First Day of School Stuffed Cookies

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL STUFFED COOKIES
Recipe borrows liberally from Tasty’s recipes for The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies and Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. Check out the notes below for variations! 

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter, toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups chocolate chips
Stuffing (hot fudge, Nutella, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, caramel), chilled

Directions

  1. Melt one cup (2 sticks) butter and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to ensure an even brown. Once you notice dark flecks in the bottom of the boiling butter, transfer to a liquid measuring cup and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. *note: if liquid butter does not reach the 1 cup marker, add water until it reaches that line*
  2. Sift or whisk together flour, kosher salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. 
  3. Cream cooled butter, white sugar, and dark brown sugar in a large bowl. 
  4. Add vanilla extract and eggs to the large bowl and combine thoroughly. 
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients to the large bowl (about ⅓ at a time), mixing until just combined. 
  6. Fold in 2 cups of chocolate chips and other add-ins. 
  7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (overnight if you’re an A+ student!). 
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  9. Use 3 oz. ice cream scoop to form large balls of cookie dough. Flatten balls between the palms of your hands and rest on cookie sheet.
  10. Place fillings (about ½ tbsp per cookie) in the center of the cookie and seal cookie dough around the filling. 
  11. Top each cookie with chocolate chips and other toppings.
  12. Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes. Allow to cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack. 

NOTES:
I use salted butter for my cookie recipe because I really like the contrast of a saltier cookie with sweet chocolate chips (using unsalted butter is a bit too cloying for me), but unsalted butter will work just as well!

I usually only mix standard, semi-sweet chocolate chips into these cookies, but other add-ins can really boost them to a new level! Try any of these: 

  • Chopped dark chocolate. Use a bar of dark chocolate (not bitter chocolate, unless you’re REALLY into that) and give it a rough chop before folding it into your dough alongside the chocolate chips. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. Substitute for about a cup of regular chocolate chips to give some texture contrast to your dough.
  • Espresso powder. Add one tsp after creaming your butter and sugars. 

The possibilities for fillings and toppings are absolutely endless! I tend to stick with just chocolate chips and rainbow sprinkles (to give the cookies a celebratory flair!), but you can top and fill with any number of things! Experiment; that’s what fun in the kitchen is about! 

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I always hate when I’m looking for a recipe for something and I have to scroll through hours of reading on somebody’s life before I get to the actual recipe. I get that it’s a THING, and I get that it’s all about self-expression, but look. If you’re coming to my blog because you googled “chocolate chip cookie recipe” and this somehow popped up instead of the Food Network or Epicurious or something, here you go. The recipe is at the top, and if you want to read about my life, you can keep going while the cookies bake or something.

67396929_10156380619950592_4343912859269332992_o(they’ll look like this after they bake, for reference)

It’s early August, and Sam is less than three weeks away from starting kindergarten. I’ve got all his supplies here in my office, still sitting in Target bags (more supplies than needed, because I was a bad student and tried to find his supply list online… and the list I found was The Most Wrong, so now I have a bunch of pencils and erasers and things that he’d probably need at some point, just not this year). I’ve got his metaphorical Hogwarts letter with all of the instructions and a little fish with his teacher’s name on it. I know his best friend from daycare is going to be in his class with him. I’ve no idea what bus he’ll be taking home in the afternoons, but if this year’s routes are similar to last year’s, he’ll be getting home a little past three in the afternoon–hopefully while the twins are still napping. 

We’re winding summer down slowly with trips to the beach and company picnics. This past weekend, we packed everyone up in the van and drove up to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, an experience that fell squarely in the middle of the stressful things scale. On the one hand, Isaac got carsick three separate times during the drive and then had a huge diaper blowout after about two hours on the beach. On the other hand, he, Carrie, and Sam seemed to have a blast despite the sickness. Sam and Kyle built a sandcastle together, and the twins huddled with me under our beach umbrella, experimentally playing with sand and eating Goldfish crackers (and sometimes eating sand, too, because they’re babies). 

It was a typical outing for a family with young children. Kyle and I looked at it as a balanced affair, with frustration that having young kids meant we couldn’t do as much around Hampton as we otherwise would have (they have some great arcades and candy shops, and even though I’m trying to lose weight, I have a hard time turning down a beachside candy shop), relief that things went smoothly aside from Isaac’s bodily fluids, and happiness that it was a good day overall. It lasted just long enough that everyone was happily tired when we got home, not so brief that the hour and a half drive seemed a waste of time, not so long that we were exhausted.

And today was Kyle’s company picnic, at a conference center about 40 minutes from our house. I say “conference center,” which makes it sound like it was some sort of buttoned up meeting space and very dull; really, it was more like a summer camp-slash-carnival, with lawn games and bounce houses and cotton candy and face painting and so on. They had some great typical cook-out food (not quite barbecue–hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken, plus a bunch of sides) and some free ice cream, and all-in-all, it was a nice set-up. 

Trouble was that it was LOUD. This is par for the course at every company event I’ve attended for every company ever. The DJ always has the music turned up to 11, the fans are always going to keep the tents cool, there’s a lot of talking and buzzing and noise. I gather that this isn’t something that bugs most people, but it makes it hard for me to engage with anyone–my brain just won’t filter out unimportant sounds like the conversation way over there, the constant roar of the fan, the faint buzz of some fly that wants my lunch. 

Basically, I spent most of today staring blankly into space and probably looking really strange. 

The times I didn’t spend staring blankly into space were fun. The babies enjoyed their cook-out fare, mostly (good: chicken, corn, pasta salad, hot dogs; bad: bell peppers, zucchini). Sam played in the bounce house and obstacle course until he was too sweaty and exhausted to do much more than whine at us. Kyle and I split a cherry cotton candy, and Sam and I giggled our way through a pair of ice cream sandwiches. The twins were adorable, my hair and lipstick were awesome… it was mostly good.

But I am tired. 

So is Isaac, for that matter. He didn’t nap at all today, which meant that the afternoon following the picnic was flavored with his exhausted sobbing at all points, with him nearly nodding off while standing on my lap and then crying when he realized he wasn’t actually completely asleep. I wish we had a clearer picture of what’s going on with him, if only so that we could plan for days like today, maybe with noise cancelling headphones or with frequent breaks or with one of us staying home with him.

