out came the mama bear

It finally happened. Someone made fun of Claire because of her disability. | erniebufflo.com

It finally happened. Someone made fun of Claire because of her disability.

I was sitting on the couch, drinking wine, folding laundry, enjoying some quiet while Jon supervised the kids out biking and scooting with some of the kids on our block, all of whom are older than our girls, but are generally quite sweet to them. Then Claire and Jon came in the door. “Why don’t you tell your mama what they said?” Jon said.

“Those big girls said my diaper isn’t cool and that they don’t want to hang out with me because they don’t want to hang out with babies who wear diapers. Can I please wear some undies? I want them to hang out with me.”

My face got hot. Claire wasn’t crying. She seemed very matter of fact. “Just a second, baby. Mama’s going to get some shoes and go talk to them.”

I slipped on my wicked good slippers, and in my pjs strode down the street. The two older girls saw me and started running. They knew what they said had been unkind. They ran into their yard. I kept walking calmly down to their house. They hadn’t made it into their houses yet.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

“We’re so sorry, we got carried away, we know what we said was rude, and we’re sorry,” one said.

“It was unkind,” I said, “But I want to tell you something you don’t know about Claire. Claire was born with a disability called spina bifida. She had a great big hole in her back, and she had to have surgery when she was only one day old. Claire is actually amazing. Claire is one of the strongest people I know. People said she wouldn’t be able to walk and now she walks, and runs, and ride bikes out here with you. Claire is AMAZING. And she wears diapers because of her spina bifida, and NO ONE should ever make fun of her for that, because Claire is amazing.”

“We’re so sorry.”

“Thank you. Can you tell her that when she comes back out here?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. Have a good night.”

And then I walked back down the street. Claire had sat on the potty and changed out of her diaper when I got home. Jon talked to her about how she can wear undies some day, but she’s got to get better about sitting on the potty, which is something she currently refuses to do a lot of the time.

I sent her back down the street on her bike. “I’m going to go talk to those girls and tell them I didn’t like what they said,” she said. She is still one of the strongest people I know. She stands up for herself. And I will always stand up for her too.

oh to preschool they went!

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This week, Claire and Etta Jane started school for the first time. We found them the school of our dreams– a Montessori in an old house in a historic neighborhood. The classroom is calm and airy. The staff is warm and caring. There’s a giant outdoor classroom where the kids spend a lot of time. It’s homey, sweet, and peaceful, and we’re really excited to have found it and gotten in despite our late-summer move. I had been convinced there would be mile long waiting lists at any school we actually liked, but we ended up finding 3 good options to choose from.

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Purchasing uniforms with Claire, who is not a ham at all, why do you ask?

One thing I really liked was they allowed us to choose if the girls were in the same classroom or not. I know people have lots of opinions about separating twins in school or keeping them together, but I think it’s one of those decisions individual twin parents should be able to make for their unique kids. Etta and Claire have a special relationship. They are best friends (they not only share a room but sleep in the same bed), but not overly dependent on each other, so we didn’t think them being together would be a disruption, nor did we think separating them would be particularly traumatic. It’s just…they’ve always existed together. And when they embarked on their own into school for the first time, it felt natural and right that they would do it together. I love, for example, that they can look out for each other. Etta’s had a rougher transition than Claire has, but Claire has assured us that Etta does just fine at school and has a great time. They were scheming in the car today to get all the girls to sit at the same table for lunch. Another upside? This scatterbrained mama only has to keep up with one class’s crap.

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It feels pretty strange to suddenly have 4 hours a day to myself after 4 years of 24/7 twins. I’m really glad we skipped preschool for their 3 year old year. We had a really wonderful year together going to the zoo, library, and children’s museum each week. And yet this summer I think we were all feeling that we were ready for some space from each other. They were bored with me, and I was frustrated with them, more than before. If I had any doubts that they were ready, the Open House at their school alleviated them. They happily entered their new classroom, pulled out some Works (it’s a Montessori thing), and got busy. They didn’t want to see the playground, they didn’t want to leave, they just wanted to work. On the first day of actual school, Etta was ready to leave us at the curb, and Claire, our sensitive little heart, shocked us by not even crying (EVERYTHING makes Claire cry). When it came time for pickup, Claire didn’t want to go home!

It has also been amazing for my mental health (more on the anxiety thing in a future post) to have some time of my own. I can grocery shop by myself! I can run errands at super speed because I don’t have to constantly put kids in and out of car seats. I can blog! I can read! I can sew! (I’ve already been whipping up headbands and am thinking about selling them.) I can get lunches packed for the next day, dinner prepped, and even do some actual housework (if you think my floors like, ever, got swept with those two underfoot, think again)! I can even volunteer for the Clinton campaign! (More on that later, too)

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Now I think I know why my dad always sang “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as we shopped for school supplies. School is wonderful. The girls are thriving, learning, and making new friends, and I GET TO HAVE SOME SEMBLANCE OF MY OWN LIFE.

a spanking for frances?

