Monday, October 31, 2011

Italy, Part 4 – Road Trip

Well, five months later, I’m finally continuing my travel journal chronicling our Italy trip. (I've been a little bit busy.) Be sure to read the first three installments, or re-read them just to get back into the mood. I did!

The middle leg of our Italy vacation was the road trip. We were driving from Rome to Florence which is only a three hour drive, but we decided to take it slow and explore for a couple of days along the way.

First, we had to get our rental car. I was nervous about this part, but it ended up being very easy. We got a car seat for Sam, and everything worked in a similar way as it does in the U.S. Adam was the designated driver, but we both had been observing the traffic in Rome and it didn’t seem to be as bad as some had made it out to be. Still, there was a lot to get used to. Adam had studied all the road signs so even when we couldn’t read the Italian, we usually knew what was going on, and we got good directions from the people at the rental place. It helps that Italian is a Romance language so we could decipher some of the more unusual signs. (Otherwise, I’m not sure would have ever escaped the endless loop our GPS took us through the following day, until we noticed the sign saying, “Deviazione.” It made me feel pretty smart to figure that one out. I could only imagine what it would be like to drive in China.)  We got out of the city and onto the highway with no problems at all. Then we hit the Autostrade and headed north. I thought the drivers were very good, but it was hard to get used to the way they ignored the lane markers and just weaved around. I think Adam actually kind of liked that. He’s not an uptight Type-A personality like I am. He seemed right at home on the road in Italy.

There wasn’t too much to see in this area of the country. We did see a cool electric train just outside of Rome. The countryside was hilly and pleasant, but nothing stunning. By the time we got out of the city, it was time to eat, so we stopped at an Autogrille, which is kind of like a roadside diner. Here, we started having our first real problems dealing with being in a foreign country. First, we could not figure out how and where to park. The signs were unclear and we ended up in a truck parking lot, and could not figure out how to get back to the restaurant. Adam ended up having to drive the wrong way on a one-way traffic lane, which scared the crap out of me, but there really was no other way to correct our mistake!

Inside the restaurant, we had our first experience with the stupid Italian system of going to one counter to pick out your food, then another counter to place your order and pay, and then back to the first counter to pick up your food. It probably took us a half hour just to figure that out, even though Rick Steves had told us all about it. Also, once outside Rome, not everyone spoke English any more. There was very little help available, and we were all hungry and frustrated. The food choices were very limited, too. Again, way too much bread and cheese and almost no meat. I was hugely disappointed because I had been told that these places had much better food than you would expect. Maybe it was good bread, but that didn’t do anything for me.

The rest of the drive was very nice. We were entering Italy’s region of Umbria, which is pretty much just east of Tuscany, home of Florence. We passed through Perugia, the capital of Umbria, and the town where a good friend of ours grew up. We had wanted to stop there, but it was actually quite a big place and we didn’t see how we could have navigated around it. We had also planned on taking smaller roads, but we decided to head straight to our hotel just north of Perugia to get settled, and then to explore from there.

The countryside in Umbria is gorgeous. Our friend had told us that the road to our hotel would be beautiful, but we were still in awe. It was breathtaking! We climbed up steep switchbacks and I oooed and ahhhed as poor Adam had to focus entirely on driving. Sam slept the entire time and missed it all.

Our hotel was at the top of the mountain, and man, did I pick a good one! It was a renovated 11th Century castle and it was just as gorgeous as it looks on its web site.

This was our room:

And here are some of our own pictures:

The nearby town that we really wanted to see was Gubbio, but before we headed out, we explored the castle grounds. We met two cats (Sam was thrilled!), named Montefeltro and Cunegonda. I never found out if Cunegonda was named after anyone famous, but Montefeltro was the name of a duke of Urbino from the 15th Century, who was born at this castle. The hostess told us that we would see his portrait when we visited Florence, in the Uffizi Gallery, which we later did.

We also met an ancient Italian lady who lived in a very small house on the grounds of the castle. We tried to talk to her and it was hard to communicate, but we enjoyed it because she was such a stereotype – a small, wrinkled, friendly old woman, who wanted to chat and was enamored of Sam. I wish we had gotten a photograph of her.

We headed down the north side of the mountain road to get to Gubbio. I picked Gubbio because my friend told me that there was a funicular there, which would take us up a mountain to the oldest part of the town, and the pictures of the place on the web looked incredible. The hostess at the castle told us that the main road would take us straight into town and that we couldn’t miss the parking lot, where we’d have to get out and walk. But we ended up driving around the outskirts of Gubbio for about a half hour before we figured out what to do. Again, the Italians and their “directions.” Ugh.

