By: Brandy Black
It’s all about perception. If you think life is hard, it will be. If you think life is unfair, it will be. If you think three kids will beat you down, they will. This isn’t to underestimate the power three children have to exhaust you in ways you didn’t know possible, but rather to examine state of mind. I was warned by some that we probably wouldn’t go out of the house much with a four-year-old and twins. I was told that we would finally have no choice but to slow down. I was advised by others that we would just do it, life would go on but it would become a new reality. I told myself (when I was pregnant) that life was over. There would be no vacations. No dinners out. No extra circular outings of any kind because I could not fathom how it was possible.
On Christmas eve 2011, nine days after having twins, I was faced with my first challenge. I wanted to take my entire family to church, to sit together and be grateful for the incredibly blessed lives we have, to be reminded that love and family are all that matters, but when I suggested it I think my friends and family thought I was crazy. Newborns and a kid at 5:30 at night in a quiet church, she must be insane! I almost didn’t do it. But my wife said yes. She knew I needed to feel like we could do things, that I didn’t want to fear the changes that were happening, that I needed a sense of normal and most of all that I don’t stop. Sleep or no sleep I like to be active. We piled in two cars and off we went to a candlelight service. With babies bundled in carriers wrapped tightly on our chests, we sat holding hands, singing Silent Night while we watched my parents help our daughter light her candle off theirs. It was in that moment that I decided I would listen to no one else but us and we would determine the “struggles.” Fear holds so much power in our lives and I wasn’t about to give in to it. So three weeks later when I was advised by another mom with a newborn that I shouldn’t go out to the dinner I was invited to because I would be exhausted the next day, I kindly listened and ignored. Off I went for one hour to say hello and feel like me for a moment. I have been “exhausting” myself for the last 6 months. All five of us jumping in the car at 6PM on a Friday for dinner and a movie, BBQ’s on Saturday, swimming all day on Sunday. Life hasn’t stopped. Sure at the end of the night I’m tired and I wonder why I push myself around so much but at the end of the day, I’d feel like a ton of bricks hit me either way so why not have fun doing it?
Why are we so precious with ourselves? Why does it have to be so hard? Why do conversations have to start with “Wow, you guys are really doing it” and “It must be so difficult, you must be so tired”? While we appreciate a stranger’s or even a friend’s acknowledgement that yeah this is fucking hard, it’s also not -it’s us. It’s our life, we have three kids. So what? Don’t rain on our parade. Life is better. Life is rich. We have been given the gift of laughter on the kitchen floor while our twins battle for toys and we cheer them on. We exchange videos via text of the adorable things that not one, not two, but all three of our children do. We need our dates, we love our dates, we celebrate our time together because it’s all ours.
So here is my unsolicited advice back to those that give it to me. Let go. Relax. Embrace the chaos. Free fall. This is my life and this is my version of jumping out of planes and I plan to enjoy it every fall, trip, toddle, jump, skip, leap, step of the way.
By: Brandy Black
By: Brandy Black
I come from a family of three. I have no siblings. I’ve always wondered what that life would be like. My wife has a brother and sister. One of the first times I hung out with all of them together Susan and I were sitting on a bed and her sister plopped next to us, then her brother jumped on and I was feeling a bit crowded and legs were touching me and I wasn’t sure what to make of it and then her sister’s kids hopped on and suddenly the entire family was on the tiny little pull-out bed. I had a small anxiety attack trying to keep my cool, feeling completely claustrophobic. It was foreign to me. My friend Troy, also an only child, describes big family households as “always smelling like syrup.” Growing up it was never the kids that took over my house, it was the grown ups. I didn’t know anything else unless my cousins came to visit and I guess I liked it that way. So when I was pregnant, coming into THREE children, I kept thinking of that “bed” incident or the times when I go out to dinner with big families and everyone is eating off each other’s plates; I never understood that. I worried that my own family was going to crowd me. I was sure that I would need to escape from my house for solace. This is why I fought Susan so hard to sell our house in a down market in search of something bigger and perhaps with a corner I could crawl into should my family overtake me.
