Not About Cathedrals

It’s been a minute, blog.

It’s not that I’ve had nothing to talk about; it’s more that every time I sit down to write, my brain gives me a loading error and I end up getting stuck about three pages in without ever making a point. And it’s not that blog writing NEEDS a point, but if I’m writing like I’m coming to a point, I should probably have a point to come to. Right? Right.

So I’ve kind of lost my points. I was going to write about travel and roadtrips, but then I got bored of that writing because it was mostly just me recounting stories I’ve told a million times before. I was going to write about cathedrals because Notre Dame had me sad for about five minutes (until it wasn’t actually destroyed and it’ll be fine), but I got bored describing my favorite cathedrals halfway through. I had all sorts of threads I was going to follow, but I kept losing them.

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In conclusion: I’m just going to ramble about random things.

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In real life, it’s Easter today, and it was a fun one.

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The kids got all dressed up in matching outfits (or attempted matching outfits; those pants and that dress looked a lot more similar online, but I love them all anyway), and we went to my parents’ house for dinner. Sam has had a TON of sugar, and so have we, but it’s all been good. The only bad was that we bought Peter Pan for Sam to watch and have been unsuccessful in finding the remote for our Blu Ray player, so I’m hoping he’s still interested in it once we manage to summon said remote out of the ether, whenever that happens.

But it’s overall good. Everything’s honestly overall good. We paid off a large debt recently, and that felt great. We’re moving in a decidedly positive financial direction, and that feels great, too. Going from “how are we going to get groceries this week?” to “oh yeah, we can totally afford to get the kids some nice pajamas and also to get a new frying pan” is both stunning and fantastic, especially because it happened so quickly. The last year, so much money went towards formula, and now the twins are on real food and whole milk, and we’ve got many more dollars and cents.

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The twins themselves are doing very well. They’ve both caught up to where they should be developmentally, in a lot of ways, and they’re continuing to make progress at fantastic paces. They both still have therapists, and we’ll see if they still need them in another year or two, but seeing them progress physically and mentally by leaps and bounds does my heart good, especially remembering that they shouldn’t even be turning one for another four days.

And Sam… that boy, my god. He’s so scary smart. He’s been really into Legos lately, and he builds these amazing machines while taking engineering needs into consideration like he’s some sort of actual professional engineer or something. And then tonight, on the drive home from my parents’ house, he was doing multiplication in his head. Not just tiny numbers, but double digits, which I didn’t even learn until fifth grade. This kid, my god.

His kindergarten registration starts on Tuesday, and I’m pumped for it. Part of me is like “my baby 😦 ” but I’m mostly really excited to see him start school. He’s SO smart, and I hope that he’s able to really flourish in a more structured setting, because otherwise, it would be a goddamn shame.

I know he has plenty of areas that are ripe for improvement, too, but I think he’s at just the right age for kindergarten. He’s vacillating between excited and terrified of it, one day talking about how he can’t wait to go to school every! day! and the next getting all teary and talking about how he just wants to stay home with me and the babies forever. It’ll be a huge adjustment, I’m sure, and I’m expecting some rough nights around the start of the school year, a lot of tears and meltdowns.

But that’s what we’re here for: to help him work through it and learn to adjust. I always keep in mind that he’s not gone through something like this before. He’s been at the same school since he was just past a year old (aside: GROSS SOBBING ABOUT HIS GRADUATION), and the shift to a more structured learning environment in a place that isn’t his daycare will be really huge for him. He’s never done something like this before.

And, well. We were all there, once. It’s easy to forget, when it’s 30 some-odd years in the past, but it’s all new to him. I just hope we can give him the support he needs to really succeed.

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Back to the twins. Being one has already been an adventure for both of them, but more for Isaac. The day of their birthday party, he woke up with a low grade fever, utterly miserable. He seemed to improve for a few days, but then in the middle of the night, three days after the party, he woke up in the middle of the night with another fever and with really rough sounding breathing. At the recommendation of the on-call nurse, we brought him to the ER, where he was diagnosed with RSV, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia… and the only reason he didn’t end up hospitalized for that was that he’s just old enough and we caught it just early enough that it didn’t turn into something terrible.

He’s better now, even after a couple of days of being a really picky, slow eater and losing some weight during recovery. He’s back to chugging milk, eating everything he sees, and zooming around the living room at top speed. He’s such a speed demon, and so sneaky, that we’ve had to triple check our gates every time we go through them. The other day, I was on the couch, half watching them and half browsing Game of Thrones spoilers (look, I like to be prepared to say good-bye to my favorite characters, and I did my unspoiled time when I watched Lost) when I heard the gate moving. I saw little blonde heads near it and figured the twins were just playing with it, like they do, but a beat later, I looked again and only saw one little blonde head, and she turned and giggled at me.

So now I’m up and in a mild panic because where did Isaac go??? Fortunately, though he’s a fast crawler, he’s not THAT fast. Unfortunately, he’s fast enough that he got into the cat’s room (she’s old and senile and pees on a lot of things, so she has her own room) and was, as I barged in, happily noshing on cat food.

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The gate, mind you, had been closed. So I’m not sure what happened there, except that Isaac apparently does not care what goes in his mouth, ever.

Carrie, on the other hand, remains my delicate little drama queen. She is, by far, the most loudly opinionated of my three kids; if she is having an emotion about anything, you will hear about it. This sounds like it’s a negative, and it is sometimes (mostly when she wakes up from a nap or in the morning and isn’t in her parents’ arms), but my favorite is her scream of joy that just happens. It happens when one of us comes in to get her in the morning/after naptime. It happens when someone who’d gone out comes back. It happens when she discovers that a toy is particularly fun to play with. And it’s adorable.

She’s also taken to imitating the cat for obvious reasons (I mean, wouldn’t you?). So she’ll sit there, in the middle of the living room, matching Tinkerbell’s tone perfectly, and saying, “Bowwwww! Bowwwwww!” (because I guess “meow” is very difficult) I’m leaning into it and getting her a bunch of kitty-themed clothes for the summer, because GOD that’s cute. It’s ridiculously cute, y’all. It’s SO cute.

The only rough thing with the twins is that they don’t quite like each other yet. Or, rather. They like each other, but they don’t know how to express that without hurting each other, and that makes interactions very stressful.

Consider: at their age, their love and tolerance for a person is primarily demonstrated through face pats. The problem is that they aren’t very gentle, so when they try to pat each other’s faces, it results in both scratches and slaps, and someone ends up crying. They REALLY want to show each other that, hi, I like you, but they’re so bad at people-ing that it’s kind of sad.

Oh well. They’re getting older, so hopefully, within the next year or so, they’ll learn to express affection in ways that aren’t slapping each other in the face. Bless them.

And then there’s Kyle, who’s working from home until Monday the 29th, while his office goes through some rearrangements/changes. This is largely a blessing, but I expect it to turn VERY rough when he actually goes back, and I suddenly have three kids missing their dad being there all day, two who just don’t understand what’s going on and one who understands but REALLY DOES NOT LIKE IT.

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(shown: Sam when Kyle goes back to the office)

His being home has made literally everything much easier, from meal times to nap times and everything in between. It’s also made things just emotionally easier: instead of holding onto everything all day and then letting it all out in a torrent when he gets home, it kind of trickles back and forth between us throughout the day, and that’s an enormous stress reliever for everyone involved. Problems still exist, but it’s easier when two people carry something heavy than it is when one person tries to go it alone.

We’re a month away from our eighth wedding anniversary, which is more than a little crazy, and we’ve finally found ourselves in a place where we both (a) can afford and (b) can find childcare for dates again. We’re off to see Endgame this Friday, and we’ve been spending our Sunday nights cuddling on the couch while watching Game of Thrones (and then staying up WAY too late talking about our pet theories about the show). And then, of course, Saturday nights are for D&D and our stream (twitch.tv/mtnmama1, Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. EST), and all in all, it feels like we’re getting our lives back from the haze that was a year with two infants.

As for me, I’m still mostly kid-focused because these three take up a LOT of my energy. I used to joke, back before I Knew, that I’d do well with twins because Sam had the energy of two children, so ho ho ho, two kids wouldn’t be that bad. Now I know better. Now I know that at least once a day, usually more than, during the Witching Hour (5:00 in our house, a.k.a., dinner is cooking but not yet ready and in everyone’s stomach and we’ve all just realized that), all three kids will need to be On Me. And I love them, and I know someday, I’ll probably be sad that nobody wants to be On Me, but during the Witching Hour, when the twins are having slapfights on my lap and Sam is leaning against my back, it exhausts me.

There’s the chasing of the twins all day through the house, because even when you have every barrier and gate up, every outlet covered, every dangerous thing out of the way, your toddler will still find a way to get themselves in trouble. So you look down at your phone to read a news article or something and then you look up, and they’re smiling deviously at you as they begin performing feats of danger and daring and you’re back up again, chasing them around to get them to chill out and stop trying to break their bones for five seconds.

I love it. I absolutely love my days. But by the time I get to the end, even with a nice chunk of time taken out so the twins can nap, I’m beyond exhausted. And that frustrates me because I’d love to be able to settle down and write when the kids are all in bed, and I try to, but every time I try, I get about a paragraph in and end up stuck.

Writing is on hold for now, I suppose. I hate that, but it is what it is. I’m stuck unless I’m lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to fall asleep, and then a scene will start writing itself in my head, and I end up at war with myself: do I get up and make sure this all ends up on paper or do I let myself sleep?

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I let myself sleep. And maybe the words will come during the day again soon. I hope.

What have we learned?

One year ago today, I was in the hospital, hooked up to all sorts of monitors, plugged into all sorts of IVs, waiting to walk back for my C-section. I won’t lie–I was pretty nervous. Even though I know a lot of people who’ve delivered via C-section and even though I knew statistics, major abdominal surgery isn’t something that you skip into scattering flowers on the road as you go (though if I ever do have another C-section, I’m going with that route). And, you know, I ultimately loved my C-section and would 100% do it again (should the need arise), but at the moment, it was scary.