But eventually, we did park and we walked through the extremely hilly streets towards the funicular. Sam did not want to walk so Adam had to carry her. We were rushed because we wanted to get back to the castle before dark. The driveway to reach the hotel was so steep and treacherous that Adam didn’t feel he would be able to navigate it after dark! We were tired, rushed, and frazzled, but Gubbio was our first real experience of a medieval town.  It’s difficult to capture what it feels like to walk through those narrow streets, and photos only show so much. We didn’t even try to take any, but here is someone else’s that captures a bit of the feel of it.

Unfortunately, Sam was too scared to ride the funicular. We couldn’t blame her – it was just a tiny cage on a rope that went up an incredibly steep hill.

So Adam and I took turns riding up and down, but we never got to explore the part of the city on top of the hill, which is supposed to be amazing. I was satisfied just with the funicular ride. As you go up the hill, you can see the old walls of the city, half crumbled, but with their purpose still clear. On an adjacent hillside is an impressive but crumbling castle, which I later found out is inhabited by nuns. The view of the mountains was incredible. Adam had the sense to take a couple of photos before the camera’s memory card filled up, but we wish we had taken many more.

Walking back down through the streets of Gubbio, we bought some fresh berries from a market for a snack instead of our usual gelato. That was a treat. Then we came across a miniature carousel and Sam had a ride. Once again – no planning necessary!

Back at our castle hotel, Adam sat outside and smoked a cigar while Montefeltro sat in his lap. Then we had our best meal yet at the hotel restaurant: scallops, duck, chicken curry, and pasta with meat sauce for Sam. We also had Montefeltro wine and tiramisu for dessert. Our waitress, Isabella, could speak only a bit of English, but she loved Sammy and the service was excellent. After dinner Isabella cut slices of prosciutto right off a cured, whole pig sitting in the corner. I have to admit, I was a little bit afraid to eat it, but I did.

Tuesday morning we had to leave for our next destination: Volterra. We were all a bit disappointed that our stay at the castle was so short. I didn’t have a plan for the day in mind, and Volterra was only an hour or so drive away, but a quick look at a map and chat with the hostess convinced us to head for Lake Trasimeno, a huge lake just west of Perugia.

The lake was gorgeous. We were really hoping to take a boat ride, and we knew there was a ferry in the small town just north of the lake, whose name I can’t recall. Unfortunately, it was more of a commuter ferry and didn’t run often enough for us to stick around. What we did was have lunch at a lovely restaurant right on the lake. Sam took photos.

Another fabulous meal of salmon tartar, shrimp curry ravioli, pasta with lake perch, veal, salad, and pasta with meat sauce (again) for Sam. I noticed that this meal had a similar flavor as the one from the night before, and I identified the common element as the salt, which seemed different than the salt I am used to. I asked the waitress about it and she said it was “mountain salt,”whatever that meant. She said that it could be purchased at any store. I took a look at the bottle but didn’t take a photo, and that was a mistake. Nobody, including my friend who grew up in Perugia, seems to know about any kind of special salt used in Umbria or what the mountain salt really was. Oh well, it was delicious. The food in Umbria was my favorite of the whole trip.

Our next stop was Sienna, a very popular destination in Italy. On our way, we crossed from Umbria into Tuscany. The countryside was slowly changing. Both regions are mountainous, or at least hilly, but Umbria is much more rugged, whereas Tuscany is filled with gently rolling hills. At this point, I was more impressed with Umbria.

Sienna was another medieval town, similar to Gubbio. We didn’t have much of an agenda there, except to walk through it a bit and see the Duomo. Rick Steves describes the Duomo perfectly: “The interior is a Renaissance riot of striped columns, intricate marble inlays, Michelangelo statues, and Bernini sculptures.” He also says it is “heaped with statues” and “plastered with frescoes.” Getting the idea? It’s pretty gaudy. In fact, it’s ugly. However, here, more than anywhere else, I appreciated the whole purpose of the cathedral: to impress, to awe, to astound, and maybe to inspire but maybe to diminish all else by contrast. Even in this day and age, to walk through those narrow, mean streets, and to come upon this wide-open square with its immense, intricate structure is to have your breath taken away.  That is, unless you are four years old. I love this video of Sam chasing pigeons with the Duomo in the background. I wonder if 13th Century children had the same (non) reaction.

In Sienna, we also found a little playground, where I took this photo of Adam pushing Sam on a swing, and she is beyond horizontal. It has nothing to do with Italy, but it’s one of my favorite photos of all time!

