Thursday, June 27, 2013

Theme Thursday: Black and White

It's the little things.

Really, sometimes, it is. Remember how I gave away a beautiful print and a batch of homemade cookies this past week? There was a random drawing, mostly made up of people who know me in "real" life, and the winner was someone I've never met. Her name is Rebecca, and she lives in Canada. (I know maybe 4 people who live in Canada, total...but this remarkable woman lives there and reads my blog. Imagine that!) She's been working on being thankful lately, mostly because she was recently diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has been struggling with the limitations of that diagnosis.

I get to mail her a box of cookies and a print that says, "today, I am thankful"- which, somehow, is exactly what she needs to see right now.

Sometimes, you get just what you need, even if it's in a tiny, small way that doesn't really fix anything.

Conversing with Rebecca led me to think back on my own diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which led me to realize that it's been twelve years since that diagnosis. It was my senior year of college, and I couldn't get out of bed. Twelve years ago, I would not have believed that I could work a "regular" job or have children and take care of them or run long distances (or run at all, for that matter). I was a mess. Gradually, we adapted to the diagnosis...we changed our lives to accommodate my new limitations, slowed down and focused on getting me well.

I am well. I am no longer making decisions limited by a mysterious illness that makes me weak and tired and sick.

Now I'm mailing cookies to someone who is almost exactly where I was twelve years ago.

While I was in the midst of baking cookies and thinking about all of this, George called me outside to take a picture of a beautiful rainbow. I took a few shots, but none of them really came was very hazy, and the light wasn't cooperating. I hung out on the porch, testing out some of the settings on my new camera and playing around with the manual focus (something I have never had before now!). I'm a little intimidated by all the things this camera can do, and I have mostly left it on auto this past week since receiving it as a birthday gift from George.

Sitting on the porch this evening and playing with the camera, I saw a tiny spider who has built a web on one of our purple coneflowers. If I hadn't been messing with the manual focus, I wouldn't have seen it at all. I breathed and looked through the camera at the little spider and his flower, and the  worries I'd been worrying all day somehow seemed less worrisome.

It's the little things...little, insignificant things that let you know that the universe is unfolding exactly as it is meant to unfold.

I don't even know how to tell what the settings were for this photo. I'm lost, y'all. Who wants to give me a lesson on how to use the camera properly?

Go see photos by people who know what they are doing at Clan Donaldson. Today's theme is black and white.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Giveaway winner!!

Our little giveaway has come to an end (at midnight last night). Thanks to everyone who entered.

In a very high-tech, scientific process, I wrote everyone's name on a slip of paper and had one of my children draw a name. (The child was not informed that cookies were involved, so there can be no questions about his or her ability to be impartial.)

The winner is...Rebecca of Life Beyond the Window! Please e-mail me your mailing address (abbey.dupuy(at)gmail(dot)com) so I can send your prize to you.

This was fun, don't you think? We will do it again soon.

In other news, I have a guest post up today at CatholicMom about turning the chores we love to hate into opportunities for gratitude and mindfulness. One of the comments on the post suggested consecrating a chore we dislike (sweeping, in my case) for a specific prayer intention.

We have a young friend in our parish named Sam who is battling cancer. Although we pray for him as often as we think of him, I love the idea of offering up my much-despised sweeping chore on his behalf. I might even sweep more often in a day, just to have the extra chances to pray for Sam.

Think about this, won't you? Do you have a chore like mine that you'd rather not do? Would it change if you made it an offering of prayer for someone else? And if you need an intention to tie to your most-hated chore, I know Sam and his family would love to have you pray for them, too.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I'm going to stop yelling at my kids...for the next four days.

Image credit m4tik via Creative Commons

I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have just had a Great Big Mommy Tantrum.

I stayed basically calm all morning, despite having milk thrown at me twice, all the toilet paper unrolled and dragged down the hall, food splattered on the wall and smeared into one child's hair by another child, and the same cabinets completely emptied three times. I kept my cool through five child tantrums (four of which were from the same child) and a full day's worth of whining from one other child condensed into a three-hour block. I did not lose it with SuperSam when he scaled a stack of cardboard boxes filled with baby clothes headed for our shed (right in front of me!) and they all collapsed, spilling clothes everywhere.

I gave one fairly successful haircut, made two meals and two snacks (with two toddlers screeching, "EEEEEAT, EEEEAT, EEEEEEAT!" at the tops of their lungs) and braved a trip to that most dreaded of places, the post office, to return some mis-delivered mail. The visit didn't go well...the postal worker was crabby and condescending, and my kids screamed the whole way home.

I do not like going to the post office, but I went anyway. I am a good citizen.

Unfortunately, I am also a yeller.

Not all the time...but when I've had a long day or a tough morning, when the volume level in the house goes up and up and up, when I've asked nicely three or four times and I'm not getting any cooperation, when I'm completely overwhelmed and I feel like no one is listening to me...I yell.

I start out quietly, just like I know I should, but it escalates. I get a bit louder and testier-sounding.

And sometimes, like this evening, I explode.

There's a rising feeling of panic in my chest. I feel hot. I get kind of twitchy and upset, and out it comes...the loud, mean-sounding voice that makes my children's eyes widen. I can feel it coming, and sometimes I don't stop it. I let it out, unleashing the Loud Angry Voice on whoever is pushing my buttons. I usually feel a little better for just a second...a little vindicated...but it never lasts long.

Sometimes, yelling isn't enough. Sometimes I slam down things that I'm holding in a forceful way. Sometimes I slam cabinet doors or the dishwasher.

Tonight, I dropped a stack of stainless steel mixing bowls on the floor, just because I knew it would be LOUD...and it was. I felt better for a tiny second, until I saw Nora's little face.

Her eyes were wide. She slowly held up her hands to cover her ears- a skill I just taught her last week so she could cope with the abnormally-loud automatic flush toilets at Costco- and she murmured, "Dat's noisy."

I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. Guilt seared through me as I looked at her, then at her brother, standing quietly on the other side of the room, eyes gravely watching me.

I apologized to them, of course, but saying "sorry" doesn't undo what's been done.
Remembering it now, telling you about it, I want to go into each of their rooms, scoop them up, smell their hair, and whisper "sorrysorrysorrysorry" as quietly as I can into their ears, as if that would make up for the loudness of my voice there earlier.

