April 24, 2016

And for this, I am grateful.

My 2 month old nephew started coming here when my sister went back to work a few weeks ago. It's been an adjustment for all of us, especially the girls and R, the 4 year old boy I watch. While I am by no means a "baby person," I much prefer toddlers and preschoolers, I am kind of loving having him here. He is satisfying my baby fever but I get to sleep all night (well some, at least.) 

Little man Zack is so chill and already gives the best smiles. I love just hanging out with him when all the other kids are resting. He is still pretty much in the eat, poop, sleep phase but when he's awake he loves to snuggle and then have some intense hang out time in his little yes space we have set up. He's a mover and so smart, already grabbing things and trying to roll over. I love caring for him and watching him grow. But it's kind of killing me too.

It's not the stress of caring for a baby on top of the other kids. This was my life for years in daycare, mixed ages and mayhem. I can't even lie and say that caring for one baby is just as hard as caring for two (it's really, really a lot easier), but again, that's all I know. So that's not it either.

Oh hey, look who mastered feeding 3 kids under 2 at once!

It's the sadness I feel when I connect with him during those special, quiet moments - when he lights up as I change his diaper or when he just relaxes and is content lying on me after a bottle.

It breaks my heart because I know my own babies so rarely had those same experiences. It wasn't for lack of trying - I know the importance of those moments - it was because it seemed like every single time I wanted to stop everything and just love and see and feel my baby, the other one needed me too.

I have very few solid, seared-in memories from those early days. I remember the first time I felt them on my cheek and bits of seeing and holding them for the first time. But the moment that I will forever remember was the very first time I was feeding Jules and Viv woke up too early.

They were in the NICU and on staggered feeds at the time. They were each awake for exactly half an hour every 3 hours and we had just that much time to change, temp, feed and snuggle with Jules before it was Viv's turn. They were taking forever to get through just a few milliliters at this time and the threat of going back to the feeding tube was real.

It was one of those days already, I had missed Jules' kidney ultrasound that morning and then Viv kept pulling off one of her leads, setting off that freaking awful alarm while I sat there and wondered if she had just died until someone finally came in and said, "Oh, no big deal, just needs some more tape!"

Anyway, I was feeding Jules. She had like .5 ml to go and it was getting close to Viv's time. I knew we could push Viv off a bit but I was alone and didn't want to risk someone else getting to do anything with her. I was actually begging Jules to just eat faster so we could snuggle before Viv woke up. And then I heard it. Viv stretched out her arms and let out a tiny little sound. I looked up and there she was, 3 feet away in her little box, eyes wide open, totally awake and alert. Staring right at me. They didn't cry out back then, not in the way people think babies do. She just looked at me, I swear she was willing me to go to her, and I felt this surge of helplessness. I looked at her, and back down at Jules, in my arms and still with a bit of bottle to go, and I knew: this would be the story of their life.

They would never know the feeling of having my 100% undivided attention at their beck and call. Sure, I can say almost 2 years in that they've gotten plenty of one-on-one quality time. I think? I don't really know because I'll never be the mom who knows what it's like to devote 100% of my attention to one of my children.  I will always be thinking of or wondering about the well-being of the other one. There's never not been "the other one" for any of us.

In a way, they're lucky. It's all they know. If I were to ask them in 5, 10 or even 50 years what it's like to be a twin, they wouldn't be able to answer the question - because they have nothing to compare it to.

For me, I see it, I feel it every day, the pull to be there for my child, to do everything to make her feel safe and secure and make her feel like the most important thing in my world. And more often than I would have ever liked, I've needed to ignore that feeling, as I was too busy making sure the other one knew that she was also the most important thing in my world.

I missed things. Like the first time Jules rolled over. And when one of them took their first steps - worse, I can't even remember for sure who I missed and it's only been 8 months. I have forgotten so much already because there is so much more to remember.

These things seem so petty but I guarantee singleton moms know. There is no question. The little big things that make up every day with your child. A mom of one child knows. There is never any confusion over who did what and when. Or who is crying or hurt before she gets there.

She doesn't ever have to wonder if she put the right kid in the right crib last night.

Or if she is seriously damaging her teeny tiny infants because one is starving and has been crying for a few minutes longer than she's comfortable with while she is trying to get the other, supposedly easier one, to latch.

The entire first year was so hard and scary and so, so rushed. Everything. There was so little time to talk to them, to connect with and really slow down and see them. It was diapers, bottles/boobs, burp, squeezing in some not-so-quality time, sleep, wake and repeat. For months on end.

By the time they were more alert and we were all better adjusted,  this was just our routine and it worked so we never questioned it. Until, all of a sudden, they're almost two years old and things are finally slowing down and we're all like, "Who are you people!?" 

It's like we're just starting to get to know them. Because I'm not always distracted or busy or stressed so I get to sit and watch and actually see what they are really all about.

I feel like I'm just getting the hang of actually snuggling and cuddling them, because I'm not always trying to juggle them or keep two floppy babies safe in my arms at once.

I don't have to rush through baths or diaper changes because no one is screaming to be fed or put to sleep in the background.

I can enjoy outings and get-togethers again, as they will play and eat real food and sit with others and I can just hang out.

And, of course, they have each other. To play with, to snuggle, and just talk to. 

I can finally breathe.

But with those deep breaths, the ones that come with no longer having to hurry and keep everyone happy, there also comes this intense regret.

For letting the day-to-day tasks of care-giving get in the way of actually caring for my children.

For not giving them the peace and calm and connection that I think babies need in those early days.

Mostly, for the fact that I tried so hard to do everything right that I mucked up the most important thing - just being a new mother and embracing the madness that came with it.

I focused so much on keeping everyone alive and happy that I forgot to be grateful for, and bask in the amazingness that was becoming a mother of twins.

It's hard not to dwell on this but I'm reminding myself that I'm the only one who even gives a damn and that they are fine. Even if I doubt every single day that it was enough, I'm smart enough to know that they are fantastic, that they love me and I love them and that is all that matters.

In a sense, I'm grateful for the regret. It's making me, 21 months in, be much more mindful of all the little things. Our first little conversations that we're having and all the words they try to say and mispronounce. When they look at me with joy as they discover something new. Every single time they offer me a hug and a kiss without me doing it first.

Maybe I'm just hoping to make up for lost time and attention, but a part of me believes that all is not really lost. I know now that while the bond of those first few months is super important, it is hardly going to define our relationship as mother and daughters.

Because now the connection is two-sided. We not only see, but hear and understand each other. We are bridging the gaps that opened when I was just trying to survive.

Every time we connect over something silly that I could have easily missed or they grab my hand just because, I know I'm succeeding. I'm filling those spaces where those early memories should have been. And for this I am grateful. For this awareness, this new found appreciation and my ability to forgive myself for just not knowing at the time.

All is not lost. There are still thousands of moments to share and love and connect. And this is when it really matters.

At least that's what I'm going to keep telling myself.


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