Friday, February 24, 2012

Big Twin Decision Made

As charged as I was when I wrote my last post, this one will seem rather banal to some.  I'm okay with that because this blog is about balancing the many sides of twinlife - mom, working woman, and me!

Yesterday we registered the kids for kindergarten.  We have been evaluating the big question - to separate or not to separate - for several months.  Our decision is based on our kids' history, our experience in separate classrooms, our experience in same classrooms, our kids' feelings, conversations with their current teachers and their future principal, and all of my reading on the subject. 

I can summarize the reading easily - the answer to separate depends on the situation, and ultimately, no decision will permanently impact your children.

Despite the expert advice and the assurances that we will not ruin our children's lives with this one decision, the choice is not easy.  We had always assumed that we would separate them in kindergarten.  We want to see our kids as individuals, not as a pair, and we felt that keeping them in the same class increased the likelihood that everyone - teachers, friends, friends' parents, and us - would see them as "twins," rather than as M and R.

We separated them for their first year in preschool to help develop their independence.  The split worked well, with neither child missing the other.  For 7.5 hours per week, they enjoyed their isolation from each other, from twinworld.  The separation caused anxiety for me as a twinmom, which I wrote about at the time, and managing connections with 26 families (two classes of 14 kids each), some of whom knew the twin connection and most of whom did not, proved to be time consuming and challenging.  Managing different homework, different experiences, and different birthday party invites for two children of the same age added to the burden for me as a twinmom.

These challenges are certainly ones that parents of different-aged singletons face.  However, singleton parents have a chance to adjust to school before being hit with the second wave of families, homework, and overall kid management.  Twin parents are smacked in the face with everything at once - learning to "do school", developing a parent network, and developing standards of "equality" and "fairness" when life is clearly neither.  And for these reasons, a single class is much easier to manage, at least until the family has adapted.

I know that it is easier because the kids are in the same class this year.  We only had one option with an extended day at the preschool, so we, somewhat hesitantly, put them together this year.  The shift has been amazing in terms of family management, and, more importantly, it hasn't negatively affected the kids.  They do not cling to each other, and, in fact, according to their teachers, they rarely interact in the classroom. 

Their success in the same classroom this year threw a wrench into our established plan.  Evaluating the shift to a new, much bigger school next year, where none of their preschool friends will attend, has caused us to look more deeply at our children's needs.  Separation for over 6 hours per day, the shift to a new school where they do not have established friends, a history of anxiety with our daughter, and the timing of these changes with my tenure year -- though we think we could separate them, we have decided to keep them together for one year, to make the transition to public school easier on them and on our family.  The principal of their elementary school agrees with this path. 

Yesterday we made this decision official by writing it on the forms for the school.  Then my children made me proud by answering all of the questions that the teacher asked them, including telling her their phone number.  Of course, being children of today, they need to know more than one phone number - Mama's cell, Daddy's cell, and the house phone (which we never answer).  When the teacher asked my son to say his phone number, he looked quizzically at her.  I said, "Mama's number," to which he quickly replied, singing the number to the tune of Jingle Bells, just like his Granna had taught him.

Ironically, just behind us in the registration line was another set of B/G twins.  Their parents have decided to separate them next year.  When they told us their decision, my mind immediately questioned our own.  Should we separate them?  Would it be better for them to learn independent from each other?  Will my son dominate my daughter in the classroom?  But then I remembered all that we had considered - and that this one year will not impact them permanently.  So I wrote on the form "keep twins together."  Big decision made.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Advocacy and the Liberal Mom

Today's agenda included writing - I am supposed to submit the work I've been doing on a book proposal to an editor by the end of the day.  However, I have been reading articles recently that have collected and simmered in the back of my mind.  A conversation last night, coupled with this image today, has shifted my writing priority.  

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the status of women in the United States.  Though I will admit that most of my information comes from articles posted by my Facebook friends, most of whom share my political views, what I have read indicates a trend toward regulation of women's bodies and choices, effectively a trend toward dehumanizing women - a real step backward in the fight for equal rights and equal opportunity.  Two recent issues that have suggested this downward move in the status of women are the Personhood Laws  of Virgina and Oklahoma and the Ultrasound Law in Virginia.  My goal here is not to critique these political movements, but rather to share them as part of a public discourse that centers on issues of gender.  An article posted by Daily Mail (and confirmed in another article in the NY Times) suggests that a contender for President of the United States believes that President Obama's "health care overhaul encourages abortions [because] insurance companies are required to pay for prenatal testing."  This candidate's argument hinges on the claim that prenatal testing leads to increased D&C procedures.  I cannot comment on the legitimacy of this claim; I can see, however, that it completely negates the women who need or want the prenatal tests.  By taking away insurance coverage of these sometimes needed and often helpful tests, many women lose access to important care.  This stance, along with the political debates about personhood and required ultrasounds, do not put women's health and well being at the forefront.  We are reduced to secondary status.

These issues of gender equality are certainly connected to issues of gay and lesbian equality.  An Indiana lawmaker has made this clear in his views of the Girls Scouts, which, he is quoted as saying, "has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values."  He criticizes the girl scouts as a "'radical organization' that supports abortion and supports the 'homosexual lifestyle.'" He does not agree that the organization has a "strong positive influence... on the American woman." What is a strong, positive influence on the American woman?  Is it a return to an era where women did not garner equal protection, equal pay, or equal status?  Is a strong woman one who cannot make her own decisions?

