Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Shakes


In the last 6 weeks I have been away from my kids for 14 days.  In that same time frame I have also been without a networked computer for 14 days.  Guess which one makes me feel like a crack addict without her cocaine.

November is always a difficult month.  Mid-semester woes give way to preparation for the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English, which is always held the week(end) before Thanksgiving.  With Thanksgiving following on the heels of the convention, I often do not see my students for three full weeks.  This span is particularly difficult since it comes during a time when my students need much support in preparing their final projects.  So each year I design my syllabus with November in mind, and I return from the convention and Thanksgiving exhausted, only to race to the end of the semester. 

This year the convention took me to Orlando, and my increased national duties kept me away for an extended time.  I tacked on two personal days of vacation with my mom, who I have not travelled with since before kids, and the trip in total kept me away from my kids for seven days.  Since Disney does not provide wireless Internet, and charges a bundle for wired in-room access, I was also away from my email and the online community where my students post work and ask questions for seven days.

By day four I began to long for my kids.  I had been dealing with the shakes that resulted from my network disconnect since day two.

I returned to life after the conference on Tuesday, spent the afternoon chauffeuring my kids and the evening sifting through email, prioritizing the Wednesday to-do list.  My Facebook status pronounced that I had 500 email to read, skim or delete.  By Tuesday night, I had the inboxes down to 75, all of which required more than a quick response.  Wednesday I spent the majority of the day dealing with these tasks, and I had hoped to read the postings on the online forum from my students, some of whom had been waiting nearly two weeks for a response.  I knew that if I did not finish my network responsibilities that day, they would wait until the following Monday because I was headed to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving, where again I would be without wireless access for my computer. 

I did not finish the work that Wednesday, but I was able to spend “quality” time taking care of my kids over the Thanksgiving weekend.  The holiday festivities, which include my husband’s annual Black Friday shopping trip with his mom, kept me occupied as Mama, and Dr. T did not have time to steal away to the wired PC located in my in-laws’ upstairs office.  My mind, however, kept track of the responses I had not made and the work I needed to complete.  After taking the kids to see Toy Story on Ice, I was thoroughly Disney-ed out and admittedly exhausted by re-entering the realm of MOM.  Sunday was a day for rest – and laundry – and the work related tasks had to wait another day.

I finally responded to my students after the weekend, and I spent the week catching up and trying to get ahead, again.  As I write this post, I’m on another airplane, travelling to another conference.  Preparing the house to run smoothly while I’m gone is a challenge of its own.  Arranging babysitter coverage, writing explanations for doctor’s visits that need to happen while I’m away,  filling out forms for the preschool, reminding my husband to take money for the teachers' gifts…  these are just some of the tasks I organized in preparation for my trip.  Like the one I left for my trip to Orlando, a printout of the schedule for the next two days sits on the counter for everyone at home to follow.

In looking at my spring schedule, I realize I have three more conferences and a retreat, all of which will require days away from my kids.  I’m okay with that even though I know I will miss them and even though I know it will make more pre-work for me.  I’m okay with that, I should say, as long as I have access to the Internet at all of those venues.  The hardest part, I think, is missing my kids because of my work and then returning home to my kids, only to be consumed still by my work.  It’s neither the nights away from my kids nor the days without Internet that affect me so deeply.  It’s the combo that gives me the shakes. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Restoring my Sanity

For the last ten years I've encouraged my students to make a difference, to speak out against injustice, to act out in politics or even in their local communities.  I've done this as a teacher who wants to change the world, but I haven't really practiced what I preach.  I haven't taken a stand.

Until this weekend.

This past weekend, I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC.  Though I enjoy Jon Stewart and his "tell-it-like-it-is" wit, he is not the reason I abandoned my work-related responsibilities and my family for two days.  I went in search of like-minded people who despise the polarized political system of the USA.  I accepted the hits from my husband who said, "Do you really think you are going to make a difference?"  and the queries from my more conservative friends who said, "Huh?"

I found on the lawn of the national mall approximately 200,000 people who shared my view, as Stewart eloquently explained near the end of the three-hour rally, that people are able to compromise every day.  We work together, despite our individual beliefs, to accomplish amazing feats.  Life isn't about red and blue - and like I try to teach my children, it's not about yelling "I'm right" without listening to the other view and admitting that "I might be wrong."  I want my children to grow to be reasonable, and I want to remind myself to be reasonable in the face of insanity, or what I think is insanity.  It is for these reasons that I traveled  to Washington and staked out my lawn seat near the front of the massive crowd.  And I'm invigorated to have spent 7 hours with 200,000 of my closest "friends" in this endeavor.

Despite the slant that either the liberal or conservative media will put on the rally, I will remember the energy buzzing though the crowd, and I will know that for the first time, I acted, rather than encouraged others to act, and I'm proud to have been a part of such an encouraging crowd of sanity.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mama's got too much homework

My children went to school without jackets today.  I know this because my husband said to me tonight while we were standing in the kitchen and I was sifting through the mountain of paper that had come from two little backpacks, "Is it bad that I took the kids to school without jackets today?"  I nearly exploded.

The question itself sparked my ire because the kids are both fighting colds, and it was a chilly morning.  For that reason alone they needed jackets.  What made me even madder, however, was the fact that my husband had obviously not read ANY of the paperwork that the preschool has sent home in the last few weeks.  In nearly every letter, and we receive at least one per week in each child's backpack, the teachers stressed how important jackets are because the children go outside to play every day.  There is no question after reading these notices that the kids need to wear, or at least carry, jackets to school.

I was angry, I think, because I have entirely too much to remember right now.  My colleagues told me yesterday that I am the task master of the group; they also told me I am doing too much at work.  I agree, but I'm not sure how to slow down the frenetic pace that has become my job.  So I just keep plugging away, staying just ahead of the next at bat, and failing miserably at keeping my various projects organized in any coherent fashion.

