be the seatmate you want to see in the world

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Last week, I got to go to Las Vegas with a girlfriend who was there for a conference. She attended the conference all day while I read by the pool/wandered around the strip, and then we hung out and saw shows and ate amazing things every night.

To get there, I had to fly Southwest. I know, most people adore Southwest for their reasonable fares and funny staff members and for letting you check a bag for free and for not nickel-and-diming their customers at every opportunity. I have a grudge against them because they don’t assign you a seat, but instead, you get assigned a boarding number based on when you check in, and then it’s like a free-for-all to find a seat. I am so scatterbrained, I never remember to check in on time and thus end up in the crappy, you’re gonna have a middle seat, good luck finding space in the overhead bins group. True story, I once cried on a Southwest flight because I was PREGNANT WITH TWINS and didn’t get to sit next to my husband because we hadn’t remembered to check in on time. I JUST WANT AN ASSIGNED SEAT, DAMMIT.

Anyway, I actually managed to get in the B boarding group for my flight to Vegas, miracle of miracles. I always feel blissfully unencumbered when flying without my kids. It’s like, long security lines? No problem, at least I’m not trying to keep a couple of five year olds happy and in line. You need me to take off my shoes, show you my liquids, maybe even pat me down? Great. At least I’m not also taking off two other people’s shoes and hustling them through the lines. Basically, my good mood when flying without my children cannot be stopped.

As I waited to board, I heard a baby losing his mind. My first thought was “I hope I’m not next to that baby! I’m flying without kids, finally! I *deserve* a quiet, relaxing flight.”

But then I got on the plane to look for a seat, and saw the mom of that baby, flying alone with him and his preschool-aged brother. The aisle seat next to them was open. I didn’t really want to take it, but then a thought popped into my head: “Be the seatmate you want to see in the world.” I think it was inspired by my own airplane angel from a long-ago flight with my kids.

I sat down next to the mom. “Hi! I’ll sit next to you– I have twins, myself.” She smiled, “I didn’t think ANYONE would want to sit with us. Thank you so much!”

The kids did as great as a preschooler and a lap baby can do on a flight, which was also not particularly long, thankfully. The preschooler watched movies on his tablet and occasionally demanded snacks. The baby was wiggly and in need of constant distraction, occasionally emitting a squawk before his mom and I distracted him with something else, but no prolonged crying or anything. Big win? Let the baby play with ice cubes on the tray table. That entertained him the longest.

The mom and I chatted, and I was glad I sat next to them. It felt like sisterhood. Moms need to look out for each other.

We arrived in Vegas, and I left the little family at the end of the jetway, mom competently putting the stroller together and getting her kids settled. She had it handled, so I kept moving, eager to get to my hotel and grab some dinner.

As I reached the end of the jetway, I heard a man scream, “GET THAT FUCKING SCREAMING BABY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” I turned to see a big guy fully decked out in Broncos gear literally yelling at a woman alone with two kids. I stared, mouth agape, as he walked toward and past me.

I wish I had said something like, “Babies can’t help it if they act like a-holes, but what’s your excuse?”

Instead all I could do was stare. Would he have screamed at her if her husband had been with her? Did anyone who witnessed the event say anything to him? Why didn’t the flight attendant who was standing right there say something? Can that guy get like, banned from future flights?

I can only imagine how rattled the mom was, and I wish I had caught up with her to check in. “You OK, sis?” There is no one more stressed and uncomfortable on a flight with small kids than those kids’ parent(s). Here, she had just survived the flight, oh sweet relief, and her kids had actually done as great as you can expect any kids their ages to do, and then she gets screamed at by an intimidating stranger?

I’m still furious with that man.

But in spite of his hatred, I’d like to share the main lesson I learned on that flight: be the seatmate you want to see in the world. Remember the hard times you’ve had, and let them give you compassion towards people dealing with stressful situations, like traveling with small children. Don’t huff. Don’t roll your eyes. Help. At the very least, offer a kind glance and a smile. Pack your earplugs and your noise-cancelling headphones if you must, but remember, while babies don’t have self-control, you do. Exercise it.

Image above via Flickr user fred C under a Creative Commons license.

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look for the helpers

We don’t have a TV in our main living space, and Jon and I almost never watch TV news (when we do, the kids are in bed or not in the room, because we watch in our bedroom usually after bedtime, and it’s because we’re following a breaking event or watching a live speech or something). I figure, they’re 5, and I don’t want to overwhelm them with the problems of the world just yet, especially since Claire tends toward anxiety. We talk about issues and events, but I just don’t want them exposed to wall-to-wall coverage or the sensationalism and graphic imagery so often part of TV news. This wasn’t even a super conscious decision to protect them from TV news, but more a result of my own awareness about my anxiety– I do better reading print/online news than watching it on TV, too. This has been especially true since the election.

I haven’t talked to them about recent natural disasters, but we were eating at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant last night, and they had a Mexican news station on TV. Of course most of the coverage was about the Mexico City earthquake. We had been eating when I noticed a concerned look on Claire’s face. “What is happening? Are those people dead? What happened to that building?” I realized she’d been watching the coverage, taking in the images even if she couldn’t understand the speaking, which to me had been background noise along with the oom-pa-pa mariachi music playing on the radio.

