By: Heather Somaini
I read an article the other day by Karen Hartman in the New York Times. It chronicles her very unusual situation. You see, back in 2000, Karen and her girlfriend drove from their home in Brooklyn up to Vermont to get hitched under that state’s more favorable same-sex marriage laws.
I have to add a disclaimer here and let you know that my family is from the great state of Vermont. I lived there until I was ten; my grandparents are buried there; my grandmother Pearl worked for the state’s long-standing senator Patrick Leahy; my mother and cousin graduated from the University of Vermont…I love that state. But even I didn’t run off to get married there “just because I could”.
As you know, New York just recently passed a new law to allow same-sex marriage in their state and the first ceremonies will be held this Sunday, July 24th.
The problems began for poor Karen and her nameless lesbian wife four years later when Karen had an affair with a man and decided she wasn’t gay anymore. She wanted a lesbian divorce. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a lesbian divorce because New York didn’t recognize her marriage in the first place, only Vermont did. They would have to be divorced there but then it got only trickier. Vermont, like almost every other state, has a one-year residency requirement to grant a divorce. In a typical marriage, the state you live in recognizes the other state’s marriages so your residency requirement is a non-issue. But if your state doesn’t recognize your marriage in the first place, that state can’t issue the divorce.
So for seven long years, Karen and the nameless wife stayed in limbo. They sold their house and signed an agreement separating everything in their lives except this pesky little Vermont marriage they had. Karen settled in with her new boyfriend and had a baby. As she writes in the article,It was weird to go to restaurants with a man and feel a quiet avalanche of approval. It was weird to hold hands in public without thinking about it, and soon without even thinking about not thinking about it. It was weird to say, “My boyfriend will be right down” to a cabdriver. It was weird because it wasn’t weird. It wasn’t queer. I wasn’t queer anymore, except on the books in one state.
This is where I get off the pity party train. I actually felt badly for this woman up until here. She made a choice and at some point realized she needed to make a new choice but got stuck in a legal sticking point –I get that. I’m sympathetic to that. What I’m not sympathetic to is a woman who so clearly had an issue with being gay that she ran back to being straight and now wants us to feel sorry for her because she can’t get a divorce and be “normal” and have the “approval” of everyone around her.
I understand that sometimes gay people don’t actually feel proud and despise themselves because of what they think is the world’s disapproval of them. But when I get up every morning, I just feel like me. I’m proud of me. I’m happy with me. If someone isn’t too keen on me, that’s ok. I’m probably not too keen on them either. That happens all the time. But no one gets to tell me that I’m less than because of anything that I am. I have every right to be on this planet and pursue my version of happiness just like every other little creature here. I am more than a woman or gay or a mother or a daughter or a wife. I’m me – unique and special and perfect just like everyone else.
Karen on the other hand, thought it was weird to be gay. She was much happier holding her boyfriend’s hand and not worrying about what other people might say about her. I think that’s totally fine but don’t call the rest of us “weird” because we’re not like you. Don’t tell us we should be embarrassed by our lives like you were when you were one of us.
Karen and her pro bono lawyer eventually got her a divorce in the state of New York and 40 or so days later, she married her 4-year-old child’s father. Good for her. I’m sort of glad she’s one of “them” now. I think it’s only fitting that it took that long to finalize it. I’m sure those six years of being married to a woman but living with the father of her son felt “normal”.
By: Heather Somaini
There are tons of challenges with twins that suck up vast amounts of brain power as a new mom. You’re already working on a reduced amount of engine capacity from lack of sleep and being thrown into the deep end of the parenting pool. There’s nothing right about being required to learn a completely new task that constantly changes from minute to minute while under the duress of limited sleep. It’s just not right. Thank God newborn babies are really cute and helpless, otherwise our species would have died off long ago.