I have been managing a little better at home, completing preschool paperwork, scheduling doctor appointments, and completing house maintenance with a bit less chaos around me.  At least this is what I thought until I emptied the backpacks tonight.

The weekly teacher-letters informed me of the content of the kids' classes this week.  Like always, I struggled initially to match the "yellow" and "red" content to the correct child.  Once I did, I asked my son to show me how he learned to make an "L" with his left hand.  I continued to skim the letter, noting that the teachers encouraged us to help our child learn to put on his coat independently.  They shared the strategy that they are using in school to accomplish this feat, but I couldn't quite understand the description.  I was exhausted, and I couldn't focus.

So I turned to my daughter's letter and discovered that the "red" class is also working on developing independence, specifically on putting on jackets.  Her teachers were even more direct in their suggestion that we help them to become independent by practicing at home what they had been doing in class.  They outlined a jacket-donning exercise that mirrored the one from the "yellow" letter.  I still couldn't grasp the mechanics of it.

Though perhaps it wasn't the intent of the letters, the message I got was, "your 3-year-old twins must both be able to put on their jackets independently by next week." I nearly cried.

After a long day in the city, ironically where I was teaching about reading comprehension, I could barely visualize the "lay it on the floor backward and flip flop over her head" strategy described in the "red" letter.  I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of directing both of my kids to independence in this task - and doing it so that we make some kind of progress in the next four days, three of which I am working. I knew my husband would not even read the letter so if I were to enlist his help, I'd have to decipher the instructions, explain it to him, give him a demo, and trust that he would relay the information to the sitter tomorrow morning and practice it with them himself on Saturday since I am working.

Managing to control the tears of frustration that threatened to fall, I tossed the letters back on the pile of papers and told my husband that I didn't think I could handle all of my work in addition to all of the "homework" that the kids were bringing home.   I suppose this year is preparing me for the realities of K-12 school, and I'm learning that being a parent in the parent-teacher-student triad is perhaps even more difficult than I had ever imagined.  But seriously, Mama has too much homework right now, so jacket independence will just have to wait.  As long as my husband can remember to send them with jackets to school, I'll let the teachers take the lead on this one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's in a commute?

I had to take 8 courses to major in history in college.  I took 5 of them with the same professor, primarily because he taught most of the American history courses that interested me and partly because he taught all of his classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which made for a nice, long-weekend schedule.  Somehow this professor, a VERY tenured professor, arranged to be on campus only two days a week.  Rumor had it that he needed this schedule because he had an extremely long commute - he lived an hour away.  I remember being amazed that someone would live an hour away from work, more than 50 miles one way. 

Now, of course, I live in NJ, where a 45 minute commute is typical and an hour drive is not uncommon.  My commute to NYC this morning took me two hours. As I climbed three stories out of the subway station and started the 4-block and 2-avenue walk to the school where I was teaching today, I recognized that in the two hours it had taken me to reach my Thursday destination, I could have commuted from my home to central PA, back to my undergraduate institution.  And I laughed at my naive college self who thought that my professor's hour-long drive was ridiculous.

After finishing my teaching at the school across town, I hopped on a bus to the West side, where my office is located.  I returned to my office today because I am scheduled to participate in an author conversation with the editor of Kappan magazine.  She has selected me as the featured author of the September issue, and I am about to be interviewed over the phone while webinar participants send questions electronically. I expect to leave the office by 5:15 or so, putting me back in my house around 7.  Considering I left at 6:45 this morning, I felt it was a relatively reasonable work day, one that would not be uncommon for many people.

As I walked from the bus stop to my office, trying desperately to remember everything I possibly can about the topic of the day's conversation, I calmed myself by noticing the beautiful day in NYC.  I glanced up at an apartment building just a few blocks from my office, and I thought about the travel I had accomplished that day.  "If I lived in that building," I thought, "how would my life be different?"

I would still have a 30 minute commute across town to the school where I am teaching this semester.  But I would have a ten minute walk to my office.  Would I come to my office every day?  If I did that, would I be wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life in the academe? Would my career make center stage in my life and the balance fall apart completely?  Is my commute, in fact, helping me keep the balance?


In some ways, though it is time consuming and exhausting, I like having the long commute because it keeps my job from becoming all consuming.  I can't be here everyday, and because of that, I can put more priorities on my family life and stress a little less about the job.  I don't mind working 12 or 16 hour days once or twice a week because I am able to see my kids for lunch, take them to school, or play in the park on some of the other days.  Unlike my college prof, however, I can be here two days in a row if I need to be, which allows me to have an active career and to prioritize tasks to be done on campus and those to be done from my office at home.

Perhaps tonight on my long trip home, which will include a walk, a subway, a train, and a drive, I'll continue to ponder how the travel, which once seemed insurmountable, helps me to have it all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Numbers aren't my thing

My colleagues and I have a vision for teacher education in NYC.  We want to prepare teachers who are ready to serve urban populations, who understand what it means to teach and learn in NYC classrooms.  Though we feel we have done an adequate job in the past, we know we could do better.  So this semester three of us are piloting a new program, one where we, the university faculty, accompany our students into real classrooms - where we all learn with real teachers who are working with real students.  This work is exciting, and it's also exhausting.  Coordinating with the school, recruiting teachers who are willing to have us visit their classrooms, collaborating with two other professors who are, in practice, teaching two different courses than I am - all of this work to achieve what, in theory and in hope, will be a better education of teachers, one that is interdisciplinary and based in the real world.

Luckily, I only have 13 students this semester to follow, to coach, and to assess.  I feel fortunate that this number is so small, particularly because the numbers for me to keep track of at home have increased beyond my expectations.

We decided to split our son and daughter into two different preschool classes.  Our reasoning had everything to do with them and nothing to do with us.  If I had thought about the effect separate classes would have on a twin mama... well, I wouldn't have reconsidered, but I would have better prepared myself for the start of school.