I remember how it feels to be yelled at by an adult, especially one you trust.
I do not want my children to feel that way, especially because of me.
I don't want them to grow up trying to avoid making Mama angry so she won't yell.

There was a song we used to sing as kids about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22...the fruit of the Spirit's not a banana...if you wanna be a banana, you might as well hear it, you can't be a fruit of the Spirit...

Oh, never it is. Brace yourselves.

'Cause the fruits are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control-ol-ol!...

Anger isn't a fruit of the Spirit. Neither is yelling or throwing or slamming things.

Anger isn't wrong or bad. It's just an emotion, and all of us have it sometimes. But yelling is wrong, at least here in my house. It assumes my feelings are the most important. It assumes it is okay for me to express those feelings at the expense of everyone else. It is intimidating, and it destroys the peace and joy in which I'd like our family to live.  

Yelling makes anger seem wrong and bad. Yelling makes anger scary for everyone around. By yelling when I get reallyreally mad or reallyreally overwhelmed or reallyreally frustrated, I could be setting my children up to be unable to cope with their own anger and frustration.

Besides, SuperSam told me this evening that "when people yell, it feels like they don't love you."

Things around here need to change.

I'm done with the yelling. I don't want to be a mom who yells. I need to develop some of that gentleness and self-control-ol-ol.

I have to figure out how to keep from getting to the point of being out of control. I know yelling, like any other behavior, is a choice. The thing is, by the time I'm yelling, it doesn't feel like a choice anymore.

It feels inevitable.

Have you heard of The Orange Rhino? She is a blogger who made a deal with her children that she wouldn't yell for 365 days. She has now been going for over 500 days. She has inspired people to try to stop yelling at their own children by sharing her struggle. She has started a kind of movement.

I'm not trying to start a movement...but it is nice in some ways to know I'm not the only parent struggling with this problem.

I can't start a movement based on my own struggle and my efforts to stop yelling, because I need help. I cannot do this all on my own. I think I have too much baggage to deal with and heart-attitudes that need changing and grace. I think I need a lot of grace. Going into this thinking about how I'm going to fix this problem by myself is going to fail.

I think that God wants me to be the best parent I can be...and I know God-as-Parent isn't losing God's cool and blowing up and striking down toddlers who unroll toilet paper. This isn't about their behavior and their need to be corrected. It's not about my authority or my duty to teach them to be virtuous.

It's not my children who have the problem here. It's me.
So I'm asking God for help first, because I know God loves my children even more than I do and that my not yelling at them is in their best interests.

Having said that, I do need a plan for how I'm going to change.

For right now, I'm doing these things:

  • I'm ordering this print from Katie Daisy and putting it in the kitchen (the room where 80% of my tantrums happen). I'm also going to write the same phrase down and put it in the car where I can see it (the location of another 15% of my meltdowns, usually in direct response to someone else's- does car travel actually cause tantrums?).

  • I'm writing "Gentleness and Self-Control" on the back of my hand. This is important enough to me that I want to be able to see a reminder all the time. It might get awkward at the grocery store, but I can always gesture at my children and say, "I'm sure you have noticed that I have my hands full," or something equally witty and original.
  • I'm praying every day at certain times (every time I refill my water bottle or start to prepare food, for starters) for help to control my temper. Is there a patron saint for yelling, overwhelmed moms? I once read that Susannah Wesley (mother of John and Charles Wesley and seventeen other children) used to sit with her hoop skirts pulled up over her head when she needed to be alone for a moment to pray. Maybe I can appeal to her?
  • When I feel myself getting angry, I'm going to take three deep breaths before I say anything at all.
  • Finally, I'm sharing this commitment with you. It isn't easy to do, but it is important. I always end up writing about what's really going on, so you were probably going to find out, anyway. Telling you up front is better so you can hold me accountable and pray for me (if that's something you do). Besides, if you happen to be at the post office on our next trip and hear me starting to raise my voice at my kids in the parking lot, at least you'll know I'm working on it.

My first goal is to get through the end of this week without yelling at all. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. On Saturday our vacation starts. I'll have backup all week, which will make things a lot easier.

I have always had a short fuse. I once threw a pasta strainer in George's general direction during an argument in the first month of our marriage! (Not at him, exactly, but still...short fuse, impulsive behavior!) When I had just one toddler, however, I never used to yell. I think that learning to survive this stage of these children's lives is a good opportunity to learn to deal with a character flaw I have always had.

There. I've told you. Be gentle, please. I welcome your prayers and positive thoughts this week- I'm certain it won't be easy, but things worth doing almost never are, right?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Rhythm

It's often the spaces in between the notes that matter most...the silences that interrupt the sound, the pauses that poke little holes in the soaring melodies and thick harmonies swirling around inside our heads.

We stand, focused, shoulder to shoulder, scores held tightly, waiting for direction.

"Whatever you do, do not turn a page in the silence. You never break musical silence." He speaks gravely, quietly...for to break silence would be to impose sound where there should be nothing, to compromise the integrity of all the notes already sung and all the notes to come after that pregnant pause...that holy moment of stillness so full of hope and possibility.

The rhythm at the end is not discernible. Who could even tell that they were triplet figures? He conducts each note suspended in space, the rhythm known only to him, our eyes   hanging on the slightest movements of his hands. We wait. He breathes, moves his fingers, shows us what to sing by drawing the rhythm in the air, hanging it in the space between us and himself.

Libera me.

The truest things sometimes can't be grasped while they are happening. It isn't until the second to last
phrase that I understand the fullness of what we have just sung. Despite learning this score inside and out, during meals and during runs, despite waking up humming it and singing it while I brushed my teeth, it isn't until this moment in the space between libera me and libera me that it is fully inside me, that its rhythm beats inside my heart, that I pray it with everything I am without making a single sound.

This is the moment when I discover that singing this work has turned me inside out. A part of me is made new. The strings of my heart vibrate in tune with their Creator. As much as I'm singing, I'm also being sung...part of an eternal melody weaving its way through creation and time and space.

