but also because it seemed wrong to present it as a debate.  It’s not to me.  Someday we’ll talk about what other people might think, and what they could say to them about it.  For now, Twin 2 knows a new word, and that it’s spelled G-A-Y.

*was and is ongoing- I wrote this first paragraph yesterday, but then dinner got in the way.

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What I said

October 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm (Parenthood, PJ)

8pm on a Saturday:

What I said: I’m so sorry, honey.  Puking up [as they call it] is sooo yucky.  You’ll be OK.  I know, it sucks.

What I thought: Not aaaa-gain. 

What I said: Let’s get you into the shower.  We’ll get you cleaned up and into bed. 

What I thought:  Sure, steam-cleaning the entire family room carpet that you just sprayed with SEAFOOD CHOWDER, NO LESS, that’s exactly what I want to do with my Saturday night.  Kill me now.

What I said: Next time you start to feel sick, start heading to the bathroom, OK?  Even if you don’t get sick, it’s better to be safe.

What I thought: C’mon, isn’t that obvious?

What I said:  Goodnight bud.  I love you.

What I thought:  I love you, my sweet sweet baby who’s getting soooo big.  Look at the way your sick feet stretch almost all the way to the end of your twin bed.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that you took up only the top third?

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I don’t know how you do it

October 8, 2010 at 5:45 am (Family, Parenthood, Time)

Amidst the shock of adjusting to my new title-in-the-making, Mother of Four, I visited my one friend in the same boat.  In her case, she acquired the title by trying for “just one more” after two children, and conceiving twins.  Her first advice was to think about my stock responses to all the comments I’ll get from strangers.  Her concern being that one wouldn’t want to inadvertently make the older children worry that one wasn’t grateful for each little mouth to feed.

At the time, I wasn’t too worried about it.  As the mother of twins, I’ve fielded my share of well-meaning but uninformed and/or repetitive comments.  Yes, they’re twins.  No, they’re not identical- did seeing one with brown hair and chocolate eyes and the other a tow head with bright blue eyes tip you off?  No, they don’t run in my family. (Sometimes a veiled way to ask if they are IVF or not.  No, they’re not IVF!  We weren’t trying to get pregnant!  They were conceived out of wedlock!  Horrors!)

Now that I’m out and about with four, though, I’m finding my friend was right.  While stranger comments on twins seem generally based on the novelty factor, comments on the four children often seem based in judgment.  The one that irks me the most is “You know what causes that, don’t you?”  “Well, yes, I do, and clearly we enjoy it.”  I haven’t had the guts to say that, though.  I don’t know what to say.  And we happen to be the type that have been gradually introducing sex ed since our kids were at all curious, but if we weren’t, I seriously wouldn’t appreciate somebody bringing it up.  What causes what, Mommy?  In the grocery store, just what a mama needs.

The one I’m currently struggling with, though, is often from acquaintances and friends.   I don’t know how you do it.  Or the corollary I got last week, I don’t know how you do it with a smile on your face.  Sometimes it seems meant as a compliment, sometimes it seems the person means I don’t know how you do it and I can’t fathom WHY you had these four crazy children, you over-populating wench.  The latter doesn’t deserve a thoughtful response, but the former… what to say?  Possible answers:

  • Self-deprecating:  I don’t. You should see the mess that is my house.  Or,
    I don’t. I’m not usually smiling.
  • Annoyingly upbeat and self-sacrificing:  Well, I did have to get up this morning at 5am to make pumpkin muffins for the kids’ school snack!  But if I just time it right, I can get in my required half-hour of quality time with each child a day!
  • Emotional:  Start crying.  I’m just barely holding it together today.  Please, please, help me.  I’m about to have a meltdown.
  • On a frustrated day:  Well, we made our bed.  Now we have to lie in it. 
  • Then there’s my usual answer:  First smile, then falter.  Well, uh, you know.  It can be hard, but, uh, you, kind of, just do it.

I oscillate between the self-deprecating answers and stuttering something about just doing it.  Some days I’d like to do the emotional breakdown.  I’d like to find a better way, though.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to tell strangers about the jam crusted on my kitchen floor.  Well, no.  I do know.  I don’t want to make them feel bad.  Presumably I’m talking to another mom, and no mom could possibly have it all together, so I feel the need to assure them I don’t too. 

Usually I am teetering on going a little crazy.  But last week was the first time that I felt like saying something bordering on the annoyingly upbeat.  I had a damn good week.  I was helpful to others, had some good times with the kiddos, put myself out on a limb and arranged a playdate for my sons, cleaned out a couple closets, and did make pumpkin muffins but only because I discovered that morning I was on the snack hook and had NO store-bought snacks in the house.  (See, I still feel the need to put in a caveat.)  But I feel like people are looking for me to be modest.  They don’t want to hear that I have 1-3 more children than them but am functioning just fine.  It’s a woman thing, maybe, or at least a Mom Thing.  I’ve said before I do it by cutting corners. Everybody does, what varies is the corner.  To hide the corners or not? 

Clearly one’s honestly in answering will depend on if this is a stranger or one’s sister or your son’s new friend’s mother.  But what would your “go to” answer be?  It’s not always easy.  Perhaps.  I do the best I can?  Maybe.  Actually, I kinda like that one.  That’s all anybody can do.  But, there’s probably better.  Ideas, anyone?

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