Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post Potty Training

Ran into my friend Sue the other afternoon in the "Ladies." Had time for a nice little chat, the two of us. If any explanations are necessary, Sue has a three year old daughter. Would have had time to order out for pizza and order a six-pack.

Aidan and Matthew were so suprisingly easy to toilet train (apparently one of the advantages of twins) that it has come as a complete shocker that I now spend more time on their toilet habits than I did when they were both in diapers.

I often spend what seems like all afternoon in the bathroom with one or the other. I even have a little perch, on the corner of the bathtub, with my feet placed up on a stool, right across from the throne itself. It beings when one of my little princes announces, quite delightedly, that he has to go potty. Or pee-pee. But the star attraction is a poo-poo. Because, you see, for this phenomenal event I am expected to drop all that I am doing, rush delightedly into the bathroom and take my seat breathlessly for the thrilling moment. My prince proudly sits himself upon his throne, a serious process that involves getting the training seat off the hook on the wall, lifting the toilet seat, positioning the training seat, hauling out a stool, and finally perching proudly atop the seat.

Next comes the moment of entertainment. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that my prince now has my undivided attention. Hands folded, eyes gazing directly into mine, he proceeds to engage me in deep, meaningful conversation. "Matthew potty" he begins. (To be honest, is IS usually Matthew!) "Yes, Matthew potty" I wearily reply. "Matthew no poo-poo in his pants." he continues, either completely unaware of my disinterest or choosing to disregard it. "No, Matthew no poo-poo in his pants. Matthew poo-poo on the potty." I elaborate. "Matthew big boy." he proudly asserts. And it continues in the same vein until I finally ask if the deed has been accomplished. Usually not, the conversation having been such a scintillating diversion. And so I wait. To be perfectly honest, I have tried bringing in a bit of light reading to pass the time. No such doing. "No Mommy read book." my prince complains, "Matthew potty."

With both of them content to spend such quality time with me, and two other kids besides, the bathroom turns into something resembling Grand Central Station. Ryan comes in with a paper for me to sign for school. Andrew wants help with his spelling homework. And often Damon pops in with a question on afternoon schedules, to find me still perched on my corner of the tub, surrounded by my perfectly contented children. Honestly kids, we DO have a sofa. Which is where the dog spends his time.

Closing the bathroom door happens so rarely that I'm almost insulted when I do find it shut. How are we supposed to coordinate the weekend activity calendar with the door shut? I've tried to close it once or twice myself, but the dog tends to panic if I'm in there alone. And then one, or both, of the twins find me out, running quickly, calling to oneanother in their excitement. "Mommy potty, Mommy potty," they shout down the hallway, just in case anyone has missed this astonishing series of events. One can perch on the seat of honor at the corner of the bathtub and engage me in dialogue. "Mommy pee pee?" he begins. I believe the definition of privacy begins with not having to outline your toilet habits to your three year old.

It's better when I have them both in there with me, standing at my knees, once again completely entranced by what is going on. "Mommy pee pee, " beings one. And the other bends down to make sure. Great. As if the birthing process weren't degrading enough. "Mommy big boy." answers the other. But I really don't feel like getting into it right now and simply agree.

The alternative to having them in there with you though, is NOT having them in there with you. As in when you have two one year olds who refuse to go into the public restroom with you. Which leads either to an awkward meeting with a complete stranger, as you sit with the door open in a vain attempt to keep an eye on the kids, or to meeting a complete stranger carrying one or both of your kids in their arms and wondering what kind of a mother would let her kids wander around the ground floor of the mall on their own like that.

Quality time wih the children. I just didn't think it would mean so much time with our pants down.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Have A Hairy Christmas

Life is in the big, fat, hairy, messy, ugly, painful struggle.

Damon and I took the kids to the Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market on a Sunday two weeks ago. We hadn't been in three years, not since the year Aidan and Matthew were six months old and we dressed them in their matching Santa outfits (courtesy of Grandpa back in the U.S.), tucked them snugly and warmly into their double stroller and proudly - but slowly - pushed our way through the merry masses. Or maybe that was in Horb.

In Bebenhausen that same year, the market took place within the walls of a real medieval cloister, making for fantastic ambiance but also making it a two person job to maneuver the double stroller around the courtyard. (Read: Lots of stairs, but no double strollers 500 years ago!) And Stuttgart's internationally renowned (internationally in Europe at least) market has been out of the question since Andrew got pushed off the kiddy-train when he was two. By an adult.