He can’t go for an evaluation most places until he’s 18 months old, which is frustrating. He and Carrie turn 17 months old less than a week from today, but the Early Intervention autism specialist can’t test him until he’s 18 months old, and I really want to go through them because otherwise, wait times for an autism screening are many, many months long. And like I’ve been saying, if it turns out that he’s autistic, I’m not bummed out or even slightly disappointed; it’d be nice to have another brain that works like mine in the house, someone to sympathize with me when everything is just too much. 

BUT I also want him to have better coping skills than I have, and to know from a decently early point if he’s going to need more assistance in any area–if he’s going to be like me and deal with frustratingly heavy executive dysfunction and sensory overload issues; if he’s going to need help communicating with us; what accommodations he’ll need to live a happy and healthy life. And I’d like to know that stuff sooner rather than later. 

Sigh. I don’t know. It’s not a super rough waiting game, because at the end of the day, we’re probably only waiting another month, and the screening centers our service coordinator suggested to us haven’t gotten back to me yet anyway. But it’s still frustrating to have no news whatsoever, not in a good or bad way, just because we’re waiting.

And then there’s Carrie, just running laps past every milestone, perfecting her toddle, adding new words to her vocabulary every day. She’s frustratingly cute; she’ll say ‘uh oh!’ or shake her head while saying ‘mm-mm!’ if she’s caught doing something she shouldn’t be. She has her stuffed Bear that she found after my mom brought some boxes to our house a couple of weeks ago; said Bear is now her constant companion, and between him and her stuffed Ariel doll, she’s constantly on about her favorite little friends. She’s impish and giggly and basically everything you’d want out of a little girl, almost stereotypically so. All she needs are the little pigtails and she’ll be sitting squarely in the “Platonic form of Daughter” box. 

She and Isaac get along better these days than they used to, though they still fight over toys and books and my lap. They give each other kisses pretty frequently, team up to accomplish whatever baby feat they’re working on, hide in their “clubhouse” (which is underneath and behind their high chairs, against the wall), and find each other’s lovies whenever the other is crying (Carrie will actually toddle around calling “Wubba! Wubba!” when Isaac loses his pacifier-slash-Wubbanub; Isaac throws Bear at Carrie whenever she cries). I think that’s my one fear with Isaac having autism; I worry that it will affect their relationship. I don’t think it will, but I want them to be close, or at least as close as they can be. 

But. But but but. 

School starts soon, and there are cookies to bake. Good night.

Beds and Screenings

When you’ve got three kids, you pretty much feel like most of your Big Adulting milestones are far behind you, especially if you’ve got three kids, a spouse, and a house. You’ve finished whatever schooling was expected of you, you’ve got married, you’ve signed papers for a mortgage, you’ve done your taxes, you’ve had a job or two or ten, you’ve had kids, you’ve ticked so many things off the list that it’s easy to forget other smaller milestones that come along the way.

Like buying appliances. We bought appliances for the first time when we bought our house, as the previous owners planned to take the fridge with them and the dishwasher had a color scheme and serial number that suggested it had been manufactured in the 1970s. In those halcyon days before Sears became a memory, we wandered through the Kenmore section and chose our appliances in black, not because we had an affinity for black appliances (honestly, stainless steel hasn’t gone anywhere for years, so that would have made more sense) but because the one remaining appliance–the stove–was black and we wanted things to match.

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(this is literally what our old dishwasher looked like)

That was nearly four years ago, and this week, Kyle and I checked another milestone off the list that we didn’t realize was a milestone: we bought a bed.

It’s not our first bed, obviously. We started our married life with an inflatable mattress that lasted three months and was perfectly fine for sleeping and marital activities until one night in August. We’d been sleeping soundly until very, very early in the morning when Kyle shook me awake and asked, “Do you ever have that sinking feeling?” And lo and behold, we were in the process of descending to the floor as our inflatable mattress ceased to be so inflated. We discovered, once morning came, that the mattress had somehow acquired insurmountable holes and was no longer suitable for use by anyone. 

SO we eventually shuffled off to Big Lots and bought the cheapest possible queen mattress and the cheapest possible frame and, like the very talented young marrieds we were, didn’t even bother with a box spring. And for the next eight years, that mattress worked very well for us! Or… mostly well. In the last year, the bed has begun to show the strain of belonging to two fat people (one of whom, we discovered this week, has gone down 6 pant sizes–not me, but one of whom!). 

(it’s Kyle, he’s down six pant sizes)

And admittedly, a lot of the recent strain on the bed, at least on my side, came from the twin pregnancy making me enormous, which put pressure on the springs and turned the bed from delightful and comfortable to misery. The springs had reached a point where they were poking my hip violently throughout the night, and poor Kyle has been dealing with lower back pain for ages, which made everything harder than usual. 

So a new bed. We’ve had a recent windfall of money, thanks to Kyle’s family, and while they were up visiting this week, we wanted to actually shop for a bed, not just go to Big Lots and buy the cheapest and easiest thing in the store. Fortunately for us, my cousin works at a Mattress Firm and was able to give us the Sleep System Experience (I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but it is now). 

And, you know, it really felt like an adult thing because the consideration was less ‘we need this, let’s just get whatever we can afford’ and more ‘what will last us and ensure that we have a good night’s sleep for years to come?’ That, really, was the adult part, where yes, affordability was a concern, but we could afford to consider quality as well. 

We tried out beds like a pair of lumbering Goldilockses, and in the end, we walked away with a pretty nice mattress and an adjustable frame (which I wasn’t sold on until my cousin put it in the “zero gravity” position for us and we both kind of groaned in relief like “ah yes, I remember being 18 and not having back problems”). Both were delivered on Saturday, along with lavender sheets (Kyle’s color choice, and I’m not complaining, purple is awesome) and a comforter that was listed on Amazon as being steel grey but is really one of the many shades of poop we’ve encountered over the last five years of being parents. And I’ve added to my “must buy” list a headboard (preferably one with a bookshelf) and a less poop colored comforter and maybe some throw pillows BECAUSE we got a king-sized bed. 