Twins are unique and they come with their own set of weird and odd issues. The first is –do you keep them together? Yes, of course you should actually keep both of your twins and not give one away, but what I meant was, should you keep them together in the same crib or in separate cribs? I’m sure there are lots of opinions on this but we were determined to keep our twins together in the same crib. We kept our daughter in a bassinet in our bedroom but as soon as our son came home from the hospital, we put them together in the same crib. I remember that first night when my unflappable mother came running giddily into me and said “You must come see them. It’s the cutest thing I think I’ve ever seen.” It was awfully cute, two small 6-ish-pound babies in that gigantic crib sleeping soundly. Fast-forward six months, and they were rolling over onto each other and kicking each other in the head. It was time they each had their own crib and although we were worried about their separation anxiety, they had none.
Another decision a new twin parent has to make is their attire. Do you dress your twins alike? Lucky for us we had a boy and a girl so it made life easier for us. We had lots of matching clothes in the beginning but soon they outgrow those cute onesies and you move on to toddler and kid clothes that are really cute. But no matter how tempting it is to buy your twins identical outfits, try very hard to not do it. Now, matching outfits are totally fine for holidays like Christmas, the 4th of July, and even family pictures, but be careful; it’s a very dangerous road to go down.
A few years down the road, any mom with more than one kid will know that Conflict Resolution is a mainstay in her house. With twins it’s even worse. Even with a boy and a girl, there is constant conflict over a toy, a game, or even how to make up a story. They each scream and stomp off and generally someone has gotten hit or kicked. Susie Walton teaches a great parenting class called Redirecting Children’s Behavior and with four grown boys, she knew about fighting firsthand. But she told us once that if there’s no blood and no one is in real danger, it’s probably best to let them work it out on their own. That actually works most of the time but resolving conflict is almost second nature to us now. We have found lots of ways for both of them to get what they want and hopefully respect each other in the process.
I’m sure soon we’re going to find out a number of other things that are unique to twins but those are my three for now. Twins are a logistical nightmare but if you’re diligent and plan ahead, you can get it all done. Anyway, my mom tells me the return policy on kids is just terrible so I guess we’ll keep ‘em.
Coming through a challenging pregnancy, birth, and recovery for everyone created new people in all of us. We took away a few tricky qualities that we’re still working on, but overall both Tere and I came away with a new sense of appreciation and gratitude that we hadn’t understood before. It was a tough lesson to learn under very difficult situations but we eventually got it. If there is anything I try to encourage for new parents or anyone undertaking large change in their life, it’s patience, because in time all things become clear.
I read once that great CEO’s have a keen knack for knowing when to make a decision. It’s all about time and information. If they wait until they have all the information they need, the time to decide has passed. If they rush a decision without enough information, the odds of making the wrong choice are high. So the key is to wait, gather just enough information, and act at exactly the right moment when these two worlds meet. I think there is a good bit of “art” to it. Patience.
I saw something once where this guy gives away “gratitude rocks” which you’re supposed to carry in your pocket so that every time you touched it, it would remind you to be grateful for all that you have. This is a tricky lesson. In our 21st century, high-tech world, we are all moving at great speeds climbing the corporate ladder in our ever quest for more. More of what –I’m not sure, but we all want more. We had a great evening last Sunday at our house when a young singer-songwriter came to do a mini-set for our friends. We had lots of food, everyone loved the music and I poured lots of wine. It was a lovely evening. One of our friends found Tere and me in the kitchen to tell us how important we were to her. She took each of our heads in her hand, pushed all three of our heads together and leaned in close to tell us that we were loved. Right then, I was grateful for all the people in my life that support me every day even if I don’t see them. Gratitude.
For us, patience and gratitude produced a need to give. We realized quickly that there were lots of people around us that gave of their time, their expertise, their love and somehow we needed to give back. We loved going back to the hospital to visit the nurses who took care of Tere while she was on bed rest and soon they asked if we would talk to a patient. We agreed and soon we were visiting a number of soon-to-be moms, all on bed rest at Cedars-Sinai’s Maternal Fetal Care Unit. We met some great women and I hope we inspired them to tough it out through those agonizing months of nothing but online shopping, hospital food, and constant wake-ups to be poked and prodded. We’ve even stayed very much in touch with one family now with twin boys living in San Diego. In fact, our son Free pretty much peed all over their house on one visit as we were beginning to potty train. Oy!
