If you still can’t tell our twins apart you shouldn’t worry about it. Eirik still regularly calls his brother by the wrong name.
Eirik loves grapes and is wicked with a snowball. He walks around with his hands in his pockets or – when no pockets are available – behind his back. He’s fairly well potty-trained and when he feels the urge he yells, “Running to the potty!” and then pulls down his pants and fast-waddles to the bathroom from wherever he happens to be in the house.
Both boys love airplanes, helicopters, and all diggers. “Airplane! Airplane!” They shout whenever one flies over (5,372 times a day). Even when a plane is in earshot, Eirik is completely absorbed in its presence. Time stops until it soars out of hearing range. This is a problem at nap-time when someone is bound to fly over just as they settle and render them unable to sleep for another half-hour.
My babies are suddenly big enough to play with big sister and to develop kid culture at our house. They pile yoga mats, blankets and pillows into a big pile or enlist my help to drag mattresses around the house so they can jump off of beds, stools, or even the window ledge (usually right before bed when everyone is most likely to get hurt). Mostly I stay out of it except to make sure the top of the dresser stays off-limits.
Eirik was slow to warm up to this game. He would climb up and cry from the high place until Avery took his hands to help him jump. Then he’d erupt into peals of laughter, scrambling to climb back up and do it again. He now jumps in full confidence – belly first – like a skydiver.
I’m experimenting with dropping the nap to make bedtime easier but Eirik falls apart around 2 pm. I swaddle him and ask if he wants to be my cute little baby – a game the kids made up. He is out like a light.
The bedtime sillies are totally coo-coo-bananas these days. Eirik has my sense of humor. At bedtime he snuggles right up to where our noses touch before he pulls back and asks, “…Waffles?”
I take the bait – “Waffles?”
“Waffles.” says Eirik.
He chooses a different word or phrase each time we play. Another was, “hot water?”
We both think this game is hilarious. “Shhh!” I whisper between giggle fits. “Shhh! It’s time for bed!” But I can not refuse him the echo: “Hot water?”
In the mornings, Eirik loves to play make coffee and go to the job-site. He puts on his boots and starts building; I drink the coffee.
He loves art and asks me for colors. He is working out red, blue, orange, yellow, and the like; but if you hold up a marker and ask, “What color is this?” he’s likely to yell, “Colors!”
He loves making circles. He draws them. He orders them up in whipped cream on his pancakes. If he’s in a pool, he swims them.
Eirik also, since yesterday, rides a pedal bike in circles. Toren has been riding a pedal bike for a few months already, but it’s become more obvious to his brother now with spring upon us. Toren just figured out how to push-start himself, and stop, and can ride two-miles without problem. I kept training wheels on Eirik’s bike because… well, he’s 2.5″ shorter and 5 lbs lighter. When he falls down, he’ll lie there with an attitude that says, I guess I live here now, until someone comes along to pick him up.
Toren uses what could pass for a full adult vocabulary and can zip up his own jacket. It’s no surprise he’s riding a bike. I thought, Eirik, you’re two-and-a half, man… no pressure.
Then yesterday I took these guys for a ride. Halfway out, Eirik decided that he wanted his brother’s bike and that was final. I gave him a short ride with support; then we went back to the usual system so we could move forward. No. Eirik was having none of it. He kicked off his boots and flew at his brother in a rage. I held him back, helped Toren get started, and told him to Ride! Eirik, running after his brother in stocking feet, chased him down the road in attempt to knock him off and take his bike. Toren, who was very afraid of being bitten, kept going. I eventually picked Eirik up by his ankles and carried him home upside down on my back so he couldn’t hurt me.
It wasn’t a regular tantrum – it was heartbreak. I told Eirik that as soon as we retrieved his bike I’d take the training wheels off it. I didn’t expect him to ride it, but he got on, pedaled hard, and never looked back. A week later he was riding one-handed and waving to passing cars. He’s probably still out there; riding circles.
A conversation between babies
The other night, Toren was doing something odd with the blankets over me in bed.￼
E: “What doing?”
T: “I’m making a tent for the boobies.”
E (taking this information in stride): “I’m making a tent for a poop.”
T: “A tent for poop?”
E: “I’m making a poop.”
Things that are cute when one child does them but obnoxious when three children do them together:
Sit on my lap 4-eva
Koala cling to my body
Ride around the house on my foot
Wake up afraid in the night
Yell, Coo-ee! Mama! Wipe me!
Insist, I do itmyself.
Say, No thank you, when it’s time to brush teeth
Help themselves to fruit
Sneak tastes from the mixing bowl
Water play in the sink
Demand a particular spoon, bowl, cup, stool, etc.
Eat crackers in the car
Push buttons on the washing machine, dish washer, blender, etc.
Disappear three silicone spatulas for over a month (?)
Pour extra soap in the bubble bath when I’m not looking
Splash water out of the tub
Bike-ride through puddles
Leave the front door open EVERY time they enter or exit
Nibble corners from the butter
Tear picture cards off the fridge for a closer look
My sweet babies are suddenly toddlers who climb walls and turn full bowls of food into the floor. Knives, hot surfaces, and sharp corners lurk everywhere.
When Avery was two I famously (within my audience of one) went back to work to avoid the unavoidable. I spent that year driving like a maniac between the office and childcare but also wearing clicky shoes and doing Ashtanga yoga on my lunch hour.￼ So this round of toddlers is really the first time I’ve lost every last drop of myself.
As one twin mom put it: The first year is hard, the second year is chaos, the third year is mind-melting. We are solidly into the third year and, sure enough, my brains have turned to goo.
I often wonder which is better – to have had a single baby before twins and know what to expect or to have the twins first so you are used to doing everything twice and get the blissful benefit of ignorance.I try to coax myself out of this form of punishment. Less thinking, I say. More breathing.
In this phase of parenting, The strategy is to spend 90% of the day strategizing on how not to lose my mind and 10% of the day being amazed.￼ Eirik looked out the window at our neighbor’s house last night and said, “Wow! I see light!” It was his first sentence.
I have never experienced my children as going through “the terrible twos.” Two-year-olds are great as long as you don’t mind maximum danger and children who don’trespond to a thing you say. These babies grab life by the horns. They are never bored and they are never boring.
The brothers have started to have back-and-forth conversations.￼ It happened for the first time when they saw a bug on the window pane￼:
E: “A bug.”
T (nodding in agreement): “A bug.”
E: “A bug…”
T: “A bug…”
In the same foot-fall, I turn to homeschool for my daughter and all of my gold-star minutes disappear. I am with all of the children, all of the time.
People comment on the sheer volume of young children I have. Strangers banter, “You’ve got your hands full!” Acquaintances confess, “I couldn’t imagine…”
At a distance, people understand that parenting young children is hard. But when I try to talk about the overwhelm inherent to this experience, the anxiety I feel trying to keep them all safe, people mostly say, You’ve got this!￼ and keep walking.
Thank-you for your pluck. I would thank you for some universal childcare but in the meantime I’ll probably ask￼ my doctor about Xanex.
