I Review Movies: Ralph Breaks the Internet

So! Today, my mom came and watched the twins and gave me money to take Sam to see Ralph Breaks the Internet, which was awesome enough that I wrote a review of it! And talked about how it plays into my parenting a little, but mostly, this is all review.

46836801_10155859274325592_2932259492504535040_o(at the movies; ignore the grotesque stress breakout on my chin)

For those of us who came of age with the internet, a physical manifestation of the internet would aesthetically resemble nothing so much as Panem from The Hunger Games–a dangerous wasteland of scum and villainy punctuated by a handful of shining clean and innocent beacons that grow fewer in number by the day (not that the cleaner and shinier parts of Panem were actually innocent; I mean this more from an aesthetic point of view). In that, the idea of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney’s sequel to the 2012 film Wreck It Ralph, scared me more than a little. The idea of Disney turning the internet into a living, breathing, physical world ran the risk of being far too sanitized to speak any real truth while simultaneously being oversaturated with product placements so numerous as to make even the staunchest capitalist reach for a barf bag.

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Thankfully, Ralph Breaks the Internet manages to steer clear of both risks, instead turning out a film that surprised me with its intelligence, insight, and humor.

(spoilers ahead; spoiler free review: this film was so much fun and so thoughtful that it genuinely surprised me, and I really liked the first movie!)

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The film picks up six years after the first, and life is pretty good for Ralph: he spends his days “working” (i.e., being the villain in the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game) and his nights hanging out with Vanellope in various other games–Tapper, Tron, some variant on a Madden title. Vanellope isn’t so happy with this arrangement, however, as her joy over being a legitimate racer has dimmed now that Sugar Rush has run out of surprises for her, with all of the secret tracks unlocked and every race she’s in coming out with her on top.

Ralph doesn’t understand her apathy, which introduces the film’s primary conflict: in deriving all of his happiness and self-worth from Vanellope, Ralph takes any unhappiness on her part as a swipe against him. It isn’t, of course; Vanellope has other avenues of happiness besides her best friend, and she’s understandably distraught when her home–the game Sugar Rush–is unplugged because of a broken part. Ralph once again takes this as a personal attack because, to him, as long as he has Vanellope, he’s happy. She is his one source of happiness, and it’s exactly as toxic as it sounds.

It’s not something that a lot of kids’ films and especially a lot of Disney films delve into with a great deal of frequency, since it’s not only a nuanced plot but one that goes against the general trends of storytelling when there’s a main male and main female character. It’s obviously not the case in every movie, but a relationship in which both partners’ life problems are magically fixed because of one special person in their lives is rarely one that’s given close examination in film media. In real life, that sort of relationship would be toxic as hell and drowning in red flags; but in films, it’s accepted as yes, of course, this is the way things are supposed to be.

And when you think about it critically, you find yourself asking, what message is that sending to people in general?

Another interesting thing about this is that Ralph is trying so hard to be the only one that Vanellope needs to be happy. When she expresses boredom with her game, he goes to the trouble of creating a new track for her to race on, which inadvertently causes the game’s steering wheel to break. When she’s too miserable about losing her game to hang out with him, he decides that they’re going to the internet themselves to find the replacement part for her game so that she won’t be homeless any longer. Even his more villainous actions–manipulating Vanellope away from the game that made her truly happy (a sanitized version of Grand Theft Auto called Slaughter Race) and eventually releasing a virus into that game to make it too boring for her to want to stay there–have a mask of concern on them: he fears for her safety outside of her game, as characters that die outside of their games don’t regenerate.

But ultimately, it’s Ralph’s insecurities that serve as the greatest villain in the film, a decision for which I applaud the writers of the film. A handful of recent Disney films (okay, okay, it’s mostly Frozen I’m talking about here) have villains shoehorned in when they aren’t really necessary, largely because that provides a safer route for the studio: a man vs. man conflict is much easier to translate to the screen for younger viewers than a man vs. self conflict. Here, though, Disney takes the risk and makes the story about a man figuring himself out: Ralph has to literally deal with his crushing insecurities in order to save both his and Vanellope’s lives.

(I do mean literally)

And GOSH, but I appreciate that in a film that’s marketed as being more for boys (because, let’s be real here, Disney very much sticks to a boy-girl dichotomy in their marketing, but that’s another discussion for another time). As a stereotypical “boy” film, it was incredibly thoughtful and nuanced–nobody solves any problems by fighting or punching, but with mindfulness, compassion, introspection, and communication. The most objectively badass characters in the film are all women (for those who keep track of such things, this film more than passes the Bechdel Test, with heavy-hitters like Gal Gadot and Taraji P. Henson providing the talent behind the newest characters), but their badassery doesn’t necessarily come from them being given traditionally masculine traits. Instead, Gal Gadot’s street racer Shank, while also falling into stereotypical “badass racer” tropes, acts as an almost mother figure for her gang of racers and, eventually, for Vanellope herself. Taraji P. Henson’s Yesss, an algorithm, is tough and outspoken, but at the same time excited, sociable, and wise.

This may seem like reading a lot into a cartoon film, but I’ve found that since I have kids, I read a lot more into what films are saying than I used to. As much as I’m able to influence my kids’ feelings and mindsets, I know that they’ve got TONS of other influencers that I can’t control, and a lot of those influencers are in media. And while I’m perfectly happy for my kids to see heroic and stereotypically masculine heroes and plots (Star Wars, I’m looking at you–or at least at the original trilogy), having a film to balance that out, where the male lead solves his problems not by punching or fighting them but by working through his feelings–that’s pretty sweet.

So overall, I really liked the film and its primary message: that you shouldn’t derive all your happiness and self-worth from one person, that it’s okay if best friends have separate lives because if your friendship is strong, it can withstand distance and difference. And I liked a lot of the details, too.

Like the depiction of the internet. Again, when I heard that this film was going to involve Disney characters going to the internet, my first response was “oh no.” The internet is like a Mad Max film with a few suburban oases scattered about. Aside from a few specific hideouts, it’s a PvP enabled zone, and I couldn’t conceive of it being depicted in any way that was sanitized enough for Disney standards.

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(shown: what the internet is really like)

It seemed to me that Disney understood this as well, because the film is littered with hints of the darker side of the internet that will fly over most kids’ heads but will have adults chuckling knowingly. At one point, a pop-up ad (here behaving much like street vendors outside popular tourist destinations) tells Ralph that “Sassy housewives want to meet you!” Once Ralph and Vanellope enter eBay (the location of the missing part for Vanellope’s game), Vanellope spots a section of “baby clothes” marked lingerie (which she adorably mispronounces). And, of course, Ralph’s insecure quest to control Vanellope eventually leads him to the Dark Web, of which we thankfully don’t see much.

(for those unversed in internet lingo, the Dark Web is the lawless underbelly of the internet; in the film, it’s mostly portrayed as a place to buy viruses and stolen credit cards, while the real Dark Web is home to infinitely more sinister pursuits)

The film is also littered with internet and pop culture references, somewhat like the film Ready Player One, which came out earlier this year. That said, however, the cultural references here come about mostly organically and serve to further the plot, rather than to show the viewer how many references the filmmakers know. The only sequence where the references get a little heavy-handed is the Oh My Disney! sequence, which isn’t terribly surprising: these are Disney’s IPs, and they’re going to use them, damnit.

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But even that sequence actually served a purpose, instead of just existing to be like “whee, we’re Disney, and we own Star Wars and Marvel and, if you’re a parent, most of your money!” The first princess scene (there are two, and they’re both honestly delightful) serves to help Vanellope realize that she’s been denying her own dreams because she’s afraid of upsetting Ralph (and to realize it in a bizarrely clever way that made me think, “gosh, I hope Vanellope gets official Disney Princess status”). And, of course, Sam loved seeing the references to Star Wars and other Disney films he enjoys.

My only disappointment with the film (I can’t call it a criticism because I don’t think there’s really a way to fix it without the film suffering) was that we didn’t get to see more of Calhoun and Felix, the side characters from the first film. They show up, but I think they have about half a dozen lines between them. Their plot (in which they take in the orphaned racers from Sugar Rush and serve as their adoptive parents) sounds like it would’ve made a hilarious side story, but it would absolutely have taken away from Ralph and Vanellope’s story, which is excellent. I’d love it, though, if maybe on the BluRay release, we had a short featuring Calhoun and Felix figuring out how to parent these miscreants, because we learn by the end that they exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations for doing so.

Other bulleted thoughts:

  • One of the most delightful things about both this film and Wreck It Ralph is the animation of the video game characters and how that animation flows with the character’s game. Characters from older games move in a choppier fashion, while characters from newer games have much smoother animation. In this film, the trend continues into new avenues: people’s internet avatars move choppier or smoother, depending on their connection to the internet; in Slaughter Race, the played characters position themselves, jump, and move in a way that’s all too familiar to anyone who’s played any sort of MMO.

  • Okay, maybe I did cry a little at two points. First, I teared up when Ralph breaks the number one rule of the internet and reads the comments. The comments on his viral videos (which he created to raise money to pay for the steering wheel for Vanellope’s game, after he and Vanellope naively jacked the price up to more than $20,000) jab at all the insecurities he thought he’d lost because of his friendship with Vanellope and leave him more vulnerable to impulsive bad ideas, even after he’s succeeded at his stated goal. And second, I teared up at the end, when Vanellope–whose code has been integrated into Slaughter Race–says good-bye to Ralph before he heads back to the arcade. Both characters know that they’re going to find real happiness where they are, but the separation still hurts, and it reminded me more than a little of the velcro tear feeling of a long-distance relationship. Ouch, Disney. Ouch.

