The trenches of babyland – 4m vs. 6/7m

Note: Hi friends! I started this deep-in-the-babyland-trenches post in November. Yes, it’s the end of February. The last few months have been the hardest mothering of my life. But here are some of the technical things that were happening for the babies at four months, and now at 6 and 7 month. Sorry – it’s totally a posterity post.

Ugh. I can't believe mom is still talking about us at 4 months.

Ugh. I can’t believe mama is still talking about us at 4 months.

4M According to the professionals: Gabrielle – 14 lbs, Lucia – 13 lbs

6M According to the professionals: Gabrielle – 16 lbs. Lucia – 16 lbs

4M Motor: the girls are starting to move. Half rolls, inchworming, and sitting up in their bumbo seats are a few of the major accomplishments. It is exciting, until I remember that this is all precursor to crawling and walking. They are also pretty interested in their hands, and any toys that we put in their grasp. They are big fans of the Velcro wrist rattles and plastic rings. Gabby may also prove to be a thumb sucker.

6/7M Motor: We are now working on sitting up unassisted, which equates to slowly falling over most of the time. We also practice standing at the activity table and the ottoman.  The girls solidly love to hold things, and will grab anything in their reach. Toys, carrots, and fistfuls of mama’s collarbone skin are the preferred items.

Brown chair comparisons - Four months

 Four months and we got things to celebrate y’all!

4M Eating: This one is big news, folks. We finally mastered the art of tandem breastfeeding. Right around 3 months, I noticed they seemed to be equally as full whether bottle or breastfed. I opted to forge ahead with breastfeeding and start phasing out the bottles. As of this month, the only time they get a bottle is if I’m away for the evening.

In other news, we started solid food. I know – it’s a little bit early. But our doctor gave me the go-ahead for single-grain rice cereal, which I mixed with formula since I’m not regularly pumping anymore. On hungry nights, I mixed the cereal with four ounces of formula. On average nights, I left it at two ounces. The first few feedings were super messy, but after a couple of weeks, they both got the hang of the spoon.

Eating. Yes. We love eating.

6M – Eating. Yes. We love eating.

6/7M Eating: Still breastfeeding. (Hooray!) It’s more challenging the more they move, and tandem feeding is bit like feeding an octopus. We don’t always do it anymore. Luckily, the older they get, the quicker they get. I totally forgot that about breastfeeding, but it’s really great. Meanwhile my milk supply has kept up, so we forge on.

As for solids, we discovered that rice cereal gave the girls gas, so we gave that up after a month of fussiness. Onto bigger and better things, like bananas. Did you know bananas have tryptophan (the same sleepy chemical residing in turkey)? Me either. But now we eat a pureed banana every night before bed. Daytime snacks are mostly fruits and veggies – pureed or whole food (jicama sticks, carrots, celery, and apples go over well.) We also love yogurt. Wow do we love yogurt.

4M Sleeping: Sigh. They were doing really well sleeping seven hour stretches at night… until now. I don’t know if that had anything to do with switching to breastfeeding, but it’s something to note. We usually get up once, if not twice, to eat between 10 pm and 6 am. (This is also where I am super thankful we can breastfeed – it’s a little less of a production to slide into the arm-chair in their bedroom instead of standing at the stove warming bottles with two screaming babies in my arms.)

I think we are going to switch to separate cribs soon. Sleep training twins will probably be a whole different ball game, but I think it’s time to try.

6/7M Sleeping: Sigh again. The girls are getting better at sleeping through the night, but it wasn’t without two months of full-blown, hour-long, cry it out scream fests at 2 and 3 in the morning. We are slowly getting past that stage. The challenge now is working with each baby separately. One or other has started to sleep through the night, but the other one usually has different plans. Someday…

4M Postpartum update: Thankfully, the body is starting to get back to normal at this point. I can wear almost all of my pre-pregnancy clothes (except the ones that were really fitted in the stomach) with relative comfort. My stomach continues to reduce, although the shape of it is still a little off kilter. I try to squeeze in two or three 20-minute segments of yoga off of You Tube (search yoga and knock yourself out – there are hundreds of video classes to try) per week, although Ellis makes this a challenge. Apparently yoga time is synonymous with horsey time.

IMG_20140221_072540_221

Thank you, polar vortex. This is the reality of what I face for outdoor exercise these days.

6/7M Postpartum update: Feeling pretty much the same as at 4M. I haven’t lost any more weight that I can tell, and I think my body is holding on to a little extra while I’m still breastfeeding. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Exercising sans gym during this particular Minnesota winter limits me to snowshoeing, walking, or doing exercise videos…in the dark. Ugh. Someday it will be green again.

I don’t own a scale, so I’m not sure where I’m at with weight. I’m also usually the one holding the camera, so I don’t have any pictures to compare. It’s kind of like I had twins, and then photo evidence of my existence stopped. 🙂 Anyway, I’m trying not to consider the breast-feeding year a time to get serious about weight-loss. After that, I’ll be happy to pick back up with a regular lifting and cardio routine, but until then, the body gets a little more grace. Besides. Carrying thirty-two pounds of baby and down the stairs numerous times a day has to count for something.