This morning I woke with three kids in my bed. No part of that bed felt my own, all my kids wrapped into me and I loved it. It felt safe and comfortable and what a Saturday morning should be. I realized that even though I don’t care for pancakes, I love the smell of syrup. Don’t get me wrong, our children will sleep in their own beds and I don’t want them draped all over me all the time but I quite like the way family feels. I like that when no one else in the world can get that close without throwing me into a tailspin my family can. As I get older and especially as I watch my children grow I realize that I am a guarded person and there are few I let into my world. I’ve always been this way. My close friends have become my family; I would do anything for the ones I love. I pride myself on being a protector of all that’s mine. I am loyal to my friends and will be for life because they have given me the gift of a brotherhood and sisterhood that I never had. I adore that my children have this built into their own family. I feel so lucky that now at 39 years old I do too.
By: Holly Vanderhaar
Many moms—especially single moms—in my circle will list Anne Lamott among their favorite parenting authors. Not because she gives parenting advice, per se, but her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year has saved many a new mom’s sanity. She gave me the courage to become a writer myself, and when I was teaching creative writing in grad school, I taught Bird by Bird, her book on writing. And I could write an entire post about how Anne’s approach to spirituality made me look at my own spirituality through fresh eyes, eyes of love and compassion and forgiveness.
My daughters were about 18 months old when I first read Operating Instructions, so we were past the every-three-hour-around-the-clock feedings, the crippling (no, crippling isn’t a strong enough word) sleep deprivation, the fierce maternal protectiveness coupled with an absolute unmooring from everything that had ever made me feel secure and confident. And when the attachment parenting books made me feel inadequate for not being utterly besotted with these wriggling, angry, liquid-spewing organisms every second of the day, it was a blessed relief when Anne described her colicky baby—a baby she clearly loved—“raising its loathsome reptilian head again.” I love my children more than my own life, but I think idealizing anything—even parenthood, especially parenthood—is not productive. What’s more, I think it’s dangerous to every new parent who beats him- or herself up over not being perfect and feeling abject adoration every second of every day.
I’m woefully out of touch with publishing news, which is odd considering that writing about writers is what I do for a living. So I was surprised to hear that Lamott has a new book out. And I was gobsmacked to realize that that gritchy little baby from Operating Instructions is now a grown man and a father in his own right. I found out about Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son last weekend, and realizing that new books usually mean book tours, I did some quick Googling and found out that she would be reading and signing at a Barnes and Noble in my area the very next evening. Unfortunately “in my area” didn’t mean in the Twin Cities proper, which is where I live; it meant in a rich, white suburb about 35 minutes away, not accounting for rush hour traffic. The reading was on a Monday night, and it was too late to get a sitter. Monday nights are busy for us anyway, and this Monday was already overscheduled, but I couldn’t miss a chance to meet Anne over the signing table, even if our whole conversation consisted of “Who should I make it out to?” and me spelling my name. Even if I never got to tell her what I wanted to, that she was my angel when I really needed her.
So what I’m calling my Single Parent Reality Check, AKA Monday, went like this: I worked from home, picked the girls up after school, rushed them home, force-fed them a snack and supervised homework like a drill sergeant. They changed into leotards and tights and I took them to their dance class at the local parks and rec. Another mad dash home to change into warm clothes, because a freezing drizzle was now underway, then off to drop off the cookie money. Hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and then onto the slippery rush hour freeway out to the suburbs. We made it to the Barnes and Noble about 15 minutes before the reading started, only to circle the Range-Rover-crammed parking lot in a futile search for a spot. Finally found one by stalking a woman who was wandering around looking for her car, and dashed into the store, only to be told by the store employee that it was “hearing room only,” and “the chairs were taken two hours ago” and I “should have gotten here earlier.” I nearly—what’s the phrase?—choked a bitch. Stopped off to buy a copy of the book for Anne to sign and trudged downstairs dragging two 8-year-olds and enough paraphernalia to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.
The reading and Q & A were great; I could hear almost every word, and once in a while I even got a glimpse of Anne’s famous dreads. But the store was a mob scene, and when they announced the signing with some cryptic comment about how “only Marches could line up,” I had to start asking questions. It seemed that they had been handing out desk calendar pages to the people who had their shit together and had gotten to the store early. The woman with the calendar all but rolled her eyes at me when she tore off my page: October 21. And they were on March. I looked at my patient daughters, whom I’d dragged out in the rain, who were already going to be out an hour past their bedtime on a school night, and I knew I couldn’t ask it of them.
I led them through the crush of people, blinking back tears of exhaustion and frustration and self-pity, when Isabelle pulled her hand from mine. I turned, annoyed, and then saw what she’d stopped for. A downy feather was floating down from the ceiling, and she caught it, delighted.