My point is that sometimes the best way to get what we need from the world when we need it most, is to give. When we’re stressed beyond belief and think we have no more energy, give. When our patience is thin and we want to hide, give. When I’m angry and want to have a pity party of one, give. When the world is spinning and feels ready to cave in, give.
I hear it comes back tenfold.
By: Heather Somaini
I was with my family this past weekend for the 4th of July – hopefully you were with yours. On the way home as I watched our babies sleep on the plane, I started to think about how much I miss my family, how much I need them and how much I want them around more.
We’re an odd bunch, our clan. My grandparents were products of the Depression and had an unbelievable work ethic matched with a strong sense of humor. They believed that you could be anything you wanted but hard work was the only way to get there. They passed down a strong sense of self, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. They all picked themselves up by their bootstraps and when they made mistakes, they picked themselves up again. They suffered. They fought back. They came from hearty stock.
Growing up in this family had its fair share of knocks. I always knew I was loved, deeply, and that every single one of my relatives would kill for me. We can pick on one of our own but if an outsider even looked sideways, let alone had something critical to say about one of us, the wagons would circle. My family is an impenetrable force that no one can pierce. I know that when we’re together, we are a force – probably a force to be reckoned with (as I say with a grin).
Families are sort of amazing when you think about it. In my family, we’re all stuck with each other no matter what because blood means a tremendous amount to us. My mom and I were talking about a family that disowned one of their own for being gay. She was in shock because to her, blood is blood. You don’t get the option of rejecting your own. You’re stuck with them for good or bad, and you’d better start figuring it out because they’re not going away. I mean if you could reject a relative for being gay, why not reject the one that drinks too much or makes bad financial decisions or the one that got pregnant way too early?
Oh wait; if we did that, then we’d all be rejected! The beauty of my family is that they accept me. It has not always been easy and that’s probably more my fault than anyone else’s, but as I’ve come to accept who I am, it’s been easier to see that they’ve always been there for me. They’ve always wanted the best for me. They’ve always accepted my choices, even if they were looking at me sideways the whole time.
As I watched my baby boy and baby girl sleep next to me on that plane, I thought about what I would do for them as they grow older. How I am already so fiercely protective of their future selves, how I want them to experience life in all its complexity and make decisions that in the end they will be proud of. I want to be there to watch them fail and then pick themselves up again. I will whisper in their ear all the encouragement they need to stand up again and when that doesn’t work, I’ll bark at them until they get up just to make me stop. I can only hope they are the best parts of me.
My wife Tere was out of sorts as we prepared to leave my parents’ house in Tennessee for the trek back to Los Angeles. She seemed mad or upset at me. Eventually she broke down and told me she was sad about going home, how my parents feel like family to her and that gives her hope. Hope that she has a place in the world, a place that is bigger than she. Hope that her children will have those same people around them to make sure they are loved with big, all-squeezing arms. Hope that in this odd clan of ours, she will be as fiercely protected as I was. Hope that she will one day be whole. I think that’s all we can ever hope for – being whole…or maybe just a little less broken than we are today.
I wish I could convince Tere that she needn’t worry. No one gets rejected in our family – even the ones that marry in. We have a number of in-laws that are still with us long after the marriage ended. Her place is secure. My family has actually confided that they’d probably keep her over me in a divorce. See, that’s how they keep me on my toes, right when I was getting comfortable. We’re an odd bunch.
By: Heather Somaini
Ah, March 7th. We got up early and were at the doctor’s office by 8:00. We were the only ones there. I think Dr. S did the entire procedure by himself – but don’t hold me to that.
I was nervous. So was Tere. I had been told the needle for an amniocentesis is gigantic and the whole procedure is super scary. I had researched it the night before and expected to see the needle on the ultrasound. Sometimes the baby will even try to grab at it.