  • The Pancake/Milkshake scene didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, but it’s worth sticking around through the credits, because it does show up there, and in an adorably winking way that I really appreciated.

  • I honestly couldn’t stand Yesss’s name until it became clear that she was an algorithm… at which point, she made perfect sense, and I loved her.

  • Also Shank. There needs to be so much more Shank merchandise because she was an amazing character. And I am not just saying this because Gal Gadot is everything. Just seriously. I love all the cozy princess stuff and would absolutely spend money on it if I hadn’t had to replace like nine pieces of technology in the last two weeks, but Disney, if anyone there in marketing reads this, I promise that if you make more Shank merchandise, like maybe a Shank doll in the same tradition as the princess dolls and the Yesss doll, I will totally buy it.

In conclusion: a solid A, a rollicking good time, a delight, and a surprisingly thoughtful film.

I don’t really have a title?

I’ve been trying to write a blog entry for about two weeks now, but I keep getting stalled because I find myself just complaining and complaining and venting and venting, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be honest in my blog, but I also don’t want to come across as miserable and ungrateful, because I’m not. A lot about this is really hard, but it’s also really good. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone–controversial opinion of mine, not everyone should be a parent–but for me, it’s good. I miss my kids when they aren’t around, even though during the day, I have this emotion of “why are people on me so much?”

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The adventures of parenting as an introvert, right?

So let’s see. Where are we, from a not so bad point of view?

Sam started preK about two weeks ago, and it’s got him stressed. He’s my most routine-oriented child (at least so far, who knows if the twins will be all about routines when they’re his age?), so mix some change into his life, and he gets stressed. He doesn’t know to call it that, yet, though, so it’s mostly coming out as him being clingier than usual, acting out more than usual, whining more than usual, the works. It’s frustrating because it ends up building until we speak pretty harshly to him, and we know what’s causing it, but he’s also not exactly the most open kid emotionally. I give him words to talk about his emotions, and he sort of nods and says, “But you see, Mommy, this ship here can fly with seven kitties in it!”

We all have different coping strategies, I suppose. His is to create rocket ships.

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He’s doing well enough in school, learning how to make the letter “A” and that “umbrella” does not begin with the letter “A.” He goes two days a week, and I wish he could go more, but it’s out of our reach, financially, at least as long as he stays at this school (and I’m not switching his school–his best friends are here, and that would just  make things crazy). I just hope it’s enough that when he transitions to kindergarten next year, it’s not too overwhelming for him.

We’re prepping for that now, because it’s a REALLY big change, probably the biggest in his memory. He’s going to a new school, all day, and he might not–probably won’t, actually–be in the same classroom with the friends he’s known since he was a baby (unless I can work with his best friends’ moms and CONSPIRE, but I think the kindergarten teachers might be overwhelmed by having Sam and his crew all together at once). He wants to ride the school bus (meanwhile, I’m like, look–we live 10 minutes from the school, the school bus takes 45 minutes to get to the school from our house. Why don’t we stress less and drive? Yes? No? Bueller?). He’ll be getting a backpack and other school supplies. He’ll have to learn in a calmer environment.

The latter part has me a little nervous, because he’s always been learning in this playful environment, not quite a Montessori setting (I WISH, but the local Montessori school is WAY out of our price range), but still mostly informal. I haven’t had any complaints from his teachers since he went through a biting phase when he was about eighteen months old (his principal tried to talk to him about what he was doing and why he shouldn’t do it but eventually gave up because he kept repeating everything she said with a lisp, since he was still learning how to talk). I think he’ll be okay, that he’s just saving all his anxious energy for us because he knows we love him no matter what, but I still worry.

I mean. Not a lot, because if he does have issues, we can work through them together, but you never want your kid to struggle.

Otherwise, though, he’s doing well. We’re working to make sure that he feels included in things with the babies, and that he has a really great school year. And he’s planning to be Jack Skellington again this year, so we’ll have to make sure that costume is ready for him. His school is hosting a Trunk or Treat, and depending on what we can scrape together for paint and other supplies, we might make ourselves a spooky pumpkin patch and participate with a trunk.

The babies are going for Halloween as pumpkins, with little jack o’lantern onesies I got from Carter’s, stripey leg warmers, and cute socks. The onesies came with beanies, which I plan to measure tomorrow to see if they fit over the helmets, to which both babies are finally adjusting well.

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It’s been an adventure! Carrie’s helmet was giving her a lot of trouble to start, and she got a pretty gross friction burn on her forehead from it one day (the burn has since healed, but there’s still a scar), but we’ve reduced friction and misery with the liberal use of cornstarch (which has replaced talc in baby powder and also smells really good). Even without wearing the helmets 23/7, they’ve seen about a millimeter of improvement, which isn’t a LOT, but it’s something.

I dove into some craftiness and decorated the helmets myself with some stickers I had lying around from adventures in decorating a calendar at work (aside: did you know that having a day planner is apparently a craft now? Because I did not, but you can get all sorts of stickers for them and it’s kind of bizarre), along with about five coats each of Mod Podge, which theoretically will allow me to remove all the stickers at once when I’m ready (probably around mid November? Or something; whenever I feel ready to do Christmas stickers instead). It’s the craftiest I’ve been in a while, and it was fun–I think I need more excuses and time to be crafty or decoupage or something.

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Both babies remain mildly developmentally delayed. They hit their six month birthday on Friday, but they’re more hitting four month milestones at the moment. Isaac has just figured out rolling over as a method of transportation, so he tends to roll around the living room floor like an alligator trying to steal a chicken from its handler. This gets especially hilarious when he forgets that he can roll from his belly to his back again and wails about the injustice of being on his tummy until someone comes and flips him like a pancake.

Carrie can roll in both directions, but she mostly chooses not to, preferring to just chill in whatever position she finds herself in. She’s a cheerful baby still, or mostly a cheerful baby. She’s an emotional baby, we’ll say that, and you always know what she’s feeling. If you pick up Isaac but not her, she’ll stare at you in cross and stern judgment until you rectify the error. If you walk past her without picking her up at all, she’ll shriek–not just a cry, but an actual, all-out SCREAM, like someone is tearing out her fingernails, until you rectify the error. On the other hand, if you smile at her, she’ll give you the biggest, sunniest, gummy smile ever.

They both babble, in entirely different voices. Isaac’s voice is throatier, and it involves a lot of “Lll” and “Gh” sounds, which is weird, but okay. Carrie is the more traditional baby sound maker, with a lot of “ooh” and “ahh” sounds, and some “buh” and “mah” sneaking in. She’s also learned to make raspberries, which is hilarious on many levels, since it’s her main way of showing relaxed pleasure now (e.g., “I am not HAPPY, per se, but I can see the little toys on my bounce seat move with me, and that is good”).

So they’re okay. We’ve got their six month appointment on October 2, and please GOD the pediatrician will tell us that we can switch to regular formula, which will still be expensive (because we’re shopping for two instead of one; hello, sole reason I wish my tits produced milk instead of just existing like useless 20 lb fleshy funbags), but not as expensive–like $20 or so less a week. So we’re not talking the miracle that will happen in May, when the twins switch to cow’s milk (technically, April 25, 2019; no, I’m not counting down the seconds, my wallet is), but it’ll still be a small relief.

They’re also starting on purees, which is fun. We give them the purees at dinner time, in hopes that it will make them sleep better, but the problem is that they’ve got so many developmental milestones hitting one after another that their nights are very fussy. Isaac graciously gave us a break from his bad sleep pattern for about two nights, but he’s back on it, so I’m expecting he’ll start running triathlons any day now.

It’s all, of course, got me thinking philosophically about a great many things, all sorts of things that I’d love to write about for ages, but when you’re running around after three small humans as a lifestyle, your brain words kind of get jumbled by the time you get around to putting them on paper. And all of the things I’ve been thinking philosophically about are things that could get things a little gross if I word them wrong, so I’ll just not.

Instead, I’ll reflect on the good and the random:

  • I’m counting down the minutes until I can start Christmassing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween, but dressing everyone up for Christmas, pictures with Santa, all of that? Is my JAM. I also know that I won’t be able to do any Christmassing until at least November, so I’m Planning (with a capital P) outfits and pictures and all of this stuff so that I can JUMP ON IT the second I can.

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  • We’re being mostly good with our budget, which is both surprising and nice. Kyle and I have both started paying more attention to what we buy and are learning which things we can get off-brand (most pasta, milk, cheese, pretzels) and which things we’d rather spend the extra dollar on (Ramen, fried onions, ice cream treats, frozen pizza). We did flub up a bit this week, BUT the next pay day is Thursday, so it’s not the end of the world.

