Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Playing With Knives

I'm done with apologies for not answering my emails on time, for not keeping up-to-date on Facebook or for not returning phone calls.

From now on, I'm just sending this picture.

Honestly, I took FIVE MINUTES to try to catch up on some emails today - it had been five days since I'd checked them - when the doorbell rang to disrupt me. After answering the door, to inform the next-door-neighbor that my daughter was already outside playing, I noticed an empty cheese package lying on the play table. Following the trail of cheese into the kitchen I found Aidan and Matthew, both completely naked, balanced precariously on their plastic play chairs, busily and happily cutting strawberries they had found in the refrigerator - with steak knives.

I swear, I am not making this stuff up. (Frankly, I'm just not that creative!)

I didn't freak - in fact I grabbed the camera for a photo - before calmly extricating the sharp knives from their grubby little palms. There was no doubt in my mind I would not be finishing up those emails - and I wasn't wasting any time feeling guilty about it either. I have one friend who's a pediatric nurse and another whose sister is a plastic surgeon - and well, it didn't take either of their horror stories to make me know how close I was to disaster here. Small wobbly chairs, big sharp knives, happy little naked people.

My job is to keep those happy little naked people happy, and safe. Not to mention clothed and fed, but what the hey.

I'll admit I returned to finish up the last email I was working on before setting out a light dinner of cheese, strawberries and yoghurt on the balcony. When I got there, Aidan proudly pointed to the cheese that he had torn to shreds and fed into the flowerpot that has been festering in the corner for the past couple of weeks. It's been raining a lot lately and the empty pot has rapidly filled with rain water, moss, dirt and little creepy crawlies that I had just been looking at this morning and planning to throw overboard the next time the downstairs neighbors weren't home. (Sh - it's okay - they don't read my blog!)

I pay dearly for moments alone at the computer. The creepy crawlies were fed and I had to reach my hand into something that I would rather not have reached my hand into - and remember, I'm a veterinarian.

I'd spent the earlier part of the afternoon chasing Aidan and Matthew around town - literally ALL around town - for one and a half hours on their Laufrads, those little bikes without pedals they got for their third birthday. I've gone from pushing a heavy double stroller, to dragging two slow toddlers, to running as fast as I can after them as they carreen down the hills into oncoming traffic. It's not pretty.

But it's my job and it's my life right now. I kinda like it too. I've always liked living life on the edge. I've gone from nurturing my children to just trying to keep up with them. And yes, I am well aware that it is only going to get worse.

I keep documenting the moments - and yes, I'm behind on developing the photos too. And I try to keep the house clean (a thankless task), the laundry done (a neverending battle) and the meals made three times a day. I read, color, correct, explain, educate, entertain: I try to make their little lives varied and fun.

All of which means I have to be there.

I keep wondering when it's going to hit me that I'm a grown-up. I know my parents keep wondering when I'll start acting like one. But you know what? Seeing those knives today put a lot in perspective for me. What I have here could be over like that. And it's up to me to see that it's not. Is that being a grown-up? I dont' know - all I know is that I've got to get off the computer now and do something really important - keep an eye on the kids.

I'm going out to play now. I'll grow up after I make sure my kids do too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Third Grade Math Part Four: Accepting Ryan

She's the child the fairies sent me. You can see it in her eyes and in her shy, quiet, crooked smile. If the slight build isn't a tip-off, I notice it when she steps back, withdraws from the action, or self-consciously stays in the action, knowing she isn't fitting in, aware she doesn't quite fit in, but not knowing what she can do about it. It's as if she's here on borrowed time, just slightly out of focus, not entirely here with the rest of us.

It's not that I'm afraid to lose her; I'm scared we never truly have her here with us at all.

This week I'm fending it off from her well-intentioned teacher. She too senses that Ryan's thoughts aren't always here with us on earth. She calls it lack of focus. Is there even a phrase for "flights of fancy" in German? Fantasy. Imagination. They have no place in a focused German grade school. Even the stories are judged - and graded - on how believeable they are, not how imaginative or creative. And of course, grammar counts way more than story line.

