January 29, 2016

Five Things That Save My Sanity as a Twin Mom

I've been meaning to write some sort of "must-haves" list for the first year of twin parenting since they turned one, (oh ya know, six months ago...) But every time I sit down to write it I realize something: this list looks really familiar. Because it's just like all those other parenting must-have lists. You already know the things you really need to feed, change and play with your kids, you don't need me to tell you again.  So I started thinking outside the box - things that seriously save my sanity but that I've never seen on a list before. So I guess instead of a must-have list it's more of a hey-if-you-thnk-it-might-work-try-it list to help you keep your sanity.

1. A climber/play structure in the playroom (or in our case, the dining room)

I never really planned on having to squeeze by a slide on my way to bed every night but I also didn't plan on having twins who would age into insane toddlers in the middle of winter. Before they were even a year old I knew I'd need something to help them burn that energy and work out their new skills. I looked at a ton of options but ultimately we put the Step 2 Play Ball Fun Climber on our amazon wishlist because it was small but had stairs, a slide, a chill spot above and below and a cool ball drop thingie. My awesome Dad gifted it to them for their birthday and we set it up a few weeks later.  It is a lifesaver.

Because, what is every toddler's favorite thing to do, besides turn your world upside down? Climb, of course! Climb and explore all of the things! So what do we do when they're climbing on the couch/chairs/TV stand/each other? "Hey! Let's go on the climber!"

So far, it works every time. I walk over and they follow me and get to work going up and down over and over, crawling underneath, just hanging out reading a book or kicking their legs off the side, or dropping balls down the tubes. Now they love to push it around and slide down into different parts of the room (or just trap each other in places.) They even mastered climbing up the slide before learning how to walk which was really cool to see. While it won't last long-term on it's own (hello, we definitely need a jungle gym or something like that) I love that it is (relatively) small, considering the 800 sq. ft. apartment we live in so it is a perfect indoor option.

2. My iPod and a $20 cat docking station

I actually almost threw my ipod away a while back. It was glitchy and I hate earbuds and my dock had died so it just sat in a drawer. Then I was registering for the girls and looking into sound machines and couldn't find one I loved so I thought about a CD player but who even buys CDs anymore? I know I don't have any from the last 10 years. So I'd have to burn them... is that a thing even still? And then I remembered old faithful, who was already chock full of lullabies and our amazing irish relaxation music from daycare days. Perfect.

I picked up a cheap speaker at rite aid while they were in the NICU and had it ready to go in our room when they got home. When they were newborns we added some white noise and the womb sounds to it and I swear to you it was a miracle worker.  We moved it from room to room and often had it blasting in the living room just to cover all our bases on wherever babies might fall asleep. I know entirely too much about what it sounded like in my mom's belly now.

I used the cheap speaker for 3 months but it was a PITA since I had to keep charging both of them and it had this awesome trick where the sound would just cut out at the WORST moment and come back on at the highest volume - that was so fun! Then we got this adorable cat one (affiliate but it's out of stock which is sad because you definitely need it) from my Aunt and it's been on 12 hours straight, every night for over 16 months and hasn't failed us yet! It'll die tonight though, because that's my life.

3. Place-mats in the High Chairs

My genius/mild neat-freak of a husband came up with this one. After only two or three real baby-led meals we realized that those freaking high chair covers are a joke. First, they do little to actually contain the food so you end up having to take them off anyway and they're a pain to clean themselves. Who actually has time to wash and dry them between every meal?

While the mess rarely bothered me, it drove CJ insane. We ditched the covers after a few weeks of frustration but then found that the chairs themselves were so full of food that it was even harder to clean. So while we got used to feeding and cleaning two very messy babies, we now had the added fun of full-blown dumping and wiping down two high chairs after every meal. No way, man, there had to be a better way.

Macaroni, beans and peas got nothin' on us!

Then CJ found a crap ton of these cloth placemats that I bought at yard sales or that were "passed down" to us that we have actually never used. Life changing, I kid you not. We tuck them in between the two parts of our spacesaver high chair (where the booster seat part is) so they don't move and they catch everything! After meals they are easy to remove and clean, we just empty them over the garbage and toss them in the wash. The chairs themselves rarely need cleaning more than wipe down and the covers are still pristine since we never use them. We store the mats in the kitchen and put a new one down every morning or whenever they get really messy (hello, pasta night!) Amazing!