On our way from Sienna to Volterra, we had the most beautiful drive of the trip. The Tuscan hills are not overrated. We were lucky enough to climb through those hills at sunset. It was just gorgeous.  We arrived in Volterra at night and didn’t have the time or energy to do anything but grab a quick dinner and go to sleep. This time I picked a really dreary hotel and we had a hard time finding a place to eat and so the night was a bust. We did get adventurous and ordered wild boar and hare ragu for dinner (which Sam tried too), but it wasn’t very good. The restaurant was filled with a huge group of noisy teenage girls. There were a couple of adults in attendance so it seemed like a school group or something. Later I found out about Volterra’s connection to the Twilight books, and I wondered if that’s why the giggling group was there.

The next morning we only had time for a quick walk before we had to head out for Florence, so all I can say about Volterra is that it seemed to be the most dramatic of the small towns we visited. It’s set up high in the hills and the streets are just a little bit narrower and a little bit steeper than the others I’d seen.

The views from the city are incredible.

When you arrive you feel like you are entering a fortress, which of course, it essentially was. The streets we walked were filled with beautiful shops and I bought a pair of earrings - my only souvenir from the trip. Rick Steves claims Volterra is less touristy than the other small Tuscan towns. It’s his favorite. I was very disappointed that we weren’t able to spend more time there.

The road trip was stressful and frustrating at times. We didn’t do or see nearly as much as I had anticipated. By the time we left for Florence we were exhausted. But still, the experiences we had did give us a feel for what lies outside of the major cities of Italy. If you’re planning a trip to one of those cities, make time to take at least a day trip to one of the medieval towns. It’s hard to believe that these places still exist. It’s like another world.

I’ll wrap up my journal in the next installment: Florence.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Twins Update - 2 Months Old

Wow, the second month went much faster than the first! That whole NICU experience slowed time down to a crawl, but now that we're settled in, time is flying by. We'll take the 2-month photos soon so I'll tide you over with these:

Mostly, life with twins has continued to be good. However, things have gotten more difficult in the past couple of weeks. Leo's reflux got worse again. We've upped his dose of Zantac and we'll see how it goes. Zoe has started spitting up more, which is not really that big of a deal, but it caused a problem the other night. She had spit up through her nose a couple of times and the milk and mucus got dried up in there and caused her to have trouble breathing. We ended up calling our pediatrician's nurse line around midnight. (There is nothing more important in choosing a pediatrician than the availability of 24 hour advice and weekend appointments. I don't care how good the doctor is.) Anyway, we just had to put some saline drops in her nose, but it made for a terrible night. And we've been having company and visitors over, which is wonderful, but ends up throwing us off our rhythm and putting me behind on jobs like laundry and paying bills. I think that no matter how boring the baby duties are, I need to limit my outings and visits so that I can maintain that discipline I wrote about earlier. Keeping the routine is the only thing that allows me to sleep, shower, and eat well enough so that I can feel like a human being.

Speaking of outings, I finally got Leo and Zoe out for a walk in the stroller last week. We've had fabulous weather lately and I've been wanting to take advantage of it, but for a long time I just didn't feel ready to go through all that hassle. But I finally took the plunge and we all enjoyed the walk. My Baby Jogger stroller was well-worth the money.

On Friday I took Zoe and Leo to the doctor (by myself!) for their 2-month checkup. Zoe is 8 pounds and Leo is 9 pounds 8 ounces. They are on the growth chart now. For weight, Zoe is 2% and Leo is 7%. That sounds terrible, but that is compared to all two-month-olds, including full-term babies. Their adjusted age is just 3 weeks, and they are both around 50th percentile on the adjusted chart. They are growing exactly as they should be. Leo has one health issue besides the reflux which I'll keep private, but which is not a big deal.  And Zoe has something which will resolve itself but is pretty funny right now. As Adam wrote on Facebook:
Yesterday, Zoe's pediatrician told us that her narrow, square-shaped head is a preemie condition the doctors and nurses call, "toaster head." Jeez, just our luck that one of our twins is a cylon!

We finally have the doctor's permission to let them sleep longer at night. We had been doing it anyway, but now we'll start to try to actively encourage longer stretches of sleep. Cluster feeding them at night seems to help a lot. They can go about 5 or 6 hours between feedings now, but that doesn't happen consistently. We're limited by the lowest common denominator - the baby who gets hungry first sets the schedule. And there's always someone who is going through a growth spurt or not feeling well or whatever. It really keeps us on our toes.

Leo is just a monster - we can practically see him growing. And he feels so solid. I guess it's a boy thing, because he feels about twice as heavy as Zoe. She feels delicate and almost hollow compared to him, but she's really not that much smaller. In fact, in length she's only half an inch smaller. But everything about her is dainty - her hands, her eyelids, even her tiny little butt. Leo is a football player, a bruiser, a solid mass of muscle, in short: a boy. And his butt is huge! It's so wonderful to have a boy and girl at the same time; I love seeing the differences between them.

