back to blogging

I have not been blogging much. Life with twin toddlers, homeschooling, and my job has really been a lot, and to be honest, I struggle with my mental health on an almost daily basis. The days that I’m home with the kids without my wife I find especially taxing. I often cry. I am so sensory defensive, that the constant noise and touch really puts me on edge. I also have a hard time with visual clutter, and I’m sure that you can imagine there is SO MUCH mess and clutter with four kids! We did clean out our garage and back patio to use as space, which was helpful, but it is also more space to clean up. It seems impossible to keep on top of everything.

I used to be the type of mom who prided myself on taking the girls on adventures, learning from exploring our local area as well as places farther away. It is just too much with all four. Even the trips we have taken have felt almost unbearable and miserable to me. I never dreamed I’d be the type of mother who finds mothering so painful. I might be getting old… I feel I’ve aged 10 years or more since the twins were born. My face in the mirror is one I hardly know. My energy is always low. I feel it’s hard to get up and get moving all day long. I’ve had labs done, and nothing physical has shown up. I’ve lost over 20 pounds, and I still don’t feel better. I have a job that for the most part I like, and find fulfilling enough. It’s not like it’s an amazing dream job, but it’s good enough that I’m content to stay there for a long time. I have a wonderful, happy marriage. I enjoy homeschooling, planning the curriculum, learning alongside the girls, and spending much more time with them than I would get to if they went to school.

But I struggle. I struggle so much. The mess, the screaming and shrieking, and the toddlers clawing or jumping on me really make me feel a sort of insanity. I often burst into tears when they make yet another huge mess. I feel knots in my stomach thinking of spending a whole day doing that. Do other twin moms (or any moms) also feel the same? Maybe we are all sitting in our homes, silently drowning. Maybe it would have been easier if my sister, friends, or other family members were around. Maybe I have developed more mental health problems than I had the first time I had a toddler. It’s hard to say.

I have stopped writing. I stopped blogging or journaling. I have stopped sharing myself much with the world, except for some facebook posts of events or shared instagrams about certain topics of interest. There just isn’t much to share. The same droning on and on, mindless venting and complaining about toddlers, messes, finances, and all of my parenting mistakes. I have stopped wanting to travel, or at least the thought of traveling with all the kids is a strong deterrent. There are some places in this country I’d like to see, but I no longer care if I go to other countries. This was such a huge desire for my whole life until recently, it feels shocking to write it, but also it is very true. I have stopped enjoying it when I do travel. I just want to go home and be done. I am unable to financially afford 6 plane tickets to anywhere, in any case, even to make it home to see family in Michigan. I have developed a fear of flying that I never used to have. I feel like avoiding it altogether. On my days off, I have started wanting to just… stay home. Not go to parks or museums or anywhere. Just stay home, and bear it. Everything feels much too hard.

I got a certain journal for Christmas that I wanted, and have yet to even open it. I can only rarely do things I like (read a book, do a puzzle, sit quietly in nature) so most of my “down time” is spent on screens. I sometimes want only one thing: to sleep. Sleep just a little more. I am often very homesick, but not for any home that exists anymore. I miss my grandma’s house, my grandparents, knowing that I could “go home” and they would be there. I miss lying in the comfortable saggy old bed in the parlour bedroom, listening to the news from the livingroom that my grandparents were watching, moonlight coming in through the window over our fields. I miss feeling that I was walking on the blades of grass, small stones and dirt paths, that my ancestors walked upon, and knowing I was in my place. I miss the smell of Midwestern rain, the crisp fall breeze, the damp grass in the morning, the silence of a snowy day. Sometimes it feels like I will never truly be home again. Certainly, the property being sold to people I don’t like, makes it impossible to even think of that place as home even by association.

Mostly, I miss feeling that I am a person of my own. That I have a self. It is hard to remember that feeling, even. Who was that person that loved to travel? That sang along passionately to favorite songs? Who liked to do things, got excited, had things to write about? I barely know.