Nothing. We saw nothing.
We did get one last, amazing ultrasound of our son.
The results would take a while so Dr. S sent us home. I dropped Tere off back at the house and went to work. That week was a little more relaxed than normal because my boss was in Europe for work. I remember wandering through the rest of the day waiting. By this time, I knew to be patient but honestly it was hard. I called Tere often to see if she had heard anything. Each time the answer was the same – no. It was sort of slow motion-like –the calm before the storm. I think of it almost like time slowing down as if stretched like a slingshot in preparation and then let go and sped up at warp speed. It’s fascinating looking back at that day. I had a splattering of meetings all day long and everyone knew I was on pins and needles.
Tere finally called with the amnio results: the baby boy’s lungs were mature. He would be able to breathe on his own if he were born today. Dr. C wanted to induce delivery because of Tere’s mild pre-eclampsia. There was only one problem: they didn’t have an available delivery room at Cedars. No rooms available at one of the largest hospitals in the country? Yep. Strange, but true.
They said they would call when something opened up. I tried to work but honestly my head and heart just weren’t into it. I should have just gone home but I stayed at work. At around 4:00, we finally got the call that a room was available. They highly suggested we not delay our arrival at the hospital as anything can happen. With me at the office in Santa Monica, it could take about an hour in early rush hour traffic to get home and then another 30 plus minutes to get to the hospital. But my dear friend and co-conspirator, Jim Krueger, was at the house and more than happy to take Tere to the hospital. I could meet them there.
Tere had envisioned one of those movie scene trips to the hospital complete with me nervous and rushing all over the place. Now I was meeting her at the hospital while some nice but fairly unknown man drove her in his convertible to Cedars. At least the car was easy to get in and out of since the top was down! Jim had taken three trips to the hospital with his kids with his ex-wife, so I knew Tere was in good hands.
By the time I arrived, they were prepping Tere to have the cerclage removed. We had been joking for 13 weeks that the cerclage was the only thing keeping the babies inside and the minute it was removed, the twins would just fly out. Dr. C removed the cerclage and Tere immediately dilated to 1cm.
We were on our way!
By: Brandy Black
My wife and I often find ourselves engaged in an ongoing conversation about our daughter’s future. We started this discussion while avoiding wedding planning and instead discussed what we wanted our kids to learn from each of us; it continued 9 years later under dim lights, sitting on bar stools over Sidecars and Whiskey at Jar restaurant. It’s surprising how delightful the notion of imparting the sweetest parts of Susan and me can be, especially while out on a date alone together; this seems to be one of the only times we can celebrate our good sides. We tossed back homemade chips and debated over how much or little encouragement to give our daughter in 12 years. She’s always a teenager in our discussions, clearly this seems to be the most concerning age to us. I think Amy Chua and the crazy “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” stories are what sparked this conversation. The debate became how-much-love-and-unequivocal-positive-support-to-give vs. encouragement-to-do-better-and-always-improve. We mulled over that perfect balance of allowing our child to strive to do better without making her feel like she can never do well enough. We have both seen examples of the extreme kid in either area: the kid who knows he can do no wrong and therefore never really tries that hard because it’s assumed that he has reached perfection vs. the kid who becomes such a perfectionist and never celebrates her successes because there is an ominous voice telling her she isn’t good enough.
I believe a truly well-rounded individual is one who realizes that the perfect person is always flawed. You can never really reach perfection in my book without understanding that perfection changes and grows and the true gift is knowing that you are always able to improve while being excellent at the same time. If one can come to terms with this idea, then they will never struggle with fault and never settle for less than their best effort.
We recently went to a dance show in which one of the dancers fell during the performance. This was very difficult for her and we knew it. Both Susan and I have had a history of performing and know that those days happen. They always will and what’s most important is not avoiding mistakes entirely (they are inevitable), but knowing how to bounce back from them –how you let them shape who you are as a person and how you will respond next time. Everyone falls; it’s who can get themselves up fastest that makes the true winner.