And are they different! They are becoming more and more different as they get older. When they were born, they looked somewhat similar. There is even one photo from the NICU which we can't identify as of Leo or Zoe. But now it seems like they got exactly the opposite genes from each side. Leo seems to have Adam's eyes but The Italian's face shape. Zoe has Adam's face shape but The Italian's eyes. Their noses are different, their ears are different, their coloring is different, their body-shapes are different (even given the boy-girl differences), and their personalities are different. Overall, I think Zoe got more from The Italian and Leo got more from Adam. And maybe this is why I had trouble bonding with her early on, more so than because of the breastfeeding. From the start, she's just been more alien to me. But now, I'm in love with her alien-ness. She is a mystery to me and I can't wait to find out what she'll be like when she is older. Of course, Leo is a mystery too, but he is so much more like Sammy that it feels familiar. Then again, he's a boy, and that makes him exciting and new, too.

I can't imagine any more perfect set of children than the three that we have. And of course, that is how every parent feels. Because once they arrive, they are yours and they are perfect and you can't imagine life without them. Not just life without children, but life without your particular children.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Video: Zoe and Sammy

Zoe's first smile was for Sammy. Isn't that the sweetest thing ever? And she is learning to use her hands, too! Unbearably cute and sweet:



Friday, October 21, 2011

egg donor

So far, I have no qualms at all about having used the egg donor. It's not that I feel the same about Zoe and Leo as I would have about children with my own genes. There are differences. I can't look at them and say to Adam, "We made them." Even though we did make them in an even more deliberate way than we made Sam, I don't feel that sense of having created them out of nothing that I have with her. That's a real loss. I can face that. But that mystery that I mentioned - that is a positive. It's hard to describe, but it's just kind of exciting. I think I just like the idea of having three very different children, and having to learn how to relate to each of them. I also know that the love that I feel for them comes from all the things that are more important than genes: our choice to make them, their uniqueness, and the relationships that we are forging. Then I look back at Samantha and I know much more clearly what part of my love for her comes from her being a mini-me. It definitely is part of what I feel for her, and since she'll always be my only child in that way, it is precious to me. But I'm pleased to know that most of my feelings for her do indeed come from everything else: how we've raised her, her own personality and choices, and all the shared experiences we have as a family.

So, the egg-donation is really a non-issue. Despite what I've just said, I hardly ever think about it. Leo and Zoe are my children, and Adam's children, 100%. What is more interesting is how my feelings for Samantha have changed and how I see all of them differently now that we have more than one. That is an adjustment that I'm still working on. And I'll have to write about it some other time.


Monday, October 17, 2011


How do I reconcile these two things?

Sam was looking at a picture of six birds on a box, which were in two groups of three, and within the groups, there were two small birds and one large bird. She counted, pointing:
One, two
One, two
One, two, three, four, five, six
So one plus two plus one plus two equals six. And one plus one plus two plus two equals six.

Wow! But the other day, we had this conversation:
Me: Sam, what is four plus zero.
Sam: Ummmm, five.
Me: No. Remember, zero means nothing.
Sam: Ummm, six.
Me: No. Look, I'm holding up four fingers, and I'm going to add nothing to them. Zero. So how many do I have?
Sam: Four!
Me: Yes! Now, what is seven plus zero.
Sam: Eight.
[repeat same explanation]
Me: Now, what is one plus zero?
Sam: Two.
[and so on]

It's really hard to get an idea of what she understands and what she doesn't. I'm thinking this means that she still has to have physical objects to count. The zero conversation happened in the car and the only time she could get it was when I held up fingers.

Anyway, it's all fun stuff! I love to try to figure out what's going on in that budding little brain of hers.


Friday, October 14, 2011


Sammy was angry all morning. Stomping, spitting, breaking the rules, yelling at us. At one point when things were calm, I mentioned that she needed to remove her own toys from Leo and Zoe's toy shelf. (This is something we're working on.) She told me that she wanted to put her scissors on their shelf so that they could use them when they got older. Then it got real quiet.

A few minutes later Sammy came into the living room and looked in her mirror. I asked if everything was okay. She said coyly, "You know what I'm going to say, don't you?" This means she broke the rules, or is about to ask if she can break the rules. She came over to me and was about to whisper in my ear when I said, "Oh, I see it. You cut your hair." She had cut a couple of locks from the front. I said, completely calmly, but with mild disappointment in my voice: "It looks bad. And your school pictures are coming up soon, so it will look that way for your picture. And when you put it up in a ponytail, that part won't go in the ponytail because it is too short."