The year I ruined Valentine’s Day

I didn’t mean to be a jerk on the holiday of love. It just, well, it happened.

It was never destined to be a frosted, heart shaped sort of day at my house. The girls were needy, and I was empty. I slogged through the morning edgy and dry. And then the radio announcer would make a comment, or I’d see my Google search covered in hearts, and something in my brain would cackle that I was supposed to be celebrating my loves.

Vday card 2014We tried. Honest. I took a cute picture of the twins for the grandparents, and made a card on a fun site called Fotor. And when the girls went down for their tiny afternoon nap and Ellis woke up early, we baked cookies. Unfortunately the activity lasted for seven minutes, at the end of which Ellis and I both consumed an unhealthy amount of cookie dough and my kitchen became a shrine to measuring cups and spilled flour.

Meanwhile, my Love with a capital L was in the throes of tonsillitis. He came back from the doctor’s office with a new prescription, a jug of orange juice, and barely enough energy to make it up the stairs before collapsing into bed.

I knew our plans of dinner with friends and snowshoeing were out.  Along with them went my fast-waning patience. The girls cried. The house vomited princess dresses and Mr. Potato Head pieces.

And I wanted nothing to do with this messy, imperfect side of love.

Love was easy in a new dress and candlelight. It readily accepted the flowers and blushed gracefully at the card with its polished sentiments.

Love at 4:17 in the afternoon was grueling. It had unwashed hair and flushed cheeks. It ran out of tolerance as I packed the girls in the van, dropped them off at church’s childcare, and spent the next three hours alone.

***

A few days earlier, it had been my birthday.

If I’m allowed to admit it, I LOVE birthdays. Particularly mine. Because something happens on my birthday that I have a really hard time doing on any other day of the year.

I give myself permission.

Flashback Atlanta 2008, roomie bday breakfast

Flashback Atlanta 2008: roomie birthday breakfast

Let me explain. During college, my roommates and I started this tradition of crazy celebration. The day started with Bruegger’s bagels and bright red strawberries, coffee, coffee, coffee. It ended with the four of us around a restaurant table of really, really good food.

My celebration wasn’t just reserved for mornings and evenings though. One year I ditched class and spent my birthday wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The next year I planned my way through IKEA. I bought myself cupcakes from Lund’s, buttercream icing piled high. I never, ever, worked.

Slowly, things changed. My roomies all got married and the bagel tradition fell by the wayside. I stopped taking the day off. I realized, in true I’m-a-grownup-now-fashion, that the expectation of celebration needed to be consistent with life’s current circumstances.

So this year, when my birthday started with my toddler announcing (in her best outside voice), “MOM IT’S NOT DARK OUTSIDE ANYMORE. GET UP!”, I decided to institute a new phrase into my day.

So what? It’s my birthday.

I repeated it, even though the words felt dumb. Yes. This would work.

No one drowned!

Birthday swim day – no one drowned!

The twins were jabbering and cooing in the next room already, so I gathered my girls, made some sort of elephant herding maneuver down the stairs, and settled into the kitchen to make French toast. (The nearest bagel shop is probably 37 miles away.)

And when Ellis spilled syrup all over the floor, I said to myself, So what? It’s my birthday.

When we were half an hour late meeting Jules and crew for our swimming play date and the van was out of gas… So what? It’s my birthday.

When we ate lunch out and both babies started to scream and wanted to eat at the same time?

So what. It’s my birthday.

***

I’m not uptight. I think I just get tangled up in the difference of how things should be versus how they are. (Wait, still? Didn’t we talk about expectations, ahem, a year or so ago?) I guess some character follies just keep coming back up, whack-a-mole style.

That’s a problem. I stink at whack-a-mole, and seeing life in terms of should means I’m using someone else’s measuring stick. When that happens, the results are bound to be different.

Seeing life as it is and accepting it as such means I throw out the measuring stick. It means I stop getting upset when something turns out differently than I expected. It means I give myself and the world around me permission to be imperfect. Not unkind, just imperfect.

In that permission, love can survive. It might be messy. It might have snot stains and markers on its pants. But permissive love doesn’t keep track of what went awry – it simply acknowledges that when things don’t go as planned, when the babies cry and the knight in shining armor is in bed with a fever, it’s not the end of the world.

That love says, “So what”, and then goes on with a certain steadiness. Circumstance may prune it down some days, but the results are always a branching (LM Montgomery) that will, eventually, bloom bright.

Defining “Hygge”

1779301_10152138179680502_1263730929_nEvery year, our annual winter getaway with friends grows a little crazier.

More children. More bags. More dinosaurs, more story books, more baked goods I never, ever want to stop eating.

But this year, I went as a single parent. Jason has been sick for almost a month now, so he (very sadly) opted to stay home. I totally understood, but I was also a little desperate. I needed to double over in laughter with friends. I needed winter sun in my eyes and four feet of snow under my shoes. I needed towering pines.

I needed to broaden the narrows of my winter.

So I packed up three pack ‘n plays, two bumbo seats, a doorway jumperoo, three bags of food, two backpacks worth of clothing and diapers, five blankets, and three children under the age of 3 into the van.

In theory, it was possible. In reality, it was madness. In retrospect, it was very, very good.

