The pre-vacation scramble

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If we can keep everyone reasonably healthy, and ensure that neither of these mamas decides to deliver on her threat of “turning this car around” so to speak, we’re leaving on Friday to drive to Charleston, SC for spring break.

I generally enjoy our drives. Our kids are pretty good road trippers because they’ve all done the New York-to-Michigan round-trip a number of times in their short lives. Kristin and I listen to a lot of podcasts and music, Jonah watches movies, and all of the kids sleep a lot on the road. Michigan to Charleston is a few hours longer each way, however (15 hours total), and we’ve never driven before, and since the twins are two and in that stage of childhood where even a few months can change a kid dramatically, we’re not entirely sure how Jude and Vivi will feel about being on the road for that long. Our last major road trip was our move, and they were about 17 months old. We didn’t bother to rig up any sort of screen for them and they seemed to do fine without it. I had my doubts about that being the case this time around so I invested in a headrest mounted tablet holder that they can both see from their rear facing car seats (we have a DVD player in the minivan, but only Jonah is forward-facing so he’s the only one who can see it). They each picked out headphones (green for Jude, purple for Vivi) and hopefully it will keep them engaged for a number of hours.

Despite the fact that I’ve been looking forward to this vacation for some time, I’ve been overwhelmed by anxiety about it lately. This is probably due to a few things. First, whenever we travel as a family I do the majority of the planning and packing. Kristin is awesome as launch coordinator – she loads the car like a boss, takes out the trash and generally gets the house ready to be left for awhile, and she’s a great driver while we’re on the road. She tends to log way more driving hours than I do. But if I asked her to pack the kids or even weigh in on their outfits, she’d wait until midnight the night before shove-off to do it (which is when she packs her own things). So I end up packing myself and all three kids, which also includes any shopping that has to be done for the four of us. In this case a lot of shopping was involved, because none of the kids had much in the way of warm-weather clothing that fit.

A second contributor to my anxiety is that we’re having family pictures taken while we’re down there, so what we bring is actually somewhat consequential. And the third stress factor is that any vacation that involves staying with family isn’t always relaxing. See additional (hilarious) opinions here and here supporting that claim.

I’ve had actual nightmares about this trip for two nights in a row. The first night I dreamed that we were all going on a very long international flight, but for some reason Jonah and I were checking in separately from Kristin and the twins and we were going to have to meet up in the airport somewhere. Shortly after checking in I realized that I’d accidentally left everything that I’d intended to have in my carryon in my checked bag. I ran through the airport searching for my suitcase because I needed those things for the plane, and my phone was checked so I couldn’t find Kristin.

Last night I dreamed that I’d arrived at the setting for our family photos, only to realize that I was wearing shorts and some sort of undershirt, and that I hadn’t shaved my legs in weeks. I panicked and tried to rush home quickly to change my clothes and shave, but the photographer was already there and everyone was waiting and it was too late.

Obviously I’m holding onto some stress about planning for this trip and having everything go well. I have a packing checklist and three piles of clothes for the kids, but I need to actually narrow those items down and get them into bags, and then figure out what on earth I’m bringing and wearing in pictures, and just hope that Kristin has what she needs in a bag by the time we pull out of the driveway. As stressed as I am, I love Charleston and I love seeing the kids with their cousins, so I really am looking forward to this vacation. I hope to get some cute pictures of them in some new scenery, and hopefully have a lot of laughs with my family.

Jonah and the dentist; or when it rains, it pours

 

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They’re not as good at dental hygiene as this photo makes them appear

We’ve known for roughly a month or so that Jonah needed dental surgery, and it’s been a source of anxiety for me every since it was scheduled. Way back in July last year, I took an afternoon off and brought Jonah into the city with me to visit my office and do a few fun things down in lower Manhattan, just the two of us. My co-workers are amazing and lots of them love when kids visit; he was goofing around with a beloved colleague of mine (they were rolling hula hoops and running after them – that’s the kind of office I have) and ended up falling and banging his teeth on the tile floor. He screamed and cried like I’ve never heard him scream, but there was no blood and no visible damage so I did my best to calm him down and, when I couldn’t, we ultimately left. We were two weeks from moving to Michigan, and he’d literally just been to the dentist, so we didn’t take him back for x-rays. I should also mention that he’s what pediatric dentists seem to refer to as “noncompliant.” He usually won’t open his mouth, he bites dentists, and up until yesterday had never had a cleaning as a result (not for lack of trying). About two weeks after the fall, literally the day we set out to drive from NY to MI, we noticed that one of his front teeth was turning grey.

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Once we were back in Michigan, Kristin drove two hours to try to get him x-rays from a dentist who knew her father (we didn’t have local insurance at the time and he’d offered to do it for free). Predictably, Jonah was noncompliant and the x-rays didn’t happen. A couple of months later, Kristin took him to a local pediatric dentist recommended by my parents. Once again, the x-rays didn’t happen. When the gums above that tooth suddenly started to look like there might be a more serious problem, I took him back to the same local pediatric dentist and by some miracle of bravery on Jonah’s part, we got the x-rays. As it turned out, the root above the grey tooth was completely gone and it needed to be removed, but the tooth next to it was also broken above the gum line and also needed to come out. We don’t even know when that injury happened, but it may have been the previous day when he bashed it on a classmate’s head while in a bouncy house.

The dentist said that they both needed to come out, for fear of infection and damage to the adult teeth behind them. We discussed a couple of options and ultimately decided that, given his proclivity for noncompliance at the dentist, he needed to be under anesthesia. We also really didn’t want to put him through the experience of having teeth extracted while awake since he’s already terrified of the dentist. We’ve had a lot of anxiety about the whole thing because, despite the low risk, anesthesia can be dangerous. They also gave us a ton of warning about how he had to be in perfect health or it wouldn’t be safe, and he had to have a pre-surgery physical to prove that he was healthy enough to endure the procedures. We all really wanted to get this over with, and getting on the hospital schedule takes some notice so the thought of having to cancel due to illness was awful.