She said, "Yeah. I miss my hair." I told her that it would grow back, but that it would take a long time.

Someday, that girl will learn that actions taken in anger never do her any good. I don't know how long it can take to learn that lesson, but she certainly gives herself enough opportunities to learn it. I guess it's a difficult one - plenty of adults have never learned it either.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Twin Logistics

Okay, here's what you've all been dying to know: what does a typical day with newborn twins look like? What do you have to do with them all day? How is it different than having one baby?

Well, to answer the last question first, it is not all that different than having one baby. It is more work, and sometimes there are logistical difficulties, but mostly, it's just feeding two babies instead of one. It gets really difficult when Sammy is around - especially if there is only one adult in the house. I try to avoid that situation as much as possible. Two days a week, I am alone with Leo and Zoe and Sam in the morning. If the babies wake up at different times and Sam is helpful about getting ready for school on her own, everything is fine. But when both babies wake up and want to eat at the same time, it gets dicey. That happened this morning. Luckily, Sammy has really stepped up to the plate, getting herself dressed quickly and not throwing any fits. More about how I handle that later.

Zoe and Leo are still on a three-hour feeding cycle, which is how they came home from the NICU. The doctors have told us to keep this schedule until they are at least two months old (they are seven weeks now), except at night, when they say we can allow them to go four or five hours between feedings. The doctors want the babies fed aggressively until they catch up to their peers - meaning when they make it on to the growth chart. Preemies do gain weight faster than full-term babies, and they do catch up, but it takes a while. I used to set my alarm at night and we'd wake them up if they slept too long, but I've stopped doing that. According to the doctors, both Zoe and Leo are eating well and gaining weight extremely well, so I don't see why we shouldn't allow them to sleep if that's what they need. We need it, too. Most of the time, they go four or five hours between feedings at night anyway, but Leo has gone as long as six and a half. And sometimes they only go three, just like during the day. Those are the tough nights. But that's no different than any single newborn, really, except that we can't take turns - both of us are involved in every feeding.

Generally, we've tried to keep both babies on the same schedule, meaning that if they don't both wake up at the same time, we'll wake up the sleeper so we can feed them both at once. Every mother of twins I've spoken to (except one) and every book I've read and every web site I've browsed has told me to do it this way. In fact, keeping both babies on the same schedule was the number one piece of advice. I'm not sure why. It works for us most of the time, but mostly because we are feeding them both breastmilk and formula. Because they are preemies, the doctors told us that they both must have at least two bottles of high-calorie formula per day, so exclusive breastfeeding is out. (I wouldn't have been able to do that anyway.) So, when there are two adults in the house, I nurse one baby and the other baby gets a bottle from the other adult. At the next feeding, we switch. If both babies are on the same schedule, this works out very nicely. If they are staggered it gets confusing because I might have to nurse one and then nurse the other almost immediately, which doesn't work. So I'll skip nursing that one and then go too long without nursing and my milk supply suffers.

But when only one person is home, you want them staggered so you don't have to try to feed both at once. I suppose some parents find ways to feed two babies at once on a regular basis and enjoy the time-savings, but to me, it's more trouble than it is worth. I haven't even tried to nurse two at once, and I don't intend to. The way that Leo squirms, it would be impossible anyway.

But sometimes I have to deal with both at once. Sometimes they both wake up to eat at the same time and I'm the only one home. I've tried a number of things to deal with this. Sometimes, I just let one cry until the other one is finished. That has to mean that Zoe is first to eat though, since Leo needs to be held upright for a long time after he eats and she'd be crying for an hour if she were second. So if Leo is screaming louder and I don't want to make him wait, I'll try to feed them both at once. I've done this by setting one up in a car seat on a coffee table in front of me, or on a chair next to me, and holding the other. I'll nurse the one I'm holding and bottle-feed the one in the car seat. This works, but they never get quite a full feed, and I don't like not being able to quickly burp the one in the car seat. I wouldn't do this on a regular basis, not matter how efficient it is. I did it this morning, nursing Zoe and giving Leo a bottle. While I was doing it, the babysitter arrived to take Sammy to school and I gave her my keys and instructions for the day and said goodbye to Sammy and made sure she took her lunch and her umbrella. I felt like twin-supermommy!

