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The Myth of a Perfect Holiday Season

My mother tells a story about how she once spent the night before Christmas assembling 100 tiny plastic escalator steps in Barbie’s shopping mall. Her parents were both in the hospital and she didn’t actually start shopping for presents until Christmas Eve. She says there was nothing left in the stores—she had to buy the last of the picked-over toys. She was exhausted, defeated, and very unhappy about the pathetic display of junk that greeted her children that Christmas morning.

Here is what I remember: “Barbie’s shopping mall? YES!”

A perfect example of how much parents can beat themselves up over things that children don’t even register. We see cheap plastic—but they see fun. We see amateur attempts at festive decor—but they see holiday splendor. We see failure—but they see magic.

We are obviously missing something…

And isn’t this the season for it? Whatever the gift giving holiday, we are decorating and shopping and planning. And all the while, feeling like we could be doing it all SO much better.

Of course, we have these feelings of insecurity and inadequacy year-round. But there is something about the month of December that dials it up a notch…or twenty.

So the very first thing that you MUST do, is purchase some lifestyle and entertaining magazines. Already feeling like crap about your annual inability to adorn your front door with garlands? Martha Stewart is sure to make your holiday decor attempts look like those preschool crafts that you surreptitiously toss in the garbage when the kids aren’t looking.

I don’t know about you, but this overwhelming pressure to make things perfect gets the best of me far more often than it should. Starting with Thanksgiving, I find myself lamenting our lack of nice serving spoons. Then on a less superficial note, I also wonder when my children will be able to sit at the table for more than fifteen minutes and actually eat the holiday meal instead of requiring their own grilled cheese sandwiches. Our holiday dinners have never quite lived up to the ideal Norman Rockwell images of tradition.

January through mid-November, I could care less about how things should be. So what is it about this time of year that makes me such a flailing perfectionist who tries to force everyone around her into Hallmark holiday moments?

We celebrate Christmas, so right after Thanksgiving we run directly into two often-contentious holiday traditions: tree decorating and a visit to Santa.

I have to confess right now that I’m a complete maniac about my tree. To say that I’m somewhat particular about how it looks would be like saying that Christmas at the North Pole is a bit chilly. I just really love a beautifully decorated tree and my desire for perfection borders on pathological.

Decorating a Christmas tree is supposed to be a fun family tradition. Why should it matter that 70% of the ornaments are hung on the bottom left corner? Who cares if someone wants to add their Star Wars action figures to the mix? And what could be more festive than three pounds on tinsel dumped on top of it all? Right?

No. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. It’s a problem, and someday I’ll get help. But in the meantime, we’ll compromise with a “kids’ tree” in the play room. There are others like me out there, so they understand. I just hope that the rest don’t judge me too harshly.

Thankfully, I’m much better about the Santa visits. But learned to let that one go early on.

My oldest child was eight months old for his first Christmas, and it really was the perfect time to take him to have his picture taken with Santa. I dressed him up in a cute outfit and proudly watched as he patted the fluffy white beard and then smiled for the camera. He was adorable.

The following year, he had newborn twin siblings at home and a budding sense of stranger danger. As I dressed him up to visit the same Santa, I had feelings of foreboding that this year might not go quite so well. Sure enough, the line was long and he refused to sit in the stroller. Thirty minutes of hearing “no” every time he wanted to play with the fake snow made him decidedly cranky. And when we finally approached Santa’s lap, he looked at me like I was about to hand him over to a jolly-looking ax murderer. A picture was snapped two seconds before he burst into tears, and I had to ask myself, “What the hell I was thinking?”

And year after year, I walk past mall Santas with wailing children on their laps. Of course in defense of all the parents standing in line with candy bribes and crossed fingers, there are plenty of children who LOVE seeing Santa. For every baby who screams and pees on him, there is another who giggles at his hearty ho ho’s. And we can never be sure which way it will go. So we get in line and roll the dice.

Last year, my five year old and two four year olds begged to visit Santa (they also got into three fights during the our long wait in line and knocked over part of a display…but they didn’t cry!). This year, unfortunately my oldest wanted nothing to do with it and hid under my coat while his brother and sister sat on Santa’s knee and smiled for the camera. And this was completely avoidable since I KNEW that Oliver didn’t want to visit Santa. He told me that he didn’t. But there was always the possibility that he might change his mind at the last minute… Honestly, I should have just taken the twins while he was in school.

At least I didn’t force him to be in the picture. Which was mediocre anyway. I have of yet to see a good Santa picture since that first one six years ago.

In the end, I think we all do our best to create good holiday memories for our children. If they are sometimes a little forced, at least we know we had good intentions. If there are tears as parent go from bribes to threats while taking a picture for their holiday cards…well, it was a really nice shot of everyone together.

But in experiencing all of this for ourselves, we should open our eyes to the fact that EVERYONE falls short. No family is perfect, so no holiday season is perfect. It’s an ideal that no one could ever achieve. A myth perpetuated by greeting card companies. A beautiful idea that could only ever fit into the glittery confines of a snow globe. Real life is messy. Not everyone can be Martha Stewart.

Even our own memories of happy holidays are part illusion. Because we’re viewing them through the kaleidoscope of childhood wonder.

We remember tearing wrapping paper off the presents and eating candy. We can close our eyes and feel the excitement we had for this once a year celebration when wishes are granted and anything is possible.

Our parents, on the other hand, remember tantrums and sugar-induced meltdowns. They thought the meat was a bit overdone and rolled their eyes over Great Aunt So-and-So’s diatribe on how children were disciplined when she was a girl. But they did their best and hoped it was good enough for us. And it was.

We need to remember that and realize that as long as we do the best for our own children, then that is good enough. For them AND for us.

The table decorations may not be up to glossy magazine standards…the serving spoons may be mismatched stainless…a display of Star Wars action figures might have suddenly appeared on the once perfect tree…and there may (will) be some tears…but if our hearts are full of love and good intentions, then that’s good enough. That’s life. And in it’s own crazy way, that’s pretty much perfect.

Originally posted on Health News HERE.

The Reluctant Lemming

About two years ago, I realized that my children and I have a problem with tardiness. While buckling the three-year-old twins into their car seats, I said something fairly innocuous like, “O.K., let’s go!” Then the following exchange took place:

Eleanor: Are we going to be super late?

Me: What? No, we’re not going to be late.

George: Are we going to be CRAZY early?

Me: No. We’re not…where are you getting this?

After thinking about it though, a few things became clear to me. First, that I actually say “super late” and “crazy early”—who knew?! Also, that we’re rarely on time for anything. And finally, that we’re late more often than we are early.

And I have to wonder why. I mean—as a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), I am master of my own destiny. No longer do I find myself stuck in meetings that run late, wondering how I’ll ever make it to daycare on time. I plan our days—decide when we do the shopping and when we go to the playground. I don’t even have to put any effort into my appearance, so the morning wardrobe crisis excuse is a thing of the past…my hairbrush, a definite afterthought.

I never used to think of myself as someone who is always late. But if I wasn’t before, I certainly am now. And I can only come up with one reason: poor time management. More specifically: an inability to get my act together.