This is perhaps just what it means to grow old. Maybe my grandmother felt the same sense of loss and distance from her younger self as her children got older. Maybe by the time they were grown she was someone else entirely. Maybe she wished she could get a little bit of the younger woman back, or maybe by the time she was my grandma, she no longer wanted to. I wish she was here to ask.

they’re here!

We have twinsies! We are beyond exhausted, running on only a few hours of sleep per night. Good god. The first 24 hours was the hardest, because the boys were starving and frantic for milk that hadn’t come in yet. We had to start snaking a little tube into their mouths while they nursed and feeding them. They are great breastfeeders, there just isn’t enough colostrum to fill their little tummies! So basically they were nursing and fussing around the clock, until we started supplementing. But my wife’s milk is coming in more and more, so we’re hoping for a great first weight check tomorrow!

The birth went smoothly, and we had only two small snags: Baby B, Basti, lost too much weight the first day (11%), and Lindsey fainted after her first shower. But everything went fine other than those things!

I missed M, my original baby, while at the hospital for 3 days. We’ve been delirious, hallucinating even, on so little sleep. People have sent food, and money, to help us, which is a godsend. My mom has helped by staying at home with the girls, making breakfast, doing laundry, and so many people have chipped in to provide transportation for the big girls’ school and other things. It honestly takes a village, and I haven’t been afraid to ask for help! We’ll take all the help we can get!

One funny thing that happened is that we got a good look at the placenta after, and it appears not to be a single placenta, as all the high-risk perinatologists thought! It is, instead, two placentas fused together. Incredibly rare! But this also means the boys could be fraternal, not identical! We’ll only know by doing a DNA test. The pathology of the placenta will also confirm that it was two placentas, not one.

From Minnesota Center for Twin and Family research:

Though fraternal twins have their own separate placentas, sometimes the two fertilized eggs implant close to each other in the uterus, which can result in their placentas fusing. The two fused placentas look like one placenta, causing them to be mistaken for identical twins.

This is a fairly common mistake; as many as twenty percent of all twin births are misidentified as identical or fraternal. This confusion is one reason why we take special steps, such as sometimes taking blood, to determine if twins are identical or fraternal.

So! They appear to not be mo-di twins at all, but fused di di twins! Crazy! Sometimes they look identical, and sometimes they don’t, so the jury is still out. Personality-wise, Mr. Joe is the stronger sucker, and usually more demanding as far as wanting to be held, or wanting to eat. Basti is more laid back, ok with lying flat in a bassinet to sleep while swaddled, and a sleepy feeder who sometimes needs lots of encouragement to finish a meal. They both weigh pretty much the same and were the same length. They have medium to light brown hair, and very dark blue eyes! They were both born with the same sacral dimple, no birth marks, and perfectly formed everything.

Over and out… struggling through the first stages of twin mom life, but happy to have them here!

Baby A (Mr. Joe) and Baby B (Basti)

summer is wrapping up

And we’re getting into gear for fall… meaning, back-to-school for our Montessori kiddo, and not-back-to-school for M. Although, it’s sort of back to school because she’s starting some new programs! I’m so psyched for her to not be in school, to be out in the community and in nature, learning from the real world. It’s one of those mother instincts, when you just know you’re going in the right direction.

We’ve had some major upsets around here, with our floors being redone and staying at hotels. M had a bit of anxiety with the routine change, then again when her frenemy from last year in kindergarten turned up in her same summer camp this week. Apparently, both girls have been doing GREAT at camps, no behavioral issues, having fun, etc (according to the other girl’s mom, who I spoke with many times and like very much). Then they are in the same camp all week and BAM, lots of problems. They are wild, not listening, fighting, etc. So, her mom and I will be making sure that doesn’t happen again! It’s too bad, really, we were hoping with time apart they could have gotten on a little better, but something about these girls in combination just ignites all of their nasty behavior. M has been so anxious about being around this girl that her behavior at home went a bit wild, as well. We were wracking our brains for a reason… is it because we added gluten back into her diet? (Organic gluten only, but still.) Is it because we ran out of her magnesium supplements for a few days? (Same thing seemed to happen last time she missed several days of the mag.)

