By Brandy Black
I have gotten some flack lately for “throwing my wife under the bus” in my writing. Well, I should be honest, Susan has been hearing it and has reported back to me. She claims that she isn’t bothered but I feel I should set the record straight. I vowed that I would do two things when I began writing. I will always be honest and I will always read my writing to Susan before it is published. It is an unfair advantage that everything comes from my perspective and truthfully I need her perspective in pretty much every aspect of my life, or at least I want it. I also think it is important for my voice to be true to my life and not sugar coated with what I think people want to hear or what might make me or her look good. Let’s face it, relationships are hard, marriages even harder and marriages with kids, nearly impossible at times. It is not easy making the shift from a young doting couple with very little responsibility to parents, homeowners, and heads of household. We actually had a friend tell us last night that we should publicize our troubles more often because people can relate. So yes, I write from MY perspective, it may be selfish, at times could be angry, misunderstood, unloved, unheard, lost, confused but it represents all of my very honest stages of parenting with Susan. I’m sure some can relate and others probably agree with her. That’s the point. We all play very different roles in our relationships.
I have been pretty honest throughout time about going to therapy, the struggles we face, the fact that I miss the days of missing her. We have had moments in our relationship when we didn’t think we could make it, we came close to calling it quits and yet here we are still holding on. In our wedding ceremony, far before it was legal, 10 years ago, we made 80 guests vow that they too would help support our marriage. I crave hearing honesty from other parents. In the first year of parenting I got to a point when I couldn’t live in a bubble and pretend I wasn’t sad and sometimes lonely in my marriage. When I would talk to friends about their challenges I realized it wasn’t just us. Having those honest people in my life have helped me get through the tough times. I want to be that candid voice. So, sometimes I’m honest at my wife’s expense but always with her approval.
But in hearing this criticism I realized that it is far too easy to focus on what she does wrong and not what she does right. It is a life lesson really. How often do I stop and thank her for allowing me to throw a fit about the missing school ID sign only to have her find it in my car. I don’t stop to thank her for taking me out every Wednesday night without fail until midnight , and then turning around and waking up at 4am for work the next day, without complaint because she knows that I need those nights for sanity. She is the calm beneath my tornado.
She is my best friend. She makes me laugh and on some nights I remember why I fell in love as I watch her shuffle from side to side, hands in pockets, head down, kicking rocks. But if I’m being honest and not sugar coating, I hold back, I don’t tell her that I find her incredibly sexy, that she makes me laugh more than anyone, that she is and always will be my best friend. I don’t know why I stop myself, is there too much water under the bridge? Do I feel like I will lose control and become vulnerable again? Having kids, changed me, made me stronger, tougher and the very thing she loved most about me, my need to be taken care of, to lean into her, to be small in her arms, disappeared and I became a Mama Bear! With it she lost her baby, the one that needs her, shows her her value with doting eyes and an open heart. I’m working on allowing my heart to be exposed again, to say exactly what’s on my mind, to never hold back, to see her as my wife and not the other mother of my children. It’s a delicate dance, a 15-year-relationship, one that could end at any second, because let’s be honest, they all can.
By Brandy Black
Our daughter is in Kindergarten now. The immense change that has already transpired this year blows my mind, our conversations have evolved in ways I’ve always dreamed of and I’m so proud of the girl she has become. I worry, everyone knows this, about protecting my kids from the evils and misunderstandings of the world. I would do anything to ensure that none of my children feel hurt or pain even though I know this too is one of life’s little gifts.
I do know, however that life will be a bit more complicated for my children because of the parents they have. Even though the country is changing rapidly and laws are slowly embracing LGBT families, we are not safe from bullying and discrimination. My wife and I are lucky to live in a city that is rather accepting of a two mom family and we rarely face outward discrimination but there will always be an opportunity to educate those around us. I correct people daily that make the assumption that I have a husband or my children have a daddy. I don’t mind this, it is understandable that they jump to that conclusion, I often wonder if I inadvertently do the same. But what I am most grateful for is those around us that are thoughtful and understanding of families like mine.
I went to our first parent/teacher conference for grammar school. Our 5-year-old has two teachers. Both teachers referenced me as Mama and Susan as Mom, they had taken the time to get it right, to know that those words have significant meaning. Susan could not be with me (thank god for the voice memo app on my iphone so that I could record it) and my daughter’s teacher seamlessly referenced her in conversation as my wife. I volunteer at school once a week and one day in class the teacher was talking to the children about their parents and she said “Mommies and Daddies or Moms and Mamas” and I actually laughed, which I realize wasn’t the best reaction especially considering how happy it made me but I was genuinely surprised. All of these simple choices in wording can make a family feel like they have made the right choice in schools, friends, colleagues etc. It is the simple use of parent/parents in place of Mommy or Daddy that are inclusive rather than exclusive.
