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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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Parenting twins

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are  tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.

But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.

It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.

And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

What the Ronald McDonald House Means to our Family

I’ve tried on at least three different occasions to write about the Ronald McDonald House and what it means to our family– specifically the one in Chattanooga across from Erlanger Hospital – and each time, words  have failed me. I’m trying one more time…

The birth of our twins was a chaotic, emotionally-fueled time in our lives. Our boys were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and we found our heads full to overflowing with medical details and our hearts bruised to bursting with love and fear for our boys. We spent the vast majority of our waking hours swimming in an exhausted state through the dim and beeping expanse of the NICU. There were scrubbing stations and hand sanitizers and security procedures and crib after crib of sick babies to navigate just to reach our own babes. And then once there, there were machines and syringes and tubes and wires to navigate before we could ever hold them. And holding them was our life raft. Holding them calmed the seas of frustration and fear and soothed us all.

But if holding the boys was our life raft, the Ronald McDonald House was our rescue ship. Because on the fourth day, I was discharged from the hospital – and the boys were not. And we were going to be separated – and I really didn’t think I could weather that emotional storm.

But then the house named after the clown that sponsors the largest fast food chain in the entirety of the universe opened its doors to us. Seems crazy when you think about it that way. But I’m telling you right now, it is far from a joke. It is the real deal. It is the best of what humanity can do for its own.

The Ronald McDonald House is the place where parents of children hospitalized and far from home are given shelter and support and a place to eat and sleep and cry and pray and struggle through the days and weeks and sometimes months of helpless and hopeless feelings without having to feel homeless too.

It is a sanctuary. There are warm beds and warm dinners and warm showers. And there is privacy. Privacy to pray or cry or both – in a small chapel or a serenity garden or on a soft, comfortable mattress in the quiet, comfortable guest rooms.

And there are supplies — toiletries and snacks and various and sundry necessities that help families get through the toughest of times when they don’t have the time to think about such things, much less shop for them. It is all available and there for the parents.

And all for the whopping cost of $10 a day — if your family can afford it. But absolutely no family is ever turned away. Ever. The RMH philosophy is that sick children need their parents and no parent should worry about daily needs if a child’s health is at stake. They also know and understand that young patients have far better medical outcomes if their parents are near. I, for one, agree for a couple of reasons.

Beyond the obvious — that we wanted desperately to be close to our babies — we also needed to be close. Because a mega-majorly important part of our boys’ treatment plan was breast milk — that thick, nutrient-and-calorie-and-immunity-rich mama medicine was just what the doctor ordered. And being just down the hill from the hospital (we’ll talk about that hill in a minute), made it so much easier to keep my milk supply in fresh and steady supply —  as opposed to being shuttled over an hour away in an ice-packed cooler from back home in Georgia. So in the cozy comfort of our private guest room — complete with an extra queen bed for my mom and Mike’s parents (who provided endless hours of assistance and support), I pumped and Mike delivered (up that aforementioned hill) – like clockwork every three-and-a-half hours every night for almost a full week. Until Parker was discharged at nine days old.

But back to that infamous hill; that doozy of a mother of a hill; that steeply slanted, sidewalk-striped gauntlet-of- medieval-proportions hill. It was torturous to say the least. But Mike navigated it like a knight in shining Under Armor — or a milk man — a gallant, modern-day milk man. He toted bag after bag of freshly-pumped breast milk up that hill. He even pushed the milk maker up the hill in a wheelchair on more than one occasion (since I’d had a c-section and wasn’t supposed to climb anything). Good thing he pushed linemen around in college because I was definitely a heavy load – a heavy, post-partum-post-twins kind of load.

And speaking of heavy loads, everything about that time in our lives was heavy. Our hearts, our hurdles, our hospital bills… but the Ronald McDonald House lightened our burdens on so many levels, and we can never repay the kindnesses heaped upon us while there.

But we try. It has become our charity of choice. We’ve written checks, we’ve sprinkled change in drive thru boxes, and we’ve ordered the annual Ronald McDonald House Christmas ornament with our boys’ names inscribed. Every single year. I want to give more. To do more. I wish there were one closer to us.

Mostly, I would love to help cook warm meals for families  — because that was perhaps the most comforting of all the blessings RMH bestowed upon us: those hearty, healthy meals. I recall tuna noodle casseroles and giant pots of southern green beans, big, baked lasagnas and fresh garden salads. Meals were prepared nightly by sorority houses and church groups, fraternity brothers and book clubs. Those meals were nourishment not only to our bodies, but our boys’ bodies, as well. Generous, kindhearted strangers cooked up the very best suppers that helped me cook up the very best sustenance for my newborn twins. I can never thank any of them enough.

The Ronald McDonald charities really do provide boundless blessings for families of sick children all over the world. They certainly kept us afloat during that most precious and precarious time in our lives. I cannot say enough positive things about them. Please consider throwing a little change their way in the drive thru of your local McDonald’s. Or volunteering at one of their local chapters. Or ordering one of their lovely ornaments. Or writing a big check. Please.

Families of sick children everywhere thank you.

Our Hard, Hellish Journey through the Place Where Miracles Mature, the NICU

We got pregnant four years ago via IVF. We used donor eggs, fresh and locally sourced. I guess our pregnancy mirrored the current foodie trend, although it wasn’t quite farm to table. More like follicle to petri dish to uterus, with a five-day incubation in between.

You see, I was too old to supply eggs of my own. I was two months shy of forty-seven when we began the process, and I was forty-eight when I had the boys. Everything in between went smoothly enough (relatively speaking), from embryo transfer to the thirty-fourth week. But that’s when things took a rapid tumble downhill. That’s when my “Advanced Maternal” body declared mutiny on the whole pregnancy thing by throwing some protein in my urine and slinging my blood pressure into the stratosphere.