When Aidan and Matthew hit 18 months, their second Christmas, we tried out the Christmas market at kindergarten, where we promptly lost sight of them, and the two others, in the amazingly large throng of people. (Germany does Christmas really really well - Christmas events, in any shape or size, are heavily attended.) We ended up huddling together inside the kindergarten building for warmth, and safety, as they both threw tantrums on the floor. In their snowsuits, I remember it well. Most people looked on in shock and bewilderment. Shouldn't we do something? Like what? The exit was blocked, the evening was dark, and we were stuck until the Gluhwein ran out. The other twin mom, four years ahead of me, just smiled in sympathy and understanding.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that we ventured out this year at all. We'd hit the Tuebingen Chocolate Festival two weeks earlier, on a Friday afternoon when it wasn't too too crowded yet, and done okay. By which I mean Damon and I swallowed our ennui at yet ANOTHER quaint old German marketplace (which really are very pretty!) and the kids swallowed their disappointment at not being allowed to stay home and play computer games. First stop, chocolate Santas, eaten on the steps of the famous Tuebingen church. Next, chocolate covered marshmallows on a stick. (I know, I know! And in health-conscious Germany too!) On to chocolate covered waffles. Topped off with steaming mugs of hot chocolate on the steps of the fountain in the old town square, in front of the pretty painted Rathaus. If nothing else, it got us out of the house for a few hours.

Determined to appreciate the beauty of a German Christmas, despite the Scrooge-like thoughts running through our brains, ("It's too cold. It'll be too crowded. Been there, done that, drank the Gluhwein.") Damon and I summoned up genuine holiday enthusiasm for the Esslingen market this year, our favorite of all those that we've visited. The ground was blanketed in a light carpet of white, thanks to the first snowfall of the year the night before. And the temperature hovered at 0C/32F, surely not all that unbearable if we dressed ourselves appropriately. We just needed to pull ourselves out of our winter stupor and get out the snow clothes.

Snowpants. Check. Snowboots. Check. Gloves (times six). Check. Hats and scarves. Protesting nine year old. Grumpy seven year old. Two happy three year olds. Damon and I were psyched too. Hot Gluhwein! And we knew just where the log fire was.

We arrived in Esslingen, cheerfully Christmas-carolling our way out of the parking lot and into the old section of town, Andrew bitching and moaning the entire way. (A new one for us; Ryan sang and danced happily along. What do we have, one good mood between the two of them?!) But by the time we reached the market - and the edge of the crowd - it was COLD. Bitter, icy, windy, gray, cloudy cold. "Come on kids, some hot food and a fire will warm you right up." we optimistically chimed. But, to be honest, the thought of standing around a barrel with strangers, in the cold, eating food off a stick, was less than thrilling. It was going to take a heck of a lot of Gluhwein. Andrew wanted to go to Starbucks, the familiar green sign a welcome beacon of warmth amidst the stately centuries-old buildings.

But we perservered. Flammkuchen, hot from the oven, cold almost immediately, eaten around a barrel with friendly strangers who offered to take our picture for us. (Turns out they were from England, basking in the tropical warmth of a German Christmas.) Pig on a stick, always a classic. Potatoes that failed to pass as french fries to Aidan and Matthew. No drinks - it was just too darn cold. Starbucks was looking good.

The kids had their typical Christmas market view of what our friend Jay, now warmly spending Christmases in Virginia, calls "asses and elbows." So, still trying to make the best of it, I took Aidan and Matthew by the hand, past a crowd of fur-wearing ancient warriors and their Land's End wearing kids, threading our way amongst wild-looking Vikings freely interspersed with matching retired couples, to try to catch a glimpse of the jugglers in the center of the marketplace. It was optimism overcoming common sense. (Which is a good thing, and entirely necessary if you are attempting to enjoy a German Christmas market with four children under the age of ten.)

I tried, I really did. Matthew on my shoulders. Aidan in my arms. Both so bulky in their snowsuits that I was barely able to bend over (with Matthew hanging on for dear life!) to pick Aidan up at all. And then their bulk worked against us as their layers repelled one another like magnets. I tried to hold Aidan at arm's lenght, the closet the snowsuits allowed him to get, but he was just too heavy even with the extra hours I'd been putting in at the gym. He slid down and Matthew gratefully followed. I was laughing at the absurdity of the situation, not at all angry at the failure, just satisfied with myself for the attempt.

