My first real trip away from the boys/motherhood is a screwjob

A few weeks ago, when a production company told me they were filming a segment about the last project I worked on and could I come to North Carolina for an interview, my first thought was no. It’s way too far, especially since we live in Europe now, there are no grandparents around the corner to help.

But for the past two years—actually even before they were born, as I was restricted from traveling at a certain point because carrying twins makes you a “high-risk” pregnancy– I have said “no” to every professional opportunity that has come my way: speaking engagements, other books, conferences, articles. Some things I was interested in, but the boys were either imminently due/newly arrived or we were packing up and moving somewhere again, so I knew I could not in good faith sign a contract and deliver on a deadline. Other things I was happy to have an excuse not to do.

It is a luxury, of course, that I have a choice. I have friends who work and travel away from their kids on a regular basis.

Even though the days are long, the years have been fast. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to spend it watching my boys learn to smile, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, run, and scream “NO!” at me.

Yes, there was the time we went to a friend’s wedding or to Stonington for our anniversary, but those were just a night here or there and we were within a few hours drive from my parents and the boys.

But since we moved to Ireland and the boys started part-time crèche, I have a little space in the mornings around the laundry and the groceries and the guests for myself. I started getting a sense that this year it is time to start saying yes again.

My extremely supportive husband said, “Go. I’ll figure it out.”

Their crèche, where they spend their mornings, said they would take them for full days for the week. S will have to leave work early every day to pick them up, get them home, give them dinner and a bath and put them to bed.

“You’ll hate me by the middle of the week,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, “but right now I love you and I’m telling you if you want to go, go.”

Still until just a few days ago, I had no ticket booked and thought there would be some excuse not to go, for which I would have been partially relieved. The travel was complicated, the legal permissions were potentially fraught, and let’s face it, I have nothing to wear. I wear awkward clothes because I hate shopping and no one sees me and more often than not I am grabbed by saucy, sticky little hands or have a trail of snot of my shoulder where one of my boys has wiped his nose.

But as my husband says, “Stop being an impossibilist.” (Either choice is something that won’t make me happy, i.e., if I say no, I’ll be a bit angry with myself/him and if I say yes, I feel guilty and selfish and when their faces crack a little at the mention of me going a way, I want to start bawling.)

* * *

So here I am. I open my laptop at 37,000 ft and see the pen marks on my keyboard C left when he climbed up onto the chair at my desk and helped himself to a pen. When a child on board singsongs, “Momm-mmee!” it feels directed at me. I am marked: a mommy, no matter what now.

There are two mothers traveling alone with their toddlers. I saw them form an instant bond when we were waiting to board. Observing them now, I realize how absorbed we become in the rants and raves of our young children, how we plead with them to stop making noise, stop fiddling with someone’s seat, to stop making such a spectacle and how tense it all is. But really for everyone else, it just fades into the background. We are lost in our thoughts, our books, our movies. The chatter and the protests and the struggles are not so large to the rest of us, though they feel huge to the parents in the middle of them.

I have wished so much for solitude, yet the sight of a chubby, red-cheeked boy trying to play peekaboo with me in the row ahead ambushes me. The two seats next to me break my heart with their emptiness. I wonder how I am going to get through the week without holding my sons.

And that is the great screwjob of motherhood. I will have more time to myself this week then I have had in two years. I have longed for these uncharted days. But I will not have the afternoons of kissing bruised knees, performing impromptu musicals, and receiving the intense and profound love of my children.

I am so used to worrying about them: do they have their hats, their mittens, their snacks? Are their diapers clean? What will I make them for dinner? I referee their attacks on each other over toys. And sometimes, it is so draining. My mother always says what they need the most is you.

What no one tells you is how much you need them.

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Daytripping to Dun Laoghaire

When my mother and Sascha’s parents were here for the boys’ birthday, we drove down the coast to Dun Laoghaire in search of cupcake toppers at a place called Cakebox. There I found Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train sugar discs to dress up the cupcakes I made for their crèche (and if you are a very fancy baker, they have everything you might possibly need). Luckily, Blue Steel was still running well (as she is again, thanks to a new battery and new oil seals or some such) at that point. My mom gamely agreed to ride with half a butt cheek in the backseat, squished in between the boys.

Dun Laoghaire is an adorable, upscale seaside town about twenty minutes south of Dublin. Cakebox is on upper St. George’s St, and from there it was an easy walk to People’s Park.