For the last several years, feathers have had meaning for me. When I find them at odd times, or in unlikely places, I believe it means that someone is looking out for me. Someone is telling me there’s a plan, that even if I don’t see it now, more will be revealed. The feather that appeared out of thin air in a Barnes and Noble in Edina, Minnesota, was the only thing that could have snapped me out of my self-pity spiral.
More will be revealed.
By: Brandy Black
I knew I was hormonal when I began the fertility drugs, I knew it was worse when I got pregnant but now that I have had these babies and am nursing, it’s as bad as ever. I remember this very clearly from the first time around with my daughter Sophia. I would begin crying for no particular reason and was not able to stop myself. It is now a familiar feeling when my blood begins to boil and I get so frustrated (over the tiniest of things) that my face literally gets red and I could throw things through windows. But you know what gets me the most riled up, what angers me beyond belief? When my wife tells me I’m crazy. A word of advice to the dads and non-birth mothers: don’t ever tell your spouse she is insane or losing it because we already know. I’ve been trying so hard to keep it together through the sleepless nights and the nursing schedule and the sometimes lonely days. I actually convince myself that I’m doing well, I’ve got it under control and I’m super mom until I’m reminded that I’m not the same sane Brandy Black that my wife once knew.
Let me explain why this hurts so much. I want desperately to be that girl again with a balanced life. When you have babies there is none of that. I go out with friends, it’s quick and with time limitations and there are jokes of pump and dump and I don’t quite feel myself because a part of me is always missing when my babies aren’t with me by my side. I feel outside of myself and often completely out of the loop. I’m so tired that it’s all I can do to keep up the façade of a regular person. Some advice to stay home and not push myself with social outings but honestly I need them to keep me sane even if I feel like an alien when I actually get out the door. I love to get dressed up, wear cute jeans and heels, but once I’m out I feel like I’m fooling myself into thinking that I’m the person I used to be, like everyone must look at me and know that I’m a mother of three and should be at home feeding my babies rather than out among the cool people.
I understand it’s all in my head but it’s very real to me. I know this too shall pass. I remember when it did with Sophia and it was incredible to feel like me again, me with a much more interesting life to share. I was able to rid myself of guilt for leaving the house and actually enjoy time out with friends. But now, I wait, loving my children and knowing that “my” time will come again. But through this internal struggle I need to know that my significant other “gets it”, that she, no matter how batty I am, will understand how tough this part is and remind me that somewhere deep inside I’m still that fun, balanced, smart, interesting person that she once knew and was attracted to.
So a special thanks to those friends who have stuck in there with me in this muddled period in my life, that have called to go to drinks and not assumed that a mother of three has no time. There should always be time to be reminded of how much I am loved and how many friends I adore. I need you more than you probably know. I promise I won’t throw plates and if I do maybe you should just join in the fun, there are few times in life you can actually get away with total insanity.
By: Brandy Black
We have reached 8 weeks with twins and I’m learning a very important lesson. One that I don’t think I mastered with Sophia and to be perfectly honest I don’t think I will ever quite wrap my head around. And that is sometimes you have to accept it when a baby is crying. I am loath to admit that the truth is when you have three kids you can’t be everything to everyone. I will be quite honest. I was convinced with Sophia and probably am with all of my kids that I can stop their tears if they are in my arms.
Yesterday was Sophia’s 4th birthday and Susan had to work the first half of the day. I wanted my daughter’s day to be special, filled with pancakes, balloons, kisses, and all the attention a little girl can handle. You can imagine the pressure I was putting on myself as if I don’t do that enough already, I swear my shoulders are up to my ears and I could use a massage every day of the week. When Sophia woke, the babies were sleeping. It was perfect timing to indulge in the excitement of her waking to a bundle of balloons. We chatted and cuddled and soon the babies were up, both crying and hungry. I fed them and then we all made our way out to the kitchen.
“Mom said she was going to make me pancakes for my birthday” Sophia said sweetly.