Then, it all became clear. She was insanely anxious about being with this girl in camp, and worried about telling me about it because she didn’t want me to be disappointed. So we’ve had lots of talks about letting us know she’s having a hard time with something, rather than turning into a spitting hissing dervish. She needs to know she won’t be punished for having a hard time, we just want to help.

In any case, we’re moved back into our house and unpacked. Now we have some serious mini-van shopping to do and some baby furniture setting up… we have 4-5 weeks until these babies arrive on the scene!

the end of forbidden fruit

Summer is in full swing, and two baby boys are still cooking and ready to enter this world in just a couple of short months! (And not before then, please. Keep growing boys, and stay in there!) Summer is so much better than the school year, and a large part of that is the “no school” part (for me). I felt so much pressure all year to have the girls reading “better”, writing “better”, and constantly living up to some outside standard. So many outside standards, in fact, it was making my head spin! The standard at summer camp is pretty simple… respect others, respect property, for god’s sake eat at least part of your lunch/don’t whine about how hungry you are later when you didn’t eat any lunch, and have fun!!!

I see so much growth in M, already. The freedom from being locked up in a classroom full of academic expectations has allowed so much of the best of who she is to come out. I’m not saying she’s a little angel suddenly, or that her special needs went away. We’re just not constantly shoving her square peg into anyone’s round hole! Another area of growth we’ve discovered (and discussed as parents, ad nauseam) is her ability to eat “junk food” without staying up for 36 hours on end, jumping off walls with glazed-over eyes. And thank god, because at 6 years old, away at summer camps, I just can’t micromanage what she eats. And my intensely social child wants to eat what everyone else is eating, which happens to be red koolaid and goldfish.

So we are allowing her to control what she eats outside of our home, with the understanding that our family does not buy or cook with or serve artificial dye, but these foods may be available at events. She has basically done what any hyper-controlled kid does when they are allowed to eat something forbidden… stuffed her face with as many ice-pops, cookies, and goldfish as she can get her hands on. And honestly, I’ve been waiting for the axe to fall… for freaking out, long restless nights, tantrums out of the ordinary. But nothing. She’s eaten it. Boldly stated she’s eaten it, to see what we’d do. Then we’ve gone about our business pretty much as usual.

So, apparently I no longer have to be the ultra-uncool uptight parent at every party and festival guarding my child against food dyes like my full-night’s sleep depends on it! Hooray! (In case it isn’t clear, though, I thoroughly disapprove of artificial dyes in any type of food or drink, and will continue to support brands and companies that use natural ingredients with all my dollars and words.) But if you didn’t know, schools and camps do a terrible job of guarding kids with food allergies from said foods, and I’m super glad that I don’t need to go ape-shit every time I find out my kid put a piece of candy in her mouth!

My hope is that, in time, this forbidden stuff will no longer seem so great to her, and she will internalize our family’s overall values of healthy, clean foods. Right now, though, I just have to squeeze my eyes shut and be a model through example. It’s the best way with the least immediate results!


for my daughter, my inspiration and my teacher

I have been on a journey to removing my daughter from the conventional education system since she was 2 1/2. Today, we are three days away from seeing that dream realized. My daughter, so full of energy that she has been diagnosed with ADHD, so sensitive to noise and light that she has been diagnosed with SPD, so in tune with her brain’s physiological need to feel the breeze, the soil, the rush of equilibrium as you jump or race through space, that she has been called disruptive, annoying, “special needs”, and wild (even by me), would have done so well in a hunter gatherer society, where the sensations of nature all around her would have given her a sense of balance and peace, where her energy and enthusiasm would have made her one of the most successful members of her tribe, where her curiosity and incessant need to do would have driven her to quick and easy accomplishment and satisfaction.

She doesn’t live in a hunter gatherer tribe. She lives in a truly weird version of humanity that has arisen in 3% of human history. (Written human history is 3% of anatomical human history.) She is, historically speaking, a completely normal homo sapien. She has not adapted genetically or physiologically to the last 3% of our biological history. She possesses completely normal biological instincts, as most children do, but unlike many children, she has not been able to adapt, in her 6 years of life, to a biologically weird culture. And so she is a biological norm, and a cultural anomaly. She is “wild”, and I, her mother, have failed to “tame” her. All of the supplements, occupational therapy, food restrictions, punishments, rewards, pressure, shaming, and leading-by-example in the world has not transformed her from her biology.

