Moms of One Are Equally in the Trenches

New mamas, please don’t doubt yourself when you see moms of multiples. You’re doing as much work as anyone else.

Five years ago, I walked into a room full of moms, hopeful to make some new friends in the same stage as me. I had my first child in tow, the one who’d been born a smidge over three pounds seven months before. The one who screamed every time a male entered the room. The one who still woke up every two or three hours at night. The one who only wanted me, every second, of every hour, of every day.

I walked in late, because how does anyone get anywhere on time with babies? Sweat beads began dripping down my nether-regions (thigh gap is not a thing postpartum) from hauling in the massive infant car seat, scavenging for my checkbook to pay dues, and anxiously shushing my overtired baby girl.

I watched as all the other moms skipped in with their three, four, or five perfectly-coordinated kids and looked down at my one. The one who’d been wearing the same sour onesie for three straight days and was having a hard time catching her breath between piercing wales.

I shushed her again, lest anyone realize I had no idea what I was doing.

How do they do it? I wondered. I have one. They have, like, fifteen. How is it so effortless for everyone else when I just want to curl up into the fetal position and sob right here in the middle of the hallway?

Two months later, I did exactly that on the un-mopped floor of my bathroom upon seeing my positive pregnancy test.

I can’t. I am barely surviving with just one. There’s no way I can take care of two humans, I thought.

Turns out, I can. And, holy smokes, I can even take care of three. Because after that second little girl arrived seventeen months after the first, a little boy made his grand appearance two years later.

A few months ago, I pulled up to that same organization of moms, only this time in a different city, with my three little ones in tow. At the time they were four, three, and one. We were a couple minutes early. They were all dressed (ish), hair brushed (ish), gripping their water bottles and baggies of snacks with chubby little fists. They all three held hands as we waddled across the street, and a gracious mama with a baby wrapped to her chest held the door for me as I ushered my line of ducklings into the foyer.

“I don’t know how you do it,” she sighed. “We barely made it here this morning and it was just the two of us.”

I stopped her and looked right into her tired eyes to make sure she heard me loud and clear.

“Girl. One is so hard. This was not me with one. I only made it here two or three times with my first because I just didn’t know how to leave the house. I assure you, your world with one is much harder than my world with three.”

New mamas, please don’t doubt yourself when you see moms of multiples. I learned, grew, and adapted with each new child. I figured out how to juggle, prioritize, and let them cry or tune it out. Each addition became my new normal and God gave me what I needed when I realized how utterly insufficient I was.

That first one, however, I was in it. You are in it. That first one is just a huge science experiment full of lots of trials and lots of errors. I promise, it gets better. It gets so much easier. Don’t doubt your mom-ness. Don’t assume everyone else is doing it better than you. You’re way too tired and unstable to start thinking those dark thoughts. Just know, we were all there on numero uno.

One is so hard, but it gets easier. Someday, you’ll be an old pro, or you’ll at least learn to give yourself grace when you’re not.

Nine Things Any Mom Who Just Had Her Second Baby Can Relate To

If you’re a mom who’s just had her second baby, I’m more than certain you can relate to everything on the list below.   

For 35 blissful months, I was a mother of one. I diligently documented my son’s growth from birth, taking a picture and recording his weight, height, and “favorites” each month. I worried over whether we read to him enough and tightly controlled the 20 minutes per week of screen time we allowed after his second birthday. When I became pregnant with my second, I worried about the baby-to-come. How could she or he live up to my first born? There was no way the second baby would be as sweet or smart or caring! I was excited about my second baby but I also felt guilty for busting up the party of three my firstborn so loved.

Two weeks before my baby’s due date, I made a plan to spend one last wonderful weekend doting on my big boy. We would go to the nature center and the park and eat at his favorite sandwich shop. We would take him to the toy store and let him pick out something special and tell him, all day, how much he was loved. Instead, I woke up when my water broke and our last weekend as a family of three turned into our first weekend as a family of four.

Those first few weeks were magical, terrifying, and fantastic. Everything was wild, sleepy, and exhausting and, through it all, I could feel myself morphing, rapidly, from a classic first time mom into a seasoned, expectations-way-lowered mom of two. If you’re a mom who’s just had her second baby, I’m more than certain you can relate to everything on the list below.   

1 | You feel more like an expert every day

Swaddling? Yep, you can still rock it. Feeding? Waaaayyy easier this time around. And the new stuff, like figuring out how to change a newborn’s diaper with the “help” of a toddler or how to handle a tantrum, fix a box of mac-and-cheese, and slice a plate of grapes all without unlatching the newborn? You figure it out quickly because you have to figure it out quickly.

2 | You also feel more clueless every day

Some of the new stuff is tough, tougher than you imagined. What are you supposed to do when the toddler asks you to return the baby? Or the baby and the toddler are both crying with real needs at the same time? Or the newborn hates the car but the toddler hates staying at home?

3 | You realize that you were actually kind of crazy as a first time mom

You actually used to wash pacifiers after they fell on the floor?! You were stressed about giving the baby a pacifier in the first place?! It’s shocking how quickly your convictions fall away when you realize that your little person (the bigger one) is doing just fine despite all your parenting blunders. Also you’re tired, and babies need germs to grow.

