Tag Archives: kids

The twins at three months

bairns

The kids are now three months old. They have more than doubled in weight since birth, gaining plump cheeks, chubby thighs, and burgeoning foreheads along the way. They have discovered their voices and (very recently) their hands. Every day is different in some way from the last or the next, which is of course true of life without children, but the repetitive nature of their care and the subtle adjustments you constantly make bring that reality into focus.

For the benefit of anyone interested — those who are about to become parents, maybe, but probably just friends and family — here are some surprising things learned in the early months of being a father to newborn twins.

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I always thought babies became interesting after the first year. Now that I have my own kids, who I spend several hours a day with, witnessing their constant development and increasing attachment to me, I find it hard to imagine a more interesting phase of life for an observer. It didn’t take long to appreciate the privilege of knowing these people intimately from day one. From there, through beginning to follow my face with their eyes to today’s daily delight of beaming and cooing, it’s been impossible not to be constantly fascinated.

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That said, long night feeds have made me a more prolific movie watcher through these first three months than at any other phase of my life. Forty so far and counting, plus a few false starts. Not even my days as a student layabout can compare.

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Everyone talks about the gruelling nature of early parenting. Yes, it is hard — but the establishment of breastfeeding aside (that’s a whole other story that I can’t really fathom), the work itself is not hard. You feed them, you change their bums, you have a bit of a play, you put them to bed. You keep an eye on them and tweak your techniques and routines — Tara is particularly good at this — to the best of your ability. And that’s it. Tara and I call it The Job, and no matter how fraught we get, we always take comfort in having done The Job for another day.

The major challenge is not in the demands of the children but in the demands of the parents. We both have to sleep and eat, obviously, but we also have complex lives we’d like to maintain to some degree while we embark on our lives as parents. This is made trickier by the unequal division of labour: one parent is out for 60 hours a week, the other stays home 24/7. How do you balance the needs of the partner who misses his wife and kids with the needs of the partner who rarely gets to leave the house? It’s an ongoing balancing act, never perfected.

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Did I gloss over sleep? Sleep is very, very important. You have to figure out how much sleep you need as quickly as possible and carve out an adequate allotment for each parent. And it isn’t as simple as taking the chance to sleep whenever it arises. You might not be able to sleep during the day. You might be fine on five consecutive hours but a sodden heap on two three-hour stretches.

Most of all, you may not realise how much you need to sleep until you’ve both stayed up an hour later than you should have to argue about who should go to bed early tonight. Definitely our dumbest fight, and our most frequently repeated.

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A caveat. We have easy babies. They started sleeping for 5-6 hours at a time at about two months old, and they have slept through the night twice already. They take breast and bottle without drama, at least since the first couple of weeks. There have been no visits to A&E.

It goes right back to day one, when the maternity unit wouldn’t let Tara deliver until there was room in neonatal intensive care for them. Twins are at much higher risk of birth complications and they didn’t want to be caught short in an emergency. But out they came, bonny as can be, and we went home after a few days. Apart from an increasing tendency to lose the plot shortly before bedtime, there have been no serious curveballs.

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In mid-December, we took the kids to Auckland to meet Pop and Ange. People thought we were insane to plan this a mere six weeks into their lives. Tara liked to say we should start as we mean to go on, by which she meant if we are going to be the adventurous, risk-taking parents we want to be, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone for the sake of our children, we might as well start as early as possible.

And it was fine! No problems on the plane up or back. No problems adjusting to new surroundings for a few days. No problems spending half a day at Auckland Art Gallery. I’m skimming over all the work we and our support crew did to get us through those four days, and that was a lot, but the kids themselves hardly broke a sweat.

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People have been quite willing to get stuck in with us. The grandmothers each visit one day a week to help with childcare. The rest of the family are properly involved, hands-on, whenever they see the kids. All the relatives who said they’d die before changing a nappy? They’ve changed nappies, plural. I guess I’m not surprised by this; they’ve always been supportive of us.

But then there are people like my ten-year-old niece’s friend — she barely knows us — who joined us at a waterside picnic and jumped at the chance to do a bottle feed. Some people are just keen to have a go, and it’s always heartening.

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I was actually dreading the nappies. They will no doubt get stinkier and more explosive as solids are introduced, but so far, they have been one of the easier parts of The Job. I am always amazed when people baulk at changing a nappy (which takes five minutes) but are quite happy to do a bottle feed (which takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour and can be fiendishly complex if the infant is not calm and willing). So, if you find yourself able to offer support to new parents, doing a feed will be most appreciated BUT changing a nappy will earn you some quick and easy respect.

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Strangers are always quick with a smile and a comment when you’re out in public with twins. By far the most common thing you hear is:

“Double trouble!”

People say this as they peer into the pram, as they jog by on a woodland path, as they look at you with a knowing nod. I used to offer “double the fun” as a cheerful riposte until one woman at the supermarket gravely retorted, “No. Double trouble.” My bad!

Other frequent questions/comments:

“Are they twins?”
“Gorgeous!”
“Are they identical?”
“Are they natural?”
“Enjoy them now, they’re going to be a lot more difficult in a year!”
“You must be busy.”
“Oh, a boy and a girl?” (and sometimes, after we have answered they are two girls, a follow-up, “So are you going to try for a boy next?”)

