Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Mothering Is Like Taking Care Of a Cyber Pet. (Not Really)

   My interet browser has a "gadget" that is a virtual hamster in a virtual "cage". Inside the cage is a water bottle and a wheel, along with Hammy, of course. I've chosen to locate this bit of cyber square footage in the upper corner of my browser's homepage. The better for me to see it. Did I mention that it's interactive? Oh yes, indeed it is. This simple little "gadget", this non-essesential add-on to enhance my web-surfing experience (which I only added because it looked cute at the time) has become yet another responsibility for me. Look back at the items in his cage. Do you see 'food bowl' there? No. His programmers didn't include that. And Hammy gets hungry. Oh, he does. At first I just ignored him, but that only made things worse and now whenever I log on, he's there waiting. Paws up in the air. Sniffing. I feel obligated to go over and click a spot inside his cage to drop a food pellet. Then another, and another, and another. More and more until I feel I've compensated for my serious lack of virtual pet ownership. I can't navigate away from the page until I've clicked on the wheel to make him run, thus easing my mind and turning his beady, judgemental little eyes away from me.

  The way I see it, I can look at this whole Hammy Issue in two ways. First, maybe I'm a bit neurotic. It's a cyber gadget. Delete it already and it goes away. (Does it? Does it really? Responsibilty shirker). Or second, this says a lot about me as a mom. (Doesn't that sound better? Has a quaint therapy ring to it, yes?) I like choice two and since it's my page, I'm going with it. As in all things, you may choose your own thoughts, but know this...until you've stared down that sad looking, hungry hamster, can you really know?

  All through this journey of motherhood, I've been like absolutely any first time mom who just happened to gestate and birth more than one baby at a time: exhausted and winging it. It's true. I started off with the best intentions. I had all the books, and I tried (I really tried) to do it all to the letter. And then somewhere in there, 'Life' happened. Babies were up needing to feed every 2 hours. I didn't sleep for two million nights in a row. There was spit up everywhere. And poop. Oh.....oh the poop. Where was it not? "In their diaper", is the correct answer to that one because I swear to you it hardly ever got in there, even when they were wearing it. (I wonder what the genetic odds of have monozygotic twins who both specialize in super-blow-outs are?) After awhile, I realized that what mattered wasn't a clean house or even smiley, non-crying babies, for that matter. What mattered most were the things I could control: my ability to love and care. They had lots of those things. Always. How is it that no matter how bone weary you are as a parent, you can always find some extra reserve somewhere in you to pull from for your child? When you cannot even care for yourself, you can reach into some unknown vault and withdrawl enough wherewithall to comfort your child and care for him/her/them. I stand in awe of that principal. Absolute awe.

   As I've mentioned before, the beginning days were a hazy blur of one moment spreading into the next, until everything jumbled up and (voila!) the girls turned one. Since then the roller coaster ride has continued, and as a family we're all "Arms Up In The Air" enjoying the ride. The independence that they've gained has given us a freedom to go out and do so many things as a family. I've had the opportunity to do what every parent loves to do...the thing you dream about doing during the weeks and months of pregnancy....relive my childhood. It's been fantastic. Playgrounds, riding on shopping carts, and throwing toys up in the air just to see how they fall and land when they hit the ground. Spending whole days in pajamas, camped out in the family room playing and watching tv; just because. What an awesome, awesome ride. Nothing compares to watching your child experience something new, something that you used to love, for the first time. I find myself holding my breath, anxious to see if they'll like it too. 'What if they don't?', I worry. 'What if they think it's lame?'. Or worse, 'What if they think I'M lame because I used to like this!' (Shudder. Better save that one for when the hormones start flaring. 'Til then, I'm in denial.)

