Any time we make a big change or upset the schedule in our house, we experience a period of what my husband and I have dubbed as “blowback.” Spend the night at grandma’s? The break is nice, but then there will, without fail, be a day of fallout afterwards that includes, but is not limited to, epic periods of screaming and crying, protests over dinner, refusals to go to bed on time and unprecedented messes.
Enter school. Now, not only are we all having to get up early, but the kids are back on structured days and having to spend time learning instead of painting themselves in mud in the backyard or coloring the walls. And the blowback has begun.
Blowback Round 1:
Last week, I was rejoicing because Norah finally went to school and didn’t throw a tantrum. I rode that high all day, thrilled that we were making progress. Then, I got home from work. At first, I didn’t notice anything was amiss. I jumped into taking care of kids and Sarah was snuggled up on the couch with a blanket, watching TV. Then I turned my attention to her to ask her a question and gasped, “Sarah, did you CUT YOUR HAIR?!” A half smile spread across her face as she nodded in affirmation.
“Mama,” she said, “I was tired of my unicorn mane bangs, so I cut them off.”
“Where are the scissors and WHERE IS THE HAIR?!”
At first she tried to pretend like she had done this days ago and had no idea where the contraband items were. But after seeing my rising ire, she quickly complied, ran into her closet and produced the small pair of scissors and the giant chunk of missing hair.
I was upset. Mark chocked it up to, “it’s hair, it will grow again,” but all I could see was that my girl now had some sort of mullet/ Maria-from-The-Sound-of-Music hybrid haircut. And this was on the heels of us finally halting her anxiety-induced behavior of years of yanking out her own hair. Finally, finally my little girl was starting to get thick hair that almost looked like a bob and now it was all gone.
But while I was upset, Sarah embraced her new do, telling me that she liked that her hair is out of her eyes. Maybe I shouldn’t be so vain. So, after I had a solid glass of wine, we dug around, found some headbands and started trying to figure out how to make the mullet work.
Blowback Round 2:
In protest to having to go to school and do things she didn’t want to, Norah staunchly refused to nap on Saturday. Finally, to my great relief, I thought she had fallen asleep. I got up to use the bathroom and walked in the room to find a toilet full of toys, wipes, cups, bowls and two empty bottles of Burt’s Baby Bee wash, each emptied into the toilet and bathtub respectfully, but not before being slathered all over the toilet seat and bathroom floor. Worse still, I didn’t realize it was on the toilet seat until I later sat on said seat, and when I went to stand up, well the seat tried to come with me.
Blowback Round 3:
Norah has now started sneaking into the kitchen when she thinks we are occupied to secure any and every kind of food for herself. Sunday morning, Mark and I were recovering from the week’s events and were particularly lazy about getting out of bed. We had already gotten the twins out of their cribs and had them in bed with us, but they quickly scampered out and ran into the living room with their sisters. It took us a few minutes to get out of bed, but no one was screaming so we weren’t too worried. Then I walked into the living room, grabbed a baby and my hand came away sticky from the back of his pajamas.
One sniff told me it was maple syrup. Further exploration lead us to find that Norah had half emptied a bottle of maple syrup on to the floor, on to about seven paper plates, which she had then distributed and laid on top of random items around the kitchen and living room, and on the backs and heads of her twin siblings.
It was not pretty. While I stripped and scrubbed babies, Mark took control of the Norah situation. When I came back in the kitchen, Norah had a full mop bucket and a washcloth and was scrubbing the floors while Mark stood guard. Our normally defiant child was dutifully scrubbing every inch of the floor where that syrup had landed.
And there have been other incidents: while I tried to shower, Norah grabbed my mascara and painted the door with it because I wouldn’t let her in there with me. Last night, over the course of two hours, I kept having to go into Norah’s room to remove cliff bars and popsicles that she was sneaking into her room at 9 and 10’oclock at night.
So it seemed like some sort of divine justice that Sunday morning, when we were late to Mass, we got seated on the very front row. All I could think was that Norah was either going to kick and scream and have to be carried out in front of everyone, or that she was going to run onto the altar and take part in the liturgy or knock over the communion wine. But, to the great surprise of all, that girl shined her halo, held our hands and stood, sat and kneeled when she was asked to. I thought her good behavior was because she was nervous in front of the priest and deacon, but Mark thinks she was just so darn pleased to be in a spot where she was getting plenty of attention from everyone.
Either way, at least we are capable of putting on our good faces for Jesus.
Imagine that you’re laying in your bed, having some weird dream about a politician trying to convince you to vote for them, when you distantly hear a scrambling and scuffling noise coming from your kitchen. You have two dogs though, so it’s not too out of the ordinary. Then comes the “pat pat pat” of little feet running down the hall, little arms and legs scrambling into your bed… and then a freezing cold, dripping fudgcicle is planted onto your nice, warm arm. HELLO 6AM!