Twin damage to the house has become a real issue. They started by dismantling the heater and electrical outlets (no screwdriver necessary!). Then they climbed up onto the counter to bat the pendant lights into one another. Then, they moved on to attack the framed art, sheetrock, and finally, the plumbing.￼ I am trying not to start every text thread to my husband with such inspiration as, Good news! I found out where the water is coming from!￼
Answer: With another one of my children￼.
There is never enough supervision to go around. Clearly, caring for this crew is a two-person job. In my wildest dreams, it is actually a three-person job: one adult to be with the children, a second to cook and clean-up, and a third to be off doing something. We could rotate. Want to co-parent with me?
It helps to have a small house. I can almost always see or hear them. When I can’t, I can smell them.
I try to fix some broken things before my husband gets home and it is making me handier around the house (another life-long dream fulfilled because of and for my children). But a problem fixed or a mess cleaned are projects rendered invisible. I have to draw my husband’s attention to it. “I need a cookie,” I say. Then, I show him the thing that is not broken.
Wait it out, you tell me. It gets better. Nothing last forever. But everything, by definition, is getting better or worse.￼ Even this moment is better or worse than a moment five minutes ago. Nothing is static. Nothing stays the same.
I get in touch with a friend who has the same constellation of kids but who is three-years ahead of me in mom-time. “How is your chaos?,” I asked. Has it gotten any better?”
“No,” she says. “I wouldn’t say better.”
My family is nothing if not chaos, but it is mostly good-natured chaos. Maybe one day I will look back on this sorry excuse for sanity as the best of times.
It is 6 AM but I’ve been up for a while. The brothers are sleeping well but they wake early. If I’m lucky they will nurse back to sleep and I will stride out of here like a femme fatale in black leather who just knocked out not one henchman but two…
One day these kids will be grown. I will attend long, silent meditation retreats where I will do nothing but sit and breath. I will not have to referee squabbles over plastic fire trucks or wipe puddles of pee off the floor or get anyone any snacks. No one will bother me at all.
Still I am wanting. Waiting. The same human condition that got me here.
Deep breaths. Practice with what is. My son is in my arms. Our foreheads touch. We breath the same breath. His eyelashes are wonderful. I am the center of this family.￼
Before I became a parent, I was a person. I had brightly-colored clothing and friends and thoughts and things I liked to do. Now, I have none of that. Now, I am a mother.
The sun comes up a little after nine – just as the kids are starting to jump off the furniture. I glance out the window. A warmish wind blows over the glacial ice depressing my lawn and driveway. At least it’s not raining.
The morning is full of busyness and chores. In a relaxed moment I catch my reflection in a mirror. The face that blinks back is so tired it surprises me. I wear the slumped shoulders and sagging belly of an old woman. Dark circles hold up my eyes. I come to terms with the unavoidable: My children are turning me old.
Motherhood is a rich experience but on this day I get nothing. No friends, no exercise, no mental stimulation. I feel lousy in my body and I wonder: How long must I keep doing this?
It’s alright. Feel the feelings. Stay in the moment. You are safe. You are loved.￼
I love my kids, and I miss my freedom.I’m grateful for the emotional maturity of motherhood, and I lament the deterioration of my body. I know the fragility of life, and I can’t stay in gratitude for all I have. I never regret my childrens’ existence but sometimes I regret my own. My children are magical, and with the pursuit of this one dream all of the light went out from all of the other dreams. Two things can be true at once. I am strong enough to hold both.
I roll my shoulders back and relax my jaw. I don’t want to feel negative about raising little children.Preschool will come. Motherhood will not always be martyrdom. Life situations are transitory unlike this December moment, which is endless.
If my sense of self is in the toilet, and I don’tknow how to do anything better, what is left?
According to Buddhist wisdom, life has three aspects to balance: knowing, doing, and being. Knowing and doing are self-explanatory. Being is harder to understand.
In my early 20s I saw a woman in a restaurant who had being figured out. She was in her sixties with sparkling eyes, leathered skin, and not particularly thin, out to a meal with her friends. I projected upon her the persona of a woman unselfconscious, and she was free. ￼She seemed happy to be.
I imagine a day when my fingers are too arthritic or my eyesight is too weak to do much of anything. At that juncture, I will busy myself with being. Just to be alive will be enough. I will sit with every muscle in my body, unraveling each feeling until nothing is left inside but clean, empty space. My weathered skin will become more luminous with each passing year; so much so that I will appear to grow younger as I grow older. When death finally comes, I will be ready. The being will have made me ready.
But I’m not ready yet. There is so much more to know and do. I go back to cleaning with a shop broom and grain scoop.
At my funeral, when people gather to talk about me as a woman, wife, and mother, I would like them to reflect on my warmth, graciousness, generosity, and patience. I would like them to recount stories from my life of adventure, creativity, community, and fun. That is something to think about.
Because lately I have felt miserly about my mothering. Each 15-hour day with my kids reminds me of what was once my hardest workday. I’m on my feet, slinging food and dishes. Sometimes I eat but sometimes not. The house is loud, dirty, and relentless. I dole out affection in measured quantities. If there’s a break in the action, I do laundry.
I imagine all of the mothers in the world, and throughout history, who toil in this way, and in physically and emotionally more demanding ways, for their families. The collective hum is deafening.
It is starting to rain. Time to go outside.Chances are the weather will change again before we get out there.
A full kit of snow gear for one child includes snow pants, coat, hat, gloves, and boots, with a total of 21-pieces for my crew. All of this lives in our entry, plus B-string snow gear, rain gear, and four chairs and two stools stored there during non-meal times to prevent climbing. Wading through this jungle every time we go out to play is enough to make me re-think our once totally sufficient 8×8′ entry space.
Where are your socks? Where are your boots? I get snow pants on the second baby to find that the first has taken his off. I locate the final hat and everyone is out the door. I pull on my boots and pop into the kitchen to re-fill my coffee mug. By the time I get outside, all three kids are sliding through the puddle formed over the ice in the driveway. They are all soaked.
I have this impression of myself as having wandered into motherhood. In the pursuit of happiness, kids were the only option I ever considered; all paths converged there. For sure I was lured in under false pretenses.
I have a photograph of my great-grandparents’ with their dozen children from 1920. They stand stiffly in front of a farmhouse, dressed in their Sunday best. My grandma, one of the youngest children, wears a giant white bow in her hair. I wonder what their personalities and relationships with one another were like. The photo reveals nothing.
I have always related to this picture through the lens of the children; but this time I notice their mother – my great-grandmother. Unsmiling and pear-shaped, she is sturdy, reliable, hard-working, and totally worn-out. She never got a break. How her back must have ached.
I wonder what alternate life she dreamed of. Was motherhood presented to her as a panacea? Probably not. Without choice there is no need to over-sell women on reproduction. She had no choice.
I had every choice. My life is measurably better than my great-grandmother’s (at least I’m not scrubbing on a washboard) but in some ways I carry the torch of her burdens. You might as well tie an apron around my waist and send me out to slaughter chickens.