Also scary was the future, in a different way than I’d known before. Having Sam was its own variety of scary (the variety that says, “wait, you want me to be 100% responsible for this small human’s life? Have you seen me? Are you sure that’s a good idea?”), but this was something entirely new. With Sam, I knew so many people who’d had one kid at a time and were telling me, “Oh, yeah, I remember when little Hippocrates went through that phase. Try giving him a large sock to chew on” and things like that. With the twins? Notsomuch. I’ve got a couple of friends who also have twins, and I can’t seem to go to Target with the babies without someone saying, “Oh! My grandniece’s manager’s sister’s brother-in-law’s best friend has twins!” but it’s not quite the same as having people really close to you, people in your tribe, who’ve been where you are.

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It’s a learning curve, more than with Sam. A delightful learning curve, but a learning curve, just the same.

So. What have I learned?

1: C-sections aren’t scary. I talked about that last week.

2: The NICU is scary, but it can also be weirdly convenient. I would not want another baby in there for all the money in the world. I still can’t watch videos from when the twins were in the NICU without feeling sick to my stomach. The other day, I was reading a chapter in a visual novel (shh, we all have our hobbies and apps), and a character’s baby ended up in the NICU, and I was there sobbing about this Dollar Store brand Grey’s Anatomy and a pixelated baby in an incubator.

Because it was scary and GOD did it hurt. I internalized a lot of it. I never really cried about it much, not as much as I probably should have, but I felt it all. The moment when Isaac stopped breathing in my arms because he was eating too fast is burned into my brain. I can’t let it go.

But.

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It was weirdly convenient. We hadn’t expected the babies to come this early, so we needed the time to get things ready for them at home. I’d been panicking about the recovery time for my likely C-section, wondering how–even with Kyle home–I’d take care of two babies and a four-year-old while recovering from major abdominal surgery.

And we got two weeks. Two weeks to finish preparing, two weeks to recover. I never want to see the inside of a NICU again, but man, it was infuriatingly convenient.

3: Nothing about having one baby is at all like having two babies.

When you have twins, people comment in two different ways: they either talk about a distant acquaintance who had or has twins OR they talk about how their experience with one crazy child was like having two children at once.

It is not.

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No matter how crazy your singular child is (and I say this from the perspective of also having a crazy child), you only have one at a time. When you have two, everything takes twice as long, needs to be twice as much. A singular crazy child only needs to have their diaper changed once at a time, and yes, they may have bouts of diarrhea and such, but pretend you have two people with diarrhea and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

You can feed one child at once easily. When you  have two children and you’re alone, someone else is always screaming while you feed the one… at least until they can eat solid foods and you can distract the one who drew the short straw with some tiny goldfish or something.

The twins are REALLY good babies, but there are two of them. No matter how good they are, there will always be two of them. This means double diapers, double formula, double bedtimes, double potty training and baths and walking. And yes, that’s what it’s like having two kids, but most of the time, you can stagger it a little bit. There’s no staggering here.

I love it. I love it a lot. But it’s a LOT of work.

4: Wrangling three children is VERY hard, and when two are infants, it’s basically impossible without another adult around to help.

5: Special needs happen. And they’re not easy to deal with, but by the same token, you have to deal with them and put aside your own worries (will the helmets be enough? How will we afford it if they need a second set? Will they ever catch up to where they should be?) so that you can focus on helping your kid.

And furthermore, when your kid has a special need, no matter what it is, their need is not about you. Their story with whatever it is–developmental delays, physical handicaps, neurodivergence–is your story. You’re part of it, but I guarantee that if you make your kid’s special need about you, you’ll make it a thousand times harder for everyone involved.

6: Even when you live on a really strict budget, even when you’re technically better off than a lot of people your age, it’s still possible to reach the end of the pay period and overdraw your account at the supermarket, not because you’ve been throwing cash at frivolities or not paying attention to how much you’re spending, but because sometimes, every bill hits at once or you miss something or you run out of a necessity before you thought you would, and at least you’re not losing your house or anything, but you wonder how you’re going to feed your kids this week.

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It sucks.

We’re mostly out of that woods. This coming Tuesday, the twins have their one year appointment, and we’ll see if they can switch off formula completely, which I hope they can, because that’ll save us about $200 a month (like. Not completely because we’ll be buying a lot of milk, but even buying a gallon of milk a day won’t add up to the cost of formula). Next month, Sam has his kindergarten orientation and registration, and in September, his tuition goes away. Another $400 a month we’re not having to throw around.

But twins were a monkey wrench in an otherwise pretty smooth system. They took away my ability to work, mostly because daycare is so expensive, and they’ve added a lot of costs to our lives. And again, I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but it’s been a financially stressful year, to say the very least.

(like thank GOD we’re not still giving them the formula that cost us $120 a week, that was awful)

7: Every baby is different. For myself, I think it would be hard for me to recognize this without having two babies at once. Like, I intellectually know it, but I think so much about statistical averages and things like that, I’d be likely to factor in mitigating factors. Like oh, my second child is doing this at this time, and Sam did it at this time, but we were still in the apartment when Sam was that age, so he couldn’t really crawl around, and wow, Sam was way faster at this than this baby, but he was slower to talk…

When you’ve got two babies at once, you can’t really attribute their differences to anything but that they’re different babies. And they’ve both been very different, from the moment they were conceived. I don’t know how much I attribute it to personality, since I feel like a lot of that is nurture more than nature, but I don’t know what else to call it. They’ve just been so different from day one, not just developmentally but in the way they interact with the world, and while I suppose there have been miniscule differences in the way we treat them (like maybe we smiled more at one than the other or maybe one was having a poopy week or things like that), it’s nothing that would necessarily create this much of a difference in the way they behave.

8: Especially when babies have developmental delays, you need to let go of expectations. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I went into parenthood, I read a lot, and I still do read a lot. When Sam was a baby, I got especially focused on milestones, particularly around when he’d have a doctor’s appointment. If I saw a milestone that he hadn’t hit quite yet, I spent the next several days coaching him until he got it, and he always hit his milestones before those appointments. He followed the book, as they say.

The twins? Not so much.

I knew that going in, too, but I really learned to let go of expectations when Carrie started to fall behind Isaac in terms of milestones. For a little while, they were neck-in-neck and mostly hitting milestones about where they should have with their adjusted age, but around the 8-10 month mark (6 ½ to 8 ½ months adjusted), after Carrie learned to sit up, she kind of… stalled out. I think she just likes sitting too much, since it’s neat and easy and lets her play when she wants to, but because she liked it so much, she was foregoing crawling and that… that isn’t good.

When we had her evaluated, the therapists who saw her explained that it didn’t seem to be something inherent or unchanging, just that she’d slowed herself down to probably develop another skill a lot more (in her case, communication, my little chatterbug). But it was just this stark reminder that (a) babies are different and (b) I had to let go of what I expected the twins to be like. They’re their own people, no matter how you shake it.

9: Everything is easier when you’re doing it as a team.

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Which is a funny lesson to learn because, in a scholastic setting, I hate group work. It’s a friendship killer.

But in family and marriage, having a partner there who really sees themself as your partner and who remembers that you succeed or fail as a family makes all the difference in the world. I can’t pretend this last year, despite how great the twins are, wasn’t hard… but I also can’t pretend that having Kyle as my partner and co-team lead didn’t make it a helluva lot easier than it could’ve been otherwise. From switching off shifts at night to tag-teaming poopsplosions to just lying in bed at the end of a long day and laughing together, he’s made the last year even better than it otherwise would’ve been.

10: I love my life. I really do.

I love my kids. They’re amazing, even when they’re driving me crazy (Sam is so smart that he spends his days going 95 MPH around the entire house; Isaac has entered the “let me hit and scratch your face because I’m curious about it” phase; Carrie has entire chunks of the day where she screams at an eardrum shattering pitch because she doesn’t want to be put down ever). I love to hold them, love the feeling of their weight against me when they settle down to rest, love their three unique giggles, love the way they interact with each other, love them to absolute pieces.

I love being at home with them. Oh, sure, I miss getting out of the house and, to an extent, I miss working (mostly because it meant getting out of the house and thinking about something that wasn’t poop for 8 hours at a time), but I love having days with my kids. I love cooking them meals and playing with them and making sure they stick to something resembling a schedule.

I love my husband, because he’s the best.

And I wouldn’t trade this life for anything in the world. No, not even for paid off student loans (but please pay off my student loans anyway).

So it’s been a year, and I’ve learned a lot, and at the end of it all, I’m very happy. I think Isaac and Carrie are, too. And having a happy family–myself included–feels pretty good.

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51 Weeks

Facebook has a tool that allows you to see posts you made on a certain day in the past, and it’s become part of my nightly ritual. Unless I’m absolutely soul-destroyingly exhausted (read: I have pneumonia or am on Percocet after delivering twins), I try to stay up until midnight to see what happened a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. Part of the fun comes in watching Sammy grow up through my memories, seeing my favorite old videos of him (the one where he laughs hysterically at a dancing doll, the one where he imitates Kyle using the phone, the one where he learns to say his name, the one where he eats my sunshine) and reading old updates on something cute he said or did.

Last night, as the clock flipped over to midnight, I looked at last year’s memories with a little more curiosity than usual, since last year, I was unknowingly a week out from giving birth. I only had two: an updated cover picture and a comment that our power was flickering. This was probably due to the weather, since I remember we had a lot of Nor’easters last winter (Wikipedia tells me that it was due to weather, so go me and my foggy memory!).

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But that’s surprisingly all. No comments about the babies or the pregnancy. No weekly update picture (I think that will show up tomorrow) with size approximations. Just power flickering and a cover picture. All quiet on the baby front.

Weird.