I don’t remember a whole lot between then and the two days it took to bring the boys into the world because magnesium was introduced to my blood stream (Which is the Devil. Magnesium is the Devil). I recall a little ambulance ride up over the state line where our maternal/fetal specialist practiced. I recall fainting while lying flat on my back. I recall oxygen masks and my 300-pound husband tightly poured into the wrong size scrubs. I recall (fuzzily) my twenty-four-year-old baby girl sleeping on an orange couch in the corner of my hospital room with the cushions piled over her head. I vaguely recall talking to my eldest baby girl via FaceTime and her double and triple checking what actions the doctors and nurses were taking. And I remember kissing the boys on their wet little heads before they were wheeled away into the NICU. That’s pretty much all I remember about those couple of days.

Now we were extremely lucky with our boys. Thirty-four weeks is a solid gestation time for preemies. Hearts and lungs are developed and strong. Immune systems are decent. The only real issues we had to face were body temperature maintenance and feeding challenges. Boys are notoriously lazy eaters (you would never know it now), and because of that, Tate and Parker spent six days and nine days in the NICU, respectively.

For those of you unaware, September is NICU awareness month. That’s why I am revisiting one of the most difficult times in our lives. NICUs are hard places, one of the hardest places on this earth. Babies should never have to suffer. Innocence should know no pain. Innocence should know no struggle.

I think that’s why NICU families will always have a tender place in my heart. I don’t know if there is any situation quite like a NICU stay. Think about it – here you are, in what is supposed to be one of the most magical and perfect times of your life – the birth of your child. It’s the moment you and your spouse have prepared for since you first peed on the stick and got the news. And then something goes wrong. Sometimes horribly wrong. There is nothing quite like that kind of an emotional hijack.

And Mike and I had it relatively easy, all things considered. (Although at the time, it felt anything but.) Nine days in the NICU would be a Godsend for some preemie parents.  We were surrounded by cribs housing babies who had been there for months and months, parents loyally by their side. Babies who had undergone surgery after surgery. Babies whose cribs were peppered with personal items from home. Or worse. Babies who had been there for months and months with no personal items and no family members to be found. Crack babies. Unwanted babies. The world can be a cruel place for some of the most amazingly beautiful miracles ever made.

I can’t even imagine seeing the suffering day after day. I have no idea how the staff holds it together amongst that kind of injustice. My faith would waiver, I tell you. It would waiver big time. As it was, our babies were loved and they were relatively healthy and they were incredibly strong. All of those little warrior babies in the NICU are strong. Much stronger than the parents. Me, I was an absolute disaster.

Those nine NICU days, I felt like a giant, injured cuticle, stripped and torn, tender and exposed. I cried at the slightest provocation. When the elevator was too slow, I cried. When the hallway was too crowded, I cried. When I held the boys for the first time… I didn’t cry. I vomited — the anesthesia from the C-section. But that second time –oh, I cried.

I cried when I pumped for what felt like hours the very first time – my nipples stretched thin and angry and complaining like hell. I cried. And when all I got for my hard-fought labor was the tiniest, most miniscule amount of colostrum you ever did see, I cried. And when the nurse divided up that tiny little miniscule amount of colostrum and put it on two separate Q-tips and swished it around in the boys’ mouths, I cried.

When we bathed the boys for the first time, their wrinkly little alien bodies so slippery and small I feared they would slide right through my fingers, I cried. And when my milk came in and my chest rippled and ridged and cordoned itself off like a honeycomb, chamber after chamber flooded with liquid gold, I cried.

The worst, though, was if somebody was nice to me. If somebody smiled kindly at me, it was over. Or if I saw something beautiful. Like my boys. They did me in every time. But so did the long, sunny mural on the way to the NICU — a green and golden ant village, with ants sailing on leaf rafts, or ants raking their gardens, or ants swinging on tire swings or flying on butterflies. It was beautiful and whimsical and comforting. And it sent me into a bleary, teary, snot-filled mess every time Mike wheeled me down the hall.

And it wasn’t just me. This NICU time was also the first time I ever saw Mike cry. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s a meathead. And he’s a fixer. But this was something beyond his fixing abilities. This was all up to his boys — his tiny, fragile, five-pound boys. They had to decide when they would eat what they needed to eat – and on a consistent basis – to be allowed to go home.

I saw him break down for the very first time one morning at the breakfast table. His shoulders shuddered, his face folded under and crumpled, and there, above his cereal bowl at the Ronald McDonald House (I can’t EVEN tell you how much we owe to the Ronald McDonald House, but that’s another blog), he wept. And I cried. (Apparently there was another instance where he sneaked into the chapel across from our room and cried and cried and cried. I wasn’t there for that one. But I’m telling you, the NICU is hard on the strongest among us.)

Yes, the NICU is a hard, hard place, but the people there are far from hard. They are big-hearted and oh-so-capable. The nurses and doctors who work in a NICU are special people. They have to be, to work somewhere where innocent souls suffer so unjustly. To dedicate themselves to a life surrounded by the harsh realities of a cold universe…every single day… I don’t understand their endless capacity for TLC without frustration, but I am forever grateful for them.

Those nurses, especially, were our salvation. They instructed us, they comforted us, they listened to us. They rattled us sometimes. And sometimes they just made us mad.

I’ll never forget one NICU nurse in particular. I thought I hated her. I thought she was the worst one of the bunch. She was grouchy and my nerves were brittle, and I humbly admit I despised her. I thought she was so self-righteous. Turns out, she was just plain right.