4. The XBox/Amazon FireStick/Roku/Whatever else you have!

We cut the cable cord years ago and relied on our Xbox for any shows via hulu or netflix. While we don't usually watch a ton of TV, I would not have survived the last year without the Xbox. It is so much more than just TV (although the $7.99/month hulu subscription also helps so I can keep up my Grey's Anatomy and General Hospital habits.) We recently picked up the Amazon Fire Stick and it's even better than the Xbox - no more lagging or buffering and we don't have to keep that thing running when we just want to have music on.

 During the day I use it for music with Pandora or iHeartRadio and unlike using my phone (even with a speaker) the sound can be heard all over the house without being deafening. Netflix has these amazing moving art films with gorgeous scenery and music that they just love (many thanks to Stephanie over at Double Crunch for making that suggestion months ago in our twin due date group!)

Recently, I've started playing Pentatonix and Janet Lansbury videos on YouTube and the girls are obsessed. We have dance parties and they ask for White Winter Hymnal by patting their chests and I'll put some Janet on while changing their diapers (one of our biggest battlegrounds) and instead of fighting or running away they chill right out, watching the babies play and listening to her incredibly soothing voice. And I get a refresher on respectful parenting during one of our most stressful times.

I could be so wrong but I feel like I'm helping them develop a positive relationship with the TV itself, since they don't associate it with just watching a show and tuning out. Sometimes it's on all day long but it's not just noise and lights to distract them, it's music to play by or interesting images to look at, things that are meaningful and thoughtful, at least I hope they are on some level.

I'm just so glad there is so much more out there than just Disney Channel or Nickelodeon and that we get to access it like this. Plus, the internet has everything so we got to learn all about David Bowie and Professor Snape in honor of their passing a few weeks ago. Win win for everyone!

5. The Mega Crib

Ok, sorry for the super twin specific last one but it's gotta be one of my favorites of all time. The Mega Crib is amazing! And all you need are two cribs and some zip ties.

Going way back, my girls never slept together. Well, ok, that's not really true, a few times I put them in the same crib for a nap but they always woke up too early. Oh and for 4 months we all shared a bed for half the night, but they were on either side of me so that doesn't really count. They always had separate everything and their cribs (that are solid, not slats, on the ends) were kiddie-corner so they couldn't even really see each other when they were in their room.

When they were about 11 months old I was watching on the camera one night and I realized they were looking for and reaching through the slats trying to reach each other. It broke my heart and we put them side-by-side the next day. Then a few months later they started holding hands through the slats, or stealing each others books or blankets. And then they started pulling hair or hitting to wake the other one up. We took a risk but decided to tear down that wall - and they sleep so freaking well.

They play and chit-chat until they fall asleep, roll all over each other while getting comfortable and then fall asleep, only sometimes snuggling, but almost always touching. When they wake up in the middle of the night they will cry out but sometimes before I can even consider going in they roll over and find their sister and fall back asleep. Best. thing. ever.

Oh and bonus number 6, one that is truly specific to our family: My trusty tote bin from Wal-Mart that I am so grateful to have simply for the ability to bathe my kids semi-easily in my bathtub-less house. Definitely not a must-have for everyone but it is for us!

All of my lists have had some super random items and have definitely been unique to me but I like to think I'm helping at least one parent save their sanity. So please let me know if any of these have ever worked for you!


January 21, 2016

*Insert Random Curse Word Here*

We Have Twin Toddlers. And It's Insane.

We are in the midst of toddlerhood times two here in the B household and I am definitely feeling the affects of this major life shift. I always said I was dreading the days when they learned how to walk and now if you spend just five minutes here you will know why. We are but peasants to two tiny tyrants who, sweet and adorable as they are, have discovered they have real live wants and needs and feelings and words and the need to explore and express these things at all times at about 100 miles per hour.

It's insane. Sometimes I just sit back and look around at the books and blocks strewn about, the scooters half upside down and the climber that's been shoved across the room while I listen to them alternate between fighting, chattering and running. All I can think is - I used to handle a whole mess of kids ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years at one time and YOU GUYS got me beat? How? I know it's because they're mine but I'll be damned if the twin thing doesn't have something to do with it.  Even when I had two or three two year olds at one time I don't ever recall it being this bad. They're practically on top of each other half the time and for no reason (that I can see) other than that they're twinsters.