We’ve been doing our best to keep Jonah healthy, and then naturally on Monday of surgery week the twins came down with pink eye. Then on Tuesday he returned home from school complaining of a terrible earache (so severe he couldn’t sleep that night) but thankfully my cousin and his wife are amazing chiropractors who live blocks away and they let us come over and get Jonah adjusted (in the morning the pain was gone!), and then on Thursday night, the night before surgery at 9:15 a.m., Vivienne came down with the worst stomach bug she’s ever had. She threw up all night long, roughly a dozen times. Neither Kristin nor I slept much at all, I slept in Jonah’s bed just to keep an eye on him so that we would know if he seemed unwell, and Kristin slept with Vivi and caught puke in a bowl all night long. In the morning, there was no way that Kristin and I could both accompany Jonah to the outpatient surgery center because someone had to stay with Vivi, so I dropped Jude at school and took Jonah on my own.

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The windowless waiting room gave me the creeps and felt more like a methadone clinic than an outpatient surgery center, but ultimately I have to hand it to the staff; they were lovely and compassionate and took good care of Jonah. When we went back for the pre-surgery prep, they already had Paw Patrol playing on a portable DVD player. Somewhat surprisingly he seemed to have no fear whatsoever leading up to this. We’d told him very clearly that they needed to remove his two front teeth, and every time we brought it up he’d say “OK” or “Yeah I know” and seemed totally comfortable with the idea. I think a big part of it has to do with a lack of knowledge about surgery or tooth extraction. We’d told him that he would be asleep when they did it, and that I’d be there when he woke up. We went through all of the pre-surgery stuff and the only upsetting moment for him was when he had to take an oral medication to make him sleepy and calm so that he would be OK going back and being put under. He fought us on it, but once it started to kick in he asked me sleepily if we could go camping sometime. It was kind of sweet and totally unrelated to anything on the show that was playing, so who knows where that came from. I told him that we could.

When the dentist came in to talk to me, he went over the plans for the day. We’d already discussed that he would get a full set of x-rays (they only got his front teeth the last time), a cleaning, and that they would fix any cavities that were present, in addition to the extractions. What I didn’t know until that moment was that the plan to fix cavities in molars was to put crowns on. Crowns for baby teeth are stainless steel and pre-made, so presumably less expensive than the gold and porcelain variety, but still. I was shocked, but didn’t really have enough time to debate the issue or do any research or even consult K on the matter. I just hoped that his teeth would be in good shape and it would be a non-issue. I should have known better; I have terrible teeth, and a lot of dental health is based on predisposition and bacteria passed from the mother.

A nurse carried him back and he didn’t object at all, and I didn’t cry until he was out of sight. I’d been determined to be a rock for him so as not to pass along my own fear, and I feel like I succeeded. I got to the waiting room and called K and we both cried, and I promised to keep her posted. At some point they sent a nurse out to tell me that he went under the anesthesia just fine, really well actually, and that he did have cavities that they would be fixing. She didn’t know how many off hand, she’d just been sent to give me that message, so I didn’t have any idea what we were looking at. At some point during his procedure, a different dentist came out to talk to parents sitting behind me. They were engrossed in The Price Is Right, and when their dentist told them that their son had received six crowns and two fillings they seemed completely unfazed. I, on the other hand, was horrified, and immediately texted K. She replied with “Eek! Hopefully it’s not so bad for J. Praying.” I was honestly more shocked at their comfort with the news than with the results of their kid’s treatment.

When the dentist came out to tell me that Jonah was finished, by some miracle he decided to take me into a room to talk to me. I don’t know if that’s because he expected a poor reaction or if that’s just his approach, but I’m incredibly thankful. He told me that Jonah ended up with crowns on all of his molars: eight crowns. His cavities weren’t severe, but they were between the molars (his entire chewing surface was in great shape) and they prefer to crown them to prevent future decay (and to avoid having to put Jonah through this again). I immediately burst into tears. I felt like a horrible parent for not flossing his teeth regularly (I’m learning that few parents do, but whatever), and I was incredibly concerned about how Jonah might feel about his very obviously stainless steel teeth. What if his peers made fun of him? Would everyone think that he had terrible hygiene and was a total freak? I let the dentist know that I was really disappointed that he hadn’t given us more than ten minutes notice that this might be the plan for cavities. I cried and cried and did my best to focus on the post-surgery instructions, but it was clear that my reaction had totally thrown the dentist for a loop and he felt terrible. He told me that he felt like he’d failed me. I confessed that my feelings weren’t really about him exactly; I felt like a terrible parent for letting this happen to Jonah (and for passing along my predisposition for bad teeth), and I worried about how it would affect him socially. Honestly if we’d had time to research it we might have consented to it anyway, but not being given that choice was really upsetting.

I knew that I needed to pull myself together before seeing him, so I did my best (but I went to call K and began crying again), and then in a moment a nurse came out to tell me that he was awake. This is the other part that I was entirely unprepared for. I could hear him yelling before I saw him. He was thrashing and yelling but couldn’t really hold his head up, and there was blood running from the corner of his mouth. I went to him and picked him up and held him on my lap, but he fought me and kept yelling “I want to go home!” They offered him a popsicle and he refused, demanding to go home. He then tried to rip out his IV and continued to fight me, but I knew that I couldn’t set him down or he would hurt himself. When we finally got out of there I carried him to the car and I drove home telling him how brave he’d been. He seemed angry and disoriented, and I was completely overwhelmed by how much he seemed to be suffering. We offered him soft foods, water, and TV but he refused it all and just wanted to lie down. I lay down with him and reminded myself to just meet his needs and to try not to overthink it all.

