At Least Your Hair Looks Gorgeous

so glad they told me - women get real about motherhoodWhen I was eight, my sister told me to sit still at the kitchen table, she’d be right back with a special surprise. Her “special surprise” turned out to be a whiffle bat strike to the head. Similar to this whiffle bat encounter, my experience with motherhood has not turned out the way I expected. No one warned me about the “special surprises” that were to come.

While I was nervous about becoming a mother, I looked forward to being pregnant. I recalled the image of the near-naked seven months along Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, and thought “Sign me up! How hard could this be?” I’ll have fabulous hair, giant boobs, skin to match my upcoming newborn, and the sex drive of a twenty year old! With no PMS for nine months, who wouldn’t be on board?

Except that I ended up pregnant with twins. And nobody warned me that the seventy five pounds I’d gain would make my ass wider than my stomach, and my upper arms comparable to my pre-pregnancy thighs. Nor was I given a clue that fluid retention would mean my football-sized feet could wear only men’s slippers, and my eyeballs would swell so badly I could no longer read or watch TV. My husband nobly read aloud to me – his favorite book, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” But the errant baseball to the head that kills the mother, and the Mary Magdalene statue decapitation did little to calm my pre-delivery jitters.

As far as the dewy skin prediction went, I ended up with Melasma, or the “Mask of Pregnancy.” The brown and pink splotches covering my cheeks and forehead made me look as if I had fallen face first into a giant patch of poison ivy, and then endured a discount chemical facial peel.

The only bright spot in my appearance was highlighted by a model-gorgeous Texan friend who looked from my puffy ankles to the hot-air balloon sized skirt to my blotchy face with the expression of one who has observed an impressively grotesque Halloween costume. She recovered, and then drawled, “Well, at least your hair looks gorgeous!”

While no one warned me about the surprises in the looks department, plenty of people offered other “helpful” cautionary advice.

Friends told me strangers would touch my belly and talk to the babies. But I wasn’t prepared for the ladies in the health club locker room who checked out my stomach sighing, “Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” with a look in their eyes that said, “You won’t make it.” Or blurted, “You’ll never get your figure back,” while staring at me as I tried to paste two XL bath sheets around my middle and Sumo Wrestler waddle toward the showers.

Experienced mothers assured me that the lifelong soul-mate family friendships made in their birthing classes were the best part of being pregnant. My husband and I eagerly drove 45 minutes to a highly recommended birthing coach’s group. She shared crucial insights for the birthing process, then shook her head at me, saying, “Not for you. Twin births are risky.” Then at the end of class, a tiny barely pregnant-looking woman eyed me up and down and suggested “eight almonds” as a good portion for a healthy snack. I wanted to tell her “eight almonds” wouldn’t be enough to get me off the couch and into the kitchen for my double sausage egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, but my husband hustled me to the car. So much for the potential soul-mates.

Then I went through the delivery that resembled none of the birthing coach’s descriptions, and eventually ventured out with the babies. In Costco, women would approach me asking, “Are they twin boys?” This question I had expected. “Are they identical?” Also predictable. Then, the conversational twist I hadn’t seen coming: “Because I was married to a twin. He could NEVER let go of his brother!” They’d glare at me as if I were personally responsible for all the bad choices of every identical twin husband in the history of womankind. “I lost TWELVE YEARS of my life!” they’d roar after me as I fled for the bakery.

After all these useless warnings and unhelpful advice, I actively sought input from mothers I trusted.

I queried twin moms about breast feeding. Most said they either A) nursed both babies no problem, or B) gave it up as a bad job and stuck with formula. No one told me I’d end up with one infant who could latch on, and one who couldn’t. Nor did they mention that milk would spew from my breasts like an out of hand kitchen spray hose as I attempted to have the skilled latcher start boob one, then switch to boob two, and then attach the struggler to the first boob. (Although I suspect prior knowledge of this scenario would not have made it any more successful.)

