December Darkness

Hallelujah, we’ve made it to January–past the solstice! I am so relieved.

For months, I was dreading this December. Hoping it wouldn’t be anything like last December.

I should share that I have a mental image of the calendar year, as basically a single column of all the months (like this), so December is at the ‘bottom’ of the year. Kind of squished and desperate, trying to stay tacked on and relevant to the rest of the months. The dreary dregs. (The transition from December to January feels especially strange to me, as we suddenly move from the very bottom to the very top of a new year–it doesn’t feel very connected at all.) So when I think of ‘when’ we are, I also think of ‘where’ we are in the year column. My weird brain pictures are probably a factor in why Decembers in general can be odd for me, but last December specifically was really hard.

First, it took three weeks after my c-section to be pain-free, which was half of the entire month. (The babies were born on Nov 21.) Being unable to move freely, being physically unable to do much of the baby care, just being in pain was difficult. I didn’t like being so useless and helpless. I wanted to rest and to sleep, desperately, but I also hated the idea of being a burden, so I pushed myself a little and I shouldn’t have. I wanted to be stoic, and I did not want to be weak. But my body gave me no choice–the weakness was there whether I accepted it or not.

Second, I was definitely a little on edge and emotional. When I cried at my two-week OB appointment about why does everything still hurt (TWO WEEKS AFTER MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY HELLO WHAT WAS I THINKING) she kindly said, manage your pain and take those painkillers. Once the pain was gone, it did help to have one less thing bothering my physical self. My emotional self was still not totally stable though. I didn’t and don’t have any words or description for it either–I don’t think it was “blues” really, though there were certainly a lot of hidden tears. I didn’t feel ‘down’ or ‘depressed’ though, just emotional and overwhelmed. And frustrated at my body.

Third, I spent literally 20 hours a day on the couch. For several weeks it was because again, physically, I was unable to move much otherwise. But also, I was pumping every three hours, and we were feeding babies every three hours. Usually that schedule didn’t overlap. And I did try to hold the babies sometimes, and of course they would fall asleep, so then I would be stuck on the couch some more. Many times I had to decide–should I hold babies, or eat, or sleep, or go to the bathroom?

Fourth, because I was on the couch all the time, I couldn’t go anywhere (duh) which meant I didn’t have a support system. The internet was there, and I read every word of it that month, for something to do and for companionship. I didn’t know any other new parents, I didn’t have any friends, it was just the four of us and the freaking couch. Our house was an island of exhaustion and the world could have ended outside our door and we wouldn’t have known. (Well, unless someone else posted about it on Facebook.) What’s terrible is that even if I did have someone to talk to, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t actually know what to say or have anything at all to say. Which sounds kind of ridiculous, but really, are there appropriate words for the complete upheaval of your life that newborn twins brings?

And almost worse than the isolation, it was really dark. It felt like it was always night time. Part of that is that with two newborns in the house, there was no separation of ‘daytime’ and ‘nighttime’ – really, there weren’t even ‘days’, just cycles of three-hour feeding blocks. But of course most of it was just the December days being so short. Both things we had to just wait out and get through.

Obviously we went on a few outings that month–a couple trips to the pediatrician, I went to my OB once, we got a Christmas tree. So I did go outside a few times. But in general, my memories of the first weeks of life with our babies are of darkness, of overwhelmed and numb exhaustion.

And then, finally, it was January. We’d emerged from the first six-week scramble into new parenthood and I didn’t quite feel so overwhelmed anymore. Plus, our nanny started working with us. My biggest distinct memory of the month is going out for my first walk–in the sunshine. Moving my body, pain-free, just me, free, in the daylight. It felt so good to be out of the darkness. It really felt like a re-awakening. What a relief.

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Fortunately, this new January is not nearly such a new me–life is better, calmer, no longer so exhausting and strange. I am so glad that we all made it through the dark December days intact and ready for another year together.