So I travel through my days reminding myself that it’s OK to make mistakes, that they will forever change me yet I can still be the remarkable person I strive to be. I hope my daughter takes this lesson to heart and one day celebrates both her wins and losses because they are equal.
By: Heather Somaini
We had a number of fun experiences during Tere’s almost-three-month sentence in the hotel – I mean hospital. Lots of people came to visit including one of Tere’s high school teachers who happens to be a pretty awesome nun – yes, a nun. She’s attended pretty much every occasion for the babies ever since and has even been mistaken as their grandmother.
We celebrated both of our birthdays that year in Room 3007. Mine with our friends Peter and Lauren and our favorite Indian food and Sprinkles cupcakes. Too bad Tere had gestational diabetes or she could have had some of those cupcakes. It was actually much better to have her diabetic diet monitored by the nurses instead of me. I’m very confident that her sugar intake was much lower because she was limited to about three things she was allowed to eat on the hospital menu. Two weeks in, the food became pretty boring when suddenly she received a new menu. It was the “special” menu. Yep, if you stay at the hospital long enough, there’s a “super secret special” menu. Tere was ecstatic – until she realized that even with the new, “super secret special” menu she still couldn’t eat a good bit of what was offered. But at least she had a few more items to choose from!
We learned about an organization here in Los Angeles that supports parents having more than one baby at one time – also known as multiples – when the president of the group stopped by to introduce herself to Tere. The West Los Angeles Parents of Multiples or WLAPOM – yeah, try to say WLAPOM three times fast! – is a great group of people all trying to navigate this road of essentially having too many babies at one time and supporting the parents who are coming down the road after them. Tere immediately signed up and started communicating with other moms right away. There was a running email dialogue about diapers, feeding, sleeping, pooping…it became a great source of information and comfort to Tere that we weren’t alone in this monumental undertaking we were about to undertake.
There was also a woman with a “therapy” dog that came by. Tere said the dog must have weighed over 100 lbs. and the woman asked if it was ok for the dog to get on the bed with Tere. Can you imagine being on bed rest with twins and feeling like you’re the size of a house and some stranger asks if her 100+ pound dog can join you in your little, twin hospital bed?
Then there was the woman who stopped by to play her harp. Tere said that was nice. At least she didn’t ask if she could put the harp in her bed!
We interviewed our potential nannies at the hospital. Lots of them. Sometimes I was meeting with one in the hallway while Tere was having a second interview with another one in her room.
The nurses began to give their opinions too. They were starting to feel invested in the outcome of our twins since they had been there for so long. It’s rare that they actually catch an incompetent cervix as early as they did Tere’s, so her stay in the hospital was longer than most. And we loved them as they watched over my family every day, making sure they were safe.
Tere ordered bagels and lox from Jerry’s for the nurses every Sunday for breakfast. She spent hours with our weekend nurse, Nicol, picking out the perfect diaper bag and discussing all things baby. Nicol’s son was only about 6 months old at the time so she was a great resource for what babies need.
At some point, Tere was given wheelchair privileges. Yes, she was allowed to be taken out of her room in a wheelchair for about 30-60 minutes twice a week. She looked forward to it. I remember arriving at her room after a particularly long day at work. I sat down. Tere glared at me. I knew I was in trouble for something! I was tired and just wanted to sit and chat. She explained in no uncertain terms that she expected her wheelchair ride pronto and that if I didn’t get up immediately, there was going to be some sort of hell to pay.
I went and got the wheelchair. I’m pretty sure we had a nice walk down to the courtyard and back. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that a pregnant woman isn’t hormonal!
