The Jersey Shore of Ireland

We have found the Jersey Shore of Ireland.

Just a 20-minute drive through bucolic green hills of sheep and cows, and distant, shimmering water, lies a fantastically tacky seafront with rides, arcades, souvenir shops, and tragic teens called Tramore. (On rainy days, it also has a warren of corrugated metal buildings known as an industrial park, where one can find such offerings as a paint-it-yourself pottery place, and two different indoor play areas for children staffed by surly teens.) I love it, in the way I loved Coney Island before most of it was razed to make way for luxury condos and hotels, and in the way that it reminds me of preteen summers in “The Sound.”

The morning started off well enough. This is the view from People’s Park in the village of Dunmore East

C in training to be a polar bear with his Gramby. The cold water did not deter him at all.

Based on the 12-year-olds with thigh-grazing hair, severely drawn-in black eyebrows and terra-cotta canned-tan skin that made them look almost forty, there is a reality show opportunity here. One appeared to be wearing a peach toga she clutched at nervously while on a ride. I wanted to scrub their faces clean. “You are my pale people,” I would say. And I would promise they would find someone to love them.

How can you not love such a defiantly summer place even when there is no real summer at all? (Yes, I should have brought my wool coat. In August. To our beach vacation. I am paying for my psychological block against doing this.)

We discovered Tramore out of desperation. Following a morning where we had already gone grocery shopping, eaten two breakfasts, gone to the playground, and the beach, we thought the boys would nap. The rain had started and so we went back to the place we are renting to put the boys down. Thus began the games: G hurled himself out of the pack ‘n play with the skill and body torquing of a pole vaulter. For an hour and a half, we tried threats and low voices. We had throbbing headaches from not enough sleep ourselves. Finally we took them into our bed, and when they still wouldn’t sleep, we put in a DVD. Fear not, American Academy of Pediatrics. TV is no opiate for my children.

We had to get out of the house.

C started having an epic meltdown out of sheer exhaustion. I think the trigger was putting his jeans on, or maybe his socks, but whatever it was we had to carry him, rigid and screaming, to the car. They were out within four minutes.

It is clear that when away from home, we need to be either: 1. Out walking in the stroller during their nap time or 2. In a car driving. It means there is no napping for us, no real downtime, until they finally crash at night. Of course it was too late now for them to have any real nap, so we needed a massive distraction.

Some may call Tramore a blight. For us the blinking, garish lights and din of shrieks and pumping bass arose from the Southeast shore of Ireland like a beacon of hope in a desert afternoon of parenting. The boys drove remote control trucks, rode fire engines, bounced in a trampoline.

G asked: “Are dere mans up there?” Somehow it rained 20 minutes away, but not here

Today we went back for the circus.

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Are you bored of this yet? I am.

Blog silence on my end wasn’t planned, but the transition to toddler beds has been a major upheaval in our lives.  Things actually deteriorated since the last post. And I haven’t been writing about it because it is so banal.

According to the internet of crazy, desperate Googlers like me, “Twin Escalation Syndrome” is a major factor. In other words, the fact that there are two of them means they do not get bored with quiet time and lack of parental attention and just fall asleep. Oh no.  Case in point: one day, during nap time, I went to check on them (our video monitor is in storage in the U.S., with the rest of our belongings) and discovered that they had pushed over their beds, climbed up on the dresser (thankfully this was bolted to the wall), and pulled down all the diaper ointments. They opened the can of Sudocream, and had smeared it all over the floor, themselves, the sheets, and the curtains. They also emptied the dresser drawers. Sudocream, in case you aren’t familiar, is kind of like white grease paint. Here are some pictures from that afternoon.

In Galway, they climbed out of their pack ‘n plays every few minutes until about 9:30pm, launched themselves into the tub, ran into our adjoining room, etc, and then had complete tantrums by day out of sheer exhaustion.

It has been very discouraging, because before this the boys were good sleepers on the whole, and we worked hard to achieve that.  But I don’t want to keep blogging about it. “This too shall pass,” we tell ourselves. It must.

Here is the last I will say on the matter–I know the next sleep hurdle is the loss of the nap, but I cannot bear to think of that now. I don’t want to call them tips, but learn from our mistakes:

1. If you have rambunctious, very curious children, consider a mattress on the floor. Otherwise the junior bed may seem like little more than a climbing apparatus. C got two black eyes from jumping on his bed and hitting the edge of it.

2. Bolt furniture to the wall. I always thought this might be an over-the-top move as far as baby-proofing goes, but if we hadn’t done that, the dresser would have fallen over when they were climbing up on it to reach their diaper creams.