4 | You feel smug about all the money you didn’t spend by saving all your baby stuff

With baby number one, your shopping list was pages long. This time you shopped your closet and attic, and ended up not having to pick up anything from the store but diapers and a few packs of onesies. You’re proud of the savings and you should be! You’re going to need it with two in daycare.

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5 | You realize that the second baby is going to have a much less quiet life

Your first baby spent its early weeks swaddled in whispers. You second baby was greeted at a few hours old with the sounds of a stomping toddler, shouting her joy and excitement into the previously quiet hospital room. Your newborn is going to spend his life surrounded by sound and, hey, maybe that’s a good thing! Maybe he’ll learn to sleep through anything!

6 | You also realize how much extra love they’re going to get in the long run

As soon as your newborn starts tracking people with his eyes, he’s going to be tracking his sibling more than anyone else. Sometime in those first few weeks, you’ll be watching your big kid sing or read to the baby and you’ll be bowled over by how lucky each of them are to have one another.

7 | Wondering how you forgot how much stuff babies need

It’s not the co-sleeper and the rocker you trip over every time you make your way through the living room that you forgot, it’s everything you need to bring when you leave the house. You haven’t used a diaper bag in months and, now, packing it with diapers, wipes, multiple outfits, and all kinds of other trinkets is simply maddening.

8 | You wonder how the heck you ever thought a newborn was hard the first time around

Sure, having a newborn is hard, but this time the hard part is figuring out how to balance the toddler and the newborn. As you do your best to meet everyone’s needs, you’ll think back wistfully to the first weeks of your first baby’s life and wonder how the heck you ever had trouble with the basics.

9 | You finally understand how parents can forget their own kids’ birthdays

After your first was born, you swore that you’d never forget his important details. Perhaps you have his birth time, weight, and length memorized. Perhaps you know exactly what his first food was or how old he was when he crawled. Now you have two, though, and you really get how some parents let their kiddos’ details slip away. With your brain so full of immediate needs, sometimes it’s easy for the details to get lost.

Somebody's Always Crying in a House with Two Under Two

Somebody always needs a diaper change, somebody always needs to eat, and, of course, somebody’s always crying. It’s not always the kids, either.

I’m staring at a sink that seems as deep as a well and it’s full of dirty dishes. There are bowls full of mushy cereal and plates with crusty remnants of baked beans, cheesy rice, and “Nood” (noodles). There’s balled-up, disintegrating paper towels, half drank plastic containers of “Danimals,” slimy breast pump parts, and dozens of dirty toddler utensils. Toward the bottom, there’s murky, gray water that could be anywhere from a few inches to nearly a foot deep. Cucumber shavings, egg shells, and soggy bread crusts float lazily around the surface of this polluted kitchen harbor.

All I have to do is empty this sink and load the dishwasher, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m too tired.

Years ago, I watched a local news report about this woman with Fibromyalgia. This Fibromyalgia sufferer referred to the dishwasher as her nemesis. She said the thought of loading the dishwasher made her so exhausted, she’d actually become depressed. When I first watched this report, I laughed as hard as I did the first time I saw “Borat.”

“This lady is (unintentionally) a comedic genius,” I thought at the time. Now I completely understand what Fibromyalgia lady meant about the dishwasher. That’s because I have a seven-week-old and an 18-month-old. I have two under two.

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My wife and I didn’t plan it this way. In fact, we never even talked about a second child. Instead, we made the life-changing decision to bring another life into the world the same way generations of my relatives – including my own parents – had: by accident.

From what I hear, having two children is never just double the work. It’s always exponentially more difficult than just having the one kid. Add to that a less than 15-month difference in their ages and the situation is an outright tragedy. I know this not only because of my own low-level depression right now but also because of strangers’ reactions.

“15 months?! Oh, God bless you. Just hang in there. It’ll get better. It’ll be a long, long time, but it will eventually get better. I think.” That was one woman’s immediate response after asking how far apart my son and daughter were.

It wasn’t the most extreme reaction. One woman actually said, “My children were only 13 months apart, and it was a terrible mistake. My life was absolute hell for years, and it’s a big part of the reason we’re divorced now.”

I don’t see this chapter leading to divorce for my wife and me, but it’s definitely taken a toll on our marriage. I’ve been surprised (and a little impressed) at how hurtful we can be to one another with our words during particularly stressful times. It’s understandable. The fundamental dynamic of our relationship has shifted. Most of the time it feels less like we’re partners and more like we’re low-level employees working for the world’s shittiest bosses. It’s one thing to be at the beck and call of an infant, he can’t do a goddamn thing for himself yet, but dealing with the whims of a mercurial one-and-a-half-year-old on top of the baby, well, that’s just madness.

Somebody always needs a diaper change, somebody always needs to eat, and, of course, somebody’s always crying.

It’s not always the kids, either. When I’m trying to change, feed, or console one of the bosses, my Boston Terrier, Judith Weiland, will often lie one of her beloved tennis balls right beside me and make this pathetic whimpering sound. “What about me? You used to always have time to play ball before these assholes showed up,” that whimpering says.

Then there’s my wife. Normally an emotionally-constipated rock, my wife is not immune to the tear-strewn symphony that plays on repeat in the Bilski house these days. Every time my wife laughs a little too hard at something, there’s a good chance it could lead to a full-blown crying session.