And then it finally hit me. Words of wisdom for tourists everywhere, something I think the Germans must have figured out long ago. GERMAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS AREN'T FOR CHILDREN!! Sure, they have an occasional kiddy ride (the train Andrew got pushed off of in Stuttgart) and Esslingen actually has an entire section devoted to children's activities such as candle making (over a hot fire) and axe throwing ('nuf said!) One- or two - kids would be bearable for an hour or two. But as a family activity? It's like bringing your kids to an Irish pub on St. Patrick's Day - in Boston. For the culture. We meant well, American tourists bound and determined to show their kids the best Europe has to offer, but sensible German families with kids were home baking home-made cookies - or had ditched the kids with Oma and Opa.

In the crowded medieval center of Esslingen though, I found the Christmas I'd been searching for. Christmas found me, thoroughly defeated, miserably cold, hemmed in on all sides by asses and elbows.

Life, for me at least, isn't about the perfect holiday moment. In striving for perfection, perfect memories, perfect home-made crafts and cookies, I'm missing the real thing itself. Life lies in the attempt, not in the accomplishment. Life is in the trying.

Life is in the big, fat, hairy, messy, ugly, painful struggle.

Have a big, fat, hairy Christmas!!! Love from the Connors

Saturday, December 19, 2009


You know profiling, at least if you're American you do. It's when the police pull you over for suspicious activity, and base that decision on the fact that you are a young, black male driving an expensive sports car. The only time I have EVER been stopped entering the Canadian border was when I was with a male British national of Indian descent and this was on the liberal CANADIAN side AS WELL as the American on the way back. I know a guy from Columbia who disappoints the Swiss border guards every time they search his trunk for cocaine and come up empty. Depending on your point of view it involves decision making based on statistical probability or it is blatant racism. In either case it involves making a judgement based on a person's external appearance, be it color,race, age or ethnicity.

I don't like it.

And it didn't hit me that that's what I've been doing until just the other day. Sure, I knew there was an awful lot of German-bashing going on whenever I got together with other English-speakers. But it was harmless, necessary venting and really nothing personal.

And then, suddenly, it hit me how offensive and personal it was. Not the venting, not even the bashing; we ALL need that when we're dealing with a foreign culture, some sort of commonality and some sort of comic relief.

But the ugly thing about abstract generalities is that they slip into preconceptions. And all of a sudden everyone German is anal and uptight and rude and unhelpful and just generally unfriendly and in all ways inferior. Except in matters of cleanliness; I don't think anyone can fault them there. THEM. Funny joke at their expense. Although really, it's a sort of awe there with the cleanliness, we ALL know to stop at the restrooms BEFORE crossing the German border into any other neighboring country. DARN IT! I'm arguing FOR profiling here. Stop it.

I'm not ALWAYS guilty of profiling. Guilty of guilt, yes. Whenever I read an article about black Americans integrating into upper class suburbs and finding it hard to fit in, I think....oh my God, I don't have any black friends. What is wrong with me? Am I not liberal enough? Do I need to get out more? (Answer: yes.) It's only for a second, classic suburbun white guilt (which, funny enough, is what the black families are talking about!) And then I quickly come to terms with the fact that I do, in fact, have no black friends.

I remember my friends from Haiti, my friends in Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, India, the Philippines, South America...and realize, first of all, that I am fortunate enough to know a large number of really cool people and second of all, that I tend to forget what color any of them actually are. (Turns out I have African-American and Hispanic friends too, I just didn't know where to put them in that sentence without blowing the whole concept.)

I mean, I KNOW all of my friends from Haiti are black. But that's not what I think of when I think of them. I think of WHO they are, and mostly of how I miss them, and not necessarily what they look like at all. I really believe I put the color/race issue aside, in Haiti, the day I realized that that man was really and truly an asshole. No excuse for race, color, socioeconomic/political circumstances, just really and truly and asshole. Liberating. But it's nicer to think that my memories of friends are emotional, and not at all, visual ones. Essence not appearance.

Color is clearly not my issue. Yay for me, pat on the head, pass the liberal exam.

But nationality clearly is.

When I walked in to join our monthly Writers' Group in Stuttgart this month I was joyfully greeted by Karin, a person of such warmth and exuberance, and always such a delight to see, that it didn't even cross my mind that she'd greeted me with a big hug. (All profiling aside, hugging is just not a big social custom here in Germany; it just isn't done.) I mean, it was KARIN, what else did I expect? And it felt right. So right, in fact, that when Caroline held out her hand, I jokingly said, "Come on, what are we, German?" and hugged her as well. Caroline is Dutch. I don't know their customs at all, so how presumptuous of me. I happen to be half German so, how stupid of me. And, as Reinhild pointed out, before she also embraced me, she IS German. How rude of me.