I don’t know what I would have or could have done differently, had I known I was just a week away from delivering. I suppose we could’ve set up the bassinets sooner, but it wouldn’t have made much difference, since the babies were in the NICU for two weeks anyway. Maybe I could’ve packed a hospital bag, but no, I was too pregnant to move almost.

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(this is the secret about being pregnant with multiples: the bigger you get, the harder it is to move)

(also I’m sure someone is going to show up and be like “I had quadruplets and ran a marathon the day before I delivered them” which is really good for you, Mackayla, but my hips still haven’t recovered)

Something I thought about recently that I never wrote about here was my own physical recovery from my C-section, and I feel kind of bad about that. I feel like so much of the internet’s stories about C-sections and recoveries from C-sections are horror stories; I know when I was trying to read up on C-section delivery to prepare for the twins, I kept coming across tales of hemorrhaging and hysterectomies and the like, which did not help my nervousness about the procedure, let me tell you.

So here’s the blurry remnants of what I remember despite the Percocet.

In the immediate aftermath of the surgery, I was fuzzy all over. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, and the nurses were very interested in maintaining that particular status quo, at least in the immediate period after I delivered. I still had an IV giving me pain medications for the next 12 hours, if I’m remembering correctly, even after I moved from the delivery suite into my recovery suite (which was the same room I had when I delivered Sam, and that brought me to tears more than once). I also kept the booties on my feet–the ones they’d given me to prevent clots while I had my spinal block–for the next 12 hours, until they were confident the spinal block had worn off. And I’ll be honest: I was sad to lose them. They felt nice, like getting a nice calf massage but not from someone who’s like “this won’t hurt!” and then drives their knuckles into your bone so hard that you realize they’re going to hold you captive and force you to write a novel for them.

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For the intervening 12 hours, I mostly just sat and watched TV/played around on my phone. I couldn’t get out of bed, which was both frustrating and fine–I was tired, but I really wanted to see the twins and just move on my own.

Kyle brought me something to eat, but I don’t remember what it was, which is a note to myself that if I ever do this again, I’m going to have a very specific idea what I want for a victory dinner and Uber Eats it, and then send Kyle out to the atrium to await the driver. I don’t know if you can even use Uber Eats if you’re a hospital patient, but I do think it should be allowed for maternity patients.

(when I had Sam, my victory dinner was half a dozen donuts, which I ate while holding him, because I hadn’t eaten anything for about 24 hours at that point)

I remember I had the sweetest night nurse, and I think her name was Michelle. She came in when her shift began and introduced herself before explaining how the night would go. First, I would get some sleep. Then, around 4 a.m., she’d come in and get me ready to try walking again, since this was about 12 hours from when my surgery began. This is when she would remove my IVs, remove my beloved massage booties, and, with another nurse, help me walk to the bathroom so that I could pee without a catheter (which would also get removed at that time). And as a reward for that? I’d get to see my babies, finally.

So when 4 a.m. rolled around, I was MORE than ready to shuffle to the toilet. I queued up the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” (you know, “Now I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…”) for motivation, warned Kyle (who was asleep in a cot across the room and acknowledged me with a faint grunt), and got ready. Michelle and her assistant gently helped me to my feet, arms looped around my waist, and served as my crutches as I walked, not unlike a 90-year-old woman, to the toilet and, in a moment that my pelvic floor doesn’t realize has since ended, let loose.

The nurses praised me, gave me my first dose of painkillers (Percocet and ibuprofen), and helped me into a wheelchair. “Try and walk as much as possible while you’re here,” they said, “but don’t overdo it. If you’re hurting at all, stop.”

Which was the weird thing about my recovery, because it was kind of a utopian vision of what a C-section recovery can be. Because I didn’t have the babies in room with me, I got all the sleep I needed to heal quickly, even surprising the nurses attending me when I was wearing my maternity jeans two days after delivery (I mean. They have an elastic waist that’s glorious and that I still take advantage of at Thanksgiving). When I left the hospital, I got plenty of rest as well, so that by the time the babies came home, after two weeks, I was well on my way to recovered.

And, well. In the 51 weeks since, I’ve pretty much returned to something that slightly resembles a more tired version of normal (side note: a study came out recently saying that parents, on average, don’t reach a state of being well-rested until their youngest child is six years old, which is why when the opportunity arises for me to nap, I TAKE THE NAP). The only real indicator of my C-section is the scar on my bikini line, but that’s also mostly hidden underneath my other pregnancy souvenir, the massive flap of stretched out skin left over from how big my belly got.

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I had a couple of big takeaways, the first being that C-sections and C-section recovery aren’t as terrifying or difficult as I’d expected. Something that should be the first choice of everyone involved, regardless of circumstances? Definitely not. But a C-section that’s medically indicated isn’t something to fear, and the recovery, while not easy, isn’t as terrifying as I’d thought going in.

(which, mind, was based on my last surgery, where a bad reaction to anesthesia left me fucked up for a full week afterwards… compared to other people who’d had similar surgery and were back to work the next day)

Another was that everyone’s experience when it comes to birth is going to be different, and that my situation isn’t applicable to everyone. I’m not trying to contradict myself and say that “yeah, that last paragraph about C-sections not being scary? BULLSHIT THEY ARE SUPER SCARY!” because I don’t think the idea of having a C-section, when it’s medically indicated and performed by competent professionals, should frighten anyone. What I am saying, though, is that the speed and ease of my recovery owed a lot to my overall circumstances:

  • My babies spent two weeks in the NICU, so I had two weeks of not waking up at all hours to feed them.
  • When they did come home, Kyle and I took shifts overnight, because the babies were formula fed and didn’t require a boob whenever they got hungry.
  • I’d resigned from my job already by that point, and our survival as a family wasn’t contingent on me getting back to work, so I had time to stay home and recover.

Adding all that together, it makes sense that I was able to recover as quickly and completely as I was and that my story didn’t fall in line with the horror stories I’d expected. BUT, that said, I do think there are some universal things I’d want anyone else facing a C-section to know as well:

  • Do not put off walking unless you’re in excruciating pain. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be doing it on your own.
  • Rest as much as you can, and don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. If your body starts feeling bad when you do something, stop and rest.
  • Do not be a martyr about pain meds. Seriously. If you’re not comfortable taking certain meds while breastfeeding, ask for something else. If you try to be a martyr, it will hurt like hell and you’ll wake up yelping in pain at 4 a.m. begging your partner to get your meds and some water while your three-year-old sits at the foot of your bed innocently asking, “Mommy, what’s wrong?” and trying to climb into your lap, except you can’t straighten up because it hurts so much, so you just kind of pat him and lightly push him away, which likely scars him for life, but then you get your meds and ALL IS WELL AGAIN. (ahem)
  • Take a deep breath. Let it out. In with blue skies, out with grey skies. It’s okay to be scared, but know this: odds are, you’re gonna be okay.

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Writing is Hard

Writing has been hard lately.

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My recovery from pneumonia got set back some by a bout with bronchitis because nothing can be simple. I’m doing much better now–a combination of prednisone and codeine have got me basically back to normal functionality–but up to this point, it’s been something of a wringer. I couldn’t even make a lap around Target without getting exhausted, so I spent the last six weeks going absolutely stir crazy, having to rely on Kyle to do grocery runs and help with the kids. And that has, of course, thrown off the equilibrium of the house as a whole–he’s stayed home to take care of both us and his own bronchitis, so we haven’t really had any “normal” weeks since the year began.

Which is probably bad for Sam.

But anyway. Writing has been hard because I’m both exhausted and bored. That’s not to say that life with a four-year-old and almost-one-year-old twins is boring, per se, just that it’s not interesting. A lot happens, but it’s not very thought-provoking stuff unless you’re coherent enough to turn your children’s attempts at mobility into a metaphor for life, which I am not.

Instead, I just report. Isaac is about as mobile as he can be without properly crawling, and has realized that he can pull himself up on things, which means that our usual repositories for the household stuff have ceased to be safe. With Sam, this meant an immediate rush to clean everything, but because I’ve been so sick and Kyle’s been so sick, it’s been more of a slouch in the direction of cleanliness and a lot of “hey, don’t touch that!”

Carrie is about as immobile as she can be and still be an almost-one-year-old, because twins are opposites sometimes. We’ve had her evaluated by both her pediatrician and early intervention, and I don’t think anything is wrong with her, per se, just that she’s less eager to learn new things than Isaac, at least when it comes to mobility. She’s still an amazing communicator, but she’s not interested in crawling or scooting or pulling herself up when she can just grab a toy right here and bang it on the floor and be perfectly content.

Isaac, meanwhile, while not a bad communicator, doesn’t quite have her finesse. Even without her using English words, it’s pretty easy to figure out what Carrie is trying to communicate–between gestures, tone, and syllables, she’s really good there. Isaac… eh, not so much. He whimpers and whines in a similar tone for most problems, where Carrie’s whine changes depending on what she needs or wants.

And Carrie has had a second evaluation from early intervention and is now getting physical therapy twice a month in addition to her once a month general therapy. We have exercises to do with her, but the problem is that she refuses to do them with us, or with me at least. One of the exercises involves having her sit on my thigh while using the other leg to hold her feet down so that she has to balance with her core muscles instead of resting against someone or something, but if I’m the one holding her, she immediately wrenches herself out of that position to cling to me.

And I mean. I’m not made of stone. I can only cope with her doing that so many times before I give the fuck up.

I know she’ll get there, just like Isaac did. When he was very wee, he was the one lagging behind in movement, but once he hit around four months, he soared ahead. Now it’s Carrie’s turn to lag.

(see what I mean? Not boring, but not interesting; it’s all very routine)

And then there’s Sam in the day to day. He’s still very much himself, still my little bundle of clever energy and love. We are counting down the minutes until he starts kindergarten, both eagerly and nervously, on both his and our parts.