You know how people always say that it’s common for a school athlete’s grades to drop off in the off-season? That’s me. I don’t HAVE to leave my house and not come back for 10 hours, every Monday through Friday. Instead, I’m in and out all day, every day, and I can always plan to do something later or tomorrow.

The problem is that I don’t always get to it later or tomorrow…and I’m often scrambling at the last minute.

Why else would it be that I find myself madly trying to finish paying online bills five minutes before a swim lesson at the rec center that is FIVE MINUTES away. Do you know how many times, I’ve pulled into the rec center parking lot at the exact time that a swim lesson is beginning?

If you’re a member, you may have seen me rushing in the door. I’m hard to miss. Picture a wild-eyed, tangle-haired crazy person speed walking ten feet ahead of her three small children, periodically glancing back over her shoulder to bark, “Hurry up, we’re late! Stop running! The sign says no running! Why are you stopping? Get up! Let’s go! We’re GOING to be LATE! Stop running! Hurry up!”

My poor children. Is it possible to develop PTSD after one too many sneak attacks by a drill sergeant brandishing bathing suits and screaming, “Come on! What are you doing? I told you to put these on FIVE MINUTES AGO! Now we’re going to be LATE!” I wonder how many nervous ticks I may be creating…

It seems like this would be a simple habit to correct. I could just plan my day better, not start projects when I know I won’t have much time to complete them. I could even try to do everything early. Now there’s a novel concept!

Though having a schedule for the day or planning to be early for everything may not really be necessary. Because I do actually have some days when I feel less rushed and seem to accomplish more. And a common pattern in all of them is that I do something productive early in the day.

An example of this would be housework. When I have a list of chores that I need to accomplish hanging over my head, I rarely get around to it. But if I’m brushing my teeth, think “that sink is gross,” then just reach for the cleaner, it’s more than likely that I’ll find myself scrubbing all of the bathrooms in the house. I may even drag out the vacuum.

I need momentum.

Maybe that’s what I’m lacking right now: momentum. I’m often so frozen by all of the have to’s and should’s that I have a hard time getting anything done. And when I take a long hard look at my life, I think I’ve always been that way.

Some people feel excited about all the future holds. But for me, it’s oppressive. It looms. I fear that I won’t be able to keep up. So even though I plug away like everyone else, getting things done and celebrating my small triumphs, the anxiety of falling behind is always there.

I’ve never been fast. Even as a child, when we’re all supposed to have fathomless depths of energy and a lightness of spirit that makes running a joyful thing, I was always slow.

We have an old film of a birthday party that serves as proof. I must have been six or seven, and a group of us fill the screen, milling around my backyard in long party dresses. Suddenly there seems to be a communal, unspoken agreement, and we all turn to race down the hill. I was standing at the front and had the clear advantage as a forerunner. But seconds into the sprint, I lost my position as everyone passed me. I finished the race dead last. I was just…slower.

This isn’t a new idea for me; that I operate on a different frequency than others.

Life has always moved too fast for my liking. Even when I was a teenager, when we’re supposed to be at our most daring…fearless. I witnessed my friends’ enthusiasm for college applications and study abroad programs, and just couldn’t relate. They were all so willing to dive headfirst into an unknown future. And I never was. I never jumped. Instead, I was grudgingly dragged over the cliff by the press of the crowd around me. A hesitant lemming.

I’m not ashamed of this, it’s just the way I am. I seem to need a little more time to adjust than other people do. But what is that saying? “Time waits for no one”? And what’s that other saying? “Fake it ’til you make it?” Yeah, I’m painfully familiar with both.

But faking it has become hard now that I’m not surrounded by people who “want to” instead of “have to.”

Now, I start the day with three people who need me to show them an enthusiasm for the future. For seeking out adventures and new experiences. For anticipating, preparing and then DOING. And while I don’t fail miserably at this, it can be pretty half-hearted. Which is why I think I feel so frozen sometimes.

We’re not always late. But we often are, because I have a hard time getting my act together in the morning. And I know that this has a direct correlation to anxiety about falling behind. The weight of it presses down on me.

But I’ve seen that I have far better days when I start accomplishing things before the have to’s begin to loom. On those days, I gather momentum. And that pushes me on, helps me keep up with the fast pace of the world around me.

We all have a different tempo in our approach to life. But majority rules. And when more people beat out a staccato rhythm, it becomes necessary for the rest to figure out how to keep up. March in time.

This is hard for me. But I can do it. I have done it. And I know that it’s my responsibility to keep my place in line and not fall behind. More importantly, it’s up to me to teach all of this to my own children.

I can already see who will follow my lead and require a little more time. That child of my heart will be a bit slower, feel lost sometimes, and maybe even cling to the cliff edge, refusing to jump until the inevitable push from behind is given.

So maybe the slower speed that’s created such difficulty and anxiety for me can serve a purpose. I can provide an example that you don’t have to be like everyone else to accomplish the same things. That you don’t have to reach the finish line first. That as scary as the future may seem, it’s never all that bad once you get there. That you just have to brace yourself and jump.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Every morning I work on creating some momentum for the day. Even if it’s just making all of the beds, the act of doing something pushes me just tiny bit forward. The first few steps of what will hopefully be a running leap.

I’ll never enjoy jumping. I’ll still lose track of time while dithering. And sometimes I’ll be late. But I won’t let all of that get the best of me, as I so often have in the past. Because I know that regardless of how hard it may be to step off the cliff—how much I dread the drop—once I hit the water, I know how to swim.

Originally posted on Health News: HERE.

Living the Dream

While I was pregnant with my first child—my special needs child, Oliver—I had this little thing I would do every night before going to sleep. It wasn’t exactly a prayer, or even some intentional form of magical thinking…but I would reflect on everything that I wanted for my baby. It was more of a list than a litany, but it still had that rote quality of repetition.

I would add to my list now and again, but for the most part, it didn’t change. I hoped that he’d be kind and generous, funny and handsome. I also wanted him to be earnest, self confident, intelligent, creative. And happy. I dreamed all of this for him and more. Because that is what we do as we sit in the waiting room outside our future as parents. We dream.

And when he was finally born, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect baby. At nine pounds, he was chubby and healthy. And I was terribly offended by the nurses’ exclamations of “Oh, he’s a BIG boy.” There is nothing big about nine pounds. He was tiny and precious, and it was my job to shield him from the dangerous world.

During those early months of taking quiet walks outside and letting him sleep in my arms, this level of protection seemed entirely possible. It’s a brief moment in parenthood that we often forget to treasure as we learn how to function on next to no sleep. It’s the first and last time that we will ever truly be able to stand between our child and…everything. It’s a simple “just you and me” time when the rest of the world disappears. A sweet symbiosis.

Oliver was a very typical baby.

Of course, he had his challenges. Like not sleeping though the night until…EVER. O.K., that’s not true. He got better after the first year, but let me tell you—I can name most of my wrinkles: “Oliver, April 5, 2005,” “Oliver, April 6, 2005,” “Oliver, April 7, 2005….” And he did go through that annoying Daddy’s Boy phase when he preferred my husband to me. Such betrayal. But all in all, he gave me every reason to be a very smug mommy. A few minor details aside, he was everything I dreamed about.

