Two of them

It’s coming, sooner than I want it to, mostly because I feel wholly unprepared.

It, of course, is my life as a stay-at-home mom of two two-year-olds. March 14, the twins turn two, and even though it won’t technically be all that much different from the day before, things are already starting to take a turn for the chaotic.

The biggest preview of things to come happened about two weeks ago. As part of Isaac’s therapy, we’re taking him (or trying to take him) to a parent-and-child group through our local Early Intervention center. I’d tried it before, when the twins were really young, but it hadn’t worked out because being a singular mom hauling around two babies with the exact same needs is… well, it’s rough. 

The twins were, I believe, barely past 5-6 months old at the time, not quite sitting up independently yet, and certainly not in a place yet where I could really settle them down and let them frolic. I mostly just sat on the floor, cross-legged, with the two of them lying in front of me, immobile and baffled by the suddenly crazy world around them. The other parents were chatting back and forth about how their kids were doing–this one had a GI appointment later this week, that one was finally taking a bottle without any struggle–but I could barely pay attention for more than a few seconds because the twins just. Didn’t want to be left alone on the floor. 

I couldn’t do it alone, I realized. Whether it was because of my own sensory issues making classroom settings stressful for me (too. much. talking.) or because having two infants and one parent makes doing things impossible, I couldn’t do it alone. And anyway, we didn’t really need group back then. It was mostly a playgroup for parents to come and talk about their struggles and get support, and while I’ll be the last one to suggest I don’t need support, I prefer the one-on-one kind or else support in chat windows. Face-to-face support is… stressful. 

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But then Isaac got his diagnosis, and one of the recommendations from his doctors was some sort of playgroup. Right now, he’s just old enough for the parent-and-child group, like before, and because Carrie is also in Early Intervention (at least until she stops being a little turd during evaluations and shows people what she can really do), she gets to come along, too. It’s a two hour session, once a week, and because Kyle works, I’ve asked my mom to join me on group days (which is great because half of the other adults there are grandmas as well) because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do it. And she’s graciously agreed to join me, and it’s all fun, we expected.

Except. The first day of group, she got a stomach bug, and she got it right as I pulled up to the center.

So I tried it alone again.

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What you first must understand about having twin two-year-olds is that unless a place is easily accessible by stroller, you’re going to have a helluva time getting in. I was recovering from bronchitis at the time (more on that in a second), and I had to haul these two children, neither of whom wanted to be carried, down a couple of flights of stairs to the classroom. I don’t blame the EI center for this, since they technically do have access around the back of the building, and they have an elevator as well (“elevator” in this instance meaning “manager’s lift from back when it was an industrial building”). I mostly blame my thought process of “well, we’ll just go in the front door because that’s less of a hike than walking around back.”

So twin two-year-olds down two flights of stairs, both of them wanting to get down but also not wanting to let go of me, and there’s no space on the stairs for any of us whatsoever. We finally got down to the classroom in time for the end of free play, and the twins had their first encounter with washing their hands in a weird place. By this age, Sam had been in daycare for about a year, so he was an old pro at washing his hands in strange places, but the twins have mostly just seen the inside of our downstairs bathroom and me coming after them with wipes. Carrie wanted nothing to do with the process and screamed and cried and refused to get her hands wet. Isaac, on the other hand, kept climbing up the step stool to play with the faucet again and again and again. 

Now here, one might ask, “well, why didn’t you pull him away?” or “why didn’t the teacher pull him away?” and I might say, “because my hands were full with Carrie, who was melting down utterly; and because the teacher had half a dozen other children plus the classroom schedule to take care of, as this is a group that has a more one-on-one dynamic.” 

Yes, Carrie was melting down, though Isaac recovered quickly from being prevented from making his dreams of flooding the room come true. He spotted a peg board like one we have at home and set to work making the tallest possible tower of pegs. Carrie, once she’d adopted a pouting acceptance of her fate, dutifully marched around the room to see what toys she could see, often coming over to sit on my lap and cry against my shoulder some more at the misery of it all. 

They both finally shuffled over to the play kitchen, which pleased me–they love watching me cook, they love watching cooking videos, and now they were getting a chance to try it out for themselves. Isaac hummed and babbled to himself as he tossed plastic ingredients into a pot (carrot, fried egg, doughnut?), and Carrie became… oddly enamored of a plastic spatula and a plastic watermelon slice. For a few minutes, they were very happy. 

I, too, was happy–happy enough to play with the Little People someone had scattered on the floor by my feet. I set up a summoning circle, and the Little People called forth the Little People Pope in his Little People Popemobile, and it was great.

And then, it was time to stop free play. 