And me? The tears tend to flow during contrived moments on bad TV shows, movies, and even commercials. It’s like my psyche hears the swell of emotional music and says, “It’s okay, big guy, the show is literally telling you this is the part where you’re supposed to cry, so just let it out. You need a good cry, don’t you?”

Everything feels overwhelming right now. All those little things my wife and I used to do to maintain the illusion of control and order keep getting pushed further on the back burner, and the to-do list keeps growing longer and longer. In the midst of all this chaos, there’s always some asshole saying, “Try to stay in the moment and really enjoy this time because it’ll be gone before you know it.”

Telling me to enjoy this time is like telling someone on cocaine to relax. No matter how badly you want to, your body just won’t let you. Still, I know it’s sound advice.

Earlier tonight, my daughter veered from her normal goodnight ritual (hug, kiss, drop into the crib) and asked me to sit on the rocking chair with her. I spent hours in the rocking chair with her when she was a baby, cradling her tiny frame and singing Beatles song after Beatles song until she drifted off to sleep. Tonight, she rested her head on my shoulder and her nearly 30-pound frame covered my torso like a blanket.

The moment hit me hard. How the hell did she get so big? What happened to my baby? How is everything moving so fast?

I sat there holding my daughter, thinking about how the cradling, Beatles-singing moments with my baby girl were gone forever. Then I remembered I have a new baby, and I get to have all those same moments with him. For a brief moment, I felt excited about the prospect of everything that was yet to come. Then I thought about the goddamn dishes that were waiting for me downstairs.

6 Tips to End Sibling Rivalry and Make Your Kids Allies, Not Enemies

Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. But the relationship requires nurturing.

Siblings can get on like a house fire. They can also be worst enemies. Although there have been relatively few studies on sibling rivalry, some evidence suggests that the relationships between siblings are highly complex and are structured around envy, jealousy, competitiveness, and a sense of “unequal justice.”
Many parents blame themselves when their kids have given up on each other. Indeed, parents consciously or subconsciously control the dynamics underlying sibling relationships. What is true is that how we raise our kids can determine if they turn into allies, or into the greatest enemies of all time.
The problem with sibling rivalry is that the damage done in childhood can be impossible to resolve in adulthood. Most adults who have “tense relationships” with their siblings know that the divide is often difficult to cross later on in life. Yet siblings can be a great resource. As some studies have pointed out, no other relationships last as long as sibling relationships. Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. Fortunately, it is possible to foster positive sibling relationships using these tips.

1 | Focus more on being fair, not equal

No matter how hard you try, you can’t treat your kids equally. Multiple studies have found that differential treatment of sibling occurs throughout life. When you try to be equal, there’s always one kid who’ll think he’s getting the short end of the stick. The problem is when we treat our kids differently the chances are higher that siblings relationships will be less positive, and there is evidence to support these views. Other studies have found that parents can improve the quality of sibling relationships if kids believe that the reasons for differential treatment are fair.
Being fair means respecting the unique needs of each individual kid. When you explain to siblings that older kids have more privileges but they also have more chores, they are more likely to see your decisions as fair. The book “Siblings Without Rivalry” shows how we can treat children unequally and still be fair.

2 | Don’t tell kids not to fight, teach them how to fight

You can’t expect your kids not to fight. Siblings fight. That’s just the way it is. Fighting is normal. What matters is how it’s done and what happens after the fight is over.
Teaching kids how to fight requires you to set a few ground rules. When kids participate in setting these rules, they are more likely to respect them. Ground rules may involves issues such as unacceptable ways to resolve conflict (for example no aggression), consequences when the rules are broken, and how to make up after a fight.

3 | Resist the urge to intervene

Taking sides when kids fight rarely leads to positive relationships. At best, the “guilty party” will seek to “get even” with his sister(s) or brother(s) or will feel that his family is against him. Instead of focusing on “who started it,” focus on what you see: “I see two kids going against the rules.” You could also try to ignore them if no violence is involved or ask them to take their fighting elsewhere.
Resist the urge to repeatedly assign blame to one kid for “always starting fights.” Remember that what we expect of our children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. According to the Golem Effect, we cannot expect good behavior from our kids when we have low expectations of them.
Naturally, you need to be attentive to conflicts and may have to intervene where young kids are involved or when your kids constantly fight over the same issue. You also need to intervene when fights turn violent. We need to teach our kids to manage anger and anxiety when they constantly react to each other with violence.

4 | Teach cooperation, not competition

There are things we do to make our life easier. We tell our kids that whoever finishes his dinner first will get a special treat. We tell them that whoever brushes her teeth first will get something in return. We tell them that whoever gets in the car first can sit in the passenger’s seat. The problem is when we turn to competition to get things done faster we teach our kids to constantly perceive themselves as “against each other.”
Fostering positive relationships requires us to teach our kids that they’re in this together. When you tell your kids that they’ll get that special treat but only if they tidy up within five minutes, you teach them cooperation. When you set them up against each other by telling them the first kid to finish tidying up will get the treat, you teach them competition.

5 | Make room for family bonding

Provide regular opportunities to bond and pave the way for cooperation. For example, have regular family routines where each kid has a specific task to increase the chances of bonding. The more kids have fun together, the easier it is for them to build positive sibling relationships. When you master the art of family negotiation, you also help strengthen the parent-child bond.