   Every moment has been glorious, and I know it's only going to get better. But even in light of all these precious new adventures we're going on together, I still find myself sticking to the tried and true methods of my 'Go To' mothering technique: giving love and care. For me it's all in the little things. I still go in every night to give the last kiss to those sweetly sleeping lips, and sometimes ruffling a few proverbial feathers while pulling the blanket just a bit higher to make sure they're warm enough.  Whenever I am able to corner them into some snuggle time, there's still a spot on their foreheads that (honest to pete) smells like a baby's head, and you'll find my nose nuzzled against it, sniffing away and thinking about the days of yore. And no matter how busy our day is, and no matter how crazy it was and how many power struggles I won (or more often lost), I relish the moment each night when my girls wrap their arms tightly around my neck and pull me down to their shoulders, saying, "Mommy, I'm gonna keep you." In these fleeting minutes, I find myself looking at my babies once again. For all the priceless family moments we've been granted (and for the many more I pray we'll be blessed with), sometimes I wish for all the world that I could go back to those days when I was surviving by just winging it. By flying by the seat of my unmatched and unlaundered pants. Adrift in a sea of dirty spit up rags, bottles that needed steralized, and poop. Everyday having the privilige to look into the faces of two of the most trusting and loving faces, both completely oblivious to the chaos they had brought to our lives, but certain that every single moment they were covered in love and care.

  How does this mesh with Hammy? Okay, so maybe it was a stretch. But I think in some way it shows that no matter how easy something could be, like deleting a simple gadget, or getting used to my two tiny babies having seemingly "grown up", the instinct part of me will always search for that innate way to love and care. Whether it be by clicking a mouse and dropping some pixel-composed food pellets to a cyber hamster that only really matters to me, or by trying to sift through the piles of "I-Do-By-Self" to get to those fragile moments where my hugs and help are wanted. I still can't believe how much motherhood has changed me, or how much it's brought to my life. But I wake up every morning with a "Thank You God" on my lips, and drift to sleep each night with the knowledge that they're "going to keep me" in my heart.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

That Darn Cat...

   Today Suki-cat nearly lost her tail. Yet again. It's a sad state of affairs, really. But it is a constant reality here chez Dickinson. Of all of our cats, (we have 3), Suki is by far the most put-upon. She takes the brunt of the girls' eager affections and ministrations, and I have a theory that the older two cats (past their youth and past the belief that one must suffer at the hands of children), readily accept her for this role of Cat Martyr.
   Suki, who is a half siamese, half tabby cat blend, came to us when she was just 6 weeks old and the girls were 2 1/2 years old. This age difference has meant that she has come of age in an environment of near constant tail pulling, ear tugging, stomach squeezing, and forced hugging. I'd like to be able to say that she has thrived amidst these well-intentioned affections. I can, however, say that she is still here. Despite the presence of two other cats, the girls fixate on their beloved Suki-Chan, chasing her down, grabbing her when she's caught unawares, and ferrying her about. To her credit, she just rolls up, puts tail between legs, and goes with the flow. She's just that kind of cat.
   When Suki was still just a kitten, we went through the whole litter-training process with great caution. Our house had previously been inhabited by peeing pets and I did not want to repeat the pattern. Her litter box started off in the upstairs bathroom, where it stayed for a week before moving down to the landing in the front entry-way. As I said, the girls were just 2 1/2 years old when we got her, so please keep that in mind when I get to the gist of this paragraph. Since the girls had not bothered the box during its stay upstairs, I figured they'd do likewise during its brief stop in the foyer. (Hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?). Anyway. I was gathering the girls for dinner when I discovered that Caedance was M.I.A. (Never a good thing with a toddler.) My search took me to the living room where I found her leaning on the landing, playing happily by herself. Intrigued, I approached her and said, "What are you doing, sweetie?" She looked up at me, smiled her semi-toothed smile, and said, "Look mommy. I play dollies!". Sure enough, she had laid her dollies out all along the first step and was happily moving them about. (Can you 'spot the not', yet?) Indeed. Those weren't dollies. My cutie had pilfered through the litter box and removed several "deposits" to play with. A very careful cleaning and disinfecting took place after that, and needless to say, the litter box was fast-forwarded down to its final stop in the basement. Locked away. To this day, I maintain that she was only out of my sight for a few minutes, so she couldn't have been "playing" very long. Also, I should point out, that she's 5 now and perfectly fine (Kindergarten screening aside), and suffers no effects. So....there.
    Presently completely uninspired by the litter box,the girls still love to play with that poor cat. Her every waking moment is spent, I fear, as the hunted. A true Fight of Flight sort of existence. We've recently gotten a new bedframe, which sits mercifully close to the ground. It leaves enough room for a desperate cat to slink under, but not quite enough room for a seeking child to squeeze. So she spends her days there, curled up in the exact center of the floor under the bed. Perfectly out of reach on all sides. But even the most careful guard gets let down. When she falls asleep, she'll stretch out, allowing just enough of her tail to slip past the "safety zone" of the middle. Should a cat-hunting little girl come bounding into the room, and should said cat somehow not hear and thus awaken from this clamor....well....then all bets are off.
    It's usually Ashlyn who goes looking for her. And generally Ashlyn who finds her and then spends the next 6 minutes in time out and the rest of the day under a "No Touching Suki" decree. This would be because when Ashlyn peers under the bed and finds a tail just this side of that mid-point, she has a tendency to forget everything we've told her (for the last 2 1/2 years), and reach out and pull. Sometimes Suki gives in quickly and just allows herself to be "caught, carried, & cuddled". (Poor thing). During which time I watch and make sure nothing awful happens. But, there are the times when she's fed up, and puts up the fight. Then we have a tug-of-war between a normally-acquiesing cat and a never, ever acquiesing 5 year old. Yowls from both parties send me or Dan running, breaking it up and sending Ashlyn off to her due couch time, while placating the insulted (but unharmed) Suki.
   Try as we might to curb these sad little battles between cat and child, they still seem to occur from time to time. Today was another squirmish. (I wonder if Suki keeps tracks of these, naming them, maybe? Perhaps today's would be called Battle Sunday or 7th Day Insult During 3rd Month?) I keep waiting for the time when the girls will get over the perceived "newness" of this  cat. I am likewise waiting for Suki to take a cue from the older cats and find a safer place to spend her day, like in the basement. I think since she's "grown up" under this regime, she's sort of fond of the misguided attention, in her own way.
   You know that having a baby changes everything. You prepare for that reality as best you can, and adjust to everything else as you go along. You know your pets are in for a wake up call when you bring the baby (or babies) home, and that life as they know it will never be the same. But what we were unprepared for; what we had not even thought about, was how quickly our cats would turn into night dwellers, scared of the day, and playing by the moonlight. For now though, I sit here holding a happily purring Suki, while Zoe and Anna pick their way around the toy-littered landscape they've come to find as the new"normal". Waiting for tomorrow. Perhaps keeping their hidey spots always in mind, prepared for a quick escape.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Kindergarten Screening Adventure!

