August 2, 2017

Book Review: Multiples Illuminated - Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years

(this post contains affiliate links)

One of the first things I did when finding out I was having twins (who are now THREE by the way), was start stressing. It was not so great for the babies, but how could I not when my life had been so dramatically changed in just a few moments with the upward swipe of an ultrasound wand?

I worried about my ability to care for two human beings and whether or not I would mess them up more than I would have a singleton. I thought constantly about the future and how we would clothe and feed them, how I would handle the inevitable sibling rivalry and whether or not CJ and I would survive this as a couple. And then there was the added worry and guilt over ensuring that each one felt completely loved and supported 100% of the time – but knowing that would be nearly impossible.

There were times along this three year journey where I felt totally alone. All the moms I know are amazing, but none have twins and I often wondered if I was the only one with such intense fears or who really struggled to get back on their feet after a crazy pregnancy, NICU time and breastfeeding issues. I am thankful for social media and twin mom groups, usually my go-to for advice, but most recently, I had the opportunity to read a fantastic collection of stories written by other parents of multiples and it was quite the eye-opening and reassuring experience.

 Multiples IlluminatedMultiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years, the second book in a series, is edited by fellow moms of multiples, Megan Woolsey, a mom of four including 9 year old triplets, and Alison Lee, a mom of four including 3 year old twins.

This compilation of 21 colorful anecdotes, honest admissions and helpful tips for multiples aged two to twelve, is a must-read for any multiples parent or parent to be. Each story is the perfect mix of raw, relatable and reassuring. Even the most anxious parents of multiples will feel a sense of relief in knowing that at least one other person out there understands.

At times hilarious and silly, Multiples Illuminated is also poignant and heart-warming, getting to the real deal of this twin stuff, such as the stress it can have on your marriage or partnership, navigating the delicate dynamics of inclusion and individualism as well as the daunting challenge of toilet training two at once. Also delving into such topics as having one twin with special needs or health issues, single parenting multiples and how to handle a world that consistently views twins as one person with two bodies, there is something for every parent of multiples to connect with and appreciate.

This glimpse into our futures made me laugh out loud: “You pick them up and balance one on each hip. You are super strong, and you have no idea that in 10 years your hips will ache and you will go to physical therapy and no one will be able to figure out why.”

The most significant underlying theme in Multiples Illuminated is the varying degrees but overall consistency of the twin mom guilt I alluded to before. Since day one it has gnawed at me, as I held my teeny-tiny newborn in the NICU, all wrapped up in her cords and trying not to tear out her feeding tube. Her sister let out a peep from the isolette across the room, signaling it was almost her turn to eat. My heart ached to just scoop them both up and never put them back down, never wanting either of them to feel as though they were second best or less important.

The reality is, as many of the stories touch on, that sharing is the name of the game with twins – whether it is our attention, their toys or experiences, it is the one thing that will be a constant in our lives from here on out. And for them, our multiples, it is all they have ever known after coming into this world with a built-in sidekick (or punching bag, depending on how well they get along). It is our job to make sure this hand they've been dealt goes as smoothly as possible. Every day we fight a battle of making sure no one feels less loved or supported, all while trying to maintain our own sanity, when in reality it's likely a losing battle. They were two people, born together, destined to compete no matter how hard we try. Thankfully, Multiples Illuminated is chock full of tips and tricks to ease the stress.

One of my favorite quotes, from writer Pamela Alma Weymouth, describes it perfectly: “Today, there's not a day that goes by when I'm not playing peacemaker, teaching negotiation skills, slicing fruit into equal parts, measuring out juice, then comparing the two glasses with a microscope to make sure the levels are equal.” My girls are not yet at the stage of “but she got more!” but I already make sure everything is split evenly as much as possible in a desperate attempt to stave off more feelings of guilt.

I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times and constantly nodding along as each writer's words rang true in my heart. Each story illustrates one of the numerous frustrations and joys of life as a parent of multiples; it is clear the writers dug deep to share these tales in the hope that they will help others – and I believe they will. I already feel better about the dreaded threenager stage we're entering and have more ideas to facilitate their individuality in a world where the most common question we receive is, "Do they have their own personalities?"

As a twin mom and writer I am often asked for advice by other soon-to-be moms of multiples. From now on one of my suggestions will be to read this fantastic book. Whether your twins are still in-utero or headed off to kindergarten this fall, you will find something in this collection that eases a worry or puts a smile on your face. And we all know how important that is in this wild world of multiples!