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He slept for a long time, and when he woke up he seemed to have transformed back into himself a bit. He was still clearly unwell, but he was now interested in eating and watching his favorite show.

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Vivienne was still in a terrible state (and still is a day later) and was limp and whimpering all day long, needing to be worn or carried, so she needed someone’s attention at all times. Kristin was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, but wanted to do everything she could to care for Jonah since she felt awful for not having been with us that morning. I was actually glad to see her get in a short nap when they both collapsed from exhaustion.

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Poor Jude definitely got the short end of the attention stick. With all of our attention on Vivienne and Jonah for two straight days, he’s pretty much been fending for himself. At least he did get some screen time out of the deal.

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I was actually amazed by how “himself” Jonah was by the end of the first day, and even more so the second day. He may be on soft foods for a little bit longer (he wouldn’t object if that never ended – he would live on chocolate pudding), but he seems to be bouncing right back. I have yet to get a picture of his new smile, but I think that I can love it as much as his previous one. He’s still my lovebug.

The work-life balancing act

When we moved back to Michigan, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to take my job with me and transition to working from home full-time. It was a huge part of why we were able to move in the first place, and it was the tipping point that led us to fully commit to Kalamazoo. Kristin actually secured a job during the week that we came to search for a house, which was quicker than we’d expected her to find one, but being able to bring my NY job with us was a big deal. Because I work from home, and K has to leave for work no later than 7:00 a.m. (and because our day care doesn’t open till 7:30) I handle the entire morning routine with the kids. Lately it’s been a struggle for me to keep my cool and still get everyone out the door at a reasonable hour. I always start off with good intentions of doing zero yelling and creating a peaceful start to the day that sends the kids off to preschool feeling loved and supported. One of the main problems is that my definition of a peaceful morning involves a slow, unscheduled breakfast (we’re big breakfast eaters in this house) and one of the key ingredients to getting kids out the door on time (or so I hear) is lots of rigidity: rules about what happens in what order, lots of pre-planning and prep the night before, charts with pictures and stickers to indicate the order of things, kitchen timers etc. None of that jives with my idea of a peaceful morning, so I know that I’m really the problem here. My attitude probably encourages them to drag their feet and follow their whims.

Here’s how the morning usually plays out: Kristin wakes me up at about 6:45 before she leaves for work. Sometimes one or both of the twins are awake, lately no one is (probably because of the “spring forward” that happened recently). I head for the kitchen and start cooking breakfast (this is probably another mistake); I insist on making them a hot breakfast every morning. Normally that’s pancakes (one mashed banana, two scrambled eggs, a splash of milk, a tablespoon or so of ground flax seed, a tablespoon or so of shredded coconut, and a sprinkle of cinnamon) or sometimes French toast or oatmeal. They also eat enough raisin bread to keep the industry afloat. Everyone wakes up on their own shortly thereafter (usually) and comes to the counter to eat. I recently tried to switch to the rule “you must get dressed before eating” but then I forgot and we all went back to breakfast in pjs. They take forever to eat and take a lot of breaks to play with toys, and I spend a lot of time saying, “Are you done with breakfast? You need to get dressed.” It’s usually between breakfast and getting dressed that I begin making threats and eventually start to yell because we’re late again. Eventually I wrestle everyone into clothes, change the twins’ diapers, and get myself dressed in something semi-presentable, sans shower. I shout for everyone to move to the mud room for shoes and coats, that whole exercise takes awhile because it’s winter and we have to find all of the things (I know that I should find all of it and lay it out the night before, and sometimes I do but sometimes I just don’t feel like it). I let them out the door and they all wander into the driveway looking for neighborhood cats and I nag them to get into the car. Buckling three carseats really deserves its own step in the process, and just as I’m about to back out of the driveway the song requests usually start pouring in from the back. Sometimes I’m a grouch and tell them no, we’re too late for me to fiddle with Spotify, but most of the time I pull up the playlist of their faves and let them each make a request.

By the time I drop them all off at school (which isn’t quick, but again that’s probably on me – I like to talk to teachers to keep tabs on what’s going on), I’m racing home to jump in the shower and start work by 9:00, which is always a stretch. Working from home is such a weird, weird thing. One of my colleagues asked me early on if I now have tons of time back that I lost on a 1.25 hour (each way) commute in New York. I told her that honestly? I have less, at least if we’re talking about time for me. In New York that 1.25 hours each way allowed me to read, listen to podcasts or music, or even sleep on the train. After my workday I knew that I had that length of time to decompress before walking in the door and having to be “on” as mom. Working from home, I rush straight from dropping them all off into whatever work project is pressing in the morning, and then when Kristin heads out to pick them up around 5:00 I’m rushing to complete as much work as I can in my last hour before the kids burst in and need my undivided attention. That doesn’t mean that I would trade it, a big part of the reason why we moved was to lose our commutes and be able to give that time back to our family, and I do love that we have more of our evenings together.

I remember chatting with another mom of three in the months after the twins were born. She had twin boys Jonah’s age (we were in the same birthing class), and her daughter was born around the same time as the twins. I asked her how things were going with three under three and she said that most days they were in a routine, but if someone got sick the wheels were off the bus. I know exactly what she means. This winter seems to have been a particularly rough one for illness, and K and I have had to do some juggling to figure out who could stay home with a sick kid most easily, depending on the day and week. Because I have more PTO days available and more flexibility in taking them, most of the time that’s me (although she’s more than fair about staying home whenever it’s necessary).