Our school has a dance coming up called the Daughters’ Dance. This is inclusive rather than the exclusive title it had in previous years “Father Daughter Dance.” I was told that a child with heterosexual parents had a best friend that had two moms and she felt that Father Daughter Dance did not fairly represent her BFF’s family, she petitioned to the school to have the name changed. And so they did. From what I understand it wasn’t that they were trying to be exclusive it simply hadn’t occurred to them. These things are simple, and sometimes take a little thought that perhaps not all parents are the same, perhaps there is only one parent in the family. It has been a work in progress but awareness and understanding makes all the difference in the world.
I realize living in a big city like Los Angeles can make life much easier for two moms than raising a family in a rural part of the United States, I know that there are families that struggle to be understood by those around them. I spent quite a bit of time with the Executive Director of Family Equality talking about the laws that need to change, the support that is lacking for the LGBT community and the challenges that we face but I don’t want to forget to celebrate the wins that happen every day. The teachers, friends, doctors, colleagues, and even strangers that make my day by bending down to my daughter and saying “You’re a pretty lucky kid to have two moms.” It’s not that my kids are any luckier than anyone else, it’s that they are just as lucky.
By Brandy Black
I am maniacal about my children’s sleep routine. When I got pregnant I knew nothing of what I was doing, feeling totally overwhelmed, I began to read lots of books and what I learned was that sleep is very important for children, for anyone really. But kids learn and grow in their sleep and this stuck with me. There are many different ways to parent, and lots of alternatives for sleep training or lack there of but I followed some very simple rules with my little ones and lucky for me all three of my kids sleep from 7PM to 7AM and most importantly they find sleep on their own. With my first child the schedule was probably not as important as it is now with 22-month-old twins. With two sharing the same room, a routine is a must for mommy survival.
I followed E.A.S.Y from a book called The Baby Whisperer, a book that I will forever keep a copy of for my children’s children. Eat, activity, sleep, you time, this is the basic structure I followed with babies. The rule is not to feed them to sleep because they then become reliant on another person or thing (bottle) to help them sleep, the concept is for babies to find their own sleep so that they will never have to struggle with bedtime. I have enough trouble getting myself down at night and sometimes need to be coaxed away from my thoughts by a mindless television show. I wanted to do them a favor and allow them to fall asleep like my wife does. I swear, the minute her head hits the pillow, no matter the time, she is out. Lucky girl.
The trick is to start a routine, one that tells the child’s brain, it’s bedtime, get ready for it. So we always begin, even at 2-days-old with pajamas and sometimes a bath, after this we read a couple books and then a song. When I begin to sing, they start yawning, their little bodies melt into me as I rock them. One song, then, put them down in their cribs and say goodnight. We never stray, same thing every night no matter who is watching them. We once had a sitter tell us that the minute she put on the bedtime song, it was Pavlovian, our daughter’s eyes began to close and she made her way to the bed. It works but you have to maintain consistency. This is easy for me, I’m a rules girl, I have methods and practices and discipline. My wife on the other hand changes things up daily and routine is not in her nature. She fought it but ultimately realized that kids like to know what’s coming, they like to feel in control and the more you can set them up for success the more secure they are.
By Brandy Black
From morning till night I’m taken by someone else. My iphone alarm goes off dictating my morning stumble to the shower, my quiet time, in which I prepare myself for the day ahead. The squeak of the hot water valve and the creek of the shower door cue the twins to begin their morning chatter. “Mama” Maaaaaammmmma”. My pace quickens as I dry, lotion and prepare milk for their morning routine. They jump up and down in their cribs when I enter the room. My son throws his pacifier on the ground with delight and reaches for his “ba ba.” Bella, collects her blankie, pacifier and bottle, holding on with all her might. The day has begun. Shortly after, my 5-year-old wakes up, sometimes happy and cheerful with good mornings to all and others with a shout and a slam of the door. I brace myself each day, not knowing which direction it will turn.
I struggle to get ready while also ensuring the twins are changed, Sophia is dressed, teeth and hair brushed and all is in order for “Breakfast time.” This is when I open the door of our hallway and we make our way to the kitchen, our au pair waits, usually half awake and prepares breakfast for the kids. I don’t know what I’d do without her on the other side of the door. She gives me an additional 15-minutes to make myself presentable for whatever meetings are coming my way.