By: Shannon Ralph
It’s Friday night and the kids and I are hanging out at home. I am the lone adult in the house, as usual. Ruanita is at work, as she is every Friday night. I made a mistake this evening by telling my children that we would stay up late tonight and watch a movie if they helped me clean the house. I didn’t have to make a deal with them since they created the entire mess. Toys covering every inch of space in each and every room of this house. At some point during the day, someone had gotten the bright idea to rip the paper off of all of their crayons, so a veritable rainbow of paper shreds covered the floor, as well. I should have just demanded they clean up their mess. I should have laid down the law. No deals. No bargains. No bribes. Just clean up your mess before I step on one more Lego and go all ninja on your skinny little asses. But no. There were no laws laid down tonight. Instead, I made a deal with the devil. I thought, Why not? It’s Friday night. We can stay up late and watch a movie. Might be fun. Just the kids and me. Stupid, stupid, naive mommy! As I am sure you can garner from my introduction, things did not go as planned. I envisioned a peaceful night of cuddling on the couch with my beloved children, watching a movie, and perhaps sharing a tub of freshly popped buttered popcorn. The picture of familial harmony and bliss. As usual, however, my kids had a different idea.
My first mistake was assuming the kids could clean the house without a full-scale wartime offensive. I should have known a battle would break out, but I was feeling stupidly optimistic as a new weekend dawned. Lucas, being the oldest, immediately assumed command of the troops and began ordering Sophie and Nicky around. Nicholas completely ignored Lucas, wandering from room to room humming “California Girls” in a trance-like state. I believe he picked up one, and only one, toy and simply carried it around with him the entire time, so as to appear busy. He has mastered the art of not cleaning while conveniently flying under the radar. Sophie, on the other hand, never flies under the radar. She immediately—and quite loudly—voiced her outrage at Lucas’s assumption that he was in charge of the mission. Sophie is not one to bow to authority. For a good fifteen minutes, Sophie and Lucas fought over precisely who had to clean exactly what, neither picking up a single toy. Sophie argued that none of the toys were hers, so she did not feel that she should have to put them away. Of course, none of the toys were hers because she prefers most of the time to play with her brothers’ toys. Convenient, huh? Lucas simply screamed and barked orders. I tried to explain to him that yelling is not the way to galvanize the troops and inspire them to follow his command. I pointed out that most people respond better to encouragement than to criticism. He wasn’t buying it, however. I have no idea where he learned to bark commands like that.
The entire time the children were arguing about cleaning, I walked from room to room announcing to the walls (because my kids certainly weren’t listening) that they had five minutes to finish or there would be no movie tonight. I even borrowed a trick from Ruanita’s playbook. I grabbed a garbage bag and told the children that I was going to start tossing all of the toys remaining on the floor into the garbage bag to donate to needy children who would take better care of them. I am sure I looked like a madwoman running around bra-less in my exceedingly sexy sweatpants and paint-stained t-shirt, waving a garbage bag in the air. Unfortunately, my children are well aware that the empty threat is my go-to parenting style of choice. And they ignore me, accordingly.
The kids did end up cleaning up the house…eventually. Half-heartedly. Half-assed. In about triple the time it would have taken me to do it alone. The cleanliness lasted all of about fifteen minutes. Almost immediately, the toys found their way back into the middle of the living room floor. And there I was…stuck with my promise to let the kids stay up late. I put on a movie (Despicable Me, appropriately enough) with the hope that they would settle down and fall asleep during the movie. Of course, I had no such luck. Grandma had visited this afternoon with Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars. “I only gave them one or two” she said. Yea, one or two, my ass! She pumped them full of enough sugar to keep them awake for days. So here I sit, typing. Trying desperately to ignore the chocolate-induced chaos unfolding around me. I made a deal with the devil and my soul is paying the price.
The weeks started to go by. I could say they flew but in actuality they crawled, dragging themselves across the floor inch by inch. My days were long, my nights longer and my weekends packed with trying to get the house ready for my family to come home…one day.
Tere became a prolific internet shopper –she still is to this day – I think it’s becoming an addiction. Every night after my couple hours at the hospital, I would come home to a stack of boxes near the front door. I would open them all up and call Tere to tell her what the day’s shipments were. She outfitted the babies in pretty much everything they needed from her bed, without seeing any of it in person.