***

1239733_10152138170690502_1027633142_n I read a great article a month or so ago about a mystical Danish word called “Hygge”, (pronounced HYU-gah). The word has no direct translation in English, but instead sounds like a conglomeration of emotions: well-being, contentment, camaraderie, coziness. The article says it’s kind of like Christmas, just not limited to once a year.

I was fascinated with the idea – this non-translatable word for something so meaningful. Really – when you have a second, you should definitely read the article. Anyway. I put it on my bucket list of words to study, ideas to play with.

I haven’t started the word study. (Go figure.) But after this weekend, I think I have a new word to add to the mix of not-quite-there-but-close definitions for hygge.

Collaboration.

Because without collaboration, hygge can’t happen.

Without collaboration, I would have driven North alone, praying through clenched teeth that nothing would go wrong. (Instead, I caravanned with dear friends who drove out of their way to let us tag along.)

Without collaboration, I would have made seven or eight trips to unload my van. (Instead, four very kind gentlemen made an extra trip or two each to shuttle in my babies and belongings.)

Without collaboration, I wouldn’t have gotten to snowshoe in the woods, feed babies, make supper, take a shower, read bedtime stories, or ever really just sit down. (Instead, there were open arms and helpful hands in every situation – even the darkness stumbling, nook fumbling, face rubbing, please-just-go-back-to-sleep-for-the-love-of-everything-good-and-holy-because-it’s-bedtime moments.)

IMG_2881But it wasn’t just about helping me.

Collaboration is what makes weekends like this possible. From finding accommodation, to organizing meals, to bringing toys and gear, to caring for one another’s children, it is our combined efforts that create an environment for hygge to happen.

And in that moment, the glow of the fire, the children asleep, the roar of laughter, the pine paneled walls and windows full of stars, hygge comes. It widens our hearts. It fills us with thankfulness. It becomes the thing we can’t describe.

ab377e29-7a2c-4d0f-9c0e-ad7a59cb4d77.1.10Maybe that’s okay. This word hygge, this word with no translation – maybe it’s meant to stay nebulous, a little mystical.

Perhaps hygge’s blessing is simply the bright consciousness of experience, our windows blazing light against winter’s dark, our laughter rising through the chimney and spreading like sweet smoke into the night.

Embrace it?

Two weeks ago, we got a decent amount of sleep and it wasn’t freeze-your-face-off cold, so we did baths, dresses, scrounged out some hair bows and shoes, and went to church. After the service, I was lamenting with a friend about this current, sleepless phase of life. She looked at me, smiled, and put her hand on my arm. “Someone once told me that whatever phase my kids were in, I should just embrace it.”

My internal hackles shot up. I finished listening to her story, and I think I even smiled Minnesota nice. But all the way out the door I ranted to myself.

Embrace it? Embrace the fact that I haven’t slept more than 3 consecutive hours in over two months? Embrace the bone-tired ache that accompanies me through most of my days? Embrace what must look like some horrible comedy in the middle of the night – the crying baby, the startled eyelids, the tensing of every muscle, the parade of untangling myself from the covers, struggling with my bathrobe, and stumbling in to whoever is crying before the rest of the house wakes up too?

Embrace THAT?

***

IMG_2769

6 months and chubby cheeks (Gabby left, Lucy right)

On average, the girls are still waking up at 12 and 2. And sometimes at 3. I don’t really know what to do at this point. I’m not feeding them in the night anymore, (both girls hit the 65th percentile for weight and 70th for height at their 6 month appointment – clearly they aren’t starving) so it’s just a matter of calming them down and getting them back to bed.

Ellis is also joining the middle of the night fun. The other night, Jason heard noises across the hall around 3:40 am. He went to her room only to find every light on, and Ellis buck naked, jumping up and down on her bare mattress. Her reason? She was just happy, daddy.

Apparently everyone just needs a little calming down lately. The days may be getting longer, but the darkness still slides too quickly into the afternoon. I’m never ready to start the evening’s tearful tango sessions all over again.

Which is exactly what I was doing, two Sundays ago, somewhere in the middle of the sleeping hours.

My bare feet were cold. My ponytail was somewhere off the left side of my head circa 1986, and in my haste to get to the baby, I had put my bathrobe on inside out and couldn’t tie it. I had some sort of back and forth sway motion going, and Lucy was fighting going back to sleep, her hot little fists alternately waving and gouging into her eyes.

I thought to myself, “Ha. Yes. Embrace it Rachel, just emBRACE the moment.”

And then I stopped. I want to say I had some sort of beautiful, shining epiphany. You know. The moon, the comforting sounds of the house, that kind of thing. But I didn’t. Nothing happened. I just realized, in the stupor of being half asleep and half awake, that I was probably overreacting.

That in the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t so bad.

So much of how I see things depends on my perspective. And when I’m half awake most days and nights, my perspective is pretty puffy-eyed and narrow.

Sure, not sleeping sucks. Literally. It sucks every last bit of energy of my living soul and by 4:30 pm every day, I’m on zombie autopilot. But still. I’m up because I have babies. Healthy (albeit not sleeping) babies.

Not so bad.

