Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Strike (Edited)

This school vacation has been far from a vacation and we're barely two weeks in. The kids have done nothing but bicker most days. They've been demanding and incredibly rude, both to me and each other. Their once-clean rooms and playroom are so trashed they can barely get into them, let alone actually play in them. The weather has been pretty uncooperative as well, which hasn't helped the situation.

Tuesday was my birthday and I asked the kids to help me tidy up the downstairs as our friends were coming for lunch. Their response was a resounding NO and they went off to play, leaving me frustrated and sad, and having a house to tidy myself. It got done, but it left a very sour taste in my mouth that my kids are so self centered that they couldn't even help me out for a bit.

So last night after I made them a quick dinner because Doug was running late, I announced that I was on strike. I told them that I do everything around here, from all the laundry to taking out the trash, making them meals and snacks and since they are not nice to me, I was done. I am exhausted at the end of the day from breaking up constant fights, unlocking their locked doors when they lock each other out, listening to them demand things from me without a simple thank you, and that I wasn't doing it anymore.  I know Annie and Izzie don't truly understand why I'm upset, but Meg and Drew are quite old enough to understand that we're a family and that families need to work together. Since my words don't mean anything to them, I'm hoping that this action does. They cleaned up the table last night and Meg vacuumed the floor, so that's a start.

But this isn't just about them cleaning (although truth be told, they really need to work on that). It's about their lack of respect for me, Doug, and for each other. In the last two weeks I've had things thrown at me in anger, been hit, kicked, screamed at and I have had enough. I refuse to take them to the grocery store after the rotten way they acted Monday, causing me to have to reprimand them at the deli and not hear the person asking me if I had been helped yet (which then caused said deli worker to COME AROUND THE DELI COUNTER to ask what I'd like to order, leaving me mortified). The kicker is that when they go places with Doug, they use their manners and behave like normal kids, but when they're with me, it's mayhem.

I don't know how successful this little experiment will be. The kids woke me before 7 this morning (again) banging and being much too loud, and then Meg was vacuuming the kitchen at 7:04. But Doug is on board and reminded the kids that they are on their own today. Meg got everyone breakfast and is, at this moment, cleaning up the living room. I'm sure their "enthusiasm" will wane soon. I'm not asking for them to make every meal and do all the chores. I'm asking for their respect. I'm asking for them to help when I ask them to help, for them to be polite to me and to each other, and for them to realize that this will be a much happier household if they do that. I'm tired of being the Mama who yells all the time, since yelling causes them to ignore me and do whatever they want anyway.  The kids have almost no special privileges, so there isn't anything we can take away from them. So we're taking me away from them. I'm not going anywhere of course, and I'll be here to keep them safe, but it's high time that they realize that a little respect goes a long way. A happy Mama makes for a much happier house.

Edit. I want to be clear that the goal of this is NOT because I need a break (which, of course I do. I am home, alone, with four kids for 12 hours or more a day). The goal is for them to realize that I am NOT a doormat and that I am tired of them thinking that they can walk all over me all the time and expect me to do everything. I love doing things for my kids when they are being nice and respectful, but I do not want to do things for people who whine, cry, fight and tell me that they hate me all the time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eye Opening

It's the first full day of summer vacation. The weather over the weekend was iffy~gray, humid, not incredibly warm, rainy at times. That weather has carried over into today as well, so the kids have pretty much been inside instead of outside playing.

Over the weekend I was kind of caught up in trying to figure out where Meg's friend O lives, so that we can send her the photo that I took of them on the last day of school (courtesy of the bus driver who let O and another friend A get off the bus at our driveway for the shot) and also so we can invite her to come over. It was a little bit obsessive on my part, and I couldn't figure out until today why I was so focused on getting these girls connected for the summer.

But while Meg and I were making oatmeal raisin cookies, it occurred to me that she spends the majority of her time at school, being a big girl, and then comes home to a 5 year old and two 3 year olds, and very rarely gets to spend down time with kids her own age. And my heart hurt for her, because when I was a kid I spent all my time with kids my own age because my neighborhood was filled with my friends. We don't live in a neighborhood. We live on a long gravel road with one neighbor who has a 9 month old, in a town where everything is very spread out. It's not the childhood of my youth, and I wish that it was, for her sake. I wish she could get on her bike and ride to a friend's house and play and be a big girl and not have her siblings be her only playmate all the time. It must be so hard for her to switch from big kid to little girl every day in order to be on the same level as Drew, Annie and Izzie.