I never thought we’d need a king-sized bed, even though Kyle and I are both generously sized. We’ve slept in king-sized beds while traveling before, and though we’d start the night spread out and on different sides and laughing about how much space we had, we’d inevitably end the night wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed because I guess we like each other or something? And even with Kyle’s height (he’s 6’4”), a queen seemed to suit our needs perfectly. 

And then we had kids. 

More specifically, we had one kid grow old enough to leave his own room in the middle of the night and come into ours for, oh, any number of reasons. Lately, it’s because he’s just lonely, because my son is nothing if not a people person (he’s going to do so well in kindergarten… I hope), but it can be anything from nightmares to a stomach ache to he suddenly thought of a story to tell us. When he was smaller, I didn’t mind him in our bed because he could easily snuggle between the two of us, and we could all sleep comfortably. 

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Now, though, Sam is creeping ever closer to the four-foot mark, and having him in bed with us had become… well, difficult, we’ll say. It was the worst when I was pregnant with the twins, because of course, I was a small moose and Sam was clingy, but there was just no space in the bed for Kyle AND Sam AND me AND the planet that was my huge belly. We brought him back to his own bed most nights, but that wasn’t an ideal solution because he’d need a long discussion to get him back in the mood for sleeping in his own room, which meant that one or both of us would miss out on a lot of sleep. If we’d had the space, we’d have just let him sleep in the bed with us, but…

Well. I’m no longer pregnant with twins (a fact I’m grateful for every day), but Sam is even larger than he was before, and his midnight jaunts to our room haven’t slowed down in the least. For a while, with our bed being the disaster it was, we set up a little nest next to the bed, and he’d just hunker down there, content to be in the room with us, even if not in the bed; but that always gave me “wow, I’m a shitty mom” vibes–me in my comfortable bed and my son on the floor in my room, as if he didn’t have his own bed.

(his own bed, despite having a kind of cheap mattress, is very nice–it’s a sleigh bed, even, which has me envious as I click through pages of headboards on Wayfair)

The bed invasions won’t stop, and I don’t really want them to. I’d read an article a while ago about a woman who’d bedshared with her son and how people would always snidely remark about how “you don’t want him in your bed when he’s a teenager” and while she no longer bedshared with him once he’d reached his teen years, she made it clear to him that her room and her arms were always open to him, without judgement or condition. And he heard her and she was the one he came to when he had a broken heart or a difficult time at school or any number of myriad things teenagers deal with.

We didn’t really bedshare with Sam when he was a baby (both of us are paranoid about rolling over in our sleep), but at the same time, I want him to know that he’s always safe with us, whether it’s sleeping in our bed or sitting on the couch between us or buckled in the back seat of our car. I want that for the twins, too, when they’re old enough, whether it’s because of a bad dream or a bad thunderstorm. That they feel safe and comfortable with us is absolutely paramount for me. 

SO! King-sized bed it is. Maybe, eventually, if we ever transfer another embryo and get a dog and more cats and who knows what else, we’ll get another king and push them together like some sort of magical giant frankenbed, but for now, we’re enjoying the HELL out of this adjustable king-sized bed.

*

On the other side of things is Isaac.

Isaac, my beautiful smiley little boy, my unexpected middle child who’s cuddled his way into my heart so deeply and irrevocably, my adventurous snugglebug whose smile could cure cancer. He’s been developmentally delayed–and officially labeled as such–since he was about four months old, most of that coming from (a) some torticollis and (b) that he was born six weeks early. We’ve had him in Early Intervention for that since about that time, and for a while, he was progressing by leaps and bounds, going from a potato who could only look over his right shoulder to a rocket baby zooming around the living room at the speed of sound. 

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But lately he’s kind of stalled. It’s not a big deal, honestly, because babies do that. They go through a developmental leap and they stall, they gain 15,000 skills over the course of one (long, sleepless) weekend and they pause. It’s more noticeable when you have twins because they never stall at the same time (and this stall happened while Carrie busily learned to stand on her own and take small, uncertain steps), but stalls still aren’t unexpected. At worst, I figured, we could just speak with the Early Intervention team and see about getting him some physical therapy or occupational therapy so that he’d keep up with his sister in terms of walking and talking.

He’s also a rocker and a bouncer, constantly moving himself in almost violent back and forth movements, sometimes mashing his face against something and other times mashing the back of his head against something. He can’t fall asleep unless he spends a decent amount of time on his hands and knees, rocking back and forth while dutifully sucking on his Wubbanub. And to be clear, babies rock and stim a lot, because the world is new and they need to experience it from all angles. Rocking is soothing for babies, too, and for the most part, it didn’t worry me. 

But something in my brain pinged that maybe I should worry, just a little. After all, we have Early Intervention anyway, and they’ve always told us that any evaluation the twins need, they’ll do for free. With that in mind, I asked the twins’ caseworker to bring an ASQ, or Autism Screening Questionnaire, with her when she came to our house next.

The ASQ is a series of what felt like six billion questions that you answer “always/often” or “sometimes” or “never” and your kid gets scored based on your answers. I don’t remember the scoring specifically, but I do remember that 65 was the cutoff for further testing. Carrie, who had her six month evaluation today, took the test first and got a 30, which is numerically the equivalent of “might possibly be the inverse of autistic, like citsitua” and that surprises exactly no one who’s ever spent time with her. She lives for sensory stimulation of all kinds and is about as neurotypical as a sixteen-month-old baby can be. 

Isaac, on the other hand, scored a 95, which is numerically the equivalent of “at least two autisms, possibly even three.” 

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Fortunately, our caseworker and our physical therapist (who was there for Carrie’s evaluation) also had a copy of the M-CHAT, which is the next step in autism screening. Its proper name is the “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers” and it’s basically the exact same thing as the ASQ, only with fewer and more streamlined questions. With that one, a score below 8 suggests a mild or moderate concern, while 8 and higher suggests that further evaluation is warranted. 

Annnnnnd Isaac scored an 8.

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So we’re moving forward with his autism screening, with our EI office’s autism specialist coming in the next couple of weeks to have a playtime evaluation with him, just 10-15 minutes to see if he should be fast-tracked to an evaluation program, a process that can otherwise take months or even years (which I think is absolutely ridiculous BUT there’s probably an enormous backlog). And I have feelings.