That cranky, caustic nurse was actually an efficient, matter-of-fact caretaker who knew her stuff and took a no-nonsense approach to her little patients. She was the one who showed us the technique that finally got Parker to eat so we could take him home. She may have been cranky, but she was an absolute Christ figure. She sacrificed personality for patient progress, and she saved us from who knows how many more days in the NICU and how many more nights in the Ronald McDonald House. I will never forget her grumpy ass.

Yes, NICUs are hard places and special places. They are grueling. They grind parents down. But they lift babies up. They are a place of miracles, where miracles go after they are born, to heal up and head home – to their earthly home or their heavenly home.

NICUs may feel like they are Godforsaken places, where the innocent suffer without cause, but NICUs are far from Godforsaken. He puts His best angels there:  the gentlest, the ablest – and sometimes the crankiest angels there to do His work. They shelter those little miracles until they are ready for the world.

But sometimes the world is just not ready for some of them and they go back to Him. At least that’s what I have to tell myself. Otherwise I can’t. I just can’t.

Yes, NICUs are very hard places.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous… and Us: Celebrity Twin Parents vs Mike and Me

We’ve been trapped inside the house with cranky twin toddlers all day long, the rain pattering on our rooftop and the boys trampling on our nerves. Now honestly, it didn’t get truly unbearable until around six pm, when the name calling and sucker punching – and a whole lot of tattling – kicked into high gear.

I’m just thankful it’s so close to Christmas… relatively speaking. At least that’s what we’ve told the boys. Using the holly, jolly sleigh man as a serious threat is our only hope. Having access to the Big Man’s Nice and Naughty hotline is invaluable. I’m not ashamed. I’m desperate.

I wish I had a nanny. Instead of calling Santa, I would call her. Tag! You’re it!

And that got me thinking about the differences between Mike’s and my life as twin parents and let’s say… George and Amal Clooney’s, or Beyonce and Jay Z’s, or even Kelly and Mathew Stafford’s. And after a bit of research, I’ve learned that not all twin parents are created equal. Here are just a few of the ways our lifestyle doesn’t seem to measure up:

#1 On Instagram, I found a selfie video of Kelly Stafford and her QB husband Matthew driving down the freeway in their fully-loaded SUV after the press conference to announce his newly-signed $135 million contract. I’m sure those adorably precious identical twin girls, dressed in sparkly sequined tutus and Detroit blue bows were somewhere in the giant, leathered rear interior watching “Sofia the First” on a big screen TV.

Meanwhile my hubby and I are rattling around in our tomato red minivan with the scratched side panels and DVD player that snags and stalls on pop-tart encrusted videos so often that we have to listen to the Frozen soundtrack on our phones instead, while the boys argue endlessly over which Elsa song they want to hear next. No press conference. No $135 million contract.

#2 I also found quite a bit of evidence that celebrities have drivers — drivers who deal with the traffic and road rage so they don’t have to. So they don’t have to go nutso over the John Deere tractor bumping twenty-two miles an hour down Main Street, or the “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers slapped proudly on every Toyota and Honda and Mercedes they pass on the way to the grocery. (Wait. Do they even go to the grocery store?) Meanwhile, celebs chilling in the back behind darkly-tinted windows sipping champagne — their twin tots tottering around the playroom back home with the nanny. (Ahem, see #4)

Me, I sort of have a driver – if you can count my husband, who drives the two percent of time he’s actually with our family and not at football practice (high school coach, not NFL player — hence, no driver), and only then if we’re feeling brave enough to drive to the grocery store with category 5 twin tornadoes riding dirty in the back. (Again, no nanny.) We’re about as effective at dodging “Clean up in Aisle 3” as Jay Z and Queen Bey are at dodging photogs.

#3 And speaking of paparazzi, I found photographic evidence of celebrity twin moms and dads on dates. Like real ones – not just over lunch during pre- and post-planning weeks (teacher life), which are probably two of the seven dates Mike and I have had the entire time the boys have been in existence. Beyonce and Jay Z went out on their first date just weeks after their twins were born.

We’ve been to the movies once in three-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, celebs are out making them. Like George and Amal Clooney spotted last week sailing the canals of Venice in a water taxi, wind blowing through her long, dark locks and ruffling his steely gray bangs. Amal, that seriously tall, thin glass of water with like zero ripples ANYWHERE, and George, cocksure and suave, hand resting on her waist (tiny waist, y’all, tiny) on the way to some film festival. Where were their precious new boy and girl twins? With the nanny, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, us — we’ve been to the movies once in three-and-a-half years. Did I mention that already?

#4 And since it keeps coming up, let’s talk about nannies. Celeb twin parents have nannies, y’all. Nannies who diaper the kids, and feed the kids, and clean up after the kids. Now nannies are not necessarily always a good thing. I did unearth quite a few Hollywood scandals involving nannies doing things with people other than the kids. So, no, I guess nannies are not always a good thing — a sure thing, apparently, but not a good thing. So I guess I’m okay with no nanny.

#5 Celebrity Twin Moms and Dads also dress up. And then they go to galas — to black tie events. (See George and Amal Clooney’s example.)

Us? We go to Prom. (Again, teacher life.) One time we went with the boys, so that one just doesn’t count. And then once I went solo thanks to explosive diarrhea twenty minutes before the sitter was scheduled to arrive. (I guess I should clarify — the boys, the boys developed explosive diarrhea twenty minutes before the sitter was scheduled to arrive.) But Mike and I did make it to Prom once… Just the two of us and five hundred sweating, hormone-juiced teenagers in tuxes and taffeta grinding all up one another and consuming large quantities of ranch dressing from the chicken finger buffet.