When things are difficult, I think I have a tendency to mentally hang on the hardship of it all. It’s as though quantifying the difficulty gives me a pass, for the time being, to do X. Or not do X. Anything, really. I don’t feel like I have to hold myself as accountable when circumstances are not in my favor.

But that’s not what good character is, or does.

So every time I leave the babies’ room at night, I pray “please let them sleep”. And then I add “and when they don’t, give me strength.” Just because I didn’t rest does not mean tomorrow won’t lighten the horizon. Ellis will need breakfast, the babies will wake with their own set of demands, and life will explode into chaos in a very short time span if I can’t gather myself up and go on.

Excuses be danged.

***

Meanwhile, “This week has been a disaster, Faye.” (Yes, we recently watched What About Bob?)

It disarmed me starting off – seven hours of sleep in a row on Sunday night. Glorious. But Monday and Tuesday passed in blurs of (what I’m guessing is teething) rage, which totally cancelled out any victory in the seven consecutive hours. Maybe I’m just spoiled – the girls are normally very mild and easy during the day. This week, not so.

IMG_20140118_131418_319

A not so happy moment

I’m talking SCREAMS. And in case you weren’t aware, apparently my girls all have the lungs to be opera stars. These are the red-faced, squint-eyed, inhale with all your power and blast out the most horrible manner of noise possible for a human being to make type screams. The don’t put me down screams. Don’t feed me screams. Don’t stop feeding me screams. Don’t change my diaper screams.

It’s daunting at best, demoralizing at worst.

Whatever that was about, we all caught a break and had a better day today. And tonight, everyone was sleeping by 8:30 pm. Jason included. (The poor guy can’t get enough uninterrupted sleep to combat a month-long battle of being sick.)

I’m not going to lie. I simply can’t embrace this week. That feels a little like opening my arms to a hungry, stink-eyed grizzly. But I will keep trying to remind myself that with a little perspective comes the reminder that it’s also not that bad.

And sometimes, that’s all any of us can hope for.

Sleep Training the Twins

IMG_20131014_151723_842

Dual Swinging

I didn’t know how good I had it. That’s usually the way it goes, right? We went through our days of infancy on a pretty routine schedule – eat, activity, sleep. Except by sleep, I mean that I put the babies in their swings and let them fall asleep there.

Every. Single. Time.

In my own defense, what else can one person do with two crying babies? I only have two arms. The swings seemed like the perfect way to keep them sleeping and secure. But when I went anywhere that didn’t have my magic swings, the girls had a difficult time taking any sort of nap. I chalked it up to different environment, but what I didn’t realize was this.

The swings had created a monster. (Two adorably sweet monsters, to be exact.)

I have a theory here – and it’s just a theory mind you – that the girls didn’t learn how to calm themselves down at an early age because whenever they fussed, I put them in the swings to calm them down. The constant motion lulled them to sleep, yes, but it took away the need for them to do one very important thing. Self soothe.

This was a problem, as were a couple of other things. So we took a giant leap right after Christmas.

1. We moved the girls into separate cribs

Hey sister-friend, what do you think of the whole arm-out system?

Hey sister-friend, what do you think of the whole arm-out system?

2. We stopped using the swings to lull them to sleep for naps and bedtime

3. We quit swaddling their arms

4. We moved Ellis into a big girl bed (so that now she can climb in and out with ease, open her door, and demand such things in the middle of the night as “a wittle drink”, help finding the tag on her blanket, and my personal favorite, to go poop.

In short, we started sleep training. Here’s why we decided to give it a go.

  • The girls were no longer sleeping through the night. Since four months, they had been getting up once or twice per night to eat. And because Jason had to go to work and Ellis was sleeping next door, I would rush in, feed them as quick as I could, and stumble back to bed. NOT sustainable.
  • When one twin woke up, it was almost inevitable that the other would wake up as well since her sister was literally screaming an inch away from her ear.
  • They were totally unhappy with their arms swaddled. Half the time we’d find them in the morning with one escaped arm waving like a defiant little flag. It was only a matter of time before someone got punched in the eye.
  • The swings… oh the glorious Fisher Price Cradle ‘n Swings. We used the heck of these contraptions until just a couple of weeks ago. In fact, we even had to replace one of them after only two months because we burned out the motor. But the problem that the girls were fast outgrowing my surrogate arms, and something else was gnawing at me. It seemed like they couldn’t go to sleep without the aid of the swing.

All of these things added up to one huge problem. The girls had not learned how to self soothe. Using swaddles meant that they couldn’t reposition themselves in the night if they were uncomfortable. Using swings to fall asleep meant that unless we had the swings with us 24/7, (or Fisher Price decided to come out with the giant toddler version) the girls didn’t know how to get to sleep on their own. And sleeping in the same crib meant that the twins could always rely on one another’s presence as a comfort and sleep aid.

So began one of the longest periods of sleep deprivation I’ve ever experienced.

The first night we tried just putting them in separate cribs. Up five times. Strike One. The second night we tried putting them in separate cribs again. Up six times. Strike Two.

The third night something had to change. It seemed like they were kicking a lot, so I unzipped their swaddles and left their feet out. This is not how swaddles are meant to be used. Miraculously, no one suffocated. The twins were up four times, and Ellis up three. Strike Three.