   Today was a big day for us here at the Dickinson House. The girls had Kindergarten Testing. For many kiddos, this may be old hat, but for my non-pre-school-attending children, this was a "New Thing". And as with any "New Thing" that we do here, there is a learning curve. I did what I could to reasonably prepare the girls for this adventure. I told them they'd be going a someone they didn't know...(Turn Off Stranger Danger Mode)...and having to answer some questions so that the person could see how incredibly smart and wonderful they are...(Turn On Charm). "Don't worry that Mommy won't be with you, girls", I added with authority, "Just answer whatever they ask you and you'll do just fine." After a great deal of introspection and cross-examination of the events that followed, here's why my plan failed. I forgot to remember that my children are, in fact, MY children, and as such can not be held to some of the normal rules and expectations in these sorts of situations.

   They went off with the testing volunteer while I went to fill out the normal paperwork that accompanies such ceremonious events as "Starting School". While there, their future principal asked if they'd gone to preschool. (Although "asked" isn't quite the right word for it because it came out as more of a statement like, "You've sent them to preschool." A fact.) When I said that we hadn't sent them, the look she gave me was one of astonished surprise and disapproval. (Yes, disapproval.) You'd have thought I just said that our kids are on a Pop-Tart only diet and have been for 4 years, or something equally bizarre. I explained that, sadly, the funds had not been there for us to send them to a preschool but that since I am a teacher (she looked at me with some surprise here), I've been working with them using Montessori and traditional approaches. She asked if they could read. Do a lot of 5 year olds read, I wonder now? I mean, I'm sure some of them do....maybe more now than used to be since so many kids are going to pre-school. But are enough of them reading to make that a statement at a Kindergarten Screening? Really? When I taught Kindergarten, it was to TEACH them to read. (I'm just sayin'.) I told her that they were pretty proficient with basic sight words & had a good grasp on word families, and we're working on transferring that to printed words in books. They're doing really well. She seemed content with that until my children walked in.