I'm joining up with Lisa-Jo Baker again today to write for five minutes and see what happens, just for the fun of it. For more Five-Minute Friday, follow the link below.

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Snuggly Bedtime Books..our top ten picks

The summer solstice is here...which means our nights are bright until well after 9:00 pm. The sun comes up bright and early, too, working its way into the children's east-facing windows despite the blackout curtains that line them.

We have all the good shades, clips to hold the curtains together, white noise machines, and snuggly, comfy beds. Still, though, one of our three (want to guess which one?) refuses to sleep at night until it is dark and cannot seem to stay asleep if there is any light in the sky at all.

(The month of June feels very long sometimes where bedtime is concerned.)

We've found it works better to try to extend the bedtime ritual in positive ways when we know SuperSam isn't ready for sleep. We often read an extra book or tell an extra story. If he's not sleepy when we leave, he has the option of lying in bed and reading to himself until he falls asleep. Sometimes he reads for over an hour. Although I wish he were sleeping, this staying up late for extra books with us and then having quiet reading time is a lot better than the way we used to do things, which resulted in his coming out of his room 6, 7 or 8 times after we had tucked him into bed...totally frustrating for everyone involved!

Since some of you might find yourselves with restless little ones, too, I want to share our top ten favorite bedtime books. You never know when you might have the kind of night where you just need to read an extra one. We all love Goodnight, Moon...but if you're feeling the urge to broaden your reading list, try one of these:

(This post contains lots of Amazon affliliate can't miss them, I promise.)

1. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

This one is a classic. It's great fun to go through the animals with a young child and make all the appropriate sounds. The verse is so pleasantly rhythmic...there's some rhyme, but not enough to be annoying. We always speculate about where the children might be ("in this story the children are away/Only the animals are here today"), and SuperSam changes the part about the weather vane to "a golden flying pegasus." Since it makes him oddly happy to do this, we never correct it, and the Sisters have learned it that way. The pictures by Felecia Bond are beautiful and realistic (the animals don't look like cartoons- a pet peeve of mine!), and the final pictures of the moon floating in the washtub full of water always take my breath away a little bit.

2. The Goodnight Book for Moms and Little Ones edited by Alice Wong and Lena Tabori

This isn't a single story, but a collection of poems, prayers, songs, stories and recipes for bedtime snacks. There are even instructions for making shadow puppets with your hand on the wall. If you don't have a bedtime ritual that you're happy with, or if you're looking to add some things to the bedtime routine at your house, you might get some good ideas from this book. It includes classic as well as modern tales and songs, and the poems are drawn from different cultures and traditions. This book contains several great songs for singing before sleep that I just hadn't thought of on my own- songs I've always known, but have never considered as lullabies. My children particularly like "Moon River" by Henry Mancini and "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (I think I sing it a little like Mama Cass). The gorgeous illustrations alone are enough of a reason to have this book in your collection. Try the preview feature on to get a sneak peek at some of them.

3. Switching on the Moon compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters

 Although I believe we can never have enough poetry in our lives, I'm guilty of getting caught up with reading story after story and forgetting to read poems (despite our healthy poetry collection). This book contains poems chosen by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters for their sleep-inducing qualities. SuperSam enjoyed the shorter poems even as a toddler, and now that he's older, he will often ask to read ten or twelve in a row. There's something about the carefully-chosen words and the charming illustrations that makes this feel like the perfect bedtime book to snuggle up and read together. Plus, it's easy to agree to "one more poem? pleeeeease?" even when you are tired- they're so short that reading lots of them takes little effort.

4. Time for Bed by Mem Fox

 A new favorite at our house, especially with the Sisters, this book goes through parent-child pairs of animals with each parent telling the baby that it is time to go to sleep. It rhymes, but not in a sing-songy way. I like that the animals represented go beyond the usual suspects- there are fish, bumblebees, and even snakes involved in the story. My favorite part is when the mama cow asks her baby, "What happened today that made you laugh?" and both of my girls laugh loudly in a very theatrical kind of way. We've been reading it nearly every night.

 5. Sing Along Song by JoAnn Early Macken

We ran across this book years ago at our local book fair and loved it. It's musical from start to finish. The story is about a young boy who goes through his day from morning until bedtime hearing music in all the ordinary sounds around him: buzzing flies, chattering squirrels, whistling daddies coming home from work, cooing baby sisters being put to bed. He's an adorable little boy- you will love him, I promise.

 6. So Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz

 This might be my favorite bedtime book of all time. A sleeping boy awakes to find his house is coming alive with music that is floating in the window...the plates and cups begin dancing, the furniture boogies with the beat, even the cuckoo clock gets into the music. As the music fades away, the house goes back to sleep. Uri Shulevitz is the master of using the right word at the right time, and the story flows like poetry. I always feel sleepier and more relaxed when it's done. It even got the seal of approval from our former foster son, who read it with us when he was about 15 and said, "I can't believe how just repeating the word 'sleepy' over and over makes me feel tired."

If it can work on a surly teenage boy, it can probably work on anyone.

7. Hush, Little Baby by Sylvia Long

We received this as a gift and immediately fell in love with it. The basis for this story is the familiar folk song, "Hush, Little Baby." Instead of a string of things that the mama will buy for the baby to get it to sleep, the author has the mama choose things in nature and around the house to comfort the child. Mama shows the baby a hummingbird outside, and they look at a sunset together. They listen to crickets and see a shooting star. Mama reads a book, finds a lost teddy bear, and plays her out-of-tune banjo, all in an effort to help her little one fall off to sleep (which he eventually does). The pictures are of a mama rabbit and her baby and are really beautiful. (Lucy says the baby bunny is "coot.")

8. A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

This is a newer one- definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it before. The wide-eyed, watchful owl goes around watching other animals sleep and pointing out how different they are. "Some sleep in peace and quiet. Some make lots of noise when they sleep! Some sleep peacefully alone, while others sleep all together, huddled close at night."  At the end of the story, the sun comes up and everyone wakes up...but guess who is too tired after his night adventures and can't stay awake with everyone else? (Says SuperSam: "That's not why he's tired. He's tired because it's daytime and he's nocturnal.")

Thanks, SuperSam, for taking all the mystery out of it. Sigh.