Bet you'll never guess what nationality Karin is either.

She's a hugging German. And, because these people are my friends, I never gave a thought to their nationalities. It's the same with Nikki and Martin; I honestly forget they are German. Because they are friends first. Or when I spend an hour on the phone with Claudia complaining about the school system. Or when Kirsten brings me a sweater she thinks I'd like that she doesn't wear anymore.

There was an old TV ad on in the 70s (you know, when I was still a twinkle in my father's eye!) talking about racism. A little boy tells his grandfather that his friend , so-and-so, called him racist. "Who is this so-and-so?" asks the grandfather. "Oh, he's my Jewish friend."replies the kid. I didn't even know what Jewish WAS at the time, but the point is the same.

I can't afford to have German friends any more than I can afford to have black friends.

I really really need my friends. I can't afford to profile them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Family Size - Whose Business Is It?

Germany is not a child-friendly place. 50% of college educated women have no children at all. The average family size is 1.3. The government is paying women to stay home with a child for a year AND pays monthly "child-money" - per child - to encourage families to procreate.

Sure, some families do the responsible thing and have their two kids. There are even some LARGE families with three children. And, to be honest, my town has at least 3 German families beside mine with 4 children, and I know of one German family in a neighboring town with 6. But see, I can count them. And I know of them because they are pointed out to me - as one fellow freak to another.

I actually have it very easy. First of all, I have the twins, spaced four years apart from Andrew. Still totally respectable, in terms of family planning, to go for that last baby at a decent time interval apart from the first two. A little crazy, that number three, but still "done." That baby number three turned into three and four is a source of amusement and some pity. But at least it isn't my fault that I had four.

I'm also American. Which excuses me (in a manner I do take laughingly, but is actually rather condescending) in the same way you'd excuse someone from a developing country from sending their boy to kindergarten with a girl's pink backpack. "Well, see, they just do that where they come from. They just don't know any better." When we were visiting the castle in Ludwigsburg this summer, and people didn't realize we spoke German, I began to feel like a cultural example of a backward country. "Oh my goodness, look at that poor woman with all the kids." Like I had to beat out all their clothes by hand on a rock by the river.

That poor woman. That silly woman. That obvious religious fanatic. The last is for my friend Maria, also an American living in Altdorf, who is expecting her fourth child in what will be six years. "I wonder what they think of me," she says. And I know it exactly. She goes to church regulary, as in EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY. She dresses modestly. And she wants a large family. She's obvioulsy been brainwashed by some cult, church, same thing.

Her German neighbor, trying to be supportive and understanding of a primitive tribal value system, told Maria that her daughter has asked her why Maria kept having children. Which is already a pretty sad thing, and tells you a lot about German attitudes towards children, when this is asked by a child. (I had one 8 year old tell me they admired me for all the hard work I must be putting in with the twins. Well meant, but my goodness, do their parents teach them nothing about JOY?!) Maria's neighbor told her daughter that when you come from a large family, which Maria does, then you often also wish for a large family yourself.

Okay. But why does there have to be an explanation? What is the obsession with the size of someone else's family, someone else's truly personal decision? And wouldn't a better explanation be simply that Maria loves children? That she WANTS to have children?

It honestly doesn't occur to people that we have a choice in the matter knowadays. We DO know about birth control and we DO know how to use it. We aren't forced by our in-laws to produce a male heir or enough children to run the farm. We aren't held back by primitive beliefs. We actually WANT these children.

They don't get it. I have a lot of friends with only one child. That was enough. Life altering. Hard work. And enough. And while it would never be enough for me, anything less than four for me just wasn't half chaotic enough, it doesn't occur to me to question them. It's not my family. It's not my choice. Or friends who have chosen to have no children. My guess is they get as much crap as I do, but again, who is it for me to decide how another woman is to fulfill her journey, reach her potential, be happy?

My German friend gets it the worst. Nikki also has 4 children within 6 years. But she, apparently, should know better. Her eldest son, now 8, has started to take offense at the number of comments they receive on the streets of Stuttgart. Obviously not well-intentioned. "Are those ALL YOUR children? Are you the day-care provider?" Philipp has started telling people that there are families in the world with even more kids than they have. Poor kid, defensive at 8. (It is HARD to be different in Germany.) When we visited the other day, and later all trooped out to the car, the only other minivan on the street besides theirs, I heard him counting off the kids. "One, two, three, FOUR." He ran back into the house and joyfully announced to Nikki, "Mommy, they have just as many kids as we do!" Phew - he fit in at last.