They came in with the  "volunteers" who'd done the testing. I was informed that neither knew their ABCs or how to spell their name. Nor could they count. Or write their name. Or draw. Wow, I thought. What can they do? Anything? Anything at all? She handed me a sheet with a whole bunch of check marks on the "Area of Concern" column. Hmmmmm, thought I. The writing thing, I get. They've never been prone to coloring or drawing at all. I have to force them to color by incorporating "Color Time" into our days, rotating it with "Writing Time" to keep things sassy. Honestly, I don't know which they hate more, but I keep at it with them. But I don't push them. I don't hound and fight with them or they'll only learn to despise doing it. So we work on it occasionally and I feel good that they're at least practicing. So no, they can't write their name, but get them around other kids who are, and they will. I informed the volunteers that we've been honing our fine motor skills by using tweezers to sort things, and making perforations with tacks, and using scissors.  So they're not totally inept there.
For the drawing bit, they were asked to draw a person. They both drew a mouse. They were asked to stop drawing a mouse and to draw a person. They drew another mouse. When asked why they drew mice, both girls said that they were mice and then squeaked. I now had to explain to them how the girls are rather intense about their interests and when the decide they like something (i.e mice) they immerse themselves into it. They become mice. We've been cats, pigs, and Pingu, among others. This was not received well, I fear. (Principal wore a frown). I shrugged. They're FIVE.
The ABC part bothered me though. And counting. They KNOW these things. We practice count to 10, 15, or 20 every day as part of our morning routine. And the alphabet? Got that too. So I turned to Caedance and asked her if she knew her ABCs. "Yes", she said. "Well then please tell us," I implored. Her mouth clamped down. Hard. "Caedance. Please tell us". A small smirk passed her lips just before she said, "PQARZTSVWCDB" Brilliant.(More frowns from the principal who I could just see was mentally checking me off as one of THOSE parents. The ones who just know their darling is a genius when in truth, they are dumber than a rock, God bless them). "Oh, Caedance," I moaned, then turning to the volunteers I said, "They know it, they really do. Honest." Uh-huh, sure they do. Right. (More frowns from Mrs. P over there). To cap off the poetic beauty of this moment, they both began to squeak while looking at the principal. I wanted to die right there. Everyone was staring at me. (What? Haven't you ever heard two kids squeaking at one of these screenings?) So I said, "Well then. I'll just see you in the fall, I guess." I then attempted to remove ourselves from the room with as much dignity as one can muster with two children who were alternating between squeaking and calling out their "new" alphabet. I hurried us to the car, got in as quickly as I could and shut the doors. I sat behind the wheel and sobbed. And sobbed. I hadn't had huge expectations of this "New Thing", but I had some hope that it would go in a slightly different direction than it had.
So there it was then. Either I was a great big liar. Or my children just played me for a fool. It was the later, I'm afraid. The moment I put the van in drive and headed off with the school (and my nightmare) receding into the rearview mirror, both girls decided strike up a rousing edition of the REAL ABC song. Then they counted to 15. And spelled the word 'mice'.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Life With Twinfants.

I should be folding laundry. Or putting laundry away. Or gathering yet another load of laundry.....But I've decided that my time is more valuable than the endless pursuit of laundry and am writing instead. Years from now when the girls look at these ponderings, I'm sure they'll feel thankful that I wrote instead of caring for their clothing. Who needs clean clothes anway? Really.

I've found myself making comparisons of late. In these last months before the girls start Kindergarten, I am often in awe at how changed our life is from when they were little. Newbies. Twinfants. Lots and lots of work. We've come such a long way from those beginning days that, in many ways, I almost see a dividing line that separates Now from Then with a crystal clear clarity.

I remember the night we brought the girls home. It was Monday. All day we had been humming with the hope that the girls would be released from Special Care. The doctors kept changing their minds, unsure about one twin's sucking ability or the other's ability to keep her temperature up. And both had lost a pound of weight. (They were 6 weeks early, after all). In the end, at the last moment, they were released to us under the conditions that we'd have weekly weight checks with our pediatrician. There it was. Signed some papers. Watched a video about not shaking them. Signed some more papers. Got 4 huge cases of free formula. Off we went. Wave-wave. See ya.