  • I’ve been to a playgroup for other moms with kids who are developmentally delayed (as the twins are), and it was… I don’t honestly know. Not BAD, but it felt like a lot of effort for not a lot of reward. I have a mom tribe, and I love them so dearly–they were there for me through a lot of infertility struggles and the stress of the twin pregnancy and I’ve tried to be there for them as well–so I’m not really in the market for another, which seemed to be the overall purpose. The person who sent me to the group through Early Intervention told me that there would be physical therapy there as well, which is what I wanted for Isaac, but we didn’t have any of that. Still, it wasn’t a bad experience, but was it really worth the effort of hauling two babies out of the house at naptime in the rain? Not for me.

  • But maybe when they’re older it would be? I don’t know. I’m bad at figuring out socializing things, and my attempts at making mom friends in the real world largely amount to “haha yeah, babies, aren’t they small?”

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  • And I’ve been done with IVF for a whole year. I still haven’t figured out if I want to do pregnancy again or not, but unless there’s a very big surprise between now and when I figure it out, it’ll be after spending $3000 or so to test the remaining embryos and going through an FET cycle, and won’t that be fun.

And that is all!

For now.

Expectations vs. Reality

It hit me today, between stress about money and trying to keep Sam’s excitement to a dull roar, that we’re coming up on five months with the twins; they’re three months adjusted as of last Wednesday. That’s nearly half a year, comfortably out of the “fourth trimester” and rapidly moving towards the baby stage I like the best, which is the 6-12 month stage (when they’re independent enough to play by themselves and sometimes hold a bottle, but still small and cute).

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(this is Sam in that bracket, and my GOD, what a cute kid)

Twin-wise, things are good. They’re healthy babies, they’re happy babies. Isaac is needing all sorts of interventions and what-have-you, but it’s nothing that’s going to affect him long term, at least not as far as anyone has guessed yet. They both smile and laugh, they both eat heartily and sleep through the night.

So I found myself thinking, in retrospect, how is early twin parenthood different from what I expected? And thus I give you:

EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY: THE FOURTH TRIMESTER WITH TWINS EDITION

EXPECTATION: Feeding them will be a nightmare. I’ll have to get bottles that allow for hands-free feeding because otherwise, things will be utter chaos, always.

REALITY: Well, I mean. Things are utter chaos…

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…but the better strategy here is to just stagger feedings by about half an hour or so.

It also helps that being in the NICU kind of got them prepared for a feeding schedule right from the get-go. With Sam, we were just reaching a feeding schedule around the three month mark, but these two have been strictly on a schedule since they came home, and it’s made things significantly easier. We know exactly when they need to eat and how much, and as a result, we’re almost never baffled by their crying for any reason. It’s always either, “I am hungry and my mealtime is fast approaching” or “I have pooped and you can smell it three counties away” or “I am falling asleep and keep dropping my pacifier, please replace it for me.”

The hardest part of it all is deciding who eats first. On some level, I like to take a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” approach, but that inevitably ends with the one who wasn’t loud before suddenly being inconsolable not thirty seconds after I start feeding the first. And there’s nothing I can do! That’s the weirdest part: when you have twins, you have to get used to one of them screaming their head off and not doing anything about it because a lot of times, you CAN’T do anything about it. If the bottle is in Carrie’s mouth and Isaac starts yelling because he accidentally batted his Wubbanub away, welp, tough titties, Isaac. And even when it’s a legitimate need, you sometimes just have to shrug and say, “I want to help you, but I’m in the middle of helping your sibling.”

Speaking of…

EXPECTATION: The twins, being newborns, will be really hard. Sam will be a helper and/or self-entertaining.

REALITY: HAHAHAHAHAHA!

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Oh, that’s a good one.

The twins are, comparatively, easy. They’re not wholly self-entertaining, obviously–tummy time is a thing, and they get bored with their dangly toys–but for the most part, I can plop them somewhere if I have to do something and then go do it and not worry about being interrupted.

Sam, on the other hand, is understandably more needy since acquiring siblings. Oh, he loves them, don’t get me wrong. He thinks they’re great, and they think he’s great. Both twins laughed for the first time at something Sam did, which is just going to go down in family lore forever.

But Sam is, of course, jealous and desperately in need of assurance that Kyle and I still love him at all times, but specifically when we are attending to the babies’ needs.

The scene usually plays out like this: Kyle or I are feeding one baby; the other is fussing or screaming, maybe both. Sam approaches, leans on our legs, starts shoving toys in our face and begging us to play with him. Or Sam backflips over the arm of the couch, we yell at him not to do that (unable to take him to his room, as we typically would have, because we’re feeding a baby), and then he says he wants Tostitos or pretzels or Frosted Mini Wheats (my son’s diet is 99% beige, and it should be better, but I’m barely treading water here, folks). Or we hear a yell from the bathroom that he’s done pooping and needs his butt wiped or that he’s still pooping and needs his Kindle.

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It’s understandable, of course. It’s a difficult adjustment, and even before the twins arrived, he’s never been much of an independent kid. Capable of independence, absolutely, but he vastly prefers to play with us or other kids rather than playing by himself.

And, well, it’s hard. I find myself relieved that he starts kindergarten next fall, so he’ll be in school full time and around other kids his age who can play with him during the day, relieved both for his sake and mine. In the meantime, there’s still a year to go, and we can’t really afford preschool that’s more than the two days a week he has right now (and even that’s stretching our budget really thin).

SPEAKING OF!

EXPECTATION: We will be totally broke all the time.

REALITY: Yeah, basically.

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This was sort of the case with Sam as well, mostly after we moved from our apartment to our house. The mortgage, though a good $300 less than it would’ve been to get an apartment the size we needed, was $300 more than we were paying for the apartment we were in. Sam was a formula baby (as are these two), and we added things like water bills and garbage collection to our monthly debits. As a result, when Sam was about 13 months old, I got a job, and a year later, I got a better job. Even with the cost of his daycare tuition, Kyle and I made enough between us that money was almost never an issue, and we were able to live comfortably, with dinners out on weekends and even the odd trip to Disney World.

And now we’re back here again. I knew I’d have to leave my job when I had the twins, simply because daycare for a baby is just too expensive, never mind for two babies, and even with discounts. We did the math, and even if we’d pulled Sam out of the daycare he attends (and loves) and went to one of the least expensive places in the state, we’d still be out $400 a week more than I’d be making, so the idea of me working any time before the twins are in school is just not feasible.

The trouble is that now, we’re down my income, and the bills haven’t gone away. Kyle makes more than he did back in 2015, but most pay periods feel like we’re racing against an invisible enemy to make ends meet. Unexpected expenses have us panicking and using credit cards in the last days of the pay period, and he and I are sure Sam’s picked up on our stress over the whole thing (we haven’t hidden it very well).

We both know it will get better in about a year. Next May, we finish with the more expensive car payments, and the twins will switch to cows’ milk. Next September, Sam starts kindergarten in our local school district. All told, that will free up about $1100/month for us.

BUT in the meantime, we rely on the kindness of our families and friends and shop for nonperishables at Walmart.

And shopping-wise…

EXPECTATION: Until the twins are old enough to dress themselves and choose their own clothes, I’m just going to dress them alike ALL THE TIME. They will be adorable in boy-girl matching outfits, maybe even adorable enough for an Instagram channel that’s ONLY ABOUT THEM.

REALITY: Listen, do you know how rare it is to find outfits that match for baby girls and baby boys?

I’m serious! It’s ridiculous. I’m not even talking about outfits that look like clones of each other, only one is pink and the other is blue or something. I just mean things that are thematically similar, because I guess baby girls can’t love sharks and baby boys can’t love birds?

I have occasional good luck with Carter’s; usually about once a season, they have a couple of outfits that match enough for me to want them very badly. The most recent set were in the three month size, and they had dinosaurs on them, because I guess dinosaurs transcend gender. But other than that, matching outfits are so ridiculously rare, and the ones you do find end up being so expensive that you wonder if the person selling them has ever met a real parent, one who recognizes that her twins may very well grow out of these clothes in a week.

Like they did for the three month clothes.

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(I guess that’s why they call it growing like a weed)

VERY fortunately, I’ve been blessed with dear friends and grandmas who heard the call of the “I can’t afford clothes for my babies” bird and delivered in BOXES with adorable clothes, some of them matching nicely! And I do find the occasional matching outfits, even if they just match thematically.

BUT. I wish there were more, or even just that I could afford the ridiculously pricey ones.

(though I’ll admit that if I could afford the pricey ones, I’d probably use that money on a crib or an exersaucer instead and just keep the babies in their generic white onesies)

But then there’s this weird point…

EXPECTATION: After having two babies, I’m so done. No more babies for me. Nope. Never again.

REALITY: Well…….

I’m not pregnant. Thank GOD for that, because I couldn’t handle one-year-olds and a baby and Sam all at once. But the doneness I felt when I was pregnant has kind of faded, at least partly because even as twins, these two are just such easy babies. They love being held, but it doesn’t ruin things if they’re put down. They eat well, and aside from some reflux issues and constipation issues, are good with that. They smile readily and learn fast. They’re ridiculously cute.

And I love the baby stage. I really do. And what’s more, I don’t feel done. I feel like I’d be okay with being done, but if I had my druthers, I’d ruther eventually do PGS testing on our remaining embryos and transfer another girl to give us a round four kids. I’ll be fine, I think, if that never happens, but…

Well. It’s very different having babies when you’re not dealing with postpartum depression than otherwise. I’m a whole new level of exhausted, but I’m loving it, and I feel like I could do it again, someday.

