These apes need a little more socialization.

The kids and I went over to visit my cousin, Pete’s, wife and kids today — they live not even a mile away from us but things have been so busy for both families we haven’t managed to get the kids together before now. They have a daughter who is almost exactly the twins’ age as well as a daughter who is a little over one year old and yet one more daughter who is…seven? I think. Each kid is cuter than the next. Since it’s our first time meeting the kids face-to-face, we of course wanted to make a good impression and forge an immediate bond with a potential playmate…FAILED ON ALL COUNTS. I do not know what is wrong with my children, but at one point during the afternoon, I looked at my kids and thought, there is not one single thing charming about them right now. If I were Christine, I would have been trying to come up with plots and plans to get us the hell out of her house. They have two cats and a dog, all of whom are the sweetest, most gentle pets, and my kids terrorized them, in much the same manner they terrorize our poor family pet, who stays upstairs during the daylight hours and only emerges once the kids are in bed and who is slowly licking all of her fur off of her body out of anxiety. At one point I had to drag Emme off of Pete and Christine’s bed, where she was tromping all over in her dirty shoes in an attempt to try and catch one of the poor cats. You know what they say about kids who terrorize animals, don’t you? Am I raising the next generation of Ted Bundys? Christine’s house is absolutely beautiful, and Emme expressed her appreciation of the environs by running around with a gong mallet, banging everything that would stand still for two seconds, which, one time, included the poor dog, who was a little too slow on the uptake and didn’t realize what she was capable of. And they both ignored their potential new playmate, for the most part, preferring instead to ransack her toy closet like two thieves high on crack. To top it all off, when we left, Jack made a desperate grab for every toy within an arm’s length, shouting, “Take home! Take home!” IT WAS EMBARRASSING. I would imagine that Christine would prefer that my children not poison her sweet kids with their hooligan attitudes, but I plan on inviting them over here next week to see if we can’t make a better second impression. This only serves to emphasize the point that we need to get these kids out more, around more kids and in more social situations where they can learn to behave more civilly. Geez, it was like they were the kid from the movie Nell today.

Here’s one of my little reprobates stuffing as many apples as possible in her mouth (so as to avoid having to share with anyone) and taking up as much room as possible in the tent so no one else could come in.

We had no poop accidents from Emme today, possibly because we had no poop. I am fearful that the success of the last two days was simply because Gam was here, and Emme hates disappointing Gam. I suppose we will see tomorrow. She did get a new puzzle today with two more new ones sitting on the counter, waiting for the next potty success, so I am hopeful that will inspire positive results.

Jack usually wakes up first from nap these days, because it takes Emme up to an hour to fall asleep (if she falls asleep at all). He wakes up sleepy and sweet and spends his ten minutes on the iPad, happy as a lark to have it all to himself.

That’s it for tonight!

Hello, poor little neglected blog.

Despite our best intentions, we’ve fallen waaaaaaay behind on our little family blog. I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to keep up here: when we’re together, we do nothing but talk about our children. It should be fairly easy to sit down and write about them rather than talk about them. But alas, at heart, we are both lazy, lazy people. It wasn’t until my friend Shannon said, “But Zero to Twins is supposed to be their baby book!” that the guilt took over and I made an October Resolution: starting on the 1st, I would make an effort to write SOMETHING, even if it’s just a line or two, about what we did that day, and post a photo or two. The days are just slipping away and already, I am forgetting the cute things they say or the boring routine of everyday life.  I’m going to make an effort to record at least some of it so their entire childhood is not just a blur.