People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

Here is where C made his first "wish" with my mom by tossing a penny in the fountain. Then he wanted the penny back

Since there was a playground, the boys were very happy.

On the gates of the park I noticed a sign saying the tea room was open. After the boys played for a bit, we walked up to check it out.  The Tea Room, run by a lovely man named Enda and his son, is open 7 days a week in the winter. I wish every park had something like this! The wind had seeped into our bones standing around the playground. We wrapped our hands around cups of hot chocolate (so yummy with steamed milk) and fresh coffee. Looking down the gentle slope of the park, we watched the boats out in the harbor.

The blue building behind G is the Tea Room

On Sundays, People’s Park hosts markets.  A nice side trip from Dublin with kids, accessible by DART.

The blog is going to be a bit screwy this week. Still trying to catch up on uploading galleries of some amazing visits with family, including a daytrip to Howth, touring the Hill of Tara and Newgrange, and hiking the Cliff Walk at Greystones–and I’m headed to the States for a quick week.

Fota Island (Part 2 of our first road trip, in which we get pulled over by the garda)

After leaving the beautiful manor grounds of Castlemartyr, we checked into Fota Island Resort (which just recently had a nice offer on Groupon. Another cheaper option is to stay at the self-catering facilities). Fota Island Resort is new, so it doesn’t quite have the same aristocratic feel but it is quite lovely in different way. It’s more modern-lodge in feeling.

Fota Island Resort Lobby

The lobby was still festive with holiday decorations and in the mornings, there was an amazing buffet breakfast, where you could also request pancakes, smoothies, and egg dishes made to order. The other slight advantage Fota Island Resort had over Castlemartyr was a playground on the premises. The spa was beautiful, and also had a water therapy room like Castlemartyr. For whatever reason, however, the boys didn’t want to go in the pool. It is filled with screaming, squealing kids and the water is a bit cool. We were disappointed because pools make for tired boys.

On our first morning, the boys were not very well-behaved at the buffet, and despite it being a family-friendly resort, I felt like we were those people everyone stared at.  When we got back to the room, G promptly vomited up most of his smoothie, but he seemed fine after that. I put a towel over it and called housekeeping to come clean it while we were gone. Whatever stomach bug is present is a lingerer—it’s not a 24 hour thing. I’ve not had a right stomach for a week.

At this point in the trip, I have become skilled in the wadded up cloth napkins that I try to kick under the table, so as to better hide the ring of food, spit-up, and other toddler detritus surrounding our table

If you have children, one of the main attractions in the Cork area is Fota Wildlife Park, and admission to the park was included with our stay. Unfortunately, the boys were more interested in the sand at the playground near the entrance and the train ride we took around the park than in most of the animals.

Ice cream makes u happy (G's motto in life) was printed on the side of the train

The main problem with our suite was that there was no door, just a grand archway between the bedroom and main bath and the living/dining area. (This suite was also bigger than any NYC apartment I lived in). There were two pack ‘n plays, but we wondered how to put them to bed at night: Around our bed, meaning we have to sequester ourselves near the door and out of their sight line? Sascha thinks maybe the bathroom, which is big enough and does have a door, but I nix the idea. It seems like it could get cold. The other option is to push them closer to the dining area and entrance, and try not to make any noise and stay in the bedroom. We end up going with the first option, since we order room service one night after putting the boys to bed and need to be in the main area. Staying in hotels must be affecting the boys, since C insists on reading one of the coffee table books for his bedtime story, something about the Cork City Markets.

Thankful for the big beds at the resorts because more often than not, they ended up sleeping with us at some point

We made a quick stop to Cork City. Nearby Cobh (formerly Queenstown)  was the last port of call for the Titanic, which I didn’t know but was quickly made aware of since the centennial is coming up with all sorts of events. Cork is supposed to be a great place for food, but let’s face it, we weren’t going to some artisan/slow food joint with the boys in tow. We wind up at a mediocre pizza joint.

This reminds me of what my friend and I used to call "English wrong" in Japan, where English would be used in advertising as if English was cool in and off itself, even if it actually made no sense. Because as any one from the States knows, L.A. is known for many things, but bagels are not one of them!

As we were headed out of the city and back to the hotel, we are trying to negotiate one-ways and look for signs back to the traffic circle and lights and a siren flash behind us. Immediately I feel tense, like “hide the drugs!” What does that say about me? Don’t answer that.