Then my mother assured me all her children were potty trained by eighteen months, so I assumed it was easy. Yet by age three and half, my boys were still shaking their heads at M&M bribes, and sitting naked on the potty for an entire Muppets movie, then standing up and peeing all over the floor.

There were unexpected surprises on the positive side too. Twin A would wake up serenading us with songs from the Disney Cars movie, and Twin B would hide in any closet or cupboard, and burst out literally shouting “Surprise!” dozens of times a day. It was funny every time.

Eventually I stopped listening to all the advice-givers, and somehow made it to the kindergarten phase on my own. Slowly, I got back on my bike, laced up my hiking boots, and was able to wear at least some of my pre-pregnancy jeans.

When I’d had anxiety attacks about becoming a mom, about whether I could handle it, and about whether I would suck, all mothers said I’d fall in love with my babies. “You can’t help it,” they told me. After countless nights where the only comfort for a child with an ear infection was sleeping on my chest, and many images of muddy faces at the back door holding long stemmed sunflowers, I realize it’s the only thing anyone told me about motherhood that turned out to be true.

The Movie “Three Identical Strangers” Changed How I Parent

The trauma and heartbreak of the triplet boys in the movie “Three Identical Strangers,” who were separated at six months and adopted into different families, made me reconsider how my husband and I are parenting our identical twin boys, Axel and Aidan.

Surviving the Twinning Reaction

Multiples IlluminatedThe intense bonding connection between twins is called “the Twinning Reaction,” by psychologists and researchers. My neighbor the dog trainer says, “Don’t adopt two puppies from the same litter because they’ll never obey you.” Same concept.

The obstetrician did not hear the second heartbeat until 18 weeks. I was already panicking about motherhood – now there’d be identical twin boys? I thanked the doctor for her attention to detail, gathered my wits, and tried to prepare myself.

I baby-proofed the house by tie-wrapping gates to every door, wall, and table, creating a giant escape-proof pen. To use his computer in the family room, my husband scaled a fence that resembled the trickiest obstacle on American Ninja Warrior. I bought four sets of sheets and blankets for each crib in case of midnight stereo pukeage, plus a front to back stroller, a side by side double jogger, and a fancy Maclaren fold up for travel. I budgeted for baby sitters, bought 20 cases of Costco diapers, and created a Sign-up Genius meal chart for friends and family. I was ready.

I steeled myself for sleep deprivation, and read about “twin talk” where the babies have their own language, and “mirror-image twins” with opposite features. What I didn’t anticipate were the ways my identical boys would interact with each other that would make them as different from other children as St. Bernards are from Chihuahuas.

It started when they were newborns. I’d proudly mastered the “double football hold” to nurse both babies at once (a huge time saver once I’d wrangled thirteen Boppy pillows and the wriggling uncooperative participants into place). The boys would become so synchronized and focused on nursing they hated to be interrupted, so I resorted to creative burping techniques. I’d yank a baby off with one hand by the back of his onesie, slap him over my shoulder, then clap him back onto the boob. (I was not above using my teeth like a mother cat when necessary).

My parenting responses to their twin bond would continue to require this level of imagination and creativity.

When only a month old, lying on a play mat together, waving all four hands in the air, both babies began shrieking inconsolably. Were their diapers too tight? Did they need burping? My husband eventually surmised that they couldn’t tell whose hands belonged to whom, and wondered if maybe they feared an octopus attack. They had no sense of boundaries or their own identity, so we learned to swaddle them to quiet their arms and their nervous systems.

At six months, we hung their bouncy seats in opposing doorways of the same hall. Eyes firmly locked as if preparing for a Sumo match, each boy pushed off with his legs like a crazed kangaroo, rebounding higher and higher. This continued without either boy dropping his gaze or resting his legs until their mesmerized and motion sick five year old cousin puked on the carpet.

When we introduced solid foods to their diet, their bond won out over parenting every time. Axel would try anything, but Aidan was picky. During one dinner while Axel sat on his grandfather’s lap, eagerly eating salmon from Grampa’s plate, Aidan (with the vehemence of a body guard alerting the king to hemlock) shouted from the other end of the table. “Spit it out Axel! Spit it out!”