Just, yanno. Not any SOON someday.

But it’s not all bad news

I realized after I made my last post that I probably give off the impression that I either hate being a mom or hate having twins or both or am just living in a special circle of hell designed for those of us whose thought process when applying for college was “which school will get me married off the fastest?”

(if anyone was wondering, my alma mater was NOT that school… at least not for me, though not for lack of trying)

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(and trying… and trying… )

But either way, that’s not true. There’s this weird thing that happens when you’re truly doing something you love, where it drives you crazy, where you’re at your wits’ end, where you reach the end of every day and just want to collapse like someone has stolen all of your bones…

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…but you love it.

And I do love it. I love the weight of the babies in my arms and the weight of Sam leaning against me. I love how they have their unique ways of sitting: Carrie like a little ball of squishy love, Isaac resisting all comfort but reaching for it at the same time, Sam luxuriating like a pampered cat. All unique ways of cuddling with me, which is something they all seek at various times: me. Just me. Warts and thorns and all.

(I don’t have any warts or thorns, but I do have a cyst named Clarence)

Last night, Sam woke up around 12:45 a.m. to use the bathroom and called for Kyle, and when Kyle slept through that (as he is wont to do; he could sleep through WWIII happening in our bathroom, I swear), I came up and fetched Sam and brought him downstairs with me. He was skittish about being alone in his room for reasons known only to him (no new media lately, no changes to his normal routine except that there was a holiday this week, nobody coming or going, probably just a run-of-the-mill bad dream or need to be near Mommy), and I was too tired and too busy with babies to try and negotiate him back upstairs.

So downstairs he stayed, initially sleeping on the chair but eventually shuffling over to sit with me and a recently-fed Isaac on the couch. I knew that he wouldn’t sleep while I was up and while the babies were fussing, so I didn’t try to make him. Instead, I just quietly talked to him while Isaac sat on my lap, wide-eyed, and participated as babies do. I was, admittedly, frustrated at Sam being downstairs somewhat–it’s easy to calm his fears and help him relax when the babies are asleep, but notsomuch when they’re awake and hungry–but at the same time, I was glad for that time. He was sleepy enough that his usual boundless energy had settled to the dull roar of bedtime, and he just wanted to quietly lean on me and watch cooking videos on my phone.

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I’ve missed those quiet moments with him; they used to be far more common, but now, I just snatch them when I can, when he’s quiet and at peace and happy. Like this afternoon, when he was overtired and whining, so we just sat on the couch and watched videos of people carving soap (look, don’t ask me why, it’s just really relaxing) and tornadoes (again, don’t ask me). The babies fussed from time to time, but Sam and I just sat there and talked about the soap and the tornadoes. He talked about how he likes soaps that have two colors, like blue and white or purple and pink, and how tornadoes are big and scary but cool. It felt like connecting with him, just talking and being on his level. My little boy.

The babies, too, are growing into that wanting to be with me. Lately, they’ve started fussing if they’re in their rock-n-plays and I’m out of line of sight, which is both flattering and frustrating. Flattering because it’s great to know that your mere presence eases someone’s troubled mind; frustrating because, dear sweet children, Mommy does have to pee sometimes.

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They’ve started smiling for reasons beyond “I have been tickled,” and that’s been pretty rewarding, too. Isaac is the readier smiler of the two–no matter what mood he’s in when things start, just seeing someone or getting his Wubbanub or being patted gets the biggest toothless gummy grin out of him. Carrie, on the other hand, needs a little coaxing. You have to talk sweet to her and remind her that yes, she is a beautiful girl (“the beautifullest” as Sam says, usually in a death metal screech: “OHHH THE BEAUTIFULLEST!” as he pets her head) and she’s a funny girl and you love her very much. Then her entire face goes sunshiney sweet, and she sticks out her tongue in happiness.

They’re a little behind, but not as much as they could be. I admit that any delays they have–although completely understandable, considering the circumstances, send me into a spiral of impostor syndrome.

For the uninitiated, impostor syndrome is when your brain basically tells you that you’re not as good as people think you are, that your successes and happiness are unearned. It’s really common in successful creative people–authors, actors, artists, musicians, that sort of thing. You get it in your head after one off-handed comment or dressing down that no, you’re not really as good as people seem to think you are, that any day now, they’re going to find out that you’re faking it, and then you’ll lose all the happiness you think you have, and then where will you be?

It’s how I end up sabotaging myself in whatever job I work (“I don’t really deserve this job/the praise I’m getting for this job, and it’s only a matter of time before they find out” …and then cut to me being so anxious about this imaginary situation that I actually end up messing up and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), and it’s how I often feel about being a mom. I hear a lot of “you’re amazing! You’re a great parent! You’re kicking ass!” and I want to believe it, but then the impostor syndrome shows up and says, “Hey, by the way, the twins aren’t picking up their heads and chests yet, both of them have flattish heads, Sam acts out all the time, your house is a mess, you need a nap every morning, and this is all because you’re actually a TERRIBLE MOTHER.”

The most I can do is try not to listen to it, try and tell that voice to shut up. That the twins are delayed because they’re not actually almost 4 months old but closer to two-and-a-half months old. That their heads are flat because of all sorts of reasons, none of which are me. That Sam acts out because he’s adjusting to this new life, that it can take a while. That it’s okay for the house to be a mess, as long as it’s mess and not filth. That I have infant twins, for crying out loud, and even when they’re being good (like they are tonight; Carrie needed 2 oz at around 11:30, but they’re otherwise sleeping peacefully), they’re a lot of work.

I tell myself all of those things, and eventually, I hope I’ll believe them. That’s the best I can do; that and do everything in my power to make sure my kids are happy, healthy, and kind.

In the meantime. The twins are getting bigger and bigger, and I love it. They were such little peanuts when they came home, absolutely drowning in newborn size clothes. Now they’re on the cusp of switching from 3 month to 6 month clothes because they’re both on the curve, growth-wise. As of last weigh-ins, they were at 5th and 7th percentile (Isaac and Carrie, respectively) for their actual ages, not their adjusted ages, and that’s awesome. With any luck, being on the curve will translate to us getting to stop the expensive formula and move on to formula that’s even slightly more affordable and comes in larger canisters.

And we’ve learned that Sam is slowly but surely transitioning to the pre-K classroom at his school. I shouldn’t be at all surprised by this–after all, he’s four and will be starting actual kindergarten a year from September–but it’s still a little jarring to know that my first baby is moving towards real school. He’s learning to read and add and subtract and multiply and sometimes write (sometimes; he’s not much of a pen holder). He LOVES numbers, loves to ask “what do 2 and 3 and 5 make?” when he sees a time displayed digitally (and if you explain “it’s 2:35” he says, “no, what do they make?” and you have to tell them that 2+3+5=10). He still adores space and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

And he loves his brother and sister and they love him. And all together, I love my three kids. I love being a mom, even when it’s hard, even when the impostor syndrome devil is sitting on my shoulder and telling me I’m a fraud and my kids are going to suffer for it, I love it. I know exactly where I belong, and it’s right here, with them all around me.

Nothing about this is normal; everything about this is normal

Nothing about this is normal; everything about this is normal.

I’ve been trying to write this for a total of two weeks now, probably more, but I feel like I’ve lost count. I get writing done very late at night, at a time I used to reach without even thinking about it back when I was in college and graduate school but that now seems like the latest of late hours (seriously, the sun is coming up in three hours, WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND IS AWAKE NOW and WHAT WAS I THINKING). It’s only then that the new normal calms down enough for my brain to start processing everything that’s gone into making the new normal… well, normal.

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(this time of night was previously known as “way too early” and “why are you waking me up?”)

We’ve been trying to make incremental adjustments to this normal in order to improve our overall functionality. The twins are creeping ever closer to sleeping through the night, but it’s still a process. The first half of any given night typically involves Carrie being wide awake and unhappy unless she’s being held; she doesn’t care what’s going on while she’s being held, she just wants to be held. As she’s being held, she’ll contentedly babble to herself or look around or chew on her hands, but put her down at your own risk. Isaac, meanwhile, conks out at promptly 8:00 and doesn’t wake up again until 7 or 8. And Carrie typically conks out after a midnight-ish feed of 2-3 oz., so really, it’s mostly just a long night for me.

BUT I wouldn’t trade it because I can’t do early mornings to save my life. I’ll stay up until 4 if I have to, but don’t make me get up at 4.

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(no, I don’t understand it either)

So with the twins creeping towards sleeping through the night, Kyle and I have tried at least once to actually make it through the night sleeping, but that hasn’t happened. The twins’ daytime schedule got thrown off the last time we tried, which resulted in them freaking out all night and poor Kyle getting no sleep (per his suggestion, he slept downstairs with them, since he’s better at sleeping on the couch than I am; he got me up at 5 a.m. and slept until 9 a.m., when he started work). Worse, I didn’t get any sleep either, because when your body and mind are used to staying up until 2 a.m., you can’t shut them down before at least 1.

This is the new normal: so little sleep that when allowed to just wake up “whenever,” both Kyle and I will easily sleep well into the afternoon, which didn’t seem like a big deal when I was younger, but now I panic because most of the day is gone, and I have STUFF TO DO.