So not the same.

#6. I also learned during my research that celebrity twin parents have play money. Like, money they get to play with. Lots and lots of play money. They do things with their play money like sail the canals of Venice, or break the internet with their baby reveals in front of giant walls of roses, or throw it away on things like… brunch. Brunch. That made-up mealtime that combines breakfast and lunch and costs about as much as all three daily meals combined.

Yeah, their money’s not like the money we have. We have real money. Real money in mega-tiny doses that we throw away on things like day care and Big Boy Overnights (our term for Pull Ups, otherwise, the boys think they’re diapers and won’t put them on) and food.  Lots and lots of food. Our boys may be three-and-a-half, but they can put away a large pizza and a side of bread sticks almost entirely by themselves. I can’t even imagine what our food budget will be like when they’re teenagers playing football.  I think I’d best be finding another job. Teaching won’t pay the bills then. Won’t even come close.

Maybe I’ll become a driver of celebrities. I bet where they live, the odds of me getting road rage would be considerably diminished. I bet tractors and Trump bumper stickers are fewer and farther between. Then again, I bet traffic is worse. Cities tend to be like that. And most of those celebrities live in the big city. And I kind of like my quiet, southern town.

And I also kind of like my high school football coaching husband and my twin tornado toddlers. No, scratch that. I love them. Like big time. So I’m good with what we have. Our lifestyle may not measure up to those celebrities.We may not drive sleek SUVs, or have a buxom, blond nanny (thank God), or go to Venetian film festivals, and soon we may not be able to feed our growing boys on teacher salaries, but Mike and I are filthy rich in the things that count most: love and laughter and a close, personal friendship with Santa Claus.

 

 

All Aboard the Potty Train!

We just sent both boys off to daycare in big boy undies. Both of them! One sporting Captain America because we haven’t found Iron Man briefs yet, (so to him they’re the next best thing), and the other guy in day-old, slightly used Superman ones because he has OCD tendencies (and that makes them the only thing. Please don’t judge me.)

Now in case you haven’t figured it out, it’s been ALL ABOARD the potty express this weekend in the Candela household. It’s proved a cruel and rickety ride– and I’m still not positive we’ve reached our destination, but we’re getting close.

This morning, we tossed the engineer’s cap to the boys’ long-suffering and sweet-natured day care instructors, along with additional supplies: some stickers, a couple of magic bracelets, and plenty of extra underwear, which I pray they won’t need because no matter how many channel locks and sleeper holds they employ, they will NOT be getting additional briefs on our youngest boy. Truth. I apologize in advance. We clearly owe their teachers some Martin’s chicken biscuits (for those of you not from around here, they are our breakfast equivalent of an In N Out burger. Although these women actually deserve a bottle of private-select, high-quality bourbon — but I believe that’s frowned upon by the State Department.)

Now I feel I need to clarify just a bit before proceeding further. Parker has been out of diapers for the entire summer. He’s been chugging along like a champ, except for one thing (um.. actually two — number two — to be exact). So that was our goal for him: to go number two in the toilet. Tate, on the other hand, has refused to get on board all summer long — like adamantly — so we knew it was going to be a wild ride.

The train rolled out at oh-eight-hundred Saturday morning, with a meticulously-plotted plan in place. We knew we needed strategies, tactical diversions, and lots and lots of patience. It commenced with the disposal of the one remaining unsoiled diaper. We made a great show of it, each boy grabbing a separate Velcro tag and marching it to the kitchen, where we threw away the last remaining vestige of their infancy. They laughed and laughed. And I may have shed a tiny – microscopic, really – tear. Diapers are a hassle and an expense. But they’re also the end of an era… But I digress.

The boys laughed and laughed. Until it wasn’t funny anymore. Until I pulled the wool from their eyes… ahem, diapers from their ass.

“Stand up, Bug. Let’s put on your new Spiderman underwear.”

“I want a diaper.”

“We don’t have anymore, remember? You’re a big boy.”

“I’m not a big boy. I’m a baby. I want my diaper.”

“No, let’s put these on. You love spiders.”

Tate may love spiders, but he does not love Spiderman underwear. What commenced was a tremendous thrashing about and flailing of limbs that left my extremities bruised and him bare assed in the floor howling at the inhumanity of it all.

The potty train had left the station. And then stalled immediately due to a tiny human lying prostrate on the track. For fifty-three minutes. Truth.

Parker, on the other hand, was all about it… until he had to poop.

“Mommy, get the diaper out of the garbage.”

“Not happening. It’s too messy. See?” I take him to the trashcan, where I had intentionally poured Mrs. Butterworth all over it, knowing full well that I would need the evidence to back me up later.

He tried a new tactic. “Let’s go to Target and get some more.”

“We can’t. Target is closed. It’s Saturday.” (Small white lie.) “Besides, we have this magic bracelet. (Big white lie) Let’s put it on instead and then go poo poo in the potty.”

Parker is the more easily manipulated of our two fellas, so his eyes instantly lit up. He proffered his arm and away he and daddy went.

At last! We were off and rolling! Until we weren’t. Another delay. Parker sat there, chugging away, but that sweet little engine just didn’t quite believe he could. Not even with his magic bracelet. So he didn’t.

Tate, meanwhile, finally got off the floor but refused to get into his tighty whities — which, truth be told, are a little loose for his small frame and actually multi-colored. For the remainder of the day, he rode the train naked and full steam ahead, pulling ferociously at his safety valve all the while. But he found success – and stickers on a chart each time.