9. Who Will Tuck Me in Tonight? by Carol Roth

This is the sweet and funny story of young Woolly, a lamb who is ready to go to bed and can't find his mama to tuck him in. A funny lineup of neighborly farm animal mommies come by to help, and each tries her own favorite tuck-in technique. None of their ideas work for Woolly, who is squeezed, licked, and generally frustrated to the point of despair before his favorite tuck-in person finally arrives. SuperSam loves laughing at all the ways the other mommies "do it wrong," and when Woolly's mama comes home, their reunion is very sweet. (I'm still trying to come up with a way to let Woolly's mama off the hook for not telling him where she was going and when she'd be back- it seems so thoughtless of her to worry such a sweet little lamb. I still like the book, though.)

10. The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman

This book has been on my list for a long time, but we only got a copy recently. It seems to be out of print, maybe (?), but there are lots of good used copies available. The last page of this book is included as a poem in Switching on the Moon, above, and we loved it so much that we knew we needed to read the rest of the story.

Mary Ann Hoberman goes through a child's day naming all the cozy things you could possibly think of (and some that you probably couldn't think of). It's a longer read, and she might define "cozy" a bit differently than I would (I would probably not describe sucking on an ice cube as "cozy"). Still, the book and all the many images in it are very happy, simple pleasures- experiences that most of us can relate to enjoying. Hoberman obviously loves words- the language is delightful. The writing and the pictures make me smile every time, and the poetry of the last page is the perfect ending for a going-to-bed book.

"...Droopy...drifty...drowsy...dozy...Dream of everything that's cozy."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TwinsDay Wednesday: For You, New Twin Mom...

I've been meaning to write you for a while and offer some words of wisdom cheer you on. Think of this post as your personal pep rally as you embark on your twin parenting adventure. If you are anything like me (and you might be!), your brain is whirling with questions, worries, and excitement. Adding a new baby to a family is always a challenge. Newborns are delightful, but they are so much work! Adding two at once is...well, it's kind of insane.

I think there's a reason why most parents just have one baby at a time. There's nothing quite like looking at a new, scrunch-faced little person who is screaming his or her head off and realizing that you are the one responsible for meeting all of his or her needs. It's humbling and more than a little terrifying. When you look down and see both arms full of babies (babies! there's more than one!) and both of them are red-faced and yelling at you, it can be overwhelming. It's enough to make even the bravest, most experienced mama shake in her slippers.

Here's what I know about you, though. You're strong and resourceful. You have ways and means of soothing your babies that you haven't even discovered yet. Your mothering instincts, however undeveloped you might think they are, are going to take over and carry you down this road when you're too tired to walk down it yourself. (And you will probably be too tired to walk down that road at some point, likely not too far in the future.)

The thing about twins is they are just like singletons, but more. The same stuff happens. They cry; you rock them. They are hungry; you feed them. They are wet; you change them. They're hungry again; you feed them again. It's just harder to catch a break when they're both going at once (or, worse, when they start tag-teaming you and you never get a moment to sit down.)

Advice isn't worth much. This is a learn-as-you-go kind of situation. You'll figure it out, and soon, you'll be the one dispensing wise words. Still, I want to tell you 5 things I wish I had known when my own twin-venture began.

1. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And if someone offers help, say "yes" immediately (even if you don't know what you want them to do).   


I know. You're an independent mama. You like to do things for yourself. I get it, because I'm like that, too. I'd rather fail than ask for help. The thing is, you're going to have plenty of chances to do things on your own. It's better to take the help while it's offered so you can work up to flying solo gradually. Besides, when twinfants are involved, there really is just more work to do than one person can handle. You need help. Trust me.

Start making a list of everything people can do for you, big and small. Here are some ideas:
  • Wash, dry and fold clothes. 
  • Bring food. 
  • Clean out the refrigerator and throw out all the old leftovers from all the food people brought. 
  • Collect and return dishes from the food people brought.
  • Water your plants. 
  • Cut your grass. 
  • Clean the bathroom. 
  • Read to/play with your older child. 
  • Hold the babies so you can take a shower. 
  • Sweep the floor. 
  • Unload the dishwasher. 
  • Vacuum.
Have the list ready, and hand it to people when they ask to help you. They want you to tell them what to do, so figure it out now while you're still able to think straight.

2. Lower your standards a little. Whatever it is, it's probably not as important as you think.


This goes for your helpers as well as for you. When other people do stuff, they don't always do it the way you would. That's okay. They're doing it. You can be perfect later once you've figured out how to be Supermom. (Then you can call me and offer to help out over here.)

Maybe you end up using disposable diapers when you thought you'd use cloth. Maybe you use jarred baby food instead of making your own like you always planned to do. Maybe your babies see an episode of Sesame Street before they are 2 against American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations or don't get as much time being worn in the sling as your first child did.  Maybe your floors don't get vacuumed often (or at all!) or there are always dirty dishes in your sink when you used to keep a pristine house.

Guess what? No one will die from these things.

Things are not going to be exactly perfect for a while. Maybe not ever. That's okay. You are not hurting your children by having more than one join your family at a time. Most people enter the world and can count on nearly a year, at minimum, of being "the baby." During that year, their needs are probably first on the list of everyone's priorities. Your twins are going to enter the world and already have to share. Sometimes, this is going to be really hard for them. Later on, though, when that first year has passed (and even before then, in some cases!), the benefits of being a twin are going to far outweigh any momentary disadvantages they might have experienced. Having siblings is always a gift. They'll be okay. So will you.

3. Even if you mess up something that's actually important, you've got to give yourself a break.


I've written before about how most of us need to just relax a little about not being good enough at parenting. I still believe it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we make big mistakes. When this happens, we fix things the best we can and move on. What's done is done, and continuing to beat yourself up and feel guilty about it is not helping to make anything better.

I truly think most of us are doing our best every day given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some days are better than others, but we're doing our best. If you're not doing your best, you probably already know that. You can try again tomorrow, okay? No more of this "my best isn't good enough" stuff. (Good enough for what?)

Your children, including your multiples, are yours for a reason. Take care of them the best you know how. If you don't know something, ask. When they need something, tend to them (or ask someone to help you tend to them, or teach them to tend to each other or themselves). Love them as much as you possibly can.