This week has felt like one of those “wheels are off the bus” weeks. On Monday, K left for work before the kids were up and when I woke Jude up I noticed that one of his eyes was pretty crusty. We’d received an email from preschool last week saying that pink eye was going around at school, so I’d known it was a possibility but hadn’t given it a ton of thought. I knew right away that he should stay home, and figured I’d take Vivi and Jonah and then run Jude to urgent care before heading back home to start my work day. Despite some evidence to the contrary I still expect that with only one sick kid I should be able to get work done more or less as usual. By the time we got to preschool and I went to unbuckle V from her car seat it was clear that she too had crusty eyes. I told her that she had to stay with me and she was mad as hell (they love school). When her teacher came out to take a quick peek and give me instructions, V wouldn’t even look at either of us. I dropped Jonah with his teacher and headed across town to urgent care with the twins. At this point I still thought that maybe I could just wrap this up quickly and get in a full work day. I let my boss know what I was up to and she gave me the go-ahead (fortunately I also work for a very flexible and very family-friendly organization). Urgent care wasn’t busy at all, but things like this still take way more time than I ever anticipate. Every person there was entirely charmed by Jude and Vivi (it’s actually kind of fun because at pediatric offices kids are no big thing, but when you go to urgent care they’re the favorite patients of the day). They noticed one of those coat hooks that has a rounded top and two curved hooks and excitedly showed me the “octofish,” and Vivi pointed to the light they use to examine eyes and ears and said “that robot check my ears” (we’re really into robots around here lately).

Despite my stress over my day being derailed, I tried hard to stay in the moment and really notice the cute stuff and the way that everyone else appreciated their presence. I knew that I was lucky to be with them, but it was also tough not to think about work. Because I have the privilege of working from home unsupervised, I feel a huge responsibility to demonstrate my reliability and punctuality and to deliver results in noticeable ways. I know that being a mom has a huge impact on the guilt factor as well; I never want my colleagues to assume that because I have children (and because they get sick and things come up unexpectedly) I may deliver less than others or not show up the way that I’m expected to. Being a mom who also works from home (with colleagues who, by and large, do not work from home) is a tremendous blessing but also a consistent source of guilt and anxiety.

With their prescriptions in hand (pink-eye confirmed – fortunately Vivi loves “raindrops” and asks for them regularly, the boys have to be pinned down for eyedrops) I headed out to fill them. Vivi started asking for mac and cheese, so I decided to fill the prescription at the grocery store on the way. I dropped it at the pharmacy and was told that it would take 20 or 30 minutes, so, wearing Vivi and pushing Jude in the cart, I went after the shopping list that Kristin left with me that morning (she’d fully intended to do the shopping on her way home from work, but since I had 20 minutes to kill anyway…). Once I was back at the pharmacy and the prescription still wasn’t ready, I thought a lot about how much easier this must all feel if you’re a stay-at-home mom. That’s probably an incorrect and unfair assessment, and I’m sure an actual SAHM would have lots to say on the matter – dealing with sick kids isn’t easy for anyone, but knowing that I was supposed to be at work and wondering what my boss and my colleagues might think of this situation just made the whole thing harder. I imagined what it might be like to know that all day long I was supposed to be with the kids, meeting their needs, shopping for dinner groceries etc. How much more in-the-moment might I be?

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Jude making a call on my wireless mouse while I give up on getting any work done

By the time I got home it was almost noon. The twins needed lunch and a nap and I knew that the chance of me getting more than two hours of work done was absurd at best. I let my boss know that I was logging the whole day as a sick day and apologized for the chaos. What made the whole thing worse was that the following day, Jonah had an appointment with a new pediatrician for a pre-surgery physical because on Friday he’s having his top two front teeth pulled under anesthesia. The Tuesday appointment was another one that I’d hoped would be in-and-out, but instead it took 90 minutes, and Friday I knew I’d be missing at least a half-day if not a full-day of work for the dental surgery. I’m compulsively honest about this stuff, so I made sure to get a few hours of work in while the twins napped on Monday to make up for the time I might miss on Tuesday, and entered Friday into our HR system well in advance, but this week has still been psychologically overwhelming as I’ve felt pulled in two opposing directions. The fact that I could potentially fly under the radar while all of this goes on in the background somehow feels even worse than just not showing up at the office in an obvious way.

Add all of this to the fact that dealing with medical professionals has a tendency to completely undo me as it is (another post for another time) and I’ve been unraveling a little bit this week. Send us good thoughts as we head into dental surgery tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

On expectations, potential, and the people we become

A few nights ago, as the kids ate dinner at the counter and Kristin and I stood in the kitchen tending to them, Jonah said, “Mama D, you’re like the mom who’s the boss.” I exchanged glances with K and sort of smirked while she expressed defeat, until she asked him, “What does Mama D do that makes her the boss?” “Well,” he said, directing his response to me, “because you yell, and you tell our family what to do.” The pride of being in charge immediately evaporated. My confidence as a parent was already wavering, since an hour or so earlier Jonah had come home from school with the following “story tape” across his sweater:

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Story tape is something they do at school when the kids are sad or miss their families; it gives them an opportunity to record how they’re feeling so that their parents can read it and acknowledge their feelings at the end of the day. I’d dropped him off that morning and had actually gone out of my way to make sure that he was able to find a book that he was excited about reading, found a teacher who agreed to read it to him, and sent them on their way. Most days, however, he likes to wave to me from one of the windows as I head out to our minivan. He doesn’t do it every day, but most mornings I remember to ask him if he wants to. On this particular morning it hadn’t even occurred to me since the search for a book in the science room was out of the ordinary for us. Now that I think about it, part of the reason we went to the science room looking for the book (which we weren’t able to find) was because he’d asked me to bring his own copy of The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs. We’d labeled it with his name (a rocket-shaped sticker I’d dutifully ordered at the start of the school year to label all of his things) and then forgotten it at home; another failure to add to that whopper of a day. When I saw the tape and reflected on the fact that he’d worn it all day long at school, I was crushed. My perfect vision of myself as the kind of mother I long to be is often in stark contrast to the reality of how I show up for our kids, and it’s incredibly disappointing.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our expectations for ourselves and how that shapes the way we feel about our lives. A friend of my sister’s wrote this piece about the paradox of potential and how being told that you have tons of potential throughout your life can weigh on you at a certain point, or at least cause you some existential anxiety. I think that’s very real (at least for white people of privilege, and I have to wonder on the flip side what it’s like to rarely be told that you have great potential, but that’s another post for another time), and I wonder about all of the things that contribute to a person’s unique vision of what a successful life might look like. I can remember being a freshman in college and feeling completely overwhelmed by the text in a course about representation of women in the media; speaking with my professor over the phone one evening she said to me, “You’re going to graduate school, right?” I kind of stammered that I was actually only a freshman and she repeated, “But you’re going to graduate school, right?” That stuck with me, and I did eventually go to graduate school even though I had no such intentions at the time. I can also remember being told on more than one occasion, early in my nonprofit career, that I would eventually be an executive director. Honestly, I don’t have much desire to be in charge of an entire organization, but upon occasion those expectations make me wonder if I’m achieving enough in my career. It doesn’t weigh on me too heavily, however, because my priorities as a mother are crystal clear to me.

A friend of mine gave birth to her third child about two weeks ago, and in an Instagram post she mentioned that ten years ago she was certain that she never wanted children. This came as a shock to me because while I do think of her as an adventurous soul who loves having the freedom to explore passions, I also think of her as someone who is incredibly devoted to motherhood and whose identity has been shaped in tremendous ways by that role. We exchanged emails about it and she told me that she always thought that one day she’d wear business suits and makeup and carry a briefcase (not at all a part of her world at this point).

I went to college mostly because I was expected to; it was non-negotiable in my house (and for that I am eternally grateful to my parents) but I didn’t have much in the way of career ambition. Once again, the expectations of others led the way, but I remember being in college and knowing that what I really wanted was to be a mother. I don’t think that I had any specific dreams of being a stay-at-home parent (maybe because I knew that I was expected to find some sort of professional success) but I’d always known that I wanted to have children. Mama K, on the other hand, had no such lifelong ambition. I don’t believe that she ever made up her mind that she didn’t want children, it just hadn’t entirely occurred to her. Of course when you have an LGBTQ identity it can complicate the picture a bit, and I’m not sure that I always knew that I’d end up fulfilling my dream, but I think that it tossed motherhood out of the picture for K in some respects. She thanks me regularly for bringing my dream into our marriage since without it she might never have pursued motherhood at all.

I was reading “mommy blogs” and other content about motherhood well before I was even trying to get pregnant, so I think that I also came into motherhood with the understanding that it was going to be hard. Among my generation of mothers there is no shortage of honest writing on the ways in which parenting can feel like a thankless slog (this is an eternal favorite of mine). In some ways I think that it’s actually become more acceptable to complain about it than to gush about the beautiful moments, but I suppose that’s a social media theme these days: share too much positivity and you’ll be accused of filtering dishonestly and making others feel guilty about the lack of beauty in their own days. At any rate, I think I came into it expecting both the beauty and the challenges. What I failed to anticipate was the possibility that I might not be a great mom. My friend Nancy, who is also the mother of three, recently reflected on her birthday and how her parents might have felt when she (their firstborn of six) came into the world:

As children, we mistakenly believe that our parents have it all figured out. If we knew how clueless, scared, or incompetent they felt on most days we probably would have feared for our survival. It’s not until we become parents ourselves that we realize what a monumental undertaking the whole thing is and that nothing in life can ever prepare you for it.

It’s fascinating to realize once we become parents that our parents were making it up too, and in most cases, we turned out just fine. It doesn’t keep me from feeling tremendous disappointment when I fail, however.

While I didn’t have a clear picture of who I hoped to be as I was growing up, I think that I implicitly assumed that I would be a good mother. I’m not disappointed or surprised by the day-to-day reality of being a mother who is also employed full-time. There’s plenty of writing on that from people who find those realities to be absolutely suffocating, particularly those who pictured themselves with high-power careers (that they love) but I think that I expected the tradeoffs and realities and have embraced them in lots of ways. I grew up playing house, after all.

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Photo credit Krista Trewhella

The challenging moments with the kids aren’t nearly as surprising as the realization that I yell way too much, that I’m impatient with them, and that I don’t play with them nearly as often as I should (and that they notice). One afternoon when I was feeling especially overwhelmed by a number of high-stakes, paperwork-related tasks such as tracking down information for the accountant and doing research to dispute our property tax assessment, I told Kristin that maybe I just need to accept that this boring paperwork crap is the part of running a family that I’m good at. Kristin gets to be the goofy mom; I’m in charge of the filing cabinet and the bills. I kind of want to be the goofy mom, but I also know that I’m not very comfortable being goofy and that I don’t play with them often enough because I find getting on the floor to “play” to be kind of confusing and annoying (unless we’re building a marble run, in which case I’m completely taking over). I love being with them, and I love watching them play a lot of the time, I absolutely love reading to them, and I truly enjoy talking to them. I know that I’m not failing as a mother all of the time, but I want to be SO much better. I want to believe that my potential is greater than the mom I am now, and that I can still get there before they’re grown up.

