Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Not So Terrible Twos: A Look Back

Because I only started blogging a little late into my later-in-life momhood -- when the kids turned three -- I don't have as much of a grip on what, exactly, happened that second year of parenthood. But I'm jogging my memory today because that blur of a year shouldn't go by thoroughly unrecorded. After all, getting through a year of later-in-life parenthood is something of an accomplishment, especially so when parenting twin toddlers ... or so I rationalize. I have to give myself a pat on the back for getting through it, even though people do it all the time, because one thing I do recall is feeling distinctly like I wasn't going to make it.

It wasn't because the twos were terrible. They were just ... well, wearing. They were also wondrous and delightful, in some ways far more rewarding than the ones, which were all about mom and dad putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how sleep-deprived. Most of all, they were about changes, big and small, and always, always coming, so that just when you thought you kinda had this parenting thing down, something would come to send you right back into learning on the job. To steal an iconic I LOVE LUCY image, I spent much of Year 2 feeling like the candies were coming down the conveyor belt faster than I could box them.

Though Thing 1 and Thing 2 started eating something resembling solid food at nine months, and were more into the real deal in the course of year two, there was a big trade-off in how difficult it was to feed them. We didn't have to make as many bottles of formula or clean as many bottles, or make as many frantic late-night trips to the 24-hour drugstore for cans of the stuff (until we discovered ordering it by mail). And praise the gods of toddlerhood, they could actually hold their bottles by themselves; I'll never forget the hand cramps I got trying to feed two babies in side-by-side bouncy seats, holding up two bottles. But eating jarred babyfood wasn't a quick transition. Different pureed foods have to be introduced gradually, over the course of weeks, to make sure there are no allergic reactions. You've gotta keep track of how much they're eating, of which kid likes what fruit or veggie, or mashed up meat (we didn't do a lot of mashed up meat at first; it's about as gross as it sounds). And then there was the scrutinizing of labels and hunting down the natural or organic brands, and what to do when three grocery stores were simultaneously out of HER favorite, the butternut squash and pear mixture. (What to do? Panic. Because I wasn't about to make my own mashed up baby food. Sue me now, oh holier than thou moms who have time for that.) Finally, there was the mess, which was not to be believed. Or rather, the messes. The messes on their faces, clothes (despite flexible, washable bibs with spillage pockets on the bottom), and their high chairs. Our valiant nanny at the time dealt with most of the actual chair clean-up -- how did they grind green pea puree into the harness straps? -- while I usually handled the plastic snap-on trays. But somehow, even with a big plastic splat mat beneath the high chairs, the cleaning up seemed unceasing. If I could have hosed down the dining room -- and kids -- after mealtimes, I would have.

Then there were the first steps. Twins sometimes walk later than "singletons," perhaps on account of so many of them being born early (as mine were). Though they were holding themselves upright in their cribs for some time before, it took until fifteen months for her, and sixteen for him, to really be perambulating around the house. He was more of a klutz, but had a good attitude: falling down was more likely to induce giggles than howls.

Though there may have been words earlier, I distinctly remember "cat" very definitely uttered soon into the speaking phase, and thanks to our Latino nanny, "agua"was in frequent use for water. Thing 2 somehow graduated very quickly to "Matzoh Balls,"though it sounded more like "mazzoh malls" (we have the digital recording preserved for posterity). Thing 1 often asked for more "strawbear." We did a little sign language (I think "more" and "eat" were popular because they were easy signs to make). And despite the strict orders of our strict pediatrician, we let them see some videos. There are times when you must shower, cook, or simply collapse, something our pediatrician, who no doubt had his own kids many years ago, seemed to have forgotten. We never left them alone in front of regular TV, but I am ashamed to admit we soon obtained a small library of BABY EINSTEIN videos. We did not buy them with the expectation that our children would be made into baby geniuses. After all, baby Albert Einstein did just fine without watching BABY EINSTEIN videos. But they were pleasant, short, and unobjectionable (even if I did spy their founder/CEO as an invited guest at a Bush state of the union speech, making me WANT to object to them). Our never-fail mainstay were three short videos from HBO, BABY ART, BABY DANCE, and BABY MUSIC, that used calming classical music, gorgeous famous works of art or famous ballet, jazz and tap numbers, all in lush animation, to mesmerize our small fry ... and give mom and dad much-needed respite.

Then there were those toddler classes. Apparently since the days when I was a child, an entire toddler enrichment industry has sprung up. I'm not sure when it started, but by the time my kids came along, attendance at a weekly gym class and/or music class was not only the norm, but seemingly de rigeur among kids born into our socio-economic class. Though the idea may be sold as promoting motor development, meta-cognition, or any number of educational jargon-heavy terms I could mention, I think the big appeal to moms is getting the hell out of the house. The presence of other adults, especially moms going through the same trials and tribulations, is a big draw too.

So even though I was back at work, I managed to while away two lunch-hours a week, and often one hour on the weekend, going to, attending, and coming home from, toddler classes. GYMBOREE provided the kids with the all-important exposure to being pulled around on a parachute with other kids; oh, and there's the introduction of other kids' germs, and let's not forget giving mom a workout chasing a toddler all over the play structures, colored mats, fabric-and-wire tunnels, and slides. Because I had two kids, I had to pay the nanny to attend with me on the weekdays (dad did weekend duty). The games were a bit insipid, and the songs repetitive and often utterly without educational value (unless you consider "The Grand Old Duke Of York" to be a milestone in Western nursery rhyme song history). But I have to admit that generally, a good time was had by all ... until we all got thoroughly sick of the whole GYMBOREE scene, but that was far into the future -- sometime in year three.

