Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters



Here’s to a Shoeless, Full Moon & Spring Equinox, Twin Turtle Birthday

Five years ago today, I was having turtles. Shell and neck, times two. Twin boys. At 34 weeks. And 48 years old.

Five years ago, we were zooming up the interstate toward Chattanooga, anxious and uncomfortable. I was flat on my back on a stretcher in an ambulance, twins riding my bladder, magnesium surfing my bloodstream. NOT a pleasant combination.

My husband was following behind me in our newly-purchased Town&Country minivan.

I’d never ridden in an ambulance. I’d definitely never wanted to. My husband had never driven a minivan. He’d definitely never wanted to. But here we were.

I’d also never been a boy mom. Nor had I ever had a c-section. The whole Boy Mom thing, I wanted. The emergency c-section, not so much.

But five years ago today, the ambulance, the Boy Mom thing, and the c-section would soon be under my belt — right along with a six-inch serated scar.

Our little heroes on a half-shell were coming early. Born on the spring equinox. To a mother old enough to be their grandmother.

Five years ago today.

And it’s been a tough five years, I’ll grant you that. And I don’t rightly know if it’s because there’s two of them. Or because they’re boys. Or, again, because I’m old enough to be their grandmother.

I’m thinking it’s a combo of all three.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Unless you catch me at a weak moment — like 6:15 AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Because one of our turtles, he thinks sleeping-in is overrated.

So I might be willing to trade one of them for sleep.

But then, he climbs into bed between Mike and me, and he rubs my face and crinkles his nose and tells me he loves me.

And dad-gum-it, I have to forgive him.

After all, he forgives me every day. They both do. Every. Single. Day.

They forgive me for losing my temper over petty things like dropping gummy vitamins the same color as our throw rug onto the rug… EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.

They forgive me for not knowing the convoluted family trees of the humans and animals on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

They forgive me for feeding them grilled cheese sandwiches and Cheeto balls on weeknights far more often than the food pyramid or our pediatrician would recommend.

And they forgive me for not having the patience, energy, or pop culture knowledge of a mother half my age.

Turtles, I have discovered, are full of forgiveness.

And snuggles.

And the snuggles make all of it… every sticky, gummy-pressed-into-carpet morning, every stale sandwich-crust-slipped-under-coffee-table weeknight, every PBS-DisneyJr-rerun-filled weekend, every Saturday-morning-sunrise wake up… all completely worth it.

Yes, today is our boys’ fifth birthday. It’s the spring equinox. And it’s a full moon — a super moon.

Maybe that’s why I forgot the youngest turtle’s shoes this morning, not realizing it until the preK director pointed it out as he was unloading in the school drop-off line.

But he forgives me for that, too.

Yes, turtles are snuggly, forgiving little creatures. Happy 5th Birthday, fellas! Mama and Daddy love you SO MUCH!

When Your Brain is a Blind Bag of Memories and Nightmares… You Never Know What You’ll Unwrap

The birthday cards would arrive the third week of May, sporting shaggy puppies or calico kittens waiting patiently in the heated darkness of the mailbox for me to find them.

Mom would scarcely have pulled in the driveway before I was yanking at the bulky sliding door of our VW bus, struggling with its weight, Mom yelling for me to wait. Wait!

She’d already broken a finger on that door – caught it inside the hinged, angry teeth of the latch. That door needed a whole lot of momentum to get started and even more force to stop it — mere flesh and tendon and bone wouldn’t do it. Mom’s finger, to this day, is crimped in the pattern of its wrath.

That door was unforgiving, but I was undeterred.

And disobedient.

I risked a tanned hide and functioning fingers to break free. Because those cards were special. I never got mail. Or at least, I never got mail from anyone other than her.

And they always arrived promptly that third week of my birthday month, right along with the humidity and Maypop blooms.

The grass would be high by then, my professor dad too wrapped up in final exams to pay it the proper attention it deserved. Gypsy, our mare, did her best to manage the bounty of the yard. Staked in the center like the point of a compass, she wandered in ever-widening circles, fringing the fragile new grass with her wide, yellow teeth. She left half-moon pressings from her hooves, pressings that snapped and lifted like a jerky time-release film as she moved on.

Back in the pasture behind our house, the land was pocked with her hoofprints, half-moons and crescents scattered in muddy galaxies, hardening as the sun waxed hotter toward summertime.