I resorted to chasing them around the back yard shoving cheese sticks in their mouths like a baton wielding relay runner with reluctant partners.

When the boys were two and a half, my husband came through the front door and shouted, “What’s with the blood?” I pulled my head out of the dryer.  Sure enough there was a red trail on the carpet leading up the stairs. I sprinted to inspect the twins, now calmly seated in front of the Wiggles show upstairs. One boy had a deep cut down his arm, but shrugged at me in explanation.

My husband and I found a bloody broken laundry basket and leaped to this conclusion: the boys had dragged each other through the house in the basket, but a section of plastic weave had given way, ripping a line down Axel’s arm. Stopping the game to complain, cry, or fill me in would have been unnecessarily inconvenient.

At age three, I received a call from their preschool administrator suggesting we test their hearing. It seems they weren’t following instructions, and the teachers feared it was because they might be hearing impaired.  I related this to my friend, a mom of identical twin girls, who laughed with me like we were enjoying an Amy Poehler-Tina Fey skit. We knew they weren’t deaf – just so focused on playing with their twin sibling they blocked out the rest of the world most of the time.

A common scenario at both of our homes: Mom calling, then yelling, then screaming either or both twin names, and finally resorting to placing her face inches from theirs and bellowing at jet engine decibels with spittle flying. The children would finally glance up in shock that their mother was even in the house.

I took the “perfect hearing” diagnosis from the pediatrician back to the school, and attempted to set up individual play dates for the boys to shift up this bonding pattern.  Mostly, I exceeded my babysitter budget instead.

Potty-training proved to be a hundred times harder than expected due to tag-teaming.  Once again it was inconvenient to their focused playtime to interrupt for a diaper change. I’d walk into a room with a hand covering my nose and mouth and mumble, “Who’s got the stinky diaper?” Without looking up, they’d point at each other. “Him,” they’d say in unison.

I reached the outer limits of desperation and put M&M’s and Hot Wheels cars on the mantel as rewards for using the toilet. Just as Axel was coming around and enthusiastically earning prizes, Aidan used his influence once more, staring me down and yelling, “No Axel! No M&M’s!” And just like that, Axel was back in a pull up.

I threw my hands up in defeat, stripped them, and sent them naked into the back yard, pooping and peeing like enthusiastic coyotes. The combination of potty shrubs and an extremely patient preschool teacher were the only tactics that eventually got them into big boy underwear.

While their connection causes them to ignore pain, hunger, bodily functions and Mom’s voice while playing, it can also spark synchronous crying. When the boys were seven, we got pulled over on the way to football. The officer sternly asked for my license and registration. Then he glanced behind me and caught four terrified eyes spouting cartoon-sized tears behind full pads and helmets, accompanied by voices wailing through face masks, “OH NO NO NO NO! Please don’t take Mommy to the station!” The officer handed me back my license and walked away chuckling.

In the end, neither my army of strollers, meal chart, nor garage full of diapers prepared me for my twins’ connection and the ways it would undo me. Eventually we put them in different first grade classrooms, which made them more independent and slightly more obedient.

I am resigned that my “same litter” children may never give me their undivided attention, but the “Twinning Reaction,” has its benefits. They have a close relationship. They work well together on teams playing baseball and basketball, and they’re adventurous in the world because they always have a wingman.

I know that someday I’ll be able to drop the cheese sticks, own clean carpets, have poop-free landscaping, and get a good night’s sleep. I’ll also have the comfort of knowing that each of my boys has a brother they would choose as their best friend, every time.

Advice to your Daughters: Don’t Waste Your Time on My Boys

When I was twelve, my middle school girlfriends and I called boys on the phone, hovered by the fence at Pop Warner football practice, and sat around at slumber parties speculating on which boys might ride past on their bikes or try to peek in the windows.

What Rock Climbing Taught Me About Love

“I’d been divorced in my twenties, and later dumped by a longtime boyfriend. I was 37, living in a “boy-free zone,” and doubtful I had any more chances at love….”

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