So when did we notice that something was “different?” It’s hard to say since it was all so wrapped up in the craziness of a surprise pregnancy that ended up being twins born 18 months after I had Oliver. Like any “normal” 18-month old, he wasn’t thrilled about two tiny creatures intruding on our perfectly lovely little family of three.

I use the word “creatures” because I got the impression that this is how Oliver viewed them. Even my healthy 5.5-pound twins were pretty scrawny looking. They certainly didn’t resemble any baby Oliver had ever seen before. In fact, I think I can pinpoint the moment when he realized exactly what was going on with these new “pets” of ours. I was changing a six-day-old George’s diaper when I caught Oliver staring intensely at this activity that he must have observed at least ten times a day at daycare. And it was like I knew what he was thinking: “Is that a BABY?!”

I couldn’t blame him, really. I, myself told people that taking care of the twins sometimes felt like playing with Barbies. And that with their little C-section legs curled up all “knee to chin,” it was “like changing kittens.” A very different experience from my chubby first born.

Then time passed. We all survived. Adapted. Became a family. And in the midst of all of that, we discovered that Oliver was not going to be the average, everyday big brother.

Some of my family members were shocked by how our friendly and engaging little guy had suddenly become so closed off and threatened by new people, places and experiences. And as he approached age two, it was obvious that he was not speaking nearly as much as other toddlers his age. People started talking to me about having Oliver tested.

The truth is, all of that really could have been chalked up to the major upheaval in his previously peaceful little life (did I mention that we moved to a new house three weeks before the twins were born?) And I have never been one to obsess over timelines.

I didn’t want to be that competitive mom, pushing her kids to be the best at everything. So his speech wasn’t progressing as quickly as other toddlers I knew…my brother didn’t talk until he was two!

But as Oliver’s second birthday approached and he had months of time to get used to his younger brother and sister, it seemed more possible to me that this might not just be a reaction to change.

Something was wrong. Or wasn’t right. Or wasn’t normal. Or wasn’t “typical”—the PC term that I would soon learn to use when discussing the differences between my child and others. So we had him tested.

It took years before we finally had a handle on what is going on with Oliver.

We got him into a full-time special needs preschool program through our county. We found him a neurologist. Then we consulted a pediatric psychologist who gave him an Autism Spectrum diagnosis (PDD-NOS or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), something pivotal to getting him as many services and therapies as possible through the public school system. We sent him to occupational therapy (speech wasn’t covered by our insurance since it wasn’t “restorative”) and enrolled him in a social skills group. That last one ended up being a huge waste of time and money, but I did make a wonderful friend in one of the other mothers there. I like to say that I paid $2,000 for her.

We learned more and more about our son through trial and error. And the only thing I found perfectly clear was that Oliver wasn’t like other kids. My friend, the $2,000 one, has a PDD-NOS boy herself and jokes that it means, “There is something wrong with your child…but we don’t know what is wrong with him.” It’s very frustrating. And so much more common in special needs kids than one would expect. There isn’t a finite label or diagnosis for everything.

Like all other parents in this position, we tried a lot of things, and we learned to accept that there are no easy answers, no single set of directions to follow. We were muddling through like everyone else. Looking for anything that would help Oliver learn how to speak in more than three-word sentences, answering only “yes” or “no” while the other four-year olds were asking “Why?”

And during that time, we were raising a handsome, quirky, delayed boy who was still everything to me that he was as a newborn. Perfect. Mine to protect.

He deserved more than the necessary search for answers and helpful therapies. He had so much to offer us just the way he was. So much to teach. I doubt that there is ANY parent of a special needs child who doesn’t claim to be a kinder, more tolerant person now.

Oliver taught me to take my dismissal of hard and fast developmental timelines to a whole new level. I celebrated every milestone and triumph, and didn’t immediately move on to anticipate the next one. I started living more in the moment and appreciating each day as it came to me.

I watched him play with his younger siblings and enjoy their companionship. It was clear that he thought they were the best friends to be found. He never pushed them aside to follow the older kids in the neighborhood.

He was (and still is) so true to himself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him express concern over other children not approving of his preferred games and activities. At age six, he still loves Thomas Trains. If other six-year olds think trains are for babies? Fine, more trains for him. As much as he may want to be part of the group, he won’t sell out. But even more importantly, he doesn’t judge anyone else for their own preferred pastimes.

And when Oliver actually does say or do something intentionally funny? It’s like he knows. He looks at me and it’s so clear that he gets it. That he’s different and that it’s O.K. Even kind of great. And we have a moment of looking at the world through the same eyes. And laughing about…all of it. I love that.

These kids know so much more than we realize. By operating on a different frequency than others, they often catch things that the rest don’t. So many times, I’ve been smiling and laughing, and Oliver will look at me with obvious anxiety over the sadness or worry or anger that I’m feeling underneath it all. I’m a pretty good actress if I need to be. But he sees through me. He knows.

One of the greatest gifts I have ever been given is Oliver’s ability to talk to me; to have real conversations. Through a combination of auditory processing therapy and sensory integration therapy (two alternative approaches that we’ve discovered over the past couple of years), Oliver has started really talking. In full sentences. In conversations initiated by HIM.

This may not sound like much, but for us, it is monumental. To be able to talk to your child about their thoughts, feelings, wonder about the world…is basic to building a mature relationship with them. So to hear Oliver express why he’s angry or frustrated is like a miracle. It doesn’t matter if his “feelings” conversations aren’t exactly complex, because for the first time ever, they’re clear.

I love Oliver. He looks at the world in a way that no one else does. He marches to the beat of his own drummer.

It’s so easy to get mired down in the testing and therapies and worries of your special needs child. And to a certain extent you should. It’s your job. But there is also so much opportunity for pure, visceral enjoyment of them.

When I had my baby, I wanted everything for him. And now, six years later, I see that it is he who is giving everything to me. He is every single one of the dreams that I had for him.

He’s handsome and funny, kind and generous. He’s intelligent, self-confident and creative. And so earnest in how much he enjoys his life. He is happy.

I will always try to help him have the best life possible. I’ll dream more for him than could ever be possible. Because that’s what parents do. But I’ll never worry about whether he can realize all of my dreams for him. Because he already has.

Originally posted on Health News HERE.

Forever Changed

My first baby was born at 41 weeks. He apparently had no desire to leave such warm, cozy accommodations—with 24-hour room service, no less! And while I couldn’t really blame him, it seemed an eviction notice was in order.

So early one spring morning, we picked up the bag that had been sitting by the door for weeks, and left for the hospital. I would be induced and, if all went as planned, we would be new parents by the end of the day. My mother and aunt had come to stay with us, and later told me that as they watched me lumber to the car with my husband Chris’ support, they looked at each other and said, “Their lives will never be the same again…”

Everyone knows that having children changes your life forever. Priorities are reevaluated, careers are modified to decrease office hours or just put on hold entirely, and vacations become more complicated than enjoyable…. In general, every decision is made with your child’s best interests in mind. It’s no longer all about you. But I have of yet to meet anyone who would want their old life back.

And, of course, there are the fantasies that we all try to sell ourselves and each other like, “It will be easier once they don’t need constant supervision,” “I can go back to work when they’re all in school,” or my personal favorite, “We can start traveling again when they’re older.”

Now that my “babies” are becoming kids, I have a slightly more realistic view….