And that is how we began Day 3 of school.
Me: “Norah, WHY do you have a popsicle at 6AM?!”
Norah: “Mama, I can finish it after breakfast?”
And her early wake-up was on the heels of us finding her in her sister’s bed at 10PM the night before, having moved her pillow, all her stuffed animals, and all of her sheets and blankets into the top bunk, on top of her sleeping sister, in an attempt to wake her up to play with her.
Needless to say a morning started on sleep deprivation and sugar did not go well. There was more screaming and crying when it was time for Norah to go into her classroom that day, but it was over in less than 2 minutes – a new record!
Though I very nearly ruined it. The school has Mass on Wednesday mornings. It just so happened that our bishop was saying Mass and so, in my work capacity, I was there to photograph it. I didn’t realize the K3 class was in the church until I turned the corner and saw Norah pressed up against the teacher, chattering away.
I never knew I possessed an inner ninja and that I could move so efficiently or so quietly until I had to back peddle my way down the aisle and out of the church before she saw me and her screaming could halt the homily.
Later – in what is quickly becoming my favorite part of the day – we had our usual after school driving home discussion. After Sarah carefully outlined both of the girls’ entire days, telling me how Norah cried all day, especially at recess, I took a deep breath and tried a different approach. “So,” I said, “Can everyone tell me something happy that happened to them today?”
Sarah immediately launched into a story of arts and crafts and the bishop visiting her class. She was so proud that when he asked if anyone knew his first name, she had the answer ready and waiting. (Turns out having the bishop over for dinner at our house had a big impact on my kiddos).
Then it was Norah’s turn. I asked her to tell me something happy that happened to her during the day. She sat quietly, pondering. And right as I started to repeat myself, she quietly murmured, “The bishop said ‘ello to me.” My heart melted and I started to get hopeful about school again.
Last night we decided that we were going to do everything in our power to make Day 4 better – and that started with Norah going to sleep before 10PM. So, Mark and I took turns standing sentry outside her bedroom door. Every attempt to get out of bed was met with time out in the corner. An hour in, just as I was giving up all hope of it working, she caved and went to sleep. 9PM was late, but it was still an hour earlier than she’s been keeping herself awake for.
This morning’s wake up was notably better: No time-outs (and no fudgcicles for that matter). For the drive to school, we let Norah hold her stuffed buddy Snoopy and we put on dancing music. The protests still started when we turned onto the street our school is on, but we pressed on. It was starting to rain, so we quickly grabbed our backpacks and made a dash for the school, leaving Snoopy to wait patiently for his friend’s afterschool return in the car.
As soon as we walked inside the school, the pleas continued. “Mama, I don’t want to go to Sarah’s school. Mama, I want to go home with you. Mama, hold me.” I braced myself for the moment when morning assembly was over and she would have to go to the classroom – the moment when the tantrums have started every day. We got her backpack and as she watched her classmates line up to leave, I saw something click in her brain.
Suddenly she was dashing off towards her classmates, elbowing her way to the front of the line where she defiantly declared to her teacher, “I want you!” And then proceeded to, matter of factly and without tears, lead all of her classmates down the hall to their classroom.
I think my dear child must have thought, “Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, lead ‘em.”
And that, my friends, is my wild and strong girl in a nutshell.
After she walked through the door, when I recovered from my initial shock, I danced in celebration right in the middle of the gym for everyone still filing out to see, high fiving my friend Stephanie and the assistant principal. By gosh my girl, we are going to get through this.
Let’s talk about Day 2 of school.
So yesterday when I picked the girls up from carpool, Norah’s rather harried and worn out teacher desperately said to me, “WHAT IS KIKI?!” And I had to quickly explain the blankie lovie that Norah sleeps with and takes comfort from whenever she is upset. She looked at me dead in the eyes and said, “Put Kiki in her backpack tomorrow. Norah is loud.”
Er, yea. So prior to starting pre-school, we received a note of things they were not supposed to bring with them, which included a list of toys and items from home that might get messed up or cause fights. For some reason, in my infinite and exhausted wisdom, I extended this to mean Norah’s Kiki. Because obviously she would do just fine in a completely new environment and be expected to nap with no issue without Kiki. What was I thinking?!
Fast forward to Day 2. We had Kiki safely and securely packed away in Norah’s backpack. I was going into the day with more confidence and optimism. I kept chanting my new found mantra, “We have Kiki! We can conquer the day! Yes we can!” with great positivity and gusto.