This is no way to live.
Forgive me my Miser. The Miser’s thoughts revolve around everything I lack. Nothing real is good enough so she wallows in scarcity, hoping something external will come in to satisfy her.
Looking back, it’s hard to know whether motherhood was something I wanted or something people told me I wanted. In a just world, a woman desiring to become pregnant would travel into a dark and foreboding forest to prove her dedication. There, a strange ghoul would ask some important questions:
You wish to become a mother?
In a voice ringing with humility and devotion, the woman would answer:
If you should become a mother, do you promise to give up everything you have and everything you are, as needed? Your wealth, your time, your aspirations, your body, and your fragile material possessions?
And do you promise not only to love this child, but to turn yourself inside out for them? To liquify and transform yourself completely until you become the best possible parent for this unique being?
Will you protect this child, no matter their disposition, from ridicule? Will you agree that the child’s favorable actions should be considered a reflection of their inner nature while the child’s transgressions should be considered your own failures?
And do you agree that no matter how difficult your life becomes, even if you feel miserable, you will never breathe a word of these feelings to another living soul? Do you promise not to reveal your experience as anything but joyful and praise-worthy lest you be considered unfit or dampen another’s perception of family life?
In exchange for this oath, she would be free to pursue the most precious experience anyone could ask for – that of having a daughter or son.
I change out the minimal required wet gear and head towards the beach, the children and I performing our comedy of mittens. Eirik does a slow blink and stops at the edge of the yard. We’ve exceeded the time allowed. He needs a nap.
I carry Eirik, and his bike, down the trail while also pushing the stroller. Once we get to the road, the brothers are back on their striders but we can not, fortheloveofgod, gain forward momentum.
Avery, the only one of my children who still rides in the stroller, is hanging upside down from the front. “Mom?” She asks. “Could we go in the car?”
We turn around.
The car used to be my favorite place because everyone was strapped and trapped; but then the brothers became experts at getting out of their buckles, and now the car is my least favorite place.
I buckle Toren in and he frees himself before I make it around to the driver’s seat. Eirik will be free by time we get to the end of the driveway. No amount of tightening seems to matter; they twist and loosen the straps until they give way. Tightening the buckles only makes them stronger.
I stop and strap them in again. This beach adventure will be brief but we are out, damn-it-all. Ours is a one-horse town but the roads are icy and a car full of loose babies really isn’t safe. I stop and strap them in again. Toren is out before I get to my seat.
Where is beauty right now? I look around. The sky is pierced by a thousand sunbeams.
My children take me out of the present moment but they also bring me back.￼I know I have it all. So why do I feel like a cat trying to claw its way out of a sack?
Where does the feeling of abundance come from?￼It’s easy to imagine mystery as Shangri-La. My fantasy brain insists that had I not become a wife and mother I would love my job and ski every day and look thirty-five forever. I would have wonderful friends and plenty of alone time. I would always say the right thing, and never be lonely. Life would, in a word, be perfect.
I am bitter about giving my life for other people but the Miser’s prison is only in her mind. As she feels like a victim, she is one. How to spare myself this way of thinking?
If the Miser could get out of comparison thinking and relax into her own self ￼worth, the people she loves could love her back. Her cup would fill and overflow. The Miser would become the Fool.
The Fool travels a narrow path along the edge of a cliff carrying nothing but her faith. She does not look down, she does not look back. She knows there is enough space for one more foot-fall and is unafraid. She trusts that even when life feels hard, she is going the right way, and that is enough. One step forward is all any of us ever gets. This sort of foolishness makes for a good way to live.
In choosing one dream, we do forsake all other dreams. So the question is really about this one dream. Is it the right dream? Is it complete? If I could wander back into the woods and trade this life in for a different one, would I do it?
Toren has been crying non-stop all morning and insists that he be allowed to watch me cook from the top of a stool where he will surely burn himself. Avery, for some reason, has been eating a craft stick and her hands and mouth are covered in blue dye￼￼. Eirik must have procured my car key the last time he was on the countertop because the car has auto-started and all the lights are flashing.￼ ￼
Every object we own is on the floor. I sling breakfast as quickly as I can; using my hip to check Toren out of the way while I flip pancakes.￼ We are all tired today, which means that the kids are hurting each other, and I am emotionally thin.
Pancakes are served. I wait to see if a hush will befall the room as kids shovel food into their mouths; or if the food will be rejected and thrown on the floor.￼ Reception is not exactly arbitrary – some pancakes are better than others – but I can’t always predict￼ what will happen.
They eat. Briefly. Then Avery starts kicking the cabinet. I ask her to stop. Nothing. I tell her that she needs to stop if she wants to continue eating breakfast. Kick. Kick. Kick. I remove her from the table – roughly and by the arm. I return just in time to see Toren hauling Eirik away from the table – roughly and by the arm. Ugh.
The gift I most want to give my children is that of my own￼ varsity-level self-regulation.I want this for their benefit but also for the sanity of our family. My kids do what I do￼ far more often than they do what I say.
Knowing how to self-regulate means that you can deliberately get yourself out of fight-flight-freeze and bring higher-order brain functions, like language and empathy, back online when you need them. It means that even when you are flooded with emotion, you can re-center and respond to the situation from a place that aligns with your values, rather than freaking the f%*$ out.
Self-regulation doesn’t come easily to me. As a seven-year-old I received the grade N in “demonstrates self control,” which is basically an F for first-graders. What were my crimes, exactly? I don’t know. At school I mostly talked too much; but at home I definitely yelled, hit, and threw occasional tantrums. It was all normal kid stuff, I think.￼ Never did an adult suggest a healthier way of working through my anger, anxiety, or fear. We didn’t talk about emotions back then. It was the 1980s. A kid out of line could shape up or ship out.
Thirty years later, I brought twin baby boys home and my husband went back to work in a different town. Avery, age 3, suddenly had to share me with not one but two babies and she was jealous. She bit them, and would sometimes finger-pop the corner of Eirik’s mouth to make him bleed. If one baby needed a diaper change, I took both of them to the bathroom. I had no idea what to do with my big kid or her impulses.
I talked to friends. I did some reading and podcasting. Everyonesaid the same thing: Your big kid needs love. Once she knows she hasn’t lost you, she’llcome around.
Having one of your kids hurt another one of your kids is the worst. For three months, I took a course in Peaceful Parenting, and earned a star on the calendar every day that I managed not to react to Avery in anger. I reframed my perspective to see what a hard time she was having. I found that the vacuum breathing I did for the separated muscles of my core also helped me to calm down. I breathed like that all of the time. The best apology is to change one’s behavior.
For a while, things got better. I became more skillful, and Avery outgrew the wilderness of toddlerhood. But then the babies turned into toddlers and it all became too much again. At present I feel all of my effort at peaceful parenting being swept away.