I'm not sure how much longer the breastfeeding will last. My supply isn't that great so a lot of time I'm nursing and giving a bottle to "top them off." Then I have all the downsides of nursing, plus all the extra dirty bottles to clean. Leo has become a pain to breastfeed because he keeps popping off and squirming. He does the same thing with a bottle, but at least he's not scratching and biting me in sensitive places that way. But I'll probably continue, at least with Zoe, mostly because it's still easier to nurse in the middle of the night, and because it does save money. The bonding was great, but I think I'm over that. I've bonded with both of them now, and they are starting to interact with us a bit more in other ways, so it's not as big of a deal. Once they are both bottle-feeding and more mature, one person might be able to feed them both at the same time more easily, especially when they can hold their own bottles.

Another thing we do is keep a log of all of their feeds and diapers. This is standard fare for twins also. I thought it would be a pain and maybe not worth the hassle, but it is so necessary. I can't tell you how many conversations we've had like this:
Adam: Did you do Leo or Zoe last time?
Amy: I can't remember. Don't you remember?
Adam: Well, I know Leo pooped earlier and I changed it, but was that the last feed?
Amy: I don't know. I think I fed Zoe last time. Right?
Adam: I don't know. Oh, wait, I remember - I fed Zoe last time because I remember giving her her vitamins.
Amy: Oh yeah, that's right. And I gave Leo his Zantac. But wait. Oh no, that's right.
Adam: So that means that I feed Leo now, right?
Amy: Wait, now I'm confused. Who did you say you fed last time?
Adam: I don't remember what I just said.
Amy: Me either.
Adam: Let's go look at the log.

I'm not exaggerating. We have witnesses.

Having a video monitor has been super-helpful. We still can't always recognize which one is crying. And it does matter. We ignore Leo's crying much more than we ignore Zoe's. Much of the time, there is nothing we can do to help Leo, but if Zoe is crying before feeding time, it probably means her diaper is leaking or she is lying in a pool of spit up or she has a poopy diaper. Those are things we can fix.

Another challenge with twins is keeping up with the supplies. We go through diapers and wipes at an insane rate. And then, preemies grow so fast! We were short on preemie sized diapers so I ordered another case from Amazon, but then a few days later, they had grown out of that size and we ended up with hundreds of unused tiny diapers. (We'll donate them to the NICU.) Both Leo and Zoe grew quickly out of their preemies-sized clothing, too, and are now growing out of the newborn stuff and moving on to "0-3 month" size. For a while, I was rearranging their drawers every week. We used less than one case of newborn sized diapers as well - they were only in that size for a couple of weeks. Thank goodness for Amazon. I can get anything within two days without leaving my home.

It can also be difficult to keep track of whose stuff is whose. Pacifiers, clothing, half-used burp cloths, bulb syringes, syringes for medications, etc. We have to have a system for everything. Luckily, I enjoy system-building! I've got the whole house set up pretty well right now.

I was really worried about bathing twins because I had it in my head that I'd have to bathe both at once. Of course you don't bathe both at once - at least not when they are newborns! The NICU gave us a little tub that we used a few times, but they grew out of it and then I tried using a little chair in the sink. But that doesn't submerge them in the water and they hate it, so I use it to soap them up, then throw in on the floor and dunk them in the sink to rinse them. They love that. I hate using the kitchen sink, though. I never feel like it is really clean. I just bought an inflatable tub that goes in the regular tub to see how that works. I probably bathe each one about once or twice a week.

Of course, we have to trim their fingernails. No difference there between twins and a single baby - just double the work. Neither one has enough hair to brush, but Zoe has developed a bad case of baby acne and we have to wipe her face after each feed.

Laundry is pretty crazy. I didn't do any laundry until recently because Adam and my parents and our babysitter did it all. Only now am I starting to take over that task. I'd guess we're doing about a dozen loads a week. It's not just the baby clothes and blankets and burp cloths - it's also the 2-3 shirts a day that Adam and I each go through because of the spit up, and the extra outfit Sam wears each day since she has to change her clothes when she comes home from school (germs, you know, since they are preemies and we have to be super-careful about them not getting sick). It helps that we have lots and lots of swaddle blankets and wash cloths (which we use as burp cloths). It's worth the investment to ensure that you can go three days without running out. I'd guess that we have about 50 burp cloths to cover that, and about a dozen blankets.

Speaking of swaddling, we're not doing that this time around, whereas it was a mission-critical skill with Sammy. Leo sleeps in his car seat because of his reflux so can't be swaddled, and Zoe doesn't need to be swaddled to be happy. We keep Leo's car seat in the crib to keep it off the floor, and we only have the one crib, so Zoe sleeps next to a giant car seat, and they can't even see each other. That bums me out, but it's the best method we've found so far. I just discovered that Leo loves to be rocked in the car seat so I'm going to buy a swing and see if he can sleep in that. But our dream of having them sleep together as babies probably isn't going to happen.