And all was going well. The pouring rain stopped as we pulled up to school and both girls even enthusiastically let me take their photo together in front of the school. “Yes,” I thought, “Behold the power of the Kiki!”
We walked into school without trouble, made our way into the multi-room for morning assembly. Sarah bolted off to her section and I went to follow and take Norah with me… and then the meltdown started. That little Norah howler monkey scurried up my leg and onto my torso and next thing I knew I had a screaming little girl clinging to the side of my body and I was saying a quiet thanks that I had worn pants that morning as I physically pried her off of me. I stood by her side during morning assembly as she periodically turned around and begged me not to close the door – which meant leave her in the classroom with the door closed.
I soon got a full report of Norah’s attempts on the first day to make every teacher there do her bidding. So despite the waterworks, obviously she hasn’t lost all hope of bringing the entire school under her will just yet.
But as soon as it was time for us to make our way to the classroom the tears started rolling. And when we caught up to her classmates, she let out a howl that instantly spread to her fellow three-year-olds and several of them started crying as well. Bless our assistant principal’s heart, because she gallantly scooped up my screaming little girl and wrestled her into the classroom.
Off I went to work, head held low, questioning whether putting her in K3 was indeed the right move.
The day wore on. I continued to worry and question myself before finally emailing the assistant principal and checking in. She got back to me instantly and assured me Norah was doing just fine. Relieved, I tried to rally my morning optimism for the car ride home. But once again, when I got to carpool pickup, she was screaming and crying and making me feel generally terrible.
On the car ride home, Sarah told me that Norah cried throughout recess while her little friends stood around her and asked her why she was crying. Sarah, in great detail, explained how the three-year-olds cleared a path for her, the big sister, to make her way to her sobbing little sister. Norah, however, was having none of it and told Sarah to go away. So Sarah, not wanting to waste any moment of playtime with her new found unicorn soul sisters, scampered off and left her to it. She told me Norah spent recess next to the teacher because she was sad. Part of me kind of wonders at this point if this is all an elaborate ruse to gain attention. But still.
So as we’re discussing this issue on the way home, Sarah says, “Hey Mama! I have a great idea! Let’s read The Kissing Hand tonight before bed and you can give Norah a kissing hand to take to school with her tomorrow!”
(Note: The Kissing Hand is about a mama raccoon and a baby raccoon who is about to start his first day of school and he’s scared, so she kisses the palm of his hand and he can press it to his cheek and feel his mama’s love any time he’s upset at school. A beautiful, generally tear-inducing book).
I think Sarah may be a better parent than I am sometimes.
After I dropped them off at home, finished up my work day and darted through the downpour to my car and make my way back home, I walked into the house and everyone burst into tears. I have no idea why the sight of their mother brings all my children to tears, but without fail the youngest three lose their minds when I walk through the door.
What followed was an overwhelming amount of things to do in a three hour time span. Sarah had her first homework assignment, and even though it was very basic kindergarten math, my mind immediately began to spiral to all the homework I’m going to have to help four children with in the short time between getting home from work, cooking and somehow getting them into bed at a decent time over the coming years. Maybe it was the children holding onto my legs screaming while I tried to cook, or maybe it’s adjusting to our new wake up time, but this felt like a very real serious life crushing thing.
Somehow though, I read the homework instructions to Sarah over the screams and in between stirring pasta and she made quick work of her homework and asked me to make up some more homework for her and Norah to do. I hope this bodes well for her future.
But while I was proud of myself for cooking, helping with homework and hurdling over screaming toddlers while Mark mopped up the mud and dog pee filled hallway, that joy was soon crushed when I discovered Norah had snuck off with Sarah’s homework scissors and lopped off a chunk of her hair. I mean, WHY? Fortunately it isn’t terribly noticeable and I can probably braid that section back in a discreet fashion.
And then, before bed, per Sarah’s suggestion, we read The Kissing Hand together and all practicing kissing hands and pressing them to our faces… that is until we got to daddy and he told Norah she couldn’t kiss his hand because it still had dog pee all over it. Fair point Mark, fair point.
So, tomorrow, I think my new mantra will have to be: “We have Kiki! We have a kissing hand! We can conquer the day! Yes we can!” And let’s hope that works. If not, Starbucks and I have a date, first thing.
Today was Sarah’s first full day of Kindergarten and Norah’s first full day of PreK3 – both at the same school.
I’d love to say that the whole event went off without a hitch, but it was more like driving full speed down a road full of potholes that we just kept falling into and stumbling out of over and over again.