All the rest of that stuff- the lovely newborn photo shoot, the elaborate birthday parties, the handmade clothes, the perfect cookie-baking-togetherness, the beautiful bento box lunches filled with organic, local food- all of it is good, too...but it's extra. Your kids aren't on Pinterest, and they think you're awesome just the way you are.

They're right. Don't forget it.

4. Do your best, and then let it be.

Sometimes, your best isn't going to feel like enough.
Sometimes, your best actually isn't enough...but it's all you have to offer, so it will have to do.

I have spent chaotic days with my children that ended with my putting them to bed and wondering why I felt like I hadn't seen them all day. You can't do it all, no matter how hard you try.

Until Costco starts selling extra pairs of arms that can snap on and bear part of the load, you and I are always going to have slightly more than we can carry. You'll develop skills for coping- ways to carry two children and an enormous diaper bag through a grocery store parking lot while keeping another child from darting into traffic; ways to prepare a meal (notice I didn't say "cook" - remember #1) with little people dangling from your arms and legs and hollering at you, ways to bathe more than one baby at a time (or not bother bathing them at all, which is also fine...come on, Rosie, back me up, here?).

The thing is, like all skills, this stuff takes time to develop. Learn what you can ahead of time, if you want, but be prepared to figure most of it out as you go.

You will figure it out. You kind of have to, right? You'll amaze yourself, I promise. And the things you never seem to get to finish?

Let them go. No one does it all. The benefit of being a twin mom is that you actually have a good excuse.

5.  It gets easier.


Whatever is happening in any moment, no matter how tough it feels, is going to pass. You might have moments when you think you can't possibly handle it for one more second...but you will. You'll go on, and the moment will go on by, and things will be good again. One day, you'll look around and think it's actually easier to have more than one baby at a time. Really, you will. And in the meantime, you can occupy yourself with feeling superior when people in the line at Target tell you things like, "Oh, I just couldn't possibly manage twins."

Maybe they're right. Maybe they can't. But can totally manage twins. You've been doing it already by helping your body meet the demands of a twin pregnancy and by preparing your life and family to accept more than one baby at once.

You were made for this, mama, even on the days you don't feel like it.

You are their mother, and you'll be their mother tomorrow, and next week, and next year...and it will be the most frustrating, most exhilarating challenge you can imagine.

It will not kill you, even on the days you think it might. You will stretch, grow, adapt and expand in ways you can't imagine. You'll learn to laugh when you could choose to cry instead. You'll struggle, and you'll get stronger in the process. You'll be exhausted. But eventually, you'll be wise, and you'll be encouraging some other mama who is just starting on this journey.

You've got this.

Now, go out there and rock this twin parenting thing like only you can.
I'm rooting for you!



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Birthdays and perpective

The nicest thing about getting older is having another birthday to add to the string of birthdays that have already come. Birthdays prompt reflection for me, and I can say honestly that so far, each one is better than the last.  When I think back on all the years that have already happened, there isn't a single one I'd want to repeat instead of living the one that's in front of me. There have been easier years, sure...but there have also been harder ones. I can't help but be excited about what might lie around the next corner, and I want to keep moving forward so I can find out!

Thanks to each of you for sharing my journey this past year. I've been blessed to make some great new friends and to have some new writing opportunities through this little blog. I think this next year will bring even more good challenges, new opportunities, and new blessings to be survived and cherished.

Because it's my birthday, I want to give one of you a gift. I'm having my very first giveaway! The gift will be a batch of my not-exactly-famous-but-still-pretty-darn-good oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and this beautiful little print from my dear friend Linda at burlap + blue. She generously sent me the print to be given away when I celebrated my blog's first anniversary back in January, but I haven't managed to do it until now.

(No one said this has been an easy year, but I'm thinking late is better than never.)

I think this print sums things up perfectly. Today, I am thankful. Tomorrow's another day, and I'll be thankful then, too, no matter what it looks like. Things aren't always easy, but there's always a reason to celebrate. Finding the things worth celebrating can sometimes feel like a tough journey, but the trip is always, always worth it.

To enter to win the print and the cookies, just leave a comment here -  make sure I have your name and a way to get in touch with you if you win. We'll do a random drawing and reveal the winner next Tuesday. Feel free to invite your friends to play...the more, the merrier!

Friday, June 14, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Homeschool, Verdi and the Pata-Pata

Woefully behind. That's how I am this week...missing birthdays of friends and family, remembering Father's Day for my husband but not for my stepdad or my children's godfather (which caused me to remember that we didn't do anything for Mother's Day for their godmother, either).

On top of everything I definitely am not.

What I am on top of is my notes in the Verdi Requiem. I have learned those parts cold, and I am ready to sing tomorrow night. My only real worry at this point is that I'll be overcome by emotion, get choked up amidst all the "salve me"s and be unable to sing adequately. Here's hoping the lump in my throat doesn't get so big that I can't produce a sound.

After a week of carpooling to rehearsal an hour each way every single night, I feel quite bonded with my driving companions and will miss chatting with them when the weekend is done. It's amazing the range of subjects we have covered: geriatric drivers (and what we will do when we become them), how to know if radishes are ready, what kind of stain is best for a thin veneer table top that didn't take the first stain, things we have heard on NPR (specifically Ira Glass's interview of a blind man about being lost in a hotel room), the entire plot of Gianni Schicchi, the small-town politics of the "from heres" versus the "come heres," the Blue Man Group. Good times.

Speaking of the Blue Man Group...which just reminds me of Tobias F√ľnke...George and I finished the new season of Arrested Development this week on Netflix. Did you watch? What did you think?

While I've been busy rehearsing, SuperSam and George have been watching BBC documentaries on dinosaurs every single night. George has been leaving Sam these amazing hand-drawn dinosaur-themed messages every morning, always related to what they watched the night before. This was my favorite one:

"Don't let him choose what's for dinner." Why? Because he apparently eats HORSES. My son thought it was hilarious and made jokes about it all day. "Hey, Mama, I think we should let the Gastornis decide what's for breakfast. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!"...and full-scale rolling on the floor laughter followed.

I'm sure there is a place in his brain where he's just filing all of this information away for future use.