Yes, it is a whole new world of closing the bathroom door when I take a shower. And personal space and time for myself are actually making their way back into the daily rotation, but decreasing the once constant supervision of my children has its price: I’m also losing that tight control on their immediate safety.

Once they started walking down stairs unassisted, it became possible—and even expected—that they may fall now and again. I never knew how bad that fall might be, and their independence grows by the minute.

By allowing them to cross our neighborhood streets without holding my hand, I’ve taken yet another step toward something that could never in a million years be considered easy. Nonstop supervision of babies and toddlers may be exhausting, but watching them grow up and make their own decisions—both good and bad—is terrifying. The loss of control is anything but “easy.” I can’t even think about what this will be like when they’re teenagers…

Luckily, the teen years are still a way off, but school days are already in full swing. Next year, my twins will start kindergarten and finally, all three of my children will be in school full-time, five days a week. This would seem like the obvious time to return to a “paying” job, right? I always thought so, but it’s not nearly as simple in action than in theory. Oliver’s first year in elementary school provided a first-hand reminder of the fact that school hours and vacation days do not exactly match up with those offered to full time office employees.

Most people leave work at 5:00 p.m., but Oliver’s school bus drops him off a couple of hours before the typical work day comes to a close. Some parents I know are able to work flex hours, but commute distance and overtime hours may also play a role. And I could go on about sick days, federal holidays and summer vacation….

But the point is that “going back to work” will never be the same as when you left; even if you were a working parent for a while. I was, but back then, I could drop my children at daycare as early as 7:00 a.m. and pick them up at 6:00 p.m. And it was year-round. School starts sometime after 8:00 a.m. and ends around 3:00 p.m. And there are over ten weeks of the year that school is closed for vacation. There is no getting around the need for additional childcare. And it comes as no surprise that so many primary caregivers find part-time jobs or work that they can do from home.

I could never consider every angle of the kids in school/working parents/required childcare love triangle in a paragraph or two. Each family figures out what works best for them and there are unlimited factors. For my own family, commute, daycare expenses, special needs therapies, schedule availability, and work travel all play a role in why I’m currently a stay-at-home mom. And figuring out how to segue back into the workforce in the next couple of years will be challenging.

One of the things I miss most about my career before kids is the travel. I was a conference planner and had the opportunity to visit beach resorts, historic cities and even international destinations. I loved it.

But once I brought that first baby home, the fun travel sounded more like torture. How does one separate from the love of their life for several days, let alone a week? I quickly found a job that didn’t involve any nights away from home.

Personal travel was still an option, and as long as I had my baby with me, I didn’t mind leaving home. But as that little baby grew older, became mobile, and needed his own seat on an airplane, everything changed.

At one time, my carry-on bag held books, magazines, and possibly a little pillow for napping. But now I pack snacks and coloring books. Mini-DVD players can be a lifesaver, but they tend to take up 80 percent of your purse space. Napping on flights has become a thing of the past (unless you are my husband). Instead, I spend hours searching for Thomas Trains under seats and escorting small people to the bathroom. And once we arrive at our destination, the real fun begins.

Remember relaxing vacations spent reading by the pool, dining at romantic restaurants, and sleeping in? Yeah, me too. But just barely.

Those memories are slowly fading into legend. Needless to say, it’s rare that I even open a book on our family vacations. Restaurants must be “kid friendly,” and there is no snooze button on the three living alarm clocks that wake me up early no matter where we are.

Any kind of travel requires months of planning, mental preparation, and saved pennies (FIVE seats on a flight!). It’s not that our vacations aren’t fun, but we put more thought into the enjoyment of our children than our own.

But like every other parent I’ve ever met, I don’t regret any of it.

I’ll happily go on economical family road trips and catch the sunrise instead of sleeping in. And I’m confident that I’ll eventually find a great career that I would never have discovered without the schedule limitations that my children have created.

For the loss of every previous luxury, I’ve gained invaluable family time…memories…learning experiences.

I’ll admit that I don’t love the worry that goes hand in hand with each day’s incremental loosening of apron strings. But again, there is a trade off. Watching people you created grow up and find their own way is an incredible gift.

I have my share of anxiety about the unknown future, but I also have plenty of hope. And I try to focus on that.

We waited until our early thirties to start a family, and I’m glad that we had that time before. But as much as I enjoyed my life before becoming a mother, I honestly feel like I’m living the one I was meant to have now.

Originally posted on Health News HERE.

I Have Mommy Brain…or Some Kind of “Brain”

There was a time when I felt pretty confident in my ability to remember important appointments, birthdays, anniversaries…trash day…. But since having children I find that if I don’t write something on my calendar, it may not find its way onto my radar until days later (if at all).

A lot of women call this “mommy brain.” It usually starts during pregnancy, and from what I can tell, it continues throughout a mother’s life until it becomes re-labeled as “senility.” Either way—it provides a great excuse for allowing a frozen pizza to burn to a crisp while you take a shower.

That sounds ridiculous, of course. I mean, why would you take a shower when you know you have something in the oven? Well, it makes complete sense if you consider a string of events leading to the blackened pizza. Here is how it could go down:

You pull a pizza out of the freezer for your children’s lunch and then put it in the oven. You think that during the 12-minute cook time, you can put in a load of laundry.

After switching on the washer, you realize that you still have 10 minutes to complete another quick chore. So you sit down in front of the computer instead. You already did something productive like laundry, why tidy up the living room when it would be much more enjoyable to check your e-mail?

As you are reading through messages, you see that Old Navy is having a sale. This reminds you that your daughter really needs some new fall clothes.

Noting that you still have five minutes before you need to check the pizza, you decide to run upstairs and take inventory of the long-sleeve shirts and pants that are currently in her drawers.

On the way up the stairs, you step on something sharp, causing you to scream in pain and then almost fall. This launches the Diet Coke you were holding into the step on eye level, where it bounces and then sprays all over the carpet and you.

Then you say some bad words.

Then you decide to banish Legos from the house, as you limp up the remaining stairs to retrieve the carpet cleaner.

After applying said cleaner to the Diet Coke stains on the carpet, you go back upstairs to change clothes.

As you pull your shirt over your head you realize that you also have Diet Coke in your hair. Remembering that you have to work at the preschool after lunch, you jump in the shower to wash your hair.

[downstairs a timer buzzes]

Throwing on clean clothes and then pulling your wet hair into a hasty pony tail, you race downstairs to make lunch.

And THEN you remember the pizza. But only because you can smell it burning.

Then you say some more bad words.

Then you make peanut butter sandwiches.

Then you do the fall clothes inventory in your daughter’s room and get back on the computer to make the Old Navy purchases.

Only then do you see that the e-mail was from last week and the sale is now over.

The End….

This little scene may or may not have actually happened to me, but it definitely COULD happen to me since I have mommy brain.

And it’s obvious to me that this condition has very little to do with hormones or exploding brain cells. It’s a result of trying to do too many things at once.

It may start as a chemical reaction in the brain during pregnancy…but once the baby is out—and especially when the baby grows into a school age child—there is very little reason to assume any biological origin.

Further proof of this is that fathers suffer from the same affliction. Stay-at-home dads leave backpacks on the front steps, only to find them the following morning, soaked through by an evening rain storm. Working dads make Saturday morning grocery runs with their children and completely forget to buy the first (and most important) item on the list. ALL dads forget to pick their dirty socks up off the floor.