But rather than using the cute, little, froggy urinal we purchased – complete with spinning tongue to inspire good aim – he used the bushes outside our front door.

As Saturday drew to a close the ride left all four of us completely pooped (although only two of us had actually done so), and with the soil in our front bed growing more acidic by the moment. The gardenias should love it.

Cue our Sunday morning departure. It was a good deal easier on all the passengers. Tate finally fed the frog and even managed to spin its tongue, although it might actually be a uvula… it looks kind of like a uvula. Regardless, he did it. (Although he still prefers the shrubbery.)

FullSizeRender (7)

And Parker finally conquered number two atop the toilet – the magic bracelet managing to wield its powers — and got tatted up as a reward. And Mike and I actually began to relax a bit and enjoy the ride.

Yes, the potty express is finally proceeding full steam ahead. And I’m praying that having handed over the controls to our sons’ ever-faithful teachers, the forward motion will continue. I pray that the air brake isn’t somehow inadvertently tripped in the chaos of centers and snack time. I’m not worried about Parker. He’s pretty much got this. But Tate, he worries me a bit.

Earlier, when I mentioned his OCD, it wasn’t for dramatic effect. He has definite tendencies. Tate won’t do anything until he’s confident he can succeed. And once he’s mastered something, he does it, ad nauseam. We’ve recorded hours of him singing Elsa’s theme song. He’s completed his favorite ABC puzzle approximately two hundred thousand times. (I exaggerate. Let’s say one hundred. Thousand.) Last week I told you about the elevator that we rode over and over and over and over again on vacation. And when we weren’t riding it, he was talking about riding it. And begging to ride it. And screaming to ride it.

So I feel like it’s kind of the same with the potty express. He feels fairly confident right now. At least about the first part (we’re working toward no. 2). For a while over the weekend, he wanted to pee every three minutes – and his body wouldn’t necessarily comply — which caused him to stress a wee bit (yes, pun intended). But now, he’s relaxed into an every-thirty-minutes-or-so pattern. (We have a plethora of stickers to prove it.)

Our family boarded this train with the intent of promoting confidence and independence (and a new school level – age 3-4 class) for our little lads. And thus far, it is working. But if our youngest has a set back, his OCD tendencies may take over. He already worries nonstop about “pee peeing on the floor at school.” He gave me a running catalog of classmates who have done so in the past. And if he does, he’s sure to internalize it as failure and our entire train could derail.

So I would appreciate any and all prayers for a successful third day aboard the Potty Express. We could use all the assistance we can get. And please, please… send prayers, not judgment. I know they’re almost three-and-a-half. I know they should’ve been potty trained a long time ago. But twins are a lot of work, David. Have mercy!

How to Potty Train Twin Boys (Lord, I Wish this Were an Instruction Manual)

But it’s not. It is a desperation outlet for a mama at her wit’s end. It has been a long and arduous journey, with no clear ending in sight.

Here we are, over halfway through my teacher’s summer, and I am failing miserably at the one and only assignment on my mama to-do list (or maybe I should call it my to-doo doo list): potty training my three-year old boys.

Now I don’t want to mislead you. One boy is nearly there. He is currently wearing Captain America underpants sixteen hours a day with zero recorded accidents. (And that includes two twelve-hour road trips to Michigan and back with only two pitstops.) Why, then, you might ask, do I say “nearly there?” Because going number two is hardly a number one priority for Parker. He will hold his feces for days just to avoid the whole messy situation. And then, just when you think his intestines will perforate he quietly asks, with a sheepish twinkle in his eye, for a diaper. The potty is out of the question. It’s either a diaper or an impacted colon. Those are the options he gives us.

Why, you might ask, is he never afraid to liquidate his holdings, but is positively terrified to make a solid deposit? Your question is my question. He won’t say. Or at least, he can’t. He can’t vocalize his fear. And the experts claim it is unequivocally fear. Fear of losing a part of himself. Or of falling into the giant porcelain abyss. Or whatever other crazy cause they come up with. After all, nothing about a three-year old’s thought process is logical. I just know the minute we give him a diaper he goes over to a private corner and bears down like he’s birthing a boulder. And generally, after days of holding out, he is.

So with regard to potty training my twin boys, I’m half way there. Just below 50%, which in a teacher’s grade book is failing big time.

But if I look at it in terms of baseball statistics, our summer is going well. Like really, really well. So I prefer to look at it this way. They are my boys and this is summer, so what better analogy to use than one involving the boys of summer? In this scenario, I’m batting slightly less than .500 (taking into consideration the whole pee vs poo ratio for the one boy). And while I’m certainly no sports analyst, and the balls I know more about are the shape of inflated pig’s bladders and slung by a fellow wearing shoulder pads rather than round ones slung by a guy on a mound chewing tobacco (the guy, not the mound), I do know enough to know that batting .500 for an entire season is a damn-near impossible feat. But so is training twin boys. So I tell myself that. To feel better about our current situation. And our current situation is… Yeah, I don’t even know what to call it.

We are striking out at every turn with our youngest – the control-freak, OCD wunderkind who has mastered an entire repertoire of Disney soundtracks and the phonetic alphabet. But he hasn’t mastered this. And we’ve tried every potty-training life-hack known to momkind.

First, we bought colorful and appealing superhero undies. We oohed and ahhed over their comfort and built-in superpowers. He was unimpressed. We had his brother model them. He was equally unimpressed. We forced him into them. (Unimpressed is not the word to use here.) We figured his perfectionist nature wouldn’t allow him to have an accident. We were so wrong. All we got out of the endeavor was piddle stains on our Persian rugs and strained nerves on every last one of us.