Multiples Illuminated comes out on August 4 (National Twins Day!)

Click here to order your copy of Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years today. Click here for the Kindle version.

December 9, 2016

I'm Still Here

I sat down to write this after a long but not awful bedtime. I'm all by myself tonight and while I wish it wasn't 9:00 already as I'm completely exhausted (but still have so much to do) I felt the urge to write something here. As Liz Gilbert might say, when that urge takes you, you do not simply press pause or you risk losing the idea. So, I write. Warning: it's long. But it'll probably be the last thing I write for a long time so maybe bookmark it and come back later? ;)

Tonight, as I went back into the room (for the fourth time) where my almost 2.5 year old twins were kicking each other in the toddler bed they insist on sharing (despite having two perfectly usable beds), I took a deep breath and promised not to lose my cool on them, no matter what. I had already yelled once about 20 minutes prior and look where that had gotten me - no closer to them sleeping or me getting to the list of things I still had to do.

As I held their hands and listened to them point out each other's body parts, I chose to smile along rather than think about the time I was "wasting." This was not easy, but eventually they hit a lull and I offered to sing a song. "Let it Go," Viv quietly demanded. So I sang, trying my best to channel Idina/Elsa without stirring them as they finally became still, their little chests rising and falling heavily. I couldn't help but notice how incredibly poetic it all was.

You see, for a little while there, I lost myself. By lost I mean down the rabbit hole, searching for a life preserver, on a cliff lost. I don't share much about my mental health struggles with anyone, especially not online (hence the whole radio silence for 6 months thing) but this one was a doozy. I haven't felt that way in a very, very long time.

The hardest part was being honest with myself. But I didn't want to do this again and fought it as hard as I could.  It didn't even make any sense to me. I had taken up meditation, started journaling again and it was summer! How could I feel this way? Why now?! But honestly, for a long time, I was absolutely miserable.

I told myself all the things you say: You'll be fine. This is just a hard time, you'll get through it like always. Get over it! I forced myself to smile and hoped that it would just catch on. I got pretty good at faking it for a bit. But I've been on this ride before and I know how it ends and, at some point, it was do or die. Other people started to notice and my kids started to feel the affects and I realized that by avoiding the issue I was quickly becoming the very person I worked so hard to change. Bad habits started cropping back up, I lost my ability to just feel good. One day, I decided just to stop running away. I needed to face this, head on, or I was going to be lost forever in the tiny space between ok and not ok. It was hard freaking work, but three months later, I am still here. And significantly happier, I might add.

It was a meditation that finally changed everything for me. I actually just remembered that. It was back in September. It's not my favorite meditation but the message for me was loud and clear:

"There is nothing wrong with you." 

Yes, I was currently troubled. Shit was kind of bad for a bit and we were worried. I talked about medication, seeing someone. There were options, but none of them felt like the right path for me.

Backstory: I was 17 when I saw my first Psychiatrist. He was kind and genuine, actually let me believe that I had borderline personality disorder and then prescribed me some not so great medication, then another and then sent me on my way to college and the resident social worker who would continue my talk therapy work. Five years later I was still on the pills, albeit the best of them all, when I aged out of my parent's insurance, got a job I loved and met CJ. That was ten years ago and I haven't been to therapy or taken a pill since. I chalked it all up to simply being a lost, lonely and impressionable teenager (Girl, Interrupted is one of my favorite movies of all time).

Imagine my surprise when all the same bs started cropping up again ten years later while I'm elbow-deep in raising two toddlers and trying to keep my infant nephew (and my marriage) alive at the same time? Worse, when you've been there already, you really, really don't want to go back - so you fight.

You see, your life is picture perfect and since no one else can see behind the scenes you start to wonder if it really is all in your head. You convince yourself it can't be real so it's not real and there is nothing wrong with you because you're fine ok bye. All while you're screaming/crying/dying inside but you do not break (yet).

Thankfully, I did learn quite a bit over those years in therapy (as well as from my little-used Psych degree) and I knew exactly what to do.

For me, the core issue was a matter of finding peace with the fact that this was my life, no matter what I felt or wanted to change about it. No, I don't regret my babies or husband, but often dwell on our finances and the future. The choices we made and where they led us. The things that can incite my anxiety at all hours of day and night even though there is literally nothing I can do about any of it right that second.