There are so many ethical issues surrounding family size. Octomom. IVF. Welfare families. World poverty. Although, maybe to salve my conscience, I see this last as a matter of redistribution of wealth and of education and opportunities for women. In Haiti, most women I knew would CHOOSE to have two children. They just need a means of birth control. Given the choice, I truly believe most families would have two to three children, some none and some more, all evening out in the end.

My message is just one of joy. Crazy, religious, American, uneducated (or worse yet, educated and raised PROPERLY and should know better), sending-your-kid-to-kindergarten-with-the-wrong-backpack, scrubbing-your-clothes-by-the-river JOY!

When you find joy in yourself, you will see it in others, regardless of what color they are, where they come from, what language they speak, or even how many children they are - or are not - towing around behind them!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Time Management with Two (or More)

"I don't know how you do it with twins." You hear that over and over.

And so you try to explain. Play it off. Laugh at the humor of an impossible situation.

But then again, it turns out they're really not interested in how you do it anyway. Just looking for something to say.

"They" are never really going to get it anyway. But let me try.

I remember the advice I got from a girlfriend of mine, who had just had a baby, when I was pregnant with my first. Let's face it, as a working woman, when you are pregnant with your first you just can't believe all the free time you are going to have off from work. What a luxury. "Just don't think you're going to be able to sit at home with the baby and finally be able to organize your old photos," my friend told me. "You would not believe how much time one small baby takes." Which I did not believe and was exactly what I figured I would be doing with all my time off - finally getting all those unfinished details of my life in order, the stuff you never find time to do because you are working full-time. You know, instead of on break at home with a baby.

And I still honestly can't believe how much time that one baby took. I mean, what was I doing all day? It was one. No other kids at home. She was an easy baby. And yet I distinctly recall days in the beginning where I literally just sat on the couch with her all day, or at least felt like I had cared for her all day, without any time off, without getting anything else at all done. And I'm a really relaxed mom compared to most. Not at all panicky or worried about perfection.

Must be that parenting is a learned skill after all.

So, you remember how much time that one baby took. You could really say 100% of your time at first, but let's give it an easy estimate and say, what seventy percent of your time? You had time maybe for a cup of coffee and a shower? Maybe even slept a bit at night?

Double that. No really, do it. Double the seventy percent that the one baby takes up of your time and double it for two. One hundred and forty percent of your time. With twins. And since that isn't possible just assume that me stating that twins take up one hundred percent of your time at first is not an overexaggeration. (Please don't make me think of the poor parents of three or four or more. Please.)
When Claire, a new mother of twins, recently told me she was getting five hours of sleep at night - of course not all at once - she was justifiably proud of herself. Infant twins. Some sleep at night. Maternal love is truly miraculous. Being happy with five hours of interrupted sleep is just as miraculous. And we do it.

"Come on," you say. "Twins can't be that bad. One hundred percent of the time is such an overexaggeration." Because people without twins honestly figure you can just multi-task those two infants into one super infant. I've actually had women tell me that they always thought twins would be the way to go because (and listen to this)with two at once you could just do a LITTLE extra work and then be done with it, instead of doing two in a row. Twins are just way more efficient than two singletons.

Until you remember trying to nurse - or even just feed - your one infant. Some mothers find it really hard. Nursing is not as easy as it looks - pretty physically demanding, requiring some amount of coordination and muscle strength. You actually get sore muscles in the neck, back and arms. And then try it with two. One technique is actually called a football hold. It is not a leisure activity. It is a contact sport. It is time consuming and it is physically exhausting. Not saying it can't be done- mothers do it every day - or that it isn't rewarding. It just takes a lot of time and energy.

I remember feeding my twins - they must have been about 8 months old at the time - at a friend's house one morning. I wasn't even thinking about it. Got out the baby jars and started at it. 'Oh my God, Christine," she cried. "how are you able to do that?" Do what? Huh? I hadn't even noticed, but the speed and efficiency with which I was spooning the food into two baby's mouths was truly impressing - and I think frightening - her. You don't have time to casually do anything with twins. You don'thave time for niceties, or to worry about perfection. You just do it.

It requires double the energy at double the speed double the amount of time. At least.

Man do you turn into one super human being.

I'm not bitching. I'm not moaning. I loved every minute of it and am so proud at what I was - and still am -able to do.