We tried letting him watch the rest of us go potty. He actually loves this scenario. He laughs at the bubbles we make in the toilet basin, especially brother and daddy, who have distance and hose pressure on their side. But that’s all we get. Laughs. We get laughs.

We tried stripping him naked — because apparently that’s a tactic that works for some folks. Alas, not us. He lay in the floor for what felt like forever, writhing in hysteria and begging for his diaper and Santa PJs. (Yes, it’s July. Christmas in July is a thing. Don’t you watch the shopping networks?) And in all honesty, I’ve tried replacing them with a more seasonal option, but that’s going about as well as our potty training forays.

We tried peeing in the grass in the backyard (Well, Parker and Dad have. I abstained). Boys are supposed to love this. To see it as liberating — some sort of connection with Neanderthal roots maybe? I have no idea. Anyway, daddy and brother modeled the behavior. Tate was uninspired.

boysofsummerstanding

We would try positive reinforcement, but there’s been nothing to praise of yet.

We even lowered ourselves to the point of pitting brother against brother – thinking the whole competition factor would kick in. Nobody wants to be a loser, right? Yeah, that didn’t work. Tate happily praises Parker for his numerous successes, running to bring him his reward without even trying to sneak a Skittle for himself. So that pretty much tells me we are at a stalemate here, folks.

A stalemate of mammoth proportions. Our situation is so dire that Tate will no longer voluntarily climb into a bathtub out of fear of that natural urge that hits when a body meets warm water. Loss of bladder control has become his worst nightmare. (I pray he wasn’t irreparably scarred by the whole tinkling superhero fiasco.)

We are living in a constant state of anxiety – and near-filth – these days. I sling him, as he climbs my torso like a frightened kitten, into the tub where I then I scrub him as fast as humanly possible, hitting all the major cracks and crevices, while he frantically whimpers: I’m gonna pee pee on myself! I’m gonna pee pee on myself!

Which prompts me to sweep him out of the tub and over to the pot, where there’s nary a whiz to be heard. Just his dad explaining, over and over, “Don’t play with it, just push it down. Don’t play with it, just push it down.” So that’s what he says, now, too. “Don’t play with it, just push it down.” All the while, though, our littlest midget is spinning his widget.

The situation is not healthy for any of us, and I really have no idea how to fix it. Like, at all. I’m at a total loss. I was lulled into a false sense of security after having the girls. They were successfully potty-trained before they were two. And of course, I’d always heard the rumors that boys are harder. And I’m here to tell you those aren’t rumors. Those are cold, hard case files from boy moms the world over. And I know I am generalizing here. I’ve heard tales of boys out there confidently flinging their diapers aside at 18 months, eager to pee like daddy, standing tall and showering the shrubs or bathroom tiles or family pets in willful abandon. But I am here to say I do not know any of them. There’s no evidentiary proof.

I figure I can look at my summer to-do list two ways. I’m either failing miserably, or I’m knocking it out of the park. As an eternal optimist, I’m going with the latter.

So in our household, my boys of summer are celebrating our season’s success with Skittles rewards for one guy and Disney tune showcases for the other. We are a team with diverse talents. And we are winning.

boysofsummerpjs

 

 

Boy Parts: A Map for Boy Moms (Since We’re Strangers in a Strange Land)

I was a Girl Mom for a lot of years before I became a Boy Mom – and a Twin Boy Mom at that! And while I had a lot more energy and a tad fewer aches and pains (and facial grooves) as a mom thirty years ago, I also had a lot fewer surprises. After all, the girls’ anatomy was my anatomy. But boys… well, boys are different. And while we all know that, if you’ve never had or been around baby boys, you really have NO IDEA. So many times, I find myself completely lost –even with all those mom years under my belt. Thirty is a lot of years, David (my apologies to Love Actually), but boy-oh-boy, I find I’m completely ill-prepared for this journey. Boy motherhood is so entirely different. The climate’s different and the topography is different. And while I’ve barely breached its borders (I’m a mere three years in) I will try to chart the geographical features I’ve encountered thus far to help any new boy moms out there…

Of course, some things about the realm of boys are just plain legendary — things that everyone knows and expects. Like the unpredictable showers that drench mama’s belly or daddy’s shirtfront at the first available opportunity and then regularly for the next six months or so. It just happens. You’ve heard about them and you try to prepare. You cover the spigot whenever possible, yet you still find yourself soaked on random occasions.

You also know boys tend to manhandle their man handle. Like constantly — lest it get lost; or stolen; or some other unlikely calamity occur that all men, from one to one hundred, seem to universally fear. I learned this from watching baseball and Al Bundy and basically observing all the men in the history of my life.

But there have been other geographical idiosyncrasies involving male nether regions that have totally taken this mama by surprise. Starting with the ultrasound — which is when I discovered we were having turtles. No, I take that back. For two weeks, we thought we were having a turtle and a hamburger. But then, turtles won out. For those of you unaccustomed to sonogram speak, turtles are boys (little heads poking out of little shells) and hamburgers are girls (single patty sandwiched between a bun). In all honesty, this Girl Mom had never heard hamburger OR turtle talk. Again, thirty IS a lot of years, David. Ultrasounds were barely on the horizon, back then. So all that was news to me.

And speaking of turtles – sometimes they are shy and sometimes they really stick their necks out. As in baby erections. Grown men, sure, but infants?!?  Yes, infants. It certainly surprised this mama – and a lot more mamas out there too, I’m sure. (And if we’re being honest here, probably even some daddies.) Turns out baby boys stand at attention a lot — usually when their bladders are full — but not always. It’s just biology at work. And that biology certainly gets a work out. My eldest often exclaims, “It’s too big! It’s too big!” I’m sure he’ll outgrow that phrase.