The calendar fell off the wall today and I looked back through the months. In May, when Avery was in school half-time and the twins were epic nappers, I had 15-hours a week to myself. There were notes in those margins – grocery lists, meal plans, and ideas for writing projects. As long as I kept moving everything got done, and I had a fairly good time doing it.
Nothing has been written on the calendar since June. Even if I had a thought, I wouldn’t be able to find a pen￼.
My poor body is pumped so full of cortisol that I don’t sleep and I rarely feel hungry. I can’t poop unless all of the children are sleeping.￼ I forget when I last showered; so I shave my armpits each time as a sort of timer. Whenever I see that I’ve grown a full chia pet, I get in.
According to doctors’ recommendations, I should reduce my stress, sleep more, eat better, exercise (at all), re-claim my creative outlets, and meditate; but I don’t have time for any of that. As another twin mom told me, “I have to find a way to take care of myself so I can keep doing this.”
Let’s be clear: In most moments of most days, my kids are lucky to have me as a mother. They come to me when they are hurt, scared, proud, sad, tired, or hungry. They see my shining eyes. They feel loved.
My anger is never about one thing. It is forged out of a steady accumulation of incidents – small and large – all day, every day.Tantrums eventually end, and thatknowledgeis enough to get me through. What wears me down is the perpetual chaos, and knowingthat it’s up to me to move our family through the mess, without ever giving in to my own pain and frustration. Nine tantrums this morning; that’s what I’m up against.
Parenting isn’t the hardest job you’ll ever love; it’s the hardest job, period. Do your best to love it￼.
In the not-so-distant past, I didn’t understand ‘mom guilt’. I patted myself on the back, thinking myself immune to this all-consuming maternal emotion. But then I learned that guilt is inversely proportional to shame. When shit goes wrong, a person either thinks “I did something bad,” which is guilt, or “I am bad” which is shame. You either have one or the other. Ugh.
I am grateful for people who speak openly about how frequently (constantly) parenting is hard; rather than implying that hard times come as isolated incidents, involving one child, and wrap up with a big red bow. Overwhelm is a perpetual, impossible dance. I am forever trying my best, falling short, noticing I’m still the only adultaround, and getting back up to dance some more. I would much prefer to lock myself in a dark room and make love to my phone.
Research shows that shaming ourselves when we miss the mark is a good way to ensure more poor behavior in the future. This makes sense: When I flog myself internally, shame tenses my neck and worries my mind. I am all the more coiled; all the more tired and burned-out; all the more likely to snap.
Shame hisses: Are you sssssure you want to talk about thissss?
Yes. The more personal a story, the more universal it is.￼ Shame only exists in secrecy. Casting stories into the light transmutes their power from isolation into connection.
If you want to love children in their worst moments, then you must first extend that warmth to yourself.￼ I did some reading and podcasting, and learned that without self-compassion, a person cannot be fully compassionate with others. You can’t give what you don’t have.
When I am unkind and impatient, I feel anxious. Regrets cycle around, and I have a hard time clearing them from my mind. How am I supposed to move from this into a place of self-compassion?￼
It’s hard to accept others in their mistakes when you haven’t experienced that way of being for yourself. I took a quiz and learned that self-compassion does not come easily to me. It seemed the closer I got to an antidote, the farther it moved out of reach.
What I need, is an imaginary, ideal mother. I render a Mother Earth figure in flowing white clothing. When I mess up or the cyclic thoughts spring up, she opens her arms wide. Come to me, my child, she says. You’ve treated someone poorly. I will help you feel better so that you can do better.￼
One of the best tools I have found when my kids get out of control is the pause. I don’t always know what to do from there. I am still looking for the right magic words to convince my body that there is no threat – only the children who grew inside of me and whom I love with every fiber of my being – but the pause is the right place to start. If I can stop myself from reacting for even a moment, the situation becomes far less important. This is not an emergency.
It’s very hard on me that I don’t always get this right￼. The ideal mother touches me on the shoulder. It’s okay, she says. You messed up, but we all mess up. You’re learning, and I know you￼ will do better next time.￼ I love you, just as you are.
When I succeed in getting grounded, I teach my children that mama is someone to trust; rather than someone to fear.￼￼ You feel mixed up and scared but you’re safe, I say. I am here. You don’t have to be calm; because I am calm.Let me take care of you.
I may never figure out how to preventmyself from being tipped off-balance, but when I pause, I cansometimes regain my center quickly enough that my children never need know that I left it.
My kids are fast and curious. If a mess can be made, they will make it. If an object can be broken, they will break it. Still, each of them deserves a childhood of exquisite tenderness.
I invented the ideal mother as someone to call on in difficult moments. I am surprised to find that she also comes in wonderful moments. When I am cuddled up with my kids and reading; when we are riding bikes in the driveway, when I hold their hands for a dinner breath before a meal, when I get them out of the bath and find a way to gently brush their teeth even though they don’t want me to. ￼￼￼She’s there, smiling upon me. Great job, she says￼.
Something else happens that initial morning after breakfast. I think Eirik dumped something out of the spice cabinet. As I run to him, Avery yells, “Mom! Don’t get angry!”
I’m not proud that my five-year-old feels the need to help with my self-regulation, but it was super helpful.￼￼ I pick Eirik up and start into my arsenal of mantras; You’re safe, I tell him.
But something strange happens when I say those words out loud — it is as if I am saying them to myself. I feel instantly better. Of course. You’re safe. These are the magic words.
Pushing myself to unearth unconditional love for children pushes me to love and care for myself. You are worthy of love and belonging, I say. Nothing you could ever do would make me stop loving you. Through self-compassion, I am becoming my own ideal mother.
Avery opens the front door and yells, “Mom! Eirik and Toren are going truck’in!”
If the strider bikes are available then it doesn’t take long before my twins are gone. Sometimes I lock the bikes in the garage or hobble the brothers by sending the outside without shoes until I get out there.
“Which way?” I ask. She points across the meadow. I know at a glance if they’ve made it to the paved road because any passing vehicles slow to a snail’s pace￼. What would you do if you saw baby riding his bike on the road by himself?
The kids need supervision but I need to clean up the fall out from the two full cereal bowls that hit the floor this morning. Sending them all out for a few minutes alone is all I’ve got. Unfortunately, a few minutes is all it takes.
Other children go truckin’ once or twice in their toddlerhoods. My twins escape once or twice a day. I spoke with a mother of adult twins who remembers the same problem. “I learned to make use of￼ attractive nuisances,” she said. “Set up something great halfway to the road. Some new toys, maybe? Or a coffee can full of Oreos?￼ Anything to slow them down.￼”
So far, no vehicles have stopped. “Grab your bike and go after them,” I say to my five-year-old. Meanwhile, I grab some water, snacks, spare diapers, wipes, and the stroller, and hustle to catch up to the adventurers. Thus the day begins.
A neighbor told me about the time his toddler son took off on a strider with the dog at his heels. When dad caught up, he asked the boy, “What were you thinking?￼!”
The child looked at him straight-faced and said, “I just thought I was my own boss.”