The new normal is chained inexorably to a schedule from which I hate deviating because deviating from that schedule ruins everyone’s day. It’s the twins’ eating schedule: bottles at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m., plus a mini bottle at 11 p.m. for Carrie. Deviating from that means that trips out of the house must be postponed, that the night will be fitful at best, that the adults’ meals all get thrown out of whack (or at least breakfast and lunch), that everyone is cranky and exhausted. Even when we leave the house, I’m adamant that we follow the schedule until the twins reach a point where we can drop one of the daytime feeds and just feed them three times a day, like we do with Sam.

That, I figure, will happen around the time they’re able to hold their own bottles, which is one of those milestones you don’t really think about before you encounter it, and then you’re suddenly like “oh my god, I have HANDS!”

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(shown: me when feeding the babies at present)

This is the new normal.

Sam has a hard time with the new normal, because he has to share us with the babies, and even though it doesn’t (usually) make him mad or sad, he still struggles with it. I try to keep him in the daily schedule as well: a movie of his choosing in the morning, lunch, learning time, Kindle time, dinner and cuddling, bedtime. This doesn’t always happen, particularly the after lunch stuff. Sometimes, I’m just so exhausted that I give him a second movie after lunch so I can try and sleep. Sometimes, I rush through learning time and give him his Kindle early so that I can help whichever baby is panicking because I’m no longer in their line of vision (I forgot about this phase; it’s exhausting, and I miss leaving the living room).

I miss being able to give Sam more consistency, and I know a billion people will comment places and say, “You just have to…” and to them I say, no, you come and try and do this. This is not. easy. It’s never just doing anything. There’s a schedule that I want to be ironclad because if it’s not ironclad, if anything gets slightly thrown off, everyone struggles through it.

Honestly, I think that’s the most frustrating part: when you’ve got twins, you get a lot of unsolicited advice. Thankfully, it’s rarely from people Kyle and I know well, so we can just brush it off, but you still get the occasional, “Oh, you should do XYZ!” suggestion that’s completely unhelpful, if well-meaning. And those are the worst, because you want to tell the person with that suggestion “hey, go eat a diaper,” but they mean well, so you put on a pasted smile and say, “I’ll try and remember that, thanks.”

(also funny, whenever someone sees that you have twins, they’re compelled to say, “Oh, my brother’s best friend’s cousin’s coworker’s nephew has twins!” especially if they’re a stranger, and you’re just like, “…okay?”)

This is a little bitchy. I apologize. I’m tired.

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Unhelpful suggestions abound towards a new corner of the new normal. We took the twins to have their heads looked at and came away with an official diagnosis of moderate-to-severe positional plagiocephaly. The doctor was… kind of a jerk about it, honestly. You could hear the “this is all your fault” laced through every sentence, and I came away feeling chastised and clutching only a confirmation of a follow-up appointment in 6 weeks. He mentioned physical therapy, but he didn’t give us any details. He said, “They’ll definitely need helmets,” but didn’t do anything else at the appointment.

And, well. It was frustrating. I came away just this side of furious, because it’s like… dude, can you come down off your high horse and put yourself in our shoes for a minute? These guys were born six weeks early. They didn’t reach the newborn phase until they were six weeks old, and they’re behind on a lot of things because of that. They’re only just now starting to be more awake during the day; up until probably 2-3 weeks ago, they just slept. A lot. They were born with weaker necks and softer heads that should’ve had at least 4 more weeks in utero to move around and get firmer, but they came early and slept in cribs when they should’ve been sleeping in me. Their neck and chest strength isn’t where it would be for four-month-olds born at term because they weren’t born at term. And all the tummy time and holding and therapy in the world isn’t going to change that.

I don’t know. I may be reading some of my own guilt into his tone (though Kyle picked up on it, too). I wish I could be as ON them as I was with Sam. I wish that I could reach a point with them like I did with Sam where my arms felt empty without him, not because I was like “Gosh, I wish I was still holding a baby” but because I literally held him so much that it felt weird not to have him on me.  I wish we’d be at the point where we’ve moved from survival mode to the previous sense of normal, but.

Well. Here we are. Normal helmets. Normal babies. Normalcy that’s anything but.

The Science Part

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and it’s kind of disorienting to me that Mother’s Day this year falls on the fourth anniversary of the day I became a mother.

I remember four years ago on Mother’s Day, I did NOT want to go into labor. I figured, that would be all anyone would talk about: how I’d given birth on Mother’s Day, how I became a mother on Mother’s Day, and that just… it squicked me out. I was still in that place of not knowing how I’d balance motherhood and my own individuality, how motherhood would integrate with the already fully-formed me, so such a twee coincidence was singularly unappealing.

At the same time, though, I was miserable and desperate to be done with pregnancy. I was two days past my due date, and my body had already decided it was Done being pregnant. That last week, I gained 30 lbs in water weight, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and my skin was raw and red from how much it itched due to ICP. I had a recurring pain behind my ribs that I’d later learn was my gallbladder begging my body to kick out the adorable parasite wreaking havoc on my system.

In short: I felt wretched and hated every minute of the last days of being pregnant.

(retrospectively, the fact that I only felt that bad for a couple of days instead of several months was a blessing, but I digress)

And Sam wouldn’t leave! I fully believe he would’ve stayed comfortably tucked beneath my ribs until I passed the 41 week mark, at which point, he would’ve been well above 9 lbs, thus rendering the newborn clothes we had for him beyond completely useless.

But! My body went haywire, my doctor induced me, and Sammy arrived, practically perfect in every way, at 5:42 p.m. on May 13, 2014.

IMG_0340(shown here in the only newborn size hat that ever fit him, looking very much like Isaac currently looks. Yoda for size comparison)

It’s odd how much more difficult things were when he was a newborn, largely because neither Kyle nor I knew what we were doing. We kept doing silly things like trying to sleep through the night while I fumbled through vain attempts to breastfeed. We were both of us exhausted; I don’t know about Kyle, but I have no memory of those early weeks beyond vague impressions of hooking myself up to a breast pump or rolling out of bed so many times in the middle of the night.

This compared to the twins, where we already have our survival strategy in place, where they’re already on a schedule and have been since they were born. You’d think that twins would be harder overall than a single baby, and they probably are if you have to figure out schedules and survival strategies on your own, but since we haven’t, they’re so easy. The only thing that’s difficult is the realization that sometimes, you have to let your baby cry.

(time for a sidebar, folks!)

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(it’s just like that sometimes)

With Sam, I never let him cry, unless he was crying over a mandatory thing, like a diaper change or a vaccination. At the slightest whimper, I ran to him, picked him up, cuddled him, coddled him, and did everything in my power to soothe him entirely. I sleep trained him a little bit (that is: I didn’t let him cry-it-out, but I did let him cry a little until he fell asleep), but I still had that niggling guilt for not running in and rocking him to sleep every night.

But with twins? That guilt is gone.

Why? Here’s the situation. The twins eat within half an hour of each other because I don’t want to spend 24 hours straight mixing bottles and feeding babies. I like being able to, say, take a couple of minutes to use the toilet or eat a Pop Tart. Or sleep. Anyway, if they’re asleep at the beginning of any given feed, the one who’s being fed second (it’s usually Carrie because she takes a decade to eat) will wake up halfway through the first twin’s feed and start first whimpering, then yelping, then screaming. And when they scream, they SCREAM. Carrie will, at least, tire herself out with the screaming within a relatively short period of time, but Isaac could go on for hours if we let him.

It’s the kind of thing that would get me strung up by my toenails in attachment parenting circles, but y’all, it can’t be helped. I only have so many arms and only such a reach. If one baby is in the middle of eating, it’s not generally considered a wise move to stop completely in order to pop a pacifier in the other baby’s mouth. They just have to wait it out, screaming and crying and all, and yes, it tugs on my heartstrings, but…

Well. I’m not Doc Ock here.

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(sidebar over)

We started celebrating Sam’s birthday today with a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. He’s a space kid–loves the moon, stars, the sun, planets, rockets, everything. He’s fallen in love lately with a Pete the Cat book about Pete going to the moon in a space capsule, and–smart mom that I am–I realized there was a space capsule that you could actually go inside at the Museum of Science. Combine that with the Charles Hayden Planetarium, and I figured I had a pretty good birthday plan for this kiddo.

And we did! The last time Sam went to the Museum of Science, he was a small whelp of barely 20 months. He was mostly interested in running because he’d only just learned how; nothing science-like held his attention for more than a few seconds, even among the brightly-colored objects around the museum. This time, though, he was really into the entire experience. His favorites were the space capsule and the Dora the Explorer science playground…

…and, of course, the planetarium.

The planetarium didn’t catch his attention much at first, but then the tech blew up their image of the sun to be enormous and take up the entire planetarium screen, and Sam just whispered, “Wow!” And then came the Northern Lights and he breathed, “Wow!” And he remained hooked throughout the rest of the presentation, despite overenthusiastic audience members and people trying to come back in and out throughout the presentation (the presenter sounded like she was about to strangle one guy who took his kid out, since she’d only told us we couldn’t keep leaving and coming back about 500 times by that point).

They say that space and dinosaurs are the two gateway drugs for science, and I genuinely hope that’s true and that Sam doesn’t find himself turned off to science by school the way so many people do. I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, encourage him to go for a science degree (when my own student loans are a dark shadow lurking over every financial decision I make), but in the imaginary scenario where I win the lottery and can afford for my kids to have awesome academic experiences without going into debt up to their eyeballs?