Oh great, of course Mom said that and now Mom is working and Mama has 2 babies wrapped in her arms. I wanted to say “well it’s cereal this morning and Mom can make pancakes later” but after looking at her dear sweet birthday face, I set the babies down in their chair together and said, “Well let’s make pancakes then.” Sophia cracked the eggs, careful not to get anything on her pink birthday dress and the babies began to cry. I continued on with Sophia, taking a deep breath, understanding babies cry, they are fed, changed and burped, just let it be. The cries got louder. My breasts began to hurt, for those nursing moms out there, you understand, when your baby cries your body goes into a tailspin wanting to fix everything and my body always assumes more milk even though I actually adhere to a pretty strict feeding schedule. I broke down and picked Bella up, she kept crying, I set her down after a minute and picked up Penn, he stopped crying. Sophia was ready for more instruction, I set him down and they both began to cry again. I took a deep breath and gave all of my attention to Sophia, talking myself off the ledge. The funny thing is that Sophia is unfazed by their cries, maybe it was all that pre-baby preparation but she just ignores it and so I followed her lead. After 2 minutes of heartbreaking cries they stopped. Penn stared blankly at us and Bella went to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have to help them. They learned to soothe themselves. Even as I write this I secretly hope Susan doesn’t read it because she takes a much more lighthearted approach. She admits that she just lets the babies cry when she can’t fix things, she even admitted that if she tried everything and they were still crying she’d probably take a 3-minute shower to get away from the tears. That made me mad. So mad, I did a Facebook poll to see who was in the right and Susan actually won. Most moms said that it would actually be good to step away. I couldn’t do that, honestly, the tears only bother me when I can’t fix them and I can always fix my babies by holding them close and giving them lots of love, it may take 15 minutes but it always works. The idea of ignoring them or taking a shower kills me but yesterday I realized Sophia needed my attention. The reality is, things are different now, it’s likely someone will always be crying, if it’s not Sophia, Penn, or Bella, it will be my dog or my wife or maybe even me. We can’t be everything to everyone. We must spread our love and attention around and that is a big lesson for this Mama to learn.
Oh and Happy Birthday my dearest Sophia! I loved going to Lady and the Tramp with you and having a hamburger milkshake picnic at the Roosevelt Hotel. You are truly gorgeous in every possible way.
By: Brandy Black
It took one night in the hospital for me to realize that I had to feed the twins at the same time. During pregnancy I swore I didn’t have it in me to nurse two babies at once; it sounded difficult and I wasn’t interested in being a milking factory. But after waking up at 3AM to feed one for 20 minutes, change the diaper, burp, and swaddle –and then picking up the other and doing the whole thing all over again –I couldn’t handle it. I realized I needed to master the double feeding skill…and fast! The next night I quickly learned how to put their little heads together in a football hold and nurse away. Sure my boobs are incredibly sore but I’m at least getting sleep.
The only thing that kept irritating me was the fact that I had to wake Susan up just to have her hand me one of the babies because I couldn’t pick them both up at once. Although she didn’t mind, it just seemed silly to interrupt her sleep for that. After a few nights at home, I figured it out and began feeding, diapering, burping, and swaddling all at once on my own. I now take on the nights alone with carte blanche to get whatever I want during the day (when Susan’s not working). This is particularly fabulous on the weekends when I can sleep in as long as I please.
Three weeks into having 3 kids I’m surprised at how well it’s going. I realize we are in the honeymoon phase (as the experts that have been down this road before tell me), but I will say that all is easier than I envisioned it to be, or at least I now know it’s possible. It helps that this is my second round. I’m less anxiety-ridden about the little things and have some sense of what’s ahead. I have tackled preschool drop off with the babies in tow, and although it takes me 45 minutes to an hour, I can do it and have been for the last week.
Our au pair arrives at the end of this week and I will soon learn what it’s like to have a third adult living with us and helping to raise our family. So much change has happened to us in the last 12 months it’s hard to remember what life was like before. But the other night when I walked up our street pointing out all the white twinkly lights with Sophia’s little hand in mine after our date together, I realized that I love my life, I love my children, I love the change, and I’m so grateful that everything happened the way it did.
By: Tosha Woronov
Once upon a time about five years ago two friends met for dinner. They sat over plates of vegan tacos and lentil pate, the air between thick with the worries consuming one of them. Her name is Brandy, and she had been trying for over a year to get pregnant with her wife, Susan.
The other friend, Tosha, was at a loss for words. She knew not to mention adoption; others had, apparently, and although they meant well, it stung too much. Brandy wanted to carry a baby inside of her, and was in anguish that it hadn’t happened, wasn’t happening, might not happen. Tosha had a two-year-old son of her own, and understood Brandy’s need for this.
