Twins: 20 months

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.

When Avery was 20-months old she escaped her pack’n play (travel crib), which surprised me. Anticipating twin boys, I upped the ante and got a proper crib with sturdy wooden walls. Toren escaped this crib at 17-months, and bedtime became a complete fiasco.

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. That’s when I realize my youngest child is a big faker. And that is the end of 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. I’m grateful that they at least 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. Erik is lying on my forelegs, suspended in mid-air, and sleepily doing the potato shake.

***

Twins: 17 months

In the first year and a half, the hardest part of raising these twins was definitely their big sister. But that is changing! After a lot of love and hard work, Avery is figuring it out. The twins, for their part, are getting harder!

The snow has been incredible these past couple of months. I find opportunities to cross-country ski on my own or with Avery pulled behind me on a sled but I can’t figure out how to get my whole crew out at the same time. Instead, we spend most of our time together inside getting molars.

When I wrote twins: 14 months, I had just night-weaned these guys and gotten them out of my bed; fully aware of the next 24 teeth would be really hard. Alas! They are back in the bed and on the night-boob and will stay that way until this is over.

Erik ‘s first molar was wrapped in an eruption cyst, which looked like a purple eggplant, for two weeks. I sent pictures to a dentist and she said it was normal but “You poor thing!” I don’t know if she met him or me. “Actually,” I said. “he’s a twin.” Her end of the line went silent.

Most of the fears that ran through me when I saw those two little gummy bears wiggling on the ultrasound screen never came to fruition. Twins getting canines and molars, however, is far worse than expected. For all those twin parents out there, better to skip them. Or perhaps convince each baby to get half the full set of chompers and move on.

Life with twin toddlers is busy. Some days I feel like I feed them, clean-up, and change diapers on a 1.5-hour loop.

The climbing is intense. Everything is a step stool; and if they can’t find something to climb up on, stepping on a brother will do. The top of the table is their main objective. Helpful Toren likes to clears the the dishes; whether I want him to or not. He has broken two plates and spilled a few cups of coffee. I don’t know how we are ever going to visit anyone ever again.

I got extra furniture out of here months ago but, as I get wise, Toren moves on to larger free-standing objects. He pushes his crib around with frightening efficacy, and climbs in and out of it at will. If Toren is loose and his brother is dining in a highchair, Eirik will find himself in the bathroom by the end of the meal.

Around here we tip chairs on their sides after each meal and shove them under the table. This has kept the brothers from climbing; especially because the cushions fall off, leaving oak frames without platforms. But this morning, Toren righted a chair, put the cushion back on top, pushed it over to the radio, and turned on the music.

Toren loves new physical tricks. After a few months of climbing the couch and sliding off if the arm, Toren has taken to climbing up and sliding fully off of the back. It is very unnerving!

Avery is their co-conspirator. Try as I might keep doors and cabinets locked, she is constantly leaving them unlocked. Sister is a one-way ticket to splashing in the potty and easy access to all of our office supplies.

Toren is wired very much like Avery and I’m grateful this isn’t my first rodeo raising my husband’s genes. Watching him brings me back to when Avery was one, and her favorite game was to climb a stool and leap off of the top. Toren is bigger and stronger but he isn’t quite up to her level of risk-taking. Sometimes he climbs too high, gets scared, and calls for me. Avery never did that; she jumped off of everything.

Eirik is a climber but not much of a jumper. At least I have one child who I understand! Unfortunately for him, he is a slow little sloth and his siblings have trained me to be quick and vigilant. He only gets to climb if I bait him. This morning I left a chair up and pretended not to notice. Such joy!

If Erik was my first child, I would have held him a lot. As is, his siblings demand quite a bit more of my lap. Often, I will be kissing tears and making the effort of eye contact with Eirik as he sit playing with a truck across the room. Sometimes he brings me a ball, throw it mama?

I rarely pick Eirik up unless he is hurt. When I do, he settles contentedly in like he intends to stay a long while. He doesn’t ask for much. I hold him as long as I can.

When Baba (Grandpa) comes around he holds Eirik. It’s sweet because this baby looks so much like my dad. This Thanksgiving my parents visited and the two of them played you-make-a-sound I-repeat-the-sound, which they made up when Eirik was just a little guy. I can’t say who enjoys it more.

Certain aspects of Toren’s development are six months ahead of Eirik’s. Except the hair. For months we have kept extra rooms locked, especially bathrooms. Toren is starting to jam those keys into the hole in the knob. It won’t be long before he can open them.

Sometimes it feels like I have Irish twins rather than the real thing. I find myself calling Eirik “the baby” and “little brother.” I mean, he is. But not like that.

