Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Milestones: Third Birthday

Although the twins don't turn three until July 4, the beginning of June already had us counting the milestone.

The end of an era - and the beginning of the next - was officially (and unintentially) heralded by the Connor family at the Ludwigsburg Street Music Festival held at the Ludwigsburg castle and baroque gardens the weekend of May 29 - May 31. We went on Sunday, May 31 to visit the children's park inside the garden, bypassing the two hour plus castle/museum tour in favor of a walk through a fairy-tale themed tribute to the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen and other stories unique to Germany. (A favorite is the witch coming out of her gingerbread house at the twist of the doorknob - repeating the German classic with a Swabian twist.)

It's a nostalgic trip for me - seeing German stories such as "Bruderchen und Schwesterchen" (Little brother and little sister) that I haven't heard since childhood. And the kids like it too. The twins were eager to visit the castle - they had enjoyed a had enjoyed/endured a half hour tour of the Hohenzollern castle and dungeons the week before - but since the Ludwigsburg brochure describes ceramic art and period costumes over knights and weapons we opted for staying outdoors among less fragile surroundings.

It was a milestone too because it marked the week before I would have been due with the child I miscarried in December.

We also brought the dog, basically because we didn't know what to do with him all day alone at home.

Although the main attractions of the day remained the fairy tales, our family became quite a side show. We saw plenty of twins. (That couple with the newborns still looked so blissfully happy, although a little shocked and a lot exhausted!) We saw a few families with three kids. Very few. Remember, this is a country where the average children per family is barely over 1 and over 50% of the women with a college education have no kids at all. But noone else had four.

Add the dog and we became the European stereotype of the American family. I heard more comments than usual, because we were speaking English and it never occurs to anyone that an American family might also be bilingual. (You should have seen the look on the lady's face when I finally turned around and told her, none to gently, that I was quite capable of judging the lighting conditions for my photos for myself, and that I didn't need to hear her opinions on the subject anymore. Honestly, calling me stupid to my face is rude no matter what language you do it in!) But mostly, we were like a living museum piece. "Look at her," I'd hear. "And then she's got the dog to boot." Plenty of sympathy, but absolutely no envy.

As Damon and I rested at the water playground - the twins in diapers and the other two in bathing suits I'd remembered to bring for the occasion (damn, I'm good!), the dog with his water dish (that I'd also remembered to bring) lying at my side in the shade of the double stroller - it hit me that I would have been also holding a newborn in my arms in the following couple of days (I had placed my bet on the following day, June 1, just based on the other three deliveries). Instead of sadness, I felt a profound sense of balance.

We wanted that child, and we would have managed it, but it wouldn't have been with the simplicity and joy that I usually associate with newborns. (Well - before the twins anyway!) I would have baby-bjorned her/him, nursed on the run, and continued chasing the two three-year olds while supervising homework and coordinating after-school activities for the older two.

It will never be the same as the first, when ALL concentration was focused just on the joy of that one baby, or even as the first two, when it was split but also just dealt with two little ones and no great expectations or scheduled activities for the day, when life consisted of the library and the pool and playground, with no deadlines to meet.

But I felt blessed that I had been given a little more time to enjoy the four I had. To be honest, we'd underestimated the amount of time and personal attention two three-year olds still require!

We'd also had an epiphany the week before, while visiting a park and picnic area nearby. As our family of six - plus the dog again - played soccer and rode their bicylces (the twins have bikes without pedals called "Laufrads" or running bikes which allow them to "pedal" along with their feet on the ground), the parents of the two-year old twins pushed the twin stroller tiredly back and forth, back and forth, looking exhausted and spent and just trying to get those boys to sleep -at the same time - for just an hour. The father was the only unshaven man there besides Damon, but it was the glazed look in his eyes, the emptiness of total sleep deprivation, that made me recognize him as the father of the twins.

We'd met another younger couple a few weeks ago, in a park in Stuttgart. They cheerfully strolled up to us to compare notes; the twins were only six months old so they still had the energy to be excited. And when I told them that it got much better after the first two and a half years, they got this look of total fear in their eyes, as they realized that meant that they had two more years to go. I had meant to be reassuring, but they had thought they'd mastered the worst of it in the first six months. I hadn't meant to burst the bubble, but those kids weren't even walking yet!

But all these "twincidents" on the eve of year three have made me realize that we have way more to celebrate than to despair as year three rolls to an end. We are the family that looks like they have it all together! Strangers in the park look at us an wonder how we do it so well. (For friends and family who know better, SSSHHHHH, I need the adulation as encouragement!)

As the day at the Ludwigsburg castle came to an end, we decided to stay for the music. The dog had his water, we'd brought extra jackets for the chill in the night air, I'd even remembred Ryan's allergy medication. For one day, we made it not only look easy - but it felt easy too as we listened to music on lawns gently lit by the radiance of a baroque castle.

A fairy tale perhaps - but one I can live with, if only I remember to believe it myself.

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