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I’d thought, for a heartbeat, about redshirting him (for those not in the know, this does not mean sending him down to a hostile planet with Captain Kirk as a necessary no-name sacrifice; it DOES mean holding him back in preschool a year to make sure he’s emotionally ready for a kindergarten that’s very different from what I remember it being), both for his excessive energy and for his lingering potty training issues (in short, and without too much depth: pooping in the toilet is a hurdle much higher than we realized it would be). I’d thought about it, and then I realized it wouldn’t go well for him. He’s still got a few hurdles to jump over, but they aren’t ones that he can’t reach, and intellectually, he’s more than ready to move forward.

He’s adding and subtracting, he’s doing a little bit of multiplication. He’s sounding out words, slowly but surely. He can write his name and a few other words, he draws good representative pictures, he can mostly remember the plot of a movie or story when asked about it. He’s curious still about science and nature, and I hope that sticks with him. I think he’s ready.

Just. You know. Kindergarten is so DIFFERENT now. When I went, back in 1987-1988, most of the learning was the stuff he’s going over in preschool–letters, numbers, colors, days of the week. Very basic stuff. And lots of playtime and naptime (I got to skip naptime because I could already read, so I spent naptime in the first grade class, learning to read better). Now it’s like… all the grades have been shuffled and kids are expected to be tiny adults before they even hit middle school. And that’s what makes me nervous.

…fun kindergarten stories to distract from my nerves.

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NUMBER ONE. My kindergarten was in an extension of a church, and our only play area was near the cemetery next to the church. We used to play in that cemetery, which was honestly so green and enchanted, until somebody broke a headstone–not someone in our class, but somebody.

NUMBER TWO. We had a tally behavior system, and the only unfair tally I received, at least in my mind, was when some other kids in the class decided to hide behind a car instead of going inside at recess (how the teacher missed them, I’ll never know) and I stayed behind to tell them that they should go inside. When they didn’t listen, my guilty heart sent me to go and tell the teacher what was going on, and I got in trouble–both for not coming in with the rest of the class and for tattling (??). I am still not over this injustice.

NUMBER THREE. Because the school was about forty minutes from where we lived, I’d ride there with my dad in the morning and ride home with my mom in the afternoon. My dad drove a little red Toyota Corolla, and I would sit in the front seat and sing along to Amy Grant tapes with him (because back then, children could sit in the front seat; it was a different time). My mom drove a blue Monte Carlo with my brother and sister in the back seat, and her car broke down approximately every fifteen seconds or if you sneezed funny. Every afternoon, we’d listen to the radio, and while I remember exactly nothing else of what we listened to, I remember hearing Bobby Darin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” at the same time every day, and it was awesome.

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Anyway, back to my nerves. I don’t want Sam to be overwhelmed, is what I’m getting at. I don’t define success as necessarily having fantastic grades or being class president or anything; if he attains that stuff, great, but I’m more concerned with that he’s progressing and that he’s doing what he needs to do in order to progress. And I want to make sure he doesn’t lose a love of learning. I’m afraid that entering a more structured class environment will be rough for him there, but at the same time, I also don’t feel like I’d be able to give him what he needs by homeschooling him (which I used to dream about doing, but now that I’ve got three kids, ELL OH ELL). He’s a REALLY social kid–he needs people, loves people. And even if I brought him to co-ops and homeschooling groups, I don’t know that I could provide what he needs in that sense.

So we’ll see what happens. I think he’ll be okay; he’s a resilient enough kid, and we’re a pretty good support system, if I do say so myself (I do), but.

Well, you know. I’m a mom. I worry.

But at the same time, there’s not a lot I can do at the moment. I’m talking to his teachers, asking if they think he’s ready. I’ll talk with the kindergarten principal. I’ll see what we can expect. And then I’ll buckle the fuck up.

In the meantime, the twins are turning one in less than a month, which is its own level of surreal. I had all these enormous plans for their birthday party that are kind of puttering now because of how sick I’ve been and the way I’ve been side-eyeing our finances (we thought we’d be getting a pretty decent tax return, but then student loans). Now it’s turning into more of a “well, we’ll all hang out and eat pie” party than anything else. Which, you know. They’re one.

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I have no idea what, if anything, to get them. We still have most of our baby toys from when Sam was that age (we are terrible and need to do a toy purge, but Sam still plays with so much of it? So it’s weird?), so they’re not really lacking for anything. I guess probably I’ll end up getting them some leash backpacks, for when they do start walking (I use leashes on my toddlers, and I am so not ashamed, because it’s SO much easier than trying to make them hold your hand and reduces the overall number of meltdowns). Clothes. Maybe some plushes–Sam’s favorite lovey is a stuffed dog that Kat got him for his first birthday.

And then there will be Sam’s birthday, which is even more intimidating because he wants a party this year (specifically, a pirates-and-Star Wars party). Our house is definitely not set up for a party, even assuming maximum cleanliness of both the house and the front and back yards, solely because we have no parking. We share an easement with our next door neighbors (to everyone’s chagrin) and our driveway is really narrow, so if we did have anyone come and visit, they’d have to leave in reverse order that they came, which is just inconvenient for everyone.

Part of me wants to see about doing Sam’s party At A Place (like all the cool kids did when I was in school, and it was usually the roller skating rink, and this is making me sound so old), but another part of me is like “that costs money!” and then I feel bad. We’re verging on out of the woods in terms of financial stress, but we’re not quite to a point yet where I can drop a bunch of money for a party At A Place.

But we’re also not at a point–and won’t be, unless we ever move–where we can have a party at home.

Grumble grumble sigh. I want to give him a good party. I want to give my kids great birthdays. But it’s… hard.

Like writing.

Lungs, man

I’d had about 5000 different ideas for this blog–things like raising boys into good men and loving your kids no matter who they are and Steven Universe–so this entry kept getting put off and put off while I ruminated on a bajillion things.

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(mostly I cried about Steven Universe)

And in the putting off and putting off, I got what I thought was just a little cough. Pretty typical for this time of year, at least for me–if a cold or flu can develop into bronchitis, then for me, it will develop into bronchitis. And the cough grew worse and was soon accompanied by a fever and chills and aches and pains.

Here’s where I make a guilty confession: I missed my flu shot this year. Between the twins and the insanity of the year as a whole, it just didn’t happen. The twins got their flu shots, but me? Nope.

So, of course, when I started having the fever and chills and aches and pains in addition to the nagging cough, I thought, “Oh great. My hubris has brought me low, for I have contracted the flu.”

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My mother-in-law, knowing that we’re still stretched pretty thin, gave us some money for a copay so that Kyle and I could go see doctors, as he also had some flu-like grossness. My mom came and watched the kids, and on Friday, Kyle and I headed to our nearest urgent care clinic and donned masks while we waited to be seen. They registered us at the same time, which was a mistake (but I’ll get to that in a minute), and then they called us in to separate rooms.

Everything happened very fast in my room. The nurse asked me all sorts of questions and then asked if I was allergic to some medication I’d never heard of and if I was taking Prilosec. I kind of laughed and said no, that I was allergic to raspberries and taking Effexor. She seemed confused but noted it in my chart and tried to do a throat swab for a strep test, which took a couple of tries, as I kept gagging too much to let her get the swab past my tongue. Once she finally had that info, she vanished back down the hall and, fifteen minutes later, a nurse practitioner came in.

She spoke very quickly and, without doing a single test, remarked that it sounded like I had the flu. She wrote a prescription for some cough medicine, told me to get some rest, and sent me on my way. And that, it seemed, was that.

Down the hall and to the left, Kyle was having a very different experience. For one thing, the nurses kept asking if he was taking Effexor and if he was allergic to raspberries. For another, they’d mistakenly marked down his heart rate as being in the 200s, which resulted in a parade of fluids and a barrage of tests, even though when we’d come in, Kyle had felt much better than I had. He eventually sent a nurse out to fetch me from the waiting room so that I could sit in his exam room while he breathed on a nebulizer and then went to get chest X-rays. In the end, he got a diagnosis of bronchitis and prescriptions for cough medicine and an inhaler and all sorts of stomach soothing medication.

Total cost on Friday? $100 for everything, including copays and all of those medications. Yikes!

Kyle, after a day or two of breathing treatments, started to feel better; but I didn’t. In fact, I was feeling worse every day. I’d started taking NSAIDs at bedtime, which kept the fever at bay, but I found that I was having more and more trouble breathing and, what was weirder, I could hear a weird crackling sound when I laid down and tried to breathe normally. This happened two nights in a row, and finally today, Kyle said, “Okay, we’re going back to the doctor.”

So back we went. We waited for two hours before I got a room (still at urgent care, because like hell was I going to the ER–twice the wait and ten times the copay when I’m not dying? No thank you), and when I explained that I’d been there Friday and it had only gotten worse, the admitting nurse commented, “Well, just so you know, your lungs were clear on Friday.”

…okay, cool. They aren’t clear anymore, but cool.

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Anyway. They took my vitals and a new nurse practitioner came in. She looked just like a good friend of Kyle’s and mine, so I liked her instantly. She had a bedside manner that I really appreciated, explaining everything and going through all of the steps she was going to take, determined not to let me go home without a proper diagnosis and proper care. Half an hour, a nebulizer, and some chest X-rays later, Kyle and I headed back home, me with a fresh and fancy diagnosis of atypical pneumonia.

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This isn’t my first rodeo with pneumonia, but it’s my first in a very long time. The last time I had pneumonia, I was seven. I remember very little of the time leading up to the diagnosis, just that it had something to do with my coat. I hated that coat; it was denim blue with bright red and green and blue patches, and I thought it was very ugly. Worse, it had a zipper that I couldn’t quite work for some reason, and I never managed to get any help from my teachers in zipping the coat up, no matter how cold it was.

So I got pneumonia. I remember, for some reason, not being picked up from school (despite having gone to the nurse) but coming home on the bus, and then my mom taking me immediately to the doctor. I had to stay home from school for a long time, which frustrated me, as I got sick between Thanksgiving and Christmas and missed a lot of prep for our holiday pageants (like I missed the memo that my awesome red and houndstooth dress wouldn’t work for our red uniform for the pageant because it had little clocks on the shoulder, but the teacher just sighed and said, “Well, it’s too late now!” when I came to school in that dress on the day of the pageant).