First, to catch up on what’s been going on: we are all adjusting to living in the “new house,” as the kids call it, often while we’re pulling in or out of the driveway (“Hello, new house! Goodbye, new house!”). Owning a house has not been that easy a transition. I miss being able to pick up the phone and call the landlord anytime something goes wrong. Keeping up with the lawn is a constant struggle — there’s always something that needs to be cut, or pruned, or watered. The backyard is very buggy and mosquito-y in the heat of the summer. BUT. It is ours, and we can decorate and change what we want, and we know we will be here a while, which is a relief. I don’t think the kids could have stood too much more discord and chaos in their home lives. I haven’t done a lot of big changes yet but am saving for having several of the rooms painted. The twins’ room is not very attractive right now, but I plan on painting after we — GASP — move them into their big-kid beds, which I expect will be coming sooner rather than later. They’ve been amazingly tentative about climbing out of their cribs — each of them have done it at least once in the past year, but only that once, so we’re going to ride the crib train until we absolutely cannot ride it any further. I can’t even imagine what that bedroom will be like once they are both in twin beds. As it is, it sounds like a rock concert starts shortly after we turn out the lights and close the door. Last night, at one point, I listened to the monitor, turned to Mom, and asked, “”how many people are in that room?”

We started potty training over the July 4th weekend. If you’ve read all of this blog, you know the first six months were incredibly difficult with the twins. I’m going to go on record as saying potty training was WORSE. We did the three-day method, where you let them run around without pants for a weekend, running them to the potty every time urine or feces makes a surprise appearance. I say the three-day method, but it was more like the three-week method for Jack and the three-wait-we’re-still-working-on-it method for Emme. Jack really did take to it pretty quickly, despite an initial reluctance to even sit on the potty — Justin started the process on a Saturday morning, when I slept in, and when I got up around 9 Justin was looking quite harried and green around the gills. Jack was peeing every fifteen minutes or so and doing it in a sneaky, elusive manner so that Justin would come upon him only after a puddle had formed at his feet. As I have previously reported, I have OCD tendencies. I cannot properly express to you the feeling I had knowing that urine was being tracked throughout the house multiple times that day. We persevered, and the next day, for Jack, was slightly better; by the third day, he had managed to make the potty for urine every time but was still waiting for his diaper to poop. Emme was not really consistent on either function.

During this period of potty training, we were rewarding with M and Ms and letting them sit in front of the TV while they were sitting on the potties. Both turned out not to be such good ideas. Pretty soon, Jack was peeing every five minutes for an M and M and — sorry if you’re squeamish because this is kind of gross — parceling out his feces in shifts in order to maximize his M and M rewards. Clever, huh? Emme, meanwhile, had learned to weaponize her feces and urine; if she were put in time out for an offense, we would come two minutes later to let her out only to find her standing in a puddle of her own urine or with poop in her under wear. Neither were reliably making it to the potty for pooping. (I never thought I would write the word “poop” so many times in my life.) We finally took them to the store and let them pick out a big toy, put the toys on the kitchen counter, and told them as soon as they could poop in the potty they could have their reward. It worked almost right away with Jack, and at that point — about two weeks in — he was done. He stopped wearing diapers during naps and though he still wears a diaper at night, it’s nearly dry in the mornings. Emme, however, took weeks to claim her prize, went a few days being consistent, then started waiting for her naptime diaper to have a bowel movement. So we took the diaper away and she started pooping in her panties. Every. Single. Nap. It’s only been in the last two days that she seems to have been making some progress forward — two days without an accident — so we’re hoping that this may be the home stretch. But, yeah. So NOT the three day process we so foolishly had hoped for. I do recommend the process, though, just as long as you expect for that first three-day boot camp to be the introduction to potty training, not necessarily the end of potty training. Also, don’t reward with food. We slowly switched over to a sticker reward system which worked fine, then slowly dropped that as well. And my only other recommendation would be to plan to stay close to home for a long while after starting the training and to not EVER go backwards — once you start, don’t put those diapers on again for anything. There was a point in the thick of it when I wanted to give up and start it again at a later date and I’m so glad Justin talked me out of it. I think it would have been so confusing for them and all of the hard work we had put in at the beginning would have been lost.

So that’s the big developmental thing that’s happened around here. The other big news is that we had a visit from our beloved and adored Chicago nanny about two weeks ago. She flew down to Arkansas just to see the babies and let me tell you, the babies were THRILLED to see her.