So yes, boy topography is in a constant state of flux. But there is a landscape choice that must be made when a baby boy is born. I’m talking circumcision here — smooth or rugged terrain — and for such a thin layer of skin, parents better be thick-skinned about their decision. Because someone out there will object, no matter which way you go. People are passionate about the subject. Pros and cons are argued vehemently on both sides. Ultimately, I left it up to their daddy. I figured he had the equipment, and I didn’t.

Is there pain involved in the procedure? Absolutely. The boys swelled and turned red; they cried during and after the surgery (which is what it is – a minor one, but still), and they were fussy for several days after. It was traumatic for all of us. The boys suffered physically. Mike and I, psychologically. We felt guilty and wondered if we’d done the right thing. Is there risk? Negligible, but yes — experts say less than 1% chance of complication. Since the boys were in the NICU, they weren’t circumcised until after they were discharged (at eleven days), a fact which points toward greater risk amongst preemies who are already facing unique hurdles. Other arguments for and against involve UTIs, STDs, penile cancers and psychological effects. Statistics are skewed one way or the other, depending on the stance. Our boys seem well adjusted. Like I said before, the only thing they’ve ever said about their penises — “It’s too big!” Imagine if they had that hair’s-breadth of a foreskin to top it off!

Now I have discovered one similarity about the lands down under with regard to both sexes: the flora and fauna can quickly become unbalanced. Yeast covers girl and boy parts with equal abandon. It is the kudzu of the bacteria world. And antibiotics are the good-intentioned gardening clubs that unleash havoc on every regional ditch and telephone pole.  Now I knew girls were prone. Crevices and divides are prime soil for antibiotic-fueled mayhem. But boys? Boys have jutting promontories– I thought they would be immune. Boy, was I wrong. While it’s true they don’t have those same moist nooks and crannies, their twigs and berries can still turn to cranberry chutney the minute Augmentin arrives on scene.

And finally, the most recent frontier I’m encountering in boy country involves the perils of potty-training. The girls were relative quick studies, conquering toilet training around 2 years without fanfare, a mere bump in their journey toward self-government. The boys on the other hand… They were 3 in March and we’re not there yet. One is making strides – at his own glacial pace (kinda synonymous with those harbinger turtles — slow and steady wins the race). The other boy, though, is completely uninterested. Diapers have served him well thus far, and he absolutely refuses to be a slave to that strange spigot standing at attention. And who am I to argue with that? Soon enough, he’ll learn what his bodily urges mean. So I’m cool with him staying in diapers a while longer. I know he’ll eventually cross that border into big boy underwear. And then, before too long, big boy bodies will arrive with big boy erections. And I would like to think that neither boy will ever be slave to those.

pottytraining

But then, I’m a stranger in a strange land. What do I know? I pray, though, that with my husband’s assistance and experience, and my attentions and persistence, our boys will grow to be conscientious and confident and in control – of their parts, their desires, and their lives.

That is my goal as a mom of girls now raising boys: that both sets of my children are fully in control of their bodies, their desires, their lives.

Because in that regard, there should be no difference.

bothmom

Fertility Godmothers: Egg Donors (and Surrogates)

Some people claim the good old days are long gone. I call Bull Shenanigans. According to those folks, people used to be more trustworthy, more helpful, and more neighborly. You could “always depend on the kindness of strangers,” to borrow a Tennessee Williams’ quote. And speaking of borrowing, if your hens weren’t laying and you wanted to bake a cake, you simply garnered a couple of eggs from a buddy down the block. And if you needed some assistance — raising your barn or raising your kids — someone always came through.

Now I haven’t raised any barns recently, but I am raising twin boys – which takes a hell of a lot more strength and manpower, let me tell you – and folks always seem to come to the rescue. Take this past Sunday afternoon. We were at a local burger joint when one of the boys, who was curled up on my lap feeling crummy, managed to knock over my drink, giving both of us an ice bath. Before I could even react, a mother at the next table jumped to the rescue, swabbing us with napkins and then going for reinforcements when it became obvious we would need a warehouse-full. So don’t tell me chivalry is dead.

And while people have performed random acts of kindness since time immemorial, only in this day and age have those acts been granted an international day all their own. But kindness is not relegated to a single day. You constantly hear and read about layaway Santas, drive thru do-gooders, and animal shelter altruists.

What really elevates this era from the ones that came before it, though, is that the whole neighborly trait of lending a cup of this or a couple of that when you’re in need has moved beyond simple, farm-variety produce. In this beautiful, postmodern world, you can borrow eggs to bake up a cake or you can borrow eggs to bake up a baby. Seems to me that’s taking the whole “kindness of strangers” notion and knocking it up (you see what I did there?) a notch.

I like to think of the IVF process as a pantry to pregnancy revolution (rather like the farm to table one in food). And I guess that makes our boys a sort of revisited and reinvented version of the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa classic:

Take a cuppa sperm, well beaten 😊 and a coupla eggs, borrowed.

Mix well.

Marinate 5 days. Transfer resulting coupla embryos to clinically preheated oven.

Bake 9 months, and… VOILA!

birthboys2

Now, I don’t want to mislead you — IVF isn’t that simple. And it certainly isn’t as failproof as the time-honored Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cobbler recipe. It takes a carefully calibrated oven and experts who’ve undergone years of rigorous training to ensure just the right amount of salts, sugars, amino acids and proteins are in place during prep and baking.