Although it's sometimes so cute.
They've started this lovely little game of fighting over absolutely everything. It's an even better version of siblings arguing because I don't have the benefit of an older kid who actually understands consequences and might back down (although I guess they often make the whole thing worse). I hate every single object that doesn't have multiple parts of the same color or that we don't have two of. I think things daily like: "Do you really HAVE to be on the slide the second your sister climbed up there when you haven't even LOOKED at it in two days?!" or "Seriously. There are 37 books on that shelf and you both have to have the owl one right now!?" It's like a perpetual play date except when they fight I can't just second one home.

Don't do it! Noooo!

Obviously I know why my life has been turned upside down. I get it all, the blah-di-blah developmental psycho-emotional stuff but that knowledge does not make this any easier. I still want to rip my hair out sometimes, like when I'm chasing one down the hall trying to get her shoes on while the other one is sitting by the door, ready to go 2 seconds ago, taking off her hat, mittens and shoes that I just got on. Thank god they can't unzip their coats yet. Oh, and the grabbing. We can't even go to the supermarket anymore because it's like I have an octopus in my cart and I'm terrified of that one loose jar of spaghetti sauce crashing to the floor. I still loooove my buggy bench but I'm hoping to try one of those car carts out next time I get the whim to grocery shop with them instead of taking my time all alone at 7pm on a Tuesday night while Daddy does bedtime.

Still, that knowledge that they are in the throes of coming alive and literally can't help themselves and where it all comes from is helping me do everything I can to facilitate and nurture ALL of us. While my patience sometimes wears thin I've got a pretty good handle on getting some chill time when I need it. Thankfully, they rock at playing alone right now - which isn't exactly true since neither one has been without the other for more than a few hours in 18 months. So, I guess they play well with others already? Either way I get a good chunk of time in the day that I don't have to be on top of them. It's far from "me" time since I'm usually cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, washing diapers or dishes but at least I can get some of that done.

But then, inevitably and ever the bane of my existence, the guilt sets in. As I watch them play or break up another battle or feel one run up to me with a big hug, I catch myself, no matter what I'm doing, and remember: I have twin toddlers. And I worry about all the things.

No one does a worry face better than me, except Viv.
That I'm not talking to them or interacting with them enough. Never mind that I talk too much as it is and they already have each other. Although neither one is really talking yet, so they just repeat each other (all the time. in stereo: "cat, cat, cat, cat, ball, ball, ball, ma, ma, ma, ma.".)  Or that I'm not being playful enough in one day or that I'm on my phone too much.  Like I don't spend every waking moment thinking about, planning for and cleaning up after all of us on top of the countless time we play. And Daddy is amazing at playing - he gets them going so fast and laughing so hard!

Thanks to this guilt, I used to drop everything and go and try to get an activity started or talk to them or do something to make us all feel more connected and although they used to light up and crawl on me for a snuggle, now they will shoot me a cheese face and go back to their business. I've finally learned how to peek in but not interrupt, I just watch and touch base when they're ready.  It's great and they clearly enjoy their time alone/together. You'd think that would be enough for me to lose the self-loathing crap but I'm starting to learn that just comes with the new mom gig.

Because now I stress that they aren't attached to me enough because they don't care that I'm not there all the time. No worries though, we recently hit the awesomely amazing separation anxiety phase and I want to jump off a bridge sometimes. My minutes to myself have all but vanished and everyone we know is now a perfect stranger requiring 20 minutes of screaming upon arrival.

Like I said, it's all insane.

There's lots of Let It Go singing (by me, they can't sing yet) and I am seriously so grateful for my depth of knowledge in the fine arts of playroom organization, kid's songs and mid-run diaper changes. There are days when I don't know how anyone who has ever worked with a toddler before would willingly choose to have a baby knowing it becomes one.  Are we all crazy?

No, because as hard as it is, it is so much fun! Toddlers are silly. And capable of SO much compared to their babyselves. And toddler twins rock even more because they have each other. I read a listicle once that said that was one of the best parts of twins was that built in playmate and although sometimes I am ready to lose it with the fighting I have to say it's a huge perk.They are weighing options and making choices rather than acting on straight up raw emotionally fueled impulses all the time. Because half the time that ish gets shut down by their mirror image and they realize, oh hey, I'm not totally the center of the universe - at least, I have to share it with someone else.

It's cool because they don't have a choice - nobody is going anywhere, remember? So they're figuring out what works and what makes their lives harder and I get to watch it all unfold. They don't give a crap what makes my life harder yet though and I don't foresee that changing. Ever. But damn if they don't make me laugh so hard every day.