Speaking of SuperSam's brain, I promised you a report on our trip to the state homeschool convention. (If you missed the whole homeschooling epiphany, here it is.) I had definite concerns going into this trip. I wasn't sure the people at the convention were my crowd (especially since I'm not yet sure what that is...Charlotte Mason? Unschoolers? Classical? Some combination of all of it?)

My worries that I wouldn't fit in were exaggerated. As my friend (who was also attending the conference) pointed out, homeschooling is way more diverse than it was 20 years ago. There were all kinds of people there. The main way in which I didn't fit in was that I didn't have one of those rolly cart thingys.

Actual rolly cart thingy seen outside the convention center

Seriously, y'all, everybody has one of those. They sell them at almost every booth where they sell curriculum and owl pellets for dissection and laser kits and solar system models and maps and build-your-own-rabbit-hutch-kits and math worksheets and handwriting practice sheets. It made my head spin. The exhibit hall filled with vendors was completely and entirely overwhelming that I decided on the spot that I wasn't going to buy anything at all. I did end up getting a laminated placemat with a world map on one side and a US map on the other side, and SuperSam bought a kit to build a model of the solar system. We came up a few cents short of the $15 minimum to use our debit card (and I stubbornly refuse to learn that I should carry cash), so I also paid 60 cents for a small plastic kitten that I promptly lost.

Those eight women I saw that I thought from a distance were Michelle Duggar were not actually Michelle Duggar (whom I never saw). She was the keynote speaker (well, half of the keynote, since JimBob was speaking, too), but since we were attending for free as a family with a rising kindergartner, we didn't have tickets. I'm kind of sorry I missed her.

The biggest thing I learned from the conference was that I can do hard things. Taking three small children on my own, overnight, to a conference and several stores and The Hotel Pool (an epic story for another day) reminded me that I am stronger and more resourceful than I think. My friend and I parked our vans near each other and helped each other keep watch, but we were essentially each flying solo...and we did it well.

Emboldened by my relatively successful trip, I even stopped for the bathroom at a McDonald's on the way home and spontaneously took all three children in for ice cream while we were there. It was fine. I managed everyone by myself.

Things you do that don't kill you really do make you stronger.

While we were in the parking lot at Trader Joe's with my friend's children (she had run inside to pick up a few things), SuperSam suddenly declared that he had to go to the bathroom so badly that he couldn't possibly hold it. Having stubbornly ignored my sister's helpful suggestion a few weeks ago that I start carrying a potty in the back of the van for these instances, I was stuck. There was no way I could take my four-year-old, my two 20 month olds, my friend's three-year-old and her 20 month old into the store to use the bathroom (especially not with SuperSam about to wet himself).

I stood him outside the van, blocked him with my body on one side and the van door on the other, and told him to go in the parking lot. I am horribly embarrassed to say this, but I didn't know what else to do. I prayed the whole time we wouldn't see anyone we knew (a legitimate fear, since the last time I was at this particular Trader Joe's I randomly saw my college roommate and her husband and their kids).

We didn't see anyone we knew.

On the downside, SuperSam saw his own puddle, got all excited that he was wearing Crocs (his "splashing" shoes) and...well, you can guess what he did. I wiped the shoes and his feet down with baby wipes before he got back into the van (because I have also stubbornly ignored my sister's helpful suggestion that I carry Clorox wipes in the car for these instances).

Sigh. There might be a theme emerging with all this stubborn ignoring.

Do you know the Pata-Pata? It's a song from South Africa recorded by Miriam Makeba that was introduced in the US in the 1960s. George had it on a CD a few years back and it became a family favorite with Baby SuperSam. A few days ago, SuperSam decided we needed to learn how to do the dance that goes with the song. We googled it and found this:

It can't be authentic, but it's easy enough that even I can basically do it without crashing into any walls. My children love it and have asked to do it every day. It's an incredibly freeing thing to dance with them. They don't know that I "can't dance." They just move to the music and laugh and smile, and so do I. I didn't even need to have half a glass of wine first (my normal minimum for actually dancing).  Maybe I'm loosening up?

Finally, I haven't told you that George and I are on a running streak. If you follow me on Twitter (dere_abbey) or Instagram (dere_abbey), you might already have known. I've run at least a mile for 19 days in a row now. The streak is part of an effort by Runners' World to keep runners from slumping between spring and fall training seasons. It started May 27 (Memorial Day) and runs through July 4 (Independence Day)...39 days altogether. I'm taking it easy to avoid injury, since my big (way more important) goal is to run the Richmond Marathon in November. We'll celebrate the end of the streak with a 2 mile race at Jockey's Ridge on July 4, which I'll be running with my other sister (not the one of potty-carrying wisdom but the one who lives in Nome!). I can't wait to see her.

This is quite long for a Quick Takes. Sorry about that. I had a lot of catching up to do.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

TwinsDay Wednesday: It's bathtime!

By now, all of you know that we have our hands full.

Although two hands hardly ever seem like enough, when it comes time to bathe our twins, the hand shortage is clearer than ever. Wrangling two wiggly, slippery, wet, and often screaming little toddlers is no small feat.

Special Note: I do not attempt twin bathtime without a partner, and I am a trained professional. Please do not try this at home, no matter how much fun you think it looks...unless you're a twin parent, of course, in which case you have no choice. Carry on, friends...may the force be with you.

Once upon a time, they were just tiny babies. Here's how bathtime worked then- Mama helds (nursed) one baby while Daddy and SuperSam sponge bathed the other one. After the clean one was wrapped in a towel, she came back to Mama for comfort (nursing) while the other Sister had her bath. When the second bath was finished, Mama put the babies to bed (more nursing).

Basically, as in all the early Twin Activities of Daily Living, Mama nursed at least one baby at all times.

Simple enough, right?

SuperSam and Daddy give screaming Nora her first at-home sponge bath.
Tiny Lucy chills in her giant diaper and monogrammed towel- so stylish.

When they were a bit bigger, we put the baby tub in the kitchen sink and laid out all the towels and supplies on the counter. I put one baby in the exersaucer and washed the other one. Then, I switched them. It wasn't too bad unless they both got upset at once.