But my anger at the system - and although there IS plenty to be angry about, it's another essay entirely - is only an excuse for the fact that it simply has no place for someone like my Ryan. You either have it - focus, intelligence, maturity - or you don't. And this is decided for you in the first four grades, before you hit the age of 11.

Despite assurances from many friends, German and American, including a musician and two physicians, that they didn't "come into their own" until after the age of 12 or 13, I'm afraid they may be missing the point. The assurance is that everything will be okay. The assupmtion is that she will come into her own.

What if she's already there?

To be perfectly honest, I don't know that Ryan's imagination is, well, imaginative enough for long flights of fancy. It's more a lack of interest in what's going on around her. If she's decided it's irrelevant, nothing will convince her to pay attention. And if it doesn't have to do with horse, it's obviously irrelevant.

Instead of assuring myself that she WILL BE okay, I am becoming more and more convinced that she's just fine the way she is NOW.

It's a lot easier to do after watching her ride on a Saturday afternoon. Her lithe figure on top of a white pony, her total concentration and ease of movement, the comfort and self-assurance, the CONFIDENCE, she has on a horse - it's the only time I see her truly in the moment, the only time she truly is herself. I don't need to close my eyes to see her riding her unicorn across a field of flowers to the castle in her native fairyland.

Of course the Germans grade everything - if you can't rank it, then it isn't worth doing - and there is an accreditation system in place for riding just as for everything else (swimming, running, judo, cycling etc.). But my guess is that this won't hurt Ryan, that this is one grading system she'll do well in (as she did in swimming) but more importantly, that she's never really let the grades bother her up until now anyway.

Not to care what others think; this child has a courage I have yet to learn.

Of course her teacher sees it differently. And she means well. A child of this world does need to learn to read, and write (preferably intelligeably), and presumably do a modicum of arthimetic (really?).

But it's up to me to make sure that she doesn't forget how to ride a unicorn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Connor Moments - Potty Training

I'm going to call them "Connor moments", moments that so perfectly define the craziness in my life as wife and mother.

Since I've kept my own last name legally (frankly, I never found the time to bother with changing all the school certificates and passports) - this also conveniently separates the real, true me from the absurdity of my present life.

Connor moments don't define as much as point out the ironies of life in the day-to-day struggle for perfection. They bring me back to earth just when I think things are going well, make me realize that things ARE going well even if they aren't perfectly, and make me laugh at myself and the world. I don't know if I grow from them, but I certainly find myself dying to share them with family and friends.

I had my fill of them last week.

Imagine our English playgroup with the twins on Wednesday. For those who hadn't read my blog on potty-training, it became fairly obvious pretty quickly, since Aidan and Matthew and I spent a good amount of time out of the room and in the bathroom. Aidan DID have to go once, the rest of the trips were outings of interest. "Oh, are you potty training the twins?" - this after our third trip to the mysterious and exciting world of bathrooms outside the home. I couldn't help bragging - a pretty sure sign a Connor moment is bound to follow soon. "Yes, and we've come home from kindergarten wearing the same outfits we went in, two days in a row now, both of them." I fairly beamed and considered myself the model of moderm motherhood.

Next imagine the end of playgroup, one and a half hours later. No - both twins are still dry - an ending that simple wouldn't be worthy to call itself a true Connor moment.

The crowning moment arrived when the older children join us for the end of the session, and my seven year old walks into the room with the telltale wet spot down the front of his shorts - and T-shirt.

Irony, humility, and perspective all in one - that's what defines a Connor moment.

I'm going to assume the irony and humility are clear; but the perspective took a minute to hit me. You see, for me, that wet spot in Andrew's pants was as clear as day, as big as a house, as obvious as....well as obvious as my failing parenting skills. Sue was next to me laughing the whole time - and I had to laugh with her figuring we were both in on the same secret. Let's face it - it WAS funny. But when I said something to her about it, Sue looked confused. Turns out she was smiling at my son, not noticing the stained pants he came in in. And when I pointed them out, it really didn't make a difference.