But it wasn’t wholly bad. The antibiotic I took made me hyperactive, so my parents called it “the jumping medicine.” For some reason, I remember it tasting a lot like cherry jello. I got to watch my favorite show, Reading Rainbow, every day. My beloved Grandma drove up to visit me while I convalesced and brought all sorts of activities to keep me busy until I could go back to school, like a knitting nelly and stained glass ornaments to paint and hang on our tree.

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(my sister, said Grandma, and me with a juice box, about six months after the pneumonia happened)

And best of all, the ugly coat got demoted to “snow day” wear when my parents bought me the most beautiful coat ever for Christmas. This new coat zipped up easily, but even better, it was brilliant purple with patches of electric pink and neon green that couldn’t have made me happier if they tried. My parents even got me matching gloves in neon green with the word “Magic!” written on each hand in silver sparkles.

It’s definitely a different experience now. Atypical pneumonia doesn’t come with the cataclysmically high fever and absolute misery as regular pneumonia, but it’s a nasty hell of its own. I can’t spend my days bundled up on the couch, doing nothing but watching daytime television or calm crafts because I’ve got three kids of my own, and one of them is very bouncy and active and one of them tries to eat literally everything he sees and one of them sobs in despair if you make eye contact but don’t pick her up.

Kyle is, thankfully, working from home until Thursday, which gives me a little leeway, but I’m still trying hard to take it easy until my antibiotics really work their magic and I can breathe without so much effort again. Here’s hoping the next time I write, it’ll be something profound and thoughtful and not just “I’m sick, bleh.” Until then…

2018 in Retrospect

2018 seemed to be a rough year for a lot of people. Like I don’t know personally anyone who’s looked back on 2018 and said, “Wow, what a great year!” At some point, something about the year–the neverending stress of the news cycle, the iffy economy, personal stuff–got to everyone, and I don’t know anyone who’s sad it’s ending.

It wasn’t a uniquely bad year for me, but it was… stressful, to put it mildly. Naturally, it blew in with a pair of utter delights (the twins, I mean), but it’s also been pretty tense trying to make ends meet on one income instead of two with two extra mouths to feed, butts to diaper, bodies to clothe, etc. I’m fortunate in that I never doubted that we’d all make it to the end of the year in one piece, since we have a pretty great support network, and Kyle and I just like each other too much; but money troubles are stressful for anyone, and we’re no exception.

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(that’s about how we’re both feeling. Just two potatoes in the wind)

Retrospectively, the year was just… fast. Really, really fast. I can’t believe that the heater dying happened a year ago, that bizarre day that started at 4 a.m. with Kyle’s usually unfounded fears proving correct, went on through me picking up a stray person on the side of the road to give her a lift, ended with us all being way too tired for our own good. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 10 months since the twins were born, eight since they were supposed to have been born.

It’s been more than a year since Kat moved out, and more than a year since I resigned from my job.

Like I have to keep reminding myself that THOSE THINGS, which were big and impactful things, happened in 2017. 2018 was its own year and… aside from the twins being born, it didn’t feel like a lot happened personally, which probably makes the impact of stressful finances that much deeper.

And in a lot of ways, the stresses of this year were kind of old and bad decisions coming due. I’m talking mainly about our Prius, which I love, but whose loan was just… it ruined us on a monthly basis. We fucked up there, majorly, for a whole variety of different reasons. Thankfully, Kyle’s grandfather helped us to pay it off, but MAN. Between that and the twins’ expensive formula, the March-through-November chunk of the year was pretty painful.

Most of the year, beyond finances, was a blur, which is how I remember the first year with Sam, too; but I’ll grant that one changed a bit because a lot more happened than just Sam in terms of major life events. First major surgery, first mortgage, first time on antidepressants…

This year, most of the firsts belonged to the twins, and we were just holding on for the ride, trying to stay afloat. Thankfully, things have started to settle into something a bit more logical. Thankfully, we’re able to start planning our finances now instead of pterodactyl screaming every time we use a debit card and praying that we won’t have that embarrassing moment of “ha ha ha, look at me, a functional adult in line at the grocery story, and I have insufficient funds.”

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(that actually happened to me last month, and I wanted the floor to eat me)

This year, I was very brave about many things because I had to be. I was brave about having a C-section to deliver twins six weeks early because they were coming, whether I was ready or not, and it turned out to not be as bad as I’d feared. The NICU part was a little worse than I’d feared, mostly because nothing can really prepare you for what it feels like to leave your baby behind when you go home for the day–I wouldn’t describe it with the devastation some folks talk about, but it hurt a lot, like stretching something way too far and pulling it out of alignment.

I was brave about bringing home twins because they were coming home, whether I was ready or not. That’s honestly been nowhere near as difficult as I’d feared. It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong, in the sense that although they are VERY easy babies by baby standards, everything needs to happen twice, and I’ve had to learn some surprising lessons about letting babies cry. Whereas before, the idea of letting my baby just cry was appalling, it’s now just sort of… well, it happens. I don’t like it, but if I’ve got my hands full of another baby, it’s out of my control.

And I’ve had to learn to stick to a schedule obsessively. We did that somewhat with Sam, but not as bad as it’s been with the twins, because while one baby getting fussy is annoying, two babies getting fussy is a special level of hell (we call it a “Double Event” in a very Pacific Rim sense). With Sam, we could kind of fudge it, and I remember a lot of the time thinking, “Wow, he’s really upset about something?? For some reason????” and then looking at the clock and having it click into place. With the twins, we head it off at the pass. We stick to seven, eleven, four, and seven. If we don’t we will pay. The same is true of their afternoon nap schedule (morning can be fudged because it’s a shorter nap).

I was brave about accepting that my twins are developmentally delayed and needed medical devices to correct a deformity that was ultimately inevitable. To me, this doesn’t seem like much of a brave thing; it all just feels logical. The twins were born six weeks early and spent two weeks in the NICU. They didn’t reach their actual due date until they were six weeks old, so those first six weeks that should have been spent being active were instead spent sleeping. A LOT. And because of that, their development isn’t quite where it should be, and they needed to wear helmets for about fourteen weeks.

This doesn’t strike me as brave, but again, I see others going through this same situation and being Very Upset about it, which is fine and valid. I don’t think anyone shouldn’t be upset by something that’s upsetting them; for me, though, it’s been less bravery in this case and more just acceptance of things being the way they are.

The delays aren’t all that bad, in the long run. The twins are getting there, slowly but surely. Isaac’s delay has all but evaporated. Carrie’s is vanishing more slowly, but definitely. They’re hitting milestones at their own paces, and that’s fine.

I was brave about helping my oldest son cope with becoming the older brother to not one but two babies. That was and still is the scariest part of the whole thing: helping Sam to navigate his feelings. I’ve done really well with the rest, I think. The babies are healthy and happy. I don’t feel overwhelmed by parenting them. I’m genuinely enjoying being a mom of three kids.

Sam’s emotions, on the other hand, are a more difficult course to chart. It’s a new situation for everyone, and not one that Kyle and I have enough experience in to help him with. When we became big siblings, it was just to one baby at a time; by the time my mom had my brother, I’d already been a big sister for two years, so adding another baby to the mix was old hat. Two babies take up a lot more time and space, though, and it’s an adjustment. Sometimes, I worry about how well he’s coping, but other times, he seems like he’s doing really well, considering everything on his plate.

He’s such a different kid from how Kyle or I were as children. He’s stubborn as hell, to an absolute fault, and while I love him for sticking to his guns, it makes certain things (I’m looking at you, potty training chart) way harder than we expected them to be. He’s also scary smart, and the main thing I worry about there is whether or not he’ll keep his love for learning as he enters a more traditional school environment. I know that it took years for me to get that back; I want to do everything I can to help him keep up that passion, but I feel like I’ll be limited by time and resources.

(aside: but he really is just SUCH a cool kid. Every time he’s genuinely upset about something, he runs up to his room and builds with Legos. Like that’s how he calms down: instead of destroying or stomping or yelling or anything like that, he creates. How cool is that???)

So it was a brave year and a busy year. It’s been about as good a year as it can be, marriage-wise, though I miss being able to go on dates with Kyle as frequently as we could when it was just Sam and we weren’t poor as church mice (our usual “we’re broke” date plan of going to a 24-hour Walmart and playing on their game systems at 2 a.m. doesn’t really work when we’ve got three kids that need tending). I know it’s temporary, though. I know that the rough stuff from this year was a necessary muck to work through and that we’re moving slowly and surely towards something better.

What’s ahead?

Well, for one thing, I’m vaguely planning the next several months. The twins turn a year old in March (their pedi has given us permission to have them off formula and on cow’s milk at that point, which means it’s crunch time for learning how to eat people food, babies), and I want to have a small party for that. Then Sam turns five in May, and he’s expressed that he wants a party (location? “Upstairs, and maybe downstairs, too!”), which is fair, because you only turn 5 once. Then Sam graduates from preschool and starts kindergarten, which still boggles my mind, and then we’ll probably be flying down to Texas for a visit at some point (our first vacation with three kids, please pray).

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I want to do more me things in 2019 (by which I mean, do that “okay, who am I again?” thing that follows every newborn/infant phase), but I’ve no idea how to make it happen logistically. I know I’ll be a stay-at-home mom for the foreseeable future, just because daycare for the twins would be utterly exorbitant, at least on a full-time basis.

(no, seriously exorbitant: around $600/week, up until they’re 16 months old, and then around $500/week, gradually diminishing to $400 a week for fulltime preschool daycare, and AUGH that is a lot of money)

I’m hoping that, in the coming year, I can carve out time for me to write more, to maybe craft and do more things for myself. Maybe I’ll take up knitting or sewing (I desperately need to make a tutu for Carrie for their birthday, especially since I found a tutorial that’s super easy) or maybe I’ll just clean a lot more (hahahahahahahahahahaha). Either way, I want to do something that’s mine when I’m not too tired to do things (which ends up being the case after the kids go to bed). I want my kids to have a mom who knows who she is so that they, in turn, can know who they are.