6| Begin a one-on-one routine

Have one-on-one moments everyday with each of your kids to help them feel special and help nurture their self-esteem. When children feel appreciated they are more likely to develop positive sibling relationships. One-on-one routines can be as little as five minutes spent with each child, talking or doing activities that they enjoy.

Don't Let My Kid Fool You, She's No Perfect Angel

Have I noticed how well they share with others? I never have any words. I don’t because I can’t even force an answer.

I really didn’t mean to laugh. It’s nothing personal. It is just that what you said is very silly. Actually, silly may not be the right word. Ridiculous is a better word. Yes, ridiculous is more like it.

The birthday party was coming to an end and the room was in complete and utter chaos. There were two children fighting over who got the last lollipop from the piñata. They both wanted it really bad. Another kid was running around the house naked and screaming that someone stole her pants. Four others were just having meltdowns. I am not completely sure what their particular issue was, but the wheels had clearly fallen off. The birthday girl was done and showed it by her refusal to get off the dining room table. Her poor mom needed wine. Stat.

Amongst this sea of hysterical children sat my own two beauties. They did not utter a word as they awaited the goody bag; God forbid they rocked the boat at a time like this.

We’ve spoken about this topic before. You wanted to know how I did it. How did I get them to sit so nicely? Have I noticed how well they share with others? I never have any words. I don’t because I can’t even force an answer.

Instead, I think that it is time to divulge the secret: my kids are no angels. I repeat, my kids are no angels! In fact, if they’d been in the comfort of their own home, I’m sure they’d have been just as bad, if not worse.

Almost five years ago, my husband and I knew the party was over when we brought our baby boy home. Suffice it to say, big sister did not take to him well. She was heartbroken when she realized we weren’t bringing him back to the hospital. She was now stuck with him. It was around this time that I noticed our daughter developing a jealousy streak. She wasn’t the only game in town anymore. She enjoyed poking her brother when, God forbid, he cried too loud.

Previously, our Julia was an angel. She was the type of kid whom strangers would compliment in restaurants. She was that good. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and she changed.

Our poor baby boy was being victimized. He loved his sister from the get-go. Julia, on the other hand, wanted no part of him. Thus began a sibling rivalry of sorts. Even today, the excitement of starting a new game together sustains them for about two minutes. It is just not that fun after that.

At the time, we were living in a two-bedroom apartment. Screaming, kicking, and hitting were commonplace. I cringed when I wondered what our neighbors thought.

Amazingly, when confronted with adults that were neither me nor my husband, their behavior shifted a bit. And by “a bit,” I mean a lot. They would immediately take on the persona that you witnessed at the birthday party. They were angels and would barely utter a word. It became very evident that they were complete phonies.

Were they just trying to impress others? Maybe even a bit fearful? I think it was a combination of both. My husband and I came to the conclusion that they respected everybody in the world but us. It was a sad, but true, fact.

Did this mean that we sucked at the whole parenting thing? Were we failures as humans? After long and careful consideration, I realized that wasn’t the case. They were just kids, very smart kids. I know I’m not alone. I have a couple of friends with children similar to mine. Like you, I wondered how they did it.

“We like to call him Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” my friend laughed when I mentioned how sweet her son was. “Oh, and don’t let my baby girl fool you either. The kid is a terror,” she added.

At the time, I refused to believe my friend and I couldn’t stop staring at the cuteness. Her older son was giving his little sister the sweetest and most gentle kisses on her forehead.

It was then that I had an epiphany. Could it be that my friend and I are part of this little secret society? A society where kids have everyone fooled by their angelic (and fake) behavior? Could the same kids who misbehaved in public be great at home? How about the ones who ate well only at residences other than their own? How about school? Were there kids that only misbehaved in a classroom setting? Could it be? Was I really just living in a fool’s paradise? Like all things parenting, it’s very easy to assume. Unfair judgments are way too common. Was it possible that there was more to every family’s story?

As my children are getting older, I can only guess that certain behaviors will come to an end. I am just winging it, for the most part. I am also trying desperately to enjoy it. I am fully aware that no stage lasts forever.

Just recently, my son fell down some stairs. Quite shaken, my daughter became hysterical.

“I want him to be okay. I just love him so much,” she said.

He was thankfully okay, and they hugged. In that moment, I saw the love they had for one another.

I relished it – at least for a few moments. I envisioned the future ahead and saw similar scenarios repeating. I saw days that were full of fights. Others full of love. Most of all, I saw the bond that they have.

It’s a bond that they will hopefully have forever. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful for both my kids.

Oh yeah, and for wine too.

Sharing is Great But There's No Shame in Wanting

Go ahead and swipe that phone from your co-worker. See how that goes.