I choke down my priobiotics at the table as the children all laugh at me knowing I really don’t like the sour tang in my little yogurt container. And off we go, bye bye to the twins. Sophia and I head to school. The day moves on, in and out of meetings, conference calls, checking on the twins when I have a spare moment, usually followed by angry tears when I escape again. I am grateful that I have the ability to work from home but we are at the stage where they always want to be with Mama and that can be hard on everyone.
5:00 comes and it’s time for me to put down my phone, computer and work and focus on the kids. This is witching hour, they are clingy, they both fight to be held and don’t want to sit, they want me standing and walking around the house with one of them on my hip. My oldest wants my attention too. I brace myself for this. I love having kids in my arms, I’m going to miss it when it goes away but I won’t miss the fight for attention that happens every afternoon when I walk in the room. I wonder if that will ever end? I feel like I’m letting everyone down and sometimes want to retreat under the covers and cry. I have learned to compartmentalize, I have to close each chapter, each moment in order to open a new one. I cannot linger or wallow, there is no time and my children simply won’t allow it. I imagine putting all the children to sleep and sitting in the back with my wife to detox and release the happenings of the day, but even that rarely happens. The time is ticking and we race to finish before exhaustion sets in. Dinner. Check. Books. Check. Pajamas. Check. Twins asleep. Check. Now homework with our oldest daughter. Lately this seems to be my job. I’m learning Japanese with her, she is in a dual immersion school and so we sit for 30 minutes a night and practice both English and Japanese. Once we’re both tired of flashcards and characters we move on to reading. I have always loved this time with my daughter, we’ve been doing it since she was three weeks old. Two to three books every night. But these days, I find myself thinking of other things while I read, calculating my night, what needs to get done before the day begins again tomorrow. Wait, stop, don’t drift, back to the book. Live in the present.
We are done, I kiss her good night, I grab her mom when she’s not working for the rest of the bedtime routine and suddenly the house is quiet. It is just me and sometimes Susan. Now we clean. We put away the day, books on shelves, blocks in boxes, dishes in cabinets, food in fridge. We make Sophia’s lunch and my time becomes my own. On some nights I work, catching up with my busy day, others I work for Sophia’s school, sending out emails, signing off on papers, ordering supplies, clothes for the kids, and on the fun nights I sit with Susan and talk or watch TV, once a week we even sneak out for a date. By 11, I’m tired, I need to sleep.
I get in bed and wonder, what would life be like…suddenly I’m asleep.
By: Brandy Black
I find myself crying a lot lately. Mostly tears of oh-my-god-life-is-moving-too-quickly-and-I-can’t-keep-up combined with my-daughter-is-becoming-a-little-girl-before-my-eyes. Since she started kindergarten a month ago it is as if she’s hit a million milestones. A couple weeks into school she had two teeth pulled at the dentist. Without me. I set a dentist appointment for Sophia to get a check-up and prepped Susan before she took her that they may suggest pulling a tooth.
I never dreamt that Susan would have them pull it on the same day, with no mental preparation for me or Sophia when it was 97 degrees, with a broken AC at the dental office. I was hanging at home with the twins when I got this text from my wife
I freaked out, panicked, called a dozen times, Susan would confirm this. I drive her crazy. She drives me crazy. No answer. No answer? This was happening. Next came a video from a bloody mouthed, happy Sophia with a tooth necklace dangling from her neck. Two teeth, gone. Check. First visit from the tooth fairy. Check. It happened too fast. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t there to hold her hand.
A couple weeks later, the homework began. Sophia called me from Susan’s car on the way home from school to tell me that she had homework, her voice was high and excited. She came running into my room/office a few minutes later, plopped on the bed and said “I’ll do homework while you work, isn’t this great?” Homework. Check.
Last Monday we started with Bob books, you know the scholastic books that are good starters for little readers. She’s never read a sentence in her life, she knows cow, and all of our family names but that’s about it. I haven’t pushed her, I’m more of a it-will-happen-organically kind of parent. Sophia’s never really shown interest. We sat down together and I struggled through 15-minutes of torture, wanting to help her while she SLOWLY sounded out each word. She finally made it through that damn book. The next night, she asked to read again, this time, something clicked, I saw it happen, in the same way she learned to swim this summer. Oh let’s check swimming off my list too. But in that moment,I knew that she would be reading. Sure enough, one week later, she’s reading all of her Bob books. I can hear a little voice in bed at night sounding the words out quietly. Reading. Check.