I was pretty weirded out (in a good way) by the questionnaires hitting on questions I wouldn’t have even thought to associate with autism, like questions about constipation or increased muscle tone or “have you ever wondered if your baby was deaf” among the more typical ones like “does your baby have good eye contact” or “does your baby perform repetitive motions?” And I’m relieved for those questions because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a completely nonverbal Rain Man type to be autistic. Isaac has great eye contact and likes people… but he also has no sense of stranger danger, doesn’t have any real words, and is often very stiff like he can’t stand to be positioned any way that’s different from his current position (which makes diaper changes a blast). 

The idea of one of my kids being autistic is also unsurprising to me; it runs in my family as much as brown eyes, enormous knockers, and astigmatism do. Though my younger sister is the only one in my immediate family with an official diagnosis, the rest of us easily fall into the category of “had current diagnostic criteria been used when I was six, I’d have a diagnosis and a half.” Kyle’s been telling me for ages that I should see a doctor to be officially diagnosed, and honestly, if things move in a more autistic direction with Isaac, I probably will. 

I mean, there’s a lot to it, and so much of treatment and diagnosis nowadays focuses less on what it’s like to actually be autistic and more on how autistic people interact with the world around them. In my experience, and from what I’ve read, a lot of it relates to the usual filters in your brain just… not working the way they do in neurotypical brains. A neurotypical person might easily be able to filter out things like the scratch of a shirt tag, the sound of the air conditioner, the flickering light in the corner, the smell of a long since cleaned spill, the taste of dry mouth, but it’s honest effort to filter those things out when your brain works autistically, and so you’re always on the verge of reaching a level of overstimulation that doesn’t much come for the neurotypical brain outside of the throbbing, psychedelic dance floor of a local club or Disney World on Christmas Eve.

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It’s exhausting. Some days, I reach the end of the day and just need to zone out completely, sit in a dark room and breathe. I have a hard time socializing outside a quiet or one-on-one setting because trying to figure out which voices matter and which ones don’t is really hard. Online or when it’s just with another person–especially someone I know well–I follow conversations very easily, but beyond that, I tend to spend my socializing time towards the edge of a room, counting down the seconds until I can leave.

But anyway. The point of all that is to say that if Isaac is autistic, I’m glad that he’s got me to advocate for him. This sounds really smug and haughty like “ha ha, my autistic child could not have a better parent than I, for I am the best of the parentals!” but it’s really more like “how fortunate to have been born to a mom who understands exactly how his brain works because it’s how her brain works.” It means I’ll be able to help him recognize when he’s getting overstimulated before it ends in a meltdown and help him find ways to cope with the loud, brilliant world that won’t lead to his complete ostracization. It’s like a vision impaired or hearing impaired parent having a child with a similar situation: they’re able to help better because they’re in the thick of it with their child. They know how to navigate a world that’s going to be harsh for their child because of the situation of their birth, in the same way that all parents teach their kids certain things about functioning in the wide world.

So overall, I’m pretty chill about it, but I do have two fears: therapy and Autism Moms ™.

They tie into each other, really. With therapy, I fear therapeutic approaches that, instead of teaching Isaac to cope with the world, will instead train him to appear neurotypical while ignoring what’s going on in his brain that causes the atypical behaviors. I’m not interested in tweaking his behavior; if he needs to stim, I want him to feel confident enough in himself that he can do so. I am, however, interested in teaching him coping mechanisms so that the world isn’t too much for him. 

Related to that… the Autism Moms ™.

Not every mom of an autistic kid falls into the category of Autism Moms ™. When I think Autism Moms ™ I think of the Jenny McCarthy type, the type wailing about autism stealing their child away from them, the one who will try bleach enemas and raw diets and anything to “”””cure”””” their child’s autism. 

I never have good encounters with these types (and they are incredibly common on parenting websites and forums). Things usually start off calmly enough but end with me trying to get it through their thick skulls that kids who have autism are STILL PEOPLE and THEY STILL HAVE EMOTIONS and maybe saying “I wouldn’t wish my autistic son on my worst enemy” IS A SHITTY THING TO SAY. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of autism moms I know are not this type; they’re fantastic advocates for their kids and respect that their children are PEOPLE, that autism is less tragedy and more “well, I just have to adjust my style and expectations like you do with every kid.” But I still fear the Autism Moms ™ because I know my feelings on autism aren’t super popular with them, and I think I’d probably get torn a new one for being really calm about my son potentially being autistic (like… ?? am I supposed to freak out and cry and sob? What is that going to change?). I want to have a village, but I do not want THAT village. 

So I focus on things like the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the #ActuallyAutistic tag on Twitter, and I’ll keep doing so as we all move forward with this. Fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be able to have Isaac evaluated soon and know one way or another, but either way…

Well, he’s my sweet little baby elephant, exactly as he is, no matter how he is.

What they deserve

Sam graduated from pre-K last Friday, which I used to think wasn’t a HUGE deal because, really, must we have graduations for every transition in life? But then he graduated and I was crying the second they started playing “Pomp & Circumstance” (on his principal’s iPhone held up to a microphone, which had everyone falling out laughing). He got the superlative of “the next Luke Skywalker,” which is fair, and had lots of cute pictures with his teacher and with us.

Earlier that day, he’d had his kindergarten screening, which was less to see how good he is at the alphabet and counting and such and more to make sure that his classroom next fall is a good mix of kids. While he was busy playing games that demonstrated his abilities in things like motor skills, concepts, and socialization, I got to sit down and learn all about the kindergarten adventure awaiting us in the fall, for which Sam is most assuredly ready and I am mostly ready.

I say “mostly” because I’m vacillating in how emotional I feel about it. Many days, I think, “Please, someone take this child for the full 8 hours of school, I am exhausted” and many days, I think, “Oh, I hope he’s ready, because we’ve been trying really hard, but there’s so much different about school school compared to preschool.”

Years and years ago, before I had kids, I’d planned to homeschool, less because I think that public schools are a bad influence or because I think that they’re bad overall and more because I wanted to be able to give my kids the individual attention that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford for them to get in a public or even private school setting. That way, if any of my kids were super advanced in any area, we could push them harder; and if any of my kids were having a hard time in any area, we could give them a chance to catch up. And, honestly, I still like a lot of that and would probably be more inclined towards homeschooling them if we were ever in a part of the country or the state where the public schools were less consistently good.