We received two class lists in August, one for "yellow" and one for "red."  I glanced at the names, looking for the few I recognized from last year.  For some reason it didn't hit me then.  It didn't hit me that there were 14 names on each page, 28 kids, each with two parents listed.  I started to realize that the numbers were not in my favor when I received an email from one of the moms on one of the lists.  I have no idea who sent the email, but I do remember she was organizing a park play date for the "red" class.  By the time I received the email, the class lists were "filed" somewhere on the growing mail pile, and I stared at the computer trying to recall which of my kids was in the "red" class.

I began to realize that splitting the kids was going to be harder than I had anticipated.  My mental math revealed that I would have to learn the routines of 2 classrooms, the personalities of 4 teachers, the names of 26 classmates, and the faces of 50 other parents (there's a set of twins in Megan's class, so I was spared the extra 2 parents).  For someone who has steered clear of numbers whenever possible, the stats are overwhelming.

My husband and I attended parent night and parent visitation, splitting the classrooms by gender, and this decision put me at an even greater disadvantage for my son's class during the parent tea, where I comfortably approached five or six parents I recognized from my daughter's "red" class.  As I looked around the room, I realized I recognized no one from the "yellow" class.  And I didn't have the energy to canvass tables searching for the potential 26 unknown moms or dads. 

The logistics of collecting the two of them in different classrooms also confused me for a bit.  The school is two stories, and I was not expecting the kids to be on different floors.  They are, and pick up is very structured.  Kids are released according to the parent line that waits outside the door and depending on their behavior in the closing circle. I realized quickly that I needed to be at the front of the "red" line in order to collect my daughter and scurry downstairs to collect my son in a timely manner.  I didn't make it the first day, and my son was playing quietly, alone, with his teachers downstairs.  The staff at the preschool is very supportive, and I'm sure my son did not think I had abandoned him, but I'm sure I added a few stress lines this week.

Fortunately, I have devised a plan, complete with labeled folders, for keeping track of everything.  Now if I can just figure out how to explain it to the various caregivers, school staff, and family members who will help me keep it all together so that I can attend to my 2 university teaching partners, 13 students, and unknown number of high school faculty who will help me accomplish an exciting adventure at work. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What a difference a day makes

I fully intended to write this week about going back to school, and particularly about the unanticipated complications of separating twins, but that will have to wait.  Today I need to describe what happened yesterday.

I am not consistent about carrying my cell phone to my bedroom, which I really need to do in case our babysitter calls out for the day.  If the phone is not by my bed, I won't get the message until my husband and/or I are ready to walk out the door to work.  Yesterday morning, my phone was on the nightstand.  This was, perhaps, the most fortuitous circumstance of my day.

Though I could weave an entertaining story about yesterday's events, in the interest of time (I have very little) and sanity (I have even less), I will let the story unfold through the events as they happened in real time.

Wednesday, the second day of the first week back at school

4:37AM    My brand new babysitter, who had spent the last few weeks learning the ropes and transitioning care from our former nanny so that my return to school would be seamless for the kids, sends me a text that says, "I'm not going to be able to come in today.  I'm sorry."

6:00AM    I wake up early, check the phone next to my bed to find the text from my sitter.  "Crap," I think. "It's the first week back at school."  My next thought is, "crap, I have cramps."  I whisper to my husband, still sleeping beside me, that the day is off to a great start.  Rather than taking another catnap until the kids wake up, I get out of bed and hit my computer, pounding out some work before I lose the rest of the day to unexpected child caring duties.

6:45AM    It dawns on me that the text is extremely vague and that I might need to find child care for Thursday and Friday, two days I must go into the city during this first week of classes.  Is she sick?  Was there a death in the family?  I text her to ask her to let me know, when she is able, what is wrong so I know whether to secure child care for upcoming days.  No response.

8:00AM   Begin morning routine of breakfast, etc.  Things run smoothly.  I call my mom to complain about losing my sitter during this first week of school.  I vent because she didn't give me a good reason.  Inside, I know something is majorly wrong because this nanny prided herself on never missing work, even when she was sick. 

8:30AM   I call chiropractor because daughter hasn't pooped in a week.  And because my back is hurting and I had to cancel my acupuncture appointment because my nanny called out without a good explanation.  I make appt. for 11:45

9:00AM  I turn on TV for kids while I finish some work.  They happily sit.  Daughter flits in and out of my office, but I manage to get some work done.

9:50AM  I take kids upstairs so I can change for gym workout.  I intend to leave by 10:15 so I can get a 45 minute workout before chiropractor appt.

10:22AM  I finally pull car out of driveway.

10:40AM   I get happily on the elliptical machine, after having dropped the kids in the gym day care. 

10:47AM  Gym babysitter appears on the floor in front of me.  "Your daughter had an accident."  I climb off the machine and change my kid's underwear and pants.

11:25AM   I check iPhone for email.  Invitation to speak at a conference in Indiana brightens my mood.

11:30AM   I leave gym for chiropractor.  Somehow I lose 5 minutes on the trip, and I arrive 5 minutes late.  Adjustment goes smoothly.  Back feels remarkably better.  Daughter leaves office smiling.

12:15PM   Kids buckled into seats.  I pick up phone to check for messages.  Still hoping to hear from sitter.  New email from sitter.  It says she is quitting and her last day is next Wednesday.  The message contains more information on why she needs to leave (her husband's promotion), but I can barely read it.  I'm trying not to hyperventilate in front of the kids.

12:17PM  Call husband.  I'm panicked.  He's cool.  We decide I will call him back after I get the kids home and feed them lunch.  I start driving, trying hard not to break down crying since I know from my NET therapy with chiropractor (http://www.doctorredmond.com/) that my reaction to the situation could give my kids neck pain when they are thirty-something.  I pull it together and take care of my kids.
 
