By: Brandy Black
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
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: Brandy Black
The babies were scheduled to arrive on December 21st based on the doctor’s orders. This would have been past full term for twins. I wanted them to pick their birthday. On December 6th I had contractions that started at 8 minutes apart and went down to 3 minutes for a good 2-3 hours. I was fully admitted into the hospital and was told the babies would be arriving in the next 24 hours. We called my parents at 3AM and told them to get to the airport fast. Suddenly, contractions stopped and I was no longer dilating. Cedars kept me for observation for 5 more hours and then released me advising that I would likely be back in the next couple days. I called my father as soon as I realized we weren’t having the babies quite yet and he couldn’t hear me.
“I said we aren’t having the babies.”
“I can’t hear you, we’re on the plane, see you soon.”
Susan and I drove home, disappointed that we weren’t going to be holding our precious babies. My parents arrived a couple hours later. Days passed while my mom and dad helped prepare the house. We soon discovered how much needed to be done, how overwhelmed we were, and I got more and more tired each day. They took care of us, shopping trips, babysitting, pick up and drop off for preschool, servicing the washing machine, getting my car fixed, I forgot how much family can help when you let them.
After many days passed, I gave up on any chance of the babies coming early. On December 15th Susan and I went to do some final Christmas shopping. I was pushing us around tired of being home and doing nothing but wait. Suddenly in line I got tired and dizzy and had to sit to gather myself, Susan convinced me to skip our last stop and head home for the night. We got home and I raced to the bathroom because pregnant women with twins have to pee a hundred times a day. I felt a burst and suddenly a rush of water came out of me. My water broke. I was in such shock that I didn’t believe it and everyone kept asking me if I was sure. I walked back to our room to talk to Susan and stood as water leaked rapidly out of me. Susan began to laugh and than panic as she rushed around gathering our belongings for our second visit to the hospital.
By the time we arrived to the hospital the contractions were stronger and it was confirmed the babies were coming. We checked in at 5:45PM and by 11:00PM I was in the operating room with 12 people around me pushing with all my might. I focused on their voices cheering me on. 5 pushes later Bella Black Howard arrived, white and gooey and full of life. Her cries brought me tears, tears of joy that I hoped I would have at the sound of her little voice. But my joyous moment was quickly interrupted with panic around me. “He’s flipped, I feel a foot now, not a head”. There was much commotion and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. My doctor leaned down to me and told me that we would likely be doing a C-section for baby B. There was chatter around me, I was tired and a bit dizzy, I looked over at Susan and she had backed away from me with her hands over her face. “What? What happened?” I asked her. We had made an agreement that no matter how bad things got she wouldn’t let it show on her face because I knew I would panic. I began to panic. In what seemed several minutes later, Susan finally took a moment to speak to me, she huddled over me as to block the others from my view and told me that they were going to try one last thing to get our baby boy to flip around, she told me to relax and breathe and picture him flipping. I closed my eyes and focused until I heard “I feel a head, I feel a head Brandy, push”. I pushed hard and what had been a room full of noise and chaos became silent as all waited for baby B to arrive. An oxygen mask was placed over my mouth and 10 pushes later baby Penn came out screaming.
I didn’t know at the time that Susan and the nurse had conspired to get another doctor in the room who was a big advocate of me having a natural birth, so much so that he had been talking about us since we checked in. Apparently it’s rare that pregnant women with twins opt to have them naturally so the doctors were following us closely and making bets on what would happen. Once recovering our nurse told us that my delivery was “epic”.
I didn’t know how I was going to react to these two new family members; everyone has a different experience after birth. Some parents don’t immediately bond with their kids and given that parts of this pregnancy were scary and challenging for me, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. Luckily, I gushed with love the minute I heard, saw, and held them. I stare at them in the middle of night and can’t believe I ever feared their arrival. I treasure them, each and every one of them. I can’t imagine life without my darlings Sophia, Penn, and Bella.