Anyway. That’s my 2018 and scooting into 2019. I hope everyone’s celebrations are fantastic and safe! See you on the other side, friends.

It’s Time to Let Go

I didn’t get to see The Incredibles 2 this summer for a variety of reasons, most of them being “I have twin babies and no money.” I was a little bummed about that and also a little bummed about not getting to see the new Pixar short “Bao” that aired before the movie (though less so about the short, because as much as I like Pixar shorts, I’m not committed to them as a Thing). This week, Disney released the short for free viewing, so I finally caught it, after a Slate article showed up on my Facebook feed. I’d read a couple of articles about it, most talking about how deeply it spoke to the Chinese immigrant experience, and one talking about how people laughing at a certain point towards the end didn’t get it at all. Without having seen the short, I had no idea what these articles were talking about, and assumed that because my heritage is a mixed bag of various shades of white, I wouldn’t really get the short either.

And then I watched it.

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(shown: me watching “Bao”)

I’ve got a link for it right here, but it’s only going to be up for a week, so what follows is a summary of the short (though even if you read the summary, you should watch it for yourself, because it’s truly well done).

A Chinese woman stands making bao buns for herself and her husband in her San Francisco kitchen. Her husband eats his buns before rushing off to work; the woman takes her time and, as she’s biting into the third one, is surprised to hear it cry out like a baby. She drops the bun into its steamer, where it proceeds to sprout a face, arms, legs, and a body. Though at first horrified, the woman takes an immediate liking to her new child and cuddles it up to her cheek.

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The bao boy begins to grow up. At first, he toddles around his mother’s legs while she works around the house, gleefully helps her choose produce at the open air market, and does tai chi with her in the park. She dotes on him, helping him maintain his plump shape with delicious pork and measuring his growth on the door outside of his bedroom. But as he grows older, the bao boy begins to balk at his mother’s affection and attention. One day, he sees other boys playing soccer and longs to join him, but his mother pulls him away. When they reach the park for tai chi, he sneaks away to play soccer and ends up denting his dumpling head in the process. As he and his mother head home, she tries to clean the dirt from his face and share a pastry with him, as they had on every ride before; but he chafes at her attention and, when they get home, closes himself in his room, and does so regularly from then on, only emerging to eat out of the fridge.

After being shut out of her son’s room when he’s on the phone, the mother thinks she knows how to reach him. She works hard in the kitchen to cook him a grand feast and invites him to join her when he finally emerges. He rejects her offer, however, and breezes out the door to join his friends on a nighttime drive. While he’s gone, the mother stress eats the whole feast herself; when he returns, it’s alongside a blonde woman, a woman who’s sporting an engagement ring. She’s thrilled to meet the bao boy’s mother and gives her an effusive hug, while the bao boy goes to gather his things. He gives his mother a sweet hug and begins to head for the door, but she slams it shut before he can leave. She pleads with him to stay, to choose her over his fiancee, and when he doesn’t, she eats him.

(this was the point of confusion for a lot of people)

Instantly regretting her actions, she drops to the floor and sobs. Later, she remains heartbroken and sobbing on her bed. Her husband moves to comfort her but pauses as he hears their door open. A moment later, the bao boy appears in the door; she blinks a few times, and her vision clears to reveal her very human adult son.

(dear reader, at this point, my tears went from a trickle to a full-on sob)

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She refuses to acknowledge him, at first, but he sets down a box of their favorite pastries beside her; she eventually sits up and begins to share with him, and they both cry and hug each other. In the final scene, the woman tries to teach her son and his fiancee to make bao buns of their own; he’s abominable, but his fiancee has an apparent natural talent for it.

As Pixar has an apparent natural talent for making me sob hysterically.

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(I’m looking at you, Up)

Parenting is, above all, a long exercise in the art of letting go. For whatever else you do in the years you’re a parent, you’re ultimately working your way to the points where you trust in your ability to parent and let your child go, in a multitude of ways. You send them to school for the first time. You bring them to college. You help them move out after college. You give them your blessing for their wedding.

You give them last words of wisdom before you pass away.

Or worse: you hold onto their hand and tell them not to be afraid as they pass away.

And you let go.

And it’s a dreadful and wonderful thing. The wonderful part makes itself apparent on the hard days, like yesterday was for me, the days when it’s all bodily fluids and no rest. When your four-year-old comes staggering downstairs in tears because he wanted to wear his favorite zip-up pajamas but couldn’t unzip them in time to get to the toilet, and then when you remove his pajamas and undies, a huge ol’ turd falls out on your living room floor, and no sooner have you cleaned that up than the baby starts screaming hysterically, and when you pick the baby up to soothe him, he vomits untold quantities of partially digested formula down your back.

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And in those moments, you think, “Oh man, I cannot wait until the four-year-old doesn’t need any help with the toilet and all the kids can run themselves to the bathroom if they need to puke. And when they’re all in school for the day and I don’t have to pretend to be interested in whatever inane programming they’ve found in the bowels of Netflix. And when everyone can feed themselves so I don’t have to try and wrangle the babies with their bottles or break my back leaning over to feed them with a spoon.”

But.

It’s also dreadful.

Sam, for example, wants to be an astronaut. I don’t expect this ambition to be permanent, though it’d be cool if it was permanent. Anyway, he wants to be an astronaut, and more specifically, he wants to go to the moon. He adores the moon, has a glowing one to hang in his room, and dreams of being there someday. And gosh, I want him to be able to go to the moon someday. I want him to reach for that dream and hold it tangibly and never let it go.

But then I imagine saying good-bye as he boards a rocket ship and blasts off, my heart choking me as I know that statistically, nothing will likely go wrong, but images of the Challenger clouding my vision anyway. And I imagine looking up at the sky every night and knowing that my son is as far from me as one human has ever been from another.

And it hurts.

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I remember the big “let go” when I transitioned from a child in the house to an adult in my own house. I was 25 years old and moving from my childhood home in Massachusetts to an apartment in Texas in order to pursue my graduate degree (and what a mistake that was, though I’ll talk about that some other time). Not only that, but my parents had just sold my childhood home and were moving to a new house, not far away but still not my childhood home. As Kyle and I wandered around the house, packing up my life in my little green car, I remember freezing in the basement and starting to cry. I knew I was making the right move. I knew that it was time to let go and be let go of.

But it hurt.

The other night, we had Finding Nemo on while everyone got ready for bed. In a quiet moment, as I fed one of the babies on my lap, I overheard one scene where Dory says to Marlon (entirely unrelated to his personal conflict), “It’s time to let go!” Later, Marlon has to trust his son to perform a big task and literally let go of him, and although he does so, you can still hear the pain in his voice as he acquiesces.

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Because it hurts.

So if I had one piece of advice to give to any new parent, I’d say to start practicing letting go as soon as you’re holding them. You won’t want to do it, because your hearts are already knitted together, but you need to not just acknowledge that you’ll have to let go eventually but actually practice it and remember that it won’t destroy you utterly to do so.

Because right now, she’s small (though bigger than ever, at nearly nine pounds!) and tries to lift herself up into your arms, but soon enough, you’ll be watching her run for the school bus. Right now, he’s small (though tipping the scales at nearly twenty pounds!) and stops crying when you hold him against your shoulder, but soon enough, he’ll be shrugging off your hugs as he runs to greet his friends. Right now, he’s small (though so tall and lanky that he almost looks like he’s eight) and curls himself up on your lap and promises that he’ll never leave you, but soon enough, he’ll be on the moon (hopefully).

And you need to practice letting go so that, even though it hurts, you won’t ever hold them back from learning to fly.

On Writing and Turning 35

It’s November, which is something I’ve been waiting for most of the year. I love the end of the year, from October straight on through New Year’s (though October slightly less because it tends to be bad luck for me in general), and I’m feeling really good this year, at least on a personal level. Thanks to a generous gift from Kyle’s grandfather, we’re actually feeling comfortable financially, and we’re able to get started on celebrating Christmas and giving our kids a fantastic holiday season.

Facebook’s memories feature keeps reminding me that, for several years in the past, November meant the start of NaNoWriMo for me. Nano, for the uninitiated, is National Novel Writing Month. It’s this big… thing where people across the country and world sit down and try to bang out 50,000 words over the thirty days that make up November. It usually involves a lot of crying, swearing, and procrastination on some level.

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(shown: 6 hours of work)

For me, it typically involved (past tense for now, I’ll get to that in a minute) the early adoption of Christmas music, as somehow, the dulcet tones of holiday hits, both present and past, get my writing fingers going. The words flow, the stories build, and I get things done when there’s Christmas music playing. For some reason.

(sidebar: I discovered this during graduate school, when I’d procrastinated on my final paper and presentation until the night before. I poured myself a bowl of cereal, turned the TV on to the Music Choice Sounds of the Seasons channel, and banged out 15 pages of philosophy/rhetoric thoughts and a 10 minute presentation; and combined, the two earned a 95, and I got a 93 for the class. Moral of the story? As we used to say back when I studied at Oxford, procrastination is merely the realization that true genius is forged in the white hot flames of crisis)

So anyway, that used to be the case, but for obvious reasons, Nano has been a struggle since 2014. I started to try it that November, but Sam was six months old, we were in the process of buying a house, and my body was still adjusting to my antidepressants. The next year, I was working, as with the year after that and the year after that. This year, I’m not working, but I now have two eight-month-old babies and a four-year-old.

“So what?” says the reader, and I say, so I’m tired. I have ideas, but they mostly come to me as I’m drifting off to sleep late at night, and I’m far too tired to pull myself out of bed and get them on paper or else wake myself up properly enough to make a note about them (though I probably should do that). I’m tired, and I hate it. God, I miss writing, but by the time I get to the end of the day, even the best days, I’m ready to zonk out, floating with that feeling of running on E.