Sometime between dinner and bedtime of that same evening, I sat on the floor of the kitchen with Jonah and told him, “I’m sorry if I haven’t been a good mom lately.” “Yeah,” he said, “you’ve been yelling at us a lot in the morning. You can get mad without yelling. That’s what Gladys taught me.” Gladys was his day care provider in New York, and she had the patience of a saint. “I’m sorry I’ve been yelling, I’ll try harder not to yell,” I said with tears in my eyes, “Can I have another chance?” “Yes, you can have one more chance,” he said. The limit caught me off guard and suddenly I was left wondering how many chances we really get with our children, and how long they’ll believe that we are good despite evidence to the contrary. “What happens if I run out of chances?” I asked, fearfully. He smiled, “No, you can’t run out of chances.”

I pray that we can both remember that even in the toughest moments, and that it’s true.

Birthday celebration with K’s family

We had Kristin’s family over today to celebrate Jude & Vivienne’s birthday. While birthdays have never been my creative thing (probably because of the same space issues that made me dislike hosting in general in NY) Kristin wanted to bring Vivi’s current favorite book into the celebration. Stick Man is actually a Christmas book, so it’s funny that they’re SO into it right now, but two-year-olds; we listened to Christmas carols on the way to preschool almost till February, so it is what it is.

No story to tell here, just a lovely afternoon with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. But I have plenty of photos.

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She refused to nap today, and I told her she couldn’t have cake unless she did, so this was her attempt

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Trying to stick their fingers into the frosting. I honestly didn’t realize that they matched until I looked at this photo after the fact

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I finally got to meet Megan’s twins! And they both fell asleep for me 🙂

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This is what happens when you try to get a picture with all of the grandkids. Literally no one is looking at the camera!

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Checking in on my goals

Kristin doesn’t remember to read this blog very often, but when she does she’s generally very complimentary about it and thanks me for taking the time to document our lives. This past Sunday we finally hung a bunch of family photos on the wall of the living room, and she was visibly disappointed that I’m not in any of them. Admittedly I chose the photos that we had printed, and she told me in advance that she wanted to make sure that I was in at least one of them, but I honestly could not find a decent photo of me and any of the kids that fit with the rest of the photos. I’m sort of bummed about it too, but to be honest I also take great pride in being our documentarian and have been loving the creative challenge of trying to take great pictures of our family. I have a long ways to go, but the process is really very gratifying.

At some point in recent weeks when Kristin sat down to catch up on multiple blog posts that she’d missed, she read the one about my birthday and commented aloud that I seem to be really diving into my goals. She may have commented before getting past the first one, but it was still nice to reflect for a moment and think that she might be right.

While I haven’t done a single thing to increase my level of exercise, and I feel like my demonstration of calm and patience for the kids varies wildly from day to day, I do think that I’ve made some genuine progress on goals one and two: engaging my creative side on a regular basis, and making more social plans with friends.

For starters, I finished knitting the scarf that I started making for Jonah roughly three years ago! It was fun to finish because it was the first time that I looked up the right way to weave in ends (and I had a lot of them since changed yarns many times). I also had to take out a row right at the end, because I’d forgotten to leave enough yarn to bind off, and removing stitches is something I’ve never understood how to do. I pulled out a knitting book and went to work, and sure enough I made it happen. While I used to give up easily when encountering things that felt frustrating, being a parent has given me a newfound sense of persistence in large part because I’m constantly reminding the kids that “we can do hard things” and we’ve been actively working on helping Jonah be less afraid of making mistakes and be more willing to try things he might not succeed at the first time. I find that creative endeavors are way more fun when I’m not so afraid of doing it poorly.

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In addition to the knitting, I did Valentine crafts with the kids, painted simple Valentines for everyone, I’ve baked and decorated cookies a few times, and while I don’t write blog posts often enough to keep anyone’s interest for very long I’m still doing it somewhat regularly and taking the camera out a lot more often. I still need to take some active steps to improve my photos (besides practice, that is) but it’s only March 1st so I’m pretty confident that I can get there before the year is over.

I’m enjoying creative activities so much that lately I’m itching to start something new. I probably would have begun a new knitting project, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on the yarn I wanted (I really love this stuff and want to make everything with it), and then couldn’t really decide on a project and got distracted by life. While I was in New York, K took the kids to a friend’s house for dinner one night and Jonah was introduced to a show he’d never seen before. I think it’s an Amazon original show, called Annedroids, and it’s actually kind of cute. It’s about a girl who builds these incredible android robots in a junkyard, and the two neighborhood kids who discover it all and become friends with her. There’s lots of science and hypotheses and teamwork; it’s a show I’m happy to let him watch. I told K tonight that I really want to do robots for Halloween this year, and her only response was “You exhaust me.” Yeah, I can be a little over the top when it comes to planning ahead, but I think this time it’s simply because I’m craving a creative project.

In regard to social plans we haven’t done much inviting over, but we did have that one small get-together with a couple of neighbors after the block party, and we’ve been to the homes of others on a few occasions. Being in New York for four days was wonderful in many respects because it filled up my tank, so to speak, with lots of amazing conversations and quality time with people I’ve missed. But I also came home feeling like I needed to switch off for awhile, since being on and engaged in conversation from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. for four days straight really wears me out. I’m doing some introvert recharging and hoping to get back into making some social plans in the coming weeks.

As I’d anticipated, leaving K and the kids behind was really tough. I think that staying busy helped, however, and in retrospect I think that it was quite valuable for all of us. I needed to see for myself that Jonah could handle it, K got some incredible bonding time with him, and while she didn’t have anything to prove as far as I was concerned, she absolutely demonstrated her willingness and ability to go above and beyond what was necessary to keep the wheels turning. Every day she seemed to schedule something extra to add some fun and variation to their time without me, she made sure to have exclusive play time with Jonah every night after the twins went to sleep and before she put him to bed, she took everyone out for pizza and ice cream, she took them to friends’ houses. I think that she made the time about as wonderful as she could have, and I’m eternally grateful. And our friends who covered mornings for us? They were amazing, as I should have expected. Jonah’s teacher told me that he seemed quite proud to show them around his school and teach them the drop-off routine. I’m probably headed back to New York at the end of May and the first week of August, but I’m feeling better about it now that we’ve all been through the experience.