Turns out I - or my children's toilet habits - are not the center of the universe.

Karen had been in charge of leading the older children, and HAD noticed the breach in etiquette. Her take on the whole thing was a shrug of the shoulders and a perfect imitation of Ryan's reaction when SHE had noticed her brother's indiscretion. Well, it was Ryan with a British action but the actions were identical. Resigned shrug of the shoulders, deep sigh, rolled eyes and a tired, knowing "Oh Andrew, you are going to be in SO much trouble with Daddy."

"Perfect imitation of a mother." said Karen.

So I laughed and we went home. The afternoon wasn't ruined. My self-image wasn't harmed. And life went on peacefully, undisturbed by a wet stain, the world still revolving on its axis and around the sun.

Connor moments are the kind of moments you could right a sit-com episode around, but deep down they are moments of perspective, where I remember to treat it all lightly.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sick Kid: Part Two

Matthew was sick again for two days two weeks ago. On Tuesday his fever was so high that he and I slept together for three hours in the morning. The rest of the day he lay in a daze in my arms on the sofa. On Wednesday he felt better enough to come with me to visit a friend for coffee. She couldn't believe how quiet he was; he sat contentedly on my lap for two hours while she and I talked.

It was another twin moment. You see, unlike most other three year olds who are bored with sitting around while their mother chats with a friend over coffee, this was something new for Matthew. He ate it up. Literally too, enjoying the hot cocoa and breakfast rolls, but also the fact that he was alone with us, alone without his brother along. This was uniquely HIS experience, his alone.

Aidan, on the other hand, was king of the kindergarten.

Alone time with mom, trips down the escalator, toys that belong uniquely to them - all these are new and rare for my twin boys. For their third birthday we have labelled a few of their gifts - sunglasses, water pistols, Lego cars - so that they now have something that is theirs alone. They still share - but I find it important that they have the same rights as other children to have something that belongs uniquelly to them. They also get a full portion of ice cream or french fried like the other kids. It was last year that they started noticing that the other kids were getting whole portions of things they were having to share.

But I'm not feeling so guilty about it anymore. That's life. They have to share a birthday; nothing will change that. But I can bake two cakes and we can sing two songs. That's enough for now at least.

And although they haven't had all the same life experiences of their single siblings, I'm realizing that they've had other experiences that are just as valid. No - the alone time was not there. But that is also a function of being a member of a large family, and not just of being twins.

The best gift I've given all of my kids is eachother.

They don't often have my undivided attention. I can't always focus on only one of them at a time. But they learn so much from eachother that any attention I do give one filters out three other ways.

It's most noticeable with the twins. They know about dinosaurs, we've gone digging for fossils, and they can play a mean game of soccer with their older brother. Socially too it is obvious that they are members of a team and that they have older role models to look up too. But the older two learn from the younger ones as well - even if they don't always follow the rules themselves I constantly hear them preaching to eachother about sharing and being kind to others. Nice to know they are listening after all.

Lately we've been spending a lot more time out as a family, cutting down on ballet and karate. I didn't want any of my kids to miss out on stuff just because they were part of a large family; I wanted to give them everything a single child would have. But for us at least, the constant activities were becoming meaningless. It was all just a bunch of hopping in and out of the car.

Instead of feeling sorry for or trying to compensate to my kids I'm finally realizing that the best that I can give them is the gift of home and family. Like my daughter mentioned the other day, if she were a single child we'd have way more pets, probably a dozen guinea pigs, some birds and a horse or two.