Brandy cried, and then so did Tosha, over the latest in her and her wife’s quest to be parents: Susan’s tentative suggestion that perhaps she try to get pregnant. Now the word was failure. “She thinks I’ve failed,” Brandy cried. “My body has failed and now she wants to use hers.” (Tosha wanted to say that maybe she could see some beauty in this, that for all their hurdles –two lesbians unable (unfairly) to make a baby without medical assistance of some sort- perhaps the silver lining was that there were two women who could try. Heterosexual couples didn’t have that option. But the friend didn’t want to hear about silver linings. She wanted to cry.)
That was five years ago.
Susan and Brandy gave it one more shot. I think that’s what they said. “We’ll try one more time. If it doesn’t work, then Susan will try.” But Brandy’s body didn’t fail them; in fact it succeeded beautifully. (No new mother, Tosha was convinced, had ever come out of pregnancy, labor, breast feeding, sleeplessness, and new-parent-chaos as seamlessly as Brandy did: with grace and passion and love love love. And back into her skinny jeans within moments.)
Yes it was beautful. She was beautiful. Sophia. She of the feathery hair and helium-balloon voice. Their love incarnate.
But wait there’s more.
Brandy and Susan went for it again. Even with fears –of college educations and more square footage and a mini-van –thick around them, they went for it again. They didn’t hold back. They knew success in this area was no guarantee.
What the heck, they said.
And as Tosha writes this, baby Penn AND baby Bella are in the hospital with their mommies and big sister. They are healthy and beautiful. Brandy is exhausted, and beautiful.
Once they were two, and then they were three, and now they are five. Five! Five hearts joined as a family, embraced by dozens of people to love and support them.
A modern family.
But see, there’s nothing modern about their love. Not at all. It’s as old as time.
By: Holly Vanderhaar
I was a huge fan of The X-Files in the 1990s, and one of the show’s catch phrases was “I want to believe.” I had no idea how that phrase would eventually come home to roost.
I really didn’t expect that my daughters would still believe in Santa Claus by the time they were in 3rd grade. I’d be surprised if all of their Christmas-observing friends still believe, and I find it unlikely that none of the non-believing, worldly-wise 3rd graders has spilled the beans. The right jolly old elf hasn’t come up much in conversation this year, and my hunch was that they had their doubts, but maybe weren’t ready to ask the question outright, for fear of having their suspicions confirmed.
When I imagined having kids I also imagined that bidding the Santa days good-bye would be accompanied by a feeling of loss. I’m all for fostering magical thinking among the young, and I’ve never been the type of person to worry about the backlash, the sense of betrayal that they might feel at figuring out that Mom’s been lying to them all this time. I had no problem promoting the Red Suit Agenda. But the thing is, I’m kind of ready to be done. I feel like Mama Buzzkill for saying so. Parents of toddlers and preschoolers will probably recoil in horror, and may even consider calling Child Protective Services. But I’m tired. Playing Santa for twins, finding just the right equivalent-but-not-exactly-the-same presents that aren’t obviously from Target, and then handling the logistics of Christmas morning when we celebrate half a continent away from home is wearing me out. Also, I’m not too proud to admit it: I’m ready to start getting the credit for picking the jaw-dropping gift.
The truth is, the golden years of Santa are behind us. Gone are the wonder years, the years where excitement built to a fever pitch for weeks, the awe when the presents appeared overnight and the cookies and carrots were eaten. The last few Christmases, they’ve taken it for granted. The novelty and magic have worn off for them. They’ve also gotten savvy, and they’ve figured out how to work the system. This has coincided with a couple of particularly lean years —I was finishing grad school, and then I was unemployed for the better part of eight months— when I had to tell them “I can’t afford it” a lot, not just at Christmas, but all year. “That’s okay,” they announced, pleased with themselves. “We can just ask Santa for it!” It’s hard sledding to reinforce the non-material side of the holiday when, to them, Christmas is now one big gift grab, and I find it kind of distasteful, actually.
So, as I said, I really thought we were done this year. There was no discussion of whether Santa was watching them on his big wall of TVs, no “I’m gonna ask Santa to bring me ‘x’!” I adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, figuring that maybe we would just segue gracefully into a St. Nick-less holiday. And then Isabelle, on the way home from school the other day, said, “Oh, I still need to write my letter to Santa.”
Well, maybe next year.