3. Do not expect this transition to happen in three days, or a week. Expect a massive disruption, especially with naps. Expect to feel as underwater from sleep loss as the early months.

4. Toss all parenting books. In your sleep-deprived state, inane advice such as “Set the ground rules: tell them they must stay in bed until it is light out/Mommy and Daddy come get them,” will only enrage you.

5. If you have twins or other multiples, you’ll probably need to separate them. We bought another security gate for the guest room. At first just putting one in there for a few minutes was upsetting enough that he would decide he would return to his room and stay in bed. However, if the other one was up as well, it presented a big problem. Basically they just chatted through the gates to each other and threw things out into the hallway. So, the next step was me saying I had to “lock” the doors (the doors don’t actually have locks, so this required me to stand in the hallway holding both doorknobs)

My beautiful boys. They don't look like they'd tear a room apart right?

We shall return to our irregularly scheduled programming shortly. Things to look forward to:

-A visit to Newbridge Farm

-Passover and Easter in Galway, Kinvarra, and Ballyvaughan including the not-friendly toddler activity, the Ailwee Caves at the Burren

-A trip to Paris…city of lights, city of romance…with toddlers…and my parents, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary

An update on our toddler bed transition

For all of you who are fearing for us, or for the boys, a little update. We stayed the course, though we wanted to crack on Day 5 and revert to cribs. It was already too late; they were propelling themselves over the side of the remaining crib and onto the toddler bed. No cribs would be safe anymore, and I don’t love the idea of crib tents. I imagined little hands and faces pressing and pawing against mesh for what? We would only prolong the inevitable.

This particular milestone is certainly made more complicated by the fact that they are twins. G suddenly understood he had a playmate for his antics. You would have thought we installed a jungle gym in their room. Opening and closing the door, jumping on each other’s beds, throwing any object not too heavy or bolted down out through the safety gate into the hallway. And for all his fuss, C seems to have made the transition to the bed faster. Then again, perhaps he is staking out the opposite position from his brother, as he often does. S spent one night on the tiny extra crib mattress in their room, gently chiding them to get back into bed every few minutes. It took two hours for them to settle down.

Naps are the worst, likely exacerbated by having to move the clocks forward an hour. Many days they have not napped at all, and I have been really, really worried that perhaps this switch would mean the end of the nap.  It was complete mayhem for several days. I would leave them and go and check and find varying scenes:

1. G asleep on the floor, clutching one of my shoes that I had kicked off before getting into bed with C. The top dresser drawer is open and all the socks are strewn about.

2. The two of them sitting together quietly, utterly destroying the push-and-pull board book we read before nap. Shreds of the book surround them.

3. G asleep in the bed, C sitting next to him, watching.

4. The two crib mattresses we have on the floor near the beds as cushions have had their sheets removed and thrown into a ball. The beds are askew. G partially under his bed.

We are all suffering the cumulative effects of lost sleep. When I picked up the boys at creche earlier this week, their teacher told me one day that mid-way through lunch, G stopped eating, pushed his chair back from the table and fell asleep sitting up. S told me he fell asleep sitting at his desk. Another day, C fell asleep on our walk home, and he was so out, I easily moved him into the bed. C is actually sleeping much better at this point. He drops off faster for naps and bedtime and he tends to sleep through the night. G wakes at 2 and/or 5, and we sometimes lay down with him or take him to keep him from crying and waking up C. Last night he was in our bed and he fell asleep with his head in the opposition direction from ours, and we were regularly pummeled by his little feet.

But there has been progress. S-L-O-W progress. The amount of time they are up before bedtime is getting shorter. There is no big battle over being in the beds. The other day they fell asleep before 3pm. The biggest issue to conquer is the night waking. I think what it boils down to is sleep training all over again, now that everyone has adjusted to the idea of the beds.

The upside? Such a rush of new sweetness and cuddling because we can get into the bed with them. And finding them like above.

 

Transitions: on switching to toddler beds

The truth about living abroad when you are a parent is that for most things, you could be anywhere. Details will be different (what kinds of diapers, what kinds of medicine, what size cribs, how often do you have to shop to stock the fridge) but all the rest is much the same. There is nothing exotic—nor particularly adventurous—about potty training or transitioning to a bed. Those days come whether we are in Dublin or Paris or Brooklyn or Los Angeles or suburban USA.

We talked about it, and rationalized how long we could put off switching the boys to beds. I thought age seven sounded good. At what point would they be cages and not cribs? We are hanging on to sanity by the thinnest of fraying ropes. We didn’t want bedtime to turn into bedlam any more than it already is. Twin behavior can be kind of contagious, meaning if one is amped up, the other one tends to get amped up.