It began the night before. No, let me back up, it started Friday. Friday was kindergarten orientation, which was fine. Lots of listening to policies and procedures while sitting in bleachers and tiny 5-year-old sized chairs. But it was good, that is until I took Sarah home and realized Luke was running fever… one that quickly escalated to over 104 and sent me into panic mode and left me feeling off balance the entire weekend. There were sleepless nights spent trying to cool an exhausted sick baby down in a bathtub at 3 a.m. and lots of panic adrenaline that left me feeling tired and empty.
Fast forward to last night. I was busily trying to gather all the things two little girls would need for school the next day, do dinner, take care of all four very busy children and get my anxious energy under control. Norah, during the hustle and bustle, secured a green marker, which she then used to color her eyebrows green, thus earning her the name “little Grinch” for the remainder of the evening. The good news is that the marker did mostly come off. The bad news is that she was left with a green tinge that looked like bruising all around her eyes. Happy First Day of School and no-I-don’t-beat-my-kid-I-promise!
Not to be outdone, as I continued to prepare for the next day, I thought all four of my little angles were sleeping, preparing the way for a great first day. It was only when Mark and I made our way to the bedroom at 10:00 and discovered that his Kindle was missing that we realized Norah had snuck into our bedroom, stolen the Kindle and was watching YouTube videos under the covers in her bed.
Needless to say the first morning of school was… well, not exactly wonderful and lovely. I had to physically pry her exhausted booty out of bed, fight her into a uniform that she did not like, attempt to comb through the rats nest she made out of her hair and get to school on time.
As I was finally making my way out of the neighborhood this morning, late and trying in vain not to take out long-stalling school buses on my way to school, I realized I had left their carefully packed lunchboxes sitting on the kitchen counter at home. This might not have been that big of a deal, but Norah, ever the child of hand-me-downs, got to pick out her very own special brand new Snoopy lunch box for school and it was the one exciting thing she kept talking about. Too late to turn around though, I pushed forward knowing that I would have to make another round trip and be late to work.
We did manage to arrive on time, however.
Sarah scampered off to her new Kindergarten class in the assembly room without so much as a look back at me. I probably should have been emotional and weepy over my girl starting kindergarten, but honestly I was just so relieved that she was so happy and excited about it.
Norah was cautiously excited, but stuck to me like glue. I stood with her during morning assembly and walked her to her class. But when I got ready to leave, well you would have thought I was really and truly bruising up her eyebrows. She exploded. First thrusting her head onto her desk and screaming, and then bolting for me and having to be retained by both the principal and her assistant teacher. I felt terrible. TERRIBLE. But I left, because I knew that was the only way.
After the round trip of securing the lunch boxes, I sat at work anxiously all day. I figured they would surely call me if things were going terribly, but the phone didn’t ring. At carpool time, they brought her out to me screaming and crying, but assured me that she had been fine all day.
As I drove the girls home, my heart was heavy. I had tried to do everything right and felt like such a failure. But then I began asking the girls about their day.
Sarah, wearing her first day of school crown she made, was exuberant. She told me all about the new friend she made, enthusiastically telling me that she now has “TWO friends” and all they did together that day. My poor little introvert has been at the school for three years, all that time only managing to make one real friend. So this was a big deal and it absolutely made me tear up.
She then told me about every time she saw Norah throughout the day – at lunch, at PE, leaving music class, recess – and how every time they saw each other they ran and hugged one another. Sarah told me how they got to play together at recess, playing “Team Unicorn,” and about how “Norah didn’t even get in trouble once or have to sit on the line by the teacher.” She was the proudest, kindest big sister and Norah told me how much better that made her feel.
I may not have been emotional at first day kindergarten drop off, but first day kindergarten pick-up melted me into a gigantic puddle of goop. Our school has the phrase “kindness is practiced here” emblazoned all over it, and I’m so happy and so proud of my kindergartner for being kind and caring so much for her little sister when she knew she was scared and upset.
Thank you, my sweet Sarah, for showing me what’s really important. Look out Day 2, we’re coming for you.
My twins, by babies, are one today.
When I’ve mentioned their upcoming birthday to people, they stare at me in shock, “Noooo! There is no way! That went by so fast – well fast for me, it probably wasn’t fast for you.”
But in truth, it was the fastest year of my life.
I admit, when we first brought the twins home from the hospital, after the initial joyful rush of meeting my two new little people, the fear set in. Our first night home, Mark and I, seasoned parents, only got 45 minutes of sleep. “What has happened to us?” we wondered dismally. Enter the blur.
I have a hard time remembering the first 4-6 months of their lives. There was trouble with nursing, supplements, trying to figure out how to manage two babies at once at night and somehow get them both back to sleep at the same time so we had a chance of rest. There were so many nights where I just stayed up with them, earbuds in, tearing through one audiobook after another, or watching shows on NatGeo about hermits living in remote places, listening to Scott Brick narrate Jurassic Park and Lost World.