She flew into Tulsa on a Friday — flying into Fayetteville’s airport is ridiculously expensive, and Tulsa is only a couple of hours away. They have a nice zoo there, and we spent the afternoon there after leaving the airport. It was a lovely afternoon — cool and cloudy, and the zoo was practically deserted. On Saturday, Will, my nephew, had his birthday party, which was centered around Bikes, Blues, and Barbecue, a festival that Fayetteville is famous for. The main draw was the train ride that we took down to the center of the rally. Will is a huge Thomas fan.

Jack was mesmerized and delighted, but Emme later told Grandma that the train made her “nervous.” (I am getting more and more concerned that she has inherited her mother’s anxiety issues.) On Sunday, we went to Lake Fayetteville, and around 2 pm, the kids, Justin, and Jessica loaded up the car and headed back to Tulsa. I stayed home because I didn’t want to make a scene at the airport, sobbing as we waved goodbye. It was so nice to have her here, and felt just like old times. It’s such a tribute to the bond that she has with these kids that they never skipped a beat — it was just as if she had been spending every day with us, just as she had in Chicago. We are lucky to have her in our lives.

The kids and I have fallen into a routine of sorts during the weekdays. Being a stay at home mom is still not coming that easily to me, but the routine helps all of us, I think, adjust to the change. There have been days, I’m not going to lie, when I’ve thought that I was not going to be able to do this one more day. I’ve thought a lot about what makes this so hard in general, and what makes it hard specifically for me. It’s not physically hard. Sure, lifting the kids into the car ten times a day is tiring but it’s not hard. When I worked in the high school, on any given day I could expect to be hauling xerox paper boxes around my office, or running up three flights of stairs to try and catch a kid before the bell rang, or chasing down truants who were running out of the building down the block, or breaking up fights and pulling big boys off of each other. That was physically hard. It’s not mentally hard. I mean, they’re two.  While it’s annoying to be asked, fourteen times in a row, “What that sound, Mommy? What that sound? What that sound, Mommy?” it’s not hard to answer the question. And, truthfully, much of your dialogue becomes so routine that you don’t even have to think about it. “Say please. Pick that toy up. It’s naptime. Stop screaming. It’s not okay to pull your sister’s hair. It’s not okay to punch your brother in the kidney.” I’m not struggling to come up with witty repartee, is what I’m saying. But it’s lonely. We go out more than we used to — I will usually take them to the park or to the store three days out of five — but five minute interactions with adults who are strangers don’t really make you feel like you’re part of a community. When they do something crazy, there’s no one to marvel over it with. There’s no one there to diffuse either yours or their temper, when one or all of you start getting on each other’s nerves. And I never, ever, ever feel like I’m doing a good job. Not so in my previous position. I had good days, I had bad days. But on those good days, I felt confident that I was doing a good job. I had evidence to support that fact. I had reassurance from my students, from my co-workers, from my boss. I had job evaluations and annual reviews. But in this “position”, I just always, always, always, feel like I’m not doing enough. I lose my patience, yell, and feel terrible about it until the next time I lose my patience and yell again. It’s an endless cycle. At least six times a day, I promise myself that I will have more patience, I will take more time, I won’t yell. And twice as many times, I lose the battle. If I were telling you this in person, you would say, you’re doing a fine job. Every parent feels this way. But inside, I would be thinking, no, I’m worse, though. Sure every parent feels this way but underneath it all, they’re good parents. I’m not. And you will never convince me otherwise.

Welcome to parenthood, right?