The other kids were, I think, seasoned pros about this, or at least more of seasoned pros than either Isaac or Carrie, whose days at home have all the structure absurdist literature, which is to say little to none. Their switches between activities at home are fluid, and I don’t make them put away their toys before settling them in their high chairs or bringing them up to bed because I am tired and I don’t want screaming. At group, however, once free play is over, the free play toys need to be put away. Isaac was fine with this (hilariously, my autistic kid had the least issue with change) because he loves cleaning up, and seeing that these New Toys also had a Place basically made his life. 

But Carrie.

Dear, sweet Carrie. Carrie, who has developed an almost obsession with me lately, where even if I just step outside the room to go to the toilet, it sends her into a meltdown. Carrie did not want to give up her spatula and watermelon. 

I’m pretty sure I did it wrong. I asked nicely for the toys and, when she wouldn’t give them up, pried them from her vice like grip, which resulted in another tantrum. And I say tantrum, rather than meltdown, because there is a difference between the two. She wasn’t overtired or overstimulated, she just wanted to hold onto those two toys in particular and having to give them up made her Very Angry. It didn’t matter that it was circle time, and circle time meant songs. It only mattered that fuck you people, I want my spatula and my watermelon. 

And all the while, Isaac was running around the rest of the room. He discovered the trash can, which the teacher promised would be put away the next time we came (but for that time, it was not put away, and Isaac liked how the lid flipped around). 

I tried, I tried so hard to wrangle them both to the circle, but I could only hold onto one at a time. When they’re calm, I can do both. They rest their heads on my shoulders and conform to my body, and we’re happy. But Carrie was angry, and Isaac was excited, and their existence was chaos given form. Letting go of one to catch the other made it worse. Other children in the circle were less than happy to be there, but those other children had a parent apiece to keep them from running amok. Isaac and Carrie just had me. 

(sidenote here: I’m not mad at my mom for not being there; she got sick, and that happens. I’m just recounting how crazy it was and how it’s helped me realize that oh man, am I in over my head)

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Circle time was all about songs, with the kids who’d been there before maturely choosing a song they liked and adorably doing the hand motions. My kids, who had not been there before, either ran around the room like a crazy person (Isaac) or screamed and cried like I was tearing out their toenails one at a time (Carrie). Carrie did pay enough attention, however, to fall in love with the “fishy” song and how it ended with “bubbles… bubbles… bubbles… SPLASH!” I think it may have been the only thing she truly enjoyed about the experience.

After circle time, it was time for snacks, which prompted another ruckus from Carrie because hand washing. Isaac washed his hands once, went to the back of the line and washed his hands again, went to the back of the line and washed his hands again… while Carrie had to be forced to touch the water (she’s not like that at home at all… she’s kind of my little fish) and continued to sob hysterically when she couldn’t grab a bowl of peaches all by herself. 

It felt like I was upending this poor teacher’s entire day by having these two unruly kids. Everyone has a first day in group, I know, and all kids have bad days, but they were out of my control entirely. If I had one calmed down or under control, the other was off in the corner summoning Baphomet from the ninth circle of hell or something. 

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But at least the snack was okay. The other parents sat nicely with their kids who’d been there before, all of them using utensils in some approximation of correctness. My twins have little experience with utensils, since finger foods are just easier when you’ve got two, but Carrie gave it the old college try and ate her peaches in about three seconds flat. Isaac had no interest in peaches and instead dumped the bowl over with glee. They both selected pretzels and goldfish as part of their snack, and they would have done well, except they were next given open cups of water to practice with. 

Like. Okay. I know that I need to get them started on that. I know it’s something I should’ve been doing for a while. They’re almost two. Bottles should be ancient history.

But I remain tired and maybe I don’t want to deal with wet milky clothes every day all the time. 

Carrie gave it a try again, and she got thoroughly soaked, though she got some water in her mouth. Isaac grabbed the cup by the lip, and while I know I should have repositioned his hand and let him try again, all I could think of was how I was about to have two drowned rat children and it was 19 degrees outside.

So I took the cup away.

Undeterred, Isaac took Carrie’s cup and sat there merrily squishing every goldfish and pretzel he could find into it until the teacher finally came and took snacktime away, replacing it with craft time: black construction paper and chalk. 

Isaac ate the chalk, but it’s nontoxic, so whatever.

Carrie actually did a very good job, scribbling and stabbing and giggling all the while, which is probably why her next despair-a-thon started when it was time to give the chalk back in exchange for bubbles. 

I like bubbles time. Everyone likes bubbles time. All of the children calmed down and started laughing and chasing the bubbles. Blowing bubbles is a soothing breathing technique, and I felt some of my stress dissipate. Carrie even managed to blow a bubble of her own and squealed with pure joy when I caught it on the wand for her. 