I emailed updates to our friends and family often. Many came to visit. We had our birthdays in that hotel – I mean hospital. It felt like a hotel after awhile. I came and went whenever I wanted. I had a special parking card. The nurses all knew me and I could pretty much do anything I wanted. On some nights I would wander down to the nursery and see if there were any new babies to admire. I would think about how big they looked, so sweet and innocent. I wondered if mine would ever make it to the nursery.
I remember one dark night driving home late, making my way up the twisting canyon. It all became incredibly real. I could no longer keep my mind busy with work or baby preparations or my schedule. I couldn’t focus on what Tere needed or what my family needed from me anymore. There was no way to keep the thoughts away. And they came, in a rush.
Anger at first and then frustration. There was no denying the fact that I had no control over what was happening, no ability to influence the outcome of our situation. Lives hung in the balance of everything we did and I had no power over it. Every day I would askTere to ask questions of Dr. C and rarely did I get back answers that satisfied me. Every day, Dr. C was in control of our lives, making decisions for us. I started to imagine that those decisions came without a cost, that the outcome was only important to us and if she decided incorrectly, I could be left with a challenging and difficult situation for the rest of my life. But Dr. C would move on and not have a worry in the world.
Knowing that your life hangs in the balance of someone else’s decisions is impossible to understand for someone like me. It’s almost inconceivable. It required this very specific circumstance to make it clear to me that I had to let go. I had to let go of believing that I could convince everyone around me that I knew best. I had to let go of thinking I was controlling the outcome.
I needed to trust. I needed to trust Dr. C, Tere, the nurses, Dr. P, Dr. S…everyone. I needed to trust that the universe was fundamentally good and wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle. I don’t know when it happened. I can’t pinpoint the date. But by the time March 7th rolled around, my entire life, everything I knew to be sacred and true, was not in my hands.
It was in Dr. C’s and I was at peace, open to the outcome coming our way. In no way was it what I expected. But then again, I never expected any of this. And maybe it’s better that way.
By: Shannon Ralph
I come from a large family. My beloved grandmother, Edna Merle Hardesty, had twelve children. This is a feat that I can barely comprehend. I have three children, and the thought of adding even one more to the mix sends me into a fit of extremely unattractive convulsions. When I was growing up, my grandmother had a picture that hung in her dining room that said something along this line: “A mother is the only person who can divide her love among twelve children, and each child receive ALL of her love.” When I was younger, I remember thinking, Yea, right. I know all twelve of your children and they ain’t all that loveable! Loving all of your children equally was a concept I couldn’t understand until I had children of my own. Logic would dictate that a mother would have a “favorite.” It would seem with three children—and most certainly with twelve children—that there would be one or two who you quite simply didn’t care so much for. However, if I have learned anything in the last eight years, it is that logic really has no place in parenthood. I can truly say in my heart of hearts that I love all three of my children with equal amounts of devotion. It’s illogical and unreasonable and irrational, but it’s entirely true.
Lucas is my firstborn. He just turned eight years old and was my first great love. He’s tall and strong and smart and incredibly handsome. (I am not biased…he is truly stunning. Okay…perhaps I am a bit biased.) He can recite the names of every dinosaur that ever lived on this Earth. He has yet to discover sarcasm despite residing in my house, which just happens to sit at the epicenter of sarcasm. He has a sweetness about him that melts me. He is incredibly sensitive and can pick up on others’ emotions like he has a built-in radar. He protects his brother and sister with a ferocity that makes me so very proud. That is not to say that he is always civil to them. Or even humane. He enjoys torturing his younger siblings with the full arsenal of tactics inherent in his “big brother” status. But he is the one and only person allowed to torture them. They are HIS bitches. I take some sort of perverse comfort in that fact. He is a complete homebody who would rather be sitting at home with his family than anyplace else in this world. I worship the ground that child walks on.