Happy New Year, Happy Solstice, Happy New Beginnings, Happy Re-Awakening to you. 🙂

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10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned This Year

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(two weeks old, E on left, M on right)
One of the scariest things about being pregnant was not knowing how it would be to actually have a baby, and not knowing how I would deal with the various challenges. Being new at this, I was pretty worried that everything would terrible and horrible and super crazy hard. And some of it *was* terrible and difficult. But some of it hasn’t been so bad–in fact, there has definitely been some good stuff. And I have learned a lot–some practical, and some philosophical.
1. Turns out I love babies.

I never hated babies, but I was never a baby-fever kind of girl. Some people dream for years of being a mom–that wasn’t me. But now that I do have babies of my own–babies are awesome! I can never get enough of them. They’re so tiny and cuddly and sweet! That’s why I am so excited when I find out someone is pregnant–they get a sweet little baby to snuggle! There is NOTHING better than cuddling a tiny baby.

[I now know that there are “baby people” and “non-baby people”, which makes me even more nervous for the toddler/older kid stages, if the baby stage was my favorite.]

2. I can be a lot more patient than I thought.

In general, I’m not a terribly patient person–I hate slow walkers and slow drivers, and other things that seem to take too long. But as it happens, I’m a lot more patient with babies (most of the time). I think it’s because the babies don’t know any better and they can’t help it. They can only cry, and they have zero tolerance for frustration, because they’re like proto-people still. (I am worried about how I’ll be with bigger kids who DO know better.)

Juggling one or two babies is hard. Especially when it’s the middle of the night, again. Or when both babies are crying at the same time. Talking it out loud helps me get out some of the energy and I always hope that something is reaching the babies–at least my voice if not my arms at that moment. Also, when they were smaller, this is when the baby swing or the sling were lifesavers. (Why can’t they make stationary swings for toddlers??)

When I do get overwhelmed, sometimes my husband is around to help or take over if I need a break. And when he’s not, I just try to take a deep breath and try to get through it, remembering that at some point it will be over. Sometimes I panic and feel really annoyed and frustrated–I’m no saint! Sometimes, honestly, I have to just laugh because it’s so ridiculous and there’s nothing to do. I took a video once, when I was home alone with babies, I was pumping and they were on the couch on either side of me, screaming. And we were all just kind of stuck. I couldn’t do much but roll my eyes and shake my head. And then record it for posterity. 🙂

3. Baby farts and burps are funny.

I’m not one of the tomboy girls who thinks it’s funny when grown-ass dudes burp and fart all over the place. However–that same fart ripped from baby butt is somehow hilarious. I guess that means I’m not as grown-up as I thought. 🙂

4. Babies are noisy in general.

I knew that babies cried, and that they most likely would cry a lot, all the time, for no reason. I didn’t know that when they weren’t crying, they still make a lot of noises. Especially while sleeping, our babies made all kinds of sounds–it was like a barnyard! We heard pigs, horses, hyenas, and sometimes an old movie villain.  There were also squeaks and peeps and snorts and grunts. At night, these sounds would startle us awake to go check on the babies–who were often still asleep! It also made it hard for me to nap while they napped nearby–too noisy!

5. I can indeed survive on less sleep.

This was honestly one of the things that scared and intimidated me the most about having babies. I love to sleep in (which was never as often as I wanted) and I also love to stay up late, which meant that I rarely got enough sleep. The prospect of being awake all night every night for months on end was a little (a lot) terrifying. The reality wasn’t much better. You’re thrown in to a new situation–a time when you really need as much as rest as you can possibly get. And then you get hardly any. The first couple weeks, we would ‘go to sleep’ after a feeding at like 2am and set an alarm for 4am and good god, it’s like torture. Inhuman.

Things did get a lot better, eventually! (Partly because my husband and I built ourselves a better schedule.) But god, it’s really hard sometimes. (There’s another sleep regression coming soon….help me!) A lot of times, there’s nothing to be done, you just have to get through it. And that *sucks*.  If an opportunity for you to nap comes up, TAKE IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT NAP.

As an aside, I tend to believe that sleep is necessary for sanity, so I would encourage parents to do whatever they need to do to get more/some rest.

6. New babies are boring.

I mentioned this months ago–but I didn’t realize that since newborns just sleep and eat…they don’t do anything else. Which means that, in many cases, you can’t do anything else. [C-section recovery plus the logistics of lugging two babies and their stuff meant I didn’t do anything or go anywhere at all for at least four weeks. An easier birth/recovery and a single baby means that you can use a carrier to get out and about easier and faster.]