(our tiny town of less than 10,000 people is also a pretty upper class town, by and large, so the public schools are pretty well funded and marked well overall for everything but activities–because the schools have about 14 total people in them–and diversity–for the same reason)

But Sam is such a social kid, and yeah, programs exist for socializing homeschooled kids, but he honestly thrives in a classroom environment, even more than I’d expected he would, and I don’t think I could do him justice teaching him at home.

(the jury is still out on Isaac and Carrie)

It’s going to be a huge adjustment for him, and we’re already seeing his anxiety about that ramp up. He’s having a LOT harder time with bedtime lately, coming downstairs multiple times after being tucked in to ask for, say, a cold drink of water or for another bedtime story or so many varied things. And then once he falls asleep, he keeps waking up in the middle of the night wanting to be cuddled and reassured or, on particularly bad nights, to set up a nest in our room and sleep there until morning (mostly because he’s gotten too big for the bed). Part of me–the part that enjoys uninterrupted evenings–is inclined to scold him for it, but most of me gets that he can’t express his anxiety in better ways, so he just struggles sleeping, and we help him through it as we can.

He probably won’t remember us working through this with him–I mean, my own memories of being five are spotty at best and mostly associated with either being constipated or being at Disney World (at one point, both at the same time, hey!), but I hope that it embeds in his subconscious that Kyle and I are here to help him work through the things he can’t figure out on his own.

Ultimately, that’s what I want for my kids. I don’t want any of them to ever have the feeling of “oh man, my dad/mom’s gonna kill me, I can’t tell them about this!” or “I’ll be in too much trouble if they find out; I have to do this on my own.” If they end up at a party and can’t trust their friends to take them home for whatever reason, even if they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, I want them to call me for a ride. If they’re really struggling with their classes in school, I want them to ask for help. If they end up either pregnant or getting someone pregnant or with an STD, I want them to talk to me as soon as it happens so that we can work out a plan together.

If they’re queer in any way–homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, genderqueer, whatever–I want them to know that they can come out to me without fear and that I’ll always be their fiercest advocate, no matter the political climate or what anyone else thinks.

If their life path takes them in a direction that maybe I don’t agree with but isn’t hurting themselves or anyone else (objectively speaking), I want them to know that I love and support them no matter what, that they will always have a place in my home.

If their political or religious beliefs differ wildly from mine but they aren’t hurting themselves or anyone else or advocating for hurting themselves or anyone else, I want them to always be able to talk to me openly and comfortably, to know that I take them seriously, even while they’re still kids.

Because they’re my kids, and honestly, it’s the least they deserve.

 

That Happened

Sam turned 5 yesterday, and when I thought about writing this blog, I thought I’d be reflecting on everything that’s changed about him and life in the last five years, BUT then this weekend verged on panicky stress in myriad ways, so cowabunga it is, and it all started with the birthday party.

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Sam requested a birthday party this year, which I’ve been expecting for a while. A lot of his friends have birthday parties annually, so I knew it was only a matter of time before he requested of his own. The trouble is that our house isn’t really… suited to parties? Kyle and I aren’t the “entertaining guests” types (have another couple over for a game of Cards Against Humanity? Absolutely. Have a bunch of people over? Hello, that’s my social anxiety sending me into the bathroom wheezing), so entertainment space wasn’t high on our list of priorities when we bought the house fiveish years ago. As a result, we’ve got kind of a pass through living room (which is a mess right now, because babies), our dining room houses all of Sam’s toys, our kitchen lacks counter space of any kind, and we have no parking.

So Sam having a party wasn’t quite as simple as I remember my birthday parties being when I was a kid–just some friends getting dropped off at my house for a couple of hours, eating cake, watching me open presents, and then playing with party favors in the backyard. We needed to find a different space to host the party and, after a lot of research and pricing, we settled on Sam’s favorite indoor playground at a local mall. The prices were entirely reasonable, and the party itself was a blast. Sam had such a great time, and I think all the other kids there did, too.

But the act of getting to and from the party, along with a brief incident during the party, almost had the whole thing spiraling into disaster.

We actually managed to get everyone dressed and out of the house in a timely manner, which is no small task when you’ve got one-year-old twins who are being taken out during naptime… and when you have to pack the car with baked goods and favors and everything related to partying. We were actually out of the driveway fifteen minutes early! A good omen, right?

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Well… not quite, as it turned out. Kyle, who has an ear for this sort of thing, noticed that the van was making a rattling noise whenever we took a sharpish turn. The van is, I may have mentioned, a little over ten years old, and while it’s a Toyota (so the motor runs fantastic), it’s bound to have some issues at this age. Most of its issues thus far have been body or accident related (namely, the front driver’s side mirror got torn off by a tree branch, and one of the washer fluid dispensers somehow got turned around, so it now shoots sad little spurts of washer fluid all over the hood in a comically pathetic manner), but rattling is never a good sign.

So that was a pall over things, but I was in stressed out IT IS MY FIRSTBORN SON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY mom mode, so I informed Kyle on no uncertain terms that we were not to worry about the van until we left the party.

We got to the venue, we set up, and my parents arrived shortly thereafter to help out with everything, and shortly after that, guests started arriving. And it was a whirlwind and everything was going so well until! It was time to see if anyone wanted to get their face painted. With the help of some of the other moms, I rounded up the kids from the playground and found all of them… except SAM.

Now, Sam knows better than to run off without telling us where he’s going, and he’s also a little too frightened of the world at large to do so, but the fact remained that we could not find Sam. Kyle and I combed the playground, went into all the nooks and crannies, but with no luck. My mind was racing, split into two lines of thought: (a) OH GOD, MY SON GOT KIDNAPPED ON HIS BIRTHDAY I AM THE WORST MOTHER EVER; and (b) OH GOD, MY SON GOT KIDNAPPED ON HIS BIRTHDAY, THE OTHER MOMS MUST THINK I AM THE WORST MOTHER EVER.