O.K., I just made that last one up. Not all dads share my husband’s forgetfulness when it comes to picking dirty clothes up off the floor… And the true origin of that quirk starts with the letters L – A, and ends with the letters, Z – Y.

In truth, my husband isn’t just lazy. He makes plenty of stupid mistakes due to feeling overloaded by responsibility. Just this morning as I lamented the fact that I was going to have to find an appliance repair service for our washing machine, which stopped working, he made a sheepish confession. Actually, it started as, “Great news! I fixed the washing machine!” And right as I was getting ready to congratulate him and apologize for years of teasing him for not being “handy,” he told me the truth. Yesterday he decided to try to fix the leaky faucet in the laundry room. And fiddling with two faucets directly above the sink seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, it also turned off the water.

With all of the weekend chaos, he needed to hear me whine about the broken washing machine five times before actually making the connection.

But back to mommy brain. Maybe we should call it parent brain. Clearly it’s not uterus-related.

And I like the idea of sharing the burden of this dumb-assery with my husband. We are in this together after all…

I also like having a logical reason for why I sometimes find myself standing in the bathroom holding a Barbie doll.

I have yet to figure that one out…

Originally posted on Health News HERE.

The Perks of Imperfect Parenting

If anyone asked me whether I thought I was a good parent, I’d say yes – for all of my faults, I am a very good parent. And I’d think (hope) that others would say the same about themselves.

It’s not an easy job, raising children. There isn’t an employee handbook…there are hundredsof them. All of which provide vast amounts of conflicting information. And there isn’t even an HR manager we can contact for clarifications. We have to figure it out as we go – come up with the annual goals and expectations. Write our own mission statement.

When things go well, we are filled with pride. And when we fail miserably, we learn from our mistakes. We try not to beat ourselves up and dwell on the bad stuff. We do better. We forget and fail again. We feel foolish about it but move on. It’s a process.

This is something we all have in common.

As a result, we become very aware of our strengths and weaknesses. And we allow ourselves both. As much as we might want to correct our imperfections, we can’t do it all. At the end of the day, we have to let some things go and just say, “Oh I’m the worst about…”

Everyone has their own set of foibles, and each takes root in our personal identity. We become known among our friends for always being late; for refusing to concede a point; for never remembering to bring a snack to the playground. We accept ourselves for these faults and others do as well. They even become expected of us.

But I’ve always thought that each con comes with a pro, and vice versa. Each positive or negative has its flip side.

I may be great at organizing closets and suitcases, but I’m also very rigid in the way I want things done. I can be somewhat indecisive when it comes to forming opinions, but I also consider all of the angles and don’t make many snap decisions.

Every fault has its benefits if you think it through. And as a parent I have many faults. So why not consider the benefits as well?

Just the other day I was thinking about how I tune out the twins’ constant chatter more than I probably should. So many half-hearted, “Uh huh…really?…you think so?…I’m sorry, what was that again?” responses, when I know I ought to be listening and participating in the conversation. It’s just that they NEVER stop talking. And sometimes it’s exhausting.

Ironically enough, I spent years desperately wishing my oldest child would conquer his speech delays and be able to communicate with me. And now I’m complaining about the constant communication with the younger ones. I really should correct this…and I’m trying. But in the meantime, I could try considering the upside.

O.K., it’s hard to find a pro for this one…  But I guess you could say that my kids don’t expect the world to always stop and listen to whatever it is they want to say. Well, actually, they do expect it. But they’re learning that this isn’t the way things work. That they aren’t always going to be in the spotlight. That sometimes other people want a little quiet time.

They don’t expect me to drop everything and run when they call my name. Because I don’t. Unless they sound injured or terrified, of course…but then they’d better be injured or terrified when I arrive on the scene.

I also let them get away with a lot. Having an oldest son with special needs makes me far less worried about “typical” bad behaviors. I love it if he tries to sneak a cookie while I’m not looking. I appreciate the intelligence and stealth involved in finding something to climb without making any noise. Yes, I want him to be respectful of rules, but I take pride seeing him act like any other boy his age. I want him to feel like he can make things happen without me to help or tell him it’s O.K.

Unfortunately, this trickles down to the other kids. And in general, I’m not the best disciplinarian. I often pretend that I don’t know they are in the other room doing exactly what I told them not to do. Sometimes I just don’t feel like dealing with it.

Like the time they lined up three toddler bed mattresses along the stairs to create a giant slide? I totally knew they were doing that. But it was keeping them quiet and busy. And I figured I could just walk over and put a stop to it when the first body came hurtling down. All in all, I considered it a win-win.

So what do they gain from my passive enforcement of rules? Again, not enough to excuse my slacking, but they do get some great practice in problem solving (How do we get this past mom?) And teamwork! A critical milestone: when your children learn that they can work together to further their cause.

And of course, I DO call them to task often enough.

Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the empty threat. It’s like my signature parenting move. Oliver,  if you don’t stop throwing Thomas Trains, I’m going to put them in the garbage! Oh please, I would never do that. They’re far too expensive.

Once when I was single and child-free, I heard a mother saying to her kids, “O.K.—that’s it! If you don’t stop right now, I’ll have to call Grandma and Grandpa and tell them that we’re not coming over!” Ha! Like THAT would really happen: “Hi Mom? It’s me. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to cancel on lunch today…yeah, the kids are being really bad.” Such an obvious empty threat made me laugh.

And now I’m the QUEEN of empty threats. Sometimes I actually lose track of what I can take away from them, and it degenerates into nebulous decrees like, “If you don’t stop kicking that door right now, I’m going to…do SOMETHING. And you’re NOT going to like it.” Now that one really stops them in their tracks. At this point I’m usually ready to send us all to our rooms for a nap.

And the positive take-away for issuing empty threats?

Oh, I don’t know… I can’t think of any great benefit to the kids. Maybe not every shortcoming has an equal and opposite upside. But I will say this about my children: If I followed through on EVERY threat I ever made to them they would have no toys, no friends, no clothes and no time outside of their rooms. So we have that going for us.

We don’t have the most regimented home life. Our kids are not as strictly disciplined as others, nor are they always well behaved. And I can’t find a positive flip side for all of my poor parenting moments. But…

I still know that I am a good parent. For everything I do wrong, there is something else that I do exactly right. And sometimes when I think I’ve hit an all-time low in bad parenting, we’ll look at each others’ incredulous expressions and burst into laughter.

We may not be perfect. But we have a good sense of humor about it. And that’s a definite perk.

Originally posted on Health News, HERE.

Does Getting Older Mean I’m Getting Wiser or Just Looking Older? Coming to Terms With the Big 4-0

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting older. And by “lately” I mean the past five years.

I’ll be 40 next year. And in a way, it’s like turning 30 all over again. No real concern for the number, just a little anxious anticipation about this new context. To no longer be a thirtysomething parent, a thirtysomething woman.

I’ll be 40. “In my forties.”

Some of my contemporaries will be young grandmothers. They’ll talk more about peri-menopause than unplanned pregnancies. They’ll start embracing their laugh lines and stop coloring their hair. They’ll actually feel like a “ma’am.”