The fourth night I was out of my mind exhausted. I tried putting them to sleep in the same crib again, in case they weren’t ready for separation. They screamed bloody murder for 20 minutes with a soothing period between until I separated them again. I don’t know how often they woke up that night. I lost count.

Rice cereal rocks. And I'm not even a messy eater....yet.

Gabby thinks rice cereal rocks.

So on and so forth. We tried formula before bed. We tried rice cereal. We tried laying them down earlier. Later. We tried swinging and singing, less pajamas and more pajamas, white noise and pacifiers, stuffed animals and warm bean sacks. It all started to feel a little like voodoo. You know. As in, maybe if I stand facing west, sing three verses of Children of the Heavenly Father, two in English and one in Swedish, bounce 37 times and put you down when your eyes are half-open, you’ll sleep.

I felt like I was going crazy.

Let’s be real. I am going crazy. We’re not out of the woods yet. But we are settling into a few things that seem to work after trial and error. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. I nurse them and bottle feed them 4 ounces of formula before they lay down between 7 and 8. This ensures they have really full tummies.
  2. I have a fan going in their room for white noise, so if one wakes up, there’s a little background to help keep the other one sleeping.
  3. I no longer swaddle the girls’ arms, and when they grow another inch or two, I’ll stop swaddling all together. They just seem more comfortable this way, and can achieve the touch down position if they want – which, by the way, is an indication of complete and deeply comfortable sleep.
  4. I give them a “dream feeding” around 10 or 11pm – not waking them up at all, but simply nursing them for about 5-10 minutes and then putting them directly back to sleep. My doctor said this was a good transition method, so why not.
  5. I’ve tried to create a little bedtime routine, which includes diaper changes, calm swaddling time, and holding them while I sway and hum a few verses of whatever song comes in my head (usually it’s Peter Pan’s “Stay Awake” lullaby. Reverse psychology.) I give them nooks to suck on and loveys to clutch, and after a few minutes, I put them down when they are mostly asleep but still a tiny bit awake. Apparently this will help them learn to fall asleep on their own, and it actually does work.
  6. Unless the situation is dire (RE: Bombs away double crying madness), I do not nurse them in the middle of the night anymore. I also let them cry it out for ten minutes before I go in and soothe them. Yes, sometimes one twin wakes the other up, and then it’s double duty soothing. But since we started to cry it out, they went from 60 minutes of off-on crying to only 20 minutes at a time now (and always a soothe session after 10 minutes.)

The sad part is that all of this progress combined only yields 6 hours of sleep for me at the most (and that has only happened one time). But after the past couple weeks, 6 hours seems like a gold mine. So it’s my new goal.

In the meantime, Ellis has all but decided to stop napping, the average temperature high has been -10, and I finally mailed my Christmas cards yesterday.

il_570xN.488922112_50z4

Plum and Posey design

I’m not complaining. Just weathering the storm. My mom got me a beautiful wax seal cast in a silver medallion for Christmas – it’s a picture of a thistle flower and the inscription reads Dulcius ex asperis (Sweeter after difficulties) – it’s a perfect reminder that difficulty can produce good things if approached the right way.

I’m measuring my approach. I’m exhausted, but I’m praying to be given the strength to do what I can for my girls on the day I’ve been given. Most days, amazingly enough, it comes.

Meanwhile, sleep training continues. Here’s to hoping for a better report soon.

Why I don’t sleep anymore*

exhausted-cyclist1. Not waking up every hour and a half to two hours to comfort my screaming babies might make me miss them too much. I prefer helicopter parenting, especially at night.

2. The dark shadows around my eyes are kind of like a Vogue smoky eye, which makes me look in the mirror and think, “Wow. I did my makeup today! That’s an accomplishment.”

3. Puzzling why the babies and Ellis are not sleeping is a little like problem solving – so at least I’m not totally losing all my workplace skills.

4. I’ve been needing to get to know the force mechanics of the upstairs door knobs (old house) better ever since the time I put on lotion after holding one of the babies and effectively locked myself in their bedroom. At 2 in the morning.

5. Waking up to my toddler shuffling in the room and proclaiming she’s happy and would like to wake up now just fills me with energy.

6. It’s been cold here in Minnesota – cold enough that after I’m up with a baby, I now automatically go downstairs and throw another log on the fire. This effectively ensures I wake up enough not to burn my hands or my forearms off and can go back to bed wide awake, counting down the minutes until the next cry.

7. I haven’t been sick enough this year. Not sleeping is a great way to get sick. So it’s a win-win, really.

8. I’d be missing out on seeing all the phases and cycles of the moon, hereby planting the seed for my next endeavor: astronomer. After all, I need something else to do.

9. I really like hearing my toddler take on the roll of drill sergeant when she says, “Don’t lay down, mama. Get up. Play wiff me.”

10. Trying to calm the babies before they wake one another or the rest of the household up skyrockets my blood pressure in the middle of the night. I pretend it’s a cardio rush and go back to bed feeling like I squeezed in a workout.

*More on the actual mechanics of sleep training to come.

Holiday reinforcements

In life, just like in battle, reinforcements can mean everything.

This has been a month of necessary reinforcement. The girls gave up sleeping through the night about five weeks ago (funny correlation – how long has it been since I posted?)