But it’s ok. I can’t change the culture or the society or the world that she was born into. I can step back and look at the big picture. I can take advantage, at every opportunity, of the scenarios in which she shines as a truly human mammal. Look at her on the beach, for example, running and digging and playing for hours. Not too tired, not too cold, not whining about sand or sun or wind. She has stamina, she has the ability to meet her own needs, she has drive, she has focus, she is kind, she is insightful, she is generous, she is in all her glory.

When you see children who do not learn well in school, they will often display characteristics that would be valued and admired in any number of non-WEIRD cultures around the world. They are physically energetic; they are independent; they are sociable; they are funny. They like to do things with their hands. They crave real play, play that is exuberant, that tests their strength and skill and daring and endurance; they crave real work, work that is important, that is concrete, that makes a valued contribution. They dislike abstraction; they dislike being sedentary; they dislike authoritarian control. They like to focus on the things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore.

-Carol Black, “A Thousand Rivers”

My daughter is exactly as above. She wants to contribute to the real world. No amount of “Montessori work”, as brilliant and creative as it may be, can take the place of figuring out how to make a bridge out of sand, how to make cupcakes out of random kitchen ingredients, or how to keep a fire burning with leaves and sticks. She needs to play, and not in the cutesy way of driving little trains along little tracks, or assigning mother/father roles to baby dolls (although yes, she does that, too). She needs to play exuberantly, and with the force of her whole body. She can play this way all day, and she can because she must. She is driven to socialize and interact in every moment. You can sit her at a desk, but that won’t diminish her need to talk to and explore with another human being. This is how she learns and grows from her world. She is the fullest expression of what it means to be a young mammal. Observe and study young monkeys, young tigers, young dolphins, and you’ll see what I mean.

Is my job as a mother, then, to force her to comply with the trappings of this modern era? Should she be made to sit still in a circle, or at a desk, for hours on end? What will this achieve or accomplish, other than a sense of control for the rest of us? I must encourage and model kindness of spirit, respect for the boundaries and needs of others, and the ability to regulate oneself for ultimate inner peace. Yes, those must be my goals as a parent. And yet, my little human mammal has arrived on this planet to show me that this need not be achieved within four walls. She is at her most regulated, kind, and respectful when she is respected for who she is and what she needs. And what she needs is the type of environment where she will blossom into who she is meant to be.

My daughter, my teacher, my inspiration: In three days you will be released into this world. You will be asked to take control of your own learning and your own fate. You will be given guidance and leadership, but not force or control. You will become responsible for what you know, and how you know it. You will learn to regulate yourself in whatever way works best for you as a unique individual. You will find those places in which your caring spirit and your insatiable curiosity lead you to greatness.

You will bloom into your truest, most radiant self. I am humbled to be with you on your journey as your mother, your mentor, and your friend.

a parenting meditation on acceptance

I accept that my child is loud.

I accept that I do not like noise, and my child is noisy. This will make me uncomfortable. This will trigger sensory defensiveness in me. This will mean that I have to find ways to cope with her loudness, as well as help her learn to discern when and where to NOT be loud, as well as to encourage empathy in her so that she knows when to back off. I accept that this will be challenging.

I accept that my child is rough.

I accept that this will also trigger my sensory defensiveness. I see that she is sorry when her rough movement causes me pain, and I see that she is embarrassed and ashamed. My job as a parent is to help her modulate her rough behavior so that no one gets hurt, and to help her find the appropriate outlet for her proprioceptive needs.

I accept that she will ask for boundaries by pushing my buttons.

My job is to hold those boundaries firm with love, modeling calm and anger management. I accept that I will often fail at calm, loving boundary-holding, and will dissolve into yelling. I will then attempt to model repair, and an attitude of perseverance toward bettering myself.

I accept that she is impulsive.