I always figured that since new babies are so overwhelming, it would mean that you’d be busy. And you are, for some parts of the day. But if the baby is sleeping 16-20 hours a day (which is what newborns do, especially pre-term babies, I think), then you have a lot of time to just sit around. In small chunks. However, you’re way too braindead to *do* anything with that time, since you’re not getting any sleep (naps often made me feel more tired and groggy, so I didn’t try to sleep every time the babies slept). This is why you want a Netflix subscription.

7. I do not have those classic attachment issues.

Some people don’t sleep well in the first few months even when they’re able, because they worry about the baby, or they want to constantly check on the baby. I have never had that problem. If I had the chance to sleep, I slept, and I slept hard, thank you very much. Yes of course, I checked my babies’ breathing every night before I went to bed. But once it was bedtime, goodnight ma’am, I’m out. If there was a trusted visitor here for a chunk of time, see ya, I’m taking a nap. (Again, sleep is precious!)

That’s another thing–some people are anxious about other people caring for their babies. I am not one of those people. As long as it was a trusted family member or friend (or a qualified childcare provider), I knew things would be fine. I wanted to sleep, or to go outside by myself for a bit for some air. Possibly it makes me a bad or selfish mama, but I have not had any issues with putting some of my own priorities at the forefront for a few hours and leaving someone else in charge.

8. I am not quick to accept change.

I like to think I’m adaptable and can easily go-with-the-flow. In some ways I can be, but in a lot of ways, I hate change and new things (especially if they aren’t my idea). I tend to gripe and groan, and I definitely tend to hold on to the past. None of this is actually a surprise, just one of my bad qualities that has played a part in this baby-having adventure.

There are plenty of good changes that we’ve had (sleeping more! adapting schedule!), but the sheer amount of change has been startling. *Everything* is always changing! I’m not ready to give up my little babies yet! Not fair!

Ahem. I’m working on taking in the details every day and enjoying things as they are right now. It’s tough sometimes. 🙂

9. There is no such thing as too many photos.

Okay, anyone who knows me knows that I love taking pictures. And that I take too many pictures. In the last thirteen months, I have taken thousands of pictures of my babies. And I still want more.

Most importantly, I desperately want more quality photos of the early days of *me* and my babies. I have a number of dark, crappy iphone selfies and only a handful of photos from my real camera (with the speedlight flash, because it was December and practically always nighttime). Since I’m the photographer in the family, I had to set up the camera and then ask my husband to take a picture. Who wants to do that every other day?

I also really, really wish I had more photos of me interacting with the babies. Most of the ones I do have together are the posed on the couch type, where I’m smiling at the camera. Over the months, I have captured a lot of adorable moments of my husband and a baby or two playing together, just casual snapshots that captures them having fun and loving one another. I have hardly any of me having fun with the babies, because again, since it’s my camera, I have to set up the thing and ask for it to be captured. My husband is always willing to do it, but there’s something about expending the mental energy to ask, and of course losing the spontaneity of the moment. And really, it’s hard when I can visualize the photo I want, but I can’t magically import that vision into someone else’s mind to take it the way I’m thinking, so there goes more time and effort and shots and babies are done now.

However–see point number 8. I need to remind myself that I *do* have some precious photos of me with my babies this past year. And that I can resolve to do better in the future.

But please, learn from me. Take pictures, and then take more pictures. And videos of noises and movements are so especially priceless! Make sure you AND your partner look to capture fun and beautiful moments of both of you and your new snuggly babies. 🙂 (And then print them out. But that’s another post!)

10. Did I mention how awesome baby snuggles are??

 

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Did you learn anything surprising about yourself or about babies in your first year of parenting? I’d love to hear it! And/or–what interesting things have you parents of toddlers learned about the second year of parenting? I know there is SO MUCH still to learn and experience! [But don’t scare me more than I already am! :D]

Intentions

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One of the great things about a very tiny baby is that you have explicit permission to do whatever works. Anything that gets you through the day, anything that gets that baby to sleep or stay calm, DO IT! Guilt-free! Safe in the knowledge that you are helping your baby be happy and healthy! It’s temporary anyway!