We struggled with both babies gaining enough weight in the beginning. I cried when I had to supplement them for the first time as I dealt with tough emotions of “not being enough” for them. They were small and Vera was behind on her milestones. We were adjusting from being parents of two to being parents of four.
“Why?!” Mark and I often wondered. “Why were these two little souls entrusted to us?”
And then something amazing started happening around the time they turned six months old. For one, they started sleeping stretches at night. Real, honest to goodness sleep. I tell you, if I have sleep, I can conquer the world! And I began to sleep as well. Instead of life being, “How in the world do I take care of them both at once?” It became, with a sense of awe, “Oh my goodness, I get to take care of two babies at once.”
They began to notice one another, interact with each other, their sisters, us. They were happy, smiling, laughing. They developed fascinations with things and especially with one another. “What a blessing,” I thought, “to get to experience having twins.”
Luke and Vera have such wonderful little personalities. They daycare teachers always tell us that even when everyone else is upset and crying, they remain happy (though I attribute that to them having to learn to self soothe very early on in life because there were only two of us and four of them).
Luke has always been our physical child. The first to roll, sit, crawl, eat, pull up. Vera is our introspective child, always taking in the world around her, and she’s much more verbal. She says a host of syllables and clicks her tongue and lets out the short little “he he’s” when she laughs. Luke is our chuckler, who lets out great big belly laughs. Where Vera daintily eats her food and hardly makes a mess, Luke dives in fists first and shovels everything in his mouth at once, making sure to cover his face, hair and ears in the process. Where Vera is our blue eyed blondie, Luke is our olive skinned boy with dark hair and dark eyes. His hands and feet are twice the size of hers.
Watching them together is one of my greatest joys. They are so funny together. Just the other day they were holding onto a chair next to me. Luke was trying to get my attention, when Vera reached over and pulled his hair. He turned and swatted her, screeched at her and then turned back to me. Vera promptly let out her “he he” and did it again.
Life with twins is certainly no joke… or maybe it is and the joke’s on us. Luke and Vera were such unexpected, surprise additions to our lives, but they have brought with them so much heart, so much laughter and so much joy.
They are great little people and somehow, together, we’ve all managed to survive the first year.
Happy First Birthday Vera. Happy First Birthday Luke.
We did it.
P.S. We also finally got the hang of tandem nursing after the first 6 weeks and we were able to stop supplementing then, too. This mama has now successfully nursed twins for a whole year. And I think it’s ok to be a little proud of that. <3
Today, my bright, beautiful oldest girl turn five years old.
Every time I became a mother to another of our children, it was special. But there is something so unique, so terrifying about becoming a mother for the very first time. When I think back to those last few days before I gave birth to her, before my life was changed, I laugh a little and feel so emotional. I remember being so ready to not be pregnant anymore and simultaneously terrified of giving birth. I read every book, every article, imagined it over and over and over in my head.
And when the day came, a week past her due date, stubborn from the start, it was unlike anything I could have imagined.
That day Sarah came into the world, big at over 8 pounds, eyes wide open with deep, sweet dimples. I gazed at her, amazed that I was her mother, responsible for her life, largely in charge of her future, and oh, how I loved her.
It is so very hard for me to believe that was five years ago. It feels both so close and so far away. In the five years since then, Sarah has formed herself into my dazzling little pixie with an expansive imagination and a love for art and fashion. I have to laugh at myself now, remembering how I didn’t want my little girl to be covered in all things pink, when that has always been the color she chooses as her very favorite.
This past year has made my Sarah girl really grow up. She became the big sister to twins two days after her fourth birthday and she has embraced her role mightily. She loves her babies with a joyful devotion. If I’m not watching, she will scoop one up, scurry off to her room, then close the door so they can’t escape. There she reads to them, dresses them up and plays games with them. When I come looking for them and open the door, Sarah always lets out a protest, “But Mama, I want to play with them! Please close the door!”
At first I dreaded her picking them up, but after a time I decided just to teach her the correct way to do it and it’s become so helpful. If one baby is crawling off to where they aren’t supposed to be, Sarah will rush to their rescue and carry them back to safety.
She dotes on them constantly, naming Vera “little cutie,” and Luke “little buddy.”
At 5, Sarah absolutely floors me with her art. She loves to draw and makes up beautiful scenes of unicorns and flowers and butterflies. She inserts specific details and gets extremely upset if things aren’t exactly perfect. So many times I hear loud tears and when I ask her what’s the matter she crumples up her paper and tells me that it’s not perfect, she messed up. It breaks my heart to see her struggle with perfectionism, but I also know that it serves her in improving herself.