I finally realized, there is nothing wrong with me. It's my plans, and expectations and wants and desires and inability to just accept and go with the flow.

Medicating would not fix it. Talking to someone else might help but would be just one more thing on my list. I needed to do the work, clear out the chaos and just be. More so, I needed to prioritize the things that really mattered: self-care, my closest relationships and positive, mindful motherhood. I needed to trust that this journey, no matter how difficult, was meant for me, while focusing my energy on the areas that I could change.

So I let things go.

I gave up my dream of buying a house next year or even moving to a bigger apartment. I started seeing my backyard as an oasis, despite being smack in the middle of a neighborhood near an intersection. I cleared out the clutter and transformed our living spaces into places I enjoy spending time, rather than just living, in.

I gave up even thinking about potty training or teaching the girls anything, really. They'll get there. And they have. They're brilliant and wonderful and sweet. I completely stopped mentioning the fact that they seemed to only want to survive on cheese and bread. They're pretty into carrots and apples right now, though. I'll take it!

I gave up on my goal to have the house clean "enough." If I got to it, it got done, if I didn't, CJ did it, and with no complaints ever. I used that time and energy to actually play with and enjoy my kids every single day - hard as it was at first, even (especially?) for me. My mind still wanders to that to-do list but meditation is helping with that.

Finally, I gave up my aspirations to write for all the mom sites everywhere, even this blog. For months I thought, if I only get published or featured once at one of these big places (other than at Twinversity who I love and will continue to write for) then I can call myself a "real" writer. I tried so damn hard and even pitched a few awful articles (seriously, I won't even share them here they're just bad) and got turned down or ignored and I felt like crap. I finally realized that it's not me who sucks (well, not entirely) but that the market is completely over saturated with all these amazing writers whose lives I myself follow every day. If I ever wanted to do anything meaningful, it needed to be something different.

The second I let that one go, I felt better. No more wracking my brain and wasting hours a night trying to come up with a short AND funny AND compelling BUT sometimes hypocritical OR sanctimonious (inciting) piece for a few thousand shares on facebook and a couple blog hits. Plus, these women are so much better at it than I am, I don't even want to compete against them.

Instead, I started a few book ideas and actually wrote a poem or two. That's as far as I've gotten but it's a work in progress, right?

In the span of 8 months, I filled two journals, got up to two meditations a day totaling 30 minutes of straight up me time, cleared out a ton of clutter and cried my way through a lot of very hard days. I almost lost my best friend, almost went back to work and almost walked out the door a few times. But every day, by the grace of whoever runs this big mess, I kept on doing the work. I tuned in, slowed down and softened. All the while reaffirming my belief that while I might not be ok right now, this was just another part of my incredible journey.

I focused my energy on enjoying my life, exactly as it was, without manipulation or filters or guilt (let me tell you that is the hardest thing to let go).

Then, four days ago I signed up for a Mama Mini Retreat, hosted by Mothering Arts. The purpose was to create intentions and rhythms while clarifying our focus on what we wanted and needed the next month to be for ourselves and our families. I just happened upon it on Facebook and joined - it turned out to be one of the best things I've done for my mental health. The courses and prompts were short and simple yet deep and thought-provoking and I felt both challenged and inspired. These three days changed the way I plan our routines and commitments and helped me bridge the gap between wanting to be present and actually noticing and participating in my own life, something I've worked so hard on for so long.

These words changed it all for me:

"The Art of Mothering is to embrace your authentic, imperfect, unique self. By doing this with gentleness and grace, we offer a living model of self-love to our child." - Kerry Ingram

I am still here. There is nothing wrong with me.

As a result of this course, I have a clear intention for the month of December: to embrace the spirit of the season in exactly the way that is going to serve my family best.

This means closeness with our loved ones, sharing the warmth of blankets and Christmas lights, indulging in cookies and savoring the stillness of a snowy afternoon.

It means reliving memories through decorations and music and putting real thought into selecting the gifts we will give to our closest ones to show how much they mean to us.

It means letting go of the we-should-dos and I-want-tos while enduring every trying tantrum or ruined Kodak moment or insanely long bedtime with love, compassion and grace.

It also means closing out an intense year on a high note and with the best of intentions for 2017. Which has a 7 in it and that's my favorite number, plus CJ is working his butt off and got a raise, so I have high hopes that it will be a good year.