BUT. Regardless of the perils and pitfalls of the job, we manage to have a pretty good time, despite the yelling (from me and from them). The routine is stable — all three of us wake up kind of slowly; I get them out of their cribs around 8 and, depending on how the potty training is going, they each get a ten-minute stint on the iPad (when one is playing, the other is watching). Then they sit down for breakfast in front of the TV (yes, I’m horrible) and watch two half-hour shows while I check e-mail and take a shower. Then we’ll either go out and do something — we’ve been hitting the library at least once a week, and we’ve found a park that works for us — or I’ll do laundry and/or housework while they play (Emme is NUTS about puzzles right now and can spend a lot of time working on those). Lunch is between noon and one and naptime is usually around 1:30. They’re napping pretty well, still, on average around two hours, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter (and Emme still has days when she doesn’t nap at all; the only good thing I have to say about that is that she has no problem staying in bed for around two hours, despite being awake). After nap we do another stint of iPad time and then either go outside or play indoors. I need to do better at playing with them but I’m going to make a terrible confession: I am so bored by it. Justin can play with them for hours and makes up all kinds of games to play with them but it’s harder for me. I’ve bookmarked a bunch of things on Pinterest and need to get better about planning activities, because soon it’s going to start getting cooler and playing outside won’t be an option. But now that we’re in Arkansas, we have at least until mid- to late-November before weather starts being an issue. I hope that doing the same thing every day doesn’t turn them into kids who can’t handle a change in the routine. GREAT. Something new to worry about. 🙂

Look at that face.

Okay, so on to my October Resolution: here’s what we did today. Mom was here (she left around 2 pm to go back home). She was down here to watch the kids while I worked the Farm Fresh Vintage Market last weekend. We went to Lake Fayetteville  to show Mom the big bridge.

Then, even more excitingly, we went to the Cupcake Cafe to pick out cupcakes since Emme has had good luck on the potty for two days now! Hooray!

Two TINY cupcakes for nearly $7. Potty training is expensive, yo. Then it was home for lunch, to say bye to Gam, and to take a nap, only Emme had one of her “resting periods” instead of a nap and Jack, who woke up way before 7 am this morning, barely slept more than an hour. Hello, sugar. Your effect on my children is most unwelcome. Halloween, I am not looking forward to you.

Tomorrow: more daily news and a picture. I made a resolution. Surely I can carry it off for two or three days, right?

Move II: What about the children?

 

In the days leading up to our exodus from Chicago, a change came upon Emmeline. While Jack zipped through the mounting moving boxes that threatened to overrun our apartment, seemingly unaware of their significance, Emme clearly knew that something was going on. Her mood darkened. The bubbly personality that charmed all-comers was eclipsed by unrest, agitation, and melancholy. Her behavior became erratic, veering from manic bursts to detached apathy. At times, she even looked scared.

It got worse when I had to leave to start my new job in Arkansas. During those nerve-wracking ten days, I lived for the Skype call we had each night right before the twins went to bed. Jack was his normal, tired, loopy self, but Emme wouldn’t talk to me. She would barely even look at me. It was then that I realized that Emme wasn’t just frightened by all the change swirling around her; she was mad.

All her anger melted away when I returned to Chicago two days before the move. I will never forget the surprise, joy, and relief I saw on her face as I came through the door unannounced. I will never forget the strength of her tiny little arms around my neck as she gave me one of the fiercest hugs I have ever received. And I will never forget the panic in her eyes and voice when I tried to leave the room.

It’s not surprising that she was so affected. Lara and I were barely keeping ourselves together with all the anxiety and stress. Emme has always been the empathetic one, so I’m sure she soaked it all up like a sponge. This was compounded by the fact that we would be leaving Jessica the Wonder Nanny behind, which was one of the hardest aspects of the ordeal for everyone involved.

All of this was fresh in our minds as Lara and I began our house hunting four months later. We had many conversations about it, speculating how she might react to another big change so soon after the last one. Sure, she had immediately acclimated to the rental house and its uncharted geography, expansiveness, and benefits—like the gigantic back yard that was only a few steps away—but that might mean she would take the second move even harder.

And what about Jack? He had seemed more concerned about which DVD he got to watch during the trip more than anything else, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t have any problems now. His development has been almost exactly six months behind his sister’s; since that was the same amount of time since we had left Chicago, would his reaction to the second move mirror Emme’s reaction to the first?