Sophie is my middle child. She is four years old and one minute older than her twin brother. Sophie is beautiful and sassy and smart. In many ways, she’s too smart for her own good. She is stubborn. Stubborn to the point that I have to fight the urge to bash my head against a tree at times. She struggles with shyness, just like I did as a child, and still do. I look into her blue eyes and I can see a battle being waged between the shy little girl and the raging banshee. I secretly hope the banshee wins out. I see a lot of myself in her. Too much, even. We tend to butt heads because we are so similar in temperament. As a matter of fact, “butting heads” is an understatement. We have all-out, full-blown, throw-down, kicking-and-screaming wars. My strengths are her strengths. And unfortunately for her, my faults are her faults, as well. Regardless, she is the beauty and love of my life. I imagine, if we both manage to survive her childhood, she will one day become the best friend I’ve ever had.
Nicholas is Sophie’s twin brother and my baby. The tiny little fragile runt of the litter. He has always been the one that I worry about the most. Though I don’t love him a single iota more than my other children, he tends to require more of my time. More energy. More focus. As an infant, he was late to sit up. He was late to crawl. He was late to walk. He never talked. He never even babbled as babies do. He was silent. At varying points in his first two years of life, I feared that he was deaf, had cystic fibrosis, was autistic, and had cerebral palsy. None of these were the case, but that didn’t stop me from imagining a diagnosis worse than any of the above. We started him in speech therapy when he turned two. Suddenly, almost immediately, he was talking in full sentences and complete paragraphs. It’s like he knew how to talk all along, but just didn’t have anything to say to us. He has since made up for the months of silence. Today, we can’t get him to shut up. If we had any foresight at all, we would have revoked his speech therapy and kept him mute.
Today Nicholas broke my heart in two. He was trying to complete a task and was struggling. Ruanita attempted to help him and he said to her, with tears in his eyes, “I am not as smart as Lucas and Sophie.” She immediately corrected him and told how very brilliant he is. However, the thought of sweet little Nicholas thinking he is not as smart as his brother and sister left me heartbroken. Nicholas is incredibly smart—freaky smart, actually—but he’s “different.” Lucas and Sophie are alike in many ways. They both love books. They are both extremely creative and passionate. They get along wonderfully and play together all of the time. Nicholas plays with them, as well. But there are times when they get frustrated with his “eccentricities” and leave him out. This confuses Nicholas and irritates me to no end.
I understand why my other children get frustrated with Nicholas, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Nicholas just has to have things a certain way. He likes order and consistency. If his toy cars are not lining up exactly as he thinks they should, he will stop the game for however long it takes for him to get them “perfect.” When he is coloring in his coloring books, he will get upset and throw the whole page out if he inadvertently colors outside of the lines even a tiny bit. If a pretend game does not play out as he thinks it should, he will dissolve into a puddle of tears on the floor. He is picky about his clothes. He is picky about the color of the cup, plate, and fork he uses at dinner. He’s even been known to change his shirt before dinner to match his dinner plate. When he wakes up in the morning, he has to sit on the left end of the couch. Heaven forbid anyone else be sitting there! He’s meticulous in all matters, small and large.
I love Nicholas dearly, but I also worry about him. No one wants to think of her child as being “different” or a potential outcast. I realize now that there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with Nicholas. My years of anguish spent trying to come up with a diagnosis for him were for naught. It was a disservice to both of us. Nicholas is simply his own person. A wonderfully unique, incomparably one-of-a-kind child. A child who marches to his own beat. This recognition, however, does not keep me from worrying about him. I worry that his eccentricities will make it difficult for him to make friends when he starts kindergarten next year. His sister tends to protect him now, but how will that play out in a school arena? I worry that he will be made fun of. I worry that kids can be cruel. I worry that his perfectionism will bring him nothing but a lifetime of heartache. I worry that I am worrying too much.
At the same time, however, I would not change Nicholas for the world. Without all his little foibles and quirks, he would simply not be Nicholas. My sweet little guy who gives me more hugs and kisses than the other two combined. My little boy with the infectious laugh and beautiful chocolate brown eyes. He may be weird, but he’s my kind of weird.