How long do you think we lasted before there were beans and pasta everywhere? A shocking 13 minutes!

I don't know when I'll feel comfortable taking them somewhere where they could run away by myself and it's too damn cold to go outside but luckily we've got a fresh stock of books, art and exploration supplies and an upgraded playroom (complete with a huge empty box that I cant bare to throw out because they are obsessed.)  Now if I could just get them to put things away when they're done playing with them ... ha!

I hope you all out in the real world are doing awesome. My Bff who is 8+ months pregnant broke her hand tonight so please send her happy and wonderful vibes! Don't forget about me as I trail off into the vast new world of twin toddlerdom. If you wish to reach out, please send me messages and chocolate and wine.

Actually, just send wine.


January 5, 2016

Oh goody, another thing to feel guilty about! Or not.

I was scrolling through facebook earlier and saw an adorable picture posted in one of my twin groups of a Dad feeding his baby boys. They were probably a month or two old and he had them laying in front of him on a boppy pillow, holding the bottles in one hand and his phone in the other. It made me laugh because it was so familiar. It was exactly how we spent the first months of our girls' lives - every 2-3 hours of every day. Aside from the fact that when it was me I was attached to a pump as well.

Like always I had to read the comments, although I knew they'd all say something along the lines of "So cute" or "Good job" or "That's how we did it!" But then this chick comes in and, very politely I must say, gives this peachy bit of advice:

"I know they eat often but if you plan on holding them at least half of their feedings, they will be brighter, appreciate touch more and not rely on one another as much as they rely on you. Not only that but it lowers your blood pressure and it bonds you. Instead of being exhausting, it becomes a happy place and you begin to not want to put them down."

My initial reaction: 

Eff my life. Did I not freaking hold them enough? Oh my god, no, I didn't. Jesus eff I've ruined them. No wonder they don't want to snuggle and love me all the time. And yet they looooove each other. And they are a little slow, aren't they? I mean not walking until 15 months, even for twins, isn't that late? Would I call them bright? Can I even know that yet? And omg I really was stressed out during feedings a lot, wasn't I? That's it, they felt that and now they hate me because of it. 

If only I had tried harder to hold them and feed them, at least half the time. It's all my fault. 

Thankfully, I'm a Gemini and I am finally learning to let things go so I quickly realized that this "advice" was absurd and obnoxious and actually quite rude. But I had to say something.

First of all, my kids are fine. The OP's kids will be fine. Of course they will be. Because we did the best we could and, for me, that meant my babies were not held for the majority of their feedings. 

Maybe that's a shocker for you, but if you had any idea you probably wouldn't advise me otherwise. Even if you did catch me on a good day, which this post clearly did not. 

First things first, "one up-both up" (wherein you actively wake the other baby to eat when one wakes up) was never actually an option for us. As in, they didn't give us a choice. They wanted to eat at the same time or else.  It took 72 hours for their nice 1/2-hour staggered NICU schedule to wear off and then if one was up and eating the other was too, otherwise she was screaming.  Since I was usually alone and figured out in the first few days that it was awkward and terrifying as hell to criss-cross babies and bottles, I opted for the safer, easier route of pillows 95% of the time.

Also, I pumped. Religiously. Every 2-3 hours for 12 weeks because it was important to me that they have breast milk. And because formula for two is freaking expensive. It was by far easiest for me to pump while they ate on their pillows and just hold them to burp (thank GOD for my hands-free pumping system - it's probably the reason I survived.) Of course there were times when I held them while I pumped but this, as you can imagine, was not an optimal situation for anyone and not one I would actually choose, no matter what the benefit.

Worse yet, when they finally latched, I used my nursing pillow for every daytime feed until they were about a year old. At night I rotated between them in my bed for months until they got down to one feed a night, for which we used the pillow because why the hell not? Boobs out, baby on either side of me, pillow on my lap, usually phone or food in my hand or catching a few zzz's (not really but I would prop pillows on either side of my legs just in case.) It was easier than positioning them on me and trying to keep them latched and I was hands free, something you very rarely are when you're a twin mom.

Sure, there were nights when we would hold them for the bedtime bottle and I would pump after they went to bed. But so many times CJ was cleaning or making dinner or I was grocery shopping or taking a much needed break. Again, it was just easier this way. Boppies, bibs, bottles, and in half an hour it was cuddles and love, and lots of it, I swear. 