1:30PM  Kids in bed for nap.  Husband and I make plan of action - he will call one of the other girls we interviewed for the position a few months ago.  Daughter decides not to take a nap.  She is showing signs of pooping. I give her juice and water.  She spends the rest of the afternoon and evening running to the potty and squirting enough in her undies to require a change (at least 6 pairs). I spend in-between times repeatedly calling my mom to try to catch her and find out her schedule for the upcoming weeks and cleaning/setting up for the volunteer meeting that I am hosting at 7:30PM, one that has been planned for months.

3:15PM  Daughter waddles around room, and I take her to potty.  She sits on potty, passing a monster poop.  In the process, she arches up and shoots pee all over me.  I think that it is a fitting addition to this dreadful day.  I clean up mess on potty while she dances in the bathroom begging me to call Dr. Jenn and tell  her that she pooped.  I text the Dr. and change my clothes, putting my soiled ones in the Oxyclean bucket with all of my daughter's underwear.  I make a mental note to run a "personal stains" cycle on my wash tonight.

6:00PM  We have secured grandparents to cover the days I absolutely cannot stay home in the next few weeks.  Husband worries because girl has not returned his phone call.  He calls again.  He emails.

6:45PM  I realize I am in sweat shorts and crabby t-shirt and go to change for the volunteer meeting.  I help husband get kids in bed.

7:30PM  Volunteers begin to arrive for meeting.  Nanny girl calls husband back, and he has good conversation.  He begins calling references.

9:00PM  References have all given positive reviews.  Husband pokes head into volunteer meeting, and I tell him we will talk later.

10:00PM  Volunteers have departed, and I talk to husband.  We agree to hire nanny girl.  I head back downstairs to clean up from volunteer meeting.

10:40PM  I head to bed, ready for my alarm to ring at 5AM to head to the city for my first day of classes.  Crises seemingly averted.

-

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Silence and Sanity

The kids are at "school camp" this week, and yesterday they ate lunch at camp so I had a full 3.5 hours to work in the beautiful silence of my house.  This time was particularly fortunate because I have a deadline on Saturday.  Unfortunately, the writing is not going well.  I'm resisting revision, tired of reading additional literature that is required to meet the editorial demands put upon me, and I'm stumped by how I will rework what I already think is a well-crafted piece to make the editors happy.

I realize that part of my problem is the internal pressure I put upon myself to "wow" the audience, to please the editors, and to make my writing the best it can be before anyone else sees it.  This self-knowledge, however, did not help me yesterday as I faced my computer screen and tried, once again, to finish this project.

With my head hurting, I decided to take a break before I even started.  The DVR has been collecting shows for me for the last two weeks so I selected one of the guilty pleasures and settled in on the couch.  I noted the daylight streaming through the windows and marveled at the idea of watching one of my shows, as compared to, say, Word World or Thomas the Tank, during the day.  When I get the chance to sit in front of the TV - IF I get the chance - it's always well after the kids have gone to bed.  It felt odd yesterday to be sitting in the sunlight watching my TV.  It felt good.

So I allowed myself the 40 minutes (gotta love fast fowarding through commercials) to watch the show and to have a snack, and then I went back to my computer.  I stared at the article on the screen.  My head hurt again.  I decided to take a nap.

I lay down on my bed and cuddled into my pillow, willing the headache to dissipate, feeling guilty about thinking about taking a nap during these precious quiet hours.  I rolled off the bed and willed my feet to move me back to my computer.  An hour later I had uncovered additional research to help me frame my argument.  I had started reading it.  I had taken notes.  And then the kids came in the door from camp, breaking the silent reverie.

Of course, I had to play with them, talk to them about their morning at camp, and procrastinate my work even longer. I continued with my research while the kids took their nap, quiet restored to the house. I found the perfect article to help me revise my piece and meet my editors' demands, and I tried to read it until the headache pierced my left eye.  I used my daughter, who has been waking from her nap with difficulty, as an excuse, and I crawled into her bed with the intention of taking a half an hour to lull her out of sleep.  I spent 20 minutes of the time in dreamland beside her.

Understanding that I needed the quiet to work, my sitter took the kids to the park after nap.  The house was silent.  I had ample time to finish reading the article, and the headache had dissipated some from my catnap.  I sat on the couch, highlighter in hand, article spread across my lap.  And then I looked up at the TV with the sunlight streaming through the window above, and I couldn't resist the remote.

I spent the rest of the quiet time indulging my sanity and watching trash television, and it was just the therapy I needed.  I figure that I write better under pressure anyway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's just not fair

My son just left my arms, wailing.  He's wailing because life isn't fair, though he didn't use that phrase... yet.  Life isn't fair for my little boy tonight because I said, "No.  I'm sorry but you cannot have apple juice."  Of course, the only reason he asked for apple juice right before bedtime is because he saw that his twin sister had a jug of it - literally, a jug.


WARNING: GRAPHIC, EXCREMENT-RELATED CONTENT TO COME

My son has never had a problem pooping.  From his infancy through his toddler hood, we could count on at least two poopy diapers every day.  And when I say "poopy", I mean completely, utterly, and disgustingly messy and smelly.  He has never shied from eating veggies and fruits, and he drinks - oh my goodness does he drink - every ounce of liquid we put in front of him.  His poop flows regularly.

On the other hand, my daughter has the opposite problem.  Probably because she refuses all green veggies and rarely finishes her cup of juice/water/etc., she struggles to be regular.  There have been times when she hasn't had a BM in a week (or more).  During one particularly dry spell last winter, we tried every remedy her doctor, my acupuncturist, and my friends suggested.  Just as I was about to use my finger (the last resort recommended by her doctor) to unleash her stool, she decided that she really did like apple-prune juice if she could drink it through a straw directly out of the plastic container.  With diligence on the part of all her caregivers, we helped her through her block, and since then, she has had an easier time pooping.