One of my very favorite of her creative outlets is fashion design. I feel like I’m watching my very own episodes of Project Runway as she colors and cuts out pieces of paper, creating her own patterns to assemble outfits on her My Little Pony. Or, with great skill, turns ordinary items into crowns, scraps of ribbon and cloth into capes for her dolls. Even Vera is often adorned in custom made Sarah clothes.
Sarah is my sensitive heart. She feels so deeply for other people and animals and does not like scary things. She continues to love books and has even begun to sound out letters and words and it makes me so happy.
Ever my flower child, one of her very favorite things to do is pick wild flowers and create bundles of them for me and our kitchen table.
As I look back over this past year, I have to selfishly say that I could not have made it through without my Sarah girl. She has become such a good helper around the house, always willing to bring me things when the babies are nursing, or help direct Norah out of trouble.
I am so grateful, so blessed, so proud of my firstborn girl. I can’t believe she’s 5: the age of kindergarten and the very heart of little girlhood. Her long, skinny frame, skinned elbows, wide grin and wild, short hair are just so very right on her, and her kind spirit and vivid imagination make me so happy.
Around the time the twins were born, Sarah started asking me to let her take dance classes. She seemed to have an aptitude for it and I was excited about letting her try. Then the reality of life with two new babies set in. It was tough just to get out of the house, never mind the juggling to get everyone to school and back each day. Throwing another place to be, especially in the evenings, on our plates was starting to look grim. I know we can’t give our children everything they want, but I knew she wanted this badly and I wished I could do it for her.
The deadline for registration was approaching when we got a note from school saying that K4 could sign up for Angel Choir if they so desired. It would require staying after school one day a week and several performances over the course of the school year. Ever the performer, I wondered if she might be interested. We sat down and talked about dance and what it would involve and we talked about choir and what it was. I let her make the choice. She could choose one. And to my utter surprise and relief, she chose choir.
Angel Choir has been one of her greatest joys these past few months. On Thursdays, Sarah will wake up and say, “Mama! What day is it?” When I say, “Thursday,” she cheers and says “Yay! I have Angel Choir today!” and then tells me all about her teacher’s beautiful voice. She skips through our house singing songs and constantly asks me about her next performance.
One of the most fun parts of Angel Choir is that performances are not just for parents. They regularly sing at church, for special lunches and, my favorite, for nursing home residents.
Yesterday was performance day at a local nursing home. The kids, ages K4-2nd grade, put on their best green “Irish” clothes and prepared for their St. Patrick’s Day themed singing. We all crowded into the common room and took our seat next to the residents. The choir was fantastic. There were hand motions, scarf waving, show tunes and even Irish dancing.
The kids had a blast, performing with enthusiasm. I was impressed with how many songs they had learned and even a little teary as they belted out songs from The Sound of Music. And while I loved watching my daughter truly enjoy her performance, my gaze kept wandering to the elderly guests in attendance. Together they leaned forward, hands clapping, smiling brightly and singing along with familiar tunes. They cheered with gusto after the kids finished a song and even offered up a few of their own takes on some of the songs. Mom and Norah came with us, and Norah enjoyed dancing right along with the choir to the delight of the many guests there. I can honestly say that watching the glowing faces of the old people there was one of the purest forms of joy I’ve ever seen.
When the children finished performing, one resident stood up, cheered and said, “Oh please do come back!” Another ran off (and I do mean ran – she was quite spry) to grab a basket of St. Patrick’s day goodies they had made for the children and they invited them to stay for juice and cookies (some of the gooeyest and softest I’ve ever had).
My girls didn’t want to leave! When one old lady asked for a hug, Norah joyfully ran into her embrace. The same lady insisted on high fives and had stuffed her pockets full of quarters to hand out to the kids. If ever there was a more appreciative and captive audience, I don’t know one.
And while I hope that Sarah can still do dance one day if she wants to, I am so grateful that Angel Choir has turned out to be such a joy and blessing for Sarah, for the audience and for myself.
Our lives are super crazy. Of course they are – you can’t manage four children four and under without some chaos. And in the 10+months Mark and I have been juggling it all, things have gotten better and, in some ways, easier.
I have very sweet people tell me all the time that I “make it look easy,” but most of the time it’s really not.
I also have so many very sweet and well meaning friends and family who want me to occasionally “do things” outside the house – to get away or be present for some event. And while the intention is always good, I find myself clenching internally at the prospect. How do I explain to them why this is a big deal without sounding whiny?