Gabby's new look

Gabby’s new look

It’s been rough going.

The reason, best we can tell, is teeth. Yep. Teeth at four and half months. Gabby cut her first two last week, and Lucy is not far behind her. And the little buggers must hurt, because once in a while the girls will let out blood-curdling screams that scare the crap out of me at 2:30 in the morning. The only thing I can do is nurse them back to sleep.

This happens once, if not twice, each night. So it’s back to sleeping in two to four hour increments for us. Sigh. The funny part is, we can function like this. Not well, obviously, but it’s possible. And so that’s what we’ve been doing.

Functioning.

Despite our lack of sleep, it’s been a busy month.

Scenes from friendsgiving - yes, that's a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I'm pretty sure Sarah's french silk pie reached hallowed status.

Scenes from friendsgiving – yes, that’s a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I’m pretty sure my friend Sarah’s french silk pie was so good it reached sainthood.

We decided to do a “friendsgiving” the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Jason bought a turkey, I told everyone to bring a side dish (and it didn’t matter if it was leftover or re-purposed from actual Thanksgiving), and we made a big pot of macaroni for the kids. It was not going to be clean or trendy or perfect, and none of those things were the point.

It was chaos of the very best sort. Nine kids to eight adults. Foot traffic everywhere, crumbs and beverages on every surface, baby gates and diaper bags and sweet little hands tugging on whatever pant leg happened to be in reach.

When the meal was over, Jason built up the bonfire in the front yard. The guys went on kid/dish duty so the girls could get outside and have uninterrupted conversation. I snuck out first, face and hands tingling in the cold night air. I watched the kids jumping and chasing one another. There was commotion in the mudroom – hats, coats, boots being zipped. But for a clear, star-filled minute, I was alone in my yard.

I love moments like this. It’s like taking a nap in the living room when someone’s in the kitchen and the gentle activity of the house is a reassuring hum. Observation is rest, is beauty, is worship in its own right.

So I let my head fall backwards. I unrolled my fists in my pockets and let the muscles in my face go slack. Two days after Thanksgiving, I finally I let gratitude wash me, and I shivered at its overwhelming force.

I know the cardinal rule of holidays is being present and mindful. But holidays with babies take that to a new level. Being present means counting the hours since the babies last ate. Being mindful means double checking the diaper bag to make sure every possible scenario is prepared for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the rush and bustle, the flurry of arms that greet me at family and friend gatherings. But that night, when everything stopped for a collection of star-studded seconds, it was exactly what I needed.

***

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

Okay, so throwing a party probably seems a little more like functioning. I get that.  But compared to my days filled with diapers and crayons, discipline and feedings, planning a gathering seems so wonderfully normal.

Cooking becomes my creative outlet. Eating together becomes a celebration, and even the humblest of meals becomes festive when  shared. And as a bonus, having people in my home also means one important thing.

Help. Help on so many levels. (And someone else holding a baby.)

Juliette's amazing gingerbread trifle

Juliette’s amazing gingerbread trifle at Friend’s Christmas

So we keep opening our doors, practicing hospitality even when the floors aren’t clean and the babies are crying. We love collecting the people in our lives around our old Formica table.

We love eating good food (particularly Scottum’s dulce de leche ice cream – not pictured because it was devoured way too quickly.) We love sprawling out around the fire, tripping on toys, and holding our little ones.

We love the waves and hugs at the end of the night, each one like pressing a seal on our time together.

***

Sometimes raising my girls feels like I’m setting out to paint a gigantic church with an old, frayed paintbrush. But then someone comes along with a piece of scaffolding. And another. And another.

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari's Christmas gifts!

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari’s Christmas outfits

We paint together for a while, and it gets easier.

A few weeks back, a friend watched all three of my girls while I went grocery shopping. Another friend helped me coral my girls at open gymnastics. Another accompanied me to Target so I could have an extra cart and a playmate for Ellis.

Friends and family have helped me shop, taken me out, come to my home and watched my girls, leaned on the counter, drank coffee, called, texted, and even Skyped.

 

Super grandma to the rescue!

Super grandma to the rescue

My mom went so far as to clear her schedule last week to help with my teething terrors, and Jason’s parents have been amazing overnight babysitters.

Scaffolding, all of it.

Reinforcement.

And we are, as always, grateful.

 

Present when I need it most

It starts at 3:23 am, a hungry cry.

And then another, 4:08.

7:07 welcomes a broken chunk of window lattice, and Ellis rapping on the window. Followed by an exclamation. “Mama, I’m poopy.”

7:11, a glance in the mirror when no glance should have been taken, hair three days bedraggled, face a tired shade of pale.

Ellis asks me at 7:14 if I am crabby. I do not lie.

There is snow on the ground and the floors are chilly, so I attempt to build a fire at 7:34.

At 7:40, there is no longer a fire.

I am in the middle of a soggy bowl of Special K when the hunger chorus erupts from upstairs at 7:45.

8:30 – Diaper time for all three girls.

At 8:52, the twins are asleep in their swings. (And as a quick aside, one of the best pieces of advice someone gave me about living with twins was to never to put anything off. If the time is available to do something, it behooves you to make the most of it. So when my girls sleep, it’s the perfect time to get my toddler outside in the morning.)

