For the past 48 hours, I’ve done something I haven’t really in the entire time my boys were alive: be their mom all day.
I realize most parents do things like “take care of their kids” and “keep them from jumping off high places” and “don’t let them eat anything from the drugstore shelf” all the time, all day long, without help, and without the need to pat themselves on the back in writing or out loud. So my sense of satisfaction is absurd. But we hired Maria back when the boys were three months old, and we still had family staying with us to help with the babies. We need a nanny so that we can both work, and on weekends, we prioritize being able to do stuff as a family unit as much as possible because of the long hours Kevin works during the week. So other than the weekend Kevin went to Coachella… whenever that was… I haven’t been in charge of the boys for a succession of entire days all by my lonesome. It’s not that I don’t want to or am trying to avoid this fate; just that this is how my life is arranged.
Also, for me, my twins are a gauntlet. They have energy I have never had. They like to be outside. They like to go on walkabout. They don’t always like to go in the same direction, and only one of them registers that you exist and are speaking, which makes it difficult to encourage him not to run into the street if you are currently entangled with preventing the other twin from teeing off on the neighbor’s sprinkler heads. (This actually happened. The teeing off, not the running into the street. I would have been impressed by their resourcefulness, had I not been afraid they’d get arrested for vandalism.) They want you to lift them, over and over, so they can dunk a basketball in their plastic hoop. They want to be held, both of them, any time I’m doing something for which I need two hands or a wide berth, like using the oven or a knife. If I am chopping something, they wriggle between my legs and the counter and shove me backward, figuring that if they get into position I will have no choice but to lift them. They want to put everything in their mouths except food (which either goes untouched or gets chewed up and then returned to the plate: the edge of the diaper pail, balloons, Play-Doh, cars, spatulas, whisks). If I make it to bedtime and everyone’s still alive and the house isn’t broken, there’s an undeniable feeling of triumph. We made it. Now I can sit. Well, after I pick up the three buckets of toys they dumped on the carpet, and scrape whatever that is off the coffee table, and pluck masticated apple out of the carpet fibers, and wash their cups, and clean up the milk splash that gets everywhere when I pull out the straws, and sponge the counter, and mop the floor, and take out the garbage, and WHOA take out the diaper pail. Then I can sit. With my laptop, because it’s 10 p.m. and I have to do all my work.
And that’s just an afternoon with them. My daily shift of 4 p.m. until bedtime — which despite our best efforts inches closer to 9: 30 every day; Kevin rarely gets home earlier than 8:30, if that — feels like a marathon. A 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. day with them sounded like an Ironman.
But my nanny’s son had foot surgery, so we insisted she stay home with him. I decided I should bloody well stand up and suck it up and confront my fears about my limitations. Kevin is much braver than I am about taking the boys to places of temptation without backup — like the mall, or grocery stores. I am so self-conscious about whether I will be That Mom Who Can’t Control Her Wayward Children that I tend to chicken out on running errands with the boys. Kevin is a better person, so he takes the approach of, “Eh, we’ll figure out a way.” And that was me the last few days. I had to figure out a way.
Wednesday, we did some play classes and music classes, amid backyard basketball and golf. But Thursday… that was the trick. Thursday was my blank slate of a morning. I thought maybe a walk, then some basketball, maybe an impromptu playdate up the street. But then Dylan needed to get his ears checked for an infection, so I had to take them both to the pediatrician for the appointment. This always leads to the two of them climbing up on the wastebasket to try and wash their hands in the exam-room sink, then dry them with a paper towel, over and over again, until the doctor arrives. I help them, because hygiene is important, and it’s more helpful than them digging through the drawers and pulling out instruments and swabs and Things That Look Expensive That They Will Try To Eat. The doctor prescribed a hard-to-find antibiotic that was only available at the nearby Mom and Pop pharmacy. Which is tiny and has no parking spaces.
So we parked at the street edge of the Ralph’s lot across Ventura, to go there on foot. That one went fine, as did crossing the cross-street to go inside. While I dropped off the prescription, Dylan and Liam managed to slap the little metal prongs that hold various important medicinal dispensing products, dropping them and their wares to the floor. In their defense, they tried to clean them up, but with that toddler aura of not really knowing or caring how it was supposed to go, beyond realizing that they were supposed to go Up There. So they’d pick up the stuff and just sort of try to place it somewhere above them in midair.
And then Liam picked up a box of Magnum condoms and shouted, “OOOOOH.” It starts early.
The wait would be a half-hour, they said. So we toddled out to the sidewalk and I decided we’d kill time at Ralph’s, wheeling around and buying the occasional impulse snack. This is when Dylan decided he wanted to cross the street IMMEDIATELY, and when I didn’t let him, he stretched as far away from me and toward the curb as possible, and then stomped his foot and hurled his ball into the road. Then: “Uh oh ball,” as if the ball leapt out of his fingers of its own suicidal accord. (These guys are not big on actions-have-consequences. In their minds, they are forever innocent. “WHA HAPPEN BALLOOOON?” “Well, it popped.” “WHA HAPPEN?” “You were gnawing on it. “WHA HAPPEN BALLOOON?” “You happened.”)