As you  might imagine, having twins with opposite poop problems poses challenges.  In order to keep my daughter regular, juice is part of the diet.  In order to keep my son from blowing out every day, we must limit severely his juice intake.  We get creative, watering down his juice, giving hers in an opaque cup, and we keep track in the daily "kid care" log that helps the transition between sitter and parents,  marking off when each child has a "BM".  I don't even bother to look at the box in my son's column.  I know it will be checked.  But I keep track of my daughter, and I stay diligent about the juice in her diet.

My sitter knows that I don't like the kids to have more than one cup of juice per day.  I learned from nearly every parenting magazine I have ever read that this is the "mother-of-the-year" limit on juice, and since I know I'm failing in other categories, I try to achieve high marks in this one.  Because of my daughter's recurring problem, we keep apple juice stocked in the house.  However, it's not an every day treat.  In fact, both I and my sitter often forget about it -- until my sweet girl starts grunting.

Now that we are potty training, her constipation has become a real pain in the butt (literally for her and figuratively for us).  This past week she has passed several small stools in several short intervals.  She's great about asking to go "poop on the potty," but as I hold her on the big potty and watch the turtle head hang in oblivion, I cringe.  Now she's taken to asking me to "help get it out."  Lovely.

After two days of pulling turtle heads out of my daughter's butt and crying inside as she grunted in pain, I started the apple juice regimen.  "She needs to have a least a cup a day until we get her regular," I told my sitter.  My daughter knows that the juice helps her "tummy feel better," so she will ask for it when she's feeling poopy.

Tonight she looked at me and said, "My tummy hurts.  Can I have some juice?"  I obliged, and since she had accidentally dumped the entire cup I had given her earlier in the day, I decided to double up on the serving.  I found a kid-sized jug , filled it, and sent her off to drink her apple a day.

Not surprisingly, my son showed up on my lap asking for apple juice.  Unfortunately for him, he had already devoured 2 cups of orange juice AND a cup of apple juice today.  In no way did he need a cup of medicinal apple juice. In order to try to keep my "mom-of-the-year" status in the juice category, I couldn't say yes.  In order to avoid the third disaster-poop of the day, right before bedtime, I HAD to say no.

As he wailed and watched his sister marching past with her now nearly empty jug of apple juice, I explained that life doesn't always seem fair.  I'm sure he heard me - right before he threw himself off my lap and wailed into the next room.

And now, as the gods have dictated, I am being called by my daughter who has "a poopy in my pants."  I can tell it's a big one, rivaling her brother's in smell and consistency.  Apparently the apple juice worked.  And my husband is still at work, so I'm on diaper changing duty in addition to being the "life is not fair" dictator.  Sometimes, life just seems too ironic to be fair.  But at least my little girl is regular again.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mom Gene

I love my children.  I have no doubt that they love me, that they need me, that I give them the warm embrace of a caring mother.  I want to spend time with them.  I miss them when we are apart.  Despite all of this excellent mothering I do, however, I do not possess the mom gene.

Though this is something I have suspected for quite some time, perhaps from age 11 when our baby golden retriever threw up on my lap on the car ride home from the breeder, I knew for sure when I was having drinks with an old friend recently.  We were talking about kids (other people's kids), and I shared an anecdote about a friend's baby, who was 3 months old at the time.  I visited this friend, and she gave me the baby to hold.  As I held him, I knew.  I knew that I did not want to have any more children.  I knew that, despite having reared two infants successfully into toddlerhood, I would never feel comfortable holding a baby.  I would never coo and ahh like women are supposed to do.  I simply don't have the gene that sparks warm fuzzies when babies are near, the gene that makes me know automatically how to soothe, how to connect, how to relate to any child.

As I shared my story about holding this baby with my friend, she proclaimed, "So you don't have the mom gene either?!?!" I knew in that moment that she was right.  I have two beautiful children that I adore, but I don't have the mom gene.

Luckily, since I do have two children that need to be mothered, I have other genes that make up for my deficiency.  I am efficient, and perhaps it was this gene that enabled me to conceive b/g twins, getting our perfectly balanced family with one pregnancy (which I hated) and one stage of infancy (which I hated nearly as much).  I am good at compartmentalizing, which helps me to keep my stressful professional life away, for the most part, from my mothering duties.  And speaking of duties, I have a nice dose of a guilt gene that keeps me focused on the things that should be done, even when my mothering conflicts with my personal desires for freedom and quiet relaxation.

When I think hard about it, the qualities that make up for being "not-a-naturally-born-mom" are those that have led me to never question, never doubt, never waver from the path of career woman.  And that makes me wonder whether the mom gene is in conflict with the professional desires I face.  Perhaps all career women have a mom gene; but perhaps we feel we need to keep it in check.  Or perhaps, as my friend and I assumed, it really is possible not to have it at all.

As I ponder this question, I will continue to be the best mom I can be to my kids.  I will make them smile, soothe their hurts, and do my best to do the same for my friends' kids.  I will work hard at these tasks because I don't have a mom gene - or it's so far buried that I don't recognize it.  But being the over-achiever I am, I'm sure I can succeed without it.  And I'm sure I'm not the first mom to have done so.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Glue that Holds it Together

I'm cranky.  I'm cranky because I'm tired.   I'm tired because I haven't stopped moving and/or thinking in over a month.  Every time I think I'm going to be able to slow down, something else gets dropped on my plate - a stack of graduation folders, a broken dishwasher, an email that needs to be answered.  I was so beat the other day that I was going to sneak a twenty-minute nap while the kids ate lunch with the babysitter.  I handed them off to her as she parked her car on the street and I emptied our car of their backpacks and papers from school.  Before I made it into the house, my son ran the toy stroller into my daughter, who face-planted on the pavers. I spent the twenty minutes playing Dr. Mama, worrying that my mediocre skill with steri-strips would leave my baby permanently scarred and wondering if I should rush her to a real doctor.