I cajole Ellis into her snowsuit, boots, hat, and mittens.  We venture outside to let the chickens out, collect eggs, and generally burn off steam.

I am away from the clock at this point, but I know we have at least an hour or so of solid sleep time. Ellis needs to play outside as much as I need to go straight back to bed. She wins. Until suddenly the world is tragic, and the only way she can fight off her frustration is to flop face first into the snow when I’m trying to get her to walk. And then something happens.

I break. Every single frustrating minute from the morning pile-drives my patience and I have to fight back against the weight of it. So I yell. I yell at my daughter to stop laying in the snow so we can walk down the driveway. She yells back, and we both stand there, snorting steam into the winter air. I imagine we look like rams, heads lowered, ready to clash again at any moment.

I turn away, staring down the length of the snow-covered driveway. I feel a thousand miles away from anyone.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

The verse from Proverbs 15 comes from out of nowhere, slips in the door without knocking, stands in front of me.

It is another confrontation. But this one I know how to handle.

I pick my little girl up off the ground, and then I get down on my knees in the snow. Her blue eyes are crystalline with tears. I apologize for my yelling, tell her I love her. The wind blows around us and I feel it pushing away the heat of my anger.

Happy now

Happy now

My daughter looks at me, wiping her nose on the back of her mitten, and says, I sorry too mama. I happy now. I laugh. Happy now is her code for everything’s okay. I’m ready to move on.

And just like that, it IS okay. We walk down the rest of the driveway, check the mailbox, come back to play on the play set, and journey off to go pick another bunch of wild grapes growing on our corn crib. They are incredibly sweet after the frost.

I grew up in the church, so I’m familiar with the phrase “the word of God is living and active”. I also get that it sounds a little fake, or maybe just too evangelical, but hear me out. Because I haven’t ever felt a bible verse be more present and real than in that moment, in the snow, having a face-off with my toddler.

The verse became more than a platitude. It became truth – real, actionable, truth. Anger put a sudden halt on my discipline, but Forgiveness let me walk hand in hand with my daughter.

I don’t have a lot of time for quiet, introspective Bible reading these days. I think God knows. I think He also understands, and in the moments when I’m almost ready to crumble, He carefully places a verse in my palms.

Then He waits for me to do something with it. Because it’s not enough just to know truth.Truth needs to be practiced, moment by moment, mess by mess, until it’s meaning emerges.

Living. Active. Present when I need it most.

Leveling the playing field of importance (why wiping butts counts for something too)

Minnesota autumnIt’s November, and darkness narrows the margins of my landscape. It lingers later and later into the morning, and calls again far too early in the afternoon. Much of the color has been blown from the trees and fields. Only the framework of the growing season remains.

Sometimes I think bears have it right. Hibernation is a great idea.

I’m looking in the direction of winter, steeling myself. It has been a challenge to get out with the girls even when the sun is warm and daylight streams through the branches of the oak trees in my yard. But now there will be the need for hats. Mittens. Boots. Blankets. Extra everything just in case of emergency.

There will be long afternoons when everyone is restless. There will be floors to mop. A bathroom to clean, over and over. More art projects to stock for, and another collection of rags covered in glue and feathers to toss in the garbage.

There will be stretches of days when the weather is so inclement that it’s safer for me to keep the girls tucked in at home. There will be wind. Cold. More darkness.  And it will be very easy for me to listen a little bit longingly when I’m at the table with family and friends who are out and about, active in their worlds, doing their work.

I took a walk this weekend with a friend, and had the privilege of listening to her explain her work in the realm of therapy and healing. We kicked along in the leaves and dirt, pushing air through our lungs, needing the exercise in different ways – calm and contemplative for her, world widening and leg stretching for me.

IMG_2194(Let’s be honest. Sometimes the furthest walk I get in a day is to the chicken coop and back. PS. Our chickens finally started laying this week. Phew.)

At one point in the walk, she laughed and said something like “do you really want to hear all of this?” and I couldn’t say yes fast enough, because it was so nice to have the luxury of extended, uninterrupted discourse. But another answer, hidden and a little bit ugly, was there too.

I loved listening because I felt as though I didn’t have as much to say. And I didn’t have as much to say because I felt like what I spent my days doing was not as important.

I tried to laugh this off in some sort of offhanded joke about spending my time wiping bottoms. My friend laughed too, but then she said something I won’t forget any time soon.

She reminded me that there is a huge importance in raising a child who loves others instead of harming them.

That the world can be a dark place unless we know the One who is the light of the world.

That everything a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or extended family member does to further and support a child is necessary and beautiful because it creates a healthy, well-adjusted little person who cares for those around him or her.

It is important work.

I adore being home with my girls, but I’ve also had to push hard against feeling like I’m no longer contributing as well to society, to my church, to my family, or to my friends. That my home is now a place of chaos instead of a welcoming calm. That maybe I shouldn’t go out, see friends, or even take walks because of the potential for all hell to break loose when the girls get tired and hungry.

(This is where I also love being married to someone trained in psychology, because the best way Jason encourages me when I am afraid of something is to make me visualize the worst possible outcome. These days that’s basically a lot of screaming for a fairly short period of time until the problem is solved.)