GYMBOREE also provided that first rudimentary music class, but it was dullsville because the only instruments the kids were allowed to touch were percussion instruments, which get old -- and annoyingly cacophonous -- pretty quick. So I eventually switched the kids over to a class at another place, now called TODDLE TUNES, that was a whole lot better: the kids got to touch and help teachers play the banjo, the saxophone, the violin, the bass, the clarinet, the piano, guitar ... and on and on, and even the percussion instruments were way more interesting (Latin rhythm instruments, African instruments, etc.) They learned about sounds low and high, loud and soft, tempos fast and slow, and were exposed to everything from reggae to rock, from Beethoven to Jack Johnson (that "Curious George" CD was so surprisingly addictive I caught myself playing it even when the kids weren't in the car: hands up now, any parents who were guilty of this too).

All this physical and musical activity was imprinting itself on their young minds and bodies, and I gotta say, the break from the work day was a blast, even though I often found myself scrambling to make up missed work. The weekends were mostly about going to the park, where "friends" were made, though really there was only "parallel play" going on (more early education jargon, but you get the idea).

Despite big gains in walking and talking, there was no interest in the potty yet, despite appropriately selected toys, books and videos to encourage the idea. Thankfully, the kids stayed in their cribs at night, not yet able to climb out and wander into mom and dad's room. But those last of the day and early morning bottles were still being served, and only crib toys that lit up and played music saved mom and dad from more howling than was really necessary.

Bedtime rituals included reading. Like all college-educated liberal elitists, we saw it as our duty to read to the kids early on. We had all the classics, the Eric Carle books (even the giant edition of THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, which proved quite handy to read to twins), GOODNIGHT, MOON, and the latter-day must-have Boynton books like BUT NOT THE HIPPOPOTOMUS and THE GOING TO BED BOOK. But I soon learned that the best books to "read" to two-year-olds are lift-the-flap books, and ninety percent of those will be destroyed within days of purchase. Many thanks to the folks who publish the MAISY series by Lucy Cousins, for their nearly indestructible flaps: a few of those books have even survived into year four.

Though officially sleeping through the night, and eventually trading two naps a day for one, Thing 1 and Thing 2 nevertheless woke up early and often, and kept us in a constant state of bleary-eyed sleep deprivation. We had paid help during the hours when we worked at our jobs, but that still meant changing a zillion diapers, making endless trips to the store to get refills for our Diaper Genie (a product Grandpa initially assumed performed the diaper-changing for us, as if by magic), shopping and planning for all their meals or packing the diaper bag with all manner of spare clothes and extra food and wipes, always the wipes, whenever we ventured out of the house. A plane trip to the east coast was a huge challenge, even though we'd somehow managed it in Year One. Now they were more aware and more apt to howl or want to get up and squirm and visit the back of the plane as frequently as allowed when the seat belt sign was turned off. Yet they weren't really video-savvy enough to be thoroughly occupied by the portable DVD or the in-flight entertainment. And of course the regulations prohibiting the transporting of liquids presented its own nightmares (would the Dept. of Homeland Security please explain to the howling toddler in Aisle J why she can't have her bottle now?). We did our best to minimize hassle by sending supplies ahead (unabashed plug for here), and Grandma and Grandpa obliged by borrowing a neighbor's pack-n-plays so we didn't have to carry them with us.

But the tyranny of the nap schedule often forced us to truncate plans, whether on vacation or at home. As much as we didn't want to be the kind of parents who are rigid about making sure the kids get naps at the usual time every day, we turned into those kinds of parents, because with twins, anything else would have been, well, suicidal (for us). The witching hours with toddlers are bad enough when they HAVE gotten enough sleep. We even got to the point of nixing any daytime excursion that was more than a twenty-minute drive back home (or wherever we were staying if out of town), for fear of missing the precious "transfer window." Some parents reading this are nodding in recognition, but for those readers who need a translation, the transfer window is the brief time during which a child sleeping in a car seat can be successfully transferred to his or her crib without waking up and turning into a banshee.

Though we'd put on a birthday party when they turned one, mostly to congratulate ourselves on surviving that first year, we were too exhausted by the end of year two to contemplate such an undertaking. Dinner at a restaurant with friends was enough. I remember we'd spent the day at Griffith Park's TRAVEL TOWN, during which Thing 2 remained petrified during the entire train ride, and had to be held on Daddy's shoulder. But I also remember the picture I took of both kids standing tall near an antique train car, looking confident, tough, and not-to-be-messed-with, like a tiny but formidable toddler gang of two.

The "Terrible" phase of the twos really didn't kick in until two-and-a-half for her, and nearly three for him. Its worst manifestations had to do with Thing 2's psycho-like Elektra phase, in which Daddy, and only Daddy, would do, particularly between bedtime and six a.m.. But year three would prove much more untenable. (And I've got a twin mom friend who has lately beein referring to the f&%#ing fours).

No doubt more memories of Year Two will crop up as I continue to blog, but at least, for now, I've written down a little and, on reflection, am very happy to have experienced the gamut of parenting two-year-olds and just as happy to be finished with that gamut. I gotta a whole lotta gamut still coming my way ...

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