So much depends on sleep (theirs, ours).

Last Sunday night, (of a bank holiday weekend), the day we feared for some time arrived. At 8pm, to be precise. We heard a distinctive ping! pop! crack! and then discovered the bottom of the C’s crib had completely broken. Our only solution for that evening: have them share a crib. G at first was really excited about this idea. He pointed to where C could sleep. His brother got in. The usual wrestling matches and giggling ensued.

When it came time for lights out, G changed his mind about the whole sharing thing and was furious that he didn’t have a choice. Screams and crying, “No!” “Don’t”  “Out!” dragged on for an hour and a half. At one point, I heard muffled screams and panicked, thinking one was smothering the other. I opened the door to check on them.

C: “Dajuta pushed me down! He’s steppin on me.”

Me: “G, did you push your brother down and step on him?”

G (breaking into a huge smile): “Yeah!”

Me: “We don’t do that.”

C: “I pooped!”

After I finished changing C, G announced he had pooped as well. Sometime after 10pm they conked out.  They woke up twice in the night.

DAY 1

Monday morning they were up somewhere before 6am. Sascha and I looked at each other with resignation. The day had begun, like it or not.  We were facing a trip to IKEA and flat-pack furniture assembly on poor sleep with two toddlers on even poorer sleep.

I asked G if sharing a bed was fun or hard. G said, “It was hard.”

By 9:30am, we were in the car and bound for IKEA. Inside IKEA, just as we were about to get into the lift, an alarm went off and the power shut down. I blanched. (IKEA, you may recall, triggers mental instability in me.) Would they shut the store down? I really didn’t want to get into the IKEA maze and daze if we were going to be cast out halfway through. A manager told us they had been having power outages. We looked at the perilous floating staircase and our massive double stroller. He helped Sascha carry it up.

Guess where families go in the recession on a bank holiday? By the time we hit the children’s section, there were swarms of families and poorly controlled children everywhere.

We made a really big deal about them picking out beds. I knew it really came down to the sheets (they picked cars over animals) so I told S whatever was in stock in the self-service was fine. Oh, and we had to buy completely new mattresses, because the crib mattresses are different sizes than the toddler or junior beds.

We arrived back just as it was naptime. The boys were exhausted and cranky but there was no way to get the beds set up in time, so they had to share a crib again. This time, they were enraged from the get-go and did not sleep at all. After an hour and a half of crying, laughing, singing, and chatting, I got them up and S set to task of putting the beds together, only to discover he had forgotten two essential parts. Back to IKEA he went.

It is early evening when he returns and the boys are predictably irritable. I try to keep them busy while S sweats out the incomprehensible IKEA directions. Pre-screwed holes were slanted, the materials shoddy. It was suddenly 8pm and I needed to get two over-tired children to bed.

It was probably a huge mistake to leave one crib in the room, but we were all exhausted. There was no time to deconstruct it.

G squealed with delight when he saw his bed. “My cars!” he said. We read books on them before C informed me he didn’t want to sleep in his bed. “Kib,” he told me. I decided not to push it. Everyone needed sleep.

G and C fell asleep pretty quickly. G in his bed, C in the crib.

DAY 2

I wake up at 7am to G calling. I am relieved. This went wonderfully! Phew. Why were we worried? We make a really big deal about G sleeping in the bed and he seems proud. We call it the “big boy” bed (I later discover this is a mistake.)

Today at naptime G was very excited about his bed but it took about an hour for him to settle down. He insisted on the door being open. When I went to wake them, I found G fast asleep.  On the floor.

Night time. Lots of protest, night wakings. How many? What day is it?

DAY 3

I try to prep C: “In a few days, we’ll have to say good-bye to the crib because there’s a baby who needs it.”

C fixes me with his enormous blue eye, purses his lips a little, crinkles his tiny nose, and drops his head to one side. This is the signal that we disagree.

“No buh-bye,” he finally says, shaking his head. “We need it.”

He clutches at my heart with this. We both know what he is really saying. I am not ready. I am still a baby.

And he is. He is 26 months old. He runs and tries to pump his arms, twisting side to side and looking more like he is doing some Jane Fonda aerobics move from 1990. He uses a fork and drinks from a cup and can take his clothes off before the bath. (In fact, another IKEA purchase is the boys’ own laundry bin, so they can put their dirty clothes in. C took this job very seriously, and began to take clean, folded clothes out of his dresser and dump them in. I explained that those were clean, and that only dirty ones went in the hamper. At which point C took the clean pjs, one at a time, and wiped his nose on them. He then pronounced them in his vaguely British accent,“DUR-tee.”)