The story goes that when I was a toddler and my brother was born, I tried to throw him out of my Swing-o-matic because it was mine. I’ve heard this memory retold countless times, and rather than feeling like it’s being shared as a funny tale, the deeper meaning seemed to be, “she doesn’t like to share, and she never did.” Oh no – I thought when first hearing about my actions – other kids are born with a sharing nature, but I was the exception because I didn’t feel that generosity toward my own baby brother! What kind of a person am I?!
Lately, I’ve been reconsidering the “sharing is caring” adage, thanks to my two-and-a-half-year-old son. In the past six months since our new baby girl arrived, our son is not prone to sharing his toys with her. In fact, he keeps one eye on his toys at all times, and he seems to have a sixth sense for when she’s playing with one of them. He then instinctively beelines over and grabs the toy out of her hand. She doesn’t cry, whine, or display any outrage. In fact, in her baby way, she seems to understand and just waits for the next opportunity to get hold of a toy.
What is going on, I thought the first time I witnessed this interaction. Did my son inherit my non-sharing gene? Also, why instead of responding with the waterworks I expected, did our daughter simply concede defeat?
The first time, I automatically started to explain to my son, “You have to share with your sister…” I didn’t want him to become like my former toddler self, after all. We decided in our household, however, to buck this rule and see what happens. It can be difficult, and at times pointless, to try and drill a specific rule into a toddler. More importantly, though, we felt like a natural order was playing out in our house. Our oldest kid was defending his turf, and in the process, he was teaching our baby girl about how the world really works.
In real life, how often do you go to someone’s house, appropriate an item that they own, and expect them to be okay with it? Imagine going over to your neighbor’s house and taking their car for a joy ride without asking. You can tell your neighbor that “sharing is caring,” and they would still not be understanding of you disrespecting their turf. Similarly, even within families, it’s not customary to take people’s stuff whenever you want. Adults are not great with sharing as a general rule. For some reason, though, we expect our children to be experts at it from a very young age.
Obviously, our baby girl is just being curious and she doesn’t mean any harm or disrespect by playing with these toys, but our son still knows what is his and he wants her to understand it. If we were to give him a blanket statement like “sharing is caring,” and therefore not sharing is “bad,” then we would be doing a disservice to both him and our baby girl. He would feel like he can’t want anything purely for himself, and that if anyone wants what he has, he has to give it away without any feelings of frustration or sadness.
On the flip side, we would be teaching our baby girl that she can take from others whenever she wants and they’re not allowed to do anything about it. If people are not willing to give her what she wants, she can whine, cry, and make a fuss until they part with their treasured items.
Our son has been the little man of this house for two-and-a-half years. He’s the oldest kid and has earned that title. So now, he gets to make decisions about his stuff and when he wants to share or not. Lo and behold, without we parents being overly involved in his decision-making, we’ve seen him share toys with our girl on his own. Wow, I thought when I first saw this. Maybe I wasn’t an uncaring sister after all! Maybe I was becoming frustrated that I couldn’t take part in making decisions about my stuff. I was being made to feel like a bad person for wanting in the first place.
Sharing is caring, but so is wanting. Since oldest children in households all over the world are grabbing their toys out of their younger siblings’ paws, this behavior can’t be inherently bad as a rule. Otherwise, why would toddlers and kids do it in the first place? It’s instinctual to want, just as it is instinctual to share at certain times. If you do away with one, it’s very difficult to have the other.
Personally, through my teens, young adult years, and even now, I have to remind myself it’s okay to want things for myself. These dynamics that we’re told to play out as kids can follow us through life, causing some internal conflict. I’m hoping for my kids that they both learn how to want and share in a way that fits who they are. As parents, we can model a good balance of these behaviors as well, so that our kids can see that it’s okay to want things for yourself.
To my younger brother: It was never personal. I just wanted you to know, as maybe all older siblings naturally do, that the Swing-o-matic was mine first. It’s our birthright, after all.  

Twin Bond, Shmin Bond: It’s Toddler Fight Club at My House

Everyone seemed to think my identical twins would have a magical bond. But then the biting started.

When I was pregnant with my identical girls I heard more factoids and snippets of advice regarding raising twins than I could possibly mentally digest in my entire lifetime. Everyone loves twins. EVERYONE knows someone…who knows someone…who has a second cousin with twins.  

One thing I heard often from friends, family, and strangers alike was, “Oh, they’ll have such an incredible bond. Identicals are amazing little humans and the love they have for each other is overwhelming.”  

I couldn’t wait to experience this miracle of love between my girls. Birthing identicals is rare and here I was, so incredibly blessed to be on this twin journey. When the babies were born I sat and watched them like a hawk, waiting for it…the magical moment of twin bonding. Every time one baby flailed her arms and slapped her twin out of hunger or a need to be changed, I couldn’t helping thinking that maybe they were not in fact in need of my intervention, but rather seeking out their other half.

(Turns out this was never the case. The flailing newborn always means, “I need mommy.” Nonetheless, I continued to wait and watch.)

Nothing. They did not have a clue that anything existed outside of a boob.

When they started crawling, babbling, and laughing, I thought, this must be where the  intense love and bonding starts. 

Nope. The twins loved their big sisters, their daddy, their grammy, me, the dog, but seemed quite indifferent to each other. Hmmmm. Maybe when they get a little bit older they’ll bond more. Perhaps then the magical moments will begin.

So the twinnies did grow and soon turned one…then eighteen months, and change they did. They took a sharp right turn at Loving Bond and headed straight for Toddler Twin Fight Club: they started biting each other.

I had two older daughters and to my knowledge they had never bitten a soul, not each other, no kids at daycare, definitely not me. Now we had these beautiful little genetic mutations who were supposed to do all that cute crap you see on YouTube and they were one bite shy of being certified baby vampires.  

Just about every chance they had one was sinking their tiny, sharp teeth into their twin. Interestingly, they never bit anyone but each other. This love-bond between my identicals was not happening and I was starting to freak out. I Googled, I asked the pediatrician, I found other twin moms and poured my dilemma out them. Everyone said it was developmentally normal for twins to engage in this behavior and they would eventually grow out of it. But when?