Most kids have a “witching hour,” that time in the evening where they sort or lose their minds in some form or fashion and it makes everything a little more difficult. That time usually falls around dinner/bath/bed, at least in our home. Everyone starts to get hungry and reacts in different ways. At our house, the babies start getting fussy. They scream, crawl to wherever I am, pull up on my legs and scream some more. Norah makes trouble. She steals toys, dumps out bags of pretzels on the floor, dumps dog food into the water bowl, colors all over herself with markers, etc. Sarah, for the most part is pretty good. But when she’s really tired and hungry, she will start crying over things like, “I don’t ever want to move out of this house,” or “Mama, you said four days ago that I could wear my pink jacket and you didn’t let me.”
And then there are the physical mechanics of getting everyone to use the bathroom, changing diapers, washing hands, cooking dinner, cutting it up, serving it up, getting drinks, bibs, spoons, baby food and everyone into their seats and eating. It’s tough with one kid, but with four it’s a juggling act. At least the babies can’t crawl out of their high chairs yet, right?
Anyway, then there is the feeding of babies while we try to scarf down our food between screaming and ordering the big girls not to leave their seats or that they need at least TRY what they’ve been served. Then, when it’s all over, there’s the dishes and putting up of things and getting pajamas out and towels, wash cloths, diapers, etc. while four very mobile children continue to be very tired and run amok. There is bathing (we’ve finally figured out to get them on alternating schedules so only two are bathed any given night), the dressing, the teeth brushing, the nursing, the book reading, and the “DO NOT GET OUT OF THAT BED AGAIN” routine that starts.
When all that is finally over sometime around 8:15, we move onto finishing the dishes, prepping bottles, stuffing diapers, signing folders and trying to get extra work done before we crash into bed and end up staying up until 11pm to cram in some much needed self and couple time.
What I’m saying is, that evenings at our house are very much a two-person job. Mark and I have a pact not to leave the other alone during that time of the day without recruiting an extra set of helping hands. Now I know some parents have to do this alone all the time and they have my UTMOST respect, but there is a reason we have a pact on this, and it’s mostly so that if one of us crumbles under the pressure, the other person can pick up the pieces and keep everyone moving. Or, someone can tame the babies while they scream and the other gets bed things out. Or, someone can clean up whatever mess Norah has made while the other keeps everyone “out of it, get out!”
And so one of us just leaving the house between 5-8 is not possible without help. It’s just not. I know that we have to take care of ourselves (no lecture needed there), but that usually happens between 9pm and 11pm. I would love to throw my hands up some nights and say, “Sorry! Not tonight! Mommy is taking her wine to the back porch,” but Mark would cut me with the daggers he threw from his eyes, and honestly I would do the same to him if he tried such a move.
All this to say, I’m sorry, really I am, that I can’t hang out in the evenings right now (or really do anything until after 8:30p.m., including talk on the phone). And unless I can bring at least two kids with me, even daytime breakaways are tough. Eventually things will get better as everyone grows up and becomes more self-reliant, but right now we all need each other most of the time, especially in the evenings. The babies are still nursing and Norah and Sarah need that extra little bit of mom and dad time after they go to bed. I love my family and I’ve learned to embrace the chaos in a way my mostly-introverted self never thought possible. I’m so grateful for their sweet faces and nighttime hugs and kisses, but there is always a whirlwind of chaos and Mark and I are in together. So really, it’s not you, it’s me. It’s us. And I’m ok with that.
In January I had good intentions of doing a post reflecting on the madness that was 2015, but illness invaded our house, taking down one with strep, another with croup and the other two with RSV, followed by some necessary ear tubes and a lip tie correction procedure. There was also a quick care visit to remove a piece of Styrofoam out of Norah’s ear and an ER trip thrown in there for good measure. And in the midst of all the madness, I forgot about everything except trying to get my babies well and somehow finishing the magazine on deadline.
Now that the babies’ procedure is over, I’m sitting here feeling kind of dazed and dumbfounded. I honestly have trouble remembering much of the past 10+ months.
A friend and coworker of mine is expecting twins, and together we chatted about my twins’ birth and I mentioned that Mark had recorded the c-section from a discreet non-gory angle, but that I’d never actually sat down and watched it all the way through. So over the weekend I decided to do just that.
It really is amazing and beautiful what modern medicine is capable of. I sat there in awe as I watched little V first slip out, and then as it took two doctors to physically shove and tug my breech boy out of my ribs together. And then I watched as Mark followed the babies back to a little room off the OR to be weighed, measured and cleaned – or at least that’s what I always thought they did. In these 10+ months, I never actually knew what happened after they were delivered.
I watched the video on bated breath as both babies were immediately put on CPAP machines in an attempt to get them to breathe on their own, or “make the transition,” as I heard them say. I watched as oxygen masks were placed on my tiny babies, tubes slid down into their bellies and nurses counted off numbers and percentages. I heard them say, “She will probably have to go up to the nursery for more oxygen,” as people hovered around, making sure they were ok. And then, after a few minutes, a mask came off and, “She did it!” was exclaimed as little Vera made the transition on her own, breathing in that life-giving air without anymore struggling, while Luke continued on the machine.