I accept that she will do things that a child several year younger would do, but probably not a child her own age. I accept that this part of her brain is still developing, on track, but behind most of her peers. I accept that I will have to repeat myself more often than not. I bear witness to the fact that although it takes time, she does learn to do things that must be done. I accept that I will sometimes be overcome by frustration with this.

I accept that she won’t always be able to do what her peers can do.

I accept that there are some things my child cannot do yet that others her age can, like sit still at a restaurant or for a show. She may not be able to take group swim lessons because she can’t yet follow all the rules. She has to be supervised at times that other children do not. I accept that I will have to make accommodations for this, even as I see that in her own way, she is maturing and reaching the milestones she’s meant to reach. I accept that I will feel anger, disappointment, resentment, and most of all, fear, when she is unable to keep up with her neurotypical peers. I accept the responsibility for my own feelings and my own expectations, which are not hers, but only my own.

I accept that she is exactly who she is, and who she is meant to be.

I accept that the challenges presented with parenting her are gifts of growth to me. I accept that by not fitting into a prescripted developmental timeline, she has brought me with her outside of the box, to explore new paths together. I love her for this. I appreciate her for this. She is a unique expression of the divine. Her energy is her gift to the world.

the madness of children

Over the weekend, I broke. The loudness, impulsiveness, defiance… being ignored, talked back to, forced to clean up after, disrespected… it was too much. I felt like I was swirling down a drain. I could barely talk to or look at my child. The life-force had been sucked out of me, and there was nowhere to go to recharge or recover. So, I went to bed at 6pm, and then went back to bed with my daughter later.

I tried to do better the next day. I didn’t do a lot better, but I did do better. And I’ve suffered the mom guilt thing ever since. Why, when I love my child more than life itself, when I study and memorize respectful parenting texts, when I intellectually know how to do better, do I not do it all the time??? What is wrong with me???

Ironically, this is the question my daughter asks herself every single day, all day long. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop myself every time? Why didn’t I think things through? Why is it so hard for me to listen? Why do people get so angry at me? Why can’t I be “good”?

So, as a mom, I’m here today, doing my best. Apologizing and owning my own shortcomings with my daughter. All morning I made a herculean effort to be less short-tempered, to not yell, to not storm off. She could only find one shoe. She wanted chocolate candy for breakfast. She crawled over the middle of the seats in the rental car. She wanted a jacket. Then didn’t want it when she had one sleeve on. She wouldn’t go into her classroom because she hated the shoes she was wearing because we couldn’t find the other shoe she wanted. On, and on. And I kept saying, “I’m trying so hard not to lose my temper. I love you and I want you to know how much I love you. I’m frustrated by this but I’m trying not to yell. I want to have a good morning together.” Over and over. And somehow, the morning was a little better for it. Not because she did what I wanted in the end (she wore the shoes she didn’t like, but complained the whole time, she didn’t wear the jacket, she crawled over the seat), but because I didn’t throw gasoline on her fire. So the fire was smaller and easier to recover from.

My daughter is my spiritual practice. She pushes me to practice what I preach. She insists that I never stop growing. Her existence forces me to mindfulness. I’m grateful to her in every way.

4 weeks!

Four weeks left of school for my little one! There are certain days that inspire me to enter the next year, without “school”, with passion and without fear. One of those days was Sunday, when my girl and I headed off to a new beach to see what we could see. We discovered a free children’s program led by park rangers, we got to see them feed the aquarium life there, a little tour behind the scenes of the tanks, and then out to the beach!

Making a new friend, working together, digging hands and toes and bodies into the natural world.

With my own eyes, I could see that play in this mud was worth 1000 hours in a classroom. The cooperation, teamwork, communication, sensory stimuli, engineering, creativity, knowledge building, and nature exploration was good for body, mind, and soul, not just mind. And let’s be honest… who can learn when their body’s needs, and their soul’s needs, are not also being met?

Running free, learning in peace.

As well-meaning and loving as the adults in my daughter’s school have been (and they have been so loving with her), nothing can fill a child with learning the way that freedom can. After school, my daughter is grumpy, sad, irritable, and tired with low self-esteem. After 5 hours straight on the beach, exploring freely or learning from rangers, whichever she chose, she was calm, regulated, confident, and happy. So, it seems to me, the choice has become a no-brainer.