It seems a lot of people really want you to have had a boy and a girl, or at least have had a boy somewhere along the way. One person explained at length how they kept trying until they had a boy. I don’t really think there’s a need for strangers to put my infant daughters in the box marked ‘girl’, even if that box is getting bigger and more comfortable and pierced with holes. I much prefer it when people ask, “What are their names?” Because as much as anything else at this point, their names are who they are.

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Two thoughts forward, one step back

A sunny Friday afternoon in Wellington.

I thought there was nobody at home at first but then I heard voices from the other end of the house. They carried me to 4’s room where she was on her mother Rach’s lap, recovering from a tantrum. 4 searched my face for a reason to restart her yelling. I smiled.

“I’m going to do some exercise,” I announced cheerfully.

“Okay,” said Rach, who was kind enough to not laugh at me. 4 continued her deep breathing, staring straight ahead.

I went downstairs and changed into my running gear. My shoes and shorts still bore the clean chemical odour of the stores I bought them from. I realised I’d become another one of those people with new exercise clothes – the guy you see run past your house once or twice, huffing and puffing and looking out of place, then never again.

Back upstairs I went. 4 was in the living room now, setting up a megasketcher write-and-wipe pad, toy cash register and a bag of plastic food. I heard Rach in the kitchen, preparing real food for dinner later.

“Barns can you play café?”

I hesitated.

“You only have to play two games!”

“Well, [4], I was actually going to go for a run…”

Enormous pout. Bottom lip protruding at least two centimetres out from face. On the cusp of tears.

“…but why don’t you tell me how you play café?”

Bottom lip put away. She launched immediately into an explanation of the rules. No smile or indication of relief. It was just a ruse, a tactic to force me into staying! But it was too late: now I was stuck playing café. Might as well enjoy it.

I thought of 8, who might not want to miss out. “Where’s your sister?” I asked as 4 finished setting things up.

“She doesn’t want to play,” she said. I wondered whether 8 had even been asked. Ah well. Forget it and move on.

I played customer first, and I made myself the most difficult customer possible. I demanded things that weren’t on the menu. I condescended to the waitress. I sent food back and asked to see the manager. 4 loved all of this, of course – and, being 4, she gave plenty of my condescension right back to me, often with a raucous laugh.

Then it was my turn to go behind the counter. 4 was a much easier customer than I had been. I inserted into the transaction a ‘telephone call’ to the ‘kitchen’, who I thought had messed up the order but had in fact gotten everything just right. 4 giggled as I flinched at the abuse supposedly coming down the phone at me.

“Did you get in trouble?” she asked, still grinning.

“No, no,” I said. “Just a misunderstanding.”

At this point, 8 came into the room and saw that we were playing café. Being 8, she immediately saw ten potential rearrangements that would make everything much better and, as she went to move things around, suggested a handful of new rules. It seems there can never be too many rules; indeed, coming up with more rules often appears to be more entertaining than playing the game itself.

I broke character for a moment. “Hang on, [8]. Let us finish our business. Then I’m going to go for a run, and you two can play.”

“OK,” she said. She hovered impatiently around us as 4 paid the bill with my credit card. I said, “Thank you, come again.”

I left them to their ever-increasing list of rules and headed out for my run.

The park near our new house is small, an oval of about 200 metres’ circumference with a playground alongside it at one end. I planned to run around it until I got tired; having seen people running before, including my previously quite unfit brother, I didn’t see how difficult it could be.

The first lap was fine, bringing a welcome raised heartbeat. By halfway through the second, I was gasping loudly. I retreated into a corner to stretch and catch my breath.

As I tested my muscle flexibility and endured the exquisite pain of a good stretch, I understood that this was not going to be easy. Four years of sedentary lifestyle and two years of smoking meant that I couldn’t get fit again just like that.

Surely I could do a few more laps though. Come, let’s try again.

Round I went. My legs felt less like jelly but my lungs heaved with strain. After twice more round the park, I had to stop again and stretch – though stretching was just an excuse to stop running and rest (for God’s sake).

I thought back to how those regular futsal games when I was 22 were no big deal. I hadn’t exercised properly for four years before taking that up, either. But the difference between 18 –> 22 and 22 –> 26 is tangible. Ed and Rach pointed this out later: I’d hit that mysterious mid-twenties slump when things just don’t work quite the way they used to anymore. Every effort is more of an effort.

So, one last effort. One more lap and then run home. I did so, loudly gasping the whole way. After I got back home, I remembered Mr Cunningham’s words in third form PE – if you stay on your feet, you recover much faster – and so resisted the urge to collapse onto the bed. Instead, I showered and grabbed a beer, still a little breathless.

I went upstairs. No distant voices this time; the living room was transformed and filled with the activity of two young girls.

“The café’s still open,” said 8 cheerfully. 4 looked at me and smiled widely. I smiled back.

“Am I allowed to bring in beer from outside?” I asked.

“Yup,” replied 8.

“Excellent,” I said, and sat down on the sofa (aka Table 7).

I don’t know if I would’ve done this a few years ago. I was far too wrapped up in myself to give much to others. (I still have a long way to go, of course.)

As my calf muscles ached through a long and joyous café experience, now with two excitable wait staff rather than one, it seemed that my body had become less patient over the years; my temperament, meanwhile, had gone the opposite way. Perhaps this is a result of paying close attention to becoming more patient with other people, animals and objects, and paying little heed to the slow atrophy of my body.

The benefits of mindfulness seem obvious. Now, to continue the never-ending process of restoring balance. Right after another beer.

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