Looking back at it, it can be said that nothing really prepares you for the first moment that you walk into your house with a new baby (or two). It felt so alien to me. I'd been in the hospital for 3 weeks, so for me, that first step over the threshhold sent visions of my pregnant self winging my way. As I stood there, I saw my ghostly form all over the place. Pregnant. Before. Now here I was with two screaming babies who should still have been inside of me. After. In a way, we had to re-learn what "home" meant to us because this house, the one with 2 squalling, impatient, unhappy preemies, was not the one we'd had before. We spent that first evening in sheer confusion. "What do you DO with them?" we wondered. It seemed like a good idea to put them somewhere, so we got them into their Boppy Seats and put them on the couch. We sat across the room and stared. "What now?" We looked at each other, reading the alienation in one another's eyes. The girls just sat still with their eyes squished closed. "Shouldn't we be...I dunno..holding them or something?" I wondered to Dan. "Maybe", he replied, "but..they're content, so maybe we shouldn't." At that moment, I burst into tears. (I was still surfing a mighty hormonal surge). "We don't know what we're doing!! We're failures!" I wailed. Dan, too exhausted from the last 2 months of edge-of-your-seat-life-or-death-drama that he'd been immersed in just looked at me. "I guess we'll figure it out," was all he could offer. "Yeah," I sighed. "I guess." So much for a brilliant homecoming. (My parents ended up coming over that night, saving us from ourselves & despair, reminding us that we'd figure it all out.)

The next few months were a sleepless blur. For the first 2 months, the girls were eating every 2 1/2 hours, and feeing them was a chore. A huge one. Neither had been great at sucking in the hospital, which had concerned the doctors a bit, but they were right on the cusp of it, hedging enough towards the "able" side that they felt the girls would do fine. In reality, it was rough. Really rough. They had a certain amount they had to drink at each feeding or we risked their losing more weight and having to have a nose tube put in. That gave us the incentive to persevere, let me tell you. The amount of milk was small, but they were so slow at eating it you'd think we were giving them a gallon. It took 40 minutes for each to eat 59ml (1/4cup). And feeding one required two hands in those early days. One to hold the wiggling, turning head still, and the other to continually pry open the clenched mouth while somehow still holding the bottle. The feeding schdule looked like this when I was alone: Feed, burp & change one (50 minutes). Feed, burp, & change the other one (50 minutes). That left me with about 50 minutes (give or take) to express milk (since neither girl would nurse at all)and do silly things like go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth...eat. And I still had to get things ready for the next feeding. This monotonous and grueling schedule went on 24 hours a day. Every day. When I wasn't alone, I got a break because someone else either fed one baby or took both feedings while I caught up on some of the aforementioned silly things. Or took a nap. Things got markedly easier at around 3 months because, even though they were still the world's sloooowwweeessttt eaters, it was possible for one person to feed both simultaneously while holding both on a Boppy. And in due time, I had a great system down whereby I fed them both on the Boppy AND pumped milk at the same time, creating oodles of free time. Okay, not oodles, but coming from the hazing of nearly 720 hours without sleep...it felt like oodles.

From that point on, things got a little easier. We still had plenty of challenges, but we worked through them. For example, I learned not to beat myself up about knowing I was constantly letting one kid down while meeting the louder needs of the other one. I am only one person. I learned that crying kids does not mean unhappy kids. I am only one person. And I learned that sometimes you DO need to plop them down in front of the tv for an hour. I am only one person. 

Now I sit here a totally different person, with two different kids. Our daily struggles have changed from the constant challenge to meet needs, to the daily vies for power. I've gone from having to balance time to having to balance caring for them while allowing them independence. And doing everything for them has given way to doing things with them. I can't say that I've embraced all these changes with relish. Not completely. In fact, a lot of the time I've been the one with my heels dug in hard, unwilling to let go. But I'm progressing right along with them, I am happy to report.

It comforts me to see my life with kids in this divided way. In this way, I feel like I am better able really think about where we've come from and more appreciate where we are now. I still look at The Olden Days with a smile. I honestly feel like we've grown up with the girls. Neither of us had any clue what to expect from parenting. We'd given up playing the "What Do You Think It Will Be Like" game when my pregnancy fell apart and our lives all hung in the balance. We spent those first few years flying by the seats of our pants, going with the flow. I think it's worked out pretty well for us. (Smile). We have two happy little girls who are growing and healthy and loved. We have a marriage that has had its share of ups and downs and has weathered some nasty health issues, but still is filled with love and a deep respect and genuine appreciation. And the best part is that the story is still unfolding, right before our eyes. God willing, it will continue to do so. I'm very interested in where this tale is headed. Very interested indeed.