This past week the governor of NJ vetoed a same-sex marriage bill, instead suggesting that such a sensitive issue should be decided by voters on a ballot question.  I sadly added his name to the growing list of lawmakers who have not stood up for equality.  I want him to voice publicly that all individuals have a right to the same support, care, and happiness.  I want all lawmakers to realize that women are also individuals who have these same rights.

Last night I conversed with the ladies of the L.M. crew (liberal mom).  I'm nicknaming us L.M. because our conversation determined that we certainly defy traditional standards in our homes and marriages.  All of us acknowledged that our husbands accepted our L.M. view - and we loved them for it.  Our conversation made me appreciate even more the model that my parents gave me and my brother.  From the balance of home and work to the assignment of chores (which were age-appropriate rather than gender appropriate), my parents assured me that I, as a female, was important, special, and equal.  

Gender equality is something I have always taken for granted.  I have been fortunate not to fight gender discrimination openly in the workforce.  My mom's generation worked hard to fight that battle.  I have never felt slighted socially or academically because of my gender.  But recently, I notice that being a woman is, indeed, different.  From blogs that I discussed in an earlier post to laws that are being passed, I feel as though society is trying to put me in my place, to take away my ability to make decisions that are right for me and my family.  I fear that this kind of discrimination will go unnoticed, lying insidiously below the surface of more open debates about gay and lesbian rights. All of these conversations must voice the inherent inequality in legislation that is passed, or not passed, that limits the rights of breathing, thinking humans.

I recently attended a conference that focused on advocacy in education.  In one of the sessions, the facilitators asked us to write about a time when we were engaged in advocacy work.  I thought hard about the work I have done as a teacher.  I encouraged my high school students to hear the voices of "others," and to listen to voices that are not always heard.  In my graduate classes I ask students to enact change in their schools and communities.  Despite my positioning as an advocate, I questioned whether I had truly done advocacy work.  As a student of history, I know the advocacy work of my parents' generation - the amount of sacrifice that it took to change society.  I marvel at the bravery of advocates such as the Freedom Riders and question whether I have that kind of grit inside of me.  I also know that despite the gains of the Boomer generation, there is much more work to be done and that prejudice still exists on many levels.  I wonder how I can become a stronger advocate.  I'm starting today with this blog post.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mommy Guilt and Neuroplasticity

A friend sent me a link to the latest Momastery post at Huffington Post this morning.  As I read it, I couldn't help but make a connection to my neuroplasticity and mom-brain theory.  It takes a while for humans to re-wire our brains.  For moms who are transitioning in life - the birth of a child (or two) and returning to work; leaving the workforce to stay at home; going back to the workforce after working at home - the adaptation period opens the doors to guilt. 

For the record, I believe the debate that Momastery writes about, like many debates where individuals come from different life perspectives, is ridiculous.  Each woman (family) needs to choose what is right for her (their) situation.  No judgment from others needed or tolerated.  What would be nice, instead of the "friendly fire" that Momastery describes, is an understanding that all moms go through transitions and that adapting to those transitions takes time.  Support through the change, rather than judgment about the decisions that sparked the change, would be the appropriate course.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Neuroplasticity and My Twinmom Brain

One of my followers commented once that she was exhausted after reading my post. My schedule overwhelmed her. She, like many of my friends, wondered how I do it. My answer to that question, "How do you do it," has always been "with a lot of help." I have parents who will drop everything to help, colleagues who understand the life of a non-tenured faculty member, and a babysitter that keeps my kitchen sink clear and my kids' clothes clean - and folded neatly in the drawers I have labeled with my label maker.

Organization also plays a role, and though some of my coworkers give me a hard time about planning ahead, planning ahead and keeping my options open (my mom's consistent advice to me growing up) has served me well in this balancing act I perform.

So until today, I assumed the answer to the "how do you do it" question was in asking for and accepting help and in organization. Today I learned that another factor might also be at play. My brain might have adapted to this crazy life I lead.

A few of my colleagues and I have decided to start a book club in order to push our thinking about teaching and learning in the contemporary world. Our current selection, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, deals with the human brain, its malleability and the effect of the Internet on its functioning. Carr introduced me to the concept of Neuroplasticity, a relatively new understanding in the world of brain. Neuroplasticity suggests that the human brain is flexible and that neurons are not solidified in their connections during childhood. In fact, neurons can be re-wired in adulthood according to daily functioning and experience. (This is my layman explanation and understanding of a very technical concept that I've only read about in this one book. Please be kind in your feedback.)

My first aha moment came as I read: No wonder it is difficult for moms to re-enter the workforce after taking time away to rear their children. Not only do they need to catch up on the 5 to 20 years of growth in the field, which is exponential in today's society, but they also need to re-wire their brains, which have literally adjusted to the routines of working in the home.

My second aha moment came during a conversation with an expecting twin mom. This mom has an older child, and she will be adding twinfants to a family that has already established norms for child rearing. I cannot offer advice to twinmoms in this situation because my only experience is twin experience. As I've said to many, we simply didn't know anything different. I do not know whether it is easier or harder if you have twinfants after you have had a singleton experience. What I think I've come to understand today, however, is that when my children were born, my routine changed. That change in daily stimuli started a process of re-wiring in my brain. I have adapted.

So, my new addition to the "organization and lots of help" response is that my brain is now wired to manage it. And, in fact, I'm pretty sure I'd have no idea how to manage the life of a work at home mom. But eventually, my brain would figure it out.