We needn’t have worried. Whether it was because we introduced the concept of the “new house” early or because they had become more accustomed to a changing environment, Jack and Emme took the whole thing in stride.

In fact, they were pretty excited about it. “Go see new house!” became a familiar refrain in the days leading up to the move. We thought the keys would be left for us at our new place one day earlier than they actually were, resulting in an anticlimactic trip to the house where the kids sadly looked through the windows and repeatedly asked “Go in?” The next day, they zoomed through the empty rooms, squealing, screaming, and exploring. Emme was so hyped up that she ran into the full frame screen door that leads to the deck at top speed, like a bird slamming into a plate glass window. It didn’t diminish her delight in the slightest.

When we finally brought them to the new house for good, they winded their way through the now familiar towers of dun-colored cardboard, past the bare living room, and into the untouched kitchen to find what their mother had worked on as her first priority—their playroom, recreated exactly as they had left it in the rental house.

As they tore into the neatly organized bookshelves and tidy bins of toys, they knew that they were home.

Move II: Move Harder.

They obviously lifted nothing but their wine glasses.

 

In the Great Move of December 2012, we only had about six weeks between my acceptance of and my first day at a new job in Arkansas. In that time, we had to pack all of our belongings—with Lara doing 90% of it because I’m either “meticulous” or “slow,” take your pick—hire cross-country movers, and find a place to live in a city nearly 600 miles away. I even had to leave Lara with the twins for ten days because she needed to stay at her job in Chicago to ensure the twins still had health insurance (fortunately, her mom came into to town to pinch-hit).

Then I had to fly back from Arkansas to help with the whirlwind of final preparation. We had to supervise the movers loading the truck, jam everything that was left into our car in some hellish version of Tetris, bid a tearful farewell to friends and the world’s best nanny, drive 12 hours with a pair of two year-olds and a sedated cat, roll into town in the wee hours, and then supervise the movers loading everything into the new place. The day after that I went back to work, and Lara began assembling some sense of normalcy in this new house while our kids sprinted around her screaming and marveling at the excitement of it all.

So you would think that having to move again, six months later, across town and not across states, would be a breeze compared to that madness.

You would think.

The difference was that this time we not only had to find a place to live, we had to buy it. We had lucked into an amazing rental house with an equally amazing rent for our first place in Fayetteville. The catch was that it was a six month lease because the owner wanted to put it back on the market to sell in May. However, she had said we could go month-to-month from that point on until she found a buyer. We knew she had been trying to sell for a long time and that she didn’t plan to show it to anyone until the lease was over, so we knew we had some time to find a more permanent home.

Until a buyer approached her unexpectedly for a showing in February, after which she promptly sold the house. Suddenly, the six month lease was no longer a mere suggestion, a comfortably hazy designation; it was a hard and fast deadline. Very fast.

In our naivety, we had decided that we would rent for a while and then size up the housing market at our leisure. We knew we wouldn’t find a deal like the one we had enjoyed with this first house, but we figured we would find something comparable. We were wrong. The market in Fayetteville is a vastly different landscape than the one in Chicago. Only folks making serious bank could afford a sizable house in the Windy City; in Fayetteville, it makes little sense to rent a house when you could buy one for less monthly expense.

Suddenly, we were driving around town at every available opportunity, looking for telltale shingles planted in front yards, with shell-shocked expressions on our faces. Lara was researching online so much that her mouse wore grooves into her hands. I made the mistake of filling out a Lending Tree profile and was immediately inundated with phone calls and emails from mortgage bankers and brokers. This was a huge decision, one that we had talked about in the abstract but had not prepared for in an imminent reality.

We closed on a house we were quite fond of at the end of April, immediately before the sharp increase in mortgage rates began in May. Some might think that we just lucked out again, but I know that it was a reward for the stress and turmoil the previous two months had brought.