Magically, no car hit the ball, so when we did cross he picked it back up as if nothing had happened. But after we pressed the button to cross Ventura, they again insisted on going IMMEDIATELY, and when I pulled them back, they both twisted and pulled and dragged and finally we just sort of… kept walking along Ventura. Okay, sure, why not. Then Dylan didn’t want to walk; he wanted to be carried. Then Liam wanted to be carried and wouldn’t stop banging on my thigh until I obliged. Then Dylan wanted down, then he wanted to go places I couldn’t let him go, so he went Spaghetti Legs. And melodramatically slowly collapsed. Lengthwise. On the dirty, nasty sidewalk of heavily trafficked Ventura Boulevard.
Once I got him to his feet, I realized we had the light. So we hustled across the street, and like magic, the grocery store had one of the carts with the little car in front that seats two kids. Those things steer like whales and take corners like the Titanic. It amply killed the half-hour, and the boys only tried to steal one giant bag of peanuts and a tape dispenser, so I count it as a success. I parked the cart by the car and unloaded everything and then prepped to head back over to the pharmacy.
Except the dudes didn’t want to get out of the cart. Of course. Dylan shouted, “No, no, no,” and Liam started whimpering, “Oh, NO, car!” Dylan wept as I extracted him, then both boys sniffled and sobbed along the sidewalk to the crosswalk. At which they were instantly cheered by the opportunity to dart into oncoming traffic. I held firm, and mercy of mercies, the light changed in time for us to surge ahead before anyone broke free of my grip. The chance to run wildly across a stretch of land riddled with cars snapped their mood like a rubber band, and instantly all was sunny again. (But with no traffic in sight, we totally jaywalked at the next street. I was not in the mood to halt momentum and then rev it up again.)
Naturally, the medicine hadn’t been processed because the girl hadn’t told the pharmacist how to find our insurance info in the system. So it took another half hour. And we waited. And waited. Dylan and Liam spent twenty minutes rearranging the cough drop section, in between hand-selecting love bouquets of their favorite ones and proferring them to the pharmacists as gifts with angelic smiles. But that couldn’t hold them forever, and so they started walking up and down the aisles, picking up medicine and shaking it and then putting it back down — or in one case, gleefully slapping a shelf and then gasping and cooing, “Oh, NOOOOOO,” when said slap resulted in every item being knocked asunder. Again to their credit, they immediately tried to fix what they did — as if, in fact, it were an Act of God and they had nothing to do with the problem — but they were getting punchy, and I was doing my best, asking them to keep their hands to themselves and clean up anything they spilled and apologize, but when you’re doing damage control with one, that is when the other will strike. It was tough for me to keep them both under wraps. Especially when they each chose an aisle. Liam knew exactly what he was doing, too. I stood at the end and peeked back and forth, back and forth, and Liam would just look up at me and say, “Bye bye,” and pretend to make a move for the door, all the while grinning like a fool. He thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile Dylan was starting a band with some antacid bottles and a tin of Altoids.
I chose Liam, obviously, because I can clean up the impromptu percussion concert, but I can’t clean up Liam after he runs outside and gets hit or kidnapped. But fortunately, a sympathetic employee took Liam under her wing, which was a gift from the heavens. He was so charmed by offering her some Corn Chex and whispering sweet nothings like “basketball” and “wha you doing Dylan” that he no longer wanted to toy with me. So I swept Dylan up, and miraculously, they called my name and I paid and we left, risking certain death by traffic only one other time before reaching the car. Where we had one last fling with the shopping cart, and one last tantrum about saying goodbye to it, before stuffing ourselves back in the Honda and zipping back home. It was 1 o’clock, we’d been out for three hours, we’d managed to stay alive… it felt like a triumph beyond any other.
Maria is back today, so I’m able to run my Christmas errands, organize my mom’s room for her impending arrival, wrap some gifts — after actually acquiring wrapping paper — and basically settle down for a bit before we rev into holiday nuttery. But I’m glad I had my two days with the dudes. It made me feel more confident that, yes, I can do it. I can find a way. It’s a champagne problem to have — oh, I have a nanny and an awesome helpful husband who loves being a dad and spending time with us, waaah — and that’s why it was so good for me to have that stripped away for a day and step into the breach. So I will allow myself a moment of pride that nobody got smushed by a car, but mostly, I feel intense admiration for the moms who do this every day without assistance — moms of singletons, moms of multiples, moms whose kids are different ages. It is not easy, there IS no manual, and no two kids — twins or otherwise — are going to need or want the same thing at the same time. It’s hard, it’s humbling. But it is satisfying, and it made the hugs at the end of the day feel so earned. It’s like they sensed I needed to feel like I’d done okay by them. You’ve got our back, we’ll squeeze yours. It was more than enough. It was everything.