So I'm going to endeavor to spend more time trying to focus on her and what she likes, instead of forcing the four of them to play together all the time. We spent some time this afternoon playing with her American Girl dolls, something she's never asked me to do before. We cuddled on the couch and read our book, which is something we usually save for bedtime. I'm going to try to give her space to just be herself this summer and try to get her together with some of her friends from school so that she can remember that she is a big kid all the time, not just during the school day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vacation Dreams

I want to go on a vacation. Alone. It's not that I don't love my children or husband, but given the opportunity to go away, alone, I would take it in a heartbeat. I'm sure I'd miss them, but as I've had a child attached to me every day for the last 5 1/2 years and everything I do is for or about my kids, I want a little alone time.

I want to rent a house by the ocean, a  little cottage. I want to pack my van full of my scrapbooking supplies, a couple of years' worth of photos, and make albums. I want to wake up when I feel like it, sip hot coffee by the pounding surf, and relax. I want to listen to my IPod and not hear the same Taylor Swift songs over and over and over (while all four of my kids sing along), take walks, eat seafood (I married a man who eats nothing from the sea and it KILLS me), take new photos. I want to take a nap without someone waking me up by crying. I want to sit at a table and put our family memories into the albums I've purchased. I want to read a stack of books and hang out in my jammies if I feel like it and take long, luxurious showers. I don't want to deal with mounds of laundry or boo boos or bills needing to be paid or tantrums, just for a little bit of time.  I want to relax, enjoy my surroundings and be me.

What about you? Would you take a vacation alone? What would you do?


Today is Meg's last day of 3rd grade. In just a couple of months she'll be entering her last year of elementary school, as our district sends the 5th graders to the middle school. Given the choice, Meg would attend school year round. She prefers a schedule, not the laid back attitude of summer vacation. She likes being with her peers, going to music class and gym, having lunch in the cafeteria, riding the bus home with friends. She is a very good student, strong in reading, spelling, writing, music. Maybe she'll be a teacher one day.

She made a friend on the bus this year, a little girl O, who is in 4th grade and new to our little town. They were thick as thieves, sitting together all the time, their brown and red heads bent together as they scribbled notes, shared marbles and waved crazily at me when the bus arrived each afternoon. O is going to 5th grade in the fall, which means she'll be on the earlier bus and not with Meg. Watching my girl sob in her room this morning because she'll miss her friend was just about more than I could handle today. I hate endings. My heart hurts for Meg, because she doesn't make friends easily and knowing that it will be a year before the girls will really see each other again makes me so sad for her. I'm going to do my best to find a way to get the girls together this summer so they can spend time together, but I don't know O's parents, so that could be hard.

I'm glad that Meg had a chance to make such a nice friend. She was always so much happier on the days that she and O sat together. I hope that they will be able to spend time together and grow up as friends. Nothing would make me happier, and that would erase the sad ending we're having today.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One and the Same

If you follow me at all on Twitter, you'll see that I follow lots of New England sports sites, and lots of parents of multiples. I love following the other moms and dads of twins, triplets and quads. We commiserate, laugh and enjoy the fact that there are others out there who understand what raising multiples is really like. If you know me, you know that Annabelle and Isabelle are fraternal twins. They both have the same delicious chocolate brown eyes, but that's where the similarities end. Annabelle is 2 inches taller and 5 pounds heavier than Isabelle, and her hair is darker too. Isabelle was a slow walker but speaks so well that at times I forgot she's only 3. Annabelle colors as well as Megan, staying in the lines and using lots of detail. Annabelle loves to give hugs and tell me that she loves me, while Isabelle would rather snuggle a stuffed animal.

One of the other people I follow on Twitter is a twin herself. Abigail Pobegrin recently published a book called One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular. Abigail wrote to me recently and during our conversations, she sent me the following that, while directed toward twins, could also be applied to my situation as the mother of four:

  Since my book about twins came out in October, I’ve been asked the same two questions over and over: How does being a twin affect my parenting, and what would I advise parents of twins, based on my two years of research, numerous interviews with adult twins, and my own twin experience?   
      My first answer is: spend separate time with each child.  It may seem obvious, but so many parents of twins don’t do it because they see how happy their twins are together, because they don’t want to intrude on their effortless bond, or because it’s just plain easier to take two at a time.  But listening to my sister Robin tell me that she’s not even sure to this day that our parents truly know us apart and that she has struggled with a sense of distinction in the world made me very clear that individual time can make the individual.  I am now hyper-aware of spending separate time with my two children, who are 12 and 10 years old.  I make sure to wander into each of their rooms at odd times, and just flop on the bed and see what they have to say, or to take just one of them out for a meal.   I know how the rough-and-tumble of life often gets in the way of independent outings:  we’re all rushing to the same activities or taking the same trips together.  There isn’t always that open-ended time to just chat or take a walk with no particular destination in mind.
      My sister admits in my book that one of the reasons she didn’t have a third child was because she missed separate memories with our parents and didn’t want to risk having too little time for too many kids.  It should be said that we had a wonderful, colorful childhood, and I think Robin wouldn’t trade it.  But the absence of undivided time resulted in a muddying of Robin’s sense of self, and now that I’ve spoken to so many experts, I understand how common and problematic that can be.
      The other advice I’d offer is to resist comparisons.  They’re so tempting, but so destructive.  Believe me, siblings will inevitably measure themselves ceaselessly, without a parent’s prodding.  So many of the twins I spoke to said they were aware of who was favored, or what their convenient labels were – “the athletic one,” “the brainy one.”  All those tags did in the end was make them feel boxed in.
       One of the major themes that came to me in the process of writing this book is that twins are also muffled by everyone’s investment in their perfection.  Yes, twinship is a kind of utopian intimacy, but it isn’t always idyllic, and there has to be room for chinks and conflicts.   Psychologist Joan Friedman talked about the pressure on twins to be constantly equal and constantly unambivalent about being twins, whereas that same expectation isn’t there for non-twin siblings.   Sometimes one twin won’t get invited to the party and parents have to restrain themselves to try to “make it right” and get the other twin included.  Life isn’t always fair, and twinship shouldn’t confer an unrealistic sense of the world.  Robin and I were ill-prepared for imbalances and we sometimes didn’t know how to handle them when they happened.
      So that’s my guidance from a front-row seat on twinship: Spend separate time.  Don’t label.  Don’t compare.  And let the relationship be a real one – with all its bumps and disparities.  Also – pick up a copy of One and the Same! It will give you the insights of adult twins who remember where things went right and wrong: I feel sure you’ll glean some invaluable guidance.
      Being a twin emboldened me, supported me and protected me.  But I understand now that it’s also more complex than some want to believe, and parents should be the first to let the complexities breathe.  Your twins will be better adults for the honesty.  

I also asked Abby a couple of questions and she was kind enough to answer:

What prompted you to write this book?
I had never read a book about twins that I thought really captured the reality of what it's like to grow up as one.  There were all kinds of parent-guides and of course, all those strange fictional stories or movies about odd or evil twins, but few that got at the depth of the intimacy or the hurdles that come with that kind of closeness.  I wanted to understand twinship from a journalist's perspective--from the outside looking in--but also from a twin's perspective -- from the inside looking in.  What I found, after two years of research and interviews with every living expert and many twins, was much more complex and fascinating than I think most people presume about twins.  I'm not saying my book is the definitive truth about twinship, but if I were a parent raising twins, I'd want to hear candid experiences from adult twins who have lived through the entire experience, in order to best understand how being a double really plays out over a lifetime.

My twins are very different little girls, even at 3. They look similar, but they are not identical. People are often surprised when I tell them that yes, they are twins. Do you think that identical twins have a disadvantage over fraternal same-sex or boy/girl twins, in that identical twins appear to be "one" where of course boy/girl twins or fraternal twins are just two kids born at the same time? For example~I almost never call my girls "twins". I call them my "girlies" (as does their older brother). Does this make sense?

What you say makes a lot of sense, and I think you've hit the nail on the head: identical twins have a much greater challenge in terms of distinguishing themselves in the world and ultimately forging their own identities.  Their relatives, friends, and teachers constantly -- and lazily -- confuse them, and often make a game out of telling them apart or comparing them, which is sometimes fun for the twins, but gets tiresome as they grow up.  There are also so many presumptions about identical twins -- that they have the ideal relationship, that there's never any conflict, that they're similar in every way or it's odd if they're not similar.  It's hard sometimes for them to feel the breathing room to be like other siblings.  That said, I found that fraternal same-sex twins can still have identity issues because they're also always being compared.  The twins who have the easiest time in terms of feeling sure of their individuality are definitely boy/girl sets.  
Finally, I'd say you also hit on an important point: so many psychologists I spoke to kept emphasizing the pitfalls of calling twins "The Twins," or giving them cutesy names.  They told me it's crucial, especially as twins reach school age, that they hear their real names or nicknames that are clearly separate, distinct and specific to each of them, so they have no sense -- even subliminally -- that they have a shared identity instead of their own.   
What Abby is saying is so very important. I want all my kids, including Annie and Izzie, to grow up feeling that they are individuals, with their own tastes, likes, dislikes. I'll be the first to admit that it is incredibly easy to lump Annie and Izzie into "one"~for the longest time, we dressed them alike because quite frankly, it was cute. Now we're buying clothes that may be the same pattern, but different colors (even though the girls always want to wear the same thing!) because they are not the same child. Now that they will be attending preschool in the fall, it's even more important for me to help them distinguish themselves from each other so that they can grow into strong, separate women. I'll be adding Abby's book to my reading list as well, so that I can learn from other twins what it's like to be a twin and help Annie and Izzie along the way.