My twin boy and girl just turned one.
In honor of that milestone, I want so much to write about the joys and challenges of life with twins and to come up with a neat conclusion about the first year, like: People tell you it goes so fast and they're right. Or, people tell you it goes so fast and they're wrong! Or, the lack of sleep is totally worth it. Or, yes it's difficult, but it's also so rewarding.
But, my daughter startled me out of a sweet slumber with her wake-up screams this morning at 5:00 am. I stumbled sleepily to the babies' room, scooping her up from her crib and ferrying her into the living room quickly before she could wake up her brother. From the playpen where I groggily played with her (OK, where I lay on the floor with my eyes closed while she played), I heard his wake-up cries. I made my way to my feet, reached down to pick her up and with an inner, noiseless snap my back gave out.
Crying out in pain, struggling to remain upright, I ambled to their bedroom, leaving her behind. When I arrived at their bedroom door, I was hit with the odor of fresh poop. With the insistent sounds of her sobbing and banging on the playpen gates ringing in my ears, I picked him up and checked his diaper. I alternated wiping his butt and my nose (with different wipes)-which was running from a perpetual cold-while her cries escalated in the background and I tried to soothe her by yelling down the hall: "I'm right here, honey! I will be back in a minute!"
My husband and I eventually got the babies out the door to daycare, leaving behind the evidence of another whirlwind morning: a trail of wipes, diapers and dirty PJs in the hallway, sticky bowls of oatmeal and half-drunk coffee cups on our desks, Cheerios dotting the floor, a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and crumbs and formula-powder sprayed all over the kitchen counters.
So, I'm tired, my back hurts, I have a cold and my apartment looks like it's been ransacked by pair of cereal-toting terrorists.
And that description of reality seems a lot closer to the messy truth than any neat summary I could attempt to shape for this blog post.
Well, it's half of the truth.
Here's the other half: Last Sunday afternoon, the babies and I were hanging out in the living room, where my husband had recently expanded their gated, playpen area to include the couch, the coffee table and an Eames-like chair. The babies' usual solo crawling, climbing and cruising around the furniture, suddenly morphed into a little duet. She saw him coming out from behind the chair leg and, pointing at him, began to giggle. He pointed at her and giggled back. Soon they were engaged in a spontaneous game of peek a boo with little heads poking out from around the chair, little hands holding on to support crouching legs, a surprising little dance. It was so delightful to watch that at one point my heart got that swelling, full-to-bursting feeling and pure joy started to bubble up and over in me like champagne.
So what's the first year of having twins like?
As any parent knows, having a baby blows up your life. You can't prepare for it. At some point you realize that the best thing you can do is embrace the chaos.
In an interesting coincidence, last month marked the 10-year anniversary of the last time my life felt this chaotic - when my mom died suddenly of cancer at the age of 62. From diagnosis to her passing was less than two weeks - the swiftness giving it the shocking impact of a car accident: total destruction in an instant. And the wheels of my life came off mid-bend. I used to describe it as opening up my front door one day and finding that my whole town had burned down. My inner landscape was all scorched earth and shrapnel.
I started reading a lot of books by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, teacher and author. One book in particular--When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times--about dealing with difficult emotions was hugely helpful. She said: Don't try to run from what you are experiencing (pain, grief, anxiety--whatever). Don't turn away from it. Turn toward it. Don't try to manage or control it. Relax with things as they are. Relaxing into the scrap heap of my loss and grief is ultimately what got me through it.
Ten years later, another event has come along to blow up my life. Only now, it's like opening my front door and finding my town teeming with life! Everything going at full throttle. My life a tangle of weeds, a hive, a highway.
Also part of the landscape: unwashed dishes, oatmeal bowls, a baby girl that wakes up at 5:00 am, a baby boy with a poop-filled diaper, Cheerios on the floor, a back that hurts, a cold that never ends.
And a spontaneous game of peek a boo sending me to blissful heights.
And my inner landscape? A never-ending swirl of activity, a heart monitor beeping thrillingly fast with spikes and dips to punctuate the steady rhythm of all the daily tasks: bottle-washing, feeding, diaper-changing, cleaning - lather, rinse, repeat.
Sometimes one baby will be awake while the other is napping. My husband will turn to me and say: "This is what it's like to have one baby." Ha! It's kind of a running joke. Things feel so in our control then, then. So manageable.
So, my tidy conclusion?
It's very messy having children. That's not just a twins thing, of course. But I think with two there are fewer moments of calm. And twice as many Cheerios on the floor.
And here I find myself once again. Trying to relax into it.