Nor do I mean to make light of infertility or the expensive and excruciating journey that comes with it, a journey that is so full of loneliness and uncertainty. There are no guarantees. But there are options. If your fertility quest is hitting roadblock after roadblock, please remember that there are generous strangers out there — fertility godmothers if you will – ready to lend their eggs or even their wombs (one of my former students has offered her uterus as a surrogate on two separate occasions) for struggling couples.

Three years ago, I was able to bake up some babies with a fertility godmother’s healthy, young eggs, my husband’s sweet sauce, and my own reconstituted oven. The effect of one anonymous stranger’s generosity and the amount of gratitude in our hearts for her sacrifice  is impossible to put into words. She made our dreams come true.

I believe in the magic of kindness and the kindness of strangers. Put those two things together and miracles occur. Living, breathing, Cuppa Coupla Coupla miracles. If the glory days are in the past, then the hallelujah days are in the present. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Amen and pass the cobbler.

 

goldenembryos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to My Windy City Whirlwind Tour and My Perfect World Back Home

I just returned from a weekend get-a-way to Chicago. Me. Leaving twin toddler threenagers and a curmudgeonly dachshund with spiteful shit tendencies at home with my husband. What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking my sis and I hadn’t had a girls’ trip in over ten years. I was thinking I was in dire need of some breathing space, a massage therapist’s table, and a cocktail or two on a rooftop bar.

chicagorooftop

And I was thinking I was leaving my boys with their father. A father who is no rock star. Or bionic man. Or superhuman specimen. Although I tend to think so. Nope, he is a dad. But not JUST a dad – for there is no such thing. There are wonderful dads — capable, organized, efficient, loving co-parents. And there are terrible dads – disconnected, disinterested, uninspired biological sperm donors. And there are all those who dot the continuum from wonderful to terrible and back again. The same goes with moms. But my boys’ father – he sits at the very top end of that number line. He is a wonderfully capable, organized, efficient, and loving co-parent. So, guess what?

I had an absolute blast. I didn’t worry. I didn’t fret. I didn’t leave frozen meals in the fridge and emergency contacts on the counter. I didn’t call him every three minutes to make sure he knew not to forget sunscreen or to give them too many sweets or too much screen time. I knew that he had it all covered: the Friday school routine, the Saturday morning pancakes and the Sunday Frozen film fest. I knew he could sail smoothly — well, maybe not smoothly (there’s no smooth sailing with twin boys) — but he could at least sail confidently through all the random tantrums, dirty diapers, snotty noses, and snotty attitudes that our darling twosome could serve up. And they can certainly serve up a lot. But he had it. Asthma regimen – no problem. Bedtime and bath – no sweat. Stealthy wiener dog thievery and rapidly-scarfed-down happy meal nuggets – well, that may have ruffled his sails for a second, but still. He had it.

And like I said, I had a blast. My sis and I were ready to cut loose. We crammed as much into three days as humanly possible. The first night housed a gala – complete with hair and makeup and champagne on serving trays. And dancing. Lots and lots of dancing.

chicagogala

The next morning held a detoxification massage (not that we had any need for a detox). But let me take a small second to tell you about this massage. I’ve had rubdowns (not like my sister, mind you She’s had basically every make and model from Swedish to Shiatsu) but both of us would argue that no massage compares to this massage. It’s like being melted down and remolded out of myrtle and cypress and juniper berries.  It is seventh heaven on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Chicago. Go there. Yesterday.

And speaking of the Four Seasons Chicago – they know how to pamper an exhausted twin mom/end-of-the-year schoolteacher and her kid sister who has her own special set of challenges and fatigues. We were spoiled senseless. We consumed flatbread sculptures, ate hand-rolled truffles, drank gingerbread tea, sipped three-olive martinis, slept on marshmallow mattresses and consumed room service before a window that reigns supreme o’er the Windy City. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.

Nor can I thank my sister enough. She is my mirror twin, separated by four years. We are opposites. I am quiet, she is… not. She brings light and laughter everywhere she goes. When she turns it up, the world dances to her energy. I tend to sit back in the shadows. I enjoy naps and home. But last weekend, she plugged me into her electrical current and we bathed in the bright lights of the big city. We took a river tour and learned about the history and skyline. We had guitar solos played for us at Buddy Guy’s. And we rubbed shoulders with giants – literally. The Celtics were staying at our hotel and we bumped into their seven-foot-tall frames and their family members at every turn. I am now rooting unabashedly for Boston in the post-season because of the cutest three-year-old daughter of Jay Crowder and his beautiful wife. They shared their enthusiasm for Disney and her daddy as we sipped our gingerbread tea.

 

And finally, I can’t thank my husband and boys enough.  They hung back here in the big city of Euharlee eating the unexceptional provisions of a middle-class pantry and the Big Arches drive thru, while I gallivanted around Chi-town consuming deep dish pizza and five-star cuisine. My fellas are the ones who truly spoil me rotten. They shower me with love, and with hugs and kisses, and with the occasional bodily fluids (different fluids from different fellas ;b), and their love outshines all the fine-dining and relaxing massages and super shiny skylines in the world.

I thank them super very much a lot for loving me enough to let me leave them for a weekend. Especially to Mike. He handled everything with the dexterity and talent of a dad — a capable, organized, efficient, loving (and might I add, sarcastic — see above spa-parody pic) co-parent. And while the Four Seasons was leaving perfectly molded mints beside my meticulously fluffed and feathered guest bed, my dachshund was leaving perfectly pinched turds beneath Mike’s and my comfortably rumpled marriage bed. And yes, Mike handled that, too. I most humbly thank him for loving me enough to handle even that. He is way too good to me.

 

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