I’m not sure when a child becomes their own boss but I am interested to know what words little people find important to master. For my guys, the list includes go, bird, duck, dog, shirt, pants, bowl, spoon, chair, truck, bus, ear, socks, box￼, book, hold, up, down, hug, water, milk in cup (bak!), buckle, cracker, cookie, waffle, syrup, cold, outside, other-shoe, and let’s go!
They are also finding ways to communicate bigger concepts – I’m hot; take off my jacket?￼I’m sick and my ear hurts. ￼I don’t want a blanket. ￼Can I play with water? I’m not wearing a diaper and I need to go potty.￼ My brother pooped. Move this big bike, please?, I love you. Can I wear this backpack? Will you put this diaper on my head like a hat?
The brothers often remind me of funny dude pairs from the 1990s: Wayne’s world. Dumb and dumber. Beevus and Butthead. Bert and Ernie. Of course, what they think is hilarious is pushing the dining room table around, walking backwards with their eyes closed, spitting water, quickly shaking their heads back-and-forth, yelling, and letting their feet slide wider and wider apart until their droopy diapers hang to their knees.
At this juncture, all of the helpful systems that worked for these guys as babies are fading with the setting sun but there don’t seem to be any function-able big-kid systems appearing on the horizon.
They refuse high chairs and lids. They won’t be buckled into strollers or high chairs. They insist on getting their own water and take the lids off of their cups. They hate diapers but aren’t quite ready for potty training.
I tried to interest Toren in potty training by teaching him to pee off the porch. He stood there for a few minutes with his pants down, but nothing happened. Without missing a beat he switched gears and spat instead.
Eirik keeps us all laughing. ￼Whenever the room goes quiet he’ll look at me intentionally and pant like a dog or hop like a frog. When I need to brush his teeth I get silly so laughter will open his mouth. He can’t help himself. It’s like that scene in Roger Rabbit where the ‘toon can’t help but finish… shave and a haircut…
Eirik is skinny and wiggly and especially good at escaping from buckles. I have a habit of loading the twins up in the car so I can finish getting ready for the day’s adventure. By the time I return with the sandwiches, Eirik will be in the front seat “driving.￼” He killed my car battery twice last week.
I buckle him again, tighten￼ the straps again, but he only laughs as if to say, You expect that to hold me?￼
I am eager to get back to the mountains. The Chugach range – the wild spine behind Alaska’s urban center – is the place where my heart lives and where my feet long to go. The tundra is open, and I need no map.
Strangely, I haven’t been able to see myself in the city work-week hustle so I haven’t lived in Anchorage for a long time even though I love to recreate there. Instead, I make my home in quiet, rainy Southeast Alaska. There’s a ridge race in Juneau I want to win someday. I’ve competed in but never won anything like this before. Not even close. Now, after a decade of pregnancies, walking flatlands, swinging in hammocks, and preschooler-paced bike rides, the odds may be tipping in my favor.
Antidotal evidence suggests that a woman becomes a stronger mountain runner after she’s had a baby. I naïvely thought this was because of the challenge of childbirth. Perhaps, I thought, the reservoir of strength she discovers in those wee hours before her baby’s first cry might later be used to push her up and over mountains.
Giving birth is heroic – it is nothing less. But a mother’s courage doesn’t come suddenly as she opens and passes a baby into the world through the portal called cesarean surgery or the ring of fire. Her running prowess isn’t earned by carrying an additional 30-lbs on her back for a couple of years or the return to racing in an older age bracket. What makes a mother into a mountain runner is not the sprint of birth, but the parenting marathon.
Parenting is the perfect training ground for a runner. It teaches a determination that grows more tenacious with exhaustion. As a mother I have grown my children but also my patience, resourcefulness, and perserverance. I have learned to take myself more lightly and ￼appreciate every day, no matter the weather.
In youth I found myself in the mountains by default. Friends took me blueberry picking… first as a sixth grader and then as a 16-year-old looking for a reason to sneak out at night. If I make it back it will be through a series of intentional acts.
I never was as fast as my friends. But that was before it made sense to me to wipe snotty noses with my fingers. Before it would’ve occurred to me to pick up a piece of poop off the floor with my bare hands before anyone could step in it. Before all of my babies got the flu and the best solution I could come up with was to catch as much throw-up as possible on the front of my shirt each time they vomited.
If I hadn’t had kids, I never would have known what I am made of.
Parenting isn’t the hardest job you’ll ever love – it’s the hardest job, period. Do your best to love it.
Healthy or sick, fast or slow, gentle or mean, respectful or disrespectful, intrigued or bored, picky or flexible, charismatic or awkward, popular or excluded. Kids go through seasons while, like contortionists high-stepping through training routines, parents run alongside and figure out how to get through it. These are fairly run-of-the-mill life challenges. You can always level up.
I look forward to simpler days. Like when I can set a breakfast table without the silverware turning into an involved geometric design that I am not allowed to disassemble. For now, I get out for a walk by myself whenever possible. Put on shoes. Open door. Close door. Continue in straight line. Turn when you want to. It’s nice to do something that makes sense for a change. Maybe after this, mountain running could be easy, too.
Working out once took very little initiative. Now I have to coordinate childcare with my partner, plan dinner, promise to be home before bedtime, and deal with the guilt of missing a family evening.
Exercise is precious. I can’t believe that for a long time I expected a 90-minute workout every day. When my first job out of college didn’t get me out of the office in time to run in what little daylight February has to offer, I almost quit. Then daylight savings-time happened, and everything was fine.
Sometimes my children feel like energy vampires. They take everything I have, until I am a dry husk of a woman. Workouts, by comparison, are such a concise and reciprocal effort. I invest time and sweat, and in exchange I am given hunger, thirst, muscle, and endorphins. Beginnings and endings are clear. I am not left to chug along endlessly.
Parenting is the first job I’ve had that I can’t quit. Late at night when my husband gets frustrated, he hands the crying baby back to me. I stay as long as it takes. The buck stops here.
Mountain running will be a lot harder on my body than it was in my 20s but mentally I’ve never been stronger. Willingness to do hard physical labor for sport might depend on the same parts of the brain used for cuddling, teaching kids to share, and not getting pissed when the children think mama scrubbing on hands and knees is a good time for a horsey ride.
The kids eat five times a day; so I spend all of my time cooking only to spend the rest of my time cleaning food off of the floor. I throw a few lunges in while I’m down there so it’s not a total loss.
This practice of cooking food only to clean it up reminds me of a few weeks when I lived in an ashram in India. We meditated, practiced yoga, sang kirtan, and cleaned toilets. Chores were meant to diminish the ego – I knew what I was paying for. But when a man who grew up in the ashram sat and read the newspaper every day while guests cleaned I could not handle it. The sight of him lounging filled me with rage. I am sure he did it on purpose – to teach us that opportunities for spiritual growth come in many forms. Only, did he have to enjoy it so much?