Every night we do homework in two languages. I’m watching this little girl grow up quickly before my eyes. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a kid that is doing flashcards and writing in Japanese. Our three kids sit on the playroom couch together flipping through books, they collect leaves in the backyard and then crunch them with their feet, they gather them again, fighting over the rake and then throw them in the air. It all happens so fast.
By: Brandy Black
My daughter started kindergarten. I remember the day my wife and I sat in a tiny Santa Monica office with a spiritual coach and tried to visualize our future kid. We had been experiencing infertility for close to 3 years and a friend of my mother’s recommended “an emotional reset” so we went, skeptically, begrudgingly and mockingly. She told us to picture the child that we would have and I saw her, she was a 5-year-old and reaching out to me. She had a whimsical spirit and a huge smile. Now, here I am, with my angel daughter who has begun elementary school. I call my children my angels because I believe they truly are a gift, that I prayed for, hoped for, cried about and ached to have. Now three beautiful creatures later I adore my life as a mother. I can imagine no better role to play in life.
The first day of kindergarten drop off both my wife Susan and I went along. I was strong, stronger than expected. Susan was supposed to be this way but I fall to pieces, usually. I was almost disappointed in my stoicism. I wanted more out of the first day but truth be told I was so worried about having everything ready for her, getting to school on time and being strong, that I was empty.
But day 2 wasn’t the same. I went alone, hand-in-hand with my daughter. ”I’m not talking about being in Kindergarten anymore, I’m IN Kindergarten!” she said as we walked across the street to her school. The crossing guard guided us with her bright yellow vest and proud smile welcoming all the kids. We got to the kinder area and found the sign that read her teacher’s name. I chatted with other moms while Sophia shyly made friends. Suddenly the line began to move and the parents were discouraged from following. I watched the teacher walk away with the sign as my daughter marched proudly forward. It was a coming of age, a change for us both. She is moving into another era, one that doesn’t include me as much as it used to. I began to sob, this is the beginning, only the beginning. She will spend half of her day learning a language of which I only know two words. She will translate what the teacher is saying through pictures, hand signals and only the willingness to ask other students in true immersion fashion. I am overwhelmed and overjoyed. But she is thriving. I see it in her glow when she comes home and raves about kindergarten. In one week she has managed to grown up, with her first loose tooth and all and I will sit back and watch and hopefully be invited to join the ride as often as she will permit.
By: Susan Howard
A blog by Brandy’s wife
Heather Has Two Mommies is a black and white book put out in the 80’s, one of the first, (if not the first) books of it’s kind to help children understand that all families are different. A girl is starting her preschool and she gets upset as she tells the class she doesn’t have a Dad, she has two moms and so the story goes that each kid talks about their family. Each kid draws a picture of what their family looks like, one being the child of stepparents, one being the child of a single mother and one being adopted. It shows the transition from feeling different to being apart of the class.
The book feels a bit simplistic, but we bought it long ago to give Sophia something to refer to that reflects her family.
My oldest daughter has always been able to take care of herself. She mothers herself constantly. When I get frustrated with her misbehaving she says, “Mom, you should take away T.V. from me tonight.” Or on the rare occasion we keep her up late she puts on her own PJ’S and demands “Someone needs to put me to bed.” She is very much like my wife Brandy in that way, in charge of what she needs and not afraid to get it. “Sophia, you’re going to a real school tomorrow.” “Why are you so upset Mom?” she asks. “I am not upset, it’s just a big deal. It’s school.”
The night before her first day of kindergarten she gets to pick two books before bed and one of them was Heather Has Two Moms. I knew in that moment my Sophia was ready for big girl school.
Good luck Soph. You’ll teach them a thing o
By: Brandy Black
I have been sucked under for the last two months and have yet to even take the time to document the madness in my life. Having a family of five means that everything hangs in a delicate balance and when one tiny thing goes amiss, it feels as if walls begin to crumble. And if you know me, I don’t like it when the handcrafted balance that I have worked so diligently to create for my family, gets disturbed. So you can only imagine my dismay when our au pair decided to go back to Germany with no notice. I had to take the advice I often give my five-year-old and take a few deep breaths, I had to make a plan quickly and put up a front to my wife and kids that I was not utterly destroyed and terrified on the inside. I do this often, pretend I’m stronger than I am, I think I sometimes convince myself of my superhero powers but ultimately, I will admit I’m tiny and constantly on the brink of a meltdown. I’m also awful at asking for help, I bare my pains quietly and fear that I will burden others but this was a time of desperation. I emailed everyone I knew asking for help, within 2 hours of learning of our au pairs departure, I had 3 back-up sitters scheduled until our new au pair arrives. I realized in that moment how truly lucky we are to have all of the incredible people in our lives that support us. I was reminded how much people like to help when needed. And “it takes a village” kept running through my head.