Today I had intended to go to the gym, or at least to go for a walk.  I haven't been able to fit it in this past month, and I think the lack of exercise is contributing to my foul mood.  My husband, as he does every weekend, set himself up in his basement gym; I got stuck cleaning the garage alone - unless, of course, you count the helping hands of my 2-year-old son, who my DH dropped in my care. 

There have been many times in the last month that I have wanted to sit and write a blog entry.  Like the day I came home from a long day at work at 10:00 at night and sat on the couch with my "dinner snack" to the sound of crunching, plastic Easter eggs.  "Am I the only one who sees this mess?" I thought.  I had a lot to write about that topic...

And then there was the Wednesday of "hell week", the week I had three professional development workshops plus my classes to plan.  I thought I had made it to hump day, only to find a stack of folders for graduation review in my mailbox at work.  I really wanted to rant about the to-do list that is ever growing in my professional life.

Of course, there was also the day my husband emailed me to tell me the dishwasher was broken.  Or rather, it was the next day, when my babysitter asked me what we had decided to do about the dishwasher as soon as she walked in the door.  Since I hadn't gotten home until after 10PM the night before and my husband was already groggy in bed, we hadn't really had time to resolve the issue, and I didn't have the patience to explain the craziness of our lives to her.  I didn't have the guts to tell her that I had broken down at the breakfast table that morning, crying out of sheer frustration and exhaustion. 

I've been struggling to hold it together lately.  My administrative workload has been increasing steadily, our home has been under construction with endless tasks for us at night and on the weekend, and my son has entered the "why" stage.  He has been testing me, rejecting me, and screaming at both my husband and me.  I'm trying to toe the line, to keep consistent with my discipline, and not to take it personally.  And it's hard.  It's exhausting.  And I'm walking like a zombie, a shell that houses a mother, professor, wife, and all the other selves I am.

The stress has taken it's toll.  I've been fighting pain in my knee, my hip, my shoulder, and my neck for weeks.  I knew that a trip to my chiropractor would help, but I hadn't been able to find the time to make an appointment.  When my fingers started going numb the other day, I figured I had to make the time. While I was on the table, Dr. Jenn told me that she has seen 80 year old women with better spines than mine.  She said, "It's like someone poured Elmer's glue all along you just to hold you together."

Well, that about sums it up.  At least now I know what has been keeping me in one piece - and now I know why my daughter's bottle of glue is nearly empty.  I thought it was just because she loves to glue cotton balls to construction paper, but I guess my sweet girl is really the one who is holding me together!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twins, the way to do it

I have a friend who “is absolutely convinced that if you're going to have two kids, twins is the way to do it.” I laughed out loud, literally, at her comment, posted on Facebook, and I continued to smile for days afterward as the discussion unfolded among her Facebook friends.

The funny thing is --- I agree with her wholeheartedly. But for different reasons.

She has two girls, ages 4 and 2, and she is frustrated at juggling the activities of two of disparate ages. I agree that her inability to find “a soccer/gymnastics/ballet/swimming/riding class that is appropriate for a 2 and 4 yr old AT THE SAME TIME, IN THE SAME PLACE; Perler beads that are both challenging for a 4 yr old and not a choking hazard for a toddler; a school schedule that involves fewer than 4 daily round trips… and a good therapist and masseuse” makes life incredibly taxing for a mom of non-twins. I certainly appreciate that I can drop my own children at one preschool and register for one gymnastics class. And it’s nice that I can buy arts and crafts of the same level.

But that, of course, is in theory. Not in execution.

I’ve already blogged about the tensions created when one twin is sick and the other is healthy enough to go to school. But there are other school issues that weigh on me in ways that might make four trips to two preschools worth my while. By far the most difficult school-related issue (so far, anyway) is the decision I need to make about separating them in their classes. For a non-twin parent, this decision might seem trivial.

“Does it really matter?”

“Why wouldn’t you separate them?”

“Well, of course you wouldn’t separate them yet…”

These comments, all from well-meaning friends and relatives, get at the heart of the matter. It’s a very difficult decision, one that centers on parenting independently confident individuals who have unique identities, both to themselves and to others. I worry about this a lot.

MOMs of same-sex twins tell me I have it easy because my children are of different genders (B/G in twin-mom language). When I watch my children, who have rarely been separated, interact, I wonder. I see my daughter follow her more dominant brother. I watch her give in to him time and again. I see how she tempers his passion. I notice how she calms him and comforts him in ways others cannot.

And I hear both of them, whenever separated, ask where the other one is.

From their conception, they have been one unit. Caring for them in the first two years required that we tackle problems as a unit. It’s difficult for even my husband or me to separate them. It’s virtually impossible for anyone outside the family to do so. Others refer to them as “the twins.” We feel like something is missing if we attempt a solo outing.

So I wonder how we are doing at shaping individuals with their own identities. And school is highlighting this worry. I need to decide whether to split them into two classes next year or wait until they are older. Part of my indecision has revolved around my own needs; it would certainly be easier on me to deal with one teacher, one classroom party, one parent group, one set of classmates. The other part of my indecision has, of course, focused on what my son and daughter need. Can she survive without his lead? Will he behave without her beside him? Is this the time to push them to independence from each other?

Not all of these questions remain answered for me, but next fall I will begin to figure it out. In evaluating my selfish part of the indecision, I realized that if I want others to see them as individuals, I have to make that leap too. By dealing with two teachers, two classrooms, and two sets of friends, I will be forced to talk to each of them separately – and they will need to rely more on themselves and less on each other. So next year, we will separate them, and even though I will only have to make one trip to one preschool, I will have the dual-child burden of different classrooms.

Activities pose another problem to twin parents. Yes, I can sign my kids up for the same swimming or gymnastics lessons for toddlers. In both cases, however, I need two adults to attend because of the safety issues. Trying to organize coverage, from babysitter to grandparents to crazy working parents, might not require multiple trips, but it does require enormous effort.