Nora and her Dad, a seasoned bathtime professional

When they could both sit up well, we bathed the Sisters side by side in the kitchen sink. This is how similarly-sized cousins and siblings were always bathed in my extended family, and it works so really saves your back from having to chase multiple wiggly bodies around the tub (particularly when they are both trying to stand up at once).

Before long, they outgrew the kitchen sink, too, and it was time to move to the big girl tub.

We tried them first with SuperSam for company.

A moment after this was taken, all three of them were screaming. Seriously.

Then we tried just the two Sisters. It worked...twice.

Nothing like having a Sister to shampoo your hair and wash your back...

On the third attempt, one Sister started freaking out at the mere suggestion of a bath. This trend has continued every single time since then. (Oddly enough, we couldn't ever figure out why they were upset, and it seems to rotate between them.) The bath hatred has settled with Lucy, who absolutely positively does not want to be washed for any reason. Blood-curdling screams of terror come out of her mouth if we so much as open the shower curtain and start to move the toys around.

Upon being put into the water that third time, she shrieked and tried to climb the sides of the tub, endangering herself and her previously-calm sister, who began crying and trying to climb out, as well. With both girls flopping around and trying to stand, leaning over the tub to manage them no longer felt safe. George was doing his best, but he couldn't really reach Lucy.

Desperate to ease her anxiety, I instinctively climbed into the tub (with all my clothes still on!) to help her and to manage the situation before someone got hurt.

This reminds me of a completely unrelated story in which my swimming instructor dove into the pool with all her clothes on to "save" me when I was veering off toward the deep end while doing elementary backstroke for my swimming test. I had tried unsuccessfully to convince my mother that I should skip the test, having missed the second of two weeks of class due to the chicken pox (which I had on my tenth birthday, mind you). My mom insisted that I go, reassuring all the other parents and the swimming instructor that I wasn't contagious, "just scabby." (Attentive readers may notice an unfortunate rhyme with my first name.) The swim instructor allowed me to take the test. As I began swimming what was supposed to be one width of the pool on my back, she hollered that I was going the wrong way. When I didn't respond (since my ears were under water!), she dove in, chased me down, and grabbed me, totally ruining her white leather Reebok hightops and scaring me half to death. I swallowed so much water, spluttering and coughing, that I was probably closer to drowning at the moment of rescue than just before, when I was calmly swimming, blissfully unaware of the imminent peril of the lane rope and the 10 foot end. I never really got into swimming after that.

Fortunately for me, it's no longer the 1980s, and I was barefoot when I got into the tub to save my panic-stricken daughter.

The novelty of having Mama in the tub seemed to help calm both girls down, and we played tea party together for a few minutes to distract them while I washed them both and rinsed their hair. It went so well (no one even got water up her nose!) that I have continued getting in with them both every time for the last few weeks. We will eventually run out of room, but for now, it's fun to play with them and help them wash each other's hair.

I'm grateful that we are years away from needing to convince them to take showers, which will undoubtedly be traumatizing in some new way. Until then, this is what's working.

Got any interesting bathtime stories?  Any horror stories about swimming instructors in dated footwear? How do you manage bathing multiple little ones at the same time? Or do you run them through, assembly-line style?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Buried in Verdi

Hello! We made it back alive from the homeschooling convention, and I do promise to fill you in on how it went.

For now, I am completely (and happily) buried in the Verdi Requiem. I have the opportunity to sing this massive choral work as part of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival this week. We are in rehearsals every night to prepare for a concert on Saturday evening at Eastern Mennonite University. If you're local (or even if you aren't!), you should really come to this concert. After only two nights of rehearsal, I am certain that it's going to be an amazing experience. The Dies Irae will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Being part of this choir and intensely rehearsing the Requiem feels a little like the good old days (remember, fellow music nerds?) in All-District and breathe the music for a few days and then put on a concert. I always loved that experience, playing with other musicians who took things seriously and were all so good at their parts. Singing with this choir is similar, but now that I'm a grownup, it's a true respite for my spirit. For 2 1/2 hours every night (and on the drive to rehearsal, where my carpool buddies and I have been singing along to recordings of the score), I am submerging myself in notes, rhythms, and Latin texts that come together to create one of the greatest prayers ever created. I feel like someone has finally turned on the soul is breathing deeply for what feels like the first time in months while I'm singing (or thinking about singing) this work. Singing is mind-expanding. It's ribcage-expanding. It's good for me, and I'm having so much fun.

(Didn't St. Augustine say, "He who sings well, prays twice?" Oh, apparently not. Anyway, it's still a good saying...unless you can't sing, I guess, in which case it might feel discouraging...any non-singers care to comment?)

To master my parts in the slightly tricky fugue sections, I've been doing my runs on the treadmill with the score propped on the rack in front of the screen and the Requiem blaring through my headphones. Although it never occurred to me before that "salva me" and "libera me" would make good running mantras, they are really working for me. Phrases from the Requiem (especially the heavenly Agnus Dei) are running through my head all day like a soundtrack, making the ordinary stuff like folding laundry seem almost meditative. (It's made a nice change from the 1950s music we've been listening to so much lately, which always gets stuck in my head on repeat.)

I didn't know this work well at all before this week. By the end of the week I'm going to know it inside and out, and the process of learning it is making me feel new.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Theme Thursday: Girls

I intend to raise scrappy girls...girls that are strong, persistent, brave and willing to try hard things. Girls that can keep up with their brother in every way and know how to use power tools (with adult supervision, of course). Girls that stick up for themselves and each other and who know how to use their words to say what they mean. Girls who have faith in themselves and confidence in their own worth. Independent, smart, stubborn girls...the kind of girls that turn into independent, smart, stubborn women...the kind of women who change the world and get stuff done.

From the looks of things, we are well on our way. My toddler twins are relentless: climbing every shelf, unrolling every roll of toilet paper, opening every cabinet, deshelving every book, emptying every laundry basket. They feel things strongly and love things fiercely. They are not messing around with life- they're taking it head on (by ripping it out of each other's hands, if necessary!).

I'm proud of them.
I'm also totally exahausted and slightly fearful of what lies ahead in their tween-age years.

Does this look like a scene from a toddler stage version of a Willa Cather novel?