I am without yoga these days. I need to stretch but I can’t remember how to begin. In my mom life, where every minute is filled by the needs of others, I dream of going on retreat. One day I will return to the ashrams, temples, yoga camps, and meditation centers to sit among beautiful people, wise teachers, and singing birds. Canyons of calm will open within my being. There will be no anger based on who is, or is not, scrubbing toilets. I will already have done my work.
When the pandemic started I had a little girl and was pregnant with twins. For two years I have been a full-on, full-time mom wondering –
What is life driving me toward?
Into calm. Into perspective. Into family. I dare say I barely enjoyed my 20s for fear that I would never have a family of my own. My husband and kids filled a deep and pressing need. Now, with sense of purpose and belonging more than covered, I find myself emotionally free to explore the world but practically as tied down as a damsel on a railway track.
How much time before my children grow into happy, functional, resilient, carefree, and contributing people?
I want to bicycle across Southeast Asia eating Pad Thai from every street vendor I pass. I want to speak Spanish fluently and teach in a foreign country. I want to write books, and read books, and learn to tango with a single, red rose clutched in my teeth. I want all of these mountains and more.
What do you long for?
I don’t know why there’s so much rattling around in our brains that we don’t speak about. It seems silly to me. I’m lucky that I got the family I wanted. But when all is said and done, I can’t help feeling that there is too little of me left for me.
Are we more afraid that wishes spoken aloud won’t come true or that they will?
It’s hard to understand which dreams should be left for dead and which could still be realized if I just wait five years… ten years… twenty years. Maybe the dreams could be worth pursuing in the future even though the longing is pointless.
Is it possible to hold space for dreaming and let go of longing?
I imagine other lives but I have never imagined myself out there doing something else and longing for the life I have.
Looking at the front of my body is like reading a river. The skin of my breasts and belly flows downhill and parts ways at the boulder of my belly button.
I have been many places.
Once, I had a childhood. It happened, and without announcement, it ended. I cannot pinpoint the day. Then, I had an adulthood; complete with good friends, achievements, regrets, and everything in between.
Adulthood ended with the arrival of my children; but I didn’t know it was over until my dog died and youth became a memory. Childhood belongs to my kids now – but I get something too: parenthood. Instead of comparing what I have with my adult life before children, these years get to be their own special thing. An experience. For me. This changes everything.
I have a friend who did well in mountain races. If I close my eyes I can see her thin frame jogging away from me; high school ponytail keeping time with the rhythm of her pounding feet along a dirt trail. Twenty years later, after everything non-essential was stripped away, she is a mother. The determination that once carried her up and over mountains pours into the basic tasks that fill every minute of every day. Instead of the freedom of the hills, she lives for love of family and commitment to her higher purpose. Once one who ran up and over mountains, she has become the mountain.
Parenthood re-orients my perceptions. I find solace in the slow, sweet cultivation of things. A great day is not about mileage but about time spent outside, watching kids grow, and teaching them to love adventure. When I get back out there I will want summits. Evenwhen I don’t make it to the top of those mountains, I hope that I will be happy. Because I am, and it is good.
Our family attracts a lot of attention when we travel. My husband usually boards an airplane first, carrying Eirik. As he walks down the aisle I hear passengers murmur… How sweet… How cute. They are charmed to see dad carrying our baby instead of mom. Then Avery passes by, and me, and finally Toren on my back. The ripple shifts to surprise… Oh! they say. There are two!
We are a family of unicorns. This is what I call, showing off just by showing up.
Can I help? The simple answer is, Yes, of course. But it’s not that simple.
I often need five minutes of help; like getting through airport security, running late, with one baby in a carrier on my front, the other on my back, and all of the important documents in my four-year-old’s backpack. I would gladly materialize another adult out of thin air in these moments if I could but I can’t. Hopefully the TSA agents are feeling friendly.￼
Many strangers have seen me coming and offered to help me make it from point A to point B. I understand: I look like this and you are a good person. In one way, I have an extreme set of life’s circumstances. In another way, I got this. I don’t need you to bump our luggage cart over the curb. And to the airport stranger, who picked up my wallet and coffee from where I set them while I strapped a baby onto my back, I hate to be unpleasant, but stop that. Often, the times when I look like a walking train wreck are the times I most want to be left alone.￼￼
If my kids are about to run into traffic then please scoop them up and out of harm’s way. But if our greatest danger is a toddler kicking off his boots, then thank-you for asking, but no. There’s nothing you can do.
Everyone has an invisible struggle￼; yet it’s hard to know what any of us can do for another. Small tasks done reliably are always good. Empathy, or a well-timed “me too” are always good. Little cards are always good. Childcare is always good.
I am stubborn but I ask for help all the time. My parents hosted us for months while we waited for the twins to be born. A stranger held Eirik as a lap baby on a 30-minute flight to save me the price of another fare. Grandma took the twins every afternoon for a month so I could teach Avery to swim.
Sometimes help shows up in unexpected ways. During the first year of my twins’ lives a friend sent flat-rate boxes of individually wrapped books for Avery to earn. My co-mama homeschooled my daughter with her child during the second year of Covid. Someone gave me a double stroller worth as much as my first car. People I barely know have covered bases I didn’t know I had.
Even when I know I need help I don’t necessarily understand what to ask for. One long, hard day, when the twins were a few months old, Avery was in a mood and dumped a blender full of wild strawberry purée into the dog bowl and my patience ran out. My brain flatlined; I couldn’t remember how to sooth children. I no longer cared to know.
I yelled until all three kids were crying then I put Avery down for a nap. I rocked the babies in their car seats until they fell asleep, and then I sat down on the kitchen floor and asked myself, What do I need right now? Who can I call?
I didn’t want someone to talk to because I couldn’t explain. I needed someone to sit with me – in silence if need be – without thinking me fragile or unfit. Someone who would believe in me, care for me, hold me accountable as I got through this day, and then never bring it up again.
A person finally came to mind whose footsteps steady the wobbling Earth. She knows hardship but makes a point of light-heartedness. She refrains from gossip. She brought me dinner a few times when my husband was out of town. So I called her.
Just having a witness helped. When Avery woke up I apologized and set her up with a cartoon and snacks. I cleaned the house. My friend arrived and we sat on the floor until everything was okay again.
I do more than one person should; I keep the balls in the air but only just. The question of help triggers a deep current of vulnerability in me because I can’t afford momentary lapses in vigilance.￼ People look out for me – I can catch a break now and then – but I almost prefer not to. When I sit down, it is very hard to get back up again.
Theoretically, I would welcome a second adult soul with whom to tag team and share all of this with but I don’t have time for it. My walk yesterday with two other women was cut short because of a twin throw-down. I left half-running down the trail while they wailed.
Alone, I can feed and diaper two babies, throw in a load of laundry, and make a muffin. I can play with my kids or spend the hour more interested in a podcast and that is fine. Isolation is how I do it all. I’m happy to see you, but when you come around I get behind on podcasting. My chores linger and I forget to prep dinner. I semi-ignore my children, and they act accordingly. No one gets what they need.