And just because my kids are the same age doesn’t mean they have the same interests or activities. After watching my daughter flit around the room to classical music and mimic me as I returned to my days of ballet, I know that she will take ballet classes. Upon seeing my son change the tunes and bop to hip hop, I’m thinking he will want a different kind of class. Co-ed sports don’t last past age 6 anymore, I’m told, so even if they play similar sports, the teams, and schedules, will be different.

Even when we play at home – my daughter loves to play with play dough, paints, and markers. My son loves trains. My son will sit for hours and watch Thomas. My daughter won’t even give it a minute. I rarely, RARELY have days where both kids do the same thing at the same time in the same place. And I don’t have the luxury of leaving the older one to entertain herself while I play with the younger. They both want Mama all the time.

I tried to express this struggle I face on a daily basis to my friend – the “I want Mama now and you can’t have her” fight that occurs in music class, on the couch, at the dinner table. After all, I’ve never seen her 2-year-old and 4-year-old fighting to sit on her lap at music class. She assures me that they have the same fights. I wonder if it’s a constant in her house like it is in mine.

I haven’t had the chance to sit and talk with her yet, but I’m sure when we do, we will discover that twin-moms and non-twin moms have it equally tough. Perhaps it’s more about being a mom than about the ages of the kids, however.

When we do sit down to chat over coffee – which might happen when all of our kids head off to college and the two of us actually have some time to ourselves – I will tell her that I agree with her statement “that if you're going to have two kids, twins is the way to do it.” I relish in the differences of my kids, the interactions they have, the ability to see the individual natures of two children who were conceived, birthed, and reared together. I’m ecstatic that I only had to endure one pregnancy and infancy stage! Most of all, I love the challenges that twin-life brings, and I can’t imagine having the life of a singleton parent.

So when we have that cup of coffee in 16 years, I will tell her I agree with her – but for different reasons – and I’ll remind her that she had two years additional to save for that second college fund. In the meantime, I’m going to send her a message with the name of my acupuncturist and massage therapist.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Twin Dilemmas

It's not that cold today.  I dressed both kids in their lighter-weight winter jackets.  I didn't have them wear hats.  I almost didn't wear a coat myself.  Almost.  The weather is decidedly different than it has been these last few frigid weeks.  Perhaps that is why I felt a tad guilty when I sat down in the driver's seat, my kids safely strapped behind me, and reached to turn on the heated seat. 

I was cold, as I am apt to be, and the cool leather radiated through my jeans.  I reached for the heated seat, but my hand stopped mid-air as I thought of my little girl happily singing behind me.  She has the same circulatory system that I do; her extremities are always cold.  How could I justify turning on my "hot-ass" (my husband's term for the heated leather) when I hadn't even bundled her in her warmest jacket?

Then I remembered that she had, only moments before, been happily lying on the blacktop making a "snow angel."  Without a snowflake in sight, she thought it was fun to spread arms and legs in tandem on the hard macadam while I secured her brother in his car seat.

The scene unfolded in the parking lot after music class.  We have been attending music class since my kids were five weeks old, and the routine has changed dramatically in the last two and a half years.  When they were tiny babies, it was difficult for me to make the trek by myself.  The music studio was on the second floor of a building without an elevator.  Unloading them from the car and maneuvering the stroller the two blocks from the parking deck to the studio were difficult tasks for a mama recovering from a c-section.  Carrying twin carriers upstairs was impossible.  Since leaving one on the street while I carried the other to the classroom was not an option (though it crossed my mind, as I'm sure it has every twin mom's at some point), I quickly recruited help for the weekly outings.  Grandparents were more than willing to accompany us, and the tradition continued for quite some time.  Now, however, it is much easier to accomplish music class alone.  Since the kids can walk, I have no problem maneuvering...  yep, no problem at all.

Last night I attended a meeting of a Mothers of Multiples (MOM group).  I overhead one MOM of younger twins asking a veteran MOM how she could get both babies out of the car and into her home/a store/the doctor/etc.  Her daughters refused to sit in a stroller, and she did not think it was possible to carry both of them in her arms at the same time.  She asked if it was okay to leave one in the car while she took the other inside and then reverse the trip.  Another MOM answered her by telling the story of a woman who was recently arrested for leaving her kids in a parked car while it was still running so she could drop a bag at the door of the Salvation Army, a few yards away. 

Next idea?

As a veteran twin mom, meaning my twins are older than 2, I had to smile when the advice given to the newer MOM was to "haul them up under each of your arms."  The MOM giving this advice mimicked a football player in her stance as she demonstrated how she herself had handled the dilemma.  I smiled because I had done the same thing.

Transporting twins from the car poses new dilemmas with each stage.  When they are tiny in their baby carriers, which shift easily from car to stroller, most twin moms are fighting the pain of the c-section.  At this stage of life, the babies are light enough, however, that carrying both bassinets is doable when a stroller is not an option.  For instance, going from the house to the car is easy when you can do it in one trip and not worry about leaving a baby alone for any amount of time.

Of course, babies grow.  Quickly.  So by the time a MOM has recovered enough from the c-section to avoid outwardly wincing, it gets more difficult to carry both babies in their car carriers at the same time.  I was convinced that I was going to pull my shoulders out of my sockets, and I'm sure my chiropractor has still not fixed the damage I did when my twins were between 3 and 6 months. 

Twin car seats pose another problem inside the car, particularly for a twin dad.  It is impossible for twin parents to follow safety guidelines and attach a single car seat in the middle of the backseat.  In fact, it is less safe to put one car seat in the middle and one on the outside.  Thus, a car seat must be placed on each side of the car.  The design of backward facing infant car seats, the ones that make life easier by sharing a bassinet with a stroller, limits the range of motion of the seat in front of it.  For a tall driver, like my husband, it makes for uncomfortably long trips perched atop the steering wheel.  Thus, at the first possible moment, we ditched the car carriers and switched to convertible seats.  (Note:  When backward facing, the convertible seats allow for approximately 1-2 inches more movement.  This is not quite enough to get a tall driver off the steering wheel.  We dressed our daughter in multiple layers, despite the heat of August, on her first birthday so that she would hit the required weight and we could turn her seat around.)