Another key with twins: have a place to safely stow a baby in every room of the house. (I call these devices, "baby jails," since they are basically ways to keep the baby from getting out.) You never know when you'll need to put one down and deal with the other. We have a couple of bouncy seats but the babies are really still too small to enjoy them. But we do have a super Ikea changing table in the living room which is like a hammock and can be used for naps. And the extra car seat is usually available. We have the Pack 'n Play set up in our bedroom. They're still little enough to safely leave on our bed or on the floor on a blanket without supervision. This will get more challenging later, so we'll need more baby jails like swings and exersaucers and such.

So what is a typical day like for me? After a night of about 5-6 hours sleep (broken up into two chunks), I'll wake up, feed two babies, and get Sam ready for school. Then I'll have about an hour before the next feeding so I'll try to feed myself and drink as much coffee as possible. (I've stopped worrying about caffeine in the breastmilk. They'll live.) Then I feed two babies again and shower in my time off. There might be time for a quick nap here, or possibly some work on my computer like paying bills or writing a blog post. If I'm on top of things, I'll unload the dishwasher and reload it with the previous night's bottles and maybe start a load of laundry. Then I feed two babies again and then eat "lunch." By around 2pm, I'm usually dressed and fed and ready to go out somewhere if necessary. (I've made a point of showering and getting dressed most days and even though it takes until the afternoon, it's worth it.) Adam gets home from teaching somewhere in here on the days that he teaches. (When he doesn't teach, he usually tries to work from home but will feed the second baby and help with laundry and dishes and everything else.) Someone picks up Sam from school. Sometimes that is me. Some days the babysitter comes around this time and entertains Sam and helps with the late-afternoon feeding. Babysitter or not, if any errands need to be run, someone tries to dart out between feedings. Some days I take Sammy with me to the pharmacy or the post office and call it quality time with her. (And really, we do enjoy that.) If I'm totally exhausted, I might take a nap in here. Otherwise, I'm shopping online or opening Amazon boxes or Putting Stuff Away. I can't tell you how much time I spend Putting Stuff Away. If I go one day without Putting Stuff Away, the house becomes completely disorganized and that's when I start to lose my mind. That brings us to around 6pm. Because we've had so much help with meals, I haven't yet gotten into a rhythm of making dinner, so there might be a scramble here for food, or I might prepare something. But we almost always still sit down at the table - Sammy, Adam, and I - and eat together. Then we have to immediately try to figure out how bedtime for Sam will work, because a feeding inevitably overlaps with that long process. (We really need to get Sam's bedtime down to a reasonable time instead of the hour-long process that it is now.) I wish I were more organized at the end of the day, but we don't keep the twins on a rigid schedule, so we never know exactly how the timing will go. The free time after this feeding is usually reserved for dishes, making Sammy's lunch, more Putting Stuff Away, other chores, and maybe a little bit of TV. Then there is another feed around 11pm which ends around midnight, and the adults go to sleep. Usually, we only have one true middle of the night feeding to deal with after that.

That makes seven feedings a day. Each one takes about an hour per baby, if you include changing their diapers, burping them, bathing them, soothing them, and doing whatever else needs to be done with them. That makes 14 hours per day of hands-on baby duties. (They sleep the rest of the time.) Most days, I only do a little more than half that. Maybe nine or ten hours, tops - sometimes only seven. The rest is handled by Adam or the babysitter. There really isn't that much other work related directly to the babies (laundry and dishes and opening Amazon boxes, mainly), and Adam has been helping so much that it's not overwhelming. (My parents also did a lot of that work while they were here.) And since I've been using Amazon for supplies, Peapod for groceries, and using every short-cut I can think of for meals (frozen food, pre-prepared food from the grocery store, pizza deliveries, ready-to-heat meal services, take-out, and mostly, lots of help from friends and neighbors), I've had enough time to do things like write blog posts, take Sammy to her gym, take Sammy to her dance lessons, attend a picnic, take Sammy to the playground, etc. On top of that, because of technology, I've spent most of the time while feeding babies reading books on my Kindle or checking Facebook or e-mail on my Droid. That time is relaxing and enjoyable. I don't feel harried or overworked most of the time. The worst part is just the repetitiveness of it all - and the feeling that there is no way out of this routine for many, many months to come. And that is no different than it was with one baby. Oh, I take it back - that is the second-worst thing. The worst thing is listening to your baby cry and not being able to do anything about it. Thank goodness Zoe is so mellow and happy so it's only Leo who is crying. If both were crying as much as he is, I'd probably be a wreck.