It was the happiest of holidays with my arms full of delicious children and the realization that I adore being a mama.
By: Brandy Black
I made it to 34 weeks. Hooray! I’m too exhausted to write a whole lot so I give you a picture of the two kids in the belly and the one that keeps me busy each day.
Due date: 12/21
Babies: 5 pounds each
Mama: tired and hoping that the nursery will actually be done by the time the babies are born.
Thanksgiving: brought in by Whole Foods
By: Holly Vanderhaar
“Why are we here, again?”
This is the question I found myself answering —over and over again— when my daughters and I attended the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Single Mothers by Choice. I had of course told them that the celebration was the main reason for our trip to New York —their first trip— but they were more caught up in the excitement of the cabs and subways, the Empire State Building, and the cheesecake…ohhhh, the cheesecake.
“This is a big meeting with other families like ours, other families without a dad. Some of the other moms used a donor, like I did, and some adopted their kids.”
Then: “I thought you said there would be donuts.” And, “Can we go back up to the room and watch TV?”
When I started my journey to single motherhood in 2001, I was going to do this right. I joined SMC. I made friends with other local SMCs. I rehearsed the “why we don’t have a daddy” speech until I was comfortable. I was going to spare my child as much existential angst about our unconventional family structure as I could.
I should have known that road maps are useless on this particular journey, at least in our case. I should have known this when the ultrasound revealed I’d conceived identical twins on an unmedicated, poorly timed, “Hail Mary” insemination. The Daddy Question was posed not while cuddling up at bedtime as I’d always pictured it, but in the hosiery department at Target on a Sunday morning with other shoppers around (who were, no doubt, listening avidly). There went my composure, and I panicked: I didn’t think it was any of the nosy shoppers’ business, but I also didn’t want to give my daughters any sense of shame, any impression that it was something we Didn’t Talk About. So I stammered my way through a truncated version of my carefully crafted speech.
We lost our local SMC support system when we moved from Phoenix to St. Paul, Minnesota so I could go to grad school. The girls were four at that time, and I had every intention of connecting with the large community of Minnesota SMCs. But our weeks were hectic; the girls had started full-time pre-K, I was busy with my coursework and coping with teaching undergrads at the same time, and by the time the weekend came around, we just wanted to nest at home. My personal support system ended up being rebuilt out of my fellow grad students, one of whom was a single mom by divorce. And my daughters had each other. And time passed.
So now here we are, four years later. I still want to provide them with a community of families that look like ours. But I’m realizing that it’s not necessarily something they want —or, more accurately, it’s not something they see the point of. It may be a twin thing, first because they’re used to being different from their peers just by virtue of having a twin; and second, because they have a built-in support system that no singleton will ever understand. This is clearly my baggage. It doesn’t stop me worrying, though. Should I push them more, encourage them to build relationships with other SMC families? Or, by pushing, am I putting at risk their perception that our family structure is, if not normative, at least unremarkable? They don’t feel a need to have their lives normed by association with others “like us” and that’s a good thing, right?
Holly Vanderhaar is a freelance writer and a single mother by choice. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her twin daughters, two cats, and too many books.
By: Kacie Bernstein
We took the plunge this past weekend and took our first family vacation (just the four of us) to San Diego. I couldn’t wait to see their eyes light up at their first glimpse of Shamu, excited to see if they would actually feed the sea lions. I was so happy as we entered the park, I actually got teary-eyed. We arrived a little early so only certain areas were open, and we decided to check out Shamu. It was truly spectacular to watch an animal that large at such a close proximity, and of course, it scared my son. A few minutes later we had our first accident of the day. He fell off a bench and hit his head –there was a drop of blood, but we were good.