Unfortunately I often had to tote the twins around in a side-by-side stroller, not exactly ideal for biters. Here we would be, strolling through the local grocery store or department store and the twins would be attacking each other over a graham cracker crumb or rogue Goldfish cracker that they scored in the stroller’s underbelly.  

People would gawk. Some would smile awkwardly as I pried one toddler’s teeth from her sister’s arm. Then came the howling. One screams in pain and one screams because I just intervened in her master plan to eat her sister. How dare I!

I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad and frustrated at the lack of love between these two. Friends and family continued to send me viral videos of tiny twins cuddling and soothing each other. Meanwhile I was raising little Hannibal Lecters.  

The days dragged on and we endured the biting, the pinching, the hair pulling. Nap time was an absolute nightmare considering they roamed their nursery freely. One little climber would catapult herself from her crib, scale the other baby’s crib, climb in, and bite her right in the back. No amount of time-outs, scolding, or reasoning worked. Had it not been for my mom village of support (and wine) I don’t know if I would have ever made it though this phase.

Then one day the biting magically eased up. The girls were no longer covered in welts from their twin and I started to worry less and less about someone calling Child Protective Services fearing for the their safety.  

As they approached the two-year mark their reasoning skills grew and their understanding of right and wrong began to emerge. Finally there was a light at the end of the bite-riddled tunnel. In the months following their second birthday the girls did start interacting and playing.

They seek each other out and one twin clearly follows the other all day long. They answer for each other and tell me what their twin wants when they are upset. They think they’re hilarious and will laugh at each other doing whatever goofy little toddler thing the other does. Sometimes when they’re supposed to be napping, but are really just running around their room creating chaos and insanity, I hear them singing “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” to each other. 

In the back of mind I know this is an oasis in the world of parenting, though. Having been through two older girls already, currently ages six and eight, I know that these few months are just a breather until age three hits. (The three-nager is my least favorite age by far.) 

I’ve yet to witness the cosmic twin bond that I had heard all about, but right now I’ll settle for the girls not trying to eat each other.

You Just Never Know When You’ll Say the Words She Needs to Hear

It’s not always the words of advice that resonate. Sometimes it’s sharing your own fears and admitting you don’t have the answers either.

I became an aunt last week and as soon as I walked into my sister’s labor room, I felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped and scared.

My dad and I had taken the elevator up to the 11th floor. On the ride up, I reminded myself not to cry, to assume the steady gait of the wise, soothing, EXPERIENCED mother that I am, there to smile knowingly and rub the new mother’s feet and forehead and say helpful things, like, “You’re doing great,” and “You can do this.”

A nurse buzzed us into Labor & Delivery and my nausea announced itself like a subway going out of service mid-ride. “Which way?” I asked my dad, but I think I sounded more like that sleepy drunk person whispering to you at 1 a.m. on the F train.

Her door was a little bit open and I secretly feared (and hoped) some enraged authority figure would run over, slam it, and shoo me away. You don’t belong here! You have no idea what you’re doing!

Instead, I tiptoed inside, took one look at my mother smiling at the foot of my sister’s bed and shuddered back a sob. And then, there was my little sister, in the thick of labor, holding onto her husband mid-contraction. I grabbed desperately onto her foot, not to calm her, but so that I wouldn’t faint. “YOU CAN DO THIS!” I said to myself.   

Nearly three years earlier, I’d birthed my own baby in a room down the same hospital hall. I’d threw up so much, they put me on IV fluids; I groaned in every octave; and my little sister, so eager to participate, had raced in to catch the final three delirious hours of pushing and was, I believe, holding one of my legs for the finale.

It was my turn to hold the leg, so to speak. So what the hell was wrong with me? My sister’s birth might well have been my own and my own, I could bear! I’d said for months before her birth that hers would be an easy one – so fast and simple that I’d actually feel jealous. (WHAT KIND OF MONSTER AM I? WHO CURSES HER SISTER LIKE THAT?)

I realize I’d been telling her all this to comfort myself, not her; to shove into a drawer the horrifying prospect of seeing my sister in pain (pain that, of course, she too, could bear, and did).

That sister is two weeks into parenthood and I only continue to disappoint myself as an aunt. I had visions of myself waltzing through her apartment door carrying roast chickens and magazines, singing, “Hellooooo!” into that thick newborn haze and bringing with me the light, the jokes, the assurance.

Instead, I chase my toddler into her living room and yell, “Not his head! Don’t touch the baby’s head!” My greatest contributions so far have been bringing her pairs of socks the size of my ear, showing her how to untie the twisted ends of her Moby wrap, and protecting her child’s posterior fontanelle from my spawn.

It is so scary, the beginnings of things. New babies are scary and new motherhood is too, and so is, it turns out, new aunt-hood. It’s unsettling to hear a baby cry or to watch a new mother cry, especially if you remember when that new mother was a baby. 

My sister’s husband kindly reads stories to my son in his son’s new bedroom while I stride around the apartment like a newborn gazelle, employing all of the rocking techniques I remember, which is to say, none. My sister says it’s nice to know that I got through this part, too. “How exactly?” she asks, sort of laughing, but serious too, and my face goes blank. “Um, ah, let me look in my email. You know, I think maybe I emailed someone about it, about what I did, back then?”