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I’ve always compared writing to oxygen for me, and though I’ve been reading plenty, I haven’t been creating as much, so it feels a bit like taking a deep breath and holding it for a while. Sooner or later, you need to exhale.

Which is what this blog is, I suppose: a small exhale for me. I have ideas I want to play with and develop, I have stories I want to keep telling and start telling; I just get to the end of the day and stare at the blank page and wish it would just fill itself without me needing to think about it. I used to be able to do that, honestly, but I think I’m just so drained by this particular phase of my life that it’s harder than it should be. Ugh.

But it’s a phase, and Sam will be in kindergarten next year, and it’s only four or so  years until the twins are in preschool 2-3 days a week, depending on what school we send them to. I have plans, and people say, “Don’t wait! Start today!” but seriously, I’m tired. I know what will happen the first morning all three of my children are at school: I will nap. The second morning, I will go and buy a dozen donuts only for me. The third morning, I will write.

(of course, the best laid plans and all that; I’ll probably spend the first morning sobbing, the second morning watching The Price is Right, and the third morning constructing an elaborate city in The Sims or something)

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Speaking of phases, though, I’m an hour and a half away from turning 35!

(how’s that for a segue? Yep, I’ve still got it)

Thirty-five. It’s a weird number. When it comes to fertility, it’s this dreaded number, where your fertility drops off and you start producing the weird eggs, the old and dusty bottom of your reserve. This isn’t really true, actually; your fertility drops off a little at 35, but it’s not this drastic thing. Still, though, once you hit 35, any fertility dances you do are done with an added caution sign.

Which– I used to be worried about it, but now I’ve got three kids, and any further kids I’d want to have would come from the embryos I froze last year, so I’m actually kind of okay with 35 from a fertility perspective.

Obviously not the only one that matters, but I’m happy. Life is honestly pretty good right now. The kids are fantastic. Kyle is incredible. I’ve got a comfortable home, a rockin minivan (two words I don’t usually expect to put together), great friends, and awesome family. If this is 35, I’m loving it.

A couple of months ago, I was at a family get-together, and my mom frowned and plucked a grey hair from my head. I no longer get carded, as Kyle and I discovered when we went out to eat the other day (and I was served possibly the worst cosmopolitan I’ve ever had, by the way). My joints snap, crackle, and pop when I try to function. I am well acquainted with back pain.

But I don’t really mind it. There’s this weird life stigma against aging, that it’s something to dread or feel sad about, but I don’t. Grey hair is easier to dye fun colors. No longer being carded means I don’t have to fish for my wallet every time I want a glass of moscato. I’m not a fan of all the aches and pains, but they’re manageable enough thus far.

Basically, aging has been pretty great thus far, and I’m looking forward to the future, to seeing where my life goes from here, to grabbing onto and living out new dreams.

The Rest

Around this time last year, my RE successfully transferred two embryos into my uterus, and those two embryos grew, over 34 weeks, into my delightful Isaac and Carrie. That IVF cycle resulted in more embryos than I’d ever had before, more than I’d ever had last as long as they all lasted–nine of them lasted until day 5, when Isaac and Carrie were transferred, and seven are still frozen, waiting for whatever comes next.

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Or, well. They are now. I’m finding myself having to decide about them a lot sooner than I’d wanted to decide.

Kyle and I had been operating under the impression that our seven remaining embryos would be kept frozen by the fertility clinic for two years, covered by our insurance. After those two years, we could decide if we wanted to keep them frozen, paying $85 a month for their storage; if we wanted to donate them to either science or another couple (I’d prefer an LGBT couple if we go that route); or if we wanted the facility to dispose of them (not likely). The $85 isn’t manageable now, since we’re barely making it from paycheck to paycheck while still buying groceries, but in two years, with Sam in school and the twins on cow’s milk? It totally would be.

But. The bill came early.

It came in the mail the other day, a bill for $170 for last month’s storage and this month’s storage, and I was baffled, because I’d thought things would be covered. I only opened the bill in the evening (opening mail when you have a little shadow in the shape of your four-year-old son is very difficult), so I couldn’t call to clear things up that night, and so I immediately guessed that our insurance must have changed policies on embryo storage. Maybe they only covered for one year instead of two now, which left us in an absolutely wretched spot: having to decide immediately to either get me knocked up again (no, or at least not right now) or where to donate our remaining seven embryos.

Kyle, fortunately, cleared things up in the morning: we just have to get authorization from our RE and send that to the insurance company ourselves, and once we do that, they’ll cover an additional two years of storage, giving us more time to decide what we want to do with our seven remaining embryos.

Seven potential lives, at least in theory. We don’t know the health of any of the embryos, since PGS was financially out of reach for us last year (and probably will be for a while yet, since it’s in the neighborhood of $3500). None or all of them could have aneuploidies incompatible with life, as with so many of our other losses. Some looked textbook good; but then, we’ve had perfect embryos before, and those resulted in miscarriages. The only two we know for sure are healthy are currently asleep in their bassinets, one probably flopped on his stomach and the other squashed into her favorite corner.

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Whether now or in three years, Kyle and I do have to decide what to do with these seven embryos, which is a weighty task. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do not want seven more children. I have friends with nine and ten kids, and they are fantastic people and superhuman (how can you not be, when you have that many kids?), but it is not a path I want for myself or my family. I don’t know what number is our path (four is looking likely, one way or another, and I’ll get to that in a minute), but that number is absolutely not 10.

A less ethical fertility clinic might have popped all nine in me at once, and I could’ve attained international fame like Octomom–except doing that is unethical for a reason. The pregnancy would’ve put enormous strain on my body, and the likelihood of even half the babies surviving would be slim. Worse, the ones that didn’t survive could take the others with them, and then we’d have been back to square one again. So no, I’m glad that my clinic is good at risk management, and I’m glad that I’m not suddenly a mom to nonuplets, even if it means I don’t get my very own TLC show.

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(that’s probably for the best, honestly)

But that still leaves 7 embryos that we have to figure out what to do with, 7 embryos that we need to decide where they go. Logically, I know that even if we decide to try for one more pregnancy out of this batch (and it would be one more, not more than that, and no more twins), that’s six embryos that still need a place, and it’s just so… weird to decide.

I mean, look. I’m pro-choice as they come. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and that, whenever life begins, personhood cannot begin at conception because everything that makes a person a person exists in one’s brain, and that doesn’t show up for at least six weeks, probably more (it’s been a while since I watched a baby development video, I’ve been kind of busy). My ethical qualms aren’t so much that I’m thinking of this in the same way as I’d be thinking of giving up my living, born children, but more in the sense that I’m trying to… I guess wrestle with the potential.

Most likely, even if we decide to have one more child from this batch (which wouldn’t be for a while… like, at least three or four years), we’d donate the embryos to other couples struggling with infertility. I’d prefer, as I said before, to donate to LGBT couples, but ultimately, I want to make sure they go somewhere they’d be loved. But then I wrestle with it because it’s like… how do you discuss that with an eventual child? Embryo adoption can be open, as can traditional adoption, but at the same time, just… it’s such a weird thing to try and explain.

“Well, Liam Neeson Smith Jones III, it’s not that we didn’t want you, but it was luck of the draw, and we ended up carrying Isaac and Carrie instead. And we wanted you to be with someone who loved you, and we chose them special for you.” And then silently you think about how it’s hard to look at them and see their father’s eyes and your mother’s smile and hear the same laugh that runs in your dad’s side of the family.

I think it would be an awesome chance, and I’d love to do it, but it’s something I’m wrestling with emotionally. Giving up a child for adoption is hard. Giving up an embryo is slightly less hard, but still weird. Weird is a good word for it.

Scientific donation is on the docket as well, and if we’re able to do PGS on the embryos before sending them anywhere, it’s what we’d both want to do with any embryos not compatible with life. Just the same, if we don’t meet requirements for adoption, it’d be the second best choice, but it seems… wasteful. Not because I feel like it’d be murder for science, but because my god, I put so much WORK into those, and maybe they’ll help scientific advances or just be testing ground for a new resident, but it feels like they should at least become people first?

(I wonder if this is how an oak tree feels if its acorns fall on asphalt, and it’s just like “Motherf– DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK THOSE THINGS WERE???”)

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(oak tree when an acorn hits the pavement, played by Kristen Wiig)

That’s also why I’m not keen on the “eh, just trash ‘em” option. Those embryos are a culmination of two years of very hard work and physical and financial sacrifice. They are not going in anyone’s biohazard bag if I can help it.

I guess the hardest decision is whether or not we should reserve one for ourselves before donating the rest. If I were to get pregnant again, I wouldn’t want it to be until the twins are much older, and while your fertility doesn’t immediately bottom out once you hit 35, I’m already in a wonky spot where that’s  concerned. If Kyle and I want another biological child, these embryos are our best chance, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that overall.

We also know and have agreed that we want to adopt once our biological kids are older (read: 5+), preferably through the state foster system. So then the question becomes if we want five kids? I don’t think we do, and we both agree that we want to adopt, but

But.

But it’s just very difficult to let that go. The past six years of my life, up until March, I was so focused on getting and staying pregnant, and it just seems… weird and difficult to let it go.

Well. At the very least, I’m getting authorization for insurance to cover the cost of keeping the embryos stored for the next two years (Kyle said it’s my job to do that), because if nothing else, it’ll buy time to let go, to accept and embrace all of this, and to adjust.

What you don’t know

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Hi, it’s me, a big huge TRIGGER WARNING because this post describes sexual assault and discusses it. Viewer discretion is advised.

Additionally, if you’re going to read this and comment about how any of this was my own fault or any sort of awful defenses, just do yourself a favor and go stare in the mirror until you manage to grow anything resembling a conscience.