We proceeded to feed the sea lions and check out the dolphin show, which was fascinating…for me! I gave both kids a bag of cookies during the show, and about halfway through saw one flying a few rows below; needless to say the cookies went away. The Sesame Street water area was a huge success, and luckily we knew to bring a change of clothes. After six hours, a few more bumps, some hugs, kisses, and tears, it was time to go. We headed back to the hotel, which they protested. I agree; there is no place like home. We took them to the baby pool –a huge hit –then off to Old Town for a great dinner. It truly was great, both the food and the children!!
We seemed to be on an upswing and ended the night with hugs and kisses. We woke up around 11:15 that night to my daughter coughing like the sea lions we fed earlier that day, crying and wheezing. After a lot of talking, my husband and I decided to call the doc. Per his instructions, we steamed up the bathroom then took her outside to the cold air, but there was no improvement. At 1:00 in the morning, my daughter and I were off to the ER, where they treated her for croup.
Sunday on our drive home my husband and I recapped the weekend. He had a great time. I was beginning to wonder if we went on the same vacation. He explained that he knew what to expect of our weekend, and, well, my expectations were set too high. My lesson of the weekend: instead of stressing over the flying cookie or screaming child in the restaurant, just enjoy the little moments because you can never get them back.
By: Kacie Bernstein
I finally did it. I took my kids to the park alone! My husband and mom have no issues taking them alone, but for me, well it just gives me way too much anxiety. There is a sweet little park down the street from our house; it is completely gated and my kids can use all of the equipment on their own. I loaded us up with tons of snacks, sand toys, and of course a cell phone in case we needed backup. I felt proud and accomplished; as moms of two or more know, this can be quite challenging.
More kids were entering the play area, but my attention was focused on two boys, probably 5 and 7, who were quite rambunctious. They were just being boys, climbing on top of the monkey bars, in capes, and jumping off. It made me nervous, and I was hoping that my son wouldn’t try to jump on the band wagon. I kept looking around –who was responsible for these boys? I asked if they were here with their mommy and they replied, no their babysitter. I saw a young girl sitting on the outside of the gated park…with her back to the play area. I was in shock, as were the other parents. These boys did not need a playing companion but someone to watch them and make sure they were being safe. I kept debating whether to say something. After all, was it really my place? Should I just mind my own business?
This went on for another 30 minutes. One of the boys left the gated area to go down a little hill that led to the LA River, which was completely out of eyeshot. WE all saw him leave, but the babysitter, not so much. That was it, I had to say something, after all, no one else was! I shouted to the woman that the child had just run down the hill. She replied, “that’s ok.” I shouted back with anger, “‘that’s ok’ to have your back to these children and not be aware of what they are doing?!” Her response: “they are fine.”
I was in disbelief, and my great day at the park with my kids had turned into disgust and anger. I couldn’t take it anymore and decided it was time to leave. I contemplated asking for the parents’ number to let them know about their terrible babysitter, but decided against it. I wished that I hadn’t; that morning haunted me all day!
By: Kacie Bernstein
I won’t lie…it’s been one of those weeks. One toddler is challenging, but two, well it’s enough to make you want to lock yourself in the bathroom…oh wait, I did!
At times this week I have wanted to run away, just for a couple hours of course, or maybe just one night at a great hotel! I have found myself yelling a lot, and turning into a mom that I am not proud of. But, I have also realized that sometimes it is the most challenging and trying of times that actually help to shape you into the person that you want to be. I have also learned to appreciate the little moments and try to not dwell on those times when my kids act like I’m invisible.
There are times when I don’t even want to be around me, and still, their love is so unbelievably unconditional. My daughter will just look at me with her crazy curls, big brown eyes and chubby cheeks and say, “Mommy, I love you.” It makes my heart melt.
My kids and husband were lying in bed together as I was getting ready for a bridal shower I asked my husband how I looked. My son said “Pretty Mommy”! These are the moments that make the tough days a bit more bearable; the hugs and kisses aren’t so shabby either. I always tell friends, kids will change your life forever, especially two at once, but there is truly nothing better.