I can’t find the email.

I do find, however, a note.

It’s on my iPhone and it’s called “Parenthood 4 Weeks and 5 Days In.”

In a shaky voice, I read the first sentences aloud.

“No smile yet so when I put him down, all swaddled and sleepy, and then pick him up when he wakes crying, I wonder, irrationally, if he’s mad at me for letting him sleep alone and not on my chest.”

At this, my sister smiles immediately and says something like, “That’s so comforting.” She sighs. “I feel so much better knowing you felt that way, too.”

And then I’m wearing a cape. I’m looping around her ceiling in flight. I have actually helped!

Of course it did not involve baked birds or wisdom. How could it have? I’d forgotten that some of the finest words a new mother can hear are not advice, but her own terrifying thoughts spoken out loud by someone else, someone who’s gone through it. There is no substitute. It’s why message boards exist, why friends exist, and, that afternoon, why sisters exist.

Can you see, we shout at each other in the dark. No, can you? No! Okay. Okay. Okay.

How Helping to Raise My Younger Brother Prepared Me to Be a Mom

Caring for a much younger sibling can be some of the best on-the-job parenting experience one can get.

I was 14 years old when my little brother was born. I was super excited from the beginning and we instantly had a special connection – especially in the first years when I was quite invested in his caregiving, as my father and his wife both worked. They also felt like it was time for me to take some responsibility in the family. So at least once a week I picked him up from kindergarten and spent the entire afternoon with him, not to talk of the countless evenings and weekends I babysat him.

Although I loved him very much, it was sometimes hard. There were afternoons where I wished for nothing more than to be able to hang out with my friends after school and not have to rush across town to pick him up on time. There were days when I really had to force myself to mash up his bananas (his favorite dish while I hate no food more than bananas) or change his diaper when I much rather would have read a book or watched TV.

But now that I’m a mother I’m actually very thankful for all the childcare experience I gained. And quite frankly, my daughter should thank him forever, because having cared for him made me a much more confident parent and saved her a lot of trouble.

For many first time parents having a child can be quite a shock. It’s not as easy and rosy as it’s often described. Suddenly the house looks like a dump, you can’t remember when you last showered, and eight-hour sleep is a mere dream.

And then there’s more. Mommy shaming, dealing with other parents, insecurities, fears – many parents feel they were not really prepared for all this.

There were still lots of surprises for me as a parent, but at least I felt like I kind of knew what was coming my way.

As for mommy shaming and getting judged by strangers, I was shocked by how many times people assumed I was my younger brother’s mother. Try being 16 and boarding a bus with a screaming and kicking toddler in the one arm, pulling a heavy stroller loaded with groceries in the other. I got everything from strange looks to people actually telling me that I brought this on myself for becoming a mother at such a young age.

In the first instances this happened I was shocked, but quickly I started seeing the comical side of it. Also, it didn’t hurt me so much because I felt like I actually had the right to be overstrained every once in a while. Thanks to this, when I became a mother, I was able to tell the couple who told me I was suffocating my daughter in her wraparound baby carrier to mind their own business. I felt empowered to put her into daycare at the age of one without listening to the people who told me this was irresponsible. I had a thicker skin to thanks to my experiences toting my brother around all those years ago.

My brother also taught me to trust a child. He was a wild one, always moving and exploring. Of course I told him to be careful many times and made sure nothing happened to him, but I was a teen myself and didn’t care if he got dirty (it wasn’t me who had to do his laundry after all) or got a little bruise.

I spent a lot of time with him in a gymnastics class for toddlers. It was mainly just a gym with some stations to climb and play with around 20 toddlers and their parents. There I saw for the first time the results of fearful parenting. There were so many parents who did not leave their children alone even for a second, though this was a safe environment and there was an instructor present. Those were the ones who failed to climb the smallest obstacle by themselves, were scared of everything and cried for five minutes when they only stumbled. I think most of the other parents thought I was careless, but I let my brother run free. He was always the first one to climb the highest cabinets, never complained, and had the most fun.

Now I can relate a bit better to the parents who seemed crazy careful to me at the age of 16. When my daughter climbs a tree or jumps down from high stones, I am scared. I am afraid she’ll get hurt or something might happen to her. But I saw firsthand with my brother and his friends where fearful parenting can end up, and what trusting parenting results in. So I try to hold back my, “be careful” and let her decide for herself what she wants to try. Normally she’s right on with her evaluations – because she knows herself very well – and that is how her confidence grows.

I also learned that I don’t always have to be perfect; that I can make mistakes in my caregiving but things will still be okay. I made mistakes and messed up several times, many of those stories still being told and retold at family gatherings. There was the time when I almost broke his toe because I put his shoe on incorrectly. I put a diaper on him wrong-sided, forgot to close the curtains when he slept so that he woke up at 4:30 with the sunrise, and carried him in ways that made his mother cringe sometimes. But he was fine anyway.

So when I had my own daughter, I knew I would not be the perfect mum, because there is no such thing as a perfect human being. I knew I would make mistakes; some funny, some grave, and some even harmful, but that it would still be okay.

Reality is an Optical Illusion: How to Teach Kids About Perception

We grown-ups sometimes forget that our kids’ perceptions and understandings of the world are often different from ours.