I’d like to think that, in that case, I’d have an astronaut for a son.

A Post with No (Few) Words

I’m not writing much today, since things remain relatively… normalish. Kyle is going back to work tomorrow, I should get an all-clear at my postpartum appointment on Friday, Sam’s birthday is in 19 days, and the twins are doing very well (save for some constipation issues, but that’s the name of the game in this house). No, today, I wanted to just post some of the pictures from our newborn/family photo shoot last week,  because they make me happy.

(all pictures were taken by Melanie Haney from Simply Mella Photography. Real talk: if you’re in Massachusetts or New Hampshire and need a photographer, hire Melanie. She’s amazing)

 

(that’s Isaac on the left and Carrie on the right)

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What comes next?

Every now and again, I get all cosmological about the passage of time. I’m 34 years old right now, but 17–technically half my life ago–seems like it was yesterday, and 40 seems a lifetime away. Time is such a weird, subjective thing, passing quickly or slowly but really, it’s all the same pace, no matter how it feels.

Which is all an “it’s the middle of the night and how do I words?” way of saying that the twins are somehow already a month old.

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Probably because we spent two weeks of this month with them living away from us, it feels like it’s gone by very quickly. Probably also because we got into our shifts routine from the get-go instead of flailing for a month and then realizing, “Well, duh,” it’s been a lot less painful and far smoother than it was with Sam. And, of course, there are the added bonuses of me not being depressed, Kyle having six weeks of paternity leave, and the twins already being settled in a routine that Sam took a good three months to reach.

Still. A month.

The weirdest part about them being a month old is that they aren’t technically due to be born for another 11 days. Part of me can imagine how miserable that would be but the rest of me doesn’t want to.

See, Kyle has it all figured out. I’m completely miserable when I’m pregnant because my body is just too good at being pregnant. With these two miracles that were a one in a million chance (the odds are probably even crazier than that; I’ve told Kyle multiple times, we really need to get on playing the lottery), they drained my body of so much of what they needed that I just felt a disaster all the time. Everyone was super complimentary of their umbilical cords (literally the weirdest thing I’ve ever been complimented on, and yes, this includes the time an ultrasound tech called my cervix “beautiful” and the time a guy spent 20 minutes complimenting my butt instead of making my grilled cheese sandwich, like come on, guy, if you want my butt to stay hotter than heat, make me my freaking sandwich already), and Kyle looked at that and decided that my body grows babies very well. It’s just not very good at taking care of itself at the same time.

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(this is Bella Swan being pregnant with a mutant half-vampire baby that’s eating her from the inside. It’s also a good idea of what I’m like when I’m pregnant)

So if I’d gone all the way to April 25, I’d be carrying not one but two huge babies (probably Sam’s size–8 lbs, 11 oz.–maybe more) and I’d probably have put myself on bedrest, which I hate doing, but I was miserable enough by the actual end of this pregnancy that I could barely go to the bathroom without pain, so life would’ve been terrible.

The “correct” thing to say about my pregnancy is “oh, I wish I’d been able to keep them in longer so they could’ve been healthier at birth,” but honestly? I don’t wish that at all. We were lucky as hell that things went as well as they did, but things did go well. The twins have always been wonderfully healthy, even in the NICU. They were born at good weights for their age, and I feel like if they’d stayed in longer, they wouldn’t have been as healthy. Everyone was running out of space, and I was running out of resources to give them.

(like I guess they could’ve taken my fat cells, I wouldn’t have complained about that, but I don’t know how nutritionally beneficial those are)

The “correct” thing is also to say that I wish I could’ve delivered them vaginally, but I… don’t? At all? I know that I probably could have delivered them vaginally, even with Carrie being breech, but I’m the oddball in the world who was so miserable beforehand that the C-section was actually a really positive experience. And that may be because I’d built it up in my mind to be this terrifying thing, but I can say with all honesty that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d expected. Obviously, my experience isn’t universal, and I know I’d have thought differently if I hadn’t had the two weeks the twins were in the hospital to recover (like seriously, it’s all been nat 20s the way this worked out), but as it stands?

It’s the same with formula feeding, though I feel a little bolder talking about that one (because people are a great deal more understanding when you say, “well, they’re NICU babies so we need to keep strict track of how many calories they get, and also I have crappy production because my PCOS is a bitch like that”). I have good reasons for not breastfeeding, but I also have not “good” reasons, especially now that I know my babies.

Isaac would be a champion breastfeeder, honestly. He’s always got a good latch on his bottles (the Tommee Tippee ones we got because they’re boob-shaped), and he’s good at working for his food. He’s a quick eater, too, and is usually done within 10-15 minutes of starting, because, again, he works for his food. He ends up being the first on the feeding docket for that reason, and he also ends up with a lot of cuddle and playtime in between feedings because he finishes quickly.

Carrie, on the other hand, is… well, she’s a pokey feeder, pokey like slowpoke. She’s lazy about getting her food and prefers to suck juuuuuust enough to get the formula going and then kind of let it flow. This is a highly inefficient way of eating, so while she sometimes manages a quick feed, she’s usually working at it for 30-40 minutes and even then, not getting everything we make because she falls asleep and won’t open up again. So with her laziness, feeds end up taking well over an hour, and I can’t imagine how much more it would be if we were dealing with my supply issues and the boob wrestling that is breastfeeding.

A huge contributing factor in my postpartum depression four years ago was that my body still wasn’t mine, even after 10 miserable months of pregnancy. I love being Sam’s mom, and that was just as true back then, but when you’re spending the majority of your day just trying to get food into someone or pump food for later, it takes a toll. Being able to take a break, to put these two down, to ask Kyle or my mom to take a feed–that’s been so incredible. It allows me to spend more time with Sam, allows us to take shifts so that we’re not overtired, allows us to still be ourselves even with twins.

The twins are opposites, personality-wise, of what I’d have expected them to be based on their behavior when I was carrying them. Isaac is loud and flaily; if he has a problem, the whole house knows it. He rarely goes on an actual crying jag, just usually lets out a “AOUW” of anger if he’s unhappy with his circumstances (for reasons like “you’re changing my diaper instead of feeding me” or “I seem to have spit out my pacifier. Yes, the one you put in my mouth 30 seconds ago. Is that a problem?”), but it’s a loud AOUW. He also squirms a lot; he’s eager to be mobile and sitting up. This is only a problem if I’m changing him on the couch, which I had to do for a couple of weeks because my C-section scar hurt like the dickens if I changed him anywhere else. Otherwise, it’s just kind of hilarious because he gets himself into these positions like a husky, where you wonder, “how are you possibly comfortable like that?” but he seems content.

He also likes to be held. They both do, but Isaac is more curious about it, probably because he spent the first two weeks of his life being disinterested in the world beyond a bottle and sleeping. He quiets right down if I’m holding him, but he doesn’t like to rest on his tummy on my chest, instead preferring to be cradled in my arms. He’s come close to smiling already, which is a delight.

And Carrie… well, everything Isaac is, she isn’t. She doesn’t cry unless we’re changing her diaper because of the nasty diaper rash she developed (like… layers of skin missing nasty, because she poops so often that we can’t catch it in time to keep things from getting bad, but it’s healing well because Aquaphor, and remember when I used to talk about things like whether or not all literature is time-bound, because I do); otherwise, she just quietly fusses. She doesn’t like to burp the way Isaac does, so it becomes a challenge at mealtime to try and get her to let some gas out and keep eating. She’s quiet before a feed, looking around and watching everything, but having a full tummy makes her sleepy, and it’s rare that she’s really awake after she eats.

Which is when I put her on my chest, because while Isaac isn’t a fan, Carrie loves being beaned up and hearing my heartbeat. And I’ll be honest: I love it, too. She’s a little warm bundle that’s like a kitten but larger, and she lets out contented little sighs but is otherwise so quiet that she might as well be a little doll.

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So that’s the twins. On Sam’s side of things, he’s adjusting better. Nights are the worst time for him–last night, he came downstairs 99% asleep because he had a nightmare that Kyle left and didn’t come back, which… yeah, the hospital stay really messed with him. I’m inclined to just let him sleep in our bed or downstairs with whomever is up with the twins until he reaches a point where he feels adjusted and not like he’s going to lose us at any given moment. This may be soft and squishy of me (and Kyle worries that he’ll just be sleeping in our bed forever), but… well, honestly, my brain is too overfull with twin care worries and Sam care worries to dive into strictly sending my terrified son back to his bed when he has a nightmare.

During the day, he’s at least improved his behavior somewhat. He’s become a great helper with the twins–he likes to figure out which one is crying and why and then solve that problem. He still hasn’t held them, and I can tell he’s nervous about it, probably because he knows it means sitting still and he’s not very good at that. BUT he’s really affectionate with them otherwise: lots of kisses, lots of tickles, and he holds their hands when they’re out of the cribs and crying. He’s also moved back towards his usual level of potty trained (ie., will go when we remind him and sometimes when we don’t), and everyone is relieved about that.

Kyle and I are almost literally ships in the night, but we steal moments when we can. My mom came by to watch the three kids (I have three kids and that’s weird because a month ago, I just had one) so Kyle and I could go out on our own. And it was nice, and somehow, despite the stresses of having three kids out of nowhere and me recuperating from a C-section and having three kids and two of them are infants and one is an almost-four-year-old who’s having separation anxiety, we still rather like each other.