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How to explain an earthquake to my worried child without causing her to develop a fear that one might happen to us? I told her there was an earthquake in Mexico City, and that a lot of buildings fell down when the ground shook. “Did people die?” Yes, some people died, but a lot of people are still alive in the rubble, and the people they are showing right now are the helpers. They are digging the people out and saving them. So many people will be helpers after something terrible like this happens, and we’re so thankful for the helpers.

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I don’t know if I got it right, but my general parenting philosophy is that following the advice of Mr. Rogers can never be wrong. He said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

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I don’t watch the news because it feels like the end of the world lately: earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, nuclear war, and an evil man in charge of our country. I need to look for the helpers, too. I need to protect my children and myself, and I also need to help the helpers.

Some organizations we like to support include World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.  Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments. I’d also love to know if you protect your kids from TV news, and what age you think is appropriate for them to be exposed to it.

the moment we realized just how “normal” our daughter’s disability has become to us

Today I took Etta to get her second filling in 5 short years of life. This is hard for me, because I didn’t get my first cavity until I was like 28. (I’m blaming pregnancy for ruining my perfect record. It’s a thing.) Anyway, we’re pretty into good oral health and hygiene, and with her first filling, I felt like a failure for letting it happen.

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Our new dentist here in Denver is awesome, and she said it looks like Etta just doesn’t have good enamel (something about her teeth being hypoplastic?), that it didn’t form right on her baby teeth, and leads to grooves and weaknesses where cavities can form, despite our good oral hygiene. The good news is, on X-rays, her permanent teeth look better, but we may be spending a lot of time at the dentist for these baby teeth.

After we left the dentist, my husband said to me, “Man, Etta sure got the short end of the genetic stick.”

It was only a beat later that I realized how absurd that comment sounds. I mean, we have one kid with spina bifida, but here we are agreeing that it’s actually the “healthy” twin who lost the genetic lottery. And it’s actually kind of true! Etta’s the short, tiny one (finding school uniforms to fit a 3-year-old-sized Kindergartener was a struggle). Etta inherited my cardiac mutation. And now it turns out that she got crappy teeth?

Meanwhile Claire’s differences have just become normal to us, and normal to her as well. Strapping on AFOs, using catheters, scheduling doctor’s appointments and therapies, monitoring for signs of shunt malfunction, wondering if she’s getting a cold or a UTI, they’re just part of our life.

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And remembering how we felt on diagnosis day, or when we came home from the hospital, I realize how huge this mundane life actually is. What at first seemed insurmountable and life-shattering, turns out to just be another way of being a person in the world. Aren’t we all just adapting and trying to use the bodies we were given to the best of our capabilities? Don’t we all sometimes need extra help in certain areas?

So, in case you’re a parent or person who just got a big scary diagnosis, I hope you can read this and take a little comfort in knowing that one day, it may very well all seem very very normal. Just part of life. Not a tragedy at all.

Here we are today, thinking just maybe it’s our able-bodied daughter who got the bum end of the twin genetics dice roll. What an amazing thing.

to kindergarten they go

Today, Etta and Claire headed off to kindergarten, two tiny girls with giant backpacks. This year, they will be in different classrooms, but they will be right across the hall from each other, and will have recess and lunch together.

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There’s another set of twins in kindergarten this year, two boys, whose blond hair seems to have a counterpoint in each of our girls. They are both in Claire’s class. Their mom, and many others, asked me if I chose to keep the girls together or apart. The truth is, we saw a lot of benefits in both options and decided to let the school handle it. They’ve done great together at Montessori, and all of their teachers there remarked on how they are neither clingy or dependent on each other, nor antagonistic and fighting– they just kind of coexisted like any other two kids in the same class. They are also very different little humans, though, and I think being on their own could give them each a chance to shine and grow in a way they can’t together, and I’m excited to see how this will go. We’ve been reading a great little book called Twindergarten about a set of twins who are in different kindergarten classes, right across the hall from each other, but who are together for recess and lunch, and it’s really helped them prepare for this change.

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I realized at Back To School Night that I’m mostly just excited for them as they embark on this big journey. Their teachers had big sheets of paper on the wall where we answered questions like what we are most proud of about our children, what they are curious about, what they like to read about, etc. To me, the most interesting question was what our hopes and dreams are for our children in their kindergarten year.

I want this to be the year they fall in love with learning and school. I want them to be, like I was, excited to learn and to be with friends. I am excited to watch them learn to read and have the world of books unfold for them, a world that has always been my happiest and safest place. But most of all, I hope they continue to grow and stretch their kind and loving hearts. “Brave” and “kind” are much higher on my list of desirable traits than “smart” or “successful.”

I mostly don’t feel sadness that my “babies are growing up.” I am so thrilled to see them becoming who they are. I am so excited for the adventures that await them. I woke up before my alarm, just buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to pick them up (about to head out on our bikes to get them!) and hear how their day went!

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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.”

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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.*