Now that I’m reflecting on it, I suppose figuring out that piece of the working-remotely puzzle probably should have been on my list of goals for the year, since it was obviously going to come up eventually. This arrangement is teaching us all to be more adaptable, and I’m relieved to be over the anxiety-ridden “first trip.” Hopefully we’ll all grow in ways we hadn’t even expected. Now to find a project that will keep me from starting Halloween costumes in March…

The twins turn two

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Our babies turned two yesterday and, in predictably trite fashion, I can hardly believe it. K and I stayed up late the night before to bake and frost cookies for them me to take to school to share with their class, and K painted them some sweet little happy birthday notes while I baked, but we didn’t have too much else planned for the big day. We didn’t even buy them birthday presents because a. they don’t really need much, especially with a birthday that follows Christmas so closely and b. we knew that they’d be receiving a few things from extended family already. This Saturday Kristin’s family is coming out to celebrate with us and to see the house for the first time, which I’m really looking forward to. It gives me a lot of pride to share our space with others, and while that might be a novelty I hope the feeling doesn’t wear off for awhile.

Kristin decided to pick up a few slices of pizza and some store-bought cupcakes and candles just to make the evening a bit more Jude and Vivi’s style. I swear Jude talks about pizza from the moment he wakes up.

Jude wolfed down his mini cupcake in about four seconds, and then attempted to steal crumbs off of Vivi’s plate while she slowly ate hers one tiny bite at a time.

In honor of their birthday, and in a public apology for the fact that I still haven’t even begun their baby book even though I diligently worked on Jonah’s month by month from the time he was born and had it printed by the time he was 18 months old, I figured I’d share their birth story here. At least I did write it, it’s just been living on my Mac for quite awhile. Someday I’ll get all of their baby pictures into a book, I promise!


On Thursday evening, February 26th, Kristin went to prenatal yoga. She usually went on Tuesdays, and two nights earlier Beth had mentioned to Kristin when she left that she didn’t think she’d see her again before the babies were born, so she was surprised to see her on Thursday. Looking back, I think that Beth did sense that Kristin would give birth before the following Tuesday class, she just didn’t know to expect her on Thursday. Her due date was March 2nd, so we were all pretty surprised that Kristin was still pregnant.

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I think that we’d planned to cook Indian food for dinner, but it had taken me longer than anticipated to get Jonah to bed. So by the time Kristin returned I suggested that we just order sushi instead. I’m glad that we did, since we would have had lots of uneaten leftovers going to waste over the next week. In a move that was completely out of character even when Kristin wasn’t pregnant, but especially at this stage, Kristin said that she wanted to walk downtown to pick up the take-out order. Mind you, she was 38 weeks pregnant with twins, and it was well after dark in February. In recent weeks she’d hardly wanted to move at all, so this sudden burst of energy raised my antennae a bit.

I’d done laundry earlier in the day, so that night before bed we put clean sheets on the bed. We joked about how it would be just our luck that her water would break overnight simply because we’d just washed the sheets. Sure enough, she woke up at about 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning because she felt her water break. We were excited, but also concerned because nothing else seemed to be happening: no contractions, and no movement from the babies. Kristin called the on-call number for the midwives and Robin suggested that she walk around and drink some fluids to see if they would start moving again. She said that the sensation of the water breaking can sometimes be shocking to the babies, and that might be the reason for the stillness. Although I don’t recall, they must have begun moving again because we didn’t call back for a number of hours.

We decided not to go back to bed, and instead got things ready to go. We let Jonah sleep while we showered, straightened up, made sure the bags were ready, and let the Frost and Rynders families know the plan since they would be caring for Jonah while we were at the hospital. When we spoke to Robin again, she told us that because labor hadn’t begun but Kristin’s water had broken, we had to go to the hospital for her to be induced. We knew that we would be stuck there once we arrived, and we were still hoping that Kristin’s labor would begin on its own, so I dragged my feet and encouraged Kristin to drag hers, despite Robin’s insistence that we come right in. We drove Jonah to Gladys’s house and dropped him off sometime after 9:00 a.m. It was a beautiful, sunny day, especially for February, and I remember us talking about what a good day it was to be born. Kristin called her mom from the car on the way to the hospital, and her mom booked her flight out for the following Monday.

We parked the car in the ramp and went to the non-emergency entrance of the hospital. Everything felt so different from our arrival there when I was in labor with Jonah (when we went to the emergency room, with me suffering through active labor all the way). We made our way upstairs in a rather leisurely way and were shown to our room. The room had a tub (which we wouldn’t be using) and was quite large, lots of natural light from windows running all along one wall with a view of trees outside. It was lovely. I was excited, and took a selfie of Mama K and I in the room before she changed into a hospital gown.