I had no idea any of this was going on while I was being stitched up, and I’m sort of relieved I didn’t.
The next thing I knew, I was being rolled out of the OR. They handed me Vera, put Luke briefly on my chest for skin-to-skin, monitored him, then whisked him away for oxygen in the nursery.
I remember sitting stunned in recovery, holding my tiny 5 pound baby girl, receiving sweet phone call updates from the nursery about my son and not feeling like any of it was real. After all, my other two deliveries went quickly and smoothly, and I ended up with a baby girl after it was all over. It was so strange to think about this other baby boy of mine somewhere out there, supported in his hours-old life by oxygen and a team of nurses that I had only caught the briefest glimpse of.
I was lucky and incredibly blessed though, for my little man finally made “the transition” later that same day and I was slapped in the face with reality as they brought my second infant to me to hold, comfort and nurse.
And now, nearly 10 months later, I sit here and still can’t believe that was all real, or that we have two babies sometimes. All those early struggles feel so stretched and blurred as I chase my now two incredibly mobile and beautiful babies around the house, digging paper and hair and toys out of their hands before they can stuff them in their mouths. I get to revel in their very different and very distinct personalities and truly get to know them.
And just now, all this time later, I realize truly what a miracle, gift and blessing those first few days were and how much I truly owe the nursing staff at the hospital. It’s hard to believe my now 16 and 19 pound babies were ever those scrawny little 5 and 7 pounds newborns in the video.
With our oldest child, some things came easy, but many things were a struggle. Any time we got ready to make a big change for her, things always seemed to go disastrously wrong. Maybe we forced her into things too soon, or maybe we didn’t enforce things hard enough, but for whatever reason, so many of these things were hard. The transition to a big bed from a crib? So much screaming and running out of it. Potty training? I don’t even want to walk down that dark road of memory (though it did involve peeing on the chocolate chips I attempted to bribe her with). I mean even getting the kid dressed was an ordeal. She wore nothing but dresses for YEARS because I just got tired of fighting the pants battle. And trying new foods is STILL an issue.
In comes child number two. Our child I often refer to as “our challenge.” She is strong willed, determined, stubborn and quick to anger. And we have two other little ones that take up so much of my time. I decided, then, not to stress too much about pushing Norah into any big changes. After all, I barely have enough energy most days to just make it through; fighting a two-year-old onto the potty was at the very bottom of my priority list.
But Norah, ever the child of her own ideas and schedule, has always had other plans. We had a c-section scheduled for her on September 23, so of course she decided to arrive 9 days early on September 20 of her own accord. Food? Will it fit in her mouth? She wants to bite it. It won’t fit in her mouth? She’ll tear it apart with her hands and teeth until it will fit in her mouth. Broccoli? Sure, why not?
We are in a small house, and when the twins arrived, we had them sleeping in the living room because I could not deal with moving Norah out of her normal sleeping environment: her crib in her room. So, of course, she figured out how to climb out of the crib and began hurling herself to the ground. With her track record, we couldn’t allow this, so she got moved into the big girl bed in a shared room with her sister on her own timeline. The transition was a little shaky, but she got it down pretty quickly.
And now potty training. Oh how I have DREADED potty training her. My past record with Sarah was so utterly miserable, that I had decided to wait until she was 2-and-a-half and past the sick season to even begin trying.
So, of course, two days after her surgery, Norah told me she wanted to sit on the potty. “Not the little potty,” she said. “I want to sit on the big potty.” Well… ok then. I took her. And what, do you know, she went. And since that day, she’s barely looked back. It’s been less than two weeks and she may have one accident a day, and has an almost perfect track record at school.
I am absolutely astounded. I had prepared myself for such a miserable battle, one that involved long periods of sitting and waiting and screaming. So when none of that happened, I felt like I was being pranked. Yes, we still have some issues when she’s playing and doesn’t want to stop to go to the bathroom, but for the most part, she’s totally got this. She, it seems, is much better prepared to tackle the next stage of life than I am.
So many times with Norah, I have thought, “But wait, I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready for this next stage in her life.” And every time I feel like she’s thinking, “Oh let’s just get on with it mother,” and takes the lead. I have a feeling she’s always going to throw a kink in my plans, but that’s ok. For all the strong willed battles we have, I’m so glad that she can turn that determined mind to do good and great things as well. As she so aptly loves to tell me, “I’m Wonder Woman, Mama!” Yes you are, baby girl, yes you are.
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