Without the bassinet carriers and with twins who could not walk, there was no option except for me to carry them both when I could not use a stroller.  So I know the football stance well, and I sympathized with the MOM who was facing this dilemma.  What I wanted to tell her, and didn't, was that it gets easier --- but more complicated --- when they walk.

When my kids started walking, people joked with me that they were probably going in two directions all the time.  I laughed, amused at the joke, because in fact, they were not doing it all the time.  Most of the time it was quite easy to keep tabs on the two of them.  The one exception, however, was when we were in a parking lot or someplace equally dangerous.  It seemed that every time I needed them to stay together, one got away ---- and as they grew, they gained speed and agility.

After experimenting with different techniques, like allowing my son to climb around the inside of the car while I strapped in my daughter, we developed routines that worked, most of the time.  Without question when I take the kids alone, my daughter gets unstrapped first and strapped last.  She is much more tractable and easier to contain.  Usually I squish her between my legs and the car while I buckle my son.  Today I was a little more lenient, and I lifted my son into his seat before I had her pinned appropriately.  She took the opportunity to make a snow angel on the blacktop in the empty parking space next to the car.

As I contemplated the cold seeping into my body from the leather seat, I pictured my happy daughter on the asphalt.  She didn't seem to mind the cold then.  And her car seat had to be warmer than the ground, I rationalized.  So I hit the "hot-ass" and joined her in singing her tunes while we trekked home from music class, dilemma solved --- at least for today, anyway.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Kids are Smarter Because I Don't Stay at Home

I'm convinced my kids would be a little less smart if I stayed at home with them.  I know I would be.  Max and Ruby would drag me down, I'm sure of it.  Or maybe it would be the never-ending circuit from the "school room", where my daughter likes to color, to the "playroom", where my son likes to drive trains, that would mess with my mind.  When I'm home with the kids, I don't get a break.  While one plays quietly, the other demands my attention. They aren't quite ready to entertain each other while they play, so I'm the on call, go-to gal. 

Except, of course, when I build them a fort.

There is something about a blanket draped over a couch pillow that invites kids to drag every toy they own into the hideaway.  As kids, my brother and I, though five years apart in age, could play together for hours in a well-crafted fort.  When we were about five years old, my friend Abby and I moved all of my toys from my room into my closet in order to play camper.  Our unsuspecting fathers, who were babysitting together for the day, had no idea why it was "so quiet."  I'm pretty sure the cleanup they had to do that afternoon inspired Abby's dad to create a built-in fort in his own bedroom closet when they remodeled it.  If the toys were meant to stay there, he wouldn't need to clean them up at the end of the play date. 

I built forts with everyone as a kid.  My grandparents, my aunt, my babysitters, my parents - everyone at one point or another pulled pillows off the couch and allowed me to set up house.  My kids get it honestly, I guess.  They love forts.  Their forts, however, must be built to specifications that tire me quickly.  We need to use the "downstairs" blankets.  If we are building one upstairs, we need to use the ironing board for maximum space and structural support.  Above all, we need to move every single truck my son owns into the fort.  Oh, and of course, I am "too big" to enter the fort.  What fun is that?

I am writing this while my daughter sits in front of the TV.  I resorted to Max and Ruby, her new favorite show - the only show that will keep her attention for more than 6 minutes - because she didn't nap today.  My husband is out this afternoon, enjoying some much needed guy time at the poker table, and I was looking forward to a few hours to work on my syllabus and my lesson plans for this week.  I tried all of the tricks we use to get my daughter to nap.  She refused.  So while my son naps quietly upstairs, she is currently sitting on the couch, not being intellectually stimulated by interaction with her worn-out mom.  She's engrossed in Max and Ruby, a show that will probably not make her smarter.

But I needed the downtime so the TV won.  It's been a tiring few weeks.  I haven't written a blog post in two months.  Since my last post in November, I've finished the fall semester, hosted Christmas, faced looming deadlines, including the start of the spring semester this week with two new courses and the February deadline for my reappointment package.  Despite the chaos of the last two months, I was feeling rather balanced - until last week.

I had been writing a book chapter for a Friday deadline, working the draft for over two weeks.  My schedule for writing was set by pre-existing doctor's appointments, emergency doctor's appointments, preschool registration, the basement renovation - basically, life limited my time.  With a week left to go, I had my days planned by draft number.  By the middle of the week, I coached my babysitter to write the grocery list and asked her to take the kids to the store so I could avoid the banging and cries for "Mama" as they stood at my office door.  I was running out of time, and we were completely out of food.

On Wednesday night, the sitter called.

"I just wanted to let you know I'm throwing up," she said.  Her words not so subtly informed me she would not be working the next day.  My mind quickly sifted through the images that Thursday would hold without the sitter.  I could see my son sitting quietly in front of the Thomas movie, but there was my daughter skipping into my office, trying to write on my paper.  I flipped forward to naptime and knew that Murphy's Law would mean at least one of them would be awake and in need of entertaining.  I turned to my husband.

"I HAVE to write tomorrow.  I have a deadline."

I have to give my guy credit.  He came home after his morning appointments to help, and I was able to salvage a few hours of writing on Thursday.  When the sitter called Thursday night to say she wasn't better...

Well, let's just say chaos ensued.

In the end, my MIL did the grocery shopping, and I was able to get my chapter submitted by the deadline.  My deadline today isn't making me as manic, and I'm about to sign off because my little girl just came in to tell me she needs help with her computer.  I'm not sure what this means, exactly, but it's time to provide some intellectual stimulation for the next generation.  Or maybe we'll just build a fort.