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As it turned out, Sam had just sneaked into the bathroom without telling anyone and was spotted going in there by another dad. Kyle knocked on the door, Sam yelled at him that he was almost done leave me alone dad gawd, and crisis averted.

The rest of the party was great. Everyone enjoyed the baked goods, everyone sang happy birthday to Sam, everyone got to be pirates of some flavor, and then it was time to head home with babies barely conscious and Sam flopping all over me like a fish out of water. He was happy, beyond happy, but he was exhausted.

And, of course, the van was making rattling noises, so my parents agreed to follow us home on backroads (because it’s better to break down NOT on the state’s main thoroughfare), and we headed back, all of us in a kind of “well that was a lot” fugue. Once we returned to the house, Sam opened all of his birthday presents in a hyperactive flurry, dove into building his new Lego sets, and snuggled up in his new Stitch kirigumi, hours before bedtime.

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(this is adorable, but I am biased)

At bedtime, we brought the babies up first, and then started to go through Sam’s bedtime routine. This is where the third catastrophe struck because, you see, we couldn’t find Puppy.

Puppy has been Sam’s best companion since his first birthday, when Kat bought him as a gift, delighting in Puppy’s resemblance to Sam’s Nana’s dog Greta. Since then, Sam and Puppy have been inseparable as much as a boy and his stuffed dog can be. He counts Puppy as a member of the family, as his conscience, as the devil on his shoulder, as co-creator of the universe (his theology and science are a little spotty).

On Saturday, Sam insisted, as he usually does, that he bring Puppy in the car with him. We agreed, with the caveat that Puppy must stay in the car so he didn’t get lost.

Ha.

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Saturday night, as we went to tuck Sam in for bed, he asked us, “Where’s Puppy?” and we realized that we didn’t know. Nobody could recall seeing Puppy after we reached the mall, and nobody thought anything of it because we’d been hauling so much into the house, between baked goods, presents, and children, that a missing stuffed animal didn’t seem that much out of the ordinary. We figured that Puppy must’ve gotten caught up with the other presents, put somewhere he wasn’t usually, maybe even left in the car.

But repeated searches of both the house and the usual places in the car turned up empty. Sam slept heavily because he was so exhausted by the party, but told us in the morning that he missed Puppy very much.

The morning was, by the way, Mother’s Day. Kyle let me sleep as much as he could, which my body interpreted as “it’s the exact same time you usually get up, why aren’t you awake yet?” I came downstairs to receive all the children on my lap and to hear Kyle tell me that the remote control for the TV and cable had somehow gotten disconnected from the TV so that we had to adjust the volume manually.

All’s good. We hunted for Puppy some more, turned up nothing, watched Game of Thrones (long, exhausted sigh), tried to sleep. About halfway through the night, I blearily awoke to Sam trying to climb in bed with me and Kyle because he’d had a nightmare (according to him: Isaac was sick and had no legs or hands and Sam had no legs or hands so he couldn’t give Isaac his medicine). Our bed isn’t quite big enough to accommodate Sam right now (since he, being Kyle’s son, is extremely long), so we set up a nest for him right next to our bed and carried on with the night.

Monday morning dawned cold and rainy and Sam’s actual birthday. We still had no idea where Puppy was, and we had plans to bring Sam to Chuck E Cheese for this, his last birthday where he didn’t have to be in school. And that we did, and he had a blast, running from game to game and ride to ride until he was exhausted…

…but not quite exhausted enough that our attempt to put him to bed without Puppy was successful for the third time. Half an hour after we tucked him in, he shuffled downstairs, telling us that he absolutely could not sleep without Puppy anymore, not if he didn’t want to have nightmares. Kyle and I got up to do another thorough search of the house, though now we couldn’t search the van as well, since Kyle had dropped it off to get the rattling inspected.

We worked off Sam’s clues, including his insistence that he’d brought Puppy inside and tossed him the air a few times before bringing him upstairs. Those clues turned out to be duds, and we simply could not find that stuffed dog. The only thing that made Sam content enough to sleep was when I called Kyle and had him pretend to be Puppy and pretend to tell Sam that he was coming home soon. After that, Sam slept well, but Kyle and I were in a state.

Because on the one hand, there’s the cold reality that if your child brings their favorite lovey everywhere, the chances of it becoming a Lost Toy are extremely good. We know Sam didn’t bring Puppy out of the van at the mall, but that didn’t preclude the possibility of Puppy falling out of the van and nobody noticing. And on the one hand, there’s this harsh logos part of the brain that wants to say, “Well, now you know not to bring your toys everywhere so carelessly.”

I told that part of my brain to fuck off because, really, brain?

The other hand is, of course, the heartbreaking possibility of your baby’s favorite lovey being gone forever and how you’re supposed to help him cope with that. The internet, I have found, is not very much help for this issue, as most of the suggestions are along the lines of “buy an identical replacement!” And yeah, that was entirely possible until Toys R Us (the store Puppy came from) closed and FAO Schwarz (the manufacturer) revamped their husky puppies to look completely different.

In the end, we planned to use some mixture of our own storytelling capabilities and Toy Story lore, combined with Amazon’s new one day shipping (they are evil, but they get things here fast) to bring Sam a reasonable facsimile along with some story about how Puppy had to go away for a little bit so that he could grow up, just like Sammy was, and how he has a different face and looks cleaner but he’s still Sammy’s Puppy in his heart.

And, knowing Sam and how he is the world’s least bribable kid, and how he sees through literally every line of BS we sell him, it would fall flat and we’d have to go the cold world route, whether we wanted to or not.

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Thankfully, though, the story has a happy ending. Kyle picked up the van this afternoon (diagnosis: power steering was cracked and leaking and the struts are starting to get wobbly) and dug through every corner of the thing for anything we missed. In his digging, he remembered that Sam likes to hide things in compartments and pockets and so opened the compartments on either side of Sam’s seat in the back. Sure enough, nestled into one of the compartments was our beloved wayward Puppy.

Sam’s reaction to seeing Puppy on Facetime was beautiful, and I won’t pretend it didn’t make me cry. Bedtime was much simpler and faster, and this weekend’s crises have all been put to bed.

But MAN, I am exhausted, emotionally and physically and mentally.