We have the book Bread and Jam for Frances. It’s a book I remember loving as a child. A picky-eating badger turns her nose up at her mother’s cooking a few times too many and finds herself eating bread and jam for every meal, until she gets sick of it and decides to try new things. Luckily our girls haven’t been particularly picky, but they seem to enjoy the story, even if to them “bread and jam is just for breakfast.”

bedtime for frances

Today at the library, I saw some of the other Frances books. I asked the girls if they’d like to try them, and they picked out Bedtime for Frances. In this story, Frances keeps coming out of her room after bedtime, because of tigers, giants, and scary cracks in the ceiling. Her parents are at first bemused and then increasingly frustrated. And then all of a sudden, Frances’s father says that if she comes out again, she’s getting a spanking.

“What’s a spanking?” sweet four-year-old Claire asked. “Well, sometimes parents hit their children on their bottom when they do things they aren’t supposed to do. Kind of like how you sometimes get time outs. We don’t like to hit, so we don’t do that,” her dad explained

I’m thankful my kids have made it to four years old and find it unthinkable that an adult would hit a child, that they’ve made it this far and don’t even know what a spanking is. I wish I could say that I find the idea of hitting my children unthinkable, but the truth is, I have wanted to. Children have their ways of pushing you to the limits of your energy, patience, empathy, and self-restraint. I have been so tired, angry, and frustrated with my children that I wanted to hit them, that I felt that impulse. But that’s what it would have been if I had given in: impulsive, angry, and wrong. It wouldn’t have been about teaching them, it would have been about me lashing out in my anger. The only thing it would have shown them is that I am no more capable of managing my emotions and impulses than they are.

I am not one to say “there but for the Grace of God go I” very often, but this is one of those areas where I really do feel it’s only grace that has kept me from that brink. It’s only the whisper in my ear that tells me to walk away, take a breath, make a different choice, hide in my room if I have to long enough to cool down. Because maybe giving a kid bread and jam for every meal for a while is creative parenting, but bedtime spankings don’t make sense to anyone in my family, even in my tiredest, most rock-bottom moments. Thanks for the reminder, Frances.

*Note: I’m not interested in debating spanking with you. I only presume to know what is best for my family.*

don’t talk about my kid that way

“Raging Sociopath.” “Little Criminal.” “Corrupt.” “Depraved.” “Demon Child.”

If someone said those things about either of my children, they’d be facing a very angry mama bear. Imagine my surprise to find them littered throughout an ostensibly Christian parenting book (Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond) my Sunday School class has started studying! I had so many issues with the first lesson of the study that my head almost exploded, but this is one of my biggest issues with the author’s entire view on parenting, because the way he speaks about children, I think, has a lot to do with the harsh manner in which he advocates treating them.

Can you imagine the Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me,” and who encouraged all of us to have faith like a child speaking of his beloved little children in those terms? It’s hard to imagine a Bible that says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29) seeing such terms as “building up” or “beneficial” to children.

I gather that in order to understand “sinful nature,” some people must force themselves to believe that children are basically depraved sinners. I just don’t think that in order to accept that all humans have a capacity to sin I must see my children in only those terms. While my children have their periods of selfishness (which it seems to me is pretty much the root of all evil, even in my own heart), nearly four years with them has taught me that kids have great capacities for love and empathy. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. They genuinely want to show love to the people around them. One of the highest compliments I can pay my girls is to tell them what loving hearts they have, and how happy my heart is to see them being kind to others. When I do, I can see them radiating joy. They have a capacity for selfishness, too, but the answer is not to tell myself or them that they are basically monsters. The answer is to encourage and nurture their naturally loving little hearts, and to learn from them.

I am often quoting author Thomas King, “The truth about stories is, they’re all that we are.” I’ve also read that our voices will one day become the voices in our children’s heads. The words that we use to think about and talk about our children shape the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. They will do their best to live up to the selves they see reflected in our eyes. I want them to know that I see their best selves, that I feel privileged to know them and to be their mom. Imagine my surprise to find a Christian parenting expert speaking of children in terms I'd sock a stranger for using about my kids!

can it be? a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is THREE?

EttatudeUsually, I am not one to cotton to other parents who tell those with littler kids “just you wait, it gets worse.” Because each stage in this journey has its own set of hard and its own type of beauty, and there’s no use worrying about the next stage when you are already knee-deep in the current one. But one of the best things anyone did for me was to tell me that the “terrible twos” are a myth and three is where shit really gets real. Because OMG. The last year of three squared has nearly killed us. Thank God I didn’t go through two thinking we were in the worst of the toddler years, only to get walloped by three. Three. GOOD LORD. THREE.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

Three has been emotional. Three has been obstinate. Three has been irrational. Three has been straight-up exhausting. It has brought us to the edge of our patience, ability to form rational thoughts, and self-control. Three has made me want to run away screaming more than a few times. Yes, three has had some magic in it, as imagination has continued to explode and the twin bond has gotten tighter and they’ve been oh-so-eager to be big helpers, but mostly three has been the hardest year of our lives.

Claire tude.