Eirik can now turn and open our lever-style interior door knobs. it still surprises me when, from the inside, I hear the knob turn and it’s his little face that pops in rather than Toren’s.

Toren talks nonstop, but what is he saying? He sounds very much like a hostage with tape over his mouth. Eirik communicates with the clicks and squeals of an echolocating dolphin; except when he sits down to read a good book. Then it’s blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I use sign language with the hope that these brothers will communicate well and early. They tell me everything they need to but rarely use signs. For example, babies are taught to ask for milk by opening and squeezing a fist. These guys throw themselves on the ground and thrash. Still, they are clear.

With three little kids, life is not so much about what is fair as it is about whatever works. I don’t pretend to care for my children equally. I rotate through needs, trying to anticipate what each child is looking for and meet them there. Flexibility is always appreciated. I love them all a lot; but I love them differently.

When both twins are awake in the night, I find myself consoling Toren because he is so loud. It isn’t fair, but his going down is the only hope any of us has for getting back to sleep. If Toren is left to cry, then nothing good happens.

A few months ago I separated the twins at night for the sake of better sleep. It was my hope that they would not wake each other up so much in the night; that I could assist one of them at a time. To my surprise, Eirik took to sleeping alone more quickly than his brother, and as thanks for his flexibility, he has been relinquished to sleeping in a carseat in the bathroom these past three months. It sounds extreme but this is what qualifies as personal space in our household. I’m a little jealous.

The bathroom is actually a favorite hang out. When the babies were infants the bathroom served as my early morning yoga retreat. We would hang out in there, the babies bouncing in their chairs and me rolling around on my mat, all of each of us trying to get a little stronger, until dad and Avery woke up.

That same space has become a hotbed of danger and destruction. The brothers grab onto the handles of the drawers and hang on them until they open, knocking them on their backs with a WHAM! All for a chance at you-can’t-have-that kinds of treasure. Toren can see inside of the drawers; Eiriky can’t see but he can reach.

Once we are in the bathroom, getting everyone back out can be a challenge. Just when you’ve corralled one the other grabs onto the diaper sprayer. As my husband says, “The problem is, there are two of them.”

***

Culinary Adventures

I like to cook; but I love to be fed. Somehow this dichotomy served me well in my first two decades of adulthood. But then it was 2020 and I found myself cast as the mother in a family of five. My under-confidence in the kitchen exacerbated our dinner stress, and I figured, as long as I am responsible for feeding all of these hungry people forever, I might as well learn. Time to take my meatballs out of my apron pocket.

I’m not a bad cook. I can make something robust, filling, and even tasty; but I am slow and my repertoire is limited. I only cook when I have unlimited time and that occurs under one condition: When pigs fly.

A big problem is that I start making dinner without an end goal. Seriously. I have no idea what these ingredients might combine to become. My only objective is to use up the vegetables before they liquify in the bottom of the refrigerator. I chop and sauté, add things from cans, and voila! A soup is born.

If I make anything other than soup, I screw up the details. I start with polenta, but turn the whole steaming potful into a baked cornmeal pizza crust. Toppings shift out of beans and cheese and into pesto and olives. Or leftover brown rice sneaks its way into Thai dishes. I am forever mixing and matching Asian sauces. Every meal is as much a surprise to me as to anyone else. Nothing ever tastes quite right.

“You are crossing cultures,” my husband complains.

This from a guy who puts ranch dressing on tacos. “How come when you do it, it’s fusion cooking, but when I do it it’s a mistake?” I ask.

“Because when I do it,” he says, “it’s delicious.”

Fine.

I surround myself with good cooks; which is not entirely coincidental. My husband must have been a five-star chef in a past life. He is a wealth of culinary insight, and for no obvious reason.

One afternoon, M stops home for lunch and I proudly serve him a turkey-havarti melt with avocado and homemade pesto. His response: “Any chance of a little tomato?”

M always knows what he wants. The flip-side is he doesn’t receive mediocre food well. He does not even receive good food well if it could be improved upon. For ten years I have avoided conflict with my husband by not bothering to feed him.

I slice the tomato, muttering not-so-under-my-breath. I’m fishing for an apology. He opens his mouth, and I look up. He says, “Do we have any red onion?”

I would hate him for this, except the sandwiches turn out so special.

Food presses me to answer questions of desire that I have long avoided: What do I crave? What might fulfill me? What do people eat, anyway?

My home cooking started the way all of my best learning does: By circling in from a seemingly unrelated point, taking my sweet time, and enjoying myself along the way.