Toddlerhood is so difficult because it is an in-between age, and at some level, they know. One minute they insist, “I do myself.”  The next it is “Up! Up, Mommy!” and you are carrying them. C ran out the open door the other day and halfway down the lane. They are both making leaps in development but they want to decide on the steps. The wild vastness of a bed without bars is seemingly too far out of C’s control.

S lays down with G for a long time to get him to go to sleep.

DAY 4

I get in bed with G at naptime. He is very chatty. Every few minutes he says, “Hi! Hi Mommy.” He requests songs. He grabs my wrist and asks what it is. C is sleeping the whole time. I try to get G to be quiet. We nuzzle noses. We pop each other’s puffed up cheeks. I am not helping him get to sleep but I sure am amusing him.

“I not a big boy,” he says. At night he points to the crib and says he wants to sleep there.

DAY 5

Things seemed to have gotten worse, not better. All our work sleep training in the early days is shot. Night wakings. Refusals to nap. We have not experienced this level of sleep deprivation since the early days of their infancy, but even then we didn’t have to spend our waking hours chasing them the way we do now. Last night they went to sleep some time after 9:30 and were up at 5:30.

I tried to leave the boys alone at nap time. The door would open and slam shut every few seconds for about an hour, and I just let them be, until I realized C’s voice sounded too close. I went down and found them both jumping on C’s bed, with one of the beds moved across the room. G had obviously pushed over the bed to help C climb out. Now the bed, which was pushed up against the crib, provided a convenient ledge up on which they climbed, and then would hurl themselves into the crib before climbing out on another side and running around the bed to do it again as if they were on a jungle gym.

At bath time, they both tell me they are “babies.”

S dismantles the crib. I check a sleep book. It recommends not switching them until they are closer to three, unless their safety from climbing in and out was a concern. (It is, as this afternoon demonstrated.) It also says to call it a “new bed;” do not label it a “big boy” bed. Oops. No useful tips for twins as usual. And it helpfully points out not to switch if anything else major was going on, like say, daylight savings time. Guess what tonight is in Ireland? We are losing an hour to jump forward in time. So many lost hours this week.

French parents don’t get stressed?

Why French Parents Are Superior by Pamela Druckerman – WSJ.com

Someone posted this link to Facebook and it’s getting a lot of press right now. It’s an excerpt from a new book by an American mother living abroad and how she feels that the French put stricter boundaries on their children, discipline with more “conviction,” and therefore, their children sit quietly in high chairs in restaurants and leave their parents free to enjoy adult conversation. In other words, yet another indictment of overparenting culture, which Druckerman, in “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” suggests is particularly American.

After Druckerman and her husband decide to take a trip to a coastal town in France with her 18 month-old, she writes:

“We quickly discovered that having two restaurant meals a day with a toddler deserved to be its own circle of hell.

Bean would take a brief interest in the food, but within a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.

Our strategy was to finish the meal quickly. We ordered while being seated, then begged the server to rush out some bread and bring us our appetizers and main courses at the same time. While my husband took a few bites of fish, I made sure that Bean didn’t get kicked by a waiter or lost at sea. Then we switched. We left enormous, apologetic tips to compensate for the arc of torn napkins and calamari around our table.

After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn’t look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.”

Remember the picture I posted of the debris field around our table that I tried to contain with linen napkins while on holiday? How we felt like we were the only ones, despite being in a family resort? How we spent a small fortune on room service to avoid the exquisite torture of dining in public with them?

Normally it would be easy for me to dismiss her by saying, well, yeah, but she doesn’t have twins. But guess what? Later on she does have twins. Boys, in fact.

So six months into our life abroad, with my Euro-American twin sons and their Continental accent, I read the excerpt with fascination. Clearly, there’s an inherent problem with the sweeping generalization of “us” (i.e., American parents) vs. “them” (French parents) in her argument. But I understand they are trying to sell books piggy-backed off the success of “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” and sound very controversial. (Stay tuned for my forthcoming book, “French Women Don’t Read Self-Help Books.”) Nothing gets Americans more defensive than saying another country is superior, right? I would be curious to know if there is less Ativan or Zanax prescribed (and paid for) by the French National Health Insurance.

Why would it be just the French who are immune to this modern age of anxiety, and not say, Spanish parents, or Italian ones? Here in Dublin, the parents of other children where the boys attend creche are Italian, German, and Danish, in addition to being Irish (this is a reflection of the location–we are near the embassy zone–as well as how diverse the population of Dublin is, with people from all over the EU). I do not notice any pronounced difference, except perhaps, that European toddlers tend to wear scarves.