But lately. Lately we see glimpses of the promised land: FOUR. It’s three months away, and we’re getting close enough to see some landmarks. Four seems less ruled by emotions. Four seems silly, always looking to make us laugh. Four is playful and imaginative. Four is independent and actually becoming capable. Four can make a sandwich! Four can put on her own coat! Four is getting better about putting on her own shoes! Four is really affectionate, and comes up with new ways to “show love” every day. Four is obsessed with “ballet music,” and will listen to Beethoven in a ballgown while playing with LEGO. Four loves snuggles with mommy and park time with daddy.

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I’m sure a lot of the time four will also drive us right up the freakin’ wall, but it finally feels like we’re reaping some rewards from all the hard work three has required. And if four is actually a nightmare, please don’t tell me. I can’t handle the news. I’m still recovering from three.

one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

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Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

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Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

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The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

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We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

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I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

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not so incompetent: it does get better

When my twins were babies, a woman told me "It doesn't get any better." I'm here to say it does.

“Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

That’s what she said to me as I wheeled my two baby girls into daycare this morning. “I’m sure they keep you busy. Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

Well, I guess there’s no “It gets better” project for twin moms.

Which sucks, because for the last few days I just feel like life is hard. I feel incompetent. Like, not only can’t I do it all, but I can’t even do the little bit that I want to do. The little bit that I thought was achievable.

I wrote those words three years ago today, when I had tiny twins in daycare, a husband finishing up his Pediatric ER fellowship, was adjusting to life with a heart defect after “catastrophic” heart failure, and I was trying to finish grad school and feeling like a straight-up failure.

Now I’m the one whose twins are three, and I want to punch that other mom in the face. Because you know what? It does get better. It gets better and better all the time.

When my twins were babies, a woman told me it wouldn't get any better. I'm here three years later to say it does.

For one thing, everyone in my house now sleeps through the night. It took a long time to get there, but sleep is no longer a thing I agonize about, struggle for, or don’t get. Being tired all the time is just really really hard, and it makes you into a frazzled, emotional wreck. Not being tired all the time? It’s kind of the best.

For another, I can actually leave the room and get some stuff done while my kids PLAY TOGETHER HAPPILY. They can have tea parties in princess dresses, jam out on their instruments, cook up a masterpiece in their play kitchen, color in their coloring books, work on puzzles, build with Legos, and look at books, all without much involvement from me. Not for like, hours at a time, but often enough time to take a shower or get dinner together. That makes a big difference in my ability to feel “competent” at more than just the zoo keeping of keeping two tiny lumps alive.

Also? I realized I didn’t actually want to keep doing the grad school thing, and now that I have let that go, and also let go of defining myself by academic achievements or lack thereof, I’m much happier. I don’t have to “be” anything other than who I am right now, because it turns out I’m in a pretty good place. And maybe when my kids start school next year, I’ll get more serious about pitching and working to actually make this writing thing I love so much work for me. But I think the work I’m doing raising these kids is valuable and important, too, even without an M.A. after my name.

I remember being so scared three years ago to admit that I was feeling so low. I remember how desperate and overwhelmed I felt. I also still remember the sweet comment my friend Patrick, who is a little further down the parenting road left for me:

She’s wrong. It does get easier. We didn’t have twins, but 3 in five years. I can’t do the advanced math it takes to work that out, but I’m pretty sure I changed diapers for 14 consecutive years – and the oldest is only 13 now. Anyhow… It does get better. I promise.

There are a lot of great days ahead. The day you change your last diaper is a great day. The day the Bufflo Girls can buckle themselves in their car seats by themselves is a great day. The day they learn to ride a two-wheeler is a great day. The Saturday morning you wake up and discover they have gotten up, made their own breakfast and entertained themselves while you slept in is a great day. Your life is loaded with great days ahead.

I have found that my antidote to feeling like life has ganged up on me is to use gratitude as a tool. Not the kind of false gratitude your man Daniel is talking about up there, where gratitude is measured against others having it worse, or a guilty gratitude where we berate ourselves for having it so good, but the kind of gratitude that realizes that this feeling will pass and that today, I have everything I need, even if today does kind of suck, and tomorrow is another day filled with wonder and struggle and love and work and surprise and sorrow and joy.

The truth is, some days just plain suck and that’s ok. It will pass. Every single day of our lives aren’t meant to be filled with rainbows and unicorns and hobbits. When I can manage to use gratitude to find something genuine to feel grateful about without comparing myself to others, I can usually turn my day around. And some days, the only way I can find my gratitude tool is to tell others that I’m having a shitty day, and give them an opportunity to help me find it. And that’s a pretty joyful thing.

We’ve already had a few of those great days. And part of the reason I can celebrate them now is that I’ve been through the sucky days, too. I have struggled and grown and received so much grace in this process, a reason to be grateful for even the really hard days, too. Because I know that what I have and who I am? They’re enough. They’re not perfect, but they are GOOD. Even on the hard days. And especially on the good days.

So, now, when I see a mama struggling with little ones, I remember NOT to be the Debbie Downer with the three year old twins. I want to be the one who says: “I see you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s overwhelming. I know it’s beautiful and huge and heart-exploding, too. You’re doing enough. You are enough. And it will just keep getting better and better.”