So. Happy birthday to my beautiful firstborn son. I hope we managed to keep the craziness of this weekend under wraps enough that it was a fantastic one for you.

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Not About Cathedrals

It’s been a minute, blog.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have we learned?

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

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

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

So. What have I learned?

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

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

It is not.

no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The twins? Not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

10: I love my life. I really do.

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

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

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

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

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

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Bath Night

So with all that brouhaha about writing being hard last night, here I am, writing again. And this time, I am writing about Bath Night.

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The twins are little, and getting Sam into a bath is difficult, so Bath Night happens once a week in our house, and it’s the same night for everyone. I know that once they’re older, once they get dirtier, and once I can more reliably trust Sam to wash himself, bath night will become more frequent, but for now, it’s a once a week thing. Typically, it’s a Sunday night, but if the Sunday is very busy, it might get pushed off to a Monday night or pulled back to Saturday. It’s always a night that Kyle hasn’t needed to drive home, since the nights he needs to drive home, he doesn’t get here until around 7, and that’s well past time to start baths and expect to do anything else ever.

Kyle has the kinder job of Bath Night, and he goes into the bathroom first. The tub was rinsed out after the last Bath Night, but since we have a weird cat who likes to drink from the bathtub faucet, and since lord only knows what Sam does when he’s in there, the tub gets another quick clean so that it’s suitable for bathing. Kyle then goes and fetches towels from either the upstairs closet (why they’re upstairs when we only bathe the kids downstairs I don’t really know) or the dryer, and while doing that, he grabs pajamas suitable for the night’s temperatures (because while we are not opposed to the kids sleeping in underwear and little more, bath night means that everyone will soon be cold).

Then I come into the bathroom. I get the unkind job of doing the actual bathing, and the kids all have varying levels of tolerance. I fill the tub not too deep for the babies, and I make sure the water is just above lukewarm or else I will hear about it in varying levels of screaming. I fill a smaller basin with clean water and set it aside so that the soapy water doesn’t get used for rinsing. I set aside a cup to rinse hair and bodies, and I set aside Mustela shampoo for cradle cap, Johnson & Johnson’s lavender lotion bath, and some Suave stuff that smells like white grapes.

(this is how your purchasing decisions change as your children grow older: when they’re babies, you pluck This Specific Item from This Specific Shelf to solve This Specific Problem, and when they’re older, you’re just like “eh, that smells good and says ‘No Tears,’ but most importantly, it’s on SALE”)

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While I do this, Kyle gets Carrie undressed, because she gets the first bath, being the littlest. She used to like baths, when she could lie in the baby bath seat and just chill about it, but since she’s grown big enough to sit up in the tub, bathtime is hell for her. She’s more tolerant when you give her toys to bang together or slap against the water, but overall, she feels that as she’s not being held and Water is Different, it’s a waste of her time. So I get the naked Carrie into the bath, and I try to be quick about everything. I try to be careful about not getting too much water in her face or anything like that, but typically, by rinsing time, she’s so ANGRY about taking a bath that she’s flapping and flailing her arms about, so water gets in her face anyway.

So I do things quickly. I rinse her once, then wash her hair with the Mustela and the special anti-cradle-cap brush, which probably isn’t necessary, but we still have it. I let the Mustela sit in her hair to do its job and then quickly use the Johnson & Johnson’s to wash the rest of her, all while she’s screaming like I’m slowly pulling out her fingernails one by one. The screaming only briefly stops when I rinse her hair, but this is because she’s holding her breath instinctively, as a few drops of water have gotten onto her face, and we can’t have that. As soon as she’s convinced she’s not drowning, though, it’s right back to the screaming. The whole process takes less than two minutes, but those two minutes are enough to make her regard me with a look of utmost betrayal when I lift her from the water onto a clean towel and give her a cuddle for her trouble.

We have those towels with the hoods, which are great for babies, because babies are bad at keeping towels on any part of their body without a hood like protrusion. I drape the hood over her hair and she sniffles and pouts at me, and then once her hair is dry enough, I give it a quick run through with a fine tooth comb and bring her out to the warmer living room so that she can get dressed.

Here’s where things can sometimes begin to go awry, because it’s hard for Kyle to time the undressing of the next child (usually just Isaac, but sometimes Isaac and Sam, which is dangerous) to right when I bring Carrie out to the living room. You don’t want to undress the baby too soon, or you risk the baby getting cold and peeing all over the place. By the same token, you don’t want to undress the baby too late or the first baby will get cold and pee all over the place.

But usually, it ends up being Carrie who gets the short end of the stick there. Kyle sees me come out and quickly helps Isaac out of his clothes and diaper, and then I bring Isaac into the bathroom while Kyle dresses Carrie.

Isaac is far more tolerant of baths than his sister and brother, especially when he has things to look at. Because he’s such a curious child, he likes to smack his hand against the water or toys or bubbles and see what happens. He also likes to pick up any number of floating toys and put them in his mouth, which looks disgusting to me (they’re usually covered in soap suds), but it keeps him content enough that I can wash his hair and body the same as I do Carrie’s without him making more than a contented “hmm” as he chews a purple letter X.

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(shown tonight, being very tolerant)

The danger, however, is that Sam will want to participate. Carrie’s bath happens quickly enough that he usually hasn’t caught on to something happening without his involvement yet, but by the time Isaac is in the tub, Sam wants to be involved. On good nights, this means he’ll come and take his bath with Isaac, which means he’ll be calmer overall, wanting to put on a good show for his baby brother. On bad nights, this means he’ll be squeezing in between me and our bathroom caddy, dropping who knows what sorts of toys into the tub for Isaac to play with and generally being in the way (but I can’t get mad at him because he’s “helping”).

Eventually, I tell him to go wait in the living room for his turn, and he does for a minute before coming back, usually over the sound of Kyle yelling, “Sam, get back here!”

But then Isaac is done. He gets dried and gets his hair combed and gets his jammies on, and I go back into the bathroom to prepare things for Sam.

Sam doesn’t like baths. At best, he tolerates them, but more often than not, Bath Night for Sam is a time for screaming and crying because he doesn’t like to wash himself. I hope that changes eventually, at least once he’s old enough to have BO, but for now, it’s all I can do to make baths as painless as possible for him.