I reminded him the other day that, as stressful as this first chunk of time is, it’s going by very quickly. The twins are a month old now; that means they’re that much closer to sleeping through the night, to graduating from formula to real food, to communicating in ways that aren’t crying. And while I don’t hate the newborn stage, especially with them being such good babies, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next: what kind of babies and toddlers and kids will they be? Will they get along with Sam and with each other? What comes next?

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(annnnnnd now I’m going to sing all of Hamilton to nobody)

Because, really, that’s the exciting part.

It’s been one week…

In the end, the twins were in the special care nursery for exactly two weeks. Two days before they were sent home, the hospital had us come and stay in a room and care for them throughout the night, which was an honest help overall. Kyle and I were able to get a feel for the newborn care thing again–the overnight, the feeding schedules, our shifts. It wasn’t a true one-to-one experience, as we’d learn in the next couple of days, but it was a reminder of the way things would go, of the way things went four years ago when Sam was this young.

It’s different, of course, because the twins are already on a schedule, which has been weird for having newborns. With Sam, there was no real schedule until he was 3-4 months old, something that had at least a little to do with the full switch over to formula feeding. That’s really a kind of hidden benefit of formula feeding–you have a lot more control over feedings, ensuring that your baby is getting enough food while also ensuring that they’re getting enough sleep. The special care nursery had the twins on such a regimented schedule from the get-go that they’ve just sort of stuck to it since getting home as well.

 

Anyway, we passed the overnight with flying colors, which… honestly, unless you’re some kind of wretched and completely ignoring your baby, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t pass. The most difficult part of the entire experience was getting a teaching from one of our nurses at the start of the night, pushing the overall start of Kyle and my shifts later by about an hour. I enjoyed our talk, mostly because she confirmed our decision to formula feed exclusively and even applauded it; I just wish it had happened earlier in the night.

The only difficult part of the night was entirely my fault. I caught Isaac mid-poo and had to clean up his clothes and change his diaper a couple of times before I got it all. Carrie was crying all the while, so it was an adventure, to say the least. Thankfully, that didn’t happen again the rest of the night and hasn’t happened again since, though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

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We’d heard a rumor that we’d be bringing the twins home immediately after the overnight, but the nurses were all quick to reassure us that wasn’t true. In the end, they came home the day after the overnight, and both of them have been doing well since. We’ve been doing well since, for the most part, but the adjustment… well, that’s been more difficult than the actual baby care, if that makes sense.

And by “adjustment,” I mean that Sam is having a hard time adjusting to not being the only child anymore. It’s more than that; I think that, were it just the “oldest, not only” thing, it would be a lot easier, but we’ve added onto it all the time I spent in the hospital and Kyle and I went back and forth to the hospital and how unsettled his life was the last several weeks, and the poor kid just can’t cope very well. He’s only three, after all, and that many life changes are hard even for an adult.

He’s regressed in a lot of ways–undone all his potty training when he’s at home, stopped really sleeping through the night, demanding cuddles and carrying at all times–and it all makes sense from an emotional perspective. He feels like he’s not getting enough attention, and he’s told us so in many ways and as many words. Not coincidentally, everything he’s doing to act out is something that requires us to pay attention to him. If he pees or poops his pants, we have to clean up after him. If he has a nightmare and comes into our room, we have to take care of him. If he demands cuddles or carrying, we either have to tell him no or pick him up.

It’s become an awkward sort of balancing act, between enacting consequences when he does act out (for the record: I don’t consider demanding attention in general to be acting out, but when the kid purposely runs to the dining room to drop a deuce like he’s forgotten what bathrooms are, you kind of have to do something in response) and trying to help him cope with the emotions he has. But he’s three, so it’s just a really weird situation. There’s only so much we can do to help him figure things out, and we’re of two minds about it, Kyle and I. Kyle’s a little stressed out about things, so he leans towards more consequences; I am also stressed out, but I’m all like “feelings” about it, so I lean more towards talking things out.

And, well, neither option is working terribly well. Some days are better than others, and Sam does a LOT better mornings than he does nights, but ultimately, even though we know that this is temporary, it’s still probably the hardest part of this process.

The worst night so far involved Sam waking up at around 11 p.m. with nightmares about me dying and nobody helping me (OH OKAY). Initially, he came into our bedroom with Kyle because it was my shift to be up with the twins (more on that in a minute), and when Kyle came downstairs to get a clean Pull-Up for Sam, I suggested that he bring Sam down to rest on the couch so that he (meaning Kyle) could get some decent sleep before his next shift. This ended up being a huge mistake; Sam didn’t sleep the entire time he was downstairs, instead spending the rest of the time he was downstairs with me patiently waiting for me to finish taking care of the babies before snuggling up on my lap and chatting with me about three-year-old things (e.g., “I think the babies like chocolate” or “Mommy, what’s bigger, thirteen or a lot?”).

So, well. It’s a work in progress. He’s got his grandparents on both sides giving him relentless affirmation of how loved he still is, and he’s very slowly coming around to the babies (he even kissed their–mittened–hands today!), but he’s getting there.

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Newborns-wise, I’m going to knock on wood, but things are going really well so far.

Back when Sam was a newborn, the first couple of months were the hell that everyone describes and expects. Neither Kyle nor I got any sleep, and we were both on the verge of insanity all the time. Kyle actually fell asleep mid-sentence when he was at lunch with some co-workers, and they felt so bad for him that they let him keep sleeping with someone there to chaperone him. We had no sense of order or schedule, and I have zero doubt that the chaos contributed to my postpartum depression.

BUT eventually, we figured out a system that made life easier. We took shifts, each of us sleeping for three hours straight and sitting up with baby Sam for three hours straight (which meant getting a lot of Netflix in). Once we figured that schedule out, life got SO much easier, and we remained comfortable and sensible until Sam hit the 3-4 month mark and started sleeping through the night.

(dear any new parents reading my blog for whatever reason: really, the exhaustion is temporary. No, your sleep schedule will never be the same, but the newborn phase ends soon, and you’ll sleep again, I promise)

With the twins, they’re already on a four-hour schedule, and so we’ve adjusted our shifts: Kyle sleeps from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and I sleep from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m. (ish). It’s proven surprisingly doable. We’re both exhausted, and I do miss sleeping more, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I’m going to die from sleep deprivation. The only hiccup so far came the other day, when a really strong low pressure system moved through and gave me an incredible migraine. By around 2 p.m., I couldn’t function, so Kyle was sweet enough to let me run upstairs and take a nap while he hung out with the kids.

As babies, the biggest challenge with the twins is just that there are two of them, but even that isn’t too much of a challenge. It just means that feedings and changings are two for the price of one, and that’s not too difficult. We’ve staggered their feedings enough that we’re easily able to finish the first feed/change before the second baby even wakes up. And that, overall, makes life a thousand and one times easier, and I’m super grateful to the NICU for getting them in that practice.

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And one way or another, we’re succeeding on some level. Both twins have reached and surpassed their birth weights, three weeks in, which is great for premature babies. They’re starting to focus their eyes on us, which is awesome, and their growth is remaining right on track. Their doctor has even mentioned that if they continue on this path, he’ll have a hard time thinking of them as preemies by as soon as four to six months along. He expects they’ll start hitting their milestones right on target in about that time period, and that’s pretty awesome.

Kids are great, I’m feeling great. I think pregnancy just had me feeling so awful that my C-section recovery has been a breeze by comparison. I’ve been off the prescription meds since about a week after delivery, and I’m not even taking pain medication for any surgery stuff at all any longer. I still occasionally feel some tension and tightness when I bend over a certain way or twist a certain way, but beyond that, I feel mostly healed. I’m avoiding driving and carrying Sam and the baby carriers around out of an abundance of caution, but my energy is up, my motivation is up, and I’m loving life.

It’s even wilder because I don’t have PPD this time (thank you Effexor), so I’m genuinely enjoying the newborn phase. The twins are sweet and good babies, Sam does well when we respond to him with empathy and understanding, and I feel… content. And that’s good.

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Concerning Boobies

So I’m going to write about boobs, specifically about breastfeeding. If you’re weirded out by that, (a) might be good to talk to someone about why breastfeeding weirds you out; and (b) you may want to skip this blog.

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I’ve always been on the Bigger Boobs side of things when it comes to my own development. For a long time, I still fit into the “big but can still shop at Victoria’s Secret” category, a category that ends with the letter D; but weight gain and eventually pregnancy showed me a whole new set of letters to describe my chest flesh. At the moment, I’m squeezed into an older bra that’s a bit too small for my “pregnant with twins, what’s your excuse?” chest because I really don’t want to get measured and refitted when I’ve still got a while to go yet in this pregnancy.

People talk a good game about wanting gazongas like mine, but they aren’t fun. On the most pragmatic scale of all, affordability, they’re a nightmare. Some maternity stores do go up to my size for cheap(ish), but if I really want to wear something that’s cuter than beige, I have to go online to find it, and it always costs ~$50-60, which is why I own three bras and three bras only. Objectively cuter bras that exist to make me feel good about myself don’t really come in my size, or if they do, they don’t come easily (though I will say that once the twins are born, I’m totally getting a galaxy bra from Torrid and you can’t stop me).