My mom was an incredible woman and a talented painter. Driven by a fierce and uncontrollable passion to create, she was the epitome of Susan Boyle’s song, “I am who I was born to be,” and she lived her life accordingly. Without a doubt she was loved dearly and respected by her many offspring.

In honor of her 85th birthday she held a one-woman exhibition to showcase her most recent work. Her colorful paintings, each of which she cherished the way a mother cherishes her children, were a genuine reflection of who she was: vibrant, vivacious, and vigorous.

And then, she fell.

Literally overnight she lost her stamina, her self-confidence, and her will to live. Downhill all the way, it was a slow, agonizing, and fearful process.

My brother and I share not only a deep love and respect for our parents and for one another, but also a lifetime of meaningful experiences and fond memories. And yet, the ways we dealt with my mom’s deteriorating health, emotional state of mind – and eventually her death – were radically different.

Being the son and living nearby, my brother was what my mom referred to as “her rock.” He was there. He took charge of whatever bureaucratic matters needed tending to. Being a scientist, he had a better understanding of her medical situation than the rest of us and was always there to speak with the doctors. Being a pragmatic doer, he got things done.

Being the daughter, I played a different role in my mom’s life. I was her confidante. Somehow over the years our mother-daughter roles reversed. Like a daughter, she talked; like a mom, I listened. She consulted and I gave advice, more often than not reiterating what she wanted to hear.

During the last few years of my mom’s life, my husband and I were working abroad. Every evening after work, we would call our moms back home. It was the one gift we could give them to compensate for the thousands of miles between us.

Some days my mom and my conversations were short and sweet. Other times they were prolonged, as she poured her heart out, sharing with me both past and present. “I never bother your brother with all this,” she used to say, as she rambled on. “He’s so busy! I’m lucky to have you. It’s cheaper than a psychologist!”

As her health worsened, our trips home became more frequent so that I could spend more time with her. And then, shortly before her death, my mom was hospitalized with serious kidney failure. We were a family in crisis and all hell broke loose.

During the first few days my brother and I exchanged fervent emails, in which we discussed my mom’s situation and explored different ways to help her, as she no longer could help herself. We both had good intentions and our hearts were definitely in the right place, but nonetheless our solutions differed drastically, causing much tension and conflict between us.

My brother’s understanding of what was best for my mom, did not gel with my interpretation of her wishes. No matter how hard I tried, there was no way I could persuade him without breaching my mom’s trust.

At one point, he wrote to me in despair, “You’re not here. You don’t understand the reality.”

That is when I began to question if there is such a thing as “reality.” What made my brother more of an authority about my mom’s reality than I? Did the fact that he was “on site” trump everything I knew about my mom and her situation from what she had shared with me alone?

I got on a plane and flew home.

One day in between visits with my mom, I was spending some quality time with my eight-year-old granddaughter. She was showing me the young girl/old woman optical illusion she had recently discovered on the Internet.

She was intrigued how people looking at the same picture could see two totally different images. “Just like Jasmine, Mrs. Cameron, and me,” she remarked. Jasmine was my granddaughter’s friend and Mrs. Cameron was her teacher.

“Meaning…?” I asked, hoping she would continue.

“When Mrs. Cameron looks at Jasmine and when I look at Jasmine we see two different girls! Mrs. Cameron thinks that Jasmine is stupid. No matter how hard Jasmine tries, Mrs. Cameron treats her like she’s dumb or something. If only Mrs. Cameron were a fly on the wall during recess,” she continued using a new expression she had recently learned. “She would hear all the smart things Jasmine says and how funny she is! Jasmine isn’t stupid, Grandma, just because Mrs. Cameron thinks so, right?”

“No, my lovely,” I reassured my granddaughter, “Jasmine isn’t stupid.”

And that’s when the penny dropped. While telling me about the optical illusions in her life, my eight-year-old granddaughter opened my eyes and taught me a profound truth: 

Reality is an optical illusion and we each have our own perceptions.

I’m an educator. My perceptions of the world are driven by my passion to teach and to delight. For me, life experiences – big ones like mom’s death as well as ordinary ones like chatting with my granddaughter – are learning opportunities meant to be shared.

We grown-ups sometimes forget that our kids’ perceptions and understandings of the world are often different from ours. Just like with optical illusions and Mrs. Cameron, we can be looking at the same thing and see two different images. It is not for us to judge which perceptions are right and which are wrong. From where our kids are standing, their perception is based on what they know.

As the responsible adults in our kids’ lives, it ‘s our job to provide them with tools that develop awareness that there is no absolute truth or unconditional reality, because people have different perceptions. We must help them expand their horizons and delve deeper, so that they can continually refine and redefine what they know.

The following family activity does just that.

Scribble Art 

  • Using a dark marker, one participant scribbles an abstract shape on a piece of paper.
  • Working together, brainstorm what the scribble could be.
  • Try to come up with as many different ideas as you can.
  • The scribble cannot remain an abstract design and must be turned into something “real” – a person, an animal, something from nature, or any other object.
  • Each player then traces the shape and transforms the scribble into one of the suggestions or anything else that comes to mind.
  • When done, share, compare, and discuss what you discovered from this activity in relation to how people looking at the same object see totally different things.

I recently conducted this activity with my husband and four grandchildren ages three to nine. It was fascinating to witness the different interpretations, as well as what they had to say about the differences.

Try this fun, eye-opening activity with your family and let us know how it goes!