Anyone who has ever bought a house knows that it’s not the romp that appears to be on television. You know, where the couple steps out of their car on a clear, sunny morning to be greeted by the house of their dreams, the wife says “I love it” and kisses her husband who beams, and they move in the next day with such joie de vivre that they must own nothing but Styrofoam peanuts.

I won’t bore you with the harrowing details of our housing quest, but, by God, we earned that lower mortgage rate.

It’s been a little over two months since we moved in, and I feel like I’m just recovering from it now. I’m finally motivated to return to the keyboard and cast my loving, fatherly gaze on Jack and Emme once more. But what I see surprises me, especially when I read over the last few entries. They have changed so much in such a short amount of time, going from well-established behavior to seemingly instant breakthroughs. I’m sure you eventually get used to this parental whiplash, but for now, it feels like this.

As we enter a new era for the twins, only one thing is certain: I’m not moving again for at least a decade.

The Accidental Bully.

 

I’ve written about sibling violence several times over the last two years or so, and Lara just mentioned it in her recent State of the Union. But we’ve started to see a new level of it over the past weeks, and it’s becoming a bit more one-sided.

Having the Y chromosome and the testosterone that comes with it, Jack has been the primary culprit. I’m sure this is unsurprising. I’ve heard over and over again that boys will be the real problem when it comes to aggression (apparently, they’re a nightmare to potty train, too). So maybe this is just normal hi-jinks that seems more severe than it is to a pair of rookie eyes like mine.

But then I see Jack literally run over his sister as if he were stampeding down the streets of Pamplona. Or clothesline her as he zooms past going 70 miles an hour. Or yesterday’s scene when he apparently picked up two plates that were stacked on the kids table after lunch and struck Emme in the head with them. I wasn’t home, and Lara was in the other room, so it’s all based on circumstantial evidence and the victim’s eyewitness testimony. But the telltale clink of ceramic Lara heard immediately before the assault and the level and sincerity of the tears that came after it paint the picture pretty well.

As a result, I have become merciless in applying time outs early and often for any violent acts. Despite Jack’s howls of protestation and seemingly contrite apologies, this appears to be having zero impact on the situation. I’ve recently moved to distraction tactics, such as holding him or taking him into a quiet room until he calms down. It works, but once he’s released back into the same environment, the effect is short lived.

I understand that kids rough house; I know that it comes with the territory. But Jack doesn’t seem to realize that running at me full tilt and running at Emme full tilt will have different outcomes. Or, at least, I’m choosing to believe that. The other option is that he knows but doesn’t care.

Malice, however, has never been Jack’s style. I’ve rarely seen him act “mean.” The violence usually stems from the frenzy he gets into when overexcited. Unfortunately, he tends to get overexcited when he’s having fun, whether playing with his sister or enjoying a visit from his relatives. I don’t want to rain on his parade just to stave off his Hulking out, but there is a dread that washes over me when his laughter suddenly shifts into this manic, almost drunken, bark. This has become a nightly occurrence after dinner when a combination of fatigue and the looming threat of bath time put him into Carpe Diem mode.

Part of the problem is the Golden Rule: He’s acting unto others precisely how he would have them act unto him. The boy’s mass has always rivaled a neutron star, and he has a skull made of iron. Jack could probably take a 2×4 upside the head, stand up giggling, and ask for more. He loves the wrestling; only on a few occasions have I seen him get upset, even when Emme is winning. But as they continue to grow up, Emme’s victories become fewer and farther between.

It’s this resilience that makes him so dangerous. He’s been doing full body drops on me that hurt like hell.  I can only imagine what it feels like to his sister, especially if he’s covering her face with a couch cushion at the same time. I’m really worried he’s going to do some damage to Emme, who is so light that I’d swear her bones are hollow.

So we have a runaway train of a little boy who doesn’t get that he’s hurting people and is only confused by any discipline meted out. We have a little girl who eggs on this behavior with rough play but is increasingly terrified when she realizes that she can’t put the genie back in the bottle. And we have an unsuspecting world of toddlers just waiting to be fresh meat for my son, The Accidental Bully.

I’m open to suggestions.