Back up front, horse-flies buzzed angrily, eyes bulging, mouths working greedily at Gypsy’s flanks. (I recently learned that only the female horse-flies bite. They saw and hack at flesh – leaving a slurry of blood and disease in their wake – all in an attempt to nurture the next generation.) I raced obliviously past the feeding frenzy toward the dusty mailbox at the side of Molly Bar Road.

It wasn’t just the cards that excited me. It was what was inside them that I couldn’t wait to see. One year, it had been a single stick of Fruit Stripe gum, another, a crinkled packet of Kool Aid.

It was the 1970s version of “blind bags” – those infectiously addictive foil-wrapped surprise packs the boys beg for every time we’re in the checkout line at Target.

(My four-year-old boys call them wine bags. They have trouble with the bilabial “b” sound, which means I live in constant fear that DFACS will show up at my door one day because they announce to anyone within shouting distance that they love wine bags and they need more of them. Well, me too, boys. Me too.)

But I understand the fascination with the potential of a hidden surprise. Because even though there was never anything big or costly inside my 1970s version of a blind bag (and not in the present-day version either), I couldn’t wait to see what I would find.

So birthday cards filled with artificial fruit flavors — that was the memory that assailed my senses as I took a trip out to my mailbox this week to gather a couple of birthday cards.

But then another one slipped in… a murkier one… one of dim lighting and sticky lipstick and a loaded gun. Well, I really don’t remember the gun, just the gunshot. And maybe it’s not even a memory, at that. Maybe it was all a dream…

There are four memories that were dredged from the deep recesses of childhood this week — situations that have moldered themselves into inconclusive scenarios that may or may not have actually occurred. One involves the birthday cards and artificial fruit flavors. Another involves the lipstick and gunshot. A third, a rabid pack of Rottweiler dogs. A fourth, a ride in a garage lift while a mechanic changed our oil.

All are memories from my childhood past. Two are happy. Two are not. Two are dreams. Two are not.

I’ve already told you about the Fruit Stripe Gum and Kool Aid and birthday cards. That’s a good one.

So now let’s talk about that memory of the rabid pack of Rottweiler dogs (three of them — Cerberus un-conjoined and running free) chasing me through a gray forest smelling of decay, their barrel chests echoing with their howls, their canine teeth gleaming with their drool. I spill out onto a moonlit meadow with them close on my heels, and I stumble and am overcome. That’s not a good one.

And then there’s the memory of the inside of a professional garage, the smell of tires and oil, the sounds of engines revving and the clanking whirr of a lift. My sisters and I rise slowly above my mother, dressed in a pale lemon shift with white eyelet trim and the mechanic, dressed in green coveralls and grease. They are both laughing. That ones pretty darn good.

And then there’s the lipstick and gunshot memory. I recall an old chest – an old chest aged nearly to black with iron bands – or leather ones maybe – and we were hunkered down next to it. Until we weren’t. Until my mother gathered me and my middle sister up on her hips, our baby sister bouncing in amniotic fluid between us, and fled the scene.

… Maybe. Maybe there was no chest. Maybe there was no gunshot. But there was lipstick. I remember the lipstick. Lipstick dragged over porous flesh and caked into flaring nostrils. Lipstick slashed across high cheekbones and pressed over eyelids with pupils rolling wild underneath A fun-house-mirror-of-melting-clown-face… That one is anything but good.

This week, I stopped my own domesticated mom van (a Town & Country, not a VW — its teeth tamed via remote control and motion sensor) —  to collect my birthday mail. And when I did, a horse-fly buzzed in the periphery of my mind and commenced to sawing open a whole slurry of wholesome and diseased recollections: the taste of fruit stripe gum, the sound of creaking car lift, the feel of canine incisors, the sight of scarlet lipstick, and the smell of smoky gun shot.

I collected the mail and left the heat of the mid afternoon sun for the heat of the repressed memories busily snapping and lifting like a time-release film.

And I sat down to write what I saw…

Birthday Cakes: a simple symbol for the complex, multi-layered loves of your life

In our house, birthdays are a big deal. And birthday cakes are a big part of that big deal. They are something to be thought long and hard over and then hand-crafted with lots and lots of love — and labor. If it doesn’t take hours and hours to craft that magical milestone confection topped with icing and flames and dripping wax, then you need to seriously reevaluate your relationship. Somebody doesn’t love you enough. Or you don’t love them enough. That’s my theory. (Not really… well, maybe really.)

A good solid relationship demands at least three hours of dedicated, uninterrupted baking. That’s the birthday cake rule of thumb. At least in my house.