Less pragmatically, my back hurts. A lot. Contrary to what animes would have you believe, big boobs do not function like helium balloons. They consist of fat and sinuses and chest flesh and thus actually weigh something, and that weight must be supported by something, namely your back muscles. Consequently, I’ve noticed that since I went from my high school size of “appropriate” to my postpartum size of “even turtlenecks give me cleavage,” my upper back hurts a lot more. It’s not excruciating, but it’s enough that, when lying in bed at the end of the day, I pray for the funds to get a breast reduction sooner rather than later so that I don’t develop a hunchback before I’m 40.

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(no offense Quasimodo)

Now, you’d think with these gazongas, I’d be an enthusiastic heifer, udderly producing way too much milk for one baby, let alone two.

And you would be wrong.

I felt encouraged in this direction towards the end of my pregnancy with Sam. Nobody mentions this, but you leak a lot the further along your pregnancy gets, and I kept developing stains on my favorite shirts and bras (which were more numerous then). It was frustrating, but I felt like it was a good sign: if I’m producing enough to leak right now, I’ll surely be a dairy farm for this kid, and we’ll never have to spend a cent on formula.

Ha.

Fast forward to Sam’s birthday, the day of his actual birth. After 45 minutes of pushing, the nurses lifted my child with his enormous head and baby slime to my chest, and it was time to breastfeed for the first time. This practice is encouraged for understandable reasons: breastfeeding causes your body to release oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract, which helps expel the placenta and slow your bleeding. If, for whatever reason, you can’t breastfeed or your uterus isn’t contracting, you’ll get a dose of synthetic oxytocin (known as pitocin) to speed the process along and hopefully prevent your delivery room from turning into that scene from The Shining.

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So anyway, I tried to breastfeed. I’d read all the videos, knew all the tips, and figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I held my boy tenderly against me and gently guided my huge freaking gazonga titty towards his face and his face towards the huge freaking gazonga titty. For about half a second, he put in a valiant effort of latching onto the bulbous orb that was suddenly coming towards him… but then that second ended and he decided that no, he did not want the orb.

In the moment, it wasn’t a big deal. I was still on an IV that gave me a steady drip of pitocin because of my induction. The placenta came out, and I didn’t die of too much bleeding, and Sam and I had those moments of bonding together–albeit minus the breastfeeding.

But it’s cool, it’s cool, I told myself. I’ve been in labor for 24 hours, Sam is brand new to breathing, we’ll just keep trying until we get it.

Back in those days, hospitals didn’t really go for the baby-friendly hospital movement thing, so we had the option to let Sam spend the night in the nursery and get some sleep. Exhausted from having been pregnant for what felt like 18 years and going through 24 hours of labor without having slept at all in the 36 hours beforehand, I gladly took advantage of this program. The nurses fed Sam formula while I slept and recovered, about six hours a night.

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During the day, we worked on breastfeeding. A steady stream of lactation consultants came in with various tools to help Sam realize that breastfeeding was awesome, but nothing doing. Our most elaborate attempt involved a syringe with a long tube attached that went into Sam’s mouth at the same time as my boob. The idea was that he theoretically wasn’t getting into breastfeeding because my boob wasn’t producing immediate results, which I still think is true, but the syringe didn’t help with that at all. Sam just got angry when the syringe stopped and screamed instead of trying harder, a strategy I can definitely relate to.

But we went home, and I tried to put Sam on the boob every time he needed food. These sessions were, to put it gently, miserable. They lasted at least an hour and a half apiece and needed to start all over again when they ended.

See. First, I’d put Sam on the boob with the mindset of “maybe he’ll get it this time.” Breastfeeding involves a LOT of moving parts, and trying to get your infant to understand which moving parts are which is an exercise in having the patience of a saint and the stamina of a tank. And I did everything the lactation consultants suggested. I used the syringe. I avoided pacifiers at the very start and used breast-shaped bottles to avoid “nipple confusion.” I massaged and focused and switched boobs and did what I could, but even after 45 minutes of wrestling, Sam was screaming with hunger and I was exhausted.

But we still weren’t done, or well. I wasn’t done.

For the first couple of weeks, I had Kyle with me to help, since he had a week of paid paternity leave and then worked from home, returning to work in gradual steps. He would go and mix up a bottle of formula for us, and I’d get out the pump. Breast pumps are kind of weird machines, and it’s impossible to use one and NOT feel like you’ve devolved into some sort of human-bovine hybrid. Even with the most modern and discreet models, you’re being milked, and there’s no way for that to NOT be awkward.

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(sorry to shatter any illusions; it’s exactly like this)

So Kyle would take Sam and sit on the couch with pillows and give Sam a bottle so that the poor child would stop being so hungry. I would get myself hooked up to the milk machine, which was… an adventure, to say the least. I’m not sure if it’s easier for people whose breasts don’t fall into the huge freaking gazongas category, but getting everything aligned properly was always a Process for me. After that, I’d sit and pump for a total of 45 minutes, half on the left and half on the right. I couldn’t do anything else during these pumping sessions, because I had to hold the cups in place or else they’d just be trying to milk air, and that’s not very good. And the end product was always roughly 15 drops of milk–a generous amount for, say, a pet mouse, but not very useful for keeping a child alive.

It was exhausting. And by the time I was done pumping and Sam was done eating, we’d have a reprieve of maybe half an hour before it was time again.

I hated it.

What’s more, I hated myself for hating it. Breastfeeding, feeding in general, was supposed to be this wonderful bonding time with the two of us, but I dreaded the very thought. The best part for me was when Kyle would give Sam back to me, after all the pumping and eating and wrestling and angst, and my baby boy would curl up against me and fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat. The worst part was literally everything else about it. I was miserable.

If I’m honest, the beginning of the end came about 3 days after Sam was born. Maybe four. Our hospital had a policy that if you left before the 48 hours you were allowed to stay following your child’s birth were up, you could have a nurse visit you at home. Sam was born at around 5:45 p.m., which gave us a solid two nights in the hospital, and we didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic on the ride home, so we left a good four hours before we had to… and two days later, the nurse came.

She brought a scale with her and blood pressure monitors and all sorts of portable tools to measure Sam and measure me and make sure that we weren’t secretly dying. Sam went first; she took his blood pressure, checked out his jaundice (a lot of babies are jaundiced when born, but most end up better after getting some sunlight), and then weighed him. “That’s really impressive!” she remarked. “He’s gained back all of the weight he lost after birth. He’s back to his birth weight. Whatever you’re doing to keep him growing like this, keep it up!”

The remarks were both flattering and embarrassing. We were about 50/50 formula and breast-wrestling at that point, and even Sam’s pediatrician said at the one week mark, “If you want to start starving him a little so that he’ll take to the boob easier, he’s got more than enough weight on him.” But for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that, knowing what it took to get him to even breastfeed for a solid ten minutes.

I don’t remember the specific day I decided to quit breastfeeding entirely, only that Kyle was there and asked if I even wanted to try to put Sam on the boob. And I took a deep breath and I said, “You know what, I think I don’t. Let’s just give him formula.” The breast pump parts started to gather dust, and although my ginormous freaking gazongas still leaked like a haunted faucet (leading to at least one incident of which Kyle has said he learned a valuable lesson about not honking your wife’s boob affectionately while she’s lactating), things started to look up.

Sam kept up his pace of growth, and he was a much happier baby now that he was able to actually eat and not have to deal with having a boob thrust in his face whenever he got hungry. Kyle and I were actually able to function better as well, especially once we discovered various charts describing how much formula we could give Sam based on how big he was and how long we wanted to go between feedings. We were able to take shifts at night, so we both got about six hours of sleep, which wasn’t great but was a huge improvement over the three we’d been getting before.

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And, blissfully, Sam started sleeping through the night around three months old. That night is burned into my brain: Kyle and I both decided to crash around 10 p.m., and when Sam woke us up fussing at 5 a.m., we both looked at each other and asked, “Did you get up last night? No, did you?” And then came the realization of what had transpired and life was good.

Four years later, and Sam’s a healthy, happy kid whom his teachers describe as “scary smart.” He is absolutely average in terms of height and weight, and aside from a bout with ear infections well after I would have weaned him anyway, he’s been fantastic all along. I have zero regrets.

And I could go into all of the other things that contributed to the zero regrets: how I had to have gallbladder surgery when he was three months old, how I started antidepressants shortly after that, how scientifically speaking, babies who are formula fed and babies who are breastfed have negligible differences, but… why? What matters here was that breastfeeding was making us both miserable, and everyone was much happier when we stopped.

It’s all making me lean towards not breastfeeding the twins, which is a horrifying prospect when you consider the cost of formula for two babies, but at the same time…

Well, I look at my boobs. They’re still enormous. They could have their own gravitational pulls. I look at how hard it was to convince Sam to even try the boob and imagine doing that, with all its moving parts, for two babies. I look at Kyle and Sam, with their incredible bond that I don’t believe would be nearly as strong if Kyle hadn’t been able to be so involved with Sam’s care in those early days. I look at the almost certain chaos of those early days with two newborns instead of one.

And then I go to the store and buy a dozen more bottles (20% off at Babies R Us!) and say, you know, I think they’ll be alright.