An extremely pretty Garda with a gorgeous red mane comes to the driver’s window.

“Did I do something wrong?” Sascha asked.

As soon as she heard his American accent, she smiled.

“Your driving, it leaves a little something to be desired,” she laughed.

“How bad was it?”

“Ehm, pretty bad. There was some weaving,” she said, making a wavy gesture with her hand.

We apologize, blather on about how it’s our first real road trip, pull the twin card, we’re still getting used to driving, and it’s night and we’re trying to look at the signs blah blah.

She didn’t ask for any paperwork, and in fact, apologizes for the narrowness of the roads. I figure she is just glad we are bad drivers because we are American, and used to driving on the other side, and not inebriated locals.

Her parting words: “Just try to stay between the lines.”

For the record, Sascha drove the majority of the trip and he did amazing. Back through sheep country, we make our return to Dublin.

The boys slept most of the way home. When they are awake, it is light enough for them to see out the window and take it all in.

We arrived back safely in the early hours of New Year’s Eve, exhausted from our “vacation” and thrilled to be home.

Comfort food is exactly what we need

Driving on the other side of the road

I have been driving since I was about 13 or 14. My mother saw no great harm in my brothers and me getting behind the wheel when we were a few blocks from home. After all, my dad had a ride-on mower that we would steer while sitting on his lap when we were young; in beach towns we’d ride bumper cars and go–karts in between eating fried dough and ice cream. So after gymnastics practice, she would pull over and let me drive the blue Bonneville home.

She didn’t know that one of our favorite suburban pastimes would be sneaking out of the house and taking the cars. We had nowhere to go, really. It was the kind of town where the lights usually started blinking at 10pm. But driving on the empty streets and blasting the radio, we just reveled in our freedom.

I passed my driving test on the first try. Driving school was not mandatory at the time, so I never had any formal lessons, beyond my mother and my brothers, who would blow off noontime Mass to let me practice in parking lots. I did fail miserably in my efforts to learn stick shift, which I chalk up to a father-daughter clash. My father had no patience to teach me, and I gave up too quickly.

I owned exactly one car, when I was a junior in college. It was a Dodge Shadow in the strangest shade of blue you’ve ever seen. My friends dubbed it the Teal Mobile. When I moved to Japan, all that I kept of my belongings was what fit in the car.

Sascha is a borough-bred, meaning Manhattan born and raised. He got his license when he was twenty-two, after college in CT, where he wouldn’t have to parallel park. The years we lived in NYC we had no car. When we first moved back to L.A., we had a series of rented company cars. I remember feeling absolutely adrift on the massive span of the 405: five lanes in each direction, an endless swarm of headlights. I had once negotiated the freeways and exchanges effortlessly– the 10 to the 110 to the 5 or the 405 to the 10 to PCH or the 5 to the 134 to the 101, but in the time I was away from California, I had forgotten them and crucial shortcuts. My friend V., who has a special passion and talent for L.A. routes, was extremely disappointed in me.

When the boys were coming, (and the job was ending). Sascha and I knew we’d have to buy a car in California to ferry around our new family. We agonized over what car to buy for months, going on test-drives, with me waddling across lots and into showrooms to use the bathroom. It was actually one of our first big parental decisions, and because we thought we were too cool for a minivan (we just couldn’t do it as our first car purchase), we narrowed it down to SUVs. (Go on, judge us. We did at least buy a hybrid.) We consulted Consumer Reports endlessly. This is the thing responsible people seemed to do. The type of people who are becoming parents. I realize more and more how insane modern parenting is. We are so fearful, so anxious (even though we think we aren’t), and people make a big profit off selling us the illusion that we have some control.

When we left CA, we shipped the car we bought to CT. In our limbo year there, we careened around the state to every fair we could find on the weekends; during naptimes or bedtimes we’d drive the dark stretches of narrow parkways between CT and NYC to visit friends in the city and let the boys run through the sprinklers at the American Museum of Natural History.

Here we hoped we’d be able to forgo a car. Sascha bikes to work and everything essential is within walking distance of our cottage, though the gale-force winds, rain, and early darkness make walking with the stroller less enjoyable. The trouble is in seeing the country. We don’t know if we have a year here or many, and getting on the trains or the buses with the double stroller and luggage is extremely difficult. (Buses, for example, won’t take you on if there is already a buggy/stroller on board.) The biggest problem, though, is that the public transport system doesn’t link up, which is disappointing for a European capital. The LUAS, or light rail, near us, for example, doesn’t connect to the DART line, which runs along the coast. So three months in, we caved when a car came to us from a friend of friends who were repatriating to the States.