And to 2016? Well, you were a jerk. In so, so many ways for me and so many others. But I thank you for the lessons you provided me and my family and the fact that I now know if we can survive a year like you then we're pretty much good for life

I am happy to say that I have won a year-long course provided by Mothering Arts. So at least I can thank 2016 for being the year that I finally won something! I've always believed that everything happens for a reason and this just shows me that staying true to my own path will always work out in the end.

I probably won't be writing again any time soon as I simply don't have time (seriously, how do the legit Mommy Bloggers do this?) but I'll be keeping the blog live for the heck of it. Oh and here's a pic of our not-so baby girls wearing purple to celebrate World Prematurity Day last month (Nov. 17th).

Follow us on Instagram (@beau_leo_twins) to keep up with us!

Thank you all for being a part of this journey with me, for supporting and loving me when I needed it most and for caring so damn much about these beautiful girls. I am sending all of you my best hopes for a magical season of love and kindness and wish you all the very happiest of new years!


June 17, 2016

How I'm Learning to Live My Best Life at 32 Years Old (Part 1)

I started reading a book about living your most creative life and all of a sudden I lost my blogging mojo. Maybe it's as the book says, it's Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (affiliate) by the way: the force behind this idea, to write a blog about being a twin mom, up and left me when I stopped nurturing and playing with it. That sounds so sad!

Really though, it's that I've taken on a huge challenge right now that takes up so much of my energy every day that my blog has been put on the back burner for a bit. I do still write, just not here. I've gone back to the art of paper and pen and I'm not just writing rants or lists, but stories and poems and prose and boredom pages - for the first time in years. It's all part of my plan to live my best life as I turn 32 years old. That happened last week, by the way (June 7th to be exact), in case you want to send a gift.

As I faced turning 32, I realized that, at my core, I felt unfulfilled, despite being busy and far from bored much of the time. It felt like my life was something happening to me, rather than something I was actually experiencing. I love my life and my children, but it was time for some changes. So I've spent the last few weeks finding resources to help with that and doing the work to check things off my list. I truly want this year to be my best yet and so far, I'm on a roll. Here's what I've been up to:

Getting Organized and Actually Getting Things Done

I like lists and journals and collections of thoughts. I also like to keep all my stuff together but my previous method of six notebooks assigned to every aspect of my life just wasn't practical anymore (it hasn't been since graduating college really, but old habits die hard). I should have a planner but none have ever worked out for me. It always becomes a disorganized mess of empty calendars, chicken scratch collections of thoughts with a few forgotten to-do lists peppered in.

Enter the Bullet Journal.

I am officially obsessed and although I still have far too many lists and random rambling thoughts, I can now organize and find them easily, thanks to the key and the index, while also being constantly reminded of the important things I need to do. I prioritize my to-do lists and limit myself to only 3 or 4 items total so I don't get overwhelmed. I keep an inspirational bookmark on my daily page so it's the first thing I see in the morning.

Don't you love my throwback to middle school with love, peace and happiness? That's always made me feel good so it had to be included.

Every night I take a minute to check off my to-do list and migrate things I didn't get done, then I write down a few things from the day, a few that I am grateful for and the things I want to do tomorrow. Rather than having things running through my brain, keeping me awake at night, I'm able to get it all out and sleep so much better.

The best part of a BuJo is that it has space for everything! There are no dividers so no risk of running out of room, just flip to the next page and mark it in your index. This way I can jot down any and all thoughts that stream through my head without hunting for the right notebook, so when my next big idea to strikes, I won't miss it.

My BuJo is also home to a lot of collections - books I want to read, blog and article ideas, inspirations I need to remember, recipes I want to try, day trip ideas and fun things do in our community. My favorite collection is a list of ways to play and connect with the kids - rather than trying to rack my brain for a way to lighten the mood or turning to google or pinterest, I just flip open my BuJo and inspiration is at my fingertips. Every time we discover or invent a new way to play or laugh, it goes in the book.

Since I just started, I'm trying to work out the logistics before focusing on decor, so mine is severely lacking in the pretty you see if you google bullet journal. Also, my handwriting is a mess so I'm kind of embarrassed to share it with everyone but it's mine and it's perfect and man has it made my life easier.

If you want to know more about Bullet Journals, start here. And then check here, here and here and go crazy like I did.