When you’re here, I feel pressured to be the kind of good mom who cares for others to her own detriment. I guess I rather like pulling all the shifts. In this role, where I give everything I have and expect nothing in return, I am enough.
I know this isn’t healthy. I want to let go a little, let other people into our life, and make some friends before I become a dried-up husk of a woman.
It’s just that adults come with their own needs. There exists a standard for adult company whereby the house is clean, there’s something real for dinner, and crying is quickly and easily solved. Even my husband’s comings and goings must be accommodated. By myself, I just roll with the kiddies.
I like the idea of teamwork, but in practice roles are rarely well defined and it is almost impossible to carry out without things gettinglopsided.
Say I’m with a high-achiever. She slings snacks and deep-cleans the kitchen while the kids fold origami. She works like the children are paying her and never stops to do anything for herself. There is an air of superiority about her as she judges my housekeeping failures. She is more than happy to help, but loath to receive help on her own behalf. Indeed my acceptance of help proves my weakness to both of us. I get a little depressed. As Ellen DeGeneres says, help “is the sunny-side of control.”
In the best case scenario, extra adults distract me with wine and interesting conversation. In the worst case scenario, responsibilities diffuse until supervision becomes paper-thin. Let’s say someone is in the living room with the kids while I’m cooking dinner. I think he is paying attention to them, but actually he’s on his phone. The kids are unsupervised but I don’t know that until I hear the sound of breaking glass.
I’m looking for another type of teamwork; one cut from a fabric of patience and sewn together with an unspoken understanding that these little kids have us maxed out. Everyone is doing their best.
My husband usually builds houses and earns a paycheck while I teach our children to share and take turns. Our life functions well enough but my brains are turning into peanut butter and jelly while M doesn’t get enough opportunity to know his kids. At least he rarely has time to notice what he’s missing.
Every so often I get a real-life glimpse of the family fantasy. This weekend, M slowed down and built a birthday piñata with Avery. Then she broke a string on our mini-blind and he calmly got a zip tie and fixed it; including her in the repair. “You know,” he said. “I think I’m getting better at being present with the kids.”
In the evening, M makes a quick meal while I run emotional interference for the kids. After dinner, ￼I look at my husbandthrough tired eyes. “I’ll clean up tomorrow,” I say. He doesn’tobject.
Withoutspeaking we both know what needs to happen next. I get everyone into pajamas and diapers while he pours milk into three cups with tippy lids. I lay down on the bed and he lays down next to me. Our children tackle us￼￼, and for a few minutes we lay there in a happy heap.
Parenting is often lonely. The help I need most is usuallysimple validation and friendship. A companion who isn’ttrying to fix me or my family; someone who falls in line with my rhythms instead of jerking us into his. Someone who makes life more fun by virtue of his company.
Thanks,” I say to my husband. “It’s really nice to have you here.”
Sleep this past six months has been garbage.￼ The brothers have been sprouting a life-disrupting batch of teeth since October and ￼have twelve out of sixteen canines and first-year molars. At some point during those months, Toren stopped sucking his thumb and now expects me to sooth him in the night; so at least I’m losing what precious assets I had.
There is something unfair about these teeth in particular. They rise like mean little nunataks through swollen gums, pissing babies off for months. Thankfully, a break is scheduled before the second and final set of molars come in.
Rather than wake up the whole family several times a night, I’ve been going the Mommartyr route and nursing the brothers back to sleep after every waking. I don’t experience ￼￼it as sleep so much as the beginning and end of night￼.
I’ve made some half-hearted attempts at night-weaning but it hasn’t been enough to get me there. After a week of effort, I fold and take whatever sleep I can get. My boobs are getting longer by the month.
This too shall pass gets me through most of it.￼ Eirik’s most excellent bed-head gets me through the rest.
If I am reading to Avery, or caring for Erik, I can’t keep Toren in the room much less in his bed. I finally decided to let him squirrel until the other two are asleep￼.
Then I hatch a new plan: Eirik, who has been sleeping peaceably in an infant carseat in the bathroom for months, gets the boot. I strap Toren into the carseat for books and Eirik is relegated to crying in the crib until I can get to him. Sorry buddy.￼ It comes to this.
We have a few semi-functional evenings. Then, Eirik escapes the crib.
Whereas the other kids climb with an ease and grace inherent to their athletic forms, Eirik scales the rail crying and possessed with the determination of a potato with arms and legs.￼ Still, he gets the job done.
Bedtime gets funnier from this point. Oh my god, oh my god, I write in my journal, I have no idea how to get my twins to sleep all of a sudden. Every night is a rodeo with 1-2 hours of crying. It is going to give me an ulcer.
We put a mattress on the floor and I sit at the edge to block the babies from escaping. I wrestle Toren to keep him down, while trying to maintain a calm and sleep-supporting environment for the other kids. Good luck.
Upon waking the three of them lie cuddled in a heap like a bunch of wriggling worms. They especially love when I am on the bottom of the pile. The brothers nurse and blow raspberries on my belly. When Avery joins, I’m in real trouble. At least once a day I find myself trapped, unable to move or do anything to help myself, and laughing from fear until no sound comes out (feel free to call this “joy”).
Some mornings, especially when he is teething, Toren bats at his brother for sport. He pushes Eirik into a crawling position, leads him to whatever he wants to climb, and uses his back as a step-stool. Eirik tolerated this for a while; then he learned to bite Toren in the back.
The brothers don’t have many words but they get a lot of mileage out of these: mama, milk, more, dada, brother (bubba), Avery, bike, boot,￼ bath, hat, diaper, poop (bo-po!), together, food, airplane, off, hurt, boat, share, tickle-tickle, no, yes, stuck, help, uh-oh, and bye-bye!
They string together some recognizable phrases and sing along with Avery in rousing renditions of happy birthday and the ABC song. The tune they know, the words they hum. Toren got his hands on a roller-skate at grandma’s house and composed a little song about a shoe with wheels, na na na. He also invented a game where you stick one finger in the air and say, Da! Eirik is then quick to stick his finger in the air and say, Da! Soon everyone in the room is doing it.
Eirik’s favorite words are all-done! and grand-pa! He was running around sans diaper last night and to my surprise stopped to pee in an empty tupperware container. I bragged him up to my mom within his earshot and he proudly said, “I did that!”
When he walks, Eirik’s belly precedes him. He’s slower than the other kids but when he gets moving the belly momentum keeps him in orbit. He runs into a room just like Kramer from Seinfeld – his upper body turns the corner￼ but his legs keep going straight.
Eirik inspires a lot of references to our favorite tuber. He sits still from time to time (an anomaly among our children) and keeps mittens on. If he falls down on his bottom he is likely to keep rolling and hit the back of his head.￼￼
So when Eirik makes up a game of curling up into a ball and lying on my lap with his head tucked, a game all the children line-up and wait turns for, it’s no wonder that it comes to be called, “the potato shake”.