Meet Blue Steel, a ’97 Nissan Micra:

Who needs luggage?

It looks like the Matchboxes my younger brother used to play with. It is so tiny I’m nearly positive that it would fit in our American SUV if we folded down the back seats. But by some miracle, the double stroller fits perfectly in the hatchback boot, as well as our car seats. You may recall that our lane poses some challenges:
So finding this car, which actually maneuvers down the lane without scraping the houses and fits the four of us plus stroller, and is automatic, was kind of miraculous.

We each took a driving lesson. We almost didn’t, and just rented a car for some post-holiday exploring, but again, now that we are parents, we are more cautious. Like we should, for example, make sure we actually feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road before we strap in our sons. Welcome to the Age of Overparenting, indeed.

I was a confident driver in the U.S., but here my long-honed habits, now second-nature to me, are useless, even potentially dangerous. I must train myself to let my eyes drift up and left to the rearview. I must reverse with my head turned over my left shoulder instead of my right; stop my right hand from reaching for the gears. The signals are on the right side, so we set off the wipers almost every time we try to indicate a turn.

I should tell you I’m a terrible back-seat (passenger seat) driver. I slam on imaginary brakes; wince at cars coming too close. I don’t like being in a car unless I’m driving. So it was comical to be in a driving school car, where the instructor has his own set of brakes, and the car has a sandwich board up top and all around the doors announcing the driving school. I kept getting annoyed when he would press the brakes as we were approaching other cars. Then again, I’m glad he was there because Dublin has a shocking lack of helpful things like, say, lane markings. And bus lanes: you are in a bus lane, now you’re not, oh wait it’s a bus lane again, and you can’t be in it except maybe sometimes on Sundays or late at night. As people have told us, once you are outside of the city, on the large national roadways, it’s much easier. But within the city, at least at first, it feels much more stressful. I was fairly certain, for example, that a big street right near us was one-way. That’s how narrow it is. Sascha’s tip was to drive in the middle like it is one-way and move only if another car is oncoming. That helps a lot with holding my breath for fear I am going to sideswipe all the parked cars to the left of me.

We are ready to do some exploring of this fine little country we are lucky enough to be living in.

The boys like our "yittle" car

Stay tuned for our journeys on the road.

On having twins

Dear everyone who remarks, “Having twins is the way to do it! Just get it done and out of the way!”

Having twins is actually, to quote another twin parent, better put as: having two effing babies. AT THE SAME TIME.

Convenient? Heck no. Economical? Nope. The easy way to do it? Are you joking?

Having twins is not like bulking up on toilet paper so you don’t have to go out and get more for a long time.

And please don’t tell me, “Mine are so close in age, they’re just like twins!” It makes me feel stabby.

I feel incredibly lucky to have two healthy sons. I can’t imagine not having them both, and them not having each other. I feel privileged that I get to watch them develop their own relationship with each other, and for my extra moments of morning dozing courtesy of their morning “chats” with each other. I also adore the ringside seat of their nightly WWF bouts. At times their twin relationship is loving, and at other times, it is a terrifying glimpse into Darwinian principles in action.

But it is not some great shortcut into parenthood. It is really, really hard. I was lucky enough to meet two women at an expectant parent of multiples group who were due around the same time. This is us at a Mommy and Me movie in Los Feliz. We texted each other all throughout the first WTF months. You need other parents of multiples friends because you will not be doing Mommy & Me yoga or going to grab coffee with your baby in the freaking wrap which takes like twenty minutes to put on but which everyone said was so great.

Once when we were out together, some guy asked us which one of us was the mother! As if one of us was the mom of six newborns and the other two were just nannies.

At times, I question our sanity leaving the safety net of my parents being around the corner during this stage in development when the boys are not listening to anything I say asserting their wills. I used to be able to corral them fairly easily by myself, simply by saying, “Come on, it’s time to go inside,” or “It’s time to go upstairs for a bath.” And like little ducklings, they’d follow behind me. Around 17 months old though, my boys started understanding that they had a choice. I read somewhere that toddlerhood is like a mini-adolescence. It makes sense. They are sort of like two extremely short, moody little teenagers.