The first ingredient is water of the right temperature. Sam, for reasons I do not understand, does not like warm baths. Me, I don’t like burning hot baths, but the sensation of sinking into a tub full of genuinely warm water is one that fills my dreams, often. But Sam doesn’t like warm baths. He doesn’t even like lukewarm baths. He prefers his baths to be chilly, which is part of the reason he’s the third bather in the family. After Isaac gets out of the tub, I fill it up a little more because Sam is bigger than the twins, and I always have to resist the temptation to add warm water just to make it feel a little bit less like Sam’s about to get a kidney removed.

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The second ingredient is some sort of Bath Accessory. On the cheap end, this can be bubble bath or some sort of soak that you can buy at the drugstore, and if Sam is feeling good about Bath Night, this does the trick. No further assistance needed, we’re all fine, here, now, thank you. On the more expensive end… well, let’s just say that I’ve been making more frequent trips to LUSH than I have at any other point in my life or would if I didn’t have a child who needed a lot of love at bathtime.

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(I mean. I love me some bath bombs, but our tub is functional at best, definitely not wide enough for me to soak in, and by no means deep enough. I do have an open invitation to use my parents’ soaking tub, but I feel more than a little weird making a 20 minute drive with the kids just to take a bath)

So we add a Bath Accessory. Tonight’s accessory was a sparkly bubble bar that Sam chose over the weekend. It turned the water the color of urine. Healthy urine, at least, but urine. But it smelled good, and it sparkled, and he was appeased for the moment.

The third ingredient is an array of toys. I’m picky about the toys he can bring in, because if he can splash stuff out of the tub, he will splash stuff out of the tub, so I mostly try to stick to things that don’t shoot jets of water or create large wakes. We have foam numbers and letters, we have rubber ducks, we have a submarine. That should do the trick, I figure, but Sam often manages to sneak water cannons in (or, more accurately, water cannons find their way into the bathroom during spats of cleaning and then Sam says, “Hey, I was looking for this!” and brings it into the tub and that’s why Bath Night includes me getting an unwanted bath), and since the bath is already fraught, I choose to fight that battle later.

And the final ingredient is a basin of clean water for rinsing, lukewarm at most, more accurately slightly chilled. When I was sick with pneumonia, Kyle took over bathtime and skipped this step, and you’d think he was pouring boiling acid on Sam from the way he screamed because the water was too warm.

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All ingredients assembled, then, and Sam naked as the day he was born. He asks for help climbing into the tub because he’s got this weird fear of water getting into his butt (blame the use of glycerin suppositories when he was dealing with constipation years ago) and sits with his legs straight in front of him. I begin the negotiations by informing him that I will be washing his hair before he plays.

This doesn’t go over well. He doesn’t mind washing the rest of his body–even the dreaded butt–but washing his hair makes him freak out something fierce. I can’t wholly blame him; I used to hate having my hair touched, and even now, I have to really psyche myself up before going to the hairdresser. That said, the boy’s hair needs to be washed, and he’s not happy about it. I prepare him by saying that I’ll dump water on his head three times, then wash, then rinse three times.

He starts crying after the first dump because water is on his face and he can’t wipe it out with his hands because they are wet. I pause, retrieve a hand towel, and wipe his eyes. We do this twice more, and he whimpers while I scrub his hair with the Suave white grape stuff that I don’t even care what it’s supposed to do except it doesn’t sting your eyes unless you squirt it right in there.

The next step is tricky, because it’s a question of how long I want to put off more screaming. When I’m feeling smart (I was not tonight), I rinse his hair immediately and direct him to wash the rest of his body before he can play. When I’m not feeling smart, I tell him he can wait to have his hair rinsed until after he plays, and as he’s a four-year-old, he usually takes this option, wanting to put off the unpleasant experience of getting his hair rinsed. Either way, though, I direct him to wash the rest of himself, which sometimes actually works but more often means he vaguely rubs his hands on whatever part of his body I point to and I call it good enough because I’m already looking like a drowned cat at this point.

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On smart nights, I rinse his hair next, and we have another round of tears and wailing and hand towels and eye wiping. If he’s not too devastated by having water dumped on his head, he then plays for a little while–either until the timer I set runs out (usually 5-10 minutes) or until he splashes water out of the tub (usually 30 seconds). More typically, having his hair rinsed has turned him off to all types of water, and he wants to get out of the tub.

I help him stand and rinse off the last suds from his body, and then I wrap him in a beach towel. He sniffles and cuddles me, because everyone needs a hug after getting clean, heaven forbid. I drain and rinse the tub, and he and I go out to the living room, where I comb his hair and help him dress in a one piece pajama set.

I hate Bath Night.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the results of Bath Night. I love my kids being all fresh and clean with their hair soft and combed and their skin all rosy and warm. But oh, the drama! Nothing else in our house, not even bedtime or naptime, is quite this dramatic. Two out of three children spend the entire time sobbing as if baths are some sort of medieval torture, and the third seems unaffected more by chance than anything else.

I feel bad because there’s not much else can be done to make Bath Night easier on everyone. Carrie just needs to grow into the idea that sitting on your own is not a form of torture devised to make you sad. Isaac– well, he’s fine. And Sam… the only thing I could do to make him not hate bathtime is not washing his hair, but that is super not happening.

Sigh. I know that once they’re teenagers, the real trick will be getting them to stop bathing for five minutes, guys, you already took three showers today, you’re not even paying the water bill STOP IT. And I know I’ll miss the little sudsy cuddles and the smell of Mustela (despite the name, it smells really good) and the fun with bath bombs.

But I hate Bath Night. And I can never let them know. That would be showing weakness, and that’s all they need to win.

Writing is Hard

Writing has been hard lately.

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

Which is probably bad for Sam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…fun kindergarten stories to distract from my nerves.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, you know. I’m a mom. I worry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like writing.

It’s Time to Let Go

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

And then I watched it.

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(shown: me watching “Bao”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(I’m looking at you, Up)

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

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

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

And you let go.

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

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

But.

It’s also dreadful.

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

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

And it hurts.

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

But it hurt.

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

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Because it hurts.

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

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

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

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.

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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.