*

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was a substitute the entire year, as the teacher I should have had was out on maternity leave. Mrs. C. was my teacher, and she was really nice, skinny and willowy, kind of looked like Monica from Touched by an Angel. She did a really good job, but a lot of times, she felt somewhat out of her depth, and I was frequently one of those times: one of the brightest kids in the class, who finished all of her work twenty minutes before everyone else and was so bored she resorted to drawing on her desk to keep entertained while everyone else finished their work.

But Mrs. C.’s heart was in the right place, at least. She tried really hard to find ways to keep me engaged, even when everyone else had finished their work, even when I was losing my mind because of how bored I was. I remember making a cardboard robot once with some of the other smart kids (it was supposed to be a boy robot, but I guess I was woke or something because I was adamant that it be a girl). I remember going and recording a chapter from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a cold corridor with my best friend. I remember pulling together a miniature model of the Niña for our Columbus Day parade.

I also remember how control of the class was often evasive for poor Mrs. C. One of the kids in the class would’ve been diagnosed with ADHD in a heartbeat today, and have been much better off for it, but back then, nobody got diagnosed with anything unless things were stereotypical and severe. I remember one day, he just sat in the front of the class with his pants off, not making a scene, not drawing attention, just pantsless. Mrs. C., when she discovered it, sent him straight to the principal’s office, and correctly so.

I like to think she did that with R, but I don’t remember.

R was a troublemaker, but not of the severe sort like the boy with ADHD. A lot of his behavior could be chalked up to that loathsome phrase, “boys will be boys” more than anything else (a phrase that I use to mean, “boys will do really ridiculously stupid things because they can” and not “boys are exempt from consequences for being awful because that’s just how boys are”). I hated him from the get-go; something about him rubbed me wrong, like a cat setting off sparks on a dry winter day.

I only had to endure him for a short time that year, though, and here’s why.

Mrs. C. always arranged our desks in groups of four, all facing each other. R was in my group the first part of the year, diagonal from me. We couldn’t do anything without arguing, bickering, whatever you want to call it. He annoyed me so much, and not in the “ooh, someone’s got a crush!” sort of way, but in the “there is a hornet buzzing around my head, make it stop” sort of way.

One day, we were arguing as usual, but we were doing it via notecard because Mrs. C. was trying to teach a lesson. Back and forth we passed the notecard, writing the worst insults we knew at each other (but it was fourth grade, so I don’t think we knew anything very good). Eventually, R stopped passing the notecard to me, and I felt a gleam of triumph, like I’d won. That triumph was short-lived, though: he handed it back, and it was half soaked in yellow liquid. He looked so smug, even as I put the pieces together and shrieked, without raising my hand, “Ew! Mrs. C., R gave me pee!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what happened after that. R was never in my group again in that class; I don’t think I interacted with him again that year. I like to imagine that Mrs. C. reported the whole incident to the principal and found it disturbing enough that she did what she could, but ultimately, R was in my class again in both fifth and sixth grade, still annoying me, but now somewhat under my skin. I remember kicking him in the shins really hard once, and I remember not getting in a lick of trouble for it.

*

Back in the day, I called the first semester of my freshman year of college my “slutty year.” I’d lived a pretty sheltered life to that point, and I’d had a boyfriend all through high school, so the idea of multiple people being interested in me was really new, and rather than stopping to think or be rational about things, I flitted from guy to guy for the entire back half of 2001.

…no, flitted isn’t dramatic enough. It was very dramatic, my flitting. Breakups were loud and sobbing and angry, with slammed phones and huge boxes of tissues wasted and the like.

I was kind of an idiot, truth be told.

Anyway, one of these guys was actively the worst, the worst possible guy you could date. His AIM handle, to give an idea of how much the worst he was, was something along the lines of “Darkest Angel.”

Oh yeah. One of those.

He’d dated one of my friends earlier in the year and, as the worst guys usually do, seemed amazing from a distance. He’d perform these grand romantic gestures that all the girls in our dorm would swoon over, and we’d all wish we had a boyfriend like him, not really knowing what he was like.

You know. The worst.

And so it happened that his attention turned to me after he saw me wearing my prettiest, gothiest outfit on my birthday. He spent a good couple of weeks on me, telling me about how girls were evil and he’d always be alone because his heart always got broken because girls were evil and telling me about all these grand romantic gestures he performed that didn’t pan out (because girls were evil), and for some reason, I missed every last red flag that should have given me.

Like I said, I was kind of an idiot.

I believed, as many women do when confronted with a guy who is the actual worst, that I could fix him or prove to him that NOT ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL! LOOK AT ME, I WILL SAVE YOU FROM YOUR BROKEN HEART! or something similarly idiotic. Which was, of course, exactly what he wanted me to think.

The relationship turned physical pretty quickly for reasons mostly related to us being two twenty-somethings with hormones. The trouble with those hormones lay in that we attended a very conservative Christian college that wasn’t too keen on the whole “horny young folks” bit. Men and women were forbidden from entering each other’s rooms except during move-in and the designated weekly visiting hours, and even then, the door had to be open, so anything beyond some sitting and chatting was completely off the menu.

So we did as other couples did back then and improvised, and here’s where things start to get sticky.

Improvisation with this guy, the worst guy, mostly involved long walks to a nature preserve park type place about a mile away from the campus. It was a warmish fall, so the walks were pleasant and through nice neighborhoods. The park itself was all fields of tall grass and old trees with little peeks of marshland here and there; pleasant during the day and delightful at night. The worst guy led me to the park twice, and twice, the same thing happened.

We sat down, and we started making out, and the worst guy started to undress me, as horny young people do. He never got the least bit undressed, at least not in a way that would cause any shame if we were to be caught. And honestly, I knew there was a chance of being caught, but who goes to a nature preserve park type place at night in late fall? Or at least that was my way of thinking.

The first time, he must have seen them coming, though they didn’t see us until they were right on top of us, and I didn’t see them until that moment either. He didn’t forcibly hold me in place, but the way he had me, I couldn’t have covered myself as I desperately wanted to, and I was somewhat on display for a pair of hunters that walked by. They said nothing to us, and I stared at the ground, trying to process what was happening. He murmured gross things at me, how they probably thought he was so lucky to have such a hot girl with him, and I eventually dressed again and let him escort me back to campus.

And idiotic me, I went there with him again, this time at the base of an old, gnarled tree, and this time, far nakeder than I was the first time. Once again, he must have seen them coming, but once again, I didn’t realize anyone was approaching until they were right on top of us, and I couldn’t cover up. I stared at the ground, displayed, as the interlopers passed, and once they were out of earshot, he told me with breathless excitement, “You didn’t realize it, but we both know them.”

I don’t know who they were. I didn’t look. Whoever they were, they never said anything, for which I’m grateful. When I told Kyle the story last night, he pointed out that they probably didn’t even look or realize or even recognize me. I hope he was right, even though it probably doesn’t matter much overall.

Eventually, the worst guy cheated on me, and that was that. I dodged a bullet; things could’ve been much worse. Still, things bring it back: the weird smell of his hair product, the memory of that breathy excited whisper…

*

Sexual assault is such a weird, wriggly thing. Even when it’s as clear-cut as someone shoving things where things ought not be shoved, it turns into victim-blaming bullshit far too often. People caught in the act are given slaps on the wrist because “we don’t want to ruin his future for one bad decision.” Never mind that she has to live with that bad decision the rest of her life. Never mind that she’ll not speak about it at all until one day, she can’t keep it in, and she tells her half asleep husband what happened, and then he spends the rest of the night lying awake and thinking of ways to flay a person alive.

(I love you, honey)

I was never raped, let’s get that out of the way. Nobody put their penis or anything resembling a penis anywhere in me when I didn’t want them to. Looking back, I’m fortunate that was the case.

But sexually assaulted? Yeah.

In one case, it was a troubled kid doing what troubled kids do. I don’t know what happened to R. He wasn’t in the same school I was after sixth grade. I hope someone got to him and helped him by doing more than kicking him in the shins. I hope nobody else got an index card covered in pee.

In the other case, it was a manipulative and controlling creep who took delight in my shame. I consented to everything he did to me until the second he held me on display for passers-by, both familiar and unfamiliar. I have nothing good to hope for him, but I hope that every other woman he ever encounters is safe and well.

Recent political events made me think more of the second event than the first, though I wanted to tell the first story to illustrate how pervasive sexual assault actually is, how if you know a woman, odds are you know someone who’s been sexually assaulted in some way. I was maybe eight or nine when I got that notecard; I didn’t understand any of the implications of what happened, but I understood that it made me feel icky and wrong.

And it happened.

The second event is such a hard story to tell simply because so much of it was consensual. I agreed to the walk. I agreed to making out. I agreed to my clothes being removed, even though it was technically a public place. I did not agree to be displayed like a centerfold. If I’d been in charge, I’d have found something to cover myself, jerked away from the embrace, hidden better, anything. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and I couldn’t.

It’s not a prosecutable thing, what happened, and I had nobody really to tell about it. Most of the authority figures in my life–family, campus officials–would’ve raked me across the coals for being in that compromising position in the first place, a sort of “well, what did you expect?” scolding. My campus had a history of expelling unmarried women who got pregnant while letting the men continue to study; how could I go to them, admit that I was doing this, and then expect them to back me up on anything?

What could I have said? The worst guy never would’ve served jail time for what he did to me, never would’ve suffered any measurable consequences, and I’d been stuck telling this story, reliving that shame again and again, having people pick me apart again and again, and for no reason.

So I didn’t tell anybody until I told Kyle last night.

But I think about it now, and I think that I would bring it up if, by some weird twist of stupidity, the worst guy were in a position where people were publicly judging his character and integrity. And maybe he’s changed. Maybe he’s reached adulthood, real adulthood, and realized how awful he was (and maybe I’ll win the lottery next week!). But regardless, his actions were evidence of his poor character; I wouldn’t publicly name him before that point, wanting to avoid all the bullshit that comes with that, but.

But.