It’s easy to keep spinning the unspoken fears that live in the back corners of our minds. But the broad and bright reality is that when we actually voice them, testing their truth against the air, we can finally see them as what they are. Fiction. Story. Nothing more.

But maybe what I also needed to hear was external validation. Validation to believe that I what I was doing was just as important as any the work of any doctor, teacher, or architect.

KindnessI’m not trying to get all “motherhood is the highest calling” here. The problem just repeats when any one person claims more importance than anyone else. I just want to believe the truth that raising a family is important, not because I have anything to prove, but because I owe it to my girls.

If I believe that my work is small, I may as well tell my girls that they are insignificant.

If I believe my world to be small, how can I show them how wide and big it actually is?

And if I believe that my worth is small, how can I teach them the steadiness of their value?

These are hard realities. They require action every time an unfounded fear darkens my eyes. But the practice of pushing them back, and the grace that results, is like the fire we continue to build night after night when the cold settles in sharply outside the windows, the crackling amber heat a solid wall against the pressing chill.

It may need to be coaxed day after day, match after match, but coals that are well-tended need only a brief reminder to burst brightly again into flame.

 

 

 

More than being present

I have a chalkboard in my kitchen. It’s one of those Pinteresty decorating ideas that I totally fell for, because I love words, and more importantly, I have a kindergartener’s obsession with chalk. IMG_20131016_221806_390

Earlier this summer, I wrote a verse from 1 Thessalonians on the board. In a way, I did it as a sort of challenge to myself. The verse read “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.” It seemed like the formula for living present and aware. I figured the timing was about right, because I was already feeling all sorts of pregnant crazytown and it would be good to see a reminder about resetting my focus when things went haywire.

The idea of being present has become a little bit of a catchphrase. It’s all over those inspirational wall sayings on Facebook. It’s in the quarterly newsletter from my local healthcare provider. It was even a story in my REALSIMPLE magazine this month – “Ten ways to be present NOW.”

Don’t get me wrong. Being present is really important. But should it be the end stop? I guess I don’t want to show up to something just to be there. I want to be transformed in my awareness.

If I’m present in my happiness, I want to filter that happiness into some sort of creative act later. If I’m sad, I want to remember that other people get sad too so I don’t feel so alone. If I’m angry, I want to figure out how to curb it without damaging anyone or anything around me.

All the snowboarders and thrill seekers in the world might disagree with me, but I think there’s more to experience than just the actual experience. What if I experienced to relate, to encourage, to emote, to praise? What if I took those things back into the community I lived in, and put them to work?

When I whipped out the best cursive I could muster and scrawled down that bible verse, I told myself I was ready. I was going to do more than just be present when the babies came. I was going to be transformed by it.  I was going to search out the GOOD in the moment, trace it back to its Creator, and then give thanks for it.  

Now let me be honest. It’s all fine to lay out my good intentions, but it’d be another thing entirely if I let you think I’d learned how to be Mother Theresa overnight because of a dusty bible verse on a chalkboard.

Being “joyful always” is not my natural first choice emotion when I’m scrubbing yellow mustard poop out of the outfit one of the girls was supposed to wear. “Praying continually” doesn’t happen when I’m blind with exhaustion. And “giving thanks in all circumstances” was the last thing on my mind when the doctor called to tell me Lucia failed her newborn hearing test and we needed to get her re-screened right away.

But I’m trying. And in the middle of it all, sometimes, a tiny part of me changes.

***

Yesterday the girls turned three months old. And you know how sometimes, you look at mile markers and think, where did the time go?

I know exactly where it’s gone.

I feel every single one of these three months. Nothing has been a blur. (Well, okay. Maybe the diaper bill.) There have been moments of deep and crazy love, and moments of completely disheveled how-am-I-going-to-handle-this insanity.

I feel these months in my feet the way I did when I worked at a bridal shop that didn’t allow anyone to wear shoes in the store. I feel them in my newly re-muscled arms. In my ravenous appetite and never ending water bottle refills. I feel them in my conversations, which constantly tread water around the topic of babies. I feel them in quickly whispered prayers that I breathe over the girls when I lay them down to sleep.  I feel everything.

The past three months have been an exercise in dealing with all this feeling. But perhaps the hardest thing for me to acknowledge in the middle of all this change and miniscule amounts of transformation is this:

I feel a lot better when I have help

Whether I ask for or simply accept it, help makes everything less overwhelming. Help makes the present something I can enjoy, instead of something I rush through so that I can get everyone to bed.

Ellis has a new phrase lately. “I do it myseff, mama.” Pretty standard among toddlers, but the first time she said it, I had to try not to laugh out loud. Of course she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail by herself, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try.

And fail.

And then holler, hot-faced and cranky, for help.

I laugh, because I’m the adult version of my daughter. I maybe have a teensy little problem with being independent, self-sufficient, and a measure too stubborn for my own good.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m learning to get over doing everything “myseff” so that I can teach my daughter to do the same. I’m learning that over-independence sometimes ruins any chance of being transformationally present. I’m learning to lean, to accept, to ask so that I really can practice what it means to be joyful always.

Pray continually.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

 

PS- three month pictures forthcoming.