I can't give my kids everything. But I have given them eachother.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How Do They Do It? (Part Three - The Gosselins)

I wrote this in early April, before news of Jon and Kate's breakup. I wish I had posted it then, but most of it still applies, maybe even more so in light of the breakup. I did see a few minutes of an ad for the show on You Tube - and the fancy house and matching fancy outfits (sailor hats, really?!) together with the staged for camera outings had me questioning if the need for the TV show was really more about exploitation and less about survival than I'd previously thought, but for the most part, my predominant feeling is still one of sympathy. This is not a charmed, made-for- TV fairy tale and there is no need for envy or judgement.

I'll admit it - I not only picked up "Multiple Blessings" , the book about the Gosselin twins and sextuplets, but I devoured it from end to end. I couldn't put it down.

I am not living in the USA, and have no access to American television, so I haven't seen the show. In fact, I've missed the entire reality TV thing. I only heard about the book - and about the Gosselins themselves - through my sister. She had the book on her birthday list, explaining to me that it was the only "mommy/family" reality show she really liked because the mommy in question, Kate, was a total bitch like the two of us, ie a real person.

I thought, the last thing I need to read is another how-to-survive with a large family book. Perfect recipes. Organizational tips. Money - saving advice. Blech. Like I need someone else besides myself telling me what I am doing wrong every day. And "Multiple Blessings"? - like life couldn't be any more perfect than having 8 kids within a timespan of three years. Who needs to hear this?

From the moment Kate and Jon see six - at first seven - blips on the ultrasound screen the horror begins. There is no rejoicing or thanks - there is shock, fear and anger. This SUCKS. And that's what makes it real. They do it because this is what was thrust upon them - and they do it imperfectly to the best of their abilities.

I've envied TV families for cashing in on their reality shows - or the handouts they receive when large order multiples come into the world. But there is no way this family would have survived without help - financial and physical. It was not only hard, it was impossible for them to do alone. Okay, Kate now gets a monthly manicure/pedicure - this is after SIX years raising sextuplets. And apparently the whole family did fly to Hawaii. But I wouldn't trade raising sextuplets for a trip to Hawaii - and a camera crew in my home. Give me my twins and a trip to the local pool anyday.

Can you even IMAGINE living like this? Again, I haven't seen the show. I only have the twins - and four kids total - to compare it to. She literally couldn't leave the house. For years. She had to feed and dress 6 infants. With an army of volunteers. I had to dress the gang after swimming again today and I thought again - TIMES SIX! She couldn't cuddle and snuggle with her babies, she couldn't give them what they needed.

I guess she gets a little cranky on the show. EIGHT KIDS. How would you behave?

And she's a control freak too I hear. Again, EIGHT kids. I am sure she'd like to blow off an evening and just put off packing those lunches - but she CAN'T. And I'm sure it'd be fantastic not to have to think about dinner hours ahead of time - just whip something up last minute - but again, TIMES EIGHT. It isn't about control, it's about survival.

The book tells it like it is - HARD, REALLY HARD. But worth it because they love their kids. They do it because they have to. Kate just wants us to know she's done her best with a really really impossible situation.

I've been writing to make other moms understand how hard it is to be a mother of twins. If you find you are having a tough time dealing with the size of your family and the demands of your life, think of Kate struggling with her load.

This book will have YOU counting YOUR blessings!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Playing With Guns

As I've mentioned, potty training has become a lot easier now that I don't take it as seriously as I used to.

There are some other signs of my maturing motherhood.

I like to think it's not as much a matter of slipping morals or of giving up as it is of a light heart and a happy meign.

The most noticeable sign is the water guns. Yes, guns, the four letter word I kept hidden from my older two children as long as I was able. Poor Andrew had to go and get the Fisher Price ambulance and paramedics everytime he tried to start a gun fight between a couple of his play figures. He was fashioning weapons from Legos and sticks by the time he was three, something I had read was perfectly healthy and normal. But then he also had to hear the talk on war and hurting eachother and how it was sad that people couldn't get along without fighting. Go ahead and play, I'd say, just remember that in real life real people don't hurt other people.