Exploring the free aquarium on the beach. Learning happens all the time!

Not everyone has the choice, financially, or for child-care reasons. I’ve been given an incredible gift: an opportunity to give her the learning that fills her up, rather than empties her. We are taking it! Now, wouldn’t it be amazing, if someday, all children could access this type of education???

Anything less is not good enough.

the day that Montessori broke my heart

At 2 1/2, my daughter began her Primary cycle in Montessori. For those who aren’t familiar with the “grade levels” in a Montessori school, Primary is a three-year cycle generally for ages 3, 4, and 5. The last year in the cycle is the “kindergarten” year. I hoped I was doing the right thing at the time, and her first primary teacher was so kind, gracious, patient, and nurturing, that I was instantly a Montessori fan. The hands-on approach to learning, very tactile, and the freedom of choice that the children had, it all won me over. In California, we found yet another classroom with nurturing, loving teachers who devoted themselves to my daughter’s well-being. And I assure you, she is not the easiest kid in the class, with her sensory needs, high energy level, and emotional outbursts! How could I not love these special adults who took my daughter under their wing and loved her for all of her wonderful qualities???

In the background, I was reading everything I could find on self-directed learning, and of course that led me to John Holt and Peter Gray. Unschooling became my secret dream, but Montessori was still so much better than any version of public school. I wished I had learned subjects like math in the Montessori way. I saw the hard work they put into developing the child’s social and emotional skills, and I valued the tight-knit community.

Then one day, at an introductory night in her new Montessori school, my daughter took out a work and placed it on a rug. It was a bowl full of little plastic animal figurines, meant for a sorting task of some kind. But M, being 4 years old and full of wonderful imagination, began to play with the animals, making up a story line and lining them up. The teacher came over, quickly, and corrected her. She said, “that’s not what this work is for” and showed her how to do it “correctly”. That was the moment, the moment I knew, that even though Montessori was full of wonderful ideas and wonderful people, it wasn’t quite hitting the mark. In fact, in that moment, it really missed. I can’t accept that there is only one right way to use those animal figurines. Or that the sorting activity had any more importance or relevance to my four-year-old than the activity she had devised from the material all on her own.

That was the day that I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be completely satisfied with Montessori. And, as my stepdaughter transitioned into first grade, and the at-home work began to start slipping into our evening life, I felt more irritated. The sacrifice of free time, play, and family life felt like a detriment to learning, a hindrance rather than a help.

So when I start to second-guess my decision to put my daughter in purely self-directed learning programs, and take her out of the school building… I remember that moment, and I know it’s right.

my mental health, a work in progress

Lately, parenting has been harder than usual for me. I can never tell if I’m having a hard time, therefore my daughter is as well, or if she’s having the hard time, and I’m incapable of finding a deeper well of patience to draw from. My frustration level with sensory-seeking and defiant behavior feels to be at a low. Meanwhile, we’ve all noticed a ramping up of these behaviors at home… louder, rougher, repetitive behaviors… a driving need to make a mess… a knee-jerk “no” reaction when reminded to do something routine, like wipe up a spill or put away a dish.

I know other parents of special-needs and/or trauma-affected children can relate. There are just times when I feel woefully inadequate at coping with it. I’m very sensory-avoidant, and I have a loud, rough, high-energy child. This can sometimes result in my shutting down, rolling into a prickly ball, and yes, yelling at my kid all day.

I really hate yelling at my kid. I feel out of control. I feel taken over by rage and sensory-overload, unable to behave the way I know I should. Or even the way I truly want to. It doesn’t feel like me, and wow, I guess that’s exactly what she feels like when she’s out of control!

The thing is, I feel so at a loss as to how to change things. Naturally, I want her to just be different. You know, just stop making noises, just stop yelling, just stop making messes. That would be easiest for me. But she can’t do that, so how do I cope? How do I get my calm back?

How, how, how do I enjoy being a parent again???