It’s a big change when you take a long-term view.

I’ve been talking about eye cream for several years now, and jokes about crow’s feet and varicose veins are old hat. But the changes taking place in my appearance seem to carry more weight when paired with the-big-four-oh.

And let’s not even talk about weight. Oh, for the days when a four-mile run allowed me to eat all the carbs I wanted….

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining about my appearance or my age. But their combined forces are doing a number on my self-perception. Any lingering vestiges of the illusion that I’m still a “girl” have been CRUSHED by this dynamic duo.

I don’t know about other women my age, but I still feel like the girl I was in my twenties. A smarter version, with much better priorities (sensory motor therapy for Oliver or a new handbag for me…what should I choose…what should I choose…)—but still a “girl.”

I’m only just starting to feel like a real grownup. So I’m a little intimidated by the idea that I am now fully vested and forced to cash in on real responsibilities, health concerns, and age-defying neck cream.

It’s a lot to take in.

So I have to approach it like everything else that makes me feel uncomfortable. First, I avoid thinking about it. Then, I start asking around to see if I’m the only one…. And finally, I look for the silver lining.

The silver fox lining, if you will. Because there is power in age.

As young as I may feel at heart, I now have years of real life experience. I make better decisions. And when I do make mistakes, I recognize the value in a learning experience. I’m kinder, less judgmental, and far more open to new ideas.

I don’t waste time trying to be perfect. And I make peace with the fact that I never was and never will be.

And that’s okay, because there is nothing more boring than someone who is “perfect.” So I try to appreciate my rough edges and quirks—as well as those in others.

But I’m not going to lie. While growing older can be a really wonderful thing, looking older isn’t my favorite.

I know that I’m supposed to be comfortable in my own skin and age gracefully and all that—and I’m really trying!—but it’s hard. The girl still floating around in my aging brain is having none of it. When I look in the mirror, she sighs in exasperation. She applies foundation to the dark circles under her eyes and reaches for the hair drier. She wishes I would put in a little more effort.

Because after all, I’m only 39.

So there is a compromise to be made there. I will appreciate my age and all of the wisdom I acquire each year, but I’ll do it in flattering jeans and a cute top from Anthropologie. I’ll pluck my eyebrows and put a little more effort in. The girl in me deserves to feel pretty.

The “ma’am” in me deserves to be appreciated too though. She’s pretty cool. And she knows how to work the system. While the girls are self-consciously looking around hoping to be noticed and appreciated, the ma’ams are flying under the radar—getting things done and making things happen.

I used to take a long time to get ready. I was so aware of what people saw when they looked at me, that I missed out on a lot of the world around me. And while I do still try to look at least NOT messy when I leave the house, I’m a bit more interested in doing the looking.

I have to thank my children and the impossibly short daylight hours for this. When you feel like you have to accomplish twenty hours of stuff in six—you tend to become rather practical. Bad hair day? Oh well, who’s looking anyway? Feeling fat? Who isn’t? Now where did I put that grocery list….

I get a lot done now. Simply because I have more to do.

So are those the fabulous prizes I’m bringing home from the Wheel of Fortune spin that life offers us? Cumulative wisdom and a long to-do list?

The girl inside me is unimpressed. And she really needs a pedicure.

But of course there are more perks to not being young and perky. I find new ones every day. And they almost always come back to making me laugh. I am developing one hell of a sense of humor. About my life, myself, and the gerbil wheel that we usually refer to as “today.”

I’m taking this aging thing one day at a time. It’s not always my favorite, but I try to look for the positives. I appreciate my new perspective and capitalize on the anonymity I can assume as I race through my day of doing whatever it is I do. I splash on a little makeup and feel pretty when I feel like it, then I use my wrinkles to intimidate young clerks into taking me seriously at the customer service desk.

And I laugh about all of it. A lot. Because what could be funnier than realizing that the two other people in your family who have also had hernia repair surgeries are both 60-year-old men?

Silver linings, I tell ya’…it’s all about the silver linings…

Originally posted on Health News, HERE.

What No One Tells You When You Have a Baby

I think I flush the toilets in my house approximately 25 times a day. And I can count on one hand how many times I do it for myself. It seems like almost every time I walk into a bathroom, I find yet another un-flushed toilet. Often stuffed with the equivalent of an entire roll of toilet paper. All of this toilet activity is messy and inconvenient, and incredibly time consuming.

I now feel lucky if I’m summoned to help with personal hygiene. As unappealing as it may be—at least I’m given some control over how the room is left. Having potty-trained little ones at home has created an entire new category in my housekeeping duties. One that makes me consider adding the position of “janitor” to my professional resume. I think I’ve cleaned more toilets in the last year than I ever did in the previous ten.

Then I remember those years I had all three children in diapers.

Fondly.

I’m serious. For all of the talking people do about getting kids out of diapers, I am sorely disappointed by this much touted milestone. No one ever mentions what happens AFTER potty training. We’re led to believe that once our offspring learn to use the bathroom without M&M incentives, we will be freed from daily involvement with those particular bodily functions.

Not so much. And this is just ONE of the things that more experienced parents let you believe when you’re staggering through the obstacle course of new parent challenges. I guess they know that the idea of a finish line is what helps you get through the day. Keeps hope alive and all that.

But altruistic or not—they still withhold the truth. They let you believe that things will get better sooner as opposed to later. That your baby will be easier as they get older. That you won’t still be talking about poop and lack of sleep when your children enter elementary school….

The sleep thing is huge. I read three books in the two months after my oldest, Oliver, was born. One was a Girlfriend’s Guide to not stealing the closest vehicle and making a run for the Mexican border—or something like that. The other two were tomes as thick as my left thigh devoted to teaching your baby how to sleep through the night.

I often find it funny how we spend around 40 weeks waiting for our babies to be born, and then we spend the next 10+ years waiting for them to go to sleep. Maybe it’s the allure of “free time” to get things done around the house or to eat a meal without having to get up every five seconds…. Or maybe it’s the fact that we have such visceral memories about them not sleeping without a preparatory hour of rocking, shushing, pacing, pleading, bribing, weeping. But when those little eyelids finally do close in slumber, we all break into an internal Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

And in those early months of night feedings and pacifier searches, we yearn for the approaching age when “they’ll sleep through the night.” To which other parents will agree that, yes, it is very freeing to have children who don’t need to be soothed to sleep and to actually get a full eight hours in before the alarm clock buzzes.

Maybe some of them are lucky and they really are telling the truth…. But this hasn’t been my experience. Sure—there was a brief toddler period where they would be so exhausted from the busy day that they would crash at bedtime. And they even slept soundly until at least dawn. But sometime during preschool, I saw a shift.

While they didn’t need to be rocked to sleep, they did require extra books and music and glasses of water and one more good night kiss. They wouldn’t just pass out anymore. They would stand at the top of the stairs calling “MOMMY!” They would declare that there were monsters in the closet and noises outside the window. They would wake at 3:00 a.m. with nightmares. And they would crawl into bed with us.

And so continues our nocturnal life. I live in fear of what the coming night holds in store for me. It is just as common for me to wake up with three children in my bed as it is to wake up alone in one of theirs. You often hear about the “musical beds” game a family plays throughout the night. You never know where you’ll be when the music stops (driving many to musical meds—but that’s another subject altogether).