So far he has shown no signs of damage.

And when he said he wanted to stop judo class - something I'd encouraged because the teacher is a fantastic guy who incorporates Japanese philosophy into his class and is great with kids - because he didn't want to fight with people, well who could argue with that? Certainly not the teacher, who was so cool about it that I wished he was teaching street dancing or something else instead.

Andrew walks away from an argument - something which really pisses opponents his age off to no end - but will fight back to defend himself, or as importantly, others. It's a tough recess here in Germany - apparently the teachers go for coffee and leave the kids to fend for themselves - but Andrew has had no problems.

Until two weeks ago when we visited our friends, the Raibles. And were greeted by three kids toting Super-Soakers. We returned the following week armed and ready, but our dolphin and seahorse mini-squirters were no match. I hit the dollar store this week for the twins' birthday and came up with two crocodile Super-Soakers and two versions of the real thing. We are ready for a rematch!

Kids do know right from wrong. The twins don't know what to do when an 18 month old girl takes their toy away from them, they cry and look confused and concerned, but they do know not to hit, especially someone smaller than themselves. (Which is not to say that they wouldn't throw in a good push if I didn't step in and intervene immediately!) And man can they punch the crap out of eachother if I leave them in the car alone - and that's the older two.

They're going to play soldier and they're going to play knights. (I admit it's a little funny that I don't like play pistols in the house, but swords and axes somehow seem less violent! Like why let them pretend to shoot at eachother when they could REALLY be hitting eachother over the head with the swords instead!) And now, they are going to aim water at eachother too.

I do take things less seriously than I used to. Not war. Or injustice. Or violence. But I am learning what to take seriously - like war and injustice and violence - and what not to. Like having a good time and playing and pretending. Being a kid. (God bless Harry Potter video games though for allowing Andrew and Ryan to play a cool action game using a wand instead of a gun as a weapon!)

So, the next time you come over to the Connor house, you may just find yourself stepping in something wet. Probably from the water fight. Or not. In either case, feel free to grab a paper towel. I'm busy maturing as a mother at the moment.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Milestones: Potty Training

I had really been dreading potty training the twins.

You see, unlike other children, my children find absolutely no delight in being allowed to use a toilet, do not mind a dirty diaper OR soaking wet underpants, and quite frankly, have plenty of better things to do than to take time out do their business.

True to form, Matthew has already learned how to put a diaper on himself. He and Aidan do NOT like wetting themselves or the floor and have lately taken great pains to wait until their diapers are on.

They CAN do this, it was just a matter of convincing them that they would LIKE to. I swear, the little guys boycotted M&Ms when they realized these were only given out as potty treats. Nothing doing.

But our kindergarten wanted to give it a try. And so we took the diapers away last weekend, practiced a bit at home, and then sent them on Monday in underwear.

And it's been fine. They come home at noon carrying a plastic bag full of one or two changes of clothes. Each. I am doing laundry every night in order to keep them in undies and shorts. (As we become more environmentally friendly through our decreased diaper usage, we unfortunately up the water and detergent usage.) We do it all over again the next day. Cheer the successes. Wipe up the misses. And messes too.

And it's okay. By the end of the week Aidan had made it almost every time and Matthew had decided to ignore the whole thing. And it continues.

The difference this time around is that I don't see it in terms of success or failure. Every wet diaper isn't proof that I have failed as a mother, that my child isn't managing something that everyone else's child seems to master on their own within 24 hours. (I swear I know children who decide for themselves not to use a diaper anymore and then never have an accident thereafter. My friend Karen has a two year old boy BEGGING to use the toilet. Absolutely KILLING ME!)

It's not about me at all this time. It's about a process the boys are going through and it's not a validation for or against my parenting skills.

There's a little piss on the floor, someone's underpants are stained. Honestly, what's the big deal? (If only we could convince the dog to come out from under the table whenever he sees a wet spot!)