Several months in, I had little to show for my efforts except better breakfast foods and baked goods that I was already pretty good at making. I spent hours in the kitchen, and still there was nothing to eat. One night, all I had to show for myself was peanut sauce, roasted veggies, and rice. “Is this dinner?” Avery asked. Um, yes?

Feeding children is tricky. I prepare dinner under the guise of feeding them but let’s be honest: They want yogurt and toast. And tacos. I could throw a taco at them every night and nobody would complain.

Best that I please myself whenever possible. I find myself doing crazy things; like I’ll be inspired by a vegan recipe but then I’ll add dairy and meat or make it gluten-free. Good stuff happens this way but it isn’t efficient. Fake parmesan and vegan butter, while interesting, are not exactly necessary.

Also, I do have to feed the children. I did a couple of experiments with meatless meats that didn’t go over well. Avery refused to eat the first one, and that should have been my sign. On the second foray she said, “Mama, if it doesn’t look like meat, and it doesn’t taste like meat, it isn’t meat.”

Learning any skill necessitates a certain willingness to fail. I experiment with new recipes when M is out of town so that my inner midwestern farm-wife doesn’t fret about pleasing him. But Avery let’s me know if I miss the mark.

Avery has her father’s pallet. She will eat whatever I make as long as it is delicious. Also, she needs presentation. I can have all of the elements of a meal ready to go; but if it falls apart into a pile of crying babies at the last minute and looks like pig slop she goes on hunger strike.

I want to make wholesome, healthy, delicious food. Sounds simple. But who cooks this way? Where are my people? Also, how do I create delightful meals without a lot of planning and fuss? If mung bean sprouts and ripe avocados grew out of my ears I would be much better at this.

Time to get goal-oriented. Every weekend I jot a quick list of things to make throughout the week and endeavor to do one creative thing in the kitchen every day. I visit the library and check out all the cookbooks. I bookmark everything that looks good, then become so overwhelmed that I go back and shove everything through the slot.

Later, I try again. Mercifully, an epiphany brings relief: Food is themed. Ethnicities. Seasons. Colors. Certain things go together, and certain things don’t. With a little research I also pick up a new recipe app that allows me to organize recipes this way and it gives me the feeling that life will go on. This is where I’m at, people.

Here are some profiles I am playing with:

Southeast Asian: Red curry paste, mung bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts.

Mediterranean: Parsley, basil, thyme, tomato, olives, lemon, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mozzarella, parmesan.

Mexican: Black beans, tomato, corn, chili powder, cumin, avocado, lime, red onion, cilantro.

Japanese: Soy sauce, miso, ginger, sesame, green onion, rice wine vinegar, seaweed.

Themes keeps me on task. I get a lot of mileage out of making sure I can name a dish, and clarify its ethnic origins before I start cooking. It’s also possible that thematic thinking affects my shopping more than my cooking. I don’t need to know what’s for dinner when I put in an order; but if I buy green onions then I also need ginger and miso. If I’m craving sun-dried tomatoes it’s worth picking up some feta. You’re welcome.

Getting interested in food, leaning in, has turned cooking from a source of stress into a source of pleasure. If I accomplished nothing except that I change 100 diapers and a day I feel sort of, meh. If I change 100 diapers, and make ratatouille, I feel awesome.

Eventually, I found a few sources that check all the boxes for me. Favorite cookbooks include Nourish by Cara Rosenbloom and Nettie Cronish and the Run Fast, Eat Slow series by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky. Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows is a vegan genius and few things taste so good as vegetarian dishes by Cookie and Kate.

Cooking has also improved my diet more than restricting food ever did. The more I prepare inspiring vegetables, and seek protein in beans and seeds, the more I crave those foods.

My time in the kitchen is shifting out of responsibility and into play. I get to have a little adventure, protected there behind a gate. When the babies toddle over they always leave with a snack. If anyone cries then everyone gets a cookie. I want them to enjoy time with mom in the kitchen, too.

Let’s begin.

****

There’s the love

“I miss you mama,” she says.

“I miss you too, Avery.” I return the gesture but I don’t quite understand. Unless she’s at school, my girl and I are together in every waking moment.

Since the brothers came along, people have been asking: How is Avery? Sigh. She is still a high-energy three-and-a-half who does very well with direct adult interaction. How about being semi-ignored except to make sure she’s on target? Less well.

All of the advice I received on how to support Avery as we welcome new babies into our family was the same: love, love, love. Make time for her. Make sure she knows mama still cares. I have; but it’s not the same.

We lost co-sleeping but we cuddle every morning until Toren calls for a diaper change. We read in bed before nap and bed time; unless Eirik starts to cry. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I tell her.