BUt it doesn't help when people tell a new mother of twins that she cannot possibly do this alone, that she needs to get help she can't afford or send for family members that cannot possibly come.

Managing twins is totally impossible. I can't even imagine triplets or more - also just inhumanly possible. You just can't do it. Period.

And yet we do.

I guess it doesn't matter that noone else will ever understand.

It's an exclusive club.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Two Years To Live

Don't worry. This is not a proper medical diagnosis. It's just a sick game that popped into my head while driving home the other day from the hospital.

I'd been in for a routine checkup, which turned into a not-routine checkup and then a special look-and-see at the local hospital. No biggie really, the day off from the kids and a chance to hear some medical terms bantered about. Kinda fun for someone like me really. Even tried to get a little writing done, although it really sucked.

I just kind of wish they'd let me stay awake for the whole camera-on-the-screen in three weeks. It'd be really interesting and...well...though I do have the utmost confidence in the diagnostic and surgical skills of the attending physician, I was less than impressed with the history taking. In Germany, one doctor, your own, examines you and follows up in his office, but hands you off to doctors at the hospital for anything surgical. All of which means that it is not YOUR doctor performing the procedure. So you kind of have to count on them reading your chart for any previous history, medical or otherwise.

And, though I really hate to complain, I was less than impressed when I learned upon discharge that I had a tentative diagnosis of uterus septus, a condition present at birth where a vestigial fibrous septum divides the uterus into two, making it less than thirty percent likely to highly unlikely that a woman could carry a fetus to term. Which the intern was really happy to tell me about since it is a correctible problem, would neatly explain the previous year's miscarriages, and then allow me to carry a pregnancy to term. Nice.

My first reaction was one of utter relief and gratitude. Mind you, I have enough of a medical degree to understand what I was being told, and I just couldn't believe how fortunate I was to have carried three consecutive pregnancies, including a 39 week twin pregnancy, to term while having this condition. What a miracle! Uh yeah- the drugs must have still been wearing off.

Really hated to do it - I do know how nice it is to have a nice, pat answer, especially as an intern but...I had to ask. Was I understanding her correctly? Wasn't this more likely to be something that had developed within the last three years? What were the chances of three consecutive successful pregnancies, and twins to boot, with this condition?

Her face fell. She had no idea I already had kids. She hadn't bothered to read my record. History, history, history. They even teach it to veterinarians for Christ's sake. I can only hope she hadn't presented the case in rounds yet or she was going to be in serious trouble. "Oh. You probably don't have it then," she replied. "See you in three weeks." Great. I'm hoping they don't take off my left breast by mistake. Either one of them actually.

So I relied on basic medical knowledge - and the Internet - to come up with the major differentials on my own. I'm pretty sure I know what they are looking for - and even if the intern wasn't in on it, the chief of staff had mentioned something about it when I was coming out of the anesthesia. Always a good time to explain something to the patient, when they are half-coherent. But it registered enough that I'm not really worried, mostly interested, and just relieved to finally be taken seriously after three years of everyone telling me my symptoms were all in my head. Literally. And sending me to the shrink. (Who, by the way, thinks I'm just as crazy as everyone else, only not certifiably, and certainly not medically!)

But there is always that tiny feeling, that one-in-a-trillion chance that something goes wrong...that it could be the"C" word after all. (It's not, I promise, I looked up the chances and it is a billion times less probable than the uterus septus, if you don't believe me I'd have to go into all the medical details of why it is so highly impossible and my guess is noone needs to hear any more than they already have, honestly, it is not the"C" word.) But uterine cancer, which once again I do NOT have, has only a fifty percent five year survival rate. It is not good.

Which is what got me thinking about the two years to live.

Honestly, what would you do if you were given only two years to live? It really makes you prioritize your values.

My list does not bode well for my current European suburban housewife status.

1. Go to the beach. Swim in the ocean. Often.
2. Spend time in the sun. Again, regularly.
3. Work with wildlife again.
4. Hang out in the wild outdoors, the jungle, the desert, places with no people.
5. Live outside. Really be outdoors, not just venturing out into it in brief respites from rain and cold.
6. Have FUN with the kids. Teach them to be independent-thinkers and creative and to ignore the status quo, to be who THEY want and do what makes THEM happy and proud.
7. Hallucigenic drugs. Really. This one surprised me too(or doesn't it surpise you?) since , although sometimes reckless, I was always pretty cautious about not breaking the brain. But if I'm going to go anyway, might as well take a couple trips before the big one. I'd do yoga too, so get off the high horse! Really, you wouldn't try ANYTHING? Really? Two years to live, remember.