But then babies get older, they ‘graduate’ from the ‘fourth trimester’ and then…things count. You want to start creating routines and work on healthy expectations.

And now that they’re A YEAR OLD,  we’re staring down the barrel of toddlerhood. Big babies and little toddlers know what’s going on. They have some opinions on things, rudimentary though they may be, and they will let you know what those opinions are, in their rudimentary way!

Routines and expectations are starting to seem really important now. Things are getting a lot more permanent, or pre-permanent, if you will. We’re building the foundation for the next couple years and the rest of their lives. No pressure! We have to give them and teach them the ‘right’ skills and habits.**

And so of course I worry about being intentional enough, about being attentive enough, about knowing enough of what to be intentional and attentive about!

I’m not singing to them enough–we didn’t even start any singing until they were like five months old. I’m not doing movement with them. I’m not doing any classes with them. I’m not pointing out and naming enough objects. I haven’t done sign-language with them. I’m not rocking them all night while looking blissfully at their faces. I’m not wearing both babies 24/7. I’m not teaching them Spanish or Mandarin. They’re not watching Baby Einstein or listening to baby genius podcasts (I hope I’m making that one up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it exists for real). I let them play by themselves for whole minutes at a time. They even have plastic toys that make noise!

In this age of endless books and online articles and Pinterest, there’s just SO MUCH. I don’t want to do it all. I don’t want to worry about it, really, but part of me does anyway. How can I not, with all this “make your baby the best” that we’re constantly bombarded with? Does everything our babies eventually do now really make or break their future selves? Really?

I want to say that we’re doing the best we can: that we are loving our babies, and trying to teach them and give them experiences when we can. They love ‘reading’ books and playing with blocks in addition to the plastic crap. We take them on walks. We give them hugs and kisses and tell them we love them. I hope that’s enough for now. I hope that will help them grow into good little people.

If they don’t, I guess it’s all my fault.

**According to this asshole, our babies will grow up to be depressed, drug-addled sociopaths because we fed them formula, let them cry for a few minutes sometimes, and put them in cribs in a separate room. Yes, that’s really what she says. I guess we should just give up now.

One Year

A whole year. Twelve months. 52 weeks. A year.

A year of being a mama.

I’m terrible with time anyway, but these months have been both fast, slow, easy, hard, and many other cliche opposite extremes. They have flown by at a snail’s pace.

Sometimes I try to remember last year, the experience of two babies on the inside of my body, and what a very strange and scary prospect it was. I remember how much it hurt to move while I was lying down, and I try to remember how really freaking cool it was to feel two babies rolling around in my tummy.  The kicking and the hiccuping and the salsa dancing on the inside of my body.  I also remember the uncertainty, the questions, the unknown of our future.

And now I have these giant babies, with faces and personalities, and I try to think back and reconcile, and think about them still being them, just on the inside. And it blows my mind.

I am still in such wonder and awe that these no-longer-tiny creatures grew inside my body. I mean, it’s a freaking miracle! And it happens all the time and everyone thinks theirs is a miracle, and it is.  But of course, mine are special, because they’re mine.

My birth experience was strange and surreal for me–it wasn’t wondrous or blissful or full of maternal joy. But when I held those little bodies up to my own body…it was perfect. Wonderful. Absolutely the best feeling I have ever felt. Not loud or obvious or fireworks. It was a quiet feeling of fullness, happiness, amazement, comfort, relief.

When the babies were teeny tiny, I would lean close to them to check their breathing, and every time I would be amazed and awed at the sound of their breath. They were breathing! Like real people! Who used to not exist! And now they did! Because my body literally gave them breath and life! Seriously–it’s incredible.

As they have grown and learned so many things, I have been truly amazed and agog to see the process of these tiny creatures growing and becoming. Once helpless blobs, and now moving, curious thinkers and explorers. Turning into people. It’s like a little miracle every day.

One of my favorite parts has been seeing my babies recognize me and smile at me. They know me! Their little faces light up, and my face lights up right back. It melts my heart a smidge every.single.time.