Parents opt in for second (and third) babies so that our first learns to share an adult and loses the impression that she is the only show in town. We thought having siblings would help our daughter grow into a more awesome person. Being that this was the plan doesn’t make it easy.

I am coming to understand, without understanding why, that beneath her antics is an extreme love for me. In intense moments, I’ve learned to ask: What does she want? Where’s the love?

“I miss you, mama,” she says. “I miss you too, Avery.” * Avery stayed home from school for the past two weeks because of Covid concerns, and has gone almost entirely ferrel. I’m hoping her teachers reign her back in. On Monday, Avery finds me in the bathroom where the brothers and I do our morning yoga. “Hi, mama! Hi brothers! It’s biiiggggg sister!” We move to the kitchen. Eirik is rubbing his eyes so I put him down for a nap in his carseat (#StrategicMommery). I still have to make her lunch feed the dog find a mask think outerwear change my pants load everyone into the car. Avery just has to eat and get dressed. Usually she can handle that, but not today. It’s time to go. “Avery!” Next for you is socks! Go get them!” I say this and return to the PB&J I am crafting. She returns a few minutes later completely naked.

“Where are your clothes?” I ask.

She looks at me straight-faced and says, “I couldn’t get my bracelet off.”

Indeed, she is wearing a bracelet.

*

Avery is smart. She recently did the zipper on her sweatshirt and announced: “I don’t need adults anymore!” She loves books – from Winnie the Pooh and Trucks Go to the Magic Treehouse series and graphic novels. She often rocks side-ponytails because they work with her DIY haircuts. She can do somersaults and fireman poles but struggles with basic human functions: Fall asleep. Eat with a fork. Keep food within a 2′ radius of your plate. Sit in a chair without falling out of it.

My girl doesn’t take orders so I work around them. Please go get dressed. What do you want for breakfast? I make requests and ask questions. I model exact language and respectful communication. I try not to break down like David Seville:

Avery? Avery!! AVERYYYY!!!!!

On Tuesday she still doesn’t want to get dressed. I say: “When I am ready the brothers and I will load up and wait for you in the car. But it doesn’t come to this. Somehow we get where we need to be.

On Wednesday, I do it. You are not the one who is late for school, say the books. Make it her problem. I’m fussing with the Bluetooth and trying to enjoy myself. I expect Avery to run out of the house at any minute. She does not.

This is why I avoid power struggles with my girl: She always wins.

After eight minutes I find her inside sitting in what remains of a house plant. She is wearing pants but is still topless. “My shirt was inside out,” she explains.

Consequences fly. Minnie mouse lunchbox? Gone. Sleeping bag and sleeping pad? Gone. It is my stacking of library books into a dramatic pile that stops her in her tracks.

“You return my library books?” she asks. “Without my books, I can’t reeeeead!”

“Get dressed,” I say. “I’m going to take books until you get dressed.”

*

Writing this post holds some shame for me, but so it goes. When I became a parent I did not become a perfect person.

All of us struggle through raising kids. Maybe I’ll imagine that parenting provides us each with a similar level of struggle. Even as this is not true, we might feel similarly maxed out, and in this we are together.

I am trying to shift from shame, pain, and blame punishment (physical or emotional) to inquiry. I ask questions and try to figure out what’s going on. Infuriating behaviors are a form of communication: She has so much to explain.

*

I’ve strategized and on Thursday morning I’m ready. “I made a biiiigggg breakfast,” I tell her. “When you are dressed please come out of your room and eat with me. I will leave the door half open.

She comes out, still in her foxy nightgown.

I returned her to the room, and repeat my clever line. “This time I will have to shut the door, but it won’t be locked,” I say. “When you are dressed, come out and we will eat breakfast. I hope you come soon, because I’m hungry and ready to see you.”

Again, she comes out in her nightgown.

“Avery, what is going on?”

“Mama, I feel sick,” she says.

“Okay,” I say. Clearly, she isn’t.

She beckons for my ear: “Sometimes,” she whispers, “when people are sick… they don’t… go… to… schooooool.”

“You are going to school,” I say, but gently.

No tears come but her voice breaks. “Mama,” she says “I don’t want to go to school. I just want to stay home with you and the brothers.

There’s the love.

“My girl,” I say. “You have to go to school (so I don’t lose my ever-loving mind), but the brothers and I will miss you very much. Know what? We could put some gummies in your lunch. You know what else? Today is Thursday and it’s almost the weekend….”

All the while I am walking her back to her room. “Avery, I have to lock this door. Call me Coo-ee! when you are dressed and I will come get you to eat breakfast.”

A minute passes:

Coo-ee! Mama! I am dressed!”

*