So just in case you were wondering, no, my children do not sleep through the night (at least, not all at the same time). As a result, neither do I.

Another baby-related issue with which all new parents have to contend is spit up. It’s neverending. Babies spit up after they eat…because they were jostled at bit…as the result of acid reflux…. It’s gross. And it smells. “But not to worry,” parents of older children will assure you, “Once your baby starts sitting up, the spit up will end.”

What they neglect to mention is that babies start sitting up roughly around the time that they start eating more solid food. Not just mushy rice cereal—which incidentally, bears a strong resemblance to spit up—but table food. Cubes of carrot and melon. Peas and tiny bits of meat. And teething cookies! All excellent items to induce gagging.

It takes a while for babies to learn how to eat real food, and no parent will escape that fun-filled learning curve. It usually involves some projectile vomit, or my personal favorite, the lying down puke that ends up on hair and inside ears.

And I most feel for those poor parents of toddlers like my twins, who shove fingers and spoons into their mouths to gag themselves on purpose.

Ever have three children with a stomach flu? Enough said.

No one ever tells you about the vomit.

And the list goes on…

We look forward to getting rid of that cumbersome stroller. But then we have to chase them around shopping malls or beg them to walk faster. Or even worse – carry them.

We long for a day when everyone can put on their own seatbelts. A state of affairs that ushers in an entirely new genre of nagging: “Did you put on your seat belt? Why aren’t you wearing your seatbelt? You ALWAYS wear a seatbelt! NEVER take off your seat belt while I’m driving! Get back into your seat and BUCKLE THAT SEATBELT!

Finally – my own personal favorite, “When they can all dress themselves.” I now spend hours of my week begging people to put on pants or locked in battles of will regarding what classifies as an appropriate outfit: “It’s time to get dressed… Come on, we’re going to be late…Why aren’t you dressed, you’ve been upstairs for twenty minutes… No you can’t wear your party dress to the playground… You can’t go outside without pants… It’s too cold for a tank top… No – tights are NOT pants… WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS?

Before having children who can dress themselves, we see other kids in the grocery store wearing tutus with jeans or layered shirts in the middle of August and we wonder, “What were those parents thinking?!” Well, they were probably thinking, “We’re ten minutes late and you’re no longer nude—let’s go!

No one—not ONE friend ever warned me about these things.

Or maybe they did. Maybe I was just too focused on self-preservation to listen. But if they did try to tell me, they certainly didn’t force the issue.

So I put it all in the same category of non-disclosure. I never got the memo.

With one exception.

But there are some people out there who are more than happy to set you straight.

The most experienced of parents—the ones who have grown children, who have made it through all of the milestones and lived to tell the tale—will break code and provide you with at least one very specific insight into what the future holds.

Without a doubt, each and every one of those parents will tell you, “Just wait until they’re teenagers….”

Originally posted on Health News, HERE.

Two for the Price of One: My Take on Twins

Never in my life had I ever imagined having twins. Or any multiple birth combination for that matter.

Apparently, this is unusual, as evidenced by the fact that every pregnant woman I’ve spoken with seems to have given some thought to the matter. All have mentioned something about either worrying that they might have twins or wishing that it would be so. But for some reason, the possibility just didn’t occur to me.

We didn’t investigate fertility treatments for either of my pregnancies and twins don’t run in our families (unless you include some older southerners who had kid counts in the double digits—which I don’t). And once I actually became a mother, I felt pretty strongly that having multiple newborns in the house was an unappealing concept at best. In fact, I have a clear memory of holding a screaming two-month-old Oliver after a night of much pacing and little sleep, looking at my husband and saying, “I don’t know how people survive twins…I couldn’t do it!

Eighteen months after giving birth to my eldest, we welcomed two more screaming non-sleepers into our family: George and Eleanor. And I have to say—they are absolutely one of the best things that I never wanted to happen to me.

I’m not going to lie; newborn twins are hard work…. But I had already walked the gauntlet of first baby midnight (and 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m…) feedings. I had delivered a nine-pound boy with a huge head and lasted a week before realizing that no, the pain I was experiencing was not normal, and YES, I really did need something more than an ice pack to deal with it. I tried to nurse and learned that my body doesn’t produce enough milk for one, let alone two babies. I discovered that I suffer from postpartum depression. And, after a year of living on just a few hours of sleep per night, I had the amazing revelation that yes, Virginia, there is an end to that tunnel of madness. A light, even!

So when I had to relive it all again—in a double dose to boot—it wasn’t nearly as draining the second time around. I knew what to expect and how to cope. I was even trained to function well no matter how exhausted I might be. My normal sleep patterns had been held hostage for so long that I didn’t remember what it was like to wake up to anything other than a direct summons from a tiny dictator. It just didn’t seem like a big deal to me with the twins. It was what it was, and I had somewhat of a map for the road ahead.

Which is why I was a little surprised by how impressed people were with my ability to take care of infant twins. I thought my first baby experience was much more of an emotional roller coaster. The twins provided some logistical complications, but I think the culture shock of inviting one baby into my home for the first time was just as difficult a lifestyle transition as it would have been to take on two.

The logistics of simultaneous infant care can’t be dismissed entirely though…. Having done it once for one baby, I obviously saw how much more complicated it was with two. For example: People often tell mothers of newborns to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” After George and Eleanor were born, my response to this was, “Which one?!” They rarely napped at the same time.

They definitely didn’t snooze while waiting their turn for the bath. During my maternity leave, I conducted this daily event in the morning while Oliver was at daycare. Chris was at work so I didn’t have an extra set of hands to cuddle one baby while the other was being washed. Without fail, the one not in the bath would scream his or her head off, not the most soothing of soundtracks. And inevitably, whichever twin I selected to bathe first would poop in the tub, adding several minutes of scouring and refilling to the process.

The weekly visits to our pediatrician were completely unexpected. The twins were smaller than their older brother was, born three weeks early to his one week late. And they always seemed to have some issue that required a prescription. If it wasn’t reflux, it was eczema. This was new to me—my chubby firstborn was the picture of health. He was taken to the doctor for well checks and inoculations only. And don’t get me started on two babies getting jabbed with needles. Double the fun indeed!

Then there were those days that Oliver was added to the mix due to some inconvenient daycare no-no like a fever or pink eye. Try putting a sick eighteen-month old down for a nap while two hungry newborns are wailing on another floor.

Good times.

Night feedings really weren’t that hard once I figured out how to feed two babies at once. But that particular honeymoon ended when I decided it was time to stop waking up the sleeping twin when the other cried for a bottle. An obvious requirement in training a baby to sleep through the night is to NOT wake them up. So when one twin woke up, I’d let the other sleep. And the sleeping baby would of course decide to be hungry the very second that I started to fall asleep again.

Luckily, Oliver was such a stinky sleeper for the first year that the twins’ move into a fairly normal, though staggered, one to two feedings per night schedule mirrored his previous tendency to wake me up at least three to four times.

Isn’t it funny how much energy is focused on sleep during the first year of a child’s life? Their sleep…our sleep…if any of us will ever sleep again…why does HE always sleep through the crying…? Epilogue: I still get up at least once a night to soothe a crying child or move an interloper back into their own bed. My new goal is to sleep though the night when they’re tweens.