THE LIST will probably change my life more than the procedure. You see, the big shocker here, or maybe it's only a surprise to me since I've been hiding it from myself for the last seven years in order to be a good little girl and support my husband, well the truth is that most of what I value in life isn't present there at the moment. The kids obviously. And Damon too. (He just doesn't make the list out of discretion, count him as one of the kids.)

Maybe if I take enough drugs I won't miss the rest of it so much.

Or maybe I have more than two years to live and it's really time to start living NOW.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Testosterone Domination

We honestly never stood a chance, Ryan and I.

I hadn't noticed it was truly gone until the other night, when I thought it'd be nice to watch an old VHS tape I'd dug up while cleaning out the cupboard. Cinderella. Whitney Houston's Rodgers and Hammerstein version, starring a black Cinderella, a Philippino Prince Charming and a cast of multiracial families - oh and lots of singing and dancing. Good fun, racial harmony and romance all in one. Pink. Polifically correct, lots of fun, and most of all pink. Girly pink.

I remembered when we bought if for Ryan, for Christmas right before she turned four. And then we gave it to her early, at Thanksgiving time, when she was suffering from a bad fall off a tricycle at kindergarten and a bout of the stomach flu. We'd had to take her to the emergency room when she started vomitting a few hours after the fall just to be certain. And, bruised around the nose and eyes, she looked just as terrible as she felt. She was really sick.

And so I whipped out the Cinderella movie as a special treat and sat with my daughter on the couch for two days, cuddling and bonding, and rinsing out the throw up bucket placed strategically at the foot of the couch. I don't know what the boys (Andrew and Damon) did. Could it be possible that even miserable, screaming Andrew just wasn't as much of a handful as the three of them together are now? He was only one, but he was walking at seven months. What WAS he doing that entire time?

There is no forgetting them now. Mad whirling dervishes of almost maniacal energy, bursting forth after days of enforced hibernation due to rain. These boys need to get out!

The other option appears to be street-dancing in front of the TV to a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Damon is not amused. Neither am I. This is a LOVE story, for crying out loud. SIT DOWN and WATCH THE TV! Did I really just say that?!

The three of them were really cute popping and spinning and striking a poses. But it just wasn't the same.

There are just too many of them.

I was never a girly girl. Ryan either. More of a jeans and T-shirt kind of crowd. With horses rather than dresses. But still, it'd be nice to have SOME sort of feminine aura in the house. Scented candles that aren't carried around the house due to some sort of male fascination with fire. Bubble baths that aren't used as a competition to see who can slide down the side of the tub into the bubbles the farthest. Or the fastest. Or whatever. With the end result being bubbles on the floor, bruised kids in the tub, and oh yeah, no scented candles since they were carried off for fire worship just the other morning. Forget the feminine aura. Peace and quiet would be nice too.

All action, all the time. Just what I wanted about twenty years ago. Surrounded by loads of interesting men, just dying to impress me.

Watch what you wish for.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nature versus Nurture : THE BOYS!

Believe me, I do know SOMETHING about dogs. I studied for 8 years to become a veterinarian and when I tell you, in casual conversation on the playground, that some breeds of dogs are more temperamental than others or that sport dogs require a lot of time and attention and probably aren't the best dogs for a mother of young children to acquire, just take it for granted that I was probably paying SOME attention in school and in the years of practice prior to it and afterwards.

Do NOT tell me that dogs are just like children. And then proceed to lecture me on raising them both properly. While you smugly stand there with your one three year old and a baby who hasn't learned to walk yet, let alone answer back. Honestly, it does NOT make me want to be your friend. Let's talk again in ten years. Or not.

Let's maybe also assume that I've also learned at least SOMETHING about raising children in ten years of raising them.

Having Andrew - and then the twins - has taught me more about genetics than any of the courses I took in college or veterinary school. Three year old Aidan is racing around the BMX track on his mini-bike, taking turns with and accepted by the seven year olds also on the track, while his twin, Matthew, clings to my leg and cries because his bike tires got muddy and he'd like me to help me clean them off. No sorry, really desperately NEEDS me to clean them off.

What do you think I did - enroll one in a course on self-confidence while teaching the other one proper hygiene? I can't say I am raising them identically - I am responding to their individual needs based on their very individual personalities - but I don't think any environment can be more similar than that shared by twins.
And they are still turning into two separate human beings.