Every morning I am so happy to see my babies. Of course, every morning I am also exhausted and want to still be asleep, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that when I see them, I’m not tired anymore. (Well, temporarily, at least.) I can’t help but smile at them so big and feel so happy that they’re there, and that they’re mine.

Every evening we do bedtime stories in our living room. The babies are big enough and steady enough now that I can get them both sitting on my lap, and while my husband reads them a book, I just get to hold them, and squeeze them, and I kiss their sweet faces at almost every page. I can’t possibly hold them close enough or kiss them enough or memorize it enough.

They are so wonderful. And they’re mine!

I have two babies. This never ceases to surprise me and amaze me. I am a parent, a mama. A mother. To two small children, two small sons. These are common everyday words, but it still feels uncommon to me.

And they’re not technically babies any more. This never ceases to break my heart. It’s such a struggle to embrace the present, their presence, to live in the moment of what they’re like right now. My default seems to be wistful. They were so tiny at first. I didn’t pay enough attention, I didn’t know how much and how quickly it would change. I didn’t embrace it or memorize what it was really like. I was just trying to survive the days. And then the early days were suddenly over and I wasn’t quite prepared to move on so quickly. I’m trying to be more conscious about absorbing the moments now.

I hug them and hold them tight every day as much as I can. It’s never enough, is it?

Every day I get to hug them is the best day. It boggles my mind to think of all the days and years and changes to come, and what a privilege it will be to watch these little babies grow up. I hope I am worthy to be their mama. I am so happy and grateful I get to be their mama.

Oh, my sweet babies.

Giving Thanks

Last Thanksgiving kind of didn’t exist for us. The babies were born the day before, so our second day all together was still a hospital blur of pain medication, the tedious process of feeding babies every few hours, and being stupid with exhaustion. I don’t think I even got a shower until the third day. Thanksgiving was not anywhere near the front of my mind, to say the least.

So technically this is not the babies’ first Thanksgiving, but it sure feels like it. This is our first real Thanksgiving as a family of four, in our warm and cozy home in this still-new-to-us city. Really, I am–we are–so (and I hate how cliche it sounds!) blessed.

We have these adorable babies who have been really healthy. They are decent sleepers, by our great luck. Their development and growth has been pretty much right on track. There are grandparents, relatives and friends who love them so much. My husband and I work at being a good parenting partnership, sharing and alternating duties as much as possible, to keep ourselves as sane and healthy as possible.

This summer, we started making conscious efforts to go out to do things together as a family. Sometimes it’s really neat stuff like visiting Mt Hood for a day, but more often it’s a walk in the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store. It just matters that a) we’re getting out of the house, and b) that we’re all together.

I just can’t believe how lucky I am to have this wonderful family!

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I hope everyone out there has had a lovely day with their own families and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Big Bad Apple

I lived in New York for eight years. There are a lot of great things about the city, which everyone knows: tons of cultural events, bars stay open really late, it’s really easy to get around via public transportration, great restaurants everywhere, interesting and diverse mix of people, it’s never boring.

However, the thought of New York City life while also the thought of life with two babies…well. I’d been wanting to get out of the city for years anyway, and having twins was my ultimate trump card. We would have had to move out of our awesome apartment and neighborhood to somewhere with more space and less cost. And everything in general would have been a pain in the ass. I’m pretty sure I would be stuck inside all the time, partly because it would be hard to get out by myself with two babies, and partly because we wouldn’t be able to afford childcare.

So the main reason we moved to Portland was for the lifestyle change–to make our lives with two babies easier and more affordable. Obviously plenty of people raise lots of children in NYC and are happy about it…we just aren’t those people. 🙂

We’ve been in Portland for less than two years, and it’s been hard to get to really know the city, since most of our time still revolves around babies (and we haven’t been able to do lots of the fun baby-and-me groups that many singleton parents attend). But no doubt that our lives here are much easier than they would have been in New York!

So here’s a summary of the lifestyles in New York and in Portland.