The house has been crazy, the babies adjusting to multiple people coming in and out, juggling schedules with my wife, our preschooler graduating to elementary school, summertime, vacations, it’s mayhem and I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m beginning to see that my life will always be a puzzle and the pieces will forever be scrambled and I don’t have to know all the answers right away and that perhaps embracing chaos is a part of life’s little challenge to me.
I wonder if there will ever be a day that I worry less, that I sleep more, that I bring my shoulders down and fully trust.
I doubt it.
By Brandy Black
When I was pregnant with twins, several of my friends told me that they hoped we were having at least one boy so we could experience both genders. I didn’t really get why they kept telling me that boys are so different. Once I found out I was having a son I wondered what life would be like for him being surrounded by girls, 2 moms and 2 sisters is quite a lot to handle. I wondered if he would be attracted to boy things with all these females around him. Is it learned or do boys just like trucks and cars and all boy things?
Now that my son is 18 months old, I understand why all my girlfriends desperately wanted to me to experience having a son. He is very different. He hugs, like a little monkey, holding tight and I can feel that I genuinely calm him when I’m near. He is interested in all things that move, trucks, cars, balls, and trains. He bangs his toys against windows, doors and his sister’s head. When he’s done with his bottle he passionately throws it to the floor and then says “uh-oh.”
He is protective of his twin sister and she remains his best friend. He calls everything Bella. He walks around the house saying “Bel-la, Belllla, BELLA.” He won’t stop hitting his her, he doesn’t listen, he runs right toward the street and fast. He is all boy.
He is mellow compared to his vivacious sisters, he comes along for the ride, he smiles and follows them around. He is vulnerable and not afraid to show it. He is cautious and careless all at once. He is a balance to our family and his happiness is infectious. I can tell that he will heal and break my heart as he grows and experiences life.
He lights up a room of strangers and can often be found in the middle of circle of girls. He flirts by fixing his eyes on his prey and coyly turning away and then back again. He once got a woman in her car to stop, roll down her window and say “well hello little guy.”
Our little Penn among a sea of women.
By Brandy Black
I realized as soon as I had three kids that balancing attention is a tough job. I worried that they would all blend together in my mind and I wouldn’t notice the little things that I always had with my first born. In some ways that feels true, I haven’t written down the first sneeze or the first smile or the first laugh or the twins discovering their toes. But what I hadn’t prepared myself for, having been an only child, was the very distinct personality differences they would all have at such a young age. Bella, 17 months old, is obsessed with shoes. We may have our very own Carrie Bradshaw in the house. She picks out different ones every day. She not only picks them out for herself but for of the rest of us too. Her concern is constantly about shoes. Why aren’t we all wearing shoes all the time? She insists on wearing them with her pajamas. She waddles around with a confidence like she runs this place. She has also recently taken a liking to a particular floral (floral is in you know) cover-up for her dresses. Yesterday in the hot heat she would not let me take it off. When it’s wet from washing her hands she screams if I try to remove it. This morning, she dug it out of the laundry basket and held it up to me. I told her it needed to be washed and she began screaming. When I put this wrap on her, she smiles and pets it and then waddles off to something else.
There is no blending in for this little girl, she has her own ideas and everyone will listen to them. She has begun what friends of ours have coined “the Bella drop” in which she drops to the ground back rounded and head to the down, screaming when something goes wrong. I remember learning a version of this for Drill Team in high school and it’s quite hard to drop yourself from standing like that. We think she may be a cheerleader. She’s got the moves already.
She is a foodie. She loves any kind of food and fully expects to be fed when anyone near her is eating. She is that kid that will follow other kids to their treats assuming their parents brought enough for everyone.
She sits on my feet every morning while I blow dry my hair. Her brother wanders around picking up toys, babbling but Bella plops down on my feet, stares up at me and waits patiently for me to be done. She is a little lover, she will walk right up to you and sit right down on your lap. She loves to be held and could ride around on my hip forever.
Bella Bell, you are our sweet baby girl.