Last spring I joined about ten fellow twin moms for a pedicure–an evening out organized by my local parents of multiples club.
I was 42 and a mother of toddler twin boys, which is to say, simultaneously more connected and more tired than I’d ever been.
My feet looked like I’d been living among owls, and it felt divine to plunge them into a tub of bubbling water, all the while making small talk with other women from the comfort of a padded chair.
One mom arrived “late” — to whatever extent that concept applies to anyone with multiples at home. Someone asked her name and she replied. I’ll call her Janice. Another mom asked Janice, “How old are your twins?”
“I have triplets,” Janice said. “They’re eight months old.”
A brief beat of quiet followed. The rest of us nodded. My friend Lynn said, “There’s wine and cheese right over there.”
Janice smiled, poured some pinot into a paper cup, and picked out a nail polish. Then she joined our small party.
Clearly, she was a rock star, a hero among us, yet I felt a moment of tender relief tinged heavily with pride at the lack of collective reaction. No one said to Janice, “Wow, three!” or “You must have your hands full!” or “I don’t know how you do it.” These are phrases you hear often if you have multiples. I hear it all the time with twins, so triplets must incite it that much more.
For example, my sister recently said to me after an afternoon at the beach with my sons and me, “I’m going to go lie down. I don’t know how you do it — you have so much stamina!”
“Actually, I don’t have that much stamina,” I told her. Rather, I had my potent daily mix of caffeine, love, and grit. Also, I didn’t have a choice. Faced with sand and sea, my inclination is to repose with a book, or drift off to sleep — but that day with my boys I spent hours shell gathering, castle building, and strolling in ocean foam. I still smile when I think of one of my sons marveling, “This is like a very big sandbox!” I’m so glad I didn’t snooze through it.
Still, I often fantasize about feeling more rested. When it comes to wrangling my toddler duo, I do it the way everyone does everything that entails challenge — in continually discovering that my sense of my limits is false.
In the first months home with infant twins, I needed superhuman strength just to get my head off a pillow. The C-section had left my middle feeling like a busted burrito that had been hastily repacked. Breastfeeding was torturous. When my husband and I would settle a crying baby…there was still a crying baby. Changing a diaper meant it was time to change another diaper, and leaving the house felt like preparing for a mission with Seal Team Six. Yet we got through it.
In the harder times, love trumps, and when I say “love” I don’t mean the energetic enthusiasm that infuses family togetherness during the steadier periods. I’m talking about the love that empowers you to lift a car off your kid — that kind.
I’ve come to dislike the presumption that easier equals better. What do things like “easier” and “better” even mean in the context of parenting? A recent German study, much discussed on the mom-nets, proclaims parenting more emotionally traumatic than divorce, death and job loss. This conclusion emerged by measuring the plunge in people’s “units of happiness.”
To maximize ease is a worthy goal in parenting, and who wants to see their chits of happiness scatter on the floor like a tossed cup of cheddar bunnies? However, our lives should not be held to this standard. That’s like saying one should only ever walk, run, and bike on flat ground, or even downhill, as if there is nothing to be seen or learned or treasured in the extra effort of pushing hard, upward. As if the view itself as you climb won’t change you forever and for better. I wonder if the German scientists considered measuring units of courage, pride, or meaning.
A twin mom friend, in preparing to fly across the country solo with two babies, told me, “I gag even thinking about it.”
When I chuckled at her description, she clarified: “No, when I think of being on the airplane with them, I actually retch, like this.” She demoed a guttural sound. She meant it.
I could say I don’t know how she did it, but I do. She pushed through her terror, stress and exhaustion and got the job done.
Months later, when I asked her how the trip had gone, she said, “Great. It was amazing.” The difficult transit had been worth it.
I look at moms everywhere — of singletons, twins, triplets, and more — and I see a variety of struggles. I don’t want to discount what people go through, or the human inclination to measure one’s situation against others, and then seize on a dose of envy, or relief. For every mother, it’s different; it’s also the same. As I write that I realize I’m riffing on a particularly catchy Daniel Tiger song, but I like to think he would back me up: it’s in the doing of parenting that power is discovered, not the reverse.
All of us parent with the skills we have, in the situations we’re granted. We strive for the best yet accept short cuts, and if we are lucky, find as much support, humor and joy as possible. When that apocryphal mom lifts a car off her kid, we don’t say, “It would be so much better if you’d only had to lift a Cooper Mini, not an SUV.” We don’t say, “I don’t know how you did that.” I think that most of us do.