New York City
Huge, booming thunder and frequent lightning.
Our apartment had a gorgeous view of the harbor and lower Manhattan.
Roof access for photos.
Traffic everywhere you go, all the time.
People people people everywhere you go, all the time.
Hipsters.
The Strand.
Tons of great restaurants.
Lots of activity/exercise walking around the city all the time.
With two babies and a double stroller, public transportation is not possible (not enough elevator stations).
Therefore hard to get out and socialize.
Walk-up apartments.
High rents!
Higher nanny/babysitting rates.
Years-long waiting lists for daycares, preschools, and schools.
Crazy fucking drivers.
Parking difficulty. (Understatement of the year.)
Difficult, time-consuming, expensive to get out of town. Only strip malls to see nearby.
Small living space, no extra storage.
One bathroom.
Dishwasher/laundry not likely to be in-home.
Pain in the ass to do Costco/Target trips.

Portland
Can’t see the sky (from our house).
No good photo opportunities from our house (though Mt Hood is just visible from our bedroom window!).
Hipsters.
Powell’s.
Lots of great restaurants.
Some traffic at certain times/places (don’t ever EVER go northbound on Friday after 3pm, for example).
No through streets.
Most street signs are illegible in the dark.
“Slow racing” drivers who drive UNDER the speed limit, ON PURPOSE.
Green space, right outside our door.
Easy to get out of town; lots to see near by–mountains, coast, state forests.
Easy to get of the house in a stroller.
Easy to find parking.
Parks nearby by foot and by car.
More affordable housing costs.
Childcare costs slightly less outlandish.
Dishwasher AND washer/dryer!
GARAGE!
BASEMENT STORAGE!!
MULTIPLE BATHROOMS!!!
Easy to go shopping and run errands.
Easy to stay inside the house for hours.
Easy to sit on one’s ass all day long (working at home).
Hard to meet new people, what with so much time inside sitting down.

Blog ADD

First, I really dislike when people throw around actual medical diagnoses as personality quirks. Liking your towels folded a certain way does not mean you have OCD. Stop it.

That said, I honestly feel like my attention to blog posts is in deficit sometimes. I have nineteen drafts at the moment, and here I am starting a twentieth. I was mentally composing this post earlier tonight while washing my hair. Before I turned off the shower, I had mentally skipped around to two or three other new or existing posts. (And dammit, now I can’t remember what I was ‘working’ on! I need a waterproof notepad!)

So I haven’t posted a ton lately, because I haven’t been able to bring myself to commit to these drafts, to finishing these posts. I don’t know if it’s laziness or inattention, or just lacking the time to really focus on making them ‘good.’ Whatever that means. I like thinking up post ideas and then starting a whole bunch of drafts. Some of them are just titles, some of them are more than half written, some of them need pictures and I get lazy about resizing and then loading them into wordpress.

And instead of working on any of those nineteen drafts, I’m writing this nonpost about drafts. It’s after midnight and I feel antsy for getting ideas out. Well, “ideas” because really, this sucks and it’s pointless. But at least it’s a post? Sort of?

I go back and forth on the type of blog I wish this were. Some people have update blogs that talk about day to day stuff, all everyday-like, casual, fun. Then there are Issue Blogs, which focus on a single issue that the writer is really into. And then there are the Writer Blogs, where the person creates a moving piece about simple things like going out to dinner, with the perfect words just so that make the reader sigh, laugh, cry, or all of the above at the same time.

I really wish I could be the last one, but I don’t have the writing chops, innate creativity, or perseverance for that. (At least, not more than a couple times a year.) But I can’t quite bring myself to do the everyday-blog kind of deal either. Maybe because I already do some of that on flickr, facebook, and instagram. And I like having stories to tell occasionally, or work through my thoughts on Bigger Issues. I don’t know how much of a voice I have, because the posts veer all over the place. Sometimes I do want to craft an essay-type post that details the arguments I have on a particular topic, and edit it carefully so I can try to be as articulate as I can. (Which, frequently, is not terribly articulate at all.) Buuuut, sometimes I want to just write out a list of random crap. Or post a bunch of pictures without coming up with witty asides. And sometimes I write dumb blog posts about writing goddamned blog posts.

So I’m in the remainder bucket of blogs. With my blog ADD. BADD. Oh dear! I guess if you’re out there, sorry for this drivel, back to cute babies soon, and thanks for sticking around.