If you have twins (or bless you, supertwins), you know that life must be about schedule and routine or else there will be a complete and total collapse of the world order you need to simply get through the day. Parenting twins of this age is a lot like running relay: Sascha taps me to run the next leg after he’s had them so he can go nap/shower/eat.

The books will not apply to you. (And I say “the books” in a collective sense meaning the bougie tomes parents like myself read to feel like they are doing the right thing or because they expect somehow, somewhere, there will be a way to Google an answer to some inevitable parenting conundrum.) For example, when one of your toddlers takes a dish and throws it on the floor in a restaurant, the books will suggest something like removing the child from the restaurant, either by taking him outside until he can behave better or simply going home.  If you have twins however, one of you may do this with Twin A, and then Twin B, who had heretofore been eating and behaving just fine, will suddenly start screaming  and crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” and frantically try to run out of the restaurant, afraid he is missing some amazing experience or being left behind. Or, when one has a protest tantrum, where he simply sits down in a park because you won’t carry him, you cannot do what “the books” say, which is ignore him, unless you have back-up. If you are alone, your other child is likely running off in an entirely different direction.


It means that even if you get the EXACT. SAME. TOY. for each of them, one will inevitably scream, “I need THAT!” and try to tackle his brother to get the identical fire truck to the one he is holding.

Never, ever believe a parent of a single child who recommends doing something and says it will be “so relaxing.” Exhibit A of our “vacation:”

Sincerely,

A mom of twins

Christmas recap

Is it too late to recount our Christmas in Dublin? It’s halfway through January already and I think I’m only now nearly-recovered from the sicknesses that plagued us into the holidays.

I do not have cute pictures from the boys’ carol sing. I should have seen it coming, the high expectations and the inevitable fall. G had been spontaneously singing “Jingle Bells” all week. If I sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and left out key words, C would fill them in. So what if they thought you dashed through the snow in a “Norse-pen play”?

At the creche holiday party, the lights were dimmed and the kids were to stroll in carrying “lanterns.” Only before this could happen, our boys broke rank, crying “Mommy! Daddy!” and we had to pull them out. They wouldn’t wear the Christmas tree hats. They were very bah-humbug. So there we sat on the tiny classroom chairs, with them clutching us, and back into the pockets went the cameras. Apparently in public, G & C are wallflowers.

As the final countdown toward Christmas began, I could feel myself getting sicker and sicker. (So you out there who is searching for the Dublin stomach bug 2012 and arriving at my blog, read on!)

Note the box of tissues and the red blanket covering one of the cushions, where we had to remove a cover that had been vomited on

I almost didn’t think we’d make Christmas — not that it wouldn’t come, because it always does, but that we’d be too ill to acknowledge it in any real way. On Christmas Eve, S was the color of Silly Putty and unable to touch his food. Earlier in the day, G had vomited, which I had attributed to the antibiotics he was taking for the ear infection after his month-long cold. I have been feeling a cold virus replicating into my bronchial cavities for days.

Sascha’s cousin from South Philly, whom we just call Aunt Giovanna, arrived into our den of sickness to spend Christmas with us before going on to Milan. Despite the transatlantic flight and the time change, she looks glamorous and well-rested, in sharp contrast to us in our various stages of viral takeover. She is bearing loads of fruit and gifts for the boys. G falls in love instantly with “Joe-Bonna.”

Christmas Eve with Giovanna.

Giovanna spent many years working for Luciano Pavarotti, and I think this anecdote illustrates her wonderful personality. Apparently, Pavarotti was so distraught at the end of one affair that he threatened to kill himself, phoning his manager to say he would throw himself out the window. His manager, frantic, got in touch with Giovanna. Obviously accustomed to histrionics, she responded, How could he fit? He’s too fat to fit through a window.

Giovanna is an original.

We had plans to spend Christmas day with Ciaran and Siobhan and family. They told us to come despite risking contagion, dismissing whatever we might have as something they surely already had. On Christmas morning, I have no real voice but I think I am getting better and I manage to make two pies. Pumpkin:

And this sea-salt caramel apple pie, which was a huge hit and well-worth making again.

This pie helped me get my pie confidence back

The finished pie

Ciaran had cooked such an amazing meal and we were so lucky to have such a warm Christmas celebration together.

We toasted to good health, and really, really meant it.

Sláinte!