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Robin met us there (she’d actually beaten us there by quite a bit, since we’d dragged our feet). And told us that Kristin had to be started on Pitocin. Kristin was understandably disappointed; it wasn’t what she wanted. It seemed to take them a long time to arrive and get the Pitocin going, I think it finally happened around noon. To my surprise, the Pitocin didn’t seem to bother K for a number of hours; she was just hanging out, talking and being herself, but eventually the pain kicked in. She was frustrated that the nurses wouldn’t allow her to get out of bed and move or change positions because of the two fetal monitors wrapped around her belly. Every time she moved, they stopped picking up the heartbeats, so she wasn’t able to manage her pain at all. Somewhere between 6:00-8:00 p.m. she asked for an epidural because she’d realized that if she wasn’t going to be allowed to actively manage her pain, she didn’t really have any options. She was frustrated and disappointed, but knew that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist who administered the epidural had a horrible bedside manner, and caused K incredible, unexpected pain. She struggled to hold still and couldn’t sit up the way he asked because the contractions were so debilitating. He eventually allowed her to lie on her side, but at some point in the procedure she shrieked with pain in such a startling, awful way, that I began to cry out of fear and anger. I said to Michelle (the midwife on call at that point) that someone should have warned us that the procedure would be so excruciating, and she seemed as shocked as I was. The anesthesiologist had the gall to brag about his skills and speed when I criticized him; he was entirely lacking in compassion, and I told him so.

Fortunately, once the epidural began to work, Kristin declared that it had been a good decision. She felt much better, and at some point soon after we were left alone to get some sleep. They gave me some sheets and I was able to get some sleep on a sofa-like piece of furniture in the room. K also tried to sleep, but struggled because she wasn’t able to turn or move and because her legs were numb and she was hooked up to so many wires, cords, and a catheter. We were both surprised that the twins hadn’t been born yet. Everyone we knew who had been induced had given birth very quickly. Our families had expected news by now, but I think that I’d gotten a bit lax with the text updates because not much had changed. By the time she had the epidural she was around 5 or 6 cm dilated, so she still had a ways to go.

In the morning, maybe around 7:45 a.m., Michelle came back to check on Kristin and said that she was at about 9.5 cm dilation and could start pushing soon. We were excited and thought that things would get moving any minute. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and everything felt full of promise and anticipation. Then all hell broke loose at the hospital. A number of women arrived to the small delivery ward ready to give birth. Two of those women were also Full Circle patients, which meant that Michelle, our midwife, found herself moving between three different rooms at once. Hours went by while the doctors and nurses clearly scrambled to keep up. Finally, around 11:00 a.m., Michelle returned and told Kristin that she could start pushing. We were surprised that they had her begin to push in our room, because we’d been told that she would be required to deliver in the operating room just in case of emergency, since it was a twin birth. I assumed that they expected her pushing to take awhile, and wanted to get her started where she was already comfortable.

While we were relieved to finally get some attention and to get the process moving, it was clear that the delivery ward was still understaffed given the rush of women that had arrived. At times, it was just a nurse and me in the room while Kristin pushed (in contrast to my birth experience when there were probably five or more people in the room at any given time). Michelle came and went periodically, and was helpful when she was there, but in other moments I think that both Kristin and I felt a little bit lost. Even so, we were able to see just a tiny circle of Jude’s fuzzy head moving when she pushed, so we knew that she was making progress. After about two hours of pushing, Kristin started to bleed. Michelle dabbed at the blood and wiped it up, saying that hopefully it was just from a small cut of some sort, but it kept coming. I began to worry, because it seemed like too much blood to be a simple tear or cut. Michelle worried too, and said that she thought we ought to have the attending OB take a look and decide what to do. I was already in scrubs because I knew that at some point we’d be moving to the OR, and everyone else prepared themselves and Kristin for the trip down the hallway.

As the nurses wheeled Kristin down the hallway and I walked beside her, she turned to me and said “do whatever you have to do.” In that moment, I knew that she was giving her consent to the cesarean birth that she didn’t want, because she was worried about the babies and was willing to sacrifice anything to make sure that they were OK. She seemed exhausted, but unafraid and fiercely determined to keep her little ones safe. She’d been fighting hard her entire pregnancy to give them the best possible start, but that moment was perhaps the one in which her maternal instincts stood out most prominently for the first time.

After taking a look at the bleeding, the doctor told us that he felt it was best to perform the cesarean and just get the babies out quickly. As they prepped her for surgery, they told me that I had to wait outside. A nurse found a chair for me and I sat in the hallway and cried, and texted family to ask them to pray, letting them know that she was bleeding and that I was scared. I wanted to be beside her, and was scared because I couldn’t hear her voice or see her. In those early moments, I truly feared that she might die. During that time, a wonderful nurse who had been called in due to the mad rush approached me. She introduced herself with a smile, told me that Kristin was going to be just fine, and told me to be sure to have my camera ready because we would be meeting our babies soon and we would want to have pictures. She told me that she would let me know when to stand up with the camera, as the doctor would lift the babies into the air for me to see as he pulled them each out. Finally, she brought my chair in beside Kristin’s head. She looked tired and pale and was complaining of thirst, but wasn’t allowed to have any water. It seemed like only a few moments before Jude was born, and I stood to take a photograph of him. He wailed and wailed and my fear turned into joy immediately. I was so excited to finally see what he looked like. One minute later, Vivienne was born. I remember telling Kristin that she was cute, and she screamed ferociously. After they cleaned them up and weighed them and wrapped them in blankets, they brought them around and held them down by Kristin’s face so that she could see them, and then handed them each to me. The nurses were wonderful and took photos for us. I was so relieved that everyone was OK.

As it turned out, the placenta had begun to detach from Kristin’s uterus, causing the bleeding. Without the surgery the babies could have died; it was the only way for them to come into the world. In the days to come, the challenge of recovering from a cesarean birth and the blood loss of the placental abruption (which required two units of blood for K) while learning to nurse and care for Jude and Vivienne would require everything that Kristin had left to give, but she gave it with love and generosity and slowly began to heal. Kristin’s mom arrived to meet her new grandbabies, we brought big brother Jonah to the hospital to meet his brother and sister, and we were surrounded by love from the Rynders, Frost, and Thompson families. We spent four days and nights in the hospital, but eventually we made it home and began our new life as a family of five. It certainly does take a village.

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