Back to twins though…yeah – they’re twice as much work in some respects. But when it comes to having your first baby (or babies), it’s hard to compare experiences. Each is different and full of varying challenges. And at the end of the day, there are too many personal and situational factors involved to say who has the easier time of it. It’s ALL hard.

No matter how many babies are in your house, you only know your own. The fact that other people out there might have more babies than you do doesn’t change your own feelings or perceptions. And I would say as much to new mothers who went wide eyed at the sight of two tiny babies in my double stroller.

This is also the reason why I was somewhat taken aback by certain twin moms’ superior attitude and condescending comments about how much harder it was to take care of two babies. That’s not necessarily true. And there are some definite perks that give mothers of multiples an advantage.

A woman who has a two year old, a four year old and a six year old might be dealing with two separate school drop offs with a toddler in tow. I would put Oliver on the bus and then drop the other two off at their preschool.

A woman with one three year old has to act as her child’s friend and companion when no other kids are around. But I could glance at my twins and without a trace of guilt say, “I’m making your dinner, go play!

And seriously—anyone out there who thinks that they’ve cornered the market on parenting challenges with twins really needs to meet some of the special needs moms I know. Or the ones with TRIPLETS!

There is always a trump card out there. And being well aware of that, I tend to get over myself pretty quickly on a bad day.

I’ve often thought that whatever you get generally ends up being perfect for you. If nothing else, because it’s all you know. And here is what I know about my own twins:

I have two amazing little people in my house to provide friendship, companionship and typical behavior modeling for my other (and equally amazing) son with learning delays.

I have a little boy who makes me laugh more than any other person in the world. One who can do anything he sets his mind to; who charms everyone he meets, and assumes that he’s welcome wherever he wants to go. There isn’t anyone like him. He is literally unforgettable. He makes me want to dare myself to be more—to be brave and bold.

I have a little girl who dances through life with a joy and enthusiasm that I couldn’t muster on my happiest of days. She is a beam of sunshine in our family. She loves with abandon and will conclude her worst tantrums with hugs and earnest apologies. She makes me want to take myself less seriously, to open my heart more readily.

I have the honor of being their mother. All three of them. And I think that’s what all mothers have in common: this gift of raising unique individuals who teach us who we are and who we want to be. They bring out our best and our worst and if we’re smart, we pay attention.

I am proud to be a mother of twins. Not because I figured out how to change two diapers at the same time in a public bathroom. But because they’re mine. Just like their brother is mine. Just like all children belong to their mothers. Two babies…one baby…five babies…they all belong to us. Just as we so unquestionably belong to them.

Originally posted on Health News, HERE.

I Didn’t Know

I have three children and my oldest, Oliver is six. He is a big boy—tall and strong—and all boy. He climbs trees and hurtles into swimming pools. He loves nothing better than a good patch of dirt. We jokingly call him Pig Pen since he will often return from such a spot, haloed in dust, his clothes emitting puffs of dirt with each step. Ice cream cones are a full body experience. Napkins are a joke. This degree of messiness requires a washcloth at minimum. His requests to “come look at this,” often involve a worm.

These are some of the qualities and quirks that come to mind when I think of Oliver. They are so defining. And they are almost all related to sensory integration disorder. Which includes auditory processing disorder…which translates into significant language and communication delays. It also affects his motor planning. My amazing son who can walk a balance beam like a gymnast, who taught himself to swim, who can carry a full basket of folded laundry up the stairs…can’t hit a tennis ball. He can’t follow simple directions to touch his left hand to his right ear and his right hand to his left ear. He can’t process that kind of information—hear it, understand it, do it. It gets scrambled. For all of his strength, coordination and love of physical activities, he can’t play sports. Or even tag.

This can change—but it will take time. And hard work. And money. And a label recognized by the public school system.

It’s both encouraging and daunting.

Having a special needs child is not something I ever thought about when I was pregnant with Oliver. Everyone knows that it’s possible, but I think we tend to see that possibility the same way we do car accidents and winning lottery tickets. We know it could happen, but we don’t expect it to happen to us.

And many of us don’t even know that it’s happened to us until our children are long past the early months of worry. The more serious worries over SIDS and their “ability to thrive,” and the less serious (but all consuming) concern about sleep schedules. Oliver was two when we discovered his delays.

He was absolutely perfect when he was born. Arriving one week late and HUGE, he was 9 pounds and the most beautiful baby I had ever seen (of course!). I’ll admit that my first impression was more along the lines of “red and squashy” but after a few hours, his looks made a dramatic improvement.

He was a stinky sleeper, but I got used to that. We had two years of healthy well checks at the pediatrician. He rolled over and smiled when he was supposed to. He was walking shortly after his first birthday and loved to be with people. He would walk into any party and make himself at home. He was the baby that you could hand off to anyone—no separation anxiety or shyness. In our innocence/ignorance, we actually said that it looked like we didn’t have to worry about autism.

How could I have known that in a couple of years, he would be diagnosed with PDD/NOS—the catch-all category of the autism spectrum. My friend Sarah defines this as “we don’t really know what is wrong with your child – but there is something wrong with him…”

I didn’t know that I would have an autistic son—or a son with sensory integration disorder or auditory processing disorder…. The labels don’t matter. They all equate to the same things: fear, worry, money, meetings, appointments, guilt, and heart-wrenching hope. I didn’t know that this would be the rhythm of my day—the back beat of my heartbeat.

But I also didn’t know that I would have a son who reads my emotions better than any other person in the world. He will come to me when I’m feeling low but looking as if I haven’t a care in the world, “Mommy, are you crying? Not crying?” He understands and can see “crying on the inside.” Most emotionally evolved grownups don’t see that.

I didn’t know that I would have a son who would teach me to be a much better person. To be more patient, tolerant and compassionate. He’s taught me not to judge until I have the full story. And to not even judge after that. I’ve learned that there is never just one right answer. And that sometimes there isn’t any answer at all. That we all do our best and sometimes that has to be good enough.

I didn’t know that I could admire one of my own children so much. And try to emulate him. Oliver’s first teacher once said to me, “life is very hard for Oliver.” And it was meant to be taken at face value—life really is hard for him. Things that come easily to others—asking for something, joining a game, understanding directions—are difficult for him.

Oliver navigates the world with an upside down map. He never speaks the local dialect. And in effect, he’s learned to work hard, be his own man and give others space to have their own differences. I think we could all try to be a little bit more like Oliver.

I would be lying if I said I never experienced moments of frustration or self-pity. Don’t we all? At the end of the day though, I consider myself to be very lucky to have three beautiful, happy, healthy children. They are all full of potential—yes, even Oliver. And as much as I hope, wish and pray for them, I don’t know what their futures hold. Motherhood doesn’t come with a crystal ball. We don’t even get a compass.

But there is something to be said for this lack of certainty. Not knowing allows us to dream. And that is what keeps us going when times are tough. For every bad day, there is the possibility of a miracle on the horizon…or at least some good days. And the best we can do is learn more about ourselves and each other in between them.

I once said that I didn’t think I could be a good mother to a special needs child. That it would be too hard for me.

I didn’t know.
That I was wrong.
Originally posted on Health News, HERE.