It began when I was little. My mom is the master of birthday cakes from scratch: castle cakes with turrets and flags, yellow layer cakes with pink frosting and roses, maple pecan pound cakes…

I kept the tradition going when my girls were little. I wanted to give them some sort of celebration worthy of the love they had given me — and the cakes my mom had always made.  So I went all out when planning their birthdays. They had themed parties with dozens of attendees. We hosted murder mysteries, scavenger hunts, plundering pirate feasts, and ginormous movie premiers. I planned for months and baked in marathons. Their cakes were always homemade and, though hardly Pinterest-worthy, were fueled and filled with love.

Then came the boys… the twins. And the birthday-cake-stakes were multiplied – and way more than simply times two. These boys have been challenging for a number of reasons — the first being, there were two of them. At once. And they never slept. And did I mention there were two of them. At once…

But, then, to add insult to injury, when their first birthday rolled around, I had to come up with a way to bake up a super-scrumptious birthday cake worth all the love and laughter and sleepless nights the boys had brought into my life. And all without dairy — with nary a milk protein to be found!

Holy Mother of Ganache!

Bake a cake without cream? without chocolate? without butter? These are the key ingredients and foundations of layer cakes and healthy relationships the world over… They are the flutter in the belly, the dilation in the pupil, the surge in the heartstrings. They are the LOOK and TASTE and LANGUAGE of love — of deep, abiding love.

The way I figured it, a cake without dairy would be flat and leave you feeling unfulfilled. Like a song without accompaniment — no guitar, no piano, not even a tambourine. (I must confess this was prior to my exposure to the pure, acapella sounds of Pentatonix. I was so, so very naïve – about music and about cakes… You see, really good cakes – and really good music – CAN be made without the traditional accompaniments.)

…because I found a cake that is moist and dense and decadent and CHOCOLATE with absolutely, positively NO dairy ingredients. Instead, it uses almond milk and coconut oil and applesauce and cocoa and coffee. And witchcraft. Sweet, sweet sacharine sorcery. It is the best damn chocolate cake I’ve ever made. Or ever had. And from now until eternity, it is the only chocolate cake I will ever, ever make again.

Amen and pass the birthday candles.

So yes, the boys presented me with a birthday cake challenge, but I’m here to say my biggest, ongoing challenge has to do with my nay-saying, anti-birthday-establishment husband.

Somehow, I married a man who hates birthdays. No. Worse. He doesn’t hate them. At least there’s passion in hate. No, he just doesn’t care about birthdays. He proclaims, year after year, that “a birthday is just another day.”  He doesn’t want to be fussed over. He doesn’t want to be baked for.

Oh, the blasphemy! Oh, the shame!!!

A birthday is NOT just another day. A birthday is YOUR day (unless you’re a twin. The twins share their special day – which is kind of a crime, if you think about it. But then, so were those sixteen sleepless months they gave me, so I guess that’s the cross they must bear…)

But your birthday is YOUR special day. You get the birthday song sung to you. (Yes, I know it’s tedious and tired and half the people who sing it can’t quite hit those high notes – me included –  but still, we squawk it out just for you. So just relish in the disjangled cacophony of it all.)

And you get birthday cards and birthday presents. (Well, I may have forgotten to pick up a card this year – your 40th and one of the Big Ones — which probably means I’ve now got myself reserved seating on one of the deep-throated sectionals in the ninth circle of Hell reserved for the traitors of kin, but I DID get you a really, really nice, long-awaited birthday gift.)

But most of all, you get cake. BIRTHDAY cake. And I’m here to tell you I happily spent the majority of the morning hours toasting pecans and grating carrots and creaming butter and folding egg whites and spooning vanilla to create a veritable symphony of love and affection in the form of a three-layered confection made special just for you.

Because you see, you ARE a really big deal. And yes, I know you are a staggering six feet of pure, mountainous muscle and mixed genetics — a specimen of breathtaking beauty ( Don’t argue with me. You are.), but you are also a big deal for far more than your giant stature and gorgeous genetics. You have changed the course of my life for the better. You sent me spinning head-over-heels into a world full of football and do-it-all-over-again-motherhood, and a pure and perfect and birthday-cake-special kind of love.

So every January 7th, I bake up your favorite — carrot cake with toasted pecans and creamed cheese icing – in honor of all the hugs and kisses and laughter and toddler antics and frenzied football games and political discussions and passion and pure joy you give to me on a daily basis. A simple symbol of thanks for a complex, multi-layered love. Happy Birthday, handsome.


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