The biggest demarcation appears to be socioeconomic class. You know, the class that (ahem) has the leisure to write about, blog about, and read about parenting as if it was a hobby or project one was trying to get better at. Which to me is overparenting in and of itself, no? (And I am very, very guilty of this, which also has much to do with having children later in life and stopping work to be with them.) In fact, this book sits upon a very tall stack of parenting how-to books, a cottage industry that thrives off making you afraid you are doing something wrong, thereby engendering anxiety. My mother certainly never sat around and read books like “Positive Discipline” while raising the four of us. Those worrying about foreclosure or dealing with chronically ill children certainly are worried about other issues than the latest trend in parenting. Isn’t that what they say our anxiety is, evolutionary adaptations run amok because in reality, we have very little of actual and pressing danger to worry about?

People have often asked us if there’s a culture shock being here, and we tell them it’s negligible. There was much more of a culture shock when I lived in Japan. The only difference I have ever observed has more to do with parents in cities and parents in small towns. Living here in Dublin is somewhat similar to the transition we would have felt, I think, if we moved back to NYC after leaving small-town America. But again, that’s really about class in certain pockets of cities.

My neighbor, a German mom of two boys, told me that, “Ten years ago, there weren’t the big cars. You didn’t see Range Rovers trying to drive around these narrow streets. With the big sunglasses. And the big bags.  Suddenly, all the mums were carrying coffee and big purses and wearing big sunglasses. And they all went blonde.”

This was her humorous way of explaining the sudden wealth many people living in Dublin found themselves in during the Celtic Tiger years, and the attendant status anxiety. Apparently, it made everyone think they should look like Nicole Richie pushing a pram.

“Bringing up Bebe” seems like it might have been better suited to an anecdotal op-ed instead of a book. And I do wonder how much her being an expat, particularly an American one, carried its own issues that didn’t have anything to do with parenting.

I am curious what fellow parents out there think about this, especially European ones. The book is written from an American point of view. What do, say, Irish parents think about French ones? Or Italian? Or Spanish? Those of you who also parented while abroad, did you notice any cultural differences?

(As a postscript I should mention that I’ve started saying, “That’s not possible,” to my sons’ varied and unending demands in case she’s on to something.)

Coming home

Status

My first morning after coming back, I woke up at 5:30am to a man screaming, “No! No! No!” Obviously he had escaped from the nearby hospital. Really. But I am happy to be back. Really. Also, when G asked me last night, “Who made dat?” pointing to the store-bought vegetable soup I was serving him, I lied and told him I did.

One more plane ride

I’m back in CT and got to spend my mom’s birthday with her. As she pointed out, this is the third year in a row, completely unplanned.

I have shin splints from the two mornings I did Jennifer’s 6-mile walk with her in Winston-Salem. We got a lot of good talking in over 12 miles and it helped clear my head of the jet lag. This is the first major exercise I’ve had besides the hike last Friday with Bela & Abby. When I get back, I need to prioritize exercise somehow. Also, last night was the first night the jet lag was starting to go away, which is really great, considering I go back tomorrow night.

I spent a long time catching up with Ron on Wed. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see him again. We worked out that the last time we saw each other was the book release party in NYC in March 2009. Since Dublin has an Innocence Project, I want to see if I can get them over for a speaking engagement. I really want the boys to meet him.

Sascha is doing wonderfully, all things considered. Two work days for him were pretty much vanquished by flash fevers: first G, then yesterday C. Today Sascha took C to the doctor and he has bad tonsillitis. Murphy’s Law, or something: he was the sickest he had ever been last summer with roseola when Sascha was out of the country. Hopefully, the antibiotics will do their work soon.

C was thrilled to see me on Skype Monday, but today he turned away.  I expect a bit of attitude when I get back. G has been acting out. Today he is at daycare by himself, and apparently doing well.  Maybe some time apart from each other is good?

It was good for me. I compartmentalized. I spoke to adults and had clean clothes on at all times. According to this article, if I could work part-time consistently, I’d be happier and healthier. Then again, most part-time working moms I know don’t have the consistency, especially if you had any non-traditional career path. Like me, they have sudden work opportunities that send them frantically searching for childcare, a way that laundry might do itself (if you leave it long enough, maybe the organisms thriving in it would get up and start walking around?), and figuring out logistics with a military-like precision. It also requires a very understanding spouse.

 

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.

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