Feeling Clear Headed and More Focused

Meditation is one of those things that sounds so easy but is actually a total pain when you try to do it. I can easily drop into the zone during a yoga session, but to just sit and breathe seemed impossible to me. My thoughts would just bounce around my head, getting louder and louder. My eyelids start to flutter, like my eyes are begging to look at something more interesting and my breathing would actually become more labored and forced. For a long time I thought meditation was a hoax.

Really, I just needed to learn how to do it properly. My Dad invited me to join Headspace - an app that walks you through it in small steps through daily training sessions.  In each of these ten 10-minute sessions you practice relaxing, breathing and paying attention to your body with gradually decreasing guidance. It's kind of amazing how easily I can do it myself now after just those 10 sessions. I'm too cheap to pay for the rest of the app's functions (but you should!) so I now rely on free guided meditations or I just do it myself.

I've also gotten the kids started on their own practice. Every day we do some deep breathing, talk about what we're grateful for and spend a few minutes just quietly thinking. It's like hitting the reset button on a bad day and I know I'm helping them create a lifetime habit that they can always turn to.

I've finally learned how to disengage with the world and just be with myself for a few minutes and it feels incredible.  Totally weird and still hard to do, but whenever I can I practice and I can actually feel the weight of my worries being lifted. I wish I had figured this out 20 years ago!

Reading More, Scrolling Less

My kids don't need this - I did. They don't touch phones or tablets and in a day they watch maybe an episode of Tumble Leaf or a Sia music video.  I was addicted to my phone and I knew it. Over time it's become my easy release, my only break from my life. I hated that and was desperate to change it but nothing I tried was working.

So, I downloaded an app to see just how much I used my phone. In just one day Quality Time showed me how vital it was that I start making real changes.

On that normal day at home with the kids I spent almost seven hours looking at or using my phone between 7am and 11pm. That's insane and it's not even including time spent in front of the computer or TV. Even worse, most of it was freaking Facebook and not the ebook I was "reading"! I noticed the patterns; Whenever I felt overwhelmed, anxious or just needed to tune out, I'd Facebook it up, scrolling mindlessly until I found something interesting to read or a dramatic comment thread to get lost in.

That night I unfollowed almost all of my friends (no offense guys, you were just taking up too much space in my head), left most of the mom groups I was in and unliked a million pages. Next, I tailored my Facebook to inspire, educate or bore me, rather than entertain me or kill my good mood over all the bad news, drama and stupidity. I set a 1 hour a day limit and although I don't always stick to it, it's never over 90 minutes and that includes reading blogs and articles in the app.

I deleted all games from my phone except for one escape game and stopped googling damn near everything that drifted into my head. Instead, I keep a list of things to look up in my BuJo and pencil it in as Research on to my to-do list. Unless it's an answer to a kid's question that I really want to know, I get to it when I have time. Same thing with blog and article ideas.

Quality Time also helps to schedule breaks, turning off apps and notifications, except for phone calls from important people. I physically put my phone away for hours at a time now and after just a few days I barely even noticed. If I get bored, I read a chapter in my book, like I did 10 years ago, before I had a phone glued to my hand all the time.

I'm down to an average of less than 4 hours of using my phone and most of that is listening to music, meditations or podcasts, using the apps helping me on this journey and reading things that I actually enjoy.

I swear, it's like someone finally turned the volume down inside my head. My eyes don't feel strained by 6pm and colors seem more vibrant. I make the conscious effort a million times a day to look up instead of down and I can actually feel the difference. It's great having the world at our fingertips but much like booze or gambling - it's all better in moderation.

So that's what I've been up to for the last month. Aside from feeling less distracted, I have a sense of real accomplishment for the first time in years. It's hard to be "just a stay-at-home Mom" or "just a babysitter." Even though I'm super busy all the time, I feel like I never really get anything done. It's like my brain has been on autopilot since the day the girls were born - wake, keep them alive and the house semi-habitable, sleep when you can. Even the easy, mundane goals (like cleaning up my family history files) have sat around gathering dust for 2 years.

Now, thanks to an organized life, a clearer mind and what actually feels like more hours in the day, I'm able to set and accomplish not just day-to-day tasks, but future goals too. A big one is to start making money freelance writing. I've already been published over at Twiniversity a few times and this year I'm shooting for Scary Mommy and MamaLode.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn how I've completely transformed the way I see, talk to and listen to my kids and finally started taking care of myself.