So we have a few weeks of running away from our urine stream, of learning to pee in the woods and peeing on our ankles, of carrying our own personal potties to the pool since we only like our's funny this time around.

I honestly can't remember what all the fuss was about the first two times. But then again, it's only been a week. I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime I've got laundry to do.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Milestones : Double Stroller

The double stroller was so indispensible to getting around those first two and a half years that I'd forgotten how limiting it was until our day trip to Ludwigsburg recently. Damon had taken the four kids on the train ride while I took the dog and the double stroller to the beer garden to try to find a seat. I spotted an open table halfway down an aisle - maneuevered around two single strollers, tried to push a third out of the way, couldn't get past and then looked up to see that I'd lost the table to someone faster without a double stroller to manuever.

Meanwhile the other diners observed me with curiosity, wondering too how I was going to manage, and probably taking bets on the outcome while at the same time counting their blessings, but noone thought to lend a hand. Today it didn't bother me though and as I laughed and sighed someone stood up to tell me that their table would be free in five minutes. I parked the stroller at the outskirts of the garden and manuevered my way to the table with only the dog.

It was only then that it hit me, why it didn't bother me and why I was so relaxed. I didn't NEED that double stroller anymore. Only a year ago I wouldn't have been able to park it at the outskirts; I needed it to keep the twins strapped in for their meal. Two years ago a meal without the stroller would have been unthinkable, most restaurants and almost no beer gardens don't have highchairs, let alone two. We used the stroller as a seat and as a restraint.

Now I didn't need it anymore. Damon and the kids showed up - our gracious tablemates more than glady relinquished the rest of the table to the oncoming hordes - and the twins scrambled up onto the benches like regular kids. Which they now are. Four kids at a regular table. I am free of the double stroller.

The double stroller is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you wouldn't get around without it, a curse because it still limits your options in terms of what you can do.

When I had my second child, I slung him into the Baby Bjorn from day one and continued with life as always, chasing his two year old sister through the park, nursing on the run. He slept in it, ate in it, viewed the world from it as Icontinued on with life as usual. A little messier perhaps, but no big deal. In fact, I ended up at the bottom of the kiddy pool with him when I forgot to take the Baby Bjorn off and went down the slide with - as it turns out - the two year old AND the newborn. The baby woke up, the Baby Bjorn got wet, and then we continued on as always.

There was no forgetting that we had twins along.

Shopping for a new car centered around the fact that the double stroller would have to fit in the back - along with four kids, their bikes and the dog.

Getting anywhere revolved putting the stroller together - a five step process I had down to an art - and tucking both babies safely in it before dealing with the older two. The stroller allowed us to get anywhere at all. Later, it also became a form or restraint when I didn't trust myself to follow two two year olds in separate directions. We used it to feed them, on the run with their special bottle holders or in the restaurant, since most didn't have two highchairs available.

I had another stroller epiphany at the mall this month, the same place where I'd previously suffered from my Baby Bjorn envy. This time I took the twins in without the double stroller. We hold hands, we walk, I hadn't even thought about it anymore.

And then we hit the escalators. Matthew very proudly - and cautiously -got on but Aidan wasn't having anything to do with it. Moving stairs? I don't think so. People smiled as he backed away from this strange new object. After finally making it to the bottom he got off beaming and loudly cheered himself. "I did it." he exclaimed proudly. And we used the elevators as often as possible after that, each trip full of thrills and pride.

I was proud too. Proud that I could now take the next step with my twins, move beyond the stroller to the world beyond - a world full of escalators, full of pools only accessible through a flight of stairs, full of castles atop many multiple flights of stairs and full of adventures through tiny narrow doors and down narrow paths.

But proud too that I'd used that double stroller for all of its advantages, that I didn't stay inside and say it couldn't be done, that I'd brought that stroller to zoos and parks and pools and three or four countries in Europe, plus America.

So now I can get anywhere I want to again. Problem is, who is going to carry all of our stuff?

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.