And then it was time to move on. Free play, circle time, snack, craft, bubbles, and now gross motor play in the gym area two rooms down. The twins aren’t very good at being escorted places while holding hands because… well, a lot of reasons. With Sam, we had one child, so we took him out everywhere by himself, and we could hold his hands, and he got good at it. I took him out alone a lot. When Kat lived with us, she came with me. Taking Sam out was easy at most ages, and it still is; he’s a delight to have at any store, behaving himself quite well in exchange for a trip down the Lego aisle.

But the twins… I’ve been afraid. For good reason. I have two hands, exactly two, and any outing with two children requires more than two hands. You need at least one hand, probably two, for each child. You need hands for the stroller and hands for the diaper bag and hands for the inevitable “NO DON’T TOUCH THAT… oh, sorry, I’ll pay for it, sorry!” Being that I only have two hands, I don’t take the twins out by myself very much yet. I need to, I need to start doing it because how else will they learn? But…

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But. That’s basically the moral of this whole story. Everything is twice as hard with twins, which is why I haven’t been doing any of it, which is why they came to the parent-child group as a hot mess.

Somehow, I wrangled them down the hall and let them free. It was… something. Isaac is bad at following commands and ignored everyone who told him that slides are for sliding, not climbing, but later found a rocking horse and pure joy. Carrie just… up and slapped everyone she met. Hauled off and just, SMACK! Right in the face. I thought I saw it once or twice, turning around from helping Isaac to stop climbing up the slide, buddy, what did I say? but I only really caught it once, as I was bringing Isaac back from something else. I turned around, Carrie was facing this other little boy, and she just smacked him right across the mouth, twice, before heading off to do her own thing. 

“Carrie!” I admonished her, hurrying to find some way to scold her without dropping Isaac. The little boy seemed mostly unfazed, though he did lean against his mother sadly, and I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t bring myself to fess up and apologize. 

And then the twins got stamps on their hands and the group was over. I wrangled them back up the stairs, and right when I thought we were going to be okay, Carrie broke away from me, running past the receptionist’s desk and into a meeting room filled with heavy and dangerous office supplies. I had Isaac on one hip, the diaper bag on the other, my purse slung around my neck, and zero energy. “Carrie!” I cried again, and the receptionist looked concerned while doing nothing. 

I put Isaac down. He dissolved into sobs because I was clearly leaving him to be eaten by wolves. I put the diaper bag down. I put my purse down. I marched into the office after my little escape artist, who giggled merrily until I picked her up and then began screaming. I scooped up the diaper bag. I scooped up the purse. I scooped up the sobbing Isaac. I got us all out to the van, somehow, and got everyone buckled in, somehow, and I sat in my front seat and sobbed. 

It was just so much.

Group is a challenge for me from the start, because group means interacting with strangers, which is not something I do well. It means an unfamiliar environment. It means too much noise. It means new situations and strange schedules, and it means that I’m already parenting on hard mode just by being there. 

But add twins. 

Two little adorable kids, one of whom can’t talk at all yet, the other of whom is an impish diva gremlin child. They’re freaked out because it’s a weird place. They’re freaked out because it’s a weird schedule. They’re freaked out because there’s so much noise and so many people and everything happens so much. 

And congratulations to me, I think I just did parenting on hard mode tournament level. 

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I congratulate myself mostly because they came out in one piece, nobody got seriously hurt, and against every sense of self-preservation I have, we’re going back on Thursday (after missing last week because Isaac had a merciful 100 degree temperature, the exact cut off for “you can’t come to group today”). But man oh man do I feel like I’m shitting the bed on this parenting thing. I need to push them and teach them new things, but group made me realize just how behind I’ve been and just how ill-equipped we are for that sort of thing. Worse, it made me feel utterly incapable of doing… well, anything that involves them. How am I supposed to manage twin two-year-olds on a day-to-day basis if I can’t even keep them from wreaking total havoc in a group environment?

I remind myself that my mom will be there this time (hopefully), and that once Isaac’s ABA therapy starts, his therapist will be there. That it’s neither a race nor a competition. That they’re happy, healthy, and perfectly fine children, technically around where they’re supposed to be. 

But I also can’t help but look at it as a test where I didn’t exactly fail, but I won’t be getting a lot of praise, either. 

It also caused my bronchitis to relapse, and now I’ve got a nebulizer, so that’s fun.

I don’t know. I shouldn’t be in my feelings about this, I shouldn’t still be kicking myself about the whole situation, but I am. I feel like I’m failing them on some level that they’re nearly two and don’t have these basic things going on–the ability to transition from one activity to another without falling apart, the ability to drink out of a cup without a lid, the ability to not slap the living daylights out of other children who happen to exist. They’ve not had a lot of opportunities to practice those things, and I know that’s largely my fault, and it’s something I need to work on going forward, but I feel shitty that I haven’t… I don’t know, I guess been doing more to this point.

I don’t know. I don’t know. Two year old twins are a lot.

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