The biggest difference between my first experience with an infant and this one is not that I have two babies. It is that I have perspective. I know that this time will end. Of course, I knew that last time, but it wasn't real to me. I had no idea how much easier it would get, and how different things would be in a year. I feared that I had given up all my other values forever, for my sweet baby Sam. And that was scary. This time, I know that this period is an investment. And since it doesn't feel permanent, I'm able to enjoy my two new sweet babies, Leo and Zoe, so much more. Some days are torture, and some are just filled with drudgery, but most of the time, I'm enjoying myself. No one is more surprised about that than I am!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Demand Feeding Sucks

Disclaimer: this post was written on little sleep and during extreme stress.

We f-ed up big time last night. We had friends over for dinner and allowed the twins' schedule to fall apart. We wanted to talk and so the minute Leo or Zoe fussed, they got fed just to keep the peace. And they napped in the living room because it was easier than bringing them up to the nursery. Neither one slept more than a few minutes at a time. Today is a nightmare--they won't eat a full meal but cry continuously for more as soon as I put them down. Last night they slept, but not in as long stretches as usual.

What I've learned (well, I already knew it, but it's been reinforced) is that we've been doing so well with the twins because we've maintained discipline. Discipline means never feeding a baby just to stop its crying. They eat when we say they eat (although we take their signals into account and allow for growth spurts and such). Demand-feeding leads to snacking and short naps, which is good for nobody in the family. I don't know how people can think that an infant knows what is best for it when it comes to food and sleep. Sammy is five years old and she still falls apart every time I get lazy and allow her to manage her own food and sleep. It is the parent's job to encourage healthy eating and sleeping habits, which pretty much means consolidation of each. Sure, you let go little by little, and some kids can figure out what is best for them earlier than others, but it is pure insanity to allow a newborn infant to dictate when it eats and when it sleeps. Having two babies just makes it that much more clear. It takes discipline to act in everybody's long-range interest. It takes discipline to hear your baby crying but say to yourself, I know what he needs better than he does, and to wait.

I think the problem for first-time parents is sorting out the difference between taking the baby's signals into account and letting the baby dictate the schedule. It's a fine line, and nothing but experience can teach you the difference. With Sam, I think we fell too much towards not listening to her signals. We were afraid that any deviation would "spoil" her, which was really stupid, in retrospect. A rigid schedule is just as ridiculous as demand-feeding. But the demand-feeding advocates make me more angry than the schedulers, just as subjectivists make me angrier than intrincicists. (And D's make me angrier than M's, if you know anything about DIM.)

Right now, I'm solving the problem we created last night by letting both babies cry. Earlier this morning, I continued with the short-range method of feeding them as soon as they cried, just hoping that they'd get back on track on their own. But they never did. Now I have to suck it up, and writing this blog post is a good distraction (and running the noisy dishwasher helps too). They have clean diapers, they've been fed recently (although neither ate much), they are warm and comfortable. But they can't settle down because their rhythm is off. They will each be fed three hours after the beginning of their last feed and no sooner. In my experience, this "reboot" will fix the problem.

And now the three hours is up. THANK GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Little Thing About Energy

A conversation between Sammy and her Grando (my dad):

G:  Sammy, when does your battery run out?

S:  I don't have a battery! What do you think I am, a statue?

G:  Where do you get your energy?

S:  From all the chocolate!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Little Thing

One surprising joy of parenting a full-day school kid is preparing lunch. I'm absolutely loving putting together Sammy's lunch each day. Because of the twins I haven't been cooking at all, but putting a little lunch together gives me a small version of that value. I enjoy trying to make Sam's lunch just a little bit different each day, and to put a fun variety of things in her lunchbox. There's a real challenge in doing this day after day, especially when my grocery shopping is a chaotic mess and the choices in the kitchen are limited.

Today, she's having half a turkey and butter sandwich (one of her favorites), a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese (which she picked out at the market), a few snap pea pods with a tub of leftover ranch dressing from Popeye's Chicken (I have 2 ounce cups with lids for ranch dressing on order from Amazon but I was pleased to have figured out a way to do it in the meantime), a small plum, a leftover fortune cookie, and a container of shelf-safe milk.

Someday she'll prepare her own lunch and I'm sure I'll be relieved, but for now, I love this little way of caring for her.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

We're slipping a little, but we're still managing!

I think this is going to do it for Sam's 5 year photo. It's almost a month late, but at 5 years old a month doesn't make much difference. Adam made the sign a few days after her birthday, but it sat around so long that it got "decorated." Hey, it just reflects the reality of our lives. And Sam does not like posing, so we had to get her while she had a baby in her lap. Oh well, it's good for perspective, right?

No, those are just rationalizations. The reality is that my new parenting motto is: Good Enough!