The thing is, I know in my heart that even if we didn't try to hold them a few nights a week it wouldn't have mattered. Because we did what worked for our family, depending on the day, hour and even minute. Otherwise we would have lost our minds.

Not to mention, I co-slept for almost 6 months and was up every hour nursing one after the other thanks to a nightmare 4 month sleep regression. And after 4 months of pumping around the clock, I nursed on demand from the days they latched and I continue to breastfeed at 17 months old. I don't think I should feel guilty for whatever I did or didn't do when they were newborns when I was just trying to survive. And I know several hundred (probably even thousand) twin parents who would say the exact same thing. 

So why am I writing this if I don't actually feel guilty? Because I just feel like the last thing we need to be doing is commenting on how other people make it work, especially when we've been there ourselves. 

Even if there is some magical benefit to the act of holding while feeding, does this mom really need to hear about it right  this second? It's a personal choice and not one that is intentionally inflicting harm so it probably doesn't need to be mentioned, am I right?  

Aside from it not working for us, I, and so many other twin parents, made the choice for sanity's sake. Like all the other decisions we made pre-kids that went right out the window when that tech said there's two. I sure as hell never pictured myself not holding my kids when they ate but life had other plans for us. And really, does this commenter honestly think the OP doesn't know it's good to hold a baby when they eat? 

Come on.

I liken it to all those choices we make every day that could-maybe-possibly-at-some-point-in-the-future impact our kids but that has little to no measurable difference at the time. Like formula or breast, shots or none, co-sleeping or cribs or conventional or organic food. If you feel some type of way about it, say it to your friends, don't post it on facebook as a well-meaning bit of advice to another mom, especially one that you know is in the trenches.

This mom who commented, she meant well, I know, or least I hope she did. Or mayyybe she's one of those mythical sanctimommies who so many claim do not exist. Yeah, I'll go there. I don't think she is, really, but I can't help but shake my head and ask what the hell her point even was, if not to "educate" and, no matter how nicely, pass judgement on a completely innocuous and necessary thing.  Babies are being fed, who gives a damn how it's happening? It's not enough we shame people for what they feed but now we're gonna tell them HOW to do it too? Or else their kids won't be as bright? Really?

As a twin mom herself maybe she should have run that comment through her head a few more times and she might have decided it was not in the best taste to tell a bunch of survivalists that their best could be better.

Maybe I'm too sensitive, because it's something I've genuinely wondered about. I know about the benefits of touch and the importance of establishing that connection. I wondered all on my own if I hurt them, long before reading this. Like when it took forever for them to smile or the fact that they still hate snuggling, save for a few 10 second hugs here and there. Did I do that to them? Could I have changed it?

Is it not enough that I kept them, and myself, alive and thriving through one of the most terrifying times of my own life?  Or that I, through 4 months of pumping and 13+ months of nursing,  have constantly sacrificed my own comfort, sleep and sanity, just trying to keep them happy, healthy and secure? 

Nah, I refuse to let her get to me. It is enough. It's more than enough.

As for the notion that feedings would have been less "exhausting" or that I wouldn't want to put them down, I thought she might be on to something at first. I know how much I love nursing for the physical and emotional benefits (for all of us) and I wondered if we really missed out on that in those early months. That is until I remembered the fact that bottle feeding two babies is a pain in the freaking ass, especially when they want to eat and burp and poop at the same time.

And you want to talk exhausting? I know for a fact that it's damn near impossible to actually hold and bottle feed two itsy bitsy rag dolls and feel anywhere near relaxed. My stress level was through the roof worrying about dropping and burping and all that crap. So I guess maybe if you always have a partner around but neither one of you has jobs or ever sleeps then your kids will be awesomer (I'm sorry, I mean "brighter") because you can feed and hold them at the same time? Hmmm... for some reason I doubt that!

The bottom line is we all do what we have to do. Some might say that what ultimately worked for us wasn't the best thing we could have done. The same argument could be made (and is regularly) of my choices to feed them food rather than purees, to keep them rear facing as long as possible or to homeschool them. So instead of letting it get to me I'll just add this one to my long list of other people's opinions that I don't give a crap about.  But I just had to say something. If not to her then to the great abyss of the internet.

Again, I'm likely reading way too far into it but I needed to get it out and, shocker, I haven't written a blog in forever and I feel better now!  

Happy New Year!