Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy birthday boys!

In an email exchange two years ago, I asked author/twin mom Susan Heim whether it gets easier as twins get older. Her boys were about 4 years old at the time.
"It's doesn't really get easier," she said. "Just different."
I thought I understood and, the day after Matthew and Jonathan celebrated their second birthday, I wrote this:

All I could think about--honestly--is that 2 is halfway to 4 and that by 4, they will be potty trained, they will respond to reason at some level, they will no longer need a stroller and they will talk in sentences.
That doesn't mean I want to rush them.
No, not at all.
I don't want them to grow up too fast. I adore their little kisses on my lips, cheeks and nose. I long for their tiny hands around my neck. I cherish their nonsensical exchanges that result in fits of giggles.
And, wow. That unconditional trust only babies and toddlers have. That belief that mom is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything. That she is flawless. I see that in their eyes as they reach for me. They believe that I can make anything better. They really do.
No, I don't want to rush through that.
But they exhaust me lately as much as they exhilarate me.
And I find the exhaustion much easier to contend with if I have something to look forward to.
So, on their birthday, while I was chasing them around the house trying desperately to persuade them to keep their clothes and diapers on at least until our neighbors arrived for cake and ice-cream, I focused on the future.
I focused on how much easier it will become instead thinking about how hard it sometimes has been. With that in mind, I found I could laugh at our little strippers and I caught them.
They made it through the evening fully clothed.

Silly, silly me.
Jonathan and Matthew turned four today.
It was an exciting day for me as well as for them. It was an emotional day. It was a trying day. It was exhausting.
Wonderfully exhausting, and loaded with strong little hugs and kisses.
They sang.
They danced.
They fought over the birthday song.
They hugged each other and pushed each other.
They cried a bit.
They laughed a lot.
Just as I had hoped two birthdays before, they are fully potty trained.
They understand reason on a fairly high level.
They no longer need a stroller, and they carry on long and fascinating conversations.
They are amazing human beings and my heart aches each day they grow just a little bit older-- each time they recognize the words "up" and "go" in books, each time they count on their little fingers, each time they create new, complicated games that include roles for me.
Part of me whimpers whenever they talk about their best friends: Jack for Jonathan; Adam for Matthew. I have to work hard to hold back when they want to put on their own clothes, cut their own food and ice skate on their own.
They rarely even let me carry their sleds.
I relish the moments when we cuddle.
I don't want to rush them.
I really don't.
But, as Susan said, four is not easier.
It's just different.
And, I have to admit, there is that little part of me that keeps saying, "Yippee! We're two-thirds of the way to six!"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Never say never: twins and harnesses

The question I am asked most frequently by parents of younger twins and that I see most often on online forums involves harnesses or leashes. Parents want to know whether I used them with my guys and, if I did, whether they worked.
Before Jonathan and Matthew walked, I will admit, I would have been mortified by the thought.
My older kids are 17 months apart. I taught them to stay with me by gradually allowing them more and more freedom from the stroller and returning them to the stroller when they misbehaved. And it worked beautifully.
If it worked for me, it should work for everyone.
But my older kids have inherently different personalities.
My oldest son is quiet, introspective and studious.
Rules are meant to be followed and he won't even let me break them.
My daughter is fiery, but she is a perfectionist.
She rarely ventured from me as a toddler because she wasn't supposed to, and that trait made disobedience disagreeable for her.
The older kids could play together with Playdough or Legos or Polly Pockets for hours at a time. They were easily entertained by activities that were mental, or by games that were intricately involved. They loved long hikes, but never really took to baseball or soccer or other competitive sports.
I had no idea how easy I had it.
The twins come from a whole different set of our genes.
Like their older siblings, they are very intelligent. But they were born to flex their muscles and that need overrules everything else. Bugs are for squishing, not studying. Crayons are for floors and walls, not paper. Imaginative games involve bad guys, running, chasing and wrestling rather than hours constructing cities, amusement parks and other worlds.
They never attempted to earn freedom; They simply took it.
By two years old, they were strong enough (They are very strong.) and tall enough (They are very tall.) to flip themselves over the sides of their stroller with the harnesses still on. I'd turn around to see them dangling from the sides, twisted in the straps.
Very dangerous.
No wagon was big enough to prevent them from kicking each other hard in the stomach and face every time I stopped and failed to set them free. They didn't even like it when I stopped the car at red lights. Forget about shopping. I couldn't stop to loook at anything.
Freedom and movement is what they craved above all else and they were determined to get it.
That might not have been a problem if not for the needs of the older kids.
The bus didn't come down our street, so I had two choices: walk them to the bus stop and fight constantly to keep the twins out of the road, out of the neighbors' lawns and out of the strollers of other parents; or take them into the school gym each day while I signed the older kids out and waited for them.
It soon became clear that the gym was the safer alternative.
At first, all was good.
The gym gave them ample space to run and play. Getting them to leave was a struggle, but I managed. Then they discovered the hallways. What a nightmare. I felt like I was the goalie in a fast-moving hockey game: always dodging to catch that puck before it passed through the net.
Unfortunately, there was no net to stop them.
So I broke down.
I did the thing I thought I would never do: I bought backpack leashes.
What a disaster.
Jonathan and Matthew loved them, of course. They were puppy backpacks and they were adorable. They wore them everywhere and they were quite proud. Until I touched that lead.
As soon as I put my hand on it, they plunked themselves down and refused to move. They kicked and screamed and yelled. They hollered and pushed and cried.
They suddenly realized that these cool puppy backpacks were a means of control and they weren't having any of it.
After about five attempts, I gave up.
Instead, I struggled with them daily physically and mentally, suffering a shoulder injured that lasted more than a year. I hired babysitters for short trips and errands just to avoid that struggle, and I enlisted other parents who took pity on me.
It was a tough year or two.
I wanted nothing more than for Jonathan and Matthew to grow up.
Now, at almost four years old, they are fairly good about staying with me because they understand consequences and danger. They know now that if they stray from me, they might become lost or a stranger might take them away. They understand injury and pain and how much it might hurt if a car or a truck hit them.
But the past two years could have been much better. We could have gone more places, enjoyed more sights, done with a lot less yelling. I could even have had pain-free use of my shoulder if those harnesses had only worked for us.
I still cringe when I see a couple with no other children using one on a child at that mall, or when I see a child yanking another sibling on a harness or when I see people who rely on them for every trip, everywhere never bothering to teach their children how to behave without them.
I still think some people misuse them.
But I now understand that there is a use for harnesses.
I no longer cringe at the thought of them.
Instead of disgust, I am more likely to be filled with envy for those for whom harnesses worked.
Thanks to Matthew and Jonathan, I have learned one very important lesson:
never say never.