I personally wouldn't want it any other way. Do we need any more cookie cutter children? Do I WANT my kids to be perfectly boring imitations of perfectly boring adults? No thanks. I leave that to you, dear friend on the playground. Your daughter is a delight and a joy. What a shame you seem to feel the need to pattern her on some out-dated perfectly mundane role from the fifties. I'd be curious to see her in ten years, to see if you really do 'nurture" the sparkle right out of her eyes, patterning her smiling lips into a hard, straight, no-nonsense line like yours.
Or was her personality predetermined? I'm rooting for the genes on this one.

let's now assume that I am keeping up with my medical journals - or at least a health column in Newsweek and an occasional article over the Internet - and have read something about epigentics. I know it's hard to believe the mommy journals don't hold my interest anymore but this epigenetics thing is even better than the latest theories on early potty training. (I'll clue you in, they ALL go through it, they ALL learn it.) Epigenetics is the science of how the environment our genes reside in - ie, our human body and its health and diet and stress levels and well, just about everything - influences the activation and expression of our genes. As in, you may carry the gene leading to a higher propensity for lung cancer, but the gene may or may not be activated depending on the lifestyle you lead. Don't smoke. Eat right. Exercise. Be healthy.

I like to think I did that epigenetics thing with Andrew - and I am doing the same with Matthew now. Andrew was a little monster for the first two years. I honestly worried that he might be a serial killer or a rapist when he grew up. I mean, he was just so miserable. And, despite the constant criticism from others who knew better, there was nothing I could do in the end but accept him as he was and let him cry. Honestly. Famous last words from my father. "Oh stop pampering him and just put him in the car. There is no way a three month old can cry that hard for two hours." Two hours later Andrew was still crying his head off and my father lost his bet. Kind strangers at the barn in Switzerland where Ryan was taking riding lessona (at the age of three!) almost insisted on driving us directly to the hospital because they also truly believed that no nine month old could cry that hard, that long (also just over two hours), that consistently without there being something seriously medically wrong with him. The child was obviously in pain. I promised to come back if he didn't stop on the walk home - and sure enough, the minute he realized he was getting what he wanted - he stopped. At Christmas-time we were kindly asked to leave a party- and a children's party at that - because noone could stand it anymore. Again, stopped the minute we stood on the other side of the door.

Obviously the pediatrician also blamed me for his poor sleeping habits. Older women on the bus criticized my lack of compassion. My father was sure it was due to my coddling, even after the two hour car trip from hell. And I proudly take full blame and responsibility.

Because that child, that nasty, unhappy, screaming monster of a child, is now a bright, glittering ray of sunshine. I didn't reprimand him, punish him, set expectations that he clearly wasn't going to reach, only to force him to fail and feel defeat. I didn't withdraw my affection in shame at his behavior or to prove to him that he only deserved it if he behaved "properly", by which of course we mean the way I wanted him to and the way society expected him to.

I just accepted him and loved him. It wasn't even that I was patient - I honestly didn't expect him to change. But the right environment, accepting who he was even when he wasn't the way everyone else expected him to be, loving him at his worst instead of criticizing and condemning him for it, gave him the self-confidence to become the young man his is today, and the young adult he will be in the future.

At least that's my theory. And I have the chance to test it again with Matthew. Although Matthew isn't the monster Andrew was, he has his own set of challenges and his own special needs and insecurities, as the dark child to a golden twin. Don't get me wrong - they both have blonde hair and light eyes (one set blue and one green) but Aidan walks into a room and lights it up the way Andrew does. And Matthew, God bless little Matthew, but he can be a little mean and domineering. What a nightmare to have a brother like Aidan, exactly your age, whom you are constantly compared to negatively.

And so I encourage Matthew to develop his own friends, to find his own activies and unique interests. I accept him for who he is, not as an imperfect copy of his brother, well both brothers actually, but as a unique little guy with unique worries and concerns. And tell him he's just fine - just perfect really - the way he is.

The world was made for Andrews and Aidans. But it's going to be Ryan and Matthew who make it truly interesting.

I'd like to take a little credit for it in the end. After all, I did contribute half the gene pool, carefully select the other half (mostly for his possession of a half full bottle of Haitian Five Star rum but the less said about the selection process the better) and then provide the correct epigenetic environment for those genes to express themselves in.

Go ahead, friend on the playground (and I do use the term loosely), teach yours to sit and stay. I'm taking mine to play frisbee.