People talk about the epic year of poor sleep that comes with a twin birth and all the wee-hours spent holding their crying infants. I dare say I slept pretty well that year because I did none of that. I simply rolled to one side or the other, nursed my babies with eyes half-closed, and returned to dreamland.￼
But bed-sharing comes with a bait-and-switch. Co-slept babies learn (and then demand) to be near mama in sleep. Eirik, for example, needs to be touching my body or hair; so I made him this creepy horse, Old blue. Thankfully, it didn’t take.
Eirik is far enough away from me in the bed that it should be impossible for him to touch me; but he’s sneaky. He assumes the baby starfish position; reaching out like go-go gadget until his pinky finger grazes my arm. It could be accidental; but it isn’t.
And here’s the real kicker: In teething, co-slept babies wake up every hour or two, expecting you to put boobies in their mouths.
Over and over again in parenting I recognize that I have gotten myself into a bad situation without understanding what I could have done, or can do, to get myself out of it.￼ I do not, as a general rule, appreciate being bossed around by babies. But even worse, is when they wake up my husband and daughter and then I have four crying family members bossing me to do something. So, like a mother taken hostage, I do what the babies tell me to do.
Finally, after months of drama, all sixteen teeth are in! But the babies still wake me up countless times every night. Especially Eirik.￼ My “easiest child” unravels whenever he is teething, over-tired, hungry, constipated, or otherwise. You name it. He screams with the fervor of a little guy intending to meet his needs and to hell with everything else. Something isn’t right!
I worry that our recent cold left him with an ear infection; so I take him to the doctor. His ears are fine, and I realize that my youngest child is a big faker￼.
This ends night milkies. At 9:30 PM I’m up walking with Eirik for an hour. He settles just in time for Toren to wake up. At least they have the decency to take turns.
I finally fall into bed at 11:30 PM and sleep almost four hours for the first time in a long time. I get to finish a dream, making this effort a win for me – though not for other adults in my household.
The real effort comes at 3 AM when both babies are up in the biggest twin throw-down I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, I think, I could almost get one baby to sleep. One might settle, but then the other adjusts to a fever-pitch, urging him to keep going: We’re breaking her down! Stay with me!
I am losing ground. No amount of walking (each baby sliding down one of my legs) does the trick. I resign myself to sitting on the couch with one baby screaming into each ear while I whisper￼, “Shhhhhhh. Sleep. Shh shhhh shhhh.”
Finally, we make it into bed. This step is inevitable as the goal is Sleep! For the love! As soon as we are horizontal, however, the screaming starts back up again.
It takes forever. I finally sooth both of them when I devise a way to keep Toren still and Eirik in motion: Toren is wrapped around my chest in a big bear hug while Erik lies suspended in mid-air – clutching my forelegs – and doing the potato shake.
“Does he look like a Talus? My sister and I stood outside of a wire cage at the Anchorage Humane Society wearing ski bibs and beacons. It was supposed to be a quick stop on our way home from the mountain; but there were puppies.
“Yes,” she said. “Absolutely.￼￼￼”
I had decided on this name years before my dog and I ever met. The mottled red-browns of his fur and sky blue eyes made me sure he was the one.￼ An aunt who has opinions about these things met us at the pound and ran him through a battery of puppy tests. Did he nip at a hand in his kibble bowl? No, he didn’t. Did he startle at the jingle of her keys? Of course not.
Eventually, crows’ feet develop around my eyes, and the black fur around his eye fades to gray. My husband appears – and then our daughter and sons. I waited so long; but in retrospect it took no time at all to create this family.
Avery booted Talus from center stage but he photobombed the fifty pictures I have of her first steps. She will remember him, I think. The brothers technically spent a year-and-half living under the same roof as Talus but weren’t often in shared spaces. With three little kids, my aged dog was often left to lie alone under the carport. Some days, our interactions were limited to the moments when I lovingly placed a bowl of kibble before him.
It’s not news that a once beloved pet can be forgotten when babies arrive; I just didn’t think it would happen to me.
On his last day of life, Talus is gentle with me about￼ the ways that I failed him in the end. All I feel from him is deep love.￼ You did what you had to do, he says. I try to send it back, but he refuses. Today, he said, is about my love for you.
Euthanasia is a difficult decision. His body is weak; but his spirit is strong. I sit with his head cradled in my lap waiting for the vet to give her injections. I ask my body one more time, just to be sure:￼ Is this OK? Is it time￼?
The answer comes from Talus￼: I don’t mind, he says. I only want to be together.
Death takes a long while so my husband and I tell stories to pass the time.￼ I talk about our time in the sub-Arctic where Talus and I divided the long season into “winter A” and “winter B” and cross-country skied every day. Talus learned to swim up there when I waded across a river to check on a smolt trap and he couldn’t bare for us to be apart. The only wrong thing he ever did was roll in a dead walrus.
M reminds me that Talus rarely went anywhere with him in our first years together unless I was along for the ride. In our family, everyone wants to be with mama. Gulla Gulla, my children call it.￼ Together. Talus was first to feel this way about me; but I had forgotten.
I throw it far.
Go! I say￼. It’s time! He runs after the stick but brings it back with a smile on his face.
Together, he says.￼
Go after it! I say, and throw it again. Again, he brings it back.
Talus asks, in the language of pictures, if perhaps his spirit could join with mine so we might live out the rest of our days as one?
Of course, I say.
He sends one last image from a winter when we cared for his two best friends. Max and Zak. ￼Those dogs have been gone for years. The three dogs lie on their respective beds, under a covered porch, looking very pleased with themselves.
Finally, life flows out of Talus and up my arms like one river flowing into another at their confluence. Our spirits mix and he vanishes. M carries his body into a bedroom and lays Talus under a string of prayer flags.
I never understood how much courage my dog gave me by virtue of his company. Now, surrounded by all of my people, I feel lonely, untethered, and vulnerable. A deeper sort of love resides within me that wants to be given. It will be hard to learn to let people love me like my dog loved me.
That night, lying awake in my bed, thoughts cycle through my mind like leaves stuck in a revolving door. Was it the right thing to do? Was it the right time? It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than this: What’s done is done. I sift through and deliberately repeat the thoughts that serve me. I trust in the moment when the decision was made.
I’ve been talking with my daughter about what to do with difficult emotions. Grief, I tell her, is something we are meant to pass through and out of. Tears spring from a well and it’s best to cry like you’re looking for the bottom of it.
With my eyes closed, I feel Talus’ spirit. I feel the softness of his toes, his crimpy ear fur, the wag of his sail tail, and the steady rise and fall of his breathing.￼ I feel his love from the inside. He is not so far away.
In the morning, Avery and I make paper snowflakes￼ to hang on the windows. Sadness inspires making of ephemeral art in me; something to cheer myself up in the moment and mark the passing of time as I heal.￼ Once I made paper birds that stayed on the windows for years, but I will take these down when the snow melts. It is well with my soul.￼
After a few days of our family holding each other in random moments, I get out for an afternoon ski across the meadow. To my delight, the strong spirit of my pup is there, bounding through the snow beside me. We head out into the day, together again.