For more Theme Thursday, check out the great stuff at Clan Donaldson.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Project-based homeschooling: My conversion moment

If project-based homeschooling were salvation, this would be the story of the moment I "got saved."

I went to school to be a teacher. I've spent my career working with other people's children and supporting and mentoring teachers and educators who work with children. I never intended to homeschool my own children. I know all the arguments against it. I've made many of them myself.

Then came SuperSam, whose unique blend of traits makes him a totally amazing person, an extremely challenging person, and a person who is just not made for Kindergarten at our local public school this fall.

His fifth birthday falls just a few days before the cutoff date for Kindergarten, anyway. A typical little boy in many ways, he is wiggly, squirmy, loud, and impulsive. He would have a hard time sitting still, walking quietly in line, and raising his hand. He's also shorter than a lot of his peers, and he still struggles to pronounce his "L," "R" and "W" sounds (making him seem younger than he is). He still needs a nap every afternoon, partly because his epilepsy medicine makes him drowsy. If he were someone else's kid, I would definitely advise them to wait a year before starting him in school. For a little boy with a late birthday, it's almost a no-brainer...not many kids in his position are ever hurt by having an extra year at home to mature a little bit.

The complication is that his brain, like a little sponge, is ravenously curious and is consuming information at an incredible rate. He asks endless spirals of questions that keep him up at night. He wakes up in the morning (at 5:30, usually!) already brainstorming what he's going to research. He is reading on a fifth grade level. He gets personally offended if he thinks he is being asked (even indirectly) to review or repeat content that he feels he has mastered...yet he can spend hours poring over the same book from the library, memorizing facts about the Horsehead Nebula or Corythosaurus. He hates to be interrupted when he's in the middle of a project that excites him, but trying to get him to focus long enough to put on his shoes sometimes takes twenty minutes of nagging (especially if he's reading or thinking about something else). He does weird, wild, and occasionally unsafe things that I can't always anticipate because he wants "to see what would happen."

He's an incredible kid...and yet he might be a Kindergarten teacher's worst nightmare in a classroom full of other kids his age.

After considering our options, we decided to take advantage of this "free" year and try homeschooling. I looked over the Virginia Standards of Learning for Kindergarten and found that SuperSam already knows most of what he would learn in Kindergarten (academically, anyway). I've always loved the idea of emergent curriculum learning and following children's interests, so when I found Lori Pickert's book, Project Based Homeschooling, I was intrigued.

(Here's a handy Amazon affiliate link, in case you need that book!)

I'm not buying any curriculum for this year. Mentally, I have committed to this path- homeschool Sam for Kindergarten, follow his questions and interests (and work in other things if we need to), and reevaluate next year. It was the best decision in our situation. It was what we needed to do.

Tonight, though, I had a conversion experience. Tonight, I went beyond "mentally committed because this seems like the best choice." Tonight, I became totally heart-committed and gut-committed to this idea of letting his interests spark and catch fire and burn through acres of material...because tonight, I saw the pure joy in his face at being able to soak up as much information as he could hold with the promise that he would be able to keep coming back for more the next day, the one after that, the one after that, as long as he wanted.

Based on this one day, here's what project-based homeschooling could look like at our house (from SuperSam's perspective):

Go to the doctor for a checkup. Upon leaving, tell the receptionist that you'd really prefer a dinosaur sticker to the cartoon character she is offering you. Receive a handful of dinosaur stickers from her (because she is charmed by your assertive request and thinks it is cute that you said you'd "pwee-fuh a dinosaw stickuw, especiawwy a pawwasawallofuss if you have one"). Immediately flip through the stack of stickers and discover one that you don't know (called Herrerasaurus). Clap your hands in delight and drop all the stickers on the floor. Put Herrerasaurus on your shirt and struggle with the pronunciation by reading it upside down all the way home. (There are just so many "R's" in that word.)

Upon arriving home, demand to use the iPad to look up Herrerasaurus. Work through naptime and into dinnertime reading about this creature. Pull out the globe to find out where South America (specifically Argentina) is so you can draw a map of it. Draw a map of Argentina in your notebook and put a picture of Herrerasaurus next to it...then add two other dinosaur species that you know came from Argentina. Move all your stuff from the living room floor to the laundry room because your little sisters are "distracting" you. Jot down as many facts about the species as you can find in the margins of the picture. Pull your dad away from his dinner to show him your maps and facts. Begin making plans to make a big map of Argentina with all its dinosaurs on it, "way bigger" than your notebook...then decide you will make a similar map of China, then Africa, then the WHOLE WORLD with dinosaurs all over it occupying the modern-day countries where their fossils have been found. Reluctantly agree to go to bed (late), then stay up way past bedtime reading a dinosaur reference book by the glow of a tiny nightlight at the head of your bed. Come running out of your room screaming and waving the book when you find an entry on Herrerasaurus hidden in the middle of its pages. As you are being tucked back in, tell your awestruck mother that your brain "is going to explode with happiness about Herrerasaurus because it is"

It was passionate. It was instinctive. It was his idea, his momentum, his knowledge, his research. And yet now, without adult prompting or coaching, he has learned where Argentina is, how big Herrerasaurus was, in what period it lived, what it ate, what its bones looked like, and that it had a small role in the movie Jurassic Park. (A little pop culture knowledge is almost always useful, right?)

I know it might not be like this all the time, but it can be like this at least some of the time. I can do this...I can make this possible for him by creating an environment in which he has what he needs to do this for himself. For the first time, I feel certain that this is the right decision for him and for our family right now. He's more than capable- I've always known that.

Now I can picture what it looks like. 

When trying your best just isn't enough...

Image: Alan Cleaver via Creative Commons on flickr
Ever had one of those days when you try as hard as you can and come up with nothing? When you put forth your very best effort and still feel like you're falling flat? When there are piles of dishes and stacks of laundry and missing keys and spilled cereal and everyone wants something from you at once?

I think a lot of us have those days from time to time...sometimes more than one in a row!  I'm excited to be sharing at (in)courage today about exactly this feeling that trying my hardest isn't getting me anywhere.

If you've had one of those days recently (and especially if you're having one today), please come visit me at (in)courage. I don't have all the answers, but I can assure you that you aren't alone.